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Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

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Gender: Male
Status: Married
Age: 29
Country: United States

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September 19, 2021


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03/19/2023 05:29 PM 

I Found You Missing

Summary: 'They're asking us because these soldiers have absolutely no one left to write home to,' Sakura thought with a frown. So she signs up for the Shinobi Letter Exchange, not realizing how large the consequences would be. - AUish one-shot [KakaSaku]

 

 


 

A KakaSaku AUish one-shot where more is exchanged than just letters.

.

"As you are all aware, proud men and women from our village are fighting in a war that's been going on for quite some time now," Iruka said to his classroom of students.

'Four years, three months and two days,' Sakura clarified in her head.

"Some of these brave shinobi have been there a long time and need reminders of home and what they're fighting for," Iruka continued on. "As such, the Hokage has implemented a new volunteer program. Anyone who wants to can sign up with me, and you'll be assigned a soldier. While there are a lot of regulations and you can't talk about everything in case the letters get intercepted, and you won't know his or her real name for their safety, it's a rare opportunity to directly help in the war."

'They're asking us because these soldiers have absolutely no one left to write home to,' Sakura thought with a frown. 'There're away from home fighting for their lives and they have no one.'

"For those of you interested, please come up to me after class. Now, for today I thought we'd work on…"

Usually the studious Sakura listened to Iruka-sensei with acute attention, always eager to learn more about the glamorous shinobi world. Yet today his special announcement had caught her off guard and Iruka's voice drifted into the background. Were there really lonely men and women out there who did not realize just how amazing they were? Just how heroic the sacrifice they were making was?

Coming from civilian parents, Sakura knew how hard it was to believe in something strongly and to not receive the reinforcement and praise she always desired. Her parents understood on a fundamental level why she wanted to become a shinobi, but did not sympathize when she got home dead tired. Why would she want to purposefully throw herself into something that would no doubt kill her?

But Sakura was stubborn, and she thought those soldiers who refused to leave or die at the front lines must be as well. They deserved to have someone to hear from, to know there was one individual out there that cared about if they lived or not.

Feeling full of self-righteousness, Sakura strutted up to Iruka's desk after being excused for the day.

"I had a feeling you would be interested, Sakura," he said with a kind smile that Sakura easily returned. "And I know just the person to assign you to. They're being a little stubborn, and a lot of people have quit since they didn't write back. But I think this person needs a pen pal the most out of anyone else, and you're just the equally-stubborn individual for the job."

"Is there anything you can tell me about him or her?"

"Well, like I said, everything is going to be strict and regulated. I'm sorry to say I can only give them the number they're assigned to. You'll have to wait to get their return letters to know anything about them."

Sakura looked at the slip of paper he gave her. It only had a four digit number: 2284. She frowned, thinking it odd that a person had been reduced to a number. Maybe it was for safety, or consistency. Or maybe it was easier to organize people if they were just numbers.

"Whenever you want to write a letter, put the number on the envelope with 'Shinobi Letter Exchange' underneath. Don't worry about the postage or address. Others will take care of that."

"Ok," Sakura said, suddenly feeling very small at the responsibility.

"And Sakura?" Iruka asked as he reached over and put a hand on her shoulder, "Thank you."

Sakura found herself grinning again from the sincerity in her teacher's voice.

.

Sakura sat at her desk, short legs swinging under her and toes wiggling. She pulled at her hair and nibbled on the end of her pen, wondering what she should write.

She had written a very select few letters in her life. She had grandparents that lived in the country and a few times a year she sent them a letter. And of course she signed her name on their christmas cards. But this letter was entirely different.

Not only was this to a stranger, but it was to someone who needed a little support in their life. And they were probably at least double her age. Yes, she felt proud for finally turning past ten into eleven last year, and Iruka said she was quite intelligent for her age, but they were more than likely way smarter than her. It was more than a little intimidating.

"Well, I bet their handwriting isn't nearly as good as mine," Sakura muttered to herself before she put the pen to the paper.

Dear 2284,

She crumpled up that piece right away and resisted the urge to tear it to shreds. If she did not like the idea of referencing people as numbers, she was sure her mystery person would hate it all the more. She started again and only got one word in.

Dear...

But then who did she address it to? Soldier? Fellow shinobi? Stranger? All these options sounded empty and weak in her head. She wanted to inspire happiness in this person, no matter now small.

She crumpled up that piece of paper as well. Sakura took a deep breath.

Yes, this was a war-aged shinobi, but they were just a person. Just a human like Sakura, with the same organs, bone structure and senses. And once she thought about it, it was almost comforting to imagine just writing without trying to actively impress this person. And writers had always said to start with what you know.

What did Sakura know best? Well, herself she supposed. And she thought that introductions would be a good place to start if any.

So Sakura took a deep breath, counted down from ten, and started writing.

.

Hello.

Unfortunately I'm not allowed to tell you my name or anything that might give me away. You may address me as anything you prefer, if you so desire and it makes you feel better. Although, it's probably best that you wait a little bit to get to know me more before choosing a nickname suddenly. I will do the same.

Honestly, I don't exactly know what to write to you. I cannot empathize with what you're going through. My daily life probably seems inconsequential to the amazing heroics you preform daily. And even if you're not fighting every minute of the day, you're still putting your life out there.

The person who assigned me to you told me that others have given up on you, and I am sorry that happened. I hope you don't hold it against them. I don't think they stopped writing because they disliked you, but people really like positive reinforcement and when they don't get it they probably get a little surly.

I'm mad that I can't ask you what it's like out there in the front (it's a strict rule on the regulations page given to gave me). I just hope that while you have no one back here in the village, that you have people you care about out there with you. Although, I'm sure that's very frustrating. Being thankful that there are people you can connect to out there, but that you don't want to get hurt.

What I'm trying to say: is I hope that you have friends out there. I hope you're not alone.

I really only have one friend, but she's been there my entire life and she's amazing. One time when I was younger some classmates were picking on me because of my unusual hair color and she stood up and defended me. I hope that nothing bad ever happens to her. Friends are very important, aren't they? I hope maybe one day you can think of me as a friend.

I wish I had more to say, but I think this is enough. I hope that you write back soon, so I can have more points to talk about with you. It will get awfully boring if it's just me talking all about myself.

Stay safe.

.

Hello again.

It's now been a week since I sent you your first letter. Maybe you never got it? I don't know if it's a lot quicker to send mail out there than to get things imported into the village. I was asking my school instructor about the process, and it seems really extensive.

I'm a little embarrassed that not only you will be reading these letters, but also the person who screens them. (Greetings to you, too, second mystery person.) Then they pass or send it back, or black out certain names or whatever, and send it on its way. I will try my hardest not to break any of the regulations so that my letters will be able to get to you as soon as possible without any omissions.

I don't know about you, but sometimes when I'm reading an old book, and a worm has eaten away a word and I'll never know what it is, I get really mad at everything. And then I wonder about exactly what those words could be for much too long. Usually I can do with the gaps, but just the fact of not knowing makes me very irritated. I would hate it if I made you go through that.

Anyways, not much has changed since my last letter. School has been going alright. I got the highest score on the test again, but still the boy who I think is the cutest won't bother looking at me. I'm sorry, that was probably really boring and sounded like I was bragging, but it's simply fact. I am definitely the smartest, and arguably the prettiest, girl in the class. Aren't you lucky you have me as a pen pal? You should really show your gratitude by writing back.

Have you ever been in love? I'm sorry again, that's very forward for only a second letter. I really should start over again, but I've already gone this far. I might as well keep going.

I only have one more year in the academy before I'm assigned a new teacher. That is, if I manage to pass. My teacher says that I have nothing to worry about, and that if I try really hard I'll be able to get a really good teacher. Also if I begin to think about what exactly I want to do I'll have a better match and won't end up good at something I'm not naturally proficient in. I do like genjutsu, but other than that, I don't know.

I wonder what it was like for you, who probably was taught in a group of three. Since so many shinobi are away, it's more beneficial just to have individual pupil-to-teacher ratios. While it's more intense, this way we get more time to study with our teachers, and we can become more specialized.

Dad says that it's just a quicker way to teach us so that we can be shipped out into the war faster. But he's just a civilian, like my mom, and while he is very smart, I don't think he really understands our world somedays. If anything, we're getting better training so we can better protect ourselves.

This is all just a very roundabout way of me saying I hope I get a good teacher so I can do well.

Unlike the last letter, this one has gotten quite long suddenly. I eagerly await your response.

Until next time.

.

Good morning.

Or, at least it's the morning here. I have no idea when the mail comes in for you.

Yesterday I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival with my best friend I mentioned earlier (let's call her Sunflower) and it was very fun. The flowers were very pretty. I could watch the petals fall all day and be perfectly content.

Are you happy that winter is so far behind now? I bet the winters out there are really bad, if it's so cold here in the village.

At the festival it was really nice to see our village come together, shinobi and civilians alike. But I wished people wouldn't get so publicly drunk. I bet if you're off duty you're allowed to drink. My parents say that it's relaxing after a long day, and I think you guys have the longest days without a doubt. I don't care what anyone else says, I hope that our taxes go to those sorts of comforts.

I bet you and all your friends at the front would've enjoyed the festival. Maybe you did your own thing? Probably not. I just hope that you didn't have to fight a lot of people yesterday. Everyone deserves some type of peace, no matter how brief.

On other news, I just finished reading this great book about the Sannin. Apparently one of them wrote it, so there's the problem of bias. But he didn't hold back on disgracing his friend for his betrayal. Some days I wonder if I'll even be able to stand in their shadows.

I know that I'm still young, but I feel that I want to do a lot. Did you feel like that when you were younger? It was the reason why I became a shinobi. Did you have a reason? Or are you part of a clan? Hah, that would be funny. Me, writing dribble to someone from one of the four honorary clans. Or even one of the lesser ones. It'd make me all the more embarrassed about this.

Anyways, I'm going to start reading more non-fiction. There have been so many famous shinobis from our village, and I know that I can learn at least one thing from each of their lives. I'm just having a hard time determining if I want to go back into the more obscure, older accounts or into the more contemporary ones. Maybe I'll switch back and forth until I meet in the middle.

Do you read a lot? Maybe sometime I'll send you a book. Right now not a lot of books are printed, since the materials go to scrolls and explosion tags and everything. War really does change everything.

I hope that you are still looking out for your health and safety.

Until next week.

.

At first Sakura had not been overly concerned by the lack of a return letter. Iruka had explicitly warned her when she volunteered that this person had been abandoned before because of his habitual lack of response. Still, after she had sent out her twelfth letter and she still had not gotten anything in return, she began to feel concerned.

After the sixteenth letter that went unanswered she just felt angry.

But surprisingly, even to herself, she sat down and wrote a letter to this person every week. It was therapeutic in how every Saturday morning she would sit at her desk and write. Sometimes Ino wanted to go out and play on those mornings, but Sakura held firm that she wanted to stay and write her letters. Ino's dad was out there as well and the blond girl wrote letters to him almost daily.

"He calls me his little piglet as my codename. I have no idea why, considering he could have just called me 'Blossom' or something actually flattering," Ino had complained about it to Sakura one day.

"I named you Sunflower for my code," Sakura shared.

Ino answered her with a wide, toothy smile and a tight hug that Sakura eagerly returned.

So even though she was writing to a complete stranger, Ino understood that Sakura just wanted to keep writing. And keep writing Sakura did.

She was fueled my a mixture of long standing annoyance that this person had not responded and that she would keep going until something finally came in her mailbox. Iruka called her one of the most stubborn people he had ever met, and also said she had probably been a little hardened by the war prematurely. But Sakura still found the time to coo after Sasuke between her studying.

Sakura still somewhat resented this person from never writing back, but soon she envisioned that maybe they just physically or mentally could not do it. Yet at this point, Sakura would be happy about getting an abstract splatter ink drawing.

But her annoyance became slowly eroded by the simple monotony of writing. It was relaxing and freeing in a way, knowing that the other person would not respond, no matter what she put in the letter. So she vented, shared and talked about anything that struck her fancy. Her days of intimidation by this mystery person were long gone.

Despite this, Sakura hoped that whoever this was read her letters. They probably were bored with them, but Sakura had started this and she was going to keep going with them.

.

Good morning to you on this fabulous day of personal accomplishment.

Remember how I wrote to you all that while back about getting a new teacher? Well, guess who I got?

TSUNADE.

(To the person screening this: it is very old information that Tsunade is Hokage. This is not new information in any way, so I request that you do not black out the name. There is no way, even if this letter is intercepted, that the enemy can glean any new information from it.)

You read that name correctly (because there really is no reason to black it out). I got the honored Hokage as my new teacher. Let me just write that again- the HOKAGE. I'll call her the Slug Queen in future letters.

Apparently she was there when we were screening us for abilities and she noticed my 'exceptional chakra control,' as she said so herself. I never thought that I was particularly good at that, but apparently I use the exact amount for my jutus.

My training starts this week and I'm so nervous I feel that I may throw up that morning. Or even now. Really, any moment lately.

While I know she's beautiful and really accomplished, she's very harsh on those around her. She demands that everyone around her live up to their full potential. I'm sure this war would have ended a long time ago in our disfavor if she wasn't our leader.

I wonder what it was like living under the past Hokage like you did. It's crazy to think that the assassination of him and his wife was the tipping factor for why we started planning for war. I've read all about him, but did everyone really love him as much as all the literature says?

Do you know about the myth that they had a child but hid it away because they knew war was coming and they didn't want him to be in danger? But that's just what the younger kids at the Academy whisper about, so it's obviously bogus.

Anyways, back to myself (since you never respond). It's kinda sad graduating and knowing everyone's going their own separate ways. I'm really going to miss the boy I like, and even that annoying blond kid. Even the kid with all those bugs. Especially my Sunflower friend, even though she's still mad and won't talk to me anymore because I like the same boy as her. I've already been missing her for a while now.

It just really feels like everyone is growing up. I just hope that we don't grow apart.

Please keep yourself hydrated through this warm summer and be careful.

.

Sakura's training was tough, but she pushed herself through it daily. She thought about Naruto and Sasuke and how well they were advancing, and how there were rumors that maybe they could finally end this war through their raw talent and power alone.

It made Sakura envious, which made her angry, which made her a little reckless.

"What were you thinking trying my taijutsu like that already?" Tsunade snapped as she wrapped up Sakura's left hand. The right one was already done, and Sakura was staring at it morosely. "You could have done much worse than breaking all those bones."

Sakura winced as Tsunade unnecessarily tightened the bandage; it hurt plenty enough already.

As if sensing just how down and useless Sakura was feeling, the pig-tailed woman sighed and sat down beside Sakura. Tsunade wrapped her hand around Sakura and pushed her comfortingly into her impressive bossom.

"I know you're seeing your friends Naruto and Sasuke succeed by leaps and bounds. But they're not learning what you are: which is how to save and protect everyone else. Without medics, and people like you who can think and make plans and then actually execute them on skill and not just raw luck alone, this war would have been long gone."

Sakura sniffled pathetically.

"I know it's hard, but you're doing great. I already know you're secretly doing my Strength of a Hundred Seal. And it seems unlike my ability to create valleys with my fist, you're getting that jutsu down just fine."

"Really?" Sakura asked with a hiccup.

"Sakura," Tsunade said with a sigh before pulling back and looking into her tearful green eyes. "Despite you being my only student I've ever had, you're also my best."

The girl frowned at that.

"But still, I'm not going to fully heal your hands or give you medicine to take away the pain. You need to learn your lesson about being impatient."

Sakura huffed before saying: "Fine."

.

It was not like Sakura was helpless with two broken hands, but it was still frustrating. It allowed her to focus on strategies if she ever did get her hands incapacitated, and working on taijutsu with her legs, but it was mostly just a pain.

Even little, simple tasks took four times longer than usual. She had to struggle to turn the page on her books. Sakura was forced to drink a lot of her food now. Most times she just lied around moping and storing up energy for her seal. She wondered what color it would be. If it would be the same shade as Tsunades or maybe something entirely different.

Sakura did not even realize she had not written her weekly letter until her mom told her she had gotten something in the mail.

"For me?" Sakura asked, a bandaged hand scratching her head confusedly.

"Well, it had our address and your name, so that's what I naturally assumed. It's up in your room."

She looked at it for a long time as it just innocently sat on her desk. It was a little battered, and it seemed that at one point it had gotten waterlogged, but she opened it with the excitement of a shiny, perfectly wrapped present on Christmas morning.

Because it had finally happened: her mystery soldier had written back!

Before she took out the piece of paper, she closed her eyes and dreamed about what she might read. Maybe there was even a clue about who they were? A fun, silly anecdote about when they'd been her age? Not being able to take the anticipation anymore, Sakura pulled it out.

Why did you stop writing?

She turned the page up and over, but that was it. The person had not even really signed it, and had only drawn the crude face of a scarecrow at the bottom corner on the sad. This almost entirely empty piece of paper with five scrawled words and a cartoon face did not constitute as a true letter in any way or form.

Well, if anything, at least she finally had a nickname to call this person by.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

Your first attempt at a letter was the antithesis of pathetic.

But I finally have something to make a nickname for you. I did not know I was corresponding with such an obviously skilled artist.

I want to thank you for finally responding back. I do not know if you have read my letters, and if so, why you have decided to remain silent for so long. First, I thought it might be because you were injured and recovering. I imagined that you had cut your hands while saving your friend from a katana, funneling chakra into your hands to stop the blow. But still you got your hands cut deep in the process, making it impossible for you to hold a pen or pencil.

Then I thought that maybe it was too wet where you were stationed, as it was typhoon season and apparently the front lines were heavily hit. Didn't people nearly drown from refusing to move from a strategic river spot? Don't respond to that, they may burn your letter. Or maybe it was the winter, and you were shivering too badly that your handwriting became illegible.

I imagined that you were just too busy with a war going on to write back to a silly little girl. And I realized that this was the most viable option.

There was recently the Cherry Blossom Festival here again. I wrote to you about it last year. I almost can't believe it's been over a year and a half since I started writing to you weekly. No wonder I'm still in shock of your lacking response. I forget to write one week and you call me out on it while you haven't done it this entire time? Hubris: look it up.

I've written you almost seventy letters and you can't even manage to give me seven words. Congratulations. Clearly you're a genius among us mortals.

To show just how frivolous I am, I have included a flower I pressed at the festival. I hope that some of the sweet scent manages to stick around when you receive this. Even if you don't deserve it because it was kinda rude to make me wait that long. Fun fact: the petals are nearly the same shade as my hair.

Please stay safe.

.

I have never had any family or friends to write back to. They are all either dead or here. Excuse my inability.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

I apologize for my lack of finesse in my last letter. I didn't even bother explaining why I didn't write for a week either, the sole point in your own letter.

I tried doing some secret, personal training of something I'd seen Slug Queen do, and ended up shattering the bones in my hands. Slug Queen healed some of the breakage, but only enough that it would heal correctly. So for the past few weeks I've been learning how to live without hands for the most part.

This was actually the main reason why my letter was so aggressive. It's very painful to move my hands, but I really wanted to write a letter to you. I could have just written a bereft thing like you have the clear skill of, but I was just very excited about finally getting a response from you.

Please don't feel guilty. I could have just asked someone else to write down what I said if I really needed them to. But I really don't want to do that since (even though those screeners read these before you) I feel that this a very personal endeavor for me to you.

As for your lack of experience, it's really not that hard. Obviously you're able to write, and that's the biggest hurdle. The second is being able to read, but that usually goes hand-in-hand with writing. Although I honestly have no idea if you read my letters, or just simply cast them aside for another time. Yet judging by how you immediately realized I'd missed a week, I think you're more than just aware of them.

Other than that, you write about anything you want. At first I was nervous, but eventually I didn't hold back.

I think since you're older, you should share some anecdotes about when you were a kid. Despite our age difference, maybe we grew up with similar fashions or sayings or favorite foods. What are your happiest memories?

Again, I'm sorry for my lack of sympathy in my last letter. I think I've almost fully healed my hands, so I should very soon be back to writing you novella length letters.

Until next time when you respond with that scratching you call handwriting.

.

When I was promoted to jōnin I took on a mission that got my teammate killed. My happiest memory was realizing, as he died, that he was my best friend. I had not realized how much I loved and appreciated him until that moment.

My second happiest memory was realizing I loved the girl who had made herself die at my hand. She was the girl my best friend loved and who I'd promised to protect right before he died.

Please don't ask about my parents.

I warned you I was bad at this.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

I do not know what to say. I have known pain (my hands are all healed now), but I cannot even begin to imagine what that must be like. But surely those aren't your happiest memories. If not, I hope that someday you'll be able to replace them. That's not to mean that you should forget about your friends.

And I don't mean to insult you by saying I don't think they want you to remember them like that. I'm supposing they were part of your three-genin group and I'm sure you went on better missions and had better days than their deaths. Apparently there was a cat that always got loose- did you and your friends ever have to chase it down? I heard the cat burned in the great fire. I had been very young during that fire, but I can still remember the heat.

I wish you could tell me their names so I could go put some flowers on their graves. Maybe I'll try and research it, but it would be impossible to know if instead their names are on the cenotaph. I'm guessing your best friend is. I should go and do that always. A lot of people visit there now and there's always flowers.

Maybe this will make you feel better: I saved my first life today. A boy had been training and had cut his leg clean off, and the Slug Queen let me try and reattach it all by myself before he bled out. The bone was a little tricky because the cells are more complicated, but I managed it all the same. He didn't even have a scar when I was done. Slug Queen said I did a really great job and soon I should be able to lead more surgeries so she can focus on other things.

It's now been almost a year since my training began. The Queen says it's a waste of my time since I'll obviously pass, but I need to sign up for the chūnin exam. I know the usual age of passing is thirteen now. Before it used to be fifteen, but the war speeds things up I suppose. I bet you were much younger than me when you made chūnin, if you were already a jōnin still in a three-man team.

I want to apologize if the beginning of my letter seemed preachy, or if I overstepped my boundaries. I have not lost any close friends to the war. I lost relatives in the great fire I previously mentioned, but I was too young to really remember them.

I wish I could think of something better to cheer you up with than my own accomplishments. But it probably helps to know that the next generation has not been weakened by the war. If anything, we've become stronger.

What do you do with your friends over there to kill time? Like I've said in past letters, I read a lot when I want to relax. Do you do the same? Maybe your short responses are hiding your literary prowess. They probably hide a lot.

You took two weeks to respond this time. Is everything alright? I hope it is and I will be able to hear from you promptly.

Farewell for now.

.

I can't write as fast as you, and there's not much I can tell about here other than the food is horrible. I do enjoy reading, but all my books are ruined by the rain and mold.

He'll like getting flowers from a girl. He also would have been the one needing his leg reattached like that boy. Congratulations on that.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

First, I want to thank you for responding so quickly. I asked the postman the other day how long it usually takes for a letter to get to the front lines, and it can be as quickly as two or as long as four. Sending back letters is usually quicker, only one or three days. Since your latest response arrived five days after I sent my letter, I can safely assume you dedicated yourself to a speedy response. And now you get to have a letter from me all the faster. Aren't you lucky?

I'm sending you a book with this letter, if they haven't confiscated it. I don't think they would, unless the saga of 'The Dragon King' is illegal. It's really just about love, so I can't see how it would be taken away. I hope that you'll enjoy it, as I've loved it ever since I was very small. I enjoy the simplicity of the story: that not all guys who are bad have to be, that anyone with a strong, sure heart can make it through anything.

The postman also said that if it fits in an envelope, he'll mail it for me. I plan to bribe him with fresh baked goods so he'll pass along larger envelopes. (Maybe even large enough envelopes that I can fit some cookies into it for those who screen it.) I will also try and find some yarn so I can knit you a scarf. It must be getting really cold out there, and it wouldn't do good to let your face get cold and for your senses to dull because of it. Do you have a color you'd prefer? I might not be able to get it, but Slug Queen does owe me a favor for attaining some more sake for her on the side.

Everything over here as been fine for me. Slug Queen has put me up for more hospital shifts. At first I was a little worried about working there because I still am fairly young, but everyone there is very friendly. Also, most nurses are my age and the doctors are very old. Anyone in between is already out there with you guys, or out at neighboring villages offering aid.

Also, I've started working on identifying poisons and learning how to remedy them. Apparently Slug Queen is second to none in making them, and that she says I'm fairly good at them. Not as good as my natural affinity for chakra control (I can now create an earthquake with a punch- how cool is THAT?) but if I practice and work enough I can learn how to be better.

I hope that you're still trying hard out there as well. Again, I hope you enjoy the book. I know it's small and a fast read, but please enjoy. Also please be careful with it and keep it safe. It was the copy from when I was a girl. I know you're not allowed to send anything back but letters, so you'll have to keep it safe until the war ends and I can pick it back up. (Yes, this is me giving you another reason to make it through if you didn't already have enough.)

Maybe you'll start responding faster and we can correspond every five days instead of seven now. Wouldn't that be nice.

Goodbye for now.

.

It's really dreary around here (the mushrooms love it) so something bright and soft. Yellow if you can manage it?

I enjoyed the book.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

I hope you like the yellow I picked out. While I like this goldenrod shade, I think it's a little darker than what you were imagining. All the same, it is the color you requested so I'll count it as a victory. Don't you dare get blood on it! Just kidding, I can just make you another one now that I have finally gotten the hang of it. The stitches are still a little bulbous, but I like the way it looks still. I made an infinity scarf so you don't have to worry about an enemy grabbing hold onto one end to pull you down. This way it can sit quite snuggly around your neck and shoulders. I hope it's not too bulky.

Last winter I tried making you a scarf, but I was not confident enough in my ability. It's a sad excuse of a thing, bright red with way too many holes and misaligned lines. You and no other will ever see just how badly I failed at my first attempt. I pride myself in being a fast learner, but this took a lot of patience.

I have leftover yarn from the scarf and I tried to make you matching gloves, but like the first scarf, it did not turn out well. Although, I don't think you would cut a very intimidating sight to the enemy dressed in matching, obviously homemade knit articles.

Yes, I can see through you fishing for more books. Try working on your stealth more. I'll send you another one from my collection next time, since the scarf took up all the space in this envelope.

I hope that you're doing alright out there. I know that the weather is soon going to change for the worst. In my haste to finish the scarf I had to omit taking time to write up a nice long letter to go with it, so I'll try and sum up what's been happening quickly.

It's flu season, so of course the hospital is in total disarray.

I assisted Slug Queen in some complicated, experimental surgeries I wish I could tell you more about, but it seems I have some secrets to keep on my side as well now.

I moved out of my parent's and into a quaint, old apartment closer to the hospital. I really like it so far.

I got a plant. I still do not have a name for him. Any suggestions?

I think that's it. Please stay warm and hydrated, remember to wear layers. During seasons like this, more soldiers die from exposure than enemies.

And remember most of all: don't get sloppy or careless and get yourself killed.

.

Sakura's warm breath crystalized as she waiting at her mailbox, large envelope held tightly against her chest. It was snowing, but the snow simply brushed off the clear tape she had wrapped the envelope in to avoid just this occurrence. It would not do good to have her newly made scarf get soaked and then freeze. She was sure her scarecrow would not appreciate a gift to warm him coming in a block of ice.

She eyed the postman coming around the bend and jumped to grab the thurmous. She poured a cup of hot chocolate and offered it to him as he approached.

"Ah, good afternoon yet again, Sakura. I see you have quite a large letter for me there," he said, gratefully taking the offered cup with a smile.

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," she said hopefully.

"Maybe… if you give me the rest of this delicious hot chocolate," he said with a chuckle, smile widening behind the curling steam.

Sakura felt her shoulders straighten in pride before passing over the envelop and beverage container to him wordlessly.

"Thank you," she said as she watched him put the package in his satchel.

His smile turned a little sad for a moment before he reached forward and ruffled her hair, causing the snow that had accumulated there to drift down onto her jacket.

.

The scarf is perfect and all my comrades are envious. I suggest Mr. Ukki.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

I thought about knitting you a hat, but stopped. For one, because of my inability to do so, and two, because just like the mittens, I think it would clash horribly with your cool-guy reputation and that you wouldn't wear it. Although, if you're so tickled-pink about showing up your friends, you probably would wear it just to spite them.

The book I included are some old histories of the four noble clans of Konoha. I thought it was a little dated, and obviously biased in some aspects, but interesting none-the-less. I just wish it had better information on some of the newer clans and bloodlines.

Slug Queen is making me do research on bloodlines and such, so I can better understand all types of patients. I'm a little fearful that all this extra assignments outside of training and the hospital is her preparing me for her position, or at least for the next Hokage's assistant. While it would be amazing to be so high-up, I mostly enjoy the hospital.

I wonder what it was like to do missions outside of our boarders. I've done a few missions, but they were all safely in the village. Slug Queen says I shouldn't bother myself with such stuff when other younger, less specialized kids can do it. But I like them, and some days I dream of begin able to leave the village to travel. I cannot believe that in a few years the war will be over a decade long. Yet I believe it will not go on that long, and soon I will be able to travel.

Did you travel a lot before the war? I feel that you have a lot of fun stories to tell, and probably a few are from abroad.

Speaking of stories, you have never commented during the entirely of our correspondence about the war before. Maybe you think a higher-up will see your lack-luster opinion and criticize you? Although, you must have one dumb general if he thinks this war is still glorious. More likely, no information about the war can be given. Or you're thinking about it so constantly you don't want to have to write it down.

Regardless, I still hope you're doing alright out there after being gone for so long: both mentally and physically. I cannot even imagine the homesickness you must go through. Although maybe it's been so long you're just numb to it all. In case you're wondering, the village has barely changed at all. Yes, people are growing up, but the buildings and businesses are nearly all still here. And they'll stay here waiting until you return.

I'm sorry for feeling so nostalgic today, and if it's painful for you to think about, but I realized the other day that it's now been about three years since that first letter to you. It's hard to believe, but the drawer full of your sparse responses is evident of it. And if I have such a collection, I can scarcely imagine the horde of my letters you have. Or maybe you don't have room to keep them. I won't blame you if you didn't.

I really can't wait to meet you after the war. It's happening, don't argue. We'll figure it out somehow.

Also, I appreciate how your responses have become speedier. Thank you.

Until my next letter.

Oh, and before I forget: I told Mr. Ukki all about you and the name you gave him. He seems very happy, and similarly cannot wait to meet you. He seems a little lonely all by himself though, so I think I need to go get a Mrs. Ukki now.

.

I have never written about the war because there is nothing to say about it. I grew up into the beginnings of it and I'm just living through it. I will be fine. I always have been.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

Alright there, man with a heart of immovable ice. I thought I told you to stay warm during this winter. And it's pretty obvious to nearly anyone that only those who say they're fine really aren't. But I can tell that you don't want to talk about it (or for me to try and talk about it and you just ignore the heavy hints).

I did get another plant, and she is quite lovely. I think that Mr. Ukki is very happy with his pretty, young new wife. It helps him get through this cold winter, since I don't want to waste money on heating my one-room apartment. Maybe I'm being thrifty, but I'm trying to save money for when I can travel, or really just for a better time to spend it at. I have so much to do at the hospital that but the time I get back I'm dead on my feet.

Recently Slug Queen started this charity program for the hospital. It takes possessions from dead shinobi, stuff their families don't want or need, and then sells it off. The money generated goes to funds for more medicine and supplies for soldiers still fighting.

Anyway, there's was this fairly large section of books and I bought about eight boxes, nearly all of it. Slug Queen though it both odd and hilarious that I spent nearly an entire paycheck on dusty old books, but then she spends hers on illegal sake so whatever. She can mentor me on some things, but others I don't trust her on. What this all means is that I can now send you a book with every letter for a bit now! I know, it's exciting, calm down. Cool guy reputation right? Heart of ice that you can't allow to crack?

I realize you probably won't be able to keep so many books, so you should just hand them over to your friends once you're done. I can't knit them all their own scarves, but at least this way you can help share. Although maybe they get much more than you. My Sunflower friend sends her father stuff nearly daily. It must be nice to be that loved. I wish I could send you more things.

I expected to be more lonely living by myself, but it's actually not too bad. Friends come and go, and I can always just write to you if I get lonely or bored. And now the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Ukki are here to keep me company. I hope that your friends take up a ridiculous amount of time to distract you from everything. My opinion all those years ago about taxes being used to get you all properly drunk sometimes still stands unmoved.

This is somewhat embarrassing, and I wasn't thinking of adding this, but I can't help it. Sometimes when I'm bored at work, or I just need to relax, I draw really bad renditions of what your face may look like. I know it's ridiculous, but I'm stupidly envious of everyone who knows you. I admit, I have always been curious. The fact that I can write to you about anything except who know who you are is infuriating to me.

Anyways, I'm never including one of those doodles. Ever. No argument.

For your response I eagerly await.

.

I wouldn't dare to share the books with the others.

It's good that you can't send more than you do. I'm already indebted to you as it is. To be honest, I enjoy your words just as much as these published verses. Yes, that even includes the one time you wrote about that new flavor of yogurt you loved for two (very lengthy) paragraphs in vivid detail.

You must realize you don't need to see my face to know me.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

So I think maybe you're just acting like a petulant child unwilling to share rather than actually worrying about how your friends treat literature. You must have been an only child. It's so obvious.

Onto more important matters: a seal I've been working on for the past three years has finally shown up. It's on my face, and I can't tell if I like it or not. It's a little disconcerting to suddenly have something new and obvious on your face, directly in the middle of your forehead. I didn't get to see it manifest, but when it did Slug Queen suddenly stopped and gaped at me when she was lecturing me, so it probably looked at least a little cool.

And the Queen says it doesn't matter if I like how it looks or not, because it will probably save me and all my comrades lives one day. In classic mentor fashion, she told me not to get full of myself and to put even more chakra into it daily.

I agree with her like almost always, but it's hard not to care about your appearance when one of your best friends is the town beauty queen. Yes, the Sunflower friend. By the way, did I ever tell you we've made up?

It's extremely rewarding to see such long term investments finally begin to pan out. Sorta like your letters. I think you beat your record in that last letter. Four paragraphs, twenty sentences in total? Don't strain your hand too much now.

Maybe this is as boring as when I used to droned on about my Moon friend, but boys are starting to notice me. I know that I'm older now, and my body shows just that, but it's still a little odd to feel that sensation of being watched to turn around and see guys staring at your behind.

Tsunade says not to worry about it, and that if they really annoy me I can just break their ribs. There's a lot of valuable organs around there that would be a shame to get ruptured. In a way, sometimes it's fun to flirt with them and get them flustered, only to leave them just as they finally remember where their tongues are. Maybe it's cruel, but it's still entertaining. Oh god, I'm such a jerk, aren't I?

This brings me back to that letter I wrote that was all about my hair routine. Maybe initially my letters had a serious tone and a vocabulary that made me seem like a stiff grandma. I don't know whether to be happy or sad that I've loosened up my writing style.

Like always, stay safe mighty guard.

.

I admit: I thought you were a forty year old mother from your first letter. Imagine my shock finding you were an Academy student.

Don't be too cruel to those poor boys. I'm sure many are falling over themselves, and they just don't know how to spot danger and and run from it just yet. Good thing they aren't out here, else they would have been gone within hours.

Forget about breaking their ribs, those heal quickly enough. Break their hearts if they really bother you. That pain will last much longer.

.

And so the letters continued on for months and then years more.

Sakura realized in utter dread that her scarecrow's letters became increasingly depressed and clipped. Sometimes she could get him to write more than a few sentences, but it kept getting harder and harder as time wore on.

Yet he still made every effort to write back, and Sakura continued to gather his letters carefully in a drawer. Before she had just put them in randomly, but one day she took time away to organize them into a photo album. The responses were usually just slips of paper and easily fit into the plastic squares. Some days when she felt down, like when a patient could not be saved, or a young widow came in from malnutrition caused by heartache, Sakura flipped through them.

She had not yet gone through them all individually. She was saving that for a special day. Maybe they could go over them together?

Sakura had thought that she loved Sasuke, and her feelings she felt for this mystery person was akin to that, but not identical. Was it even possible to feel so strongly for a person she had never met? Not to mention she did not even know who this person even remotely was. She had only decided this stranger was a man because of his messy handwriting and clipped tone. It was a little biased based on gender, but Sakura had seen enough handwritings from doctors for some semblance of reference.

Their correspondence still covered everything and anything, and always nothing about the war even if Sakura burned to know about it. To know her scarecrow faired in it, and if those enemy creatures were as horrible as soldiers said they were. But the rules were strict, and he never offered anything.

Then something seemed to have recently switched for the man. Because in the past few weeks her scarecrow was channeling all that anger and aggression towards the war into his writing for her. While before Sakura had been lucky to get a few sentences, now he wrote pages. Just the other day Sakura had gotten a three-page long letter from him. True, nearly all of it was describing his ninnken and how each one was special (although all equally amazing). She had enjoyed the attached sketches of the dogs the most, which were a lot better than any of the doodles Sakrua had ever made of his imaginary face. It was a clear bribe to get one of those, but she was not giving in.

He also demanded that if anything happen to him, she would have to take care of them. Right now they were still out on the field with him, but because he had no one else to fall back on, she would have to take custody of them. He even made her sign a contract in blood, which she sent back with mixed feelings of honor and worry. He assured her that his dogs already adored her on her lingering scent on the letters alone.

Sakura wrote back about her life as well. Some days she could barely put a pen in her hand, when her fingers were stiff and shaking from half-day long surgeries, or had just done hours of taijutsu training with Tsunade. But she just mercilessly cracked her knuckles, bit down the grunt of pain, and filled up at least a page with her neat handwriting to send off.

Her scarecrow was the same in his resilience to write no matter what. Apparently one time he got his entire right hand severed, and barely an hour after the reattachment surgery he had written her a letter. It had threatened the delicate restitching and his medic had yelled at him for a five minutes. Sakura would have yelled at him for a good hour. She stomped around her apartment yelling for that long, until a neighbor came and asked her politely to please stop making it sound like the village was being invaded.

Sakura worried that her scarecrow was writing so much and so frequently because he was worried he would not be around much longer. That he had to get things out, to tell her silly things and stories, before he physically could not anymore from passing on.

Still, the war carried on and his letters gave her an equal amount of hope as well as trepidation. Lately there had been a lot of soldiers brought in from the front who were too severely injured to be treated adequately there. Apparently the creatures were getting more active; Madara seemed ready to unleash himself on the world. Infiltration attempts to find his lair failed each time, only resulting in losses. Sakura watched as Tsunade became increasingly stressed; she was sure if not for that jutsu her Slug Queen would look much older than her actual age.

Sakura had mixed feelings about the soldiers coming in. Half of her wanted her scarecrow to come, but the other half wanted him to remain strong and steady as he had all these days, months and years. Eventually she realized it silly to think that he would come back to get healed; he would die out there trying before abandoning it.

So every time Sakura got a letter, reaffirming that he was not dead and very much alive and fighting, she felt not just a wave, but a tsunami of relief pass over her.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

I turned sixteen today. Apparently I'm a full fledged adult in the shinobi world now. I don't feel like it. It's just all very surreal.

My blond friend (or my Sun friend) gave me a gag gift of some porny literature that his mentor apparently writes. I read it, and it doesn't seem too bad despite the gratuitous descriptions at the sex scenes. I've never heard so many inaccurate nouns for 'penis.' Sun's mentor gets points for creativity at least.

I thought that you might like it, so I've included it for you.

Not to say that you're a pervert, but I feel that you're a romantic in some ways. And while there are sad parts in the book, overall it's uplifting. I know you'll appreciate that. And not to get sexist, but in my experience a lot of guys like porn.

Anyway, it's small but I bet it'll really pack a punch for your overgrown love of romance. I hope you enjoy it.

As always, please be safe.

.

The book was amazing. The best by far. Send more if at all possible.

.

My Scarecrow,

I know it's impossible to miss the presence of someone you've never met, but I still cannot help but feel that with you. I wish you could have been here today for me to see just how far I've come.

Anyways, I made jōnin today, and so did my Sun and Moon friends. My Sunflower friend only got a partial advancement, but she's ecstatic all the same.

For entertainment to the public, they had us compete against others and the person I went against made fun of my hair to try and break my moral. I kicked him out of the stadium, and he had such grievous injuries that Slug Queen had to personally heal him. I thought she would be mad, but when I explained what he'd said about me, she laughed so hard she cried. Then she gave me a whole bottle of sake and we drank it in celebration. I don't think she should help foster my temper that has gotten a bit drastic lately.

Maybe that's why I said that convoluted sentence as a start. It's kinda weird and funny being drunk. I like it. I approve.

Is my handwriting different? Am I not using as many big words as usual? I wonder if you thought it weird when I was beginning to write and already knew so many. I really pride myself over my vocabulary. And I was really trying to impress you because I was so scared that you wouldn't respond or would think me stupid and hate me.

But I know that you don't hate me. Maybe you even like me in some sort of way. I like you quite a lot, when I think about it.

I'm getting pretty sleepy suddenly. I should metaphorically sign off before I embarrass myself even more.

I really wish you were here. And again, I miss you.

Until next time when I'll be sober again. Maybe. I really do like this feeling. Why aren't people drunk ALL the time?

Goodnight.

.

They'll try sending you out here now. Promise me you won't go.

Hope the headache wasn't too bad.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

The headache wasn't the best, but it also wasn't the worst. After you've dealt with woman in labor screaming for hours, you get used to a ringing in your ears and an inability to feel like yourself for a bit.

I don't know why you're so worried. I'm just a medic so even if I am involved in the war, I would just heal people in the back lines. Not that I can't take care of myself. Didn't I say I explain how I punted a guy out of an arena just for making fun of my hair? I can take care of myself.

I see that you're back to your small responses. Do you not have a lot of time anymore? I enjoyed those times when you sent me long letters. Did I ever tell you I keep all your old slips of responses in a photo album? Some of your letters were too long to fit in the small plastic squares, so I keep them in their original envelopes. I'll hopefully find some larger plastic sheets soon enough. I also want to frame those sketches of your lovely ninken. Say hello and give them a nice long belly-rub for me.

I'm sorry I similarly can't write as much lately. The hospital has been overrun, and Slug Queen has been stepping up the training. I feel that something is really starting to form.

Until another day and letter.

.

You need to promise me.

.

Dear Scarecrow,

Since you're clearly ignoring everything else I'm saying, I promise that I won't volunteer to go into the war. The Hokage says I have way too much to learn anyway before I'm remotely ready to head out there. I could make a difference if I went now, but I can change the war if I stay and continue working. But, again, you must know I'm strong and able to protect myself.

I think she's planning something with my Sun and Moon friends, though. But there is no use in worrying, and I'll just have to wait. I just wish she would include me more on her plans.

Did you know, I've been calling you by the same nickname this entire time because of your funny little signatures, but you have never given me one? I would be a little disheartened that you did not care if not for your speedy responses.

Can you believe it's already almost winter again? I wonder if your scarf has kept up over all these years. I bet it's pretty dismal despite how well you might've taken care of it.

Also, Mr. and Mrs. Ukki now have five lovely children! They were getting a little big, so I cut them back, and then thought I might try to propagate some of the clippings All the cuttings took, and now there are small little bits of themselves growing. You will obviously get one when you get back, as it is your right as their godfather. Don't argue, it was decided the moment you named him.

Just think: after this war is finally done all you'll have to worry about guarding is a small plant. You can finally live up to the full potential of your nickname from me! Hopefully you can think of another winning name to give to the little tike.

Me and the lovely Ukki family await for your response.

.

The scarf is still well, as am I since you finally agreed.

I apologize, as I cannot write much but this today. Even though I know you will, do not worry.

.

Sakura hummed as she arranged paperwork on Tsunade's desk. She could feel the older woman's eyes on her. The full sake cup in her hand sat forgotten. Finally giving in, as she felt she may instantaneously combust any moment now by Tsunade's intense gaze, Sakura turned to her with her eyebrows furrowed in silent question.

"Sakura, I need to talk to you about something," her blond sensei said with a sigh, suddenly not looking like the pillar of strength and ability she was known to be. This must be really serious if she was looking older than she liked her jutsu to show.

Taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, Sakura crossed her hands atop her lap and waited patiently for her mentor to speak.

"As you're aware, Madara is nearing an end to his hibernation. Soon he'll stop with his defensive warfare and start wiping out all the villages, picking them off when they are weakened by physical separation."

At the idea of her entire world disappearing, Sakura shivered.

"In that vein, I have decided that we're going to do one last, final push. Naruto and Sasuke are ready to face him. I recognize it's a risk allowing Sasuke to get close to the other Uchiha, that he may be converted. But it is a risk we have to take."

Sakura looked down at her lap and counted her breaths up to ten before she trusted herself with speaking.

"Naruto is going to be estatic about being a hero," she said as she stood with a start, willing her tears to not fall. "No matter how much I tell him that war isn't glamorous, he is set on the idea of becoming a hero."

"He's going to be alright, Sakura. You, and everyone else now, need to trust that he's ready to do this."

"I'm coming, obviously," Sakura said with a huff, green eyes flashing with more than just unshed tears.

"I would never leave my favorite apprentice behind when I need her the most."

 

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Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

 

Mar 19th 2023 - 5:37 PM

There had been times when Sakura felt like she'd grown up: saving her first life, advancing to chunin and then jonin, turning sixteen, when she lead her first major surgery. But suddenly, realizing that she was actually going out there directly to the war, she knew that she had truly grown up at the tender age of seventeen.

"It's going to be alright, Sakura," Tsunade said as she stood and gave the teenager a hug.

Sakura thought about the promise she had made to her scarecrow. Throughout the years they had made many promises: always brush twice a day, remember to stay dry, bring back her books, take care of the dogs if anything happened to me. But all those fell away to that one promise that had clearly meant so much to him. Now she had to break it.

"I know," Sakura whispered, hoping that everything would turn out alright.

.

Dearest Scarecrow,

I'm heading out to the front lines.

I wanted to tell you sooner, but the less time you had to worry the better. I'm sorry I can't keep my promise of staying out of the war. But don't worry- you're well aware I'm a medic second to none except for Slug Queen!

I know you don't think war is glamorous, and I understand that, but please understand that I feel proud going to where you are. If only you had given me a clue about what you looked like, I could find you.

I will miss our letters very much.

Till another, better time.

.

"I'll be fine. Please stop crying now."

"Please come back to us," her Dad said, tears in his dark eyes. Sakura could not see her mother's green ones she had inherited because she had them covered with her hands.

"I'll try my hardest."

She waved them goodbye, finally extracting herself from their bone-crushing hug, and began walking to the assigned meeting place. There she would join Tsunade, Naruto and Sasuke with the rest of the convoy.

Sakura thought to her scarecrow. Had he gotten her last letter? Sakura did not have time to wait for his response. Last night, after she had packed her small travel bag, she brought out all his letters in that special, thick album and methoidically went through them. It did not matter that she kept them in chronological order, as all of them were fractured and held no context to each other at all. Yet, seeing them all in front of her at once, she noticed just how much her scarecrow had slowly opened up. It had been nearly seven years of writing, but she could tell her scarecrow was a very secret and sensitive man.

She touched the letters and thought that to anyone else these small, little secrets would be inconsequential. Yet Sakura cherished them, as shown by her careful collecting and care given to preserving them. When Sakura was done, she hugged the album close to her chest and allowed herself a moment to cry.

To cry because she would miss him and their letters. and because those days would be gone forever. Right now Sakura was more nervous and disappointed about losing this tradition than going off to war.

Since she knew her scarecrow so well, she knew just how much it would hurt him to know she had gone back on her promise. Sakura hoped that maybe one day he could forgive her.

Regardless, the least she could do now was help him win the war.

.

The trip to the front lines lasted longer than Sakura expected it to be. While this war was fought on domestic soil, it was just at the edge of the Land of Sound. While usually it would take only a day and a half to run it, they had carts of supplies and weapons to haul with them.

Apparently the villain was holed up deep inside their forest, but his exact location was still a mystery. They knew when they got close to Madara when those horrid creatures turned up in droves, but that was usually as close as they got. Along with contending against seemingly undead creatures that always seemed to heal, the Sound shinobi were zealous to get them away. While Konoha had allies, Sound had always been distant with them. It seemed that they had chosen to side with the crazed Uchiha this time.

The war had just recently hit over a decade (although they had been doing guerrilla warfare for nearly eighteen years now), and this entire time good men and women had died to try and find the hideout.

But it seemed the time of waiting was over, as movement of the creatures had increased and something akin to a giant tree had begun growing. The shinobi at the front lines had waited to get Tsunade's decision over the sudden change, and the blond had decided it was time to end this. It was time to act or get pushed away in to a hopeless world.

Sakura looked up and watched as Naruto made a joke, face split with one of his wild smiles as Sasuke looked as unaffected as a porcelain doll by his humor. In a way, Sakura had no reason to be nervous like her two best friends. While she was desperately needed in this final wave, it was primarily for her medical ability, and not her proficiency in taijutsu and genjutsu. She would stay behind to take over the head medic's position as Tsunade went with the other Hokages and fought together for the first time ever.

Yet the teenager still foolishly wished she could go to the front lines, to try and find her scarecrow. But what would she do? Scream his nickname out in the thicket of battle, risking the chance of distracting him so he could get killed?

As she marched on for three days straight, Sakura's mood continued to plummet. Naurto thought it was because she was concerned for them, and she was. Sasuke thought it was because she was homesick already, and she also was. Tsunade and Ino just stayed silent and offered her silent support.

Thankfully they arrived at the field full of soldiers soon enough. The tents seemed old and battered, the men and women in a similar shape.

As Tsunade called a council with her highest generals, Sakura sat next to her and kept her head and eyes down. She listened, but she had nothing to add. Nearly the entire time she thought she felt someone staring at her, but she brushed it off as Naruto not paying attention and just focusing on her instead.

The plan was simple and showed just how desperate the situation was: they would go for an all-out assuage on the tree. After consulting with some elders, it seemed that Madara was attempting to summon something no one had before.

After Tsunade dismissed everyone, and Sakura stood to leave as well, but her mentor stopped her with a hand on her wrist. Silently, Tsunade moved to stand before her, taking her other hand in hers. Sakura noted that soon she would be at her height; when had she grown up so much? It felt just like a week ago when she had just started training with Tsunade, and the blond had held Sakura's hands in hers to partially heal them from juvenile rashness. Now Sakura was going to war with her.

"I know you want to follow Naurto and Sasuke," the pig-tailed woman said, her grip on Sakura's wrist tightening.

Sakura stayed silent, but the shakes in her hands intensified from nerves and adrenaline. But also from getting another reaffirmation that she had to stay behind. She could not go out and fight with her best friends like she so desired to. The hands cradled in Tsunade's formed tight fists.

Sakura held back tears of frustration because she so desired to go out and stand with her friends.

"So I'm going to let you go."

Blinking, the pink haired teenager could only stare at her small fists before looking up at Tsuande who was smiling at her fondly.

"Sakura, you've technically been allowed to disregard all my rules for medics for four years now. So go and show everyone what us medic-nine can really do. Shizune will do a good job holding up the medic front."

"Thank you," Sakura said in a rush as she pulled Tsunade close to her. Sakura was honored that Tsunade thought her able enough to trust her with the well-being of two of the best shinobi Konoha had ever raised.

"Just don't push yourself too much, kid. We'll have a lot of people to heal after we win this war," Tsunade said as she pulled away from Sakura.

"Of course," Sakura said, noticing her body had finally stopped shaking.

.

Sakura stared at the man bleeding out in front of her, torso nearly cut straight through.

It was surreal to think that in less than a twenty-four hour span she had: finished marching to the front lines, talked with Tsunade, and fought with Naruto and Sasuke against a man with power akin to a God. And they had won.

The war that had been going on for over a decade (and nearly two in the shadows) had been ended. Everyone could finally return home, and now there would be peace. No more rationing paper so only a select few books could get published. No more soldiers coming home from the front lines mentally or physically crippled. And no more worries about being good enough to save their entire world.

As the man in front of her coughed, spitting up blood onto her green flak jacket, Sakura furrowed her brow and concentrated harder. Yes, the war had been won, but just as Tsuande had predicted, there was much to do before she was done.

Sakura's eyes were momentarily distracted from restitching up muscle and tissue when a shock of silver hair passed by her. At first she thought it both awe-inspiriting and morbid that someone so old would fight in the war. Yet Sakura noted that he seemed young from from the slip of face not covered by his mask.

"How did our most esteemed general get this badly hurt?" Tsunade positively screeched as she left the man she was working on to Shizune. Thinking Sakura should do the same, she nodded to Ino who stood as her relief next to her, letting the blond continue what Sakura had nearly finished.

"Is he important?" Sakura asked as she approached Tsuande who was assessing the barely-breathing man.

"Sakura- did you not pay attention at that last-minute council at all?"

"I was distracted. I thought my best friends were going to get slaughtered without me there to help them."

"Alright, put your sass on hold until we're out of war's gates, please. Now get over here and start prepping him. We need to do immediate surgery. He's punctured both lungs and who knows how many other organs.

As Tsunade moved to scrub her hands and yell at the green-clad man who had brought him in (and who reminded Sakura very acutely of Lee), Sakura moved forward to stand beside the man. Her deft hands and a kunai made quick work of taking off cutting through his flak jacket, long sleeve shirt and sleeveless lycra undershirt.

"I don't know," the green-clad man said in a whine in the face of Tsunade's fury. "He just saw your three proteges and seemed to go manic. He was entirely devoted to getting to Madara himself."

"Such an idiot. He's fought during this whole war and now that we've won he takes the time to be a minute away from death's door," Tsunade said with an prominent frown. "Sakura! Why aren't you scrubbed down yet?"

"Just a moment more," Sakura grumbled as she moved to remove his mask. Maybe it would help him breathe easier.

But as she griped the fabric and pulled it down to gather at his neck, one of his hands snapped up to grab her wrist tightly. She looked to see his sole eye staring at her intently, breaths coming out strangled. She rested the urge to shiver at seeing the gaping hole where his left eye used to be. Was that where Madara had gotten that last Sharingan?

He opened his mouth, clearly wanting to say something, but only blood spilled out. Then his dark eye rolled back and his grip loosened from her wrist, his hand falling back on the cot as his breathing became shallow.

"Tsunade!" Sakura exclaimed, seeing his chest settle.

"Dammit, Hatake!" her mentor snapped before she appeared at the other side of the man. "Sakura, no time for you to disinfect. I hope those hands are at least remotely clean."

And so became the tedious task of healing the broken man. Someone came and gave the silver-haired man some drugs to put him under and out, his breathing still slight but no longer as harsh. His body twitched absently as they worked at realigning what felt like his entire internal structure. Sakura was amazed that he had managed to stay fighting this long with such a disregard for his health.

Finally, after hours, Sakura sat down in pure exhaustion.

"Sakura, clean this up and take a break," Tsunade ordered before she was off to the next patient. But not before she turned around and added: "Don't let that idiot die. He's done too much for the village for us to fail him."

Sakura tiredly voiced her agreement. She took a moment to lean her head back and count down from ten before she stood and started cleaning up the bloodied rags and clothes. Reaching down, she gathered up the jacket and shirts she had thrown away in her haste to help heal him.

Jumping at the sound of something falling, Sakura looked down to see it was only a book with a bright orange cover and sighed in relief.

Then her eyes snapped open and she stared at the Icha-Icha novel on the floor like it had suddenly grown eight legs and become part spider. Sakura shook her head a moment later; the book series was fairly popular. It was not totally unheard of that someone would have the book out here with him. There were thousands of soldiers. It did not automatically mean it was the book she and given him.

Still, Sakura picked up the book and studied it with trepidation. Holding her breath, she opened it.

Right there behind the paperback cover was Naruto's messy handwriting. His brief inscription gave a cheery birthday greeting and an explanation of the book. Her name, Naruto's and Jiraiya's had purposefully been blacked out by Sakura herself so the novel would not be confiscated.

And there, carefully pasted under it, was the sakura blossom she had pressed over five years ago. As if this all was not enough proof, she took out one of the multiple pages of paper interspersed between the book's own pages. As she unfolded it, her own neat handwriting stared back at her.

Despite how it was speckled with blood and was so ratty it would fall apart in a strong gust of wind, Sakura cradled the small book close to her chest. She closed her eyes, willing herself to stay calm as she looked back at the silver-haired slumbering man with entirely new eyes.

Because she had finally found her scarecrow.

.

When Sakura returned to Konoha, her parents attacked her with a hug immediately after she entered through the gates. After her mother had cried at least a gallon of tears and hugged Naruto and Sasuke within an inch of their lives as well, she demanded that her young, beautiful daughter come back home for at least a couple days.

After she offered to cook Sakura all her favorite meals, the teenager found it impossible to resist. Not that she did not want to spend time with her Mom, as her multiple brushes with death these past few days had made her even more appreciative of close bonds.

"Oh, and before I forget," her mother said as they entered the house.

"Yeah?" Sakura asked, already halfway up the stairs to her old bedroom. It was probably coated in dust, all her stuffed animals donated or given away to younger cousins.

"The day after you'd left, the oddest thing happened. This pug, poor thing looked dead on his paws, gave me a letter for you. Said he went to your apartment but you weren't there, and that you'd know who the letter was from. Was it that soldier boy you sent letters to?"

"Where's the letter?" Sakura demanded. The image of Kakashi getting in to a cart to head back to Konoha, nearly his entire face and torso wrapped in bandages and a clear slump in his tall figure, flashed through her mind.

"It's on your desk- Sakura? Is everything alright?"

But the teenager was too concerned about bounding up the remaining stairs to wait and listen. She nearly shouldered-off her door from its hinges in her haste to open it. Her eyes zeroed in on her desk. On it innocently sat a torn, tattered piece of paper without any marker that it was for her.

Picking it up, she saw that it was waterlogged, the paper as a whole buckled and bent. Some dust had settled on it, and it silently floated down, illuminated beautifully in the late afternoon sun like thousands of floating stars.

Sakura opened the folded-over piece of paper with shaking hands. Immediately she noticed that the handwriting was rushed. Sakura realized in morbid amazement it had been written using blood as ink. Clearly there had not been time to get proper supplies, as the paper itself seemed like the torn end of a scroll.

It only said six words:

Please don't go. I love you.

.

There was an official peace conference a few days after everyone returned home.

Although she had been gone for barely a week and a half, it had felt like ages since she had been back to her apartment. She had left Mr. and Mrs. Ukki and their children when she was gone to her Mom. The move was temporary, as now she carried them green and happy back home to sit at their familiar window sill. Some remaining musty books still sat by her bookshelf, waiting to be added to letters she would not send anymore.

Tsunade gave her some time off, but it only made Sakura restless. She walked the streets and greeted people she knew, everyone more cheerful that she ever remembered. Her mom apparently was bragging up a storm about her little girl who had gone out and taken on the world.

Which was maybe why Sakura had such a tolerance as she stood on stage with Naruto and Sasuke flanking her. While the former was profusely blushing, whiskers nearly indiscernible from the red, and Sasuke looked as bored as ever, Sakura stood stock still and tried to remember how to smile naturally.

She accepted the medal, and then stepped down to allow others to get their rewards. She allowed herself to stare without abandon as Kakashi went up and got the highest award for valor. For his outstanding position during the entirety of the war, coupled his especially vicious enthusiasm at their last battle.

Sakura got a similar medal, just for the medic branch. She had been an a game-changer in her huge help with the aftermath of the war with Tsunade and their summons. Sakura could not discern if Kakashi was watching her with the rest of the crowd as she was awarded the metal disk. It clinking gently against her first as it settled against her chest.

As Tsunade made a sweeping speech, Sakura snuck glances at Kakashi. He sat closer to the other side of the stage, but that gave her a better angle to watch him. His body moved stiffly, masked face further hidden by layered bandages, but Tsunade had assured her that he was doing just fine. ("Why do you suddenly care so much about the general when you didn't even know who he was until three days ago?" "I just want to make sure if my surgical skills are holding up." Tsunade had given her a quizzical look, as if expecting her to explain fully later, before turning away to attend to more important business than her odd student.)

Did Kakashi truly love her?

Yes, they had kept a more-or-less constant correspondence for almost six years. Throughout that time Sakura thought they talked about everything under the sun, but now she realized she had never really talked about any stronger emotions for each other. They often reciprocated their worry for each other, and sympathy at the stupidity of headstrong friends, but Sakura had never thought he would be able to feel such a strong emotion for her through letters alone.

More importantly: did she truly love him in return?

Sakura had always been fascinated with her pen pal from the beginning, but an innocent fascination was nothing compared to love. Through their long correspondence she grew to care for him very much. His letters lightened up her days. He helped motivate her when all she wanted to do was sleep for a week. He made her laugh with his clipped phrases and inaccurate sketches of what she looked like. So she definitely liked him quite a lot.

For the most part, Sakura was simply petrified with embarrassment that she had been exchanging letters with their most important general this entire time. One letter had ben about the annoyances of frizzy hair in the rain. How was she supposed to face a decorated strategic genius nearly twice her age when she had written about such drivel?

Kakashi had probably written that last letter in the heat of an altercation, and had gone for something that could shock her in to staying. Although it would not have worked even if Sakura received it in time, it was a smart move. And he was the best at making those.

For having helped end a war, Sakura felt awfully cowardly lately.

.

Sakura still wrote letters to Kakashi.

Yet instead of finding his address to send to him, she put them away in a locked drawer. As weeks passed, there they gathered and seemed to populate on their own before there was barely any room for more. The album that held all his letters rested in a separate, locked drawer. She did not dare open it. So now Sakura kept two drawers full of letters she either could not bring herself to read or send.

Part of her did not know why she was suddenly acting so skittish in front of this dilemma. Although it sounded like she was bragging, love confessions were not something foreign to her. Lee screamed one for her nearly weekly, and many healed soldiers came up to her now and asked for her hand in marriage or just a cup of coffee.

But each time she would just smile and turn them down.

So maybe it was not the fact that Kakashi and said he loved her that shocked her. It was because it was him who had said it.

Regardless, Sakura threw herself in to work and training even though her friends and colleagues were taking the time to actually relax and breathe freely. But Sakura needed something to distract her, and too many things reminded her of Kakashi.

The family of plants at her windowsill, the stack of old books, and any yellow scarf. The sounds of dogs barking, the romance novels Ino was obsessed with. Even the white snow that fell and gathered on people's heads, making it seem like they all had silver hair at night.

.

"Ah, good morning my favorite, best pupil!"

Sakura laughed at Iruka's smiling face before reaching forward to envelope him in a hug. He was not as tall as she remembered him being, but she still had to look up to see his easy-going grin.

"Don't let anyone else hear you say that," she joked.

"Well, none of my other students were so eager to come and talk about their field of expertise like you," her past mentor said with a nod. "Kiba still hasn't responded at all."

"I'm always happy to try and recruit new medics. Unfortunately we still lost a good amount in the war, and it's a little unavoidable that shinobi injure themselves. Some occupational hazard we have."

"Of course," Iruka said with an accommodating nod.

They walked in silence towards the classroom for a moment, the sounds of playing children outside loud. Sakura looked around the hallways and was hit with a wave of nostalgia; it had seemed so long ago when she had studied here and she had first started dreaming.

"By the way, you can find your who your soldier was from the S.L.E. if you want. I'm sure you're excited about that! Just like I thought, you were just that bit more stubborn than him to wait him out."

"It's ok, I don't need to know," Sakura rushed to say before Iruka said Kakashi's name and she could no longer pretend.

"Why? You spent ages writing to him. I personally screened some of those. That one letter you wrote about yogurt made me crave it so bad I had to go buy it."

"I'd rather just leave everything about the war behind me," Sakura said, green eyes not meeting Iruka's.

Sakura felt his eyes studying her momentarily before he sighed and ruffled her hair.

"I may be older Sakura, but I can still tell when you're lying," he said as he withdrew his hand and resumed walking. Suddenly, Sakura felt like she was back to her red-nosed eleven year old self, who was worried most about making lasting connections with people and getting the highest grade on the latest test. Not how to reattach a leg or wonder what being in love with someone really meant.

"Yes, Iruka-sensei," she said as she followed him, knowing she had been properly chastised.

.

Sakura sighed into her crossed arms, large forehead resting comfortingly on one of her forearms.

The hospital was less hectic with war injuries in this peacetime, but that did not mean much. Now there were more women coming in pregnant (in a few more months and hell would break loose here), more kids coming in with minor injuries in their zealous attempts to be like the heroes, and more veterans coming in with lingering problems.

There just was not enough medics, and Sakura was becoming frazzled and feeling much older than she was. It did not help that her usual stress reliever, writing to Kakashi, was obviously out the window. Sakura reminded herself to clean out the drawer. It was getting full and it was not like the collected unsent letters were holding any purpose. Well, other than to reaffirm how much of a coward Sakura continued to be. It had already been two months since returning and still she could not find it in herself to go search out Kakashi.

Sakura sighed again and willed herself to disappear between her arms. Or, at least for five more minutes before she had to deal with the mountains of paperwork from today's patients.

"Sakura Haruno?" a monotone voice asked, and Sakura looked over the stacks of her dreaded paperwork and tomes in her messy little office and nearly jumped: it was her scarecrow.

For a moment, she thought it odd that the man would appear after she thought of him. But she thought of Kakashi often, so the odds of him coming in when he was on her mind were fairly large.

"Y-Yes?" Sakura finally asked out after she had realized she was silent a beat too long.

"I'm looking for someone to check-up on my eye and Tsunade directed me to you. Apparently she's having a busy enough time teaching that blockheaded Naruto about the finesse that is paperwork."

"That's mighty rich coming from her. I do nearly all of her paperwork anyway," Sakura muttered.

"I can see that," Kakashi said cheerily as he swept an arm, clearly gesturing to the clutter that was her closet office. "Now, about that eye check up?"

"Oh, yes, er, why don't you, er, here," Sakura said, fumbling with words and her body as she sat up with a start. "Just sit down on that chair there."

"The one covered in textbooks?" Kakashi questioned, lifting one of the books off as well as an eyebrow.

"Right, just a moment," Sakura said as she went forward and stacked the books on the floor next to her desk. He offered up the one in his hands to her, and Sakura took it, obsessively careful not to let their fingers even brush.

Now that there was actually a place to sit down, Kakashi did just that with a soft exhaled huff. He reached up and removed his forehead protector (did his silver hair just stick out and expand more?) before his hands absently lied down on his lap. He looked up at her with his sole eye expectantly.

"What seems to be the problem?" Sakura asked as she moved to stand in front of him, her arms crossed.

She remembered how her and Tsunade had personally seen to his eye after he was out of death's door, and they had made sure (especially with the adrenaline of realizing Kakashi was her scarecrow) that while they could not save the eye, they could make him comfortable. They had contemplated taking an eye from someone they could not save, but decided it was too morbid. And Sakura remembered his letter about his best friend: one dead eye in his head was enough for a lifetime.

"It's hard to explain," he said with a shrug, and that seemed to be the end of his eloquent explanation of the situation. It seemed he wrote just like how he talked.

Silence returned to the stuffy room. Kakashi just stared at her, his scared eye remaining hidden while the other one seemed emotionless. Sakura resisted the urge to squirm; it was like he knew she was hiding something from him. Sakura had never been very good at lying about personal matters. And it did not get much more personal than lying to someone she cared immensely for.

"Well, let me take a look at it and try and figure it out," Sakura finally spoke, the silence nearly crushing.

Kakashi lifted his head up slightly, eye still fixed on her expectantly. Sakura reached forward and removed his eyepatch delicately, making sure that the band did not snag on any of his hair. It was surprisingly soft under her touch. She remembered the feeling when she had held his head still while Tsunade evaluated his empty eye-socket all those months ago.

"I'll just- um- excuse me for a moment," Sakura offered brokenly before she lifted her hands to his face. She had been so careful about not touching him before, but it had all been for vein. Now one hand cradled the side of his face; the other stilled above his bisected eyebrow directly over his empty eye socket. She felt her chakra enter and begin its examination, checking the veins and structure to see if it was anything physical.

Sakura forgot how to breath momentarily as she moved her face closer to physically examine his face. She had to bend her back a little more than comfortable, but nothing seems amiss up close. She wondered if he had a tan line from his mask.

Even though neither of them spoke as she worked, Sakura could feel Kakashi's eye on her the entire time.

Feeling like his gaze and close proximity was distracting her, Sakura closed her eyes and focused on her chakra sweep that had brought up nothing. She double-checked just to make sure, but nothing seemed out of place. He should not be feeling any pain.

"Maybe you're experiencing phantom aches? It's very common that people have physical aches for something they're accustomed to having," Sakura rambled, still refusing to meet his eyes as she pulled away her hands. She took the step back to lean against her desk.

"Like when you're missing someone," he said, and Sakura jolted. As if not hearing the clatter of her heels hit the wood hard, Kakashi continued talking with: "Sometimes we accustom ourselves to certain people that when they're gone it's hard to imagine how they're not still there. War has a tricky way of picking apart people in more ways than one."

"Exactly," Sakura muttered, still refusing to look up at Kakashi.

"So nothing, huh?"

"Nothing I could find."

"Well, thank you for your time, Miss Haruno."

"You're welcome, and call me Sakura. Please feel free to stop by again if you still feel pain," Sakura said in a rush, eyes finally looking up to meet his sole one. He was not looking at her anymore as he fiddled to put his eyepatch and forehead protector back on. Sakura took the rare moment to stare and study his profile and vaguely remembered what his face looked like. From what she remembered it was nothing different or extraordinary, perhaps a tad more handsome than most (although of course she thought it was the best thing ever, considering she had wondered what he looked like for years), and she wondered why he was so adamant about hiding it.

"Thanks, but that probably won't be necessary," Kakashi said as he finished and gave her a smile beneath his mask.

"Of course," Sakura said, not being able to look away.

He stared at her a beat, and she matched his gaze. He opened his mouth, took a breath, and Sakura held her own. Then Kakashi shook his head once and gave a slight wave in parting.

"Goodbye, Sakura."

Sakura watched Kakashi leave her office before slouching back in to her chair.

She let her head hit her wooden desk before her. She groaned at the physical pain, but more from her inability to just tell him that it was her. Her who sent him the books, who made the mail carriers work overtime, who just wanted to hug him and say thanks for everything he had given her.

She who missed him more than she ever had despite how she could see and touch him now.

Kakashi had come, and they had finally been alone, and he had seemed so ruggedly handsome and vulnerable. He had made allusions that Sakura would easily pick up on. Still, she had not told him she was his mystery pen pal, and that she had a response to his last letter.

She loved him, too.

With her head cradled in her arms once again, Sakura was back to when Kakashi had first appeared.

.

A couple hours later, as Sakura closed the door to her apartment, she finally allowed the tears to start trailing down her face.

As the day had continued on, she had realized that maybe it was already too late. She and already put herself so much out there with her letters; Kakashi knew her inside and out. So it was not ridiculous to give in to the nagging feeling that he knew it was her. Maybe he had just really needed his eye checked out, and had grudgingly gone. He did not bring up the fact that it was her writing to him all those years because he did not want it acknowledged. His last-minute letter had just been a distraction to keep her safe because he felt obliged after so many years of being her friend. She was reading too much in to the six monosyllable words.

"I'm such an idiot," Sakura muttered to herself before making her way to her bedroom. It was definitely a straight-to-pajamas day. She was going to wear her comfiest, silkiest shorts and top she had.

She started first by unclipping her skirt, but paused when she noticed something flutter down. Frowning, she looked at the folded slip of paper for a moment in utter confusion. Opening it, she hoped it could offer an explanation for how it had gotten wedged in to her waistline.

I wish you would still send me your letters. Yes, I know about the drawer. And how you know, and now you know that I know.

Sakura felt her mouth open in a gape: so Kakashi did know about her masked identity to him. She should probably be a little more offended that he was sneaking in to her room than she was.

"It was pretty obvious who you were. Not many people have pink hair."

Sakura whirled around, the small slip of paper falling to land soundlessly on the floor.

"Even less people are the Hokage's one and only apprentice," Kakashi continued to say as he sat in her windowsill, Mr. and Mrs. Ukki along with their children carefully moved to make room for him. His shoulders were hunched, and his visible eye seemed more tired than when she had met with him earlier.

For the second time that day, Sakura forgot how to breath. She could level mountains, heal those near the brink of death and summon hundreds of slugs. But she felt stuck still in his presence.

"I never responded to your other letter," Sakura said feebly.

"It was about time I tried to make up for that first year and a half of silence."

"It's understandable that you had nothing to say about my daily hair routine that I explained in vivid detail that one time."

"I still enjoyed it. Just like all of your letters, and I appreciated how you were unwilling to give up on me. And that appreciation slowly grew."

He stepped closer hesitantly, and brought a gloved hand to rest against her cheek. Sakura wanted to lean in to it, but it seemed that her body was still a little too stiff in shock.

"I've been waiting a while to thank you for everything," Kakashi continued with, and Sakrua thought that he was just barely more talkative in life than in his letters. His voice was softer though, much more gentle than his harsh, messy handwriting that was much too slanted.

"I was always so scared that one day you wouldn't respond. That you'd get yourself killed before I even knew who you were. I was so scared, Kakashi," Sakura finally found it in herself to say. Her face flushed in embarrassment and anger as she felt tears begin to spring from her eyes. She was a war hero dammit, and while she had waited years for this moment to finally talk in real life to her scarecrow, she was stronger than this. She was not still that small girl who had written her first letter all that time ago.

Despite her losing battle at sniffling and crying, Sakura thought Kakashi was smiling behind his mask. It had been difficult but rewarding for her to slowly understand all he did not say in his curt words. To see through his writing to his emotions and intent. Hopefully his mask in real life that was offering a similar challenge would not be any harder to overcome.

Still silent, Kakashi leaned down to touch his forehead gently against hers. He was still wearing his eyepatch, but his forehead protector was elsewhere. His bangs tickled against her skin and Sakura finally seemed to remember how to breathe. She felt tears begin to fall down her cheeks.

"I wanted to call you My Flower eventually, but I thought that was too embarrassing. Not that my comrades didn't give me more than enough grief after they saw how much I looked forward and adored your letters. Especially towards the end. You were the one thing that kept me sane, Sakura."

She took a step closer to him, her chest almost brushing against his own. Lifting a hand, she reaching up and grabbing onto his long-sleeve. Kakashi's one eye glanced at her hand (white knuckles), then her face (flushed pinker than her hair), before he looked down at their feet with a sigh.

"Sakura, please understand that I'm just an old war veteran. I read porn and I'm cranky. I'm obsessive about keeping a garden and you'll never be able to have a cat. I wanted to approach you before, but you seemed so scared."

Sakura hiccuped lightly. Her other hand moved to sit on his side, hands grasping at his flak jacket with similar vigor to his sleeve.

"Are you still scared? Do you not want me here? I know you got my last response, and I know you said a lot of things in your letters, but still, I had no right to-"

"You're only thirty-two, I sent you that porn, I like your dogs more anyways and I don't care about any other excuses you're making up. You got to write it first so I get to say it first: I love you. Why else would I still write you letters despite your glaring grammatical errors?"

She looked up and saw he was staring at her like she was a hallucination. His hands moved to press against her cheeks, rough thumbs moving aside tears that refused to stop falling.

"Sakura," Kakashi said feebly, his hands no longer brushing away tears but getting lost in her pastel colored hair at the nape of her neck. Sakura moved her forehead away from his to look up at him directly.

"You're my scarecrow and now that I've finally found you, I'm not letting you go."

Kakashi still stared down at her in doubt. Rolling her eyes, Sakura grabbed onto his mask and pulled it down without asking for permission. With his face visible, Kakashi did look quite tired. Yet when he gave her a lopsided grin and she saw one dimple appear, Sakura felt a pull in her chest she could not ignore.

Sakura gave Kakashi a gentle smile in return before she lifted herself up on her toes to press her lips against his. She had finally overcome the distance separating them.

.

FIN




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