"You have served time enough in here." Tsunade interrupted. "We have ruled that you're ready to be rehabilitated -slowly- into society."
I wanted to scream, to shake her and tell her how this wasn't possible. I couldn't be released- what if I wasn't the same person anymore?
But none of that happened. None of those words came out. I didn't cry, I didn't tell Tsunade that I could feel years of calm breaking like ice as the rage burned stronger and stronger still.
I should have told her that they didn't even know half of what I'd done out there. They didn't know that I'd done worse.
But I didn't.
"Oh, Sakura. How exciting!" Ino brushed through little Makino's hair as I pottered around the small bungalow, picking up the few items of value that weren't owned by Konoha, but by me. "I thought it would be another two years." Makino winced as her mother caught a tangled knot, but Ino simply teased it loose with a sigh. "Makino, you always let your hair get so messy."
"It's true." Ino scolded. "You're as bad as Yoshio."
Makino shifted on the floor in front of Ino, who fussed and fretted over the young Academy student's hair the way my mother used to fret over mine. The way I'd fretted over Hanako's.
Well, back when she'd let me.
"Hanako is the same." I smiled reminiscently, "She's always getting into scrapes and getting her hair a mess." I folded a throw rug and shook my head. "It must be my influence though... Masako's hair is wonderful and sleek."
"Kakashi's hair's always been a mess, as far as I can tell." Ino chuckled. "Maybe it's genetic."
I checked the kitchen one last time for any food, and huffed quietly. "You know she was meant to be helping me today." I grunted, scrubbing clean a stain left on the kitchen side. I blew falling hair from my face as I applied a little more strength to my scrubbing.
"Hanako. And Kakashi." I grimaced, checking the time. "Kakashi said he'd get them here for 10."
Ino laughed softly, patting Makino's shoulder to tell her she had finished. "Well if it's Kakashi, I'm not surprised." She stood and proceeded to finish dusting the bookshelves- the job she'd started when she got here.
"He's three hours late." I grunted, furiously scrubbing- what had I spilled here? "And Hanako's never late." Always too eager to please her parents and her superiors... I wonder where she got that from.
"Sakura!" Ino chided. "The wood!"
I looked to her in surprise, before looking back to my hand. "Ah." I stepped back, running worn fingers through my hair. There, where the stain had been -where it still was, annoyingly- I'd cracked the solid wooden surface of the counter top. "I didn't know I could still do that."
Ino checked over her shoulder and came to stand at my shoulder, wrapping her arm around my back protectively. "Try to be careful- I know you're careful anyway-" She said quickly, as I opened my mouth to object, "But remember you still have enemies in this village, people who remember what you did." She stroked my hair affectionately, and I took a deep, calming breath in an attempt to take in her well-meant advice. "Don't jump back into training, blend in as a civilian as much as you can. Remember; the nail that sticks out must be hammered down. So they say."
"Indeed." I nodded and managed a small smile. "I'll be careful, promise."
I turned my head slightly to see that Ino was looking down at the countertop with a frown, and was slightly taken aback to see that she seemed almost angry- as though my little show of strength was something abhorrent.
I almost said something, but remembered myself at the last moment; the fact that Ino was my friend didn't mean she would be above reporting her concerns to those to whom she would always be most loyal.
Konoha, you just keep taking them from me, don't you?
"Oh, you're done already?" Kakashi asked lightly, knocking once on the doorframe as he entered. Seeing Makino reading on the sofa, he offered a smile and a wave. "Oh hi, Makino. How are you doing?"
"Bored." Makino shot her mother a dark look. "And they're whispering."
"Women are prone to doing so."
"Not Ino." I grinned. "Ino never could keep her voice down." I eyed Kakashi narrowly. "Where's Hanako?"
"Hanako wanted to meet her friends for lunch. I didn't think it would be a problem." Kakashi looked between Ino and I warily. "Why?"
"Nothing." I said, a little snippily. "It would just be nice to have had some help today, that's all..." Before I could say any more, Kakashi was at my elbow, his hand on my arm and his head ducked so that he could meet my eyes. Ino bustled over to fuss over her daughter and to give the two of us some space.
"Hey," He murmured. "You're not angry about that are you? I just had to help an old lady who'd spilled a bag of oranges in the street..." I giggled slightly at that, and swatted his arm half heartedly.
"Yeah, ok. I get it." I grinned and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Now, you can help by carrying the boxes out to the cart." I winked at Ino. "All of them."
"Oh..." Kakashi scratched his cheek thoughtfully. "Well I would, but you see an old man like me will struggle with his back..." He paused. "Is it at all worth my time to keep talking?"
"Oh, feel free to keep talking, while you're carrying." I laughed, picking up one of the heavier boxes with only very slight assistance from my chakra strength. Not enough to cause a glow, or raise one of Ino's perfectly sculpted eyebrows. "Thanks for coming to help, Ino."
"My pleasure." Ino smiled, and beckoned to her bored daughter. "Come on Makino, you can help with this bit."
With much pouting and moaning on Kakashi's part, the four of us got the cart loaded fairly quickly, and we were waving Ino and Makino off before any of us expected. It was only as Kakashi began to pull the cart away from me that I noticed his clothes.
"Well that's unusual." I smirked. "Why are you dressed in shorts Kakashi? Capris, sure, I've come to accept them, but shorts?" I eyed his sandals with distaste. "And... socks and sandals?" I fell into step beside him, smirking as he chuckled away to himself.
"My uniform, as I've told you multiple times, does not consist of capris." Kakashi put on his absolute best hurt voice, and turned one doleful eye on me. "Capris aren't manly enough. I wear short trousers... ninja trousers. For moving around more easily."
"It's true! Ask Naruto."
"Naruto still wears orange jumpsuits! You can't rely on him for fashion advice!"
"Sai wears belly tops more than Ino ever did."
Kakashi looked down at his shorts with a pout. "Well I thought that these would be better for going to the park later. I've managed to persuade Hanako and Masako to clear their afternoons so that we can all go out together." He paused. "Maybe the socks were too much."
"Maybe." I agreed, eyeing his socks'n'sandals look dubiously. "You look every inch the uncool father."
He shot me an amused glance. "Even with the mask?"
"Neck down, then."
"What about my bulging biceps."
"Doesn't change a thing."
"You're just some kid's old man now, Kakashi." I laughed, and he rolled his eyes dramatically. "Oh, what I'd have given to have seen you at the kids' sports days!"
"I won every damn trophy going and I looked incredibly fashionable whilst doing so." Kakashi grinned. "Sai was furious."
"Probably more offended that you wore the socks and sandals than that you won." Sai had never struck me as the petty type, but he did appreciate the aesthetically pleasing things in life. "Oh, is this your house?" We came to a stop outside a modest, average looking two storey house with large windows and sloping roofs.
There was a small fence around the house, with a garden and modern double glazed windows. I could see the white backs of printed photographs taped to one of the upstairs rooms- probably Hanako's, in a teenage attempt to personalise her living space.
"Are you sure this is alright?" I asked, helping Kakashi place wedges under the wheels of the cart. "Me... Staying here with you?"
"Why wouldn't it be?" Kakashi asked, picking up one of the boxes. "You're not intruding. Your daughter lives here."
"And it's only temporary." I smiled at him, picking up another, larger box with ease. "I'll find my own place as soon as I can. I just- I had to get out of that place."
Kakashi turned to smile at me over his shoulder, his single, visible dark eye warm with understanding. I felt guilt knot in my stomach at the openness in his face; that same openness that I'd worked so hard to earn from him all those years ago. It was so fitting that Kakashi worked with dog summons; once his trust was earned, and his confidence gained, it was nearly impossible to break that bond with him.
No matter what I did to him, he was still there with that single, warm black eye turned on me.
I felt my darkness stir, whispering in my ear that he didn't deserve my pity, that he was an agent of Konoha who would always... always choose the lives of the many instead of the happiness of the few.
But... oh, how I yearned to be like him. So noble, so giving. No matter Kakashi's faults (and I knew that he had many) he was still probably one of the best men I knew. Second only to Naruto.
"I've set up the guest room for you." Kakashi threw over his shoulder as he led me into the house, stepping out of his sandals and straight onto the wooden floor. "It's not the largest, but we don't get many overnight guests so..."
"It's fine." I smiled, following him into the small room at the top of the stairs. "It's perfect."
Perfect was a bit far fetched, but I appreciated the lengths he'd gone to in an attempt to make the place more homely. A picture of Naruto and I after Naruto's Chuunin promotion sat on the windowsill next to a small cactus plant with cheery yellow flowers. Beside that was a photo that must have been found back in Suna. A young Hanako and I stood in front of Taniyama's inn, Hanako barely reaching my hip in height, and waving joyfully at the camera.
Where on earth could he have gotten that? I couldn't even remember it being taken- it had been so long ago. I thought I'd destroyed all the photos from back then when I'd made my escape... Apparently not.
It didn't matter much now anyway.
With all my things unpacked, I went with Kakashi to return the borrowed cart to its rightful owner- a fruit stand owner. The little old lady gushed about how helpful Kakashi had been picking up all her oranges when the bag had broken that morning and I sent him a thin smile.
"Fine, you can have this one." I said quietly to him as we left.
He grinned under his mask. "I told you I'd stopped to help an old lady this morning."
"Blah blah blah." I smirked, punching him lightly in the arm. "I get it." We walked in companionable proximity through the sunny streets, stopping just once to pick up some bread, milk and ham from the corner shop. I laughed freely as conversation flowed, and it felt just like I was sixteen again, flirting harmlessly with my superior as we walked through Konoha, running errands.
But I didn't feel as strong as I used to be; a Genin knocked into me, running through the streets, and I gasped at the impact, almost falling to the side. I heard a quick "Sorry Lady!" from behind me as Kakashi caught my shoulder, looking confused.
"Yeah." I smiled, massaging my side. "Kids are strong nowadays."
"Hm? No stronger than you guys were." Kakashi sounded amused, looking up as he lost himself in nostalgia. "I remember three persistent little Genin chasing after a puppy in the street, not even noticing that they left chaos in their wake." He chuckled. "I had to personally help rebuild three different shop fronts, and pay for an upturned basket of mangoes."
"I don't remember." I murmured, trying to think back. Had Naruto, Sasuke and I really chased after a puppy with such enthusiasm? I couldn't imagine any of us doing that now- well, maybe Naruto would, but Sasuke? Me?
Kakashi peered down at me. "Well you were young, carefree... why would you remember something so small? For me it was the first time I realised being your sensei was a full time occupation; rather than a job, I was as responsible for you as your parents were." He breathed in deeply. "Things changed a lot after that, but it's a memory I treasure; in those days all three of you were so unburdened, whereas now..."
"We all are." Kakashi nodded, pushing open the gate to his house. "But we count our blessings and make the best of what we have."
I thought about that for a moment, watching his back as he unlocked the door and entered, calling out "I'm home!" like my father had done so many times in my own childhood; that strange mix of habit and love, announcing to his family -whether they were there or not- that he had returned.
When had Kakashi become so domesticated? It was bizarre.
"What are your blessings, Kakashi?" I asked softly, mostly to myself, but he heard me as he always did.
Turning to face me, he shrugged off his jacket, slipped into his slippers, and leaned against the wall with his arms folded.
He tugged down his mask, revealing that strange tan line that had once sent me into fits of giggles, and smiled. I couldn't read him at all- he was so infuriating! That mysterious little smile remained on his face as he turned and headed into the kitchen, quietly humming absently to himself like an old man as he poured out two cups of tea.
Following him through, I was overwhelmed with a sense of belonging. It didn't sit well with me, and I had to cross my arms across my chest, and turn away from Kakashi's back to look out of the window into the garden. There were the signs of a ninja family; lots of space, worn down grass from too much sparring, the targets on the far wall... it was all so lived in and familiar I had to bite my lip.
"What's wrong?" Kakashi asked, voice low in my ear as he put his arm around me, passing me my cup of tea from behind. He was much too close, with his chin brushing the top of my head and his chest so close I could feel his heat against my back.
I took the cup from him, but didn't move from where I stood.
A long moment of silence stretched between us, but it was that easy, comfortable kind of silence I'd only ever shared with him. I didn't need to look at him to know that he looked bored; his mouth was turned down at the corners, the way his naturally did, and his heavy lidded eyes were probably staring into space...
Lips touched my exposed shoulder.
Oh, ok... maybe I was wrong about the boredom thing.
The strap of my sundress felt that bit too thick and heavy as his chin nudged my hair away from my neck and he pressed his mouth to the pulse point on my neck.
I wasn't sure what he was looking for in me. It had been so long since we'd been together that way, and things had become almost completely platonic... Just two good friends who shared a child. Maybe he just wanted something physical, or maybe he was just relieved that I was free, or maybe he still had some faint feelings for me...
I didn't even know how I felt about him touching me this way, but I set the cup down, and turned to meet his lips with mine.
Maybe we both just needed a release.
"You." He murmured between long, close kisses. "You are one of my blessings, and all that you've given me. I'm so, so blessed."
Little warning bells went off in the back of my head, but I couldn't hear them over the sound of my heart thudding painfully in my chest, so I wrapped my arms around the back of his neck and pulled him closer.
We fucked desperately there in the living room, me sat on the windowsill with my legs around his hips, kissing forcefully and hissing dangerous words to each other.
It was quick; both of us had gone without for too long, and we both knew each other too well for there to be any clumsiness. We knew what each other liked, and we knew we didn't have long before someone caught us.
In the moments after, Kakashi kept himself supported on trembling arms either side of my hips. His one visible eye boring into mine. He looked on the verge of saying something important... too important to be said while we were still intertwined and flushed on his kitchen windowsill. Despite myself, I reached out a hand and pushed his hitai-ate up off of his face. Those tired, mis-matched eyes flickered as he drank me in, saying nothing.
"I'm home!" A voice called from the hallway, and Hanako entered the room to find me sat on the windowsill drinking tea, and Kakashi in the kitchen pouring out another cup. "Oh, Mum. You're here." She smiled at me, approaching to give me a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Where were you?" Kakashi asked from the kitchen, lifting the cup to his slightly bruised-looking lips. "You were meant to help your Mother and I with the move."
"You said I could go." Hanako chirped, leaning on the countertop and grabbing an apple.
"It's ok." I assured Kakashi. "You must have inherited Dad's time keeping skills." I cracked a nervous smile at her, and she shrugged.
She swept back out of the room, running upstairs while calling down that she'd be eating dinner at Yoshio's house tonight, to an angry pursing of Kakashi's lips that I hadn't ever seen before.
Maybe it was his annoyed-Dad-face.
"Hanako!" He called up, "We're meant to be going out for dinner tonight, remember?"
"Why?" Hanako came back downstairs in a different set of clothes, and I noticed the barest hint of a young teenage girl dressing up in the flower clip in her hair, and the pretty white skirt she wore. "Isn't Mum scared of public spaces?"
The backstory would be hard to get away from.
"It's ok." I said again, shaking my head. "I'm feeling tired anyway. It might be nice to just stay in." The displeasure didn't leave Kakashi's face, but he managed a wry smile in defeat, and allowed Hanako out. "Have fun Hanako!"
"Thanks Mum! You too!" She called back, and the door slammed shut.
"Is she always so... um..." I thought carefully. "... Hurried?"
"Life and soul of the party, that one." Kakashi grumbled, and I smiled at the furrowed concern in his brow. "Always rushing between friends. She needs to focus on her training more, and slow down before her youth is gone."
"You're such a Dad." I smiled warmly, and pinked a little as he smiled back at me. "It's weird seeing the two of you in your home environment."
"Yours too." He supplied, and I couldn't quite meet his eyes.
"Where's Masako? Is she as flighty as Hanako?"
Kakashi hummed, and moved to sit on the sofa. After a moment's hesitation I joined him, wondering slightly at the total lack of awkwardness I still felt around him; we'd grown more comfortable with each other while I was imprisoned. Rather than our tempestuous and fiery relationship of thirteen years ago, we were older, wiser, and less fazed by each other. "Masako is much quieter than Hanako, but she's strong, and reliable, which makes people like her. They're very different, but they get along well." He smirked. "Well, they fight like cat and dog too, but mostly they get on."
"Like Ino and I." I mused. "I suppose thats just how sisters are."
"It's exhausting." Kakashi grumbled, eyes sliding shut as he leaned his head back. "I mostly just leave them to it."
"I can imagine." I grinned, thinking back to how Kakashi was with Naruto and Sasuke as Genin.
"I'm... uh, sorry for pouncing on you before." Kakashi mumbled, tugging his mask up and glancing at me sheepishly. "I normally wouldn't dream of... not with the girls around..."
The way he was sat, fingers gripping his mask over his nose and the way it was his red eye that was watching me warily, was so adorable that I laughed. He looked so young, as though he was hiding from some awful imagined punishment, that I reached over to ruffle his hair, a teasing smirk playing about my lips. "It was pretty close, with Hanako walking in, wasn't it?"
"Don't remind me." Kakashi groaned. "It's a good job Hanako was in a rush... Masako would have figured it out straight away."
"But don't be sorry." I interrupted, hand sliding from the top of his head to cup his cheek. "It's fine. Uh... more than fine." I amended cheekily, flushing slightly. "It's... been a while. I guess."
"Me too." Kakashi coughed. "I mean, I never... It would have felt wrong, like I was cheating."
I pulled back, flustered. "You didn't need to do that." But he caught my hand, and let his mask back down. "I wouldn't have held it against you... We both decided it was better not to be..." I trailed off at the sad look in his eyes.
Oh God, whatever he was going to say, he was going to say it now.
I couldn't handle that.
"Anyway... I told Ino I'd call her once I was settled." I stuttered hastily, jumping up and pulling from Kakashi's grasp. "She wanted to come and help me look at potential new apartments tomorrow- that's okay right?"
Kakashi wasn't allowed to get attached again. He had to be kept at arm's length or else when I eventually got my revenge on Konoha he'd be crushed once again.
"... Yeah, of course." Kakashi managed, but his voice sounded strained. "But... you can stay as long as you need to. As long as you want."
It was that raw, hurt part of him that I'd created when I left the first time showing itself. He'd always been so smooth, and I'd damaged him when I ran away, in a way he'd probably never really recover from. It made my chest tight and my head hurt, because I...
I still cared for him. I always would.
"I'm sorry, Kakashi." I whispered, once in the hallway, praying that his hearing wasn't good enough to hear me, and praying just as hard that it was.
"Pleasure doing business with you, as always." The Chuunin grinned at Masako as he got up to leave. "I'd heard a rumour that you got into some trouble with a contact, and I'm glad to see it hasn't put you out of business."
"Nothing I can't handle." Masako smiled easily, tucking her payment into her shirt. "This is a risky business."
"Yeah." The older boy grinned. "You can handle yourself though. I saw you in the exams."
Masako feigned a pleased blush. "Oh, you flatter me."
"Well anyway..." The Chuunin glanced around at the bar's other clientele quickly, keeping a watchful eye out for snoops. "If there's anything you need..."
"Actually." Masako said, a little to carelessly, as though it was an afterthought. "There is something."
Grimacing, the brown haired boy sat back down. "What?"
"You work as Naruto's aide in the Hokage tower, right?" The boy's eyes widened, and he shifted uneasily. "I need someone with your level of access to do me a favour, and it will mean I owe you big, understand?" He nodded. "Someone unfortunate has gotten their hands on the Western Prison blueprints, and I need you to draw attention to that. It has to look like someone broke into the record rooms, and while you're there..." She passed a pack of scrolls to him under the table. "These need to be put back in there, under file name 'Haruno Sakura', got it?
"Teo!" Masako hissed, "This is serious."
"It's your problem, not mine..." Teo protested weakly, growing more anxious as they attracted a few too many curious stares. "I can't help you."
"Do you really want me as an enemy, Teo?" Masako whispered, sitting back in the chair as she too, grew wary of the attention they attracted. "We've known each other a long time, and if it comes out what I've been doing here, my whole client list will come out too." Her icy blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "Alright?"
Teo swallowed, angry. "Hell, Masako..."
"Take. The. Scrolls." Masako said, cool and calm as she nudged his knee with the papers. Cornered, Teo tucked the scrolls into his pocket. "Thank you." Masako nodded, taking a sip of her sake. "You're doing the right thing."
"The right thing would have been never to get involved with you."
"That's a quick change of heart. I thought it was 'Always a pleasure'?" Masako quipped, not looking at Teo as he stood again to leave. "See you around."
"You owe me, Hatake Masako." Teo warned her, and strode from the bar.
Exhaling a deep sigh of relief, Masako downed the rest of her sake. She nodded to the bartender and placed her usual tip on the table, pulling her hood up as she slipped into the ladies toilets and out of the window. It really was a dangerous business she was in, but she couldn't stop now. She'd been raised a spy and would die a spy, no matter who she was working for.
The cool air soothed her, and she took a deep breath as she crouched in the shadows under the eaves of the low buildings that made up this part of town. It was dusk, and most respectable ninja her age were either heading home or leaving on missions at this time.
So when she saw the shadow at the end of the alley, stood waiting for her, she knew it wasn't likely to be any of her small-fry contacts.
"Oh, I didn't realise you were still doing business around here." She said, a little hesitantly when the other ninja stepped into the light. "Come all this way for me?"
"This is for you." the figure tossed a small scroll her way, and she stared down at it in surprise. "I'm not here to help, just to pass on the message."
And with that he was gone again, but Masako barely noticed- her hands began to tremble as she read the note over quickly once, and then again to be sure. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled uncomfortably and she risked a glance over her shoulder, heart beginning to thump erratically.
"We were all meant to go for dinner tonight, as a family." Kakashi glowered over the table at his two daughters. Both had come home too late to be normal, and he'd caught them sneaking in through their bedroom windows. "I'm glad Sakura has gone to bed already, so she doesn't have to see what utter disregard you've shown for both of us tonight. Coming in through the window, really?"
Hanako twisted her hands guiltily, and couldn't seem to get her words out.
Kakashi rubbed his chin absently, and narrowed his eyes at Masako. "I don't even know where you've been going recently." He challenged. "Don't think I haven't noticed. You disappear for hours at a time and when you come back you're not yourself."
Masako sat, totally composed and giving nothing away, but narrowed her eyes slightly. Kakashi didn't miss it.
"Tomorrow, we're going to all get up early and go to the park for a picnic, as we were supposed to do today. Both of you will be on your best behaviour, and apologise for missing Sakura today. We'll say I got the dates mixed up, and that will be the end of this. Understood?"
Both his daughters nodded slightly, and he sat back in the dining chair as he waved them off in a casual dismissal. Hanako all but vanished in her haste to escape him, but Masako tensed, and didn't move.
"Dad." She whispered. "Can I please stay in your room tonight?"
Kakashi sighed, watching the way her eyes flicked to the darkened windows with a barely detectable trace of panic. "What have you been doing, Masako?" He asked quietly, his stomach twisting. "I need to know or I can't help you."
"It's a bit late for that." She whispered, but Kakashi heard her just the same.
He stood slowly, and Masako glanced at him warily.
"Perhaps tonight isn't the best time, but..." Kakashi ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "Tomorrow morning, before we go for the picnic. I need you to tell me what's going on. I can't promise I won't be angry, but I will help you as best I can. Got it?"
She nodded meekly, and followed him upstairs in silence, arms wrapped tightly around herself as she caught sight of a shadow pass by the window.