They were not lovers.
If you live long enough, Sakura thinks, anything can happen. Perhaps there is fate after all—this would explain her life quite adequately.
Haruno Sakura doesn't know how long she has been waiting for him. Then again, does it really matter at this point? No. No, it doesn't.
The sky is dark—a beautiful shade of silky indigo—full of stars. It is a fine night, yet she chooses to look down at the cool, hard ground. Her eyes are as dead as dirt and her feet are numb. She'll be staying a bit longer.
Custom, maybe. Or pure nostalgia.
Again, does it really matter? No—at least, not anymore.
"I thought you wouldn't come tonight," Sakura whispered, more or less to herself.
"Hey…" Minato's small smile faltered. "I always come back, you know that."
Sakura wanted to tell him she doesn't know anything anymore, but decided against it. She didn't feel like correcting him, not this night.
Her rosy hair was secured into a scruffy braid. Sakura grazed her tress slightly with her hands. It is time to move on, she believed; her spiky short hair should only define her adolescence. Her teenage years now seemed so long ago.
Minato towered her by several inches. She noted his bristly hair had grew longer over the past few months. His brilliant blue eyes were glassy under the night sky—knowing and kind.
She walked closer to Minato and didn't do much as to mirror his smile. Sakura traced his strong jaw with her supple fingers; she studied his handsome face carefully. Her heart ached with unrequited love for the man before her and she felt like she is seeing him for the first time.
When Naruto died for their village, Sakura realized how appealing the top of the mountain was—the mountain graced with the past Hokage's stoic faces. She shook her head and reminded herself she was a medic-nin, and there are smarter ways to die—and better—than pretentiously jumping off a high elevation.
Even so, that did not stop her from walking up that mountain one night.
Her eyes scanned her rocky surroundings. It was a placid night: no wind, no sound, and no stars. No, not placid—the night is dead. She closed her eyes uneasily and desperately wanted to feel the wind against her face to articulate her existence.
In a blink of an eye, Sakura broke down and allowed her world to crumble before her. She fell to her knees and wailed inaudibly. Her insides were churning in anguish as hot tears streamed down her cheeks.
She was unable to digest Naruto's death. In a tragic sense, she refused to believe it. Because it was Naruto… Uzumaki Naruto. The sunlit boy in her godforsaken life who had too much life in him to die.
Her vision was painted a surreal haze by her tears. Being Sakura, she was accustomed to heartaches—yet they nevertheless ceased to surprise her with their sheer amount of empty despair.
As she stared at the dark puddles her tears daubed on the ground, she felt a hand upon her shoulder—a gentle but firm touch. It was familiar, just like… like…
Minato was years and years past and Sakura is the present.
How can two people look so alike be so different? Sakura asked Minato one night while absentmindedly doodling in her medical notebook.
He pondered over this for a while and clicked his tongue. A slight smile tugged on the corner of Sakura's lips—she realized that was a quirk Minato did when he wasn't sure of an answer.
Sure enough, he told her that stranger things have happened.
True, Sakura replied, though her smile widened as she told him that wasn't an answer.
The dark sky exempted a grumble in disapproval of Sakura's nocturnal linger. Gradually, dabs of gentle rain dashed down, building the mountain with soft, rhythmic taps. It was a serene scene, one that puts you at ease, yet Sakura could feel her heart heave.
She scratched her head sheepishly. Lucky me, she thought as she shrugged half-heartedly for not bringing an umbrella.
Footsteps vibrated nearer from the threshold; her heart did a little somersault.
Minato appeared from behind the towering craggy stones, he jumped across them without difficulty (as shingly rocks tumbled down), and walked towards her with a proverbial smile.
The butterflies in her stomach went on a riot—though they were different from how she felt for Sasuke and different from how she felt for Naruto. Sakura didn't know where or how to categorize this sentiment, so she let it be.
If… if it was meant to be then everything will fall into place.
It seemed that fate is our last resort for comfort.
In the beginning, Minato came often at the latest possible hour every night. Almost always, he would find a quiet Sakura admiring the night sky with artless wonderment.
Sakura—well, she came for herself. She discovered the mountain to be a peaceful spot to unwind and muse. Nevertheless, she knew sooner of later there will be other reasons as well.
Minato never realized he could ever assume the 'talker' in a conversation, then again, Sakura kept mute about her own situation and inquired him about anything and everything from his favourite food to the heart of his duties as the Yondaime.
Sakura liked Minato enough to avoid discussing his life or his premature end. Fortunately, he wasn't eager to know. Neither of them seek to rewrite history.
Most nights, Sakura would rest her head on her arms as she watched Minato enlighten her on Konohagure's past. Its rich history and significant watersheds that shaped the village what it was.
She studied the light dancing in his glistening eyes as he shared the riveting tales. His firm belief in Konoha was rooted deeply in his psyche; the foundation of a paramount leader. Once a bright student, Sakura had only known her village's history through textbooks—the chronicles of Konoha she believed were what triumphant fictions were made of.
It was quite remarkable to have heard the village's bygone days from Minato's retrospective point of view. Sakura gradually grasped his love and dedication for his village… and later his wife.
She smiled to herself as she wondered about a certain unborn boy. A boy Sakura grew to love unconditionally.
"You love your wife, don't you?" Sakura asked Minato one night. It was a vacuously mundane question.
Minato—the sensible, tolerable, and patient man—replied kindly, "Yes, I do."
Sakura gazed into his mesmerizing eyes for a while and looked away quickly. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes stung.
It seemed stranger than fiction for Minato to have found a threshold on top of the mountain which allowed him to walk right into the future. Of course, into the right (or wrong) time in future where he met Haruno Sakura.
She told him her name is "just Sakura", because at the end of the day, does it matter who she really is? No. It doesn't. Not to him.
Sakura was kneeling and wailing silently when he walked through the threshold for the first time. He unknowingly stepped across time and found himself in the same area but a very mismatched view of the village he had known so well.
Surely, it was still Konoha, but redefined by some means: remodeling, new buildings… a different smell (he couldn't quite put his finger on it). Minato winced skeptically as he jumped over the impeding stones to investigate.
His blue eyes promptly fell on a pink-haired girl wallowing in her sorrow alone, too absorbed in her lament to have noticed he was in front of her.
Minato's brows knitted together slightly as he walked towards Sakura for the first time. He summoned his kindest smile and touched her shoulder. He wanted to ask her what was wrong… and when on earth the three new green buildings were built in the village.
Sakura looked up at him and immediately paled; her green eyes wide and glassy (she wanted to call out 'Naruto', but—).
Minato asked her if she was from the village—which she failed to answer. He retracted his hand and tried again: he asked her what was wrong, why she was crying like so—but she could not speak; her throat closed up on her. She remained deadly silent
(her tears dried by the wind).
Sakura finally told him her best friend died. Like any other sane contributive member of society, she suffered from the subsequent churning anguish and contemplated suicide.
Minato asked her if she loved her late friend. Sakura glanced at him from the corners of her eyes and said that it didn't matter as he was dead.
"People do not cry the way you cry over a mere friend, Sakura."
Sakura gave Minato a weak smile and asked him about the fluctuating economy in Konoha during his time. He registered her dismissal as the end to the conversation. Minato knew that Sakura wholly understood the nature of his comment but chose to answer her's promptly instead.
In late July when the air is humid and dry, sudden violent rain dashed down like grenades one night. Sakura knew that Minato would not come—who in the right mind would? She sure as hell wouldn't. Minato would step through for a second and take his leave.
When the downpour didn't die down at midnight, Sakura prepared for bed. She lay there trying to count sheep as the deafening rainfall rang through her sensitive ears.
Rain, rain, go away; come back on another day…
It was inevitable that minutes later, she sprinted out of her home in rain boots and a flimsy umbrella and headed for the mountain. Raindrops caught on her eyelashes as she frantically rubbed her eyes.
I'll only check for a second, Sakura reasoned to herself, jumping over spacious puddles and wiggling earthworms, just to see if he is there (newsflash, there is a high chance he isn't). She came to a halt as she reached the top, rather out of breath.
Sakura narrowed her eyes and freed an airy gasp when she could make out a tall, blond figure standing by the slabs of enormous stones.
There was Minato with a big umbrella in hand while scrutinizing the wet village. Sakura walked up to him. She licked her lips and called out his name. When Minato noticed her, he smiled.
"I didn't think you'd make it," he remarked over the dashing rain.
"Same goes for you," Sakura replied, unable to contain her smile.
In hindsight, Minato can use the threshold to his advantage in many ways. Yet he made the cross for Sakura every time instead, sharing telling events of the past, or just sharing time together.
Because she is from a different time, because she doesn't play a direct role in his life, and because she is simply a grieving girl with her own distinct story, Minato was strangely capable and willing to simply talk.
(because the threshold was for them and them alone).
Eventually, Minato sporadically visited. Sakura, however, did not cease to walk up each night as the nightly linger essentially became an unnamed custom for her.
Sakura would gaze at the sky and admire the bright, sharp stars staring down at her in a way she doesn't stare at her own mother. She would leave the mountain hours later, heedless of the time, and try so very hard to avoid thoughts that revolved around Minato. She found that difficult.
Maybe he was the kind of trustworthy man people believed in—even when you did not want to. He assured Sakura he would try to come every night. As a girl who cares, she recalled his promise word-for-word and read between and beyond the lines—dissecting each word all the while.
Some nights grew into long naps on the rocky ground. Was it worth it? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not, but Sakura was glad she did it. Other nights drew out, and a jaded Sakura marveled if he was real in the first place; their rendezvous may possibly be a manifestation of her solitude and ache for Naruto.
No. That couldn't be right…
They couldn't have been made up because what they have—or had—was real… it was too real for comfort and he said he'd come back and she knew he would and—
Then one night, he came.
Minato finally came. He saw Sakura sitting cross-legged on the ground while reading a novel. He chucked lightly.
Sakura looked over her shoulder and noticed Minato. She stood up and pocketed her book. Both of them stood on their own ground for a short while. To be frank, she did not know how to react; she had not seen him for a relatively long while and it now seemed so pathetic of her to have waited all this time for him—
Oh God, tell me he doesn't know…
Sure enough, an ironic smile tugged the corner of Minato's lips, he asked, "What do you get out of all this, Sakura?"
His question took her by surprise; her eyes narrowed as he walked towards her. She remained silent simply because she did not know how to answer his question.
She muttered, "I can ask you the same thing,"
Minato's smile gradually died into a faint frown.
"What do you get out of it?" She asked.
"I don't know," Minato responded truthfully.
"I guess I don't know either."
He nodded, unsmiling, as if to consider this, "So we both don't know why we come here."
"Well, to sum up…" she let it hang.
Sakura bit her lips; she wished she were anywhere but here right now. She could and should simply walk away, but she wouldn't. Instead, she faced Minato wordlessly.
"Who are you?" he unexpectedly asked. A question he had been wanting to ask her for a while now. Clearly, everything he had wondered for many sleepless nights (as he lay in bed besides his wife) will be answered now.
"Sakura," she answered.
Minato cleared his throat and repeated his question louder, wholly aware that Sakura had understood him fully on the first take.
She pursed her lips. "It doesn't matter," she finally stated, "I am Sakura and you are Minato. And here we are."
"I know there are more to you than that,"
(there are more to us than that).
Sakura placed her hands over Minato's cheeks and looked into his clear eyes.
It was not surprising for Sakura to have perceived Naruto in Minato in the beginning; on the contrary, it should be expected. They were both mere reflections of one another.
Sakura and Minato wordlessly agreed to meet on the mountain every night for as long as they both are willing. She desperately wanted to see Naruto, but she could never tell Minato that. She didn't want to open that can of worms.
Every night spent talking with Minato translated to the time she would have spent with Naruto. It was mildly satisfying—and that was essentially a bubble bath to her weekly toil.
As time went on (which didn't take long), Sakura began to see Namikaze Minato—it was difficult not to seeing as he was completely different from Naruto. Minato was kind, understanding, introspective, and knowledgable. Sakura still missed Naruto everyday, but it was difficult not to appreciate and like the Yondaime a little bit more than necessary. His striking stare didn't help her out much either.
In short, Sakura knew perfectly what she gets out of this—all of it—but she couldn't tell him that, not even if she wanted to. Just like Minato couldn't stay away, not even if he wanted to.
Minato found her hands on his cheeks.
No. They were not lovers.
The extent of their relationship lay on the top of the mountain at a time when people only dream about the improbable and impractical.
They never were lovers. They couldn't be even if they tried.
Minato pressed his lips to her forehead for the first and last time.
That's you isn't it, your face on this mountain. You are Yondaime, am I right? I must be…
Is that a good thing? To be acknowledged?
Well, to be acknowledged for—yes. I mean yes, it is a good thing in your case.
…I'm Ha—I'm Sakura.
Sakura-san… do I not get a surname?
Fortunately, you don't.
Well, I'm Minato. Hello.
Do I not get a proper suffix, either?
Would you like one?
No, not really, Sakura.
As time went on, they learned to mirror each other's smiles.