Fanfiction: Getting Lost on the Roads of Life - Chapter 9 (A KakaSaku Story)

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Chapter 9 - The Six O’Clock Appointment

written by Kakashi

“Will you STOP THIS ALREADY!”

Surprised to be yelled at by somebody normally so stoic, Kakashi stared at Yamato’s deeply red face and heaving chest.

“Sorry,” he said and folded his hands.

“Senpai,” Yamato sighed, “with all due respect, you are driving me insane.”

Huh? All Kakashi had done was throw purple chakra balls at the wall but only so that they did not leave any traces, which Kakashi thought was extra crafty. He had to imagine the wall a few inches thicker than it was and pull back the force right when it hit the imaginary wall and not the real wall. In addition, he had to control the power so that it did not leak any unwanted chakra forward. It was quite hard, but he was improving fast. Sure, there was a sound, very similar to the Chidori sound, but it was rather soft and as Kakashi thought, pleasant. Why was Yamato so touchy today?

Kakashi looked a little closer at his junior behind his desk in the Anbu administrative office. Lots and lots of paperwork even though it was only the beginning of the week. Yamato’s hands were trembling ever so faintly. There were dark shadows under his eyes. He probably hadn’t slept much.

“Are you overworked again, Tenzō?” Kakashi asked with a frown. “You should learn to say ‘no’.”

“That is not my name, Senpai, and you know it,” Yamato replied sullenly.

“To me, it is,” Kakashi said and stretched, trying to release some of the tension in his back. “There is no honor in dying from too much paperwork, you know.”

“Ha!” Yamata scoffed, “somebody’s got to do it.”

He had a point, Kakashi thought. It had always baffled him just how much administrative work the running of a village, its missions, and its personnel required. Well, as long as it wasn’t him who had to do it...

“Continue the good work,” Kakashi murmured and flopped back into the comfortable chair in front of Yamato’s desk. Why not run through some of the most complicated jutsu, trying to further improve his hand sign speed?

“Senpai…”, Yamato began patiently.

“Yes, Tenzō?”

“Can you find something else to do, please?”

Kakashi lifted his eyebrows. Was he being kicked out?

“I need to finish writing three lengthy reports until tomorrow,” Yamato said patiently. “Since you do not seem inclined to help me, please remove yourself from my office.”

My office, was it? Apparently, dear Yamato had taken root in here. Which was a hilarious thought considering Yamato’s Wood Release abilities. Should he check for actual roots underneath the desk?

Yamato sighed. “Why are you extra restless today, Senpai? Anything important coming up?”

“Oh, you know…”

“Or are you deliberately getting on my nerves so that I will go beg Tsunade to give you something to do? The strategy isn’t bad, but Lady Tsunade is far more intimidating than you, Senpai. You won’t be successful in the end. Spare me, please.”

Tsunade wasn’t only intimidating. She was also ruthless. Of all punishments, being forced to be idle like this was by far the worst for somebody like Kakashi. There was nothing to read in the Anbu HQ apart from literature about tactical, operational and strategic aspects of missions and warfare that he knew by heart, you could only throw shuriken at targets for so many hours per day, push-ups and the likes got very boring quickly, and the younger Anbu members were so timid, they hardly dared talk to him. Kakashi hated to be worshipped, always had. He didn’t even want people to pay particular attention to him, that only increased the likelihood of getting unwanted tasks. To make things worse, Anko was working at the academy until very late every day, his ninken refused to be summoned if there was no task, Might Guy was on a hot-spring holiday, and… Kakashi sighed deeply. Everybody was busy except him. And yes… today, it was particularly torturous to sit still.

“Out with it, Senpai,” Yamato smiled. “There is something on your mind.”

“I have an appointment,” Kakashi admitted, “but I’m not sure whether I should go or not.”

“Aha,” Yamato nodded. “A date?”

“No!” His denial sounded much too defensive.

Yamato looked at him with mild amusement. “Okay, not a date,” he smiled. “But I bet you it’s with a woman.”

Kakashi pressed his lips together. Was he that obvious? That was bad. He didn’t even understand why he was so nervous. He could simply not go and that would be it, end of story. But the problem was he wanted to go and see Sakura, purely professionally, of course.

Thinking back to what he had so bluntly told her two days ago made him feel utterly embarrassed now. A spark developing into a devastating fire? What had he been thinking? Obviously nothing. He should have sat on his mouth and simply stayed away. Why had he even talked to her.

“So what if it’s a woman,” Kakashi murmured.

She had looked so… so absolutely stunning that night he had had to work hard not to stare at her. The dress she had put on had highlighted all the right things, her hair, her eyes… her body, her legs, her waist, her shapely bosom. He had managed to look away, but he had still been very aware of her presence, as if all his nerves were attuned to her, as if her chakra signature was sending out a signal he could not help but hone in on.

Like a silly moth that was drawn to a flame. Water? It would come too late, one misstep and he would burn to a crisp within seconds.

“You are seeing Anko, are you not, Senpai,” Yamato observed.

Kakashi had told him he needed his privacy and to let him walk around the village on his own, without Anbu guards breathing down his neck. It was ridiculous that Tsunade thought he would try and flee anyway, where please should he go? He had lived in Konoha all his life and he was planning to die here too.

Anko was warm and funny, she made him feel welcome and content. She had not believed her eyes when he had knocked at her door, but it had been a very natural reconnection. Not that he had planned to start sleeping with her again, but there had been enough lingering attraction on both sides for it to happen that very evening. But Kakashi knew Anko well enough. She was an impulsive person and at the same time very attuned to her own desires. Anko knew what she wanted and always went for it, which included diversity in her bed. She had called him boring before, but his appetites just did not extend to most of hers. So yes, he was “seeing her”, but it was going to be a temporary thing.

“What if I am,” Kakashi said.

“It does you good, Senpai,” Yamato informed him, “you are much more relaxed than before.”

Oh really? Like he wasn’t always relaxed. Relaxed was his second name. He did not like it one bit that Yamato was observing him this closely and was gathering such insights… that he was most likely sharing with the Lady hokage!

“Maybe you should try being with somebody too,” Kakashi snapped at Yamato, “relaxed is not something I would associate with you of late.”

“Ah, no,” Yamato said sadly, “I don’t have the time for relationships.”

“That’s just sad,” Kakashi said and shook his head, “married to the job, are we?”

“Maybe I have not found the right person yet,” Yamato said stubbornly, “but this isn’t about me. It’s about you…you and your not-date. I have had the ‘pleasure’ to observe you all day, Senpai and I happen to know you from the past. Something about your upcoming not-date is bugging you big time. I bet you it’s because you’re attracted to that woman and it scares you.”

What the… gone too far was gone too far.

“This is absolutely none of your business,” Kakashi said angrily. “This conversation is over.”

“So I’m right,” Yamato sighed. “Please keep your wits about you, Senpai, there are things afoot I have a very bad feeling about.”

“Do you mean Kabuto?” Kakashi tried his luck, but like in all the instances he had brought up the Medical-Nin before, Yamato didn't answer. He was stubbornly loyal, had always been, which was one of his good qualities… or bad if one was the target he was sent to eliminate. It was clear to Kakashi that Yamato knew things he wasn’t allowed to share, like what the results of the enemy autopsy had been, and it bugged him a lot to be kept out of the loop, as if he were a liability or even a danger.

So yes, he was going to see Sakura later, he thought. Maybe Tsunade didn’t think making him remember was still a priority, but Kakashi himself was feeling increasingly worried.

When asked about the timing of his return, Sasuke had told him he had gotten a message from him, Kakashi, calling him back to Konoha. But if he had sent Pakkun to find Sasuke, he had not known where he was. It made no sense, unless somebody posing as Kakashi who knew where Sasuke was had sent the message. Sasuke claimed he had been surprised by it, since his return had only been scheduled for about 6 months in the future, but he had immediately complied, seeing how the message conveyed urgency. It had also used all the correct code words in the right sequence, code words only Kakashi and Sasuke knew.

Call it gut-feeling or call it cowardice, but Kakashi had not told the Uchiha about his amnesia. His relationship with Sasuke was a strained one, partially because of Kakashi’s history with other people from the Uchiha Clan, partially from their interactions over Sasuke’s defection from Konoha. Kakashi knew that Sasuke had always seen him as a rival - much like he saw every strong shinobi as one. But to Kakashi, Sasuke was for and foremost Itachi Uchiha’s little brother who had seen so much trauma he deserved special leniency, a kid Kakashi had failed to keep on the right path despite being his teacher. To this day, he considered Sasuke Uchiha his responsibility, even if Sasuke himself would never agree to be treated as someone who needed help.

So it was mainly caution which kept him from telling Sasuke about his own troubles, mixed with embarrassment about his failings. Appearing weak in front of Sasuke was simply not an option. Anyway, before they could start speaking in earnest, Sakura had burst out of the bar behind them, demanding to know what was going on.

She had quickly spotted that Sasuke had developed a fever, though not a particularly high one and she had forced him to go home immediately after.

If there was one person who could ensure the darkness in Sasuke’s heart was kept at bay, it was Sakura. It was minuscule reactions, but Kakashi had a keen eye for microexpressions. When Sakura was near, Sasuke felt more at ease with life.

Which made what he had confessed to her in that bar so much more despicable.

Even if a keen eye for microexpressions could easily see how strained their relationship currently was, Sakura had spent more than half her life working to make this relationship a relationship, whereas Sasuke, if he admitted it to himself or not, was kept sane and human by this woman.

And he was not the only one.

“If Sai asks to rejoin Anbu, deny it,” Kakashi told Yamato before getting up. “I suspect he might come to see you soon.”

“Why deny it?” Yamato exclaimed, “he’s an excellent soldier. We could use him!”

“Because he deserves to be happy, that is why,” Kakashi said. “He has learned to smile and love, let him be.”

“Okay,” Yamato nodded, “I see what you mean. But you know, Anbu these days isn’t like R…,” he shut his mouth forcefully, looking spooked.

To this day, ex-members of Root had difficulties saying the name of the organization. That was how deep the mental conditioning went, even years after the organization was disbanded. There were no Cursed Tongue Eradication Seals anymore, ‘given to the Unseen ones who supported the great tree of Konoha from the depths of the earth’. But that seal had worked even without being activated and it still lingered as a threat in the back of their minds.

“Even so. I do not want to rip families apart,” Kakashi said, quickly suppressing his own memories of his darkest hours, “doesn’t matter if they volunteer. Make it a rule. People in working relationships are not allowed into Anbu.”

It came as a slight surprise to Kakashi that Yamato nodded in agreement without even questioning his words. Married to the job, indeed. But who was he to judge, he was the same. He grinned. Growing old together with Yamato? There were worse fates.

“What’s the time?” he asked his junior, feeling the briefly forgotten nervousness in his throat again.

“Just get a watch,” Yamato sighed, “it’s… five twenty three. So you are going to your not-date?”

Was he?

“I’ll think about it,” Kakashi said.

He would decide once he was at the hospital. The one thing he needed to be sure of was that he could muster the necessary will to draw very firm lines. It wasn’t that hard. It couldn’t be. Or could it?

***

When the large clock hand finally reached the top, Sakura felt a strange sensation, a half pleasant, half unpleasant mix between excitement and annoyance. Excitement because it was possible Kakashi would show up, annoyance because she was certain that if he did, he would be late.

Which meant she was stuck here getting more and more nervous, wondering whether he would appear at all.

Earlier today, she had decided she would give him fifteen minutes, no more. Now she was thinking that maybe, fifteen was too little and that she would be angry with herself if she went home and later found out that he had come to see her.

Sakura pulled a face. Things were already much too complicated! Even if she had come to the conclusion that she must have misunderstood Kakashi somewhere along the way. She had been fairly drunk at the time of their chat and the whole evening, including those strange feelings of anger directed towards him, felt like a dream to her now. Besides, she had got to worry about Sasuke right after, taking her mind off their interaction for a while.

Sasuke was sick.

He had caught a virus, nothing bad, but still sufficient to force him into bed. He had no appetite but she made a light healthy broth for him, used a wet cloth to wipe his forehead occasionally and was content to sit next to him, hold his hand and watch him sleep restlessly all Sunday long.

This morning, she had assured herself he wasn’t worse - he still had a mild fever but was otherwise on the mend - and had gone to work after leaving him with everything he needed to get through the day without discomfort. There was an important management meeting to attend to and two surgeries to perform. The afternoon had been filled with patient consultations and now, it was 6 o’clock.

It would be a lie to say she had not awaited this particular time with great impatience.

There was a book in the hospital library that she had taken to her office last week. It was about the use of Genjutsu for healing. The author was not considered a serious scholar, he had been an eccentric loner living in some forest, but a few years ago, she had pulled it out of the shelf quite by coincidence - wondering about the symbol of a snail on its spine - and had started to read in it.

It was badly written and the structure was confusing, but something about it had left an impression on her, so that she had remembered it the other day and had gone looking for it.

There was a key to every lock and seals were not much different from locks. Breaking a seal required finding the key. Of course, no Fūinjutsu wielder would let a key lie around, but just like with real locks, it was possible to guess and make a key from a thorough study of the lock.

If she was to thoroughly study the locks in Kakashi's head, she needed time. Most Genjutsu were short-lived, used in battle to gain an advantage of surprise or shock over the opponent. Keeping the illusions up for more than fifteen minutes was a feat not many Shinobis were capable of.

Some Genjutsu meddled with the experience of time, however. The worst of them was Tsukuyomi, and luckily, one needed a Mangekyō Sharingan to inflict that upon a victim, which meant there was exactly one person in the world who could use this particular torture jutsu. But in that book she had read about a much friendlier use of time-warping Genjutsu.

The unnamed technique that was described was used to prolong the limited time one had to do something pleasant and it needed to agreement of two people present to work properly. The one wielding this jutsu could use a series of hand signs with which to end the illusion and, according to the author, kept the awareness of being the controller of this Genjutsu at all times. It was also impossible to get lost in the dream world because of the body’s natural limits. Once the body in the real world grew tired or hungry, the Genjutsu would naturally fall apart, propelling both people out of it.

Sakura had been a kunoichi long enough to know and understand that every jutsu came with risks. The bigger the effect on and thus the resistance from the opponent, the higher the cost of wielding a jutsu. But since this one was a joint effort, it seemed very low-risk to her.

The clock showed 6.05 pm by now and Sakura sighed. Why was she fooling herself? Kakashi wouldn’t come. He had made it fairly clear there was no urgency anymore and he seemed to function well despite his amnesia. Maybe it was silly of her to worry about him anyway.

There was a knock.

Confused, she stood up. That couldn’t be him, it was much too early.

Another knock. Not from the direction of the door. She swiveled around and... there he was. Outside the window, waving to her. For a moment, she just stared at him. Maybe she had really not believed he would come. And since when was he basically on time?! A few deep breath and she had caught herself sufficiently to open the window, trying to get her quickly mounting nervousness under control.

“Don’t you people use doors?” she asked stepping aside so he could jump in.

“I sat on the roof making up my mind,” he said a bit breathless, “and then the entrance seemed too far down.”

“How did you even find my window?”

“Shinobi ways,” he grinned.

“Please have a seat,” she said, pointing to the black leather chair in front of her desk. She would treat him like any other patient, she had decided, that would be the best strategy.

He sat down, looking at her expectantly. He was wearing civilian clothing again, only this time, it was dark grey and not black. It was interesting, Sakura thought, that his eyes looked dark grey with this outfit and not their usual black. She seated herself behind her desk and moved some paper around from the left to the right and back to buy herself some time. Should she say something about his spark and fire comment? She would hate for him to get the wrong impression. But she also feared to embarrass herself. The hugging, that could be excused, giving the circumstances last week. But to indicate she could not stop thinking about him, his kindness, his heartbeat… his words… she didn’t understand what it all meant, but could she expect him to help her?

“I have about twenty minutes left,” she said instead, “but for the first session, this should suffice.”

At the mention of ‘first session’, he lifted his eyebrows. Had he thought this was going to be a one-off thing? No, this was going to be a lot of work.

“So here’s the thing,” Sakura said, “there is a special Genjutsu that I would like to try with you.”

And she explained to him what she had read and that she believed that if she was able to stay in his mind long enough to study the seals, she would be able to find the keys.

“I thought about it for quite some time and I don’t think there’s any particular risk,” Sakura ended her explanation.

“But you don’t know what you will find,” Kakashi said, sounding doubtful.

“I’ve seen the sealed doors in your head already, there won’t be any surprises. Besides, I’ll be careful with the unlocking,” she hurried to say. “I will consult with you before.”

He moved his head from side to side, looking worried.

“As soon as something unexpected happens, I’ll break the illusion,” she added. “I will be aware of being inside your mind and I can get out anytime I wish.”

“You’ve always been good at Genjutsu,” he observed, maybe to convince himself what she had suggested was no idiocy.

“Yes!” she nodded. “And I’ve gotten much better over the years. I’m confident this will work. At least, let me try.”

“Okay,” he agreed, even though he still looked mildly unhappy. “How does it work?”

“Stay there,” she said, feeling a rush of excitement sweep through her. New Genjutsu. That alone was worth it. She moved her chair next to his so that they could face each other. His legs were so long she had to put hers in between his so that they could sit close enough to hold hands comfortably.

She had not brought any water, she laughed inwardly, was that going to be a problem? The inside of his solid thighs was warm against her legs. He was very tense.

“Wait,” Kakashi breathed, briefly pressing her hands.

“Yes?” she swallowed.

“Will I… what will it be like for me?”

Like the first time she had used Genjutsu on him, he was visibly nervous. She could not blame him, a Genjutsu trap was the worst kind of experience for a shinobi and she knew he had lived through Itachi’s torturous Tsukuyomi, only emerging unscathed thanks to his own Sharingan and Tsunade’s healing power.

“More or less pleasant,” she smiled at him, “this is a shared illusion. Even if you will not be able to recognize it as such, I will be able to talk to you and explain everything.”

At least that’s what she thought.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay, if it’s that way… I’m ready.”

He took another deep breath and then looked into her eyes unflinching.

“It’s Ushi, Tora, Mi, Tatsu, Mi, Tatsu, Inu, Saru, I, Uma, Tora, Mee, Ee, Tori, Ushi, Uma, Tori, Mee, Nae, Sara, Oo, Sara, Jin, Sara, Tori, Tatsu, Tori.” she told him. “We need to do them together.”

He repeated the sequence of hand signs to her twice without a mistake and she nodded.

“That’s it. Three, two, one…”

They signalled in perfect unison and a mere heartbeat after forming the last hand sign, Sakura found herself in a different place than she had just been, no longer looking deeply into Kakashi’s eyes.

Only… this was not at all like the first time she had entered his mind. Maybe because this was a joint Genjutsu, maybe because something inside his mind had fundamentally changed, maybe because she was the biggest fool alive… she did not find herself in a dark hall with many doors full of discomforting sounds, she found herself in a very dense, very dark, extremely menacing forest.

“Oh shit,” she breathed. And for emphasis, “Oh SHIT, Kakashi, where are you?”

He was so fast she only saw a silver flash. A kunai was pressed against her throat painfully the next moment, her hands immobilized in his tight grip, making it impossible to perform ninjutsu.

“Who are you,” he rasped, “and who sent you?”

Low risk? Sakura didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The scent of blood around him was so thick she almost gagged. The black eye that looked at her through the slits of a kitsune mask with red and black markings around the eyes, sides, and mouth was as cold as ice. The other was red. The black markings in it formed a pinwheel. An activated Mangekyō Sharingan.