Title: A Most Unusual Quest
Theme: High Fantasy
Word Count: 5,105
Summary: The dragon never gets the girl. Except one time, he does. Written for the KakaSaku AU challenge on LJ. Unbeta'd.
Just off the Lake of Fire, along the edges of where Fire Country met Wind Country, were copious amounts of sand dunes that waged war for supremacy against lush trees and clingy vines, neither side winning but always trying to get one up on each other.
It was here that the dragon lived, in a shattered, hollowed out remnant of a temple to some long lost religion that had likely died out in the same war that the land still fought ages later. No people dared live on the outskirts of their countries, which made it the perfect place for a dragon that was, all things considered, really not that fond of company.
The dragon was long and lithe and blacker than the blackest night. His eyes were a pure, orange amber that glowed in the dark recesses of his home, and his large bat-like wings were, by all accounts, twenty-seven horse-lengths long when spread. Claws sharper and brighter and more deadly than any weapon made of any legendary metal, and teeth longer than a man was tall, were his secondary defenses.
His first, of course, was magic.
Magic hid the temple, magic hid the dragon when he took to flight, making him seem no larger than an eagle, and it was magic that sustained him.
If he'd even the slightest bit interested in terrorizing the countryside, in eating people and in kidnapping princesses, he would have been the greatest dragon of all.
But he wasn't interested in that at all. Oh sure, he liked a bit of treasure and always kept what fell near his lair, but he wasn't going to go about pillaging for it.
While that was utterly enthralling to read about, he had no interest in dealing with the ridiculous hassles that always came about when a dragon got involved in the world of men. It never worked out the way the stories did.
No, he was quite content with his magic and his small bits of treasure, and his peace and quiet.
He didn't know that the peace and quiet was coming to an end, or that he'd be happy with the change.
No, it was a sunny Watersday morning, when our story starts, and the only thing on his mind was idly engaging in contemplation of how the sun interacted with the moon.
A shout startled him out of his ruminations and he shifted his gigantic head as a stinging pain in his claws told him what must have happened.
"Oh no," he said, heaving a heavy sigh as he peered down at the knight in shining armour before him. "What do you want?"
If this was about princesses and his having kidnapped them to do nefarious things to them, he was going to be quite displeased. Possibly even displeased enough to eat the intruder that even now was trying to stab him again.
Apparently the knight didn't care for his tone.
"You dare!" she shouted, and he was mildly startled that his attacker was a girl. "You dare to ask that of me?"
He lifted one claw and casually placed it over her, which pushed her off her destrier and to the ground. It would take her some time to get up and he would use that time to decide what to do with her.
She cursed him loudly as she struggled against the weight of her heavy armour.
"Are you quite done?" he asked with deceptive patience. "It's rude to come barging in to someone's home and stab them."
And then, because she looked to be unwilling to give up the struggle, he leaned over to where her destrier was braced-brave horse, he thought-and neatly gobbled up her transportation.
"There," he said, once he'd swallowed. "Now we're even."
From her renewed shrieking, she didn't agree. He rolled his eyes. "Really," he said, "stop that."
"You're foul, you, you-infidel!"
"Look," he said, "me dragon, you knight. Do you really want to find out what happens if I eat you? Dragons do that sometimes. Eat people."
Her helmet fell off and he looked bemused at her hair. Pink. He nosed it carefully, which had the added bonus of stopping her screams, then said, "Is this a natural colour for your hair?"
Her breathing hitched and he waited patiently. "What is your problem?" she demanded, her voice hoarse. "You're not anything like a proper dragon at all!"
"Proper," he replied, "is for little people. Care to share why you're out in the middle of nowhere attacking innocent dragons, little knight?"
She snorted, fire flashing in her green eyes. "As if you don't already know."
Kakashi hemmed and hawed over that, pretending to give it due deliberation. "Let's see," he rumbled, "a knight in… well, it used to be shining armour, out on what's obviously got to be a quest, since the Kingdom of Fire is under perilous circumstances. Now, it can't be to slay me, because I haven't done anything in ages, but… oh dear."
Her eyes were bright with suspicion. "Oh dear what?"
"I think you've missed your target," he said, a laugh in his voice. "You're looking for an evil witch, not a dragon."
"And I don't suppose you know where an evil witch happens to live?"
He clacked his claws against the ground idly, admiring her cute nose and her refusal to twitch at the sound. "I might…," he murmured, "but you've hardly got a way to get there now. It's quite far."
She was silent and he watched as she obviously worked through her options. But when she spoke, even he was caught off guard.
"You ate my steed," she declared triumphantly, as if she wasn't trapped under one of his claws. "And that means, in order for me to complete my quest, you'll take his place as my steed!"
The dragon stared down at her like it couldn't believe what she'd just said. His words confirmed that opinion. "What?"
"My steed," she said defiantly. "You'll take his place." Sakura pushed at his claws. "And can you let me up, please? My back is starting to cramp."
Perhaps he was startled, but he let her up. Sakura began the laborious process of getting to her feet while wearing full plate mail. Not a pretty sight. And not an easy one either.
"You," the dragon said, once she'd retrieved her helmet, "have a great deal of nerve."
"That's what my honoured mother says," Sakura replied, feeling much chirpier now that she was reasonably certain that he wasn't going to eat her. The same could not be said for her dearly departed destrier. "You're not going to say no, are you?"
To a face as cute as hers?
The dragon stared down at her for so long that Sakura wondered, in the back of her mind, if she'd pushed her luck too far.
Then, he laughed wickedly. "I'll be your steed," he said, "for a price."
It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that he was paying her back for what he'd done when common sense took over and shut her mouth on that particular point. She was pushing her luck. There was no need to push it further. "What's the price?"
Sakura blinked at him. Had she heard that correctly? "What was that?"
"I told you to strip for me," the dragon said. "That's my price for being your ride."
"… You've got to be kidding me."
He had the nerve to study his claws. "That's my price. Paying it, of course, is up to you."
With that, he swaggered back into his temple, and she knew that if she went after him, she'd have to be willing to pay his price. Sakura narrowed her eyes. Her options were limited. And there was really only one way she could choose, if she wanted to get out of here and save the Kingdom from the evil witch.
Scowling ferociously, she stormed after the dragon.
"Oh come on," he said, as she stood there in naught but her panties and breast band. "You're losing your nerve now?"
She placed her hands on her hips and stuck her (modest) chest out aggressively. "I told you, I'm changing your terms. I've gone this far—you'll get the rest of your payment afterI get rid of the evil witch." She smiled slyly. "All the more reason for you to come along and help me, you see?"
His eyes narrowed appreciatively. "You drive a hard bargain."
Sakura drew one hand tantalizingly down her body. "What's your answer?"
"I'll do it," he said abruptly. "Get your clothes on, we're going flying."
"This is amazing!" Sakura cried before the words were wiped away by the wind.
He stretched his wings out wider and shot them higher into the sky. It was cold up here and had his entire body not been as hot as a furnace, he'd have been concerned about burning Sakura in her metal clothing.
But the cold air counteracted that and he'd have been a poor dragon if he couldn't work another spell to keep her from being burnt in any case.
"Hey, dragon!" she shouted, "Dragon!"
"That's not my name," he rumbled, his voice crawling across the sky like storm clouds.
"You haven't told me yours," she called, undeterred. "So until you tell me, it's going to be 'Dragon'!"
"Names have power," Kakashi told her. "And you did just try to kill me."
"You ate my horse." From the sound and the movement, he was pretty sure that she'd just punched his scales. "I think we're even!"
Rather than answer that, Kakashi flung himself headlong into a few more complicated twists and spins. She clung tighter and he was disgusted with himself when he realized that her laugh was making him smile.
It was one thing, he knew, to… admire… the human form. But it was an entirely other thing to be made innocently happy at hearing a human laugh.
That didn't stop him from indulging her with a corkscrew spin down towards the earth and then flinging himself up and up and up into the sky.
Her laughter rang in his ears and he told the cringing part of himself to go shut up and sulk somewhere else. He was busy.
They flew for hours and stopped only when Sakura's legs cramped up or she needed to do the necessary. He didn't mind that either, even when it took her a while. It gave him time to stretch his wings and back and to brood over the fact that, really, she had no right having a laugh that beautiful.
Eventually plains changed to mountains and then to forests of more greens than there were colours. "There," Sakura said, "towards that dark patch."
He obediently altered his course. "That dark patch?"
"Yami no Mori," she answered, her voice hushed. "The Forest of Darkness."
Evidently, she expected that to mean something to him. He knew vaguely that the witch they were after lived here- everyone knew that for the evil witch hardly made an effort to hide her dwelling, preferring to take on all comers in her home rather than go to them.
But he couldn't remember anything all that bad about the forest itself.
"Are you sure it's-," the question died in his throat as in front of them, growing too fast for even him to escape was what looked a great deal like a wall made of sparkles.
"Lightning!" Sakura shrieked. "She's throwing lightning at us!"
Kakashi had half a mind to remind her that as a dragon he wasn't much bothered by lightning, before he remembered abruptly that Sakura was covered in metal and had no way to ground herself.
He muttered a spell under his breath, swiftly attempting to weave new protections about her to protect her from the havoc lightning could-
Ow, oh fuck ow!, was his first thought, as stars spun in his head and he realized with dreadful certainty that his wings weren't working and they were going down. A wall of sparkles stood, wrapped around the forest like a shawl, and he'd have sworn it hadn't been there a second ago.
Sakura screamed as they plummeted and Kakashi could only agree with her feelings.
He didn't scream though. That was beneath him.
Sakura whimpered and announced to the trees overhead, "I think my bruises have bruises."
The trees, being trees, didn't answer her. That, she decided, after another moment's pained thought, was perfectly alright. After being knocked out of the sky, she didn't want the trees talking to her.
"Dragon?" she called, struggling to sit up even as her bruises wailed and her body ached fiercely in response to the idea of moving. "Dragon, are you alright?"
She could just barely see the tips on one huge, bat-like wing. Sakura took inventory of herself and realized, impossible as it might be, she'd survived the fall with only minor injuries, the worst of it being a sprained wrist.
That was… magic.
Sakura laboriously got to her feet and staggered over towards the dragon. He hadn't answered her and she wasn't sure how to feel about that at all as he was annoying and horrible and moody and had eaten her horse.
But he'd also taken her flying and shielded her from worse injury on their fall. She hoped he wasn't dead.
"Dragon?" she called softly, pulling vines and leaves out of her way to peer through the greenery at him. His chest still rose and fell and Sakura took heart from that, for all that one wing was a crumpled, broken mess and the other stood up at an unnatural, painful looking angle.
"Don't wake me," he muttered and she slumped a bit with relief. "I'm trying to die."
Sakura slid down the slope towards him, unconcerned with the state of her armour as she picked her way through leaves and branches and fallen trees. "You're not dying," she said, "you've just got… a few things to heal."
The dragon gave a snort that turned pained as he shifted, one wing fluttering weakly.
She bit her lip. "I don't suppose you're a healer as well as a magician?" Sakura asked, because while she knew some minor healing arts, two battered dragon wings were far beyond her.
"No," he said, panting with the effort. "Not a healer. I will… heal… but not fast."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked, suddenly feeling peculiarly guilty for having gotten off so lightly. A dragon who couldn't fly. He'd done that for her. "We can't stay in the forest. Night's coming."
He rolled one big eye at her, straining to see her, so she moved to where he wouldn't have to work so hard to do so. "You don't want to turn back?"
She raised her chin. "Never. I am a Knight of the Realm. This is my duty."
"Duty," he sighed. "Only a human would think such a thing. Stand back."
"Duty is the highest calling," Sakura told him, even as she scrambled back. "You shouldn't make fun."
He didn't justify that with an answer, but rather than be vexed about it, Sakura was too busy being horrified as his body writhed and twisted in agony and began shrinking.
Getting smaller and smaller and reforming into two legs, two hands, a shock of silver hair and black clothing that left very little to the imagination.
She flushed deeply as the dragon, now a man, carefully got to his feet.
He adjusted the mask over the lower half of his face. "Better," he decided, wavering just a little on two feet instead of four. "Let me catch my breath and we'll go."
"You- you- you're human," she stammered. "That's…"
"Dragon magic," he said, with the wave of one hand. "Don't think too hard about it. How else are we supposed to mingle with the people?"
She flushed deeper and shut up. Once he'd caught his breath and, she thought, his balance, they headed deeper into the forest. Sakura could feel her skin prickle at the back of her neck but the dragon seemed unconcerned.
Of course, she thought dryly, even if he's in man form, he's still a dragon. And who was going to bother a dragon?
The answer, it turned out, was no one at all.
They walked for hours in the deep woods, where the sun didn't shine and even after night had fallen so thickly that she could not see her hand in front of her face, they kept moving on. The dragon flicked his hand and a shining globe of pale light danced above them to illuminate their way.
It was long after midnight when they stopped. The camp was a cold one, with few supplies on them, and Sakura rather thought that if they had to be in here long she'd beg the monsters to take her. Camping rough was not her favourite thing to do. But the dragon handled it well, with his magic, and she kept her mouth shut on her objections (what if his profligate use of magic alerted the evil witch to their presence?) in the face of comfort.
Dinner was cold, they didn't dare light a fire, and when Sakura asked how the light that still hovered above them was different, the dragon looked at her, his human face unreadable and sharp-edged. "It's the difference between the natural and the unnatural," he said finally. "What's unnatural here will make them think of the witch, if they think even that far. Natural flame means a source of food. You would have died had you attempted this on your own."
Sakura bristled. "I wouldn't have! I'm a-,"
"Knight of the Realm," he interrupted. "And such creatures here have made a living off eating your type. You would have died."
"Not a lot of faith in me," she murmured, crossing her arms. "I'm offended."
"I tell the truth," he said evenly. "You might as well be offended at the stars for shining."
After that she ignored him. Or, well, tried to. He seemed content enough to lie back against a fallen log and stare up into the depths of the trees. While he did that, she quietly got up and went back to the small stream they'd gotten their water from. Shedding her armour improved her mood. Washing her face improved it more. The quick swim she dared made her smile enough that when she got back to the camp wearing the tunic and leggings that she wore under her armour, she didn't even mind that her hair was dripping.
The dragon's eyes followed her. "I forgot one reason," he said, when she glanced back at him.
"One reason for what?" Her voice was cool as she set her armour down and gathered her things to clean it. If it came to a fight then she would need to be entirely prepared.
"To be glad I'm here," he said and her eyes narrowed slightly.
"You're conceited," she said flatly. "I don't want to hear it."
"No?" Her eyes narrowed further when he only sounded amused. "I suppose you don't have to hear it."
Sakura sniffed and ignored him, making sure her armour was just so, and brushing her long pink hair from it's braids (which she wore coiled around her head during the day). It was when she stood to fetch more water for the morning that he made his move.
She turned and he was right in front of her.
"What are you doing?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips.
"Can I kiss you?" he asked, his eyes dark as his voice and almost as promising. A thrill raced down her spine even as butterflies unfolded in her stomach.
"No," she said, trying to step around him. He let her, but turned to watch her. "Thanks for asking, but no."
He didn't push it that night, but somehow, the next night, after another long day of walking through woods that were gloomy and dangerous and dank, she was unsurprised when he asked again.
And then again the next night.
She let him kiss her on the seventh night in the forest and his kiss was strong and bold and made her want to melt. Which was why she pushed him away after a few minutes of it. "Stop," she murmured, right into his ear.
"You don't want me to stop," he teased, his hands an exciting presence on her body.
Sakura kissed him again, setting the world spinning around her and through her, and then pushed him away a little harder. "We're not doing this here," she told him.
He looked a bit, she thought, like a child denied a sweet then. That image helped her to resist the urge to kiss him again. "Why not?" he asked, a pout playing over lips she knew now were as soft as hers.
"Because, Dragon," Sakura said, "I won't want to stop and we're on a quest."
He frowned. "And after the quest?"
"Then we'll pick up where we left off," she said, wondering how many promises she'll make to him before this is over. And if her first promise can be combined with this one. "Is that acceptable?"
"Fine," he said abruptly, and leaned in to kiss her once more. This time, he pulled away before she could really object. His eyes, she thought, were very dark. "But my name isn't Dragon, so stop calling me that."
"That's unfair," she objected, "you said names had power and I had to call you something."
He silenced her with another quick kiss. "Call me Kakashi," he said, letting her go. "And I'll remember what you said about kissing."
She was pretty sure he was laughing at her, but Sakura thought that was a fair trade.
Quest first, kissing later.
On the eight day of travelling they found the evil witch's lair. Which, Sakura thought, was a good thing. Because the sooner she could end this quest the sooner she could go back to kissing Kakashi.
Oh, and save the Kingdom and so on.
They stopped and stared at the evil witch's lair. It looked perfectly evil, from the rusted gates to the black obsidian walls, to the corpses hanging in the trees. And they could hear mad laughter in the distance.
"Our witch," she said, smiling grimly. "Good thing I polished my armour today."
"Yes," Kakashi said dryly, "good thing. She'll be impressed at your shiningness."
"Hush. It's important—you can't beat an evil witch without being a knight in really bright armour." Sakura was quite firm on that because all of the legends had been quite firm on that. Shining armour was a must have for any knight worth his or her salt.
And she was worth buckets of salt.
"Alright," he said, in that patient voice that said he thought she was being silly. "Just don't follow the script too closely, will you? That usually ends in painful death for the dragon."
"I'm not killing you," she said, and shoved her way through the rusted gates. (They crumbled at her touch.)
They followed the mad laughter through the dark and dirty and castle. Poisonous plants grew profusely and twice they had to flee for their lives when rocks fell and rolled after them. Floors disappeared from under their feet to reveal spikes, and walls smashed together.
But finally, at last, and after one quick polish of her breastplate, they entered the room where the evil witch was cackling.
The room was round and had stairs leading down into the center of it. The witch herself was starkly beautiful, with brown eyes and blonde hair and a dress (black, of course) with dramatic holes ripped in the hems and along the sleeves. Her nails were blood red and her lips painted so that they shone like rubies in the wavering torchlight.
The witch gasped at the sight of them.
"Hello," Sakura said, feeling that this might as well be done politely. "I'm here to rid the land of you."
And the witch went berserk, cackling her fool head off, and flinging firebolts and lightning bolts and ice chunks around with abandon. Sakura ducked and rolled and she didn't see what Kakashi had done but he'd suddenly disappeared and that made the witch madder than ever.
Unfortunately, as the only visible target, Sakura took the brunt of it. She gasped with pain as a bolt punched through her breastplate and out the other side.
But now was no time to be halted by injuries and even as Kakashi flickered back into visibility, his hands encased in black fire that he hurled at the witch, knocking her off her feet. Sakura lurched her way over to her, sword in hand.
Before the witch could even scramble to sit upright, Sakura grabbed her by the hair and, with one smooth blow, chopped it off.
The hair distingrated with an angry wail and she blinked as the castle shimmered, turning white and golden and clean and the woman at her feet was dressed in pristine white robes with a golden circlet around her hair.
"Sakura," Queen Tsunade said, pressing a kiss to her hand. "Thank you for saving me. Andthe Kingdom."
As the Queen Tsunade hurried out of the room to go and see what damage had been done to her kingdom, she tossed over her shoulder at Sakura, "Deal with the dragon, will you?"
Kakashi carefully didn't look at Sakura as she sheathed her sword and pulled off her helmet. His heart twisted in his chest. Deal with him?
The more fool he, to think that he had stood a chance at…
"She has always seen too much," Sakura commented, sounding amused. "If I hadn't seen you transform, I'd have no idea what you really were."
His back itched with the need to transform and fly away- back to his temple and away from this, from her, before everything went wrong. He'd been an idiot for expecting it to go right. And now, with his wings tattered, he couldn't even flee properly.
Kakashi didn't answer her. He couldn't even look at her, for all that she hadn't made a move to draw her sword again.
"Kakashi?" she said, and he could imagine the frown in her voice. The heavy clink of armour and the subtle scent of gardenias told him she'd stepped closer.
He drew in a deep breath. "What will you do now?" It was the closest he could come to asking if she'd truly kill him, if he meant that little to her. The itching in his back, along his fingers and jaw got worse. It always did, under stress.
"Go back to serving the kingdom," Sakura replied, and now he could see her feet and trailed his eyes up her metal enclosed body until he'd reached her eyes.
She regarded him frankly, green eyes touched with concern, and pink lips pursed like she wasn't sure what to make of his mood.
He licked his lips and quelled the mad urge to kiss her. "Does," he said, his voice coming out a little croaky, "does the kingdom need the services of a dragon?"
Sakura's eyes brightened with wicked amusement as her brows drew together. "Perhaps," she mused, "as I was not given specific instructions as to dealingwith you. That would qualify."
It felt like he could breathe again. Kakashi kept his eyes on her, his hands clenched into balls at his sides. "And does," he murmured, his voice dropping smoothly to something dark and silky, "the kingdom's finest knight need the services of a dragon?"
She coloured prettily and turned away from him. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
"I did ask," he pointed out, feeling relief bubble up. "I hate useless questions, so I meant that one. And that's just the start of them. You realize that you still owe me the rest of your promise and if you're not going to kill me then I'll push my luck-"
He swallowed. "Yes?"
"You're babbling." Sakura set her helmet on the throne and he wondered what she thought of the mess they'd made. Torn curtains, shattered stone, gouges and burn marks and… they were fixing themselves. Right then, she wouldn't worry.
"You're hurt," he said accusingly.
She blinked at him, then down at her side. The metal of her armour had been punctured straight through. "Oh," she said, "Queen Tsunade healed me at her touch. She is the best healer in the land, you know."
He hadn't known.
"Are you sure?" he said, feeling tight anxiety crawl across his shoulders. "We can get you looked at-"
"You," she said, with a laugh that sent shivers down his spine, "just want me out of my armour."
"I…" He couldn't deny it, but he hadn't been thinking of anything like that. Not when he could stare at the hole that had gone straight through her body and feel the weight of his worry come crushing down on him. How long could a fragile human body live like that?
How much more time did she have? She'd said she was healed, but how would she know? Humans were so frail.
And yet he'd gone ahead and fallen maybe-sorta-kinda in love with one.
"Kakashi," she said, drawing him out of his thoughts.
"Yes?" He tried to make his hands unclench but they didn't cooperate. His shoulders screamed with tension.
How easy it would be for her to die and take his heart with him!
"You're thinking too hard," she informed him.
"What do you want me to do about that?" he asked, a smile tugging at his lips but leaving his eyes dark with worry.
"Just shut up," she said, holding out her hand for him to come closer. "And kiss me."
He took in the sight of her standing there, her pink hair plastered to her head from sweat, her green eyes bright but weary, and dents and holes and scorch marks in her equipment.
He thought about everything she had done and how little being stuck in a delicate human body stopped her from doing whatever she wished to accomplish.
Oh yes, Kakashi thought, this one should have been born a dragon.
"Well," he murmured, "if you really insist."
It never worked out the way the stories went. Kakashi knew that. And as far as he was concerned, he'd gotten a better deal than any story could boast of.
At least, that is, if they managed to live happily ever after.
He hoped they would.