Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
A/N: For Tashi.
O O O
If someone were to have told Sakura when she was a child of twelve, clinging to hope and to a boy that hardly knew her name or cared, that seven years from then she would be living in someplace other than Leaf, she would have laughed. She would have shaken her head and asked if they needed help to the hospital, because there was clearly something wrong in that brain of theirs.
If someone were to have told Sakura when she was a child of fifteen, burying her face in any available shoulder and still clinging to the boy that knew her name but wished he didn't, that four years from then she would be alone in life with just a man named Sai that could scarcely force a laugh or two once in a while, let alone keep her company, she would have turned the other cheek and walked away. She would have clenched her fists, because that was clearly a scenario in which Sakura would rather die.
If someone were to have told Sakura when she was a woman of seventeen, everything she'd ever owned shoved hastily into a backpack on her back and clinging to nothing because there was nothing left to cling to, that two years from then there would still be no Leaf, and Leaf would never make any sort of comeback, she would have sat on the ground and cried. She would have mourned and sobbed and lamented, because that was clearly the truth.
O O O
Sai hadn't painted anything since the incident. He hadn't so much as drawn a stick figure in the sand. Emotions, he thought, he could have lived without them. ROOT, he thought, had been doing the right thing in raising him as they had.
Team 7, he thought, had done this to him, making him sad, making him unable to draw, paint, write, sing, dance, create. He could do it—sure. One cannot lose talent overnight. But he couldn't do it in a way that was effective or at all reminiscent of his earlier paintings. Even if he gave a name to it, it didn't have the same emotion. Or maybe it didn't have the same lack thereof.
This was no artist's block.
He was surprised he'd even survived at all. After Pein's initial attack, he could feel the heat of the explosion, the rubble and the glass shards cutting into his skin. His head had gone black from there. But when he'd woken up he'd been covered in the slime from a slug, and Sakura was standing over him, crying, her face dirty and blood-streaked and her hair tied hastily back. "Sai, you're alive!" And she'd hugged him. And it was more than he could say for the rest of Leaf.
Sai, Sakura, and a select few remained alive. Tsunade was gone. Shizune was gone. Kakashi was gone. Their friends were gone. Naruto hadn't returned to the village, and they hadn't heard from Pein again. One and one makes two, no word regarding either Naruto or Pein makes for a problem. Those who had survived either died (suicide was gaining popularity) or defected. But really, how could one defect when there was nothing to defect from?
So Sai had laid down his art supplies and sighed and stood beside Sakura, and after a year of living in a filthy refugee camp, all of the survivors left Leaf and their memories and their dead comrades behind.
O O O
Sand took then in with open arms. Gaara openly expressed his grief over the loss of Leaf, but most importantly, most secretly, over the disappearance of Naruto. He gave them all temporary residence—those who had survived the journey there, anyway, and the trip seemed so much longer when everyone was hurt and sick and dirty and sad—in a community building. Those who were nursed back to full health were able to litmus test their way into becoming an official Sand-nin. Those who did not wish to become ninja went on with life and turned their separate ways.
Gaara's family had taken in Sakura, for a while. Kankurou was never really around anyway, and Temari didn't have much to say after the announcement Shikamaru's death. Gaara would pop in periodically to ask Sakura how she was feeling or give her reports on what they had figured out regarding Naruto's whereabouts. It was always the same: nothing.
The Sand headband she wore was too heavy, so she took it off.
Sai never put his on.
O O O
After a year Sakura grew tired of crying, and she grew tired of working with and going out on missions with Sand-nin that she didn't even know, and so she became a full-time resident of the hospital. She kept her headband with her, but she never left Sand's walls, and so she didn't wear it.
After purposeful poor performance, Sai was ordered another litmus test, and he purposefully failed it. He hung around Sakura at the hospital—when his job at the public archives allowed, of course; they told him he had impeccable organizational skills—as a shadow, quiet, watching, barely ever talking. Sai did not like losing friends—losing people. Who did? It made perfect sense for him to stay by Sakura whenever he could.
They became close on quiet, unwritten terms, eating lunch together, discussing things—anything but Leaf and Naruto and the ever-elusive Sasuke—together. Sakura told Sai things about medical work, and Sai told Sakura some things about whatever he knew at the time. At some point Sakura drew a stick-figure dog on a napkin at a café, and Sai followed this up by drawing a perfectly rendered and shaded tiger on another napkin.
He went home and painted fifteen pictures of tigers and dogs and Sakura that night.
O O O
Inevitably, Sakura was pursued.
He would leave desert flowers in her nurses' station cubbyhole, put an uncorked bottle of wine on her brand new apartment's doorsteps—"a small housewarming gift," the index card beside it read. It wasn't creepy, but it wasn't sweet, either, and when Sakura told Sai about it, he frowned and brooded in the only way Sai knew how.
Sakura's insides turned.
"You haven't done that in years," she said, mostly to herself, swirling the straw around in her drink.
"I haven't?" he asked simply, dropping the smile slowly.
"No, you haven't. Don't do it again."
"I felt the moment called for it."
"The moment didn't call for anything."
"Who is the man leaving you gifts?"
"I don't know."
"Would you like me to find out?"
Nobody spoke. Sakura swallowed. Sai regarded her steadily; intensely.
"No. I'll know when he wants me to know."
O O O
The flowers and the wine and the sweet nothings stopped abruptly. Two weeks passed, and then two months, and then Sakura approached Sai on the subject.
"He stopped sending me gifts," she said nonchalantly, taking a drink of her water.
"Do you know why he might have stopped?"
"Perhaps he was threatened."
"Perhaps…he was threatened by a friend of Sakura's." He smiled.
Sakura cringed. "Sai. You didn't."
"I didn't do a lot of things."
"Who was he?"
"He was a former patient of yours. I asked him politely to cease sending you gifts."
"Why? Why would you do that, Sai?"
Sakura rubbed her temples. "I asked you not to. You never would have done something like this four years ago."
He touched her hand, frowned. His fingers were cold.
Sai was learning fast.
O O O
They moved in together.
"For posterity," Sai said.
"We're just good friends," Sakura said.
Nobody ever sent Sakura gifts again.
O O O
Sai painted five pictures a week, and he named them all "Sakura," and he stacked them up and threw them out when he was finished.
O O O
A breaking of boundaries occurred one night as Sakura fell backwards onto the couch, so tired from a day at the hospital, spent from being overworked and marginally underpaid, and did not realize Sai had already taken residence upon the couch.
She elbowed him in the ribs accidentally and cracked her head on his hard shoulder, but he just grunted and stared at her, and Sakura twisted so she was straddling him and she apologized quickly and she watched Sai swallow and he watched her lick her lips and she fell into place between his legs, her head on his abdomen and listening to his stomach make those weird noises that stomachs tend to make when you press an ear to them and listen.
O O O
Sai didn't care much for boundaries, and he never had.
"If you like her so much, just kiss her," his elderly coworker had told him, and so he had.
He'd walked right inside and grabbed her right by the back of the head—just like the woman had told him—and kissed her—just like the woman had told him—and held her there—just like the woman had told him—and he wasn't sure he knew what to do next, because the woman hadn't told him. Sakura had pulled away, shell-shocked and a little shaken up, and had said his name once.
He looked at her lips.
She kissed him.
O O O
And they were on the bed, and she was standing in between his knees, and he was kissing shoulder just the way she liked it, his hands inside her shorts and playing with the straps of her underwear.
And she was holding her breath and then holding his hand and then she was pressing her hips to his and making him close his eyes and groan.
He was touching himself and she was taking her clothes off, and she was touching him, and she was sliding inside of him on a breath, and they were moving together, and this was all instinct for Sai, and he didn't last very long—was mildly embarrassed, because wasn't it supposed to be an hour at least according to the books?—and they were trying again when he'd regained his bearings.
It didn't last an hour—barely lasted thirty minutes—but it was nice and Sakura was sated and asleep on his shoulder.
He painted a picture of the sky that night, and he named it "Home," and Sakura framed it and put it up on the wall.
O O O
If someone were to have told Sakura when she was a child of twelve, worrying about her hair and her forehead and frivolous things, that ten years from then she would be in love with a man named Sai that loved her back very much and who was slightly unsociable but still very sweet, she would have smiled. She would have clapped her hands together and asked if they would live happily ever after, and she would have hoped the answer would be yes.