a pathological anatomy of the heart: a sasusaku in ten scenes (or less)
(for the blanket, who wanted a sasusaku medical!au. please forgive the pretentious title. reviews would be love.)
Sakura's memories of Sasuke are comprised of: quiet winter mornings, peaking out her window to see him running his daily six miles in the snow; late autumn afternoons, discussing Motoori in seminars rooms to the steady pattering of rain outside. Gyudon at Yoshinoya, Wednesday evenings; and Harajuku bubble tea, mid-days in June. Then chemistry labs together, waiting out the boredom of vacuum filtrations and column chromatographies; and clean-up afterwards, dousing separatory funnels and test tubes in acetone.
He was quiet, even back then; angry, too, though not yet bitter. Mornings, she learned, were best-just as the sun started to gild the tree tops in molten gold. He ran himself into exhaustion, collapse, involuntary rest; drove out whatever demons plagued him (and she never knew the demons that plagued him) with the pounding of his feet, sweated out the ache in his heart (and she never knew the aches of his heart) in damp perspiration that stained dark the fabric at his back. Sometimes, if she caught him at the right moments after his run, he might even reply "Hey," to her "Good morning". "Hey," off-handed and light and almost as if he weren't angry.
These are her most romantic memories of him, flushed and exhausted and sweaty, golden lit in the rising sun.
(they are not her dearest)
At some point in her first year of residency, Sakura meets Naruto. She's not sure when this was exactly, because these days she can't imagine not knowing Naruto. She thinks she must have always known him, ever since she was born and in all of her previous lives as well, because he's too huge an existence, too strong a personality, to have known only a few years.
These days, Naruto's over in OB/GYN, which really gives him no reason to prowl into her department whenever he's bored. He likes to bring over card decks and play Go Fish with her patients. Sakura likes to punch Naruto in the face.
"Stop it," she scowls at him. "Go back to your own department. What are you doing here? You're getting in the way," and the last bit isn't entirely a lie. Hinata, usually so proper and so correct, misfiles all her charts on days when Naruto stops by. "Don't you have anything else to do? Go steal candy from Pediatrics."
"Sakura-chan," whines Naruto. "Let me stay. I'll be good, I promise. Besides, I never see you these days. Remember back when we did rotations together with the bastard and you bought us ramen in the cafeteria if we finished really late? Let's do that again sometime." He smiles, huge and brilliant, the way he does when remembering very good ramen.
(A little further down the hall, a file cabinet crashes over. "I-I'm s-sorry!" squeaks Hinata.)
Sakura's knuckles itch with desire to to connect with Naruto's nose.
Sasuke ran long distance track, not because he wanted to play any sport or train with any team; but because he wanted to compete against others and outstrip them. The other runners were barriers against which to test himself, markers of his own progression. Not that Sasuke ever told Sakura this in so many words (there was never very many words between them)-but she guessed that this was pretty much the case. Sakura had passed Psych 101, and more than that, Sakura had passed kindergarten: there were so many things wrong with Sasuke's reason for joining track, she didn't know where to start.
Still, she went to his meets, though he never told her to, and stayed afterwards for the awards ceremony, though he did not. Sasuke was angry when he won; and he always won.
The metal of the bleachers still had a cold bite in those first months of spring, and evening set early. Sakura wrapped her scarf tighter as the chill began to set in through her jeans and sweatshirt, squinting through the gathering darkness. Sasuke stuffed his spikes into his bag, and then stalked off the field. She watched him go, wistful: looking at the stiff rigidity of his spine, the tenseness in his neck, the way his jaw clenched, tight. His face was a pale blur in the setting twilight, and she could not tell if it was anger or hatred or despair that marred his expression so.
The Sasuke of these moments, she always remembers with a bit of pain: part of it, her inability to help him; but more, his inability to outrun himself.
(nor these, her dearest memory of him: she does not pretend to share his pain)
The blood tests Sakura ordered for Tuesday's third appointment comes back with alarmingly elevated AFP levels. She makes a note to schedule a CT scan. By the time she finishes reading through the rest of the report, it's past dusk outside the windows and her stomach is cramping in hunger. She heads down to the cafeteria. On the OB/GYN floor, she pauses for a moment to poke her head out the elevator and glance down the hall. Naruto's door is closed, lights off. She'll buy him ramen another night, then.
Sakura's half-done with her bowl of tsukimi udon when someone tall and very lean folds himself into the seat next to her. She looks up. It's Sasuke, who snaps apart his chopsticks and eyes her wryly from the corner of his eyes. "You still don't eat the egg?" he asks, nodding at her bowl.
"Hmm?" She glances down at her udon, the half-poached egg floating in the soup, its center a rich yellow. "No. You want it?"
He slides his bowl over-curry rice, she notes-both answer and offer. She fishes her egg out of her bowl and into his, then slides his bowl back. "Thanks," she smiles. He inclines his head slightly, focused on mixing the rice and curry and half-raw egg in his bowl into some indeterminate brown goop. She doesn't comment on that. "I don't know why I get tsukimi every time. I still can't get used to the consistency of raw eggs. Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of getting tsukimi? It's such a waste-"
"Hm," says Sasuke, disinterested. She quiets. After he eats for a few more minutes, Sasuke sets down his chopsticks and turns to look at Sakura. "Those films you sent yesterday-I took a look at them."
"Oh," she says, startled. "Wow, that's really fast, Sasuke-kun. I know you guys have been really busy lately and I'm sorry -" He squints at her, an expression which askedAre you done, yet? "Well-" stutters Sakura, and then, "Thank you."
Sasuke doesn't bother to acknowledge that. He continues, "Anyway, looks like the growth in the kidney is pretty sizable. Have you done a biopsy yet?"
"Don't bother. It's RCC, almost definitely." He tsks, wipes his mouth and drops the crumbled napkin into his empty bowl. "Also, the lymph nodes are enlarged. You might want to run a PET scan, because it looks like the thing's advancing."
Sakura bites her lip, holding back a sigh. "It's already metastasizing?"
Sasuke shrugs, and picking up his dinner tray, stands up. "Run me a PET scan, and we'll see." He straightens, as if to go; but then, glancing at her compressed lips, the frown on her down-turned face, pauses. Sasuke rocks back briefly on his heels, the shadow of a fidget. A moment passes in silence. Twice, he opens his mouth, and then closes it-scowling bitterly at the far wall of the cafeteria with some strange mix of self-conscious exasperation. Then he offers, curtly, "It looks like it's spread to the lymph nodes, but I could - I could be wrong. Renal vein may still fine. And there've been worse cases."
Sakura huffs a little, something halfway between a laugh and a snort. "Yeah, worse cases-that's no surprise. Renal cell carcinoma's a bitch to catch-"
She stops, as Sasuke looks at her with terrible blandness. Then he says, "Maa," as if in agreement, before turning away. He calls over his shoulder, "I'll send you the reports in a bit."
"I-yeah, thanks," she replies, and doesn't mean just for the reports.
Ino, when she's pulling twelve hour shifts at the nurse's station, drinks possibly toxic amounts of coffee and spreads gossip in equally toxic amounts. A good percent of her stories revolve around "that slutty ho-bag bitch," who is never explicitly named but who everyone understands to be Temari over in Pathology. "The hell does a pathologist need to consult Shikamaru for?" is a favorite theme of Ino's, which is usually followed by, "He does shit all day, the lazy bum." Her audience laugh obligingly, if a little weakly, and then feel rather sorry for Shikamaru, who is brilliantly competent as proctologists go.
Sakura, personally, thinks that Ino is a 'sadistic busybody'. Ino, for her part, thinks that Sakura is a 'wimpy loser'.
They are best friends.
"Did you confess today?" Ino snipes, when Sakura stops by the desk for a patient's chart during clinic hours. "Or you still too chicken?"
"The chart, Ino-pig, not your sass," scowls Sakura. "So shut up."
"I mean," continues Ino, shuffling through folders in the filing crate on her desk, "it's only been eight years, Sakura-chan. That's not pathetic at all." She locates the folder, flips through the contents, marks a few changes, and snaps it shut, before handing it to Sakura. "Room one-sixteen. Some snotty-nosed kid and his hysterical mother-I don't think it's serious, but the mother does, and she is a piece of work, let me tell you. Also, the most hideous dye-job I've ever seen."
"Yes, thank you," Sakura smiles insincerely, reaching for the folder. Ino doesn't let go, though.
"I'm serious, Sakura," and the bitchy sniping tone drops out of Ino's voice. "It's been eight years, now. You can't-"
"I'm fine," snaps Sakura, tugging on the folder. "Stop worrying, okay?"
"No," says Ino, with peculiar force. She sounds angry, almost worried. "Sakura, Karin says that Oto's been making offers recently."
"So? Other hospitals make him offers all the time-"
"Sakura," says Ino again in that angry, worried tone, "Sakura, Karin says he's seriously considering this. It's a fellowship with Orochimaru."
The interns like to whisper among themselves that Uchiha Sasuke never smiles, a rumor which Naruto does his best to spread. Sakura lets this go, because Sasuke seems to tolerate such whisperings. Besides, it's patently untrue. Sasuke does smile, and often: when he is right; when Naruto is wrong; when Sakura is angry; when Naruto burns his tongue on too hot ramen; when Sakura makes s'mores from her White Day chocolates on the Bunsen burner in the basement lab; when he gets out of clinic duty; when he tells people that they have chickenpox; when he sees people who have forgotten their umbrella in the middle of rainstorms.
Sasuke's smiles are marked by a distinct sense schadenfreude, but this does not mean that he does not smile. He does smile, and often: rusty and sharp-edged; like blood soaking the waters at sunset; like icicles on bare branches in midwinter; like the rasp of fallen dry leaves against sidewalk concretes; like a forgotten moon on dark nights; like it hurts.
It's quiet on Sasuke's floor, stiller, different. The walls and floors and ceilings are heavier, thicker, lined with lead; the bustle from downstairs does not seep through. Instead of the chatter of patients and nurses, Sakura only hears the soft whirr and beep of machinery. There is something cold and impersonal about Radiology: the sleek lines of metal, the dark rooms and the bright hallways, a muted stillness and an absence of life.
(this is a lie. sakura, on some unacknowledged level, resents radiology, for stealing sasuke away.)
Naruto is blocking Sasuke's doorway when Sakura arrives, already in the middle of a familiar and violent harangue for Sasuke to "stop weaseling your way out of clinic hours, 'baa-chan's really getting pissed off, I mean it-"
"I don't need you to nag me about playing hooky, dead last," Sasuke replies in a tone that is half-contemptuous and half-ironic. At the sound of Sakura's footsteps, he looks up from the films scattered across his desk. She ducks under Naruto's arm and in through the doorway. "Hey," Sasuke says, when she greets him "Hello."
"You got a moment? I have a few really weird looking MRIs of a displaced patella."
He stares at her blankly. "The hell are you bothering with displaced patellas for?"
"Um," says Sakura. She looks at Naruto, makes a face, and admits, "Clinic. Six-year-old, jumped out of a tree-"
Sasuke turns back to the films on his desk. "Then, no. Busy."
"I'll look," offers Naruto, brightly, while Sakura casts an exasperated look at Sasuke. He bounds forward, peering over Sakura's shoulder. "Six-year-old?"
"If you're done nagging, dead last," says Sasuke, not looking up, "get out of my office."
"I wasn't nagging, you asshole, and it's your own fault for conniving your way out of clinic duty," nags Naruto. "You're-"
"-busy, I'm sure," Sakura hurries to intervene. "We'll see you for dinner, Sasuke-kun?" She shoots Naruto a quelling look when he starts making noises about 'not being done'.
Sasuke grunts, a non-answer which is not a refusal. Sakura takes what she can get, and, with a bright farewell, shoos Naruto out the door. He whines about her violence, and she threatens him with bodily dismemberment, and so they continue down the hall, bickering with abusive affection. Sasuke leaves his door open behind them, the light from his desk lamp spilling out into the darkened hospital hallway, warm and golden. It is as good as a dinner promise, a handwave goodbye, a familiar smile between old friends.
(it's been eight years, like ino said, but this is no tragedy. there is dinner to look forward to, miso ramen for naruto and inarizushi for sasuke, and anmitsu for dessert. and tomorrow, there are PET scans to run past sasuke; and naruto, no doubt, will come play cards with the oncology patients; and ino's gossip and hinata's blushes and shikamaru falling asleep in staff meetings. it has been eight years, and sakura is grateful.
it has been more than enough.)
The first twenty-three years of Sasuke's life is one of those soap-opera worthy tales of betrayal and vengeance and high adventure, melodramatics which neatly conclude themselves one night after a gunfight conducted in the old yakuza tradition. The real tragedy, Sakura thinks, starts after that. It is a terrible thing to achieve one's life goals at so young an age, and Sasuke liked it about as much as he liked winning long distance track events. The years post-denouement were troublesome, like momentum that had lost its inertia. Sakura does not call them The Dark Years, but it is a close thing.
Yet: Sasuke is Sasuke is Sasuke. Sasuke, who still runs, and who is still rude, and who still goes to class, and who still reads about superconductors in scientific journals. Who is still quiet; and angry, though not yet bitter. Who once defended Motoori's mono no aware with spiteful stubbornness, and who would do so still. After all, an arm is an arm, regardless of bone fractures or lacerations. Sasuke's scar tissues are frail and multiple, but he is still Sasuke.
And the corollary to this: Sakura is still Sakura.
Some things are never stay the same, stock markets or autumn skies or Oricon charts or women's hearts. Other things, though, there is no need to say goodbye.
Midwinter snow gathers on the windowsills of the cafeteria, tinged blue in the early-setting evening. Sakura gets her customary bowl of tsukimi udon, and a bottle of 16-cha from the vending machine. Sasuke is sitting at an empty table, near the windows, absorbed in a copy of Ogyu's Gakusoku. Every now and then, he puts down his chopsticks to pick up a red pen and scrawl notes in the margins. Sakura peers over his shoulder and asks, "Are you re-editing the book?" Entire passages are underlined in red, scathing comments penned neatly next to them: she amends wryly, "Or personal vendetta at work here?"
Sasuke grunts, not looking up from his writing. She sets her tray down next to him and takes a seat. With his free hand, he pushes his bowl a little her way, an invitation if she wants it to be. She deposits her egg in his bowl-katsudon, today, she notes-and returns the bowl with a murmured thanks. They are quiet for a bit: she eats her udon; he finishes his chapter.
After he closes his book, Sakura asks, "When's your flight?"
"Next week," he answers, picking at the last of his dinner. "Thursday."
"You need a ride to the airport?"
"Naruto's taking me."
"Okay," Sakura nods. And it is. It's okay. She takes a deep breath (did you confess today? Ino used to ask, did you confess?) and then let's it go. She does not want to be an imposition. Yet he ate her eggs, allowed her her moon-gazing notions of romance. She is not afraid to offer him this-this is no tragedy, she used to tell herself, and still believes it-she is not afraid. She-
"Did you know," Sakura starts with a smile, "I used to really-"
"I knew," says Sasuke. He pauses, tilting his head a little, and looks at her with those strange eyes of his. He tells her, abruptly sincere, "Thank you."
There are words she wants to say, words he would not want to hear. She wants to say: Let me come with you. If you won't stay, can I come with you? She wants to say: Will you write to me? Will you write me love letters, and will you accept mine? She wants to say: I miss you already. She wants to say: Why are you leaving? She wants to say:Don't leave.
She swallows and says instead, "Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal."
(This is not a lie. Sakura has never lied for Sasuke, not even to herself. But there are greater and lesser truths. This is a lesser truth.
Other lesser truths: Sakura hates Sasuke sometimes, wants to see him bleed, wants to see his pain, wants to see him break until he is no longer so cold and distant and superior. Sakura thinks Sasuke is an asshole, a coward, a fuck-up. He is emotionally constipated, emotionally retarded, probably has iron instead of warm muscle for a heart. He is mean and cruel; and he hurts her.
The greater truth: he's worth all that.)
"I, um," Sakura pushes a flake of green onion around in her broth, feeling worn, faded, like her soul is mute. "Can I come see you off? I'm really bad at goodbyes, but I'd like to see you again-"
"Stupid," he calls her. The bowls make soft clinks against each other as he collects them on his tray, getting ready to leave. "I'm not leaving forever. Why are you making such a fuss?" Sasuke's disdain is a solid thing, familiar, sturdy. Sakura feels a flash of old exasperation, which displaces that strange mutedness.
"Oto's far, okay? What, I can't come say goodbye?" she snaps.
Sasuke shrugs and then stands up, tucking Gakusoku behind him into the waistband of his jeans and then picking up his tray. He turns to leave, calling over his shoulder, "If you cry, I don't know you."
It is as close to a love letter as anything she will ever get from Sasuke. But the feelings behind it, Sakura understands, is all the same. And when she does not quite manage to stifle a few sniffles at the airport, he does not disown her. After all, this-
This is no tragedy.
*tsukimi udon - also known as "moon-viewing udon." (I am) Sakura is a hopeless romantic like that.
**I am also ridiculously enamored with the idea of Sasuke making caustic commentary in old philosophy books.