Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters are created by Masashi Kishimoto, but the new plots are mine. This fanfiction had been written for entertainment purposes only and without intention of infringing upon any copyright.

Title: The Perfect Dream

Author: elle6778

Theme: 50-shinobi Theme 18: Dreams

Rating: T/PG-13

Characters: Sakura and Sasuke

Summary: When the dream to reunite Team 7 ends, it is surprisingly easy to bury the pain and carry on. But how long can one pretend?

A/N: I want to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it! I know, I know. I disappear for months and I come back with a SasuSaku fic instead of ItaSaku. This is only a short story. The idea is not very original at all, but it's just something I need to get off my head so that I can focus on my next long fic. Still, I hope you'll like it.


The Perfect Dream by elle6778 – Part 1

It was hard to describe her feelings when she saw a sullen and bloodied Sasuke walking into Konoha with an equally bloody but grinning Naruto one sunny morning. She supposed disbelief was her first reaction, followed swiftly by the relief that Naruto was alive and fury that Sasuke had the nerve to walk into Konoha like he always belonged here. But finally, what she felt was a weary acceptance, like she should have known that this day was inevitable.

She had often imagined this moment many times in the past, before 'that day'. No, she hadn't imagined that she would run to them with tears of happiness streaming down her cheeks. No, she hadn't imagined that she would punch them both senseless the second they stepped into the gates.

She had imagined that she would walk proudly through the gates on the other side of Sasuke. It was a dream of hers; for Team 7 to be reunited by both her and Naruto working side by side to bring Sasuke back to Konoha.

But after 'that day', she no longer imagined that either.

Soon after 'that day', she'd imagine that the next time she saw the Uchiha, she would run her tanto through him and twist the blade. There would be no more hesitating. There would be no more thoughts of perhaps he could be salvaged, that he could be brought back and made to repent his wrongdoings. The time for forgiveness was over because there was just so much wrong one could accept and forgive.

How could she forgive someone who had unhesitatingly charged her with a shrieking Chidori in his hand and an unflinching killing intent in his eyes?

She wanted to say that in that one moment, the dream of Team 7 was shattered, but that would be a lie. Team 7 had shattered long ago. That dream had turned into a nightmare a long time ago. Her final contribution to its destruction happened on 'that day', when her own stupidity made her confess her feelings to Naruto. Truth was, she hadn't lied to him.

She loved him.

It was not a matter she had intended to bring up then, simply because her emotion was in its fledgling stage. It had frightened her to realize that she might feel a little more for her blond teammate when he had dominated her thoughts during Pein's attack despite everything that had been happening.

'Naruto, are you okay?'

'Please don't come back, Naruto! They want to capture you.'

'Please stay away, please stay safe!'

'Naruto!'

'Naruto! We need you here now…'

'Please… Please, come back.'

'Naruto, we need you… I need you…'

And it had turned all so confusing after that. Hinata's confession had only made it worse because that was when she realized that she was jealous. The realization had terrified her and she had buried the feelings hard. Naruto was her friend and she feared the consequences of even thinking of changing things between them. Besides, he had stopped asking her out years before then.

And now, two years later and wiser, she understood that back then, she had simply been reacting to the stress of the situation. Naruto always brought out strong feelings in her and it was no different then. Her confession was a foolish move resulting in nothing but embarrassment for both her and Naruto to this day. Things were never quite the same between them again. There was an uncomfortable awkwardness in their interactions ever since that day when he had saved her from Sasuke's Chidori. In fact, they barely spoke to each other now.

A crowd was beginning to gather around the two shinobi. The spectators' reactions ranged from curiosity to outright hostility. Neither Naruto nor Sasuke paid any attention to them, however. They simply continued to move unhurriedly in the direction of the Hokage's office, both in their own world.

The notion of running Sasuke through with her tanto had been just a thought brought on by her anger. Back then, it would never have occurred to her that one day, the anger would actually recede and leave behind something dull and empty. Now, it just seemed pointless to even react in any way to his return to Konoha.

Sakura turned and walked away.

She had her own world to take care of now; one which did not involve either Naruto or Sasuke. The distance between herself and Naruto broke her heart but she had numbed it long ago. The distance between herself and Sasuke, however, was something she welcomed. She was through wasting her time on him.

000

000

It seemed like weeks had passed without a single mention of Sasuke, although Sakura had fully expected to find news like that spreading like wildfire in the hospital. She supposed that maybe no one wanted to bring the topic up in front of her. It did not matter anyway. She really did not care one way or another.

The next thing she knew, Sasuke was admitted to the hospital one morning after his session with the Interrogation Unit. Fully expecting this to happen at some point, she studied the initial assessment by the medic nin at Diagnostics, and then allocated an appropriate medic nin to handle the case. In his case, since the notes stated that he was still conscious and no vital organs were compromised, a medic nin of average competence would suffice.

What she did not expect was to have her decision questioned.

"S-Sakura-san?"

She turned around and the medic she had assigned to Sasuke just half an hour ago appeared in her line of sight. The agitated expression on the sixteen-year-old chuunin made her raise a questioning brow. "Yes?"

"Ano… The patient… Uchiha Sasuke…" Kagura blinked twice, turned red and then shuffled her feet. "He refused to let me near him."

Sakura's brows drew together in annoyance. Less than an hour in the hospital and he was already demanding this and that. "Did he say why?"

"He said…" The chuunin hesitated, clearly finding it difficult to continue. Swallowing hard, she finally finished with, "He said that I look like a junior medic. He wants someone more qualified. A senior medic, specifically."

Her lips thinned as her temper spiked. Who did he think he was? This was an active hospital busy treating the sick and injured, not some private care facility. She had allocated a perfectly suitable medic nin to his case already, and now there he was, trying to make unnecessary fuss. He was clearly used to having his own way, not that she intended to allow him the privilege this day. When he was out of the hospital she was running, then he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

Calm down!

She dragged in a deep breath and closed her eyes, immediately halting the furious rant in her head. No, she would not be mad. She should treat him the way she would treat any difficult patient with the minimum of fuss. If she fought him on something so petty, it would only make things more difficult for everyone.

"Sakura-san?" Kagura called out, uncertainty coloring her tone.

Sakura's eyes snapped open. With a nod, she told the medic, "I'll take it from here."

The obviously relieved chuunin handed her Sasuke's file before she fled, as if fearing that Sakura would change her mind.

With an exasperated huff, she quickly read through the file and planned the required treatment in her head. Then, clamping the file under her arm, she made her way to the correct ward. Just as she was about to enter the section, a redheaded kunoichi stormed out angrily. When Karin saw her, the girl halted immediately.

Eyes flashing angrily behind her glasses, Karin hissed, "I don't want him in here where I work! He tried to kill me!"

Sakura knew exactly how she felt. "Just go for a break and when you come back, go help out in the maternity ward."

Slightly mollified, Karin sniffed haughtily. "Fine."

With that, Sakura left her and entered the ward, moving towards the rooms. Two ANBU guards flanked Sasuke's door but they did not stop her from pushing her way through it without knocking. Once inside, she noted two more guards standing by the window. Even though they were both masked, she could tell that Sai was one of them. Inclining her head at him in greeting, she strode briskly until she reached the foot of Sasuke's bed.

"I understand that you requested a senior medic."

Sasuke's dark eyes were inscrutable as he looked at her silently. He was propped up on the bed with two pillows behind him. Although his wounds had been cleaned, they were still open and bleeding. She ran her expert eyes over him, quickly confirming that the extent of his injuries had been accurately assessed. Kagura would have healed at least half of those wounds by now.

Suppressing her impatience, she gave him a bland look. She had all but mastered this look over the past two years. It was a matter of necessity, after 'that day'. After 'that day', she had constructed a protective shell around herself. Otherwise, all those looks of pity and disapproval would have gotten to her. All those looks would have crushed her into nothingness. She had to be stronger than that, she had move pass it and carry on without allowing it to affect her any longer.

"So, will you allow me to heal you?" she asked politely.

His eyes narrowed just a fraction. "I asked for a senior medic," he told her shortly.

She was struck by this strong urge to smack him, but she told herself to ignore it. Instead, she explained, "I'm the most senior medic in this hospital right now. However, if you wish, I can pass on your request to the Hokage and Shizune. You will have to wait until they are free, though. I believe Shizune will be available this evening."

He blinked once, as if surprised. But the only thing he said afterwards was, "Fine. You do it."

She nodded curtly and then took two steps to his side. There, with brisk professionalism, she began to heal him. As she did so, she mentally reanalyzed his injuries, deciding that the interrogator had definitely pulled his punches. There were no injuries to major organs and nothing was potentially fatal. Since Sasuke was not exactly very popular here, she could not help but suspect that Naruto might have gotten to the interrogator and worked his magic before the session.

In ten minutes, his injuries were healed and she took her hands off him. It did not escape her notice that he was studying her silently. She gained the impression that he was trying to find something. Well, whatever it was, she would not let it bother her.

It took another two minutes for her to record everything on his file and when she was done, she told him, "You need to remain here for the next three hours for observation, and then you can leave."

He made no comment to her proclamation, but that did not surprise her. He'd never had much to say to her even when they were in the same team. With an inward shrug, she left the room.

000

000

The weeks blurred into months and the encounter with Sasuke was quickly forgotten in her preoccupation with training a new batch of medic nins and heading the investigation and treatment of the critically poisoned ten-man ANBU squad.

She was a little surprised when she was interrupted just as she was on her way out of the hospital by a recently-qualified medic.

"Sakura-sempai!"

"Yes, Keiko?"

The medic looked nervous. "Kagura-san asked me to ask you if you could stay for a while longer."

"Why?"

Keiko's blue eyes were large in her narrow face. "Because that Uchiha is in the hospital. And he refused to be seen by anyone but a senior medic. Kagura-san tried to find Shizune-sempai, but there's this emergency operation and she will be in there for hours so…" she trailed off, chewing on her bottom lip.

Sakura closed her eyes and exhaled loudly. "Where is he?" she asked, opening her eyes.

"In Diagnostics."

She should just see to him and get this over with, or the hospital would be in chaos because of one spoilt brat. "I'll handle it."

The relief in Keiko's smile was unmistakable. "Thank you, Sakura-sempai!"

With that, she turned around and walked to Diagnostics. When asked, another medic pointed her out to the Uchiha's cubicle. She stepped up to the cubicle and slid around the blue hanging screen to find her patient.

She stopped abruptly.

She could hardly credit her eyes when she saw the metal glinting on his forehead. A burst of fury broke through her calm then. How could Tsunade allow him back into the ranks of Konoha ninja? He did not deserve it after everything he had done and furthermore, he could not be trusted. What of his crimes? Were the crimes to be swept under the rug and ignored? Sakura could not believe this was happening.

However, she managed to eventually stifle the urge to scowl darkly. Instead, she kept her thoughts to herself as she walked up to him. She only had to do her job here and nothing more. Governing Konoha and its shinobi were not part of her job description. If Tsunade thought that he was ready to rejoin Konoha, then she must have a good reason for it.

Still, when she reached his side, she found herself blurting you, "When were you reinstated?"

A brief flicker of annoyance and perhaps confusion appeared in his eyes. He stared at her for so long in that irritatingly haughty manner that she had to resist the urge to slap him silly, because that would be highly unprofessional. If he did not want to answer, then fine. It was not a big deal.

"A month ago."

She nodded once, thinking of the time when he and Naruto had walked through the gates. It had been summer then, and now it was summer again. Had one whole year passed already? That was fast. Perhaps Tsunade was convinced that he had proven himself harmless after a year of relative quiet? Well, Tsunade might be convinced, but Sakura would not ever trust him again.

She gave herself a mental shake, reminding herself that she had a job to do here.

Picking up his file, she read through the current entry before scanning the old ones. It seemed that he had been in and out of hospital over the past few months, but he was usually admitted in the evening. It explained why she had not seen him. The nature of his previous injuries told her that he had been training with Naruto. This time, it looked like he had taken a Rasengan to his leg.

Silence enveloped them as she began to run her glowing hands over his leg, keeping her hands just half an inch above his skin. She concentrated fully on repairing his muscles and nerves at a cellular level, keeping her focus fixed on her task and nothing else.

"You haven't been out."

Her chakra faltered briefly before she regained control. Without looking at him, she asked, "Out where?"

"With Naruto and the rest."

"No. I haven't," she replied disinterestedly. This was old news, after all. She had quitted socializing with them years ago. Three years to be exact.

She was glad when he said nothing more. For him to ask this question, it meant that he had been going out with the rest. Was she the only one who didn't feel as if he could be trusted? Never mind. She had vowed not to involve herself in such things anymore. It usually end up with her getting hurt.

When she finished healing him, she told him, "You will be moved to a ward to recover shortly. You will remain there for the next three hours for observation, and then you can leave."

Like before, he said nothing in response to her words, but his eyes seemed to be searching for something in hers. How odd. Still, she had seen enough of him in the past to know that it was pointless to ask. Her job here was done and her patient was healed so she could leave. Being around him made her feel edgy, even though she managed to remain calm outwardly.

Hopefully, that would be the last time she saw Sasuke's face for a while.

000

000

By intent or by fluke, Sakura had gotten her wish, for she did not encounter Sasuke for months after that healing session. She went on with her daily life. She worked, ate, cleaned up her small home, bathed, read a little and then slept like the proverbial log until the day began anew once more. It seemed like a never-ending cycle, only broken by the occasional hair-raising emergency surgeries and summons to her Shishou's office.

Then one day, her cycle was disrupted.

She worked, she ate, cleaned up, bathed, read a little and then the doorbell rang just as she decided that she was relaxed enough to fall asleep. Frowning, she sat upright in her bed and wondered if there was an emergency at the hospital. Hoping that it was not anything that required her to get out of her house at this time of the night, she walked out to the front door, uncaring that she was dressed in a tank top and shorts.

Her frown deepened when she yanked the door open to find Sasuke standing there.

For a long while, both of them stood there as motionless as statues, staring at each other. Absently, Sakura noticed that he was dressed in the typical Uchiha attire and his forehead was still covered with the Konoha headband. The latter made her itch to yank it off his head.

"Go out for dinner with me."

For a moment, Sakura thought that she had heard wrongly. But when it sank in that those words had actually left Sasuke's mouth, her brows drew together in annoyance. He was definitely playing at something here, and whatever it was, she did not like it. Those were not the words Sasuke would say to her, even though when she was in her early teens, she'd love nothing more than say 'yes' to the question. Now, though, all she felt was a strong suspicion that he was up to no good.

"What do you really want, Sasuke?" she asked instead.

His features betrayed nothing. "I told you. Go out for dinner with me."

It was clear that he had no intention of answering her direct question. So to push further for answers would only be a waste of time. If he wanted to play it this way, she would rise to the challenge.

"No, Sasuke."

There was a flicker of something in his eyes, but it was gone before she could read it. His tone, however, told her that he was not happy. "Why?"

"Does it matter? I just don't want to go out with you, for dinner or for any other reason."

He stared at her for a long while. She stared right back, annoyed that her routine had been interrupted for some stupid reason like this. Did he really think that she would say yes? What the hell was he playing at?

Eventually, he intoned flatly, "Fine."

Without another word, he walked away.

Annoyed that she was now more riled than relaxed, she closed the door and padded back to her room. By the time she sank into her bed, there was this odd sensation in her that felt suspiciously like frustration. Worse, she felt like screaming and her eyes were burning slightly. She did not remember the last time she cried. Definitely before 'that day' and maybe sometime during 'that day', or shortly afterwards.

People say crying was cathartic. Funny, she had not felt the therapeutic effects back then despite all the tears that had rained down her face. It was supposed to be cleansing and so on. So judging by the amount of tears she had spilled then, she should have felt better, right? No, all her crying then had changed nothing.

So why cry?

That night, when she finally fell asleep, her eyes were dry.

000

000

Sakura did not Sasuke for months after the night he had showed up at her door with his unbelievable question. Unfortunately, she still heard plenty about him each time she ventured out to stock up on her supplies.

The gossips were rife with speculations of the remaining Uchiha's affairs. Some gossips mentioned that the Uchiha bloodline was the reason why he was allowed to stay and even allowed back into the shinobi ranks, even though he would most certainly remain a genin for a long time. No genin team wanted him to join them for the Chuunin exams, apparently. Then came the speculations about his intention to find a suitable girl to marry. Her brows had risen when she first heard this from a chatty girl at the fishmongers. It looked like Sasuke was finally ready to revive his clan.

Well, good luck to the girl.

As she finished with her shopping, it occurred to her to think that Sasuke's visit to her that night might be genuine after all. It was possible that he had thought that she was still infatuated with him, though how he could even come to such a conclusion after all that had happened simply baffled her. He had thrown her affection back in her face far too many times for her to forget, not to mention he had genuinely wanted to end her life more than once.

Her declaration of love had been made when she was all but a child, still naïve to the ways of the world, but she had believed in it wholeheartedly. It hurt when he simply dismissed it. And now, after the passage of so many years, surely he did not think that she still harbored some kind of feelings for him.

She shook her head at the thought. No, Sasuke was not stupid. He must realized that he would get nowhere with her by now. So he must have an ulterior motive for his actions back then.

As she passed the Hokage Tower on her way back home, she the latest rumors reached her.

"Have you heard? That Uchiha killed them."

"Oh, about that! Of course. Everyone's talking about it. When did it happen?"

"Last night. He's locked up now."

"Tch! He should've been locked up long ago."

"Guess murdering the elders is good enough of a reason for them to finally lock the Uchiha up."

Sakura's eyes widened in comprehension.

Eighteen months after his return to Konoha, Sasuke had finally made his move and exacted revenge.

000

000

Tsunade was clearly preoccupied with her thoughts when Sakura stepped into her office. So she just stood there on the other side of the desk, waiting for the Hokage to explain why she was summoned.

A few minutes passed before Tsunade looked up.

"ANBU arrested Sasuke last week."

Sakura nodded once, having expected such an outcome after the news she had heard in the street.

"Many are outraged." Tsunade sighed. "They don't know the reason why Sasuke targeted those two elders."

For the lack of anything to say, Sakura simply nodded again. When she had learnt from Tsunade that Sasuke's brother had been ordered by the council to eliminate the Uchiha clan, she had been horrified. But that did not mean that she condoned Sasuke's actions. What the council had done was wrong. What Itachi had carried out was self-sacrificing and noble. But what Sasuke had done was just simply self-indulgence.

"He didn't resist arrest." Tsunade shook her head. "He did not even care that he was caught in the act by his ANBU guards."

Her brows furrowed. "He still has guards?"

Tsunade gave her an irritated look. "Of course. Do you think that I'd allow him complete freedom after everything?"

"You reinstated his shinobi status."

"Ah, yes." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Naruto went on and on about it, so I gave him back the headband. But Sasuke knew that he was still being watched."

"He could have betrayed Konoha." Sakura's lips thinned. "In fact, he did. Killing the elders is wrong, no matter what they did in the past."

"If only things are that simple," Tsunade said heavily. "Yes, he should have let me deal with the elders, but I have to admit that his action considerably simplifies things for me." At Sakura's disapproving look, she said, "You know I've been trying to get them off my back. But I would never have ordered an assassination on them. Whatever decision they've made in the past, they did it with good intentions for the village. Things are different now, though."

Sakura sighed out loud, deciding that it was useless to discuss that particular point any further. Discussing anything to do with Sasuke irritated her. Instead, she asked, "Why have you summoned me, Shishou?"

"I want your opinion."

Arching a brow, she asked, "On what?"

"Uchiha Sasuke."

Sakura held back a scowl of annoyance. "Fine."

"He is currently under lock-up. Firstly, Naruto thinks that he should be punished and then released under heavy guards. And the rest of those of your age would probably go with whatever he thinks. Secondly, the usual punishment for his crime is execution. The older shinobi did not like the idea of wiping out the last of such a powerful bloodline limit, even though they think that he deserved to be eliminated after all he had done." Tsunade exhaled loudly. "Before I reinstated him, I made him swear loyalty to Konoha. He'd broken his word when he killed the elders, so his words can no longer be trusted. He'd demonstrated that he is patient enough to wait more than a year until others are less wary of him, before carrying out what he intended to do all along."

Sakura wondered why Tsunade had assumed that he could be trusted even a little bit in the first place. Sure, she had allocated guards as backup, but if Sasuke truly wanted to create havoc in Konoha, he was powerful enough to do so, ANBU guards be damned. His assassination of the elders was an irrefutable proof of that.

"I know you probably think I'm soft," Tsunade admitted wryly. "Many of the older shinobi think that I've given in too easily to Naruto. But I always find it easy to believe in him. Isn't it odd how a few year ago, you'd probably agree with Naruto? You wouldn't have thought that I was soft then. It's different now, isn't it?"

"People change, Shishou," Sakura told her quietly. "But I'm still as loyal to Konoha as ever."

A shrewd look entered the Hokage's eyes. "But you're no longer as loyal to your friends?"

She felt the stab of Tsunade's words, but she ignored it. Over the past few years, her Shishou had tried to find out why she had changed her attitude so drastically, but Sakura had never felt comfortable enough to speak about it to anyone. It was simpler this way.

When Sakura remained silent, Tsunade sighed heavily, "You think I didn't notice the changes? I'm not blind, Sakura."

She frowned uneasily. "I know, Shishou."

"Never mind about that. You'll talk about it when you're ready," Tsunade finally said.

And that was why Sakura loved her Shishou so much. However bad things were, Tsunade was always there.

"So, Sakura. What do you think I should do about Uchiha Sasuke?"

Sakura glanced beyond the Hokage to look out of the large window behind her. Was she capable of giving her Shishou an unbiased opinion? Yes, she probably was, if she considered the situation logically. Her emotions would not come into play here.

Naruto did not want Sasuke to spend his entire life under lockup, and he definitely wouldn't agree to execute his friend. Konoha wanted to hold on to the Sharingan, but Sasuke could not be trusted not to cause harm. The solution was quite simple, and she was certain that Tsunade had thought of it. She probably just wanted another person to confirm it.

"If his chakra pathways are locked up, he wouldn't have enough strength to cause too much trouble. You can use a seal to anchor him to his house, and then make sure that he produces an offspring or two. That would ensure the continuation of the bloodline." Once the continuation was assured, Sasuke could be eliminated, but Sakura knew that Naruto would not allow such a thing to happen.

"That's what I think. Kakashi as well."

Sakura was not surprised.

Her Shishou shook her head slowly. "Few years ago, I'd have expected you to beg for his freedom. But it looks like you're more capable of an impartial opinion now." Tsunade nodded thoughtfully. "I'll need you to perform the sealing."

"Of course, Shishou."

Even though that was the last thing she felt like doing.

000

000

On the day the sealing was to be done, it seemed like half of Konoha had turned up to witness it. She had to squeeze her way through all of them to get through the door leading to the holding cells. The noise was deafening and she felt her patience slip as she was shoved all the way there.

And Naruto was right in front of the crowd.

Suddenly, it seemed like everyone decided to stop talking all at once to look at her and Naruto. She glanced briefly at him, noting that he wore an uncertain expression, before she reached out to press her hand on the security panel which controlled the door.

"Sakura?"

Her hand froze on the security panel. She did not remember the last time Naruto had addressed her directly. While she had kept herself busy with her own things, part of her knew that if Naruto had really wanted to keep in touch, he would have. The fact that he hadn't suggested that he had not wanted to do so.

Voice calm, she responded, "Yes?"

"Can I go in?"

She turned to him then. "You're not authorized to enter."

His blue eyes were troubled. "But can't you just let me in?"

She shook her head. Without another word, she unsealed the door and stepped in, closing the door behind her. The door seal would not allow any unauthorized persons inside even if it was wide open, but it did not hurt to be cautious.

She could feel what seemed like hundreds of eyes boring into her back as she walked down the badly lightly corridor, but she ignored them. Her focus was fixed on the task ahead.

A minute later, she reached Sasuke's cell. A team of four ANBU guards were there to make sure nothing went wrong. Inside the holding cell, Sasuke was naked bar his underpants. His arms and legs were restrained with chakra-suppressing bindings, holding him spread-eagled against the wall. Someone had prepared him for the procedure, she noted.

She glanced at the ANBU nearest the door. "Let me in."

He nodded, and then proceeded to unseal the door. Although her security clearance level was high, she had no access to individual cells in this high-security wing of Konoha prison. When the door clanged open, she strode in until she reached her patient. His expression was stony as he stared at her.

Without a word, she laid out the necessary equipment. The bandages and scalpel were out first, followed by the jutsu ink and brush and lastly, the reference scroll to perform the technique. Although she had done this before, she would rather make doubly sure that she did not forget something.

With an efficient move, she drew a shallow cut on his wrist, allowing his blood to drip into the jutsu ink. Once that was done, she used the brush to annotate his skin at all the major chakra junction. His muscles tensed on occasion as the brush ran over his skin, but he did not react in any other way. Glancing once at the reference scroll to make sure that she hadn't missed anything, she drew chakra to her hand and began the complicated series of seals to inhibit and lock Sasuke's chakra.

She could feel Sasuke's gaze on her throughout the whole process but she ignored it and concentrated on carefully executing one complicated seal after another. On and off, her glowing hands made contact with the seals drawn on his skin. Each time, he flinched in reaction. Sakura had heard that it was not a pleasant sensation.

After a little more than two hours, the procedure was complete. With an inward sign of relief that she could get out of this oppressive cell soon, she called forth the last of her chakra to perform a check on the stability of the seals. She went through his neck, down to his arms and torso to find that so far, everything was in order.

"Is this permanent?" he asked.

"I'm not in the position to tell you. Ask the Hokage," she murmured as she checked the final seals on the left leg.

"You did this, so you should know."

Irritation coursed through her as she straightened to look into his onyx eyes. "I'm sure you've been informed of whatever you need to know."

His eyes narrowed as his expression turned hard. "What happened to you?"

Sakura stiffened at his very personal question. Who was he to ask that question, making it sound as if there was something wrong with her? There was nothing wrong with her. Surely he did not expect her to fawn over him the way she had done when she was twelve?

"I'm not sure I understand what you mean," she finally returned.

The muscle in his jaw clenched briefly before he said, "You hide behind your professionalism."

"And why am I hiding?" she asked mildly, even though inside she felt like lashing out and walking away.

"Why don't you tell me?" he challenged.

Unable to hide her irritation any longer, she frowned at him. "What makes you think I will answer any question you ask, hm?"

"You wanted to save me."

"I used to," she admitted, her frown deepening. "But surely you can tell that things aren't the same anymore."

He stared at her for a long time but she did not want to give him the satisfaction of seeing her glance away, so she held his gaze.

Finally, he said, "No. Things are not the same."

000

000

A/N: And that concludes Part 1. As always, reviews are much appreciated…

:elle6778: