When Sasuke comes home (not permanently) but enough to enjoy a few dinners with the team and a training session or two, Sakura realizes that he has no intention of staying at home for long durations.
He stays for a few weeks at most and if she's lucky, he'll stay for a month when it's been a long journey home. They're eighteen and Sasuke has been traveling for the better part of the year. He's been gone 4 months, home for a week and gone for another 3 months and then home for 2 weeks.
It's always months away and weeks at home and Sakura tries to be patient and sincerely appreciates his friendliness towards her. She is even surprised that he never fails to stop by the hospital at least once in his times at home to see her but Sakura is a woman too and she's a nineteen year old woman soon.
He can still make her blush when he pats her head but she rather trade that for the subtle caress of his fingers against her arm or the light brush of his hand on the small of her back when they're walking.
It's pushing two years and the most he's ever shown her was a few months back when he has to pull her away from the crowded street markets just before she was about to get trampled by over exuberant housewives.
Sakura doesn't know how much longer she has to wait.
Sasuke is on one of his long expeditions out east and Sakura wonders if he remembers that it will be her birthday in two days.
She gets ready, tosses her up and even finds the nicest shade of red to wear when she turns 19. Ino and Naruto throws her a simple birthday even when she warns them not too.
"It's your birthday, forehead. We can't NOT to anything."
"Yeah, Sakura-chan! Besides, you need to come out of that hospital every once in awhile."
They both chirp so loudly in her ear that she has no choice be to agree.
About half the village shows but no one in that half is Sasuke.
She knows not to feel to sulky but it's only once in a year where she finally gets to wear something different. Have a reason to act different. He wasn't there for her eighteenth and he isn't there for her nineteenth.
Sakura finds herself inching away from the loud Naruto and stealthily steps out back onto the balcony of the Hokage tower.
She is officially nineteen and without Sasuke. And even though she feels the love of Naruto and Ino and her shishou and Kakashi, it is not the love she is looking for.
She senses Kakashi looming in the background and gives him a tentative smile when he approaches her with knowing smile.
"Am I being hopeless again, Kakashi-sensei?" She pulls the pin out from under her hair and all six inches of her hair tumbles down to her shoulders.
"You have to understand, Sakura. Sasuke may be smart but he has the mentality of a five year old kid when it comes to this stuff. Give him time." He lays a comforting hand on her shoulders but now she's pouting.
"But it's my birthday."
"It was mine several months ago and you don't see me complaining. And I'm the Hokage."
Sakura rolls her eyes. Kakashi may not seem to enjoy the title and duties of the Hokage but he never misses the chance to abuse the power of the name. He's never pulled rank on them so much as he did ever since he's taken over.
This time, he squeezes her shoulders. "Don't worry. You weren't the only that witnessed that poke."
Sakura purses her lips and tries not too blush but it's no use and the reminder of the affectionate moment Sasuke shared with her has her blushing the same color as her roots.
The party eventually draws to a close. Naruto volunteers to walk her home but she sees Hinata standing off to the side waiting for him so she kindly turns down his offer. He kisses her on the cheek and whispers a happy birthday and how proud he is of her before skipping down the hall to grab Hinata's hand.
The young woman waves goodbye at Sakura in which she returns and she watches the two of them until she gets interrupted by an inebriated Ino being balanced by an all too sober Sai. After spending about thirty minutes trying to get Ino off a much confused and clueless Sai, Sakura finally finds herself walking home alone.
She doesn't feel lonely nor sad. She isn't twelve, or fourteen or sixteen anymore. For once, she welcomes the silence and the cold air of spring and the crisp smell of the flowers being ready to bloom. She immerses herself in the down time she has and decides to take the long way home.
Three days later, Sakura comes home to a piece of parchment paper rolled up in a pink ribbon and the Uchiha seal pressed on the lining.
She opens the seal, quickly bites her thumb to press her drop of blood on the patterned ink. After the smoke dissipates, she picks up wooden box and opens it to reveal a small vial with a message carved on the inside of the box.
Sakura examines the vial before it dawns on her that the vial contains poison.
She recalls a conversation with Sasuke months ago how she came upon a poison in one if her mission and wished she had a sample to take home to study. Nightshade can only be found in moist land and soil. It was extremely rare to find given that most countries surrounding them was dessert and dry land.
Her eyes land on the message engraved in impossibly neat handwriting. She thinks he must have gotten in professionally done.
Happy birthday. – Sasuke
It may be three days late but she notes that Sasuke postmarks his dates. He sent it four days before her birthday.
That night Sakura falls asleep with the box open and the vial placed safely inside it. She supposes an ounce of nightshade poison won't do much to help her studies anyway. She she decides to keep the vial to herself.
It's not until six weeks later does Sasuke return home only because he receives news that Sakura has been gravely injured on a mission gone horribly wrong that left her original squad of six down to two shinobi.
Sasuke appears in the hospital ward, calm as ever even as a stumbling chuunin tries his best to profusely mumble out apologies.
Kakashi watches from the side and forgets that this Sasuke has changed and is about to step in before Sasuke snaps when Kakashi finds himself in a surprised stupor.
Sasuke lays his hand on the chuunin, either to shut him up or to comfort him, Kakashi doesn't know but it works.
"It's fine." He simply says. He stays at the hospital for the 3 days that Sakura is out in an induced coma to reduce the trauma of the damages she took and another 14 days before Sakura discharges herself.
Later, when Kakashi reads the reports, he finds out that Sakura took a massive hit for the chuunin after he left his guard down that left her right arm immobilized. Despite being down an arm, the chuunin notes in his report that Sakura simply told him to stand his ground and they'd have to kill her before she would allow him to die.
Sasuke finds out the story from Naruto who happens to hear from Hinata who's sister is on the same team as the chuunin that was chosen to go on the mission.
He decides to stay in Konoha for an extended time. He tells Kakashi it's because the chuunin exams are going to be held soon and it doesn't do good for him to wander when villages are on high alert.
But when Kakashi sees Sasuke grabbing the grocery bag out of Sakura's arm, he begs to differ.
Sakura wonders why Sasuke decides to stay in the for an extended amount of time this time. She persistently insists that she's fine and the only reason she had to stay in the hospital for over two weeks was because of chakra depletion.
That and because it was a change to see Sasuke sitting on the chair next to her everyday she was there but she keeps that part to herself.
He stays until the chuunin exams are over. Because he stayed for so long this time around, Sakura suspects that he'll be gone for a longer time. She tries not to feel sad and relishes in the fact that the only reason why he came back was for her but the day before he leaves, she's back to their bench.
She stands there and for the first time in a long time, finally believes that she's good enough. She traces her hands along the seat of the bench and smiles wistfully at that time so long ago.
She thinks back to a time when she didn't think all of this would be possible. Where at in point, she truly lost hope in the man she loves now. And a point where she couldn't see beyond a couple days much less to see Sasuke in front of her now.
She notices the backpack on his shoulders and laughs. Seven years is a long time to be in love she thinks.
"Heading out already? I didn't think you were leaving until tomorrow morning."
He shrugs. "Naruto says a sandstorm will be making its way across the country. It's being pushed from the Sand."
"Come back home, okay?" She says this to him every time. He believes it's more of a reminder to herself than it is to him but it's always her words that keeps him coming back if he's honest.
He doesn't know when his journey will end but when he's gone for long periods of time, he thinks about her. And some times about Naruto but he's irrelevant. He thinks she's possibly the only reason he decides to go home when he does.
Kakashi sends Sakura on a solo-mission five and a half months into the time that Sasuke is gone. Naruto is grim from when he hears the detail. It's classified but Naruto is present when Sakura gets her mission. Kakashi sounds regretful as he preps her for the mission and Naruto is angry and he repeatedly tells her she can reject the mission.
Sakura debates on whether or not to accept. She's knows that Konoha has already accepted the mission. So if it's not her, it would be someone else. She thinks about Hanabi being the next pick and can't bring herself to allow it.
Kakashi gives her a day to take about it. Naruto pesters her the whole day. She knows he's concerned and all she can do is smile gently at her friend.
She grabs his hand and she can see beneath that annoying exterior, his genuine concern for her and some fear as well.
"This is my job. You know that. I know it and Kakashi knows it. Besides, it may not even come down to that." She tells him in a consoling voice. She doesn't know why she's the one comforting him
"What about Sasuke? What would he say?" Naruto throws out and it surprises her that he's pulling out all the stops.
"Sasuke knows the most what it's like to be a shinobi."
Naruto hardens his eyes. "I'm not talking about that."
Sakura releases a breath. "You know if i don't take it, it's probably going to get passed down to Hanabi. And you know the Hyuuga's policy on missions."
Naruto doesn't waver and she's touched that even with the mention of Hinata's little sister, he is still looking out for her first.
"When you're Hokage, you'll have to make these difficult decisions too. Don't blame Kakashi-sensei."
The blonde doesn't have much to say and instead, he pulls her into a giant hug and Sakura has to swallow down the growing lump in her throat. She hugs him back tightly and makes him promise her that he won't tell Sasuke about it.
When Sasuke returns home, Naruto informs him that Sakura is on a long term mission and that she's been gone for 3 weeks already. When he asks how long the mission is supposed to run for, he only gets a shrug.
"It was detailed to be 3 weeks but can run for as long as 2 months." Naruto flashes him a bright smile that does nothing to ease him. "I wouldn't worry yet."
Sasuke finds no reason to stay home for much longer than a week so he sets off again.
He receives an urgent message from one of Naruto's frogs 4 weeks after he leaves Konoha. He realizes that Naruto has broken protocol when he reads the message.
Sakura hasn't come home yet. Kakashi won't send out a search for another two weeks since the mission can extend for another week plus the grace period. Last news we received, she was in Kiri but that was two and a half weeks ago. Haven't heard from her since.
The last portion if the seal is encrypted for his blood. He breaks skin and quickly runs over the detail of her mission before it self detonates.
Sasuke tucks his sword behind his back and he takes off in the direction if Kiri. He knows the reason why Naruto reached out to him. It means that he was incapacitated to do it himself.
Sasuke comes home with Sakura in his arms eight days after receiving Naruto's message. He is greeted by the blonde and Hinata at the gate, the former's face contorted with fury and the latter with her hands over her mouth.
"She's sleeping." Sasuke says and he can hear the deep relief being exhaled from Naruto. Sasuke doesn't take her to the hospital, instead he takes her home. To his home.
Kakashi is there within moments with Tsunade.
"She placed herself in a protective coma to recuperate. That's incredibly risky since she leaves herself vulnerable but I'm assuming it's the only option she had in order to survive. The damage she took in must have been extensive but Sakura's body is trained to heal itself." Tsunade does a check up and places a glowing green head over Sakura's heart and head. "I've taken her out if her comatose state. She's still sleeping though but should naturally wake up."
Sasuke doesn't notice when the fifth Hokage leaves and doesn't notice when Kakashi pulls Naruto to the side to reprimand him. He is only pulled out of his trance when Naruto sits next to him.
"I'll fucking kill them." He's seething but so is Sasuke.
"Don't bother." The Uchiha says.
Naruto blinks in surprised but then he warmly smiles at his best friend, his brother. He clasps a hand on his shoulders before taking his leave.
Sasuke has no problem sitting by his bed for another three hours before Sakura wakes up, scared, bewildered and confused.
She doesn't tell him about the mission and he doesn't asks.
Everything seems okay but when she shows up at his door two days later at 3 in the morning, he quietly opens the door for her to step in.
He let's her take the bed and gathers a blanket from his closet to take to the couch. She cuddles against his pillows and wraps herself in his comforter, twisting it around her body and never feels safer.
When Sasuke moves to turn off the light on the nightstand, she catches his hand. She doesn't need to say anything, the look she gives him is all he needs.
Sakura blushes when he takes off his shirt and she's absolutely floored when he crawls into bed and nestles next to her. He's not touching her but he's close enough that she can feel his body heat and smell the musk of man on him.
They fall asleep a couple inches away from each other, not touching. Sakura feels she prefers it this way.
By the time she wakes up, Sasuke is gone and she feels no rush to get out of bed. She assumes he probably resumed his journey. Stretching, Sakura tucks herself under the covers and appreciates that weight if the blanket over her.
She startles when she senses a presence in the room and with a reflex of a well trained kino ichi, grabs the closest object to her and flings it with deadly precision at the offender.
Sasuke casually sidesteps the water bottle.
She smiles at him sheepishly. "Are…are you leaving today?"
"I had plans to."
She frowns and pretends she doesn't hear him. She doesn't like the feeling of having to watch him go so she turns on her side and pulls the cover to her shoulders. She can tell that it's still early because the warmth of the sun hasn't simple rely set in yet.
"Okay." She replies simply. She hears him moving and is startled when the bed tilts from the weight if him sitting on the edge of it.
"I'll stay if you want me to."
She fights down the urge to say yes. "It's okay." While she loves the Sasuke who stays home, she loves the Sasuke who travels as well. And she could never be the person who takes that away from him. "You should go. Your heart is set out there." She gives him an honest smile and he's thankful that he has a woman like her in his life.
"I'll be back." He says and she believes it.
A/N: I bet there are just a whole bunch of errors but this will be my last piece of writing. I just wanted to pay tribute to my OTP.