AN: I'm...confused? It appears that people are reading this story, and yet there is a very distinct lack of reviews. Feedback is greatly appreciated. Yes, the chapters have shrunk a little in length, but that's what fits this part of the story. There's not much going on physically at this point and I can only wade through so much emotional angst in one chapter.
Anyway, we get to see a little bit of Sasuke and where he's at in this chapter. I've actually plotted out an ending for this fic (although to be honest i often think Ino and Sasuke shouldn't end up together in this story. He's just so... ARGH! Jerk. You'll see). But the point remains that I have found the stories natural path, and it seems suitably drama-filled and angst ridden. And also allows for the characters to naturally progress down their chosen paths, which was kind of the point of this to begin with. To explore in detail a relationship that technically shouldn't work instead of just 'Sasuke came back, Ino's over him but their friends' (not that I don't love those stories, because lets be honest, I do.). Because Ino is nothing if not loyal, and Sasuke is nothing if not selfish and a traitor, and I wanted to see what would happen if we really looked into that aspect. And I promise a good ending!
Well, now that all that is out of the way, on with the fic!
Time seemed to pass in disjointed fits and starts. Some days Sasuke accompanied Ino to work as she did her paperwork and worked with her associates (or minions, as Ino liked to call them). Other days when she had to deal with things that were above his clearance level she pawned him off on Naruto, or occasionally Sakura. They were all busy, but knew that Sasuke could not be left alone and so they made it work.
Tsunade's parting comment to Ino the night of the party had not escaped Sasuke's attention, although it didn't seem to affect Ino at all. She continued to behave towards him just as she had before. Cold, sarcastic, and distant. Occasionally a joke and a shared laugh would break the ice between them but it wasn't enough and Sasuke did not understand it.
She had loved him once - that much he knew for certain. She had loved him. And if she had loved him once there was no reason for her not to again. She didn't quite trust him anymore, but if he could just make her understand that his feelings for her were real then surely she would get it. She would love him back.
As for the Hokage's comment that Ino should keep her eyes out for someone else for Sasuke, the brooding male found that almost laughable. There would never be anyone for him but her. She was beautiful, achingly so, and intelligent and strong. She was a fighter and a winner and everything that he was looking for in a wife. Everything he wanted in the mother of his children. If anyone thought that he would ever give her up, they were sorely mistaken. Ino was his.
His brooding was cut short when he realized Sakura was waving her hand back and forth in front of his face, trying to get his attention. He grunted in reply, letting her know that he was listening.
"Ino should be back soon Sasuke, you ready to go?" his former team mate asked with a soft smile.
He nodded silently, but before he could slip back off into his musings Sakura continued to speak.
'Look, Sasuke, I don't know what you're doing to her but you have to stop."
Sasuke's dark eyes cut up abruptly, staring into her pale green ones in confusion.
"You're hurting her. Stop it."
"I'm not doing anything to her," Sasuke contended.
"Then what's wrong with her? She's not well, and she's not talking to me about it. She's been even worse than usual ever since you came back," Sakura said matter-of-factly.
Her words tore a hole in Sasuke's heart. He made her worse? What did she mean?
"Look Sasuke," Sakura elaborated when she sensed his confusion. "Ino's life hasn't been easy since you left. I mean, first you left and that gutted everyone. Me and her especially, but I got over it better than she did."
Sasuke felt glee rise in his chest. She loved him! He knew it!
"And then her sensei died, Sasuke, and she was there and she couldn't save him. He was killed by a member of Akatsuki. And that was that for Ino. Her team got revenge and took out the shinobi that killed their teacher, but Ino has never been the same. She's a better kunoichi because of it, that much is undeniable, but she's not happy. And ever since you came back it's like all her old wounds have re-opened. She wasn't happy before but she was functioning and alive. Now…now she's like a ghost. So whatever you're doing to her, stop it."
"I'm not hurting her," Sasuke protested. "I love her. I came back for her! She doesn't believe me though," he pouted.
Sakura stilled, momentarily frozen in shock. "You love her? You told her that?"
"Yes," Sasuke said defiantly, eyes narrowing in concern in case Sakura decided to revert back to her fangirl tendencies. "She keeps ignoring me."
"Hey Forehead!" A bright voice came from the doorway as it was pushed open with a loud bang. "I'm here to relieve you of your duty as temporary Uchiha babysitter."
"Hi Ino," Sakura said slowly, her mind racing with Sasuke's recent admission. "Sasuke and I were just talking about you."
"Oh?" Ino said with a scowl and a glare at Sasuke. "Isn't that interesting. Come on, let's go. I have a lot I need to get done today." Ino spun around and began marching for the door. Sasuke got up to follow and then thought better of it. He sat back down.
"I was just telling Sakura how much I love you," Sasuke threw out at Ino's retreating back.
The blonde froze, body tense and mind racing, before she took another step and walked out of Sakura's apartment, slamming the door behind her.
"You need to be careful," Sakura said as Sasuke rose to follow Ino. He shot her a puzzled glance. "I'm serious," Sakura nodded sagely. "If you really love her, you're in for a hell of a ride trying to win her over."
"Hn," Sasuke grunted, trusting his favourite monosyllable to carry him through this conversation. Sakura had no idea what she was talking about. He loved Ino, and that was all that mattered. Sooner or later she would realize he loved her and they could start living happily ever after, or whatever.
"Shut up," Sakura said, a look of disgust on her features. "You really haven't changed at all have you. This is my friend we're talking about here, don't grunt at me! And just to be clear, I'm rooting for Kiba. Now get out of my house. And if you hurt Ino, I'll break your face."
Sasuke resisted the urge to grunt again and rose, following Ino out of Sakura's apartment. He would be confused by Sakura's threats – she'd never threatened him before – but it was just her jealousy for Ino showing through. That girl was almost despicable.
And yes, that is Sasuke's opinion of Sakura, not mine. Review! I promise actual plot points in the next chapter (like a date! :O).