Rin watched Kakashi Hatake out of the corner of eyes again as the young Jonin lightly brushed past her, never once looking back. A sudden burst of heat rushed to her face; her heart felt ready to take flight. But she disguised her emotions well, and managed not to sigh out loud.
Not for the first time, Rin could not help but think how handsome Kakashi was to look at, with his silvery hair, his dark, intense right eye – the only part of his face exposed to the world, and his slender, tall, well-formed body. Privately, she wondered what Kakashi's face really looked out without his mask…no, it would be better not to think of that. Kakashi had never once removed his black face mask, not since the day they had first met as teammates more than ten years ago. Neither had he changed much since then; he was still the same old Kakashi she had known for so long: silent, cool, dispassionate, almost emotionless.
He did not form a verbal reply, simply turned around with a slightly questioning look on his face.
"Would you like to…spend some time together after this, if you don't mind?"
"No. I can't. I've got to give Sasuke, Sakura and Naruto some extra training before the Chunnin exams."
"Oh. Tomorrow, then?" Rin dared to ask.
"I'll be busy again."
Rin opened her mouth again, but, by then, Kakashi had already left the room as silently as he had entered.
Maybe she was just being a fool, to love him, when it was so obvious that Kakashi felt nothing more than friendship for her.
With a sigh, Rin knotted her fingers together and retired to her room.
Rin barely had time to recover from an unexpected cold she sustained a week later before Tsunade, the Fifth Hokage, sent her and her love Kakashi on another mission, this time to capture Kisame, a traitor ninja from the Land of Waves. Jiraiya, an elderly Kage, recently had received information from his assistant that Kisame was planning an attack on Konoha; it fell to Kakashi and Rin to track him down. In the meantime, Kurenai Yuhi, a newly-qualified Jonin with a certain attraction to Asuma, would take over Hinata, Kiba and Shino in Rin's absence, while Hayate, another Jonin, had been ordered to take over Team Kakashi.
"Be careful you two, whatever you do," Tsunade had warned the two of them, before they set out. "Kisame's power has grown greatly, and rumours have it that he has allied himself to Itachi Uchiha. If that really is the case, you will, believe me, face truly tough times. Keep your eyes open, and do not let your guard down even once."
With only a small bag of supplies, the two Jonin set out together from the village gates, side-by-side. Rin had privately sworn not to let her emotions get in the way this time, for fear it would impede the mission, but such a vow, it seemed, could most certainly not challenge love. To walk so close to Kakashi and yet say nothing to him…that was worse than the worst torment she could endure.
"How on earth are we supposed to find this Kisame without him finding us first?" It sounded like a rather ridiculous question for a fully-qualified Jonin to ask, but Rin could hardly bare the awkward silence any longer.
"We follow Jiraiya's lead and trust that his informant got it right. Oh, and Rin?"
"Do be careful, won't you?"
He actually cares about me!
"Of course, Kakashi."
"Besides, I've sworn to Obito once, all those years ago before he died, to protect you with my life."
Rin deflated at this like a punctured balloon.
Is that the only reason why he's risked his life so many times for me over the years now? Simply to fulfill a vow he made to his friend?
Her emotions must have shown on her face. For a moment, Kakashi suddenly stopped his brisk walk, and turned to look at her squarely in the eye.
"What's the matter, Rin?"
"It's nothing," she hastily replied. "I suppose – I suppose it still gives me a certain sadness to recall Obito."
Kakashi's raised eye suggested he didn't believe one word.
"It's not that, Rin. You know I do care about you. But some matters…" Here, Kakashi abruptly broke off, and resumed his brisk stride ahead.
But what he had said had been enough to soothe Rin's heart.
So he does care about me!
The duo journeyed on for another full week without detecting any signs of Kisame. By day, they discussed possible strategies or tracked fiercely, by late afternoon they rested before proceeding, by night, they slept, taking turns to keep a watch.
Sleeping had never before been harder for Rin, as she lay down on the blanket she had brought, with Kakashi only several feet away from her each night, awake and alert every passing second. Usually, Rin simply lay wide awake in such times, allowing herself to watch him discreetly as he sat cross-legged on the ground, silent and still as a statue. When he did come nearer to her, she simply pretended to lie fast asleep, unwilling to display her restlessness.
She was fully aware, of course, of the care Kakashi took of her some nights. On those particularly cold nights, Kakashi would creep silently over to her to place his own blanket over her to protect her from the chill, his hands occasionally lingering tenderly over her shoulders. Or, there were even times when he would sit near her a little longer, his hands stroking her brown hair spread out on the blanket. Those were the first, and only times he ever touched her thus; Rin treasured them dearly, every moment, for by the time day came, Kakashi was back to work mode, never once sparing a single look at her again.
She, too, had a share of sleepless nights, when Kakashi was clearly too tired to stay awake further. Then it would be her turn to stay up all night, keeping vigilant watch, although she had to confess to herself that most of those nights were spent watching the sleeping Kakashi instead of looking out for enemies. In sleep, Kakashi only seemed far more beautiful than ever somehow.
But that particular day, Kakashi seemed unusually restless, almost upset. No matter what Rin did, she just could not seem to console him in any way, or make him even a little better.
"It's nothing," his only reply was, whenever Rin asked him what the matter was. "Don't bother about me. This mission is far more important. What do personal feelings matter?"
That night was a night Rin knew she could never forget. What had happened, or why, as she lay asleep, she would never know.
All she knew was that when dawn came, she found Kakashi sitting up so close to her that her head actually lay on his lap, his right hand twined in her long brown hair, his other hand clasping hers tightly.
He, however, made no attempt to move or speak, he simply maintained the same position, his eye looking down at her with an expression that could only be described as tender, almost loving.
Kakashi remained very silent for the rest of the day, far quieter than he had ever been. He seemed almost depressed; no matter what Rin said to him, he merely replied with an 'Mmm' or a nod of the head.
"Be careful here, Rin." As the two Jonin passed by a tall, fearsome-looking valley of rocks, Kakashi spoke for what seemed like the first time that day, startling Rin considerably. "Rockslides are not uncommon here, so move silently and cautiously. It seems that any noise or movement can disturb these volatile rocks."
"Mmm." Rin nodded in agreement.
"Take my hand, Rin, and tread carefully. Follow my steps, and you should be safe." Kakashi held out a hand to Rin.
Turning her face away to hide a sudden blush blossoming across it like a rose, Rin obediently took his hand in hers.
It seemed obvious to her that Kakashi knew the valley well enough, for he treaded across with Rin with extreme skill and agility, never once disturbing a single rock. Not that Rin was nervous; the touch of Kakashi's hand was so amazing, so comforting that she could scarcely even remember she was supposed to follow Kakashi's footsteps.
"Rin! Watch out! Don't step on that!"
Startled, Rin jerked involuntarily, gasping as she stepped directly onto a loose bit of rock.
"Rin! Stay still! Don't move!"
"AAAHHH!" As Rin struggled to maintain her balance, she felt immediately the rocks moving beneath her. Crying out with panic, she tried to lunge aside, but was a trifle too slow.
Rin found herself sliding downwards at a frightening pace as the unstable rocks gave way under her feet. Arms flailing, brown hair flying about her face, Rin felt the rest of her body automatically freezing.
"Hold on, Rin!" From somewhere above her, Kakashi's voice somehow seemed extremely distant.
Kakashi made a huge leap downwards, arms stretched out to the fullest. Twisting his body in mid-air, his hands made a quick grab around his target: one hand closing around her arm, the other around her waist.
"Hold on to me, Rin!"
Rin clung desperately onto Kakashi, forcing herself to slow down her breathing.
Moving quickly and deftly, Kakashi gracefully performed some sort of half-twist in midair, landing aside on some more stable rocks.
"Rin, are you alright?" he demanded, scarcely loosening his grip on her.
"I'm fine!" she gasped, clutching the front of his shirt with more force than necessary. "Thanks, Kakashi. You saved me."
"You're welcome to it." Kakashi now released his grip gradually, once he was sure she could stand on her own without falling over.
"I'm sorry, Kakashi."
"For being so careless and endangering you as well."
"Ah, well. Things like that happen all the time anyway. Don't feel so guilty, Rin."
The rest of their cautious walk over the rocks was a silent walk. No doubt the earlier panic had sent them into a fit of silence now.
"I have a strange feeling about this place," Kakashi muttered.
"We're not that alone, I think," he replied softly.
Rin opened her mouth to state that she felt no-one's presence, when a slight rumble sounded from ahead of them. On the alert at once, Kakashi tightened his grip on Rin's hand, and prepared for battle.
"Shh." Kakashi touched finger to his lip to indicate to Rin to be silent, and very slowly released her hand.
And then, out of the blue, everything begin to move. Here and there, rocks slid and rumbled, coming close enough to the two Jonin to crush them both.
"Rin! Move now!" Kakashi shouted above the din.
Rin didn't have to be told twice, of course. As swiftly as the wind, she dodged a rock, and swerved to the left to avoid another oncoming one.
"Yes?" he managed to shout back.
Too late. As Kakashi flipped around to see another enormous rock charging straight at him, he half-lost his footing, struggling to regain his precarious balance. Already the rock was seconds away from ending his life there and then…
Rin leaped. She leaped right at him. Faster than thought, she lunged out her arms and, just before the rock found its target, Kakashi found himself flying backwards, before landing several feet away.
From the place where he had nearly lost his life, a cry of pain sounded, followed by a hideous crunching sound.
Never stopping to think about the danger he was still in, Kakashi moved forward, and, with a single ninja blow, he struck the rock away from its victim.
And, underneath it, lay Rin, a mass of blood and crushed bones.
"Kakashi. Get away," Rin managed to hiss, in an almost inaudible voice.
"I'm not leaving you!" Kakashi bent down to scoop up the ninja in his arms before leaping away to safety.
An eternity seemed to pass before he reached safe ground again. By then, Rin was barely alive. Her entire face was a mess of red blood and torn flesh, while her arms and legs were all twisted grotesquely. There was no telling how she had survived for so long.
"Rin." His heart turning cold, Kakashi lay her tenderly down and, ripping off some of his garments, attempted to stem the copious bleeding.
"No, Kakashi." Rin's voice was a mere wheeze, as she feebly attempted to push his hand away. "It's no use. Nothing…more you can do…for me now."
There was an almost bitter look on her face now, as she turned her eyes towards the Jonin kneeling besides her. Gasping and shaking, she managed to utter, "Why should you worry so much now? Because you fear you have broken your promise to Obito?"
"Rin." Kakashi discarded the bits of cloth, and gently took her in his arms. "Don't talk like that now. It's not…I have always…Why, Rin? Why did you do that? Why sacrifice your life?"
Rin remained silent.
"Kakashi." Rin released one long, sorrowful sigh, and Kakashi decided not to press her further.
"I have always loved you, Kakashi."
"Rin…ah…I'm sorry, Rin. I'm so sorry."
"For what? For not keeping your word to Obito, before he died like me?"
"I have always loved you too, Rin." The words were out long before Kakashi realized what he was saying. "Since the day Obito died, and I swore to protect you with my life…no. Even long before that, I loved you, but I could not bring myself to say it. Forgive me, Rin, forgive me!"
"You have to move on, Kakashi," Rin croaked. "Whether or not I live or die…"
"Rin, no!" Kakashi shook his head desperately. "Please! You have to live one! Not another…not another death now! How am I going to move on, with both you and Obito gone?"
"You have to. You've always been strong, Kakashi, and always will be. Don't let me and Obito down. Our deaths are our own; there is not, and wasn't any way you could control it. Move on, Kakashi. Do that for Obito and me, if not for yourself."
"Rin." Kakashi's voice cracked as he gave Rin as much of an embrace as he could manage without prolonging her suffering. "I'm sorry. Forgive me!"
"There is nothing to forgive." Rin paused to take in several breaths, or rather, gasps, before continuing, "Hold me one last time, Kakashi, and I will die satisfied. Hold me."
His right eye already glimmering with tears, Kakashi knelt closer to her, letting his face touch her bloodied, pale one lightly. Rin smiled wanly; it was all she could manage now.
Rin's hands moved softly over his face mask. Kakashi's heart thudded with enough force to break through his chest. Taking off his mask was not something he had ever done before, save while eating in complete privacy, nor was it something he ever intended to do. But then…
"Once only, is all I ask, Kakashi. Let me see your real face before I go."
It was impossible to resist Rin now. His hand trembling, Kakashi took the back of his mask, and, with one smooth motion, drew it away.
There was no doubt whatsoever in her mind that Kakashi was truly the son of the famed 'White Fang' Sakumo Hatake. The mouth, the nose, the jaw, everything resembled that of his late father to complete perfection. And, oh! How handsome Kakashi truly was, without his mask on! Blushing even now, despite her pain and discomfort, Rin reached out to trace the shape of his strong jaw, his smooth face.
"Kakashi, why hide your face from the world?"
"I have reasons, Rin. Please don't ask me them. It would be better if no-one ever heard them."
"Mmm." Rin nodded. "Bid me goodbye, then, Kakashi, and perchance we will meet again in the next world beyond this world."
Neither of them ever knew who moved towards who first. Kakashi raised Rin higher, Rin simply smiled, and then their lips touched, in a desperate, passionate last kiss given to someone who knew they would never see the other again. Rin's arms, broken though they were, found enough energy to come around Kakashi's neck, and, for that one brief moment, he almost felt complete again.
"I'm sorry, Rin, that you never knew till the last moment."
"I forgive you, Kakashi. Kiss me goodbye one last time, and then I think I must…"
Kakashi gave her no time to complete her sentence. Bending down, tears already flowing freely down his right eye, he took Rin up and touched his lips to hers again, deeply and with all the love he could manage to pour into that. By the time it was over, he knew Rin's life was at its peak end; her eyes had closed, and her breathing was becoming shallower and shallower each passing moment.
"Goodbye, Kakashi. Do not weep for me. A part of me will always remain with you somewhere, as long as you live. I promise. Think of me sometime if you will, and I will come back to you again someday."
"Goodbye, Rin, my love, my life." Kakashi's voice was as tearful as his eye. "I swear, as long as I live, there will always be a place in my heart for you, and you alone. And I love you. Always remember that."
Rin nodded. Under the layer of blood, Kakashi could easily see her growing whiter and whiter, until he knew her spirit was simply hovering lightly above her, ready to take flight any moment.
"I love you, Kakashi." That was all Rin could manage.
I have always known.
Her tender spirit departed quietly, then, as gently as it had entered her body twenty odd years ago. Yet Kakashi held her still, as though their close embrace could somehow bring them back together again.
From up above them, a single small, white bird with a breast as red as blood alighted onto a tree branch, and opened its beak to sing a piercingly melancholy melody, singing as though its heart would break for sorrow in its breast.
"Kakashi-sensei! Tsunade-sama says you're off from your duty today. She said you have something you might want to attend to privately!" Naruto Uzumaki yelled from behind the Jonin.
"Mmm. I get it."
"Are you alright, Kakashi-sensei?" the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy asked, suddenly sounding rather concerned.
"Of course. Why shouldn't I be? Tell Sakura training is off until I return in an hour or so."
"You got it, sensei!" Naruto jerked a thumb up.
Shaking his head at Naruto's over-eager behaviour, Kakashi left the academy building with a bundle in his hand and headed to the one place he had not been to for an exact year.
"Rin." Kakashi's voice shrank to a murmur as he silently knelt alone by her grave, marked by a gray headstone. "Precisely a year ago, you died to save me. Ten years ago, Obito did the same for me. Now you follow him. I honour your sacrifice Rin; I come with a small gift."
His hands starting to shake with an emotion he had not experienced for almost a year, Kakashi tenderly laid the bunch of roses down onto the green earth covering her. He did not weep, he simply stood there silently, a hand upon the headstone, his head bowed.
"Sakura?" Kakashi's voice was low and quiet, and Sakura wondered if she had made a mistake in coming; her trainer was obviously not in the mood for anything now.
"I'm sorry, Kakashi-sensei, but Jiraiya-sama needs you right away. He says he has just found some information very important to the…mission you and Rin-san tried to carry out. He knows you're paying respects, but…"
"Never mind, Sakura. Go and tell him I'll be there in ten minutes."
As Sakura turned and left him, Kakashi moved to kneel once more at Rin's grave. He had to move on; this he knew too well. No amount of grief would turn back the past. Jiraiya probably had another mission for him; there was no more time to entertain personal feelings now.
With a small sigh, Kakashi rose to his feet and laid his hand on the headstone one last time. He did not think he would be returning here again. As a full-fledged Jonin with a responsibility to his own team and other missions, there was no more time for this. He would honour Rin in his heart and mind; after all, the medic ninja had not told him to pay respects at her grave, simply remember her. No promises would be broken, not anymore.
"Goodbye, Rin, my love," he murmured, his fingers feeling the carving of her name upon the headstone. "I will keep my word; as long as there is breath in me, I shall never cease to love and think of you. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten. Goodbye." He arose then, and, with a last look at Rin's final abode, he turned and left, never looking back once.
And, somewhere else, in another world beyond the human world, Rin smiled down at Kakashi, knowing it would only be a matter of time before he returned to her side…to stay.
Until then, she would simply wait and watch.
So, readers, like it, hate it? Please REVIEW and tell me what you think! Don't be too harsh on me; I've never written a serious Naruto fic before, this is only my 2nd one. I just hope Kakashi wasn't too OOC…