Five Days

By Neech


For sensuelles- happy birthday!

Prompt: Ribbon.

- 1 -

It takes him a week to find her, all said and done.

He promised Tsunade he'd have done it in a week- but the Hokage knows him better than he thinks she does, and gives him two. "Take three, even," she said quietly, as he watched her with empty eyes and a white knuckled fist gripping the mission scroll. The unsaid words hung between them, then, but he didn't give her a chance to say them out loud.

I didn't want to send you. I'm sorry. We needed you to do the job.

The mission scroll's words are simple- eliminate the target with minimal evidence and collateral damage. How cold, how clinical. There is an irony in having done five hundred and sixty-three assassinations, and never questioned the orders- till now. To avoid it, Kakashi tries not to think at all.

He sights her in Kirigakure- and God she looks like she's always had, with the flowing pink hair and those guileless eyes- even with the horizontal slash that cuts through her hitai-ite, through the leaf symbol that was what she'd once been willing to die for. "Kakashi-sensei," she says, "I can see you." She turns to give him that little smile- the smile he'd last seen when she was twelve, and fuck it hurts to see it; she's eighteen and his student is dead.

"I know why you're here, Sensei." Of course she does. Konoha wouldn't send their best assassin for just anyone.

"It's okay, Kakashi. I won't make it difficult for you. I'll do it for you, even, if it makes it easier," she murmurs and reaches out to hold his hand. Kakashi has never had targets attempt to initiate contact when they knew they were about to die. He freezes then, and she draws little circles on his palm with a gentle finger, like a friend- like a lover.

"Give me five days, and then I'll go peacefully." She says this, and Kakashi isn't weakened by the way her eyes gleam in the moonlight, or the way she rests a hand on his cheek as his tanto's blade kisses her throat. He doesn't hesitate as the blade bites, doesn't pause as she stares him down. Hatake Kakashi has no weakness.

Kakashi ultimately says yes.

- 2 -

On the first day, Sakura asked about the village.

"How is everyone?" 'Everyone' is a term that is all-encompassing, but Kakashi knows she is only speaking about one person- the one person whose name she hasn't said until now.

"He never adjusted." Kakashi can see the tears that brim in her eyes for a second, and then they are gone and her eyes are as dry as ever. "Naruto is... sick. He's on daily sedation for paranoia and hallucinations. During the day, he talks to an imaginary Sasuke." Kakashi takes a deep breath and looks into her eyes as he says the words. "At night, he cries for you."

Sakura is no longer the girl she once was- she doesn't flinch. "Oh Naruto," she sighs. "I should have loved you more."

Yes, perhaps she should have. But instead, she chose to love a boy whose heart was too shrivelled for her love, chose to follow him foolishly, loyally to a traitor's end. And there was no space in her heart for more than that.

- 3 -

On the second day, Kakashi asked about her skills.

"Show me what you've learnt." He says, and she smiles. Perhaps she knows he didn't teach her much beyond the tenets of teamwork and mastery of crafting ridiculous excuses. Perhaps she can see the scars of evasive neglect that he's left on her, in the way she looks and talks and acts like she has something to prove; read the intangible words scrawled in neon marker above her forehead - I am just as brave, as strong, as worthy as one of them. Do NOT leave me behind.

Kakashi doubts it. She was always the weakest of three.

She undoes the ribbon holding her hair, which is long and soft and is sent spiralling to the floor like a roseate waterfall, twisted and curling around the edges. The light strikes her hair just so, and Kakashi almost forgets to breathe. Her hair is almost luminescent and God she's a sight, a fairy-tale nymph with pink hair and green eyes. Kakashi is almost unable to take his eyes off her.

"Watch the ribbon- and don't move." She murmurs quietly into his ear. The piece of cloth is silken and smooth, plum-coloured, with a faint silver lining hemming the edges- so slight he can barely see it, even with the Sharingan. It whispers when touched.

"Release." And suddenly the ribbons are wrapped around him, caressing the curve of his neck and the skin of his limbs through cloth, and for the first time- Kakashi thinks she could kill him, prone and trussed up like an offering made to the Gods, and she a black-clad Kali, blazing in the light.

"I could kill you now, if I wanted to," she states. Kakashi doesn't deny it, not with the devious razor-edge snug against his skin; not when he knows a flick of her wrist will send his skull flying. She could kill him, easily. It would a perfect irony- her killing him because he's been a fool, leaving himself wide open. He'll be dead.

"But you won't." Kakashi says, and his voice is steady even as white-edged pain radiates from his throat and edges into his vision.

She smiles at this. "No." The ribbon drops to the floor as she watches him with a steady, measuring gaze, watches as red, drippingly-morbid lines criss-cross the length of his neck and dance their way to the bottom of his chin.

"Would you be able to kill me?" she asks him, in a way similar to how one would ask about the weather.

Kakashi chooses not to give an answer.

- 4 -

On the third day, Sakura told him about Sasuke.

"Sasuke left two years ago, when there was nothing more to gain from Orochimaru. Sasuke-kun was powerful- he surpassed all expectations of him, even with the Sharingan, even with the Chidori- he was stronger than even you, Sensei." Sakura looks into his unveiled eye and watches the way the three tomoe spin- spin every so sluggishly. "Yet, when he fought with a missing-nin from Akatsuki, that wasn't nearly strong enough."

Kakashi doesn't meet her eyes when he speaks. "I never taught any of you to believe one could be unbeatable."

"No. You taught me how to be brave and find the inner depths of my strength for the people I had sworn my life to protect." Sakura allows a tear to splash on the torn and charred symbol of the once-great Uchiha clan she grips in her hand. "I watched him die, and I killed the bastard who did it."

Once upon a time, in a village hidden in the leaves, wasn't she once the weakest of three?

Kakashi looks at the girl he did not watch become a woman, the child he did not train into a ninja- and finally realises just how much he's failed her.

- 5 -

On the fourth day, Kakashi asked her why she left.

"Why did you go?" The unspoken question lingers in the air, so thick and stifling in their presence that Kakashi questions its tangibility, questions the heaviness betrayal leaves; the tenterhooks it has sunk into his heart. Why betray your village, your life, your values, your friends for a mere boy? For childish, naïve infatuation?

Why didn't you come back?

"I think you know as well as I the intricacies of treachery," Sakura says, smiling an empty smile as she runs a finger along the untarnished silver of his Konoha forehead protector. "I thought you've always known why I left."

"You fool. He never loved you- even at the end." The truth is harsh on his tongue, just like the bitter taste of treason on his lips. He hopes it burns, unrelenting and fierce as the agonizing brush of acid on skin. Kakashi isn't to be disappointed- there is a soft intake of breath, the sound of a small, sorrowful gasp, like a child choking on her tears.

"I know," she murmurs, as she turns away to avoid his sharp, black gaze. "I'd always known."

- 6 -

On the fifth day, Kakashi asked her whether she was ready to die.

On the fifth day, Sakura answered it with a question.

"Could you have loved me?" she asks, and Kakashi is momentarily speechless. "If I had stayed. Could you have loved me in the way Sasuke should have loved me." She stands beside him, close enough for Kakashi to smell the hint of sake on her breath, the jasmine on her skin. She turns to face him; takes a step closer that causes his breathing to hitch and the hairs to stand on his neck. "Could you love me now?" The words are loud against the silence.

Kakashi recoils like she's struck him. Then, in seconds he's back, in her face and breathing hard as he grips her wrists hard and painful above her head as he stares into that pair of wide, innocent eyes. "I'm not his replacement." He grits out 'his' like a cuss word, bites out the sentence like he's in pain.

"No. You're just the man with a predilection for unwanted Uchiha playthings." She raises her chin, regards him with rebellious, stubborn eyes. "Your Sharingan. Don't tell me those damn lies about being an Uchiha lovechild, or swapping eyes with an Uchiha for the prize of a wager. I wasn't fucking born yesterday-"

"He was my best friend." Kakashi's words are harsh and bitter and grating to her ears. "It was his last gift to me- I took them because he was dying and I loved him. Because he wanted me to have them."

"Do you love me enough then, to honour my last request?" Sakura asks. "Answer me." Her eyes are bright with unshed tears as she says this. "Kiss me."

And he does.

He does. He kisses her hard and fast and so long it hurts for a brief second before desire finally kicks in- but she's beautiful and drawn up against his body, so close he can feel the curve of her breast against his jounin vest, and she tastes not only of tears and betrayal but of honey and sugar, along with the scent of want permeating the air between them- so he draws in her mouth and seeks the source of her sweetness.

"Yes- I could have. I could have loved you," he says as he pulls back. He gently touches the fullness of her soft lower lip, traces the contours of her cheek. "But I can't now." The regret in his voice is palpable, and as Sakura's eyes narrow and dull from vibrancy, Kakashi is well aware she knows it as well as he does.

"It's okay." But it isn't.

"Close your eyes," he says, and she smiles and does as she's told.

Kakashi hears rather than sees the blood splatter the far wall.

- 7 -

Half of Konoha turns up for her funeral. Nobody comments when she is buried off Konoha burial grounds, as befitting her death as a traitor. Nobody cries at her funeral, but when a man attempts to pelt her coffin with tomatoes, Ino's glare is ferociously dangerous as she disarms the man and leaves him with the arm-ache of the century.

She is buried with a thin purple ribbon wrapped around her neck, as if strategically placed to cover the little, narrow slash that typifies her cause of death. Nobody asks. Nobody questions.

Nobody says a word when Kakashi is found monumentally drunk in the nights after.