Author's Note: It's short, I know! But today is my birthday and this is a gift to myself! I'm sure it's not what a lot of you would have liked but I feel like maybe it's okay enough to be acceptable? I don't know. Anyway, thank you all so much for the love and support! I appreciate you all so much and I'm so lucky to hear from you and to have you here with me. I hope you all the best in the world! Enjoy!
At first, Tobirama stared back at her, no doubt trying to process what she just blatantly threw into his face without any sort of prompt. Thankfully for Sakura, she's always been pretty forthright about her feelings. Sasuke knew she loved him when they were young. Naruto knew that she didn't love him the way he claimed he once did for her. She wasn't attracted to Lee romantically, and he knew that too. Being open and honest isn't really a problem for Sakura. She's not ashamed of her feelings, but she also knows that it can be - and track record shows that so far it has been - a burden on others. Especially the three aforementioned men in her life. She wasn't nearly as nice to Lee and Naruto as they deserved and suffocated Sasuke with all of her unwarranted love.
But this is going to be different. She was going to be forthright and honest with Tobirama about her feelings and then just proceed normally. She wasn't going to force her feelings on him or make him uncomfortable with unwarranted pursuit. She's finally learned her lesson.
"I'm sorry for just assaulting you like that," Sakura laughs, rubbing at the back of her head, trying to hide her embarrassment. "I've always been very forward with stuff like that, which I know is convenient but subtle signals are not my specialty. Like, at all."
Tobirama blinks slowly, looking down at the dirt, wiggling his toes for a moment in thought. His long white lashes flutter against the top of his cheekbones. Sakura realized, way too late, that instead of just being honest, she probably creeped him out with how she just blurted that out. No matter how much she feels at home here, this isn't her timeline, or her point in time. There are proper procedures and steps to be taken when dealing with courtship here. It was a lot more stringent now that it was in her time - and that's not minding the fact that one of the people involved is the heir to a clan which comes with its own set of rules and guidelines beyond even regular courtship between two individuals!
She's an idiot! A real idiot! Of course! Not a lot of people of this time are able to marry the person of their choice. It's all decided upon by everyone but the people who are actually getting married! How could she have forgotten something so simple?
Sakura opens her mouth, about to apologize for freaking him out when Tobirama looks at her through long white lashes, asking, quietly, "Do you mean it?" So soft. So vulnerable. So, unlike the great and powerful Tobirama Senju that Sakura's come to know. But this side of him isn't unwelcome at all. In fact, she could get used to seeing the vulnerable side of such a strong man.
Sakura's heart starts pounding in her chest as her hands get clammy. Sakura's sure her cheeks are bright pink as she nods, grinning at him. "Yup!"
Tobirama reaches up to her face, lightly brushing his fingers to her cheek, that's suddenly a lot hotter than they feel like they should be. His fingers are ice cold to match the temperature of the air around them yet Sakura feels a wave of heat wash all the way down to the tips of her toes as she watches the softest, gentlest smile cross the face of the older man in front of her. Despite the soft curve of his lips, it's the crinkling and reddening around his eyes that gets her. He looks so devastatingly beautiful as he stares back at her as if she's made him so unbelievably happy that he's not sure how to express it on his face. So, it shines like a blazing sun in his eyes.
"Sorry," Sakura laughs, trying to cover for the happiness and embarrassment that reddens her face more. "I know I'm pretty expressive with my feelings but if I don't just say it, I don't know if I'll ever pick up on any signals you might be sending me. I like it better just being candid and forthright. No room for confusion there."
"I couldn't agree more," Tobirama agrees softly. "I honestly thought I burned the bridge of anything beyond friendship between us long ago. I am... relieved to know that isn't the case." At Sakura's confused look, Tobirama elaborates, "I have been less than kind to you in more than one instance and with how I hurt you, I felt that it was not my right to ask for any more of you than you were willing to give me. Maybe that makes me a coward, I know not."
Sakura shakes her head, reaching up to take both the hand on her face and the one hanging at his side. They are large, warmer than her own, which isn't saying much as she feels like her fingers are going to freeze off soon. But the feel of his hands in her own - the physical connection and the emotional one between them - warms her up even more. Makes her even happier than she was before.
"It's not cowardice to be afraid to be hurt. No one likes getting hurt, especially not our feelings. That's the most sensitive part of us and it's hard to offer that to people. Even those that we love and care for, as they are the ones that can hurt us more than anyone else ever could."
"Yes..." Tobirama says slowly, closing his eyes peacefully. "Perhaps there is some truth to that..." He peaks his eyes at her before closing them again, sighing softly.
Sakura tilts her head a bit, curiously. "What?"
"No... it's nothing," Tobirama says, avoiding looking at her.
Sakura bends forward, leaning down and twisting her neck around to look up at Tobirama's downturned face. "What's wrong?"
Tobirama opens his eyes, staring down at her wide-eyed face, letting out another gentle sigh before pulling up one of her hands and placing it over his chest, pressing it hard enough that she can feel the dip between his pecks from over the layers of clothes that separate it from her hand. At first, Sakura's mind immediately went to medical emergency. He was young for a heart attack, sure, but that doesn't mean it's impossible for him to have one.
The panic flickered across her face and she was about to send healing chakra to her hand to start searching for damage, when she caught the gentle look he was sending her, a small smile on his lips, she pulls back the tendrils of chakra flittering around her hand and instead focuses on what he's trying to show her. Then she felt it, his racing heart under her palm and fingers. She blinks a few times, trying to understand what he was saying, when she realized the racing of his heart matched her own.
Sakura always knew that Tobirama wasn't a man of many words, but that action alone spoke volumes more than words ever could.
Sakura flushes again, offering a little smile, raising his other hand to the side of her neck, over her pulse point so that he could feel that they were the same. His smile widened a fraction of an inch, but his eyelids fluttered a bit and they stood in silence for a few minutes, just staring at one another, relishing in the connection. Sakura hasn't been alone in a long time, she's known, but it feels like she has been. It's been a long time since she's connected to someone on the level that she seems to seamlessly do so with the future Second Hokage.
It's strange the only a few short months ago, over six at this point, that they were just strangers eyeing one another wearily and mistrustfully - mostly on his part, rightfully so. And now, here they are.
"You think I'm beautiful?" Sakura jests, grinning playfully. "Izuna said that you told him so."
Tobirama huffs, shaking his head a bit. "I think you're breath-taking. But beautiful seemed a lot more respectful."
Sakura lets out a little laugh, her breath like a cloud of smoke around her mouth. "It was all so sweet. Thank you for saying that."
"No need to thank me," Tobirama says, easily. "He asked for my opinion, so I gave it to him. I hadn't expected that he would actually tell you that I said it. Which I should speak to him about."
"Don't mind it," Sakura says, shaking her head a bit, relishing in how warm his hand is now that it's sharing heat with the side of her neck. "I think they were getting tired of you and I just frolicking around the situation, blindly. Plus, I'm sure he said it as a spur of the moment. Gaining his sight back was... very emotional for him. Don't be mad at him."
"I am not mad," Tobirama claims evenly. "I never swore him to secrecy nor do I feel shame for my feelings, so I have no reason to be upset. If nothing else, his big mouth ended up working in my favor, however cowardly that is to say."
"I don't think it's cowardly," Sakura admits, finally pulling his hand from her neck and immediately missing the warmth that it provided. "And honestly, while I have been crushing on you for a while, I don't think I would have ever pursued it on my own. And if we are being honest, your brother kind of forced my hand. He made me face my feelings and, well, us."
"He got through to you a lot easier than he did for me," Tobirama admits, cradling both of her hands in his own, enveloping them in a comfortable warmth that she appreciates. "He's been teasing me for a while, but, well, I'm stubborn."
"Same," Sakura laughs, and despite how warm her hands are now, she feels herself start to shake from the cold. "But I guess it's different when it's coming from someone who you admire as much as I admire him, when it comes to someone he loves. Almost... I don't know. Permission isn't the word that I want to use, but I'm not sure how else to say it."
"Almost like a blessing?" Tobirama guesses, taking one of her hands, gently releasing the other, and starts to lead her through the forest, back toward the village, ensuring that he's standing in the way of the wind as much as possible.
"Yes!" Sakura exclaims, throwing up her free hand and grin at the man next to her. "That is exactly what I was trying to say. It just... I don't know. I just don't think I would have ever done it on my own if he hadn't given me the world's tiniest push, ever." She laughs at the soft smile that Tobirama sends her way.
They walk a few minutes in silence, still holding hands as the village comes into view once more. Sakura tries not to think about it too much, but can't help how keenly aware she is of how warm her hands is in his own. This doesn't feel real. It feels like she's dreaming. Tobirama Senju shouldn't be interested in her. Right? It just doesn't seem like something that should happen to her. It's not right. It can't be. It's too good to be true.
"So..." Sakura says slowly, honestly excited to finally get indoors and out of the cold, despite being sad about having to part ways with Tobirama. "How does this work? I mean, I'm assuming that you are at least a little interested in me, you didn't really say..."
"Oh," Tobirama says, slightly surprised. "Yes, I apologize. I was so caught up in your confession that I didn't respond, but yes. I feel the same as you. As for what we are supposed to do, I believe that it is for us to decide. I don't know how courting works in your time but it's an unfortunately big debacle here that I would rather not have to deal with if we don't have to..."
Sakura lets out a huge sigh of relief. "Oh, Kami. I am so happy to hear that. I was really hoping I wouldn't have to go to your brother, as the head of your family, to request a chance to, uh, court you, I guess." Sakura laughs at the incredulous look that Tobirama sends her way. "What? Is that not how it works?"
Tobirama shakes his head. "No. It is only polite for the man to make his intentions clear to the head of the woman's family, not the other way. He must prove that he's good enough for the woman."
Sakura's quite for a moment, staring at the side of Tobirama's face. He stares ahead for a second before glancing over at her, curiously. Sakura says, softly, "Well, then it's a good thing there isn't anyone for you to talk to. So, at least you got out of that."
Tobirama's blinks in surprise before his eyes widen, eyebrows pulling together. "Sakura, I'm sorry. I didn't - "
Sakura shakes her head, looking away, hating how she ruined what should have been a happy moment with those painfully cruel words. "No, it's okay. I... know you didn't. I don't suppose there is a regulation in your time for orphans? Or do great noble lords such as yourself not usually go for orphans without a real family name of any sort of prominence?"
Tobirama stares at the side of her head, not answering, which was fine. Sakura didn't want an actual answer. It didn't really matter. They were going to do what they want. Tobirama didn't strike her as someone who was super stringent on stuff like that. Well, he was expressing interest in her, and she had nothing to offer him or his name. So, at least she can count on this as a more 'dating' situation and not so much of a 'courtship' sort of thing. At least in that case, they can take things as slow as they want to without worrying about the pressures of other people around them.
Honestly, Sakura has no idea what her father would say if the literal Second Hokage came to him and asked to, ehem, court his daughter. He would probably make a joke that wasn't funny and be surprised it was Sakura he was talking about. But... he would agree because all he wants is for her to be happy.
But Sakura doesn't want to think about that. She doesn't want to imagine the tears of joy in her father's eyes or the stars in her mother's. She doesn't want to think about what they would say. How they would react. She can't think about any of that right now - maybe not ever.
"I'm sorry," Tobirama says softly, tightening his grip on her hand like she would yank it away from him if he did, but she had no intention of letting him go. Despite her feelings on what she just said, she does find great comfort in the man next to her. She's not ready to let him go just yet, even though she's going to have to do so as soon as they reach her home that she stays in with her friends.
Oh yeah, her friends. How is she going to explain this one?
It's so exhausting to think about. She just wants to push away all the worry and difficulties for later. She wants just a moment to let her hair down - so to speak - and hope that the world can be nice enough to let her have that.
"It's not your fault," Sakura says, leaning into him as much as she can without breaking their connected hands. "So long as we get to move at our own pace, I don't mind which customs we follow, or as much as we can. This is about us. So, we should do what we want, how we want. As fast or as slow as we want."
Tobirama nods, accepting her weight against him. "I agree. I'm not easily of the mind to let others dictate my actions anyway."
Sakura laughs, pulling herself from her slump a bit. "You can say that again and it wouldn't be any less true. While I would like to think I'm pretty open minded, I know that I can be extremely stubborn on things too, so it's not just you. But I like the idea of us just figuring it out at our pace. I think that's the best for us."
Tobirama nods again, lapsing into silence for a while as they make their way through the sleeping village. They would nod to any patrol that they crossed paths. Even Shizune was walking about checking in on the people in the streets to make sure that they were all alright and weren't in need of anything. Sakura offered to help the older woman but the black-haired first apprentice of the Fifth Hokage shook her head with a sweet smile.
"No, it's alright, Sakura. I'm actually almost done. Thanks, though. Have a good night, Sakura, Lord Tobirama," she says kindly. She offers Tobirama a respectful bow before smiling at Sakura and continuing on her way.
"Night, Shizune," Sakura says, waving her free hand a bit, mentally swearing to join her tomorrow night. She was cold just from walking around outside for almost two hours, she can't imagine having to spend the whole night outside. Well, no, she's done it before, in cold temperatures, as a shinobi, but to be surrounded by warm buildings and being unable to go inside because there is literally no room is both painful and insulting.
"Have a good night, Lady Shizune," Tobirama says with equal respect and a tip to the head in the experienced medical ninja's direction. Medical ninjutsu is so hard to come by, even in Sakura's day - at least people with Shizune's level of skill - that the people of this time see such people with great reverence, having a great respect for their prowess. Even Senju with Hashirama and his legendary power in medical ninjutsu, still revere anyone with skills even remotely close to his own. But Sakura's happy. Shizune worked long and hard to get to where she's at, so to see the older woman get the respect that she so rightfully deserves makes the pink haired girl happy.
They walk toward the house that Sakura's sharing with her friends and some other people from the village, in a comfortable silence. Sakura almost hates that they are going to have to separate, but she's got a long say in the morning, and no doubt he does too. Plus, it sounds like he doesn't sleep a whole lot anyway, so she shouldn't keep him from any that he can try to get. Which reminds her...
"You're having trouble sleeping?" Sakura says, glancing up at the white-haired man.
"No more than usual," Tobirama says easily, and for some reason, Sakura doesn't doubt that all that much. Maybe the stress he's feeling with the alliance has become his new normal. He might be sleeping less and less as the years go on, but Sakura's worried about him. Madara, Hashirama, and even Izuna. They all work too hard. She's worried about them.
"Let me know if you need some help," Sakura says slowly. "I know some techniques that could help you if you're worried about medicine hampering your senses."
Tobirama frowns, as if he either hadn't considered there being anything that could help him, or this wasn't something he really wanted to talk about. Which Sakura understood. People get weird when it comes to medicine. And if she remembers correctly, his mother was sick for a very long time and probably took all sorts of medicines that didn't help her, so she died anyway. So, she can imagine he has little faith in medicine for even the most mundane things.
"Ah," Tobirama says slowly, offering a curt nod. "I will, thank you."
Sakura lets out a little sigh. Maybe she'll have to talk to him tomorrow about the advancements of medicine or something. But she's going to let him go this time. It's late and she doesn't want to force something on him. They'll have a mature talk about it another time.
"Have a good night, Tobirama-sama," Sakura says, squeezing his hand one last time before finally letting him go, missing the warmth almost immediately.
Tobirama studies her expression to make sure she's not mad, before offering a little nod and a tentative smile. "Yes, you too. I will see you in the morning, Sakura. Good night."
Sakura offers a little smile. "Sweet dreams."
A small huff, softening red eyes, and a soft, "You too." And then he's gone, turning and walking away toward the Senju compound. Sakura watches him go for a few moments before heading inside, slipping out of her shoes and tip-toeing her way through the house being sure not to step on any of the bodies that fill most of all the rooms. Sakura makes her way to what was once her bedroom that now has Ino, Tenten, Lee, Sai and a few other people, all crammed together in this small space. Sakura lowers down in the small space that Ino saved for her.
Sakura though the blonde was sleeping, but after Sakura finally settled under the covers, Ino turns to face her.
"You were out late," Ino notes in a soft whisper, peering at her in the darkness with a pretty blue eye.
"Yeah," Sakura whispers back. "I stuck behind to make sure Izuna-sama's and Madara-sama's eyes were okay before calling it a night." And then going to find the Second Hokage and admit to being in love with him, or as she said, "She thinks she's falling in love with him". But either way. She knows that tonight really wasn't the time to go into depth, but it was nice to just get that confirmation that he felt the same and that so far, they were on the same page. It was late, though, and Sakura was riding the high of happiness from the Uchiha brothers and their successful operation.
But they both just made a very big life choice and needed proper time to digest the information and process everything that this means, and what it could mean for their future. Yes, they could just jump into dating and kissing and whatever, but that wasn't really either of them. They could talk and take things their own natural way. They didn't have to worry about following a set of guidelines set by those around them. They could go at their own pace.
"How are they?" Ino asks softly, pulling Sakura from her thoughts.
"Good," Sakura says just as softly. "Happy. Izuna-sama cried."
"Aww," Ino gushes, eyes crinkling with her smile. "I bet. I can't imagine what it's like to lose you sight like that. Makes me think about Sasuke, how bad his eyes were getting. And his brother. From what I understand Itachi's sight was completely gone in his normal eyes and almost gone in his Sharingan."
Sakura perks up a bit. "They're different? I don't remember that."
Ino nods. "Yeah, from what I remember when talking with Lady Tsunade, the use of the Mangekyo degraded the natural eyes faster than the Sharingan. A noticeable amount, and then the Sharingan put strain on the normal sight on top of that. So yeah, while Sasuke didn't use the Mangekyo a lot before he got the Eternal Mangekyo from Itachi, his normal sight was being affected just by using the Sharingan. Not nearly as bad or as fast as it happened to his brother, but still. I guess Karin's blood was helping stave off the speed of degradation as well."
"Wow..." Sakura says softly, rolling onto her back. It all made sense, but maybe she just hadn't thought about it. Now that Ino has said something, a part of Sakura's brain does provide her with the feeling of having already known this. Having heard of it in greater depth, somewhat recently, somehow. Maybe she spoke with Sasuke about it before Konoha was attacked. Unfortunately, she doesn't remember. Her only memories of Sasuke coming back to the village after the war are hazy and blurred, or in the form of hollowed whispers in the back of her mind.
"Yeah," Ino says, yawning. "Well, I'm going to bed, goodnight."
"Night..." Sakura whispers back, turning onto her back, staring up at the ceiling for a few minutes, listening to the soft breathing of the room. She finally starts to feel the exhaustion of the day weighing down on her as she begins to drift further and further into sleep, eyes blurring until they close tightly, and Sakura falls into darkness.
Sakura, shuffling with a few bags of groceries, turns around to see Naruto running up to her. He comes up next to her, taking a few bags from her without asking and walking with her toward her house. Sakura tilts her head a bit, glancing down at his wrapped arm before looking back up at him.
"Hey, Naruto. What's going on?"
"I was just coming to see you," Naruto says, offering her a little grin that seems a bit forced. "I just got done talking to Kakashi-sensei. He said I should check in on you."
Sakura rolls her eyes, making her way through the crowded streets. "That's nice and all, but you guys are worrying too much. I told you that I'm okay. Nothing's changed. I mean, really."
"You shouldn't bottle it all up, Sakura," Naruto says, frowning now. "What happened... What she said..." He shakes his head. "No, Old Man Sage said - "
"I know what he said, Naruto," Sakura snaps, feeling the tendrils of control she seems to be having over her emotions thinning by the moments. She's not going to lose her mind over this. She's perfectly fine. This doesn't change anything. Nothing at all. "I'm no different today than I was a week ago. A month ago. A year ago. Ten years ago. I'm the same person. Just drop it."
Naruto walks beside her in silence for a few moments, looking down at his feet as he goes. He gives her a few moments to cool down once more before looking over at her with worry written across his face, eyebrows pulling together tightly as he says, softly, "I know. I'm sorry. I'm just worried about you. You need to talk to someone. Sensei might not know what's going on, but even he can tell something's bothering you. And if it's not Sasuke or I that you can talk to, then someone."
Angry once again, Sakura rips the bags from his arms and glares at him. "I'm fine, Naruto. I am. And you can tell Sasuke too. I'm fine. I don't need to talk about anything because there's nothing wrong. Thanks for worrying about me, but I'm good. I got to get home. I need to make dinner for my mom's birthday." Sakura turns around, stomping away, squeezing her eyes shut and trying not to think about the pained look in Naruto's eyes as she goes.
As she goes, Sakura does her hardest to ignore the imagine of the long white-haired woman always lingering in the corner of her eye. Always there, always lurking. Always closing in.