WARNING: This came to me when I was working on a complicated and frustrating electrical engineering problem, and I had to write it down or I'd never get any actual work done. From where, you may ask, did I inexplicably pull this little one-shot weirdo ficlet? What inspired this adventure in present-tense and extensive use of pronouns? I can only think of one explanation: CRACK. What else? Just a random Gaara/Sakura moment. Pseudo-spoilers for the manga. If you can figure out what's going on, eat a cookie and smile. If you can't, eat a cookie and read it again. And don't ask me about the title. Like I said – crack.

Choices in the Dark

"It's just a shock, I guess." She sighs, and leans back in her chair. "When you find out that something you thought you understood, something you thought you knew turns out to be completely different than you remember. And it might never have been what you thought it was in the first place."

"You're talking about the Uchiha traitor," he growls. She blinks, and mistakenly thinks that the contempt in his voice is directed at her. Her voice becomes slightly defensive; bright eyes narrow just the tiniest bit.

"I know that it's idiotic to be surprised." Nails cut short for the sake of practicality tap against the chair arm once, twice. "And yet, some part of me refuses to reconcile all these stories I hear about him with the boy that I knew."

She pushes herself up from her chair with some effort and moves slowly to the only window in the room, leaning against the cold glass as she stares into the darkness beyond. Lost in her own thoughts, it takes her a moment to notice that he's also risen, and is slowly but surely prowling across the room in her direction. A thunk along the wall to her left means that he's dropped that oversized gourd, a sign that he's very agitated with her.

She follows his progress with her ears but not her eyes, knowing that it's safer to stare at the darkness of the window in front of her than the darkness of the man behind her. "But you know they're true," his low voice grates, and she knows that he's dangerous because he sounds calm, emotionless. She's figured out by now that the degree to which he displays emotion is inversely proportionate to the degree at which he is feeling it.

He reaches out, and she allows him to wind strong, harsh fingers into the short ends of her hair. "You know that all those horror stories about him are true. And still you deny that he has become something other than the stupid twelve year old kid of your memories?" The hiss behind the words gives away a little of his true feelings, and so do his fingers when they tighten convulsively. The pressure pulls her head back painfully.

She simply redirects her attention to the sky outside, letting her head tilt back to relieve the pressure because she knows that to flare up when he's like this will simply enrage him in return. He doesn't like to lose control, and if he feels that once again she has driven him over the edge, he'll saturate himself in hatred, both for her and for himself. And until all that's out of his system once more, he'll simply avoid her.

She hates being abandoned like that. Even though he, at least, always comes back.

"I know he's not the same person," she answers, hearing the sigh that she's trying to suppress sneak out into her voice anyway. "I know, in my head. But it isn't so easy to tell my heart."

The fingers clench again, and then abruptly release. He withdraws his hand, but stays stubbornly where he is. She doesn't know if that means he's calmed himself down again or is preparing to rip her apart. She chooses not to look back and find out. "You still think you love him, then." The sneer is accusing, and it oozes with poisonous scorn.

She laughs a little, knowing that she's definitely confusing him and probably pissing him off, to boot. In her experience, he's never taken well to either sensation. "I loved him very much when we were younger, and time and separation don't just make that sort of thing go away."

The rustle of cloth at her back tells her that he's crossed his arms. He'll listen to her, then; nonetheless she's certain that the instant she stops talking, he'll knock down whatever she's propped up to cover or excuse herself. Knock it down, and then viciously stomp it flat into the ground.

She tries the excuse anyway. "But for all that I hear, I haven't actually seen him myself yet. All these stories from other people – it's like they're talking about some stranger, some other man whose name just happens to be Sasuke, too. My brain knows that he is the same, that the deaths and the cruelties and the atrocities are really his doing. But some part of me can't give up the memory of the person I knew, the person I ate with, worked with, fought with, sometimes even laughed with. Some part of me can't simply stop loving him, because it hopes that maybe - "

His snarl cuts her off, and this time it's a real, animal growl, not just the rumbling grunt he normally gives her. She still can't turn to look, but she knows his teeth are bared in contempt, and hate. "Maybe what? Maybe he's still in there somewhere? Maybe all it will take it for you to show up on the battlefield and throw yourself in front of him, and instantly he'll remember how much you love him and how much he loves you." He's talking faster than she's ever heard him talk, and his tone is rough and spiteful. "Maybe the evil cloud in his mind will vanish, and he'll turn magically into the kid that you thought he was."

He's all but spitting at her now, and her back stiffens as she feels him move closer. He's going to attack her after all, she thinks, and clenches her fists against her thighs to keep them from slipping to her kunai pouch.

"Maybe all he needs to be a good guy again," he's almost laughing now, his hatred perfect and unbroken, "All he needs to be fucking human again is your faithful undying love." His breathing is deep and ragged against the back of her head; hers is too shallow and irregular to even frost over the cold glass in front of her.

She finds her voice at last, hushed but firm. "No one said I still love him."

His breathing is abruptly still. "You did," he asserts, tone chillingly detached again.

"I said that I loved the boy he was, once." Taking a deep breath, she finally manages to force her body around, manages to raise her eyes to look at his face. His features are blank and unemotional except for the narrowed green eyes that she often feels are trying to bore into her body and look at her very soul. It's disturbing, and it's liberating, all at once. "I loved him, and I mourn him, and part of me probably always will, a little." The dark shadows that gather in his face when he's angry are dispelling a little, but just to make sure, she adds, "But in the end, it doesn't particularly change the choices that I've made since he left."

"Like this choice?" He demands, fingernails digging into his biceps as he crosses his arms and glowers at her. His chin is lowered as if he expects her to rush at him, or at the least to scream or throw something at that blazing red kanji on his forehead. It wouldn't be the first time.

In response, she copies his stance, folding her own arms and lifting one challenging eyebrow. "Which choice?"

The features on his face slowly relax into a more normal sort of scowl, less angry and more irritated. If she looks close enough, there might even be a hint of humor buried deep down under the displeasure. "You know damn well which choice."

She allows herself a tiny little smirk, just enough for him to see it, and then goes for the kill. She steps forward, reaching out to brush a fingertip along the hard, smooth line of his arm from elbow to wrist. He lets her, but doesn't drop his stance. She's not getting off that easy.

She sighs, and raises her head to look him square in the eye. "I don't regret any of my choices," she tells him firmly. "Not one. And whatever happens in the future, I've made this choice," she pokes him in the chest with a finger, smiling. "And I intend to stick with it, whether you like it or not."

And to prove her point, she leans up to kiss his lips, ignoring the thin, disapproving line he's drawn them into. He doesn't respond for a second or two, probably determined to hold out merely for the sake of letting her know just how upset he was with her. But then he evidently decides that her answer is acceptable, and unfolds his arms long enough let her step into them.

When it all comes down to it, Sakura decides, she prefers the darkness of the man in front of her to the darkness of the man she left behind.


Whew. Glad that's out of my system. Cookie?