…As stated in my newest story (that's right! The alerts aren't working but the first chapter is up) I do NOT own Naruto…
The stars were out. Their pale light was lost against the soft glow of the full moon. But to Sakura, who sat with her back against an aging tree, they were the brightest stars she had ever seen.
Most of the other Konoha shinobi slept. Even Sasuke, who had remained with them on their journey home, had his eyes closed as he leaned against a tree opposite the small clearing. Naruto also slept nearby, somewhat less majestic in his slumber with arms and legs splayed, snoring loudly.
Somewhere unseen, Tsunade and Jiraiya kept watch on the outskirts of camp, undoubtedly high up in the treetops.
Sakura thought she was enjoying the peace alone until a hand gently touched her shoulder.
"Eh?" She looked up, surprised to see Kakashi standing behind her. Without an invite, he plopped down beside her, saying nothing.
They sat there in companionable silence before Sakura spoke quietly. "Are you okay Kakashi-sensei?"
The older shinobi couldn't meet her green gaze. He smiled slightly, his exposed eye crinkled at the corner. "I'll be fine eventually, Sakura. How about you? How are you holding up?"
"I'll be fine too. Eventually."
She knew what he wanted to ask her, and she didn't blame him. Instead of making him say it, she volunteered the information. "It was only physical pain. Any worthwhile shinobi could have withstood it."
He studied her out of the corner of his vision. She stared up at the sky, her pale face anything but serene. He could see the memory of pain etched on her features, and he could see the irremovable scars of it in her emerald eyes. She was strong but she was still human.
She reminded him of another medic he'd once known.
Sakura was aware of her former senseis scrutiny. But as much as he wanted to hide it, he was unable to conceal his own pain from her. His worry for her wellbeing could not hide the suffering that tore him apart.
As a healer, Sakura was schooled in all kinds of pain.
She reached over hesitantly and ruffled the former ANBU captain's hair just as he had done to her all those years ago.
Completely caught off guard, Kakashi's eye went wide, but then he couldn't help but chuckle. The simple gesture was so comforting it almost brought tears to his eyes.
Sakura. You sure have grown. You've made me proud.
They sat there without saying anything else, both staring up at the night sky.
Sasuke was careful not to move as he watched his two teammates. He had debated going over to Sakura himself when she didn't fall asleep, but Kakashi beat him to it.
Something about it annoyed the Uchiha. Something about how everyone gravitated toward Sakura. Even Kakashi, who needed no one—who was friends with no one—even he wasn't immune to the strange effect she had.
Sasuke flinched mentally as he realized that the copy-nin was staring at him. His hidden watch was no longer so hidden. Sakura, however, remained oblivious.
Aware that someone else needed Sakura's healing powers, Kakashi stood and said his goodbye. He strode away from his student's confused look.
As Kakashi exited, Sasuke pushed himself away from the tree.
The pink-haired medic tensed when she realized the Uchiha was headed toward her. Since they'd left Orochimaru's lair, she'd been strangely awkward around him. Part of her still didn't trust Sasuke completely, and that realization made her even more uncomfortable.
She looked over at Naruto's sleeping form. If only I could be more like him. He's already accepted Sasuke back like a brother.
She shifted, wishing she could slip into the tree behind her, as Sasuke crouched directly in front of her. He wasn't about to allow her the option of not looking at him.
Her green eyes were irritated when she finally met his gaze.
"Why aren't you asleep?"
She shrugged. "I haven't seen the stars in a while. For all I know this could be the last time I ever see them."
"That's foolish. If we were attacked, you'd be too tired to help yourself."
"Is that why you came over here, Sasuke? To tell me I'm foolish? Well, trust me, I already know that. Thanks."
The Uchiha clenched his jaw. This wasn't the way he wanted things to go. His eyes narrowed, and he leaned in closer to her. She went to slide to the side of him, but found herself stopped by the blade of his sword. He pushed the cool metal into the tree, making an effective barrier to keep her from moving away from him.
Sakura's heart felt like it dropped into her stomach as red sharingan bore into her. She had never felt such a forceful feeling of murderous intent. He had literally frozen her in place with fear.
"Sakura," Sasuke's voice was barely audible, "your tone upsets me."
Something inside Sakura started to boil.
"I did not come over here to correct your foolishness."
The boiling feeling rose higher, and Sakura's fingers closed into a fist. His face was inches from hers. She'd never felt like her life was in danger like this before. Not even when she'd been stabbed by Sasori, or tortured by Kabuto. She'd never felt so trapped.
It angered her. And the boiling point flooded over.
Sakura broke out of her fear-induced coma and hit Sasuke square in the chest. He flew across the clearing and slid to a stop against a nearby tree.
Instantly, Sakura felt overwhelming guilt. She raced over to him, her face crimson, unable to look him in the eye. She was also aware of the sudden appearance of Kakashi at the outskirts of her vision. But just as quickly, the copy-nin was gone.
Sasuke remained where he was as Sakura healed the injury Sakura's fist had left on his chest. He watched her flushed face, amused that she felt so badly for having hurt him. He hadn't really left her any other option. Still, he was more than just slightly impressed that she had broken his hold on her. Not many people could withstand the full force of his chakra.
He gently grabbed the wrist of the hand she had on his chest. He felt her tense again. "Sakura, I only wanted to thank you."
Her green eyes flicked up to his dark ones. "You need to work on your people skills, Sasuke-kun."
He almost smiled.
She'd already forgiven him. Only Sakura and Naruto could forgive him so effortlessly. It shamed him more than he cared to admit.
"You would have run away. You're uncomfortable around me."
"You should know me better than that," she said.
He continued to hold her wrist. "I do know you better than that."
"Sasuke…please. Don't do this. I-If you're going to leave again… don't do this. Don't hurt Naruto any more."
She nodded. "You and I are the only family he has."
The Uchiha stared at her thoughtfully. "You think I'm going to leave again."
Sakura looked away from him. "The thought has crossed my mind. I mean, Sound does need a leader now…"
Sound. The word echoed in his mind. Kabuto. The sadistic medic was still out there somewhere. Sasuke instinctively pulled Sakura closer to him. He'd forgotten about Kabuto.
"Sasuke?" She snapped him back into the present, and he released her.
"I've got more important things to worry about other than Sound."
The look she gave him was guarded. "Really?"
The look he gave her froze her again. This time, however, the emotion she felt wasn't fear—it was the complete opposite.
Surprised, Sakura was unsure what to do. She settled down on her knees next to him, still reveling in the strange new impression Sasuke was giving her.
When dawn broke through the darkness, the first ray of light fell on the forehead of a slumbering Sakura.
She murmured something in her sleep, subconsciously readjusting her position against Sasuke's shoulder.
The Uchiha hadn't moved since she'd fallen asleep, and he remained where he was as Kakashi sidled up next to him.
"The others will be awake soon."
"Perhaps, for the time being, we should wake Sakura up. Unless you don't mind awkward situations."
Sasuke sighed inwardly. He knew what the former ANBU was referring to. It would raise more than a few eyebrows if people saw them together.
But instead, he only replied. "She's still sleeping."
Kakashi nodded. "Do you think she's a deep sleeper?"
Sasuke looked up at his former sensei. The man was sneakier than he'd ever realized.
As Konoha appeared in eye sight, Kakashi glanced over at his other traveling companions. He would be grateful to be able to bury Rin in the place she deserved. The copy-nin glanced over at the other shinobi carrying a precious burden.
Sasuke was unaware of his stare, the Uchiha's attention on the still sleeping form of Sakura in his arms.
Author's Note: Ooooo… what about Kabuto? Well, I guess we'll never know for sure. Maybe he'll pursue Sakura and maybe he won't. But that's for me to know, and for you to decide on your own.
Please be sure to check out my newest story " I Have Called You Friend". I don't think alerts are working, but you can find the story in my profile. First chapter is up.
Thanks again to all my faithful!