You don’t still love him, do you?” Sakura was caught by surprise; there was actual concern in Ino’s voice. To be concerned about something so ridiculous.
“I tired to kill him, Ino,” Sakura said, carefully, proud of her not-lie. Probably only Neji would see the flaw in the wording, but Neji… Neji is not Ino, to say the least. Ino wouldn’t know love if it came up and bit her. To Sakura, her friend seemed always in a perpetual dance of attraction and repulsion with the general male population, afraid to get to close but also too interested to stay far away. A terminal flirt Tenten had called her. Kakashi-sensei used the more blunt and more honest term cock-tease. And this was someone who felt they could question her choices.
Of course she loved him. She loved him so much she wanted to kill him, just to save herself the pain. But that’s the problem with love; there is never not pain. Something Ino had yet to figure out.
“Fine, whatever. I’m going to get food for the guys. Everybody else is inside,” Ino said, waving her on before turning to go. Sakura signed, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She hoped that was all the interrogation she was going to get tonight. She was too damned tired to have to put up with this shit. She’d spent the morning working with Kakashi-sensei, trying to help him make sense of filing system the Godaime had used before passing her power on, then Tsunade had demanded Sakura lead her private physical therapy session, then an eight hour hospital shift, and then her visit to Sasuke’s room, which had been its usual disaster. He was such being a pessimistic ass, who didn’t even realize all of his medical work- she took that upon herself. She did it outside of her regular workday. And now she got to spend the evening with Team Ten and their guard duty. True, she’d didn’t have to stay long, but, while not outright torture, this was a duty that came with its own set of certain pains.
Prisoners were not generally allowed to live outside of cells, watched only by the lightest of sentries. Yet there was Ino, off to get take-out for prisoners, leaving Sakura alone to walk into the Uchiha House. It wasn’t being used for anything else, Sakura reminded herself, and it wasn’t like she’d even known any Uchihas when…well, unless squatters had gotten in, no one lived there. Of course, Sakura quirked a tired smile, there were squatters- of a sort- here. Might as well let Sasuke’s team live there as anywhere after all.
The doorframe was damp, even though it hadn’t rained in weeks, and she had to be careful not to get slivers when she slid the door open and stepped into the hall. Her shoes were left by the door next to the other shoes piled haphazardly there. No other signs of inhabitation- of life- were in sight. The Uchiha clan’s land, she remembered, had spread out over several blocks, with every house, every business owned by a Uchiha, creating, in essence, a miniature village Tsunade had once explained. It was all empty now, the entire district abandoned. She’d tried to imagine family that large, that much carnage and how one boy, one too-brilliant, too-smart-for-his-own-damn-good boy had killed that much. The Hyuuga and the Nara clans were much the same; taking up just as much space, living just the same way- but it was still no good. Sakura could never even imagine enough family to have filled up the huge, echoing Uchiha house, let alone the empty, unreal streets beyond.
It had been decided, she wasn’t sure whom by, to use the rooms the Main Family themselves had used. Probably to Shikamaru’s mind, it was the most practical- Sasuke had lived in this house for several years after his family’s death. She had even visited once or twice those rooms would only have sat unused for four years, not nine or ten. Still, it was a long walk from the main door, and a full two minutes before she saw a line of light leaking out from underneath a door.
“Ino, that you? I wanna add to the order! How could you decide what to get without-“ Chouji’s face popped out of the door, and the rest of whatever he was saying fell flat.
“Oh. Its you, Sakura-san. Ino left for food yet?”
She smiled. “Yeah.”
“I told you,” Shikamaru told Chouji as Sakura entered the room. “We wouldn’t leave you out of the ordering decisions if we paid for our own meals ourselves. But we’re using the budget Tsunade-sama set. You have a problem, you’re gonna have to take it up with the boss, Chouji. I don’t want the trouble that comes with making Tsunade-sama pissed.”
“But I’m hungry.”
Sakura walked pass the boys-men- who were bickering in their own, not-really-kinda- way. Ino had once claimed her team must argue more than any other, but when Sakura had first started working with Team Ten, back when they’d attempted the Chuunin Trials for a second time, she hadn’t even recognized what they were doing might, in any universe, under any laws of physics, time or space, be construed as bickering. What Sasuke and Naruto had done- that was bickering. Just bickering, is all, she’d told her mom when she’d asked how her genin team was doing. They’re just bickering Kakashi had told her when she herself had worried they were going too far.
“Oh, gods, are they at it again?” said a voice across the room. Karin’s hair splayed out from under the book she’d draped across her face. “Just man up and say you say you want him to eat right. We are tired of listening.”
Sakura pressed her lips together to keep try and keep from smiling. Ino’d told her Karin had a mouth on her, but she never really got to see it.
“When I want your advice, I’ll ask for it. Man, this job is a drag.”
“If you took my advice a little bit more often, you’d already have blondie eating out of your-Oh.”
Karin had sat up and froze on seeing it was not just the usual gang. It was Sakura standing here. They stared at once another for a few seconds, till the redhead jerked her head down, eyes staring at the floor.
Sakura could never quite tell. Was it that she had saved the other girl’s life, or that she saw Sasuke every day while Karin was locked in his old house? Karin didn’t want Sasuke, not anymore. That was Ino’s official opinion, and Ino had been the interrogator put in charge of Karin’s case. But teammates were hard things to quit. You could be stabbed in the back by them- or right in the chest as you looked on in cases like Karin’s- but you couldn’t quit needing them, needing them to be okay. Could you?
“So can we see Sasuke yet?” Suigetsu asked, sitting up from his mat next to Karin’s. And that was answer enough for her questions about teammates and quitting.
“Who cares?” Karin stuck her tongue out at Suigetsu, making a face.
“What? Mad I don’t believe you?”
Karin flushed, pushed her glasses further up her nose to hide any discomfort. “N-no. I don’t care. Go. Meet him. Get a kunai in the back, for all I care. And you will. Get a kunai in the back, I mean.”
Ino’s reports on Sasuke’s “replacement” team tended to run like a soap opera script sometimes. Ino always did like gossip too much. Still, such gossip came in handy right then, and, if their very presence didn’t constantly underline the reality of Sasuke, she’d even acknowledge their bickering (and this is real bickering) could at times be entertianing. Except every word out of their mouths might as well be “Uchiha Sasuke” because everything about them connected back to him. Like right now, Sakura knew Suigetsu still didn’t believe Sasuke had stabbed Karin, or that Karin had turned Leaf Evidence. He didn’t believe a word of it, even when he was reaping the benefits of the small creature comforts now being offered to Karin and her team. Like the take-out.
“What about Juungo? Can we see him?” Suigetsu asked.
“Shikamaru didn’t tell you?” she said, sitting down next to the man in question. “You got clearance. You can go see him in the hospital tomorrow.”
“Then what about Sasuke?” Karin’s voice was very soft and unexpected right then. She must have had to talk about Sasuke endlessly in interrogation. Logically, Sakura is away that she must have, but Sakura herself had never heard her say Sasuke’s name before.
“Yeah,” Sakura pushed back the hair clinging to her face. “Him too. Ino asked just yesterday. He said yes.”
Beside her, Shikamau stiffened, and turned to her. “Ino asked Sasuke?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“I told him to stay away from her.”
“You know how that sounds, Nara.” Suigetsu cut in, from across the room. “Karin’s right, you need get up off your lazy-“
Chouji laid a hand on Shikamaru’s shoulder. “Shika-“
“Look, I already told you, it’s not like that. I just- you know how she use to get about him. I don’t want her hurt.”
“No, it’s not about that. I smell food. That means-“
“Hello-oooh!” Ino’s voice echoed down the hall. “Can somebody help me with the door? Arms are full here!”
Sakura scrambled up from her spot by the wall. “I’ll get it. I need to get going anyway.”
Shikamaru looked at her. “You sure? I’m sure there’ll be plenty of food”
“There will not.” Chouji muttered. “Stupid budget. Stupid friends with diet plans.”
Oh dear. A part of her wanted to giggle at that. Clearly, she needed to get to bed even more desperately than she thought.
“Its fine. I’ve got a shift starting at four in the morning. Time for beauty rest, as Ino would-“
“Hello? Anybody coming to help me?”
Shikamaru smirked. “And there’s the siren herself. So charming. See you, Sakura-san.”
“Bye,” She looked over his shoulder at Suigetsu and Karin, who’s low but heated whispers indicated another argument in the works. “Bye, you two.”
“See ya, Hot Stuff,” Suigetsu said, flashing his shark-like grin. Karin, predictably, said nothing in response, but did reach out to try and hit the back of his head. His head turned to water instead and that was when Sakura knew it was really time for her to leave. She didn’t want to bandage up any damage a fight would cause.
“Bye, Sakura-san,” Chouji said, shutting the shoji door behind her as she stepped out into the darkened hall.
A voice whined, “Anyone coming?”
Sakura hurried on to help her friend, wondering absently, with the part of her brain that wasn’t preoccupied with wanting her bed, or going over the hospital scheduling for the next two weeks, whether she would tell Sasuke tomorrow of this visit. Of whether he would approve of the pile of shoes at the door and how it told of the people within.
She opened the door.
“Finally!..You not staying,” Ino stated, seeing Sakura reach down to hunt for her shoes.
“No. Not tonight.”
Ino smiled. “Gotta get beauty sleep for Prince So-Not-Charming, right?”
Sakura rolled her eyes. Knew she’d say that.
“Weren’t you listening last conversation we had?”
“Yeah,” Ino said, setting the bags of take-out on the ground beside her. “And as much as I wish you were telling the truth, you weren’t. For future reference, don’t lie to interrogation officers. It doesn’t work.”
Instead of answering, Sakura took an extra moment to adjust the strap on her sandals.
“Yamanakas know the mind, and if you learn enough about the mind, you can begin to know the heart a little too. Don’t ignore what’s happening in your head, Sakura, messy though it may be.” She paused for a moment, kicked off her shoes and reached for the bags again. “Don’t miss what’s going on right in front of you either. We don’t want you get getting hurt, but sometimes hurt is unavoidable.”
Huh, even Ino could surprise her sometimes. She never would have guessed Ino knew that truth. Standing up, Sakura said,” You could be saying some of this to a mirror you know.”
Ino gave her a funny look. “Whaddya mean?”
Oh, gods, they really were a mess weren’t they? All of them. A great big, alive, bickering, loving human mess, just they way they should. Sakura could tell she was going to wake up tomorrow and there were going to be some moments she might hate, but how could she do anything but smile right now? Tomorrow would be bearable, because, on the whole, tomorrow was suddenly looking pretty good.
“See ya around.”