two seconds away from home
years and obstacles and hundreds of miles, and you're still right within arm's reach.

This is how they begin: ice cream in the summer, smearing mud all over each other's faces. Learning one plus one together, and trading snacks at lunch. All of the other kids say that one plus one equal window, but Sakura doesn't understand that—but what she does know is that the two of them added together equal forever and that is enough for her.

When they are seven, Sakura braces herself—because Sasuke is part of the Uchiha clan, and that means that he will be going to shinobi school. She'll go to normal school and he'll go to shinobi school and that just makes her so sad because it means that they won't be together, that Sasuke's better than her, that they're not the same.

The day before the new semester starts, they go out for ice cream together. ("It's not like we're not going to be friends after this," Sasuke says, eyes wide. "Stop looking so sad."

Sakura believes him, because she doesn't know what she'll do if she doesn't.)

That is the first time she remembers telling Sasuke that she loves him. But then again, memory does funny things—she was eight at the time—and maybe she's told him even earlier than that. But really, it doesn't matter when she first told him she loved him, because it's always been him from the start anyway.

When he hears this, his cheeks flush in a way that makes her heart soar, and then he puffs out his chest, trying to look tough while saying, "Shinobi don't have time to love people."

She just grins. "But you do, right? Because you're Sasuke-kun and you can do everything!"

Turning away, Sasuke mutters something always being free on Sunday afternoons.

This is how they keep their faith: promised Sunday afternoons, spending time together whenever they can. Naruto says that Sasuke isn't trying hard enough, but Sakura believes in him. She always believes in him. (Naruto is a boy she met in school—she thinks he's very nice. She likes him a lot, but she'll never like him as much as Sasuke.)

He is late for her tenth birthday party. Well, she thinks he's late—Naruto says he didn't show up at all. It's just that he arrived just as the party was about to end to say hello.

Sakura supposes there is this sort of irrational faith that she puts in Sasuke. In retrospect, he is not much different from other boys—even shinobi boys—and actually, he might be more of a jerk than the majority of them. She supposes it's just because he was there first—because even though there is poison in his words, there are stars in his eyes.

(She doesn't want to admit that it hurts her, that it makes her cry, but it does.)

He makes up for missing her party a week later with a gift. The card has nothing more than a few words written in it, but when she opens the slim, heavy box, she eyes the object inside, reading the slip of paper.

It's a kunai. Shinobi use it to protect themselves and the ones they love. It's sharp, though, so be careful.

There is a small Uchiha fan carved into the handle. Fascinated, Sakura takes it out of the box to inspect it further, before promptly dropping it to the floor. Well, that's embarrassing. She didn't think it'd be that sharp.

There is a band-aid at the bottom of the box.

This is how they fall in love: waiting for him until the early hours of the morning for him to return from a mission. Falling asleep sitting at the village gates when it's not too cold out, even though she always gets scolded for it the next day—because it's worth it, being able to see Sasuke the moment he comes back. It's a quiet sort of love, Sakura thinks—and at the age of fourteen, it shouldn't be anything else. She thinks that she's still young, but Sasuke looks aged and mature, like he's seen enough to last him ten lifetimes and then some—like he's worn and weary, ready to just sleep and never wake up again.

There is something so overwhelming when he has to lean on her for support—when he's so tired that he can't even walk on his own two feet. Sakura would like to think that she's helpful somehow, even if she's not a kunoichi, even if he can't tell her anything about his missions. She would like to think that she's the one place that he can come home to when everything else fades away from around him.

It is the summer of their fifteenth year that they're by the river, sprinting in the tall grass ("As if you could actually outrun me," he says with a smirk), just the warmth of the sun and the hot wind and her yellow summer dress and they're tumbling, falling and rolling until they're just a pile of limbs on the ground, laughing and breathless and then they're kissing and Sakura can't say that she sees fireworks—because she's too busy seeing Sasuke and that is so much better.

There are no words afterwards, just heavy panting and flushed faces, and Sakura relishes in it—in this Sasuke, who looks bashful and shy, the one that she's wanted to see for years.

"Don't ever change," she says, reaching out, fingers ghosting across his cheek.

He leans into her touch, imperceptibly. "I'll try."

This is how they fall, faster and farther than she would have ever imagined.

Shinobi have different rankings. Right now, Sasuke is something called a chuunin—he says he's still nowhere near the top, and has to work harder. Sakura thinks he's crazy, after hearing about what he had to do to get where he is now. From a genin to a chuunin—isn't that already a huge leap?

But of course, he's Sasuke—nothing is ever enough for him.

There is one time that he returns from a mission, battered and bruised and on Kakashi's back. Sakura stood there, staring—unable to move when Kakashi nods in greeting to her, saying that he'll be sending Sasuke to the hospital, and does she want to come too?

She doesn't go. Instead, she goes to the river—where everything and nothing at all began—the quiet water splashing over the rocks, the tall grass that embraces her when she falls to the ground.

Loving like this—is it alright? Sometimes, she takes a peek into the training grounds to see how Sasuke's doing—he's running and leaping and blowing fire and she thinks he's magical—but here she is, learning about the human body with the dream of becoming a civilian doctor. What is she, compared to a medic-nin? She's clunking to and from home every day in her dirty shoes while Sasuke is out saving lives. She's not good enough for him, is she?

If she has to choose what she loves most about Sasuke, it would be his hands. Not because they're warm, or because they're calloused, proof of his hard work—but because of the way he smoothes down her hair, the way he cradles her face when he kisses her—the way his fingers intertwine hers in public sometimes, when he lets her. But most of all—because he holds her heart in those hands, he holds her entire world—with the warmest and gentlest touch, and Sakura can't imagine a life without Sasuke. She can't imagine not having those Sunday afternoons, that faint smile she sees sometimes if she says just the right thing—Sasuke is just so, so precious to her, and she never wants to lose him.

Which is why she asks him.

"Stay where I am?" He stares at her. "Are you crazy?"

"Look at you! You go out on such dangerous missions already, why do you need to get promoted again? What's so good about being a jounin? Or in ANBU? That's dangerous!"

(The harder you work, the farther you'll drift away from me. The bigger the distance will be between us.)

"That's why I have to train more," Sasuke explains—exasperated, but not angry. "The more I train, the better I get—and the less chances I'll have of getting hurt."

"But then you'll get even harder missions!"

"And earn more money."

"You shouldn't even care about money, you come from one the richest clans in the country!"

Shaking his head, Sasuke just drinks his tea. "You wouldn't understand, Sakura. It's not just about the money."

"It's your pride, isn't it?"

"Not even that." He looks away. "My family runs the police force in this village. Nii-san, and just about every other Uchiha has either made it into ANBU, or has become a jounin and joined the police force. I can't just stop halfway and call it quits."

"But you're not calling it quits," she insists. (She doesn't want to lose him—he means far too much to her to let him go now.) "You're just choosing a different path."

He just says the same thing. "You wouldn't understand."

It's like a jab to the gut—you wouldn't understand. Of course she wouldn't understand—how can she, if he doesn't explain it to her? Sakura has always prided herself in knowing Sasuke more than anyone else, but this—this, she can't fathom.

They are sixteen and hardly adults yet, but because Sasuke sees himself as an one, Sakura does, too.

"I'm taking the next jounin exam," he tells her, blank. "I'll be busy training for the next little while."

She knows what that means. It means no more spare time—no afternoon strolls, no having midnight snacks at the takoyaki stand together. Sakura is familiar with this, because that's what happened when Sasuke prepared for the chuunin exams—an entire month of almost not seeing him at all, unless she's making some onigiri for him and dropping them off at the training grounds.

A heartbeat. "Okay." Because what more is there to say? Sasuke is a boulder when he wants to be—he won't budge, not even for Sakura.

From across the table, he takes her hand and presses it to his lips. "I'll come back safe," he says. A promise. And it is not written, not set in stone—but it comes from Sasuke, and that alone speaks volumes. Sakura as faith in him. Sakura has always had faith in him.

And so she smiles. "Okay."

This is how she grows up: with tears, with the feeling that she will always be in the shadows. She doesn't want to admit it, but she's afraid—terrified that one day, Sasuke will return, terribly injured, and she won't even be able to save him.

And she loves him, so much—that sometimes, thinking of him makes her heart feel like bursting. There is only one thing she values above her future, above her quickly approaching career—and that's Sasuke. To her, Sasuke is already like family.

He is a jounin now. Sakura thinks he's amazing, but it doesn't stop the gut-wrenching fear sitting in the pit of her stomach. There is one time when he comes home from a mission, his arm mangled and bending in all of the wrong ways—but after visiting the hospital, he comes out of the treatment room just half an hour later, looking as though he just went in for a check-up. It's times like these when Sakura wonders why they even need civilian doctors when medics can do everything anyway.

"Medics fix big things," Sasuke explained to her once. "But doctors like you do the little things—they patch up scraped knees and help seniors with their physiotherapy. Medics fix the body, but you—" He had stopped then, leaving her hanging.

"What?" she asked. "I what?"

His voice was quiet, and he refused to meet her eye. "You fix the heart."

She is only eighteen, but that, she thinks—that must be what it feels like to be in love. To compromise, to make sacrifices—to feel that it's all worth it during moments like those. Just like that (or maybe it's not just like that—maybe they got to where they are today with a series of baby steps), Sasuke has become her strength—become the reason why the sun is so warm on her skin, and the breeze so soft, blowing around her ankles.

(And if things are like this, she can imagine crossing oceans with him.)

It is an autumn afternoon when they have tea together at her favorite teahouse. The place is familiar, with worn floorboards underneath her feet, and the sweet smell of dango in the air. She has a red scarf wrapped around her neck—the same scarf that Sasuke gave her as a Christmas gift two years ago.

She tells Sasuke about her job—makes up for him not being able to talk about his—about some of the patients that she's fond of, and some of the patients she wouldn't mind throttling. She talks about Yamanaka Ino, her chatty but capable colleague, and Naruto, who's finally landed a job at Ichiraku, and might even take it over in the next years to come. She just likes talking in general, because Sasuke sometimes tunes her out, but surprises her when he actually listens to her mindless babble, asks her a question, reminds her that she's not actually talking to a rock.

"My father," he says suddenly, cutting her off. "My father talked to me a few days ago." She closes her mouth: quiet, waiting. Always waiting. "He says…I should stop seeing you."

Pause. "Why?"

"You're not a shinobi. You're not from a clan. He wants…" He can't meet her eyes. "Pure blood."

For a moment, her heart jumps to her throat. "You might as well marry your distant cousin or something, then," she jokes, laughing. Sasuke wouldn't leave her just because his father said so.

He looks at her then, eyes dark and heavy. "I might have to."

A breath.

"He said it didn't matter if I wasn't serious about you. But if I was, I should leave you immediately."

Her grip tightens on her cup of tea. There is no humor in his voice, no faint quirk of his lips. He's being serious. And Sakura is afraid—because out of all of her worries, she has never considered this—and without Sasuke, she will lose a little bit of direction in her life.

"Then"—her words come out choked—"then we're not serious. Since when have we ever been serious, Sasuke-kun?"

He doesn't answer.

It is past midnight when he takes her to the outskirts of the village, out in the open fields where the autumn air sends chills down her spine. But the sky is clear and everything here is so free and endless, exactly how Sasuke makes her feel.

He kisses her there, sweet and gentle at first, so tender and perfect until the tears prickle at the corners of her eyes, her hands fisting his shirt. She pulls him closer, because no, he can't leave, he just can't—and he kisses her back with just as much ferocity until she finds herself pressed up against a tree, the bark almost painful against her back but she doesn't care because this is Sasuke and she loves Sasuke.

There is heat, she knows—terrible, terrible heat until she hears herself moaning against his mouth—and then he pulls away and just holds her, the warmth almost stifling, but she can feel his heart pounding in his chest against hers, as if there is nothing separating them other than thin sheets of paper. Her eyes close involuntarily and she just stands there, slumped against Sasuke and just breathing.

"I love you," she mumbles against his chest—the nth time she's said it in this lifetime, but the first time that she's meant it with every fiber of being and a little more.

She hears the way his voice shakes. "You too."

This is how the world breaks.

She knows very little about shinobi, but she understands words like Akatsuki and Uchiha Madara. Those names were written in her history textbooks, were asked about on her exams. It has always been a faraway matter, a mindless thought—but to Sasuke, she realizes, it must be very real.

Konoha falls apart terrifyingly easy—crumbling buildings and fires sparking to life. Sakura doesn't know what to do—just grabs the kunai that Sasuke gave her all those years ago, and tries to make her way to the hospital.

She just passes Ichiraku, miraculously still intact, when a figure flashes before her.

"You idiot," Sasuke hisses. "What are you doing? Follow the other civilians and evacuate!" His eyes are blood red, and for a moment, she's afraid he's blind—but he looks at her with startling clarity, and her heart begins hammering in her chest for a completely different reason.

"I need to go to the hospital," she explains, out of breath from running. "They might need some help—"

"There are medics at the hospital!" His voice cuts right through her, and she flinches. "You need to get out of here before you get hurt! You're not like the medics—you can't protect yourself!"

Before she can answer, he's already scooped her in his arms, the wind whipping in her hair. She feels like she's flying, but it's really just Sasuke leaping across rooftops, doing one of the things he does best, and bringing her to the outskirts of the village where other shinobi are evacuating the villagers.

"Sasuke-kun!" She struggles in his arms. "Let me go, I have to help somehow!"

"You can help by staying out of the way!" She's never heard him speak this way before—never heard such sharp edges to his voice, so devoid of any warmth.


"Listen to me, Sakura!" He sets her down on the ground, which is quaking like the entire world is terrified. "There is nothing you can do right now other than to keep yourself safe. This—I—" It's only then that she notices that his cheeks are stained with tears. "I've never wanted you to see this side of me." His hair is matted and dirty, and his hands are stained with blood. She feels her stomach do nauseous flips.

She swallows. "I—I'm okay, really…" She reaches out and wipes his tears away with her palms, kissing his eyelids when he takes a shuddering breath. "You don't have to worry about me."

"Then please," he croaks. "Evacuate."

Sasuke—she'll do anything for Sasuke. And so she nods. "O-Okay."

And this is how she breaks.

Before he walks through the gates for his ANBU exam, she stands on her tiptoes and kisses him on the cheek, the same way she does every time he leaves for a mission.

"I'll come back safe," he says—words she's heard a thousand times, but the impact still as strong as if it's his first time saying them. She nods, smiling—he's drifting from her again, she just knows it—before waving, watching his retreating back.

(And it's almost painful, watching him trying to find peace within himself.)

That's the last she'll see of him for ten days. That's how long the exam lasts—and so, turning on her heels, she makes her way to the teahouse for some dango. She'll eat Sasuke's share for him, too. Sakura is used to this—long periods of time without Sasuke, she means—and she convinces herself that it's healthy, because constantly being lovesick over him cannot possibly be good for her or anyone around her.

Six days later, though, she hears word around the village that Uchiha Sasuke is done, he's not going to make it into ANBU—at least, not this time around. Curious, she asks Ino, since she knows everything about everyone around here, and the blonde girl tells her that Sasuke has been injured during the exam, almost fatally so, and had to be disqualified. Sakura's eyes go wide and suddenly she can't breathe because Sasuke, Sasuke

When she arrives at the hospital, he is still in surgery—and not a single person is in the waiting room, waiting for him.

(Love is a double-edged sword, she supposes—she should've expected it to hurt.)

A little less than an hour later, a woman sits down beside her. One glance tells her that it's Sasuke's mother—she's seen her around a few times. Her eyes are red and bloodshot, and Sakura thinks that maybe she can understand a fraction of the anxiety that she's feeling. She may love Sasuke, but she isn't his mother. She wouldn't know the pain of losing a son.

"I've always wondered," Mikoto says, voice distant, "how you could stay with him for so long. Sasuke isn't—he isn't the ideal man. He's stubborn and short-tempered—but you seem to work wonders on him. He's always different when he's around you."

She swallows. "I—I just do what I can."

"You're not a kunoichi, either. You have no idea what shinobi go through—how their lives are on the line the moment they step out of their village. But despite that, you've still stuck with him—and he still stays with you. I can hardly understand it myself." She sniffs. "Being a shinobi is Sasuke's entire life, but he refuses to leave you, even though you have nothing to do with that part of him."

Sakura's crying now—she isn't sure why, exactly, but the tears are staining her cheeks and she's hiccupping in a way that would have Sasuke affectionately rolling his eyes at her—"Why won't you guys let us be together?"

Mikoto shakes her head. "I have no say in the matter. My husband doesn't understand—he believes that love can be learned. A shinobi being with a civilian—that's uncommon, because of all of the differences between the two people. But—but Sasuke's my son…" She clutches her handkerchief to her chest, as if curling into herself, creating a shield of soft flesh and brittle bones. "Fugaku molded Itachi the way he wanted to, but I don't want him to touch Sasuke." When she looks at Sakura, her eyes are large and glassy. "I've never seen him care for anyone so much."

Choking on her own tears, she can only nod.

"Don't give up on him, Sakura-chan. And especially not at a time like this."

"I would never."

Not now, not ever—not in ten different lifetimes. Sakura will never abandon Sasuke.

This is how she stands up: with shaking knees, with uncertainty that could crack the earth. Sakura has always prided herself to be a little stronger than most, but she isn't invincible—and so when Sasuke finally wakes up after three days of being unconscious, she's practically shaking with tears.

He has bandages wrapped around his forehead and his torso—bandages that the nurses have to change twice a day. When he opens his eyes and blinks them blearily, he says with a raspy voice, "I was disqualified, wasn't I?"

Hastily wiping her tears away, she fussily fixes his blankets so they're tucked tighter around him. "Don't worry about it. There's always next time."

Sasuke sighs, staring up at the ceiling. Sakura can't fathom what making ANBU means to him—when it comes to being a shinobi, she can't fathom anything. But a part of her can't help but be glad that his plans were pushed back a little—because that means that the gap between them hasn't grown yet again. She can't stand the idea of him leaving for weeks at a time and putting his life in danger.

"There is no next time." Sasuke refuses to look at her.

"What do you mean?"

"I promised my father…" A moment's hesitation. "That if I couldn't pass this ANBU examination, I would end things with you."

(And where is the fairness in this world?)

"What—why? Sasuke-kun, that's so stupid!"

"He said that if I passed, he'll allow us to stay together." Sakura bites her bottom lip, remembering that Mikoto had said a few days ago. "I couldn't just say no to that, Sakura. You know that my father's approval can last a lifetime."

(And there is nothing here—just the innocent wish to be with each other.)

"Then…" She swallows. "Now what?"

He struggles to sit up, and she props up his pillows for him. "I'll figure something out." He takes her hand in his, fingers squeezing tight and oh, this must be how it feels to hope with no hope at all.

She visits the Uchiha compound that night, maneuvering herself timidly through the streets. The place is unfamiliar, because Sasuke has never brought her here—there are better places to be, he's always said. This place is a prison.

So how ironic is it, that she is entering this prison in search for freedom?

"Sakura-chan!" Mikoto looks surprised to find her at her front door. "What are you doing here?"

She smiles weakly. "If it's alright with you, may I speak with Sasuke-kun's father?"

Sakura can see why Sasuke follows his father's orders with a death penalty. The man carries himself with a confidence that could move mountains, and she feels her entire being quake when she sees him. She sits across from him at their dinner table, back straight and feet carefully tucked underneath her, as Mikoto makes some tea for them. When Fugaku says nothing, she swallows, throat dry and tongue thick, and decides to just do it.

"Please let Sasuke-kun go."

It is absurd, she thinks—to ask a father to let his son go. Sasuke must mean the world to Fugaku, just as much as Itachi must mean the world to him—but Fugaku has two worlds—has several worlds, in fact, with his clan and his wife and his sons and his job. But Sakura only has one world, and she is not asking Fugaku to let him go completely—just to loosen his chains a little.

Knowing he won't go down without a fight, she tries to explain to him what Sasuke means to her—how she will do her best to make him happy and to protect him. (She can't protect him from his enemies, from those who want his head—but she can fix his heart, can hold him close and give him strength.) She keeps talking even though Fugaku's eyes burn right through her, make her resolve waver—she has to do this, has to for Sasuke. It has always been Sasuke doing things for her—now it's her turn.

Mikoto places a cup of tea in front of both of them, and takes a seat beside Fugaku. "Don't you think she'll be good for him? She keeps him in line."

He grunts. "That doesn't change the fact that she's a civilian."

"Uchiha women aren't allowed to return to being kunoichi anyway, so what are you complaining about?" Sakura admires Mikoto for being able to speak to him like that, but then again, many people commend her for snapping at Sasuke, because many wouldn't live to tell the tale. "And don't you start talking about dirty blood either—if anything, it's our blood that's dirty."

Fugaku turns away, miffed. "Sasuke was disqualified from the examination."

"And next time, he'll pass with flying colors. Not everyone is going to be as perfect as Itachi."

When Fugaku looks at Sakura, she stares back at him, trying to look as determined as many people have said she looks. It's a little intimidating, but she thinks of Sasuke—Sasuke, who is in his hospital bed, disappointed in himself—Sasuke, who has stuck with her until now—Sasuke, who has brought so much light into her life. He makes her shine.

He grunts. "I will—think about it." His voice sounds strained, but a smile blooms on Sakura's face—it's a start. It's definitely a start. Mikoto beams at her, and she can't help but beam right back.

It's just a tiny step, but tiny steps go a long way with Uchiha Fugaku. This is the strength that Sasuke has given her.

And this is how life goes on.

There are times when Sakura curls up underneath the covers on her bed, tears staining her pillows. There are times when fear winds so tightly around her heart that she thinks she'll suffocate. This is all a part of life and there is nothing she can do about it—but then it is morning and she can hear Sasuke's voice in the back of her mind, urging her to get out of bed.

And so she does.

She daydreams about marrying Sasuke—about living under the same roof, being able to fall asleep to the sound of his breathing. She imagines having children that'll run around the yard, trying to catch butterflies. The future is undetermined and unpredictable—a valuable lesson that she learned from him—but something else he has taught her is to keep her faith.

There are still Sunday afternoons that they spend together. In the summer, they get ice cream, but in the winter, they cuddle up in his living room with two mugs of hot chocolate, courtesy of Mikoto (because Fugaku lets her in now). After so many years, she's finally getting a glimpse into Sasuke's life, and she loves every moment of it.

"I love you," she sings, kissing the tip of his nose. She relishes the way his face scrunches up.

"Shinobi don't have time to love people." But she feels his arms circling around her waist, pulling her close, keeping her close.

She grins. "But you do, right? Because you're Sasuke-kun and you can do everything."

His laugh is soft, but it resonates in her, deep and moving her very soul. "Only for you."

a/n: i pretty much puked this out and it is not polished in the least, but i haven't posted something in months! i hope you guys liked it!