Chapter 6

Placed lazily beneath the sun, eyes fluttering over the clouds with little interest Shikamaru Nara lay in the grass gazing at the sky. Upon the training grounds a few feet away, two exceptionally powerful ninja stood face to face, shoulders tensed, knees bent and knuckles white against black shurikens Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno prepared for a battle.

"Relax," She told him, her voice surprisingly soft. "I'll go easy on you." She smiled as he frowned in a mirrored reaction.

"Hn," He didn't allow the excitement he felt to shine through in his appearance. "You wish."

If another word was spoken, it never reached the sensitive ears of Shikamaru as he casually turned his head to watch his partner and her oldest friend.

His eyes observed her graceful, yet somehow almost masculine punches with incredible precision and chakra control, and the Uchiha's expert evasion along with the slight deflection of her attacks-something Shikamaru honestly didn't think he was capable of doing, or anyone for that matter. To deflect Sakura's attack was almost unheard of.

His hand reached up to stifle a yawn before he turned back to the sky and closed his eyes, mumbling something about how troublesome it was to be partnered with such a woman as Sakura Haruno; a comment not to be heard by two shinobi in the same field who were currently locked in a stare off.

Sasuke had to admit it; he was impressed. He knew that she had grown, after all, together her and Naruto had single-handedly made to so that he was brought back to Konoha. This meant both of them using as much force as necessary and he had made it quite essential to use an excess of force.

However, they had succeeded and in doing this he was placed in the position he was in, which was standing facing Sakura in the training grounds he grew up on sparing to loosen muscles.

His life was turning out to be rather different than he expected, but not essentially bad. It was simply much more tamed. Sure, it wasn't fun being watched every second of every day, or not being able to use his chakra but he was learning to live within the harness of his punishment and everyday it was becoming less and less oppressing, and more comfortable.

Over all, Sasuke Uchiha didn't know what to think about his new life, or the passionate pink-haired kunochi in from of him. They stood at a stand still, her gloved hands raised and ready for battle in front of her, and his shoulders were set in a straight line. Neither moved, they simply stood ridged, daring each other to challenge one another by moving.

However, before they had a chance to match strengths again, a pop from behind them was heard, one that welcomed with it a face that Sasuke Uchiha had seen only once, and at the time he had decided; he hated it.

Sakura spun around, smiling. "Sai!" She said excitedly, her eyes gleaming. She walked slowly to him, pulling him in a close-fitting embrace which he returned, his arms encircling her waist and his lips pulling into a tight, fake smile.

"Hag." He replied to her hello in a manner that was apparently the norm, though Sasuke couldn't imagine Sakura ever accepting being called rude names everyday. "Training I see. You certainly need it."

She seemed to hold nothing but love for him however, chuckling and clamping a hand down on his shoulder. "Just sparring with Sasuke here." He noted that she said his name with a slight restraint. There was something reserved about the way the syllables came from her lips that he didn't like.

Sai nodded and turned towards Sasuke with eyes tilted downward and a tight smile. He realized that he had never spoken to the shinobi who had taken his place on team Kakashi, but then again, was it really surprising? "Uchiha." He greeted him.

Sasuke looked over the man of similar height and shockingly familiar features with a look of displeasure. "Hn." He grumbled. Not only had he taken his place on the team, he realized that Sai also managed to pull off the same amount of trust with his teammates. It had occurred to Sasuke late one night when he was walking with Sakura and Naruto recently after his induction back into the village.

They ran into the slightly awkward man on the way to get some ramen, and Sasuke noticed the amount of love they seemed to hold for him. Naruto seemed to treat Sai with the same sarcastic brotherly humor that he used to use with Sasuke himself, and Sakura never stopped smiling around the other boy.

Sasuke allowed himself a carefully controlled clearing of his throat to become his greeting, and Sai seemed to accept this with no question, nor an resentment.

Nothing about the slightly paler boy changed besides his ruffling Sakura's hair, promptly calling her a rude name, and walking towards the edge of the clearly near Shikamaru. Once again Sasuke felt as if there was something that had spawned in his long absence from the village that he would never be able to connect together.

It was much later that night before Sasuke was back at 'home', with his unwanted house guests.

Shikamaru Nara was perched by the window, his hand propping his chin lazily and his cigarette smoke so thoughtfully trailing out into the night sky rather than in the house. This was pleasant as Sasuke's entire apartment was beginning to smell like smoke, a fact that never failed to put the Uchiha in a bad mood.

Sakura was sitting on the couch, her knees drawn up off the floor and beneath her keeping her eyes trained on Shikamaru as they made conversation idly about training together.

Sasuke pretended not to listen as he sat in his kitchen, fixing himself something to eat with his back to the pair.

He could hear the drawl of the shadow wielder from where he was, and he didn't need to look to know exactly the lame face that the other male was making. Some sort of hybrid between sleep deprived and dull existence. "You're muscles are strained." He informed her, his voice bland but slightly less so than usual.

She seemed to vehemently disagree. "No, I'm fine."

He heard the rustle of clothing as he pretended to look for food, taking an abnormally long time in the refrigerator. "It shows in your training. You were slower today than usual."

She snorted. "Was not." Sasuke was somehow amused by the poorly hidden grouchiness.

Behind him silence ensued and he was reluctant to turn around but realized that perhaps he'd been moseying around the kitchen too long to remain innocent, and therefore turned, said goodnight and scurried off into his room without looking at the two, who he knew were sitting together on the couch.

Grumpy for a reason he wasn't certain of, he laid in his bed after switching to his night clothing, with sleep once again, avoiding him.

It was three hours later when he heard his door creek open and tiny foot steps followed. The living room seemed to be dark as well, so no light seeped in with the invasion. Had he really been asleep, they might have been able to get away with it.

Sasuke realized as the figured seemed to actually sit, that they weren't leaving, and he carefully opened his eyes.

Tinted a sad gray from the light of the moon, Sakura Haruno was sitting against the wall in his room, her eyes on her feet as she picked at the hem of her sleep kimono.

Why are you here? He wondered why she hadn't alerted him to her presence as he squinted at her, trying to pin point what emotion was present on her pretty face. He was certain that she knew he wasn't asleep. She was a shinobi. A kunochi. She had to recognize his irregular patterns of sleep.

Her voice came a moment later, "I'm sorry," and with it the undeniable sadness of a woman who had been let down all of her life.

Sasuke felt a jolt to his heart, but he ignored it, not bothering to roll over off of his back. He gazed at the ceiling. He remained quiet, but she didn't seem to mind.

"I don't mean to intrude," She began, "but I couldn't sleep, and Shikamaru is on another mission…" It was clear that he was not her first choice of comfort, and he recognized that he was probably not her second either. "When he came back today, he told me that Tsunade was taking him off of the mission for a while," -Sasuke felt a surge of excitement at the thought- "He has too many missions as an ANBU captain to be stuck in one place for too long. They need him." She sounded dejected.

He felt a tug at his heart. "You're upset." He pointed out, feeling awkward.

She gave a nod that he saw out of his peripheral vision, and he closed his eyes away from the sight. "Without Naruto, and now Shikamaru, I'm all alone."

If he were a different man, he would have corrected her. Told her that she wasn't alone. That he was there. However, he wasn't a different man. He was Sasuke Uchiha. "Hn."

For another moment she was inaudible, before standing and walking to his bed side, looking down upon him. He wisely kept his eyes closed to avoid to discomfort of looking into her big brilliant green orbs. "I don't hate you, ya know." She said quietly.

He listened for the sound of her voice but realized that she was waiting for his answer. "Why?" He asked and was annoyed to find that his voice was hoarse.

"I never really hated you," She began again, "I was just afraid. I didn't want to see you again, because I knew that this would happen." He barely contained a wince at her words. "I knew that when you came back you'd be the same." Her voice wavered for a moment, not from refrained tears but from tender general emotion. "I didn't want you to be the same as when you left…As when I loved you. I wanted you to be mean and cruel, so I could hate you." After a moment he felt skin against his face. Warm and soft pads touched his in three lines before puling away as if afraid they'd stepped out of place. "It's so much easier to hate you."

There wasn't much hesitation afterward as she stepped away from him and he found that he was having difficulty retaining his air, and his breath was coming out in short puffs.

"I know you don't care, of course you don't, but maybe one day you'll recognize that I'm not the same person. You may not have changed, but I have." He could hear the gentle smile on her voice. "Most days, I don't feel the same either. It's true sometimes I feel weak, but over all, I'm much better now."

He dared to open his eyes, but not to look at her as he listened.

"I'm only saying this because you need to know," She took a deep breath, "I don't love you anymore, Sasuke" -somewhere inside of him, he felt a deep burning that threatened to eat him alive- "but I want you to know, that I want to be here for you."

Without another word, he heard the door open and a soft goodbye, before she fled, leaving the conversation with a stale feeling of being left open and incomplete, and Sasuke feeling unbearably angry at himself and his life.

This was not what he wanted when he left all those years ago. This was not in his plans, of that he was sure.

He rolled over on his side and faced the wall, gazing at it until his eyes would no longer remain open, but instead, his vision went black from exhaustion.