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Of crushes and dollies

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Sakura is seven when she first meets Sasori.

Her parents are travelling textile merchants from Konoha and though they make trips to Suna’s deserts twice a year, this is the first time Sakura accompanies them. For the last few years, her parents had thought her too young to make the trip, prone to coddling as they were. It is also the summer after her first year in the academy and she thinks that is what changes their minds. After all, their baby girl is learning how to become a killer.

Sakura’s first year was tough, emotionally draining, and yet completely amazing—it was the year she met her very first friend, Ino-chan, after all. She’d wanted to quit, at first; the bullies were too vicious, their words too cutting, and she’d spent many nights quietly crying in her bed, wondering if the verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse was worth it.

That was until Ino-chan swept in with her precisely aimed poisoned flowers, like a pretty and cool heroine from her story books, and Sakura had decided she wanted to be just like her.

Ino is the first reason why Sakura becomes a kunoichi.

Sasori is the second.

It’s a pleasantly warm day in Suna with an errant breeze here and there. The last few days had been sweltering, the delicate skin on the back of her neck reddening until her mother had made her wear a large brimmed sun hat every time she’d ventured outside. Sakura liked it; her Mama had tied Ino-chan’s ribbon around the brim, its ends coming together in a cute bunny bow with the excess trailing gently over the rim.

Her father had laughed and said she’d looked like a tourist, though she doesn’t know what the means, but Sakura and her Mama had thought she looked cute. Today, the sun is periodically hidden behind great big clouds. They don’t seem like rain clouds, far too white and fluffy and not as ominous, and Sakura is glad because she hadn’t brought an umbrella.

It’s hot, but not hot hot, and the pretty white sundress her Mama had dressed her in that day is perfect for the weather. Except, when she and her Mama arrive at the park, Sakura quickly notices that she couldn’t look more civilian even if she’d tried. All the other Suna kids wear wraps around their shoulders or clothing that covers their skin; and she stands out like a sore thumb with her sleeveless sundress, bare knees, and pink, strappy ninja sandals.

Some of them stare, their gazes travelling from the top of her straw hat to the tips of her chipped white polished toes, and Sakura wants to turn around, find her Mama, and go back to the hotel and play by herself in the judgement free safety of her room. As it is, she clutches her three dolls closer to her chest, sighing in relief when the other children dismiss her and go back to playing their own games.

She quickly learns that Suna kids are a lot different than the ones in Konoha. Where the ones back home would have quickly pounced on her, these children are content to simply ignore her. It’s a nice change of pace and she won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. So, Sakura wanders over to the isolated sandbox in the corner and plops herself down, gently laying her ball jointed dolls in front of her.

A little voice in the back of her head chides her, reminding her that her Mama will be angry if she gets her dress dirty, but Sakura thinks that if her Mama didn’t want her getting dirty, then perhaps she shouldn’t have dressed her in white in the sandiest village on Earth.

Picking up her dolls, Sakura dives into the complex love triangle between Kimiko-chan, Usagi-chan, and Ryoka-kun. It initially started as a love square, but Ino-chan’s Sara-chan isn’t here, so Sakura vows to tell her of how Usagi-chan has been in an accident, causing Ryoka-kun to revaluate his feelings for her, leaving Kimiko-chan in such emotional despair that she sees no other choice but to throw herself over the edge of a cliff.

She’s in the middle of Kimiko-chan’s grand good-bye speech, perched on the edge of the sandbox as she is, Ryoka-kun dramatically begging her to reconsider, when a voice rudely interrupts Kimiko-chan’s heartfelt monologue.

“What are you doing?”

It isn’t so much a question as it is a curious statement, and Sakura whips her head around to see the prettiest boy she has ever seen in her life. Sure, Sasuke-kun is cute, but this boy is even more cute. She hadn’t known it were possible. His hair is a beautiful Persian red (and she only knows that because Mama says it is important as a textile merchant to know the different shades of a color), with glass eyes of soft gray-umber framed by thick lashes, all set in a pale face that looks as if made of porcelain.

He looks like one of those expensive dolls she’s been begging her parents to buy her, and a bright cerise blush crawls up her neck to the roots of her hair at being caught doing something as childish as playing dollies.

“I-I, um, I was just,” she stammers out, so utterly mortified that she refuses to explain the complex love story and intricate social structure between her dolls.

The boy’s hands are slack at his sides, head cocking to the left. “Are those puppets?”

“Puppets?” She echoes, eyes wide and uncomprehending. The only puppets she’d seen were the ones in those shoddy puppet shows her babysitters used to put on when she was younger, and, even then, those were just socks with heads.

The boy nods, fingers twitching as his eyes take on a half-lidded quality that makes her wonder if he is sleepy. Her own fingers are clenched tightly around Kimiko-chan and Ryoka-kun, Usagi-chan still lying in that half-buried position in the sand, bordered by twigs that serve as her makeshift hospital bed, when said half-dead doll decides she doesn’t want to be in a coma anymore and sits up.

Scrambling to her feet, dolls clutched to her chest, Sakura stares, mouth slack, as Usagi-chan climbs to her own two feet, her joints creaking as she does so, to walk to and then stop in front of the boy. A distant part of her, the one that’s decidedly girly like Ino-chan, screeches at how creepy her doll looks, walking around like a little human; but the curious, nerdy part of her, the side that Ino-chan has tried to snuff out, marvels at how it’s possible and how cool it is.

 A reverent, “Wow,” tumbles from her lips and she lifts wide, sparkling eyes to meet the self-satisfied glint in the boy’s own glassy orbs.

“How’d you do that?” She asks, stepping a little closer now that Usagi-chan has started twirling, kicking up little grains of sand as she spins.

“Chakra strings,” the boy replies simply, shrugging as if it were obvious.

It is then that she notices that Usagi-chan’s movements are in tune with the twitching of the boy’s fingers, and she reaches back into the vast collection of knowledge she’d acquired from devouring books at the library until she can recall, in her mind’s eye, the passage on chakra strings.

Not only do chakra strings require a great amount of chakra control, but they also require precision to expel it out of the body to latch onto the target. Though he looks to be about her age, maybe a little older, Sakura knows that manifesting chakra strings are beyond the capabilities of an Academy student.

Heck, she doesn’t even know how to reach her own chakra yet!

“Are you a Genin?” She asks, because there is no way this boy is less than that, and then, unbidden, “Can you teach me?”

Her mouth clamps shut, completely embarrassed by her gall to ask such a thing, but the boy’s lips simply curl into a small smile, even as he shakes his head.

“I’m a Chunin,” he corrects, barreling on despite her gasp, “Yes, I will teach you.”

 Stunned, Sakura can only gape; but she comes to her senses quickly, lips splitting into a brilliant and excited grin at the thought of learning something so cool. Except she quickly realizes how rude she’s been. The boy doesn’t even know her name and here she is asking things of him!

“I’m Haruno Sakura,” she quickly blurts out, before he notices her lack of manners. “What’s your name?”

The boy nods. “It’s nice to meet you, Haruno Sakura-san. I am Sasori.”

“Sakura-chan,” she automatically corrects despite herself, and blushes when Sasori blinks in reply.

“Sakura-chan, then,” Sasori says as he steps into the sandbox with her, she moving aside to allow him some room.

He makes Usagi-chan walk towards them, folding her limbs and making her sit as he does the same. Sakura plops down next to him and listens as he proceeds to explain the theory behind chakra strings (even though she knows it already) and demonstrate.

They spend the next few days like that: sitting in the sandbox, going over chakra and chakra control exercises, learning things Sakura knows are completely advanced for a first-going-onto-second year Academy student, until dusk. He makes her practice her chakra control, actually teaches her how to walk up trees without her hands, and sometimes they talk about their lives.

She learns that he’s 9 years old and an orphan. He likes the color red and hates the heat. His favorite foods are okonomiyaki and dumplings. In return, she tells him that she loves mitarashi dango and umeboshi, but hates spicy foods. Red is also her favorite color, but she enjoys summer time.

They become good friends, though Sasori is a bit more distant than what she’s used to, and she’s incredibly sad when it’s time for her to return to Konoha. On their last day together, they spend it discussing poisons and she finds it interesting because it reminds her of Ino and how she’d used that knowledge to protect her.

It’s nice, listening to Sasori talk about things, because he’s so confident in his abilities that she acquires some sort of second-hand confidence, too—even if she’s decidedly not as great. This is when she decides that she wants to have the abilities to back up her confidence, this is when Sasori becomes her second reason for being a shinobi.

When it comes time for them to part for the last time, it’s bittersweet, but Sasori surprises her with a small puppet made with her likeness. It even has the white sundress she’d worn when she’d first met him! It’s so incredibly sweet that she can’t help but launch herself at him in a bone crushing hug, heedless of the way he stiffens beneath her. She’s just about to pull away when he hesitantly returns the hug, and she’s so happy she could burst.

Sasori tells her that he’d made the doll so that she could practice her chakra strings and that he expects her to have mastered them the next time they meet. Sakura promises without hesitation, and it’s only when they’re halfway to Konoha—the puppet securely clutched in her arms—that Sakura realizes that she’d forgotten to get his address so that she could write.

She lives with that regret for years until her mind is overcome by thoughts of Sasuke-kun and her rivalry with Ino. Still, even with all that, she diligently practices her chakra control and strings every night until she can make her Sacchan puppet dance with her eyes closed.

The second time she meets Sasori, she’s thirteen and in Suna for the Chuunin Exams.

She can hear Sasuke-kun and that idiot Naruto bickering behind her about some thing or another, Kakashi-sensei trailing behind them with his nose buried in that dirty book of his, as they walk through Suna in search of food. Things have changed since the last time she’s been here, so she’s not entirely sure where they’re going. She’s so caught up in reading signs and looking for anything that could scream out food that she’s completely surprised when she rounds a corner and walks right into someone.

Her breath escapes her with a woosh, stumbling back until two decidedly male hands land on her shoulders to steady her.

“Sakura-chan.”

And it’s just her name, said with a little bit of surprise, but Sakura would know that voice anywhere even if it is a little deeper than she remembers.

“Sasori-kun!” She cries, throwing her skinny arms around his shoulders, and wow has he gotten taller!

Just as before, his arms wrap hesitantly around her waist, but it’s still a hug and she wiggles like an excited puppy in his grasp. Pulling away from him, a happy grin splitting her face almost painfully, Sakura can’t help but blush even as she hears her teammates’ (and current crush) close in on them.

If she’d thought Sasori was pretty as a child, then he was absolutely beautiful as a teen—distantly, she wonders what he’ll look like as an adult and almost swoons. He’s probably fifteen now, not too much older than she, and she wonders what rank he is.

“You look great!” She says, hands splayed out with a cheery grin. “I’ve missed you!”

Something in him softens, almost as if a weight has slipped off his shoulders, and a lazy smile curls his lips.

“I have missed you, as well,” he says, and his voice is so deep that Sakura’s face feels a bit warm. “You are prettier than I remember.”

Something in her screeches to a halt and a decidedly girlish giggle escapes her as she repeats incredulously. “Prettier?”

Sasori nods. “Aa.”

Sakura holds back a high pitched giggled by sheer force of will even as a beatific smile lights up her face, and thinks, Oh, hell, because she can feel a crush of massive proportions coming on.

More important than that, she wants to show him her progress with her chakra strings and just as she’s opening her mouth to excitedly fill him in on the last 6 years of her life, she hears a cough from behind her.

“Aren’t you going to introduce us to your friend, Sakura-chan?” Kakashi-sensei asks mildly, but she knows it’s more of an order than a question.

“Y-yes!” She says, more than a little nervous, reaching behind her to hold Sasori’s slack hand. He doesn’t curl his fingers around her own, but he doesn’t pull away either, and her heart flutters in her chest.

“This is Sasori-kun,” Sakura says, tugging him forward until he’s at her side. “He’s an old friend. I met him when I was 7.”

They’re standing in a busy street, but it feels more like a stand-off as the four males evaluate each other. It’s like a type of testosterone filled male posturing, the way they just observe each other and don’t bother saying anything. Sakura sighs, resigned to the fact that, somehow, Team 7 was going to ruin this for her.


 

On Kakashi’s part, he’s more than a little concerned and wary when his cute, little fairy female charge bumps into the notorious Sasori of The Red Sands. Sasuke and Naruto are oblivious to the danger their teammate is in, arguing over the merits of shuriken and kunai, but Kakashi has already pocketed his beloved book to assess the situation.

He’s never known Sasori to be anything other than brutal, even a bit cruel in his machinations, and is instantly on guard when the younger man’s (more of a boy, really) hands land on Sakura’s shoulders. He and the Suna nin have a bit of bad blood between them, considering Kakashi’s father had killed Sasori’s parents, and he wouldn’t put it passed him to throw the precarious Suna-Konoha alliance to the wind just to somehow hurt him.

Kakashi is a killer but Sasori is a monster, even if they were technically allies.

So, imagine his surprise when his dainty little kunoichi throws her arms around this notorious killer’s shoulders and presses him to her in what Kakashi has mentally dubbed ‘the fangirl hug.’ He just about has a heart attack when Sasori hugs her back.

And is that a smile on the Suna-nin’s face?!

Team 7 is going to be the death of him, Kakashi knows it.

Kakashi is thinking of the different possible ways he could get Sakura out of that killer’s arms when said killer says something too low for Kakashi to hear, and her infamous fangirl giggle makes an appearance.

As he and the others slowly make their way over (and boy, is that a test of self-restraint because Kakashi wants nothing more than to grab his pink haired student and get her the hell away from Sasori), Kakashi hears Sakura squeak, a little hysterically and quite incredulously, “Prettier?”

Kakashi almost chokes. Had Sasori of the Red Sands just called his student pretty? He hadn’t thought that the Suna-nin would find anything other than bloodshed aesthetically appealing. Oh, god, is he going to turn her into a puppet?

When Sasori agrees, Kakashi has decided that his poor heart has had enough and he wants to know just exactly why Sakura is making friends with poison masters.

“Aren’t you going to introduce us to your friend, Sakura-chan?” He says, even though his fingers are itching to grab her by the back of that ridiculous cheongsam and pull her to his side.

“Y-yes,” She says, completely caught off guard and, once again, Kakashi feels a bit faint when she reaches behind her to hold Sasori’s hand.

Sakura goes on to tell them all just how she met the red head, holding onto his hand all the while, and because Kakashi has been her sensei for all of 6 months, he can read the subtle quirks in her body language that indicate a budding crush.

Apparently, the other two members of Team 7 can, too, because both Naruto and Sasuke bristle at the way she subtly inches closer to this male they don’t know, smiling her Sakura smile and still holding his hand.

It would be funny if said new male wasn’t someone out for Kakashi’s head.

Over the top of Sakura’s head, Kakashi’s eyes catch Sasori’s own and narrow in warning. If he so much as touches a hair on her little girly head, alliance be damned, he is going to kill him.

Almost as if knowing this, Sasori smirks and reaches up to play with a long lock of Sakura’s hair, twirling it around his finger, his eyes never leaving Kakashi’s, and he sees the girl go just about catatonic with glee.

She turns to him and launches into a story of chakra strings, Sasori listening surprisingly intently, and we should meet up later so I can show you, Sasori-kun!

Show him what, Kakashi doesn’t know, too busy as he was making sure his student wasn’t killed, but he didn’t want to find out. Before he can stop himself, a stern, “No,” cuts through the conversation.

“What?” Sakura asks, confused and blinking rapidly. “Why not?”

“Because you have to prepare for the Chuunin Exams, Sakura-chan,” Kakashi says patiently, and it’s almost sickening how she deflates in disappointment.

It’s like even her scarily bright green eyes lose some of their brightness, and for a moment he feels guilty. That is until Sasori’s thin lips pull into a frown and places his hand on her narrow shoulders.

“It’s alright, Sakura-chan,” Sasori says and Kakashi is quite baffled at the contrast between the killer he sees on the battlefield and the nice man in front of him. “I’ll see you after the exams.”

No, he won’t, if Kakashi has anything to say about it. Sakura nods dejectedly, but whirls around to pull Sasori into another one of her hugs and the silver haired man goggles as, once again, Sasori returns it with much more enthusiasm—if only to piss Kakashi off.

They part ways, the males of Team 7 firing dozens of questions, and true to his word, Kakashi keeps his team busy for the two weeks they’re in Suna for the exam.

Sakura makes it into the third round along with her teammates, getting the slip on her opponent with an incredibly impressive use of chakra strings (and where the fuck did she learn that), but her next opponent is too fast to defeat in the third round.

None of the Genin on Team 7 have made Chuunin; but, it was to be expected. They are pretty green, after all.

On the day they’re set to depart, they’re standing at the gates rendezvousing with the other Konoha Genin teams when a chorus of girlish squeals rises into the air and he can hear Inuzuka Kiba yip in pain. Turning around to see what could possibly cause such a commotion, considering Sasuke is standing right next to him, Kakashi can’t help but narrow his eyes at the sight of Sasori making his way through the assembled teams.

Unfortunately, Sasori had been proctoring the matches in the exams and a lot of the Konoha kunoichi had taken an instant liking to him. He watches as Sasori ignores attempts at conversation by the other girls, his eyes riveted to the back of one pink-haired kunoichi’s head, that blank mask that Kakashi knows so well fixed on his face.

If Kakashi were a dog, he’s sure his hackles would be raised. As it is, despite the clear warning in his eyes, Sasori approaches Sakura and it’s disgusting how excited she gets over his being there. In fact, she doesn’t even hesitate to give him a hug.

Kakashi is going to need to have a long discussion with her over who she should, and should not, be affectionate towards.

She gushes to Sasori about her use of chakra strings, sheepishly admitting to showing off a bit, and actually apologizes for not making Chuunin. Kakashi is a bit put out to know that she learned how to use chakra strings from such a man.  

Sasori smiles, actually smiles, his eyes softening into what could be described on another person as affection, and reaches up to tugs on a lock of candy floss hair.

“You did well, Sakura-chan.” Sasori says and Sakura’s eyes go wide before she shyly mumbles her thanks.

And then Sasori, the bastard that he is, tugs on her hair to pull her forward and plant his, no doubt poisonous, lips on her rapidly flushing cheek. Naruto squawks in outrage, giving voice to Kakashi’s internal screams.

“I’ll see you again,” Sasori says, smirking at the way Sakura can only nod mutely, dazed as she is.

And then Sasori hands her a slip of paper that she quickly slips into her kunai pouch. He lifts those cold eyes to Kakashi’s own and that smirk is so mocking and self-satisfied that he actually considers murdering him right then and there.

He is the Hokage’s favorite, his punishment wouldn’t be that bad.

As soon as Sasori leaves, Sakura giving him one last hug, the other kunoichi swarm around her and start pressing her for details on her relationship with the Suna-nin.

Meanwhile, as they step off onto their journey back home, Asuma drifts to his side and asks, voice strained, “Explain to me how the fuck Sasori of the Red Sands knows your Genin and why the fuck he’s flirting with her.”

Kakashi decides right then and there that if his enemies don’t kill him, his Genin would.


 

Ten years later, the hospital falls into an uproar. In a never before seen gesture, Hatake Kakashi has just checked himself into a hospital after the announcement of the historical engagement between the Fifth Kazekage, Akasuna Sasori, and the Fifth Hokage’s apprentice, Haruno Sakura.

Reason: hypertension.