Spoilers: AU. Heavy on the AU.
A/N: A present to my darling Kris. She made me think about KimiSaku. Also, a most unworthy homage to DeGlace, whose KimiSaku fic, though abandoned, shall always have a spot in history. I know it's AU, but please bear with me. You know I don't disappoint often. Right?
The Good Listener
1. The Old Lady, Something Or Other

There has to be more to life than working at a bookstore.

When Sakura had been young, she'd wanted to be a doctor. The building where she'd lived with her parents was ran by an old-but-young-looking woman who had more than enough battle stories to tell, and even from back then, Sakura'd been an avid listener, always eager to learn something new. And even if her parents prohibited Sakura from visiting the elder landlady too often—because she needed rest, and because her apartment smelled like cheap sake—the young girl had always found time, either after school or before, to drop by for a visit.

Tsunade, as the woman was called, had told Sakura gladly about all her life. The pink-haired girl had been, after all, the first person to really want to listen to every damn word coming out of her mouth—including cuss-words, many of which Sakura learned and adopted with the grace of an old sailor. From the many things Sakura'd learned in the apartment which smelled of sake, there were three very important notions which she'd never forgotten.

The first was that she'd always do right in listening to people. Not necessarily believing their stories, because many people lied, or exaggerated, or tried to pull her hair, but just simply listen to what they had to say. And while sometimes her temper got the best of her—or in other words, her fists acted before her ears listened—Sakura'd always listened to people's stories. Because you never knew what new, amazing things you could learn from listening to stories. You never knew what information you could gather from listening in—not to be confused with the term eavesdropping—on this or that talk. With this lesson learned from old Tsunade, Sakura'd grown up to be the best listener in her group of friends. Of course, having everybody dump their troubles on Sakura's shoulders also made her be depressed a lot of the time, or craving for chocolate, or really eager to tell them to shut the fuck up, but she never did. Sakura's conflicts were internalized. Mostly. And she was doing a pretty good job as the group's psychiatrist.

The second thing Sakura'd learned from visiting Tsunade's house was that she wanted to be a doctor. The old woman had been a doctor—one of the best in town, surprisingly—years ago. She'd run the principal hospital in their little town at one time, but she had been, primarily, an adventurer. And Tsunade's adventures had taken her to countries from Asia and Africa, countries filled with internal wars, and hate. There, the woman had healed injured villagers, and fed hungry children, and fought alongside the civilians as well, when the situation demanded it. But when she'd returned to her country, her home, her town and her people, she'd found herself alone and plagued with memories and sadness. If you're gonna be a doctor, girl, don't make the same mistakes I did, the woman had told Sakura. You're a good listener, but your heart's to fragile. You're a good girl, and you'll get eaten by the wolves out there if you so much as set a step on that territory. You're too kind for your own good, Sakura. But luckily, you've me here to instruct you.

And the third and last thing Sakura'd learned from visiting Tsunade, the doctor, the warrior woman, her unofficial mentor and for a long time, her only friend, was that you never, ever called Tsunade 'old'. Or implied that she was old. There were numerous the times when Sakura'd taken the woman food, or told her to take better care of herself, only to be thrown out of the apartment with screams and instructions to 'never come back again'. Of course, two days later, Sakura always returned. With the food. And with the instructions to take care of herself better. If there was one thing Tsunade had seemed to appreciate in the girl when she'd decided to take her in as her protégé, was that she had guts, determination, and on more than one occasion, she was exactly like Tsunade had been at her age.

Out of these lessons, it was only the second one which Sakura couldn't see fulfilled presently. At twenty-two years, way past the age of ingression in Med School, and with an income five times lower than the school's fee, Sakura was stuck. The only way she could even see the Med School was by inclining her head to the left and looking out the window of the bookstore where she worked. Every day, she watched as the lucky med-students entered the tall, white building, and every day Sakura arrived home after a visit to the bank and an "I'm sorry, miss Haruno, but I'm afraid your bank account has still not improved enough for you to pay for that fee" and a "I'm afraid our bank cannot give you the loan you asked for last month", and of course the ever so sweet "Better luck next time?". Luck? Luck hadn't been on Sakura's side for years. Ever since her parents had died when she'd been barely seventeen, leaving her not only with the feeling that she never really got much of parental affection from her progenitors, but also with their debts and other problems. Of course Tsunade had been there all the time, but even with the woman's help, and a job at a rundown bookstore, Sakura had barely been able to liquidate all of her parents' debt. Never mind going to Medical school.

She never lost hope, though. Each month, she went to her bank as religiously as one went to the city church, and each month she applied all her personal data for a loan. And each month it was denied. Maybe the bank had something against orphans, or maybe they'd just gotten fed up with seeing Sakura's face each day. Or maybe they were just fucking bastards. Tsunade's words.

Hope or no hope, there still has to be a better thing to life than working at a bookstore, Sakura thought again, while re-stacking the books on her cart. The place where she worked wasn't all that bad, and Sakura loved the smell of old books and musky paper. But for a young woman with big hopes and goals like she was, it just…lacked a lot of things. It could've worked as a part-time job while she studied medicine, but since the latter part seemed to be eliminated by her low budget, it worked well as a full-time job, too. Working from morning to evening just to win enough money to get by—and maybe put some in her account to let it grow—was okay for a few months. After the first year it got boring. After the second year, it got monotone. And after the third year, it made Sakura want to burn the place down in hopes of some sort of change. Anything.

"My kingdom for an entrance fee to Med-school," she dramatically told the book in her hand before setting it on the shelf under S. "Granted, my kingdom isn't that big. I barely own a potted plant, and the TV. No wait, not even the TV is mine. Gah," she groused to herself, stomping down the aisle, shelving more books here and there where needed. "On second thought, my kingdom for some sort of breakaway from routine would also be nice. Surely that's not much to ask, coming from a person who only owns a potted plant and an empty bank account."

Passing past the aisle holding history books, Sakura ventured into the poetry section. Not many people were ever in this section, basically because they only had a few shelves worth of poetry books, and none of them by known writers. It was a surprise, naturally, to find there was someone in that section. One, because people hardly ever visited it, and two, because she hadn't heard the person come inside. From the back, Sakura thought it was probably an old woman with really long hair—unusual in old ladies nowadays—held by two red bands. A rather youthful look for an old lady, but who was Sakura to judge—with her poorly home-chopped haircut? Slipping into 'oh my, a customer!' mode, Sakura approached the lady.

"May I help you?" she asked, reaching out a hand to tap the lady on the shoulder, just in case they were deaf. Or something.

Seconds before her hand reached the lady's skin, the 'lady' moved her hand quickly—way too quickly for an old lady—catching Sakura's wrist in a tight grip. What the hell do they feed these old people?! The 'lady' moved, just as quick, dragging Sakura forward, spinning her around until she collided face-first into a shelf, and twisted the arm in her grip behind Sakura's back.

"Hey—OW, LADY!" Sakura shouted, surprised when her chest smacked into the wooden edge of a shelf. "I was just trying to help!" she huffed.

The person holding her captive released her quickly, and Sakura turned around to give the old woman a scolding about 'violence against young people', only to find that the lady was…bowing. To her. "My apologies, miss, I meant you no harm. I do not like it when people surprise me from the back, old instincts kick in," the lady said, and the lady had a very deep voice. For an old lady.

"I…okay?" Sakura answered, blinking quickly to assure herself that what she was seeing wasn't a dream. What she was seeing when the lady stood up straight was actually a young man, probably not older than Sakura by a few years, tall and lean, and with very, very white hair. The mated, green eyes looking down at her in a dispassionate way also added to Sakura's surprise—and for a moment, the look in her eyes aided to her thought of 'he's not sorry at all'. "I was just asking if you need any help," she said, after a moment of silence in which they both stared at each other—she, with surprise and curiosity, and he, with lack of any real interest, as if he was doing it for the sake of mimicking her actions.

"Not really, thank you. I have found what I needed," he answered in the same, calm, monotone voice while signalling to the book in his hand—the hand that hadn't held Sakura against a painful shelf.

"Would you like to buy that?" she asked.

"Possibly," he answered. His answers were slow, as if he was either too tired to speak, or not really a talker at all.

"What do you mean possibly?" Sakura asked, raising an eyebrow. "You're not going to steal it, are you? Because we have a policy against thieves in this store, you know?"

"Really?" he asked, not at all sounding interested.

"Yeah. We kick their asses before they can get out," she said, standing up straight and puffing her chest out in a way that wouldn't remind him that she'd just basically kicked her ass two minutes before.

Apparently, it wasn't working, from the look he gave her—which was the same look as before, but it still said 'I don't believe you, and if I could, I'd raise an eyebrow to fortify it'. "I shall buy the book," he spoke, and then moved passed without as much as a brush against her. Which gave the man a certain grace, since the aisles were rather narrow, and two people there at once would always brush against each other in one way or the other.

"Right, then. I shall cash it in for you," she mimicked, following him to the register with an amused smile on her lips. She hurried behind the counter, and took the book he'd left on the table. "Oh, Akhmatova! Hardly anyone knows who she is," she acknowledged, running her fingers down the spine of the book.

"Unfortunate of them," he offered, looking down at her from behind the counter.

"Which one is your favourite poem? Personally, I like the one that ends in 'but blood is only blood', though I never could remember the title. She's one of my favourites in the store, you know? She's this talent of pulling threads and metaphors, so delicately and nice. No-one's bought this book, or shown interest in it in the years I've worked here, but you. We should give you a prize," she ranted, wrapping up the book in old leather. A tradition of the bookstore.

"Wild honey has the scent of freedom," he said softly, and if Sakura hadn't read Akhmatova's works, she'd have thought he'd gone mad. She looked up to find his eyes set on her hands, or maybe on the leather, a strange expression in those green orbs.

"Hey," she said, stopping her motions for a while. "Are you okay, mister?"

His eyes snapped back to her face, and he blinked once, slowly. "Why do you ask?" he spoke.

"Well…you looked sad for a minute, there," she said, shifting her weight from one foot to another and hoping to god he wouldn't twist her hand again. She'd left her pepper-spray at home. Not that pepper-spray would work against the likes of him.

"I am fine. The book, please?" he said, startling her out of her reverie.

"Oh, sure. In a second," she answered, smiling in a way that she thought was comforting—or at least warmed the place up a bit. Tsunade had said on one occasion that Sakura's smile warmed up a room. "You know," she said, slowly, as she picked up a leaf of mint and placed it between the first page and the cover. "My friends have always said I'm a good listener." She paused. "I know what you're thinking, you're thinking 'how could this girl be a good listener, if all she does is talk, and talk?'. But I hear sometimes it's better if you talk, even if it's to a stranger. Especially if it's to a stranger. Strangers are better listeners, because they give you the freedom to talk and unwind yourself from all your troubles, and since they're strangers you know you'll never see again, you don't have to worry about them thinking this or that about you. And you go home feeling lighter."

"I am not a big talker," he spoke.

"Oh really? Could've fooled me," she teased, grinning at him.

"Why would you care, if I were not alright?"

She shrugged. "I'm also too kind for my own good. Aside from being a good listener, you know? I've mentioned that, right?"

"You have. My book?" he asked—ordered.

"Here," she handed it to him, taking the money and giving him the change. "So, what do you say?"

"Are you really that interested in what grieves me?" he asked, pausing in front of the counter for a while longer.

"Yes."

"How unfortunate of you," he finished, taking his book and calmly making his way towards the door.

"Wait!" she shouted after him, running from behind the counter. "Can I at least get your name?"

"Why would you need it? We are strangers who shall never meet again," he said, looking at her with a curious look on his face.

"Well, you never know. We might. And I want to have a name to associate with you, so that when I tell my landlady tonight about how I got my ass kicked by what looked like an old lady, I'll refer to you as something other than He."

He blinked, his lidded eyes seeming heavy even to her, and his hand headed for the doorknob. "Kimimaro Kaguya," he said at last, looking as if he'd regretted even giving her that information. "And I doubt we shall meet again," he added, before opening the door.

"Oh, well. My name's Sakura," she said towards his back.

"I know," he answered.

"What, you read minds?" she asked with an incredulous tone.

"No," he answered. "It's written on your nametag." And without as much as a glance behind him, the man left the bookstore, his newly purchased book under his arm, leaving a gaping Sakura behind him.

"Oh," she said to the wooden door. "Written on my nametag. Well of course. Duh, Sakura." Moving back to her previous job of re-shelving the books, Sakura couldn't help but let her mind dwindle on the mysterious man—Kimimaro.

"When I asked for a breakaway," she told a small book in her hand, "I wasn't referring exactly to this. But I guess it works, for today. After all, we're not going to see each other again, anyway."