Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
O O O
When she looks at the man with the blue skin and the gills on his face, she sees a broad chest and bandages over his mouth. Because when his Mist headband with the line through it glints in the dying afternoon, she sees it tilted sideways on his head, half obscuring hard, trained eyes. Because when ANBU officials haul away the Samehada, she sees the head-cleaving sword all over again.
Because when Kisame looks up at her, on his knees, demeaned, disrespected, an empty shell of what had once been a man that made her tremble, she sees the Devil of the Hidden Mist.
And when he grins and offers her a charming, polite, "Good morning, Haruno," she replies with the same, and then they drag him off to his death by the ropes at his wrists, she suddenly sees a little bit of Momochi Zabuza in everyone.
When she falls asleep later, at home, in her bed, safe, warm, alive, everything is still.
O O O
The next day is exactly like the last, because there are many, many people to be executed. "Well, well, look what the war dragged in," some people would say, and some even went so far as to spit on the next man in line to be killed.
She punches this man as hard as she can in the face and whispers in the orange-masked man's ear that she promises it will get better.
And he's on his knees in front of her, just like Kisame, and he's not smiling when they take off his mask. He has a cute face; it's boyish. She might have started to really like him if he wasn't a criminal.
They don't say anything to one another after that, only lock eyes.
"Tobi understands," he says after a while, so quiet that she doesn't even catch it, and then they lead him through the door soundlessly.
She doesn't think she'll sleep so well.
O O O
Zabuza stands on the side of the road when she walks home that night, still as the lampposts surrounding him, staring at her wordlessly.
She stops a few feet before him, instinctively tensing, and it takes her a second to recognize him. Her feet scuff the gravel when she takes a cautious step back.
He doesn't move at all, and he's oddly relaxed with his arms at his sides and his head cocked lazily. The cloth hanging from his headband flutters when a small breeze stirs her from her shock.
She looks behind her to see if anyone else is seeing what she's seeing, and when she looks back, the street is empty again.
O O O
"Just another day," Kakashi says when they pass by each other in the hospital, and she nods solemnly. Because she's trying her best to distance herself from this death, but it's not working as well as planned. She doesn't understand why she must see these people to their demise. She doesn't understand why they've been so nice thus far.
She wants someone to rebel.
But he doesn't.
And he doesn't say a word.
And neither does she.
He doesn't immediately go to his knees, but as soon as they kick him, he does, and he's the third person underneath her, now, and his head's down, black hair covering those sharingan eyes of his that have been gouged out.
She feels the need to do something. Anything. So she bends down, pushes back his familiar black hair, and kisses his forehead.
She hates him. She hates him so much.
And it almost pains her that even when he looks up at her, he can't see her.
She steps away from him, rage making her tremble. Or maybe it's the fact that she just kissed someone out of spite. "Goodbye, Itachi."
O O O
This next man does exactly as she had hoped: He fights back.
He thrashes and kicks and tries to get away, three sets of teeth gnashing and snarling, and the officials holding him elbow him in the back of the head until he calms down and kneels.
She almost starts crying, because he's different. He's full of life. He's young.
He's not ready to die yet.
He glares up at her, blond hair pulled hastily back, the fringe of it covering one eye while the other gleams a dangerous, beautiful blue. "Bitch."
And then she does cry, and he looks slightly taken aback.
Then she's on the floor with him, sobbing into her hands, and the officials don't know what to do. She hasn't done her job. She hasn't said any last words to this man. She only cries and cries and cries, and soon the man before her is crying, too, coming out in breaking gasps and gasping breaks and she's run out of words to describe the moment.
"I'm not ready," he breathes, and Sakura can only stare at him, eye-level, through a teary gaze.
And then she's done it. She's said something. So they drag him off, and he's still crying.
O O O
Tsunade asks her if she wants to take a vacation—if she wants someone to take over for her.
Sakura refuses to abandon her duty as the hokage's apprentice.
Tsunade tells her that they will continue the executions after the weekend.
O O O
She sees Zabuza again that night. He's sitting calmly on a rock near her house, one leg pulled underneath him, bandages pulled down around his neck.
She doesn't look at him, but she can see him out of the corner of her eye.
He watches her walk all the way inside her house, never speaking a word.
When she locks her door and runs to her kitchen window to spy outside, he is gone.
O O O
She wakes up too early Saturday morning, and she's half asleep when she's brushing her teeth and getting a glass of water.
She tries to perhaps fall back asleep, but when she opens her bedroom door, Zabuza is sitting on the footboard of her bed, balanced perfectly, one arm draped across his drawn-up knee carefully.
Slowly, unblinkingly, she closes the door and goes to the market in her pajamas.
He's nowhere to be found when she returns, so she makes a sandwich and watches TV.
O O O
She doesn't realize she's fallen asleep until she's unbearably cold, goose bumps forming on her skin, as if someone's just dumped ice down her back.
She sits up quickly, the TV droning mindlessly in the background, and Zabuza is standing over her, watching her, eyes focused and calm and somehow…unthreatening.
She's a shinobi if she's anything, though, and she tries to land a punch, but he's gone before her fist can fall through him.
She's shaking so hard that she can barely see straight, because there's nothing she can do. She can't kill someone who has since ceased to exist, and so she curls up in a ball on her couch and tries to ignore the sick feeling in her stomach.
O O O
She wakes up again, hours later, and she wishes she hadn't, because as expected, Zabuza is back.
He's sitting beside her on the couch this time, shoulders hunched, staring at her TV.
She braves a glance, and he meets her gaze.
"What…?" she mumbles, and she begins to tremble again. "What do you w—want?"
He doesn't say anything; he just keeps on staring, and when neither of them say anything for a long, long time, his lips twist into a half-smile. She blinks, and she's alone again.
O O O
Sunday morning comes with a swiftness that has Sakura staggering away from the couch and cooking breakfast. She feels better today, because yesterday just seems like a bad dream. Nothing is as scary in the day time.
She turns around and is proved wrong when she sees Naruto staring her in the face.
She drops her glass of milk, and it hits the tile floor with a deafening shatter.
Naruto winces, and then bends down to help collect the glass pieces.
Sakura murmurs an apology and finds a towel.
"I think," Naruto begins in a voice that's so calm that it startles Sakura, "that you've been working too hard lately."
She tucks a thick strand of hair behind her ear and begins to sop up the milk.
"You've been acting…depressed."
She doesn't look at him. "It's hard…sometimes."
But he looks at her. "Then why don't you take a break? I'm sure Shizune could—"
"It's my job," she says sternly. "I can't back down."
He picks up the rest of the pieces and helps finish the breakfast by burning her toast. He scrapes off the burnt layer of the bread with a knife, and then washes out the sink.
When they both sit down at the table to eat, she surprises herself.
"Have you seen Zabuza?"
He stops mid-chew. "…Who?"
"Zabuza. Momochi Zabuza," she says, desperate for him to remember.
Then it dawns on Naruto, and he swallows. "Oh, him? No, I…I haven't seen him since…you know. And that was almost ten years ago."
She nods. "I know."
"No," she answers quickly—too quickly. "Just curious." He has to know she's lying. He must. She almost hopes he does.
Naruto shrugs and finishes his egg. He doesn't know.
Naruto, Sakura muses, is too naïve.
O O O
He's in her bathroom this time, standing fully clothed in the shower, half hidden by the shower curtain.
Sakura decides that she doesn't have to use the restroom all that badly.
O O O
She leaves all the lights on when she goes to bed so that she won't be surprised, and she locks all of her doors and windows extra tight, even going to so far as to bolting the lock on her attic passage. She hasn't done that since she's bought the house.
She almost doesn't want to go into her room, but when she opens her door, he isn't there.
He'll be there soon, though, she reassures herself, and changes into pajamas. She lies down, pulls the covers over her head, and closes her eyes tight.
About an hour later, when she's stopped tossing and turning and is just on the edge of slumber, something doesn't feel right. She opens her eyes and turns over, and there he is, just as she figured, lying in her bed on top of the blankets. It's like he's floating, because his weight doesn't even press into the mattress.
His hands are behind his head leisurely.
Sakura doesn't know what to do.
He looks at her out of the corner of his eye. "You know," he says in that cold, cold voice—the voice that brought back memories of faux deaths and needles and mirrors and ice, "where my sword is."
She shakes her head absently. "No, I—"
His expression contorts as if he's incredibly angry, and Sakura jumps out of bed and darts out of her room.
She runs outside, all the way to her mailbox, and waits, breathing heavy, shaking, eyes wide.
She returns moments later, and there's no trace of one Momochi Zabuza.
O O O
Monday brings with it fatigue and depression, and Sakura can barely drag herself to the hospital.
When she does, duty starts immediately, and then next man is brought in.
He is…odd. Different. Truly a marvel of nature if she'd ever seen one, and she's not really all that tired any more as she watches him.
He is quiet, but his golden eyes stare holes right through her, and a war of emotions flits across his face for a moment, stretching from the black side of it to the pale side, eyebrows upturned and green hair ragged.
He says not a word.
Sakura can't think of anything to say. "Maybe," she begins, slowly, "you will be happier."
The men jerk him to his feet, and he stares at her for a second. And then his features twitch into a wry smile, and he huffs gently. "Maybe," he says, and he, too, is guided through the door.
O O O
Next day, she doesn't even wait to see him. She's already crying. The tears are falling down her face faster than she can hiccup and try to hold them back, and she watches a head of blue hair stumble in.
This is a woman. Not a man, a woman. Sakura's heart drops to her stomach, and she tries to stop crying; she really does try. But it's not working.
The woman goes to her knees without any prompting. She's pretty. She was the only female of the Akatsuki, or so Sakura can gather.
The woman looks up and smiles sadly. "Don't cry," she says, eyes sparking and carefree. "Life is beautiful."
The tears stop immediately. She looks up, and Zabuza is standing behind the officials, taller than each by at least half a head, still staring at her. Watching. Waiting.
She smiles the same smile she'd seen on the dichromatic man's face, and she brushes away a tear of the woman's own with her thumb. "It most certainly is."
O O O
Tsunade summons her again. "I spoke with Naruto. He said he visited."
She sighs and sits down at her desk, putting a thumb and forefinger to her temples. "I understand if you can't handle it, Sakura." Zabuza is sitting on the window ledge behind them. His pose suggests that he might be looking out over the expanse of Konoha, but he's not. He's staring through Tsunade and at Sakura. "I don't want you to force yourself to—"
"Don't worry, Tsunade," Sakura interrupts gently. "I can handle it. Life is beautiful."
Tsunade dismisses her in agitation, and Sakura watches Zabuza's form fall sideways out the window.
She checks the area beneath said window when she gets outside, but there is nothing. Not even an indent in the grass, nor is there footsteps.
She makes her own as she leaves.
O O O
"We're almost through," an official reassures her on the gracious Wednesday morning, and Sakura nods. Zabuza did not visit last night. And he is not here now.
The next man brings forth no emotion from Sakura. She has never seen him before. And it's not that she's seen many of the other men before, but this one…this one is different. He is defeated. He is accepting his death.
He is so close when he gets on his knees before her that his bright orange hair brushes against her thigh.
She doesn't take a step back.
He stares not at her, but at some point over her shoulder. Zabuza stands behind her, now. She can feel him. His presence. Cold, large, overpowering…but harmless.
"Can you see him?" she whispers, so that the officials do not hear and drag him off.
His eyes flick to hers. The thin barbells running through the bridge of his nose don't even distract her. His lips barely part as he speaks. "I see no one."
She nods slowly. "I'm glad."
O O O
Zabuza is in her bed again that night, and she allows him to stay, even though she has never had a choice in the matter.
He only speaks when he's in her bed, and this is the second time she's heard his voice in ten years.
"You know," he says, "where my sword is."
"Men," Sakura sighs, and she turns the page of her book, "and their silly swords."
That expression falls over his face—so full of fury and righteous anger—and then he sinks into her bed and is no more.
O O O
"Almost," the same official says, smiling gently.
Sakura nods, and hears screaming from the woman at her feet.
She traveled with Sasuke. Her name is Karin. She is…not as pretty as the blue-haired woman.
"Fucking dirty whore," the girl spits.
Sakura frowns. Nor as feminine.
"You say that your country is fair, that you are civilized," she continues, and because Sakura allows her to, so do the officials. "You say that you're above barbarism, but look what you're doing! What kind of fucked-up ritual is this? Get on your knees and pray to some god? To you?"
Karin's voice cracks and she begins to cry. Just like so many others. Just like the blond man. Hopeless. Lost. Angry.
"Have you no shame?" she asks, tears brimming, squinting at her without her glasses to help her see properly. "Look what you're reducing your prisoners to! What the fuck is this supposed to prove, anyway?" She struggles in the men's hold.
It's only a tradition. There's nothing Sakura can do about it.
She tilts her head slowly to the side. Zabuza stands beside her. His hand brushes against hers, maybe accidentally, maybe not. It's not really a hand. It's cold and almost intangible. She doesn't risk trying to touch it.
"You," Sakura says, and there is no malice or hate in her tone, "loved Sasuke."
She realizes that this was probably not the best final words, but the woman looks sated, nonetheless.
"And I," Karin whispers back, "hate you."
O O O
"One more after this," both officials chirp, happy that their job is almost over and done with for the time being. This mass execution is the largest they've ever had to carry out.
The man they drag in next is smiling. He has sharp teeth and blue-silver hair that hangs almost over his eyes.
Zabuza's presence darkens when he enters. He stands beside her again, no longer staring at her, but at the man.
The man's smile turns into a devious smirk. "It was fun while it lasted," he rasps.
And then Sakura knows that this man is connected with Zabuza somehow.
"Zabuza," she whispers, though the officials aren't really listening to her anyway.
"What about him?"
"Do you know him?"
The man rolls his eyes toward the ceiling. "Oh, yeah. Took his sword. Sorry bastard."
This man is unabashed. Sakura is almost sorry to see his life being cut short so soon. "Good luck in your future endeavors," Sakura says, trying to pull a laugh from him.
And it works. And he looks grateful that the last thing he does in his life is laugh.
O O O
"Tomorrow," Tsunade says, eyeing Sakura warily, "we will do one last execution. I know it's Saturday, but we have to. We can't put it off anymore."
Sakura nods. Zabuza is restless beside her, but he says nothing.
She wonders if she should tell Tsunade about him.
When everyone else leaves, Tsunade frowns at Sakura. "Are you sure you're alright, Haruno? You look like you'll need professional counseling after this."
Sakura shakes her head. Zabuza's hand brushes hers again. A cold wave. Chilling. Freezing. "Whatever doesn't kill me," she says, speaking almost mechanically, "will only make me stronger."
Tsunade doesn't look convinced. "Perhaps."
O O O
He's in her bed again. He doesn't stop talking this time.
"You know where my sword is."
She falls asleep to the deep, strangely routine sound of his voice.
O O O
The officials say nothing this time.
The man they bring is tall. Taller than the presumably dead Mist-nin who fidgets at her side anxiously, even, and Sakura is absolutely amazed. He is apparently the last member of Sasuke's team.
He goes to his knees without hesitation, head bent, sniffling.
"Thank you," he says, head still down, still so tall even on his knees. "Thank you so much."
She has nothing else to say, because she doesn't want to know why she's being thanked. "You're welcome."
And then Zabuza embraces her.
O O O
She wakes up in the hospital, head spinning, cold—she's so cold, her insides feel like they're going to freeze over—with only Naruto there.
He frowns at her. "I knew you were overworking yourself."
She sits up, groaning. "What are you talking about?" It feels like someone just cut a hole in her brain and dumped ice in it. Icicles just might be forming in her intestines. "What…happened?"
"You fainted at Juugo's execution," he explains, fiddling with his index fingernail.
"The tall guy."
"Oh." She glances out the window. She doesn't remember much. "How long have I…?"
"Not long," he answers immediately, hopping down from the stool he was sitting on. "Only a few hours."
"What time is it?"
"Around seven." He bites his lip for a moment. "I'm glad that all of this is over. I know it probably doesn't seem like it, but it's really been taking something out of you."
She doesn't answer him. Zabuza is standing in the corner, watching her. He's always watching. Always, always…
Naruto prattles on.
Sakura doesn't listen.
O O O
He's sweeping his eyes over her, hands never touching, fingers always just barely enough to make her shiver for more reasons than one.
His face is perfectly clear. It's always been perfectly clear. He's not like in horror films. He looks alive and healthy; there is not translucent appearance. There is no ghostly attribute.
He's just…cold. So very, very cold in everything that he does.
And he doesn't do much nor has he done much, so when he starts doing things like pulling her to him and making her faint and threatening her with his body hovering over hers on her bed, she gets scared. He's dead, but he's not, and he could and has done things to her to prove quite detrimental to her health
Before he can touch: "I know," she says, "where your sword is."
And then the world stops.
O O O
She still doesn't know if he wanted to touch her or if he was just exerting his power over her, but she doesn't care at this moment. Because she's used her status in the hospital and in Konoha in general to sneak into the confiscation room and steal that huge sword, Zabuza trailing behind her.
He never says a word, even when she turns to him when she's safely hid said sword with a jutsu. They're outside the gates now. The gatekeeper knows her, and he lets her pass freely. "I need a stroll," she'd said, "to clear my head."
"I see," he'd answered sympathetically, and then nodded to her. "It's tough having to do that day in and day out. Glad it's over, though."
Zabuza says nothing, and she continues to stare at him expectantly.
"Well?" she asks, slightly agitated. Is this what he wants? Will he leave her alone if she does this?
She scoffs and takes off.
She travels as far as she dares. When she stops, Zabuza stops, too.
"I can't go any farther than this," she explains. "It's too dangerous."
He throws her over his shoulder, and a bucket of arctic water is dumped into Sakura's system.
She doesn't wake up for a long time.
O O O
When she opens her eyes, she's staring up into a bright sun, and the heat feels good on her skin—her bones—her body. She basks in it for as long as she can.
The jutsu has long since worn off on the sword, and it lies beside her, now, shimmering in the light. The sun reflects off of it and shines into her eyes, and she squints.
Zabuza is standing over something when she gets up.
Her breath catches and memories flood back.
It's his grave.
Mirrors. Ice. Needles. Tool. Love.
And then suddenly she knows what he wants. Because that sharp-toothed man that had laughed right in the face of his own death had taken his sword—his tool—and Zabuza loved his tools.
She knows what to do, but she still doesn't understand it, and she supposes that's okay. He didn't value his sword this insanely much, but she supposes that he has his own reasons for returning. Perhaps it's sentimental. Perhaps it's something she'll never, ever be able to comprehend.
So she drags the huge sword over to where he is standing, no more than a shadow beneath the canopy of leaves.
He doesn't watch her anymore. He watches the place where his body would be.
She starts to dig with her hands beside the plot, and it takes her a long, long time to get it deep enough to satisfy.
She lugs the head-cleaving sword into the hole and then buries it.
When she finishes and wipes her hands on her pants, Zabuza is once more staring at her.
His gaze used to unnerve her, harmless as it may have been the past two weeks, but it doesn't. Not any more.
He nods, and the smallest of smiles cracks his features. Tears form.
She doesn't understand at all, but she outstretches a hand.
He takes her hand, but he pulls her to him, and the wave of cold that Sakura expects to feel isn't there. Instead he's solid and warm and comforting, and she finds herself hugging him back, hands fisting in the back of his shirt as his own arms hold her in place. "Life," she mutters against him, "is beautiful." And she's not sure why that woman's voice still rings clear in her head.
He smells nice. Something natural. Something masculine. And she's not scared at all.
Neither of them pulls back, but in a few moments, Sakura finds that she's hugging nothing. Her arms drop slowly.
She hears a voice—someone calling her name—and she turns toward it. When she does, a clap of thunder breaks her from her reverie, and the rain pounds against her suddenly wet body.
A patch of blond in the distance is all she sees before she falls to the ground one last time.
And it doesn't hurt at all.
O O O
She hears Naruto's voice in the kitchen. He's talking with someone—Ino, probably—and she's in her own bed, comfortable.
She has a fever; she can tell. She's a seasoned medic, and these things just come naturally to her.
She doesn't try to get out of bed, but rolls over. Zabuza is not there, and Sakura doubts—hopes, for his sake and hers—that he never will be again.
"These past weeks have just been hard," she hears Ino argue, and Naruto retorts with something idiotic and overprotective.
A low, mild cough rocks her, and she smiles despite herself.
"Life is beautiful."