Title: Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Gladly Beyond
Word count: 7,362
Summary: Naruto had been bragging all day that his new jutsu was his best yet. Sakura and her new situation beg to differ. Post time-skip. DeiSaku.
Even from the start, Sakura held no illusions that this would be the romance of her dreams. The first thing she noticed the morning after wasn't a sense of fulfillment, sated physical desires, or even anything resembling romantic feelings. Instead, it was something she hadn't quite anticipated in her rather frenzied state the night before.
"Oh gods," she moaned as she awoke to what felt like a forest fire across her back. She rolled herself gently onto her stomach so as to ease the pain.
"I know it was good, yeah," said a smug voice beside her, "But I didn't think you'd still be saying that the next morning."
Cracking open an eye, she glared at Deidara. His face was plastered with an uncontrollably large grin that spoke volumes of their activities the night before. "Next time you get to be the one up against the wall," she told him.
"Sorry to ruin your fantasies, yeah, but it doesn't really work that way."
With a groan, she buried her face into her pillow and asked, muffled, "How bad is it anyway? My shoulders feel like there's no skin left on them."
As Deidara shifted beside her, Sakura had to resist the temptation to sneak a glance at him. After the events of last night she had no doubt that he had a body befitting a ninja – lean, powerful muscles and just the right amount of scars – but through a combination of the darkness and her attention focused more on their actual activities, she hadn't had the best view. She reminisced pleasantly for a moment before Deidara ran a hand across her injuries, making her wince. "Your back's all red – lots of scratches and cuts from the bricks. You might want to get this checked out by that healer you work with, yeah."
"And risk having to explain to her how it happened? No thank you." Sakura grimaced. She could imagine how that would go. As she wondered if she could sneak some ointment from the clinic without Alvara's knowledge, a persistent thought tugged at her mind. She turned her head to face Deidara, forcing herself to ignore his broad shoulders and well-defined chest. "What day is it?"
"Thursday?" He frowned and creased his eyebrows. "At least, I think it is."
Sakura squeezed her eyes shut, reluctant to ask her next question. "And what time is it?"
"We still don't have a clock, yeah. But it feels like it's around eight." Realization dawned on him as she let out a soft wail. Sakura lamented that his evil tendencies hadn't diminished -- sexual frustration wasn't at the base of them, apparently -- as he smirked and remarked, "Someone's late for work."
With a mounting sensation of panic, Sakura threw her legs over the side of the bed and cast her frantic gaze about the room for her clothes. Spotting her jeans, which had been hastily discarded near the door, she moved to leave the comfort of the bed before a sudden thought caused her to freeze. Glancing back at Deidara, she asked hesitantly, "Could you maybe… turn around for a minute?"
He raised an eyebrow in question. "Why?"
Sakura swallowed nervously, feeling her face grow hot. "Because I'm… not wearing any clothes."
"So you have no qualms about risking getting busted for public indecency in an alleyway but you're suddenly shy in your own home, yeah?"
Sakura clenched her teeth and resented the way he was completely at ease with their new developments. He lounged casually on the bed, propped up on one elbow and seemingly unconcerned that the quilt was draped dangerously low around his hips. She certainly didn't have any regrets herself, but it was going to take her a very long time before flouncing around naked in front of him was on the agenda. "You're going to be late for work," he reminded her unhelpfully, his mocking smile still in place and gaze fixed directly on her, fully expecting a show.
"All men are pigs," Sakura grumbled under her breath, repeating the phrase she'd so often heard from Tsunade. Aware that precious minutes were ticking away, she took the first course of action that popped into her head. Before he had a chance to react, she tore the quilt off the bed and wrapped it around herself. Feeling much more secure now that she had something covering her protectively, Sakura moved to retrieve her clothes that were strewn about the room.
"Hey!" Deidara complained, "It's cold!"
Glancing back at him, Sakura smirked. The tips of his ears had turned pink and his previous arrogance had vanished – he now looked decidedly uncomfortable. Unable to stop herself, Sakura cast her gaze downwards, raised an eyebrow and remarked, "I can tell."
Without a shred of guilt that she'd likely dealt a mortal wound to his pride, Sakura dressed quickly as Deidara tried in vain to rearrange himself into a more decent position. Failing miserably to compose himself in a less vulnerable manner as Sakura snickered at him, he said coldly, "Don't you have to hurry off to work and save people's lives or something, yeah?"
Finally tracking down her new sweater and pulling it on, Sakura shook her head at his indignation. "You're so sensitive," she teased, and tossed the quilt towards him before heading off to work.
It wasn't until she was halfway to the clinic that the full realization of what had happened the night before suddenly dawned on her. After all this time they'd finally given in. But not only had their moment of weakness not created the disaster that she'd feared, it had also been totally worth it. A wide grin spread across her face and she didn't bother containing Inner Sakura's reaction.
"Hell yeah!" she shouted and punched the air, startling the nearby townspeople as she shattered the peacefulness of the morning.
It came as no great surprise to Sakura when their relationship continued in much the same way as that first morning. He rarely gave any her any signs of affection, and she never sighed dreamily over thoughts of him. He never apologized for anything, and she never spoke of her feelings. She stole all the covers, and he had no qualms about greedily stealing them right back. Somewhere deep in their minds they both knew it was impossible, but while it lasted, it was perfect.
Over time they fell into routine. When one woke from nightmares of the past, the other would pretend to sleep. When Deidara sold a painting they spent the evening out, often repeating the same turbulent events of that first fateful night. They still bickered incessantly, but making up suddenly became far more fun than before. Life continued much the same until one day, far too soon by Sakura's reckoning, the ice at the harbour began to thaw and a few brave sailors tested the water.
"I swear if we get one more call for hypothermia I'm just going to toss the idiotic sailor back into the ocean," Alvara grumbled as they left the house of yet another unfortunate man whose boat hadn't held up against the icy waters. "It's not summer yet! Why do they bother trying to set sail? With all the ice floating around and the strong currents from the melting snow, it's no wonder their ships keep sinking!"
Inwardly, Sakura agreed. After a long day at the clinic, spending the evening making house-calls wasn't what she'd had in mind. She was looking forward to curling up next to Deidara and sleeping off her stress. "That's the last one we have to check up on though, right?" she asked hopefully.
"Even if there were more, I'd still call it a night," the healer said, her usual scowl in place. She pulled her shawl tightly over her shoulders. "The spring thaw might be here but there's still a nasty chill in the air. It does nothing for my old bones. Anyone else who wants a house-call can wait until morning -- what would this place do if I got sick?"
Sakura smiled at Alvara's disgruntled tone – she never changed. Despite her words, Sakura knew that if more townspeople needed help, the healer would stay up all night taking care of them. There was no end to the older woman's complaints, but she took her job seriously.
As they rounded the corner to Sakura's home, a bitter wind blew through the streets, carrying the scent of the sea. Crossing her arms against the sudden chill, she turned to Alvara and asked, "Why don't you come in for some tea? It's still a ways back to the clinic."
Alvara eyed the house in front of her with some surprise. Embarrassed, it occurred belatedly to Sakura that her ramshackle home wasn't exactly the most presentable for company. At least they'd manage to clean the inside up a bit, she thought with relief. Thankfully, the healer merely nodded and said, "It might do me some good to warm up a bit."
It wasn't until she pushed open the door that she realized she'd just walked into a situation she'd been trying to avoid for weeks. Deidara looked up from the drawing he was sketching at the table and froze. Alvara's usual scowl deepened. With a feeling of increasing dread, Sakura was at least fairly certain she wouldn't need to make introductions.
"So, boy," Alvara said, narrowing her eyes, "We finally meet."
Visibly bristling at the word 'boy', Deidara ground out through clenched teeth, "You must be the healer, yeah." It wasn't a question. "I've heard a lot about you."
Sakura shot him a pleading glance. She'd often complained about the healer's frosty and slave-driving nature, but now more than ever she desperately wished Deidara understood that she'd been mostly exaggerating. It certainly didn't help that he and Alvara had the sort of personalities that mixed as well as oil and water.
Deidara said nothing as Alvara lowered herself into the other chair at the table. She fixed him with her usual scowl, peered at him from over the rims of her glasses, and asked, "Well? Aren't you going to make us some tea? And give your seat to your girlfriend – she's been working all day."
The healer's unspoken words of 'unlike you' rang in the stillness that followed. Still seated at the table, Deidara glared at Alvara as though daring her to say it out loud. Sakura stood frozen, watching the scene with increasing dread. At last, when the tension was so thick it made Sakura want to scream just to break the silence, Deidara pushed back his chair, the wooden legs scraping loudly against the floor. Without a word, he grabbed Sakura by the elbow and manoeuvred her into the chair before turning towards the kitchen cupboards in search of the kettle.
With an enormously fake smile, Sakura attempted to redirect the conversation onto safer grounds as Deidara banged one of the cupboard doors shut a little too loudly. "So… I can't believe how many extra calls we had today! I'm glad tomorrow's Saturday."
Shifting her glare away from Deidara's back, Alvara's expression adopted a somewhat less disapproving frown as she glanced over at Sakura. "You thought today was tough? Ha! I've been doing this on my own for over thirty years before you came along."
Sakura made a sympathetic noise that came out a bit strangled as she heard Deidara drum his fingers impatiently on the countertop behind her. "Does this sort of thing happen every year?" she asked, hoping to divert the healer's attention away from Deidara.
Alvara nodded and gave a long-suffering sigh. "Every year. It's a status thing, you see. Every sailor wants to be the one to bring in the first big catch of the year, even if it means risking their lives." Her scowl deepening, she glanced over at Deidara and added, "Foolish men."
Sakura laughed weakly, relieved to hear the kettle start to whistle. Before it had a chance to reach a more ear-splitting pitch, Deidara grabbed it from the stove and slammed it down on the table, alongside two mugs. His mouth pressed in a thin line, he leaned against the edge of the counter and glared at the healer.
Adjusting her spectacles as she gazed, unimpressed, at the hot water that had splashed from the kettle onto the table, Alvara continued, "Mark my words, one day a ship will go down far enough out to sea that the crew won't be able to swim to shore. When that time comes, we'll have a real disaster on our hands – the kind you can't fix with hot water bottles and cocoa."
"You're a cheerful one, yeah," Deidara remarked dryly. Sakura shot him a warning glare as she poured Alvara's tea.
Unfazed by his comment, the healer nodded in thanks towards Sakura before taking a sip from her mug. "Still a bit too weak," she commented with a frown. Reverting back to their previous topic, she said, "This spring thaw does seem to be going better than most though. It's nice to have an extra pair of hands to help out at the clinic, especially during this time of the year," she admitted. Sakura didn't bother to hold back a smile – that was the closest she'd ever get to a compliment from the older woman. "If you keep working like this I might not have to dread the coming of next spring."
Sakura's grin faltered. She hadn't told Alvara that her stay in Cìen was only temporary. The more she thought about it though, the more she was tempted to stay. Life was peaceful and quiet in the port town, and her job in the clinic was both important and fulfilling. It was difficult and sometimes strange to not use chakra, but so far she'd managed to function well enough without it. Not to mention there were now certain other reasons why delaying her return to Konoha for just a while longer seemed like a good idea. Unwillingly, she glanced over at Deidara before turning her attention back to the healer.
The rest of the conversation was mercifully peaceful, and Sakura thanked every power she could think of that Deidara kept quiet and Alvara ignored him for the most part. When at last the healer declared that she should be on her way home, Sakura dared to breathe a sigh of relief. The awkward visit would soon be over, and then once Deidara's wounded pride was soothed they could have a much-needed relaxing evening.
Or so she thought.
As Sakura pasted on a cheerful grin and bade farewell to Alvara at the door, the older woman paused and stared expectantly at Deidara. "Well, boy?" she asked, her air of displeasure just as evident as Deidara's open hostility. "Are you really going to make an old lady walk home on her own?"
"Yeah," he replied simply, crossing his arms, "I am. Get out."
As Alvara clicked her tongue in a sound of disapproval, Sakura grabbed her own jacket and tried to steer the situation away from disaster. "I'll walk you to the clinic," she offered politely, silently cursing Deidara's stubborn nature.
"And what would that accomplish?" Alvara asked crossly, "You'll just have to walk home alone afterwards! It's dark out now – Cìen's safe, but this is still no time for women to be wandering around on their own." She sighed dramatically before continuing in a tone of bitter lament, "I remember the time when men used to be men. There was always some gentleman to walk you home. None of this nonsense where we had to risk being alone on the streets at night. How times have changed…"
Sakura was just about to reassure her that she could take care of herself perfectly well before she remembered that Alvara had no idea she was a ninja. In her role as a civilian, she certainly couldn't reveal that anyone who gave her trouble was guaranteed to wind up dumped over the side of the docks. Fortunately, Alvara's attention was redirected from Sakura's moment of hesitation as Deidara made a noise of disgust and held up his hands in defeat.
"Alright, alright! I'll walk you home, yeah." Everything from his tone to his expression was murderous, and Sakura suddenly found herself wondering if Alvara would really be any safer with him.
As always, the healer didn't grin. Her look of triumph, however, was unmistakeable. With a farewell nod to Sakura, Alvara gathered her shawl around her shoulders and stepped out into the chilly night.
"Miserable old bat," Deidara muttered as he stalked out after the healer. Sakura closed the door behind him, oddly relieved at his words – he could have said much, much worse.
When they'd gone, Sakura rested her forehead against the cool wood of the door and closed her eyes. So far, this evening was shaping up to be even more stressful than her day at work. With a deep breath, she tried to dispel the tension that had built up over the encounter between her employer and her –
Combined with the past half hour of nerve-wracking agony, that thought was enough to make her temples throb with the beginnings of a headache. 'Boyfriend', as Alvara put it, sounded too trite and childish. 'Lover' didn't work either, because while they were sleeping together, Sakura felt that anything with the word 'love' in it wasn't quite right when applied to their relationship. 'Friends with benefits' was also out, if only because her own emotions had moved beyond the point where there were no strings attached. Idly, she wondered if there was some term of semi-endearment that communicated mutual feelings of irritation and frequent shouting matches.
At a loss on that entire train of thought, Sakura turned her attentions to a more practical matter: dinner. While she wasn't sure if the tight, uncomfortable feeling in her stomach was due to lack of food or stress, she figured a decent meal was in order either way. A quick scan of the fridge netted her some vegetables and meat that looked like it hadn't gone entirely bad just yet. Rifling through the pots and pans under the sink, she set about making something that would hopefully be edible.
The water on the stove had just begun to boil when Deidara opened the door and stepped back inside. "I can't stand that woman, yeah," he announced, throwing his coat over the back of a chair. "She didn't need to me to walk her home – no one would ever want to go near her anyway. Goddamned battleaxe."
Without pausing in her work to look at him, Sakura rolled her eyes. At least from his comment she could deduce that the healer had probably arrived at the clinic unharmed. "I know she's a bit difficult, but once you get to know her she's really not that bad."
"Not that bad, yeah?" he asked, his voice between seething and incredulous. "She spent the entire walk telling me what an awful excuse for a human being I am and that I should be worshipping the ground you walk on because – what was it she said? Oh yeah, 'Sakura could do so much better than a good-for-nothing, ungrateful leech like you'." Beneath the bitter rage in his words, Sakura imagined she could hear a small amount of hurt as well. This wishful thinking, however, was effectively crushed as he continued with wholehearted malice, "I can't wait to tell her that I'm also a criminal wanted for murder, arson, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, and conspiracy in six countries."
As Sakura wondered if he was exaggerating or if she should be truly disconcerted by the pride behind his words, he added hopefully, "Maybe she'll have a stroke, yeah."
"I know Alvara isn't easy to get along with," she conceded, "But would it hurt to at least pretend to be nice? You may be a criminal, but I can't believe you won't even walk little old ladies home at night!" She paused to blow a stray piece of hair out of her eyes as her hands worked deftly with a knife, slicing a pepper. With a shake of her head, she added mostly to herself, "Sometimes I wonder what I see in you."
"Probably my dashing good looks, yeah," he said, radiating confidence as he moved to hold her, his arms folding around her waist.
Resisting the urge to lean back into his embrace, Sakura elbowed him away and dumped the peppers into the pot on the stove. "Well there's certainly not much else!"
Turning to face him, she put her hands on her hips and met his smirk with a frown. "Not much else, yeah?" he asked in a playful tone that Sakura had come to recognize as trouble. Closing the distance between them once again and cornering her against the counter, he leaned in to brush his lips against the top of her ear and pitched his voice low, "Seems like I need to remind you."
Gripping the edge of the counter until her knuckles turned white was all Sakura could do to maintain her semblance of calm as she felt her face grow hot. Unnerved that he could make her react so strongly from such a simple action, she cursed her weak knees and tried to concentrate as his mouth moved down to her neck, one hand beginning to work at the buttons of her blouse.
As much as she was enjoying his attentions, she couldn't let him continue. There was no way she could let him win that easily – he'd be unbearably smug for days. Reaching behind her, her hand closed over a wooden spoon. Pushing him away, she tapped him gently on the chest and almost managed to keep her voice level as she said, "Someone's full of himself today!"
His face fell as Sakura tried to appear cross. Not one to be discouraged so easily, he tried again. "Well if nothing else, I'm definitely in need of a distraction or I'll have nothing better to do than go back to that clinic and commit the best example of arson this town has ever seen."
By the time he finished speaking, a wide grin had broken out across his face. Unfortunately, Sakura couldn't tell whether he was being playful or if he really found his alternative suggestion so appealing.
She pretended to consider his words for a moment, pursing her lips in thought, all the while keeping him and his token efforts to kiss her again at bay with her handy spoon. "A distraction? I can think of one." She smiled suggestively, looking up at him through half-lidded eyes before adding sweetly, "How about: it's your turn to make dinner."
With that, she thrust the spoon into his hands and strode away. Pausing at the doorframe into the bedroom, she glanced back to take in his shocked expression. "Call me when it's finished – and if that's not enough of a distraction, the shower needs to be cleaned."
Turning on her heel, she stepped into the other room, ignoring Deidara's outraged protests. Perhaps she'd teased him a bit too much after the evening's trials with Alvara, but she'd been through a lot that day and didn't fancy having to put up with his ego – she knew he would only become infinitely worse if she played along. Sprawling across the bed, she tried to forget the warm feeling of his lips against her skin and calm her racing heart.
When Sakura awoke the next morning, she found herself curled up against a comforting source of warmth, one that had become a constant at some point over the last few months. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she looked at the man beside her. It was said that sleep made anyone appear childlike, angelic, innocent, or some other sort of nonsense. Sakura had long since concluded that this was all rubbish. It was true that Deidara did not fit the look of a criminal, but his mouth nonetheless kept a slight curve, mocking and arrogant even as he slept.
Nuzzling closer, she ran her hands over his chest, careful to avoid the strange tattoo that he'd warned her against touching. He stirred slightly and mumbled something unintelligible, the words lost in his state of half-sleep. Smiling softly to herself, Sakura placed a gentle kiss on the hollow between his neck and collarbone, delighted to feel him shiver.
"I thought you weren't in the mood," he said, his words still slurred from sleep. There was no annoyance in his voice, only a light note of teasing.
"That was last night," she informed him, and continued her ministrations with increasing interest.
When her lips moved from his neck to his ear, Sakura suddenly found that the tables were turned as Deidara flipped her onto her back. Pinned against the mattress and thoroughly enjoying this new development, Sakura had little doubt that he was now fully awake.
"I thought you were tired," she remarked as the movement of his hands proved that he was, in fact, not. He didn't bother to respond, but as Sakura wound her hands in his hair and pressed herself closer to him, she found that she didn't really care.
Just as she could hear his breathing quicken and her own heartbeat pound loud enough to wake the neighbours, there was a loud, frantic knocking at the door. Deidara paused, glanced up at Sakura and shrugged before his hands continued undeterred in their journey downwards. Trying to forget about the person at the door, Sakura closed her eyes and focussed on more fascinating matters. Her concentration, however, was broken when the knocking resumed, this time sounding more urgent.
"Wait," Sakura said, reluctant to stop but now worried about who was at the door. Using all of her willpower, she pushed away a very disappointed Deidara. "It might be important."
He pulled a face. "I'm sure nothing can be that important on a Saturday morning, yeah." As his hand traced circles on her inner thigh, Sakura was momentarily inclined to believe him. When the pounding on the door continued again though, she had no choice but to slip away from Deidara. Wrapping a towel around herself, she went to answer the door.
"Someone had better be dying, yeah," Deidara grumbled as he stepped into his jeans and followed her out of the bedroom.
She shot him a silencing glare as she threw open the front door. In front of her, a pale, wide-eyed boy spoke so quickly that Sakura completely missed what he said.
"Sorry," she said, stifling a yawn and anxious to get back to her previous activities, "Could you repeat that?"
The boy took a deep breath but was unable to completely rid himself of his panic. His accent was thick, but this time there was no mistaking his words: "You have to come to the harbour, there's been an accident!"
Memories of Alvara's prophetic words the night before rushed back and Sakura felt herself grow cold. "What sort of accident?" she asked calmly, despite a rising sensation of dread.
"A shipwreck," the boy replied, making wild motions with his hands. "Come quickly! The healer needs your help."
Sakura didn't need any other convincing than that – Alvara wouldn't have sent the boy to find her unless the situation was serious. "Wait here," she told the boy before dashing back into the bedroom and throwing on her clothes. Her mind elsewhere, she barely noticed that Deidara was doing the same.
"You can stay here," she said, confused as to why he was getting dressed too.
"And miss the chance to see a disaster first-hand?" He grinned in a way that Sakura found unsettling. "Not a chance, yeah." Sakura could only shake her head in disgust before she took off after the messenger boy.
By the time she arrived at the harbour, sprinting at full speed, her throat burned with the cool morning air. It didn't take her long to spot the problem – a large crowd had gathered around one of the piers. Townspeople stood on their tiptoes to get a better view, both intrigued and horrified at the same time. Elbowing her way to the front, Sakura felt her heart sink. Four men, their clothes drenched with sea water, were laid out on the dock, unmoving. Alvara was busy with one of them, her small arms locked firmly in position as she performed chest compressions.
Years of training kicking in, Sakura knelt down next to one of the unconscious men and checked for a pulse. There wasn't one. "How long have they been out?" she asked Alvara, before tilting the man's head back and giving him two breaths. His lungs were likely filled with water, but at least his airway was clear.
"Not sure," the healer panted out, and Sakura marvelled that the older woman had the strength to perform such a physically demanding act. "The ship went down about twenty minutes ago – the men were only just pulled from the water."
The healer's eyes met with Sakura's, her unspoken words fully understood: there wasn't much hope for the sailors. Fully aware that every second mattered, Sakura counted two fingers up from the bottom of the man's ribcage, positioned her hands, locked her elbows, and began compressions. "A defibrillator?" she asked quickly, unable to say more while all of her energy went towards pressing down on the man's chest in an attempt to keep blood and oxygen circulating through his body. She felt his ribs crack beneath her hands as she pushed down hard, hoping that the force of her actions would cause his heart to restart.
When Alvara only looked confused, Sakura realized that the medical technology she'd taken for granted in Konoha wasn't widespread in other parts of the world – particularly in backward fishing towns like Cìen. Only vaguely aware that Deidara was watching the scene with morbid interest, Sakura tried to keep calm as she finished the set of compressions and once again checked for a pulse – still nothing.
Sakura started through the cycle again, but knew that chances for the sailors' survival were slim. It was rare for simple CPR to revive someone who wasn't breathing and had no pulse. The knowledge that were she in Konoha she would likely be able to save all four men was awful. Without the use of chakra or medical equipment, however, there was little she could do. She needed something that would shock the man's heart into action.
Already beginning to tire from the exertion of performing compressions, Sakura glanced at the man's face. He was middle-aged, his skin already deeply lined from the passage of years, and his dark beard had the barest hint of grey. He was an ordinary civilian, and she imagined that he'd probably risked the dangerous waters because he had a family to feed. Alvara had claimed that the sailors risked their lives out of desire for bragging rights, but Sakura wasn't entirely convinced – after a long winter, both food and money were running low for those who made their living from the sea.
It would be so simple to heal him with chakra – a jolt of energy to the heart to get it beating again, and further medical attention to restore the damage likely done to his brain due to the lack of oxygen. With her skills and training, she had no doubt that she could save all four men. While using chakra meant that she might be found by the nation's ninja, not using it would result in the sailors' deaths for sure. She'd never be able to live with herself then. You're too soft-hearted, her inner self accused, but Sakura had already made her decision.
"Deidara!" she shouted, unable to spare a glance at him while all her energy went towards pressing down on the man's chest at a steady rhythm. When she felt him kneel beside her, she continued, "Put your coat over my hands."
He hesitated, but she didn't want to explain further – he'd never follow her instructions if he knew what she had planned. "Just do it!" she hissed, with enough urgency behind her words to make him jump into action.
When her hands were concealed by the fabric, she dared to meet his eyes. As she gathered chakra and channelled it to her hands, he understood what she was doing. "You can't be serious, yeah," he groaned in disbelief. "Are you insane? We've just spent the past few months trying to be ordinary and now you're going to go ruin it all!"
"You think I would actually let them die?" she asked, keeping her voice low so as not to be overheard by the townspeople watching nearby. "What kind of a person do you think I am?"
"The worst ninja ever, yeah," he concluded, angry at her actions yet resigned as he realized there was no way of talking her out of it.
Ignoring Deidara as he muttered curses against morals and ethics, Sakura drew her chakra into her hands. With one last compression of the sailor's chest, she released the energy, forcing his heart to start beating. His pulse was faint, but Sakura wasted no time in pushing the water in his lungs up and out until it trickled from his mouth. Closing her eyes, she then examined the rest of his injuries via chakra. As she'd suspected, the man's brain had gone without oxygen for too long. The damage, however, was nothing the Hokage's apprentice couldn't handle.
She would have to deal with that later though. The man was out of danger for now, but his companions weren't safe yet. "Get him inside, somewhere warm," she told Deidara, before calling out to Alvara, "This one will be alright! You keep working on that one, I'll try to help the others."
Alvara fixed her apprentice with a look caught between curiosity and amazement but was mercifully silent. Deidara gave her one last glare of thinly disguised rage before he carefully picked up the lucky sailor with the help of another man from the crowd and carried him away. Sakura had no doubt that difficult explanations to both of them would be in order later, but for the moment, she knelt beside one of the other unconscious men and prepared herself for a long, trying morning.
By the time she was satisfied that the sailors would recover on their own, Sakura was exhausted. While it was a relief to use chakra again after months of suppressing it, she also found that she'd been out of practice for too long. She had worked all day in a small, cramped bedroom, insisting that she be left alone with the sailors. The townspeople had been curious, but would have done anything she asked if it meant saving the lives of the men. Even Alvara had only frowned deeply, narrowed her eyes, but conceded.
As the last glow of medical chakra faded, Sakura leaned back in her chair and sighed. She was beyond tired, but her sense of accomplishment was undeniable. She'd kept the men unconscious, lulling them into a chakra-induced sleep, but their heartbeats had returned to normal and they were breathing properly. They'd all sustained serious damage from their near-drowning, but she hadn't studied under Tsunade for nothing.
Feeling terribly proud of herself, Sakura left the stuffy room to announce the good news to everyone. As she stepped into the kitchen, however, the crowd that was waiting nervously bombarded her with questions before she had a chance to speak.
"Is my husband alright?" asked one woman, straining to get a view of the bedroom. The other townspeople gather in the kitchen continued in much the same manner.
"Are they alright?"
"How is my son?"
"You must be exhausted!"
"Will they live?"
While Alvara said nothing and Deidara, predictably, only glared at her, this barrage of questions combined with the heat of the room and her light-headed exhaustion brought on by chakra use proved to be too much.
"They'll be fine," Sakura managed to squeak out, before she fainted dead away.
She awoke to the unpleasant sensation of being carried none too gently over someone's shoulder. From the blond hair that seemed to insist on getting in her mouth, she didn't need many guesses at who the person was.
"You know," she said casually, "Someone who has just spent their Saturday saving lives usually doesn't deserve to be carried like a sack of wheat."
He made no reply, but Sakura could feel him tense at the sound of her voice. Not one to be deterred, she tried again: "Just because I had one little fainting fit doesn't mean I'm an invalid – I'm perfectly capable of walking on my own, you know."
He ignored her again, so Sakura gave a weary sigh and decided to wait out the rest of the journey home. When at last they arrived, Deidara dumped her abruptly from his shoulders, causing her to stumble as her feet met the ground. She put her hands on her hips and fixed him with a look of displeasure, but he avoided her eyes, his mouth set in a thin line and his jaw tense.
They'd hardly stepped through the door before he could no longer contain himself. Finally acknowledging her presence, he turned to her and burst out: "Why did you do that?"
The feeling behind his words was so strong that Sakura took an involuntary step back. "Do what?" she asked, feigning ignorance although she knew perfectly well what he was angry about.
"Why did you save them, yeah?" he ground out through his teeth, anger twisting his face into an expression that would have been ugly had Sakura been capable of thinking him so.
It had been a while since Sakura had thought of him seriously as Akatsuki – she'd used the term more to tease him – but now his words were an unpleasant reminder that they did indeed have very different moral codes. "I couldn't just let them die!" she insisted, trying in vain to make him see her point of view.
"Who cares, yeah? You don't know them!"
Sakura was ready to wring his neck for such a callous comment, but Deidara was spared this gruesome fate by a knock at the door. Before she had the chance to open it, the door creaked open and Alvara stepped inside, her expression set in a look that Sakura knew meant danger. The healer gave a quick glance towards Sakura, as though reassuring herself that the younger woman was in fact there, before turning the full force of her gaze towards Deidara.
"When I told you she needed to rest," the healer said, her usual scowl deepening, "I didn't mean you had to sweep her away and bring her back here. She would have been perfectly fine at the other house."
As Deidara matched the healer's glare with equal enmity, Sakura had to bite her lip to fend off a smile. For all of Deidara's rage over her actions, if what Alvara had said was true, he still managed to show he cared for her in his own strange way.
Alvara was the first to break eye contact, as she turned towards Sakura and said with a deep tone of weariness that was unusual for the healer, "I think it's time you explained everything to me."
"We're not explaining anything to you, you old –"
Placing on hand gently on Deidara's arm in an effort to silence him, she interrupted his words. "Yes," she said to Alvara, suddenly feeling tired again from the strain of the day, "You deserve to know."
When at last the story was finished, Alvara sat in silence for a moment as she sorted through her thoughts. Deidara had said little during Sakura's tale, adding details here and there but largely remaining quiet as he leaned against the counter and sent hostile looks at the healer.
"You know," said Alvara, cutting through the stillness that had settled over the room. "We all kind of knew." Before Sakura could speak, the healer continued, "The townspeople, I mean. We'd heard the rumours of two fugitives on the run, and most of us can put two and two together. But no one in Cìen wants trouble, so we kept quiet. Besides, you don't seem the criminal sort. Him on the other hand…" She nodded towards Deidara, but the corners of her mouth twitched in what Sakura had come to recognize as the healer's version of a grin. "I've got half a mind to turn him in."
Sakura smiled faintly, relieved that she'd left out the part about Deidara being from a notoriously evil criminal organization. Alvara gave her a look that came awfully close to being kind, and said, "One good turn deserves another – the townspeople won't tell anyone about you, especially not after what you did today. We're in your debt."
"That doesn't matter, yeah," said Deidara, frustration in every word. "Other ninja can detect chakra use. If there was one nearby, they'll know we're here. We'll have to leave, go on the run again, or --" He paused, his eyes flicking over to Sakura. "Or go back to the Fire Country."
As Sakura held his gaze, her breath caught in her throat. His face hid nothing, and from his words and the emotion thick in his voice, she found that she could almost read his mind. He knew what going back to the Fire Country meant – separation, the end of all they'd built, and if it were possible, going back to being enemies. Sakura agonized over that thought almost daily, but it was somehow comforting to know that she wasn't the only one.
Alvara waved one hand dismissively, bringing Sakura back from her thoughts. "I don't think you'll need to worry about that. Nothing important ever happens in Cìen – we rarely see soldiers around these parts, much less ninja."
"That's kind of the point, yeah," Deidara explained wryly, "They're ninja – you're not supposed to see them."
Sakura couldn't help but grin – he never changed. Her grin turned to a yawn before she could stop herself, as her body once again reminded her that it needed rest.
Noticing her actions, Alvara rose from her chair and prepared to leave. "You need to get some sleep," she told Sakura sternly, before turning to Deidara. "At least for tonight, don't worry about leaving Cìen. She needs to rest, and I'm certain that no one is going to track you down. Trust me, in a few days I'll be able to say 'I told you so.'" Giving him one last smug look, she left them alone.
"She knows too much, yeah," Deidara said, narrowing his eyes as the door closed behind the healer.
Sakura crossed her arms and sighed, fully aware of where his train of thought was going. "You can't kill her."
Despite her weariness, Sakura couldn't help but laugh as he had the gall to look truly disappointed. Before he had the chance to say anything else, she stepped forward and kissed him. Startled by her sudden action, for a moment he didn't respond. Sakura, however, found that she couldn't care less.
They would have to leave Cìen eventually. She could try to delay their return to the Fire Country, but not forever. And then everything between them would change – they both knew that it had to. Her use of chakra had only sped up the inevitable. As Deidara recovered from his surprise and began to return the kiss, Sakura pressed herself as close to him as possible, as though afraid that he would slip away from her entirely. Bunching her hands in his shirt, she tried to memorize every detail of the moment – she should have done that all along, she realized painfully, because now there was so little time left.
Sakura knew that the events of the day had pushed something into motion, but as Deidara deepened the kiss and slid his arms around her waist, she had to content herself with thinking that whatever troubles were to come in the future, they weren't there quite yet.