Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, or any of the characters therein. I do not make any money from writing fanfiction.

The little paper umbrella really made the drink.

Yamato was sitting in the back corner of his secret favourite cafe, relaxing under the steady whirr of the overhead fans. Outside, heat rose from the dirt road in shimmering waves and people dredged on, wanting nothing more than to finish their errands and get out of the infernal heat. It had been quite some time since he had a day off (thap) and had been able to laze around (thap) and just enjoy himself (thap, thap). He'd probably been given the day off (thap, thap, thap) because of his rather excellent job on that last rescue mission (thap, thap, thap, thap). There hadn't been any casualties and only one episode of – THAP!

"YAMATO!" Sakura's sandal smacked the ground beside his table, punctuating her yell. Yamato started, nearly knocking his paper umbrella'd drink over in surprise.

It's too easy to let your guard down in your own village, he thought as he quickly plucked the umbrella out of his drink and hid it away in his pocket out of sight.

"Sakura-san! What a surprise. Um–"

"Will-you-help-me-train-for-the-Anbu-entrance-test ?" she let out in one great rush, clutching the stitch in her side.

Woah. Yamato wasn't one to be caught off guard easily but he hadn't expected her to say that. As was natural in an organization of professional liars and interrogators, keeping secrets was a sport and rumours kept score. Everyone knew what everyone was up to. He hadn't checked in at headquarters for two days, but apparently something had happened involving Sakura that he hadn't heard about yet. Had Ibiki got to her?

"Well, I, uh, I don't see why not. But have to admit, Sakura, I'm a little surprised; I thought you would ask Kakashi first..." Not to mention Kakashi was more qualified; the man proctored most of the tests.

"He told me to ask you." Poker face. Arms crossed.

Oh dear.

"Ah, me?" he asked, leaning far back in his seat and plastering what must have been a cheesy grin on his face. He was stalling, but he needed to buy some time to figure out how to handle that bombshell.

The scowling woman plopped down in the seat opposite him and leaned far across the table, shrinking the space between them to a third of what it had been. It had to be unintentional, but Sakura was making him feel like a mouse cornered by a very ferocious feline.

Under her scrutiny, his thoughts went scrambling into overdrive.

Sakura coming to him for help training was unusual, but her answer tipped Yamato off more than a dozen waving flags could.

Something was up with Kakashi. He had been Yamato's captain for years, and he knew Kakashi never refused a genuine request for help, particularly when it came from his genin team. He had a soft spot for them, whether his kids realised it or not.

So Kakashi choosing to defer a chance to instruct Sakura, for whatever reason, struck Yamato as very odd.

What was holding Kakashi back?

Did Kakashi think she didn't have the skills? Sakura was what he would call a 'late bloomer' in that department, but nowadays she could obliterate nearly any jounin in the village and put them back together again to boot. Her generation had spouted some fearsome (and beautiful) kunoichi, but after Tsunade had finished with her, Sakura was definitely the cream of the crop.

Did Kakashi think she lacked the determination to make it through some tough training? One look at the fiery green eyes burning into his, not appreciating the moment he was taking to think, and he abandoned that thought.

Yamato didn't understand. Kakashi must know he would be best suited to training her. And he couldn't think of any reason why Kakashi wouldn't; Sakura was intelligent, quick on her feet, a phenomenal medic, and had an adequate level of mastery of her even her least favourite ninja arts. Not to mention the woman had a spine of steel.

Now that he thought about it, she was the perfect material for Anbu, although a little piece of his heart squeezed painfully when he thought of the warm – if a little brash – young woman being snared by the infectious darkness of –


He didn't blame the man.

If her furious (and slightly misty?) eyes were any indicator, Sakura had misunderstood. Kakashi hadn't refused to train her because he didn't have the time for her (or for any of the other possible reasons that were undoubtedly swirling around under that crown of pretty hair).

He had said no because he just cared too much.

In Anbu, it was easy to feel like you were drowning in the silence if you didn't have a proper support system.

He himself had relied heavily on the company of the Third Hokage who had always been kind to him and the company of, well, Kakashi. Only a few years older than him, Kakashi was a natural leader and one of the best the five nations had ever seen. Even when Anbu assignments had taken them far from home and things had looked grim, Kakashi had never shucked his professionalism. And when things had gone really bad, he even joked around.

Some people would call those suicidal tendencies, but hey, if it kept everyone else calm and sane Yamato wasn't going to call the rope a noose.

But if Ibiki kept Sakura in Konoha to be an Anbu medic, would she be allowed to talk to anyone other than Ibiki and the Hokage about her job?

His mouth thinned at the thought. It would be a lot of stress. He didn't want Sakura to go through that, but like Kakashi, he wouldn't forbid her from trying if that was what she wanted.

An irritable huff snapped him out of his thoughts.

He realised he had been staring at her for an unseemly amount of time.

"It's no big deal," Sakura broke the silence abruptly, "I mean, he's one of the top ranking shinobi in the village. He's always pretty busy and I did just spring the question on him without any notice, so it's not like he had any time to shift things around in his calendar, not that I would expect him to, I mean, not that I would want him to," she corrected herself, with an all-too carefree flip of her hand.


"But, I guess I just did the same thing to you," she rushed on, not letting him get a word in edgewise, "so I guess I... I mean, I should have stopped and thought about why he said no before I came racing over here, but–"

"Sakura!" he interrupted loudly. "It would be my pleasure to help you."

"Oh," she said. "Oh." Her eyes widened in surprise. Poor girl. She looked frazzled. The day hadn't been kind to her.

"It would be my pleasure to help you," he repeated, more calmly, "if Kakashi won't help you train, but first, I think you should understand why he said no."

She opened her mouth but he held up his hand to stem the next flood of rambling.

"And I can guarantee that it wasn't for any of the reasons you just said." She looked surprised and confused but maybe just a little bit hopeful?

She listened intently as he explained how brutally demanding the physical aspects of the test were and how the tests were individually designed to suss out and exploit a person's weaknesses, mental and physical.

But more importantly he stressed how, the moment you returned to the village, you weren't allowed to talk about anything concerning your mission with anyone other than your captain, Ibiki, or the Hokage. Keeping what you saw, heard, and did to yourself was mandatory.

"That can wear on you. Keeping silent takes its toll, and many agents haven't been able to cope. At least not well. Not healthily. Now personally, I don't doubt that you have the capability to make it into the Black Ops," she had a phenomenal smile, "and I hope you'll find a way to cope well, but depending on your skill set, you may be asked to complete some missions that will weigh on your mind for a while. And I think, for Kakashi, seeing that burden on your shoulders, knowing he had helped put it there would be very..." he searched for the right word, "unpleasant for him."

Sakura rested her chin in the palm of one hand, lips twisting as she contemplated his words.

"But if it'll be unpleasant for him, won't it be unpleasant for you too?" she asked, timidly.

"Yes," he answered thoughtfully, "but Kakashi has known you for much longer than I have. And he," has a serious soft spot for his ex-student and mission partner, "was entrusted with your wellbeing as your genin instructor, and I think that that is a hard responsibility to just shake off."

"Oh," she said.

Sakura stopped playing with her hands and sat back, exhaling hard. It didn't look like the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders anymore.

"I really appreciate your offer," she said slowly, "but I think..." She looked him dead in the eye, willing him to understand.

It was a damn shame, but it was probably for the best.

"I understand. Let me know how things go."

She smiled and stood up to leave. He jerked up clumsily to stand too. She smiled at his gesture.

"Thank you," she whispered as she moved in to give him a little squeeze. For a moment he felt a little uncomfortable; one of her arms was a little low – it was practically resting on his hip. However any concerns he had disappeared as she moved her arms up to around his neck and gave him a chaste peck on the cheek.

He was pretty sure the sudden flush he felt in his face had nothing to do with the heat.

"Um... No problem, Sakura."

Flashing him a brilliant smile, she turned on her heel and waved to him as she strolled out into the bright sunlight.

It was only as he watched the top of her head disappear into the crowd that the warmth in his stomach melted and a squelchy queasiness took its place; in his analysis of Kakashi, Yamato had shared some information on the Anbu entrance tests with Sakura. Nothing too specific, really, but the general rule of thumb in Anbu for what you could and couldn't share was keep your mouth shut. He hoped that even if someone found out that he had been talking to Sakura about Anbu related topics, he wouldn't get it trouble. After all, Kakashi had to have told her some things too if she knew there was an entrance test.

What made his stomach jittery was not what he'd shared, but how easily it had come pouring out of his mouth. He had divulged classified information like he was commenting on the weather. He needed to be more careful than that, he admonished himself. He had fallen under the influence of Damsel in Distress Syndrome this time, but next time he would have to be more careful if Sakura came to him with her frustrated, misty eyes for help.

Accidentally sharing classified information aside, he supposed he'd done well if she was back to being her usual perky self. And since he was standing – why had he stood up when she had, anyway? – he should probably follow her lead and head out soon too; he had to pick up some groceries. And maybe after he should stop by the jounin headquarters and see if Kakashi was around. The man deserved to be given some warning that Sakura wasn't going to take no for an answer. He downed the last of his drink, nodded to the owner, and made his way onto the street with a small, secretive smile on his lips.

Sakura was very pretty.

He didn't notice the bedraggled little pink umbrella tucked just behind his face protector until he was brushing his teeth that evening. He nearly swallowed his toothbrush.

Kakashi paced around his apartment, silently cursing Ibiki. It wasn't Ibiki's fault of course; if he were the head of Anbu he would have scooped up a medic as talented as Sakura long before now. But hell, he could have given him some warning for old time's sake.

He reached the end of his sparse living room and turned sharply, stalking the length of the room for the umpteenth time.

Sprawled along the armrest of his preferred couch, Pakkun lifted open one heavy eye and watched him from his favourite position.

"Y'alright, Boss?"

"Yeah, yeah," Kakashi answered absentmindedly, running a hand through his unruly hair.

Pakkun grunted, unconvinced.

Pace, pace, pace, turn.

He felt like a piece of shit.

Had he overreacted?

With the relative peace after the Third Great Shinobi War, Anbu wasn't exactly what it had been in his day. When he enlisted at the age of fifteen the average Anbu life expectancy was three years. Now the life expectancy was catching up to the average jounin's.

Maybe he had overreacted, he admitted grimly to himself.

Pace, pace, pace, turn.

But to protect Konoha's newfound peace sometimes you still had to cross lines and wade into matters it would be best your allies didn't know about. Peace wasn't a stable thing. Everyone's hands were dirty, even if they didn't know to what extent.

Those types of missions weren't as frequent nowadays, or as harsh in their demands, but he hadn't surpassed his life expectancy several times over by being optimistic. You never knew when you would be called on to act for the sake of the good of the village. You always had to be prepared.

So as much as he wanted to, he couldn't disassociate the Anbu he had joined from the organization of today.

And the thought of Sakura following in his footsteps and enlisting made him feel very, very cold.

Pace, pace, pace, turn. From various perches around the room eight sets of eyes patiently watched him stride back and forth.

On the other hand – his mind spun with possibilities – there was no chance in hell Ibiki would put Sakura in that kind of danger; he had waited too long to get an adequate medic in his clutches to risk losing her; they all had.

Still wasn't worth it in his opinion.

He had never had someone quite as close to him as Sakura. He'd cared for a lot of the people in his life: his friends, his comrades, his ninken, the old crone in the bookstore who sold him special editions of Icha Icha with a wizened smile and a wink... and his team had wormed their way into his life and become his family, even Sai who hadn't been his student. They were new constants that hadn't left him, at least not yet, and in the past years he had spent more time with Sakura than he had with anyone else. When Tsunade had first paired them up a few years ago as temporary mission partners, he had been pleasantly surprised at how much he enjoyed her company. She hadn't turned into a completely different person than the young genin he had known, but she had mellowed and acquired a dedication to her work that he respected. They'd complemented each other in their mannerisms, fighting styles, and work ethic and subsequently their mission success rate had skyrocketed. Tsunade hadn't let them apart after that and frankly he had hadn't minded one bit. At least she hadn't until she decided the hospital needed Sakura more than the field did.

More than he did...

He squashed that thought.

It was selfish of him to want Sakura to remain as his mission partner when her talents obviously could be put to better use in the hospital. Or Anbu, he made himself think.

A picture in a simple silver frame on his mantelpiece caught his eye and he stopped pacing. Several pairs of eyes perked up from under furry brows, watching his movements. The photo was a fairly recent one of Team Kakashi. It had been given to him by Sakura, Naruto, and Sai as a joint birthday gift, though he suspected it had been Sakura's idea; the frame was the same elegant and unobtrusive design as the ones in her apartment and it had been wrapped impossibly neatly in flowery paper.

Four smiles peered up at him.

Nope, definitely not worth it.

He sighed and flopped backwards onto his couch and stared up at the blank ceiling. Pakkun gently kicked him with his back leg a few times until Kakashi mechanically started rubbing his ears.

"What do I do?" he murmured out loud.

His ninken shared quizzical looks. They understood him well, but they often saw human affairs in black and white.

"Well Boss, ya either help Sakura out or ya don't," Pakkun said patiently.

Well, when he put it like that, Kakashi felt like an ass.

Help her out or not? Sakura had to know that she could always come to him for help. He knew some people (mainly Gai) thought he was smooth, but he had always felt clumsy and awkward with the words that mattered. All the same, he thought he had shown if not told his team that they could trust him and could come to him for help.

And she had, hadn't she?

And what had he done?

Shoved aside her request and walked off.

Yeah, great leadership there.

"It's not that simple," he argued softly, fingers still massaging two little triangle ears.

"Would she be useful?"

She would be a godsend. He might as will admit it, she was practically an Anbu wetdream: extensive experience treating kekkei genkai, an education from the Godaime herself, unparalleled chakra control, advanced combat training, and more. She was smart, talented, loyal to the death and completely invaluable if she passed an entrance test. Unlike the regular forces, in Anbu there wasn't a medic per team. There wasn't even one medic for all the Anbu teams. Most ninja who entered the medical profession invested their talents in their field and worked in the hospital. Sure, some shinobi learned medical ninjutsu and still remained active members in the field – Kurenai and Asuma's students Ino Yamanaka and Hinata Hyuga were perfect examples – but their time was split between combat training and medical education. As talented as they were, they hadn't mastered both.

But Sakura had.

"Beyond useful." He was too tired to chuckle at his biggest understatement of the year.

"Could she pass?"

"Absolutely. If she knows what she's up against."

"And would ya test her?"

"No, god no. Someone else would proctor her test. They would have to, if I prep her for it."


Pakkun didn't seem inclined to add anything more than that and Kakashi was left to agonize over his decision

Did he regret his answer?

He regretted answering so callously. He should have given an explanation. He should have stayed with her a while longer rather than jumping up and running off even though the excitement and yearning and conviction and sparkle in her eyes had crushed him and made him feel helpless.

And the look of hurt and abandon she had given him just before he practically fled...

Thoroughly miserable, he almost missed the soft knock at his front door.

Sakura was curled up on the other end of his couch, having her hand nosed by a hopeful Shiba. She hadn't been in his apartment for, god, nearly two months now, which seemed ridiculous considering she used to invade his place at least once a week. It didn't feel weird to have her back though. It was as if the last months had just disappeared and she was sitting there ready to discuss their next mission together.

"So... did you ask Yamato?" Kakashi was very aware of how not asleep his dogs were, despite their exaggerated snores. Unless they were all sharing the same dream, their ears shouldn't swivel around to whoever was talking at the same time.

"Yeah, I did."

"Oh." Then was he too late to... what? Apologize? "Is he going to help you train?"

"He said he would if you don't want to." Sakura fiddled with the cup of tea in her hands.

"Oh. That's good."

Silence. Sakura make a fuss of Shiba. The usually taciturn dog practically melted, leaning into her palm and letting his tongue loll out as she stroked his fur.

"He told me a bit more about Anbu," Sakura said conversationally, "you know, what to expect if I pass the entrance test. It didn't sound like most people's dream job," – no shit – "but I'm still going to take the test and join Anbu, no matter what," she said with a dangerous flash in her eyes. "Those people risk everything to protect our village and right now they don't even get decent medical attention. That's something I can provide if I join. I know it's a quick decision, I mean twenty-four hours ago I would have called you crazy if you told me I would be dead set on enlisting," she gave a little laugh, "but that's just the way it turned out. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if you or Yamato or someone else I know died on duty because they didn't get proper medical treatment straight away."

As much as he didn't want to admit it (he was doing a lot of that today, wasn't he?) that was Sakura, through and through, always worrying about other people and putting others before herself.

"Can I change your mind on this?" he asked seriously. He didn't hold much hope; once Sakura set her mind on something she was as unswayable as Naruto.

"No, Kakashi," she said gently, "But I was hoping you would reconsider, you know, training me."

Was this a chance to make up for how he had reacted earlier? He didn't know whether to be grateful or dismayed.

If she was going to join Anbu whether he liked it or not, surely the least he should do was make sure she didn't rush into the entrance test unprepared. He knew her strengths and weaknesses and the ins and outs of her personality; he knew he was the best one to prepare her for it.

Still, the idea of helping her retracing his path...

But if he said no again...

He made a decision. Damn women and their eyes. If he had to feel awful about his decision, he would rather feel awful some other day than right now with Sakura sitting patiently at the end of his couch and multiple pairs of ears standing at attention, waiting for his response. He had felt like enough of a failure today, thank you very much.

"Okay," he said.

"Yamato said that it would be unpleasant for... eh? Okay?" Sakura seemed dumbfounded.

"Okay, I'll help you train."

Pakkun snorted. Despite whatever the little pug thought, it hadn't been a black and white decision.

There was a clink of ceramic mug touching the coffee table and then two warm arms circled his shoulders and gave a little squeeze.


He hoped he was making the right decision.

Author's Notes:

Bet'cha thought this story was turning Yamato/Sakura for a minute there, didn't ya? Nope! I just think a slightly awkward Yamato with a little crush is adorable. I hope you think so too.

Favourite character so far? Favourite line? Anything you didn't like? Leave it in a review please! I read all of them (about a hundred thousand times) any they always inspire me to roll up my sleeves and keep working!

Love, KaKiara.