Author Notes: For LJ's kakasaku community's Poe challenge, round one.
Pairings or Characters: Kakashi/Sakura
Warnings: it's based on Edgar Allen Poe, so take that as you will.
Word Count: 1680
Summary: The words 'Kakashi' and 'strange' were synonymous, as far as most of the village was concerned.
The words 'Kakashi' and 'strange' were synonymous, as far as most of the village was concerned. He slept odd hours, if he slept at all, and was impossible to track down unless he wanted to be found; he never gave straight answers, preferring to respond with non sequiturs or questions of his own that made no sense; he was known to share battlefield horror stories so terrible that anyone who had heard them would get nauseous at the sight of him, usually to get out of mundane things like doctor's appointments or parties; and the only regular company he kept was Might Guy and a bunch of dogs.
Sakura and Naruto knew he was more than just an eccentric guy with a penchant for dogs and a dislike of hospitals, but after he came back from a recent solo mission, both of them could tell that he wasn't himself. To almost everyone else, he was just as strange as usual, but to his students and friends, there was something clearly off. But it was, as with most things with Kakashi, impossible to get him to admit it.
For weeks, he wandered around the village absently, looking lost and not at all sure where or even when he was. At one point, Sakura caught him standing in the middle of the road close to two in the morning, having just gotten off her shift at the hospital, just staring at his feet and picking at his ear.
"Kakashi-sensei?" she called out, picking up her pace as she neared him. He didn't seem to hear her, so she called out again, "Kakashi?"
She reached out a hand and touched his elbow softly. The touch snapped him out of whatever trance he was in as she felt him immediately tense beneath her fingers, his chest no longer moving as he held in a breath. After a few seconds, he let it out with a sigh, dropping his arm to his side.
"Sakura. I hadn't noticed you," he said, sounding distant and irritated.
"There's no one else here. It's almost 2AM, what are you doing in the middle of the road?"
"Earlier, I thought I," he started, but didn't get any further, frowning through his mask. The hand he'd dropped to his side came up again to itch at his ear, like there was something stuck in it.
"Are you okay?" she asked, voice quiet. Even if he wasn't, he'd never admit it, but she always asked, anyway.
"It's late, Sakura," he answered instead, avoiding the question, "You should get home."
Before she could say anything else, he disappeared, leaping into the darkness and leaving behind nothing but bits of dusts. Sakura stayed there, in the middle of the dark road, staring up at the rooftops of apartments and office buildings, knowing he wasn't there for a few more minutes before trudging the rest of the way home.
Sakura didn't see him often after that, but when she did, he always looked exhausted and irritable, which was strange, especially for a man who used to let the world and all of the people in it pass him by without so much as a glance up from the latest Icha Icha novel. Kakashi looked worse and worse each time she spotted him, slouching just a bit more, the lines of his skin-the small bit that was visible, anyway-deepening, always tapping at his ears like he had gone swimming and still had water trapped. He paid no mind to the people or things around him as he wandered, but he was always acutely aware of her. She'd spot him and move to walk towards him, only for his eye to meet hers briefly before he vanished into thin air amidst the crowds.
She thought it was a bit rude that he wouldn't give her two seconds to say hello before vanishing. He didn't want to talk about it, fine, she got it. But when he was so visibly bothered, she couldn't leave him be.
Of course, she had work to do, at the hospital, at the Hokage's office, and on various missions, so didn't have many opportunities to try and track him down, anyway. When she had a break in her work, she wondered if Kakashi appreciated the respite from her questioning looks, before figuring he was too busy with whatever problem he wouldn't talk about to notice she wasn't there.
Several more weeks flew by before Naruto managed what Sakura had found impossible-which was pretty much always the case with him-by getting Kakashi to show up at one of his parties. When Naruto wasn't busy on missions, he partied and celebrated for whatever excuse he could find, whether it was getting a filling or a friend's aunt's cousin, twice-removed, was having a baby. He needed a way to keep positive, Sakura knew, after spending all of his time away from the village hunting down their old friend.
Kakashi sat in the corner of the pub Naruto's party was being held at, scratching at his ear and fidgeting incessantly while the other party-goers either ignored him or shot him curious glances before whispering loudly about what was up with the legendary copy ninja.
He was alone, as Sakura expected he'd been the whole time and would have preferred to remain, when she slid into the booth next to him.
"How've you been, Kakashi-sensei?"
He jumped, not having noticed her sit down beside him, and twitched before grabbing his glass and downing the last of his drink through his mask.
"Are you drunk?" she hissed, taking in the number of empty glasses and beer bottles all over the table.
"Not drunk enough," he coughed before raising a hand to call over a waitress. Sakura grabbed his wrist and pulled it down into his lap, shaking her head.
"No, no more. You're going home."
"But you just got here, Sakura," he said slowly, finally turning his face to meet her eyes with his own, "Enjoy the party while I enjoy some more whiskey."
But Sakura was already tugging him out of the booth and draping his arm over her shoulders before he'd even finished his sentence. He didn't protest as she walked him to the exit, both of them ignoring the odd looks they got as they left.
The noise from inside disappeared almost completely once the door shut behind them. Sakura's chakra-boosted strength let her carry Kakashi like he was a light coat hanging off her arm instead of the 150-pound drunk he was, and she kept her pace quick. She wanted to get him home before he sobered up enough to come to his senses and disappear like usual.
"Why'd we have to leave, Sakura?" Kakashi whined, stumbling along beside her, "The party nearly drowned it out."
Sakura gave the side of his face a curious look, but all she could see was his mask and his headband covering his left eye.
"Drowned what out?"
"Man, can't you hear it?" he shouted suddenly, as if they were back at the party and he needed to talk over the crowd, the alarm in Sakura rising as he started hitting at his ear again. "It's always so goddamn loud."
Sakura didn't ask what he was talking about and Kakashi didn't elaborate. She waited until they reached his apartment and both of them had gotten inside before she sat him down on his bed and grabbed his face in her hands. He had consumed enough alcohol to be wasted for three people, and his face and eye showed that he was intoxicated, but he sounded sober and focused, if a bit out of sorts.
"Kakashi, what are you hearing?"
"You can't hear it?" he asked again, looking at her doubtfully, "It's always fucking there, getting louder all the time."
"What is it, Kakashi? I can't hear anything, you have to tell me-" she insisted, but he shook his head and waved her off.
"Every day, Sakura. Every day, I hear it. I came back from that village and it started then, and it just gets worse, no matter what I do."
"You're not helping me! You have to tell me so I can help you," Sakura whispered, still holding his face in her hands, "What are you hearing?"
His eye focused on hers, and she read guilt and terror and panic in it, which she had never seen in him before. He looked exhausted and ready to give up, give in to whatever was haunting him, but she needed him to tell her, just explain to her so she could try and help.
"They didn't have to die, y'know," he said suddenly, and she blinked down at him in surprise. Before she could tell him to stay on topic and make him focus, he continued, "All those people. That small village, just outside Iwa's capitol. If they find out I killed them all, it'll start another Great War."
"Kakashi, I don't- What does this have to do with-"
"The screaming. Every day, their screaming gets louder, Sakura. I don't know how you don't hear it. It's maddening. They want me to confess. If I tell Tsunade, she'll offer me to Iwa to try and appease them, I guess, try and put off the war I may have started. I don't really want to be dead, but it's gotta be better than this."
He reached up and took her hands in his, pulling them off of his face and holding them in his lap.
His gaze never broke from hers as he laughed and asked, "Are you going to tell Tsunade, Sakura? Give the voices what they want?"
"No," she whispered immediately, shaking her head, "No, I won't tell her."
She heard a faint scream and whipped her head around, wondering where it had come from. All she saw was the empty wall of Kakashi's bedroom, and she felt an eerie chill as she turned back around.
"Can't you hear it, Sakura?" Kakashi asked again, absently staring down at their hands in his lap.