Chapter Twenty-One

He showed up the next morning, which was a little strange. Sakura had barely managed to drag herself out of bed when she realized that someone was in the bathroom, and she swore colorfully at the door, slamming her fist a little hard against it in her irritation. The wood splintered, and she swore again, because that was one more thing she was going to have to repair before she moved. Waiting for him to finish, she danced from foot to foot, arms bound tight over her chest as she scowled.

He finally opened the door, stared at her with an odd mixture of amusement and fondness, and reached out to mess with her hair. "Morning. You look grumpy."

"I have to pee," she returned, shoving his hand away and wedging herself between him and the door. She got stuck for a moment, providing a little bit of delightful friction between them, before passing into the bathroom.

"Brat." He muttered it to the closed door, reached up to run his fingers along the edge of the fresh crack in the door. Though she no doubt heard him, she didn't grace him with a response.

In the bathroom, Sakura eyed herself critically, letting lukewarm water run over her hands as she scrutinized her appearance. Kakashi had seen her well-rested, had seen her fraying at the edges, and everywhere in between, so she wasn't too concerned about that morning. Her sleep had been fitful, mostly because she worried about the chuunin, but at least she'd gotten sleep. It was technically her day off, but she wasn't going to hold her breath on that one, considering she could be called in at a moment's notice for that young man.

She cupped water in her hands, splashed it on her face. As she flicked her fingers dry, she could hear Kakashi muttering something outside the door, and she expelled a long breath.

"I'm coming, I'm coming." Dabbing her face dry, she toed the door open, made her way down the hallway slowly. He was cooking breakfast, never wasting a motion as he cracked eggs over a pan and then carefully picked the shells out of what he deposited.

Coming up behind him, she leaned over, cheek against his arm. "You're really not good at that." To prove her point, she plucked another small piece of shell out, then flicked it off her fingers.

"You are grumpy." He said it lightly, and didn't sound very concerned. "Want to make breakfast instead?"

"Nope." She turned her face, pressed a light kiss to his shoulder. "All yours. What's the occasion?"

"No occasion." He seemed intently focused on his task, so Sakura stepped around him, began going through the motions of cleaning up her mess from the night before. Briefly, he stared at her, then asked, "Why don't you get dressed? I'll clean up."

Suspicious now, Sakura gave him a long look. "Who are you?" She finally asked, setting her teacup in the sink. "What have you done with the man I usually eat breakfast with?"

It hung in the air between them for just a moment: usually. More often than not, she ate alone, but it still seemed to fit. Perhaps because if she wasn't sharing her time with Kakashi, it was either Kiba or Naruto. Naruto was gone, had been gone for months, and who knew when he would come back. That left her options sorely limited, except when she ventured into Shikamaru and Ino's home and enjoyed their company, though she couldn't do that as often as she liked.

It was important to give the family their private time when they could all be together, after all. Ino wouldn't be going back to active duty for a little while longer yet, and she was going a little bit crazy in the meantime. Sakura could sympathize, but at least she had a nice desk job in the Hokage tower to occupy her until then.

Kakashi burned his fingers, and he tucked them into his mouth, nevertheless manfully continuing his task. At his side, Sakura laughed. "How do you always manage to burn yourself?"

He grunted, and she laughed again.

When breakfast was served, the sat across from one another, and as usual, picked off each other's plates. It didn't matter that they were eating the same thing; Sakura saw a large bit of egg and snatched it up with her chopsticks, and he retaliated by going for her vegetables. It was strangely peaceful, and she caught herself wishing that it could be like that every morning. Because she did, she ruthlessly smothered the thought.

"I'm moving." His eyebrow arched, and she took a long drink of her tea. "Closer to the hospital. The whole reason I was way out here was so that they wouldn't call me in all the time, but that happens anyway, so I'm just making more work for myself."

He wiped his mouth with a napkin, looked at her thoughtfully. "Is that what you want?"

"It is." She lifted her shoulders. "Maybe."

He stacked his plates, held out his hand for hers as he rose. With his back to her, he commented, "You'll be a lot closer to everyone."

Propping her cheek up on her fist, she rolled her eyes. "I know that's a terrible thought to you, but I'd like some constant company. It's easier to spend time with people when you're closer to them."

He seemed to consider this, squirting some soap onto a small sponge and scrubbing. "Mm. It is."

Something dawned on her, and her brow furrowed. "You don't like the idea?"

"I didn't say that." He blinked at her over his shoulder. "If it makes you happy, it's fine with me."

Sakura sighed. "Happy, huh... sometimes, you've got to settle for just getting by."

The fact that she could say that to him, the fact that he simply inhaled deeply instead of arguing it, spoke volumes for how far they'd come. No longer was there even a shred of the student and teacher between them; they were a man and a woman, on equal footing as far as most things were concerned, who were both well aware of the bleak world they lived in. Both of them knowing that, perhaps, what they had was as good as it would get didn't make it any easier to swallow, but sharing that knowledge did make it a bit easier to bear.

"Nobody warned me that when I grew up, everything was going to be so irritating." She kept her tone light, extended a hand for him when he turned around.

Kakashi hesitated a moment, then laced his fingers with hers. "Why spoil the surprise?"

She rolled her eyes, then asked sweetly, "Want to help me pick out a place?"

He tugged her out of the chair, drew her over and out of the kitchen. "Do I have to? I hate looking for apartments."

Fitting snugly against his side, she confided, "I've been thinking of looking for a house. I don't want to live in an apartment forever, you know. And I really hate moving."

He stilled, but simply said, "Ah. Well, if you want."

"What's the ah for?" She peered up at him, poked him in the chest with her free hand. "Relax. I'm not asking you to move in with me."

It was said as a joke, but when he looked down at her, there was something serious and a little sad in his face. "I know."

She felt a little uncomfortable, but before she could say anything else, her front door swung open.

"Hey, Sakura-chan, I'm ba..." Naruto trailed off, blue eyes widening as he looked from Sakura to Kakashi, then back again.

A few moments passed in tense silence, and then Sakura muttered, "Shit."