09. And In Time, We Move on
. . .
There are days when he hates being injured and seeing her in the hospital the moment he wakes up - her green eyes and that bright pink hair that's almost like a signal flare. There's also the smile, which pops up like she's actually happy to see him alive - like all the things he's done has never occurred. Like she cares.
It's probably masochistic to want her to acknowledge it, when the least he wants to do is even talk about it. A long history of bottled up emotions is never a good idea to open, after all.
"Your vitals are good, Sasuke-kun. Just make sure you get enough rest before your next mission, neh?"
And then he is healed, and she leaves, and he never sees her again until the next visit. It's an endless cycle.
He hates her for it.
. . .
The worst days are when he is injured and home-treated. His apartment isn't the home he would have wanted, but it is home for now, and cozy - until the moment she and Naruto knock on his door like stubborn brats who wouldn't take no for an answer. Of course, he grumbles that he's okay, that his injuries aren't serious, and that there's no need to come barging into his house like worried mothers.
Of course, they completely ignore this.
"Just let Sakura-chan fuss over you, teme. You still need to finish your service to Konoha after being such a bastard. Wouldn't want you to die on us too early," Naruto says cheerfully. Sakura seconds this, all bright smiles and happy disposition, her gentle hands going over him with precision. She takes care of him until he is well, and used to their presence.
Then they leave, off to their own lives, and what should have been a cozy place has suddenly turned lonely without them.
. . .
The day they have a real conversation is the day she finds him at the old Uchiha compound - or at least, what remains of it. It's his birthday, and he is missing his family more than ever. Maybe the clarity of what they have stood for, and what Itachi has fought for, has made the pain worse. But pain is pain, and it needs to be acknowledged as part of who he is. Otherwise, he can't move on.
Wrapped in his gloom, he only notices she is there by her faint chakra signature. There is a bouquet of flowers in her hands, and a surprised look on her face. They remain quiet as she tilts her head at him and walks over, placing the colorful blooms over the tiny graveyard.
She speaks first. "Naruto's over at your house to surprise you. With balloons and all. And some tomato cupcakes." She can't seem to stop her amused smile at that. "I just thought it would be...nice to visit here and bring some flowers."
He nods his head, not sure what to say. "...do you come here often?"
She hesitates - then seems to think it's pointless and says she does, when she can. She tells him things, random things, important things. He listens. Hesitantly, she asks him what his mother was like, and his father. He talks. They stay there for an hour or so, until she jokingly says that the gang may be clucking like mother hens if they don't get back by then. So they leave the place together.
It's suddenly not so gloomy anymore.
. . .
Their first mission as a group is dangerous and risky - but nothing they can't handle. They infiltrate the camp without so much as a whisper (a feat in itself, considering how much yapping at each other Naruto and Sai do), retrieve the scroll and exit just as quietly.
It's on their way home that they are ambushed, and ambushed badly. They are outnumbered, but they go through the enemies as efficiently as if there'd been no years missing, as if they've been fighting together their whole lives. It makes him feel free, and alive, and somewhat grateful.
Then one enemy gets too close and almost kills him, but Sakura gets in between before it's too late. He hates having a weak moment and having someone protect him from it, but what he hates most is how his heart almost stops at the sight of her falling from the tree, blood all over her chest and hair flying wildly.
He never wants to see that sight again.
. . .
She's irritable when she's sick. It's fascinating to find this out, especially when she has such a sweet disposition when taking care of those who are.
"I can handle myself. I don't need a babysitter."
She says this with a tone of finality, but nothing is final until the Hokage herself says so.
"Don't be such a stubborn girl, Sakura. Let him do this."
"I. Don't. Need. A. Babysitter."
Tsunade's lips curl into a frown, and her tone is firm. "Well, I'm telling you - he's gonna be checking on you for the next few weeks, whether you like it or not, under my orders. It's part of his service to Konoha. That poison really took its toll on you."
Sakura glares at her (not that it's effective, anyway), then turns her glare towards him. He shrugs.
. . .
"Why do you never talk about it? About what I did?"
The question stops Sakura from her grumbling, mug of tea halfway to her lips. She opens her mouth, then snaps it shut as if changing her mind at the last second. His eyes never leave her from his perch on a chair as he repeats what he asked. After a minute or two, she finally talks.
"It's in the past. It's - "
"I did bad things. I - "
"And you've made up for it - "
"I almost ended your life."
She knows he doesn't mean the mission where he's saved her life, but the past. With a sigh, she looks him straight in the eye. "I know. And I forgave you for that."
His hands clench at how easy the words come out of her. He hates how she makes it sound so simple.
He hates how undeserving he feels.
. . .
Itachi's birthday is the hardest to bear, so he does a rare thing and drowns himself in sake. Of course, his control over such matters makes being drunk almost impossible, and this is how Sakura finds him - brooding over his nth cup, surrounded by dark thoughts.
"Let's train," is the only thing she says. He accepts the challenge right away.
It rains and it suits his mood, along with her, who is better at her techniques now that she's had years to hone them. Then he remembers his fight with Itachi - with Madara - and all thoughts flee his mind, caught by a grief so blinding he doesn't realize he has her trapped in his arms. His blade slices the skin on her neck until a drop of blood runs down her collarbone. She doesn't flinch, but merely grasps his wrists tight, calling his name over and over, telling him to come back.
There is trust in those green eyes, and he is the one who flinches. Abruptly he scrambles back, horrified. He watches her as she heals herself, as she turns to stare at him.
"It gets better."
"I told you not to trust me too much, I-"
"It gets better," she repeats. She stands up. Offers her hand to him.
After a long pause, he takes it. The rain has left the air cold, but her warm hand is an anchor to sanity.
. . .
He hates how she doesn't realize how pretty she is when she's in denim shorts and a plain cotton shirt. She laughs at something Sai says, teasing him and scolding Naruto when that blond retorts something crass. She likes spending time with children and kittens, and is unaware of the effect she has on some men - of the way they look at her, of the image they have in their heads when she gives them that smile or shows them that extra touch of care.
He's not affected. He's just looking out for her, as a friend should. As Naruto would, he's pretty sure. Even that Sai (who is practically clueless at just about everything).
He's not affected.
. . .
The one time she wears a dress, he can't take his eyes off her. Kakashi notices this but remains quiet, nose in book as usual. Naruto merely stares. She's out on a date with a guy they don't know, and it's natural to check them out on their first date to see how said guy would measure up.
In secret, of course. Their table is obscured, as they've chosen.
"He's making her laugh," Naruto states in his version of a whisper.
"Good for him, then," Kakashi states.
"Why good for him?" Sai asks.
"Because we don't have to chop his limbs off," is their ex-sensei's pleasant reply.
Sasuke has met this boy before - a shinobi from a prestigious family who despises him and has once told him he comes from a family of murderers and should never have been brought back. But he's nice to Sakura and he makes her laugh, so maybe he's okay. It's none of Sasuke's business, anyway.
Three weeks after a steady series of dates, Sakura breaks up with the guy. When Naruto persists why, all she says is that she doesn't care for people who hurt with words. Then she keeps everything else to herself, only assuring Naruto that it wasn't her the guy has insulted. Her fierce secrecy eventually makes the blond give up his interrogation.
She wears the dress again on their team dinner together, and Sasuke still can't take his eyes off her.
. . .
"It's going to be a perfectly safe mission, guys. No need to worry."
Two weeks later, they find her in a ditch, Kabuto dead beside her and her breathe steadily going out of her.
"You lied to me," he says, the moment she wakes up. "You told us it was safe." You told me it was safe.
"It's safe now," she whispers, smile tired. "I was the only one who could really beat him - medic against medic. Naruto's safe now."
You're safe now, her hand implies as it takes his. He hates how he feels too much, too fast.
But maybe it's not hate anymore. Maybe it wasn't hate in the first place.
. . .
"Keep low," he whispers in her ear, watching through the bushes they abruptly hide in as the enemies dart from tree to tree, looking for them.
They listen to the footsteps disappear, their breaths mingling as they remain squeezed in the tiny cover, not daring to make a sound. Eventually the noises stop. Sakura breathes fully on top of him, warm and as still as stone.
"They're gone," she whispers back, and he feels her lips through his cheek. He tingles all over.
She looks at him, not leaving, simply breathing. His hands tighten on her waist and he hears her breathing stop. They wait, and wait, until the moment passes and it's time to continue with the mission.
There's something he wants to do badly, but now's not the time.
. . .
Their first kiss is like sunlight on a winter day.
It's not supposed to happen, but here they are - outside her door, her against the wall and him unable to let her go. She tastes like apples and feels like sunshine, and the tiny moan that escapes her throat rushes through him until his blood boils with desire, until his heart beats with something else.
"That was..." she whispers against his mouth, breath hitching in surprise, unable to form the words.
He kisses her before she can finish her sentence, and she doesn't protest.
. . .
On her birthday, he gives her strawberry pie and is in awe that she's not disgusted, considering how badly he's botched up the baking (no thanks to Naruto and Sai, who've spent more time fooling around than actually measuring the ingredients right). Then he accompanies her as she climbs the top of the Hokage mountain, where they set a blanket on the grass and look down at the view of their home - of the place Naruto will someday govern (because yes, it's always fated for Naruto, and he realizes that now).
That evening, he thanks her for never letting go. She thanks him for being real, and for coming back. Their hearts are alive as they touch each other for the first time, and they are clumsy with all of it - but it's okay. There are more moments to follow, more years to face together, and that's what matters.
a/n: written for SasuSaku headcanons. Thank you, Miko-chan, for inviting me, and for giving me a lovely prompt. Guys, check out Tumblr for all the great SasuSaku posts - it's a reader's dream galore.
Happy SSM, everyone! :)