Chapter 3
~ Disquiet ~

Her escape ended in the doctor's mess. Sakura fell against the rickety bed with a sharp breath leaving her quavering lips, her knees vibrating from the impact and her hands grabbing the gray fabric like a saving rope. Her mind was a mess of incoherent, wild thoughts which raced through her head like a startled flock of deers. It took her awfully long to calm herself enough to form sensible units out of them, and even then one dominated them all.

He kills people. The weight of that realization hit her and her skin went up on goosebumps, her throat was parched and her lungs burned at every breath she took. She did not notice how hard she gulped. He had not threatened her, and yet she could not have been more terrified.

Once more Sasuke's eyes, those intriguing, fascinating pools of the night, surfaced amidst her disoriented mind. Like a predator's they had consumed her from the very beginning, the only emotion openly seeping through them animosity. Bile crept up her throat at the remembrance of being alone in a room with him, and Sakura huddled her knees close to her chest.

It was silly, she knew. No matter his attitude towards people, he would not dare hurt her openly in a hospital like that. Sakura shook her head. He doesn't have a reason, either. He wouldn't have... But a part of her was doubtful and her ears rang.

Mentally, she conjured his permit, recalling the exact phrasing to reassure her wildly thumping heart.

'The Faculty and Board of Education, Bail and Law Enforcement in Tokyo, Japan, decree that Uchiha Sasuke has accomplished and fulfilled the requirements of three years of Bounty Hunter Agent training, pursuant to J.B.L.E 93-32-160. Uchiha Sasuke is hereby admitted the rights and privileges given by the city of Tokyo, including but not limited to the crossing of prefectural lines, carrying of specialized weaponry, use of appropriate force and authorized liquidation. Signed by Kujira Orochimaru, head of the Bounty Hunter Agency of Japan, Akatsuki.'

Sakura thanked her photographic memory for saving those information since they gave her at least some sense of relief. As long as no one issued her assassination, people like Sasuke ought not scare her. But while she massaged her neck with one sweaty palm, Sakura had to admit that this was not the reason for her initial outbreak of horror.

He kills people. The thought crossed her mind once again, and Sakura noticed how she had bitten her lip bloody. Hurriedly, she brushed over the torn flesh with the tip of her tongue, twitching at the stab of pain. Her hands were shaking, and she clasped them tightly as she tried to take deep, controlled breaths.

Yet the terror would not leave her. She met death and its harbingers on a daily basis, knew that life was limited and that there were people doomed to die despite her best efforts. More than once had she watched someone die who still had years and years of a promising future to live, while another killed himself deliberately with cigarettes. And still, nothing had ever terrified her more than Sasuke announcing his profession.

The flicker of a mad grin flashed across her face before she whimpered and hit her face against her clammy hands. "Why?! Why are you doing this, Sasuke? Killing people... Are you feeling no remorse? How could you? This is not you!" She was accusing the empty room with her broken voice, choked on the lack of oxygen. Her eyes burned and she froze.

'Not you'? What am I saying? What am I feeling? Why... does it hurt so much?

A memory struck through her head, of a time of similar feelings. Of a time of hurt, loneliness, emptiness. Where she had hung in a meaningless space with no way out, drowned by despair and pain. Where the world was too cruel and life too agonizing.

She did not understand why she remembered it now, of all times. This and that situation were completely different, and yet her heart felt ready to burst as it throbbed against her ribcage. Sakura pressed her hand against her mouth. There was only one possibility explaining the bile creeping up her throat.

"Who are you?" She whispered that question, afraid of the answer the naked walls might give. "Where do I know you from? Who are you, Uchiha Sasuke?"

A flash of blinding light against her lids, a stinging on her right temple. An explosion. Screams. Pain. Immediately, she covered her ears and began to shake, the tormenting question from eleven years ago persecuting her. "Who... am I?"

Sakura tore at her scalp, then shook her head fervently. "No, no, no, no. I am Haruno Sakura, twenty-nine years old. The youngest doctor in Konoha Hospital. Adopted by Senju Tsunade at the age of seventeen. My favorite color is red, my favorite meal is red bean dumplings and my favorite book..." She continued the list for as long as she could, naming every single thing she knew about herself until the storm dissipated and she could breathe normally again. Her mouth was filled with vomit and she staggered over to the sink to spit it out.

When she looked into the smeary mirror, her face was white. Dead. She sighed and splashed some water against it until her complexion reddened. It has been a while since I had a breakdown. I almost forgot what it feels like. She kneaded her neck and sat down on the bed behind her, counting her breaths.

This is stupid. There is no reason to assume he is someone from the past. If he were, he would have said something. She nodded, content with that reasoning. Yes. Sasuke and I are strangers. Strangers with completely opposite views, which is why we clash. Yes.

There is nothing to be afraid of. I am strong. I am stronger than anything. I decided long ago I will never give up, despite the evil in this world. No, she corrected and straightened her back, because of the evil in this world.

She rose, balling her hands into tight fists until their shaking stopped. Sasuke rose in front of her mind's eye once again, the alluring beauty of his eyes luring her in, but she thrust the image aside. Those are not eyes of kindness and love. They are the eyes of a murderer.

In the quietude and security of the room, the murderer going by the name of Sasuke lost all his appeal to her. Animosity similar to the one he exuded welled up inside of her, but Sakura exterminated that, too. I am a doctor. He is my patient. No matter what he is or what he does, as long as he is in need I will help him. It is my duty. It is my calling. Regardless of how wrong he is or how much I detest him.

Something rattled against her heart, her memories. It was still painful. It was still frightening. She still had the senseless urge to cry at his chest and beg him to explain his mad ways, which was terrifying enough in and of its own. But Sakura was strong. She had always been, would always be. No matter what happened.

I don't care who you are, Uchiha Sasuke, she decided, her eyes burning intensely. I don't care about these illogical feelings. I am Haruno Sakura, Senju Tsunade's daughter, and I will always uphold my duty.

She exited the quiet cabin with secure, strong strides as she headed straight back to the room of her patient, hesitating but for a moment before opening the door to his room rather vigorously.

"Excuse my sudden disappearance, but when you told me of your 'occupa-' huh?" Her voice halted abruptly as she found her patient lying still on the bed.

Sasuke had obviously decided to sleep. His face was averted from the door, his body stiff as stone; even her sudden, loud entrance had not awoken the man from his slumber, and when she tiptoed over to his side, she barely made out the soft rising and falling of his chest.

How can he be asleep at a time like this?! A vein on Sakura's temple was throbbing and she ground her teeth. Just as I pulled myself together to give him some piece of mind. She glowered, even though he could not see it, her emeralds observing his sleeping face. His mouth was open by the lightest gap to release soft exhales, his brow smooth and free from frowns of any kind, his eyes relaxed.

Before she knew it, she was examining his sleeping body with more attention than necessary. Her eyes followed the curve of his collarbone to the muscles visible beneath the pale skin spanned across his arms, attached to shoulders not too broad to be bulky, but strong enough to flick away any doubt of his sex. Behind his garb, his pectorals pressed against his skin, rising and falling with his even breaths, and the definition of his abdominals was deep, as if contoured by powder. His hands laid flat and relaxed atop his abdomen, and Sakura was amazed by the lean, elongated structure of his fingers. Without realizing what she was doing, Sakura reached out to trace the lines of his hand, her fingers trembling as they neared his pale skin.

His index finger twitched. Sakura gasped and jumped back, her gaze flipping to his face, which was smooth and calm and his eyes were closed. Her hands pressed against her thumping heart, Sakura respired and brushed over her forehead – only for said body part to flare in crimson.

What am I doing?! She took another jump backwards, voluntarily this time, and disgust twisted her expression as her stomach revolted. Where is this attraction coming from?! I just told myself that he is a murderer and my professional duty lies above it all, so why..? Guilt and shame ran over her in equal parts, freezing the culpable blood inside her veins. I don't understand this…

Again, she found herself staring at his face which tugged at something in her heart she could not name. Sakura frowned. Just… who are you exactly? Her eyes caught his file, lying on the stool next to his bed, and she remembered her initial and most pressing reason for being here. Casting aside her doubts and disquieting feelings, she set to work.

With him being asleep, examining his data proved more trustworthy. She pressed the stethoscope against his bare chest, one hand resting beside it, and listened attentively to his heartbeat. It roared in her ears as it pumped the blood within him in a steady rhythm. An observant look at the monitor next to him, softly beeping every so often, revealed additional information for her to note down.

He seems to be recovering well. It's a wonder, after those injuries. Once more, she found herself wondering whether his healing was truly thanks to her efforts. Forcefully, she shook her head. Enough of this. She scribbled down some instructions for the nurses, then rested the file in the fitting at the end of his bed with a metallic click. With her back turned to him, she firmly decided not to grant him another regard while she exited his room.

That way, she did not see him raising one hand to softly trace the area of flesh burning on his chest.

She's alive. The thought circled endlessly in his throbbing head, and it took all of Sasuke's willpower not to jump from the bed. To hurry after her, take her fragile, small hand into his. To bury his nose in her pink, soft hair and inhale the flowery scent that was so uniquely hers. To gaze into her emerald eyes and confirm himself of the precarious reality that she was there.

Sakura closed the door, unaware of the shaking breath that left his lips. His chest ached where she had touched him, and he traced after the tingling sensation with trembling fingertips.

She's alive. He could not believe it. When he had crawled through the maze of alleyways, bleeding and dying, and her voice had reached his thudding ears, he had been sure he was imagining it. It would not have been the first time he envisioned her, grown up, alive and well. When she had taken him into her arms, trying to hold his suffocating body still, he had cursed his inept senses and maddening spirit. When her hand held his in the endless ride to the hospital, he had been sure death was torturing him with a soothing image that both healed and hurt him. He had tried to muffle the desperately hopeful voice within him that wished for it to be true, for he had known fully well it could not be.

And then, she had opened the door to his sick room. Her pink hair, short and soft and sleek, had swept with the breeze she had let in, and his nose had caught the scent he had not smelled in years and yet had never forgotten, his eyes had seen the face that haunted his every dream.

She's alive. He did not know how he had managed to keep his cool. How he had been able to refrain from embracing her tightly enough to shatter her delicate frame. Maybe because a part of him was unable to believe what his quavering eyes saw.

Sasuke clenched his jaw and forced his eyes to open. Deep down, he still feared he was imagining her after all. He almost died – if that was not enough to force his mind to conjure the one and only thing that had ever mattered to him, he did not know what could.

She's alive. Again, there was this burning sensation, and he angrily rubbed his eyes. With a growl, he sat up to look at the door she had disappeared into.

"Sakura." His tongue glided over her name in a tenderness he had not known to possess anymore. It felt good, so good, to speak her name in knowing she was alive. Again, the sensation of a sob threatened to choke him, but he bit it back. Disgraceful enough that he had cried earlier, he would not allow for it a second time. Tears were for the weak.

A sudden memory. A sharp sting of guilt. A face with a broken smile and blood trickling from the quivering lips.

A horrible mistake.

Sasuke slumped, clutched at his empty chest. Too much, it was too much, everything he had seen, everything that had happened, everything he had done. "Why?" he whispered to the empty room with a voice that was not his. "Why do I meet you now, Sakura? Why not a month ago? Why do I always end up doing the wrong thing?!" His whispers had grown to a shout and he tore at the IV pole to his right until his arm burned and hurt and stung, the hoses fluttering wildly, and even then he did not stop. He deserved the pain. Deserved all the pain in the world.

Am I losing it? Is she really alive? Please, let her be, please, he begged with no one to address. A jolt went through his body and he retched. Please don't, please let me be imagining things, I can't take this, if she's really alive then, then… I...

With a broken sound, Sasuke grabbed a fistful of his raven hair. Faces floated before his eyes, and closing them was a futile fight for it was all etched inside his mind. One after the other, they rose to accuse him. Rightly so. There was nothing he could say against their allegations, he could only add to that, really.

I should have stayed dead, he mourned with a bloody lip. Suddenly, he jerked up, his onyxes wide and disbelieving. Sakura's face distinguished herself from all the others, hints of a smile nestled in the corners of her lips. Like a goddess she had descended upon him when he was at his low. Again. She lived.

He laughed. It was a dead sound, devoid of life and honesty, but a laugh nonetheless. How dare I think of death when she has been returned to me? Pathetic. Something hardened in his chest, and when the ghosts of his pasts and mistakes threatened to knock, he focused his energy and overflowing emotions on the path more known to him as he picked one particular face.

You lied. He stared at the image, hate and wrath shoving aside the conflicting, incredulous feelings in his chest, his eyes dark and murderous. All your pretty words, your crying and misery – lies. Stupid lies I swallowed whole. I'm an idiot.

Oh, the self-hatred. Now that was a sentiment he knew well. Almost comforting, the way his skin crawled at himself, the urge to flee from his own presence. A morbid grin twisted his lips and he closed his abysmal eyes. Shall we ever cross paths again, I will teach you my pain.

Thinking like this, in his usual tracks, helped him regain some of his insanity bordering on sanity. But even then, and even if he allowed for the tantalizing possibility to be truth that she was, contrary to his beliefs for eleven years, alive, there was one fact he could not ignore.

Despite Sakura living and breathing, she had obviously forgotten all about him. And even though he had a fairly good idea of why he had been erased from her memory, it did not do anything to alleviate his anguish, and the ghoulish grin died.

She forgot. Everything. The realization hit him like a train. Seventeen years which meant the world to him had vanished into nothingness. His only reason for existing, both prior and after their separation, was now like a dream he had dreamt alone.

Alone. The word echoed inside his hollow head and Sasuke slumped forward. Have I… been the only one who thought of us like that? His empty eyes flickered over to his bedside table. If she has forgotten about me so easily…

It took long – too long – before he shook his head. She was alive. It was all that mattered. At least that was the lie he told himself as he buried the doubts and torment and sealed it deep within.

Eyes of honey hurried over the file. With every additional line, her eyebrows drew closer together until they almost met, and at the end she pulled out her hidden stash of sake, poured herself an all-too generous cup which she downed in one go and immediately refilled it. But as the sour beverage touched her painted lips for the second time, Tsunade halted. She glowered at the liquid, then growled and set it down.

Again, she read the file. It was still unsatisfactorily empty, but remarkably more filled than just a few hours before. As expected of her daughter. Tsunade rested her chin in her hand and bit on the nail of her thumb, if only to keep herself from drinking. After everything I've done… I thought it was perfect. Her foot drummed against the flooring in impatient taps, her fingers slowly crumbled the file beneath them.

How… How? How?! She rose from her seat and banged her fist on the table, letting out a roar that had her assistant knock and enter with a worried face.

"Tsunade-sama, are you alright? I could've sworn I heard you- hey, is that sake?!" The black-haired woman dashed forward and grabbed for both bottle and cup before Tsunade could preempt her. Not that she had wasted any thought about that. "It is. Tsunade-sama, how often have we discussed this now? Please limit your irresponsible alcohol consumption to days off duty and-" The woman stopped mid-lecture and noticed the visible bump in her master's desk. Her fine brows furrowed and she made but two steps forward, elongating the silence until Tsunade was no longer steaming in fury. Only when the blonde sat down with a deep, agonized sigh did Shizune speak up, as quietly and calmly as possible. "What happened?"

Instead of a reply, the head physician flicked the file which Sakura had brought her before calling it a day over for her assistant to to scrutinize at. The raven-haired woman did so, and after just one line she inhaled sharply. Her eyes flickered up, honest concern sharpening their black. "Tsunade-sama, this is..."

"Yes," Tsunade replied curtly, crossing her arms in front of her grand chest. "It is. He has come again."

Shizune flattened out her uniform in front of her stomach, an old habit which died hard. "Does Sakura know?"

Now, Tsunade's lips curled into a dead sneer. "Of course not. There is no reason for her to know."

"But, Tsunade-sama..."

"I will dispose of him as I did once already." She turned to the window front framing the eastern side of her room with a determined gleam in her eyes, set firmly on a spot in the distance. Her gaze did not falter when she said, "But, do me a favor, Shizune. Keep an eye on Sakura when she is around that… abomination."

Shizune opened her mouth twice without saying anything. Her eyes stared intense holes into Tsunade's back, but when the blonde did not turn, her assistant merely inclined her head and muttered, "Understood, Tsunade-sama." But as she exited the room, she could not help but throw a final, concerned glance back, her eyebrows drawing up helplessly.

A/N: The first chapter within which old readers should note big changes. Sasuke's scene is longer and goes into more depth, both plot and character-wise. The scene with Tsunade and Shizune at the end is completely new. We are building up the drama which is going to explode in the next chapter. There, you will have a completely new SasuSaku moment, which, at least from my point of view, tugs harshly at the heart strings. So look forward to it ;) I'll send virtual cookies to everyone who writes a review! Love, Ruska~