Disclaimer: I don't own anything that's not mine. I'm also starting to think that I wasn't made to write anything short.
The moon shone on the village hidden in the leaves, the streets bare and the night still.
Sakura turned onto the street leading to her apartment and heaved a weary sigh. After three days of traveling she was glad to be back home. She liked her position as one of the top medics in the village, but she couldn't deny that all the special requests she was sent on got tiring after a while.
Her recent trip had been to Earth country. It wasn't her favorite place to go, but because relations were strained with them, Tsunade was making an attempt to smooth things over. Apparently, that included sending out her apprentice to heal snobby, unappreciative nobles.
She didn't have to like them, but if it was for the good of the village she supposed she could do it. Besides, her shishou asked. She owed the woman a lot, even if she hadn't acted like a surrogate mother over the years. There was very little Sakura wouldn't do for her.
The medic stifled a yawn with the back of her hand as she mechanically neared her home. All she wanted was a hot shower and some sleep. She wasn't high-maintenance by any means, but sleeping on the ground every night for close to a week would make anyone long for soft sheets and fluffy pillows.
Sakura reached her door and slid her bag from her shoulder in order to look for her keys. Using the moon, she made quick work of her lock and didn't bother to turn on any lights as she dragged herself to her room. She deposited her bag of essentials in the living room as she passed it, deciding that unpacking could wait until tomorrow. She was going to wait on her report too. Tsunade would understand.
She changed out of her grimy clothes, showered, then fell into bed with a soft sigh. Snuggling into her nice clean, soft blankets, she hoped she could at least get a few hours of sleep before someone needed her. She faded into darkness soon after, too exhausted to even dream.
When Sakura woke, it was suddenly, with a jarring motion that brought her upright. The sun was already shining brightly through her blinds, and she felt groggy. For some reason, she felt like she was missing something or late for something important, and she looked around her room in confusion for a few moments trying to figure out what it was. She saw nothing out of place, remembered nothing she had volunteered to do, and rubbed her head as she attributed the feeling to her lack of sleep this past week.
At least she had more than four hours of sleep this time. Small victories.
When she managed to drag herself out from her covers and into some clean clothes, she found it was later than she thought. It was nearing noon, and she was surprised she slept that long. Even on her days off she usually never slept past ten. That was, if she wasn't coming off from a night shift.
She spotted her bag on the living room floor against the back of the couch when she came out of her room, and she was going to start putting away her equipment when an echoing knock sounding through out the room. Sakura frowned slightly and went to her front door, clearing her face as she answered it.
The familiar form of a messenger was behind it, their mask in place under a dark garb. There was silence for a few moments before he spoke, his voice as monotonous as she knew the majority of them to be.
"The Hokage requests you when you are able."
She nodded to him and gave a quiet, "Okay." The messenger was gone in the next instant, apparently satisfied with her answer.
Sakura frowned slightly as she stood at her door. The word choice was odd, even when her mentor was out of it. Usually, it was either 'right now' or 'come back later,' with the former used for summons and the latter used for visits. She couldn't recall a time when her teacher had called her at her leisure.
She had a thoughtful look as she closed the door behind her, deciding that now was as good of a time as ever. She needed to make her report anyway. Somehow, she didn't think her summon was about that. She still couldn't shake the feeling of being off as she made her way to the tower.
When she stepped into her mentor's office, she found Naruto and Kakashi already there. It was a little surprising, but nothing she really worried about. They were still officially a team, but all of them tended to stick to their own missions rather than go together. Naruto was busy training to take Tsunade's place sometime in the near future, Kakashi had semi-involved himself back in ANBU, and Sakura took special requests for medical attention outside the village when she wasn't working in the hospital.
What did bother her, though, was the slightly guilty look on Naruto's face. He was never good at keeping things, and even though she almost missed it, it was still there. Now that she paid attention to it, it seemed that Kakashi would not meet her eyes either. She tensed slightly, turning her attention to the Hokage.
"What's going on?"
Her mentor raised one of her hands in a placating gesture, and Sakura raised a brow. "Don't freak out." It was less a request than an order, and it set off the warning bells in Sakura's head. She didn't get the chance to say anything as Tsunade continued.
"Late last night, or rather, early this morning, Sasuke Uchiha was apprehended at the village gates."
Sakura breathed in sharply. That was the last thing she was expecting, and she knew it probably showed on her face. She kept her mentor's words in mind though, and knowing they probably expected some outburst from her, as Naruto would have done, she forced herself to envision the boring medical charts she had studied while she got her thoughts under control. Her head still spun.
She took a glance at the other two in the room and noticed that they did nothing. Realization dawned on her. "You knew." Her look made Naruto flinch, and for a moment, she didn't feel bad for it. They had probably told him right away.
Tsunade spoke up. "Kakashi assisted in the arrest. He went peacefully."
Sakura's brow furrowed as new questions bombarded her mind. She had no idea what he was doing here, but she knew that now wasn't the time to think about it.
She was slightly hurt that she wasn't told right away. Naruto had a few shadows under his eyes, signifying that he had a late night. It appeared that she was the only one that didn't know right away. She knew it was pointless to get angry about it, so she didn't. It was true that they probably knew she had been coming home from a mission last night, but she would have thought that they would understand this was something she'd like to know about. She still cared about her teammate. She may not be a love struck little girl anymore, but her feelings for her teammate were not going to go away. She decided to forgive them for now and stick to more important things.
"Where is he being held?" She was facing her mentor, so she had no idea if her flat voice had caused a reaction from her other teammates. If it did, she didn't mind. It would give them something to think about.
Her teacher was silent for a minute, and Sakura was imagining that she debated whether she should tell the younger girl. After a time, she did. "Holding cell three on the west end of town."
Sakura couldn't help the slight face she made. She knew that place. It wasn't pleasant.
"Can I see him?"
If Tsunade was surprised she asked first, it didn't show. She paused again before sighing and reaching up to rub her temples. "…Yes."
Sakura was slightly annoyed by the time she made it to Sasuke's cell door. It was still early enough in the day for her to be needed for anything, so she wasn't in a hurry. The guards at the entrance to his wing didn't do anything for her though, and it left her agitated.
Did she have access? She scoffed. She was the Hokage's apprentice. They knew that. More importantly, this was her teammate. There were some lines you did not cross when it came to that.
She stopped to take a calm breath. Getting angry wasn't going to help anything she knew, but it had felt good to get rid of some of her frustration. She needed to be calm to help prepare her for what she could see beyond this door. She noticed the chakra lock and knew this place was heavily guarded for a reason.
Still, a part of her hoped that the person on the other side would be one she recognized. She still remembered the coldness that radiated from him when they met at Orochimaru's hideout, and she couldn't help but shiver a little. She knew all people changed, but she still clung to that small shred of hope that some part of her teammate would still be left. It had been six years since he left though, and nineteen was many years older than they had been.
Steeling herself, she undid the lock and ducked inside.
The first thing she noticed besides the obvious body on the other side of the room was the smell and dampness of the room. She had avoided looking at him first, in order to assess what was going on. The room was cold and clammy, and it smelled of mold and disuse. She knew if she had to stay here for any prolonged amount of time she would start to sneeze or cough.
She looked at him next, and to her credit, she was just barely able to stifle the gasp that wanting to sound.
He was looking at her, as she figured he would be, being the only other person in the room. His eyes weren't red, but that didn't seem to matter, as he had enough blood running down his face and arm to make up for the lack of color. There was no trace of emotion on his face, but Sakura still thought he looked ragged. Bruises covered him, and she didn't have to wonder what happened here.
She had determined earlier to forgive her teammates and teacher from keeping his arrival to her, but now she felt that anger returning. If they had said something last night, then maybe she could've stopped this. He had come into the village peacefully, so why was there a need for violence now? She knew that some people were cruel, and she supposed that others didn't hold any sympathy for a traitor. Not like she did.
He was half kneeling, his knees unable to fully reach the ground, the chains binding his hands either too long or too short for him to stand properly. She supposed that they meant it that way, to make him as uncomfortable as possible. Then again, she didn't think he would be able to stand anyway, if she was reading his exhaustion right.
She didn't know how much time she took standing there staring at his wounds, but she was surprised when she heard his voice.
She jumped slightly, and looked back to his face. His voice was slightly raspy, as she expected it to be, but truthfully, she hadn't expected him to say anything. It wasn't said with any malice, and if anything, it was posed as a greeting. She shivered a little. She always liked when he said her name.
She saw some of the tension wound in him dropped slightly as she said it, and she wasn't sure what to think of that. She was relieved to see him, and she thought that maybe he felt the same. It had been a long time, after all. She knew that he had to have come back for a reason, though she didn't try to dilute herself by coming up with a reason. She was just satisfied enough to know he had one.
Stepping closer, she noticed the chakra bonds wrapped tightly on his wrists, the ones connected to the chains in the walls. Of course they wouldn't want him to have access to any hand seals or anything he could use to escape. If he willing came here, she wondered for a minute why they locked him up at all if he was going to cooperate.
She pushed the thought aside as she spoke. "I'm going to heal you now." He only nodded at her, and she was amazed he didn't argue or question whether she could.
She got close enough to touch him, reaching towards the wound on his head first, and he simply closed his eyes. She was a little shocked, but she didn't let it distract her from what she was doing. She was half expecting them to spring open in spinning shades of red, but she thought that his Sharingan probably didn't work if his chakra was cut off.
He did nothing, however, and Sakura realized that she didn't really know this Sasuke. It was obvious he had changed, but she had no idea to what extent. It would take a long time to get used to him, she supposed.
For a moment, she feared that she wouldn't get to, and her chakra faltered. He opened an eye in response, but she only took a second to shake her head clear of negative thoughts. She would have time to think later. Right now she had a task to do.
Maybe she wasn't quite right about him not really being Sasuke, as she thought about it again. Maybe he was still the Sasuke she knew, only slightly different because he did what he needed to do. She wondered if he really did kill Itachi like he planned. For his sake, she hoped he did.
She watched the last of his wounds close and stood from her kneeling position. Most of the bruises were faded, and she knew that within a day or two they would disappear completely with the aid of her chakra. Satisfied, she took a step back. She would like to stay, but there were a few things she wanted to do.
She reminded herself of his rasp again, and rearranged her first item on her mental to-do list so it was visiting her mentor again. He seemed frailer than he should while she was so close, and she made a note to ask about what they were feeding him.
She blinked for a minute as the familiar words sparked a memory of hers, remembering a time she didn't exactly like too. It sounded genuine, which was slightly odd, but she couldn't deny that it made her happy. It may have taken this long, but at least she could do something for him.
She didn't say anything but nodded instead before leaving, smiling at him for the first time in a long time. He didn't return it, but she could almost imagine a smile in his eyes if she tried hard enough.
"What do you mean we don't need to bother?"
Sakura's voice rose in pitch a little, but she thought it understandable so didn't try to hold herself in check. She had come to Tsunade to ask about his nutrition and environment. Being a medic, she had some rights to interfere with some aspects of prisoners. She mentally frowned at the thought of referring to her teammate that way.
Tsunade shared a look with Jiraiya, who was standing slightly behind her on the right side. Sakura had worried at first that she was interrupting something, but it appeared that he was just here to visit, if the pair of sake dishes on the edge of her desk was any indication. She was too concerned about Sasuke to worry too much.
"He's been deemed too much of a threat by the elders. They will not budge on it. They want him gone."
And just like that her world was falling apart all over again, and there was no ground to stop the descent.
They were going to execute her teammate on the word of the elders, and she internally raged at the thought of not being able to do anything. The elders only had some decision-making power because they had convinced the villagers that sole power in the form of the Hokage could be dangerous. Tsunade was still in charge ultimately, but there were always some things she wasn't aware of, things they had agreed upon behind her back. Sometimes she couldn't do anything about it.
Sakura tried to keep her rage in check. She knew that wasn't going to help Sasuke, no matter how much better it made her feel. She was almost kicking herself for not asking about this earlier. Before, she had been wanting to see him with her own two eyes too much to wait any longer.
She had been in a rush this morning, but she had heard the whole story now. He had disposed of Orochimaru as it grew closer to the day the snake wanted to take his body. After that, he tracked Itachi for a few years until he caught up with the elder Uchiha and ended him. He had came back next, and now he was sitting in a prison cell.
Even after coming back willingly and enduring everything they put him through, despite his peaceful cooperation, it still wasn't enough to make the elders change their minds. She thought that they would at least want to keep him around because of his bloodline, but she guessed blood wasn't everything anymore. She sighed quietly, putting a blank face on.
The Hokage was silent, glancing at Jiraiya again. "Tomorrow."
"What!?" Sakura's calm was destroyed in an instant. The look on her mentor's face signified that Naruto had reacted in the same way.
"But that's so soon! There must be something you can do, if-" She was cut off.
"Why, Sakura? Why should I!?" Sakura went silent as her teacher rose her voice. For a moment, she had forgotten who she was speaking too. It didn't matter if the woman had been like a mother to her, or if they had shared a bond of teacher to student. She was still the Hokage. "I am the Hokage. I have to look out for the good of the village."
Sakura bit the inside of her lip to prevent her from speaking out. It was always the village. Sacrifice, that was the ninja way. They were nothing more than tools in a world of black and white. It was always one way or another, each decision made with cool assessment like a machine. She had nothing against protecting the village, but how could they do that when eventually their decisions were going to leave them with nobody left to protect it?
"I know what he means to you and Naruto, and Kakashi too. Just because he's your teammate will not save him this time. He is a traitor. He sowed his seeds and how he must reap the consequences. Don't start any trouble."
After all he did, it still wasn't enough. He had rid the world of two huge threats even though he had to risk much to do it, and it wasn't enough. They weren't enough to save him.
"Since when do we abandon our own?" Sakura's voice was small, and she hadn't really meant it directed at Tsunade, but the older woman answered anyway.
"When they abandon us."
Her words were steel, and they cut Sakura deep. She knew it was partly true, but she couldn't deny the hurt that washed through her. He was here now right? He had come back. He may have abandoned them for a little while, but couldn't her mentor see the significance in him coming back? He came back to them. Sakura thought that was worth it's weight in salt.
She asked about the time and place of the execution, and she was slightly appalled to find that it was going to be public. The elders had no sense of saving some honor for traitors, it seemed.
Sakura knew it wasn't all Tsunade's fault, but she didn't know who else to direct her pain towards. Even if her mentor had nothing to do with it, a little part of her still died. With a hanging head, she asked one more thing.
"Do you need anything else?"
Tsunade was quiet before answering. Jiraiya had made no comments the entire time she was here. "Let go, Sakura."
Sakura didn't look at her teacher, not knowing what she would see there. She knew her shishou had been through her own trial of heartache, but she didn't want to see pity.
She turned to go without answering. She may have been willing to do many things for the woman that instructed her, but that was one order she couldn't follow.
Tsunade sighed as she watched her apprentice exit the office. Immediately, Jiraiyas hand came to her right shoulder, and she reached up with her left to cover his. There was no easy way to have that conversation, but she was glad for the support she had. She was even more glad that he had said nothing, letting her handle it by herself. She shot him a grateful look.
They may have had their differences, but they were still good friends. They were more than that; they were teammates. Their bond was not one easily matched after so long, and Tsunade sighed again. She supposed it was similar to Sakura.
She watched the emotion pass over the younger girl's face, and it broke a little piece of her to see it. It seemed that no matter what had happened between them, Sasuke was still Sakura's teammate, and that was enough for the other.
A part of her wanted the Uchiha to suffer for hurting who was like a daughter to her. On the other hand, she wanted to help the brat for the same reasons. For her, it may have been enough to lessen his punishment just because of Sakura. The elders were unrelenting, however, and shot down any of her suggestions to ease the situation. She had tried, no matter what the others thought.
The Uchiha should suffer, but not if it killed two of the young people she was most fond of in the village. She sighed again, and the hand on her shoulder started to rub gently. She was glad for his silence. It was hard enough to think normally.
Jiraiya had been present for Naruto's outburst. It had taken sharp words from both of them to calm him enough. After, he had assumingly stormed off to Sasuke's cell. She was mildly surprised he didn't run into Sakura on the way. It was too bad that she had to break the news herself.
She shook her head. "I'm getting too old for this. I need another drink."
Sakura went through the rest of her day in a haze.
Others seemed to sense the dark cloud hanging over her because nobody tried to talk to her any more than what was necessary. She still went for ramen with Naruto and Kakashi, like they tried to do once a week, but even that event was quiet. She knew Naruto was as frustrated as she was, and even if Kakashi didn't say anything, she knew he was troubled too.
She showed up at the hospital after leaving the ramen stand, and even if she was supposed to have a few days off to rest from her last mission, she found herself asking if they needed help anyway. Naturally they did, and she was glad for the partial distraction. If she was going to drown in her own thoughts, she might as well do something useful at the same time.
She walked home in silence after dark had fallen. The streets were quiet, and there were few people out. She was tired, but it wasn't from working for some of the day. Her tiredness came from inside, from the thought that even after growing so much stronger, she still could do nothing.
Throughout the day she thought through hundreds of scenarios that would let her stop what was going on, but they all ended the same way. If Tsunade couldn't convince the elders, there was little she could do. One way or the other, her teammate was going to die. Sasuke was going to die.
A painful gasp sounded before she could prevent it, and she stopped in her tracks. She had realized this earlier, but between her blank mask and burying herself in work, she hadn't fully faced it. Now that she had, the pain was too much for her to handle. She was glad nobody was around to witness.
She ran home as fast as she could, completely skipping out on the groceries she knew she needed to get. She wasted no time in returning to bed and curling up under her blankets, skipping out on unpacking her things or straightening her house.
She was still slightly mad at Sasuke, but that didn't change what she felt for him. She had meant what she told him the night he left, even if she hadn't fully understood what that meant at the time. She understood now, and nothing was ever going to change that. Love wasn't something that was forgotten so easily.
Sakura bit her lip as it trembled, willing herself not to cry. She had shed enough tears, and tears were not going to save him. She was a strong kunoichi, but raw strength wasn't doing her any good either.
He may have hurt her in the past, but she was still human. She wasn't beyond forgiveness if it was earned. And even though he may have done bad things, she didn't believe that he deserved to die.
That was her last thought before her weariness caught up with her, and a lone tear fell down her cheek as consciousness left her.
To be continued.
Next part up soon. The real stuff comes then. I had to set up a background first. Thanks for reading.