After the war, Sakura knew she didn't have that much time left. That was the price of the Yin Seal, the price of saving all those shinobis lives, of saving her teammates. She didn't mind it. It was a price she gladly pay over and over again.
Shikamaru stands at the doorway with a furrow between his eyes.
“I don't understand,” he says. His finger twitches and Sakura knows that he wants to march across and shake her hard. The only thing stopping him from doing that is his respect for her decisions no matter how much he hated them. “You said you love me. What changed?”
Nothing, she thinks. Only time. The words she uttered had been before the final week of war, before she traded almost her entire lifespan to save her comrades.
Sakura doesn't turn from the window, knowing her expression might give her away.
“Nothing. I lied.” She forces her limbs to lie loose, forces herself to portray an uncaring attitude.
“Why?” Shikamaru demands. He takes three steps in, stopping before her.
“Because I didn't want to die alone,” Sakura says airily. “How was I supposed to know you'd take it so seriously?”
She can't promise to grow old with him. She can't even promise him a decade. What good would their relationship do for him? If he's anything like his father, he'd rather be a widow for the rest of his life than find someone new. Her telomeres are something that can never be extended or repaired. She can't even offer hope.
Sakura had imagined lying in the field with him, imagine having kids with him. What a hopeless dream that was.
“You're lying,” Shikamaru says, his voice gentler than it had been moments ago. “Sakura-”
“I'd have never guessed that you were such a sentimental fool. Trying to find love in places it doesn't exist,” Sakura sneers.
“Go on. Take your stuff and leave. Boys are so clingy.”
Angered, he spins around grabbing the duffel bags and slams the door behind him. She watches him stomp down the street, memorizing his back.
The apartment they had shared now empty and cold.
Sakura is okay with this. She made her choice.
“I heard about some lover spat,” Kakashi says, perched on her kitchen window.
Sakura freezes, her back still turned to him. Years of working at close quarters with him made her easily read by him.
“There was no spat,” she replies. It's not a lie. She had tossed him out. A spat indicates arguing.
He swings his feet into her kitchen. “Oh? Then why is it I heard Shikamaru saying that you didn't love him?” Kakashi leaps off the window, bending over her.
“Hnn~~ Someone is lying. But why?”
Because her lifespan is running out faster than she expected, because she won't die old and wrinkled, because she won't be able to watch their kids grow up.
Hot, frustrated tears streaked down her face and the more she tries to stop them, the harder they fall.
Kakashi pulls her in, rubbing her back. Quite a mimicry of her first failed mission as his partner. “Maa, I can't help if you don't tell me anything.”
She hasn't even told Kakashi about this. Sage, what a terrible jounin partner she is. Sakura pushes away, scrubbing her face with the back of her hand. She bows deeply, deeper than she had for anyone. “Thank you for looking after me all this time, Kakashi-sensei.”
“Sakura? You're scaring me now.” He's not slouching anymore, spine straight up, eyes wide. “What is going on?”
“The war-” Sakura starts and shakes her head. “You see, The Yin Seal eats our telomeres when we use it.”
His face pales. “You used a lot of it at the end of the war… “
She nods, nails digging into her palm. “I… know I don't have a decade left. Probably not even half a decade.” The thoughts of not living long enough to see this new peace burns in her chest. “Shikamaru- he-”
“Shssh, I understand.” Kakashi pulls her in, holding her and Sakura lets the fresh tears stream down her face.
“I don’t regret it, Kakashi. Saving Ino, Naruto, you.”
She pulls away, turning to the stove to make tea. Kakashi sinks into his regular chair, face pensive.
“If I do this. He’ll hate me but he won’t be hung up on me. He will find someone else in time. It’s the best thing I can give him,” she says, putting tea leaves into the pot.
“I can understand where you’re coming from.” Kakashi grabs her hand when she puts the cup of tea in front of her. “But what about you, Sakura?”
“What about me?”
“Don’t you deserve to be happy too?”
“And don’t try to lie to me, Sakura. I know what Shikamaru is to you. Even if it’s for five years, or two, you deserve to be happy.”
It’s not like she refuses to be happy. Sakura wants to be happy too. She wants her happy ever after, wants coming home to her lazy genius, but she won’t do it.
“Not if his happiness is what I have to trade in.”
And that was it. Kakashi finishes his hot tea and disappears. Sakura wonders if it’d be the last time she sees him. It’s no secret that all his precious people had died, leaving him alone one after another. Now she’ll is next.
Sakura tries to apologise multiple times, but each time Kakashi waves it off.
“To be angry at you for doing something I’d have done in your shoes is hypocritical,” he tells her and contrary to her expectations, he didn’t disappear.
They can’t change the past, but they can change the future. Kakashi is never late for meetings with her now. Time isn’t something she has a lot to spend, she supposes; and of all his students, she’s the only one that could be properly called his student.
They are hanging out on the Hokage monument a few weeks after Kakashi had found out when she realises she haven’t updated her will.
“Kakashi-sensei?” He hums, not looking up from his book, but she knows he’s paying attention. “When I die… would you give Shikamaru my scrolls?”
“When you die?” A familiar baritone repeats behind her. “Why is it when you die, Sakura?” Shikamaru asks as he steps out of the shadows with a bouquet of flowers hanging limply from his hand. There are dark circles rimming his eyes. It’s her fault that he’s unhappy.
A momentarily unhappiness for his future, she reminds herself.
“Kakashi?” She glances at Kakashi only to find a pile of leaves in his place. That man!
“Sakura, why is it when you die? What is it that Kakashi refuses to tell me?”
“Why are you here, Shikamaru?” She forces herself to give him a look of disdain. “Are you trying to beg me to take you back?”
“Don’t. Don’t change the subject, Sakura.” He stalks towards her, grabbing her by the arms. “Tell me.”
She opens her mouth to say something, to change the subject but she can’t find the air to make a sound. At this distance, he would notice it and she can’t stop it.
“Sakura, please.” Shikamaru freezes. His hand is trembling when he cups her face. “Your seal, it’s gone. Your seal. The Yin seal, it-” His mind fitting all the parts together just like she had tried to stop. “We can fix this Sakura. Tsunade-sama, she-”
“She can’t do anything. She tried for years.”
“Then take mine! If we split it half-”
Sakura grabs his hands, drops of tears clinging onto her eyelashes. “You know it doesn’t work that way, Shikamaru.”
“I have to try,” he whispers.
This is why she pushed him away. The man she fell in love with wouldn’t have given up because there weren’t any solutions. Shikamaru had never been one who walked away easily.
He thumbs her tears away, pressing his forehead on hers.
“Don’t-” He says in a ragged voice. “Don’t tell me to leave because I won’t. I-”
Sakura pulls him down, pressing her lips against his. His lips chases after hers, hands holding onto her tightly like she might vanish. She feels like that on some days, where her time left vanishes rapidly and she can almost feel weakness in her limbs even if she knows it’s just in her head.
Now that Shikamaru knows, nothing she does will drive him away.