Notes Edited 1/2012

Title: the end of the beginning
Author: Sangi
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Characters: Sasuke/Sakura, main characters
Genre: Romance, Friendship
Word Count: 4371
Rating: T
Author's Notes: Originally posted in 2008.

1. there's a resemblance, she thinks. are we so alike?

"Sakura?" Tsunade asks the girl (eyelashes lowered, demure, perfect) and the blonde woman sits alone in the room, knees bent underneath her legs in front of the low table (eyes narrowed, will the past come again?). "What can I do for you?" she asks, more gently, seeing something she's never quite seen before in the young woman.

"I have a favor to ask, Hokage-sama." Sakura formally states, almost a question, but not really (times change and you must change with them).


The thirteen-year old girl in front of her looks up, dark eyes reflecting the dim, cloudy light from the windows in the new Hokage Tower, and her mouth set in a determined line. "I'd like for you to train me, Hokage-sama."

Tsunade examines the last remaining Team 7 member in Kohona, remembering and forgetting and everything between: she seems so sad (teammates gone, gone into the wind), she seems so quiet (is she really? is she?). She sees something familiar. There's a resemblance, she thinks. Are we so alike?

"Tsunade-shishou," the Hokage corrects. The dark look in the pink-haired girl's eyes fade slowly into a lighter color, and her face softens into bemusement. "If I'm going to teach you, you might as well call me Tsunade-shishou." Sensei makes me feel so, so old, she absently thinks.

When she looks up, surprised, Tsunade is facing the window, watching the rain fall. Sakura bows her head, hiding a light smile (wispy dreams of a girl, a boy, and another boy so so long ago).

"Yes, Tsunade-shishou."

2. take a deep breath, you can do this

"Sakura-sama!" a girl exclaims, panting in the doorway. Sakura quickly looks up to see one of the students, the other girl's eyes wide. "One of the shinobi teams just came back from their mission and-"

Sakura rushes out of the room (who's been on duty this week? she wonders) and down the hall, through doors - until blonde hair, blue eyes, and a girl she hasn't talked to in years.

She freezes, looking down, and suddenly remembers rainy days and bridges and promises she really probably didn't keep, but there's work to be done and – "Hana! Hand me that bucket of water!"

The pink-haired young woman watches as the apprentice hastily rushes to get it. When the girl shoves it at her, Sakura slowly shakes her head. "It's your time to shine, Hana." The girl's eyes grow wider (impossible, she would think), but she calms down. Sakura can almost see her repeating the words in her head: stay calm.

"Take a deep breath," Sakura advises. "You can do this."

And she does.

Minutes later, Sakura is sitting in a chair next to a plain hospital bed, the beeping keeping her calm (its so familiar now, so natural). She's filling out reports when bright blue eyes hesitantly blink and open to the world.

Weakly: "Hey, forehead."

A slight, small smile: "Hey, Ino-pig."

3. and he's back again

"Sakura?" Tsunade's voice rings out across the training field; it echoes through the hollow trees. She feels like a ghost now, wandering from the past to the future, only briefly passing through the transient present.

"Tsunade-shishou?" Sakura asks as her mentor finds her, panting, hands bruised and bleeding a bit (she quickly heals them – the blood too is so familiar by now). "What did you need me for?"

Sakura is different now, this the woman can see: her hair is short instead of long, and she's no longer a weak kunoichi. She fights, and she's a medic, and an apprentice to the Godaime Hokage. And he's back again, she thinks.

Tsunade smiles, a wan smile that fades slowly into an almost-frown. "He's coming back again."

Sakura blinks (once, twice). "Who?" Not Sasuke, she knows. Then who? It's been years, she muses, since… blonde hair, blue eyes: you look like someone I used to know.

This time there's a definite frown on the older woman's face. "That annoying brat."

The pink-haired girl's face softens into something like bemusement, and she smiles, a real smile. "When is he coming back?" she asks Tsunade, thinking of the newly refurbished ramen store (no longer just a lonely stand) she hasn't had the heart to visit in months – years.

"A couple months, at the most." She snorts indelicately. "Seems like Jiraiya made something of that boy," she mutters, and Sakura's laughing now: it rings throughout the clearing. Tsunade's eyes blinks slowly, because for a moment she swore she could see a happy, younger girl with no worry lines and longer hair, and two boys – but no. But no.

The laughing slowly fades, and she's left staring at a solemn Sakura. "I'm glad…" she says, "that he's finally coming home."

4. he's been spotted, she says

She meets Naruto for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and all the other days between. They meet at the most obvious place (Ramen again, Naruto? Ahah, Sakura-chan, it's always ramen). Sakura notices that his eyes are darker, more sincere, and there's something in the slow way he eats his ramen – "Naruto? What's wrong?"

His eyes slowly glance up – so not Naruto that Sakura wants to pinch herself to make sure that she isn't dreaming. "He's been spotted," he says, in a low voice.

"He's been spotted," she says, in a dumb voice. Her green eyes widen and her pink hair shakes wildly along with her head. "No," she says firmly. "I don't want to talk about it."

Naruto shrugs and keeps eating his ramen. "Hey, did you hear about…"

5. we would know

"Kakashi-sensei." Sakura greets the older man (no orange book in sight – strange) as she leans comfortably against the door.

"Hello, Sakura," her once-teacher says in return. "I'm not your teacher, anymore – no need to call me that." Touching on her thoughts, the corners of his mouth turn up.

She laughs lightly, the kind of sad laugh that reverberates throughout the room and echoes in his mind once it's stopped. "Force of habit, I suppose." She smiles for a moment, and they share a second of something that they can both remember and appreciate. Kakashi looks at Sakura speculatively (I once thought, he thinks, that she was nothing like me).

Kakashi knows what she's thinking. They sit in the hospital room, waiting, watching. He is thinking the same thing.

"Naruto can bring him back, Sakura." A statement and her comfortable world falls apart. Her eyes close as the corners of her mouth resolutely turn down. Kakashi watches and waits. He does not wonder. He does not falter –

"Sakura." She nods her head in recognition (I can't trust myself not to cry – what weakling am I?). "Sometimes it's harder to be the one left behind."

Sakura looks up to meet her teacher's eye and says. "Yes." She nods her head a few times. We would know.

6. his eyes are dark and familiar

When she sees him again, he isn't as injured as she would have thought. He's bandaged in places – no medics on retrieval teams, no need for them – and Sakura holds back the impulse to 'tsk tsk' in his face. She curbs the impulse to hug him, to whisper his name, to gasp at the cold look in his eyes. His eyes are still dark and still familiar after all these years; though there's something present in them she's never seen before.

I told you this wouldn't make any of us happy, Sakura sighs inwardly, and outwardly shakes her head.

She raises her head and salutes the boy. The medic isn't as regal as she had imagined she would be for this meeting (clothes stained with blood and hair dirty and somehow she's always tired now), but its good enough for her.

Sakura's different now.

"Welcome back, Sasuke." And she smiles lightly. The sun shines through the dark clouds above and lands on the three of them. Naruto smiles in the background and Sasuke frowns.

(Can we change destiny?)

7. I didn't love you then

"You need to watch him, Sakura." Tsunade warns. "I know that you know what you're doing, but he's Uchiha." The unspoken words: he's traitor. "I would love to send someone else to check up on him, but you're the only medic I can spare." There is pity in the Hokage's eyes, Sakura sees.

She isn't surprised.

"It's no problem, Tsunade-shishou." She replies and stands up to leave. She reaches the door, when:

"Careful, Sakura."

And then she's out the door. Later, she arrives at the Uchiha compound and walks down the dusky old street to the main house and knocks tentatively on the door. The house is large and looms over her like a ghost in the sullen dusk.

"Come in," a gruff voice says.

Sakura opens it and walks inside. The inside of the house is covered in a light layer of dusk. Sasuke must have cleaned it, Sakura thinks, since he came back, but not since. The urge to laugh at the image of holier-than-thou Sasuke cleaning dust off ornate bookshelves and washing sheets bubbled up inside her, but she doesn't give in. She smiles at the Uchiha gently. He says nothing, does nothing, and looks away.

Times change and you must change with them.

She looks at him, as she's been told to do. "You look fine," she says and briskly turns around to leave (in like a lion, out like a lamb). Sakura glances over her shoulder as she again steps through the doorway – I don't deserve you, he thinks, and she can see it in his eyes. She smiles lightly, lightly, like always.

I didn't love you then. She shrugs to herself, not knowing, not caring, if Sasuke understands. Not caring if he isn't even looking. I didn't love you until after you left. When I stopped looked at Uchiha and looking at Sasuke.

When she turns to see, he isn't looking at her. She shrugs again – "Sasuke-kun?" - and he replies, "You're annoying."

Sakura sighs and Sasuke's eyes flicker to her. "Sometimes I think you're a monster, Uchiha Sasuke."

And she walks out the door, out to the street, to the fresh air. To the world.

8. you two are like peas in a pod

She's sitting at the ramen bar (she can hear Naruto's shouts in the distance as he leaves the building), smiling lightly and laughing softly. Sakura starts to pick up the chopsticks when she feels a shadow loom over her. Her eyes slowly look up to see none other than the ANBU Hyuuga Neji.

"Neji-san," she cordially greets, letting the wooden chopsticks gently rest against the edge of the ramen bowl. Neji sits down next to her and nods in return. Sakura frowns but inwardly shrugs (she knows Neji and Neji is quiet, quieter than Sasuke-kun, but nicer and wiser). She again picks up the chopsticks and delicately takes a slurp of ramen (you can't really eat ramen any other way).

A familiar presence weighs on Sakura and she turns around, only to see Sasuke walking slowly down the street, head straight above his shoulders, held high proudly (aristocratic Uchiha). She can also see the ANBU who follow him around all day. Neji sees her movement and lets his eyes trail over to watch the Uchiha make his way through the staring crowds.

"You two are more alike than you'd think." Neji observes quietly.

"Me and Sasuke?" Sakura exclaims, turning away from the window and to face Neji. "We're the sun and the moon, peanut butter and pickles, heaven and hell! You can't be serious."

Neji shrugs and orders miso ramen. "Don't argue with destiny." Maybe you two aren't meant to be together, is what he means. Sakura looks at Neji and really sees Neji – wise and old and mature. Maybe, she thinks, I shouldn't.

She smiles lightly after a minute of silent ramen-eating (something Naruto would enjoy). "Give me an example."

Neji shrugs again (she's struck by how Neji an action shrugging seems to be now). "I was the one who had to watch the interrogation." To make sure nothing got out of hand. He waits a long moment while Sakura stares at him, soaking in the words. "You're both stubborn," the Hyuuga finally says.

"I'm not stubborn-" Sakura begins, but in a moment her mouth is in a little 'o' in her face and her face is flushed. She shakes her head and eats some ramen.

Sakura shrugs.

Neji shrugs.

And they eat ramen (miso) and talk about Sasuke (Uchiha).

9. a quiet girl in a quiet world

When Sakura arrives at the memorial on a quiet Sunday morning (white flowers in her hand, a fleeting moment of some kind of history), Hinata is sitting in front of it, looking up at it silently. Sakura shakes her head – in this cold she could get sick quite easily the analytical part of her mind thinks, while the rest of it wonders why?

She says nothing, but walks forward to place the flowers down and sit next to Hinata. The Hyuuga girl looks so fragile, so different compared to her cousin. Sakura knows that the girl is stronger than that, that behind the quivering lips and stuttering tongue there's a semblance of bravery.

"Sometimes," Hinata begins, "I like to come here to think." She smiles lightly and turns her head to Sakura. "It's so quiet," she almost-whispers.

Sakura tries not to laugh and nods her head solemnly. Hinata is a quiet girl in her own quiet world, she thinks, before she stands up to leave and brushes her pants off of grass. She begins to walk away –

"I believe you can do it, Sakura-san," Hinata says quietly.

Brows furrowed, Sakura turns back around to see Hinata sitting as peacefully as she had been moments before.

Do what? wonders Sakura and heads to the hospital to work. (Onyx eyes follow her down the street; she turns the corner and shivers in the cold wind that meets her.)

10. these lives I've saved

"Sasuke-kun," she greets, almost kindly (old habits die hard), and Sasuke is struck by how much happier she looks when she's here, in her element, healing people. The premature, weary lines around her eyes lessen and disappear entirely into the folds of her smile. "Here for a check-up?" She taps the pen in her hand against her chin. "I just saw you last week, I wonder why – unless you've recently been injured…" his gaze snaps away guiltily.

Sakura sighs (a light sigh, small sigh: these lives I've saved, how they do grow) and shakes her head. "You know better than that," she reprimands, as she walks over to ruffle through the drawer. After a moment, she pulls out a long needle and fixes up a syringe.

Smiling at Sasuke, she walks towards him (his brows swoop down to meet between his eyes and she smiles sadistically). "I better give you a tetanus shot, you know, just in case."

The Uchiha opens his mouth, but –

"Doctor's orders, Sasuke. Now, pull up your sleeve."

He does.

The shot doesn't hurt but the look Sakura gives him – almost longing and almost guilty too – makes him ache a bit inside.

11. shakes her head again and again

Tenten and Neji watch as Sasuke walks down the street. Sakura tentatively tags along behind him, knowing she's supposed to watch him for the day. Neji snorts. Tenten shakes her head, again and again.

"He doesn't deserve her," she says quietly as they watch Sakura struggle through the crowd. Sasuke, after he makes it through, waits a moment for a Sakura to catch up. It's a familiar sight: Sakura struggling to get to Sasuke, having him wait for her to reach him. So familiar that it makes Tenten ache somewhere deep, deep inside at the sadness that hits her for the girl.

She wouldn't want my pity, she thinks.

After a moment, Neji's eyes narrow at Sasuke as he continues walking down the street. His stance is proud and aristocratic (familiar, normal to him). "No," he says. "He doesn't deserve her."

Somewhere in the food market, Sasuke waits. Somewhere in the fresh market, Sakura struggles. Sasuke sneezes (he does that a lot now; is he on everyone's mind?). Sakura shakes her head, again and again and finally makes it to Sasuke's side. Sasuke looks down at her, but she looks away, toward the friendly people and the overflowing stalls of fruits and vegetables.

Sakura walks away.

Sasuke watches.

12. sometimes I think I hate you

Sakura is sitting at a desk, a book opened in front of her (large books for large brains; what does this word mean?). Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she can distantly hear someone firmly knocking on her door. Her eyes close for a few moments before she slowly stands up and walks towards the front door of her apartment.

She opens the door to peer out into the rain and deep black eyes (the void that sucks you in). The pink-haired girl almost gasps, but holds it in, as she does with so many emotions in front of Sasuke (still weak, Sakura? the voice mocks) and leans against the doorway, letting him stand out in the rain.

"Sasuke-kun?" she asks, and she isn't nearly so cordial as she was the last time he saw her. What are you doing here?

He can see behind her, to the desk at the back of her living room, to the large tomes of books that line her bookcases and how everything in the house is neat except that lived-in back corner. Sasuke's eyes flicker between a particularly large book and a particularly small book before landing back on her face. He frowns – aren't you going to invite me in.

As if she could read his mind, she walks in and leaves the door open for him to close. He does close the door, quietly setting it into its place.

Sakura absently wonders why Sasuke just didn't sneakily break in (she knows what Sasuke is capable of; he is the prodigy) as she walks back towards the small kitchen. "Would you like something to drink, Sasuke-kun?"


So she pours him a glass of water and sets it down on the coffee table (on a magazine so as not to ruin the wood) that he is standing next to. Black eyes watch her as she settles into the couch. "What are you doing here?" she asks frankly.

He sits down on the other side of the couch. Sasuke's brows furrow slightly, his eyebrows swooping down to between his eyes, in which there is a sad kind of confusion and bemusement. "I don't know."

The pink-haired girl lightly smiles as she shakes her head. "Sometimes, I think I hate you." (His eyes glance upwards quickly in surprise, only to realize she's kidding about something so, so serious.) She laughs and smiles (still smiles) sweetly at him. "What am I going to do with you, Sasuke-kun?"

13. somehow he is still standing straight

It's strange, Sasuke thinks, to see Sakura not so in love with him. (Deep down, deep deep deep, he knows that she still loves him. She has to still love him.) And it's strange to see her go from hot to cold, and then to hot and to cold. Sakura smiles and then yells and then she's hugging him with all her heart.

He waits for her outside the hospital, at ten o' clock at night (sharp), and she steps outside. She's wearing scrubs with an uncharacteristic white doctor coat over them. Sakura doesn't think she looks especially pretty but Sasuke finds himself wanting to tell her that she looks nice.

She notices him standing there. The green-eyed girl slowly (desperately slow) smiles.

"Sasuke-kun," she acknowledges. Sasuke steps up next to her, hands resolutely in his pockets (somehow he is still standing straight) and softly grunts his greeting.

Sakura shrugs her 'oh, Sasuke' shrug and walks on past him, towards somewhere else. Sasuke follows.

(Naruto, on his way to see Tsunade-sama about his Hokage training sees this and does a double take: Sasuke following Sakura? What blasphemy is this?

He smiles and laughs boisterously, still almost-frowning.

But things… things are different now.)

When they arrive at her house, many minutes later, she smiles at him and politely bids him goodnight (but Sasuke is having none of this). Before she can unlock the front door he is in front of her, and he is kissing her. It is more than Sakura has ever imagined. For a moment, she struggles against him, stiff as a board; but eventually, she relents, leaning in and closing her eyes.

Sasuke has realized that Sakura is no longer the twelve-thirteen-fifteen year old girl that he remembers.

By the time she opens her eyes, he is gone.

What do you want, Sakura?

14. you don't know?

Sakura shows up not much later (confused and ponderous) in front of the Hyuuga compound. She's soaked through because of the ghastly drizzling rain, and her eyes look slightly teary.

"Can I help you, Sakura-san?" a slightly familiar servant asks.

It takes her a moment, but then – "Could you – I would like to see Hinata, please."

She waits as the servant scurries back into the house, standing on ancient and powerful-seeming tatami mats and inhaling the scent of the fresh air that somehow lingers in the Hyuuga home. The ceiling is familiar; she's been in this room, waiting like this for Hinata so many times, that the visits are almost periodic.

Sakura is startled, pink hair dripping down, when Hinata enters the room. Behind her enters a puzzled Neji and a servant who takes one look at the soaked girl before shoving towels in her hands and shoving the sliding doors shut.

"Sakura-san?" Hinata asks, with her soft almost-voice. Neji stands still beside her, a constant rock in the ever-sinking world of nin.

The towels in Sakura's hands fall quickly to the floor. "I have to know, Hinata – I, I just need to know!" She bursts out (a quiet burst that is surprisingly familiar to Neji and to Hinata; this is Haruno Sakura), letting her eyes trail from the ground up to the pearl-colored Hyuuga eyes.

Neji thinks her eyes have never looked greener.

"Know what, Sakura-san?" Asks Hinata, not looking as shaken as her cousin. (What a surprise…)

Sakura's eyes widen perceptibly and her hands shake lightly (from the cold or from the anxiousness she will never recall) – "I need to know what you meant! What did you mean, that I could do it?" Or was it just the memorial, the black stone engraved with so many names, that got to you?

Now it is the Hyuuga girl's time to let her eyes widen. "You mean… you don't know?"

No, Sakura thinks, would I be here if I knew? The girl slowly shakes her head and inwardly Hinata laughs at her own foolishness. Neji knows nothing, understands nothing – but he watches, and he thinks he can guess by the anguished look on Sakura's face and the kind look on Hinata's.

"I meant that you could do it, Sakura – you could forgive him."

Neji smiles knowingly as Hinata explains. (Can't wait to tell Tenten about this. She was right – I could so be matchmaker if I wanted to.)

A sly look at Sakura's teary eyes and slightly bruised lips. "It seems as if you already have."

15. I can't give you what you want

Sasuke answers the door when someone tremulously knocks on it. Before his hand has even reached the handle, he has sent out a pulse of chakra to see who it is. When he recognizes it well enough (too well, he muses miserably) he closes his eyes. It is only the inevitable. (Sasuke is only as confused as Sakura.)

He opens the door. On the front step is Sakura, not as wet as she had been an hour or so ago, but still damp by any means. Her hair doesn't drip constantly onto the floor, but instead lies limply around her face. Her pink lips (still slight puffy from earlier in the night) are turned delicately down.

The Uchiha steps aside and lets Sakura in.

He leads her to the kitchen, and pours her a warm cup of tea. Sasuke sets it on the table in front of her. The chair is pulled out and she sits down. (She had thought that she would be nervous, but she's actually doing pretty well.)

They sit there for a few minutes, letting the slightly tension-less silence fill them up.

Can we change desinty? They wonder, sitting in the old Uchiha home, where Sasuke had once sat with his mother and his father and his brother. Could we maybe, just maybe, give it a try?

Sasuke's eyes are closed when he finally sighs, letting the air escape from his lungs with a big whoosh. "I'm sorry," he says quietly, and Sakura is slightly surprised. She thought that it might be her turn to apologize.

"For what?" she asks.

"For leading you on. I – I shouldn't have done that." He sighs again, with all the worries of the world. "I can't give you what you want, Sakura."

Her eyes have never looked greener, Sasuke thinks.

"All I want is you," she says honestly, and his eyes flicker – I don't even know if I can give you that.

But I'm willing to try.

The boy (man, now) leans across the table and leaves a chaste kiss on her lips. The uncharacteristic action both startles Sakura and makes her heart flutter with something she had thought that she hadn't felt in years. Is it hope? Love?

Whatever it may be, it is enough.

16. to fight destiny

"I think you should talk to the Hyuuga tomorrow," Sakura says later (much much later). Her head is resting in Sasuke's lap, and Sasuke leans against the cushions of the comfortable couch. "Especially Neji," she adds after a moment.

"Hn?" Sasuke murmurs, half asleep, running his hands lightly through Sakura's soft hair.

"I want you to tell Neji something for me. Tell him…" she smiles. "Tell him I said thank you."