Disclaimer: I do not claim to own Naruto, Twilight, or any of Dr. Seuss' work. I do, however, like to pretend to on occasions.
A/N: I want to start by saying that I hope everyone in the states had a nice, accident-free Labor Day weekend! I worked. Unfortunately. Secondly, I'd like to point out that this would've been posted a lot sooner if it hadn't been for:
A) Tax Free Weekend (working retail blows)
B) Fall semester starting back
and C) Freakin' effeffdotnet deciding to have some weird glitch with the Upload New Document feature. Srsly, this thing would've been up Friday.
But hey, it's here. And it is a wee bit shorter than I thought it would be in the planning stages, but never fear! The chapters are due to be getting longer in the next few updates. :)
The Neverland Theory
'"This is a mistake?" I heard the sadness in my voice, but I didn't know if he could as well.
"A very dangerous one," he murmured.'
Sakura slowly lifted the fork to her mouth, a dubious looking gray hunk of chicken speared on the end. She didn't seem to notice it, or the bedlam of the hospital cafeteria, as her eyes remained glued to the novel lying flat before her. Its hard cover was showing signs of wear on the edges, the shiny slipcover long since forgotten, but these were only signs of endearment. Sakura made a face as the chicken made its way over her tastebuds. She pushed the plastic tray of food to the side and drug the book closer.
'"Your eyes. I told you I had a theory. I've noticed that people - men in particular - are crabbier when they're hungry."
"He chuckled. "You are observant, aren't you?"'
A pair of hands slapping the tabletop jolted Sakura into an upright position. She stared up at the intruder, a lock of pink falling down into her face; she tucked it behind her ear, relaxing as recognition crossed her features. "Shizune? What the hell?"
The older medic leaned heavily onto the table, out of breath. "It's... the Hokage... she said to..."
Sakura turned back to her book with an eye roll, already jumping to the usual conclusion. "Did she lock herself in her office again? I'm telling you, when she falls asleep drunk like that, there is no reaching her for hours--"
Shizune reached forward and slapped her hand over the text, ignoring the look she received in return. "No, Sakura - he's back. And he brought his brother."
"When..." the pink haired kunoichi began uncertainly, struggling with the sudden burst of hope in her heart. "...when you say he you don't mean--"
Shizune's eyes grew wide with exasperation, the volume of her voice rising concurrently. "It's Sasuke, Sakura! Sasuke Uchiha is back and Itachi Uchiha is with him!"
The din in the cafeteria was suddenly punctuated by loud gasps before devolving into something near hysterics. Shizune groaned, reaching down to grab her fellow apprentice by the wrist. Sakura allowed herself to be pulled out of the dingy chair, leaving her book behind, hardly able to process what Shizune had just unwittingly announced. Sasuke - Sasuke - was back, but he had brought the very reason of his departure with him? 'Oh god oh god...'
"Dead or alive?" She managed to ask as they maneuvered the tables.
"I'll try to explain on the way to Lady Tsunade's office, after we get out of here." Shizune made a face as they entered the hallway. A gaggle of three young nurses was skittering down the corridor, stopping everyone they encountered on the way to share the news. "What a bunch of ninnies."
Sasuke watched silently as Tsuande rooted through her desk drawers, hands tipped with scarlet-colored nails occasionally bringing out a handful of papers to add atop the ever growing stack between them. After a few minutes, the Hokage, appearing satisfied with her task, slid the drawers to a close and leant forward; her calculating gaze held his eyes as she spoke. "There will have to be a diagnosis, naturally, before we can really proceed with your brother's case. Our team will start immediately. I can assure you that only my most highly trained associates and I will be working on this case, and we will work around the clock until--" The office door swung open abruptly, narrowly missing an ANBU as it jarred off the wall beside him. A nearby plaque denoting someone's excellency in herbology clung perilously for a moment to the nail from which it was hung; An ANBU quietly reached out to steady it.
Shizune emerged quickly from the hallway, out of breath for the second time in the past half hour. She blushed as she glanced around the room, noting Tsunade's solemn glare in her direction. "I found her," she offered, sheepishly gesturing backwards as she walked to her earlier spot beside Tsunade. When she reached the desk, the two instantly began a quiet, but heated, conversation about "propriety" and "poor timing" that went largely unnoticed as Sakura entered the room.
Green and black irises met in an instant. Sasuke had turned sideways at the approach of her very familiar chakra signature; Sakura had stopped three paces into the office, unable to break the long-standing distance between them. It had been four years since they'd laid eyes on each other, and nearly seven had gone by since they had been in such close proximity. If anything else was happening, Sakura didn't notice: the dull roar of blood rushing through her ears drowned out the surroundings.
Sasuke was looking at her with deadened eyes, black and unreadable, that lingered. Lingered - on her? Thoughts bloomed in her mind, recollections of days long ago lived, where that same pair of eyes had fallen on her with indifference and annoyance. Then there was that other day - that last day - where his eyes had been difficult to see at first, his silhouette blindingly framed by the afternoon sun, where he had spoken her name so arrogantly that she hadn't even needed to see the way he was looking at her to know he had been deeming her inferior.
However, this time, obsidian lingered, and green darted away, growing more and more confused as the other faces in the room turned to her. The ANBU eyes that stared out at her from behind cat-eyed masks, the sidelong glance from her sensei as she still spoke with Shizune... the blank, deceptively peaceful face of the man lying in the corner... She would've declared Itachi dead on arrival if it weren't for the agonizingly slow rise and fall of his chest.
The pink haired medic swallowed and backtracked the earlier route her gaze had taken, locking again with the cold obsidian rocks that Sasuke called eyes. Why was he staring at her like this? Why was everyone else staring? Why was she even summoned here?
'He's not here to start a war,' Shizune had said. 'Something... strange happened with his brother...'
Tsunade sighed grumpily, interrupting the silent round of mental torture Sakura had been engaging in. The blond woman was massaging her temples. "Look, Shizune, you've been about as subtle as a bull in a chi--"
"What in the hell is going on here?" Sakura ripped her gaze away from her former teammate, unable to cope with the spiraling thoughts he induced.
Tsunade blinked, slightly affronted at being cut off a second time, before turning to the rather frantic looking girl behind Sasuke. "I see Shizune also did a poor job of explaining the situation to you..." Shizune exhaled darkly as the Hokage cleared her throat and faced out to the room once more. "Sakura, your slate at the hospital has just been wiped clean. Starting immediately, your one and only assignment will be to aid in the diagnosis of Itachi Uchiha. Within the next hour or so we--"
Sakura pivoted suddenly towards Sasuke, who had just been in the process of looking away from her; he paused. "So you came home for him this time?" She nodded, accepting his blank expression and lack of a verbal reply as a 'yes'. "Okay."
"I give up," Tsunade muttered, staring up at the ceiling and counting silently to five as her youngest apprentice escaped through the door she had entered no less than three minutes prior. "So many damn temper-tantrums, you'd think I was running a child care service in here..."
"What happened to starting immediately?" Everyone snapped to attention; Sasuke's voice was still something of a novelty in the room.
"Oh, she'll be back. In the meantime..." Tsunade began, lifting the sheaf of papers from her desk and directing her orders around the room with the stack as if it were a conductor's baton. "You, send me Kakashi Hatake and Ibiki Morino. Captain Uzuki, see to it that the border defenses are strengthened to patrol level six. Shizune, have the hospital staff ready a restricted room, then pull out every book and scroll we retrieved from the Uchiha compound and start reading."
There was a collective nod as the appointed took off.
Dark eyes narrowed, "You went through the--"
Tsunade aimed the papers at Sasuke as a silent warning before letting them drop on the desk. "You weren't here, so shut the hell up and sign these."
Sporadic humming and the sound of nails tapping against the counter top accompanied a radio that played quietly from a shelf in the Yamanaka Flower Shop. Noontime sunshine filtered inside through the many windows that adorned the walls. The wide array of flowers sprouting from the bins had remained mostly undisturbed after their arrangement that morning. This wasn't so unusual, though, as most of the business came at five o'clock: happy hour, flowers-for-the-missus, clock-punching time. However, expected as the lull might have been, it still made for a very bored shopkeeper.
Ino sat on one of two identical, olive green, upholstered stools, her upper torso slumped over the mustard-toned counter. She stared morosely, chin-in-hand, at the orange gladiolus resting in the vase beside her. If the DJ insisted on playing another John Mayer song during her shift, well, then she couldn't be blamed for dumping the contents of the vase on the stereo. Really, there was only so much abuse one could take.
The bells hanging over the door jingled brightly as someone entered the shop. Ino blinked as she realized it was Sakura.
"Mm, hey Forehead." Ino greeted her with a puzzled expression, taking in the medic's wild eyes and hospital scrubs. "Aren't you supposed to be on the clock right--"
"Sasuke's back." Sakura blurted when she reached the counter, grasping the edges as if her legs weren't quite up to the task of keeping her upright any longer. Ino's mouth fell open unattractively.
"Oh. Well I guess that's a pretty good reason for you to not be... working." The blonde kunoichi slapped the counter as if she'd suddenly awoken. "Holy shit, Sakura! When did he--"
"Just an hour ago. He just walked through the gate like, 'What the hell, I think I'll go home today!' All nonchalant as if nothing ever happened. And his brother, Itachi, is with him. He's practically dead; I couldn't sense his chakra signature from five feet away. He is, currently, lying in a coma on the futon in Tsuande's office."
"Sasuke or Itachi?"
Ino straightened and raised her hands, palms toward Sakura. "Hey hey hey, you're the one talking eighty-five miles an hour! I'm just an innocent bystander!"
Sakura crumpled, sliding onto the tile surface before pressing her face into the crook of her elbow. "Oh god, Ino, I'm sorry." Her voice echoed in the tiny cave her body had created over the counter top. "It just hit me on the way over here that he and I had been in the same room ten minutes ago. I started hyperventilating by the post office and some woman asked me if I needed to sit down, and I couldn't even say anything! I just started walking faster!"
The blonde leaned forward on her elbow, stroking Sakura's hair with her free hand. "What happened when you saw him?"
"We stared at each other. He was looking at me, Ino, really looking at me. I can't figure out why."
"Maybe he came back to make good on that whole 'rebuilding my clan' thing of his?"
Sakura laughed involuntarily. "He's here for his brother. Itachi has something weird going on with him, and he needs to be diagnosed."
Ino's hand paused, a look of revulsion passing over her features. "Oh, god, Sakura. She's asking you?!"
"And some other people."
"Tsunade knows how much he's put you through! This is ridiculous! How can she expect you to treat Itachi Uchiha as a patient?"
"I'll just have to act professional, Ino. It is my job."
The blonde rolled her eyes, scoffing. "And I suppose Tsunade expects Naruto to be perfectly calm about this as well? He's still out on a mission, isn't he?"
Sakura raised her head to nod despairingly and Ino's hand fell away. "He could be back today or tomorrow, though. Part of me wants him here now, but the other part of me knows if he sees me like this..." she gestured inward. "That he'll flip out even more than he's already going to."
"Yeah, with Naruto that's a guarantee." Ino sighed. "This is really sudden."
"Mhmm." The pink haired medic glanced around, becoming self-aware again. She was almost to tears, for apparently no reason, in her best friend's flower shop. She grimaced. "You really are dead in here this time of day, huh? Where's Shikamaru?"
"The delivery guy came around a few minutes ago. Heavy stuff, y'know. Delicate girls like myself can't be expected to lift bags of fertilizer like that." The blonde stuck out her tongue and the two rested in silence for a moment. "Hey," Ino started thoughtfully. "Where did you say the prodigal brothers were?"
"Well," a male voice grunted from another room. There was the sound of jingling keys and a door being locked. "According to the delivery man, they're up at Hokage Tower." Shikamaru came out of the stock room with two bags of potting soil, which he promptly dumped on ground behind the register. He gave Sakura a once-over. "You look like hell."
"Shikamaru!" Ino shot him a dirty look.
Sakura sighed and pushed herself up from the counter. "No, he's right. The delivery man knows? Are you serious?"
"Yeah." Shikamaru crossed his arms. "He wouldn't shut-up about it. Apparently, the whole village is talking."
"Okay, well," the medic glanced at the door dejectedly. "I better get back before the crowds start forming."
Ino sighed and hopped off the stool, maneuvering the bags of fertilizer and her boyfriend to envelope Sakura in a hug. "Good luck and keep me posted, okay? I know you'll be fine. And hey - I'll help you kick his ass anytime, if it comes to that... speaking of, Forehead, how is that ass these days?" She winked over Sakura's shoulder at the man rolling his eyes by the counter.
Sakura groaned and pushed the other kunoichi away. It was way too early to laugh about this.
"So nice of to rejoin us, Sakura." Tsunade raised an eyebrow as the young medic shut the door quietly behind her. Sakura cringed; she had been so disrespectful earlier. Her lips parted to voice an apology, but Tsunade waved it off, rolling her eyes and returning her attention to the papers Sasuke occasionally slid her way. Green eyes went again to Sasuke. However, this time, he was not looking her way. The very recently exonerated ninja was instead staring down at a stack of documents, pen in hand. Shizune was craning her neck to read the documents as well, a skeptical look on her face.
"...in the event of sudden death? In the event of a hostile takeover? In the event of kidnaping? In the event of not-so-sudden death?" The older apprentice turned to Tsunade. "Are these release forms really necessary? Does one not understand these things when they become a ninja? It's part of our lifestyle."
"We're accounting for everything, Shizune." The Hokage took a sip from a glass uncharacteristically filled with water.
"Clearly." The dark-haired woman went back to staring out of the window, the clear sky reflecting sunshine throughout the village and the Hokage's office. Too bad the atmosphere didn't feel as cheery as it looked.
The occupants in the room had thinned out. Only two ANBU remained, one standing on either side of the door. Ibiki Morino had arrived in Sakura's absence; the torture specialist was quietly standing adjacent to Itachi's prone body, watching the pink haired medic as she looked around. The two exchanged a nod before Sakura turned back to the scene before her. She tried to swallow down her anxiety. Wise brown eyes were watching her carefully; she couldn't revert to a childlike fear or shyness just because of him.
Tsunade wasn't, as Ino had pointed out, ignorant to the plights of Team Seven. As her sensei and someone who had been through a very similar ordeal, the woman knew even more about the emotional impact Sasuke had, had on her youngest student. Assigning her to this project was either a huge vote of confidence, or tough love. It was certainly not an accident: Tsunade was far too competent for that. And from the way Tsunade was watching her, Sakura assumed it was a mixture of both.
She breathed normally, trying to channel the cool, collected medic-nin she was on the job. If full-scale ER trauma couldn't shake her, neither would this... this man who had betrayed her and countless others years ago. Because her sensei had faith in her. Because this was just another job. She'd do the work, collect the money, and forget all about this fiasco. No hopes this time. No tears.
Because all the paperwork in the world could not hold Sasuke here. Ink meant precious little compared to flesh and blood.
Sakura crossed the distance to her teacher's desk without a hitch, thanking all the gods she hadn't tripped, before stopping casually next to Sasuke. She was barely a foot away from his left arm. If he were to slide a paper forward, and she were to reach for the... stapler - Kami knew why she'd need it, but she might - simultaneously, they could touch. If he noticed this, he did nothing about it. Inner Sakura raged at how cool his demeanor remained at the prospect of this while the more rational, outer Sakura reminded herself that such an event was more than unlikely. The pen remained unaffected by her presence as well, continuing to flow uninterrupted over the parchment.
"That's a lot of medical paperwork, Sensei." She commented without taking her eyes away from the movement of the pen. Sasuke Uchiha. Next page. Sasuke Uchiha.
"Those are not just medical release forms, Sakura." This much she already knew.
Silence reigned again in the room and everyone tried to remain politely focused on other things when Sakura broke it. "What are you agreeing to?" She directed the question to her former teammate quietly. Sasuke didn't look away from the papers, but the pen finally stopped. Sasuke U--
"Six months." His voice was so deep, quiet. Hollow. One could miss the faint trace of annoyance if one weren't already looking for it. Sakura wondered if it was the paperwork or her question that caused it. It might've even been his obvious lack of rest. His hands were so, so pale.
Sakura eyed her own fingers splayed across the desk's surface, angled toward him, but nowhere close to reaching for a stapler. "Probationary?"
--chiha. The pen moved anew. "Six months, period."
"But they will be probationary," Tsunade clarified, her own pen busy making loops and lines. "At least at first. Just because I chose not to press any charges against you doesn't mean you can run around freely, Uchiha. You will stay within the specified borders unless you have my permission to stray." She added the autographed parchment face down to a pile on her left.
"I'm signing your goddamn papers, am I not?" Maybe it was the paperwork irking him?
The Hokage narrowed her eyes at the remark, unable to respond as a certain silver-haired jounin picked that moment to climb through an open window. His unconcealed eye quickly assessed the room. "So I'm late to the party."
Sakura didn't miss a beat. "As usual."
"Nice to see you, too, Sakura." His voice was full of surprisingly light-hearted sarcasm. Sakura quirked a smile at this, turning back to the paperwork exchange; 'surprisingly light-hearted' described Kakashi to a T.
"We're nearly done here, just hold on a second." Tsunade muttered as she worked. Kakashi eyed the pair in front of the desk as he took a stand near Ibiki, his mind undoubtedly whirling just as much as anyone else in the room. It was only one in the afternoon, and already the day could easily be a journal entry for Dr. Seuss:
They talked about brothers and doctors, probation.
About papers, home, and high expectations
And all of the fairness, it was naught to be seen.
I thought to myself, "Well, isn't that mean."
Honestly, who could make this shit up?
Sasuke's pen hit the desk with a quiet thud; the noise carried a note of finality. He straightened from his hunch, and Sakura noted that he was not often at her eye level. He was taller by at least half a head, so much taller than before. Sakura couldn't stop herself from taking a tiny step back. "Satisfied?" His obsidian eyes almost glared down at the Hokage.
Tsunade slid the last paper toward herself. She hardly looked down as she signed it, refusing to back down from the sudden staring contest. "Almost. I'll be requiring quite a bit of information, intel, from you. After we settle your brother into the examining room, Ibiki here will be asking you a few questions. We'll go from there." She stood, handing the stack of completed paperwork over to Shizune. "So everyone, to Konoha General."
End A/N: Not sure why I made the Yamanaka Flower Shop look like something out of the seventies, but it's cute, right?