Disclaimer: Sadly, I don't own Naruto. Yah. (sobs)
She gazed up at him uncertainly.
"Dance with you, Kakashi-sensei?"
He smiled down at her, an expression manifest only in the happy curve of his right eye.
"Yes. Dance with me, Kakashi-sensei."
She blushed at the gentle mockery of his tone and slowly, hesitantly began to rise from her seat on the bench. Before her knees straightened, a thought seemed to strike her and she flopped back down, staring fixedly at the ground.
He raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"
"Thank you sensei, but its ok, you don't have to do this." Her voice sounded tight.
"What do you mean? Do what?"
"Ask me to dance like this." Her face was hidden by pale pink tresses tumbled forward.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Sensei please, I know a pity dance offer when I get one." There was disappointment mixed with the bitterness in her voice.
"I think you just made up a new category of pity offers, Sakura. And this offer certainly doesn't fall among them."
She looked up at him and the soft rosy locks fell back, revealing ugly, reddened scar tissue and dark bruising on her face and neck.
"Kakashi-sensei, you don't want to dance with me."
Just sixteen years old, she had healed two critically injured team members then gone back into enemy territory to retrieve and heal the fourth member, only to be captured after collapsing from chakra over-use. Her recovered team mates had escaped without her, choosing the mission over the life of the Hokage's apprentice. The pink-haired medic had not been in possession of any crucial details of the mission objectives, but it had taken a few "interrogation sessions" before the enemy would believe it.
Hatake Kakashi gazed down at her, at the disfiguring scars that meandered across the young face, coming dangerously close to those endless green eyes; the dark bruising that marred her slender throat and the welts on her small hands, still recovering from chakra over-use.
"Come on, just one dance with your old sensei? I know my hair's grey and I'm rapidly approaching the dirty old man category, but I was hoping you might overlook those crippling flaws and accept me."
She tried her best to suppress it, but a giggle broke from the girl's lips. A giggle; and instantly it felt like the weight of the world had slipped off his shoulders and gone off to find someone else to squash.
"Fine, fine, but it's so embarrassing dancing with my teacher." Sakura extended one hand and mock-pouted at him, unconsciously drawing attention to the stitches in her swollen lower lip
Kakashi took the proffered hand in his own, bowing over it with exquisite grace before raising her to her feet. Noting her slight limp (the fracture was only a few weeks old), he steered them to a quiet corner, overlooking the river, rather than heading for the crowd of dancers all moving in perfect coordination in the centre of the clearing. Light from the lanterns strung up around the festival grounds reflected off the surface of the dark water, rippling gently in the warm spring breeze.
The music began to slow down, settling into an old traditional ballad that filled the air around them as gently as the drifting sakura blossoms, which floated in a pale shower from the trees above.
"Mm?" He angled his head slightly, peering down at her with his uncovered eye. She was looking up at him, smiling softly; it was the kind of smile he'd never seen on her face before; a smile that, to his horror, brought a lump to his throat. He gulped.
"Nothing," Sakura took a step closer to him, lowering her head to rest lightly against his jounin vest. She was still so small that the top of her head did not even reach his shoulder.
Perhaps she should have felt horribly uncomfortable like this, enfolded in her genin sensei's arms and hiding her face against his chest, but somehow, after being beaten and carved up by enemy interrogators for three days, words like "comfortable" and "uncomfortable" took on a whole new significance.
And after thinking for a week that his former student would be another name added to the memorial stone, Hatake Kakashi realized that Haruno Sakura's existence had taken on a whole new significance in relation to his own.
A significance that the Copy Ninja wasn't yet sure how to define, but with a sinking feeling, he was fairly certain that when he did, it would mean no more nindogs in the living room, and learning to share the remote control.
He tightened his arms around her, explaining in his head to all the imaginary onlookers pointing and judging that it was merely to help take weight off her fractured ankle.
The music drew to a close, and slowly, grudgingly, he allowed her to draw back out of his grasp.
"Thank you Sensei," she was smiling at him again, a different smile, cheerful and brighter than the burning lanterns, "It was a lovely dance."
"It was. We should do it again some time." He smiled back at her, nothing more than the happy curve of an eye, but it seemed as if she thought it was enough.
He walked her back to her seat, and she went home soon after, a smile hovering about her lips. He went home at about the same time, thinking of scars and brokenness healed and fragrant hair and a soft smile that he just knew would wreck him.
For tonight, it was enough.
Author's Note: Well, KakaSaku again eh? It's been a while hasn't it? The final chapter of one of my other stories has been very slow in coming together, so in the meantime I came back to one of my earliest muses. Hope you liked it!