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[personal profile] demeter918
Title: "On Time" (1/2)

Author: [personal profile] demeter918

Disclaimer: Is not belong to me! But will always throw that pin into the wishing pond.

Series: Naruto

Characters/Pairing: Sakura/Kakashi

Warnings/Notes: Somewhat weird. Written for The Kakashi x Sakura Reverse Big Bang at [community profile] kakasaku. Once the picture is up, will post a link to it!

When the knock came at Sakura's window, her hand was already under her pillow and fit around a concealed tanto blade. Her muscles tensed, even as she tried to blink the crust of sleep from her eyes. It was hard going, these early morning calls. She glanced, blearily, at her bedside clock. Very early. Early enough that this was probably important and that killing the messenger would be frowned upon. Maybe. Not just barging in straight through her window also meant it couldn’t have been that important. Not important enough to wake up for. Maybe. Then again, it could be just a particularly polite aide. Or...

She gave up trying to decipher the intentions. She never knew what they wanted.

Sakura rolled out of bed, tripped over her stupid mission backpack with a weeklong’s worth of dirty clothes that she still hadn't gotten around to washing, and unlatched the window. A hospital aide was politely waiting, a respectful patience Sakura doubted she would have gotten if the situation was very dire. She gave him a Look. She'd just gotten off a sixteen hour shift, the third one in four days and Sakura was starting to wonder if there was anyone else at the hospital.

But Sakura was pretty much resigned to the inevitable. "What's going on?"

"Haruno-san? I'm sorry for waking you up so early and we really would not bother if we didn't-"

"Okay, okay, don't worry about it; do I have time to change?"

"Um, yes, of course… but please hurry?"

She paused in the middle of stripping her pink sleeping shirt and raised an eyebrow. "Is it that bad?"

"No, but, uh, as you know, the Hokage, her patience is, uh, as you know-"

"Never mind."

Sakura stripped off her shirt and pulled a clean version of her usual outfit from her closet. It was filled with hanger after hanger of the same suit – a red medical vest with hidden pockets that were bigger on the inside, a short black skirt that never flipped flirtatiously, chakra-enhancing black spandex, and sandals specifically molded to her feet. While Ino might have despaired at the utter practicality of all the items, it made nights like this a little less of a hassle. Within twenty seconds, she was done and out her window, tying her headband on while they ran over the rooftops of Konoha.

It was still dark; she could see stars blinking in the night sky. The flickering of the streetlights cast strange shadows over the quiet streets. There were guards posted on their routine patrols and they barely glanced up at Sakura and the hospital aide, so used to seeing her on a merry path to the hospital.

The night was frosty, but the warm currents of the southern lands were already sweeping over Konoha in the first fragile eddies of spring. The cherry blossoms would most likely begin their bloom in a week, and Sakura would have to endure another additional three weeks of people being smartasses and asking if she was blooming yet.

When she passed Naruto's apartment, she took a small pebble from one of her bigger-on-the-inside pockets and aimed it directly at his bedroom window. She heard his yelp as he fell out of bed and grinned. So he was back. Served him right for not showing up at the hospital first. If she couldn’t sleep, she wasn’t about to let him.

When they landed on the balcony to Tsunade's office, she could hear cursing through the closed windows. Make that loud cursing. She opened the door and the aide wisely let her in first. "Shishou, what's going on?" She asked before Tsunade could throw something.

"Sakura! Why weren't you here sooner?" The woman's eyes were bloodshot, evidence of drink and sleep-deprivation on her skin. The stress was straining fresh wrinkles all along the crevices where she frowned and they were showing up even when stasis jutsu was stable. Things like that made Tsunade extremely cranky since it was evidence that the aging was starting to creep through whether she liked it or not.

"I had to, you know, get dressed. Wouldn't do to see one of the Hokage's apprentices jumping butt naked through the streets." It was flippant and breezy because if it was as bad as Tsunade looked, she better get herself prepped for whatever bad news Sakura was about to hear.

Behind Tsunade, Sakura saw Shizune shake her head just so, and Sakura felt her heart skip a couple of beats. Shizune was always the first to laugh at her stupid jokes.

"Bah, such lip! In my days, apprentices were respectful of their teachers! They-"

"- threw a stink bomb into their rooms instead?"

Tsunade paused and then threw Shizune a dirty look, who held up her hands, innocent. "I didn't tell her that, Hokage. Sakura beat that out of Kakashi on her own." But it seemed like she struggled to bring that smile to her face. Sakura’s heart stuttered a bit.

"Hmph. That whelp should know better than to tell you anything... what the hell did you promise him?" And while the Tsunade was sour and seemed as normal as she ever was, Sakura didn’t miss the fact that her teacher didn’t look her in the eye and was busy scribbling at the massive amount of paperwork on her desk.

Tsunade never did more paperwork than she had to.

This caused Sakura to stumble over her words, even as she weakly joked, “I think I promised to heal his injuries guilt-free for a month."

"Is he still going to your apartment? Sakura, tell him that if he doesn't want me to rip his-"

Wincing, Sakura interrupted with a hurried, "didn't you need to see me Shishou? For something urgent?"

Momentarily derailed, Tsunade blinked. Then scowled. And finally unbent her head and looked Sakura straight in the eye. "Right. That stupid little idiot of a teammate of yours, people are complaining again. I just received a missive from the Ambassador of Stone that if we don't curtail his activities, that they'll be forced to complain to our Daimyo. The stupid little… I could wring his neck… how dare he threaten us… " Tsunade’s countenance only grew darker as each curse peeled its way out of her throat.

Sakura furrowed her brow. "What, who? Sai? What did he do this time?" Her mind raced with the possibilities of who Sai might have insulted this time around.

"Not Sai - it’s that little fucker Uchiha."

It was as if a cold wind had blown through the room. Sakura couldn’t avoid the sudden breath she took, even as Shizune said, rather sharply, "Hokage."

And while her heart went pathetically still, her brain went into an automatic mode to protest. Sakura murmured, "he's not technically a traitor. He seceded himself."

She could practically feel Tsunade roll her eyes.

"Either way, Sakura – he's been spotted on the western edges. Can't he do his philosophical wanderings away from Konoha? I swear, he's given me more gray hairs than Danzo and the Hyuuga clan fight combined." Tsunade was grumbling, and Sakura knew she couldn’t be truly upset at Sasuke; after all, he was living proof that things could change, revenge could be stopped, the shinobi world need not be a messy sally of revenge and counter-revenge. Someone had made it fit (Sakura completely suspected Hinata of helping Naruto out with the nuances) to point that out to Naruto and he'd turned it into a gleeful weapon against the Council whenever they wanted to put him (Sasuke, not Naruto) on their hit lists.

And it was true; there was a sense of admiration from civilian and nin alike. Between Naruto stopping Pain with his convictions and Sasuke giving up his need to destroy Konoha in revenge for the genocide of the Uchiha Clan, they were thought of rather well. Almost well. Less Sasuke and more Naruto, but still. There were those (civilians, all) who whispered sympathies for him, thought that perhaps the ninja of Konoha did owe him something. Sakura was not one of them, but she could see it from a civilian point of view.

Shizune said, “At least he’s not concealing anything. It’s his way of telling us that he’s around...”

“You’re giving him too much credit, Shizune. He’s a traitor and always will be.”

The other woman sighed, but said nothing. When it came to Sasuke, Tsunade had a very definitive view on it and considering her past, Shizune couldn’t blame her.

“Sakura.” Only Tsunade’s voice could be both annoyed and so very gentle.

Her head snapped up. “Yeah?”

“We don’t have any plans to do anything, not even the Council. He’s not making any trouble and we imagine he’ll just peacefully pass through Rain Country, as he passes through all countries. And I think you know better than anyone else how useless it would be to send someone.”

Sakura cracked a smile; it made all the daimyo’s mad and not a little bewildered that none of the ninja countries did anything about Sasuke. It was as if they pretended he was a ghost, a wind that brushed through and went any random direction he chose. But what could you do about a ninja that both Leaf and Sand had vowed to keep neutral about? “That’s good to know... I don’t know what Naruto might have done if anything, if... well, you know.”

A mutinous look cast a pall over Tsunade’s face. “It would be my luck that one of the most talented ninja’s that Konoha’s ever produced turned into a traitor--no, excuse me. Seceded himself,” she finished with exaggerated politeness.

It was like Tsunade to be blustery and then do nothing. She smiled at her teacher.

“Gah, wipe that innocent look off your face. It makes me feel old.” She huffed and turned to the window. The sun hadn’t yet risen, but there were streaks of deep purple and early morning pinks already running across the horizon and Sakura knew Tsunade was thinking about her own (long deceased) team.

“Okay - do you want me to pass the information onto the rest of Team 7?” Like Naruto? she thought.

Somewhat sourly, Tsunade shrugged without looking her way. “Knowing your team, if you didn’t tell them, they’d just blunder off and find out some other way. And then raise holy hell because they think something underhanded will happen to Sasuke. Like it could.” Here, Tsunade’s eyes sharpened. “Naruto should know better by now, Sakura.” Everyone knew she was grooming Naruto for his future as Hokage and she was keeping the seat warm for him. “I hope you know that as well.”

She nodded. “He knows, Shishou. Don’t worry.” I know.


Easier said than done, she thought, as she paused in front of Naruto’s apartment. A little resigned, a little tired, she knocked.

The door opened up about three seconds later and Naruto’s face broke into a beaming smile. He had a tendency of making her feel loved and warm when he did that. “Sakura-chan! Hey! I thought it was you outside the door!”

Sai’s voice floated in from outside. “Dickless, I told you that.”

The blond man made a face. “Whatever, you know I told you!” He immediately flounced back into the room where Sai was sitting, one hand dark and smudged from yet another charcoal drawing. Sakura laughed and walked in, closing the door behind her. She headed over to Sai and ruffled his hair, knowing that he tolerated it only because it was her and feeling pleased that it was because of her. She peered over his shoulder. It was a lovely piece of Naruto making instant ramen. While it might not win awards or get placed in the National Konoha Gallery, there was a realness to it that Sai’s older pictures never had.

He glanced up at her. “Do you like it?”

“It’s pretty, what are you going to do with it?”

“Hm... not sure. Would you like it?” His dark eyes were flat and uninterested, but Sakura knew better.

“Do you mind? This was would be perfect on my kitchen wall.”

Sai signed the bottom and tore it from his artist pad. She took a moment to admire the picture before rolling it up. Sakura rooted around a pocket for one of her scroll cases and found one that was the perfect size. She tucked the scroll into her bigger-on-the-inside pockets. “What are you two doing, anyways?”

“I was just telling the bastard here: Yamato-senpai got promoted to special jounin; he’s going to have his own team.” Sai was as expressionless as usual, but Sakura had long learned to see the little signs and she knew that he was a little... something. The little bit of something that Danzo hadn’t managed to erase from him.

While Yamato and Sai weren’t especially close, he was one of the few teammates Sai had chosen to trust.

Naruto must have sensed it too, because he immediately said, “that’s super awesome! Think about the pranks we could play on his students!” Momentarily, the bliss made him look all dreamy. “Man, this is going to be the coolest thing since Ichiraku came out with pork shoulder ramen.”

“Is that a way to show affection?” Sai cocked his head to one side.

“Huh? Uh... no? What? Because he’s our teammate and he’s getting his own students finally - we totally have to whip them into shape for him!” Naruto threw his arms out and it was obvious he was relishing the thought. “I mean, I’d expect the same from you guys when I get my own team!”

Looking thoughtful, Said rubbed a line in a new drawing. “I see... so this is something only teammates would do for each other?”

“Like, duh, jackass.”

Sai didn’t saything else, but Sakura could see he was pleased.

“Anyways, what’s up, Sakura-chan?” Naruto paused and then said, a horrified note creeping into his voice. “Is this about not going to the hospital immediately? I’m sorry, I forgot! Hinata already got really mad about it! Please don’t be mad!”

To be honest, she’d forgotten all about that, but she grabbed that subject like a starving dog on a ham bone. “As she should, you idiot! Hinata is just concerned for you and this isn’t just about being healthy after every mission you know. If you don’t set an example for everyone else, who is? You’re the future Hokage, Naruto. You’ve got to learn certain responsibilities, alright?” She ended the world on a wheedling note, knowing he would promise her anything when she used that tone.

He screwed his face up. “Okay, okay, don’t use that voice on me, gaaaaah... and why aren’t you yelling at Sai?

She sniffed. “Unlike you and Kakashi, Sai actually goes to the hospital and gets a thorough checkup every single time he returns from a mission.” He looked stunned. “And Yamato too,” Sakura added, just to hammer the point home.


“See Dickless?”

Naruto shrugged, failing to rise up to Sai’s taunt. “It’s not like I mean to, Sakura-chan... I forget and then every time I mean to go, something turns up and I end up forgetting again. And then I’m about to go on a mission and then it seems pointless to go. ”

She sighed. “I guess once you’re Hokage, it won’t matter. You’ll have a personal medical staff and a dedicated medic.”

“Ooh, a dedicated medic? Are you going to be my dedicated medic?” He grinned in anticipation and she reached over to slap him in the head.

“Ha, I’ll always be there, but you think I’m going to let some random person run the hospital Tsunade spent years rebuilding? We’re going to turn Konoha into the number one spot for medical care and nothing is going to get in our way!” She almost got up and posed, but a little self-preservation and pride prevented that.

“Always knew you were my favorite for a reason, Sakura.”

As one, the the three turned to look out Naruto’s window where Kakashi had just popped in.

“Kakashi-sensei, seriously stop coming in through my windows... it’s starting to get creepy,” Naruto complained.

“It’s not like I don’t come in through Sakura’s room the same way.”

She eyed him. “Yeah, just as creepy.”

He didn’t blink and turned to Sai. “How about if I went in your room through the window?”

Sai seemed to consider it for a moment. “Well, I am not sure if this is an appropriate conversation between senpai and their younger colleagues, but I think I would not care.” He shrugged. “It’s not like I have anything in there that needs to be hidden.”

Kakashi turned to Sakura and arched an eyebrow. See?

“Sai doesn’t count. He think it’s okay to have people rummage through his thoughts on an average day,” she said.

“That’s true,” Said said, looking thoughtful. “Root looked through our thoughts on an frequent basis.”

Sakura started and immediately looked guilty. But all she did was pat him on the hand and shoot dagger eyes at Kakashi. “And speaking of which, Kakashi. If you’ve got me willing to do your physicals in the privacy of my home, then at least show up!”

“I did...”


“A few hours later... I think.” He had the grace to smile sheepishly, and brush a hand through his messy grey hair.

She rolled her eyes. “But of course. When else.” Sakura went over to him because she was feeling indulgent and kind and that wave of feeling shouldn’t be wasted. Her hands glowed a soft, warm green and she passed her hands slowly over his body. Aside from his usual chakra depletion, most noticeably in the chakra paths around his left eye, he was normal and uninjured. Sakura was almost impressed.

“Well, nothing’s wrong with you this time, but don’t think this gives you an excuse to skip your next physical!”

Naruto blinked. “Whaaaat? Kakashi-sensei! You made me go to my last one, you said it was a necessary part of being a ninja!” The injury in his voice would have been funny, but they were talking about her physicals.

“Didn’t realise they were such a CHORE, Naruto.”

A lot could be said about Naruto and the ability to backpedal was one of those. “Not that your physicals are bad, Sakura-chan.” He looked at her with shiny blue eyes until she relented and rolled her eyes.

Instead, she turned her ire on Kakashi. “Kakashi, I’m being serious here. I know you hate the hospital and all that, but you need a check-up every time you return from a mission.” Sakura made sure she was looking at him in the eye. “They’re there for a reason; it’s not to annoy you, I promise.”

“But they’re so annoying...”

Sakura sighed. “I know. But that’s why they’re important. And besides, I’ve totally given up on trying to make you go to the hospital. You’ve been coming to my place and it might as well continue if - and I mean IF, Kakashi! - you promise and make a vow to me right here and now that you’ll come to me after every single mission, okay?” She said it all in a rush and as soon as she finished, Sakura felt a flush of embarrassment wash over her. What was she doing, inviting Kakashi to be perpetually coming in and out of her home at all sorts of hours?

But she refused to take any of it back. And waited for his answer.

Naruto began to say, “what? That’s not fair,” before Sai elbowed him in the stomach and he went quiet with a loud ‘oof’.

The masked jounin was silent and she couldn’t see any emotion or reaction to her words. He was blank, as quiet as the grave and there wasn’t any hint of what he was feeling beneath his mask. As Sakura started getting unnerved by the silence, Kakashi suddenly grinned.

“Alright. If you insist so strongly, Sakura, I’ll make sure to get a checkup from you after every mission.”

Sakura stared at him as Naruto joked about the three of them being whipped and Kakashi laughed. She didn’t know what had happened, but for some strange reason, Sakura felt like she’d fallen into some sort of insidious trap. And the worst part was that she had no idea what the trap was about. She hated traps like that; and did she really promise Kakashi that he could come to her place after every mission? She essentially just promised him free reign around her apartment.

"Damn it!"

The three of them looked at her like she was crazy and Kakashi shrugged.


About two hours later, she realized she still hadn’t talked to Naruto about Sasuke. The conversation was winding down and everyone was agreeing to head to Ichiraku for some food. Yamato had showed up at some point and even he was game for ramen though the salt often didn’t agree with him. They headed out of the apartment and down the stairs to the street. She wasn’t a coward, so Sakura stopped to the side and tugged on Naruto’s collar. “Hey, I need to talk to you about Sasuke.”

There, she said it. And the world hadn’t ended. She saw Sai’s facial expression twitch slightly, which was akin to him falling flat on his back, but he probably had a similar level of security clearance and undoubtedly knew about the sightings of Sasuke. Sakura figured that he’d said nothing in some Sai-attempt to prevent the charter members of Team 7 from feeling sad. (He did the strangest sweet things, sometimes.)

Kakashi and Yamato were on the same ANBU channels and anyways, she saw the two of them exchange a look. When no one objected or paused on their way to the restaurant, Sakura relaxed slightly. Kakashi called behind them, “we’ll see you two at Ichiraku. Don’t be late or I’ll eat all the pork-shoulder ramen.”

Which was hugely ironic considering who was telling them not to be late.

They disappeared around the street corner and Naruto rubbed his nose. “What’s up with Sasuke?” He seemed relaxed, but his eyes were very, very blue.

“So... Shishou told me Sasuke was seen on the western edges. He’s just wandering around, I think.” It wasn’t a lot of information, but it was all that was necessary.

Naruto was quiet.

“And she doesn’t plan on doing anything you know. And the Council knows, but they’re not going to do anything either; can’t really afford to since their powers have been pretty much blitzed by the Danzo business.” Naruto still didn’t say anything and Sakura felt a cold grip on her heart. “Naruto... you don’t plan on, er, going after him, right?”

He kicked the ground and then looked up with a wry look. “No. We kinda cleared that up last time.” The last time. Right. The last time they put their hands through each others chests and she’d spent six hours stitching back bone and tendon and muscles and she hadn’t been able to stop yelling the entire time. It was near misses on both their hearts.

They turned back to the road and slowly resumed their path to Ichiraku. It was only midday, but the streets were nearly-empty. The reconstruction was now focused on the fifth sector - what would eventually shape into a major shopping district - and most of the villagers were there assisting. In a way, leveling Konoha had been a blessing in very, very dark disguise. “I’m going to go take a look,” she said without looking at him.

Naruto didn’t say anything, but he didn’t yell right away either, so that was a good sign.

“Just a quick check of the perimeter, you know. To see what’s up.”

“Yeah... I think you should.” He cracked his neck.

Sakura blinked. “You... do?”

“Yeah, safer, right?”

She wasn’t sure, but it looked like Naruto knew exactly what she was planning to do and wasn’t going to ask her about it.

“Okay... well, I’ll head off tomorrow morning, probably. Early.”

“Sounds good. The old hag wasn’t too annoyed?”

“About Sasuke? Not really, not anymore. But don’t tell her I said that. She thinks it’ll ruin her image as a crabby, cranky bitch.”

At that, Naruto had to laugh and the two shared a smile.

“Naruto... do you want to join?”

Naruto finally grinned. “Nah. It’s good. I get those little notes from Sasuke. It's enough.” He shoved his hands into his pant pockets. “Anyways, Hinata and I have plans tomorrow.”


Ramen was delicious as usual and everyone went their separate ways after lingering a bit. Yamato had some lesson plans to make, Sai was going on a mission to the south, Naruto needed to finish some errands, and Kakashi... well, Kakashi disappeared before the meal had wrapped. They’d rock-paper-scissored, and his meal had ended up on Sai’s tab.

Sakura went back to her apartment and the idea that had come together in the hazy hours between Tsunade’s office and ramen became firm. She was going to head to the west in the mornings and then see what she’d find of the rumours on Sasuke. It would be doubtful that she’d see him, but it was something she needed to do. She felt it in her bones.

The day pack full of dirty clothing was emptied into the washing machine and she repacked it sparingly. A few mission uniforms, rations, bare minimum in supplies. She didn’t plan on venturing outside of the Konoha’s borders, so didn’t see the point in making her pack heavier than necessary.

Switching into old cotton pajamas and fixing herself a cup of tea, she settled onto her squishy couch and opened Umami: You, Food, and Medical Applications. It was a pretty decent piece; a little hokey and more on the spiritual side than she might have liked, but it pushed the boundaries and she definitely agreed with Tenten that it was better than she might have thought.

It was such a quiet night the rap on her window was all the warning she got before it slid open and Kakashi jumped lightly into her living room. Sakura raised an eyebrow from the couch and continued reading. “Make sure you latch the window; it’s supposed to be a chilly night.”

He closed the window and kind of slouched into one of her armchairs. The chair was just a tad too small to accommodate his tall, lanky form, but he made it comfortable-looking anyways. “I was in the neighborhood, and I realized we never got that official check-up, you know,” he said with no preamble.

She stared at him, and blinked. “Uh... didn’t we do that at Naruto’s?”

“Yeah, but that wasn’t official.”

She looked at him as if he was crazy. Which he was; Kakashi never wanted extra check-ups. “What’s wrong with you? I was going to count that as a check and note it on your medical records.” Sakura set her book to the side and looked concerned. “Are you feeling uncomfortable? Did I miss something?” Unlikely, but Sakura never placed herself on a pedestal and always allowed for the remote possibility that she’d, perhaps, missed something.

“Well, there is this pain in my pinky finger...”

Sakura stared. “What? Your pinky?”

He nodded.

She threw her book at his head and he caught it easily with two fingers. Ugh. “Kakashi! Seriously, if you’re just here to make fun of me and the work I do, then go somewhere else and bother, I don’t know, Anko or something.”

“But Anko’s medical checks are painful.”

She rolled her eyes. “Kakashi, you sound like you’re whining.”

“I never whine.”

“Suuuuure, there’s a lot of stuff you never do. Like today. When you left us with the bill. Again.”

Kakashi paused. “Right... who picked up the tab this time?”

“THIS TIME it was Sai. He lost rock-paper-scissors.”

“Hm, so it seems.”

“Gosh, you suck Kakashi.”

She picked up her book again and resumed reading.

Kakashi pulled out his familiar orange book and flipped to what seemed like a random page. Sakura felt like she should say something; several sentences began in her head before she discarded their potential. In the end, she grunted a little and ignored his porn book.

The only sound in the room was the turning of pages and the occasional sip Sakura took of her tea. At one point Kakashi got a glass of water but that was it.

It was strangely peaceful. So of course Sakura couldn’t resist breaking the silence. “So... I know you’re probably wondering. I don’t really have a lot to tell you, I guess. Sasuke was seen on the western edges of Konoha and I’m taking a few days off to go scout the western perimeter.” She eyed him. “And before you get started on me, this isn’t about Sasuke. Or really, it is, but not in the way you think.”

He had stayed quiet through her short ramble, but Kakashi tilted his head at this and said, “not in what way?”

“Well, in that whole ohmigod-I-love-and-need-you-for-all-eternity.”


There was a flicker of irritation that lit up in her stomach. “No, of course not.”

“What’s it about, then?”

“It’s not really important... okay, fine. It is important. I’m not sure what’s it going to be about until I actually see if I can find him, but basically, I’m looking for something.”

There were times she was obtuse, but I’m looking for something probably ranked up there for inane words of the year.

Kakashi looked at her, that single gray eye that was never revealed much emotion, even while they were in the middle of battle. “I see.”

It was time, Sakura guessed. She never talked about Sasuke, not even to Ino or her old teammates, but somehow at that very moment, it seemed incredibly important to tell Kakashi how she was really feeling about Sasuke.

“No, really. I know it sounds cliche and silly and maybe this only happens in the books where the girl is all sensible and rational, but it’s really how I feel. I don’t want to find him for the sake of some emotional response and I don’t want to find him for Konoha, and I certainly don’t want to find him for Naruto.” Sakura realized that she felt tired and deflated and it bothered her that it took Kakashi showing up and being all interrogator-like to make her feel it. “All I’m going to do is walk the western perimeter and see whether there were any truths to the rumours that he was wandering about.”

“Just that little bit of curiosity?”

“Yes. I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s just the way things are.” Sakura settled back into her couch and was strangely relieved to have that all off her chest. She experimentally grinned at him and it was like grinning at an empty wall for all he responded.

He smile faded. Fine. If he was going to be a jerk, she could be a jerk too. “Kakashi, I’m tired - can you get out okay by the window?”

Kakashi cocked his head. "Hm. It's like you don't want me around, Sakura."

He smiled his close-eyed smile and Sakura felt a chill go up her spine. And not a good chill, either. She didn’t often admit to feeling trapped, but at that moment, with Kakashi sitting in her living room and his nothing-wrong-here smile pasted over his mask, she felt her stomach sour and her heart beat like a stampede of elephants were after her. Which was ridiculous; she could easily beat up a whole herd of elephants with a flick of her finger.


“Am I?”

Okay, it was official. Kakashi was jerking her chain. And being a jerk, if she might ignore the punniness. “What’s wrong with you? You’re being absolutely beastly. Of course I want you around, I never don’t want you around, you idiot.” Sakura gave him a long look. “Kakashi?”

He was looking at the her book and fingering the spine. And then he muttered something under his breath.

“What was that?”

Another mumble, slightly louder this time.



There couldn’t have been a less strange thing to say. Sakura gaped at him and before she could even react, he put the book back by her, brushed the crown of her hair with the knuckles of his left hand and then walked out her front door. The front door.

Sakura half-rose from her seat, intent on chasing after him. But then sat back down. Kakashi was acting weird. no, weirder than usual. She half-suspected it had something to do with Sasuke. Maybe he was in one of those moods again, where he thought everything that had happened to Sasuke and Team 7 was his fault. Which was silly; she and Naruto punched anyone who dared to say disparaging things about Sasuke, but they would be the first to admit that Sasuke had made his choices and that they were no one’s but his.

But it didn’t matter right now. She looked at her book about food and its medical uses. And then set it down and picked up a romance novel from a small stack at her side. As she tuned into the conversations between, ugh, Sebastian and Anastasia and their dark, forbidden love for each other, she realized that Kakashi never got the checkup that he had wanted.



It was an easy morning; Konoha was still sleepy and quiet when she’d left. Sakura found herself entering the border by mid-morning and she found a nice area by the river - and with plenty of vantage points - to munch on some granola bars. Ostensibly she was on a scouting mission (lowest-paying mission Tsunade wanted to cobble together, but Sakura wasn’t very surprised), and Sakura decided it rather be like a mini-vacation. No sun and surf for sure, but with the blue sky peeking in through the green canopy above like little pieces of ocean and the sounds of the forest blending together with the stream into a soft roar, it was lovely.

And rightly or wrongly, that was when she felt eyes on the back of her neck. Amidst all that beauty. Typical.

Sakura was no fool. She finished her granola bar unconcerned. After making a show of patting her front and getting rid of the crumbs there, Sakura shouldered her pack and headed to the east, wondering if the person watching her was foe or friend. She made sure to walk at a slow, leisurely pace. But when she hit her stride, Sakura bolted.

It might have been an animal from all her chakra told her. She ran for fifteen minutes, sometimes taking random corkscrew turns. It wouldn’t do anything to throw them off her trail, not if they were worth even half a grain of salt, but it would make for a more interesting run.

For a moment, she considered the idea of finding the nearest Konoha outpost to check in. About three seconds later, she discarded the thought. It didn’t matter; they were on the borderlands and there were, for political reasons, fewer outposts. There was talk about abandoning the outposts altogether and using a newfangled chakra-detection system that would depend on machines and low-grade weaponry. Sakura was reserving judgement until the initial prototypes were delivered to Tsunade’s desk, but a machine could be easily destroyed by inclement weather or a falling tree branch. Of course, Sakura knew the counter-argument was that ninja could be killed as well.

Hurling branches cut tiny little lines on her face and upper arms. But she persisted. When she saw a particular thick part of the woods, Sakura blanked out her own chakra and headed up to a massive collection of cedar trees. She didn’t choose the tallest one, too obvious. Instead, she chose a short sturdy tree with numerous branches. A little genjutsu later, she was hidden among the leaves and bark and looked like a part of the tree.

She was stopped midway up a cedar tree and settled on a sturdy branch. The heart of the forest beat with hers and she could feel the foliage crawl their way through her veins and hammer at her mind like beetles at the door of a hollow home. Sakura loved the feeling.

And the forest was telling her that nothing at all was wrong, the birds were cheerful, the wild boars were rooting around for grub, there were even a herd of deer not far off. But no interlopers. It was one of those feelings that only came about when something was wrong; that was interesting. It wasn’t very often someone could hide their chakra so well and make it seem as if absolutely nothing was foreign in their woods. Maybe it was someone from Konoha, who thought it would be fun to play a joke on her.

The floor was carpeted in a thick, growing underbrush and excepting the dirt path she’d been on, there was no sign that anyone else was around. Sakura cocked her head to the side and closed her eyes. Nothing played a jingle on her chakra senses, but that didn’t mean anything other than the Other was someone who was excellent at hiding, someone used to using Konoha’s woods as camouflage and perhaps even...

“A little far west, aren’t you?”

A man looked at her from the branch on a neighboring cedar. He had on a black shirt with a black and red hood and there were numerous pockets on his well-fitted shorts. There was a fan emblazoned on a pocket and she would have recognized that distinctive symbol of a dead clan anywhere. Her stomach didn’t turn and her heart didn’t skip, but Sakura let out an unsteady breath that sounded like a sigh. "Sasuke."

And then leveled a kick at the trunk of the tree he was in and pulverised the top half into wood dust.


He easily dodged the carnage, but that hadn’t been the point. It was the principle of the matter.

They landed on the forest floor together and Sakura got her first good look of Sasuke since he’d ceded the battle to Naruto and left everything (and everyone; Karin, Suigetsu and Juugo were still on their probationary periods, but it looked like they would eventually become full-fledged members of Konoha’s ninja forces) behind.

He had changed.

There was no getting around it. He was taller, leaner, even stronger than he was before. (Was that even possible?) His hair was cropped close and it looked strangely well on him. She always thought he would look best with long, silky-black locks, but she guessed Sasuke would have looked good with roadkill on his waist. Which there was, after skimming his form with her eyes. Two skinned rabbits hung from his belt and she had to smile when she realized that he also had a cloak made from rabbit fur. It was a strange and pragmatic image of him.

"Sasuke. I didn't realize you'd decided to head east from the western borders." She supposed, where Sasuke was concerned, there was never a point depending on Konoha sources. He knew all their tricks, knew who and what to avoid. It was almost laughable how off they were on his whereabouts at any given time. And how he sometimes sent short, simple letters to Naruto and that was their best and most reliable information. Stuff that he’d given to them. “And I guess this means I don’t have that far west now.”

He shrugged lightly. “I was not headed in any particular direction.”

“Just happened to be wandering around Konoha’s western woods, huh.”

Sasuke didn’t say anything, but he did raise his eyebrows as if to comment on the stupidity of information sources.

“Okay, well. So you’re here.”

He blinked slowly at her. Still very much like a cat. "Hello, Sakura."

She raised an eyebrow. "'Hello, Sakura'? That's all you got for me?" Half-faded images of Team 7 rushed through her head like sake on an empty stomach, but she pushed it away with an old ruthlessness.

A ghost of a smile dashed, quicksilver, across his lips. "Hello, Sakura, how are you?"

Humor, the sky was going to fall. "Oh, you know, the usual. Excepting for the fact that I'm constantly getting called to the hospital at nights, I'm very well. Oh, and the fact that my egghead teammates never come in for post-mission checkups; I keep telling them they should just show up at my door, but they won’t do that until something is literally falling off their body."

He set down his pack and squatted onto his haunches. "So Naruto's still afraid of the hospital."

Hearing Naruto's name dropped so casually from Sasuke didn't shock her as much as she thought it might. She'd obsessed years over what she might say if she ever saw him again, but as usual, things didn't turn out the way she thought they would. There was an unexpected peace in Sasuke's eyes. Or maybe it was expected. He no longer answered to anyone but his own mind and thoughts.

He hired himself out as an independent ninja, but only if the mission interested him. No amount of money could sway him (as the Daimyo of Stone had learned, to his great regret) and no promise of scrolls or even power; it was as if Sasuke was more and more his own country with each step he took.

It was, Sakura thought, what Itachi might have wished (but never hoped) for him. It still made her heart clench, that thought of Itachi, the most honorable ninja she’d never met.

"Mm, and Sai as well, but in general he goes to the hospital. It’s only when I’m not on that he comes to my apartment.” She’s proud of this. “Doesn’t like anyone else doing it. And Kakashi too, but he won't admit it. I think he's in denial."

"Kakashi's always been in denial." Once, that might have been an insult, but Sakura no longer heard malice or derision in his voice. It was without much inflection, only the smallest traces of amusement. "About many things."

She cocked her head. "Huh?"

Dark eyes turned to study her and she half-expected to feel something. When nothing but weary affection came, Sakura knew she truly had fallen out of the sort of romantic love she’d always declared herself a loyalist of. It made her a little sad; twelve-year old Sakura would have pitched a fit. "What do mean by that?"

He shrugged, as if the answer didn't matter. "I assume you'll eventually see."

"Playing the cryptic again, I definitely see." She rolled her eyes. Time really had been a balm on wounds; Sakura almost said that with sarcasm. "You're still such a jerk."

There was a comfortable pause in the conversation and then he asked, "I was about to roast my hunt. Would you like some?" He gestured to the skinned rabbits on his belt and Sakura had to smile. Polite. Huh. She hadn't thought about Sasuke being 'polite' in a long time, not since the first time she saw him sip his tea at Ichiraku and she'd failed to ask why he drank it like it was a precious thing to him.

"Sure, why not?"

They found a small clearing and after Sasuke did a sweep, bless his overly-paranoid heart, Sakura built a fire and a crude spit. After he speared the rabbits and they sat with the burning wood and fire between them, a silence fell over the space. It was a somewhat awkward silence. One built from having spent the last years of their lives so utterly divided.

After years – no, a decade – of warring, Sakura realized that she and Sasuke hadn't spoken so casually since they were twelve years old and still thinking there could be fun found from a kancho. Or really, with a smidgen of embarrassment, she'd never spoken casually to Sasuke. At all. There was usually hearts and blushes and certainly no punches to the face.

Which she should have done. If only to be fair to all her boys.

"You know, Sasuke, I wish I'd had a chance to punch you, just once, in the face."

He raised an eyebrow.

"I do Naruto and Sai all the time, and I've even gotten Kakashi once or twice. But I never got to punch you."

"I'd rather not get punched," he said, stoking the fire. But he sounded like he was entertained by the idea.

"Yeah, but I’d love to punch you.” She grinned. “C’mon, just once?”

Sasuke seemed to seriously consider the request. And then said, “no.”

“How about the stomach then?”

“What part of ‘no’ are you having trouble with?”

“The part where you say it, asshole.” She shot him a Look.

“Tsk, Sakura. More language like that and you’ll have a hard time getting married.”

“Ha! I’ll have you know that I’ve got, like, a million suitors!”

“Who, doped-up patients in the hospital?”

Sakura’s mouth dropped. “Excuse me? I’ll have you know I never needed some super cool move to get the guys dropping like flies - at least I didn’t need a mess of hair that never got combed.”

“Who says I never combed my hair?”

“It sure looked like that.”

Eyes narrowed. “I’ll have you know my hair was always perfectly coiffed.”

“Right... a perfect rat’s nest.”

They were glaring across the fire at each other and the only sound was the dripping and hissing when the fat of the rabbit hit the wood. And then Sakura felt her lips twitch and she saw Sasuke’s black eyes flash with not-so-hidden amusement. Years apart, and they still turned into twelve year-olds. Or at least, what they might have been as twelve year-olds if he hadn’t lost all his family and she hadn’t fancied herself completely in love with him.

She looked at him, really looked at him. Asked quietly, “Sasuke?”

He stroked the fire but nodded once.

“I’m not asking this for Konoha, you know, I’m not asking for Shishou or the Council or anyone else but us and you know I’d never ask something like this if I wasn’t really curious and really, after so long away, you kind of owe us, well, by ‘us’ I mean us not the-”

“Just ask, Sakura.”

She started. Pressed her lips together. The crackle of the fire was all she heard for a moment, and then she asked, voice strangely flat. “For Naruto’s sake, for Kakashi, even for me and I don’t know what the meaning is to to ask you at this point, but I have to know and not just have Naruto tell me or...” She cut herself off. Sakura always babbled when thoughts spilled together like blended wine in her head. “So... what I mean is... will you ever come back?” She left the rest unsaid. To us, to Konoha, to Team 7 and all that was and all that could be.

Sakura was an optimist.

Call her empty-headed, call her foolish, but she was always going to think that the cup was half-full, that someone who was dying at her feet could be healed, that the future might be changed even when the past all but said that it couldn’t. She loved her team with a fierce, unchanging love and Sasuke wasn’t excluded from that. Could never be excluded from that, even after all that that had been said and done.

His love for Konoha was burnt to ash; no matter that the Uchiha Clan had tried to betray Konoha and that Itachi had done what he could to protect his village, this was something that Sasuke was never going to be able to forgive. But she also knew that even after all this time, there was a part of his strange, malformed heart that belonged to them, to that hazy memory of Team 7 that had only existed for a scant few months.

But she knew his answer before he’d even lifted his head to look at her.

He said nothing. And she had to smile wistfully, because it was so very a Sasuke thing to do. “I know. I guess we all know. Even Naruto.” It was the only reason why he’d let her go alone, because he’d known that she would need to look at Sasuke in the face and see in her heart that Team 7 would never be as it was.

“I think you knew that already.”

“Yeah... didn’t hurt to ask, though.” She grinned.

A hint of a smile on his face. “Always an optimist.” If she had been anyone else, she would have missed the hint of melancholy in his murmur. But she was Sakura; she’d spent months as a heady preteen analyzing every cadence, every tone in his voice.

Their conversation moved into the mundane - Tenten and Neji were getting married, even though there were idiot clan elders against the match because Tenten’s family were immigrants into Konoha. Tenten is an excellent ninja Yeah, that solves everything for you but Hyuuga were cranky and old. Anyways, Gai and Lee founded a new technique of combining chakra and taijutsu; it uses very little chakra, so it’s perfect for Lee. I’d make a pithy comment, but I can’t come up with one. Oh, shut up. Ino just accepted an apprenticeship with Ibiki and will probably take over the Interrogation Squad when he retires. Which will be hopefully never. Sasuke... don’t be a prick. I’m not. I’m stating a fact; she’ll talk Konoha’s enemies to death.

So on and so forth, until the rabbits were un-spitted and they picked one roast clean of all meat. The other was chopped up and stored into some containers that Sasuke carried with him. After she got rid of the water with one of her water-summoning jutsus - the rare physical one she could pull off - Sasuke looked at her and nodded. And turned back to the direction he’d been heading and took off into the trees again.

There should have been a little heartache, Sakura thought. Maybe even tears. But what could she do? She’d see him again, someday. Maybe in passing, as she went off on a mission for Konoha and he wandered about, doing everything and anything that pleased him. And they’d share a meal, maybe a few drinks.

Uchiha Sasuke wasn’t coming back to Konoha, wasn’t coming back to Team 7, but he also wasn’t a mass murderer intent on bleeding Konoha dry.

Sakura thought it rather an improvement. And she headed back to Konoha, whistling.

Part 2
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