and my path crossed yours (though we never met)

(a/n:originally written for the blanket on her prompt of something that starts with "there are only three stripes of sunlight between them," because she is entirely lovely. 3


There are only three stripes of sunlight between them, red and gold like sunset-blood soaking into the forest floor.

"Oh," she says; and then: "Hello."


Sakura never sends them, never tells anyone, but she writes letters to Sasuke, every week for three years. Dear Sasuke-kun: they always begin, and then a carefully drawn smiley face. She tells him about her week, the kite that she'd bought for Ino, the new type of ramen at Ichiraku; updates him on the happenings in Konoha, local politics and shinobi gossip, who's going out with whom, things he cares absolutely nothing about. She ends with "From, Sakura," never "Love," because she doesn't want to be presumptuous.

She folds these letters, these little bits of nothing, half-daydream and half-hope; seals them into envelopes and puts them in the bottom drawer of her desk. She has no address to send them to; he would not accept them even if she did.

Sasuke never writes letters to anyone, not to those he left behind and not to those who left him behind. There is nothing that needs to be said these days; his actions are conversation enough.

"You do not kill," Orochimaru whispers with hoarse sibilance in each consonant, "Your heart is yet lacking." He does not sound disappointed though; he never sounds disappointed, only smug, insufferable.

Sasuke thinks about things that he has yet to learn, thinks about a sword through Orochimaru's heart, thinks about the tunneling catacombs of Sound lit in flickering torchlight. He says, "Aa," and bows, and waits.

(He does not think about sunshine dappling forest leaves, does not think about the smell of trees in autumn. There are other things to think about, katas and jutsus and a promise of hatred written in blood. His heart is yet lacking, but he does not think about the pieces that he left behind.)


Sakura watches three Chuunin exams go by, but never attempts to retake them herself. "I am not waiting," she promises Kakashi, "It's not about teammates."

"You're ready," Kakashi tells her, careless as ever. "So--you can, if you want. I'd nominate you again. Or something." He shrugs, lackadaisical.

"Thank you," she says; she, who was least his student, she, who stayed. She smiles at him, brave and honest, and he ruffles her hair, still short these days.

"Maa," he says, already slouching off, "you're worth both of those brats. I'll have them doing D-ranks for years when they come back."


The passage of time is different in Sound, no occasion to mark, no anniversary to observe. Each day blends into the next, an eternity in repetition, seamless and fluid. Sasuke does not keep count, has no need of calendars. The important changes he can observe himself; speed and agility and stealth, hallmarks of what makes a shinobi, traces of little deaths in his fingertips. He learns, grows, and that is enough measurement of time.


Sakura is not waiting: she does no sit by any window, does not look anxiously at any front gates, never twiddles her thumbs or taps her feet. Sakura is not waiting, because there is no one to wait for: she is not among those who have gone ahead.


Patience has never been Sasuke's strong suit, though he can synthesize some decently when stealth and missions require it. His life, though, thrums to the rhythm of an impatient heart. There is someone to whom he must catch up: the urgency of it beats at him. He never shows this, though, always still and calm on surface; he keeps it hidden and secret, locked away with the laughter of childhood and the smiles of friendship and the million other shards of a broken life that pierce at his heart.


Life goes like this for Sakura: on and on and on and on, because other cannot wait for you and you cannot wait for others. Life does not happen in fits and starts, in broken pauses, in disasters or crises or moments of heroism. Life does not happen like stories, exposition and climax and denouement, a plot diagram with clean straight lines.

Life happens in the moment before dawn, in the warmth of sunlight on your skin, in the sound of street vendors selling tomatoes, in the blanks between spaces of letters you never send, in the three years between meetings of old friends. Life happens "despite" and not "because of", but there are quiet little love stories: dew on grass tips in the early morning, fireflies coming out after dusk, the blueness of the skies at the end of summer, three stripes of sunlight on a forest floor at sunset.

("Oh," she says; and then: "Hello.")


Life goes like this for Sasuke: in massacres and betrayals and vengeance and bloodshed, in hatred and in love because it's never about you in the end. Life happens in untruths and deceptions, happens always slightly beyond your control, always slightly past your awareness. Life happens too fast, and leaves you gaping to catch up. Life is always someone else's story--you are never the hero.

(but sasuke, tired tired tired, has never expected and never wished to be one)

Life, then, happens on the peripherals and in unexpected moments: memories of your mother's eyes, the steadiness of your brother's piggybacks, a pretty girl crying because she thinks you are dead. Life happens--

Life happens, remembers Sasuke, learns Sasuke; it happens, happens, regardless and irresistible.

(There are three stripes of sunlight on the forest floor, and Sakura has dropped her hat.)


There is a phrase of homecoming that Sasuke has half-forgotten. There is a phrase of welcome that Sakura has been waiting to say.


"Oh," she says; and then: "Hello."

He pauses for a moment, unsure. He could go on, walk through these forests; missing-nin again and she would not stop him. Or he could stay, and pick up her hat, and--

It's a choice. Sasuke's never had much practice with choices.

"Sasuke-kun," she calls him, familiar echoes of long ago.

He takes a step, forward to where her hat has rolled. It is a plain thing, woolen and warm for autumn. Sasuke looks at it for long moments, and then: "Sakura."

She is not smiling at him, but he recognizes the expression. He's seen it before: a bridge, fog, mirrors, a death he had not died. And then, from that: "Okaeri."

And it is reflex, it is unconscious, it is the easiest thing in the world to say: "Tadaima."

tadaima - 'i'm home.' okaeri - 'welcome back.' as you can see, i have this thing for sasusaku tadaima-okaeri exchanges. :| reviews would be love.