The evening was late. As she continued to leap from tree to tree it suddenly became harder to breathe and in her head she estimated that it had been at least twenty minutes since she started running. Her lungs were starting to ache from the exertion and she knew she had to stop soon.
Fleeing through the dark forest, the girl masked her presence from the hunter-nins that chased after her. They were very skilled ones, she thought, feeling a pain sweep her stomach, an injury from her earlier encounter with one of the hunters. She had not been careful enough and had allowed them to sense her as she was passing by.
She whispered an oath, cursing Orochimaru for sending her on a petty mission which involved retrieving an item from one of his spies. Along the way she encountered these Konoha ninjas, and she decided today was not a good day. It was part of her apprentice training to do odd jobs for her mentor, and although she hated it, there were reasons she couldn't abandon him as her master yet.
With the moon being the only source of light in the large dense growth of trees, it was hard to see. It was an added hindrance to an already difficult situation. She was alone, and outnumbered, and her right arm and shoulder were severely wounded.
She had to move swiftly and find a suitable location to tend to her wounds before she could faint from blood loss. A small breeze that flittered through the area made her blink and by the next moment she reopened her eyes, her body collided with something quite hard and she felt herself being knocked off the tree branch.
As she was falling, gravity getting the better of her, she braced herself, not having the energy or control to try and land safely. Landing in the ground could very well kill her. She closed her eyes instictively and waited to crash down onto hard ground.
To her surprise she didn't. When she opened her eyes she was within the embrace of strong arms and armor-clad chest. Looking up she met with a dark, familiar pair of eyes. It took her mind several moments to notice the inverted triangles tattooed beneath his eyes. As she watched the arrogant grin spread over the person's face it struck her then with recognition.
It was Inuzuka Kiba who had caught her from her fall and was carrying her with such ease. He looked a little bit older, but the way he conducted himself was still the same. They weren't friends, but they'd been in the same classroom together for several years and so he was familiar to her on some basic level. She glared at him and his eyes filled with smug delight in response. His satisfaction made her furious.
Behind him, Nara Shikamaru appeared and leaned against a tree with a yawn, only raising an eyebrow when their captive glared at him over Kiba's shoulder. Immediately she knew that he had planned to lure her in the area and she reprimanded herself mentally for falling into their trap.
"Uchiha Sasuke." She looked up to the voice. On the tree she had just fallen from, a hunter-nin stood with an air of arrogant authority. His arms uncrossed as he moved the red and white mask he was wearing to the top of his head, revealing intense pale eyes staring down at her. "By order of the Hokage, you are to come with us back to Konohagakure no Sato."
Kiba finally set her down none too carefully and wisely seized both her hands behind her in a firm grip with his larger ones. She knew it would be too risky to make an escape now. In her current condition, she knew she could not win, yet she stubbornly refused to admit defeat. She struggled, forcing Kiba to further tighten his hold.
Neji jumped down gracefully from the tree and slowly made his way to her. He reached a hand slowly to the side of her neck, and not a second later, she was out cold.
Obsidian eyes snapped open. The female panted on the bed panted as she completely awoke from an already forgotten dream. Her body glistened with sweat because of the late afternoon rays that invaded the room through the glass windows.
Sitting up and glancing around her surroundings, she found herself in one of the rooms of the all too familiar Konoha Hospital. She recalled that the last time she'd been there was five years ago, right before she had decided to pursue a promised power and had quickly left the village.
She smiled bitterly as she looked out the window. She had thought that the night of her capture had been a dream. Her situation didn't seem real enough. The Hokage had placed her under village arrest, which in her opinion was a light sentence considering that she was a traitor and an accomplice to another. But it was only for the time being, she knew despite it not being said. In a little while her situation could turn bad.
For now, she would have to go with the flow and plan things right if she wanted to escape succesfully.
Few things have changed in Konoha from what she could see from the view of her window. Her thoughts travelled to her teammates, whom she had not yet seen since she was brought back three days ago. They were ANBU now too, she heard from (or was purposely informed by) Kiba on the night of her capture. She wondered how much they have changed, if at all, and also wondered when they would come and visit her. Surely they would, she thought, and almost expected one of them to come bursting through the door at that very moment.
The door clicked open, and she stiffened in surprise as the sound interfered with her thoughts. It was only Tsunade. Sasuke willed her pounding her to relax. She tried to hide it, but she wasn't ready to face them, not now in her weakened and unsuccesful state.
She calmed herself as Tsunade prepared to inspect her.
The blonde expertly checked her injuries and overall health. She was better than when she had arrived. The wounds were healing nicely and the bruises have faded in color. She stepped back from the Uchiha's sleek form that immediately hunched back toward the pillows, her eyes staring downcast at the uninteresting white sheet that covered her from the waist down.
The lack of exchange between them bothered neither of them, and for a while Tsunade reveled in the silence as she took a seat in the only chair in the room. It was a welcome respite from her busy hours at the office where she'd either be browsing on hundreds of reports under the watchful eyes of a nagging Shizune, or engaged in a number of long meetings with groups or individuals she didn't even like. Sighing in temporary contentment she eyed the seventeen-year-old and her dishevelled long hair. Parts of the young face were obscured, but the frowning mouth and the tired eyes on Sasuke's pretty face was in perfect view.
By watching her, Tsunade felt a small smile blooming. Sasuke was still young, she thought, and there was time for her to change. Now that she was back home, maybe she would. She understood the heartache of those who were left behind by a teammate, and hoped Naruto and Sakuro could heal from that.
Glancing at the clock and seeing that a half hour had passed and she had to get back to work the village leader cleared her throat. It only earned her a brief glance from the girl, which was fine since it was more favourable than the grunt she'd gotten accustomed to during the past days.
Sasuke barely listened to whatever the Hokage was saying. She only registered a few words; something about the Uchiha manor and ANBU. It must've been the strange feeling of being back that distracted her.
"You can go home now. If there are any other questions you may come see me at my office. I assume you still know you're way around the village so I won't bother for an escort. Clothes and the keys to the manor will be brought in her shortly."
The Hokage's gaze lingered on Sasuke as she stood to leave. She had already turned away when Sasuke's voice startled her.
"We both know this is not going to last," the girl addressed to her, finally meeting her eyes when she turned her head back towards the bed. A small, calm smile made its way to Tsunade's lips as she heard those words. She knew what Sasuke was talking about.
"Just enjoy it while you can," she answered as she left through the door. ANBU would be watching the girl closely in case she tried to escape.
Finally alone, the smile faded as she considered the teenager's words and admitted to herself that she wasn't certain with what to do with the situation she had created. Already she was being rebuked by those ancient advisers regarding her decision, but she didn't want to be too ruthless. The girl was Naruto and Sakuro's friend, and somehow, she didn't want to make any decisions that may unintentionally crush those three. She didn't want them to become like her team. Those three still had a chance, and if they wanted Sasuke back this was their opportunity.
A strange sense of nostalgia wrapped around Sasuke as she walked along the all too familiar streets. Everything felt both new and old at the same time and a small bitter smile crossed her face as she ignored the looks and hushed whispers she was getting from the villagers. Such attention was not new her. It was like that ever since she was a small child, although now, instead of being admired or given sympathy they were saying spiteful and slanderous remarks.
Halfway down one street she came across a certain large restaurant that made her stop in her tracks and blink stupidly at the name. In large bold letters read: Ichiraku Ramen Restaurant. She had a feeling that a particular blond might have finally earned enough money to pay his debt. How else could the owner have earned enough income to expand? The restaurant now consumed the other small establishments that previously occupied its sides and it seemed popular judging by the people that went in and out of it.
Continuing on her way, she was too caught up in her thoughts about the changes in the village that she did not notice the person in front of her and bumped into him. It was deja vu. Just a few days ago she'd collided with another body and nearly fell to her death. When she looked up, she frowned even deeper.
The tall man in civilian clothes loomed over her, his long brown hair gathered up high in a ponytail on the back of his head and pale eyes staring daggers at her with his own frown. The tension between them was tight, and Sasuke barely spared him a glance before stepping out of his way. Hyuuga Neji wasn't someone she wanted to see today.
Spotting the end of her destination, she picked up her pace, and by arriving at the enormous arched gate of the Uchiha district she turned back sharply. A scowl was etching her features as she glowered at the man who had followed her all the way from where she knocked into him.
"What do you want," she hissed at him, venom leaking through her voice.
Stopping a few feet away from her, Neji merely raised a brow uninterestedly. "Did Hokage-sama not inform you?"
"Inform me what?" Sasuke was clearly annoyed at the situation and then remembered that the Godaime had been saying something earlier and she had not payed any attention at all.
"I am the ANBU assigned to keep an eye you." Neji said with a dry tone.
Oh. So that's what she was talking about. She frowned slightly at the revelation.
Neji watched as the Uchiha's expression turn from a glower to a thoughtful one. He received no protests as he followed her through the gates and led him past old houses along both sides of the wide, deserted streets.
He scanned the area with interested eyes as they walked on and noted that the Uchiha district was like a very small village. It was his first time stepping into this part of the village which wasn't strange at all. The Uchiha mostly kept to themselves, and there had never been a reason to come by a residential district that also belonged to a rival clan of sorts.
In addition to the houses, he observed the presence of a few small shops as well, which were of course, empty and were falling apart. He could almost imagine what it was like here in the days when people still lived here. Briefly, he wondered what it had been like for a little girl to be completely alone in an empty district, and to make it even worse it was quite secluded from the rest of the village.
It must have been a nightmare.
The house they stopped in front of was the largest one Neji had seen in the whole district and he knew immediately that it was the Uchiha clan's main house where Sasuke had grown up in. For some time she only stood, not saying a word, barely breathing. As he stood some steps behind her, the Hyuuga could only imagined the expression that claimed her face as she faced her old home, one that could only be filled with bad memories.
Sasuke fought with herself as she forced herself to move. With slightly trembling fingers, she took the keys from her pocket and shoved it into the keyhole. It had been five years since she last stepped inside the large house and a familiar dread gripped her as she opened the door and stepped inside.
Wordlessly, Neji closed the door behind him as he followed her inside. She led him to what seemed to be the living room where she left him to ponder in thought as the female went to get some tea from the kitchen. At first he wouldn't agree to let her go alone, but as he looked at her expression he knew she wouldn't run. Not right now. He would be leaving her alone eventually anyway. She was free to roam the village as she pleased, with other eyes besides his watching from the shadows.
As he gazed around the room, he was somewhat reminded of the Hyuuga manor which also exhibit traditionally styled homes and furnishings with few modern furniture and equipment. He removed his sandals and went back to the front door to place them neatly on the wooden rack adjacent to the entrance and walked back to the room. The feel of the tatami mats beneath his bare feet as he stepped was familiar and it almost felt like he was in his own home.
He sat on one of the four cushions placed on two side of the low table and awaited the return of the missing Uchiha.
It was some time before she came back and sat across from him. Not only did she serve him tea and poured for both of them, she also provided biscuits which Neji suspected Hokage Tsunade had probably supplied for her unspecified stay. The house was also clean and the clock on the wall was working. Although he disapproved of the special privileges Sasuke didn't even ask for, he was relieved that he didn't have to spend time in a house full of dust.
They drank the tea in adequate silence and both wondered if they would be doing mostly this and little else for the remaining afternoon to nightfall. They later found out that besides Neji trailing after Sasuke as she inspected the house, there was in fact little choice for them but to sit across each other without speaking.
Dinner that night was delivered to them before six o'clock along with a note to Neji telling him to go to the market to buy groceries for Sasuke tomorrow morning. And again he wondered what sort of chores would he be doing while babysitting the Uchiha. He didn't like it all. He didn't the like the idea of becoming her errand boy. He fumed and couldn't keep his eyes from narrowing as they ate together in silence.
As he went home, he'd forgotten that earlier in the day, he had almost felt sorry for what she'd gone through. To think that he would be spending his time in such a way everyday for a few days, and perhaps even more.
Notice Sakura is SakuRO. She is now a he.