|I Should Have Known
Author: brezoflower PM
[SasuSaku] Sakura doesn't even flinch when Sasuke finally returns after seven years...with a girlfriend. Sakura can't bring herself to hate the girl, and she gets a shock when she realizes that Sasuke is dating...a version of herself!Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Angst - Sakura H. & Sasuke U. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 16,877 - Reviews: 440 - Favs: 340 - Follows: 426 - Updated: 11-11-06 - Published: 06-13-06 - id: 2990181
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: Here has to be the millionth story of Sasuke's return on this site. But after reading so many out-of-character stories, I felt that I'd love to put my own spin on it. Tell me what you think!
Disclaimer: I think it goes without saying that I do not own Naruto (ahem, property of Mister Kishimoto). But the story is mine! Yeah…
I Should Have Known This Would Happen
The day had started so normally. The sun was out, filtering through the trees overhead. Little graduates burst from the academy doors to scurry around like puppies toward the interesting thing of the day, and onlookers smiled and shook their heads. The men and women who watched these children were wives, mothers, husbands, families. During peacetime everyone had a routine. It was as if peacetime was a permanent thing. As if nothing could ever happen to break this particular day out of its cheerful, lazy routine.
As far as Sakura was concerned, they were all just fooling themselves.
The absolute normalcy of the village now was killing her. Her days had been nothing but normal since he had left. She had half expected the village to come crumbling down on its own, toppling from its' foundations simply because her bleak mood had willed it, tired of everyone's happiness while she remained so miserable. It had taken months and endless bowls of ramen therapy with Naruto to pull her out of her little hole she had crawled into, out of the dark recesses of her mind where she didn't have to deal with peoples' relentless optimism and cheerful indifference to the events that had changed her whole life.
The years passed by with Sakura pushing aside her selfish depression and finding a new angle to live by: one coped with her shortcomings by vowing to overcome all of them. Somewhere deep down Sakura believed that if she had only been a little bit stronger, a little more confident, a little more…just more, she could have made him stay. Sasuke might have stayed for her.
From that decision point on she worked tirelessly to increase her strength, both physically and mentally. Her tears dried up, and her fingers were callused from training and cut from the many research papers and books she would spend long hours studying. Under Tsunade's teaching, she expended her chakra to its' last reserves each and every day, over and over again. She would coldly stare at anyone who dared to inflict their sympathy on her until the condolences stopped coming.
She would show him. Show everyone that she would never be called "weak" again, least of all by one raven-haired man still on the loose.
Today was a day that for the first time, other shoppers' smiles on the bustling market street were just a little infectious. The sunlight, warm on her skin, reminded her of the good things in life, the things so little appreciated until the moments are gone. The things you barely notice, like the dust particles floating through the bars of light in the forest that morning before she came into town, or the smell of wildflowers in Ino's mother's hands on market day. Though she could not bring herself to wave back at the casual acquaintances that passed by, she did manage a small curve of the lips. Perhaps today something would be different. It was almost as though on happy summer days like these one could forget about the things that made her sad.
Sakura's sandals were dusty from the dryness of the soil as she walked, and she was occasionally jostled by plump wives or anxious men on her path down the market. Her ears were so full of noise from haggling salesmen and village wives that at first she didn't register that someone was calling to her.
"Sakura! Sakura!" A female voice shrieked, carrying over the heads of people somewhere to her right. After a great deal of shoving and complaints from passerby, two lithe and out-of-breath girls stumbled to a halt in front of her. Standing there fighting to reclaim breath were her friends, the ones she had come to call her closest and most precious people. Hinata and Tenten were there for her when Sasuke left, and this was the most surprising, given the fact that they had never been very close beforehand. Sakura barely knew either of them, but somehow the panic that swept through the village from the Uchiha managing to leave so easily reached all three of them. They were drawn together by the event, and began to find more in common than just the circumstances surrounding the Uchiha boy.
"Hinata? Tenten?" Sakura spoke, confused. "What are you both doing here?"
"We…we had to tell you," Tenten breathed, fighting to gain control over her pounding lungs. "We…didn't even talk…to him. We just came…right here."
"To who?" Sakura ignored her grammatical error and approached the two girls, smiling slightly. "You're both crazy. You're so out of shape that a little jog across the village left you winded?"
"Bite…me," Tenten said, causing Sakura's soft smile to morph into a teasing smirk. "Trust me…you'll want to hear this."
"He's b-b…" Hinata stuttered out. Poor Hinata, Sakura thought as she surveyed her red-faced friend. It's been so many years and she still hasn't mastered her stuttering problem. Tenten and Sakura were working on that, however. Hinata had, thanks to them, at least grown confident enough to hold a semi-awkward conversation with Uzumaki Naruto. Apparently Naruto found her nervousness endearing.
"Back," Tenten finished. Sakura gave them both a pitying look, her mind still on their lack of physical fitness. She chuckled a little, helping her friends to their feet.
She said nothing as Tenten and Hinata's breathing slowly went back to normal, only smiled at them as she patiently waited for them to regain the ability to speak without passing out. Tenten gave her a puzzled look; did Sakura not understand what she was saying?
"He came back, Sakura."
Sakura only returned her concerned gaze with her own slightly bewildered smile. She didn't understand, but it didn't bother her much.
"Who's back?" she asked. "Naruto already returned from his mission…about two days ago. But you already saw him…"
"No, Sakura!" Tenten was surprisingly sharp. "You don't understand, do you?"
Sakura's silence said it all.
For a moment, Sakura stopped breathing, and the girls carefully searched her face for the first signs of a response.
Tenten's eyebrows furrowed when Sakura failed to even flinch. Her once stunned expression slowly resolved itself, and in its' place was a brief moment of thoughtfulness.
Hinata nearly stumbled to the floor again at those words. "Wh-What?" she asked, eyes wide.
"Okay," Sakura repeated with a careless shrug. "I guess we'll have to go say hi, won't we?"
"Um, Sakura," Tenten was still gazing at her. What happened to the Sakura who cried for days after Sasuke's abandonment, the one who spilled every little insecurity she had to her? What about all those months of sad movies and buckets of popcorn and chocolate they had gone through when Sakura was a heartbroken mess?
"Look, girls, I don't know why you think this should be a big deal to me," the pink-haired girl said. "You act as if he died, not returned."
"Well, S-Sakura, we thought y-you would be troubled b-by this," Hinata tentatively murmured.
"Happy. Scared. Excited. Something," added Tenten.
"Not really," Sakura responded, even though she had to shove the bubble of hope that swelled in her chest back down rather roughly. He was out of her life now. "I suppose Naruto's already all over him?"
"You could say that," Tenten answered, finally smiling. "I don't think the girl that was with Sasuke found his vulgar shouts of, 'You're back, bastard!' very amusing, though."
Sakura's breath caught, again, against her will. "Girl? He had a girl with him?"
"Y-Yeah." Hinata's nervous fidget was back. And they had come so close to breaking that habit. "We didn't ask her n-name, though. As soon as we saw him we b-bolted back here to find you."
Carefully schooling her expression, Sakura considered this new bit of information.
"Hmm. That's interesting. I wonder if they have any children yet." Also, kind of hoping she's a troll.
Tenten gasped at the out-loud musing. "Sakura, how can you think of something like that?"
"Well, it's been seven years since he left, which would make him nineteen just like the rest of us…" A lazy finger rose to Sakura's chin as she voiced her thoughts. "Many men decide to start families much sooner than nineteen."
"He didn't have a b-baby with him," Hinata told her.
"Well, she might be pregnant then," Sakura said. "Lord knows how eager he must be to restore his clan."
Although Sakura said each word lightly and carelessly, there was a certain way she arranged her words that made her friends pick up on the lingering bitterness Sakura held. She concealed all of her emotions perfectly, though, so well in fact that if the three hadn't been experts at detection Tenten and Hinata might have missed it.
"Well?" Sakura turned toward the door, taking measured steps toward it. I'm fine. Let's prove that right now. "Let's go see him then."
Sasuke wandered through the village, well aware of the stares and whispers he had the young woman next to him were receiving but ignoring them nonetheless. Had it been up to him, he would have insisted on avoiding the villagers' eyes altogether, opting for traveling on the outskirts of town until he reached the Hokage's office, but the girl beside him had insisted that they do this. It would get the initial shock out of the way, so that their lives could return to normal more quickly instead of becoming several weeks' worth of gossip. She was always the wiser of the two, pulling him out of his shell at the most inconvenient but useful times. He supposed he could trust her again just this once.
So here they were, walking straight down the busiest road of Konoha, in order to…avoid everyone later? Not that Sasuke understood the girl's reasoning. All he knew was that things tended to come together more smoothly when she suggested a plan, and it saved him from having to be the center of attention. When she hesitated, a slight pause out of nervousness, Sasuke gently placed a hand on the small of her back and guided her forward. It was her idea—and they would follow through with it.
"Sakura, there he is!" Tenten exclaimed, pointing a perfectly rounded nail straight down the market street. Since the wars ended, Tenten spent less time training and more time in her father's weapons shop, where she became so bored that perfecting her nails became second nature while standing behind the counter. Sakura followed her gleaming nails and glanced down the indicated road. The usually congested street was now almost bare, empty, though the shops and fruit stands lining the street were so packed they looked ready to burst. Whoever occupied that street must have been worthy enough that the villagers would clear a path for him.
Indeed he was. Sakura's breath had apparently left her altogether, and suddenly she didn't seem able to breathe at all. Same raven hair, same breathtaking midnight eyes with that haunted, independent look…it truly was Sasuke. His build had matured, transforming him from a boy into a man, the difference clearly noticed by his still-faithful fangirls. Sakura wasn't staring at his build, however. She was studying the hunched-over posture he had developed, and she didn't want to think about what gave it to him. He looked like the world had defeated him, and coming back home was the only option left. Perhaps the loneliness had been too great.
He was clearly uncomfortable. Sakura observed curiously as Sasuke's grip tightened on the girl next to him.
That girl. Sakura didn't know who she was, but she was not what Sakura expected. If Sasuke had claimed a girlfriend, Sakura would have expected her to be stunning in every way, a perfect copy of a geisha or a porcelain doll. But this girl was...actually rather plain. Plain-looking clothes, average body type and nervous walk, and a vacuous, ignorant expression. Sakura used to wear that expression, until she snapped out of it and the shallow things she used to cherish were left on the back burner. She recalled leaving that behind somewhere around thirteen.
Sakura had to admit that the girl had two redeeming factors. She had beautiful waist-length ebony hair that shimmered with the girl's anxious movement, and her surprisingly blue eyes glittered beneath furrowed brows. Her hair and eyes were what caught everyone's attention, the only things about her that truly stood out. Sakura let out a shaky, bitter laugh. Guess the rumors were true about Sasuke liking long hair. A wince, and she forced that thought out of her head. Don't think about that now.
Sasuke stopped a few yards away from her, causing the mystery girl to stop too. His expression hardened as he saw the pink-haired girl, no, woman in front of him. At first he had to squint when he saw her coming; years of abusing the Sharingan made his eyes suffer, and they were not quite so acute as before. In fact, if it were not for the shockingly unusual pigment of her hair, he might have not recognized her at all.
But as he came closer, more familiar things shifted into focus. The small, budding curves she had possessed back in their genin days had filled out, her slender legs hidden beneath her long summer dress but her slim collarbone exposed. She had many more angles than she used to, her features more defined. The straight line of her jaw suited her stubbornness, and the years of peacetime had given her the opportunity to smooth out her rough hair until it hung in glossy strands over her shoulders.
It had been so long, but she was still clearly recognizable from the old days. If the dress and the curves had thrown him off, he'd still know her anywhere from her straight-backed stance and her now defiant expression.
Sakura took measured steps up to them, her intent unclear to the former avenger. Uncertainly he actually found himself worried at what she would say. If she was anything like before, he was soon going to have to dodge a bodily attack.
Sakura's voice thankfully came out calm and self-assured, and this helped to steady her racing heart as well. Hello? Well, better than nothing.
"Hey," Sasuke replied slowly. The girl at his side tensed, then relaxed. She made a slight twitching movement, like she wanted to come forward but couldn't quite summon up the courage.
"Hi, I'm Kirika," she said, evidently changing her mind and extending her hand. To Sakura's credit, she took it with a careful grasp. God, this new girl was brittle. Sakura could snap her by accident. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Sakura responded. "Where are you from?"
"I guess you could say I'm a fugitive," Kirika explained. "Sasuke-kun saved me from an enemy ambush on my village, and I've been traveling with him ever since."
Sakura stiffened at the seemingly innocent name she spoke. Sasuke-kun. How that suffix brought up a lot of memories when paired with her old love's name.
"I see." After much effort, Sakura forced her lips into a sweet smile. "Well, it's nice to see a friendly new face. If you ever need a girl to talk to…" she gestured to herself. Here comes the olive branch. "Haruno Sakura. You can talk to me anytime."
Kirika's once nervous face warmed, and she smiled brightly at Sakura. "Thanks," she said. "I'll remember that."
Sakura couldn't really hate this girl. Yes, she was shy and nothing special, but she was important enough that Sasuke had chosen her, and that counted for something. She seemed nice enough. Sakura remembered a time when she too had been desperate for acceptance once.
Still. Something held her back from fully embracing the idea of this girl. She found she didn't quite have it in her.
Sasuke, in the background up to this point, placed a hand on Kirika's shoulder as if to remind her that he was indeed still there. She jumped. "Oh, right, Sasuke-kun," she stammered. The smile Sakura wore now became a bit strained as she heard that name again. Sasuke-kun. The fact that it had not spilled from her own lips wrenched at her heart. But she had to accept the fact that it never would again.
"Well, it was good to see you again, Sasuke," Sakura said, keeping her tone light and happy when she felt anything but. She noticed his eyes widen a slight fraction at the absence of the endearing suffix she used to use so commonly. "I'll see you both around."
Tenten and Hinata only stared at their friend as she turned and walked away, a reserved expression never leaving her face. What had they expected? For her to burst into tears? For her to snap and lunge at the new girl? Well, she could have been a better actress, but Sakura believed she handled that rather well. Now, all she had to do was just avoid the couple for the rest of eternity and she'd be all set.
"Teme!" An obtrusively loud voice cut through the tension like a foghorn, startling everyone out of their current thoughts. He rushed up to Sasuke, fist raised and ready to deck him one. Sasuke easily blocked it, but was caught by surprise as Naruto continued to fall forward, eventually crushing a shocked Sasuke into a bear hug.
"If everyone weren't around I'd be crushing you into a pulp, asshole," Naruto growled from Sasuke's back. Sasuke attempted to disentangle Naruto's arms from himself, but Naruto seemed to have acquired a strength that even Sasuke struggled with. He settled for giving a small 'hmph' and waited for Naruto to detach himself.
"At least you've gained some self-control, dobe," he muttered.
Naruto pulled back and stared at Sasuke's face, searching for any trace of the violent, power-hungry man who had abandoned them all. Seeing only resignation and a hint of exasperation, he pushed aside his own reservations and turned his attention to the startled, waif-like girl practically cowering beside him. The Big Talk could wait. They were causing a scene.
"And who's this?" Naruto asked, peering down at Kirika as if she were a scared rabbit in a cage. "Where'd you get this one? Better hope Sakura-chan doesn't see her."
Sasuke shot him a warning glare, but it bounced off of Naruto, who may have grown but had not left his obliviousness. Kirika, however, was curious.
"Why would she be upset?" she asked cautiously, daring to stand up a little straighter.
"Well," Naruto began in an offhand tone, not even feeling the murderous intent emanating from Sasuke in waves, "Sakura-chan would probably burst into tears if she saw that Sasuke-teme came back with a girlfriend—OW, teme! What was that for?" Naruto wailed, rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head where Sasuke had just whacked him. His eyes fell to Kirika, whose eyes were now fixated on the ground.
"Oh, no…" Kirika whispered. "Sakura-san…" Sasuke made sure Naruto didn't miss his scowl this time. The blonde slowly backed away.
"Well, sorry guys, gotta go, ramen calls," he said, laughing for no reason other than to cover his mistake. And then he was gone in a poof of smoke, a jutsu Sasuke was sure he had picked up from Kakashi.
Tsunade's office was in pandemonium. Shizune was busy herding men away from the Hokage's desk as they shouted over one another, demanding attention, all wanting the same thing: that Uchiha Sasuke be brought to justice for his crimes against the village.
A vein was steadily thrumming in Tsunade's forehead, a clear warning sign if there ever was one, but the crowd's only concern was making themselves heard. It wasn't until she snapped, slapped her palms on her desk and shouted "ENOUGH!" that they fell silent and stepped back, ashamed.
"Now," she began, glowering at them all, "It's obvious that you are here for one reason only. And my response to you is that Uchiha Sasuke will receive a fitting punishment for his abandonment of the village. I will inform you all of my decision when I have taken the time to make it! Now clear out!"
Grumbling but sufficiently chastised, the crowd eventually dispersed, leaving an exhausted Tsunade alone as Shizune returned with a cup of sake.
"Tsunade-sama…" Shizune started before she could stop herself. "What do you suppose you will have to do?"
The corners of Tsunade's mouth lowered so much at the question that Shizune was almost tempted to lift them up with her fingers. After a long minute, Tsunade grasped the offered sake cup and downed it in one gulp.
"We'll see if he has any information to trade for a lighter sentence." She lowered her head and massaged her throbbing temples. "But until then, I just don't know. Send one of Ibiki's men to collect him tomorrow. We'll have to deal with this as soon as possible."