Chapter 11 - Near Misses by Kakashi
Kakashi felt… off. Something was bugging him but he could not quite put his finger on it. Like an itch that was only just developing and therefore could not yet be scratched. He was so deeply in thought trying to figure out what it was, he only noticed the strange looks he got by the time he was almost at the hospital’s front door. Oh, great. There were many gossipers in Konoha who were probably already trying to figure out what he was doing here. Tsunade would hear about it. Questions would be asked that he would not want to answer.
Nodding to a flock of nervous nurses looking in his direction, he stepped outside into the slightly chilly spring evening, his hands buried in the pockets of his pants. He felt like he needed some time to himself before returning to the cramped Anbu quarters. But where to?
After turning his head from side to side a few times he decided to walk to the right. Soon sauntering through the emptying streets of Konoha at a leisurely pace, Kakashi's nose picked up the smell of dinners being prepared in the apartments around him. Settling down had never been an option for him but in certain moments, there was a pang of regret that nobody waited for him at home with steaming dishes he could praise for their deliciousness.
Not true. Yamato must be waiting anxiously for him at the headquarters, with some ultra healthy food and supplements in pill form. So there, no need for regrets.
Kakashi walked further, noticing the special fragrance of the air. The days were getting longer, the temperatures were picking up, everything was exploding in bloom. And tonight, with a gentle wind from the East, there was the soothing and familiar scent of pine trees in the air. He had spent many hours of his life racing through vast forests with death on his heels, Kakashi mused, not least because several of Konoha’s more dangerous training areas were dense forests. Did he even like forests? It seemed he did, the pine tree scent seemed pleasant. He had always thought he prefered the ocean.
That thought brought him back to Sakura. No, there was no connection between trees, oceans and Sakura at all, but his mind obviously wanted to think of her. Which wasn’t a problem, he had mastered the spark very well, he thought with no little pride, or rather she had, with the necessary professional attitude. Maybe it was old age catching up with him, but he had worried a great deal about going to see her earlier, mulling over so many things that could go wrong. Because there were too many, he had actually decided to leave after sitting on the roof of the hospital for a bit. But then he had wanted to catch a glimpse of her through the window at least and that had done it. His hands had taken over command at this point and had knocked before his brain could intervene.
Trusting someone with his mind the way he had trusted her did not come easy to him. Among his most unpleasant memories were instances of being trapped in deadly Genjutsu like Tsukuyomi that crushed your very soul. The worst thing about it was knowing that moment your mind could no longer distinguish between illusion and reality was fast approaching, with nothing you could do to stop it. Once that threshold was reached, it was over. He understood that the Genjutsu Sakura had explained worked differently but knowing something was different from not resisting anyway and different from working up the necessary trust that she would build a world that was pleasant for both of them.
A world he would not remember.
So it was probably this, Kakashi thought, that made him feel so… off. There was another gap in his memory now, added to the gaps that were already there, gaps that made him extremely uneasy. One minute, he had looked deeply into her green eyes, marvelling at just how much their color reminded him of the sun shining on newly grown leaves, the next, he had felt like he was floating in the sky like a cloud, gently carried away by the wind, with no substance, no body… only to wake up twenty minutes later with no recollection of anything.
In addition, Sakura had looked at him rather spooked, which… well, he had decided not to prod her for more information if she was not ready to offer it, but now that he thought about it… things must be worse than she dared tell him.
Sighing deeply, Kakashi looked up and found himself very close to a building labeled 図書館 in bold letters above the door. Konoha’s public library! It looked bigger than he remembered but also considerably more run-down. No wonder, war torn societies had little funds to spare for leisure and pleasure. Seeing light inside, Kakashi went in through the glass doors on a whim.
“Kakashi-san,” the young woman behind her desk stammered when she turned her head and sprang up so hastily, she almost toppled over her chair.
“Am I disturbing you?” he asked, catching a glimpse of her name plate. Akane Okami - should he know her? No, she was too young. There were towers of books before her on the table and from the utensils also there - stickers, some sort of plastic, scissors, a ruler, paper - he guessed she must be in the process of cataloguing and labeling them.
“N...no, please come in,” she said, “we are open.”
Thinking her behavior a little strange, Kakashi strolled in. The main room of the library was very high and spacious and when its slightly musty smell hit Kakashi’s nose, he remembered coming here during his years in the academy when he had gotten bored with school and needed a diversion. Only three other people were currently also at the library: A pair of very young lovers who seemed to think libraries were good places to hide in for undisturbed kissing-practice and an elderly lady who seemed half blind and had to press her nose against the books to read the titles.
Kakashi went to where his teenage self had always walked, finding all the Icha Icha books lined up with not one volume missing. Pulling his favorite one out - Icha Icha Innocence - he flicked to page 127 to read one of the most memorable passages. Ah, nostalgia... He had tried many other romance series but none had ever quite clicked with him like Master Jiraiya's masterpiece.
Remembering another book he had recently started to read, he went looking further down the aisle, then changed to the next row. Ha… Ha… Haru… or was it Uchiha? No, here it was!
He pulled out Sakura's “The Special Mental Health Needs of Children: An Essay” and quickly found the page he had gotten to the last time. Sakura’s writing style was very straightforward, bordering on blunt. He kinda liked it even though he was certain other people would take offense with it. She talked about how many adults were able to rationalize the violence experienced during the 4th Shinobi World War and that it was mainly the children who struggled to recover from the stress of War and the deaths of those they knew. It was a passionate plea that stirred a feeling of guilt in him, he wasn’t even sure why.
“If you want to sit, Kakashi-san,” the young librarian said timidly, “we have comfortable seats over there.”
He looked up. She stood a bit to the side, pointing to a corner, hardly daring to look at him. Many years ago, he had gotten into the habit of reading in every possible situation and position and hence had not even noticed he was leaning against the shelves standing up.
How attentive of the young woman to think about his comfort. Kakashi flashed her a smile and watched in surprise how her head turned the color of a ripe tomato. Had he done something wrong? Gingerly walking over to the lounge in the corner, he flopped down.
Sakura's book wasn't long and being a fast reader, he was soon done. He put it down and looked up at the ceiling. This idea… it was brilliant and if he could at all, he wanted to help her turn it into reality. Why did Konoha not already have a special facility for children? It was many years after the war already and those children were about to become adults. No wonder nobody wanted to become a shinobi anymore - if this generation was so deeply scarred from what they had witnessed, why should they ever wish to become active soldiers? How far had she gotten with planning, he wondered? If they had time, he wanted to ask her about it. There were quite a few things that needed to be considered if this should become something more concrete, maybe he should…
“Kakashi-san, do you need a pen and paper?” the librarian asked, the items in her outstretched hands.
“Do I know you?” he asked, taking them with a nod.
“N… no,” the young woman stammered, “but… you saved my brother and father’s lives during the war.”
“I see,” he murmured, unsure whether to ask more information or to pretend he remembered saving anybody’s life.
“Once you are Hokage,” she said timidly, “we will come offer our services to you.”
“Who says I will be Hokage?!”
He was so surprised, his tone was very gruff. Her face turned so white she looked like a ghost and she fled so fast Kakashi was hit by a gust of air. He felt instantly bad about making her feel like she had offended him. He wasn’t offended, of course. But sometimes, he could not wrap his head around the fact that he was somebody people in the village talked about like this, forming expectations about his future, when he himself lived from day to day, never knowing whether he would survive the week.
But now that he was grounded, the likelihood of dying was very low. And spending his time trying to figure out what was needed for a Mental Health Clinic for children seemed like time very well spent. Kakashi began to write down a few ideas and things to check. The most difficult thing would be to get enough money - the village was in a very tight financial spot with dwindling numbers of shinobi that could be sent on missions. He would have to inquire about the financial prowess of the Fire Daimyō and his family with Lady Tsunade and whether there was a way to talk to him about this need of theirs. Finding a good spot for such a facility… that, too, would be tricky. He imagined it would have to be near the academy so that the children would be able to live as normal a life as possible.
Kakashi spent some time making notes. When he was done, the young woman was nowhere to be seen. He dawdled around a little before putting Sakura’s book back into the shelf, hoping she would come back so that he could apologize to her for his brusqueness, but she was possibly hiding and waiting that he would leave. Oh well. Maybe he would just need to come back another time to apologize.
Besides, he was hungry. Ravenous, in fact. It suddenly felt like he hadn’t eaten for several days. Yamato and his food pills were not what he needed right now. His feet took him straight to Ramen Ichiraku next. No surprise there, he was already feeling nostalgic.
“Kakashi Sensei! I haven’t seen you in ages! Are you here alone?” Teuchi asked, his face lit up by a broad smile. Ayame waved at him from the stove.
“Yes,” Kakashi said, “it’s that kind of day.”
Teuchi served him his favorite ramen without asking what he wanted. It looked to Kakashi as if there was extra meat in it - or had the old man changed his recipes?
“Would you like more?” Ayame asked once Kakashi had cleared his bowl.
“No, thank you,” he said after adjusting his mask. “If I don't watch my weight someone will put me on a brutal diet.”
He nestled for his wallet, beginning to count out the necessary coins.
“It's on the house,” Teuchi said, putting his hand on Kakashi’s to stall him.
That seemed to be happening an awful lot to him lately.
His face must have shown his confusion because Teuchi explained: “You're doing so much for the village, it's our way to say thank you.”
“It’s my job,” Kakashi murmured, feeling how his face turned a little hot. Doing a lot? He was just sitting around being bored out of his wits! He did not deserve the praise and the generosity of these people. He was completely useless right now and without his Sharingan… he’d probably never be really useful again.
“Once you are Hokage,” Teuchi said, “we will deliver to your office anytime you feel like eating Ramen!”
“Tell me,” Kakashi said quietly, “why do people suddenly think I will be Hokage?”
Teuchi frowned as if that question was striking him as strange. “Now that you’re back at the village, isn’t that what will happen? Lady Tsunade always says you’ll be. Soon.”
Did she now. She had some nerve.
“Did she tell people to give me things for free?” he asked following a hunch. It made sense. Ground him. Send Sakura his way to ‘keep him in check’. Old ties, new roots. His amnesia seemed far more convenient to her than she would admit.
“She did suggest it,” the owner of Ramen Ichiraku nodded.
“Dammit,” Kakashi cursed and got up. “Sorry, Teuchi, Ayame,” he quickly added, “and thank you for the meal. I wish you a very pleasant evening.”
Walking away, he felt anger, but it had no real edge to it. He couldn’t blame Tsunade for his own actions, could he. That she would quickly take advantage of his current weakness was only to be expected. And yes, she had asked him to take over from her many times. Maybe he should go see her at the Hokage Tower right away to clear the air. He had no desire to be Hokage once and for all and she needed to understand that. Maybe she would let him go on missions again afterwards?
He had perhaps walked for 5 minutes when the presence of someone’s aura hit him like a fist to the stomach.
“What do you want?” he asked into the shadows, instantly on high alert. He wasn’t carrying any weapons, he realized when his hand wanted to sneak to his absent pouch.
A man stepped forward, the light from one of the street lamps reflecting off his glasses.
“Kakashi Sensei,” he said in that taunting tone of his, “Preoccupied, are we? You noticed me very late. I’ve been shadowing you for a while.”
Kakashi shifted his legs apart instantly, falling into a defensive stance without even thinking. Was that why he had felt so strange? A well-hidden presence following him and he too careless to realize?
“Now, now,” Kabuto said, “I think we left all that behind us, did we not?”
“We did?” Kakashi asked, not letting down his guard for a second. He knew Kabuto as one of the sliest, most dangerous and cruelest Shinobi, playing skillfully with his opponents emotions and weaknesses.
Kabuto sighed dramatically. “I know you never liked me, but why? Sure, I tread on a wrong path for a bit. But you and I, we have so much in common!”
“I don’t think so,” Kakashi ground out.
“But we do,” Kabuto shrugged. “Growing up in the orphanage for parts of our lives. Being handpicked by Danzo for special training in Root. Killing people very close to us and our hearts. But I’m not here to argue with you, Kakashi Sensei.”
It wasn’t good how much the mere presence of this man could upset him, Kakashi thought as he gritted his teeth. Had he not always preached that a Shinobi could not let his feelings get the better of him?
Kabuto sighed. “Dim your killing intent, Kakashi Sensei, or you will spook the honorable citizens of Konoha in their comfortable homes.”
“What is it that you want?” Kakashi asked, indeed trying to calm himself. Anger only made you commit mistakes.
“I’m here to help you,” Kabuto said, back to a sarcastic tone that grated on Kakashi’s nerves.
“That’s interesting,” Kakashi retorted, “I don’t remember needing your help.”
“Ah, but you do. Doesn't your arm hurt?”
“I see from your face it doesn’t yet,” Kabuto smiled, “good, I’m relieved. But let me warn you. It soon will. And once it does, things will quickly go downhill for you.”
“You know what?” Kakashi snarled. “I’ll take a chance with that.”
Kabuto sighed again. “I guess you’ve always been a stubborn one? Fine. Please go and make Tsunade give you those pills again at the very least. If she doesn’t, make sure to come to me before you’re dead.”
Kakashi felt so much like sinking his fist into that smug face before him his hands twitched by his side. His arm? The pills? Pain? Dying? Of course, Kabuto was gaining great pleasure from his cluelessness. What else.
“Ah,” Kabuto said, turning around to leave. “One other thing. Consider it a tipp between friends: stop fooling around with Sasuke’s wife. This really isn’t a good time to anger the last remaining Uchiha.”
And with a last condescending smile, Kabuto vanished in a puff of smoke.
I kissed him. I kissed him. I kissed him!
Sakura couldn’t stop the chanting in her head. She couldn’t stop feeling equally mortified and giddy either. All she could do was groan and let her head fall on the open book before her with a thud. It wasn’t even real! It had been an illusion! But that made everything worse! She should have said something to Kakashi after the Genjutsu Release at the very least!
Like… hey, so we kissed in that illusion I plunged you in, no big deal. You said I’m ‘very much’ your type, how could I not go for it?
If he ever remembered this… Sakura groaned again. Would it not look like she had taken advantage of him in his state of not even recognizing her? She was in so much trouble! She should have broken the illusion the very first time she had realized he started to look at her with interest. But… he was mistaken, she wasn’t strong at all. She was a weakling with no self control.
Her being his type. Was that true? Were things people said in illusions to be taken as expressions of their real selves? And what about the things they did?! He had kissed her back after all - even if somehow reluctantly at first. Man, he was a goddamn good kisser - or was it just how she imagined him to be?
Sakura lifted her head and forced herself to continue reading in the Fūinjutsu book she had gotten from the hospital library. This one was way more scientific than the Genjutsu book but also written much too dryly. No wonder she couldn’t concentrate! She still felt his lips on hers and worse, the memory made her body hum in anticipation for something that wouldn’t come, couldn’t ever.
“Dammit,” Sakura said, thinking she would love to use far more colorful swear words. It was after 8pm and sitting around here trying to read was absolutely pointless. But the thought of returning home to her husband with all this unspent lust for another man still in her system was...condemnable. Sasuke probably wouldn't mind if she jumped him but…it was wrong. Wrong. All of this was wrong. Including her realization that a part of her had lingered here in the hope that Kakashi would come back. That he would remember what had happened and would initiate the next phase.
Sakura closed the book, took off her medical-nin gown, shook her hair and grimaced at her distorted reflection in the office window. What a stupid cow she was.
She walked out of the hospital unsure what to do next. Go for a walk through town? It was dark, but the air was pleasant. Eat something? Ramen Ichiraku came to mind, comfort food that had never failed to make her feel better… if eaten in the right company. But maybe it would help her find her footing even if she went alone.
Halfway there, she ran into someone.
“Akane!” Sakura greeted her pleasantly surprised, “I haven’t seen you in too long!”
“Oh! Hello, Sakura,” the young librarian smiled, “I missed you at the library all these months!”
“Ah,” Sakura said with a sigh, “life has caught up with me. I wish I could do another research project and spend my evenings with you.”
“I wish for that too,” the young woman said.
“Are you headed home only now?” Sakura asked. “Did you work late tonight?”
“Hm,” Akane said, “I did, but… well… your Sensei came by and...”
“Yes,” Akane nodded, seeming strangely embarrassed, “I think I offended him. I hid in the backroom until he left, way after closing time.”
“Akane…,” Sakura couldn’t help but laugh, “I doubt that you managed to offend Kakashi. He isn’t the type of person to take offence easily and you are the type of person who is much too kind to offend anyone.”
“Thanks for saying this, Sakura,” Akane said, hanging her head. “But…,” she sighed.
“Would you… would you care to have some ramen with me at Ramen Ichiraku?” Sakura tried her luck. Why had Kakashi gone to the library? She was dying to find out more.
“Oh!” Akane said, lifting her head. “Yes! That would be great!”
It wasn’t far and since they had a lot to chat about, they reached the street where the ramen place was in what felt like no time. But before they actually got there, someone rushed out of a side street and almost collided with them.
“Sakura!” the blonde smiled, “what a pleasant surprise, you are actually out and about and not working!”
“Ino!” Sakura exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”
“I delivered some flowers,” Ino shrugged, “the customer wanted them tonight, he has a big marriage proposal coming up. And you? Out partying?”
“Well, we’re headed to Ramen Ichiraku,” Sakura explained, pointing her finger at the small restaurant down the street, “do you want to join us? This is Akane, she works late shifts at the library.”
“Hi Akane, I think we’ve met. That ramen place… isn’t that where you guys always went… Naruto’s favorite?”
“Yeah,” Sakura nodded, “it’s his favorite.”
“Sure, I’ll come!” Ino said, “I’m on a diet, but I’m sure they have salads too, no?”
Sakura wasn’t so sure whether the owner of Ramen Ichiraku had anything on the menu for women on diets but she was too happy to have met people to hang out with so she didn’t say anything.
“Sakura!” Teuchi greeted her when they stepped in, “now that is a surprise.”
“Hello Teuchi,” Sakura said, “I might not come by often but I always miss you!”
“What is it with tonight! Your Sensei was here! He left about half an hour ago,” Teuchi informed her.
“Oh,” Sakura gulped.
“I’m so glad we missed him!” Akane exclaimed.
Sakura had to explain to the others, who made very surprised faces, that Akane was under the impression to have insulted Kakashi and was therefore not at all inclined to see him. That brought the conversation to Kakashi’s visit at the library.
“He came to read your book, Sakura,” Akane informed them, making Sakura almost faint on the spot.
“I’ll be damned,” Ino said, “somebody other than myself read your book? It’s a bestseller!”
“He made notes too,” Akane said.
“I remember you talking about it,” Teuchi said impressed, putting three steaming bowls of deliciously smelling ramen in front of them, completely ignoring Ino’s request for a ‘small salad’.
“It’s nothing much…,” Sakura blushed.
“That might be true,” Ino agreed, the first to grab chopsticks and rub her hands in glee, “but it’s still a very good idea. Remember? We wanted to go talk to the council about it.”
“Kakashi-san will take care of it, I’m sure,” Akane said. “And once he is Hokage…”
“He didn’t like to hear me suggesting that,” Teuchi mused.
“I know!” Akane agreed eagerly. “He got so angry!”
Hokage? Sakura fished a piece of meat out of her soup, of course Kakashi would hate to be pestered about something like that, he was far too humble.
“Did you just call him Kakashi?” Ino asked and Sakura almost swallowed the meat whole. Had she said that out loud? Uh-oh...
“Do tell,” Ino said, her eyes narrowed to slits, “when did your relationship status change?”
Sakura busied herself with slurping her noodles extra loud, pretending to be deaf on both ears. Ino had a sixth sense as if her nose was outfitted with special sniffing organs for intimate secrets and if she was onto her… When Teuchi asked whether she wanted more, she agreed overly eagerly, just to be able to continue slurping loudly. Of course, it was naive to think Ino would leave her alone. Ino’s eyes did not shift from her face even for a second and in her desperation, Sakura went for a third bowl. With the result that she felt so bloated and full she wanted to puke afterwards.
Ino took care of the bill and before Sakura could come up with an escape plan, the three of them had entered a small sake place across the street.
“I should go home,” Sakura said. Had Kakashi been here too? She almost expected it to be the case, on this evening of near-misses.
“Nonsense,” Ino retorted, “you missed my birthday and now we’ll make up for it.”
“That’s not true, I didn’t miss your…”
“Akane, do you drink?” Ino inquired, not paying Sakura any heed.
“Not really,” the young woman admitted, “but a little bit doesn’t hurt, right?”
Sakura meant to warn her, but it was too late. It was never ‘a little bit’ with Ino. They started with a selection of six sakes for each to find one they liked and it went downhill fast because they could not make up their minds.
“So, my dear friend,” Ino asked sweetly some time late when Akane had put her head on the table and it looked like the young woman had fallen asleep, “when did you start to drop the Sensei?”
Traps, traps, traps all around, Sakura squinted at Ino and considered lying, but that was no use, she knew it.
“L… last week?” she said, unsure herself for a moment, but that was it. At that bar.
“Have you two been meeting each other more often?”
“N… not yet,” Sakura heard herself say.
“Oh dear,” Ino said, shaking her head, “this isn’t good.”
“I know,” Sakura said tearfully, “I know.”
“So you plan to meet him more often? I can’t blame you,” Ino sighed, “a woman gets lonely.”
“It has nothing to do with being lonely! He… he was there for me when something really awful happened, he stayed with me… no, not what you’re thinking, he was just there, holding me, comforting me… he is… he needs…,” but his secrets were not hers to share.
“It has everything to do with it,” Ino said, “what does Sasuke expect? You’re such a beautiful woman in your prime, does he think you’ll keep on waiting for him until you’re old and grey?”
“Sasuke wants a child,” Sakura said, looking at Ino for a reaction.
Her friend shook her head. “And you?”
“I… not yet. It’s too early.”
“He probably feels the burden of being the last of his clan,” Ino suggested, “if he dies…”
“Don’t say that!” Sakura said horrified.
“Sorry,” Ino apologized, “but that’s definitely an issue. For the whole of Konoha, actually. No more Sharingan in all its variants? Wow, that would be another heavy blow for us…”
“He can breed Sharingan carriers with somebody else,” Sakura said viciously, “I’m not an Uchiha incubator.”
“Hm, Sakura,” Ino said, “I don’t think he sees you as an incubator. I think Sasuke is very much in love with you.”
Did Ino just want to make her feel better? Sakura looked at her, at a loss what to say.
“And how do you know this?” she pressed out.
“Well, for one, he has just come in here, looking for you.”
Sakura swiveled around and indeed... There he was, Sasuke Uchiha, his black hair covering half of his face, his cloak covering his missing limb so that it would not be quite as obvious that he was impaired. His dark eyes found hers and he scowled, looking even more displeased than usual.
“Oh. I guess it’s late,” Sakura said.
“I’ve got this,” Ino told her, indicating the table and Akane. “You go home. Girlfriend, I’m here if you need to talk.”
“Thanks, Ino,” Sakura said and hugged her friend tightly.
“Pffft,” Ino said, “just don’t do anything you’ll regret, you hear me?”
Sasuke and Sakura walked home in silence. She didn’t care, in fact, she was glad she didn’t have to make conversation. The scent of pine trees in the air was a timely reminder that in an illusion of her own making, she had kissed another man.
But once he had closed the door of their current apartment behind them, Sasuke grabbed her arm.
“Please do not do this again,” he said. “Do you know how worried I was?”
Sakura looked at him and his ever scowling countenance. “No, Sasuke. I don’t know such things. You never tell me anything. I’ll admit, I forget about you tonight. I’m sorry, I’m not used to this… this thing called marriage. Happens when you’re always alone.”
“I know, I know. Not your fault, but maybe that’s just an excuse. You know what? I’m tired and I’ve got work tomorrow. Goodnight.”
And she stomped off towards the bathroom to brush her teeth and take a shower. Maybe it was better if she slept in the guestroom tonight. #Naruto #うちは春野 #はたけカカシ #Fanfiction #AlternativeReality