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.
A/N: Thanks for all your comments for Part 3. You'd be glad (or not so glad for some) to know that this is the final chapter. You have no idea how relieved I am because I was genuinely worried that it might turn into a proper multichaptered fic that takes a year to finish! Now I can focus on Truth behind the Mask. Without further ado, here's the final installment…
The Perfect Dream by elle6778 – Part 4
"I need to apologize."
She tensed immediately, not liking how this conversation was commencing and where it could lead. It was not as if she had any ideas of why he wanted her here in the first place, but she definitely had not expected him to apologize. He had never done so before in the past despite being in the wrong, so why should he start now? What did he want so badly from her that he would sacrifice his precious pride like this?
Unable to keep from sounding bitter, she said, "Don't." Especially when he did not mean it. It was easy to say the correct words. They were just words, after all. How would she ever know if he really meant it?
His eyes flashed in annoyance. "Just listen," he grated out and then glanced around the room absently. "Staying here alone for so long gave me time to think of things. It… cleared up a few things in my mind." A pause followed before he said rather stiffly, "Others think that it is about time I spoke to you as well. To explain."
Others? Must be Naruto. Should she even be surprised that Naruto had a hand in this? She pressed her lips together, not wanting to listen at all but refusing to behave like a coward and run off. It would not kill her to hear him out. She just hoped that by staying, she was not making herself as vulnerable as she had been in the past. Opening up to Naruto was one thing. But Sasuke was a completely different matter. She needed to keep her distance from everything with the potential to harm her again, and one of them was Sasuke.
It took him a while to get the words out, but it wasn't what she had expected to hear.
"That day, at the broken stone bridge, I fully intended to kill you," he laid out abruptly.
This was what he wanted to tell her? She blinked and then ground her teeth together. "I'll-"
She reared back, stunned at the uncharacteristic outburst. In an unusual display of agitation, he ran a hand through his hair, letting the messy strands fall over his drawn brows. Where was the cold, composed Sasuke? She was so stunned that she could not move even if she wanted to, let alone talk.
"I'm not making excuses for anything I've done." There was a challenging light in his eyes when he looked at her, as if he was daring her to contradict him. "I just want to explain what happened back then."
Her voice was strained when she said, "Explain then."
He stared at his tea again and then he began, "I'd thought killing Itachi would bring justice to the clan and I'd be free of this… this pressure. Instead, after I'd killed him, I learned that he'd been protecting me all along. All the time, I've based everything I did on a lie. It was as if…" He paused, his pupils dilating briefly with anger before he continued, "It was as if something just snapped inside. Itachi suffered, I suffered and I want everyone to suffer along with us. And I don't want to stop until everyone breaks along with us."
Sakura sucked in a sharp breath.
"When you came that day, offering to leave with me, I could tell that you were pretending." His lips twisted wryly. "I knew you were lying. That's why I challenged you to kill Karin."
Her breath left her in a hiss as her fury ramped up. The bastard had been playing with her all that time?
"I knew you couldn't do it. How could you? It was just not something you would do." His fingers clenched into fists as he pressed down on the surface of the table, his eyes seemed to glitter as he stared down at the white digits. "But all I could think of was that you wanted to deceive me, and in my frame of mind at that time, that meant that you had to die. I just wanted to test you before I killed you."
Finding her voice, Sakura ground out, "Too bad Naruto saved me, huh?"
Sasuke's gaze jerked up, his expression intense. "I would have regretted it."
Her fury stalled as she blinked at him, unsure what to say. What did he mean by that? If he'd intended to kill her all along, then why would he regret it at all?
Irritation jolted through her, sharp and unpleasant, as she realized what he must be up to. He was playing with her mind again, the sick bastard. Tell her something bad and then tell her something good to confuse the hell out of her. Well, she wasn't about to carry on with this stupid game of his.
She pushed back her chair and stood up.
It wasn't until she'd taken a step away from the table that his voice rang out, loud and sharp. "Where are you going?"
Her steps did not slow as she answered, "Home."
The tension spiked in the air and then he snapped angrily, "I'm not done!"
In a blink of an eye, he closed the distance between them. His hand clamped around her shoulder and she was forcibly spun around to face him. His speed was astonishing but all she could focus on was the expression on his face. It was a mix of fury and… panic? Frustration? The look was such an usual one for Sasuke that for a while, she could only stare at him in bewilderment.
For a long while, they simply stood there, eyes not leaving each other.
And then she broke the silence. "Let me go, Sasuke. I don't want to have to use force."
He tensed. Then he released her, taking a step back. "Just hear me out," he said quietly. "You can leave afterwards."
She nodded once, jerkily, resisting the impulse to rub her arm where he'd gripped her earlier. He was very fast and strong even without the use of his chakra. It shouldn't surprise her considering how badly hurt his ex-fiancé had been after a fight with him.
He gestured to the chair. "Sit down."
Her eyes not leaving him, she sat down.
He glanced away from her again, looking uneasy. "Thinking back now, that entire time after I found out the truth was like a haze. Something… died inside me, maybe. All I wanted to do was destroy. Vengeance gradually consumed my every thought. There was no space for anything else."
His gaze remained fixed to some unknown point in the distant when he continued, "Then that day, after you left with Naruto and Karin, I went away with Madara. He gave me tasks and left me on my own for most parts." His eyes shifted downwards, his hair falling over his furrowed brows. "It took months and I don't know how, but that haze started to slowly fall apart. I think that was when I started feeling… lost. I knew I had to kill the rest of the council members to avenge Itachi but then what?"
She studied him, this time seeing nothing but a man with a tortured soul. Or was this still part of the deceit? She did not think so. Sasuke had never been the emotional type and this was the most emotion she'd ever seen him display. As edgy as it made her feel, she also doubted that someone could really fake this much emotion. It made her long for the old, stoic Sasuke back because right now, she had no idea how to react to all this.
"Everything seemed empty. Eventually, I realized that I missed... them." His eyes came up to meet hers, the onyx orbs gleaming with unmistakable regret. "Karin, Suigetsu and Juugo. Then I remembered that I wanted to kill Karin. That I wanted you and Naruto dead as well."
"You don't have to remind me," she muttered, unsettled by his stark words.
"When I realized what I'd almost done, I was… alarmed." His expression twisted briefly before it smoothed out. "I saw too clearly how far I had gone." He shook his head. "When I left Konoha I didn't set out to push myself in that direction."
She felt her hands tremble and promptly clenched her fists to still them. "You didn't set out to make an enemy of all the villages and everyone, you mean."
He shook his head. "Or to kill my teammates." His eyes held hers, his dark orbs willing her to believe him. "Both sets of teammates."
His admission shocked her. She'd never imagined that he would ever refer to her and Naruto as his teammates ever again. It was staggering and she did not know how to react to this. She had been suspicious of him earlier but now, she could not deny that his words had a ring of truth around them. He seemed genuinely contrite.
"So when Naruto went to find you, you decided to return with him?" she asked quietly.
"After we worked together to kill Madara first." He frowned slightly. "Killing Madara felt… right. The same could be said for returning here. I wanted to be back here again."
As far as responses went, hers was worse than lame, but she did not know what else to say. Sasuke, who barely spoke on a good day, was going out of his way to explain his actions the best he could to her, the girl he'd always considered an annoyance. And as confused as she was, this conversation made her feel more than she'd felt over the past few years with the exception of her reconciliation with Naruto. It also made her feel as if something had finally slid into place.
She understood then that although Sasuke's words were only words, they were words she'd needed to hear.
And that scared her. It made her feel strung up so tight that she feared she might snap at any moment. Worse, her feelings had been locked up so carefully for so long that she could not imagine what she might say or do if she snapped. She wanted to ask him why he brought all this up but she feared his answer. Things he had said so far had shaken her and she probably did not need to hear more.
They sat for a while, each lost in their own thoughts until Sasuke picked up his now-cold tea. "I'll heat more water if you want more tea."
"It's okay," she quickly protested. "I… I need to go home."
It might be her imagination, but Sasuke seemed almost disappointed. And then he shrugged carelessly. "Very well."
Needing some privacy to sort through her own thoughts, Sakura stood up. "Thanks for dinner."
He inclined his head curtly. "You know the way out."
The apathetic Sasuke was back, she thought with flare of relief that he was once again behaving in a familiar manner. Without looking back, she exited his house, taking care not to give in to her impulse to run. After so many years, the need to present a calm façade was second nature to her.
Once outside, she saw Sai, who inclined his head at a private spot some distance away. Smiling genuinely at the opportunity to be distracted from her thoughts on Sasuke, she followed him.
"Sai?" she greeted when she caught up with him.
He pulled down his mask and then stared at her. "Did the dinner go well?"
She froze, uncertain how to answer. This was not what she'd expected Sai to bring up.
"Naruto told me that you finally agreed to have dinner with Sasuke," Sai added.
Her temples throbbed as her irritation spiked. Naruto had no right to do that. He knew that she was seeing Sai, albeit only casually. To interfere like this meant that he was trying to sabotage things between her and Sai. To what purpose, though? It could not possibly be because he was trying to clear a path for Sasuke. She'd told Naruto more than once that she no longer like Sasuke in that way.
Keeping her voice calm, she responded, "Yeah, I heard you. Dinner was fine."
Sai nodded. "Was the conversation enlightening?"
She tensed. What did Sai know about it? "What do you mean?" she asked.
Tilting his head thoughtfully, he explained, "Sasuke had things to say to you, clearly. I can only surmise that it finally sunk in that he had been stupid. He apologized?"
Sakura nodded dumbly, a little stunned by Sai's perception.
"So he finally stopped being a coward and admitted his mistakes where it concerns you and Naruto."
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Wait. What do you know about this?"
"I merely pointed out the truth to him."
Groaning out loud, she dragged a hand down her face. Her life was filled with meddling friends. And then she tensed again when she realized what had just gone through her mind. 'Friends' was not a word she had thought of often in the past few years. But now, it looked like she might be using it more often.
"The books always say that it is best to come clean in such situations and admit one's mistakes. So that's what I told him."
Sakura just stared at Sai, not knowing what to say.
"The book also highlighted that while confessing one's mistakes was the first step to making reparation towards a broken friendship, it is also a very difficult step for most to take. Which was what I told him." Sai paused and then added consideringly, "He did not appreciate my advice much at all at that time."
She blinked as Sai's words sank in. Yes, it had not been easy for Sasuke to tell her everything. It had taken guts to confess, especially for someone as reticent and prideful as him. That was something she had not thought of in her panic earlier.
Sai's hand landed on her shoulder. "Sakura." His expression hardened briefly. "You've been treated unfairly before and it made you unhappy. I hope that Sasuke's confession eased that unhappiness a little."
"Sai…" she murmured as a gentle warmth washed over her at his words. "Thank you."
He smiled widely. "You're welcomed."
Even though Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto had aired their thoughts to each other, it did not mean that everything suddenly fell into place like the end of a fairy tale. In fact, the road to recovery was a slow and awkward one for all three of them.
It took a week after her conversation with Sasuke for Naruto to work up the nerve to ask her about it, which was strange because in the past, Naruto would have just pestered her for information until she whacked him on the head hard enough for him to see stars. He treated her differently now, as in he respected her personal space a little bit more. So it was not a bad thing.
Another one of the advantages of the change in Naruto's attitude towards her was that he'd only brought up the topic of meeting up with the others once. He'd backed off after seeing her expression darken instantly. She might be talking to Naruto again but that did not mean that she wanted to be close to any of the rest. Too many things had happened and too many years had passed. She had moved on from them to other things. Besides, the wall she had built around herself to ensure that she was never vulnerable again did not crumble when she and Naruto resumed their friendship.
Weeks after her conversation with Sasuke, she still thought about it, trying to understand his point. It was hard to put herself in his shoes, to understand the agony of having one's family massacred by one's own brother and then to realize that for years, the revenge had been directed at the wrong person. Sasuke must have been devastated to find out the truth after he had killed his brother. She was a medic but she did not claim to be knowledgeable in psychology. Still, it did not take an expert to realize that the sort of psychological trauma he'd experienced would have broken many apart. He could have carried on with that broken mindset but he had turned back before it was too late. Surely that meant something?
So what should her next move be? Should she even do anything in response to their conversation or should she just sit back and carry on like normal? Perhaps she should do something to let him know that she sort of understood and although she could not forgive and forget instantly, she would accept that shit happened and they all had to move beyond it.
Finally, one month after he'd apologized, she visited Sasuke.
If he was surprised by her visit, he did not show it. From what she could tell, he was his usual quiet, brooding self. He only glanced up briefly from his book when she entered his home, and then promptly resumed reading without a single greeting. She did not know what she'd expected, really. Maybe she'd expected him to just be a little friendlier after their conversation? It was probably too much to ask. She would be suspicious of an overly talkative Sasuke anyway.
Still, it would help her nerves if he would at least look at her.
He tensed slightly, his action telling her that he was not as unaffected as he'd made it out to be. When she stepped close, he glanced up at her, still saying nothing.
It was her turn to talk this time, and as much as she disliked to do this, she knew that she had to. She needed to do this, for closure, if nothing else. Then she can stop thinking about Sasuke and their conversation and move on with her life.
"Can we talk?"
His dark orbs assessed her thoughtfully. And then, "Hn."
Taking that as a yes, she took a deep breath. "That day, at the stone bridge, I truly set out to stop you. To kill you. But in the end, I couldn't do it."
Her brows rose. "You do?"
He nodded shortly. "You're not ruthless enough." He blinked once. "At least, not back then."
She shook her head. "I don't think I have it in me to kill you. Ever." Looking away to stare out of the window nearby, she muttered, "I've had feelings for you for too long."
"Had…" he echoed. He spoke so quietly that she was barely able to make out his words. "It is too late then."
She tensed, recalling the time he'd asked her out for dinner and then much later, in a roundabout way asked if she would volunteer like the rest to be the woman to bear his children. He had not been serious those times, surely? She groaned inwardly. All this suspicions and no real answers were driving her mad. She hated the feeling of being in the dark.
"What are you trying to say, Sasuke?" she asked bluntly.
He scowled darkly at her. "It's obvious, isn't it?"
She planted her hands on her hips. "There are times that you sound like you are… interested. In me."
His gaze did not waver as he said calmly, "Then I must be."
She stared at him, only now noticing the almost imperceptible strain around his eyes and the slight furrow between his brows. He was not as calm as he seemed, which suggested to her that this was important to him. This admission of his was not a careless one.
Baffled, she asked, "Why?"
He frowned, as if impatient with her. "Why what?"
"You've never shown any interest in me back then. Why now?" she asked warily.
"I was… distracted. By other things."
Meaning revenge, she added in her mind. "But after that you accepted Kaoru."
"Did I have a choice?"
She guessed not. Konoha had all but chosen a wife for him. Considering that he had always wanted to revive his clan, she supposed he could not reject the only option that would lead him to his objective. He was always practical if nothing else.
He did not meet her eyes when he added, "Besides, I've asked you out before and you refused me."
"So this… interest… you have in me just appeared when you came back?" she asked, needing to know. Needing to understand what was at play here. "Because this is all very sudden. How am I supposed to know what to believe?"
"I spent many years trying to break bonds, but the interest in you was always there," he admitted quietly, still not meeting her eyes. "When I realized that I'd almost killed you, it… scared me. And much later, I understood what it meant."
It took a few seconds for his admission to sink in. And when it did, she felt blood rush from her head. She'd expected him to deny it or at the very least, simply not answer her. But this? She wanted an answer and he had given her one. Did she believe it? And what if she did? Those days when she yearned for his attention were long gone. So where did this leave them?
"I…" she started, and then cleared her throat before continuing, "I don't know what to say," she finally croaked.
He made a sound, a cross between a grunt and a bitter bark of laughter. "On the journey back here, Naruto was so sure that all I needed to do was to, in his words, open up. I had my doubts but he was so certain that you still love me."
The silence which followed was awkward. She had been suspicious of his motives for so long she had no idea how to react to this latest surprise. It was difficult to imagine herself reciprocating his interest. Could she spend an entire day with him without remembering their unpleasant past? Could she hold his hand and not think that the very same hand had once tried to kill her? Could he listen to her talk about her work with poisonous weapons without thinking of the kunai she'd almost plunged into him? Could they walk past that bench near the gates without remembering how she'd been left there after her admission of love?
There were so many things in the past clouding up their future that she was not sure that either of them would be able to move past the obstacles.
For once, Sasuke was the one break the tense silence. "Why are you here?"
As in, surely she was not here so that Sasuke could confess his feelings for her, she thought. Of course not. She pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling more confused than she'd ever felt. How was she to handle this?
Then recalling his question and grasping it like a lifesaving distraction, she answered, "I thought it might be nice for you, me and Naruto to get together for a simple meal. Since you're still under house arrest, I was wondering if you want to do it here. I will bring the food. If you want to get together in the first place, that is."
His expression was unfathomable as he stared at her. And then, just as it was beginning to get on her already-frayed nerves, he nodded curtly.
"Come tomorrow at six."
Sakura flopped down on her couch and closed her eyes.
Thank goodness for Naruto.
Sakura did not know how many times she had that thought over the course of the meal which had ended just a couple of hours ago. Naruto had been ecstatic when she told him about it and had turned up at the hospital to meet her before they went together to Sasuke's place.
It had started a little awkwardly until Naruto, being his usual self, broke through the tension with his exuberance and non-stop chattering. It meant that she and Sasuke had spent most of the meal in silence, listening to their blond friend. It was just as well, because she had found herself unable to meet his eyes without thinking about the conversation they had yesterday. She still had no idea what she should do about what Sasuke had told her.
Maybe she did not need to do anything at all. The session of soul-searching she'd done yesterday when she got home told her that she was probably not as indifferent to Sasuke as she'd thought. Still, she had to admit that idea of being more than just friends with him scared her, especially since she did not know if she still loved him. A few years ago, when Sasuke had been a complete bastard, she would have said no. Now, with Sasuke being more open and less cold, she could almost feel her old feelings resurfacing. It was possible that if she let herself, one of the dreams she'd had when she was young could come true. Or it could be destroyed for good, if things did not work out. She had never been given the opportunity to find out before but now the opportunity was there for her to take should she wished to.
However, the years of secluding her emotions made it difficult for her to jump into the situation with both feet. She knew that it was her turn to make a move now, because Sasuke had already made the initial overture. Just because she knew that did not mean that she knew what the next step should be, though.
She sank in deeper into her couch, frowning in thought. Earlier tonight, each time her eyes had met Sasuke's, she had felt the pressure of his gaze pressing her for an answer even though no words of personal nature had been uttered.
What should her answer be? Ignore his declaration of interest or risk her heart by giving it a chance? The safe option would be the former. It was the approach she had taken for everything over the past few years. She had held herself away from everyone and everything and it had kept her safe.
But it was also very lonely.
Maybe it was time to make a change. She was stronger this time round. If anything went wrong, she would simply deal with it. It would not be the end of the world if things did not work out. She still had her work, Sai and now Naruto with her.
She stood up resolutely.
Knowing that she had to do this before she lost her nerve, she left her house and headed straight for Sasuke's place. When she reached, she could see Sai amongst the ANBU guards. He must be working the night shift because she had not seen him there earlier. It occurred to her that what she was about to do would mean the end of the fledgling relationship between them. She would have to talk to him after she had spoken to Sasuke. Whatever the outcome might be, it would not be fair to lead Sai on or make him wait.
"Sakura," he greeted.
"Can we talk later?" she asked. "After your shift?"
Turning away, she pressed her palm against the security panel and then walked in. Sasuke must have sensed her, because the second she entered his living room, he came out from his bedroom. At the sight of his sleep-ruffled figure, she quickly glanced at her watch to find that it was already past midnight. Oops.
"Sakura?" He looked puzzled. "Is something wrong?"
"Yesterday. Do you still mean what you said?" she asked abruptly, needing to get this out in the open as quickly as she could.
All signs of sleep vanished off his face. "Yes."
"Then… No, it's not too late."
"You will accept me then," he said in a wary tone.
She shook her head, eliciting a sigh of impatience from him.
"Then what is it, Sakura?" he bit out.
"It's been a long time since I was so in love with you that it blinded me to everything else." Her voice softened as she added, "It's not like that anymore. I don't love you like that anymore."
His features grew strained. "Let me get back to sleep. If that's all-"
"No wait," she interjected. "All I'm trying to say is that I would like to start over."
Caution was painted all over his face.
She took a deep breath for courage. "I was thinking that maybe we can see each other for a while? As friends. We were never really friends-"
"You always said that we were friends," he interjected bluntly.
She smiled regretfully. "I was twelve and I thought myself in love with you and any link with you is good. I don't think I knew you that well then. At least, not the real you. And I'm pretty sure you don't know the person I am now."
He frowned thoughtfully and it made her wonder what he was thinking.
"I'm not promising anything, Sasuke. But if you're interested in anything more than friendship, I think we should start by being friends first and then see where it leads. I think we both need to get to know each other before committing to something as serious as a relationship."
"And what if it leads to something more?" he asked.
She blinked in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I will not be able to take you out."
Oh. A pause followed before she offered, "I can come here."
He glanced away from her. "It is unlikely that I would be pardoned. You're certain that you willing to sacrifice so much?" he asked with a hint of bitterness. "You will not be expecting dates to fancy places?"
"Not with you, no," she replied honestly, feeling a little sorry for his plight.
"Only with people like Sai, then," he muttered under his breath.
Understanding his concern, she assured him, "I'll talk to Sai after this. Explain the situation to him."
"And what situation might that be?" he asked shortly.
Getting just a little irritated by his tone, she shot back, "Why don't you tell me? Then I'll decide if I agree with your assessment."
He studied her for a long moment before he spoke in a low voice. "You will tell Sai to back off. You will tell him that you will no longer be going out on dates or indulge in any kind of physical intimacies with him."
Her jaw dropped. "W-What do you mean by intimacies?"
Sasuke jerked his gaze away from her and his expression set into stubborn lines. There were faint slashes of pink against his cheeks which betrayed his discomfiture. The sight was such an unexpected one that she could only gape at him for a considerable moment. It was only after a long while that it struck her.
Watching him intently for his reaction, she asked, "Naruto told you about Sai and me kissing outside my place, didn't he?"
An irritable grunt was his only reaction.
She almost smiled. His jealousy was almost sweet, really. Because nothing could convince her that his sulking was the result of anything else. Maybe with Sasuke being a little more open than he had been before, things between them had a chance of working. But first things first. Sasuke had to understand that she would no longer treat his words like they were sacred.
So she said, "I won't be telling Sai the things you've just demanded."
His eyes narrowed.
"Try to understand, Sasuke. I might be giving us a chance, but that doesn't mean that I will forget my relationship with others. There is no need to talk like that to Sai. Besides, he had not indicated that he was serious about our relationship." She doubted that he was.
"So, what do you think? Do you think we can try it and see how it goes?"
The look he gave her was a mix of petulance and resignation. "Fine. I accept."
A weight seemed to lift off her chest. She had not realized just how much she wanted him to agree with this. It was obviously more important to her than she'd thought. It made her wonder if she was truly as casual this entire friendship thing as she'd made it out to be. But whatever it was, she knew deep inside that the only way they could get past their differences was to start over right from the beginning.
She only hoped that she would not get irreparably hurt by it.
For the next few months, Sakura visited Sasuke regularly. In fact, given how cold and distant she had been to others before all this, many people were beginning to speculate. Well, let them. She no longer cared about the gossips, and she definitely did not allow them to affect her the way they had all those years ago.
This entire process of getting to know each other was not easy for either her or Sasuke. He was often sullen and broody, while she frequently lapsed into her defensive mode of stonewalling him when it looked like she was getting vulnerable. When they were not glaring at each other in a frigid silence, they debated heatedly over one topic or another, but mutually keeping away from volatile issues like the Uchiha clan and Sai. Sakura learnt that Sasuke would occasionally refer to things relating to his family in a casual way but he never wanted to discuss it at length. And she knew that Sasuke finally realized that she would not tolerate any snide remarks about Sai, who had eventually confirmed that he'd asked her out because he wanted to experience 'dating' with someone he liked and trusted.
The transition from friendship to something more eventually happened one long year after his confession.
They were in the kitchen doing dishes side by side. And then like some cliché movie, they both reached down for the same sudsy bowl and their fingers tangled. A second later, their eyes met and of course it followed that their lips would be next. However, unlike her childhood dream of their perfect first kiss, the meeting of their lips was a clumsy one, ending with the bowl slipping off their entwined fingers to land on the floor with a jarring crash and breaking into a thousand pieces. Whereupon they had both jumped back and looked at everything but at each other.
The week following that event was an awkward one. She did not stop her daily visits to his house because by then, much as it disturbed her to admit it, she was addicted to his company. She tried to act as casual as possible but that was not to be, because it was impossible to ignore those heated looks Sasuke kept sending her way when he thought she was not looking.
Their second kiss was less clumsy and no dishes were broken in the process.
It was, however, interrupted by Naruto.
Their blond friend stared in disbelief, something which baffled Sakura because really, did Naruto not wonder why she was visiting Sasuke so often over the past year? Sasuke did not find the interruption that amusing and promptly punched the blond, much to Sakura's dismay. Thankfully, Naruto was as resilient as ever and managed to bounce back up without her help. Grinning despite his bruised jaw, Naruto congratulated them. All he wanted was for all his friends to be happy.
Happy was definitely an accurate description of her feelings.
'In love' would be another way to describe it.
This time, she knew that her feeling for Sasuke was completely different from the puppy love she had felt for him in her childhood. What she felt for him now was stronger, born from understanding and accepting both his strengths and flaws. This was the real deal and at times, when she thought about it, it frightened the hell out of her.
Sasuke obviously felt the same way because on occasion, he would freak out and withdraw. After so many years of distancing himself from others and breaking bonds, forming such a strong connection with another must worry him. It was not hard to understand that he feared putting himself at risk because face it, it was something that she was familiar with as well.
She supposed it did not help that Sasuke felt that she was just 'settling' for him. According to him, she would never get that perfect dream of a relationship she'd always hankered for. And she always responded by telling him that nothing was perfect and it was the imperfections that made things interesting. Sasuke usually gave her an odd look when she answered that way, as if he did not know whether to be pleased that she wanted to be with him despite everything or be offended that he was deemed an imperfection. It did not matter either way to her, so she did not bother to clarify further.
Still, even with her acceptance of Sasuke's terms of arrest, sometimes she wished that she could share some of the things she experienced outside his house with him. She wished that they could visit the hotspring resort she'd accidentally found when returning from a medical conference in Earth Country. She wished that she could share the sunset from the top of the Hokage Mountain with him. And a few other things. But she knew that it was not meant to be. Sasuke had been incarcerated for only a little more than two years, hardly enough of a punishment for the murder of two council members. If the terms of his arrest were to be loosened, it would not be for another ten years or so at the very least.
So they had to make do in the meantime. But which couple did not have to do that? Their relationship might be a little different from the norm but it seemed to her that they were managing fine despite the occasional hiccups.
Then, a little less than two years after Naruto had caught them kissing, Sakura found a present in her medic pouch. She was in the hospital at that time, training a batch of medics to utilize a new emergency repair technique. When she reached in for the case holding her scalpels, her fingers made contact with a velvety surface. A moment later, she found herself staring at a jeweler's box amidst the excited shrieks from the medical trainees.
She did not open the box. Instead, she carried on with the training session until it was completed. Only then did she head for Sasuke's place.
Her arrival was expected, as she was greeted by the scent of food and candles. She stood stock still as she took in the sight of Sasuke walking towards her, an expression of grim determination painted over his features. He held something in his hand, but she could not make out what it was.
Silently, she extended a hand to display the jeweler's box sitting on her palm.
His eyes slid to it once and then returned to her face. "Marry me."
A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. "You're supposed to ask. Not demand. Or leave it in my pouch for me to find in the middle of a lecture."
There was a brief flash of uncertainty in his expression before he masked it. Then he placed what he held into her free hand wordlessly. She looked down to find that it was… a folded fan? She flipped it open and was greeted by the red and white symbol of the Uchiha clan.
"You hold the clan's future in your hands," Sasuke said quietly.
Her throat constricted at the hint of sorrow mingled with the hope in Sasuke's voice. "Sasuke…"
His hands covered both of hers, taking care not to make her drop the fan or the velvet box. "Marry me, Sakura. Please."
As corny as it was, her eyes misted. "Yes, I will."
He stared at her for a long while, and then wrapped his arms around her. "Thank you," he murmured against her hair.
And this time, he did not knock her out and leave her on the bench. Instead, he held on tight to her as if he would never let go again, making her feel as if she was the happiest person in the world right then. She knew that the life they shared would have its ups and downs but they would see it through together.
No, this was not a perfect dream.
It was better.
It was real.
A/N: This marks the end of my first Sasu/Saku fanfic. It was surprisingly nice to write, so I really enjoyed writing it. I hope you've enjoyed reading it at least as much. As always, please review if you could. Thanks!