The Ronin and the Queen
Chapter 4 - The End of the Circle
"Sensei…" Naruto shot at Kakashi from a tree limb as the older ninja strolled by, a hand in one pocket and the other on his pack. "You need a shower, man. I could smell you three hours ago before you even crossed the second boundary around the village," he laughed.
"Ah, I'm a little ripe," Kakashi responded evenly, continuing to walk.
"I smell Sakura on you, but only a little. You went to see her stinking like that?"
"Hm," Kakashi said quietly.
"But you didn't touch her."
"What do you want, Naruto?" Kakashi asked as he continued to walk, ignoring the young man as he hit the ground nearby and wandered behind.
"I just wondered if she's in a better mood. I've been hanging out with her for a couple of days and she's bitchy," Naruto chuckled, sidling up to his old Sensei and joining his pace.
Kakashi glanced sideways. "She's probably a little worse now."
"Well, she's got a rough life. I feel a little responsible for that. I haven't been much of a support for her for a long time," the blond said quietly, stuffing his own hands down into his pockets and watching the pebbles in the dirt as his feet carried him along. "I don't really know how I got like that."
"I suppose you are responsible, Naruto. I'm glad you know that. Maybe one day, you can take her place as we all still hope and expect you to, and you'll be the great leader we know you to be. Then she can give up her obligations and become what she always dreamed of being, which if I remember correctly was a medic and a ninja."
Naruto's eyes narrowed and Kakashi's eyebrow raised in response as both men stopped.
"You don't mince words eh, Sensei?" Naruto grumbled.
"Would it be better if I absolved you of what you know to be true? I'm not here to hold your hand. You;re probably the strongest ninja that I have ever come across in my lifetime. And that's saying something as I've collected thousands of jutsu from thousands of people. Our sparring session told me that probably without even using a drop of chakra, you could defeat any chuunin level ninja in any way. Add a minute bit of your gigantic energy and you'd defeat any elite without breaking a sweat. You know this. I can see in your face, you know."
"So? What does that…?"
"It means that you are wasting your life. You're supposed to be Hokage. Even you know that and you're dragging your feet. I never imagined you of all people would give up."
"Sakura is a good Hokage. I don't need…"
"Good Hokage or not, she didn't take it because she wanted to. I had never heard her even express minute interest to become that even once. She knew, just as I knew, it was your purpose."
"I can't just…take over, you know."
Kakashi shook his head. "You went on a mission the other night, right? I saw your name on the roster. How did it go?"
"Good. Great actually. I enjoyed…"
"Exactly. You don't have to do things now, but you can ease into it. You're young, Naruto, so you have time. You've been hanging around the tower with Sakura and you've been sliding slowly into a better routine so does it seem so impossible that in time, your interest in the things you used to want more than anything won't be rekindled?"
Naruto stared at him with large blue eyes. Kakashi could see Minato in every twitch of his lips, every sideways glance and every run of a hand through his blond hair. How would the boy have been different if Minato had lived? In his own life, Kakashi knew how much influence Minato had. It was Kakashi's duty to put some of that influence toward his son whom he gave everything up for.
But Kakashi knew in the end it was a worthy sacrifice by his old Sensei, and decided he would tell Minato when he visited the memorial before he left town.
"I feel like it's still there, the desire, but…"
"That's enough then. You're on the right track. Just follow it. And rely on Sakura. She wants exactly the same things."
Naruto nodded. "You're sounding a little final, Sensei. Are you leaving?"
Kakashi breathed in, feeling the elastic stretch of his chest as he tried to find the right mix of words to impart something and make Naruto smile before he left, but it wasn't to be.
"You know, you said Sakura wants exactly the same things as me. And I think you're right, Sensei. We both want you to stay for a while. I just think our reasons are different. I don't know if I've told you but…she has trouble asking for things for herself. She's a selfless person. Quite a change from the younger version, huh."
Kakashi smiled under his mask, proud that Naruto was the man he had become and that somehow Kakashi might have had a hand in it. He could see that Naruto would be a good Hokage, and even at the age of twenty-two, he knew the right things to say to people – just like his father did.
"I know she does. Tell her that I said good-bye and that I'm proud of you both."
Naruto's face displayed his inner feelings with the down turned corners of his mouth as they two men fell into step toward Kakashi's apartment.
"What on earth is that smell?" Shizune asked as she strolled into Sakura's office with the mail and some hospital charts.
"Kakashi…" Sakura replied to the paper on her desk that bore some really deep pen marks and very few actual letters.
"Seriously?" Shizune laughed but caught Sakura's face looking still slightly red from crying. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Sakura said with a minute bite.
Shizune had watched the change in the Hokage over the last few days, just as she had seen Naruto change. Obviously Kakashi's presence had been a determining factor. Sakura smiled more, worried more, paced, preened and stared at the window more. The moment the Hokage's head fell on Kakashi's shoulder at the bar, Shizune knew that the woman was showing her reliance on the man. Sakura never showed reliance on anyone so it was quite astonishing. She'd forgotten the bond of being in a team and thought of Tsunade for a moment.
"He must have come here before going home to shower after he returned, huh?" Shizune continued as she wandered to the window and cranked it open a little more.
"Hm," Sakura said absently.
"I don't know many ninja that would do that. I remember getting back from a couple of days in the woods, checking in at the gate office, and then practically running for my shower."
Sakura only added a consonant to her breath this time but Shizune could hear that her rough pen scratches had ceased.
With a smile, as she stared out at the peaceful village, Shizune said plainly, "He must have had something really important to tell you. Did he have some information? I mean, what would make him come here immediately like that?"
Shizune turned to find Sakura staring up at her with wide green eyes.
"Shit," Sakura mumbled. "Shizune, I have to go out for a while. These mission reports need to be…"
"I'll take care of them."
"I can't ask you to do that."
"Of course you can. Besides, I'll just get Kotetsu to do them. Just go. We'll deal with anything that comes up." Shizune couldn't help her telling smile as the flustered Hokage stood up from her desk and tipped a stack of papers over.
"Damn it. Just leave those there and I'll get them later…" Sakura shouted as she flew out the door.
Shizune laughed outright and wandered over to pick up the papers that were strewn about the wooden floor. "'bout time."
Sakura hurried along the sidewalks, waving a tense hand to the people that greeted her and shouting apologies to the ones who wanted to steal some time. Right now, she didn't have a moment to spare. He could have already left. He could be walking out the gate.
"What's the hurry?" Naruto shouted from the same tree he was stretched out in when he'd seen Kakashi pass by under earlier.
"I have to stop…I mean…I need to see…" Sakura's wide gaze found him among the leaves.
"I wondered if you'd come to your senses," Naruto laughed.
"I can't talk right now," she breathed out, her eyes shifting from him to the road she wanted to continue down.
"Don't worry. He's still in his apartment. I walked him there just a little while ago. Hurry and you can catch him in the shower," he laughed and then stopped abruptly. "Wow, your skin got warmer over just that."
"Shut up!" she shook a fist at him and continued on.
"Tell him I said you're welcome!" Naruto shouted after her.
Taking the steps by twos, Sakura climbed the three flights to Kakashi's tired little apartment and stood at the door. Timidly, she knocked and waited, her fingers shaking and body warm.
It hadn't occurred to her what she would say when she was face to face with him, but she was there now and hoped it would just come to her.
When the door didn't open, she turned the handle to find it unlocked, easing it open and poking her head in. "Ka…kashi?"
The sound of a running shower met her ears and she blushed hotly but didn't back out. Instead she slid into the small bachelor apartment where everything was crammed neatly into one tiny room except the shower which he was now probably standing naked in.
The door was cracked – obviously there would normally not be a need for him to shut it in his own apartment. Sakura felt that tight line of pain shooting through her shoulders and neck, and her fingers clenched and unclenched.
Looking around, she found his bag open on the desk and a few odds and ends around it like books, some weapons, his holster, mask and a few other trinkets.
Walking around, still hearing the shower, she shuffled quietly over to his dresser to slide open the top drawer. Boxers lay in a small neat pile and some tidy rolled wrappings sat in rows. "Nice," she said quietly, figuring him not to be a brief man. In her fantasies, the man always wore boxers and in the morning, she would slip them on to make coffee in – and nothing else.
Moving to his small bookcase, she ran her finger along volume after volume of Icha Icha paradise books as well as some classics. Weapons manuals and technical manuals on fighting and war strategies were in a neat row and then some pictures finished off the space. The same picture of team seven sat on her mantle in her small apartment that she still retained and hoped she'd go back to one day. Another picture of Kakashi's team when he was a boy sat beside that, and another of what she presumed were his parents and he as a baby. His father had the tell tale hair and his mother had the same smile.
Moving on to his two cupboards, she opened them to find a half can of instant coffee, three cups of instant ramen and a can of weapon oil. The fridge had a pile of vegetables, eggs and some soymilk, and his sink was immaculately clean.
The last stop she made was his bed. The small single bed she would expect a child to sleep in was under the window with a clock on the ledge behind hit and a shuriken-patterned blanket on top.
She had to laugh. It was like the apartment a boy might have. Sakura half expected to see pictures of bikini-clad women on the walls. Maybe he'd grown out of that phase long ago. Then again, Kakashi was not a waster or a lover of material things. If something were useful, he would most likely keep it forever – like his books, like his boyhood blanket, like a half can of instant coffee.
She sat down on the bed and ran her hands over the blanket, feeling how it was supremely soft from a lifetime of washing. The cleaning lady she'd hired must have still been doing a good job because the clean sheets smelled like fabric softener.
Feeling a little foolish, Sakura pressed her feet on the floor and bounced her behind up and down on the mattress. It was thick and comfortable, worn in and made no sound at all when she moved on it. She pulled the pillow into her lap and ran her hands over the smooth, crisp cotton, then lifted it to her nose to smell it.
Again she felt that pang of desire with just a touch of his scent drifting into her senses.
"I can lend you that if you want?" Kakashi's voice startled her enough to make her throw the pillow down to the end and jump up from his bed. His chuckling met her ears and she felt her face turn red.
"I'm…sorry," she breathed out. "You were in the shower and I didn't want to miss you."
"You didn't want to miss me in the shower?"
"Yeah…I mean no! I mean… Why do I get like this with you?" she whined. "I wanted to see you before you left. I didn't want to leave things like that. I wanted to…explain myself."
Kakashi's chin dipped in a quick nod of understanding, and he lifted the back of towel he had draped around his bare damp shoulders to rub the back of his silver hair to dry it a little more. He had smelled her the second she had entered the apartment - that heady scent of desire already mingling into the sweet aroma of her lavender cream and her sensual perfume. He wondered if she had any idea what that scent could do to any man.
Her eyes traced his naked torso, not stopping when she reached the top of his black jogging pants. He knew from the quiet taps of wood on wood that she'd been snooping through his belongings. Must have seen the boxers, he laughed to himself as he snapped the towel off and tossed it on the desk chair, her eyes following it.
"I'm just going to brush my teeth and finish up, but I'll keep the door open to listen," Kakashi said with a calm tone.
Sakura nodded sheepishly and it gave him a small appreciation for how she would become a demure woman around him when he knew she was as powerful as they come. Peeling his eyes off her, he sauntered back into the bathroom, only needing to turn his head to see her.
Sakura sat back down on the bed and sighed. "Um. Well, when you came to see me, I wasn't myself. I really thought you'd left without saying goodbye, Kakashi. I wanted to apologize for being so abrupt. I guess I've enjoyed your company more than I sho….I mean, I like….having…you…"
It was harder than she'd imagined.
Kakashi smiled at himself in the mirror. Maybe he was torturing her a little bit, but even the tone of her voice was calling to him. Everything about her was arousing now, even her anger, even her shyness when confessing.
He stood at the door frame, an arm cocked against it. He angled his head.
"But you haven't had me yet," he interrupted her uncomfortable stumble over her words.
Instantly a red tint ran up from where her red shirt came to a v just above her breasts. Her cheeks were flushed, and her green eyes were wide, eyebrows up.
"You said you like having me, but you haven't had me yet, so how do you know?"
"Oh God, Kakashi. Please don't play with me," she breathed out, her chest rising and falling, her hand digging into her tight shoulder. "I don't think I could take it right now."
Kakashi took a few steps until he was right in front of where she sat on the bed. "I think we both want to play a little, don't we?"
Sakura felt her body leap to arousal, aware of his hot damp skin next to her, and the sensual way his wet hair fell thickly over his forehead. His red eye gleamed as it stared into hers, and the smile she'd seen on his mother's face raised just a little higher on the right side in a cocky way.
"Seducing you? Yes. I think I am. So be quiet and let me get to it," he said with a hint of force.
If Sakura wasn't already sitting down, then she felt her trembling knees wouldn't have held her up. As it stood now, if her heart beat any faster, she feared she might actually pass out right on her bed, and that would be the worst moment of her life if she missed what was coming.
"Let's see to that shoulder first, hm?" he said quietly, putting a knee on the bed and sliding his strong hands over her shoulders. The first knead of his palms against the tight muscles made her hiss, but the next few made her release the stiff shrug she seemed to be holding.
Gently, he worked on her, pressing his strong fingers in at just the right places, making her hum with comfort and relief. He moved one of her long ponytails so he could put a firm hand on the back of her neck and knead there, going into her hairline and back down again.
"Better?" he asked.
"Much," she responded with a whisper, her eyes closed.
And before she realized what he was doing, his mouth was where his fingers just were. She felt him shift onto the bed so that he was sitting behind her, and again, he gently moved her hair out of his way to press his hot mouth to the back of her neck.
Sakura tipped her head to the left to expose the long line of her throat to him, and Kakashi obliged by moving to the spot just below her ear. His hand moved over her shoulder on the other side and he held her face gently. When his mouth caressed her ear and his talented tongue slide inside, tingles of pleasure ran up and down her body.
She gasped softly and he stopped.
For a moment she froze but then his soft voice spoke next to her ear from behind her.
"I'm going to take your clothes off now, Sakura. But I'm not going to rush. You won't be leaving for a while."
She made a breathy noise, unable to contain her arousal or how struck she was with the idea that he was taking charge. No one ever told her what to do. But he could. She would do anything he said at that moment.
Again his mouth went to her throat and devoured the skin there, his tongue flicking over her pulse, his teeth grazing the lovely curve between her neck and shoulder. She felt the strong throb between her legs and Kakashi made a low sound of approval in the back of his throat in response to it.
Like Naruto, she imagined he could tune into the fluctuation of the bodies reactions like her heart pounding, her skin warming, perhaps the scent of her arousal.
Kakashi's fingers were tugging her shirt out of his way so he could press open-mouthed kisses into the soft skin but again he stopped. His hands slid around her waist achingly slow, pressing trails over her until they slid upwards to hold her just below her breasts. His hot breath tickled the back of her neck when he spoke.
"You smell good," he breathed. "Your skin is hot."
She nodded a little, finding the words to respond catching in her throat as his fingers moved just a little higher.
"I could eat you," he whispered and she shivered.
She moaned softly, and her head tipped back to fall on his shoulder. Finally, finally, they would be together in a way she'd been imagining for days.
She could get used to this, she thought.
Morning rose and Sakura sat up quickly, realizing that she'd indulged in Kakashi until the small hours of the night, falling asleep and waking up in his tiny bed. She understood why he liked the mattress so much because if one of them shifted away, the other would end up on the floor. So whenever she woke briefly, she'd find his warm body against hers and his arm tucked under her side keeping her as close as humanly possible.
But now the sunlight was shouting through the window and she gaze at the clock. Six twenty one am. The panic suddenly died out and she realized she had about an hour before she'd really have to get up and move. It was so hard to imagine leaving that warm comfortable spot and for the first time in six years, she admitted to herself that she hated being the Hokage. Never would she breathe it to a soul, but it was there, spoken in her head now and would never be quiet again.
Rolling away from Kakashi's hot skin, Sakura leaned over the side of the bed and dug around in the pile of clothing for his pants. Then with a devious smile, she tugged on his white cotton boxer shorts with the blue pinstripes, and wandered into the small bit of area she would expect to be the entire kitchen.
She stretched out, lifting her arms above her head and feeling a fraction of the tense muscle that sat in her neck and shoulder. Supposing she would be Hokage forever, she expected that little bit of tension would always be there.
Shaking the old electric kettle on the counter, Sakura found it had some water so she flicked it on and hugged her bare arms over her breasts. The floor was cold under her bare feet and she shivered a little.
When the kettle snapped off, Sakura found a mug hanging in a cupboard and pulled out the instant coffee. Maybe it was six years old, but what the hell, she thought. She needed coffee to wake up today after the wonderful lack of sleep. Pouring out the hot water into the mug, she picked it up and hugged it to her front to feel the heat radiate to her hard breasts.
"Cold?" Kakashi asked from his bed.
Sakura turned a little with a smile, hoping he'd been awake and hoping he'd been watching her. Strolling through his apartment in his boxers was so much more satisfying if he enjoyed it too for some reason.
"I am," she said quietly.
Kakashi's eyes wandered her mostly naked body, enjoying the way she looked and the comfort she exuded with being naked in front of him.
"Come back to bed then."
"I need to get ready for work," she sighed. "If I get in that bed, I won't make it."
Kakashi smirked. She was right because watching her like that was getting him off.
"Hey…uh…today…what are you…planning?" she asked timidly.
"I might sleep. Maybe eat. Might find Naruto. Other than that, no plans." Kakashi sat up and stretched his long lean body before rubbing a hand through his messy hair and yawning. "And before you ask. No plans to leave just yet."
Sakura smiled and took a sip of the coffee, then leaned over the sink and noisily spit it out. "Damn, that's awful."
With a laugh, Kakashi relayed, "I think it's older than I am."
The next two weeks flew by in a blur between working daily, doing some training with Naruto because he'd shown more interest in learning lately, and then meeting with Kakashi at night to have dinner, drinks and nights in her bed or his – it was always his choice.
But Sakura recognized Kakashi was restless. There were no real missions and no duties for him, and twice he'd left in the morning and returned the next morning after spending some time alone in the forest.
For the most part, he wasn't happy. When they were together, it was blissful, but for the other hours in the day, he was a satalite.
Naruto sat in the Hokage chair working on some building plans for Tenzou while Sakura stared out the window into the crisp blue sky. When the knock came at the door, she already knew whom it was. She'd been expecting it for a couple of days but until that moment, had fooled herself into thinking it wouldn't come.
Kakashi entered, his head a little lower and shoulders slumped a little more than normal; he didn't have to say anything.
"When?" she asked quietly, Naruto looking up as well with a solemn look on his face.
"Tomorrow morning," he replied calmly.
Sakura didn't want to cry in front of Naruto, but she couldn't help it.
And Kakashi surprised her by moving across the room to her and holding her right then and there.
The morning he left, Naruto sat with Sakura on top of the Hokage monument and watched the village go about the daily routine. The sun was high and hot enough to wear t-shirts. It was a perfect day for Kakashi to walk away as the weather would make it easier to get further away that much faster.
Sakura had managed not to cry because it would only make it harder for him. Somehow she always knew he would leave and understood that they all deserved to have what they wanted – even if it was hard on someone else. It wasn't right to force him to stay in a half-life, even for them.
They'd spent a long night awake together in his small apartment just like they had that first time, and she appreciated that he asked her to see him off.
Now, an hour after he was gone, Naruto slung his arm loosely around Sakura and let her lay her head on his shoulder.
"He'll be back," Naruto assured gently. "When I'm Hokage, I'll make him come back."
"Then hurry up and become Hokage because I don't know if I can wait," she whispered before the tears came again.
"Just a little longer," he breathed against the top of her head. "I promise, Sakura-chan."
Naruto made good on his promise, and Sakura stood in the crowd during the long awaited inauguration. She was proud of him. It took six years to get to that point in time and they'd all wasted so much time getting there.
She would love to have claimed some responsibility for getting Naruto to change, but she knew it was Kakashi's doing.
The seventh Hokage looked out over the crowd wearing the hat and the robe she'd stood up there and wore six years before. It suited him so much more than it ever suited her. And in that moment, she recalled Ino asking why she looked so unhappy about it on her own inauguration day, but Sakura's tight throat prevented her from answering.
Naruto positively beamed, and for the first time in the three months since Kakashi had left, Sakura suddenly felt happy. She was free. She could go to the hospital, take the odd mission if one came up and perhaps join ANBU, which wasn't very busy these days.
The world was open to her now.
Naruto lifted a hand to her and winked, and Sakura waved back. Then the blond focused on something else in the crowd and laughed to himself while the villagers cheered and shouted his name. It was a poignant moment for both of them and she'd always remember it.
As the crowd began to disburse after the celebration, Sakura stood in the same spot and stared at the spires atop the building, remembering the day Kakashi came back and stood there with her while she had that vanilla coffee. It suddenly struck her to go and get another, maybe slip up there and think about him, immerse all her senses in triggers for that lovely memory.
As she took the first step, a hand slid around her waist, and startled, she whipped around to find herself face to face with a black mask and silver hair.
"Wh…What are you doing here?"
"I couldn't miss this, could I?" Kakashi responded, his eye creased with his overly happy grin.
"No, I guess you should be here since it's your doing," she said with a strange mixture of happiness and loss, and then pressed her face to his shoulder. "How long are you here for?"
"Just the night," he said quietly, holding her tight enough to slide her head under his chin. "Stay with me?"
"Let's go see Naruto, then we can go anywhere you want," Sakura said, fighting the tears and sniffing against his chest.
They went to the reception and congratulated Naruto heartily, though Naruto kept a wary eye on Sakura as she looked close to tears half the time. She clung to Kakashi as if afraid to lose him, and both men understood that reasoning.
When they were finished at the reception, they walked silently to the small apartment she'd moved back into and sat on the floor in front of the fireplace while she drank wine and he drank whiskey. And then they spent a few hours together in bed before they fell asleep.
It was a perfect good-bye to Konoha, Kakashi felt with a hint of sadness, but things had turned out right in the end and he had no regrets now.
The breeze blew softly in the trees, the rustling like a melody, and Kakashi stared at the border of the Fire Country and beyond, knowing it would be another two days of travelling before he reached the familiar stretch of kilometres that he travelled along almost endlessly. It was a satisfying existence, but he felt he should return back more than every six years.
It was a pleasure to see Naruto grow to his role and become the Hokage. The circle was complete and he was no longer necessary in it. It gave a certain amount of freedom.
Standing up on the branch he had been crouching on, Kakashi tugged his hat down a little more over his sharingan and smiled.
"Ready to go?" he asked.
Sakura shouldered her heavy pack and stretched up to stand on the branch next to Kakashi.
"I'll follow you anywhere," she said sincerely and slid her hand into his.
Yes, the circle was complete and he'd never been happier to be a part of it.
Thanks for reading. Something a little different I guess, but all's well in the end. Thanks to the people that reviewed. I appreciate that you let me know how you liked it.