Title: Of Sameness and Change
Pairing: [eventual] sasu/saku
an: revamping my stories, editing them and making them appear more cohesive. Also, transferring my documents to my laptop. Please read and review! I know it's been a long time since I've updated but I promise I'm coming back to this.
of sameness and change
She knew, sitting there, mulling over her two-thirds empty glass of sake, that it was her own fault.
Low, snarky laughter rumbled around the room.
Sakura sat at the bar in the dark, low-ceilinged tavern. It wasn't exactly the type of place she'd usually chose to frequent, but tonight she didn't really want to run into anybody she knew.
The gruff, aloof bartender behind the counter crossed her vision again, drying the inside of a mug with a dirtied dishrag. She sensed his eyes on her without seeing—detecting such direct attention was hardly something she had to concentrate on anymore. She was aware that she looked out of place—her pink hair shown like a beacon amidst the heavy, dark tones of the bar.
The other men at the bar had scooted their stools slightly away from hers, her heavy emotions evidently taking up more space than she could contain in her body. She sat with her elbows on the counter, observing the sake swirl around the glass as she rotated it.
She hadn't left her apartment tonight in her usual appearance. If she had, if she had come in with her normal cherry, pink and beige outfit, wide smile, sparkling green eyes, she knew that those men's barstools wouldn't have repelled away from her own.
Which is exactly why she hadn't. Tonight, she had slipped into black pants she acquired for an assassination mission—tight around the calves, loose around the thighs—and black vest. Her armguards signaled to the occupants of the room that she was a ninja, and they steered clear of her. Which was good. The purpose she was here was to be alone.
She hadn't had to work on changing from her normal expression to become rather unapproachable—there was reason enough for that.
She exhaled loudly through her nose.
He had come back.
Sasuke had come back—not Naruto dragging him back, he, Sasuke had come back.
She had been at home when it happened, but Naruto had witnessed it from the village's gates. Sasuke had appeared, finally, making purposeful strides towards Konoha of his own volition, he was coming home—
But he was not alone.
It was her fault that she let a small part of herself believe that when he came back, he would want them the same way they wanted him.
It had been five years since he left. Five years was too much time to not influence someone to change, no matter how stagnate they appeared.
Flanking Sasuke had been his team, Team Hebi… Taka… whatever Sasuke called them now. Karin, Juugo, and Suigetsu walked beside him in an unconsciously habitual manner, it looked natural, like breathing.
This is what she gathered from what Naruto said. She had been hunched over a medical textbook in her apartment when he had burst in, the room's energy activating as his presence attempted to fill it. She remembered having to decide that he looked… happy, and the fact that she had to decide such a thing changed her quick analysis of his emotions.
He had seemed excited enough, what with the return of his proclaimed brother, and he spoke a million miles per hour as she tried to process the information.
He had come back? But why now? And with them?
She still hadn't gotten her head around it as Naruto left, no doubt speeding off to Hogake Tower to try talking to Sasuke.
She still hadn't spoken or even seen him, she noted, taking another sip of her sake.
She and Naruto had tried—and failed—many times to bring Sasuke home, where he belonged with them on their team, Team 7, and yet after all of their repeated failures, he now suddenly decided that he should come back.
She knew that she should be happy. It was what she wanted, wasn't it? To have Sasuke back home was a majority of what she thought about, and now he was. He had signed paperwork with Tsunade. A trial to deliberate his punishment had been set, Naruto had later breathlessly informed her, having sprinted back to her small apartment after he had heard the news.
She should be happy that the man, she was—had been—used to be—was—in love with had returned back to the village, back to her.
This was where she knew she was wrong. Sasuke hadn't come back to them, back to her.
The evidence lay in the team he brought with him, the team he had created.
He hadn't wanted them. He hadn't needed them. He found others that he did want, chose teammates that he did want.
She and Naruto had been forced upon him.
It was her fault that she somehow continued to hold onto hope that Sasuke would want his old team back.
The gravelly voice of the bartender broke her mulling.
"Another?" he asked, gesturing at the near-empty glass in her hand with the dingy dishrag.
She nodded. "Half," she said disinterestedly and placed the glass down, scooting it closer to the opposite side of the counter with a nudge from the back of her finger.
Quickly, a half-empty glass returned to her hands.
He had been back for five days.
She hadn't seen him yet.
Naruto had. He always managed someway to find her, and when he did, he was befit with his characteristic grin, and bubbled with facts about how Sasuke was back, he was back, he was really back, Sakura-chan, and he's staying this time.
He never mentioned Team Hebi, but she suspected that their existence bothered him too.
In these five days, he had only asked once why she hadn't visited him yet, how had she not seen him, he was in the hospital, didn't she work there, but she only gave him a tight smile paired with tighter eyes, and an unsatisfactory answer that he didn't probe.
She was grateful that in these past five years, Naruto had learned some restraint.
The fact was, she had been avoiding the hospital.
It seemed natural that she would want to be the one to heal him, to show him how she'd improved before his very eyes.
But she couldn't.
It was so easy for Naruto to attempt a conversation with Sasuke, but she was beginning to realize something.
She was embarrassed.
And rightfully so, she added in her mind. The last real conversation she'd shared with Sasuke had been a disaster that resulted in him completely and coldly rejecting her loudly proclaimed love for him, and walking away from her, the village, Naruto, completely undeterred.
Naruto, at least, had fought tooth and bone with him, a respectable fight of equals, of brothers, that had turned sour.
It was at least one in the morning. She should get home.
Standing silently, gracefully, she slid the proper amount on the counter before slinking out the door.
She was acting pathetic, weak.
She was letting her emotions run her actions, keeping her from doing her duty, something she hadn't allowed since she'd grown up and learned to control them.
The night breeze had a slight chill on its edge, and it did some to bite the haze of the alcohol.
She would return to the hospital tomorrow.
The morning was mockingly bright.
When Sakura woke up, it had been difficult to bypass her dark ensemble from the night before. It reflected some of the progress she'd made from weak kunoichi she'd been in the past.
She held no shame in the vest, skirt and shorts she wore now, it was just that she wanted to approach Sasuke with a physical representation of how she'd changed.
And maybe so she could remind herself too.
The clothes chafed as she made her way up the road.
The hospital loomed into view, the familiarity washing over her, but Sakura walked up to the entrance with a sense of dread.
She pushed the double glass doors open purposefully, taking a steadying breath. She could do this. She was the best of the best. Tsunade-sama had trained her. She could handle this.
Sakura strode over to the reception desk and held out her hand for her charts.
Three were plopped into her hand. She brought them into her arms and began flipping through to see the names:
"Your patients today are the nins that Uchiha brought in…"
"Hogake-sama checked them in for 'examination and evaluation.'"
Sakura took a deep breath. Okay. So fix any wounds while gathering a medical standpoint of their capabilities.
She thanked the woman at the desk and headed for the stairs. Their room was located in a wing on the top floor, the tenth, where only top security patients were located. With a sort of bitter satisfaction, Sakura knew this to mean that Tsunade did not quite trust them or their intentions yet.
The stairway was relatively empty, which wasn't much of a surprise because most usually opted for the elevator. However, Sakura had wanted the distraction, however menial, and the time delay of walking up the ten flights of stairs.
For the first five floors, Sakura tried to meditate, to not think of anything of all.
Not only did that not work, but she gave up at the fifth.
Sakura really did not want to do this. To treat these people, these three shinobi that Sasuke had singled out himself, had chosen to aid him in one of his most important goals… She did not want to feel jealous of these people. Not jealous that he'd chosen them over her and Naruto.
Seeing those three here in Konoha would solidify their significance to Sasuke. Why else would he bring them back?
No, somehow, Sasuke must have created bonds with them, bonds that he was not as willing to cut as he'd been with her and Naruto. Hebi had helped Sasuke kill Itachi, after all. Maybe providing support during that sort of trial created something irremovable.
It hurt to consider, but Sakura knew it could be true.
She'd never really thought much of the team, though, to be honest. While she was aware of Karin's odd, but rare, manner of healing, and invaluable and immensely powerful talent of chakra sensory, Karin was just so weak in the area of combat. Sakura knew that Karin's other talents made her considerably useful, especially to someone like Sasuke who had to find a way to track down Itachi, but in a battle Karin was potentially useless.
They had clashed with Team Hebi a few times during their multiple 'Sasuke retrieval' missions—it was inevitable that they'd fight someday.
Sakura had found the camp first. Sasuke was nowhere in sight, which probably could have been predicted, but the three they knew to be his new team were sitting around a fire.
Two had sprung up immediately as she entered the clearing.
The one with the sword, Suigetsu, began sputtering to his female teammate, Karin. "But-wha- you said they were just passing by, not aiming at us! What is your problem, bitch!"
Karin had visibly fumed, but instead, watching as Sakura waited on the outskirts of the trees for her teammates, said loudly, so she could hear, "Meh. Didn't think she'd be too much for us to handle. I mean, come on—Look at her. That pink hair is hideous."
Sakura knew she had to wait for Naruto and Kakashi and Sai, but it was going to be difficult if that bitch kept talking.
Suigetsu snorted. "Well, she better not be. And actually," he stroke a contemplative pose, "I think she's kinda hot."
Sakura rolled her eyes and Karin's face twisted in annoyance.
"Hey, you!" Karin called, "What are you doing here?"
"Where is Sasuke," she said plainly.
Karin stiffened. "Why do you want to know?" she asked haughtily.
"He's… an old friend," she decided to say. Perhaps he was soon returning, and stalling now wouldn't warn him of their presence as a fight would. "I need to speak with him."
"'Old friend'?" Karin echoed. "Sasuke-kun doesn't want to talk to you. He has me now!"
Suigetsu rolled his eyes, muttering something like "Us, he has us."
Sakura snorted. "He doesn't need you. You're just pawns for him to complete his goal. You're useless."
So much for not creating a fight, as the girl came sprinting at her at her words. As she took a defensive stance, she noted that Suigetsu had only put an exasperated hand to his head. The third, Jugo, still sat at the campfire impassively.
Karin had been slow, she remembered, limited and left considerable openings with her weak taijutsu. It had been relatively easy to knock her out, only a dozen or so moves.
The rest of her team had arrived by the time the others rose to defend their fallen teammate.
When Sasuke had arrived, he of course created a perfect opportunity for him and his team to escape them without being pursued. They all left, Sasuke picking up Karin before disappearing.
The door to the tenth floor sat before her.
Suigetsu and Juugo, she could admit, were strong shinobi. Karin just rubbed her the wrong way.
She strode down the hallway purposefully, keeping her posture straight and dignified. The ANBU let her pass through the door to their room with a nod.
Sakura steeled herself, and closed the door with a slight thud.
She turned to the room.
Juugo was sitting on the bed closest to the window, calmly observing the scene outside. Suigetsu, somehow still with his sword, toyed with the handle while smirking up at her. Karin, the closest to the door and to her, huffed impatiently, crossing her arms and staring the other way.
"Hey, Karin, she's that one chick that handed your ass to you," Suigetsu announced gleefully. "Oh wait, there's too many of those for you to keep count!"
Next to him, Karin growled. "Shut UP!" she hissed. "She did not, you idiot! I wasn't even trying," she sneered, directing the last comment up at her.
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Sure thing," she muttered sarcastically as she idly opened one of the charts.
She had just begun to skim Karin's chart when her concentration was broken with a soft, "Hello."
Her eyebrow shooting up in surprise, she looked up at Juugo. He had his hands calmly folded in his lap, and his eyes looked kind.
"Hi," she timidly replied. He was where the curse seal originated? Sakura felt pity for him as he gave her a smile and resumed looking out of the window.
Her attention was diverted back to Suigetsu as he began speaking again.
"Don't worry," he said with a toothy smirk, "I remember you. It's too bad we had to get going so fast, things could've gotten interesting." He raised an eyebrow.
She didn't like his suggestive tone.
"Pity," she said.
She should start. The sooner she began, the sooner she'd be done.
Treat them like all other patients, she reminded herself. Be clinical. Be professional.
She breathed sharply out of her nose.
Shuffling Karin's chart to the back, she opened Juugo's. She calmly strode across the room to his bed.
"I am Haruno Sakura and I will be performing your examinations and evaluations today," she said, slipping into her routine bedside manner. "Please comply with all of my instructions and remain quiet and still unless I ask otherwise."
She heard Karin's derisive snort in the background, but she instead turned her focus on Jugo.
She gave him a small smile. "You're up first."
"Take off your shirt and lie flat on your back, please," she ordered, and as soon as instructions were followed, a glowing green hand was placed in the middle of Juugo's expansive chest.
She was concentrated on her work, but she heard some of Suigetsu and Karin's comments.
"...I'm not letting her touch me…"
"…I can't wait for her to touch me. I hope I'm next…"
Inwardly she sighed.
Sakura rested her forehead on the counter, closing her eyes and sighing.
"Two miso ramens, please!" Naruto yelled.
"How was your day?" he asked cheerfully, but she knew that he was more interested than he was letting on.
With another sigh, she sat up, still leaning on the counter with most of her arms.
"Okay, I guess," she replied monotonously, and at her response Naruto's expressive eyes dulled before they lowered.
Sakura frowned. She hated when Naruto was unhappy… it was just so innately wrong.
"Did you…" he hesitated. "Did you see-"
"No, not today," she said, cutting him off. The corners of his mouth pulled down, and his eyes looked sad.
Naruto thanked the man quietly for the ramen as the two bowls appeared. He pushed one towards her and ate a little of his own before turning back to her.
"But Sakura-chan" he said softly, looking at his hands before meeting her eyes again, "It's Sasuke. I mean… I guess I thought you'd be happy he's back."
His eyes were infinitely deep as she held his gaze. She looked down at the ramen. She was happy that he had avoided verbally addressing the life-promise he had made her, all those years ago, even if he wasn't the one to bring Sasuke back…
Sakura didn't really want to talk about it, but she supposed she owed Naruto as her teammate and friend, who was experiencing the same thing as she, some type of response.
She bit her lip. "I… I am, or I would be…" She shook her head. "You've seen him, right? How is he?"
Naruto's blue eyes observed her a little longer before answering.
"Yeah, I've seen him a couple times. He's… he's good, not exactly like he was before—not like that would necessarily be a good thing—but he's not as cold." He chuckled, "He still doesn't like to talk a lot."
He shrugged. "I haven't really got to see him for very long at all, just a couple minutes here and there. He looked… tired. Tsunade baa-chan wanted you to do a check-up on him soon, so I thought maybe today you would have seen him."
Sakura nodded. "Actually, today my patient's were his… team," she said, and the word was bitter in her mouth.
It didn't sound good to Naruto either. "I still don't get that…" he said sadly, but determination began to show back into his eyes as he met hers again. "But he's Team 7. Once Team 7, always Team 7. He missed us, believe it! He's just being Sasuke, he doesn't know how to say or show it. Just you wait!" he pronounced.
She smiled, trying to hope that this was true.
Naruto flashed her a grin before returning to his ramen.
"I have to go," she announced, "I used a lot of chakra today and I'm tired. You can have the rest of my ramen!" she called over her shoulder, already about to turn out of the place, "Hopefully it isn't too cold!"
She didn't care what the ANBU guarding the room thought of her as she stood, eyes closed, forehead resting against the door, hand gripping the door knob.
Through this door was Sasuke.
Tsunade-sama had already briefed her about his general condition: exhaustion, sore eyes (most likely as a result of overusing the Sharingan,) a few minor injuries, and, requiring the most of her attention, a festering, infected wound on his chest. It wasn't fatal, but it hadn't started to heal naturally properly.
It sounded like there was enough already to keep her busy, and it's not like Sasuke was going to be demanding of her, say anything, or pressure any answers from her. He was just going to sit there, silent, and count the seconds until she was done.
She frowned. She wasn't going to fawn over him. If he expected her to, well, then he would be in for a surprise. She and Naruto had gone through hell for him, would have gone through hell for him, and instead he randomly decides he can come back with this replacement team.
She would be professional.
With a deep breath, she turned the handle.
She didn't look up until the door was firmly shut behind her.
There he was. Sitting with his back straight on the bed was Sasuke. His dark eyes were trained on her, the disturbance to the utter silence in the room.
It was harder to remember to not hurry to his side, cup his face, validate that he was real, cry, yell, talk when he was right there, looking at her.
However, she quickly reeled her emotions back inside. She only let out a small "Oh!" and her hand shot up to cover her mouth, as if to erase the noise.
Suddenly, she was nervous. Irrational, stupid, she thought vehemently. You're a damn good medic-nin, the only one better than you is Tsunade-sama, there's nothing there—she thought of the general direction of Sasuke—that you can't handle. Lock up your emotions this instant.
She turned her back to him, setting his chart down on the sterile counters lining the room.
"Um… Hi Sasuke!" she tried not to squeak. Her face flushed. If only he would say something back… make this a little less awkward… but he only nodded before looking away.
She couldn't help but give a small smile. He could have just ignored her.
"Um… Tsunade-sama had given me some brief details of your condition, and requested I heal you. So…" she cautiously approached his bedside, "If you would please remove your shirt?"
It was only with years of practice that her voice remained level and professional.
"Aa," he said before easily complying, balling the shirt in his hand once he'd removed it.
Sakura blinked and again reminded herself that she'd seen hundreds of men with no shirts on and with the musculature to compare with him, but she knew that since it was Sasuke and he had just removed his shirt for her made it different in a small corner of her mind, no matter how hard she tried to compress it.
Inwardly, she scolded herself.
"I'm just going to probe around, see what I should fix first." Her hands were both already enveloped in her green chakra—it was hardly something she had to concentrate anymore on to do. The ease of this action brought a small, pleased smile to her face.
His dark, bottomless eyes studied her hands before flitting back to resume looking at her. She was beginning to feel a little self-conscious.
She averted her eyes before looking back at him. "Yeah," she said, just to fill the silence, mentally berating herself for how stupid it sounded.
His lips twitched, almost appearing like he was going to say something, but the movement stopped, and his eyes, after flitting away, only came back to meet hers.
"Okay," she said, "I'm going to start now. Please lie flat on your back," she instructed, and she waited as he did so.
Steadily, she leaned over to place her hands square on his chest. She felt a shiver run down her spine with the foolish, unneeded evidence that he was real, he was really here.
Sasuke was just staring at her hands.
With a quick quirk of her eyebrow, she focused her concentration at the task at hand. However, her eyes shot closed and her brow furrowed when her chakra met strong resistance. She let out a sharp breath and tried pushing past it, but it wouldn't budge, wouldn't let her in. She bit her lip and pushed her chakra out with more force, but to no avail.
He probably didn't know it, didn't realize it but-
"What's wrong," came his voice, in his usual monotonous tone, but her eyes shot open to the fact that he'd actually said something.
He was studying her face, and the only hint she had that he was concerned was the quizzical tilt of an eyebrow.
She gave a sheepish smile. "Please, don't fight my chakra. You need to relax."
"Karin seemed to do fine."
Her smile tightened at the retort. His tone didn't accuse, necessarily, but she felt the shot to her abilities nonetheless. And Karin? Inwardly she seethed.
"Well, I'm not Karin," she stated flatly. "We should both be happy for that."
She didn't bother fighting her eye-roll. She met his challenging eyes.
"Karin doesn't heal like a normal medic-nin. Karin probably has a limited knowledge of actual medical jutsu, because all that is required of her is to be there. You only have to bite her."
She took a deep, calming breathe.
"Karin, though I'm sure without doubt helpful, is not as proficient, efficient, or sufficient as I am in this field. She can't heal without disastrous effects to her chakra levels and strength.
"Now, please relax, and let me do my job," she finished forcefully.
He let out a small "Che" before giving a sigh and making a show of shutting his eyes.
"Hn," he said, and she impatiently wondered whether this meant 'Go on' or 'Sure thing' or 'I don't believe you can heal but try anyway' or whatever.
Now that she was annoyed, it wasn't as shocking to be in his presence. She wanted to leave now for other reasons.
She put her hands on his chest again.
This time she immediately closed her eyes, realizing that it would take more concentration to accomplish her goals. As she met the resistance once again, she felt him tense and stiffen. Squeezing her eyes shut, she applied a sharp jolt with her chakra to remind him to ease up.
Slowly, the resistance weakened until it all together disappeared.
With a satisfied smile, she probed his body with her chakra, examining muscle tissue, organs, chakra channels…
Inwardly she recorded spots of interest, and at that time her mind was running on autopilot.
"Tsunade… she was your sensei."
He stated it as a fact, but one that needed to be validated.
She was shocked he'd spoken again. She opened her eyes to find his meeting hers before he shut his eyes again.
"Yes, yes she was…" She said cautiously. "She has little to teach me now, but she will still regiment some of my training sessions from time to time to observe my improvements."
A corner of his lips twitched.
She stared at him oddly before shutting her eyes again.
"And Naruto… with Jiraiya?"
With some incredulity, she opened her eyes to meet his again.
"Yes," she stated. "Naruto did train under Jiraiya."
"Hm," he uttered with a slight tilt of amusement.
"Yeah," she said with a hesitant smile.
The feeling in her stomach began to sink though, as the unspoken fact that Sasuke had trained with Orochimaru, the last of the three legendary Sannin, and had willingly thrown Konoha aside to do it.
She refrained from saying it, but she was pretty sure he read it in her eyes before he closed his again.
She did the same.
When she finished, she took her hands off his chest and pulled a stool up to the side of his bed close to his chest.
He stared at her impassively.
She already had a plan of action, and the first dealt with the wound on his chest.
"This," she said, finger unconsciously tracing the wound down his side opposite his heart—but she quickly removed it as his eyes shot down to locate the disturbance—"How did you get this?"
He propped himself up on his elbows. If it aggravated the wound, he did not show it.
He shrugged. "A month ago with a sword."
She rolled her eyes at his minimal response.
"What village…" she began leadingly.
Her eyebrows lifted in interest, but refrained from asking. He wouldn't have answered, but she was wondering how it came to be.
"Okay. Well, the sword was poisoned," she stated pointedly, "Which would account for the remains I uncovered in your bloodstream, and the unnatural healing," she said, gesturing at the purple and green coloring of the scabbing.
His eyebrow rose as he contemplated it, before looking at her to continue.
She was getting better at being under his stare. Her heart didn't beat nearly as fast.
"The poison is simple, easy to remove with a potion, but I will have to reverse the damage it did as the body tried to repair the wound before repairing it myself. It shouldn't take long, and it won't be very difficult."
She stood up decisively, flitting back to the cabinets to retrieve the potion necessary. It wasn't necessarily a common poison, but common enough to have an antidote on hand.
Sasuke watched her as she returned with the vial.
"One swallow," she instructed, and his hand did not touch hers as he took the vial from her.
Wordlessly, he handed it back when he finished.
"Okay," she said. "I'm going to repair the damage now."
He scooted down to lie on his back once more.
"Please, don't resist my chakra again. And also," she said with a bit of a dubious smile, "Please refrain from speaking while I work. I will need to focus on this one to heal it."
"Hn," he said, but she didn't miss his smirk before she closed her eyes and placed her hands on his chest once more.