Little Piece of Heaven
He awoke too quickly, paranoid of the first thing present in his unfocused vision; the silent movement of a flowing window curtain. He frowned at the realization once clarity began to settle in his heavy, drug-induced mind and looked away. He cursed at the result of his simple gesture as pain gripped his shoulder, pulling heavily at the muscles in his neck.
Reaching an arm behind him, Sasuke tentatively touched the sensitive area, not surprised that the base of his neck was wrapped in thick gauze and bandages. He pulled his arm back, staring numbly at the small amount of blood that dampened his fingers. The wound still hadn't closed properly.
He sat himself up, features hardening as he forced himself to endure the pain from his injury. He looked himself over and raised an eyebrow at the sight of his bandage-covered body.
Make that many injuries.
Stubbornly, Sasuke began to remove the bandages that hindered his movement.
"I'm sure you'll just collapse into a pile of dust once those are off, genius."
He spared Naruto a momentary glance before resuming his work. "Where is she?"
The question caught the blonde off guard as he furrowed his bandaged brow skeptically. Naruto stood in the doorway of Sasuke's hospital room, his own just across the hall but with medical conditions initially far less severe than the other boy's. He had almost completely recovered. Sasuke, on the other hand, had been out cold since their return and had stayed that way until now.
"She's... Sakura-chan's around," Naruto replied slowly. "I'm sure she'll be by soon."
Sasuke slowed his movements for a brief second, as if analyzing the words for an indication of positivity. It wasn't to his liking: Naruto had hesitated. Sasuke pulled off the neatly wrapped arm brace with some exaggeration and let it smash into the wall beside him, his eyes narrowing with bitter annoyance.
"Hey!" Naruto snapped.
Upon realizing that there was nothing to be said, cold blue eyes averted dejectably. "Nothing."
Sasuke avoided eye contact just the same, relaxing the aggravated tension in his muscles to reflect on his unjust behaviour. He had pretended not to notice, but Naruto was clearly healing from visible injuries--injuries Sasuke had ruthlessly given him during his vague power trip. His black eyes fell despite himself. The Uchiha wouldn't call it shame, for the concept alone made him feel weak and vulnerable. He wouldn't say he was sorry, because guilt and regret coincided... and he refused to regret things he had done in the past that helped him achieve success; such things compromised his integrity.
"You doing okay?" Sasuke asked finally.
A grin appeared on the blonde's face as he laughed shortly. "You know me, I can bounce back from anything. But I'll admit you got me pretty good back there."
"Yeah," Sasuke smirked. He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Listen, dobe..."
"Don't worry about it," Naruto interjected, leaning casually against the door frame. His eyes gazed thoughtfully out an open window across the small medical room. "Everybody's got kinks that need working out. It might take longer for some, but at least everything fixes itself in the end... just like it always does."
"Hn. You really believe that, don't you?"
He shrugged. "Well, you're still here, and you're still on our side, right?"
The Uchiha grunted inaudibly.
"Then we're cool," Naruto said simply. "It's not me you need to explain things to."
He nodded, knowing that sooner or later, issues between Sakura and himself would have to be confronted. The last thing he remembered was the odd feeling of Orochimaru's blood pouring onto his hand; it wasn't warm like he expected. The Uchiha had stabbed his katana deep within the Snake Sanin in what was probably his one and only window to injuring the man. Luckily, the final thrust had been fatal.
As Orochimaru slumped against the blade, Sasuke began to feel weak, allowing the both of them to slump to their knees.
"Such power..." the older man hissed, clawing his hand into Sasuke's unrelenting grip on the sword. "I may... be finished," Orochimaru smiled, blood seeping past his fangs, "but you... No, ...not you. You're not. You'll never be finished."
Sasuke's face remained stoic, yet his former master's words confused him. As his vision began to blur, he could feel Sakura's presence behind him. He had planned to say something... anything. She rested a hand on his shoulder before he could turn around, and blackness followed.
"After she sealed your curse mark," Naruto began, predicting Sasuke's questioning, "Sakura-chan stayed conscious long enough to heal some of our injuries before the backup medical team arrived."
"Was she alright?"
"She was fine. A little drained for a couple days, but fine."
Sasuke leaned back against his pillow, but paused as if an unseen force would not permit him to rest. He was too unsettled, too agitated as he sat upright again and pulled the intravenous needle out from his arm.
"Sasuke...!" Naruto protested as Sasuke swiftly planted his feet on the floor.
Ignoring the blonde, he continued to rip the hindering bandages from his body and discarded them on the hospital floor.
"You can't see her now!" Naruto practically exploded.
Sasuke shrugged and grabbed his newly cleaned clothes from off a nearby chair. "I don't know what you're talking about," he replied monotonously.
"You know damn well!" his friend argued, appalled by Sasuke's irritating need to cover his emotional tracks. Damn did this guy have a messed up rebound rate. "I'm not stupid. I know how you feel about her."
The Uchiha glared daggers as he pulled the black shirt over his head. He hated having someone else present his feelings to him on a platter. It made him feel overexposed, over analyzed... His thoughts and emotions were not an unravelling thread.
"Stay out of it, dobe..." was all he would grant the annoying accusation.
Frustrated, Naruto slammed a hand against the door frame, blocking Sasuke's exit with his arm. "Sasuke," he sighed "she doesn't want to see you."
He opened his mouth to expel a snappy comeback, but the other boy was quick to interrupt, gripping the door frame to make an example of his sincerity.
"Just leave her alone for a while."
Tapping her fingernails indecisively, Tsunade watched Kakashi momentarily as he leaned against the wall with his arms folded. He was at a loss for words, trying his best to think up a defence on Sasuke's behalf but no ideas remained cohesive enough. How could you think up an excuse for someone when you lacked faith in the idea that they deserved a second chance? Honestly, Kakashi felt Sasuke had little to no leeway on his side and it would take a hell of a lot to convince the Hokage that Sasuke shouldn't be banished from the village.
"It doesn't matter how stern and focused Sasuke appears," Tsunade began "his judgement is too easily influenced. Anyone with a soul as darkened as his will always be susceptible to losing control."
"If you were so sure of this why put him in a situation that would set him off?" Kakashi protested.
"I didn't know he would bend the operation the way that he did!" she countered. "I expected him to return to Orochimaru undercover and when the time was right, assassinate him with Naruto's help."
"But according to Naruto's reports, the curse seal began to hinder Sasuke's abilities because of its renewed connection to Orochimaru."
"He let it take over his judgement too easily," pointed out Tsunade. "It doesn't matter that he succeeded in killing his brother, the darkness from his past will follow him everywhere. He's a liability, Kakashi, a loose canon."
"I believe he'll be cleansed with time."
Kakashi's demeanour tensed as he stood in front of Tsunade's desk. Placing his hands on the surface, he narrowed his eyes. "You trusted him enough to give him a high-risk mission. I trust him enough now to know that he'll change."
Tsunade scoffed, spinning her chair around to face the glass covered landscape behind her desk. She had trusted Sasuke. She had honestly thought that with his brother dead, Sasuke could maintain a clear train of thought and handle missions as wisely as he had when he was younger. Her worst fear for the young Uchiha had come true; achieving vengeance brought no peace to his heart. Sasuke had defeated the face of evil that had destroyed his family, but deep down it wasn't good enough. It would never be good enough. Now Sasuke would be looking for other faces. His soul was eager to destroy, eager to achieve revenge. He was now dangerously susceptible to dark methods of manipulation; a cruel curse Uchiha Itachi had given to his younger brother.
"The curse mark has been sealed, has it not?" Kakashi continued. "And with Orochimaru dead the mark can no longer be controlled by anyone."
"Except Sasuke," Tsunade pointed out. "The seal Sakura applied maintains its strength according to Sasuke's will. It's stronger than the one you first gave him; embedded far deeper... but it can all come crashing down if Sasuke allows it so."
"There are no potential threats--"
"Not today," the Hokage shrugged. "But suppose Akatsuki would like to replace the Uchiha that they lost."
"You're stretching this farther than it needs to be," Kakashi grumbled. "Sasuke's curse mark is sealed. He's not raving like a lunatic somewhere. He's healing from his injuries and he's fine. I understand your concerns, but I see no reason to banish him from Konoha."
"Well the council does," Tsunade replied firmly. "I'm sorry but my hands are tied, Kakashi. They've been informed of his conscience state. Sasuke must appear before the council to defend his case tomorrow."
The rain was relentless.
Black strands of hair matted to the sides of his face as he limped slowly towards the Uchiha manor. Though he was struggling, Sasuke would be damned if he was to spend another minute in that blinding hospital room.
He climbed the front steps and placed a hand wearily on the door frame. Water dripped from his soaked clothes and finger tips, marking his presence upon the dry wood as he slid the door open. It was dark inside; a grim indication that the manor was empty. Though Sakura's scent lingered, the feel of her presence was nowhere to be found. He hadn't felt it once since opening his eyes in that hospital bed.
Sasuke narrowed his eyes, convincing himself that he didn't care as he removed the soaked shirt from his back. He cringed in his movements; his neck still sore from the amount of stress endured by the curse seal's entrapment.
The amount of pain that flowed into his body was indescribable. After giving Sakura the simple instruction, she had nodded solemnly and pressed a cool hand to the base of his neck. Orochimaru was unsure of what to expect, naively thinking that only Tsunade would have the power to seal the curse mark in its advanced state of development.
He had tried his best to endure the pain silently, but as Sakura's chakra burned against the seal he slowly found himself losing composure as he gripped Sakura's free hand relentlessly. He was probably close to breaking it but she never said a word; only maintained her concentration.
After what seemed like an eternity, Sakura ceased her chakra flow and he slumped against her chest with exhaustion, trying in earnest to slow his rapidly beating heart. There was a sudden lightness in his body, as if a massive weight had been lifted from his shoulders. For the first time in a long time his thoughts flowed clearly through his mind as he gripped his sword handle.
Just thinking about it made him feel beaten and worn all over again.
Sasuke continued to limp through the dark hallway. Not that it bothered him; light was not a friend in this household. He paused, however, when the small table against the wall entered his peripheral. The small, lightly dusted lamp sat undisturbed on its surface. He frowned at the offending object, being reminded of the one person who continuously requested it be turned on.
The Uchiha stared hard at the simple light fixture before turning his back.
He only made it two steps away before his feet pivoted against his wishes. Sighing with frustration, Sasuke less than gently turned on the small hallway light and exited the room.
"... Do you understand the charges as I have read them out to you, Uchiha Sasuke?"
"Sure," Sasuke grunted, inciting a rather cryptic look from Kakashi from across the room. He rolled his eyes as he recalled the irritating lecture he had been given regarding certain mannerisms in front of the village council. The conversation had not gone over well. It was up to Kakashi once again to tie the unwilling genius to a tree in order to get his instructions across. Unfortunately, by this time, Sasuke could care less about the situation at hand, knowing better than anyone else that his chances were slim to nil. He had only smirked at Kakashi's request for him to withhold curses and sarcastic whoop-dee-doo's.
"...Yes," he stated again, unable to hide an obviously forced affirmation.
"And do you understand the council's concerns regarding your continued presence in the village?"
"Yeah... I'm a loose canon," Sasuke quoted bitterly as he glared at the Hokage. Tsunade appeared unfazed as she silently clasped her hands under her chin.
"Have you prepared a defence for yourself?" the council member continued.
"Why the hell would I do that?" the boy scoffed.
Kakashi could only look on in alarm. "Sasuke!"
"Looks like you've already made up your damn minds. What's the point of all this?"
"You're fighting to keep your home, Uchiha!" another member spoke up. "I suggest you try a little harder!"
"What do you want from me?" Sasuke seethed. "Yes, I handled the situation badly. No, I don't want to leave. Is anything I say really going to make a difference?"
Kakashi shook his head with frustration.
"You're being extremely careless with your future, Sasuke," Tsunade replied grimly. "You're wasting the council's time--"
"And disgracing the Uchiha name," an elderly council member quipped.
Black eyes instantly narrowed in the older man's direction as Sasuke clenched his fist. Grinding his teeth, it took all the strength he could muster to stop himself from leaping over the large table that separated them. He would beat the old man down with his own detached limbs. What higher power gave that decrepit bastard the right to such blasphemy?
"Shut the hell up..." Sasuke growled darkly.
"Let's not get off topic," Kakashi interjected, trying his best to diffuse the suddenly hostile situation.
"No, let's stay on THIS topic," the Uchiha pushed stubbornly. He sneered menacingly at the old man who struggled to maintain his indifference. "You can say all the shit you want from your comfy chair, but let's see how well you handle losing everything in this world that makes you whole! Let's see how you feel about life after your entire family's been wiped clean from this planet!"
Kakashi stepped forward and restrained Sasuke back by his shoulder. "Sasuke..."
"Let's see you spend what's left of your tired, miserable life doing what you can to fix it, and then have some shitbag tell you you've only made it worse!"
"I don't need this," Sasuke muttered as he tore himself from Kakashi's grip. He headed solemnly toward the large double doors, pissed with himself for having lost his temper, succumbing to an emotional outburst in front of an entire room of people.
Speechless onlookers watched the young boy's back as he exited without a word. Kakashi, at a loss of what to do, folded his arms tiredly and resumed his position against the wall.
Sasuke shrugged off the awkward silence behind him. He'd deal with this whole pointless thing later. Reaching for the door handle, he angrily pulled it open and stopped abruptly.
Sakura was there to greet him on the other side, fist raised as if she had been preparing to knock.
The Uchiha's eyes widened with surprise, eyebrows quirked slightly reflecting his inner battle between relief, anger and confusion. It felt like he hadn't seen her in years. He noticed offhandedly that Sakura's pink tresses almost appeared longer.
Her cheeks immediately flushed. She looked just as alarmed to see him, but evident in her features was an odd uncertainty, as if facing him was definitely not something she was mentally prepared for.
Not that he gave a damn or anything.
"Sakura..." Sasuke said plainly, black eyes burning fiercely into hers.
Her mouth opened to speak, but no words manifested as her eyes diverted to an empty space just above the taller boy's shoulder. She couldn't bring herself to make eye contact.
"Sakura!" Tsunade's voice bellowed. "We're ready for you. It looks as though our other meeting has been cut short."
Looking past Sasuke to her teacher, Sakura nodded and quietly sidestepped him to gain access to the council room. He didn't turn; he could only stare intently at nothing as Sakura moved past him, a dark expression knitting his brow as he remained rooted to the floor. The sound of her retreating footsteps snapped Sasuke back to reality as he exhaled and finally left the scene, letting the heavy door slam loudly behind him.
"You're so damn lucky..."
Sasuke merely shrugged and continued to look out over the ledge he was perched upon. "Whatever."
It had been a week since Sasuke's outburst in the council room, and after a short meeting in Tsunade's office, Sasuke calmly accepted his finalized sentence and exited without a word. Entering the hallway, he hit an ease dropping Naruto with the door. "I can stay," he muttered simply as the annoying fox hounded him for details. He was in no mood to discuss it, but allowed his friend to follow him up the tower to an empty lookout post. The immense view of the village was somehow soothing, granting the ability to allocate one's thoughts.
Aghast, Naruto folded his arms against his chest. "I don't know what you're so sour about. An extended probation is nowhere near as bad as being exiled."
"I want to stay because it's home," Sasuke muttered, "but every passing day will feel more and more like a prison."
"It's only temporary," Naruto assured. "You've served probation before, you can do it again." He walked over to where the other boy sat, curious to see what he was staring so intently at.
The blonde peered over the ledge, then at Sasuke, then back down again. Sighing, Naruto drummed his nails against the warm stone surface and tried to concoct a reasonable confrontation that wouldn't result in him being pushed to his death.
Opening his mouth to speak, Naruto was quickly interrupted before a single assumption could be uttered.
"I don't want to hear it," Sasuke snapped knowingly.
Though they were a fair distance away, Sakura's pink tresses were easy to spot amongst the crowd of busy shoppers in the marketplace. She was laughing and smiling sweetly to her shopping companion; a very gentlemanly Hyuuga Neji that obviously had no quarrel against carrying her things.
Scowling, Sasuke unconsciously began tossing a small stone into the air; catching and re-tossing it with the building intention of suddenly pelting it through a certain shinobi's skull.
"H-Hey...!" Naruto laughed nervously. "They're just friends, teme!"
He held onto the rock this time, fisting it tightly in his grip. The more that soft smile graced Sakura's lips, the more he could feel a blinding, animalistic fury envelop his body.
"What makes you think I care?"
Naruto took a few steps away and watched the back of Sasuke's head. He noted how the other boy was still refusing to deter his gaze from his view of the marketplace.
"Because..." Naruto said slowly, an inkling creeping up his spine. "You won't show me your eyes, Sasuke. What's the deal with that?"
Ebony spikes tilted slightly as the stubborn boy turned his head a mere fraction. "What's your point, moron?"
"My point is..." Naruto began, as he grabbed a small stone from the pavement, "I think you care--" he hurled the stone in Sasuke's direction who, without fail, caught it in midair and turned to scowl at the annoying loudmouth behind him.
"--more than you think," he finished, frowning back into the blood red orbs of Sasuke's sharingan.
"Look at you. You put so much effort into concealing your stupid emotions. Now everything's bubbling over and you can't even fool yourself."
A chord was struck as Sasuke's red eyes averted briefly to the floor. He recovered quickly however; blazing them into Naruto's with renewed defiance as he hopped down from the balcony ledge. He had a retort handy, but the idea of encouraging a conversation that sought to pick him apart was too acidic for his taste.
Much to Naruto's surprise, the Uchiha walked right past him and proceeded to descend the stone walkway, anger-induced sharingan fading slowly from his eyes.
"Wh-Where are you going, Sasuke?" the blonde called after him. "You're not going down there, are you? Sasuke!"
"You'd rather I conceal my stupid emotions?" he bit sarcastically. "I've waited long enough."
"What are you going to do, pick a fight with Neji? When you've JUST been put on probation? You're nuts!"
"If you don't like it, don't follow me."
Cursing to himself, Naruto glanced over the ledge once more before chasing Sasuke down the stairway. "Look! Look! She's by herself now... Neji must've gone off on his own!"
"Don't just grunt at me! What are you planning to do? You can't--! This isn't fair to Sakura-chan!"
Sasuke stopped, as if the notion alone was absurd enough to make time stand still. "What does fair have to do with anything? Why are you creating such a barrier around her?"
The question of 'why' was an annoying parasite in his brain. He had left it alone long enough for it to start gnawing at him from the inside out. Grudgingly, he had respected Naruto's request to leave Sakura alone without asking any questions. He forced himself not to care, but parasites were rather nasty things... they scraped and poked, slowly and painfully situating themselves to the forefront of where they couldn't possibly be ignored.
"Look," Naruto signed, "I'm sure this isn't something you haven't realized, but maybe you don't understand what it has actually done."
He took a deep breath. "Sakura-chan's loved you since we were kids, but you trampled her. Then you leave for a couple years and break her heart like an asshole. You come back, fall for her, then you leave and break her heart again. She comes to help you cause she loves you, but then you trample her... literally," he added with a tinge of disgust, "...like an asshole."
Naruto folded his arms and leaned against the tower wall. "Do you see some kind of pattern forming? When she's ready to talk to you, she will. Don't go causing a scene just cause you're pissed off."
He shrugged then, exhausted from converting an emotional outburst into something cold and succinct--Sasuke would've stopped listening otherwise.
"Like I said... it's not fair," Naruto finished solemnly.
Alarmed by this sudden verbal back-hand, Sasuke's eyebrow twitched slightly as he stared at the blonde in disbelief. It was brutal and sincere, and above all, something he needed handed to him... though he'd never admit it.
Conflicted, Sasuke continued on his way without any clear thought as to what he would be doing next. A quiet "Fine." was all he could muster.
They walked in silence down the rest of the pathway, stopping only when a certain silver-eyed shinobi was found waiting for them at the bottom.
The name alone sparked a rapid scowl from the Uchiha who immediately darted his attention to where the blonde had directed his voice.
So much for calming down. It was like dangling a bright red handkerchief before an unstable bull... one that was on the verge of spontaneously losings its mind. Uchiha Sasuke, on the other hand, could only tighten his fist while metaphorically grunting steam and kicking back the pavement with his foot.
"Can I help you with something?" Neji asked, the icy question directed towards Sasuke.
"But... you... were waiting for us..." a confused Naruto stated in the background.
"Hn." The Uchiha smirked undaunted, not stopping until the Hyuuga was directly in his path. "You can by getting out of my way."
He ignored the request, unmoving from his position. "I couldn't help but notice you watching me."
"Don't flatter yourself," Sasuke sneered.
"Was it Sakura you were watching then?"
Neji glared, folding his arms across his chest. "You know what your problem is, Uchiha?"
What was this? Was there a notice posted somewhere that read 'kick Sasuke while he's down' ? He had not only been lectured by Kakashi, the Hokage and the entire village council, but his best friend to boot. And now, because fate was having one hell of a good time laughing and pointing at his existence, here was that bastard Neji to add to the festivities.
"Neji, Neji...!" Naruto chuckled nervously. "I'm sure he knows what his problem is, so--"
"Tell me anyway," Sasuke interjected. "I've gotten so used to hearing it."
"Everything has to be about you!" Neji snapped with lightening speed, ignoring the sarcastic invitation to state his opinion. "Your life and your twisted take on it. Your pride and arrogance will be the end of all of us someday, and that includes Sakura."
"Don't speak from your ass, Hyuuga. Tell me something I haven't heard."
He lowered his voice then. "If you want Sakura, realize you have a responsibility to her, one that I'm more than willing to take over."
"What?!" The anger-filled reaction slipped from his mouth before his brain had time to process it. Needless to say, the credibility of Sasuke's passive aggressive wall was instantly blown to smithereens.
"You heard me!" Neji retorted. "You aren't good enough for her. You'll never be good enough for her. Not while you continue to harbour some sick resentment to the world. Go run off and find someone else to kill, or just go and kill yourself. I could care less. But if you want Sakura that badly, then at least be a man about it."
Sceptical, Sasuke raised an eyebrow, the distrusting scowl still plastered on his face.
"Sakura cares about you," Neji snorted with disgust. "Who do you think convinced the village council to let you off easy? She cares more than you think, she's just afraid of you. In the meantime, there's nothing I can do but console her. So figure out your priorities. Either do something about it or move on so I can have a chance."
A cold silence fell between them while Naruto watched uncomfortably.
Sasuke was doing his best to stare Neji down from his slight height advantage, but at the same time he couldn't help but be distracted by the unexpected news he had given him: ...Sakura had spoken on his behalf that day?
"She's been doing a lot better..." Neji finally spoke. Though his features remained scornful, his voice had softened to a straining degree. He began to walk away, sparing Sasuke a momentary glance behind his shoulder.
"Go see her soon."
Author's note: I had planned to finish the entire story by the 25th chapter but I feel like the ending should be an entire chapter dedicated to one big SasuSaku moment. So no, it's not done. And yes I know, my last update was about a year ago. haha I bet nobody even remembers what this stupid story is about. I AM SO SORRY. Months ago I would draw a complete blank whenever I opened my word document to start typing. I could go as far as one sentence and then I'd give up and couldn't add to that sentence till the following week. Let's call it a severe case of writer's block.
The next chapter is important to me. I'm thinking it through very carefully but I think I know what I want to happen (don't we all? ;) ...so as long as writer's block doesn't kick back in (I think I've been temporarily cured) I should hopefully have this story updated and completed in less than a month. Wish me luck... and please review if you forgive me!