It takes them the whole day to get a quarter of their journey complete. As the sun begins to drift away, and they lose light, their pace shortens considerably until all at once she finds herself stopping and helping Sasuke set up camp.
Without thinking, they divide up duties and get to work, and before she realizes it, he is offering to take first watch.
It reminds her of their genin days. How after a while, Team Seven sort of cohered, despite the frequent disagreements that sprung up between them. For as much as they bickered and teased and taunted, the three of them were teammates. They trusted each other with their lives, and there had been something in relating to each other that grew deeper, forging the unbreakable bond they had. The bond that led both herself and Naruto to chase after Sasuke, to get as strong as possible in the hopes that they could bring him back. The bond that, even in the depths of darkness, tied his heart to theirs, its connection offering him a flame in the dark. A slight flicker of hope, even if the pain inside him raged to snuff it out.
As she lays there, reminiscing, she wonders how he would define what she is to him. Classifying Naruto is easy. His best friend, his brother in all the ways that matter, because who else besides family would go that far for you? Who else would forgive your sins even if you didn't think you had a shot at redemption?
The only sound between them is the crackle of the fire that warms them both, and the crickets singing through the trees. The air is peaceful, calming to them both, and smells fresh and sweet. Despite a couple mishaps here and there, so far her journey with Sasuke has been pleasant. She would even say it is comfortable being alone with him. Even so, her mind still wanders, and tonight she feels brave enough to ask him the question she has always wanted to.
"Sasuke," she breaks up the silence, moving to a sitting position. He is leaning against a tree, arms crossed, aware but seemingly relaxed. His nonchalance is so practice, so believable, if she didn't know any better, she'd say he is simply lost in thought.
When she says his name, he briefly looks to where she is, then continues on surveying the tree line. It is all he gives her in acknowledgment.
She draws in a breath, ignores how her pulse speeds up, and forces herself to ask the question. "Do you love me?"
Momentarily stunning him-she enjoys that brief expression while it lasts. Not many things can take Sasuke Uchiha by surprise-his eyes widen fractionally, and he gives her his full attention, onyx eyes searching her emerald ones. She forces herself not to look away.
When she receives no reply from after a few moments, she huffs out a breath. "Well?" She stresses out the word.
"Annoying," she hears him mutter.
"Oh." Crestfallen, she shakes her head, deciding to give it up, and goes to lay down. As she begins to move her body, his voice stops her. "Sakura."
Straightening up, she turns back toward him and feels her cheeks warm at the way his eyes meet hers. It's the softest expression she's ever seen him wear and having it aimed at her makes her dizzy.
"I'm not sure I would call what I feel for you love." He pauses, stills himself and looks away, lost in some thought she cannot comprehend. "I loved my family. To me, love represents loss and pain. What I feel for you isn't the same as that, though not entirely different either."
Her heart is pounding, resonating in her ear drums. She can't look away from him now, noting how his expression hasn't changed, how his voice is quiet, soft, and it's a tone she's never heard before. Something she thinks he's solely reserved for her ears alone. Something races in her veins, filling her up, until she feels like she could float. Somehow she manages to find her voice. "So what am I to you?"
Eyes flitting back to hers, he says without hesitation, "You are the future."
Her breath leaves her in a rush, and she sits there frozen, locked into place by the way his eyes search hers. Whatever she had been expecting from him, it hadn't been that. Her heart pounds in her ears, a deep flush covering her face and neck, making her ears burn.
"S..S..Sasuke..." her voice sounds surreal to her, separate from herself. The pinkette is simply at a loss for words.
"Go to sleep, Sakura," he instructs, his voice still soft. He finds her reaction to the truth amusing, and in response to her flustered state, his lips curl ever so slightly into a smirk. He looks away before she notices, feigning interest in the darkness that surrounds them. He used to find her antics annoying, and sometimes they still are, but that he could cause such emotional upheaval in someone who is otherwise so self assured and collected, especially when it came to being a medical-nin, well...he wouldn't say he went out of his way to tease her, but if an opportunity comes about, he simply chooses to use it. When he journeyed before, the world captivated him, and he found knowledge that would have alluded him before. He still looks forward to those days where the seemingly mundane can outstrip his senses and leave him curious, but now, traveling with his former teammate, he finds he is constantly discovering something new about her. He would have never thought that Sakura Haruno would be someone who held his interest for far longer that he will ever admit.
But somehow she does.
There are moments when he finds himself pausing to study her, when she does ordinary things like brush her hair away from her face or when she flips through the pages of one of the medical texts she has brought with her. The way her lips purse and eyes are narrow when she is concentrating, the way she methodically makes healing potions and remedies at night, or how her whole demeanor changes when faced with ailments to heal.
She is nothing like the Sakura he knew as a genin on Squad Seven. There are still glimpses of that Sakura at times: in the way her lips turn up at something that amuses her or that glint in her eyes when she's found something to tease him about. There's something reminiscent in her eyes when she looks at him sometimes. But those moments are few and far between, and he's glad for it. The past has no place for either of them. They have both changed, in ways neither of them expected, but they ended up on that same path . . . Together.