So cold, but so sweet—
Never let me go.
The impact of Sasuke's return to Konoha is one that does not correlate with the damage he had conducted.
In fact, you could say, the response to his retrieval was almost lacking. The perfect image of Sasuke arriving back in the gates of Konoha had Naruto carrying the Uchiha on one of his shoulders and dragging him along, a cheerful smile on his face that would surely stretch his whiskered cheeks. His cerulean eyes would be alive and his shouts would be heard through the village. The sunshine would follow behind them and everything would be bliss.
This was not to say that this image didn't occur, because it did. Perhaps it was how it was received. Naruto was as happy as ever—of course he was, how could he be anything different?—yet the second Sasuke was seen, his onyx eyes and stygian hair that was recognised to plague dreams and haunt nightmares, an eerie calm settled over the air.
Yes, he was Uchiha Sasuke, and well... yes, he was a S-ranked assassin that hadbeen affliated with the Akatsuki, and yes, he alsohad destroyed half of Konoha before switching sides at the last second, but the villagers looked, and they moved on.
How he had hurt them, he supposed, numbed everything else. Yet, he never thought that would apply to the closest of people.
The Hokage was the first person he saw after the beaming blonde of Uzumaki Naruto.
Tsunade's register was tired, and though her tower stood high and mighty, the majority of the village had been downed and every time she looked out of the wide windows of her office, she would only see the reconstruction of so many buildings. The remnants of the ashes and the bloodshed, she thought, was better to pretend wasn't there.
Her honey orbs looked upon the Uchiha exasperatedly, as if she didn't have the time for this, which she didn't. However, five years ago, they did. They had all the time for Uchiha Sasuke.
They didn't anymore, it seemed.
She waved her hand in dismissal and stated that inquiring would beginning tomorrow, though she doubted there would be little punishment other than a long-term probation. Despite Sasuke's original destruction of the village, his sudden betrayal of Uchiha Madara and his associates proved to be significant and salvaged the last ounces of the village's worth.
As soon as this was said, Tsunade turned back to her daily paperwork, her only differing action being the swipe of the sake bottle.
Being the hopeful boy he was, Naruto planned a collective outing of the old Team 7 to catch the time they had lost (though they could never really get that back, never ever) and of course, the situation was to be the training grounds.
Naruto arrived first, awaiting Sasuke's return from his trail, and said boy came punctually second. He leant against the trunk of the tree and said nothing. For once, the duo was swept into silence. Surprisingly, Kakashi was third, not at all mimicking his usual lateness. However, nothing at all was still said, until Sakura appeared at the scene from the hospital a little more than thirty minutes later, a basket containing the picnic supplies in her left hand.
She gave nothing more but a smile and a 'Sasuke,' an address that he thought was as dull as the Hokage's. He let himself run his eyes over Sakura, noting how she had matured, but at the same time kept the same natural appeal and innocence. Nonetheless, the sight of her figure having thinned spiked wonder. She looked worn down, too, the blue circles visible beneath her emerald eyes.
The four of them sat down on the blanket laid by Sakura and an hour was spent with short conversations, calculating glances and coughs to hide the discomfort. In the end, Kakashi excused himself for mission preparation and Naruto had stormed off to the ramen stand once again, claiming that he had to meet up with Hinata. In all honesty, Team 7 wasn't ready to reunite.
Sakura was left with Sasuke to pack up all of the resources that she had brought single-handedly, and Sasuke did not lift a finger to help. It wasn't because he didn't wan to, it was because he wasn't sure he would want the reaction of Sakura if he had tried. He was unsure of everything now. Before, he had expected open arms and cheery smiles since it was Naruto and Sakura, and they would always love him, wouldn't they?
After her basket was assorted again, she stood up, turning to lock eyes with the boy who had given her chest the raging burn for the past sixty minutes. She wanted to ask him why he had chosen to resort to Konoha again after so many years of defection, but she bit her lip and held back the words. She didn't want to hear an answer that would make her believe in him again.
So she bowed slightly, the tears building in her eyes as she came to the resolution that nothing might quite be the same again, but they only toppled over when she turned her back on him, realising that she would not try to make it the same again.
She was at loss.
It turned out that Kakashi wasn't going on a mission at all.
This was confirmed when Sasuke find him roaming through the village, no doubt searching for another collection to his books. Usually, the Uchiha was not the one to initiate conversation, but he was curious about his ex-sensei.
He merely followed him through the winding roads, observing him from behind until he decided to speak up. His voice resonated as he did. "Kakashi."
The ANBU leader turned around, placing his hand that held his book onto his side. His eyes crinkled and he smiled beneath his mask. Whether it was a forced smile or not, Sasuke would have never been able to tell.
"Hello, Sasuke." His tone was friendly; carefully chosen.
Sasuke smirked as he looked at the man. He had barely changed, and how they exchanged words were still at the quiet, acceptant calm. Just like the old days, only except it wasn't. "It's—" he struggled with his words, "—interesting to see you again."
Kakashi merely nodded. "Indeed."
The smirk slowly morphed into a frown. Sasuke's glance at the one-eye Sharingan welder took a more judgmental edge, and soon, he found himself questioning.
"Are you... disappointed in me?"
(Because I let you down. I let you down, didn't I? I was your golden student.)
Kakashi's expression softened and he couldn't help but to wonder, was this really the Uchiha Sasuke who had tried to kill his own students so mercilessly? He remembered the horror that had split his stomach into two when he saw the spinning Mangekyou not long ago, yet, he couldn't find the heart to hate Sasuke. He had spent so long building him up that he was hard to even imagine knocking him down.
"Sasuke—" he murmured, walking towards the normally unreadable but now suddenly very vulnerable boy, "—you came back... didn't you?" Kakashi ruffled his hair fondly, his chest filling as if it were whole again.
(Of course not. Of course not. I would always believe in you. You could never let me down.)
And Sasuke didn't need his (not ex-, because he always will be, deep down) sensei to pull down his mask to know that he was smiling tenderly.
Naruto knew something had changed when Sasuke finally accepted to go to the ramen stand with him.
He was so overjoyed and excited that he failed to notice Sasuke's minuscule smile as he watched the blonde gobble down bowl after bowl of noodles.
"It's so nice to have you here again, teme," Naruto breathed out after completing five bowls. He turned his ocean eyes onto the Uchiha. "I mean it."
Sasuke looked away. "Dobe," he muttered flatly, but his eyes glimmered in that beautiful midnight shine.
Naruto grinned and returned to another bowl, continuing to speak through eating. "You know... I had my doubts. I had my doubts, when you came—" he stopped, staring into the distance. Sasuke shifted uncomfortably. "—when you invaded Konoha. But... I never thought for a second that you would one hundred percent go ahead with it. And I'm glad you didn't. Really. I'm glad you didn't."
Sasuke shrugged, obviously distressed by Naruto's overloading of emotion, but he didn't make any effort to yield him. "What else would I have done?" Now that he thought about it, he didn't want to picture what would've happened if he had done something different. He only realised how much Konoha was his home, despite all of the Uchiha clan controversy, when he was back in it. Itachi would've wanted him to come back, anyway. At that, he closed his eyes peacefully.
"You could've killed us," Naruto answered bluntly while sucking up a piece of noodle, and the bold statement was one that contrasted starkly against the insincere motion of eating.
Sasuke rolled his eyes, hitting Naruto smoothly across the top of his head, causing the Uzumaki to topple over his chair and lose his bowl, at which he yelped. "Don't be stupid."
(I would never have killed you.)
The answer seemed to suffice for Sasuke's rudeness, and Naruto's grin widened as he got up, dusting off his clothing. "Well, I think I'm about done, then."
Sasuke motioned for Naruto to go ahead, and it was only when the blonde decided to look over his shoulder did he realise that the perhaps not-so-inconsiderate Uchiha had paid for everything, even when he hadn't had one thing to eat.
Even though he didn't want to admit it, Sasuke knew he was trying to garner Team 7's acceptance again.
He had little doubt that it would take years to receive that from the rest of the village, but that wasn't the point of significance at the moment. He would never confess that he needed people in his life because he had spent years creating the solitude image of a fated avenger who didn't need anyone, didn't want anyone—but he did. He did before, he did now, he always would.
Without Team 7, he thought, would be a life without family. He had believed he knew what a life without family was ever since the massacre, and indeed, he did. Though that had bruised him indefinitely, when he had been given the second chance of the green eyes that never seemed to leave his mind, the blonde hair that was as bright as sunshine and the hidden smile beneath the mask, he knew he wouldn't forgive himself if he had lost it.
But he did, for a while, anyway. And undoubtedly, it had been more painful than the loss of his actual family, because he knew that the loss of that was beyond his hands. The loss of Team 7, on the other hand, had been caused by his own hands.
Yet... as tragic as the life of Uchiha Sasuke seemed to be, he was given the third chance that made his days all the worthwhile. For whatever reason he deserved that third chance, he didn't know, but he would never let it go. He would not even choose to have his real family back now he had Team 7. Not that he didn't love his father, mother and brother to the Heavens, it was just the fact that he had accepted they were gone, just as he had accepted he would never desire for the pink, orange and green to ever fade from his life.
And as he walked up the one hill that Team 7 had spent together as one under the deep night sky, he knew he had to confront the one person that meant to him the most.
There she was, with the sparkle of the thousands of stars that could only reflect the brilliance of her eyes.
He knew that she was aware of his presence, but that didn't make him hold back from staring at her from behind, watching how the night sky lit up her face in different colours, and how she smiled at certain seconds.
She took a few minutes to speak to him, and he revelled in the decreased venom of her voice. Now, the tone of it seemed to lull him into sleep, its sweetness soothing his distress. "Sasuke? I know you're there."
He came from the shadows and stared intently at her. She almost looked away from the intensity of his eyes and cursed inwardly at how she was still drawn to him, after all these years, after all the disappointments, after all the anguish. It was as if she was in a forcefield. As much as she tried to repel away from him, his presence constricted her and compelled her towards him, bringing her in.
"You found me," she whispered, and she said it as if she had been hiding. Had she? Maybe she was, unconsciously. Sakura didn't exactly want to see Sasuke, and at the same time, she did want to. She was afraid and anticipative. He could put her on a high with the most subtle of actions but he could drag her back down low with the smallest of words. She was fragility in his hands; sand escaping through fingers, crystal shards shattering apart, feathers being melted by fire.
His eyes didn't leave her face. His words were pure truth as they rolled from his tongue. "I looked for you."
(I spent hours searching for you by chakra, just so you know. I thought I had lost you when I couldn't find you, because I believed it meant that I wasn't supposed to find you. But then I did, like a shooting star in the sky, like a glimmer of light, like a spark of ignition. Nobody else's chakra is as familiar as yours... or as warm.)
She smiled and then he realised her eyes were cloudy. Nobody, he had thought, looked as strikingly wonderful as Sakura did when they were sad. Instead of dimming her beauty, her tears would illuminate her face and make her eyes even more clear, and when they flickered down her cheeks, you could see how much they traced her gentle complexion, how much the perfection of her would fit the imperfection of tragedy.
Her tears wouldn't just make you realise how much you meant to her. They would make you realise how much she meant to you... how much you would want to save her, just to make her happy again.
He frowned, stepping forward, as if to reach to grasp her face. "Don't cry."
(But do cry, if you want to—cry it all out, do it. Do it, as long as they're my tears. As long as they're my diamonds.)
She blinked away the tears and laughed weakly. "I won't. It annoys you, doesn't it?"
He scoffed. She was so naive, too selfless, wanting to please others. He stared her down until she looked away from him in embarrassment, and he couldn't help but to smirk at his effect. He cleared his throat to gain her attention again, and when he did, he ordered with a gruff voice: "lay down."
Sakura became perplexed but obeyed, nonetheless, and waited until Sasuke performed his own action. She heard his impending steps and felt him walk on the grass near her, and he settled down beside her, the both of them laying side by side, gazing to the night sky. She felt like he had dropped her into liquid fire because his heat spread across to her, making their close proximity more apparent. She refrained from turning onto her side and just looking at him for the rest of the night.
"Do you remember?" He murmured silkily, the beginning words tracing her memories back to the night he had defected, because she had asked the same question. Nevertheless, she knew what he was asking about.
She nodded her head. "Of course."
(How could I forget the first night we spent together as a team? Everything felt picture-perfect, worthy of a Kodak moment.)
From here, Sasuke fought with his words, and the very action made Sakura smile, because he knew he was trying, he was trying so hard just to get them out, just to make her see. He needed her to see.
"I—" he paused, unsure how to phrase it. "—I... I thought... if I had to choose one moment of my... past, I would choose that moment. I would freeze it and I... Sakura, I would—god, I would relive it."
(I would. Trust me. I would. I would.)
He looked towards her, and once again, tears were pooling in her eyes. The grin on her face stretched from side to side and he wanted nothing more but to reach over and have her in his arms. However, he wasn't finished.
"Sakura..." he continued, barely audible, even through the silence of the night, "...do you think... we can ever... return to that?"
(Please. Please. Please. Say yes. Please. Please.)
The pain of her throbbing heart was overwhelmed by the immense hope she was engulfed by, and she understood, she really did. On the inside, Uchiha Sasuke was just that thirteen-year-old boy who had lost everything and had everything, all at the same time. He was just a boy who was alone and lost and confused. He was a boy who needed them—who couldn't live without them.
Finally, she turned onto her side, staring at him, letting the black pools absorb her. "Sasuke, would you—if you could—take everything back to how it was?" The question was very simple. But the answer was very complex. Life-determining, decision-making, heart-breaking.
It took him a while to reply, but she could have waited for years for the reply, as long as she heard it. "...Y-Yeah. Yeah. I think I would."
(Just give me a chance. Another one. I'll keep on trying, I promise you, I'll get there.)
She reached for his hand and encased it in hers. "I know you would," she replied reassuringly, "and that's all that matters. As long as you believe."
(As long as you believe in yourself. As long as you believe in us. As long as you believe in happy endings. I know you haven't always.)
A particular passion flashed through his eyes, and the obsidian of it smothered. "Do you believe?"
Then she laughed full-heartedly, batting his hand with her other hand, as if it were a joke. She brushed back his locks of hair and leant forward to kiss his forehead, like a mother would to a son, but it was so different. She was in love with him. So, so, in love with him. Still. She wouldn't have let herself fall again without knowing he would catch her, and she knew damn well now that he would.
"You're so stupid," she giggled, the tears fogging her voice, "so, so stupid, Sasuke-kun. Of course I do. I love you! Of course I do."
The confession seemed to escape through her lips, but it meant the world to him, no matter how it came. He gathered her into her strong hold and his entire being felt whole. The unbelievable feeling of mutuality sped through him and for once in many years, he felt at peace.
(He felt like he was wanted. He felt like he was loved.)
He brought her face towards him to engage her into a searing kiss that sizzled into the air like a firework. His kiss was harsh, demanding and passionate and her response was soft, loving and supportive. Together they moulded together into completion.
Three to zero: Kakashi, Naruto and Sakura all believed in him.
That's all he needed.
The next encounter Team 7 had together was at the Valley of the End, where they sat at the edge of the cliff adjacent to the towering waterfall.
The location was a reminder of where everything had gone wrong, but at the same time, the strength they had to get back to harmony again. From the Valley of the End they could see the panorama of Konoha in front of them, as well as the Forest of Death, where many of their events as a team had been. Blissfully they sat, Sasuke feasting on his tomatoes, Naruto finishing off ramen, Sakura laughing and Kakashi admiring.
Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura may have been eighteen and Kakashi may have been getting old, but Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura felt thirteen at that very moment and Kakashi was young again.
Renewed, Team 7 shone with the incandescent radiance that was enough to rekindle the rest of the ninja world with happiness.
...To be honest, I have utterly no idea where this came from, but wherever it did, I adore this. I actually really am proud with this. Though I always try to write Team 7 I end up incorporating Sasuke/Sakura, however in the end I truly adore what Team 7 makes together, they're just so pure. This was one of the brightest pieces I've written in a while since most of my works have been angst-ridden, yet I should write more of these. They make me happy.
This was dedicated to Annie Sparklecakes and Neon Genesis. These two are amazing writers and my combined inspiration from them were an integral part of why I wrote this story. Annie is brilliant at portraying Team 7 and Becca has always had a talent at soft angst and sweet revival.
Reviews are very much appreciated.
P.S. The lyrics in italics at the beginning are from Never Let Me Go by Florence + the Machine.