He halted a step away from the invisible barrier.
No matter what direction he arrived from, knew exactly where the limit was.
If he decided to focus, he'd be able to hear the tenuous murmuring of energy that came from it, like a last warning.
Filling lungs with air, he crossed.
No matter how much time passed, no matter how many times he traversed it, his body always reacted with stress.
The way it would if an ANBU team appeared ready to kill him.
It took three steps for his shoulders to loosen.
Feeling undisposed to meet anyone, he moved through the forest, retracting his chakra to become invisible.
His motions elegant, without sound, he let himself fall from the high wall surrounding the village.
He melted with the shadows, more out of habit than to avoid someone; at that time of the night the streets were deserted.
A subtle thrill emerged in his abdomen, the kind he felt before fighting a threatening enemy.
One that managed to overcame the sorrow for returning to this place, so familiar yet so foreign.
If anyone paid enough attention, they would notice that his steps reached just a little bit further, that his cape waved a little bit more with the oscillation.
He never came through the door, not during night.
Landing on the cold wooden floor, he flared a tiny fraction of his tenketsu to let her know of his presence.
The black eye studied the room the same way his chakra probed around, looking for her.
All of his energy was withdrawn when it met nothing but the empty.
He moved silently as only a shinobi can be, reaching the hallway of the house. There was no need to turn on any light; every corner was imprinted in his mind.
Unbuttoning the cloak and hanging it somewhere, he stayed there a full minute.
He was certain she wouldn't have a night shift in the hospital, he made sure to verify.
A last-minute mishap, maybe?
Exhaling through the nose, a tiny hint of irritation went up his throat.
He looked over his shoulder, eyeing every shadow he already knew so well.
It was her apartment.
A space she had showed him the night before his first departure.
The only place he truly felt welcomed.
Some kind of haven she granted him access, allowing the permission to invade it just to give him peace of mind.
Because only she understood how hard it was for him to be there.
But the feeling of being taken in had nothing to do with the walls around him.
He felt her presence, and a spark flared in the black of his eye.
Moving slowly, he stopped two steps away from the entrance, hearing the brush of the feet just outside.
He should've known better.
She charged onto him, locking his legs with hers, pushing with a strong forearm, pressing the gleaming edge against his throat.
The killing intent took longer than usual to completely disappear from her eyes.
A drop of blood emerged from the hairline and slid down her nose, landing directly on his left cheek. The sound seemed to bring her back to reality.
The emerald fixed truly on him, changing the predatory brightness with recognition with every second.
The Sharingan softened when the kunai ceased biting the frail skin of his neck.
"Sasuke" she whispered.
And he could notice from the hoarseness of her voice that the adrenaline of the battle still circulated in her bloodstream.
She didn't apologize, he didn't complain.
Offering a hand when she rose above him, she pulled with just a little more brusqueness than required.
With meticulous attention he observed the cuts on her face, the drops of blood sliding from her fingers, the tears in the vest, in the sleeves of the dark shirt. He knew without asking that the dried scabs staining her skin, her garments, didn't belong to her.
Her body emanated a thick smell of iron, of dirt, of gunpowder. Of death.
Mismatched eyes found green ones, lost in the ravenous gleam that irradiated from them.
With a measured, almost careful movement, he reached for her face.
She tensed in response, instinct still on edge.
With a calloused thumb he caressed the skin of her cheekbone, taking all that it was required for her jaw to stop clenching, for her fists to loosen on her sides.
Slowly he moved, his hand traveling down her neck, wary enough not to touch her throat. It reached her shoulder, paying attention to her gaze, alert for any spark that his touch might trigger.
His hand met hers, and when he heard the forced exhalation he thought of withdrawing.
But he knew her better.
So he remained there, taking some more time so her fingers quit tightening his.
He did not intertwine them; that minimal restriction could turn counterproductive right now.
Walking them to her bedroom, he paused for a few seconds so that the familiarity of the place could appease her breathing.
He made her sit in the tiny stool, one that they knew perfectly as it was the same where she treated his wounds.
As he searched for the med kit, he made sure to always stay in her line of sight, and the crawling in his skin informed him that the green orbs followed every single one of his movements.
His gaze didn't abandon hers as he approached, kneeling in front of her with composure.
He did not count the breaths he took when she finally placed her palms on his shoulders, relieving him when they crossed that tense part of their ritual.
Index and thumb closed on the zipper, taking their time to unfasten it, guiding her breathing with his own.
She let go briefly in order to remove the vest, hands finding their place again in his trapezius.
When he grabbed the scissors, he was careful as to prevent any light reflecting on the metal. As he drew nearer, swallowing saliva, he noticed her fingers were clutching a little harder.
With methodical motions he cut the black shirt, opening from the bottom to the neck. Through the mesh armor he eyed the slim cuts on her abdomen, and some others above her right breast. He lifted his head to see her, and she understood.
Stretching her left arm, she restrained the massive strength of her body so to not break his clavicle when the fabric contacted an open wound in her forearm.
He positioned himself to her right flank, not stepping out of her sight.
His touch was even more delicate when he removed the right sleeve; the piercing smell of blood was enough to let him know the worst damage was located on that side.
She hissed, and his fingers stopped dead. He searched for her gaze, finding tightly closed eyelids.
After several seconds, she nodded without opening her eyes, causing her hair to move as well. It was stiff with dried blood, wet with sweat.
He pulled the dark fabric, peeling it off with obsessive care to avoid it from stretching too hard on the skin, on the wounds.
It fell with a dull thud, filled with small holes and tears; the kind that resulted from an explosion, a very close one.
After a deep breath, he brought his fingers close to the strands that fell to the side of her face.
He did not flinch when the iron grip closed on his wrist.
Still as a statue, he ignored the painful tingling that started to appear in his blood deprived hand.
There was a bit less of pressure; it was the way to tell him he could continue.
Not letting go she let him come closer, and the index and middle finger pushed the hair behind the ear.
A trail of red descended from her ear hole and over the antitragus, just to slide down to the angle of the jaw. Small sections remained fresh.
His eyelids lowered when he noticed, and there was a hint of commiseration in the mismatched colors of his eyes.
Still kneeling he moved to her back, her hand yet closed on his wrist, until she was unable to see him.
Her breath caught, but the grip didn't tighten. She let him go when she recovered her cadence.
He untied the laces of the mesh armor, opening it so it could fall and rest on her elbow pits. For his surprise, she was not wearing the black compression top she used for missions.
As he took the tweezers, he spotted every splinter, every opening in her flesh, and every red trail down her back.
He drew closer, just enough so she could feel his warmth, before taking the first piece with the forceps.
Pain was never the reason she reacted, it was the vulnerability of having him behind her, to be touched from a blind spot.
But this time was far from being the one when he saw her more afflicted, when she jumped on him as soon as he rubbed her, leaving bruises all over his back for several days.
So tonight her only reflex was an audible pant and a slight tension on her trapezius.
Meticulously, he removed every metal fragment, every wooden splinter buried in her skin, letting them fall with a clink in a ceramic bowl.
And with every sound he noticed her posture was becoming more like that of the medic rather than the threatening kunoichi.
Probing the proximity, he came closer millimeter by millimeter every time he considered safe, attentive to the reaction in case she found his proximity to her exposed back unpleasant.
For his relieve, she let him.
A tingling in his optic nerve diluted the crimson once he made sure there were no splinters left.
Silently, he stayed there, close but not touching her.
And to be allowed to be right at her back expressed way much more than words, because he knew the absurd amount of trust it required after returning from a battle.
He had witnessed first-hand what she could do to someone if they approached mindlessly. Had had a taste when he was not cautious enough.
So he waited.
He waited watching the scabs stuck on the pink hair, watching the stiff dried marks on the skin, memorizing for the umpteenth time the scars on her back.
Scars that he knew by heart.
He remained vigilant, his pupils following the steam that emanated from her wounds when they closed, feeling the constant throbbing of chakra that her body expelled against his own tenketsu.
Her shoulders rose and fell with the depth of her sigh.
Then he knew.
He covered more millimeters, hesitant with his own caution (he could not afford to be too sudden).
His lips pressed above the shoulder blade, near her nape; with time he had learned that the soft flesh of his mouth raised her guard less than the roughness of his fingertips.
This time, there was no tensing.
With the most delicate of touches, he circled her waist until his fingers rested on the left oblique, squeezing her in a tender embrace.
"Tadaima" he whispered against her skin.
There was a shift in her breathing, and Sasuke didn't need to see her to know that the tiniest of smiles stretched her lips.