A/N: I've posted two new chapters! The one before this is new as well don't skip it or the story won't make sense!


"MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

Sorami tackled Sakura and Sai in a hug as they entered the apartment.

Kakashi, Hinata, and Naruto stood to welcome them as well.

Sakura laughed as she took in Sorami's outfit; she was wearing a green tunic, red and white striped stockings, and curly green shoes.

"What's with the getup Sorami?" Sakura giggled.

"I'm an elf! They are the tiny people with pointy ears who help Santa build toys in his workshop at the North Pole!" The spirited woman replied cheerily.

"This holiday gets weirder and weirder." Naruto chimed in from behind her.

Sakura looked around the room. Say what you want about Christmas, but she could see why Sorami was so obsessed with it; the apartment had turned into a wonderland. Colorful decorations lined the walls, paper snowflakes hung from the ceiling, and the house smelled of cinnamon and ginger.

Sakura laid her eyes on the pine tree next to the window and was overwhelmed.
Scattered below, crowding a crimson and gold tree skirt, were rows of boxes and bows of different shapes and colors. Golden ribbons and glossy patterns filled her vision.
All across the pine were strands of twinkling lights that made the tree glow from the inside, and hundreds of glass and metal ornaments glistened and sparkled as they suspended delicately from the branches.
It was like magic.

"Now that everyone's here I say we dig in!" Naruto exclaimed.
Sakura beamed as she witnessed the great feast Hinata and Sorami had prepared already sprawled out on the table in the dining area.


When they had finished dinner and their coffee and cookies, the group gathered around the tree. Hinata and Sai sat on the couch nearest the dining area, Kakashi and Sakura on the one across from the fireplace, and Naruto and Sorami sat on the floor next to the tree pulling out gifts.

"Alright who's first?!" Naruto demanded.

"Here's one! From Sakura to Hinata." Sorami read the tag as she pulled out a box.

She handed it to Hinata and the white eyed girl unwrapped it carefully, revealing a blue, leather-bound book.
"Materia Medica: Essential Natural Medicine."

Sakura smiled at her.
"I remembered that you had a flare for healing medicines and ointments, so I got this from Tsunade-shishou's library. I found it really informative and I thought you might like it."

Hinata smiled back.
"T-thank you so much Sakura, I look forward to reading it. It's funny though, you should see my gift to you."

Naruto handed it to Sakura who tore open the paper.
Hinata giggled, "I-it's a medical text too! Although, this one was written by members of my family."

Sakura read the text aloud.
"Critical Study of Chakra Disorders and Disruption.These diagrams of chakra systems are so detailed! You can only get this kind of insight with the byakugan! Thank you so much Hinata!" The two girls got up and hugged.

"Oh what's this one? From Sakura to Sai! Hmm this one feels like a book too!" Sorami laughed.

"Oh man Sakura-chan, are you going to be one of those boring people who only give books?!" Naruto whined.

"Baka-Naruto! You could use some knowledge!" Sakura growled and cracked her knuckles.

While Naruto crawled away to hide under the tree, Sai had opened his gift.
"Comprehensive Collection of Art Through the Ages."

Sakura looked over to him and smiled, forgetting her anger at the whiskered boy.
"It's mostly pictures, but I thought it might suit you."

Sai flipped through the pages and saw not only paintings, but photos, furniture, sculptures, sheet music, and architecture.

"I know you mostly focus on your painting and sketching, but I believe you have a lot of creative potential; I was thinking this might inspire you." Sakura laughed.

"I read in a book about Christmas that the best gifts are personal. I appreciate how much thought you put into it. I hope my gifts will be appreciated just as much. I did not know what to get that would be considered sentimental, so I just gave you each a painting."

Sai stood up and grabbed a number of boxes from below the tree and passed them out to the group.

Hinata and Naruto opened theirs first. It was Nihonga styled in colorful ink. The top left corner of the painting held a woman seeming to float in a kimono of slivers, blues, and purples, reaching down to a man on the bottom right wearing gold, orange and red. Their hands were clasped in the middle.

"It's a myth I read about a sun god and a moon goddess; it's a story of balance. The story reminded me of you two."

"Oh Sai i-it's so beautiful." Hinata's eyes watered as she looked at him.
"Wow. Geez. I mean: wow." Naruto stared at the painting in awe.

the pale boy gave a small bow.
Sorami opened hers next and smiled softly. She turned it around so that the group could see it.
"It's the landscape painting from when we were coming to Konoha." Sorami crooned.

Sai nodded.
"I remembered that you said you liked it. I thought it was logical for you to have it, seeing as that was the first time we met you and when you joined the group."

"I love it." Sorami hugged it to her chest.

Kakashi opened his; it was a rough sketch of Sorami sitting, looking out a window with a cup of tea.
"I apologize: I didn't get to finish it because I was working on everything else." Sai explained.

"It's great." Kakashi chuckled.
"It's me!" Sorami exclaimed when she stood up next to the couch to see it. Kakashi hugged her hips.

Lastly, Sakura beheld a painting of herself.

"It was from when we were collecting apples in the forest." Sai stated.

But it was more than that; the picture showed an impressionistic depiction of Sakura, twirling as if in a ballet, and she wasn't wearing her ninja uniform either, but a cream colored silk dress. It was ethereal; the light was soft and golden and the trees around her swirled in sun soaked color.

Sakura blushed: she was speechless.

Sorami came up and viewed it from behind her.
"Sai…it's a masterpiece." She whispered.

The apathetic boy gave a customary smile.

"Alright, next we have a present from everyone to Kakashi-sensei." Naruto read.

The group gave each other knowing smiles.
"We all chipped in to buy you this one." Sakura stated.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow as the small, square box was handed to him.
He removed the lid to discover a gold pocket watch with a 'KH' emblazoned on the front.

"Maybe this way you'll know what time it is and you won't be late!" Naruto snickered.

"I see." Kakashi chuckled, "Even if it is in jest, this is a wonderful gift you guys. Thank you."

"Open it and read the inscription: we had it engraved." Sakura explained.

Kakashi's eyes softened as he read the message: 'Kakashi-sensei, to us you are timeless.'
"Thank you. All of you."

"I still have a gift for you Kakashi-sensei! Well, it's more like from me and Jiraiya, but-" Naruto started, but Kakashi had already swiped it from his hand and ripped it open.

"An autographed, first-edition Icha Icha with outline sketches for the next book!" Dramatic tears escaped him.

"I have one more gift for you too Kakashi!" Sorami exclaimed sweetly.
Kakashi set his book down and beamed as he opened the box, but then pulled out the item incredulously.
"It's a… Santa Claus beard… why thank you Sorami…" Kakashi was puzzled and it felt a bit anticlimactic in comparison to his last gift, but he kissed her hand anyway.
She gave a small smile and blushed lightly.
"Well, aren't you going to put it on?"

Kakashi sweat dropped and sighed, but did as she asked.

"Alright I've gotten my gifts, so it's only far I give out yours." Kakashi stood and grabbed from under the tree.
"Naruto." Kakashi tossed him a thick envelope.

"Sweet! A year supply of Ichiraku Ramen vouchers!" Naruto proclaimed.

"That'll last about a month" Sakura mumbled.

"Sai." Kakashi handed him a box, in it was a vast number of paint supplies. Sai nodded and Kakashi nodded back.

Kakashi grabbed three more large boxes from below the tree.
"Now alright, there are three identical boxes here: one for each of my girls. I was given these by a very wealthy widow who took a particular shine to me a while back. She is a collector of sorts and she let me have a pick of the lot."

Kakashi handed out the boxes. A very curious Sakura ripped her box open.

"Kakashi-sensei…"
Sakura pulled out a crimson susohiki kimono and tried it on. Pale gold wheat and leaf patterning lined the cuffs of elongated sleeves and swam up the long train that was sweeping behind her.

"I picked this one for you because the unique style of this kimono is elegant and beautiful and I believe it perfectly reflects the young woman you've become right before my eyes." Kakashi explained, placing his hands on her shoulders. Sakura's eyes watered and she hugged him; never before had Kakashi acknowledged her in such a way.

Next Hinata opened hers to find a vintage, houmongi-styled, white kimono with pastel floral patterning. Camilla and cranes danced over a stream flowing across the fabric.
"I-Its so lovely."

"I chose this one for you because it reminded me of the serenity and joy you bring to those around you. I'm very glad Naruto has you Hinata, please take care of him."

"H-hai." Hinata held the item to her heart.

"And lastly for you Sorami." He handed her a silver wrapped box and she opened it carefully.
Sorami lifted the cloth and marveled.
This one was a furisode decorated in a more modern style; it was black with gold geometric-lined patterning up and down the sleeves. White and salmon colored lotuses and butterflies were strewn across the robe, giving a striking contrast to the black background. The obi was waved gold with a green tie.

"Kakashi it's amazing." She stared deeply into his eyes.

"It reminded me of you because it's exciting, vibrant, beautiful, and one of a kind. It was my favorite out of all of them." He explained.

Sorami got up, parted just enough of his Santa beard so that only she could see, and kissed him gently.

"What a considerate and tasteful man I have." Sorami announced as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Kakashi wrapped his arms around her lower back.
"I was just thinking you girls could wear the kimono to the New Years festival in a few days." The grey haired man gave a humble shrug.

"From Sakura to Sorami!" Naruto yelled out as he tossed the box at them, breaking their romantic moment.
Kakashi caught it in one hand without looking and handed it over.

"Awww it's the red scarf I wanted from when we went shopping, how thoughtful! Thank you Sakura!"

"Ooh ooh! From Sakura to ME!" Naruto yelled as he scrambled to tear open the box.
Out of the container rolled two metal objects and two waxy blocks.
"Thanks Sakura… umm… a pen… some sticks of wax… and… whatever this is." He waved the item back and forth.

Sakura giggled.
"Look." She picked up the mystery object and held the bottom toward his face: on it was the symbol of the leaf.
"It's the official seal for the Hokage's letters. This one has a chip in it so Tsunade-sama said I could have it, and this is a fountain pen from the Hokage's office. I figured you could start practicing with them seeing as you'll be our Hokage someday." Sakura explained warmly.

"Ahh Sakura-chan!" Naruto stood to give her a hug.

"Here's one from Naruto to Hinata." Sorami announced as she handed the small box to the girl.

Naruto looked at her nervously.
"I really hope you like it."

Hinata smiled. There could be a number two pencil in there and she knew she would love it. She peeled back the dark green paper and revealed a small wooden box. It had twisting vines carved into the top and sides. She opened it and it started to chime a sweet song.

Naruto rubbed the back of his head.
"It's a jewelry box. I know you don't like to wear a lot of glitzy jewelry and stuff, but I saw it in a shop and it was pretty, so I thought you might like it."

"Oh Naruto, it's so wonderful, I love it." Hinata kissed him on the cheek.

"Alright me next! This is a very special one from me to Sakura." Sorami announced tenderly.

Sorami spoke while Sakura unwrapped the object. "It's an antique I found a long time ago in my travels. It's very special to me and I want you to have it."

Sakura cradled the gift in her hands.
"Oh my god."
There lay an intricate, golden hair comb decorated with jade-colored, enamel leaves and clusters of tiny pearl flowers.
"Sorami, this is the most beautiful piece of jewelry I've ever seen!"

Sorami walked over, lifted the comb from her hands, and tucked it into her hair.
"Stunning. I knew it would suit you perfectly."

Naruto looked over at the two lovingly, but a part of his thoughts drifted to the night a couple of weeks ago. He wondered silently if Sorami could have stolen that expensive comb. He shook his head at the thought; he knew Sorami wouldn't give Sakura stolen property.

In the last few days he had kept trying to get her alone so they could talk about it, but she kept dodging his questions. It was as if she believed that if they ignored it, and didn't say it out loud, then it wouldn't be true.

He watched her as everyone continued to chat animatedly and pass around gifts. She looked happy, happier than he had ever seen her.

Sorami handed him a medium-sized box, breaking him out of his reverie.
"For you, my little Hokage to be."

They had an entire silent conversation with the looks that passed between them in that moment.
His eyes told her of all his love and sympathy, but the edges of his smile held disappointment and a longing for her to be the person he knew she was.

Her eyes held an equal amount of tenderness and love, and her smile was apologetic but hopeful.

"Open it." She said lowly.

The gift had no wrapping. It was just a glossy, dark-cherry wooden box. He lifted the lid and it sprung open on its hinge. Inside laid a sheathed dagger. It was ancient and rusted with engraved patterning on the metal hilt and sheath.

"There's an inscription on the blade." Sorami added softly.

Naruto unsheathed it and read aloud.

"Bound to honor."

Sorami held the blade with Naruto.
"The man I got this from told me a legend: if this knife were to be held by someone without heart, it would instantly turn blunt and useless, but when wielded by the righteous, it could effortlessly cut through any stone. Now I don't know if all that's true or not, but if it is, and you wield it? Well, I believe it can cut through steel."

Naruto sheathed it once again.
"Thank you Sorami-chan."
He hugged her close then watched as she rejoined the conversations around them.

Sorami loved them all. She would keep her word. He knew she would do the right thing.


(SSL: Elliott Smith- Angel in the Snow)

Sorami blew out the last of the scented Christmas candles and walked back to the couch across from the fire to lay her head in Kakashi's lap. He absently rested his hand on her hair as he continued to read his new book.

Down the hall, Naruto slid into bed and spread his arm out so that Hinata could cuddle up close to him.
He wrapped a blanket around them both to fight the chill and she sighed contentedly as he laced her fingers with his.
"Tonight was fun, I'm really glad we did this." Naruto murmured.
"Me too, i-it was perfect." She replied.

Naruto tapped his fingers on her knuckles.
"Did you really like my gift Hinata-chan?"
"I love it Naruto-kun." She replied with conviction as she snuggled into his chest.

Naruto watched her face relax in the dim of the moonlight and in that moment thought to himself that no one in the world could ever look as beautiful as she did now.

"I've got a confession to make Hinata …" Naruto whispered.
Hinata's eyes fluttered open and she looked up at him expectantly.

"That wasn't the only gift I got you…"

Hinata watched perplexed as he pulled from his pocket a small, black-velvet box.
Her eyes widened and her heart pounded in her ears.

"I know this may seem kind of sudden, but I love every minute I spend with you Hinata, so when I was shopping and I saw this, I just went with my gut and bought it. I was going to wait until way later to give it to you, but in the spirit of Christmas..."

Naruto opened up the box to reveal a silver, gemmed ring protruding from plush, white silk.

"N-n-n-naruto-kun... I don't…" Hinata couldn't catch her breath and felt she was about to faint.
Her vision was tunneling.
"Whoa! Hold on!" Naruto laughed.
He pulled the ring out of the box and behind it a silver chain came trailing.

Hinata's vision started to sharpen again as she evaluated this new development.

"I do realize it's still early for us and we're young, but I'm impulsive and stubborn and I know what I want. I know that my favorite part of the day is just before bed when you and I just lay here and talk. I know that I can tell you anything and I know you will always be honest with me. I know that I'd love nothing more than to wake up to your face next to mine for the rest of my life. Even though this isn't a real engagement ring, it's a promise: a promise that someday when we're ready (and I can actually afford a real diamond ring) I'm willing to take that leap with you, if you'll have me."

Tears started to form in her eyes while she nodded furiously. Hinata wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. "Yes!" She squeaked out through emotion.

Naruto pulled away and reached around her neck to clasp the necklace on. She clutched it to her heart and let tears stream down her face before tackling Naruto in a hug.

Naruto pulled at a chain around his neck and out of his shirt came a thick silver band.
"Look, I got one too. You are mine and I am yours."
Hinata pulled him down to kiss him senseless.


Sorami stared transfixed at the slowly diminishing fire across from her as she lay on the couch. Kakashi had wrapped his arms around from behind her and was nuzzling her neck with his nose.

"Looks like everybody has gone home and gone off to sleep." She mused aloud.

"Mmhmm." Kakashi agreed absently.

"You're not wearing the Santa beard I got you." She noted suddenly.

The lithe woman got up slowly and straddled his thighs as he lay face up on the couch. He put his hands behind his head and smiled as he watched her curiously.

"I couldn't say anything earlier, but the reason I got you that beard was so that you and I could play 'Santa and the Naughty Elf' tonight..." She winked as she unwrapped a candy cane from her pocket and licked it slowly.

Kakashi beamed and shook his head in disbelief. It was like Icha-Icha only complete reality.

He pulled her down to lay flush with him and his hands massaged her back as they locked lips. As her tongue darted out he tasted the peppermint from the candy cane.

Eventually she pushed herself up for air and he tucked some of her teal bangs behind her ear.
He took in the contours of her face lit solely by the fireplace and the lights from the Christmas tree. She was flushed, and her lips were swollen from kissing. She had never looked more beautiful.

"Should I go get the Santa beard then?" She whispered seductively.

"No." Kakashi answered plainly. She gave him a look of confusion, but he simply pulled her down to lay on top of him and he held her.
"Not tonight."

Sorami became concerned when he did nothing more but continue to hold her.
"What's the matter? I thought you liked role-play…"

Kakashi smiled.
"I do. But tonight I'm good with just doing this."
He settled them back to their original positions with Sorami lying towards the fire and he behind her, wrapping his arms around her front.

Sorami blushed deep red as she began to relax.
"Kakashi denying sex? To cuddle?"

The scene was just so intimate. They had just finished having a family gathering and now they were cuddled up on the couch next to a cozy fire.
Sorami's heart ached. It was perfect. It was everything she had dreamed it would be.
It was a lie.

"This has gone too far Sorami. You can't keep the truth from him anymore. You can't lie to yourself anymore. This isn't just some passing fancy; this isn't just a vacation from your life: this is your life now. You've made your choices, and now it's time to deal with them. If you plan on making it here and with this man, then you have to share everything: good and bad. It has gotten serious now. Tonight, his actions, it just cements it; this isn't just about lust or infatuation, this is more with Kakashi. It's so much more… Don't be so selfish! Don't be a coward! Do right by him!"

Sorami took a deep breath and she squeezed her eyes shut. Her voice wavered with emotion.
"Kakashi I have something I need to tell you: I—"
"I love you."

Sorami's eyes shot open at his words and stinging tears slowly pushed past her bottom lashes. Her heart beat madly, but simultaneously she could feel it crumbling under the strain of it all, like a dam about to burst under pressure.

"Sorry to interrupt, but just in case that's what you were going to say, I wanted to be the first to say it." Kakashi kissed the back of her neck again.

The sweet, honest words felt like acid flooding her veins. She wanted to scream.

She started crying openly and as she choked back a sob Kakashi became concerned.
"Sorami? Is it too soon? Why are you crying?" He asked seriously as he turned her to face him. She forced open her bloodshot eyes to look into his. The love and concern in them tore at her insides; she didn't deserve to look at him, and she didn't deserve the look he was giving her.

"Sorami, tell me if I've said something wrong…" He insisted.

"No! God no!" Sorami couldn't let this wonderful man think for a second that it was something he had done, and she couldn't let him believe that the feelings weren't returned, because they were, she realized: a hundred fold.
"No, i-it's not too soon. I-I… god! I love you!" She kissed him with all her might. With all the tempestuous emotions whirling inside her, it was the only thing she could think to do.
"I love you." She repeated it over and over between feverish kisses. "I love you. I love you."
It seemed as though that was the only true thing she could say to him. That thought alone set her into another set of tremors. Tears continued to cascade down her cheeks and spot his skin as they kissed. She was a selfish coward and she knew it.

Kakashi, confused, could only assume they were tears of joy and kissed her back with equal intensity. He was just relieved that the sentiment was returned.

She kissed him with such fervor and passion that it was like the world was about to end.

Her world was.

Tonight would be the last night she allowed herself in the perfect dream she had created. Tomorrow reality would set in, for better or worse.


Naruto walked down the street towards Ichiraku's, his hands in his pockets and his head titled up towards the sky. The sun was low on the horizon, not quite dusk, but the heat of the day was already passing. Tonight he'd be on his own: Hinata was out on a mission and Sorami had said she wanted to make Kakashi dinner. He furrowed his brows, remembering what had transpired an hour earlier:

Sorami had been quiet all day, just putting away Christmas decorations silently. Now the apartment was bare again and the only remnant was the fading smell of cinnamon from a scented candle. Naruto walked over to find her leaning over the kitchen counter revising a grocery list.
"Hey I need the apartment tonight Naruto. I want to cook dinner just for me and Kakashi. Just us two, is that alright?" She asked absently, not looking up from the list.

"Yeah sure I guess." He shrugged. "I should probably do that for Hinata too one of these days, huh Sorami-chan? Do you think I can cook well enough for that yet?"

Preoccupied, Sorami had barely heard what he said.
"Hmm? Oh sure sweetheart, Hinata would love it, I'm positive. So, Kakashi will be coming around seven: just to give you a heads up." She gave a half smile and rubbed his arm reassuringly.

"Yeah that sounds fine; I think I'm going to head out now anyway. I can go out and use my first Ichiraku voucher, maybe catch up with the guys or something!" Naruto announced excitedly.

"Thanks honey." Sorami gave him a kiss on the cheek as she passed him on her way to her room.

Naruto touched his cheek. It hadn't been one of Sorami's quick, cheery pecks; this one seemed slower, more comforting than anything. Who was she comforting though? Him or herself?

He wondered if tonight was the night she would tell Kakashi.
"After the holidays. Just give me that."
His mind flashed to her plea on the treetop and his eyes furrowed again.

He thought back to the Christmas party the night before: Hinata, Sorami and Sakura had all put on their new kimono and he remembered how excited they all were about the New Year's festival. Sorami had even joked that she was going to lean over a booth and "accidentally" let one of the carnival workers peek down her dress so that she could get free prizes. Kakashi had peered over his book at her, unamused. They laughed and continued to chatter on about all the things they wanted to do at the festival.
"Yeah not tonight, but after New Year's she'll do it. I know she will."

It was strange, but even though he was adamant about her telling the truth, at the same time he knew exactly where she was coming from. He loved the idea of them all going to the festival together. They were a family now.

He thought about what would happen once she told Kakashi and he couldn't stand it: everything would be ruined. Kakashi would feel angry and betrayed, and they would fight, and things would be bad between everybody for a very long time.

"But it's good right? They need to be honest with each other! I know Kakashi-sensei hasn't told her everything about his past too! It'll be fine. Even with this entire crap storm, I know deep down they love one another and it'll work out. It's sickeningly obvious the way they look at each other that they're in love. I wonder if Hinata-chan and I look like that. I wonder if Sorami and Kakashi have even admitted it to themselves yet. Either way, I know love will win out and Kakashi will forgive her, and it'll be good. But oh maaaan it's going to be so awkward for a REALLY long time! I'm going to have to do some serious damage control..."

Naruto let out a deep sigh, but, lost in his thoughts, he didn't see where he was going and walked straight into someone.

A tower of books and papers toppled to the ground.
"Urgh! Great! Na-ru-to! You need to watch where you're going baka!"

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto smiled and knelt down to help her pick up her materials.

"What's with all the books Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked piling another in front of her.
It was no wonder they bumped: the humungous stack of reading completely blocked her view.

Sakura turned so she could look at him from behind the books.
"Ahh just one of the perks of being the Hokage's apprentice: I'm just a glorified delivery girl." Sakura rolled her eyes.

Naruto shook his head.
"Baa-chan runs you ragged! Listen, forget the delivery and come with me to Ichiraku's! I don't want to eat alone if I don't have to!"

She sighed.
"You know I can't do that Naruto…" However, Sakura's stomach apparently disagreed and gave a small growl in protest.

Naruto laughed.
"Aww come on! You'll just be a little late, Baa-chan won't even notice! It'll be my treat. I've got coupons remember? Then afterwards, I'll help you carry those books to the tower, so you can see where you're walking!"

The offer was too tempting.
"Alright you convinced me! I'm so starving!" Sakura giggled.

"Yeah! Sweet!"


Kakashi checked his new pocket watch as he leapt onto another roof.
"6:34 exactly. So I'm a bit early for once, I'll just offer up my assistance in meal preparation. Or maybe I'll try to distract her from the meal completely and we can just get something cooking of our own… I wonder where I left that Santa beard..." Kakashi smirked beneath his mask at the thought.

He silently landed on the roof across the courtyard from Sorami and Naruto's apartment, and began to amble down the adobe roof tiles. He could see Sorami through her bedroom window even from here, only obscured by slightly parted drapes and a light screen. She appeared to be tidying or organizing things in her room.
"Probably getting things ready for tonight." Kakashi smiled again.

Sorami stopped and stared at something in her hands and when she did Kakashi's heart stopped.

This was a dream. A nightmare. This was a subconscious manifestation of Kakashi's trust and intimacy issues being dealt with through symbolism in dream state. Obviously he had somehow fallen asleep on his D-Rank today and this was just a strange nightmare.

There could be no other explanation as to why Sorami, the woman he had come to love, would be holding the black and white mask of their thieving enemy.

The moment lasted forever. Another signifier that it had to be some sort of dream: time distortion.
It was like his vision had zoomed in on every detail of this moment. The soft, teal bangs, which he had come to love running his fingers through, fell in slow motion across the arresting grey eyes he had always tried to steal glances from.

Those same silver eyes now stared transfixed at an object in her hand, an object that he had come to hate. That mask symbolized his failure, his defeat, his enemy.

It was like trying to fit two jigsaw pieces together from entirely different puzzles.

He looked at the pink lips, now frowning, that he had kissed a thousand times, and tried to imagine them hidden behind a glossy black and white mask.

He looked at the delicate hands holding the mask, the same hands that caressed him and held him; he couldn't see those hands fisting towards him in a fight.

Those legs that had once wrapped around him couldn't be the ones that leapt and kicked in fierce combat.

Time unfroze, but Kakashi did not.
Sorami crouched down and the mask disappeared. It seemed that in the next instant she was outside of the apartment, adjusting her saddle bag and locking the door.
He didn't even see her walk down the corridor out of the building, but as soon as her presence was fully out of the vicinity, it was as if a spell was broken and Kakashi's body unfroze.

His legs must have moved of their own accord because the next thing he knew, he was walking in through the sliding glass door of their garden and into the living room.

Every bit of Kakashi's mind was rebelling against the acceptance of this concept.
If this wasn't a dream, he must have hallucinated the whole thing, maybe it was the heat or maybe he was drugged, he reasoned.

He needed physical proof: he needed to see the mask for himself.

Kakashi turned to Sorami's room and pushed opened the door with one hand; it creaked ominously.

Things looked the same as they always had. It was Sorami's room. Her clothes were bunched in the closet, the chandelier earrings she liked so much were strewn across her bedside table, and the red scarf Sakura gave her was now tied around a bed post. Those were the same sheets on her bed that she and Kakashi had napped on one warm afternoon. The room was filled with her familiar scent. It was all so familiar.

But the idea started to burrow itself into his mind, digging at him like an insect: what if she was a stranger?
Suddenly everything in the room became foreign.

Kakashi walked carefully around and a floorboard creaked under his sandal. He knelt down and lifted it cautiously.

From a dark hollow the empty eyes of the mask looked up at him, glistening silver.
"The same as her eyes."

It was real. This was cold, harsh reality.

Even though the image didn't make sense, the pieces fit together perfectly.

Kakashi swallowed hard, but his throat was dry. As he stood and held the mask in his fingertips, the room spun around him, but he stayed standing firm.

He stared at the mask and it stared back.


Naruto and Sakura climbed the stairs of the Hokage tower laughing and chatting amiably, each holding a massive load of books.

Shizune greeted them and showed them into Tsunade's office.
"You're late!" Tsunade barked.

"My apologies Tsunade-shishou!" Sakura set her books down and gave a deep bow.

Naruto tossed his pile onto the desk as well.
"Ahh cork it Baa-chan! I was the reason Sakura-chan was late! With you running her all over the city she was half starved so I took her to grab ramen. Big whoop!"

A vein on Tsunade's temple started throbbing.
"You little twerp! I am your Hokage and you will show me some god damn respect, understand!?"

Sakura and Shizune sweat dropped as the two started bickering.


Sorami quickened her footsteps as she came up to the apartment door. She was already running late after going out to grab some more groceries: the sun had already set and the streetlights had just flickered on when she entered the building.

She shifted another one of the brown paper bags into her left arm in order to have a hand free to unlock the door.

Once inside, she immediately made for the light switch near the kitchen counter.
As the apartment lit up, a shadowy figure slumped on one of the couches was illuminated.

Sorami yelped and dropped her grocery bags.
"Kakashi! You scared me! What are you doing, just sitting in the dark like that?!"

An orange slowly rolled out of the fallen bag.

Kakashi turned a grave eye towards her, but did not get up from the couch.
He flung an object at her feet and it clattered on the wooden floor.

Sorami gazed regretfully down at the mask that lay there.
"Kakashi let me explain—"

"No." Kakashi's voice cut swifter than any kunai, and he looked at her with disgust. "You lied to me."

"No, Kakashi, I never really lied… I just—I didn't tell you the whole truth that's all, I—"

"Don't speak." He looked away and stared hard at the wall across from his couch. "I will not allow myself to be subject to any more of your lies or your tricks or whatever it is you were doing here."

"Kakashi—" Sorami tried again insistently.

"No. It ends here. All of your deceit and betrayal: it ends now." He avowed.

"Kakashi please. If you just talk to me—"

"I've sent word to the Hokage and the anbu black ops, if you leave now you'll have a 10 minute head start. Consider it a parting gift." Kakashi's eyes narrowed at the wall in front of him.

Sorami's mouth fell agape.
Her eyes started to water and her body began to shake as she looked at him. Pain flooded her countenance.

He gave no reaction to her.

The realization of what he had done set in.

She made to speak again, but instead she squeezed her eyes shut against the tears and snapped her head to the side to keep him from seeing her anguish. She clenched her fists at her sides, letting her nails dig into her palms, trying desperately to rein in her emotions.

After a moment she stopped shaking and let her fists fall open limply. Her face became blank and she stood tall.

She opened her eyes.
"Understood." Her voice was hollow.

From the corner of his eye Kakashi watched her. He was cautious, but didn't move from his slumped position on the couch. At this point he decided he would simply let her attack him if she chose to. He didn't care anymore.

She bit her thumb and pulled at the tie that held her hair up in a covered bun.
As he watched, he noticed that it wasn't really a tie at all, but a thin summoning scroll that she had hidden in the wrap.
As her blood ran across the Kanji her body was enveloped in clouds; when they cleared she was dressed in all black, fully equipped with ninja tools.

"She put her hair up in that bun everyday, only taking it down at night. She had always been ready to flee." Her wavy, teal hair, now free from its wrap, grazed her shoulders.

The black and white mask had disappeared off the floor and now hung off her hip on her belt.
"She knows she doesn't need it now, seeing as we know her face."

Similarly, the once black, baggy outfit of the thief, which had hidden her gender originally, was now tucked tight, hugging her figure.
"It would probably give her more mobility without the excess fabric." He mused.

Seeing her standing in her thief garb, he convinced himself that this was the first time he saw her for who she really was.

She turned her back to him then stopped and turned her head to the side.

"Goodbye Kakashi." She intoned civilly.

With that, she vanished in a wisp of smoke.

The two words hung in the air.

She was gone.

Kakashi dropped his emotionless façade and his eyes closed in grief. He leaned forward onto his knees and rested his face in his hands exhaustedly.


Sakura sat in a chair in front of the Hokage's desk holding her hands over her ears. Tsunade and Naruto had been fighting like this for nearly a half hour. Shizune had already given up and left, but Sakura still had things to discuss with her mentor.

However, the medic was not gone for long, because at that moment Shizune burst through the doors.
"TSUNADE-SAMA! The identity of the thief has been confirmed: Sorami Kagame!"

Every pair of eyes in the room widened at the outburst.
"Shizune! Assemble all teams for—NARUTO!"
Tsunade began to protest but it was too late: Naruto had already lunged through her window and was now blazing across rooftops.

"Please don't let me be too late! Please don't let me be too late! Please…"


Naruto slammed the door of their apartment open and ran inside.

"SORAMI-CHAN THEY'RE COMING FOR YOU! YOU have to—" Naruto trailed off as he only saw Kakashi standing there looking worn.

"Kakashi-sensei! Where's Sorami? We have to get her out of here! We have to keep her safe until we can figure everything out! They're after her!" He frantically ripped open her door to look for her.

"I know Naruto. I'm the one that told them to find her." Kakashi explained despairingly.

Naruto halted mid-motion. "You—what?"

"Sorami is the thief Naruto." Kakashi declared grimly.

"Well yeah, but I mean, we love her! We've got to do something or they'll—!"

"She lied to us Naruto! We trusted her!" He raged. "Wait… What do you mean "yeah?" Did you know about this?" He seethed.

"OF COURSE I KNEW! GEEZ! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?!" Naruto shouted.

"Naruto! She is an enemy of this village! How could you know and not inform anyone! I am duty bound to protect my home! My loyalty lies with this village! We are shinobi! You should have done the same! She betrayed us!" Kakashi reamed.

Naruto paced back and forth in frustration.
"SHE WAS GOING TO TURN HERSELF IN! She just wanted your acceptance first! She was just scared you would reject her-and god! You did! She told you, and you turned her in! I can't believe this!" Naruto pulled at his hair.

"Naruto, I don't know what kind of lies she told you to convince you not to turn her in, but she wasn't about to tell me anything. I saw her today through her window holding the mask. That's the only way I found out." Kakashi spat.

"OH YOU ARE AN IDIOT! That WAS her way of telling you! She was obviously too scared to confront you, so she showed you instead! It was to see what you would do, and you frickin blew it! She did the EXACT same thing with me! Don't you get it?! Do you really think a Shinobi of that level, who has been hiding in our well-guarded village for months, would just take out evidence of guilt in broad daylight, next to an open window, when she's expecting you over?! Are you that thick?! Even I knew that's what she was doing when she showed me, and she was waaay more subtle that time! Gaah!" Naruto braced himself on the counter.

Kakashi tried to wrap his mind around what Naruto was saying, but shook his head against it.
"Naruto, none of that matters. She betrayed us. She is an enemy. We are Shinobi. That is all there is to it. I'm sorry." Kakashi resolved.

Naruto pushed himself off the counter, stood straight, and sighed.
"No I'm sorry Kakashi. I'm sorry that you don't understand that there's so much more to this than that: there is family, there is trust, and there is love. I'm sorry you let your hurt at being lied to cloud your judgement. And I'm sorry that you probably just blew the one shot you had at real happiness." Naruto shook his head at the older man as he ran out the door.

Kakashi sighed and closed his eyes.


[SSL: Coldplay- God Put a Smile Upon Your Face (Sorami's struggle)]

Sorami leaned against a tree trunk and tried to catch her breath. All this time lazing about in the village had really done a number on her; the anbu team trailing her was catching up and fast.

She quickly leapt again, but she knew that simply running would never actually allow her the time to escape. She had her plan ready, but it was terribly risky.

Sorami ran to the clearing and waited. She could feel more than hear or see the anbu teams surrounding her.

She took a deep breath, raised her arms in defensive position, and widened her stance in preparation for the imminent onslaught.

A woman in an owl mask stepped forward into the moonlight and drew her sword.
"Sorami Kagame! You are here by under arrest by order of the Hokage of the Leaf Village! If you resist arrest we will be forced to attack! We have been authorized to use lethal force if necessary. Do you understand?"

Sorami stayed perfectly still.

"Will you surrender?" The purple haired captain advanced.

Sorami only stared down the woman. Her grey eyes became empty as she narrowed them at the captain.

The purple haired owl gave a nod in her direction and three anbu teams burst from the trees. Sorami leapt into the air as they descended upon her. Her reflective grey eyes flashed in the moonlight.


Kakashi felt like a ghost of himself, just a shell, as he stood in the Hokage's office.
Tsunade stood at her window staring out towards the forests where her men were attempting to find and apprehend Sorami.

"You hold no blame Kakashi." She announced, breaking the stillness of the room.

He didn't answer.

"She fooled us all. And what's more, you were the one to discover her and turn her in. You have done well as a Shinobi. You will not be reprimanded and you need not reprimand yourself for this situation. She will be caught and brought to justice. I hope that consoles you even a bit."

His Hokage was trying to convince him that he had no reason for guilt, and yet he felt like a traitor in more ways than one.
He had done his duty to his village; he knew where his loyalties lie, but every moment the woman he loved, or thought he loved, was getting farther and farther away from him.
At this point he was inconsolable.

"Yes Hokage. May I be dismissed?" Kakashi requested shortly.

Tsunade bowed her head and frowned at the desolation in his voice.
"Hai."


Sorami grabbed at the arm that had just been slashed by the anbu captain's sword.

Her breathing was heavy, but so were her enemies'.
"These anbu really put up one hell of a fight!"

The forest clearing was littered with fallen anbu, drugging needles sticking out of some, others knocked out by combat.

Sorami was worse for wear as well, it was almost impossible to compete with non-lethal force on shinobi of this level. She had major bruising on her entire left side from where an earth wall jutsu had launched her into the air as she was flipping away from a byakugan user. She guessed that she might have a few broken ribs, and now her arm was bleeding pretty steadily.

The purple haired anbu captain gave a small smile at the miniature victory, but only for a moment.
"Don't get cocky, this Sorami woman is dangerous. She's taken out one team already. It's strange: she moves like she knows exactly what our teams' strengths and weaknesses are. She backs away instantly from close range users and charges at long range users. She's a thief so maybe she read our files?" She glanced at one of her fallen comrades. "But no, the attacks she uses are too precise, it was like she was completely aware of Tohatsu's blind spot, even our files wouldn't have that! There's not a lot we've got in this battle, but we've got her vastly out numbered. The only time we seem to get a hit in is when we attack her from all sides, but even with the back up that's come, if she keeps picking us off like this that number advantage will disappear! We've got to act fast!"

"Kilo Barrage!" She shouted into her earpiece.
All of the shinobi leapt towards the target, each launching a new ninjutsu and preparing taijutsu.

Sorami ducked and dodged the multiple attacks that assaulted her. It was like maneuvering through an abstract painting of tangled arms, legs, fire, mud and water. Then she saw her opening: as two shinobi parted, she burst through the crowd of ninja at top speed out of the fray, and out of the clearing, into the wood. The anbu gave chase but one of the members caught something in his peripheral.
"PAPER BOMB FOUR O'CLOCK!"

It had a long, loud fuse. The anbu captain narrowed her eyes at it.
"Why would she make it so obvious?"

Her eyes widened and she scanned the immediate area.
"HALT! EVERONE BACK!"

The trees all around them had camouflaged paper bombs attached to them. Though they had no detonators or trip wires, the Anbu captain watched as the bomb Sorami had thrown off to the side started an immense chain reaction. Tree after tree exploded in frightening progression, in less than 20 seconds more than an acre of trees had exploded into a giant ball of flame.

Her men retreated just in time to avoid the giant explosion that was engulfing the forest.
"She's insane! This tactic was specifically designed so we won't be able to tail her: we can't follow her if what is following right behind her is an explosion. She's in there right now running for her life away from her own trap! Bugs can't enter the heat and dog's sense of smell will be confused by all the smoke. It's so precisely orchestrated. My god, why didn't I think of it before? She's been in the village for months; of course she would have time to generate an escape plan! This was her tactic all along… she wanted the anbu to converge on her location so she could make sure they didn't spread out to search. And this fire is just far enough away from the village that the flames will not immediately damage any properties, but large and close enough that it would be our priority to put it out before endangering citizens. Damn it!"

"Squads 8, 12, and 9! All water jutsu on the flame! Now! All available teams report for damage control!" The long haired anbu barked.
She stood and stared into the roaring blaze, then watched as the flames broke off a charred tree branch.


Naruto stopped in his tracks on the rooftop as he saw the forest to the east begin to explode in rapid sequence. His eyes widened, his heart sped up, and he silently prayed Sorami was alright.

He stood for a moment, mesmerized by the chaos, then continued to run.


The blonde boy leapt up each branch as fast as he could then halted as he neared the top of the tree.

He looked out over the village and towards the fire, now so far away it was only an orange glow touching the darkened sky. It was still burning bright, but the deafening boom of the bombs had ceased.

He was at the tree behind the Hokage Mountain: Sorami's tree.

"Naruto you're here!" He turned as Sorami landed and immediately she hugged him. "I knew you'd know to come here! I don't know how, but I just hoped with all my heart you would." She gripped him tighter.

Naruto held her shoulders.
"Sorami what happened?! What is that fire?!" He demanded. He looked her up and down: she was scorched and bruised, and a recklessly applied bandage was wrapped around her arm.
"Your clothes are all singed! Are you alright?!" He fussed.

"Don't worry it's fine." She answered shortly. "Listen, we don't really have much time. I just needed to tell you that I love you and that I'll miss you and—"

"You're trying to leave?! No! You can't Sorami! Listen: we'll go the Hokage, and you'll turn yourself in, and we'll make a deal–"

Sorami stopped him.
"Naruto, I can't. It doesn't work like that. Kakashi turned me in." She almost choked on the words as they left her mouth. "I'll get no peaceful surrender deal at this point. I can't stay here anymore Naruto. I just can't. There's no future here for me... Not after this…"

"No Sorami. You can. I swear: I'll do everything in my power to help you! You aren't a criminal! They just need to know that! You're not a bad guy; you're a good person Sorami!"

Sorami backed away from him.
"No… you see… that's where you're wrong Naruto... I'm not a good person… I lie and I steal and I cheat… And I know it's wrong, but I do it anyway… I can't help it… But you're right: I'm not a bad person either. I don't have ill intentions or violence in my heart, and I have so much love and light to offer."
She took his chin gently and faced him to look her in the eyes.

"Listen to me now Naruto: this world isn't just good and bad. It's not always going to be black and white like you want it to be. There are so many shades of grey and you will have to struggle with that your whole life. You of all people need to understand this if you wish to be Hokage someday. You are going to have to make some tough decisions in this life.
Just think about it Naruto: what will you do if Sasuke really does come back? He is a criminal. You know that. He has committed treason against your village; it's a crime punishable by death. What will you do?"

Naruto's face fell and his eyebrows knit in uncertainty.

Sorami held his shoulders.
"Everyone has light and dark Naruto. That is life. Even the village you love so fiercely has secrets that would make your skin crawl."Sorami shook her head then spoke in a rush. "But I don't have time to go into that right now; we don't have time to waste. I've had a contingency plan in place for months and you need to listen: in the closet in my room there is a box, inside you'll find money, instructions, and a letter to Mrs. Kato apologizing for what has happened (I know they're going to question her roughly.) Also, don't worry about the rent on the apartment; I've already paid for a year in advance so you'll be able to afford it even without me there, what else…" Sorami murmured quickly.

"Sorami... don't go." Naruto whispered brokenly.

Sorami faltered in her calculations and hugged him close.
"Oh Naruto, I wish I could stay. I do."

"Then stay. I love you Sorami-chan. I don't want you to go." Naruto croaked into her neck.

Sorami's eyes watered and she looked upwards at the night sky.
"I love you too sweet boy; you will never understand how much. You've given me something I thought I could never have. You have made my life so wonderful and meaningful. Wherever I go now, I'll always have you with me. That idea is something so precious to me. You have given me reason to rise each morning… you are my love… you are my light… you are my sun."
They both squeezed tighter at the meaning behind the phrase.

Naruto held fast.
"I don't know what to do. You're my family Sorami-chan." Naruto said desperately.

Sorami smoothed his hair.
"You'll be alright Naruto. You have Hinata now; she'll be there for you. And you have Sakura, and Sai and… Kakashi… You are still a family. Don't let this change that. Promise me Naruto. Keep having those Sunday dinners, and please, please, be happy. Promise me that you'll be happy. I couldn't stand it if you weren't." Tears escaped her.

Naruto shook his head.
"Sorami-chan I can't promise that. I'll miss you. I don't know how it can go back to how it was." He answered miserably.

"Listen: I have your love and you have mine. With that, we'll never be alone again. Let that fact reassure you whenever you miss me. You'll never be alone again Naruto. I promise."

Naruto nodded and he crushed her to him.
They stayed silent and simply held each other.

"Will I ever see you again?" His voice broke at the thought.

Sorami pulled back and held his face in her hands.
"Yes. Of course you will. Even if the hidden leaf's entire army comes after me, they couldn't keep us apart. We'll see each other again someday. I swear it."

He nodded and balled his fists.
She tipped his head down and kissed his forehead.

He closed his eyes.
"I love you Sorami-chan." He whispered hoarsely

"I love you too… my Naruto."

He opened his eyes and she was gone.


Epilogue

"Report." Tsunade barked as she shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun streaming through her office window.
It had been a rough week following "The Sorami Incident." She hadn't slept much and her sake collection had lessened significantly.

Shizune flipped over a paper on her clipboard.
"We've finalized the survey of fire damage and have come to find that, due to the timely efforts of the anbu on scene, the fire was contained before doing any lasting damage. It has also been confirmed that there were no casualties or major injuries related to the event."
Tsunade nodded mechanically and waved her hand around as a signal for Shizune to hurry it up.

Shizune laughed hesitantly and put on a cheery voice.
"Well you'll be pleased to know that Naruto and Sakura have gathered a number of genin teams, academy students and organized volunteers to plant new trees in the deforested area and are sure to—"

Tsunade slammed her fist on the desk.
"Shizune! Enough with the charity talk! You and I both know that's just Naruto's ridiculous attempt at trying to fix Sorami's guilt! Now tell me what I really want to know!"

"Yes my lady." Shizune bowed and she spoke in a disciplined manner.
"There have been no reports so far as to the location of the wanted criminal Sorami Kagame. Tracking efforts have led to a dead end due to complications with the recent rains. However, border patrols have been posted and a number of teams have been sent out to check major thoroughfares for any sign of her."

Tsunade spun her chair away as Shizune continued to speak and she closed her eyes resignedly.
"I'm trusting you're right about this Sorami woman Naruto… at least then I don't have to worry about her exposing our village secrets, but god! When we catch her I'm going to enjoy locking her up! She is such a pain in my ass!"

Shizune's voice continued softly in the background.
"Wanted posters and sketches have been posted in all major villages and on every…"


"Hey! I said whoa there!"
A hidden leaf chunin leapt out of the way of a large cart on the dirt road.

A middle aged man with tanned farmer's skin took off his hat in respect.
"Oh sorry there officer! Didn't mean to run you over! It's this damn new mule I bought! Doesn't listen to a dern thing I say to it! Stubborn as a mule you could say!" He laughed jovially.

"It's fine sir. Unfortunately, we have been ordered to stop all traffic on this road and inspect all transports, so we would appreciate your cooperation. Have you seen this woman?"

The chunin unrolled his scroll and a wanted poster of a slightly smirking young woman stared at the driver.
Name: Sorami Kagame
Age: 25
Height: 5'6"
Weight: 115-122
Eyes: Grey.
Hair: Teal.

Next to the image of Sorami was a sketch of her donning the black and white thief mask and ninja garb.

The driver scratched his head.
"Sorry young man, can't say that I have!" He answered brightly.

"I see. Sir may I ask you where you are coming from, where you are headed, and what cargo you are carrying?"

"Well I'm just coming from the Leaf Village, heading up to Hot Spring Country: I'm retiring!" He announced proudly. "As for what's in ma cart: I don't got much; just a few essential pieces of my life. No secrets there if you want to check 'er out." He explained pleasantly.
"I am carrying a good number of fellow relaxation seekers though! Might ask them if they seen your lady!" He offered kindly.

The chunin nodded politely.
"Thank you sir. My partner just has a few more questions for you."

He left the two to chat and walked to the back of the cart to inspect the other passengers.

He lifted the wanted poster and asked each of them the same questions as the driver.
There were no leads.

As he searched around the cart at each of the faces there he sighed.
All of them were weathered and wrinkled, just looking for a nice place to rest their bones at the end of their days.
He couldn't wait to be done with this goose chase and go home to his family to relax.

"Alright Tetsu! This group checks out! Send them on their way!" He yelled to his partner ahead.

"Thank you for your cooperation." The other chunin bowed to the driver.

"No problem! Good luck with yer search!" He called out to them.

"HYA LULA! HYA!" He snapped the reins at the old donkey who obeyed reluctantly and the rickety cart began to move.

The two chunin walked off to the side of the road.

An old woman with a young spirit, hidden behind false wrinkles, wrapped her burgundy shawl around her face more snugly. Piercing grey eyes watched as the border of Fire Country was slowly left behind.

As the cart creaked and bumped she thought of the home and love she left behind.
She settled her head down and closed her eyes.
"At least I'm free."

[SSL: Massive Attack- Teardrop on Fire (The End)]


A/N: Maybe not what you were expecting huh? Well, such is life I suppose, so that's the conclusion of this volume. It's been a long time coming and I don't know how many stuck with it, but I thank you and I hope you enjoyed it either way! I may want to continue this series in a new volume, so hopefully that works out. If you want more of Sorami and more of these adventures let me know! ^_^

Shout out to everyone who reviewed: you guys are the best! It really motivated me to keep going! Your support plays a major part in the creation of fanfiction so, really, thank you reviewers!

-xLiLix