I don't own anything Naruto.
A/N: Kakashi still has his you-know-what
"DOTON," the frantically sealing copy-nin yelled from his burning lungs. "DORYOUHEKI!"
A protective mud wall thundered from the icy ground to tower between the Leaf shinobi and their enemies, confining their attackers for brief moments. Snow cascaded down Kakashi's barrier jutsu and gathered at the base where Sakura collapsed, staining the satiny white powder with vibrant red blood. Her grunts of pain, along with the rogue nins' curses shouted from the other side, were muffled by the gray morning skies and the heavy drift of snowflakes littering the already thickly coated ground.
Kakashi heaved in the cold air desperately and closed his aching, gifted eye. "Sakura!"
She cried out, but he could not distinguish the words. With a groan, he glanced over to see her wince and clutch at her side with gloved, glowing hands quickly flickering out of chakra.
Shit. Ignoring his own pain, the man got to his feet and rushed to her aide. The heavy snow hindered his fatigued legs, but the increasing halo of blood surrounding the konoichi fueled him. Immediately, his hands were at hers, pulling them away so he could understand the extent of her injury.
"Kakashi," she whispered through her heavy pants. "Get some clean snow. I need to pack it against the opening."
"We need to get you out of here," he countered, searching for an escape route before their attackers could navigate the wall.
"No," she grumbled as the purple stripes down her face retreated back into the original diamond shape. "You need to listen to me. Get snow, now."
The medic nin earned a glare for her tone, yet he followed the command and soon the icy compress was tinted pick as blood seeped through. His strong arms then went around her neck and legs, ignoring Sakura's protests. "Wait, just give me a minute and then I can move on my own."
"Like hell," he retorted darkly to cut through her stubbornness. His numb feet dug into the soft ground to jump into the trees, but the cracking of earth stopped him. The rogue nins were breaking through. His own chakra was dangerously low and he knew he could not outrun them, especially carrying the injured woman. Without hesitation, although the agony increased ten-fold, Kakashi reopened the Sharingan to search for a hiding place.
In a flash he bolted, barely escaping the notice of the enemy. The snow secured over Sakura's wound kept it from marking a trail as they traveled, but his keen hearing could sense they were not confused for long. Dashing around the bare sugi trees, he back-tracked several times to mask their trail before disappearing in a waist-high crevice in a rocky hill. The cave was not much bigger than the opening, but Sakura fit snugly in between the back wall and the older jonin while his hands flew through several seals. The entrance shrank as his earth jutsu closed the gap, leaving just enough of a hole for air and light to travel through.
Sakura was groaning quietly as the team leader peeked out the small notch and held his breath. When the weary pursuers came into view, he reached back and closed his freezing hand over her mouth, ignoring the irritated twitch he felt in her jaw.
"Where did they go?"
Kakashi focused to differentiate the separate speakers from his mission scroll. The two who rushed into the clearing were easily recognizable. They were B-Class criminals whom had defected from Sand, but had escaped to Fire in an attempt to kidnap medical nins. Their team originally consisted of four, however one was quickly captured and… interrogated. It wasn't long before the identities of the others were discovered and a small team sent out to deal with them. Sakura, of course, took it personally since a few of her students were targeted and demanded to be assigned to the hunting party under Kakashi's command. They had expected resistance taking out the brazen shinobi. The S-Class leader from Mist at their rendezvous point, however, was not.
A Konoha chuunin on their team was lost as the battle started. The other fell shortly afterwards, but seriously injured one foe before he died. Being caught off-guard proved to be a severe disadvantage as the Mist ninja was a master of making every moment deadly, and even Kakashi had difficulty keeping up the pace when he had started two steps behind.
Sakura had intervened, and helped, but the rival recognized the regeneration henge and countered effectively. He attacked, she resisted, and one jutsu cut through her ribs. Kakashi saw the opening and should have attacked with full force, but he panicked. His last burst of effective energy went into producing the massive wall as he chose to protect the woman instead.
Now, they were stuck in a tiny cave like helpless prey and Kakashi cursed at himself colorfully enough to make even Sakura balk. That was quite the feat considering her temper.
The S-Class boss walked around the clearing in front of their hiding place, searching the tree line, while the other sniffed the air. The silver-haired ninja felt his blood freeze. If that man's nose was half as good as his own, the thick scent of his partner's injury would be all too easy to find.
"Dammit," the subordinate swore. "The trail dies here."
His superior was understandably unhappy. "I thought you were the tracker?"
He scowled back. "Between this bastard's blood," he pointed at the wounded nin, "and that pink bitch's, the path gets confused. If she is bleeding as bad you say, though, they could not have gone far."
There was a short pause. If there was any deity worth believing in, the enemy would continue to hunt for their trail and leave a window for them to escape.
"One of you takes the north, the other stays in the area," came the command. Well, it was not the first time Kakashi's faith was shaken. "I will search further south. These two have seen me and cannot be allowed to bring that information back to their village."
"They would be trying to get home," the injured man contradicted. "Shouldn't we head towards their village instead?"
Yes, Kakashi thought. Yes you should.
He felt Sakura growl against his fingers, vocalizing his frustration.
Within moments the rogue warriors had gone their separate ways. Luckily, their cramped space did not allow for their voices to travel far and, once he felt a sufficient enough time had passed, Kakashi finally released the konoichi's mouth.
"I know when to be quiet," she seethed.
"I have not found this to be the case."
"Who do you think I am; Naruto?"
His leveled gaze had only made her eyes roll, but the iron scent of Sakura's gash was overpowering the ire in the tight space. Clumsily, he shifted to access it better and saw, once again, her chakra flickering at her fingertips.
"Are you out?" he asked knowingly.
She nodded to the pace of her shallow breaths. "I need to stitch it up. Do you have a kit on you?"
"It was torn away in the fight."
"Rule Number Five: A shinobi must prepare before it is too late to."
He winced at her lecture. "…I brought a medic, as well."
Sakura smirked repentantly. "I should have stayed back."
"You saved me."
"I'm pretty sure it is the other way around."
Kakashi carefully steeled his expression. He might have gotten her out of harm's way, for now, but they were still far from being saved. Discarding the hitate completely, he brushed his rough fingers through his hair to dislodge debris and snowflakes and breathed deeped. They could not risk using high-level jutsu or their chakra could be detected. This also left out either's summons. Judging from the konoichi's wound they could have really used that healing slug right now. Kakashi knew she was suffering, but he had only basic field medicine knowledge and no healing chakra training whatsoever. They were stuck, and until he knew exactly where and what he was up against, they were not going to make a move. Having the disadvantage had already cost the lives of two Leaf shinobi. There was no way in hell it was going to cost him Sakura.
The quiet conflict rose as they both accessed the situation.
"How is your chakra?" she asked, breaking the silence.
His brow furrowed. "Why?"
"Because I am going to need you to suture this closed."
The mismatched gaze widened. "Sakura... I have no idea what I'm doing."
"It's okay," the tired medic appealed. "You're not healing it, just stopping the bleeding. I will talk you through it."
He still remained hesitant. "Do you honestly think that will be enough?"
Silence was all she answered with at first. "How's your eye?" His puzzled look, darkened by the low light, urged her to continue in a raspy voice. "I only have enough chakra to get you started. Just copy what I do."
"It doesn't really work that way."
"Well, make it!" she snapped before nibbling on her lip to calm her voice in genuine praise. "I know you can."
Her faith, and her urgency, did little a reassure him, but it was their best option. To properly view her injury on the opposite side, he was forced to straddle her hips within the small space. Although he moved as gently as possible, the grimace that twisted her pale lips grew as he shifted into position. His thighs softly pressed against the outside of hers and, to avoid hitting the ceiling, Kakashi was close enough to feel her ragged breaths heat his mask.
"Can you see?" she asked.
Although it hurt to do so, he hunched his shoulders more and opened both eyes. "Yeah, I got it."
"Most ninja are not trained to detect healing chakra, so as long as you mold it right we should be safe," Sakura explained as she brushed the remaining crimson snow to the ground. "Ready?"
Her hands hovered over the torn skin with a steadiness Kakashi's own were lacking. But, he nodded, found the strength to keep them still, and thought about the consequences should he fail.
Immediately, her small fingers glowed with green chakra and drove deep into her side, seeking out the damaged flesh. "Do you see that?" she asked. "This needs to be closed. You need to stitch it together in your mind. It is like weaving a cloth, but with all the threads at once."
"Yeah," he deadpanned. "No problem at all."
The blaze of her energy dimmed, but his was already taking over. Of course, his work was slower than the medic's, but it was working. His jaw tensed painfully as he concentrated on copying the procedure he only had a glimpse of. The cut was jagged and there was so much internal damage that Kakashi had trouble discerning the extent of it all. Even in the cold cave, sweat beaded down his face, soaking the thin fabric and aggravating his mask-clad cheeks. Despite the glaring complications, he focused on doing what Sakura had told him to, which was becoming somewhat of a troublesome habit between the two of them.
The pain in his eye became almost blinding. "If I mess this up…"
"You aren't," she immediately interrupted. "This is good." Her head lolled backwards to rest against the hard stone and she breathed in deep when she finally could. "Real good."
After another ten minutes Kakashi was groaning against the strain, but the suture was finally finished. Exhausted, the copy nin rested his sweat-slick forehead on her shoulder, unconcerned that his labored breathing misted down the front of her tunic. Sakura trailed a hand reverently through his hair before patting him on the shoulder. "Thank you, you did really well."
Sardonic to his core, the ninja chuckled. "Thanks, sensei."
He didn't have to be looking at her face to know she rolled her eyes. "I'm surprised there is anything I can even teach you."
"Nonsense," Kakashi replied light-heartedly as he squirmed off her. Wedged in between the closed entrance and the injured medic, he closed his eye to kill the pain as he unwrapped the cloth from his ankles. "You have long since surpassed me."
"Oh, I wasn't arguing against that. There's just this phrase about teaching old dogs new tricks…"
Narrowed, dangerous eyes conveyed his unamusement. "You shouldn't talk. Save your energy."
"No," she disobeyed. "I have to stay awake."
He balled the wrappings into a half-decent compress and handed it to Sakura, who held it against the opening as he awkwardly encircled the other bunch around her torso to secure the dressing. "And, what happens if I don't let you?"
In an instant, the hot-tempered nin's glare sent a chill down his spine. "Then I won't be very happy. Just do it, please."
Sighing, he sat back as comfortably as he could and once again conceded. "You used to respect my orders." She gave him a stinted, mock salute. "Anything in particular you would like to talk about?"
The pensive moment was shattered by her weak giggle. "Dirty books?"
"You want to discuss geisha assassins and sex-driven heroes?"
"It would be like that undercover mission in Cloud."
"… Yeah, that's right." He nudged her thigh with a bony knee. "As I recall, you took to it like a fish to water."
She rolled her eyes. "Being a painted killer or…"
"Well," he goaded. "I certainly wasn't the hero of that story."
As expected, his insinuation earned him an elbow to his ribs, but Sakura's smile pressed into his shoulder to muffle her laughter and the heat from her breath crept through his thick sweater, imprinting him with her mirth. "Are you cold?"
"Freezing," she answered honestly, "but it will warm up in here quick."
"I would offer some fire jutsu, but…"
"Yeah," she nodded. "We can't use a lot of chakra or we will get noticed."
The mood once again became serious, but both nins knew blithe conversation was just a distraction from the grim reality outside. Kakashi had calculated the odds before trapping them, yet the alternative risk to Sakura just hadn't been worth it to him.
An easy hush grew as the time passed slowly. The male jonin's steady breathing contrasted with his companion's and the pace began to loll her into unconsciousness. "Oi," he said, nudging her gently. "I thought you didn't want to sleep."
Her heavy eyelids blinked languidly. "I thought you were supposed to keep me awake."
"Now, there's an innuendo if I've ever heard one." She punched him then, but the feeble offense reminded him of her fading strength. "You were brilliant out there, by the way."
Scoffing, Sakura gestured to her side. "It still wasn't enough."
"Story of my life."
Her glare was unabashedly condescending. "Hey, don't start that."
"Are you going to tell me not the carry the weight of the world on my shoulder?"
"No, just that the world doesn't revolve around the actions Hatake Kakashi." His eyes hollowed, but her gaze did not back down. "It happened and it wasn't your fault. In fact, if it wasn't for you…"
His shoulders slumped lower, but after a moment he tapped her on her nose and he softly smiled. "Thanks, Sakura."
They huddled closer for the warmth until their breaths no longer left steamy trails in the air, but Sakura did not move away. The small hole in the westward facing entrance burned brighter as the sun began to descend and the copy nin spent the passing time reciting war tales from other ninjas of his generation. She had sarcastically stopped him twice, stating that someone who read as much as he did should be better at telling stories and he smiled as she laughed at his expense. He had only threatened to sing a lullaby instead, to which she fought fiercely against either strangling him or giggling.
"Remember that dive bar back home?" the young medic suddenly asked.
"You mean when I overheard the conversation you guys were having about me?"
"We really didn't say anything too terrible," she mumbled guiltily.
The uneven eyes caught hers in accusation. "Your blonde friend referred to me as a stray dog."
Unrepentant, she faintly chuckled. "For the hundredth time, her name is Ino. And if you don't like it, then brush your hair more often."
The pitch of his voice became deeper. "That didn't seem to deter your colorful response."
Sakura turned her eyes away, slightly embarrassed. "It wasn't that bad."
"I believe it was 'But I would like the give that dog a bone.'"
Moaning, she dropped her face into her palm and attempted to hide behind pink bangs. "I was so embarrassed when you just appeared behind me and said, 'I prefer belly rubs.' Ugh…" Inhaling as deep as she could, the konoichi lifted her head and caught him with a bright smile. "That was right before the mission to Rain a couple of months ago."
"That one was pretty dangerous."
The fire returned in her drained gaze. "That was also our first kiss."
"And second," he teased.
Sakura bit her lip in the way he came to realize meant her mind was focused on him. "I lost track after that."
"It was a good thing there was a lot of combat, or else I would have had no reason to be as sore as I was."
There was once a time when she would have been red-faced and stammering, but now she met his heated eyes and seductive tone. "Had a hard time keeping up with me, old man?"
"I'm not that old." The humor almost left him completely at her jab. Almost. "But, I believe experience is a greater advantage over age."
He groaned and fought for his dignity. "I might still have a few tricks up my sleeve."
"Oh," her enthusiasm stroked his ego. "Are you holding back with me?
Falling carelessly back into their playful banter, his smirk returned. "A ninja never reveals all his secrets."
"A ninja has ways of getting information."
"Do you plan on using seduction or torture?"
"Hmm…" she looked into the dark space in front of her as if deep in thought. "What if I combine them?" When he didn't immediately respond Sakura searched his face, and even in the dim dwelling she could see the flash of red peeking over his mask. "Kakashi, are you blushing?"
"What ideas did you have in mind, exactly?"
Sakura clicked her tongue and accused, "Masochist."
"Don't pretend that you're surprised."
She chuckled again and Kakashi could tell it was weaker. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Yeah," she reached for his hand. "I need this. Just what the doctor ordered."
Genuinely appalled, he shook his head. "I can't believe you just said that."
"Blame the blood loss for my use of horrible clichés."
Kakashi snaked an arm around her shoulders and pulled his medic closer. There weren't many times they were able to be as close as this. After returning from Rain, exhausted from extra-missionary activities and thankful for the mask covering any of Sakura's… love marks, they both agreed it would be best to keep their brief affair a secret. He was fine with that, since he had always been such a private man anyways. But it hadn't stopped. He couldn't stay away, and she never had the inclination to reject him. Before they knew it, it had turned into something more meaningful than a fling, and the secret had gone on too long for them to come clean without guilt. Sakura had wanted to confess at the right moment, however, there never seemed to be a proper time and months had passed until yesterday when they were sent out into Snow country after rogue Sand ninjas.
Sakura apparently had read his thoughts. "You don't resent me for not telling anyone, do you?"
He snorted. "Of course not."
"I just don't want you to feel like I was ashamed of you or anything."
If he wasn't as close to the situation as she was, that would be exactly what he should be feeling. Their circumstances were delicate, and probably should have been handled by himself over his brutish lover, but he could not fault her over any decision of secrecy. "I barely allow anyone to see under my mask. What makes you think I want them to know what I do without my pants?"
It always brightened his day the way he could make her laugh, until she began coughing spastically. The small blood splatter from her lungs brought color to her ashen lips.
As Sakura caught her breath, she leaned into Kakashi deeper. Her head slipped off his shoulder and rested against his chest to listen to his heartbeat. Once, she had confessed how much it had soothed her. The medic-nin knew every secret of the proverbial heart. She could explain increased heart rate, treat murmurs, and restart ones that had failed. In the quiet of his room, she would lie upon his chest for hours and listen to his heart thrum as he played with her hair, mesmerized why such a basic human function could call to her so much. Many nights she had fallen asleep just like that, and Kakashi could tell the way she tried to position herself now that she was seeking the same comfort. His joints cracked as he slouched further to allow her whatever she wanted.
"My friends think I'm frigid."
His snicker held no hesitation. "Have they met you?"
She scoffed. "I mean romantically. They said my standards were too high."
Again, he received a puny punch to his ribs. The fact that it didn't even wind him heightened his concern for her health.
"Ino said I just wasn't cute enough to keep a man around."
Kakashi didn't respond. He never did when Sakura fished for compliments. The woman was very smart and had to have known how he saw her. With her large forehead, unusual hair color, keen eyes, sharp wit, quick mind, and short temper, Sakura was not cute.
She was beautiful.
"My pillow still smelled like you last night." The playful note to her voice was gone. Suddenly, she was soft and serious. He hated it, because it meant she was being the pessimist. That was always his role. Kakashi didn't stop her, though, even when she gripped his hand slightly tighter and nuzzled into his neck. "I know why you could not come over, but I had that, and it was enough."
H e was afraid to ask. "Enough for what?"
"For…" she trailed off, sounding lethargic. "Just enough." A content moan vibrated between them. "Remember that mission to Sand where we were teamed with Kiba?"
Her warm, short breaths spread throughout the fabric layering his pulse point and goose-pimpled his flesh. She knew that was a sensitive spot for him. "The Inuzuka, right? When that psycho konoichi threatened to neuter him?"
"Heh, yeah, that one. That is when I first saw you as more than just my tardy, porn-loving teacher."
His heart clenched. "That was a year ago."
"I know," she blushed, and hope blossomed within him that she still had the ability to do so. The following stillness grew heavy between them and he internally begged that she wouldn't say what she was going to next. "I should have told you then. We would have had more time."
"Don't say that. There is still plenty of it." His eyes smiled, even though he knew Sakura would see through his feigned optimism.
She returned the gesture and he could not look away, or hold back.
"The Fourth Shinobi War," he quietly confessed. "When you battled Madara."
"That is when I first really noticed you." He stroked her cheek. "As more than a ninja."
Her fading green eyes widened. "But, that was…"
"I know." His ministrations continued to leave heated trails on the pallor of her soft face until he gently ran a calloused finger over the purple diamond gracing her forehead. "You have come a long way, and in the middle of all that mayhem, you had shined. Just like today."
Her hand caressed his cheek, and even through the stretchy fabric he could feel how icy her fingers were. "Kakashi…"
Sighing, he tilted his head in her hold to face the woman fully. Their eyes stayed locked, saying things to the other neither had the eloquence to put into words, before Sakura's began to fill with tears.
"I don't want this to end yet." Her soft sobs gradually increased and the lump in his throat choked him. "I know it's selfish, but dammit, I'm not ready."
"Don't talk like that." His eyes narrowed. "If I am not allowed guilt, then you are not allowed to give up."
She smiled and he kissed the gloved-palm of her hand through his mask. "Deal, but we have to leave soon for me to keep that promise."
Ice shot through Kakashi's veins. "Is the suture not holding?"
"It is fine," he could tell she was lying, "but we don't have food or antibiotics." Sakura pressed the impromptu bandage against her tightly and smiled. "And, because I said so."
His forceful heartbeat echoed in his ears, which was irritating considering he was attempting to listen for any movement outside. Gingerly, Kakashi slid the tiring konoichi off him and peeked out the makeshift keyhole for a sign that their situation had improved.
"Anything?" Sakura asked, hissing through her teeth as she sat up.
The copy-nin shook his head. "At least if they were here I would know how to attack. I'm not sure about this."
"Have you regained any chakra?"
"Not enough," he sighed. "I can detect them, but not without giving our position away."
'We have to risk it."
The thumping of his blood skipped a beat. Sakura was always prudent in combat situations. The fact that she wasn't now chilled him, because it meant she was panicked. Without another thought, he reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a round, green tablet.
"Whoa," the medic in Sakura worried, "Are you sure taking a soldier pill is a good idea?"
His eyes widened in desperation. "It's my only idea." If it took ten of the damnable energy boosters, he would do it.
Her lip quivered, but she nodded, for once following his suggestion. They both looked into the other for another quiet moment, holding on to what could be their last bit of safety, before Kakashi closed his eyes and stretched out a weak chakra signal to sense the rogue ninja.
She gasped and her hands pushed forcefully against the bloody dressing. "How far away?"
"Not very." As he assisted the woman into his lap, the jonin could feel her muscles shake with the effort. He kissed her forehead quickly, whispered, "Don't worry," and then bit into the foul medicine. The immediate push of chakra broke down the wall and he clumsily crawled out while sinking a canine into his thumb and summoning Pakkun before the enemy could bear down on them. Cautiously lifting Sakura as the smoke cleared, seven ready-to-fight dogs were reveled, and all their tails immediately stopped wagging at the scent of blood.
"You and the boys need to clear the way back to Konoha for us," he ordered callously.
The pug approached his master and nose twitched when it caught the damage to Sakura. Aberrantly, the droopy eyes of Kakashi's ever loyal companion bulged from the furry folds of his face. "Boss," he tried to warn. "That wound-"
"Never mind that," he growled. "Just do what I asked of you, please."
The dog glanced at the withering woman in time to see her whisper her thanks before huddling into Kakashi's hold.
"Sure thing, Boss. But I would hurry."
The copy nin only nodded and leapt into the high trees, followed by the storming of his trained ninken. Faster than he would have liked, they were being flanked by the enemy. Barks sounded commands and filled the soft spaces of the muted forest as the fight began. The two lesser nins were caught, and dealt with, quickly as Kakashi soared through the frigid air and the guttural screams extinguished against fresh snow.
His arms threatened to give out at any moment. Each breath was a fight to gain, and every vault unstable. His body was exhausted, but the lover in his grasp depended on him to not falter. When a growl was quickly followed by a loud yip of pain, Kakashi had to force himself to continue forward. He desperately wanted to assist the summons who were putting their lives on the line for Sakura's, but doing so would make this battle moot.
In the next moment, Kakashi heard a frenzy of frantic paws pounding against the trees as the canine leader rushed to catch up to him.
"How bad is it?" the jonin man asked.
"None dead. Four of us are down, but not out."
"This guy is serious." They took one jump together in silence. "You recognize him, right?"
"Yeah; Hidden Mist's Severer of the Seven Swords."
The weakening konoichi looked up questionably into Kakashi's stressed, gray eye. Panting, he explained, "He was the only known nin who could handle more than one of the seven swords from Mist. It is theorized he could use all, but the others ran him out of the village before they he could find out."
She gasped and cleverly deduced, "He needed the medics to help him bond with the swords!"
The white-washed forest of Snow was fading into lush green as they approached the border and Sakura clutched his collar when he swore. "What's the plan?"
"Same as before," Pakkun reassured and lifted a fuzzy brow. "Make sure you get to Konoha safe."
"… So you don't have one?"
He snarled. "Of course I do! It is to follow your orders."
The next branch they leapt off creaked instead of cracked. It was getting warmer. They were so close.
"Thank you, Pakkun."
"Don't thank me yet," the furry warrior countered cryptically.
The ninja wanted to press him for information, but the dog poofed into an enigmatic cloud right as a kunai passed through it. Unnerved, Kakashi glanced behind him and saw the Mist deserter a few paces behind.
The urge to fight boiled in his veins. No, it was his desire for revenge that heated his blood. Sakura's life was fading in his grasp and the man responsible was within arm's reach. His jaw twitched painfully as his teeth ground together. There wasn't much, but he could sense his chakra building within his core, ready to be molded and used to end that bastard's life for daring to harm someone he cared about.
But then, she winced viciously and cried out. Her pain softened his killing intent. There was only one mission now, and that was to get her home and safe. He could trust Pakkun.
He had to.
Kakashi pushed off the next tree with enough force to damage the ligaments in his overused knees, but he ignored the sting to give his companion the space required. Taking the opening, the small ninken appeared directly in the Mist ninja's path and lazily held up one paw. "You can just stop right there."
It was possibly out of sheer curiosity that the man heeded the command. His sharp, black eyes looked down on the dog and chuckled. "Those Konoha ninja cannot be serious."
"That is the problem with guys who get as big as you," the canine leader stalled. "Most forget to sweat the small stuff."
"I doubt I will even break a sweat with you."
"I know all about you, Mist nin. You betrayed your team in order to gain more power. However, the swords began to reject you." Flippantly, the dog began to scratch behind his ears. "Do you know why?"
The man seethed. "I don't have time for this."
"I am one of seven, myself," Pakkun continued, unfazed. "My pack works best as a team. We know this, and so do those blades."
The man stayed rooted to his spot, although anxiety lined his face. "What do you hope to accomplish, mutt?"
"Well first," the dog sneered, "I'm going to make you eat those words like a good little pup."
The Severer growled. Pakkun countered in kind.
And six pairs of glowing red eyes surrounding the trapped shinobi flickered from within the leaves.
The pug was smug, but he had every reason to be. "My master follows one lesson before any other- Those who do not value their comrades above all else are trash.
And we are here to take it out."
Then, as a team, they attacked.
The scuffle from behind him rattled the forest and encouraged the silver-haired man. Several more minutes passed without any threat and he began to feel more composed. Still, he felt the sticky warmth between them slowly bloom as her injury wept. He held her closer knowing the pressure would help compress the wound, but it wasn't the main reason for his embrace.
"Kakashi…" Her ghostly whisper entwined with wisps of wind as they rushed ahead. He nodded, but kept his eyes towards home.
"Kakashi," she tried again. "Look at me."
"No. I'm sorry, but no. We are almost there." He did not want to look down. He did not want to see the finality in her eyes. Begging his older joints to move faster, Kakashi tore through the high, sturdy branches of the thick Fire Nation forest. The leaves batted harshly against his limbs and he tucked Sakura further into his chest to protect her from their lashing.
"Please." She unexpectedly pleaded. As her strength broke, his resolve followed. "Just for a moment. I want to say something." Her hand made it to his concealed cheek. The rushing ninja took a quick breath to steel his emotions before allowing her to guide his face towards her, once again acquiescing to her wishes.
The look he feared shone beautifully in her stubborn eyes, even with salty trails staining her sunken, smudged cheeks. "I wish I would have told the world about us."
"You can paint it across the Hokage Mountain once you're healed if you want." Smoke and sweat were suddenly on the wind. Konoha was only minutes away.
Sakura bit her lip and grinned. "I think I am going to have to leave that up to you."
He felt her fingers shake with the exertion to grab the stretchy fabric underneath them and pull the mask down past his chin. His grip on her tightened as she revealed his face and Kakashi could no longer pretend to have enough strength for the both of them. Midway through a forceful jump over a small clearing, he leaned down to kiss her urgently. His chin dampened from her tears, her moan vibrated in his mouth, and she met his need with equal fervor. The moment before he landed she whispered intimately against his lips.
"I love you."
His steps and chakra faltered as his heart dropped. Skidding to a stop, Kakashi looked down to berate her for making the endearment like a good-bye or to confess his own feelings, but he did not have to chance to do either. Her hold around his neck released and the heavy weight of her slackened body strained his arms as she passed out. Fear suffocated him and his muscles burned as he rushed through the forest once again. The red gates of Konoha were finally in view and, for the first time since the ninja in his arms was originally put in his care, Kakashi prayed.
The time had passed tortuously slow during the surgery, but he had refused to leave the hospital. Even now, hours after it was over, he could not bring himself to go. It surprised most people because of his well-known hatred for medical centers. However, this is where she spent most of her time. This was where her most important work was done. She had lit up every time she described her day and explained complicated procedures. He once saw hospitals as sterile halls of death beds. As their relationship developed he began to see it through her eyes.
Tsunade came from around the corner, her steps heavy as always, and approached him. It was only a short while ago she had mirrored him, with turbulent hair and hands stained red, but since then the blood was washed off her. His clothes remained matted by the coagulated liquid.
She gracelessly fell into the seat next to Kakashi and sighed. "The chakra suture she performed was well done."
"Her reserves were too depleted to perform one." The man's voice was ragged and his jaw hurt to speak. Unconsciously, he had been grinding his teeth until now.
"It was you?"
With a small gesture to the covered eye, he clarified, "She talked me through it."
The Hokage nodded and looked away from the failed guarding of his pain. She had rarely seen the nin so affected, but the stories of his guilt and gifted Sharingan were well known to her and she frowned. "The outcome would have been the same even if I had done it."
"How do you know?" he accused bitterly.
"The same way she did."
His throat closed and eyes stung. "She knew it would not make a difference?"
"She knew she was going to die, though I would not say it didn't change anything." The elder medic allowed a rare, tender moment to pass between them. "It gave her time."
"…Time." His large hands rubbed his face and, aware Tsunade would not fully understand his meaning, murmured, "For fuck's sake." It was the one thing she had wanted more of, the reason she had him stitch up her fatal injury, and it was to spend it her last moments with him.
"Don't." The man stood quickly and turned to walk away.
Mulishly, Tsunade squared her shoulders at his retreating back and summoned again. "Kakashi."
He hung his head further, deliberately ignoring her. His medic really did reflect the master she had admired so much, and Tsunade's stubbornness only reminded him that Sakura would never chew him out again.
"Konoha ninja, you will answer me."
Abruptly, the jonin halted his steps and looked over his shoulder. "Hokage-sama," he acknowledged coldly.
For a long moment, it was clear she was unsure of what to say, but neither moved out of respect for the other. Finally, the konoichi sighed and allowed a hint of despair to tint her voice. "I understand what you are feeling. I lost a student today, as well, and I want to blame myself. If only I had sent more nins for the mission. If only I had worked faster on her injuries. However, these 'if only's' cannot change what happened, and both you and I know we put our absolute fullest energies into this." He cringed, knowing what her next words would be. "This is not your fault."
He forced himself to breathe and appear unaffected. He promised he would not feel guilty… but she had promised not to give up. Tears formed at the corners of his Kage's eyes and the salty scent brought him back to the night before when, wrapped in his arms, Sakura cried her confession and used the last of her strength to kiss him good-bye.
The mask, as always, allowed him neutrality to nod towards Tsunade with feigned gratefulness. Of course, he did not take her words to heart, and he had no doubt she was aware of that, but there was nothing more to be said because nothing really seemed to matter, anyways.
Sakura was gone.
Kakashi's vision and awareness were fuzzy the next morning. The lack of sleep, coupled with the tenuous strain on his body from the day before, dulled his normal perspicacity. Lazily, he went through his closet for the all-black funeral apparel and his aching eye cursed the sun. Today, Konoha was to honor the three that had died and he was convinced he was cursed. Those around him constantly fell for his sake. Sakura had taught him to remember those who have passed without remorse, but, in his despair, he could not seem to hold onto the lesson now.
Or his clothes. Kakashi hissed and his hands protested gripping the loose sweater he attempted to pull over his head. Each movement was difficult since his hands were fractured in random places from his activities after leaving the hospital and the pain that shot through his arms only reminded him that his trusty medic wasn't there to scold and heal him. He knew the reports would be flooding in soon, and there would be consequences for his actions, but the destruction had been cathartic. Oddly, it was also a fitting tribute to her memory, and Kakashi could not bring himself to regret demolishing Training Ground Three. Only the Cenotaph remained, standing amongst the splintered trees and shattered ground, to bear her name.
The solemn shinobi gathered in the great hall, staying mostly silent as they formed their ranks and professionally withheld their sentiments. All three ninjas honored today were to be missed, but Sakura had the most impact on the whole of Konoha. While most in their profession kept isolated from the masses, the pink-haired medic had treated most of the Hidden Leaf's ninjas and befriended half the village with her saccharine, yet brutish, charm.
Naruto, on his right, stood out from the crowd. He wore the same black garments as everyone in attendance, but his sobs freely racked his body. The blonde friend; Ino, he finally remembered, reached out to calm him, but Shikamaru was quick to gently pull her hand back, shaking his head to convey his logic. The Nara heir rarely enjoyed speaking, but Kakashi never remembered a time he could not think of the words to say.
"Te-e-meee…" the future Hokage swore between gasps for air, and his sadness pervaded the crowd of motionless comrades surrounding them. The copy-nin glanced around the room into the hollow eyes of all those in attendance. She had wanted him to tell the world about their relationship in her stead, but everyone in the room had loved Sakura. Who was he to lessen their pain with the strength of his own? At that moment, it seemed unfair to them, and to her, since he had never even told her what she had meant to him. So, he decided to allow their secret to die with her while he remained stoic, silent, and stagnant.
But, as the large bell chimed and he saw her smiling picture surrounded by the delicate flowers of the dead, his tears betrayed his will. Even the morose Naruto took notice, and had understood. Silently, Kakashi wept, displaying to the world how much he loved her and, by that, honoring Sakura's last wish.
He always ended up doing what she told him to, anyways.