After her conversation with Ino, Sakura began to avoid Sasuke completely. So, when Naruto organized a dinner to celebrate Sasuke's discharge from the hospital and his newfound freedom, Sakura unfortunately had an unspecified emergency to take care of at the hospital. When Sasuke resumed his training at the training grounds, Sakura decided to switch to the indoor arena to continue hers. When Hinata mentioned she'd seen him at the library, Sakura decided that she had done all the research she needed and that further visits wouldn't be necessary.

She hoped that her avoidance, which grew progressively more obvious as weeks passed, would send Sasuke a message – and perhaps bruise his ego a little – and, ultimately, help him move on.

This cunning plan was put to the test when Sakura happened upon Sasuke one night as she was leaving work. He was leaning against one of the lampposts that marked the end of the hospital's walkway, half in shadow, half in light. His hair was freshly cut and his clothes were new: deep blue replaced the Otogakure grey; his family's red fan superseded the Sound crest.

Sakura waved at him, thinking that it was a chance meeting, and was ready to walk on by, until Sasuke said, "Do you have a minute?"

That was when Sakura realized that it wasn't a chance meeting: he'd been waiting for her where he knew he'd find her. She slowed her steps and came to a halt beside him. Then, with an effort, she made civil small talk with him, about how he was doing, and whether he was getting settled in, and where he was living now, and how he was finding Konoha after so long…

Eventually, all of the generic questions were asked and the conversation came to an awkward standstill.

"I should go–" began Sakura.

"You look nice tonight," said Sasuke. "I mean, you always do, but…"

Sakura looked down at herself (a jacket haphazardly thrown over scrubs; hair in a ponytail; unsexy shoes). "Um... Thanks. Listen, I really have to–"

"Why don't I ever see you around?"

Sakura blinked at this interruption, the second in as many awkward seconds. Clearly, Sasuke had an agenda. He had adopted a casual pose, hands in his pockets, leaning against the lamppost, but his shoulders looked tense. His eye contact with her was brief and fleeting.

If this weren't Sasuke Uchiha in front of her, Sakura would've thought she was making this man nervous.

"Yeah – I haven't been around much. Running this place takes precedence over my social life," said Sakura, tilting her head towards the hospital's low silhouette across the grounds.

"I figured," said Sasuke, eyeing the hospital instead of her. "Do you ever get a night off?"

"Sometimes," said Sakura. "But we're so busy that I like to volunteer in the ER when I can…"

"Right." Sasuke's black gaze sought hers and then withdrew. "Well – next time you're off, let me know. We can catch up. Do drinks."

"Drinks...?" repeated Sakura.

Distantly, her brain was telling her, oh my god, Sasuke had just asked her out.

...Which meant that he didn't know anything about anything, this genius, yet dumb, Uchiha. He didn't know he was ten years too late.

"Yeah," said Sasuke. "Drinks. Like, you, me, a bar. Or a restaurant. Whatever you want. I don't care."


Damn Shizune and Ino for having been right, damn them. Sasuke didn't know. Which meant that she had to tell him. She had to have that awkward, dreaded conversation with him, and tell him that that her little girl's love for him was gone forever, largely through his doing. She wouldn't have a better opportunity than right now: he'd just raised the issue, though inadvertently, and they were alone…

This would've been so much easier if he'd just been exiled to the sticks to think about the terrible things he'd done so she wouldn't have to deal with him.

Sakura had turned down her fair share of men in her day, but this one... this one came with baggage.

"I can't really – I can't really do drinks. But we could have coffee together?" proposed Sakura with a hesitant smile.

Sasuke blinked at her. "...Coffee?"

"Yes," said Sakura. "Coffee. As – as friends."

Sakura had never heard a silence as loud as the one that followed that particular suggestion.

"As friends," repeated Sasuke at length, as though he might not have heard her correctly, or she might have misspoke.

"Yes," said Sakura with false cheeriness. "It'd be fun. We can see if Naruto and Kakashi are free…"

Sasuke stared at her in mute astonishment.

Did he understand, now? Or did she have to make this even more crystal clear?

Were boys always this obtuse?

"...You don't want to go out with me," said Sasuke at length.

"Not – not romantically, no."

Sasuke exhaled sharply. Something of that old temper, of that old entitlement, was rekindling in his eyes as he looked at her. He took a step closer to her, studying her face openly for the first time during this exchange.

"You're messing with me," he said. A disbelieving grin flashed, briefly, across his face. "I didn't think you'd be the type. But, hey. If you wanna do the hard to get thing, we can do that. I probably deserve it, or whatever."

So he still didn't understand. He was going to make her spell this out for him, painfully, word by word.

"I'm not messing you," said Sakura. "I'm not interested in you that way."

"Yeah, right," said Sasuke, taking another step closer. "You've been in love with me for years."

His hand drifted to her chin and she felt the intention there, a vague intention to tilt her face up and maybe kiss her.

The wrongness of it made her feel ill.

"I was in love with you," corrected Sakura, flicking his hand away and taking a step back. "Was. Past tense. Not anymore."

Sasuke was left with his hand raised to empty air. He brought it back down to his side with forced casualness.

"You're serious."


Briefly their eyes met and she saw hurt in his. (But it was only a fraction, a minute fraction, of the hurt he'd done to her...)

"You really don't…?" asked Sasuke, still a little dumbfounded, still hoping this was a power play on her part, or a bad joke.


He was quiet for a moment. Then, turning to the black sky above instead of her, he asked, "Why?"

There was no succinct answer to that question; a thousand things had played into the why. Nevertheless, Sakura tried to keep it brief, to make this less awful for the both of them.

"It's been ten years, Sasuke."

"And...? It hasn't been ten years since you made your little deal with Orochimaru. You loved me then – why else would you have agreed to it?"

"I agreed because he would've killed me otherwise," said Sakura. "That was always the bottom line with him. But, yes, obviously, there were other reasons – I cared about you; I didn't want you to be taken by him; you were important to me. And those things still hold true. It's a – a different kind of love…"

Sasuke's face remained expressionless as he processed this information. Then she saw a flicker of something dangerous in his black eyes. His fist tightened at his side. Of course he was getting angry: first she'd rejected his request for a date, and then his kiss, and now she was rejecting him – all of him.

And he was so – so entitled, standing there, glaring at her, like she had somehow wronged him, that Sakura's own temper began to simmer. "There's no need to get pissed at me. I haven't done anything wrong. I don't owe you anything."

"I have good reasons to be pissed," said Sasuke.

"No," said Sakura, and the simmer spattered into a flare. "No, I have good reasons to be pissed. I loved you. I gave you my heart. But I was too annoying. I was weak, I was stupid. Those are actual quotes. And then, with those loving words – and a punch to my head – you left."

Sasuke shook his head. "I had other things to deal with than a clingy little girl. Okay? I'm done dealing with those things now. I'm back. I didn't think you'd be this fickle…"

"Fickle?" repeated Sakura. Her own fists clenched – a dangerous development for Sasuke, though he probably didn't know it. "You fucked off for eight years before I heard from you again – and only then because I'd been kidnapped by the Sound. Eight years, during which I risked my ass to try to find you, time and time again. And I pined, and I longed, and I loved…! Fickle?! Are you serious?"

Sasuke opened his mouth to answer but Sakura didn't give him the chance. "I get that you had other things to deal with than a clingy little girl. I get that. I also get that those things were so vastly important, so all-consuming, that you couldn't find five minutes – three minutes – one measly minute – in all those years, to send a message and say, hey, I'm alive you guys, so maybe I wouldn't be crying my heart out over you every night"

"I had a cursed seal eating at my goddamn brain," said Sasuke with a sharp gesture towards his forehead. "If you think I even so much as thought about you once during all that time…"

Wow. Wow, that hurt. Sakura blanched and took a step back. "...Not even once?"

Sasuke clenched his jaw and tried to backtrack: "I don't know. I don't remember. Those years are just darkness."

"And now?" asked Sakura.


"You just asked me out. You just tried to kiss me. What's the deal?"

"I don't – I – You're not a little girl anymore. You've changed, okay? And I've changed. I'm seeing clearly again and I…"

Sasuke trailed off. Sakura waited for him to continue but he said nothing further.

"I don't understand what you're saying," said Sakura. "So, what? Now you're back, and now I check off your boxes? Now I'm pretty and I'm smart, and you think you just get to come back and carry on like nothing happened…? Did you expect me to wait forever?"

"Maybe that's what I hoped."

Sakura fell silent, at a loss for what to tell him.

Then, for a long moment, they stared at one another, and the gulf between them yawned wider the longer the silence endured.

It was Sasuke who broke it. "Is there someone else?"

And Sakura's sore heart answered before her brain could filter it: "Yes."

Sasuke hadn't expected this answer. He stared fixedly into the distance, his jaw clenched, before spitting out, "Who?"

"I don't want to tell you."


"Because it's none of your business."

"Why? Is it someone embarrassing?" asked Sasuke, a little of the old snideness making a comeback.

"No," said Sakura.

"Lee. Shino."




"Some civilian?"


"Then who?" Sasuke's fists were at his side again; he looked like he wanted to shake her. "Why're you being so cagey?"

"Because, like I said, it's none of your damn business."

"Right. Whatever. Just tell me it isn't the goddamn Kaguya..."

Sakura opened her mouth and closed it again, finding herself unable to flat out deny it. Her lack of an answer was all the confirmation that Sasuke needed.

He stared. "You're fucking kidding me."


"No way." Sasuke held his hands to his forehead. "This is a joke, you're fucking with me…"

"I'm not."

For the second time that evening, Sasuke fell into speechless disbelief.

"You're seriously telling me," he said at length, "that the someone else is Kimimaro? A runaway of Orochimaru's? A missing-nin? Shit, Sakura. You've got some pretty low standards."

"You set the bar extremely low, yes," said Sakura, anger adding a vicious edge to her words. "I mean – he's never hit me. He's never tried to kill me. Imagine that."

The insult, boomeranged back at him, must've smarted; Sasuke's jaw was clenched again.

"He left his village for me – not the other way around. And," said Sakura, looking in the direction of her apartment, where Kimimaro waited, "he loves me. That's a novel thing, for me. I'm still getting used to the idea."

"What if I did?" asked Sasuke.

If he thought to manipulate her with that possibility, he was utterly misguided. That ship had sailed years ago – and sunk.

"I no longer base my decisions on what-ifs," said Sakura. "I did that once and it was the worst mistake of my life."

"You're calling me a mistake."

"I'm saying giving you my heart to stomp on was a mistake," said Sakura. "And I won't do it again."

Sasuke stared at her, shook his head faintly, swallowed.

"I'm done here," he said after a beat. "I'm done with your moralizing and your blaming–"

"Fine," said Sakura.

"–and your denial, and all this bullshit–"

"Goodnight, Sasuke," said Sakura, turning away from him.

"You'll come back to me."

"I won't."

Sasuke glared at her, turned, and stalked off without another word.

Sakura carried on down the walkway. As she passed the lamppost that Sasuke had been leaning against earlier, a little splash of colour at its base caught her eye: there was a bouquet of flowers tucked into the grass behind it.

She heaved a sigh at the sight, understanding now what Sasuke had thought he'd see happen tonight: a little chit-chat, him asking her out, her agreeing, and him giving her those flowers, and maybe some making out against the lamppost…

And things hadn't gone that way. Not even remotely. Because he was too late – too late by a decade. Too late by a broken heart.

It was over.

Sakura found herself waiting to fight tears that never came.