Little Piece of Heaven
"Tsunade-sama!" Sakura announced as she burst through the office doors. "You have a mission for—!" She stopped when she noticed Tsunade's assistant shushing her from the corner of her eye.
Rushing to her side, Shizune brought a hand up to Sakura's ear. "Shh, Sakura-san… she's been more overloaded than usual lately."
Cringing, Sakura whispered back. "Should we get her some sake?"
"I can hear you!" snapped a voice from the other end of the room.
Laughing nervously, the pink-haired kunoichi approached her mentor's desk. "Just worried about your wrinkles, Tsunade-sama."
Ah, the bitter life of a Hokage. Power, authority… and plenty of reading material it would seem. If Naruto ever made it to being the next, he was in for a rude awakening. The loud fox boy could barely stay put in the village, let alone cramped up inside an office.
The Hokage exhaled loudly with disgust. "Whenever I get one pile out of the way, six new ones are dumped infront of me!"
Pouting, Sakura's eyes fell in disappointment. "I guess teaching me a new jutsu later is out of the question?"
"One step forward, two steps back..." the blonde woman mumbled, staring at the piles on her desk. She quickly shook her head with a defeated smile. "I'm afraid not, but you have your hands full today anyway. There was a message sent here requesting your services specifically. It's uh…" Tsunade trailed off to shift through the mounds of paper, "…it's that old man and his family outside the village again. You remember how to get there?"
"Oh yeah, of course. Was there any mention on what the issue was?"
"Probably," the Hokage sighed. "I don't have time to look. I'm sure it's just a quick check-up and then they'll send you on your way."
"Okay," Sakura replied, waving an arm as she turned to exit the room. "Remember to drink your sake, Tsunade-sama!"
Closing the office door, she placed a hand to her chin in recollection of where the old man lived. It had been quite some time since she'd last been there, but she remembered the occasion quite vividly since the dilemma of sneaking Sasuke back into the village had occurred. Speaking of which…
She jumped in surprise when she noticed the Uchiha was leaning against one of the office doors. Arms folded, the irritatingly stoic expression eyed her expectantly.
"Sasuke!" she hissed. "What are you doing here?!"
He narrowed an eyebrow with annoyance. Obviously, he had little patience when his questions were ignored.
"What's the mission?" he repeated with added clarity.
An exasperated sigh escaped her as she rubbed the back of her neck. Answers first, questions later with this one.
"Solo-mission. I'm going back to the old man's house outside the village."
He snorted incredulously. "Why?"
"I don't know," she shrugged. "He's an old man. He must be sick again." Her green eyes suddenly darted around with realization. "Hey! Aren't you suppose to be running laps?"
"Sure," he smirked. "I'll get back to that when Kakashi looks up from his book."
She giggled. "Guess you've got plenty of time." Sakura's laughter fell short however, when she remembered their previous conversation early that morning. It wasn't really a conversation now that she thought of it. Sasuke had openly confessed something she thought he never would. Being his teammate and childhood acquaintance, she had safely assumed that Sasuke trusted her. If he didn't, then Team 7 would've fallen to ruins years ago. But just hearing him say it… and with no one forcing him to either.
"I trust you."
Sakura had meant to say something back, but Kakashi had burst forth and bamboozled her window of opportunity. She hadn't said a word in response and was hoping he hadn't taken any offense.
Sasuke pushed himself off the wall, regarding her with a slight tilt of his chin towards the hallway's exit.
Clearing her throat with determination, she decided now was as good a time as any.
"Sasuke…" she began timidly, walking closely beside him.
He glanced her way quickly. "What?"
"Thank you for saying that… I mean, before…"
An odd look crossed his features, and for a moment it looked as though Sasuke had no idea what she was talking about. Seconds later, however, she caught a brief flash of clarity reflecting from his reserved, charcoal eyes.
"It's just a fact," he explained. "There's no need to thank me for it."
"Yeah," she laughed shortly, working a hand nervously through her hair. "I guess you're right. But… just so you know…"
The silence between pauses seemed thicker than usual.
"…I trust you too, Sasuke. I do."
She waited. Any minute now he would scoff and tell her to stop getting so emotional over such insignificant matters. It was probably embarrassing him to no end; or worse, scarring him for life against revealing anything that remotely exposed his vulnerability.
Just a couple more seconds of silence and she planned to spin on her heels and run like a deer. Naturally, she would mask this under a friendly goodbye and announce her departure for the mission.
"Sakura," Sasuke said finally. "You told me… I could ask you things if I wanted."
There's an interesting amount of time that passes before a person realizes their face has frozen a certain way. In Sakura's case, it was a hybrid between confounded and skepticism. A controlled, albeit slightly awkward conversation was now spinning off on a tangent… and she had mentally prepared herself for something completely different. Of all the things she expected him to say, that was certainly one of the last.
Coming to her senses, she blinked rapidly and curiously tilted her head. "Oh… yeah! I mean, of course!"
She remembered that conversation clearly now. Walking home from dinner, she had told him how much she enjoyed asking him questions, and if he ever wanted, he could do the same.
Sasuke cleared his throat. "Listen… I, uh…"
Defeated in the first attempt. He exhaled lowly in frustration.
Sakura raised her eyebrows in concern. Now he was starting to scare her. She knew that whatever it was he wanted to ask had to be extremely important. It just didn't seem like a "can I borrow a kunai" kind of deal.
"Is… something bothering, Sasuke? You can tell me, you know. You can tell me anything…"
He shut his eyes then, irritation quickly taking over his features. With growing concern, Sakura raised an arm to her chest. Sasuke was clenching his fist, as if restraining himself from punching the wall.
"It's nothing..." he seethed, eyes burning a hole into the wall ahead.
Stopping at the doors exciting the hall, he pushed it open and stood aside for Sakura. She had stopped in her tracks out of concern for the strange hiccup in the boy's demeanor. He noticed; ripping his thoughts from the battlefield to scan the look on Sakura's face.
"Coming?" Sasuke snapped, eager to distance himself from the tension he had foolishly created.
She bit her lip. It was what could be expected. If Sasuke wanted to open up, then he would do it at his own pace. One could not expect a floodgate of emotions to surface within the span of 5 minutes. Of course, Sakura was more than curious as to what he had to say… but she wouldn't resort to beating it out of him.
"Okay… well, whenever you're ready to talk…"
He nodded as she made her way past him.
"Be careful," he ordered, referring to her mission.
She grinned over her shoulder. "You worry too much."
"I wasn't worrying..." Sasuke muttered as he left down a different hallway.
Rolling her eyes, Sakura adjusted her backpack and exited through another set of doors. What a grouch… she thought playfully. It was a wonder how the dark and angst-y rude boy persona was a turn-on for most girls. It had been for her once… Wait, once? Okay, sometimes she still found it to be a tad attractive, but all in all, it was an enigma that should no longer be concerning her thoughts in the first place.
Wincing through the glaring sunlight, she spotted Sasuke resuming his laps around the village, and with Kakashi nowhere to be seen, it was safe to assume he'd gotten away with his little 'detour.'
What an odd thing to do, she thought. Not only was Sasuke late for his training with Kakashi, but he chose to scamper off in the middle of it as well?
Passing through the gates, she began to make haste toward the south bridge. She was on duty now, and someone needed her assistance. Summoning chakra to her feet, she leaped upwards and began making her way from tree branch to tree branch.
It was still quite a distance away, and Sakura soon found her thoughts meandering to pass the time. It surprised her that her thoughts went immediately to Sasuke.
Frowning inwardly, she realized the Uchiha's behavior that morning was linked back to her in some way. He was late because he had insisted on waiting for her while she checked on Neji. But why? It's not like she asked him to… Should she really feel guilty about that? And him ditching his training to find out what her mission was… she certainly hadn't asked him to do that, either.
Picking her up, walking her home…
He had always just… been there.
Something went off in her head. It seemed her inner persona, who had remained dormant for some time, began laughing hysterically.
"Oh God, you're an idiot!"
The outburst caused her focus of chakra to falter. Her foot slipped from the branch, but she only fell a short distance before regaining her composure. Grabbing hold of another branch, she expertly flipped herself back up and resumed, secretly hoping no one had seen such an embarrassing display.
Scrunching her eyebrows, she demanded her thoughts give an explanation. It was thoroughly granted and the inkling that struck her made sense, but at the same time, it really didn't at all.
Ever since Sasuke had returned to Konoha, he had been different… and the word different could only be stretched so far. He still smirked and snapped and belittled and ignored and… and all the while he still kept to himself, glared when he needed to, and shoved arrogance down one's throat when he needed to. Sasuke was still Sasuke, but…
The underlining was there.
He had masked all his good intentions behind a cold stare and a cocky remark or two; something Sakura was so accustomed to seeing, to feeling… What if she was completely blind to the true meaning of his actions?
A slow clapping began to commence in her head…
Although to be fair, her inner thoughts could hardly blame her for being so naive. Years of being detested by a person could no doubt lead to some form of skepticism.
Sasuke had disliked her. Really. He had. Sakura could remember a time where she had very nearly drowned, and he just stood there… letting Naruto do the worrying. In his eyes, she was the nuisance, the hindrance, and the useless pink-haired princess. When she confessed her childhood love, he had flat out said she was annoying and cracked her lights out.
And after all that, if the possibility of him turning it all around were to occur… who wouldn't think twice about pushing it out of their minds?
Sakura had done just that. She had rejected every possibility from her mind with the solid belief that it just wasn't possible.
"Think about it!" Inner Sakura shrieked. "Really think about it!"
Narrowing her eyes in confusion, she did. She thought hard. Every moment she had spent with Sasuke was played back in her mind. Things that he said, things that he did… every gesture now held some sort of clue, some sort of implication…
Sakura gasped in surprise when she realized she almost flew past the old man's house. Landing on the ground, she skidded gracefully to a stop and dusted the sides of her clothing. She scolded herself inwardly for not paying better attention.
It was her duty now to help people; she'd think about her problems on her own time.
Placing her hand on the door, she attempted to slide it open… but froze.
The handle felt wet, and just a tad warm.
Slowly, she took her hand back and found it coated with a sticky red substance. The handle was drenched in blood—how the hell had she not noticed that? Ignoring the slight churn in her stomach, Sakura rapidly slid the door open and entered the old man's house.
She grabbed a kunai from her pouch and walked slowly, careful to not let her footsteps be heard against the squeaky floorboards. The house was dark, and Sakura had trouble seeing her way through, but one could not miss the many blood splatters that painted the floor. Rounding the corner of a hall, her foot hit something soft and she prayed it was just an unconscious body.
Kneeling down to get a better look against the darkness, Sakura nearly stumbled backwards when she realized what her foot had come into contact with was, literally, another foot. A severed foot, to be exact.
She slapped a hand quickly to her mouth and instinctively crawled backwards. It was then that her eyesight fully adjusted to the darkness and she could see clearly what was beyond the one severed foot. Scattered across the hallway were more body parts and speckled streaks of deep crimson that surrounded.
The entire family, the old man, his wife and his grandson had all been savagely murdered.
Sakura's stomach continued to churn at the horrific sight as she stumbled her way out of the house. She was a trained medic and she had seen more dead bodies than she would've liked… but nothing like this. It was an image of sadistic, inhuman cruelty that stretched an entire hallway for someone's viewing pleasure.
Reaching the front door, she slumped against it and tried to maintain the rapid beating inside her chest. Her breathing escaped in short, hurried gasps, and the pressure in her chest just wouldn't cease.
Who could do such a thing? And why? They were a sweet, generous family that didn't get in anyone's way. How in the world did this happen to them…?
Her green eyes darted toward the presense that was now calmly approaching the house.
"You seem a bit upset," Orochimaru said knowingly, a thick tongue protruding to lick the corners of his mouth.
"Did I scare you?"
Author's note: Haha check it out, guys! Just a day before two weeks… slick! Okay, that was bad. I overestimated how well I could balance writing this chapter and finishing my final projects. Unfortunately, the projects were a top priority so I only started writing this a couple days ago. It's a bit hurried, but I did say less than two weeks so here it is! You know what's funny? Originally there was no interaction between Sasuke and Sakura in this chapter. The result? Writer's block. I couldn't write a damn thing and I started to get bored. BORED! So I found out what makes me tick: SasuSaku therapy. I NEED them to interact at least once in every chapter or I'm not motivated to write. It's bizarre.
Anyway, this chapter's a bit short and I apologize. The next one will be a doozy, though… I'm out of school, guys! Expect faster chapters!
In Naruto news: if the filler arc's not over by the next episode I'll flail my limbs and rampage… but after I calm down, you can bet that I'll sit down and keep watching. As for the manga (where are we, ch. 303?) I'm starting to like this Sai fellow.
Next chapter: less than one week.