Author's Note: Thank you so much to all my supporters up to this point. Like I said, I am fueled by the reviews that you guys write and since I got a few more than usual, I made this chapter super long... That, and I was inspired by a plethora of awesome anime over the last few days! Shout-outs to Alexander95, butterflyV, Kiako1, Kitano Hoshie, crazywolf1991, N1cromanc3loveR, puckandquinnforever, rheiann09, ilvanimecosplay, Phoenixfirewolf, SenninClaudio and Lowlander for your support :)

To Learn Forgiveness

By: Shirayuki-Sakura

Chapter 10:

"Kakashi-kun!" A soft laugh, the touch of gentle fingers, hands tangled in dark hair.

He opened his eyes, shocked, his heart pounding inside his chest like the drums of war, roaring. Kakashi knew those ministrations well; there could exist no one else like her. He stared up at white ceiling, afraid and anxious to see if it was true. Could it be? Would he let his aching heart hope for her? Was it truly—?

"Wake up, Kakashi-kun!" Teal eyes. She leaned over his face, filling his vision with her smile. There was no one quite like her.

"Katsura…" He sighed the name as he had so many times before and for once, it was from shock rather than regret. When she pouted and pulled away, he couldn't help but sit up, afraid to let her out of his sight again. What if it was a dream? Somehow his heart didn't care if she was alive or dead or a painful illusion. Katsura was here.

"You didn't call me Shiro-chan!" She said with a pout. Her dark hair fell like liquid night over her pale, bare shoulders, slipping over her skin like sweet liquor. Her eyes seemed to be as big as the moon as she looked at him, feigning annoyance though she couldn't help but grin widely at him. "Did you already forget, Kakashi-kun?"

"No, Shiro-chan," Kakashi smiled, his eyes wandering downward at her bare body. Katsura was as flawless as he remembered her to be—supple skin dipping into sensuous curves, slender, strong hands that knew his body well, bright eyes that took his breath away whether he was lost in her smile or her glare. His fingertips ghosted over his collarbone, feeling each of her tiny goose bumps blossom under his touch. "Shiro…"

He pulled her into a tight embrace as he leaned back onto the futon, his heart breaking as he felt every part of her touching him. Anything that touched her was on fire, burning into him and making his blood boil. She shifted to lie on top of him, her head buried into his neck and her black tresses like a cloak over her naked back. Kakashi pulled the thin sheets over both of them and wrapped his arms around her.

"Why do you call me that, Kakashi-kun?" Shiro whispered against her neck, her long lashes tickling his throat. He chuckled.

"Because," He said as he slipped her hands into his, grasping her slender fingers. "You are pure as the moonlight... As beautiful as the falling snow… Gentle as the sunlight… More brilliant and more bright than any star… You are my Shiro, my shining world… My love."

She laughed and it sounded like bells, soft and sharp at the same time. He pulled her into a hungry kiss, his mouth craving the taste of her lips on him. There was something sweet about her body that he loved. "I always ask you that, Kakashi-kun…"

"And I always say the same thing…" Kakashi sighed, kissing her forehead. He stared at the ceiling, watching the sunlight dance over the blank surface. Was that why he called her Shiro? She was dazzling like a snowflake caught in the light of the sun, so surreal that it had to be unreal. When she was alive, she had been the same, bone and blood but so fleeting, disappearing as soon as he touched her. "I love you more than anything, my Shiro."

"I should call you Scarecrow, Kakashi-kun…" The silver-haired man laughed under his breath but his amusement was short-lived when he left cold air against his chest. She had pulled away, seeming to spirit her body from his arms, and sat just out of his reach. Curiosity struck him but as he gazed at her slim, rigid back, his heart seemed to sink. His eyes traced the outlines of her scars, testaments to years of hardship. Some were older than their relationship and some as fresh as yesterday.

"Shiro-chan?" His voice cracked but he managed to put on a joking tone. "That's not very creative, my love…"

"Because you didn't protect me." His dark eyes narrowed onto the tears that fell from her eyes, her voice wavering as she spoke. She looked down at her own hands, catching the tiny drops in her palms. It scared and fascinated him. "Stupid scarecrow! You lied to us!"

He blinked and he was standing in the middle of a familiar field, his arms bound by ropes behind him as fires raged around him, golden tongues licking at the grey skies. Black ash burned his nose and throat as he dropped to his knees and coughed, pain seared through his chest as he looked down at the gaping gash that tore through his skin. There was blood everywhere around him, soaking into the ground and turning the dirt as black as ink. Kakashi looked up at the sky and saw stars falling from the darkness like tears. This was a scene he remembered all too well.

"Kakashi-kun!" A frightened scream rang out but it wasn't Shiro. He turned his head sharply and saw Kaoru sprawled on the dirt, her nails digging as she tried to pull herself forward towards the only break in the flames. Her eyes were filled with desperation as she tried to escape, her limp lower body seemingly useless.

Growling, he tried to pull himself onto his feet. His body felt heavy, sluggish. Pain ripped through his muscles, shaking his bones. But Kaoru needed him… Kaoru was suffering. He could hear her cries of agony in his head. When had he ever heard that silly woman cry? She didn't cry when her parents were killed, not when she was injured on missions, not even when she faced death. Why was she crying so loudly now? He looked to the break in the flames and could make out a distant form, though watching hurt his eyes.

What was it? As it neared, it became to look more and more like the outline of a man. Kakashi called out to beg the figure for help, but it had already disappeared into the fire, swallowed whole. He cursed and writhed against his restraints, trying to pull them lose. Why did he feel so weak? Why couldn't he pull free!

"Stop it! No! It hurts!" Kaoru's screams were more panicked than ever. When he looked back at her, the shadows were on her, pinning down her arms and legs. Her clothing was in shreds, her eyes wide in unbridled terror. "Kakashi-kun, help me! Help me!"

"Kaoru-chan!" A pressure slammed down onto him and his body hit the ground hard, pushing the breath from his lungs and rendering him helpless. He watched the darkness take a more defined form. Tendrils of darkness turned to forest green locks that brushed against tan, broad shoulders. Kakashi growled, recognizing the face at once. He coughed, blood staining his lips. He had to get to her, had to save her. Kaoru needed him.

"But you couldn't protect her, silly Scarecrow." A familiar voice whispered. Katsura!

"Shiro-chan, help me…" Kakashi gasped, turning his head to search for her. White knees dropped onto the ground beside his head and his eyes travelled upward slowly. She was as beautiful as ever, even in her anguish, blood running down the sides of her face like tears, spilling from the corners of her eyes. They fell onto her skin and dress, coloring her crimson red before aging to an ugly brown. Kakashi swallowed as she began to rot before him, wrinkling like a fallen petal. Her skin paled and sank into her bones as strands of dark hair fell from her scalp onto the floor.

"No…you can't help me anymore…" Shiro wept, shaking her head. "You couldn't save me… Kaoru-chan…"

Kakashi turned back to Kaoru, swallowing hard. Her cries had turned almost feral as the man beat her and raped her. He couldn't move. He couldn't save her at all. Kaoru's jade eyes were fixed on his as she screamed, her soul reaching out to him through those green eyes. Hadn't he promised to look out for his team? Hadn't he promised to protect both of them?

"Stop! Stop it! Help! Someone help me!" Kaoru's screams filled his head. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It was a mantra in his head, shaking inside of him. Why was he so weak? Why couldn't he protect her? Why couldn't he stand? The moments felt like hours as he watched the hope in Kaoru die slowly like a candle standing too long in the wind. His ugly grunts were nearly lost in the roar of the flames. "Please stop! Its hurts! It hurts!"

"Leave her alone! Let her go!" Kakashi begged. She didn't deserve this. No one deserved this. His arms were still powerless against the ropes as he felt his heart rise into his throat. Why was this happening?

"Pure…as moonlight… White as snow… Gentle… like sunlight…" Kakashi watched as the man pulled Kaoru onto her feet by her pink tresses, blood dripping from her lips, from her legs, from between them. She could only sob. There was no way she could run. There was only the hope that he would kill her.

"You weren't there to protect her, lonely Scarecrow." The flames that surrounded them crept closer and Kakashi looked back at Shiro, only to find that she was in the grasp f the same shadowy man, standing her back pressed to the figure and his blade at her throat. Her tears had stopped flowing and she seemed to gaze at him accusingly, her teal eyes like molten lava as they sank into her skull as disappeared. She was little more than a talking skull at this point, her skin falling from her skeleton into dust. "You weren't there to stop it from happening."

"You were just a scarecrow." Kaoru's voice called to him and she stepped out from behind her assailant, blood still dripping from between her legs as she stumbled forward on shaking legs. When she crumbled onto the floor on her knees, he could barely stand to look in her eyes. "You just watched and tried to scare them away. What a fool…"

Shiro collapsed in the man's arms into a pile of bones at his feet, dust sifting through his fingers like ashen sand. The dark strands of her hair seemed to point towards him like accusing fingers. She was right. He had failed them both. It was his fault. Nothing he would do would change what had happened.

He blinked again and the field had burned, leaving nothing in its wake. The pressure was off his shoulders, the air had cleared, the shadowy man had dissipated into nothingness. Kakashi managed to pull himself onto his knees and looked around at the wreckage, at the absolute ruin that he had left behind. There was only a cold wind to carry it away.

"What should I name her, Kakashi-kun?" Kaoru stood up, her tears drying onto her red cheeks and her eyes gazed and dead. Her stomach had grown large and bloated with pregnancy but the blood was still on her clothing. It clung to her skin. She reeked of it. "I should name her something beautiful so I will forget the Hell she was born from. For your sweet Shiro-chan…"

"Kaoru-chan, please forgive me…" Kakashi felt his own tears begin to fall. "I—"

"Should have been there…" She whispered. Suddenly, her pink tresses seemed to grow lighter, fading to a soft shade. Her eyes became brighter, her features changed slightly. "You should have protected my mother… But you let her suffer… And then you let Katsura-chan go. You let him go free."

Kakashi sobbed, hanging his head in shame. It was true. His weakness had condemned them all. Shaking his head, he knew it now. It was a nightmare, just another nightmare, to remind him that he was a sinner. He had their blood on his hands and every time he saw that girl, he would see teal and green; the eyes of the women he had failed.

Something white fell from the sky, reminding him of snow. Yet when he lifted his head to feel it's cold touch, it was only the petals from a cherry blossom tree that had shed its flowers.

….

"Kakashi-sensei," The silver-haired man awoke with a gasp, his muscles seizing as he jolted upright. Cold sweat covered him like dew, making him shudder as a breeze from the wind swept over his skin. Naruto knelt beside the older man, worry written plainly in his gaze, a warm hand on his shoulder as if to anchor him back to earth. "Are you alright?"

"I-I'm fine…" Kakashi let out a shaking breath. It had been a dream—no, a nightmare—but it still left him nauseated as if it happened just yesterday. The memories had been so jumbled but the truth was there, braided into the dark images that burned into his mind. He looked down at his hands, still feeling the ghost of Katsura's skin. Was she cursing him from Heaven? Hadn't years of fighting his guilt been enough for her?

Kaoru had said again and again that she had forgiven him. They had all been helpless at his hands, she had explained, and no one could blame him. Her green eyes had been soft and earnest when he begged her forgiveness but seeing her limp from place to place, never able to reclaim her mobility, tore at his soul. She would never walk normally again because he was too weak to protect her. Katsura was gone forever. Their killer had gone free.

"W-where are we?" He asked as the memories slowly began to return to him. They'd been poisoned and attacked by mysterious criminals, most likely part of the Hoshino group. His mismatched eyes scanned the room warily for signs of the femme fatale who had set them up. He'd string the girl on a line for fish bait if he ever saw her again, though he kept the anger from reaching his face. If anything, it was his job to stay calm and reasonable in these situations for both of their sanities.

However, it struck him that he'd been in the particular room before.

"The hut from before…" Kakashi whispered. Bathed in sunlight, it looked different than it had from their first visit. Rays seemed to float in from the outside, spilling like liquid gold on the wooden floors through windows and a cracks in the walls and ceiling. A broken vase housed a few fresh flowers on the sill of the only open window, seeming to give the little room more life as rundown and aged as it was. The tattered blankets slipped off his body and he recognized them from their first encounter. Kakashi's eyes trailed over the patterns of ugly, grey wallpaper that seemed to flake off the weak walls, dark spots marking where blood had once been sprayed and wiped away and tears where blades ripped through. He thought of the family who might have lived here, who might have died where he had slept.

"How did we get here?" Naruto asked, voicing the question that had Kakashi was about to ask. He took a long look around, his eyes seeming to gauge the situation very seriously. "I woke up a few minutes before you did so I can't really answer that question myself. I'm going to take a scientific wild ass guess and say that kid from before saved us."

Kakashi rolled onto his side and groaned, his body still stiff from whatever poison had been flowing through his veins, before pushing himself to stand. Even if the kid had managed to save them, there was no telling whether he was on their side at all. It seemed too convenient for him to believe and his gut was telling him that something about it all was wrong. How could they have found Kakashi and Naruto so fast without someone tipping them off ahead of the time? Yuki could easily be a lure, a wolf in sheep's clothing.

"Naruto," Kakashi turned to his partner.

"I know." Naruto looked towards the door, a grim expression on his face. There was no way to see what was out there waiting for them. "I know."

"You know what?" Kakashi rolled onto his feet with some difficulty, turning to face the voice that had interrupted them. Yuki. The boy sat on the sill of an open window, his face unreadable, and his arm crossed. Kakashi glared hard at the sight of the younger boy, hoping to add some intimidation to their side and shake his confidence, before taking a sidelong glance at Naruto. His partner looked just as intense, though still shaken by the surprise. How had one boy escaped both of their detection?

"You set us up!" Naruto growled accusingly, pulling a kunai from a pouch on this thigh. Kakashi motioned for him to drop the weapon but he was blatantly ignored. "You sent us to that fucking inn to get attacked by that crazy bitch! You knew the whole time."

"Naruto!" But Kakashi was too late. Just before his eyes yet out of his reach, the silver blade slipped from the younger man's fingers, aimed perfectly at Yuki. "Wait!"

SMACK! A frown seemed to form underneath the boy's mask, hidden by the rolls of bandage that were bound over his nose and mouth. Kakashi and Naruto could only suck in breaths of disbelief as they watched the blade clattered noisily onto the floor. Without moving, without so much a twitch, it had stopped in mid-air as if something had gripped it. Kakashi's eyes slowly moved back up to meet Yuki's gaze. With his Sharingan eye exposed, he was even more shocked than Naruto. Not even a sliver of chakra had left his body.

"Interesting choice of action." Yuki seemed to smile underneath the bandages.

"H-how?" Kakashi asked. There was no way that it was even remotely possible. Years of battle, two wars and countless ANBU missions had exposed him to thousands of techniques but in all his years of being alive, he had never seen one had not required some release of chakra. It was impossible… wasn't it? He studied the boy's unreadable expression for a moment before it hit him.

"You're injured." Kakashi said, breaking the silence between them. Beside him, it seemed that Naruto had noticed it too. Behind the silvery bangs that swept over one side of his face, he kept one eye shut, an ugly scar running down the length of his face. It looked fresh and the bloodstains on his shoulder confirmed it. "You did save us then?"

"It does seem that way."

"Why did you send us to that inn if you knew they would be there?" Naruto snapped, his tone insisting. Kakashi couldn't blame him. It would be hard to accept that it had all been a coincidence. It seemed too planned, too easy. "Are you partnered with the Hoshino? Are you one of them?"

"Of course they were there." Yuki replied calmly, unfazed by their hostility. "The way you were talking about them, you made quick enemies with every villager you spoke with and if you think their anything like me, you're mistaken. They won't think twice about selling you out to the Hoshino to get on their good side."

"Why should we believe you?" Naruto asked suspiciously, not completely sold on the lie.

"He's got a good point," Kakashi said calmly, trying to maneuver with more finesse than the blonde. If they played their cards right, they could learn more about the organization from the kid but if they played it wrong, they'd lose their only way to finding out more. The way he saw it, Yuki was their only way in.

"Because I was part of their group once." He seemed hesitant to go on, something sad forming deep in his gaze. "I lied when I pretended not to know anything about them but I know everything about them and that alone cost me the most important person in my life. This girl you're looking for? Forget her. If she's involved with them, she won't help you even if you beg… that, or she's dead."

Kakashi considered his words for a moment as they sat in silence. Yuki might be their best guide to finding the Hoshino and judging by his reaction to them, he doubted that he could still have ties to the organization. His eyes moved slowly to Naruto, who seemed to be warily appraising the situation himself. It was no surprise that the blonde was once again willing to risk life and limb for his best friend but even he seemed hesitant to proceed. Whoever these people were, they didn't know enough to pursue them confidently.

"It's important that you find that girl." Tsunade had said when she briefed them days ago, her pale brown eyes fixed on the two of them as she spoke. She hadn't aged a day since her jutsu worked 24/7, her platinum blonde hair fell in the same long layers, her lips turned up in the same self-assured manner. She was still the image of strength and ability, still the Hokage, though everyone knew she was looking forward to passing the position onto Naruto. After all, the young boy had more than earned it. "If you want to save Sasuke's vision, it's probably the best bet we have."

But Kakashi had sensed there was much more that the woman wasn't letting on. Why would they be sent on such a vague, impossible mission for the sake of Sasuke's eyes? She'd grown a soft spot for the Uchiha but even then, it was a stretch to think she'd dispatch the village's treasured hero and Konoha's most infamous Jounin to find a nameless girl for his sake. There was something more about the mission that she wasn't letting on and when she dismissed Naruto from her office, the truth came out.

"How long has it been, Kakashi?" Tsunade asked, looking out at the expanse of the village through her window. It had been rebuilt beautifully with the combined efforts of shinobi and civilian alike, not quite the same as it had been before but just as vibrant and busy, packed with more people than ever due to the strong international relations. Kakashi followed her gaze out of the window to a young couple walking down the street, hand in hand, too enamored by one another to pay attention to anything around them. Tsunade chuckled softly when the male ran into a wooden crate of fruit, spilling its contents onto the dirt road, earning more than a few colorful curses from the shopkeeper.

"Just about sixteen years…" Kakashi replied, picturing Katsura's face in his mind. It had been fifteen years and four months since that day. He knew it was futile to wish for her to be alive but his heart still believe it somehow. She was probably long gone.

"She could still be out there." Tsunade said slowly, seemingly testing the waters. "Do you still believe that?"

"…Yes."

"And the man who killed her…" The older woman's eyes squinted as she considered her next words carefully. Kakashi's fists tightened. "And this healer I'm sending you after… They could be related. That organization—the Hoshino—that's where he is."

His breath hitched slightly as he registered what she had just said. He was still alive. The vision of Katsura from that day grew stronger as he stood there, Tsunade's words seeping into his brain and clinging to his soul. Her hands trembling as she held the kunai, the way she had cried as the rain poured down, her voice as she apologized again and again… Before he knew it, he couldn't stop the tear that had squeezed itself from his heart and ran down his cheek. He wiped it away before Tsunade could comment.

"This isn't a mission about revenge, Kakashi." Tsunade said calmly. "I chose you because I know no one will work harder to catch this guy than you. It's not a huge lead and it might turn out to be false but it's enough of a reason for you to go, right? Not a good enough reason to send a whole squad but you and Naruto can do this.

"But you do find him," Her gaze was grim. "Remember that you are not the only one that was affected by him. Bring him back so he can face all his crimes. Kaoru would have wanted that, don't you think? And Sakura… she deserves to know."

"What about… Sasuke and the girl?" Kakashi asked after a long time. Tsunade sighed.

"I'm not sure even exists but it's worth asking about, right?"

"Take us to them." Naruto's voice snapped the Copy Ninja from his thoughts, returning him to the present as the moment of silence had broken. Yuki seemed to be lost in his own thoughts as he turned back to both of them, his face amiable but confused and a bit concerned. "I need to find this girl no matter what. If she's with them, I want to save her and bring her to our village. If she isn't, at least we can find some kind of lead."

"What makes you think I'll take you there?" Yuki responded, amused but a bit annoyed. "The best help I can offer you is the advice to go home. I'm not risking my neck for you two again; I think my new scar speaks for itself."

"I HAVE TO FIND HER!" The sudden spike in volume caught both Yuki and Kakashi by surprise as the blonde stood up shakily. The poison had made his limbs heavy as well and judging by the instability of his body during the simple motion, Kakashi knew that neither of them was in much shape to go chasing after criminals.

"What's so important that you have to go rushing off to die?" Yuki asked again, softly.

"He's my best friend and my brother." Kakashi watched as the blonde's gaze seemed to blast through the young boy's resolve. "I fought a war to save him. I put myself in danger again and again for him, faced enemy after enemy. This is nothing compared to what I've done before."

Silence filled a room and Yuki turned his gaze from them, his face stoic and he thought. Various emotions filled his eyes, battling for dominance. The vision of Katsura returned to him, stronger than before, her eyes pressing into him. Something inside him refused to let her die. Somewhere, she was alive.

You were just a scarecrow.

"I'll do anything, Yuki." Kakashi's voice seemed to echo Naruto's own determination as he spoke. "Take me to the Hoshino."

"Okay."

A/N: Shakespeare once wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth." Something dark lays in Kakashi's past and it seems as if he's intent on digging up old skeletons! What happened to Katsura and Kaoru that day sixteen years ago? Who is the man that Kakashi is going to chase down? Is Naruto's chase for a way to heal Sasuke hopeless? Can Yuki be trusted? It seems that learning to forgive is more complicated that we thought...

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