Moments in the Dark

She is waiting when he comes to her.

Though she doesn't always know, tonight she is certain. Reports today of an incident near the border. She recognizes his calling card, and so tonight, she knows. He will come.

He has to be suicidal to keep up this game, she thinks, especially tonight with half the shinobi in Fire country searching for his comrades. For him. But it is that recklessness in him which excites her, pulls her to him like gravity. It's the underlying message underlying his daring actions send.

She's worth the risk.

Or maybe the risk itself is what he seeks, what he needs. She doesn't know what he gets from this, and she doesn't ask. One answer means she matters too much, the other means she doesn't matter at all. Both possibilities make her uncomfortable.

And so they play the game without knowing the rules.


They met by chance; in a sleazy bar at the edge of a sleazy town. Tired and bored, and perhaps they were both lonely, and a familiar face was a welcome sight—even when it belonged to the enemy. In a wary truce they talked of everything but their reasons for being there, and were both a little surprised to find how well they got along when they left out the part about their opposing loyalties. That night they were just two people far from home.

Somehow talking had eventually turned into flirting…and when she realized what a dangerous line she was tempted to cross, she left him there and fled home as fast as she could.

She thought about him for days afterward, and twice she dreamed about what might have happened if she hadn't run.

Next time they met, they were shinobi again. Both trying to steal a valuable jutsu scroll from the Earth Daimyo's palace. Neither was ideal for the job, but somehow they both got stuck with it and so far each had performed a textbook stealth heist…until they encountered each other in the vault. They'd laughed at the irony and threw a few jibes back and forth, but when the time came, they were all business. They fought. He was stronger than she expected, and much, much faster, and when he pinned her against the wall with a kunai to her throat she knew it was over.

And then he kissed her. After an initial moment of shock she'd kissed back, and the kunai had fallen to the floor as her legs locked around his waist and his hands found other things to grasp.

There was nowhere to run this time, and it never occurred to her try.

In the end he let her have the scroll, said her sense of duty was stronger than his. She didn't ask him what he meant, only thanked him and ran back to Konoha with her scroll and her secret.

Later, she learned that he'd blown up the vault and half of the palace compound.

The memory of that passionate interlude had plagued her, the recollection of his hands on her body filling her thoughts at the most inappropriate moments. Sometimes, alone in her bed late at night, she would picture his face in her mind and pretend it was him touching her.

A month after that night, a little clay bird landed on her windowsill. It cocked its tiny head at her, and she'd smiled a very secret smile and gently stroked its head with her fingertip. As it chirped and flew away, she wondered if it meant he still thought about her too.

That night he showed up in her bedroom. She only had a few moments for shock, to think of the million questions and the million reasons why this shouldn't be happening, before they were tearing each other's clothes off and falling onto the bed.


Months pass. They never discuss it, never talk about why or when or how long it will continue. In a way, it's better like this. The not knowing. The spontaneity and unstructured passion of their forbidden trysts. These secret moments in the dark. And now…

Every fiber of her being thrums with anticipation.

She hears the flap of wings only seconds before a black blur crosses her open windowsill and billows the curtains. Tonight she rushes forward, meets him halfway, and then she is being swept up in a pair of strong arms and kissed like there's no tomorrow.

For them, there might not be. All they have is the moment.

Her back hits the wall beside the window. A few more inches to the side and they could be seen by anyone passing by. He pins her beneath him until the only movement she can make is her arms clawing his back, grasping the firm musculature of his shoulders. He isn't trying to dominate her; he's just so fervent, so passionate, that he takes the initiative to get what he wants. He wants to have her now, and can't wait for her guidance.

Maybe a part of him does like to have control. But she knows that he also loves when she pins him down with inhuman strength and rides him until she screams.

Their kiss breaks only when they can no longer breathe through it, and then he moves to her neck and ear and drives shivers up and down her spine with his tongue.

"Sakura…" he whispers. That one word holds an entire monologue of feeling.

"Hi," she breathes back with a tiny smile, and then seals her mouth to his again. This kiss doesn't last long; neither have the patience tonight for lingering and savoring.

He nips at her collarbone and begins a heated trail downward, stopping at the beginning curve of her breast. "I like your nightgown," he murmurs.

"You would," she replies.

Because it's his. One of his undershirts left behind when an unexpected and unwelcome summons forced him to leave early. It fits loosely but comfortably and covers just enough, and most of all it smells like him. She has no intention of giving it back, and she doubts he has any intention of asking for it.

He closes his mouth over her hardened nipple, the heat and wetness of his tongue seeping through the thin fabric. She gasps and fists her hand in his long hair, arches her back, encouraging him.

"If they find you here they'll kill you," she says as his mouth works lower, between the valley of her breasts and over her thinly covered stomach.

"Hm." His hands rove over her abdomen, lifting the edges of her nightgown. "They'll kill you too, yeah," he counters, before lightly tracing his tongue over her hipbone.

He runs his fingertips under the edge of her panties, teasing her a moment before sliding them down her legs. She sighs in anticipation of his next move, fingers still clenched in his hair, her other hand clawing at the wall behind her. "I'll try not to scream too loud then," she pants.

He smirks against the inside of her thigh, nips her playfully. "I'll try not to make you," he rasps, and buries his head between her thighs.

His threats are never empty. He lifts her leg over his shoulder and it's only moments before she's biting the back of her hand to keep from alerting everyone in the vicinity as she comes, gasping and shaking and pulling his hair so hard it must hurt—though she suspects he likes it. He certainly loves getting her off, and the wicked, thoroughly smug smirk on his face when he stands up tells her he has every intention of bringing her several more times before the night is through.

He takes her there against the wall, next to the open window, the thrill of danger enhancing their pleasure and need. Only when neither of them can easily stand do they move to the bed, where they continue their dangerous game, until the first light of dawn when he disappears as silently as he came.

The rumpled sheets, her memories, and the lingering sense of longing and anticipation are the only signs he was ever there at all.


The next time he comes to her she is sleeping, and wakes at the rustle of his cloak as he crosses her windowsill. Moonlight casts pale shadows across the room and catches his silhouette, illuminating his pale hair.

She smiles, watches him remove his dark cloak and lower himself onto the bed. There is no pretense at formalities; no 'can I get you a drink?' They both know what's going to happen. It's what they both want, and they don't have time to waste. "Did you miss me?"

He laughs as he hovers over her. "That's an understatement." Lowering his face to the curve of her neck and shoulder, breathing in her scent, he murmurs, "You're all I seem to think of anymore. You've even overshadowed my art somehow. Nothing else compares to this."

There is something dry and cynical about the way he says it, but before she can ask what he means he kisses her, hard and hungry and demanding. She sighs and melts into him, wraps herself around him. They slowly strip each other's clothing away and give in to whatever it is that drives them both to keep doing this, the sounds of their passion muffled by sheets and pillows and each other's skin.

Afterward when they lie together, skin to skin, he gives her a smile that warms her in ways that have nothing to do with lust. "Come away with me," he says, running the backs of his fingers from the curve of her hip to her thigh.

His tone is light and humorous, but something in the depths of his blue eyes tells her he isn't entirely joking. Even so, she laughs. "What? That's crazy."

He laughs too, a rich, genuine amusement, and shrugs. "So? We can make it work. You could become a nurse or whatever you want and I'll…I'll even become a sculptor, or something. It would be an adventure, yeah."

He's more serious than he lets on, she realizes, and she doesn't entirely understand why but it scares her. And so she adopts the same indolent, lighthearted manner he wears and playfully brushes it off.

"You know you'd get bored fast, living like that," she says, and crawls on top of him, trying to direct his mind elsewhere.

He just stares at her for a moment, his expression unreadable. Then he grins and agrees, "Probably."

She kisses a trail down his toned chest and abdomen, her nails raking lightly over his skin on her way down. His breath catches as she takes him in her mouth and glides her tongue over every inch of him. He watches her pleasure him with rapt lustfulness for a moment, before his head falls back against the pillow and he loses the ability to talk or really think much at all.


Tonight he is angry. Furious. His presence looms in the deep shadows of her bedroom, dark and dangerous. His wrath isn't directed at her though, and while she's insanely curious and a little worried about what put him in this state, it occurs to her that maybe she doesn't really want to know. His razor-sharp aura is a sudden reminder of what he really is, what he's capable of and what he does outside of this room during the day. Yet there is no fear in her as he stalks toward her and crushes her in his arms.

He isn't gentle. His fingers tangle in her hair too roughly and he actually rips the straps of her nightgown in his urgency to remove it. He succeeds only halfway before impatiently giving up and his mouth closes over her exposed breast. His teeth scrape her, bringing a sharp stab of sensation that's both pain and pleasure.

It can hardly be called foreplay; what he does, he does for himself, more than for her. But just feeling such primal intensity from him, knowing that he's driven by raw need for her, is enough to arouse her and she welcomes it eagerly when he lowers them to the floor, shoves a few pieces of stubborn clothing aside and thrusts roughly inside of her.

It's over quickly and she is left unsatisfied, with what feels a lot like rugburn on her shoulder blades. But the lack of gratification and the bruises forming on her thighs are the last things on her mind, because he's so clearly agitated and upset that her compassion completely overrides everything but the need to comfort. She holds him gently, runs her hands over his back and through his long, tangled hair.

He sighs and clings to her, and only now as he turns his face toward her does she notice the angry red cut on his cheek, thickly scabbed and darkened with dried blood. She heals it silently and doesn't ask how or why. He offers no explanation in return, just leans into her glowing touch with eyes closed and then lays his head on her chest when she's finished.

After a while he begins to move over her, lips trailing soft, gentle kisses along her skin, hands touching her in feather-light caresses. It feels like an apology for his roughness and selfishness before, and her heart wrenches at his tenderness.

In a low voice he says near her temple, "Come away with me."

It's more of a demand than a question. He won't meet her wide-eyed gaze, just stares at nothing with stormy eyes that give away more than he ever willingly would with words. Whatever happened to make him so angry, he's thoroughly fed up with it.

When he finally meets her eyes, his hard intensity nearly makes her flinch. "I mean it. Let's disappear and leave this fucked up world behind."

He's dead serious this time, no more pretending at nonchalance. Once again she's afraid of this conversation, and now she is beginning to understand why; because some part of her wants to say "yes," wants to run away with him and live out their own twisted version of happily ever after.

But like those fairytales, it is an impossible dream that would never play out the way they want it to. She can't laugh it off this time, nor can she give him an honest answer. She can't even entertain a serious discussion about it, and so she simply presses her mouth to his, takes his face in her hands and kisses him with all she has, hoping it will be enough to keep him from cornering her into a situation she's not ready for.

It is enough, for now, and he gives in to her silent diversion with all of the sensual attentiveness he was too distraught to show her before, takes care to make it up to her more than once, and soon she's too delirious with ecstasy to think about anything but the moment.

He doesn't bring it up again, and leaves just before dawn.


It had been a horrible day at the hospital. One of those inevitable days where anything that can go wrong does and even the best healers are faced with the harsh reality that they can't save everyone.

Now she lies on her bed with her head in his lap, taking comfort in the feel of his hand softly stroking her hair. It's been over an hour since he arrived and they're still dressed, which has to be a record. He hasn't asked her what's wrong. They haven't talked much at all. He's just there, and somehow, that makes it just a little better.

The way he drags his fingers across her scalp is wonderful and enticing and makes her think of other things, but truthfully she wants nothing more right now than to fall asleep in his arms. As if he's really hers. As if they are really together, and coming home to such comfort and familiarity is a normal thing in her life. As if all of it won't vanish with the first light of day.

It troubles her, how much she wishes it could be like that, and reluctantly, she forces herself to sit up. "Sorry," she says quietly, "I know you didn't come here for this."

The implication is clear, and he looks a little offended. "I don't come here just for sex," he declares, then gives a dry laugh. "You think I'd keep risking my life just to get laid?"

Her eyes widen slightly and she just stares at him, the unspoken question hanging heavily between them. A long moment passes before he answers, taking a deep breath first, as if it's difficult for him to say.

"I come because there's nowhere else I want to be more. When I'm with you I can forget all the bad shit in my life for a while." His eyes search hers, and he reaches out to sweep an errant lock of hair from her face. "That's why, no matter how dangerous, I will always come to you. Even if it kills me." He looks away for a moment, and a shadow of sadness covers his uneven smile. "I have nothing else to live for anyway."

Her throat tightens, rendering her speechless. Suddenly her problems and woes seem small and ridiculous compared to what his life must be like. She wants to tell him that he can always come, that she'll always want him. But fear steals her voice. Fear of her own feelings, and of his.

This is not how it's supposed to go. They may not have defined the rules, but she still knows this isn't part of the game. Things have gone much farther than they ever should have.

Unable to voice her thoughts and feelings, she wraps her arms around him and showers his neck and face and lips with tender kisses that eventually turn deeper and more passionate. Slowly they strip each other's clothing away and give in to their desire. It's different this time, and her heart aches with joy and fear and sorrow because it feels like he's making love to her, and that word should have nothing to do with this.

Afterward they lay entwined, sweat cooling on their bodies, and don't speak again. She falls asleep in his arms after all, and wakes to feel his hand softly brush her shoulder and his lips ghost across her brow. Then he is gone.

He didn't ask her to come with him this time, and as she watches the sky grow lighter outside her window she wonders why that makes her inexplicably sad.


Several weeks pass without any sign of him, and she begins to worry. She misses him, too, and finds herself staying up late every night, tentatively hoping that he'll come. She dreams of him often, and thinks about him during the daylight hours at work.

It shouldn't be like this, she knows. It started out as something fun, something risky. Always the diligent and responsible one, it excited her immensely to do something impulsive and reckless. But now it's gone beyond reckless into dangerous. The kind of dangerous that could destroy her life, or even end it, if they are discovered. But she can't stop. She doesn't want to.

He is worth the risk for her, as well.

It isn't a game anymore.


When she finally hears that faint rustle of his cloak and sees the shadowy blur out of the corner of her eye, she is hit by such a strong wave of relief and happiness that she nearly trips over herself in her rush to meet him. He gets to her first and sweeps her up in a crushing embrace, burying his face in the curve of her shoulder. They hold each other tightly for a long minute, and then he takes her head in both hands and kisses her hard.

There is desperation and urgency in his actions. He smells strongly of smoke and faintly of blood, and she immediately knows something is wrong. When they are both breathless his mouth finally breaks from hers, but he still holds her head in his hands.

She has no idea what's happening, but the uncharacteristically vulnerable, anxious look on his face fills her with worry and a deep sense of foreboding. She already knows what he's going to say before it leaves his lips, and feels that invisible corner at her back.

"Come away with me," he pleads. "Right now. Tonight."

Words stick in her throat. "I…"

"Please, Sakura," he nearly whispers, his thumbs stroking her cheekbones. "I don't want to live this life anymore. Come with me…somewhere no one will ever find us. Somewhere we can be together every night. Every day." A hint of that familiar devious smirk forms on his lips. "I want to be with you and not hold back. I want to hear you scream my name when you come. I want…" His voice softens, and he presses his forehead to hers. "I want to see the sun in your hair…to wake up next to you and see your face in the morning light. I…"

He stops himself and looks down, away from her, as though he's poured out more of his feelings than he meant to and can't continue.

His words sing through her heart, filling it with joy, but at the same time it hurts because what she wants to say is not what she has to say. She struggles with the words she knows will shatter everything, but finally manages to whisper, "…I can't."

He pulls back and stares at her with incredulous, wounded eyes. "What? Why not? You don't want to be with me?"

"You know that's not it," she exclaims. "I can't just leave with you…especially not in the middle of the night without telling anyone! I want to be with you…I love being with you…but things are different for me. I'm still loyal to Konoha."

"I know that," he argues. "I'm not asking you to turn against Konoha. Just…I don't know! You can resign. You're not a slave here; you can walk away if you want to."

"But I don't…want to," she murmurs brokenly. "I have a life here…I have friends and loved ones. I'm needed here."

His eyes grow hard and indignant, his frame tensing with anger. "Oh I see. You get to stay here where everything is happy and perfect, and I'm the only one who risks anything!"

"That's not true. We're both—"

"No, I get it. You like me, but I just don't matter enough to sacrifice anything for, right?"

"That's not how it is!"

"Then how is it? I keep sneaking around, while you just sit here like a princess in your fucking tower! How is that fair, huh?"

"It's not fair," she concedes softly, reaching for him. "But it's the only way it can be."

He withdraws from her reach, closes himself off inside and out. His voice is flat and cold as he replies, "Well maybe I'm sick of it, yeah. I'm not ashamed of being with you, and I want us to be together for real. But apparently you don't want that, and I'm sick of being your dirty little secret. Maybe I won't come back."

"Don't say that…" He doesn't respond, and she is suddenly terrified. "Deidara…"

For what feels like an eternity he just stares at her gravely. Then he takes a slow step backward, then another, and then turns and leaps through the open window and vanishes into the night.

Too shocked and devastated to even process what's happened, she is still sitting numbly at the foot of her bed when he returns after less than an hour.

Hesitantly, she stands as he slowly crosses the room toward her. The relief that he came back is juxtaposed by the dread of why he did. She wonders if he'll apologize, if they'll fight again, if he'll give one last pleading demand for her to leave with him before disappearing forever.

Instead he says nothing, just reaches out and trails his fingertips softly down her face, cups her chin in his hand and kisses her. It's not an apologetic kiss, it's not lustful or affectionate—she has no words to describe it, but she feels it all the way to her soul. Her arms wrap around him desperately as he lifts her and carries her to the bed. Slowly and silently they make love—she is sure that's what it is now—and her heart soars and breaks all at once.

Afterward, they lie together and do not speak. He holds her from behind, pulled back against his chest, and they stay that way because they know looking into each other's eyes will bring up things too painful to deal with.

He rises well before dawn this time. She feels him watching her, but pretends to be asleep because she doesn't know what to say. Sighing, he caresses her bare arm, then leans down again. "I'm sorry," he murmurs very faintly against her shoulder—so softly that she later wonders if she imagined it—and then he withdraws and his weight leaves the bed. A few moments and rustles of clothing later he is gone.

She rolls over and runs her hand over the spot where he'd lain, and then her eyes land on a tiny clay sparrow sitting on her night stand. It doesn't move like the last one, it's just a figurine. Touching it carefully, she finds that it's still warm.

Tears spring to her eyes, and she cries and cries and cries for so many reasons she can't even begin to sort them out. She cries herself to sleep, wishing he was still there to hold her.


He doesn't come back.

At first she doesn't realize it, because their trysts have always been sporadic and unplanned, whenever he could get away. But when three months pass she begins to suspect that something isn't right. Worry sets in that he meant what he said, that he really was sick of it and isn't going to come back. That when he'd returned after their fight and acted so strangely…he was saying goodbye.

She falls into depression, grieving for the loss of him and hating herself for being so selfish and stubborn. He'd only wanted to make a real life for them, so that they could be together in the way she'd so often wished. But he was right about her; she was unwilling to sacrifice anything to achieve it. And now it is too late to apologize or do things differently.

After another couple of months have passed, Konoha begins to hear rumors. Akatsuki is in turmoil. Power struggles and internal chaos. Then it is no longer rumor, but fact. The bodies of several members are discovered. The organization's headquarters is raided, and evidence of a mutiny is found. The leaders are dead, the remaining members dead too or scattered in the wind.

Konoha's greatest threat has been eliminated. Destroyed from within for reasons which only the missing members know.

Everyone sleeps easier at night now. Everyone but her. He is one of the missing. There is a small hope that maybe he didn't leave her after all and was only caught up in the chaos, but it's overshadowed by the fear of the unknown. Maybe he is dead, and they just haven't found him yet. Maybe they never will. Maybe he escaped but can't come back to her, or doesn't think it's worth it.

Eventually she is forced to accept that one way or another, it's over. He is gone.

Months pass and they hear nothing else. She consoles herself with the probability that he's disappeared to somewhere he will never be found, just like he'd said. She will never see him again, but at least he is—most likely—alive.

And then one day she is made privy to information that completely shatters her fragile acceptance and peace of mind.

He has been caught.

Iwagakure—the village he originates from—is holding him prisoner pending execution for treason and desertion. The Hokage tells her that in the time it's taken to receive the message, the execution has probably already happened.

She acknowledges it with an indifferent mask and finds an excuse to leave early. She walks home numbly and goes straight to her room, where she lays down on her cold bed and stares at nothing. Her mind replays the bittersweet memories of nights long past.

After a while she reaches into the drawer of her night stand and pulls out the little clay sparrow. Cupping the tiny figurine tenderly in her hands, she sobs for hours, until her body forces her to sleep.


Two years pass and life goes on, but she is left behind. Under the Rokudaime's guidance the world becomes a better place, for everyone but her.

Naruto marries the girl who always adored him and divides all of his time between his duties as Hokage and his duties as a husband and new father. She hardly sees him anymore. Tsunade retires to live a quiet life away from the public eye. Shizune takes charge of the hospital and a new wave of talented medics join Konoha's ranks. Her missions are hardly ever medic-related anymore.

She realizes now that she isn't as needed as she thought she was, and that her adamant denials were only excuses. The one person who possibly needed her most of all, she let down terribly, and now he is dead. She blames herself for that. If she'd just given in and gone with him—any of the numerous times he'd asked, or, that final time, begged—he would have escaped what came to pass. He would still be alive now. They would be together.

Drifting through life from day to day, she buries herself in her job to try and fill the void that's opened inside of her. She even goes on a couple of dates. Nothing eases that hollow pain. Nothing diminishes her guilt, or her regret.

Only now does she understand what they had together. What he was truly offering and asking of her. Only now, as faded and detached as a ghost, does she realize how alive he made her feel.

Only now does she realize how much she loved him.

Even in his busy life Naruto notices the change in her, and takes her out for ramen one night. They haven't done this in a very long time, and the nostalgia—both good and bad—overwhelms her into silence for most of the evening.

After his third bowl he cheerily asks, "Are you happy, Sakura-chan?"

"Of course," she replies automatically, pasting on a smile.

"You're a bad liar," he says quietly. All traces of humor are gone, replaced by somber concern. "I know things are different around here than they used to be."

"We're at peace," she says. "That's nothing to be unhappy about."

"Yeah, but peace can be…kinda boring, too. I guess. I know some people need more than a stable, routine life." He sighs, like he blames himself for her depression. Always taking responsibility for everything, even when it's beyond his control. "It doesn't help that I haven't been a very good friend to you lately."

That surprises her, and she finally looks at him. "That's not true. And anyway, I understand. You have a very demanding life."

"And you're stuck in a rut," he counters. He studies her intently, and she wonders when his eyes became so wise. "You know, if you're unhappy…if you need more than this…you don't have to stay."

She nearly chokes, but is unsure if it's a laugh or a sob trying to escape her throat. The irony is damn near unbearable. She stares at the cooling broth in her bowl for a long time, and when she finally replies her voice is flat and empty.

"I have nowhere else to go."


It's November, and freezing wind slices the night air as she returns home from a double shift at the hospital. Once inside, she strips down the layers of her winter clothing as she plods up the stairs, her bones as weary as her soul.

The rest of her house is toasty warm, but it's cold in her bedroom. That's the first sign that something isn't right. Eyes darting to the window, she sees the latch is open. She immediately tenses, throws up her guard and uses all of her senses to detect the intruder.

A kunai flies from her hand into the deepest shadows of the room. There is no sound of it hitting anything, and she knows that's because it's been caught. A dark figure emerges from the shadows— male by the height and build. She can see the cold metal glint of her kunai in his hand, casually dangling from a finger. It surprises her for a second that the intruder's posture is not aggressive, yet their chakra is concealed and they were lurking in the shadows so they can't be friendly…

He crosses the pool of light by the window; her heart nearly stops.

He looks so different that for a moment she barely recognizes him. The heavy, defining cloak is gone, and his dark clothing hangs from a clearly malnourished frame. His hair is shorter, ending just past his shoulders. A long thin scar curves above his left eyebrow, and his face…his features are somber, far too haggard for his age. He looks every bit like the fugitive he is.

His name rushes up from inside of her, but her words die in her throat. She feels numb, frozen in time. "Deidara…" she finally manages, and it comes out as a choked whisper.

"I was captured," he says quietly.

She gives the faintest nod, barely a movement at all. "They said you would be executed…"

"They were going to, yeah. But then they decided that since I left Iwa because I was so determined to be free, the most fitting punishment would be to keep me alive in a cage."

She can't even begin to imagine what he's had to endure in his imprisonment, what they must have done to him. It shows in his eyes and in his voice; some piece of him has been broken. But there is still that same mischievous spark in his blue eyes, still that same shadow of a smirk on his lips.

The same man is still there, and he still makes her heart race.

Everything in her world suddenly becomes clearer, sharper. Like she is emerging from underwater, or from a deep sleep. "You escaped?"

He nods once. "A few hours ago. You don't want to know how."

"…And you came here?" He is still suicidally reckless, it seems.

A faint smile forms on his face, transforming him into the man she remembers. "I told you I'll always come to you."

'No matter the danger. Even if it kills me.'

It's enough to make her break down in tears right then and there, but she somehow manages to control herself. She knows what it means for him to come here like this. To risk his life, and more importantly, his freedom for her.

If he told her he loved her a thousand times over, if he shouted it from the rooftops, it would never be as loud or as clear as in this moment.

"Anyway," he murmurs, looking away from her, out the window and into the cold night. They both know he doesn't have much time. "I just wanted…to see you again. Before I disappear." He shoves his hands into his pockets, and for the first time since she's known him, he looks nervous and insecure. "It's been a long time, and I know you've moved on…"

Once again, words fail her, and a long moment of weighted silence passes between them. He seems to take it as something negative, and shifts awkwardly. "I should go, yeah… Gotta get as far as I can before dawn." He seems lost and sad for a moment, but then smiles. "I'm glad you're okay." He turns for the window.

She's not okay, and she doesn't know how he can't see that. She was the furthest thing from okay imaginable until he walked out from the shadows of her room, and now he's about to disappear from her life all over again. She's on the verge of breaking completely. Suddenly everything is startlingly clear.

"Ask me again."

He stops at her half-whispered words, and slowly turns to her. It's been so long, she wonders if he even remembers. His expression is unreadable at first, but then a tentative hope fills his eyes, and the corner of his lips quirk. He walks slowly toward her, stops inches away.

"Sakura…" he murmurs, holding her gaze intently. He's nearly smiling. "Come away with me."

Without fear or worry, with nothing but joy and love in her eyes she softly whispers, "Yes."

Tears slip down her face, and he brushes them away with his thumb before pulling her to him and kissing her so passionately that her head spins and the world around them fades away. For the first time in years, she feels completely free. Alive.

For the first time since they began this secret affair and he stole into her village and her room, they don't make love. There will be plenty of that later, she knows, whenever, wherever they wish. They will have all the time in the world. Instead, he helps her pack; tossing her the random things she asks for with the biggest grin she's ever seen him wear. She wears one to match, and realizes it's her first true smile in a very long time.

Though they are fleeing together, she knows she will return. Once they find someplace safe, she will come back and officially resign, gather her pay and her belongings. She will say her goodbyes and make promises to keep in touch and to visit.

This is not the end of her life as she knew it. It is the beginning of something greater, something more fulfilling.

He hops up onto the windowsill and reaches for her hand, and she joins him without hesitation. A clay bird descends from the roof above and grows large enough for both of them. They stand there a moment, gazing at each other, and he flashes her a devilish smirk that promises that whatever may come, it will be nothing less than an exciting adventure.

Hands still joined, they step from the edge and disappear into the night.

Whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil.