For the blanket, who now owes me. :D Also for everyone who's been so tolerant of my disloyalty to my real OTP.
Blanket disclaimer: I own nothing someone else does.
A Highly Contested Topic
The more time passed, the fuzzier the details became. What words had he used, how had he touched her, did he – even once – meet her eyes? Sakura knew that she couldn't relive the experience – nor did she want to – so she created her own interpretation of the night Sasuke left, but she needed just one piece of information to complete it.
That was why she defeated Karin, why she launched herself at Suigetsu so he couldn't slow down Naruto, why she swiped a hand at the base of Sasuke's neck, like he had done to her, so long ago.
She had one question. Just one question.
"Sasuke," she said, deliberately leaving out the honorific. He stared up at her, silent and unreadable. Was he angry that they had stopped his attack? Was he relieved to be alive? Had he missed them? Her? Sakura couldn't tell. "The night you left, did you thank me before knocking me out?"
She just wanted to be sure he had really given her that. Sasuke furrowed his eyebrows in surprise for a split-second, then answered, "Yes." No question about it. Like he had been thinking of that night too.
Sakura smiled, said, "Get some sleep, Sasuke-kun," then left his hospital room.
"You're too attached," Tsunade had said, when Sakura and Naruto had brought Sasuke to the hospital. She was examining his reports, coolly ignoring Sakura's rising anger. "You can't treat him."
"I have to!" Sakura said. She had never been disrespectful to her mentor, but Sasuke brought out the worst in her. Or best, maybe. "Please."
Tsunade had looked at her then, and maybe seen something she liked in her expression – maybe the same thing that urged her to take Sakura on as an apprentice – and said, "Why?"
Because Kakashi had made him strong enough to leave, and Naruto was strong enough to bring him back, and Sakura only had this one thing to prove herself, to prove that she loved Sasuke too.
"Because I'm the only one that can handle him," she said, and walked into the Operating Room.
Tsunade wasn't happy when Sakura finished operating, still wasn't happy now, three days later, while Sakura continued to treat Sasuke – and maybe favor him a little, although she tried very hard to hide it. Sakura didn't much care. She had her team back. She had her team back. Who else did she need?
Sasuke spent his time alone in a heavily-guarded hospital room until he healed enough for a proper trial. Danzo had been killed, and even if it hadn't been made quite official, he had still been Hokage. Sasuke's attack on him would not be taken lightly.
Still, Tsunade was weak, Kakashi would take up the mantle of Hokage, and Sakura knew he would let no harm come to Sasuke.
She assured Naruto of this, day in and day out, right before she walked through the guarded door, waving off Genma's warnings, and set eyes on Sasuke.
"Naruto wants to see you," she said to him one day, picking up his file from the foot of his bed.
Sasuke stared sullenly out the window. "I can hear him," he said.
"I'm sure the whole village can," she agreed, stepping closer. "How are you feeling?"
Sasuke shrugged. "When do I get out of here?"
"Don't be in such a hurry," she warned. "You have a pack of very angry elders waiting for you out there." She set down the file and walked over to the sink in the corner to wash her hands.
"Hn." Sakura turned and Sasuke stared up at her. "How's my team?"
Sakura winced. Sasuke always asked her that.
"Healing," she said. That could apply to both teams, after all.
He didn't seem satisfied by this answer, but he didn't press. Sasuke could at least be assured that his teammates were safe; Sakura wouldn't lie about that.
"Do you want to see them?"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "I thought I wasn't allowed."
That wasn't an answer. "You're not," Sakura said with a sigh, ordering him to raise his arm so she could unroll the blood-soaked bandages. He had gotten horribly beat-up by both Akatsuki and Konoha shinobi. It hurt just to look at him. "But at least you have me?"
"At least I have you," Sasuke echoed, not sounding very happy about it. Well, at least he didn't sound upset about it, either, Sakura told herself.
Sasuke didn't see anyone lately. When he first returned, Tsunade had allowed a brief Team Seven reunion. Naruto had been over the moon, but Sakura was awkward, Kakashi was watchful, and Sasuke was silent. It had hardly been the meeting she had always dreamed of.
After that, Tsunade only allowed Sakura, as Sasuke's medic, to see him regularly. Sometimes he was visited by a guard, or the Hokage herself. Otherwise, Sasuke was kept in isolation.
How ironic, that Sakura was the only thing keeping him from being alone. She hoped he didn't still find her annoying.
"Are you lonely?" She tried for light and teasing, but the question came out as honest and sincere as it really was. Sakura cleared her throat.
"No," he said. He added, with an ironic twist to his lips, "I have you."
Sakura's heart thudded in her chest and she had to excuse herself.
"Sakura," Genma said, voice serious but eyes mocking, "No falling for your patient."
"Too late for that," Kakashi said with a ruffle of her hair. Sakura batted it away, blushing.
They were in the hallway outside Tsunade's office. Sakura had just left after giving Tsunade an update on Sasuke's condition, and Kakashi and Genma appeared to be going in.
"I am very professional," she assured Genma, thinking of the way Sasuke's hair was growing a little too long and into his eyes. It irritated him to no end.
His eyes were as pretty as they had been three years ago.
"It's okay," Kakashi said, leading Genma into the office. "No one has to know. Sasuke won't tell."
Of course he wouldn't. Just getting Sasuke to speak was a challenge, Sakura thought, smiling, as she walked down the hall.
"Do you want a haircut?" Sakura asked. Sasuke looked from the scissors in her hand, to her face, and back.
"You're going to cut my hair for me?" He scoffed. "I'm fine."
"I cut my own hair," she pointed out. She fingered the ends of her hair, thinking of the Chuunin Exams. "I have experience."
"That wasn't the best haircut," Sasuke said, and Sakura looked up, surprised. His gaze was distant; he appeared to be thinking about those same exams, though Sakura had been speaking in general.
"I can do better," she said, stepping forward. "Your hair's getting long."
He waved her away. "I like it," he said. Sakura thought of Uchiha Itachi and understood.
"So it's true," she said with a little laugh. Sasuke stared at her, and she explained: "You do like long hair. Just not on girls, I guess."
"I guess," he echoed.
"How about I trim your bangs?" she suggested. "Just so they don't get in your eyes."
Sasuke didn't reply for a moment. Then he inclined his head, turned to face her, and closed his eyes.
It was ridiculous how her pulse thrummed at such a simple gesture, Sakura told herself, even as she stepped closer to Sasuke, so she was standing between his legs. Sasuke's hands were settled on his knees. He had refused to wear a hospital gown, so Sakura had ordered a nurse to buy him a pair of loose-fitting black pants and a navy shirt. Then Naruto had stitched Sasuke's clan symbol on the back. She had told him, teasingly, that he was her most troublesome patient.
Now Sakura took a breath and reached out a hand to his face.
Sasuke's hand whipped out to catch hers before she made contact.
"Sorry," he said flatly, dropping her hand and opening his eyes. "Instinctive response."
Well, it was too much to hope he would put all his trust in her, Sakura thought. Still, how had he lived, for him to be so guarded and alert?
Sakura reached out again, more slowly. Sasuke watched her closely as she tilted his face up with two fingers under her chin.
"Relax," she said. "I can't mess this up."
"We'll see," he said, with a flicker of a smirk.
She made a face at him. "Just trust me."
He closed his eyes.
Sasuke was healing nicely. He was still battered and bloody and bruised, but he was capable of attending a trial, Tsunade said once Sakura had given her her daily update on Sasuke's condition.
Sakura left Tsunade's office with a tight throat and left to find Naruto.
He was grim-faced and waiting for her outside Sasuke's hospital room.
"Kakashi-sensei just told me," he said. Of course Sakura would be the last to know. Didn't anyone realize that she loved Sasuke?
"Can you get me inside?" Naruto asked. "I want to talk to him."
Sakura nodded, turned to the guard outside Sasuke's door – Lee – and said, "Let us in."
"I can't do that, Sakura-san," Lee said, looking pained.
"And if it was Neji in there?" she said.
Lee wavered for a moment, then stepped aside.
Sasuke was up and waiting for her. When Sakura stepped in, he looked expectant, and when Naruto barged past her, Sasuke looked confused, then annoyed as he looked from Naruto, bearing down on him at the foot of his bed, to Sakura, standing by the closed door.
"What do you want?"
"I want," Naruto said, "For you to not get thrown in jail. Don't ruin my hard work by being a smart-ass tomorrow."
"My trial's tomorrow?"
"Yeah," Sakura said, stepping up beside Naruto. "You'd better prepare yourself." She gestured for him to strip off his shirt. "We aren't allowed to attend, so Naruto wanted to wish you luck."
"Don't be stupid tomorrow," Naruto repeated.
Sasuke rolled his eyes, then turned to Sakura. "And my teammates?"
"We're right here," Naruto said. "Idiot."
"Moron," Sasuke said. "I meant my—" He broke off, searching for words. "My other teammates," he said, and Naruto beamed. Sakura did not.
"They've already been tried," Sakura said quietly. "They're being detained until your trial."
Sasuke looked at her. "When were they tried?"
She winced. "I—"
"A week ago," she sighed, determinedly avoiding his gaze.
"And you didn't tell me." It wasn't a question. Sakura still refused to look at him.
"Sakura-chan doesn't owe you anything," Naruto snapped. "But you owe us. Don't screw up your trial."
Sasuke kept looking at Sakura, even as he answered Naruto. "I won't. And then I want to see my teammates."
"We're right her—"
Naruto broke off, looking hurt. Then his gaze narrowed and he turned on his heel. "You're lucky I don't pick on patients," he said to Sasuke. Then, to a shell-shocked Sakura, "I don't know how you deal with this."
More sad than angry, Naruto stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
Sakura moved towards Sasuke, hands flaring with chakra, and set to work on extracting poison from his wounds. "Why do you need to see them so badly?" she asked, not ready to call them Sasuke's teammates. That was her title. "You were never so concerned about us," she couldn't resist adding bitterly.
Sasuke didn't look at her. "It's none of your business, Sakura."
He looked at her then, his cold gaze chilling her to the bone. "Next time, try being honest with me."
And Sakura turned defensive, flaring up immediately. "Like you're honest with me, right?"
"Right," Sasuke shot back, pulling away from her. "I've been honest from the beginning."
"Then be honest now," Sakura said, "Did you ever miss Team Seven?"
Sakura shook her head, mouth having gone suddenly dry. "I don't believe you."
"And I don't trust you," Sasuke said.
Sakura stared at him as if she'd been slapped. Then she stepped back, turned around, and left the hospital room.
Lee was waiting anxiously outside. Sakura smiled humorlessly at him.
"That would never be Neji in there," she told him.
"You were right," Sakura said dully. "I'm too attached to him. I can't treat him any longer."
Tsunade appraised her for a moment, then sighed.
"It took you long enough to figure it out," she said. "But I can't do anything about it."
"Because after you left, I sent in Shizune," Tsunade said, rearranging her barely-touched stacks of paperwork. "Sasuke wouldn't let her touch him." She eyed Sakura over a folder. "Maybe you're not the only one with an attachment."
Sakura didn't answer.
"Either way, he's leaving the hospital tomorrow," she said. "His treatment will continue at his home, where he can be isolated from the other patients. You'll be treating him there."
Sakura still didn't speak, and Tsunade leaned back in her chair, a smile curving her lips.
"Do me a favor," she said, "Go down and see Sasuke's teammates. They're eager for news." Her smile widened. "You should speak to them. It'll do you some good."
Sakura went to see Juugo first. He was the most heavily guarded, for reasons Sakura couldn't understand; he seemed pleasant enough. Then again, she hadn't battled against him; maybe he was more dangerous than he appeared.
"Hi. How's Sasuke?"
"He's fine," Sakura says. "He's healing well, and is being moved to the Uchiha compound. I'm sure you'll be allowed to see him soon."
"That's good. He's not in trouble?"
Community service, no missions for two years, and he was under village arrest for eighteen months. "Not much," Sakura said. After all, Sasuke's sentence was extraordinarily light; probably for saving Naruto from Madara and being able to tame the Kyuubi when it tried, once again, to take control.
Juugo nodded. "I see." Then he settled back against the wall of his cell. "Thank you for telling me."
"Of course," she smiled, then left to speak to Suigetsu.
Much to Sakura's surprise, Kakashi and Naruto were already standing in front of Suigetsu's cell when she arrived.
"Tsunade-sama told us to meet you," Kakashi said, by way of explanation. "We've filled Suigetsu in on the details."
"This guy is so lame," Naruto said, scowling fiercely. Clearly, he hadn't gotten over Sasuke's words the day before.
"I heard that," Suigetsu called out, and Sakura peered through the bars of his cell. He was sitting against the wall, legs stretched out in front of him. he smiled when he saw her. "Sakura, right?"
"We've already met," she reminded him. "I broke your nose."
"I'll have to pay you back for that someday," he said casually. His grin was feral. "How're you doing with Sasuke?"
"Fine," she lied.
Suigetsu smirked. "Don't take it personally if he's mouthing off to you," Suigetsu said. "He takes some getting used to."
Like she needed to be told that? before she could stop herself, Sakura snapped, "I can handle Sasuke-kun."
Suigetsu, for his part, only smiled smugly, as if Sakura had answered a question he hadn't asked.
"What?" she demanded. She could feel Naruto and Kakashi watching her.
"Nothing," Suigetsu said innocently. "Have you met Karin yet? I think you'll like her."
Sakura didn't like Karin. Naruto went with her to speak to the final member of Sasuke's team, but he didn't seem to find anything wrong with her.
"She's just like you, Sakura-chan," he said. Sakura glared at him, and he added hastily, "Only not as pretty."
As soon as Karin had seen Sakura, she'd sneered and turned her back on her.
"Sasuke-kun's prissy ex-teammates," she had scoffed. "What do you want?"
"Just to let you know he's doing fine," Naruto said. "Being a snot, but fine."
"Don't talk about Sasuke-kun that way," Karin said. "Idiot."
"Don't talk about Naruto that way," Sakura said, trying to control her temper. It was getting the better of her too often these days, and that was unprofessional.
Karin obviously had no such need to calm her ire. "Or what?" She turned back to face Sakura. "You want to come in here and try me? do it. I dare you."
Sakura had to force herself to back away. "Been there, done that," she said.
"Coward," Karin spat as they left.
"What a bitch," Sakura said now.
"She's just confident in her skills," Naruto said. "She's really annoying, though."
Sakura took a deep breath outside Sasuke's door.
"Are you alright?" Neji asked.
"Fine, fine," she said. "Thanks." She took another breath, then knocked on the door.
Sasuke opened it almost immediately. Clearly, he had been waiting for them.
"It was unlocked," he said.
"I know," Sakura said. He looked at her for a moment, then his gaze flicked to Neji.
Neji nodded. "Uchiha."
"Sakura," Sakura said, stepping in between them, and catching Sasuke's attention once more. "Don't mind Neji; he's just my guard."
"You don't need a guard," Sasuke said.
"No," Neji cut in. "But you need one."
Sasuke's expression darkened. Sakura sighed.
"Can we come in?" she asked politely.
Sasuke stepped back, and they entered, then moved to the living room in the back of the house.
"What do you need?"
"Um." Sakura began pulling supplies from her bag. "A basin full of cold water, clean towels, and probably a sheet so your floor doesn't get dirty." She looked at Neji before Sasuke could move. "Could you?"
"Bathroom," Sasuke said. Neji nodded and disappeared.
"How are you feeling?" Sakura asked.
Sakura chewed her lip. This was going to be a very awkward session if she didn't apologize. Then again, what did she have to apologize for? She was always apologizing to Sasuke. Not this time.
"Well," she said stiffly, "Let's get started."
She session went by slowly, awkwardly, agonizingly. Sakura remained as professional and detached as she was able, while Sasuke reverted to his naturally cold self. His distance made Sakura realize what progress she had been making before their fight.
It just wasn't fair.
Sasuke walked Sakura and Neji to the door, and as she left, Sakura noticed Naruto coming towards them.
"Hey, Sakura-chan!" he said brightly. "You're leaving? Why don't you have lunch with us?"
"No thanks, Naruto."
"Aw," he said, but didn't press – not that Sakura expected him to. "Sasuke! I forgive you! Let's go to Ichiraku!"
Sakura glanced back over her shoulder at Sasuke as she walked away. He was looking at her, and she quickly turned away. Neji excused himself from her company; he had to keep watch over Sasuke, he said. Sakura left him to slip back into the shadows, left Naruto to ask Sasuke to treat him, left Sasuke to refuse, and left the way she had come – alone.
She had become spoiled, Sakura decided. Spoiled as Sasuke's only company for so many days. He had opened up to her – however slightly – in a way he wouldn't to Naruto. She had, finally, had a piece of Sasuke that was hers and hers alone.
But that kind of thing couldn't last.
Sakura told herself to stop moping and headed for the hospital without looking back.
She forced herself to be more cheerful the next day. Maybe she would even apologize. She was wrong, too.
"I saw your teammates," Sakura said tentatively, once she and Sasuke were settled in his living room. Shikamaru was guarding today, and he allowed them their privacy.
Sasuke immediately looked up.
"I did too," he said. "Yesterday."
"Oh," Sakura said, confused. "I thought you—" She broke off, seeing the glint in Sasuke's eyes. "What?"
He sighed. "You're such an idiot."
"You guys are my teammates," he said. "Aren't you?"
That was as close to an apology as she would ever get from Sasuke, so Sakura smiled and began her healing session.
"How were they?"
"My—" He faltered —"Juugo, Suigetsu, and Karin. How are they?"
"In prison," she sighed. "Not for long, I don't think. maybe you can meet them soon." She watched Sasuke closely for his reaction, but he only nodded. Sakura couldn't tell what that meant – so she asked.
"You want to see them?"
"Send them home," he corrected. "If possible."
This warmed her heart, and Sakura smiled. "So, did you and Naruto have fun yesterday?"
"No," Sasuke said. Typical Sasuke response, Sakura thought, and laughed.
"What did you guys do? What did you talk about?"
"We didn't," he said, "Naruto shouted, and I wished I didn't know him."
Things were going back to normal, Sakura thought happily, and didn't realize that Sasuke hadn't actually answered.
Sakura met Naruto at Ichiraku for dinner later that night and suggested they invite Sasuke the next night.
"He is such a grump, though," Naruto said. "He was all pissy yesterday because I forgot my wallet."
"No one wants to pay your ramen bill, Naruto," Sakura said.
"It's not like he isn't loaded," Naruto grumbled.
Sakura laughed. "Did you have fun yesterday?"
"Yeah," he said. "You should've joined us! We had a good talk. Man-to-man."
"I'm so sure," she said, picking up her glass of water and raising it to her lips. "What did you talk about?"
Sakura choked on her water. "Me? What about me?"
Naruto handed her a napkin. "You okay?" he asked, concerned. When she nodded, he shrugged. "Just how you were doing while he was gone. He—"
"What did you tell him?"
Naruto blinked, taken aback by her tone. Sakura kept her gaze fixed on her bowl as he said, "I told him you missed him, and that you had trained really hard, and that you could smash boulders…" He trailed off, shrugging again. "He was worried you were mad at him."
Sakura looked at him, surprised. "Really? Sasuke said that?"
"Well, not in so many words. You know how Sasuke is. Verbally constipated." Sakura laughed and Naruto smiled, relieved to see her back to normal. "Why? did you guys get into a fight?"
"I don't know," Sakura said, and explained to him, in the briefest of terms, what had happened between her and Sasuke.
"You guys are what, playing Twenty Questions?"
Sakura shook her head.
"That's what it sounds like," Naruto said. "If I tried that, he'd tell me to shove off. I guess you're his favorite, too, Sakura-chan." He waved Ayame over to refill his bowl. "Either way, who cares? He apologized, and you didn't. Keep it up, Sakura-chan! Fight the power!"
At the beginning, Sakura had only had one question. One question, she'd thought, and she could be at peace with her memories, knowing they were complete. It had all spiraled out of control, though, and she was asking things now that she wouldn't have dreamed of before Sasuke left.
Twenty Questions, she decided, didn't sound so bad.
"Answer me this," Sakura said, reaching up to dab the blood from Sasuke's neck. Though her voice remained steady, her expression blank, Sasuke could feel the tremor in her fingers as they slid against his skin.
He didn't reply, only waited. Sakura needed no encouragement to speak.
"Did you come back only for Naruto?" she asked, pulling away to dip the cloth in her basin of water.
"I didn't come back for Naruto," he said automatically.
"Liar." Her hands shook; the water splashed out of the basin and she cursed under her breath. He was almost amused by her language, almost wanted to comment on it. "You came back to save Naruto and to return to your village, and maybe even for Kakashi-sensei." She looked at him. "I wasn't in any more danger than Hinata, or Lee. So did you have any reason to come back for me?" She couldn't believe the words that were coming out of her mouth. She wouldn't be surprised if Sasuke snapped at her now, no matter what Naruto said.
"No," he said, and she sucked in a breath. "I had no reason."
She fell silent after that, and although she struggled to keep her expression neutral, her eyes gave her away. Sasuke could almost read her thoughts: Sasuke-kun is so cruel. I need to give up on him. I will give up on him.
She turned back to him, probably biting the inside of her cheek to remind her not to falter, and busied herself with her work. She held a hand over the gash on his neck, drawing out the infection, stitching the wound. She was standing so close that he could hear her uneven breathing, though he didn't know if it was from the exertion of the healing, or from her emotions. He knew he alone had the ability to send them into absolute turmoil.
It was true, what she said: Naruto had not only ruined Akatsuki's plans, but he carried the nine-tailed fox; Kakashi was notorious for posing a very clear threat to the organization; but what was Sakura? To them, nothing. Just a medic, just a friend to Naruto and a student to both Kakashi and the Godaime. She was excellent leverage, if they chose to use her. But they didn't.
Sasuke really had no reason to return to her.
He reached up to touch the scar of his freshly healed wound, brushing Sakura's fingers as she pulled away from it. It stung to touch, but was rapidly healing. He stared up at her solemnly, and could see her resolve already breaking.
He answered, and by answering, gave Sakura a piece of himself she never had to share.
"But I came back," he said.
"I have a question," Sasuke said. "What's with all the questions?"
Sakura didn't answer for a moment, busily extracting poison from a wound on Sasuke's abdomen. It was a tender wound, and the poison was such that she could only draw out a certain amount a day before risking further damage. When she finished, she blew a lock of hair out of her eyes and looked at him.
"You don't like them?" He didn't answer, and she continued, unwinding a roll of bandages. "Well, when those guys from Kumogakure came to Konoha and started asking about you – I didn't really know what to say."
He raised an eyebrow at her, and she snapped, "I wouldn't tell them anything about you!" As if she thought she had to convince him. "But I realized… I didn't know you. I don't."
She looked down at the bandages in her hands. "We're teammates. But we're not friends like you and Naruto, or even you and Kakashi-sensei. And I thought…" She reddened now, as if just realizing how nosy she was being. "Sorry. It just happened. I had questions. You had answers."
She fell silent and turned to re-bandaging his wounds. He let her work in silence.
As she tidied up her supplies and got ready to leave, he spoke.
"I'll see you tomorrow."
She smiled, caught off-guard. Sasuke didn't waste words on pleasantries.
"You will. Bye, Sasuke-kun."
Sasuke settled back in his seat and thought.
Right. It seems a bit all over the place because… well, it is. I wrote this out of order, and the piece is kind of fragmented, but I just needed some word vomit to get me back into the SasuSaku groove. Things will start to come together a bit next chapter. Also, this is only a three-shot, so don't expect much plot. Like I said, word vomit. I think my SasuSaku skills are a bit rusty – clearly, I've been writing too much KibaSaku – so I would greatly appreciate some feedback!