Sakura realizes that she loved Sasuke, but not in the way she thought she did.
When both Naruto’s and Sasuke’s surgeries were over, they spent their days talking (or lack thereof). It was usually just Naruto talking over anything Sasuke said and Sakura checking up on them both. Tsunade made sure she was appointed their nurse for different reasons.
“I don’t want Naruto to get so shy that he won’t let his nurse change his clothes… or worse,” which made Sakura roll her eyes at the sanin. That, and, “I think Sasuke only really trusts you, isn’t that so?”
Now that made her blush. Not her heart race, but blush - such a direct statement, wasn’t Tsunade crazy saying that?
When Sakura finishes putting the shirt over Naruto’s bandaged body, she stays still on her seat while the blond looks at her in thanks. Thanks for working so hard, thanks for saving their lives, thanks for being his best friend. Sasuke is silent, like every morning, and is looking at them both. More than anything, he’s looking at the pink-haired blossom, wondering just barely about her sudden mood drop.
“Is something wrong?” he says out of nowhere, rinnegan flickering under closed, battered skin.
Naruto turns to Sasuke, confused. “What do you mean - Sakura-chan?” he asks, dumbfounded as always.
“No, it’s fine,” comes her response, a sigh leaving her as she stands up from her chair. “Let me help you change from those clothes, okay?” She tells Sasuke, small smile on her lips. The last Uchiha just stares at her, stoic as always as she reaches out to pull his shirt up and over his shoulders, but he stops her with his lone hand.
“Stop,” she whispers, snapping his hand away and pulling the dirty garment over his head forcefully. It’s not like he can argue back, so he lets her undress him, stays silent as Naruto looks at them, feeling a bit awkward all of a sudden.
The blond decides to pull the curtain to separate his side of the room from Sasuke’s, and Sakura notices his action - realizes why he did. She feels appreciative. “I just have a lot in my thoughts,” she confesses to the Uchiha, who is looking out the window and away from her as she helps him out of his clothes.
She hadn’t realized how out of love she really was for him until he was back. There was so much she wanted to learn from him, would he let her in? He barely talks to her, and there’s still so much he has to go through - court meetings, jail, and hopefully house arrest. Isn’t he stressed about that? Doesn’t he have any worries? What if the Five Kages don’t pardon him and decide they should kill him? She knows that Kakashi-sensei and Tsunade won’t let them do that, but…
“Don’t make that face,” he speaks up, frank.
Sakura blinks at him, her hands on his back gently. He’s turning around, eyes on her. She goes beet red, flustered.
“I’m okay,” Sasuke says then, and there’s something in his look that makes her realize that maybe he really is okay. That maybe he’s willing to carry all of his sins on his back alone, as long as he knows Naruto and her will always be willing to help him with his atonement.
“I’m worried for you…” she tells him, hands gripping his hospital gown. “For all of us.”
The girl knows her heart. Knows that if he talks to her more and shows more of this caring side of his to her, that she’ll fall for him again. A part of her wishes she won’t. The other hopes she does.
The sheer thrill of falling in love, as if she was twelve again, makes her scared and happy. She missed him.
“Me too,” he speaks up, and turns away from her again.
“Sorry, I should be letting the two of you rest.”
It’s always those two words for him, but this time she can see his eyes clearly. No tears making him blurry or facing away from him. His eyes are earnest. She understands.
“You don’t have to say that anymore, Sasuke-kun,” she forces out a gentle smile, and it takes all his strength to stop himself from telling her to stop lying.
It hurts him, even if he doesn’t seem to realize it just yet. It hurts to see her like that, in front of him. It always has, it always will.
He can’t sleep. He keeps turning from side to side until Naruto throws his pillow at him with a loud, “can you stop grunting so loudly, bastard?!” And his screech is so loud that Sasuke grabs the pillow thrown at him and throws it back at the dumb blond in return. But he really can’t sleep and the last thing he wants to do is talk to Naruto about feelings again (so soon, that is).
Naruto groans against his pillow. “At least you could have pulled the blinds shut.” Complains the boy, turning on his side, back facing Sasuke, who is lying still, eye strained on the ceiling.
The view of Sakura offering him such a sad smile is engraved in his memory along with every other time she’s given him such a painful look. The night she tried to stop him from leaving the village for the first time still haunts him, her tear strained cheeks still making him hate himself and in a way, he guesses that losing an arm for everything he’s done – done to her – is a good enough punishment.
After not seeing his team mates for almost three years, the look of horror she gave him as he looked down at her is something he’ll never forget. It was a look of bewilderment and fear, one that made Sasuke know that he had changed too much in her eyes. At the time, he was glad it was like that. He had yearned to make them understand he’d never go back to being the Sasuke from when they were genin. He yearned to break them, make them hate him, even though he was wrong about everything.
About himself, about what he really wanted.
Or when she appeared to kill him in the Land of Iron. Sasuke closes his eye, turns to face away from Naruto’s bed. He still hates himself for what he did and now that he’s searching for ways to make it up to the whole world, he realizes the lengths she’d go for him. Dying to save him from his darkness. Sakura was such a fool, yet he couldn’t help but think of his mother. Would she have died for him if it meant she could save her son from hurting himself more?
Sasuke grunts again, and the only thing he can think of is hands that had held Sakura’s neck so tightly, trying to take her last breath away.
“Can you please go sleep?” Naruto begins again, sitting up now in anger. And he would have stayed angry if it wasn’t for the way Sasuke had turned to face his side of the room, face grief-stricken.
“I’m so sorry,” the Uchiha says, lone hand gripping his bed sheets helplessly. “I’m so sorry.”
It continues like that for an hour, maybe more, until exhaustion takes over Sasuke’s mind and body. Naruto stayed up the whole night.
Dreadful days pass and soon autumn is giving it’s leaves away to the bitter cold of winter. They say that this time around the cold is going to be worse than the year before, but Naruto never minded it. He would rather have long winters than experience summers in Konoha. The streets and buildings made the summer heat worse and the mirages were distasteful.
Hinata had passed by a couple of times to visit Sasuke and him, but really mostly just him. Her acts of kindness and her more bold nature kept surprising Naruto as weeks passed and their release day from the hospital approached. At first, she had passed by with Kiba and Shino, a team visit, mostly because the other two boys wanted to make sure Sasuke wasn’t causing any trouble for Naruto.
“Can you guys drop it already?” Sakura burst, almost in anger but mostly in annoyance, brows furrowed and eyes filled with rage. Naruto agreed and with each remaining Konoha 11 members passing by to visit them in the hospital, more and more of them started warming up to the idea that this was their new reality, a reality where Sasuke isn’t after blood and destruction and instead has a vision of helping Naruto fix past mistakes.
“There’s no one better for the job than us both, right?” Naruto always queried, rhetoric because everyone knew he was right.
This time that Hinata passes by, Sasuke is in a checkup with Tsunade and Sakura who have been worried about how his body was reacting to his new rinnegan. The once shy-girl around Naruto sits by his bed side while Naruto tells her about some of the stuff happening, and she’s happy for him when it comes to everything. Him being alive, him having his teammate back, everyone being safe.
“It’ll be the New Year soon, won’t it?”
“Huh?” Naruto jars Hinata from her thoughts and she blinks at him, confused. “Oh, yes, it will!”
Naruto offers her a warm smile, before his eyes shift away, strained on his hand over his lap. “What are your wishes for next year, Hinata?” He asks, sincerely. He’s apologized more times than needed for having let Neji pass away when he could have, should have, saved him. She’s never once gotten angry at him and he doesn’t understand how she can be so patient and giving to him, of all people.
Naruto never felt deserving.
“For everyone to… move on from so much hurt, regret, and anger.”
He looks at her, and she’s giving him that smile she always gives him. One that speaks volumes of feelings he can’t quite grasp yet, but he hopes to one day fully understand and, hopefully, accept full heartedly.
Later that day, while Sakura is peeling and cutting apples for him and Sasuke, Naruto spends most of the time staring at the other two. He can see it in their eyes every day and he probably has the same painted look of worry as his teammates. Hinata’s words echo in his thoughts and, for whatever reason, he can feel the beginning of a cry well up in his blue eyes.
It’s been weeks since the war finished, and although everyone is still on edge on what the future holds, he knows that they’ll get through it just fine.