Disclaimer:Naruto is the intellectual property of Masashi Kishimoto and various companies. No money is being made from this story, and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Saki-chan is the creation of Asuka Kureru, in her story "Strawberries and Lace," which is probably linked to from her ff-net profile. This story was written in response to a prompt about Saki-chan as an adult, but it took on a life of its own and veered away from Asuka's original universe.

Summary: Sometimes missions go wrong. True partners stay with each other through the aftermath. Team 7, futurefic.


When they come home from a bad mission, the first thing they do is check both doors, all the windows, the foundations of the house, and the shingles on the roof. When they are satisfied their home is still safe, they take a long bath, all three together. They sit in a circle on their wooden stools and scrub each others' backs: Sakura to Sasuke to Naruto to Sakura. Then they soak in the furo.

They don't talk about the blood they scrub from under their nails, or the new shadows in their eyes. Sasuke opens his mouth, but no sound comes out, and Naruto and Sakura pretend to ignore him until he stops trying to speak.

The second thing they do is eat out, in a public restaurant. This time, Sakura wins the argument and drags them to Choji's steakhouse. Sometimes Naruto wins and they squeeze against the bar at Ichiraku ramen stand, but Sakura likes real tables, and she cheats at stone-kunai-scroll. Sasuke prefers quiet teahouses, but they never use one for the homecoming meal. Silence is not the goal.

The third thing they do is sleep, piled on top of each other like puppies seeking their mother. Sasuke clutches Naruto's nightshirt with white-knuckled fingers, Sakura clamps onto Sasuke's shoulder, and Naruto slings his leg over Sasuke to rest his toes on Sakura's ankles.

Sometime during the night, Sakura wakes, disentangles herself, and walks to the kitchen. Her eyes are blank and she stares straight ahead, never blinking even while her hands fumble through drawers in search of matches and a candle. She lights the candle, and holds it steady as it drips molten wax onto the table. Then she sets the candle into the wax, draws a deep breath, and slides the palm of her right hand over the flame.

Naruto and Sasuke watch silently from the kitchen doorway. Sasuke digs his fingers into the doorframe, and Naruto's breath is harsh in the midnight air, but they make no effort to stop her.

After several minutes, when both of her hands are red, cracked, and weeping from open blisters, Sakura blows out the candle. Sasuke rubs butter onto her palms and wraps soft cotton around her hands. She keens softly, and he whispers, "Shh. We won't leave you." Naruto puts away the candle, scrapes wax off the table, and helps Sasuke carry her back to bed.

The next morning, Naruto wakes up thrumming with tension. He leaps out of bed at the crack of dawn and cooks breakfast for Sakura and Sasuke. They wake groggily and pick at the food. Sakura spits the eggs back onto her plate and yells, "You don't cook the shells, you idiot!"

Sasuke silently nudges the eggs to the side of his plate.

Naruto grins, wide and desperate, as if his mouth wants to split his face in half and swallow his ears. "Hey, hey, they make your teeth stronger!" he says, and flips himself out the window with a jaunty wave.

When Sasuke turns in their mission report, he hears stories of giant graffiti swirls all over the village, exploding toilets at the academy, and stink bombs in the Hokage's tower. A snarling chuunin follows him home and demands that they control their insane partner better so he won't stuff filing cabinets with cake frosting. Sasuke slams the door in the chuunin's face, and Sakura giggles quietly to herself as she rubs herbal lotions into her skin. When Naruto returns home, exhausted, and kicks the door shut just in time to block a shower of kunai, Sakura cooks him ramen and fusses over his scrapes and bruises.

"Don't you love me too, Sasuke-bastard?" Naruto asks between mouthfuls of noodles.

Sasuke frowns. "Moron," he says, and dumps Naruto's ruined clothes into the trash.

The second day is quiet, but by the third, Sasuke is uncomfortably tense and hypersensitive to any physical contact. Naruto and Sakura exchange glances, and on the fourth morning, Sasuke wakes to find a lacy shirt and a swirling, many-layered silk skirt laid out on the dresser, waiting for him. A note informs him cheerily that Sakura and Naruto are out grocery shopping and will be back in an hour.

Sasuke eyes the clothes like snakes waiting to bite him, and then slowly pulls a box from under their bed and opens it. He ties back his cock and slips on the lavender panties. Then he shaves his legs, taking exquisite care with his kunai, and pulls on silk stockings and elastic garters. The skirt is next. As the fabric settles around his hips, he can feel the knot in his chest starting to ease. By the time his hair is tamed and painted fingernails smooth cherry gloss over soft lips, he's gone.

Sasuke sheaths himself like a sword, and Saki unfurls like a flower starved for sunlight.

"Saki-chan!" Sakura says as she opens the door and dumps a bag of vegetables onto the kitchen counter. "I haven't seen you in ages! Listen, I ran into Ino at the fish shop, and she said she found a dress that would look just perfect on you. Let's leave Naruto and have a day to ourselves."

Saki smiles and almost skips out the door, blowing a kiss at Naruto as she and Sakura run down the street.

The day is filled with gossip and clothes, with a walk in the park and a pause for ice cream sundaes, with laughter and shrieks and blushes and everything Sasuke doesn't know how to find by himself. As twilight falls, Sakura and Saki return home, where Naruto is waiting. He's cleaned himself up and dressed in something more black than orange, and he offers Saki his arm.

"I got reservations at the teahouse down by the academy," he says. "Is that all right, Saki-chan?"

Saki nods, and takes his hand.

Naruto is a perfect gentleman. He opens doors for Saki, pulls out her chair, tells her she takes his breath away, feeds her dessert from his own fork. They walk home slowly, stopping to sit on a park bench and kiss. "Love you," Naruto murmurs in her ear. Saki nibbles on his neck, and Naruto shivers.

Sakura is already in bed when they reach the house, and her bandaged hands tug something deep in Saki's heart. She gets one day, and now the day is done.

Slowly, Saki pulls the butterfly clips from her hair, washes the makeup from her face, swabs acetone over her nails. She pulls off the blouse and skirt and hangs them lovingly in the spare closet, and tucks her stockings back into her special box.

Sasuke sighs.

The next morning, they all wake up together. Naruto tickles Sakura, who squeaks and clings to Sasuke. He reaches over to poke Naruto, only to find his finger caught between Naruto's teeth, and his breath freezes in his throat. Sakura smiles, slowly and with a wicked glint in her eyes, and her bandaged fingers loosen and trail down his stomach.

Later, they take another bath together. This one is full of insults, splashes, and laughter. The candle is shut in the drawer. The paints and explosives are thrown away. The clothes are hidden behind winter coats and spare sandals.

The world is right again, until the next time.


AN: Thanks for reading, and please review!