Sasuke doesn't look at her when she walks into his cell, back straight, expression caught between determined and anxious. When she sits down next to his cot and stares almost guiltily at the chakra-control cuffs wrapped around his broken wrists, he barely flinches. Sakura resists the urge to touch him, to make sure he's real, to make him see her, and sighs softly.

"Sasuke-k –" she stops, starts again. "Sasuke."

He keeps staring at the ceiling. The shattered bones in his arms don't hurt as much when he doesn't move, barely breathes – not that he'll ever admit he's in pain, especially not when the girl he first considered useless when they were twelve is the one who inflicted the damage. Sakura takes a shaky breath and tries again. "Sasuke."

"Hn," he says between his teeth, partly because his chest feels like it's on fire, mostly because he doesn't want to talk to her. Sakura laughs, and there's a sadness in it that was never there before, not even when he called her annoying and she shrugged it off with a giggle.

"You really haven't changed that much, have you?" Her hands curl into the material of her skirt. She's here because she has to be, because Naruto won't do it, because even though they've got Sasuke back, they really don't. The look on his face when they'd burst in on his fight with Itachi, the look he'd given them, her, Naruto, when they'd broken his arms and all but killed his brother, had been cold enough to make her blood freeze.

She's here because Itachi is just down the hall and they'll never have Sasuke as long as he's breathing.

"I love you." He still doesn't look at her. She didn't expect him to, but she keeps going anyways. "Not the way I used to; that was a stupid crush that made my heart hurt and my head think it was more than infatuation. This is different; it's like… the way Naruto loves helping people or ramen or –" her voice hitches slightly. Sasuke tenses for a second and holds back a wince. His ribs still hurt from where Kiba kicked him. "Us."

She catches the slight curling of his fist and smiles. "It's not friendship, because it goes deeper than that, but it's not the kind of love where I want to marry you and have your kids." She snorts. "Yeah, that's definitely not going to be happening ever."

"Hn." She takes that as an agreement and holds back a grin. He might, or might not, be blushing a little, but she can't tell in the bad lighting.

"But it is love; it's the kind that makes you do anything for a person," she looks at him pointedly, "the kind that makes you break that person's arms."

If he weren't so pissed off and busy hating her, Sasuke thinks he might chuckle at that. When did she get so laid-back and, well, amusing? "Hn."

"Nice to see your vocabulary's expanded since the last time we saw you," she deadpans, flicking a stray bang out of her face. "I'm not here to make small talk though. Itachi is sitting in a cell ten feet away from here, being suspiciously complacent, and you want to kill him."

The noise Sasuke makes is a borderline growl. Sakura knows she has to keep talking fast, or something bad is going to happen. "Sasuke, do you know why I'm here?"

No response. She closes her eyes and tries to remember all the good things about Team Seven; it's the only way she'll be able to do this. "I'm here because you're never going to be ours – mine and Naruto's and maybe even Kakashi's – ever again while he's alive."

Sasuke still won't so much as glance in her direction, but he stiffens a little, and Sakura thinks it's more out of anticipation than anything. "And even if I get executed or exiled or something equally terrible for this, I have to do it because even if it was only for a little while, we were a team and we were a family a – and," she will not cry, she will not cry, she will not cry, "and Naruto has crappy chakra control anyways."

The binds around his wrists disappear. When she touches his arm, he grits his teeth and thinks if she presses any harder, he might break. But then there's a soft green glow and he can suddenly move his shoulder. She moves to the other arm, then each leg, then his sides, and finally, his collarbone. She's so different now, Sasuke wonders if he even knows her anymore.

"You've got ten minutes," she tells him, pulling away. "Naruto's distracting the guards right now, but I don't know how long it'll be before they figure out something's up. I know that's not as much time as you'd like, but, it's enough, right?"

He sits up and goes for the door. Sakura worries her lower lip; he hasn't looked at her the entire time and now she's wondering if maybe she never meant anything to him at all. But when he reaches the door, conveniently left unlocked, he glances over his shoulder at her and smirks.

"Sakura." She looks up at him, wide eyed, and blinks. His smirk gets a little wider. "Thank you."

Sakura holds back a sob, smiling so hard she's sure her face will crack. It's just like before, only it's not, because he isn't leaving them this time.

He's coming back.

originally posted to discordent 07/03/08. standard disclaimer applies.