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Fandom Redemption [Closed] [Graverobber141/arbus]


"Satoru, no!" The cry erupted from her throat in sudden panic, when all she could think about that blade of his, piercing the small kitsune's body in automatic defense. She had moved, too, but she was nowhere near matching Sasuke's lightening-quick movements. She hurled herself forward onto her knees but Sasuke's body was positioned in a way it shielded Ari from her grip.

"But he is!", Ari screeched and dug his canines deep enough into the flesh to pierce the earlobe.

"Ari!", Sakura said sharply, popping up on Satoru's other side. The kitsune's fur stood on ends; he was flustered and angry, tail thick and standing straight into the air. At Sasuke's touch, Sakura's exclamation, he let go, shaking himself like an overexcited dog before jumping onto Sasuke's shoulder, glaring eyes peering out beneath the strands of his hair.

"I don't like him", Ari murmured defiantly. Sakura rolled her eyes, then propped her under Satoru's back to help him sit up. Ari chattered irritably at that. "Sasuke", Sakura said, "please sit. You're white as a sheet." And to Satoru: "So who's going to need that medical kit now, hm?"


[Insert Clever Line Here]
A colorful curse fell carelessly from Satoru's lips, as the small, raving, talking creature bit into his ear, as if he was trying to tear the damn thing off. For a split moment he was rethinking his decision to not impale the overgrown rodent, yet the thought was let go with a begrudging huff of air. Sitting up with Sakura's aid, and after Sasuke hesitantly, after looking toward Sakura, moved off of him to sit down on a close patch of grass, Satoru made a gesture with his hand, as if brushing off the incident, before lifting a few fingers to check on his ear. Fresh blood was plastered to his digits, and shooting a glare toward the talking fox called Ari, he grumbled in return, "And you're not so charming yourself, furball."

He was about to turn his full attention to Sakura, trying to decide between being diplomatic or a smartass, when he saw the Uchiha reaching for his chokuto. It was an understandable gesture. If their positions were reversed, Satoru would have certainly used this opportunity to disarm him. Yet his reaction was utterly irrational. Anger flared through his body, cutting deeply, and with a threatening glare as sharp as a blade, his voice low and equally as edged, he growled in warning, "Don't touch that."

The air was so tense it could have been cut with a knife. A heartbeat passed, dark eyes staring into grey ones, both guarded, both dangerous and judging. And then, diplomatically, Sasuke was withdrawing his hand to run calmly through Ari's fur, scooting away from the blade, though his eyes remained firmly locked on Satoru.

"As long as he doesn't have rabies," Satoru started, something in his voice tight, "I believe I'll be fine."


Sakura's spine grew very straight; the muscles in her back and shoulders very tense as the air grew thin and charged. It was different from the antagonism from previously. Satoru had lost all his playfulness and the mirth in his eyes -- the skin of his face appeared taut, and his posture suggested the lurk of a predator, ready to strike. Sakura was glad as Sasuke withdrew, glad that his sense won over his pride.

For a long moment nobody said anything, and Satoru's statement hung between them as if indecisive where to go. She cleared her throat.
"You", she said, accusingly, glaring at Ari, "are going to apologize to Satoru for hurting him."

"Sakura!" It was the whine of a kid, helplessly indignant. He buried his head against Sasuke's neck, hiding his face so that only his muzzle stood out, warm and dry.

"You will" She imitated that tone her mother used when her patience snapped, finding it came rather easy to her. She raised her hand, looking at Satoru to communicate the gesture, as not to heighten the tension again -- and touched his shoulder. "I'll heal it for you, if you allow."

Ari snarled at the gentle tone in her voice, but Sakura's attention had flitted towards Sasuke already, her eyes telling. The idea from earlier -- let Satoru overestimate Sasuke's weakness -- was overwritten by a real concern for Sasuke, as he showed all the signs of overexertion. She debated asking him if he was alright, but it seemed somehow wrong to do so with the strain of that silent showdown weighing on them all. So she settled for the wordless command Stay put, afraid he would suffer from vertigo if he got up now.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Sasuke's dark gaze shifted from Satoru upon noticing the look Sakura was giving him, and the serious, watchful glint in his eyes suggested he hadn't been planning to leave to begin with, not with the tension that had barely left the air, not with the suspicion he had for the swordsman building like a foreboding storm within his gut; if something were to happen in the next few minutes, he would be here, showing what the determination of an Uchiha could do when the safety of his loved ones was threatened. Yet noticing the concern behind that order of hers, his expression softened, and he bowed his head slightly in an attempt to put her at ease, the look in his eyes stating that he felt fine.

But, of course, Uchiha Sasuke would lay in the aftermath of a Great War, bleeding from the joint where his recently lost arm used to be, and mutter that he was utterly fine.

Running his fingers through the fox on his shoulder's fur, Sasuke gently urged him on, his voice somehow a mixture of being gentle, yet firm, "Ari. You should listen to Sakura."

There was a light humming sound that Satoru made, his eyes flickering to Sakura as he considered her offer, one that resembled Sasuke's hn in purpose. With a just audible exhalation of air, he hung his head, before tilting it to the side to expose his ear, brushing his hair back out of the way. "I would sincerely appreciate it, Sakura. Thank you."

His other hand extending, he stopped, as if noticing how the gesture could be taken, or perhaps Sasuke's tightening muscles, and offered in explanation, "The sheath." And a moment later, the object in question had darted across the ground, snapping into his waiting hand. Positioning the sword in the grass, he expertly slid the blade back into its scabbard with one hand, before tossing the sheathed sword some distance away.

A gesture of good faith, Sasuke supposed, but he noted how little that distance gave them of an advantage with that jutsu of his. It was always wind users, wasn't it, who became thorns in his side? The universe certainly had a sense of humor.


Sasuke -- as it turned out -- was not the only member of their group with that specific kind of determination that Sakura had to suffer through all through her first genin year, and every subsequent clash between who Kakashi termed the number one most knuckled headed ninja and Sasuke, who must surely be entitled to a close second. No, Ari was of the same tribe, and ignoring even Sasuke's urges to apologize, he squeezed himself more tightly against Sasuke's neck, managing to look like an old woman's stole and completely dignified doing so. That must be what righteousness does to people. Or foxes.

Sakura sighed and decided to mind her own business. Her eyes followed the sheathed blade skidding over the grass, away from them. A strong wind affiliation, as it seemed; Naruto had never managed half of the dexterity Satoru displayed. It was quite impressive; in Konoha, few people used their chakra to such an extend. Then again, she knew very few weapons experts, apart, of course, from Ten Ten. It would be worth writing to her about the chokuto. Perhaps she had some insights for them.

Of course, she could not do so without informing Kakashi, and she wondered what Sasuke would say to that.

She raised her hand, and green light flickered where it hovered over his ear. The piercing wound looked awful -- like an ear piercing gone very wrong.
"This actually reminds me of the time a friend of mine tried to pierce her own ears", she said, and the corner of her mouth twitched.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
A pause stretched between Sakura's comment and her patient's reaction, time Satoru spent enjoying the breeze that cooled his skin, and he came to the conclusion that he should accept this verbal olive branch she was extending him. She was a pleasant person, he was finding, even if her choice of company perplexed him; it was a complex puzzle he was twisting and turning around in his head, trying to determine her motives for--well, he didn't exactly know what she was doing out here with the Uchiha, but whatever that something was, he was curious of the why behind it.

A grin spreading unhindered across his lips, he refrained from tilting his head to look at her, instead settling on cocking a brow, and commenting in a sarcastic, droll voice, "Well, I always did believe I'd look dazzling with a pair of rubies in my ears. Red is my color, don't you think?" Raising his fingers, coated with his fresh blood, he wiggled them, before wiping them clean against the grass. "And, Ari, was it?" He asked, his voice light. "I wouldn't apologize either. In fact, I'm almost impressed. You did catch me off guard, though a tip for next time: go for the throat. You'll have more success."

The Uchiha, he noted, spent that time watching him carefully, a tension still coiled within his shoulders; the man did offer a chuckle, at least, though the humor in it was only half-heartedly faked.


"Emerald green would be more elegant", she replied automatically, the benefit of years spent absorbed with fashion magazines, frowning over the positively impossible task to make a shinobi's uniform fashionable. "Suits your type and wind affiliation."

Ari made a noise as if he was choking. Or maybe he was trying to imitate a human being throwing up? It was hard to tell. At Satoru's words, he replied loftily: "I tried, but you were too fast."

"See, that's a nice compliment", Sakura offered, only half serious as she gently pushed the fingertips of her other hand against his head to signal him to lean it more to the side. It took her a good five minutes until the wound in his ear finally closed. It was fascinating just how long such a short span of time could feel. Like an eternity. A very awkward eternity. When the wound had closed, she rubbed what blood she could off with her (Karin's) sleeve. Some of it had tried against his ear and neck, and this, she left for him to deal with.

"As good as new. Although I didn't leave a hole for the earring. But I guess you know where to ask for it." She threw Ari one of those glances, and he whimpered.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
A sly smirk danced gracefully across Satoru's lips at Sakura's suggestion that emerald green would be more of his type, and unable to help himself, like leaving a cookie jar in front of an unattended child, his eyes drifted to take her in, to lock with her own emerald green eyes, and his mouth was moving of its own accord, because the opportunity was so grand, it was a knee-jerk reaction for him to seize hold of it, and filtering his thoughts such as these through his mind was never a strong point of his anyways: "Oh, I agree, beautiful." His voice was warm and lined with silk, and as the words fell from his lips, he winked as her.

The look on Uchiha's face was priceless: that constipated glower, eyes narrowed, brows lowered angrily over his sharpened glare, flint held within his dark orbs, waiting for a spark to set them ablaze, and his mouth drawn into a taunt line, twitching at the edges, as if he was restraining himself from actually snarling. He wielded the expression like a weapon, like he thought that just simply flashing it at somebody would cause them to combust into flames. Then, turning his head into the fox's direction, though his glare was very much so kept focused on Satoru, he quietly told the young creature, patting him reassuringly, "We'll work on that."

And then Satoru was chuckling heavily, trying hard to bite down the rich laugh that would have left him rolling. Huffing out an amused breath of air, as he tried desperately to intake some more, he patted Sakura's arm in thanks for her healing, before declaring, "Why don't we head inside, so we can get dinner started, hm? Make sure your friend other there eats his share of greens, to help flush things out him a bit."

Satoru swore the Uchiha was actually turning red, yet the only verbal reaction to rip from his throat was a sharp grunt.


Ari made a satisfied huff. At least somebody was seeing sense! He nestled the top of his head against Sasuke's hand and glowered from beneath his strands of hair at Satoru.

Sakura thought that she must have been a really, really, bad person in her last life to deserve to constantly end up with such a constellation of people. How was this even possible? Was she cursed to spent her days between boys -- or "men" as they called it -- caught between huffing and puffing in indignation and going at each other's throats? Hadn't she suffered enough?

Well. She would never admit it out loud, of course, but there was some charm to the wind-style user. That dumb little smirk ... Gah. Which he, of course, knew perfectly well. At least her two idiots were quite ignorant about their charms. Which they had. If one looked very closely. Squinting an eye.

"That's a wonderful idea", she offered, getting to her feet and brushing the gras and dirt off Karin's clothes and ignoring everyone but Ari, to whom she said pointedly: "But are you even hungry, Ari, after taking such a big bite out of Satoru's ear?"

Ari gurgled like a joyous baby -- the sounds a fox was capable off - and hopped from Sasuke's shoulder to join at Sakura's heels, who was heading towards the cave entry without so much as looking back. Let the idiots stew in the uncomfortableness of their own making. That had worked in the past, and it would work now.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Satoru tilted his head as Sakura left, grey eyes trailing to watch the kunoichi's progress, brow lifting curiously, the same sly smirk plastered across his lips. Sasuke, upon noticing the expression, drew his brows together, looked over his shoulder, and growing red with a mixture of indignation and embarrassment, also noticing exactly what his unwanted companion was studying intently, scrambled on his feet, hurrying to walk behind in Sakura's footsteps, as if to shield her from the swordsman's gaze. Had the Uchiha not been a murderer, Satoru wouldn't have minded the change in view, yet with a small chuckle, he retrieved his sword, tucking the blade back into his slash, pole, and basket of fish, before following the trio into the hideout.

Inside, the two somehow managed to get along enough to work the kitchen. As Satoru cleaned the fish (a task he pointed out was easier to do with two hands), Sasuke prepared a stir fry of vegetables, ignoring the snicker from Satoru. The two switched off afterwards, with Sasuke, quite assertively in that passive aggressive way of his, taking over cooking the fish and Satoru preparing some onigiri.

Sitting down at the set table, after having declared that dinner was served, Satoru felt an odd sensation crawling underneath the surface of his skin, as if he were starting to question his purpose for being here. Something akin to second-thoughts, but he knew his path was already locked in. Had been from the moment the Uchiha's blade had pierced his sensei's heart: a moment he hadn't been present for and that left a bitter taste in his mouth.

People weren't simple, but they were predictable.

One way or another, it would be over in the next few days. This...guilt, was it?...sinking to the bottom of his stomach didn't matter; actions carried consequences, and since the world and its leaders had neglected to enact justice, he would be the blade, the storm that remembered the name Takeshi, while so many had forgotten. And the hurt he would cause to these people who surrounded his target also didn't matter, or, at least, that's what he told himself.

As the kitchen filtered out after dinner, the Uchiha banished begrudgingly back to bed, Satoru helped to clean up, and after the dishes had been washed, approached Sakura, holding out a shogi piece in his palm in offering. "Care for a rematch?" Because something was nagging at him, a curiosity tangled up in that puzzle he could not solve, and it seemed so important to consider.


Karin had been conspicuously absent from their supper; Sakura -- who strangely had not found anything more to do than peal some carrots (the task Ari had been designated by Karin, before he had stormed off to defend her honor) -- had bummed around at the table during most of the preparations, keeping herself busy by preventing Ari from focusing too much on his still very apparent irritation at Satoru. It would not do if the kitsune nibbled on his heels, as his barely concealed glances towards Satoru's ankles suggested.

When she asked where Shimo was, Ari's eyes twitched guiltily to her face, and he mumbled Out, hunting. Sakura thought that he had yet quite a bit to learn before he lived up to the kitsune's reputation of being such beguiling trickster, and stored the thought away for later consideration. She only dared to leave the three of them alone once, when she checked on Suigetsu (still out) and Karin (on a cot next to his water container, finally out cold -- from exhaustion, probably).

During the meal, she announced that Suigetsu was convalescing well. She expected him to wake up either in the night, or tomorrow at the latest. She did not say that everything beyond that would be cause for great worry, and that she had already considered consulting Tsunade-shishou about it. There was no need to agitate any of them, however. Satoru was Suigetsu's friend, after all, and although Sasuke did not show it, Sakura knew that he had not meant any permanent harm to his former teammate. (How strange, still, to think of them like that -- the other team, Team Taka, who actually had spent so much more time with Sasuke than Naruto and herself ever did).

"Eh?" Sakura was drying her hands with a dish towel. Looking down at the shogi piece, she laughed. "If it makes you feel better. Because I'm going to loose this one, that's for certain." She swiped the table with the towel before putting it away and put on the kettle for tea. "A friend of mine always tried to teach me", she confided, "but he's given up recently. Said it was a drag to try to get me to pay attention." She did not realize that she was starting to open up to Satoru -- it came natural to her, to be open and welcoming, and the spar had allowed her to get a glimpse of another side of him. It had put her at ease without her realizing it, even if she was still thinking about the Bingo book and the letters she wanted to draft. It all just did not seem so pressing anymore.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
"Then your friend was a bad teacher," Satoru declared, snapping his fingers around the piece, and retreated to the dining table to set up the board. He always traveled with one: a simple piece of cloth stitched with the grid, wooden pieces, all small enough to be packed away within a pouch. "Manipulation, brute force and fear, inspiration: a good teacher always finds a way to get their student to pay attention." Sliding the last piece into position, he reassured her with a tilted smile, "But I promise to go easy on you, just this once."

Settling back in a chair, he took note of how easy she was finding it to talk to him, as if she was becoming more comfortable around him. Some shadow of guilt clutched at his mind; he was fully aware of the false pretense this was under, but he had yet to lie in earnest. Everything he had spoken and revealed had been the truth, even if he had intentionally withheld information. Yet he supposed it was a two-way street, as he found himself responding to her open personality, offering bits of conversation that strove near dangerous territory, "The man who taught me was rather talented at employing all three methods, often at the same time."

Crossing his arms over his chest, his eyes studied the board, his usual devilish smirk tugging at the edges of his lips, and his gaze traveled to her own. "How about we make a wager to keep you invest? If you win, I'll back off on intentionally antagonizing your broody friend, at least for at little while. And if I win..." He paused, letting his smirk grow, as if to build suspense, because a man like him would certainly use the opportunity to ask for something along the lines of a kiss. Holding out his hands, he finally and playfully finished, "...you'll tell me what he has that I don't."

Manipulation was, perhaps not so surprisingly, his preferred method of teaching.


Sakura raised her eyebrows at his declaration. "Nothing good ever gets taught by manipulation, force or fear", she busied herself preparing the tea, pouring each of them a cup before she settled in the chair across from him, studying the traveling shogi kit. She found it strangely endearing, that he should possess something like that. She looked up at him at his declaration, chuckling. "Well, maybe I'm wrong. Because your teacher actually sounds a lot like mine." Even though Sakura had never really felt fear under Tsunade-shishou's mentorship; maybe she'd call it respect of her anger. She wondered if it was what Satoru meant by that, and if she'd ask --

She stopped dead in her thoughts, certain of his next words. There was fluster building along with irritation already, but then he asked for ... intel.

She blinked at him, dumbfounded at his obvious, unsubtle request. A sharp comeback was on her lips, but she held it back. To buy time she took the rim of the cup between her fingers, lifting it to her mouth. She considered him carefully through the steam, then blew it away to cool the liquid, and took a small sip. That itch for flipping through the pages of the Bingo book was back, stronger than ever, and now she knew she would write to Kakashi about him.

"I don't care if you go at each others throats or not", she replied, putting the too-hot tea down again, "I'm used to such stupidity around me. And Sasuke can fight his own battles." At least she had learned as much. She wondered for a short moment if this would have been her answer a few years ago, before the war, and guessed not. She debated offering him another wager, one that would get her information about Satoru in exchange for a victory, but the risk was too high -- she was so bad at shogi she reckoned she would lose. "Wager denied", she declared instead, simply enough, the tips of her fingers trailing over the worn cloth that served as shogi board. "I offer you one insight for free, though: Sasuke's much more subtle than you."


[Insert Clever Line Here]
An amused, almost proud chuckle, fell from Satoru's lips; rather than be taken aback by her calling him out on his tactics, he was rather impressed. Offering her an apologetic smile, he bowed his head, fighting the urge to make a comment about how subtle was certainly one way to describe the Uchiha, before drifting his fingers along the pieces on his side of the board. Stalling, because he already knew the opener he would use, yet was thinking about his current position, calculating risks against his curiosities.

Leaning forward to rest his cheek in the cup of his palm, his eyes lifted to study her for a moment, before he offered her an olive branch, "My mentor was quite talented at puzzling out people, recognizing their fears, doubts, insecurities; perhaps because he had met so many. So he would, in a very forceful and blunt manner, make those nasty feelings rise to the surface, because he knew exactly where to dig. All for confrontation. Harsh, at times, but he was a product of war. Gentleness was not something he knew, nor something he probably believed he could afford."

Finally, he placed a finger against a piece, letting it linger a moment, before sliding it forward, and withdrawing to lean back once more in his seat. "People are not simple, but they are predictable; he told me that, once, when he taught me how to play shogi."


Sakura watched him more carefully than the board, but when he made his move, she lowered her eyes. She felt a tinge of nervousness, and released a little laugh. It betrayed her insecurity, but in this instance, she did not care. "I'm actually a bit excited", she confessed as she made her own move -- doing what Shikamaru always did in this position. She could count herself lucky to have such a good memory. "Nerves."

Once she had made her move, she felt a bit freer, and could mull over his words. Satoru was opening up to her. In a rather guarded manner, she knew, but it felt like baby steps to something she could comfortably call comradeship. She reminded herself not to fall for it, if it was a trick. Naruto would scold her for her doubts, of course. He'd have declared Satoru a friend after the spar, if not earlier.

She debated if she should trust her instincts, but then again, they gave her conflicting signals. She simply could not read him, not clearly. All his tactics of diversion, the big smiles and the flirting and the sudden peace offerings where like a white noise that drowned out any clear signal.
In a sense, he was as hard to read as Kakashi-sensei, especially that first year, when they had no idea where they stood with him.

"Your sensei sounds like a very complicated man." She wondered if she had made the right move. Had she left herself open for an early attack? "And it sounds as if you admire him very much."


[Insert Clever Line Here]
"He was," Satoru stated, eyes dropping to the board, and immediately pushed another piece forward. He was playing defensive, for now. They were dancing around that line now, the one that when crossed would change things considerably, and he was keenly aware of the danger. It would come to light sooner or later, the real reason for why he was here; the only thing he could do was verbally skirt around answers to the best of his ability. Hadn't that always annoyed Takeshi?, he thought, lips tugging into a small, sad smile.

Yet, glancing up to study the expression on her face, squinting his eyes as if that would give him better insight into her person, he realized he was no closer to figuring out that puzzle of his, and perhaps his careless misstep at the beginning of the conversation had cost him his chance. A different tactic for him, and though it was a gamble, he decided to be rather blunt, laying his motives for the conversation out like cards being displayed: "I have a question I want to ask you, of a rather personal nature. And since I understand you may be hesitant, I'll offer to answer one for you, in full honesty and clarity, before presenting my own, and I'll not make you obligated to answer." His brow lifted expectantly, awaiting her answer.


The next move was clear to her, as she recognized his formation and knew how to counter it. Moving her piece forward, her eyes flitted to find his during the motion, and her brows drew together into a frown. Confusion, at first, at this blunt offer. Then the wheels in her mind turned to spin, rather rapidly; Satoru is in need of information, a vital piece of intel. His insistence made it clear enough. But what? She studied him as if trying to figure out a trick, a deceit behind the pleasant facade.

"That is quite the generous offer." Her expression relaxed, though the gaze of her eyes remained keen, focused.

Look underneath the underneath.

She had known she would accept it even before he finished talking. It was too sweet a chance. Which he knew, so what could be possibly so important to him to risk such vulnerability? Also, she had no guarantee that he would be offering the truth, after all. No way of knowing but by her ability to read him, to find markers of truthfulness or deception in his answer.

What to ask?

Her heart thrummed awfully fast against the cage of her ribs, all of a sudden. She knew the only real question she wanted to ask him, the one that had been on her mind since his rather flamboyant entry this morning. But would it give her away, to lay the cards on the table like that? She thought not -- he was clever, a skilled shinobi. He knew she was entertaining this thought. The real question was, what would happen if she got her answer?

She thought of Sasuke, two doors down sleeping in a room by the fire, and Ari, most likely a bundle on top of his blanket. Karin, who was sleeping the sleep of the just, drained from their efforts to keep Suigetsu stable. And Shimo, somewhere but not here.

Her eyes darted towards the door -- an instinct to consider the fastest escape route -- and then back to Satoru. Placing her hands flat on the table for him to see, she asked: "Are you my enemy?"


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Satoru noted how her eyes darted to take stock of the door, and how she made sure her hands were in plain view, so he could watch her movements carefully. For one of those moments that stretched between heartbeats, silent and heavy, he merely observed her, remaining motionless, as he processed her question.

Are you my enemy?

The way it was phrased provided an easy out, a window for a simple answer. He was not a man who drew his blade lightly; that had been one of his sensei's first lessons, and he would not hurt her, nor anyone, for that matter, without necessary reason. Yet she was smart enough to notice his hesitance. The answer was layered, more complex, because there were bonds to consider, intricacies of emotions. While he was not her enemy now, when the time came, when his blade was drawn, and he stood across from the Uchiha in combat, he wondered what she would consider him then.

He had promised her honesty and clarity, and he was not one to go back on his word. Besides, he could sense how fragile this engagement was, and if he wanted his answers--why he was so desperate to have them, he couldn't exactly say--he would have to be open, more open than he was comfortable being, because of how far he was strafing into unknown territory, losing control of the conversation.

"No, I'm not your enemy," he began, and slowly, conscious of his movements, he also laid his palms upon the table, stretching out his fingers. "I have no intention to harm you, Sakura. Contrary, from what little I've gathered about you, you seem to be the type of person I'd wish to see no harm done to." That was the easy part, the simple part.

Shifting his jaw, his eyes dropped to study the board, buying him a few moments to sort through the words in his head, carefully considering how he wanted to phrase what he had to say next. "But what's that saying? 'The path to hell is paved with good intentions'. Actions sometimes have unintended consequences, and sometimes people get hurt, friends become enemies. I can read people fairly well, predict their reactions to an extent," He pushed a piece forward, regathering his formation on the board, "but I can't foresee the future."

Lifting his eyes back onto hers, he cocked a brow, asking, "Does that answer satisfy you?"


Tension seeped out of Sakura's frame. Her eyes rested on Satoru's long-fingered hands, visible and unthreatening. A gesture reciprocated, and somehow more reassuring than any of his words could be. And yet, the kernel of doubt remained in her, provoked by his strange amendment. She felt that distrust settle and take roots. Her eyes shifted to watch him make his move and she felt a low dropping sensation in her stomach as she realized she was already out of her depth. Her next maneuvre was plain guesswork, her mind reeling from trying to remember Shikamaru's instructions. She was hopeless.

She sighed.

Of course it did not satisfy her, an answer like that -- but at the same time, he had been true to his word. He had probably known that she would not deny him an answer, and she wondered if she should have accepted the offer in the first place. She inlcined her head.

"Go ahead", she offered, thinking of the many dipolmatic meetings she had attended in her time in Hokage Tower, the insights she had gained into the intricacies of shinobi politics. How Shikamaru had taken to it like a fish to water, and how she had kept up her facade, while inside she had been increduluous by the distrust and intrigues that stirred the power dynamcis of the nations; how badly she had wanted to simply knock some sense into them all. Well. Maybe she and Naruto were more alike than she would ever care to admit. Also, she was curious to hear the question, to know what had caught his interested to offer that kind of openness.

Friends become enemies. Didn't she know about that.


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Satoru dropped his eyes to study the arrangement of wooden pieces upon cloth; everything was coming into order, laid out in the strategy he had going in the back of his mind. He knew his next move, but waited on playing it, taking time to properly form the question he wanted her attention to be solely focused upon, because it was undeniably important, in that annoyingly, unknowable way; a gut feeling, which he abhorred, because his highly regarded logic couldn't reason it out, but it was there, persistent and nagging, nonetheless.

"I'll start by being rather blunt." This wasn't a matter to dance around with words, for the sake of saving face and feelings. He would rather be seen as impertinent than be misinterpreted. "I know who he is, more specifically, what he has done, and you're too intelligent not to know as well. I'm curious...Hm--" A short, dry chuckle fell from his lips as he realized he was about to technically ask nothing, and regathering himself, he formed what he wanted to know in one, simple question: "Why are you out here, far from home, I can only assume, with someone like him?"

The thought had crossed his mind that perhaps she was some sort of spy, sent by the Uchiha's home village to check up on him, but with the concern she had shown for him and his condition, how easy it was to get underneath his skin with Satoru's own, usual antics directed toward her, and the complicated dynamics, some more subtle than others, he picked up between the two during their interactions, told him it wasn't that simple.

In the end, it doesn't matter, he told himself, finally pushing his intended piece forward offensively on the board, before lifting his eyes to watch for her reaction, because it could be as telling as the words she chose to answer with. The board has been set, the pieces have are already advancing. This is simply a curiosity.


She was surprised. Not by the question, but the simplicity of it; by the fact that it was an answer she did not mind to give to him, with the trust he had earned from her. And people usually knew who Sasuke was, due to his involvement in the last stand against Kaguya; he was a war hero, after all, an image Kakashi had played up as much as possible in his strife to set Sasuke free. She could not even hold his curiosity against him. She would have asked the same -- if she was honest, she had been mulling over that question a lot after the war. If he had inquired about Sasuke's skills, or any other insights into him as a shinobi, she would not have answered -- honor be damned. But this ...

"We are Konoha shinobi." She did not know why she started out with this. If it was information given away too easily. The need to clarify had been too strong to resist. She contemplated him with an open, almost tranquil expression on her face. If a chimera had crossed her path and asked her that question, it could not have felt more surreal to talk about it now -- it had been brewing inside of her for so long, with no way to vent, to express her feelings or talk to anyone about it, that the outlook to do so now alone was almost like a relief -- or hope.


"Your question was simple", her hands were folded in her lap, and she made no attempt to make another move in their shogi game. They were playing another game now. "But the answer is complex. I will answer you", she hesitated, "for the promise that my secret is safe with you."


[Insert Clever Line Here]
Perhaps it was because he found it difficult to be so willingly open and forthright, born from an underlying suspicion that everyone must want something, but it was now Satoru who found himself surprised, both his brows lifted, as he simply watched her for a few heartbeats. He hadn't expected her to be so inclined, but more than that... he came to the realization that she was seeking to confide in him, which showed a level of trust that left him simply and utterly dumbfounded. Then another thought occurred to him; if she was reaching out like this to him of all people, a stranger who had been shrouded in a level of distrust, judging by the question she had asked him minutes before, it meant she needed someone to talk to, yet had no one else around to listen.

A foreboding sense shadowed the back of his mind, painted with broad strokes of guilt, and he locked the feeling down immediately.

Dropping his gaze to buy himself a moment, he moved one of her pieces forward for her, countering his own move he had played the turn beforehand. Then he exhaled a breath of air, leaned back against his chair, making no attempt to take his next turn in their game of shogi, and lifted his eyes onto hers, holding her gaze, as he steadily reassured her, "You have my word that whatever you say will stay between us." Sensing the seriousness of the moment, he refrained from pointing out that he hardly had anyone in this quaint little hideout to gossip with, anyways. Instead, he simply inclined his chin, as if to signal for her to continue.


She found his move strangely endearing, and studied the board for a few moments, trying to discern what it meant. She had a feeling she was loosing the battle, and and inkling about his tactic -- a strategy she dimly remembered Shikamaru telling her about -- but her mind was occupied now, searching for a way to express what she wanted to say.

She lifted a hand to the small cut on her other arm and closed her fingers around it carefully. The bandage had come loose earlier, and she had reapplied it with some ointment to mend the wound faster. She hadn't changed her clothes, though, and she began to smell herself -- she needed a shower, and Karin would probably be pissed about the tears in the fabric.

"The answer is ... once, and it seems like a long time ago now, I resolved to kill him. And I couldn't do it. And I realized something in that moment, and ever since ..." She looked at her fingers, closing into a fist in her lap. I've been really confused. "Ever since, I feel regret for my decision. For giving up so easily on what I should have honored, even in the face of great difficulty." She gnawed on her lower lip, pondering her words. "Luckily, a better person than me refused to give up, and fought, and kept on fighting, to find the good in him." Oddly, she could not bring herself to say Sasuke's name. The answer was like a confession, words she had never spoken aloud. Words that fell like little petals of truth from her mouth, excruciating and soothing at the same time. "And there is so much of it, but it is buried underneath all the --" She bit her lip, hard. Fresh tears threatened to flood her eyes but she willed them back. She cleared her throat. A heartbeat as she pulled herself together, then she lifted her head. Her eyes found his, her lips pulled up into a sad smile. "I love him very dearly. I never actually told anyone this, but it's the truth." She shrugged, as if it was a matter of course, a fact she had accepted like the need for air or food or the sun. "I let him down by being too self-involved, and then too weak, and then too insecure to help him. I was blind for a long time. I'm not, anymore, and although I don't know if I can trust him, or be with him, I want him to be happy." Again, she cleared her throat; her voice had become somewhat hoarse, but she didn't mind. Her smile widened. Saying it out loud -- the words filling the room, entering the world and brightening it, were not for Satoru's benefit, but her own -- made it more real, substantial. "I just want him to be finally happy." She raised her hand from her lap, and carefully, she put her next shogi piece into the line of fire. A sacrifice, to save the rest of the pieces from the offensive route Satoru's strategy had taken.

"That's why I'm here. First, I needed to understand. And now, I want to help him find his way home ... as long as he'll have me, I'll stay by his side."


[Insert Clever Line Here]
For once in his life, Satoru didn't know what to say; no clever comeback, no suggestive sidelining of the conversation, no skirting around the words to avoid what was really being said, nothing sat on his tongue in response to her revelation, and that unsettled him, but not as much as the storm currently rising inside his mind: a turbulence of sinking guilt and irrational rage to cover up that guilt. Suddenly his heart was beating so very rapidly in his chest, audible in his ears, and he felt hot, like flames were licking at his skin, and he could feel his pulse, defined and thrumming, within his veins, adrenaline flooding his system, and then his senses were fine-tuning to a singular point, and the world became nothing but blurred vision aggravated by his inaction.

He set his jaw rigidly, all but biting his tongue as he tried to reassert control over himself.

People aren't simple, but..

He only noticed then that his hand was gripped into a fist, knuckles visible underneath his pale skin, laid out next to the board as the stared at it intently, because he needed something other than her to focus on.

...they are predictable.
Because of the emotions that compelled them, their reactions to each other, like dominoes falling in a line.

"Happiness," he repeated, and his voice had an edge to it. His mouth twisted into a sick smile, one that he reined in before it could spread, forcing his lips into a taut line. He should stop, he shouldn't say anything more, but he couldn't, that carefully maintained control of his slipping through his fingers, and that terrified him, "And what happiness does he deserve, when he took it away from so many others when he decided to play Kami with that blade of his?"

His eyes shot up, as if he realizing what he had just said, and softening his expression, he laid his hands flat on the table. She wasn't to blame for any of this.

"Forgive me..." He paused, feeling that anger leave his body as quickly as it had come, and he was left drained and exhausted. Moving his hand over to the board, he pushed one of his pieces forward in quite a useless fashion, ignoring her sacrificial move, ruining the formation he had been carefully constructing, and leaving himself open for a counter. "You have a good heart, good intentions, but I believe they're misguided."


Sakura's gaze flitted to Satoru's clenched fist. The odd, dizzy sensation of a sudden change in atmosphere overcame her and she leaned back -- unconscious in doing so -- suddenly sure she had said too much. Unintenionally crossed a boundary, triggered a memory in him that was hurtful in some way she could not quite discern. From the war, perhaps, or maybe something even more recent.

She swallowed, her throat restricted by another worry altogether: to have given away too much. All those thoughts she kept in little compartments in her brain, to be sorted independently and mostly in the dead of night, had impaired her judgement of what to say. She realized how much she missed Ino, and Naruto, and even Sai -- how much more effort it cost to work through all the trepidations and doubts on her own. And now, she knew, she had made some sort of mistake: but what exactly, she could not say.

There was the urge to reach out to Satoru; there was the urge to keep still, to withdraw.

She wondered what Naruto would do, and as often, found strength in the obvious answer.

"No, they aren't", she said easily, offering a gentle smile, "but I understand why you would think that. Many people, even those who have known Sasuke for a long time, share your opinion. But --" She heaved a little sigh, the smile falling from her lips at the thought of ripped-off limbs, of bloody wounds and a relief so great she had felt the warmth of the sun against her face for the first time in ages. "It's a nasty world. And a nasty fight that we're fighting. We all got hurt at some point. But if we all wanted to retort, to inflict the same kind of hurt we've suffered from -- it would never end." And Madara, Obito, would have been right to send us all into an endless dream world. She thought of Sasuke's quest for revenge, and Naruto's inability to accept that this was the only way. His inability to see only the bad in people. She dropped her gaze. "Sasuke knows that better than anyone else."

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