Kakashi was at the end of his rope. Youba wanted a particular brand of canned shochu and had told him not to come back without it, but Kakashi had been to every grocer, vending machine, and liquor store in the city without any luck.
He had now resorted to asking random bars if they carried it. As was the hallmark of any ninja village, even the new Konoha had plenty of bars, but still, none of them carried Witch's Brew canned shochu.
The only bars left to search were the one in front of him and The Rusty Kunai, and Kakashi would be damned if he set foot in that place again. Sending up a little prayer to his ancestors, Kakashi pushed open the door of the swanky looking bar.
Once inside, Kakashi stopped dead. It was mid-afternoon and the bar only had one customer: Uzumaki Naruto.
Concerned and slightly alarmed, Kakashi sat on the bar stool next to Naruto and waited for him to talk.
Naruto did not disappoint.
"Did you know that girls are confusing, Kakashi-sensei?"
"Why, yes. Believe it or not, I am aware."
Naruto smiled glumly, staring into his mug of ale. "Yeah, I guess you are."
"In the doghouse, eh? Not fun, is it?"
"Not particularly. I'm about to go to the Hyuuga house and if Hinata even lets me in, it will probably just be to tell me she's through with me."
The bartender put a manicured hand on a shapely and exposed hip.
"Hey, Chatty. You gonna order something?" she said, smacking her gum loudly.
"Whatever he's having," Kakashi said, nodding towards Naruto.
She slammed a mug in front of him, sloshing it. Kakashi took a sip.
"This is awful."
"I know," Naruto said, taking another gulp anyway.
"You still have to pay," the bartender said, her back to them as she fixed her hair in the mirror behind the bar.
"I meant Sakura, though. Not Hinata."
Kakashi took a long drink to save himself from responding.
"Last week... I thought she was mad at Ino, but then she started crying about something Sasuke said to Akatsuki about how she's worthless. I didn't even know a person could have that many tears. It's like she's made of water."
Naruto rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands.
"Ah," Kakashi said, beginning to understand. "It is a miracle, that."
"And why does she even care what he says? He always believed in her and she still won't even consider that he said it to stop something like this from happening. It doesn't make any sense, Kaka-sensei. None at all."
Naruto let his hands fall back to the bar.
"Hinata says Sakura's just trying to play me for attention, and maybe she is, but why shouldn't I give it to her? Doesn't that mean she needs it? I think we ignore her too much, but she doesn't make it easy, hiding away from everyone and hoping we think that means she's doing great."
Naruto turned to look Kakashi square in the eye.
"Girls are confusing because you have to really pay attention to understand them, but if you know them, they're not so hard to figure out. Hinata's shy with most people, but when she's upset, what she wants to do is talk about it – talk and talk and talk some more until she's really sure everything's okay again. If Sakura's upset, though, you have to pay attention to what she doesn't say."
Naruto leaned toward him. "Want to know how I know that, Kakashi-sensei?"
Kakashi didn't answer.
"Because she never wants to talk about you."
Kakashi broke away from Naruto's invasive stare, looking at his ale instead.
"I'm worried about her. She goes through the training every day, but I don't think she believes in it. If she doesn't get her chakra back soon, I –"
Kakashi sat up straight. "Her chakra's gone? Since when?"
Naruto slammed his fist on the bar, making the bartender jump, messing up the mascara she was applying.
"You don't even know she – aren't you listening? Are you that blind?"
"Tell me. What happened?"
"What do you mean what happened? You were there. She got poisoned by Zetsu! Her chakra's been gone for weeks."
Kakashi closed his eyes, bowing his head.
"Kakashi-sensei, you need to know that they're not sure if it will come back. Ever."
Naruto stood, throwing enough money on the bar for both his and Kakashi's drinks. "I have to go. I'll see you later."
"Good luck with Hinata," Kakashi said, his voice coming out strangled.
When Naruto left, the bartender leaned over the counter, putting her cleavage in Kakashi's face.
"Hey. He's that guy, right? That killed that dude that blew up the city?"
"Is he single?"
Behind her, Kakashi saw a single can of Witch's Brew on the shelf. Ignoring her question, he pointed at the shochu.
"Is that for sale?"
"I guess. Not sure why you'd want it. They stopped making it a while back because it tastes like shit and nobody buys it."
"I'll take every can you have."
After Kakashi dropped off the cans of shochu, Youba expected him to stay. Even though his dogs could identify many of the plants of the forest now, they still had a lot to learn, Kakashi included.
But Kakashi had somewhere else to be.
He went straight to Sakura's balcony, pushing open the cracked window. She jumped off her bed, falling into attack stance.
"Oh, it's you," she said, relaxing her body, but confusion was still evident on her face.
"What are you doing to try and get your chakra back?"
Her eyes widened. "I'm on a special diet."
"You're on a diet."
"Don't look at me like that. It was Oyone's idea, not mine –"
"Never mind that. I meant what are you doing?"
"I –" She flushed. "I had a procedure at the hospital."
"Before I left. And I'm – you know, trying to stay in shape, work myself back up."
"With Rock Lee and Naruto? What do you work on?"
"With or without chakra?"
Her nostrils flared and her mouth set into a hard line. "I can't use chakra, so what do you think?"
"Get your things. We're going."
"What? Going where?"
"To get your chakra back." When she stared at him blankly, he elaborated. "The training grounds."
Sakura scowled and sat back down on her bed so heavily that she bounced. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
"Yes, you are. Let's go."
"No way. My mother would have a cow. She already thinks I train too much with Naruto and Lee."
"Stop making excuses. You're going."
"We're not on a mission. You can't order me around like –"
Sakura's mother opened the door carrying a basket of laundry. She blinked owlishly and began to back out of the room.
"Wait, Mom. Tell him that I shouldn't go train anymore because I have to heal."
Riko eyed him and then Sakura. "I don't know. It sounds like a good idea to me. You're doing much better, don't you think?"
Sakura glared daggers at her mother.
"Just don't forget your medicine this time." Riko glanced back at him. "You're welcome to dinner, if you'd like."
Sakura got up with an exaggerated sigh.
"No, Mom. If I'm going, then I'll eat out for once." She turned her glare on Kakashi. "And you're buying, too. And you can't complain when I have to special order."
He gave her his best smile. "Whatever you say, Sakura-chan."
"You're not buying, are you?"
"I spent the last of my pocket money today."
"Thirty seven cans of outrageously priced shochu."
"Can't you do better than that? You're not even drunk."
"I didn't say I drank them."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Fine. But I'm not changing first."
"Fine by me."
Riko set the laundry basket down and crept out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Kakashi moved towards the balcony, expecting Sakura to follow, but she moved toward the bathroom.
"I have to get ready."
"I thought you weren't changing."
"I said get ready, not change."
Kakashi waited for what seemed like an impossible amount of time, but finally, she emerged and headed towards the door.
"What are you doing?"
Annoyance flashed across her face. "I have to use the stairs, remember?"
"I'll take you. Come on."
She crossed over to him, looking wary, and they went out on the balcony. He opened his arms and she stepped inside, tentative. He leaped from the railing to the ground, setting her down lightly.
"I thought you might drag me over the roof tops."
"Would I do that?"
She scoffed. "Don't give me that innocent face."
They strolled to the training grounds, side by side. Nobody looked at them twice and one old woman even smiled at them. It was strange, after everyone who knew him personally seemed to take it as a personal affront that he and Sakura existed on the same planet.
When they got to their usual training ground, Sakura turned to him. "Now what?"
He reached down and picked up a pebble, tossing it to her. "Break this."
She tried to hand it back to him immediately. "I told you. I can't."
Sakura squeezed the pebble and closed her eyes, concentrating. Kakashi uncovered his Sharingan, taking a look at her chakra system.
She stopped. "See? It's not working."
"No, something was happening. I saw it."
"Yeah, something, but what? They said I had a bunch of blockages. They cleared them, but I still haven't been able to do anything since then, no matter what I try."
"Do it again."
Sakura frowned. "Kakashi –"
"Do it again."
She complied and he watched.
"Try pushing harder."
"I'm pushing as hard as I –"
"Not hard enough."
Things continued this way until the sun went down. Sakura threw the pebble on the ground so hard it bounced three times.
"I'm done with this. It's not going to work."
"It will work eventually."
"No, it won't." She sighed. "I'm hungry. Are you?"
He knew she was just trying to find a way to quit, but he let it slide for now. "Sure. Where do you want to eat?"
"Yakiniku Q is probably safest. They cooked special for me the night I got out of the hospital."
It was the prime time for dinner so they had to wait to for a hostess, but eventually, they were seated.
"I can't actually get barbecue because the table grills are cross-contaminated."
"So what exactly can't you eat?"
Sakura looked at the menu mournfully. "Most of this."
"Then why didn't you pick somewhere else?"
"It wouldn't be any different."
When the waiter came, Sakura pointed to a menu item. "I want this, but it will have to be cooked on a fresh grill and you absolutely cannot use any salt –"
The waiter looked at her as if she was one senbon short of a full set. "Ma'am, we season all our meat with –"
Sakura snapped the menu shut. "Oh, never mind. Just let me speak to the chef."
"He is very busy and doesn't usually meet with customers, but I'll check –"
"She said she needs to speak to the chef. Now." Kakashi looked the waiter directly in the eye.
The blood drained from the man's face. "Right this way, ma'am."
Sakura stood. "Thank you."
When Sakura returned, she smacked Kakashi on the shoulder before sitting down. "You didn't have to scare him. I would have taken care of it."
Kakashi shrugged. "My way was faster."
Sakura tried to look stern but failed, smiling. "I'm glad we're doing this."
"Training. Being normal. Naruto will be pleased."
"We couldn't keep doing that to him. We're his only family, really."
"If you want, we can train as a team."
Sakura's smile faltered. "I don't think everyone would show up."
"Yamato will come around."
"Not him. Sai." She picked at a hangnail. "He called me a loose woman. Said I should be ashamed."
Kakashi frowned. "Don't let anyone call you a slut, Sakura. Whatever else is true, that isn't."
She looked away from him. "Well, Naruto punched him in the face, if that makes you feel any better."
The waiter came over with their drinks, cutting off that line of discussion.
"Your food will be right out. As ordered," he added with a quick glance towards Kakashi.
"Thanks again," Sakura said, smiling brightly until the waiter was out of earshot.
"Why bother being nice to someone like that?"
"He didn't do anything wrong. You sound like Ino. She –" Sakura broke off, looking stricken.
"What happened with her?"
Sakura's face soured. "What does it look like? We fell out."
"Over what? She can't possibly have been surprised about –"
Sakura closed her eyes. "She found out about Hiro."
"Hiro. Him. She took it from my mind like – like an interrogation or something."
"You mean she didn't know?"
"I didn't tell anyone! She just thought it was about, you know, the genjutsu, so she dug deeper and – the point is, we're through."
Of all the friends Sakura might have lost in the aftermath of all this, Kakashi would have never expected it to be Ino.
"Maybe you shouldn't burn your bridges."
Her eyes flashed. "Mind your own business."
He shrugged. "I'm just saying. Friends are hard to come by."
"Friends aren't worth having if they're friends like that."
Kakashi knew she would regret it, but it was no use trying to force the issue. With perfect timing, the waiter brought a plate of food – only Kakashi's.
Kakashi cleared his throat and the waiter smiled nervously. "The chef is bringing Haruno-san's dinner personally."
Sakura kicked Kakashi under the table and he nodded, forcing a smile.
The chef came next, setting Sakura's plate in front of her. "Is this sufficient, ma'am? No salt, not even a grain."
"Yes, thank you."
Kakashi stared at Sakura's plate of one tiny piece of grilled beef, plain rice, and a few steamed vegetables.
"All that ... for this?"
"I have to limit my protein intake."
"Wasn't there supposed to be a sauce on that dish?"
"There was, but I can't have it. Shut up and eat your food."
"Better you than me."
Before she ate, Sakura lined up a row of pills and took them one by one.
"And this is supposed to help you get your chakra back?"
"Theoretically, but I also just need it for my kidneys."
"Depends on my chakra, doesn't it?"
They ate quietly. The waiter came for their plates.
"Was everything to your liking, ma'am?"
"Thanks for your accommodation," Sakura said.
He smiled and left the bill.
"He's hurrying us out."
"And whose fault is that?" Sakura said, leaving him a generous tip.
Kakashi stood. "Well, you can't eat that shit forever. Let's get back to work."
Kakashi expected her to balk, but she smiled. "All right."
Back at the training ground, she found a pebble on her own. "Ready?"
Kakashi moved his forehead protector off his eye. "Go."
She screwed up her face in concentration and he saw the beginnings of chakra rise within her, getting partway through her system and then sputtering out.
"This time, think of water flowing through a pipe with no leaks."
She tried again to no avail.
"How about a straw instead?" she muttered to herself and closed her eyes.
It didn't work with a straw, even one of the curly ones, or rain on a blade of grass, or a river through a canyon, or blood through veins. Under the strain of constant failure, Sakura's newfound enthusiasm did not last long. Still, Kakashi kept pushing her until it was so late that even he had to acknowledge that it was time to go home.
"What next?" she said, voice weary.
"We try again tomorrow."
Sakura started, eyes widening. "What? No. Let's keep going."
"You need to rest, Sakura. There's no harm in waiting."
Kakashi frowned; he thought she'd be pleased, as she'd clearly never wanted to be here in the first place. To his surprise, she dropped to her knees, hair falling forward to cover her face.
He knelt next to her. "What's wrong? Did you strain something?"
She held the pebble out to him with a shaking hand. "Look at it."
"What about it?"
She looked up, tears streaking down her anguished face. "It's still whole. It didn't break."
"It will. Give it time."
"I've given it all the time I have in me, Kakashi. It's been weeks, but it feels like years."
Tears began to stain the pebble black.
"I am the Godaime's apprentice. Naruto's teammate. Your teammate. A ninja. Who am I, without that?"
He tipped her chin with one finger, making her look at him.
"You're Haruno Sakura."
Her face crumpled. "I don't know who that is, Kakashi. Do you? Do you really know who –"
"Yes," he said, and kissed her, catching her off guard with her mouth still open.
She pulled away, eyes wide in shock, and it made him realize what he was doing. What had he been thinking? He'd ruined things again and –
She yanked his mask down and kissed him back with a kind of passion he hadn't known from her before. On her lips, he tasted the salt of her tears and wanted to make them go away. He was tired of her crying.
His hands fisted in her hair. He tugged just enough to elicit a gasping almost-moan that dropped straight into the pit of his stomach like rum, spreading warmth in its wake. She bit his lower lip almost painfully, asking for more, and he cocked his head to deepen the kiss. She was compliant, molding to him like butter. Though he was hyperaware of the erection now pressing itself into her stomach, it still surprised him when her hands went straight for his pants, trying to yank them down.
Gently, he lowered her to the ground, straightening her legs so that he settled between them. He ran his hands up the curve of her calves, then her thighs until he reached the hem of her blue skirt where it was already riding up as her knees parted to accommodate him. Sliding the fabric higher, he slowly revealed more flesh until he met resistance. In one jerking movement, he forced the skirt up the rest of the way, bunching it around her waist.
She gasped at the suddenness of the motion, but lifted off the ground to help him push the skirt out of the way nevertheless. He splayed his fingers over the tiny juts of her hipbones and was about to move inward, but hesitated – and then she rolled her pelvis with a tiny moan. His hands crept closer and closer to her center.
Without warning, she sat up straight, back rigid. "Wait."
His hands froze mid-journey, raising away from her skin as if it burned. He scrutinized her, trying to determine if she was about to start crying or yelling. Mentally, he began to prepare some sort of explanation: he was drunk, he was delirious, he was exhausted, he was something, anything, that would spare him from the fallout of his own stupidity. Instead, though, her gaze was hooded as she stared up into his face. Her swollen lips glistened in the moonlight and her tongue darted out to wet them. All thoughts of walking away from this abandoned him.
"We should go to my place," she said, voice husky. "Anyone could walk by and see –" Kakashi lightly traced the skin right above the top of her underpants and her breath hitched. "— see us."
Kakashi slid the tips of his fingers under the elastic. "Do you really want to wait, Sakura?"
"No, but I –"
His hand slid lower, through the coarse hair and into the peak of her damp folds.
"I don't want to wait, Kakashi," she whimpered.
"Who cares if someone sees? What can they do to us that hasn't already been done?"
He rubbed a single digit along her crease, playing at her entrance. She fell back to the ground and arched her hips into his hand. "Don't stop."
He dipped a finger inside of her and she tugged her bottom lip through her teeth, letting loose a muffled groan. She was already wet, wetter than she'd ever been, and he wanted to be inside her so badly it ached.
"Kakashi," she said, and he knew what the tremble in her voice meant.
He pushed her panties to one side and she shivered as he exposed her most sensitive parts to the night air. Eyes still trained on her sex, spread and dripping for him, he freed himself from his trousers. Falling forward, he framed her head with his hands, careful to avoid the pink strands spread out among the grass. When he slid himself against her slickness, she rose up to meet him, gliding her calves along his. The way she was rubbing herself along his length, fervor increasing steadily as her breaths softened into something more like sighs, was a clear invitation – but something he couldn't name stopped him from taking her up on it.
"Kakashi," she said, more insistent.
"You have to want me," he said, not knowing what he was going to say until the words came out of his mouth.
"Come on." Her nose wrinkled and her green eyes snapped onto his, still hazy and unfocused. "Are you blind?"
"It can't be about a genjutsu or – you have to want me."
She made a sound somewhere between a groan and a growl, jaw clenched in the telltale gritting of teeth. "Of course I want it. What are you waiting –"
In one swift stroke, he buried himself in her heat and watched the annoyance on her face get replaced with something else entirely. Her back arched and her head pushed against the ground, exposing her throat as her mouth fell open in a silent scream.
"What was that? I couldn't quite hear," he said with a smile, languorously rolling his hips.
Her eyes fluttered shut. "Sh... Shut up."
Kakashi did shut up, but he still moved slowly, enjoying the feel of her and her changing expression each time he pushed deep.
"Faster," she said breathily, hooking her legs around his thighs.
As she moved, he felt the shift acutely. She clenched around him and he bit back a groan, arms shaking with the effort of constraining himself. Bending his elbows, he lowered almost imperceptibly but the effect on her was immediate; she grabbed the lapel of his vest and forcefully yanked him down to a new angle. She writhed underneath him, no longer waiting for him to quicken the tempo of his thrusts on his own. The whites of her eyes showed as they rolled back in her head while she ground into him – and any inclination to keep controlling the pace evaporated.
Abruptly, he sat up and ripped her panties at the seam, tossing them aside.
"Ow." She smacked him on the arm, eyes a bit clearer than they had been and narrowing in irritation. "Was that really nec –"
He entered her again and she trailed off into gibberish, ripping up handfuls of grass as he began to pound into her and she strained to meet him. A little cry, high pitched and fleeting, escaped her every time he pistoned his hips, and at some point he registered that the cries had morphed into words spoken so fast they were almost unintelligible.
"Don't stop. Don't stop, don't stop, don't stop, don't –"
Her inner muscles pulsated against him, squeezing. She tore rivets into the dirt with white-knuckled fingers and breathed something that might have been his name, chest heaving. He wasn't far behind, pressing down on the top of her head and collapsing as he spilled his seed within her for what felt like an eternity.
They lay there, the only sounds that of their breathing and heartbeats slowly returning to normal.
"Do we really have to get up?" Sakura said eventually.
"No," Kakashi said into the side of her neck.
"We should, though."
Despite their words, neither of them moved.
An owl hooted, breaking the spell. Kakashi stood up, pulling his clothing back into place and extending her a hand. She took it and yanked herself upright, trying to squeeze a skirt that wasn't meant to go past a woman's hips back over them again.
"How did you even get it there without undoing the zipper – ah, there we go." Skirt approximately in place, she bent down and picked up her discarded panties. "So much for these."
She stood there staring up at him with mussed hair, cockeyed forehead protector, dirt smeared on her cheek, and holding ripped underwear with earth under her fingernails. She looked like she had been thoroughly fucked and was just now realizing it.
It was settling with unease into the pit of Kakashi's stomach as well. This hadn't been part of the plan.
She looked at her toes. "I should get home. My mother will worry."
"I'll walk you."
"Oh," she said with a little frown and he wondered if he said the wrong thing. "All right."
They walked briskly, without speaking. He ferried her up to her balcony and she paused with her hand on the latch, facing away from him.
"What time tomorrow?"
"Don't you train with Naruto and Lee in the mornings?"
"Not tomorrow. Naruto has a meeting with the Council."
"Oh." Kakashi hesitated. "I could stay, then."
She opened the window and turned back to him with a small smile playing about her lips. "If you want to. It's late."
He nodded and followed her inside. He dropped his vest and weapons pouches to the floor and sat on the bed to unbind his feet.
She was looking at herself from behind in the mirror, inspecting where the zipper had separated from the fabric on her skirt.
"I knew it. You have to be so rough. I'll need a whole new wardrobe if –"
He reached over and tugged the skirt to her knees, tearing it further. "I'll buy you a new one."
She struggled to step out of the mangled skirt but he yanked her and she fell into him, his face directly above her thatch of pink curls. The musk of sex tickled his nose and her inner thighs glistened with moisture, but he ignored that and pulled her closer.
"Then again, why do you even need a skirt when you could go around like this? It's cute."
She punched him so hard on the top of the head that he saw stars.
After he regained his bearings, he said, "Are you sure you don't have chakra?"
"Are you all right?" She leaned down to look him in the eyes. "Maybe I hit harder than I meant to. It must be these weights. I forgot I had them on."
He eyed her new leg and arm warmers. "Is that what those are? They're hideous."
"You're one to talk. Only you could get sunburn around one eye, like half a raccoon."
She stepped out of the skirt once and for all, kicking off her shoes and bending over to pull off her leg weights one by one.
"You've got some grass stains on your –"
She threw a leg weight directly at his face. "Shut up. I'm going to take a shower."
She shed her shirt, bra, forehead protector, and arm weights on the way to the bathroom. He got up and followed her, finishing undressing as she adjusted the water. She eyed him curiously but didn't say anything.
She stepped into the spray, making room for him to step in behind her. He did, though barely any water reached him.
"My shower is pretty small," she said, apologetic.
Kakashi had never showered with a woman without the express purpose of fucking her during or directly after and the experience was a little different than he was used to. She wasn't putting on a show; she was scrubbing her armpits. Her nose wrinkled as she washed the semen from between her legs.
"Let's switch and I'll lather my hair."
In a maneuver that should have been easier than it was, they switched places and Kakashi washed himself. When she was done applying the shampoo, she offered it to him, followed by the conditioner. He raised an eyebrow. Sakura rolled her eyes and put the conditioner back.
"Don't look at me when your hair gets dried out." She rubbed soap down her thigh and his eyes followed her hands of their own accord. "I'm not bothering shaving my legs and you'll just have to deal with it."
"Do you ever bother?" he quipped, though he knew she did, usually.
She scowled, slapping him with her washcloth.
He stepped out of the shower and she began to wash the suds from her hair. He snaked an arm in and grabbed her washcloth, twisting it and snapping it against her bottom.
She jumped, glaring at him.
"Serves you right," he said with a grin.
He toweled off and left her to finish, sliding under the covers. Shortly, she joined him, laying her head on his chest and falling asleep almost instantly.
Kakashi was not so lucky. He stared at her ceiling for hours, waiting for the uneasiness in his stomach to go away. It wasn't until the first grey of dawn poked through the curtains that sleep finally took him.
When Kakashi woke, he wasn't surprised to find that Sakura was no longer in the room. The sun was now shining in earnest, and Kakashi pulled the pillow over his head to block it out.
He had almost drifted back to sleep when he thought he heard someone yell his name. He decided he must be dreaming until he heard it again, this time followed by a crash.
He leapt out of bed and was almost to the door before he realized he was naked and dashed into the bathroom to yank on his pants. He ran towards the stairs to find Sakura halfway up them, hopping on a skinned knee but otherwise perfectly okay.
"Kakashi, it broke!" she said, beaming up at him.
He released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding and sat heavily on the top step, cradling his head in his hands.
"Didn't you hear me? I said the stone broke. I broke it," she said as she finally reached him.
She held out her hand to reveal a pebble, perfectly cloven in two.
"That's great," he said, unable to summon the proper excitement.
She frowned. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Sakura, can't you see you scared the man half to death, shouting like that?" Riko said from the bottom of the stairs. "His pants are on backwards."
Kakashi looked down and realized Riko was right; his pants were on backwards. "Huh."
"Well you always did have a face devoid of enthusiasm," Sakura said with a smirk.
"Now let me take a look at that knee."
"No, Mom, watch."
Sakura put her hand over her knee. Kakashi opened his Sharingan to look at her chakra system.
Riko recoiled, making a sound in the back of her throat. "What happened to his eye?"
"Don't be rude, Mom. Watch!"
Sakura summoned healing chakra to her hands and closed the wound on her knee. She looked at him expectantly.
"It's moving clean. Your system looks good."
She smashed his face into her breasts, jumping up and down and squealing.
"All right now," he said, pulling away.
"Sorry," she said, sitting down next to him. "But my chakra's back! It's really back!"
Suddenly, she burst into big, splashing tears, though her face wasn't worn with defeat like it had been last night.
"Sakura?" Riko's brow furrowed. "Isn't that a good thing?"
"It's wonderful." Sakura took a deep breath, wiping her face. "It's just – I really didn't think it would ever happen."
She turned to Kakashi. "Thank you. I wouldn't have pushed myself, if you didn't make me. I was too scared of what would happen if I tried and it still didn't work."
He nodded. He knew that, of course.
Sakura beamed. "Come on. We have to tell Naruto!"
"Great idea. Let's burst in on his meeting with the Hokage and –"
"Oh. Yeah, I guess you're right. Well, first, the hospital and then we tell Naruto."
"Whatever you say."
Her smile faltered for a fraction of a second before pasting back on, now strained. "You don't have to come. If you're busy. I'll have to sit through some tests, probably."
"Actually, I have some business to attend to, if you don't mind."
"Yeah, okay. I'll see you later then."
She stood and trudged down the stairs, the time for the ecstatic skipping of steps past, and batted her mother away when she tried to attack Sakura with a comb.
Kakashi went back into the bedroom, putting his pants on right way front and finishing dressing. He went back to his apartment to shave and change before heading to Youba's shack.
"Dog man. I thought you were busy," she greeted him at the door.
"That was yesterday."
"With ninja, 'busy' tends to be a bit longer than yesterday," she said, ushering him in.
He shrugged, realizing he'd forgotten to eat when his stomach growled.
"Here," she said, handing him a stick of jerky.
"What's this?" he said, eyeing it suspiciously.
That was safe enough. Kakashi took a bite.
Youba's face spread into a one-toothed grin. "It's squirrel."
Kakashi contemplated, but it tasted well enough and he was hungry, so he shrugged and took another bite.
"Now where were we? Sourcaps, was it?"
Kakashi summoned his dogs and got to the business of learning which mushrooms were which.
By the time the daylight began to fade, Kakashi's stomach was growling again.
"That's Gamabunta's throne, that is," Youba said, nodding to the large white mushroom in his hand. "You're lucky you found it. It's rare, in these parts. You can eat it, if you're hungry enough, but I'd be careful."
"And why is that?"
Kakashi held the mushroom as far away from his body as possible, quite sure that anything Youba said he had to be "careful" with must be avoided at all costs.
She smiled. "I ate one when I was a girl and thought I saw a purple tanuki with balls the size of –"
"I get the picture."
Kakashi broke the mushroom apart into several pieces and threw it to his dogs so they could learn the smell.
After that, they headed back to the cabin, Youba humming cheerfully as she whacked a path through the forest with her walking stick.
When they got there, Ryoji was waiting for them, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Granny, what are all these cans of shochu doing here?"
"Dog man got them for me, didn't you, dog man? It was very kind of him."
Ryoji registered Kakashi's presence with widened eyes. "Captain Kakashi? What are you doing with my grandmother?"
"Is that his name? He's here to learn, unlike someone else I know. Dog man, meet my fool of a grandson."
Kakashi inclined his head at Ryoji.
"I'll leave you two to catch up," Kakashi said.
He signaled to his dogs and they disappeared. Kakashi turned to Ryoji.
"Expect to be back on the roster soon."
"So she's doing better, then?"
"Looks like it."
Before Kakashi could somehow get roped into eating squirrel stew, he took off into the tree tops. Kakashi wandered into the commercial district, stopping at Yakiniku Q, trying to decide if he wanted to eat there two nights in a row.
"There you are, Kakashi-sensei! Don't tell me you already ate this time."
Naruto grabbed him by the arm and dragged him into the restaurant. Kakashi went quietly, knowing it was useless to protest. He regretted it when he saw they were headed to the big table with an assortment of people at it.
Naruto went out of his way to lead Kakashi to the chair next to Sakura, which he had been sitting at before. Naruto slid his own drink to the next chair over. Obediently, Kakashi sat. It was too late to get out of this now.
The waiter hurried over. "Have we added another to the party? Let me –"
When he saw Kakashi, he stopped dead, the blood draining from his face.
"C-can I get you anything, sir?"
"Just some water."
The waiter nodded and scurried away.
Sakura elbowed Kakashi. "Great, now he's going to spit in our food. I told you you should have been nicer to him last night."
Two girls at the other end of the table giggled, one with bushy brown curls and the other with long, sleek black hair. Kakashi vaguely recognized them as the medics who had approached him at the sandwich shop a while back. He frowned at them, but they giggled more.
"At least I can eat real food tonight," Sakura said, feigning normality despite the slight flush to her cheeks.
"Never insult waiters or waitresses," Chouji said to Kakashi sternly.
"I'll keep that in mind."
"So no more bird food for you, eh, Sakura?" Naruto said, smiling brightly.
With the change of topic, everyone began to talk again and the low murmur of people having conversations amongst themselves relaxed Kakashi.
An odd collection of people was at the table. Kurenai, Masako, Shino, Kiba, and Ami were there, but not Hinata. One of the prisoners of war – Tobio, Kakashi thought his name was – was there for no discernible reason, along with a girlfriend Kakashi didn't recognize. There was Tenten and Lee, but not Neji or Gai. Chouji, but no Ino. Yamato was next to Naruto, but Sai was nowhere to be seen, Umino Iruka in his place. There were the two medics Kakashi barely knew, but where was Shizune?
Kakashi supposed this was it, all that remained after everything was said and done. It could be worse.
As the dinner progressed, people talked to each other, and everyone talked to Sakura, but no one addressed Kakashi directly or referenced them in the same breath. That was fine with him.
Kurenai was the first to leave because Masako was getting fussy and had thrown a piece of meat from her mother's plate all the way across the table to hit Yamato in the eye. Kakashi thought that was rather impressive, but Kurenai scolded the girl anyway.
Next was Yamato, complaining of a scratched cornea, then Ami and Kiba, and then they all started to trickle away.
As she was leaving, Tenten crossed over to Sakura, putting one hand on the back of Sakura's chair and one on Kakashi's as she leaned in.
"Before I forget, thanks so much for my birthday present! Where on earth did you get a gift certificate for the labor on a custom weapon at Arai Weaponry?"
Sakura smiled. "I work with Arai Shiori sometimes and she did me a favor."
"Are you kidding? You should introduce me. I idolized her, growing up!"
"Remind me sometime."
The two girls were next.
"'Bye, Sakura-taichou!" they chorused, and then looked at Kakashi and giggled all the way out the door.
Kakashi stared after them. "That can't possibly be normal."
Sakura giggled. He looked at her in horror, hoping whatever disease those girls had wasn't contagious.
"Don't mind them. They're best friends."
"Speaking of best friends," Chouji said, "you know Ino wanted to be here tonight."
The smile dropped off of Sakura's face. "I didn't want her here. We're not best friends anymore, Chouji."
"You ought to see how broken up she is, Sakura. She barely comes out of her room, she won't see anyone –"
"She should have thought of that earlier. I appreciate that you came, Chouji, but if you're only here to talk about her, then –"
Chouji shook his head. "I just thought you should know. I'll see you around."
"Yeah, see you." Sakura's lips were still pursed.
Naruto frowned at her. "Thanks for coming, Chouji."
After Chouji left, only Kakashi, Sakura, and Naruto remained.
Naruto said, "Did you have to be like that? He was only trying to be nice."
"I was actually enjoying myself until he had to open his big mouth –"
"Since when does Chouji have a big mouth?"
Sakura opened her mouth to argue, but thought better of it. "You're right. I was just mad. Shizune really didn't come..."
"I'm sorry, Sakura. I'll talk to her and –"
"No, don't. She doesn't have to be in my life if she doesn't want to be."
"Tsunade wouldn't want –"
"Tsunade is dead."
Sakura and Naruto glared at each other behind Kakashi's back.
Kakashi scooted his chair back, breaking their line of sight. "Who's ready for dessert?"
Miraculously, that worked.
Sakura sighed. "I'm sorry, Naruto."
"But don't say anything to her, please. It's her choice."
"I'm sorry Hinata and Neji didn't come."
Naruto frowned. "I was hoping she would put it aside for the sake of – but never mind, I guess. It's her choice too."
Naruto stood and threw enough money on the table for all three of their meals. "I'm going to go home, all right? I'm really glad your chakra's back."
"Me too. See you tomorrow."
Kakashi looked at Sakura, jerking his head toward the door.
She smiled wickedly. "You mentioned dessert, right?"
He sighed and flagged the waiter, who came at a run, but Sakura shook her head.
"Not here. I know this place with really good dango."
"Oh, yes," the waiter babbled. "The dango here is just dreadful. I recommend –"
Kakashi looked at him and he shut up, nodding and scurrying away.
Sakura rolled her eyes but didn't bother saying anything. Kakashi followed her out of the restaurant to wherever she was headed.
"So what's next? I ran out of chakra really fast at the hospital today."
"You need to rebuild your chakra stores. It's pretty straight forward."
"Like chakra exhaustion? All right. Do you think we can keep working on earth jutsu, then, or is that too –"
"I thought you were training with Naruto and Lee."
She looked at him, a wrinkle in her brow. "That's just in the mornings."
He shrugged. "We can meet at the usual place after lunch."
"Oh, so you don't want to stay –" She looked away. "That's fine. After lunch."
She entered a little restaurant that looked a bit grimy but was apparently quite popular with civilians. The only ninja in the place was Anko, nibbling on dango.
Kakashi took a seat and Sakura went up to the counter to order. When she came back, Anko strolled over, picking her teeth with the dango stick.
"If it isn't the couple of the hour!"
Anko leered over them. Kakashi stared at her in warning, but her next words shocked him out of action.
"And here I thought she was a big, fat lesbian, but I guess that time I caught her sucking face with a woman was just a pity fuck. Maybe the Yamanaka whore is the only lesbian. It wouldn't surprise me. That one's so terrified of men I'm surprised she doesn't pass out even in her good ol' daddy's presence."
Before Kakashi knew what was happening, the whole building was shaking and Anko was pinned to the wall with Sakura's hand around her throat. Frightened civilians began peeling out of the restaurant.
Anko winced, but still, her smile returned. "Hit a nerve, did I? What, did he diddle her when she was little or something?"
Sakura's hand tightened minutely on Anko's neck.
"You're one to talk about being scared of men, Mitarashi Anko. You're more scared of men than anyone. You dress like that to keep everyone guessing, but I'm betting you've never even touched anyone outside of missions – except dear old Orochimaru-sensei, that is."
Anko turned pale, her grin slowly fading.
"Is that why you act like such a bitch? Because no one can measure up to him? Do you miss him so much that Kakashi and I make you jealous?"
Anko began to struggle against Sakura's hold, but Kakashi had taught her a little too well.
"You watch your mouth, Haruno! You don't know what the hell you're talking about!"
Sakura sneered. "Oh, but I do. Isn't that why you hate me so much? Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the hate you feel for me is more the general type that you feel for everyone. After all, you can't risk letting anyone close, in case they dump you like trash."
Sakura leaned close to whisper in Anko's ear. "Just like Orochimaru did. Right?"
Anko struggled harder, her eyes now welling with tears. "You bitch! You act like you're so different!"
Kakashi stood up. "Sakura. Let her go."
Sakura withdrew her arm and Anko crumpled to the floor, sobbing. Sakura leaned over her.
"You're right. Sasuke did the same thing to me. Maybe we are alike, but at least I try not to make everyone around me as miserable as I am."
Sakura turned toward Kakashi, wiping her hands on her skirt, but stopped when she saw his face.
"So you're going to be ashamed of me now, is that it? Well, screw you. She antagonizes everyone so that they can't leave her, but you're a cold bastard who won't let himself care about anyone in case they up and die. You're a perfect pair, so you can just screw her from now on, all right?"
Kakashi's jaw clenched. "Maybe I will."
As they engaged in an intense staring match, the owner of the establishment sidled up to Sakura, looking terrified.
He cleared his throat. "Shinobi-san, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to vacate the premises. You're disturbing the other customers."
Sakura broke her gaze with Kakashi. "No problem. Your food sucks anyway."
She turned and walked slowly out of the restaurant.
Kakashi approached Anko, trying to offer her a hand up, but she wouldn't take it.
"Don't act like you give a shit." Anko staggered to her feet. "You're just like her, just like –"
The owner turned to Kakashi, smiling nervously.
Kakashi left, heading to the training grounds to exhaust himself before sleep. When he finally fell into bed, it was late. He had been hoping that sleeping in his own bed – alone, in familiar surroundings, with no wet pink hair clinging to his chest – would give him a better night's rest, but no such luck. His stomach was just as queasy as ever.
Kakashi whiled away the next morning with Youba, as usual, but he spent the hour of lunch paralyzed with indecision. He was so distracted that he somehow found himself eating lunch at the cabin, though the food was suspiciously normal charred rabbit.
He had just decided to stay at Youba's for the day when she kicked him out.
"I don't know what's gotten into you, dog man. Come back when you have an attention span longer than my pet rats did."
Kakashi had never seen any pet rats, but was suddenly plagued with doubts about the rabbit he'd just eaten. But now, with the choice taken away from him, he dutifully showed up at the designated training ground.
Sakura was waiting for him, sitting on the ground shredding blades of grass. "You're here."
Irrationally, the relief in her voice angered him and he crossed his arms against it. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Sakura hugged her knees. "Because I'm an idiot. I'm really sorry about last night, Kakashi. She just made me so mad and I... Can we forget about it? Please?"
Kakashi uncrossed his arms and forcibly unclenched his jaw. "What did you want to work on?"
Sakura smiled. "You mentioned once that you thought I could refine the way I break the ground. What did you mean by that?"
He launched into a concise explanation, knowing that he would not need to elaborate or say anything twice. For once, he appreciated it.
Author's Note: Thanks, once again, to both my reviewers and editors, especially Spike Dee. Without him, we'd have much less interesting titles half of the time, especially when there's no pun in English that captures exactly what I'm going for. I had such fun with this chapter, especially that ONE scene... Hehe.