They brought him into their living area, which was sparsely furnished and decorated. A couch was set in the center, creating a separation between the living room and the kitchen. In front of the sofa was a laughably, small, wooden coffee table. Other than that, there were a few pictures on the walls, and that was that. Sakura seemed to notice him studying the room as she made her way back from the kitchen. She laughed once and set down the tray of teacups she had on the coffee table.
“Excuse the room. We just moved from our apartment, and I haven’t had time to fill up space.”
Sasuke didn’t respond. Instead, he focused on the photos on the walls as Sakura passed him a cup of tea before taking a cup for herself and plopping down on the floor by the table. There were four pictures on the wall. The first was the old photo of the original team 7. His eyes lingered on the young faces. While he recognized each one, somehow, they seemed like different kids all together.
The next photo was of the reformed team 7, sans Sasuke. Again, these faces were familiar, they were a blur in his memory. The third member that took his place, Sai, looked like a statue. Sasuke couldn’t help frowning at the boy’s blank expression. Sakura, once again, noticed his reaction and followed his gaze to the pictures on the wall.
“Everyone said he looked like you.”
Sasuke sat up a bit straighter and took a long sip of the bitter tea.
“I don’t see it.”
Sakura couldn’t hold in her laughter. While she broke out into the fit of laughter, he couldn’t help studying her closer. Her hair was paler than he remembered, probably due to how much time she spent outside. Her body was perhaps the starkest change, with her arms and legs rippling with muscles. It was impressive, and he spent some time studying the curves and arches of her body. By the time he made it back to her face, Sakura was staring at him. She didn’t seem upset, but something dark was in her eyes. She opened her mouth to say something, but Naruto came barreling in from the backrooms of the house.
“I found it!”
Sakura pursed her lips and went back to nursing her tea, making a show of not looking at Sasuke. He wanted to know what she was going to say, but he wasn’t stupid. Clearly, whatever it was, she wasn’t going to say it in front of Naruto. Rather than walk into the living room as a reasonable person would, Naruto jumped over the back of the couch, landing haphazardly next to Sasuke. This captured Sakura’s attention as she slammed her cup down on the tea tray.
“Naruto! Please, we just got that!”
Not missing a beat, Naruto presented a box to Sasuke. It was unmarked and didn’t seem familiar to him, but by the way Naruto was grinning, it must have been significant. Hesitantly, Sasuke set his tea on the coffee table and took the box into his lap. As he opened the flaps, a familiar scent rushed forth, one he hadn’t smelt in years. Right on top was a picture.
“Is this from my house?”
Naruto bobbed his head, then motioned toward Sakura.
“Once the search parties stopped, the village leaders determined that the Uchiha compound would be better suited for general living. Since there was no-” he paused. “Someone needed to clean out your home. So, Sakura and I were authorized to collect your things.”
Sasuke stared down into the box. It was so small. It was hard to believe this was all he had left behind.
“I guess you two were the closest things I had to family.”
Then, something else occurred to him, and that open wound made itself known, tearing at the edges ever so slightly.
“So, wait, what happened to my house?”
Panic rushed across Naruto’s face as he shook his head.
“No, no! Don’t worry. Your house was a rental property for a while, but there is no one living there now. You have a home.”
Sasuke deflated and sighed, thankful that he wasn’t coming back homeless. Still, the fact that the village decided on the fate of the Uchiha compound had the vengeful side of him broiling. Clenching his jaw, he closed the box. Once again, his eyes were drawn to the boy in the second team 7 photo.
“Why did the search parties stop?”
Naruto didn’t respond, instead, picking up his cold tea and taking a big, obnoxious sip. Sakura rolled her eyes before picking up the conversation.
“We discovered, on our second mission to go after you, that Sai’s main mission was to assassinate you.”
Though it should have surprised him, Sasuke was decidedly pleased. Recalling his time with Orochimaru, if Naruto had made it out to him a second time, Sasuke probably would have killed him. Looking at Sai’s blank face one more time, Sasuke sent him a silent thank you. Once again relaxed, Sasuke set the box down at his feet and leaned back into the couch.
“So, I am guessing you two didn’t become life long friends with Sasuke 2.0?”
Once again, the pair glanced at each other, speaking in their own silent language. Once Sakura had decided on a response, she cleared her throat.
“Well, actually, we’re all pretty good friends.”
“He was sent to assassinate me, and you all… became friends?”
Then, Naruto tried to jump in. He splayed his hands out in front of him and stumbled over his words as he spoke.
“Look, Sasuke, a lot happened. He decided he didn’t want to kill you anymore. Plus, he turned out to be okay. A little rude… and awkward, but okay!”
Despite the desperate attempts to make him understand, Sasuke was having a difficult time doing so. His jaw ached from the anger-induced clenching, but the moment he loosened his jaw, his hand balled into a fist. Sasuke was all anger. This was the only way he knew to relieve it without completely deteriorating.
“So, you all became best buds. What does that have to do with the search parties?”
Once again, Sakura sought out Naruto’s gaze, but Naruto had rescinded himself to staring into his empty teacup. Whatever they were about to say, neither of them wanted to be the one to say it. Everyone sat in drawn-out silence for far too long. No one wanted to step over whatever invisible line had been drawn. Unfortunately, there was only one way forward, and Sakura was the one to push them to it.
“Well, Sasuke. When we abandoned that mission, we all decided it was safer for everyone, including you, to move on. So… we moved on.”
Those last three words, ‘we moved on,’ that was all it took. Whatever healing that had occurred upon returning to the village reverted. All the old wounds and scars were torn asunder, producing more than just the single empty hole that had cemented itself within Sasuke. Pockets of pain, grief, guilt, and anger rushed forth. These emotions played across his face, causing Sakura to jump up from the floor. She got up on her knees, scurried over to him, taking his hands into hers as she looked up into his eyes.
“Please don’t be upset, Sasuke. You have to understand why we did it.”
“Why did you do it?”
Sakura could only offer a bitter smile.
“How could we not? You left. We let you take your path, and we took ours.”
Once again, Sasuke could only blame himself. He was the one who had left, and as a result, he was alone still. Sakura and Naruto stopped chasing after him. By the time he had decided he was ready to come back to them, they were long gone. He pulled his hands out of Sakura’s grasp.
“I think I should go.”
Naruto started to talk him out of leaving, but Sasuke held up a hand.
“No, I need to go.”
Sasuke stood up, and Sakura sat up to give him space. He picked up the box from the floor and trudged toward the door. His old teammates remained where they sat, watching his back as headed toward the front door. Sasuke opened their front door, drowning himself in the sounds of the outside, but before he left, he turned back to face Sakura and Naruto. His eyes flickered between the two of them before drifting to the two other photos on the wall.
The first of the pair was of a younger Sakura and Naruto cheek-to-cheek smiling at the camera. Wholly innocent. Then, there was a second picture. It was Sakura and Naruto, cheek-to-cheek, smiling at the camera. Sakura was wearing a beautiful white bridal kimono. Similarly, Naruto was wearing a black, formal kimono. Before he turned away to leave, he muttered to them both:
He turned away from them, just as he had so long before and disappeared back into the bustling streets of Konoha.
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