Clouds blanketed the early morning sky, heavy with impending rain. Thick enough that it seemed to delay the sunrise itself. Cool wind swirled around their feet as they walked down the dirt road, filling their noses with the scent of damp earth. Every rustle, every step sounded so loud to him. He expected the silence to feel awkward, yet he sensed nothing from her. This was stark opposite to the personality he clashed with a week ago.

A single dark eye watched the short hair flutter around her face with ambivalence. Every so often he caught a glimpse of her pale eyes staring into the distance. Relying on autopilot to lead the way to the hospital, without care for the gloomy world around them.

She was like this every morning now, though he didn't know that.

He had questions, and he knew when and how to push for information. This wasn't the best time…but it might be the only time. They were nearing their destination, and he would need to let her go soon. He considered his approach carefully.

"I gave my approval because Tsunade described it as a support role in a contingency plan. She said it would make use of your specialty, without putting you on the frontlines of a conflict you're not ready for. Is that what it is?" His question was impartial, betraying the slithering suspicion in his gut that there was some vital information he was missing that might make him reconsider.

"Yeah… Sort of…"

A disappointing response. Kakashi stared at her expectantly, waiting for more. Normally, he would have kept quiet. Let the stillness drag out, until she started babbling some more, but that wasn't going to work this time. If he kept his mouth shut, he knew he would get nowhere this time.

"Sakura," A hand landed on her shoulder, guiding her to turn and face him. Swiveling, she gazed up at his masked face with detached compliance.

"You don't need to tell me what your mission is to use me as a resource. I'm here to help you, so let me. It's literally my job."

She smiled faintly. The tinted bags under her eyes were new. Nothing severe, but it was another change he noticed from the last time he saw her. He didn't know if it had any relation to this assignment, but he knew he didn't like it.

"I know you are. I just…don't know how." Muttering, she glanced away in thought. "You're right. It is a support role, I guess. But I don't really know what's going to happen yet. They put me on 'standby'."

The half-lidded eye observing her was calm, almost disinterested. Appearing less invested than he was. It was difficult to make any judgments he could trust, knowing next to nothing of the situation. He wasn't trying to pry for anything he wasn't supposed to know, either. She was still his student, but this matter was between her and their Hokage. What he did want to piece together was how she was being affected by it. Right now, she wasn't looking or behaving like herself, and that was his concern. If he had reason to believe she was getting in over her head, he would have no problem speaking up to Tsunade.

"It's not what I thought it would be, you know?" The rhetorical question whispered, and her tired eyes sank down to his vest.

"What did you think it would be?" He asked passively.

"I don't know… Something that would be exciting? Make me feel proud to be chosen for this? All I have is this…heaviness. It's like nothing I've ever felt before. And I'm afraid…that…if I somehow fail in…what I need to do…" She glanced down the road to the stone pillars preceding the entrance of the hospital, leaving the sentence unfinished. This would be her sixth day in a row working twelve-hour shifts. It was supposed to help keep her busy and distracted. So far, it was just adding to her mental exhaustion.

"That's not a bad response, Sakura."

Skeptical eyes snapped to him, unsure if that was sarcasm.

"I would rather hear you say that, than be excited. It means you're taking this seriously. Not everyone does, when they've been given a covert mission. They put their ego first and think about how this could advance their career, or treat it like some exotic adventure. An assignment with ANBU shouldn't be underestimated."

"Mmmh…" Eyebrows crinkling in doubt, she looked towards the hospital again. Kakashi searched the worried lines of her face.

"You aren't held to the same standards as the ANBU. You know that, right? If you don't think you're ready for something like this, then you can say that. It doesn't mean you're weak. It would take more strength to admit this isn't for you."

The small mouth opened and closed a few times. Fighting over what she wanted to say. There was so much, but everything she thought of was swatted down by another counterargument in her head. If only she could explain everything to him.

"I said I would do it. I'm not changing my mind." She settled, meeting his eye with weary determination.

"I know you don't see me the same way you do Naruto and Sasuke, but I can do this. I'm just… I didn't expect everything to hit so close to home. Whatever happens in the end, it will affect…so many lives. Including mine. That's why it's…hard…"

His gaze narrowed, "Sakura, I wasn't saying I doubt your abilities–"

"It's okay, sensei…" Cutting him off softly, she shifted away to face the road. "I know you mean well. But can you just…let me be afraid of the outcome without thinking you need to save me from it? I'll be okay…"


His eye widened slowly, and he watched her take a couple steps further away. Face now obscured by the wind rustling through her hair.

He wanted more than anything to find the right words, but he wasn't so sure what they should be anymore. While she gazed into the distance, he reflected with his chin tilted downward.

The comment she made about being personally affected struck him uneasily. It could mean many things, but they were all hinting towards Konoha itself, rather than an interception with another village–something ANBU was more commonly tasked with resolving. An internal affair could be more dangerous and intricate, in his opinion. If it was something political, it was guaranteed to be rife with deception. He wasn't sure how he felt about that.

"Don't misunderstand me," He said quietly after a long pause, "We haven't had a lot of one-on-one training lately, but it's not because I think you're less capable than either of them. You're being mentored by the Hokage. That speaks for itself. What I'm saying is that I have experience with ANBU. Their missions are in a league of their own. They can have a serious impact for anyone who still has a soul."

She glanced back at him thoughtfully. Contrary to what he believed, she didn't misunderstand him at all. In fact, she didn't think she ever understood him as much as she did now. Like her encounter with Sasuke last week, it was a moment she would have relished if it weren't for the gravity of the situation stealing it away.

"Why did you leave?"

His chin lifted, and he stared up at the overcast sky with a meaningful grunt.

"It wasn't my decision to leave. I was forced to, because…" There was a snort of bitter, yet accepting amusement in his pause, "Some were afraid I was losing my soul." That was the long and short of it. He couldn't say he regretted the career change, but that was a little more sentimental than he was willing to share.

"Anyway… I'll let you get to work. Just remember, I'm still here. If there is a way I can help, I will."

"Oh, well…thank you. I promise if I think you can help me with something, I'll come to you, okay?"

Turning his head, he found her watching him with a smile. He would've thought nothing of it, until she laughed softly.


"No–I didn't mean to laugh at you. Thank you, really. It's just that I suddenly realized…I don't think I've ever seen you up this early before. You're usually late to everything."

The blank expression on his mostly covered face melted into a mild scowl. Mask shifting with a crinkle of his nose.

"I'm on time when I need to be." He muttered defensively, "I'm up this early because you've been difficult to track down. This was the only way I could catch you."

Turning, he started down the road in the opposite direction at a leisurely pace. He'd never admit that it was a nice change, being out and about this early. There were less people roaming around, and it was more peaceful.


He glanced over his shoulder.

"I don't know when I'll see you again, so… I wanted to say I'm sorry."

Kakashi blinked, and then turned to face her with his hands slipping into his pockets.

"For when you came over last week, and you made me…uhm…take that test?"

Oh. That.

The memories resurfaced in vivid, shameless detail once she prodded them. The awkwardness he was expecting in the beginning of their walk bled in now. Once they got onto the topic of ANBU, it slipped to the back of his mind, but now it was here in full force. All thanks to that damn pregnancy test.

"I wasn't at my best, so… I just wanted you to know that I didn't take the issue lightly. That's all. I wish I had reacted differently, but…yeah. I'm sorry." She was staring down at the ground, cheeks a little pink. It was the last subject either of them wanted to broach, but there was something liberating in saying her piece once and for all. Blundering and short as it was.

It took him a while to answer. There was a battle between the response he knew was the best and likely most fair, and what he wanted to say. More than once in his internal dialogue he was forced to remind himself that he wasn't her father. Such an alien thing, now that he was staring it down in his mind. Never had he considered himself a parental figure to her, Naruto, or Sasuke. It couldn't have been further from his intention.

Or so he thought. All of the parental knee-jerk reactions he was wrestling with now proved that wasn't entirely true, and it was uncomfortable as hell to recognize now.

"I'm your sensei, Sakura." He managed to say with as much forced neutrality as possible. "What you do in your personal life isn't my business, or place to judge. The only thing I care about is…" He struggled with the invisible rock scraping his throat, "Your safety, and your success as a shinobi."

The eyes that cautiously glanced up at him were full of embarrassment. He tried to ignore the biting guilt that pierced him for reasons he didn't understand, and honestly didn't want to figure out. This conversation was sticky enough already, and he just wanted to wash his hands of it.

"I don't need an explanation. Just be careful."

She nodded with a shy, but appreciative smile, and he turned away once more.

"I'm glad you left ANBU…because you've been a great sensei, Kakashi."

Feet planted as if he had smacked into a wall. The sparsely populated road faded as he stared off into space. The first few sprinkles of raindrops whizzed around him. Shimmering in his periphery, and slowly curling the silver tips of his spiky hair forward.

Behind him, her footsteps gradually disappeared as she wandered off without another word. Eventually making a left turn and passing beyond the double pillars out of sight.

The drops pattered loudly along the thick material of the vest protecting his shoulders as the sprinkles quickly thickened. They were cold, even without the wind, but he didn't notice. Underneath his mask, alone, he smiled.

When he moved forward, his eye traced the speckling road stretching before him. Light brown polka-dotted with dark blotches. They spread as the rain chewed the earth into mud.


Kakashi was almost too far to hear the voice that called her name, then. If it had been any other name, and a less familiar tone, he probably wouldn't have noticed at all, but he did. Something about that tone made him pause one last time. His focus returned, sharpening along with his hearing. Thoughts silenced.

Reaching the overhang of the entrance just as the rain picked up, she was about to pull the handle when she froze.

Sakura's eyes snapped wide in shock. In the glossy pane in front of her, she caught his reflection rising up. A dark shadow splitting through a backdrop of stormy gray clouds. Joy and dread collided inside of her, filling her with nausea and butterflies.

Here? Now? Him?

"Itachi…?" She turned, the disbelief etched all over her.

For a moment, he looked as surprised as she did. It wasn't just her expression, but her features themselves. The darkness under her eyes that meant she wasn't sleeping well–something he could relate to. The pale skin that didn't look as healthy as the last time he saw her. She was always pale, but this almost appeared anemic.

He took it all in within a fracture of a second, and then gave a shallow, apologetic bow.

"Hmm, sorry… This must be weird timing."

"Wh…what are you doing here?" Fingers slipping from the door handle, her hand flopped to her side.

Inquisitive eyes peeked up at her, and he rose slowly. He knew she wouldn't expect him to show up like this, but something about the look on her face stirred his curiosity. Rather than her shock shifting to excitement, she seemed apprehensive to see him.

"I know you're working, so I won't keep you long. I was wondering if you would be free sometime soon. It's been a few weeks since I last saw you, and…" He paused, eyes flitting keenly over her ghostly face.

"...I missed you." The words finished with a drop in volume as uncertainty wormed its way through him.

Positively dumbstruck was the best description. The fact that he came here, so early, seemingly just for her. She should have been elated–she was, deep down–but all she could feel in that moment was exposed.

He already knew. He knew instantly something was off just based on her initial reaction. Maybe he wouldn't figure out what, but if that man grabbed hold of a loose thread, she had no doubt he could unravel it until he found the end.

'I missed you.'

It punched her in the gut. Knowing how she was supposed to be reacting, and how badly it contradicted what she wanted to do and say to him.

"I… I'm sorry… I've been so busy. I don't really…know right now?" She peeped softly with halting words, eyes never blinking. A hand lifted and smoothed over her stomach. An unconscious gesture that was protective. Like raising a shield between them.

Itachi glanced down, following the idle movement. At the same time, she finally noticed the green military vest he was wearing. It was just like Kakashi's, and something she'd never seen before on him. Until now, he was always lounging in casual clothes, a robe, or was shirtless.

"Oh… I see. That's alright, I understand." He murmured, eyes wandering in contemplation.

A tightness began creeping through her chest.

"Are you all done recovering, then?" She cocked her head lightly, unable to keep some doubt from showing as she hyper-focused on his vest. Wondering what it meant. Was he back to going on missions again? What kind of missions would he even be doing, with this coup lurking right behind them all?

It was agonizing that she couldn't ask him the things she really wanted.

"Hm?" Following her gaze, he looked down at himself, "More or less. I have to meet with the council today first. We'll go from there."

He gave her a brief smile, eyes softening from their scrutiny. Oh, he knew something was wrong, but he also sensed her desperation to avoid the subject. It left him at a crossroads he wasn't sure how he wanted to navigate yet.

The short stone walkway leading to the double doors scraped beneath his feet as he inched backwards. Ready to reenter the downpour that awaited him. He angled his hand to the side, letting the black umbrella he was smart enough to snatch on his way out the door pop open.

"I wasn't going to come here like this, but you're never home when I show up. I won't bother you about it. Just…let me know if you find some time."

Her hand clenched slowly, gripping into her red shirt as she watched him back out into the rain. The umbrella swooped over his head, and he gave her one more smile.

"Don't forget to care for yourself as much as you care for your patients, okay?" Pausing just long enough to let his eyes sweep over her fully, she found a touch of sadness in their depths and concern in his voice.

There were no questions. No dissecting x-ray glare mapping out intel against her will. She was honestly taken aback, and flooded with regret. Rationally, she wondered if it might be because he knew she needed to start her shift soon, but it didn't make her feel better.

He turned and waded into the silver mist humming in its steady sheets of rain.

"I won't…" The whispered lie that drifted after him was empty and full of frustration. Watching him fade through the rain tested her willpower with each step that pulled him farther away. With great effort, she willed her hand to grip the door and pull it open, slipping inside.

She managed three whole steps in before stopping. At the other end of the room, the receptionist looked up and waved pleasantly. Sakura stared without seeing, grief pulling her brows together.

Puddles were forming in every divot and groove. Splashing as he walked through them. Itachi scanned the slick rooftops once he turned left past the stone pillars. His feet would be muddy by the time he reached the Hokage's office. Maybe he would take a less conventional route instead.

It made perfect sense, but the decision never followed through. His attention looped back to Sakura in between every other thought. Like a buzzing fly that refused to be redirected. He knew better than to take her reaction personally, but something had clearly happened within the few weeks they had been apart.

He considered Sasuke, knowing he apologized to her recently. It took him longer than it should have, but he was satisfied that it was done and over with. Better late than never. He didn't know what was said between them, and he didn't need to…though he couldn't help but wonder if this change in her was somehow related.

That didn't explain why she was working so much overtime right now, however.

The loud claps of displaced water racing up behind him frayed his concentration. Before even turning, he knew he needed to brace for an impact. This wasn't some passing villager trying to evade the storm.

The umbrella shuddered, almost knocking from his hand when she slammed into his chest. He caught her with his free arm, wobbling only a step backwards with the force she dove into him.

"I missed you, too!" The words burst from her as if containing them had been physically painful.

The sprint was a short one, but she still managed to get halfway soaked by the time she reached him. He was dry and warm, and smelled like the unique scents of his home. A scent that was quickly becoming her favorite.

He didn't speak, letting his arm settle around her waist and hold her tightly against him.

"Ahg, this stupid vest…" He listened to her frustrated growl, and watched her pull back far enough to yank his zipper down and bury herself in between the green panels that parted open. The black shirt underneath was much thinner. He was warmer there, and his smell surrounded her like an intoxicating cloud as she buried her face and breathed.

With it loosened, she could slide her hands beneath everything and just feel the soft skin of his back. It was a little bold, being in public, but for a small moment in time she couldn't bring herself to care about anything else. All she wanted was to feel him. Close the gap she was trying to force between them that stung like a salted wound, and find some reprieve from all the stress.

The fact that he hadn't said a word yet set her more at ease. The arm coiled snug around her said all she cared to know. She didn't know how long she could stay on this island of bliss, but she clung to every second. Staying focused on her senses, as if it could slow down time.

The damp hair was cool on his cheek as he tilted to rest on top of her head. Welcoming the intrusion of his personal space.

The raindrops smacked noisily on the flimsy canopy above them. His eyes settled on the ground behind her, lids creeping down in relaxation.

The strong arm around her back shifted upward, never breaking contact. His fingers traced up the nape of her neck and tangled through her hair, massaging slowly over her scalp. With a rub of his cheek, he leaned back to get a better look at the pale pink that was beginning to frizz. He smiled slightly to himself.

It was the perfect color for her name. Of course, that's why her parents chose it. Cliche though it was, he couldn't imagine anything better. Every time he came across pink flowers now, all he thought of was her.

"I sensed you…when I was in the hospital."

Her eyes peaked open, seeing nothing but black. His chest rose and fell in front of her, blocking out the rest of the world and numbing her to its nagging obligations and trials.

"I was dead, but I wasn't gone. I could feel you… I don't think I ever told you." He murmured contently, and her eyes opened wider.

"Cherry blossoms drifting down through dark water. Glowing with their own light, like pink stars falling from the sky. It was the prettiest thing I've ever seen. I felt nothing, until they found me."

Images flashed uninvited behind her eyes. Things she never wanted to see again, let alone relive. His corpse sprawled out in front of her, covered in congealing blood and more injuries than she thought she could ever fix fast enough to matter. The awful sound of the heart monitor whining with his absent pulse. The crushing despair of knowing she was about to destroy Sasuke and the rest of his family with the news of his passing.

Then, the memory of his return. A foul and striking spray of blood and lingering stomach contents, and his first and only word. Petals.

Then, the day he woke from his coma. So disoriented and volatile. He said the word more than once then, too. Petals.

She had almost forgotten. Wanted to forget, in a way. But now she understood.

What made him bring this up now, she didn't know, but it had a way of eating through so sweetly the mental guard she'd been trying to fortify.

When her head tilted up, he found the tears tracing her eyes. Glittering beneath the most vibrant green that reminded him of fresh shoots of grass and young leaves emerging in spring. A compliment to her hair color. He ignored everything else.

"Can you tell me what's wrong?" It was a gentle question with no dependence on her answer, sensing the fragility as soon as they locked eyes. A hairline fracture in her resolve that would splinter into a spiderweb of cracks with the right push. He could have pushed then, if he wanted. He could have made her tell him everything…whatever it was…and he knew.

But he didn't.

There was something otherworldly in the silence that followed. An ethereal connection of perfect understanding and acceptance between them. No expectations.

She was afraid to think about it, as if acknowledging it would make it abandon her like a skittish butterfly. All the fear and guilt vanished from her mind when she lost herself in his eyes. Parting like the thick clouds above to reveal a calm blue canvas of inner peace. All the tightness in her chest eased away.

She realized with acute clarity that she had never felt so safe in her life. Everything was going to be okay, even if she didn't know how. All she wanted was to bask in the awareness, knowing how fleeting it would be.

"Not today…" She murmured quietly back.

His hand brushed up her cheek, and she turned her face into him. The pad of his thumb stroked beneath her eye as it closed. Smothering her lips into his palm and sighing, she felt any lingering trace of burden lift with her exhale. Leaving her weightless. For the briefest, purest moment in time, he found a way to become a dose of revitalizing medicine she didn't realize how much she needed, and it couldn't have come at a better time.


Whatever her secret was, he let it rest. Forgiving it without question.

The scent flooded her again as he pulled her head to rest beneath his chin, and held her there. Feeling her muscles slacken one by one as she melted against him. His fingers laced through the damp tresses, and he peered down the road. Letting her cling to him for as long as she needed.

He wasn't searching for anything as his eyes scanned calmly through the shuddering torrent, but he found a target nonetheless.

Rather, he found what was targeting him.

His focus sharpened. Pupils adjusting rapidly like a hawk that spied a threat, measuring the changes in light and distance as it honed in on the figure taking shape.

The hand petting through has hair never paused. His grip never loosened. He merely studied the man leaning against the wall a block away. Taking shelter from the rain beneath the shadowy overhang of a restaurant. He leaned against the wall in a misleading, relaxed posture with crossed arms, staring right back at him. The space between them was far enough that he might have overlooked him entirely, if it weren't for the telling austerity in that single, black eye.

Itachi was surprised the laser-glare Kakashi was giving him hadn't burned a hole through his skull.

"I have to go…" The sad voice mumbled into his chest, unaware of the mute standoff happening right above her head.

"I'll make time. I don't know when, but…I will see you soon, okay?" Forcing herself let go of him took all the remaining strength she had left. The hand caressing senseless patterns through her hair slipped down. Relenting as she took a step backwards.

Itachi tilted his head downward slowly to meet her, though his eyes were locked on Kakashi until the flash of green looked up at him once more.

He smiled instantly. The glint of steel snatching from his eyes before she could find it. A new internal debate sprang forth as his hand returned to cup her cheek. A minute ago, he wouldn't have thought twice, but now there were potential consequences. Maybe even severe ones, if he read the stern eye of her sensei correctly.

His former sensei, even. For a time, Itachi was taking direction from the Copy Ninja himself, until he was 'promoted' out of ANBU. It was around a decade ago, but he remembered it like yesterday.

The intention hovered without execution for a long moment. He almost denied it, but in the end, he gave in. He simply didn't care about what the aftermath might be. She was more important.

With a dip and angle of his head, he caught her in a kiss. Quick and soft. Restraining the urge to reel her in further and devour her. The way he always wanted to, as soon as her pillowy lips grazed him. This wasn't the time.

"Then I will wait." He whispered into her, and released her fully.

Enough color had returned to her face to make her look human again as she stepped away. The sparkle in her eyes had nothing to do with tears anymore. Sakura stared at him for a long moment. A fresh brand for her memory that she hoped could incinerate for good all of the darker and worrisome thoughts. Then, she turned and dashed into the rain.

Itachi watched her go. Faint smile stuck until she vanished past the stone pillars. When he heard the muffled sound of the door shutting through the rain, his face fell neutral.

Glancing back to her sensei, he analyzed him with cool indifference.

The only subtle change he noticed was the narrowed eye, as if he was beginning to question his own restrained hostility. Not enough to wipe what little intensity could be seen from his face, but it chipped at the edges.

The Uchiha waited patiently. Having an idea of what was to come, and accepting his fate even before Kakashi nudged himself from the wall and he started walking in his direction.

The Copy Ninja could have hid his feelings quite well if he wanted to. They both knew that. The fact that his anger was so visible meant tere wasn't going to be any sugar-coating in this exchange. That was fine. He would rather get straight to the point, anyway.

The water trickled off his shoulders and seeped from his sleeves when he reached him. Absolutely saturating him, and yet he didn't seem in the least bothered. Itachi's gaze flitted briefly to the barest wisps of steam that drifted from his arms. A testament to the temperature difference between the chilling air and the hot blood thrumming through his veins.


"Kakashi." His head nodded in a subtle, respectful bow.

Kakashi considered him. Eyes lingering in silent criticism on the unzipped vest hanging open between them.

"Do you have a minute?"

"I'll make one, if you can walk with me." He answered evenly. No evidence of guilt in his voice. No indication that he was prepared to admit he had done anything wrong. Angling to the side, he sloshed through the widening puddles. Ready to lead them on an unhurried journey towards the Hokage's office.

"Good." Kakashi matched his tone, keeping the ire at bay for now.

The umbrella sprang from his grip before he finished turning. Eyes inching wider as the sudden cold shock of rain doused him, he witnessed Kakashi in his periphery meandering in a different direction. Stealing his lead, along with his protective canopy, to redirect them to the alley running perpendicular to the road across from them.

Drops skimmed his eyelashes rapidly, making him blink and squint. Biting his tongue, he shifted to follow the bobbing silver mane into the dim and moderately private space.

Though he admired the man, their relationship had ended for the most part once he left ANBU. If for no other reason than them both having enough to deal with in their personal and professional lives. There was little to bring them together in their limited downtime.

When he became Sasuke's sensei, Itachi was happy to hear the news.

He knew him, but not well. Not on a personal level. But he did know enough to appreciate how infrequently Kakashi let his emotions get in the way of rational thought.

This was new territory for them both, however. He didn't know exactly how things were about to unravel, but he wasn't afraid of the judgment he was about to face.

The shadows closed around them in the narrow walkway. Pinching off what little light was managing to penetrate the clouds. Kakashi faced the opposite entrance. One hand in his pocket, the other continuing to clutch the borrowed umbrella. Itachi stood faithfully next to him. Letting him decide when he was ready to speak.

"What the hell are you doing…" He asked finally. Teeth gritting and narrowed eye fixating on something in the distance that didn't matter.

"You'll want to be a little more specific." Itachi offered.

"With my student, Itachi." Shoulder pulling back in a sharp turn, he locked onto the cool gaze staring back at him. Dark strands of hair stuck together as they collected water and dripped in front of his pale cheeks.

"Tell me what the hell I just saw. How long has this been going on? She hasn't said a word about you."

"A little while." He answered without any elaboration, never once looking away. "And I have no intention of seeing its end."

The flinty eye twitched slightly in front of him. Torn instantly between reactions. Kakashi was surprised, for more reasons than one. He couldn't wrap his mind around what he had discovered, and this response made his feelings on the matter about as clear as the mud puddle he was standing in.

"You have no business getting involved with her." He mustered finally, gravel in his throat.

Itachi's eyes narrowed a fraction, and he dared lean in closer to his face.

"Who are you to decide who she is involved with, and when?"

"You are five years older than her, Itachi. She is sixteen–"

"And you've been training her to kill since she was a child. Explain to me why it's okay for an eleven-year old to be thrown into warfare, while a sixteen-year old is too young for a relationship." The lightning in his own voice snapped back. Blinding, quick, and clean in its ferocity.

The counterargument cut like a hot kunai, and it was because he couldn't disagree. The priorities and expectations in their world could be incredibly skewed and unfair, in many ways, but that was the life they had been raised to lead.

His hand ripped from his pocket in a flash. Itachi predicted his move before it came, and he let it happen.

The wall slammed against his back and the small building shuddered. Jarring his teeth and sending a brief spike of pain up his spine and into his skull. Kakashi twisted the black collar of his shirt in his fist, holding him in place.

"What I have a problem with is having to force her to take a fucking pregnancy test an hour before she's supposed to receive her first assignment with ANBU! I'm guessing I have you to thank for that, am I right?"

The creases at the corners of his eyes disappeared as they widened in shock. The unyielding confidence evaporated as quickly as the steam from Kakashi's skin.

The closed green vest rose and fell in deep breaths as Kakashi struggled to keep his composure for the first in a very long time. The look on the Uchiha's face spelled everything out for him. He didn't have a clue it happened…but the fact that he didn't immediately deny his role made it clear he hit the nail on the head.

"So I'll ask you again… What the hell are you doing, Itachi? Why her? Why can't you fuck around with someone who's in a better position to handle that kind of consequence? If you hurt her–"

The accusation shook him. Temporarily breaking through the impact of this news so he could fire with a growl of vitriol, "I'm not fucking around with her, and I will never hurt her. I will destroy anything that does."

Kakashi studied him with a long, hard glare. Like a heat-seeking missile searching for any trace of deception. The murky waters of his mind exploded with another flurry of disorienting silt when he found none.

Nothing was panning out the way he expected to this morning.

If it were anyone else scalding him with those words, he would remain skeptical. He never knew Itachi to be the kind of person that would lie about something like this, or pretend to care when he didn't. The raw intensity in his voice was real and unrehearsed.

The pressure disappeared from his chest as the fist hesitantly uncurled, releasing its grip.

There was a huff of bewildered anger as Kakashi took a step back and turned away. His disbelieving eye sank to the ground.

Seeming to accept his answer, though with great difficulty, Itachi let his shoulders relax. He followed his lost gaze down to the ground. Grappling with his own tangled emotions now as he tried to digest what he just heard.

Pregnancy test… ANBU…

Were these the reasons she looked like she'd been through hell?

"It was negative." Kakashi muttered. Allowing him the answer without waiting for him to find the courage to ask the question. The bitterness was still evident, but it was obvious now that he was trying to put a lid on his own animosity.

"But I want to know what you would have done if it wasn't." Head lifting, he fixed him with a look that wouldn't accept anything less than a clear, concise response.

"Whatever she wanted..." He murmured without hesitation, vision disappearing into the mud at their feet.

Kakashi was quiet for a long time. The harsh expression on his face gradually melted into wonder. Itachi heard him take a deep breath and sigh.

Several minutes passed as they both stewed in the silence. Each working through separate mazes in their own heads. The downpour was beginning to ease up, though the sky showed no signs of clearing anytime soon. The only sound remained the steady plops of raindrops. Tinkering all over the roofs above them and speckling into reflecting gray pools below.

"I was going to break your teeth." His voice was much softer the next time he spoke.

"Why didn't you?" Itachi asked distantly, without care for what the answer would be.

"I saw the look on her face…when she left you earlier." Vague, yet it spoke volumes. She had appeared a completely different person when she ran back into the hospital. Even several meters away, he noticed.

Itachi smiled slightly. His eyes didn't lift until he caught the movement in front of him.

Kakashi turned around to face the main road they came from. A hand raised and hovered indecisively in the air, before smacked down on Itachi's shoulder. He gave it a quick squeeze that was almost punishing in its grip, and then fell away.

"I don't like it… But… I can't complain about the answers you've given me. I'm going to trust you, Itachi. Treat her well, or we will have a problem."

The maze he was running crumbled apart, as his last words sucked him forcefully back into reality.

'...or we will have a problem.'

Itachi stared curiously, hearing his own words echoed back to him. The memory of Sasuke in front of his face, inches away. Bloody and swollen and full of more pain and wrath than he ever wanted to suffer from him again. Knowing he was partly to blame for what his younger brother endured. Yet, never letting that pain justify what he had done to Sakura that day.

'But if you ever do hurt her…we are going to have a serious problem. Do you understand?'

What little resentment he held for her sensei vanished instantly.

Kakashi drifted to the end of the alley, taking the umbrella with him. Itachi watched it with another smile. Knowing he was probably never going to see it again, and that it was going to be a long, cold morning. That was alright. Kakashi could win that battle, if he wanted.

"I'm glad to know you care about her this much, Kakashi." He murmured quietly.

He didn't answer. He didn't know if he should feel offended by the implication that he wouldn't care, but he let it go as he wandered out into the open once more.

"You should consider having your own kids. You would be a good father."

At that, the Copy Ninja bristled visibly. Behind him, footsteps splashed out into the road. Waiting for only a moment, and then slowly treading in the opposite direction without expecting a response.

"I'm just going to pretend you didn't say that." He called without turning his head, hand cramming itself back into his pocket like a turtle hiding in its shell.

Itachi's smile waned as he lost his focus on his destination down the road. Now would have been a better time than ever to switch to leaping from one rooftop to the next. He'd get there much faster, and cleaner. He wouldn't be any less wet–it was much too late for that. But he would escape the weather sooner.

His mind retreated from his senses, betraying the cold humidity seeping into his bones. Once again, he found himself circling back to his concern for her. The idea of her cooperating with ANBU was an interesting surprise. It wouldn't be a question he had any right to ask Tsunade, unless the information was given freely first, but that didn't mean he didn't have ways of finding out.

He would find out. If the state she was in this morning had anything to do with ANBU, he would make it his business to know–right or wrong. He didn't care. He knew firsthand how difficult and treacherous his organization could be.

They were vital to the village's defenses and interests, but they operated in a ruthless, cold, and at times lonely arena of their own that the average shinobi would never experience.

As for a pregnancy scare…

He winced reflexively, and spent the rest of his journey trying to figure out when and how he would bring up that subject. If he should bring it up at all.