This story is to fulfill a request made by Suicidal-Uchiha.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and I am not making any money by writing this.
Kakashi sprinted as fast as he could. Tree branches snagged at his clothes and slashed at his skin, his lungs ached and burned, making it difficult to breathe, and his heart pounded so painfully hard in his chest that it felt like it would explode, but he didn't listen to his body's protest. He just continued to fly through the treetops and kept his eyes focused straight ahead. Only one thing mattered and he didn't have a second to lose.
She was fierce and stronger than all of them put together. She was more than capable of holding her own. She wasn't called a second Tsunade without reason. This was her fight and she'd be damned if she didn't bring a dozen or so enemies down with her before she went down herself.
Seafoam colored eyes that were normally soft and sweet and caring now blazed with so much anger that her piercing glare would've stopped most people in their tracks, made them turn back around, and run the hell away. If looks could kill...
Some of them slowed down, proving that they were having second thoughts about this petite, pink haired young woman. That was something at least, but it wasn't enough. Even as her black gloved fist smashed into a rogue nin's cheekbone and pulverized it into the consistency of a pulpy mush, they still kept coming with jutsus and kunais in hand.
With one last desperate dash, which turned into one impossibly giant leap, Kakashi slammed hard into Sakura, bringing her down to the ground with him. Not a second later, an exploding tag went off and a large, scorched crater stood where Sakura once had, its edges now decorated with the singed and foul smelling corpses of the rogue nins who had tried to murder her.
Denied the convenience of a mask, Sakura's small form shook under Kakashi's larger one as she coughed through the thick, lingering smoke.
Kakashi lifted himself off her, stood up, and reached his gloved hand out to help her get up.
"I'm fine, thank you." Sakura said, taking his proffered hand then dusting herself off.
"Anytime. I'm just glad that you're okay." Kakashi said with a happy eye crease.
At that moment, Sakura gave him the most curious look, one that was a mixture of surrender and defeat.
Kakashi's one exposed eye widened in surprise.
"Sakura?..." he began.
"We should go. Naruto and the rest of the team are waiting for us." Sakura said quickly, and before Kakashi could ask anything more, she leaped up high into the treetops ahead of him.
Baffled as to what that was about, Kakashi leaped up into the treetops himself to catch up to his former student.
Kakashi was sure of one thing: Sakura was fast. She was the Godaime's student, after all, and had to be quick if she was to avoid her mentor's fists and survive the legendary Sannin's relentless training, but still Kakashi was quicker, having been the legendary Yellow Flash's student. As such, Kakashi caught up to Sakura in no time.
"Sakura, are you okay?" he asked gently, not so much as losing a breath as both he and Sakura continued to fly through the treetops.
"Of course. Why wouldn't I be? It's not like you had to save me...again." Sakura said bitterly.
Kakashi's eye widened in surprise.
"Is that what's bothering you?"
Sakura said nothing and looked fiercely straight ahead, grinding her teeth and clenching her fists.
Sakura paid him no attention and continued to fly through the trees.
"That's an order, Sakura. Stop and rest for a minute...please."
Sakura's eyes furrowed angrily, but an order was an order, so dropping down to the first available clearing, Sakura waited for her team captain to drop down next to her, her arms crossed tightly against her chest.
Kakashi eyed Sakura wearily the second he touched down and discretely avoided her angry gaze by rummaging through his backpack instead. Pulling out a canteen of water, he handed it to Sakura who drank its contents eagerly.
It was only after Sakura handed the bottle back to him that Kakashi decided to have his little talk with her. It was a tactical maneuver, really. The water quenched her thirst and cooled her down in more ways than one, and taking the canteen back from her afterwards assured that she wouldn't use it as a projectile against him later. Kakashi had come to know Sakura for 10 years now and in all those years one thing hadn't changed since she was a 12-year old genin: What Sakura was capable of when she was in one of her tempers.
"Sakura," he began in a soft, soothing voice, the way one would talk to a cornered, feral animal that might jump and scratch somebody's face off at any minute. "You need to stop being so hard on yourself. Even before I came, you were already doing a pretty damn good job of holding those guys off. Most people would've been dead by now."
"Not you. Not Naruto. Not anyone else from the Konoha 12. Just me. For as long as I've know you, you've always had to go out of your way to protect me. Back then I didn't feel too bad about it because I was just a genin, but now there's really no excuse. I'm a chuunin and the Hokage's apprentice on top of that. You shouldn't have to look out for me the way you used to, but the fact that you do...Well, what does that say about me?" she asked frustrated.
"Sakura, you are one of the strongest people that I know, but even the strongest and best ninjas need a little help sometimes. That's why missions are assigned to teams, not individuals, so don't cut yourself short. You've grown a great deal since I first met you and I'm proud to have been your teacher once. I may not say it often enough-"
Sakura shot him a look.
"Alright...at all." Kakashi said, a drop of sweat rolling down his temple. "But even though I may not say it out loud, I am proud of you, more than you'll ever know, and don't ever forget it."
The hard look in Sakura's eyes softened. For as long as she had known Kakashi, he was sparing in his praise as far as she was concerned, but to hear him say something like that now...
"Thanks, Kaka-sensei. That means a lot to me." Sakura said. Then, crossing the invisible barrier that always existed between them for one reason or another, Sakura came up to Kakashi, wrapped her arms around his waist, and hugged him.
Unused to such intimate interaction between them, Kakashi's one exposed eye went wide and he held his hands up, not knowing what to do. Sakura gave no signs of letting him go, however, so Kakashi tentatively wrapped his own arms around her while awkwardly patting her on the back.
They stayed in each other's embrace for a while, Sakura's head happily tucked against Kakashi's jounin vest and Kakashi's chin resting on the crown of her head.
When Sakura finally let him go, it wasn't completely. She pulled away from him just enough to lift her head up and smile at him in gratefulness.
"C'mon," Kakashi said gently. "Let's get going. Naruto and the rest of the team are probably wondering what happened to us and we don't want to give them the wrong idea."
Sakura's cheeks suddenly turned bright red for a reason Kakashi couldn't understand. Then, realizing what he'd just said in combination to their current position, Kakashi also turned bright red just above his maskline and immediately released his arms around Sakura, took a step back, and scratched the back of his neck nervously.
"I mean, I'm sure they would've seen the exploding tag go off and we wouldn't want them to think anything bad has happened to us." Kakashi explained quickly.
"It's okay, Kaka-sensei. I know what you meant." Sakura laughed, but it came out a little forced and nervous as well.
Kakashi cleared his throat.
"So are you good now?" Kakashi asked, trying to change the subject.
"Yeah, I'm good." Sakura reassured him and gave him one last quick smile before turning her back to him and once again leaping up into the treetops ahead of him.
As she leaped further and further away, Kakashi watched her with his head half bowed as he continued to rub the back of his neck in embarrassment.
It had been so much easier when she was younger. It had been so much easier when she was still his student, but now that she wasn't a child anymore and now that they were equals in more ways than one, it was so much easier for things to get...misconstrued.
Kakashi shook the unfamiliar feeling of insecurity off. Hatake Kakashi was never insecure. He was always confident and sure of himself, so why falter now just because of an innocent little hug? It was no big deal and soon they'd both forget about it and return to their respective, safely distant, opposite corners. With that relatively calming thought to reassure him, Kakashi leaped up into the treetops after Sakura to meet up with the rest of their team.
To be continued...