Notes Edited 1/2012
Title: Zodiac Intermediate
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Characters: Sasuke/Sakura, with many other characters
Genre: Romance, Friendship
Word Count: 3432
Author's Notes: Originally posted in 2007.
No one surrenders – only contenders in this fight.
- Surrender, Angela Aki
twelve steps closer to heaven
Sasuke is an avenger. He whose family, blood and flesh and bone, has betrayed him (Itachi-nii…?), and whose sole mission in life is to kill a certain someone (I'm not your foolish little brother anymore, Itachi).
It's funny, how he spent – spends - his days lamenting the fact that he was betrayed by his brother, his wonderful, perfect older brother (Oh, him? That's Sasuke, the second son) that had somehow slipped in past everything, had gotten under his skin, like a thorn, and had never been firmly pulled out. He still lingers there, as if to dig deeper and deeper with each passing moment.
It's funny, how Sasuke can never be the same because he loved Itachi so much, and because it was the same Itachi that so ruthlessly murdered them all.
It's funny, ironic - practically hilarious: how he'd put someone else so easily in the same position. Because she loves him, though he's a traitor - because he's perfect, and because she's weak. Because -
- He's Sasuke, and she's Sakura.
Sakura… thank you.
Life is a battle to be entered into and won. Your will must prevail. All is possible; if impossible, it just takes a little longer.
"Don't tell Naruto," she says to Kakashi. He watches her with his one eye, face solemn (or at least the parts of it that she can see). The hospital is stuffy, as always, but there's some kind of tension in the air she can't exactly describe. Sakura's brows are furrowed and her hands are shaking, twisting in her lap, twisting in the fabric of the itchy hospital sheets. Naruto lays still in the bed.
When her teacher speaks, it's slow, as if he misunderstands. "Don't tell Naruto what?" Her smile is wistful (sad, full of something he sees every morning – Late again, Kakashi?) and her laugh is bittersweet.
- but her voice is full of determination, ill-placed devotion. "That I'm going to bring him back. By myself." Sakura isn't smiling anymore: I don't need his help, it says to him.
If Kakshi was anyone else, and if this was any other time, he would try and convince Sakura to give it up (This is impossible, Sakura, he would say, patting her head – train for yourself; but then he would be a hypocrite). But this is Kakashi and this is now, standing in front of a pale, pink-haired girl – no, woman - with green eyes that are sad and angry; and so damn determined, all at the same time.
Instead, he says, quietly, glancing towards the prone figure on the hospital bed, "I can believe that."
Down to earth, pragmatic - will stubbornly pursue a task to completion without deviation once it has the impetus to get going.
"Need any help with your training, Sakura-chan?" Lee is at standing at the edge of the clearing, an obvious smile spreading across his face, green blending in with the background, though the white and black checkerboard of his face has never been more obvious. Sakura knows exactly what he wants – a training session.
He doesn't understand that no matter how many times he asks, the answer will always be no. Always. Sakura puts loyalty and honor and duty in front of sympathy - empathy (except for when she doesn't). Sakura's right; she always is.
"Taijutsu, perhaps?" He inquires. Lee's never caught on, and it doesn't seem he will.
The words are halfway out of her mouth – No, thank you Lee. Maybe another time? – when she hears the mocking, laughing, ironic voice filtering through her mind. It speaks to her, softly, quietly, somehow hurting her (cutting her, binding her to her fate):
"Sakura," it mocks, "Still as weak as ever?" A long pause; Lee is looking at her strangely. The voice continues. "How… annoying."
Sakura inwardly flinches.
In a stronger voice:
"Actually, Lee-san, that would be nice." He looks shocked for a moment, before smiling brightly. The pink-haired girl finds herself caught in the moment as she half-heartedly tries to grin.
"Taijutsu it is, then! Excellent!"
A seeker after information, passing it on to others whether or not it's worth the trouble. A winner if clear thinking is what is needed in a crisis.
"Sasuke, what do you think?" Asks Karin, smiling sweetly at him (he's never liked sweets). Juugo watches with silent grace and Suigetsu smirks at the raven-haired boy. They're still looking at him moments later and he wonders if this is how well they know him – for the better or the worse.
He moves, sulks, really, over to where his teammates are studying a map of some sort. Sasuke takes a glance – fire country? What for… - and then it stops. The sharingan spins as he glares up at a startled red-haired girl and two men who looked almost as shocked as she. "No," he says, and makes to move away.
Behind him, Suigetsu and Juugo share a look (Kohona? One silently asks. Loyalty, says the other, and between them Karin seethes. 'Her,' she thinks). Karin, silently angry, reaches out to grab the leaving Uchiha's arm, but abruptly stops when Juugo lays a large hand on her arm (birds chirp loudly in the distance, and there's too much water and - and they're drowning).
"Let it be," says the large man. His almost-smile isn't as gentle as it should (could, would, might be) but it's enough for her.
Sasuke, in the distance, looks to the horizon. He breathes.
The forging of alternative families in other settings so that the feeling of being at home can be enjoyed.
There's a picture he used to have. He didn't keep it (in fact, he left it so long ago in a box in a room in Kohona) and he doesn't carry it with him. Sasuke would like to think that maybe they carry it with them, in their pockets, in their hearts, and somewhere deep inside. He feels sick, and the feeling doesn't go away.
"You must be sick, Sasuke-kun," Karin says, smiling at him not-so innocently, and Juugo is somewhere and Suigetsu watches with amused indifference and something Sasuke has a hard time getting his hands on. Her hands are on his shoulders, and one brazenly reaches up to feel his forehead, and then down again to press it against his neck. "You have a fever," she scolds, still smiling.
But he's thinking of the picture: two frowning boys, with a smiling girl between them. As always.
He pulls away from the red-haired girl. "I'm not sick, Karin," Sasuke grumbles, sending her a light glare. Karin's bottom lip trembles just the slightest bit and to the Uchiha, it's almost like walking down memory lane. Inwardly, his laugh is bitter.
Then, from a returning Juugo:
"Sasuke," he says, catching the boy's attention. "They're coming."
And a smiling girl between them, as always.
Confident and decisive, has an overall perspective on life and can bring out the best in others.
Sakura's grip on the kunai tightens indecisively. Her face is cold, maybe even frozen, but her eyes are hurt and surprised and bittersweet. Naruto is off somewhere in the distance, along with the rest of the team. Kiba, Shikamaru, Hinata – the works. The best of the best (she hears Lee's voice shout and she feels guilty for a moment, just a moment).
Sasuke can hear the battle in the distance, but his teammates fend off his teammates – loyalty, loyalty, and duty and honor – but his eyes are focused on the determined, angry pink-haired woman in front of him. She isn't the same as she used to be, he muses, as he dodges a kunai thrown expertly in the direction of his head.
The battle isn't short but it isn't long, and by the end they are both mostly unharmed but breathing heavily.
"I know," Sakura pants, "Where Itachi is." Her being out of breath ruins the effect of her words, but Sasuke's head snaps up anyways.
"What?" he demands, now only feet away from her.
"I knew," she continues, "that the only way to get you back was to give you something you actually wanted, and so I found out."
Sakura smiles, and it's jaded and weary of the world.
"I found out more than that."
She takes a deep breath.
"Sasuke-kun," she begins, gently, quietly, softly (nothing like the battle going on around them) - and when she finishes, the world stops. "Itachi is dead."
The ability to discriminate between what is useful and what isn't, knows what is useful but bores you with the details anyway.
The Hokage is staring at the Uchiha boy with someone like dislike, though Sakura knows it's more of distrust than anything else. Tsunade had never personally grown up with Sasuke (Orochimaru), she had never fall in love with Sasuke (Orochimaru), she just can't possibly understand. But then why are the looks that she sends them so sympathetic?
Sasuke is sitting sullenly in a chair while the woman carefully observes him. Naruto is somewhere outside the double doors – but, but baa-chan! I have to be there! No, Naruto. This is private– and Kakashi is either with him or off somewhere else.
Sakura is startled into alert consciousness. "Uchiha Sasuke, I understand that you came back to Kohona willingly." She asks. It's more of a statement than a question.
"Hn." The green-eyed girl almost laughs at the irony as Tsunade's eyes narrow to slits.
"You will," she continues, "Of course, be punished." She smiles cruelly. "It won't be as horrible as if we had to drag you back – " a shuffling of feet from outside the door "- but let's just say that there's a reason missing-nins don't come back."
Sasuke shifts in his chair uncomfortably. "Two years of probation, six months of ANBU surveillance." But that isn't enough. Never enough. "And then you will rejoin Team 7."
Tsunade's satisfied smile; Sasuke's narrowed eyes; Naruto's loud and uncontained jump of glee. And then there was Sakura's softly furrowed brows and mocking smirk.
An ideal of peace, balance and harmony in all life, a problem with the emotional complexities therein.
"Sasuke is a broken man," observes Tenten from the hill they stand on, watching him and Naruto spar in a not so friendly way. Those two have always been violent. Sakura sighs as the blond kyuubi lands a violent punch and Sasuke throws a sharpened kunai with deadly accuracy. Somehow, neither of them are quite as hurt as they should be.
The medic looks over to the weapons mistress. "I know he's a bit broken," she says quietly, whispering onto the wind. Somewhere, in the distance, the wind crackles and the sound of thunder cracks throughout Kohona. The grass stirs and tickles her exposed toes as she looks toward the two boys down below.
"But that doesn't mean I can't fix him," Sakura finishes, and there's an unusual conviction in her voice. Tenten is looking at her strangely, a light, knowing smile present on her face. Her eyes are liquid brown and they're merrily laughing as it begins to drizzle.
When she finally stops chuckling lightly, Tenten turns her face towards she sky. With a crooked smile that Sakura can't see: "I never said you couldn't." And she waves and walks off into the mist of the rain.
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto comes running from behind, Sasuke trailing forlornly behind him. His eyes are dark and cold and everything they've always been, and Sakura smiles. "We're all going to Ichiraku's!" Announces Naruto, putting an arm over both of their shoulders.
Somehow, they pull away, and Naruto's smile cracks – "Naruto! You reek!" Sakura exclaims, laughing lightly. "Either take a shower or stay out in the rain, but I'm not going anywhere with you until you don't smell." She does, however, take a hold of Sasuke's arm, teasingly smiling back at the pouting Naruto. "See you later, Naruto!"
The blond boy grins. "If you two wanted some alone time, you just had to say so!"
Needs to delve beneath appearances to reality. Nothing superficial will do.
He isn't staring at her. Sasuke would like to pretend that he came back to the Sakura he used to know: the same weak, wobbly-kneed girl who was clumsy and sad and emotional. It isn't like today's Sakura is the opposite, though she sometimes possessed inhuman strength, she wasn't exactly as graceful as a swan and though she didn't cry she wasn't cold. He sighs as he takes a long sip of his tea, staring at the absent-minded girl across from him.
"Naruto shouldn't take this long," the chuunin girl frets, a light frown turning the corners of her mouth delicately down. The tea in front of her is growing cold quickly, and it's still raining outside. It's been that way for a couple of months now – it goes on and off and on again, the never-ending torment.
Sakura's eyes are green (vivid, light, dark, sad) and wide as she turns back to see Sasuke. "Do you think something happened to him, Sasuke-kun?"
Sasuke snorts. "The dobe can take care of himself, Sakura." Her shoulders hunch suspiciously and the frown is back, this time a bit stronger.
After a moment, she relaxes, letting it all go from her body. She smiles lightly, softly, gently and shakes her head (once, twice) as Sasuke narrows his eyes at her. "Naruto and Ino are right about you Sasuke-kun," Sakura informs him. "You are a bastard." And now it's his turn to frown. Her face softens even more. "But I know that… you don't really mean it." And she's smiling again (at him, who doesn't deserve it, doesn't deserve her) as she takes her arm in his.
"Let's go find Naruto, Sasuke-kun."
They leave the tea cold on the table.
Strives for what is beyond day to day human experience, whether it travel to distant lands, broadening knowledge by education or by exploring the spiritual dimension of life.
Sasuke had always thought that revenge would taste sour on his tongue, but as time goes by, he finds that it isn't bitter. It isn't sweet either. It's something in between – not tart, not bittersweet, not tangy. Just… something else.
He's pulled back into reality by the melodic sound of Sakura's reverberating laugh. Her eyes are closed, short hair falling slowly about her face. Hinata, bashful, shy, quiet, is sitting next to her, a light blush spreading over her cheeks. Naruto is guffawing and even Tenten's chuckling.
But soon enough, his eyes are inevitably drawn back to Sakura, who's already telling a new joke.
He gets the feeling of being watched and turns his head just in time to catch Neji's knowing stare.
"Sasuke, you okay?" Sakura asks, laying a hand on his arm. He doesn't shrug it off.
"Hn," he says, breaking eye contact with the male Hyuuga.
When they finally leave the tea house, Sasuke insists that he can find his way home by himself. Sakura's face is disappointed (Are you sure Sasuke-kun? He nods. Oh… alright then. She smiles and disappears down the lane) and Naruto's look is angry (Can't do something for her, huh, Sasuke-teme?) and Hinata and Tenten share a glance.
When he reaches the corner, standing next to Neji, he waits for a long moment.
From the boy next to him: "You really shouldn't fight fate."
It isn't sweet, yet it isn't sour (Sakura's light smile; her dark eyes and dripping cheeks). It's something in between.
Content to work within the social order in which it finds itself and seeks success therein. A great sense of responsibility and a determination to complete any project once started. Seeks tangible results.
"It's been awhile, Sasuke-kun," Sakura says lightly, moving to lie down next to Sasuke on the soft grass of Kohona's training fields. Next to her, Sasuke is leaning against a tree, his eyes closed, relaxing after a hard training session. He cracks an eye open at her statement.
"Hn," he says, which she takes as What are you talking about, Sakura? I just saw you yesterday. The girl laughs a bit at this, and he opens both eyes to watch her body shake with the trembles of her laughter.
When she settles down again, she continues. "No, no, Sasuke-kun. That's not what I meant." She awkwardly picks at the blades of grass underneath her fingers, as if delicately searching for comfort (maybe even encouragement). "What I meant was, that, well…" her voice trails off for a minute as they sit in silence.
"It's been over a year, Sasuke-kun. You don't have much more time before your probation period is up." And before you rejoin us as Team 7, again, she mentally adds, not knowing that the Uchiha boy next to her is thinking the same thing.
"Hn." He says (but it's not enough – it's never enough). Sakura frowns up at him, and he can feel it. Sasuke sighs exasperatedly.
"Yes," he says quietly. "I know."
The pink-haired medic-nin smiles up at him, and takes her hand in his. Surprisingly, he doesn't pull away.
Has ideas to take humanity out of its restriction to the social order into a wider sense of community. Values freedom and equality, encouraging others to claim what it considers is their due.
"No more probation, huh, Sasuke-teme?" Asks a grinning Naruto, with Hinata timidly behind him. In the room there is the Rookie Nine (with Gai's team, of course, and the beast himself). Kakashi is there, with a smiling Sakura and a crooked-smiling Jiraiya (with Tsuande somewhere in the distance with Shizune).
"Hn," says Sasuke, and everyone laughs good-naturedly.
Naruto pats him on the back, ignoring Sasuke's dangerous glare. "Soon, we'll all be a team again!" The blond Hokage to be gestures between him and the Uchiha and the rest of Team 7 with one hand, the other hand holding a glass filled with amber liquid.
He moves away with Hinata and a few more people move forward to give their congratulations, and slowly the area around him thins out. Sakura, seeing the doubtful look on his face, puts a hand on his arm. "You deserve it," she affirms, not meeting his eyes all the way.
It only takes him a moment to hesitantly nod back, and Sakura smiles.
"I've done it," she says quietly, not taking her hand off his elbow.
"Hn?" Sasuke asks, watching as she takes a sip from her glass.
"I've fixed you." And she smiles up at him gently.
Slowly, he smiles back.
Has an instinctive connection with life beyond space and time such that ordinary daily life can seem a burden.
It's raining lightly when they begin again.
"Our first mission as a team. Well," he breaks off to laugh. "Again." Naruto says, and he's as serious as he'll ever be, staring off into the distance. Kakashi stands to the side, reading Icha Icha Paradise, and Sakura is next to Sasuke, smiling at all of them.
"So…" Kakashi says. They all break out of their contemplative reverie. "Ten in the morning, tomorrow. And I expect you all to be on time." He smiles crookedly and they gently chuckle.
Naruto and Kakashi wave goodbye and make their way, Naruto saying something about a meal of ramen and Kakashi saying only if he can get him the new issue of Icha Icha Paradise before it hits the shelves. The green-eyed girl smiles.
Sakura looks up at Sasuke expectantly, weaving her hand with his as they turn to go back down, off the bridge, into the light onslaught of falling water.
They aren't Naruto and Hinata – they don't have long, passionate kisses in the rain or soft whispers of nothing in each other's ears. They aren't Tenten and Neji – they aren't secretive, competitive, and they don't have the silent grace that befits them. They aren't Ino and Shikamaru – they don't sit all day and watch the clouds, they don't cry as they hold each other, and they don't have long moments in which they both say I love you.
They aren't bitter, and they aren't sweet.
They aren't any of them, and this is all they have, because –
Because he's Sasuke, and she's Sakura.
They don't have the big explosions or the quiet trembles.
They only have the intermediate.
"I think…" Sasuke starts, but Sakura puts a finger to his lips, effectively cutting him off. The gentle, understanding smile on her face is omniscient.
"This," she says, "is enough."