Are We the Waiting
Title: Are We The Waiting
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, never will and have no intention of leading a crusade to try to own it. That's too much money and too much effort. However, I do like to manipulate the characters to do my bidding because it amuses me and countless others. The idea for the wonderful anime was from Masashi Kishimoto. Kudos, dude.
Pairing: Figure it out.
Summary: 'From here on in…we all begin new paths...' A meeting with a familiar stranger changes Sakura's life, although she's not sure if it's changed for the better.
The sky outside of the Ichiraku was cloudless, showing off the full moon of summer in all of its glory. The air was calm, with the slightest breath of wind, and filled with the intermittent shouts or voice patterns of the everyday people of Konoha. It was early evening and although in most cases families were closing up shop for the night, one Haruno Sakura was still working late.
After her parents had died in a fire two years before, Sakura had been left to fend for herself. Although she missed them terribly, she didn't begrudge them for this. Even when they had been alive, her parents had told her that they had nothing to leave her but her education. And as one of the top shinobi in the village, her education in the ninja arts had paid off. But in skills alone. Even working on the various missions that her mentor and the Fifth Hokage Tsunade sent her on wasn't enough to pay her bills. Luckily her best friend Ino's family had known someone that needed help, which led to the reason she was still working late that summer night when the rest of the village was closing down.
The counter of the Ichiraku was deserted save for the two old ladies at the one end who were talking in hushed voices and eating quietly, while the other end was inhabited by the very loud, very boisterous form of Uzumaki Naruto, known to most of the citizens as the boy that held the Kyuubi demon deep within him. At the moment, the scruffy blond teenager was grinning up at Sakura cheerfully, holding out his empty bowl in a gesture as though to ask for another.
"Come on, Sakura-chan, just one more? I'm still a growing boy, I need sustenance!"
"Anymore sustenance and Hinata-chan is going to be yelling at me for making you fat," Sakura replied firmly, a smile on her lips despite her words. She always had time to joke with Naruto about his eating habits, even though he was a busy jounin – he always managed to stop by at the Ichiraku after each mission.
'After seeing Hinata-chan first,' Sakura reminded herself, almost enviously. The heiress to the Hyuuga name had been going out with Naruto for about half-a-year now, something that her family, although not to pleased with, was allowing to pass. It was mostly because of the promise that Naruto had made to Hyuuga Neiji so many years before – that he would change the brutal traditions of the Hyuuga, which included the main families and the branch families – that they seemed to hold back from their displeasure.
"She would not – oi, Sakura, you're so mean," Naruto groaned, putting on his long-suffering face.
"Mean?" Sakura's pleasant demeanour changed all of a sudden as Naruto's voice brought her out of her thoughts. "Mean! How am I mean when I just gave you five bowls of ramen for free?"
"They weren't free, they're on my tab!"
"Which you never pay," Sakura reminded him, crossing her arms. A strand of cerise hair strayed into her eyes and she tilted her head quickly to one side to keep it out of her face. "Which means, good night, Naruto, go home."
"But Sakura –"
"Now!" the flash of anger of her inner self managed to slip out, making Naruto jump to his feet, laugh nervously and nod.
"Fine then," he stuck out his tongue at her. "But this doesn't mean you can get rid of me forever!" His devilish grin faded, replaced with the softer, kind smile that he only ever showed Hinata or herself. "Take care, okay? And go bug Tsunade-baasan for another mission; you look like you could use some action."
He leaned over the counter to kiss her chastely on the cheek, before disappearing completely so that she was staring out at the empty street before her where he had been moments before. Chuckling to herself, she turned around and returned to her task of cleaning up the place. The owners had left her in charge of the evening shifts, which she didn't mind at all.
Night time was Sakura's time. It was quiet and calming and it gave her a few precious, untainted moments to think about everything and nothing at all.
"Isn't that the Haruno girl? The one who…?"
Her shinobi skills kicking in, Sakura felt her ears twitch as she caught a snippet of the conversation the two old women were having. Usually she had a rule against eavesdropping on other peoples private discussions, but this seemed to be about her. Her curiosity got the better of her. Although tense, she continued to move around the kitchen area, pretending to be absorbed in her work, humming something under her breath but still able to hear what they were saying.
After a long moment, the woman who was talking seemed to be satisfied that she was not listening to them, and continued with her little bit of gossip. "Yes, that's her…such a waste, really. It's been five years…and still she's waiting for him."
"Him?" a whispered question, and then a gasp of realization. "Oh, yes, the Uchiha boy – that was such a tragic turn of events…"
Sakura's grip on the dishes she was washing became tight and she felt a curious straining feeling behind her eyes. She swallowed hastily, now trying to ignore what the women were saying about her. Her and –
"…She's such a pretty young thing…there are so many in Konoha who would have her – I heard she refused the taijitsu boy – what's his name? Maito Gai's boy – Lee, was it? I heard she refused him six times before he finally gave up."
"Oh, no!" the old biddies voice was crestfallen. "It would have been such a good match…even the Uzumaki boy has found someone, but she's still alone…"
A pitying sigh, "Such a waste of life. He's never coming back."
There was a shatter somewhere below her and it took Sakura a moment to realize that she had dropped the stack of bowls that she had been in the process of drying. For a moment she could merely stare numbly at them, but when she felt the gaze of the two old busybodies, she merely fashioned her usual cheerful smile and prattled on about something to do with innate clumsiness and how super strength obviously didn't mean super grace.
The two women giggled, telling her how true it was and joking with her, as though they hadn't been talking about her moments before. Her inner self wanted to scream obscenities at them for daring to say such things about her. A waste? Who had asked them? It wasn't their place to comment on what wasn't their business. Did they really think that she chose to be the way she was? Lee was one of the people she cared most about.
'But what he wanted…I couldn't give him,' she thought dejectedly as she picked up the last of the shards and threw them out, merrily telling the woman that it was closing time and barely looking at the large tip they left her. When they had gone she tossed it into the trash bin, feeling the burning taste of their pity in her mouth and where the money touched her skin.
It was enough that she had all of her friends constantly pitying her, but to have complete strangers decide to barge into her life, which had been relatively without heart-rending event as of late?
The streets were empty when Sakura finally managed to close everything up and head towards home. Home…that empty place where it was just her and her memories.
She hated being at home.
The road leading there was just ahead, branching off in two directions. Both ways led to memories that she would rather forget, but knew she couldn't. If she went left she could get home quickly, delve into her warm bed and possibly lose herself in a trashy romance novel that usually managed to put her to sleep before she got to the end of the page. But if she took the left…
The air was crisp now, a scent of trees all around her and the light breeze sending pleasant shivers down her spine. It seemed to be telling her to go left, that tonight wasn't meant to escape into a fantasy realm but to return to that spot from all those years ago. It seemed tonight was a night to remember.
Her feet were already moving down the familiar path that she traveled once a fortnight, the same sights having not changed over the years. The nostalgia for the old days made her throat tight and she remembered what the old women had been saying about her waiting.
Did they really think that she had a choice?
The feeling of butterflies in her stomach was almost overpowering long before she reached the bench. It was always like this; the expectation to see something or someone and then being disappointed when it was merely the simply constructed seat; the complete emptiness of the place. Long after she arrived she always imagined that she could hear the echoes of children's cheers and cries from the day before, and sometimes she thought she saw the ghost of herself and the others from when they were younger.
'The unbeatable Team Seven,' she thought with a grim smile as she approached the bench, looking at it for a long moment. 'How long has it been…?'
The answer was immediate, and she knew that without effort she could probably narrow it down to the very minute.
This was where she had last seen him. This was where she had last heard him speak to her and where she supposed he had held her, even if it was to leave her lying on the bench until some villagers noticed her the next morning. Even now the dull ache of hurt twanged inside her, never really gone despite the time that had passed.
'It's been five years, Sasuke-kun…where are you now?'
Since he left she waited for him. At first it had been nightly. She had wanted to wait forever. She had wanted to be the first one that he saw when he returned to Konoha. She didn't care if he called her annoying again, she didn't care if he didn't feel anything towards her – she cared so much that she didn't care. She had just wanted him home and safe, and if that meant waiting almost all night she didn't mind. But as the months went by the nightly pilgrimages became fewer and for less amount of time, until they turned into more of a stroll than anything; a casual momentary look to see if she was still alone and then the lone walk home.
She glanced ahead of her, watching where the path diverged and led back to the main road, debating with herself to go home now. But instead her feet propelled her towards the bench and she found herself sitting down, staring off into space, the sound of the wind in the trees her only companion. Her hair blew in her face but she ignored it, knowing that short of putting a hat on,she couldn't do much. She had never grown her hair back. That stupid myth that Sasuke liked girls with long hair had long since ebbed away – her inner self had long ago convinced her that if Sasuke didn't like her as a person, he wouldn't like her any better with long hair. And it really was a bother anyhow, as she still told Naruto jokingly.
'Such a waste of life. He's never coming back.'
She looked at the ground, frowning darkly. Despite the ignorance in their words, they cut like a knife. All she had right now was her hope and it was like these ignorant people were trying to take that from her as well. Her younger self would cry and get angry at such things but truthfully, Sakura was all cried-out. She just didn't have the energy to waste on meaningless tears anymore. They couldn't bring the people that she loved back to her – besides; she had to be strong so that her friends wouldn't worry. Those that were entrusted with S-Class missions didn't need to be worrying about her at the back of mind. People like Naruto and Kakashi-sensei and Ino, who taunted her in her ambiguous friendly way that she should apply for jounin.
The bench was cold beneath her, she noticed vaguely, shifting her body slightly and pulling her knees up to her chest. It didn't matter if someone saw up her tunic-like skirt; there was no one around – her senses could tell her that much. And if there was someone around it wasn't like they could go shouting to the world about seeing up Haruno Sakura's skirt because she'd beat them into the middle of the next century if they did.
An owl or something else of the sort made a mournful noise somewhere in the forest, and with a sigh she closed her eyes, cradling her face in her hands. Why was she still here? She could have left, she could have just walked by the bench after seeing that no one was around. The blunt truth that she hadn't gotten over the pain of the past angered her slightly, making her hate herself for her desperate pilgrimages for the past five years. She groaned low in her throat, more out of aggravation than anything else.
"Why are you crying?"
The sudden low, flat tone of voice in the darkness made her jump in surprise, and her reaction was to immediately jump to her feet, kunai in both hands and face the owner of the voice. Her face felt like it was heating up horribly and she wondered in pointless worry that whoever the stranger was might have seen up her skirt.
Luckily for her pride, the stranger was standing behind the bench and the path behind him was disturbed in such a way that it was apparent he had come from the forest behind her. If that could be termed as lucky, Sakura thought peevishly, recalling previous experiences where it hadn't been.
The stranger was almost a head taller than she was, cloaked from head to foot and wearing a large, wide brimmed hat that kept his face in the shadows. His stance was calm, neither defensive or holding any intent to attack her, although this didn't make Sakura want to relax her hold on her kunai.
'Why are you prowling around here in the middle of the night?'
'I knew you were to come this way…if you were to leave…so I just waited here…'
"Who the heck are you?" she demanded hurriedly, trying to cover up her moment of weakness that she had believed she was sharing with none but herself. "And I wasn't crying."
The stranger seemed to take this bit of information in, the most subtle movement of his head making her believe he was cocking his head to one side. Then, without commenting on her words, he nodded towards the kunai she held in her hands. "There's no need for weapons here."
"And I'd trust an outsider's word for it?" Sakura prompted, holding the kunai higher, ordering herself to focus in case this person turned out to be a spy or assassin of some sort. It wasn't unheard of to get the odd hired killer to come after Naruto or Tsunade-sama or even Kakashi-sensei. If that was the case, this guy was going to get one hell of a nasty surprise!
There was a silent clatter at her feet and she had to catch herself before looking down completely to what had made the noise. Letting her guard down was the last thing on her mind. Her eyes focused on the stranger, she made the subtlest movement of her eyes downward to study what appeared to be a forehead protector from Konoha, before returning her gaze to the stranger. He still stood directly in front of her. "You're from Konoha?"
"It would seem so."
The cold, self-righteous words gave her a chilling feeling in her heart. There was no warmth in this stranger. He had the voice of a killer, she could tell.
"Than how come I've never seen you?" she asked, deciding to continue the conversation merely for the sake of keeping this stranger busy. If he didn't have a good enough explanation for his presence or lack thereof, she was going to have to get ready to defend Konoha from what might be a spy or an assassin – although it did beg the question of if he was an assassin, why had he bothered to make himself known to her.
"I left when I was a child to…travel."
'Get out of here…and go back to sleep…'
The pause before his last word was not unnoticed by Sakura, and although the excuse was plausible it did little to calm her slightly frazzled nerves. The fact that she couldn't see the face of the stranger but he could see her in plain view was unnerving to her.
She opened her mouth to ask what he wanted or why he had returned, but was surprised that he cut her off. "So why were you crying – did you break up with your boyfriend or something?
"I wasn't crying!" Sakura protested immediately, feeling her cheeks heat up in anger at the insinuations this complete stranger was making about her. It didn't help that there was a trace of wryness in his tone that made her think he was making fun of her. "And for your information, I don't have a boyfriend. I never had one and you want to know something else, you nosy jerk, I doubt I'll ever have one!'
Immediately after the words left her mouth Sakura wished she could take them back. The feeling of once again being that helpless, weak little girl whose feelings were all too apparent and she felt embarrassed at having just blurted out one of her deepest thoughts to this arrogant stranger. Trying to amend her words, she found once again to her annoyance that the stranger cut her off.
"Why would you think that? I'm sure there are many young men willing to be in your company," she was stunned not only at his words, but also to find that he moved suddenly, looking away from her and off towards the forest. The cloak and hat lifted a fraction of an inch, showing of a pale chin and thin lips.
She snorted bitterly, trying to keep her curiosity at what lay behind the mask at bay. "If I didn't know better I'd think you were indirectly telling me I'm pretty."
"If that's what it sounds like to you."
This man was infuriating, Sakura decided, although she had already lowered her kunai. She had determined that if this guy was an assassin or spy he was doing a horrible job by chatting up a lonely-looking, depressed shinobi on the outskirts of town. Besides, if he tried anything she was more than a match for him. It was like Ino had said…she was jounin level even if she hadn't been formally recognized as one…
Without another word she sat back down on the bench, looking off again into space. She barely felt the cold stone beneath her as her mind drifted off in thought, although she made sure to keep her senses attuned to the strangers movements. How many were willing to be in her company – she couldn't even count them, really. Initially it had just been Lee-san and Naruto – and on a mission to the Village of Sand she had caught the eye of Gaara even for a few moments, even though neither had acknowledged it openly.
Sakura didn't know what was so special about her. She wasn't pretty, far from it. Her forehead was the least of her worries these days, what with the dark circles under her eyes from sleepless nights – there was more muscle to her than actual figure, something that always made her jealous of Ino's voluptuous form – all she had were brains which, although a quality she took pride in, never came in handy in the worst of time. Nothing about her entire existence had ever mattered when it was important and yet young men in the village pursued her – was she that nice? She didn't think so – and anyone that had ever seen her beating up on Naruto or shouting at Ino or Kakashi-sensei would think that she was a holy terror.
And even if she had been pretty or useful in the right moments or a portrait of angelic form and they had asked her then…she would still have refused every single one of them for the simple reason that…that she just couldn't forget him.
'Why won't you say anything to me? Why do you always keep so quiet? You never say a single word to me…'
'I told you, I don't need your help. Don't try to look after me.'
"Who is he?"
She jumped, having forgotten for a fraction of a second the stranger that was there. He was now sitting down on the bench beside her, not looking at her. Despite his close proximity she still couldn't discern the face beneath the mask although now she could feel the chakra that he had somehow managed to cloak. It was strong, more powerful than anything she had ever sensed beside that of Naruto or Gaara, but strangely it wasn't threatening.
She wasn't aware that she had spoken her thoughts out loud and almost became flustered until he added, "I suppose it is a 'he' that preoccupies your thoughts."
She ignored the attempt at a joke, feeling the familiar straining behind her eyes and tightness in her throat that sometimes came upon her when she dwelled on the past too long. 'No, Sakura, a shinobi never shows emotion – least of all you, after all the useless crying you did when you were younger!'
'No matter what, you just always hate me, don't you?'
"You're tense…he can't cause you that much pain – who is he?"
The simple question sent millions of thoughts through Sakura's mind, negating her previous order to herself, and in a second she had pulled violently away from whatever proximity she had to the stranger, suddenly on her feet. She could feel her eyes blazing at him in anger, coupled with the rapid beating of her heart.
She thrust her finger out almost so that it poked the stranger in the face, but he didn't move even a hairbreadth away. "Pain? Pain! You don't know what pain is – pain can't even compare to what I went through! I've waited five years – that's practically all of what everyone calls the best years of my life – waiting for someone to come back after I begged and pleaded with him to stay – I loved Sasuke with all my heart and I knew that he was never going to feel anything for me but I at least thought that he would come back – even if it was as an S-class criminal, I thought he'd at least come back once more so that I could see him and know that he was alive! Everyone sees me as 'the girl that wasted all of her life on the Uchiha boy' but I've never cared because I couldn't help the way I feel – but it's grating on me now like some rotting wound that's eating me from the inside out!"
'I know all about your past, Sasuke-kun…even if you get revenge, though, it won't bring anyone happiness. Not even you Sasuke…nor me…'
'I already know.'
She broke off, breathing hard, still trying to fight back the tears of frustration and anger that were threatening to spill. She was nearly losing the fight. Her vision was becoming filmy with moisture. "Do you have any idea how much it hurts to be betrayed by someone that you love?"
He seemed to be staring at her outstretched hand throughout her entire tirade, but when it seemed obvious that she had stopped he looked away. His words were nearly stolen by the wind, but she heard the low whisper, "Yes."
"Then you should know what it feels like to be reminded about it every waking moment, day-in-day-out without reprieve – and I came here to just be alone and be able to think without feeling the pitying gazes of everyone on me and you interrupt it and then decide to pursue the matter!"
'You told me how painful it was to be alone! Right now I know your pain! I may have friends and family, but…if you were to leave…to me…to me I would be just as alone as you…'
She slowly lowered her arm, her entire frame shaking. She felt like her knees were going to give way after any second. It had been years since she had such an emotional outburst – her ranting at Naruto was one thing, a show for the villagers at most, but what had just happened with this complete stranger showed her exactly how much she had finally broken under.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled begrudgingly, averting her gaze completely in case she unknowingly locked eyes with the stranger. "I shouldn't be telling a complete stranger about my problems. You probably have enough of your own."
"The Uchiha clan…" he murmured, cutting her off guard. His voice was musing, making Sakura believe that he hadn't heard a word of her half-hearted apology. "They were wiped out. All of them."
"Sasuke was the only survivor," Sakura replied quietly.
Once again, the bitter amusement lit upon the stranger's voice. "After such a tragedy, how do you know he wasn't dead from the moment his family was slaughtered? Just because the body moves doesn't mean that the soul is alive."
'From here on in…we all begin new paths…
"Sasuke was just as alive as anyone else!" Sakura snapped, instinctively defending her long-lost teammate. "If he weren't he wouldn't have bothered to excel in his training, or bothered to be mine and Naruto's teammate and he wouldn't have fought as hard as possible to protect himself and us on our missions."
"That might be seen as a means to revenge," the stranger stated, voice serious and cold. Sakura shivered again, wondering why this person's demeanor seemed to change every few seconds. From sarcasm to bitter cynicism in moments.
She rose to his challenge, tilting her head upwards. "You talk about Sasuke as though you know him – as though you think he was all about death! Well he wasn't! That may have been something he needed to do, but at the back of it all he wanted to restore his clan – doesn't that qualify as alive or the wish to be alive?"
There was a long silence between then, Sakura standing openly before him, feeling slightly unnerved by the hidden gaze of the stranger, while he remained in the shadows. She was cold, this time not from the stranger's words or tone, but from the air. She didn't move though. Where would she go, anyway? She couldn't leave this stranger to his own devices even if he was initially from Konoha.
' 'I… I love you with all my heart!'
"How could you still love such a person," he asked finally, lowly. "From what you say he barely looked at you or ever encouraged your affections. And then he betrayed you for his own means – and still you wait for him over the years?"
"I love Sasuke because I do. It didn't matter that he didn't feel the same towards me and it still doesn't. I didn't care about the way he looked or how powerful he was or if he didn't like me – I cared because there was something about Sasuke." She could feel the tears, but still refused them appearance. "I cared because I could see something in Sasuke that he tried to hide away because he thought it was weakness when it really wasn't. And after his clan died his loneliness made my heart hurt – he always thought it was pity or me just following the crowd and liking him because everyone else liked him." She crossed her arms to warm herself. "Obviously if he were here he'd be proven wrong. Every one of his tagalongs gave up on him – but I couldn't. I tried, I always tried to humor Naruto or Lee or whoever but in the end it ended up hurting more than helping. I will never stop loving him."
'I would do anything for you…so please, just stay with me…or take me with you if you can't stay here…'
She felt sure at that moment that the stranger was looking at her, and she attempted an intense gaze despite her inability to see his eyes. "I loved him so much and the last thing he said to me was 'you're annoying.'" She chuckled bitterly. "Go figure."
The figure turned abruptly.
"E-excuse me?" Sakura stuttered, disbelief mixing with anger at his daring to insult her. The stranger was now facing the forest, completely turned away from her. His long cloak shifted in the wind and it seemed that he was looking up. Sakura had the sudden thought of someone trapped in a memory.
"The last thing he said to you was 'thank you."
"That's ridiculous, how would you –" she began, before her voice suddenly died in her throat as a previously unthought-of realization appeared in her mind. All the feeling left Sakura's body as the full implication of his words hit her. There hadn't been anyone else around that night. She had been the last person to see Sasuke, the only one that had tried to stop him that night…
And now to have someone correcting her last memory of him in such a way…in that tone…
He was walking away from her, cloak swaying lazily as he purposefully began to walk away. She felt a brief flash of five years earlier when she had watched his retreating back before she had stopped him, the air of loneliness churning about him and then the dark.
'…You really are annoying.'
The idea that he was disappearing again blocked out any other in Sakura's mind and she felt as though all of a sudden her mind had ceased to exist and it was only her body that was moving on impulse. Her swift-footed training and chakra control propelled her fast upwards and she felt the breath of air on her skin and the feeling of her feet flying, before the impact on the ground. The scraping of her heels against the ground was the only sound she could discern as she crouched before him.
He stopped walking, this faceless stranger, as though pausing. Her heart was beating so strongly she thought that it would leap into her throat if it continued and she felt the trembling feeling come over her from her fingers all the way up to her chest. She forced herself to straighten up.
She could feel her lips forming the words and hear her voice on the wind, a mere murmur on the strong breath of the wind, but her mind couldn't seem to grasp the meaning. He, on the other hand, seemed to understand her completely, despite their distance and her silence.
The stranger seemed to debate with himself, before slowly reaching up. His movements were slow and intermittent as though he was carrying them out against his better judgment; he removed the wide-brimmed hat as well as the hood of the cloak to reveal the face beneath.
Sakura would have gasped if she had been able to find the energy to draw breath. The sheer shock of what lay beneath his hood pulsated through her entire body and mind.
He was her age with raven black hair, longer than she remembered it, sweeping past his ears. Intense onyx eyes that she knew hid the powerful, blood red sharingan gazed at her almost impassively, making his high cheekbones seem more angular and gaunt. There was a scar across his cheek that hadn't been there before but had healed enough that she knew it had happened long ago and his nose, although still aristocratic and fit to his face, looked as though it had been broken once and not set properly.
Uchiha Sasuke was as he was so long ago, standing apart and alone from others but his entire form giving off a strange aura of longing and sadness.
She finally managed to breath again, the intake so sharp that her lungs cried out in protest. She could still sense the wish to cry but fought it down. She had cried enough over him, she would not cry now, she ordered herself. She couldn't speak, even if she had wanted to, because her throat had closed up and it felt as though her voice had died. Disbelief was running rampant through her heart and convinced that she was dreaming, she shut her eyes tightly, trying to banish the misleading image over Sasuke from her mind lest the stranger be offended.
Hesitantly opening her eyes again, she felt renewed weakness in her joints when she noticed that he was still standing there. Sasuke was still standing not three feet away from her.
Neither of them moved for a spell, before Sakura forced her body forward, closing the distance between them so that she stood staring up at him. Five years ago he had barely been able to look over her head but now he stared over it with an ease that made the irrational, disjointed part feel like complaining about it. The rational part swore at her to snap out of her stupor, which she finally managed to do by throwing herself forward and burying her face in his cloaked chest.
The scent was purely Sasuke, one she had long since forgotten. She could feel him beneath her, the beating of his heart and his calm breathing. It was such a contrast to her own that she wondered if she wasn't just dreaming it. It was only when she felt his arms wrap around her form, hesitantly and uncomfortably, that she let out the breath she had taken in long moments ago and let out a wracking sigh that made her entire body shake.
"You're real," she murmured into the coarse cloth. "You're here and you're real."
She looked up, gazing straight into Sasuke's eyes. He was looking at her as though he couldn't quite understand something, as though she was a mystery. Behind his unease lay the same note of sadness and longing that Sakura recognized from the genin days. Just as the scars on his face were a testament to his five years alone, she could sense something hidden in his eyes as well.
How was it that Sasuke was here? What had he been doing all those year and why did he all of a sudden return to Konoha? Why, of all people, had he approached her? It was obvious that he hadn't initially wanted reveal himself, which led her to believe that he either wasn't in Konoha to return…or the darker option, he really was there to assassinate someone.
There were stories of S-class criminals and their deeds. And Sasuke had been listed as a missing-nin for so long that he was considered to be in rank with those criminals.
But the way he was looking at her now…the total look of loss, Sakura couldn't help but feel deep within her that he was home. To be home.
What of his brother? Sasuke wouldn't have come back if Itachi was still alive – he had said he was an avenger and that he couldn't walk the same paths as her and Naruto – but did that mean that he would leave again?
The questions rose up in her mind immediately, but she knew that Sasuke, no matter how much time passed since they last met, would not answer them. He was the only one that he trusted to know his business. And she didn't trust herself to ask the questions without breaking any how.
His entire frame was tense and although he was looking down at her, he was obviously expecting something. The questions that she had for him, it seemed.
If she asked…he would tell her that he was leaving again. But if she didn't, she could pretend that he was staying forever…
With great effort, the muscles in her face painful as she forced herself to smile happily at his return and to reassure him, she managed to whisper, "You won't leave me on the bench this time, will you, Sasuke-kun?"
She was sure she saw relief flit over his expression, before his mouth curved in the slightest, a gesture Sakura had always taken as a half-smile for the Uchiha boy. The slate was clean. He made no promises to her and she didn't expect them. She asked no questions, didn't expect him to feel anything towards her even though he knew of her feelings yet again – in all honesty, when hadn't he – but at the same time she felt a strange lull in her entire being that she had never endured before.
'Is this what peace feels like?' she wondered, not bothering to move from his embrace, which was really nothing more than him holding her up. He obviously realized how weak her knees were at the moment. She didn't want to think about the angers and frustration and the sadness.
If he stayed, she knew that there would be plenty of time for that. For now – just for this moment, she wanted to enjoy it and hold on and just pretend.
Because she knew what would come next would not be pleasant.
There we go, I've been musing over this fic for the past few weeks. I don't know if I should continue it or just leave it as a one-shot. You tell me. I got this idea from a fic I read, so I might continue just to make it more mine.