“I think you are officially capable of surviving in the desert,” Temari teased her pink-haired friend.
They had spent the first day of camping exploring the immediate area, and had discovered a bunch of cacti, three oases, another cave besides the one they were using, which actually intersected with theirs, and… some sort of animal corpse that Sakura had run away from but the boys had hauled back and were peering at near the fire.
“Not too cold, I hope?” the blonde added, as the temperature was dropping rapidly.
But the pinkette was shaking her head. “Hmm, I’m fine. It kinda reminds me of fall in Konoha actually.” She smiled wistfully. “I like it.”
Temari chuckled. “It’s a warm night,” she admitted, leaning back slightly. She looked over towards her brothers only to realize that Kankuro was alone, prodding the corpse with a stick. “Where’d Gaara go?”
Her brother’s wide shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Think he went to check the bags for something. Maybe he brought one of his spiders?” Actually, that wasn’t that far of a guess.
Light-colored brows furrowed faintly, and green eyes moved toward the edge of the small oasis where the cave-entrance was. The bags were there, in the cave. She started to get up—to go check on her baby brother—but the redhead reappeared, a box in hand. She relaxed back into her seat as he approached. “Hey! What’s that?” she asked, eyes on the lacquered box.
The redhead ignored her question and walked right up to Sakura, all but thrusting the box into her face. “For you,” he grunted, watching her expression carefully.
Her hands came up to grab the wooden container before it tumbled to the sand. “What is it?” Sakura asked, even as she turned it around to find the tiny latch on the side. She opened her mouth to say something more as the lid eased open, but no words followed. Instead, the pink-haired girl from another city sat still, staring down at a miniature hour glass cased in a small cylinder of cut steel.
“Because you follow the sand,” he explained hurriedly. “So now you can keep the sand. And you don’t have to follow it anymore.” He ignored his siblings’ gaping, eyes on her, waiting for the reaction. Any reaction. Rage would be better than the silence he was getting. “It’s… it’s a going-away present. People give those, right?”
There was a moment where only the crackle of the fire disturbed the silence, but then Sakura was rising to her feet, one hand still clutching the precious box and its tiny treasure. With two steps the girl had wrapped both arms around her dear friend and was nodding like an idiot.
“Ye-eah,” she mumbled out against his shoulder. “People do that. But…” Her arms tightened. “This… this is special. Thank you, Gaara.” Sakura closed her eyes and ignored the two drops that slipped free.
His arms slowly circled around her and held on carefully, as if he was afraid to break her. It was a very awkward hug, but it was at least reciprocated.
In the background, Temari was grinning so hard it hurt. And behind her, the other brother sat with his head tilted thinking, Huh, Gaara’s going to need more Greyhound tickets.
Drawing in a deep breath, Sakura’s gaze flickered over the boxes and bags piled in her room, containing her belongings. Most of what was in this room still would be put in storage, or shipped later if she needed it. The things she was taking with her, when Itachi arrived to pick her up, were all downstairs, stacked neatly by the door.
She was actually just doing one last check to make sure she hadn’t left anything, and she was glad she had. She’d almost left behind the box that Gaara had given her. Not the hourglass pendant; the gift had been around her neck since she got it.
Shifting it from one hand to the other, she swept her gaze over the room once more before turning and leaving. The door shut behind her with a surprisingly final click. Down the stairs she went, only to find mom awaiting her in the doorway between the kitchen and the front hall.
“So. This is it, huh?” her mother asked softly, nibbling her top lip like she did when she was nervous. She sighed and stepped over, giving Sakura a hug. “My little girl, all grown up. Look at you.” She pulled back, touching Sakura’s face briefly. “You’re a beautiful woman, Sakura.”
Sakura flushed lightly. Somehow, seeing her mother being so… well, it made it all that much more real. “I’m going to miss you, momma,” Sakura replied just as softly, and hugged her mother again. “But I’ll call, and I’ll email, and I’ll even visit and send snail mail! So, we can talk every day if you want.”
Naiyuri chuckled. “I doubt it,” she said, tone lightly chiding. “I remember how college was. Luckily, you already have a boy.”
This time, the pink-haired daughter really did blush. “Yeah,” she said somewhat guiltily. “But I’ll keep studying hard, and I’ll make good grades, and I’ll make you proud!”
“You already do,” her mother murmured, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
There was a knock on the door then, and Naiyuri drew a breath, shaking off the emotion like water, leaving behind a smile. “Alright, then, that’s your boy, I suppose. Or Gaara…” She trailed off thoughtfully.
The younger female couldn’t help her giggle. “With any luck, you might have a semi-permanent adopted son stalking your cooking,” she said, heading to the door. “But he’s mostly harmless!”
Smirking, the Uchiha on the other side only took a brief moment to confirm that it was the younger Haruno who was opening the door before he swept in, grabbing the girl around the waist and hauling her up, grinning at the way she laughed and shrieked. He only let her down again when she accidentally kneed him in the ribs. Even then, he ignored the need to breathe and kissed her right there in the foyer, door wide open. He didn’t care. Let the cool air flood out and the dry heat of Suna roll in; he was finally bringing her home.
The elder pink-haired woman shook her head and went to fetch the snacks from the kitchen; teenagers got hungry a lot, she knew.
And Sakura? She didn’t even notice, too busy with the celebratory kiss. But she did pull away before it got too indecent. “Hi,” she said, stifling the urge to giggle like an idiot. “So. I’m going home.”
“I’ve noticed,” he drawled back, albeit a tad breathlessly. “However, you’re coming over to my place first.”
She grinned at him. “No argument here… just one question?”
Giving into the urge, Itachi leaned down and nuzzled her throat, murmuring his words into her soft skin that smelled only of Sakura. “And what’s that?”
“How long do you think it will take Naruto to find us there?” she said pointedly. “Hell, he and Sasuke are probably already lying in wait.”
Itachi chuckled. “Mother,” he said smugly and lightly bit down on her shoulder. Letting go after she had uttered out a muted gasp, he continued. “She is giving us two hours and then we will face your friends. Apparently, the threat of several mental images concerning my body-parts were enough to dissuade Sasuke from disturbing us.”
“Mm. Two hours,” she murmured, arms sliding up his cloth-covered chest. She wrapped them slowly around his shoulders and leaned up on her tiptoes, smirking. “What could I possibly do to you in two hours?” She kissed his mouth briefly. “Maybe something messy?”
“Feel free to improvise,” he purred back. “We’ve got the whole house.” He broke off smirking. “And that terrifies my brother more than anything.” Smiling at her laughter, Itachi pulled away and glanced around. “I should thank your mother before stealing you away…”
Naiyuri poked her head out of the kitchen, smiling. “Done saying hello?” she asked sweetly.
Her daughter turned bright red, which seemed to amuse the woman. “Mom!”
“Yes?” Naiyuri stepped out of the kitchen, holding a small cooler. “I have snacks here for the road. It’s a long drive. And of course I’ll help move her things into the vehicle. Sakura, sweety, you really should take more…” She trailed off with a frown, eying the dozen or so bags and boxes, most of them filled with clothing.
“The dorm will be providing furniture, so I don’t really need any of mine. But I can bring as many clothes as I want, and other stuff… still, I don’t need a lot, mom. Anything I don’t have, I can just get in town,” Sakura explained, reluctantly pulling away from her man.
“If she does need anything, we can always visit,” Itachi added, moving towards the heavier boxes. “Okaa-san was talking about trading recipes?”
The older woman nodded, smiling. “Yes. Mikoto-chan and I were discussing it. I’m making up an organized copy of my book of recipes to give her.”
Green eyes blinked hard. Mikoto-chan? Oh dear.
The Uchiha heir smirked at his girlfriend’s worried expression and trudged out the door.
Naiyuri just beamed and went to pick up a box after handing the cooler to Sakura.
The couple got exactly two hours between the time they stepped through the doors of Itachi’s house, and the time there was a familiar banging downstairs on the front door.
Sakura, soaking in the tub—and cuddled up to Itachi in post-coital bliss—groaned. “I was just getting comfortable,” she complained, scowling at the few bubbles still floating on the water. “Can we just ignore them? Maybe they’ll think we left early and just go away,” she said hopefully.
“They, we can ignore,” her boyfriend replied as he shifted and reluctantly stood, reaching down to help her up, “but Okaa-san, not so much.”
“Uhg,” was the answer he received. But she let him pull her to her feet, and accepted a towel with an irritated expression on her face. She paused, a thought occurring to her. “Who is coming?” she asked, referring to his group. “You said… Kakuzu was working…”
Closing one eye as he rubbed a towel through his hair, Itachi nodded. “Kakuzu is working, so is Hinata. Hidan will be here and Deidara. Kisame will arrive later in a few hours when his shift is over.”
“Oh,” she said, and hurried to get dressed. She knew Deidara could be absent minded, and Hidan was a pervert, so it was best to have as much clothing on as possible by the time they got here.
She was running the towel over her hair—messing it up impossibly much—when there was a light knock on the door. “They’re waiting downstairs,” a familiar soft voice announced. “And talking about surprising you, Sakura-chan. Hurry.”
In contrast, Itachi’s smirk grew teeth. “Thank you, Okaa-san.” Lazily casting about the bathroom floor, he picked up a pair of boxers and a pair of dark jeans.
“Anytime, Itachi-san,” Mikoto replied happily, and her soft footsteps receded.
Sakura frowned at the door. “I didn’t hear her when she came,” she pointed out. “I hope she doesn’t teach my mom to do that.”
Tugging his clothing on, the recently graduated teen smiled. “Lock your doors,” he advised and then straightened, tossing the towel over his shoulder and grinned. “Ready?”
Pink brows lifted at his lack of upper garments, but she preferred him topless, so she didn’t complain. Instead, she smiled back and snagged his hand before stepping out into the hallway.
Down the nearby stairs, they could hear a familiar voice raising in despair. “Whaddya mean we can’t surprise her—OW TEMEE!” There was a soft reprimand from the younger Uchiha, and Naruto subsided into grumbling.
“Oh boy,” Sakura grumbled, and looked at Itachi. “He means well?”
“Does he?” he asked back, eyebrows up among his damp bangs.
“I think he’s just over excited,” she replied. “Don’t worry, I’ll beat him up if he gets to be too much trouble.” She gave his hand another squeeze, smiled and released him to head downstairs.
“Hnn.” He trailed along after her a few paces behind.
When the couple got downstairs, Naruto was the first to spot them. He jumped up with a happy yell of, “SAKURA-CHAN!!!” while the others turned to look. Sasuke waved and visibly restrained himself from rolling his eyes. Shikamaru appeared to be asleep in the armchair. Choji was chomping chips but stopped long enough to smile and wave. Sai perked and reached for paper.
And Ino… stared. And turned red. In the face. Quickly.
Immensely amused, Itachi stepped away from Sakura by a few steps to allow the avalanche that was Naruto to slam into his girlfriend. He also noted how a pair of bright blue eyes tracked his movements. Or rather the movements of his nipples. Hnn…
Off to the side, Sasuke made his way over to his brother. Aniki nodded once to which he returned with a grumbled, “Would it kill you to wear a shirt?”
The taller boy shrugged, then let out a low chuckle as he shook his head. “Do you remember way back? You and Sakura were studying…”
Grumpy black eyes met amused. “Again: would it kill you to wear a shirt?” Sasuke repeated.
“Okay, Naruto, if you don’t let me breathe, I will knock. You. Out,” Sakura growled, though the sound was strained.
Luckily, the blond decided to reluctantly release his friend, and set her on her feet. Then he grinned widely at her. “You’re HOME!” he yelped happily. “I brought a bunch of ramen to celebrate!”
Huffing out a laugh, Sakura smirked at him. “Of course you did. Well? Where is it, then? I’m hungry.”
“Ehh… Mikoto-san said she’d make it,” he said, sheepishly.
Secretly, everyone was relieved. It might actually come out as a decent snack, if that were the case.
Over in the oversized chair, Shika cracked open an eye. He waved once at Sakura, who actually did see it and even returned the gesture. Turning his head to relieve a small muscle strain, he spied Ino who was standing alarmingly still for once. “Ino?” he called out to her softly. “I~no?
As if he’d kick-started her, the blonde startled and turned her head to look at him. She opened her mouth, closed it, turned bright red and… squeaked. Sakura, overhearing the sound, looked at her best friend. Then at her boyfriend. She sighed. “I’ll be right back guys. Ino and I need girl talk.” She plucked at her hair. “And a brush.”
And before she knew it, Ino was being dragged out of the room. She cast one last glance over her shoulder at Itachi’s chest, and then the girls were gone.
“Maaaaannn, that’s cheating, Uchiha!” Naruto protested, pouting. “You can’t have ‘em all!”
Sai looked up from his paper, smiling. “But if you do, let me draw it,” he inserted happily.
One Uchiha smirked while the other shorter one scowled. “That’s it. Aniki.” Sasuke put both hands on his brother’s—admittedly well-muscled—back and shoved. “We’re getting you a shirt.”
“Yes, yes,” Itachi answered easily. “Are you going to comb my hair too, mother?” He snickered when he received a wordless snarl in response.
Shaking his head, Shikamaru watched as Sasuke bullied his older brother up the stairs. It just wasn’t fair.
Meanwhile, by the door…
“Sakura, you are the luckiest person alive. I swear to the gods you are,” Ino said softly, awed.
“I know,” Sakura replied flippantly, shoving on her shoes. They had left all her stuff in the car, since they weren’t bringing anything inside. She would be staying in the college dorms, after all.
“That’s it?” Ino yelped incredulously, following her friend out the door.
A shoulder lifted, dropped and Sakura sighed. “Yep. He’s hot. And mine. Hell yeah I’m lucky.”
The blonde heaved a sigh. “I am so jealous right now.”
Sakura just echoed her lover’s smirk.
Upstairs, Itachi was watching his younger brother dig through his closet for the geekiest looking sweater that Sasuke could find. All while Not Looking At The Bed.
“You kept a shirt on in Suna,” his ototo was growling. “Why not here?”
Rolling his eyes, Itachi leaned against the bedpost. “One, the Suna sun would have turned me into a boiled lobster.” He paused. Yes, Sasuke had winced in grudging agreement. The younger Uchiha had been burnt his shoulders near instantly before Okaa-san had gotten to him. “Two, this is my home.”
A comfortable dark green sweater was thrown to him as Sasuke huffed. “Fine. Just…” The younger teen shook his head trailing off to silence.
Itachi smirked. “Ino’s face?”
His brother snickered. “Yeah.” They shared a grin.
A/N: Ariel and I talked about the chapter title for a bit. In a way, this is the real ending of Sand Trails.
Sakura is no longer following the sand. Through her efforts, she is returning home. Not only is she leaving the designated trail, but she’s making her own path.
This isn’t an end for her, it’s her life, her path, and it’s all hers to control.