title: (t)he (un)said
pairing: Uchiha Sasuke x Haruno Sakura
summary: Sasuke, Sakura, and all that lies between. "I have never expected anything from you. That would have been the height of all foolishness, and say what you want about me, but I was never that. With you, Sasuke-kun, I only ever hoped."

notes: An old story, told hopefully, through new eyes. But then again, maybe not. I trust my readers inordinately in this particular piece—a lot of things are left implied. :)
NOTE / NOVEMBER 6, 2010: Edited for format changes. Darn you, FFN!

disclaimer: Naruto isn't mine.

In retrospect, her indifference had been the product of his words.

/ /

"I suppose she's interesting enough—if you like that sort. But, I've never wasted a glance on Sakura."

Naturally, he had not meant to be overheard—hadn't intended for his Subject to walk through the archway that led to the sitting room, the smile on her face growing ever more fixed with each step she took towards them. Hyuuga Neji and Nara Shikamaru averted their eyes from her, as though that might excuse them from being in the same room as the remnants of her dignity—at least, where they concerned one Uchiha Sasuke.

Uzumaki Naruto made no effort to hide his apprehension.

"I apologize for interrupting," Sakura said quietly, as she made eye contact with each of them in turn. Her eyes did not linger, as they usually did, on the brooding man in the corner, a fact that all in the room quietly filed away.

"It's all right, Sakura-san," Neji said courteously. It wouldn't do to prolong the unease, after all, and Sakura thought distantly that Neji's upbringing had almost certainly equipped him with the ability to know when social situations were in need of intervention. "Does Tsunade-sama require our assistance?"

Sakura threw him a grateful, if slightly tremulous smile.

"Yes," she said, in a slightly louder voice than she'd been using previously. "Or well, sort of. She only needs Shikamaru-san and Sasuke-kun." Her voice hitched slightly on the honorific she'd been using for the better part of eight years. Everyone pretended politely that they hadn't noticed.

For his part, Sasuke looked no different than he had before she'd revealed herself at the door. There had been, for a brief moment, the barest brush of surprise across his brow, but it had dissipated. Now, his symmetrical features were shaped in what was commonly referred to as "bored apathy"—that is, his default. He inclined his head to show that he'd heard her, but beyond that, did not acknowledge her.

"Troublesome," Shikamaru said mid-yawn, drawing a small smile from Sakura at the familiar mild epithet. "Did she say what it was about?"

She shook her head in reply.

Shikamaru sighed. "Let's just go then," he said, as he strode to the door, his hands in his pocket. Sasuke, who'd beaten him there, left without another word of acknowledgement.

It was at this moment, that Naruto who'd been silent amidst the exchange, unable to bear his curiosity, asked, in a wavering, coaxing sort of voice (the sort any man uses when he suspects a woman might burst into hysterics), "Sakura-chan, are you OK?"

Neji elbowed him in the side, but Naruto stubbornly persisted; he was determined to know.

Sakura smiled brightly, as she turned to leave.

"I'm fine, Naruto. Good day to both of you."

And then she was gone.

/ /

Perhaps it had been her fault, Sakura mused, walking in without warning. He certainly hadn't intended for her to overhear his opinion—an opinion that she knew perfectly well he had a right to, after all. And he'd said far more hurtful things to her when they'd first met, back in the beginning days of Team 7. So really, she reasoned, there was no reason for her to feel so hurt. He'd made his feelings about her perfectly clear—had certainly never lied about them, had never given her any reason to suspect that he might feel anything but the mild companionship that came with facing down danger—side by side—with her, and with Naruto, and sometimes, even with Kakashi-sensei and Sai.

Maybe it was the idea that he'd been so open about it—that he'd been talking to other people about what she was (and wasn't) to him. But then, wasn't that what she'd wanted? Hadn't she always wished for him to open up to those around him? Or was she so selfish that she wanted him to choose only her—to make only her, Sakura, the keeper of his confidences? Shouldn't she have been happy?

She sighed, and shook her head.

At the very least, Sakura thought to herself, eight years was a long time—far too long to be in love alone.

/ /

Sasuke came around to her office in the hospital a few days after the end of his mission—the one that had started the whole thing—to talk to her.

"It was not my intention to hurt you," he said simply, stopping short of an outright apology. Sakura hadn't wanted, or expected one, anyway.

"I know," she said simply, looking up at him from behind her office desk. Around her, there were stacks of release forms. Last night's ANBU ambush had given her far more paperwork than she'd expected, and she was, Sakura decided, very busy. "It's all been forgotten, already."

"You shouldn't have heard it," he continued. Sakura wondered if he was surprised at her composure.

"Next time, I'll make sure to announce my presence more thoroughly," she said, her own wan attempt at a joke. Sasuke refused to budge.

"It's probably for the best," he went on "You—Naruto told me that you had expectations—"

At that, Sakura raised a hand to stop him mid-sentence.

"Naruto," she replied, the first hint of impatience tingeing her voice, "whatever his good intentions were in telling you that, was wrong."

"Oh," he said, almost in challenge. "Then you deny it?"

Sakura leveled him a look of mild exasperation. She was, she decided, too tired for sadness.

"I have never expected anything from you," she began softly. "That would have been the height of all foolishness, and say what you want about me, but I was never that."

She paused, and gave him a small, almost apologetic, smile—Sorry, it seemed to say, for any inconvenience that my affections might have caused you.

"No—with you, Sasuke-kun," she continued, and he started at the fact that it had been the first time he had heard that from her since The Incident.

"With you, Sasuke-kun," she continued, "I only ever hoped."

At his answering silence, she sighed, and stood from her desk. His gaze was unmoving—was unblinking, and she tried not to shudder at the weight of it.

"If you'll excuse me, I have forms to send out," she said, stepping around him and leaving him listening after her, to the small, slight sound of her feet against the white hospital floor.

/ /

He saw her less often now, but Sasuke could not, with authority, say that she was avoiding him. They still trained together with the rest of the extended Team 7, still saw each other at the same shinobi gatherings, still ate at the same ramen stand with Naruto every Wednesday evening after the end of her early shift at the hospital.

The difference, he thought, was subtler—quieter. It was primarily in their interaction that he noticed the changes.

Sakura had, it seemed, reconstructed his place in her life—had quietly re-categorized his position. She smiled at him in passing with polite civility, waved from her place in the checkout line at the market place with cordial disinterest. He had, Sasuke mused, been re-assimilated into the wave of society—he was an acquaintance, a colleague, a teammate. There was distance in every way that used to matter to her, a spectrum between them—a specter, he wondered—divided by his words and her own far gentler brand of learned apathy.

In short, Sasuke thought, he had lost his specificity.

He had lost her regard.

/ /

"So you just, what," Ino exclaimed over lunch one day, sipping at her smoothie with a telltale gleam in her eye. She had been so surprised when Sakura had told her about her recent pseudo-confrontation with the man that had once been the star of both their dreams. "You just stopped?"

Sakura smiled, but Ino's practiced eye saw the reluctance in it.

"He didn't give me much of a choice, Ino. And weren't you the one that told me to rejoin the living—that is, give up on him?"

"Yes," Ino said, her eyes still wide. She chewed absent-mindedly on the end of her straw. "I never thought you'd take my advice, though."

"Well," Sakura started ruefully, "I wanted to fall in true—that is to say, foolish—love with him. He didn't seem very willing to oblige, though."

"So, someone else will have to do," Ino asked hopefully. She'd been looking to fix Sakura up for ages.

"Let a girl grieve first, why don't you, Ino-pig. It's not all gone yet," her best friend said laughingly. Privately she wondered if it would ever be—if the Him-shaped hole in her life would ever be filled by someone else. She wondered if she hoped so.

"Just don't take too long, Forehead," Ino retorted. "You've wasted enough time as it is."

"I'll try not to," Sakura said as she smiled and (almost) meant it.

/ /

It was not his habit to force change—at least, not in matters relating to vengeance. And Uchiha Sasuke certainly never thought that he would want to change something he thought he would be perfectly happy to finally have.

And the disinterest of one Haruno Sakura certainly fell into that last category.

It was far less complicated, the way things were now. On missions, there was no danger of her hovering over him anymore, and in the hospital, he could be sure that her treatment would no longer be tinged with suspect touches, and lingering glances.

(Not that they ever really had been, Sasuke suddenly remembered, but he could never been too careful.)

When they were with friends, there was no more expectation that the two of them—the last two "un-paired"—would suddenly realize their "true love" and no intimations that they might be hiding some secret, scandalous dalliance. (Which meant, he realized, that she must have told her girl friends about her…association with him being finally severed—which made it, he further thought, official.

Not that there was anything to "break up," exactly.)

Still, she was perfectly civil to him—there was, it seemed, no residual bitterness—if a bit less open. She no longer told him about the little girl whose broken ankle she'd been treating for the past few months, or the older gentleman whose asthma attacks all seemed to occur with the start and end times of her shift. Her chatter had noticeably lessened, and she seemed more inclined to choose her words carefully around him, presumably, he thought, so she would not have to speak as much.

Years ago, the arrangement would have been all he wanted.

/ /

"Hello, Uchiha-kun," Sakura said brightly, from behind the pile of books she was carrying to the library's front desk. Uchiha-kun, he thought. Uchiha-kun. Uchiha-kun.

"Sakura," he said, wondering whether the recent change in her name for him was a silent request for him to do the same. Sasuke scoffed inwardly. She'd have to tell him to—he certainly wasn't going to play any guessing games with her.

"Just a bit of light reading," she said, gesturing to the stack of medical texts in her arms, though he hadn't asked about them.

"Aa," he said, nodding in response.

She smiled uncertainly at him, and with a quick sidestep, she walked past him, the shafts of sunlight filtering in from the half-shut blinds weaving into the loose strands of her hair.

"Sakura," Sasuke called out, before he even realized it. She stopped, but did not turn around.

"Yes," she said softly.

"Should I call you—never mind."

"OK, Sa—Uchiha-kun. Good bye."

/ /

It was far more difficult, Sakura realized, to forget the honorific. It was fixed in her mind—its relation to Sasuke. For all intents and purposes, it defined him.

So she gave into propriety, even as she disobeyed her memory of him and everything he was—even now, she thought, half-caught between regret and resignation—to her.

/ /

It was at a birthday party in September—Nara's, or that blonde girl's, the one who had been fond of him, once upon a time—that Sasuke learned of the complications of desire.

She had walked into the restaurant the celebrant had chosen—it had been Nara's birthday after all—a quarter of an hour late, in a white cotton summer dress paired with a red cardigan, arm-in-arm with a shinobi he'd seen around the mission office a few times. He was, in Sasuke's estimation, a forgettable sort, with brown hair and brown eyes—utterly unremarkable.

He was holding Sakura's hand.

/ /

Sasuke came to her again, a few months after—a few months after her forgettable "Ichiro" turned into "Hiro" turned into "Kyo" turned into "Shigure."

He approached her desk again, this time free from its usual clutter and leaned in so he was only inches away from her, until they were so close they were sharing the same breath.

Sakura looked at him with wide eyes.

"I'm looking at you," he said. "I'm looking at you now. Do you understand?"

"Yes," she said.

And so she did.

Please let me know what you thought! :)

And I'll fix persuasion on my next update. 8D