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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When The Dark Clouds Clear Up

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters and make no money from this. Masashi Kishimito does.

Phase One
To heal, you must acknowledge.

A single dark eye contemplated the amber liquid that filled his glass, watching the various reflections of his thoughts swimming in the beer as if they would bear the answers the slouching man was seeking. There was little will in him left to sip on the cold beverage; the empty bocks that littered thetable had since long drowned any common sense he might have once possessed. The familiar buzz of the alcohol had started making his head spin quite a while earlier, a meager price to pay for the quiet numbing it brought. The headaches, the nausea, any other incovenience it caused, he would deal with without a complaint. After all, those pains were miniscule compared to the one he felt when sober. A gaping hole in his chest might have been a good comparison.

With every month that passed, enduring this horrible wound gradually became his routine. No ointment or bandage could heal a broken heart, unfortunately. There was no choice but to wake up every day and go on with life. Or at least, that was what Kakashi believed. Any other options that presented themselves to him were laughable at best. End his life? How ridiculous. Being gone wouldn't solve a thing for her. Maybe naïvely, he clung to the belief that she still cared for him nonetheless. Bed countless women to be offered the warmth he sought? How useless. No woman could ever lift his spirits like she knew so well how to accomplish. Drown his sorrows in a bottomless bottle? Even if she would chatise him for the abuse to his liver, it provided the relief he so dearly needed.

For six months, all he caught of her were glimpses of pink hair among the crowd, the occasional feel of her chakra when he visited the hospital. If he was lucky, every now and then she would be distracted enough to grant him a brief glance of her pretty emerald eyes. Those rare gifts, few and far between, did little to fill the void her absence created. To top it off, he had little to busy himself with. Out of pity, the Hokage had sent few missions his way. At first, she claimed it was so his body could heal fully before taking another round of abuse. The injuries to his legs had since long disappeared, but work was still scarce. He must have done something to get on Tsunade's bad side without realizing it.

"Nothing will magically pop out of your drink," Genma sighed, cheek propped on his fist, "if that's what you were hoping for."

At the sound of his friend's voice, Kakashi's head shot up to look at the man sitting across the table. Guilt seeped into him as he became aware of how long he must have been ignoring his company. The brunette had offered to take him out once more, hoping to drag his comrade out the hole he buried himself in. The gesture was truly appreciated by the silver-haired jonin, though he couldn't find it in himself to express his gratitude.

"Sorry." Kakashi chuckled, forcing his trademark smile. "I was distracted."

"You call that distracted?" Genma frowned. "I'd hate to see you spaced out."

"Shut up." The sharingan user muttered, leaning his chin into his palm. His eye wandered around the dingy bar, seldom latching on anything in particular as nothing caught his attention.

"No. I've had enough of this." The other man snapped as he slammed his fist on the table, paying no attention the surprised looks the other patrons threw his way. "You've gotta do something about this Sakura situation."

At the mention of her name, the Copy Nin's eye narrowed and glared dangerously at the senbon chewer, lips sealed tightly to ensure silence.

"Wipe that look off your face!" Genma seethed and stood from his seat. "If you're not gonna talk to her, then I'll drag her here myself."

"Turn it down and sit down." Kakashi hissed back. "I don't see how I can do a fucking thing about this situation if she won't even say a word to me."

At the very end of their argument, back on the date he would remember as the worst of his life, she had admitted to caring deeply for him. The words would have cheered him up, if they hadn't been the equivalent of being stabbed in the gut. She liked him, could have accepted him as more than a friend, but he had ruined things and made his presence unbearable to her.

"You have to talk to her, man." His companion complained after he'd dropped back onto his behind. "This has been lasting for far too long already. Nothing's gonna get any better if ya don't do something."

Kakashi slouched against the back of his seat and raked his fingers through his hair. Obviously, his friend was right. Without any sort of contact or exchange, nothing would change betwee him and her. Yet, he failed to come up with a way to approach her. She would shoot him down in an instant.

"I'm sure you have a suggestion as to how I should do this, then?" He replied, raising an eyebrow and eyeing him expectantly.

"Sorry." With a shake of his head, Genma exhaled, exasperated.

"I do want things to get better," Kakashi added, "but I just don't know what to do."

The hopeless expression on his comrade's face signaled that this conversation's end was already long overdue to the Copy Nin. With a sigh of his own, he stood up and wave at him.

"My bed's calling me. I'll see you later."

The air around them weighed down on the duo, heavy with tension. After so long without speaking a word to each other, walking side by side only resulted in awkward silence and stiff movements. Kakashi was tempted to tilt his head back and demand an answer from the sky, to know how the Hokage had come to the conclusion that sending them on a mission together was a good idea. There was the possibility that Genma, his supposed best friend, had gone and babbled to Tsunade about his predicament.

To make matters worse, their assignment was a puny B-rank. More or less two weeks in duration and with the simplest of goals, retrieve a stolen item and return it. The time he had the privilege of spending with her was more than welcome. Only, he'd hoped that it would have been her decision, not her mentor forcing her into this. Her silence throughout the whole day was solid proof of her bitterness from being shoved into this useless mission.

Without a word, the male jonin stopped in his tracks and dropped his backpack carelessly. They would rest for the night. Taking the hint, she stopped and imitated him before retrieving her sleeping bag from her own luggage. Barely a minute later, they were both ready to lay down and let this day end.

"You'll have to talk to me sooner or later." Kakashi stated coolly, unable to keep quiet for a minute longer.

A small range of emotion flickered in her eyes, from sadness and despair to anger and betrayal. Maybe she had believed he wouldn't try to speak to her. Mixed feelings towards him most likely rendered choosing an appropriate answer a demanding task.

"It doesn't matter if you don't love me back." He added, ignoring the sour taste the words left on his tongue. "It's okay, but this can't go on."

"I know." She muttered, glancing at him through her eyelashes. There was some progress, at the least.

"Why won't you talk to me then?" Impatience lined his words with haste. "Is it because of my confession?"

"No," She blurted out, tangling the fingers of one her hands in her pink hair before continuing, "not entirely at least. It's the whole situation with you."

"Can you tell me more?" Kakashi almost pleaded, eye locked on her. He tried to be careful not to rush her, but he needed answers. She pratically shrank when his gaze remained on her too long.

"I just don't want to think of that mission." The pinkette sighed. "I don't want to think of you as someone I can't trust."

Even if his stomach dropped as he processed her words, the last sentence encouraged him to keep going. As much as it hurt to be told that he'd broken her trust, he couldn't deny that it was true. If he had believed in her as he should have, then she might have handled the situation better than he did.

"You have to come to terms with it, it's been too long." Kakashi muttered quietly. "Even if it doesn't excuse what I've done, I acted only to get you out of there."

"Because you didn't think I could handle it, didn't you?"

The venom in her voice was startled her companion, though it didn't deter him just yet. This girl had to get rid of this ridiculous belief that her teammates still didn't value her.

"You're better than that, Sakura." He whispered, the gentleness in his tone surprising him. "You're an amazing woman. I was the one who couldn't handle it."

Jade eyes widened at his newest statement as she raised her head, finally looking at him.

"I accept all the blame that you put on me." Kakashi continued, now staring at the grass at his feet. "I let my feelings interfere with the mission and you have every right to be angry at me."

"I just want Sakura back."

Tears welled up in her softened eyes, threatening to spill as she spoke. "I don't want to hurt you, Kakashi."

He offered her a heartfelt, warm smile and closed his eye. "That's more than enough for me."

"I want to clean up." Sakura let out as a river appeared in their sight. For a late spring evening, the day proved to be prematurely hot. A little soak would do them both some good.

Interpreting his silence as approval, and rightly so, she stripped down to her shorts and tank top before slipping into the water. For a moment, the fact that she kept her shirt on baffled him. Though, with a little thought, it only made sense.

He jumped in the water with her once the only clothes left on him were his boxers, finding no reason to hide from her. Deep down, he wondered to what extent Koroku had damaged her. As far as he knew, Sakura had kept her distance from any males, even within their own team. Naruto had complained several times about the little amount of time she reserved for him in her busy schedule. Avoiding them entirely had certainly been out of the question, in order to appear okay to everyone.

Carefully, he approached her, the way you would a small animal that you didn't want to scare away. She stood in a shallower part of stream, where the water only reached her hips.

"Can I see them?" Kakashi asked softly, referring to her scars. She turned her head to the side, biting her lip in reluctance. "You shouldn't worry about them. Scars aren't unattractice unless they disfigure you." He tried to reassure, certain that her thoughts were far from worries over her apperance, but rather a fear to show her body to a man.

"Okay." She ground out.

Slowly, he reached for the hem of her shirt and dragged it up, brushing his fingers against her skin. The contact hadn't been necessary, rather a display of his selfish desire to feel her skin against his again after so long without the faintest touch. Breaking eye contact with her, he lowered his gaze to her toned stomach, observing the raised and darker skin that indicated where she had been stabbed. They had healed nicely, even without immediate medical attention, he noted. Under his digits, he could feel her muscles tensing, no matter how hard she tried to conceal it.

"If you don't want me to touch you, you should say so." Kakashi whispered, brushing the tip of his fingers against her scars before she had the chance to voice her disagreement.

No reply came. Watching her reaction, he could tell she was mentally arguing over which answer would benefit her the most. On his side, he was fighting a similar battle. He knew she would rather he stopped, yet he felt no need to. It might have been only an excuse to extend the moment, but he assumed she had to face her fears at some point.

The hand that wasn't against her abdomen travelled up to cup her cheek carefully, continuing on to stroke her hair. After so long, he'd almost forgotten how it felt. Silky and soft. Keeping a distance between them was becoming harder by the second, but he refused to cross that line when his affection was unwanted, to take advantage of her reluctance to state her discomfort. By now, he could feel her trembling under his fingers.

"That's enough." She breathed out as she backed away a step.

"That's better." He encouraged, flashing her his usual smile. Rejection hurt, it always did. Knowing
that she would stand up for herself in a situation that wasn't okay with her made up for it, though

Sakura's quiet breathing was the only sound that filled air. Quite some time had passed since she'd fallen asleep, but the peaceful slumber remained elusive to the Copy Nin. The constant flow of thoughts that assaulted his mind were most likely responsible for his inability to rest. Night was a time he both feared and waited for impatiently. Should he be able to sleep quickly, the hours of unconsciousness would be a haven away from his troubled routine. On the opposite side, until he reached that comfortable state, the emptiness and silence surrounding him left wide open the dam that retained his inner turmoil.

When all the distractions were gone with the sun, what else was there to focus on? He had no choice but to be left alone with himself. With the regrets, the anger, the pain; everything that proved he was only human in the end. Sakura's image never went away. The darkness claimed his right to his own decisions, forced him to mull over everything he kept locked up so skillfully during the day.

How was Sakura? The team evaded the subject almost entirely. He was the only one who knew. He wouldn't divulge her secret either, so they would never be told from a mouth other than hers. To be the only soul to be aware of it, to have witnessed the ridiculous abuse she endured, placed him a position he never wanted to be in again. Even if he knew of everything that had transpired on that cursed mission, the key to her heart remained in her hands. No matter how familiar he was with Sakura, what happened in that pink head of hers was something he was not privy to.

To see that she had no desire to be close to men was easy, maybe even if only because of his knowledge of her treatment at the hands of Koroku. She had never been a busy bee as far as flirting and relationships were concerned. The opposite sex had seemed to lose its appeal to her after Sasuke, so her avoidance was nothing out of the ordinary either. Yet, his touch, friendly or romantic, had never made her nervous before. Insecurity wasn't a word he would have used to define her anymore.

A picture of his closest friend crying herself to sleep popped up, causing his insides to twist at the sight. It wasn't the first time he saw such a heartbreaking image, far from that in fact, yet it never failed to make him wish to be blind.

How deep did her wounds run? He could only hope that the trauma was far behind her enough so that moments of it didn't replay in her head every day. The Copy Nin had experienced this after plenty of missions himself, the stress it caused was all to familiar to him.

From what their teammates said, she had also been avoiding mission, preferring work in the hospital instead. Tsunade had only sent her on five assignments if his count was any good. He hadn't had many himself, eight to be exact, but that hadn't been by choice. Being a medic within the walls fo the village was safe for her. She was in control and no one approached her since she was always busy. It was a perfect environment to escape from yourself.

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