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Chapter 12 – Mind-Kakashi Number Two

6.53 pm.

Sakura was so exhausted she could barely walk back to her office. It was one of those days you wanted to erase from your life completely, hoping not a sliver of a memory would remain – yet you knew there would be no such mercy, your soul was forever tarnished by the horrors you had experienced.

She had been roused way before sunrise by two Anbu members who had knocked persistently and with mounting impatience until Sasuke had opened the apartment door. They had informed Sakura with brusque words she was needed immediately at the hospital, the Lady Hokage was already waiting.

Curing her own hangovers was easy for Sakura, it was just like removing any other poison. But there was nothing that she could do to properly prepare herself for the kind of carnage that awaited her in the ICUs. Two Anbu squads had been ambushed outside and whatever monster it was that had done this kind of damage to their bodies, it shook awake the terror and blackest of despairs in her she sadly knew all too well from the past war. If this was how humanity treated life, what hope was there for humanity?

The first thing she noticed when she opened her office door was Kakashi sitting outside her window, reading a book with a dull looking cover.

She hadn’t forgotten about their appointment, in fact, she had thought about it several times during the day, but with a mounting feeling of regret that had only fed her despair. She had become convinced she would not be able to see him. Sakura had even doubted she would be able to go home before the next morning, if at all.

But there he was, looking at her through the window like it was the most normal thing that a Shinobi of his class would sit on such a small ledge on the third floor and wait for her even though she was almost a full hour late.

Her legs shook violently from exhaustion and where her feet touched the ground there was a sea of searing pain, but she managed to walk to the window and open it without falling over and making a fool of herself.

“You shouldn’t have waited for me,” she said instead of a greeting after he had climbed in, immediately hating herself for making it sound like a reproach when in truth, she could not imagine anything more welcome than seeing him.

“I don’t have a watch,” he replied smoothly, “I completely forgot time.”

It was clearly an excuse, he really was bad at lying. He had waited because however disinterested he seemed in general, he cared about a lot of things. And apparently, he cared about seeing her. What was keeping her from burying her face into his chest and crying her eyes out?

Nothing.

Sakura stumbled forward and threw her hands around his middle, pressing her face against his shirt. Grief balled itself together into a red-hot orb that was rising up in her throat, choking her.

Kakashi said nothing when she started sobbing uncontrollably, her whole body shaking so much it seemed like she couldn’t stand up any longer. He just held her, tightening his arms around her shoulders, later using one hand to stroke her hair, simply letting her cry. He smelled of mandarin oranges with a hint of freshly mown grass, she would simply not let go, never again.

“Better?” He asked when the tears ceased and very gently began to disengage her arms from around himself.

No! She hung on, desperately but ultimately in vain. He brought a proper distance between them by keeping her at arm’s length and peered into her eyes with concern.

“I shouldn’t have come at all,” he said, “it was selfish. You look completely exhausted. Should I accompany you home?”

“No!” Sakura exclaimed.

“Have you eaten anything?” he continued his questioning. Sakura nodded though with little vigor. Special food pills for medical-nin, she wouldn’t have been able to keep anything else down.

He looked sceptical. He also looked worried in a familiar kind of way, exactly like those people waiting outside the operating rooms for news about how the operation had gone. Right. How could she have forgotten, these people she had treated today were his comrades, some of them might even be his friends.

But why come to her for this? He could as well have asked Tsunade. Or Yamato. Unless…

“Has anybody talked to you about what happened last night?” Sakura asked.

Kakashi shook his head, his face betraying even more of his turmoil now.

Ah. That’s why he was here. Tsunade was still punishing him for reasons Sakura couldn’t quite understand. They had left him in the dark as if he were a security threat.

“Sit down,” Sakura said and pointed to the patient chair, “I’ll tell you everything I know.”

She herself fell into her own chair with a suppressed groan. Getting up again would be difficult. She really had no energy left.

“You do not need to do this,” Kakashi said after sitting down, a sentence Sakura found too familiar and frankly annoying.

“I don’t, but I want to,” she retorted curtly.

And she told him in few words about ripped off limbs and bodies that had been slashed open, about the screams of the wounded, her, Shizune and Tsunade’s teamwork, the exhaustion after hours and hours of focusing chakra on ripped arteries and failing hearts so that three Anbu members would maybe survive while seventeen others died gruesome, painful deaths.

Funny how recounting these horrors felt like purging herself off the worst of the shame she felt from not being able to save more of them, how her blunt emotionless words took with them some of the grief as they left her mouth, maybe to blossom anew inside of him. It would have helped had he wailed and sobbed because she always managed to become the calmest when people around her lost it. But Kakashi had seen his own share of horrors, this was nothing to a battle hardened soldier like him.

Yet, when she had finished, he briefly closed his eyes. She couldn’t bear to see the look of defeat and despair crossing his face.

“I really tried everything,” she mumbled, feeling an urge to explain herself, “but so many of them died.”

“It’s not your fault,” Kakashi said bitterly, “I know you did your best, you always do.”

If it wasn’t her fault, whose fault was it then? So many lives lost. So many futures destroyed. What was the point of getting up in the morning if in the end, there was only death?

“I hope Tsunade lets me go out and catch those bastards,” Kakashi ground out. “I’m going crazy not being able to do anything!”

For a moment, I feared you were among the wounded, Sakura remembered the numbing shock this morning she had felt before realizing she had mistaken another silver haired man for Kakashi, may you stay grounded forever, I don’t want you in the field.

“What is out there?” Sakura asked him, because she had not have time to talk to Tsunade at all even though they had been in the room together all day and because she was pretty certain the Hokage was not inclined to tell her.

The thing had claws, long and sharp ones and it had teeth to rip arms out of sockets and heads off shoulders. But if such a monster was loose, shouldn’t they have heard of it before from other villages?

Kakashi’s blank stare brought her back to reality fast. Right. He didn’t remember. Why? He had sealed off parts of his mind himself. Why? She had no clue.

“Should we try the Genjutsu again?” she asked him, trying to muster the necessary strength to get out of her chair and walk around the table to sit opposite of him.

“You must have almost depleted your chakra,” Kakashi said. “Let’s forget about it today.”

Whom was he trying to fool? He would probably give his right arm to be able to get over his amnesia, it was written all over his face.

“Let me do this, please,” she said, adding that last word quite strategically, “I will feel better afterwards.”

Maybe I will meet your alter ego in the forest again? she hoped. Would he remember her? It wasn’t too bad if he didn’t, all that mattered was that he opened up to her again, like last time. Yes, of course she had mainly been thinking about the kiss, but in addition, having been the one to make a grim, grieving person smile made her very happy.

Sakura knew about herself that helping people was what she wanted the most. The harder it was to help, the bigger her satisfaction when she succeeded. More, she wanted people to need her, people like Sasuke, whose hearts were beating out of sync with the rest of humanity. There could be no doubt about it, she wanted Kakashi to need her too. A man never moved to strong emotions unless he was defending the lives of people he cared for. A man who was always friendly but never let anyone get close to him. A man who had experienced things in his past that should have left him warped and broken yet lived with little apparent scars or regrets. What was his secret?

“Alright,” Kakashi said and moved his chair so that she could take a seat opposite him like the night before.

Of course he remembered the sequence of hand signs without having to ask for it again. He may have lost his Sharingan, but it made little difference: he remained one of Konoha’s finest Shinobi and in her current state of misguided infatuation, it made her feel stupidly proud.

Upon the last “Tori” they spoke together Sakura found herself engulfed in utter blackness as if a thick sack had been pulled over her head.

Surprised, she drew a shaking breath, but before she could begin to orient herself, she was back in the office, sitting on the chair with her legs pressed against Kakashi’s. Mere seconds had passed.

Shit.

“What happened?” Kakashi asked with a frown.

Sakura shook her head, frowning too. Was her chakra too low? She had been kicked out of the illusion.

“Let’s try again.”

They did. Upon the last hand sign, utter blackness engulfed her, like all light had been snuffed out at the snap of a finger.

“Kakashi”? she asked into the dark, hearing how her voice lost itself in what seemed to be a very large, empty room made from stone. And in it… a lurking presence… – she blinked. Dammit! Back where there was light, back in the office!

“Curse this, I cannot seem to build a world,” she admitted, “everything is slipping right past me.”

“I knew you were too tired,” Kakashi said sternly. “It’s dangerous to do any jutsu with low chakra reserves, I told you that many times.”

She glared at him. Was he pulling one of his “I’m your Sensei”-moves? One of these days she would challenge him to a friendly genjutsu battle! She was pretty sure she had the greater skills than him in this department. But men were very sensitive to being upstaged by women, she’d have to wait for the right moment to suggest this.

“Who says it’s me? I could be you who is resisting!”

“Me?” he asked astonished.

“Yes, this is a joint Genjutsu, remember? If your head is not in it, it won’t work.”

“Okay,” he nodded. “I see what you mean. I will try harder. It’s just… it is weird not to know what is going on in my mind when you’re there.”

“If we do this right, you’ll remember everything else, should it not make it worth it? One more time,” she said with authority, though something like guilt stirred inside of her. She knew she should have told him everything yesterday, but it was fast becoming too late.

Another running through the jutsu together and she found herself in the same blackness. Sakura concentrated extra hard on getting a feeling for the world around her and it didn’t slip away this time, so maybe it was Kakashi who made the difference. There was a slightly musty, metallic smell. The temperature was best described as not too cold and not too warm, so it seemed plausible that this room was somewhere underground.

“Kakashi?” she asked.

She had felt somebody’s presence the second time, but now, the room around her seemed empty. Should she walk forward? Sakura felt fairly confident she would not suddenly fall into a hole, her battle skills may be rusty but her kunoishi senses would never fail her.

After Sakura had taken five steps, the dripping started. A warm, sticky liquid trickling down from above. She recognized it almost instantly by its scent: blood.

“Gross,” she gagged, “Kakashi, where are you?”

“Who are you?” somebody asked right next to her, making her jump and squeal. Kunoishi senses? She had not felt him approach at all. He knew how to hide his aura masterfully even though his voice… it was a boy’s voice.

“I am Sakura,” she said, trying to ignore the blood that was still dripping down. “Are you Kakashi?”

“Are you part of my training?” he asked flatly, “do I need to kill you?”

“No!” Sakura exclaimed horrified, “I came here to find… you?”

She wasn’t sure it was him, but the quality of his voice and the lazy cadence of his speech… it was familiar. From the absolute darkness, a faint red glow emerged. Sharingan.

“Can you see me with this?” she asked.

“Your chakra flow,” he answered, “I had to check what you are. What do you want?”

Good question. She hesitated ever so briefly before giving him an answer and in that moment, she suddenly felt an increase of highly alert chakra from him.

“Get down,” he hissed and pushed her so hard, she fell backwards on her bum gracelessly.

It was like the darkness gave itself substance. One moment, it was the two of them, the next, it was hundreds of assailants whose movements filled their surroundings with an eerie rustling sound, insect-like and menacing.

The boy drew a sword that emitted a white, blinding light and began slashing left and right so fast Sakura was reminded of lightning splitting up the sky. Light… it meant she saw what he was up against. A chill gripped her, freezing her body.

Oni masks.

Always oni masks.

There were so many, the light from the sword was soon reflected by a fast approaching wall of white faces. She saw it was Kakashi fighting them, a young version, but his skill was already extraordinary. For a moment, it looked like he might be able to do the impossible and vanquish the silent enemies coming at him – but the sheer mass made it impossible, he went down with a groan when dozens of them jumped him simultaneously.

He wasn’t going to die in front of her, was he?!

Sakura tried to move, but it was like time slowed down completely. Stretching out an arm took five times longer than usual and by the time she had gotten herself to her knees, it was over.

The attackers vanished in puffs of smokes and utter darkness descended again.

“Kakashi?” she asked nervously, “Kakashi?”

“I am here,” the boy said. She heard from his voice that he was in a lot of pain, but for the moment, she was just relieved he was still speaking. “What do you want?” he asked her again.

“Take you out of here,” Sakura said on impulse because what was it if not that? Gates, seals, Kakashi in mental and physical pain… there had to be a gate again, a way to help him escape this.

“It’s forbidden,” kid-Kakashi informed her, sounding annoyed. “My training isn’t done yet.”

“What kind of a training is this supposed to be?” Sakura asked appalled, moving closer to his voice in order to check for wounds. He was just a kid!

“Are you really from the Leaf?” he asked.

“Of course I am!” Sakura bristled.

“Let me feel your headband as proof,” he demanded.

She took it off and moved even closer to him, “here,” she said, “I’m holding it out.”

His fingers came searching for it, briefly touching her hand. They were ice cold. She grasped them, resisting his attempt to pull them away and sent a short burst of chakra into his body to search for damage. Nothing. That could only mean one thing.

“Was it Genjutsu earlier?” she asked him. She moved her hand over her body. There were no traces of blood at all. That must have been part of the Genjutsu too! Genjutsu within Genjutsu? It was the first time she heard of that.

“Yes, of course,” the boy said, “else I would be dead. Now could I get my hand back? I don’t like to be touched.”

“So you are sitting here in the dark for training reasons?” she asked, letting go of his hand and putting her headband back on.

“Is your hearing bad?” he scoffed, “it’s what I said.”

“What for?!” she exclaimed.

“How did you even get in here?” kid-Kakashi asked suspiciously, “I don’t trust you. You’re acting strange.”

“Is there a door?” she asked him, thinking she needed some light, it was weird to talk to him in the utter darkness. Sakura created a small but bright chakra flame on top of her index finger, looking at the face in front of her. Large eyes, one black, one red. Black face mask covering mouth and nose. Unruly silver hair.

What a cute little boy he was
, she thought and smiled at him, resisting an impulse to ruffle his hair and pinch his cheek.

“Snuff out the light, I am supposed to train in absolute darkness,” he said gruffly, though eying her with interest. “You have pink hair? That’s so weird, I’ve never seen that before. Is it dyed?”

“No, it’s not,” she said offended, glaring at him. “Do you have no manners? I’m probably twice as old as you, show a little respect!”

“Oh… do you want me to call you Nee-chan?” he nodded. “I seem to remember older women like that?”

Sakura decided to ignore him. “I asked you whether there is a door,” she repeated a bit snippy.

“Sure,” he replied, “how else could I have gotten in here.”

“Can you show me where it is? Are there seals there?”

“Of course,” he replied, “how else would they make sure I can’t get out?”

Excitement gripped her. Seals! There were seals! Finally the thing she had come for in the first place. She had to study them!

“Lead me there!” she demanded.

“Why?” he frowned, “it’s disadvantageous. If they attack again…”

“I don’t care!” she shouted.

Kid-Kakashi shook his head at her, but complied by sheathing his sword – he carried it on his back – and by starting to walk. Somewhat amused to see he put his hands in his pockets just like his older self, she measured his height with her eyes, finding it shorter than hers.

“How old are you?” she asked him. Ten? Or more? She never quite knew with kids.

“Old enough to know that this will have uncomfortable consequences,” kid-Kakashi grumbled without looking at her. “I hate it when they change the rules like this.”

They had not walked more than fifty steps when there was another attack, just as fast and gruesome as the first – but this time, she was prepared – “Genjutsu Release!” she said and got to watch young Kakashi whirl and slash into empty air.

“Have you not learned how to counter Genjutsu?” she asked him after he had caught his breath, obviously under the impression that he had vanquished the assailants. “Why are you fighting them?”

“Because I’m supposed to,” he answered. “Snuff out the light already, I told you I have to train in darkness! Besides, it blinded me earlier, making me lose points.”

She shook her head. “But I don’t have to do idiotic training and I don’t like to walk around without any light.”

He pulled a face at her before turning around and sauntering forward.

“I never knew, but you are so much like a certain Uchiha!” she said.

“I’m not at all like any Uchiha!” he bristled angrily.

“Yes, you are, brat,” she retorted. The pout. The attitude. The arrogance. And most likely… the loneliness. His father had killed himself, leaving him alone in the world. The hurt of being abandoned. Children who had experienced the worst and were trying to cope by putting their everything into training and becoming stronger. They were very much alike.

“So how do I counter Genjutsu?” kid-Kakashi asked after a bit of silent treatment, walking slower so he could fall in beside her.

“Aha, now you want to know?” she couldn’t help but tease him. “Fine. It’s easy. Genjutsu is control of someone’s chakra. So you must disrupt the chakra flow in your body for a long enough moment. That’s it.”

He scowled at her and she had to laugh. How could he know that he would once become a teacher who’d spout off Shinobi wisdom like this at little ninjas who had no clue about anything but the very basics.

“That, or you overload your senses to the point where your body snaps itself out of the genjutsu. Pain usually helps,” she explained.

“Hurting myself?” he asked, sounding way too intrigued.

“Yes, but the first works much better and against more powerful genjutsu. Oh, and there is another way, probably the most effective. You have to get some foreign chakra source to disrupt yours so that your inner chakra balance is disrupted.”

“Foreign chakra source?”

“A team member,” she said. “One not caught in the Genjutsu.”

“Ah,” kid-Kakashi said coldly, “well, I have no team members anymore.”

“You will have them again,” she said. “That and more. You are capable of much love, Kakashi.”

He stopped dead in his tracks, glaring at her like she had just insulted him. “Love? That’s bullshit. I want no such thing in my life.”

Sakura had to laugh at his angry scowl. “Silly boy. Do you think you can help it?”

“I will not allow it,” he said with much conviction. “It’s the most dangerous weakness of a Shinobi.”

“We are not human without love,” Sakura said softly. “The greatest Shinobi are the ones who love the most. One day… one day you will know I was right even though you won’t even remember talking to me.”

“Ah, now I understand,” he said, his expression turning cold. “You are from that cult that has been coming to the orphanage.”

“Uhm… what?” Sakura said.

“Preaching love and all that. And then taking children away that never return. I’m not stupid, I know you use them to do those experiments.”

“Excuse me?!”

“You’re all the same, you old people,” he muttered. “You pretend to care but you all you care about is yourselves.”

“What cult are you talking about? We have no cults in Konoha.”

“The blind will never see,” he said sullenly and stopped.

“What? Why are you stopping?” he was irritating, this little one. Kind of how she had always imagined a little brother to be.

“We are here.”

She looked up and realized they had reached a wall indeed – with a very large brick gate that was plastered full of seal tags.

“What kind of writing is this?” Sakura exclaimed after failing to decipher the meaning of the symbols.

Kid-Kakashi shrugged.

Sakura stepped even closer to study the tags. There were at least five different symbols and the tags had two colors: blue and red. She counted. Seven red, eight blue. Luckily, she had read a Fuinjutsu book just recently. An imbalance? Was it possible two different people had put them on?

“Can you use your Sharingan to see how the chakra flows on this wall?” she asked Kakashi.

He shrugged again but stepped next to her, concentrating.

“Two patterns,” he informed her matter-of-factly, “a red and a blue one. The red flows from left to right and circles down in a spiral. The blue is more like… a snake? Or like smoke. It rises from the bottom to the top and falls down again.”

Hm. Sakura bit her lower lip. She was very good at Genjutsu Release, but Fuinjutsu Release? She had only just started to think about it recently and had not gotten very far in her research.

“Just leave it be, Sis,” kid-Kakashi said and for the very first time since she had come to this place, he sounded capable of fear. “It is forbidden.”

“Can you trust me? I can protect you,” she said.

Though as she said it, she vaguely remembered a conversation she had had not too long ago. Hadn’t she told Kakashi she would consult with him before opening any seals in his head? She had, but how should she go about that in this situation? She was tired, there was no guarantee she would even find this place again if she went back to the office before taking action. Besides, when she had thought about the seals in his head, she had always assumed she would open doors from the outside not the inside, which was entirely different from freeing Kakashi from his mind prisons.

No… rather than jeopardize today’s success she would try to disrupt the chakra network of the seals by sending her own concentrated chakra against its flow. Her skill with micromovements was very good, she was capable of cutting minuscule substances from human bodies.

“Tell me exactly how the chakra flows on the wall. How thick are the threads? Where do they connect to?”

“You do not listen, do you,” kid-Kakashi said, “I hate women who are like that.”

“Oh just shut up,” she barked at him, “you tiny squirt, you know nothing about women. Just do as you’re told.”

That rendered him quiet. When she wanted to, she could be scary she thought with satisfaction.

It took many tries for her to get even close to hitting one of the chakra flows in the correct way. If she had ever doubted that she could get tired in a Genjutsu of her own making, now she knew: she certainly could. Her fingers began to throb painfully after the thirtieth try and by the time she almost got it, they had gone entirely numb.

It had to be hours later, it was hard to track time in this place, but due to a mixture of luck and sheer tenacity, Sakura managed to simultaneously disrupt the blue and the red seals’ flow. With a hiss, the tags dissolved and the door disappeared. A dull light came streaming in. There was a whiff of forest scent.

I did it! I did it! she jubilated, feeling super accomplished. It looked like that other place out there, the “mind entry hall” where all the doors and seals were.

“Come!” she told kid-Kakashi and held out her hand to him.

He looked very spooked.

“Come,” she repeated, “there’s nothing to be afraid of!”

Well, not that she knew where those mind-Kakashis went after she opened the doors. Did they stop to exist? Merge with Kakashi’s subconsciousness completely? But it had to be good to get them out of their scary prisons, no?

“This doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen,” kid-Kakashi said and stepped forward cautiously to catch a glimpse of what was beyond the wall of his prison. “Oh wait. Is this Genjutsu? Let me…”

A look of deep concentration came over his face as he folded his hands and before she could intervene, a strong burst of chakra almost ripped her off her feet and slapped her so hard, she cried out. An instant later, she was back in the office.

It was 7.07 pm.

She felt a hundred years older. She needed to sleep. Sleep for weeks. What a day.

The adult Kakashi in front of her took a deep breath as awareness returned to his eyes.

“Ouch,” he said, “that was rough.”

“Oh,” Sakura said, feeling a pinch of worry, “what happened?”

“I… well, yesterday, it was like floating on clouds. Just now… it was like… falling from a cliff and dying.”

“It’s okay,” she said and pressed his hands that rested in hers, “I opened some seals.”

“You did?” he said and his tone should have been a warning, but she was still bathing in the afterglow of her great success.

“I met a kid-version of you,” she told him with a fond smile, “man, you had an attitude.”

“Where?” he asked, his frown deepening.

“In an underground training facility?” she mused. “It was entirely dark and you were constantly attacked. Yesterday, I met you in a huge forest. An Anbu-version of yourself.”

“Those are… memories, I think,” he said. “I don’t understand.”

“I thought they could be versions of memories, I don’t understand either,” she admitted, “I am not even sure what my part is in the Genjutsu, I get the feeling it is you who controls them. Some things are strange. For example, in both worlds, people with oni-masks were after you. What does it mean? And you said something about a cult who took away children? And do you have any idea why you would seal these memories off?”

“Me?” he asked astonished.

“Yes! I have reason to believe that you are the one who put seals into your own mind, do you not recall.”

“Sakura…”

Something in his face changed.

“What is it?” she asked alarmed.

“We might have made a massive mistake,” he ground out.

“Why?” she asked, feeling heat rise to her face, “did I do something wrong?”

“My arm hurts,” he pressed out. “A lot.”

Kakashi pulled his hands from hers and gripped his left arm with such force, his knuckles stood out ghostly white.

“He warned me,” Kakashi murmured.

“Whom are you talking about?” Sakura asked alarmed, watching in frozen horror how his face turned an ashen color. Alarms went off in her medical-nin head.

“Kabuto.”

“Kabuto?! Kakashi, what is going on?”

“He said… to take the pills…”

“Take off your shirt,” Sakura urged him, trying to process what she was hearing, “let me look.”

She gasped when he had bared his torso and she saw what had happened to the tattoo on his left arm.

“Shit,” she murmured. “Shit.”

Once a small red flame, it now was the size of half his arm. And it continued growing as she stared at it, sending red, hungry tendrils towards his heart.

When she touched it, the first thing she realized was how hot Kakashi’s skin was. Quickly moving a hand to his forehead, she confirmed that he was running a very high fever. Kakashi had his eyes closed, swaying ever so lightly. It looked like he was about to pass out.

“Dammit,” Sakura cursed. “Kakashi, can you stand? You must lie down. Come, over there!”

She dragged his heavy body over to the treatment couch where he collapsed and lay utterly still, breathing shallowly. This wasn’t happening, was it, she thought as she was taking his pulse. His body was beginning to fail. She felt like she had no grasp of what reality was anymore, as if her exhausted mind was mixing dream elements into her waking hours or was it the other way round.

“What is this thing,” she yelled, “Kakashi, can you talk?”

“I… am…. sorry,” was all he said.

“I will remove whatever substance it is,” she informed him, “I don’t care how valuable it is or who put it there, alright?”

No answer. His breathing became more irregular. Not good.

“Kakashi!” she yelled at him, “hang on!”

She readied her chakra in her fingers, finding her reserves low, so very low. What if… but no, she could not think of failure or about whether this was her fault, all her fault. She couldn’t let herself be distracted, not now. She needed to concentrate. Hard. Find the substance in his bloodstream. Find the source of his quickly worsening state. The tattoo, a seal… a broken seal, leaking poison into his body. No, not poison… or was it? It was a substance… it was… blood! Blood, but not his blood, thus acting just like a poison.

Feeling disgust, she began to draw it out, tendril after tendril, but her fingers weren’t fast enough so she began using her mouth too to suck it out of him, spitting it on the floor, so dangerous because if it were poison, she would die right with him, which… she deserved.

This was her fault.

“You shouldn’t have trusted me,” she sobbed, completely exhausted after the crisis was averted and his breathing had stabilized. “I am useless. No, worse! I kill people. Today, I killed seventeen of your comrades and now I almost killed you. I give up. I don’t want to live in a world where there’s only pain.”

No clue. She had no clue what she was doing, worse, she had jeopardized his life by meddling with Genjutsu she did not understand. Fat tears fell down on the chiseled muscles of his upper body, leaving glistening trails in the artificial light. Things became very blurry all of a sudden.

I’ve completely exhausted myself, Sakura realized, this is not good. I might pass out. If I have not managed to stop it, he will die.

“Sakura,” he whispered, his eyes fluttering open. “Sakura, how will I ever repay you for saving my life again and again?”

“Stay as far away from me as possible,” she pressed out, her eyes filling with tears again.

“Is… is this truly what you wish for?” he whispered, obviously finding it hard to keep his eyes open. “If so, I will… I will comply even though…”

He gripped her hand with surprising force, interlacing his fingers with hers.

“Just now, I believed I was going to die. There was one thing I kept thinking, one thing…” he faltered.

“Maybe you shouldn’t speak just now,” she said, but she bent forward, she inhaled deeply, his scent, feeling so incredibly dizzy, stabilized only by his warm hand.

“You are right, I should not say it,” he said even more quietly, “I have no right.”

For balance she put her free hand next to his head. His hair was there at her fingertips and she touched it compulsively, finding it much softer than she had imagined it. Running her fingers through it was pleasant, like touching that silk coat her mother had worn when she was a child.

“Stop. Unless you have lots and lots of water at hand,” he whispered.

“Not a single drop,” Sakura replied, clumsily climbing onto the treatment couch, “just… hold me. Please.”

Kakashi turned to his side wordlessly, offering his right arm as a pillow. She snuggled up against him, so warm and comforting, feeling more tears pressing against her eyes but much too tired to care. He put his other arm around her and cradled her against his chest.

“Thank you,” she said, “I just need to… rest…,” she was already falling asleep or unconscious but for a passing moment, she worried about the unlocked door and the people that might find them here, the lights that were still on, the shower she hadn’t taken, fresh underwear she didn’t have, the time, the place, everything…

“I’m here,” he said by her ear, “I’ve got you.”

With a sigh, she let go and like a candle being snuffed out, her senses left her completely.

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