Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Um, really, do I need to say anything about this?

I think generally everybody understands why it's on the list.


You guys do not need an explanation.

But I gotta say, it's freakin cute isn't it?

Chapter Thirteen: The Indirect Praise

As he isn't capable of directly complimenting her and rather likes the subtlety.

Sakura Haruno knew not to expect too much, if ever he were to come back. She knew it was best for her not to expect much of anything, really. This was Sasuke Uchiha, after all, and he always seemed to somehow shatter all her expectations to dust. He often tended to surprise her, and painfully so. But it was a rather hard thing to do, because she had always been, deep down, a girl filled with hopeless dreams and unending hopes. She was a dreamer.

So for a dreamer not to expect anything after the comeback of her seemingly lifelong love... it was nearly impossible.

Sakura tried, though. She really did. She nearly forced herself into not thinking of what could be, what could happen, if he ever came back. But it was hard, and eventually, she couldn't help making a few expectations.

She expected Sasuke to be uncomfortable, when he came back to the village. That he would drown beneath all those waves of glares, disgust and angry remarks of the citizens. That he would retreat to himself in isolation because it didn't make him feel good to be this hated. But she found herself to be surprised when there was none of that. Instead, Sasuke was crystal clear about the fact that he didn't care he was hated, and that nobody trusted him. He didn't give a shit about it. He strolled down the streets, hands in his pockets, ignoring all the glares and sneers sent his way.


She also expected Sasuke not to talk to her, or actually any of them, for that fact. This expectation was somewhat met, but she found that she should have raised it even higher. Not only did Sasuke not talk to her in first the three months he'd been back, but he also completely ignored the fact she was there. He made her feel so goddamn invisible, as if she were never there in the first place. As if she hadn't confessed to him four years ago, hadn't tried to get him back, hadn't tried to kill him, hadn't... existed.


Oh, and she did expect him to be living in his family's mansion, of course. Of all the things she could have been sure about, this was something she had always believed in. She expected he would go back there, and replace all those bad memories with good ones... ones spent with his loved ones. But Kami, was she ever so wrong. Sasuke refused to even step near the Uchiha grounds, almost as if he were afraid to go back. Maybe there were too many horrible memories, and he couldn't bear to think of it. But she thought of it more as a sort of defense mechanism. He would avoid the grounds, thus also avoiding a possible breakdown. It was a possibility.


Ah... there was also her expectation of the details of his return. She expected that Naruto would at least tell her how and why (oh why...) he came back. Expected that he would be so damn happy and glowing as he would tell her his heroic act that made Sasuke change his mind. But... no. No, damn it! She didn't get any of that! Instead, she had a Naruto who always gave her such a heavy hearted gaze, and half a broken smile, and who told her that it didn't matter how he came back... because what counted was that he was back.


But most of all, her highest expectation, it was that he would change. That Sasuke would only be this way temporarily. That he would open up again, he would go back to his old self. But one year passed, and then two... and then three and four... and Sasuke never changed. He never stopped being so passive, never stopped reaching for more power, never stopped pushing them away. He. Never. Changed.

So, so... unexpected. It broke her heart.

All at once,

everything is different.

"Why haven't you given up on him already?"

A deep sigh left the mouth of the pink haired head medic, and her eyes momentarily flashed with sadness. She turned to look at her best friend, who had her arms crossed over her chest, her blonde hair tied up in a bun rather than her usual ponytail, and who was gazing at Sakura expectantly. She shook her head and shrugged, not bothering to answer with the same words she's always said before to the same question.

"I don't know, Ino. I don't know."

And Ino left it at that. She knew not to push answers out of her best friend on this subject, because she was so tired already... so worn out by all these years of loving such a complicated, fucked up boy who didn't seem to give a shit about her. Sakura... the girl thought fondly. You deserve so much more, don't you know that? You deserve love, rivers of it. Something he will never be able to give you... Her fist tightened, and she gritted her teeth.

And she really had not meant to drag it on, but it just slipped out. "Why can't you see he's no good for you...?" she murmured, her voice laced with pain. Her head then bowed down in sorrow, because she couldn't bear to think her friend was ruining all her energy on some boy who could never make her as happy as she deserved to be. "You can't keep doing this all your life, Sakura! He'll-"

A hand softly touched her blonde, mane, which made Ino nearly jump up in shock, but as soon as she raised her eyes to look at Sakura... she immediately wished she hadn't. Ino had never seen so much pain and exhaustion in her eyes, it was heartbreaking. She wasn't even shedding tears, but seeing her like this, so broken and tired... it was worse.

"I know," is all she whispered, her voice shallow and seemingly out of breath. "I know." She didn't try to smile, to reassure her best friend, because she knew that it would not matter. Ino would see through it, like she always did. "I guess I just... forgot how not to love him," she provided, sighing again. "And believe me, if I knew how to fall out of love with him, I would do it, Ino." There. That's where they were. Those tears. "But... I can't. And although he won't admit it, I know he needs me. And I need him. Not loving him would just... it wouldn't feel right."

Let them fall, damnit, Ino thought desperately. Let me see you cry again, Sakura, let me know you're not completely gone. That the old Sakura, the one who's happy and not ashamed to cry is still in there.

"In time, I'm sure... everything will fall into place," she finished, smiling a little. The girl brought her best friend in her arms, and she hugged her tight, before kissing her forehead and turning to walk out of the room. "Thank you, Ino," the girl murmured softly before seeing her way out.

The kiss, although it was not romantic or meant to scare her, still brought Ino to her knees, body shaking wildly. Because during that tender moment, she had been able to catch sight of a single tear that had been trailing down Sakura's cheek.

The Old Sakura was still there.

This single knowledge was enough to make her burst out crying, with relief, anger, sadness and joy pressing down onto her heart.

I can't

turn this around.

"Hi, Sasuke-kun," Sakura greeted without glancing at him, while she clicked onto her pen. She didn't wait for him to answer, though, because she knew he never did. She read the overview of his condition on the board, and wrote down missing information, all the while voicing aloud the vital parts, as it was a habit of hers. "Dislocated arm, stab wound on the hand, two broken ribs, and... a cracked skull?" she raised her eyes to him, eyes slightly wide. "How are you still conscious with a cracked skull?"

"I wasn't, until a while ago," he said flatly.

"Oh," was all she said. She realized then that he hadn't looked at her ever since she entered, and was rather distracted by the view outside. "Well then," she sighed, putting the board aside and fetching her medic gloves. "Let's get you fixed."

When she approached and touched his shoulder, she felt him stiffen, and it almost made her smile the way that he, Sasuke Uchiha, hadn't been able to restrain a soft hiss of pain. He glared at the floor when she put light pressure on it, feeling the bones, and when she told him she was going to set it back on the count of three, she didn't miss the way his jaw tightened, as if he was gritting his teeth.

"One," she counted aloud, before snapping his shoulder back in place, earning herself a sharp groan from the boy.

"You said three," he growled, trying to pry his newly placed arm away.

Sakura shrugged, and firmly held on to the limb while he hand glowed green, lessening the pain. "It always hurts less when it's sudden and that you're not expecting it. Since you're more or less relaxed and all." She had to hold back the smile when he kept trying to pull away, his face scrunching up in a wince. "You know, I'm trying to heal you right now, you should stop struggling."

"You're not helping it," he sharply said, glaring at her full on.

"That's because you're forcing your arm, you idiot," she retorted calmly, glowering back.

He seemed taken aback at her insult.

But she ignored that fact and pulled her glowing hand away to form seals that he, for once, didn't recognize. Her brows furrowed in concentration as she performed her newest technique, and much to the man's shock, her hands started glowing in a very bright white light. With intrigued and almost awed eyes, he watched as she applied the technique to his ribs, and felt an almost intrusive energy surge through his injuries, healing them almost instantly.

His eyes flicked to her face, and he noticed how she seemed to still be extremely concentrated doing this task that normally wouldn't even make her break a sweat.

Her hands then moved to his head, and Sasuke felt the same surge of energy go through, making the pain vanish almost immediately, and healing his previously grave injury. It was an odd feeling to be healed this way, because it didn't feel like normal chakra. And curious as he was, Sasuke felt the need to know what it was.

"That's new," he commented when she pulled her hands away, the bright light fading. His comment might have been meant to be a compliment, but it was definitely supposed to urge her to answer, although Sakura didn't seem to get the hang of his words. She merely nodded and confirmed that, yes, indeed it was a new technique.

"I've been doing research," was her only explanation.

She then turned on her heels and grabbed the board, heading for the door, before she was stopped by his words.

"Ah," he replied. "I see."

She turned, paused, and looked at him in a somewhat bemused expression. But no more words were exchanged. He only found himself to be surprised again when she gave him a final look, one that he hadn't seen from her in three years.

Pain. Longing. Nostalgia.


After all these years, she's still in love with me, he realized.

His lips tightened.

Stupid girl.

You belong with me...

...not swallowed in the sea.

He had just finished a long and painful spar with Naruto, one where they almost went all out on each other, and he was finding himself to be surprised at how good she had gotten with her medical skills.

Sakura was an amazing med nin, there was no denying that.

She started out just like any other, but her determination to get stronger and better so she could save him alongside Naruto out of the darkness that he had been slowly giving himself into... that was what lead her to be one of the best (if not the best).

She struggled through the years of tough training of Tsunade to get him into the light again. And when they finally did, she went on with more advanced techniques and researches to gain his acceptance. To show him how strong she could be.

And right now, as she healed his painfully big bruises and other cringe-worthy injuries more than half the time faster than any other medic could, he seemed to realize that this girl might have attained what she wanted out of him.

"That was fast," he muttered, while rotating and flexing his arm, as if testing it. "The others wouldn't have been able to do the same."

"You think so?" she said, smiling a little. If I didn't know him any better, I'd think he was praising me, she thought to herself, her smile fading.


His monotonous answer proved to her just that... for a moment. But right when she caught the look in his eyes, one that was far too surprisingly honest, she caught herself thinking that maybe, yes, he did mean to praise her.

"Well..." she started, "...I have trained longer than them."

She was far too busy fixing the rest of his injuries to notice the slight narrow of his eyes, almost as if he'd been disappointed that she hadn't taken his subtle compliment seriously.

I keep running into walls

that I can't break down.

It was horrible.

He never thought he would have to see her this way. Not even his nightmares back when he was still thirteen, compared to this. Sakura was a strong girl, both mentally and physically, and she managed well to protect herself these past few years. Even when she couldn't protect herself, Naruto, Kakashi and himself were all there to do just that.

But today, Sasuke wasn't quick enough to do so, and Naruto and Kakashi were not present.

Now here she was, lying on the ground in a pool of blood that was but her own. The same coppery liquid slipped from her mouth every so often, when she choked on it, and it also covered her throat, where the enemy had sliced her. She had been lucky that her vital artery hadn't been cut, but it came very close to it. Now he was holding that wound, putting pressure to stop the bleeding, and he was almost screaming at her for being such an idiot.

"You could have dodged it, you stupid girl! You have the skills for it, you're a goddamn jounin, Sakura! Why the hell didn't you see him coming? !" he shouted, his voice high with anger, but with something else too.

She grinned, despite her chaotic state, and he sneered. "What's so goddamn worth smiling for right now? !"

"You're complimenting me for the first time... when I'm dying..." she slurred out, coughing blood.

These words nearly made him coil back, his coal orbs flashing with something akin to fear, but it was not long before the fury started pumping more intensely in his veins at the resonance of her last word.



"Don't say that you idiot," he growled, gripping her almost desperately. "You're not dying."

She tried to smile genuinely, but it came out as fake, and more of a grimace than anything else. "I'm a medic Sasuke... I know my chances aren't good..."

Oh, he could see how her eyes had saddened at his reaction, at her own words. He could see how her bottom lip trembled. He could see... he could see how goddamn scared she was.

"Shut up!" he barked, glaring. Please, he distinctly thought in his mind. Please, just shut up. I can't bear the thought.

(It was funny how, after all these years, this was truly the moment where he thought that his life wouldn't be right without her in it.)

"At least... I'm glad to see you still cared..." she whispered, fingers lightly touching his knee. "...and lived long enough... to hear you compliment me..."

The move, the ever so light touch, seemed to trigger something in Sasuke. Some kind of emotion, or realization... some kind of thing that just made his heart twist and turn and palpitate so frighteningly fast that he thought, for just one moment, that he was having a heart attack.

"I complimented you before."

It was staggered. A quick, almost desperate sentence that left his lips instantly.

Sakura's chest heaved quickly, and gargled sounds left her mouth before ceasing when she turned her head to the side and coughed out blood. Blood leaked from her already bloodied lips, and it made her look so sickeningly broken.

Her head turned to look at him once more. "It's okay, Sasuke... you don't have to lie..." she croaked, as she coughed faintly again.

Her team mate gritted his teeth, and a staggered breath left him. "No, Sakura. I did compliment you. You just didn't seem to grasp it."

(He so desperately wanted to remind her, to make her understand.)

Her eyes started dropping, ever so slowly. "Did you...?" she murmured, her emerald pools shining with all the love that she had held for him for far too many years now.

He didn't fail to catch sight of it.


There. There it was.

That smile.

(so soft, and true... her sweet, lovely smile that disappeared the more he broke her throughout the years... the smile that no one ever came to witness nowadays...)

"So... glad... to hear... that..." came the whisper of the pinkette, whose eyes were shut now.

Sasuke didn't know what lead his heart to stop, then.

Maybe it was the way the life suddenly vanished from her eyes before they fell shut. Or maybe it was the way he couldn't feel any pulse on her throat anymore. Or maybe it was how her head lolled to the side as a sign of loss of consciousness...or death.

But either way, he felt his heart stop beating for a long moment. He felt an anger, a sadness, a disgusting truth sinking in to his very soul. Numbing him.


But his mouth failed him, and he couldn't even finish her name.

A severe emptiness and grief filled him, and he was left feeling so numb that he didn't even realize the way his eyes burned and blurred with unshed tears, and how his heart crumbled into tiny pieces... The same feelings as when he lived the death of his clan.

Sasuke cried in silence that night.

(And he would never know he did. Nor would anybody else.)

My eyes wide shut

because of you.

"How is she?" the blue eyed boy asked, fingers clenching around the bars of her hospital bed. "She's gonna make it, isn't she?"

The way that the fifth Hokage refused to meet his gaze was enough to make his heart drop, and the boy clenched his teeth in sorrow. A part of him needed the woman to remain quiet, because he knew he wouldn't properly be able to bear the idea of his precious friend and former crush dying. It wouldn't be right, to be living a life without her.

"She's alive, Naruto. That's all that matters for now," the older woman said, her gaze narrowing almost in fondness as she looked at the pink haired mess on the bed. "We're lucky we were able to save her that night, when Sasuke brought her in."

"...And how is he?" Naruto asked, his gaze revealing how worried he was for his best friend as well. Last he'd heard, Sasuke wasn't doing so well. He hadn't gotten that much information about what happened on the mission, or in what state they were both in when they returned... but he had heard enough to know that both their situations wasn't good.

"Grumpy, but he's fine. Recovering rather well, actually," the Godaime smirked and put her hands on her hips, while she shook her head. "Normally, I would have scolded his ass for going past his limits, because it's deadly, and it can destroy your career as a ninja... but I can forgive him this time. He's brought her back just in time to save her life... while risking his own."

Naruto's eyes widened. "He's awake?" he suddenly spoke, his tone much brighter than it was only moments before. "The teme's awake?"

"Has been ever since this morning," Tsunade confirmed, giving the blond a positive look. "You can see him if you like."

For one split second, relief and happiness washed over Naruto's ocean blue eyes... but the moment only lasted shortly. The distant, slow beeping of the machines in the room, and the sight of Sakura's battered body, reminded him that not everything was okay. That it was wrong to feel this way, when they were all fighting to keep her from slipping to death.


The boy stepped closer to the bed, touching his team mate's small hand, and he regarded her with a sad tenderness. The young medic's hand was cold, nearly freezing, and her skin felt so dry. He felt strikingly shocked, then, as her hands were usually so warm, and her skin so soft to the touch. Suddenly, reality hit him like a brick once more: Sakura's health really wasn't in good standing. She could...

His team mate could very well die.

"Naruto, I think it's time you left. I have to work on her," the honey eyed woman said as she stepped beside him. She regarded him with a stern authoritative gaze, one that would have made any other mere ninja obligate immediately, but that didn't bother the knucklehead blonde. "That's an order, Naruto Uzumaki. I want you out," Tsunade spoke again, tone now sharp like a blade.

"Can I see the teme?" he grumbled, turning to look at the older woman.

"Of course," she said. "Now get out."

"Hai, Tsunade baa-chan," he sighed, proceeding to walk out the room while waving her off like she was an annoying fly.

"NARUTO!" Tsunade growled, clearly aggravated by the constant nickname. "STOP CALLING ME THAT!"

"Not a chance!" the boy called back, laughing lightly.

The humor was short lived, though, as the severe situation sank back in.

"Time to see Sasuke-teme and get some clarification on what happened," he muttered, his gaze narrowing threateningly.

I'm not a princess...

...and this ain't a fairytale.

For some unexplained reason, Naruto hadn't expected Sasuke to look so beat up and plainly terrible when he saw him again. Perhaps it was only because Sasuke hadn't had his life endangered by bruises or injuries, but instead because of chakra depletion and body exhaustion... since it meant to Naruto, somehow, that when he would wake, his chakra and energy, along with the straining of his muscles, would be all back up to full blow.

Or... perhaps it was just because he was Uchiha Sasuke, and had trouble seeing him weak and fragile.

Overall, Naruto just didn't think he would get to see him so vulnerable.

For a long moment, silence reigned over the both of them. Neither dared to speak. Was it stubbornness? Fear? Arrogance? Anxiety? Frustration? …Tiredness?

No one knew.

"Is she okay?" Sasuke finally asked, breaking the silence with his quiet voice.

Naruto snorted. "Only barely managing to live, no thanks to you," he said, his tone sharp and filled with anger and something akin to bitterness.

"I brought her here alive," the other replied flatly. "She is living because of me, dobe."

"BUT YOU DIDN'T PROTECT HER, TEME!" the blonde boy finally shouted, letting his fury and his desperation show in his gaze and his voice. "YOU DIDN'T PROTECT HER!"

"I risked my career, my life to bring her here," Sasuke seethed, his mouth forming a sneer.



His words rang true, hard. Resonated in the dark haired man's head. He couldn't find it in himself to deny it, to retort back.

He's right, a voice whispered in his mind. You could have stopped this, could have avoided all the drama and tragedy.

His gaze narrowed, almost sadly. "I wasn't fast enough."

The nearly breathy whisper, along with his unusually sad look, triggered something in his best friend. Naruto couldn't bring himself to remain so pissed off, and disappointed. He could bring it himself to blame him on all levels.

"I didn't pay extreme attention," the Uchiha admitted, "because she can handle herself, Naruto."

(He meant every word, and Naruto knew it.)

"But it's your job, Sasuke!" His name was voiced, and Sasuke knew that meant that he was deeply serious. "It's always been our job to protect her, you know that!"

There was no more anger, it seemed. Only guilt, regret, and a terrible sadness.

The dark haired man closed his eyes. "Sakura isn't a little girl anymore, Naruto."

"You're supposed to keep an eye on her!" the blonde cried out. "You let your guard down!"

"Everybody makes mistakes," the other replied quietly.

Another silence settled between them, and the tension seemed to grow again.

"I picked her for the mission. Did you know that?" the quiet boy told his best friend.

"Now why the hell did you do that when you knew how dangerous it was?" the other growled, fists tightening.

"Because she has impressive skills that many do not possess, and she is a very competent partner in missions like these."

The blonde stiffened, mouth slightly falling open from the shock that settled inside him.

...Silence. Again.

"If she dies, your ass is going to hell," Naruto finally seethed, point his fist at him threateningly.

Sasuke's gaze remained monotonous as he regarded his best friend. "My ass has been promised to go to hell ever since my brother killed my clan, and that I swore to avenge them," he then said.

No more words were exchanged, for there was nothing else that could be said.

When I look in your eyes

it's a wonder.

"Sakura's awake."


"She wants to see you."

The raven dark haired man's lips quirked upwards, almost as if he was amused... or even touched by the revelation. However, he made the effort to hide the almost-smile away from his best friend, because he didn't want him to think he was getting soft.

(even if he was. oh he knew he was. but did he want to be reminded? no.)

"...I'm not surprised," he mutters, closing his dark eyes.

(he means this for both the blond's remarks, but Naruto knows very much about that.)

"Is there a sudden explanation as to why you had so much faith in Sakura-chan?" his best friend suddenly asks him. "Or is it just because she was on the verge of death and your stupid brain seemed to grasp how much she truly meant to you at that moment?"

Funny you'd ask, dobe, Sasuke found himself thinking. The irony of it all...

"I always had faith in her," Sasuke says. "For much longer than you think."

(Yes, he has always believed in her strength, her wisdom. Always believed that she would grow to be an amazing ninja)

"I have trouble believing that," the blonde mutters back, his eyes narrowing in doubt. "You haven't exactly showed any appreciation towards her ever since you came back."

"Believe what you will. I don't care," Sasuke replied flatly.

"You never do."




Naruto sighs. "...she still wants to see you, you know. So get your ass over there before I drag you myself."

His best friend nearly smirks to himself, and this makes the blond smile.


I'll know in my heart

when you need me.

"Sasuke-kun..." the young woman whispers warmly, a bright smile grazing her lips. "It's good to see you."

"Hn," the man grunts, shoving his hands in his pockets as he regarded her carefully.

Sakura giggled, gazing at him softly. "A proper greeting would have been nicer..." she teased, her grin never fading.

Sasuke says nothing, but only stands against the wall opposite to her, almost as if he were hesitant to approach her. Maybe he was feeling uncomfortable to see her doing well, since after all, the last time he had seen her was when she was bloody and unconscious? It was possible.

"Ah... I forgot you don't do nice..."

Sasuke's lips tighten, and his eyes narrow, almost in a warning. "...Sakura."

She smiles. "I heard how I owe my life to you, Sasuke-kun... Thank you. You risked your life for me, and I'll never be grateful enough."

Sasuke nods, but he says nothing in return. Some part of him knows it's because he didn't know what he could have said, or done. He wasn't used to feeling this way, not one bit. It had been a long time those emotions had risen in him.

"I thought you died," he suddenly says, his voice so, so quiet.

She is surprised. Almost weary.


Sasuke clears his throat. "When you slipped out of consciousness. I couldn't feel your heartbeat. I thought you were dead."

His head tilts to the side, and he nearly scoffs. She thinks it's because he isn't used to opening himself this way.

"Ah... sorry," she mumbles, a bit shyly.


"I'm glad you didn't."

She thought she was imagining things, but was that a blush on his cheeks?

"Sorry?" she blurts out, bemused.

"Die. I'm glad you didn't die," Sasuke snaps, refusing to meet her gaze, as he was still aware of the way his ears burned. "You're... a very valuable kunoichi... with competent skills. And... I may care about you more than I think I do." His ears burn more, and he thinks to himself that he is doing something stupid and ridiculous. "You're a dear person to me... and I'd be a fool to ever let that knowledge ever slip away from me again."

Sakura was not breathing, as she was too shocked at his words. "If I didn't know you any better, I'd think this was a confession," she says in a startled breath.


"...This is...?"


She gasps. "Oh my go–"

Sasuke interrupts her by abruptly putting something in her hand, before he turns around and growls, "get better." His blush is still apparent as he walks out the room.

She looks down to see what he had given her, only to see a paper which said: Hospital entrance. Nine o' clock. Meet me.

"Sasuke-kun..." she murmurs softly, a blush creeping to her cheeks as she smiles coyly.

(Two months later, word got around the street that it was official: Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha were in a relationship.

Life was good.)

Well, it seems like a dream

and I just can't believe it's real

Oh my, how I missed writing so much! It feels good. :3 But I seem to have had some trouble with my verb tenses in here, sorry for that.

Ah, so yes, I am aware this is a bit of a dark chapter, but I really like the outcome of it all, which is rare for me to say. I'm glad it came out how I thought it would, even though originally, I planned to make this a fun chapter... but the subject is still clear and there. :)

I'd like to hear about your opinions too. :D

Love you guys,