Tracing the lines that stood prominent on his forearm, Sasuke sighed and dipped lower into the bathtub. It was on such a noticeable part of his body, and his mother knew the exact moment the cluster of dots on his skin took shape, just a few months shy of his first birthday.
“Tired from the heat already?”
Sasuke looked up at his older brother sitting across the ofuro. His hair had gotten long enough for Mother to let him borrow one of her pins to keep his hair from getting wet. With his hair pulled up and away, Itachi’s soulmarks were on display. A rarity considering their placement on his collarbone.
Itachi was an anomaly. It was one thing to be born like the Hyuga and have no soulmark but to have two of them was almost unheard of.
Itachi’s two marks were completely different from each other and stood on opposite sides, symmetrical in location. Constellations that typically never rose high in the sky at the same time standing like equals on his skin.
The one on his right he was born with, one soulmate already born before him. The second one appeared when he was eight months old, the other one younger but still the same age.
At four years old Sasuke was confused by Itachi’s marks. If he had two soulmates than how did he know which one was the right one? What if he picked wrong?
“I don’t think there’s a wrong choice,” Itachi answered him, ruffling Sasuke’s hair dry with a towel. “It doesn’t even mean I will ever meet them.”
That was the problem with their soulmarks. Constellations were vague. His soulmate could be anyone.
Anyone born under the Ram.
Being born without a soulmark wasn’t a bad thing. At least that’s what Sakura’s mother said.
Haruno Mebuki told her daughter that it was actually a blessing. Without a soulmark, Sakura would never fall prey to chasing after any person that happened to be born under whatever constellation that appeared on her skin.
“Plenty of people fall in love despite not having any mark. Some people with marks fall in love with the wrong kind. You don’t find the person for you just because a few dots on your skin happen to have lines that connect.”
It was all unfair to Sakura. She wasn’t born from parents without soulmarks. Her parents even had matching marks located along their ribs on opposite sides of their bodies.
Sakura wouldn’t have minded so much being markless if she were a Hyuga. An entire clan of people without soulmarks that belonged to each other. No one married outside of the clan so a lack of marks meant nothing to them.
But day after day without anyone to talk to, no friends by her side, Sakura couldn’t stop the overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
She longed for her translucent freckles to darken and form a constellation, any constellation, just for the promise that one day she would have someone that she belonged to and they belonged to her.
She was five and all she wanted was a friend.
The long sleeves of the clothing his family wore never felt more welcomed than when he entered the Academy.
The kids were always running around and asking each other what kind of marks they had. If the mark matched their own it was more likely they would be friends.
Sasuke didn’t like that. It was like they didn’t care about the person just the mark on their skin.
Sasuke didn’t want any part of that.
If he was to be loved it would be for who he was, not for superficial things. He refused to tell anyone what his soulmark was.
Yamanaka Ino was the kind of person that did whatever she wanted.
It was why she decided the cute pink haired girl would be her new friend despite the lengths other kids went to avoid her or bully her. And it was also the reason why when she found out that Sasuke wasn’t born under the Archer that she didn’t care about soulmarks.
Who were the stars to tell her the coolest guy in the village wasn’t supposed to be hers?
And besides, it would be a great example for Sakura who confided in her that she didn’t have a mark. It would help her friend realize that marks didn’t mean anything in the long run.
“Tilt your head forward so I can secure the ribbon better,” Ino ordered. She went out shopping the other day for the perfect gift for Sakura━a red ribbon to pull her hair away from her pretty face.
Ino brushed some strands into place and pushed down Sakura’s high collar out of the way. She gasped when she saw her friend’s nape for the first time.
“Ino?” Sakura’s voice snapped Ino out of her thoughts.
“Nothing!” Ino brushed off the heavy sinking feeling in her stomach and tied a bow on Sakura’s head.
Soulmarks mean nothing, Ino reminded herself refusing to show Sakura how sour her mood had become.
There was something dark about his older brother that worried Sasuke. The elders of the clan were investigating his best friend’s death so it made sense that Itachi would be somewhere far away in his thoughts.
Sasuke went to check on his brother, concerned for he was even more withdrawn than usual. He caught him standing in front of his mirror, fingering his collarbone on the right side.
Sasuke had heard that when someone’s soulmate died that the soulmark would fade away but he had never known anyone intimately enough to witness the phenomenon.
Now he stood outside his brother’s bedroom, peering through the crack of the door, fascinated by what he was seeing.
On the left, the second mark was still there standing proud, but on the right there was a cluster of formless dots. Sasuke couldn’t place which dots used to be part of the old constellation.
Sasuke creeped away, unsettled by the blank look on Itachi’s face and the way he kept tracing patterns on his skin, trying to fruitlessly connect dots.
He didn’t sleep that night. He kept watch over his soulmark and prayed for the health and longevity of a stranger.
Sasuke woke up gasping yet again. It had been a year since the fall of his clan and he still saw the streets running with blood and mangled bodies when he closed his eyes.
He was the last of the Uchiha━he no longer counted his brother as one.
He had gotten his hopes up when he woke up and overheard that Uchiha Izumi’s body lacked any physical wounds. Seconds later his stomach sank when the nurses on the other side of the door mentioned that the estimated time of death made her the first victim that night.
Slowing down his breathing, Sasuke turned on his side and eyed his soulmark. The Ram was still there.
A reminder that one day, he wouldn’t be alone after he took care of his brother.
Sakura had never been so scared before in her life.
Even now that Sasuke sat across from her, covered in bandages, she could still picture his prone body lying on that bridge covered in senbon.
“Not so close,” Sasuke muttered when Sakura’s knee touched his.
“Just changing your bandages,” Sakura explained. Usually she would be giddy to even be close to Sasuke but all she wanted was to feel his warmth, to feel that he was alive.
She once admired him from afar but spending time with him made her feel something deeper for the quiet boy.
He was no longer just the perfect, high scoring Academy boy that had once smiled freely when he snuck peeks at his grades but her squadmate, a friend.
She smiled softly at him, flushing at how intense his gaze was. Her smile stretched into a full grin and Sasuke turned away.
We’re closer maybe? Just a little?
It was weird when she wasn’t smiling. At least, when she wasn’t smiling the way she usually did.
Sakura was a happy person whose energy brought him a sense of peace. Her existence had become something…precious to him.
Thinking about someone’s happiness and their moods wasn’t something he thought he would care about again. At least not until after he avenged his clan.
There was something about her smile though━something about when he made her smile.
It made it so he didn’t mind if a certain Ram had a Lion somewhere on her being.
It had been years since Ino had seen the telltale mark on Sakura’s nape. Now she was staring at it again, small like everyone else’s mark but still obvious.
And she felt for the first time that maybe━for some people━those clusters of connected dots really meant something.
“All done,” Ino chirped, proud of her work. Sakura’s hair was still choppy but it was a lot more even than the mess she made of it earlier.
A mess she made for her teammates.
As soon as she was done brushing the last strand of hair off of Sakura’s shoulders, Sasuke quietly sat down by Sakura.
They weren’t speaking yet Ino felt like she was watching something from the outside, from far away. It was just like earlier when she was frozen with fear.
She loved Sasuke. She was sure of it.
But then why was it only Sakura that moved toward him and embraced him. Stopped him. Ino herself wanted to run━run far away.
She watched the two of them for a beat, a strange peace around them as they shared each other’s company.
Until Naruto woke up and started shrieking about Sakura’s short hair.
Ino clucked her tongue in disgust. Really? She was covered in bruises and her eye was swollen and he talks about her hair?
Did Naruto ever see Sakura? Really see her?
It made more and more sense every day why his mark wasn’t the Ram.
It should have disturbed him how much she was starting to matter to him.
But laying her down in a safe place, he didn’t hesitate putting her before his revenge.
Because he wasn’t going to go through that again.
He wasn’t going to lose someone precious again.
If she weren’t so worried, so scared, she probably would have laughed at how her gut feeling was correct.
The tug in her heart, the heavy sinking in her stomach, led her to the path to the gates of their village.
And there he was, walking towards her with his travel bag.
His footsteps echoed in her ears, a steadier and more relaxed cadence than that of her heartbeat.
“What are you doing prowling around here in the middle of the night?”
It was supposed to be easy to leave. No one was supposed to even be awake when he left. He was simply going to walk out and no one would know until he was long gone.
Knocking Sakura out was easy. He had always been faster and she was distracted by how emotional she was feeling.
If his resolve hadn’t been so strong perhaps he would have wavered a bit.
She was going to scream. If she hadn’t already woken someone up with her shouted confession she was going to alert someone of his departure.
Knocking Sakura out was easy. All he had to do was hit the right point on her nape and she would pass out.
Holding her now as she fell back against him he couldn’t help but stare wide eyed at the back of her neck, right below her high collar. A small voice in the back of his mind whispered how bad it was for her neck to be at that angle but he had already knocked her out so it was a little too late to be considerate.
In some of her babbling from their early days as squadmates, Sakura had confessed to being markless.
That wasn’t fair. It was in a location hidden from her. Why no one had told her she had a mark he didn’t know but it wasn’t important. What was important was what kind of mark she had.
Sasuke scooped her up, cradling her body close before setting her down on the stone bench off to the side of the road. He couldn’t return her home without wasting precious time he already spent being intercepted by her. It was the best he could do for her.
Looking down at her there was a strange feeling in his chest that made his ears warm up.
It made a lot of sense if he thought about it.
Made a lot of sense for her to be a Ram with a Lion mark.
He couldn’t regret his decision.
He had to get stronger. Orochimaru would help him with that.
But there were nights when he couldn’t sleep that he would lay on his side and trace the constellation on his left arm.
He would avenge his clan. And then he would go home.
When Sakura took time to think of her friendship with Sai it made her laugh to herself sometimes. She felt too much and he felt too little.
But they were working on that.
“Danzo got rid of our marks. He burned them off.”
Sai’s voice still had a monotone quality to it despite how much more open he was becoming with the limitations he had.
“I sometimes think I can remember the shape but in reality I don’t.”
Sai sketched out an image of a bell and and drew a line underneath it. Sakura’s brows pulled down into a frown as she tried to place the figure.
It didn’t look like any she knew. But that’s what happened when someone was drawing from a faulty memory.
“We weren’t allowed to keep our soulmarks. We belonged to Root and no one else.”
“Soulmarks aren’t that important,” Sakura reassured him. “I don’t have one and nothing has changed.
“But,” a wrinkle formed between his eyebrows, “you do have a mark.”
Sai gestured for Sakura to turn her back on him. She felt his cool fingers slide her collar down and then he released it. A few seconds later he held up his sketchbook to her.
Sakura’s eyes went wide and her hand flew to the back of her neck. There were nine dots connected into a constellation she knew as well as her own. One that she use to dream was hers when she was younger.
It was never quiet. She could hear the screams of people ringing in her ears. If she was alone she couldn’t hear her own thoughts because all she could hear was the screaming.
That’s what Ino told her when Sakura curled against her in the cot they shared. It was getting hard to sleep alone when they were cognizant of the fact they were losing members of their forces by the droves.
People they use to see walking down the street weren’t going to be in the village anymore.
If they had a village to return to in the end.
If they themselves were around in the end.
The way he said her name still caused her stomach to get airy. The way the second syllable hit the roof of his mouth and rolled into the third.
And then she remembered that they were in the middle of a battlefield.
Soulmarks meant nothing to him anymore.
It didn’t matter that he was drawn to her, that her voice was the only sound he zeroed in on after arriving.
Nothing written in the stars was going to get in the way of his new goal.
Soulmarks meant nothing.
Her head rolled against Sasuke’s collarbone.
She saved him because he was an important piece to defeating the rabbit goddess.
She saved him because she loved him.
And the stars had nothing to do with her love.
It had to be done.
She was trying to get in the way of his plans again.
Making him waver and putting herself in harm’s way.
She had to be incapacitated.
Dying should have felt worse than that.
Sakura blinked her eyes and looked up at her sensei’s face. He looked down at her with concern in his eyes but it was unnecessary to direct any toward her.
She felt her heart in his hands and then nothing.
Maybe that’s how it always was with them.
Her heart in his hands.
And then nothing.
His Ram was gone.
As the sun was rising and all the words were said Sasuke noticed the Ram was gone.
His arm from the elbow down was missing but he wasn’t so concerned with that. He lost enough blood to know that was his last sunrise.
He wondered if Sakura ever found out about her soulmark. Would it disappear after his eyes closed forever?
A warmth flooded the location of his remaining arm. A green glow lit up, drawing his attention to the somber look on Sakura’s face.
His Ram was here.
Kissing her nape was a habit.
Sakura wouldn’t admit it to anyone but she was sure he knew she exposed it as often as possible just because of that.
She never found a soulmark on her husband’s body. She figured that, perhaps, he lost it a long time ago.
It was in the quiet of their dark bedroom that he whispered to her that he never did.