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Fandom Redemption [Closed] [Graverobber141/arbus]


Karin's arm fell limply to the side as she stared at him. She did not know that expression on his face, but was making her uncomfortable. She stood silent in shock, and felt wave after wave of disappointment crash over her.

"I'm letting you", she heard herself mumble. Heat that had nothing to do with shame or embarrassment, and everything with stunted, crippled emotions, long repressed and preferred to stay that way, crept up the back of her neck. A strange sensation as her scalp seemed to contract in goosebumps, and that familiar feeling of dizziness, of rejection, captured her in its entirety. She felt numb. "I --" Because I want to.

The door to Sasuke's sickroom opened again, and thank kami for this small mercy, because even though it was the pink-haired gnome who was entering, it gave Karin time to compose herself -- and she used it well, whirling around on the balls of her feet to face Sakura, whose eyes had fallen on Sasuke half-sitting up in bed. She had barely time to open her mouth to speak, when her gaze traveled further, falling onto the kettle that stood next to the basin and suspicion drew her eyebrows together.

"You didn't --"

"Of course I did!", Karin retorted, voice maybe a bit too high. "Your tea stinks! Nobody can drink that!"

"It's made of herbs", Sakura replied, walking across the room in a manner that suggested she had grown familiar with it. She handed the full hot water-bottle to Sasuke and clicked her tongue disapprovingly. "It took us three hours to stabilize your core temperature. If you intend to run around and undo all the hard work, be my guest, but I won't rescue you a second time. I've head it with you people."

"Stubborn as mules", Karin said, nodding sagely.

"Exactly", Sakura agreed. She dropped her voice a little, and allowed a smile to overwrite her put-upon facade. It softened the lines of worry around her eyes and mouth, allowed the relief she felt to shimmer through. "Ari's alright. More than alright. He's in the next room. With his mother." At her last words, her voice tilted a little with joy and amusement.


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A wave of relief washed over Sasuke as Sakura entered the room, even as he felt a trace amount of fear somewhere in the back of his mind upon the thought of what she would have done to him had he actually made it onto his feet--or the floor, more accurately. Her appearance offered him a selfish reprieve from the struggle of stumbling through words to explain to Karin how it didn't matter if she was letting him; the act was taking advantage, and he would not use anyone like that again, was--sorry, regretful, all words fell short--that he had ever used anybody like that.

And then there was the fact that he was completely and utterly relieved to see that Sakura was okay with his own gaze, and felt a tension in his shoulders and heart loosen considerably. Eyes softening, the poisonous, indescribable, yet so very vile feeling dimmed within the dark coals of his irises, as they landed on her. Her presence also meant that Ari was fine as well, and that confirmation set his mind at ease.

Head tilting in the opposite direction than the loud screech had come from, as if that could keep the sound waves from resonating from within his skull, Sasuke took the offered water bottle, the heat feeling relaxing against his damaged skin, as he quietly stated, "Thank you."

Realizing his exhaustion, the exertion that just trying to sit up had pulled from him, how the air felt unbearably cool, even with the warm fire, threatening to send a assault of shivers throughout his body, Sasuke, after tucking the water bottle against his side, settled back into the bed, wrapping himself snugly within the blankets, all the while ignoring the urge to declare that Suigetsu had started it, with a smug addition that he, however, had only ended it.

Gaze settling comfortably back onto Sakura, he couldn't help the smile that spread across his lips upon hearing that Ari had been reunited with his mother. Something within him lightened, a dark serpent twisting around his subconscious eased its grip around his guilt and regret just so. He closed his eyes to savor the feeling that overcame him, a mixture of pure relief and happiness for the boy.

Hope was dangerous, but wasn't it worth that danger?

Eyelids slowly drifting back open, he sought out Sakura once more, a single eyebrow lifting up questionably, because he found the amusement that had been in her tone odd, and there was still the question of how Ari had ended up in that cave. "Why is his mother here?"


Sakura waited for him to settle comfortably, before she helped pull the mountain of blankets up to his chin, making sure with the keen eye of the professional that he was tucked in properly, and no part of him was exposed to the air. It earned her a suspicious glance from Karin, who was sneaking a glance over her shoulder at what was happening.

"Because Suigetsu is the biggest idiot on the face of the earth", Karin mumbled.

Sakura drew her shoulders up, a gesture as if in silent laughter, and her eyes were warm with mirth and excitement. "You'll only believe it when you see it", she said with a smile that grew to spread over her face. It was not exactly clear if she was ignoring Karin, or if she had not heard her. "I'll show you, if you are feeling up to it. Ari's been on pins and needles since we fished you out of the water." She turned her body halfway towards the door, vaguely indicating that if Sasuke would give his permission, she would open it to invite him in.

"Sasuke needs his rest", Karin said. She crossed her arms, looking doubtful, and very much like an ill-tempered bodyguard. "What he does not need is any form of excitement."


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Well, Sasuke thought, considering Karin's declaration, there is Naruto. Apparently he was magnetic for knuckleheads. Of course, he sorely admitted, lying there having thoroughly fried himself with his own jutsu, perhaps there was an obvious reason for that.

Watching Sakura's face light up, her eyes shine with joy, and studying her smile like it could have been the last time he would have seen it, Sasuke found himself returning the warm expression, to the extent that even his own, soft eyes reflected that genuine happiness. A lazy thought drifted through his consciousness, a consideration of how he could ever say no to those emerald eyes, that smile. And he wanted desperately to see the kid. Seeing as he could do nothing else in the coming days, rest could wait.

"I'll be fine," Sasuke stated, his gaze shifting onto Karin as he spoke, before moving back onto Sakura. With a light chuckle, he added, "Besides, if we keep him waiting, he might blow down the door with a fireball." Giving a nod toward her, he indicated he was ready, and turned his gaze to watch for the boy's entrance. Admittedly, his interest was piqued.


"I really doubt that." Karin found herself mumbling again, miffed that her reasonable argument had been put aside without consideration. She did not quite look at Sasuke, either, but from the corner of her eye she saw the change in his expression anyway, and that particular look with which he regarded the gnome. It stung, and twisted, and pulled, and she was set to ignore it, watching Sakura head towards the door to poke her head out, calling out to the kid and his mother.

A whoop came for an answer, all excitement and joy, and she had just time to open the door wide for the white ball of fluff that whirled into the room, bouncing across the floor towards Sasuke's bed to land in his lap. Four paws found their way expertly towards Sasuke's head, and a moment later a raw tongue was streaking across his chin as a twitching tail whipped against his cheek with excitement. Sitting erect and proud, tongue lolling and glacier-blue eyes glittering, was a small fox, snow-white and showing off his canines in a merry grin.

"Look, Sasuke, look! I've found my mom, all thanks to you!"

The clatter of claws against hard clay -- then, the body of a fox entered the room, its fur the pure white of alpine snow and the movements all majestic grace. Walking by Sakura, its shoulders almost reached her elbow; it was large like a pony, but elegant like a queen, and it moved slowly towards the middle of the room, placing itself there with much more poise than the little one, curling its six tails around its large front paws. For a long moment, it regarded Sasuke out of sober eyes. When it spoke, its voice was serene: "My child says you watched over him, Uchiha. You and the healer both. I thank you for that. I go by the name of Shimo. I am glad to find you alive and reasonably well."

"They are kitsune", Sakura said superfluously, and laughed. "Ari's a kitsune, a one-tailed fox, Sasuke!"


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Sasuke's surprise was evident in his raised brows, slightly widened eyes, and in the way he seemed to have forgotten to shut his mouth, jaw left unhinged. For a moment, he could only stare at the white ball of fur seated on his chest, identified as Ari, in amazement. A kitsune. A legend. He would not have believed it, had it not been for seeing them before him, reinforced by his own past experiences with formerly believed to be just legends that left him more willing.

He wondered if it was considered rude to pet such an extravagant being. Considering Ari had just licked his face, an act that had brought a smile he tried to repress on his lips as his eyes had closed, he supposed that was fair game. Tugging his arm out from his blankets, careful to expose as little as he could of his chest to the outside air (and suddenly very aware and conscious of his own lack of clothing), he placed his hand against the fox's head, ruffling his fur like he would do his head of hair, before withdrawing his fingers to give Ari that soft, affectionate forehead poke. "I'm just glad Ari's okay."

So this is why Suigetsu was after them. Sasuke had a short thought of marching out of bed to find the swordsman for round two, but he supposed two rounds of chidori was punishment enough. Of course, it did not even occur to him that he was in no condition to be marching anywhere.

Turning his dark gaze toward the mother, Sasuke gave a firm nod of his head, eyes trailing over her snow-white form, taking in her total of tails. Amazing. Simply amazing. If only he had enough chakra, he would have activated his sharingan, only so he could perceive them both better. "Shimo, it's a pleasure. Your son is special, even for a kitsune. It is an honor to have met him."


Ari chattered affectionately at Sasuke's caress, nudging his head against his hand and then the cold, wet nose against his cheek. His tail was whipping in excitement, and his whole body was thrumming as if he could barely contain himself to sit still. He managed, however, because his mother spoke again: "He was very smart to find himself two such renowned allies."

"And I didn't drop my disguise once!", Ari interjected. He was like a small peacock, Sakura thought, swollen with pride, head erect and nose up in the air. His voice had not changed from before, was the same as it had been when he had taken the form of a boy. It created an odd sensation within Sakura; it was dizzying to imagine that the quirky little varmint was in truth this furry white fox. "Why a child, though?", Sakura asked. She had wondered about this for awhile now, ever since Sasuke's condition had stabilized and the nagging worry had vanished to leave room for other thoughts. "Couldn't you have turned into ... I don't know? An adult? Someone big and dangerous looking?"

"Don't be stupid", Ari began, but one glance from his mother was enough to make his jaws lock around his next comment. He made a yipping sound. "I mean, I just did what mom told me to do."

"Humans are emphatic creatures." Shimo's voice was very low, and still it carried through the room. "We use your qualities to our best advantage. You tend to your young ones, as do we. And, after all, Ari is merely a kit himself."


Karin did that thing again, Sakura noticed: She stared at the scene before her, face set in stone (quite a miserable one), arms crossed defiantly. She had looked that way all throughout Sasuke's treatment, and although she made little huffing sounds of disapproval every now and again, she did not say anything. Her gaze behind the thick glasses shifted between Sasuke, Ari, and the door, looking indecisive.

Perhaps Shimo caught onto that, because she said: "Come now, Ari. The Uchiha needs rest. He risked his life for you. You owe him gratefulness and respect."

"I respect Sasuke", Ari said. Sakura had not known that a fox could look indignant. "And I'm grateful." The last words came out in a murmur. Once more, Ari's cool nose nudged Sasuke's cheek. Sakura could get used to that sight. It was heartwarming.
"Can I stay here, Sasuke?", he asked, and as if to forestall any objections, he curled up on the spot, making himself comfortable on top of Sasuke. "I will keep you warm."

"You have an ice affiliation!", Karin burst out. Three pairs of eyes turned in her direction, and she stuttered: "Well, it's true. I -- I mean no disrespect, but the temperature just dropped with you entering the room. And Sasuke-kun needs all the warmth he can get!"

Shimo inclined her head. "Ari", she said. Ari's ears twitched, but he did not move. "I'm sleeping, mother", he informed the room. Sakura snorted.


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Sasuke let out a short laugh, soft, yet warm, watching as Ari made himself at home on his lap, sassing his mother in a way that reminded Sasuke of how he would do his own, when he had wanted so desperately to spend time with his elder brother instead of focusing on his homework or duties. A drip of sadness shivered throughout his joy at the memory, his eyes dropping just so. Running his fingers through Ari's warm fur, he allowed himself to remember that this was what it felt like.

"Mm," he mumbled softly, the noise made to confirm he was considering Karin's protest, Ari's request, and Shimo's demands of her child. If it were completely up to him, Sasuke would have just let him, yet there were other dynamics to consider.

The sudden intrusion of Karin's words, her tone of voice, and with a subtle glance in her direction, Sasuke studied the severity of her body language and expression, made him aware that something was off with her, and he was not as dense as Naruto to not know what that something was, yet he was completely lost when it came to how to deal with it. Especially since the scarred indentations of his teeth running up her arm were proof of how he had encouraged that unhealthy obsession.

Shifting his jaw, his gaze flickered to Sakura, observing her as he considered that he wasn't the only who had changed, experienced growth, and that thought made his lips tug upwards, only momentarily, into a smile.

And finally, he turned his attention onto Shimo, the mother. Another memory: a younger version of himself, staying up way past his bedtime, listening to stories told by Shisui, who had stopped by to talk to his brother. His mother walking in, warning Sasuke to leave the elder Uchihas alone, and when Shisui had dared, in ignorance, to imply it was okay, the most dangerous set of eyes in the clan had peered out over his mother's sweet smile. Sasuke had rushed off to bed immediately.

"You should listen to your mother, Ari. It's up to her, and Sakura and Karin." Another light chuckle fell from Sasuke's lips. He wouldn't risk the ire of a mother, nor either Karin's or Sakura's should his body temperature begin to drop again, yet, and the idea was already turning in his head, he had his ways.

Lifting his brow, he leaned back against his pillow, turning his head in the three women's direction. His expression was pleading and hopeful, wide eyes filled with expectation, like he was a child begging for a more few minutes to play with his friends before being called in for dinner; it was a look he hadn't worn since he was young, staring up at his brother, asking for training, yet Uchihas seemed to be particularly immune to such trickery.


Ari took in Sasuke's move in his peripheral vision, as his eyes were supposedly closed. After all, he was officially already sleeping. And what an expert move it was, one even a fox like him had bow his head to. With a subtle blink, he shifted his gaze to gauge if it was working.

Karin stuttered to a halt, staring at Sasuke for a long moment. Then her hands intertwined, and she turned them every which way behind her back, then stopped, folded them in front of her. Fidgeted again, kneading the stained apron she was wearing -- what sort of being was it that lost all that gooey watery stuff, and how strange, this abductor his mother had had to endure for so long -- and finally, she clapped her hands against her cheeks, and breathed: "Oh Sasuke-kun ... if you insist ..."

At the same time, his mother was giving them one of those looks. The one that said that she knew what was happening, and that she was above such child's play, and that he was old enough to know for himself if he wanted to be stupid, but that she approved of his stubborness all the same. Ari could tell she liked Sasuke, in the way she did not reprimand him by shredding him to pieces for keeping her son to himself. She gave a huff that was the closest his mother would ever come to amusement.

And then there was Sakura, who was looking at Sasuke with her arms behind her back and a big smile on her face. Only -- that smile was not reassuring at all. On the contrary, it was somehow creepy, sickly sweet and daring.

"We'll leave you to it, then", said Karin, bouncing on the balls of her feet and barely getting her eyes off Sasuke. When his mother, who sent Ari a last warning glance, turned to leave, she promptly followed to keep the door open for her. She spun around when she saw Sakura heading for the other end of the room. "Aren't you coming?", she asked, and Ari's tail twitched nervously at the tone of her voice. "I think Suigetsu might need some help."

"In a minute. I'm giving Sasuke some of the medicine I've prepared." -- "But I thought I've --" There, that creepy-sweet smile on Sakura again. "Oh no. I've set aside some of it earlier. You've only poured away the residue, so thank you for that." Karin looked as if she bad bitten into something sour -- a lemon, perhaps, although Ari, who was strictly a carnivore, had never actually tasted one. But his sister had told him about it. And then, obligated by his mother's presence, Karin had to leave Sakura to her own devices. As soon as Karin and his mother had left the room, Ari felt it safe to open his eyes fully again.

"Do I have to drink this, too?", he asked, crinkling his nose at the abominable smell that was wafting his way as Sakura approached with a cup in her hands.

"Oh, no", she said in a reassuring tone, eyes on Sasuke. "This is all for the poor patient, who obviously thinks he is irresistible. Really, Sasuke, even Naruto's feigning it better than this."


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Perhaps it was the near death experience that left him like this, or being in its aftermath surrounded by those he cared deeply for, but his walls were crumbling, and these connections--old and new, stranded and firm, past and present, bittersweet and painful--were pouring through the cracks in his pierced armor, and he found, exhausted as he was, that he did not have the strength to shut himself down. That, for the first time, he wanted to simply allow himself to feel them, embrace them, remember them, even if it left a painful ache in his heart, in the groves where those ties were once firmly held, yet now were absent or greatly loosened.

Giving Sakura an apologetic look, though his eyes were tinted with a mixture of mirth and bittersweet nostalgia, noting the dangerous smile on her lips, which made him aware of how careful he needed to be from here on out, Sasuke bowed his head, as if asking for forgiveness, gave Ari one more pat, before taking the offered cup of medicinal tea without complaint, even though the smell alone was enough to give him second thoughts; surprisingly, he was able to keep himself from mimicking Ari's expression.

"You know, that never worked on my mother, either," he admitted, swirling the tea around, eyes dropping to watch the liquid gently ripple with the disturbance. "In fact, it usually only made the situation worse. With one look, occasionally a few choice words, she was able to subdue any Uchiha."

Slowly, his eyes drifted to study her face, in a way like he was committing it to memory, eyes softly traveling over her features, lingering on her eyes. It had happened so quickly, falling toward the water, sending chidori lighting up his blade even as he knew that, that could have very well been the end of him. One of those split-decisions, when his subconscious made the call without any thought from the whole of his mind; his heart had made the decision, with only enough input from his higher functioning to execute efficiently. It had been solely to defend Ari, to make sure Suigetsu wouldn't somehow recover from his contact with the water and pursue, yet one of his last thoughts, a flash behind his closed eyes, had been of that emerald color.

"Thank you, Sakura," he said quietly, lifting the cup to his lips. "For taking care of me." His first thought was to down the tea as quickly as possible to overcome the taste, yet with the way his throat rebelled with the first gulp, threatening to send the contents sputtering back up, he settled on sipping instead, after he recovered with a short cough.


"Your mother sounds like a reasonable person", Sakura replied, without even realizing what had happened until a full thirty seconds after. She could not quite take in his next words, they seemed to skim on the periphery of her awareness, as her mind raced as she tried to remember even one instance in which Sasuke had told her something that personal. She could not remember him talking in that way of his mother, or any member of his family for that matter, in front of her -- not once.

The shock of it took away from her satisfaction of seeing him drink her concoction. For once, she knew how awful it tasted, which was -- in this case -- a welcome byproduct of its restorative effects. Ari, who had bedded his small head on a bulge in the uppermost blanket, blinked somewhat groggily, as if he tried to chase away his tiredness. He had been up for countless hours, and had lived through not only the reunion with his mother, but a (very realistic) fear for Sasuke's life. She had had to keep him from jumping after Sasuke by wrapping an arm around him tightly. Otherwise, he would have made a leap off the hawk that had saved them from the torrent, and his small body would certainly not have survived the impact of a chidori conducted by the water. Then again, she had no idea what healing properties a kitsune had. Somehow, it still had not gotten through to her that Ari was a mystical creature. It was just too much input, she thought, and felt suddenly very tired.

"Where is your mother now?", Ari asked. "Does she know you're hurt? I can have my sister fetch her, I'm sure mom won't mind."

"Ari --", Sakura began, unsure what to say.


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"Hm," one of those soft sounds tumbled from Sasuke's lips, used to fill in the silence as he searched for concrete words. His gaze went back to the cup he held, once again causing the tea within to ripple, before he took a long sip, baring the awful taste that clung to his tongue like moss growing on a tree, if only to buy himself more time to think of a way to answer. Ari was so young, and Sasuke did not want to burden him, yet he would not lie either.

Setting the cup gently down on the nearby table, giving Sakura a look to reassure her he would, indeed, drink it all, he reached out his hand to place his palm gently upon the fox.

"She passed away, Ari," he quietly explained, eyes soft and tinted with sorrow, staring down at the blanket that covered him intently, as if he were counting the threads. "But she was very much like yours; strong, yet kind. And she did everything she could for her children." Even giving up her life at the end of her eldest son's sword without resistance.

His eyelids felt suddenly heavy, and he closed them to reprieve himself of the weight. He had never talked about these things before, had never even allowed himself to linger on these memories, because they were too painful, and the flashes of that night always reappeared in his mind, like demons called forth by a summoning. Suddenly, he felt utterly exhausted and drained, as if his body had just realized what it had endured.

"You should get some rest, Ari. It's been a long day," he stated after he had once again found his voice. Giving the boy a soft pat, he withdrew his hand to pick up his tea. After finishing off what little remained, and disposing of the cup upon the bedside table, he turned his gaze onto Sakura, adding, "You too." His hand reached out in search of her own, to squeeze her fingers, because he was aware of what he had also just put her through unintentionally.


Ari made a little sound, an oh like surprise, a thing like a soft squeal coming from the back of his throat. He moved and snuggled his head against Sasuke's chin. He understood sorrow like that, because he had had a father once, who was gone now. And he did not want for Sasuke to be sad, because he was brave and gentle and able to spit fire. Somebody like that should never be sad. That was why Ari wanted very much to become like Sasuke when he grew up. He curled himself into an even tighter ball, burying his face under his front paws. It was a relief to be in his natural form again, flexible and small and fury, and he had missed his tail so much. It was now tucked neatly under his body. The rise and fall of Sasuke's breathing carried him to sleep. He sighed with the comfort it provided. "Goodnight then, Sasuke", he murmured, soothed by Sasuke's touch, and words, and quiet voice.

Sakura took Sasuke's hand in both of her own and for a moment, she held on very tightly. As if the gesture could tell him of her astonishment, her pride regarding his openness, and vulnerability. She had an inkling that it had to do with how tired he must be. The lack of energy, the severe drain of chakra and strain on his body had an impact on the mind's ability to shield itself. Holding his hand in her left one, she raised the right to brush back his hair from his forehead. Under the pretext of checking his temperature, she held it there for comfort, too tired and stricken to question the decision, to gauge the level of intimacy and wonder if or if not it would make him uncomfortable.

"Sleep tight, Sasuke." Her tone was soothing, giving away more of her fondness than she would have allowed under any other circumstance. Yet, he was so weak, so small in this bed, had been so close to death mere hours ago. How pale he had been, drained of any color, eyelids fluttering and muscle tissue trembling from cold and the remnants of electricity running through him. Now, his cheeks were tinged red from the heat of the water bottles and the fire, from the jutsu she had applied to enhance his dangerously slow heart beat. She hoped he would sleep well, and dreamless, from the soporific agents in her concoction. It had always knocked Naruto out cold, and once, in a mission shortly after the war that had gone wrong enough for casualties, Sai, too. "Remember, you're safe. I'll tell you everything that happened in the morning. For now, you can relax."


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Sasuke could already feel the effects of Sakura's medicine, spreading warmth throughout his body, promising sleep with welcoming, open arms. Exhaustion, physical and emotional, pushed him further toward falling into that deep unconsciousness, yet it was the feeling of Ari sleeping against his chest, Sakura's hand entwined with his, and her fingers brushing against his hair that encouraged him to let go.

"Mm," he hummed in response to both of their sentiments, finding difficulty moving his lips to return them. His lids drifted over his dark eyes, yet he fought the urge to close them, taking these few moments to enjoy gazing up at her with a small, hazy smile spread across his lips.

This. This is what it felt like, he remembered: a distant thought, echoing throughout his unconscious, to be with loved ones.

He had not been been at ease like this for an indeterminate breadth of time.

With the medicine gently tugging his mind into darkness, his defenses were left unattended and unguarded, and the line between unconscious and subconscious blurred. Suddenly, he wanted to tell her, needed to tell her, and the words slipped out as a murmur: "It's always been you, Sakura."

And then his eyes were closed. His breathing slow and even. He hadn't bothered to remove his hand from hers.

His sleep was peacefully black.


If anything, Uchiha Sasuke was determined, that polite word used to make stubbornness sound like an attribute. Having slept in for the last two days (even though the last hardly counted, considering he had only gotten a handful of hours), he refused to spend another morning lagging behind everyone else, even if he had been at death's door just less than twenty-four hours ago. And he would be damned if he allowed himself to stay immobilized all day; weak or not, he was going to move and make himself useful.

His 'determination' was only strengthened by his inability to properly navigate the sickroom, once he had stood (fallen) from his bed, clocked in a few push-ups (struggled to get back onto his feet), and exercised his legs (meandered around in the darkness, searching for his bag, because he desperately needed clothing). After making himself decent, he stumbled out into the hallway, hand pressed against the wall for guidance and support, and wandered around the hideout.

He didn't stop until he found what resembled a kitchen. And when he was in that kitchen, he didn't stop until he had thoroughly rummaged around for ingredients and supplies, dropped one or two pieces of cookware, along with himself once or twice, muttered quiet a few obscene curses under his breath during those occurrences, and managed to prepare a breakfast to his satisfaction: miso soup, rice topped with umeboshi (part of him had lit up at discovery of the pickled fruit, due to remembering it had once been a favorite of Sakura's), and well-and-evenly cooked sausage.

Sakura had taken care of him, and now it was his turn to take care of her; providing breakfast was the least he could in exchange for his life...Besides, while he would certainly never inform her of the fact, he was terrified that if she had prepared the meal, it might have been enough to put him back on death's doorstep.

After setting the food on a table, enough to feed a ravenous handful, calculated to provide enough incase if there were more people he hadn't seen, Sasuke slumped back against a chair, taking a few minutes to recover.


Drawn by the rampage in the kitchen, a figure approached, announced by the quick footsteps leading from the quarters down the hall and then coming to an abrupt stop. Sakura took in the scene before her -- the dimly lit kitchen, squeezed into a tight corner of the windowless room, which held a large wooden dining table that, with all the suspicious stains and scratches on its surface, had seen better days. And sitting on that table was Sasuke, of all people, who had been put under strict bed rest. Before her indignant anger could sufficiently built, however, her eyes traveled over the food. Her gaze softened and she huffed a put-upon sigh.

"What do you think you're doing?" Though her words were accusing, her tone could not be farther from it. A few quick steps carried her across the room to squat next to him, taking in his pale face with keen eyes. She checked his pulse by pressing two fingers against his wrist. When she was satisfied, she did not let go of his hand immediately. The boldness of her action shot a tiny thrill through her. "You're supposed to be in bed."

She was wearing the same kind of apron Karin had been that first night when Sasuke had woken; and with it rather large rings under her eyes, where the skin was tinged blue from a lack of sleep. Otherwise, however, she showed no signs of sleep deprivation. Her eyes were watchful, and she was not particularly tired; the tiredness always came with a lull in the action, and as long as she stayed busy, she could go on for hours to come. Suigetsu had taken a bad hit that day; his water affiliation had greatly increased the impact of the chidori, and although he was out of harm's way, floating in a tank of water which promoted his body's propensity to heal, he needed constant supervision. Karin and her took turns in taking care of him, but it was straining work; they had to exchange the water every few hours or so (which was exhausting) and keep his vital signs in check.

She was very glad, however, that they had come here; this, as Karin had explained, was Suigetsu's lair, and although it had been built by Orochimaru once, it was not affiliated with him any longer. Hidden in an expansive, re-modeled cave behind a waterfall, it was the perfect accommodation for someone like Suigetsu. He, Sakura had learned, was almost as wary towards the snake sannin as she felt, and although she had understood that both Karin and Suigetsu were in his services, they seemed to prefer to keep their distance if possible.

She had told Sasuke about the hideout, and her findings, when the effects of her medicine had worn off enough for him to take the information in. She had not yet told him how everything had happened; and maybe he did not need to know. He had saved them by sending Garuda to fish them out of the water. If he had not, they would have drowned. And now they were here, in safety.

"It's seven o'clock. Everybody else is still sleeping", she added as if in further confirmation of his oddness.


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"So are you," Sasuke accused, concern obvious behind the disapproval in his voice. Eyes slightly narrowing, his hand lifted from her own after a light squeeze of her fingers, coming to rest against her cheek; his thumb traced the dark circle under her eye, and its existence caused a scowl to sprawl across his features. "When was the last time you slept?"

In his lucid moments during his recovery, he had vehemently declared that she needed to get some rest of her own. Having no doubt used a chunk of her chakra to keep both himself and Suigetsu alive, besides continuing to keep the latter's condition stable, while checking in on the former, she needed it. And the look behind his dark gaze, that worry he tried so hard, yet sorely and unsuccessfully, to hide behind stern vexation, suggested that he was none too happy to notice that his pleas-veiled-behind-weak-commands had gone unheeded.

Expression and eyes softening, due to a lack of energy to keep up the facade, he exhaled a breath of air, fingers tenderly stroking her cheek--he had become more bold in these touches of affection: an after effect of a series of thoughts he had nothing but time to mull over, centered around the realization that he could very well not have made it, and what would he have regretted had that been the end of it--before he withdrew his arm to make a sweeping gesture over the table.

"You need a substantial meal. Considering you've done so much for me, this is the least I could do." Preparing a bowl of rice with umeboshi, he held the dish out in offering, and practically pleading, requested: "So sit and eat. Please."


It might be the exhaustion that allowed her to linger against his touch like that, to accept it as a form of caress she was rapidly getting used to. Somewhere in the back of her mind, doubts and apprehension pulled at her as strongly as ever, but she found it hard to ignore that pleasant sensation in her sternum every time they came close like that -- and it had increased, this form of intimacy between them, she was not fooling herself in that regard.

Yes, she should withdraw, but it was also like a triumph, a little victory and a sourly needed affirmation of some knowledge she had carried for a long time now. She had not seen ghosts, was what that touch said, and the look in his eyes. It's always been you, Sakura. Impossible to discern what he had meant by that exactly, but the intention was clear enough, as was the effect it had on her. Her head was dizzy with a tranquil form of excitement. She wanted to be like this forever, foggy from exhaustion and calm against his gentle touch, thoughts not roaming but reigned in to the present, to a moment that was so perfect. When she watched him serve the meal he had prepared, her gaze lingering on the umeboshi -- had he remembered it was her favorite, or was this just a coincidence -- she thought that this had always been what she wanted, what she dreamed of.

She moved to sit on the chair next to his, wafting the smell of freshly cooked rice in her direction with a wave of her hand and inhaling deeply. Her stomach growled audibly, and she blushed as she took up a pair of chopsticks.
"It's not that bad", she assured him. "I rotate shifts with Karin." She smiled at him. "Thank you for the meal. I'm starving", she added as a little confession, not hesitant to start the meal that was so carefully prepared before her. She did not know if it was the hunger, or the fact that Sasuke had gone through the trouble of cooking it -- in his condition, no less -- but it was the best breakfast she remembered having for a very, very long time. "It's delicious", she declared, bowl half eaten and umeboshi gone already.


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"Mm-mhm." Somehow the hum was both gentle and scolding--his years spent speaking as little in actual words as possible made him a master of grunting and humming with different inflections--and his heavy, concern-filled, narrowed gaze displayed exactly how much he believed that it wasn't that bad. If that were true, there wouldn't be defined bags under her eyes. He was utterly miffed by the fact that when she ordered him to stay in bed, he ended up doing so, his 'determination' breaking before hers, but when the situation was reversed...Well, this was proof of how effective his efforts were.

Perhaps it had to do with that smile. Seeing it now, he had no choice but to once more drop his act, finding the expression too warm not to return. Giving her a small nod, as if to state that preparing the meal had been no trouble, he began dishing out portions of miso soup and sausage for her as well, before serving himself. Yet he watched her carefully out of his peripheral, anxious to see her reaction, because he had put extra care into that special dish, and he so desperately wanted to make sure he had got it right, that it had turned out tasty--

He beamed like Ari at the display of his fireball jutsu at her declaration that it was delicious; it lasted for only a moment, and afterward, he quickly grunted a smug hn, as if suggesting he had known it would be, and definitely hadn't been halfway out of his seat waiting for her response.

Smiling, he stood from the table, realizing he had forgotten the tea, and giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze, wandered back into the kitchen portion of the room. "You told me once, when we were genin, after a mission." He returned first with two cups, placing one before her, then the other next to his own plate. "Well, you told Naruto, and I happened to be nearby." During one of those rare occasions that Kakashi had treated them to lunch (Sasuke had a suspicion it was because he had a coupon about to expire), Naruto had been persistent in trying to guess Sakura's favorite food, while Sasuke had barely listened in the background, until the knucklehead had stumbled upon the right answer, and the information had been catalogued away within his mind.

Kettle in hand, he filled their cups, before settling back into his seat, beginning to dig into his own bowl of rice. He was quite ravenous himself; the past few days, keeping anything down had been a challenge, so he had eaten little, and now his body craved calories for energy to help itself heal.

And yet something else had been eating away at him. Pausing in the devouring of his own meal, Sasuke lifted his eyes onto Sakura, and found himself asking, "What exactly happened the day Suigetsu attacked?"


Taking large sips from the miso soup, Sakura contemplated for a moment the smile on Sasuke's face, there and gone like a flash of lightning and just as impressive. What had started as small changes, short glances and a peculiar expression on his face, the twitch of his mouth and the odd comment, was beginning to form into something more discernible. She was sure now that he was undergoing some internal change; he seemed to be truly striving to re-form the bonds he had sought the break so desperately such a short time ago. It was a truth she could no longer deny, and she knew the time had come to think things through on her end. She wondered if he thought about coming back to Konoha, coming back home.

Perhaps this journey was his way of preparing for it.

She took her time to empty the bowls and plates in front of her. Under normal circumstances, she would have been shy to eat so much in such a short amount of time, would have worried about looking greedy and unwomanly, but she had not lied when she had told him she was starving. Her chakra expenditure had been heightened for two days now, and much like during her shifts in the hospital, she needed to give her body fuel to function properly. This left no place for vanity.

"Well", she began, yet only after she had eaten the very last bit of tofu. The sausages had disappeared as quickly as with Ari, the other day. Having finished her meal already, she placed the chopsticks in front of her bowl. "After Garuda brought Ari and me to safety, we watched you and Suigetsu fight from his back. After you released chidori, I knew you needed help, but it was not immediately safe for us to approach. Luckily, the water ran back into the nearby river after you knocked Suigetsu out. I was about to ..." She hesitated. It was not hard for her to remain collected, she had learned that much in her time as a medical nin. And Sasuke was alive and well in front of her, after all. There was no need for him to know about her panic, the bone-deep fear of having lost him to his own technique, uncertain if he had drowned or his heart had stopped because of the electrical shock. "... I performed first aid on you." And after that, the realization that Sasuke would probably die from hypothermia, and the mad hysteria that had bubbled up in her when she realized that what she lacked was the damn ability to spit fire.
"I probably would have left Suigetsu, because I identified him as the enemy. That's when Shimo appeared. I -- was eh -- surprised. To put it mildly." And now that she thought about it, the memory of it made her smile, that tiny moment of hope amidst all that chaotic desperation. "Imagine Ari running towards that big, intimidating fox. I almost flipped. And he threw his arms around her neck. I thought he'd gone mad, and she'd eat him. But --" Now she laughed. "She licked his face." She paused, before moving on with the story. "There had been not much time to explain, however, and the upshot was that we transported you and Suigetsu both to this cave. Karin was here when we arrived. Her presence is a mere coincidence, she told me she just dropped by to deliver some items."
Sakura had learned a great deal more; about Taka, and Karin, whom she had recognized immediately as the red-headed girl from the bridge, a former Konoha prisoner, eluded and never to be seen again in the chaos of the war.
"Shimo told me Suigetsu summoned her, and that she had made some sort of pact with him to retrieve Ari, but she had been very sparse in her explanations. I don't know exactly what happened, and Suigetsu is not lucid enough to tell. Ari doesn't remember much, either -- just what he told us back in the other cave."

She took a breath, looking at him through steady eyes, and took a sip of the tea he prepared to sooth her throat. She doubted if she had ever said as many words to him at a time ever before.


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Eating his meal at a more reserved pace, not wanting to risk loosing it, definitely in front of her, Sasuke occasionally glanced up from his bowl, observing her facial features, as she told the story. Honestly, if their places were switched, he wondered if he would be able to keep his composure, because he was becoming acutely aware of how much and deeply he cared for her, and the thought of losing her--no, the animalistic portion of his mind growled at just the consideration of such an event, I won't ever let that happen.

Setting down the bowl of soup he had been sipping from (and almost dropping it, due to the lost nimbleness in his fingers, yet thankfully he was able to correct his hold), he reached out to firmly squeeze her hand, and mumbled a sentiment he had repeated like a mantra over the last few days, "Thank you, Sakura." He smiled, then, letting his relief show that he was grateful everything had turned out all right, that she and Ari hadn't been hurt, and even, somewhere in that portion of his mind still reserved for bonds he didn't fully want to acknowledge, that Suigetsu hadn't been killed by his attacks. "And I'm sorry if I caused you to worry." That if was added for her own benefit, because he could see it behind that carefully composed expression of hers. "I just...I knew I couldn't go on--the ice rendered me unable to move--so I wanted to make sure he wasn't able to come after Ari."

"You leave the kids unattended for a few days, and this is what happens."

Sasuke swiveled around in his chair, hand moving from Sakura's to grasp ahold of a nearby knife, as it was the only weapon in the vicinity.

He hadn't heard the man approach, and that unsettled him. Standing with his shoulder leaned against the doorframe leading into the room, the intruder was watching them both carefully with light grey eyes, peering out from behind a few strands of his long, dark hair, which tumbled over his shoulders, a single brow raised, and a smirk plastered across his lips. "I'm not intruding on anything, am I?"

"Who are you?" Sasuke growled in warning, flipping the knife around in his grip. Calculations were racing in his mind. It would be risky, but he believe he had just enough chakra built back up to send chidori rippling through the knife, and with a precise throw--

"Relax," the stranger emphasized the word with a soothing, silk-lined voice, yet that smirk still danced across his lips, and amusement flickered within his eyes. "If I had any intention of harming you, trust me, I would've already took advantage of the situation." Considering he had three swords on his person--Suigetsu's strapped across his back, Sasuke's katana flung over his shoulder, and a chokuto (whose scabbard was home to a tattered, black headband from the Sand village wrapped around it, which Sasuke noted as odd, considering this man couldn't be older than himself, if not a year or two younger, and the item looked to have seen an uncountable number of years on a battlefield) hanging from a slash wrapped around his waist--his words hardly brought Sasuke any comfort.

Pushing off the frame and stepping inside the room, the dim lighting highlighted his pale, defined features, which looked as if they were carved from marble, the intruder carefully removed the overly giant blade from his back with a grunt, leaning it carefully against the wall, before approaching Sasuke, offering him the katana. "A knife, really? That's the cutest thing I've seen all week."

Taking his sword from the stranger, Sasuke noted how his gaze shifted to take stock of Sakura, eyeing her over with a poorly hidden subtly, as if he were trying to be blatant, and felt his jaw clench hard at the next words to fall out of the man's mouth, "Well, second cutest."

And then he had the audacity to wink at her. Sasuke's eyes narrowed, and if looks could kill, the intruder would have been doubled over in pain and regret, suffering an agonizing, drawn-out death.

Traveling around the table, helping himself to a bowl of rice and cup of tea, the stranger set his dishes up in the spot next to Sakura (Sasuke's thumb began resting against the underside of his katana's hand guard, and that nasty furrow in his brow only deepened), and as he pulled out the chair to take a seat, bowed his head in respect. "I'm Satoru, a friend of Suigetsu's." Turning in Sakura's direction, he offered her a slick, charming smile that danced lively across his lips, along with an extended hand. "And who might you be?"

Sasuke only then noticed how his thumb hand been pressing upwards, extending his katana about an inch out of its sheath. Gritting his teeth, he flung the weapon's strap over the back of his chair, before reaching to grasp his cup of tea, clenching it tightly, his knuckles whitening, as he settled on glaring at the brazen ass.


Sakura was just about to reassure Sasuke that she had figured as much, that she had inferred his ad-hoc strategy from her perfect few of the battlefield Garuda had provided her with, when they were interrupted by the entrance of the heavily-armed stranger. Her own shoulders stiffened, and her feet subtly shifted underneath the table, taking in a position which would bring her into a fighting stance in a moment's notice. Sasuke's chakra, that tingling she experienced over and over again, thrummed against her skin in subtle vibrations, like the intruder was a pebble that had caused ripples on a calm surface.

She was left to observe the exchange, the room sparked with antagonism, even though it transpired quickly that the stranger was not about to attack. It had been unlikely from the start, because -- Sasuke did not know this -- the cave was heavily guarded with traps of many kinds (Karin had assured her that nobody would be able to enter unnoticed). So the stranger must be some sort of acquaintance. At least, that was the most likely explanation. But hadn't Kakashi-sensei always said to look underneath the underneath?

Being addressed by the man -- Satoru -- she took him in, her posture relaxing in a way that suggested trust. (Another one of Kakashi's tricks.) If it turned out the man posed a danger to them, after all, she'd have to fight. Sasuke was too deprived of chakra and energy, and any strain on his body would worsen his condition. She would not allow that. Sakura's eyes lingered on the sleazy smile he was throwing at her, and her first impression, gathered through shinobi instincts (enemy) was replaced by the second: player. Promptly, she thought of Ino, and wondered if her best friend would melt in light of that perfect face or splutter with silent laughter. Probably both.

"I'm Haruno Sakura." Ignoring his hand, she gave a little bow -- she abstained from getting to her feet, in case he would see it as a threat, but inclined her head deeply enough to return his respectful gesture. "And I would advise you not to underestimate what harm a shinobi could do with a simple knife." She offered it with a smile, sure he knew very well how easily it would be to thrust it up and sever his jugular, which certainly was the reason he sat in that angle, expertly guarding his vital spots while appearing utterly relaxed. She shifted her gaze to his chokuto, which struck her as a peculiar choice for a weapon. "You searched the battlefield?", she asked. They had not retrieved either of the swords, too busy to keep Sasuke and Suigetsu alive to care about the weapons. It had been her fault to neglect to retrieve the items as soon as their condition had stabilized.


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Sasuke couldn't help but don a smug smirk of his own, listening to Sakura give it to Satoru in that polite way of hers; a deadliness hidden behind her sweet smile. Of course she wouldn't fall for such methods employed by a man like that, and he felt pride swell in his chest, was eager to see this intruder, who had helped himself to the meal he had prepared without permission or invitation, as if he was entitled to it, get knocked down a few pegs.

Yet Satoru hardly seemed bothered by Sakura's rejection of his handshake, or her statement about the deadliness of a kitchen knife, which could have been taken as a thinly veiled threat. On the contrary, pulling his hand back to run a few fingers through his mane, he quirked a single brow, tilted his chin to the side, and simply stared at her for a moment in consideration. Then something only describable as interest flashed within his eyes, and that smirk of his returned. "A pleasure, Sakura-san. I won't state the obvious, but the name does suit you perfectly."

Sasuke felt the tension in his muscles return, and fought the sudden urge to use his knife in the method Sakura had just described. Mouth twitching onto a frown, he rested his elbow against the table, forming his single hand into a fist and holding it in front of his face, eyes glaring from underneath his furrowed, angry brow; the gesture resembled his broody leer from his genin days.

"Anything can be made into a weapon in the right hands, of course," Satoru replied, his voice thick with a smoothness that sent another spark of rage rumbling down Sasuke's spine. "You must understand, however, it's a point of pride to me. Weaponry, you see, is part of my profession." Taking a pause to sip his (stolen) tea, the man shot a look toward Sasuke, one filled with amusement, and at that moment, Sasuke realized the bastard was trying to get under his skin. "What weapon a person chooses to wield, how they fight with it, tells a lot about who they are. Of course, upon stumbling across the legendary Kubikiribocho, noticing the indentations upon the blade left over from a recent scuffle from a katana, I retrieved both weapons to return to their masters."

His eyes shot back to Sasuke, his lips twitching upwards at the edges as he added, "You're welcome, by the way."

"Hn," Sasuke grunted in response, determined not to speak a single word to him unless he had to.

"Considering Suigetsu, while I care deeply for the man, is extremely impractical and boisterous, and therefore, has chosen to wield a very impractical and boisterous sword in return, I figure he was the one to start the dispute that led to this," Satoru flicked his hand to gesture toward Sasuke, almost dismissively, before continuing, "I suppose I bare you no ill will. However," And then he was leaning over, casually resting his arm against the edge of Sakura's chair, opposite leg spreading out to take up more room under the table, as if he were trying to disguise the gesture with the excuse that he was just being a tall man who needed space, "I would like to know how the poor sod's holding up."

"He's fine," Sasuke found the words ripping from his throat, low and thrumming as if they were charged with electricity. "Do you always invade people's personal space?"

"And he finally speaks," Satoru grinned devilishly, letting out a rich chuckle, before his eyes focused entirely back on Sakura, waiting patiently for her answer. Or, Sasuke wondered, was he watching for her response?


The stranger's -- Satoru's -- knee was dangerously close to her own. Even a light shift would cause their knees to touch, a fact that made Sakura uncomfortable, and that discomfort irritated her. The muscle in her jaw twitched, a small compulsion enhanced by stress. She recognized this kind of behavior for what it was, the smooth facade of a charmer who tended to get his way by his good looks and a natural eloquence. She knew the type.

Once, she would have swooned under the attention of such a good-looking man. But she was neither that naive nor that stupid anymore; on the contrary, his entitlement tugged at her nerves, which already had been worn thin during the events of the last two days. Knowing any fluster would encourage him, taken as a compliment for his supposed charm and a sign to proceed, she decided to employ a different tactic.

She turned, her body language opening towards Satoru. She allowed their eyes to meet for the moment it took her to get to her feet, in such an abrupt fashion it scraped her chair over the floor, almost knocking it over as she deliberately, subtly, pushed it with the back of her thigh even further away to knock their insolent intruder off-balance. "More tea, anyone?", she asked at the same time, and quite cheerfully, pretending as if she had not noticed with what flourish her chair had skidded across the floor, away from Satoru's arm. She turned her back on them to get the kettle, shoulders drawn and back very straight, and then proceeded to serve them tea. Refilling Sasuke's cup first, she informed Satoru: "Suigetsu is currently resting, but he'll be available in a day or two." She gave Sasuke a little, grateful smile, making a note to thank him properly later, then moved to Satoru. One hand at the back of his chair, she leaned over the table far more than strictly necessary. Everything from her posture, her smile, to the way she poured the steaming liquid dangerously close to his face screamed careful, buddy. "I wonder, Satoru-san", she continued smoothly, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening at all, as if Sasuke was not bristling with indignation and she not telling the stranger off for being rude, "if their weapon is a person's tell, what does yours say about you? If I'm not mistaken, a chokuto is a basic sword, right? I suppose that would suggest you're rather simple."


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Watching Satoru almost fall on his ass (sadly, the quick bastard-- Sasuke made a note of the deftness of his movements, incase if the guy didn't start taking hints-- was able to recover by shifting his weight, causing his chair to plant steadily back on the ground) as Sakura expertly slung her chair back in a clear indication of how much she appreciated his advances, Sasuke felt his raging fire start to settle, because she obviously had it handled. He was further able to restrain the urge to strangle the unwanted guest by her smile, and while he found it impossible to return, he gave her a nod of acknowledgement, and a look that said if she gave him the signal, he'd happily chidori the guy.

At first, Satoru didn't seemed phased as Sakura invaded his personal space; his body remained motionless, yet his grey eyes watched her closely, carefully. Caution wasn't the right word for it, but at her assertion about the type of weapon he carried, something changed in his demeanor, Sasuke noted. The smirk that spread across his lips didn't quite meet his eyes, and it was jagged, matched by the sharpness in his stare. Before he had been on the offensive, yet now--

"I suppose you could make that assumption," he replied simply, raising his filled cup to thank her for refilling his tea, before taking a long sip, as if he were regathering himself. His finger tapped against the ceramic within his grasp restlessly.


Then Satoru was setting down the cup, leaning back in his seat, one leg flung across the other, his arm lazily hung across the back of his chair. With his gaze firmly set for the first time on Sasuke, he stated, "My apologies. I didn't know you two were together."

"No," Sasuke was speaking before he was thinking, fist clenching, because something in the manner that the statement had been posed bothered him. Satoru had obviously not cared about the dynamics between them just moments earlier; this was some sort of game to him. "Whatever you're trying to pull, you're not using us in such a manner."

Satoru simply tilted his head, and it took a moment for Sasuke to realize what had just happened, and he felt his anger start to rise up once more at his own stupidity; had he just carelessly walked into a verbal trap, been used to prove a point?

"People are hardly ever simple," Saturo stated, and for the first time since this exchange, he seemed completely serious; his smirk gone, replaced by a thin, tight line.

And then it passed, that fleeting moment, and his smirk was returning, his gaze traveling back onto Sakura. "Would you like to guess again, Sakura-san?"


Sakura would lie to herself in saying that the subtle change in Satoru's demeanor did not throw her off. When she had expected a sharp comment, a sly comeback perhaps, something had flickered across his face -- a twitch of the mouth, perhaps -- that caused a pang of guilt in her, and the worry to have overstepped her bounds. He might be an assertive ass, but it was not her intention to stir bad feelings in him, or cause discomfort. She had become very good in reading the subtleties of behavior, and maybe it was ironic, but Sasuke had been a great --

"N ..." Before the automatic answer could even really begin to leave her mouth, Sasuke's declination had shot into the room, quick and definite like a stab. And while she herself had had every intention to set Satoru straight in that regard, the quickness of his answer irked her, and although she felt dumb about it, she could not help the pang of hurt it caused. She flashed Sasuke a glance from beneath her lashes. Had it grown warmer in the room?

She put aside the kettle, listening to the exchange, the tension between the two men making the air thick. If she had contemplated to help herself to seconds earlier, that urge was gone with her appetite. She would check up on Suigetsu and then wake Karin to take a little nap. Perhaps she was able to convince Sasuke to lie down again, too.

She had taken her seat again -- having to pull the chair in the midst of the room towards the table again and refusing to feel dumb doing so -- and was now sipping her tea in order to get a move on. Her eyes flickered to Satoru at his words, lip twitching into a sad smile, because of course, he was right. She herself was the best proof of that.

"In that case", she replied, more earnest and ignoring the signature smirk and the irritation it caused in her, "I would say you are ... a contemplative person. Someone who has a hard time letting go of the past. Lonely, perhaps. At least, you spend much of your time on your own." She faced his playful gaze with her own, steady one. She was way too tired to play his games, too tired for Sasuke's irrational irk and the conflicting feelings that suddenly raged in her head, and chest. She was irrational herself, she knew, disappointed with no grounds to feel that way. Her eyes took in the chokuto, the ragged piece of cloth on its scabbard, before they returned to Satoru. "You are loyal, cautious, and judging by the way you behaved around us, a gifted actor -- more or less, at least."

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