Chapter 46: What Do You Go Home to?

Watching Zokushi storm off through the partially closed blinds of the office, Kakashi lifted the folder from his chest and tossed it aside on the desk in frustration. Inhaling a calming breath, he let out a shaky sigh to diffuse his building anger. Shaking his head, he walked towards one of the tall wide windows that overlooked the bustling city.

Slipping his hands into the smooth fabric pockets of his suit jacket, he leaned against the thick metal frame of the window staring out into the distance at the small specks of people and cars passing below in the streets. What he wouldn't give to freely join them and be done with this whole place. It was only the first day, but right now all he wanted was to just leave this building without any consequences. He knew he wasn't going to like things from the start, but he honestly didn't have the faintest idea of what he was getting himself into - other than pretending like he was running a corporation.

As if things could ever be that easy.

Tugging down the edge of his snug mask, he stared at his pale reflection in the glass and contemplated of really going through with Zokushi's request. If he did the press conference and revealed his face, then there really wouldn't be much reason to wear it out in public anymore. But deep down he had to ask himself if he honestly wanted to keep wearing it for the rest of his life. After all these years he had grown to be so attached to a few inches of fabric, but why?

It was a question he was often asked, but rarely answered, even to himself. Originally wearing it to karate practice for fun as a kid, it turned from being a costume to an obscure shield from the paparazzi that he had grown to heavily rely on after his parents' sudden deaths. The initial point of wearing it was so that he could still freely walk around in public places before he became well known in the media, but after awhile it never seemed to fail how many people would still recognize him with his unique silver hair and fair-skinned complexion, no matter if he wore the mask or not. If he wasn't careful leaving his uncle's home, once he was spotted by the media, cameras would follow him from place to place around the city making an unwelcome spectacle form around him when all he wanted was to just be alone.

And then when people would greet him at social functions that he was forced to attend by his uncle, they would always comment how much he looked like his late father. After a while, every comment felt like a pressing weight within his heart. He couldn't take it anymore, becoming dependent on wearing a mask all the time to avoid the constant reminder of his loss. Most people wrote it off as childish behavior he would outgrow in time, but never did. Besides, back then one of the things he hated most was being told to smile more when he didn't have anything to smile about. Why fake it when he could always hide behind a mask?

Years later, when he finally began to leave his worst memories behind after he left to be on his own, he had become so comfortable wearing a mask or anything similar on a daily basis that he did so without a second a thought. He had learned to shrug off and ignore the curiosity from strangers and friends, later evolving it into a game of sorts of never revealing himself like it was such a big mystery. Most people did find his questionable accessory a bit bizarre, but his true friends had always accepted him for what he was and it was something he had always deeply appreciated. If someone could look past it, he respected the person all the more. He was glad that Sakura was no different in loving him despite his growing list of faults. It felt nice being accepted as he was unlike how his relatives had criticized him growing up.

With a low hum, Kakashi also realized that his mask wasn't just a game to distance himself from people, but also was like a test. The more he thought about it, the sadder it seemed in hindsight. It shouldn't have to take something like that to gauge trust in someone to accept him for who is was.

Running a fingertip across his soft bare lips, he wondered if it would really be that hard to let it go when he probably should have a long time ago. He was a grown man after all, yet he still had these unspoken fears about revealing his face in public and relying on his mask for comfort as he did as a little kid. He was no longer bitter or saddened about closely resembling his father. In fact, he was quite proud to look like the only man he had ever looked up to or respected.

It took many years to get that point, but he had finally come to terms about everything on some level. That brief peace was shattered weeks ago leaving him with only more unresolved questions surrounding their tragic deaths than answers, but like with everything else in his life, he needed to move forward, even if he was being forced to. It would be for the best for him in the long run, wouldn't it?

"Easier said than done," Kakashi said with a faint grumble, repositioning his mask once again as he moved away from the window.

Walking back towards the desk, he trailed his fingers along the polished cherry wood edge, following the smooth crafted surface before reaching towards one of the scattered papers that had spilled from the folder earlier. With a reluctant sigh, he reorganized them before sitting down in the plush office chair. As he read through the proposed speech Zokushi wanted him to give at the press conference, he held back a scoff while his eyes scanned each predictable line. It was just as he figured it would be. Entirely filled with marketing buzz words and political drabble about how he would proclaim his goal of leading the corporation into a new era and honor his family's name under what his father had built.

Leaning back in the chair, he placed the speech down and debated if this was truly what he really wanted to do. Then again, did he really have a choice? Hearing a light knock erupt his thoughts, he looked up to see Ishida crack the door enough to speak.

"There's a meeting you need to attend that's starting soon, Hatake-san. Are you ready to go to the conference room?" the dark suited man asked.

"Um, yeah, sure…" Kakashi muttered, collecting the file before sitting up to leave towards the door and follow Ishida.

Before the press conference, the first thing on his agenda was a proper meet and greet of all the board members of the company. Having briefly met a few of them at the formal signing for him to take over, he hoped that it would go by fast. When he arrived inside the main meeting room, the air wasn't as tense as it was last time, but as Zokushi's brother Ichiro began to lead the meeting, the man clearly still wasn't thrilled that he was here, making it a point to not look at him unless necessary.

Keeping up forced eye-crinkles of a smile at each board member Kakashi formally greeted, as the meeting dragged on he would occasionally glance towards Ichiro in contemplation of trying to personally talk with him. Was he even aware of the circumstances that his little brother was forcing him into with this ridiculous situation? If not, then maybe he could use his help to get a better handle on Zokushi. Hell, maybe they could even strike up a deal that so that he and Sakura could be left alone and end things here for good. There wasn't any other reason why he was here in the first place. He wanted her to not only be safe, but to be left alone. He didn't have any desire to be a part of this corporation from the start, but if it came down to the choice of giving up the company to Ichiro though, he wasn't sure if he liked that idea much better than giving it to Zokushi, seriously doubting that the older brother could ever be the lesser of the two evils. He would rather give it to someone who deserved it and wasn't filled with endless greed, but in reality that's how most people in the business industry were.

Kakashi wasn't sure if trying to reach out to Ichiro would be worth it, but he didn't have a lot of options to being with though. What else did he have to lose?

When the meeting was adjourned, he quickly gathered his papers and stood up from his chair to catch his older cousin before he could walk past him.

"Ichiro-san," Kakashi forced himself to call out politely. "Can I have a word with you?"

Annoyed, the man sighed as he halted in his hurried steps before impatiently glancing at his watch. "What is it then?"

"Can I talk to you privately?" he pressed.

"About?"

"Well, it's-"

Feeling a hand brace against his shoulder, Zokushi had appeared beside him with a friendly smile. "Kakashi-san, shouldn't we be heading towards the press area in the main lobby? We need to get ready for your public debut. Let's not bother my busy brother, mm?"

With a raised brow, Ichiro glanced between them both before casting his brother a thankful look and exiting through the conference doors. Zokushi led Kakashi outside into the hall, slowly escorting him towards the elevators behind everyone else who had previously been in the meeting.

Checking so that no one would overhear him, Zokushi sharply whispered, "And what was it that you needed to talk to my brother about?"

After a moment of a silence, Kakashi sighed and replied, "Nothing."

Narrowing a glare as he abruptly broke his firm hold against his shoulder, he adjusted his glasses before shifting through a few papers he had pressed against his chest. "Yeah, that's what I thought," he murmured with a hint of annoyance. Raising his eyes to Kakashi, he said, "And we're going to keep it that way, got it? You don't have any business speaking with him, ever."

Weakly returning a look to his silver-haired cousin as one of the elevators chimed, he dryly muttered, "Yeah, I got it…"

Stepping inside the elevator, Kakashi leaned against the cool marble backing to make room for more people. He nearly rolled his eyes as Zokushi brightly began to chat to someone, his irritated mood completely vanishing from just a moment ago.

He certainly was quite the actor.

Noticing curious stares his way, Kakashi pulled out the folder tucked from beneath his arm and pretended to be busy reading to avoid any conversation on his side as his thoughts drifted.

Now he felt even more convinced that Ichiro wasn't aware of his little brother's scheme of dragging him here. Since he took over of what was supposed to be his role, why else would Zokushi act so persistent about never speaking with Ichiro? Knowing how much the man seemed to dislike him already, he wasn't sure what good would come out of it even if he did manage to, but felt that he needed to try if he didn't find any other options soon. He wasn't sure how long he could manage staying here and playing along with his cousin's games… and the idea of staying for months on end doing his bidding did not sit well with him at all. He wasn't sure if he could even manage a week at this point.

When the elevator dinged on the second floor, he followed Zokushi out into the hall which opened up into an extensive two story lobby. Lightly trailing his fingers along the smooth glass railing as he walked, he observed the bottom floor below. His heart plummeted as he saw several rows of people and cameras surrounding a small podium at the top of a makeshift stage.

Walking towards the staircase that led to the first floor below, each increasing step he took felt heavier as his stomach slowly increased in unforgiving knots. Upon reaching the edge of the blue backdrop of curtains behind the stage that faced the audience, he carefully pulled back just enough to get a closer peek at what he already knew was waiting for him.

Glancing across the many seats filled with unfamiliar faces, he lingered at a few photographers prepping their digital cameras, and feeling like his heart was beating faster by the second. Swallowing down the lump that had formed within his throat, he inwardly sighed when it hit him how truly unprepared he was. Maybe it was different for people who were used to giving speeches and press conferences on a daily basis, but how could anyone with no experience do the same with barely a moment's notice?

Meeting Zokushi's eyes, all he could figure was that he was doing this on purpose, either to just mess with him or to be an ass. Probably the latter since his cousin knew how much he hated the press.

After a brief contemplative look, Zokushi approached after wrapping up his conversation with someone. "So, Kakashi-san," he greeted in an even tone, lifting his left hand for a moment to check his watch. "Are you ready?"

Not feeling so in the slightest, Kakashi opened his folder with a sigh and thumbed through the first few pages of the speech that he was supposed to recite. "You realize I've barely had any time to prepare, don't you?"

"All you have to do is just read. It's not that difficult, is it?" he replied in a condescending tone.

Unamused, Kakashi said, "You know it requires much more than that."

"Hardly."

Annoyed, Kakashi opened his mouth to retort, "You don't even-"

"-If you're having second thoughts about this, you're still more than welcome to just leave," he cut in. "For a price of course… which I'm sure you're well aware of."

Trying his best not to grow any more irritated, Kakashi quietly shook his head and bitterly swallowed back down his words. As much as he would love to leave, they both knew it was hardly an option.

Seemingly pleased by the moment of silence, Zokushi pointed towards the left side of the stage and added, "Go ahead and wait over there. One of my assistants will be introducing you shortly. Just follow the speech and there won't be any problems. Oh, and don't forget your mask."

Warily moving towards the direction, the heavy feeling within his chest from before was weighing down in full force as he stopped at the shadowed edge of an open-sided curtain. He watched someone step up to the stage, prompting a flicker of flashes and hushed silence as the man welcomed everyone to the conference.

Kakashi flinched at the flickering lights that washed over the man whose words were drowned out by his own inner thoughts, feeling more uneasy and wavering in uncertainty as every second passed. He knew he needed to get a grip, and fast. Taking in several quiet deep breaths, it didn't seem to help his prickling nerves that were slowly beginning to spread throughout his veins.

Why did this conference feel like a giant setup for failure? Was that Zokushi's intention all along? Or was this simply a stupid test to prove he could follow orders in the dreaded following weeks to come?

Nervously fidgeting with the speech in his hands, he glanced over to the wooden podium and wondered multiple times how in the hell was he seriously going to pull this off. He tried to remind himself this was only as much as a big deal as he made it out to be, but how could it not be? While he was gradually becoming number around paparazzi since news first broke out about his parents' true deaths, he still hadn't shown his face in public since he was a child.

He felt so stupid right now feeling this insufferable anxiety about not only marching up there in front of cameras, but about leaving his mask down. He knew all the excuses why he shouldn't even care about it anymore, yet why did something so simple have to feel so damn difficult?

Barely reaching a hand towards his masked chin with the intention to pull down, his fingers melted back down to his papers again when his heart felt like it was about to jump into his throat.

Wasn't he a master of hiding his emotions? Where was that indifferent and aloof man people usually described him to be?

'That person never really existed.'

He couldn't kid himself. He was always capable of emotions. That was what the mask mostly hid: his true feelings of loss and fleeting moments of happiness. He had always been able to smile, be angry… or sad. It's just that for a longest time, he repressed or covered most of it until he met her...

'…Sakura.'

Nervously crumpling the edge of the speech in hand, he felt his face drain and his heart sink when he heard his name called followed by a round of applause. There was a small hope in the back of his mind that it wasn't his cue to already head up there, but the man on stage held a wide open arm in his direction, motioning him to come out from behind the long curtains.

Lifting a single finger towards the top of his mask, Kakashi slowly pulled it down against his mind automatically telling him not to. Again and again, he told himself he could do it. He could do something as simple as this. He was capable. He could do anything if he put his mind to it.

Wanting to prove to himself that he could do it, his body was struggling to even cooperate. His feet weighed like cement blocks as he forced himself to take one step forward.

And then another.

Before he knew it, he found himself at the top of the stairs, barely aware of shaking the hand of his introducer before standing behind the podium. Placing his papers down on top of the wooden surface, his hands were trembling and he couldn't understand why.

Placing his hands within his pockets to hide it, he forced a smile as he acknowledged the crowd with a look which met him with multiple flashes and clicks of shutters around him. Glancing back down at the notes of his speech, he blinked several times still seeing white blurred circles washing over the words before him.

'Just pretend.'

Pretend that he wasn't here right now. Pretend that he wasn't being forced like a puppet at the hands of people he wish he was never related to. Pretend to be the actor he was supposed to be for who knows how long. He had to. It was the only way he was ever going get through this endless bullshit.

Inhaling a deep breath, the bright overhead lamps that lit up the stage bared down on him like the sun as he stood slightly slumped in an awkward silence of what felt like minutes, but in reality was only a few seconds.

Feeling nauseous and lightheaded beneath the hot lights, he inwardly cringed as he felt sweat roll down the spine of his back beneath his dress shirt. He wasn't sure if he was going to make it after all.

Hesitantly looking up towards the video camera in the center, he parted his exposed lips before saying, "Sorry…"


Tapping the end of her pencil against her desk, Sakura stared out the window nearly in a trance as the rain tapped repeatedly against the glass. All she could manage to do lately was worry and barely get by completing all of her classes' homework on time. It was so hard to care when she'd rather be with Kakashi than here.

"Haruno Sakura."

She jolted towards the front, realizing that the classroom she was sitting in was entirely empty.

"You can stop daydreaming and go home now, Haruno-san. Class is over," her professor said with mild disappointment.

Mortified, she quickly packed her things that were scattered across her desk and stood up with an apologetic bow. "Very sorry, Saito-sensei…"

"It's alright, Haruno-san. I know not all my lectures are very riveting most days, but I am cutting you some slack since you have been doing well in my class. But finals are in two weeks, and I'd hate for your grades to slip now."

"I will do my best, Saito-sensei," she replied, bowing once more before rushing out the door and into the halls.

Cheeks still prickling red with embarrassment, she quickly walked down the corridor until she was near one of the many exits of the building. Pausing, she rummaged through her bag to see if she had her umbrella with her today, but quickly realized that she didn't.

Sighing, she turned her attention back to the rain for a moment, suddenly reminded about when she and Kakashi first talked on a rainy day such as this, except instead of forgetting her umbrella, she had forgotten her wallet. He had been kind enough to buy her lunch, claiming a silly excuse that he didn't want to see a former student starve to death.

Quietly grinning to herself at the fond memory, her smile soon fell now that she was only missing him all the more. Part of her wished that her concerns about him were simply going overboard like any other normal girlfriend might react, but had she plenty of reasons to be sincerely worried…

And to make matters worse, she couldn't shake the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach since her last visit to Osaka, no matter how hard she tried to ignore it. She couldn't seem to sleep lately and she couldn't manage to eat very much. Focusing on classes was now even more of a challenge.

How was she going to get through this?

While it would be academically stupid to drop out now with only two weeks left in the late summer semester, the more she thought about returning to Tokyo without him for the Fall term, the more and more she hated the idea. Being already sick with worry, a phone call each night wasn't going to be enough for very long. She wanted to be there.

As she watched the water stream down against the windows, she wondered how against the idea Kakashi really was of her coming to stay with him. For her it seemed like the best solution. It would make her happier, and she hoped it would be a relief for him to have someone to come home to instead of being alone every day. Biting her lip as she pondered, at least she will have the next few weeks to convince him of the idea, but she supposed it would all depend on how safe he felt she could be from staying so close to H&H with him. She couldn't blame him for the things Zokushi seemed to be capable of… and that was the main reason why she was worried for Kakashi. No, more like scared...

Exhaling a deep breath to relieve the ache in her chest, she still felt the same emptiness. Still trying to fully convince herself that she would be more at ease if she was closer to him, she was pretty sure it would be the best thing. The better option would be for Kakashi to get the hell out of there, but that left her with the same question she'd been stuck trying to figure out since the beginning.

'How?'

Adjusting the slipping bag against her shoulder, she finally moved through the double doors and into the storm outside, uncaring if she got wet anymore once she decided that she just wanted to go straight home to Iruka's. Ice cold rain greeted her as she made her way to the student parking lot, dampening her pink locks into a dark rose colored shade. Crossing her arms to suppress a small shudder from a chill, she felt a little silly being the only person on the sidewalk without an umbrella, but figured there were much worse things to worry about.

It wasn't like her to skip classes, but knowing she wasn't going to pay much attention today, she felt there really wasn't much point in going. Frowning slightly at her sour attitude and mood today, she supposed it was normal every once in awhile.

By the time she reached Kakashi's car he had let her borrow while he was away, she was soaked to the bone. Once she reached Iruka's house, she quietly slipped into the house from the back porch to avoid tracking in a big dripping mess into the living room. She hurried to her guest bedroom in hopes of not running into Sachi; the last thing she wanted was to make Iruka's wife worried over her. The woman was already more than kind enough towards her during her first few days here, going completely out of her way to make sure she was comfortable.

Peeling off her wet clothes until she was left with just her underwear, she grabbed a towel and lightly rubbed her hair, wrapping it tightly around herself before crawling into her warm futon. With a relaxing sigh, she felt very tempted to fall asleep, but figured she shouldn't if she still wanted to wake up and make an effort in going to classes tomorrow.

Wiggling to her bag she had dropped by the bed, she pulled out her phone and frowned slightly at seeing no new messages. She couldn't help but wonder how Kakashi's first day must be going… he hadn't replied yet to her first text this morning wishing him a good day. She could only imagine he must be having quite the busy schedule. What all was Zokushi going to make him do? Was he actually going to make him do work? Did he have other plans in mind for Kakashi to do something else?

Her chest had that tight feeling again. Was this why she felt so worried today? Because she knew that it was his first official day there? Biting her lip again as she clicked through her phone looking for nothing in particular, she realized that could be why she felt so especially out of it today.

Tempted to send another text, she decided to wait till a little later not wanting to possibly interrupt him. Tossing her phone on the pillow beside her, she sat up slightly on her elbows and grabbed the remote to the small television that sat on a small dresser in her room.

Slowly flipping through the different channels in hopes of finding an interesting talk show late in the morning, she paused after thinking she had just saw a flash of silver hair on the previous channel she had just skipped. Feeling her heart beat a little faster, she changed it back as her mouth fell open in shock at what she saw.

She couldn't believe it as she watched Kakashi's unconcealed lips move without the confines of his usual mask. At first his ridged slumped posture seemed to ease as he subtly appeared to be trying to get a hold of himself, swallowing down whatever trepidations he had before clearing his throat.

He forced a smile, excusing his awkwardness which prompted a sympathetic laugh from the audience.

Nervously clutching the base of her necklace against her chest, she stared in bewilderment as the news segment briefly cut away to the anchors short commentary before showing more footage of the conference. Her heart drummed as she strained to hear the varying words he spoke. It wasn't that she couldn't hear him, but it was hard to focus against the buzz of questions in her mind.

'Why? How? Is he okay'

Never had Kakashi ever mentioned wanting to be so open about his face to the public. It seemed so out of character for him. While she always felt he had nothing to hide or be ashamed of, she respected his personal reasons for wearing his mask. She loved him and everything that made Kakashi, Kakashi. Now as he stood behind the podium trying his best to seem collected, she knew there was no way he could possibly be okay with this.

Seeing Zokushi standing off to the side, her heart instantly welled up with anger. Why else would Kakashi have done something like this unless being forced to? How could his cousin do something like this? He must have known that Kakashi had always worn his mask for most of his life, much less his trepidations about the press.

But as the news cut away again to talk about H&H's newest rising CEO and President before moving on to the next headline of the day, Sakura frowned in concern wondering if he was okay after having to do something like that. It couldn't have been easy.

Reaching for her phone from the pillow beside her, she quickly texted asking if he was alright, saying that she had seen him on television.

Sighing, she lay down on her futon and stared at the phone for a moment in hopes that he would reply soon, but it wasn't long before her phone slowly slipped from her fingers as she drifted off to sleep.


"I'm surprised," Zokushi said, leading the way down the walkway towards the waiting elevators near the back of the building. "You did better than I expected."

"Yeah, I bet," Kakashi said with a stale reply. Purposely dropping something like this in the morning without advanced notice, he was sure it probably would have amused his cousin to no end if he had completely choked up. He almost did at the start, nearly overwhelmed by his original impulse to panic. The only way he was able to make it was pretending he was just talking to Sakura like it was any other day. It was hard to imagine her there though, with all the eyes and lights on him.

Pulling at the edge of his mask to tug it back up out of habit, he managed to drop it again, leaving it pooled beneath his bare chin. He needed to let it go, didn't he? This is what he wanted at some point in his life, he just didn't think it would have been today, or being shown so damn publicly for the first time.

"In fact," Zokushi added, "You've done so well that I think we may have to set up a couple of press junkets. I'll have someone get started on working on some questions and answers for you to start memorizing."

Kakashi let out an irritated sigh as he watched the doors open before them, loathing the idea of having to do anything more relating to public relations and the stupid media. He held his tongue until they stepped inside the elevator since people were nearby within earshot.

Biting his inner cheek as he waited for the doors to close after Zokushi pressed a button, he spat out in a concerned tone, "Look, I've already done this ridiculous conference without any warning from you whatsoever. I'd rather not do anything else requiring me to stand in front of more cameras."

The younger Hatake folded his arms, returning a bored look through his tilted dark glasses. "Well, thankfully your opinion doesn't matter."

"..."

With a faint scoff, he added, "We won't have you go anywhere that you'll be asked anything other than what we tell you to rehearse for, so don't worry so much over it. Like I said earlier, nothing's negotiable. Deal with it."

Fingers clenching into a fist within his pockets, Kakashi wanted nothing more than to smack that arrogant look off Zokushi's face. This was how the rest of the coming weeks were going to go, wasn't it?

He didn't like it one bit.

Being pushed around and talked down to just as he was all those years ago as a kid. He had enough of it between his uncle and other meaningless relatives before he finally left that place.

How could he possibly last much longer like this?

He didn't want to hit his breaking point again. Not after how much he struggled to bounce back from the dark place he was before. He wasn't sure if his younger cousin was simply testing his commitment to play along or just purposely being a jackass. Either way, it was hard to remain silent and just deal with it.

It was hard letting things go. It was hard feeling like he was constantly getting beaten down at every turn of his entire life.

It was easy in wanting to give up.

Staring out the exposed glass backing of the elevator as it rose up several floors, he watched the city move in the connected streets around them, contemplating what he felt were his only two choices. He could either continue putting up with Zokushi's requests, or walk away knowing he could cause harm to the only person left in his life that he loved.

Maybe they could be okay. Maybe it could turn out to be something they could overcome with a little time and patience, but the lingering threat of something more than that was what made him stay petrified as he did now.

As the elevator signaled a familiar chime to mark its final arrival, Kakashi shifted his attention back to the floor they had entered. Ishida was waiting for them both, bowing before whispering something into Zokushi's ear.

Nodding with an irritated look, Zokushi turned back and said, "I have a brunch I need to attend. Ishida will escort you to your other meetings today. It's mostly introductions with each department and a few papers they will probably give you to look over which you don't have to. All I ask is that you attempt to be pleasant with people."

"I'm always pleasant," he remarked dryly. Looking to Ishida, he sighed before saying, "Well let's get this over with."


Unlocking the front door to his new temporary home, he was surprised Ishida didn't follow him into the damn building as he had with everywhere else today like a gnat. He hardly had much time to eat attending an endless string of meetings. Who knew talking all day could be so exhausting?

Loosening the knot of his tie with one hand, he tiredly sighed as he dropped a large packet of papers beneath a lamp that detailed objectives, goals and figures of each department. The only thing he could thank Zokushi for was that he wasn't required to learn any of it. If he did, he would be far more miserable than he already was.

Kicking off his shoes by the doorway, he slipped off his suit jacket, folding it over one arm before reaching his bedroom. Soft moonlight poured into his room before he flipped on the switch. Noting that the sheets and bedding were neatly remade, he had almost forgotten about his new housemaid Fumiyo. Wanting to give her a chance to work here, it was going to take some time to get used to seeing her in the mornings. He had to admit he was interested in hearing a bit more about her sister who had worked for his father. Any kind of memories of his late family were better than nothing. He wasn't left with many himself.

Glancing at the clock, he couldn't believe how late it was already. Before doing anything else, he wanted to call Sakura first. He had wanted to text her all day to tell her he was alright, but never had a free moment to as he was constantly going from meeting into the next.

Taking out his phone, he called her and smiled for the first time today from the sound of her voice.

"Hi," he greeted nonchalantly despite his childlike grinning. Rushing to speak before she could get past a hello, he added, "I wanted to order a large thin crust pizza."

"Kaka-"

"Extra cheese, pepperoni, onion, mushrooms, half pineapple, half extra pepperoni."

"Kakas-"

"Wait, wait. Scratch that. I'll just have some breadsticks with some marinara sauce and chicken wings."

"Kakashi," Sakura replied in an unamused tone. "I'm not Pizza Hut."

"Oh, sorry… wrong number," he playfully said while trying to hide quiet chuckle. "Talk to you later."

"Kakashi!"

He madly smiled. "I'm just kidding, Sakura-chan."

Cradling his cell against his shoulder, the joke seemed to be on him now that he felt extra hungry not having eaten dinner yet. Walking towards the nearest of the two kitchens the penthouse offered, he felt relieved finding a nice assortment of fresh food to choose from to make himself a quick dinner tonight.

As he began to prepare a small rice cooker as they talked, just like he had feared, she sounded quite worried after seeing him on television. When she asked if he was okay, he assured to her that he was. A few moments ago he certainly wasn't, but talking to her seemed to melt some of the stress away. It almost made him forget why he was here.

"So, your really went the entire day without it? How does it feel?" she questioned.

"It's um… honestly kind of strange," he confessed. Still without his mask as he came home, he felt rather different without the extra fabric hugging against his cheeks. Throughout the day he had attempted to pull at an invisible mask out of habit that wasn't there anymore.

Wanting to change the subject and avoid talking about his unpleasant day of being escorted everywhere without much room to breathe, he asked, "How were your classes today? Learn anything exciting?"

She strangely fell silent before giving a general response that her classes went well as usual, talking more so about the rain and casually mentioning how she accidentally hydroplaned on the road while going home, scratching his car along a barbwire fence.

"You what?" he choked out, nearly dropping the phone on top of the chopping board he was using to slice a few carrots.

"I'm kidding, Kakashi-kun. That's what you get for earlier.."

He breathed a little easier, swearing he could hear muffled giggling on the other end. Narrowing his eyes at a single piece of carrot as he spoke with a smirk, he lightly said something to the effect how he was going to delightfully pay her back for her little lie later.

Sitting at the dining table forty minutes later, he reluctantly said he needed to go and promised he would call tomorrow, wishing her a good night while playfully arguing how he missed her much more than she did him. Their conversations always seemed to turn that way which he was thankful for. It made him feel like a silly teenager, but he couldn't help it. Besides, he learned that age was nothing but a number after all.

Placing his phone on the table with a tired yawn, he picked up a wooden pair of chopsticks he had found in one of the drawers in the kitchen, scooping up a morsel of his freshly made vegetable fried rice dish to his parted lips.

All that could be heard as he ate were the faint taps of his utensils against his plate. It was so quiet inside the apartment. Too quiet. Back then this kind of peace was something that he longed for when he was on his own. Now it was hard to get used to after living all those months side by side with Sakura.

At least she would be visiting for the first time this weekend, if he made it that far gauging by his irritating first day. He still was secretly on the fence of letting her visit or not. It probably would be a good idea to just have her come next week, but he felt slightly selfish in not wanting to wait that long. He needed her, even if it was only for just a brief moment.

Picking at the leftovers on his plate, he sat up and rinsed his dishes in the sink before returning back to his bedroom. Glancing over at the dimly lit walls, he reached for the circular light switch to make the room a little brighter. He felt beyond dead tired already and wanted to get ready for bed, but he couldn't rest until he put his mind at ease.

Rolling up the sleeves of his buttoned-up white shirt, he placed his hands on his hips as he surveyed the dauntingly large room. He was lucky that the decorations were more of a minimalist design, so there were few furniture pieces within the room. Starting with the night stand, he smoothed a finger beneath the edges, soon lifting up and checking the glass lamp before flipping the table over to check.

Running a finger over every shelf and picture frame, he removed and checked everything that he could that was within the room. He even took out the wall socket plates with the help of a small screwdriver he had found tucked away in the utility closet of the apartment. Standing on the very edge of the bed, he also unscrewed the ceiling fan for any sign of wires that had no place to be there.

Finally dragging a dining chair into the room after painstakingly checking the walls for any small signs of holes or marks, he sighed at himself for feeling so paranoid about the room possibly being bugged with cameras. He couldn't blame himself after what Zokushi had done… and knew for as long as he was going to live here, he wouldn't ever feel right about freely talking without checking for even the slightest hint of a possibility from now on.

Finding nothing, he decided to save the bathroom for tomorrow. At least for now he could sleep a little easier. He wasn't looking forward to checking over the rest of the large penthouse, but felt it was something that just had to be done for his own sanity.

Falling into bed after changing into some dark blue cotton pants to sleep in, he had forgotten to turn off the lights, but was too tired to get up again. Instead, he simply buried his face into his soft lush pillow, unconsciously pulling at the other pillow beside him into his arms wishing it was a certain pink-haired woman instead.

Tomorrow would be another fun-filled day at H&H. He hoped that the next few days would be easier, but he wasn't going to hold his breath. Zokushi seemed hell-bent on bringing him nothing but misery in one form or another. He wasn't sure what he was going to do about possibly having to go through more press.

A breathless sigh left his lips as he fell asleep. All he wanted was this horrible dream to be over. All he wanted was to just go home.

TBC


[ Author Note: Sorry for how long it's been since the last update! Trust me when I say how much I hate myself for it. Life and a creative rut really makes for bad writing (which may be evident in this chapter I'm sure)

Did my best though, and nearly halfway done on next chapter. Just want to say how much I appreciate the kind comments and concerned PMs I've gotten from yall in the past few months in regards to the story and myself. You guys are too patient and way too nice.

Thank you for that, and thank you for reading.

Until next update~

Chapter edited by: CelestialCircumference ]