Med-students have no life. No, I mean it. This was a crazy year. I didn't even have a spring break because there were always exams and papers to deliver. I can only apologize for the long wait and thank you guys for sticking to the story.
衝突する (Shōtotsu suru)
Naruto could feel Sakura's gaze on his back. He didn't have to turn around and look at her to know how blank her face was or how much anger her eyes showed. He knew her and he had hurt her.
Probably, she was never going to forgive him.
After telling Sakura everything about Sasuke's condition, including his DNA changes caused by the Kinjutsu, the young medic-nin closed her eyes for a few seconds and very calmly told him to take her to the hospital so she could see Sasuke herself.
The young boy in himself wanted to ask her how she felt. How he could help and make things better, but his common sense told him to stay quiet for now since nothing he could say could change how she felt. He wasn't a kid anymore and neither was she.
Sakura followed him in complete silence through the hospital until they got to Sasuke's room. After knocking softly and announcing himself, Naruto opened the door.
Sasuke was leaning against the pillow and had kicked his sheets to the bottom of the bed while he was listening to Kakashi's stories. As Naruto entered the room, the boy sat and turned his head towards the blond's voice.
Sakura froze by the door frame, her green eyes wide and fixed on Sasuke. She looked so pale that Naruto felt the urge to ask her if she was alright, but he knew better.
"You're back," the young raven said. "What took you so long?"
Naruto thought he heard Sakura gasp.
"Sorry I'm late," Naruto walked towards Sasuke and sat in the bed next to him. It always amazed him how easy it was now to just place his hand on the raven's head and feel his little, warm body leaning against him. The awkwardness of those first days were long gone for him.
"Where were you?"
"I went to see someone who is going to help Baa-chan in your surgery tomorrow," the blond explained. "She's Baa-chan student and… she was part of Team 7. I brought her here to see you."
Sasuke looked surprised and turned his head in the doors direction, staring at Sakura without seeing her. Meanwhile, the pink-haired young woman cringed and her eyes brimmed with unshed tears. Her hands would be shaking if she didn't clench them into fists.
"Hello," her voice was even and strong, with no traces of the emotional turmoil inside her.
"Hello," Sasuke answered. "You're… Sakura, right?"
Sakura's eyes widened and she walked slowly towards the bed, each step feeling like a mile. "Yes, that's right."
"Are you going to help me see again?"
Naruto watched as a single tear ran down Sakura's cheek and her lips curled into a smile. He didn't have to be a genius to know how much it touched her to hear Sasuke ask for her help and making her feel that he needed her. He also could see as clearly as day how much she was longing for him to remember her and give her some sort of sign that this jutsu could be reversible and things could change back into what they were before their team broke apart. He knew that better than anyone, because he had felt the same way for many months.
However, Naruto realized that it had been different for him. With Sasuke as an infant, it was easier for Naruto to stare at him and remember that this boy was basically a new person and allowed him to come with grips with his situation a lot easier. But Sakura knew this Sasuke, the little seven-year-old she had crush from the Academy.
When she realized that Sasuke was gone, she was gonna be crushed.
"It's a very easy procedure," Sakura explained, now leaning over the raven, studying his features with a smile. "I'm going to see Tsunade-sama and discuss your condition with her. Everything is going to be just fine, Sasuke-kun."
Sasuke nodded, though he didn't seem convinced. It was his first surgery after all. "Alright. Thanks, Sakura."
Sakura's eyes shone even more brightly. Before she started crying, she quickly said her goodbyes and left the room looking a lot lighter than she did when she entered it.
"Well… I guess I better be going too," Kakashi said. "You should get a good night's sleep, Sasuke."
The boy nodded. "Thanks… for the stories. They were interesting, sensei."
Smiling under his mask, Kakashi pat Sasuke's head playfully. "You're welcome. I'll come by tomorrow after the surgery. Goodnight you two."
Naruto couldn't help but smiling as he watched his sensei leave. It had been easier than they all thought for Kakashi to bond with Sasuke again. It gave him hope for his son's forgiveness.
"Tou-chan?" the boy reached out and pulled his shirt. His expression morphing into what he hoped to be serious and mature. "You should go to sleep too. It's been a long day."
"You're worried about me? I'm touched. But you're the one who's been yawning for the last hour."
Sasuke blushed under his bandages. "I did not. Wait… you weren't even here."
"I know you too well. Around ten, you start to get sleepy and by eleven you fall asleep on the place you're sitting in. Between that, you proudly yawn!"
"I don't! Stop laughing, usuratonkashi! And stop making fun of me!"
"I can't, sorry. Teasing you is one of the best parts of my day. Besides, I've slept for two weeks and I have a lot to catch up."
Sasuke's pout turned into a shocked expression which quickly became sadness. Naruto immediately regretted mentioning the Sleeping Curse. God knows how much pain that was causing Sasuke.
"What I mean is… I've been sorta away," the blond said softly. "I want to make up for that lost time."
The little raven raised his head and nodded slowly.
"So… What did you think of Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked, glad Sasuke couldn't see his worried face.
The boy frowned. "You still call her 'Sakura-chan'? Aren't you too old for that?"
"First, I'm never too old for anything, smart aleck. Second, I've called her that since we we're your age, I don't see why I have to call her something else," the blond took a deep breath and stared at the night sky outside the window. "Seriously, what did you think of her?"
Sasuke looked confused at the sudden change in Naruto's voice tone.
"She's nice I guess," the raven scratched the left side of the bandages.
'Nice', that was it. Honestly, what can Sasuke say? To him, Sakura-chan is a complete stranger, Naruto thought sadly. He doesn't know her the way he did when we were a team, just like he didn't know me.
"Is she a good doctor?" the boy asked quietly, with a hint of nervousness in his voice.
"The best. She and Baa-chan are the best medic-nins in the world. Sakura-chan is gonna take Tsunade Baa-chan's place when she retires as a medic-nin and she will be even better," Naruto smiled because he truly believed his former teammate's capacities and was proud of her. "Sakura-chan was always the smartest in our team. She noticed how a jutsu worked and was the first of us to climb a tree just using chakra on her feet. She's incredible."
Sasuke nodded slowly but didn't show any signs of enthusiasm. Naruto couldn't blame him, after all he had been the one who wanted to keep their past a secret. Maybe he should have talked more about Sakura so things wouldn't feel so rushed and awkward now. Maybe he should have told her the truth instead of shielding her from it.
"You should go, Dad," Sasuke said solemnly. "You need to find a place to sleep, don't you?"
"Do you want me to go?" the blond asked.
Sasuke shrugged. "I'll be fine. I'm not scared of hospitals anymore. If I can fight a crystal monster, I can sleep alone in a hospital."
Sasuke sounded convincing, but Naruto saw how he had let go of his shirt on purpose to make his point, how his lower lip trembled slightly. The kid was scared about the surgery and the possibility of becoming blind and no amount of bravado was going to hide it from his father.
"Tell me, is that bed comfy?"
Sasuke frowned. "Huh?"
"It seems really comfortable… You know, for a hospital bed," Naruto went on, eyeing the bed. "They changed the brand. The ones they had when I was here had lousy mattresses."
"I know you can stay here by yourself, but Baa-chan told me that parents can stay with their kids if they're under eighteen. Besides, finding a hotel this late was gonna be difficult."
Sasuke looked up, gaping a little. Then, he simply shrugged. "If you really want to stay, I guess it's alright."
So typical, teme, Naruto thought.
Smiling, the blond turned off the lights, took off his sandals and cloak, pulled the covers and laid down next to Sasuke. After a few minutes, the boy finally gave up his façade and hugged him tight, his tiny shoulders trembling as he cried.
"This is punishment. I'm being punished…" the boy whimpered.
"No, Sasuke. No," Naruto said stroking his hair softly. "Everything is going to be alright. You're not being punished because you did nothing wrong. You're just injured, but you'll heal like always."
"That's just it… this keeps happening. The nightmares, why you can't come home and be Hokage, why I keep hurting you, why people hate me… It's all because of what he did."
"I'm not him! I don't wanna be him," the boy hugged Naruto like his life depended on it. In world filled with darkness, his daddy was all he wanted. "I'm scared that if I grow up, I will turn into him. These bad things will keep happening. But I'm not him, Tou-chan. I'm sorry… I know you miss him, but I don't wanna be him. I can't. I wanna be me. Please… just tell me I can be me."
Naruto felt his own eyes burning. "You've always been you. I don't want you be anybody else."
No parent wants to see their child in pain. It's like tearing their own hearts apart and not being able to put them back until they're okay again. It was beyond frustrating knowing that he had all that power, but was useless to help Sasuke heal his eyes or ease his heart.
Sasuke's small hands grasped the blond's shirt as he buried his head on his strong chest. "Can I ask you something?"
"Can we forget about my other life?" Sasuke felt Naruto tense under his arms. "Just for tonight. Can we pretend that I'm just your son?"
Slowly, Naruto kissed the top of his head. "You are my son. I don't have to pretend. You're mine."
Smiling through his tears, Sasuke's body finally began to relax. For a while, neither of them spoke. Naruto pulled Sasuke even closer, making the boy feel very small or maybe his father was the one who was really tall and being blind made him realize that. Daddy smelled of soap, shaving cream and his own personal scent that no other adult had.
As Sasuke closed his eyes an old memory surfaced into his tired consciousness. He was really little and Papa still looked like a kid with shorter hair. They were in a place with a lot of stuff like fruits, clothes and colorful packages, probably a market or a grocery store. Sasuke wanted to grab the pretty things and take them with them, but Papa told him no, that they didn't need them and for Sasuke to hold his hand and be a good boy. However, Sasuke couldn't stop staring at the pretty things on the shelves so he let go of his father's hand again and dashed towards them.
He barely touched them when he felt strong hands grabbing him from behind and pulling him against a chest. He thought it was Daddy until he looked up and saw the face of an old woman he didn't know. She called him a name that wasn't his and started to walk away.
Sasuke panicked and began to wail and twitch, trying to break free from this stranger who wasn't his Papa. No matter how much she tried to calm him down, he didn't stop screaming for Papa. Then more strangers appeared in front of him, which made him even more scared.
Suddenly, he heard his name and saw a blond head push through the crowd and a pair of blue eyes looking right at him. Filled with happiness, Sasuke called his Daddy back and stretched his arms towards him, practically jumping into his waiting arms.
"He's mine. He's mine!" he heard Papa say, rocking him. "He's mine. Mine…"
Sasuke didn't remember what happened next. The memory ended in that moment. All he could recall was the feeling of relief of knowing he wasn't lost and alone with strangers anymore. They couldn't take him away because he was Daddy's son, nothing else.
As Sakura sat in Tsunade's office with the Hokage, she was the perfect example of professionalism. She didn't argue or ignored her shishou, she greeted her, read Sasuke's new medical file and asked permanent questions about his health and the surgery. When they were through every detail, Sakura excused herself and went home.
All in all, she had been very proper and polite with Tsunade, yet cold and unforgiving. She was still angry at her master and all her best intentions weren't good enough to excuse her for not telling her the truth about Sasuke.
Sakura smiled. When she followed Naruto into the hospital, she tried to imagine what Sasuke would look like after being raised by Naruto. Especially after he had come back from his training with Jiraiya, Sakura was the one who had to pick him up for the missions and drag him out of the dirty apartment. She had no idea how a human being could make so much trash. The kitchen was a mess of dirty plates on the sink, junk food and ramen cups, the putrid trash bin always filled to the top, the floor clammy and unwashed. Then there was his bedroom where she couldn't even see the floor since he preferred to toss all his clothes (most of them filthy and reeking) to the floor along books, scrolls and half eaten food.
Sasuke was organized. He was all order and neatness. Sakura tried to imagine Naruto raising an infant Sasuke and simply couldn't conciliate their different lifestyles. Honestly, she was expecting to see another Naruto wearing Sasuke's face.
She wasn't expecting to see her Sasuke-kun again.
It was a shock to see him after all these years believing him dead. It was even harder to see him as a little boy. She was sure Sasuke wasn't going to be himself until the boy she had a crush on the Academy finally talked to her again.
Sasuke didn't change. He was the same mature and cool boy she had met. The blasted Kinjutsu didn't steal him away nor did Naruto's parenting change him into someone completely different.
Sakura was sure that Sasuke, the real one, was still inside that boy. All she had to do was keep looking. For now, she was going to focus on his eyes, but she was determined to find out a way to find Uchiha Sasuke and bring him back.
That's what he would have wanted.
At sunrise, Sakura woke up, took a shower, ate her breakfast and drank a cup of coffee while re-reading the notes for the surgery. It was basic, but a very delicate surgery. Sasuke's eyes were under a lot of pressure from different chakra and, probably, because his eyes were actually Itachi's made things a lot more complicated. They needed to stabilize the chakra before Sasuke's optic nerve, artery and vein were crushed and he became irreversibly blind.
I won't fail you, Sasuke-kun, the young woman thought as she entered the sleepy hospital.
Sakura was supposed to go to Tsunade's office for a final discussion on the procedure and then head straight for the operating room, thus she arrived earlier. That would give her enough time to talk to Sasuke-kun again, this time alone. After seven years, they owned her a few minutes.
At Sasuke's door, Sakura wondered if he was still sleeping. It didn't matter though, she wouldn't mind to wake him up. She was about to open the door when she heard a child's laughter coming from inside. Unable to stop herself, Sakura opened the door slowly.
Sasuke was laughing while Naruto tickled him on his belly. The sight was so surreal that Sakura froze by the doorstep.
"Tou-chan! Tou-chan stop! No fair!"
"Say you surrender and I'll stop!"
"Noooaaahh! Okay! Okay! I'll surrender!"
Naruto stopped and picked up the boy, hugging him close while they both laughed. Sakura had never seen Sasuke laugh that way. He seemed so happy, so innocent… like a real child. He didn't look like himself at all.
Naruto turned his head and stopped laughing as soon as he saw her standing motionless by the door, his blue eyes growing wide.
"What's wrong, Tou-chan?" Sasuke asked with a hint of a smile on his lips, his hands hugging Naruto back.
Naruto's shocked expression turned into a warm smile. "Good morning, Sakura-chan."
Sakura stared at Naruto before focusing on Sasuke's confused expression as he stared into doors direction.
"Good morning," the medic-nin finally answered.
"Sakura-chan came to see you, Sasuke," Naruto told the boy.
Sasuke turned his head into her direction. "Hello, Sakura."
All the words she wanted to say, all the questions vanished in Sakura's mind. It wasn't just Naruto's presence that threw her off; it was how Sasuke behaved towards him. If she didn't know any of them she would have thought they were a family.
"Oh. Sakura, you're here," a female voice said behind her. Tsunade walked past her student, eyeing her suspiciously. "Did you come to check up on Sasuke?"
"Yes… Yes, I did," she answered quickly. "I wanted to know if he had a goodnight's sleep."
"Hmm… Well, did you?" Tsunade walked towards Sasuke and kneeled beside him.
"Yes, I was keeping Dad's company. I told him that I was fine, but he wanted to stay here."
"Really? Aren't you a nice kid looking out for your father?" Tsunade answered, patting the boy's head. "Time to get ready. We'll see you in the operating room. Later I'll tell the nurses to bring you ice-cream for lunch. What do you think?"
Sasuke nodded. "Alright… Ask them to bring chocolate."
Sasuke-kun doesn't like sweets, Sakura thought. He wouldn't eat ice-cream. He wouldn't ask for chocolate.
"We better be going then. We need to get ready as well," Tsunade turned to Sakura. "Right, Sakura?"
The pink-haired girl nodded slowly. "Right, right…"
"Good. We'll see you boys later."
Sakura followed her teacher, feeling her legs heavier than ever. When she looked back, she saw Sasuke grabbing Naruto's hand.
Naruto and Sakura believe they know what's best for Sasuke, it just happens their opinions collide. Then there's what Sasuke himself wants and that is being his own person with no connections to his murderous past self.
Still, Sakura has a point. If they told past Sasuke that he would be turned into an infant, he would have answered that he wanted to be turned back.
If it had been Sakura who had just brought back a kid Sasuke as her child, Naruto wouldn't be very pleased with the situation and the lies either. It's a difficult situation and I hope I captured their points of view.
Thank you so much for reading and a special thanks to those who reviewed and talked to me through PM and on tumblr.