As requested, I've uploaded the older chapters of Path of thorns here in this webhost... (which is too slow for my liking, but anyway!). Please enjoy reading. =___=
+The Last Chapter+
Promises are meant to be kept, not broken
Last night brought so many questions that troubled the copy-nin after Sakura’s unusual fit. Instead of walking her back to Gaara’s home, he led her back to the room he rented. When they got there, Sakura started telling him things so frantically that he was unable to understand some of them.
His weary eye trailed over to the woman sleeping on his bed. After putting her offer to reconsideration, Kakashi ended up declining her and that made her upset. He could see it in her eyes, the hurt his rejection caused. All she did was look at him miserably before hiding herself within the quilts of his bed. She asked him to stay the night with her, and Kakashi completely obliged. But they were doing nothing asides from sleeping. Sakura understood that and eventually fell asleep without protest. Kakashi decided it was only the best thing to occur since there was nothing much he could do to calm her down if she would not tell him anything. It pained him to see her like this, disturbed and depressed.
He was starting to think this whole ordeal was affecting her greatly. There was a part of him that regretted his decision of letting Tsunade train Sakura. If Sakura had stayed under his wing, none of this would happen. But Tsunade’s the best teacher Sakura could ever have. They’re almost alike… from attitude to strength… he remembered that time when he used the bell challenge as training for Naruto and Sakura after two years of learning under the two Densetsu no Sannin. He couldn’t believe the improvements they underwent. Naruto definitely matured… and as for Sakura… she had always been a genjutsu type. And if she worked hard, she might be able to surpass the Fifth.
Tsunade’s responsible for shaping Sakura. I gave nothing but the basics. No matter how he put it, he just realized how much he really neglected his duty to his other two students. At that time, he was too focused on remodelling Sasuke.
Rubbing a hand down his weary face, he got up from his chair and went to bed. He sat there for a few minutes, just watching Sakura’s deep breathing. What’s going on? Her usually vibrant eyes were filled with fear earlier that night. It gave him the feeling that there’s something going around under his nose. Pinching the bridge of his nose between his eyes, Kakashi began to recall everything that happened from the day he and Naruto arrived in Suna.
Nothing really happened out of the ordinary as far as he could remember. Even Sasuke didn’t look suspicious at all.
It was quarter to two and he himself felt awfully tired. Removing his shoes, he slipped into the bed and drew Sakura to him. The girl did not stir but happily snuggled under his chin. With his arms wrapped around her securely, Kakashi finally succumbed to sleep.
Kankurou turned away from his strategist and faced the now-breathless ANBU, “What is it?”
“They’ll be here by nightfall, sir. All six are heading this way.” The ANBU reported.
“I see. Have you informed squad three and four?”
“Hai. They’re all in position.”
Kankurou nodded sombrely, “Inform the Kazekage right away.”
“Hai.” With that said, the ANBU disappeared through a swish of air and leaves.
As of now, they’re planning on exterminating some of the transporters and leave a few to make the kidnapping of Haruno Sakura authentic. They couldn’t just give her away and leave. They had to do something that would deceive the six Amegakure nins as well as Orochimaru, if he really was behind this.
“Kankurou!” He turned and saw a Sunagakure nin running towards him, “We’re ready.”
Kankurou then looked up and stared at the crack of dawn “Then we wait…”
Sakura stirred as she opened her eyes to regard the man holding her. As her brain began to register the events that happened last night, she suddenly felt the rush of shame wash over her. Too desperate for his touch, she even begged him to sleep with her. Fortunately, Kakashi was not the type of person who takes advantage over disoriented women. She was miserable last night and Kakashi was far too considerate to refuse her and even suggested that she should sleep it off.
Sighing off her infamy, Sakura carefully released herself from tangled limbs and climbed off the bed without stirring him. By the looks of it, it seemed Kakashi stayed up late and adequate rest was very much needed to compensate. Sakura was grateful for this and cheered herself for the success of getting up without waking the copy-nin.
For a moment she just stood there, watching him and at the same time willing herself not to cry. A bitter smile tugged the corner of her lips, “I’ll come back, so don’t worry…” Sakura then leaned in to lay a feather-light kiss on his forehead one last time. Her eyes drifted close as she felt a little reluctant to pull back… to let go.
“I’m sorry.” Came her desperate whisper before withdrawing. She headed towards the door and stepped out with no hesitation.
Neither did she know that her voice floated through his drowsy mind, nor that it roused him from his sleep. Kakashi’s eye opened only to find her back disappearing behind the door.
Somewhere in the Fire country, a group of black suited nins rushed through the lush forest.
“Taichou!” one Amegakure nin called as he ran beside the commanding officer, “Don’t you think it’s a little risky going straight into the target?”
Shoda smirked, “We’ll just get the girl and head off.”
“I know.” The nin nodded, “But… I can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right.”
“What could possibly go wrong?” Shoda questioned his subordinate accompanied with a hardened glare, “We’re the best transporters made known to mankind and no squad can tear us down. However, the only task handed to us was the girl. Fighting them is not necessary unless they get in the way.”
“We’re separating in three teams. Amano, you go with me. The rest of you, spread.” He signalled with a motion of his fingers.
“Hai!” immediately, the other four disappeared to different directions.
The one called Amano moved closer to his captain, “Any plan B, taichou?”
Shoda eyed him sternly, “Do you doubt my strategy?”
Amano lowered his head in shame, wishing that he did not bother to ask, “Forgive me, taichou. I trust your precision in every plan… but I want to make sure that…”
“Spit it out.” Shoda snapped, all the while running into the dusty ground.
The other nin was a little hesitant when he told his taichou, “We’ve been doing this for so long. This is the longest job we’ve ever done. And to think we’re only retrieving a pathetic medic girl.” He no longer hid his particular distaste towards their target.
“You very well know who our client is, Amano. I quite expected it to be a little strenuous on our part.” Shoda looked at him over his shoulder, “We’re going to get the girl before sunset. I will make sure of that so we can finally get out hands to our reward after.” He waited until the other accepted his answer before they geared and sped up.
Time is limited and they’re not wasting any of it… not a second.
The room was quiet and a little warmer than the usual. The two occupants of the room however showed no sign of discomfort. Not at least about the temperature.
Gaara was overlooking the city upon the veranda, both hands tucked behind him. Sakura stood still behind, waiting for him to say something.
“The sun will be up in a few minutes.” Gaara dully noted, “It will take you eight hours to reach the first squad. Kankurou will be there to keep you safe until the mission starts. You will stay inside one of the tents and feign innocence. We will cover the rest of the transporters and will spare a few so someone will take you to him…” lowering his eyes to the ground, Sabaku no Gaara realized he felt something akin to guilt for sending someone so young on such dangerous assignment. “Everything will go as planned. I was informed that the whole pack’s heading this way. They will arrive by sunset…” if he were to choose, he would have planned something that did not involve sacrifices. But it seemed the Fifth has her reasons as to why she’s surrendering her top student.
Sakura never faltered and tried to look passive, “Then I should be heading off…”
They shared companionable silence for awhile before Gaara turned to face her, “You don’t have to do this.” It’s sad that she’s the one tasked to do this. He could almost imagine how Naruto would react once he learned about this.
It surprised him, however, when the girl snickered, “Don’t say things like that, Kazekage-sama.” A tight smile lifted her lips, “I might believe you…” she knew she can’t quit. It’s been decided. She has to go. What are you so depressed about? You desire to be recognized… you want to make a title for yourself… and when this is all over, you will be viewed by many as a courageous kunoichi. You can now enter ANBU… Somehow it made her feel bitterer.
Gaara fixedly gazed at her, “Why?”
Sakura looked up to him with arched brows, egging him to continue.
Gaara’s unblinking, steely eyes never wavered, “Why do you want to do this?”
She was surprised and then sad all of a sudden. The forced smile on her face only showed depression and nothing else, “Konoha is my home and I will do everything to keep it safe. Even if being the sacrificial lamb means keeping the peace we all desire, I will still do it.” Then she looked straight into his eyes with full determination, “I want to protect Konoha.” Such a simple answer voiced everything she wanted to say.
Gaara felt himself smiling a little. Again, he suddenly felt envious at Naruto for having a friend like Haruno Sakura. People like her are hard to find these days.
“See me when this is over.” Sakura’s eyes widened a fraction as she watched the Kazekage turn away from her, “When this is over…” another pause almost made Sakura’s breathing hitch, “… you will visit me… as a friend.”
Sakura never dreamed of hearing those words from him. She looked stunned for a second and then slowly, a thankful smile resurfaced. For some reasons, her heart started soaring, “Y-yes. Of course… Gaara-kun.” For a second she regretted calling him so casually. But when Gaara did nothing but approach her and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, Sakura knew she was given the permission to address him as such.
Sakura stepped out of the Kazekage’s office glumly. The friendship Gaara offered lightened her spirits somehow. The moment she set foot outside of the said office, goose bumps prickled her skin. Feeling like she was being watched, she raising her head, something immediately caught her eyes as a soft gasp escaped her lips.
“Kakashi.” She stared at him with utter disbelief and blatant fear.
The said copy-nin was standing outside, looking at her. His eyes hardly showed any signs of emotion; today, however, was an exception. Kakashi did not bother to mask the disappointment he felt upon Sakura’s betrayal. His jaw was set firmly and she could tell his mouth was in a tight line beneath that mask.
Finding no more reason to deny and feign innocence, Sakura tried to avoid his eyes instead. “H-how long have you been standing there?” came her weak question.
“Enough.” His voice was deep and overpowering that it made her whole body tremble. The way she guiltily lowered her head infuriated him all the more. He approached her and firmly grabbed her arm, causing the girl to gasp and wince from the forcefulness of it. Hatake Kakashi was beyond angry right now. He was mad. He couldn’t believe Sakura kept something like this from him.
Sakura tried to release herself from his sturdy grip, “It hurts… let me go!” she the felt utterly humiliated when the Maiya, Gaara’s secretary who was asked to go to work far too early, openly stared at them.
Kakashi neither wanted to make a scene, so he transported themselves into the deserted rooftop of the building. He released her swiftly, almost making her topple backwards as he turned away from her.
The pink-haired kunoichi felt terrible as her heart continued to constrict painfully inside her chest that she found it so difficult to breathe.
“Sakura… why?” He now knew why she looked so sad last night and why she sought comfort in his arms. She was saying goodbye to him…
Kakashi followed her the moment she stepped out of the inn and found himself standing in front of the Kazekage’s office. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop on them but ended up doing so. At first he was in denial. He hadn’t expected this entirely since he knew Tsunade would not let any harm come upon Sakura. But he was wrong. He should have known better, though, since he already knew the fact that Konoha always comes first. Situations like this happened before, where people were sacrificed for the sake of the village’s safety. But this situation was different. Just the thought of it makes him sick from the bitter acid forming in the pits of his stomach. He swore to protect her… and he never backs down from his word.
All she could do was to gaze hopelessly at the man before her. If there was anything she could do to change her fate, she wouldn’t hesitate to do it. Unfortunately, there were none.
“I want to understand… but I can’t.” He suddenly felt ashamed for lashing at her like that. She doesn’t deserve it. “Does that make me illogical?”
Sakura absently rubbed the stinging part of her arm as she steadily replied, “Kakashi… I’m doing this for Konoha. You of all people should understand.”
“I understand that as a nin of my village… but not as Hatake Kakashi.” He retaliated logically and she immediately fell silent. He turned to her and lured her unwavering gaze towards him, “I ask you to refuse this mission right away.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“You can if you try.”
“It’s not easy.”
“We’ll make it easy.”
“You’re not making any sense!” Sakura argued.
“Can you blame me?”
That finally threw her off. Sakura looked up in frustration, and even though she did not retaliate, her face told a story of its own.
Kakashi wanted to yell at her so badly but decided against it. Running a hand through his hair, he tried to think of ways on how to convince Sakura to quit the stupid mission.
“An opportunity like this can’t be passed up!”
“I don’t care about an opportunity that involves you dying!” He threw at her a little angrily.
Sakura bristled at that, “Do you think I’ll let myself die? Does this have something to do with me being weak again?”
Kakashi growled in frustration, “I told you, you’re far from weak as you presume to be.” A little piece of memory when Sakura, with her inhuman strength smashed the ground where he was hiding during their bell exam five years ago crossed his mind.
“Then what is it?? What’s your problem?” she shot back.
He gave a look that screamed ‘How come you don’t know?’, “How can you let this happen behind my back? Why didn’t you tell me?” he wanted to chastise her about her rash decision making but his words retreated soon as it arrived at the tip of his tongue.
“It’s because I knew you’d react like this!”
Kakashi abolished their argument quickly by turning away. He couldn’t understand why he suddenly lost control of his emotions. He usually doesn’t start any quarrel with anyone given any situation. But Sakura… what Sakura just did almost ruined his pride. He’s supposed to protect her and what she just did made that impossible. Tsunade made sure he wasn’t involved in this mission. With that little fact, there’s nothing much he can do.
“It has to be done… and quick. I already gave my word to the Fifth, Kakashi. You might have already heard the details back there,” she slightly pointed at the fact that Kakashi’s starting to develop his habit of eavesdropping.
Unfazed, Kakashi shook his head and tried again, “What if you fail? This is no ordinary S-class mission, Sakura. If you succeed, you will be forced to stay with Orochimaru until he’s dead. And if you fail, you will die.” He couldn’t understand why she’s not affected by his cryptic description on her current situation, “It’s a lose-lose situation. Neither of the two options can secure your life.”
Sakura mentally chuckled. The last thing she wanted to discuss right now was the chances of her survival. She already accepted it but hearing it coming from his mouth makes her think twice. Thinking twice, however, is not wise at this moment.
Kakashi almost misunderstood the smile that crossed the woman’s face. But the moment she turned and gaze afar from where she’s standing next to the baluster, his anger slowly simmered down.
The wind blew the pink tresses around her shoulders, almost shrouding her face away from his view.
“I can’t just quit. This is—this is important to me… the perfect opportunity to do something heroic. Did you know that I can join ANBU once I complete this mission? To be recognized as a strong kunoichi and to fully serve my village... I’ve always wanted that.” she said particularly to no one as she ignored her hair getting all messed up. “It’s good for my records.”
Kakashi’s tense muscles began to relax as he willed himself to listen.
“For once… I want to be selfish.” her grip on the balustrade tightened.
Despite of the softness of her voice, the wind clearly sent the message to his ears.
Sakura wished he took that chance to hug her and whisper consoling words in her ear. Unfortunately, Kakashi was not the most romantic type of person.
“Do you want to know how I’m feeling right now?” he asked lightly, both their backs turned to each other. “Sakura, I’m afraid.” A confession like that coming from Hatake Kakashi was uncalled for and it effectively surprised the medic nin but kept still and quiet. “I won’t know if you’re safe or not. And the idea that you’re going to be under Orochimaru’s control disturbs me… I’m afraid that you’ll never make it back.”
“Kakashi, why can’t you trust me?” She quickly turned only to see him already staring at her. Her eyes stung but no tears accompanied it this time.
He kept his gaze for who knows how long. Sakura willed herself not to look away and waited.
“You’ve already decided. Don’t let me hold you back.” And then he turned to walk away but came into a halt when he felt his arm caught in a firm grip. He didn’t need to look to see who owns those hands.
Swallowing thickly, she whispered, “I love you, you know that right?”
Kakashi wanted to return the words, but nothing came out of his mouth. Sakura’s important to him… but love is something he’s still struggling to accept. The word is too profound and has a myriad of meanings. It is also puzzling and difficult to understand… especially to people like Kakashi who don’t wear their heart on their sleeves.
Sakura needed not hear any profession of love from him. She thought it was enough that she can feel it. The tightening of her hold signified her confusion and made Kakashi turn and look at her. Smiling softly, she cupped his face and shook her head, “You don’t have to say it.”
Feeling like all the air was blown out from his lungs, he closed his eyes and tried to calm the upsurge of emotions within him.
“I will wait for you.” He said firmly, voice resolved.
With eyes widening a fraction, Sakura felt like a huge burden was taken off from her shoulders. Nodding, she told him gently, “We’ll see each other again…”
And then Kakashi removed his mask, pulled her towards him and sealed their promise with a kiss as the sun rose into the horizon.
“What do you mean we’re leaving?”
Kakashi stopped mid-step as the blonde hurried to face him. Sasuke sat up on his bed and looked skeptically at their ex-sensei.
“I said we’re going back to Konoha.” Kakashi drawled, too tired to argue.
Naruto bit his lip, “But not without Sakura!”
Sasuke noticed Kakashi’s shoulders tense at the mentioning of Sakura’s name. They were stunned when Kakashi rudely entered their room and told the big news. He said the Fifth was asking them to return quickly. But when they asked where Sakura was, all Kakashi did was turn away and repeat his order.
“Pack up. I’ll meet you at the gate.” Kakashi started walking ahead.
And then the door was shut.
Surprisingly, Kakashi arrived on time. This worried the two all the more.
“Let’s go.” He again avoided their questioning glares and went ahead.
Sasuke felt his temper rising and the next thing he knew, he was clutching the front of the copy-nin’s shirt.
Naruto was startled at the action and watched the scene before him silently.
“You’re hiding something, sensei.” Sasuke snarled. There’s no way Sakura could disappear just like that. It’s impossible for the Fifth to ask for their return without her top student. Everything doesn’t make sense and he’s certain the copy-nin is very much aware on what’s going on.
Kakashi kept composed and stared down on the remaining Uchiha, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Where the hell is she?” Sasuke demanded angrily. He’s clearly losing his patience with Kakashi’s phony innocence.
“I don’t know.” He apathetically replied.
“The fuck you don’t know!” Sasuke went far by slamming him against the wall.
“Oi Sasuke!” Naruto called but didn’t move to pull Sasuke back. He, too, was a little miffed that Kakashi’s acting like nothing’s wrong.
“Where-is-she??” his grip tightened, getting angrier at the fact that Kakashi’s not struggling.
“You don’t have to know.”
Sasuke’s eyes narrowed into slits, “What did you say?”
Kakashi closed his eyes and in a snap, he was out of Sasuke’s grip. The Uchiha was shock when he felt the sandy ground beneath him. When did he— He looked up and saw him fixing his ruined shirt and vest. Even Naruto could not believe what he had just seen. It was so fast.
“Let the Fifth explain this matter to you. I’m in no place to tell you anything.” With one final tug on his vest, Kakashi turned on his heels and left the two baffled men behind.
“Please don’t tell them anything. I mean, it’s still shishou’s decision, you know.” Sakura smiled forlornly. She knew she just broke the agreement she had with Tsunade since Kakashi’s very much informed now.
Kakashi nodded, “I’ll keep my mouth shut. But I doubt that will keep them from forcing me to spill the beans.”
Sakura chuckled, “I know. It’ll get irritating… on your part, that is.”
“They’re both adults and still act like they just hit puberty. I’ll have to deal with them until we reach Konoha.” The older jounin quipped.
“Well, good luck.” The medic mocked.
“Easy for you to say.” The copy-nin gave a knowing smirk. “You’ll have to make up for this.”
Blushing lightly, Sakura looked away, “Sure. As soon as I get back, I’ll make it up to you.”
Looking up, Kakashi softly mused to himself what the last words he said to her that morning were, “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Tsunade-sama,” Shizune entered the room in slow, measured strides, “Sakura’s here.”
The blonde Hokage dropped the scroll she was reading, “Let her in.”
“Hai.” Shizune disappeared and in a few seconds a pink-haired medic entered.
Tsunade regarded her student across the room, “I was starting to think that Kakashi forgot to give you my message.” (1)
Sakura shook her head and approached her table, “I was in the hospital… you know… saving lives.”
Tsunade arched a fine eyebrow at that, “Really now.”
The medic nodded, “I was inside the OR today… Asuma had a minor surgery and—”
“I can see that you’re still an audience in the OR where you’re supposed to be the performer. Are you slacking off?” It’s not that she was belittling her skills. Sakura was the best medic nin she’d ever seen at such a young age. A lot of doctors and surgeons are impressed on her extensive knowledge in the medicine field. A sensei couldn’t be any prouder than she already was. BUT since Tsunade, the Hokage herself was teaching her, Sakura was most likely expected to conduct a surgery on her own.
Sakura felt a little insulted, “Shishou, I still have a lot of things to learn. I’m only nineteen years old.”
“I did my first surgery when I was sixteen!” Tsunade snapped back, “I don’t want you slacking off with your studies, Sakura, so don’t give me that sad excuse of being young. Do you understand?” she fixed her a steady glare and Sakura suddenly found it difficult to swallow.
“Hai, shishou. I apologize.” She lowered her head out of embarrassment. She should really think first before opening her stupid mouth and voicing nonsense. Tsunade was easy to rile up and she should know that by now.
With her temper in check, Tsunade sat straight and composed herself, “I did not call you here to discuss that.”
“You’re going to tell me to back off from listing?”
Tsunade’s glare was fiery, “Stop putting words into my mouth.”
“Sorry.” Sakura wanted to hit herself so bad.
Tsunade slowly breathed out. This is already hard as it was, and Sakura was making it more complicated. “I did proscribe you and Kakashi from missions. But I changed my mind…”
You can be so fickle sometimes, Sakura silently mused. “Then I’m up for another mission?” Much to her surprise, her shishou was looking at her oddly. For the first time, Sakura saw the Hokage look… uncertain. Something was wrong and she was about to tell her that. “Tsunade-shishou?” there was a hint of nervousness in her voice. She didn’t like the way Tsunade was looking at her right now. It’s as if… it’s as if she just decided something crucial… something that has to do with death and sacrifices.
“This whole ordeal with Sand, the plague, the attacks and the kidnapping…” Tsunade closed her eyes, trying to clear her mind. To set herself so she could find the strength to tell her this vital matter. “With or without proof… I can tell that Orochimaru’s involved.” She could tell Sakura flinched at the mention of the snake’s name, “He wants the function of his arms back and only I can heal him. But when he came to me asking for my help, I refused him. He sees no point in persuading me, and so he settled on the apprentice.” She pointedly stared at Sakura, “Sakura, Orochimaru thinks his arms can be healed by a jutsu.” (2)
Sakura blinked slowly, “But isn’t that the only way to heal him? A special sort of jutsu that only you can perform?”
Tsunade shook her head, “There are some situations that jutsus cannot resolve. A jutsu can lessen the pain, yes. But to heal it to its normal function, no jutsu can do that. It takes a lot more, and Orochimaru failed to realize it. It seems the knowledge of that assistant of his lacks after all. He should’ve seen it if he’s observing Orochimaru’s body on a daily basis.”
“So what you’re saying is that…” Sakura’s eyes widened, “He needs to undergo a major operation.”
Tsunade nodded, “Operation is the answer but it’s not simple. If it was, Kabuto most probably would have done it by now.” She opened a few scrolls before her, “Here are some of the techniques used before. I need you to study this.” This is it. She has to tell her now.
“I—you want me to learn it?” Sakura inquired in a shaky voice. “Tsunade-shishou... what are you—”
“Haruno Sakura, this is a special S-class mission I’m asking out of you.” Tsunade’s voice suddenly turned grim. She didn’t want to put her into so much trouble. But it seemed this was the only way. Orochimaru’s openly inviting her to his fortress. This is a chance for them to track him down. I’m sorry, Sakura. But this is for the better. For Konoha… and of course, for you.
“I’m listening…” the girl frowned.
“I want you…” Tsunade started, swallowing as she suddenly started to feel parched, “… to find Orochimaru for me.” The next words that left her mouth made Sakura’s world swirl, “I want you to kill him.”
Sakura’s mouth fell agape; her heart started pounding wild inside her rib cage, feeling the sudden pump of adrenaline within her system. “Kill… Orochimaru?” she murmured, more to herself. To kill Orochimaru? I have to kill him? She couldn’t understand why Tsunade trusted her with this. She’s a jounin, a medic… but not ANBU. She doesn’t have sharingan, nor was she a vessel to any form of a beast, nor could she copy techniques. She’s a medic… she’s Sakura.
“This may seem surprising to you-”
That’s an understatement. Sakura thought bitterly.
“But opportunities like this can’t be simply ignored. This is our chance to track him down… a chance to end his insanity.”
“H-how?” Sakura frantically searched her sensei’s eyes, “How am I supposed to kill him?”
“During the operation… a forbidden jutsu shall be performed. I will teach you this jutsu; at the same time you will learn how to execute the surgery.”
“A forbidden jutsu?”
“I will teach you everything in one week. Can you do that?”
Sakura’s eyes fell on the ground, “As long as I can concentrate… I think I can. A week is enough.”
“But before you can go to the actual operation… you know you have to do numerous things to gain their trust.”
“I… I understand.” Her skin turned pale and appeared as if she was about to faint at any given moment.
Tsunade’s concern was evident and it crossed her face, “Sakura. Can you do this? Tell me.”
Sakura bit her lip nervously, her fingers fidgeting as she held her hands together. It’s an S-class mission. Tsunade-shishou’s giving you a vital task such as this… you Sakura… Tsunade-shishou trusts you this much… you have to accept. Show her that you can do this… show her that you’re strong. Sakura closed her eyes momentarily, I’m strong. I CAN do this… I know I can… But accepting this also meant that she has to sacrifice everything. And that includes her life. The chances of living through this mission are thin.
“Sakura.” Tsunade called again, not liking how Sakura turned paler and paler.
“My parents…” she started out of the blue.
“No one’s supposed to know this mission asides from the people who’re involved.” Tsunade assured her, hoping that this will somehow ease her.
Sakura nodded, feeling a little relieved. “You said there are other people involved.”
Tsunade nodded, “We need outside help. The Kazekage confirmed his cooperation but will only involve a few people. The ANBU’s also informed and we’re currently forming a team to keep an eye on you. This is a top secret mission, Sakura. Not a word from you when you get out of here.”
“Not even to Kakashi, do you understand?”
“Hai.” Sakura firmly nodded.
“Do I have your consent now?” Tsunade asked again. She doesn’t want to start this if Sakura was not cooperative.
Sakura had her brows drawn into a tight frown. Can she really do this? Is it worth it to sacrifice herself? But you’re the source of this, Sakura. It’s your fault Sand was attacked. You’re the reason why there was a plague… you’re the one he wants… Tsunade realized this earlier that’s why she said they couldn’t afford to lose this opportunity.
The inkling feeling of failing also bothered the pink-haired medic. She’s not strong enough. Orochimaru is by far stronger. He used to be an Akatsuki member and one of the Sennin. Even Naruto’s three-tailed kyuubi form did not manage to stop him.
I’m not meant to fight him. I’m being used to track him down… ANBU will do the rest…
“This mission also includes your chances of joining ANBU.” The Hokage told her, knowing fully well that joining the ANBU squad was one of Sakura’s dreams.
Sakura’s hands clenched at her sides. Should she agree to this?
Is it worth it?
“I completely understand if you refuse.” Although Tsunade meant it, there was intoning of disappointment within.
Kakashi… what should I do? Accepting the mission also includes not telling anyone. She had to act normal with everyone. Can she put up with it?
Taking in a deep breath to calm her nerves, Sakura unclenched her hands and looked at the Hokage straight in the eyes. “I… I will do it. I accept.” She knew her words sealed her chances of backing out.
Tsunade smiled a little and nodded, admiring her apprentice’s courage. Taking her as her student was something she would never regret. She could almost see herself in her, “Alright.” Tsunade stood up, “Let’s start the briefing.”
“Oi! Sakura! Yoohoo!” Naruto waved a hand in front of her face, “Are you there? Hulllooo!”
Sakura snarled and hit him hard on the head, “Stop that!”
Naruto winced, “Iitaaiii… why’d you hit me??”
“You were annoying,” Sakura reasoned simply before taking a sip of her sake.
Sasuke was smirking at the blonde, loving the way Naruto was pulped by a woman. “You’re an embarrassment to our species, dobe.”
“Stop calling me that you bastard!”
Kakashi laughed and ruffled their heads, much to Sasuke’s chagrin, “Hey now, we’re here to celebrate, remember?”
“What exactly for?” Sasuke drawled.
“Hm,” Kakashi turned toward the sour Uchiha, “This is the first time we sat together in a pub… after five years.”
Everyone fell silent at that.
“I wonder how you manage to convince Gaara to get me out of that cage…” Sakura piped in. The last thing she needed was tension.
“He sweet talked him,” Sasuke pointed a thumb over Naruto who renewed his anger toward the Uchiha.
“Wow.” Sakura smiled at the blonde, “You do really have a strong influence on him…”
“Yeah…” Naruto’s eyes dropped as well as Sakura’s. It seemed the fight with the Akatsuki and the vessel issue crossed both of their minds.
Sasuke blinked at them as Kakashi pretended he did not notice.
The prodigy however refused to feel left out and forced yet another insult out of his mouth, “Quit frowning, idiot. You’re ugly as it is.”
“What did you say??”
Sakura sighed and shook her head. Some things never change, so it seemed.
Kakashi looked at Sakura across the table, frowning at the way she’s staring at the two. That look in her face… looked strange. It’s as if she’s taking all in, even the expressions on Naruto and Sasuke’s faces as they went for another senseless tirade.
“Sakura,” he suddenly called and effectively brought the girl out of her reverie.
Sakura looked up only to find Kakashi frowning at her, “What?”
“Are you alright?” he worriedly asked.
It took a few seconds before she managed to pull out a placating smile, “Yes. I’m fine.”
That smile pained him somehow. It’s obvious that she’s forcing it to look sincere but failed since Kakashi knew her too well.
“Ne, ne, Sakura-chan!” Naruto immediately interrupted the two, much to Sakura’s relief. “Which one of us taller, huh? I’m taller than Sasuke, right?”
Sakura felt a headache coming, “Don’t tell me you’re fighting over that.”
Sasuke sneered, glaring death as the blonde stood up to prove his point, “Standing up in a chair doesn’t make you much taller than I am.”
“You shut up!” Naruto yelled, “Get up here and let’s see who’s taller!”
Sasuke indignantly huffed, “I am not going to imitate you and make a fool out of myself, you moron.”
“Quit calling me names, you bastard!”
Sakura wanted to hit her head on the table. “You’re both tall, end of discussion.”
“Aww c’mon, Sakura!”
“Kakashi’s taller, end of discussion.” Sakura blurted with a careless shrug.
“No fair!” Naruto bellowed. He can really make a scene in just a matter of minutes. “Just because you’re with him doesn’t mean you have to take his side! That’s bias! And he’s not even included!” The blonde practically whined like a five-year old as he sat back on his chair, crossing his arms.
Sakura’s mouth fell, swiftly sending Kakashi a surprised look.
Kakashi shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t look at me. He just knows.”
“Yeah, I know everything even if no one bothered to tell me!” Naruto’s practically sulking now, “See? Even Sasuke knows!”
Sasuke suddenly felt the urge to bury the stupid blonde six feet under.
Sakura, however, suddenly realized how much she neglected Naruto out of this and it made her feel guilty. He’s also her best friend, too. He does have the right to know. “Naruto… I’m sorry. It just happened… I-I really was about to tell you—”
Naruto rolled his eyes, “It’s okay. No harm done, Sakura-Chan. I understand…” to reassure her, he grinned widely. He’s not really mad or anything of that sort. He knew perfectly how difficult the situation was for both Kakashi and Sakura. Their relationship was… odd, and odd things aren’t easily accepted in the real world. Sakura kept it from him because she knew he wouldn’t understand.
Sakura softly smiled in return, “Naruto-kun…”
“So,” Naruto leaned over the table, wriggled his eyebrows and asked, “Have you made out?”
Kakashi almost fell off his chair as Sasuke choked from his sake.
A loud crash startled the crowd followed by an excruciating scream, “IIIIIITTTAAAIIII!!!!”
Hellfire started thereafter.
Right after that holocaust, the group left the pub immediately after the barkeeper threw them out. Both Sasuke and Naruto were at each other’s throats as they headed down to the inn they were staying at. Kakashi, however, volunteered to walk and she gladly accepted. It had been awhile since the last time they did this.
There was an awkward silence as they walked, neither tried to start a conversation until they were only a block away from the Kazekage’s residence.
The girl halted her steps and looked over her shoulder, a look of curiosity all over her face, “Yes?”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” there was a look of sheer worry on her ex-sensei’s face and this made her flinch slightly. Kakashi was perceptive as always and, unfortunately, Sakura was the topic of his current interest.
Sakura gasped, her hand immediately flying over her heart in an act of panic. She obviously couldn’t find the right words to answer that.
Kankuro watched Takamaru land gracefully by the window of his makeshift office within the barracks. He took the message attached to its leg and read silently. It was a one paragraph message and Kankuro understood perfectly well.
“It’s from Gaara, isn’t it?” Shikamaru asked across the room along with Neji, who was standing next to him.
The puppeteer nodded, crumpling the paper and throwing it straight to the bin, “We got a day to prepare. She’s leaving by dawn.” He looked up and addressed the silent Hyuuga, “Have you tracked their location yet?”
Neji nodded, “They will be here by sunset on the morrow.”
“I see.” He waved a hand off and grunted, “You’re dismissed. I’ll call you when a briefing is ordered.”
“Hai.” The two said in unison and left the tent.
Outside, Shikamaru noticed the nasty frown on Neji’s face, “This is for the better, you know?”
“I know that.” Neji snapped back as his steps slowly ceased, “But a mission like this… it’s suicidal.”
Shikamaru stopped next to him and stared up into the vast blue skies, “She already accepted it. There’s nothing we can do to stop her.” The moment they were told about this mission, he wanted to refuse badly. He didn’t want to get involved with anything that has to deal with sacrificing a good friend of his. It was ridiculous at first but as he let the whole concept sink in, he realized that it’s the wisest thing to do. Perhaps Sakura realized this as well and accepted the mission openly. There must be some hesitations as he and Neji had when they were asked to sign in. But the thought of finally unravelling Orochimaru’s whereabouts somehow clears up the fog of doubts.
Neji found his situation difficult, especially when Kakashi and Naruto stepped into the camp. Tsunade instructed to stall them while Sasuke and Sakura moved to Sand. Neji and Shikamaru had to lie to the two the entire time. But when the two decided to offer help entirely, they thought that the actual plan would backfire. They couldn’t have the two staying inside the camp while the S-class mission unfolded. And so, Tsunade took drastic measures and sent Kakashi a message with Sakura’s location. She knew that Kakashi wouldn’t think a thing or two about it and follow her immediately to Sand.
The bandits were approaching fast, just as they planned.
“We’ll just hope this ends well,” Shikamaru quietly told him.
Neji couldn’t help but to agree, “Yeah.”
The way Sakura reacted was proof enough that she was hiding something. He purposely took slow, measured strides toward her and stopped just short to provide her some personal space. “You seem to be preoccupied tonight. There’s something on your mind…” he couldn’t understand why she was partly quiet back in the pub. She’s acting strange and he somehow assumed that it had something to do with him. But then again, they already talked it out this afternoon so… what could possibly bring out that longing look on her face?
They stared at each other for awhile, as Sakura’s guilt gnawed her raw. She opted for silence since that always worked. But it seemed Kakashi’s having none of it.
“You know, it wouldn’t hurt if you tell someone whatever is bothering you.” Kakashi tried again and was disappointed when Sakura gradually lowered her eyes to the ground. “I won’t force you if you don’t want to.” He finally dropped the subject, knowing that he’s not getting anything from her. He resumed walking and went past her.
Sakura still stood there as she heard his footfalls behind her. I’m sorry… I can’t… I shouldn’t… I’m sorry… A rush of unwanted sorrow washed over her. Will I ever see him again? She wondered silently. It seemed if ever she so fails to survive this mission, she will never see Kakashi again. If you die… he will never forgive you. With those words replaying inside her head, Sakura took in a shaky breath and went to follow the copy-nin, who was now way ahead of her. Her eyes fell on the expanse of Kakashi’s back, I will never see him again… she felt her eyes prickle as tears began to form from the blatant reality. She blinked them away quickly, hoping that Kakashi won’t see her crying like a baby again.
I will never see him again. The thought struck like thunder, her heart clenched tightly in her chest, as her vision began to swirl. I will never feel his touch… his kiss… his love… if I die… I can’t be with him anymore. The irony of the situation made her feel bitter. She finally found the man she loved and who loved her back. Kakashi may not say it, but the subtle hints such as his fleeting touches, his chaste kisses, the look in his eyes… it just screamed love. And it hurt to know that she will lose everything by tomorrow…
All of a sudden, she felt the need to touch him and to feel his warmth so she could have something to remember as she set foot in Orochimaru’s lair. She wanted something that will keep her sane from the possible things that may occur once she submitted herself to that vile snake.
Sakura stopped immediately and then called out, “Kakashi!”
The copy-nin stopped and turned toward her with an arched brow. As if that wasn’t enough to bowl him over, Sakura started running towards him and he quickly caught the girl in a surprised embrace.
Sakura gripped the front of his shirt, burying her nose deep into the recesses of his neck. “Kakashi…” she called again in a shaky voice. Should she risk it? Is it proper for her to ask him of something that she will never forget? But what if he turns her down and walks away? What if he got angry and feels disgusted at her? What if he hates her for even asking something so obscene?
Kakashi’s hands went to grip her arms to pull her away in arms-length. He looked straight into her eyes, searching whatever she was trying to hide. “Sakura, are you alright?” All he saw was desperation and yearning. He was confused all of a sudden. “Sakura-”
“Stay with me,” she frantically begged, “just for tonight, stay with me!”
“What brought this up?” It’s not that the idea wasn’t appealing, no, not at all. It’s something he’d wanted to do since their return to Konoha. But with Sakura looking all distressed and troubled, Kakashi felt a little reluctant abiding with her request.
Sakura tried to calm down by closing her eyes for a moment, “I… I miss you. Sleeping alone doesn’t feel right anymore…” Although it was partly true, she hoped that this somehow convinced him without prodding his curiosity further.
“Sakura—” any protest died when Sakura boldly pulled his mask down, cupped his head and leaned up to kiss him. The passionate lip lock threw him off and he ended up leading by angling her head. When it was over, Kakashi stared down to watch Sakura’s flushed face with darkening eyes, “Are you sure about this?” His hand slowly caressed her sides while trying to control the sudden upsurge of lust within him. It’s been awhile since he felt something like this. Swallowing hard, he knew that he completely embarked into this treacherous desire that Sakura initiated. He wanted to kiss her again as his lips move across the pale expanse of her throat. He wanted it so bad, it hurts.
Sakura revelled at Kakashi’s fleeting touches and nodded. With her eyes closed, she let herself sink into the feel of his mouth running over her jaw line and onto her ear. “There’s no turning back.” He could feel her hands all-over him, clinging to him frantically as if she’s drowning.
“Yes. Yes, I’m sure!” she breathily murmured as she felt his hot breath caressing the shell of her ear. “Please, give me this?”
Kakashi still remained averse, “You’re not thinking clearly… I can’t take advantage of that…” he silently wished that it’s not the alcohol talking.
Sakura shook her head violently and threw her arms around him, “Just show me that I’m loved, please? I ask not for your words but for your actions… I need to feel it.” Her eyes closed tightly, burying her face further into his shirt. “Please?”
Silence followed as the two remained in the middle of the street, engaged in an intimate embrace. Kakashi seemed to be analyzing every pro and con of Sakura’s offer. Sakura’s a wreck right now and it hurts him that she wouldn’t tell the reason of her anxiety. And now she’s proposing something he’d been dreaming of for the past few weeks.
For once, he had no idea what to do.
Sasuke felt unwanted within the limestone boundaries of Sand as he walked around the fête with numerous eyes glued at him. Try as he might to ignore them, he still felt unease at their accusing glares. What else do they want? I threw away my pride by coming back. Nothing’s left for me. He silently pitied himself as he trudged further into the line of stalls before him. He was instructed to meet someone at the border by the Kazekage this morning. He acted upon it albeit reluctantly, leaving Sakura in the Kazekage’s residence alone.
He didn’t know how close the two were, Sakura and Gaara.
Last night was a little surprising. He was just about to get some fresh air when he found the two at the kitchen, eating together, from the same plate. It was odd since he had seen no sign of amity between the two when they reported at the Kazekage’s office yesterday. And Sakura had never mentioned anything about Gaara when they were travelling together.
Honestly, it bothered him to no end. The last person he wanted Sakura getting all friendly with was Gaara. He did once try to kill her.
He knew exactly what Sakura would say if he ever brought it up. That’s all in the past, Sasuke. Let it go.
Sasuke cared nothing about whether the incident was from the past or if it could be repeated in the future. He didn’t like Gaara, and that would stay as a FACT.
The sweltering sun burned his skin but never did he pay attention to it. He needed to get to the border soon so he could finish this quickly and rest in his room.
When he reached the border, he was surprised to see who just entered the premises of Sand.
“Naruto?” he saw the blonde wave excitedly at him as soon as he spotted him. Behind him trailed Hatake Kakashi with his nose buried in that ‘Icha Icha Paradise’ again.
“Well, I wasn’t expecting a welcome from you, Sasuke!” the blonde laughed the moment he approached him.
Sasuke smirked and crossed his arms, “Likewise.” When Kakashi fell a step beside Naruto, his gaze settled towards him.
Naruto could almost feel the mist of tension building as he stood between them.
Both nodded at each other and just like that, they started walking, leaving a surprised Naruto behind. That went well. Naruto happily mused as he went to follow. It had been awhile since his last visit and it excited him to see the changes that happened after two years.
Sasuke had his hands tucked at the pocket of his pants as he silently trudged beside the quiet copy-nin. “What brings you here?” he casually asked without glancing at him.
Kakashi lifted his eyes away from the book and drifted toward the Uchiha prodigy. “I received a letter from Konoha. I was told that you and Sakura are hiding here.”
“You mean Sakura’s hiding here,” he said in a clipped tone. It seemed the older jounin was still implying Orochimaru’s fascination for him.
“Hm,” was all he said and went back to reading.
“Ha! I wonder how Gaara’s doing! Man, I haven’t seen him in years—” Naruto continued his rant until they crossed the market and entered the central leading towards the Kazekage’s office.
“How long am I supposed to play the damsel in distress?” Sakura absently fiddled with the loose hem of her quilt as she stared blindly up at the ceiling. It had only been a day since she was locked up in here and already she was feeling utterly bored. She knew it was still dangerous to expose herself outside, but all this protection everyone is giving her is starting to choke her badly. She was not a fragile girl—that she knew. But it seemed no one can understand this little fact. She’d done a lot of missions that varies from class-S to class-B. Or in her case, class-D. That was the most uneventful one. She felt degraded in some ways.
She was glad that was about to change…
And then there was a harsh knocking coming from her door.
Sakura’s brows twitched.
Another set came and her mouth started to join her brows in its twitching glory.
There’s only one person who can knock like an ogre, Sakura shot up from her bed with a gasp. “It couldn’t be,” she swiftly ran toward the door and opened it, only to reveal that familiar Cheshire grin belonging to a certain blonde she wasn’t expecting to see.
Naruto scratched the back of his head and greeted, “Sakura! Wasn’t expecting me, huh?”
Sakura’s face softened, happy to see her friend again, “No, but that Ogre knocking can’t be mistaken…”
“Gya! Who’re you callin’ an ogre??” the blonde griped.
Sakura waved it off and giggled, “What are you doing here?”
Naruto was unsure how to answer that question. “Well, err… Kakashi heard about your journey here and—”
“What?” Sakura’s eyes flew wide.
“I said, Kakashi—”
“I heard what you said!” she then shook her head violently, “No, I mean, Kakashi’s here too?”
Naruto nodded. “He’s at Gaara’s office right now. By the way, he asked me to fetch you.”
Sakura nodded slowly as comprehension sank in, “I see. I-Just let me change. I’ll be there in a second.”
“Sure.” The blonde looked worriedly at his friend. “Um… Sakura?”
Sakura turned over her shoulder, “What?”
“Are you okay?” his eyes shifted somewhere around the room, reluctant to look her in the eye.
Sakura pulled a tight smile and nodded, “Of course… why wouldn’t I be?”
Gaara stared down at the map in front of him. “I received a message from Kankuro this morning,” he told his two guests as he traced a fine line on the map before him, “The bandits hail from Amegakure. They were a group of six men hired to transport whatever their clients ask of them in exchange for an incredibly high amount. It seems someone as powerful as Orochimaru has the capital to appoint them in this mission. That and because it seems Orochimaru’s after something Sakura possesses.” He looked up and directly to the silent jounin who, too, was studying the map. “Are my assumptions right?”
Kakashi nodded, “It’s the only thing he desires right now. Once this plan works well, who knows what he’ll do next.” He wasn’t able to see Gaara pointedly glaring in Sasuke’s direction. Sasuke, however, met his glare dead on.
The battle ended the moment Naruto and Sakura arrived in the room. Kakashi looked up from the map and shifted his gaze toward the pink-haired medic. Sakura entered with her head raised, yet at the same time trying to avoid Kakashi’s gaze. She stood between Sasuke and Naruto as they all gathered around the table.
“Now, doesn’t this bring back memories?” Naruto tried to lighten up the mood but failed miserably. Everyone was so uptight!
Sakura had to admit that it has been a long time since they actually gathered and discussed something with all of them present. After Sasuke left, their team disentangled and the opportunity of having a mission together rarely came. Moments like this should be cherished. She thanked Naruto silently for bringing it up.
Sasuke seemed to look nostalgic as well as Kakashi, who looked somewhere afar.
“Can we discuss this now?” Gaara irritatingly interrupted the little reunion and went on with the briefing, “Temari’s team found out that the group was divided in three groups. One was spotted in the Konoha’s border. The second was in Kirigakure and the third is somewhere in the Fire Country… near Otogakure. They mean no war… as of now. It’s a simple retrieval mission I presume.”
“It won’t take long before they realize that their target is not in Konoha.” Kakashi assumed that if these nins were well-famed for their tactical transport, they’ll see through the deception Tsunade created and backtrack here to Sunagakure. “The only option we have here is to fight them.”
“Of course,” Sasuke scoffed, “Sakura can’t keep running. This is all tiring as it is.”
Sakura agreed solemnly, “This has gone on far too long. I want to end it.”
Naruto noticed something about Sakura that made him feel odd on some point. Something was not right… but for now, he let it go. “Gaara—err, I mean, Kazekage-sama,” despite his mistake, no repulsion was seen from Gaara at all. “What are your plans?”
Kakashi, too, expectantly looked at the young ruler, “This is your fight, too.”
Gaara closed his eyes and looked contemplative, “You’re right. This is not about the retrieval alone. They once threatened my village… and that is unforgivable.” His people suffered greatly for the past months. The nins created havoc, caused a plague and aided Orochimaru in his plans. The crime of the six Amegakure nins must be dealt with. That was why he requested that if ever they are to be executed, it will be done here in Sunagakure.
“We will fight this together,” Sakura resolutely affirmed with the Kazekage, and was glad to see him grin a little in return.
Once the briefing was over, Sakura waited until they reached Gaara’s home before she bluntly stepped in front of the silent copy-nin and cornered him.
“We need to talk,” she told him seriously as she watched both Sasuke and Naruto disappear upstairs from the corner of her eyes.
Kakashi wasn’t expecting her to talk to him so soon, and couldn’t help but to agree. Sakura led him to one of the vacant rooms and closed the door behind her.
The room was dark with only the sunlight seeping through the small window as their only source of lighting. From where she stood, she could see his face beneath the murkiness surrounding them.
None of them spoke for a moment and merely looked at each other.
Sakura was happy that Kakashi’s here even if he’s not supposed to be, and that he willingly came here to help her and defied the rules he’d been following. It made her heart flutter to know that he prioritized her over Konoha. Kakashi, on the other hand, was more than glad to see her well and unharmed. He had no idea what he’d do if something bad happened to her.
The pink-haired medic shook her head and interrupted, “There’s something you should know… about that conversation with Sasuke—”
“Sakura, you don’t have to—”
“Let me finish.” Sakura silenced him with a plea in her eyes. She had been mulling over this for days and she just had to get it out of her system. “You misunderstood everything and you accused me of something that never happened…” It hurt that Kakashi still found it hard to trust her completely. She was devoted to him and for him to assume that she would discard him over Sasuke made her feel awful. She would never do that to him. Even if it was Sasuke who confessed to her.
Kakashi lowered his eye, afraid at the grief that shrouded Sakura, “He wants to be with you.”
“Yes, that I cannot deny,” Sakura told him truthfully, “But that doesn’t mean that I’ll choose him over you.”
“I don’t understand. I heard everything—”
“Everything?” Sakura scoffed, her hands balling into a fists at her sides, “You didn’t, Kakashi. That’s the problem!”
Kakashi frowned, “What are trying to say?” he asked with his voice dropping low.
“Sasuke he… He loves me but he’s more than willing to let me go!”
The copy-nin’s eye widened a fraction at this sudden outburst. Had he heard them wrong? But he was so sure Sasuke said something about ‘realizing what he wanted in his life’. And he assumed he was referring to Sakura. After that, all hell broke lose.
“You made me realize what I really wanted in my life.”
“Next time, try not to leave too early… you’re missing a lot.”
Kakashi let this new information sink in for a moment.
“See! You jumped to wrong conclusions! You don’t trust me and it hurts!” she suddenly erupted.
“I do trust you,” he softly mumbled, more to himself.
Sakura bristled and shook her head, “No you don’t. Sometimes… I wonder if I should let you go, too…” she turned away from him and cradled her arm around her stomach. She never realized how upset she was up until now that words simply flew out of her mouth. She could tell Kakashi was feeling a little worse himself.
“Why?” Kakashi asked, voice sounding weary.
Sakura closed her eyes tightly as if trying to block away his voice. “I—I feel like a burden to you…” It seems her words struck very close to home and it almost paralyzed him.
Kakashi was quiet. He was blindly staring at the woman speaking such words before him.
“If you can’t continue this relationship, I’m willing to compensate. I can’t have you feeling embarrassed all the time when you’re with me. You do have a reputation to hold…” she finally faced him again and softly added, “I understand…” but what she saw surprised her. There was a hard, determined look on Kakashi’s face that was mostly seen in the battlefield. He appeared to be calculating something with great difficulty. And then it occurred to her that he’s not handling this situation all too well.
“Is that how you see me?” Kakashi said tersely.
Sakura suddenly felt tired, “You are a man who is devoted to your country. And that is honourable.” There was thrilling pause before she went on, “This, however, inhibits you from your true feelings. You can’t have both.” She let her gaze fall to her feet. She couldn’t look at him for she was afraid that her resolve would crumble.
Kakashi took the few steps separating them and stared at her, “I can.”
Sakura shook her head, “Kakashi…”
Kakashi drew air sharply, “I can’t change the things that made ME, Sakura. I’m a dog of my village because there is nothing more I want than to save people’s lives without acting foolish! It takes time to change old habits… and I’m learning. Believe me I am. I still stick to the rules… but I will never consider helping my friends as foolish. It was a mistake I made when I was young. I care about the people around me more than anything else and I can’t blame you if you doubt that.
“If you think that I consider this relationship a burden, then I’m disappointed in you. You knew me better than that. Yes, it made me uncomfortable, but that’s because I was afraid of how people will treat you if they learned about this. I’m not afraid about what they will say of us. Let them gossip for all I care. I just can’t stand the fact that this situation may affect you and your profession negatively.
“Shinobis like us can’t love. An emotion such as that is crucial. It can destroy us one way or another if we’re not careful. I… I myself was a victim.”
Sakura questioningly raised her gaze towards him, wanting him to elaborate more for her to understand him better.
Kakashi ran a hand down his face and started pacing towards the single window of the room. “You being Orochimaru’s target worries me.” A pause and then soft words were spoken, “I’m… I’m afraid that you’ll just fade away like everybody else.”
Somehow those words made a huge impact on her, feeling her insides burn in a way that made her want to melt entirely. Her feet instinctively brought her toward him as her warm hand sought his arm. Kakashi closed his eye, hoping that nothing will make that hand leave the tingling sensation it gave his skin, albeit covered by his shirt.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry… I didn’t know,” she regretfully whispered, her grip tightening in each parted word.
Kakashi shook his head, “Don’t. If there’s someone who should apologize, that would be me.” He turned and took the smaller hand into his. “I’m sorry.” The sincerity was there, but something still felt not quite right. He suddenly removed his head band and pulled his mask down, much to Sakura’s surprise, “I apologize… for everything. I hope this makes me look more sincere.” A boyish smile grazed his lips and Sakura found herself smiling fondly back.
Silent tears dripped down her cheeks but her smile never faded. Kakashi’s smile fell as he immediately reached out to cup her cheeks and wipe the tears away with his thumbs. Her green eyes looked at his and saw nothing but love within them.
I always make you cry, Kakashi bitterly mused as he tried to calm her down. Don’t cry for me, Sakura. Don’t…
“Oh Kakashi!” she threw her arms around him and he gladly received her.
He whispered soothing words against her ear, something that she was grateful for. But the last few words that left Kakashi’s lips made her cry all the more. “Don’t fade away from me…”
Sakura gave a nod, “Never.” I hope…
Gaara watched the two leave his study until they parted by the limestone stairs. Kakashi said something about discussing mission proper with Naruto and Sasuke and left. Sakura remained by the stairs, waiting until he was out of sight.
“How long are you going to put up with this?” his voice sounded eerie within the darkness.
Sakura was a little surprised to see him there. But then again, Gaara did have this weird habit of appearing in every shadowy corner. “Whatever do you mean, Kazekage-sama?” she tried to sound innocent but she knew the man would not buy it.
“Aren’t you glad that he’s here?”
“No,” Sakura answered, “She never told me she’d inform him… I thought she would keep my friends out of this.”
“It was his decision to come here. No one forced him.”
The medic lightly laughed, “He’s been like that these days…”
“You’re flattered?” he asked tonelessly, in what had to be the biggest understatement of the year.
Sakura smiled at the term. “Yes,” she told him truthfully. “Honestly, I’m really happy that he came here. At least I get to talk to him before…” at that, her gaze dropped on the floor.
Gaara crossed his arms and looked at her as if he was years older than her, “I surmise a peace between you two…”
Sakura nodded, hoping that he did not notice the red puffiness of her eyes, “Yeah… we’re good. But I was hoping to end it while I’m still here…”
Gaara refused to explore the latter part and asked instead, “Then it’s easier for you to continue the mission?”
Those words made her stiffen on some point. Gaara just hit the right button to press. “I’ve always been ready. I just wanted to clear the grudges before I… you know what I mean.” She didn’t want to talk so openly about it and she knew the Kazekage understood. He was one of the few people who knew about the current mission she was in.
“They’re coming very fast…” he meditatively noted.
“You still have a day to change your mind.”
Sakura wanted to laugh out loud at that, but decided against it. It was as if she’s choosing between life and death. And then she realized that this must be his way of showing his subtle concern towards her. He’s a human being after all. “The moment I had that conversation with Tsunade-sama, I was determined with my decision. I will do this…”
Gaara nodded solemnly before walking past her, “Very well…”
When he left, Sakura took that moment to think everything over.
Arc IV: Sound
The monster and the cherry blossom
“That was the lamest mission I’ve ever done since I was twelve,” Sakura complained as she and Sasuke walked quietly toward Konoha. Two hours ago, they had been in Hoku and dropped off the nastiest proprietor in the world. Sakura felt relief wash over her as they finally completed the mission.
Sasuke could only agree. “It’s a good pay, though.”
Sakura nodded at that then side-glanced at him, “True. Although, I still don’t understand why the Hokage gave us a mission as easy as this. I don’t think she’d just sign us up in a genin mission for no reason.”
There was no denying that Haruno Sakura was a very observant girl. And for that, Sasuke felt like he owed it to her. It was obvious that she already noticed something was off with him. “You’re right.”
When Sasuke said that, Sakura stopped walking and faced him. “What do you mean?” she asked with a frown.
Sasuke was sworn not to tell Sakura what he and Tsunade had talked about aside from the ‘escorting mission’. But since Sakura was suspicious and all, he might as well tell her the truth. “We were sent out to make a diversion…”
“A diversion?” Sakura was confused. Well not until her eyes went wide in realization. Sasuke could almost see the wheels inside her head working, “You mean…”
Sasuke nodded, “The group who kidnapped you… they’re off to Konoha now. We all suppose they’re still after you. Hokage-sama thought it would be best if you left the village until it’s over.”
Sakura was a little stunned but nodded slowly in agreement. The Hokage just made the right decision of sending her out. That also explained why Sasuke was with her. He was asked to protect her. Amazingly, she wasn’t in the mood to raise her flag that said ‘I-can-take-care-of-myself-thank-you-very-much’. “I… I understand…” she shifted her attention toward Sasuke and asked, “Where to now? We’re not really going back to Konoha, are we?”
The remaining Uchiha nodded. He looked east and said, “I was told to bring you to safety.” Sasuke turned and looked her in the eye, “We’re heading west.”
Sakura blinked, “To Sand?”
Naruto dropped on one of the bunks after Kankuro dismissed him from his search party. It seemed the two spent more time bickering than actually ‘searching’. Many complained about this and so Kankuro ended up removing Naruto from his team. Neither did he know the blonde was beyond grateful for his decision.
“Naruto, I’m disappointed at how you’re behaving.” A reproachful voice said somewhere in the tent that made the blonde turn his head and search for the culprit.
Hatake Kakashi was sitting on his own bunk, reading Icha Icha Paradise again.
“That make-up freak started it…” he grumbled, acting like a child.
“He leads this squad, you know that. He has every right to boss you around. The least you can do is lick his boots and make a good impression.” Kakashi said noncommittally
Naruto made a face, imagining it literally, “Eeiiyuck! I’d rather die.” Then silently added, “And… you don’t sound too convincing.”
Kakashi was either unable to hear the last part or he chose to ignore it completely and engrossed himself on the last few paragraphs of ‘Chapter 12 Icha Icha: Burning Love’.
Naruto, however, pretended he did not notice since it was most likely useless telling him to stop reading Jiraiya’s dirty novels.
After a couple of minutes, a sand-nin entered the tent and walked straight towards Kakashi’s bed.
Kakashi looked up from his book, a little disappointed for the interruption, “What is it?”
The young sand-nin held respect for the copy-nin and nervously saluted. Kakashi smiled at the nin’s shaking hand while Naruto held back a guffaw from seeing the nin almost pee in his pants.
“H-Hatake K-Kakashi sir! An epistle arrived this morning, sir! It was addressed to you, sir!” the nin squeaked.
Naruto’s loud laughter on the background did not deter the nin’s nervousness. Kakashi’s smile dropped into a serious frown, “Is it from Konoha?”
The nin nodded, “Hai!” he pulled out a scroll and handed it to him.
Kakashi grabbed the scroll and thanked the shaking nin. After the sand-nin left, Kakashi opened the scroll and started reading. Naruto rose from his bunk and went behind Kakashi to read the scroll as well.
“What does it say?” From where he was standing, it was difficult to read Tsunade’s handwriting. Kakashi’s eye rolled from the first word to the last with a slight grim look on his face. This worried Naruto. “Kakashi?”
Done reading the letter, he handed it to Naruto and started packing. Confused, Naruto quickly read the scroll and was stunned to read what it contained.
“What was she thinking??” A baffled Naruto exclaimed, “She—she knew Sakura’s in danger! Why would she—”
“She did it because it’s the best thing to do in a situation like this.” Kakashi rationally explained while dumping his clothes altogether.
“B-but!” Naruto looked like a fish while gripping the scroll hard in his hand, “Those bandits... they’re after her, right? I don’t think travelling is the best option for someone who’s targeted! And by Orochimaru no less!”
“Sasuke’s with her. She’s safe with him.” He was somehow unenthusiastic at the fact that the Uchiha prodigy was travelling with Sakura.
“B-but still…” then a frown replaced the look of disbelief on Naruto’s face, “Hey, what are you doing?”
Kakashi pulled the strings of his bag, “Packing.”
“Where are you going?”
“What?? We still got a mission to finish here. You can’t just leave!” The blonde flailed his arms around in panic.
“As far as I can remember, our mission was to detect where the bandits are heading. Helping Sand is not part of the mission, Naruto.”
“Yes, but we agreed to this—”
“You can stay here if you want.”
“Are you kidding? If you leave, I leave! I can’t stand make-up fart anymore.” Naruto bristled as he went to pack his things too.
Kakashi watched him with a little appreciative smile on his face, “The least we can do is to inform Kankuro.”
Naruto gave an affirmative nod, “And besides, Neji and Shikamaru’s here. We’re not needed here.”
Naruto then stopped and looked over his shoulders to Kakashi, “Sakura however... umm, Kakashi?” The copy-nin looked up and saw the blonde awkwardly avoiding his gaze, “You two…”
No matter how Naruto looked like he was unaware, he knew the boy was very observant and could easily figure out what was going around under his nose. “Do you hate me?” Kakashi knew perfectly well how important Sakura is to Naruto. Asking for his opinion is almost like asking her father’s consent.
The blonde shrugged his shoulders and started packing again, “Don’t you dare hurt her.”
Kakashi was a little surprised and flinched at Naruto’s warning.
“As long as she’s happy… that’s all I ask.” When he was done, he then turned fully towards his ex-sensei and grinned like a cat that ate the canary, “All done. Hey, can we make a short stop on a ramen house before going to Sand? I’m really hungry…” he rubbed his stomach in circular motions and Kakashi could not help but to chuckle.
“Of course, Naruto.” He was glad it ended well.
Sabaku no Gaara eyed the two konoha jounins before him with absolute indifference. His gaze lingered on the dark-haired one a little longer than expected. He received a message from the Hokage about their arrival and expected them to arrive by dawn. But it seemed something occurred that delayed the expected time of arrival. They arrived late… and by saying late, it meant really, really, late. Like late as in everybody’s already hitting the sack.
“Hey.” Sakura started slowly, not really sure if this was even a proper greeting to begin with. Standing here in front of him made her really nervous. He was looking at them as if they were another set of nuisances for him to carry around his shoulders. Can’t blame him though. She thought, realizing that Sand’s too involved with Konoha’s problems. It’s amazing that the ties between villages are still intact.
Sasuke did not utter one word and just returned the glare Gaara was giving him. He knew a lot of people still distrusted the renegade Uchiha Sasuke. That little factoid about him once having an alliance with Orochimaru was like a deep scar that does not heal and left for everyone to see and frown upon. He got a lot of this kind of treatment that he already mastered the look of ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit-on-what-you-think’. Come to think of it, he had always been like that…
Sakura felt the tension and immediately cleared her throat to break the glaring contest, “By the order of the fifth Hokage—”
“There’s no need for courtesy. I was already informed about this.” Gaara cut her short as he leaned back against his chair and crossed his arms. He was once again studying them.
Sakura nodded, “Um… Thank you, Kazekage-sama.” She bowed politely.
“You should be.” Gaara icily intoned. Sakura’s eyes widened a fraction as Sasuke gritted his teeth to keep his anger in check. “Do you know what the damage of you staying here in my village will cost?”
The medic-nin flinched. “I…”
“Those bandits may come back to get you anytime. And what does that leave us? A village caught in between, is what.” Gaara’s stare was blank yet within burned bitterness. Sakura was suddenly afraid to face him. She closed her eyes and turned away. “And yet I still accepted.”
Sasuke wanted nothing but to grab the Kazekage’s tongue and cut it off. The way he’s talking and treating Sakura like that made his blood boil. “Then why did you?” the Uchiha spat, “If you think we’re only pests in your village, then why did you accepted the request?”
“Because we need the money.” Gaara logically countered back. “Do you really think I did this out of pity?” he flashed Sakura a look that only she could decipher and then went back to glaring death towards the Uchiha, “Orochimaru’s cronies left a big deal of a damage in our Village. The Hokage offered a sum that will help us to fix some of it.”
Sasuke bit the inside of his cheek before he turned with a huff. Gaara inwardly smirked for outsmarting the prodigy.
“Kazekage-sama.” Both boys turned towards her. Feeling a little uncomfortable being on the spot light, Sakura cautiously said, “I’m sure Konoha appreciates your help with or without money involved. You really deserve our gratitude.” She then sharply glanced at Sasuke, “Right, Sasuke-kun?”
Sasuke only grunted but did not say anything to retaliate.
Gaara finally nodded, “We prepared a room for you two in the main house. You will stay there until this is over. You will not come out, not even peek outside the window until I say so. Do you understand?”
I feel more like a prisoner than a guest… Sakura mused. “Hai.” This was a huge favour they asked of Gaara. The least she could do is offer valuable respect.
“Very well, you’re dismissed.” As he gave that order, Sakura turned and went outside. Sasuke however stalled and stopped before stepping outside Gaara’s office. He looked over his shoulder and glared at the Kazekage.
“When this is over-”
“We will finish our fight.” Gaara supplied, knowing exactly what Sasuke was talking about.
Sasuke smirked before closing the door behind him.
The warm air of Suna somehow comforted the medic as she stared blankly outside the square window of her room. She did what Gaara told her. She stayed at least ten feet away from the window, avoiding any chances of being seen by others. Sasuke was in the room adjacent to hers just so something happens, he’d be just five steps away.
Lightly she hummed a song her mother used to sing to her when she was a child. I wonder how they’re doing… Do her parents know that their daughter’s in deep shit right now? Do they have any idea that she’s currently kept like a prisoner in Sand? Did Tsunade tell them about the bandits and why they want to kidnap her?
A sigh surpassed the girl’s lips. Everything’s getting too crazy to handle. Sakura suddenly felt tired physically, mentally and emotionally. She dropped her head on the table before her, wondering how Kakashi was doing.
It was odd. The first time she came here in Sand, she and Sasuke parted bitterly. And now, it was her and Kakashi who’s currently on bad terms. Boys. She rolled her eyes, thinking that maybe she should stay celibate forever. Maybe she should forget about relationships with stoic men and enter the convent. The thought alone made her shudder.
I miss him…
She felt awful upon recalling the last time they’d seen each other. Did I really have to yell at him like that? She didn’t know why she felt so guilty when it was all Kakashi’s fault in the first place. Why can’t he just forget what the others will think and LOVE her?
Because she was sure she loves him.
Kakashi… a strong sound rumbled inside her stomach. So much for a distraction... “I’m hungry.” She remembered that she hadn’t eaten since their last stop in Daikon. Gaara never said I couldn’t visit his kitchen, right? She stood up from her chair and went outside to find the kitchen.
The house was empty, of course. Gaara said both Temari and Kankurou were stationed outside in different squads to monitor the border. So it was only Gaara, Sasuke and her occupying the whole main house. Why did I get stuck with the two surliest people in the world? Come to think of it, those two share a lot of things in common.
They’re both quiet.
They’re both intelligent.
They’re both strong.
And they both have a sharp tongue.
They’re also frank and straight to the point. Sakura least expected honey-coated phrases from those two. It was too good to be true.
When she finally found the kitchen, she also noticed that someone had felt the urge to eat a midnight snack as well.
There stood the owner of the house, eating two mochi balls before gulping one full glass of water. Sakura was not expecting to see Gaara there and suddenly felt the tension come running back. She remembered that time when Kakashi told her that Gaara destroyed a table after that conversation they had in the rooftop. He doesn’t like me. And I should feel the same. Feeling a little angry, she stepped in without announcing herself since Gaara was pretty much aware of her presence, even if she had been fifty feet away from him.
He raised his eyes and looked at her. Sakura cringed when those cold eyes settled on her but went about as if it didn’t affect her.
“If you’re hungry, you’re welcome to eat the leftovers.”
She lifted a dead-pan eyebrow at the invitation, “Thanks… I think…” Having that odd permission, Sakura then went to search for food.
But the said leftovers were actually the large plate of mochi Gaara was eating.
“You ate this for dinner?” she asked incredulously.
Gaara did not answer nor did he deny. Temari wasn’t around so… there’s no one to cook for him. Having a whole bag of Mochi ordered was more convenient since cooking is not one of his many talents.
Sakura sighed, “Do you have anything else than this?”
Gaara was a little irritated with her demanding approach, “All uncooked.” Temari left him some food that he could reheat whenever he felt hungry. But since he’s too busy working and too lazy to even try to learn how to use the stove, Gaara pretended that the food in those plastic containers never existed.
Sakura searched the fridge and saw five or six ready to heat meals. Boys. She quickly grabbed one and went to grab a pan. Pouring all the contents in the pan, she went to the stove and started cooking. She could still feel Gaara’s curious eyes watching her.
Done with reheating, she grabbed a plate and served the hot food before him. It was chicken curry, one of her favourites. She was glad that curry powder is one of Sand’s export goods. Sand is the capital of spices.
Gaara blankly stared at the food before him.
“Let’s eat.” She said, handing him a spoon.
Gaara took a few seconds before he accepted the offered utensil.
Sakura scooped a spoonful and started eating. The look of euphoria on her face almost made Gaara’s lips twitch, “So good!” and by saying that, she started fanning her mouth. The curry was hot and spicy all at the same time, completely searing her tongue… and she loved every second of it!
She noticed Gaara still staring at the curry with a scowl on his face. She rolled her eyes, “It won’t bite! Eat some. It’s really good…”
“Of course, Temari made it.” He was suddenly overweening, proud that someone else complimented his sister’s cooking.
Sakura smiled, “Really? She’s a good cook then…” she then again ate another spoonful.
Gaara finally gave in and went to eat. It had been almost a week since Temari went out to scout. A full week when he only ate take-out food.
It was really good as Sakura alleged. He was still watching her eat another spoonful. He didn’t know why… but he suddenly felt happy that Sakura did something like this to him.
She was… really nice.
But he’d be damned to admit that to her. Her head will only get bigger than it already is.
The rest of the night lasted wonderfully until they both finished the meal and filled their protesting stomachs.
For the first time, Sakura felt more than a nuisance to him.
She felt something akin to a budding friendship.
A Genin’s Job
Somewhere in the forest near the border of Wind Country…
“15, how’s your post?”
“Quiet. I wonder where they’re heading.”
“There’re two of them. Post 12.”
“Alright.” Standing up behind the tree, he quickly jumped to the next until he reached the third post. Joining the other, the two carefully watched the conversation unfold beneath them. “You tapped?” he questioned the man next to him as the other gave a confirming nod.
The other pressed the bug on his ear before grumbling, “Affirmative.”
“It’ll take a day to get there,” the man said, looking upon the horizon, revealing the Suna sign on his head protector. “Keep the tap,” he told the other Sand nin, “I’ll inform squad one about this.”
“Hai,” the nin saluted.
Jumping from tree to tree, the sand nin sped up, carefully assessing the area. As he was about to ascend to the next branch, he heard a blatant rustling of leaves a few feet behind him. Sensing someone following, the nin quickly rose to his feet and drew three knife kunais. Throwing them precisely behind his back, a muffled groan of pain was heard and next was the sight of a falling body.
“Shit…” Something tells him that they were not the only ones who were doing the bugging.
The blonde looked over to his sensei from his makeshift bed. “Nani?”
It had been a day since he and Kakashi left Konoha to hunt down the nins who destroyed Hoku Village a few days ago. And up until now they had found no trace of said bandits. When nightfall came, the two decided to camp and wait until dawn to continue their search. Throughout the travel, Naruto noticed something odd with his former sensei. He was a lot quieter than usual, and not once did he catch him reading that perverted book of his. He was either a changed man or just suffering from a terrible fever. Naruto chose the latter. But when he had moved to touch his forehead, all he got was a painful slap on the hand and a death glare by Kakashi’s exposed eye. After that, he had decided not to bother anymore and sleep.
Unfortunately, Kakashi decided to talk to him when he called his name.
“What did I tell you about the way of a ninja? Do you remember?” his question was a little void and nostalgic.
Naruto was quiet for a moment, recalling that day they had their first bell exam, before answering, “You told us that… those who break the Ninja rules are trash, however those who do not consider their comrades are lower than trash…” Naruto was suddenly curious why his sensei had asked. He watched for any sign of emotion crossing the stoic jounin’s face and found none.
Kakashi lay back on his bed roll and stared up at the starry skies. “Is it possible to break both rules at the same time?”
Naruto was taken aback from the question. “Eh??” he sat up quickly and glared accusingly at him, “Alright, what’s going on? I’m thinking this is not a simple question and answer. Something’s behind this conversation.” Again, the feeling of being left-out bothered the energetic blonde. When the copy-nin refused to answer, the blonde got riled up, “C’mon! Nobody’s telling me anything!”
Kakashi chuckled, “I asked first.”
Naruto scowled and reluctantly agreed. “Fine,” he lay back on his bed and mimicked Kakashi. He, too, watched the stars, “I’m not really sure, but…” frustrated with the lack of information, Naruto growled, “Argh! I have no idea!”
“You probably didn’t even understand my question…” When he heard another disapproving growl from the other, Kakashi continued, “What if you did something taboo… and it involves a very close friend of yours… what will you do? Will you let it affect you?” That was all the information Kakashi could safely offer to Naruto. He was very much aware of how overprotective Naruto was when it came to Sakura’s sake. If he ever learned about his taboo love for her, who knew what he’d do to him?
“Well…” that left the blonde thinking. “Like a forbidden relationship or something?”
Kakashi was knocked over with that oh-so-innocent suggestion, “You could say that.”
“I don’t see any reason why I should let the rules affect anything. See, if I’m happy, that’s all I care about.” That somehow reminded him of her. They thought alike in some ways—and Sakura will probably kill him for even thinking that. “Forbidden is only meant for fruits that have an awful taste.” Kakashi wanted to laugh at his example but kept listening quietly because, for some odd reason, Naruto was turning into some kind of weird philosopher.
“What if following the rules is your way of atonement?”
“Atonement?” Naruto was clearly confused why something like following the rules was considered as a way of penitence. “It’s not endless, is it?” That earned him a questioning grunt from the other. “I mean, if you already think it’s enough—it’s enough. Done. The end. Trapping yourself into some kind of a shell that requires you to do something you don’t want in order to forgive yourself is just plain—stupid.” This coming from Naruto almost stunned the older jounin.
Kakashi then wondered why ever he decided to start this conversation with him. An honest man such as Naruto could easily blind you with his unbearable light of truthfulness. Everything he said meant something that needed to be ploughed in order for it to surface and for him to understand.
Silence ensued as the night grew colder than expected. The cold winter air could’ve frozen their bones if it weren’t for the added clothes they wore. For a little while they gazed at the sky, each lost in their own thoughts.
“There’s no forbidden love.” Naruto broke the eerie silence. “If I truly love this person, I’ll fight for her…” the soft expression on Naruto’s face proved that he had really pondered over his answer and was starting to feel a little sleepy. With a yawn, he went on, “Forget the rules for once, Kakashi-sensei…” not long after it was followed by a loud snore.
Kakashi could only listen, reminiscing on his past about how his father, Obito and Rin died. They left him because they were strong-willed. He thought that abiding by the rules would make his life better. Guess he was wrong…
I don’t care what other people will say about us.
Sakura told him.
But you don’t. And that’s disappointing
He was disappointed at himself too.
Forget the rules for once, Kakashi-sensei…
Naruto’s words echoed continuously throughout the night. And then Obito’s face resurfaced somewhere in his mind. They were so alike…
The blonde shifted on his sleep and mumbled, “Unfair… You never answered my question, pervert.” And then back to la-la land.
A loud explosion made Naruto shoot up from his sleep, obviously startled, “I’m up! I’m up!” he looked around and saw Kakashi already scanning the area with a kunai in his hand. He stood up and did the same thing, backing him up.
“I think they found us.” Kakashi said to him.
Naruto clucked his tongue, “No kidding.”
Another explosion, this time it came around the perimeter where the two stood. Naruto flipped over and landed on his hand. Kakashi jumped back and stood on a tree branch, trying to find the culprit before another bomb exploded.
Naruto was about to perform a series of seals when a voice suddenly stopped him.
Both Konoha jounins followed the voice and found two familiar nins emerging from the thick line of trees.
Kakashi’s arm fell to his side. “Sand.”
Naruto dropped his hands and turned toward their attackers.
“You’re from Leaf?” the one in the middle asked, addressing Kakashi.
Kakashi jumped back to the ground and approached them silently. “Yes.” He hadn’t expected this, nor had the Hokage herself… probably. Why are they here? He suspected it had something to do with that Captain Shoda Sakura have been talking about. Gaara never trusted the false Daimyo’s army from the beginning. Perhaps the moment he learned the truth, he immediately executed action. And possibly one of the many reasons why Hyuuga and Nara were both still in Sand.
Naruto cast a glance over Kakashi, wondering the same thing.
“We have the same purpose, I believe.” The one who spoke first stepped forward and introduced himself, “As you can see, we’re from Sand. The Kazekage sent three squads to hunt down the fraud army and its captain. We’re from division one. We received a notice that you were coming.”
A frown crossed the copy-nin’s face, “Who informed you?”
“It was the Hokage of Leaf herself,” the nin answered.
“Hey… hey…” Naruto butt in, “That’s not mentioned in the scroll.”
“Yes. We were never informed to meet…” Kakashi tried to choose his words wisely, “… vassals on our way.”
The nin understood what they meant and nodded, “We were originally supposed to perform this mission alone. But since Konoha was tasked to get information from them as well, our Kazekage thought it was only wise to help each other.”
“We’re only here to track down and get information, as what you said.” Kakashi crossed his arms, still a little doubtful with this sudden turn out of events. “No head on battles. If we get attacked, we will fight out of defence and nothing else.” Tsunade precisely told them not to kill any enemy they encountered. Instead, they should be taken back to the nearest HQ and undergo interrogation.
The nin nodded, “Alright.” His eyes suddenly checked the area before speaking in a low voice, “We got new information. I suggest we head back to our camp and discuss this.”
Naruto nodded as Kakashi only answered him with silence.
“How can we trust you?” The copy-nin asked. Being careful is something he was good at. He couldn’t possibly just trust a couple of guys popping out of nowhere and causing a major explosion just to get their attention.
The other nin looked at his captain before turning to Kakashi. “Hatake Kakashi, the infamous copy-nin of Konoha… we expected you’d get a little inquisitive about this.” He took something out and handed him the scroll they received from Sabaku no Gaara a few days ago.
Kakashi read it for awhile. Not long after, he was finally convinced after confirming the Kazekage’s seal.
“This way.” And so the two Sand nins lead them further into the forest, not even noticing a lone figure watching them beneath the shadows.
“They’re moving fast Orochimaru-sama.” Kabuto told the snake after performing his daily chakra restoration. It seemed as the days passed by, Orochimaru’s body grew weaker and weaker. It had been awhile since the last time he had a body he could depend on. Now that Sasuke left, Orochimaru couldn’t think of anyone else to replace the Uchiha prodigy.
“Let them,” said the hissing voice of Orochimaru, “Shoda’s doing a very good job, right Kabuto?”
“Hai.” Kabuto left his side and went to return all his instruments, “They sidetracked both villages. And now they’re heading to Konoha with ease.”
“Are they near yet?” Orochimaru had never been patient. But it seemed this operation was no easy task.
“They’re only a day away.”
“Good.” Laughing, Orochimaru dropped back to his bed, having a little difficulty with breathing. “Aah… I wonder how Tsunade’s handling this.” He said sharply, “I bet she’s already seen through our plan.”
“I don’t see why she can’t. It’s Tsunade.” Kabuto said.
Orochimaru’s eye narrowed to thin, cold slits, “Yes. The cunning bitch.”
“Are you worried?”
“I’ll be lying if I say I’m not…” Orochimaru hissed, “But I trust Shoda will do his job perfectly. If not… you know the consequences.”
Sasuke didn’t know what hurt most.
The fact that you were dumped because you’re a bastard or the fact that you were dumped because she preferred older men?
That kept him thinking and up until now he couldn’t stop.
And to make matters worse, he saw Sakura sitting on that same spot they last talked. As he approached closer, he noticed the thoughtful look on her face.
He heard a lot of rumours. And one of them was the hospital incident where a lot of interns heard Sakura and Kakashi bickering quite loudly. It was the talk of the town, or so as what he believed.
“You know, I hate it when people sneak up on me.” She turned her head and gave him a small smile.
Sasuke watched her as she patted down the spot next to her. Taking the invitation, he went and sat next to her but refrained touching the frozen stream.
“When did you arrive, Sasuke-kun?” Sakura asked before turning back towards the winter horizon.
“This morning,” he replied. “And I got another mission lined up on me the moment I stepped inside her office.” It’s not like he’s complaining or anything. But even prodigies like him need some time to rest like everybody else.
“Already?” Sakura incredulously raised an eyebrow at him. Shrugging, she returned to her snow gazing, “Hurts to be popular.”
Sasuke smirked at that, “Hurts to be popular and strong.”
Sakura rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, Sasuke-kun. Whatever you say.” Sighing, she asked what she was wondering about the moment he appeared, “What are you doing here anyway?” the snow rained down upon them, making her tighten her hold around her thick sweater. It was almost February and the weather felt terribly cold.
“The Hokage wants to see you.” Flakes fell onto his hand, and he watched them idly, “I figured you’d be here… moping.” Inwardly, he smirked, watching her reaction from the corner of his eyes.
“I am not moping!” Sakura poorly protested.
A pout turned the pink-haired medic’s lips, “What does she want from me?” she was still sulky about their training where Tsunade clearly showed how upset she was with her slow progress. I thought I was supposed to seek her when I’m “ready”.
“Will you be happy if I say we have a mission together?” Sasuke asked while dusting off the flakes from his arm.
The look on Sakura’s face was priceless and she abruptly turned toward him with a look of utter surprise on her face, “A-are you serious?”
“I never kid, Sakura.” Sasuke warned sharply.
“B-but…” Sakura spluttered, “I thought she banned me from listing…”
“The mission’s quite easy.”
“It’s more like a genin’s job.”
Both looked at each other’s eyes before Sakura snapped, “WHAT??” abruptly she stood up and started pacing around, “And you agreed on this? Don’t you find this is a little insulting?”
“I do,” Sasuke countered, “But I’ll do whatever she says. It’s her prerogative so she can accept me back here in Konoha.”
“Oh… I see.”
Sasuke stood up and again dusted his lap, “We’re supposed to protect Hoku’s envoy until he gets back to his village.”
Sakura frowned, “Envoy?”
Sasuke nodded, “We’re supposed to be his guardian or something.”
“But I can easily do that myself…” It was odd that Tsunade would ask ANBU’s help just to guard some proprietor when there were more important things ANBU must focus on.
“Exactly.” Sasuke himself didn’t know what the Hokage was up to. “But Hokage-sama told me the client specifically hired top notch nins in exchange for a pricey deal.”
“How important is this ‘envoy’ that he requested a medic nin and ANBU captain to protect him?”
“Perhaps traumatized from the attack they had from a group of thugs a few days ago.”
“Thugs?” It was then that Sakura realized she wasn’t much informed about this proprietor and what exactly his purpose was for coming here in Konoha.
Sasuke frowned, “Why is the Hokage not telling you anything?”
Sakura waved a dismissive hand, “She’s angry because I got rusty. She’ll get over it. Now, tell me about these thugs.”
The HQ of squad one wasn’t far from where they left. Kakashi had to admit, Sand chose a very good spot to hide. The area looked clean and murky. The path towards the base was difficult to remember for first timers. This makes it impossible for any enemies to follow their track… since they’ll eventually end up in the torture chamber once they’re caught.
“Neji! Shikamaru!” Naruto ran towards his friends the moment he spotted them, a little excited to see them again.
“Oi.” Shikamaru stepped back from the tree he was leaning on and grinned.
“It’s been awhile.” Neji patted the blonde’s shoulder.
“What are you two up to? You were supposed to be back in Konoha a few days ago.”
Shikamaru scratched the back of his head, “We’re caught up.”
Neji shrugged his shoulders, “Trouble’s brewing. We can’t just go home. The Kazekage requested to prolong our stay as long as we can to help his squad track down the black bandits.”
“Yeah.” Shikamaru interjected, “Those bastards are making a big fuss.” Then silently added; “Now we’re forced to help them. Darn.”
“Tell me about it.” Naruto crossed his arms as the frown on his face deepened, not hearing the last few words Shikamaru said, “First they kidnapped Sakura, then they’re destroying villages that get in their way. Now I wonder what they’re up to…”
Neji’s eyes narrowed upon the mentioning of Sakura, “How is she?” they had heard about that incident when one Sand nin reported back to Gaara. It seemed Gaara had seen through this and sent one of his men just to make sure.
Naruto smiled, “She’s fine.” He raised a thumb and pointed back at Kakashi who was still talking with a few Sand nins, “He made sure of that.”
Neji nodded in relief. Sakura had grown on him… and like Naruto, Shikamaru and Lee, he considered her as one of his closest friends. “How’s everything in Konoha?”
“Pretty much the same. But we’re all aware of what’s going on around the border…”
“How much do you know about the bandits?” Shikamaru asked.
Naruto shrugged, “Asides from almost destroying Hoku and the ones who kidnapped Sakura… nothing much.”
Both Neji and Shikamaru shared a look. But before they could even say anything, Kakashi was already approaching them. He looked at the two and said, “Have you been well?” that earned him a glare from Neji and a yawn from the other.
“We try to stay away from trouble.” Shikamaru said before noticing the sharp glint on Neji’s eyes.
“You mean I try to stay away from trouble?” Neji corrected.
Shikamaru’s eyes narrowed, “Sure pansy pants.”
Kakashi just shook his head. “Come. We have a lot of things to discuss.” He walked back towards the largest tent with the three following his heels.
Opening the flap, the Konoha jounins entered and saw three sand nins waiting inside. Kankuro was with them, discussing trails on the map. Gaara’s brother looked up, “Glad to have you all here.” He rolled the map, gave it to one of the nins and went to approach them.
He crossed his arms as his eyes settled on the blonde standing at the middle, “Heh. You even joined the crowd, blonde brat?”
Naruto growled, “I’m not a brat you make-up freak!”
Neji shook his head as Kakashi only rolled his eye.
Kankuro laughed, “You’re still full of energy. We need that here.”
“You lead squad one?” Kakashi asked.
Kankuro nodded, “Temari leads the other squads. I handle one and two.”
“One of your nins told me you got new information?”
Kankuro nodded and then started walking back to his table, “This just came in.” He took out a scroll and tossed it toward Kakashi as the copy-nin expertly caught it with one hand. “The bandits… they’re heading north east. I guess Konoha is their target…”
“Any idea why?” Kakashi knew the answer to his own question. But he figured maybe the Sand had other theories.
Kankuro shrugged, “Gaara assumed they’re after something. And your village has it.”
Naruto exclaimed, “Don’t tell me Orochimaru’s after Sasuke again?? Is this some kind of Sound 4 déjà vu?” Retrieving Sasuke was a difficult task and now the enemy was doing it all over again.
“Wrong.” Kankuro grumbled.
Neji conceded, “You’re right on the first part though.”
Naruto arched an eyebrow, “What? He’s not after Sasuke? Then who?”
Kakashi gripped the scroll, feeling a sudden rush of fear as his assumptions were finally confirmed. “He’s after Sakura.”
Naruto’s eyes widened as he tried to digest what Kakashi said, “Sakura?” he gave a nervous laugh, “I-I can’t see any reason why he should. Right?” he turned towards the others and found them looking at him tensely. “Guys?” he abruptly turned towards Kakashi, demanding for some explanation. “What’s going on, Kakashi-sensei?”
Kakashi looked at his student and then replied, “Orochimaru—probably wants Sakura so she can heal him.”
Naruto remembered Orochimaru’s invalid arms, “Sakura? Only Baa-baa knows how!” the blonde protested.
“But that doesn’t stop him from believing Tsunade taught Sakura the healing jutsu he needs…” Kakashi rationally answered.
“Did she?” Shikamaru asked, “I mean, did the Hokage taught Sakura the healing jutsu?”
Kakashi himself was unsure since he and Sakura hadn’t talked for awhile. “The last time I checked, Sakura denied the idea of her learning that jutsu. She said it’s one of the sacred jutsus Tsunade rarely teaches…”
“That means Shizune doesn’t know the jutsu either…” Naruto thoughtfully said.
Kankuro sighed heavily, looking really disgruntled, “So basically, all this fuss is over some medic nin in training so she can heal Orochimaru’s arm? They’re not really starting a war as of now?”
Neji nodded, “No… but then if this plan of his works… we’ll have to expect an upheaval next.”
“But Kakashi told you, Sakura doesn’t know the jutsu!” Naruto griped.
“In any case, Sakura’s in trouble.” Shikamaru said.
Yeah, she is in trouble alright… Kakashi thought, I promised to protect her… but what did I do?
“We have to stop them before they enter the border.” Kankuro said with finality. All agreed with a determined nod.
“We were ordered to report back.” Kakashi told Kankurou and that earned him an odd look from the rest.
“We’re staying, Kakashi-sensei.” Naruto told him, “I’m sure Tsunade-baachan will understand.”
“I’ll send Takamaru (1) deliver the information.” Kankuro said, “Don’t worry. Takamaru can deliver that message in no time.”
Kakashi shook his head, “Trust me. That’s not what I’m worried about.”
And then suddenly he felt a hand heavily land on his shoulder. He looked back and saw Neji giving him a meaningful glare.
“She’ll be fine. I’m sure she’s well protected there…”
For the first time in his life, Kakashi never felt so vulnerable. Was he that easy to read? Or was it just Hyuuga’s too observant for his own good?
“Now that’s settled,” Naruto exclaimed, “I’m gonna pound those bastards’ asses for even trying to kidnap one of my friends again!” Kudos to Naruto for that. First Sasuke and now Orochimaru aims for Sakura. I mean, what is up with taking all my best friends??
Shikamaru sighed loudly, shaking his head, “Troublesome… everyone just has to be so troublesome…”
“Oh by the way, Shika.” Naruto suddenly piped in, “Ino’s really angry at you, so you’d better be careful when you get back.”
That actually made Shikamaru think it over, Should I go home and get killed by Ino or stay and get killed by the enemy? He chose the latter. At least I died with honor.
As they walked toward the massive gates protecting Konoha, Sakura was awfully quiet. After learning about the bandits that attacked Hoku and that Kakashi and Naruto were sent to get some information, she went silent, pretty much fighting with her inner self with all those variations of emotions showing on her face.
“I can’t believe this. How could he not tell me anything?” she muttered disbelievingly to herself.
“Maybe he’s just concerned.” Sasuke couldn’t believe he was taking Kakashi’s side. “It’s the same group that kidnapped you.”
“I know!” Sakura protested, “That’s why I have to know…”
Sasuke shook his head, “What difference would it have made if you did?”
Sakura looked at him, a little shocked, “I—I…” she couldn’t find the right words to say, “W-well… I could…”
Sasuke sighed, “See?” he commented with an all-knowing nod.
Oh shit, now even Sasuke-kun thinks you’re an impulsive idiot… Inner Sakura shouted in shame. Sakura managed to ignore it eventually.
“But still!” Sakura really looked upset, “He should’ve told me…”
Sasuke glanced at the pink-haired medic and noticed the sudden regret that crossed her face. “What’s wrong?”
Sakura shrugged, “I had this really…awful fight with Kakashi and…”
“So… you were not on good terms when he left?”
Sakura nodded dejectedly. “Yes.”
“That gave him more reason why he shouldn’t tell you anything.”
Unfortunately, Sasuke was unfazed by it and went on, “How was he supposed to tell you if you were yelling at him?”
“How did you—?”
Sasuke gave him a disapproving look, “Everyone in the hospital perimeter probably heard you two…”
Sakura rubbed a palm over her face. God, that was so embarrassing. I’m not wondering why everyone’s looking at me funny…
Sakura looked up at him, “What?”
“The envoy’s early.” He told her as he tipped his head towards the gate.
Sakura followed the beeline with her eyes and saw someone standing not too far away from them, looking awfully annoyed.
Her brows arched, “That’s the envoy?”
Sasuke himself was quite surprised to find a… woman standing over there. He was expecting to find a middle aged guy who was capable of protecting himself and the message he’s delivering. This woman however…
“I hope you’re the jounins who should’ve accompanied me thirty-minutes ago.” Her voice was nasty as well as the glare on her eyes. She was a couple of feet taller than Sakura, a lot older, perhaps around Kurenai or Anko’s age. Her eyes were unusually blue, opposing her feisty attitude. She looked disdainful with her head held up high. And the robes she wore… it was so fine, Sakura could’ve mistaken her as the village’s princess or something.
She looked like she could breathe out fire to toast them.
Sakura nudged Sasuke and whispered carefully, “I thought Makoto was a guy’s name.”
Sasuke gave a stiff nod, “Me too.”
“What are you two mumbling about?” the envoy named Makoto spat, “Let’s get going. Or do you want the bandits to overrun us and get killed?”
Well, so much for trusting us. “We assure you… as long as we’re here, your safety is guaranteed.”
Makoto ran her eyes on Sakura from head to toe, “You’re a jounin?”
That just snapped a string on Sakura’s patience, “Yes… I-am.” She said with gritted teeth, “I’m Haruno Sakura and this is Uchiha Sasuke.” She motioned towards Sasuke who was starting to lose patience as well. “We’re both jounins with high capability of protecting you. That’s why the Hokage chose us.” Also, it made her wonder what Makoto’s rank was in her village for her to have so much money just to pay two jounins to guard her.
“Hmph,” Makoto sneered, “I thought everyone else wasn’t around; that’s why I had you two.” She muttered to herself, just loud enough for Sakura’s sharp ears to hear.
Sakura’s jaw fell. When Makoto turned away, Sakura snapped and would have tackled the woman down if Sasuke hadn’t grabbed her arms and pulled her back.
“Now if you’re done playing,” Sakura released herself from Sasuke’s grip and shrugged her bag pack to its place. “Let’s go.” She told them and then started walking. The two followed awkwardly.
AN: TY sagdragon3002 for the beta!
1. Takamaru- Sand’s fastest falcon (Manga 250:15)
Halleluiah For Med Exams!
He has been avoiding her… for three days now. What is up with him? I thought we already talked about this. Sakura somehow assumed this had something to do with Kakashi’s morals again. About how they should not be together and that they should stay in a professional relationship. Professional my ass. With a melodramatic roll of her eyes, Sakura went to the only place she knew he took to hiding.
And lo and behold, she was right.
Right through the patches of trees where she and Kakashi used to do their daily training after she made a bet with him a few months ago sat the lone figure of the copy nin, quietly staring at the stream below. Really, was he trying that hard to avoid her? Why would he choose a hiding place she already knew of?
Another Kakashi mystery unsolved.
Sakura went down and approached him, not bothering to use stealth since she knew he probably sensed her already. Dropping next to him, Sakura casually greeted, “Hey.”
“Hey.” Kakashi didn’t even look surprised at her arrival.
Sakura gave him a disappointed look. “I haven’t seen you in days.” She told him in a… rather cavalier fashion. She doesn’t want to look too affected… no matter how true that fact is.
“I was…” Kakashi stalled, like he was thinking of some lame excuse again to get him out of this situation. “… busy.”
Right… “Oh yeah? With what?”
“…” Kakashi didn’t even looked he was affected with her interrogation, “Things.”
Just as she suspected. If Kakashi didn’t want to talk, he would definitely shove it to your face that he was not in the mood to say anything. “This is stupid.” She grumbled, more to herself. Can you blame her for feeling nothing but anger towards this man? She thought they already had an understanding. That he was okay with the relationship. That he already accepted the fact that she loves him. It seems the copy-nin’s still afraid on defying the rules. Sakura saw exactly what Kakashi was trying to point out in their situation. He’s embarrassed for having a relationship with his former student and that he’s ashamed to see them in public and be criticized. How many times did he tell her that? And why didn’t she ever listen?
They were going around in circles and she’s tired of it. If Kakashi prioritizes what the other people say and not his own feelings towards her, then it’s better that they maintain the professional relationship indeed.
The said girl stood up abruptly, “I can’t put up with you anymore, sensei.” Calling him that somehow made her feel as if they just lost that bond they built for years. “One day you want me and the next day you don’t. I don’t understand what’s going on inside that head of yours.” Her fists clenched at her sides, “I don’t get you anymore.”
Kakashi’s jaw tightened at the tone of Sakura’s voice, “Sakura, we can’t be together.”
“Save it.” Sakura rudely cut him off. “You’re like an old record, saying the same things. And like most of the time, I refuse to listen.”
Kakashi fell silent and failed to retaliate. He can’t debate with someone who makes sense.
“You told me directions are for fools. That whatever happens will happen.” Her voice raising a notch higher, “You said you don’t care what the others will think.”
Kakashi remembered that quite well. The only problem was that’s not really what he’s concerned of.
“I don’t care what other people will say about us.” Finally, she looked down despite the fact that he was still trying to avoid her gaze, “But you don’t. And that’s disappointing.”
Those last words hung between them in silence. Lifting his gaze from the stream, Kakashi looked over to Sakura only to find her gone.
The next few days were rather difficult. It seems the more she tries to avoid him, the more he appears. Maybe because you two were strictly under Tsunade’s decree of not signing up on any missions for one month. Sakura tried a lot of things to make Tsunade assign her to another village… she even begged for it. But the Hokage was adamant with her decision. She paid no heed to whatever Sakura said.
Having no other choice, Sakura continued her training with Tsunade just to buy time as well as to prevent herself from getting rusty. The last battle she had was horrible.
“Wrong! Do it again!”
Tsunade was born to be a dictator. It ran in her blood and she made sure everyone feared her superiority. A training session with her was always hellfire. But her method works perfectly. Sakura learned a lot of things from her and she had to give her some credit. She was a fast learner, so as what her sensei says, but she lacked a bit of coordination. Intelligence and coordination must be one to achieve everything. And for the past six… (Or was it seven?) years of training under Tsunade’s wings, Sakura could describe herself as a qualified medic nin.
“Focus is the key. How many times do I have to tell you that?” the blonde grumbled before gulping down her sake.
Sakura also considered her sensei as a drunken master. The more she is drunk, the stronger and more proficient she got. Weird, huh?
“I am focusing.” Sakura lied. Of course she wasn’t focusing. How could she focus when her mind always drifted back to Kakashi and the sudden turn out of their relationship? They had been good friends, closer than friends and then complete strangers. Everyone noticed this sudden change and kept on asking her what was going on. Of course, this is not helping her any. That was why she considered this training ground as her sanctuary. But it turns out even suffering from Tsunade’s tutelage doesn’t erase Kakashi from her mind.
Narrowed almond eyes glared profusely at her, “I may look like 20 but you know I’m old enough to know that you’re not telling the truth.” Then she quickly added, “Liar.”
Sakura brought her hands down at her sides and sighed in relief. Keeping her back crouched, hand extended, legs flexed for hours while drawing out chakra just to perform a simple jutsu that will probably save her life in the future tired the shit out of her. “I am trying!” she received a doubtful look from the Hokage, “I swear!”
“It won’t work if you get all riled up.” Tsunade casually shrugged her shoulders.
Sakura reluctantly went back to her previous position and did as what she was told.
After further attempts, Tsunade saw no progress. Something was bothering her student. This technique was so simple, she could have learned it in a couple of days. They’ve been training for almost a week now and still she couldn’t see any spark of (1) kyuutai in her hands. (2) Genkan no Jutsu is a simple technique where you mold chakra into your hands and form an orb that can be inserted in human flesh and create a numbing sensation through out the muscle of the body. It is medically used as anaesthesia and could also be used during battles as an offensive attack.
Sakura silently observed the small orb in her hands. It reminded her of Naruto’s Rasengan, only the colour of hers was mild green and it looked more of a crystal orb than a ball of wind.
“Tell me, do you still want to continue this?” Tsunade asked her student.
“Yes.” Sakura resolutely answered. No. Unfortunately her mind tells the opposite.
“Concentrate!” Tsunade yelled between gritted teeth, “I’m NOT here… don’t talk to me!”
“But you just asked me—”
“I said FOCUS!”
Gr, damnit! Sakura wanted to protest so badly.
Ten minutes passed, Sakura asked out loud, “How am I doing?”
Tsunade glared, “Horrible, what else?”
“Your motivational skills amaze me, shishou.”
“Without this ‘skill’, you are not the medical nin you are now.” The blonde snapped back.
True, Sakura couldn’t deny that of course. Form, you stupid ball! She couldn’t understand why forming was such a difficult task. Molding chakra’s one of his specialties. But melding it into a ball seems to be the hardest thing to do in the world. For her, that is.
She looked up and saw her sensei was already done drinking and was now watching her intently with arms crossed. A look of disappointment still masked her face.
“By the end of this training session, you’ll still suck at head-on battles. You can’t always rely on your chakra, Sakura.”
“Then why are you teaching me jutsus instead of head-on fighting?”
Tsunade’s brow twitched, “We are supposed to get there but you’re stuck with the first lesson. The orb forming.” She made it sound as if it was the most awful thing that ever happened in Konoha’s history.
Well, you just can’t please everyone.
“Remember what you said to me a few days ago?” Tsunade asked.
“Nope.” She replied, not really in the mood to be nostalgic.
Tsunade shook her head disapprovingly, “Day by day, you’re losing your respect for me.”
Sakura inwardly slapped herself. “I apologise, Shishou.”
Tsunade dismissively nodded, “You told me you wanted to get stronger.”
Sakura nodded acquiescently.
“That you want to be included in the ANBU squad, remember?”
Sakura did tell her about that, but she hadn’t expected she’d take her seriously. Tsunade highly disapproved of letting Sakura join the squad. It was quite a surprise that she opened the topic herself.
“Tell me exactly why you wanted that.” She stalled for a moment before continuing, “Is it because of your boyfriends?”
The pink-haired medic resolutely shook her head, a little bit insulted that even Tsunade thinks that Naruto and Sasuke influenced all her whim. “I want to join ANBU because I want to prove that I am capable of joining the elite squad too. I don’t want to fall behind.” Everyone she knows already joined ANBU and had been doing S- or A-class missions for the past years. Both Naruto and Sasuke made it and even snatched the captain squad title. Getting the same title wasn’t exactly Sakura’s dream. Just the thought of being there and helping the squad was enough.
Okay, so maybe it was all about Naruto and Sasuke.
Somebody kill me please.
Tsunade rubbed her brows while absently nodding, “You’ll go under a special training before you can enter…” Then quietly added, “… and to get that tattoo, too.” Tsunade always admired those ink arts drawn on ANBU’s skin. It looked so regal and she knew Sakura thought the same way, too.
“How can you join ANBU if you can’t even perform this simple jutsu?” Tsuande doubtfully questioned her student as she effortlessly formed a kyuutai in her hand. “Until you get your focus back, I will not let you try on anything concerning the ANBU squad.” And just like that, the orb was gone.
“What??” Sakura incredulously asked. “B-but!”
“Settle things with him already, will you?” When Sakura was about to ask her what she was talking about, she abruptly cut her short, “And don’t pretend you don’t know who I am referring to. Everyone in Konoha knows already.”
“Really?” Sakura blinked slowly at her and then immediately withdrew, “I-I mean! I don’t know what you’re talking about…” she said with a wave of her hand.
Tsunade only glowered. Where was the intelligent student she had a few months ago? Perhaps sending her to Sand was a bad decision after all. “Well congratulations, you just wasted my time, Sakura. Now if you’ll excuse me,” she turned on her heels and headed towards the only route to the main road. “I got missions to approve. See me when you’re ready.”
Sakura was in serious trouble right now. Even the Hokage thought she was unstable.
Damn you, Kakashi.
“Haruno-sensei.” A timid nurse called up to her as she was about to turn to the next corner toward the elevator.
Sakura turned and acknowledged her with arched brows. “Hai—” then her eyes searched the name plate she was wearing, aware that it was polite to know your colleagues’ name, “—Yoshino-san?”
The nurse gave a nod and said, “Haruno-sensei, you’re supposed to be at 2nd floor.”
“Why?” Sakura thought she just finished her rounds.
“Physical Examinations are due today. Have you forgotten, Haruno-sensei?” the nurse inquisitively asked, a little surprised since she already reminded her about this a few days ago.
Sakura’s eyes widened, “I was assigned there?”
Yoshino nodded, sheepishly smiling, “Hai, sensei.”
“Oh… damn.” Sakura could not believe she forgot about that, “I’m sorry. I’ll go down in a sec.” she profusely apologised before heading down to the 2nd floor.
Yoshino curiously cocked her head to the side and thought out loud, “Haruno-sensei’s acting weird.” A gasp, widened eyes, and then, “Could it be that the rumours about her and Hatake-san were true?”
Sometimes, Naruto couldn’t help but feel disappointed toward his friends. They never tell him anything. Just like today when he noticed a lot of things changed around him this morning.
First, Kakashi-sensei seems to be more engrossed in that orange book he always carried around. Anywhere he went, his nose was kept stuck between the pages, not even noticing his polite greeting when he passed by him.
Second, Sasuke seemed to be recovering from his melodramatic life and started signing up on missions again. He appeared to be a lot… contented and less brooding. For the past month he watched him hide inside that humungous compound of his and avoid people as much as he can. Now, he even started talking to him and teasing him just like old times.
And third, Sakura seemed to be overworking herself. In mornings he saw her working at the hospital, by afternoon she’s with Tsunade, and by night she’d go straight home. He tried to have a drink with her but she adamantly refused, telling him that she’s too tired to abuse her body more with alcohol.
What is up with that??
Nobody’s telling me anything! This sucks… Naruto sulkily sat Indian-style on Tsunade’s office’s rooftop, crossed his arms and looked like a very, very upset cat with his face scrunched up.
“Oi, Naruto!” came Shizune’s voice that quite startled the blond.
Naruto looked down and saw her head peeking through the balcony. “What?”
“Get down here. The briefing starts now.” And just like that, her head disappeared from his line of vision.
With a snort, Naruto jumped down the balcony and proceeded inside Tsunade’s office where she was waiting patiently.
Or maybe not…
Naruto cringed at the look of her face. Her brows were furrowed deeply, her eyes were closed and her lips twitched as if she’s trying her best from not bursting out.
It was kinda funny but Naruto knew better than to laugh at the Hokage.
On the other side of the room stood Hatake Kakashi. Obviously, the jounin’s tardiness once again caused Tsunade’s irritation.
“The strangest thing happened to me—”
“Save it.” Tsunade snapped.
Somehow, that quite reminded him of a certain pink-haired medic whom he tried his best to avoid for the past few days.
Tsunade noticed Naruto was still standing by the balcony, “Naruto, stand where I can see you.”
Naruto grumbled something about ‘demanding old hag’ but did as what he was told. He stood next to his former sensei.
Clearing her throat, Tsunade started, “A tribulation from the east was reported to me this morning. I want you two to look it up and see who’s causing it.” as if on cue, Shizune moved towards them and handed their scrolls.
“That’s it?” Kakashi arched his exposed eyebrow. “Any suspects?”
Tsunade shook her head, “I have a feeling this concerns you.”
Naruto asked, “What do you mean?”
Tsunade’s almond eyes locked on Kakashi’s, “According to the report, it was a band of… black suited nins. I am not really sure but… I believe you already had an encounter with them, have you not, Kakashi?”
Kakashi’s eyes narrowed dangerously as he recalled the day he and Sakura were attacked in the forest. So, they’re heading this way… he never expected them actually having that much of a determination to pursue Sakura. It seems Orochimaru was really desperate.
“Is this the reason why you removed my mission-banned order?” he was quite surprised that he was called for a briefing. As far as he can remember, Kakashi recalled the Hokage prohibiting him from involving himself from any missions.
“Does that make you happy?” Tsunade arched an eyebrow at him. She only received a simple shrug of his shoulders.
Naruto read the scroll, which surprisingly rolled down to his knees and whined, “Who wrote this??” he asked in mild concern and surprise.
Tsunade turned her attention towards him, “Proprietor of Hoku village.”
Naruto scoffed, “No wonder. What kind of report is this? It’s too long.”
Tsunade bit the inside of her cheek, “He’s detailed.”
“We just need useful information. A simple ‘what, when, where’. Every simple description’s prolonged with these… with these words! Hey! He even included detrition. What the hell does that mean?” Clearly, Naruto’s creating a big fuss over something so trivial so he could lighten up the situation. Kakashi was glad for the distraction.
Tsunade only rolled her eyes, “Enough. You can leave.” Before the two could even turn on their heels, she quickly asked, “Oh, were you two able to undergo the annual medical exam?”
“I went there this morning.” Answered Naruto.
Kakashi was silent.
“I am not allowing you to go until you visit the hospital, Kakashi.” She knew how much Kakashi hated hospitals. After the traumas he experienced from his childhood, he always tried his best to avoid that sterile building. The smell of antiseptic itself upsets him.
Kakashi only nodded and went outside with Naruto in tow.
Sakura dropped tiredly into her chair after tending to the last patient that day. She always hated physical examinations. Taking vital signs, weight, height over and over again turns boring once you’ve done it about five or ten times. Looking up, she saw the wall clock and it read 3:15 pm. She glanced over to her assistant and asked with a little hope in her voice, “Was that the last one?”
Botan scanned her list and noticed one particular jounin unchecked, “Err… Haruno-sensei…” She didn’t know if it was alright for her to even mention the name to her since it seemed the two weren’t on good terms.
“Hm?” Sakura arched her brows and then noticed the blatant look of uneasiness on Botan’s face. Oh, don’t tell me. She shot up from her chair and took the paper from Botan’s hand.
Eyes widening, her breathing stopped as she slowly read the name of the last jounin she was supposed to exam.
(3) “Sumimasen.” A head with a white mop of a hair peeked inside the room.
Both Sakura and Botan froze and stared at him. Sakura looking a lot dumber had her mouth a little ajar from disbelief.
“Kakashi-san…” Botan called her voice a little uncertain.
Kakashi saw Botan and flashed her his usual grin. Before he could even greet her back, he noticed the other occupant of the room, who was still rather in a state of shock.
Oh boy. Kakashi’s ability to speak failed him as his exposed eye met Sakura’s stunned ones.
“Take off your shirt and sit on the table.” Sakura’s voice was clipped, all business-like as she rounded around to gather her tools.
Kakashi was hesitant at the fact of letting Sakura do his physical examination. The last time he checked, Sakura was angry at him. And with those scalpels not so far away from her, who knew what she’d do to him. No, she’s not that evil. He wished he didn’t say that as it already jinxed everything. He looked up and saw her fussing over some set of scalpels and other sharp things only to find her reaching to the other end for her sphygmomanometer.
Taking off his shirt, he sat on the cold table and waited for her to get done with her preparations. Really, did it take five minutes to gather all her things?
Neither did Kakashi know Sakura was trying her best to stall. Realizing that she already completed her tools and had nothing else to do, she approached the man she tried to avoid and started with taking his vital signs.
“Take off the headband and mask, please.” When he did took it off without hesitation, Sakura couldn’t help but admire the unblemished, handsome face inwardly since she’d been deprived from it for almost a week. With a weary sigh, she inspected him from head to toe. She could feel his eyes following her every single move, watching her closely as she checked his eyes.
Sakura’s attention was diverted to his sharingan. “How is it?” she asked, looking straight into it. Kakashi immediately closed it before it affects her.
“I suggest that you stop doing that.” He told her as he took a hold on the hand inspecting his eye.
Sakura looked at him with mild surprise that turned into something akin to livid anger. She reclaimed her hand back and said, “I know what I’m doing, Kakashi. Open it.”
Kakashi adamantly refused by closing his eyes, “Stop.”
Sakura however didn’t give up, “You will not hurt me, don’t worry.” She tried to sound placating, like a mother to a child.
As if her words somehow convinced him, Kakashi slowly opened his eyes and looked at her. Of course, why would he use the sharingan on her? He was just afraid that she might trigger something that will put them both in danger.
“I refuse.” He said before tugging down on his headband to cover his sharingan.
“Proceed with the inspection.” He told her.
“I need to check your eyes.” She persisted.
“I have the right to refuse.”
“It’s my right.” The look in his eye told her more. It clearly told her to back off.
Sighing, Sakura found no other choice but to leave it. “You’re stubborn than a mule.” She grumbled irritatingly as she proceeded.
Kakashi didn’t say anything in return and just silently watched her. She had her hair tied up in a ponytail, giving her that neat look. She wore no make-up but a simple lip gloss to accentuate her beautiful lips. She smelled nice and Kakashi couldn’t help but take a sniff whenever she comes too close. I feel like a dog right now. He inwardly thought as he cautiously checked if Sakura noticed what he was doing. A very satisfied dog at that.
He couldn’t see what she was wearing with that huge white robe covering her. But the look definitely suited her. She was born to be a great medic someday, and he’s proud to know someone with great intelligence like her.
Sakura stiffened when she felt his nose brush her neck as she reached to take his breathing. Did he just smell me? Thinking that it was just her imagination, Sakura went on. When she leaned again, she felt something incessantly pressing against her skin. With a startled gasp, she pulled back only to find Kakashi’s arms snaking around her waist.
“Kakashi!” she exclaimed, “What are you doing?” she was stunned when he continued, now bathing her neck with wet, open-mouthed kisses.
Sakura fought not to moan but failed to do so. With a small whimper, Sakura tried to gain her senses back and worriedly scanned the whole room. Kakashi’s lips moved from her collar bone, to her neck, up to her jaw, tracing the bone in lazy butterfly kisses.
“We can’t—mmph!” Kakashi took the opportunity to kiss her thoroughly, pulling her tightly flushed against him.
Sakura’s legs melted as her shoulders sagged and rested her full weight against him. Kakashi gladly tightened his hold and explored the mouth he yearned for days.
As much as Sakura wanted to continue this making-out session, she couldn’t let anything happen inside her clinic. She pulled away briefly before Kakashi tried to kiss her again. Finally finding the strength to push him away, Sakura stood up on her legs and looked him in the eye. Her breathing was quite laboured as she asked, “What’s going on?” she breathlessly whispered, her eyes falling on his awaiting lips.
Kakashi’s eye trailed her reddening ones. Licking his lips to taste the remnants of her lip gloss, Kakashi replied a bit dazedly, “We’re making out.”
Sakura absently nodded, “Why? I’m mad at you.”
“Likewise.” He said in a nonplussed expression.
Sakura shook her head, a little bit confused herself. “No, no. I mean, I’m supposed to be angry at you.”
Kakashi looked as if that was the first time he heard her talked and softly said, “I’m sorry…” and as simple as that, he went to kiss her again.
Really, what’s a girl to do if you’re kissing one of the hottest jounins in Konoha?
“Sakura…” He whispered against her lips, a little breathless.
Sakura was startled out of her daze and saw Kakashi looking at her weirdly. “Are you alright?” He was wondering if his little sniffing caused shock on the girl’s head. They were in the middle of checking lung capacity when she all of a sudden stopped and looked… well, spellbound.
“Y-yeah, I’m fine.” Came Sakura’s nervous reply. Way to go, Sakura. You just daydreamed in the middle of an examination. Feeling utterly embarrassed, she quickly turned to hide her blushing face.
Kakashi jumped from the table and went to follow her, “I know I shouldn’t have doubted you.”
Sakura swiftly turned around, “What?”
“I should’ve trusted you more. I know Sasuke’s—”
“What about Sasuke?” Sakura challengingly questioned him.
Kakashi frustratingly sighed and rubbed a palm over his face before continuing, “I thought you were using me as a rebound and…”
“You thought you were a rebound?” the look on her face was mixed stun and disbelief, “Sasuke?”
Kakashi didn’t know if he would be able to get out of this hospital alive. “I saw you with him…”
Sakura silently looked at him for a moment until she recalled that afternoon when she and Sasuke had that ‘talk’. “You sneaked up on us?” she couldn’t believe he had the guts to step over her privacy!
Kakashi’s eye narrowed, “I was passing by.”
Sakura wouldn’t buy that talk. The road was almost a mile away from the river. “You heard us talking, of course?”
“And what did you hear that made you doubt our relationship all over again?”
Kakashi’s mouth was set into a straight line. Sakura patiently waited for his answer as she crossed her arms and tapped her foot.
“Sasuke still wants you. And now I think he’s serious.” He was somewhat reluctant to say those words.
Well you left too early. She wished Kakashi stayed a bit longer so he could’ve heard what Sasuke told her after that. “So, what if Sasuke really did want me back?” she snapped a bit irritably, “Won’t you fight for me? You think after Sasuke’s confession I’ll just go and be swept away by him?”
Kakashi felt like hundreds and hundreds of accusing fingers were pointed at him right now. “That’s why I realized I was wrong to doubt you.” Long hours of staring up in his ceiling, a non-stop reading of Icha Icha even if he couldn’t really understand what he was reading, and sitting stagnantly with no missions made him insane. Her silent treatment killed him. He couldn’t and would not tolerate another day not talking to her or being near her.
He was miserable.
Sakura was fighting an inner battle within her. Looking at Kakashi without a shirt on with both of them all alone inside her clinic made her insides itch. Fine! I missed him! She wanted to look and sound angry. But with Kakashi looking at her, looking really apologetic and shirtless made her want to change her mind.
“And you think I’ll just forgive you with that sad excuse?”
Kakashi sighed, “Not exactly…”
Sakura sucked up a lungful of air before returning at the task at hand. “I want this done as soon as possible.” The look of confusion and slight disappointment that crossed Kakashi’s face was not left unnoticed as he followed and sat on the cold table again.
When she was done, which was a little too soon, Kakashi donned his shirt and vest again. Sakura on the other hand tried to ignore the nagging voice inside her head. Forgive the poor man! As if it were that easy. He really made her mad this time.
Kakashi had no idea how his jealousy affected his bubble-gum haired kunoichi. Seeing that she was not in the mood to listen to any of his explanations, Kakashi gave up the idea of making up with her when it is visibly fruitless.
“We’re done,” she told him and just like that, she packed her things and went to leave the room.
Not before Kakashi stopped her, though.
Sakura gazed at the hand gripping her arm before glaring at the man who owned it.
“I really am sorry, Sakura.”
She really was not in the mood to forgive him just yet. “Next time, try not to leave too early.” That got his attention, “… you’re missing a lot.” And with that, she retrieved her arm and went out of the door.
Kakashi was left there, thinking to himself.
To let you go
So here she was, on the famed bridge, looking down at the reflection of her and another figure standing beside her. Sakura’s heart started to pound a little faster. Not because she was embarrassed, but because she was really, really nervous. She never expected to have this talk with him this soon. She had planned on avoiding him for a couple of days and then executing her intentions to settle things between them. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
She was surprised when he asked her first, right before Ino and Naruto decided to leave first after a full meal at Ichiraku.
The pink-haired medic turned, brows slightly arched, “Yes?”
Sasuke held her under his signature cool gaze, “We need to talk.”
So, what now, Sakura? It was amazing how awfully speechless she was when she had desperately rehearsed what exactly to say days before. She had no idea where to start or if she was even supposed to start the conversation.
Sakura hadn’t seen that coming. So she turned her head toward him a bit abruptly, “What?”
Sasuke grumbled something incomprehensible about something between ‘too difficult to repeat’ and ‘deaf woman.'
Finding this little antic adorable, Sakura inwardly grinned and teased, “Did you say something?”
Sasuke gave her one of his coldest death glares, “I was trying to apologise.”
For someone who was trying to apologise, he didn’t sound too apologetic. But verbalizing that aloud would probably ruin the conversation. Not when everything was starting all too swell…
But that did not stop her from teasing him further, “For what?”
“You know what—” Sasuke was about snap at her until he saw her looking expectantly at him. Thinking that this was not the time to show how tall his pride was, Sasuke instead said, “For… everything.”
Again, he managed to surprise Sakura. That was said without any hesitation. This was actually Uchiha Sasuke, asking for her forgiveness over something he did. Sakura couldn’t stop her mouth from opening and closing like a fish, “That’s… very nice of you.” She turned her gaze back toward their reflection, “I’m sorry too.” Sakura grinned, “For ditching you on our wedding day.”
Sasuke looked at her and then was glad when he saw the faint grin on her face. He, too, felt like smiling. “Aa.”
The two shared a companionable silence, but only for a couple of minutes. Sakura never liked silences… silences always instigated tension whether companionable or not. Breaking free from the said possibilities, Sakura stretched out her hands and smiled widely, “So… this means we’re friends again?”
Sasuke turned and noticed the sudden beautiful glow coming out from her. It was a shame that it was too late for him to appreciate Sakura’s beauty. Obviously, he didn’t own the girl’s affection anymore.
Ino’s right. It’s too late… he mused as he absently watched the look of happiness and contentment her face held. She really was a sweet girl. And Kakashi’s lucky to have her.
“What do you see in him?” he never meant to let that question slip out of his mouth. It was a little embarrassing, but what was done was done. Sasuke could not turn back now. He had finally asked the million dollar question that had bothered him for weeks. Masking his shame, Sasuke turned his gaze toward the setting sun with both hands tucked within his pockets. He was afraid to see the reaction on her face.
Sakura was in high spirits until that question came up. She gave him an odd look as both of her raised arms slowly lowered to her sides. Her eyes watched him, hoping that he would explain his question. He knew… he always knew… Everyone already assumed that she and Kakashi would eventually end up together. Ever since they built a close companionship as friends, people started to consider the possibilities of them being an item. Even if the whole idea was taboo, people still love to gossip… and so, the rumour mill started at that point. Maybe Sasuke had heard enough stories that linked her to their former-sensei. Not that she was saying he had incorrect suppositions. It was just that Sasuke heard this information in a rather different way.
Oh well, lying to him wouldn’t work now… and I owe him the truth. With that thought, Sakura decided to answer the awkward question. “Like what I’ve told you before,” she started, turning to watch the setting sun with him, both hands gripping the rail in front of them. “He was there… always had been…” her eyes slowly drooped, avoiding to meet Sasuke’s gaze, whom at this point was looking at her from the corner of his eyes. “He never left me…”
Sasuke didn’t know it would hurt this much… to have someone slap your mistakes right into your face.
I deserve that, he inwardly groaned.
After realizing the words she just said, Sakura suddenly got flustered and nervously waved her hands while shaking her head violently, “NOT that I was trying to imply anything! I was just saying that you know, in times of trouble he’s always been there and err—” A sheepish smile then crossed her face, “I’m babbling, am I?”
“Sakura,” Sasuke’s deep voice of warning effectively stopped her.
Sakura blinked at him, “Hai?”
A smirk lifted Sasuke’s mouth as he cockily turned to her and reached out to ruffle her hair.
Confused, all Sakura could do was look at his hand and watch him ruin her hair.
Sasuke found the cross-eyed, pouting Sakura incredibly cute.
Why can’t I have you?
If only he hadn’t been blinded by the hatred he had for his brother… if only he lived normally like any other normal human being… perhaps, he would have discovered the emotion called ‘love’ a little sooner. So…
Instead of ruffling her hair like this, he would have gently combed it with his fingers and kissed her.
So many if’s… Sasuke could only wish he could turn back the time so he could be with her.
When he caught the odd look of confusion-slash-amusement lighting Sakura’s face, he immediately stopped and withdrew his hand.
Finally, a smile cracked her face. “Did you just—” she couldn’t believe it! Sasuke’s acting all weird… as if he’s getting soft.
Sasuke's answer was a death glare that pinned her down, “Don’t you dare mention this to Naruto or to anyone else, got it?”
Sakura couldn’t help it as she giggled and poked him right on the shoulder, “Sasuke-kun’s getting soft!”
If Sasuke wasn’t the same, cold-ass Sasuke, he would have retorted ‘Am not’, but that would just soil his reputation. He only ended up gritting his teeth.
Sakura continued teasing him until she came down from her high, and reached out to ruffle his hair as pay back. Sasuke was stunned at the action… not that he didn’t like it or anything… it was just surprising.
“Hm, I guess nothing’s keeping you now from being bitter, ne?” She dared not to mention the reason of this, remembering how he adamantly insisted that his brother no longer existed.
It pained him to see her like this. It pained him to know that she’s happy because she is in love with another man and not because of him.
“Sakura…” he started, a bit hesitant.
Sakura, however, turned her head and gave him the impression that she was listening. “Yes?”
It looked like he was having an inner battle over whether he should continue or not. But he had been pondering over this for weeks. He had to know the truth. He had to know the reason why and how?
“Why… how did it happen?” In return, she gave him a confused frown. All of a sudden Sasuke found it difficult to swallow, his hand clenching around the cold rail as if relying on it to support him. “You—falling out of love with me?”
Sakura’s heart skipped a beat as her eyes flew wide. She stared at him like that for a couple of seconds before recovering from her shock. “I…” and just like that, the snow started falling. Both still faced each other, bathing under the cold winter snow.
Lowering her head, Sakura passively stared at the snow beneath her feet. She remembered having the same conversation with Kakashi a few months ago. “It’s because… you always left me. Every time you leave, I'm always left behind crying. And I got tired of that.” Gingerly, she played with the hem of her coat, feeling depression triggered by past memories. “When you went after Itachi and joined Orochimaru, you don’t know how much I was hurting inside. Worrying about you and wondering why you carelessly threw our friendship behind... I know you don’t have any feelings for me… but when you embraced me, I knew there was something there that could be described as close friendship. Naruto always promised me that he’d get you back someday… so that I won’t shed a tear for you anymore. He knew I loved you… but he thinks you’re not worth it for me to cry for.”
Sasuke, as he looked at her, wished that he had never asked. Her words crushed him with guilt and felt it constricting his whole being. The damage was done and still he had the nerve to ask her why? He couldn’t blame Naruto if he thought he was not worth Sakura’s tears, even for everything else. Even he himself could say that. He deserved nothing but the remnants of his revenge against his brother.
“… and then I realized Naruto was right. My life doesn’t revolve around you… and that I have to finally forget the silly infatuation I had for you. Don’t get me wrong… I still consider you as one of my best friends… even if you chose the enemy to gain power.” Finally, she raised her head and beamed her earnest smile, “But then Sasuke-kun finally returned. You don’t know how happy I was when I saw you two years after the war. To know that you’re alive and well… it atone me somehow from my regrets. And if you’re going to ask me why I needed atonement…” her eyes sought his and went on, “It's because I can’t forgive myself for letting you go that day you went to Orochimaru. I could’ve stopped you… but I failed.”
Sasuke couldn’t breathe. He wanted to get out of here… get away from this woman… from this insanely frank woman who talked to him so openly. Sakura was everything that he didn’t have. Even if it sounded so ultimately cheesy, Sasuke couldn’t help but think that Sakura completed him.
Why can’t we be together?
This time, Sasuke felt ashamed and lowered his head, hiding his eyes beneath his bangs as his hands gripped the rail none-too-gently. Sakura watched him silently, wondering if she had said something wrong. “Sasuke?”
“Do you want to know why I chose you to be my wife?” he suddenly cut-in.
Sakura shook her head, a little curious herself.
He didn’t know if it was right for him to tell her everything. To open up to her in return for the honesty she had just shown. But he knew this was the only right thing to do. And who knows? She might change her mind and love him again. “Because I realized that out of all the girls here in Konoha… you’re the only girl I could consider as a friend…”
A gasp came from her.
“… and that I thought I was beginning to fall for you…”
“Hatake, you look different.”
Kakashi gave Genma the most innocent look he could manifest. The playboy didn’t buy it, unfortunately. “Define different,” he smoothly retorted as the two trudged their way toward the nearest bar.
The handsome nin blatantly observed the copy-ninja with a chin propped between his fingers, “Hm, I think something happened in that mission that you’re not telling me…”
“What is there for me to tell?” Kakashi prolonged.
“Oh, I don’t know. Having a blossoming, nineteen year old, former student who is now a medic travelling with you for almost a week? I can’t see anything you can relay to me, your most drop dead gorgeous friend.” Genma was one keen observer—and a narcissist at that. He knew if something good happened just by the goofy smile his friend was wearing. It was the same goofy grin he wore whenever he met beautiful women. Give Kakashi a senbon and you could mistake him as his twin… his twin with a mask, that is. Biting a senbon while wearing a mask? Gee, how can I imagine the oddest things? Genma shook his head in disbelief.
Kakashi chuckled, “You’re too smart for your own good.”
Genma grinned, “Heard it all the time.” And then he started nudging him, “So, what happened? Something good, huh?” he wriggled his eyebrows suggestively and that earned him a glare from the other.
“Don’t get the wrong idea.” Kakashi warningly grumbled.
“How can I not if you’re not telling me the details?” the other protested.
Kakashi shook his head, “You never change, do you?” As he turned to him, he noticed that they were passing the bridge. And there he spotted two familiar figures. His eye trailed at them immediately. He suddenly stopped walking, which caught Genma off-guard.
“What’s wrong?” Genma asked while looking over his shoulder.
“You go on ahead. I remembered I have something to do,” he lied.
Genma shrugged his shoulders, “Alright.” Then he went and gave his shoulder a light punch, “You’d better show up. Asuma rarely has the time to drink these past few days. Don’t waste my effort, will you?”
Kakashi chuckled and returned his punch by flicking at his nose. Genma hissed in pain, muttering curses that would put sailors to shame. “Yeah, I will. Don’t worry.” And as he watched Genma disappear, his gaze returned toward the bridge where he saw something he wasn’t meant to see.
Sakura neither wanted to believe nor digest the words that just came out of Sasuke’s mouth. Who are you and what have you done to Sasuke? The look on Sasuke’s eyes when he looked at her defied her thoughts. He looked so… sincere. Impossible… She shook her head, a little doubtful with his chosen words. “I don’t understand—”
“I imagined coming home finding you and our kids waiting for me.” The solemn voice of Sasuke produced goosebumps all over Sakura’s skin. “I imagined you being a good mother to my children… and a loving wife.” his eyes sought hers again and this time, he started walking towards her.
Sakura was transfixed from all the things Sasuke was professing, thinking that this was some big-ass joke. “Sasuke, I—” and the next thing she knew, the Uchiha prodigy had her trapped in his arms. Sakura couldn’t move.
To Sasuke, he’d never forget how perfectly Sakura’s body fitted flush against his and how soft and fragile she felt against him, “You made me realize what I really wanted in my life.”
Sakura couldn’t move her arms to reciprocate. She was too caught up with her own inner battle. I can’t love you, Sasuke. It’s all over… she desperately wanted to say, but she found herself utterly speechless.
“I want to be with you, Sakura.” He whispered against her ear, “But I know you don’t.” And just like that, he let her go. He stayed at arms length and Sakura took this opportunity to look at him. She knew it wasn’t easy for him to let it all out. Before, Sasuke was cooped up inside this closed shell… the harder you tried to open it, the tighter it closed. He was a difficult person to deal with. And now...
Sakura couldn’t help but be proud for Sasuke’s truthfulness. It just showed how much he began to trust her. “This is… I… I’ve never…” her eyes rolled elsewhere, trying to find the right words. Damn, where had what little eloquence she’d been born with gone?
He finally said, “I’ve hurt you once and I’m not going to make the same mistake again.” Slowly, he added and pointed at his bruised eye, “Naruto made sure of that.”
Sakura’s green eyes met onyx.
“I’ll let you go.”
“You made me realize what I really wanted in my life…”
That was all Kakashi needed to hear as he left the two feeling awfully… devastated. He went off as quietly as possible, leaving his two ex-students alone.
Was it all a lie? Did Sakura still love Sasuke? Is he some kind of a hindrance to their relationship? Was he the rebound? No, Kakashi didn’t want to think about it that way. But what he’d seen on the bridge just showed him that Sasuke was starting to see through his angst-filled life. He’s starting to notice the beautiful girl in front of him. And somehow, that upsets him.
Sasuke lost his chance ages ago… and Sakura was trying to move on. She accepted him and tried to forget Sasuke. And now Sasuke’s doing something that will probably kindle Sakura’s previous feelings for the Uchiha.
Maybe I shouldn’t have loved her in the first place. He knew it was wrong from the start, and being the stubborn person as he was, he still went on and initiated a forbidden relationship with her. What have I done?
It was too damn difficult to analyze.
He needed to forget.
He needed a drink.
Genma greeted him the moment he entered the pub. He sat down between him and Asuma and ordered his first serving of sake. Both Genma and Asuma shared glances and observed the sulky look on the copy-nin.
“Hey, you alright?” Asuma nudged him.
Kakashi took another shot and replied, “Fine.” Totally, fucking fine, he inwardly added, not really in the mood to move his mouth and talk.
Genma just shrugged and drank his serving as well.
Kakashi didn’t mind them, completely immersed with his own thoughts. Of all people to have these strange feelings for, why did it have to be her? Why Sakura? It feels as if he was back to square one. Where he was all confused and contemplating the pros and cons of this relationship.
When Asuma excused himself and went to meet Kurenai, who unintentionally felt like drinking in the same pub, Genma shot Kakashi his knowing glare. “Alright, big boy. What’s wrong? You can deceive anyone, but not me. I’ve been around you far too long.”
Kakashi at first tried to ignore him, but he knew too well that doing just that would rouse more questions from Genma. Having no other choice, he instead asked, “Have you… ever fell in love, Genma?”
Genma blinked at him as if he’d grown two heads, “Me?” the playboy extraordinaire looked at him disbelievingly. “If I did, I wouldn’t be sleeping around, now would I?”
Kakashi gave an acquiescent nod, “You have a point.”
There was silence between them before Genma went on, “But I’m not against it.”
“Hm,” Kakashi took another shot, “Even if she’s your former student?”
Aha! I know where this is going… Genma was damn glad it was Kakashi who opened this conversation. He had been dying to know what exactly transpired between Kakashi and Sakura in their mission, only he was worrying that his friend might get offended or something. Now was the perfect opportunity, “Why not?” from the corner of his eyes, he could see that he got all of Kakashi’s undivided attention. “She’s a former student, right? That means she’s no longer my student. What’s so wrong with that?” Bingo. One point for Genma, he inwardly smirked at the wicked thought.
“What if she’s thirteen years younger than you?”
Really, you’re making this waayy too easy for me, Kakashi. But of course he didn’t mind. He loved playing this game. “Women think older men are more reliable. And besides, remember that old catchphrase? Age doesn’t matter.”
Kakashi sighed, “What if… what if you’re the rebound?”
“What if she falls for someone else, what would you do?”
This time Genma gave a weary sigh. Kakashi was using the old school technique of asking for advice. The ‘How-about-I-put-you-in-my-situation-then-you-solve-it’ method. “Ch, Kakashi, is this about Sakura and Uchiha Sasuke?”
Kakashi was silent as if he failed to hear whatever Genma said.
“Is it?” Genma pressed.
“Forget about it.”
“I said forget about it,” Kakashi waved a dismissive hand.
Genma only stared. Shit, talk about love-struck. He would have second thoughts about finally settling down if he had the same face Kakashi was wearing right now.
“Ambushed?!” Naruto’s outburst disturbed the birds nesting on the nearest trees. “We have to do something!” his fists shook at his sides, wondering where Sakura was right now. “Sakura-chan… Sakura-chan’s in trouble… I’ll find her!” Naruto turned to run off, but Tsunade’s firm voice stopped him.
“Your impulsiveness doesn’t help the situation, Naruto.” A vein popped on her forehead after being rudely interrupted by the loud blonde’s outburst.
“When did this happen?” Sasuke was there too, looking uninterested yet his eyes somehow betrayed his usual aloofness. The once empty eyes were now filled with unconcealed anxiety. Ever since Naruto told him of Sakura returning, he felt restless. He wanted to talk to her yet had no idea what to say. But now, after hearing this awful news, Sasuke couldn’t prevent the provoked fear of losing Sakura eat him up.
“Two days prior.” The blonde Hokage tucked her chin against her interlaced hands. “Don’t worry. Sakura’s safe now. Kakashi retrieved her. They’re on their way and will probably arrive in a day or two.”
“So… they’re safe?” Sasuke cleared.
Tsunade nodded, “Just so you know.”
Naruto then jumped, “Gah! You made us really worried, you old hag!” the blonde pointed an accusing finger towards her. Unfortunately, right after, he didn’t see the massive book coming and hitting him straight on the face.
Tsunade huffed, “Ungrateful loudmouth.”
Sasuke grew tired of the dense interludes and crossed his arms impatiently, “Why’d you call us here for?”
Recovering from the impact, Naruto cried, “Nothing! She just frightened the shit out of us before telling us Sakura’s fine after all!” This time, it was Sasuke who shut him up by kicking the back of his head, making him topple forward. “ii---itaaiii!!!”
Sasuke ignored him and returned his gaze toward Tsunade. His silent, questioning gaze made Naruto’s continuous whining more pronounced to Tsunade. The vein on her head would pop anytime soon. She has to do something to prevent it. “SHUT UP!!!!”
Naruto quickly stopped challenging Sasuke to another fight. When he saw Tsunade reach for something on her table, he swiftly raised his arms to protect himself.
“Here.” In the Hokage’s hand laid a scroll, “For your next mission.”
Sasuke stared curiously as Naruto blinked twice at the presented scroll. The remaining Uchiha moved to take the document and started reading.
“With him?? Only him??” Naruto incredulously pointed at Sasuke.
Tsunade shook her head, “Of course not. No mission can be done if you two travel together alone.” She could feel Naruto gearing up for another argument. But before he could even start, she beat him to it, “Kiba just had three days off. Brief him about this and leave as soon as possible.”
After reading the last paragraph, Sasuke raised his eyes and said, “A hunting B-class mission…”
Tsunade knew better than to ignore this mishap concerning Kakashi and Sakura. “I can’t let this happen again. I don’t know who sent them but… anyone who dares to kidnap a Konoha shinobi is inexcusable.” Putting it simply, Tsunade was pissed they dared to kidnap her best student.
“Do you want us to terminate them?” Naruto suddenly turned stern, “They tried to hurt Sakura-chan. I will never forgive them…”
Tsunade smirked in return, “That won’t be necessary. I just want to know where this troop came from and whom they are working for. They once involved the Daimyo’s name in their dirty work. If any termination is necessary, the Daimyo will be the one to preside over that. But…” both boys looked at her, all ears, “Terminate those who’ll get in the way.”
It didn’t take long before she dismissed the two. Once she was alone in her office again, Tsunade massaged her temples and then leaned back at her chair. Her eyes drifted slowly toward the ceiling, “I don’t want another war to start… but you, Orochimaru. You’re stretching my patience.”
Only the wind heard her mentioning his name.
A name everyone tried to forget over the past few years.
When he returned that morning, he saw her sleeping in crumpled bed sheets underneath her. A stray pillow was thrown over her head while other held between her arms. The blanket wrapped around her legs up to her waist. Bubblegum hair formed a fan-like shape over the bed, her mouth slightly opened for her soft breathing as her eyes closed into a peaceful slumber. This was the strangest sleeping position he had ever seen. Kakashi quietly chuckled as he closed the door behind him. He had been up all night, guarding the inn just so to avoid further trouble. And now, he’s tired.
Removing his vest and shoes, he slipped inside the bed sheets crumpled around Sakura, trying his best to rearrange themselves into a better position. Sakura grumbled something in her sleep and then snuggled closer to his neck, unconsciously wrapping an arm around his waist. Pulling the blanket over them, Kakashi settled back and soon drifted to sleep.
It was mid-afternoon when she woke up. She glanced up at the clock and read 4:15. I slept that long? Perhaps the excess use of chakra drained so much energy from her that she ended up sleeping worse than the dead.
As she got out from bed, she made her way toward her bag pack. After getting fresh clothes and toiletries, Sakura trudged tiredly toward the bathroom.
She took off her clothes and went inside the tub. Turning on the shower, hot water immediately rushed down her tired muscles. Sakura sighed. The past few days had been quite difficult. All the epidemic fuss, the attack of those shadowy shinobis, them kidnapping and hunting her down… Sakura could possibly say now she survived a month of gruesome torture.
After her thirty-minute bath, Sakura stepped out of the tub and towelled herself dry. Wrapping herself and her hair with the inn’s towels, Sakura reached for her toothbrush and started brushing. In the midst of it, she heard the soft creaking of the door. Figuring it was Kakashi; Sakura spat and rinsed her mouth. Quickly changing into her clothes, she left the bathroom and was greeted by the sight of Kakashi reading his ever-present Icha Icha.
After shutting the door behind her, Kakashi looked up and smiled at her behind his mask. Sakura threw the wet towels on the laundry bin and sat next to him.
“So, how did it go?” she asked just to start up a conversation.
Kakashi arched his exposed eyebrow at her and then replied, “Well, Erin’s about to confess his undying love for Yuna in front of this wonderful beach house where they’ll share a hot, passionate—” before he could even continue, he received a hard slap on the back of his head.
All flushed and pissed, Sakura snapped with her hand still in the air, “Not that, you idiot! You were on guard, weren’t you?” and when Kakashi started laughing sheepishly and rubbing the forming lump on the back of his head, it was Sakura’s turn to arch an eyebrow at him, “You didn’t spend the whole night reading that stupid book, did you?”
Partly true, but Kakashi only did it because he already checked the entire area and found it clean. Bored to death, he decided to buy his time through reading the last chapter he had finished before leaving Sand.
“Don’t be so stereotypical, Sakura. Of course I didn’t spend my whole evening reading the 'stupid book' as you call it.” Then he returned to reading, not before muttering under his breath, “Only for a few hours…”
Unfortunately, Sakura had sharp ears and took the liberty to show him just that, “Thought so…” then adding, “Getting back to your old, perverted self.”
Kakashi closed his book for a while, putting a finger between the pages he was currently reading and gave Sakura a feigned, hurt look, “Ow.” Wincing, he said, “That hurts…”
Sakura’s glare felt hot against his skin, “We’re in the middle of an up-coming war and you’re still sticking your nose in that book! You’re a perv!”
“Hey! What is so wrong about indulging yourself in a free-spirited, inspiring novel such as this?” he raised the little orange book with a guy chasing a girl as a cheap-ass cover. “I was just wondering what would happen to Erin and Yuna after they confessed their love for each other and express it through hot, passionate love-maki—”
Sakura grimaced and immediately stopped him, “Way too much information, Kakashi!”
As if two hits weren’t enough, Kakashi continued to tread through thin ice. Wriggling his exposed eyebrow, he teased the bubble-gum haired girl further, “What? Your naïve little ears can’t take a little… information?”
Sakura flushed, “That is not—” she looked at him and saw him arching his brow at her. “Uh!” she threw her hands in the air and went about to pack her things.
“What?” Sakura grumbled.
“Don’t… let it affect you. I will not let them come near you… I promise.”
Sakura froze and glanced over her shoulder to find Kakashi groused over his book again. So that’s why he’s been… so different today.
Sakura smiled at that and softly replied, “I know.”
And somehow, those two words just sealed it off.
Just as Tsunade predicted, both Kakashi and Sakura reached Konoha within two days. The moment they entered, Sakura couldn’t help but feel relief wash over her upon stepping inside her village. She missed Konoha so much, she’d probably choose hospital duty rather than missions so there would be no need for her to travel and leave again. Knowing Tsunade, she’s thinking the same thing.
As they reached the bridge, Kakashi stopped and turned to her. With all his attention focused on her, Sakura looked up, wondering what was wrong. Kakashi then answered her muted question, “You can go back to your house and rest. I’ll report back to the Hokage.”
“I’ll come over tonight and tell you the details.”
Sakura knew he was determined with his decision and nodded in acquiescence. If he thought going alone was for the better, then so be it. Upon her agreement, Kakashi saluted goodbye and went his way toward the Hokage’s building. Sakura watched him for awhile until his back disappeared around the corner.
Smiling to herself, Haruno Sakura made her way toward home.
“I trust that Haruno’s alright?”
Kakashi nodded, “Of course”
Tsunade absently nodded, “Good. Now, report.”
“How much do you know?”
“A few. I want a clearer description.” Kakashi looked like he was thinking it over. Tsunade waited patiently while drumming her fingers. “Well?”
“We don’t have enough time if I report everything.” He cleverly reasoned.
Tsunade gave a withering glare. Why was Kakashi born smart-ass? “That’s what you are supposed to do.”
The copy-nin nodded, “But as I said. It’ll take us hours before I finish the whole report.”
“Then summarize!” Tsunade snapped irritably.
“Alright,” Kakashi scratched the back of his head, “Orochimaru’s after Sakura.” Brief and straight to the point, just exactly what she asked for.
Somehow, that did not surprise her, “What do you mean?”
Kakashi appeared like he really did prepare his report as he attentively started, “One: Spreading an epidemic is the easiest way to lure Sakura to Sand where the Daimyo’s faux army decided to dwell. Why Sand? Well, it’s probably because Shukaku was already extracted from Gaara’s body and assumed that he’s weak without it. Leading them to a conclusion that Sabaku no Gaara will ask help from its bordering country, Konoha.
"Two: When their first tactic ends due to the fact that Sakura’s starting to figure it all out, the said faux army appears in one of the small villages named Daikon and introduce themselves as the Daimyo’s army—revealing the second tactic of the plan. They fabricated a story that they are also after Sand’s intruders under the Daimyo’s supervision. We did not interfere even though we thought they were suspicious, because without any orders from you or from the Kazekage we could not execute any proper action. That night when Sakura and Hyuuga stayed in Daikon for Sakura’s research, the mysterious nins attacked Sand at the same time. Nara and I tried to track them down but it was too dark to finish a proper search.
"Third: The second tactic was the key toward the third, which is, making Sakura and I travel alone. Sakura solved the mystery, Sand’s a dangerous place and the Kazekage ends up with the decision of sending some of the Konoha nins back. The less shinobis around her, the better. As you know, while on our way, we were attacked by a group of the same nins who attacked Sand and tried to kidnap Sakura. The leader, which turns out to be the faux army’s captain, Captain Shoda, revealed to her that they were transporters and that someone ordered them to deliver her immediately.
"How did Orochimaru get involved in this? Well, who would want a medic nin like Sakura? Who would take the risk to send a group of professional transporters just to get a medic nin from Konoha? A professional medic nin trained by the Hokage herself? Now, tell me Hokage-sama…” his eye sought Tsunade’s almond ones, “Is there any other person who needs to regain the function of his arms back?”
Everything he said made perfect sense. As she had said, Kakashi was a witty smart-ass. You’re always ahead of me, boy. Offspring of the White Fang and student of the late Yondaime. I couldn’t expect more. A smirk tugged Tsunade’s lips and gave a low chuckle. With a shake of her head, she looked at him and said, “You do realize you just gave me an extensive report.”
Kakashi grinned, “Did I?”
“Hm.” Then the once smirking Tsunade turned grim. Her eyes stared off into space as the wheels inside her heard turned its gears. “This is a serious matter then. I’m glad I already sent those boys to hunt for more information…” her last words turned to a musing murmur.
Kakashi frowned, “Who?”
“Naruto, Kiba and Sasuke are already out there on a B-class hunting mission.”
“And the time range is?”
“I’m giving them two days. If they exceed the limit, I’ll send ANBU and find them. And it’s been two days since they left Konoha… I’m expecting a report this afternoon.”
“I see.” Kakashi nonchalantly nodded. After five seconds of silence, he asked, “Do I get any missions this week?”
Tsunade shook her head, “Whether you like it or not, I won’t allow you to sign up on anything. You two deserve a break. As well as Hyuuga and Nara once they get back. You will stay inside Konoha’s terrain until this information is confirmed. You’re dismissed.”
Kakashi nodded before making a move to leave.
With hands dipped inside his pockets, Kakashi looked over his shoulders lackadaisically, “Hm?”
“Tell Sakura to see me tomorrow.”
Kakashi just stood there for a minute, silently sharing a look with the other occupant of the room. The silence between them broke when he said, “Got it. Anything else?”
Tsunade shook her head, “No. You may go.” And as she watched Kakashi leave her office, she realized she had a lot of thinking to do.
“Sakura!!!” Yamanaka Ino called out to her friend who was about to turn the last corner toward her house. The bubblegum haired medic turned and saw the blonde jogging toward her.
“Ino?” Sakura turned right when Ino stood in front of her.
“You’re back!” Ino enveloped her in a tight hug and released a rather breathless Sakura. Still holding her by the shoulders, Ino’s brows furrowed and said, “We were so worried about you! We heard about what happened… are you alright?”
The friendship between her and Ino can’t be described as your typical best-friend type of thing. They usually fight and call names. They had a history of fighting over Sasuke for years. But in times of trouble, they have always been there for each other. Sakura smiled warmly at her and nodded, “I’m fine.”
“Is Shikamaru with you?” Ino inquired quite sheepishly.
Just like that, the subject shifts from me to Shikamaru. Sakura noted before shaking her head, “No. But they’ll be here in a week or so.”
Ino sighed heavily, “I hate to admit it but I miss that lazy guy. It’s almost two months since your team left… it worries me…”
“I heard you had a fight with him before we left.”
Ino’s face flushed. Huffing, she haughtily looked away, “It’s because he’s the most insensitive freak I’ve ever met, that’s why!”
Sakura softly laughed, “You’re one tough girlfriend.” Feeling like she had missed taunting Yamanaka Ino, Sakura went on and teased the blonde, “I won’t be surprised if he finds another girl pal in Sand. I mean, Sand girls are really pretty with those dark skin and wavy hair…”
Ino’s brow twitched, “Alright. Don’t tell me, Shikamaru paid you to say that to make me jealous…. Because it’s not working.” Sakura arched an eyebrow at her, “… it’s not!”
“I was just giving you a reality check.” Sakura shrugged her shoulders.
“Thanks but no thanks. No matter how insensitive that prick is Shikamaru will return to me.”
“Alright.” Sakura teased and grinned at Ino’s chagrin.
There was silence that gapped the conversation before Sakura started looking around, “By the way, have you seen my boys?”
“Your boys?” Ino arched an eyebrow, suspicion all over her face.
Sakura sheepishly smiled, forgetting the fact that she hadn’t mentioned anything to Ino about calling Naruto, Sasuke and Kakashi as her boys. “Naruto and Sasuke. My children, where are they?”
“Oh… they’re on a mission.”
Sakura gave an understanding nod, “I see…” She had really hoped to see them when she came back. Particularly Sasuke… they had tons of things to talk about.
Sakura turned to Ino, “What?”
“About Sasuke…” Ino looked hesitant to say anything and was looking anywhere but Sakura. How was she supposed to say this to her?
It was Sakura’s turn to furrow her brows, “What about him?”
“Err… there’s something you should know about…”
Both girls turned towards the bouncing blonde head heading toward them. Sakura gave a wide smile, “Naruto.”
And right behind Naruto was none other than the remaining Uchiha himself. When he stepped into the light and beside Naruto, Sakura couldn’t help but turn her gaze toward him.
Sasuke acknowledged her with a nod, “Sakura.” He mastered the art of looking reserved, or he would’ve fallen silent at the sight of Sakura… whole and safe.
Ino looked away and Naruto observed his two best friends with slight worry.
The moment evergreen met onyx; they knew escaping was an impossible option.
The Death of Itachi
Sakura woke at the sound of laughter coming outside. As she opened her eyes, she discovered herself tied in a chair and gagged inside a tent. Why that scumbag! She tugged at the ropes tying her arms and legs, groaning in frustration as it all ended vainly. From all the struggles, her chair made scratching sounds, almost attracting attention from the nins guarding her tent. (1) “Shannaro…” Immediately stopping, Sakura took the opportunity to devise a way on how to get out and away from her kidnappers. Rolling her eyes, she remembered the poison needles she kept under the sleeves of her coat. Took you long enough to remember that.
Once her hands were untied, she shrugged off the ropes and proceeded on her legs. Rubbing her wrists, she stood up and slowly tiptoed towards the tent’s flap. Looking outside, she noticed it was already nightfall. She saw the group around a bonfire, drinking while waiting for their pig to get roasted. Hm, isn’t it too early for them to celebrate? As she began to wander around the tent to find some sort of path where she could escape, her body reminded her how much she was badly bruised by the crunching of her bones and the caked blood on her clothes. She looked down at herself and sighed softly. As far as she was concerned, her body still can tolerate the pain and with the amount of chakra she had, she’ll be able to heal in a few minutes.
Huh? What’s going on? She quickly turned towards the flap once silence replaced the noise outside. What she’d seen stunned her, her feet glued on the spot as her hand remained frozen against the flap.
“We’re travelling tomorrow.” The one with the black cloth on his back spoke, acting as the leader of the group as he stood at the centre of the circle, eyeing each and every member.
“Already?” one of the nins spoke. “Don’t you think we deserve a break?”
Another nin protested, “Yeah! We’ve been working for almost a month. It took us that long to get the girl! It’s the least thing they can grant us. A little rest!” everyone agreed, slightly aggravating the head of the pack.
“Our client doesn’t enjoy tardiness. We can experience leisure after we deliver the girl. As of now, we have to follow.” The man turned, a sign he’s dismissing the discussion.
(2) “Demo, Shoda-taichou!”
Captain Shoda, the man who feigned many by saying he’s a member of the Daimyo’s army, gave a dismissive wave of his hand and went off.
Sakura couldn’t move as her eyes remained glued on Fudo Shoda’s face until he disappeared back into the forest. It’s starting to make sense… she thought as she slowly backed away from the flap and tried to digest this newfound information. The army’s assigned in Daikon at the same time Sand was attacked… Fudo Shoda and the black nins… they’re the enemies! A simple plot such as this could’ve been easily decoded. Suddenly, she felt ashamed of not seeing through it a little earlier. But they said they have to deliver me to their client. Who is this client? What does this person want from me? So many questions still left unanswered. Yet as of now, her focus was on how she could escape.
Taking a peak outside, she saw most of the nins still sitting around the bonfire. The two nins who are guarding her tent seemed to be preoccupied as well. You all think very little of me. Do these people underestimate her capabilities because she’s a scrawny woman who was easily caught by their captain? Just the advantage I need. She then lifted the tent from the other side and slipped out. Seeing that no one still noticed her getaway, Sakura leaped towards the trees.
Jumping on the fifth tree, she heard cries and five shurikens went her way. Sakura dodged and the shurikens hit the tree instead.
Landing on the next limb, Sakura tripped backwards when a black nin surprisingly appeared before her.
“You little bitch,” the nin took out his sword and attacked her with it.
Sakura flipped backwards, “Don’t you think your client would love to have me alive?” bending low, she kicked his legs and successfully throw him down.
As she stood up, she felt cold metal pressing dangerously against her neck. A gasp escaped her throat as an arm wound its way around her waist, preventing her from escaping. “Escaping would be useless!” the nin behind her said, pressing the blade further.
“You can’t kill me.”
“Ah yes, but I can hurt you. Hm, just to immobilize you since you’re too stubborn for my liking.” He dragged the kunai knife down to her neck then to her belly. Lifting the blade, he swiftly stabbed it on Sakura’s side, earning a loud cry of pain from the girl. “What the—” The black nin looked down on his victim and saw two planks of wood between his arm and chest. “Kawarimi!” and the next thing he knew, a fist came crashing against his jaw, sending the nin flying through the trees.
Sakura dropped gracefully to the ground and started to run. Dashing through the woods while snowing wasn’t your typical, average, everyday exercise. The snow was thick and Sakura had to use the very little chakra she had just to keep herself from sinking. Dammit… sensing another presence, Sakura stopped and looked up. As what was expected, another nin managed to keep up with her. Stepping aside, she dodged the possibility of getting sliced by that large blade the other was carrying. It created a large cavity on the ground and Sakura mentally sighed for getting saved. Seeing that her chances of winning would be thin, Sakura fled, having her enemy cursing behind.
Unfortunately, another two was waiting for her not too far, I’m getting tired of this! She then started sprinting down the tree and onto the ground. She launched herself against one of them, casting a flurry of kicks and punches, which the nin easily dodged and hit back in full force. This wasn’t good.
Sakura went into a fury. She fought dynamically, bombarding her enemies with punches and kicks that were easily evaded. This isn’t working! Growling, Sakura doubled her efforts, trying to somehow hit one of them. Her hopes immediately shattered when she heard a loud thump behind her. Turning, she saw the nin she left with the broad sword coming her way. Having no other choice, Sakura produced clones. Some Kage bunshin while some were Kawarimi just so to distract them, which was working quite well. Noticing that she had wasted too much chakra, Sakura made a run for it.
She ran as fast as she could, choosing the path where trees clustered. The weather started to affect her greatly and she was running out of breath. She was cold, tired, and weak. One more jutsu and she’d probably pass out. No… Kakashi. I must find him! She never felt so helpless her entire life. Lost in the forest with very little chakra and hunted down like a missing-nin to an ANBU squad made her feel really hopeless.
She suddenly felt dizzy from over-fatigue. She stopped for a moment, panting as she leaned against the tree trunk for support. Her resting was quickly interrupted by the voices nearing her direction.
“Taichou will be upset if he finds out the girl escaped.”
“That’s why we should find her before he comes back!”
“Dammit, where did she run off to?”
“Just start looking. She probably hadn’t gone that far.”
Just like that, the conversation ended. Wasting no time, she quickly turned to run again when suddenly, she was pulled backwards as her back went crashing against a tree. Sakura gasped from the pain and the air rushed from her lungs from the impact.
She opened her eyes and saw a blurry of white, then black, then jounin clothes. A mask! Her eyes widened in utter shock and happiness. She was about to scream out his name when his hand quickly prevented her from doing so.
Kakashi shushed her and cautiously scanned the area. Sensing danger, he quickly grabbed Sakura, wrapped her with his arms and rolled over to the other side of the huge tree. Sakura clung to him desperately, meshing her body against him as the black nins passed by, still searching for her.
When they were gone, Sakura rained Kakashi’s face with kisses. “Thank you! I was starting to think you would never come.” Kakashi grinned in return. As much as how he wanted to enjoy her way of appreciating his kindness, they were still under danger and that they still had to finish the mission. They had to go back to Konoha immediately.
Kakashi though didn’t deprive himself from hugging her. He had been worried sick. It’s been almost a day since she was kidnapped and he was beginning to think that Pakkun would never find her scent. Fortunately, the two seemed to be using the same shampoo, Floral Green, and expertly tracked her.
“Did they hurt you?” Kakashi asked as his eyes frantically studied her form.
Sakura sighed, “Just a little tired. Nothing serious, I’ll live.”
After that satisfying answer, Kakashi released her then and looked towards a certain direction. “Then we should get back to Konoha immediately.” He then turned towards her, “Can you travel at this state?”
Sakura sheepishly bit her lip, “To tell you frankly? I can’t… I lost too much chakra.” Her body felt like jello and her legs ached from all the running. As much as she wanted to hasten the mission, she just couldn’t. She still has to heal her wounds and bruises as well as Kakashi’s.
“I see.” Kakashi couldn’t agree more. He couldn’t and wouldn’t let her travel at this condition. “We’ll stop by the nearest village and stay there for the night. As of now, we have to get out of here.”
Getting to the next village wasn’t easy. They had to make sure no one followed them, carefully skirting through the woods with vigil eyes. What used to be their three days travelling turned to five. The Hokage wouldn’t be pleased.
Sakura plopped down on the bed, stretching some knots on her back as Kakashi entered and dropped their things on the couch. It was already dawn after that great escape they had and Sakura’s glad they managed to get out alive.
“Kakashi, come here.” She said as she began to notice his constant touching of his shoulder. She patted the space beside her and Kakashi sat there without protest. “What happened?” her concern was evident as she worry her lower lip between her teeth.
He sheepishly smiled in return. He liked the feeling of getting take cared of, “Pulled a muscle, I guess.”
Sakura gave a nod, “Take off your shirt.” Was her offhanded command, which surprised the older jounin.
Having his perverted side kick in, Kakashi smiled lopsidedly, “As much as I want to, I think this isn’t the best time to do this—”
“Don’t even go there.” Sakura warningly growled, having got used to Kakashi’s innuendos.
Defeated, Kakashi removed his vest and quickly pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it somewhere on the floor. He looked down at her and waited for her reaction. Would she be embarrassed? Awkward? Or possibly even… impressed? When Sakura started to observe the non-serious bruises on his arm and torso, he received no reaction, no gasp, not even a blush!
It quickly deflated his ego.
Oblivious to this, Sakura inspected his body professionally for quite sometime until she was satisfied. Kakashi had bruises and some scratches but nothing serious. It seems those black nins aren’t worthy opponents for the copy-nin after all.
She then began the healing process by touching the inflicted areas and started to use her regained chakra.
Kakashi couldn’t help but shiver under her hand. It wasn’t bad, no not at all. Actually, it felt really good… just a little bit weird having something cold and soothing coursing through your body.
Once she was done, Sakura withdrew her hand. Kakashi wanted to protest but acted against it. If he gets to experience more of Sakura’s healing, he wouldn’t mind getting injured during missions. As long as she’s the one who will heal him and no other else.
Sakura dropped down on the bed, her eyes observing the ceiling above. Kakashi remained on his position, eyes drifting off somewhere.
“Did you learn anything interesting while you were there?” Kakashi suddenly questioned.
“Not much but…” she closed her eyes and breathed, “… I found out who those nins were.”
“Hn,” he signalled for her to continue.
“They’re the Daimyo’s army in Daikon. Those bastards are fake. They used the Daimyo’s name and tricked the Kazekage.”
“Why are they after you?”
“I have no idea. But Captain Shoda…” she could feel Kakashi’s curious gaze drifting towards her, “Neji and I met him in Daikon.” She supplied, “… he said that they were transporters and that I was to be delivered to their client today.”
Kakashi began to wonder exactly the same thing bothering Sakura’s mind. Who wants Sakura? Why involve Sand and Daikon just to get her? What’s the conspiracy behind all of these?
It was too confusing.
“This isn’t good… we have to keep you safe until we unravel this mysterious client.”
Sakura sighed, “I’m not sure but...” she looked at him and asked warily, “Do you think Orochimaru has something to do with this?”
Kakashi looked contemplative for a moment before nodding, “It’s possible. I heard his arms aren’t healed yet. Transferring from one body to another wouldn’t help his situation either since Sasuke already left his side. He’s helpless right now and his only option is to get his arms back.” and then suddenly, everything made sense. “Tsunade’s the only person who can heal him.”
Sakura’s eyes narrowed, “And since I was trained by her, he assumes (3) shishou passed the jutsu to me.” Her hands gripped the sheets out of resentment and fear, “He thinks I can restore his useless limbs?”
Kakashi despised the idea and bitterly nodded, “Aa.”
Sakura shot up and exclaimed in her defence, “But I can’t do it! Even if I have the ability, I would never do it… not for him!” the thought of helping Orochimaru, their greatest enemy appalled her.
“I know.” If Orochimaru even dare lay a hand on Sakura, he will never forgive him. He will never let Sakura get involved with that foul Snake. And he can assure even Sasuke and Naruto wouldn’t let this happen as well. “This is only an idea, Sakura. We’re not sure yet.”
“But it is a possibility…”
He looked at her and saw fear albeit masked within her eyes. She’s scared not because she fears of getting killed. It’s because she didn’t want to get caught in the middle. A position where she has to choose the enemy’s side in order to save the lives of the people she cares for.
Kakashi sighed, “Get some rest.” He then stood up and headed for the door, completely alarming the girl.
She sat up and curiously asked, “Where are you going?”
“They’re still out there looking for you. The least thing I can do right now is to guard the place. It’s too dangerous.” He opened the door and stepped outside. Before he could even properly close the door, Sakura called up to him.
“Really now?” a hiss like voice responded in a long drawl, “I wasn’t expecting too much anyway.”
Lenses gleamed through the darkness, “What action do you suppose we should do?”
The other chuckled, “Have anything in mind?”
“I don’t think we should ignore this mishap. I suggest a punishment is the outmost idea.” Adjusting his glasses, he went on, “But I guess a second chance wouldn’t hurt.”
Another hiss of laughter was heard, crisp and forbidding, “Exactly what I had in mind.” Snake-like eyes narrowed, “I’ll give them another chance. If they fail me again… they know the consequences.” Looking down on his bandaged hand, Orochimaru clenched it into a fist, “I’m sick of this body. I need another spare.”
“Of course.” Kabuto stepped fully out of the shadows, pushing his glasses up, “But if Sakura gets here…”
“Then I’d better stick with my own body and get Sasuke myself…” with a nasty gleam, Orochimaru grinned like mad underneath the bandages covering his face. The pervious body he’s possessing was no good. He needed a stronger recipient. It was a shame Sasuke had to go away and escape. Not when he’s been shaping him quite well. If only that other Uchiha hadn’t showed up, he would’ve already possessed Sasuke’s body by now.
Well at least he killed Itachi.
“Do you want me to deliver your message?” Kabuto inquired.
“Yes. Go and inform them.” Chuckling he added, “And wish them luck. They need it.”
Kabuto lastly nodded and disappeared back through the darkness.
The night was colder than any night that winter month of December. There was no moon tonight. Everything was dark and cold… the perfect scenario for an ominous twenty-year old, brooding Uchiha. Sprawled on the wooden floor, his eyes impassively stared up to the ceiling with both of his arms and legs spread eagle. Not too far away was the spot where both her parents laid when Itachi killed them. His fingers twitched.
Sasuke slowly blinked his eyes as if trying to recall that day when he killed his brother.
A day he will never forget…
“You had it in you. I knew it all along…” Itachi spoke with difficulty with his brother’s hands choking him. He lay on the floor, bloodied and bruised while looking up tiredly with his MangekyÅ against Sasuke’s blazing eyes of wrath.
“Just… die!” Sasuke couldn’t understand why but as he tightened his grip on his brother’s neck, tears constantly fell down his cheeks.
Itachi closed his eyes, as if trying to contemplate something important.
Sasuke got annoyed and tried to crush his neck. But as he was about to do so, Itachi opened his eyes and pushed his brother off of him.
Hitting trees along his way, Sasuke cried out in pain as his spine hit the last tree a little too badly.
Itachi, who was now standing on the clearing his brother made, glared down, “It’s not enough. Maybe you should try some other time.” He spoke so casually, it annoyed the younger Uchiha.
Sasuke growled, trying to gain his footing as he leaned against the tree for support. “We’ll… finish… this… NOW!”
Itachi shifted his glare, mocking him, “I told you to become stronger so you can kill me and avenge our clans’ death.” Sasuke fisted his hands upon the mentioning of the Uchiha massacre, “You failed me, dear brother. It’s not enough.”
His voice and words echoed like nails screeching against chalkboard. Sasuke felt like he was going to explode.
“SHUT UP!!!” With very few energy he could muster, Sasuke rushed towards his older brother. He charges Chidori from his body, thinking of using (4) Chidori Nagashi one last time.
Itachi evaded the first attack, but as Sasuke circled and went to try again, the attack was successful. It hits Itachi straight on the gut, sending him towards another set of trees.
As the dust and soil cleared, Sasuke made a move to attack his brother again only to find him paralyzed on the ground.
Every part of Itachi’s body fell numb. He could only move his eyes, rolling them only to stare at Sasuke’s heaving form
It was a good fight, really.
But it wasn’t enough… for Itachi that is.
Even without the ability to move his mouth to speak, Itachi’s MangekyÅ spoke pure smugness. Despite of the silence, Sasuke could hear him taunting him, telling him that he still wasn’t strong.
That he’ll never best his brother.
That he’ll never get better than Naruto nor anybody else worthy of opponent for the older Uchiha.
Shaking, Sasuke approached him in complete measured steps. Along the way, he noticed his discarded katana and took it.
Standing over Itachi’s body, Sasuke looked down in unadulterated hatred. This man… the man who killed his mother and father… his whole clan… the man who made his life miserable… the man who made him the way he is now…
He’s here, beneath him, helpless and paralyzed.
The perfect opportunity… and Sasuke had no intentions of wasting it. He waited for this his entire life…
Raising the katana to the full extent, Sasuke’s eyes met his brother’s for the briefest moment.
He could swear it said, “Come on. Kill me. That’s what you wanted all this time… take the opportunity. End my life.”
With an anguished battle cry, Sasuke delivered the sharp blade down to his brother’s end.
After that… everything was over.
The raven-haired Uchiha snapped away from his thoughts and gradually turned his head towards the door. Someone’s banging like mad against it and it annoyed the hell out of him. Let me guess…
“Oi! You bastard! Open the damn door!”
Goddammit. Reluctantly, Sasuke stood up and approached the door with an easy pace despite of Naruto’s urgent calls.
“What is it dob—”
“Shut up,” the blonde grabbed Sasuke’s collar and started dragging him out of the hallway, “no time to explain.”
Sasuke didn’t like being hauled like a sack and forcefully removed Naruto’s grip. “Where’re we going?”
Naruto looked like he’s going to explode like a rocket anytime soon. His eyes blazed, his nose flared as his fangs bore. “You bastard! Something came up and we have to see Tsunade urgently!”
Sasuke’s eyes briefly widened and then he frowned, “What do you mean?”
“Sakura and Kakashi sensei’s in trouble! We have to hurry!”
“What??” Sasuke furiously growled and then went off as fast as he could.
“O-oi! Wait up!” Naruto hurried after him.
1. “Shannaro!”- Doesn't mean anything but is usually translated as "Hell yeah", "Hell no" or "Damn it" depending on the situation.
2. Taichou- Commanding officer
3. Shishou- Teacher
4. Chidori Nagashi- One Thousand Birds Current.
Newer | Latest | Older