Chapter 13, Poor Imitation - Beg
Sorry for the delay. I did nanowrimo again and then finished this up when I was done. This is a much longer chapter than my usual. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed over the course of it.
There is a note on my profile about why Coffee Shop has been deleted.
Four weeks and five days.
One hundred and twenty-eight hours. It didn't seem like very long when put that way. The sun rose thirty-four times and set thirty-three. A warm, light rain fell one day and there was a hot, dry heat the other thirty-two. Tall, sandy dunes lit by brilliant sunsets were the only view for thirty-three evenings, and sun-kissed, smiling faces filled with anticipation were the ubiquitous scenes throughout the days.
Six days a week Sakura would trudge along the gritty sidewalks to the medical facility in Sand to train their medics on innovations developed at home. One long day a week she would lie in a hard bed in the small, neat bungalow she was given and try to catch up on all the hours of the night that she had found it impossible to sleep.
And for thirty-three nights, she watched the stars through the open window under the pagoda roof, breathing in the warm spiced air of the Wind Country, and thinking of Kakashi.
Over and over in her thoughts she reconnoitred the times in her relationship with him, cracking them open like shells with valuable insights secreted inside. In their intimate moments Kakashi would allow small memories and pieces of his past to pass between them in the form of stories and anecdotes. During fights, he'd be the calm one, letting her get it out because he knew she had to. And when she'd return from a mission, standing on his step expectantly, he could never prevent the trickle of some relief in his half-smile when he opened the door to find her there.
She missed his skin and smell and strong arms and cocky smile so much.
But it was just sex to him. The whole basis of their relationship had been about physical pleasure. Yet for her, it had become that flutter in her stomach when he was near, the smile she couldn't hold back when thinking about him or the anticipation of going to see him. Sex was great, but the other things had become as important as her time with him progressed. When he was injured from a mission, she had the small enjoyment of holding him and talking, learning more about his past and connecting on other levels. She felt guilty that she enjoyed those times. Normal relationships shouldn't involve guilt.
It was hard to give it up, but she had to. She needed more and he couldn't give it to her. He wasn't a man to marry or have children with. He was Hatake Kakashi, her lover and nothing more. She wanted it all now and had to get out before she couldn't. She had expectations about how her life would be, and she needed to be with someone who could give her those things – although she doubted she'd love them anywhere near as much.
Her hopes had never been what women dreamt of as young girls – no white picket fence and a kiss hello after work from a dutiful husband as she made the children dinner. She'd wanted a fulfilling career as a medic, freedom to enjoy her life with her friends, and maybe a man who would never tire of laying his warm body beside her and loving her for everything she was. And one day, perhaps a child, who looked a little like them both, would come and complete their perfection. She only wanted a simple, honest love. Nothing more, nothing less.
Leaving Konoha for a month was the only path Sakura believed would quell some of her desires and needs, give her a chance to find again the ground that had been spinning out from under her awkward feet. By and by, the only purpose it did serve was to prove how thoroughly screwed over she was by her own feelings. The intense loss felt stitched into her, embroidered with strong thread deep under her ribs.
Lying with the thin, crumpled sheets twisted around her hot skin, she practiced imaginary conversations with Kakashi: being aloof, uncaring, or laughing to show she was fine without him. She'd hoped it would wound him when she left, make him think about her more. In her worst moments, she hoped he was unhappy.
It was hard to think he might be moving on, meeting someone else, living life as if she hadn't slipped into it at all. How could he forget her when she found the same feat impossible? Why didn't he have the same tactile emotion she had? She could examine it, deconstruct it, shred it all to pieces, but in the end, no answer was ever clear about how to move on. She would just continue to suffer alone.
But it was how it had to be. Time would help, wouldn't it?
On the thirty-fourth morning, with nothing changed except the bronzed colour of her skin, Sakura went home.
"Mission?" Kakashi lifted a visible eyebrow at Iruka, who scoured the nearly blank notepad in his hand.
"Sorry, Kakashi-san," the Chuunin apologized with a timid shrug of his stiff shoulders.
Sometimes Kakashi was grateful for the headband that obscured one eye, as most people found it hard to discern the eye-roll. "Hm," he responded dispassionately, and spun on a heel to head for the door but his path was obstructed.
"What are you doing in here again?" Tsunade interrogated somewhat harshly, her painted nail pointing a direct line at his chest.
"Mission," he repeated.
The exasperated sound she made as she breathed in was fairly representative of the patience she had for him lately. So what if he took a mission a day? There wasn't any sort of rule that ninja had mandatory days off. He'd never seen it posted anywhere, nor ever heard in his long life as a shinobi that there was a ninja union that negotiated it into contract.
He'd read all his books twice. He'd found his palette lacking for any particular taste and he'd given up trying to sleep in. And to be honest, he was getting a little too drunk each Tuesday night. What else was there to keep his mind occupied than a nice, well-rounded, energy-draining operation that required skill, focus and time…lots of time.
"Going for a record or something? I heard you took a D rank yesterday. Did you find the cat?" Tsunade said with tight lips and an impertinent lift of her blond eyebrow.
"Ah, Tickles. Very wiry, that cat. I suspect that it is more of a summoned demon-cat than an actual tabby. I meant to speak to you about that." Kakashi cleared his throat and examined a crack in the wall to his left.
The Hokage shook her head. "Why don't you go home and read some of your dirty books, Kakashi. There are no missions worthy of your rank right now. If you keep this up, the current Genin will never get the missions required to move on."
"Hm," he mumbled his stock reply and nodded his discomfiture so that she might know exactly what he was doing and why. Stuffing his hands down into his pockets, and camouflaging his tense muscles with slack, rounded shoulders, Kakashi began his amble toward the exit.
"She's back today, you know," Tsunade added smoothly. "So you can quit worrying about her."
Kakashi's feet halted momentarily as he listened to the click of her heels disappearing behind him. Tsunade just had no clue.
The gates of Konoha had always been a welcome sight to the young medic, but this time the view seemed to twist a hard knot just beneath her ribs. The month had not been the cathartic getaway she'd wanted. Instead it was just confirmation of what she already knew about her wrenching tendency to commit to loving someone with all she had. When the dream was over, she usually had nothing left.
Ino had enjoyed a grand time in Sand. Of course, most male shinobi – much like children –got excited about something new and shiny. The blond Leaf-nin was certainly not something they bargained for, and she enjoyed avid attention in the way of dates, presents and guided tours every couple of days. Who knew that Sand-nin could be so amorous?
Attention wheedled into Sakura's daily life too, but she was – as Ino remarked to the would-be suitors – oblivious to any person of the opposite sex that didn't possess a penchant for dirty reading material and an incessant habit of being late.
Sakura had to admit it was probably true.
Now tanned and tired, the two women took their first few steps inside the massive gates and breathed in the scent of ramen and sweet cut grass. Even their skin drank in the fresh moisture hanging in the temperate air. The grainy grit of the sand had roughened Sakura's hands, and her skin had felt so dry for so long.
Before their weary eyes, civilians and ninja moved from place to place in varying degrees of speed and kinetics. A boy with a ball, a man with a newspaper, a teenaged couple holding hands, ninja heading to missions or back home from one – life was moving on whether they were there or not.
It gave the medic a motion sick feeling in her stomach.
Sakura stared at the streak of sunshine that crept from the window at the edge of her bed; the tiny particles of dust drifting along it like diminutive stars. It was warm when she stuck her bare toe in the stream.
Her body had felt cool since she arrived back in the Fire Country. During the two days of travel it took to return home from Sand, she'd gotten quite burnt. A slight fever the day before preceded some peeling skin on her forehead, and her freckles had increased exponentially across her nose.
The first view of the gates when arriving back gave her such mixed feelings. Terrified, she drifted through, wondering if she'd see him, frightened she would and frightened she wouldn't. All Sakura could think was that Kakashi was somewhere within that high wall, probably reading his book, lazing on a tree branch, forgetting about her.
Two days passed and she'd managed to make it to the hospital and back without a glimpse of him and always felt that perplexing mixture of relief and loss when she lay on her bed at night.
Maybe he didn't know she was back. Or maybe he just didn't care…
Of course, she knew him better than that. He was respecting her wishes. In some horrible way, she supposed, it would help her get over him.
The night he was injured had replayed over and over again in her thoughts as she performed the mundane task of training young medics on new techniques abroad. It always started with the kunai slash to Kakashi's throat. If it never happened, would things have ended up this way?
Even with blood flowing from the wound, Kakashi had continued to fight. From all her time with him, Sakura knew he would fight until death because that was how he lived. Comrades, country, self - always in that order. She admired that about him.
She'd had to force him to lie down before he fainted of blood loss. Peeling back the wet layer of mask until she could clearly see the gash, Sakura pressed her energy into his throat and quietly went about mending him as she had so many times before. His skin was cool under her fingertips. He'd remarked absently that her hand was hot.
It was warm that day too. The sweat beaded on her upper lip and back as she bent over him and worked. Kakashi lay there looking up, not smiling, not frowning, just watching. A slight raise of his brow made her meet his eyes but she hadn't thought about what might have caused it until they were on the trip home.
She was too overwhelmed to talk to him as they walked silently with their team. Losing him would have killed her at that moment, she had realized with cruel certainty. Living a day knowing he wasn't there would have been too much to bear. And what she gleaned from the fear that had clenched in her stomach as her warm hands pressed on his cold skin was that she had crossed that line that they had never properly drawn, but both knew existed.
She was in love. Deeply.
A sudden knock at the door jolted Sakura from her inner thoughts, and nervously, she tried to remember what day it was as she rolled off the bed. Almost too quickly she reached the door, but when she flung it open, she found Sasuke leaning on the wrought iron railing.
"Of all the people I expected, you were the last," she said evenly, sheer disappointment swimming in her stomach. Obviously she'd hoped it was Kakashi, and it hurt worse to find it wasn't.
"Is that how it is then?" Sasuke's unremitting cool demeanour was steadfast.
Sakura breathed a scoff through a half-smile and stepped aside to allow him to enter the apartment. She didn't really want company.
Almost clinically, he carefully removed his shoes and then walked a few slow steps to sit at her kitchen table. "Did I wake you?" His eyebrows rose as he took in her blue tank top and baggy, flannel pants.
"No. Just…lying around."
"It's two o'clock."
"Hence why I wasn't asleep," she mumbled quietly. "Want some…what do you drink again?"
"Coffee. That would be fine."
Sakura reached in the cupboard and pulled out two mugs, one of which was the red one, making an effort not to shake her head at his odd countenance. "Instant okay?"
She stretched to a higher shelf to get the coffee package. "What brings you here?"
Sasuke looked at her blandly. "Bonfire tonight. I was the only one without duties so Ino sent me to tell you. She'll be here around nine to get you."
Sakura snapped on the electric kettle and went through her cupboards to retrieve the sugar, getting a small shiver down her back as she felt him watching. After slipping a teabag into the black mug with white diamonds on it, she turned and leaned against the counter to find Sasuke's eyes had shifted to stare at his mug.
Sakura looked at the red porcelain, then at Sasuke, crossing her arms. "You can take it home with you if you want."
"I have blue mugs now."
For a second, Sakura digested his comment. He looked so serious, that it made her chuckle. But as the idea that he'd actually gone out and bought new mugs wrapped around her mind, she had to laugh so hard that tears blurred his outline. He was such a type A that perhaps having an uneven number of mugs disturbed him enough to make him shop for dinnerware.
When she managed to calm down, wiping at the tears, she could see he was smiling. Such a rare sight on Uchiha Sasuke nowadays, Sakura had forgotten how much she liked the perfection of it. Her own smile didn't fade while she poured the drinks and slid into the chair next to his, stirring her tea slowly to mix in the milk and two spoonfuls of sugar.
"So you remember everything now?" Sasuke asked as he lifted the red mug to breathe in the rich scent of the black steaming liquid.
"What I showed you when you were… Well, the image I put in your mind. Was it accurate?" His tone was curious and Sakura laughed again to find he was checking his ability and not worrying about how it affected her. Typical Sasuke.
"Mostly. I cried harder, but I suppose you didn't see that clearly. And you made me sound a little crazier than I felt if that makes sense. I wasn't a stalker, you know." Sakura laughed against the rim of the black mug. "But I did want to ask you something about that night when you sharinganed me…you know, as the other Sakura."
"I can't promise I'll answer," he said smoothly, sitting up a little straighter.
"Kakashi," Sakura said with a hint of forcefulness. "You refused to comment on him in regards to me. Why?"
Sasuke's dark eyes probed her face, then glanced to the kitchen window, and then dropped to his palm as he flicked at a callous.
"He never told you then," he grimaced.
"Obviously not. What are you talking about?" Sakura's chest felt tight again. Why did it take losing her memories to learn things about her own life and the people in it?
"I knew about you two. The night of the bonfire a few months ago when you said you were sick and couldn't go, I left early. We were drunk, and everyone was talking about you, wishing you'd come. I mixed a lot of different drinks and didn't handle it well. Naruto looked dejected and barely drank. I could tell he thought you didn't come because of me."
"Oh shit," she mumbled. "You…came here?"
"I came here. I was going to try and smooth it over because I felt guilty about Naruto and was tired of the animosity. Obviously you know what I saw. I walked right in to your bedroom but you didn't notice me. Granted you were…probably not coherent enough to notice anything at that moment." Sasuke laughed and crossed his arms, shaking his head a little. "I don't think I could have had worse timing."
"You were…well, he looked right at me over your shoulder, then went right back to what he was doing."
"Did he...? I mean…. Oh, God. I can't believe someone saw me doing that."
"I never told anyone – especially Naruto. But I was pissed off about it for a long time. I'm not unhappy you two are finished."
"Thanks…" Sakura's head spun with the image of Sasuke standing in her bedroom doorway watching her naked and straddling their old team-leader. "Oh fuck," she laughed. "I'm so embarrassed."
"I can see how you would be," he grinned a little darkly.
"Wait…how did you know we were finished?"
Sasuke shrugged. "You're never together anymore. You took off right after we caught Ito and Kakashi has been avoiding people and taking missions every day, even minor ones."
"Has he?" Her eyes widened as a jolt of feeling raced through her stomach. It wasn't a bad emotion she felt, knowing that her absence had indeed affected him.
"So I have a question for you, now," Sasuke added, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip of his coffee.
"Shoot," she responded absently, still ruminating on the idea that Kakashi might have actually pined for her.
"Naruto. I want to hear how that all happened. He's pretty tight lipped about it."
"Oh, so that's how it is, huh?" she half-growled, but couldn't turn down the corners of her embarrassed smile. Sasuke had changed so much. Just to come to her door alone meant something. It was nice to have almost all the pieces of her life back in place.
"Yeah," Sasuke nodded. "That's how it is."
Night crept in like it always did, giving Sakura that little bit of extra sadness. At night, there were no duties at the hospital, no patients or medical crisis to keep her busy. At least tonight she would be dragged off and made to drink around eight of her best friends.
The knock came at about nine thirty, which was typical of dolled-up Ino. The girl continually underestimated the time it would take to become ravishing, which in Sakura's opinion, was when Ino rolled out of bed.
Barely having time to lock her door as Ino pulled her into the street, Sakura began walking with the idea that when she arrived at the bonfire, she would just drink herself to oblivion. Might be just the right thing to wipe out all the annoying admonishments her inner self kept chiding. Damn incessant nagging voice. Too bad it was her own. "Closure," it said over and over. "Go and get closure."
But in reality, what good would it do to go and see him? What good would it do to lose her cool façade right there in his apartment as he looked on?
No, she was where she should be. Time would make it easier to handle, and a lot of time would make it easier to face him – if indeed, their paths ever crossed again. Seems he was doing a great job of avoiding her.
When the two women arrived at the bonfire, everyone was there, already drinking and conversing happily as was the norm at these times. Chouji was inflating and deflating his hands, and Hinata seemed to find some inner courage to sit next to Naruto, letting her thigh press against his as much as she dared.
Sakura gave her a glance of apology when Naruto spotted her pink hair and jumped up from his place on the log.
"Finally!" he shouted and everyone seemed to turn to see her.
As if she were the guest of honour, they jumped up or ran over to come and talk to her. Everyone was asking questions all at once and she had to laugh when it all just became excited noise.
"I'm fine…yes, fine…" she tried to answer each. "No, I remember that…yes…no!"
After a few moments and some hugs, people began retreating back to their seats and the opened bottles of whiskey and vodka were passed around.
Every story that passed their lips, every thought and detail of their lives that they relived, Sakura understood it all. The secret love that Hinata held for Naruto, the brotherly connection no one could get in between with Naruto and Sasuke, the way Kiba would admire the women of the group openly were all things that made sense. The last time there were there, everyone expressed their deepest desires, and Sakura now understood every single one.
"Oi, Sakura," Shikamaru slurred as the night wound down and everyone, as usual, slumped against the logs and ground, dozing off or sitting quietly.
"Hm?" she said, her head on Naruto's shoulder and her feet across Ino's legs.
"It's nice to have you back. Anti-Sakura seemed a little slow," he laughed.
"Nice. Is that what you called me, you bastards?" she laughed.
Shikamaru snorted, "Kiba came up with it."
"Thanks, Fido," Sakura responded, directing her green eyes at Kiba who put his hands up in placation, grinning heartily.
Sakura closed her eyes, feeling the swell and spin of blissful intoxication taking all the hurt and pain away for just a little while. It was perhaps one in the morning and she wished she could sit there forever feeling like that and never have to step into her life again. She leaned heavily on Naruto, her feet across Ino's legs.
Opening her eyes again, she looked at Shikamaru and shook her head. Silence filled the area, and Sakura felt Ino's hand tighten on her ankle. A few other voices laughed and cajoled, and Sakura lifted her eyes to the clear night and the millions of tiny, untouched dots in the sky. She felt cold for a moment.
When Naruto shifted, she knew the moment had come – much earlier than usual, but obviously at a good time – and he stood up and declared it was time for him to kick everyone's ass to the guard tower and back.
Sakura stood up with the group.
When Naruto shouted, "Go!" and they all began to run, Sakura's foot was the first to touch a tree branch.
The tepid sun rose and the pearly grey clouds fought it for possession of the sky. But what did Sakura care when she'd drank the last dregs of the whiskey and stumbled home with Naruto's arm firmly around her waist. He left her on her step, laughing and giggling while she tried to get her key in the lock on her apartment door. It took five attempts, and a short scratch over the paint on the door before she engaged the key in the lock.
The first few steps into the apartment managed to knock over a lamp and kick two pairs of shoes out of line, but she didn't care.
The room shook and spun, and in time, it became obvious she'd have to expel the churning contents of her burning stomach, but for now, she tripped along with the intoxicated dance, enjoying every step.
Stumbling into her room, using the wall for guidance and support, she stripped off her clothes, having trouble with the zippers and buttons. Thank goodness she hadn't worn the leg guards. Then sliding open the closet door, naked, she tried to find a t-shirt large enough to sleep in.
But balance was not a reliable thing when drunk, and Sakura toppled over into the closet, banging her elbow (which wouldn't hurt until that evening), and fell into a heap, laughing. It took a moment to realize where she was and what she'd done, but still finding the humour in it, she pushed the box that had fallen on her legs to the floor and grabbed at the first shirt she could pull from the pile that she'd inadvertently yanked off the shelf as she tumbled.
It was black. The red ensign of a ninja's shirt were rough under her fingers and she ran a hand awkwardly over the smooth, soft material. A man's shirt.
Taking a breath, and finally finding all the enjoyment of being drunk had left her, Sakura pulled the heavy shirt over her head, having some trouble but managing to get her arms through the sleeves, and hugged it to her body. He'd put it on her the morning they'd made love. They didn't have sex or fuck. He made love to her and it was like nothing they'd done before.
Why couldn't it have been like that more?
He was so cold after too. He looked riddled with guilt.
If she wasn't so inebriated, it might have been a good time to examine all the things that happened on that day, but she was, and it hurt her head to really try.
Using the wall and the closet door to pull herself out, she found the white box from the weapon store sitting on the floor in front of her. As carefully as she could, she lifted the heavy cardboard top and looked at the white porcelain handle and the dull tri-bladed kunai.
A sense of history swept over her at knowing that the Yondaime had held that very kunai in the battlefield. She'd forgotten that she'd retrieved it from the store, purely by accident as "anti-Sakura."
Folding the box top down, she slid it out of her way and pressed her forehead to the floor. How long it had taken to find it for him. She had wanted to see him hold it in his long fingers, knowing that she had found something so precious for him. To have something he lost and to be the person that was able to give it back would have made her so happy. It was a bad time to cry, but she couldn't help it.
If she had to do it, she'd rather it happened when she was alone.
Kakashi sat on the roof in one of the wooden chairs she'd put there months ago. The candle was half burned down and looked like an incinerated sculpture of some sort. The wind was blowing over the scent of the lilacs from the neighbour's roof, and the Copy-nin pulled his mask down to breathe them in.
It was stupid and a little bit creepy to be looking in on her like he was, but he wanted to see her once to make sure she was all right. He couldn't rely on accounts that others gave him, as depending on who the informant was, they typically didn't want him to really know.
Ino would give him a sniff in the air and say she's fine. Genma would report that she looked like shit and was depressed. Shizune was by far the most honest, unknowing of what had gone on between them, and would say that Sakura looked cold and lost sometimes. Shizune worried about her and that made Kakashi worry about her.
He'd watched her stumble down the road, laughing and singing something unintelligible with Naruto until she took a ridiculous amount of time getting in her door. For a little while, he listened to what she was doing inside when he heard the crash. It made him laugh just a little, knowing what a poor drunk she could be. But his mild enjoyment left him as he heard her start to cry.
Then he sat there and smelled the lilacs and stared at the drooping, sad candle and rubbed his bare hands along the soft wood of the weather worn chairs until he needed to leave.
"Just go see him," Ino mumbled over her rum cake.
Sakura had never been one to indulge in the rum cake, but the last time they'd sat in the teahouse, Ino had ordered them and that was that. Now they had become a bit of a sweet craving every once in a while and lately she'd wanted comfort food.
"I can't. It's been a week since we got back and I haven't even seen a flash of him. He's avoiding me. He has to be. And if I go see him, I'll just…lose it," Sakura mumbled, digging her fork slowly through the thick sticky cake to leave prong marks along the top.
"You need to get some closure. You haven't even spoken about what happened. At least talk to him about that day he came to get you in the Abbey," Ino directed over the table, her nails clicking on her teacup as she eyed Sakura wearily.
"I don't even know how to face him," Sakura breathed out.
"It's Tuesday, you know. Didn't you tell me Tuesday was the day you two had off? You know he'll be home. Just go see him. Think up an excuse, take back his shirt, go beat him up, just finish things nice and neatly or you'll never get over it," Ino imparted, crossing her arms and sitting back. "And you know I talk from experience."
Sakura nodded, her mouth an emotionless line, but her brow creased tight over her eyes. She'd lost her appetite and pushed the remaining cake away.
"Let's go. I could use some fresh air," Sakura mumbled softly.
"All right. Just let me pay," Ino responded in defeat.
The two women slid out of the low booth, and ambled to the front of the teahouse to find Na giggling with two businessmen in another booth by the door. It seemed they would have to wait a few minutes so the business owner could finish procuring new customers before she took their money.
"Oh God." Ino rolled her eyes. "Doesn't that woman ever quit?"
Sakura scoffed quietly, remembering the way Na had hung on Kakashi in front of her. Damn Na and her flirtation. Had Sakura been herself, she probably would have pulled the woman off Kakashi in that situation. Probably better that she hadn't or she'd never have been allowed back in and would have missed that wonderful rum cake.
"Oh shit," Ino mumbled, as she turned around and leaned on the counter the register sat on to look back into the teahouse.
"What?" Sakura asked calmly, spinning to see what Ino was referring to. For so many reasons, she really, truly wished she hadn't.
Her knees suddenly felt weak, her hands tense, stomach tight. It had been a week of dragging around the village in hopes that she might just catch a glimpse of Kakashi and suddenly there he was. Like the moment he was before her at the Abbey, or there to save her from Ito the second time, he was just there.
And if seeing him in such a public place wasn't bad enough, having him look right at her was worse. There he stood, he and Genma, getting ready to sit down as a waitress directed them to a booth, both men staring at her. Kakashi's arms were crossed over his vest, his dark eye looking right into her as if he could actually see her heart pounding in her chest and was counting all the beats. Of the million times she pictured him during her time away, seeing him with her eyes again was like seeing the sun for the first time.
Genma had a coffee stir stick in his mouth and he smiled half-heartedly. For a few moments, they just regarded each other. Sakura felt the electrical shock riding through her central nervous system, making her back tense and her hands shake.
She had to leave before she passed out or cried. Either would be equally inappropriate and something she didn't want him to see. Maybe it would be easier to face him later if she could hold that façade for one more minute. And maybe it would hurt him a little to see she didn't care as much as she really did.
But in truth, she loved him too much to want to hurt him. Instead, she touched Ino's shoulder and whispered, "I'm going to go." Then turned around and left, feeling every little movement of her body and knowing his eye was following each one too.
When she got home, she was still trembling so hard that, as she made tea, the red mug full of hot liquid slipped from her fingers and smashed into thick wet pieces on the kitchen floor.
For another Tuesday night, Kakashi lay in his bed and thought about what he should have done differently. An orange book was splashed across his bare chest and he roughly ran his hand through his hair, scratching hard and then rubbing his tired eyes.
Maybe that moment she came to fight him, he should have held her off. Maybe they should have waited for the medic to undress her after that mission, or maybe he should have just…
There was no decent answer. Sakura was Sakura – a woman ruled by emotion. He knew it from the moment her strong hands held him down and she kissed him. And if he'd fought her off or waited for the medic or whatever of the million other things he could have done, then it all would have never happened.
He couldn't really say he regretted everything, just the way things ended up.
Quietly he lay back, working his body into a comfortable position on the soft cotton bedspread and closing his eyes. Like every other night, he'd just have to dwell on it until it left him alone or he dozed off. She was home and safe, and he had to keep his distance until she was ready to talk to him again. The waiting was just difficult because he was craving her like a drug.
But he understood that if she wanted to end it with him, he had to respect that. For her, he could do that.
He breathed in deeply, lazily, and closed his eyes. And it was then that he smelled the first sweet scent of jasmine and heard the first tap of her shoes on the step outside. In slight shock, Kakashi lay perfectly still, listening, waiting.
In a million years, he didn't think she'd come, but she did.
The perpetually unlocked doorknob turned slowly and the hinges creaked so quietly only someone with superior hearing would know they moved, but when her shoes stepped in the door, she made no pretence about being quiet.
"Kakashi?" she said quietly, closing the door behind her before her light steps began to carry her through his kitchen. But she stopped beside the table when she spotted him on the bed.
Kakashi, unsure of how not to scare her away, shuffled slowly to the end of his bed and dropped his bare feet lightly to the floor. He closed his sharingan and drank in the sight of her, looking, smelling and sounding like the same woman who had spent night after night tumbling in his sheets with him, or healing his wounds after a bad mission, or ignoring him when she felt guilty about their quiet tryst. She was the same woman who told dirty jokes when they were dozing off, who would talk in her sleep, and would make herself a tea naked in his kitchen, grinning knowingly when she caught him watching.
She wore her red tunic and black shorts, omitting the leg guards. Her pink hair was smooth and parted to the side. A white box was cradled in her arm and her green eyes drifted over everything and anything that wasn't him.
"I'm not here to fight," she said coolly. "I…have something for you. I got it ages ago and felt you should have it. I'll just leave it here on the table and get going."
"Stay for a minute, Sakura," he said quietly.
Sakura's brow scrunched up tightly and her jaw tensed. Was it his voice that did it? Kakashi could hear her heart pounding, betraying the calm, indifferent look she managed to hold until a moment ago. His keen vision picked up the white knuckles on the box and the tightening muscles in her arms.
With aching slowness, she placed the box on the table and looked down at it. Her fingers tapped lightly on the cardboard while she laughed a little to herself, and then finally looked up at him with determined eyes.
Kakashi watched her silently, unsure of what to say as she guarded herself a little by regaining some cool composure. He wanted to ask her why she'd really come, but it might push her back out the door. It was Tuesday and she was standing in his kitchen. If he gave her enough time, they might be able to talk through the strain and discomfort they both were surely feeling.
Sakura began to take a few steps through his apartment, running her long fingers along his kitchen counter, and then flicking off the light under the cupboards to darken everything to the one dim light in the corner of his meagre living room. Her eyes traced the walls as she cautiously moved past the couch, and the bookshelf, and the window to move toward where Kakashi was sitting.
Damned it if his own body wasn't anticipating her first words, or even a touch. It had taken all he had not to slip into her apartment that morning she wandered home drunk from their bonfire party. But she was too intoxicated for any rational discussions and they probably would have just ended up in her bed. That would not do anything but make him feel even guiltier.
"I'll stay for a minute…but don't say a word, Kakashi. Not even a whisper. I just want one…just one…" she breathed out, her lips tightening as she blinked back tears, unable to finish what she wanted to say. "Please, for just a moment, stay like that. Don't move."
Kakashi's throat felt dry and he nodded once as calmly as he could. She began to walk closer until her toes were a centimetre away from his. He looked up at her, closing his sharingan to see her completely. Her scent drifted around him as did her body heat and he could almost feel her pounding heartbeat against the bare skin of his chest even though she had not yet touched him.
She lifted her hands slowly and slid them over his shoulders, leaving tingles of pleasure in their wake. Then she placed a knee on the bed beside him and lifted her other up to straddle his thighs, running her hands behind his neck to hold tight. The feeling of her fingertips against his skin was supremely satisfying.
When she spoke again, her lips were beside his ear, her hot cheek pressed against his and her body wonderfully warm along his front. But the emotional tremble in her voice made him tense in her tender grasp.
"I miss you," she whispered, her breath tickling his ear.
She was crying.
He moved to lift a hand and she whimpered, "Don't. Please…just a moment longer."
Afraid she would run, Kakashi put his hand back down on the bed and let her hold him, trying hard not to lean forward into her.
With a tip of her head, she pressed her forehead to his throat as she slid a hand up his shoulder into the back of his hair. Kakashi felt a small bit of anger rise in him that she was doing this, torturing them, forbidding him to have a little of what he wanted as well. Why do such a thing to him? To herself?
"I need to say goodbye," disjointed words fell from her trembling lips as she pressed them against his ear, tightening her hold around his lean body.
Kakashi closed his eyes and finally leaned into her, giving in to his own desperate need to be close one more time. Gently, he turned his head and pressed his lips to her throat. A soft sob came breathed out as her body wracked a little against him.
"I need to tell you…that I fell in love with you and I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to happen. It just did," she could barely get the words out now and her hold loosened. "I just had to say it once to you so you knew. I couldn't end us with a lie."
Kakashi's eyes snapped open and he whipped a hand around her back, clenching his fingers tightly into her shirt. "Sakura…!"
And with that one word, a small curl of smoke was all that was left in his hands.
"Fuck," Kakashi mumbled, more angry than upset. Typical Sakura. Once again she'd run. He was tired of this with her and bolted up off his bed to go to the kitchen, fully intending to have a drink and or perhaps throw something breakable.
Love him? He thought that was just a lingering thing from when she lost her memories and he'd rescued her. In all that time, he'd never imagined that she felt deeply about him. Confusion rippled through his mind. If she loved him, then why run away yet again?
What could possibly be the point of separating from him if she…
He approached the kitchen, completely forgetting about the white box on the table until the glass he pulled from the cupboard slid across the wood to bump into it. And for a moment, he just stared at the small mystery.
But when curiosity got the better of him, he slid the top of it open and felt the gut-wrenching memories of the past catch up.
A haraishin kunai. Minato's kunai. It was identical to the one that he was given by his sensei the day Kakashi became a Jounin. He thought they were all gone and hadn't seen one since he was a boy.
Kakashi lifted the heavy weapon from the box, feeling the familiar weight and testing the perfect balance, running his thumb over the engraved kanji in the handle. He held the cold, heavy iron ring at the base to his forehead and closed his eyes.
It must have taken her ages to find. Perhaps it was even the last one.
"Damn it," he growled.
She was getting out before she got hurt. She believed him indifferent.
He understood now.
Sakura was thankful for the night-time as she brushed the tears angrily away from her face. Her feet moved quickly, but if she had to think of what route she took to get home, she couldn't have said. The few moments alone with him kept running through her mind and she hated herself for going. She could have just as easily given Naruto the kunai and been done with it.
But given their history and the way she felt about him, she wanted Kakashi to have it. It would mean more to him because of the memories he had. It was right. Naruto had so many other things of his father's now. Kakashi deserved one thing.
Hearing voices in the street and desperate to avoid meeting up with anyone, Sakura slipped to the rooftops to continue her trek home, still angry with herself and Kakashi and the horrible situation. Wasn't she going to stay cold and indifferent? Wasn't she going to just drop the box off and leave? Damn it, why was she weak around him? She wasn't this timid girl who was lost without him anymore, was she? That woman had disappeared when her memories flew back into her head.
And if he hadn't spoken, she might have made it. If his smooth voice hadn't penetrated every inch of her, reminding her of times he'd growl out his desire in the quiet hours of the morning, or when he'd thank her after she healed him, or say "good morning" in that sleepy way when she woke beside him.
She'd let herself give in entirely, telling him she loved him. His shocked reaction was enough. Somehow she had thought he should have known all along. Couldn't he tell? Couldn't he see it in her eyes when she looked at him?
Damn men and their obtuse understanding of women. They were all morons in that realm.
Darting faster and faster, wanting to just get inside and wallow in her misery or just damn well break something, Sakura made her way to the familiar apartment building and landed on her doorstep. She was just about to put the key in the lock when something smacked against the door on either side of her. Sakura's wide green eyes looked up to see Kakashi's gloved hands flat against the wood, caging her in with his body.
"Open the door, Sakura," he commanded quietly.
"What are you…?"
"Get the door open," he reiterated, dropping a hand to grab her wrist and lead the key to the lock.
"O…okay…" she breathed out quickly, unlocking the door and swinging it open, acutely feeling his hot fingers wrapped around her wrist. Hastily and clumsily, she hurried inside and spun to watch Kakashi, fully dressed in his shirt, mask and vest, walk slowly through the door, flicking it closed with a hard snap.
"What…are you doing here?" she asked, feeling confused about the visit after she'd just left.
"You can't say something like that and just leave," Kakashi said with a slightly cross tone.
Kakashi began to walk toward Sakura and she reactively stepped back, but he kept coming. Treading quickly, she had to stop when she bumped into the couch. She tried to move but Kakashi's hands were there, grabbing her shoulders and steering her towards the chair. "Sit down," he commanded.
"But…!" she tried to argue, but he pushed her back gently until she flopped to sit down, staring up at him with astonishment.
"It's my turn to speak. Agreed?"
Sakura's open mouth snapped shut as her brow creased.
"Good." he said with finality, rubbing a hand through his hair and turning away. It wasn't normally in Kakashi to rant and rave, but he felt the perturbation from her foolish comments back in his apartment rippling through him. It was hard to come and be the antagonizer, because that just wasn't him. He tended to go with the flow, even with the undefined state of their relationship, and he had to admit he may have had a hand in how her ideas about the things between them went awry. Labelling it never seemed necessary, but perhaps that was her misinterpretation of his side. But still, she wasn't excused.
He paced for a second, thinking of exactly he wanted to say and how. Then turning back, he tugged down his mask and breathed out a sigh.
"Do you remember that conversation we had back in the beginning of all of this? The one about Naruto?"
Sakura's eyes skirted the ceiling and floor nervously as she thought about it what he meant.
"You were thinking about what was happening between us and you said Naruto would break the Hokage monument if he knew we were in bed together. And then you went on to talk about Tsunade and Ino. You tried to hide it, but I understood you were frightened that they wouldn't accept us."
Sakura's brow creased and she opened her mouth to speak.
"Don't," Kakashi mumbled with a finger up. "You made a choice right then. You didn't want to tell them you were with me and so you didn't. You came to my apartment or asked me to yours and I came. If you were there in the morning, we'd have breakfast and when you saw me anywhere on the street, it was your choice to speak with me or not. I never once imposed anything on you. You were ruled by your guilt and fear, but I never felt those things."
Kakashi looked down at her for a reaction, and he could tell she understood where he was going with it by the tiny bite of her lip. Her hands were gripping the chair sides tightly and he believed she was ramping up to something. It was about time.
"I didn't push you when you quit this. I didn't know what to say when you cried in my apartment that day, but you chose to end it and again, I conceded to what you wanted. I thought you'd finally hit the end when I was injured and realized you just wanted out. I feel a little foolish that it was quite the opposite that you wanted and I didn't pick up on it. But I let you go and gave you the space you asked for."
A trembling hand lifted to her red cheek, pressing into the flushed skin. She was getting angry and he was pleased. The Sakura who sobbed softly wasn't the woman he wanted. This girl, getting ready to break the chair and lunge at him was the person he knew best.
"Tsunade forbid me to go when you went missing, you know. She thought I was too close to the situation as we appeared to be good friends in her eyes. But I couldn't let someone else botch up finding you. It's been a long time since I was so frightened," he said quietly as she nodded back in complete understanding.
"And then when your memories came back, you ran. A month, Sakura. Even tonight you ran away." Even in the face of her growing anger, he kept his voice even and calm.
"I'm sorry," she growled out.
"Sorry that you love me, or sorry that you said it? The worst thing about all of this is that you never trusted me enough to tell me. Did I ever give you the impression that it was all just sex for me? I've had no other women, and I have never been secretive. Have I ever said no to you about anything? Whatever made you think we weren't in a relationship?"
She rubbed hard at her forehead.
"You didn't ask what I wanted, Sakura. Not once."
"I said I was sorry…" she huffed, standing up to meet him toe to toe.
"Stop saying you're sorry!" Kakashi shot back.
"What do you want me to say!" she shouted, pushing his chest a little and backing him up a step or two. "I didn't want out. I didn't want to leave. I never wanted to leave."
"Because I wanted you to beg me!" she yelled, grabbing his vest and twisting her hands in it, her face a picture of anger and distress. "I wanted you to stop me. I wanted to know that you loved me and wanted me as badly as I wanted you. But you didn't. You just let me walk away."
Kakashi closed his eyes and shook his head, suddenly seeing everything clearly right then.
"Beg? Is that what you really wanted? I'm supposed to read that idea into you saying you want out? I didn't want you to leave, but I wasn't about to force you to stay in something you didn't want."
"I looked at you lying there, bleeding, expiring. I have never been so scared in my life, Kakashi. I saw this future suddenly that I wanted with you. And the blood on my hands kept showing me that I couldn't have it."
"You underestimated me."
"I've known you for years, Kakashi. I get your bored, lazy exterior, dirty books, lax lifestyle and a willingness to die for any of us. But I wanted something more than just nights in bed with you. I wanted to wake up with you every morning, and tell people at work about stupid things we did at home. I wanted to see your shirts hanging in the closet with mine and I wanted to maybe one day have children with your eyes. Do you understand now? It's more that you can give me." Sakura's forehead dropped to his chest as she shook with her angry confession and subsequent exhaustion. "I wanted you to love me that much as well."
"Sakura…" he said again, lifting her chin to make her look at him. "How can you say I don't? You never asked me. Granted I've been a poor imitation of someone who cares about you, but I can give you those things. It should have been you asking me to stay. That's all it would have taken."
"Wh…what?" she whispered, her breathing ragged, her entire body tight and painful. "Are you sure? Because I'm asking for everything now. I want everything. Do you love me enough for that?"
Kakashi leaned forward, closing the space between them to slide a hand into her long hair and pull her closer. "Yeah, Sakura. I believe I do," he whispered onto her lips before kissing her softly.
Sakura's arms closed around his neck, tugging him so tightly against her, he feared she might break his collarbone. But he smiled as he pressed his face into her hair, a little out of sorts about the new step they'd just seemed to leap through, but feeling it was the correct choice as it had been a while since he'd actually felt content.
"I love you so much," she whimpered into his vest, making him smile.
Morning dawned and Kakashi growled a little that Sakura had left her curtains open. But instead of the norm of telling him to get up and close them, she just pulled herself tighter along the line of his body with an arm over his side.
Still clothed because they'd spent the night talking, dozing off and lying close together, Kakashi shuffled out from against her warm body and rolled to sit on the edge of the bed. Sakura rolled a little as well, snuggling into the warm niche his body had left. It was Wednesday morning and like so many others, he found himself in her apartment and lacking the energy to go home.
Perhaps it was time they chose one apartment and one bed? Maybe over breakfast, he could propose it.
Throughout the night, she spoke about the future that she wanted with him and the only thing that gave him a small shock was the idea of children. He'd never contemplated children, but he supposed if they looked like her, it might be all right. But as sure as he was his father's likeness, and Sakumo was his father's likeness, they were bound to look like Hatake.
The idea would take some getting used to, but she was young and career oriented so they had some time before she became serious about the idea. The thought of having a son wasn't without its appeal. His mortality liked the idea of his name carrying on and she would be a good mother.
Her last fear with moving forward was telling Naruto and Sasuke, as well as Tsunade and Shizune. Kakashi had no real difficulty in telling any of them. What would they really care? As her other memory-free self, she'd confessed to enough people that she wanted him. What difference did it make if memories were attached or not?
As he stood up and wandered to the kitchen to make them both a tea, Kakashi heard a knock at the door, loud and obnoxious. Obviously Naruto.
"Yeah…min…ute…" Sakura mumbled into her pillow in the bedroom.
Kakashi felt the cocky grin spread across his face as he pulled his mask up. Dressed only in the black, sleeveless shirt and his jogging pants, his bare feet carried him to the door and he opened it up with a swift tug.
"Hey, Sak...wh….at…the…?" Naruto's wide blue eyes looked up at Kakashi as he stood half-clothed in Sakura's doorway. Sasuke stood beside Naruto, his dark eyes narrowing.
Kakashi's eyebrows rose over his lazy, half-lidded eyes in question.
Naruto took a step back and looked up at the building, his mouth still open and his eyes wide. Apparently he was checking to see if he was at the right place.
"Sakura was supposed to meet us for breakfast," Sasuke spat, his black eyes tracing Kakashi's relaxed form as the older Jounin rubbed a hand sleepily through his hair.
"I see. Well, I'll get her out of bed and throw her in a shower. She'll catch up with you later," Kakashi said evenly, then swung the door closed to shut out Naruto's stunned expression and Sasuke's obvious displeasure. It made him chuckle softly as he wandered back into Sakura's bedroom and climbed back on the bed.
"Who was that?" she asked groggily, wrapping her arms back around him and snuggling close.
"Sasuke and Naruto. You were supposed to meet them for breakfast," Kakashi whispered as he pressed soft kisses to her throat. Sakura tipped her head back to give him better access to her warm skin.
"And?" she laughed softly with a hint of incredulity.
"And I told them I'd put you in a shower after you got out of bed."
"Oh God," she scoffed. "No need to say anything else, I guess. It'll be all over the place by noon. They'll be banging down the door."
"Guess so. Suppose there's no turning back now," he replied with a smirk, and then whispered against her cheek, "So…how about that shower."
Days and weeks passed as they tended to do, and Sakura breathed in the scent of lilacs from the neighbours rooftop and drank a glass of warm red wine as she waited there for him to come home. The nutty, strong taste slid down her throat warming her stomach and relaxing her after a long day at the hospital.
It was always a nice moment to sit there and think about the long road they'd taken to get to the point they were at, but perhaps the bumps made the arrival that much sweeter.
Over time, the strange looks had died away and people got used to seeing her with Kakashi. He never seemed to have any difficulty with that, and so she felt emboldened by it as well. Naruto seemed to warm up to the idea a lot faster than Sasuke did, but that was an Uchiha thing. He'd get used to it one day, but at least they were on civil terms again and could talk and be normal for Naruto. It was pleasant enough for them both.
Ino was thrilled, really. She'd never thought Kakashi to be the settling down type, she'd confessed, but secretly rooted for them.
The stars were bright overhead and the breeze was cool, but she liked to sit and wait in her chair for Kakashi to come home from his missions while wrapped in a warm blanket and a glass of something strong in her hand.
Often as she waited, she'd think about that time she was another person, frightened and alone. He'd been there for her too, as had all her friends. But seeing them fresh and new for the first time like that had made her understand them and herself better.
When her memories returned, reconciling the two women had been harder than she imagined. In some ways she liked the blissful ignorance of not knowing what she knew about shinobi life, but the naïve innocence didn't suit her anymore. But even now, sometimes she would be taken off guard by remembering the loneliness and lost feeling of being that other woman.
The biggest thing she'd learned was that her friends were loyal beyond compare and would accept her no matter who she was. That made it so much easier to be with Kakashi.
When she looked back down at the row of rooftops next to hers, Kakashi was already approaching along the ledges with slow, comfortable steps, his pack over his shoulder and most likely a smile beneath the mask.
She anticipated the moment they'd slide into their bed in their apartment and make love slowly and gently, recounting all the spots on each other's bodies that they'd memorized over the months and months together. And when it was over, he would be there in the morning and for the rest of her life, smiling over the coffee, helping to fold the laundry, and maybe one day, holding their child in his strong arms.
When he finally landed on the rooftop of their building, Kakashi tugged down his mask and laughed, "Were you waiting for me again? I wasn't due back until tomorrow."
"I knew you'd be back early," she teased. "It's Tuesday night, after all…"
Another finished. Thanks to my new beta moderndayportia for her dilligent work with editing, and to icarust for being wonderful and helping me bounce ideas through the rough spots. And of course, thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. It has always encouraged me to keep with a story even when I get frustrated with them. Thanks.