A continutation of SSM21 Day 10 prompt "Distant". Sakura and Sasuke slowly but surely bridge the gap.

They were in a crowded restaurant, seated at a large table occupied by their third teammate and his spouse, and multiple others: Sai and Ino, Shikamaru and his wife, the Akimichi, Lee and his teammate, the Aburame and Inuzuka clan heads. A meal had long been finished and now the former classmates were reminiscing, sipping from small cups and becoming peach, then pink, then red in the face as the night progressed.

Sasuke kept to himself, as he was prone to. Sakura, beside him, was uncharacteristically unsociable herself, just barely exerting the energy to reciprocate Ino’s teasing quips, or elicit a quiet laugh at one of Naruto’s many outbursts. She nursed a cup of sake, her third of the night, only the slight flush of her cheeks betraying its influence.

“I’m surprised the Uchiha graced us with their presence tonight,” the blonde drawled teasingly, leveling Sasuke and Sakura with a sparkling gaze. “Only a month since you’ve been back, I didn’t think Sakura-chan would let you out of the house!”

Naruto laughed, everyone did, and Sasuke scoffed, cheeks burning with secretive shame because his wife had done anything but keep him, while he had lingered and loitered about their home hungering for even a moment to enjoy her presence. He glanced to his side to study the woman in question, but she was looking elsewhere, toward their loud-mouthed friend.

Following the line of her gaze, he caught the way the other man curled his arm nonchalantly around his own wife’s waist, dropping a quick, chaste kiss against her temple before averting his attention to chuckle at a comment made by someone behind him. Sasuke looked back at Sakura and saw how  her eyes remained focused on the couple, flitting over the grip of Naruto’s hand at Hinata’s waist, the press of her shoulder to his side. There was no emotion on her face. 

Sasuke set down his barely-touched drink, fingers creeping to brush against the pale hand resting limp in his wife’s lap. Curling his fingers around hers, pulling her hand to rest on his own thigh, he squeezed gently. Green eyes moved slowly to their entwined fingers, then flitted up to peer at his face. He offered her a small, shy smile, the noise of their surroundings fading into a light buzz in the background as his eyes traced over her delicate, beautiful features. 

A long moment passed. Then Sakura extracted her hand from his and turned to speak to the woman seated on her opposite side.

The night ended-- and one could barely still consider it nighttime at all -- when the restaurant staff built up the gumption to gently kick out the Hokage and his acquaintances from the establishment. Cool air whistled by and the moon illuminated darkened streets as Sasuke and Sakura made the quiet journey home. 

“Did you have a good time?” he questioned quietly, glancing at Sakura from the corner of his eye. He steeled himself for the possibility of not receiving a response. 

“Yes,” she replied. 

“It’s been a long time,” he said, awkward and unused to this type of small-talking. He only ever bothered to say the big things. “It was… interesting to see everyone all at once.”

“Hm,” Sakura nodded in his peripheral vision. “You’ve missed a lot of outings just like it.” 

Whether her comment was meant to sting, he would never know--  but it did nonetheless.

“Aa,” he breathed, drawing in a deep breath. “I wish I hadn’t.”


Nothing more was said as they strolled through the village, only ambient sounds like the crinkle of the breeze against an awning  or the whirring of central air in a nearby apartment building to break the silence. Everything was empty, it being simultaneously way too late and far too early for most people to be awake. 

Upon entering their home, they removed  their shoes unhurriedly, still quiet. After a moment, Sasuke felt Sakura come to stand directly in front of him as he removed his second sandal. He tipped his head up to peer at her face in the darkness.

A small hand reached out, slender fingers raking through his hair, tugging the strands away from his forehead. He rose slowly, gazing into green as the hand slid to rest lightly over his chest.

“I wish you hadn’t missed them, too,” Sakura murmured, before taking a step forward and leaning into his chest. His arm moved, slowly, around her waist. His grip tightened when she did not pull away.

Forehead dropping to rest against hers, he inhaled thinly through his nose. His jaw clenched for a short second before he willed it to loosen and said-

“If I could go back…”

“You’d do the same,” she whispered. 

Would I? There was no time to form the thought, much less a response before her mouth was on his and both her hands weaving through his hair. 

As her lips moved against his just how he loved them to, he decided No-- if given the chance to go back, he would not do the same. He would not be strong enough a second time around. 

It was a frightening thought, that he would give up the world to be with beloved and his child. A conundrum, because he had given all of it up for them, not the world. 

But it did not matter, because there would be no going back. For all the power he had, earned and inherited, he had never gained mastery over this. Even eyes like his could not turn back the hands of time. 

So he let his eyes slide shut as Sakura kissed him more deeply, exploring his mouth with her tongue, the expanse of his chest with her hands. Then, he opened them as she pulled away, reaching to grasp his hand and tug him toward the stairs.

Palms pressed against his chest, pushed him on the bed and then she was climbing over him, settling over his hips and peering down at him with eyes that shined like jewels.

A ghost of a smile took her lips, and it was like an expression of wistful fondness, gazing at something well-loved but long gone. The kind of smile someone gave in mourning. 

“I’m sorry I never showed you enough affection,” he whispered. His hand rose to cup her cheek as she leaned slightly closer, warm breath puffing over his face. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for so much time.”

There were so many things to apologize for, so many that tore at his insides, gaping wounds that he felt unequipped to hold and stitch back together, unwhole and decrepit as he was.

Sasuke parted his lips to try, ready to spill out torrents of apologies and repentance when Sakura pressed the tips of trembling fingers against his cheek.

“I don’t want your apologies tonight,” she breathed, earnest, and then formed her mouth to his once more. 

And faced with all for which he had been yearning, he could never have been strong enough to pull away. Never again. 

Fingers buried themselves in the silken strands of her hair, shorter than he had ever seen her wear it and he could only wonder if it was the first time she had worn it this way, or yet another thing he had missed out on. 

She disrobed him slowly, eyes sweeping over every inch of him with a gaze like warm honey, sticking to each section of his skin. Then she planted kisses about his mouth, down his neck and chest. He could only pant, gasp, groan as she touched him, explored and handled him with expert knowledge until he was a quivering, desperate mess.

“Come closer, tsuma,” he begged, voice hitching from pleasure and so many other things. Stop staying so far from me.

Sakura rose to her knees above him, then lowered herself over him, exhaling a breath that seemed to draw on for an eternity, to stretch across the great expanse of time. Her hands remained planted on his chest as she rose once more, before falling over him, over and again until she, too, was shaking and sweat shone on both of their skin. 

Once, she fell apart above him and then she rolled off of his chest, spreading her arms and legs and he fell back into her, gasping and moaning and clutching at every part of her he could with the one hand he had. She held onto him with as much fervor, and they moved together, ebbs and flows and rushing current until the darkness of the room faded into the almost-light that signaled the coming of dawn. 

For a moment, the split second before his spine tingled and muscles clenched in his release, their eyes met and he thought he saw everything there once more-- all the light and grace and affection he was used to. Lips slid over his and swallowed the choked cry of her name from his mouth and when they parted and he finished, everything he had seen in her glittering gaze was all gone.

Sasuke separated from her slowly, unwilling to leave behind that moment, like the others of its kind he had clung to for months since he had come home. His wife pulled herself into a sitting position beside him, sitting quiet, just a few inches away.

He sucked in a shuddering breath.

“You don’t love me anymore,”  he said, quiet, feeling dead inside. The realization was not a sudden one, rather something like a disease that crept slowly through your bloodstream, spreading and slowly killing you all the while.

Sakura sighed, pushing dainty, scarred fingers through her hair, “I do love you, Sasuke.” She sounded tired, a little breathless, but genuine.  And despite everything, he believed her.

He reached for the hand resting at her waist.

“But do you want to?” he asked, voice barely a whisper, fingers tightening around her wrist.

Sakura was silent and eventually his hand fell away and then she rose from the bed. His eyes slipped shut as he heard the rustling of fabric and when he reopened them moments later, she was gone.

Sakura sat atop the Hokage monument, staring straight ahead. The very tips of the sun’s rays were just starting to peek over the horizon.

The early morning was cool, serene and yet her blood was boiling beneath goose-pimpled flesh, her heart beating a sharp staccato against her ribcage. Swells of disgust and bitterness and sadness roiled about her stomach, threatening to overflow and spill from her throat.

There was a lingering stickiness on the insides of her thighs, the dull throb of mouth and finger shaped bruising blossoming just above her waistband, in the crook of her neck and behind her ears. Her flesh tingled still with the lingering ecstacy, as if the rest of her were not in the throes of suffering, her mind a jumbled mess. 

He had breathed fumbling adorations in her ears and then accused her of not loving him mere moments after. And her insides shrieked at the insult, for she had loved him for an eternity, loved him the way she allowed air to filter in and out of her lungs, the way blood pushed and pumped through the valves of her heart. Sakura had been loving him for so long she did not know how not to, could not even think of trying to figure it out.

Sakura was an expert in loving Sasuke, had mastered the theory, all the applications. Watching and listening and feeling and learning how to give him her devotion, how to care for his heart that had been shredded, using her hands and her soul to carefully stitch together the frazzled pieces. And she had spent so long learning, that she had forsaken the opportunity to teach him in return, and then the time they had together was ripped away by the machinations of a world that refused to just let her husband rest.

Quiet rustling filtered to her ears and a warm, heavy fabric was dropped over her shoulders-- it smelled of tree bark and smoke. She blinked her eyes and shivered at the breeze that cooled the wetness on her cheeks.

After a few long minutes of quiet, she spoke, “You never knew how to love me.” The sun was between a quarter and halfway over the treeline. “And I only ever knew how to love you.” 

“I love you the best I can,” he replied. She could hear his thick swallow, and could perfectly imagine the tremble at the edge of his mouth. “The best I know how.”

“I know,” she said. Then a short, choked kind of laugh fell from her lips and she predicted he had never heard a more miserable sound. “Sasuke, we were so young when you had to leave. I was a young woman, just barely a mother then-- and now, our child is practically a woman herself. I grew and I changed and you were gone. And it wasn’t your fault, but.” 

Her chest rose and fell with a deep breath, but for all the turmoil raging inside, she might as well have been drowning. 

“I can still learn,” Sasuke took her hand in his, gripping at her fingers with his own, trembling ones. She could not bear to look at him. “Just...show me how. Tell me what it is you need, what you want.” 

Teeth sank lightly into her lip as his quiet words carried to her ears. If she were younger and selfish and had not seen death up close and personal as many times as she had, she might have told him that she had needed him. If she had not held his quaking body in the middle of so many nights, felt second-hand the weight of the world and the past and future-present that rested on his shoulders from the time he was barely a man, a boy even-- she might have looked him in the eye and said everything she wanted was everything she was told she could not have.

But the years had passed and she had settled into her sacrifices, had learned to ignore the cries of a tender heart.

“I got used to not needing anything,” she stated. The nonchalance of her pain was well-practiced, curated over years and years, painstakingly crafted during the worst of many long, lonely nights. “I got used to not having what I wanted. There was no way to change it, so I coped. I raised my child, I stayed a true and loyal wife. I loved you, even when you were so far away I couldn’t be sure if you were more than just a figment of my imagination.”

He was silent and she could not fault him for it. Sakura knew it was just one of his many specificities, an artifact from the horror of his past and side-effect of his liminal present. Never had he been a man of words, rather one of action. 

“Maybe time did not pass for you the same way, in those different dimensions,” she mused. “But it passed nonetheless, and I experienced every single moment. I was patient. Then one day, it was over. And then another day, it was not.”

“That mission- It was for the last time,” Sasuke whispered, an edge to his voice that made pain squeeze tight between her ribs. His hurt always had that effect on her. 

The last time. Sakura felt a rueful smile tug at the corner of her mouth, aborted before her muscles could complete the twitch of motion. What was a last time in a world like theirs-- when tomorrows were never promised, but then again were already being crafted in the hands of time, cyclical, unending. Samsara, it would all end and begin again and the two of them--they were destined.

“And if he needs you again?” Sakura asked. She knew, had always known, the answer-- but she asked anyway. “When Naruto calls for you, will you deny him?” 

Never had she spoken of this particular vulnerability-- no, she had buried it, smothered it and snuffed it out before it could catch blaze. Because how could I--how could she question her place in his life relative to the being who was the other half of him, the other side of his soul. There were some things better left unanswered.

Truly, that night he had come to her, told her ‘He needs me, Sakura’, before preparing to go again had been answer enough. 

No longer able to resist, she turned her head to gaze at the side of his face, as he stared off into the treeline, looking as if he was seeing everything, but nothing at all. 

“I’m not leaving again,” he breathed. His face turned to hers and their gazes locked. “I’ll be with you until our time here is done.”

Sakura looked away, tilting her head down toward her lap and freeing her hand from his hold. She felt numb, and a voice in the back of her mind screamed at her, cursed her for being foolish, for being ungrateful. Because the man she so longed for was here again, within her reach. And she was hurting him, she knew-- she could feel it in the way he held her whenever she was weakened enough by her need to allow him close. She could hear it in the way his breaths wavered with each exhale from his lungs into the morning air. 

Months of near-silence had amounted to nothing but pain for both of them. Sakura could not even reconcile her own despondency, how she had allowed herself to grow cold and push on them even more distance. She was punishing her husband for something he never chose and the guilt ate at her, another wound to her injured heart.

It was not fair to him. But it had not been fair to her, either, and she was tired of pretending that it ever had been. 

“Tsuma,” and there it was, his voice that echoed in each of her dreams, so close and so much more haunting than in her fantasies. He sounded desperate, broken, “Sakura, I love you.”

“I know,” she choked, because she did. And she knew that, for him, that was all that mattered but the life they both deserved had been ripped away from them, and from the child they created. 

And there was no way she could be sure it would not happen again. 

She bit down hard on her lip, the tang of copper on the tip of her tongue, as droplets began to fall one after another into her lap. 

Sasuke’s breath caught in his throat and her insides squeezed terribly at the way his voice hitched and cracked, “I will never be able to make up for the time we’ve lost. But, I swear Sakura, if you would only let me try-”

She cut him off by reaching out blindly to grasp at him. When her fingers found his, she squeezed them tightly. 

“You don’t deserve the way I’ve treated you,” she spoke around a sob, gulping for air in an attempt to get the words out. “And you didn’t deserve to have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

“Neither did you,” his arm was curling around her, tugging her into his chest and every bit of her composure crumbled to pieces. 

They clung to each other and their bodies shook from the force of her sobs, and his. 

Sasuke began to speak more often, more than she had ever known him to, even when they were young and new in love and wrapped up in the concept of a forever thing, rarely enthralled with the distant future. He often stuttered or took lengthy pauses between one phrase and the next--but he would finish the thought nonetheless and Sakura was charmed by his efforts. In conversation, he started off tentatively, asking the safe questions: How was your day? Did anything unusual happen?

When Sakura replied, she made a conscious effort to use more than the basic adjectives. She offered anecdotes about her work at the hospital, her brief trips to the civilian sector. Sometimes, she would branch out and narrate her recollections of Sarada as a young child, and more recently as a subtly rebellious teen. Sasuke would chuckle quietly at the details of their child’s shenanigans, humming in understanding when Sakura admitted that she rarely ever scolded her, because she did not want to repress her as her own mother once tried to do.

And during those instances in which she had little to say, or little energy to try, he filled the silences in a halting, unpracticed sort of way that loosened the vice that had taken residence in her chest in his times away. He offered stories of his travels and told her of the ways he would soothe his lonely heart when he was sad and wanting.

Sometimes, her heart answered the call of his own and she told him her own stories. Of long nights, hugging tight to a pillow that was big enough she could almost trick herself into believing it was him wrapped in her embrace. How walking through the village by herself left a phantom pain at her side, cold and empty where he was meant to be. She whispered to him how as Sarada grew and spent more time on missions and with her friends, her loneliness grew until it was stifling-- Sakura admitted that she took long hours at the hospital to postpone coming home to an empty house and an empty bedroom.

Sasuke would stiffen before reaching out to touch her, in both comfort and apology, and increasingly, she was more and more willing to accept both.

Each stone in the walls she had built around the most natural parts of herself-- those parts that loved him through all his phases and his absence, fiercely and without question-- crumbled each time he told her about his day, about the pride he had in the child they’d made. He was trying, pushing himself to reach her in ways that she had never asked him to before. 

As time passed, and she opened to him more, he ventured into more perilous territory-- slowly, he addressed the coldness that greeted him upon his return, the deafening silence during his year away.

“You never wrote,” he noted quietly, as they lay side by side, waiting for sleep to bring them under. 

Sakura stiffened momentarily. She closed her eyes, recalling the gentle rejection of Sarada’s suggestion to write to him while he was gone, the way a bitter taste had lingered at the back of her tongue each time she thought of his choice to leave them, once again. 

It was a loathsome reminder, and she nearly shuttered her heart again, felt the stones being stacked once more. But then she opened her eyes, gazed into the dark ones looking back at her mere inches away. There, she saw longing, sorrow, and a delicate hope that had been slowly creeping into his voice and his expressions the more time they spent actually talking, each time she did not brush off his affections.

“I never knew what to say,” she confessed. “Anything I could have… it would have hurt us both, anyway.”

His throat bobbed with a swallow and he nodded, falling quiet. Sakura’s chest tightened when his eyes slid away from hers in what looked like shame.

When she began to apologize, he only shook his head and whispered to her that there was nothing to forgive. Words she had said so many times, turned against her made her feel heavy inside. After chewing her lip raw for a few long moments, she scooted closer to him, nestling her head into his chest. 

Sakura adjusted her work schedule, and there was no problem. She was the head of the hospital, and after so much time, her husband was home. If anyone wondered why this change was happening so late-- more than three months after the man’s return-- it was not commented on, not in her earshot at least. 

Sasuke welcomed her home at the door each afternoon, pulling her coat from her shoulders and placing her shoes neatly on the rack. He whispered Okaeri every time, offering her a gentle smile. Sometimes, he would urge her to the kitchen to take a seat while he stirred something at the stove. The nights she cooked, he would lean against the counter, watching her intently.

“I sparred with Sarada and Boruto today,” he stated quietly, pausing briefly until she hummed in acknowledgment, nodding for him to continue. “I think I’m getting old, because I nearly lost.”

She laughed and caught the way his lips tilted upward from the corner of her eye. 

“They’ve improved quite a bit,” she commented, pouring hot liquid from one pot into another. An extraordinary amount of chopped tomatoes followed shortly after. “I don’t think all of it is age. Sounds like it was a good day, if not tiring.”

“Aa,” he murmured, then asked, “And what about yours? Was it a good day?”

She sighed, “Not the best, but I’ve had worse. We had a combative patient, luckily a civilian one. When they’re shinobi it can get...messy.”

Sakura glanced toward him and he gave an understanding nod.

“Was anyone hurt?” he asked and she shook her head.

“No,” she responded. “It was mostly just...irritating. Sometimes, patients truly annoy me.”

“Hn,” Sasuke grunted. He paused, hesitant, before joking, “I know the feeling.”

The callback to days long past was immediately recognizable. It fell so timidly from his lips-- he was tip-toeing over a line he was not sure they were ready to cross. An exaggerated frown twisted her mouth and she narrowed her eyes at him, pursing her lips. 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever” she rolled her eyes dramatically and the smile that took his mouth caused a fluttering inside. The feeling reminded her of a lifetime ago. “You’re so funny, anata.”

At this he froze, and so did she. How naturally the endearment fell from her lips, as if it had not been a year and a handful of months since she had last said it. Warmth rose to her cheeks and her eyes flitted up to his.

The look on his face was so tender, so vulnerable it took her breath away. After a few seconds of them frozen in the moment, he moved close, leaning down to press a firm, fervent kiss to the top of her head.

“Thank you, tsuma,” he whispered. She swallowed before resuming her task, stirring the pot as he watched from over her shoulder. 

Sasuke’s shoulder brushed against hers as they strolled through the densely populated street. Crowds of people ambled along, stopping in front of kiosks and ducking into small shops and eateries. The smell of savory and sweet and tangy things filled her nose and she grinned as they approached a familiar stand. 

“I used to go here with Sarada to get Ikayaki every weekend,” Sakura nodded at the familiar face of the kiosk owner. 

“She mentioned before,” he replied. “Shall we go buy her some?”

“Yes, and after we should get her some dango,” Sakura grinned.

A quiet chuckle fell from his lips, “Yes, some dango as well. For you I assume.”

“Maybe a bite,” she sniffed and he laughed in earnest. 

Sakura tried not to gasp as his fingers slid in between hers as he turned to approach the cart. She watched him in a slight daze as he placed his order, freeing her hand only long enough to hand over his payment before reaching for it again.

Sasuke always touched her often behind closed doors. Even when they were young, tentative lovers and then love-sick newlyweds, he often showed his care through physical touch. Public displays of affection, however, were something he was unused to; they did not come natural to him. His devotion had always been understated, seen in the eyes, found in tiny moments when he acted out of service. 

It was something of a puzzle to the young woman she was, picking up on the cues because he was simply not built to sweep a girl off her feet. She had been happy, eager even, to search for signs in the smallest of expressions, for she adored him so. They had time, she had thought, to grow and do things the other couples did, to carve out their own special brand of fairytale and romance. 

Time had not been kind to them.

But now, here he was, clutching her hand in his, holding her close to his side in the middle of a crowded pathway, for anyone to see. It made her feel tingly, bashful, young again. 

She grabbed their food on autopilot once it was held out to her and then they were on their way to the dango stand. Sasuke ordered one of each of her favorites without asking and it made warmth fill her belly, a smile spreading unbidden across her face.

His thumb stroked softly over her knuckles as they wove through the groups of people and after a few minutes she began to notice the way people watched them, some stopping to fully stare and whisper to each other behind their hands. 

People had whispered like that when he was gone, too, and it never failed to cause humiliation to prick at her nape, a chill of mortification to creep down her spine. Never once had she given any reaction, walking with her chin high even as her insides curled in on themselves. Yet, she could remember every snide remark they thought she would not hear (or perhaps they actually wanted her to).

How could a husband leave his family for so long? Perhaps they aren’t actually married afterall. 

If he really loved her, why would he stay away?

An uncomfortable flush rose to her cheeks and her eyes shot up to check Sasuke’s expression.

Dark eyes slid over her face and he looked around briefly. Then, he dropped her hand, curling his arm snugly around her waist instead and dropping a quick kiss on her temple. The people watching tittered in shock and she was almost positive one young woman even squealed.

Even as a deep flush rose to her cheeks, it made her feel giddy inside. She rested her own hand against his lower back, grinning to herself as the two of them made their way to their home at a relaxed pace, basking in the feeling of his body so close to hers, the weight of his hand at her hip. When she snuck a glance up at him, a tiny smile graced his lips, too.

Her eyes roved over his back as he stood in the middle of the room, shrugging on a shirt. Muscles rippled just beneath his skin and she noted the sprinkling of scars over his back, mementos of his years away from her healing hands. He had told her of the instances behind each of them, and denied her offer to erase them. 

Her own skin tingled, still warm and tender in many places. Places deep inside that had felt so empty felt full once more, overflowing with tenderness and so familiar a devotion. Eyes that once burned at the sight of it, drank in the expanse of Sasuke’s back and for once did so without a feeling of mourning, without the heaviness of impending dread. 

 He was beautiful. This was her husband, this tall, imposing man whose eyes dropped to his feet for a moment when he turned to see her so openly gazing at him, so bashful it made her want to squeal into their tousled sheets. It was not long until his gaze returned to hers, burning and intense even as his cheeks and the tips of his ears pinkened. 

“You’re staring, tsuma,” his voice rumbled, still husky from sleep and other, sweeter things. “I can feel your eyes on my back.”

Sakura only smiled, feeling something click into place in her chest as she stretched languidly onto her stomach, resting her chin on her palms as she continued to study him from the top of his head, to the toes peeking out under his loose pants.

“Making up for lost time, my love,” she whispered. 

Sasuke moved to stand before the bed and she rose to her knees. His eyes fixed on her face, hand coming to rest on the small of her back, hot and firm against her bare skin. She reached out for his shirt, finishing up the buttons swiftly and smoothing down the fabric at the neckline.

He watched her all the while, a deep fondness and knowing in his look that made her feel more than naked, as if his eyes were peeling back all her layers, revealing the deepest parts of her to his gaze. So close he was, that she could make out the flecks of his dark irises, count each of his sweeping eyelashes and the fine hairs in his brow. 

Sakura sucked in a deep breath, blinking away the wetness that teased at the rim of her lash line.

“I think it’s time I came home to you, anata,” she breathed, still fiddling with his shirt, brushing out miniscule wrinkles. “I’ve been gone far too long. And I missed you.”

“Aa,” he murmured, voice trembling and tight. His chest quivered under her palms, lips spreading into a tender, beautiful smile. 

Sakura's mouth curved into a smile as his forehead came to press against hers.

“Welcome home.”