The sleepy city is painted white by the thick snowfall. Colours that stand out are merely specks of what the snow failed to veil, harsh against the opaque white. Seasonal snowfalls are only rendered necessary during the holidays; otherwise, they are just hindrances—Sakura marvels sullenly.

the wait

The late afternoon sky darkens mercilessly as the bright airport exhibits striking lights. Behind the thick glass are crowds of people bustling—unfamiliar faces wearing animated expressions.

Sakura arrives briskly, probing amongst crowds. Her lips are pressed into a fine line as she ultimately resorts to the airport schedule board. It displays the ARRIVALS and DEPARTURES in bright and bold letters.

When she found her sought time, she breathes out a small sigh.

'Jingle Bell Rock' is blasted in the airport—the music is merely a filler for important announcements over the loudspeaker, which rings every so often. A sizable figure of Saint Nicholas erects tall in the middle of the ground, rosy cheeks and laugh lines all in all. Towering plastic fir trees are lined neatly along the walls, each decorated in grand fashion.

Sakura's green eyes are brighter than usual. She finds herself a stool along the snack bar and orders a cup of coffee. As she waits, Sakura succumbs to the mincing urge of checking herself out. She catches a horrifying glance in the metalized napkin dispenser beside her: her nose is unflatteringly red, the chilly wind scratched her cheeks dry, and strands of hair escaped the clutch of her ponytail.

Ah, well. She groans, defeated.

Sakura's drink arrives; she sips her coffee carefully (no one likes a burnt tongue) and pays in loose change (everyone likes clearing out pennies). She then sits her cup down, reties her hair, and rolls her stool around to face the dynamic crowd. Sakura can feel the happy energy people around her exempts; her small smile widens.

Naruto is late grocery shopping at the moment, Sakura only reminded him to buy the pie a hundred times. Hinata, Tenten, and Chouji are preparing the big feast. Neji is in charge of the drinks (hopefully he won't provide too much sake) with the help of Lee.

Sakura chuckles as she marvels how well this party will turn out.

Kiba and Shino should be arriving at the apartment without delay since they are already in town. Christmas will be a tad quieter this year as Ino is spending the holiday with Shikamaru.

Sakura is met with more excitement at how well everything is turning out. She remembers to sip her coffee now and then and waits patiently. Sakura regrets not having to have brought a book seeing as she has got about half an hour to kill before—

"Oh, hey…" she whispers to herself, eyes immediately brightening.

Sakura catches a small wooden doll resting on the table beside her; its arms and legs spread askew as if strategically sprawled. Was it there before? She wonders fleetingly as she rolls her stool around to study the little toy.

It is a fairly detailed trinket… an heirloom-like doll one would expect to find in a dusty antique shop on a secluded street, circa 'insert period here'. Its strands of hair flows like silk, its eyes hold depth and are eerily animated, its nose is daintily round, and its mouth a fine, rosy pout.

Sakura wants to have a closer look, but she keeps her hands to herself for the best. Whoever made this doll must be exhaustively doer; something as intricate as this can take months and months. Needless to say, Sakura is very amused.

I am too old for dolls, she reminds herself wistfully, but there is something about this one… that is more than meets the eye. Sakura rests her head on her arms on the table. She continues to examine the doll with a juvenile absorption.

There doesn't seem to be anyone in sight, it doesn't hurt for her to touch it—or hold it. The doll looks sturdy enough for the curious hand…

Before Sakura can move her hand towards it—

"Enjoying yourself?"

Sakura snaps out of her small trance. She looks to her right and spots a still man—no, boy—looking back at her jadedly. He seems especially glum (cheer up, it's the holidays), but staid.

Sakura tenses and looks away abruptly, clearly embarrassed; but the boy continues to stare at her, offering all but silence.

Sakura mumbles 'sorry' and takes a big gulp of her drink (ouch, shit—my tongue!) and allows herself to be engulfed by the awkwardness. She stealthily glances at the boy beside her from the corners of her eyes and notes he is still staring—no, glaring, at her. Not one meek smile, let alone a simple 'Happy Christmas'.

She pretends to check her watch in seeming concentration while blushing furiously as the boy burns a hole on the side of her face. Sakura clears her throat and summons up the courage to face him.

"Hi," she begins, half-smiling, "is she yours—uh, it yours, I mean?" Sakura gestures towards the little doll rather uncomfortably.

The boy stares at her for a few more seconds before finally tearing his eyes away to look at the doll. He gingerly picks it up and studies it carefully, his gaze softening.

"Yes," he replies quietly.

Sakura nods stiffly and returns to her drink. Her tongue tingles in numb pain as the hot liquid rushes down her throat.

She looks back at the boy and finds him inserting thin strands of strings into the joints of the doll. Sakura raises her eyebrows; she was so mesmerized by its face and distinct features to have really noticed the doll has tiny holes drilled in its joints… and its body parts are not attached.

"It's a… puppet," Sakura whispers without hearing herself.

The boy continues to insert the strings with meticulous precision. His supple, nimble fingers operate the puppet swiftly—almost gracefully. Sakura is strangely fixed on his dexterous movements which evidently depicts years of experience in the craft. She looks up and down from his hands to his nonchalant expression: no strenuous perspiration or biting of the lips whatsoever.

"Marionette, actually," the boy corrects.

"You made her—this marionette," Sakura states, astonished.


When the boy finished installing the strings, he picks up the control bar and the little marionette did a little dance (it twirls, too) on the table.

"You are very good," Sakura remarks with a soft smile.

The boy stuffs the marionette in his bag and shrugs. "I'm only mediocre," he says.

Sakura laughs softly and sips her drink (humble kid).

"You're too modest," she comments. "I'm Haruno Sakura."

The boy looks at her and offers his name. "Sasori," he responds.

Sasori returns to his bag to fumble for something and Sakura cannot help but ask—

"So, Sasori, are you waiting for someone?"

She studies him with a curious eye. Your mother, maybe? Or girlfriend? Either of them is very well possible… She thinks momentarily as she ponders over his age. Sasori takes out a small coloring kit.

"You can say that," he ultimately answers.

"Oh, hey—me, too." Sakura chirps happily as if waiting for someone is a big fluke in an airport at Christmas.

"What are the odds," he mumbles, quietly smiling to himself.

Sakura appears not to have heard him. She is currently sidetracked by a small crowd perching around god-knows-what; she narrows her eyes as if to activate her secret x-ray vision—something common folk do not sport. She sips her drink and drums her fingers against the table to the background carol.

Sakura looks back at Sasori.

"Who taught you to make marionettes?"

His brows pinch together slightly. "Generally myself… but my grandmother was a part of it, too."

"Passing down the tradition?" Sakura guesses out loud as she watches him diligently paint on a wooden puppet.

"Something like that," Sasori passes a glance at her.

Sakura nods wordlessly and rolls back her stool to face the crowd, her bright eyes scan the airport for a certain individual… nope, not yet. She pouts slightly and checks her watch.

Sakura glimpses at Sasori from the corners of her eyes; he is still engrossed in his work. She pursed her lips as she marvels how such a young boy would be so quick at mastering such an intricate art. On the face of it, Sasori is all but indifferent to his being here in the airport.

"Who are you waiting for?" Sakura asks, vaguely curious.

"Just a friend,"

She turns to face him and pipes up, "Me, too!"

Sasori is never the one to spew sarcasm, nor is he apt at comedic timing and pregnant pauses, but Sakura's lively—or irrepressible, if you will—disposition closes in on him to an emotional dead end. Sasori can feel approximately forty-one sardonic retorts bubbling inside of him.

"Any plans for Christmas? A party, perhaps?" she asks.

"Yes, perhaps,"

Sakura shrugs, "I know, it's nothing original, but it's fun, right?"

"Right," he replies automatically.

Sasori places the puppet on the table to search for something else in his bag. Sakura ogles at the puppet and notices its ivory exterior and dark tints; the colours did not paint on well, the dark contouring remains damp and pasty on the light wood.

In a nutshell: the puppet doesn't look right.

Sasori exhales defeatedly and returns to colour his puppet.

Sakura wants to ask him about the said puppet, but instead asks him, "Where is he flying from?"


"The friend you are waiting for,"

Sasori cocks an amusing eye at her, "Why? Are you pretending to be interested?"

Sakura grins, "Maybe."

"Australia," he answers.

"No way—my friend is flying from there, too!"

"Imagine that,"

"I've been to Australia three years ago," Sakura remarks happily. "Boiling, of course, and there were spiders the size of this!" She extends her index fingers and thumbs to improvise a sizable circle.

Sasori's eyes move from her hands to her perky face.

"I wonder how he deals with that," he deadpans.

"Small world, huh, Sasori?"

He nods to her rhetorical question mechanically. Sakura appears not to have perceived that, she is now humming quietly to the background music.

"So, how long have you two known each other?" she breaks the silence again.

"I'd say around eight years,"

"Wow, that's tight—err—I mean, you two must be tight… with each other."

Sasori sets his brush down as if to consider her comment.

"Our bond is unbreakable, all right," he says impassively.

Sakura grimaces in search of any underlying sarcasm in his blunt reply, but decides to dismiss it all together.

"What about you?" Sasori unexpectedly asks her.

"My friend?" Sakura replies. "He… well, we've known each other since we were twelve."

"Then you guys must be 'tighter' with each other,"

Sakura stares down at her drink in concentration. Her hands are wrapped around the cup (it is no longer hot, merely warm) and she can feel the numbness in the tongue loosening slightly. Sakura's stomach churns a little bit and she tells herself it is from the coffee, no more no less.

"Then you guys must be 'tighter' with each other,"

Yes, one would think, right?

"I… no… he's not the type to bond with people easily," Sakura explains, her mouth dry. Unlike me. "We've our ups and downs."

Sasori nods without tearing his eyes away from his puppet project.

"Yet you are still waiting for him," he mentions.

Sakura presses her lips together as if coming to a sad realization. She pushes her drink away and her eyes subconsciously scan her surroundings. Sakura catches her reflection in the napkin dispenser again; her eyes are wide and bothered.

"I-In the end, he really cares… my friend," Sakura whispers.

"About what?"

Sakura responds almost unhappily, "Mostly his friends, life—or what is left of it."

Sasori sits his brush and puppet down on the table carefully. He turns his stool to face a pensive Sakura. His face remains unreadable.

"Am I putting you down, Sakura?"

She shakes her head absently. Her eyes are fixed on the table as if she's solving an unsolvable sudoku.

"I apologize," Sasori mutters, a tad irked. He dislikes when there isn't an answer to his question. He also dislikes apologizing; the damage is done, words cannot begin to soothe the aftermath. Nevertheless, if the situation calls for it…

Sakura turns to face Sasori, her blank eyes flickers as if she is seeing him for the first time. She clears her throat and serves up a soft smile.

"That's fine, you aren't putting me down at all," Sakura says meekly.

Sasori rolls his eyes mildly and returns to his work. To the casual eye: the happier the person, the sadder he is in life. Ironic how people operate. I wonder why that is, he speculates. The full spectrum of human emotions will remain a perpetual mystery to Sasori—one he shies away from dissecting.

Being Sakura, she bounces back from her little funk and continues to watch Sasori paint his puppet.

"What's your profession?" She asks out of curiosity, or jumping to another topic.

Sasori gives her a blank stare.

"Puppets—uh—marionettes?" Sakura speculates.

"No, I major in biology."

Sakura's face twists in disbelief. He's in college?

"Did I fool you?"



"Oh, it's just that I didn't realize you are in—"

"Yes, I'm in college," Sasori says flatly. "I get that often."

Sakura backtracks awkwardly, "I didn't mean—"

"I'm sure you did not,"

"Wow, so, how old are you?" Sakura inquires, unable to contain her curiosity despite the inane nature of the question.

"Older than yourself,"

Sakura huffs, "Well, I'm nineteen, going on twenty."

Sasori gives her another blank stare. "Last time I checked, I'm older than that."

Sakura nods and 'hmm's. No need for the heavy sarcasm, Sakura thinks bitterly. She takes her drink and downs the last gulp—which is now cold. She checks her watch and sighs. Not for another twenty…

"So, biology… that's interesting," Sakura presses on their uninspired conversation.

"It can be," Sasori replies mechanically.

"I'm in health science, pre-med," she offers.

Sasori looks at her and smiles, "We're not too far off… more or less."

"We are living the life…"

"Well, it is a trade you can take straight to the bank,"

Sakura admits bluntly, "I'm deeply in debt."

Sasori gapes at Sakura, wondering what sort of consolation this rather awkward situation calls for. He ultimately replies, "I hear that happens in post-secondary."

Sakura blanches and rolls her stool around to face the crowd again. Talk about being a downer,she shakes her head in disbelief.

The energy in the airport doesn't seem to die down. People are still bustling around like herds of sheep. People-watching loses its fascination after five-minutes, Sakura returns to Sasori.

"What are you working on now?"

Sasori shows her the puppet Sakura dubbed 'fail'. Its colours are still bland despite the incessant painting. Its androgynous features are defined just as the first marionette, but it remains lifeless on its discoloured wooden shell.

"It's… nice," she offers. After all, I can't do any better than this.

Sasori grimaces vaguely, "You don't have to lie."

"I'm not… it is charming in its own way,"

"On the contrary, Sakura," Sasori explains, "I find this one the least 'charming' out of all my projects… look at it, someone who has no prior knowledge of the art to begin with would isolate this miserable piece of work."

Sakura remains still, debating whether or not to reply.

"The ivory wood is poor, damp, and ashen. I've tried my best to sculpt it a front, but as you can see, if the infrastructure is flawed, the wooden exterior becomes feeble, and, well, the marionette is ultimately… dead."

Sakura's lips are pressed into an uneasy line. Talk about tension. Sasori must feel strongly about this if he were to spout an exhaustive explanation. This is the longest he has spoken. Sakura studies his boyish face and realizes this is not something he often shares with strangers (in an airport).

"Besides…" he mutters rather sourly, the conclusion to his dissatisfaction, "the colours do not stay on well."

Somewhere during Sasori's explanation, Sakura—once again—became the target of his eerily intense stare. He bores his dark eyes into hers willfully. Sakura desperately wants to look away but cannot. His eyes are penetrating and unfeigned (unlike his bland disposition),

Sakura knows Sasori is lukewarm at best given their lack of rapport, but his eyes look to be inadvertently overpowering. Particularly when you fall under its stare. An oppressive blessing,Sakura thinks wearisomely.

"Bet you wish you never asked me in the first place, huh," Sasori murmurs, blasé again.

Sakura exhales a little sigh of relief as he withdraws his gaze. Sasori looks straight ahead into space for a while before returning to his work with characteristic nonchalance.

Sakura bit her bottom lip and begins cautiously, "Ah, regardless, don't you feel it is still acceptable? You may find it relatively inadequate, but it's still satisfactory, the marionette."

"It fails to satisfy me, though that is my fault, isn't it."

Sakura unveils a strained smile. She can never win with him… well, people like him. Sakura wishes her cup were full, she'll then have something to sip on… something to occupy her lips which should otherwise utter witty replies.

"I am putting you in an uncomfortable situation," Sasori observes.


"Don't bother," he says flatly.

Sakura watches as Sasori layers paint fruitlessly on the puppet to give it life.

"I… I think every puppet is unique, just as people," she drawls.

"Your point?" he counters.

She looks down at her knees in pondering. She knows she is crossing the line… just a little bit more than what is socially accepted with a stranger, with Sasori. This antsy discussion is sloping down to a personal stream. Sakura knows she should be cautious with passing remarks.

"My point… my point is that you are too hard on yourself," Sakura concludes, feeling mildly like a moron.

Sasori doesn't reply; he continues to work on his puppet as if it's the last thing he'll do. Unexpectedly, a soft laugh escapes his lips. Sakura winces but smiles. At least he isn't lashing out at me, she thinks. Her small smile gradually melts away when she had failed to detect any mirth in his laughter.

Hey, Sasori. You are a sad kid, aren't you? Your laugh is as hollow as an empty trashcan.

Sakura expected a reply, and when Sasori failed to give her one, she looks away absently at a young couple holding hands and sharing a hearty laugh. She wondered what Sasori is thinking about. Probably his misfortune to have chosen to sit beside me.

"Your friend, what does he do in Australia?" Sasori asks out of the blue.

Sakura jerks from her little trance like snow was smeared down her back.

"Who?" she utters.

"Your friend, from Australia,"

"Right, my friend, who I am waiting for, from Australia… he is studying astronomy there," Sakura answers promptly. "What about your friend?"

"He's in art, pottery,"

"They are probably both on the same flight… though, my friend did move to England this year… he actually just finished his last semester in Australia."

"Worldly man,"

"Well, the sky's the limit for him," Sakura adds; she cannot help but smile dreamily at the thought.

Sasori fails to suppress his chuckle, but Sakura chooses to overlook that.

"Your friend, you seem to like him," he states.

Sakura presses her lips together. She notices a slight condescending tone to his comment. What is it to you if I seem to like him? Is that so bad? Is that pitiful in any way, you blue boy?

"What's that?" Sakura asks with feigned artlessness.

"Your worldly friend. You like him,"

"Yes, he is likable to certain people…"

Sasori shoots her a wry look.

"Oh, no…" she laughs a little uncomfortably. "Not like that."

Sasori nods and returns to his work.

"I don't love him," Sakura reassures, unconsciously fingering her loose ponytail. "He doesn't want it anyways," she adds in a small voice.

Without glancing up from his puppet, Sasori tells her, "The last thing we want may be the one thing we need."

"That's awfully introspective," Sakura remarks. "But he… he doesn't need what he doesn't want. He's… efficient like that."

"You don't seem too pleased."

Sakura's jaw clenches slightly; she is growing more exasperated by the second.

"What else do or don't I seem?" she asks shrilly. "I seem to be quite the open book to you, Sasori."

"Am I putting you down?"

"Why? Is that your intention?" Sakura retorts with flushed cheeks.

"Did I succeed?"

The bastard isn't even looking at me from his stupid toy! Sakura bites her bottom lip and closes her eyes. She is normally quite the accepting person: patient, kind, extroverted, and open-minded. Maybe it is her misfortune to have sat beside Sasori.

"Or does your friend, in nature, put you down?"

Sakura barks out, "What?"

"I am out of bounds, Sakura," Sasori observes. Sakura cannot tell if he is enjoying her spastic state. "For that I apologize."

An apology, to Sakura, is a sincere expression and emblematic of the person's truest sentiment: an unfeigned verbal atonement. Given their situation right now, the diplomatic thing to do is to accept it. Sakura eyes Sasori attentively before forgoing her pretentious conjecture with a defeated sigh.

"It's fine," she mutters, feeling unsurprisingly drained. I'll accept your late, hollow apology.

"You can also view it from another perspective," Sasori dismisses her reply and continues.

"What is that?"

"The one thing we want may be the last thing we need,"

"I… I'll remember to mull that over like germ theory," she says absently.

Sasori sets his puppet down. Sakura sees this and speculates if he had given up on the fail puppet all together. She wants to yank his chains like he yanked hers. She wants, too, to tick him off to a fit of pique. However, Sakura cannot conjure enough contempt to do that. Instead, she eyes the seemingly abandoned puppet blankly.

"Regardless of your grump and artlessness, your friend is lucky to have you in his life," Sasori comments.

Sakura's eyes brighten with surprise. She muses over his astonishing comment for a while in silence—wait, I'm 'artless'? It is clear as still water that Sakura is leastwise a decent, amiable friend. She eagerly wants to believe what Sasori had said; though, more or less, it seems to be a comfort comment for her pitiful soul's benefit. Sakura musters a soft smile.

She glances at Sasori, who is staring back at her with odd intensity. No, that's just his brooding eyes unbefitting a small physique—it balances out, Sakura thinks, life is fair. She studies his symmetrical face… his boyish face—uncannily somber—so, not really a boyish face, though aesthetically pleasing just the same.

Sakura, once more, finds it difficult to look away. His eyes are like quicksand. She licks her lips.

"I'm glad you think so, because I've been doubting that for quite sometime,"

Sasori nods. "You are not a romantic," he says.

"You mean I don't seem to be a romantic," Sakura edits.

"No," he persists, "I mean you are not a romantic."

Sakura shrugs halfheartedly. "I want to be," she whispers.

A short silence ensued. Sakura is suddenly very aware of the clamorous airport: the chinks of utensils and cups around the snack bar, the high-pitched salutes, the steady wheels on suitcases against the smooth ground, the background music… oh, for the love of me, 'Jingle Bell Rock' is still playing? Nevertheless, the noises abruptly died down to a mere breeze to Sakura. Monotonous sounds and people alike tend to drown when you are confronted with your own contemplations.

Sasori grabs his marionette and starts to insert strings. No matter how well it dances, it will never be as alive as the others. He glances at a pensive Sakura from the corners of his eyes.

"No, you don't want to be,"

"I don't want to be a romantic?" Sakura asks without hearing herself. "You are now telling me what not to be?"

"People find romantics endearing, or romantic lines of thoughts endearing, but I find it a purblind impediment," he explains.

"That's not really optimistic… or open-minded of you," Sakura declares wearily.

"I suppose I want to be an optimist with an open-mind," he reasons, "but I'm not."

"Everyone wants to see the fair side to life, the silver lining, the rainbow after a rainstorm and the like… I'm sure you do, too."

"I agree; though is life really fair? Is there a silver lining to be spotted?"

Sakura sighs, "I see where you are going…"

"I'm just being conceptually introspective now. It is our everyday problems that matter, I presume."

"What do you mean?"

Sasori tightens the strings that connect the marionette. Afterwards, he takes out a little pocket knife and contours the puppet to convey it more depth.

"Whether you like your friend, or love, as you mentioned, is for you to decide," he clarifies. "But don't go into it a blind man—or woman,"

Sakura wordlessly rolls her stool around to face the crowd. She realizes that she can only take Sasori in small doses; she was wrong… his character is just as penetrating as his eyes. After all, they say the eyes are the window to one's soul.

Who does Sasori—this marionette-making, biology-majoring, juvenile-looking, sarcasm-spewing, patronizing odd ball—think he is? Telling her what to do, who to be, who not to love (and probably a dozen more if she printed off their conversation and read between the lines)? She had known her best friends nearly all her life and they've never inveighed against her as a person.

So, I may not be as composed, insightful, or emotionally intact as him, but I'm no ditz when it comes to my feelings.

Sakura's pensive expression remains still, thought her green eyes frantically surveys the airport and its crowds—she wouldn't be here if it weren't for…

Naruto offered to pick up Sasuke tonight, but Sakura told him to go buy the pie instead. Neji didn't mind driving half an hour here to greet Sasuke… but Sakura persisted he should provide the sake with Lee. Even Kiba and Shino—they offered to pick up Sasuke along the way to the apartment, but Sakura assured them she could do it herself.

She wants to come down here and welcome Uchiha Sasuke. She wants to be the first person he sees upon reaching land. She wants him to see that she is here, that she will always be here for him, and with him… if he'll ever welcome her in his life at such an intimate level.

Sakura is intent on cultivating her love for him because in spite of everything, she knows—she is convinced that one day—Sasuke will see her without looking, will listen for her without hearing, will readily run to her without—

"Here," Sasori broke her quixotically bleak train of thoughts by pushing his marionette towards her.


The marionette is thickly exquisite in light of its distinctive features. Though it nevertheless lay charmingly ugly on the table lifelessly. The strings look sturdy, that's a plus. At least it has hair—despite white and coarse and sticking all over the place.

"I want you to have it,"

"What?" Sakura repeats faintly, she doesn't know if she had heard him right.

Sasori loses his patience and shoots her an impassive look. "Have it," he mutters curtly.

"Oh… I uh—thank you," she mumbles, taking the marionette in her hands.

Despite the rough exterior, it is rather light in weight. She strokes the control bar and thought about having the marionette dance—but quickly decides she shouldn't embarrass herself anymore. Sakura ogles at Sasori curiously.

"This was my first marionette," Sasori says indifferently. He is packing up his puppet tools into his bag. "You can give it a name if you want."

Sakura stares hard at him, startled. "Your first marionette—are you crazy? I can't have this!"

Sasori assumes her question literally and replies, "…Maybe I am."

"I can't have this… you take it back," she exclaims, casting the ancient marionette aside as if it's cursed.

"I was proud of this one in the beginning, but… I set the bar too high for myself over time and… this became incongruous with my other projects. I couldn't even frame it as symbolic of my improvement in the art."

Sakura doesn't trust herself to say anything.

"Like I said: it fails to satisfy me, and that is my fault. Plus, you were right,"

"What do you mean?"

"I am hard on myself,"

"…but my point wasn't that you should give me your marionette," Sakura bickers pointlessly.

"No," he nods, "I want you to have it nonetheless."

Sakura studies Sasori's humorless face carefully as if he were a scientific specimen.

"Why? Why me?" Because by chance I happen to sit beside you in this airport on this day?

"That's a good question," he flashes her a meek smile. "The last thing we want may be the one thing we need."

Sasori stood up and hauls his bag over his shoulder. Sakura notes his fairly moderate height despite his young face. Sakura jumps down from her stool; she observes with a sinking heart that he is about an inch taller.

He points to the marionette's face. "Look at it carefully," he instructs.

Sakura picks it up again gingerly and examines the marionette's features. Its eyes and nose are as before (distinctive); its mouth, though, once was a vague smile has now a comical and exaggerated grin carved over it.

Like a Cheshire cat… Sakura studies with mild horror.

Her wide eyes move from the marionette's face to Sasori's, whose blank facial expression seems to read: how do you like your romantic optimists now? Or seen any silver linings lately? This puppet in your hands sure has. It is virtually gruesome.

Before Sakura can utter a reply (something along the lines of "you are a certified mental-fucking-case, Sasori"), someone was calling out his name.

Even so, Sasori's deadpan eyes cease to withdraw from Sakura's astounded ones. They both stood there soundlessly; their eyes locked for a perpetual second.

"I detest waiting," he ultimately says with a wry grimace. "So much."

Sakura furrows her brows. "Oh, I…"

"Thanks, I suppose, for making this less painful than it could have been."

"S-Sasori, I just…"

"Your friend is calling you, too, isn't he?" His eyes glance swiftly to her right.

Sakura flinches; she recollects her sense of time.

She can recognize a faint calling of her name from somewhere behind her. His unmistakable voice is not stifled by the crowd commotion, or the seasonal background music, or the loudspeaker announcements, or… what else? His voice cannot have been lost on her since she knows who to listen for… isn't that right?

The one thing we want may be the last thing we need.

"What now?" she asks Sasori, her green eyes glassy.

"We wait."