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"OI! SAI!"

His front door slamming open was unexpected, Naruto's distinctive bellow even more so, and Sai blinked.


The blond stormed in, righteous fury swirling in his wake. "Who's been sayin' you're not part of this team, huh? Tell me and I'll knock some sense into 'em!"

"And when he's done, I'll make sure they don't ever forget it."

"Sakura?" She'd appeared directly behind Naruto and Sai blinked again, completely nonplussed.

"I'm sure you know by now there's no stopping either of them when they're this determined," came Kakashi's voice, leaning through the window, Sasuke crouched on the veranda at his back, "so you may as well tell them who's been maligning the importance of your bonds with all of us."

"I—" He looked from one to the other, Naruto's indignation blazing forth like a beacon, Sakura's fist punched casually into her other palm, and he shook his head slightly. "No one has said that to me—why did you think that someone had?"

"That's my fault." Yamato appeared in the doorway, looking slightly winded. "I told them what you said to me the other night. I thought they needed to know, but if that means I've betrayed your confidence, I'm sorry."

"I'm glad you told us," Sakura interjected, and she sounded so decisive about it that Sai forgot all question of whether or not he was meant to be upset with Yamato.

"What did he say?" he asked, because his own words to Yamato two days before had been halting, drawn out and circumspect as he tried to fumble through the emotions that led him to speak in the first place.

"He said you feel like we don't need you around since Sasuke came back, but that's ridiculous!" Naruto's vehemence was nearly palpable. "Of course we need you, you and Yamato-taichou both! You're as much a part of Team 7 as the rest of us and I'm not lettin' you go around thinkin' you're not!"

"...Oh." It was all he could think to say, inadequate though it was, but there was a warmth blooming in his chest that left him feeling considerably...lighter, and distinctly pleased—happy, even, and...grateful, that he could call these people friends.

"That's right," Sakura said, rounding on Yamato with a glowering frown that made him blink and take half a step back before he caught himself. "You're both important to this team; it doesn't matter if you joined it later or not." She cast a quick glance toward the window and turned back to Sai, held his gaze. "You were never just a stand-in and you all belong, and we definitely want you to stay."

"I don't know you two well," Sasuke said then from the window, and whether he was looking at everyone or no one was impossible to tell. "But Team 7 is a family, and I'm not interested in displacing anyone who's become a part of it."

Sai was genuinely surprised to hear these sentiments voiced by the Uchiha, by someone he still wasn't certain he trusted entirely, but Sakura was visibly pleased with that terse statement and Naruto looked ready to burst with triumph.

"Y'see? Even Sasuke says you're family! So no more of this you're-not-needed crap, okay?"

"...Alright," he agreed, the warmth in his chest spreading and swelling until it was uncontainable, and the smile that he offered up then was brimming with genuine happiness.

He was not entirely unprepared for Sakura's hug, returning it with only minimal hesitation, and when she released him Naruto's shoulder-punch and slap to the back were also both predictable and welcome—inclusive.

Yamato's hand settled on his shoulder next, and the warmth in Yamato's smile was full of pride and tenderness and poorly-veiled affection. "You belong, Sai. You belong, you are a part of this team, this family, and if you ever feel undervalued again please don't let it go unspoken."

"I won't," he promised, and the desire to embrace Yamato as he'd embraced Sakura was not easy to disregard.

"Oh fer godssakes Taichou just kiss him already."

"What?!" Yamato's head whipped around to gawk wide-eyed at Naruto.

"We all know you want to," Sakura chimed in, "so don't let us stop you."

"Um—" Yamato's ears were turning red, and his flustered floundering made Sai want to smile; they had discussed telling the rest of the team about their relationship at some point but if the rest of the team already knew, Sai saw no point in hiding it. He reached up to touch Yamato's face and reclaim his attention; he tilted his head slightly, both eyebrows marginally lifted in inquisitive expectation, and Yamato ducked his head with an embarrassed huff, but planted a quick kiss on one corner of Sai's mouth all the same.

Kakashi offered a brief patter of applause from the window and Yamato drew back, shot a glare in his senpai's direction. The tips of his ears were still flushed.

Kakashi ignored him. "How about we all go out, as a team, mmh? The barbeque place has a new expanded menu—my treat."

"Sure it is," Yamato muttered, under cover of Naruto's enthusiastic seconding of Kakashi's plan, and Sai found himself smiling again as he followed the others out, locked the door behind him.

He would pay, if Kakashi reneged; this feeling, this happiness, this sense of belonging—it was surely worth it.