Authors note: Almost a month exactly. How exciting.
I need a beta. Desperately. Contact me if interested.
Not Just a girl
Not Just a Bet
It took Shizune a week to get to Suna. In that time Sakura avoided them like the plague.
Logically it shouldn't have been possible for a blind woman confined to a hospital bed to avoid two visitors, but Sakura managed.
It didn't matter when they came in, noon or the crack of dawn or during the hours when visitors weren't even allowed, there was always someone there with her. Sometimes it was that boy, and they both refused to call him anything else. It was standard policy not to know the names of the people you were going to kill. Sometimes it was one of the sand siblings (far too often it was Gaara, they were beginning to contemplate the political ramifications of killing him). But even more often it was someone they had never met.
When they came into the room Sakura would lift her head momentarily, and turn it in the direction of the chakra, or the noise, or the pure presence of the men who used to be (and still were) hers, and then she would go back to talking to whoever was sitting by her bedside (or on her bed). She would then proceed to ignore them.
It hurt Naruto more than it did Sasuke. Sasuke understood that she was angry with them, and that she would want to make them crawl. He even understood that they probably deserved it (which did not mean he was not attempting to figure out a way to get her back without crawling, he hated crawling, well he hated crawling most of the time...). That wasn't to say it didn't hurt him, and subsequently piss him off (Sasuke didn't like feeling hurt, he didn't know what to do about it, but it was easy enough to channel hurt into rage, and Sasuke knew what to do with rage better than most people), but it hurt Naruto more.
It reminded him of the days before he had forced people to respect him with his strength and his smiles. Days when no one would serve him but the kindly family who worked at the ramen bar; times when he went weeks without talking to anybody. And he didn't like suddenly feeling that way again. Especially from the woman who had been his best friend before she became his lover. He had managed to convince himself that it was all a misunderstanding. That Sakura would forgive them as soon as she saw them (Sakura was so good at forgiveness, so bad at holding a grudge that he'd been so sure she wouldn't be able to do it to the men who meant the most to her. He didn't really understand that its worse when the people you love hurt you, even harder to forgive).
They'd tried talking to her. Naruto had tried begging. But she'd just paused, and for a second she'd looked torn and small and heartbroken, but then she turned back and listened to Jaegar describe her flowers.
The operation had taken two days. They hadn't slept. Naruto had paced outside the door, glaring at the clock approximately once a minute, and Sasuke had just sat there, never taking his eyes off of the second hand slowly ticking by. Shizune had come out exhausted after the first day, and Naruto had taken one look at her weary, defeated face and decided it meant Sakura would never see again.
Sasuke had thought the same thing.
But the next day Shizune had walked out with a huge grin on her face, and Naruto's answering grin had been twice the size and almost as touching as the small smile that Sasuke didn't even try to hide.
It had taken another week before they had let Sakura leave the hospital, a week longer than she had been willing to spend in the hospital, and only the knowledge that once she was out it was going to be a whole lot harder to avoid being alone with Sasuke and Naruto had kept her from breaking out.
The first actual sight of them in years had made her heart stop for just a minute. She didn't remember them being so beautiful. Naruto was so bright he actually hurt her eyes for a moment, he'd grown into something resembling the sun, and she couldn't look at him for too long before having to look away. And Sasuke was something else entirely. He'd been like midnight once, cold and dark with flashes of brightness, but now he'd changed, thawed somehow, and she lacked the experience to describe him.
Her heart had stopped for a second, and then started to beat so fast that the heart monitor began beeping at a rate that would have any Konoha nurse in her room in less than a minute. She'd been displeased to note that it had taken the Suna nurses five minutes to respond.
Naruto had, of course, rushed straight to her side, frantic and worried and so adorable that it had made her heart hurt. She'd brushed him off, as coldly as she could, and almost winced when his face had fallen so dramatically. But she'd looked away, and she'd steeled her resolve. She wouldn't, couldn't, allow herself to give up what she had slaved to gain. Being able to live without them had taken forever but she had learned to push back to gnawing emptiness, to find fulfillment in training, in learning.
She'd turned away from them, and ignored them whenever she could, focusing all her attention on her visitors, her other visitors; she'd talked to the nurses who came in; she'd talked anyone but them.
They'd gone home (and she'd been livid when she'd found out that by home they meant her apartment. Her wonderful apartment with windows and clutter and her things, she was certain they had come in and cleaned it up, and changed it and made it theirs and she didn't approve). It had been the first time all week that they'd both left her side, and she suspected that they wanted to... relieve some stress. The nurses had had to promise them that she would be there when they returned, and Sakura felt a little bad about forcing her hand, but it was about time for her to learn that she shouldn't make promises that she couldn't keep.
She'd been long gone by the time they got back. They'd given her a cane and a pair of large, remarkably ugly sunglasses. She'd taken them both, but thrown the cane in disgust after only a few minutes, determined that she could, and would walk on her own. So she did.
She considered going to Jaegar's apartment (hotel room?) but she realized to her shame that she hadn't asked him where he was staying. And it would be the first place they came to look for her. And she just wanted some time alone, to strengthen her resolve, and think.
She'd considered running again, but it was just impractical. She was injured, and she couldn't go back to her apartment with them there (ruining, perverting her space). She knew, logically, that she couldn't avoid them forever, and that putting it off was borderline immature, but she couldn't bring herself to care.
She ended up wandering the streets looking into stores and convincing herself that being in a escaping from the Akatsuki and then being in a coma for forever meant that she totally deserved the gorgeous pink drops in the boutique. And that her two ex-lovers showing up meant she got to buy the matching dress, the one that stopped her heart the second she put it on. It fit like a glove, with no back and a slit up to her thigh.
She wasn't sure why she deserved the shoes (strappy stilettos that could kill a man), or the matching necklace. Or the hair piece, but she was sure that she did.
She's just finished purchasing the ensemble designed to make men fall on their knees and beg (hell, she'd fall on her knees and beg) when they got up with her. Surprisingly it wasn't just Sasuke and Naruto, Jaegar had tagged along for the ride and was looking more pissed off than she'd ever seen him.
He was flushed, the red color standing out in unflattering splotches against his very pale skin. And he was panting. She couldn't help but compare him to Naruto and Sasuke who looked cool and collected even in heat she wouldn't hesitate to term sweltering.
She considered addressing them, and then considered how much easier it would be to simply pretend that they didn't exist. And thus she turned to her student and smiled a smile that was, in her opinion, truly a winning smile.
"Hi!" She rubbed the back of her head sheepishly.
He glared, Sasuke glared, Naruto started to yell. "Sakura-chan! They said to take it easy. Shopping isn't easy. And why are you shopping? You are supposed to be in the hospital. You promised you'd be in the hospital."
Sakura felt the leash she normally kept on her temper fraying before snapping, the sound
reverberating in her mind. "I didn't promise anything" her voice was cool, was level, was perfectly polite, it was also furious. "You made the nurse promise that I would be there when you got back. As though you should have some say in the way my life is run. I left because I wanted to get away from you." Her voice was slowly raising.
Jaegar shuddered. The last time he had seen her this angry she'd beat up the shopkeeper so badly that he hadn't been able to completely heal him. She was glorious in her anger. And she was terrifying. To his surprise the two men didn't seem to even notice her anger. Well The Dark One (he refused to think of them by their names, rivals did not deserve names) had smirked a little, but beyond that neither of them were half as intimidated as he was. The Golden One had simply snarled and grabbed her arm and dragged her off.
"We need to talk." He snarled at her, and it was the single most terrifying thing he'd ever heard. He moved to take Sakura from him, to protect her from the clearly insane man who was dragging her along, ignoring the fact that she was limping rather badly. He'd been surprised when she simply snarled back and planted her feet, with a tiny little wince that most wouldn't even have noticed.
The Dark One looked on, almost as if he were amused. Almost as if her were proud. Almost as if her were turned on. It made Jaegar's head hurt.
The Golden One bared his teeth. Sakura bared her pulled her lips back from her teeth in a grotesque imitation of a smile. The Dark One looked even more turned on. The People Of Suna looked on with the same kind of morbid fascination that Jaegar did.
"You want to talk about it here? Fine. Lets make a scene" The Golden One threatened. Sakura frowned.
"I don't want to talk about it at all you idiot. I want you to get your stuff the hell out of my apartment. And I want you to go straight to hell. Or barring that at least Konoha. The future Hokage shouldn't be spending so much time away anyway." She attempted to jerk her arm away from The Golden One, but his fingers tightened around her wrist. Squeezing so hard that she gave a muffled little scream and dropped her shopping bag. The Dark One swooped in to pick it up, and take the other bags from her hand.
The Dark One looked at The Golden One and spoke for the first time in this interlude. "You're hurting her. Stop squeezing." The Golden One looked momentarily horrified and loosened his grip before his face tightened and he glared.
"That's not an option." This time when he began to pull her she followed him. Her face set in a hard mask of anger and pain. Jaegar moved to follow when The Golden One turned around and spoke "Stay". There was anger and death in his tone and Jaegar almost listened to him. Before realizing that it would mean leaving Sakura alone with them. Jaegar moved to follow.
He heard her shout "Sasuke-kun no!" the same second he felt his hand on his cheek. It was nothing more than a slap, which was insulting enough. What was worse was that the slap tossed him into the wall. His head connected with a sickening crack and he was tossed brutally into unconsciousness.
Sakura watched her student hit the wall and howled.
"You bastard. You asshole. You-" What followed was a truly impressive string of expletives as Sakura attempted to struggle out of Naruto's hold to race to her student. Or to attack Sasuke (who was still holding her shopping).
"He'll be fine." Sasuke said confidently. "Let's go."
So they went, dragging Sakura behind them as she tried not to limp.
She came home to find that her apartment had in fact been cleaned up. Things organized in a manner that assured her it would take months for her to be able to find everything again, and the anger that had been steaming inside her head reached the boiling point.
Naruto had released her wrist the second they came into her apartment and she moved her hand to rub at her leg before walking confidently to her couch and sitting down. Her had still rubbing absently and her cat curled up on her lap.
She stared up at them silently for a moment before speaking "You aren't welcome here. Leave" Please, she begged with her eyes. She couldn't stand being this close to them and not being with them. She loved them, and the war between her love for them shouting at her that she didn't need respect to be happy, and the voice in
her head that had gotten stronger and stronger telling her that she was too strong, too powerful, too much to settle for anyone was giving her a headache.
"No." Sasuke wondered how many more times they could have this conversation. Sakura had to realize by now that their answer wasn't going to change. She scowled, but his eyes were drawn to where she was rubbing her leg. He remembered being told that she'd been given a cane. And she definitely didn't have it with her now. He put her bags down by the door before walking over towards her.
"Where's your cane?"
She shrugged. He repeated the question. "I got tired of it. So I threw it away."
Naruto, who had almost calmed down enough to have the conversation he had been planning for almost two years went white with rage.
"Last time I checked you were a doctor. You should know better than to go walking around without your cane if the doctors say you need it."
Sakura snarled, and would have stood up if her leg didn't hurt so much. "Last time I checked you," she tossed her hand to encompass Sasuke "neither of you, had any respect for doctor's orders. Or doctor's in general." The last was whispered, and Naruto made a note to address it later.
"Maybe that's the problem Sakura. Last time you checked. The last time you checked was nearly two years ago. When you left us. Without a word. With a catty, bitchy note that we've kept this long because it was the only goddamned thing you left in the apartment. The last time you checked we were going away on a mission that you knew would be the last time we saw you in forever and you didn't even give us a fucking hint."
Sakura laughed harshly. "Is that what this is about? I didn't say goodbye. Did I hurt your feelings Naruto-chan?" Sasuke didn't like the way she was ignoring him. Naruto's knuckles were white with rage. "Fine. How's this. Goodbye Naruto. Sasuke. Get out of my apartment."
"No." Sasuke wasn't sure how he felt about Naruto stealing his part of the conversation.
"That isn't what this is about and you know it. You. Left. Us." He moved next to Sasuke in a show of solidarity.
"And how many times have you left me?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Sasuke realized the second after it came out of his mouth that it wasn't the best thing to say.
"Let's see. Where to start. How about when we were twelve Sasuke? How about when you went on a two year training trip Naruto? How about those times?"
Sasuke winced. She hadn't brought it up much, but every time either of them did he remembered leaving her on a bench. He remembered almost killing Naruto. He remembered his stupid twelve year old self, and he hated him.
"I thought we'd moved past that. Whatever happened to forgive and forget Sakura" He was surprised that the words had come through his mouth without him thinking them through. He should have learned his lesson with the last thing that he hadn't thought about.
"Fine." She allowed. "We'll forget that one. It's not like there aren't a dozen other instances to choose from."
"Name one" Naruto snarled. So incredibly angry that she was sitting there defending her choice to run away from him, from them he corrected almost automatically. He understood that she was harboring some misconceptions that had hurt her. Understood that those were probably his, and Sasuke's fault, they hadn't noticed she was unhappy, and she should have. But her choice to run away instead of coming to them with her fears and her feelings had been the wrong choice, and she couldnt seem to acknowledge it, and that was pissing him off.
Sakura started quietly. Stroking the cat seemed to calm her down. "I made Jounin. I made Jounin first. I've quite possibly surpassed my teacher in the same way you have surpassed yours. I took out two Akatsuki on my was home from healing a civilian village infected with the worst cases of smallpox I have ever seen. I can level mountains with my pinky."
They nodded. It was true.
"So Sasuke makes captain and gets to pick his own teams. And for a year we live like this. And not once does he take me on his team. Not once. I am one of the strongest ninjas alive and you tell me to keep the bed warm while you go out on missions without me."
They winced, and acknowledged that that was perhaps not the best way to phrase that, but they couldn't bring themselves to admit that they were wrong.
"We were protecting you!"
Sakura screamed. "I don't need protection!"
"Says the woman who got captured by the Akatsuki."
Sasuke could see this going downhill fast and intervened. His voice coming out slowly drawling out the words in a way that Sakura had always found irresistible, this time because he was weighing each word before it came out of his mouth.
"Naruto, let me take this one." Sakura fumed "It isn't" he began "that I didn't, don't think you capable." She raised a brow. "Our missions often involve killing, as you well know. Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should have to. You aren't like us. You aren't a killer."
She snarled and hid the fact that she was softening. "I killed my first man when I was thirteen. How about you Sasuke? Naruto?" Neither of them answered. They knew she knew. "I've lost track of the men I've killed. I do what is necessary to protect my village."
Sasuke growled and then raised his voice, the tiniest bit. "But it isn't necessary! You don't have to do it. Not when I'm here. That's why I'm here. To make sure you don't have to. You don't have to taint yourself. It upsets you. And you shouldn't have to do it."
"Sasuke." Her voice was quiet, and he wanted to shout. That wasn't his name. Not from her lips. It wasn't his name, and he wanted to go back to the time when she didn't think before she addressed him. When his real name slipped off her tongue, the result of years of practice. "Maybe, if you'd told me this then it would have made a difference."
He nearly swore. There was no nearly about what Naruto did.
"What's the problem now?"
Sakura closed her eyes. No longer angry, simply deeply sad. "That wasn't the only reason why I left Naruto-kun." Naruto snarled, Sasuke growled. The sounds were so unexpected that Sakura jumped. Sasuke wondered if he could kill Naruto to get his suffix back, before deciding that it probably didn't work that way.
"Don't call me that. Don't you ever call me that again." Sakura only looked confused. Suddenly Naruto looked defeated. "You called me that right before you left me." He looked so dejected that Sakura automatically moved to wrap an arm around him before drawing it roughly back. She wouldn't allow the fact that he missed her to override the fact that he only missed her because she acted as some sort of buffer between them. Sasuke noticed her arm moving towards Naruto and was suddenly confident again.
"Whatever your other problems are we can work them out." Naruto made the promise rashly. "Anything. Just as soon as you come back with us."
Sakura was baffled. Sasuke wanted to slap Naruto. This was not how they were supposed to bring it up. "I'm not coming back with you. I'm staying here."
Now Naruto looked confused, all his anger suddenly gone. "But Sasuke and I can't stay here. We have to get home. We have work."
Sasuke really wanted to slap him. But he figured domestic violence was not the way to convince Sakura that she wanted to move into the house they had decorated for her (it even had windows. Every time he passed one of them he twitched uncomfortably. Kind of like he did in her new apartment with as many windows as walls).
Sakura nodded. "I know."
Naruto frowned. "Then why-" Sasuke knew the minute he figured out what Sakura was saying and so did Sakura. "No. Absolutely not. We aren't leaving without you."
Sasuke wanted to signal him that this was Not The Time. But he didn't know how to do so without alerting Sakura.
"Yes you are."
"No we aren't."
"Yes. You. Are."
"No. We. Are. Not."
Seeing that this wasn't going anywhere and she was her teacher's student Sakura came up with a solution. "How about a bet?"
Naruto narrowed his eyes. So did Sasuke.
"What kind of bet?"
"You give me fifteen minutes to heal my leg. And then you meet me on training field nine. The one with all the trees." That training field made her nervous, and she enjoyed destroying it. Suna shouldn't have such an expensive training field. And they wouldn't, unless they were training their ninjas in just in case procedures.
"And?" Sasuke was intrigued.
"And we spar. I win you both pack your things, and leave. You win, I'll finish my mission within two weeks and leave with you."
Naruto didn't hesitate. "Deal."
The spar started off gently. Sasuke and Naruto didn't want to hurt Sakura. Wanted to incapacitate her quickly, but they didn't want to hurt her. And Sakura wanted to figure out how to make her plan work.
The spar gradually grew more and more into the kind of fight that made civilians fear ninjas.
None of them had any idea how long they'd been at it. Naruto and Sasuke looked bad. Bruises and cuts and maybe a broken bone or two. But they were confident. Because Sakura looked worse. It had made them both sick to hear the crunching of what could only be her bones. They both hated the bruises on her perfect skin, and resolved to end it soon.
Sakura had the same idea.
She moved behind them faster than most people could see, but at a speed that was, for them, rather sedate. But then she'd put a finger on both of their necks, very very gently. And neither of them had moved, the feeling of her touching them, willingly, after so long, pausing them in their tracks. By the time they had swung around to face her, her chakra had spiraled down.
They both moaned at the feeling of her chakra enveloping their own. Warm and silky and so incredibly intimate and sexual that it seemed wrong for it to be used out in the open the way it was. They both shuddered. The pleasure was intense. The intimacy unprecedented. And that was nothing compared to the fact that it was Sakura bringing those feelings.
They were jolted out of their pleasure by her quiet words. "I win."
"The hell you do!" Naruto shouted.
They tried to pull away and felt the most excruciating pain. Naruto cried out. Sasuke gasped. It was as if their chakra was trying to push itself from their body to stay with her.
"Idiots!" Sakura swore and released their chakra. They disliked the loss of the intimacy even more than they disliked the pain she'd caused them. She brushed a hand over both of them, making sure that they weren't seriously injured. When she drew back she swayed. Sasuke resisted the urges to actually finish the spar, or catch her.
But she caught herself and straightened.
"Watch" She walked slowly over to a tree and placed her hand on it. Sasuke could only assume she was doing that chakra thing she'd just done to them and almost growled in jealousy. Then, in less than a second, the tree exploded. Wood rained down everywhere, no single piece large enough to do any serious damage.
"I win." She repeated.
"Wow. That was so awesome Sakura-chan!" Naruto enthused. Forgetting for a moment what her winning meant he began to question her. "How'd you do it?" That's so wicked cool. Could you teach me? I want to do it! What did you do? Could you do that to a person?"
She only smiled wearily. "I don't think its something you could learn Naruto." She looked at Sasuke "I won".
He inclined his head in what she took to be acknowledgement. "I have to go speak to Gaara. You'll be gone when I get back." She didn't phrase it as a question and Sasuke shrugged, which she took to symbolize agreement.
Sakura sighed when she got back from telling Gaara all about the mission that he had sent her on that she had completed successfully. About how she suspected that the village had been poisoned to draw her out. She'd also told him that she was never, ever going on a solo mission for him again. He'd grinned a little bit. She'd asked him about opening an ice cream shop, and he'd laughed, and told her they would be more than happy to have one, even if it was a gross waste of her talents.
As she agreed with his assessment she put aside that particular aspiration until she was far too old to do anything but sit around and talk about when she was young.
Her feet hurt. Her head hurt. Her heart hurt. For some reason she'd hoped. In some deep corner of her soul, she'd hoped that they would fight for her. And they'd left. Not, she forced herself to believe, that she wasn't happy about it. Because she was.
She turned her key in the door and walked in.
Her apartment smelled of oden and dango. Her two favorite foods. Sasuke and Naruto hated them, so she assumed that Jaegar had come in and cooked her dinner.
"That smells fantastic!" She clutched her stomach. She hadn't realized just how hungry she was.
"I'm glad you think so." That wasn't Jaegar's voice. That sounded an awful lot like-
"NARUTO!" She was impressed at just how loud her voice got.
"You need more traps. Anyone could get in. Your security sucks. I'll set them up for you, since we'll be staying here."
"SASUKE!" Her voice was even louder. She was livid. And in that traitorous corner of her heart she was relieved.
And then she realized what he said.
"You will not!" And then "You are not."
Sasuke shrugged. "I will, and we are."
She put her head in her hand and resisted the urge to scream. "No!"
"Unless you are coming to Konoha with us? You can see your new room." Naruto interjected hopefully.
"No. You are leaving."
"No we aren't. Unless you want to propose another bet? I promise you that won't work on us again." Sasuke closed his eyes for a second as he remembered the pleasure before the pain. He wondered if, when she forgave them, they could get her to try that... while they were alone.
Seeing her opportunity Sakura jumped. "The bet! You promised. You'd leave. I won" Absolutely positive that they couldn't contradict her on that Sakura beamed and sat down absently at the table while Naruto filled a plate for her.
"We have the apartment next store. We won't be staying in your apartment anymore." Naruto offered the tidbit to console her, even though he hated even being that far away, and didn't think it was the best way to handle things. Sasuke had disagreed. Had told him that Sakura needed her space. And Naruto thought it would be a good idea to woo her properly. Even if he didn't see why they couldn't do that, and stay with her in her (disgustingly) blue apartment with the orange carpet. He wondered if she'd known that she'd done it.
Sakura moaned. "That was not the agreement. You promised." She took a bite of the oden, and noted that it was possibly the best thing that she had ever put into her mouth before looking imploringly at Sasuke. Sasuke had always been good at the logical.
He shrugged. "I never promised."
He smirked as she began to devour her supper. She turned to glare at Naruto and raised one eyebrow, waiting for his explanation.
He grinned wolfishly. "I lied.