Written for the "Stroke of Midnight" challenge over at the KakaSaku community on LiveJournal. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year, everyone!


It was the first time in quite a while that the hidden village of Konoha celebrated anything. What with the destruction of the village six years prior (which many were still recovering from, despite Tenzhou's best efforts), the daimyo-elected Hokage proving to be a traitor, the continued malignant efforts of the last Uchiha, and two major wars that left Fire Country nearly crippled … there really wasn't much worth celebrating.

But the new Hokage insisted that this year the village was to be decorated and everyone was to celebrate. No one questioned whether it was even worth the effort to celebrate when the majority of villagers were too depressed. They did it because the Hokage ordered them to.

Homemade paper lanterns were strung between buildings, illuminating the streets and giving the village a happier appearance. The few restaurants that had remained open during hard times quickly started setting up stalls for revelers. Some of the locals decided to try and organize games and went around asking donations from people for prizes.

It was through the joint efforts of the community that a New Year's festival took shape, and the result of that was an unspoken sense of pride. True, it wasn't as grand as past celebrations … but it was all the more special because it was done together, as a united village. They'd forgotten what they were capable of when working as a united front.

The will of fire was starting to return to the people, civilian and ninja alike. And it was all thanks to their Hokage – who, oddly enough, couldn't be found anywhere in the festivities. This caused much amusement among the few who knew him well; the one time he wasn't expected to pay and he pulled a disappearing act.

Of course, considering how many bills he'd skipped out on in the past, perhaps this was divine retribution. And since divinity should never be crossed, they made little effort in locating him.

If anyone had bothered to search, they would have found him with his feet dangling just above the curve of his own forehead, looking out over the village. The Hokage Monument was unoccupied, and that solitude was what Kakashi wanted.

He took a deep breath and released it, watching the fog twist and curl against the darkness. It was nice to get some alone time for once. Well … as alone as he could get nowadays, what with an ANBU guard on his tail day in and day out. Some of the newbies didn't seem to grasp that their Hokage was one of them and could still, if he wanted, lay them out in seconds flat. It was rather irritating that he couldn't so much as take a piss without a freshly veneered mask peering at him the entire time.

Fortunately, tonight he had a more seasoned squad. Tenzou had very graciously volunteered his services and he'd personally selected a team that knew the definition of 'invisible'. They were out there in the shadows; he could just make out their individual chakras if he focused. But the illusion of privacy was greatly appreciated.

Kakashi sighed and ran a hand across his bare jaw. He still wore his mask; not even being the Hokage of Konoha could change that. There were times though, like tonight, where he wanted to feel the wind against his cheek and savor the unfettered scents surrounding him. He closed his eye and inhaled deeply, savoring the damp musk of the surrounding forest as it mingled with the smell of cooking food from below. It was a bit nippy, but the sky was clear and the breeze was fresh. It was perfect weather for ending an otherwise rough year.

His eye opened slowly at the sound of soft footsteps coming up the front of the monument. Whoever it was, they either weren't bothering to muffle their steps (a wise move, considering the hidden guards) or were plain careless. Either way, those feet were moving up toward him, uncaring that they were about to disturb his pleasant solitude.

He leaned forward enough to frown at the slim shadow walking up the bend of his cheek. "Sorry, this spot's taken," he called, making his voice gruff in hopes they assumed it was someone else altogether.

"Then I'll just take my sake and onigiri elsewhere, shall I?" a very familiar, very female, voice called back.

Kakashi's mood lifted instantly and his frown turned into a happy smile at the sound of his assistant's voice. "Yo!"

Sakura's laugh was light and cheerful as she finished scaling the monument. He scooted over a few inches so that she could sit next to him and hummed happily when she handed him a plastic wrapped rice ball. As he tore into it, she untied the small sake bottle from her belt and produced two shallow drinking bowls for them.

He accepted the alcohol with just as much enthusiasm as he had the rice ball, and at the first sip he could tell it was from the private stash Tsunade still kept in his office. "She's going to be furious with you when she finds it's missing," he remarked.

She made a scoffing sound and replied, "She needs to lay off of it anyway. We're doing her liver a favor."

Chuckling at her joke, Kakashi took a sip and cast a glance at her from the corner of his eye. "So, why are you up here rather than down there celebrating?"

"I might ask you the same thing," she countered, her lips quirking slightly. The movement was brief, but it still warmed his heart. It was nice to see her smiling again.

"Well, if you must know," he drawled, beckoning her closer as if what he was about to disclose was a great secret. She obliged him with a smile that managed to reach her eyes, causing them to spark mischievously.

The soft citrus scent of her shampoo wafted to his nose and he couldn't help but notice the cut of her top as he whispered against her ear, "I'm allergic to parties."

"Really?" she breathed, pulling away with a look of feigned surprise. "Oh, dear… That's just awful, Kakashi-sama."

Kakashi sighed dramatically and corrected, "Not awful: tragic."

"Mm, yes. That's possibly the most heartbreaking thing I've heard all year," she deadpanned as she refilled his bowl.

"Well, on a brighter note, the year's almost over," he said cheerfully as he raised his sake to her. "To the new year, and may it be filled with more smiles than the last." Or, to be more specific, may it be filled with more of her smiles.

Sakura's green eyes narrowed speculatively, as if she guessed the true meaning behind his words. But she didn't say a word as she clinked her bowl to his and took a sip. "You know you're supposed to toast at midnight, right?"

"Hm? Ah. Yes … I guess it was a bit early for that."

She snorted and rolled her eyes. "Hatake Kakashi, early? Hell must be freezing over."

Kakashi gave her a droll glance and drank his sake without a word. Several minutes past in that manner: sake and silence. Usually, a lull in the conversation was always a little awkward and stilted. This one, however, was surprisingly comfortable. As nice as it'd been to be alone for a change, he had to admit her company was more so. He rather enjoyed her proximity to him, how she seemed to fit agreeably to his side without making him feel crowded. He even didn't mind when she leaned her head on his shoulder, her soft hair tickling at his chin.

Sakura broke the quietude when she pointed down toward the river and murmured, "Look, they're about to set off the fireworks."

He nodded, and in doing so his lips accidentally brushed across her hair. Or maybe it wasn't so accidental? Just like maybe the warmth coursing through him was due to the sake and not her presence? "I didn't know we had any," he commented.

"We didn't. Those are just cylinders with exploding tags and metallic powder inside them."

"Huh. That's pretty clever. Is it safe?"

She laughed softly, the movement causing her breast to rub against his bicep lightly. "Well, it was Kiba's idea…"

He groaned, causing her to laugh again. "Goodbye, Sakura. It was nice knowing you."

But all humor died when she pressed her mouth to his in a chaste kiss that tasted like candy and sake. Kakashi blinked in surprise as she drew away, her smile soft and slightly amused by his reaction.

It took him a moment before he was able to clear his throat and say, "You know you're supposed to kiss at midnight, right?"

Sakura's lips spread wider as she caressed his cheek, tracing her fingers lightly along his jaw. "Maybe I just felt like ushering in the new year early?"

If this was any indication of things to come, he had to say he agreed with her thinking.