Renji had seen her numerous times; too many to keep count (sixty-eight, in fact). Each time they never exchanged more than a cursory glance, an acknowledging tilt of a delicate chin. It didn't matter that the shinigami and hollows had been in their world for four years already; there was never much of a mingling between the two communities. The shinobi were secretive by nature, and they still remained wary of them, the ones who held the title as the gods of death. They, the shinigami, were unaccustomed to the living souls they watched over being able to see them, hear them, touch them. In the human world such instances were an extreme rarity. Four years, and still the shinigami did not walk among the citizens of the shinobi nations, remaining on the tops of roofs, rocks and uppermost branches. Only the shinobi frequented those places, and the chakra wielders were content to ignore them without a fleeting glance; yet making it glaringly obvious that they were always watching. It was unnerving to say the least, to be under such disguised scrutiny after the thousands of years of being the watchers themselves.
Of course there was the odd exception to the norm, Uzumaki Naruto being the most prominent example, and it was the golden haired, sky eyed loud mouth that initially caught his attention and interest the first day he set foot on warm Konoha soil.
She was beside him. Just as loudly colourful as her companion, painted in a familiar pink that brought forth the feeling of peaceful spring and a sharp prick of battle adrenaline that stemmed from the extensive years spent in the presence of the sixth division captain. Wide apple green were bright with intelligence, and like all the others, curious yet guarded. Haruno Sakura, the apprentice of the fifth Hokage, he later learned.
Renji couldn't imagine something so soft could garner the title of shinobi, but all of it was new to him anyways. She was just another living soul they were charged with overseeing.
Somewhere over the span of those four years, she had changed into something more. Perhaps it was because Naruto had lost most of his appeal as the too-loud and entertaining shinobi, becoming more of a regular entity within Konoha. Within all of the shrouded leaves and shadows, he was more like the sun that watched over his beloved village providing a brightness that was essential for the growth of the very trees that supported it. Naruto would always be interesting, but the shinobi no longer what he sought out whenever stationed in the hidden village of leaves.
Haruno Sakura was not simply soft; she was a conundrum that had to be constantly reevaluated after each time he obtained a sliver of knowledge that could never quite be pieced together in the mysterious puzzle that was her. At times it was frustrating, sorting through an enigma, and there were several times when he had almost convinced himself to ignore the female. However, he couldn't deny the elation he felt when he learned something new about her that he didn't know before, and even though he didn't quite know why it made him happy, it didn't really matter. It just did.
Then there was the week before, when he had found the silver-haired scarecrow that had once been her teacher. Alone, angry paper-thin cuts scattered along pale skin like an abstract painting, exhaustion weighing him down as if there were lead in his bones instead of marrow.
But all of that could be dismissed, all of it, except for the fact that the copy-ninja did not notice him. It wasn't as if Renji was going through lengths to conceal his presence, so it was alarming when the man collapsed, remaining unresponsive even when the shinigami audibly dropped next to him from his perch high in the trees outside of the gates of Konoha.
Shinigami and shinobi did not mingle. No one knew of the two of them there, so he would not be blamed if he left. The injuries were not the result of a hollow attack, and he knew there were many other shinigami who would leave the man to his own fate. They did not get involved with the shinobi beyond exterminating the hollows and sending the wayward souls to Soul Society. Renji was not responsible for Hatake Kakashi.
He wasn't, and still he checked for the man's sluggish and irregular pulse, still he slung the deadweight over his shoulder, still carried him to her apartment.
Sure, there may have been consequences had he been seen, the shinigami would refuse to view his actions as a good thing, accuse him of straining the relationship between the two nations and complicating it unnecessarily. Any Konoha shinobi may have thought he were attempting something foul with their unconscious and injured comrade, resulting in an attack, but fortunately no one caught sight of them speeding towards her building.
It was late when he began banging on her door, sometime after one in the morning and she was wearing a large faded orange t-shirt, her pink tresses tangled. Quickly and gently, she pulled the injured shinobi from his shoulder and into her house with an ease that exhibited a strength that always surprised him.
"Thank you, Abarai-san. Thank you."
She smiled at him despite the worry that clouded her eyes, and all of his reservations, all of his doubts on the situation vanished.
Haruno Sakura knew his name.
Standing on the ledge of the roof of a particularly tall building the next day, their eyes met, and in lieu of the habitual nod he was greeted with a smile that he had to turn away from, fearing that she would see the blush painted across the bridge of his nose. Surprisingly, he also received a glare from Hatake. Ungrateful bastard.
As the days passed, Renji learned that while it was impossible to completely avoid blushing whenever Sakura smiled at him, he was positive she never noticed said redness because of how swiftly he turned away from her… either that or she simply pretended ignorance.
Strangely, whenever he did spot Sakura, Hatake was never far away. Prior to the saving incident, it was only on occasion that he had ever seen the two Konoha-nin together in public, the elusive copy-nin had never been the one to surround himself with the blanket of townsfolk the way in which Sakura always donned with ease.
Putting the pink-haired medic-nin out of his mind for a second, he savoured the stick of dango, the sweet treat something he only indulged in every once in a while when he had finally discovered a vendor that didn't mind selling his goods to their second variety of death deliverers. Money was money, the merchant had said, and as long as someone was going to enjoy the food then there was no reason to turn away a customer. He was fortunate that the reasonable man made such delicious dango.
Finishing the last piece off the thin stick, he stretched his arms high above his head and breathed in the fresh spring air. About to step off the rooftop he was on, he jumped back suddenly when a blur of pink came flying up.
Wide, shocked leafy green eyes blinked at him, her mouth slightly agape with a silent yelp as she stumbled backwards awkwardly while her body attempted to stay on a collision-course with his chest.
"Haruno!" Snapping forward, Renji grasped the hand not holding the large and expensive looking sake bottle and pulled her into him, preventing her from going back off the ledge she had just stepped onto, something he was sure she had forgotten in her shock.
An uncharacteristic squeak did leave her when she fell into him, and he found that she was soft — in the way only females were — and he had yet another piece to fit in her ever changing image.
"What the hell, Haruno. You were about to back off of the roof." Frowning down at her, he then realized how far back she had to crane her neck in order for her to look up at his towering height. The heat from her body pressed against his was altogether alluring and torturously distracting.
"I wasn't — didn't — and you were — " the female flustered over her words before stopping completely to take a calming breath. Stepping away from the shinigami so she wouldn't have to strain her neck, he mentally lamented at the loss of closeness.
"You surprised me," she began sheepishly. "And even if I did fall off, I would've been fine. Shinobi, remember?"
"Do shinobi often nearly barrel into each other, or just ones carrying expensive sake?" He couldn't help but tease her, a surreal haze surrounding him.
Her face reddened slightly, and he marveled at the sight. "No, and I was just distracted. The sake is for drinking under the sakura, and I was looking for… someone…" Sakura awkwardly petered off, her apple green eyes shifting away from the redhead.
She was nervous, pale fingers curling around the neck of the sake bottle and the way her glossy pink bottom lip was being worried gave her away easily.
"Would you like to join me, Abarai-san? I never got to thank you properly, for helping Kakashi."
The question momentarily stunned him; it was unanticipated, yet he found himself grinning and feeling pleasantly surprised with the invitation. "Sure, if you call me Renji."
"Renji?" She spoke softly, her pink brows lifting with thought, the name touching her lips as if it were an exotic flavour she wasn't sure she would like. But her features smoothed, lighting up, and she spoke his name more firmly this time. "Renji-san. I can do that, if you call me Sakura."
Kami her smile was pretty. Especially when she was saying his name.
Coughing into his fist to hide his embarrassment, the shinigami gestured for the petite female to lead the way. She surprised him when she set off in the opposite direction he had expected.
A quick minute disguised as a long tense hour ticked by in silence, and Renji mentally smacked himself to beat back his ridiculous nervousness. He was a vice-captain of the sixth division, had faced down hollow after hollow, and survived battles at impossible odds. There was no need to feel anxious about drinking with a shinobi with whom he wasn't even going to fight.
"Where are we going?" He finally questioned, curiosity getting the better of him. "I thought the best trees were further east?"
She turned back with a dazzling smile, pink locks fanning around her in an almost ethereal manner.
"Nope. We're going to see even better ones." Her footfalls barely made a sound against the tiled rooftops. "It isn't too far, and only my team and close friends really come here."
"Why's that?" Renji cocked an eyebrow at her almost sheepish shrug.
"Well, for several reasons really." She began, a little smile gracing her features. "The Godaime Hokage and I sometimes spar there when we have the rare chance, and no one really wants to get in the way in case they get caught in the crossfire."
He had never seen the fifth Hokage in battle before, but no one was spared from the tales of her landscape-altering prowess.
"Also, Naruto kind of… claimed that the grounds were team seven's, and then went on to terrorize anyone else who said differently. Eventually everyone just relented and found it easier to let him have his way." The pinkette then glanced at him, eyes sparkling with humour. "Really, they would have given it to him if he asked normally because everyone is still grateful to Naruto, but no one can really pass up the opportunity to give the knuckle-head a hard time."
"Heh, so you've got your own private training grounds?" he joked. "Must be nice, being the Hokage's apprentice and the village hero's best friend." Her brow wrinkled, vibrant green irises steeled, and he realized he had said something wrong.
"Is that how you see me?" Both figures, shinigami and shinobi stopped in their tracks, one guarded, the other uneasy; neither took notice of the spring blossoms overhead. "I'm more than my teacher and best friend." There was a slight bitter undertone to her voice, and Renji realized that he had somehow touched upon old wounds.
"Though I suppose to an outsider that's all it looks like, doesn't it?" She muttered to herself.
"What is this all of a sudden? I was just kidding, jeez." He scowled, arms coming to cross in front of his chest in a defensive manner.
"Kami, you're so frustrating." Wait what?
"Me? I'm frustrating? Look who's calling the pot black." He rose his voice, aggravation giving it a cross bite.
"It's 'calling the kettle black', and I don't believe you could have known me long enough to form an opinion of me at all, yet alone something like frustrating." The pinkette rose her voice to match his, her one free hand perched defiantly on her hip.
"Oh, and you have?"
"And how the hell can you manage that and I can't? Explain that to me, why don't you?" Both were shouting, eyes blazing and without the intention of giving in to the other.
"You always disregard me!"
Renji blinked. "What?"
"Out of the blue you deliver an exhausted and injured Kakashi to my doorstep, something that I am incredibly grateful for, but then you ignore me!" She ranted on, huffing with pent up frustration. "I thought, stupidly enough, that maybe it was the start of something that could be turned into…" she struggled to find an appropriate word, "into more than passing strangers who pretend on occasion that the other doesn't exist even though they've been in the same village for four, four years! So I smiled, I waved, and you just turned away from me." She chuckled humourlessly, calloused fingers wringing the neck of the sake jug. Her back was turned to him, strong, straight, and proud; yet the waver in her voice was unmistakable. "Initially I didn't think much of it; that maybe it was something out of our normal routine of pretend and you weren't sure how to handle it. But then… you never even met my eyes, dismissed me as if I wasn't worth your time, like I was just another one of your souls you had to look after. Nothing more. It was embarrassing… it…" It hurt.
The words were unsaid, yet they hung thickly in the air as if they were written across every one of the petals that rained down on them.
Ruffling through his spiked ponytail nervously, Renji tskd, unsure of what to think, how to respond to make things better; to make her stop looking like that. He had seen her look soft before, but this was different, making him want to grind his teeth with a grimace as if he had swallowed something foul that burned like acid.
Almost stomping around the female to face her, he wrenched the sake from her grasp, and grabbed her slack wrist with his other free hand, tugging her to the base of one of the blossomed trees. Ignoring her protests, he ungracefully dropped onto his bottom, the action pulling her down at the same time, her free hand steadying itself on the trunk to prevent herself from falling on top of the red-haired man.
"Abarai-san, what are you doing? Are you even listening to me? If you're just going to ignore me would you please at least let me leave?"
Harshly pulling the cork from the bottle, he lifted the hefty weight effortlessly and took a couple gulps of the alcohol, sending a shock of warmth straight to his gut. She began pulling away with earnest, and when he remained unyielding he felt the telltale spark and the thrum of chakra. The sake bottle was abandoned, soon forgotten on the grass, her pale forearms firm in his grasp above her head, a leg thrown over her, their faces so close he was sure she could taste the alcohol on his breath. His chest heaved against hers, and he was sure she wasn't even breathing; the quick takedown having taken her unaware.
"Let me gather my thoughts you confusing, frustrating woman! Why the hell are you so hard to figure out?"
"What do you-" Something in her eyes flashed, but he didn't grant her the option to continue.
"Loyal, stubborn, kind, strict, fierce, protective; anyone can see those things in you, but you've also got strength, not just the strength in your fists but a strength in your soul, and what frustrates me so damn much is despite that strength there's something else that's so damn passive and hesitant; insecure."
There was almost a growl in his voice as he spoke, his breath hot and his eyes burning something fierce. Four years. There was four years of watching each other, they were more than just strangers. They were acquaintances that never spoke, comrades that always watched from a distance, friends that only embraced with their eyes. They had four years together; of course they knew each other.
"And I don't know why, but despite how damn confusing you are it just makes me want to know more. You have no idea how annoying it is."
"Why did you save Kakashi?" It was a random question that had come out of nowhere, surprising them both.
"I felt like it." He shot back with finality.
"Please answer the question, Renji." She looked to him, eyes open, imploringly and ever so green. He resisted the urge to squirm.
"He's important to you, isn't he?"
"Yes. He is."
"So I saved him."
"You… saved him for me?"
"Like I'd do something as ridiculous-"
"Thank you." And she smiled one of those smiles at him, and he had nowhere to escape when his cheeks burned crimson.
"Are you blushing?"
"Like hell I am!" He sharply looked away, his nose missing her by a hair.
It only took a half a second later for comprehension to dawn on the pinkette, and soon she was laughing softly at the male above her.
"What the hell are you laughing at?!" He half glared at her, but it lost any effect with his reddened complexion.
"I didn't know you had such a cute side to you, Renji. Is this why you always turn away; because you're embarrassed?"
He could practically feel the heat burning the tops of his ears, and he turned back to face her while shouting with indignation. "Sh-shut up!"
He pulled himself from her, swiveling away and snatching up the sake bottle, downing a few large gulps, hoping the liquid would cure him of his embarrassment, or at least give him a reason to flush other than because of Haruno Sakura's smile.
Still laughing quietly, Sakura sat up herself, retrieving two sake dishes from the pouch strapped to her thigh, presenting one to the shinigami whom was drinking much too fast in her opinion.
"Slow down! That's pretty high-grade sake, you should savour it instead of guzzling it down."
"So," Renji began as Sakura took the sake from him and poured him a cup in the white porcelain dish. "What's that old scarecrow's problem anyway?"
"Kakashi?" Renji grunted as he sipped the clear alcohol. "He's being… cautious."
"You mean paranoid?"
"Can you blame him?" He regarded her for a moment, staring into open mint green, unguarded, expressive, a phenomenon that he had only previously seen occur for her closest friends.
"No." And the more he thought about it, the more he began to understand the copy-nin and his former female student. All these years with no direct contact, and suddenly the shinigami extends a random act of kindness that could have been shadowed with ulterior motives. And then there was Sakura, ever so thankful to the man who saved one of her dearest friends, eager to extend the olive branch, to get up close and personal.
Close enough that cold steel could easily slip in between her ribs as she opened up her arms to him.
Sakura may have been blissfully unaware, however he doubted Hatake was oblivious as to what desires her smile could invite. Perhaps he understood the older shinobi more than even she did.
"Still an ungrateful bastard though." He mumbled to himself, and the female only offered an apologetic smile.
"I was hoping my thank you would make up for his lack of one, and if it makes you feel any better, I was supposed to share this bottle with him."
Well damn, it did make him feel better.
Feeling smug with himself, he watched as the little pink petals drifted in the warm breeze, settling in the strands of her hair, brushing against pale skin. He had always watched her from afar, sitting right next to her didn't feel quite real. It was as if they had been told stories about the other from a close friend and meeting for the first time; somewhat indecisive yet compelling in both their movements and words; as if they had been waiting for this very moment down to the last second, and now that they were here they weren't exactly sure what to do with themselves.
They talked, drank, and laughed under the falling cherry blossoms; comfortable, warm fingers brushing fingers but wishing for something more.
By the time the sake bottle was empty, the sky was full of sunset colours and a low burning sun. They were laying in the grass in opposite directions, their heads next to each other, and Renji wasn't sure if his hand was tangled in her hair or his, possibly both. He didn't know when they had wound around the strands, but she didn't seem to mind, and he had no desire to let go.
However she had to leave, her team going on a mission to Suna in the early morning. Gently detangling his fingers from her, they reluctantly rose from the warm ground, knowing that things were different now, that they were different now, the only thing helping to lift both their body and spirits.
"Will you be here when I get back?"
"Yeah, if your mission ends when it's supposed to."
"I'll make sure the boys don't slack off then." She smiled mischievously, and he couldn't help but give her an answering smile in return. "I'll see you later then."
"Yeah. Watch out for hollows." His hand found the ends of her pink locks, surprised that it was such an easy thing to reach out to touch her, and pleased at the dusting of light red on her cheeks he brought forth.
Swatting playfully at his hand, Sakura grinned at him. "I'm sure we'll be able to manage."
"Really? What do you need us shinigami for then?"
"You deliver right to my doorstep. It's pretty convenient."
Her lips pressed softly against his, the chastise kiss lasting only a heartbeat. Their noses a breath away, his hands clasped around her waist, forbidding her from moving away.
"What was that for?"
"A thank you."
"I hope that one wasn't for Hatake, too." Renji scowled.
"No," she laughed, "that one was from me."
A smirk was her only warning before his lips were on hers again, firmer, closer, hotter. She clung to his shoulders, his hands smoothing down her waist to her hips, gripping in a way that made her gasp.
"What was that for?" She echoed him in a breathless manner.
"A you're welcome."
"I might have to thank you more often."
"You can thank me for delivering you to your doorstep."
A/N: Thank you to the amazing Woman on a Flaming Pie who went through all my mess of a story and helped me through it :) She's also taken on the task of betaing next HYGT chapter 4 so it won't be painful for the readers to read haha.
A little RenSaku! I'm uneasy with writing Renji's character, so please point out anything that would be out of character.
I have a bunch of oneshots to write, next one might be a ByaSaku, but depends on my muses.
Please let me know what you think, and thank you for reading :)