by hermithole

There is a thread
Running between
The first and last
Breath that we breathe

He is her teacher as much as she is his student.

She passes him in the corridor, their shoulders barely touching, and sees his eyes searching for the vacant spot beside her ear. There is always something there that catches his eyes, a passing acquaintance, an old student, a random fly. Sometimes she sidesteps him just so the angle will change – but his gaze takes a double turn, and so do his feet, and they move on to a new territory. Sometimes she wonders if it is her. Sometimes she wonders if it is him. She doesn't understand his persistence. She doesn't understand his fixation.

There is no one no one no one she wants to, but does not say.

When the sky grows dark and night draws in, she confronts him at the drawbridge. She pretends it is a coincidence, an accidental tripping of paths, a fluke of the twilight. He brushes lint off his vest and straightens his orange book, even though it's too dark to read anymore. He sees her flushed cheeks, windswept hair and the firm set of her mouth, and he knows she's been waiting for him. She knows he knows.

"Are you avoiding me?" The words tumble out before she can stop herself.

He stares at her then, plaintively, a dark, hooded one-eyed stare.

"That's a cliché, you know."

She remembers a lesson Tsunade taught her once.

When dealing with injury, Tsunade had said, lock your chakra on the focal of pain, that which essentially points to the heart of the wound, and close your mind on it. In each of us is a huge tent of energy driving in succession or fears and pains, a state of sub-consciousness, if left unbidden, will eat us whole.

Remember this, Sakura. Our chakra is the embodiment of our life force, threads of our soul to bind and hold us together, so that when the time comes, we are not crushed by our own strength.

They are at Eboshi's. He eats tensoba; she stirs her miso soup, hot and scalding against her tongue.

She is the first to break the silence.

"How long can this go on, Kakashi?"

She watches the chopsticks pause at his lips for a fraction of a second, and then he swallows.

"The tempura is delicious." is all he says.

She sits at the table, filing mission reports, shelving papers, arranging As to Zs and names she can't remember anymore. There are too many ghosts, she thinks, too many memories that are lost and forgotten, too many deaths to account for.

She looks up as Shizune stumbles in, face flushed, eyes wide.

"They said – they said Kakashi-san's back from a mission and he's— he's injured."

She stands up so quickly her chair falls over.

"I don't know the details," Shizune is saying, "but it seems like he was trying to protect everyone and there were too many of them and the kunai hit him in the back and—"

She sees the look on her face and stops. "Oh Sakura— "

She is waiting. She does not know how long she has been waiting or how much more she has to wait. She sees the whitewashed walls and pristine picture frames, hears the ticking of the clock, a tiny heart in her mind, its beat an endless rhythm.

"Don't worry Sakura-chan," Naruto declares boisterously next to her, "Kakashi-sensei is tough. A little kunai can't get him so easily—"

She talks to him in her head; tries to picture his face and capture his voice.

She sees him bent over her, eyes curving into tiny arches, unseen smiles behind dark masks.

She sees him hunched against a tree, reading orange books, always reading orange books; acting like everything's okay even when they are not—

She sees him in front of her, doing things he doesn't mean, saying things he doesn't mean, delivering perfect stories and statements, but stumbling over unsaid words and meanings.

You idiot, she thinks, if you go and kill yourself I swear I will dig up your corpse and overturn your grave and hit you a million times with it, you freaking idiot, you big, big moron.

When Tsunade comes out, she is surprised to see her.

"Where are the rest?"

She wrings her hands together. "They left a while ago. Said it's too late and they're sleepy—"

There is a question in the Hokage's eyes, and she pretends not to see.

"Shishou, I know Shizune said it's not critical but is he – is he – "

"He's not dead," Tsunade says flatly. "You may see him now."

As she turns to the door, she feels Tsunade's hands on her shoulders.

"He is a good teacher, isn't he?"

The meaning is not lost on her.

In the bath of the moonlight there are fumbles and moans and cries and thrusts and a desperate sense of clutching.

Don't go don't go don't go she tries to say, but his lips muffle her voice and the words are lost in the darkness.

"I know there's something going on between you and Kakashi-sensei–"

Ino is drunk.

"I see the way you look at each other. Pathetic puppy dog eyes. The way you t-touch. Damn Forehead, you know what I think? That's pretty messed up. That's f-fucking messed up. You're screwing him aren't you? Or he's ssssscrewing you. Or the both of you are just fucking around–"

There is a loud slam.

Ino turns to the bottle.

"What's bitin' her?"

When they meet at the drawbridge next, she doesn't pretend it's a coincidence.

"We can't do this anymore." The lips that are moving aren't hers.

He leans against the bridge; face turned away from her, arms tucked beneath him and says nothing at all.

"I've—" her hand shakes; she can't find her voice, "—really enjoyed our time together, but we can't – we can't do this anymore."

She gazes at the moon, sees the faint rim of light surrounding it. She recalls a book she read once, of how the moon has no light of its own, how it steals its light from the sun in the day, and quietly slips out in the night. The book had called it 'reflection', but in truth she thinks the moon draws light from the sun, that in every lunar phase an elliptical cycle is complete.

"It's wrong." She starts to cry. "You're my teacher. I'm your student. We're not— we're not supposed to be together. What we've having – it's not a relationship. I'm sick of the hiding and the lies and the secrets. I can't do this anymore – I'm so sorry— I can't. I just can't."

He doesn't say anything, doesn't say anything at all.

And then he does.

"Okay," he says. "Okay."

When light fades to dark she likes to pretend that there are black skies and starless nights. She likes to pretend that every chunin she meets has fair brows and a hidden smile, that every bright-eyed boy she kisses has scars in his back and silver in his hair.

She uproots trees, overturns grounds and fills her time with missions, but it's not enough. It's never enough.

So she turns to sewing.

It's a hobby, she tells them. Don't worry.

They don't believe her, she knows. She sees it in their eyes, the way they tiptoe around her like hungry ghosts.

It's a guy, they say.

It may be a girl, others say.

It, she says, puts my thoughts into perspective.

The sky is bright when Tsunade calls her into the office.

"Sakura, I'm worried about you." Tsunade stares at her, hands planted to her hips.

"You're doing twice the amount of work you should be doing, you're training harder than ever, your work attitude is perfect and that's what I'm worried about. You aren't resting, you're holed up in my office like it's your second home, you're healing people more than necessary and you're, oh my God—" she throws up her hands in frustration. "—sewing!"

"Is it a boy? Are you suicidal?" Tsunade's eyes snap to her face. "Is it—"

"I'm a medic," she replies, "I stitch wounds."

She likes sewing for its methodical movements, for the way the needle dances in and out of the cloth, how tears slide shut with each passing of her hands. Sometimes she pretends that each thread is a breakwater and each gap a river through, that with every drift and pinch of her fingers rifts and crevices are closed.

She likes to know that every cloth can be mended.

She likes to know that every divide has a closure.

So she continues to sew, in the belief that with every thread she pulls she stitches something close.

Naruto is bouncing towards them, eyes bright and face flushed, looking like someone with a secret he's bursting to share.

"GUESS WHAT I SAW JUST NOW!" He pauses and takes a huge breath, too excited he's forgotten to breathe. "I saw – I saw Kakashi-sensei's face!"

"WHAT?" Ino leaps out of the seat so fast her body is a blur. "Where? How? Without the mask?"

Naruto nods enthusiastically. "At the back of Tenjou Bar. He was with a woman – chunin I think – and she had her legs wrapped around him and I think they were – they were—" he is hooting now. "—DOING IT!"

Ino bursts into a peal of laughter. "Are you serious?"

"Yes!" Naruto jumps up and down. "The woman's back was against the wall but they didn't know I was behind the corner and Kakashi-sensei's got his eyes closed and mask pulled down and I – I saw his face! I thought he'd have fat lips like we suspected but he's not ugly, actually, and hey where's Sakura-chan—"

She stands at the drawbridge this time, alone.

The river stretches out like icy darkness beneath her, still and silent. In the distance she hears the faint trickles of laughter, sees the silhouettes of the villagers as they make their way home.

It's too cold, she thinks, too cold for summer, too cold for the night.

She hears him even before she sees him, soft patters against the hard floor.

"Did you come here to gloat?" She doesn't bother turning around.

He stands, quiet and motionless against the darkness.

"You knew Naruto was there didn't you? And if you knew he was going to tell me, why didn't you stop him? Or were you in such throes of passion that it didn't matter anymore?

"I only realized it after he ran away—" He starts to say something else, but stops and turns away.

"Take it down."

He stares at her.

"Take it down. Your mask. So that I can see what you're thinking. So that I can smash in your nose and disfigure your pretty face—"

Her voice is silenced when he pulls down his mask and kisses her so hard she forgets to breathe.

Long ago, there is a time when he believes that life cannot get any worse. That once you hit the bottom you discover that the ground below you cannot go any lower, and start to revel in the fact the climb uphill is going to get much better.

When his father dies he reconsiders his decision.

When Obito dies he feels the grief consume him like quicksand.

Now, as he watches her silhouette fading into the darkness, he realises that there are all kinds of grief.

Come as you are
Weary, worn and tattered
Come and take
Your place among the threads