Dedicated to all those who might never hear the words they want to hear from the one person they love with all their heart.
"I love you with all my heart."
He fisted his hand around the hem of his dark blue shirt, frustrated that after all these years, those words still haunted him. How could she-that little slip of a girl-manage to get so deep under his skin to the point where she had penetrated all his outer defenses and lodged herself inside his extremely small heart? Why did her words implant themselves in his brain, forcing him to relive that night over and over again? Why did those seven little one-syllable words make his heart clench with guilt, filling him with utter hopelessness and annoyance?
After all these years, he still did not know. They were all twenty-four now, surprisingly still alive even after all those S-rank missions they were given. Granted, he was stuck with D-rank missions when Naruto brought him back from that bastard Orochimaru, but he gradually gained the people's trust back. It was a long ordeal-humiliating even-but they were there through all of it. They understood him, and even though he broke their hearts, they still in their own way let him know that they would much rather have him here in Konoha than out there where they could not even see him at all.
He wasn't surprised when everyone avoided him when he returned with his former blonde-haired teammate, nor was he surprised that his other teammate did not even approach him for the next year. He was surprised, however, that the Fifth Hokage actually let him live with the simple punishment of having to be under the constant watch of several ANBU members. He was also not allowed to leave the village for any reason for the next three years, but that was understandable.
Even so, there was something that surprised him more-he thought that she would have wanted nothing to do with him because of her absence, but in reality, she was the one who begged Tsunade-sama for his life.
He had found that out a week after his return, when Naruto accidentally let it slip while they were eating lunch at the oh-so-famous ramen place that the vessel loved. That had shocked him beyond imagination-here was the girl who was the weakest person in their three-genin team, yet she was the one who could sway the Hokage into granting him life. She still cared that much for him, enough to let him escape punishment nearly unscathed.
He kept watch over her, slipping back into his usual clandestine routine once he got back that no one really knew about. It was a habit he had developed after the green-eyed girl cut off her own long hair to keep him and Naruto safe. Back then, when there were no missions, he would check up on her at night, not wanting to stay in the cold, abandoned Uchiha mansion. He would perch on the strong branches outside her bedroom window, keeping watch over her, napping only for a few hours at a time until dawn, which was when he would leave and start training.
He never did need much sleep.
He also never noticed how the ANBU squad did not call his nightly excursions to attention. Perhaps it was because they saw that he still had a shred of humanity left in him by making sure the pink-haired kunoichi stayed safe at night, or perhaps they were simply too tired to care what the Uchiha did after nightfall.
Slowly, Sasuke let go of his shirt, leaving wrinkles where his hands had gripped. If only he were there now, in that tree overlooking her bedroom window-everything would be normal then, and he could keep on living even if he rarely met her on the streets. Instead, he was actually inside her room, sitting in a chair next to her bed, listening to her labored breathing and staring out the window he usually looked in.
She had never been this sick before-sure, she had colds and the flu every once in a while, but it was rare. She was a medic-nin after all, and she knew how to take care of herself. This time, however, she was so sick that she could not be moved from her bed at home; Tsunade-sama had feared that the shift from her bed to the hospital might be too much stress for the young kunoichi's body to handle.
After her diagnosis, the Godaime assigned Sasuke an A-rank mission: to take care of twenty-four-year-old Haruno Sakura.
Perhaps she had known about his nocturnal habits-how he kept constant watch over his former teammate and how when she was sick, he would pick the lock and enter her apartment silently and make life a little easier on her. While she was sleeping, he would manage to make chicken soup and leave it on the stove and pick up around her apartment, throwing away wads of tissues and old newspapers and the like. It was a very un-Uchiha-like thing to do, but to him, it was the least he could do for the woman who had given him his life back.
Whatever the brown-eyed Hokage's reasons were, all he knew was that he was stuck inside Sakura's apartment, listening to her ragged breathing and pressing a cool cloth to her abnormally large forehead that she had never really grown into.
After a while of sitting in his trademark "thoughtful" position, he leaned back against the chair, slouching, taking in her prone form. She was pretty-he'd admit that much-but not beautiful in the traditional sense. No, beautiful women were like Ino-they had figures that most men would drool over and a face that automatically stood out in the crowd.
To him, Sakura was a different kind of beautiful. She wasn't an eye-catcher, and the only thing that stood out about her was her unnatural hair color. Other than that, she was just another face in the crowd-undistinguishable and perfectly normal. She wasn't as curvy as the other girls either; instead, she possessed toned muscles that were useful in her profession. She was typical-looking, with nothing particularly special about her outer appearance.
But he knew her better than that. To other people, she had a forgettable face, but to him, hers always stood out in the crowd. It wasn't because she was beautiful; it was because he had known her for so long. Over the years he noticed how she radiated kindness, how her face was built for large, wide smiles, and how her skin had a sort of ethereal glow that only he seemed to be able to see.
His eyes snapped back to her sleeping figured, worried. His heartbeat slowed back down as he saw her still asleep, mouth moving, speaking silent words that he couldn't hear. Her eyebrows knitted together as if in pain, and her forehead was covered in a thin sheen of sweat.
She had been like this for two days now, sweating and mumbling wildly in her sleep. It worried him, but he could do no more than wipe her brow and try to force water down her throat without killing her. He reached for the cloth that sat in a tab of cold water he had changed just thirty minutes before, wrung it out, and once again mopped her glistening skin. She leaned her head against the coolness of the cloth, relaxing slightly at the relief from the heat.
Something in him felt like it was twisting itself as he watched her suffer from whatever illness she had. It was a sort of ache-not an actual pain from a physical wound, but a dull throbbing that simply would not stop. It ate away at him, making him wish that he could pinpoint exactly what it was and tear it out of his own body.
Strangely enough, when he reflected upon where it could be coming from, he noticed that it was in his chest, somewhere near the heart.
He often wondered what it meant-to have a heart. He did have a literal heart, and it served him well. It pumped blood through his body, keeping him alive; it had a high stroke volume, pumping out more blood with each contraction so it didn't have to work as hard and cause him to breathe as hard. It was a good and healthy heart, perfect for his profession.
But in a metaphorical sense, he did not understand what people meant by loving another with all their heart. Once again, her simple words from that lonely night so long ago haunted him. How was that possible? Where was this so-called heart that allowed people to care for one another?
And what was love?
Uchiha Sasuke understood devotion-he had seen that for many years from his teammate and his fan-girls. He understood respect, but other than that, his intricate mind could not comprehend something that was so allegorical and intangible. How was it possible to claim to love someone when there is no definition of love? What did they mean when they told him that he had no heart?
He tossed the rag back into the tub of water after a while and tucked a few stray strands of hair behind her ear. It was unusual for him to show any sign of tenderness, but she was asleep, so it didn't matter. In all honesty, behind the cold mask he wore, he craved human touch-he craved the one thing that he always denied himself of.
He had returned to the hidden leaf village five years ago, nineteen and broken. It took a long time for him to get used to living a monotonous life again, only doing D-rank missions here and there. It was harder with her ignoring him-she was always the one who brought him back to reality, stealing his mind from the chaos of the curse seal. He finally had an opportunity to speak with her a year later-she was sitting at the bridge where Team 7 used to meet, staring out over the tiny stream that ran under it.
She told him that she hated him then.
He told her that he knew.
It was an awkward relationship after that, but it slowly got better. Like all things, the hurt he left behind healed, and he often found himself thinking of her as he practiced his katas and jutsus. He noticed how whenever he entered into the crowded market, he would look for a familiar head of pink hair and how he would often go out of his way to accompany her when she went grocery shopping so as to save her from carrying pounds of food back to her apartment, which was over a mile away.
Could that be love? Caring for someone and doing unexpected little things for them?
He didn't know. No one had ever given him a definition of love, and he had never really felt it before-or at least, he thought he hadn't.
He recalled how when they were still genin, Sakura always claimed that she loved him, and how because of that so-called love, she would attempt to make him lunch and bring him tomatoes and other little things like that.
How do you show someone that you love them?
All he knew was that Sakura had somehow become an integral part of his life and that in all honestly, deep deep down in his intangible so-called heart, he could not live without her.
The stoic man had heard from someone that if you love someone, you can't picture living life without that person. He tried imagining life without the annoying little tag-along pink-haired girl, and he found himself completely and utterly lost.
He shook his head. It was stupid. That was only because he was on the same team with her. There could be no other reason than that-somehow, being on a team with only Naruto and Kakashi-sensei scared the living daylights out of him.
As he drifted back into his thoughts, he failed to notice a pair of green eyes blink open slowly. Those eyes focused, adjusting themselves to the dark before acknowledging that they were seeing the familiar patterns of the ceiling in a room they often saw first thing in the morning. That was when the owner of those eyes realized that there was someone else in the room with her, lightly stroking her hair with calloused fingers.
She recognized that touch.
"Sasuke-kun?" she breathed, causing the soothing fingers to jerk away from her matted pink hair.
"Hn," came his usual aloof reply. She was speechless-what was he doing here, stoking her disgustingly oily hair that had gone probably days without being washed? Didn't he hate this kind of thing? After all, Uchihas were strong, and being sick made her weak. Why was he taking care of her? Question after question popped up in her mind, but she didn't have the strength to speak. Her mouth was dry, and she was quite confused.
The last time she had seen him, three of his fan-girls had cornered him completely and were practically throwing themselves on him. Thinking to spare him from the horror (and secretly fuming inside), she called out his name. The girls glared at her, but she could have sworn that his face had suddenly relaxed upon seeing her.
Then again, she was saving him from his rabid fan-girls, so it probably didn't mean anything special at all. They got into an argument later that day, which resulted with her slapping him across the face and stomping back home.
He had changed from the person who came back with Naruto five years ago. He was always angry then, frustrated about something or other. He had avenged his family, but he still seemed unsatisfied. Back then, she was still angry at him for taking her for granted, so she ignored him for a year.
After that incident at the bridge, they came to a mutual understanding. She wasn't quite sure what happened, but her anger slowly dissipated and they were comfortable with one another again. Once in a while, he'd help her with the groceries and in return, she would make him lunch or dinner-whichever was appropriate at the time. Sometimes they would train together, and other times they would simply sit on an overly familiar bench, with her talking about everything and Sasuke saying nothing.
She wondered if he still thought she was annoying.
An awkward silence fell upon the two as Sasuke's hands found their way into his pockets.
"How long have I been out?" asked Sakura quietly.
"Two days. Maybe three."
"Why are you here?"
She winced, knowing that her tone was hostile. She couldn't quite recall what they had been arguing about, but she knew that it had made her angry. The fever that was running rampart around her body must have affected her brain some, because that whole day seemed so hazy to her. The Uchiha's face was impassive as usual, not really noticing the way her question sounded.
The sick woman nodded slightly and sighed. He would never care about her in the way she wanted him to-he was here only because Tsunade-sama ordered him to be, and he would probably bolt out in a second because she was finally awake.
It was stupid, she knew, to keep on loving him. He would never reciprocate her feelings, but she always kept that hope inside of her. When he came back, she tried to stay away so she wouldn't get hurt again-he had hurt her once-who said he wouldn't do it again? Her heart had barely mended even after such a long time; it was too fragile to be placed out in the open again for him to step on and crush once more.
She wasn't strong enough for that.
When he finally left the room, she let the first of her tears fall. Yes, she really was nothing in his eyes-nothing but a burden and an embarrassment. What chance did she have anyway? She knew she wasn't beautiful and hardly an eye-catcher, but her skills as a medic-nin were good enough. She was a formidable opponent in battle, and her chakra control was one of the best in the village.
Even so, it would never measure up to his expectations. She would always remain that weak annoying little girl who tagged along behind him and practically stalked his every move.
She turned her body away from the door toward the window, curling up like a newborn baby, tucking her arms neatly by her head. She stared out the window at the bright moon, partially shaded by the large tree growing next to it. It was a clear night, and a few stars dotted the sky here and there.
She sighed, letting a few more tears leak out of her usually guarded eyes. She meant nothing to him…
…but he meant the world to her.
She wanted to scream. Kami-sama, she was so stupid! How could she, Haruno Sakura, still be hung up on some guy who managed to betray his own village? How did he become her center-the one person she relied on most? Why couldn't it have been Naruto, who loved her like a sister, or even Lee-san, who never once failed to proclaim his love for her loud and clear across the village square? What right did Uchiha Sasuke have to burrow his way into her heart and stay there, causing her to reject all her suitors?
It frustrated her to no end that she, a strong and powerful kunoichi, could be so easily unnerved at the sight of a stupid, dense man who cared for no one at all.
Naturally, she was surprised when she felt fingers wipe away her tears. She gasped, looking up only to see a head full of messy raven hair and an unreadable expression.
"So…annoying…" came a soft whisper as he touched her face.
Silence once again overtook the room as Sasuke retracted his hand. He crossed over to her desk where he had left a bowl full of soup-he assumed that she was hungry, seeing that she had not really eaten much of anything for the past two days. She only got up blindly to go to the bathroom before, but other than that, she slept.
He found it slightly amusing how in her stupor, she never noticed that he was there the entire time.
"I hated you, you know."
He froze, centimeters away from picking up the bowl. It was like that day at the bridge all over again. Those words caught him by surprise, but he should have expected it. After all, he left her behind, knowing that he had just thrown her heart away. He also called her a stupid air-headed bint the other day after she saved him from his crazy fan-girls. He supposed he really did deserve that slap. He said nothing, but she continued anyway in a soft voice.
"I hated how you left me. I hated how every time I passed by that lonely road leading up to where you used to live, I would feel an urge to cry. I hated how you were the center of my universe back then, and how the ground I was standing on was suddenly ripped out from under me causing me to fall into a bottomless hole where there was no one to catch me and pull me back up."
She paused, breathing heavily, as if talking were a big hassle. It probably was, he mused, in her condition. He turned back around to face her and walked toward her.
"I know," he said, standing by her bed, hands in his pockets. He couldn't explain why that dull ache had suddenly started searing with pain, but he knew that it hurt.
Silence reigned supreme for a little while longer before she shut her eyes again.
"I hated how you made me feel…I hated how I still loved you…"
Nothing could have prepared the pink-haired kunoichi for what happened next.
"What's love?" came a low whisper from the man standing next to her bed.
Green eyes flew open in shock and landed on the reticent man's passive face. They met onyx eyes, which were boring holes into hers.
Sasuke shrugged, but waited for her answer expectedly. She tried to sit up, attempting to grasp his question-he had asked her what love was? How could she explain love?
"It's…it's…I don't know!"
Sasuke thought for a moment as he unconsciously moved his hand to help her get off her back. He didn't notice how it stayed there, even after she was in her desired position.
"Then how could you love me if you don't know what it is?" he said quietly in his deep baritone voice.
"I don't know…I just do."
Sakura paused and then replied: "It's just…when you love someone, you just do. There's no reason for it. I can't explain it."
She had never imagined herself to be in this situation. The Sasuke she knew would never ask her such questions, nor would he even be in her room, taking care of her, mission or not. She also never imagined herself to be sick when she talked to him, most likely with ridiculously stinky breath and disgustingly matted hair that was oily from not being washed recently. It was almost ironic-here she was in her weakest state with one of the strongest ninjas in the village. The fates must have decided to play an awful trick on her, showing him, the one person she wanted to respect her, the full extent of her weakness.
When there was no response from him, she shut her eyes tightly.
"Go ahead, tell me I'm annoying and that I'm stupid. I already know it."
His laconic words never came; instead, she felt him lean over and press a feather-light kiss on her forehead.
She was speechless.
Did Uchiha Sasuke just kiss her forehead? Her overly large forehead that everyone joked her about? The world was coming to an end!
"Wha-what? Why?" came her fumbled answer.
She raised her hand to punch him in the stomach for getting her hopes up before pausing half-way. What had she just said to him? When you love someone, you just do. There's no reason for it…
His eyes were staring into hers, hand still on the small of her back, supporting her even when she didn't need it. She reached up with both her arms this time and brought them together around his middle, pressing her head against his torso. She heard him sigh, perhaps with relief that she understood what he said in his own obscure way, and felt his arm move to encircle her shoulders in a loose embrace.
It wasn't anything much, but she could deal with that. He loved her-she knew that much now-and that's all she really needed.
After all, three simple single-syllable words didn't always have to be spoken to convey the feeling behind them.
A/N:Hmm...angsty fluff. I'm really not too happy with this-I like the ending, but I feel like the beginning and middle were very long winded. Blah. Please be nice and leave a review!