Baby Steps

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

It was late at night within Konoha village, yet that meant little to the medic nin who was seated at her desk, diligently filling out paperwork. She paused for a moment, hesitantly raising her hand and allowing her fingers to ghost over her throat. She fought and failed to repress a shudder as she vividly recalled his hands wrapped around her neck, fingers pressing into the skin. Crimson bled eyes shining with pure hate. She struggled to take in a breath, immensely grateful that she still could, thanks to her best friend and sensei.

She bit her lip, fumbling with the pen as she tried to climb out of the dark ocean of her memories. It surprised her still that she was still having difficulty to relax, the incident occurred months ago, but she supposed that was due to the fact that he wasn't far away. Rather he was sitting in a cell, awaiting his trial. She managed to scrawl down a few things before being interrupted. "Sakura?" The kunoichi looked up to see Shizune standing at the doorway, uncertainty alight in her eyes.

"Yes, Shizune?"

Tsunade's assistant sighed before explaining her presence. "Sasuke still has several injuries that need treatment but he has refused to help from all of our medical nin." Here, she raised her eyebrow. "Save for one."

Sakura shot Shizune a skeptical look. "And what makes you think he'd be willing to listen to me? I'm asking this especially because I'm his former teammate."

Shizune's dark eyes sparkled with mirth as she countered, "Because you're probably equal to him when it comes to stubbornness. Besides, it couldn't hurt to see a familiar face, now would it?"

"Did you threaten to shove a bar of chocolate down his throat?" The cherry blossom asked blandly. "He does hate sweets after all."

Her friend shook her head, raven locks flying about her face. "Please, Sakura?"

"He tried killing me," Sakura replied bluntly.

"Sasuke's wrists are bound." Shizune said gently. "He can't touch you."

Sakura didn't bother hiding her annoyance as she rolled her eyes before tossing the pen she held to the side. "Well, I suppose it's better than doing paperwork." She stood, stretching before following Shizune out.

Within minutes, the two were walking through Konoha's prison. Sakura struggled to suppress a shiver. It was dark in there, hardly lit, the greatest source of this place's light was the sun. Everything seemed creepier what with the elongated shadows crawling along the floor and the criminals softly cackling as they sat in their cells, several of them leering at the pink haired medical nin and attempting to reach out and touch her hair.

Sasuke's cell was situated at the end of the long corridor, guarded by two shinobi on either side of the door. "Let her see him," Shizune gently instructed.

Hiroki, a jounin who was one of the guards arched an eyebrow. "Are you sure you want to go in there Sakura?" He had been one of the villagers to hear of the incident.

The ninja in question lifted her chin. "Yes, I'll be fine."

Hiroki shrugged before unlocking the cell and moved aside to let Sakura in. As soon as the door closed, however, fear began to take over. Here she was in a nearly pitch black cell save for the shafts of moonlight pouring through the bars. She was virtually alone with the boy whom she had once immensely loved when all he had done was scorn her by calling her weak and annoying. A boy who had tried to kill her.

Relax, Sakura, she told herself. He's bound up and you're just checking for injuries. He's just another one of your patients. Remembering that this was Sasuke she was dealing with, she amended the previous thought. One of your stubborn patients.

He was sitting in the corner, his face to the wall. Pulling a small flashlight from her pocket, Sakura knelt down next to him and shined it over him. Well, at least he was still breathing. Sakura also noted that he was fairly healed up. Yet his other side still needed to be accounted for.

"Okay, Uchiha, I'm gonna need you to turn your head for me." Unsurprisingly, Sasuke didn't move.

Sakura sighed. "C'mon, Uchiha, turn your head." If anything, it seemed that he turned his head further away from her.

She crossed her arms and scowled. "Look Uchiha, I'm not about to spend the whole night in this cell with you waiting for you to turn your damn head." Another sigh escaped her. "But I just can't leave you here, not patched up…which is kind of a moot point, isn't it?"

Not receiving an answer, Sakura pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath. She decided to keep wheedling him. "Sasuke." She mentally frowned. For some reason, calling the ex-nin by his first name felt stranger on her tongue rather than addressing him by his last name. Perhaps because it was a name that she used religiously in happier times.

Sakura forced herself to keep going. "Sasuke, just turn your head. It's a simple rotation of the neck, nothing too complicated there." Still no response…oh, wait, what's this?

It was so minute of an action that Sakura nearly missed it, but she saw his hands clench themselves atop his legs. It was a motion of his that she knew that he was wanting, no, expecting something different. Almost immediately, Shizune's words from earlier filtered their way into her mind. "Besides, it couldn't hurt to see a familiar face, now would it?"


Oh no. Oh hell no.

A coil of dread settled into her stomach. She would have to do it, wouldn't she? Go back to her old self, if even for a moment.

Sakura made her voice soft and pleading. "Please, Sasuke-kun. Turn your head toward me."

Ever so slowly, Sasuke turned his head. Though his face was expressionless, there was a hint of amusement in those charcoal depths. Damn him.

Rolling her own emerald orbs, Sakura leaned closer toward him and began to examine his face. The snow white skin was marred by bruises and cuts, a few of them having become scars. As she began to heal his wounds, Sakura couldn't help but chide him a little bit.

"Geez, Sasuke," She grumbled. "Stubborn much? And you said I was the annoying one."

"You still are annoying." Her heart jolted at the raspy tone that was his voice. It seemed that it hadn't been used in a while. It also seemed deeper.

A smirk worked its way onto her face as she continued her work. "Hn."

At the use of one of his responses, Sasuke lifted an inky eyebrow. "Aa."

Sakura frowned as she finished healing Sasuke's wounds. "You can't expect me to be the old me, Sasuke. The one who used to follow you around, so lovesick and adoring." She shook her head. "That's not me anymore. Not entirely. I've grown up a lot. Whether you can see that is up to you." Catching his sloe black gaze roving over her face with a determined intensity, she managed a weak smile. "But, since you won't respond to me otherwise, I guess I'll still have to call you Sasuke-kun, eh?"

A trace of a smile appeared on his lips. "Hn."

The cherry blossom sat back, her work complete. She bit her lip and made ready to stand when she heard a soft gurgling sound coming from the direction of her former teammate. He blushed, though it may have been a trick of the light for all she knew, and quickly looked away. Sakura stood, gently patting her pockets. For what, though? An apple, maybe? Hey, those pockets were deep.

She was about to give up when she felt her fingertips graze something that had a plastic sounding rustle to it. Reaching into her pocket, Sakura blinked when she saw the foreign object, an ironic chuckle bursting forth from her lips. It was a bar of chocolate.

Tilting her head down toward Sasuke, Sakura holds up the candy bar between two fingers. "Look," She said. "It's very late. No one is going to be cooking for hours and this is the only thing I can offer you." She knows part of this statement is untrue. She could cook for him, but would most likely collapse onto her couch as soon as she got back to her apartment.

"I know that you hate sweets," The female kunoichi continues. "But if you breathe through your mouth while eating this, then at least you won't be able to taste it. Much."

Sasuke looks at her dully. " I can't move my hands, remember?"

Sakura laughed sheepishly, that little fact having completely slipped her mind. "Right…sorry, never mind then." She slipped the candy back into her pocket and begins to head toward the cell door. "I'll be back tomorrow with something more sustainable, okay?"

The boy grunts his acquiescence which is accompanied by a nearly imperceptible nod. Typical Sasuke.

Sakura returns the nod and slips out of the cell.

The next afternoon seems to have arrived with such a sluggish pace. Sakura, who had every intention of visiting Sasuke as soon as the sun greeted her apartment was swamped with both paperwork and patients that needed tending to. Once Tsunade gave her the okay to take a break, Sakura took off, practically flying out of the hospital and heading toward a local restaurant. Now heading toward Konoha prison, the girl felt like she couldn't run fast enough.

Once arriving in Sasuke's cell, Sakura once again kneels down next to him, carefully balancing a hot bowl of tomato soup, a few whole tomatoes hidden in one of her pockets. Pulling out a kunai, Sakura begins to saw at the ropes binding Sasuke's wrists together.

"I don't know why I didn't do this last night," She muttered. "Must've been so tired to think straight."

"Or you don't trust me," Sasuke pointed out in a dark-was that hurt in his voice?-tone.

"Heh, it's not my trust you need to worry about," Sakura gently countered as she hacked away the last of the twine. She nodded toward the guards. "It's theirs."

"Do you trust me?" Sasuke prodded as he rubbed his sore and raw wrists.

Sakura held his gaze, dark versus light for a heartbeat. "Yes," She replied simply. She pushed the soup toward him and began to take out the extra tomatoes. "I'm sorry, if I don't make it glaringly obvious, but I told you. I changed."

"I can see that," His voice was soft, and there was that supposed hurt in it. Sakura felt that she had to reassure you.

"I don't hate you, Sasuke-kun. And I trust you."

"I wouldn't blame you if you did hate me though," He mumbled as he lifted a steaming spoonful of the crimson liquid toward his lips.

Sakura couldn't help the surprise that washed over her. She had never thought she'd hear the Uchiha Sasuke sound remorseful. Ever. He had always seemed to strong, almost steely, in a way and so determined. As if he'd never look back and never regret a single thing that he had done. Apparently she was wrong, for here he was, sounding apologetic and expecting her to hate him. She didn't necessarily love him, but…

"I don't hate you," Sakura said with complete confidence in her voice. "So stop trying to convince yourself that I do and stop expecting me to."

Several moments passed in silence, the only action from Sasuke, besides the movement of the spoon from the bowl to his mouth was a gentle nudge as he rolled a tomato toward Sakura who nodded her thanks before biting into the red flesh.

Finally, Sasuke finished the tomato soup, an extra tomato sitting in the otherwise empty bowl. He turned to his still present companion and stared at her for what seemed like a long time. Sakura tilted her head, a typical action for her whenever she was confused, her eyes narrowed slightly as she tried to discern why Sasuke was staring at her.

Coming to no conclusion, she could only ask. "Sasuke-kun?"

Slowly, almost hesitantly, Sasuke shifted closer toward the godaime's apprentice and reached a hand out toward her. With a deliberate gingerness, he allowed his fingers to glide over throat, where he knew purple bruises had once been. She stiffened under his touch as his hand rested against her neck, but she made no attempt to push him away.

Sakura soon gasps, however, for Sasuke soon replaces his hand with his lips, brushing her delicate skin with the gentlest of kisses. "I'm sorry," he murmured, pulling away. Teeth closing over her lower lip, Sakura merely stares at him in shock, a sort of warmth rushing over her as her heart pounds in her chest. It feels like forever before she finds her voice again, and not unexpectedly, she is stammering.

"I-I-I…uh…I…th-that is…um…" Sakura quickly stood up and began backing toward the door. But not before getting out at least one coherent sentence. "Thank you, Sasuke-kun."

"Hn." It is then in his eyes that Sakura is able to make out one sentence. Now I see why you resented it when I said that to you.

Smiling softly, Sakura walks out of the cell and doesn't stop until she is standing out in the brilliant sunshine. She puts a hand over her heart. Kami, what was that? She knows what she's feeling isn't love. At least that's what she'll keep telling herself in any case. She's not ready to love again, not just yet. It's friendship, it's acceptance. Forgiveness. One step at a time.

"Baby steps," Sakura mumbles to herself as she begins to head back toward the hospital.

My first and most likely last Naruto fanfic. I know this was terrible, but it had to be written!