First off: THANK YOU~! to everyone who wished me a happy burf-dae!
Second: I'm back in school, so sorry for slowed updates buuuuuuuuuut I'm swamped.
Third: I come bearing many previews.
Feel free to comment which ones you're looking forward to. .. .also let me know what you guys think of Sauce's re-appearance in teh manga~!
*All below are working drabbles and are prone to change
Percent Complete: 70%
It had been an unnecessarily sunny day, Sasuke recalled. Sakura called it “gorgeous” and described the canal-riddled town as “charming.” More like congested and reeking, Sasuke thought.
Their rendezvous point had been an overpriced bistro on the main waterway of the city. Outdoor seating had allowed an unrestricted view the harbor. It also placed them in the oppressive heat of the day. They had worn the impractical layered and restrictive clothing of civilians, to make matters worse.
Sakura called her dress “breezy,” but Sasuke thought it was indecent. Men were staring blatantly at her exposed legs and shoulders. The gauzy fabric was probably breathable in the humid watery hell that was this town, but it also clung.
Luckily, they were playing the part of a wealthy pair of potential investors in the local shipping lanes. This made his job of deterring advances easier. Sasuke casually pantomimed a violent death to a particularly persistent man over the pinkette’s shoulder as she perused the menu.
Fiddling with his glass to hide the purpose of his clenched fingers as she looked up, he dismissed her questioning frown. Sakura shrugged and produced her little seagreen journal. The palm-sized book was well worn leather, tied shut with a bit of string and fattened by the nub of a pencil stored between the pages.
The pinkette nibbled again at the fancy appetizer they had been served. Humming to herself, she jotted flavors and possible ingredients and variations. She would have an approximated recipe synthesized by the time the first course arrived. He smirked to himself. Sakura was always thinking.
Her head was still bowed over her planning when the waiter approached, so Sasuke ordered for them both. Relaxing back further into his seat, the Uchiha observed his teammate and the harbor over her shoulder simultaneously.
The traffic at the port was bustling away. In this population-dense region, transportation had been in high enough demand that technology had taken a firmer root than it had in the Land of Fire. Steam-powered machines and lifts littered the dockyard. Porters and middle-men skittered this way and that on little carts and motor-bikes.
Nothing seemed overly suspicious, though. Just regular hustle and bustle. Soon enough, someone would recognize them as wealthy out-of-towners and they would have their opening. Sasuke sighed impatiently. This was a prolonged, time-intensive and multi-part integration style mission. They were meant to present themselves as investors to monitor the trade between River and landlocked neighbors to the north like Grass and Stone.
Luckily they would be depicting themselves as vacationers that chanced upon the opportunity to buy in to the shipping lanes. If it were a stake-out, multi-month one, he would have been far more frustrated than he was at the moment. These were easily Sasuke’s least favorite form of mission.
Sakura, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoying herself. The large allowance they had been handed to portray themselves as affluent visitors was a large part of that. Her innate enjoyment of silly civilian activities also contributed. So far they had toured the town on foot, oogling the sights. Even though their debriefing had thoroughly described the points of interest, she had insisted that it would “put them on the scene.”
Now he found himself sweating uncomfortably in a brand-named vee-neck shirt that was far too fitted on his upperbody to be anything but troublesome. Sakura had somehow managed to find something that covered his major battlescars but left his musculature displayed. The baggy accompanying shorts wouldn’t have been annoying, as full of useful pockets as they were, except that they were made of needlessly thick material.
This entire mission was a bit of a farce, Sasuke decided grumpily. The Godaime had assigned Sakura to further inundate her into the politics of Konoha. That much was obvious. Tsunade was grooming her protege for a position high in the workings of the village. And the objective of monitoring trade, of course, also had its basis in practicality.
Even their backup, Sai, was a reasonable choice. He could rapidly and efficiently relay information they gathered. His ANBU training also made him passable firepower if things went somehow south. It was his own presence that Sasuke questioned.
Tsunade probably found a sizable amount of amusement in assigning such a sedentary mission to the notoriously restless Uchiha. It was A-rank primarily for the sensitive information they would be obtaining, as well as the infiltration nature of the thing. However, most other shinobi had been unable to commit to a repeat mission. Sasuke’s schedule, since his release from probation, hadn’t been exactly bursting. He had been a perfect choice to bodyguard her beloved apprentice.
Sakura had delicately added, when he groused, that Sasuke would have the most practice presenting himself as an affluent young man. Aside from perhaps Neji. Sasuke frowned at the thought of the Hyuuga boy, whom Sakura had assured him was “far too busy” with his new special-jounin status. Pfft.
Of course Sai was too socially stunted to attempt this mission, Naruto too brash, Shikamaru too tied up with business as an advisor. . .the rest too often assigned to specialized missions to commit to this one. Sasuke supposed they could all cycle through as backup in the future, but his placement as main alongside Sakura had made sense in the end. But he still didn’t have to like it.
Percent Complete: 40%
It was night in Konoha. Soft streetlights’ beams found Sakura making good time from the hospital to her apartment, ready to sleep off a long days’ worth of frustrations. It had been hectic, as it regularly was in the emergency ward. But the oft-tread path from the center of town to the farthest flung residential section was passing as usual.
The pinkette lost herself in the monotony of the motions, doing as she always had in the days-weeks-months-years that had ingrained to memory. It was this perpetual sort of motion that kept her calm. Always moving, active and ever busy. That was the Sakura the village knew now--head medic, newly named jounin and strongest kunoichi of Rookie Nine.
The simple, one word description was never said, just alluded to. Better. Sakura at eighteen was so, so much better than her genin counterpart. She had improved by miles, hardly comparable at all to that girl.
Sakura reinforced that fact to herself by working endlessly. She refused to let the momentum that had propelled her to excellence wane. So she logged double hours at the hospital and volunteered at the small clinic at the edge of the village when Tsunade got suspicious.
With her mind numbed by the endless smell of antiseptic, she would sleep then wake early to train before going back to work. Every. Single. Day. Without fail. Only missions broke the cycle, and even that was rare lately.
Now she was hungry and her left calf was still twinging from the stretching she had put it through at dawn. Regardless, she meant to check in at the walk-in clinic. She knew they were rarely overwhelmed as the hospital was, but it was something she made a habit of either way. The day she didn’t check they would be short on something critical.
That’s what Sakura told herself as she sighed and trotted into the clinic. Bells chimed overhead and the care-worn face of an elderly nurse greeted her. Pleasantries were exchanged and the pinkette ran a few quick topical checks. Nothing seemed to be in short-supply and no cases were dire. As usual. A few moments more and Sakura was ducking back out onto the street and heading for home once more.
She could probably estimate the number of steps from the crumbling pavers outside the clinic to her little bungalow. The thought made her smile tiredly. Tipping her head back into the cool night breeze, Sakura let her feet steer her way. As usual.
Her routine was unbroken until she reached her little home.
Finding the wall switch without fail, the lights flickered to life. Her keys plunked into the little glass dish with that musical tinkling that made her think I’m home to no one but her poor, under-attended potted plants. All was as it always was until she reached for her evening snack. A few more graceless flailings toward the back of the cabinet found nothing. Absolutely nothing. The fridge housed filtered water and some sauce packets, while the wall storage was utterly bare.
Sakura blinked for a full minute, honestly puzzled. When had she last sent for a grocery order? The service she used always stocked her apartment on the first Tuesday of the month while she was at work. She’d dropped her list of preferred foods off ages ago and they’d filled it since. Without fail. It had been a fairly cost-effective indulgence she’d started when her hours at the hospital had veered from ‘hectic’ to ‘life-consuming.’
Grumbling to herself, the pinkette scuffled toward the bulletin board she’d attached to the kitchen wall for such mysteries. It was the gathering grounds for self-directed memos and dates she meant to keep, along with take-out menus and other miscellaneous paper bits of her life. It took a bit of digging about, but she found what she suspected. A clearer-thinking Sakura had pinned a bright notice there--about two weeks ago, if she judged the depth of its buried state on the board correctly.
Sakura frowned mightily. She had probably gotten the notice early some morning and shoved it onto the board. Something about an aging auntie and family obligations, the shop was closing for a few months. The swamped medic had promptly forgotten, however. Which explained her completely empty pantry.
Tired green eyes swept the kitchen to find the wall clock. Nine wasn’t too late. Surely something would be open, she could eat and crash. Call around for a grocery service tomorrow at a break in the craziness at the hospital? Right. At some point at a decent hour tomorrow, probably by shoving the silly errand off on an intern. Plan decided, Sakura trudged back toward the door.
Her muscles were sore and she was starving. This morning’s exercise had been yoga intensive in an attempt to improve her flexibility and eventually her endurance. Then Sakura had spent fourteen straight hours working wherever the hospital was shortstaffed. She could almost feel her system consuming calories she couldn’t spare. Sadly, she realized, she could probably track the process with enough concentration. She knew the human body well enough.
Half way to the night-life corridor of town, the pinkette realized she had left her keys. Again. She shrugged rather than turn back. Sakura grumpily noted to herself that she forgot to lock the damn door more often than not anymore anyway.
Finally, she found herself outside a sizable grocery whose lights were still on and had people milling about. Without much more thought, she loped in and grabbed the nearest cart. Mindlessly, the pinkette cruised the aisles, scooping the appropriate rations into the creaky wire monstrosity that was meant to make carrying it all easier--but really, with its evilly willful wheels and impractical steering, made it maddening.
Sakura eventually had so much piled that she was sure she would never have to shop again. Smiling faintly at the thought, the medic attempted to point the basket toward the checkout. But rather she managed to clip the person looking blankly at her, of course.
In her own defense, standing as he was in the aisle, Sai deserved it. He was examining her zoned-out face with something like clinical curiosity. Giving in, Sakura pushed some of her monstrous strength into her arms and manhandled the cart into the direction she intended. Then she nodded as amicably as she could at Sai.
He was her favorite ex-teammate/patient these days. Sai, for all his emotional stuntedness, had never developed an abject fear of the hospital. Thus Sakura never had to spend half her goddamn day tracking him down to make sure he didn’t bleed-out after a mission. That was nice. It definitely bumped the boy up a few points in her mind.
So much so that when his blunt tone met her ears, Sakura didn’t even groan.
“You shop, Hag?”
“I do when I absolutely have to.” Blank black eyes continued to linger on her face, so Sakura tacked on needlessly, “Yes.”
Sai simply nodded, unaware or unconcerned with the shortness of the pinkette’s tone. He tagged along when she continued toward the checkout. The shinobi even helped unload her mighty haul of goods at the counter.
He also found time to ask more unwarranted questions. “You have been notably absent from all team training times. Do you feel unwelcome? Or does your non-appearance coincide meaningfully with the return of Traitor?”
There was no maliciousness in his tone, of course, but Sakura was still stung. It was as if Sai’s naivety led him to the root of things occasionally. Evasively, she replied with a marginally related truth, “I am very busy, Sai.”
Sai stared a bit contemplatively at the grapefruits he was loading onto the checkout. As he worked out what he precisely wanted to say, he attempted to chatter. “Yes, at the hospital. You have earned an established position there. Also at the clinic, when you do not feel adequately occupied by the other post. The team is aware. You occasionally accompany Gorgeous to the bar-filled part of the village. Kakashi mentioned it.”
Here Sai tilted his head, all the while piling groceries as Sakura stared dumbly at him. They knew all of that? “Traitor and Dickless reacted strangely to that information. My assurances that this sort of behavior was normal for your gender and age-group was ineffective.” Sai seemed to consider asking her to explain their displeasure, only to refocus on his original question instead. “Why do you no longer care for Team Seven?”
Sakura sucked in a breath at the brash assumption. “I-what? Sai! I. . .I don’t hate the Team!” There was a strange little lurch in her belly as she shouted, one that made her feel like she was maybe-sort-of lying.
Sai’s dark gaze just travelled slowly over her features as she sputtered and flushed. “You are feeling confusion and surprise. I see.” Catching sight of her reddened ears, the shinobi frowned more genuinely than he realized. “And guilt?” Several possibilities seemed to occur to Sai, but instead of questioning further, he murmured, “I did not imply that you hated the Team. I merely inquired regarding your absences.”
Sakura looked away from Sai’s innocently open expression. Paying the confused cashier, the pinkette silently began to stack the endless bags onto her arms. The repetitive motion and its practicality helped center her whirling thoughts. At length, Sakura glanced to Sai and asked after the practice sessions, “Are they still at the old field at dawn?”
Sai nodded evenly, still examining her features as she frowned and closed her eyes in thought. “I’ll. . .see if I can make it sometime this week.”
The curious little smile Sai so often fell back on returned, and Sakura felt as if she had said the wrong thing. He didn’t pursue a stronger promise, though. “I understand that you are capable of carrying your purchases yourself. However, it is customary that I offer assistance, yes?”
Sakura laughed as Sai’s trademark awkwardness broke the tension. Rolling her sore shoulders, she agreed. “Thanks for offering, Sai. I’d like the help tonight.”
Percent Complete: 25%
It had never occurred to Sasuke that he might be incarcerated anywhere but Konoha. So when the Shinobi Alliance handed down his sentence, Sasuke was stunned.
Punishment, harsh or otherwise, had not crossed his mind often. But when it had, he imagined time spent in the Leaf’s prison.
Previously, I was a criminal accountable to Konoha alone. My presence and actions at the Kage Summit changed that. It made sense. Maybe it would be easier this way, not returning immediately to the Village.
Two years was relatively lenient. It would likely be less in the long run, given his actions against Madara in the final battle. Most of the preceding was for show--proof that the Alliance had the authority to do something of this magnitude. That peace could reign and that criminality would be punished.
Naruto was shouting, Sasuke realized. Even Kakshi’s usually passive mood had swung to indignant. His eyes searched briefly for his last teammate, but found her absent from the meeting room.
Eventually Naruto calmed. Someone had explained the situation, most likely. Soon enough the blond was hovering in Sasuke’s line of sight. Chained as he was, there was little Sasuke could do to evade the babbling.
“-use the whole “Savior” thing and get you out as soon as possible! Believe me!”
A passive stare was his only response.
Before Naruto’s emotions could boil over again, Kakashi cut in. “Iwa prison won’t be so bad.” Tucking his hands into his pockets, he shrugged. “Used to living in all those underground bases, anyway. Right?”
Sasuke narrowed his eyes briefly. He was unable to decide rather his old teacher intended to make light of his sentencing or was flinging a barb. Either way, the Uchiha wasn’t amused.
Settling on turning the conversation, Sasuke asked bluntly: “How long?”
“I give it a week!” Naruto’s ludicrous estimation was ignored.
Kakashi, meanwhile, rubbed a hand over his chin and sighed. “Depends. Lot of politics to wade through, being who you are. There’s also a war to recover from. I want it to be less, closer to a year at most. But who knows? You might serve the full term.”
Sasuke nodded slowly. It was too bad, he mused, that Naruto had lured him from his madness. It would have passed the time more quickly.
He was led from the make-shift court and transported directly to the facility. To prevent attempted escape attempts, Sasuke assumed. The trip was not long. Booking and assignment took more time but nonetheless, within fifty-six hours of Madara’s death, the last Uchiha was barred into solitary confinement.
Weeks dragged out, the monotony of days broken only by meals and walks around the perimeter at dawn and sunset. Sasuke was left with hours upon hours to think. To remember.
Eventually a doctor began visiting his cell. He was a little, crotchety old man who talked endlessly at Sasuke. Psychoanalysis, he called it. Attempted at least, since Sasuke refused outright to speak to him.
His litany of questions went stonily unanswered. Eventually the man’s visits became a bi-weekly oratory. Mixed facts from Sasuke’s chart and the old man’s assumptions were strung together into so much medical jargon and hypothesis.
Sasuke tolerated the doctor’s presence. If only for the company. Aside from Naruto and occasionally Kakashi’s visits, he was left alone for days. The guards of the facility were curiously absent.
Only a flash of light when meals were delivered through a specialized slot on the door proved their existence. Otherwise, automated doors corralled Sasuke about for his free hours. It was likely that complete deprivation of company as well as sensory stimulation were a part of his solitary confinement.
So, Sasuke bore the monotone voice of the doctor, only occasionally filtering through his hum-drum speech to decipher what the old bat was talking about. Currently, the doctor was loudly discussing the possible modes of rehabilitation regarding ‘the patient’s extreme antisocial personality.’
The label made him frown. Anti-social personality disorder?
Unaware of the pique of interest in his subject, the doctor rattled on. “...perhaps some contact with a past acquaintance. Such action may be conducive to revitalizing a sense of self outside the need for ‘revenge’ as an obsessive fascination. Furthermore, it is advised that the patient seeks-”
The doctor blinked, voice trailing into nothing as he seemed to doubt his hearing. Squinting and turning to fully face his young charge rather than his copious notes, he asked, “Hmm? Was that you, boyo?”
At Sasuke’s slow nod, he wheezed a laugh. “He speaks!” A sharp gaze flitted over the young criminal for a moment before the doctor specified, “You have individuals in your past who remembers you prior to your ‘shift,’ yes?”
The strange emphasis on the word shift made Sasuke’s pride twinge. Before I plunged right the fuck over the edge of sanity, you mean? With a quiet scoff, the Uchiha muttered, “A few.”
“Not the two who visit regularly.” Crossing his arms mulishly, the old man stipulated. “They have preconceived expectations for your rehabilitation.” When Sasuke tipped an eyebrow at the jargon, the doctor clarified. “They don’t think you should be here. They’ll pander. Nothing will come from that. I expect you have been enabled for quite some time. We need a different tactic.”
“The question is, then, does anyone think you got what you deserved? Think you belong here for what you did?”
A pink haired ghost surfaced in Sasuke’s thoughts. Without a shade of hesitation, he replied, “Yes.” Pinning the small man under a heavy look, the shinobi nodded slightly. “There is someone.”
“Close to you, hmm?” Pointing calmly to each portion of his subject, the physician observed, “Your shoulders tensed, brow drew tight, slight lining about your eyes and a bit of a twitch in your hands.” He jotted several lines into his notebook and mumbled to himself, “Interesting.”
“Will you tell me more about this person?”
There was zero time for consideration. Sasuke simply snapped a terse ‘no.’
Glasses back atop his nose, the little old man hummed and hawed. “I see, I see.”
Sasuke considered telling the man that no he certainly had no idea, but thought better of it. He had been curious as of late, as to what his ex-teammate thought of him. The windbag in front of him was the only conceivable mode of speaking to her.
The most likely course of action that would preserve his pride, at least. It had been nearly a year now and there had been no word of her. He had, in his tiny cell far from home, all the time in the world to wonder.
TOO MANY DRABBLES! Gonna post a second update. . .
Fresh from the Tree
Blue, Green and In Between