Last chapter! I feel like crying because I have never been so stressed against a deadline before. Also, there's a lemon this chapter (that M wasn't just for gore, you know). And for anyone insulted by Ebisu's representation of Christianity, keep in mind that this story is set during the late Middle-Ages to before the age of Enlightenment and they put God-fearing to an extreme back then (note Spanish Inquisition, witches burning at the stake, and the various art from the Middle Ages about hell/burning in hell/demons/sinners in hell), as well as the rampant corruption in the church system that lead to Protestantism and Martin Luther's list of reformations for the church. Enjoy!

*Edit: removed the lemon because the site is cracking down. Honestly, a week after I originally posted the story, I realized the lemon wasn't really needed and felt a bit remiss that I had left it in there just to validate the M-warning. However, I will be posting the original version with lemon on my livejournal in a week if you guys really want the smut.*

The first thing that Kakashi felt when he saw a pink-haired girl on the beach was relief. He didn't know why; he had no proof that Sakura hadn't perished or had been washed out to sea by the storm—had no proof that this girl was Sakura, but it had to be, right? How many girls would be on the beach at this hour? How many girls had long pink hair and green eyes? She'd even responded to Sakura's name, but even before all that, he knew it was her. He knew because he'd held that pink hair before—combed and trimmed it and gently chided her for fussing over a small hair cut—and stared into those eyes, green as precious stones and glowed hauntingly in the moonlight just as they did now. She had Sakura's face; the gentle curve of her cheek, her small full mouth, her small pointed chin. She even had Sakura's way of carrying herself, a subtle grace and confidence that showed in the way she stood with her back straight, her head held high. It had to be her, Kakashi told himself. But even then, he was hesitant in calling her name because it was too good to be true—that Sakura was a human now; that all his dreams of a life with her were coming to fruition. It was too good to be true.

Sakura merely stared at him silently as water dripped down her skin and her nude form basked in moonlight. She looked beautiful, like a water nymph caught in the middle of bathing, entrancing and tempting. Unbidden, snippets of old fantasies flickered in his mind's eye—products of lonely nights and crushing, unattainable love—before he shook them aside. Now wasn't the time for this. Sakura, still in the water, continued to stare up at him with doleful eyes.

Slowly, Kakashi made his way down the beach. He gave Sakura plenty of time to run, to hide, to get away from him if she didn't want him to touch her, but she didn't move. Stripping off his coat, he wrapped her in it. It wasn't much, but it'd be enough to keep her warm in this autumn air until he found some real clothes for her to wear.

"Can you walk?" he asked quietly as he draped the heavy article around her. Sakura, pulling the coat around her small frame even more, blinked up at him and let out a small "I think so."

Kakashi nodded in acknowledgement and began to walk out of the shallow tidal water, making sure to keep his pace slow and even, but one look behind him let him know Sakura was struggling. In the five steps he'd taken, she'd only made two and he watched as her legs wobbled unsteadily before she pitched over to the side, falling into the sand. Instantly he was at her side, checking her for injuries. When he was satisfied that she was fine, he dusted her legs off before wordlessly picking her up—even if she looked fine, she obviously was in no condition to walk—shifting her weight in his arms until her back was against his right arm and her knees were hooked comfortably in his left. As he did so, a traitorous part of his mind compared it to the night last year when he brought her home when he quickly hushed it and headed back to his cabin.

He left Sakura in his living room near the fireplace. She was supposed to warm up here while he found clothes for her somewhere—she didn't know how. When he brought her into the village, all the house lights were out for the night—and so she waited, warming up her toes by the fire and wriggling them experimentally as Kakashi continued to rummage in the room next door. Idly, she looked around the room she'd been in before and pulled the collar tighter around her, drinking in Kakashi's lingering body heat as the scent of sea salt and sandalwood pricked her nose. It still smelled like him.

More stumbling noises. The sound of boxes tumbling over him with a muttered curse that she'd never heard him say, but heard all the other fishermen use commonly flitted through the open door before Kakashi appeared, a dark pink garment in his hand.

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked. Sakura nodded her head shyly.

"A little," she replied as she flexed her foot experimentally, noticing that the movement was much smoother than before. Perhaps what she felt before had merely been a result of the cold that had seeped into her skin.

Kakashi nodded, satisfied with her answer before holding the garment up for her to see better. "It isn't much, but it was the only thing I could find on short notice. I thought about using my clothes, but this will work better as a disguise until we figure out what to do from here," he explained, handing her the piece of clothing to change in. Holding it out before her, Sakura realized it was a dress and she rubbed her thumb over the obviously worn places where patches had been sewn into the fabric.

"I thought you lost everything in the fire," Sakura commented. Kakashi, sensing the unspoken question, rubbed his neck and laughed.

"I did, but I was repairing this dress for Rin in the hunting cabin. You wouldn't know it, but Rin's sewing skills are abysmal. In fact, it was Obito who had all the sewing talent between the two of them. When they first treated my injuries, it was Obito who stitched my wounds back together."

Sakura looked up from the dress to look at him, unaware that the collar of the coat had fallen open, revealing the valley of her breasts. Kakashi, however, did notice and quickly tried to find something of interest in the roaring fire. "You know how to sew? Isn't that usually considered women's work in your world?" she asked, citing the many times that Genma complained of not having a wife and having to send all his socks to a neighbor to be mended.

"Generally," Kakashi assented. "But you forget that I grew up an orphan and a bachelor. I never had the luxury of someone fixing my clothes for me. I had to do it myself," he laughed. In the back of her mind, she tried picturing Kakashi as he mended the dress she held in her hand. He probably did it after the sky had become too dark to hunt, pushing and pulling the needle by a fire as he waited for his traps to trip. Suddenly, Sakura felt a familiar sting of envy in her throat, but forced it down so she could change into the garment. If she wanted to complete her mission and be rid of Kakashi once and for all, she'd have to swallow everything, including any anger or resentment she felt for the dead woman whose dress Kakashi had lovingly fixed.

Kakashi, noticing her intentions, turned away from the reading chair she sat in to stare out the window. Even as he tried to focus his mind on other things—like why Sakura ventured out into open water when she knew what the curse entailed, how she turned into a human, or what lie he would feed to the villagers to explain her appearance here—he still heard everything. He heard the drop of his coat hitting the ground, the slight flapping of cloth as she shook out the dress to step into it, the faint pitter-patter of her feet as she moved this way and that. He tried to keep his mind on other things, but it was impossible when he knew she was right there behind him, naked, beautiful, and defenseless. Even on opposite sides of the fireplace, he could sense her presence, smell the fragrant perfume of sea salt and crushed flowers that wreathed his senses and left him aching at night. His fingers itched to touch her, burned to hold her against him and caress that form that he had seen frozen in the moonlight and continued to haunt him now behind the safety of closed doors in the sanctity of his home. It was torture to stay here, but he had to stay in case she needed help—the times he'd let her try his shirt on, biting the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood because she had looked absolutely, deliciously divine in his clothing, she could never button herself up. Her fingers just refused to work that way—but he knew that really, it was an excuse. That dress had nothing on it that would require him to stay while she changed. He just wanted to be near her and bask in her presence more, torn between delirious joy that she was here with him and crying at the aching need inside him.

On the other side of the room, however, Sakura was trying not to scream as she forced herself to stand upright. She tried focusing on the footstool on the floor, tried to trace the stitching with her eyes, tried to count the number of stones in the fireplace, but every attempt was in vain as shot after shot of pain raced up her spine from her feet. So she hadn't imagined it back at the beach after all. Her feet were in pain. In the water, it had been fine, but the cold seemed to have numbed her nerves and dulled the pain. Now warm, she felt like she was dying. To stand felt like her legs were being set on fire; to shift her weight to get into this dress felt like pins and needles; and to walk…Immediately, her memory raced to those two insignificant footprints in the sand and she felt her stomach leap into her throat. Placing a hand over her mouth, she tried not to gag and ruin the dress she had just managed to put on as she remembered what it felt like to walk, like walking on the reefs of the beach that left her hands and tail raw and bleeding, like walking with crushed glass in her shoes that ground further and further into her aching flesh with every step. Was it because of the spell, she wondered, or was it because she hadn't used her legs in so long? Was her body just not used to walking on land anymore? Were her nerves—so used to blubbery cushions and the smooth gliding of sand under her tail—being worn raw after being without use of bare flesh for so long?

Another shot of pain. It had hit so abruptly that she felt dizzy, her feet tottering to keep her steady and only adding to the dark cloud thundering behind her eyes and pounding at her temples. In the back of her mind, she wondered what was the point of asking why her feet hurt. The fact was that it did, and if she wanted to get off her feet and turn back into a mermaid, she'd have to suck it up and walk. Even if it felt like fire, like pins and needles, like crushed glass being ground into every pore of her body, it was only eight days. Eight days of pain and agony for a lifetime of sweet freedom away from this wretched place. For that, she could endure the pain. She would endure it, and taking a few steadying breaths, Sakura willed the pain back. Steeling her voice and pasting on her best neutral face to hide the shaking in her ankles, she called out to him.

"I'm ready," she said.

Taking that as his cue, Kakashi turned around. Though his breath hadn't been stolen away, he would admit to a slight hitch in his breathing as he looked at Sakura. Her pink hair, long and slightly wavy from the sea water and a lack of combing, framed her face to fall down her elbows to the small of her back. Her green eyes, large and shining like the stars, stared back at his with demure confidence as her lower lip gleamed prettily in the firelight. If he hadn't known any better, he would've assumed she was just one of the pretty girls in the village.

"The dress is a bit…large on me," she said as she pulled limply at the baggy extra fabric that seemed to hang off her small frame everywhere.

"I'm not surprised. Rin was a bit older and taller than you when I had been fixing this dress. Here, I'll fix it," he said crossing to her side. Scooting the armchair back, he stood behind her, grabbing a pair of dangling laces that hung loosely from the darker midsection of the dress.

"Bear with me, Sakura," he warned. Sakura nodded, not sure what was going on while Kakashi was quite aware of what was going on. Stepping closer, he was only inches away from Sakura as he began to deftly weave the laces of her bodice, drawing the fabric around her waist tighter. At this distance, her perfume was even stronger and unconsciously, he gripped her laces tighter than necessary as he struggled against himself. She was close, so painfully close, a traitorous voice in his head whispered, made even worse when he brushed aside her hair to see the lace holes better. As the delicate strands passed through his hands, a shudder danced along his skin and he bit the inside of his lip to stop himself as he deftly tied the knot at the bottom hem of the bodice, his hands lingering over the bow longer than necessary before he pulled away.

"That should help. We'll try and find you better clothes in the morning, but for now this will have to do. The bow is at the bottom; just pull on it and you'll be able to take it off," he told her, watching as she let her hair fall back behind her shoulders, nodding to show him she'd heard before unexpectedly turning to face him, her large eyes staring up at him silently. Instantly, he knew what that look meant—knew it because it was the one she always had when he was teaching her something new. She was waiting for further instruction from him, and immediately his mind sank into the darker territories of what he could teach her.

"I'll—I'll show you to your room. You must be tired," he said before gently taking her hand and steering her to the back of the house.

The back of his home was, in contrast to his front room, much more sparsely decorated. Another bookshelf, tall and thin, stood in the lower left hand corner facing towards them. Next to them, a small writing desk stood with a small stack of blank paper as two books weighed it down from the wind, a solitary ink pot and pen standing guard. A small faded woven rug sat in the middle of the room in front of a fireplace smaller than the one she'd seen before next to a wooden chair. Behind the chair, Sakura could see a dresser and chest laying open in a state of repair—that must have been where he'd been looking for the dress—before finally dragged her eyes to a single bed pushed against the wall under a square window, the only one in the room.

Leading Sakura to the bed, she gratefully took a seat as Kakashi threw another log into the fireplace, sweeping some fallen shirts away from the blaze with his foot.

"We'll figure out what to do in the morning," he said as he began throwing the mess back into the dresser drawers, telling her not to pick it up because he'd deal with sorting them in the morning, "Until we figure out some kind of permanent arrangement or if you'll stay human forever, you can take the bed."

Sakura blinked. "Where will you sleep then?"

"Mmm? Oh, I'll just sleep outside on the reading chair," he said noncommittally as he put back a thick book on the dresser top. There, that kind of looked better.

"Oh, I see," Sakura said, Kakashi missing the note of disappointment in her voice as he stoked the fire. Turning, he told her that the fire should keep her warm until morning, but left her another blanket, regardless. Taking another one out of the bottom of the chest, he asked if she needed anything before he left. She shook her head; she didn't need anything, and with a brief "Goodnight Sakura," Kakashi slipped into the front room and closed the door behind him, leaving Sakura alone in the room.

"Goodnight Kakashi…" she said at last to no one in particular as the message bounced off the closed door, reminding her that she was, for all intensive purposes, alone. Sighing, she quietly slipped under the covers and wondered how long it had been since she'd slept in a bed. Idly, she thought of the giant clamshell she had slept in as a child and wondered if someone made her bed everyday even if no one had slept in it for years.

Turning onto her back, Sakura stared up at the ceiling, suddenly feeling the weight of all that had happened today. She picked through all her thoughts, careful to steer away from those involving Rin—a Pandora's Box that she would never open again if she could help it—as she tried to think up a plan. She had eight days to kill Kakashi and eat his liver to return to life as a mermaid—a life without him where she never had to think about him again. And while it had seemed so simple when she had agreed, it wasn't anymore. Not when he'd carried from the beach like he had one year ago, or when he had been so unexpectedly caring towards her. It was hard to believe how loved she had felt and she could feel the first shiver of hope blooming in her heart before she stomped it firmly back from the hole it came from. She was letting her emotions get the best of her again; she was getting her hopes again when she had already learned earlier this afternoon that there was no such thing as a future with Hatake Kakashi. It was a lesson she would do best to remember.

And so, she would go ahead with her plans. She would walk as if she weren't stepping on glass and every act on her feet felt she was being skinned alive; she would walk and talk and smile like all the other humans, using what Kakashi had taught her over the past six years; she would laugh and smile at him like any other woman would; and then she would kill him and return home to forget that any of this had ever happened. She was never cursed. She never lived in a cove housing a small fishing village on the European shore. She never fell in love with a human named Kakashi, and she never had her heart broken. At the end of these eight days, when she had her tail back for more than twenty-four hours without the help of the moon, she would write this off as nothing more than a bad dream and swim home back to her family. No more, no less.

And with that, Sakura steeled her resolve and ducked her head under the covers in an attempt to sleep as she tried not to cry in the bed that smelled of him and carried his lingering warmth.

By the time Sakura woke up that morning, the sun was already high in the sky. In the quiet of the room, she could hear the chickens Kakashi kept behind his house clucking happily under the window, crowing only once or twice in distress as he changed the straw in their coop while in the distance, Sakura could hear the hustle and bustle of village life. Though the sounds were different from the sounds she was used to hearing in the morning—and really, they were quite interesting to listen to—Sakura couldn't help straining her hearing in the morning to catch a snippet of a crashing wave, even when she knew she was too far to hear anything. Just then, a knock came at the door.

"Come in," said Sakura, watching as the door opened to reveal Kakashi as bits of straw fell from his pant legs. At the lone chicken feather clinging to his messy mop of silver hair, Sakura hid her mouth with her hand and giggled at the picture.

"I got the eggs. Breakfast will be ready soon, so come out once you're changed," he told her, wondering what she was laughing at before she silently motioned at his hair. Reaching up, he watched as a feather drifted gently into the basket of eggs he was carrying before muttering a quick thanks as he left her to change.

Once gone, Sakura sat in the bed a minute more, trying to summon the energy to get out of bed. Though Kakashi knew she was a hard person to wake up when she had been a seal napping on the beach, being human seemed to have magnified the problem. She just didn't understand the idea of schedules and early morning routines. Though she had had one when she was a seal (mostly consisting of cleaning her fur and taking a quick morning swim to help wake herself up), human morning routines were different. To her, the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn to fetch water and chop firewood was a meaningless, infuriating set of tasks that could simply be done at a later time rather than right at the rise of the sun, and it was a miracle to her that Kakashi seemed to be able to do it. However, he was understanding of her inability to wake up in the morning—it was merely a difference in culture—and allowed her to sleep in a few hours later before waking her up for breakfast.

Crossing the room, Sakura changed into a simple brown skirt and white shirt received from a neighbor before attaching a black bodice (also from a neighbor) to herself, tying the laces to give the outfit form before running a hand tiredly through her hair. Though she usually slept late, she'd never slept this late into the day before, but chalked it up to greeting all the neighbors and their children yesterday.

Soon after she awoke yesterday, Kakashi had gone next door to ask if he could have any old dresses his neighbor had that would fit a slight 18-yr-old girl. The excuse he had given was that his old neighbor's daughter had come to pay him a visit, but her luggage was blown away by the storm, forcing her to arrive with only the clothes on her back. His neighbor, a mother of two young boys and a girl, immediately felt her maternal heartstrings pulled and threw not only three old outfits that she no longer fit into after marrying, but a pie and a jar of jam at him with a hasty demand to meet the young lady as he left her yard. Of course, by the time Sakura changed and the two ate breakfast, the news had spread over the entire village and people were touting gifts and falling over themselves to see the girl who had shared a part of Kakashi's mysterious history.

Keeping to her assigned role, Sakura pretended to be the shy girl from the forest she imagined this neighbor's daughter should be, despite knowing almost everyone in town after seeing them one time or another at the beach. At such a chaste and modest girl, the village soon was in uproar over the fact she was staying with Kakashi alone in his house for fear of her reputation, especially since she was at marriageable age. Unfortunately, it was soon apparent that no one else had room for her to stay. Genma's offer was obviously ignored; the mayor's guest room was currently occupied by his bratty teenage daughter while his niece and nephew stayed in town; and the inn simply had no more rooms available—something to do with an upcoming festival or other—and so the decision was made that she would continue to stay at Kakashi's house, because really, he was the only friendly face she knew in town. Once that matter was settled, however, Sakura soon found herself bombarded with questions of Kakashi's old life and she was grateful when Kakashi excused her from their questioning to run inside and recover from the hectic pace of human life. Finally understanding his disdain for meeting his new neighbors early in their relationship, she collapsed against a chair and waited for Kakashi to return, only to be attacked by the village children. By now, however, the pain of being her feet all morning was beginning to weigh heavily and noticing the sudden pallor in her skin, he told the visitors that Sakura had a weak body and needed to rest because she was still tired from the journey here. By the time Kakashi convinced everyone to go home, Sakura had received a mountain of gifts and enough clothing to fill a chest and they spent the rest of the night putting everything away.

That had been yesterday. Today, Kakashi assured her that it would be a quiet day at home since he'd now convinced the village that Sakura had a weak constitution and needed rest often, and while she frowned at the idea that she would now be treated as an invalid in the village, she supposed it would help keep the interactions short and her off her feet.

However, she would need her feet for the next part as she walked into the front room, taking the closest seat that she could find. Though she found her endurance had risen slightly since the first time she tried to use her legs, she could only stand being on her feet for fifteen minutes before her vision began to blur. Walking was even shorter; only lasting ten minutes if it was a fast-paced walk where she could keep contact with the ground light and brief and only five minutes if the pace was slow. Luckily, Kakashi hadn't expected her to do anything that left her on her feet for long, and he didn't seem to have any knowledge of her pain. In the back of her mind, she prayed that he would never find out, but before she could pursue the thought any further, a plate was placed in front of her, distracting her with its delicious scent.

"Eat up," he told her as he sat across the table from her, gauging her reaction to her breakfast for future reference. After making her breakfast yesterday morning, he realized that Sakura was actually a picky-eater. Though she could eat any type of fish and could still stomach apples, he realized that he hadn't exposed her to a lot of human food, proven when she stared warily at the plate of fried eggs and poked them in confusion with her fork when he had set them in front of her the day before. Since then, he'd kept tracks on what she would and wouldn't touch from the gifts given yesterday. From the looks of it, Sakura still had no qualms of eating fish or apples, but also enjoyed poultry, cherries, wild berries, and jams—which he was secretly thankful for. Sweets had never been something Kakashi could stomach for long periods of time, and he'd received enough jam to last him eight months yesterday—while staying away from eggs and marmalade.

Wondering if scrambling the eggs would help her eat them (he had a feeling it was just a textural problem since she kept poking the whites yesterday), he also slipped in some rosemary for seasoning. It seemed to have worked because Sakura had eaten without complaint before asking what was in it that created such a different, wonderful taste.

"Oh, that's rosemary. It's an herb that grows near the stream that runs behind the house. I picked too much for the altar offering, so I thought I'd use some of the extra when I made breakfast. If you'd like, I can use it more often when I cook," Kakashi said as he picked up the bundle of rosemary on the table. Getting up to follow him—her curiosity was stronger than her fear of pain—the two stood before the wooden carving on next to the bedroom door and she watched as Kakashi placed the rosemary beside the other plants in the opening left by the hands, the extra sprigs held loosely in his grasp. Drawing on what Kakashi had taught her about botany, Sakura scanned the flora. Snow drops, a small twig from a cypress tree, laurenstine, globe amaranths, heliotropes, and rosemary; just like the women on the beach said and Sakura had to actively keep the venom from leaking into her voice as she spoke.

"Who's the offering for?" she asked, the 'why' not being necessary since they both knew the language of flowers after he taught it to her during their many botany lessons.

Kakashi knit his brows in concentration. After a pregnant pause, he finally answered, "It's for Rin and our baby."

Silence stretched between them as Sakura tried to make this fit into her world of reason because with little prodding, Kakashi had been honest about his past…hadn't he? Kakashi, unaware of Sakura's sudden confusion, continued to speak as his mind swam in the memories of his past. "A little while after Obito died, Rin and I fell in love with each other—maybe it was because of grief. Maybe it was because we actually did have those feelings all along—and after a few months, we wed and had a baby. We were so happy—I had a child, and Obito died too early in the relationship to have children with Rin," he explained, recalling the day he held his child in his arms. "It was a boy, and we named him after Obito. We wished he could've seen our son. He had his mother's hair and my eyes…It was terrible—it's funny now, but the first time I held him, he pulled my hair out," he said laughing with a fond smile as Sakura bit the inside of her cheek, watching as he relived that moment in time with his son and wishing she wasn't—hadn't seen him so at peace as jealousy stabbed knife after knife into her heart.

Suddenly, the fond smile became sadder, more wistful, and Sakura couldn't help but think that Kakashi seemed to wilt a little as he spoke. "He was only eight weeks old when he died," Kakashi murmured sadly. "I think if he hadn't been in the cabin—if he hadn't been born—Rin might still be alive today. That child was her life—she'd do anything for our son—and I think she just couldn't leave the child alone to die in that fire. She just couldn't do it."

As he spoke, his head was upturned to the wooden carving he'd made for Rin before she died, the images of their life together playing over the grains of wood. Idly, the sprigs of rosemary spun in his hand. "I lost everything in that fire," he whispered to no one in particular with his hand paused between the carving and his side as if he wanted to reach out to them, but wasn't sure. Sakura, standing on the side, lowered her gaze as she bit her lip, suddenly feeling ashamed of her jealousy. After all, what right did she have to curse his happiness, even when it wasn't with her?

And she had been so absolute in her hatred towards him. It was silly now in hindsight. It was 20/20, she knew, but she just wished she could take it all back somehow. Kakashi was obviously hurt by the loss of his family—was obviously still carrying the scars of that loss—and what did she do but selfishly malign and curse a grieving man? Her curses on Rin, on their child seemed so petty now, and she began to regret her actions, making a note to ask Neptune to guard the child's soul in the afterlife.

"…why didn't you ever tell me that you had a family?" Sakura asked quietly. The question carried none of the hate she viewed him with yesterday, none of the contempt. She was genuinely curious as to why because while she no longer resented his former family, she was still hurt that he hadn't shared this with her before. Was it because he thought she was too young to understand? Or was it because he simply didn't trust her as much as she had thought?

Kakashi rubbed his neck in agitation, crossing his left leg over his right and slackening his posture as he looked up at the sky. A sigh escaped his lips as he continued to rub his neck. Why indeed?

"I guess…I just never knew how to bring it up," he said simply because to be honest, that was the only real reason he never brought it up. He was so happy with Sakura now that he didn't want to risk it—didn't want to bring a shadow to their relationship by bringing up Rin because he didn't know what to tell her. After all, how was he supposed to tell the woman he loved that he had once loved another woman—loved her enough to commit to a marriage with her and have a child?

And so he buried it, locking it away with all the other relics of his past that he hoped he would never have to see again. But his secrets were out now; his past unearthed to the light. Maybe it was some higher power's will; maybe it was fate, but it seemed that something wanted Kakashi to deal with his past, and maybe he had been running away from it for too long. He almost lost Sakura trying to hide his secrets from her and he realized soon after that argument that it was perhaps time to face his fears. Maybe it was finally time to move on.

Glancing to the side, he saw Sakura crying and leaned down to wipe it away with his thumb. "It's okay, Sakura. I'm not upset about it anymore," Kakashi said, thinking that was the reason she was crying before amending himself, "Well, maybe I still am a little upset…but I've decided to put my past behind me. I can't change the fact they died, just like how I can't change who I am. And while I'm the only one who survived—whether there's a reason for it or not—I'm here and I need to live my life and make the most of it. I need to be happy with where I am, and I am in large part because of you, so…thank you, Sakura."

His hand was on her shoulder, eyes staring gratefully into hers and she prayed he couldn't stare beyond their surface to see her pain, her guilt. She had doubted him so much in the past few days when he'd just confessed that he held her in the highest esteem. His trust, his faith in her hurt. She felt dirty and low, lost and confused. Her world had been turned upside-down over and over again. Up and down, left and right, right and wrong were suddenly no longer where she last saw them. She was scared and alone, but hadn't it been her fault that she had been placed in this position? Wasn't she the one who jumped to conclusions? In the back of her mind, a timer rang out that she only had five days before the harvest moon and the poisonous dark feelings that had been living in her stomach suddenly began to gnaw away at her body, leaving a bitter taste on her tongue.

Desperate, she leapt into Kakashi, feeling his body give in surprise at the sudden contact. However, he didn't pull away, instead placing a reassuring hand on her head as she felt the other rest comfortingly warm on her back. He probably thought she was still upset over him losing his family and inwardly, she wanted to laugh in his face because his thoughts couldn't be further from the truth. In the back of her mind, she told herself she was only making things more difficult. This was the man she'd sworn to kill for her curse to be lifted; the last thing she should be doing was to become more attached to him, to let her heart grow soft with feelings of hope, affection and love, but she was so desperate for contact. His admission to his previous life with a family was doing strange things to her insides. It was complicating everything. She shouldn't have been so happy to hear memories of his past, so relieved that his seeming mistrust was merely his inability to bring it up at the right time, but she was, making her wonder where her plans for revenge lay. Her hate had evaporated with every kind word and caring action he gave her; her anger melted with every touch on her skin. There was nothing driving her murderous plan anymore because there was no more pain. He cared for her, he laughed with her, he trusted her. Everything was back to normal now and all that was left was her vow to the seven seas to kill him. It was a silly reason if she thought about it, but she had sworn to the powers that ruled her world. The deal with Anko had been done, and now…now it was merely a game of what she wanted. She was happy now; Kakashi was open with her once more but was she happy enough with that to want give up her life? And it was that idea that scared her because she didn't want to die. She had so much left that she wanted to do, but Kakashi probably did too, so did she love Kakashi enough to sacrifice herself?

That was the decision she now had to weigh inside her. She knew one person had to die, but would it be her or Kakashi? In the back of her mind, the timer echoed once more. Five days. Only five more days.

Sakura pushed the number away and buried herself further into Kakashi's warm embrace.

Sakura and Kakashi walked leisurely through the village center as they made their way back to Kakashi's cottage. It had been six days since the night Kakashi found her on the beach as a human and today, they had stepped into town to run a few errands. Idly, Sakura fingered the ends of her freshly-cut hair, now no longer waist-long but instead falling a few inches past her shoulder. As she tried to adjust to the odd sensation she always got after receiving a haircut—her head always felt unbalanced after losing the weight of her hair to a haircut, something that Kakashi never seemed to be understanding of when he trimmed her pink locks—around them, boards being hammered together as beams were put into place and long spools of ribbon and streamers were unraveled across the sky. Suddenly, a voice called out to them.

"Hey you two!"

Kakashi and Sakura looked up to see Genma sitting on the edge of a low fence before he jumped down, landing before them. "You two are never out of doors! What brought you out? Curiosity? The beautiful sunny day? My stunning good looks?" Genma asked grinning at Sakura only to have his view obscured by a dark shadow over his face.

"We were running a few errands. Just some grocery shopping and some of Sakura's dresses needed to be fitted," Kakashi explained with a thinly-veiled condescending smile hidden under his mask as he pulled away the wrapped parcel of what were undoubtedly Sakura's dresses. Genma was lucky. Had it been any other day, he was sure Kakashi would've slugged him with his knapsack full of groceries (which he was very thankful not to have been hit with. It looked particularly heavy today). "Now we really must be going. Sakura wasn't feeling well and we were just on our way home," Kakashi said steering Sakura away by her wrist, only for Genma to catch hold of her other wrist. Blast.

"Hey wait a minute. Just because you miss her doesn't mean you get to hog her!" Genma protested before turning to Sakura in a conspiratorial voice. "Honestly, the man has got it bad for you. He even named the seal that lives in the cove after you. Talk about obsessed!" he whispered. Sakura merely laughed good-naturedly. After all, he couldn't possibly know that she was the seal who had been living in the cove.

"Genma…" Kakashi warned through gritted teeth, obviously not amused by the brown-haired man's teasing.

"Hold your horses, Hatake! I just wanted to know if Sakura was coming to the festival or not!" he barked at the silver haired man before turning a pleading eye to the rose-haired maiden. "You will, right? Otherwise, my arduous work putting these stalls together would've been a waste," he said, placing a hand over his brow in a swooning motion for dramatic effect. Had to sell it to bring the women in, after all.

Sakura blinked in confusion. "Festival? For what?" she asked.

"You haven't told her about the festival?" Genma shouted, scandalized.

Kakashi merely shrugged his shoulders. "It slipped my mind," he calmly replied to the suddenly-horror-stricken man. "But anyway, every year the village holds a festival in honor of the harvest moon."

"It's only the biggest event of the year! Don't listen to this old fuddy-duddy, Sakura. He always skips out, so he wouldn't know how much fun it is!" he said, silently relishing Kakashi's mildly insulted expression at being called a "fuddy-duddy."

"Is it really that much fun?" Sakura asked.

"Of course! The entire town gets into it. There're fancy lanterns, huge spreads of food, fireworks, dancing…it's great!" Genma exclaimed.

"It's happening earlier this year though. Usually, it's on the actual day of the harvest moon," Kakashi explained. At this, Sakura blinked. So that's why he never went to the festival…

"Yeah. Last year, the mayor was sick and since he is the master of ceremonies and his stuck-up brat Tatiana wouldn't do it, it was cancelled. This year, we have to do it the day before the actual harvest moon because the harvest moon fell on a Sunday."

"Ebisu is the local minister. He has a tendency to do things by the book—he doesn't like me very much," Kakashi whispered in explanation. Genma gave a short, derisive snort.

"Pious freak. 'Sunday is the Lord's Day of rest and reflection on the Holy Scripture. We shouldn't be calling Satan to our doors by celebrating pagan festivities on such a holy day' and blah-blah-blah. Personally, I think the guy just hates having fun. He wouldn't shut up about us holding the festival on everyone's day off and drowned the mayor with his speeches until he finally cracked!" Genma shouted. At this, Kakashi had to nod in agreement. Ebisu could be a bit much at times. In fact, it had taken two and a half months just to shake the man off his tail about coming to church every Sunday and another four to make the man give Kakashi up as "a soul that would not and could not be saved, even if God dragged him into Heaven himself." (Which he thought was a bit much. Kakashi may not have been as devoutly religious as Ebisu, but he still figured his soul would be good for something.)

"But that aside, will you come to the festival? If you do, I promise you'll have the time of your life! A little food, a little wine, a little dancing…Just so you know, if you do come, I humbly request to reserve a dance with you, my dear. Though I must warn you, I'm quite nimble on my feet. I might just sweep you away from your guardian and make you forget all about him," he said pulling Sakura into a spin that landed her against his chest as their arms hung poised in proper dancing form, Kakashi's gaze narrowing into a glare. "So what do you say?"

Sakura turned her gaze to Kakashi who rubbed his neck in mild agitation. "We'll do whatever you like," he replied.

She bit her lip. It did sound fun, but…

"Come on, Sakura! After all, my dear, you only live once!" he declared grandly before lowering his voice to a whisper beside her ear. "Besides, who knows? Maybe you can make Kakashi go and steal a dance with him too."

Instantly, Sakura's eyes brightened. Dance with Kakashi…?

Turning her head, she smiled at Kakashi and nodded. "Sure, we'll go! Right, Kakashi…?"

Kakashi merely sighed, making a note to explain to Sakura that one did not agree to an idea before asking for permission, but smiled nonetheless. "You heard her, Genma."


"So what else do you do at these festivals? Is it just eating and dancing?" she asked, spitting out question after question which Genma seemed all too happy to answer as he prattled on and on about the game booths they set up for the children and the contests they held for livestock and produce. The two were so deep in conversation, so enthralled with each other's questions and answers about the Harvest Festival, that they failed to notice the third member of their party slip into a non-descript shop, closing the door quietly behind him.

Sakura swung her legs excitedly over the side of the bed as she turned her head repeatedly over her shoulder to look at the color of the sky outside the window. The Harvest festival began once the sun went down over the horizon. Genma said it was to make the lanterns more visible and he had even given her a spare to play with at home before the festival when she told him she'd never seen one before. Idly, she fingered the thinly-stretched paper of the orb-like lantern in her hands, so different than the flat, squashed pancake she had the day before. Peering inside through the wire infrastructure that allowed it to hang, she stared at the blackened wick of the candle inside. Kakashi had lit it for her last night, making the lantern glow purple from the colored paper on its exterior as he told her to imagine hundreds of these strewn over the village square in all different shapes in colors. Staring at the glowing object in her hands, it reminded her of the jellyfish back home.

Another turn of the head. The sky seemed completely dark on this side of the house and using her memory to draw on what the sky had looked like at the beach around this time, she deduced that it was a few minutes before sunset. Throwing in the time it would take for them to walk to the festival, if they left now they would be in the village just in time for the start of the festival.

Idly, she thumbed the fabric of her outfit for the evening—a light blue dress with a black bodice—while her other hand toyed with the end of the braid the children had put her hair in when they visited earlier. As she thought of all their smiles as they weaved flowers into their hair, excited by the news that despite her weak condition that she would come out and play, she wondered belatedly if she should really go to the festival. Though she'd never been to a human festival, she'd been to ones back home and surely, there was no different between the two. Besides, she only had tonight to complete her mission because she would transform into a mermaid for the Harvest Moon tomorrow, and really, who knew how long she would stay at the festival? In her condition, when her feet convulsed and crumbled in pain with every step she took, was it really worth it to go out tonight?

But to dance…to dance with Kakashi… Her heart fluttered welcomingly at the idea. To be held in his arms, to be held against him as their bodies swayed and flew to music would be a dream come true…

Lids falling as she swam in the fantasy inside her head, she made up her mind. She would damn the consequences and pick up her mission once they returned home. Tonight, she didn't want to play God. She just wanted to dance with the person she loved.

And with that, she marched over to the back door and pulled it open, ready to go to the festival…or at least, she thought she had been until Kakashi took one look at her and asked, "You're wearing that?"

Sakura looked down at her outfit, suddenly self-conscious because really, what was wrong with the way she looked? The blue dress was the prettiest in her borrowed wardrobe; the color didn't clash too horribly with her eyes and hair; and she thought the tailor had done an excellent job with pulling the dress in to fit her better. And who was he to talk, she thought hotly as she looked at his outfit, a white shirt that laced up at the collar matched with a pair of black trousers—his go-to outfit when he wasn't fishing. In fact, the only discernable attempt she could see of him dressing up was that he was wearing boots instead of his usual shoes.

"I think I look fine," she said petulantly, glaring at his outfit pointedly. Kakashi merely sighed and covered his eyes with his hand. "You didn't see the parcel I left on the table for you, did you?" he asked with mild exasperation. Sakura, blinking, peered behind the door frame to see something wrapped in tan parchment. Curious, she pulled the bit of string holding the object together before reaching her hands into the valley of paper. Shaking the item in her hand out, she watched with widened eyes as the firelight gleamed and shimmered off the delicately-stitched gold embroidery because there in her hands was a brand new dress.

Stunned, she continuously ran her fingers over the dress that was as green as a spring meadow with darker green embroidery running throughout, letting her fingers dance over the rose-colored accents and along the swirling, whirling patterns of gold in the fabric. All the while, the same question danced in her mind. How…

"The tailor owed me a favor or two," Kakashi explained simply, belying the amount of money Sakura knew he must have spent to give her this gift. In their many discussions on economics, she knew how much gold was worth and the cost for it in any form was inordinately high. It was a luxury for the wealthy, and to have so much in her dress—she could scarcely find a place where there wasn't gold embroidery—must have cost a fortune. Not to mention that he'd only found out her plans to go to the festival yesterday. He must have rented the tailor's entire shop and staff to finish this on time.

"It's beautiful…" Sakura said because what else could she say about the dress, about this embodiment of how much he'd obviously cared for her. Kakashi merely smiled and waited for her to change before helping her lace up the front of her dress. Due to their difference in height, he had to kneel in front of her and inwardly, she smiled unable to help herself because she felt like a princess. This dress made her feel like she had leapt from the pages of the fairytale book Kakashi had read to her when they first met. She felt beautiful, and she watched as he carefully laced up the front of her dress, brows knit in concentration. She suddenly felt bad for criticizing his choice of dress. Her outfit must have cost him a fortune; he probably couldn't afford to buy himself anything, and in the back of her head, she wondered how they must have looked together. Probably like a princess being escorted by her tutor or servant, she thought to herself only to be emphasized later when she descended through the painted archway marking the festival's entrance. Everyone was staring at her; the children tugged at her skirts, the women were green with envy, the men couldn't take their eyes off her. And all the while, Kakashi continued to hang back, only emerging from the archway to steer her towards the food table when he thought she'd had enough.

Initially, Sakura thought she wouldn't be doing much at the festival. She knew she would join the children for some of the game booths, especially the fishing for goldfish one—she'd never seen a goldfish before and she was fascinated by them—then maybe eat a little and sit and try and make conversation with some of the women her age (now made harder by their glares of envy) before ending the night with a dance with Kakashi. However, as soon as she set her plate down at the large communal table, Genma requested his dance and soon offer after offer was being sent her way from Asuma, from the mayor, from the children, from the butcher, from the tailor, from Genma again. Her feet were killing her; sharp pins and needles stabbed up her spine with every bouncing step and spin she did. Her face was flushed; her vision had even gone double. She had scarcely sat down from her last dance when she was suddenly being twirled into her next one. She was tired and in agony, but everyone looked so happy dancing with her that she didn't know how to refuse them.

And so she skipped and twirled, bounced and spun, pulled from partner to partner as she smiled through wave after wave of nausea and prayed they wouldn't notice the color rapidly draining from her face.

When she was finally freed of the dancing area—thrown down onto a bench as her partner searched for another victim to torture with drunken twirls and stumbling steps—Sakura collapsed against the table. Her chest was heaving; her hair was a mess, and shakily raising a cup of wine to her parched lips, she wearily covered her eyes with her hand as she caught her breath and tried to pick her brain up from the jostling sea of knives and needles it seemed to have fallen in. When she saw another hand extended in invitation out of the corner of her eye, she wanted to laugh in their face in hysterics and cry, but she was exhausted and instead gave an exasperated "No more. I'm done! I'm done for tonight!" as her aching nerves wept tears of relief. They could finally, finally rest.

"Really? Not even for me?" a familiar teasing voice asked. Lifting her hand away, her heart skipped a beat as she looked up into a pair of mismatched eyes. Kakashi…

But even if her heart was soaring high into the air, feeling untouchable—feeling invincible—her body rested on the mortal plane. It hurt, it ached. The soles of her feet were reddened from hours of nonstop dancing, every pulse they gave sending wave after wave of pain echoing up and down her spine in a symphony of agony. Every act was exhausting and painful. Her chest burned, her hands trembled in exhaustion; every nerve in her body screamed in protest. To continue this charade of normalcy in the face of such torture was an act of malice from the brain.

But his outstretched hand and open palm, slightly roughened from years of hauling fish nets and plucking arrow strings, seemed so innocent and tempting, beckoning to her like a siren's song. She wanted to hold his hand, to be wrapped in his embrace. It was just one more dance. What could be the harm in that? But her body continued to rave and rant, foaming in hysterics that she had to crawl back into the dark, dank hole she had escaped from and curl up into a ball to rest and just accept her fate. But it wasn't like she hadn't lied to her body before and firmly driving her heel into the root of her pain, she pasted on her brightest smile and let herself be led to the dance floor.

By the time Sakura managed to collect her body back into herself, the dance had already begun, the band—made of the grocer, the tavern owner, the inn manager, and the shoemaker's sons—playing a lively tune. Quickly, she threw her hand into his as he landed his right hand in the small of her back, steering her into the fast moving sea of couples in a series of light quick steps that kept time with the music and instantly made her regret her decision to come out with Kakashi as a particularly punishing wave of nausea assailed her, nearly knocking her off her feet. However, she swallowed it down, biting and ripping at the pain as she leaned closer to Kakashi to steady her suddenly swimming vision. As she did so, she felt their chests touch and felt the thrumming beat of his heart against her breast. Determined to feel it again, she began to chase after the sensation, throwing herself further into the wild frenzied energy of the dance as she spun around the square, swallowing sword after sword of pain as the bright notes of a lute and the sounds of laughter echoed raucously in her mind.

She felt dizzy; she could feel the blood rushing away from her face and hoped Kakashi didn't notice as they spun and leapt and she chased after that fleeting feeling of twin-beating hearts. Pain gripped her tightly in its fist. She was sweating and dazed—the pain at the back of her eyes, at the sides of her head was stronger now—but she pushed on, marched on as she leapt with nimble feet higher and higher into the air, soaring and landing in a sea of spinning skirts and twirling legs that kept spinning faster and faster with every note and crescendo the band played. Her heart was lodged in her throat, beating and throbbing with every breath she swallowed as she continued to soar higher and higher until she no longer felt herself touch the ground. It felt like flying. She felt like she was flying as Kakashi spun her out away from him, a laugh escaping her as her skirts floating up from her legs to kiss another, her reward a smile that twinkled brightly in his eyes as they continued to spin and jump. Her smile felt like it would be frozen there forever. She felt so light, so free, and in the back of her mind she wondered if this is how the gulls she used to watch soar overhead felt when they flew.

The song was almost at its climax; she could hear it in the way the music got louder, hear it in the thundering rhythmic clapping of those watching at the sides; hear it in the raucous laughing and bubbly giggles that filled the square. She began to giggle as well, laughing at the wonderfully heady feeling of flying, of being lighter than air as Kakashi continued to spin and hold her, looking at her as if she were the only girl in the world. It was a powerful feeling. It made her feel alive, loved; she felt invincible, and for the briefest second, she felt as if she belonged here in the human world with Kakashi until an all-too familiar sensation lanced up her spine. The pain was back, and no amount of denial or euphoria would let her forget it as the music, once gay and light, seemed now like a demented carousel of noise that forced her feet on lest she be trampled and swallowed by the dancing bodies around her.

She could feel her heart in her head, her feeling of her love pounding alongside the pain that threatened to crush her skull. She couldn't breathe. Her skin felt cold and clammy; she felt dizzy as her vision suddenly spun out of control. She was seeing doubles and triples of everything, the images fading and overlapping as wave after wave of pain crashed on top of her to drown her. She ached everywhere. Her limbs felt tight and heavy. Her body was crying out in agony, even as the song slowed to a halt and she and Kakashi stood motionlessly as the others clapped and cheered. Her body was trembling with exhaustion; her skin was undoubtedly as pale as a sheet. She felt like she was dying, and in spite of that, she was happy. She had danced with Kakashi. She had danced with the man she loved, and for the briefest of seconds, she felt their hearts touch.

Temples blasting and vision fuzzy, she drew as much breath as her tightened lungs allowed her to do and forced her head up. Waiting for her vision to focus, the world slowly ordering itself into sharp lines and bold bright colors, she stared up at Kakashi as he stared out at the cheering spectators. His hair was wilted slightly from the wet heat of the tightly-packed crowd, thin beads of sweat collecting on his brow as he gathered oxygen back into his lungs through the stifling layers of silk over his mouth. His skin was hot to the touch, and despite his attention being elsewhere, his arms still covered her protectively, shielding her from the crush of bodies. This was the man she loved, and she was thankful to have ever met him.

Sakura waited patiently for their gaze to meet, her heart fluttering rapidly in her chest as the band bowed for intermission and he drew his gaze back to her. Looking into his eyes, red and black with depths as dark and majestic as the bottom of the ocean, she caught his warm gaze and returned it with a fond look of her own, her eyes betraying none of her suffering as spoke after spoke of pain wrenched its way under her skin. As her legs began to sway slightly, hands still frozen in perfect position and trembling over the fabric of his shirt, she realized that she could hold it back no longer. She had to give in.

Eyes still holding his, she forced her pale blue lips into a warm smile as tears pricked the edges of her eyes. "I'm happy I danced with you," she whispered to him softly before her vision finally blacked out, Kakashi's horror-stricken face the last thing she saw as she fell into the comfortable darkness.

When Sakura woke up, she found herself back in her room. The moon was high in the sky and stars were smattered across the darkness like paint on a canvas. Chest heaving with the blankets gathered around her waist from where she sat up, Sakura reached up to feel the hem of her dress anxiously only to find it gone wearing nothing but her shift; her eyes darted around uneasily in the darkness. What…?

"You're home. I carried you back when you fainted at the festival. I took off your dress to help your breathing," a voice explained from the shadows. It was Kakashi, and a thankful smile raced its way onto her lips only to die when she realized she was the only who was happy. His eyes stared at her piercingly from his seat by the end of the bed, red and black smoldering with anger above his steepled fingers. His mask lay discarded on the desk behind him, but it still gave Sakura no clue to Kakashi's expression hidden behind his hands. The fire in her fireplace crackled peaceably.

"Why didn't you tell me you were in pain?" Kakashi asked in a tone more sad and frustrated than anything else.

"I wanted to dance with you," Sakura replied softly, wincing when Kakashi grabbed her wrist.

"Do you have any idea of how scared I was when you collapsed in front of me?" he shouted causing Sakura to wince and shield her head protectively. Realizing he was frightening her, Kakashi let her go and sank into his chair, exhausted. "I thought you were dead until Genma and the village doctor told everyone that you were still breathing," he told her as he dragged a tired hand over his face, stopping to cover his mouth. "I lost Rin already, Sakura. I don't want to lose you too," he confessed, causing Sakura's heart to leap into her throat with sensations of joy and guilt. Did that mean he…?

But the sentiment was cut off as a frustrated sound escaped his lips, his right hand gripping his knee anxiously. Tiny lines appeared at the corners of his eyes and in the harsh moonlight from the window, he looked much older than what his thirty-three years of life should've allowed. But then again, Kakashi had always looked young, so maybe the years were just catching up to him? He sank with defeat into his chair. "I should've realized you were in pain. You'd already danced all night and I shouldn't have teased you into it. God, I saw all the signs too, but I…I…"

"Kakashi!" Her voice, clear and sharp, broke him from his thoughts as her hand, long-fingered and delicate, reached out to him, mollifying his anger as she pulled his hand away from his eyes. Large and shining, as bright and breath-taking as the stars, he caught her pleading eyes and wondered how it was that she could calm him with just a touch. "I was the one who tried to hide it from you. I just wanted to dance with you so much, so please…don't blame yourself."

Her hand held his entreatingly, her eyes pleading with him not to blame himself. In the back of his mind, he marveled at the softness of her hands as her fingers intertwined and wrapped themselves with his, drinking in their warmth. "Alright," he said finally, meeting her gaze to watch as her eyes lit up as brightly as the sun, and inwardly he laughed at how easily pleased she was before recounting their early days with the daily token of apples. To think it had been six years since then…

They stared into each other's eyes, content with spending the rest of the night like this. Perhaps, in a different world, they could've. Had Kakashi been made a monk instead of a man, it may have been possible. But Kakashi was made with the flaws of man, and following the moonlight that left its glowing trail down her face, tracing down the gentle curve of her cheek, his eyes spied the creamy flesh of her neck, lowering to notice that the strap of her shift was now resting dangerously low on her shoulder.

"I-I should go…" Kakashi said hastily as he pulled back his chair, the sound echoing harshly in the quiet of the room. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the fire was now a pile of faintly glowing coals. She would be cold tonight if he didn't revive the fire, and he debated whether or not to stay to revive the flames as impropriety and the temptation of her creamy skin breathed down his neck.

He would run, he decided. She had blankets to keep her warm and it would not be a crime to be cold for one night when the fire in the other room would keep the house heated enough as to not freeze, not when staying in this room with her risked another type of warmth and he quickly stamped down the thoughts that had sprouted up from his polluted mind before they started, turning to bid a hasty retreat when a panicked "Wait" squeaked from Sakura's lips and she caught his hand to stop him.

"Why are you leaving all of a sudden? Is it something I did? Do you not like me anymore?" she asked with genuine fear reflecting in her eyes. Kakashi, unable to help himself, let a bitter chuckle escape his lips.

"It's not that I don't like you anymore. It's that I like you too much," he said meaningfully, hoping that she would take the hint and just drop the subject. But as smart as Sakura was, she could miss some very obvious things, seen when she stared him in the eyes and demanded he prove it.

Another laugh. He shook his head and marveled at how stupid Sakura could be sometimes. Didn't she sense the danger that was thick in the air or did she trust Kakashi so wholly that she was blind to the wolf ready to swallow his prey whole? "How?"

"Kiss me," she said simply, eyes unblinking as she stood on her knees in the bed. Her head was held high, gaze level with him with unwavering, unremorseful confidence. Inwardly, Kakashi chuckled and shook his head, the statement only proving her innocence. She was still so young. To her, love was still measured in actions rather than unspoken words, and it was a further warning to not trifle with her, to taint her.

But her eyes continued to hold his stubbornly as the moon struck her back, giving her an unearthly glow as her eyes dared him defiantly. Fine. If one kiss was the price to spare her darker pleasures, he would pay it.

"Alright," Kakashi said as he turned, walking back towards the bed. He cast off her hand, watching as she let it drop harmlessly back at her side as he trailed his eyes up the thin, delicate structure of her arm, letting a bit of his predatory nature slip free of its reins. If she wanted to play with fire, he would show it to her. He would show her its beauty as well as its danger and let the flame singe and burn her enough to scare. That would teach the girl not to trifle with matters over her head.

He placed his hands on her shoulder, his fingers barely resting on her naked skin as he leaned down to close the distance between them. As he did, the smell of salt air and crushed spring flowers wreathed his senses and made him shudder. At their closeness, he felt her breath hitch and felt a shiver shake up his spine. Not good, he told himself. There was more danger to him than her in this kiss. The temptation was eating away at his control; it would be best to do this quick and get it over with, and with that, he tilted her chin up and covered her lips with his own.

The kiss was innocent, just the simple marriage of skin on skin as the scent of sandalwood, salt, and crushed flowers mingled and floated between them. They could feel each other's breath, feel the butterfly kiss of lashes on their cheeks. It was the kiss people read about in fairytales. It was the kiss people dreamt about. It was a kiss worth envying for its purity and meaning, and it should've been enough to grant Kakashi passage to leave, to retreat into the next room for another sleepless night of wet, dirty fantasy and raw, aching need; and he began to pull away from the kiss when a single, soft moan from Sakura echoed between them, snapping his control.

He had snapped. That was the only way to describe it as he covered her lips once more, firmer and moaning when he found her lips waiting for her, soft, warm, and pliant. The reins of his control—tenuous, taut, and stretched thin to the point of pain—had broken. He had no control over himself anymore as self-restraint and propriety flew into the wind, the need to ravage and claim replacing it as he gripped her shoulders and kissed her with passion and ferocity that bordered on savagery. But in spite of that, of his bruising grip and predatory mouth, she continued to accept it with an innocent ardor that left him craving for more.

He pulled away from her to give her breath. She didn't know how to breathe into a kiss yet, but he would teach her that another day. He'd teach her the human pleasures she didn't understand—just like he'd taught her how to read, and write, and speak—they would practice until she understood, until her hips were aching and sore and all she would ever be able to think of was him, but that was for another day he told himself as he let her catch her breath and surveyed her dazed eyes and kiss-swollen lips with smug pride before moving down to lavish her neck with the same attention he'd given her mouth.

He pressed kisses in a line following the gentle curve of her cheek, letting his tongue snake over the shell of her ear before moving into the hollow of her neck, nipping and laving and sucking at her sweet, creamy flesh, her harsh breathing echoing in his ears and sending delicious tingles up and over his skin as he left a trail in his wake as he licked and kissed her clavicle, determined to mark all of her as his. Pulling away to hover over her, he brushed aside the errant strands of pink hair that had fallen over her neck obscuring his view as she panted and struggled to calm her spinning mind, the path of marks he left on her neck red and angry on her skin in the moonlight. Her beryl eyes, normally a bright vibrant green, were darker now as a blush the same color as her hair spanned her cheeks and down her neck, dipping under the hem of her shift.

"Beautiful…" he whispered reverently, eyes gleaming with wonder as he pressed gentle kisses into the crook of her neck, soothing her irritated skin as he inched the strap of her chemise lower. Sighing, she reached up and buried her hands in his hair, gently tugging him in closer. "Kakashi…"

At the sound of his name, whispered soft and lovingly, a moment of clarity rang out inside of him; he pulled back, blinking in a combination of shock, disgust, and horror.

"I shouldn't have done this. I shouldn't be here," he whispered to her as he began to pull away from her once more, only for her hand to catch his again, intertwining their fingers together.

"Don't…" she called out to him softly, her face flushed delicately and hair fanned out on the bed looking like an angel to him. But then his eyes would focus and the illusion would break as he caught sight the marks on her skin contrasting harshly with her pale skin, feeling more like a monster than a man. Her hand squeezed his, bringing him back from his thoughts.

"I was…really happy, Kakashi. I was really happy it was you," she told him truthfully because she was happy. It was like she was flying again because she was being held by the man she loved. Though she had been initially frightened by the intensity of his embrace after that first kiss, she soon lost that fear because it was Kakashi. To held by him, to be loved by him was more than she could've ever asked for—the need for his touch consumed her and she would take his love in all its forms, accepting them wholeheartedly because he'd shown her so much in this past week, made her felt so many things that she couldn't imagine being without his touch or smile.

Again, the mission floated at the edge of her mind, but she pushed it aside and shelved it away. She wouldn't think about it—couldn't think about it when all she wanted was to continue feeling this way with Kakashi. She knew there were going to be consequences; that she was merely delaying an inevitable, painful end, but she would deal with it in the morning. All she wanted to do right now was bask in this feeling of being whole, of being loved.

"Are you sure?" he asked her, the whisper of a torn, desperate man. It sounded like that night one year ago when she'd wounded him with her words, and she wished she could take it away. Reaching a hand up, she cupped his bare cheek and reveled in the feeling as he leaned into her touch. "I wouldn't have let you touch me if I wasn't," she reassured with a smile, watching as a look of mirth broke out on his face.

"That's true," he chuckled, recounting all the times Kakashi had tried to trim her hair on the day of the Harvest Moon (she nearly speared him with his own scissors the first time). Cupping her cheek, he smiled and pressed a loving kiss to her temple. "Alright," he told her, letting his hand trail down her face to tangle with her pink hair before gently lowering himself down to her once more, the moonlight bathing their forms.

Sakura awoke the next morning, eyes staring up at the ceiling in the cold pre-dawn air. The sun had yet to rise and Kakashi was still peacefully asleep on his side where she woke to find him. Idly, she wiggled her toes again for the sixth time that morning since waking up—a routine she'd been doing every five minutes to check whether she was either mermaid or still human—and finding herself still human, wondered if the spell keeping her like this—with two separate, independent legs instead of a singular, scaly tail—would only last until sun-up before she would turn back into a mermaid. Inwardly, she sighed. She hoped the spell would last until the sun was high in the sky. She didn't want to leave wet trails from her tail in the sheets and it was much too cold for her to want to leave the bed just yet, but that was all merely a distraction and she knew it.

Sighing, she turned on her side to face Kakashi, careful not wake him as she stared up at his sleeping face. Idly, she wondered how many people in the village knew what Kakashi looked like when he was asleep as she watched his chest rise and fall evenly in his sleep, his long lashes fluttering slightly every now and again. Cheek resting on her hand, Sakura smiled up at him as she traced with her eyes the straight line of his nasal bridge to the thin line his lips were pressed into as he slept. For a former assassin, he was quite handsome and somehow she couldn't equate the openness in his sleeping face to the face of a formerly-wanted felon. His face was just too honest when he wasn't awake, and dare she say it…cute.

As she continued to stare, she sighed wistfully, wishing to touch him one more time when she found her hand unconsciously reaching out towards him and she snatched it back down, pressing it firmly into the mattress before letting her eyes slip back up to his face. Nope, still sleeping, she observed and briefly, she inwardly hummed a mildly exasperated noise and shook her head. Poor thing, he must have exhausted himself last night. At this rate, someone would be able to kill him and he wouldn't have been any the wiser, she thought to herself before sighing and raking a hand through her hair, regretting ever going down that thought path because it had revived the one thing she wanted to keep denying, but couldn't. She had to make her decision right now while the sun still had yet to rise and there were no witnesses to see: would she or would she not kill Kakashi?

Sakura sat up in the bed, watching at her shadow covered Kakashi's face with no discernable reaction from him as she decided what to do. She knew it would be easy to do—over the years, she'd picked up how to gut fish and hunt animals by eavesdropping on the fishermen's conversations in addition to Kakashi's own anatomy lessons—all she needed to do was get a sharp knife and stab him in the back of his head at the base of his skull. It would sever his brain from the rest of his body, ceasing function in his lungs and heart. He would be dead instantly before he knew anything had hit him with no pain whatsoever. And the best part of it was that Sakura knew he kept a small dagger behind the books in the middle shelf of the book case in his room—a favored knife of Minato's when he was still alive. Climbing over the bed, feeling it sink slightly under her weight, she grabbed the hilt-less weapon and idly wiggled her toes. Still there, she thought to herself as she sat over him, her shadow covering him as the knife rested against her thigh. If she leaned over him to reach his neck, it would be all over in seconds. She wouldn't even have to see his face…

So why couldn't she bring herself to do it? She'd given herself plenty of time to prepare for this moment, but that was a lie. All she had done was play house and put off her mission for dancing, making things more difficult for herself.

So maybe she just had to reignite her anger? After all, that was what propelled her into making this deal in the first place and she tried to recall the devastation she felt eight days ago, the betrayal and anguish that had poured from every fiber in her skin as she wept and sobbed and moaned on the beach and into the water. But try as she might, nothing would come to mind. Not even petty things like when he had messed up cutting her hair and made it uneven, or the time he'd accidentally knocked her off her rock and into the tide pool made her anger ignite because every time she thought back on him, all that would come to mind was dancing with him at the festival and last night when he'd made love to her. She couldn't even force herself to be mad at him for Rin when it was she who had jumped to conclusions.

But didn't she want to go home? If she killed him, the curse would be lifted and she could forget all about him.

Well, of course she wanted to go home. She hadn't seen her family in six years and there wasn't a day that went by that she didn't think about them, but how could she ever live with herself after that? Live knowing that she had killed the man she loved just so she could selfishly continue on living. She couldn't. She wasn't heartless enough to do so. Not when she was so indebted to him for everything he'd done. He'd saved her life the first time they met; he taught her how to read and communicate; he taught her everything she knew about the human world—he'd given her music, he'd invited her into his home, wordlessly took her in and took care of her when she turned into a human with nowhere to go; he'd trusted her with his past and spoiled her with a dress that must have cost him a fortune; he'd danced with her and made love to her. He'd opened up to her, heart and soul, and she had nothing but selfishness and ungratefulness to show for it. Even if she did escape this village, escape this cove, she knew she would never be able to forget him. She could write it off as a dream all she wanted, but he'd been her first love—her first everything—and if she killed him, she would carry the scars from that act for the rest of her life.

"I…I can't do it," she said, her grip on the dagger faltering slightly as she sank back into the spot in the bed beside him as tears rolled down her apples of her cheeks in hot, fat droplets that slid down the dagger blade to stain the sheets. She just couldn't do it. She couldn't kill Kakashi. Not when he had friends who would miss him in the village, not when the neighbor's children would ask where their crabby pirate friend went and there wouldn't be anyone to sit fishing at the beach anymore. This village wouldn't be the same without Kakashi, and neither could she. She couldn't imagine a life without Kakashi, without his kindness, his reserved nature, his generosity. Even if she never saw him again, to live knowing he wasn't in the universe fishing and smiling and patting someone's head fondly as he taught them economics wouldn't be the same. It would be a life without living, and it killed her.

"Oh God…" She wished she could take it all back. She wished she'd never made this stupid deal to begin with and that they could go back to their old life where she was a cursed mermaid in a seal's body and he was just her fisherman companion. She didn't even care about going home anymore or being human. If giving up her memories of this week would allow her to go back in time, she would do it in a heartbeat, but she knew it was futile. She'd sworn; the deal was a deal, and now that she made her bed, she would have to lay in it. She would have to lay in it, she told herself as fat glimmering tears fell one after the other into the bed sheets.

Her mind made up, she turned to the still-sleeping man to smile at him tearfully. "I guess this is goodbye, Kakashi." And with that, she got up from the bed and went to the desk. Grabbing a sheet of paper, she grabbed the pen from the ink pot and wrote him a letter explaining everything—the deal, her anger, everything—before signing her name. Going into the kitchen, she grabbed an apple and brought it back to the room, placing it beside the unused dagger to weigh the letter down before throwing on her discarded shift. She didn't know why she did it—she would probably turn back into a mermaid soon anyway—but she did and returning the quill to its rightful place, she walked over to the side of the bed, lingering there as she drank in Kakashi's sleeping face. This would be the last she would ever see of him—or anyone—and she made sure to freeze this moment in her mind. Though she knew she wouldn't have long to live, she didn't feel at all afraid as she watched his peacefully sleeping face.

Leaning down, she gently pressed a kiss to his temple. "Goodbye Kakashi," she whispered.

And then she was gone, her bright girlish voice echoing in the confines of the empty home as she ran down the path leading to the beach behind the house, eyes constantly flicking behind her.

"There's still time," she told herself. The sun hadn't made it over the mountains just yet. There was still time to reach the beach, but she was running without shoes through the forest. Rocks were stabbing into her feet, adding to the pain she was desperately trying to ignore as her breathing grated harshly on her ears and branches slapped and scratched at her left and right. A twig lashed across her face, the pain making her miss the root in her path. Catching her by the ankle, it sent her flying into the dirt, knocking the wind out of her just as dawn began to peak over the horizon, warming up the ocean air. Sakura's eyes widened in horror.

"No!" she whispered, cursing sharply as she pulled herself onto her feet. Her ankle was twisted and swollen. The best she could do was limp weakly from tree to tree, but she ignored it. She had to get to the beach. She had to get to the beach, she told herself, only to stumble back into the ground once more as a beam of sunlight shot through the foliage, touching her calf and making her worst fear realized as she watched the sunlight begin to mend her legs together and her feet turn into a familiar wispy tail.

"No!" she shouted, grabbing fistfuls of dried leaf litter and dirt as she dragged herself towards the beach. She was so close. She recognized these bushes; she could smell the salty ocean air! But she continued to transform and she had barely made it twenty feet before the apex of her thighs disappeared, replaced by a blanket of shimmering blue-green scales. The harvest moon had worked its magic after all, erasing all traces of her ever being human. Even the red marks on her neck from last night were gone and she cursed under her breath. She shouldn't have stopped to write that letter to explain herself, even if she owed it to him—but she shook her head. Now was not the time to think about that as she began clawing her way to the beach, rocks and twigs digging under her nails, making them crack and bleed as she dragged her belly on the ground. Scales began to pop off her tail, exposing the soft flesh underneath as her chemise caught on a branch, her body sliding out from the clothing as she continued her desperate journey to the water. Every inch of her body ached. Though her body didn't carry any physical trace of her being human, she still felt the punishing burn of her old legs. Her arms were scraped, raw and bleeding. She was tired and wanted to lie down, but she wouldn't let herself. She couldn't and pushed herself onward, using the low roots and bushes to pull herself along until she felt exhaustion burn at her arms. Even if her mind was stubborn about not giving up, her body wasn't as strong.

Give up, it told her, give up.

And for the briefest second, she contemplated it. If she still had her legs, she could've gotten there faster. Her tail was getting her nowhere, and she had been a fool for thinking she could escape her fate. If she lied here, it would all be over. After all, even if she hadn't defied her destiny by Anko's rules, at least Kakashi was safe, right?

And so she closed her eyes and laid her head down, waiting for death as she listened to the world wake up. Listened to the birds sing their morning songs, listened as a wild hog mother led her piglets down the trail, listened to the low hum of bees, when she heard another sound underneath it all. Scrambling onto her hands—she knew that sound! She knew that sound!—she pushed herself onto her hands, pulling herself through the bushes and feeling relief wash over her because it was there! It was there, she shouted to herself with excitement because there only a few feet in front of her was the ocean.

Kakashi woke up to the sound of the wind howling outside his window and an empty bed. Initially, he wrote it off as Sakura merely going to the bathroom but as he sat up and waited for her return, he knew something was wrong. Sakura never took this long using the bathroom. Touching her side of the bed, he frowned. It was cold and there were spots where his bed sheet was slightly damp and smelled like salt water. Her chemise was gone, and the door was firmly shut when he remembered leaving it open the night before.

Pushing himself up, Kakashi scanned the room for anything amiss as a storm pounded outside his window. Something felt wrong, but he didn't know what or why, and he was about to give up entirely when something caught his eye on the writing desk. Pulling on his discarded pants from last night to guard himself from the cold, he crossed over to the small table and frowned slightly when he found his old dagger on the table. He never left it out. It was always in the bookshelf and the only other person who knew that was Sakura…

Pocketing the dagger, he suddenly saw the apple. On its shiny red skin, letters gleamed at him as if dyed in blood and he brushed it aside to read the note pinned underneath.

Dear Kakashi, it began.

If you are reading this, I am already gone, but before you get upset, let me explain myself to you. Please. Please, just…read this note to the end and you'll find out why I left.

And so he read. He read everything she had to say. He read about her fond memories of him; he read about her overhearing about his former family; he read about the deal she'd made with Anko and her plan for revenge, read about how she couldn't be angry with him after he told her about Rin, read about how much she loved being able to dance with him and how much she loved him, and how because of that love, she couldn't do kill him.

I couldn't bear to see a world without you. I'm sure the other villagers feel the same way, so I'm leaving you. I couldn't wake you up because I knew you'd never let me go, even if it meant dying. That's why I left. By the time you read this note, I will probably no longer be of this world. But it won't be because Anko got me. I refuse to let that woman rule my life any longer. I've decided to take control of my life and my destiny, Kakashi. I'm not running away anymore, so don't worry about me. Take care of yourself. Fall in love and settle down with another woman and be happy again, and never doubt that I loved you.

Yours with love, forever and always,

"Sakura…" he finished at last, sinking into his chair dumbly, unsure how to process it all because was this really it…? Was this really the end of them?

"No. I refuse to believe it," he said firmly as he folded the note. After all, why had she been so vague? Was it because she was afraid he'd come after her? Was it so he'd be able to forget her faster?

"'I've decided to take control of my life and destiny.' What's that supposed to mean?" he asked spitefully. If what she said was true—if she was doomed to die at Anko's hand with a dagger, how would she take control of her destiny? The only way she could foil the sea witch's plan to take her body and soul would be to…

"Oh god." Suddenly the storm made sense, but she couldn't be serious. She wouldn't be that reckless, would she? But this was Sakura he was talking about, the one wild card life continued to dole out to him again and again. He cursed under his breath.

"I have to get to the beach," he said, throwing on his shirt as he hurriedly grabbed his bow and arrows from the wall, running towards the beach past the houses, past the villagers only to be caught by Genma.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Hatake? In case you're fucking blind, there's a storm raging right now. Even if you're supposed to be some super-bad assassin, you're not immortal now get your ass to the church basement and seek shelter!" he shouted, firming his grip when Kakashi tried to shake him loose. "Stop struggling! What the fuck are you trying to prove, asshole?"

"Sakura's out there!" he shouted, causing something cold to lance through Genma's chest as memories of the pink-haired teenager danced in his head. It couldn't be true. It couldn't be true, he told himself, refusing to believe it.

But she was the only person he knew could make Kakashi so worried, so terrified…

But still, this was Sakura, the bubbly girl from the forest who got excited over everything and had staring contests with goldfish that the village adored. She made living here interesting and Kakashi would never let anything happen to her right? She was too much of a chicken to probably venture out into a storm anyway, so it couldn't be her! But again, Kakashi's desperate, horror-stricken face flashed though his mind.

"It can't be true. She can't be out there," Genma whispered, but by the time the words had crossed his lips, Kakashi was gone, a tiny speck on the beach.

Anko awoke to the sound of a storm howling outside her window, which struck her as odd since she had guarded the cove from major inclement weather with her magic and she hadn't conjured any storms for the area and the only other way for there to be a storm here was if that stupid seal girl was trying to escape the cove.

Running to her window, she peered out into the churning grey water to spy a smear of pink bobbing along in the distance.

"So she thinks she can escape me, huh? I'll show her," she said as she rifled through a chest to pull out her dagger and stuff it in her cloak before grabbing a book and heading out the door to the natural rocky platform. Opening the book, she turned her head to the heavens and shouted an incantation, smiling at the water churned around her, drawing her high in the sky as Sakura struggled feebly in the water's grasp. Silly girl, she'd never be able to escape, Anko laughed as she directed the water tunnel holding the mermaid back to shore, her mind trying to think of adequate ways to punish the girl for her insolence. Laughing as she came up with the perfect plan, she threw her head back in triumph as an arrow whizzed by her arm, tearing her cloak.

"Who dares-?" But she cut herself off as she spied a familiar head of silver hair floating in the water below her. Peering closer, she smirked. So that's how he was floating around.

"So you commandeered a fishing vessel to save your little girlfriend? How quaint! But just because she can't kill you, doesn't mean I can't, Kakashi!" Anko cackled as she sent wave after wave of angry churning water towards him, watching as the fisherman tried feebly to avoid the crashing tides around him, firing arrows blindly at the woman on the rock. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but still, he couldn't give up. He had to save Sakura.

"Kakashi!" a voice shouted. Looking up, he found himself right under the water spout that held Sakura.

"Hold on. I'll save you!" he shouted up at her, but how? During the time he'd stayed with Anko, all he managed to gather was that her powers were derived from the sea, but how would he defeat a body of water? Still, she had to have a medium to control the water—she didn't have enough power to do it on her own.

'The book!' Closing his eye, he pulled the string back and fired, cursing as it fell short. In his bid to keep his boat afloat, he'd drifted too far away. Anko, on her platform, laughed, smiling as she spotted movement in the bushes, watching as heads and faces peered out fearfully from the foliage. An audience, huh? Perfect.

"Do you honestly think your puny arrows will be enough to harm me? That you can honestly save your little girlfriend? You're no white knight on a horse. You're nothing but a has-been assassin-turned-fisherman, and everyone—" she pointed to the people in the bushes watching as they lowered their heads and cowered, "—seems to know it but you! You must be delusional!"

"Shut. Up," he spat through gritted teeth, firing another arrow only to have it glance off her book. Damn.

"Oh, have I hit a nerve? What? You should've expected it with your useless pedigree. I heard the rumors. Your father was a failed knight and the other knights never accepted you as one of their own, so you had to become an assassin. No wonder. You can't even hit little old me. Must have inherited all your knight skills from your worthless fath—Ahh!" Anko shouted, clutching her arm as her book tumbled into the sea, the spell holding Sakura beginning to break.

"Don't you ever think you have the right to talk about my father that way again," Kakashi said scornfully as he met her gaze. The insolent…

Grabbing the shaft, Anko twisted the arrow free of her shoulder, throwing it to the ground. "I don't need a book to take care of you!" she spat, clutching her wound. Raising her arms up, she shouted to the sky and immediately, a giant wall of water formed, towering over Kakashi. His eyes widened in shock; there was no way he could escape that wave, not when it was that massive, and that was the last thought he had as the wall of water came crashing down over him.

It destroyed his tiny boat. Kakashi knew because he watched as the broken pieces were sinking slowly around him. The force of the wave had sent him reeling and tumbling into the water. He had only managed to grab a short breath before the wave crashed and now his lungs were burning. He needed air; he needed oxygen, but his body was still stunned from the force of the water, leaving him floating helplessly as his brain sent desperate repeating signals to his limbs to swim up or die. Bubbles of oxygen floated up around him and he wished he could simply pop them into his mouth before dismissing his situation as hopeless. Perhaps Anko had been right. Maybe he was nothing but a has-been playing pretend. After all, he had never been a knight—the closest he ever came to it was an assassin for hire—and now he was just a fisherman and honestly, what fairytale had the princess saved by a fisherman?

'It was silly of me,' he thought to himself because really in hindsight, it was. What had he expected to happen? That he would suddenly gain all the qualities of a knight, be accepted by a kingdom, and valiantly ride in to save the day? This was reality where there was no such thing as honor or truth; where prejudice and money ruled the ranks and people could reject you from a club simply because they could. Besides, those things only happened in dreams and children's book, and he'd long since outgrown both. Now he was a fisherman, and a fisherman could never be anyone's knight.

And with that, he let himself sink deeper into the water, watching as the bubbles floated up around him and the waves crashed overhead, only feeling the current carry him away as if in a dream.

He washed up, just like the prince after his shipwreck in "The Little Mermaid", on the beach. His clothes, torn and tattered, were sodden with sea water as the water gently receded away from him. It had swept him up against the rocks and looking around, he realized he was in the middle of the cove. Anko' spell had made the water recede around him; he'd landed in the eye of a whirlpool and he watched as the water swirled around him ominously, but didn't cave in, and Kakashi would've sighed in relief if he hadn't coughed up a puddle of blood.

'Blood…?' The thought brought clarity in his mind as his adrenaline kicked in, ready to find his injury and heal it when he was alerted to a sticky, squishy sensation under his right hand. Pulling away, he found himself staring at his organs as bits of wood clung to his throbbing organs. The crash had ripped away his skin and flesh, and instantly, he knew he wasn't going to make it and that once again, he'd failed to save the woman he loved.


Turning his head, he looked in the direction the voice came from, a wave of relief washing over him.

"I'm over here!" he called weakly, waving her over with his left hand. Sakura dragged herself to his side and threw her arms around him tightly.

"The water dropped me off here. Are you alright? You look pale!" she shouted, making a brief chuckle escape Kakashi despite himself. She was fretting like a mother hen.

"It's nothing," he told her, hand still covering his side as he felt a warm trail of blood crawl down the corner of his lip over his chin. "But I want…I want you to do something for me."

"Anything," she replied earnestly, her battered tail swaying idly beside him. Catching her eyes, he held her gaze. "I want you…to eat my liver."

Sakura pulled away from him, aghast. "I can't—why would you even—?"

Slowly, he pulled his hand away, watching as her eyes widened in horror.

"I won't survive, Sakura. I've lost too much blood," he told her as she watched his organs morbidly pulse and beat. In her mind, she couldn't put the idea of Kakashi's pulsing organs and his inability to survive his wounds together. He looked so alive there, so why couldn't he survive?

A wet, hacking cough told her the answer to that, and she watched as he pulled his arm away from his mouth, a bright red stain glaring back her from his sodden white shirt before he reached into his back pocket. Finding his dagger still there, he wiped the blade against his pants and Sakura forced her eyes away as he reached under his rib cage, a weak grunt explaining what had happened before offering the small maroon-colored object to her. Tears pricking the sides of her eyes, she shook her head.

"No…No…I can't. I won't…" she moaned softly, eyes entreating him to not ask her again; that she couldn't bear doing this to the man she loved. Gently, he reached up to cup the side of her face and she leaned into the touch.

"Sakura, none of this would've ever ha-happened if I had been entirely honest with you. I've withheld information fr-from you that you deserve to know. Even n-now, I am d-d-doing it. I've fai—failed you as a friend," he admitted staring into the sand before lifting his eyes to her as more blood frothed at his lips. "I've got-t-ten you into this me-mess. So i-if I can b-b-be any u-use to you nn-now, it would…it would make me…the happiest person in the w-world. So p-please…"

His eyes pleaded with hers. He was shivering—his teeth chattering behind blue lips. She'd never seen him so pale, and all the while, his hand lay outstretched to her. It was taking all his energy to do so and she inwardly cursed him for being so foolish and disobeying her letter. Why did he have to come out? This is precisely what she wanted to avoid, and yet the hand still lay outstretched to her, begging her. Entreating her, and all the while, she could only shake her head in denial because how could she desecrate the body of the man she loved? How could she do this to him?

"Sakura, p-p-please…I-I've nev-vver asked y-y-you to d-do any-ny-thing for m-m-me b-b-before."

And that was what got her. Her selfishness had led her here and indeed, all she had ever done was ask things of him while he never asked for anything in return. Even when he'd disappeared to work that job to get her song, he never asked her to wait up for him. She felt guilty. She felt guilty and she gave him a mournful, defiant pout.

"I hate you," she told him, drawing a smile and a laugh from his lips. She hated him for freeing her from Anko. He could live with that.

And with that, she leaned forward to take the offered flesh from Kakashi's fingers into her mouth, swallowing bitterly as tears fell from her eyes and a ball of light enveloped her, unaware of the audience watching them.

"No! She can't have broken the curse! She can't! Sakura was supposed to remain a seal and be mine!" Anko shouted in protest, drawing murmurs from the crowd in the bushes because Sakura couldn't be the seal, right?

"This would explain why Kakashi hasn't gone down to the beach to fish and why I haven't seen the seal all week," one of the fisherman voiced, causing more whispers to ripple throughout the crowd as Genma stared disbelievingly out at the water. Sakura the human wasn't named after the seal. She was the seal, and what was more, she was a mermaid—the same one that healed Kakashi's eye.

"No wonder he'd been so protective of her," he murmured to himself. She was the reason his catches were full without him have to do anything—why he could suddenly see, and for the briefest second resentment welled up inside him, only to disappear as he spotted a small pink blob swimming towards the shore. It was Sakura, and he watched as she swam through the breaking waves, desperately pulling herself with one arm towards the shore as Kakashi floated listlessly beside her, a wispy red trail following behind them in the water as she screamed at the silver-haired fisherman. He didn't know what she was saying—the distance was too far for him to hear her—but her facial expression said it all. Hatake was dying, and she was a desperate woman who was in love with the fool.

"I gotta help them," he said, catching the attention of Asuma who had been standing beside him. "What?"

"I have to help them," Genma repeated, louder now, catching the attention of the rest of the village. Ebisu marched up to him, swinging his Bible angrily.

"Are you crazy, man? You would willingly go out there and risk your life and your position in heaven to go save the spawn of Satan? You'll just be pulled into the depths of hell with them!"

Genma narrowed his gaze and stood his ground. "Yeah well, spawn of Satan or not, they're still my friends and I'm sure God will forgive me for trying to help the people I care about," he spat venomously before turning to the rest of the crowd. "And what about the rest of you? Is the only thing you know how to do is gossip? You should be ashamed of yourselves! We all welcomed Sakura into the village with open arms; we loved her like our own and in return, she's given the village some of the brightest days I remember ever having. And now you all want to turn your back on her just because she's part-fish? You people disgust me," he said before pushing his way through the foliage. Ebisu, stunned—no one had ever talked back to him before—shouted after him.

"Now just—just where do you think you're going?" he stammered, pushing up his glasses. Genma turned to glare over his shoulder.

"I'm going after the witch. Even if I die, at least I can say I wasn't a spineless coward." And with that, Genma took off towards the witch's cottage. Ebisu, scandalized by Genma's behavior, snorted and stuttered with contempt, puffing up his chest when he felt Asuma's hand on his shoulder. If he couldn't make Genma see the light, surely he could enlighten his friend.

"Did you see that? It was that mermaid's charms that got to him. Now he's doing the devil's work and—"

"I'm going with him," Asuma said resolutely.

"Yes, you're going with him and—what?" Ebisu shouted in alarm.

"Genma's got a point. Besides, I've never seen Kakashi so worked up over anything, so if it's important to him, it's important to me too," he explained, running to catch up to Genma. It appeared that Asuma and Genma had started a trend because soon everyone was recalling an instance where Sakura or Kakashi had helped them and feeling ashamed for their unwillingness to help, suddenly rushed up the beach after them to the witch's house, leaving Ebisu to pick up the rear as he scrambled after them and encouraged his flock to do God's work.

Anko cursed as she stared out at the sea, watching Sakura bob up and down in the water and clutch Kakashi as she steered them towards shore. That stupid pretender of a knight had fed her his liver, breaking the curse she had on the girl. And Sakura…the insolent brat dared defy their agreement by throwing herself into the sea to spare her boyfriend. How noble of her.

"No matter, I'll just drown them both," she muttered to herself. Sakura had been right to suspect that she would go back on her word, and she was smart to make her swear an oath, but an oath was only as good as the person who honored it and Anko was a very dishonest person. Besides, even if she did swear on the source of her power, it's not as if she believed in any of that hogwash. She only kept her vow with Kakashi because he could actually hurt her, but Sakura…what could that spoiled princess ever do to hurt her? Nothing, that's what!

Drawing up her sleeves, Anko raised her arms above her head, calling upon the powers of the sea to help her as she focused on the tiny pink dot drifting further and further down the shore. She had been so focused—so consumed with the task of conjuring up her spell in fact—that she didn't notice when a fist shot out at her, slugging her in the gut and forcing her to keel over.

Her head spinning and unable to breath, Anko panted into the rocky platform before raising her head up, eyes livid. "Who dares strike me?"

Genma, ignoring the angry witch, chose to shake out his hand, flexing his hand experimentally. "You know, I usually don't make it a habit of striking women—especially pretty ones—but for you, I'll make an exception."

Pulling herself up, she wiped away the trail of blood at the corner of her lip, glaring at the man. "I'll admit that you're brave for coming up here alone, but flattery will get you nowhere. You die where you stand."

Genma merely stared at his fingernails coolly. "Who said anything about being alone?" he asked as Asuma and the other members of the fishing boat appeared behind them. Five-to-one odds, Anko observed. She could still turn the tide just yet.

"More insects are buzzing around my home, eh? No matter, I'll just zap you all!" she said, whipping the storm into a frenzy as a child came bounding up the hill.

"You'll need a bigger storm if you want to get all of us!" he shouted in a high reedy voice. Anko raised a brow challengingly.

"Oh yeah? You and what army?" she asked mockingly only for the boy's mother to come up behind her son.

"This army," she replied matter-of-factly as Anko looked behind her, the odds no longer five-to-one as she realized she was staring down the entire village. Why were there so many people for these two brats?

"N-no matter. You want a bigger storm? You got it!" she shouted, raising her arms up again before leaping out of the way as a stone sailed in the air, landing with a clatter on the smooth sandstone before she was forced to leap again as another rock followed behind it.

"W-what are you doing?" Anko screeched as she ran to avoid the falling rocks, only for Asuma to punch her across the face.

"Leave those two alone!" an elderly woman cried, the other villagers shouted in agreement. Anko, despite her rapidly-swelling jaw, threw her head back and laughed.

"Leave them alone? They ruined my life!" she shouted dementedly. "And since you all seemed to be so taken with the two, you can watch while I kill them!" she cried, pulling out the dagger to churn the waters and stir up the storm. She was going to drown them all—she would drown the entire cove; that would teach them to mess with Anko, she thought as she nimbly dodged the fumbling villagers one by one.

"You'll never catch me. I'll drown the entire cove before you do. I'll—" The words died on her lips as she was tackled from behind by Genma, plowing her face-first into the stone as the village soon descended upon her like an angry hive of bees. Indeed, that was the best way to describe it as they leapt on top of her and Genma struggled to slip out as Asuma punched her across the face and Tarou ripped at her cloak, the villagers launching attack after attack, pulling and kicking at her as shouts of "grab the dagger" echoed the cove and Anko drowned in a mass of angry, buzzing undulating bodies as fierce and busy as a hive.

"We made it. We made it." That was the only thing Sakura could say as she pulled Kakashi from the water onto the shore. They were on the southernmost edge of the beach. Here was where the cove was buffeted the most from the open water and where the fishing vessels launched due to the gentle current. The waves wouldn't touch them here.

"You're safe now, Kakashi. Just hold on. Okay?" she asked as she ran her hand anxiously over the curve of his cheek, her other hand still covering his gaping wound. Pulling her hand away, she felt her heart sink. His insides weren't pink anymore, instead turning an ashen grey as she stared at her hand, finding the blood she had been struggling to keep in had all but washed away with the tide. Finding his neck, she placed a hand there to check his pulse like Kakashi had taught, cursing softly when she felt the beating become fainter and fainter.

"Damn it! Damn it, I told you not to follow me!" she shouted with frustration. She knew her anger was getting the best of her—that she should be focusing her efforts on something more productive like figuring out how to cure him—but nothing came to mind as everything came to a dead end. None of the spells she remembered were powerful enough to fix this; all the human medicine Kakashi had taught her were for smaller wounds; and he would never survive a trip to the village doctor—if the doctor could even be of any help. Indeed, all she could do was keep his wound clean and watched as he died in her arms, and that was a terrible sense of defeat.

She looked at the man lying pale in the sand. His seizing had seemed to stop, his body lacking enough blood to even manage the action as the waves continued to lap at his legs. Grabbing him under the shoulders, she told him, "Come on, you can't lay down here. You'll get dirty," as she dragged him further up the shore to where a cropping of rocks shielded them from the wind at their back, gently wiping off the sand on his pants before she laid him against the tallest rock to sit up slightly, trying not to pay attention to how his head lolled to the side. Strangely enough, if she ignored the faint trails of dried blood on his lips, he looked like he was sleeping, as if he'd never left the cottage to find her. Cupping his cheek and letting her hand run down his suddenly-icy skin, she wished that could've been the truth.

"I knew this was going to happen," she whispered at last, brushing the back of her hand against the apple of his cheek. "I don't mean the rumor that mermaids can predict the future—that's a load of hogwash. If we could, I would've never let myself get kidnapped in the first place—but I had a feeling something like this would happen when I left this morning. That's why I wrote that letter—to keep you away—but obviously, my esteemed teacher can't read because he would've seen the many parts in the letter to not follow me. Maybe I should've just left without leaving you that note. That way, you would've never found me…

"But I owed it to you. You always took such good care of me—even before this week when you never had to like when you kept giving me all your apples—you could've just stopped and driven me off—and you taught me so many new things. I know botany and economics; I know fashion and medicine from your world now and I could've never done it without you."

Slowly, she sought of his right hand, forcing her fingers through the gaps as she looked at their intertwined hands. It was just like earlier this morning when they had slept together and it was so strange to think mere hours ago, Kakashi was alive and they were conjoined in the most intimate way possible. Her shoulders began to shake.

"I didn't want you to die. That's why I decided I would go out to sea, because I couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to kill you because I didn't want to live without knowing you were still in the universe somewhere. Even if I broke my curse—even if I returned home to my friends and family, I would feel alone because I wouldn't have you to smile at me and annoy me and cut my hair anymore. You'd just be gone, and I didn't want to live in a world without you!" she shouted as her hand continued to hold his and fat, wet tears rolled down the sides of her face. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair. She was the one who made this horrible deal. She was the one who had offered her body to Anko, so why was he paying for the price? Why was he dying and not her? Was it so he could go out like a hero? Or was it so he could be selfish and save the woman he loved? But that didn't make sense because it was Sakura who was the selfish one. She was the one who was supposed to be lying lifeless on the beach. Not him.

Head hung, she gripped his hand tighter. "I don't want you to die…I don't want to lose you…" she whispered as tears continued to fall in streams down her face, rolling down the cheek Kakashi had often rested his hand against to fall over the lips that he had kissed. Her tears traced over her skin in the same way Kakashi had loved her, and she felt her heart break a little more as they rolled over her cheek, her lips, her neck before falling down the valley of her breasts before staining his shirt.

She continued to cry over him. How could she not mourn the man she loved, she asked as her mournful sobs and wails of remorse echoed off the rock walls of the cove, more fat crystalline tears rolling off her cheeks to fall on the man below. They fell on his shirt, staining the fabric with more salt; they fell on his arm, lifeless and numb; and they fell into his wound, the dark chasm in his body that had stolen his life from her. Staring into it, she shut her eyes and continued to weep, unaware of what was going on until she opened her eyes again and found skin and muscle stitching themselves over the wound, nearly closing it entirely. But that was impossible because mermaid tears didn't work on the dead—couldn't bring them back to life—so that must mean…

Kakashi sat up and coughed, sea water sputtering up harshly from his lips as he dragged breath by painful breath into his raw and seared throat. Blearily blinking his eyes, he looked around where he was with confusion. The last thing he remembered was being somewhere cold and dark, and he blindly groped his surroundings, feeling sand under his fingertips. He was on the beach? But maybe he was wrong? Maybe he was still on the brink of death anyway and this was what heaven looked like because it was supposed to be paradise, right?

He continued to grope his body blindly when he felt a squeeze on his hand, forcing his eyes up to be met with two shining pale green gems. Sakura…

"Am I…?"

The mermaid shook her head, not trusting her voice as she pressed her lips firmly shut and tears pushed once again at her eyes, instead motioning to his abdomen. Swiping his hand over it, he found none of the surreal stickiness he'd felt before and looked down to see a large scar over his skin. He looked up.


Sakura merely smiled, a laugh escaping her lips despite herself as she leaned over him, her hands running endlessly over his cheek as she whispered to him, "Welcome to the land of the living, Kakashi."

Sakura sat at the beach, her tail swaying aimlessly in the water as she stared into the village from the shore. It had been six months since Sakura had her curse broken. After being brought back from the brink of death, Kakashi was brought back into the village by Genma and the other fishermen as the other villagers carried Anko's limp, bloodied body above their heads, heading into the village square. Since then, Kakashi had been resting in bed to recover from his injuries. As for Anko, the last she heard, she was still hanging in the stocks, a shadow of her former self. When she tried to imagine what Anko must have looked like—what six months of starvation and clinging shamelessly with battered, frayed threads to life—she almost always turned the thought away. She didn't want to know.

The crunch of sand underfoot made Sakura look up.

"Are you sure you should be up? I thought the doctor gave you strict orders to stay in bed."

Kakashi sighed as he eased himself on his usual fishing rock on the shore, resting his crutch beside him. "What the doctor doesn't know won't hurt him. Besides, sunshine and fresh air are supposed to do wonders for patients, and I refuse to let myself waste away in bed and get fat. I don't want to ruin my figure," he said drawing a laugh and a playful slap from his female companion.

"You're terrible," she told him before turning a concerned eye at him. "Is it still tight?"

Lifting his shirt, the two looked at the large oblong scar covering Kakashi's left side. Sakura reached out to touch it, proof of his sacrifice to her. "A little. But it'll be like that for a while. As long as I keep up the stretching, it should be normal within a year or two," he answered pulling his shirt back down. Catching her staring into the village, he told her, "You know, you could go back in. They don't hate you, Sakura."

Startled, Sakura abruptly lowered her gaze, hiding behind her hair. "I know they don't hate me," she began, "but I just can't bring myself to do it. I betrayed their trust. How can I expect them to look at me the same way again?"

"I don't know. It's worked fine for us so far," he said only for a sea shell to rebound off his forehead. "Ow!"

"Don't remind me. I'm still angry at you for that," she said testily, referring to Kakashi's deal with Anko behind her back. In an effort to air out all the skeletons in their relationship, Kakashi confessed a few months ago that the client had been Anko—which he didn't know at the time. He swore!—and he'd been doing chores around her house in exchange for song lines. That had made her angry, but when he told her that Anko had propositioned him in exchange for more lines, Sakura had been livid. In fact, she refused to speak to him for a week, even as he dragged his injured body down to the beach to plead and beg for her to be reasonable and forgiving. And though she had gotten over the feelings of anger and betrayal, the fact that he had gone behind her back to (unknowingly) make a deal with Anko was hurtful—not that she should talk. She had done nearly the same thing and almost got Kakashi killed in the process—but she had to admit that she had forgiven him and their relationship was as strong as ever.

"Sakura, why don't you just come visit me? I know you've been practicing walking," he told her as he pointed his thumb at a patch of footprints that she had neglected to erase. Her face flushed with embarrassment. Ever since her curse lifted, she found all her old abilities still intact and finding herself able to turn into a human once more, she had tasked herself in training the use of her legs, feeling none of the same pain as before when she artificially split her tail with the spell. Now, she could walk, run, and dance without a care in the world, but it was still embarrassing for Kakashi to find out she was practicing such a childish skill.

Glancing up at him from the corner of her eye, she answered "Maybe," before changing the subject, bringing a familiar blue book between them. At Kakashi's questioning gaze, Sakura smiled wistfully. "Genma and the other villagers have been going to Anko's cabin to look for information. You wouldn't know it, but she actually had extensive notes about magic and mermaids. They had to clean the house—the mayor's condemned it and it's slated to be burned down later this year—but the villagers bring me anything they think would be of use to me. I sent the rest of the books to the library—mostly books on which plants and animals were poisonous or not—but I kept the one on mermaids that Genma gave me. He said he thought it would help and I've been relearning some old songs and spells, but then…I found something."

She opened the book to a marked page in the middle, his eyes staring at the text with confusion. "It's a spell that will turn a human into a mermaid. You'd be just like me," she explained watching as Kakashi's face fell a little, but she'd been expecting that and she gently closed the book. "I'm not forcing you—I'll accept whatever your decision ends up being—but I just wanted to let you know that you have the option."

At her resigned tone, Kakashi felt his heart tighten a little. "Sakura, I understand you have to go back and find your family, and I'd love to come with you—I really would. I can't imagine a life without you—but I just…can't imagine living a life that wasn't on land too. You have to understand. This, all of this," he motioned to the cove around them, "is my home too. So I don't know what to tell you."

"How about 'yes?'"

The two turned to look at where the forest trail opened up to the beach. "Genma!" Sakura greeted with surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, your boyfriend over here escaped again, but he told us the only way we'd ever get him back in bed was with the entire village and well…here we are," Genma explained to the emphatic nods of the villagers behind him before shooting a wink at Kakashi. "Bet you didn't think I had it in me."

Kakashi looked at the man swinging a toothpick between his looks with exasperation. Oh yeah, he didn't think Genma had it in him. Suddenly, his neighbor came up to him, her children following her into the sand.

"Kakashi, we couldn't help but overhear and well…we all think you should go with her. Sakura's a fine young lady and you're obviously very happy with her and it's not like you'd never be able to come back to shore, right dearie?" she asked Sakura who nodded.

"We can always come back and spend time on shore," Sakura reassured.

"Right. See? You can just change back into a human and come visit us when you get the urge to," his neighbor smiled and Kakashi covered his mouth with hand, touched by the generosity of his neighbors.

"This is really kind of you, but I can't guarantee a swift return. I might not want to come back for a while, what with learning a new culture and all," he told them with a touch of shame. The villagers merely smiled back at him.

"We'll watch your cottage for as long as it takes," the mayor smiled.

"As long as you promise to visit us once in a while," said Asuma gruffly.

"And bring your children back here to be baptized as children of God," Ebisu added with an emphatic push of his glasses.

"So stop being a pansy and get with her already!" Genma said, shoving the silver-haired fishermen, sending him tumbling into the mermaid into the sand. Mind still reeling from the sudden change in elevation, he realized that he was leaning over the marine maiden. Eyes locking with his, she looked up at him beseechingly. "So will you come with me?

Kakashi blinked, unsure of what to say. All his reservations about leaving were pretty much answered by the villagers. He could come back to the human world whenever he wanted; his cottage would be tended to in his absence; and he'd be able to remain with Sakura. She was even going to take him back to her kingdom. It all worked out perfectly for him, but for some reason, he couldn't find it in him to let go of his ties to land. To not smell soil and forest air when he woke up in the morning…to not see the dawn break over the mountains would be devastating, but could he really live without Sakura?

"I'll go with you," he answered at long last, laughing as he was catapulted into the sand by Sakura's ecstatic embrace.

"Oh thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

Kakashi was transformed months later on a sunny June day. By then he was as healed as he would ever be, and the paperwork for his cottage had been all taken care of. During this time, Sakura often visited carrying a basket of apples from the beach—for old time's sake, she would tell him—and they would talk. Often Kakashi would comment on her clothing—all hand-me-downs from the village women that the tailor helped fix up for a few herring and tuna—before the conversation would turn elsewhere. Often, they talked about what it was like being a merperson and Sakura and Kakashi could usually be seen in Kakashi's room deep in conversation about the social conventions of underwater life and the basic things he would need to know. If they weren't there, the two could be found at the beach as Sakura helped him practice swimming like she did, the irony not lost on either of them at the roles of teacher and student suddenly being reversed.

The event was watched by the entire village, everyone gathered on the beach as Kakashi waded out waist-deep into the water and Sakura recited the ancient song from the book, a light quickly spinning around Kakashi's legs as her voice brought forth more and more of the haunting string of words before she grabbed his hand and dived into the water, pulling him with her before flinging him out to the sea. Sakura watched with baited breath as she waded in the shallow water, the villagers peering anxiously into the water when they spotted a blur of silver coming back towards them and Kakashi pulled himself onto a rock to regain his breath, a shimmering tail the color of sapphires behind him. Sakura smiled.

"Blue, it suits you," she commented kissing him as their tails brush and twirled together on the rocks. And with a final goodbye to the people on the shore, they dived into the water and disappeared under the waves, heading out of the cove. As they swam, Sakura smiled as Kakashi continued to look around with amazement at everything around him because he was underwater. He was breathing underwater and in the open ocean, swimming as easily as the fish around him, and it continued to amaze him how clear and blue the water was.

"Don't get too attached to it. You might be eating it soon," Sakura told him over her shoulder when she caught him staring at a school of sardines. Embarrassed, Kakashi stiffened and quickly swam to catch up to Sakura, pumping his hips rhythmically just like she taught him.

"So now that I'm a mermaid, am I going to magically revert back in age?"

Sakura shook her head. "I think the spell just slows down your aging process. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but you'll be looking thirty-three for a few more centuries," she said kissed him quickly before catching his hand to tow him along, leaving Kakashi to stew over the idea that despite being roughly the same age as Sakura, he looked twice as old.

When his hand slipped from her grasp, she turned to look over her shoulder. "What's wrong? If it's about you looking older, don't start getting vain on me. I'll love you, even if you're old and wrinkly," she teased only to find that he wasn't laughing with her. Swimming up to him, she tangled their fingers together. "What's wrong?" she asked softly.

"It's just…are you sure your parents will like me? I mean, I did deflower you—if that even matters in mermaid culture," he said recounting the numerous times the fathers of the women he deflowered chased after him angrily. To be chased by the king of an undersea kingdom seemed like a frightening prospect. "And you didn't break any ancient rules by turning me into a merman, right?" he asked warily. Sakura blinked in surprise. That's what he was so worried about?

"Kakashi, my parents are going to love you. You saved their only daughter! And even if I did break some old unspoken rule, I'm sure they'll forgive you," she told him as she drew their bodies close together, tails tangling as she touched her forehead to his and intertwined their fingers together at their sides. At the comfort he felt in her touch, he leaned in and let the smell of crushed flowers wreathe his senses, amazed and grateful that he could still smell it underwater.

"Are you sure?" Kakashi asked her quietly, feeling as if he was in a dream as he rested his head against the woman he loved and the serene water blanketed them in its warmth. Pulling her hand from his, Sakura let her finger trace over Kakashi's toned body, letting the pads of her fingers brush over his scars—all stories of the hard past he'd lived—before letting her fingers rest on the scar that covered his right side. Looking at it with a warm, fond eye, she smiled.

"I'm sure," she told him quietly and with that, she pulled him along and swam towards her parents' kingdom, her fingers tangled with his, never letting go.