Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its character as much as I would love to have a few of them hidden in my closet. They all belong to Mr. Kishimoto. Any of the characters you may not recognize of the canon story belong to me.

Don't Let Go

by Shihori

Chapter Twenty: Binding you to me

What had begun as a recognizance mission in the North border –the border of Fire and Sound, had turned ugly quickly. There had been reports for several weeks before of unauthorized immigration into Fire and the daimyo had ordered his guard to repel them back, but of course the way the guard had taken action had not been politically correct.

The people who survived returned to Sound and the border was quiet for a time except for a group of shinobi here and there trying to break through the border. They were ninja that belonged to no village in particular so they had to be controlled. They could not have unmarked ones venturing into Fire whether it was passing through or trying to raise trouble. The group that had killed the daimyo had not claimed allegiance to any village either.

Konoha and Fire had been aware of unmarked shinobi already. In the following weeks after the daimyo's murder ANBU and jounin teams had been deployed to find any traces of the unmarked that had killed the daimyo and their own leader. After all, there was no way such a high target would be sought after for no reason.

It had all led them to the Sound country just about the same time as the illegal immigration began. The attack on nearby villages inside Fire began soon after Hatake Kakashi arrived in the area. The hit and run tactics had left no option but to follow them into Sound and investigate what was going on in the country and find out where the unmarked shinobi that kept appearing were coming from and who was commanding them.

"Is there no word from them yet?" Naruto leaned on the steeple of his hands on the round table of the Konoha council.

Nara Shikaku shook his head. As jounin commander of Konoha he had constant updates of the movements of all jounin inside and outside of the village. "Not since the fifth message."

Tomoe frowned at the reports she was going through. Naruto had managed to convince the council to let her take Shizune's place after she accepted to go through a thorough psychological evaluation that had included a look into her head by Yamanaka Inoichi.

It had been the council's only condition, which he found obtrusive but as they pointed out, he was biased. He had taken more offense on that condition than his sister who simply said, 'Go ahead' with a smile on her face. After that she had been deemed in fit state to take on duties again in the administrative level.

It was the end of December now and she had been in the post as Naruto's secretary for almost two months. Shizune had to let go of it unexpectedly a month before her due date and there had been no one to take her place then.

Taking a side glance at his sister, he knew it could not be easy for her to sit through these meetings day after day without word of Kakashi or Itachi who had been among the ANBU Rokudaime had taken with him into Sound.

The council had simply put their foot down when they had received the news and absolutely refused to let him go in. There were advantages to having two Hokages. Having one in the village while the other was out in a life or death mission was a win-win situation, always, no matter how anyone involved might look at it.

Naruto had put a fight but it was Tomoe's matter-of-fact view of things that made him give in and let it go. In private she had told him he did not have to go in with the cavalry and try to protect them. Everyone was doing what they could and he should do the same.

So sitting at that desk and sending as much support as he could was all that was to be done by him.

"Is there anyone else we can send after them?" Naruto asked, racking his brains for ways to contact the vanguard team.

"Teams Hikaru, Neji, and Utatane have two days left of downtime but they have been in town for almost two weeks." Tomoe checked the rank listings, "So are Ito and Madarame."

"I suggest you send Neji and Ito." Shikaku said, "Their teams are best equipped for incursion to that area."

Yatomu Raito nodded his agreement, "They both have excellent trackers but they are both Inuzuka. They'll need something to catch on to the scent of any of the vanguard team members."

"Senju-san," Aburame Shinichiro said, "Please make a list of addresses for the team members. I will send a pair to obtain some personal belongings from their homes."

"Certainly." Tomoe nodded and jotted a note on her personal agenda next to the onigenda.

Naruto sighed, "Very well, shall we move on to the next issue?"

It had been a long day as every single day seemed to be lately. Tomoe laid her head back on the edge of the wide hot bath and stared at the wood ceiling for a while, letting her mind drift. The face cloth on her forehead had cooled down, bringing her back right away to reality and with a sigh she picked it up and dunked it in the hot spring water again. There were advantages to living in the complex and one of them was that bath.

She had let go of her apartment long ago and moved all her extra cutlery to Itachi's. It had been just an excuse to go in and search for some time alone among his things. He was the Spartan kind but even he had more furniture than her. Being among his things reminded her of easier times but she had not returned to his apartment for a long time. She did miss her surly best friend.

Wringing the cloth she laid it on her face and closed her eyes under its warmth. The other person she missed she did not dare to even bring up in her mind. The longing was too much at times.

Two months, three weeks, fourteen hours and who know how many seconds. She did not waste time asking herself why anything had to happen the way it had. She only knew she had to endure it and the only way was to file it away where it could not touch her, especially when the words 'if only' came up.

One way or another she would be worrying about someone, she realized at some point. Had things been differently that night, had he not said those words, had she reacted differently, it would be her brother out in Sound.

"Haven't you been here too long?" Tsunade's voice came from behind her. "Hello? Have you drowned yet?"

Tomoe smirked under the cloth. "No. I'll be out in a minute."

"I got your favorite." She said, "Join me when you get out."

Tomoe waved back at her, not caring if she was there still. It had become their nightly routine to get together for a cup of warm sake and talk, at least when Tomoe made it home by eight. There were nights she slept at Naruto's just for the efficiency of it. That was where her futon had ended up after letting go of the apartment.

With a sigh she rolled her shoulders one last time under the water and got out. Ten minutes later she walked into the common room where Tsunade had begun to warm their night cap. She smiled upon seeing the three pink diamond tears earrings she had given her as belated birthday present. Ever since she gave them to her she had not changed them for a different pair. Sometime before Itachi had left he had managed to finish them for her. It had been his cover but like everything he did he excelled at it.

Sitting down, she smiled at her mother and waited for her to start. Tomoe had promised to drink one cup a night if Tsunade stuck to the same and found a better hobby than killing her liver. Begrudgingly the older woman had accepted. She had no way of knowing if she was keeping her word but there was only so much anyone could do when it came to Tsunade-hime and her mind sets.

They talked about their days. Tsunade's were filled with lots of coddling and crying from a certain baby that had her wrapped around a little finger, even when it came to changing diapers. It was Shizune's turn to be taken care of instead of Tomoe's and she was only glad to take the role of spoiling grandmother. Ever since baby Haruka had been born there would be moments when Tsunade would wistfully say she could not wait for Kakashi to come back. She wanted the house full of kids before she died.

"I'm not getting any younger you know!" she'd exclaim and let go of her fancy soon after.

Tomoe had been surprised the first time she had said it, but afterwards she had to turn a deaf ear to those comments. She knew Tsunade did not mean to cause her any pain by making those comments but it was there all the same. If wishes could come true as easily as they were expressed, many things would have come to be by now.

Tonight it was the other question, however, that came up. "Is it still there?" She asked as she poured.

Tomoe wondered if she asked that as if there was any way she could hide a pain that great, but as usual she put that aside. She knew Tsunade was only concerned for them and meant no harm by her questions. "Yes." Tomoe answered before taking a sip of the sake.

Two weeks after the first message from Kakashi had arrived letting them know he was taking three teams with him into Sound country to pursue the enemy she had taken to check the Shadow vault with Naruto every night before they left the office. Kakashi's mark was still bold and alive in the center of the seal next to Naruto's. Days after they had begun that ritual another message arrived letting them know that the daimyo of the country had been assassinated around the same time as Fire's. The next three reports had come close together and then silence. The last one said they were heading further north into the country.

When done with her cup she would always excuse herself and head to sleep, giving Tsunade a kiss on the cheek every time. Tomoe remembered a time when Tsunade took such affectionate demonstrations with tight fists. If anyone understood not wanting to get too attached was her shishou, but they had both grown older in their own way. Her shishou no longer resisted and she no longer avoided it.

By the time she got to her room, she pretty much crawled into bed, too tired to want to think or feel anything. Her last thought was a small plea for their safety and a dreamless sleep.

The long awaited message arrived three days after sending the new teams out. Out of the ten men who had gone in to Sound only three had made it back to the Fire country border.

Tomoe wanted to scream at Shikaku to hurry up and say the names on the paper he held. "Rokudaime is safe." He began and she felt her soul slide back into her body. Naruto grabbed her hand, saddened by the losses but it was his way to let her know he was happy about that bit of news. "Takada Rie and Mitsukuni Jugo."

Naruto's hand tightened on hers and asked, "All the others are confirmed deceased?"

Shikaku released a deep breath before he nodded and said, "All but one. Rokudaime used Uchiha Itachi's cover name and next to it says missing in action."

Tomoe grit her teeth as Naruto's apologetic eyes turned to her. She shook her head at him and gave him a stern look. "If that's what it says then that is what it is. MIA is not dead Naruto."

She got a similar look from Shikaku as he said, "Tomoe-san, I'm sure we can manage here."

"Yes." Naruto nodded, "I'll take the agenda and follow it. Why don't you take the rest of the day?"

Tomoe closed her eyes and forced herself to calm down. MIA was not dead. When she opened her eyes again she let her anger known to him but said calmly, "I know you mean good Naruto, but try telling me that again I will beat you to a bloody pulp, Nanadaime or not."

Naruto sighed and shook his head, "You are too strong sometimes nee-san."

"It's the other side of the coin baby brother." She said softly, "Don't let me think about it. I don't need to think about it right now."

Naruto nodded in understanding and with a last squeeze of her hand he let go and turned to Shikaku again. "So where is Kakashi-sensei now?"

"At the moment this message was transmitted according to the communications officer, Rokudaime was on his way back with the other two and another ANBU team due for downtime. So they should be here within two days if there are no delays on the way."

"Good." Naruto nodded, "That's good. What is next on the agenda?"

"The committee organizing the New Year celebration are requesting a revision of the budget. They say it is not enough." Tomoe read from the council agenda.

Naruto sighed and shook his head, "Aburame-san, will you take care of that one please? I have already told them to make do but they won't take no for an answer."

"I will." Aburame jotted down a note on his own agenda.

The day went on as usual except for her constant fight to remain calm. It unnerved her seeing Naruto's concern in his eyes but she knew it was her own helpless feelings turning into anger making her want to lash out at anyone or anything.

"Go home Tomoe." Naruto said suddenly.

Tomoe looked up to where he sat at Kakashi's desk. He had taken to use that one while she used his and hers was used as extra surface for all the paperwork.

"Enough with the glaring nee-san." He said with a sigh, "The place won't fall apart if you take off one hour earlier than usual."

Tomoe gritted her teeth, seriously wanting to scream at him, someone, anyone –and he did not deserve that, so she looked away from his understanding look. She pushed away from the desk and walked out. She could not speak even if she wanted to with the knot lodged in her throat.

She was not sure where she was going but she could not stop her angry steps. All she wanted was a place where no one would think to find her. Her feet took her into the forest where she kept walking without breaking her stride. By the time she reached the clearing among the trees she slumped against one of the trees, breathing hard, and slid onto the cold ground.

Tomoe saw glimpses of him in that clearing. It was his favorite training spot and he had shared it with her. "You idiot…" She whispered as tears ran down her cheeks. "You had no right."

She knew she made no sense but loss never did. She was finally alone and she could bring herself to scream or even rage. Bringing her head to her knees she hid her face and let the tears run freely. She would not scream or rage like a wounded animal, she promised herself, because it would mean he truly was gone. MIA is not dead, she reminded herself, Not dead.

Weary and tired. Those words barely described how Kakashi felt. It took them longer than expected to make it to the village but they had all agreed that they would prefer to sleep under their own roofs again tonight, so they had pressed on. He could hear the relief of his companions as they made it to the village gates.

He ordered everyone to head home and to report to the office when they managed to crawl out of their beds. They did not even object and before he knew it, he was finally alone but despite his exhaustion he could not see himself heading to his apartment or hers.

He felt like the biggest ass right then. He truly wanted to see her but he could not bear the idea of consoling her now over Itachi. Not now when he barely made it back to her. It was not the first time he had a brush with death. Hell…he had died before and even then it had not been totally clear all he had almost lost that time. This time, however, had been different.

Kakashi was making his way down the quiet street, hands in pockets, when Naruto jumped off a nearby building grinning away. "Yo." He said, bringing a hand up.

"Good to see you sensei!" Naruto exclaimed, "I was heading home when the gatehouse called in."

"Burning midnight oil?" Kakashi asked with an arched eyebrow. "Did they manage to make you stay behind the desk after all?"

"I'm gladly returning it to you." He said, "Where are you headed? Your place?"

"Ah…" He rubbed the back of his neck. "I was actually heading to the office to start the report."

Naruto gave him a blank stare. "You're not serious are you? What the hell?" He crossed his arms and put on that stubborn look on his face. "Go to the Senju complex." He said as if it was a command. "Tomoe no longer has the apartment. She stayed with baa-chan since then."

"Yeah…" Kakashi drawled, "I don't think that's the best idea right now Naruto. It's past midnight too."

Naruto sighed, "Say sensei, just go. I am not saying this just for her benefit but yours too as much as I still can't get used to the idea of you and my sister together. The report can wait otherwise you would have informed us of any major concerns before heading back. Just go." He turned away and waved back at him. "I'll hold the fort for another day."

Kakashi sighed, running his hand though his hair and grabbing it at the back, pulling it until it hurt. The physical pain cut somewhat through the numbness. He was tired. He was weary. But more than anything he needed her and yet he was unsure of her welcome.

Not sure of what he was hoping to do he turned back and headed to the Senju complex through the shortest route. First he was walking next he was running as fast as he could. By the time he made it there, Tsunade was waiting at the door.

"Took you long enough. You were supposed to be gone only two weeks you brat." She grumbled, pulling the thick shawl around her tighter. "You triggered my warning seals in your rush here."

"Ah." Kakashi looked behind him. "Yes, well I wasn't thinking about that. I'm sorry to wake you up."

"Don't be ridiculous Kakashi. I'm an old woman. I don't need much sleep." She turned in to the house and the warm light inside it. "Come in Kakashi. Get out of the cold."

Kakashi walked in feeling like a misbehaved child about to be scolded.

"I'm not going to ask you what happened back there. I can tell by your haunted look." Tsunade said while he sat to take his boots off.

He hardly felt presentable to be before Tsunade, much less to see Tomoe. What he wore was his second set of clothing since the set he'd been wearing had been bloody and torn in many spots before he discarded it in Sound. The second set had not fared any better than the first.

"When Naruto told me you were heading back I took the liberty of getting you a clean set in case that you came here instead of your place." She said.

Kakashi smirked, "I was just thinking I was not fit to be in anyone's sight right now."

Tsunade wrapped an arm around his and led him inside. "Were you told of what happened with the clan?"

Kakashi nodded. Neji had been entrusted by Naruto to inform him of the events of that day and afterwards. When his team had found them heading back to fire, Neji had said he had good news about Tomoe and once they made it back to the safety of their border, the Hyuuga had given him all the details.

"Are you holding my arm so I cannot escape your motherly warning, Tsunade-sama?" He said trying for a teasing tone but failing miserably even to his own ears.

She smirked and shook her head. "I'm just going to threaten you with a very slow and painful death if you leave her crying again." She let go of her arm and patted his back. "I'm sure you understand."

"I do." He said solemnly.

"Good." She smiled at him and nodded down the hallway, "The bath is that way. There's guest yukatas in there. Take your time, just don't fall asleep and drown. That would be a lousy way for her to find you." She turned to her left and walked in to a living room.

"Her room is six doors down from the bath. There is an empty room across hers where I put your clothes in case you decide to let her sleep. She had one of her treatments after work. They really tire her out. And if you would like some sake, you know your way back here."

Kakashi felt some of the house's warmth finally seep in to him and smiled under his mask. "Thank you Godaime."

Tsunade waved him away and returned to reading the book on the table.

Kakashi made his way through the silent house and took advantage of what had been offered. When he stepped out of the bath he felt more like a human being and less like a swamp monster. He did consider turning to his right in search of some sake. He was that scared of being rejected by her or that her first question would be about Itachi. The last thing he wanted was to feel jealous right after managing to come home. He was being a childish idiot, he knew that, but time and distance had done nothing to diminish his possessiveness of her. If anything it had made it worse.

Before he could make his mind his feet turned to the left and took him down the hallway, rubbing his unmasked face in hopes to clear out the numbness that kept trying to take over. As he reached her door he carefully slid it open before he could think too much about it and stepped in.

Kakashi was not sure how long he had sat next to the futon on the floor watching her sleep. It had seemed like a crime to wake her up. There were circles under her eyes and had a passing thought of telling Naruto not to overwork his sister, but smirked when he contradicted himself right away. It was most certainly the other way around.

He finally gave in and reached out to take a strand of her raven hair. It was longer than what he remembered it to be but the silken feel of it was just as he remembered. There wasn't a night away from her that his body did not remember her and long to be back at her side.

She stirred in her sleep, and he could no longer stand to just watch her sleep. Reaching out he caressed her cheek. It took some time to make her open her eyes, but once he saw those blue depths, he felt ten times lighter than when he came in.

"You are too trusting." He whispered.

She blinked slowly, "Well," She said in sleepy tones, "You're not a dream if you're admonishing me. That's a pity."

"Is that so?" He could feel the tension on his shoulders easing down even as his smile did feel strained. "I always do in my dreams."

"Hmm…" She sat up slowly, making him drop his hand away.

He noticed that her hair had reached grown almost to the middle of her back. "Now how did your hair get that long?" He said a little louder than he intended.

"I have weird genes." She said without turning back to him, rolling her shoulders and massaging them. "I've always had to trim it by inches every month but it seems my chakra is what makes it grow."

It's beautiful, he wanted to say, admiring the contrast of its darkness against the white yukata and the way it slightly curled. But there was an issue remaining between them and he did not dare get closer until that gap separating them was closed.

"It's been so long," She suddenly said, "That I can't even remember what you did that made me so upset."

"It's one of the few things I haven't been able to take out of my head." He said, silently willing her to turn to him and face him. "The way I acted that day was not fair to you Tomoe. When they took you away I thought I would never see you again. I thought I was going insane knowing you gone. I knew we could find you even if it meant storming the clan's complex, but with each minute that went by knowing you out of my reach, I was going a little bit insane with fear and rage. And when we found you I could not help but be angry with you."

He sighed and leaned on his knee. He was beyond exhaustion and still would not let his mind shut down knowing this was between them. And yet, he felt the need to still hold back a little from her. He did not want to overwhelm her with his feelings that might make her want to push away.

"What if they had been better than plain thugs? What if they had hurt her badly or killed her? I know she is stubborn and I know her current health does not nullify all she is." He said, "I told myself all these things but I could not calm down beyond the sight of that gash on your shoulder. Tomoe, I've seen you dead before. I cannot say I am sorry for the way I reacted, or being angry at you for standing up for yourself instead of waiting for our help nor for wanting to protect you whichever way I can."

He was glad now that she had not turned around. If what he was saying was the wrong thing to say he did not want to see it expressed on her face ever again. He preferred if she would just reject him without seeing her face again. That way the hurt and disappointment in her eyes would not follow him everywhere again.

"I was wrong to ask you to marry me in that way. I do apologize for that, but Tomoe" He said with his eyes set on her hair, "I'll never apologize for wanting to keep you safe. I have never forgotten who you are and what you are capable off. I have never underestimated you in my mind and as much as I wish you would let go of your pride and stubbornness sometimes, I probably would not like that woman were she ever to exist."

He scoffed at the thought that crossed his mind. "I am certain that even if you had been in your full capability I would have still gone insane with worry. Even in that case scenario I don't think I would have thought through proposing in that way either."

Kakashi watched her shoulders slump forward as she sighed into her hands. Was this it? He wondered, frozen in his desperation but there was no way he could lie to himself, much less her, just to keep the fragile relationship they had.

"I felt humiliated," She said, dropping her hands to the futon and fisting the covers. "Hearing you ask me to marry you at that moment felt no better than when Genta did. One because of what I could do –the other because of what I could not. I've never talked to you about Reika have I?"

"No." He said.

"Greedy woman, for power, for attention, for anything that would take her away from the shinobi life her mother seemed to adore more than her. Sometimes I've wondered if she truly loved Minato or me for that matter. She should have no? If she gave birth to me instead of riding herself of something that presented an obstacle to what she wanted for life, she must have loved him enough to sacrifice her dreams right? If she killed herself after he died a hero, she must have loved him right? That is what love must be." She said, resentment tinting every word. "No matter how jaded I am Kakashi, no matter how little interest I had in relationships of any kind, I refused to believe that is what love means."

She sighed and straightened her back. "When Genta asked me for the first time to marry him I had no idea of his station in the clan. I remember thinking mildly 'love at first sight'? I laughed so hard in his face not because I wanted to be mean but because I could not understand what could bring any man to such desperation to ask someone like me who he barely knew to marry him. It did not take me long to figure out why. I still found it funny even after I understood the implications of his proposal"

"I gave in with you Kakashi." She said softly, "You were the only one that was able to make me veer from my way in life. I thought I had made that clear to you. I did not give myself to you with any expectations in my mind or my heart. And I was glad that there was someone I could just be myself with, no pretenses."

"But that night in the clearing I realized I had expected a lot more from you than I ever did with anyone. I needed you to trust me. I needed you to respect me. I needed you to be proud of me." She let go of the covers and stood up, leaving the futon. She took a few steps away from it, still looking away from him, with one hand on hip the other combing through her hair.

Kakashi watched her uncertain of how to proceed. He was finally hearing her speak out her mind and her heart, he wanted to stop her from fear that at the end she'd tell him to leave and at the same time he wanted to hear all of it even if it could mean the end of them.

"At that moment I was thinking only as a kunoichi Kakashi. While we headed to the tower I realized it was not fair of me to put these expectations on you when all I was demanding of you was a validation of who I had been and not what I was at that moment –a weak kunoichi that could not put up a proper fight."

"Then you asked me to marry you in that aloof way of yours as if you were just asking me to go for drinks." A strained laugh escaped her mouth. "This is all I amount to. That is what I thought. This is all I can inspire in a man. It hurt Kakashi –it truly did –hearing you say it even though I understood your need to protect me. But I could not laugh it away that time."

Kakashi stood up and stepped to stand close to her but did not reach out to hold her as much as he wanted to. "I know I did Tomoe. I regretted doing it the way I did, blindsiding you when you were dealing with a long stretched fight. I understood right away I was undermining your efforts to stand on your own two feet against an enemy you've fought on your own for so long. I cannot apologize enough for being so arrogant Tomoe." His hands closed tightly at his sides. "But even then –just as much as right now, I wanted to be your center, your support and the one to protect the woman you had become."

He had promised himself not to touch her unless she invited him to, but out of its own volition –or maybe his need overrode his will, his left hand reached out and slid around her hip to rest below her navel. He did not pull her closer to him but he leaned forward and kissed her silk clad right shoulder.

"Just to be clear Tomoe," He said softly, "I did not want to protect you because of your health." He inhaled her scent and as he exhaled he said, "Is it terrible of me to say I was angry at you and angry at myself that night? I was so turned on by the sight of you in fighting mode but so enraged at that kunoichi that put the woman I cherish in danger. It was hard to realize that my most staunch rival was not another man but that unbreakable kunoichi. Do you understand what I am saying?"

He spread his fingers over her abdomen. His thumb could feel her navel under the silk while his ring and little fingers rested above the apex of her legs. "I don't want to protect that side of you." He smirked against her shoulder, "I trust her implicitly to hold her own."

Lifting his head, he pulled her against him with the hand at her abdomen and made her look up to him by tilting her chin with his free hand. What he saw in her eyes made him smile as he said, "This is the woman I want to protect." His hand slid from her jaw to rest over her neck. "I want to comfort the girl hidden behind all those walls erected with the years. I want to be the one to bring out those shy smiles and that lighthearted laughter that I know you reserve for me when there is no one else watching."

He could not help but chuckle at the 'aren't you exaggerating' look in her face. "There is a difference, believe me. I've watched you for too long to not know." He kissed her forehead and rested his head against hers. "I want to protect the curious girl that trusted herself to me that night and this woman trembling in my arms." His hand pressed down a little more. "What you mean to me, what I feel for you Tomoe, cannot be summarized into a single word or measured, but if you must call it something then it is love."

He smiled tenderly at her and wiped the tears on her face. "That is what you inspire in me Senju Tomoe." His smile turned into a grin as he tested that name for the first time and decided it did suit her more than the other. "I can only hope that you feel more than curiosity for me now."

A gasp escaped her lips before she exclaimed, "You idiot!"

She turned in his arms so fast he was genuinely surprised when she pulled his face down and kissed him. It was an even more pleasant surprise to feel her small hands pushing him back and onto the futon.

They broke apart for a ghost of a second before she was straddling his lap and took possession of his mouth again. He wrapped an arm around her waist and the other held her by the neck to ensure she would not go too far for a breath of air. Other than that, he let her stake her claim.

He felt at home, with the warmth of her breath and her tongue in his mouth, and her delicate but dangerous hands sliding down his neck to the folds of his yukata. He was not surprised when she pushed away with a hiss as her hand rested on his left pectoral. She practically ripped the garment and studied the red welts that were slowly turning to scars. He could see the question on her lips when she turned to look at him again.

"Iron claw." He said, caressing her neck and jaw and smiled for her benefit. "Please, don't look at me like that. I preferred the 'I'm going to devour you' look."

She frowned, her eyes tearing again. "I did not tell Naruto." She whispered, "But I noticed it. Your mark on the shadow fault had lost some of its deep color. I knew."

Her right hand covered welts the claw had made with its owner's intent of pulling his heart out. The left grabbed the fold of the yukata like life depended on it as her voice broke as she said, "Don't you make light of this! You said you went insane even though you knew you could rescue me. Imagine how I felt knowing that your life was fading away and that there was nothing I could do but stare at a character on a paper daily to make sure you were still alive. Imagine having to put up a pretense so no one could suspect that my worry for you went beyond not knowing what had happened to you but actually knowing that you were dying somewhere out there without me!"

"I'm sorry." He said softly, covering the hand over his heart with his.

"Idiot." She whispered with trembling lips. "You're not the only one in love here."

He kissed her then, wanting to capture the depth of those words in his soul. Their emotions were high and their need for each other was unbearable. The time for words had passed. One caress lead to another. By daybreak they had exhausted each other in their love making.

Smiling Kakashi kissed her shoulder, hearing her breaths deepen as sleep took over. Closing his eyes he exhaled and let sleep take him as well knowing he was home again.

Kakashi had been worried while he and Naruto lead the funeral ceremony for those who had accompanied him into Sound. When he had returned he had not wanted to talk about Itachi with her. His name was not the first thing he had wanted to hear from her but even after that morning she had not mentioned him.

She had not shed a tear either during the funeral. He did not expect her to get emotional publicly but he had hoped that at least in private she would require some comfort over his death. So when he brought it up after returning to the office, he was surprised at her answer.

"MIA is not necessarily dead Kakashi." She said looking up from the papers she'd been holding. "If he is, I've already cried him and promised a butt kicking when we meet again. If he is not and returns, he's getting one in this lifetime then."

They were talking about a great personal loss and he knew it was no laughing matter but he could not help chuckling. Her smile let him know that is what her intention was.

"I hope that would not be your reaction to me eventually passing away." He said lightly. "I am an old man you know."

With a sigh, she rubbed her forehead, "I'll pretend you did not say that."

Kicking himself mentally in her stead he walked over to her where she was leaning on Naruto's desk. "I think we have already established I'm an idiot around you." He kissed the top of her head, "Please forgive me."

She rested her head against his chest and wrapped her arms loosely about his hips. He had decided to stop wearing the vest in favor of the hokage coat so there were fewer layers between them when he wanted to sneak a moment with his secretary or in cases like this, feel his lover closer to his skin when he said the wrong thing at the wrong moment. Smooth was not the best description for him when it came to her.

"That day over a month ago when I noticed your seal fading on the vault," She began, "I went to visit Reika's tombstone for the first time since I was seven. The last time I was there I had Itachi by my side and with him as my witness I swore not to live to an age older than her own at time of death."

"Why are you telling me this?" He asked looking down at her head wishing her hair was unpinned from that knot so he could run his fingers through it.

"I told you she was greedy and selfish. She was all that." She said softly, "But that day when I saw your seal fading, I remember thinking if he dies I will follow. So that day I went to visit my mother to apologize for judging her so harshly. There is no way I will ever know what she truly felt or what her true motives were. Maybe they are plain as day and I just cannot see beyond my resent. But that day and for those two weeks after I knew that if your seal disappeared I would not be able to go on. Unlike her, there isn't a child needing me so I would have not hesitated to do just as she did."

Her words brought up contradictory emotions in him but he understood what she was saying. Part of him wanted to berate at her for taking her life so lightly while another reminded him that she was doing anything but taking it lightly. They belonged together in her mind even before they had made up. No distance or circumstance could change that fact for either of them.

"I'm sorry for being so weak willed." She said softly.

To hell with propriety, he thought and pulled the pins from her hair. She looked up to protest and he captured her mouth immediately, sliding his hands under her black blouse needing to feel her skin.

"Oh god!" Naruto groaned, "Okay you two! Enough of that! Kakashi! Hands where I can see them!"

"Get lost Naruto." He growled against her lips as he sent a murderous look him, noticing his other student looking at him with saucer wide eyes behind Naruto. He knew that from that spot his face could not be seen.

With a sigh, he lifted a hand signaling Naruto to stop his rant and with a grin he gave her lower lip one last nip. "Alright Naruto." He said in a bored tone, standing up to full height, no longer hidden by Tomoe's face, and truly made an effort not to roll his eyes at Sakura's gasp before pulling his mask up. "I'm following you outside, no need for you to yell it again."

Looking down at Tomoe he smirked and slid his hands out, giving a quick squeeze at her hips. "I'll be back after your brother sorts me out."

Tomoe's smile made it worth his time. "See you soon."

As he followed Naruto out he heard Sakura practically screech as he closed the door, "That is not fair! Not fair at all senpai!"

Unable to stop from chuckling, he raised a peace hand towards the blonde glaring at him. "How about instead of the roof we go to Shizune-san's? I understand Tsunade-hime spends most of her daytime over there."

"Huh?" Naruto stopped his angry pace and frowned at him.

Kakashi grinned under his mask and messed up Naruto's hair before walking away. It was lucky for him that his rambunctious student had not surpassed his height. "Come on Naruto. I'm not going back to the onigenda today and I'm not repeating what I have to say twice."

He knew Naruto had clued in when his fighting aura had disappeared to be replaced with a huge grin as he rubbed his nose. "Sakura-chan is going to hate missing it."

Kakashi laughed, "Thank you for reminding me of that. I don't want to be berated by her later. Go get her but do not say anything in front of Tomoe or I swear I'll make you pay for it."

He shook his head and nodded over his shoulder. "Not a word Naruto, not even to Sakura."

Naruto ran back to the office. They had not walked too far from it so he could hear him yell into the room. "Sakura-chan! Let's go. You have to come with me now!"

"Something the matter?" He heard both women ask.

"No." Naruto exclaimed, "Team 7 business nee-san! Sorry but the onigenda is all yours for now!"

Next thing he knew Naruto came around with Sakura in tow, running. "Go! She's has murder in her eyes!" He let them run by before looking back down to the hallway and sure enough she came around walking, in no real pursuit.

"I'll swear I'll be back soon." He said loving the annoyed look in her eyes. With a sigh she waved him away like he was not worth her time and headed back to the office.

"Love you too sweetheart." He called out behind him before walking away.

Six months later….

Tsunade looked up from the puzzle Haruka was taking apart in front of them, as Kakashi, still wearing his hokage coat, walked into the common room without even glancing at them. The man was besotted, she thought smiling as she watched him go straight to where her girl sat cross legged.

He immediately sat behind her, bringing them as close as it was decently possible in public. Not wasting time with words, he kissed her and placed a possessive hand over the baby bump showing quite pronounced at only five and a half months, but that was to be expected of twins.

"They are already at it?" Shizune sighed as she walked in and sat next to her to give Haruka a kiss but not to take her away. "I had trouble keeping up with him on the way here. Had to remind him several times to slow down and threaten to keep him from being able to have any more children if he kept putting my own unborn at risk."

Tsunade chuckled, "I guess you'll have to get a leash for him."

"So it seems." Shizune sighed but smirked right away. "I still can't get used to seeing him like that though."

Tsunade knew she meant more than the fact that once those two had married he had taken to not use his mask in the house unless there were others than the family -family being defined as Tomoe, of course, and Naruto, Sakura, Haruka, Shizune and her husband, and herself.

She smiled as Haruka leaned back on her, gnawing at the wood puzzle piece mercilessly. Shizune had taken back over her duties as secretary for the two troublemakers from the moment Tomoe's doctor had ordered her to take it easy with a twin pregnancy. So Kakashi had set his foot down with Shizune and made her agree to take one hour break at midday for lunch but it was mostly so he could come see her. Shizune had not argued since Haruka stayed in the complex while both parents were out working.

It was a testament to where his thoughts were seeing him still wearing the coat. Normally it would remain hanging in the office but lately he just kept coming home wearing it over the dark blue yukata shirt and pants he had taken to wearing after giving up active field duty for good.

While she stared at the characters on his back that read Rokudaime, she smiled. "I'm glad I've lived long enough to see this."

Shizune patted her hand, "And you'll live to see a lot more Tsunade-sama. Between Tomoe and I you'll be surrounded by children in less than six years, especially if those two keep conceiving twins and wonder where your peaceful quiet days went. I am certain of that."

Tsunade chuckled as she heard Naruto call out a greeting from the entrance of the house followed by Sakura's reprimanding tone and Shizune's husband laugh. At least three times a week they all gathered there to have supper together. Sometimes they were joined by the other young ones.

"I'll go help get supper brought out." Shizune said, giving Haruka a quick pat on the head and stopping at the hallway to greet her other half.

Tsunade greeted the newcomers and laughed at Naruto's comment about the two love birds sitting at the open garden door on outer hallway.

"Let them be Naruto." Sakura chided with a smile watching them too. "They're cute to watch."

She enjoyed the company and the conversation but she let them all do the talking while she committed everything to memory. Only when Shizune announced supper was ready, did the other couple stir from their cuddling away from the group. Even as they walked over they were joined at the hands.

"Good god!" Naruto exclaimed, starting one of his usual complaints. It had become his hobby. "Kakashi you pervert, let go of her at least for a moment. She's not running away if you're not grabbing her hand the whole time you're around each other."

Kakashi grinned and put a knowing look on his face that was certain to unnerve his student. "She likes being joined at the hip to me Naruto. You really should give up by now."

The double entendre was not missed by anyone at the table, especially by Naruto who groaned shaking his head to vanish whatever picture he had brought up in his head.

Sakura laughed, "You're so mean sensei. Give him a break already!"

Tomoe herself was just chuckling away with the others, having given up long ago over the mock bickering between the two –not that she seriously set her mind to stopping it. She looked up as she set the teapot back in the middle after pouring the tea for the cups nearest to her.

Tsunade never thought she would ever see that look in the girl's face. Looking over to Kakashi who was chatting away with his former students, her eyes were drawn to the small, bright red Uzushio stone she had given Tomoe in a pin. Tomoe had it turned into a pendant herself and given it to Kakashi on the day of their wedding in a black cord entwined with a silver chain so thin it was only a bit thicker than thread. She had watched her work on it for days always with a smile on her face.

"It's not right to keep refusing a ring or something similar Tomoe." Tsunade had nagged at her, "Especially if you're making this for him. You should have something too."

"But I do, mom." Tomoe had said with a cryptic smile each time they had that conversation.

There wasn't a day that the pendant was not hanging from his neck and resting over the mesh of his under shirt, shining when the light hit it just right.

And there wasn't a day Tomoe's smiles for him did not shine as brightly as that stone.

Tsunade smiled into her teacup and sighed as the warmth in the room enveloped her. She did not miss her peaceful, quiet days. Please let them be as noisy and full of love as they are today, she thought silently as she burst laughing at another of Kakashi's naughty comments making Naruto snort his miso soup. Don't let these days ever come to an end.

The END. Final Check: 7/31/2014

Hello everyone!

Thank you for reading this fic all the way to it's final chapter. I know it took a long time for me to update. Life tends to get in the way of my creativity in the form of writer's block. Of course, this story was originally finished in 2012 and I had decided to edit it late 2013/early 2014, but I had hoped to add more to it when I began editing. Instead I took out a chunk of smut from chapter 20. Hahaha I guess that's the evil called editing.

Back in 2012 I had hoped to continue with this story in the form of the Itachi chapters. I have since forgotten what the plot was and lost my brainstorming notes for it. So for the time being, that's it for this story.

I wanted you to know all your reviews are greatly appreciated and motivate me to continue on with my writing. Thanks again for reading. :)