don't touch my hand and call it love
you said it was over, and then cried and cried; you were gone before i said goodbye.

13.


In Sakura's perfect life, everything would be normal. Everything would be routine.

She's thought about it so many times that she knows exactly what she wants. It's nothing grand; she'll go to work, have lunch with Naruto, tea with Ino, spar with Sai, go on missions with Kakashi—things that seem so boring have, in her chaotic and unpredictable life, become a luxury.

(And in her perfect life, Sasuke would come home, and he would be okay. Sakura wouldn't prefer him to have never left at all, because she would have never grown otherwise. She would have been twelve for the rest of her life, and he would've been angry and broken and never looked at her twice. Sakura does not hate that Sasuke left—but she hates that his return is not the one she wanted.)

In Sakura's perfect life, Sasuke would be happy.

She doesn't care if he loves her or if they get married or if they just remain as distant teammates—none of that matters, because she's learned to find her own happiness.

But the thing that makes Sakura's perfect life perfect, is the fact that Sasuke is happy.

If he is not happy, then her life is not perfect.

Sakura is abruptly woken up with a bucket of water to her face.

Someone grabs her hair and yanks so he can get a better look at her face. "Who's this?"

"No clue. Never seen her before. A chuunin, maybe?"

Chuunin my ass, she thinks bitterly, although she can't deny that she's grateful for being forced to dye her hair. The pink would have given her away immediately.

"Idiot." The first man whacks the second over the top of the head. "Why would a chuunin be with the Uchiha Sasuke? And anyway, why the hell is Uchiha Sasuke affiliated with Konoha again?"

"I-I don't know! Why are you asking me?"

"Because you're one of the people who's responsible for gathering information, you idiot!"

Well, Sakura thinks, at least they're disorganized. They'll be easier to destroy later.

The first shinobi turns to her again, and without hesitation, slaps her across the face. Sakura gapes in pure shock—she hasn't even said anything yet.

"Who are you?" he demands. "What are you doing here?"

She's tied to a chair, and upon some struggling, she realizes that there are also chakra seals on her binds. "So persistent," she bites out. "At least take me to dinner first."

The shinobi scowls, and hits her again. Sakura coughs, spitting out blood. "Don't be difficult. We'd rather you not be difficult."

"Who are you guys?" she demands. "Why are you planning to attack Konoha? You were once a shinobi there too." This shinobi is old, she thinks—Kakashi's age, maybe. Around his arm is his Konoha hitai-ate, thoroughly scratched out.

He scowls. "Do you think you're really in the position to be asking me questions?" He turns to the second shinobi, and says, "Go see what the progress on Uchiha Sasuke is."

Sakura laughs as the second man scurries out of the room—partially because she's exhausted and delirious, she's sure, because at the same moment, icy fear also grips her heart so hard that she finds it difficult to breathe. "You're never going to get anything out of Sasuke-kun."

"Sasuke-kun? Sasuke-kun? What is he, your boyfriend?"

"Are you jealous?" she asks—and he kicks her, right in the gut, hard enough for her chair to topple over onto its side. Sakura's head bashes against the hard ground, and for a moment, she sees stars.

"Noisy bitch," he mutters, before stalking out of the room.

Now, on top of being drained with chakra and having an injured leg, Sakura is also sore in other places, with a very painful headache. It takes her a moment to gather herself together, and when she does, she takes a deep breath, trying to ignore the painful throbbing in her head. There are goosebumps on her skin, and the air she's breathing in is damp—they're underground. Most likely in the base that's underneath the village.

Another deep breath. Okay. She can do this.

"What's the status?" he hears the man bark to someone else outside of the room.

"As expected of Uchiha Sasuke. He hasn't said a word."

Have they been torturing Sasuke? Have they been treating him the same way they've been treating her? At this thought, Sakura struggles against her bonds again. Chakra seals be damned—she's going to break free of these, even if it's the last thing she does.

"Should I kill the girl, sir?"

"Not yet. She can't possibly just be a nobody if she's with Uchiha. See if you can get anything out of her."

Someone enters the room, but it's not the same person as before. Sakura glares up at him with as much poison as she can muster, and he kneels down, inspecting her face closely. "Your eyes are very green," he murmurs, holding her chin to keep her steady. "Where have I seen those eyes before?" He thinks for a moment more, before picking her up and setting her chair straight. He doesn't look as tough as the first shinobi, but his expression is more guarded, his eyes more calculating. As a kunoichi, it did not take Sakura long to learn that it is not those with trained bodies that are frightening, but those with trained minds.

He places his hands on his hips, tutting. "Well," he says, "you can answer the questions I have for you, and then I can kill you quickly—what is what I prefer, because then my clothes won't be stained with your blood. Or," he pauses for dramatic effect, "I can slowly pull every single answer out of you. Which would you prefer?"

"Go die in a hole," Sakura spits out.

He sighs and pulls a senbon out of his pouch, stepping close and kneeling in front of her. His eyes are grey and speckled, and under different circumstances, Sakura would think that they're beautiful.

"Well then," he says softly, holding up his senbon and looking thoughtfully at it, "how should I make you hurt?"

Sasuke spends what feels like an eternity in silence before he hears the screams.

They're not loud because she's so far away, but he can clearly distinguish her voice—it's Sakura. It's Sakura's screams.

There are two shinobi in the room with him, but after their initial failed attempt to crack him open, they let him be. Right now, they're keeping watch—but they're probably chuunin, jounin at most. If Sasuke really tried, escaping shouldn't be difficult—but easy or not, he and Sakura are outnumbered, and Sakura in no condition to fight. The best thing to do right now is just wait for reinforcements to come.

He can't help but smirk. If they think they're going to get anything out of Sakura, they're wrong.

(But her screams still rub on him the wrong way—it reminds him of the night she screamed at him, begged him to stay, cried her throat hoarse for him—)

They just have to wait this out. Sasuke wonders if he's going to spend the next several hours listening to agony being engraved in Sakura's very bones. He closes his eyes and focuses on keeping his mind blank; a trick he picked up during his days with Orochimaru. He does his best to believe that Sakura would not want to be saved—she is not the damsel in distress, she does not need Sasuke's help to get out of her situation.

It's hard, he thinks. To know the person you care about is hurting, and not being able to do anything about it.

(Is this how she felt every night since he left?)

"Who is she?" one of the shinobi asks. "Just out of curiosity." Sasuke opens his eyes and glares at him. He hasn't said a word since they brought him here, and he doesn't intend to start. "Not for interrogation purposes"—and here, the man smirks a little—"you've just been on edge ever since her screaming started."

Sasuke doesn't realize that he's completely tensed up. He forces himself to uncurl his fists and take a slow, deep breath.

"If you tell us what we want to know, we'll stop torturing her."

And then they'd kill her.

"You know, when you refused to join our forces, I thought it was because you wanted to do things your own way. Why are you getting in our way now? We have the same goal."

At this, all thoughts of Sakura disappear—he even stops noticing her cries of agony. "What?"

"Oh, he speaks!"

"What are you talking about," he demands, his throat dry.

"What are you talking about?" The shinobi swaggers forward, hands on his hips. "A long time ago, we asked you to join us since we're aiming for the same thing. You said you didn't want our help, and you'd finish the job before we'd even be able to start. What happened to that?"

This is something he doesn't remember—Sasuke has never even had an inkling of something like this.

"What goal?" he snarls. "What was I trying to do?"

The shinobi crouches down and stares at Sasuke with confusion. "What happened to you?" he asks, voice low. "Where did all of your hatred go?" He stands up again and circles around Sasuke slowly. "The last time I saw you, you had the most beautiful hatred burning in your eyes." He leans down over Sasuke's shoulder, his breath hot and disgusting against his cheek. "Hatred against, Konoha, that is."

Hatred against Konoha? What was he talking about?

"The look on your face…" Realization dawns on the shinobi. "You really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" He quickly rushes out of the room, dragging the other shinobi with him.

Sasuke hears them speaking in low voices just outside. "Does he suffer from memory loss? Is that why he's with Konoha again—because he has no idea what's happened?"

What happened? What happened that Sasuke doesn't remember? What has Konoha done?

…Was it Konoha that wiped his memory?

"Stop it, you're going to kill her before you even get anything out of her."

"She's not budging anyway."

Sakura's face is soaked with tears, although she doesn't consciously remember crying. It's just a response her body had to the pain.

(She thinks back to a long time ago, when Sai once told her that Root members actually had to go through interrogation training. When she asked him what interrogation training was, he had said that they were given a piece of information, and had to survive twenty-four hours of torture without giving away what they were told. She thought it was horrible at the time, but now she wishes she went through it too—so she'd know how to deal with this better than just unconsciously crying.)

How long has it been? One hour? Two? Sakura isn't sure—every passing moment feels like an eternity. Her head is throbbing, and everything hurts—she can't distinguish one injury from another. One of her eyes are swollen; she can't see past her eyelid.

What about Sasuke? What have they done to him?

She tries to pull free of her bonds. She's not sure if her arms even move.

It takes Sakura several moments to realize that when the chains fall from her arms and legs, it's not because she was strong enough to break free—it's because she's being untied. Two shinobi yank her to her feet—she takes one step, and her knees give out from under her. If the two weren't holding her steady, she would have crashed to the ground.

"Where are you taking me?" she asks, her voice no louder than a whisper. If they hear her, they don't show it. They bring her down the tunnel, lit by torches dug into the dirt walls, into another room.

"Here's your girlfriend, Uchiha." She's tossed to the ground, and she lies in a heap, staring in some direction, but not with Sasuke in her line of sight. She doesn't even have the energy to get up. "Tell us how many more of you there are out there, and you won't end up in the same state as her." Silence. "Okay, then how about this…" She's yanked up by her hair, and she feels the coldness of a blade pressing against her throat, slicing her skin and already drawing blood. "Tell us and we won't kill her."

Silence again, and Sakura's blood runs cold, but then: "None. No one else is coming—we were just dispatched on a recon mission. We weren't prepared for an ambush like this."

The shinobi drops her head, and when a tone of distaste, says, "Idiot. That's what you two kept silent for?"

They would've killed them either way. And this way, they bought more time—because of course Sasuke's lying. Of course others are coming. These people really are stupid to think that he would tell the truth.

"What do we do with them now?"

"I don't know. We should ask the boss."

Sakura is slipping in and out of consciousness so she can't quite follow what's happening, but the next time she hears something, it's Sasuke's voice. "Sakura. Can you hear me? Sakura."

"Hi," she mumbles, weakly.

"Can you stand?"

"Don't think so…" She tries to move. Nothing does. "No."

Sasuke doesn't answer her, but she hears a puff of a jutsu, the sound of chains dropping, and suddenly—warmth against her icy skin, being lifted up, cradled against his chest. "Let's get out of here," he says quietly. "They're going to kill you if we stay here any longer." She winces as he jostles her. Are those broken bones? She can't be sure. "My arm is broken, Sakura—try to move for me. Get on my back."

"It'd be safer to wait for backup to get here," she says. Her voice is raspy.

"It won't be safer for you."

"There are too many of them, Sasuke-kun—you can't do anything if you have me with you."

Sasuke balances her on her knees and turns, baring his back to her. "Yes," he agrees, "but I would rather you not die. Now get on."

"I'm not a damsel in distress," she protests.

"I know. But to put it bluntly, you're useless right now, and I would like to see the look on their faces when you're able to kick their asses." She looks up at him, and she wonders what it is that she's seeing in his eyes. Affection, maybe. Tenderness. Something large and unidentifiable wells up in her stomach, and she almost wants to be a damsel in distress.

She swallows. "Okay." Very slowly and with much pain, she gets onto his back. Sasuke stands and manages to support her with his one good arm, and she does her best to hold onto him, too. He motions for her to be quiet, and slips out the door.

"Hey, isn't that—"

"It's Uchiha and that girl! They've escaped!"

"Who even left them alone, those idiots!"

Sakura closes her eyes (since she can't see out of one of them anyway) and lets Sasuke do the work. Everything still hurts as he runs dodges attacks, but she does her best not to show it. She's not the one fighting right now, after all. She relishes his warmth against her cheek—she didn't realize how cold she was until she felt him against her skin.

"Hah, look at her. I really did a number on her, didn't I?"

"Is she even alive?"

"Sakura." Sasuke's voice is low and slightly menacing in her ear. "Is that the person who did this to you?"

She forces her eyes open.

("Who did this to you?")

"I think so."

He places her gently on the ground, leaning her against the wall. "Don't move." She watches as he straightens up and faces the two enemies.

(Ugly marks marring his skin and even uglier chakra leaking from him like a parasite, like a plague of poison and hatred.)

"Uchiha Sasuke protecting his little girlfriend. That's pathetic. I liked you more when you wanted to destroy everything in your path."

A burst of light. Scorching heat. Not enough time for even a scream.

(A strangled shout as an arm snaps in two.)

Sakura sees two corpses, burnt to a crisp, falling to the ground. She smells cooked meat.

"Come on." He kneels down in front of her, and she gets onto his back—and they're running again. She wants to run with him forever, she realizes—as far and as fast as they can, never looking back. As long as they're holding onto each other and staying together the entire time, it doesn't matter where they go or how long they go for—Sakura just wants to have adventures and run for her life with Sasuke. She wants to move in sync with him the way she does with Naruto and Sai and Kakashi, she wants him to have her back the way she has is—she wants to be able to trust him with her life.

And it hits her—suddenly, like kick to the gut, as Sasuke races through the tunnels, so fast that she almost finds it difficult to breathe—that she does. She trusts him. She didn't trust him at first, when he returned—and then she was too busy trying to keep him at arm's length and protecting him all at the same time to realize, but—yes. Yes.

Sakura trusts Sasuke with her life.

Being with him now, letting him protect her not because she's incapable, but because he's making up for her shortcomings the way she makes up for his, makes it clearer than day.

Sasuke is different from before. Sasuke is so much better than before—Sasuke is so much better for her than before. And she doesn't mean before he knocked her out and left her to freeze on the bench on that fateful night; she means he's better than he was yesterday, he's better than he was two weeks ago, when he was blindly trying to take her heart by force. He's grown and he doesn't even realize it.

Feeling a new surge of energy, she clutches to him tighter. "Sasuke-kun," she says in his ear. "Jump up."

"What?"

"Jump up. These tunnels are too complex to find a way out of quickly—we should just take a shortcut."

Sasuke stops in his tracks. There are still echoing shouts as more enemies close in on them. "Do you even have enough chakra?" he asks, the doubt clear in his voice.

"Just do it!" They're surrounded now, the shinobi armed and ready to attack, even though they wouldn't stand a chance against them if they were in good condition.

There's nowhere to run. Sasuke grits his teeth and jumps, giving them an extra push with chakra. Sakura reaches up and her fist meets the ground above them, and everything crumbles, like shattered hopes and dreams.

And suddenly there is light above them, the sunrise that's starting a new day. Sakura has to squint, but she feels cold wind against her skin, breathes fresh air into her lungs—nothing has ever felt as new as everything does in this moment.

They've come out just outside of the village, and Sasuke just runs—leaps through trees, going south, back in the direction of Konoha.

Sakura closes her eyes, feeling safe on his back.

When she comes to, it is midday.

"Sit up." She barely registers Sasuke forcing her into a sitting position. With half-lidded eyes, she sees him holding out a canteen to her, nudging it against her lips; she opens her mouth and tilts her head back, and he slowly pours the water down her throat. It's sweeter than anything she's ever tasted in her life. "How do you feel?" he asks her.

"Better than before," she says, although she isn't sure what that means, exactly. She still hurts everywhere. "You don't look so good either."

"I look better than you, trust me." Sasuke takes a drink from the canteen as well. "You've regained some chakra, right? You should heal yourself."

"I'll fix your arm first—"

"Heal yourself, Sakura." His eyes are hard, and perhaps a little worried. She can't be sure.

She smiles. "Okay."

Her chakra levels aren't full yet, but they're already much better than they were hours ago. She starts with her internal injuries first—the bruising, the fractured bones—and then her eye, and then her burned leg. All of that takes some time, and Sasuke's eyes never leave her even once.

"What are you thinking about?" she asks, standing up to test her body. She wobbles at first, but manages to keep her balance. She's still tired, but at least she's not a broken doll anymore.

"Nothing," he replies. "I'm just"—he pauses, as if unsure—"I'm just glad you're okay."

After testing out all four of her working limbs, she sinks back down into the grass again, on her knees and gingerly inspecting his arm. "I'm glad I'm okay too," she says. "I'm glad we're both okay." And although she won't say it, she's very, very glad that he refused to leave her behind. "Sasuke-kun, I'm going to have to move your arm; there are bone fragments in your flesh and the angle that the broken bone is from the main bone is too large for me to heal."

"Okay."

"You should probably find something to bite onto. It's going to hurt."

"I've experienced pain before, Sakura—just do it."

Sakura sighs, and pulls off one of her fingerless gloves. Sasuke looks at it with distaste. "Bite on it, Sasuke-kun. You're really going to need it." They stare at each other for a long moment, before he finally concedes, taking the glove and placing it between his teeth. "I'm going to count to three, okay?" He nods. "One…two…"

She does her best to slip into her medic mode, detached and unaffected by her patient's response, but as expected, it's difficult when it comes to Sasuke. His entire body tenses and he bites on her glove to keep any sign of weakness bottled up inside as she shifts the broken bone. She heals him as quickly and cleanly as he can; reattaching bone and moving bone fragments. She can't piece together such intricate puzzles like that—the best she can do is maneuver them so it'll stop hurting and his flesh will grow around them. His arm is never going to be the same again.

"Done," she finally says after what feels like forever. She reaches out and gently pulls the glove from his mouth, and brushes his bangs from his forehead, covered with a thin sheen of sweat. "I'm sorry about that."

"I'm fine," he says, but he doesn't swat her hand away.

"Your arm will be weak for a while. Don't strain it too much." He nods.

Sakura shifts closer on her knees, subtly numbing the sore area so he won't have to suffer more than he already has. If he knew what she did, he'd probably snap at her.

"I'm sorry I wasn't much help back there," she says, sheepishly.

He shakes his head. "It's fine. We shouldn't have trained the way we did—it attracted attention and drained too much of our energy. I should have known. I should have been more careful—"

"You shouldn't blame yourself for everything, Sasuke-kun."

"I wouldn't have made a mistake like that before."

"You're different now, remember?" She smiles gently. "Everyone makes mistakes—nobody's going to hold them against you except yourself." Sasuke doesn't look like he believes her. Of course he wouldn't; that's not the kind of person he is, memory loss or not. "Thank you, by the way. For not leaving me behind."

"We're teammates. How can I leave you behind?"

Tears almost well up in Sakura's eyes. Struggling to swallow the lump in her throat, she leans forward, and very softly, presses her lips against his forehead.

Sasuke stares at her with hard eyes, trying to analyze her and take her apart. "What was that?"

"That was me." She leans in again and his eyes flutter shut as she kisses his eyelid. "Giving in."

She can be brave. She can be brave for Sasuke. She can be brave with Sasuke.

"I…" His voice is quiet. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything."

"I feel like I should."

Sasuke has apologized to her. Sasuke has proven himself to her—there's nothing more for him to say. She smiles at him and sits down cross-legged beside him. "Now we wait for backup to get here, right? Then we go back and kick ass."

"Yeah. I've already sent Yuko to fetch them. Until then, you should rest."

"You need to rest too! As your medic, I prescribe lots of sleep for you." She smiles. "I've already had my nap; it's your turn."

Sasuke looks unsure for a moment, but then he finally sighs. "Alright." He looks exhausted; dark circles under his eyes, movements slow and sluggish.

Sasuke lies down on the grass and closes his eyes. Sakura watches him fondly, her hand hovering over his hair for a brief moment, wondering if she should touch it—and changes her mind at the last moment.

There will be time for all of that. For now, she needs to keep watch and keep Sasuke safe until the others come.


A/N: The theme song for this fic that I never knew existed up until now: Christina Perri's A Thousand Years.

Throwing myself a party because I finally have a few chapters written in advance. Thanks to everyone for their kind words last chapter! I hope you guys like how Sakura and Sasuke are finally falling together.