Fourth Time’s the Charm
saisaku, Rated G, 4.6k
Sakura wiped the sweat from her brow as she glanced at Sai. Still breathless from their spar, she asked, “Yeah?”
Sai met her eyes and Sakura was caught off guard by the seriousness there. Even as he took a drink from his water bottle, his eyes didn’t leave her. She watched as his throat bobbed as he swallowed a large gulp. Her eyes went back to his as he opened his mouth, his chest still rising quicker than normal as he tried to steady his breathing.
What was probably only a few seconds felt like minutes before he finally spoke.
“I’m in love with you.”
Sakura felt her heart skip a beat as she looked at him in surprise. It sounded like there was cotton in her ears as she asked him barely audible, “What?”
Sai nodded, a smile coming naturally to his lips. He repeated in a steadier voice, a slight flush to his cheeks, “I said I’m in love with you.”
Sakura’s mind went blank, her heart thudding loudly inside her chest. “You - what?”
Sai’s smile started to slip from his face and his brow furrowed in concern. He leaned towards her, his hand grabbing her shoulder. “Sakura, are you alright? Is your hearing - “
Sakura cut him off with a nervous laugh, stepping out of his reach. “Yes - Sai, did you just say you were in love with me?”
Sai nodded, looking at her confused. “Yes, Sakura. Would you like me to repeat it a third time?”
“What? No.” Sakura closed her eyes and swallowed a breath to calm herself down. When she opened her eyes, she looked at Sai in bewilderment. The man stood there looking back at her as calm as ever as if he’d just stated some random tidbit and not a confession.
Memories flashed through her mind. A pile of psychology and communication books stacked on Sai’s desk. Sai repeatedly saying the wrong thing over the ten years she’d known him. Sai not realizing Ino had been flirting with him for months. Sai calling her ugly, thinking it was a sweet nickname. Sai -
“Sai, you are not in love with me.” Sakura laughed, shaking her head, willing her racing heart to slow.
Sai blinked at her then nodded. “Yes, I am.”
“No, you just - “
Sai interrupted her, breaking eye contact and looking at the grass beneath their feet. “Please don’t tell me what I’m feeling, Sakura.”
“But Sai - “
Sakura closed her mouth when he looked back at her, a pain ripping through her chest at the clear hurt on his face. She bit her lip, a dozen thoughts running through her head about how to steer this conversation, which direction she wanted it to go in the first place.
Sai sighed after a heavy pause. “I know over the years I’ve… struggled with different emotions and social situations. But I - this is something I’m certain of.”
Sakura nodded slowly, a shaky breath leaving her lungs. “You’re in love with me, then.”
Sai nodded, his shoulders relaxing. “I’m in love with you.”
A third time and she still couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Sakura’s thoughts were still a jumbled mess. The surprise of one of her best friends confessing to her still not having worn off yet. She didn’t even have time to process her own feelings, struggling to believe Sai in the first place.
While Sai was well known to be awkward at times, making many people uncomfortable with his lack of social skills, that had never been them. Sai and Sakura had never been awkward. He had never made her uncomfortable. Even now, the air felt heavy and maybe tense, but not awkward.
Maybe it was because Sakura had always been Sai’s go-to person when it came to people and emotions he was having difficulty with. But she could only think about what had possibly led Sai to this conclusion. If it was something he read and connected incorrectly or a passing comment from someone.
Because there was no way Sai was in love with her.
Sakura hadn’t even had time to think of another response before Sai was speaking again. “I know people usually ask for a response but I don’t want one.”
Sakura felt even more confused. “You don’t?”
Sai nodded, that smile back on his face. “I think it’s telling that you don’t even believe me, so I don’t need a response right now.”
Sakura felt something shatter inside her and she took a step forward. “Sai - “
Sai held up a hand and her feet stopped. “I’m going to make you believe me, then I’ll say it a fourth time. I want your response then.”
Sai wanted them to go on as if that day in the training field hadn’t happened. He’d said if she couldn’t believe him, then he must be doing something wrong. Sakura had argued with him that he hadn’t done anything wrong but Sai was stubborn when he wanted to be. He’d asked her to give him this, a chance to show her, and Sakura had been too weak to deny him.
She didn’t know what this would do to their friendship let alone their team dynamic but Sai was and would always be someone important to her. If he really wanted to do this, then she didn’t have the heart to stop him. Regardless of what form, she loved him and she’d promised him a long time ago she would be there for him as he worked through his emotions.
This was simply another one of those times where he was confused and needed her help. Sakura would be patient and let him work through it himself.
Even if it hurt.
Sakura thought Sai would resort to cheesy tropes he’d read about it in books. Maybe some flowers on her doorstep or some poetic lines spoken under the moonlight. But he didn’t do any of that. Really, nothing changed.
But maybe Sakura had never been paying enough attention in the first place.
While Sakura would never let herself be seriously injured - she was the medic, she had to be alive by the end of the day or no one would be healed - she rarely wasted chakra on herself, especially in the middle of a mission.
It left her with a lot of scars and bruises, some burns that were too light to worry her enough. But it also made her the one who the med kit was actually used on the most.
And Sai was usually on the other side of the needle.
Sakura winced, her hand curling into a fist on her thigh.
A soft voice tried to lull her, “I’m almost done.”
Sakura focused on the weight of Sai’s hand on her shoulder as he stitched up a shallow slash on her back. She wondered if recent events hadn’t occurred if she would have noticed the way his thumb stroked across her skin soothingly.
No sooner had he placed the needle and thread back in her bag did he reach for her spare bindings. It wasn’t the first time he’d redressed her, wrapped the white bindings over her chest to tie it expertly in the back. His eyes never lingered, his touch never making her uncomfortable. Sakura had never thought anything of it. Not after the first time when she’d dislocated her shoulder and he’d helped her change out of blood soaked clothes. Sakura was the only woman on her team, but she never worried any of her teammates would take advantage of her. Their bonds were more important than that.
But thinking about it now as Sai looped the cloth around her, she’d never bothered to ask Naruto or Kakashi. It had always been Sai. Sai stitching her back up, applying salves across her cuts and wiping blood away from her skin in the comfort of her tent. She couldn’t even remember if she’d even asked him or if Sai had simply offered.
“Sakura, are you in pain?”
Sakura broke away from her thoughts to look at Sai who was looking at her worriedly. She hadn’t even noticed when he’d finished. “Hm? No, I’m okay.”
Sai smiled and looked down at the shirt in his lap. He must’ve pulled it from her bag when she was drifting off into space. “You looked like you were thinking pretty hard about something.”
“Oh, I, um…” Sakura felt a blush warm her face and tucked her hair behind her ear. She shrugged, ignoring the flare of pain from her shoulder. “Just still processing the fight I guess.”
Sai nodded, accepting the obvious lie to her relief. He moved closer to her, lifting her arm. “Well, let me help you so you don’t tear open your stitches.”
Sakura gritted her teeth as he helped her slip on the standard jounin long sleeve. “Might’ve been better to just cut the sleeves off.”
Sai chuckled as he pulled it over her head. “Maybe, but the night might get cold.”
Sakura hummed in response, letting out a breath as the fabric settled against her skin. She felt her smile twitch as Sai leaned forward to tuck her knotted hair behind her ear. “Thank you, Sai.”
Sai smiled back at her and Sakura felt nothing but warmth from his eyes. He reached behind himself and handed her a hair brush. He didn’t offer to help again, knowing she didn’t like to be babied if she could do something herself. Plus she’d kept her hair short all these years and it only took a few moments to get the tangles out. She wordlessly handed it back to him and he tossed it into her bag.
As he zipped it back up, he told her, “Kakashi will most likely give you the last watch, so get some rest. I’ll wake you for dinner.”
Sakura stubbornly argued, “I’m not so injured that I can’t take an early watch.”
Sai rolled his eyes at her and argued back, “But you are the only injured one on the team because you healed the rest of us.” He leaned back on his heels towards the tent flaps. “It’s the least we could do.”
Sakura sighed and watched him leave without further argument.
Sai still didn’t always title his art pieces. Sketches in his book, especially ones that went unfinished, abandoned on old pages rarely had titles.
But Sakura found out that he usually dated everything, in tiny script near the right corner of every page.
It had been sitting innocently atop her desk when Sakura had come back from a surgery. It took her a second to realize what it was, but as soon as she flipped open the cover she recognized Sai’s art style.
Another second later, she realized the page was marked with images of her. Sakura’s chest felt tight as she went to the next page and saw her eyes looking back at her. Then the next, and the next, and then one after that, and so on. The whole book, this heavy weight in her hands, was filled with drawings of her.
With shaking fingers, Sakura went back to the front and looked more closely. They weren’t all detailed, but she could tell it was always her. Some even felt familiar, as if she could remember the day Sai had been picturing when he was drawing.
Her eyes followed the length of her leg to the edge of the page and that was when she noticed it - a date from five years ago. Sakura’s fingers paused as they lifted the corner of the page, then went to the next.
Eventually, Sakura gently placed the book back on her desk and sat down in her chair. Her eyes stayed glued to the black cover, the worn edges of the pages.
Her mind went foggy as numbers flooded it.
Sai had been drawing her for years.
But the more surprising thing to her was how she felt looking at all those brush strokes. The detailed drawings and the casual lines of a half-finished sketch.
She felt loved.
While they would always be Team Seven and Team Kakashi, their unit officially broke up when Kakashi was appointed Hokage. Yamato moved on to Kakashi’s guard - though they weren’t supposed to know that - and Naruto spent more time on diplomatic missions. Sakura filled in on S-class missions whenever there was a need for a medic and was at the hospital the rest of the time. She thought Sai might follow Yamato or even into the rest of ANBU, but he stayed on the mission roster.
For teams of two, they were sent out together more often than not. Sakura hadn’t thought to question it until months later.
“I know we work well together but I’m still surprised we get assigned to the same missions so much.”
Sai replied casually as he stoked a fire as they settled in for the night, “Oh, that’s because I always request you when I’m given the choice.”
Sakura looked up from the small fire in confusion. “Request me?”
Sai nodded then paused looking over at her. He explained with a tentative smile, “Ah, since you’re a medic, you’re not given the lead on missions. For A-class missions and above, whoever is assigned primary lead tends to get the option to pick their team members.”
Sakura glanced off to the side as the words sunk in. “No, I mean I know that. I guess I just… I guess I never realized you’ve been picking me this whole time. I didn’t think about it. I thought Kakashi was just assigning us together.”
Sai shrugged, leaning back comfortable against the tree behind him as the fire finally gained some life. “I suppose he might assign us together even if I didn’t ask.”
They were quiet for a moment with only the crackling of the fire between them and the sounds of nearby animals to fill the night air. Sakura hummed thoughtfully, her heart rate pounding more forcefully against her rib cage. She tried to lighten the tightness in her chest. “Having a medic is always nice.”
Sai snorted across from her and Sakura’s eyes went back to him. “I don’t choose you because you’re a medic, Sakura.”
Sakura pushed in a quiet voice, “Then why?”
Sai’s voice felt warmer than the fire as he replied, “I trust you. I always want you by my side.”
Sakura’s voice got stuck in her throat as felt herself blush at his words. She looked down at a twig escaping the fire and falling to the forest floor. Her heart raced in the seconds before Sai spoke again.
He sounded unsure for the first time as he asked her, “Does that bother you, Sakura?”
Sakura laughed softly to herself, biting her lip as she shook her head.
“No, Sai, it doesn’t.”
Sakura couldn’t hear anything besides the sound of her own voice screaming inside her head.
It’s not enough.
It’s not enough.
It’s not enough.
Her vision was becoming blurred, whether it was because of sweat dripping into her eyes or tears threatening to spill over she didn’t know. She knew her body was shaking with effort or maybe even fear, but she continued to press her fingers deeper into the bloody mess of the chest in front of her.
Words were spilling out of her mouth like a cup that seemed to have no bottom. She couldn’t even think about what she was saying. Pleas, empty promises, threats. She didn’t know anymore. But she kept them coming, breathing them out like the air that was shaking in her lungs.
She had lost her sense of time so she had no idea how long it had been when the world finally came rushing back to her.
A hand gripped the back of her shirt roughly and jerked her backwards until she landed with a harsh thud against the ground.
Sakura paid no mind to the voice and shot back up, reaching forward towards the body - no, person, they were still -
Someone gripped her arm and Sakura’s head whipped towards them as pain shot through her. She clutched at the arm, looking down to see a red hand. Their hand? No, that was her hand.
Sakura finally looked up to see a face swim into view. Dark eyes and a pale face.
“Sai.” His name fell from her lips helplessly and she turned back towards the person.
Sai grabbed her shoulders and turned her back to him. “Sakura, please, stop.”
“They - Sai, I need to - “
“Sakura, look at me.”
Sakura shook her head and tried to break his hold, but his grip was more firm. She felt dizzy and her head started to throb, but she couldn’t stop. She had to save them. They only needed -
Sakura didn’t know she had been talking out loud until Sai told her in a soft but firm voice, “They’re gone, Sakura.”
Warm hands cupped her face and she met Sai’s eyes as her vision started to cloud. Her breathing was becoming faster as she repeated, “No.”
Sai’s breathing didn’t sound too steady either as he tried to get through to her. “Sakura, you did what you could. But you need to stop. You’re losing too much chakra. They’re gone.”
Sakura shook her head as she started to helplessly grip at Sai’s wrist. She watched as his skin started to turn red where she touched him and she squeezed her eyes shut. Her voice was barely above a whisper and she gasped, “I’m sorry.”
Sai leaned his forehead against hers. “No, no, Sakura, you have nothing to be sorry for.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry - “
Sakura’s breath caught as Sai pulled her into his arms. He held her tightly as she began to cry in earnest. She couldn’t even pinpoint a single emotion, she was just overwhelmed. His name was broken as she choked it out. “Sai.”
He squeezed her tighter against him as she buried her face into his neck, her hands clutching the back of his vest like a lifeline. “I’m here, Sakura. You’re okay. We’re okay. I’m not going anywhere. Just focus on me.”
Sakura thought about that day more than she’d like to. There were others like it, more than she’d like to admit. But that one had been the worst. Kakashi had taken her off the mission roster for a month while she recovered. Recovered with no injuries, but severe chakra depletion and a shaky mental state. She’d spent days in Tsunade’s office talking about survivor’s guilt, specifically of a medic. While it had been therapeutic to connect with the one person she knew could understand, it didn’t get much better.
It’d always be there, she’d always struggle with it. But Tsunade reminded her to count the lives around her instead of the bodies behind her. It had been harsh, but she was right.
When her mind wandered, she tried to remember Sai. She didn’t like to think about what would have happened if he hadn’t been there. But remembering the strength of his arms as he held her helped sometimes. Safety and comfort. Feelings that had become constants with Sai over the years.
Sakura had been almost asleep when she heard the tap on her window. She glanced over, her heart rate slightly elevated, to find a silhouette that was all too familiar. Swallowing her worry, she slipped out of her bed to open up the window.
Sai slipped inside but only enough to sit on the window pane. He didn’t meet her eyes and Sakura watched his chest rise and fall faster than normal. The moonlight laid across his face as he asked her quietly, “Sakura, would you like to go for a walk with me?”
Sakura almost snorted at him. It was nearing two in the morning and she had an early shift at the hospital. She was sure Sai would be busy the next day as well.
But she smiled at him, anyway, and answered as something squeezed at her chest. “Sure, Sai.”
They walked near the training grounds, the moonlight slipping through the tree leaves above them to light their path. The faint sounds of shinobi training drifted away as they neared a small stream on the edge of Konoha.
Sai hadn’t told her why he’d come to her in the middle of the night and Sakura didn’t ask.
His hand brushed against hers as they walked, sending shivers down her spine and making her bite her lip nervously. Sai talked to her softly, his voice warm and comforting in the cool night air. He told her random things, mainly paintings he was working on or some snippets of art history he had grown fond of learning over the years.
Sakura had never thought she’d know so much about something she’d hardly cared about in the past. But she found she could listen to Sai talk about the most mundane things if it made him happy. She was thankful for any topic that lessened that tightness in his smile until it finally stretched across his face into something more natural.
Sakura had been quietly humming along to whatever artist Sai had been discussing when he drifted off into a gentle silence. She glanced at him curiously and he met her eyes before looking away. She didn’t know if she imagined the faint blush on his cheeks as he gazed up at the moon.
He answered the unspoken question of the night with a simple, “You put my mind at rest so easily.” He chuckled softly before looking back down to the ground as they walked. “You don’t even have to do anything besides be there.”
Sakura felt her face warm and slipped her shaking fingers into his grasp. She tucked her hair behind her ear with her other hand as her eyes wandered over to the water beside them. “I’ll always be there for you, Sai.”
She looked back to him to see a smile that she couldn’t deny made her stomach twist in knots.
He laced his fingers with hers and squeezed her hand.
“Thank you, Sakura.”
The sentence came out of her mouth without a second thought.
“Thank you, but I’m spoken for.”
Ino raised an eyebrow at her as the man apologized and excused himself from their table.
Sakura sighed and then laughed, dragging a hand down her face. “Why did I say that?”
She didn’t even know if she was asking Ino or herself, but Ino replied with a shrug, “To let the guy down easily?”
It was an out that Ino gave easily, but Sakura couldn’t take it.
“No, I…” Sakura’s eyebrows scrunched together as she stared at a crack in the wood of their table. “I said what felt right, I guess.”
Ino was giving her an odd look, but played along with her. “Okay, and why is that?”
“I told Sai I would give him a chance and I… think that this would go against that.”
Ino hummed, taking a drink from her bottle. Sakura had confined in her months ago, so while she didn’t completely understand Sai and Sakura’s dynamic, she got the gist of what was going on.
Usually on their nights out like this, they didn’t talk about anything serious. They would drink and laugh, poking fun at each other. But Ino didn’t comment on Sakura dampening the mood, She seemed to pick up on Sakura’s thoughts, that she needed to sort this out and have someone listen.
Ino was good about that. She had a way of breaking down what someone was really thinking even if they didn’t know it themselves.
“Has he said anything? Since… then?”
Sakura shook her head. Even thinking over the last few months, nothing had been out of the ordinary. But there had been this shift between them anyway, a different tone to overlay every interaction. She wondered for the dozenth time if she really had just been oblivious to Sai’s feelings and he’d been trying to show her in his own way for a long time.
Ino smiled, giving her an amused look. “But you’ve already given yourself to him anyway, haven’t you?”
Sakura blushed and stammered, “I haven’t - “
Ino pointed her bottle at her before taking another drink. “In your heart, Forehead. You know what I mean.”
Sakura stared at her for a moment as the words sank in, then she laughed and took a shot of her sake.
“Yeah, I guess so, Pig.” The alcohol was warm going down her throat. “I guess so.”
Sakura could tell Sai was about to say his usual goodbye after their sparring session and interrupted him. “Sai, can we stay awhile? Just rest?”
“Of course.” Sai looked at her warmly, a smile on his lips.
They stepped over to the tree their packs laid at and Sakura hesitated as Sai sat down to lean back against the bark. He looked up at her in question and Sakura swallowed down her nerves before kneeling in front of him.
“Will you hold me?”
It felt ridiculous coming out of her mouth but she tried to not regret it. She rarely asked for things she wanted and Sai made her feel like she always could with him.
Pink dusted his cheeks as he awkwardly held open his arms with a nod. Sakura wondered if he was too nervous to speak, worried if he’d say the wrong thing.
She carefully made her way into his arms, settled back against his chest between his legs. Sai wrapped his arms around her waist as she leaned back into him, her head against his neck.
After a moment, her heart had calmed down to a steady beat and Sai asked her quietly, “Am I… doing this right?”
Sakura couldn’t stop the fond smile on her lips, not that she wanted to. She rested her arms over his and let out a content sigh. “Yes, Sai.”
He hummed in response, his body relaxing as he leaned his head against hers.
She didn’t know how long they laid there before she admitted to the wind whispering through the trees, “I feel safe here.”
Sai paused before asking uncertainty, “In Konoha?”
Sakura chuckled and clarified with a blush, “In your arms.”
Sai stilled in surprise as he processed what she said, then tightened his arms around her.
Sakura wasn’t nearly as bold as Sai. She had too many years of expectations and insecurities shoved down her throat to be bold. But she tried to be more bold for Sai, more honest, and vulnerable like he was with her.
“I…” she started off faintly, then cleared her throat. “When it gets… hard, I think about you. About how you look back for me, how you’d carry me half-dead through a field of enemies before you’d leave me. You make me feel… so secure.”
Sai was quiet beside her and she continued, “You know, I never sleep as well on missions when I’m with someone else.” She shrugged with a longing feeling. “Well, maybe Naruto and Kakashi but those days are behind us.”
She gave him a moment and then told him as bluntly as he had her, “I’m in love with you.”
Sai’s arms loosened around her in surprise as he lifted his head to look at her. She turned her face to see the surprise and confusion etched into his face inches from her. She couldn’t help but smile and lifted a hand to hold his cheek.
“Don’t worry. I’ll work hard on you believing me.”
A short laugh escaped his mouth and he turned his face into her palm to place a small kiss there. “So, you believe me, then? What I said all those months ago?”
Sakura pressed her forehead against his, turning in his lap. “Yes, Sai, I do.”
As promised, he told her a fourth time against her lips as he closed the distance between them, “I’m in love with you, Haruno Sakura.”
She didn’t think she needed to repeat it again for him to understand what her response was. She simply melted into his kiss