a guardian, apparently:

.

.

.

She heads to the Land of Wind because, well - why not? She's never been a fan of deserts or the scorching sun, but what she does have are fond memories.

There is a town kilometers away from Sunagakure, located near one of the country's few oasis. It is a quiet but thriving place of trade and when she arrives, she does so silently, without a single footprint in the burning sand. Her appearance causes whispers to spread across the marketplace and she puts the blame on her black and very suspicious cloak.

She frowns, but quickly pushes away any discomfort at the sight of a single, delighted child.

"Would you look at that," Eyes curving upwards, Sakura picks up the young girl and gently smacks away sticky hands reaching for her mask. "Did you get taller?"

"I did!" Kimiko giggles, a small smile playing across her lips. "Did you notice? I knew you would! Mama says Kotori-san is very smart."

"Well, who am I to disagree?" Sakura responds, preening a little. Nothing wrong with getting an ego boost from a six-year-old. "How about I go say hello to her?"

"Okay!" Kimiko wiggles out of her arms and suddenly stops from taking off. "Oh!" The girl turns around and, with a crooked smile, holds out her hands. "Can I have another one, please?"

Sakura stares dumbly. "Another what?"

"Another bird!" Kimiko leans in and whispers, as if afraid of being heard, "I lost mine."

"Oh." Sakura says, still dumbly, and pulls one out from her never-ending supply. "Sure, here."

Kimiko grabs it with speed that could give an Academy student a run for his money and skips off to find her mother.

Sakura, in turn, scratches her hand and follows, vaguely confused because why would a cute girl like Kimiko ever want her wooden sculptures? They're ugly as fuck.

(She's left completely dumbfounded when Kimiko's mother requests one as well.

"You could say I wouldn't mind a little more luck," The woman's eyes crinkle with warmth. She gestures to the town, a little quieter than normal, a little more dull. Here and there, children peek out of windows, scrambling to get a good look at - Sakura? She shifts subtly to the left and right, watching as her audience's eyes trail after her - yes, they are most definitely looking at her. "It can get rough trying to make due during these times."

"Well, yes, I can see that," Sakura says, clearly confused at the stares, the whispers, the demands for ass-ugly ducks. "But what do my ducks have anything to do with that?"

Kahoko smiles, a small thing that lifts up higher on one side, mischievous, and Sakura sees parts of Kimiko reflected from it. "Perhaps you haven't heard, but in these parts, we hold guardian tokens in very high esteem."

"Oh, I see, of course," Sakura chuckles and nods, in a light-hearted, understanding way that belies her true thoughts of what the fuck does that even mean?).

.

.

.

note: Kimiko is the first child Sakura has ever rescued, in the story's first chapter, in case any of you have forgotten.

SE: I've been receiving a few complaints about the length of these chapters and well, I can't really say much about it. There's a reason why I'm writing the way I am now (nevermind that I did forewarn the short length previously) so the most I can say is please have patience. Every chapter is important in the grand scheme of things, and asking for me to rush it won't do much for any party involved.

Anyways, a huge thank you to everyone else who have been extremely supportive! I would love to hear your thoughts or speculations on where this may take us and I hope "if the shoe fits" will be able to match your expectations, from its beginning to end.

-SE