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Fandom Redemption [Closed] [Graverobber141/arbus]


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Sasuke felt a fury of emotions flooding his body, most completely irrational, yet so vivid. Embarrassment, at having been played almost easily. Anger at the embarrassment. At himself. Kami, even pangs of completely unjustified jealously, he realized. And then there was his own hurt and guilt, bubbling up like blood around a wound reopened, observing how his rashness had affected her; that was far from his intention. But the thought that whatever lied between them had been used to prove a point, casually tossed about by someone who knew nothing about either of them, caused his jaw to set. He was torn between wanting to tear the catalyst to pieces, this fraud who expertly kept stabbing until he hit something vital, and to reach out to Sakura, to reassure her, to tell her--

? A confession? While under the roof of a hideout once belonging to the master he abandoned her for? With the former teammate within its walls he used and tossed aside, his bite-marks running up her arms a testament to his sins? With the knowledge that he had tried to kill her, more than once, and the sickening, sinking feeling, suddenly that all of this was wrong? No, it wasn't that simple.

His hand was shaking, held clenched against the table, knuckles visible underneath his taunt skin.

"Most people are incredible actors," Satoru was replying, and his smirk, while it didn't disappear, did lessen to a degree, becoming more knowing instead of playful. "Without even realizing it. A phenomena caused, in my opinion, by mutual agreement."

All these things, a juxtaposition of experiences, feelings between them, were complex and intricate, but what Sasuke wanted, at his very core, was very, very simple. His hand was relaxing, and his intense eyes turned onto Sakura, left unbalanced by this exchange. Suddenly, he was aware of his exhaustion, and not just from what was caused by his recent endeavors, but an older one that had been resting on his shoulders for years.

"Mmm, well, Sakura-san," Satoru merely turned his head in her direction, instead of imposing into her personal territory, almost as if he were making the declaration that he had, had his fun. "This for that, yes?" There was something in his voice and gaze that said he was pleased at the accuracy of her observations, even if some hit too close to home, "You're perceptive, intelligent," he patted the blade at his side, pointing out the deduction, "and highly empathetic. A combination, I'm afraid, that's bound to cause you pain at some point in your life, though I get the feeling it already has."

Sasuke's hand reached out for Sakura's, to gently squeeze her fingers in that gesture used to bridge the gap between them. He felt the remnant tension in his shoulders relaxing, because while this man was certainly irritating, talked extremely too much, and deserved to have his ass kicked for the stunt he pulled earlier, he seemed to have decided to behave. For now.

A pause, and then Satoru was chuckling softly, light playfulness returning to his features, as he asked, "Can you blame me for taking an interest in you?"

A warning hn rumbled from Sasuke's throat, only half serious, because his feathers were still too ruffled to take any joke.


At the touch of Sasuke‘s hand, Sakura turned her head towards him. A single glance at the expression on his face told her of some inner turmoil, and while she did not know exactly cause or content, the signs of struggle were clear enough in his drawn brow and the tight line of his lips. She had not, however, forgotten her own tinge of pain, which was now replaced by the more intricate feeling of onsetting panic like a sour taste in the back of her throat. To be confronted with those feelings — I didn‘t know you two were together — to have to face them at this moment: It felt very much like running smack into a wall.

It all came down to those subtly, blink-of-an-eye decisions, after all.

So she allowed his touch, reciprocated the squeeze, but placed her other hand over his and patted the back in the manner of a nurse, or a friend, lacking the gentleness she knew being something else to each other would entail. In a low, confidential voice, designed to exclude a third person, she suggested, „Let‘s get you back to bed, okay? You shouldn‘t even have gotten up in the first place and your body needs to rest.“

She then withdrew her hand, giving him a small, apologetic smile — Can you believe how silly I am, that smile said, What a stupid teammate you have — before she returned her attention to Satoru. Her body language had relaxed by now, and with the small (but truthful, she felt) exchange between them, she felt enough at ease to drop her guard a bit, and let the irritation she had initially felt towards him go.
„All the world‘s a stage“, she announced, „wasn‘t that what the Sannin Jiraya had once written?“

Setting the tea cup aside, she stood, and before her gaze fell back onto Sasuke, she added light-heartedly: „I would never dream of blaming you for that, Satoru-san. And as you seem to enjoy getting rejected, I might even understand the appeal.“ She placed her hand on Sasuke‘s shoulder, giving him one of those looks that had all the appearance of pretty please but that were built on steel, on the premise that no was not an acceptable answer. You didn‘t learn such things in medical training. They either come naturally to you or they did not. And Shizune had assured everybody who would listen that, in this regard, Sakura was a natural talent.


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"Ah, well-read and a fan of literature as well? I will gladly take the rejection, Sakura-san, if only for the opportunity to remind you of how beautiful you are."

Sasuke's own rejection, wasn't that what it was?, hit hard, leaving him with a desire to crawl underneath a large rock, or, at least, leave the vicinity of the room. So many things were once more falling, twisting and turning, within himself, and he wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel, and if everything mulling inside his head was right or wrong. Stupid. How could he let a trickster do this to him with one simple comment? How could he not get a grip, control himself?

Sasuke gave Satoru a last warning glare, before glancing upward, noting the expression across Sakura's face. Resistance was futile; after all, she could very well throw him over her shoulder like a child, and in is condition, he wouldn't be able to withstand. Preferring not to cause such a scene in front of their unwelcome company, he nodded to show he was planning to comply, and pushed his chair back to stand. To be honest, he was thankful for their departure.

He was able to make it a few stumbling steps, before, with his knees threatening to buckle underneath him, he was reaching to grab onto her arm for support. Shooting her an apologetic and shameful look, he moved to wrap his arm around her shoulders so she could support some of his weight, because he knew it would be the most effective and easiest way to get him back to his sickroom.

Eyes kept firmly on the floor, unable to completely fight and hide the shade of red burning across his cheeks, Sasuke let himself be led out of the kitchen. The silence he found eating away at him was unbearable, and as soon as they were out of earshot, he found himself stuttering out, "Do you want to know the truth?"


Sakura wrapped her arm around his midriff to steady him, a smooth motion that came fully automatic to her. She ignored Satoru's comment, just inclined her head towards him before they left the kitchen. They were moving slowly along the corridor, and the door to Sasuke's bedroom seemed far off, but his weight was barely a strain to her muscles, which had grown strong through that unforgiving regiment of training Tsunade-shishou had introduced her to, so many years ago.

She was glad for the silence, was thinking about her own bedroll, with the desire to curl up under her blanket growing bigger with every passing minute. Just a half hour or so, and she would be able to. She thought she had come to a decision, in that very moment Sasuke had taken her hand, but now she had to examine it, see if it was fool-proof and secure and for that, she needed time to think, time to be alone.

With his words -- his voice so peculiar -- she tilted her head towards him, her eyes on his face that was so close. Her arm around him, and the whole side of her body that touched his, was tingling with that sensation. She had started to think it must be some kind of unconscious chakra release, but what would cause such a thing to happen? Another thesis, one of her being a sensor, maybe with a tendency for the haptic, seemed a far shot and yet a more welcome one.
No, she thought, and felt dread and anticipation rising in equal measure. She made a humming sound, and only when they were at his door, she assented. Curiosity kills the cat, she thought with her heart turning into a particularly lively hummingbird.


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Sasuke could feel his own heart pounding away in his chest, felt a nervousness unbeknown to him tremble in his muscles. He was aware both of how physically, his tattered body leaning against hers (and, kami, was she so close, just shifting his head caused her hair to brush against his warm cheek), he was at her mercy, and now, emotionally, he was about to give himself over to her completely, bare his throat for his teeth, and that sent fear straight into his heart, just at the thought. He had never let himself be this vulnerable before, because it made him so helpless, like that child who could do nothing but fall on his knees and cry as his world came crashing down around him.

He swallowed around the lump forming at the back of his throat, keenly aware of how their positions had switched, and turned his head to look into her eyes. Too late to back out now, and if she wanted to know, he would tell her.

But how did he even begin?

"It's always been you, Sakura," he stated quietly, repeating that phrase he had used the night before, under the haze of her medicine, on the verge of sleep. A pause as a small, weak smile graced his lips; he realized how stupid he must sound, how incomprehensible that line must be to her. "You were always the one making me feel what I didn't want to feel. I couldn't allow myself to feel those things; part of it was a conscious effort, yet...Something in me just could not--I lost everything once, everything, and without even fully realizing it, I built walls to prevent myself from ever feeling that pain again, even if it meant never feeling connection. But you were persistent, weren't you?"

He laughed then, the sound shaking, because something was breaking inside him. The tear slid down his cheek without him noticing it, staining his warm skin. "I think you're a lot more beautiful than you realize. A better person than I could ever hope to be. And that's why..." Another pause, another tear. It was a conscious effort to keep some level of composure now. "...My feelings don't matter. I love you, Sakura, but you deserve someone who will bring you happiness, someone a lot better than what I am."

His lips twitched, and another laugh forced itself from his throat, this one bitter. "I'm not a good person, and if there were any karmic justice in this world, I would still be in that jail cell at the very least, if not executed."


Somewhere in the middle of his declaration, a white noise had started to rise in her ears, as if an exploding tag had gone off next to her.

She remembered. Standing in the midst a wreckage, with the mud wall that had grown out of the earth, had shielded her and likely saved her life, crumbling around her. Her hair powdered with dust so fine it had been impossible to wash out. She had looked at her hands, a high beeping sound drowning out all other noise, feeling as if someone had taken her and wrapped her in thick layers of cotton, and it had separated her from the world around her, even when the battle commenced and Yamato-taichou was shouting commands.

There was only one thing to do, she thought, distantly realizing that her reaction was peculiar, her skin suddenly clammy-cold and her heart beating rather erratic against her rib cage. The only thing to be done, as her heart broke in face of his agony. A feeling as if he was pouring all the hurt right into the sturdy muscle, which suddenly felt fragile in a too tight cage. She could not run, and she could not turn away, and it was too much.

The only thing to be done.

"Sasuke", she said, but it came out as a whisper, hoarse and broken as she cupped his cheek in her hand. "Sasuke, I know. I know." And it was the truth; understood was the reason he never looked at her, the pain she endured on his behalf, her determination to follow him, then to end his life (waned, of course, because even for that she had been too weak); she had learned all of his torment (or so she imagined) in the dark of night, when she had lain awake with tears running down her temples, staring at the ceiling and thought: I'm sorry what has happened. I'm with you. I know you don't know it, you don't want it, but I'm with you. And imagined it would give him courage, or strength, or whatever else it was he needed, this angry, desperate boy.

She had not known she had been more to him than thin air, though, more than a thing to ignore, a naive, love-struck little girl that hadn't known any better.

How annoying she must have been. Persistence, was what he called it.

And then. I love you, Sakura, but ...

It's always been you, Sakura.

She disentangled her arm from him to move the other hand to his cheek, taking his face in both her hands now as she looked him in the eyes. "You are going to listen to me now, Sasuke." The glance of her eyes was firm; her voice was steady now, because what she had to tell him was the truth, something she believed so deeply in it was not up for debate, not even for a second. "You are a good man. You deserve all the happiness in the world. And nothing you have done, nothing you have once thought or said, changes that." She felt slightly dizzy from her accelerated heartbeat. Shell shock. That's what people called it, back in the days of the First Shinobi World War.

I love you, Sakura ...

In a slight shift of her stance, she raised herself on tiptoes, and her mouth found his tears, and she kissed them away, with his skin ruddy underneath her lips and wet and salty; one tear stain after the other. His cheekbones and the tender flesh underneath his eyes. His chin and then his jaw and right there, the corner of his mouth. "You are a good man", she reiterated, because she knew he would not believe it, and the only thing to be done about it was to show him, over and over again, that he was wrong in his estimation of himself, that she was right.

And then. I love you, Sakura,

but ...

And everything was true, from her words to the way she laid everything she had into the gentle touch of her lips against his skin, but

Her world came to a stop, and a second became a minute became an hour. There was a but which she could not quite name, because even though his pain was important, so was her hesitation, and even though she had to gather all her willpower not to do the thing that came most natural to her, to give in, to cry against his shoulder and offer him shelter in her arms like she wanted to, she managed. For her own sake.

"Come now", she said softly, running her hand across the low of his back to steady him again, breaking the spell, making time catch up with her again. They were in Suigetsu's hideout. In the corridor, with the growing threat of being disturbed by someone. No one was to witness this. She had to get Sasuke to bed. It was all she allowed herself to think about.


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Sasuke was left speechless and breathless, dizziness washing over him, as this reality he had built for himself slipped into a dream-like state, and his heart was fluttering in his chest, those emotions he tried so hard to repress pouring not only through the cracks in that wall of his, but crashing against that barrier, wave after wave, causing it to crumble underneath the assault.

You're a good man, Sasuke.

He was lost in her eyes, then her lips, trailing kisses down his cheek, stopping at the corner of his mouth, and that was agonizing.

You deserve all the happiness in the world...

She believed all these things that she said, and the fact that she had such faith in him still, after everything--They fell unhindered, a fresh stream of his silent tears, and he was wrapping his arm around her waist, pressing his forehead against hers even as she withdrew, closing his eyes to steady himself as her hand traveled to his back for support.

He couldn't believe her declaration about his character, not now, but something in him shifted, opened, and with time, he believed that perhaps he could.

He wanted to kiss her, to pour his love into a tangible gesture, because he needed desperately to show her, and it was taking all his will not to close the gap between their lips, to wrap his arm around her and hold her close, to stop wasting time, because he had spent so long being stupid, ignoring everything he felt, and that also was an agonizing realization.

Come now. Those words made him aware of their surroundings, and with hitched breath, asserting every bit of his willpower, he was able to reign in his desire. Withdrawing, he nodded, prying his arm from her back to open the door for her.

His resolve dissolved as soon as they had crossed over the threshold, and then his palm was cupping her cheek, thumb running over her smooth lips, and he was looking at her with soft, wanting eyes, silently asking for permission.


The room with the fire burnt down low was like a blanket, its darkness engulfing them, and for a wild moment she nearly gave in, the touch of his cradling hand and brush of his thumb kindling a deep-seated want that, if she allowed for it to grow, would be impossible to control. It registered in her eyes, that need, primal in its force and persuasion.

And before her eyes, there grew a fig tree, layered with possibilities, each branch bearing another future for her — the kiss, she felt, was fertilizer to one and poison to most of those branches, and if she was irrational she did not care, and if he thought less of her she did not care.

She needed to be someone before she made that mistake, needed to shed every last remnant of the girl she once had been, vain and hungry for his attention, loving an image and not the real man.

So she smiled while she gave up his offer for that particular bond, her hand gentle over his even when disappointment and regret and relief mixed into some unbearable pain. All the time, this fear of not being loved, of never being loved or wanted again — yet not giving into it, holding her own against the force that was the hunger in his eyes. It was one of the hardest things she had ever done.

The slightest tilt of her head, away from him and his touch, and she knew it would be enough of an answer.


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To think it did not hurt would be a lie, that rejection, but an understanding seeped into that pain, overwhelming it. Sasuke wanted to laugh and curse himself at the same time, having been so overridden by the flooding ocean of his own emotions that he hadn't even stopped to consider anything else.

Her struggle had been clear in her eyes, a window into the multitude of thoughts raging behind her gaze, and he knew this was hard for her, and the need to scold himself became overwhelming for being so senseless and hasty. That haze of his lifting in light of her rejection, he came to the conclusion that even if she had allowed him to proceed, he shouldn't have. Not when she was so clearly conflicted.

"I understand," he stated softly, lips spreading into a small smile tinged with sadness. His hand withdrew, but only for a moment, as he placed two fingers against her forehead gently, lovingly. "I don't expect anything from you, Sakura, but...I'll always be there for you, if you need me, in whatever capacity, distance you need."

His arm dropped to rest against her shoulder, squeezing reassuringly, before he withdrew completely. His footsteps felt agonizingly loud as he made his way to his bed, sat down upon the blankets, and watched her with dark, complicated eyes. "Get some rest as well. Please."


When she closed his bedroom door behind her a few moments later, she felt nothing but great relief flood her much like Suigetsu's jutsu had the other day. She had not tended to him, just bid him a good sleep before she went, assuring him with a small smile that she would, in fact, go lie down shortly. As she now walked through the hideout like in a trance, his words dancing through her skull, her fingers rubbing the spot on her forehead only he ever touched that way, she suddenly knew she had made the right decision.

Karin was up by then, and it did not take long for Sakura to be able to withdraw into the room that held her bedroll; perhaps it was the vacant look in her eyes, or the peculiar expression on her face, but nobody disturbed her -- that is to say, Ari let her be, and Karin kept her pickering to a minimum --, and she found sleep sooner than she had hoped. There were other things she wanted to tend to -- check the Bingo book she carried with her for an entry of a particular swordsman, for example -- but it could wait, because the exhaustion was overwhelming. She slept well into the afternoon, curled up under her blanket as she hoped she would. It was a dreamless sleep, and afterwards, a thoughtless wakefulness as she emerged again after a shower, wearing some of Karin's training clothes -- comfortably baggy and wonderfully ugly -- because her own were drying on a clothesline next to the kitchen's fireplace.

She walked across the hallway again, hearing Ari's chipper voice echoing through the tunnels from the other direction, as she stepped out into the air, emerging from behind the waterfall to soak in the remaining sunlight before dawn, before confronting the others again. It had been a long time since she had felt so peaceful, and Sasuke's words had something to do with it, but more so her own decision, and she felt that things had changed, in some yet indiscernible but -- she hoped so -- positive way.

In the kitchen, Karin just shook her head, mumbling something about odd gnomes Ari did not quite catch. He was busy peeling a carrot, using his human form to do so, because he had promised to be a good guest and help with the dinner -- although he did not exactly understand why they would eat carrots, if they had all the fish they could ever need, swimming merrily in the river below them.


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The afternoon sun danced across the surface of the rippling river, rays painting the quiet, drifting water in shades of orange and yellow. Serene and peaceful. Grey eyes peered up at the passing white clouds, one brow lifted questioningly, as the wind rustled through dark hair.


'Intelligence is pointless without patience; a quick-mind slave to a quick-temper is nothing more than a burden. Learn to watch and wait. Predict, not react. Always be in control.'

One of Satoru's first lessons hadn't been how to grip a sword properly, or basic physical conditioning, but fishing. A twitching, shifting child seated beside a still, scarred warrior. Naivety next to world-weary. All to learn how to do nothing, to wait, because taking inaction while emotions compelled one to move forward was difficult, took a finely sharpened level of self-control.

Seeing the Uchiha wounded like that, cut-down, weak, and defenseless had scratched at Satoru's control; like a predator he had smelled blood, and it took every fiber of his being not to go in for the kill. Because that's not how he would have wanted this done: Minamoto Takeshi, legendary swordsman, shinobi of Sunagakure, lionhearted veteran, and now inhabitant of a six-foot grave.

The line on his pole pulled suddenly, and with a tug of the string, he began reeling in the catch. Removing the fish from the hook, he tossed it along with the others in a basket, and muttered, "Should be enough."

Observing was more beneficial, anyways. It offered the opportunity to learn about his opponent, like the way Uchiha's finger had twitched against that kitchen knife upon their meeting, beginning to form a hand sign. When the time came, Satoru would be sure to watch closely for that motion. Just as he was taught. He wondered, bitterly, if Uchiha even knew the name of the warrior he had killed, or did they start to blend together after a threshold amount, if he even cared in the first place?

Satoru's eyebrow twitched; it was a motion most people missed, his tick of agitation, as they were usually distracted by the extravagant smile on his lips. A good actor indeed.

Gathering up his belongings, he checked the sun for an estimate of the time, and decided to head back to Suigetsu's hideout, figuring the merry band of misfits would be starting to fix dinner right about now. Eyes setting on Sakura he came to an abrupt stop outside the waterfall, and with a curious tilt of his head, gave her a once over; of course, knowing his lecherous nature, such a look could be easily misinterpreted, but he was simply curious.

The complicated dynamic between her and the Uchiha had been so obvious to his perceptive eyes that he couldn't help but poke the sleeping bear, so to speak, because it brought him both amusement and satisfaction. And the opportunity to appreciate beauty and art, as he liked to think of it, was one a gentleman such as himself could never resist. Her relaxed body language now suggested that something had happened between the two, and what that something was, he couldn't exactly say, but he offered one of his trademarked smirks anyways, along with a congratulations of sorts, "Good for you."

Followed by, as if suddenly remembering, "Oh, and I brought a peace offering." He flipped up the basket's top for her to see the fish inside. "I came to the conclusion that I should contribute more than compelling and intelligent conversation, since I'll be here for a few days."


It was beautiful afternoon, and it had been a good decision to immerse herself in it. The air was crisp and saturated as it filled her lungs. She sat cross-legged at the riverside, one hand tangling in the cold water, her face tilted towards the sun. She opened her eyes only in the last moment of his near-silent approach. His footwork was good, but only a Konoha shinobi knew how to navigate fallen leaves without the slightest sound, and a dried up leaf crunched underneath his foot when he walked, giving him away. She blinked, dark spots dancing across her eyes as she took him in. His gaze was blatant, but she did not mind because apart from layers and layers of fabric there was nothing to see. "Satoru-san", she said in the way of greeting. His comment irked her. It was a form of entitlement towards her private life -- her feelings -- she did not appreciate. And his perceptiveness was eery. She did say nothing, however; she let the feeling pass in favor of his next words.

As she peeked into the basket, her irritation evaporated, and she gave an appreciating little laugh. "Look at that", she clapped her hands together and raised her eyes to him, "Ari will be so pleased." She wondered if the fishing rod was his, or if he had gathered it up in the hide-out. She regretted now to not have taken the time to go through the Bingo book already. It was the version the Allied Forces had drafted together before dispersing, and Kakashi-sensei had pressed it into her hand for a purpose exactly like this. For a few days, Satoru had said. She smiled pleasantly. "Suigetsu surely will be pleased to find a friendly face when he wakes up." She scooted over a little, an indication that his presence would not be unwelcome. She wondered if pretending to fall for his advances would have earned her some sourly needed intel, though he probably would not fall for that. To be under the same roof was two former enemies (of whom one of them had incapacitated Sasuke) and a complete stranger, who might or might not be a missing-nin, was nothing any part of her shinobi instincts appreaciated. At all. The only consolation was Shimo, and the knowledge that they had earned the kitsune's trust. That she would come to their aid, if this situation turned out to be more dangerous than this peaceful, tranquil afternoon suggested. "How do you know him?"


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Giving a small bow of his head, Satoru graciously excepted her offer. Moving the basket to rest underneath one arm, he removed his scabbard from the slash at his waist with his other, as sitting down so close to the ground would be awkward with the sword attached. He settled down at her side, placing the basket and sheath in front of him, before leaning back and resting his hands on his knees, giving his full attention to the woman seated next to him. At her question, he cocked a brow, tilting his chin slightly, and wondered if she was casually carrying out conversation, or digging for information. A sly smirk danced across his lips, and with a small chuckle, he came to the conclusion that perhaps it was a bit of both; she was certainly intelligent, and a part of him was curious to see that intelligence in action.

"Our paths crossed a few years back, and with us both being prideful disciples of the blade, we decided to test our mettle against one another," He explained, that expression of his never leaving his lips. "A simple duel. There's a lot to be learned about a person based upon the methods they use to fight, and after our thorough introduce, Suigetsu and I came to respect one another. Occasionally I stop by to check in; he's about the only one who appreciates my designs and theories on how to craft better swords, perfect the art of swordsmanship both on the battlefield and off."

Lifting a hand to brush back a few strands of his hair, he shifted the conversation, "I understand if I unease you, Sakura-san. We could spar, if you wish to know me better," He winked, chuckling warmly, indicating that, that had been partially a joke, "But I've also found shogi to be an adequate replacement for physical contact when it comes to learning about another. And if nothing else, it's a way to pass the time during conversation. Do you play, perchance?"


"Do you?", she asked with a lingering glance before turning her gaze towards the water again, bathing her face in the waning sunlight once more. The mountains were steep in this parts of the land; it was no more than a half days travel into Rain, even though the fastest route lead through the mountains, almost impassable and dangerous. She had studied the map carefully, had learned about the surrounding area and forests in the unlikely case of an attack. Not so unlikely anymore, she thought, with Satoru's presence next to her. She shifted a bit and fished for something in the pocket of the borrowed pants, then raised both her hands to her hair. Combing through it with her fingers, she tied it back, and, rolling up her sleeves, she turned to face him.

"I have to disappoint you", she informed him, nestling with her sandals until they fitted more tightly around her ankles again -- indoors, she preferred to wear them loose to slip in and out of them, a habit she had picked up at the hospital -- "I'm not much of a shogi player." Shikamaru had tried to teach her often enough, but she had never quite found the patience for it. She liked to get dirty, to move, to make herself useful. It had always helped to clear her mind best, to keep moving. "But if you don't mind, I'll take you up on your offer to spar." She got to her feet as she said it, and bent to hitch up the legs of her pants, combining it with a lower back stretch to loosen her muscles. When she straightened, the smile on her face was a dare. "That is, if you think you can keep up with me, Satoru-san."


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The strictly intelligent thing to do would be to decline, yet it wasn't as simple as that. They were already engaged in a strategic game of shogi, fought with words as their weapons, each phase uttered to test the other. Should he decline, it would perhaps suggest he was trying to hide his abilities, which, of course, was suspicious. Yet fully engaging her in a spar, without holding back, would display his techniques and jutsus, which he would rather keep out of her view, for he was certain that the Uchiha would end up learning of them as well. Besides, there was an urge underneath his surface; he wanted to engage her, and that little taunt of hers at the end?

He looked at her from underneath strands of his hair, observing her, a different type of smirk twitching at the edge of his lips. Clever, he thought, you know exactly what you're doing, don't you? He had to admit that it was impressive.

He didn't immediately stand, instead taking his time to reach into a pouch at his belt, withdrawing a band, which he used to pull his hair back out of his face and tie behind his head. Flashing her one of those supposedly charming smirks of his, he stated, "Don't worry about me, Sakura-san. I wouldn't dream of disappointing a beautiful woman such as yourself."

Rising onto his feet, dressed in the light clothing he always wore, preferring less weight as opposed to more protection, Satoru made no effort to reach for his sword. This was a spar after all; there was no need to use his full arsenal, not that he would give her a glimpse into it anyways.

"Conditions?" He asked with a raised brow, his feet casually sliding back to make distance between them already. "May I suggest first one to pin the other? And, all in good nature, limited amount of jutsu?"



Sakura was mirroring his legwork -- the distance between them grew. "Limited amount of jutsu. All in good fun", she reiterated, and made it sound like a dare, complementing his smirk with a smile of her own. She felt exited for the possibility to spar, to get her hands dirty in a good way; being a medical nin, she was used to stand at the sidelines in battle, and when her hands were covered in grime and blood she could wash them all she liked, she only ever felt clean after a good, exhausting training regime. It showed in her smile, in the shine of her eyes that had locked onto his frame.

Two hearts were beating in her chest. Two instincts she navigated, in every battle. The first one was Kakashi's, underhanded, quick and elusive; keep your distance, estimate, analyse, strike. This tactic suited her intelligence as well as a natural prudence, which for years she had mistaken as fear. The other was Naruto's; she had worked with him for so long, he must have rubbed off on her, or maybe it had always been in her, that inclination to strike, to move forward and attack, holding nothing back. Her eyes traveled over Satoru's body, made a study of his limbs, his fingers, the movement of his feet; it took a nanosecond, she inclined her head (too courteous, Kakashi-sensei had always said; just gonna have to strike harder afterwards, Tsunade-shishou used to amend) and moved.

Finding the middle ground: Her fingers formed Tiger, and she multiplied withthe Bunshin no Jutsu. Chakra-enhanced movements as all three versions of her rushed up to him in zigzag, concealing her real self to his eyes -- a heartbeat, a leap and she would reach him but then -- her doppelgänger scattered, one to the left towards the river, one to the right towards the tree line, and one skidding right past him, low on the ground to avoid to being grabbed, aiming for his ankle to fell him here and now.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Watching the kunoichi and her clones rush toward him, cleverly hiding her real self, Satoru slid his feet apart, clapping his hands together to form the hand sign of the serpent. The air shifted around him, rustling through his hair, as he summoned his chakra, concentrated it, let the wind nature flow through his muscles.

Patience. That first lesson, a simple word, yet complex in all its implications. He wasn't one for brute force; in fact, that had been made abundantly clear to him from a young age. But he was never one to play someone else's game.

Out of his peripheral, he watched the possible clones disperse, noting their direction, readying himself with watchful, calculating eyes. It would happen quickly. He would have to predict her movement, then respond a blurred split of a second later.

And then she was closing in on him. He couldn't dodge left or right, not without leaving himself open to the others. Throwing his body weight forward as she lunged for him, moving with speed, he deftly leaped and rolled over her shoulder, his hand darting to the weapons pouch at his hip as he did so, fingers dancing around dexterously within.

As his feet hit the ground behind her, knees bending to steady himself, along with one of his hands that reached out to dig into the dirt, his other withdrew a kunai from his pouch (a keen eye would notice the wire tied around the end), and sent it flying toward the shoulder of the Sakura before him.


Said Sakura spun, shimmered, and then the kunai flew through her and in the same instance she exploded into a puff of smoke.

Dirt and pebbles gritted underneath fastened sandals as another Sakura approached, from the side of the river and full-speed. This version of her must have just skidded around at the edge of the river, taken a U-turn and was aiming at him now, the fingers of her right hand clenching into a fist as she lunged for him. At exactly the same time, from the woods, the second Sakura re-emerged in a pink-and-black blur and impossible speed.

Both were nearing, closing the distance between him like two trains on the same track. At their current speed, they would reach him at the same time: The question was, who was the real Sakura, which version of her would batter him, which one needed to be incapacitated and which would disperse in a puff of smoke. And right in front of Satoru -- the direction his leap had taken him --, obviously summoned by another application of the same Bunshin no Jutsu, a fourth version of her, but this one slower, forming seals as she fixated on him, expression smug.

In the low-hanging sun, their four shadows were thrown onto the grassy ground. The river gurgled peacefully, drowned out by the noise of the waterfall; birds chirped their evening songs in the nearby trees, their leaves rustling in a soft breeze -- it was tranquil, a beautiful day.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
She was surrounding him, trying to corner him, Satoru realized, storm-colored eyes racing among the three approaching Sakuras, his wrist flicking to recall his kunai to his hand. Mouth twitching into a sharp smirk, one that was hardly as friendly or flippant as the ones before, his eyebrow mimicking the motion in that subtle tick of his, his hands started forming signs that would end with another serpent, the chakra in himself building, the wind stirring around him, becoming almost edged.

He would never play someone else's game again.

And then he became aware of another presence; out of his peripheral vision, he noticed that they were being watched like a hawk by dark eyes, pale and slender form seated and leaned against the wall of the hideout's entrance.

Patience, echoed that low, rough voice of his sensei, and Satoru's lips dropped his trademarked smirk, pulling into a firm, taunt line. His chakra buildup dropped immediately, the air around him relaxed, and with the lost time, he internally kicked himself, knowing he had lost this fight, before throwing all his cards on the table with a quick decision.

He threw the knife at the Sakura approaching from the river, aiming for the shoulder in case if it happened to be the real one, before dunking below the fist of the one that had approached from the woods, aiming to wrap the wire around her her wrist as he slipped behind her, pulling it behind her back to restrain her, as his free hand reached up to wrap around her opposite shoulder. With a tug, he would wrestle her into a position in front of him, intending on using her as a human shield against the last Sakura that was preparing a jutsu.

Of course, he had bet everything on the Sakura he currently held being the real one, the others clones, and if he happened to be wrong, well...

Perhaps he would be underestimated, at least, he thought dryly. That could still be used to his advantage.


Satoru's perceptiveness was not flawless after all, Sakura thought in triumph. Her plan was working. It had depended on this small oversight on his part; and she had been lucky, had made noise on her approach from the river, had not treaded carefully enough. A simply bunshin, in contrast to Naruto's much advanced version, was a mere illusion, nothing more than a barely concealed mirage with no agency in the world. He either did not know that -- doubtful -- or had not registered her mistake.

As the kunai shot at her with lightening speed, she was left two choices: Give up her advantage and get out of harms way, or proceed regardless. She spun her upper body; the sharp blade breached the skin of her upper arm -- she felt it in a sharp sting of pain, welcomed it as the price for her victory. The bunshin he had lunged for disappeared at Satoru's ministrations, and she released the jutsu on the other one, too, leaving him to stand unguarded in the middle of their battlefield. A second more, then her fist connected with his cheek as she hurled her body up into the air and into him, and they tumbled to the ground together, her knees scraping over the floor because she had pulled her punch, so that her knuckles merely scraped over his cheekbone. Her other hand, buried in the dirt, was stopping her from tumbling farther, and she was reminded why their uniform consisted of gloves when spiky stones buried themselves deep into the palm of her hand.

Panting, she uttered: "Wouldn't wanna hurt that pretty face", before she used the last of her momentum and rolled herself off him to collapse into the grass, staring at the red sky, exhilaration from endorphins and adrenaline coursing through her body.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
There was nothing more grounding than being tackled to the earth, having a fist brush against your cheek, and figuratively being forced to eat dirt after acting so smug just minutes beforehand. Blinking with confusion at the pulled punched, Satoru observed Sakura curiously, and at her words, started laughing. The sound was rich, full, and genuine, lacking the pretentious facade he had been so intent on keeping. Chest heaving with exertion, the wind chakra he had built up to enhance his speed dissipating from his body, Satoru disentangled the wire from his wrist, before running one hand through his hair, tugging the band free, grey eyes taking in the clouds drifting overhead in the serene, blue sky, before turning his gaze on the woman who had just not only fairly beat him, but outplayed him.

"I admit defeat. A clever trick, Sakura," Oddly, the dropping of the -san indicated he was no longer talking with an air, as if he were simply trying to engage her, literally and figuratively, on ground level. Holding up one of his palms, his fingers curled inward in a fist, and he offered it to her, as if he wanted her to return the gesture in a fist-bump. "Though you should admit you pulled that punch just so you wouldn't deprive yourself of this pretty face." He smiled then, warmly and playfully, his tone suggesting that the comment hadn't been serious at all, more so a jab at his own vanity.

Near them, leaves crunched underneath sandals, as Sasuke made his way across the battlefield, a first aid kit in hand.


Sakura turned her head, amazed at the sound that had erupted from Satoru's throat. It seemed outright genuine, lacking all guise and pretense. She smiled in return, gazing at him through sweat-blurred vision as he studied the sky. A surge of fondness, enhanced surely by her happy triumph, elated her further; and his banter suddenly was easy to bear, in fact quite enjoyable. She wiped her forehead with the sleeve of her shirt, smearing dirt across her cheek in the process. "Thank you", she lightly bumped her fist against his, eyes sparkling, "you're welcome to a re-match anytime." And, matching his playful tone and raising her eyebrows suggestively, she added: "To the winner the spoils."

Her chakra was thrumming, sensible enough to have sensed Sasuke's unconcealed presence in the back of her mind -- like an intuition -- and now she was turning her head, her ponytail loose and grass scattered all over her hair, looking at his approaching feet and letting her gaze travel upwards, from the first aid kit to his face. "Look at you", she started, her tone in the same lighthearted vein, "starting a career as a med nin, as well?"

She sat up, brushing her hands together to get the earth and stones from her palms. Her eyes grew more serious as she gave him a once-over, her lips pulling into an indecisive line. "It would have been better if you'd have stayed in bed until tomorrow, at least. Are you feeling dizzy at all?"

There was merit in being a medical ninja. Downplaying your teammates physical capabilities was one of them. She did not know why, but it seemed like a good idea to scold Sasuke in front of Satoru, to make him appear weaker than he was; something pulled at the back of her mind, like a stray thought she could not quite catch.


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Coming to a stop before the both of them, Sasuke quirked a brow at Sakura's quip, dark eyes trailing over her light expression, the grass embedded within her pulled-back hair, and felt his serious expression falter, because he found her to be incredibly...cute. Besides, watching her put the smug ass at her side in his place, even if she withheld the final blow (much to his own dismay), had lightened his mood, though something about the end of the spar that he had caught made him wary. His intuition told him that there was something off about the swordsman, though he couldn't place his finger exactly on it.

"What, don't you think I'd look adorable in a nurse's outfit?" He asked, tone dead serious, though amusement flickered within his eyes, mouth tugging ever so slightly into a small grin. Kneeling next to her and setting down the first aid kit, he reached out to gently take her arm within his grasp, extending it towards himself, before rolling up her sleeve. Softly, he added, "I'm fine. Fresh air is supposed to be healing, isn't it?" Besides, staying in bed was awful for his mental health, he was finding.

Leaning in to examine the cut on her shoulder, Sasuke pressed his lips together, shot an almost accusing glare at her sparring partner, who was currently brushing grass out of his own hair and watching them both with an odd, discernible, guarded expression, and quietly muttered, "Doesn't look too deep."

Removing his hand to open the kit and retrieve bandages and disinfectant, he heard Satoru shift his weight through the leaves, and watched out of his peripheral as the swordsman kneeled down next to them both, holding out his hand expectantly in Sasuke's direction. Giving Satoru a distrustful look that suggested he would greatly appreciate it if the man backed off, he ignored his hand, as he placed the bandage on his own knee, and using his teeth, opened the container of disinfectant liquid, which he began applying to Sakura's wound.

"Really?" Satoru asked in disbelief, letting out an exaggerated sigh. "Yes, I am planning to smother the woman who just kicked my ass almost effortlessly with a bandage. How perceptive of you. Must I point out the fact that I have two hands?" His fingers wiggled, and Sasuke narrowed his eyes, before grunting and tilting his knee so that the bandages fell off, rolling in Satoru's direction.

Smiling sweetly at Sasuke, the expression faded as Satoru picked up the roll, turned his eyes onto Sakura, and gave her a look that silently asked 'how do you put up with this shit?', before proceeding to wrap up her wound.


Sasuke’s joke had a peculiar effect on Sakura: she processed his words, in a very obvious manner — some would call the expression on her face flabbergasted — and then she snorted loudly, the corners of her mouth digging deep into her cheeks at the idiotic smile on her face. Her hand brushed his shoulder in appreciation, a silent thank you for the first aid, even as she watched the quarrel between them.

She rolled her eyes at Satoru. „You know, the both of you, I am perfectly capable of doing this on my own.“ After watching him apply the bandage for a moment, she clicked her tongue disapprovingly. „Your technique is abhorrent. Either you‘re really careless about your health, have an excellent healer on your team or consider yourself invin—“

She did not come any further than that, because a white fluffball was shooting out of nowhere, tackling Satoru from the side emitting a loud snarl. Ari‘s claws made to dig deep into the skin of Satoru‘s cheek and neck and upper arm, and his sharp little teeth started down on his earlobe, ineffective but determined in its attempt to render the ninja unable to fight.

„Leave Sakura alone!“ he snarled, jumping up and down in his (by all means vain) attempt to hold Satoru down.
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[Insert Clever Line Here]
A clever retort was sitting on Satoru's tongue, waiting patiently for Sakura to finish her scolding to slip from his lips, because the answer was a combination of the three; health, why would he need to be so worried about it (besides keeping his body in top physical condition), when he was, in fact, invincible, and even if he wasn't, if he did have quite the talented medical nin on his former team, who had been able to match him tit for tat when it came to wit?

And then, his grey eyes snapping up, he noticed the blur of white tumbling in his direction, and barely had enough time to tuck his chin down to protect his throat, lift his right arm to help shield himself, while the other was extending, chakra howling through his body like a windstorm, before his back hit the ground.

His chokuto was already flying through the air, freed from its sheath with a metallic clink, the torrent of chakra-infused air carrying it razor sharp, by the time he had a moment to realize how...ineffective...this little ball of fur was at trying to kill him. While the claw and bite marks were certainly, irritatingly painful (not the mention ruining his clothing), he felt his sense of danger lower, and as the grip of his sword snapped into his outstretched hand, he made no motion to flip the blade around to face the...fox?...talking fox?...One of his brows quirked. A question for later.

For, in the split second all of this happened, he felt a second body jumping onto the dog pile. This one was significantly heavier, and his body weight was applied to actually keep him pinned to the ground. Then a hand was gripping his wrist tightly, slamming it into the earth with enough force to be painful, and a red eye was glaring out from behind dark bangs, lips drawn taunt in a warning. "He's just a kid. Stand down."

Knowing what the Uchiha wanted, Satoru kept eye contact for a heartbeat, narrowing his gaze, before it dropped to take in his captor's exposed artery. Just a little exertion. One slice with his jutsu. And everything would be over.

Satoru's mouth twitched at the edges, before that smirk of his flashed across his lips, and his head was tilting back to take in the sky. With an exaggerated exhalation of air, he let go of his sword, letting it hit the grass softly, before muttering, "Buy a guy a drink first, handsome; it's only courteous."

The Uchiha completely ignored the comment, choosing to instead tell the, er, talking fox, "He's not a threat, Ari. You can rel--" There was a pained grunt that ripped itself from his throat, and his hand lifted to cover his now dark eye. Still too weak to even sustain his kekkei genkai, it seemed. After a moment to recover--Satoru noted that the Uchiha seemed rather breathless now, and the weight used to keep him to the ground could have easily been flipped--Sasuke dropped his fingers to gently place them against the fox's back. "Come now."

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