"Who are you?" Shikamaru asks her, the day he breaks her heart.
"Who are you?" He repeats, when she gets him home and shows him their room, telling him she'll sleep on the couch so he can have his space.
"Who are you?" He asks his reflection in the mirror every morning, Sakura hidden in a corner biting her fist bloody so she doesn't break down crying.
It's a stupid accident. It's so stupid Sakura refuses to believe that's what actually happened until a witness assures her of the event. She's certain someone must have sneaked into the village, some enemy of the nation trying to get to her through Shikamaru. But no, says the old lady who lives right next to them, he was painting the fence, my Lord Nanadaime Hokage-sama, Sir. Ma'am.
He was painting the fence because she had complained about the ugly colour the day before. He was still deep into his parenting leave, so he decided to do something about it, as a surprise for her. It was almost done, too, a nice muddy green that blended perfectly with the moss growing on the fence and the large trees covered in lichen behind it.
She found him on the ground, his head split open, the blood steadily dripping into the sponge-like ground. Her first step near his head had sunk into the earth, a reddish froth bubbling around her open-toe shoe. The vomit that filled her mouth had taken her by surprised, and she choked on it before managing to spit most of it on the grass.
The sharp, biting taste was enough to kick her into action, immediately dropping to her knees in the bloody mud surrounding Shikamaru's head. Performing open surgery in her garden has never been Sakura's idea of a fun evening with her partner.
Once she had been sure he wouldn't die in her arms, she shunshined to the hospital where he spent the next five months in a chakra-induced coma until the swelling in his brain had reduced to something that didn't make Sakura's heart crawl up her throat.
She brings him home once his balance is good enough that he can walk, even if it's nothing close to what a shinobi should have. The children aren't there to welcome them, because Sakura doesn't want to see the light go out from their eyes once they realize that Shikamaru doesn't remember them. Doesn't remember her.
Doesn't remember himself.
The first week is a nightmare of headaches and heartbreak. Sakura goes to Kiba's place to kiss the children goodnight every day, but she doesn't stay long because she's so incredibly terrified of letting Shikamaru alone she can work herself into panic attacks just thinking about it. Which leads to the children missing them like crazy, and Sakura feeling guilty.
She sits down with Shikamaru in the afternoon, and shows him the few pictures they have of themselves. They're don't own a camera, nor do they have any photo albums. The (five? ten?) pictures they own were taken by their friends. It doesn't show a quarter of what they lived through together, the years of love, of hardship, the day they adopted Saishū and Hashiru's birth, a month before the accident.
He doesn't really react, a polite look on his face she knows well, the one that means he's deadly bored but well-mannered. It's the one they used to laugh about, in Council sessions, the one that meant she would stick her tongue out to him when her advisors had their back turned. He would hide his stupid, adorable giggles behind badly acted cough that would turn into actually coughing from his smoking, and she would scold him for it after the Council session.
The second week, Kiba practically shoves the children in her arms. He seems to have a permanent frown on his face since the accident, and she hates it, hates how it shifts his face into something she can't recognize. Her baby pressed against her chest, Saishū curled up in her lap, she weeps for her family.
She knows she wouldn't have been able to keep them away for long, and Kiba did the right thing by forcing her hand. She was making both the children and herself miserable.
(not Shikamaru, though, because he doesn't care about any of them now)
Sometimes, she visits Sasuke. Not too often, because it always leaves her feeling both empty and vicious, acid covering her teeth. She goes, when the second week ends. He's in his cell, in the same corner she always sees him in. She wonders if he ever moves, apart from using the open little room with the toilets and sink.
The bandage is secured around his nose (she can't say his eyes, because he doesn't have any now), hiding the empty, dark holes in the last Uchiha's face. She can't help but feel proud to know her prison treats people well. He has more fat on his hips than he ever had while running around with Orochimaru, one half starving and and one half mad. He's nothing impressive in weight, but he is healthy. He's clean, too, because they take him to the showers every two days.
His cell has light, and heaters, and coolers for the harsh Konoha summer. His mattress is comfortable, and there's a carpet so his bare feet don't get cold. His clothes are all she can allow, it's just pants that stop mid-shin and a shirt, wide and breathy, in a fabric that feels like cotton but was manufactured specifically to answer to the seals on the six walls of the cell. It breaks down into micro fibres if it touches chakra.
Sakura thinks he has a perfectly acceptable life, for a traitor. Maybe her perception is a bit twisted, because sometimes she dreams of wrapping her hand around his throat and squeezing, squeezing. Choking on the betrayal, he will beg, and she will ease the pressure, until he can breathe again, until the safety is back in his heart, and once his lungs are under control again, she'll squeeze one, very hard time, and she'll listen to trust and heartbreak die in his mouth.
She doesn't do it, of course. She's not a monster.
She thinks the punishment was an apt one, and she even did him the favour of burning his eyes after carving them out of his skull (under anaesthesia, she's not a monster), so no one could ever do harm with the Uchiha's curse again.
One day, maybe, if her Council rules in favour of it, she'll transplant him some new, boring eyes, maybe a washed-out blue-grey, something that doesn't remind her of any other eye she knows. Who knows. It would be a kind thing to do. She's a kind one.
Sakura sits next to the cell, in her white and red coat, the hat around her neck, and she looks at him. She studies the way the fight has left him, how much more at peace he looks now, well-fed and clean, in white clothing, his dark hair cut closer to the scalp in something that looks like Gaara's or Kiba's hair.
Uchiha Sasuke is her greatest accomplishment. He is no longer a threat to the village, and he is at the best condition he's ever been in his life.
Doubt washed from her heart, she leaves the cell behind. She's already out in the street when Sasuke starts sobbing, pitiful sounds only because he has nothing left to help him cry.
She smiles to Hi no Kuni's sun, and kisses the forehead of a passing child whose mother hands him to her for her blessings. She's not a monster, and she has a partner to help.
When she gets home, Shikamaru is painting the fence.
The panic slams into her like a tsunami and it brings her to her knees instantly. Her breath is stuck in her throat and she chokes on the fear, her vision whitening until she falls to her hands and knees. Gasping, she tries to find something stable in her mind, something to focus on that isn't the blind terror ripping through her brain like monstrous beast.
“Hokage-sama, take a deep breath in. We took him away from the fence. Now out. He's safe. He's sitting down in the garden with Boar and Rabbit, and they gave him a puzzle. In again. He's very intent on solving it, you should join him. Now out. He would certainly appreciate the company.”
Sakura nods, shaking from head to toe but her breathing under control. Beaver helps her up and she walks up to Shikamaru. She nods to the other two guards, who nod back before vanishing in the trees.
“Hello, Shikamaru,” she says like a love sigh, like a whispered song. “I hope you're enjoying the challenge. We have more wooden puzzles like this one if you want. Can you please tell me why you were painting the fence?”
“The colour is ugly,” he says absent-mindedly, twisting another piece. “I need to make it green, so it matches the moss and the trees.”
The wave of hot and cold washing over her chest and face sits her down without herself even realizing what she's doing. She feels dizzy.
“Yeah? I can paint it later, if you don't like it.”
“No, I have to do it. You're busy.”
She tries her best not to be excited, because he knows she's busy, she tells him about her work when she comes home, like she would normally do if he ever responded to her. But this is the first time he's taken any initiative to talk like he understands what she's been telling her. And maybe... maybe he just knows she's busy. Maybe he remem— no. Shut the fuck up, she screams to herself, refusing to go down that line of though.
Suddenly, he drops his puzzle. She looks at it in confusion, because even though his balance isn't the best, his motor skills haven't been affected much. Not to that point anywas. But he doesn't look at the wooden pieces scattered in his lap.
Instead, he looks straight into her eyes, and asks: “Where is Naruto?”
Once the red mist has passed, once she recognizes where she is (in the Death Forest) and the hours that passed (a lot) while she was mindlessly destroying trees and killing creatures, she comes home. She doesn't really know how she left, she can't really remember. But Shikamaru is waiting for her, rocking Hashiru slowly like she showed him. There's ayu gohan, her favourite, and some plum liquor, the only alcohol she lets herself get drunk with.
“We fought each other to the death and I killed him,” she says, picking a slice of cooked fish from the rice bowl. “It took us eight hours to get to a point where we were even touching each other, and by the tenth hour, we were bleeding. I broke his knees and punched his lungs out of alignment, the fox was too busy trying to save him from internal bleeding that he didn't have enough chakra to cover his skin thick enough. I used my chakra scalpel and I cut his stomach hip from hip to get him on his knees, then broke his neck.”
She chews on a broccoli flower, then picks another one, the rich flavour exploding in her mouth.
“And you would remember that this was the worst day of my entire life if you hadn't decided to paint a fucking fence because I whined for three seconds after fucking you.”
The bowl in her hand explodes, pieces of ceramic flying in every direction, the food raining on her feet. Some of the small chips go straight to their faces, cutting long, shallow rivers into Sakura's chin and Shikamaru's cheek.
The pain in her hand is sharp, the blood a healthy, flowing red.
There's always been blood on her hands. It's been a long time since it was hers.
“You're a monster,” Shikamaru says, the blood dripping down her cheek, down her jaw, into his shirt, into the floor, small red dots of disgust Sakura recognizes, counting them like she counts her own freckles, knowing precisely how many freckles away she is from having no other to keep a tally of her body count with.
“You're a monster,” he repeats, taking a step forward, and wrapping his arms around her. “And all the reasons that make you a monster are what makes you the greatest, most stable, most reliable leader this village ever had. Konoha has never been so rich, so happy, the loss of genin and chūnin so low, the medics so competent, the shinobi so mentally healthy. You are the best thing that ever happened to this village, and that is entirely thanks to the fact that you are a monster.”
His lips find her hair, and he kisses it, parting her bangs until he can kiss the seven seals she has there, in a line following her eyebrows to her temples. Nanadaime Hokage, Lord Seventh of the line.
“And I love you for it. You are the mother of my children, my partner in everything good and bad, the warmth in my bed when I get home.” His hands cup her face, recognition so clear in his eyes she doesn't hesitate to put her bloody hands on his bleeding face, blood mixing in a disgusting, hypnotizing way. “You are a monster, and I will love you until the day I die, and I will love you after, once we've joined the gods to look after our children's children, an eternity spent by your side.”
He kisses the shell of her ear, whispering only for her, for the bloody, ruthless, kind, compassionate, vengeful, loving monster that she is.
“Let me lick the blood of your hands when you come to bed with me, so we can touch our children together without staining them with this ugly world. Let me praise you, for the goddess of wrath and justice you are, Protector of Konoha, Seventh of the Hokage line. Let me love you, Lord Haruno Sakura, until you can only remember the blood you spill with the pride it deserves.”
She burns with the desire to take him right here and the devastating want to lay him on the bed and wrap him in a nest of covers so he can never be hurt again.
She wants to rip out his heart and put it in her own chest until the beats are syncing, until herself and himself mean the same thing.
She thinks maybe, that's what he's trying to tell her, too.