a/n: Ack, a day late. Happy New Year everyone!
Dawn is just breaking, and she watches as he looks up at the pale sky with dark eyes. He exhales, and she follows the curl of his breath in the cold.
"Are you sure? You can wait until spring, you know. The passes are going to be dangerous in winter."
He turns a little to glance at her, and even after all this time and a fiancé sometimes she is still struck dumb by his looks; he's a study in contrasts, and his ink black eyes and hair framed against the white of the snow pulls at something in her chest.
"I won't be going through the passes," he says, and she bites her lip to keep from saying anything more. She'd felt the distance growing between them year after year, little by little, but it's only now that she realizes how far apart they've come.
His eyes soften almost imperceptibly, and she knows he's promised to visit, to write, and to check up on her family, but again there's that distinction—her family now, not really his, and it stings. But it's the muted hurt of goodbye, and he's always kept his promises to her mother and father, so she knows that if he says he's going to visit, he will. She'll get nothing else from him, not after all the impassioned pleas and tantrums in the world, either then or now.
"I'll be going now." She nods and looks away as he begins forming signs with his hands. The only warning she gets is a barely discernible curve to his lips before he disappears in a haze of smoke.
Amaya has lived with Uchiha Sasuke-san for three long years, and it's finally time for him to head home.
When Sakura wakes up in the morning, face plastered to the report she'd been writing last night, the day feels just like any other. She shivers in the chilly air, wrinkling her nose at the window she'd forgotten to properly close last night. Today is a Saturday, and she's supposed to have the day off.
Sakura looks down at her unfinished report and groans—supposed to being the keywords here. She gets up, pushing her chair back from her desk and cracking her back as she does, picking up the empty mug and tripping over her own shoes in the process before she makes it to the kitchen. She hums as she washes the cup and fills the kettle, a habit that she'd shed when she was thirteen and had just picked up again. Today feels like any other day…today feels good.
She makes her breakfast and eats it as she listens to the world waking up around her, the birds and the children and the whistling wind. The morning is peaceful, and even though goose-bumps ripple across her skin in the wake of the cold, the quiet warms her soul. At her elbow sits a haphazard stack of letters, the red ribbon she usually uses to bundle them with half a counter away. The most recent letter dates from a week and a half ago.
A sudden clattering of tiles and scraping feet makes her wince, and she carefully puts down her mug of warm tea. Naruto's head pops up right outside her window, and she can only roll her eyes as he expertly unlatches the lock and slides inside.
"What would people say if they saw the new Hokage breaking and entering?" she says wryly.
"It's not like I'm wearing the pointy hat! No one's gonna recognize me— 'sides Sakura-chan, aren't you happy I came to see you?" He crosses the living room in a few bouncy steps and snatches the leftover onigiri from her plate.
Sakura shakes her head with a laugh, getting up with the newly empty dishes and dumping them in the sink. "Well then esteemed Hokage-sama, you're going to be the one to do the dishes this time."
There's none of the bluster that she expects though, and when Sakura turns around she finds Naruto looking at her with serious eyes.
"You know what this means right, Sakura?"
She freezes, and there's no helping the way her gaze strays back to the modest pile of letters. Naruto doesn't miss the small movement, and his smile is a little knowing, a little self-deprecating. It's a habit that he's learned over the last few years, and Sakura is sorry that he ever had to at all. "So the bastard told you first? Figures."
There's a slight pause, and the rhythm of the conversation falters. But the Naruto's smile widens and he expertly sidesteps the careful reserve that's grown between the two whenever the subject of Sasuke came up, "Eh, Sakura-chan, what're you looking at me with that face for? Shouldn't you be happy? He's finally coming home!"
Sincerity laces his words, and Sakura can't help but answer with a grin of her own.
(Three years ago.)
Sakura has been on probation for two weeks before Naruto comes to see her. Tsunade had had no choice but to put her on extended leave, though she wasn't monitored and had no restrictions as long as she didn't leave the village.
She spent the first days in bed, drifting in and out of tired sleep. Ino dropped by on the third, bringing with her her mother's famous restorative soup and a stack of cheesy romance novels. The blonde didn't ask any questions and Sakura doesn't offer any answers.
They were in the middle of a heated debate on the merits of the protagonist in the book Ino was reading out loud to her when, face serious, she'd suddenly said, "I thought you were smarter than that, forehead."
Sakura's smile slipped before she shrugged, took another deliberate sip of soup and steered the conversation back to safer ground.
And the truth was—the truth was so did she. The problem though, wasn't her purported intelligence or lack thereof; where he was concerned, the one thing Sakura could be counted on for was to always follow the demands of her heart and never logic, never reason.
But this time, she'd been the one to leave him, with both of their hearts intact and smiling. That, Sakura thought, had to be an accomplishment, had to be progress and maybe a turning point in the tired ways of their lives.
When Ino remarked on the idiotic expression on your face, forehead, Sakura just grinned harder and shoved the book back in her face with a just keep on reading, pig.
She's alone when Naruto finally knocks on her apartment door, something that he hasn't done since when they were both fifteen. Sakura immediately stands from her seat on the couch, but she hesitates with his name halfway out of her mouth; the silence leaves her fidgeting. Naruto doesn't look like he quite knows what to do with himself either.
He finally closes the door behind him and lifts the bags he'd been carrying for her to see. With a tremulous smile, he clears his throat and says, "Sakura-chan, I, uh, I bought you ramen."
And this is also another start.
Sasuke hadn't given her the exact date of his arrival, but the way Naruto keeps grinning at her over his lunch makes her stomach turn. Sakura takes a careful bite of gyoza, ever aware of the constant hum of conversation in the crowded restaurant. She wants to ask, but the asking might make it into an untruth—like wishes that burned and fizzled out because you'd told. Besides, it's still "classified information", the fact that he would be coming back at all.
Sakura isn't stupid, she knows that even though Naruto's the Hokage now, the Council—filled with the elders' lackeys after their deaths—still holds a measure of power over the older generation in the village. Naruto might have pardoned the last Uchiha, but there are still some that wouldn't hesitate to take "justice" into their own hands.
The clock in the small restaurant strikes twelve, and Sakura frowns at the still enthusiastically masticating blond.
"Hokage-sama, I think your lunch-break's over," she teases. Naruto looks up at the clock too, squinting like he's trying to remember something.
The urge to ask sits strong on her tongue.
"Ah, right, right," he mutters. "Uh, I guess I'll go back to the office. You enjoy your day off, okay Sakura-chan? Just don't, don't leave the village or do something stupid."
And before she can say anything, before her smile spills over, he's gone in a quick puff of smoke.
Sakura ends up grinning down at her half-eaten food.
Today's going to be a good day.
Sakura spends the rest of her afternoon running errands, little things like doing the laundry and picking up new scrolls at the library. She's kept to the same routine for nearly all her Saturdays, and today, today's no different at all. Instead of waiting by the gate with twisting hands, Sakura is walking through the market, picking at the scant vegetables and haggling over the best prices on fruit when she feels his approach.
He's masked his signature to a low hum, but she recognizes the feel of it, and it's still electricity against her skin.
She waits, looking down at the neatly arrayed rows of out-of-season fruit, unwilling to turn, unwilling to—
He doesn't touch her, doesn't even have to say or do anything to let her know he's there, he just lets loose his chakra, lets it wash over her completely until Sakura feels like she's physically being pushed against the wooden stand, and then there's nothing she can do but to turn around, anything to loosen the knot in her stomach, to—
He stands before her, cloaked and hooded in heavy winter clothes, and it's something she's been expecting, something that she's been steadily counting down to since she got one of his succinct, rare letters nearly two weeks ago, yet still, still she finds herself at a loss, and there are words that she needs to say that are on the tip of her tongue but she can't seem to unstick them from the roof of her mouth.
"Hello," he finally says, the two syllables careful, and she's just managed to open her mouth, to phrase the first word when there's an explosion of noise and Naruto's happy shout of glad you made it back!
Then there's the commotion as people start to realize who the hooded man is, and Naruto has brought old, reluctant friends. Suddenly there's no time for the words that had been about to tip from her tongue, no time to do more than smile at him and shrug, as if to say what can you do? and Sakura isn't even vaguely annoyed because for once, for once there'll be time for all of that later.
(Two and a half years ago.)
She starts writing letters to him on a whim. Sakura's unimpressed with her own unoriginality, with how tired the gesture is, but she lets herself do it all the same, because unlike all the stories, these are letters that she'll eventually send. She writes the missives like he's someone who's still familiar to her, instead of the almost-stranger that she left behind. In them, she updates him on village gossip, on politics and all the missions she's missing out on because of her probation. She tells him how Tsunade's increasingly tired sighs worry her and she speculates on how long it'll take for Naruto to be announced as her successor. The letters are a way of tying him back to Konoha, to giving the village, to giving herself more weight than memories that he might or might not be able to recall.
Sakura sends them by civilian post, and she never really expects an answer back. It's Sasuke after all, and she has learned that the best way to deal with him was to just never harbor any expectations at all.
She gets his first letter two months after she sends hers.
Naruto throws Sasuke a home-coming party. It's sort of ridiculous and almost everyone who's there wouldn't have come if the blond hadn't forced them to. There's too much alcohol and because Naruto had insisted on going to the riverside on the outskirts of the village, on top of everything else it is freezing too. In the end, the rest of the Rookie 9 leaves Sakura and Sasuke to deal with the mess, their passed out Hokage slung over the shoulder of one dangerously cheery Sai.
Sakura doesn't mind as long she gets to beat up the idiot later.
"Sorry about all of this, I'm sure you didn't want to make a big fuss."
Sasuke shrugs from his spot next to her on the riverbank, watching as she happily sighs into a thermos of hot coffee. She stretches her legs, toes curling in the warmth of her boots. Her scarf hangs loosely around his bare throat and she smiles, remembering Sasuke's look of disgust when Naruto snatched the pink and white thing (a badly knitted gift from Ino) from her bag and threw it at the Uchiha after he sneezed for the third time in a row.
"I can't believe you're still wearing that," she begins conversationally.
She hears something like a noncommittal grunt and Sakura snorts, "I almost like it better when you were just Kun-san, at least back then you made an effort at conversation."
She turns her head just in time to catch the last of his smile before it disappears, and even though smiling is something that he just does now, she needs more time for it to not catch her by surprise.
Her lips automatically curl in response, and she studies him through the rising steam from her drink. He sits languid, limbs long and relaxed; the guard that Sasuke used to keep around himself is still there, but now it isn't so exhausting to look at him anymore.
Sakura deconstructs planes and lines and the shadows that the setting sun throws against all his sharp angles, her eyes finishing their quiet slide up the length of his body to find him staring back at her. Her breath hitches, a flush painting her cheeks red.
Her exhale is a shaky plume of cold.
He looks at her for a long, long time, and Sakura measures each second against the heavy beats of her heart. It feels as if everything has slowed to this—to him looking at her, and the weight of his stare is an irrepressible thing, leaving her feeling out of breath, out of body, like the only reason she hasn't risen up off the earth is because of his keeping her there by sheer force of will.
Sasuke raises a hand and lays it slow, palm down, against her cheek. The touch is so light that if Sakura closes her eyes—if she closes her eyes she could imagine that he wasn't really there at all.
His thumb sweeps across the top of her cheek, his brows furrowing in a question asked, and the grit of his teeth, the rigid line of his jaw tells her all the things that he's never been able to put into his terse, formal letters.
A small noise escapes her, and she can't help but lean into his touch. The sound breaks the stillness of the moment, and suddenly Sasuke is dipping his head and crossing the distance between them, not of miles or space but of time and memory and opportunities wasted, of regrets and could-have-been's and oh. Oh, his mouth is moving against hers now, slow and lazy and the heat of it rips straight into her heart.
It's nothing like their first kiss—there's no forced dominance, no hurry or point to prove. This is kissing for the sake of it, this is kissing because he wants to, because she wants to, and he's licking his way past her lips and she can taste him—she can taste him and feel him and the hand that's slid down to rest on the curve of her hip. She moans, the sound loud in the newly descended darkness, and she has no idea if they're really alone but she doesn't care, she doesn't care about anything besides pressing herself closer—
Sasuke shifts, lifting her neatly into his lap and angles his head so that the kiss deepens, and there are no fireworks or dramatic music but Sakura thinks that this is so much betterbecause it feels just like coming home, like finally stopping after a long, long journey and putting your feet up at the end of a bad day, like a cup of warm tea and listening to the rain pound down on your roof. Then she stops thinking at all.
They kiss until she feels like her lungs will burst, and even then Sasuke only pulls away far enough to press his forehead against hers, to drag the tip of his nose down the line of her own until their eyes meet.
"You're crying," he says thickly, and Sakura is surprised by the dampness hot on her cheeks—she hasn't cried in years, but for the first time she finds that it's something she doesn't mind at all.
"Welcome home," she says with a wet laugh, repeats it again and again as she realigns her lips with his, as she presses her hands against his quickly beating heart.
And Sasuke answers just once, between one kiss and the next, quiet and long overdue—
note: Tadaima is the Japanese expression for I'm back, I'm home, etc.
updated a/n: Thanks to all of you for sticking with me for so long! I hope this has been an enjoyable read for...the majority of you? As always, last thoughts are appreciated and I'll probably be looking over all the unbeta'd chapters for revisions later. :) This has been my longest fic to date, and also one where I think my writing's grown the most. I'm beyond thankful to have readers like you guys that are always up for giving me some encouragement and lots and lots of concrit. Thanks again!