Title: Heart of Patience
Fandom: Naruto (Kakashi x Sakura)
Rating: PG (Angsty.)
Words: 4,803
Summary: Kurenai grinned, a small laugh escaping. "Hatake Kakashi, in love. Who'd've thought."

A/N: Done for the Poe Challenge on the Kakasaku LiveJournal community. The first week's prompt was "The Tell-Tale Heart," basically using our interpretation of what a tell-tale heart means to us and seeing how it plays out in the Narutoverse with our favorite nin, Kakashi and Sakura! This was a very challenging prompt, definitely a loose LOOSE theme, but I think I got my point across the way I'd like. I realize that I haven't written ANY kakasaku fic in over a year, and I hope this challenge remedies that indeed. If you like, you can head on over to the kakasaku LJ comm and give me your vote! And also be sure to check out the other entries to the contest as well. Thanks, and happy reading!

Heart of Patience

She sighed, and stifled a grimace that threatened to show itself on her face.

It wasn't working.

Kakashi lay in his bed, eyes closed, serenity painted across his face. The night air threaded through his hair from the open window. Konoha was falling into autumn at a leisurely pace, the long hot summer nights cooling into warm winds and crisp open skies. He could hear the rustle of dead leaves that skittered across his window sill. The pads of her fingers delicately caressed his brow bone, and he let out a breath.

"Should I feel something life-changing right now?" he asked softly, eyes still shut.

She sighed once more, and watched his eyelashes flutter involuntarily. The scar that ran through his eye appeared more angry and unwavering than ever, as if mocking her incompetence. She looked away, quickly. The scar burned into the backs of her eyelids.

"No. It's not working."

He opened his eyes, slowly. She sat on the edge of his bed, hair pulled back, a few strands in her face that she tucked behind an ear before slouching back into thought. He watched her eyes scan the floor for answers. She needed her silence, and he had patience. It gave him time to remember her before she was so defeated.

The edge of his borrowed eye began to pulse painfully against his temple, like something dull but persistent was lodged against it, pushing. He pressed his eye closed, resisted all urges to touch it by order of the defeated medic at the foot of his bed.

"It's getting worse, isn't it," Sakura asked, eyes still running across the floors in ritualistic patterns, unbeknownst to her. Her mind frantically pushed around figures, desperately sorted through every article and book she'd consumed ravenously since the first day she sat in this very spot, instructing her former teacher to stop touching your eye! and don't look into the sun directly! and I'll find a cure, I promise, I promise.

Kakashi sat up, stretching his arms over his head. The corner of his mouth twitched, undetected from view by the mask across his face. "It's not any worse." He was talented, and trained to be a good liar.

"It's not any better, either," Sakura admitted to herself and her patient. Hearing it out loud, the words were shrill, and pierced her chest. The air went cold as her confession was suspended there.

"Sakura," he said softly. He opened his mouth to speak when she turned to face him. She was so tired. Her eyes darted to his face, and back to the blanket between them. He closed his mouth and began again. "Do you want some tea?"

He had already lost her-he saw her eyes darting back and forth beneath partially closed lids, searching for answers in the coarse fibers of the bedspread.

"Yeah...yeah, sure," Sakura mumbled. Her bottom lip slid between her teeth. Kakashi coughed.

"I'll go make us some." He smiled warmly, even though it was under his mask, and she wasn't looking. He had hope. He was a patient man, after all. He gingerly took the IV out of his arm, and set it it on the night stand.

Two years ago, Sasuke woke up, and opened his eyes to darkness. Sakura couldn't save him.

Sasuke was an inferno, a whirlwind of hatred that they hadn't seen since the day he returned to the village, a broken man with only betrayal and sadness to carry the weight of his body. It was barely enough to get him to the hospital, where Sakura tended to his health admist a sea of protesting patriots who felt his life should be cut short.

"If we all were judged on the decisions we made when we were thirteen, we'd all begging for our lives, wouldn't we?" she had said. The power of her words, combined with an official pardon by the newly appointed Hokage Naruto, sealed their lips from protest, but their abhorrence hung thick in the air and simmered in Sakura's lungs as she walked the halls.

The blindness was inevitable, a consequence known by every Uchiha and those who knew anything about them. Sakura knew more about the Uchiha than perhaps Sasuke did himself. She poured over book after book, hungry for information. Tsunade had said she was the most clever, the most talented medic she'd ever seen. It was her responsibility. No one would ever dare shoulder it.

She and Naruto had promised to bring him back to the village. She promised to keep him safe. She promised happiness. She promised a cure.

For three years Sakura made visits to Sasuke's house, brought him back to the hospital for tests, apologized over and over again. It had to be done. She was going to find a cure. It had to be done. The repetition in her mind drowned out the skeptical opinions of her peers and the pained expressions on Sasuke's face.

It was during these years that Kakashi stopped in at the hospital more often than, well, ever in his life.

"Just checking in with Sakura," he'd tell the attendant at the front desk.

In the beginning, he could pull her away from her twelve, thirteen hour shifts for a quick lunch. She was hopeful in the beginning. She would sip her soup, cheeks blushed from the heat of the broth and her excitement. The research that was done in Sand seemed hopeful. The drugs we imported from Cloud will be key. She would prevent the blindness.

Over time, she hid away to her office, or to Sasuke's house. There were no more lunches. Kakashi would risk getting slugged in the face just to peek in on her once in awhile. Her head hung lower than ever before. She had aged considerably, like every breath was a struggle.

He couldn't say anything to her. He knew better than anyone, the tortures a man puts upon himself for the people he loves, the people he loved.

Sakura arrived at Sasuke's that fated day, and found him lying on the bed surrounded by a floor of broken glass. The blankets were askew, some flung across the floor. The picture she had put on his night table of Team Seven was at the corner of the room, most likely thrown there. Her steps were slow and light, but sounded like thunderous echoes, with the background of Sasuke's labored breath.

Her chest snapped in half. "S-Sasuke-"

"I can't see," he said, voice low but full. Sweat dripped from his temples. She stepped a little closer and swallowed. His eyes were wide open, angry and dull. Completely empty, but fixed on her, detecting her presence and zeroing in, like a vulture to its prey.

Her mind was flooded with an insurgence of emotion and thought, taking her by the throat. She couldn't speak or breathe. She had promised.

"I can't see," Sasuke repeated. A drop of water fell from his eye. She didn't know if it was sweat or a tear. She prayed it was the former.

Her entire body burned, and shook. Everything was betraying her. She had never felt so out of control in her life.

"Just leave, Sakura. Leave me alone."

Eventually, she did. She walked out of his house and closed the door behind her. She left the key to his house under the mat, and began her journey home. Kakashi watched her leave, a ghost floating wordlessly towards the horizon.

It was then he felt the pressure around his borrowed eye.

"Milk, no sugar," Kakashi said as he handed her a cup.

The steam lifted the faint aromas of chamomile and mint to her nose. It comforted her heart and mind-it was the same smells of two years ago, when Kakashi had innocently dropped two sugar cubes in her tea. He had never gotten it wrong since that first day two years ago.

"Thanks," Sakura said. She took a sip, and held it in her hands. It stirred her stomach, which she realized hadn't had any food all day. Two cookies were immediately put in her view.

"It's all I've got," he said, dropping them in her outstretched hand. "You need to eat something."

She nodded; she'd heard it all before. She ate the cookies silently, letting the buttery texture melt in her mouth. Kakashi sat beside her on the bed, hitae-ate covering his sharingan eye. No one understood the fascination and fear of the sharingan quite like his medic. He swirled the sugar cubes in his tea.

"Naruto wants us up at the academy tomorrow," he said.

"Oh," she said, snapping out of her thoughts. "I saw that. Are you going?"

"Well, I suppose it's good for the kids," he said.

A faint smile pulled at Sakura's lips; Kakashi's shoulders lifted. "Oh, because you're the best influence to small children."

He smiled and pulled down his mask to take a sip. She had seen his face a thousand times before, but when his finger reached for the hem, it never failed to make her stomach fly into her mouth for a brief moment.

"What? Kids love me."

"What the hell kids are you talking about?" Sakura teased. "You terrorized us when we were your students. I heard that when you took your last batch of possible recruits out on a mission, they all ran away from you."

"The mission was to find Mr. Yanigi's cats. They had to run around and find them."

"The cats were tigers, Kakashi."

He turned up his nose. "I'm a dog person. All cats are the same to me."

She rolled her eyes and hit him on the shoulder playfully. "It's all about you, huh."

"In a dream world," he said. He placed his empty teacup on the nightstand. "So? You gonna go to the thing tomorrow? I can walk you from the hospital."

"I don't need a chaperone anymore, Kakashi-sensei. I-I don't think I should go anyway. I haven't gone out on a mission in god knows when-don't know what I'd even say to the kids-"

"You're the best medic to come out of Konoha since Tsunade. They'll probably have questions. Do you really want Ino to be the one molding their young, impressionable minds?"

"I-I don't know. I have a lot to do tomorrow. You know, patients..." She trailed off. She nervously tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "I'm also getting some research from Grass tomorrow that I think will help your eye. It helps the fibers heal themselves-"

Kakashi put his hand on hers. She looked up at him strangely, and he couldn't interpret her expression, like curiosity and fear were battling in her eyes. He squeezed her hand, which shook involuntarily.

"Just come to the academy tomorrow. Naruto hasn't seen you in quite awhile. In fact." He sat up and leaned in closer to her, facing her. "I'm beginning to think he's getting jealous of me, all this time you're spending with me."

He saw the blush spread across her cheeks and she coughed nervously, pulling her hand away quickly, but not too quick to offend. She always thought of others feelings, sometimes before they could feel them. "Well, he doesn't have a hospital to run," she stammered.

"Oh, no, he just has an entire village, no big responsibilities whatsoever," Kakashi pointed out in jest, leaning back on his elbows.

She threw him a pointed look. "Ino's not so bad," was her excuse.

"You know, last time, she did tell the kids that it was okay to not wear their hitae-ate if it makes their faces look too fat-"

"Look, Kakashi," she stood and grabbed her med kit. "I can't just sit around when I have-when I have lots of things to do-"

"So, you can't spare an hour to talk to some kids who want to aspire to basically be what you are?"

She let out a disappointed breath and slung her jacket over her shoulders. "I don't even know what I am anymore."

"You're a damn fine medic, Sakura," Kakashi stated, looking up at her from the bed. "You'd be my first choice on missions, whenever you decide you want to return to the field. And the reason that medics are even required on teams these days is because of you."

"Flattery won't get you anywhere, Kakashi." She swallowed the last of her tea, and started walking towards the door.

"Where are you going?" Kakashi asked, his voice just as tired as Sakura appeared.

"Back to the hospital. If those files from Grass get here with the night mail, I want to be there as soon as I can-"

"They'll be there in the morning. There's no rush. Just relax for a minute, will you?"

She turned on her heel to face him, expecting to launch into the same heated battle they waged every time her tests failed and it was time for her to start over again. Instead, she looked at her teacher, sitting alone on the bed, his hand resting on the bed where she had sat moments ago. He wasn't looking for a fight at all. She hesitated.

"Kakashi, I have to go back. I'm trying." She took a deep breath. "I'm trying to make you better."

He nodded slowly. "What's wrong with the way I am now?"

"You know I didn't mean it like that," she said, exasperated. "Isn't it important to you that you have both your eyes?"

"I think it's more important to you than it is to me," he said quietly. His words hung in the air as he sat back on the bed, turning away from her.

From where she stood, the moonlight hit his face in profile, framing his solid shoulders that appeared to hang from his body in defeat. He was older now-they were all much older-and he was starting to lose the boyish looks that made him so alluring to the other women in the village (Sakura suspected that the mask had something to add to the mystery, but she wouldn't know). But, he wasn't any less attractive than he was when she was twelve and Sasuke was on her mind night and day.

In fact, things really hadn't changed too much since then. Sasuke was still on her mind, but in a different way. And Kakashi was still as mysterious and interesting and intriguing as he had been. In much, much different ways. They both had scars and callouses that told stories for years to come.

Just like before, he still deserved something better than a useless kunoichi.

She left a moment later, leaving her empty tea-cup on the counter.

"And, girls, don't forget to pack one bottle of concealer and a little powder!" Ino said to the group of nervous new recruits at the Academy. "The mission report never says if the prince you're rescuing is good-looking or not-best to be prepared!"

Kakashi stood in a corner, arms folded. He shook his head at the spectacle in front of him when he felt a presence next to him that relaxed him a bit.

"Where's yours?" he whispered to Kurenai. "I tried to find him, but there's just so damn many of them this year."

Kurenai leaned forward from against the wall to look over the many tiny heads of the children in the assembly. "Over there. Red shirt. Lots of hair."

Kakashi nodded and smiled. "Looks like his dad at that age. If he starts growing a beard at age eleven, I'll really start to believe it's Asuma reincarnated."

She smiled genuinely, leaning back against the wall. "Sakura couldn't make it, huh?"

He shook his head. "No."

"Girl's gotta give herself a break. She's losing her mind."

He said nothing. He tried to remember this day, years ago, when he was assigned Team Seven, but it seemed so, so far away. Was he really as old as he felt? The pressure on his sharingan eye was particularly intense today, and he hesitatingly pressed the heel of his hand into his eye socket.

"Ooh, she'd have a fit if she saw you doing that," Kurenai said, swatting his hand away. He said nothing again, just grunted and settled against the wall, head down, both eyes closed.

"It's pretty bad, isn't it?" Kurenai whispered softly. She leaned closer to him, and put her hand on his arm.

"Yeah, I guess it is."

"Does she know it's getting worse?"

He hesitated. "I can't tell her that."

Kurenai made a disapproving noise with her teeth. "She'll figure it out, anyway. She's young and as smart as they come, way smarter than both of us ancient relics."

He smiled softly. "Speak for yourself."

She laughed, and squeezed his shoulder tighter. They stood in silence for a moment. Iruka was in front of the students now, explaining the ninja classes and exams. Kakashi spied a few gray hairs poking out of the ponytail atop his head. They really were old.

"Does she know you love her?"

He closed his eyes and his eyes creased in a smile. "You're not as old and clueless as you let on, are you?"

She leaned her head on his shoulder. "This old hag's got a few tricks up her sleeve."

He sighed, and stared at the ceiling. "No. She doesn't know."

Kurenai grinned, a small laugh escaping. "Hatake Kakashi, in love. Who'd've thought."

He sighed again. "That doesn't mean I'm going full-out Gai, with the declarations of young, blossoming forever love, or whatever the hell he says about it."

"Don't get so defensive, mister. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. You know yourself. You know better than to hide behind that mask."

He raised an eyebrow. "I'm still wearing it, you know."

"In a way." She looked out to her son, whose bright eyes brought light and sadness to her heart. "Sometimes, there's no use trying to hide away what we feel, we know it's just going to reveal itself eventually. We just have to be patient sometimes."

Kakashi nodded. "I can agree with that."

He feigned agony as she punched him on the shoulder. "Some would say you're going soft, Kakashi."

He chuckled, and pulled a worn copy of Icha Icha Violence from his pocket. "Maybe so."

Sakura walked out of surgery, wiping her forehead with her sleeve. She peeled off the bloody gloves and breathed a sigh of relief particular to a successful surgery. Hinata came into the sanitation area a second later, taking off her surgical mask.

"He's stable, Sakura; Reika's taking him down to recovery." She took off her gloves carefully and disposed of them properly.

"Thanks, Hinata." Sakura bent over the sink and splashed water on her face. Her bangs stuck to the side of her temples, and she pushed them back into a ponytail.

"Do you need anything else tonight?" Hinata asked quietly, folding her smock and throwing it in the laundry sanitizer.

Sakura shook her head. "No, you can go home now, Hinata. I'll see you tomorrow."

Hinata furrowed her bow. "B-but I thought you had tomorrow off. The schedule says-"

"I make the schedule, Hinata-I know what it says," Sakura snapped. "I just got some research in the mail that I want to look into. Is that a crime?"

Hinata jumped a little and shook her head quickly. "N-no it's not, I'm sorry, Sakura-san."

Sakura sighed and turned around, leaning against the counter. "I'm sorry. That was rude. I'm just tired. You know how it is."

Hinata nodded. "Is the research about, you know. It is for Kakashi-sensei?"

"Yes. They're doing some really interesting things with chakra isolation in Grass right now, that uses the chakra's natural flow and creates new channels in the patient's chakra paths to back-up already existing and dying parts the body can't fight anymore."

"You mean like Kakashi's sharingan?"

Sakura nodded. She pointed to the file of her last patient and slung her bag over her back.

"Can you grab that and bring it to my office with me?"

Hinata followed her out into the hallway, walking quickly behind Sakura's fast pace.

"U-um, Sakura, have you thought about maybe taking a day of rest?"

Sakura rolled her eyes before she could stop herself, but pushed full speed ahead, her muscles and brain begging for her to stop. "I have more important things to do than sleep."

"But, you're a doctor, Sakura-you know that's not entirely true."

They walked into her office. Sakura threw her bags on the couch and sat in her chair. Hinata closed the doors and handed Sakura the file across the desk. "I know you want to help Kakashi-sensei-"

"I want to find a cure," Sakura said, resting her head against her hand, opening the folder with the other.

"We all want him to be safe, Sakura. But," Hinata hesitated. Her pale eyes squinted and her mouth folded into a straight line.

Sakura looked up for the first time to Hinata's face. In her face she found the faces of all the other nurses and medics who didn't believe in her, who looked at her just like that. Like she was a lost puppy, left out in the rain. They were all looking down at her like she was some pathetic, helpless, desperate fool. Like she was mad.

"Sakura," Hinata continued. "The blindness happened to Sasuke. It's going to happen to Kakashi. We should do what we can to make him comfortable. At least he still has his one eye-"

"Stop it," Sakura interrupted, her voice cutting the other medic down in an instant. "This research from Grass is promising-"

"I-I'm not saying it's not, Sakura-san!" Hinata blurted out quickly. "And I have no doubt that you will one day find a cure!"

"Well, that day is going to come very soon, Hinata, as long as people stop interrupting me from my work."

Hinata stepped forward with more determination than Sakura had ever seen her exhibit before. "You're getting sick, Sakura-san. I can tell you've lost weight and by the color of your skin and your tongue, I can tell that your blood pressure is low. You haven't been eating-"

"Yeah, well, I needed to lose weight anyway, okay? I'm on a freaking diet, give it a rest, will you?" Sakura slammed back into her chair. "I need to find this cure, Hinata. Kakashi-sensei needs-he deserves a cure."

"I don't know Kakashi-sensei as well as you, but I'm sure he doesn't want you to suffer on his behalf."

"No, no, you don't know Kakashi-sensei," Sakura yelled, leaning forward on her elbows. "He has spent a lifetime saving my life, and now it's my turn."

"It's not his life, Sakura-san!" Hinata insisted. "It's one eye. He will still have sight if his sharingan goes dark-"

"Which isn't going to happen! Hinata, I promised him. He needs this! He deserves this."

"B-but Sakura-"

"Hinata, I love him, okay? How can I tell him that if I don't have a cure!"

A stone silence hit the room like the sound of the air after a firecracker explodes. Sakura's mouth and eyes were still as open as a goldfish. Hinata stood silently in front of Sakura's desk, her lips forming a small "o." She watched as Sakura's eyes bore into the desk, as her face flushed red in a matter of seconds.

"I-I love him," Sakura repeated. The words were foreign and jumbled and silly in her mind, buried under her desperate need for a cure, her obsession of the past nearly six years of research, risky and expensive experiments and tests, and sleepless nights. She didn't now how to process it, this thing-this love for Kakashi-that was hidden from herself, disguised by the hunt for a cure.

If she found a cure, she could deserve to love someone like him.

"I-I think I understand," Hinata said very quietly, breaking the silence. "I-I think you always loved Kakashi-sensei. That's okay."

Sakura looked up to her from her desk, confusion and insecurity across her face, plain as day. "It is?"

Hinata smiled. "It is."

Sakura sat back in her chair once more. "I-I just don't understand-"

"Sometimes," Hinata interjected. "it's like telling yourself a secret that you knew all along. And then you don't just think about what they deserve." Hinata closed her eyes and felt the rush of wind on her face, her heart beating loudly against her chest, and the sight of Naruto on the ground. "Sometimes you have to think about what you deserve."

Sakura stared, the nodded slowly. "...underneath the underneath. That bastard's right all the damn time."

A sharp knock on the door made them jump out of their skins. "Come in," Sakura said.

Shizune walked into the room. Her hand trembled against the doorframe. "Sakura. It's Kakashi."

When she stepped into his room, her body was too tired to protest, as she slumped into a chair beside his bed. She was out of breath from running so quickly, and her face was red from being whipped by the wind that rushed against her face. She swallowed.

Kakashi was sitting up in bed, and turned his head toward her. He looked at her with his good eye. His only good eye.

They looked at each other for some time, both trying to figure out how to continue. Kakashi was difficult to read as always, but looked strangely calm, to Sakura, so unlike Sasuke when the blindness took his eyes, his weapons from him.

Sakura leaned forward and put her hand on his cheek. "I'm so sorry, Kakashi."

The corner of his mouth upturned, and he nodded. "It doesn't hurt anymore. I'll live."

Sakura's voice caught in her throat for a moment. She suddenly realized that his mask was off, and she could see his slight smile, relaxed expression. What was he thinking? He was blind in one eye. The beloved eye of his best friend, his most prized weapon.

"I-I need to look at it," Sakura hesitated, and fingered the corners of her med kit.

"That's all right," Kakashi said softly. "Go ahead."

Sakura fumbled with the clasp, her hands shaking. She was caught somewhere between disbelief and exhaustion. Like she could see the walls of the past six years of her life about to fall on top of her, but for some reason, they were just hovering above her, unwilling to crash down.

She shined a flashlight in his sharingan eye. It was dull and empty, like she remembered. She didn't save his eye.

Kakashi closed his good eye. She felt his hand grasp her shoulder. She looked down to where he touched her, held her, and looked back to him, clicking her flashlight off.

"I didn't save your eye," she said.

He reached up and touched her cheek. "That's fine."

She fought the tears that burned at the corners of her eyes, but she was tired, so, so tired, and years worth of exhaustion made her defenses weak. The flashlight slipped from her fingers, and she fell into his chest and sobbed. Kakashi was ready for it, because the Sakura he had known and who had been by his side all her kunoichi life was immobilized by one thing, and one thing only: her inability to help someone she loved. He knew she was helpless, and it burned through her heart like a thousand swords. They had fought and lost so much together. They had buried more friends than they would like to think about.

She knew that he understood this kind of pain. So, he let her weep, for a moment, and he held her long enough so that she knew the walls that were about to crash down upon her, he would hold them up as long it took to protect her.

And she realized, as her sobs petered out into sniffles and whimpers, that although her heart took years to uncover the truth buried deep within itself, that Kakashi had loved her for quite some time, and he had waited for her to find the love she had for him. For as many times as she had grudgingly waited for him and his excuses of lateness, he had waited, so patiently, for so long. For her.

She sniffled and raised her head to look at him. His face was still so serene.

"I'm sorry I never found a cure," Sakura said, voice thick with apology. "I promised you."

"I never wanted a cure," Kakashi said. She could feel his voice through his chest, where their bodies were pressed together. "I just wanted you."

He swiped his thumb across her dampened cheek. She rested her head on his chest. Her mind and heart were spent. Kakashi knew she was crushed, and would get back on her feet eventually. He would be there, patient, as always. He was old, and already set in his ways.

"Thank you for waiting for me," he heard her say, and she fell asleep.

The warm winds of autumn floated through his window. He pulled a blanket over her shoulders.


Thank you for reading-please review if you have the time!