"Did you just say 'body made of metal'?" Yuki demanded, a crazy glint in his eyes. "I think I just found my opponent!" He laughed, absently dodging a ricocheting kunai. "All Cutting Sword, meet Metal Man!" and then he was off, gone before Sakura could wish him luck or ask him to be careful.
“No, you bloody don’t!” Sakura hissed, chakra sense stretching out to get a lock on Yuki’s signature, hardly reassured when she found it.
She turned to Shikamaru and Chojuro with what she hoped was an apologetic expression and threw her arms around their necks. “You’re not allowed to die, alright?”
Then, not waiting for a response for fear she would lose her nerve, she shot off after Yuki, finding him on the roof of what she was almost sure used to be the civilian college, but was now little more than rubble and jagged concrete.
“Pinky-chan?” Yuki asked incredulously, darting out of the way of one of his opponent’s six arms oh god. “What the hell are you doing here?!”
Sakura snarled, fingers twisting in familiar seals and sending a water bullet at the advancing Path, throwing him a good thirty feet back with the force.
“Making sure your idiot self doesn’t get yourself killed!” she replied, turning to Yuki to make sure he got the full force of her annoyance. “What with you running off like a moron!”
“You weren’t meant to follow!” he hissed back, pushing her out of the way of a missile with her name on it, what in the seven hells-?!
She dismissed her fear for the second, chakra strings snapping out, wrapping around each of the six limbs and fighting to hold them still from the moment she made contact. Luckily, Yuki seemed to catch on the instant the thought struck her, and he jumped up, Kusanagi swinging in a vicious arc and loping off one of the arms, the limb hitting the ground with a thud at the same time Sakura felt her control over the strings snap.
“Watch ou-!” but she didn’t get the time to finish, because the moment the words left her mouth, the Path’s arm lashed out and backhanded Yuki in the gut, and Sakura heard something crack as Yuki was thrown back.
Swallowing her worry and panic, Sakura pulled Kubikiribocho off her back and rushed in to take Yuki’s spot, managing to hack half-way through the bone of another one of the Path’s arms. Unfortunately, she was so focused on dancing out of the reach of the monster’s arms that she forgot about the legs, which earned her a punishing kick to the solar plexus.
Sakura flew back, her back and head slamming against a jutting slab of concrete, feeling something in her chest snap as her vision swam.
“Pinky-chan!” hands were pulling her to her feet and away from the slab and even as her body protested, disorientated, she let Yuki tug her away – and with good reason too, because not two seconds after she was up and a safe distance away, the slab of concrete she had landed against was hit by another missile and shattered into smithereens.
Sakura pried her eyes open, meeting Yuki’s concerned gaze, then her eyes widened and she pushed him away, out of the way of a serrated, snake-like broadsword that erupted from the Path’s back and would’ve skewered Yuki like a kebab.
She met the sword with the flat of Kubikiribocho and cheered when Yuki used the beast’s moment of inattention to hack off another arm.
“Ice!” she called, remembering a spar all those years ago when Yuki had managed to trap her in a mimicry of Haku’s ice technique, an idea blooming in her mind.
It spoke to just how scarily similar their thought processes were, because Yuki’s eyes widened and he grinned, wild and crazy and confident, the way he hadn’t been since the start of the fight. His teeth were stained with blood and one side of his face scraped almost raw from where it had ground against the concrete, but in that moment, he looked victorious.
Before her very eyes, the Path’s body was encased in a ten-inch-thick coating of ice – Yuki was panting, his eyes unfocused, and Sakura had no doubt that he was suffering from acute chakra exhaustion, having likely used his chakra to suck the moisture straight from the air as, unlike in Kiri, there was no immediate water source for him to capitalise on.
Then Sakura flashed through her own seals and the concrete at the Path’s feet turned to mud – Sakura held the jutsu long enough for the ice statue to sink into the Swamp of the Underworld to its knees, then let go, gasping at the control and sheer volume of chakra the technique took, but unable to fight the satisfied smirk once the mud solidified back into concrete, trapping their enemy for good.
Once again, Yuki’s thoughts mirrored hers and they sprang, legendary swords hacking away at the frozen-over limbs, cutting mercilessly until an explosion threw them back and the ice shattered.
With a roar, the now-freed Path smashed its remaining arm against the concrete, freeing its legs, then the head shot out towards them oh god they were screwed-!
Yuki pushed her down and out of the way and swung at the head-shaped missile with Kusanagi, and Sakura’s scream died in her throat when the blade split the head in half and it hit the ground, harmless.
Yuki’s eyes flickered from the sword in his grasp to the missile that would’ve killed them that now lay at their feet, seemingly intrigued. “Huh.” He murmured, then shot Sakura a cheeky grin. “Like baseball.”
Incredulous and more than a little delirious with blood loss, Sakura couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out. “You’re insane.” She managed between breathless chuckles, ignorant of the fact that they weren’t done yet. “How did you know that would work?”
“I didn’t.” Yuki replied with an unholy grin, his blood-covered teeth and the trickles from the corners of his mouth only accentuating the insanity of his words. “Call me a gambl-!”
His words were cut off as a missile shaped like a fist buried itself in his stomach and he was thrown back, just like at the beginning of the fight, but this time, even as she waited with bated breath, he wasn’t getting back up.
She leapt onto the shoulders of the headless body of their opponent, body that was still somehow moving despite being decapitated. She barely noticed the way the remaining stump was beating at her legs that she’d wrapped around its torso, bruising the flesh and fracturing bone.
Only one thing was on her mind.
She wanted Pein to feel true pain.
Her fingers scrabbled for one of the receivers buried in the beast’s upper arm, pulling at it until her fingers bled, but at last, she had the sharpened pole in her hand and she channelled chakra through it, feeling it vibrate in her hand and respond more readily than even the best chakra-conductive weapons she’d ever used. Then, she set it against the nape of the Path’s neck and scrawled one single character: 爆.
She jumped off the Path’s back, feeling her knees hit the ground when her shins shattered at the impact, but she paid the pain no heed and instead used her chakra strings like a lasso, grabbing hold of the Path and launching it off the edge of the roof. Then, she pumped chakra into the seal she’d carved and watched as he exploded into shards of bloodied skin and charred metal.
When the Path made no attempt of reassembling and she was sure it was dead, she allowed herself to slump and felt the wave of pain she’d held at bay with force of will alone hit her two-fold.
Sakura fell onto her side and curled into a foetal position, wrapping her arms around her broken ribs and feeling every tell-tale wave of nausea that accompanied a bad concussion, as well as the wave of agony that surged up when she tried to move her legs.
Sakura whined, unwilling to move; it hurt, damn it. She was tired of always hurting.
Sakura gasped out a breathless laugh, and with a herculean effort, she hauled herself into a sitting position and immediately turned her head, vomiting to the side as the vertigo hit her, then pulled one of her legs closer, forcing the last dregs of her chakra to turn green as she set the shattered bone and numbed the nerves, dulling the pain.
She repeated the process on her other leg, bloodied fingers setting the bones but leaving the already mottling bruises alone; then, when the haze of pain receded and she could think more clearly, she dug through her hammerspace seal for a soldier pill, popping it and swallowing dry.
She crawled towards the slumped figure of the assassin, dragging her knees on the rough concrete ground and leaving bloodied smears until she reached her goal and her breath caught.
Yuki looked like a mess, bloodied and black-and-blue and still.
Sakura didn’t think she’d ever seen him so still – Yuki was just one of those people who vibrated with energy, who were always on the move, who were simply invincible.
The shallow rise-and-fall of his chest was the only reason why her hastily-stifled sob didn’t turn into a full-blown panic attack.
Then, Sakura gathered her wits, lifted her leg and sat on Yuki’s thighs, her knees on either side of his hips, and set her hands on his chest.
She had a job to do.
Fifteen minutes later, Sakura was drenched in sweat and shivering, feeling another wave of nausea coming on as she once again teetered on the edge of chakra-exhaustion, but Yuki’s ribs had been set and the tears in his lungs repaired.
“Pinky-chan…?” he rasped suddenly, viridian eyes sliding open and regarding her with no small amount of curiosity. “What…?”
Sakura’s happy laugh turned into a sob, and she didn’t have the energy to try and stifle this one, even as happy tears pricked her eyes.
“You absolute fucking moron.” She sobbed, wrapping her arms around Yuki’s neck and holding tight. “Never do that again.”
“You wound me, pinky-chan.” Yuki mumbled, but returned the hug nonetheless, his movements slow and careful and lacking the usual confidence. “Your words cut deep, y’know.”
Sakura was half-convinced Yuki was delirious with blood-loss, but she laughed anyway. “I will cut you if you do something this dumb again.”
“Ouch.” He chuckled, one hand moving to play idly with her hair. “Thank you for healing me.” He murmured, more sincere this time, and Sakura sighed.
“I couldn’t fail again.” She murmured into his shoulder, remembering, clearer than she would’ve imagined she would after so many years, the time in the cave in Iwa, with Tamaki’s life in her hands and death in his eyes.
“Besides,” she added, more to keep the panic the memory brought with it at bay than anything else, “you proposed. How do you expect to prove to me why I should accept if you die on the same day that you proposed?”
Under her hands, Yuki tensed, and he pulled back from the hug far enough to shoot her an incredulous look. Sakura could see his mind working, trying to figure out what she was talking about, before his eyes widened in shock.
“Mm.” she hummed instead, smiling softly, proud of her little joke. But when her eyes met Yuki’s, her smile slid off her face.
There was no humour in his expression.
Yuki’s eyes were flickering over her face, his mien thoughtful, as if able to see into her very soul and considering what he found there.
“Would you?” he asked suddenly, a propos nothing, and Sakura startled.
“What?” she managed, embarrassed to hear her voice come out as little more than a squeak. It was disquieting, seeing Yuki so focused, and even more so when the full intensity of that focus was directed at her.
“Would you accept?” he clarified, a hint of that signature smirk quirking his lip. “If I proved myself?”
Sakura realised she’d completely lost control of the conversation.
(another part of her whispered that she never had it in the first place.)
“You’re mocking me.” She accused weakly, remembering when she was Billboard Brow and boys would ask her out as a joke and she would run to Ino, tears in her eyes.
But she knew, deep down, that this wasn’t one of those times.
Like he could hear her thoughts, Yuki’s expression shifted, the smirk growing softer, more like a smile, the look in his eyes the most earnest Sakura had ever seen it. His whole countenance told her he was honest, almost beseeching, and Sakura wondered, almost hysterically, how her life had come to this.
Finally, she closed her eyes and took a deep, fortifying breath, and when she met Yuki’s gaze again, she smiled.
“Yes,” she murmured, feeling her face flush. “I would.”
The smile that split Yuki’s face made him look ten years younger, almost like a boy, but Sakura didn’t have much time to contemplate the shockingly soft, innocent expression because Yuki kissed her.
If their first kiss had been a thanks, chaste but brimming with intent, this one left little to the imagination, nothing held back or hidden beneath the surface.
Yuki kissed like a drowning man.
Their teeth clashed, lips caught, and Sakura tasted blood, but she neither knew nor cared for whose it was; she just lost herself in the moment, not a care in the world.
Sakura felt like she was floating, drifting, and it was only when Yuki pulled away that she realised she was breathless. She gasped in a large lungful of air, feeling her heart flutter in relief, and when she opened her eyes – when had she closed them? – she was treated to the sight of Yuki’s satisfied smile; smug and sly like the cat that’d caught the canary, and she couldn’t help but laugh.
“Not a bad start.” She managed breathlessly, releasing the fingers she’d tangled in Yuki’s dark hair as she pulled further back. “But I’m not that easy.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He grinned, and there was something unusually soft and unguarded in his expression.
Sakura smiled back, feeling as if she was on cloud nine, then doubled over with a muffled scream at the sudden spike of pain that pierced her heart.
“Pinky-chan!” Yuki called in alarm, reaching out to steady her with shaking hands.
“Genma,” Sakura gasped, inexplicably sure she was right, “I think Genma’s hurt.”
“So are you!” Yuki pointed out, clearly already having caught on to what she was going to do.
Sakura smiled at him, sadly this time, and leaned in for a quick kiss, for courage more than anything.
“I’m sorry.” She murmured, then reached within herself for the fuinjutsu link she’d neglected in the last few weeks and pulled.
Between one blink and the next, she was on her feet, standing in front of Genma’s crumpled form. Her partner was propped up against a wall of jagged rocks, his eyes wide in alarm when her caught her gaze, and Sakura saw a shadow superimposed over her own seconds before a piercing pain erupted in her back and all through her left side as the same chakra receiver she’d pulled out of the Asura Path was skewered through her back, through her liver and out through her front. Sakura gazed down at the sharpened, bloodied tip of the metal spear that protruded from her stomach, oddly detached.
She shot Genma a quick smile, though with the pain that kept zinging through her body, increasing in intensity with every breath she took, it likely looked more like a grimace.
Then, she turned, fist loaded with all the chakra she had left, and backhanded the Path across the face, knocking it off its feet and straight onto the tip of Yuki’s Kusanagi.
The assassin pushed the sword further in, then, in one decisive move, forced it up, cutting through soft tissue and organs and bones alike.
With a jerk, he pulled the blade out of the Path and swiped at its unprotected neck, All Cutting Sword living up to its name and decapitating the shinobi in one fell swoop.
“Martyrdom and marriage don’t mix well, I hear.” He sniped, and Sakura had one breathless moment to bark a laugh before her knees gave under her and she collapsed against the rocks, blood dribbling past her lips,
The strike hadn’t just taken out her liver, but also reopened all the hastily-healed injuries she’d sustained during her and Yuki’s fight with the Asura Path.
Liver haemorrhage, punctured lungs and drastic bloodloss. Great.
She coughed, the action burning her lungs and throat and jolting her broken ribs so bad she felt tears spring to her eyes even as more blood splattered against the rocks.
Her arms were shaking too hard to support her weight by that point and she felt them give. She would’ve smashed her face against the ground if Genma hadn’t caught her by the shoulders.
“Sakura!” he called, his usually warm, brown eyes harried and terrified. “Sakura, hang on, damn it!”
But Sakura could feel her body slowly shutting down, the obvious injuries and the unaccounted-for internal contusions having wreaked their toll.
“Told you I’d punch a god in the face for you.” She rasped with a blood-stained smile, absently aware of Yuki settling down somewhere to her left.
Genma laughed through the tears which now flowed freely down his face, but words seemed to fail him.
Sakura shuffled over from hands-and-knees to her side, slumping on the ground, back against the rocks. Her free hand groped blindly till it found Yuki’s arm and she followed it down till she could tangle his fingers with her own.
“’m sorry.” She mumbled, letting her eyes slip shut when the black spots that had once danced in her peripheral vision became all she could see. “S’rry.”
She felt Yuki squeeze her hand and heard what she thought might have been a sniffle, then she knew no more.
When Sakura opened her eyes, she was no longer in the neither-here-nor-there. Instead, she saw the sky, grey with the light of pre-dawn and smoke that spiralled up from the ruins of what had once been her home.
She didn’t hurt.
And she was alive.
Sakura groaned and craned her head up, surprised to see concerned viridian instead of the brown she’d been expecting.
“Yuki…?” she mumbled, pushing herself up onto her elbows and slowly into a sitting position. “What happened? Where’s Genma?”
She saw a flash of what might’ve been hurt pass through the assassin’s eyes, but it was gone before she could analyse it further, and he just quirked a wry smile.
“The God had a change of heart. He brought everybody who’d died back.” Yuki explained, something sharp and vulnerable lurking beneath the words, before it was banished by an almost…snide expression. “As for Shiranui…well. He seems to be exploring his sexuality.”
Sakura blinked, stumped, then followed Yuki’s gaze until her eyes landed on what was undoubtedly Genma, leaning over who she thought might’ve been Aoba.
The scene looked…close.
Genma was there. With Aoba. Alive. With Aoba.
Something in Sakura snapped.
“I died for him.” She snarled, barely aware of the way Yuki jumped at the sudden resentment in her voice. “I died for him, Yuki. And he’s not even here.”
“You did what a tool should do.” Yuki acknowledged, and Sakura jerked at the word, reminded suddenly of Zabuza and Haku. “And he treated you like a tool should be treated.”
“A tool.” Sakura echoed, voice devoid of feeling or inflection.
She suddenly knew exactly what had snapped before.
Her precarious control over all her bitterness, her resentment, her vicious, violent, vehement nature born of her formative years being spent scheming, hurting, killing, killing, killing was wearing thin.
Everything she had ever held back, repressed, chained and pushed into the back of her mind was now yanking on the chains, taunting and pushing and fighting to break her hold on it, clawing to get free.
And for the first time in her life, Sakura gave in.
She let the chains break.
“I want to leave.” She gasped, feeling anger more potent than she’d ever tasted before rise to the forefront of her mind. Her hands were shaking. Her chakra was a roiling ocean of rage under her skin. “I want to leave and never come back.”
Yuki startled, looking visibly thrown. “Pinky-chan?” he asked hesitantly, as if worried she’d lost it.
(if only he knew how right he was)
“I can’t stay here any longer.” She hissed, digging her fingers into her hair and pulling harshly, her head pounding with everything that had been let out, and it wasn’t until Yuki forced her hands away that she realised she’d pulled out clumps of hair between her fingers.
“Then don’t.” he said simply, offering her his hand. “But I’m coming with you.”
Sakura tangled her fingers with his and reached for another of her tags even though her subconscious screamed that she was far from sufficiently recovered to even think of manipulating chakra.
It was leave or die.
Between one breath and the next, they were on top of the Hokage Mountain, overlooking the ruins of the Village, and Sakura fell to her knees, gasping in desperate lungfuls of air.
Yuki sank to his knees beside her, reaching out to tilt her head up by her chin, his eyes flickering all over her face, searching.
“You’re hurt.” He murmured, moving his hand from her chin to her cheek, and Sakura leaned into the touch even as she snorted.
“I’m healed.” She corrected, focusing on their point of contact and the gentle touch to fight the urge to claw Yuki’s eyes out.
(she was so good at that)
“Magic reanimation, remember?” she sniped, baring her teeth in what even she could tell was worlds away from a smile.
But Yuki didn’t rise to the bait; if anything, his touch gentled further, at odds with the persona of the man she’d thought she knew and soothing the beast raging in Sakura’s head.
“I didn’t mean physically.” He replied, then brought his other hand to Sakura’s face and lightly tapped her temple with his index finger. “I meant here.”
Sakura’s toothy grin shifted, the expression becoming sharp, more predatory than comforting, and Yuki sighed, though the corner of his lips quirked up.
“Guess you’re going to get to know the Kiri shrinks after all, hm, pinky-chan?” he asked, and Sakura rolled her eyes even as she tilted her head and pressed a kiss to Yuki’s palm.
“They won’t be able to fix me. It’s too late.” She mumbled as her hand rose to cover the one Yuki still had on her cheek, and if her nails dug into his wrist, he didn’t comment.
Yuki was undeterred and merely winked.
“That sounds like a challenge.” He said, letting his hand drop from Sakura’s face and lacing their fingers instead. “And you know how much I love those.”
Then, he was using the grip on her hand to pull Sakura to her feet and steady her when she stumbled.
“Now, take us to Kiri!”
Sakura blacked out somewhere between landing on her cliff and coming down to ground level, but when she came to, she realised Yuki was leading her into a part of the Kiri suburbs she hadn’t explored before. She was too exhausted to argue, and the rapid discharge of chakra had quietened the demon in her head.
“Where are we going?” she asked, noting how the neighbourhood looked less and less like a residential area the further away from the centre they went.
But Yuki just smirked and stopped before one of the few remaining houses, right at the bottom of another one of the rocky mountains that surrounded Kiri. Sakura followed him across the little garden path, and when she paid more attention to the seemingly-randomly growing plants, she realised that at least half was poisonous.
“You coming?” Yuki checked, and Sakura jolted out of her musings to realise he was holding the door open, clearly waiting for her.
“Y-yeah, ‘course.” She replied and stepped through the threshold.
When Sakura moved out of the corridor and deeper into Yuki’s house, she froze, stupefied.
She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting – clinical minimalism, maybe? Riches and extravaganza perhaps?
She definitely hadn’t been expecting to find Yuki’s house cozy.
Fabric tapestries covered every wall, full of mandalas and elephants and psychedelic patterns; the floor was a plush, deep-blue carpet, the sofa covered with a fluffy, patterned throw and more cushions than Sakura could count. Cacti and succulents in tiny, eccentric pots were scattered on almost every flat surface, as were books and random, unidentifiable knick-knacks. A small kitchenette was squished into the corner, and on the other end of the room, hidden by a curtain of colourful beads, was a doorway Sakura assumed led to the bedroom.
She turned to Yuki with wide eyes and a baffled, amused smile. Upon seeing her expression, he grinned.
“What’s the matter, pinky-chan? Is it not what you were expecting?” he asked knowingly, but his voice was teasing.
“I don't know what I was expecting.” Sakura lied, still looking around the apartment with awe that wasn’t in the least faked. “But it definitely wasn't this.”
Yuki laughed and stepped further into the apartment, throwing Kusanagi and his weapons pouches in the corner. “Make yourself comfortable; I’ll grab some takeout and be right back.”
Sakura nodded and moved towards the sofa, but just then, something soft brushed against her calf and she jumped with a yelp. Looking down, she found a pair of brilliant golden eyes staring at her like she’d lost her mind and a swishing, amber tail that let her know just how much the cat at her feet hadn’t appreciated her sudden movement.
“You have a cat?” she demanded, the earlier anger of the mental break turning swiftly into semi-hysteria. She eyed the almost-unfairly beautiful feline by her feet distrustfully, getting a judgemental ‘mew’ back.
“Cats, technically, but Chaos is lazy.” Yuki corrected, crouching down to pet the cat that was still judging Sakura with every fibre of its small being. “Mayhem is much more social.”
“Wait.” Sakura ordered, finally moving over to the sofa and sitting down, almost melting into the obnoxiously soft cushions and groaning as they reminded her of the various aches and pains on her body she’d forgotten about. “You named your cats Chaos and Mayhem?”
“Yup.” Yuki admitted, popping the ‘p’ as he pushed himself to his feet. “Problem?”
“None.” Sakura assured him through a breathless laugh, letting her eyes slip shut. “None at all.”
“Good.” She heard Yuki rummage around, clearly looking for something, but she ignored him until she heard a quiet, ‘here, catch!’.
Sakura barely managed to pry her eyes open in time to avoid getting brained by a brush Yuki had thrown her way.
“If you brush them while I’m gone, they’ll love you forever.” Yuki explained simply, shooting her a grin and pulling a slightly more seasonally-appropriate kimono on.
Sakura sighed, letting her eyes slip shut again, and didn’t bother fighting the smile that pulled at her lips.
A few minutes of relative silence passed between them, broken only by Yuki puttering around the house and the occasional meow, before Yuki spoke again.
“Pinky-chan… if Mei asks me to her office, what do you want me to tell her?” he asked seriously, and Sakura startled at the unusual gravity in his tone.
She pried her eyes open and pushed herself into a slightly more sat-up position, then met Yuki’s serious gaze with her own, forcing the violence in her mind and heart to the background in order to offer him a small smile.
“Whatever you want.” She told him simply, aware just how much she was gambling.
“Whatever I want…including the truth?” Yuki checked, sceptical, and Sakura fought back a laugh.
“Including the truth.” She confirmed easily, feeling something in her relax. “I trust you.”
Something seemed to shift in Yuki’s countenance then, and he moved from his post by the door and stepped closer to the couch, bending over to plant a light kiss on Sakura’s forehead.
“Good to know. Shower’s yours, and I should have some clothes that’ll fit you – make yourself comfortable and I’ll be back with food in a bit.”
Sakura squinted up at him with a half-smile. “Are you saying I smell?” she teased, not expecting to get a sly grin in response.
“Of course not. Every man loves the exquisite perfume of blood, ash and death.” Yuki replied with a perfectly flat tone, and if not for the way his lip kept twitching, Sakura may have almost believed him.
Instead, she thwacked him on the arm, harder than was perhaps called for, and huffed, sinking even deeper into the cushions on the sofa.
“Ass.” She grumbled. “But message received. Go get our food!”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am!” Yuki saluted, then he was out the door before Sakura could say another word.
“Alright,” Sakura breathed once she was sure Yuki was no longer in the house, squeezing the brush she was still holding till her knuckles turned white, “let’s try this.”
She slid to her feet then hobbled unsteadily past the bead curtain to the bedroom and into the ensuite. The shower she took was outrageously hot, and by the time she was done, the room resembled a steamroom more than a bathroom, and her skin was only a shade lighter than her hair.
True to Yuki’s words, she found some clothes which were only a little too big, and after braiding her hair and pinning it up in a bun to dry, she padded back into the living room and settled on the ground by the sofa, crossing her legs and keeping perfectly still until Mayhem wandered over, investigating the weird stranger he’d judged before.
By the time Yuki returned with their dinner, Sakura had fallen into a trance while brushing, and the cat was purring so loud she didn’t hear the door open.
“He’s going to be bald by the time you’re done.” He observed, setting the bag of take-out on the table.
Sakura jumped, yanking on the brush and startling Mayhem, earning an indignant hiss from the feline before he trotted away.
“I’m going to get you a bell one day, I swear.” Sakura grumbled as she brushed off the fur that clung to her shorts and stood up.
“Or just some situational awareness.” Yuki teased back, dodging the half-hearted swat. “Now, c’mon, eat!”
Sakura was more than half-way through her box of stir-fry when Yuki spoke again.
“Oh, by the way, I got you an appointment with the real estate agency when I was out.” He piped up, a propos nothing, and Sakura blinked, momentarily thrown.
“Real estate?” she echoed, putting her chopsticks down. “Why? Can’t I just stay with you?” she asked, hating the vulnerability that underlined her words.
“Of course, you can!” Yuki hastened to reassure. “At least, until you decide whether you want to stay in Kiri or go back. But if you decide to stay, you should have a place of your own.”
Sakura was no less baffled at that explanation. “Why?” she repeated, then felt a heavy weight settle in her stomach and tried to swallow past the lump that formed in her throat. “Do you not want me here?”
Yuki winced, but whether it was at how small her voice came out sounding or the indirect accusation, she didn’t know.
“It’s not that, pinky-chan.” He sighed, putting his chopsticks down and regarding her with one of his rare serious looks. “But you need to learn how to be your own person, and for that, you need your own space.”
Sakura drew back, confused and a little hurt. “I am my own person.” She shot back, then, when Yuki’s expression didn’t shift from the weird mix of pitiful and sympathetic, she repeated; “I know who I am.”
“Do you?” Yuki asked, not unkindly. “Then why did you become an assassin?”
Sakura startled at the non-sequitur. “Because I’m good at it.” She replied, but Yuki shook his head.
“Nope!” he denied, popping the ‘p’, but there was no humour in his smile. “Try again.”
Sakura wanted to be angry, but she was just so tired.
She sighed. “Because I wanted to be partners with Genma.” She admitted, beginning to get an inkling of where Yuki was going with this and not liking it in the least.
Yuki’s sharp smile softened a little.
“That’s better.” He praised, reaching out to lightly pat the hand she still had resting on the table, and Sakura belatedly realised she’d balled it into a fist so tight her knuckled had turned white. “You didn’t get a chance to decide what you wanted to do, because you concentrated so hard on what you needed to do. The fact that you’re an assassin is coincidence, not design. I want you to find something you’d want to do for you.”
Touched as she was by the sincerity and the sentiment, Sakura still bristled. “I did T&I for that!” she defended, but even before the words were completely out, she knew it was for naught.
“And do you remember why you joined T&I? Cause I do!” Yuki sing-songed, and Sakura sighed, defeated.
“…To get to the mission requirement for jounin.”
“Because…?” Yuki pushed, and Sakura shot him the stink-eye.
“Because…as jounin…I could be Genma’s partner. Oh, god.” The anger and frustration evaporated, almost as if they were never there in the first place.
Instead, the sinking feeling in Sakura’s stomach intensified, and her eyes grew wide.
“Do you see now?” Yuki pressed, lightly stroking her knuckles with his thumb until she let her hand relax and felt the sting from where her nails dug into her palm. “Your accomplishments, as impressive and noteworthy as they are, have largely been for the wrong reasons.”
Sakura drew back, pulling her hand from under Yuki’s and shooting him a disbelieving stare. “Wanting to be with and protect Genma was a wrong reason?” she asked incredulously, but Yuki didn’t rise to the bait.
“Repeat that, slowly this time, then ask me again.” He said instead, and when Sakura did, she sagged, all the fight gone out of her.
“…Fine. But…I don’t know what I want to do. I can’t remember what I wanted to be before I became a shinobi, and like I said, I’m good as an assassin.” Sakura admitted, looking anywhere but at Yuki, expecting to find him smug or vindictively satisfied.
Instead, when he reached out and gently turned her by her chin to face him, all she found was sympathy and fondness.
“That’s okay.” He reassured her quietly, the most earnest Sakura had ever seen him. In that moment, she could understand how the S-Ranked assassin most viewed as ‘unhinged’ to straight up ‘insane’, the man befitting the moniker ‘the Terror of the Mist’, could live here, in this house of comfort, two cats, and an obnoxious amount of cushions.
There was nothing dangerous about Yuki then. Just understanding and compassion and a smile that felt more genuine than anything Sakura had ever seen.
“That’s what I meant,” Yuki continued, before he pulled his hand away from her cheek and Sakura found herself missing its warmth. “I want you to find out.”
“But…why?” she asked helplessly, eyes flickering over Yuki’s face like it would grant her the answers she needed.
“Because you deserve it.”
Sakura couldn’t even find it in herself to feel sorry for knocking both their meals off the table in her effort to lean over and kiss Yuki. She also refused to apologise for the few happy tears that slipped out.
A week passed since Sakura’s arrival in Kiri.
She saw the psychiatrist Yuki had dragged her to four times. She went to the estate agent’s and had a look at flats and houses she would be able to rent, and shortlisted two little apartments, not too far from Yuki’s own.
But more importantly, she reflected on what Yuki had said.
What did she want to do?
And did she want to do it in Kiri, or Konoha?
The answer didn’t come to her in the form of a stroke of inspiration, or divine intervention, or even spite.
Instead, it came in the form of seventy pounds of boy that collided with her legs at full-speed when she was out in the markets, and would’ve bowled her over if Yuki hadn’t caught her.
Sighing in relief, Sakura turned and scooped Yoshirō up, managing a small, albeit completely genuine smile.
“Yoshirō-kun!” she greeted, spinning the boy around before settling him on her hip, ignoring the shopkeeper’s aghast stare. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the Academy?”
The boy frowned adorably, and Sakura couldn’t fathom how there were people in this Village who were scared of this child. “I live here! Why are you in Kiri?” he asked, with that same directness only kids can get away with, but instead of rude, he only managed to sound endearingly confused.
“I’m… taking a vacation.” Sakura managed eventually, sticking her favourite finger up behind Yoshirō’s back when she heard Yuki snort from his place by the veg stall. “But you haven’t answered my question, Yoshirō-kun.”
“Atsushi-sensei said I shouldn’t be at the Academy.” Yoshirō confessed, and Sakura tensed. “He, um, called me ‘bastard scum’? I don’t know what that means, neechan, but it sounded mean.”
Sakura didn’t realise she was emitting Killing Intent until a heavy hand landed on her shoulder and squeezed lightly.
“Not that I’m not all for terrifying presumptuous civilians,” Yuki murmured, his mouth so close to her ear that Sakura felt shivers break out on the nape of her neck, “but maybe dial it down a notch? The best way to take revenge is when they don’t know you’re coming.”
Sakura took a deep breath and wrestled her anger and indignation on Yoshirō’s behalf back under control, then gave the boy a strained smile.
“I’ll pop by the Academy later today, and you can show me what Atsushi-sensei looks like, hm, Yoshirō-kun?” she suggested, bending over to put the boy back on the ground, mind already planning fifteen different ways in which she could make the Atsushi-sensei eat his words and regret them. “For now, why don’t you get Yuki to buy you an ice-cream? Neechan has an errand to run.”
The disbelief on Yuki’s face might’ve made her laugh once, but she was too focused on her self-assigned mission to pay it much heed. Instead, she ruffled Yoshirō’s hair and pecked Yuki on the lips, then she was gone.
Ten minutes later, she’d breezed past the guards and a visibly surprised Ao, and stood in front of Mei, a determined expression on her face.
“Mei-sama.” She greeted, and the Mizukage put her pen down and propped her chin on her hand, her smile telling Sakura she already knew what the rosette had come in to see her about.
“We need to talk.”