I own none of these characters.
There had to be something she could do. She gripped the wooden railing tightly, feeling the rain begin to pelt her filthy, bloodied lab coat. She groaned and hunkered forward, her gargantuan, useless forehead pressing against the very edge of the roof. She was soaked within a matter of minutes.
Weakly, she lifted her hand and waved. "Shikamaru."
She heard him sigh, then felt the roof vibrate as he landed beside her. "Sakura…why are you on my roof?"
With great effort, she lifted herself up and sat back on her haunches. She lifted her blood streaked face up and let the rain wash her skin. "You smell like smoke."
He made an annoyed ticking sound. "You smell like blood."
"I'm covered in it."
"Seeing as you're a medic-nin that's quite normal." She felt something soft and warm strike her side. She opened her eyes and smiled weakly, wrapping his jacket around her frail, freezing shoulders gratefully. "What isn't normal," Shikamaru continued, his tone becoming ever more exasperated. "Is that there's a medic-nin covered in blood on my roof."
She grimaced. "I need your help, Shika-kun."
Another sigh. " 'Shika-kun', huh? It must be really bad."
She laughed, but it sounded half-crazed to her own ears, and before she knew it she was shaking violently. She slumped forward again and tried to stifle her sobs but they broke up her rib cage and out of her throat. "Sasuke-kun is so screwed up." She could still see the cuts all over his pale skin, feel his beautiful hands hard around her throat and punching her stomach, cracking across her jaw. She could still see the way he'd slammed her against a tree and punctured her chest with his kusanagi. She shut her eyes. "We were just sparring and then he…he really tried to kill me, Shikamaru. It's not his fault he just—he didn't know it was me—he wasn't seeing me—"
"Sakura." Shikamaru interrupted, holding his hand out. "Come inside. You have my jacket and I'm freezing."
"I…I used up all my chakra to heal myself and Sasuke-kun. I don't think…"
He nodded and lifted her, leaping off his roof lithely. He struggled to hold her up and perform the seals to unravel his traps, then opened his door.
"Shikamaru!" Sakura winced, seeing his mother gaping at them in utter shock. She dropped the box she was carrying instantly. "Sakura-san? Are you hurt?" She walked over to them, her hands fluttering wildly over her beaten and bloodied body. "Who did this to you?"
Sakura felt her face crumple, and she buried her nose in Shikamaru's chest. "I'm sorry, Yoshino-san." She choked through her blubbering.
"She just used up all her chakra. Bad case at the hospital." Shikamaru explained quietly, and she saw a curious blush stain his cheeks. "Where do I put her?"
His mother bustled to the kitchen and pulled out a heavy wooden chair. Kicking off his sandals, he hefted her up with a grunt, then sat her down carefully. "I'll get some towels—Shikamaru, make Sakura-san some tea and let the water boil!"
She heard him whisper troublesome beneath his breath, but he grabbed the kettle nonetheless. Several minutes passed and the warmth of the kitchen began to soothe her tears away. How long had it been since she had cried so much? She pushed her fingertips against the back of her swollen eyelids and massaged them. She was wrapped in several fluffy towels and Yoshino had combed through the knots in her hair and tied it up swiftly, patting her back affectionately. Then she'd left to continue packing and give them some privacy.
She almost felt human again.
Shikamaru slid a porcelain cup into her icy fingers and sat across from her. He kept his dark gaze on the drenched window pane beside them as he spoke. "This isn't the first time Sasuke has showed mental instabilities, Sakura."
The tea burned her chapped lips. "We don't have much information about mental illnesses." She took another sip, felt her hollow stomach churn hungrily. "The 'treatments' they suggest are cruel, fanciful descriptions of torture. Some scrolls are simply one large persuasive essay about how killing a crazed shinobi is merciful." She sucked in a badly needed breath. "I have to help him, Shika-kun. I need to find a way before they order his detainment and execution. I won't let them hurt him."
He groaned, letting his head loll back. "And what makes you think I can help you, Sakura?"
She shrunk in on herself a little more, drawing her knees up and hugging them. "I don't know." Her whisper felt like defeat. "You're brilliant—I thought, maybe you could see something I missed. Maybe you could tell me what to do. Sai agrees that killing him would be the best course of action and Naruto is just so happy that he's back, so happy that he's going to be hokage, he's so damn oblivious and I don't have the heart to stick this knife in him."
He drummed his fingers on the table pensively. "You've looked through all the material Konoha can provide?"
She nodded grimly. "I asked Tsunade-sama but she says we can heal the mind physically but that a mental illness is something else entirely. She said she's had much experience dealing with mental illnesses but never experience treating them. The only other medic nin I can think of is…Orochimaru."
Someone rapped on the door.
"In a minute!" Shikamaru's mom hollered from down the hall.
Yoshino walked into the living room carrying a small suitcase. She placed it quietly on the box she'd dropped earlier and spent several minutes fixing up her mussed hair and fluffing the pillows.
"Perhaps you don't need a medic nin…" Shikamaru muttered, scratching his head with a scowl.
"Temari- chan!" Yoshino exclaimed happily, and they both turned.
Temari bowed respectfully, the edge of her huge fan smacking against the doorway. She was soaking wet and looked haggard and miserable. "Yoshino-san," Temari began, her voice sounding rough and raw. "I was wondering if I could speak with Shikamaru."
She needed to leave. Sakura quickly drank the rest of her tea, letting it burn the inside of her throat and fill her hungry stomach.
"Of course you can!" Yoshino tugged Temari inside. "Wait here—let me get you a towel—you poor thing! How long have you been out there?" Yoshino didn't bat an eyelash as she whisked Temari inside.
She wondered if half-drowned kunoichis were a regular in this household.
"Perhaps," Shikamaru murmured as Temari and Yoshino made small talk. "You need someone who has been touched by madness before and gotten through it."
Sakura felt herself go very still as her gaze sifted towards Temari. For a split moment she didn't quite understand. But she remembered all too well the way Gaara had looked during the Chunin exams, how he'd turned into a blood crazed beast. The way her body had nearly snapped within his sand's claw.
"Hello, Sakura." Temari smiled at her tiredly. She glanced at Shikamaru, a lovely blush tinting her cheeks. "Is…is this a bad time?" Temari was lovely, despite her haggard appearance. Her black, wet clothing clung to her curvy form beautifully, and her wet skin looked flushed and almost dewy. Sakura sighed dejectedly and turned her thoughts back to what Shikamaru had said about not needing a medic-nin...she remembered Gaara's crazed cries as he evolved into the shukaku.
But more than that she remembered when they had saved him, how calm and soft spoken he'd become, how he was almost gentle.
Still looking at Temari wide-eyed, she whispered airlessly. "Shikamaru, I love you."
Yoshino gasped and covered her mouth with her hand.
Temari's face twisted into something pained—she turned back towards the door. "Never mind."
"No!" Sakura leapt forward, reaching for her desperately, but her knees buckled beneath her and they hit the floor hard. Still, her hand refused to lose its grip from Temari's black sleeve. "Temari, I didn't mean that! I mean, I do love Shika-kun but only as a friend."
Temari looked unbearably uncomfortable. "Why are you on your knees?"
She gave a weak laugh. "My legs aren't working."
Temari sighed, stooping to loop Sakura's arm around her neck pulling her onto her feet. "You look like you went through hell, Sakura."
The note of concern in Temari's voice made Sakura's smile soften. "I need a favor, Temari-chan."
She hefted her into the chair and propped her hands on her full hips. " "Temari-chan', eh? It must be something big."
"Good morning, Sasuke-kun." Sakura murmured gently, stepping into his cell carefully.
Sasuke turned his head, seeing her give him her brightest smile. The false expression didn't suit her very well. He looked away, cursing the grogginess of the sedatives he'd been forced to take earlier. "Morning." He muttered.
She hovered over him briefly, touching his forehead and running her hands over him in a quick examination. He inhaled her familiar scent; lavender and antiseptics. It was as soothing as it was odd. Finding his health satisfactory, she sat on the small empty cot across from him, curling her legs underneath her in that childish habit she'd had since they were children. She placed a small bag onto her lap and pulled out a small bento box. "I brought you breakfast." She set it on the small table between them, placing the chopsticks beside it. She was aiming for cheerfulness but he knew her much too well to miss the hollowness of her green gaze. She pulled out a small apple and began to peel and slice it with small, deft fingers. "I know the food they serve here can be a bit bland and I know how you're picky with your food." She babbled airily, her pink locks looking disheveled. It had grown since he'd returned to the village, he thought blearily. It was just a few inches past her shoulders.
"I'm not a very good cook so I tried to keep it simple." She tugged out a small plate and arranged the apple slices on it prettily. She held out the plate to him with both hands, almost beseechingly. "Would you like some apple slices, Sasuke-kun?"
He watched her darkly, memories ricocheting within his skull painfully. The way he'd struck the plate violently away. The look in her eyes when he'd been about to drive his chidori through her head. The sound of his fist striking her jaw. The blood that had gurgled from her lips as he'd stabbed her small body.
"Sakura…I…" Sasuke swallowed. He felt the dizziness plague him again and he struggled to remember what he'd been about to say.
"It's okay, Sasuke-kun."
He looked up at her, saw that her cheerful grin had been replaced by a very somber expression. It aged her, made her look less like a child and more like the capable kunoichi she was. She placed the plate back into her lap, her bottle-green gaze never leaving him. "You've been through a lot of pain, and you have wounds that even I can't fully heal." She smiled self-deprecatingly. "What you did…what you've done wasn't you." She grabbed a slice and broke it cleanly in half.
He watched her envelop her fingertip in chakra as she nervously minced the broken slice into mush. "I can't remember certain things." He admitted. It felt as if he had cotton for a tongue. "It feels as if…I'm being eaten from the inside out." He scowled softly, refused to admit the fear that felt like ice in veins.
He heard her inhale shakily. "I came to tell you that I'll be going on a mission. I'm going to be gone for two weeks, the least, perhaps longer." She held out the plate again and he sat up unsteadily.
He took it from her gently. "You're going alone?"
She nodded quickly. "On this mission I can gain some insight into your mental…condition."
His hand paused before the apple slice could pass his lips. "Sakura…" His scowl deepened. "What do you intend to do?"
She drew her knees up and hugged them, averting her gaze. "I'm going to study a shinobi who has dealt with psychosis before."
He put the plate onto the table with a clatter. "No."
"You're going to study a crazed ninja who could kill you in a moment of madness like I almost did?" He crossed his arms over his chest, his scowl of displeasure almost comical. "Do Naruto and Kakashi know this?"
She almost rolled her eyes. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, Sasuke-kun. Besides, he is no longer a crazed shinobi." She grabbed the plate and held it out yet again. "He managed to overcome it and is now a very noble shinobi that his entire village can depend on."
He took the plate from her again. He bit into an apple slice with irritation. "Who is he?"
He slammed the plate back onto the table childishly. She looked ridiculously frail and small as she hugged her knees, her coral pink locks and wide green eyes more befitting of a doll. But dolls couldn't change the landscape with a kick of their heel, or crack cliffs with a light punch, he reminded himself. Still, he remembered all too well how Gaara had nearly killed her. The way she'd bravely and idiotically put herself between himself and Gaara.
After a few taut moments he spoke none too happily. "You're going to Suna."
She nodded. "He has accepted my request. Gaara is a very close friend of Naruto's and he has assured me that as Kazekage he will ensure my safety and that I will receive as much information as he can give. I can't pass up this opportunity, Sasuke-kun. I was even contemplating hunting down Orochimaru." She admitted flippantly, and he stiffened.
She shivered and shut her eyes. And it was almost easier to ask now that those moss green eyes weren't staring into his soul. "Why are you…why are you and Naruto so willing to do so much for me? What do either of you get by helping me?"
Her pink lashes fluttered as she grinned at him. "We get to keep you with us. We get to see you happier, Sasuke-kun. And for that Naruto, Kakashi and I would do anything."
Gaara stirred, lifting his head from his scroll and paper littered desk. When had he fallen asleep?
"What is it?" He rubbed his face tiredly.
The blonde shinobi—whose name he couldn't remember—fiddled nervously. "Temari-sama has arrived. Baki-sama informed us that you wished to be informed when she returned no matter the hour."
Gaara frowned at him, sensing the turmoil the shinobi was under. "Is there something else you need to inform me of?"
He nodded. "Yes. Temari-sama was—!"
The door flew open and Temari shoved the shinobi ungraciously aside. Her clothing was torn, her fan broken, and she was wild-eyed and breathless. "Gaara! We were attacked." She hunched forward and attempted to catch her breath, her shaking hands on her knees.
"I told you to stop running!" Kankuro followed close behind her, hooking her arm around his neck to help her stay on her feet.
"Get the medics." Gaara commanded the blonde shinobi, who scurried away quickly. He rushed over to her. "Where are you injured?"
She shook her head. "Sakura healed me, mostly—all I have are scratches. But Gaara—they have Sakura. They captured her and I'm the reason they caught her."
Notes: Would you believe I was unbearably nervous the whole time I was writing this? Well, I was. Gaasaku is one my favorite crack ships. You have no idea. Let me know what you thought (gently, gently I am fragile, I am glass) and I hope you enjoyed it. I'll try to publish the next chapter tomorrow, hopefully.