They didn't quite leave the Country of Water the next day, as Kisame had intended, because, now that Sakura was free, and he was just a guy, and she was just a girl, they found that they had some catching up to do of a rather lewd nature.
However, the day after, Kisame declared that, unfortunately, he had to be the responsible one here, and they had better leave, otherwise her little fox-friend would be headed to Wind and into the arms of the Akatsuki, without her there to intercept him.
So they made their way back the way they came. In many ways, the journey was the mirror image of the way there – lots of arguing, bad food, and lots of fights – except there was much more boning.
Sakura found that the way home to the Country of Fire passed by far more quickly than she expected – almost too quickly. Before she knew it, they had island-hopped back to the sea, and illicitly boarded another cargo ship, and then Sakura was staring at the Country of Water through a porthole and bidding a silent farewell to its slow-dripping beauty, its waterfalls, its perpetual shroud of mist...
And then she blinked (and they totally had sex in the machine room), and they were pulling into a sun-flooded port on the coast of the Country of Fire, and the sky was so blue it was almost painful to look at, and the sun heated her skin, and she swelled with happiness because she was headed home, after so long…
But her happiness was tinged with a note of melancholy, or regret, or something along those sad lines – because she knew that the nearer they got to her village, the nearer the moment came when the path that she must take would split from the path that Kisame would take.
And she could now admit to herself – now that she was, for all intents and purposes, free, and could think about such things with considerably less guilt – that it would not be as easy as she had always supposed, to say goodbye to him, and go their separate ways, because damn him, that idiot had grown on her.
Sakura gave Kisame a look. He glanced up from where he was staring into the fire.
"How far away are we from the Hidden Leaf?"
"'Bout four days' worth of walking," said Kisame, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to point north. "That way."
"We'd get there faster if you didn't walk so damn slow," said Kisame, shrugging.
"Actually, I was thinking that was really soon," said Sakura.
Kisame looked up at her slowly, and Sakura gave him a tiny smile.
"Aw," said Kisame, patting her knee. "You gonna miss me, Leaf?"
"Not in a million years," lied Sakura.
He knew that she was lying, of course, but he did her the favour of shutting up about it.
"It felt like it took us forever to get to the Country of Water, on the way there," said Sakura. "We've been travelling for, what – two weeks? But back then, it was more like two months..."
"Oh, that," said Kisame. "Let's just say I had to take a more... circuitous route. We weren't quite sure when we'd be ready for the Nine-Tails. We were dealing with some of the other tailed beasts and some of them disagreed with our methods."
Sakura narrowed her eyes at him. "So you're saying that we just… wandered around in circles in the forest for two months until the Akatsuki got their shit together?"
"I had instructions to stay in Fire until I got told otherwise," said Kisame with a shrug. "Plus – come on, it was fun."
"Fun?! You traumatized me on a daily basis! And all those endless swamps, mosquitoes, terrible dinners…" Sakura shook her head. "It was horrible."
"It was awesome. Do you know how much fun I had making up weak-ass excuses to get close to you?" said Kisame, leaning back on his hands and looking skywards nostalgically. "Good times."
"You still only have weak-ass excuses to get close to me," said Sakura.
"What's that?" said Kisame, scooching over closer until he was leaning on her heavily. "I can't hear you from over here."
"Case in point" said Sakura, giving him a weak shove.
"Nah," said Kisame. "I have some good excuses, now. Like it's been ages since you put your boobs in my face and rode me."
"I believe I just did that this morning," said Sakura.
"Exactly," said Kisame, trying to pull down her shirt. "Ages."
Sakura fought him off and he pouted.
"Oh, please," said Sakura, noticing his sulk. "Your life isn't that hard."
"What? I only have four days left to take advantage of you," said Kisame. "That's like… nothing."
"It's four days," said Sakura.
"And then?" asked Kisame.
"And then what?" asked Sakura.
"And then that's it?"
"Well, yeah," said Sakura.
"Sucks," said Kisame.
"So you're going to miss me," said Sakura, and it was her turn to know for sure that Kisame was lying when he shook his head dismissively.
"Meh," said Kisame. "You're okay, I guess."
Sakura laughed and clambered onto his lap.
"You're going to miss me," she said. "'Cuz you think I'm pretty… and funny… and I'm not scared of you… and on top of everything else, I saved your life purely because I wanted to, which no-one has ever done for you, ever."
He held her and put his face in her neck and closed his eyes. "You think you know everything, don't you?"
"I know some things," said Sakura. "I know those things. Are there other things I should add to the list?"
"You're missing a pretty big one, actually," said Kisame. "But if you're too dumb to see it, I'm not spelling it out."
"What is it?"
Kisame refused to answer, despite all of her pleadings and kisses and whining, and even when she offered to let him tap it out, in Morse code, with his dick, on her mouth.
This latter suggestion did make him laugh, though, and then he held her tight and bit her shoulder for good measure.
"You like me," said Sakura.
"Obviously," said Kisame. "Otherwise I would have killed you a long time ago."
"Not what I meant, "said Sakura, firmly grabbing hold of his face so that he could not turn away. "You like like me."
And his eyes told her, obviously, and probably more, you goddamn idiot, which made her heart beat faster and a thousand butterflies take off in her tummy.
And then his mouth told her, "What? How can you even think I'm capable of mushy feeling bullshit like that. I'm offended."
"Smells like denial over here," said Sakura.
"You can't tell, you liar," said Kisame.
"Well… does it?"
"Mostly I smell you, which is kinda distracting, because it's delicious…" Kisame sniffed. "But maybe. A little.
"Aw. You're a big boy. You'll pull through."
"I am a big boy," said Kisame, taking her hand and pulling it towards his groin. "Let me show you."
Sakura pulled her hand out of his, and then he grabbed at her other hand, and she hid them both behind her, and, somehow, two of them ended up play-wrestling under the trees.
Sakura gave a breathless, triumphant laugh when she managed to pin him beneath her, until he lifted her off of him with one hand braced against the flat of her tummy.
"Not fair," she said as she unwillingly hovered above him.
"It's cute the way you keep trying," said Kisame.
"I'll… show you… cute!" said Sakura. She flipped out of his grasp, attempted to bring him into a headlock, and failed miserably.
Kisame rolled her onto her back and laughed in her face. "You're right. That was pretty damn cute."
Sakura glared at him and called him an insufferable condescending bastard, but her expression softened when she saw his eyes up close, bright with laughter and something akin to real affection.
And she kissed him, and he kissed her, and then their kisses grew more fervent, their breaths shorter. Kisame flipped her onto her stomach and pulled her hair to the side. His teeth made small dents in her skin as he peppered her with hard love-bites and breaths as light as butterflies that made Sakura squirm. When one of her squirms brought her butt against his groin, he didn't let her move away again; he fell on her with almost all of his weight and revelled in the twists and turns that brought her grinding up against him as he lavished the nape of her neck and shoulders with attention.
Then Sakura pulled a smooth ninja move and flipped him onto his back, and peeled off her shirt, and rode him and put her boobs in his face, because, you know, it had been ages.
A few days later, the forest around Sakura began to feel really familiar. And then, one afternoon, she looked up at a certain old oak tree, and she realized that she recognized it, and that, for the first time in a long, long time, she knew exactly where she was.
Sakura patted the tree's rough bark as she passed it, as though greeting an old friend, and Kisame rolled his eyes and called her a tree-hugging Leaf, but she noticed that he fell back and was letting her lead now, now that they were well and truly on her turf.
So Sakura led them through the sunlit forest, and through clearings and thickets and small meadows that grew more and more dense with memories as they approached the vicinity of the village, and Sakura grew more and more excited, and Kisame drifted further and further behind her.
"I'm gonna stop here," said Kisame eventually.
Sakura looked over her shoulder to where Kisame was tucked into the shadow of a great pine tree.
Kisame jerked his chin in the direction they were moving in. "You're walking right into a Leaf patrol, about a click thataway."
"Oh…" said Sakura. "I suppose it wouldn't be a good idea for you to run into them."
"They might have a beef with me," said Kisame. "Not that I can't take them. But maybe they're friends of yours, and you'd have a problem if I killed them all."
"Yeah, let's avoid that possibility," said Sakura. "There's probably an execution warrant out for you to be killed on sight, actually, so I'm not sure I'd have much time to explain..."
Sakura looked ahead to where the village lay nestled amidst the trees, perhaps a twenty minute walk away. And she looked back to Kisame.
"Go on," said Kisame. "I think you know where you're going by now."
"So this is it?" said Sakura, feeling oddly like she was about to leave a little piece of her heart behind her.
"Yeah," said Kisame, his expression neutral – which Sakura had learned to interpret as indicating that he was, most definitely, feeling something.
And he just stood there, not moving, probably because he didn't have a damn clue what to do with himself.
Sakura stepped closer to him. "Well do I get a goodbye hug, at least?"
"We can make it more than a hug, if you want," said Kisame, but his heart really wasn't in the joke.
So Sakura reached up to his neck, and he reached down, and they gave each other a friendly, polite, boring, weak-ass hug, until Sakura tightened hers, with feeling, and then Kisame lifted her off the ground and buried his face in her neck and almost broke her ribs.
Hugs normally don't last for the better part of five minutes, but Sakura found that she really did not want to let go, and apparently neither did he, so they held each other close and breathed each other in and Sakura stared at the sky and willed herself not to cry, because she was so torn right now that it hurt.
"I'll see you around," said Kisame. "The Akatsuki is still gonna want your little fox-friend, after all."
"I'll have to make sure I get in the way as much as possible, then," said Sakura, blinking away some tears.
"I'll have to make sure I get assigned those missions," said Kisame.
"Pfft," said Sakura. "Like they'll trust you any more after you let me get away."
"I'll be hell-bent on revenge, duh," said Kisame. "I'll make a compelling argument, don't you worry your pretty little head."
Sakura stuffed her face into his chest and took a deep breath. "It's too bad you're a bad guy and all. I could have shown you around the village, the places I grew up, my apartment, you know… all those cheesy things you don't care about."
"It would have been fun to pretend to care about them," Kisame huffed into her hair. "…You know, I could – maybe – come by and visit, sometime..."
He sounded immensely casual as he made the suggestion, as though he really didn't care what her response was one way or another, but Sakura heard his heartbeat accelerate just a touch, and knew that he did care a bit, and that it had taken him a significant amount of courage to even suggest it.
Sakura looked up at him with her tear-bright eyes. "You know… that… might be fun."
Kisame looked so pleased that Sakura thought he was going to high-five himself.
Then he snapped out of it and shook his head gravely. "Agreeing to have an S-rank enemy ninja infiltrate your village… treasonous behaviour, kunoichi."
"It's not treason if you don't get caught," said Sakura. "Listen, it's a big village. I'll… give you my address, shall I?"
"Don't bother. I already –"
Sakura, who had been about to give him directions, shut her mouth slowly and looked at him with suspicion.
"I mean, sure, give me your address," said Kisame in a failed attempt at backtracking. "I have no idea where you live, or anything."
"Yeah, okay," said Kisame, rubbing the back of his head and managing to look slightly sheepish. "That was probably creepy."
"It was. But we've already established that you're creepy, so nothing new there," said Sakura. "Creep."
"Let's just say that, whether you agreed or not, I was already planning to drop in on you," said Kisame. "So it's a good thing you agreed. It'll be less awkward this way."
"I know. You bring out the worst in me."
They stood apart and were, for some reason, not really able to look at each other.
The breeze picked up and Kisame's eyes pierced the trees. "That Leaf patrol is coming this way. Probably sensing some badass unknown chakra and getting curious."
"Alright," said Sakura. "I'll let you go, then."
She stood on her tiptoes to give him one last kiss, which became several last kisses, increasingly urgent as she could herself sense the Leaf patrol beginning to approach.
Kisame broke away to take a breath and leaned his forehead against hers. "You're making it real difficult to leave, kunoichi."
"Sorry," said Sakura, blinking away more tears. "This is… way harder than I thought it was going to be."
He silenced her with another kiss and a possessive hand on the back of her neck. "Maybe I changed my mind. Maybe I'm not done kidnapping you yet."
"You could probably still lose them easily," said Sakura. "If you carried me…"
They looked at each other, and there was a crazy, stupid moment, when Sakura thought he actually might, and she actually almost wanted him to.
"You're an idiot," said Kisame.
"So are you."
The patrol was now visible in the distance, small agile black blurs in the trees.
"There's gonna be a bloodbath in about thirty seconds if I don't get out of here," said Kisame, pulling deeper into the shadow and pulling Sakura in with him.
They kissed for the last time, and he told her, gruffly, fiercely, that he would be back for her, because she was his, and…
The undergrowth rattled with the dull sound of many pairs of feet landing a short distance away.
And he was gone.
… for now.