Author's Notes: Written for 50 Alternates. This is a SasuSaku AU that is part of my "society" series of Naruto AUs set in modern-day New York City. The whole universe revolves around the pairings found in my fic "Seasonal Society," (and then a few more!), which is NejiTen-based. The other story currently existing in this series is "Professional Secrets," (ShikaTem) and more are in progress. So if you're interested, keep an eye out!
Note: Thanks to Kriste-chan and Lau-kun for their constructive assistance. I realize I have fictionalized some of the condition described in this story, but it's all in good fun. XD
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
Young and Brilliant
Sasuke Uchiha knew he shouldn't have taken the night off. Parking the car, he didn't even bother to turn off the ignition before getting out and sprinting through the hospital parking garage and into the main building.
Inside, his pace slowed fractionally as he effortlessly dodged anxious visitors and employees with medicine carts. It two hours into Saturday, and that meant weekend crowds at the city hospitals: gang shooting victims, the wives of abusive, alcoholic businessmen, children hit by dozing taxi drivers. His coal-colored eyes took in every detail until he arrived at the central help desk on the ground floor.
"Yushiro Sarutobi," he demanded, voice hard and clipped with his expectation for cooperation.
The young man on duty, his nametag labeling him as an intern, afforded him a baffled look from eyes much too wide, a Styrofoam cup of coffee halfway to his lips.
"The mayor of New York City," Sasuke furthered, practically growling the words.
"I know who it is," snapped the intern. Temper subsiding, he went on in a lower tone, "Who are you? The mayor's information is classified. No one's supposed to know he's even here."
Sasuke took three seconds to reconstruct his rapidly-dissolving patience, though he would have much preferred to strangle the intern and go on to find a competent employee with a willingness to assist him. Instead, "I'm his chief of security," he bit out.
The intern looked at him suspiciously; no doubt sure he was doing his town a favor by using caution with this dark-haired, dark-eyed man. The Uchiha began to reconsider his earlier decision, his fingers starting to itch.
"He's in examination," the intern said at last. "But he'll be in room 805, top floor. You should ask for Doctor—"
Sasuke tore off through the throng without waiting to listen. He already knew who he needed.
Upon arriving on the eighth floor – after one excruciating elevator ride that left him entirely too alone with his thoughts – Sasuke scanned the less bustling corridor for anyone with wrinkles. He caught the gaze of a gray-bearded custodian – perfect. Striding purposefully over, he pulled a crisp bill from the pocket inside the leather jacket he wore.
"Mayor Sarutobi," he intoned quietly to the older man. "What's his condition?"
The custodian took a careful glance around before quietly replying, "He ingested mercury somehow." Not seeing the way Sasuke's free hand tightened into a fist, he eyed the hand that held the money. "They've pumped his stomach, but it'll be a problem if it bonds to his bloodstream. Gonna take work, gonna have to happen quick."
"Thank you," Sasuke said curtly before leaving him with his mop and his extra cash. He knew the ropes; find the older ones; they knew what was going on. If it was a janitor, even better. They had nothing to do but listen. As he headed toward the eastern wing, he drew his cell phone from a pocket in his jeans like a knight drew a sword from the sheath.
He dialed. As soon as the evenly spaced beeping ended and was replaced by a lazy greeting ("Hellooo?), Sasuke knew this evening would rely on the questionable sobriety of his contact.
"Hmm?" came the thick but decidedly female response. "Is this Sasuke?"
"Sasuke, you know, I've always wondered how you have the shitty gall to call me just 'Tsunade.' I've got letter after my name, you know!"
The security chief determined Tsunade was indeed intoxicated but probably still serviceable. "Tsunade, I need you to stop drinking and come save the mayor's life."
Tsunade apparently had no trouble understanding him through her drunken haze. There was a short but incredibly tense pause, in which Sasuke bothered to think how odd it was that the best doctor in the city of New York was, behind closed doors, a perfect candidate for hosting a panel at an AA convention. "Are you at Manhattan General?"
"Is it critical?"
"Will he die without me and then you'd be screwed, career-wise?"
Another pause, this time from Sasuke. "Yes."
"Can't help you."
His temper lit like paper catching fire, and with her, he didn't bother to disguise it. "Why not? Goddamn it, Tsunade—"
"I know I told said you could always come to me, Sasuke, and don't think I regret helping you that time you got shot." Her tone was calm, professional, but tinged with sternness. "But I'm officially retired. Fifty-three is too old for saving Republicans – Democrats too."
Sasuke had the rising urge to throw his fist at the closest wall and see the plaster cave in. He wanted to call her on the fact that he knew her to be fifty-five. Threats came to his mind, ways he had played before. He could tell the media about her refusal of help, tell about the years-long affair Tsunade was still in with a frisky ex-Marine named Jiraiya. Before any of this could be voiced, however, his conversation partner spoke up.
"Of course, there's no reason why you can't have my protégée."
Sasuke's whole mind narrowed to that last word. "Protégée?"
"I believe in the passing on of knowledge, Sasuke." There was a touch of amusement in Tsunade's voice now. "Actually, since you're at Manhattan General, she has most likely been assigned to the case already."
"I'm done talking." The idea of a "new Tsunade" had restored both his hope and his taciturn behavior. "Just tell me who it is."
"A very young, very brilliant surgeon. She flew through her schooling so fast and so well that Manhattan General pretty much gobbled her up, and I instructed her personally; Doctor Sakura Haruno." Tsunade hurried to add, "By the way, Sasuke, you really know how to sober a lady. Now I'll have to start all over."
Sasuke flipped his phone shut, knowing Tsunade would be as satisfied with the last word as she would with a goodbye, and rushed toward room 805.
The room was found empty. He was informed by a nurse he passed that Mayor Sarutobi was already in surgery. Sasuke felt his body tighten muscle by muscle until he was so coiled he might have detected each individual nerve. He disliked this state of knowing things last. He wanted to meet the doctor operating on his charge, concerned by the idea of her being "very young," as Tsunade had mentioned. His worry might have been hypocritical, or, at the very least, misplaced – he had only recently turned twenty-six himself and was heading the team for the mayor of New York's security.
And look what happened, he thought bitterly. As soon as he got his hand on Suigetsu, his replacement for the evening…
The thought was left unfinished when he was approached by a slender, black-haired woman wearing a white coat and a frown. "Mr. Uchiha?" she queried.
Sasuke stepped away from the wall he'd been leaning against and unfolded his arms to face her. "Are you Sakura Haruno?"
"No, sir, I'm Shizune, Doctor Haruno's aid. I was in the operating room when Tsunade removed that bullet from your lung – four years ago, wasn't it?" When he didn't respond, Shizune sighed. "I'm here to tell you Mayor Sarutobi is still in surgery. He's survived the last hour. If he survives three more, Doctor Haruno predicts he will be past the critical stage. Do you have any idea how the mayor got mercury into his system?"
Sasuke told her he knew nothing, keeping his expression neutral. The same question was slowly driving him mad. Judging from the time Suigetsu had phoned and informed him of Sarutobi's hospitalization, it would have had to have been during dinner; exactly eight o' clock. Sarutobi was meticulous about taking his meals at a uniform time.
"If Doctor Haruno is able to remove the mercury from his body, she may be able to deduce the method on her own," Shizune said. "Why don't you wait in the lobby? There's coffee, and you'll be more comfortable."
How the woman could have fathomed comfort was of any significance to him now, Sasuke did not know. It wasn't until Shizune promised to immediately inform him of any fresh news that he did as she urged.
The next three hours consisted of phone calls made between copious amounts of black coffee. He went so far as to call Asuma Sarutobi, the mayor's only child and captain of the NYPD investigation unit, both to inform him of his father's condition and to ask if there were any case files involving a similar occurrence. Captain Sarutobi promised to take a look, expressing curiously little concern for the mayor. Weirdly enough, the high-ranking officer actually asked after Sarutobi's secretary, who was fine, instead.
The night continued at what seemed a grueling pace. Occasionally, Shizune would come out to offer him theories but no concrete reasons for how the mayor had been so strangely poisoned. Doctor Haruno remained unseen, never stepping a foot out of the operating room.
At last, nearly fifteen minutes after the initial three hours had ended, Shizune returned for what Sasuke counted as the seventh time. The aid managed to look bleary and focused simultaneously. Sasuke glanced at a wall clock and saw the time going on five A.M., noting that the former assistant to Tsunade had taken in far less caffeine than he had.
"Well, Mr. Uchiha, I'm pleased to tell you that the mayor is out of surgery and is now resting in his room. He should heal nicely." Shizune's face hosted an expression of triumph.
Cool relief pervaded Sasuke. "So the operation was fairly simple then."
Shizune's eyes widened. "No, Mr. Uchiha, not at all. It's just that Doctor Haruno is…excuse me, it's too early for me to think of a more fitting word…she's just that good. She has asked to meet with you," she continued, "to convey a few things. If you'll come with me?" At his nod, she guided him out of the waiting room.
He followed, weaving through a labyrinth of wings and alcoves until they reached an office with the label Sakura Haruno, MD, on the open door.
"Sakura," Shizune announced as they walked in, "this is Mr. Uchiha, Mayor Sarutobi's chief of security."
Sasuke saw her standing at an enormous window running all along the eastern wall. A flash of short pink hair stood out over the white collar of a coat identical to Shizune's. She turned at the introduction and, like a blow to the gut, he was winded by eyes the color of sea waves at night.
Not the color, he realized, so much as everything within the eyes had him inwardly careening. She wasn't smiling, but there was exhilaration in the green; utmost joy at having rescued an important man from a horrible death. Sasuke was sure he hadn't seen such a thriving spirit in years.
"Mr. Uchiha, thank you for coming." He voice was unmistakably tired but still strong from her victory. "I imagine it's been a difficult night for you."
As she moved closer, he caught a scent; freshly cut flowers overlaid with sweat. "I doubt it was more difficult than yours," he conceded, revealing nothing in face or tone. "How did you manage to get the mercury out?"
Sakura did smile then, a tad of self-accomplishment. "Would you like to see?"
Shizune left them, and Sasuke followed the doctor – who was, he noted from a few paces behind her, perfect in figure – to another section of the floor.
"I tend to hand this over to the police," she said as they came to a locked cabinet, and she produced a key. "It was frustrating how much there was. But we reduced the mercury to a harmless amount."
Sasuke watched as she produced from the cabinet a 32-ounce Ziploc bag, filled with silver, shifting mercury. There were bubbles of ruby-like droplets floating within – traces of the mayor's blood that hadn't been filtered out.
"The crucial point was keeping the mercury from reaching his aorta," Sakura informed him. "What we did was open the flesh over his heart and gathered mercury as it traveled. The procedure itself demanded care, but the greatest worry was the mayor's age." Tucking the bag back into the cabinet, Sakura turned to him. His gaze was right on her, and he saw her set her eyes on an indirect point, then another – anything but him. "He isn't exactly young, so survivability was a question. But he has a very strong will, so—"
Sakura blinked at the interruption. "Yes," she agreed, unbalanced by the sudden comment. "He did very well."
Sasuke had hardly been aware of saying anything, but he had been referring to her. Yet he didn't bother to correct her assumption. Falling back into silence, he allowed her to lead him to the mayor's room. A Plexiglas window looked in – he would have to order the blinds be drawn to stave off any early publicity. But he watched the old man, void of his usual suit and tie, sleeping undisturbed and lulled by the rhythm of beeping monitors.
"There's another thing I should tell you about," began Sakura, unbutton her coat as she spoke. "We discovered that the mayor's alcohol level was high enough for him to be decently inebriated at the time of consumption."
A bell went off in his mind. "He has a brandy every night with his meal. We only check the bottles once, just after they're opened," Sasuke told her at once, "but only the security and household staff know about that."
"We all have our vices, Mr. Uchiha."
"Sasuke," he said quickly, resenting the proper address. He felt ridiculous being treated so politely by someone so close to his age. His voice was not as sharp this time, however.
For just a moment, her eyes softened. "Sakura," she returned.
But then the moment was gone as naturally as it had come, and the two resumed their rightful places – he cool detachment, she firm professionalism.
Sasuke noticed, then, that she had stripped off her medical coat. Underneath she wore a scarlet blouse that could have used ironing and a plain black skirt that fell to just above her knees. Her shoes were sensible flats. And she was no longer a doctor.
"Are you on break?" he asked without thinking.
She nodded wearily. "Finally," she replied on a half-laugh, lifting a hand to massage her drooping eyelids.
"Would you have breakfast with me?"
Sakura stopped rubbing her eyes in order to stare at him. Sasuke wondered what the hell he was doing – first he'd noticed her eyes, then her scent, then her body (in that order, oddly enough) and had progressed to breakfast in less than fifteen minutes. He couldn't even remember actively asking a woman out in the last five years, and now he was doing it at possibly the most inappropriate time.
Sakura recovered from the obvious surprise and gave a tentative, regretful smile. "To be honest, I don't really—"
His cell phone went off, saving him from what was sure to be a gentle and humiliating rejection. Sasuke felt briefly relieved and picked up. "Suigetsu," he snapped, remembering who exactly had replaced him during this mishap.
"Sasuke, I found that damn little mercury shit. It was a pitiful Republican psycho, on the staff, switched out the old man's brandy. Trying to help out his party for the next election. Chem major or something. Sarutobi's son came and went with the bastard."
Crude as ever, Sasuke observed, but liked him a little more for his energy. "Any message for Sarutobi?"
"Damn it, what do you think?"
No. The two had, after all, been more or less estranged since before either Sasuke or Suigetsu had started working with either of them. "Call the captain and tell him—" He flicked a glance at Sakura, who was trying to look like she wasn't listening to his end of the call. "Tell him Doctor Sakura Haruno saved his father's life."
"Yes, sir," agreed Suigetsu, and Sasuke terminated the call. He turned to Sakura before she could say anything, deciding the best course of action would be to pretend he had never strayed from his usual lack of involvement. "If you're as good as Tsunade told me you are, then I suspect you'll be offered government employ soon, Sakura." Saying her name was more enjoyable than he'd expected.
Sakura's cheeks went slightly pink, a thing he couldn't help but find charming, if inconveniently distracting. "I've already been approached about it, actually."
His response came in a monotone. "Congratulations." He needed to get to the hospital security office. He had instructions to give and press to subdue. Focus was what he required, not a damnably attractive female surgeon. Spinning on his heel, Sasuke continued on without a goodbye, sure she was ready for the awkwardness to end as much as he was.
And hearing his name coming from her was even more enjoyable than the reverse. Damn it.
She caught up and was smiling. "I was going to say I really don't eat breakfast. My schedule's a little too uncertain for it." Her eyes gleamed as he looked down in piqued interest. "But I go to the gym two blocks down every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday."
They parted so he could get back to his job and she could get some needed rest. The coming day was sure to be as difficult as the night had been for Sasuke. Going over things to take care of in his mind, he entered the nearest elevator and headed down.
But he paused to consider that he could stand a workout or three next week. He didn't even notice it when his lips quirked up in an anticipatory smirk, feeling young and brilliant himself.