Title: ironically, now
Summary: Sasuke wants to be back in Konoha, she had thought. Right. And I'm a unicorn.
Dedication: WHAHA I FINALLY PUBLISHED THIS. It has been languishing, fully edited, for longer than I want society to know.
Notes: So this is an AU where Madara dies horribly before the Eternal Tsukiyomi at the hands of Team Seven in all its dysfunctional glory and Sakura kills him really hard because she deserves it, okay, and Hagoromo and Kaguya and all that jazz with chakra never happens. Sasuke learns the truth of the massacre, whups some ass, and parades back to Konoha. And Sakura is a little more badass. And less squishy. I actually haven't solved what to do with the jinchuuriki…oh well.


Sakura fell into bed, exhausted from her shift in the hospital, but unable to sleep. Tomorrow, she would train with her team, and although she hadn't seen them in two weeks due to a solo medical mission, it was just an ordinary training session. Except that she would be training with all of Team Seven.

The finally repaired Team Seven. Sasuke had returned from his year-long stint in prison, and was now training with the rest of them once again. Even if he was still in his probationary period, he was allowed to train with his team, or on his own, or anywhere inside Konoha. She stared at the ceiling, wondering about what would happen. They had briefly reunited after his return, but Sakura had been cold as ice. And so had Sasuke. He was taller, face thinner and hair slightly less idiotic. When he spoke, his tone was measured and quiet, and he hadn't even called her 'annoying' in response to her sly jibes about his defection.

But the most marked change was his eyes: they had always, throughout the whole conversation, spun with Sharingan. Either he distrusted them intensely, or his strength was such that he could maintain this level of Sharingan day and night. She had heard rumors of Itachi doing the same thing, never letting anyone come upon him unawares at any time. Sasuke was as touchy as an angry bear, twice as dangerous, and half as cuddly. Though a part of Sakura wanted to think that it was her Sasuke-kun, the boy of twelve, who had returned, she had learned many years ago from Naruto that it was a waste of time to lie to herself.

She hadn't forgiven him as Naruto and Kakashi had, and there was little actual interaction between the two aside from standard greeting, perfunctory questions, and backhanded insults. Speaking to Sasuke face to face was disconcerting, to say the least. The sight of him brought back memories, of the Sharingan glaring and a glow of blue seen out of the corner of her eye. Hands on her neck, black marks covering his body. Of a bench, and of being alone. More than once, she had subconsciously rubbed her Strength of a Hundred seal, her mark of distinction and skill in the presence of one who still had the power to make her feel weak. She had made it, and he was lower than trash.

And now Sasuke would be spending every day with them once again, having served out his time as punishment for betraying Konoha. Although he couldn't go on missions for another two years, he still wanted to keep himself sharp. Still wanted more power. It tore Sakura up inside. She had taken so long to plug the bleeding wound in her heart, and now the scab was being torn away. However, instead of releasing the old, soft feelings like rejected love, hopeless admiration, and fruitless determination, it left her flooded with a new rage. How could he just waltz back in here? Why had they let him?

Konoha wasn't his home anymore. True, they had teamed up to kill yet another of his crazed relatives, but the sense of camaraderie hadn't lasted. His loyalty was gone, and there was nothing that could restore him to her good graces. There should have been nothing that restored him with the others, either, but this clearly wasn't the case. He was given a hero's welcome, and it was one of the most discombobulating things Sakura had ever experienced. Sure, he had taken down Madara, but that was in pursuit of his goal of restoring honor to his clan, not out of any affection towards Konoha. He was not a good person. He had still committed homicide, fratricide, and avunculicide, betrayed and then sworn vengeance against Konoha, and tried to kill Leaf shinobi on numerous occasions. She hated him.

Naruto, had, of course, welcomed him back with open arms, like Sasuke was a long-lost sibling who had been traveling to see the sights, rather than a traitor on a blind and suicidal hunt for one of the most loyal and self-sacrificing ninja ever to walk the streets of Konoha. Kakashi had seen him, and though he remained on his guard, more than once she saw him crinkle his eye happily at Sasuke while Sasuke wasn't looking. Some civilians (and even some kunoichi) reverted back into fangirls, perhaps not so rabid, but discussing what a catch he would be and how handsome and brave and strong he was. It left Sakura feeling isolated, the only one clear-sighted in a sea of blind believers in Sasuke's virtue. Only the other day, Ino, Ino who had cried when they were given Sasuke's kill order because she knew he had reached the point of no return, Ino asked her why she wasn't happy that Sasuke was back. After all, she'd said, he's here, and he wants to be. That's more than you ever could have imagined.

The statement had elicited from Sakura a noise between a snort of disbelief and a sardonic laugh. Sasuke wants to be back in Konoha, she had thought. Right. And I'm a unicorn. Really, why would he? To become Hokage? Probably it was all a plot to destroy the whole village from the inside in a continued quest for VENGEANCE.

On that happy note, Sakura decided, it's time to go to bed. I need rest after that shift, so I can be in top, angry form. She knew she would need all her chakra to fully and systematically punch that smug, asinine, overbearing, invasive…creature from here to Sound.

Haruno Sakura, Uchiha Sasuke's most loyal fangirl, who had once told him she loved him and meant it, fell asleep to the imagined feel of Sasuke's nose crunching under her fingers. It was so real she could almost taste it.

The next morning, after a series of actions she couldn't quite remember, Sakura had prepared herself for training. She was dressed, fed, and walking before her mind escaped from the fog of confused emotions that had trapped her. She squashed all the feelings, reciting shinobi rules and reminding herself of the fact that it was unbecoming to allow emotion to overcome her in a potentially delicate situation.

It was then that she realized exactly how potentially delicate the situation was. Sasuke had been a missing-nin for many years, so how exactly would he respond to a sparring match? She had seen attempted rehabilitations of many ninja who had suffered mental damage from genjutsu less severe than the Tsukiyomi, and that had mostly ended with the patient fighting anyone they chose to spar with to the death. Would the horror of the massacre, the years with Orochimaru, Itachi's death and subsequent resurrection, have been enough to break him?

It certainly was a long list of angsty woes, enough to drive even the tougher brands of emo-kids to insanity, but she flash-stepped straight to the training ground anyway. Some things were worth the risk.

Of her team, only Sasuke was waiting when she arrived in a swirl of leaves and cherry blossoms. This was not necessarily unexpected, though part of her disliked the idea of fighting him on her own, without a referee to ensure fair play. Still, Naruto slept like a log (not to mention snored like a chainsaw) and Kakashi was probably 'lost on the road of life'. Sai, showing more emotional sensitivity than expected, promised not to show up until the state of affairs with Sasuke's baggage could be judged. The unexpected thing was there was a second person. She was sitting in the corner, one arm slung over Sasuke's shoulder, hand curled around his bicep. Sakura stopped in shock as she stared at the red hair, the glasses, and the wine-colored eyes. What was Karin doing at Team Seven event? Team Hebi wasn't to be released from their stretch in prison for another two months!

How on earth Karin get here, and more importantly, what is she doing with her hands all over my Sasuke-kun?! Inner Sakura was completely infuriated, in a way that was over-the-top and slightly fake. It made Outer Sakura twitch in surprise: where had she come from, and why was there such a vivid mental image? Inner Sakura was only a voice now. Well, apparently only most of the time, because right now she was shouting and squealing and (here Outer Sakura mentally cringed) banging on her chest. It was such a display of bestial rage that Outer Sakura knew something was off; the interrobang at the end of the sentence hung in her mindscape like a red flag.

As Outer Sakura had become more competent, Inner Sakura was depended on less and less, coming out only to assist on seduction missions and when mind-control jutsus were in use. Even on those occasions, it was either as a lust-crazed whisper that knew just what to do, where to touch, when to kill, or a grim howl that shattered the enemy control. Sakura felt a tingling combination of discomfort and relief. It was Inner Sakura that had regressed to twelve years old this time, not her.

Plus. The –kun. She'd dropped that suffix like a hot potato the instant she saw what Sasuke had become. It had actually happened in a moment of resolve strengthened by the angry voice at the edge of mental hearing, so listening to Inner Sakura bandying it about was…disturbing, to say the least.

Sakura was so absorbed in her thoughts, hearing the odd, almost-but-not forced temper tantrum of her Inner, who seemed to be ignoring her outer thoughts, and her own speculations, that direct collision with a rapidly encroaching tree was avoided only with difficulty. Sasuke had surely sensed her by now, but seemed engrossed with the girl beside him. Rapidly exiting her moment of stupidity, Sakura stepped sideways, towards the waiting people…whose cheeks were lying against each other in the kind of careless affection that Sakura had been sure that Sasuke would never engage in with another human being.

Well. Ino was going to have a goddamn field day.

The best way to approach this, Sakura concluded after a moment of swiftly-concealed shock, is as though it's a spy mission. Search for a tactic to delicately ease out the truth. And since it's Sasuke, and words come from his mouth as easily as internal organs come from the mouths of other (normal) human beings, it'll have to be a good one…

She began conversation suavely, with an, "Oh. Um, hi…?" All the while, Sakura wore a concealed smirk. So much meaning in three short sounds. Subtle undertones and unasked questions. Oh, the benefits of a Sannin teacher and a gossipmonger best friend.

Translation: Oh. I'm surprised to see Karin here, and I register that you're a little more than friends. Um. Am I interrupting something? I can sense the awkward tension that my presence has created. Hi…? How am I expected to treat Karin? Where do I fit into this picture? Where does she?

Karin turned toward her, her burgundy eyes flashing like blood from underneath those square glasses. They were blank, but the blank of tightly reined-in something rather than lack of emotion. She blinked slowly, registering Sakura's words in silence.

"Hello, Sakura." Sasuke turned to face her too, but kept an arm around Karin. "I'm glad you're here. I have an announcement to make, and it would be best if all of our team arrived on time to hear it. However, since I assume Kakashi will not come for at least another hour, I suppose I could tell you now, and pass the time waiting for the others in discussion." His features were entirely immobile, save for a strange curve to his lip. It conveyed disgust and admiration in the same expression, and though she knew other shinobi, even ones trained to read faces, might have discerned less, she felt disappointment that she did not understand what caused it.

"And what is this announcement?" She managed to smother her expression equally well, courtesy of Sai and the ROOT training he passed on to her. It was a useful skill, but he had not wanted to teach her, saying it was crushing the soul to suppress it the way he did. He had actually been kind of eloquent, but Sakura liked the feeling of completely destroying her greatest weakness, even if that weakness was a vital part of who she was.

Wow, had she really just thought that? She wasn't that emotionally scarred by the fiasco that was the genin Team Seven. Was she?

Sasuke seemed ready to add to the scarring. Karin was anticipating what he would say, which meant that it was probably something bad. The something in her eyes flashed stronger. But when the pompous, mechanical monologue came, she struggled to maintain the mask. Almost worse than she had thought.

"I would like to take this chance to formally announce my engagement to Uzumaki Karin, and to invite you, as a member of my former team," insert stifled wince here, "to the wedding, which will take place next month, on the first of May. We will be married by Hokage Tsunade in the Uchiha Shrine at eleven, to be followed by a short reception. Also invited are Hatake Kakashi, Uzumaki Naruto, Hozuki Suigetsu, Hyuuga Hinata, Inuzuka Kiba, Aburame Shino, Yamanaka Ino, Akimichi Choji, Nara Shikamaru, Rock Lee, Tenten, Juugo, Sai, and, of course, the Godaime Hokage Senju Tsunade."

Sakura noticed how although maybe Tenten was listed near the end mentioned with Lee, Juugo and Sai had been separated from the rest of their teams because they had no clan surname. He was a rotten bastard even while being a frigid lump of ice. She was almost impressed.

"Naruto, as Karin's last living family, will be walking her down the aisle, as she decided on a Western wedding. This means that Kakashi will be my best man. However, Karin lacks a maid of honor. Because you were closest to me during my time in Konoha, and saved Karin's life, she chose you for this important responsibility. Do you accept?"

Did she? Glancing over at Karin, who had yet to speak, she searched for and located the twitching something in the neutral countenance that indicated Sakura was being presented with this 'important responsibility' only because Karin wanted to show off the man that Sakura thought was soon to become a trophy husband. What could she do?

"Of course. I would be delighted."

Sakura hadn't had a chance to talk to Naruto yet today; she had sparred against (and beaten the ass of) Kakashi earlier, taking out on him the frustration of Sasuke's oh-so-important announcement. Now that both spars were over, however, everyone was paired with a new partner, and now Sakura's was Naruto. They had decided to forgo the spar in favor of supposedly watching "The Clash of the Sharingan," as Naruto had melodramatically labeled it. Sasuke had smirked at the both of them, reveling in a tangible (and smug) anticipation of his victory. Kakashi had given them his most blank, disbelieving stare, silently reminding the pair that they hadn't wasted an opportunity to be wantonly violent towards each other in years. Still, he agreed to let them observe.

Now they sat, talking in quiet voices about the war, until Sakura brings up the red-haired topic that they have been skirting around for the past two minutes. "So...your cousin's wedding?" It was asked awkwardly, and with no little trepidation, but tinged with an avid, genuine curiosity.

"To Sasuke? I dunno, Sak, I dunno. It's really bizarre. I mean, Sasuke isn't the type for romance and he always hated his fangirls. But he's not treating her like a baby machine for restoring his clan either, y'know? I'd suspect mind-control if he didn't have the Sharingan." This almost made Sakura burst into hysterical laughter, but a glance at Karin later and she had successfully quelled any urge to laugh.

"I think it'll be good for him; Karin seems to really love him," Sakura said, her face straight as it could be. "And he really, truly loves her," Naruto finished. His face was equally straight. They made it half a minute before finally succumbing to a convulsive fit of giggles.

These were cut off when Sasuke slammed with bone-shattering force into a tree right between them, and Kakashi, looking smugger than Sasuke had, pulled his hitai ate back over his eye even as Sakura turned to stare at him. Whipping back around, Sakura surrounded her hands with healing chakra, but Karin was already stalking past her, grabbing Sasuke, who had returned to his feet. He was clutching his slashed-open ribs in well-concealed pain, but his stormy expression cleared when he saw Karin. Karin made a strange champing motion with her mouth behind closed lips, then grabbed Sasuke and kissed him.

It was in obscene slow motion, and obviously a lot of tongue was involved. The flushed cheeks of both bulged and then subsided, and when Karin stepped away and grinned, Sakura saw that her teeth were as red as her hair. The healing properties of her blood were well-know, and Sasuke licked his lips in satisfaction as a three-foot gash across his torso began to seal itself. Karin, still grinning, suddenly whipped her head down to regard Sakura. As she did, Sakura swallowed a scream. Karin's eyes spun with the pinwheel of the Sharingan.

Sakura awoke laughing.

Sakura was staring at her room, the light of dawn peeking around the edges of her curtains. She thought, It was a dream? and as she looked around her room, she assured herself that it was still the morning before the first gathering of Team Seven post-Sasuke's release. Since she had been put under genjutsu so many times, her dreams had become more and more vivid, a hazard of being a ninja. Sometimes they were traumatic memories, but some were fantastic...like this one.

In fact, it was a shame it was only a genjutsu-residue induced delusion, really. Though her dream Inner was horrified at the thought of darling Sasu-kins and awful Karin-baka marrying each other, the real her was thrilled at the idea. They were just alike in evil temperament, but she would be willing to bet her last buck that one would regret it by the end of the week. Either Karin wouldn't be able to deal with Sasuke's emotional constipation, or Sasuke would be strangled by Karin's clinginess. Of course, a quick divorce would stain the Uchiha name. They'd be stuck. Perhaps she could suggest an omiai to Sasuke as a way to find a bride and pull some strings with the matchmaker?

Settling her hitai ate on her head, this time for real, Sakura tried to banish the memory of the dream for her mind. After a barely tasted breakfast spent calming herself down and breaking occasionally into fits of frenzied mirth at the thought of Sasuke and Karin, Sakura made her way towards the training ground, and towards her team.

And towards Sasuke. He was not a member of Team Seven anymore.

Notes: I've always wanted to use the word 'interrobang' somewhere that actually made sense. So. Go look that up. Oh yeah, avunculicide too. Hey this is my fifth story; someone hire me as a beta!

Fun fact as to why this is an AU: this was originally a one-shot which I edited, decided to make a multi-part, promptly renovated the entire thing, and then left to stew until I found a beta/editor, so I wrote it pre-Kaguya. AND YET I STILL MANAGE TO FAIL AT EDITING IT WHAT IS MY LIFE. Oh well…

I SAY AGAIN: This is not Karin-bashing. On the contrary, Karin is a sympathetic character at this point. The Karin I represent is the hallucinated idea that Sak has. Sakura just knows jack shit about Karin and judges her. That will change when she, y'know, actually meets her. Give it time.

Jesus this author's note is getting long, so I just want to say that school has started, and maybe just maybe there might be a few pesky constraints to my time involving Real Life. It's the dreaded excuse used by every author sometime, but also it's true.