Study of the Heart


Chapter 1


"Shit!" Sakura suddenly stopped, and Sai immediately caught hold of the branch he'd just been about to leap off of so that he didn't run into her. "I can't believe I left that!" she turned around and began heading back for the training grounds.

"What is it?" Sai pivoted and followed her almost at once, and she glanced over as he caught up, flashing a small smile to assure nothing was seriously wrong.

"Oh, I just forgot my medical pack." She told him, rolling her eyes at her own absentmindedness. "It wouldn't be a big deal, but I need to go to the hospital right after dinner, and I needed to refill a few things. Plus I don't really want to just leave it out all—" she stopped suddenly, and Sai, his reflexes quick as always, stopped as well, immediately thinking something was wrong. Sakura was pale, all of the sudden, and Sai was about to ask if she felt well, when he glanced in the direction she was staring, which was the training grounds they had just left. He spotted her medical pack right away, and was about to simply leap down and get it so they could proceed to the ramen stand Naruto had insisted they all go to, when he saw that their other two team members, Naruto, and the very recently returned Sasuke, were still in the clearing, and they did not seem to be training. Curious, Sai craned his neck to get a better view of whatever it was they were doing…it looked like they were having a very intense discussion, and they were awfully close, and it was a bit odd that Sasuke seemed to be holding Naruto's cheek, and then suddenly, they moved, and Sai's head tilted at the sudden unexpected sight of the two young men kissing.

"Sakura," he turned to her, his voice low, "do you want me to get your pack? I am not sure if it would be rude for me to interrupt them. Although…they seem rather involved. They might not notice me. I can be quiet, if you like."

Sakura was still staring, aghast, at the pair, watching as Naruto's arms snaked around Sasuke's neck, and they continued kissing. Sai waited patiently for an answer, but Sakura just made an odd choking noise before turning and fleeing from the scene as fast as he had ever seen her move. Sai frowned and looked down at the pack. Well, that was silly. She'd come back for it and then forgotten to even take it with her. Then he suddenly remembered almost a year ago, when that young ninja had used his Sexy no Jutsu modification to befuddle Sakura by making it look like Sasuke and him were about to do things like what Sasuke and Naruto were doing right now. Although he seemed to recall that in that jutsu they had been naked, and those two still had all their clothes on, but it seemed that it worked rather well, since it had still completely confused Sakura.

Convinced that it was all a jutsu, after all, Sai hopped down into the training grounds and strolled over to retrieve the pack Sakura had left behind. He stopped when he saw a swift movement and turned to see that the two young men were no longer kissing, and were both staring at him in obvious surprise and embarrassment.

"Oh, I see," Sai blinked at the intriguing shade of crimson seeping over Naruto's cheeks. "It was real, after all. Sorry to interrupt, but Sakura forgot this," he indicated the pack he was holding, "were we still going to get ramen? Because it seems that you two were distracted." Naruto and Sasuke exchanged a glance and then both looked back at him warily.

"You saw us?" Sasuke asked, clearly not sure whether Sai understood the situation or not.

"You mean did I see you kissing? Yes, several times." Sai nodded, slightly put out that they weren't answering his question.

"Sai, please, you can't tell anyone." Naruto blurted out. "We're going to tell our friends, eventually, but it's just that we just…and some of them…"

"We haven't told anyone yet," Sasuke took over, "and when it gets out that I have no plans to revive my clan, it could upset the Council. Also, we don't really know how Ino or Sakura will take it, since…"

"They wanted to help you revive the clan," Sai surprised them both by connecting the points of the conversation. He'd been on the team for over a year, and while Sakura had very sweetly told him that he had mastered the art of being a friend, there were still a lot of social situations that he didn't seem to fully understand. He certainly had not mastered the art of subtlety.

"Exactly," Naruto responded. "Sakura especially, she's on our team, and we wanted to tell her first, but we haven't thought of how to do it so that she won't get upset or have her heart broken or anything."

"Oh, I see!" Sai rubbed his chin in interest. "That's why she ran away without getting her bag. I thought it was a distraction jutsu, but it turns out that her heart is broken. Interesting, I had read that could be very upsetting, indeed. No wonder her face looked so odd. I've never even seen that expression before, and I had thought it was surprise, but I suppose there must have been some heart break in there as well. I'll have to remember it…I wonder if she'll make the face again…"

"What…are you saying?" Naruto's voice cracked slightly, and he moved forward, reaching out so his fingertips brushed over Sai's shoulder. "Sakura…does Sakura, did she…did she see?"

"Of course she did," Sai answered calmly. "Do you think she sent me to retrieve her things? No, she turned back for them herself. I was simply there when she saw you two and ran away without picking this up. I've never seen two men kiss before, you know. Although Naruto barely has enough of a dick for him to count, but it was interesting. Is that normal? I don't really remember reading about it, but I've never investigated intimate relationships. I was focusing on friendship first."

"What? Why are you asking all these questions!?" Naruto cried out, and Sasuke moved forward, clearly intent on calming him down. "Sakura knows! She knows, Sasuke! What are we going to do? I didn't ever mean for her to find out like that!"

"I know, it's okay," Sasuke pulled him into a hug and rubbed Naruto's back soothingly. "I know this isn't what you wanted, but she's been our friend for years. We just need to explain everything, and eventually."

"If you didn't want her to find out," Sai opined without anyone's prompting, "perhaps you shouldn't have gone around kissing in easily visible venues."

"Sai, seriously, would you shut up." Sasuke shot the paler ninja a glare, and Sai's eyes widened slightly, wondering where he had gone wrong in this conversation. "Can't you see this is serious?"

"I was only offering advice." Sai told them. "No need to be mad at me, I wasn't the one kissing Naruto in the middle of the training grounds."

"Sai, please," Naruto looked up, seeming irate, "there's no way you can understand. You've never been in love, and I doubt you ever will be. You can barely maintain friendship, you'd be lost if you tried to understand this." He moved a hand to indicate Sasuke and himself.

"Sakura said that I've mastered friendship." Sai countered, feeling slightly put out that they were taking their upset out on him.

"Clearly you haven't, or you'd be a little more worried about Sakura!" Naruto shot back. "She's just had her heart broken. I know you can't fathom what that's like, but it's the worst pain…the worst that you can feel."

"Worse than when she attacks with her Shannaro?" Sai questioned, narrowing his eyes, and Naruto snorted before rushing past him. Sasuke moved to follow but as he passed Sai, he paused.

"Even I can see when I'm hurting people," he told Sai, "what's wrong with you?"

"But," Sai spoke to the air in the suddenly empty training grounds. "You two are the ones that hurt her…"


"Sakura! Open the door, come on!" Naruto pounded on the door, worried and angry all at the same time. "I want to talk to you, come on!"

"Hey," Sasuke had taken a bit more leisurely pace to try and talk to Sakura, possibly hoping the discussion would be over. "Not going so well?"

"She won't even answer the door!" Naruto complained, and just as he said it, the door swung open, but it wasn't Sakura who was on the other side, it was her mother, and she didn't look happy.

"Boys." She said shortly by way of greeting. "Do you mind not waking up everyone on this block?"

"Haruno-san!" Naruto turned to her with pleading in his eyes. "Please, we need to speak to Sakura, it's very important."

"Sakura told me she wasn't in the mood to see anyone." She answered, narrowing her eyes. "Especially you two. Would you care to explain what happened?"

"That's why we're here." Sasuke knew very well that Sakura's parents did not want anything to do with Naruto, so he felt he might do a little better. "If you'd let us in, we'd be able to put an end to this."

"Please, we're her teammates!" Naruto pleaded as she looked at them both with consideration. "We'd never do something to purposefully hurt her."

"Like when he left for three years?" she tilted her head towards Sasuke. "Boys, I don't know what you've done this time, but you'll have to wait until she wants to see you." And she slammed the door shut.

"That didn't go very well." Naruto grumped, but when he turned, Sasuke was no longer behind him. Looking around wildly, he finally spotted Sasuke on a window ledge above him.

"Come on, this is her room, right?" Sasuke beckoned, and Naruto joined him before both climbed inside the overwhelmingly pink bedroom. "Sometimes…it's like Sakura is the youngest of all of us."

"Because of the pink?" Naruto asked. "Or because she lives with her parents?"

"Parents," Sasuke gave a harsh laugh. "Like the rest of us have that option."

"Well…she isn't here," Naruto stated, just as the door opened and closed, admitting the pink-haired kunoichi who took one look at them and attempted to leave the room again. Sasuke pounced, putting her in a hold to prevent this all dragging on any longer. "Sakura! Please, we just want to talk to you!"

"Calm down, dammit." Sasuke hissed as she attempted to escape his hold and after a moment, her struggles ceased, her face scrunched up, and she burst into noisy tears. Sasuke let go of her as though he'd been burned, but Naruto rushed forward to hug her.

"Sakura, please, we never meant for it to be like that." He assured her as she cried into his shoulder. "We were going to tell you."

"Naruto and I are lovers now." Sasuke cut in brusquely, and Naruto gave him a stern look.

"I feel…like s-such a f-f-fool…" she pulled back, sniffling and wiping her eyes. "I always…th-thought Sasuke and I m-might…"

"I'm gay, sorry." Sasuke managed to sound very unconcerned and not at all apologetic as he spoke tersely.

"Sasuke, you aren't helping," Naruto turned an angry glare on the other man, and he subsided, sitting quietly on a pink chair. "Sakura," he turned gently back to his friend. "When this started…between us, I was just as surprised as you were. I always thought that I was in love with you, and to think that he could make me feel…we knew it would be hard. Just another reason for the villagers to dislike me, and another way for Sasuke to piss off the council. They won't be happy to know that this is the end of the Sharingan." Naruto turned a warm look at the other man and then looked back at Sakura. "But I love him, Sakura. I really do, and I'm happy. And he loves me, too, and we're willing to sacrifice a lot to be together, but please," he hugged her tightly. "Don't force us to sacrifice you. I love you like a sister, and I want us to always be close. Please."

"Naruto," she sighed and let her eyes close, let herself enjoy the warmth of his feelings. "I know you care about me, and I know it must have been hard to decide to follow your heart if it meant breaking mine. But it's going to take some time before I can…really be happy for you two. I want to be. You're two of my best friends, my teammates, and I want you to be happy. I just need to…learn to let go of old dreams."

"Sakura," Naruto had tears on his cheeks as he squeezed her again before letting her go. "I knew you'd understand. We'll give you all the time you need. We always meant for you to know first, so we won't even tell anyone else until you're ready." Sakura understood what he meant by that. They wouldn't kiss or hold hands or do anything obvious in public, since it was still a secret. But she would know…

"Thanks," she kissed his cheek, and Naruto flushed, and she knew that he did love her, and that she loved him in a very similar way. Even after this, she would forgive him. After all, Sasuke had never belonged to her. She glanced over at the brooding man on her pink chair and smiled sadly. He was no good at saying what needed to be heard, but he had meant his apology. These two truly were her best friends. Saying her goodbyes, she ushered them both out the window and as she did, she noticed a familiar figure approaching her door and turned to head downstairs.

"Ah, Haruno-san." Sai spoke respectfully and gave a small inclination of his head as Sakura's mother opened the door. "I am here to see Sakura."

"She isn't seeing anyone just now, I'm sorry." She smiled warmly at Sai, knowing that whatever Naruto and Sasuke had done, he hadn't upset her daughter.

"Mom!" Sakura came out of nowhere and pushed up beside her mother. "Hey, Sai!"

"Ah…Sakura," Sai tilted his head to one side with curiosity. "Have you been crying?" There was a long, awkward silence, and Sai seemed to sense he had something wrong, so he flushed lightly and hefted the bag up. "Here is you pack. You left without it."

"Oh," she flushed and took it. "Thanks for grabbing it for me. I'll need to go in to the hospital pretty soon." Sai looked at her thoughtfully, and Sasuke's words came back to him. He had an odd twisting in his stomach that may have been guilt at the thought that he had inadvertently made things worse for his friend.

"I can escort you, if you like." Sai offered, knowing that Sakura appreciated gestures like that, and she beamed at him.

"Yes, thanks. I just need to get cleaned up." She turned around and headed back upstairs to splash cold water on her face so that it wouldn't look like she had been crying. Sai waited for her, turning a forced smile to her mother, who smiled back at him immediately.

"How are you getting along with the rest of the team?" She asked him. "It must be hard, being the newest member."

"Yes, but I've been with them now for almost a year." Sai assured her. "Naruto and Sakura, that is. They have both taught me a lot, and I continue to learn from them every day." He was about to mention what he had seen that day, when he recalled that it was supposed to be a secret, and stopped himself, feeling rather pleased at his ability to keep secrets for his friends. Being a ninja, that was one of the easiest lessons for him to master, although it could be hard to tell what was meant to be a secret sometimes, but this time…

"Okay, let's go!" Sakura's smile was so obviously fake, for the first time Sai understood what she meant when she told him to not bother with a smile he didn't feel. It looked…wrong, somehow, and it made him feel at odds. "Bye, mom!" she kissed her mother on the cheek and then hurried Sai out of the house. "Sorry, I just don't trust you alone with my mother."

"Sakura, you know I don't take private missions from Roots anymore." He assured her after taking a moment to process what she'd said. "And in any case, I disobeyed orders when I was told to assassinate Sasuke-kun for Naruto's sake. I would certainly spare your mother as well." She stopped mid-step and turned to him, a look of momentary shock melting into an explosion of semi-hysterical laughter.

"That's not what I meant at all," Sakura told him when she recovered, patting him on the shoulder as they both continued walking toward the hospital. "But thanks, I needed a good laugh."

"I didn't mean to joke," Sai answered readily, still not sure what had just happened. "But I'm glad that you can show me a true smile." She gasped and looked at him in surprise before letting a sad smile tilt her lips upward.

"You see," she spoke softly, "how a fake smile means nothing to your friends, except that you're hurting inside."

"Sasuke-kun said that I hurt you today," he told her what had been bothering him most. "I apologize, if I did."

"No," her smile faded away, her face becoming wistful, despairing. "No, I've done this to myself. You had no part in it, Sai." She turned to him and shook her head sadly. "I try to teach you about people, how to see their emotions, how to understand your friends…it turns out two of my best friends…I had no idea. I'm not the sort of person to be teaching you anything about that."

"I would never have guessed that those two were a couple." Sai assured her. "I didn't even know that men would do those sorts of things together. I believe it may be time that I start researching love and intimacy. I am sure you know much more about it than I do, Sakura. How many boyfriends have you had already?"

"I…well…" she flushed deeply. "I haven't really had time to date, since I work so hard as a ninja and as Tsunade-sama's apprentice."

"I see," Sai nodded sharply. "You wanted Sasuke-kun as your first boyfriend, but instead, he chose to be with Naruto. No wonder you're so upset. I think I'm beginning to understand all of this. But then…wouldn't you feel better if you simply chose another person to date?"

"Sai," Sakura sighed heavily. "You don't understand love at all if you think it's that simple. You can't just choose who you fall in love with and when. It just happens. It can be the most wonderful thing in the world, and the most painful. And it isn't something you can research and just understand."

"What?" Sai tilted his head in surprise. "Are there not any books about it?"

"It's not that," she shook her head, "it's just that you can't really ever understand it until you've been in love yourself." She stopped, as they had reached the hospital doors. "Thanks for walking me. See you later." She went inside, seeming rather dejected and tired. Sai stared after her thoughtfully for some time before he finally turned and went back home for the night.


To be continued…