Doing some more maintenance. I hope the chapter is to your liking!

xx LCF


Vestige: a surviving evidence or remained of some condition, practice, etc.

Sakura arrived at the Hokage's office in a span of minutes, surprised to find Naruto and Sai once again there before her. It was a new habit of theirs that was becoming increasingly annoying. Since when had Naruto decided to become so punctual, she thought with a huff. Then again, she couldn't really blame him considering the reason as to why they were summoned in the first place. Sakura swore a ball of lead settled in her stomach at the thought.

"Hokage-sama." She greeted as she bowed politely before greeting her teammates.

"Sakura," Tsunade nodded. "How's Sayuri?"

"Talkative." Sakura replied as she straightened herself with a slightly forced half-amused smile. "She's very curious and inquisitive about everything."

"A natural part of growing up," Tsunade smirked proudly. "What about her studies?"

"Going very well, she's a fast learner and is picking up each subject very quickly. She's advanced for her age. Kakashi told me that I should look into finding her a sensei to begin teaching her the fundamentals; though I'm not too sure that she's quite ready for that." Sakura said.

"We'll give her an aptitude test and see from there." Tsunade stated before her face grew serious. "Now, onto why I called you three into my office.

"As I told you earlier, Uchiha Sasuke returned earlier this morning alongside Kakashi's ANBU team. The reasons for his return are unknown and until further investigation he is still considered a nukenin and a threat to our homeland security. He will remain in custody until further notice."

"Baa-chan!" Naruto exclaimed. "You can't do that, it's not—"

"I can do what I damn well please, Naruto. I am the Hokage and it's my duty to put the good of the village first. It's part of the oath I took before I began my duties. There will be times where you'll have to make difficult choices, ones that must be done for the sake of the village. The village will always, always come first. You of all people should know that, or do I need to make examples of our predecessors?"

Naruto lapsed into contemplative silence.

"Hokage-sama, what exactly is going to be done to Sasuke-san?" Sai asked.

Tsunade tore her eyes from Naruto's visibly deflated form before she addressed all of them. "As stated before, he will remain in custody until his intentions are revealed. There are only nine people who know of his return and I plan to keep it that way for as long as possible. That being said, you three will be assigned a duty in correspondence to this sudden turn of events and I expect you to keep your history out of it. I know he was your teammate and your friend, but don't let the past cloud your judgment. You all have something to lose and other priorities that come before he does." She stated seriously. Three pairs of eyes simultaneously glanced towards Sakura briefly.

"Naruto, you will be shadowing me at all times during this entire process and have been taken off the roster for active duty until further notice. Think of this as the beginning of your apprenticeship with me to become the next Hokage." Tsunade began.

"Sai, you will be part of the guard duty and will relay messages directly to me via your ink jutsu." Sai gave a sharp nod.

"And Sakura, you are the only medic aside from Shizune and I that knows. As such, Shizune will change around your schedule at the hospital and you will be in charge of checking up on the Uchiha's condition in the meantime. Shizune will resume her post as the head medic. All the details of your mission will be relayed in the scroll down in the prison's clinic."

Sakura could only nod in apprehension at Tsunade's words. Her heart raced a mile a minute, and she could feel the small tremors that threatened to course through her body. She wasn't ready; this was too soon. She wasn't ready.

"You will be expected to report back to me with any findings before ten 'o' clock tomorrow morning. Remember, Sakura will make her evaluation in the prison's clinic and Sai will be escorting the Uchiha there along with the rest of Kakashi's squadron. Naruto, I want you to stay here for a moment and look over some documents in regards to Sasuke. That will be all for now, you are dismissed." All three shinobi bowed immediately before Sakura and Sai took their leave, leaving Naruto and Tsunade alone to begin discussing the thick manila envelope she had placed upon her desk.

Once the door closed behind them, Sakura could barely take five steps before she suddenly leant against the wall. She buried her head in her arms, pink strands of hair tumbled over her shoulders as muffled whimpers escaped her.

"Come on, Ugly. Get up." Sai muttered as he hauled her to her feet and led her down the corridor and into one of the empty rooms used for debriefing and mission assignments. He closed the door behind them quietly after making sure that they hadn't been seen or heard.

The room was quiet for several moments, the only sound heard were the soft gasps that came from Sakura as she tried to calm down. Sai said nothing as he sat beside her. He tentatively wrapped an arm around her shoulders in an awkward attempt to comfort her, but she took it nonetheless and in the next moment Sai found a weeping Sakura wrapped up protectively in his arms. Despite how much he had progressed in the past few years he was still learning about human nature. But there were moments like this where some things came naturally, and for that he was eternally grateful.

"I know how hard this is on you," he muttered into her pink hair, slowly beginning to rock her back and forth in the same manner he had seen her do for Sayuri since her infancy. "I know that you're scared."

"I just don't know what to do," she whispered, her voice slightly hoarse from crying. "Sai, what will happen if he ever finds out about her? He'll take her away from me, I know it."

"You also know that there would be no way that we'd allow that to happen. Should the truth about Sayuri's parentage be revealed, you know that you will still have the support of your friends and family and we'll protect the both of you." He replied firmly.

"I know, Sai. I just can't help but be feel this way. It's been years since any of us have seen or heard from him; we've heard nothing but the rare bit here and there that only affirmed that he was alive. He left us when we were thirteen, and now almost ten years later he thinks he can just waltz back in after all of the damage and pain he's caused; not only to us, but to the rest of the nations as well."

"Just stay strong Sakura. Don't let his reappearance get to you. You've got Sayuri to care for now, it's far different from how it was before. There is someone else, someone far more important, that's depending on you. You can't let her down." Sai said seriously despite the gentle hold he had on the kunoichi. "You need to be strong for her, just like you've always been."

Sakura let out a weary sigh and gently removed herself from Sai's surprisingly comforting embrace. She brushed salty tear tracks away with the back of her hand, ignoring the slight sting as she rubbed at the red skin.

"You're right. You're always right when it comes to things like this. And while it's usually annoying, I can't help but be immensely grateful for it; it's a part of what makes you, you." A soft smile tilted her lips. "Despite not being used to expressing human emotion, you're perceptive enough when you want to be. And I appreciate it. It's one of the reasons that I felt I could trust you enough to tell you the truth about Sayuri."

Sai allowed himself one brief smile; it was a tiny one, but it was definitely real. "Let's go Hag, or did you forget that we're on a mission now?"

It was the sudden appearance of a chakra signature outside of the cell that roused him from his meditation.

Obsidian eyes looked towards the steel door directly before him, his ears taking in the clicks that rang in the air and the final flare of chakra that removed, what was undoubtedly, a seal. It seemed that the Hokage had no intention of going easy on him despite the fact that he returned of his own free will.

Smart woman.

The hinges of the iron door groaned in protest and the pale light of the fluorescents filled the dark cell. Sasuke looked up to see a two ANBU operative come inside and promptly haul him on his feet. He remained still as the men placed him in shackles and reinforced the seals already placed upon the lone Uchiha. Their chakra signature was expertly hidden from him, no doubt so Sasuke wouldn't be able to identify who was guarding him. It only solidified the fact that it was someone who knew him and vice versa. A twisted smirk fell upon his lips as he felt their impenetrable stares boring into him.

Not a word was exchanged between the three as they made their way through the winding hallways, Sasuke kept pace with them easily, his eyes alert and taking note of every detail of their route that he could later use to his convenience. Not that he was planning to escape a maximum security prison anytime soon, but there were plans that laid within the village that needed to come to fruition.

The three men rounded one final corner, and walked into a dead-end. At the end of the hallway was a steel door that was very similar to the one at his cell, though this one had a small rectangular window that allowed one to see the inside.

The door was opened and his nostrils were bombarded with the scent of antiseptic and stale air. The light was switched on, casting the entire room in a bleak fluorescent blanket and he was escorted inside. He stood in the center of the room as they removed the chains, his dark eyes taking note of the metal cuffs that bit into his wrists.

"You will wait here for the medic and you are expected to follow instructions accordingly." One of the ANBU said, his voice a familiar drone.

Sasuke gave no reply as he watched the two men more carefully as they made their way out of the room. Their movements carried the same fluidity that came with all seasoned shinobi. Both were lean, perhaps one more so than the other, and with that came speed. This time, Sasuke could not hold back the glower that filled his face as realization dawned on him.

"Whatever you say… Kakashi." He drawled.

Neither ANBU took note of his closing statement as they left without another word and once again, Sasuke found himself in yet another cell; albeit this one was far brighter, and heated.

The sound of her heart pounding was heavy in her ears, the slight fidgeting that had plagued her for the past ten minutes had returned with a vengeance, and she was so close and completely unprepared. Her grip tightened on the medical file in her hand, taking note of how relatively thin it was for a shinobi; especially one of his caliber. Sakura was sure that had Sasuke stayed, his file would rival Naruto's.

Her booted heels resounded on tiled floor in a heavy sense of foreboding as she rounded the corner to find Sai and Kakashi stationed outside of the examination room. Sakura walked forward determinedly, returning the slight nods her teammates gave as she strode past them. A seemingly delicate hand landed on the cool knob of the door.

"Sakura," Kakashi murmured, making her pause mid-stride. "If you need anything, just let us know."

She could only nod, afraid that her mouth would betray her and voice all of the fear and anxiety that was far more than what she let on. It was understandable to a degree, she supposed. What else was to be expected when the man you had proclaimed your love for returned after a near ten year disappearance? Sakura wondered briefly if this is how her teammates and the rest of Konoha eleven accepted the nervousness that overcame her. After all, despite how nervous she was there was really no reason to be aside from the previous bonds and encounters they had had. She had tried to kill him and vice versa, it was understandable in their eyes for her to feel some amount of trepidation when she encountered him. No one aside from Sai knew that despite their thoughts, they were barely scratching the surface.

While Sakura did feel some guilt at her attempt to kill Sasuke, the fear that came with the possibility of him finding out about Sayuri outmatched it tenfold.

The thought alone had rooted fear and paranoia deep into her heart. Contrary to popular belief she did not want to see him, she did not want him to walk away from this unscathed. Sakura wanted more time, needed it, to brace herself for the turbulence that would undoubtedly come should he ever be given liberty. Although Sakura did care for him, she cared far more for the safety and welfare of her daughter. And should Uchiha Sasuke ever find out that that one brief blip in time he had spent with her produced an heir to his clan, he would be relentless in his attempts to have her at his side. Sakura would lose Sayuri, and that was unacceptable.

It set her insides on fire as she felt determination slowly eclipse her fear. Sai was right, she needed to be strong, and she needed to be there for her daughter. Sayuri was now part of the bright future that would come to Konoha as the next generation. It was what she and all of Konoha fought so hard to protect.

Sakura gave one determined nod as she gripped the silver knob and opened the door. She stepped inside with her head held high and with the final strings of courage stitching itself into her heart.

Her body was soft and warm against his.

Beneath his grasp she mumbled words of denial—of anger and deceit, all incongruent with the movement of her hands as they moved to grip him closer. The small sounds she made caused the heat to pool in his blood, surprisingly releasing a high that activated his bloodline limit. Instinctively, his hand tightened on her hip, and her mouth fell open with a breathy sigh. Sasuke raked a broad palm up over her hip to the small of her waist, hoisting the fabric of her shirt as he went. He attempted to divest her of the cloth entirely, only to be stopped by her flak jacket and the mesh she wore underneath.

Almost as if sensing his growing need, Sakura shrugged off the forest green vest, letting it fall to the floor with a heavy thud. Their lips parted for a split moment, long enough for his calloused hands to hoist both tops over her head and onto the ground. Her fingers clutched him desperately when their lips met once more, gripping his shoulders with startling force. Her hands ran down his chest to rest on the zipper at his front before slowly trailing it down and revealing the expanse of his lean torso. He shrugged off the obtrusive fabric before he lowered his lips to her neck, sucking roughly on the fleeting pulse he found there.

Deciding they weren't nearly close enough, he lifted her slim body higher against his, one hand curving beneath her legs to hold her up. Taking her cue, Sakura wrapped slender legs around his hips, her attention apparently divided between the havoc he was causing on her neck and removing the rope around his hips. He moved his other hand to press against the searing heat of her bare abdomen then, his fingertips brushing over her rib cage and barely touching the bindings that concealed her pert breasts from his gaze.

He pulled his mouth away from hers again, sinfully enjoying the unsatisfied sounds she made, so that he could turn his attention to the task at hand. Red eyes noted the pink flush that had spread down her neck and across her chest, causing his blood to ignite further. He lowered his mouth to brush slow open-mouthed kisses against the sensitive skin revealed just at the top of the linen, delighting in the heavy quality of her breathing.

"Take it off," he muttered; his voice dark and heady with lust. It didn't take much prompting and after a few seconds she had successfully removed the bindings, her chest completely bare before his gaze. She pulled herself closer to him, her own lips parting and connecting with the yielding flesh of his throat, her teeth gently scraping the column.

Sasuke released a guttural sort of noise as the velvet tips of her breasts brushed against his bare torso. And seemingly without conscious thought, she was rolling her hips against his, and he could feel the pressure, exquisite and painful, building and pressing within him. He slid one broad palm over the soft skin of her legs—far silkier than what he expected, and nimble fingers toyed with the hem of her shorts as he brushed her inner thigh and stroked closer to the center of her.

"Please." She whispered, her legs tightening around his torso as she pulled herself closer to him. "Sasuke-kun, please."

Whatever semblance of control he had shattered irreversibly at her pleas, the heat that coursed through his veins fogging his mind, allowing him to think of only one thing. They were on the floor faster than she could blink, one hand pinning both of her tiny wrists above her head and the other roughly removing her shorts.

Red eyes took in her bare form, sweeping over every dip and curve she had to offer. Every angle of her was captured with his Sharingan, burning the sight of her into his memories.

Without warning, she used her strength to break his hold, only to be halted by the tip of his chokutō pressed firnly to her throat. He would kill her should she try it again. She merely looked at him, her green eyes half-lidded and drowning in desire. No other words were exchanged, but he knew that behind her want she understood. He relaxed himself slightly once more, relishing in the feel of her bare skin against his. Petite hands ran down the length of his torso before stopping at the knot on his rope, dexterous fingers working quickly as she undid the knot at his hips and pulled down the waist of his pants.

It was at that moment that they took to one another. He unleashing the fury and desire built up within him and she the ache, and misery, and the longing to forget everything but the sensations he caused her.

She stood before him now after all these years; bringing with her the memory of long ago, the sensations, the sounds. The moment that Sakura had walked through the threshold it seemed as though he was back in the cave, back in those times.

The memory was permanently burned in the recesses of his mind, and the fact that he had witnessed all of it through his bloodline limit guaranteed that it was not something he would ever be able to forget. He was able to push it back and was able to not let his mind dwell, but having her stand before him was all Sasuke needed to let the unwanted images come forward and uncharacteristically consume his thoughts.

"Sakura." Was all he said, his dark eyes taking her in and subconsciously noting the differences between the woman before him and the girl that plagued the darkest memories of his carnal desire and moment of weakness.

"What are you doing here, Sasuke?" She asked—ignoring his acknowledgement. Her movements were clinical as she set herself to gather all of the necessary instruments to examine him. She did not meet his gaze, nor did she look at him at all. Her eyes were completely transfixed on the tools that she placed onto the sanitized tray that rested beside the examination bed.

The dark-haired man said nothing as he watched her.

Sakura was unnerved by his stare. It seemed that time had done nothing to wane the intensity that seemed to always be present whenever he was around. She was fidgety and unsure, and felt she had to put the utmost effort to not tremble like she so desperately wanted to. And she hated herself for it—hated the fact that she could still be so affected by him. He had betrayed her, lied to her, tried to kill her and some of her most precious people… and yet, he had also given her the greatest happiness of her life, had given her reason to become stronger and all the motivation needed in this world, even if it was inadvertently so.

He had given her Sayuri.

Closing her eyes, she let out a shaky breath. How she could have ever been a fool into thinking that despite all of the red flags; all of the characteristics and similarities, that there had been even the tiniest chance that she was Takashi's? Seeing Sasuke now was like a slap to the face. A rude wake-up call that pulled her violently from her dreams and roughly shoved her back into reality.

How could she escape the truth now when it was practically screaming in her face?

The darkness of his hair, so black it was nearly blue. The paleness of his ivory skin, the same aristocratic angle of the nose, the same eye shape, the same chin, the same ears. Sayuri was practically his clone save for the vibrant green eyes and the more feminine qualities she had inherited from Sakura. Everything else was Sasuke's. It took everything she had not to break down at that moment.

Sakura took a weary breath before turning to face the man whom she was determined to see as her patient. Not the man she had once loved with her entire heart and soul, not the man that had left Team Seven and their home in search of power, and most definitely not the man who had unknowingly fathered her sole purpose in life. He was Uchiha Sasuke, prisoner of Konoha and the high-risk inmate placed under her care. Nothing more, nothing less.

At least, that was what she kept trying to convince herself.

He was staring at her, she knew, but continued to ignore him nonetheless. Taking a deep breath, Sakura carefully hid herself behind her professional med-nin mask, her observation of him becoming clinical as she cut any and all personal relations from the task at hand. She picked up a manila folder, noting how thin it was for a shinobi's medical records and ignoring the faint whisperings in her mind as to the reason why it was so. Her free hand delved into the pocket of her lab coat, fetching the stethoscope before placing the cool metal on her skin. Once everything she needed was set, she turned to him and met his expectant gaze. She had to be strong, not only for herself, but for Sayuri as well. If she wasn't, Sakura was absolutely sure that she would drown in the guilt and pain that his return had increased tenfold. It was with that thought in mind that she somehow managed to get to work.

Hours following his examination, Sasuke found himself once again in the domain of his cell. He sat on the thin mattress of the bunk, an elbow propped on his raise knee and his dark eyes staring unblinkingly at the steel door that kept him from his freedom… that and the jail that was crawling with ANBU.

An irritated sigh escaped him as his eyes slipped closed. To think that he had gone so far as to turn himself in to Konoha, that he had willingly place himself in this situation, was more than enough to spark the anger and indignation that lurked in the back of his conscious. Even though he no longer wished to see the village's demise, Sasuke was still quite a ways off from assimilating himself back as one of its habitants. No matter if it was by his personal choice or not. The reason he had chosen to return was not for the tattered bonds he held with some of the people here, nor was it for repenting.

He had returned for one purpose; to reestablish his clan and carry on the Uchiha name. Sasuke was going to turn twenty-three in July, meaning that it was time he started his search for the next Uchiha matriarch. A pensive frown formed at his lips as he grew lost in thought. Sasuke had been so caught up in his musings that he almost didn't notice the figure that came to a stop before his cell door. Almost.

Glaring at the steel door, he was vaguely surprised to find it open, only to reveal the orange-clad pest of his youth.

"Naruto." He said flatly, his gaze indifferent as he watched the blond man. He made no move to approach him.

"Teme." Naruto responded, his face uncharacteristically serious as he walked into the cell.

Blue eyes surveyed the area before resting on his black orbs. Sasuke said nothing nor made a move to attest in wanting to do so. There were several tense minutes of silence before Naruto let out a weary sigh and visibly relaxed his stance, his posture slouching slightly as he did so.

"Whew, I thought they'd never leave." He said with a grin as the two ANBU at the door left, their chakra signatures fading away completely.

When Sasuke said nothing, the blond let out an impatient huff. "Come on Teme. You're finally back, don't you think that we should do everything we can in order to—"

"I have no interest in the delusions you have set for yourself." Sasuke said, his dark eyes glaring at the man before him.

"How can you say that after you've come back willingly?" Naruto asked, the anger slowly starting to bubble up within him.

"I didn't return for you, dobe. I didn't return for anyone in this village."

"Then why are you here?"

Both men stared unwaveringly at one another; one set of eyes full of steadfast determination and the other empty save for the slight flare of impatience.

"That's not something I have to share with you." Sasuke said finally, his gaze darkening before he broke eye contact with a sneer.

Naruto frowned at his words but made no other move. Instead, he looked at the dark-haired man before and mentally renewed his vow made to not only Sakura, but himself. "We'll see Sasuke. You may not cooperate so much now, but once I break through that hard shell of yours it'll be just like old times. Believe it."

"You're a fool if you think so."

The blond said nothing more as he shot the man he still considered a brother a long and meaningful look before exiting the cell. The moment the steel door closed behind him, the two ANBU guards' chakras reappeared instantaneously, giving Sasuke the impression that the unnaturally short visit from the blond loudmouth was most likely due to a strict visitation schedule rather than his not wanting to talk. If there was anything that had not changed, it was Naruto's irritating ability to be relentless no matter how lost the cause was.

A half-smirk lilted his features as Sasuke scoffed at the idiot of a man Naruto had remained.

The night brought a fresh blanket of snow and a heart full of guilt to Sakura's doorstep.

Sakura sat on her plush couch with her legs curled beneath her and a worn book on her lap. She rested against Takashi's chest, feeling the gentle and steady beating of his heart and allowed it to soothe her frazzled nerves. It was a little past ten-thirty and Sayuri was fast asleep, leaving the two alone for the first time since his arrival.

"Why don't you put the book down, Sakura?" he intoned quietly, his breath hot on her ear.

"I'm reading it." She replied stubbornly, focusing her eyes onto the page before her once more.

"You've been on the same page for the past ten minutes. That's not reading, love." Takashi said before dropping a kiss onto the exposed curve of her neck.

"You're right." Sakura relented, "There's just a lot going on at the moment and it's taking some time to process, that's all."

"Anything you'd wish to talk about?"

A soft smile tugged at her lips as she shook her head briefly. "You know I can't."

"I figured as much." Takashi said, his hands rubbing her arms gently. "But I thought I'd at least put the offer out there."

"Thank you." Sakura whispered as she craned her neck back and pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. "Thank you for understanding."

"It's nothing," he whispered back as he laced his hands with her small ones. "But at least let me give you something else to think about."

Takashi's lips were upon hers before she could respond, achingly sweet but firm. He released her hands in favor of pulling her over his lap, adjusting her body so that she sat facing him. He kissed her deeply, eliciting some of his most favorite sounds from her. Sakura's fingers lost themselves in his hair as they pulled one another closer while his hands slipped beneath the hem of her shirt and skimmed the smooth and taught stomach underneath. A shiver passed through her as her breaths became labored at his touch. It was getting far too hot far too quickly, leaving Sakura in a primitive state of desire that had her feeling asphyxiated.

Taking note that they both had on far too much clothing, the kunoichi pulled up the hem of his shirt over his head, allowing his heated skin to come in contact with the fabric of the top she was still wearing. With an impatient tug, she pulled down the zipper of her vest and allowed him to forcibly remove the mesh shirt she wore underneath.

"Now." She murmured against his lips, her impatience growing.

A soft chuckle escaped him but he complied with her wishes. Flipping her onto her back, Takashi tugged at her chest bindings, his mouth seeking purchase on the smooth curves of her breasts. Sakura let out a sigh at his ministrations, her head thrown back in pleasure. She gripped Takashi tightly, pulling him up to face level so she could pepper kisses along his jaw.

Hazy green eyes opened to suddenly find a mass of unruly dark hair and even darker eyes that had haunted her every night since the day Sayuri had been born staring back at her.

She froze beneath him, her eyes wide and her breath escaping her. A flash of concern passed over his features, an act that wasn't like the person he had come to be at all. Blinking back tears that threatened to fall, she opened her eyes anew only to be met with Takashi's chocolate brown orbs.

"Sakura, are you alright?" he asked, gently getting off of her and seating both of them on the couch before retrieving her vest from the floor.

Sakura shook her head silently as he placed it over her shoulders, green eyes not wanting to meet his gaze. "I'm sorry." was all she choked out before she got up and walked to her room, knowing that Takashi wouldn't follow.

I'm so sorry.