Sakura’s things have started to go missing.
He knows he could get these same exact items for himself, with a little prodding to his parents, and it’d be far easier than what he’s been doing. He’s certainly got the money for it, and the doting mother and big brother who wouldn’t ask questions about why he wants a particular book or a stuffed animal.
But he doesn’t want his things, he wants hers . The worn pages that let him know what pages she flipped through fastest. The knowledge that she’s hugged the same toy as he has, whispered secrets to it that he can pretend to hear. He wants her things to be theirs, has wanted it since they’d locked eyes in the sandpit and she’d offered him her shovel.
The thefts stop, when his family dies. He can’t bring himself to go to the playground and see the happy families, see her with her parents. That’s something he can’t steal. Something in him changes, when he comes home to a house of bodies, and his fixation slides into something new.
He tries to stay away. He doesn’t like the new way he wants to act, because all he wants now is to keep her safe, and he doesn’t want to care about anyone until he’s strong enough to actually protect them. Late at night, he thinks about how keeping his little quests secret from his family might be the only reason the Haruno household wasn’t slaughtered as well. He finds himself circling her despite himself. Skating at the edge of her eyes, memorizing what she looks like from every angle, but more importantly, searching for signs of danger. He avoids attention unless someone else gets close to her, and then- well. He tries to contain himself, but when they get clingy to her, over affectionate like Naruto, he can’t help but lash out. It feels too much like a threat to her, regardless of what the boy’s real intent is.
Once, while they’re still in the academy, he sees her dangling her feet over the edge of a bridge, humming to herself as she pumps her legs and stares into the water. There’s something about it that forces him forward, and-
He presses his hands into her back too hard, and she goes crashing in. He’s gone in an instant, terrified of getting caught, as he watches her splutter to the surface and wade her way back to land. He feels terrible, watching her cry and walk away, but he doesn’t know how to apologize for something he doesn’t understand.
She’s more cautious on ledges after that, and he can’t blame her, but he misses the sight of it. The feeling it gave him, however hard it was to put a name to.
When they’re put on the same team, it makes everything worse. It’s harder to hide his interest, harder still to keep her safe, especially since she doesn’t take kindly to him interrupting her spars or taking enemy hits for her, regardless of how flattered she might be at the intent.
He loves her pretty dress, the bright red that flutters in the breeze, and he feels a clenching in his gut when the back of the skirt is blown to the side. She peers over her shoulder to look at him and he can’t meet her eyes, just grumbles along to whatever it is she’s saying and hopes to god no one sees the flush of his cheeks or hears the stammer in his voice whenever he risks a glance at her.
He brings her food, hot and freshly cooked, and is appalled when Sensei suggests he bring her something from a restaurant along the way to show off his wealth, if he’s not willing to take her on an actual date. Something in him preens when she eats the meals he brings, and he remains unruffled when she accepts Naruto’s demands to go to Ichiruka because Naruto hasn’t earned that food. Sasuke caught the hare, cooked it, and packed it for Sakura. When she eats it, she’s accepting all of his hardwork, eating something that is undeniably his. Ichiruka is nothing more than a dispensary, and if Sasuke was going to be concerned, it’d be for the chef there, not the boy constantly dragging his teammates to it.
Kakashi sees this, one day, the look of utter pride on Sasuke’s face when Sakura cautiously bites into the leg of a bird he’s caught for her. She looks so pretty when she does it, all teeth and sharpness and hunger, even if she’s trying to hide it. A predator eating prey that he caught for her, relying on him for security when she could so easily do it herself, and it’s fascinating to watch. Kakashi groans.
“What are you?” He asks, and Sasuke jerks his attention away from Sakura to look at Kakashi with a hint of confusion. “Because it’s not a crow.”
“Sensei?” Sakura asks, voice light, and Sasuke resists the urge to turn back and stare at her some more, all pretty bathed in the firelight and with his catch in her mouth.
“Clans always have their connections. Hatake are like dogs.” He pauses, while Naruto snorts something out about how does that mean Sensei pisses on everything he owns?, and diligently continues, “Uchiha are birds, normally crows, but Sasuke…” Kakashi trails off with a sigh. “Sasuke hasn’t been acting like the crows.”
There’s a reason he acts like this? He had no idea. Another thing, then, that Itachi’d stolen from him. But that does push him, then, because perhaps Sakura has been requiting this whole time and he didn’t notice.
“What about the Haruno?” He asks, and Kakashi allows the shift of attention, briefly, while Sakura scrunches up her nose.
“Slugs.” She admits, and Kakashi turns pale. Sasuke understands that slugs are gross to look at, and certainly not the type of creature he’d imagine Sakura to take after, but he hasn’t a clue what their habits might be that would cause sensei to make a face like that.
“Sasuke… whatever you are, you better hope it doesn’t mate for life.” Kakashi says, and then he refuses to say another word on the matter for the rest of the night.
Sasuke tries to restrain himself, after that, because now that he knows what’s motivating his actions it’s harder to justify them- but there’s so little that comes easily to him, these days. And these things are so natural, so reassuring to do- and it’s not like Sakura has noticed, can embarrass him with the truth. So he circles her, on the field, in Konoha, on D-rank missions. Keeps an eye out for enemies, invaders, trusts her with his back. In return, she seems to loosen up around him, less on edge and hopeful and far more present. She sometimes curses. Lets herself get messy, throws herself into fights with as much eagerness as the rest of her team- maybe even more. She starts to sit on ledges again, on the wall and in the trees, and Sasuke doesn’t risk touching her back again but sometimes he’ll admire it from afar.
Naruto keeps screaming at them both, but apparently that’s a sign of love for the Uzumaki foxes, so they mostly let it slide. Mostly.
Eventually, eventually, after months of circling and cresting and all else his instincts entail, he brings her to the Uchiha house and takes her to the kitchen. He’s dressed in his nicest armour, wishes he could wear a kimono without it feeling out of place, and he’s set the table with as much food as he could cook.
“This… isn’t normal, is it?” She asks, staring at him and the food with an eagerness he hopes means she understands. “For- friends.”
“Oh. Good, because I don’t- I don’t want to be...normal friends.”
She’d made that clear years ago, but it’s still nice to hear.
“What does- what does, um, us -” she gestures between the two of them, biting her lip, “entail?”
“You help me kill Itachi. I’ll help you kill whoever. I’ll feed you, and give you clothes, and protect you, and-” He pauses, because besides keeping her near, close, safe, and killing Itachi, he has no idea what to ask of her. She takes the pause as initiative, however, and continues for him.
“And I’ll do the same for you. Well, I won’t cook, I’m awful at that, but- I’ll protect you, Sasuke-kun. I’ll hunt, and fight, and heal you.”
For a second, her gaze is steady and confident and just a little intimidating. “Oh! And, um, I guess like- we could hold hands, maybe?”
He considers it. “Tch. Sounds unsafe.” To keep one whole hand occupied, trapped, in public? Far too dangerous. She deflates, until he continues, “I’ll keep a hand on your back. You’ll have to take point on offense, but-”
“Yes! Of course, Sasuke-kun!”
They walk through the village, Sasuke memorizing the feeling of his hand on the middle of her back, placed in the center of the circle he’s been targeting for years. Sakura blushes bright red, but tries to keep her wits about her, and picks out the food for their next meal carefully from the stalls along the way.