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The way Sasuke comes home is less myth and more devastatingly embarrassing happenstance.

One day Sakura is on one of the few away missions that Tsunade allows her. Ostensibly it’s to keep up her conditioning and improve diplomacy but really it’s to keep her and Kakashi from ganging up on the Council. They’re traveling through Wind about to cross the border into some small city state that has recently decided that Gaara and a city of ninjas is not a good enough reason to pay taxes when someone makes a hruk noise and drops to the ground 50 metres from them. Her escort from Sand jumps into the fray, like a moron, and stops at approximately the distance from which they heard the noise.    

“Er, Medic?” He shouts.

“Yeah,” Sakura shouts back.

“I’m pretty damn sure this is your Uchiha.”

Any number of people have said that and she’s never forgiven any who’ve lied. She makes sure her face says so when she stomps over.

But-

“You goddamn idiot,” she breathes. “You absolute snivelling worm.”

Sasuke gurgles some blood in his throat.

Sakura kneels down beside him, hands already lit. “I’m going to remove your goddamn spine.”

His intestines are out, his arms are broken, there’s a cut everywhere she wouldn’t want one. They’ve lodged something in his gut and it’s causing all this mess.

“Itachi-” Sasuke tries to say.

“It’s in your best interests to not speak to me possibly ever again.”

Sasuke coughs wetly.

“You’re a complete fucking prick,” Sakura says to him, hands digging through his intestines.

“Gargh,” is more or less his reply.

“Honestly,” she pulls her hands free to grab the big bottle of scary liquid that does nothing at all but Tsunade encourages for the psychological benefits of keeping the average holier than thou shinobi in line. Sasuke is in too much distress to fully appreciate it but Sakura figures she’s got about two days before Naruto hears about this and runs across the entirety of Wind. “You’re a real whiner too.”

There’s sharingan eyes and she couldn’t give a fuck.

She tilts the bottle towards his gut wound. “This is gonna suck for you.”

Sasuke glares and it’s honestly the best time Sakura has ever had saving some ungrateful shits life.

--

She tells Kakashi Sasuke’s back by throwing herself into one of the two chairs at his breakfast table and eating a piece of his toast. There’s shuffling from his bedroom which indicates another pointless one night stand he’s only bothered with because it soothes all the hypermasculine rookies in ANBU to think of their personal idols dick getting wet. Sakura has had this conversation with Kakashi and will honour their promise to never talk about it again until she dies.   

He lowers his book an inch to look at her. He’s dressed for his version of a day off. He’s dressed normally. “Morning.”

“Sasuke is bleeding out in the third amphitheatre.”

Kakashi turns to her, lowers the book and blinks. Raises the book, blinks and looks to the window. Puts down the book, rises, blinks and then disappears in a plume of smoke.

Sakura memorizes every moment of this interaction, butters another piece of toast and goes to Kakashi’s bedroom.

The woman inside is buttoning her shirt. She’s small, curvy and flowing. With some irritation Sakura realises that he must have picked her up at the mednin function last night. “Do you want this?”

Big brown eyes stare at her. “Oh. Um.”

Sakura flops down on the bed. “He brought out the toast which means there’s nothing at all food wise. Try the blackberry preserve.”

She puts the toast on the edge of the bed and leaves in her own plume of smoke.   

--

This is not what she wanted.

Team 7 reunited stands before the Hokage in an array of appropriateness. Sakura is in her chunnin vest and her greens, face scrubbed and moisturised, and on the other side of the room there’s Sasuke who while bathed looks like he may have fought a bear and lost. Tsunade pinches the bridge of her nose. Not once has she looked directly at Sasuke. It’s nice of Sasuke to return the favour though awkward for everyone else in the room. “Five year probation and then we’ll see.”

“Alright.” Sasuke nods. He reaches up to touch lightly at where he’s probably bleeding through his bandages, she can tell from a distance that they’re not tight enough. Tsunade eyes it for a moment and then looks back at her papers. Naruto is positively vibrating next to Tsunade’s shoulder looking for all the world as if he’s gotten everything he ever wanted. Kakashi, at her shoulder and as close to polite as he is capable, is only slightly less invested than Naruto, though she’s probably the only one in the room close enough to him to tell. Sakura sighs as quietly as she can. It is a good thing she is obscenely fond of everyone in this room.

“Good.” Tsunade leans back in her chair. “You’re staying a genin.”

“We’ll do it together.” Naruto grins to the room at large. “Right Sakura?”

This is not what she wanted.

She smiles brightly. “Absolutely.”

Tsunade looks at her and then back to Naruto. “Sakura your field promotion still counts,” Naruto winds himself up to have a go. Tsunade holds up a hand. “Sorry kitten you can’t always win.”

Naruto scowls.

Sakura doesn’t let out a breath of relief.

Kakashi leans over and whispers, “I’ll make you dinner.”

“We will get take out and I will not do your dishes.” She replies, eyes looking resolutely at the space between Tsunade and the window. She can drive a hard bargain when she has to.

Kakashi pouts. “I thought I was doing you the favour.”

She smiles at him briefly, sadly. “You are.”

He leaves it alone because god knows he wouldn’t want to deal with it. For once Sakura is glad to be the only one approaching something like emotional aptitude.

Important bits done Kakashi reveals Icha Icha from wherever he’d been hiding it. He makes a point of picking a passage and a sentence from which to start pretending he isn’t tuned into everything going on around him. “Sakura good people grow with time.”

Sakura looks at him curiously. “What do good shinobi do?”

“They get petty.”   

Sakura eyes the way Naruto lights up when he touches Sasuke’s shoulder. Eyes it and finds it immensely disatisfying. “Then I’m going to be a damn fine shinobi.”

“I know.” He says fondly.

--

Sakura is banned from working with Team 7 for the first six weeks. It’s a ban and not happenstance because Tsunade says so.

“They need to really reconnect.” Tsunade says. “You confuse them sometimes.”

Which is brilliantly unfair, really, but Sakura accepts it and takes her extra rotations with all the grace in her.

Sakura is minding her own business, checking over her rotation for the week, when Naruto bursts through the door of her shitty office at the hospital. “Sakura! We’ve got a mission!”

“Oh?” Sakura raises an eyebrow.

Naruto’s hands wave excitedly. “Ten minutes by the bridge.”

Sakura smiles at him, “we better go then.”

When they arrive at the training ground Kakashi and Sasuke are pointedly not looking at each other in an attempt to look cool. She trades a fond look with Naruto. Some things, no matter the season, never change.

Sakura walks past them into their old training ground. She flops down on the ground, hands behind her head, and asks, “well?”

“Kakashi sighs longsufferingly and says, “the grounds are booby trapped, you can only use taijutsu, kenjutsu and genjutsu, you have two hours to complete the objective. I will get in your way.”

Naruto grins. “We’ll crush it just you wait!”

Sasuke throws a punch in Naruto’s general direction. “Shut the hell up.”

“What’s the objective?” Sakura asks.

Kakashi solemnly produces two bells.

“Of course,” Sasuke scowls.  

“We should work together.” Naruto says earnestly.

“Hn,” Sasuke replies.

Sakura rolls over on the ground and starts thinking about the fact that she knows what Sasuke’s spine feels like and how that might be her only joy for the next few minutes.

“Alright,” Sakura says as she tugs her gloves on, she gets to her feet and stretches her legs. “I’m going to wreck everything on the south side. Naruto you attack from above. Sasuke you need to come in from the Northwest of his position.”

“And what will we do when we get there?” Sasuke taunts.

Sakura looks at him, fingers flexing in leather. “Well,” she says meanly, “I would think you could figure it out.”

And then she does her part of the mission as a well trained shinobi should, getting into position high in a tree after she effortless destroyed Kakashi’s groundwork.  

Naruto comes in way too hot. Sasuke, not to be outdone, comes in ever hotter. He busts through what is a clear trap to fall right into Kakashi’s literal clutches. Kakashi merely tosses him aside and makes for Naruto. Naruto launches himself and they meet halfway. Kakashi’s superior hand to hand doing a lot to keep Naruto’s sheer relentlessness at bay. Sakura times her moment, she’ll hit behind and give Naruto an opening. Just ten seconds more and-

“Are you going to do anything at all?” Sasuke whispers from behind her.

Sakura turns and throws a punch before she can think better of it. Sasuke bodily throws her out of the tree and into Kakashi’s path. Sakura turns to engage but ends up right in Naruto’s path. They hit the ground in a lump. When she manages to remove Naruto from her front she glances towards her teacher.

“Fail,” Kakashi announces, already pulling out his Icha Icha.

Sakura has managed to beat a version of this test every month for the last two years. Absolutely seething she flips onto her feet and grabs a startled Sasuke by the collar of his shirt.  

“What the hell was that?” she hisses.

Sasuke sneers, “If you had done your job.”

“You fucking moron that was my job,” she shakes him. “I’ve done versions of this in practice and in the field-”

“You did a bad job then.”

She throws him away from her. He turns to land on his feet, arms crossed, looking for all the world like he did when he was 12. The difference, Sakura thinks disgustedly, is that 12 year old Sakura had no reason to fuck his shit up yet.

“Guys,” Naruto says placatingly.

“No,” Sasuke scowls, “if Sakura is still just as useless-”

“Oi-”

Sakura sees red. She’s moving before she thinks it through. Chakra to her fist, enough to break bone, and she puts it right to his chest. He catches her hand and she looks up to catch the expression on his face. He’s surprised, surprised and hurt. Now she really wants to hurt him. His hand gives way under hers turning into so much broken bone and torn muscle. Sakura can heal that but she might not just to show him, to make him see-

Sasuke swings back and Sakura is prepared for the hit. Then Naruto is there, pushing her out of the way, refusing to let her get in the way or whatever the fuck he thinks he’s doing when he does this.

Sakura spins around them just as Sasuke makes contact with Naruto’s throat. She gets a second hit in but takes an elbow to the face splitting her lip open. She moves again but this time Naruto gets a hand on the both of them. He puts himself in the middle forcing the two of them apart. Sasuke starts it this time ducking underneath, Sakura is prepared she’s already kicking and weaving her fists, hitting every second stroke. She’s not holding back her strength. She’s killing him every time they make contact. Sasuke falters and Sakura gets a knee into his chest, ribs cracking on contact. Sasuke draws his sword and manages to get even lower and angle himself in for a severing. Sakura twists out of the way but falls into his second movement, blade catching her in the arm and severing the tendons. Sakura ignores the pain and keeps moving forward. She gets a hold on his forearm and presses down.

“Enough!” Naruto roars.

They stop.  

There’s a livewire splitting from her bleeding lip, to Naruto’s bruised throat, to Sasuke’s broken hand. Something’s bubbling between the cracks. Three people can’t stand staring at eachother like this. Three people need to look away, now, before more damage is done. Sasuke’s arm is still in her grip and she knows the taste of healing Naruto’s bruises better than she knows what’s coursing down to a sharp need between her thighs.

Oh, she thinks, that’s how you fall in love

--

Her parents are specialised merchants who purchase from warehouses for other sellers and therefore are away more than they’re home. It has been a very long time since this has bothered Sakura. The more being a shinobi settles under her skin the less she knows what to do with herself here. Her mother still thinks she’s going to be a housewife and her father still thinks of her as six. Intellectually they know their daughter can crush every bone in their bodies with a touch but emotionally they think she’s ten and obsessed with Ino and ribbons.   

“Sasuke came back,” Sakura says as she’s washing up after dinner. Her mother’s trying a new cooking style, heavy on grains and sauce. They were quite insistent that Sakura not have any of the beer they paired with it. Sakura tolerates that because it’s easier than trying to explain that shinobi do everything young including alcohol dependency. She hands her mother a plate to dry.

“That’s nice,” and her mother does think it’s nice, after all she wasn’t allowed to tell them why he left or what being back means, “do you think the weather will hold long enough for us to go to Hot Springs this year?”

“No,” Sakura hands her mother a green and grey cup this time. She chipped a tooth on this one a long time ago. “I think they might restrict travel because of the weather conditions.”

There are bandits using the instability of Sound to kidnap civilians for the slave trade out in the Western countries. Sakura is going on a mission to kill as many as possible. She will be using her hands and her knife. It’s a power move to reassert Konoha’s position otherwise they’d just send ANBU. Her parents have never asked her why she sometimes comes home with blood dried on her skin and it is easier for them to touch her if they think it’s all medical related.  

“Ah,” her father says, “how useful a ninja daughter is.”

Sakura sighs and hands her mother another cup.

--

They lose seven babies overnight to an waterborne infection carried in by a visiting mednin from Mist.  

Sakura cradles two in her arms, their little chests still sweaty, bellies bloated and hopes she never has children. There are protocols for dead babies and the other woman on staff is handling all that. It is Sakura’s job to make sure they’re ready to be given back to their families. She cares for them as much as she can, washes up, and tries to leave it all behind her as she walks away from the hospital. The night sky is dark above her. She likes to think of herself as a child of Konoha’s skies; always looking up, always willing to stand and fight. Her job is eating that out of her and it seems painfully obvious that like her teacher she will follow the calling of saving lives into the deep end of a bottle.

To that end, Sakura finds a bar -civillian, curfew at 2- and works her way through as many of the silly named shots as she can. There is one for each baby, and because she’s started she does one for their parents, and then one for the oncology ward and on and on and on. Thank god for the civilian fascination with kunoichi or she’d have to pay for this herself; as is many men are willing to do it for her provided she giggle and kiss. She has the beginnings of a truly impressive bender going when a cool, fine hand takes hers.

“M’fine.” Sakura slurs as she attempts to flag down the bartender.

“Enough.” Sasuke slides into the seat next to her. She mourns her free drink system. “Why didn’t you come to one of us instead?”

To who, you?

Sakura sways forward, forehead hitting the bar. Is her forehead too hot or is it just the stickiness of the table? “I’m an excellent drinker.”

Sasuke sighs. “Goddammit, Sakura. Just talk to us.”

Sakura looks at him askance.

“I have a therapist.” He glares at her. “Please.”

Sakura looks him up and down. “No.”

“Sakura-”

“I don’t you owe that.” She hisses.

Sasuke looks gobsmacked or as close as he can get. He recovers, his eyes slide to the ground. Sakura waits for the blowback, for that thrice damned arrogance. It’s all still there bubbling just beneath the surface of every interaction. He looks up and his eyes are red and whirling. Grief is the root of the sharingan and she almost wants to takes his eyes out with a spoon. “I know.”

Somedays she just wants to scream at him I just lost three children, they weren’t kin but I brought them into the world, I was the first human who ever touched them or he died while I was holding him, his blood is under my fingernails or I have to give up hope all the time, I have to say this far and no more, not every life can be saved or you don’t own grief, are you listening? It’s not yours and you can’t make us accomplices.

“What do you want?”

“You’re really drunk,” he remarks.

“Bartender!” Sakura throws her arms in the air nearly toppling off the stool. “A drink for my friend.”

The bartender drops two bright green glasses of something almost syrup like. Sakura drinks hers eagerly. Sasuke looks at his dubiously. “I’m not drinking.”

“Great!” Sakura does his for him then throws down her wallet with all her money in it. “Take whatever, I don’t care.”

Sasuke scowls and grabs her wallet taking out whatever he thinks is an appropriate amount. The bartender has a go at him so Sakura leaves while the leaving is good. She’s down a street and a half when a strong arm comes around her middle. Years ago she’d have loved that. Sasuke brings her flush against his side so she drops her weight. He bodily hauls her off the ground and takes her to an empty park near to her apartment. Sakura sits on one of the benches and tries to recall why she doesn’t like them anymore.  

“Hey, hey. Do you know why I’m mad at you?”

“No.” Sasuke pauses hopefully. “Why are you mad at me?”

“I don’t have the first clue.”

“Are you ever going to stop?”

Sakura lurches sideways, as much a surprise to herself, and falls to the ground. She looks up at him and starts to laugh. It’s just funny. It’s really funny. It’s the funniest, really.

“Right.” Sasuke says looking away from her, “thanks.”

Laughter starts to sour in her throat and turn to big hiccupping sobs. It’s unattractive and for a moment she has the insane image of Sasuke turning into a giant balloon snake and floating away never to be seen again. Then she’s crying for real.

Sasuke looks at her, and she has enough presence of mind to write him off for getting her home, then he scoops her up in his arms and takes to the sky. Neither of them are balloons, she doesn’t have the first clue how he does it.

“Being with Orochimaru sucked.”

Sakura sniffles.

“You...You’re hands feel nicer.”

Sakura looks at him. Smiles. Vomits on him.

--

Fucking hell, Haruno

 Uchiha

 

Sakura finds it stuck to her forehead with what she suspects is snake spit. She rips it up and throws it away.

--

“This’ll be a hard one.”

“We can handle it.” Sasuke says confidently.

Tsunade looks at him over her papers. Her office is a mess. Shizune has abdicated to the small adjutant's quarters and barricaded herself in to avoid dealing with Tsunade’s pissy mood. Sakura was filled in on the way into clinic this morning. Tsunade blinks at him. “Obviously. I am not new to this.”

Sasuke scowls and crosses his arms. Naruto grins at all of them.

“Usually Kakashi would not be assigned to this but as we have only recently reacquired our somewhat murderous baby bird he’ll be the captain for this mission.”

“I could do it.” Naruto says mutinously.

“Sakura is his second.” Tsunade leans back in her chair. “She has more field experience than both of you combined.”

Sasuke snorts. Naruto pouts, “I’ve totally taken down more people.”

Sakura concentrates on the point above Tsunade’s head and counts her mission stats backwards, counts the bodies she’s saved, counts the breaths she’s allowed others to take, those she’s killed herself.   

“Silly boy,” Tsunade mutters. Sasuke frowns at her, casting a look at Sakura and Kakashi. Both of them are staring at the point above Tsunade’s head. He frowns again.

Tsunade holds up a scroll. A-Rank. Burn after reading. “Details, Sakura.”

Sakura nods and strides forward. She bows after she takes the mission scroll, completely unnecessary. She unrolls it there, takes a look, decides what she’ll need as medic and second of this operation. Once done she throws it to Kakashi and strides out calling behind her, “standard tack, twenty by the gate.”

And then she’s streaking out the door across the roofs to her home.

Sakura is there thirteen minutes later. Kakashi is already waiting.

“Good job,” Kakashi mutters. She has no idea why he’s being so quiet, the only people here are the chunnin on guard.

“Petty,” Sakura replies.

“Shinobi.”

“Ah huh,” Sakura narrows her eyes. That’s Sasuke and Naruto approaching hard. “We’re hot in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6-”

“-I beat you!” Naruto appears in a plume of dust in front of her.

Sasuke is a shiver of a moment behind him, “I’ll get you back.”   

Sakura has such stupid boys. “Mission is a go in five.”

Kakashi nods and takes a leisurely pace out of Konoha. Sasuke and Naruto follow him and Sakura’s sense of nostalgia is so strong she can barely breathe. All three stop and turn when they realise she isn’t following. Sakura smiles. Happy, sad, nauseous.

All three of them press in on her: fall in, fall in, fall in

Sakura smiles wider, shrugs and takes off at a back breaking pace towards their goal. She won’t meander, she won’t let this take more time than it should.

Sasuke draws up with her and smirks. Sakura snarls at him and goes faster. Naruto and Kakashi draw level with them.

“What, are we dawdling?” Sasuke mocks.

Inferiority complex masked by mockery and sarcasm. Sakura reminds herself grimly. Poor emotional self control contained by ego.  

“Let’s pick up the pace then!” Naruto shouts gleefully. Sakura rolls her eyes. Abandonment issues out the whazoo. Boundary issues leveled out by charisma.

Sakura puts her foot to the ground and pushes down so she can leap ahead. She makes three before Sasuke is on her heels again. He flanks her in a perfect support position which is both unnecessary and she is ungrateful for. She hits the ground again and flies through the air. She’s weightless utterly for a moment, earth coming rapidly towards her. There’s a smile on her lips before impact: this is the most free she’s felt in years. Strong, moving, with those she loves-

“Wooooosh” Naruto says as he leaps higher than her and comes crashing down faster. Sasuke follows his arc and lands gracefully on the ground. When Sakura lands Kakashi is already bemoaning Naruto’s lack of tact. Sakura feels queasy and then happy then queasy again.  

Naruto punches the air. “Yeah! Team 7 back together!”

Sakura snorts and glances sideways out of habit. Sasuke rolls his eyes and looks back.

--

Being friends with Kakashi means two things: every single ANBU in Konoha thinks you’re their personal business and you’re going to spend a lot of time standing by large rocks thinking about dead people. Sakura doesn’t have the patience for the former and many an elite Konoha operative ends up at the mercy of her temper and sporadic strength control. The latter is somewhat stifled by Sakura not having a multitude of dead friends to unhealthily fixate on.

“We are going to the park,” she says just after she turns 14, her hands are properly toughened and she doesn’t care about the flyaways in her hair. She’s trapped him in a public place away from all convenient escapes. He could just vanish but Sakura’s got about one more year of using his attachment to her childhood to guilt him. “We are going to have a picnic.”

“Ah,” Kakashi says, turning a page.

“We are going to the park,” she says again, already taking his arm.

“Maa, Sakura-”

“No,” she wraps her arm through his and sets off. It’s a nice day so she makes them walk at normal speed to the area between training grounds 17 and 35 where she has pre prepared her trap. He objects a few more times to being manhandled so she squeezes harder and presses closer giving him no choice but to come along or risk hurting her. While she went to corner her sensei she asked Lee and Tenten to prepare a picnic for them. As they get closer Kakashi’s interest in humoring her visibly ebbs. He sighs. “Why today?”

“Why not?” She sits down on the pretty blue blanket and pours him his tea. The food, picked by Ino, is appropriate and tasty looking. Across the field a new genin team is facing off against their sensei, ducking and whooping and weaving. She brought enough food to give them some at the end if they look deserving enough. Kakashi settles down on the other side of the blanket for once giving her all his attention.   

“Sakura, why today?”

“I graduated today,” she puts her cup into her palms in such a way that no one can see it shake. “I was assigned a team.”

The dango looks tasty. She takes a bite and sighs happily.

“That was today, wasn’t it?” Kakashi muses. He’s already drunk his tea, somehow, so she refills it. One of the genin takes a spectacular fall. His teammates rush over to help him, both grinning like wild things. Kakashi’s face doesn’t move but his eyes soften enough that she thinks he’ll let them stay here for the day.

Sakura hands him some dango and settles down to let some hours pass.

--

Somewhere in year three she puts her foot down.

She’s a good shinobi and she’s getting good at being a decent person. She is absolutely going to bow out of this whatever it is with grace and dignity. Sasuke and Naruto are something. There’s a lot of conjecture on what something is but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are involved in some way. Sakura is not talked about in these conversations except as a possible source of information.  

She is gracious and good and kind until the day three nine year olds corner her and demand to know what their idols do on their dates and then she is none of those things.

She doesn’t mean to put the fear of god into a group of prepubescents. Tsunade does not believe her and thanks her for the laugh after she drags the whole mortifying deal out of Sakura over post surgery drinks.

(“You gotta know when to give in girl,” her Hokage, teacher and surrogate mother says.

“I am not in the way.” Sakura replies petulantly.

“You’re in the middle,” Tsunade says gleefully, “you’re certainly in the mix.”

Sakura scowls and starts an arm wrestling match out of sheer self defense.)

She has the world’s nastiest hangover after that and decides that she will not be doing this any longer. She will not be in the conversation. She is going to get the fuck out of this. She is going to get up, go to practice, and treat Naruto and Sasuke like competent adults and have a serious emotionally charged conversation with them. She will be firm. She will resolve this like an adult.

That resolve dies at first contact.

More accurately it dies the moment that Sakura realises her boys have no earthly clue why she’s sort of breaking up with them.

“Wait,” Naruto says, scratching his head, “do we even know any nine year olds?”

“The fanclub thing is entirely your own fault,” Sasuke points out.

“Well, I can see why your fangirls would be-”

“Oh my god moron-”

“Boys,” Sakura says sharply. “I am being a supportive friend.”

“Not really,” Naruto says, “you just said we should try working with other teams, building up other relationships so we don’t have to rely on each other so much and that you’re giving me and that bastard some space so we can figure out our relationship. Which is dumb, Sakura, we’re pretty clear on what we are to each other.”

Sasuke nods.

Sakura screams internally. “Your relationship. As adults. Your adult relationship that I am not a part of.”

Naruto and Sasuke frown. Sasuke recovers first, “Of course you’re a part of this.”

Sakura sighs. “No, Sasuke, I am not.”

Naruto’s face falls to understanding. “Sakura I-”

She holds up her hands defensively, “I am being a supportive friend.”

Naruto returns to scratching his head. “Uh.”

Sasuke crosses his arms. “We didn’t ask you to.”

“Then what do you want!”

Her boys look at each other.

Naruto shrug. “Well- you could- uh- you could take your shirt off?”

One beat of silence.

Two.

Three.

“You want me to-?”

“You asked.” Naruto says, suspiciously high pitched.

She raises the edge of her shirt then lunges for Naruto with her free hand. He doesn’t stand a chance of avoiding the slap. “Come here loverboy.”

“Oh fuck- Ow- fuck me Sakura that was hard-”

Sasuke starts laughing. Both of them stop and stare at him.

It’s like something released from captivity. He honestly sounds like he’s choking to death. Sasuke laughs and the world tips over for both of them. Naruto grins, laughs, whoops, the same as always. Sakura looks at the ground and smiles with a wrenching feeling low in her gut. This just became a massacre. A pile up of dead things about to happen. If Sakura believed in grace she’d reach for them now. Nothing but them for her, nothing else because looking at Sasuke as he is; 19, fucked up, laughing, she realises-

She’s forgiven him.   

--

Her behaviour changes. She knows this because she turns into a complete and utter moron.

First off she gets promoted. Her active status remains chunnin but it’s acknowledged among the brass that she will be put forward as a prospect jounin at the next nomination period. Her hours at the hospital shorten considerably because Tsunade wants her to pick a speciality so she can become the first ever medical ninja who is certified with a medical skill at the jounin level. To do that Tsunade has put her on indefinite leave until she complies with her demands. To make up for the income loss she becomes Tsunade’s right hand. She is now Tsunade’s Number One Work Gopher. Shizune is proud, terrified and deeply relieved to be demoted to Tsunade’s Public Scapegoat. Sakura basically lives and breathes the tower. Entire weeks go by where the most she see’s of her boys is a glimpse by the mission desk.

That is fine with her and she is not remotely bothered by it.

The best part of her new situation is that she and Ino get a chance to reconnect. T&I has Ino learning the ropes of the administration and she’s started sending Sakura mean notes with hearts on them. Sakura loves her so much. They have coffee every second day to go over their copious complants about everyone they work with.

Their coffee shop is close to the tower and it is a beautiful bright point in her otherwise shitty, exhausting life. Ino is standing in line when she arrives for a coffee to take home with her, long blonde hair floating gently in the wind, iris perfume subtle and alluring. Since she broke up with her boys there’s been a lot of alone time in her life, Ino's supreme put togetherness unintentionally rubs this in Sakura's face. Since they've already had their Epic Rivalry Make Up Fight, Sakura has to settle for being quietly lonely and fiercely proud of her friend. 

Ino squints at her, “bad day?”

“Was it the bedhead or the rumpled clothing?” Sakura smiles tiredly. “Anything interesting?”

“Well,” Ino drawls in a way that means trouble, “there’s something.”

Sakura glances around the room. There’s the barista, the secretary pool day drinking before the High Council meeting, the civilians unsubtly trying to pick up and-  

And then there’s Sasuke glaring at her as he drinks his own coffee.

Ino whistles. “This is quite the roll reversal.”

“Fuck off.”

“He’s stalking you.”

“Fuck off.”

“It’s not really romantic.”

“Fuck me.” Sakura puts her head in her hands. “Ino, learn tact.”

“Fuck you, Forehead Girl.” Ino taps her chin thoughtfully. “Do you think I’m better at stealth?”

“You’re not better at fucking off.”

Ino pats her on the head. “Oh, sweetheart. I really am.”

Sakura scowls. She’s not sure when her boys decided emotional terrorism would solve this but she’s kind of feeling something almost like flattered.

Ino wags her finger in Sakura’s face. “You’re crazy pants.”

“Fuck. Off.” Sakura glares at Sasuke silently conveying that she’s going to physically rearrange a rock face with his body. Sasuke raises an eyebrow all come and try it. Sakura would, she totally would, but they are on a break.

“This is the least sexy thing I have ever experienced,” Ino exclaims, “this is the least sexually attracted to Sasuke I have ever been.”

“Really?” Sakura asks, she's at the counter now and pauses briefly to give her order, “because there was a time he was blue, psychotic and had wings. And lived with Orochimaru.”

Ino shrugs. “Seen worse.”

Sakura doesn’t reply to that.

“I’m going to go home now.” Ino picks up her coffee from the doe eyed barista and throws a few bills on the counter, “You too should go home. You’ve been working way too hard.”

Story of her life, really.

She picks up take out and walks the long way to her family home. She owns an apartment close to the hospital but her parents are out of the country and she kind of wants the comforts of home. She throws her shoes off and stuffs fried noodles into her life. She has a bottle of wine she’s been pretending she’s going to throw into a stew later. She can’t cook for shit. By the time she gets face down on her childhood bed she is tired, drunk and there isn’t enough fried noodles in the world to make her feel better.

Sakura sighs. “This is stupid.”

Naruto’s muffled voice comes from her roof. “You could just show up to practice.”

“I’m busy.”

“You’re not.” Sasuke says. He’s in her house.

Good god.

“If you’re going to mess around in my house do my laundry.”

“Come to practice.” Sasuke says over the woosh of running water. He’s turned on the kitchen taps.

“We miss you.” Naruto whines.

“We’ll respect your boundaries.”

“You’re breaking and entering,” Sakura says to the ceiling.

“We haven’t really entered yet,” Sasuke replies.

There’s a beat of mortifying silence.

“Oh my god.” Naruto wheezes.

Sasuke snarls. “Shut up you-”

Sakura sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “You’ve done a lot of breaking though, the two of you, haven’t you?”

“Sakura.” Naruto sounds hunted, hurt.

“Technically I’m a chunnin.” Sakura sits up on her bed. “Technically-”

Sasuke laughs harshly. “Yeah, because all of this is fucking technical.”

“Is that it, then?” Naruto says calmly. She hates this part of him, reasonable and irresistible.  

“Maybe- Maybe it is- We aren’t-”

“You don’t think that.” Naruto says simply. “You don’t really think we’re done.”

“I have to.” Sakura says. “I have something now. It was never meant to be like this-”

“Like what?”

There was meant to be blood.

She had something to prove. She had something she needed to say. She needed to have the moment where she showed them. Where she took the lead. After that it was fine for Sasuke to come home, after that it was fine for Naruto to become Hokage. She could live with being their footnote better, easier, that way. She is not in the conversation. This has her teeth rattling and her hands sweating. No one thinks of Team 7 as less than mythic and she’s the only one who hasn’t-

“Get out,” she says firmly. “We’ll talk in the morning.”

“We aren’t going away, Sakura.”

She rolls her eyes. Don’t say my name like you think you can seduce me, you twit.

“We’re still here for you, Sakura.”

She scowls. Don’t say it like that either. I’m not the one breaking hearts.

Sasuke doesn’t leave and after a moment Naruto joins him. They stay in her kitchen and living room for hours, talking low and pausing outside her bedroom door every half hour. She can escape to Ino’s or even Kakashi’s but it feels like leaving would be giving ground. She stares at her ceiling and tells herself tales, runs through medical procedures, pulls out and dusts off the few truly spectacular battles she’s had. She wants this to end, someway, some how. Just let whatever this is coming to happen already. They pass up and down her hallway, feet barely touching the floor, and between one nearly silent footfall and the next she closes her eyes.

The morning light forces her awake after a nasty 45 minutes of sleep. Rolling her shoulders she pulls on some shorts and goes into the battlefield.

Ghosts, she thinks morosely, are meant to be scary. They throw vases and whisper about death. Haunted castles with big wide room’s, tall ceilings, woman floating in white dresses. It’s talking to walls and seeing things that aren’t there. Blood on the rafters and a foreboding atmosphere that says you’re next. Sakura’s got stacked clothes organised by colour, onigiri and the sharp metal and fire scent of her boys in the kitchen.  

This is the worst haunting ever. Her laundry is perfectly done.

--

Sakura has the best chakra control of anyone in her peer group. Sakura has the chakra control of a master, a true artist, a fucking chakra control visionary. Sakura, most days, is fine with not being a powerhouse because she can make chakra sit up and goddamn beg for it. Today she wants five minutes with a demon sealed in her stomach so she can use it to pummel the ever loving shit out of her teammates.

Today, as many days before, Naruto is the particular object of her destructive rage.

“So I get why you won’t talk to Sasuke but I have no goddamn clue what I’ve done.” Naruto starts, half naked and scrubbing the grime and blood from underneath his nails in the nearby river. Sakura looks over dubiously at the state of his shirt from her perch on a nearby boulder. It took Sakura months to convince the boys on her team to bother getting rid of the evidence of their profession. Not a one of them considered it worthwhile. Today she can proudly say that Naruto has been properly washing his hands for at least 4 years. It’s all thanks to her, really.

Sakura gazes at her own perfect nails then over to the dead bodies they’re going to burn just as soon as Sasuke and Kakashi return from torching the nearby hideout. She shrugs, “you’re perfect.”

“Is that it?”

“Just about, yeah.”

Naruto falls dramatically on to the boulder next to her. Sakura notes the line of his collarbones and the flex of his back with something that she wishes was medical precision. The boy doesn’t scar at all, he just gets golden and more precisely formed. Lucky.

He stretches his arms above his head in an exaggerated movement. Wrists flex, muscle moves, Sakura grows uncomfortable with the direction of their relationship. “Bullshit.”

“Yep.” Sakura agrees.

Naruto has not developed anymore patience in the years she’s known him so the fact that he even thinks to wait her out makes this more serious than she’d like.

“You know I’ve never given up on anything in my life,” he says conversationally. “There is absolutely no way I’d start with you.”

Sakura will love the adult Naruto becomes even if the process will probably rip apart everything she has learnt to be in his absence. “Nothing lasts forever.”

“We will.”

She sighs. “You don’t have to keep that promise.”

“Eh, not really a promise anymore is it?”

“You know we never have gotten around to thanking that village for stabbing Sasuke a few dozen times and dumping him to die.”

“We should thank your escort for not going for a mercy kill.”

“As if we’d show him any mercy.”

Naruto bumps her shoulder. “I love you.”

Sakura bumps him back. “That’s not the problem.”

--

There are six ‘miracles’ in Konoha General’s history. There would be eighteen but counting Uzumaki’s skews numbers.

The first is an ANBU way back when the second was still kicking around. He’d had his torso mostly severed but managed to last long enough for the newly minted medical core to defy anatomy itself to save him. The third was Tsunade, her thirtieth rotation and a heartbreakingly weak breech baby in the third floor stairwell. The fifth was Nara Yui and Yamanaka Hisagi in the middle of the Kyuubi attack attending to the needs of a hundred men and women while the world crashed down outside.  

Sakura is lucky number seven.

Sakura takes four different kinds of poison to the spine courtesy of Suna rebels. She dislocates three shoulders, snaps five spines and beheads an unlucky puppet user before forcing herself to take shelter in a small village. For hours she sweats chakra, blood and tears drawing a transportation seal back home. She lands in the middle of the ER screaming at everyone around her for supplies and a clean room. She cuts her own leg open as they try to move her with a scalpel she fleeced off a tray. She’s already moving her own blood when Tsunade comes screeching into the room.

“Fuck off.” Sakura says holding her own green light like a ward. The inside of her head is messy and unclear but she’s got a plan to save her own damn skin and no one is taking that from her.

Tsunade forces her way in and bats Sakura’s hands away. “Fuck you girly. I’m your master and your Hokage.”

Sakura looks Tsunade dead in the eyes with the force of all her skill and current poisoned madness. “I’ve got this.”

“You’re dying.”

“Fuck that.” Sakura twists her chakra and a few spikes of pain and clarity poke through. The poisons seep to the surface of her skin and she snarls at the nurse to clean it off.   

Tsunade looks at her like she’s a fascinating bug. “Then what are you doing?”

Sakura’s hands rise again. “Watch.”

And then she does it.

--

It’s a good thing that the greatest mednin in the world was in the room with her when Sakura changed the very nature of medicine forever because she can’t remember a fucking thing when she wakes up.

Her boys are there, all three of them wrinkled and disgusting looking. She’s glad they’re ugly today because she does not relish the thought of what this amount of painkillers could induce her to say out loud.

“Whatever thoughts you have about me.” Kakashi says from behind his book. “Don’t have them today.”

Stop fucking people as a form of compartmentalizing your control issues , she thinks, clean your fridge, you animal .

The corner of Kakashi’s eye twitches. “I’m out.” He comes forward to touch her very gently on the cheek and then not so gently tweaks her nose. “Team dinner.”

Sakura nods slightly so he knows he can leave. Naruto and Sasuke somehow take up more space than usual.

Do not fall in love with orphans who lost their families in tragic circumstances, she thinks very firmly, they will fret and bother the medical staff trying to save your life

“Love, huh?” Sasuke strokes his thumb over her fingertips.

Naruto laughs and his hand is pushing her hair from her forehead. It’s itchy and unpleasant. Everything is itchy and unpleasant. “No shit. We’re totally lovable.”

Rule two: cut off everyone’s hands so they can’t bother you with them

“You should reconsider that one.” Sasuke murmurs. “You’re not going to die.”

“No shit.” Sakura’s voice sounds awful and raspy to her own ears. “If I died you’d just make me come back.”

“Hn.” Sasuke lets go of her hand and she is not upset about it. “No shit.”

Naruto presses a chaste kiss to her jaw. It fucking hurts and she’s going to kill him. “Aw, sweetheart. You can totally hold our hands.”

“I am going to die,” she says very gravely, “and then you will be very sorry.”

“No you’re not.” Naruto sing-songs. “We’d just make you come back, remember?”

Awfully codependent is Team 7. “We should see other people.”

“Blame Iruka he’s the one who put the team together.” Sasuke’s hand comes back, fingertips to her cheek, and she gives up the ghost of a whole bunch of stuff -abandonment, self esteem issues, the way they sometimes look at each other and she feels pulled apart by it- and pushes into the touch. Sasuke laughs quietly but makes no attempt to back off. Naruto manages to arrange himself so he has a foot on Sasuke and practically everything else near Sakura. Sakura manages to keep herself from falling more in love by remembering how many painkillers she’s on.

“Team 7,” Sakura yawns. “Back together.”