AN: This is my last AN for this story, and I'm a bit speechless. It's just, wow, what a ride. Thank you for joining me on it. With that said, I've already written the first chapter for the next part of the series, called Scarecrow (because I have no imagination when it comes to names). It's Kakashi's return to Konoha as seen from Sakura and Naruto's perspectives, and I mean for it to cover the next couple of months of this timeline. Check it out and let me know what you think! I'll probably publish more to this universe after that, and aren't posting anything else right now, so consider following me as an author if you don't want to risk missing anything. Either way, I'll put it in the ongoing story's ANs when something new is published.

For the last time: I love you so much. Thank you!


Hermione loses a day. Or not loses, exactly, but close enough to it. She goes to see Linda in the morning, because her therapist is amazing and has somehow leveraged Hermione into her already tight schedule. Every Tuesday morning for the foreseeable future, Hermione's got therapy. The other woman shouldn't be sacrificing herself for her patients like that – even if there was an attack on Hermione's life or whatever – but Hermione swallows the shame and goes anyway. She doesn't know what else to do. Not when her dreams woke her several times tonight. Not when she'll be alone, and scared, after Kakashi leaves.

The shock is dying down, Hermione knows; this ride is likely to get increasingly bumpy.

She will make it. She has before, and she will again. That doesn't mean it won't suck.

Coming home, she places Kakashi next to her on the couch, and starts Queer Eye. She's seen all of it before, and she doubts Kakashi's very interested, but it's the kind of feel-good she needs. When lunch passes without Hermione acknowledging it, Kakashi slips out from under her and comes back with heated leftovers. The smell of food makes Hermione realize she's been hungry. They talk mostly about the show.

After her parents come home. After dinner. After linear evening tv of the kind Hermione cares little about, watched from the floor by Kakashi's feet, his fingers working through some of the knots Hermione has collected the last few days. After telling her parents that yes, they should go to work tomorrow as well; Hermione crawls into bed. She buries her face in Kakashi's shoulder and wishes she could cry.

"Want to talk about it?" Kakashi asks. Close. Breathing. Present.

For a second Hermione thinks about the possible interpretations of 'it'. Of all the things in the air between them, the ongoing discussions that they can't possibly find the time to finish now. Maybe they could have, if she hadn't wasted today. But she did, and she has no idea where to start now. "We should have done something with today," she finally manages.

"Didn't we?" Kakashi voice is soft, his thumb rubbing over Hermione's shoulder where it rests. She shrugs as much as her position allows.

"We could have made it count," she tells him, anxiety clawing at her chest. "It's… I've still got things I want to say, questions I want to ask, and tomorrow is…" Hermione can't even bring herself to say it out loud.

Kakashi draws a breath, or sighs, or both. "I'm not so sure," he says, followed by a short silence, "that there is such a thing as getting your affairs in order." He takes another breath, voice still gentle and calm as he continues. "Not for things like that. Not for…"

The sentence never gets finished. For a while, Hermione simply breathes in this shared bubble of theirs, her forehead remaining pressed against Kakashi's shoulder. "Not like we stood a chance to get done either way," she finally states out loud. Kakashi doesn't answer, just lays there in silence.

"I'm sorry," he says, what must be a full minute later. The quality of his voice hasn't changed, his body and breathing are still loose, but something makes Hermione move her head to see his face. There are tearstains on the strip of skin between his eyes and mask, glittering in the light from the bedside lamp.

Adjusting her position enough that she can meet Kakashi's eyes without lifting her head, Hermione asks; "What for?"

"For not being able to stay," he tilts his head slightly towards her, making him easier to see, "and for not being able to offer you to come." He doesn't look away; not even as fresh tears follow the tracks. Neither does he start to outright cry, only swallows and takes another measured breath.

"Sometimes," Hermione reminds him, "free choice is only a theoretical exercise." Her own eyes are stinging now, the first tears itching over her cheeks as they fall. She reigns herself in as well, draws her lips in to meet her tongue, then release them to mimic Kakashi's breathing. Anything else would need energy, and Hermione is all out of that.

Placing her head on Kakashi's chest, Hermione traps his legs with one of hers and wraps an arm securely around his ribcage. Allows herself to be in the silence. Lets the tears come until they don't anymore. Moves her head to a drier spot on Kakashi's standard black tank top. Wonders if he has them custom made, or if there are stores in Konoha selling clothes with built-in face masks. She's leaning towards the former, along with the unattached masks he wears with his uniform he's probably buying enough to be able to order in bulk.

Under Hermione's ear, Kakashi's heart beats slow and steady.

Neither of them turns off the lights. The quiet stretches for long enough that Hermione loses her sense of time. She's exhausted, but not tired, not with a full day spent on the couch. When Kakashi speaks it's been so long Hermione nearly startles. "What if I can't say it back?" he asks, his voice a low rumble in his chest. Hermione is about to ask what he means but he continues before she can. "What if I can't say those words out loud? You people, all of you, you act like it's a normal thing to say, but it's not." Kakashi clears his throat, still deceptively calm. "It's not a thing you speak about."

Understanding hits Hermione like a brick to the head. Oh. That's what he's talking about then. How could she not get that right away? The realization thugs at the corners of her lips and has a warmth blossoming in her chest. A warmth heavily tainted by something like sorrow, but a warmth none the less. "You don't have to," she tells Kakashi. The question of why he thinks he can't is picking at her consciousness, as well as why he thinks it's not a normal thing to say. It's not as common as it should, maybe, between grownups, but she wouldn't call it unnormal. Instead of voicing those thoughts Hermione gets back to the issue. "You don't have to say them out loud," she repeats, gathering her courage, "because I already know."

For a few second, uncertainty crawls unchecked over Hermione's skin. He could refute her, could turn it into a sarcastic joke, could turn her away. While Kakashi's pulse is ticking by slow as ever, Hermione feels her own beating heart all the way to the back of her tongue, making her nauseous. It's irrational, to choose that moment to wonder if he can control his pulse, but Hermione does it none the less. It's the easier thing to think about.

When no refutation comes, Hermione feels her panic recede. Kakashi swallows loud enough that she can hear it echo in his chest. Draws a breath that not quite as balanced as he appears. She wasn't wrong then. Probably. "It's alright," she tells him, "you don't have to answer."

She would like to hear him say it. It would chase away the last dregs of doubt that cling to the thought. Only, not like that. Not because he feels compelled to. Not if it's something he forces on himself.

Kakashi draws another breath, and another, and eventually Hermione is lulled by the rhythm and the warmth. The anxiety and sadness don't go away, by any means, but they are easier to accept. Or ignore; it's a bit of a fine line sometimes. Neither of them speaks, and Hermione doesn't remember Kakashi turning of the light and saying good night.

.oOo.

Wednesday rolls around, and Kakashi no longer knows when he last slept a full night. He's gone far longer on far less, however, he knows that much. They're camped out on the couch again, Hermione watching her comfort makeover show. He's dozing, or something in the vicinity of it, and all the while the question beats through him:

He doesn't have to, but should he?

He doesn't have to, but what will he regret the most?

He doesn't have to, but why shouldn't he?

He's a seasoned shinobi. How can the mere thought of these words wrap around his chest, suck the air out of his lungs, and freeze his limbs just as effectively as his first encounter with a killer intent strong enough to permeate the very air? How can the prospect of meeting the eyes of the person he's currently closest to in the entire world, be scarier than every single one of his missions?

He's a coward, and since when is that an excuse he allows himself?

Not to mention, she already knows.

.oOo.

Kakashi says it right after lunch, as they're still seated next to each other, their plates empty but not carried back to the kitchen yet. Bobby is in the middle of showing of the newly redecorated apartment, (not bad, Hermione thinks, but not her style at all,) and Hermione almost misses it over the loud voices on the tv.

Or she doesn't miss it, not at all, but her mind has a bit of a problem computing it. He's already basically admitted it the night before, but he also indicated he couldn't (wouldn't) say it out loud. Then he goes ahead and does so anyway, and not at all when Hermione would have guessed.

Looking to her side, Hermione sees Kakashi's eyes are closed, notes the way his fingers dig into the fabric of his trousers, and can't miss how he forces air down his lungs. When his eyes open and he turns to her, his pupils are blown wide. He's scared, Hermione realizes, he'd probably stand unflinchingly in front of Voldemort's whole army, but this terrifies him. Moving slowly, she catches his hand in hers. On screen the big reveal of the episode is playing out, but Hermione's never cared less about that. Can't process the sound of the tv into actual words and doesn't bother trying. It's not important.

He speaks again before she can. "You're my friend," he says, borrowing her words, "and I love you."

There's a smile on Hermione's face, she can feel it widening even now. The soft warmth in her chest is a pulsating thing, strong to the point of overwhelming but also utterly calm. It's still tinged with sadness, but that doesn't matter. She wants to thank him – for giving her this, for not leaving space for questions and doubt – and to tell him he did good, but those words feel trite and weird. "I love you too," she tells him instead, hoping that he gets the full meaning.

For a moment, Kakashi looks like he wants to say something else, his chin working under the mask. Nothing comes out. Instead, he leans over and rests his forehead where Hermione's shoulder meets her neck. His hair is everywhere. Suffocating a chuckle Hermione smooths it down the best she can. It doesn't work very well. "Come on," she says, dragging him down with her. As she does, she remembers his fear the first time she did this, his hesitation. That, at least, is history now, and while it's more common that she's resting against him than the other way around, he settles down easily. He's even learnt to lean enough against her to allow more blood to reach the arm trapped under him, and dares to rest his other arm across her midriff.

Eventually, the tension in Kakashi recedes. Hermione can tell by how the weight she's taking increases. Maybe, she should have said something more, done something different, but Hermione pushes the anxiety aside. It's okay. They're okay, or he wouldn't let go like that. She needs to relax as well. She gives him half an episode before she makes a light comment about something Karamo says, and Kakashi answers with similar weight. They stay like that for what time they have before Luna shows up for goodbyes, Hermione's parents come home, and their last evening slips out of their grasps.

.oOo.

Kakashi sleeps, his last night in England. He hadn't expected that. He's spared nightmares, doesn't so much as wake with a pounding heart or to blaringly wonder if he overslept. It's the sleep of the last night before a complicated mission; guided by the clear need to be rested and his mind beginning to sink into the calm neutral place needed for quick actions and strategical decisions. Kakashi's unsure whether he should embrace it or fight it tooth and nail.

Their morning schedule allows for fifteen minutes of snoozing, but for the split second it takes to silence the alarm Kakashi's unsure whether to take it. Whether it will be torture or not. Hermione seems to have no such qualms, reaches for him with the softness of sleep contrasted by her unyielding arms as she draws him close and buries her face in the side of Kakashi's neck.

While not torture, it sure is bittersweet.

Closing his eyes, Kakashi tries to commit it to memory; the warm flutter of her breathing into the fabric over his throat, the way her weight pins his right side in place, the smooth skin of her upper arm under his fingertips.

Every five minutes, the alarm goes off again, and the third time it happens Hermione tightens her hold. "No," she mumbles, her words ghosting through the mask and imprinting themselves on Kakashi's skin. "Five more minutes."

Kakashi hums. He can go from sleeping to mission ready in under five minutes, he hardly needs the ten set aside for him to shower this morning. "Five more minutes," he agrees, knowing it'll be said again when they are up. Nudging Hermione with the arm she's resting against, Kakashi makes her move so she's almost on top of him. Her weight externalizes the pressure over his chest.

Free to wrap both his arms around Hermione, Kakashi can feel the shakiness of her exhale. He fears, for a while, that it'll become more than that, but it doesn't. Thankfully. Kakashi doesn't think he could handle her crying. Doesn't think he could see that without falling apart himself, and he can't fall apart. He needs to go. Step onto that airplane and into what's essentially his most complicated S-rank mission yet, stretching over years and years before he's allowed any freedom again.

He can't start crying today, because if he does, he's not sure how he will bear any of it.

And yeah, maybe all is good and she can come visit by new-years, but maybe it isn't. Maybe it'll be years before they see each other again, if at all. Shinobi live dangerously, Hermione's life was threatened not four days ago, and anyone can end up sick or injured or worse without any warning. Kakashi's seen it happen enough times.

No, it's better to let that pre-mission calm take him. Kakashi will allow himself this; the eight or so minutes remaining before they need to get up to give Hermione time to eat breakfast. After that, when the alarm goes off for the second time counting from now, function is the number on priority. He'll do it for both of them, for the simple reason he's not sure she knows how to.

.oOo.

Hermione stays in bed as Kakashi goes to shower. Lays on her back, watching the white plaster off the ceiling and feels the rise and fall of her ribcage. She knows she can't cry, for both their sakes. The bigger part of the farewell as already done either way; spread thin over these last few days and painted in thick strokes the past half an hour. She'd seen it in Kakashi's squared shoulders as he extricated himself and stood up, feels it in her own chest now; that the goodbye is mostly done already. They've had their moment, now they just need to get through the practicalities of it.

Breakfast is a quite affair, as is watching Kakashi gather his things and say goodbye to Hermione's parents. Neither Kakashi nor Hermione acknowledge how they stick close to each other, shoulders brushing and elbows bumping into the other. Hermione feels like it's the only communication she can manage. If she opens her mouth and talks without watching her tongue she might blurt out something stupid. Like; "please, stay." This hurts enough without prodding the aching inevitability any further.

The light still has the greyness of an overcast dawn as Hermione starts the car. It's early, she hasn't slept much tonight, and the airport is one and a half hours away. Once she goes back there'll be traffic to add to that. Both her parents have offered to come with her, but neither had been surprised when she turned them down.

The silence from breakfast stretches out into the car, but Hermione leaves the stereo off. A few comments are traded back and forth, about traffic, about things they pass. Nothing is said about anything that matters. They're out of time for that. Starting now would only make it worse.

She parks the car. Allows herself a sigh. Glances at Kakashi, and gets stuck meeting his eyes. Bites down on the inside of her lower lip. Swallows back any words bubbling up her throat. "Come on," she says instead, nodding towards the door.

She can be strong for him.

It's early, but businesspeople with huge coffee cups and tiny briefcases bustles around the airport, intermingling with a few lugged down tourists. Kakashi's flight for Copenhagen leaves in an hour, and from there he'll re-join his original itinerary, putting him back home in a couple of days.

They sit down on a bench for a while, watching the line for the security check grow longer. They're drawing out the pain, and for what good Hermione's not sure, but she doesn't question it. Leans her head against Kakashi's shoulder instead. He's wearing his flak vest, and it cushions the boniness.

"It's time," Kakashi says not much later, his eyes on one of the large clocks suspended from the ceiling.

"I know," Hermione tells him. If it was her getting on a plane, she'd be stressed out already. Raising her head, she turns to him. He drops his head back against the wall behind him, watching her. "I'll miss you," Hermione says, because not admitting that much is not an alternative.

Kakashi stares at empty air for a second before responding. "I'll miss you too," he says.

"You better write, the moment you get back, okay?" Hermione knows they doesn't have to wait that long, the cheat-sheets will work on the road, but she can't stand the thought of writing in just a few hours. Not with all the ache amassing in her abdomen right now. A few days to relearn to breath might not be a bad thing.

"I will," Kakashi answers, voice flat but eyes serious. Hermione stands, offers him a hand and guides him to his feet.

The thought of hugging him goodbye around the bulkiness of his vest stings in Hermione's eyes. She starts reaching out, then hesitates, suddenly unsure. "Can I?" she asks, gesturing at the zipper holding it closed. "That thing's got awfully big pockets." It's a try for a joke, but it falls to the ground between them. Kakashi doesn't move, only nods with a jerking motion.

Unzipping the flak jacket, Hermione slips her hands in between the heavy material and Kakashi's waist. Follows the curve of his body around the sides and to his backs as she steps in to lean against him. It's probably too much, too intimate, but she can't make herself care. Not when he relaxes into the touch rather than tense against it. He's warm under the vest, starkly contrasting the chilly air of the terminal. Arms circle around Hermione and she allows herself a tiny moment, feeling his breathing and pulse transfer into her chest. The air she draws smells like him.

"You take care, okay?" Hermione is not crying, despite her voice being so thick it hurts her throat. Kakashi nods in answer.

"You too," he says, the words barely a whisper. She gives her own nod.

"We'll meet again," Hermione tells herself.

"Yeah." Kakashi's answer is not a lie, exactly, but Hermione knows he doesn't believe it. That it's said for her sake more than anything. She doesn't call him out on it, because she wants it to be true.

Watching one of the clocks, Hermione gives herself the ten seconds remaining before the minute is up. What minute that is doesn't register; only the steady march of the second-hand and Kakashi's body pressed against hers. When the time's up Hermione slowly pulls away. Does it for the simple reason that it saves him from having to.

As they step apart, Kakashi's hands trail down Hermione's arms before letting her fingers slip out of his grip. His hands are shaking, she notices, before his eyes fall shut and he reigns himself in over the course of an inhalation.

"Goodbye then," Kakashi says once his eyes open again, his voice rasping and painful.

"Goodbye," Hermione echoes. She should make a joke somehow, do something to make this easier, but she can't think of a single thing.

She forces herself to break their stare.

Watches him walk away.

Kakashi glances back before the security check swallows him up. If this was a movie, Hermione thinks, this is when it'd happen. He would change his mind; turn around and come back. Or she would shout out for him, being insanely impulsive and buy a ticket to come along with him right here, on the spot, not caring that she has no luggage and hasn't said goodbye to anyone.

Her life, however, isn't a movie. Their eyes meet, with the feel of a punch to the gut, before he turns away and steps forward.

She stays until not even his hair can be spotted any longer, then walks back to the car.