Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, and that will not change throughout this story.

Authoress' Notes: There are a few chapters of this just sitting in my computer's memory and since I won't have much time to write anything new until my spring break, and since I feel like posting something, I had to offer my Sakura and Sasuke story to the fanfiction community. This is only on a trial basis though. I'll see what people think, probably post what else is sitting saved on my computer, and if it seems like people like it, and if I get attached to it, I'll continue with new chapters in the Summer.

The Butterfly Effect

Chapter 1 - A Butterfly Beats its Wings

The butterfly effect is a metaphor that encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory; namely a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Although this may appear to be an esoteric and unusual behavior, it is exhibited by very simple systems: for example, a ball placed at the crest of a hill might roll into any of several valleys depending on slight differences in initial position. The butterfly effect is a common trope in fiction when presenting scenarios involving time travel and with "what if" cases where one storyline diverges at the moment of a seemingly minor event resulting in two significantly different outcomes.

"We have to get to Sasuke before them!"

Sakura watched in shocked silence as Kakashi climbed high into the trees, a million different thoughts running through her head, though one stood out above the rest. Sasuke had killed Itachi, and now, he was so close to them, and fading fast if what the plant-like Akatsuki had said was true – she needed to get to him now.

"Hinata! See what's going on at four o'clock!" Kakashi yelled down from his position in the tree.

"O-ok," Hinata answered through her stutter, immediately doing as she was told.

Sakura watched as Hinata focussed her Byakugan eyes where Kakashi told her. The pink haired kunoichi's heart was beating as fast as a hummingbird's wings - she was sure it was going to fly out of her chest. Was this it? Were they finally going to bring Sasuke home?

"There's an area ten kilometres from here surrounded by a very powerful chakra... And... Umm... The forest is burning... And the flames are black," Hinata answered Kakashi, her stutter reduced in her concentration.

"That's it!" Kakashi exclaimed quietly, but even so, they all heard his words. "Everyone follow me!" he then ordered, taking off from the tree.

Sakura took a moment to glance at Naruto before moving. He was one of the only people who could possibly understand what she was feeling right now. His eyes were closed, and Sakura watched as his face took on the most determined look she had ever seen. His eyes snapped open. "Move out at top speed!" Naruto commanded.

No one dared to question him. They moved out, racing through the forest towards where thick black clouds hung in the sky.

The second Uchiha Madara reached for the only other living Uchiha's body, he could feel a small chakra that was not Sasuke's within it. It took a moment for him to recognize it, and once he did, he paused - Itachi's chakra was something to be wary of. Madara had lived many years and he thought he had seen everything, but he had never seen the chakra of a dead man actively at work. Oh sure, he acknowledged that it was possible - a technique initiated before death could easily continue to its completion after death if the power had already been provided. So what exactly was Itachi's chakra doing?

Madara shrugged it off and continued reaching for the boy, unconcerned. After all, there was nothing Itachi could do to stop his plans now that he was dead. But the closer Madara got to Sasuke, the more the feeling that his plan had been thwarted by a dead man grew.

He was about to grab Sasuke so that he could move him and begin healing him - the boy's injuries were extensive after all and would need immediate treatment - when his chakra reacted to something, and he suddenly realized the purpose of Itachi's chakra.

Madara swore under his breath.

It was a fuinjutsu technique he had never seen before and one that he would never have thought possible. A small bit of Itachi's chakra was actively circulating within a seal on Sasuke's body. A seal that the older Uchiha brother could have placed there – even at an earlier altercation – without Sasuke's or anyone else's notice, for this seal was unintrusive and had but one specific purpose: it sealed Sasuke's body from Madara's chakra. Oh sure, Madara could still burn Sasuke to a crisp with a Katon technique, he could still trap the young Uchiha in a genjutsu, but Madara could not do the one thing he needed to do right now, which was to send his chakra into the boy and heal him. His hands were just centimetres from the unconscious body, and he could already feel the chakra from the very tips of his fingers moving back towards his palms and away from Sasuke, repelled by the seal.

Madara tried, regardless of this knowledge, to send his chakra into one of Sasuke's wounds and heal it, but his chakra merely hit Sasuke's body and dispersed across it until it reached the ground where it disappeared. Madara swore again and pulled his hands away from the young Uchiha, feeling his chakra flow back into his fingertips.

Madara's plan was ruined! For, if he took Sasuke now, the boy would not survive in his care. Even if he tried to break the seal so the he could administer the necessary medical treatment, there was no guarantee that even with his power, he could do it quickly enough. The boy needed to be healed immediately, and though Madara loathed the thought, it meant that Madara needed to let the Kyuubi's jinchuuriki and his friends find Sasuke. They were only minutes behind him and would reach the boy in time.

Uchiha Madara cursed again. Even after death, Itachi had managed to stand in his way.

"We need to get Itachi's corpse and leave immediately," Madara spoke, his voice ringing loud on the battle site, despite the sounds of Amaterasu's crackling flames and the pouring rain.

"What about Sasuke?" Zetsu's white half asked.

Madara glanced at Zetsu and repressed the anger welling in him. If Madara were a different kind of man, he would have yelled. Instead, he turned his attention away from Zetsu and glared at the offending corpse of Uchiha Itachi.

"We must leave him. He cannot become a tool if he does not survive his injuries," Madara answered evenly, the image of a pink-haired kunoichi flashing in his mind. He knew that she was a competent medic trained under Tsunade after all his research on Naruto and his companions. She could save Sasuke's life easily.

"When will we retrieve him?" Zetsu's black half asked as Madara picked up the corpse of the older Uchiha brother.

"We won't," Madara declared. Yes, he had planned on taking Sasuke with him, but now that he had to leave Sasuke behind he really had no intention of dealing with the small problem of getting him back when his plans could proceed without the Uchiha. And besides...

"I have a feeling he'll come after me soon anyways," Madara continued, with a sneer. Sure, Itachi had beat him with that ridiculous seal that Madara had no clue how to even start breaking, but in one thing he knew Itachi would not disappoint him. Now, Sasuke surely knew of Madara's existence, and Madara knew the boy would seek out the only other Uchiha to take his revenge.

With that thought, Madara disappeared, Zetsu right after him, leaving behind a single bruised and battered body, enclosed by a ring of black flames.

As they ran through the woods, Sakura wished her mind was entirely focussed on reaching their goal. Instead it was in a state of complete chaos.

She knew she should feel hopeful. After all, they were so close to Sasuke, and this was the best chance they'd ever had: Orochimaru was dead, and if that creepy plant guy was right, Itachi was dead and Sasuke had succeeded in his goal of avenging his clan and was now unconscious. All the obstacles that had been in the way of Sasuke's return to Konoha were gone, and now was their time to bring him home. She was fighting back the hope though, because suddenly a new threat had popped up, a strong enemy with the Sharingan who seemed to have every intention of standing in their way. She needed to hope, but at the same time she needed to guard her heart from further damage.

She shook her head to distance herself from her racing thoughts and spared a glance towards the front of their group to see how Naruto was doing. His face was a mask of pure determination, and she could see the hope he tried to conceal flickering in his eyes. He knew that this was their time too. As her gaze flickered back to the path in front of her, she caught sight of Kiba wrinkling his nose as he sniffed the air.

"I've got the scent!" he yelled so his voice would reach their entire group's ears. "They've already gotten to Sasuke!"

She swore that her heart had stopped beating in her chest, but even so, she kept pushing herself forward. Even though she wasn't next to Naruto, she still heard her friend's grumbling: "Those bastards!"

Not even a minute later, they broke through a patch of forest and Sakura's eyes widened as she took in the black flames dancing along the tops of the nearby trees.

"What's that?" she asked, unable to conceal her awe. She could already feel the heat, never mind the raw power, radiating from the unnaturally dark flames.

"It's one of Itachi's techniques," Naruto answered her.

Everyone began to slow, as they approached the unknown, dangerous fire.

"Yamato!" Kakashi yelled over his shoulder.

"On it, senpai!" Sakura heard Yamato's answer.

She didn't see the seals he made because she was still moving forward, but she saw the earth in front of her rise and split, creating a safe path through the flames.

"Go on without me!" Yamato yelled.

"Alright, everyone else follow me!" Kakashi declared loud enough so that everyone could hear him over the thunderous noise in front of them.

Sakura didn't need to be told twice. She raced after Kakashi, through the ring of flames and into a site where a battle had undoubtedly occurred. The land was in pieces, rocks raised and broken, cracks littering the ground. Here, the rain from the dark cloud above her head fell in violent torrents and the black flames of Amaterasu burned in a full circle around them. And there, lying unconscious on the ground, was Sasuke.

She saw Kakashi stop and take in the scene. Naruto skidded to a stop right behind him, his eyes wide. She couldn't stop though. She kept moving forward towards the only prone body. Sasuke was right in front of her, within her grasp... And he needed her.

She reached his side and knelt on the ground, taking notice of the sticky blood that immediately coated her knees. She wasn't even thinking about her actions anymore, they were instinct. Her hands fluttered along Sasuke's torso as she took inventory of the damage. He was badly wounded and he needed to be stabilized now or she would lose him forever...but he was alive.

'And I'm going to keep him that way,' she thought.

Chakra flowed to her hands as she started directing it into Sasuke's body.


Naruto's voice broke her single-minded concentration for a moment.

She looked up at her teammate, friend, and partner in their promise. He was blurry in her vision and she finally realized that she was crying profusely, tears streaming down her face along with the raindrops. She felt, rather than saw, Naruto crouch down next to her. His arms wrapped around her shoulders as she continued to heal, bringing Sasuke from the brink of death and closer to a stable condition.

"We're...we're...," she choked through her tears. She couldn't finish her sentence, but she didn't have to. Naruto knew what she meant.

"We're bringing him home," Naruto told her, giving her shoulders a squeeze.

She felt his tears fall on her head.

Meanwhile, Sai stood with Hinata, Kiba, Shino, and Kakashi as he watched his two teammates crying over the unconscious Sasuke. The two were happy. They had Sasuke, and they were happy.

"We need to move," Kakashi ordered, apparently beating whatever emotions or thoughts that had held his tongue captive.

Sai nodded in agreement. They couldn't stay near these dangerous flames, and there was always a risk that the Akatsuki member they had been fighting would return, and maybe with friends.

Sakura didn't seem to have heard him though. She was still diligently working on Sasuke's wounds.

"Sakura-chan, he's right. We have to get out of here," Naruto told Sakura as he too became aware of his surroundings.

Sai watched as the flow of chakra from her hands faltered, and then stopped.

"I've barely stabilized his condition," she murmured, though she pulled her hands away.

"Will he make it until we reach the last village we passed through?" Kakashi asked her.

Sakura seemed to be calculating in her head. "As long as I can treat him as soon as we stop," she finally answered her teacher, her voice wavering.

"Kiba," Kakashi called without another moment's hesitation.

Sai knew what Kakashi was thinking. They had all been running for all they were worth to make it here in time, and now they needed to flee the site with the same haste. For one of them to carry Sasuke's deadweight and run would be too much, but Akamaru could do it. Sai watched as Kakashi scooped up Sasuke's large body in his arms, and gently draped the unconscious ninja over Akamaru, quickly tying the boy to the dog's back, while Kiba told Akamaru to be extra careful since Sasuke could not hold on.

"Let's go," Kakashi ordered as soon as he was done.

They all fled through the opening Yamato had created. Sai was the last one to clear the ring of flames, and he felt the passage closing behind him as Yamato relinquished his hold on the earth and joined their running group.

As they continued forward, Sai watched everyone in front of him. He could tell the mood around the group had changed. Now, they were running just as quickly as earlier, but before they had found Sasuke, he could tell that everyone had been desperate, hopeful, and motivated. Now, there was happiness, relief, and triumph in their expressions.

Sakura caught his attention in particular though. She was running right next to Akamaru, Kiba on his dog's other side, with her gaze flickering to the unconscious Sasuke every few steps, and her hands fluttering towards the dog every few seconds as if she was desperate to continue her healing. Though he was only learning about the bonds of friendship, even Sai could see her obvious devotion to the young man.

Sai then turned his attention to Naruto, who was running right behind the pink-haired kunoichi, and oddly enough watching her every step. Sai wondered why Naruto's attention was not on Sasuke, when his friend's return had been the blond's goal for so long, but rapidly understood when he saw Sakura trip while her attention was diverted from the path in front of her and Naruto catch and steady her before she could hit the ground. Naruto laughed as he let her go, and Sai noticed the soft smile on the blond's face.

Somehow, Sai knew that for Naruto, everything right now was perfect.

He felt his own lips twitch into a natural smile and he felt the warm feeling in his chest that Sakura had told him came with happiness. So he was happy then. Happy for his friends' happiness.

They had continued travelling until they had stumbled into the last village they had passed while chasing after Sasuke. Normally, Yamato would make a shelter for them, but they were all tired and hungry, and they needed the proper rest and meal a village and an inn could provide. Yamato had booked two rooms in the village inn while Kakashi had hidden with Sasuke's battered body outside until he could bring his former student in through an open window. Their group wanted to escape any unnecessary attention.

Since then, Naruto had been watching for the last hour as Sakura worked carefully over their unconscious teammate under his and Sai's watchful eyes. Kakashi was in the next room talking with Yamato, and Hinata, Shino, and Kiba had gone to buy some food to make a proper dinner. They needed and deserved it - they were all tired, but they could take pride in the success of their mission.

Naruto barely noticed when Kakashi strolled back into the room, his hands in his pockets, Yamato right behind him.

"Are you almost done?" Kakashi asked.

Naruto knew the question was directed at Sakura, but she was so focussed on her task that she didn't seem to hear him if her lack of answer was any indication. Naruto answered for her as best as he could: "It looks like she's pretty much healed all of his wounds and she stopped looking so worried about a half hour ago."

His answer coincided with his female teammate's release of her medical ninjutsu.

"That's the most I can do," Sakura said. "His wounds are healed and his condition is completely stable, but he won't wake up until tomorrow at the earliest. His body's exhausted."

Naruto nodded his head. Exhaustion was something he understood well. He then turned to look at Kakashi to see what his take on Sakura's words was, and he froze.

"You did well, Sakura," Kakashi spoke, but Naruto saw the conflict in his teacher's exposed eye. He looked past Kakashi and saw the same look in Yamato's eyes.

Apparently he wasn't the only one.

"What is it Kakashi-sensei? Yamato-sensei?" Sakura asked. "Just tell us."

Kakashi sighed and took a seat on the bed that was not occupied by Sasuke's still form. Yamato leaned up against the wall.

"Though Tsunade-sama has not marked Sasuke for death, he still left the village," Kakashi reminded Naruto and Sakura. "That constitutes a betrayal, even if he never harmed Konoha. He can not return unpunished. Everything can not simply return to the way it was."

Naruto nodded his head. He had always known that things would not be exactly the same when Sasuke came back, but he had never really thought all to much past Sasuke's return. That had always been the most important. To bring Sasuke back. To show him that they cared and that he could have a life in Konoha. To show him that he was important to them and that their bonds were eternal, not something Sasuke could choose to sever.

Naruto looked to Sakura to see her nodding sadly as well, her eyes fixed on the folded hands in her lap. She had probably realized what bringing Sasuke back would mean for the dark haired nin long before he had. She was smarter than him, and more practical.

"Under Tsunade-sama's orders, Sasuke can not be allowed to have access to his power until she says otherwise. And we'll have to seal his chakra now, especially since we don't know how he'll react when he finds himself with us," Kakashi continued. "The seal will prevent him from creating and retaining chakra. Basically, he'll be just like a civilian."

Naruto felt awful. Depriving Sasuke of his ability to mold and manipulate chakra would leave him able to perform only taijutsu. But still Naruto could acknowledge the necessity of the action. It would make it infinitely easier to bring Sasuke back if his best friend resisted. And it was not like Sasuke would bear the seal forever. One day, once everything was settled, they would all be a team again, and Sasuke would be allowed to mold and manipulate his chakra once more. That's what Naruto was counting on. He knew things couldn't be perfect right off the bat even though that's what he wanted, but he was willing to wait and work for their future.

"I'll have to request the power of team seven for this sealing jutsu, though," Kakashi added.

Now Naruto's head shot up, as did Sakura's.

"Kakashi-sensei, I don't know anything about sealing jutsu," Naruto pointed out.

Sakura bobbed her head along with Naruto's statement. "And all I know are the very basics. I could never orchestrate a seal like the one you're describing," she added.

"Don't worry, I'll explain everything. It's really very simple," Kakashi stated. "And I'd really like to do it right now while he's still unconscious. Then we can all have a nice dinner and revel in our success of bringing him home."

Naruto nodded. "I understand. Just tell me what to do," he told Kakashi.

Sakura nodded her head as well.

Sai moved for the door.

"And where do you think you're going, Sai?" Naruto asked. He didn't even think twice about the question.

Sai gave him a blank look. "If you are going to perform a sealing jutsu on Sasuke-kun, then I'll just be in the way over here," he answered.

"Kakashi-sensei said he needed the power of team seven. You are a part of team seven now Sai, whether you like it or not," Naruto declared, glaring at Sai. True, Naruto had not gotten along with the boy when they had first met, and even now Sai had a knack for getting on his nerves, but he was a part of their team, and he had fought to bring Sasuke home right alongside them.

"He's right you know," Sakura said softly. "Just because we got Sasuke-kun back doesn't mean we're going to kick you out."

"Yeah, once a member, always a member," Naruto emphasized. "Same goes for you, Yamato-sensei," Naruto added, turning his attention to the silent man leaning against the wall. Yamato offered him a smile back.

Then Naruto looked to Kakashi, silently urging his sensei to back them up.

"Sit down and join us Sai, Yamato" Kakashi suggested simply. Naruto could see his sensei's eye crinkle as a smile hidden from their eyes came to his lips.

It was Naruto's turn to smile, in spite of what he was about to do to his best friend, when Sai and Yamato complied.

"Done," Sakura murmured, taking in her team's handiwork. Naruto, Kakashi, Yamato, and Sai had all finished before her and had been waiting on her to finish her part of the intricate seal in her own blood.

Sakura had worked slowly and diligently, making sure every line was perfect, while a war waged in her head. She hated being a part of this and yet was happy to be included all at the same time. She was sealing the power of the man she loved, but she was doing it to bring him home with the rest of her team. Her conflicting emotions had raged, but still Sakura had continued.

After all, she had long known that Sasuke's return would come to something like this.

Her dream had always been that Sasuke would willingly return to Konoha, admit his mistakes, and then all would be forgiven. But she had grown up since then. She now knew how impossible her dream really was. There was no way Sasuke could just walk back into Konoha and be reassigned to their team. She didn't even know if that's what he'd want now that Itachi was dead, though she couldn't imagine what else was left for him in the world now if not their team and the bonds they shared.

"Good," Kakashi told her as she settled into a kneeling position outside of their bloody markings like the rest of them. Then he addressed the entire group. "Together now."

They made the hand seals Kakashi had told them to make in perfect synchronization, with fingers still dripping with their own blood. With the last seal, they slammed their hands down on the edges of their handiwork. Sakura watched as the characters written in their blood started moving across the floor, all climbing onto Sasuke's neck where they formed a band that circled it. As the last of the characters slipped into the darkening ring around Sasuke's neck, Sakura saw the band fade into his skin, leaving behind only five evenly spaced characters - one for each of them that had participated.

"Remember," Kakashi explained as they stared at Sasuke's still form, "to make the seal, we relied on our combined strength and will. So, only together will we be able to remove it when the time comes."

'Did you hear that, Sasuke-kun? Together,' Sakura thought. 'We've fought for you together and together we're going to keep fighting. I only hope that when you wake up you see that you belong here too.'

He was lying on what could only be a bed. That was the first thing he realized through his hazy state of semi-consciousness. The second thing he realized was that he was alive, because he was too sore and tired to be dead.

And then his eyes shot open.

The ceiling above his head clearly indicated that he was inside a building somewhere. The big question was where. He tried to push himself into a sitting position to get a better view of his surroundings and found that he couldn't. So instead, he made the effort to lift his head and saw that his wrists, as well as his ankles, were tightly bound together by restraints. He also saw a young man with bright blond hair and a wide smile sitting cross-legged by his feet.

"So you're finally awake, Sasuke."

And with those simple words, Sasuke, even with his restrained arms and legs, automatically sprung into a sitting position, taking in his surroundings. He was in a simple room with two double beds, a couch, a television, and a kitchenette. He could see the open door to a small bathroom and four backpacks settled around the room.

He turned his gaze back to Naruto, who he could recognize instantly in spite of his sleep addled thoughts, and finally noticed the other two men standing at the end of the bed behind the blond. One he immediately recognized as his former sensei Kakashi, the other took him a moment longer to place as he searched his hazy mind, finally remembering his replacement, Sai. The first words out of his mouth were nothing more than a reflex.

"Where's Sakura?"

Naruto's smile grew even bigger if that was possible.

"She's next door with Hinata-chan. We're letting her sleep in a little. She deserves it. She saved your life you know," Naruto explained cheerily.

Saved his life? The phrase was like a keyword, unlocking the events in his memory.

"Itachi?" he asked next, his voice wavering slightly.

"You're done, Sasuke. He's dead," Naruto answered him sombrely, the grin now gone.

Itachi's face, eyes closed, spotted with blood, and clear of emotion, swam before Sasuke's eyes as he remembered the image of his brother's still body lying on the ground in front of him. Itachi was dead. He was dead. The brother he had chased for so long was gone from this world and his family was avenged.

"You were badly wounded when we found you," Naruto continued talking when Sasuke said nothing. "Sakura-chan fixed you up good though. If it weren't for her, you might be dead too."

Still, Sasuke said nothing. His eyes were directed at the group of three people at the end of his bed, but they were not focussed on them. He was seeing past them. Itachi was dead. He should feel something, shouldn't he? He had accomplished his life's goal. His brother was dead by his hands. He felt nothing. Not even the anger that had burned within him for years.

Sasuke didn't see the glance that Naruto shared with Kakashi. The blond boy tried again.

"Sasuke, we're taking you back to Konoha. You're done. It's time to come home," Naruto continued.

Home. Unbidden memories of his life at home flooded Sasuke's mind. Not the nightmares of that horrible night that had plagued him for years, but the happier memories of his childhood that he had almost forgotten. As they flashed across his mind, he realized the source of some of his happiest moments was Itachi.

"I mean, you won't get off without some kind of punishment, but it'll be alright. You'll see. Tsunade baa-chan will figure something out, and things will be able to return to normal," Naruto babbled on nervously. Sasuke was still completely unresponsive.

"That's enough, Naruto," Kakashi told his most energetic student, laying a hand on his shoulder, realizing they were getting nowhere.

Naruto sighed. Sasuke's face hadn't betrayed a single emotion, though Naruto could only imagine all the thoughts that could be running through his friend's head. A sudden knock on the door distracted him from his musings.

"Guys, I'm coming in," Sakura's voice sounded from behind the closed door. As the knob turned and Sakura opened the door, she continued: "I accidentally shoved my toothbrush in Sai's bag when I was redistributing our supplies last night. Thanks for letting me sleep in by the way, I really-"

Her words were cut off as her eyes landed on Sasuke, awake and sitting up in bed.

She moved faster than Naruto had ever seen her move before. Before he could blink, she was kneeling on the bed next to Sasuke, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, tears falling from her eyes onto his bare shoulders.

"You're awake. You're okay, and you're awake, and you're here," she mumbled through her tears, dissolving into a fresh round of happy sobs.

The tears on Sasuke's bare skin and the pink hair tickling his face pulled Sasuke out of the memories of his childhood and brought another memory he had almost forgotten to the forefront of his mind.

He remembered his limbs feeling heavy, having difficulty opening his eyes, the feel of water dripping onto his bare skin, and most clearly, her voice. He remembered how the beating of his heart had picked up speed from its deathlike slowness, and how her sobs and murmuring had pulled him from the darkness. He remembered opening his eyes and he remembered that she was the first thing he saw. He also remembered his first words to her.

"Sakura... you're heavy."

As the words slipped out of his mouth with all the ease they had back then, he became fully aware of the girl clinging to him for all she was worth, and the three men staring at him, Naruto with particularly wide eyes.

Though Naruto was the only one whose expression betrayed his feelings, all three men were shocked to some level.

Kakashi had watched Sasuke's unresponsiveness to Naruto's words and their presence, and he had felt awful for his student. Kakashi could easily imagine what was going on in Sasuke's head. The older nin had made his prediction before Sasuke had left and was sure that Sasuke was now feeling the emptiness he had warned the boy would come with his success. Kakashi could only hope that it wasn't too late for Sasuke to be spared from further hurt and suffering. Sasuke still had a chance to live his life because even though he had tried to alienate them, Naruto and Sakura were still fighting for him.

And just maybe, that was getting through to him.

That was the only conclusion Kakashi could draw from Sasuke's reaction to Sakura's hug. Somehow she had managed to extract a response from the unresponsive young man. Her actions had done what Naruto's words could not. And hadn't the first words to leave his lips upon his waking proved that he was still very aware of them - he had immediately asked where she was.

While Kakashi thought through this development, Sasuke felt Sakura's body stiffen, but she didn't let go of him. Then all of a sudden, she released her hold on him and sat back on her heels, staring into his eyes as if she were searching for something there, her face tear stained, but blank. He made no move to break the eye contact, wondering in spite of the entire situation, what could possibly be going on in the kunoichi's mind.

The echo of a resounding slap and the stinging pain in his left cheek were the only indications that she had moved.

"That time... You intended to kill Naruto," she whispered. "And you intended to kill me."

Kakashi, Naruto, and even Sai watched this new development with dumbstruck faces. They had expected her happiness, after all, Sasuke would be returning home with them. None of them had expected this. Especially not Sasuke.

He hadn't thought it possible, but his every thought of the past and Itachi was pushed completely aside as he fixed his attention on Sakura in front of him. A Sakura who had hit him... And it was like a switch was flicked in his brain. He was with his former teammates, caught and restrained. All of Naruto's words that he had heard but not bothered to process replayed in his head. They were taking him back to Konoha. But what was left for him there? The answer was nothing. He had nothing there – especially since he had cut his bonds with his teammates when he had left.

He had avenged his clan, but the question was now what? He searched his mind for something...anything that he had planned to do when it was all done. It was like sifting through mud... Hadn't there been a second part to his goal? It came to him in a sudden rush, long forgotten as his anger at Itachi and his own weakness, and his need to avenge his clan had consumed him. He had wanted to revive his clan as well. Did he still want that? Yes. And if he wanted to do it the right way, he needed to revive his clan in the place they had helped build and protect – Konoha.

Sakura was still kneeling in front of him, and he was still watching her. Her face was angry, sad, and expectant all at the same time, like she was waiting for some kind of reaction or admission from him. Was she hoping he would deny it? That fit with the Sakura he remembered, but she hadn't been asking him if he had been intending to kill her – she had pointed it out as fact. What was she waiting to hear, then?

"That's true," he finally answered her. It was the easiest answer and the only one he was willing to give. At that moment he had intended to kill her and Naruto to prove that his old relationships were nothing and had no hold over him. But afterwards, he had realized that despite his intentions...his conviction to kill them...he really couldn't have done it, he was still weak. He shoved the thought away just as he had back then.

Sasuke had yet to take his eyes off of Sakura. He saw her nod her head, smiling weakly, like this was the answer she had been expecting from him. He was surprised she wasn't crying anymore.

"And I still want to bring you back home," she finally managed, now shaking her head and letting a short, humourless laugh. "I'm stupid."

"You're not stupid, Sakura-chan!" Naruto protested, having remained silent this long only in his complete and utter shock of Sakura slapping Sasuke. "If you weren't as smart and as talented as you are, Sasuke wouldn't even be here right now."

And there it was again. Something else Sasuke had barely registered before but that was now weighing down heavily on him. "You healed me? How?" he asked her matter of factly. His eyes were still locked on her face, though now her head was turned down, her eyes staring at the right hand she had used to slap him.

It was Naruto who answered for her. "She trained as a medic under Tsunade baa-chan, Sasuke," Naruto stated simply. Then he couldn't help but brag about Sakura some more: "And she can throw a punch like nobody else. You owe her your life."

"Naruto," Sakura warned, turning to the blond.

Sasuke's mind was racing yet again. When he had passed out, he had felt his life slipping away from him. He wanted to doubt what Naruto was saying, but he could still feel the soreness of his wounds and knew that if they had not been healed, he would probably be dead along with Itachi. And who else could have done it, and why would they lie?

He wanted a glimpse of her eyes and see if he could see the truth in them, but she now refused to meet his gaze.

After that, no one said anything for the next few minutes and no one moved. Sasuke's mind started to turn to topics further and further away from the people in front of him, and back towards what he had just done. He spent a moment wondering what had happened to Juugo, Suigetsu, and Karin before turning back to Itachi. He should feel more than nothing – there was no relief, no more anger, and no satisfaction – but he couldn't focus on that at present. He needed to sort out what was going on right now.

As if reading Sasuke's thoughts, Kakashi's voice finally broke the silence.

"Sasuke," Kakashi spoke, and Sasuke made himself turn his stare from the only female in the room. "You will be returning to Konoha under our guard where the Godaime will give you your sentence," Kakashi explained. "Furthermore, your ability to use your chakra has been sealed, so if you were thinking about it, trying to escape will be futile. And even if you were to manage it, you wouldn't be able to access your chakra ever again – the seal is unbreakable for anyone other than its maker."

As soon as Kakashi told him about the seal, Sasuke tried to reach for his chakra and found he could not control it. It was still flowing through him, but he could not access it or create anymore. He glared murderously at Kakashi. Without his chakra he felt weak and almost naked.

And then he fully realized his situation.

He now had no choice. It didn't matter what else he may have come up with on his own. They had made his decision for him, and he was returning to Konoha.

Sasuke wasn't sure how he felt about that. He wasn't sure how he felt about anything. Still, he couldn't say that returning to Konoha was necessarily a bad thing.