Chapter 1: genderfuck
She looks at herself in the mirror and thinks, 'Okay. Yeah. Yeah, this is - I can do this.'
She doesn't know what possesses her to go outside.
She stops liking the feel of her chest after Sasuke makes her believe he's thrust his arm though it. Of all the things he's done gone and fucked up in her life, she didn't expect her chest to be one of them.
Sakura's never paid much attention to it. She's on the smaller side considering Ino and Hinata, and her shishou, but it's not something that ever bothered her before. She's a kunoichi; her body is a tool, a weapon, one that she must take care of and one that she must use. There's little time for insecurity. Besides, Ino and Hinata had to spend a fortune on bras that didn't fuck up their backs. Sakura is fine on the itty bitty titty committee, thank you very much.
Until Sasuke, in his infinite wisdom, decides that it's a good idea to put her under a genjutsu so real, she can physically feel the way his fingers dig into the tissue of her breast. Then past the ribcage, through muscle and bone and sinew, and out again on the other side.
Sakura's a medic. She's seen worse injuries. But she's never felt one quite that real. Genjutsu were a bitch and a half; they were all in your head, but that was their power. Perception is reality, and when someone fucks with your perception, they fuck with your reality.
Which is why Sakura is having an incredibly difficult time living in her own skin. It's strange, to feel alien in her own body. She's always been taught that there was no time for self consciousness. Her little diet phase when she was in the academy was the most obvious indication of how little attention she paid to that bit of advice from her mother.
It isn't that she doesn't like the feel of her own skin. It isn't that she doesn't like her breasts. She just finds it - kind of hard to look at them, to deal with them. Whenever she has to put on a bra, she's suddenly stuck in that moment, with Sasuke's fingers tearing in through her flesh, breaking her bones like tissue paper, like nothing. And then she's hyperventilating. Which is - the opposite of how she should be spending her time.
So Sakura does the reasonable thing. If she's having a difficult time touching her breasts, she'll bind them. Kunoichi did that often during the Warring States Period, and on until standard athletic bras were invented. Binding wasn't always healthy; it was easy to crack a rib, puncture a lung if the binding was done too tight. But as time went on, and development in women's fashion became, well, a thing there was little need for binding as it was practiced in the olden days.
She figures that if she brings it up at her counseling sessions (free and mandatory for all shinobi and civilians after the war, bless her shishou) and she starts circumventing the awful flashbacks that come with putting her hands on herself, she'll be killing two birds with one stone.
She heads to a kunoichi clothing supply store and rifles through the bra selection, ultimately coming up short. Nothing is exactly how she wants it to be; the fits aren't right, the colors are too loud, and so on. Not to mention how difficult it is to try things on when the entire problem is the fact that she doesn't want to touch herself.
She's about to scream and go to the training grounds for a good old fashioned rage quit when a kunoichi a head taller than her with a sympathetic look in her eye sidles up beside her.
"Need any help?" the woman asks.
Sakura looks at her shoulder where a name tag that reads 'Tsuyu' is pinned.
"Ah, yes, Tsuyu-san," Sakura says, flushing at being caught pre-tantrum. "None of these are working. I need a bit more, uh compression. All around."
Tsuyu hums and begins flipping through the racks of things that Sakura has just given up on. Then, the taller woman takes a step back and looks her up and down.
"I think maybe you need a proper fitting, so that you can get something custom," the woman says. "You're already on the smaller side, and the stock that we have for people of your build is kind of limited at the moment."
Sakura nods; of course. The war is over, so people are stocking up on everything they lost during it. Tsuyu gives her a shrug that says 'what can you do?'.
"Okay, Tsuyu-san," Sakura says. "But I'll warn you, I'm a little - defensive about my chest."
Tsuyu smiles at her in a way that says this woman has seen it all and then some.
"I'll be careful, Miss - ?"
"Sakura," she supplies.
"I'll be very careful, Miss Sakura. You wouldn't be the first jumpy kunoichi we needed to fit, and I doubt you'll be the last."
The fitting, by some miracle, actually isn't so bad. Tsuyu keeps up constant chatter as she uses her tape measure to gauge the width of Sakura's shoulders, the full length of her arms and torso, and her bust. She hardly notices the older woman get even close to her chest though Sakura is fully aware of the fact that Tsuyu is in her personal space.
"Like I said," Tsuyu says, giving her a cheeky wink, "I've had lots of practice."
Sakura lets herself smile in a relieved sort of way while Tsuyu jots down her measurements, then disappears out of the private dressing rooms into the stock room. She returns not even two minutes later with three bundles under her arms.
"These are close to your exact measurements," Tsuyu says, "but they aren't perfect. Try them out for a week or two, see how you like the fit of each of them. Then, come back and we'll go from there."
Tsuyu hands her the bundles, and Sakura is almost vibrating with excitement. Tsuyu leads her to the cash register, with her clipboard still in hand.
"Once you tell me which fit you liked the best, we can have something made custom for you and we can have the custom ones exchanged for the off-the-rack stuff, okay?"
Sakura forks over her money to Tsuyu with the most grateful expression she can put on her face. She gushes her thanks, and Tsuyu waves kindly at her as she bolts out of the kunoichi supply store back to her apartment to try on her new clothes.
They're weird! Really weird!
The first one is too lose around her ribs; she feels like her breasts will get squished down like pancakes and flop out beneath the fabric. The second one is also weird, and much too tight around the shoulders.
The third one isn't just right, but it's the closest to right that she feels. It's plain and black with a little Konohagakure leaf stitched in white on the left shoulder. It's comfortable around her back, and she practices breathing heavily in it like the instructions on the packaging told her to.
It's her first binder. And it's really, really comfortable. It pinches a little under the arms, but she's dealt with worse. What matters is that she's flat as a washboard, and when she hugs Naruto when he comes home from a sparring session, she doesn't feel anything.
She doesn't feel anything. His chest presses against hers and there's no squish. No ghost of a feeling of a fist hurtling through her chest. It's just - not there anymore.
So of course she bursts into tears and Naruto trips over himself to figure out what he did to make his roommate cry. She waves him off because he hasn't done anything wrong, but he produces a tub of her favorite mochi ice cream from the groceries he picked up on his way back in penance.
Sakura puts two spoons under the warm water and splits half the pint with Naruto, feeling really, really comfortable in her own skin.
Orochimaru kind of hits her out of nowhere. Not literally speaking, but the thought of him.
He's on lockdown in a particular compound in the village, the location of which only Tsunade as the Godaime and Kakashi as the Rokudaime are allowed to know. Tsunade and Kakashi both were more apt to correct mistakes; they didn't feel as fond of Orochimaru as the Sandaime did, and it shows in the way the Snake Sannin is imprisoned, without the ability to create ninjutsu, sequestered in the village to die.
It was a prison sentence, and one that was probably too kind for him. But that's not what Sakura's thinking about.
Her shishou is a little day drunk. This is not a particularly uncommon occurrence. What is uncommon, is the way her mimosa loosed lips drawl about how Jiraiya had thought Orochimaru was a girl when they were children.
"His first crush was on Orochimaru," Tsunade drawls, her hiccup turning into a summery laugh. "When he found out Orochimaru was a boy, Jiraiya was pretty pleasantly surprised to find out that he was an equal opportunity harlot."
Her shishou barks out a laugh at her own joke, and Sakura giggles, pleasantly tipsy herself.
"He could do this weird thing with his own pheromones too," Tsunade says, eyes suddenly bright. She wrinkles her nose, "Not Jiraiya. Orochimaru. Snakes can do that, he could, too. So he'd dress up like a woman sometimes for honeypot missions and he'd fiddle with his own biology to just make himself more like a woman. Batshit insane!"
Her shishou plops her chin in her hand and groans.
"He never told me how he did it, the bastard," she grumbles. "He's a miracle of science without all his fancy demon resurrection bullshit, and he doesn't even share the wealth with his best friend, who's entire job is studying biology."
Sakura carefully steers the rant towards more pleasant topics, like the unreasonable party the Godaime threw once the war was over and an appropriate time had passed before pissing on Shimura Danzou's grave wasn't frowned upon.
She doesn't think much of Orochimaru and his curious pheromone changing ability until the next day when she's fitting on her binder.
Orochimaru had looked incredibly like a woman the first time she had seen him, in the Forest of Death all those years ago. Even when he pulled off the woman's face, their features were still primarily the same. The biggest difference were the paler skin and his purple clan markings.
Sakura had only seen him once, and that was during his trial for crimes against the village. And even then, despite his strong jaw and sharp cheekbones, his hair had been done up in a ponytail that left plenty of bangs to sweep his face. He looked softer, almost feminine.
She remembers Haku, too, from even further back in her history. How Naruto had been convinced they were a girl, and then a boy, and then they were all a little unsure about the false hunter nin.
Sakura remembers the pink swell of Haku's lips, clearly coated in some kind of paralytic poison they were immune to. How the poison shined like a faint lip gloss. She remembers Haku's layered clothes, how she had never been able to deduce whether or not Haku had breasts.
Sakura looks at herself in the mirror, her short hair pulled out of her face in a high tail not unlike Shikamaru's, her bound breasts, and her baggy sweatpants. She purses her lips, puts her hands on her hips and examines her reflection.
The idea occurs to her, and she steals out of her room and into Naruto's down the hall. She picks quickly through his clothing, nabbing a pale blue shirt that's probably Sasuke's, and a pair of navy chuunin issue cargo pants.
She heads back into her room and dresses slowly, keeping her back to the mirror as she does. She binds the hem of the cargo pants with white tape the way Kakashi-sensei does, then slips on a pair of blue unisex shinobi sandals instead of her usual black boots. She leaves the shirt loose over her waistband so no attention can be drawn to her chest. She hesitates with her hand over her chuunin vest; maybe? It only functions to further hide her breasts, so she shoves it on, too.
She leaves her hitai-ate on the red ribbon Ino gave her a lifetime ago. Then, she reaches her hands up, and tugs her bangs back into the ponytail so that her whole face is visible. As an afterthought, she grabs a blue bandanna from her dresser, one she uses when she works out or needs to keep her hair out of her eyes, and slaps that on, too.
When she turns around to look at herself in the mirror, she only recognizes herself part way. There's a little dissonance, and it's one she recognizes from the way she looked at Haku, and the way she looked at Orochimaru.
She looks at herself in the mirror and thinks, 'Okay. Yeah. Yeah, this is - I can do this.'
She doesn't know what possesses her to go outside.
She's killing time, she knows she is, but she doesn't mind. It's strange. Like, really strange. Liberating, almost. And it's not because people don't recognize her, but it's because of the way she's treated now.
Kunoichi demand respect. They have to. It's twice as hard for them in the shinobi world, so they're harder to survive. It's more common for a kunoichi walking down a street to have a path cleared for her by shinobi and civilians who know better than to get in her way.
Sakura had that effect on people, and she knew it. People didn't bump into her. They gave her a wide berth. The boys on the other hand, could get fucked.
Sakura has seen a couple dozen of instances wherein the more unassuming boys like Shino or Kiba or Shikamaru, hell even Sai and Chouji, will get jostled as they moved in the streets. And it wasn't really out of disrespect, it was just that men were the face of the shinobi world. They were a dime a dozen. Eventually, you stopped noticing them. Kunoichi you noticed, and you immediately got the fuck out of the way.
So the first time some random civilian bumps against her shoulder, then apologizes and continues on their way, it's jarring. And it's actually kind of cool.
It happens three more times. Rebuilding the village is difficult work, and it's all hands on deck all of the time. Sakura's picked up some carpentry skills herself; she's good at moving huge pieces of boulder and rubble out of the way, but she's also become deft at building houses, which is so peculiar. But she keeps busy. All that of course, is to say that everyone's got some place to be. Everyone is part of the rebuilding effort.
But it's so jarring! So different than the way she's treated when she's presenting as a kunoichi. And she kind of really likes it.
She's ducked into a shop, peering at honing oil and ceramic whetstones when an older man jostles her. The movement is abrupt the way only a civilian can move, and it jostles the two stones she's been weighing out of her hands and onto the ground.
"Oh, my apologies, shinobi-san," the old man says as the stones clatter to the floor. "Let me get that for you."
"Oh, no," Sakura says, quick to stop him. "It was just a mistake. Let me get them."
She crouches down to gather the whetstones into her hands and stands back up, looking them over for any damages. When she's satisfied the drop hasn't damaged the merchandise, she waves them lightly in her hands.
"See? No harm done," she says.
The old man gives her a jovial smile and inclines his head lightly to her.
"Still, I am very sorry for bumping into you. I was just rushing about, wasn't I? I'm happy I didn't cause you too much trouble."
Sakura shakes her head and says, "No, sir, it was no trouble at all."
"Yes, well," the older man says, "I'm grateful for that."
He inclines his head towards her vest, and then his smile becomes softer in a sad way, and his voice comes out grateful in the way that Sakura's patients are grateful when they come back up after surgery.
"Thank you for your service," he says. "We are all in a great debt to brave young men like you. Thank you, shinobi-san, and have a pleasant day."
The man beats a smiling retreat, but Sakura stands there in the weapons shop for a minute too long, brain working overdrive on what should be a very simple problem. That really isn't even a problem.
"Sir," she says, turning over her shoulder, but the man was already gone.
And as the door clicks shut behind him and he disappears into the crowd, Sakura wonders what she was even going to say to him. That she was a kunoichi? The Godaime's second apprentice, and a woman?
Her mouth shuts on her protest because - well. Maybe she isn't.
It falls on her head like a ton of bricks, the fact that she isn't a girl. Or maybe she is. Definitely is, but also isn't. Maybe? Probably. Sort of. Yes.
She purchases honing oil and both of the stones because she's going on autopilot, trying to figure out what exactly had been so strange yet - also kind of really nice about that old man mistaking her for a boy. And how oddly nice it is for the people on the street to jostle her like the boys are jostled.
Sakura gets home pretty quickly, fumbles with her keys, and steps in through the front door. Naruto is home, just bringing a hot mouthful of instant noodles to his lips when she steps inside. His eyebrows furrow.
"Is that Sasuke's shirt?" he asks. He looks from the top of her head to her feet. "Are those my pants?"
Sakura opens her mouth to deliver a beautiful explanation of the situation, about how it began with a binder, and had culminated in curiosity and an experiment. She's even planning on including a treatise on her blossoming gender identity, and how the rigid roles of the binary cage everyone from experiencing life within the shades of gray between woman and man.
Instead, what she says is, "I think I'm a boy."
the gender exploratory experience that i'm writing here is heavily based on my own. everyone's experience exploring gender roles is different, and i just want to be clear that by no means is this fictional experience (or the one that it is based on) a monolith.
that being said, mako is a monster for throwing such gorgeous art in my lap and then expecting me NOT to write about it. terrible. terrible mako.
thank you for reading!!!
Chapter 2: he/her/his
"So are you butch now?"
Naruto, because he is the best person literally in the entire world doesn't even blink.
"Okay," he says, bringing his noodles to his mouth. "Cool. Sasuke's not gonna like you wearing his clothes, though."
Sakura bypasses the relief she feels and heads straight for an affectionate irritation.
"Right, because you're the only one allowed to wear his clothes, because you're soulmates and you're in love," she whines.
She puts down her honing oil and whetstones at the living room table and takes her bandana off her head.
"So does this mean you're not a girl anymore?" Naruto asks, coming up beside her to peer into her bag.
"Not really," she says. "I think I'm both. Like, depending on the day."
Naruto slurps his noodles as loudly as humanly possible, somehow managing to eat half the cup in one go.
"So I can still call you Sakura," he says.
She nods; her name is still her name. It's a word. Words didn't have genders, or at least not, like, inherently. People gave words genders. So her name is just her name. It's not a girl name or a boy name; it's both. Because it's hers, and she's both, too.
"Yeah," she replies. "But like, no 'Sakura-chan' unless I look like a girl. Otherwise, just 'Sakura'."
"Sakura-kun?" Naruto asks, wriggling his eyebrows.
She scoffs at him and elbows Naruto in the side. He laughs right back at her, and gives up his cup noodles when she reaches for them. He heads back into the kitchen to make himself a second cup.
"So is this new or have you been thinking about it for a while?" he calls from the kitchen.
Sakura shrugs out of her flak jacket and scratches the back of her head. She likes the way the cargo pants feel lose around her upper thighs, not at all the way her usual shorts hug her. Even Sasuke's shirt has a comfortable airy feeling.
"It's pretty new," she calls back, bringing up the chicken flavored noodles to her mouth. "I've been messing with my breasts for like a week - ,"
"Shut up!" she hollers, unable to help the laugh that sends bits of chewed noodle out of her mouth. "Then I started thinking about how Orochimaru and Haku always looked like both women and men. And the boy clothes thing only happened today."
Naruto returns with his hand covering the paper lid of his new cup of noodles.
"So you're still figuring all this out," he says, nodding.
Sakura shakes her head.
"Nah. I'm sure," she insists. "I'd been thinking about it for a week, but today proves it. I'm positive."
Naruto lifts his hand for a fist bump. Sakura meets it with her own.
"Right on," he replies. "Am I the first person you've told?"
Naruto nods, and settles down onto the squishy green couch Sakura had picked up on the side of the road.
"You think you might wanna tell the rest of the team?" he asks. "So they don't call you 'she' when you're 'he'?"
She opens her mouth to answer, but clicks it shut. She hadn't really thought of telling the rest of Team Seven. She was sure they'd understand; any team that had to deal with one idiot in a crop top, one idiot who read smut in public, a different idiot that was the clone of one idiot's chakra ancestor, and two other idiots that had nearly destroyed the world before they realized they were in love with each other, would probably be able to handle the fact that their one kunoichi teammate was also a shinobi on weekends.
Besides, she knows who she is. This whole discovery might have been half accident, but Sakura's sense of self has been firm as iron ever since she got herself saddled with a shishou that wouldn't have anything less.
"Yeah," Sakura replies. "Yeah, I think I will tell the others."
A little grin comes over her mouth as she finishes the noodles and drinks the hot broth.
"Besides, I need a group of men to teach me how to be a guy."
Naruto snorts so hard he chokes a little bit.
The rest of the men of Team Seven are amassed in Naruto and Sakura's shared apartment within the hour. The Rokudaime is a pretty busy guy, granted, but there isn't much to do in terms of overseeing rebuilding. He leaves one of his cronies to do it, anxious as always to catch a break from a job he never wanted.
When all the boys are jumbled onto the couch and the mismatched soft chairs, Sakura puts her hands on her hips and makes her request.
"I need you to teach me how to be a man."
Sasuke narrows his eyes. Sai cocks his head. Yamato looks as exhausted as he ever does, but Kakashi gives her a considering look.
"Long story short," Sakura says, when none of them say anything, "is that sometimes, I'm a guy. Not all the time. But sometimes. And I need help presenting the right way so no one calls me a girl while I'm actually a man."
"You could start with stuffing your pants," Sai says helpfully. "That's what Dickless does."
Naruto slaps the back of Sai's head before Sasuke -who clearly wants to- gets the chance to.
"Okay, pants stuffing, I can do that," Sakura says. "Will a sock work?"
"Maybe if you roll two together?" Sai offers.
Sakura puts up her finger in the universal sign for 'wait a minute', then darts into her room. She rolls up a pair of socks into her pants, and kind of curls it so it's up against her thigh. When it falls down her leg, she sticks the sock into her underwear against her forest of pink pubic hair. It's still weird, but it's enough.
She darts back into the living room and gestures to her crotch.
"How often should I scratch it? Or adjust? Sasuke hardly ever does, but Kiba adjusts like, every ten seconds," she says.
She notices that there's suddenly several bottles of sake on her living room table, and Kakashi is busy serving everyone in the room. There are also two eight packs of beer, a pizza, harumaki, yakitori, and karaage.
She looks to her genin sensei, who has just served everyone sake and is currently leaning back into her cushy green couch.
"Sakura-kun," Kakashi says, "welcome to the realm of masculinity."
"Bad food, cheap beer, poor decision making," he clarifies, lifting a finger as he lists off the traits.
"That's masculinity?" she asks, lifting an eyebrow.
Yamato pops a piece of the fried chicken into his mouth, then looks over at where Sasuke is trying to open a beer with another beer, while Naruto encourages him and Sai tells him he's doing it wrong.
"Yeah," Yamato says. "That's pretty much it."
What they actually end up doing, is get roaring drunk.
They make terrible dick jokes all night long, and when Sasuke gets pizza sauce on his shirt, they all crowd into the bathroom to help him clean up. Which doesn't help at all. They all end up taking their shirts off and flexing in the mirror; everyone being Sai, Sakura, and Naruto. Yamato and Kakashi are too busy crying with laughter or pretending they aren't necking on the couch.
Sai offers to show Sakura his penis, to which both Naruto and Sasuke loudly object.
Sakura, who is clearly bombed out of her gourd, hiccups and says, "I'm a fuckin doctor, I see dicks ninety times a minute, I can handle it, you - you chucklekfucks."
They all get a good look at Sai's penis. Sakura laughs at it, because she's drunk and she's just seen one of her closest friend's genitals.
"That's a dick!" she shrieks.
"It is!" Sai replies.
Naruto, who never wants to be outdone, starts undoing his fly, to which Sasuke loudly objects. Sakura is not even remotely helpful.
"Issit - issit like a fox?" Sakura drawls. "Does it have a - a knot?"
That catches Sai's attention, and he gets down to his knees like Sakura is. Both of them lean heavily against one another as Naruto undoes his pants, slapping Sasuke's hands every step of the way.
"I'm not a fox, Sakura-kun," Naruto sputters. "I'm a boy."
"A foxy boy!"
Sai gives a hideous snorting laugh at that, face flushed from beer and sake.
"Hey!" Sakura says, darting to her feet. "I'll show you mine!"
"Sakura, you don't have one," Sai says, now laying on the bathroom floor without her body supporting him.
Sakura shoves her hands into her (Naruto's) cargos, undoing the fly as she does. She has to maneuver a little bit, but after a moment she manages to shove her rolled up sock cock between her fly.
Sai laughs so hard his face turns beet red. Sasuke has to bury his face in Naruto's shoulder to hide his amusement.
They're so loud they wake the neighbors.
In the morning, because all of them stayed the night, while Sakura is tidying up the living room, Sasuke leaves Naruto's bedroom with a wet sounding kiss and the promise of a leftover slice of pizza.
"Sakura," he says softly, catching her attention.
Kakashi and Yamato had shared the couch, and they're comfortably unconscious. Sakura had been using chakra to make sure her footsteps were absolutely silent. She turns over her shoulder to where Sasuke is waiting in the kitchen doorway, and pads over to him.
"What's up?" she asks.
"If you need any shirts," he says, "I've got some spare ones."
She beams at him in that early morning light, then punches him on the arm.
"Thanks, Sasuke," she says, a light smile on her face.
He grunts at her and deftly opens the fridge and swipes two slices of the cold pizza before shutting the fridge with his elbow.
"You can still hug if you're a guy," he grumbles.
Sakura smirks, fully aware of the bruise her little love tap is likely to be forming on his arm.
"Yeah," she hums. "I know."
A week passes. And it's a damn good week.
She calls up the kunoichi supply store and asks for Tsuyu, because she isn't sure if she should show up in her men's clothing or not. She lets the clerk know which binder she liked the fit of best, and Tsuyu asks her a couple of questions about her favorite colors before the woman assures her that her order of three custom binders will be ready by week's end.
Sakura swipes four of Sasuke's old shirts for experimenting; he's a thin boy, but he's all muscle, so their builds are a little similar even if he is taller than her. Sai is happy to offer her several pairs of black straight leg and cargo pants.
Her wardrobe comes together neatly, almost easily. When she goes out in her men's clothes to spar with Team Seven, they all know to greet her with 'Sakura-kun' where they would have given her a 'Sakura-chan'. They all adjust quickly, and if they ever do make a mistake, they fix it as soon as the wrong pronoun comes out of their mouths.
She figures out how to walk, how to use a little less hip, how to stride. She experiments with rolling her shoulders forward in a light slouch reminiscent of Shikamaru's. She messes with her hair, unsure if she likes it in its high ponytail or if she'd be more suited to a close crop like Naruto's. She doesn't pack her pants with socks as much, mostly because it's a weird press of fabric against her inner thigh, and it gets pretty sweaty when she's got a rolled up sock in her crotch when she's sparring.
And when the week is over, she dresses in her best fitting binder with the other two tucked under her arm. She's in one of Sai's black pairs of cargos and one of Sasuke's white shirts, with her flak jacket tossed on top.
With a breath in and a breath out, Sakura ties on his bandanna and leaves his apartment.
He's treated the exact same way he was the last time he went out. People jostle him, and apologize. Genin stumble when they get too close to ramming into his legs. There are even a couple of women on the street that look him up and down with a curious tilt to their mouths. Men do as well.
When he gets to the kunoichi supply, he peers around until he spots Tsuyu's familiar head of dark hair behind the register.
"Excuse me, Tsuyu-san," he says, carefully placing the binders on the counter. "I'd like to return these."
Tsuyu blinks at him for a second, eyes tracking the bandana and the flak jacket before a smile blossoms onto her face.
"Sakura-san!" she says. "I was wondering when I'd see you again. I'll take care of these, please follow me, your custom orders were finished last night."
His heart does a backflip in his chest and he follows Tsuyu into the dressing room where all of this started.
"Our seamstress was able to crank out three to your exact measurements," Tsuyu explains. "We did one in red, one in a flesh tone, and one in black."
Sakura draws the curtain of the dressing room in on himself, and carefully begins to undress. He takes off the shirt and the bandanna, before he carefully eases his way out of the binder.
There are the typical little lines across his upper chest, but when he looks himself in the mirror, his breasts don't concern him as much as they used to. He places a tentative hand on his left breast, bracing for the onslaught of uncomfortable memory, and when nothing comes, he heaves a sigh of relief.
It probably won't be that easy all the time. It may be harder tomorrow than it was today. But Sakura can handle touching his chest again, even for a moment at a time, and that's enough.
"Sakura-san?" Tsuyu asks from beyond the curtain. "Are you ready?"
"Yes, Tsuyu-san," he calls, feeling hopeful. "I am."
He doesn't cry when he fits the nude one on, absolutely not. And when Tsuyu knocks on the curtain to make sure he's okay, he blubbers an excuse that's full of snot and tears.
When he's done trying them all on, and he steps back out in his clothes, Tsuyu is smiling at him with tears in her eyes.
"Tsuyu-san?" he asks.
She shakes her head, and wipes at her eyes with her green painted fingernails.
"I remember what it was like, trying something on and then knowing it was right," she says, wiping her tear stained fingers on her own capris. "You figured it out before I did, and in peace time, so I'm a little jealous of you for it. But I'm so happy for you, too."
Sakura's eyes widen, and then he notices that Tsuyu's hands are a little wide, her jaw a little strong, her voice a little deep. And it clicks in the happiest sort of way. There were other people like her, in the village in plain sight no less. She never would have thought of that, that she wasn't alone in this.
"Can we - ," he starts, stumbling over himself to get out the words right. "Can we get coffee? Or a smoothie, or something? I have so much to ask you!"
"Absolutely," Tsuyu replies. She tugs a business card and pen out of her little apron filled with measuring tape and sewing supplies, and on the back of the card, she writes down her phone number.
"You call me any time," Tsuyu says, handing him the card. "There are lots of other boys like you, I'd be happy to introduce you."
He pockets the card, shuffling his feet a little uncertainly. Then he remembers he's Haruno fucking Sakura, apprentice to the Godaime, the person who literally punched a god in the face. He squares his feet, rolls back his shoulders and looks Tsuyu in the face.
"Are the boys sometimes girls, too?" he asks.
Tsuyu cracks a grin at him, and with one hand on her hip she replies, "Sometimes they're both at the same time."
His first mistake of the week is going back home and asking Naruto to cut his hair.
It's a godawful mess. Might as well be a crime scene. Sakura looks in the mirror and wonders why on earth he thought this was even remotely a good idea.
Naruto apologizes profusely because he's still the sweetest boy in the world, but Sakura slaps on his black bandana and heads to the only person he's let cut his hair as long as he's had it short.
"You busy, pig?" he asks, stepping into the Yamanaka Flower Shop.
"I don't know, billboard brow," Ino drawls from behind the desk where she's flipping through a magazine. "I'm at work, I'm behind the desk, and I'm wearing my uniform. What do you think?"
"Your uniform is an apron," Sakura says, hands in his pockets as he strolls up to the desk.
Ino doesn't look up at him until he's in front of her, his arms stacked on the front counter as he cranes his neck to see which issue of Kunoichi Bimonthly she's reading today.
She looks him up and down.
"So are you butch now?" she asks, popping her gum.
"No," he replies. "I'm a guy sometimes."
Ino raises a fine eyebrow and looks over his outfit.
"Those are Sai's pants," she says, popping her gum and looking gorgeously disappointed. "Sakura, you know better."
"One thing at a time, pig," he returns.
He reaches up and tugs off his bandana. Ino narrows her eyes as she looks at the bad haircut.
"Naruto," she whispers, sounding dangerous as can be.
"To be fair," Sakura says, "I did ask him to do it."
Ino scoffs and walks around the desk. She heads right up to the clean glass front doors of the flower shop, and flips the sign so that it reads 'CLOSED'.
"You're both idiots," Ino says primly, "and you're lucky to have me around."
Once his hair looks less like a rat got fucked and died in it, and more like the Kazekage's windswept tousles (Sakura will never understand how Ino can do that with just a pair of scissors and a handful of mousse, even when Sakura is a girl she doesn't understand it) Ino drags Sakura out by his wrist to take him shopping.
They avoid all of the kunoichi supply stores, and head for the shinobi ones. Because Ino is recognizably the current Yamanaka clan head, and Sakura -despite her smooth chest, men's clothes, and bandana- still looks like the Godaime's apprentice -because he is- nobody really asks them any questions.
Ino gets him (or rather, buys with his money) a pair of black sandals like the blue ones he's already wearing, straight legged black pants, and a men's standard issue tan medic's apron. She needles him to get forearm and shin guards ("They're for the aesthetic, you moron, and they're good protection."), and gets him fitted for a set of bright Haruno red shirts with their white circle crest on the back, looser than the ones he has now.
She makes him get a six pack of tank tops, boy shorts and boxer-brief underwear, a baggy green hoodie that says 'KONOHA MADE' in bright white letters ("All men have one hideous hoodie, forehead, you need yours."), and more pairs of men's cargo pants than Sakura ever thought he would need in his life. Ino gets him plain t-shirts and mesh combat ones, all in men's when they fit, and unisex when they don't.
When they're finished, Sakura is several hundred ryo poorer and Ino makes him take her to lunch.
"There," Ino says, crossing one leg on top of the other as she knocks back her first bellini and orders a second. "Now you won't disgrace me when you walk around in public."
He already feels better in clothes that are tailor made to fit him. He's in a bright red shirt since his Haruno ones won't be finished for about a week, and black athletic pants that are tied up with tape around the ankle where they dip into his black sandals. His bandana is still on because he likes it, and he can't help but reach up and touch the back of his head where his short hair is curling around the nape of his neck.
Sasuke and Sai's clothes are in one of the many shopping bags amassed around their feet, and Sakura will return them whenever they meet to train next.
He takes a sip of his mint julep and grins around the rim. He even gives her a saucy wink.
"I'm forever in your debt."
Ino narrows her eyes at him and kicks his shin beneath the table.
"Don't flirt with me, forehead," she says. "It's unseemly."
He's about to open his mouth for a scathing reply (something along the lines of their rivalry for Sasuke's love being a poor cover for their own attraction to each other when they were young, and weren't quite sure if liking girls the same as boys was allowed) when someone calls Ino's name.
They're sitting on the terrace so they can people watch, and Sakura looks over his shoulder to see Shikamaru approaching. His eyes catch the other man's, and Sakura is too good a shinobi to miss the way his brow furrows in confusion, then recognition, and the way his adam's apple bobs when he swallows.
Over the last week, Sakura's seen a good number of men give him that look. And it's different on Shikamaru, because he doesn't have to look twice to know that he's still the Sakura from their academy days.
"What is it, Shikamaru? Can't you tell I'm on a date?" Ino asks.
Shikamaru stops in front of them, the lazy way of his a little scattered by Sakura's new appearance.
"If you're on a date with Sakura, then I need to tell the rest of the Twelve who won the betting pool."
Ino sticks her tongue out at him and orders two more bellini's. Sakura cups his chin in his hand and gives her a fond look.
"Sakura," Shikamaru says, catching his attention. "This is - new."
He looks at the other man, tilting his head just so.
"It is," he replies.
"It's a, uh -," Shikamaru stutters. "It's a good look."
Sakura smiles and lifts his mint julep to his mouth.
Ino groans very audibly, drawing both of their attention back to her.
"Yes, we get it," she says. "Sakura's a gorgeous woman and a stunning man. Shikamaru, did you need something? I am trying to get drunk in public."
Shikamaru huffs something to the tune of 'godawful woman', rubbing at his chin where his goatee is neatly trimmed. Sakura eyes the way his hand moves over his face, curious not only about how he would look with pink facial hair himself, but about how that goatee might feel if it were scratching the curve of his own shoulder and throat.
"Rokudaime needs your report on the orphan's quarter," he drawls in that way of his, absently plucking the cigarette from behind his ear and lighting up. "Suna wants to replicate your child psychology programs on a mass scale as soon as next month."
Ino hums, drumming her purple painted nails on the table.
"I'll have it to him by morning," she says. "Now please, Shika, go away."
Shikamaru rolls his eyes and bids them a polite goodbye. Sakura watches him go.
Ino kicks him again under the table.
"Don't flirt with Shikamaru, forehead," she says, knocking back her third cocktail. "It's unseemly."
tsuyu is sakura's trans mom and i love her so much
Chapter 3: datemates
"Let's make it right, then," he says, flexing his hands.
Tsuyu lifts an eyebrow at him, but there's a smile glittering in her eyes.
"Let's make it safe for everyone."
He goes out with Tsuyu for smoothies once a week when he's not too busy with hospital shifts or courier and diplomacy missions to the other elemental nations. Naruto essentially saving the world (with plenty of help mind you, mostly from Sakura himself and Sasuke) had kind of ensured that everyone was content to be allies for as long as physically possible. Which means, Sakura doesn't have to leave the village often and he can talk to Tsuyu about this whole - gender thing.
She's got an answer for every question Sakura has. And if she doesn't, she knows someone who does. There are at least twenty civilians that are non binary like Sakura is, or trans the way Tsuyu is. Sakura had barely expected that many.
He has his own suspicions about the trans shinobi population; it didn't surprise him that not everyone was out, because how could they all be? They had just gotten out of a war and they were dealing with all sorts of trauma. Any gender questions they had posed before the war were likely shelved because of the reconstruction efforts. Not to mention they were probably worried about bringing it up in therapy only to have it used against them.
For now, Sakura is the only one of an unspecified population of trans shinobi that's out. And he thinks that's sad.
"That's the way it is sometimes," Tsuyu says, stirring her smoothie with her straw. "It's not easy for everyone. Lots of people are still trying to figure out who they are now that the war's over. If this peace is going to extend not from nation to nation, but from citizen to citizen."
Sakura purses his lips and looks at the others in the brightly lit smoothie bar. He hadn't known it was a gay bar until Tsuyu had brought here for the third and fourth time, and had realized that the same people frequented it as often as he and Tsuyu did.
Sakura looks down at his bound chest, and thinks of how little has changed in his own life. The Konoha Twelve all know, primarily because of exposure. When he shows up presenting as a man, Naruto, Sasuke, or Sai are sure to call him 'Sakura-kun'. It had given everybody else the memo that something was different about the Sakura they had grown up with. But they were shinobi, so they got the memo.
It had barely taken a week for everyone to start clocking how he wore his hitai-ate or his hair or his shirts to figure out which pronouns to use when they saw him.
Sakura's eyes flicker up to Tsuyu, to Hikaru behind the smoothie counter, to Kaori working the blender, to the handfuls of civilians who created this bright, sunny place for themselves because they didn't really have anywhere else to go.
If there were other shinobi out there questioning like he had questioned, but were too - confused or concerned in ways that Sakura hadn't been, he wanted to help them.
"Let's make it right, then," he says, flexing his hands.
Tsuyu lifts an eyebrow at him, but there's a smile glittering in her eyes.
"Let's make it safe for everyone."
Sakura is the Godaime's apprentice. She's healed damn near every shinobi in the village, has delivered the children of over a fourth of the civilian population, and punched a god in the face. She can more or less do whatever she damn well pleases.
It's a privilege, her position. She recognizes it for what it is, and she's going to use it.
She sidles up to the Nara compound, purposely presenting as a woman because she knows she's got to play this game the right way. Nara Yoshino was the current Jounin Commander under Kakashi-sensei. Sakura was a Jounin. And creating workplace policy within the jounin ranks to protect people like Sakura was the first step in a long road to unabashed public acceptance.
She pulses her chakra once so that the wards will notify the clan head that she's there. Predictably, Nara Yoshino is quick to answer. She's much less lazy than her son and her late husband. She looks at Sakura for a moment, dressed tidily in a simple white dress with her pink hair curling sweetly around her ears.
"You want something, don't you, Haruno?" she asks.
"Nara-san," Sakura says, blinking prettily, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Yoshino scoffs and turns around, pressing a hand to the wards to allow Sakura access. She falls into step behind the Nara clan head, hands politely resting at her sides so that she doesn't telegraph that she's a threat.
"You must have a very good reason," Yoshino says as they enter the woman's home, "for interrupting my day off."
Sakura takes off her pale green sandals, the nice pair of wedges with white and pink flowers embroidered on the heel.
"I have questions, Nara-san, about the ways in which shinobi that identify - differently are being protected by our legislation."
Yoshino leaves Sakura in the sitting room, prepares a light tray of snacks and tea and returns momentarily. She was a longtime housewife before she was thrust into Jounin Commander when her husband died, but before she was a housewife she was an assassin of the highest degree. She's more than qualified and it shows in the easy way she picked up her husband's mantle and carries it during the Rokudaime's administration.
"What do you mean by identifying differently?" Yoshino asks, pouring tea.
"I mean shinobi whose paperwork calls them men, but who view themselves as women," Sakura says, taking an apple slice. "And vice versa. And those who view themselves as both or neither at all."
Yoshino nods, not looking at Sakura as she carefully hands her, her tea before sitting back comfortably.
"Some people would call that a disorder of some kind, Haruno," Yoshino says lightly.
Sakura nibbles on the apple in the most aggressively feminine way possible.
"Some would call it a valiant resistance to an archaic labelling system, Nara-san," she replies.
Yoshino tucks a few pieces of dark brown hair behind her ear and gives Sakura a calculated look. She's a Nara by marriage, but was an assassin by choice. She knows how to size someone up before they enter a room.
Sakura in her pretty white dress with her pretty green wedges and her pretty pink lip gloss with her mascara and her finely plucked eyebrows; she had done it all on purpose. Yoshino knew it, and Sakura knew that Yoshino knew as well.
"I think that after all we have been through as a nation," Sakura says, "resisting lies, uncovering the darkness within our village, we owe it to our citizens to let them live truthfully as their most authentic selves."
She picks up a grape, casually rolling it between her fingers.
"And if for some people it is a phase, or a moment of experimentation, that's all the better. Because at least they know, don't they? Knowledge, especially knowledge of one's self is power. Wouldn't you say so, Nara-san?"
She says it on purpose and with purpose. Yoshino is visibly fighting down a smirk. Sakura already knows that she's won.
"There are plants that display multiple sex characteristics. Male organs on female plants and vice versa. Even both simultaneously." Yoshino says, taking a strawberry for herself. "But people are not plants, Haruno."
"No, they aren't," Sakura replies. "We have an ability to reason."
"It makes us much more foolish than flowers, doesn't it?"
Yoshino's unsaid answer makes Sakura's stomach do a cartwheel.
"If you write something up, I'll be happy to put my weight behind it," Yoshino says. "As Jounin Commander, and as the head of the Nara."
If the Godaime's apprentice starts a little revolution, and the Nara follow, Sakura as good as has the Akimichi and the Yamanaka as well.
Sakura was a medic, a doctor. Yoshino was a Nara, and with that came medicinal experience as well. If one person and a clan full of people who understood biology better than any halfwit Elder's Council said that gender was a construct more than reality, they would be listened to. With the whole of the Yamanaka to insist on the psychological basis for gender exploration and experimentation, Sakura's proposal would be unstoppable.
She puts down her cup of tea, and skooches away from the table so that she may bow to Yoshino. Sakura is positive that she could have done it on her own; she's the Godaime's apprentice and one of the Rokudaime's students, after all. But help from a noble clan (or three) was going to make the process a lot easier.
After all, it wasn't only about her anymore. It was about Tsuyu, too. And Hikaru and Kaori. And the countless other civilians and shinobi that didn't feel safe enough to be out. To live authentically.
"That little white circle of yours will be a target on your back," Yoshino warns, watching as Sakura bows.
As Sakura rises, she feels that latent battle calm settle into her bones, exciting her. She's a good fighter, but she's an excellent talker. And after all she's been through, Sakura knows how to get what she wants.
"Then those fuckers better hope their aim is good," she says, grinning.
She runs into Shikamaru on her way out.
She's crouching down, carefully placing her wedges back on when the front door opens and a person steps through it. She looks up, and there he is. She gives him a light smile as his face minutely pinches in confusion.
"Morning, Shikamaru," she says. "Nice day to bend the rules, isn't it?"
He opens his mouth to reply, then shuts it. Then opens it again to say, "You look nice."
Sakura ruffles the hair at the back of her head as she stands.
"Thanks," she replies. "I'll see you around!"
She turns back once on her way out of the compound. She catches his eyes on her. She likes it.
He spends a lot of time at the Nara compound between his hospital shifts.
Yoshino is a busy woman and Sakura can empathize. Some days after a graveyard shift and an early morning spar with the boys, he wants to crawl into bed and sleep for a year and a half. It's nothing compared to the war though, which is something he tries to keep in mind.
Sometimes, he brings snacks to the Nara compound. Yoshino likes barbecue chips and strawberry pocky, so whenever he hits a roadblock in writing up his bill, Sakura heads to the convenience store to get armfuls of offerings for the Nara clan head.
She scoffs at him when he arrives, but opens a bag of chips and takes the always multiplying sheaf of paper Sakura brings with him and goes over it with a terrifying red pen.
It's just a bill of protections, an amendment to the Uchiha Itachi Memorial Civil Rights Mandate passed after the war. Sakura had pushed that through with Naruto and the Eleven, but this somehow seems much more difficult. It's easy to outline the ways in which one can prevent a tragedy like the Uchiha Massacre from happening ever again, but Sakura doesn't know the history of abuses against trans and non binary people in Konohagakure.
So he starts asking.
Tsuyu is happy to oblige; she's in her forties, and she's seen a great deal in her time. She was taken off the active duty roster when she started presenting as a woman. She was a chuunin when it happened, not dishonorably discharged but quietly and summarily fired.
It's harder to find other shinobi willing to testify their experiences, but the civilians Sakura knows are happy to. They talk about workplace discrimination, the struggle that comes with deciding which bathroom they 'ought' to use, shopping in stores with shopkeepers that side-eye them when they enter long until they exit.
It makes Sakura angry to know that this has happened, and that countless other terrible things probably still are happening because nobody has shined a light on it yet and demanded that it stop. He wonders how many shinobi have been hurt because of this bullshit, how many are still hurting in silence. He refuses to let it continue.
"You realize you can't keep referencing the Uchiha Mandate," Yoshino says, scribbling in the margins of the tentatively named 'Konagakure Gender Inclusivity Protection Act'.
"There's no other piece of legislature that I can reference," Sakura groans from his place on the couch, face buried in the pillows.
"That's not my problem," Yoshino quips, popping a handful of chips into her mouth. "Talk about the Uchiha segregation less and more about the Women's Protection clauses in the Foundation Documents."
Sakura's head snaps up, and he turns his gaze immediately on Yoshino.
"Why didn't I think of that?" he asks.
"Because you're not a Nara," Yoshino replies, breezy as can be.
Sakura groans and picks up his own copy of the KGIP Act, and starts scribbling in the margins on his own. He'll have to go to the library again to check out another copy of the Founders Document. He thinks absently to bless Uzumaki Mito and Senju Touka for physically fighting for the Women's Protection Clause to get into the documents in the first place. His foremothers have done him a great service.
All of this is to say, Sakura spends like, a lot of time at the Nara compound. Specifically on Yoshino's couch. Kakashi teases him about his new older girlfriend and Sakura politely tells him where he can stick his book of porn, Rokudaime or not.
Sakura likes Yoshino. She's a really cool woman. She's not even remotely ashamed of her arranged marriage to Shikaku. She got over being shelved from active duty to pop out a Nara baby when she was back in her twenties. She had been on active duty during the war, had been the commander of the forces assigned to get the last of the civilians to the safe houses in the mountains before the fighting got too bad for transportation.
She's got a dry sense of humor, meaning she laughs at Sakura's jokes. She's good at what she does, excellent in fact. Bureaucracy makes Sakura's head ache, but Yoshino cuts finely through red tape and paper work with that damn blue pen of hers like it's easy.
She also tosses a blanket on Sakura's shoulders when he falls asleep in her living room, and sometimes leaves a plate of breakfast wrapped in aluminum foil on the table because they both have similar work schedules.
Today is one such morning.
Sakura wakes with the sun in his eyes, well aware that Yoshino left the window open so that he wouldn't oversleep. He groans and sits up, rubbing at the crick in his neck that comes with sleeping on a haphazard combination of throw pillows and his own bicep.
He stands, dressed in yesterday's clothes. He had unzipped his red Haruno crested shirt before he went to bed, and his black binder keeps his breasts firmly flat against his chest. His hitai-ate is on the table beside the couch, and he wraps it neatly around his bicep.
He rolls his ankles a couple of times, glad he had left them wrapped. He had been jogging in the mornings lately, running with Sasuke. Their 'soothing' morning ritual more often than not ended in bloodthirsty races to see who could make it back to their apartment to wake Naruto up in the rudest possible way.
He tucks his hands into his pockets, yawning as he enters the dining room. He opens the refrigerator for a glass of orange juice. When he realizes the carton is a glass away from empty, he bypasses the glass and drinks straight from the carton, reminding himself to leave Yoshino a note to say that she's gonna be out of juice when she gets home.
That's when he notices Shikamaru.
He's looking at him, bleary eyed and confused, and his cheeks are a little pink. Sakura stops drinking, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and says, "Morning."
Shikamaru sits there for a moment, like his brain is taking longer than usual to wake up. When he finally gets the hang of being human again he says, "Morning."
Sakura finishes off the orange juice and chucks the carton in the trash. He sits down at the table in the chair opposite to Shikamaru where the plate Yoshino left him is sitting neatly. He unrolls the foil and peers at the omelette and rice, and tucks in with the chopsticks left for him as well.
"You sleep here?" Shikamaru asks, when Sakura's mouth is full of egg and rice.
"Yeah," Sakura replies once he swallows. "Your mom is helping me write a bill. Act. Thing."
Shikamaru nods absently, like he really hasn't noticed the fact that Sakura has spent the last two and a half weeks on and off sleeping on his couch. Which Sakura knows is impossible, because he's seen Shikamaru look at him.
They finish eating in silence, Shikamaru nursing a cup of coffee black enough to be a mug of Sasuke's melted hair. Once finished, Sakura stands and heads to the sink, washing his own dishes. Afterward, he wipes his hands on a dish towel, turns around, and zips up his shirt.
"You mind telling your mom you're out of orange juice?" he asks. "I'm coming back tonight, and she knows, so if you see her before then, just tell her I'm gonna bring another carton and remind her not to yell at me for finishing the carton."
Shikamaru nods, like a man in a daze.
"Thanks," Sakura says, before leaving the dining room to head into the living room.
He folds up the blanket Yoshino had dropped on him the previous night and sets the throw pillows to their proper places on the couch. He gathers up his copy of the KGIP along with his pens and highlighters before he heads for the door.
"Sakura," Shikamaru's voice calls from over his shoulder.
Sakura looks up, zipping up one black sandal and shoving his foot into the other.
"Do you - ,"
He's standing in the hallway, hand on the back of his neck like he's trying to figure out what he wants to say as he's saying it.
"Do you need another pair of eyes? On the bill, I mean?"
Sakura zips up his second sandal and rises.
"I didn't think this was your kind of thing," he says, gesturing at the papers and pens he leans over to pick up. "It's pretty boring, even for you."
"Then do you need dinner?"
His face is pink, and he's still scratching the back of his neck.
"Tonight, I mean."
Sakura can remember the last time he got asked on a date. It was by that one guy, during the war. Sweet boy. He didn't remember his name now.
And it wasn't that he had never considered Shikamaru before. He had grown up to be unreasonably attractive. Sakura didn't like that he smoked, but otherwise, he was a good man with no other vices.
But Sakura hadn't really had time. Hadn't really thought about dating. Not between the Uchiha Itachi Memorial Mandate, and his work at the hospital, then discovering that he was sometimes a girl and other times a boy, and now this damn Act he's trying to get signed into law.
He knows that Shikamaru knows he's - well, himself. Sakura-kun and Sakura-chan. But Sakura hasn't exactly thought about how to navigate a romantic relationship now that he's discovered this new part of himself. And he isn't sure Shikamaru knows how to either.
"I like dinner," Sakura says after a moment of silence, nodding slowly. "Generally speaking."
Shikamaru looks less like he's going to explode and more like he's trying to solve a puzzle with half the pieces.
"Do you like sushi?" he asks.
"I do," Sakura replies.
"How's tonight?" Shikamaru asks. "After your shift. I can walk you back here, after we eat."
Sakura lifts an eyebrow.
"I don't need an escort," he says.
Shikamaru shakes his head.
"That's - that's not what I meant - I - sorry -,"
"Relax," he says, grinning a little at Shikamaru's slight discomfort. "After my shift is fine. You can come get me at the hospital. We'll go from there."
"Oh," Shikamaru replies, suddenly looking relieved. "Yeah. I can do that."
"Yeah," Sakura says, grinning still. "You can."
He leaves, goes to work, goes through his shift still thinking about how to make the language of the act as accessible as possible. It's not going to work if nobody can understand the damn thing as they read it. Yoshino knows all sorts of legal jargon that flies right over Sakura's head, and he has to rework it into words that normal people use without sacrificing the integrity of the document.
In short, it's a nightmare. And he accidentally gives a grown man a lollipop when he gets through his routine check up instead of the five year old to whom he gives a pamphlet on arthritis. Shizune laughs at him because she's awful, and she corrects the mistake.
The rest of Sakura's shift goes by in a hazy blur that ends with him standing in front of the hospital, wondering why exactly he's not heading home yet. He's forgotten something, that much is clear.
It's rectified when he steps through the sliding doors and sees Shikamaru right on time, dropping his cigarette and crushing it under his heel when Sakura comes outside.
"Ready?" Shikamaru says, coming up to stand in front of him.
"Yeah," Sakura says smoothly, wondering if Shikamaru could tell that he completely forgot about the date he said he was going to go on that same morning.
They walk in a companionable silence for some time. Sakura can't tell if Shikamaru doesn't know what to say to him, or if he recognizes that Sakura's brain is as fried as the omelette he had for breakfast. Either way, he's grateful for the chance to collect his thoughts and shift his focus to the person in front of him.
The sushi place is a nice little hole in the wall, with high bar stools around the counter.
When they enter, Shikamaru gestures towards them, and asks, "Should I -?"
Sakura looks from the stool to Shikamaru and shrugs.
"If it's something you'd do for any guy, yeah," he replies.
Shikamaru chuckles and says, "That would be your response, wouldn't it?"
He ends up pulling Sakura's stool out for him and pushing him back in towards the counter.
"I thought about bringing flowers," Shikamaru says, taking his own seat. "Wasn't sure if you'd be a girl by five o-clock or if you'd still be like you were this morning."
Sakura cups his chin in his hand, looking at Shikamaru.
"How'd you decide what to do?" he asks.
Shikamaru folds his hands across his chest and sighs.
"I asked Shizune when she left how you were presenting today," he replies. "Shushin-ed home and chucked the flowers in a vase before I came back. Smoked three cigarettes because I was worried you would've wanted them anyway."
Sakura smiles, touched. His boys had all made magnificent efforts to help him be more comfortable as he was now. So had Tsuyu and Hikaru, and Kaori and everyone else. Even Yoshino had done her part.
But this was different. This was someone seeing Sakura as he was and altering his behavior to make sure he was treating him the right way. The way he wanted to be treated. Of course Naruto, Sasuke, Sai, Kakashi, and Yamato had all done the same, but obviously to a different degree. Sasuke and Sai had offered him clothes; Naruto had helped him through his first realizations; Kakashi was going to put the KGIP through once he had enough approval on it; and Yamato hit anyone who misgendered Sakura in the ribs with a plank of wood.
Shikamaru had bought him flowers, then ditched them when he realized they might not have been welcome, then chain smoked because he was worried he had done the wrong thing anyway. It was sweet.
"I would like them," Sakura says. "When we get back to your place."
The implication makes Shikamaru's cheeks redden somewhat, and Sakura wonders just how much he can do to make the Nara blush. It was cute on him. Especially so because it was Sakura's fault.
"You can help me and your mom with the act," Sakura adds wryly, watching Shikamaru scratch the back of his neck and recognizing it for the nervous tick that it obviously is.
"I can buy you dinner or I can legal advice," Shikamaru says, getting back in control of himself. "Pick your poison."
"How about you do both and buy some orange juice for your mother," Sakura says, picking up the menu on the bar in front of her, "and if this goes well, I'll take you out next time."
"Next time?" Shikamaru asks, smirking at him.
"If you're good," Sakura answers with a wink. "And your legal advice is, too."
It makes Shikamaru laugh, and their waiter comes over to take their orders.
It's Sakura's first date as a man, and it goes perfectly. From the food, to the alley he drags Shikamaru in to kiss him before they get back to the Nara compound, to way Shikamaru gasps when Sakura grabs his ass, to the way Yoshino rolls her eyes when they arrive at the compound looking vaguely rumpled and ready to start a minor revolution.
All of it is perfect.
happy endings are gay culture.