Juugo thinks life is intangible; like sound, like the sky, like air, like love.

He rubs his hands over the wet dirt, mud, and it wraps around his fingers and beneath his nails and stains the edges of his sleeves. Suigetsu is beside him, gnashing his sharp, carnivorous teeth and inspecting his sword in the weak, gray sunlight. Karen twirls her hair while reading a scroll-a medical scroll-and Juugo can't help but think how different they are.

Sasuke is not there. Sasuke has been gone since Juugo returned in the morning, and this makes Juugo nervous. Something taunts him, something giggles in the back of his twisted, tainted brain that something bad is going to happen this cannot last it won't last.

But how could that be? Sakura has not changed, the world has not changed. Winter has shifted in to spring, and the fire nation slowly slides into a subtle summer.

But not today. Today it is blah, and wet, and the entire earth is soggy and disdainful, like it can't bear to share any joyfulness when the sky is veiled thus.

"This is taking forever," Suigetsu groans petulantly.

"Shut up," Karen snaps, "don't question Sasuke-kun when he is on an important mission."

Suigetsu rolls his eyes. "Don't get into a snit, crazy."

Karen huffs and flops back down onto her pack. Later in the day she will find some way to needle Suigetsu mercilessly-a revenge technique she favors-until Sasuke orders them to be quiet or suffer a fatal punishment.

Juugo waits, and the breeze sifts through branches like a lover's sigh, and he can't help but muse on the girl. The girl, because suddenly blood seems so lovely right now, coating his fingers like mud, running in his veins, between his teeth, over his tongue and out of their tortured, mangled bodies.

Pink hair. Green eyes. Deep breath. Breathe. Her lips on his. Her lips on his neck. Her lips on his palm. Her lips. Breathe.


Sakura is chatting at the front desk when the first one comes in. A gaping hole is placed dead center of the stomach, and the edges burnt and ragged, and for the life of her Sakura can't figure out how this boy, this barely-a-ninja boy, is still alive. She rushes to him, pumping chakre and life into his veins, forcing breath in to his lungs and trying to see how good her addition is. How many beats of a heart is a life?

But in the back of her mind, in the very back, like a forgotten closet hidden subtly behind cobwebs and autumn detritus, is the horrible knowledge.

Even after years of absence she recognizes the damage of the chidori.

Crickets buzz in the back of her mind, and the boy dies, but Sakura can't mourn, because there is another one, and then another one, and then there is a flood of young, underage shinobi. Some she saves. Some she doesn't. Their blood paints her hands and face and heart, and after too many hours Tsunade is there, pushing her out the doors and snapping at her to get the hell out and don't come back.

In her kitchen, in the back of a barely used cupboard, is a mostly full bottle of whiskey. Sakura withdraws it carelessly, tearing the top off and stuffing the glass rim to her lips where the bitter, nausea inducing taste washes away the copper that coats her teeth.

Naruto is not far behind her, knocking on her door and letting himself in. They sit on the couch, staring silently at a wall until the bottle is empty and they are sozzled and all they can dream about is redemption.