Chapter 4: First step


If there was one thing Sakura felt that day he found her rogue kidnapper, it was absolute madness. She applauded his guts for even showing himself in front of her and even carried himself as if he's expecting her to hug him or something. But what floored her the most was the fact that this gallant leader of a menacing transport group claimed that he was associated with Hatake Kakashi. The ridiculous, old-fashioned perv even called himself the copy-nin's partner. How he got inside Iwagakure was still a mystery but Sakura won't let this worm roam around freely without a deserving punishment.

So the next thing Shoda knew, he was immobilized and dragged within a dark alley separating Sakura's apartment building from the grocery store. At this point, the ex-lieutenant knew he made the wrong choice. He should've gone to the hospital... it would've been less dangerous.

After dumping his body against the stone wall, hidden perfectly by mid-morning's shadow, Sakura pressed her nimble fingers against his face and neck, up to his chest, releasing the stiff muscles from the hold of her special jutsu. Shoda breathed a sigh of relief as air rushed back into his lungs. The first thing he uttered was, "What have you done to me??" it didn't came out as hostile as he would've expected. But really, he was downright mortified.

Sakura glared, "Think of it as Ketamine (1), except it's a jutsu. I pressed some precise nerves to stiffen your muscles, including your heart." She provocatively pointed dangerously above his heart, which was now beating, albeit slowly. "So if I were you, I'd be careful because if you fight back, cardiac depression is possible." Once she was done, she took a step back and marvelled her work.

Shoda choked but took her advice like any other smart individual. So he tried to relax and placed a brave-face on. His eyes blatantly ran over her womanly body from head to toe, which irritated the medic. "If only my heart wasn't trapped by this jutsu of yours, I'd say you've grown into a very fine young woman."

The medic's lips upturned in disgust, "And I'd say you've become pruned," that definitely shut his motor mouth. "Now, why are you looking for Kakashi?" her eyes warily swept the area around them. She can't let anyone see this tall trespasser before she drained him with all the answers she needed.

"I already told you, he's my partner." Shoda told her as reprimanding a child, "And I wouldn't tell you anything unless you tell me where the copy-nin is."

Sakura raised an eyebrow, thinking of using critical interrogation, "What makes you think he's here?"

Shoda wheezed, "Look, I'm not stupid. I've seen you rescue him... I was just finding the right time to show up and infiltrate the village. You're not particularly friendly, you know—ack!" the stiffening muscles once again engulfed his throat.

Fingers dangerously pressed against his carotid pulse, "I said, careful with your words, didn't I?" and then she released his neck muscles again.

Shoda nodded, "Fine, got it." He wanted to live pass through this, and dying from immobilized muscle jutsu was not the type of death he had in mind. "Look, it's a long story and I think the copy-nin will kill me if I tell you anything."

"You know it's one of the consequences you have to face once you thought of appearing before me."

"That... was unplanned, actually. I was about to go to the hospital and then I saw you." His voice flippant, trying desperately to ignore the danger of the situation he was in.

Sakura's patience was thinning and deliberately slapped a hand on her forehead, "I really hate to burst your little bubble but Kakashi's well-guarded in the hospital. If you're smart enough, I wouldn't walk right in there."

"That's why I thought it'd be smarter to approach you first." The captain said with much bravado.

"Liar!" Sakura reached out and pinched his nose, to which the tall figure of Shoda screamed, "So you really planned this, didn't you??"

Shoda definitely made a bad decision.

**

Meanwhile, inside the Uchiha compound, Sasuke was sitting quietly in the dining room, sipping a nice, hot green tea while lazily looking through the window, waiting for snowflakes to fall. Peace and quiet had always been his major priority ever since he decided to make his life a little less miserable. And he could only enjoy it in the morning, when most are still asleep... particularly one blond man still pestered him with full intent of destroying his tranquillity, even went as far as calling him one boring bastard.

The same man happened to be one of Konoha's candidates for the next Hokage. Apparently, he was also his best friend.

"Oi!"

Sasuke didn't have to look up to see who the intruder was. He can tell who it is even miles away from Konoha. "Knocking would suffice than destroying my door, you Neanderthal." He bit back but without much malice. He hoped he did sound more spiteful.

A snort and then, "Don't go crying again, baby, I didn't break your door!" as if to prove his point he started pushing and pulling at the poor, old, Shoji screen.

"Enough already!" And here, Sasuke thought he would be spared from popping another vein in his forehead. So much for peace and quiet... "What do you want, Naruto?"

Naruto grinned from ear to ear, his clear blue-eyes lit up like sunsets freezing at the bottom of a lake. That thought made Sasuke a little nauseous. His thoughts sounded gay again every time he tried to internally figure out Naruto's inborn happiness.

The blond was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet when he said, "Hey did you know? Kakashi-sensei's in Iwa!" Naruto unceremoniously sat on the chair across Sasuke. "I heard he's in bad shape but he's okay now."

Sasuke nodded sagely. "That's good." He knew the copy-nin since he was twelve; a simple A-class mission can't kill him. Although he wasn't expecting it would take Kakashi years to finish whatever he was supposed to do. But then again, it also took him years before he realized that Konoha was his home and he had to return somehow.

Naruto, however, took every bit of news like it was a miracle, "That's it?? That's all you can say?? He's been gone for years, Sasuke! Everyone assumed he's dead already!"

"But he's not." Sasuke said, finally looking at him straight in the eye, "I know he's still alive, and I'm sure you did too."

The blond looked thoughtful. Again, a smile turned the corners of his mouth, "Yeah... I guess you're right." He scratched his head, suddenly looking anxious, "We do have a problem though..."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at this, "What?"

Naruto cradled his chin underneath his hand, looking all but relieved, "Sakura's in Iwagakure."

Sasuke stared... and stared... and stared. Silence ensued between the two as an understanding dawned. The deafening silence was broken when Sasuke face-palmed and mutter, "That can't be good."

To which Naruto replied, "No shit." he continued quietly, "Should we..."

Sasuke interrupted the blonde's train of thought and rose from his seat to clean up his tea set at the sink. "No, we're not going to Iwa, it's not necessary. I'm actually more worried about Kakashi-sensei."

Naruto sheepishly laughed, "Sakura's... pretty violent when she's pissed." His hand absent-mindedly caressed his left arm, remembering how Sakura twisted it a year ago when he accidentally messed up her hair dye. Her hair, instead of bubblegum pink, turned powder blue. He could still remember the look of horror on her face when she looked at herself in the mirror. "But do you think she's still angry at him? I mean, it's been five years..."

"How long have you two been searching for me when I went missing?" Sasuke asked, deadpanned.

"But that was different! You ran away!" Naruto objected briskly.

"And Kakashi didn't?" Sasuke laughed hollowly. He could have said more, but it was none of his business. Sasuke left the sink and sat on his chair again. The sounds of morning were around him, and he could hear the birds that resided inside the compound chirping.

"Well, whatever... I'll just wait till she replies to my letter..." his last few words dragged slowly when he caught Sasuke looking at him incredulously, "What?"

Sasuke shook his head, "You and your insatiable curiosity."

**

The first cool winds of the Christmas season were already upon the city. The air was electric and the sun lay pure on the wooden panels and on the marble floor, glinted on the glass windows and danced on the land beyond.

And so, on this cool, wind-washed Saturday in November, Hatake Kakashi was in Iwagakure's General Hospital, recuperating from the wounds his last mission left. Raising his bandaged hand, he looked at it and pondered what he had gotten himself into. The mission was simple, nearly easy for a jounin at his level. But then everything was screwed up when unexpected distractions occurred. He meant to return to Konoha earlier but he guessed it was his destiny to be delayed, beaten and ambushed in order to meet the person he left behind, and in a foreign village no less.

He released a pent-up sigh as it began to darken again. It's been a couple of days since the last time he saw her and frankly, he missed her. He was a coward for running away and he always admitted that every second of the day since he left his village. It might have been a bold move to leave but he regretted nothing. It was the right choice anyway.

And yet, the thought of going back was always in his mind; it stirred both fond and hurtful memories and loneliness began gnawing at his heart.

So, what was he supposed to do now? After years of isolation, he never thought the sight of her would still make his chest constrict with a strange yet familiar emotion he refused to acknowledge.

Kakashi's eyes drifted shut and a slow smile crawled on his face. He was a fool to think that he could forget her easily. In fact, everything that he has done for the past five years were foolish... and he had always been bad at admitting it.

So when she came into his room, looking nothing but elegant in that white robe, her gaze penetrating as she neared his bed, Kakashi forced himself to behave just like any other patient. It was not the visit which bothered him because it was inevitable. Sakura looked pale and troubled and lacked all the confidence he expected to see from her.

"I think," she started, a little unsure as her gaze shifted warily to him and to the surroundings, "I think... it's time for us to talk." Her voice sounded formidable but her beautiful green eyes told him a different story. She was definitely worried about something.

"Alright." He said, his voice grown raspy. In the bright light provided by the fluorescent, he noticed how beautiful her hair looked, like a soft flowing waterfall of pink candy tresses over her shoulders. She was biting her lower lip while moving closer to his bed, but not touching. This caused him to get a slight whiff of her perfume and a little bit of her scent. He sat up, taking that bleak opportunity of being near her.

"I saw Shoda this morning." Sakura told him solemnly.

He turned to look at her face; for sometime did not speak but his hands clenched. "I expected he would. He did follow me for days." But that doesn't stop him from hoping he didn't. That man was the most annoying person he had ever been stuck with.

Sakura's eyes slowly widened to regard him, "So he was telling the truth? He's your partner?"

Kakashi shook his head, "Of course not." He knew Shoda was delusional but never thought he would actually announce it to anyone. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." He would've explained more but he was no quite sure if it was the best idea since they're still, in fact, in a different village.

Sakura massaged her temples and plopped down the bed next to his legs. "You don't know how much that relieved me." Her voice trembled and Kakashi thought it would break into a sob. "But that man," she said spitefully, "really wants to see you. He's not the one poisoned you, is he?" somehow she sounded like she wanted the latter to be true.

Kakashi shook his head and leaned against the rough stone wall and lifted his eyes to the asbestos ceiling, "No, he's not."

"I want you to tell me why he's following you." Sakura said, "Shoda wouldn't be wasting his time chasing around if it's not about money." She looked at him in a way as if trying to figure him out, "He wants something from you."

Kakashi shrugged, "I really can't tell you right now, Sakura. But I assure you, Shoda's not a threat... at least, not yet. Where is he?"

Sakura was still not satisfied with his vague answer but let the topic go nonetheless. "I had someone incarcerate him."

Pushing up to his elbows, he regarded her with hooded eyes, "He's in jail?"

"Not yet, but if he's up to something, I won't hesitate to send him there." She stared afar, as if dwelling deep into her memories. It appalled him that Shoda's presence made her recall unpleasant reflections of her past. The past was, after all, not a pool of darkness but a clear spring. Shoda brought her to Orochimaru and who knows what else he did while they travelled. He couldn't ask about this since he knew how much Sakura tried to avoid talking about anything regarding that episode of her life. And he didn't want to overstep her boundaries.

"I thought I would never see you again," She suddenly said wearily. Her eyes refused to look at him directly.

"You know I would come back," he said calmly.

"I know that..." Sakura shook her head and smiled bitterly, "But I never thought I would sit here, on your hospital bed, talking about the man who kidnapped me. You don't know how much I convinced myself not to talk to you. But I was really angry back then... it's been five years so I guess everyone has to move on, right? Including me." To what she was supposed to move on about, he was not sure.

"Are you angry that I did what had to be done?" Kakashi spoke almost in a whisper.

Sakura shook her head with a strained laugh, "It is not for me to judge, sensei."

The copy-nin looked thoughtful. A smile turned the corner of his mouth, "Sakura... I never meant to hurt you... in anyway."

Sakura closed her eyes, looking like she was suppressing an internal battle, "I know."

Soon, someone was paging for Sakura and she had to leave him. As he watched her close the door, he felt a huge amount of weight left his shoulders. At least their first talk was least hostile than expected. In this kind of situation, a jounin like him has to take baby-steps in order to gain the trust he once lost.

TBC


AN: After three months, I'M STILL ALIVE. Hope you enjoyed this chapter. Expect the upcoming chapters with some flashbacks. ^^, THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL REVIEWS!