Sakura knows Sasuke is planning to leave the village. She knows with the sort of certainty that creeps under your skin and settles in the marrow of your bones. Like there’s a thread connecting his heart to hers, and when he wants to wander, she feels the tug of it.
Summer air, cricket song, and moonlight laze into her bedroom through the open window. It’s a peaceful night, idyllic even, but Sakura can’t sleep. How many hours remain before he leaves her again? She lies awake in the darkness, the warm weight of Sasuke beside her (breathing too lightly to be asleep), and wonders when he’ll say goodbye.
She shakes his shoulder gently and says, “Sasuke-kun?”
He turns over to face her, scowling his puzzled-frown. Taciturn as ever, Sasuke doesn’t say anything.
“When were you going to tell me?” she asks.
“Tell you what?”
“That you’re leaving again.” Sakura closes her eyes and prays that he’ll refute this; all she gets is silence.
She sits up and makes to leave the bed, but Sasuke catches her arm.
“Sakura, let me explain—”
She shakes her head. “You only just got home. How can you need to go again so soon? How can you want to leave me?”
“I don’t,” he says. “I want you to come with me.”
Sakura stops, makes herself take a steadying breath. “You’re not leaving me behind this time?”
“I couldn’t,” he says simply, as if this is not a matter of what he desires, but rather an incapability, something he couldn’t change if he wanted to.
Sasuke and Sakura leave Konoha a week later, each carrying a backpack of clothes and supplies. They head southwest, toward the River Country, walking at a leisurely pace. It’s a sunny autumn day, but the trees shield them with shade, and it’s pleasantly warm, if humid. Sasuke enjoys seeing the landscape of his native country again. He spent so many years away, traveling all around nations great and small, that it still feels like a luxury to be home.
Even so, he’s ready to wander again. He only returned to Konoha because he missed the rest of Team 7 too keenly to continue his journey alone, but Sasuke still has much to make up for, much he needs to see and do.
They come upon a village as the sun sets. The place only has one inn, a small establishment located in the center of the little town. The woman at the front desk looks at them with wide eyes, taking in Sakura’s distinctive pink hair and Yin Seal, his rinnegan and stump of an arm. She clearly knows who they are, but she has the grace to treat them like any other customers.
They rent a room on the second floor and settle in for the night. Sasuke and Sakura take turns using the shower, dress in their sleep clothes, and get under the covers. They’ve been sharing a bed since his return to Konoha, but something about it feels different tonight, here under a strange roof. They’re away from the place of their origins, their home, the only thing that gives them common ground, but if anything, Sasuke only feels closer to Sakura.
How many nights has he wished to have her sleeping by his side? A hundred? A thousand? When he was a boy always on the move with Orochimaru, Sasuke rarely indulged in thoughts of his former teammates. But sometimes, at night, when he was lying in a cold bed all alone, far removed from everything and everyone he loved, his discipline would weaken. He’d think of Sakura and wish for her to be by his side. And later, as a young man traveling the world—seeking a redemption he isn’t even sure he deserves—Sasuke would often make the same wish.
The next day, as they’re eating breakfast, Sakura asks, “Is there anywhere in particular that you want to go?”
“Snow,” he says. “I haven’t been there since we were genin.”
“Snow?” Sakura asks, obviously a bit puzzled. “But we’re heading south.”
“I was thinking we’d take a roundabout route,” Sasuke says, smiling gently.
Sakura loves the country around Tani. The land is beautiful, populated with as many great green trees as her home, but it’s cut through with countless creeks and streams, little rivers running clear blue, murky green, muddy brown. Dozens of bridges have been built over the years, and she and Sasuke cross them together.
On the fifth day of their journey, they find a rural village that’s in the middle of their harvest. Sakura overhears a farmer say that he’s shorthanded, and she looks to Sasuke curiously. He just nods, and that afternoon they find themselves in a wheat field, learning how to work machines no shinobi has any business handling. But she and Sasuke have always been quick learners, and by nightfall they’ve helped Satoh, the farmer, bring in a good portion of his crops.
Satoh invites them to his home for dinner, an honor neither she nor Sasuke had expected, but they accept happily.
“I wouldn’t have thought shinobi would care to help a farmer with his harvest,” Satoh says. “Especially not the two of you.”
Sakura looks at Sasuke a little sheepishly. They never gave Satoh their names, but obviously he knows who they are just the same.
“It was nice to help,” she says. “This kind of work reminds me of our genin days.”
Sasuke smirks. No doubt he’s thinking of pulling weeds and walking dogs, stupid competitions with Naruto and her unfiltered adoration.
It’s a bit embarrassing, to remember what she was like as a child of twelve. So infatuated with Sasuke that she cared about little else (including developing her skills as a ninja). But she grew and changed, worked to make herself the strongest kunoichi of her generation.
Sakura is proud of the person she’s become, but she’s even prouder of the man Sasuke has grown to be. He survived tragedies greater than she can possibly imagine, endured suffering that would break most people, and overcame the darkness within himself. Now here he is, accepting responsibility for his mistakes, making amends in whatever way he can, no matter how small.
She takes his hand beneath the table, twines their fingers together, and smiles at him.
I love you, she thinks. I’ll always love you.
After the woods and waters of the River Country, Suna appears bleak and barren. They promised Kakashi that they would stop here, meet with Gaara, and extend Konoha’s greetings in person. The Kazekage doesn’t look at Sasuke suspiciously, the way his brother and sister do—but then, Sasuke supposes that if anyone understands the difficulties of seeking redemption, it’s Gaara.
The desert gets surprisingly cold at night, but they still sit on the roof of their sandstone inn, stargazing and talking quietly about things great and small. There are no clouds here, only a clear sky and a full moon. Sakura points out the constellations she learned as a child, teaching him to see creatures and objects woven into the stars.
“Do you see the the tsuzumi boshi?” she asks.
“There?” He points to a drum-like configuration of stars.
“Perfect,” Sakura says, and he can hear the smile in her voice. “You don’t miss anything, do you?”
“Having dojutsu helps with that,” he says wryly.
She laughs, hooks her arm through his, and rests her head on his shoulder. He likes the warm weight of her against him, the sweet burden of her body pressed close. Without much thinking about it, Sasuke presses his lips to the seal on Sakura’s forehead. The touch is light and fleeting, barely a kiss at all, but she looks at him with a startled expression, cheeks flushed and eyes wide.
“What was that for?” Sakura whispers.
“No reason,” Sasuke says. “I just wanted to.”
They stay up all night, sharing stories from their time apart. Sakura finally falls asleep, cradled against his chest, as morning approaches. Sasuke holds her and watches the dawn cast Suna in shades of orange and pink. For a moment the shadow of the moon is still visible in the west while the sun rises in the east. He and Sakura are like that, he thinks. Opposites that have been drawn apart for too long, now sharing the same sky for as long as time allows.
Ame is ugly and industrial, a hidden village that has been torn apart over the generations, caught between the wars of great countries and mutilated through its own civil conflicts. Their orphanage is twice the size of Konoha’s, and it’s run by a harried matron who has too many little ones to handle and not enough resources to take care of them. She and Sasuke stay for a month, volunteering with the kids. Sakura can tell this is difficult for him, that these motherless and fatherless children remind him of his own loss, but he helps just the same.
She teaches the toddlers and young children their characters, heals any scrapes and bruises they get, and plays board games and ball games with them. The teenage girls ask to braid her hair, which is growing long again, and the teenage boys avoid her with blushes on their cheeks. Except for one bold sixteen-year-old named Jun who follows her everywhere and always asks if he can help her with anything. Sasuke grows noticeably grumpier whenever she mentions the boy fondly, which Sakura finds amusing.
Sasuke prefers to work with the babies. This surprises her a bit, and when she asks him about it, he says, “Growing up, I had a lot of little cousins. I always liked rocking the babies. Something about it’s calming.”
She can’t help but wonder what he would be like with a son or daughter of his own (their own). “Do you… do you want children someday?”
Sasuke frowns, falls quiet for a long moment, then says, “I want them, but I don’t know what kind of father I would make.”
“A good one,” Sakura says with confidence. “Because you’re a good man.”
He smiles, if a little weakly, pulls her against his chest, and buries his face in her hair. “Thank you,” he says.
When they finally leave Ame, the small children cry and tug at Sakura’s skirt, asking her when she’ll be back. “I don’t know,” she tells them honestly. “But next time I come I’ll bring you something from Konoha.”
Kaede, the matron of the orphanage, thanks her a half-dozen times for all her help. She’s noticeably quiet with Sasuke and shoots him mistrustful looks, which Sakura ignores with great difficulty. Sasuke seems undisturbed by Kaede’s cool behavior, perhaps because he’s grown used to it over the years.
It’s not fair that there are still people who disbelieve his sincerity when he’s working his hardest to make up for his mistakes.
They get caught in a storm as they depart from the village, don’t even make it five miles outside of Ame before the downpour has them soaked, mud-splattered, and disoriented. The rain is freezing and the wind whips about them furiously, making it difficult to carry on. Lightning flashes, branching purple across the clouded sky, and thunder follows in its wake. Sakura is used to facing the elements on missions, but she’s never been caught in anything quite like this before.
“We need shelter,” she shouts, and she can barely hear her own voice over the rain.
Sasuke nods, and they start looking for any place that might provide them with some relief from the storm. It’s pure luck that leads them to stumble across a small cavern, just large enough for the two of them to fit inside comfortably. There isn’t room to build a fire, so Sasuke and Sakura hold one another, cuddling together to share body heat. She sits in his lap, curled up against his chest.
“You’re shivering,” Sasuke says, and he runs his hand up and down her arm, trying to create warmth with friction.
Sakura burrows closer to him, buries her face in his neck. The contradictory scents of rain and woodsmoke overwhelm her, and despite the cold she feels suddenly flushed.
They fall asleep this way, Sakura cradled in Sasuke’s arms. Hours later she wakes to total darkness. It’s still raining, and all she can hear is the downpour and the steady cadence of Sasuke’s breathing. Without her sight, every other sense seems stronger, and her skin burns in all the places where they’re touching. He stirs awake a few minutes later and asks, voice rough with sleep, “Are you warm now?”
It’s chilly in the cave, but Sakura has never been warmer in her life. “Yes,” she says. “Um, do you want me to move now?”
Sasuke’s hold on her tightens. “No,” he says.
There’s a moment of silence between them, tense and full of expectation. Sakura isn’t quite sure what she’s waiting for—until they’re leaning closer to one another, breaths mingling in the darkness, and their lips meet. It’s sweet and chaste and over too soon, but for the rest of her life she’ll treasure the memory of his mouth on hers, kissing her for the first time.
Sasuke and Sakura do not talk about what happened in the cave. Instead, they wander to a town just south of Kusa and spend a few days enjoying the last burst of autumn warmth before winter sets in. Sakura declares his clothes too ragged to wear any longer and buys him a new outfit: navy pants, a grey sweater, and a long, black traveling cloak. She also buys a needle, thread, and red and white fabric and sews the Uchiha crest on the back of his shirt.
They may not discuss the kiss, but Sasuke can’t stop thinking about it. The smell of her hair, the sweetness of her mouth, how good she felt to hold. These thoughts are never far, but especially when they’re in bed together at night, Sasuke wonders what it would be like to taste her properly, to feel her everywhere.
Sakura watches him carefully, waiting for him to say something, anything, about the kiss they shared, but he knows that if he acknowledges this, they’ll end up doing it again. And once they start touching one another, he doubts they’ll stop.
The trek through the Earth Country is the longest part of their journey. Sakura finds the mountainous landscape every bit as beautiful as Konoha’s greenery, but the rocky terrain is certainly more difficult to navigate than the Fire Country’s forests, especially with winter coming on. Most nights they’re forced to sleep on the hard ground, their only comforts thin sleeping bags and one another.
They don’t talk about the kiss, but Sakura understands that intimacy is difficult for Sasuke, and he’s going to need time to process what happened between them in the cave. Still, she thinks about it often, dreams of doing the same (and doing more).
It takes over a month to get through the Earth Country, because they stop at small villages every few days and help with whatever matters they can. One area was being harassed by robbers, and Sasuke and Sakura were happy to exercise their shinobi skills to track down the bandits and deliver them to the police.
If they’re not traveling or assisting the locals, Sasuke and Sakura are busy teaching each other new jutsu. When she scrapes her knee, she tries to give him a simple lesson in healing, but Sasuke proves so hopeless at the technique that he loses his temper and declares it impossible.
“It’s not impossible,” she says gently. “I can do it, can’t I?”
“You’ve probably got better chakra control than Tsunade,” Sasuke says, obviously irritated (and maybe somewhat jealous). “I don’t.”
Sakura attempts to mask her laugh with a cough, but she isn’t entirely successful.
“This isn’t funny,” he says.
“It is, a little bit,” she says, grinning. “I mean, really, you’re one of the most brilliant shinobi in the world, and you can’t fix my scraped knee.”
Sasuke’s mouth twitches like he’s trying to hold back a smile. “Okay, maybe it’s a bit ironic.”
Sakura heals herself, and they continue on. Sasuke takes her hand, and she savors the sweet feeling of his skin against hers as they cross a frost-laced bridge, connecting the Earth Country to Snow.
The cabin is small, spare, and chilly—but after days of sleeping out in the elements, Sasuke feels thankful for the shelter, however meager it may be. He looks out the window at the deep snow drifts, rising higher by the hour, hand pressed to the cold glass.
Sakura wraps her arms around his waist and rests her cheek against his shoulder. She’s impossibly warm in the middle of winter, as if she carries the heat of Konoha with her wherever she goes. “Come to bed,” she says.
He isn’t the least bit tired, but Sasuke allows Sakura to take his hand and lead him across the room anyway.
She’s wearing a short cotton nightdress that’s white and soft and thin enough that he can see her nipples peaking beneath the fabric. He forces himself to look anywhere besides her breasts, but the sight is already branded into his memory. A sweet image that he knows he’ll think of later, when he’s alone and lust overtakes self-control, drawing him to touch himself in the privacy of darkness.
There’ll be no privacy tonight, though, so Sasuke pushes these thoughts away and gets in bed beside Sakura. She turns off the light, says, “Goodnight,” and gives her back to him. He turns away from her, same as he’s done every night of their travels that they were afforded the luxury of a rented room.
It’s freezing, and he knows how warm she is, so close to him. But he doesn’t dare turn around and take Sakura in his arms—not even for the innocent reason of sharing body heat—because the moment he touches her he’s not going to want to stop. Sasuke has grown used to her presence next to him as he sleeps, but it’s no less intoxicating than the first time they shared a bed, and tonight he can’t stop thinking of her. About the kiss they shared in that cave, the fullness of her lips, the vanilla smell of her hair.
Sakura makes a soft noise in her sleep, and the whimpered sound hardens his cock. He imagines waking her, drawing a true moan from her, maybe with his hand between her legs, fingers pumping into her, or his mouth on her wet sex. He wonders what she feels like, what she tastes like. Whether she’ll be loud or quiet when he fucks her.
Sasuke pulls his cock free from his pants and begins to stroke himself, hand working fast and hard, trying to come as quickly and quietly as possible. Knowing that Sakura is right next to him, just a few tantalizing inches away, makes it all the sweeter. Sasuke closes his eyes against the pleasure, bites his bottom lip to hold back a gasp, and thinks about her opening her legs to him, letting him have her however he likes. He imagines Sakura coming, and then he’s so close, right on the edge, it won’t take much more—
“Sasuke-kun?” she asks, hushed but curious.
He stops, jerks his hand away from his throbbing erection, more embarrassed than he’s ever been in his life. Because this is the sort of thing one should do alone, not in the company of others, and he’s a little ashamed of himself for not having the discipline to abstain in the first place.
“Yeah?” Sasuke asks. He can hear the strain in his own voice, desire and unfulfillment catching in his throat.
“Were you…” Sakura pauses, and even though he still has his back to her and it’s too dark to see anyway, Sasuke knows she’s blushing. “Were you touching yourself?” she asks.
“No,” he lies, trying to sound more offended than guilty. “Go back to sleep, Sakura.”
She doesn’t listen. Just moves closer, until he can feel her pressed against his back, her breath warming the nape of his neck. Sakura reaches around, puts her hand low on the plane of his stomach, so close to his hardness that Sasuke can barely stand it.
“I want to help,” she whispers.
He takes her hand and guides it to his cock. She grips him firmly enough to send a spike of pleasure through his belly, and Sasuke groans. Sakura strokes him, a little nervously at first, but with more confidence as he bucks into her touch, breathing hard. “Like that,” he says, “just like that.”
But then she lets go of him, pulls away, and he’s left wanting. “Why’d you stop?” Sasuke asks, turning around to face her. Enough moonlight streams in through the windows for him to see her face.
“Because when you come, I want it to be inside of me,” she says.
A moment ago, Sasuke thought it was impossible for him to get any harder; he was wrong.
“Take off your clothes and lay on your back,” he orders.
Sakura is quick to comply, casting her nightdress aside as he told her to, but she leaves her panties on.
“All of your clothes,” he says.
She hesitates, then slides her underwear down her legs, kicks them off, leaving her bare before him. But it’s too dark for him to see her properly, so Sasuke reaches over and turns on a lamp.
“Sasuke-kun!” she says, scrambling to cover her breasts with one arm and her sex with the other. “Turn that off, please,” she says, begging so sweetly that he considers her request.
“I want to see you,” he says. “Don’t you want to see me?”
“Of course.” Her gaze flickers to his exposed cock, still hard and ready, then darts away. “But it’s just… it’s embarrassing,” she says.
“You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re perfect.”
It’s true; she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, all slender lines and gentle curves, fair skin and blush-colored hair. Slowly, carefully, Sakura uncovers herself, rests her arms at her sides, and now he can see her pink nipples, already peaked, and the thatch of curls that covers her sex.
“Open your legs,” he says, and she widens her trembling thighs, exposing herself to his gaze.
He gets on top of Sakura and kisses her, simply because her mouth looks too inviting not to. Then he puts his hand between her legs and slides a finger inside of her. She’s so tight and slick with need, and he wants nothing more than to fuck her.
Something of this must show on his face, because Sakura says, “You—you don’t have to do that. Touching you made me…” She trails off, but he wants to hear her say the rest.
“Made you what?” he asks, and he pushes another finger into her heat, slowly and tenderly, until she gasps. “Tell me.”
“Touching you made me wet,” Sakura confesses, so quietly that he almost doesn’t hear her.
Sasuke moves his fingers in and out of her, picking up the pace now, and she rocks against his hand, whimpering.
“This is too much,” she says, and she sounds like she’s on the verge of tears. “I can’t take it.”
“You can,” Sasuke says, and he thrusts with more vigor, even as he presses a gentle kiss to her temple.
He wants to bring her to release, but watching Sakura come undone pushes the boundaries of his self-control. He can’t wait, not anymore.
Sasuke pulls his fingers out of her, and she curses, clearly bereft and needy. He takes his cock in hand, presses himself against her sex, pushing in slowly, carefully, as she stretches to accommodate him. He fucks her with all the care he can manage, but that fine self-control only lasts so long. She’s so wet and tight around him, and Sasuke can’t help it, he thrusts deeper, desperate to feel more.
“Sasuke,” she says, throwing her head back and moaning. It sounds like a pleasured noise, not a pained one, so he lets himself go, moving faster and harder. She bucks against him and whimpers, “Don’t stop, please don’t stop.”
They rock together, trading kisses, Sakura’s legs wrapped around his waist, her fingernails scraping down his back. He’s thankful for that small pain, because it helps ground him, keeps him from finishing too soon.
Sakura gets close once, he can tell, but a climax slips away from her and she lets out a sob. He wants to give her what she needs, but this is all so new, and it’s more than he can withstand. Sasuke loses all rhythm, fucks her furiously until bliss overwhelms him, until he’s coming and crying out.
Then he holds himself on top of Sakura, shaking, still inside her. Sasuke can feel her squirming beneath him, sees her cry frustrated tears. She wipes at her cheeks, brushing away the wetness there impatiently, and asks, unsteady and breathless, “Will you touch me again?”
He pulls his cock out of her and fucks her with his fingers instead. Now she’s slick with his come, too desperate to be modest any longer, meeting his thrusts and making so much noise that Sasuke is certain the neighbors must hear her. Then Sakura breaks. Arches up off the bed, slender body tense and trembling. He makes out his name in her staggered cry, feels her quivering around his fingers.
She falls back to the mattress, still shaking. Sasuke lies beside her, suddenly exhausted, and watches Sakura catch her breath.
She looks at him warily and asks, “How do you feel?”
He says, “Tired.”
“Oh.” There’s disappointment laced into that simple syllable. Then she asks, “Is this going to be like our first kiss? Something we only do once and never talk about after it’s over?”
“No,” Sasuke promises. He couldn’t pretend this didn’t happen if his life depended on it.
“Good.” Sakura touches his arm, fingers tracing the lines of his muscle. “Because I want to do this again. Don’t you?”
More than he can say, so he just nods.
They fall asleep tangled up together, Sakura nuzzled close to him, and Sasuke’s last thought before slipping into slumber is that he might be feeling something like love.