Sakura has her hand fist-deep in Sasuke's rib cage, seriously tempted to rip his heart out like he did hers, a conflict of interest mitigated only by the code of honor her shishou drilled into her, when she realizes that Team Seven won't return to Konoha without him this time.
This would go down as a successful retrieval mission, Team Seven returning to his village with their lost teammate. Except Sakura was only sent as backup, not as part of the team, narrowly missing the fight. Except she's a Chunin, would be a Jounin if she could be bothered with changing her schedule. Except for this: Had Sakura abandoned her village instead she'd have been branded missing nin, hunted down for whatever small amount of money she's worth. Dead or alive.
How can she suddenly not look at Sasuke with her muscles screaming at her to fight for her life, to go straight for his jugular? Sasuke is the enemy, has been since he turned to Orochimaru with all the wisdom of a bratty twelve-year-old.
“Sakura-chan, what if I hit something important? Can you tell? He doesn't look okay, see? He's all pale and sweaty. Are you sure he'll be alright? What if I hit something important?”
Naruto is talking at her again, never with her, and that tears at her like an old wound.
He keeps fussing over the wound, the physical one, because Naruto has never been one for subtlety, and she has to grit out that “Sasuke will be fine” six times before it gets through to him. But he stays, pressing his hands to his knees, body tense in a way that tells her he feels helpless not being able to do anything. It's strangely vindicating until she notices that his feverish gaze is met by Sasuke's half-lidded delirious eyes.
“You should have seen me kick his butt, it was awesome! We had this whole bam-wham Chidori vs. Rasengan move at the end, kinda like on the rooftop – but then he didn't dodge my Rasengan, and well...” He shrugs, jawline still tense with worry. Sakura pretends not to flinch when she remembers how they both almost skewered her. ”I heal faster than he does.”
Even now, she thinks, while her hands carefully rearrange Sasuke's entrails, chakra knitting tissue back together, they only have eyes for each other. Observing this moment – because for all they preach about teamwork and family, she's not part of it and never will be – she is hurting.
Sakura knows that she can't go back to play-pretend and smiling. She would have to act as if no kunai had been wedged deep into her chest and twisted around for good measure, betrayal a jagged scar curbing her naivety. It crawls lazily underneath her skin, a reminder never to trust Sasuke Uchiha again.
Naruto has already forgiven him a long time ago. She can see it in the way his body arches towards him, almost longingly. Sakura isn't Naruto. She won't go back to how things were. Sasuke is a traitor. He made a choice when he left, kept making that choice every day for years, and she can't stand the thought that he won't have to face the consequences of it.
She understands why Tsunade-shishou decided to have him back. He's not a civilian-born kunoichi, but a strong shinobi with a valuable bloodline limit at his beck and call. It's not fair, but Sakura doesn't begrudge Naruto his happiness, or Sasuke his second chance at life.
Then again, she shouldn't have to stand miserably at the sidelines anymore.
She watches the clotting accelerate under her glowing palms, watches as Sasuke stirs, watches him ignore her, acknowledging only Naruto's presence, and decides that she isn't needed anymore. She picks herself up and crosses the clearing to help set up camp. They will make their way back tomorrow.
“How is he?” Kakashi asks calmly, suddenly next to her. Though she first felt his presence when she started healing Sasuke, his steps are still eerily silent.
“He needs rest,” she reports, unfurling a storage scroll from her pockets. “The Rasengan to his chest messed him up a bit. With some physical therapy he will be functional.”
“Ah,” he says, picking up some crackers she just summoned, “That's good to hear. Hokage-sama will be pleased. Naruto seems happy.” He tilts his head towards the pair, Naruto visibly torn between punching Sasuke and hugging him.
Sakura hums as the blonde decides to go for both in quick succession. “Here,” Kakashi says, drawing her attention to his hand. “Good job on healing him.” He is holding a candy bar in his left and she snatches it away, popping it into her mouth. It's sour, but sour-faced is exactly how she feels right now, so she supposes that's alright. He pats her on the head for good measure before picking up some more food.
“Did you need anything else?” She asks pointedly when he doesn't turn away from her. She doesn't think he's ever spent more time in her presence then he had to.
“Ah,” he says again, slouching into himself l, “No, not from you.”
Sakura carefully doesn't react to that. She knows that he doesn't see her as a partner, and that he never will. It's hard for the men in her life to accept that she's a talented medic. It's even harder for them to think of her as a shinobi who can go toe-to-toe with them in a fight. Sakura is self-made, all hard work and sweat and pain. Now she's tired.
“I'll take the first watch,” Kakashi adds, probably to avoid talking to her as if she's a person. “Sai is up for second, you will take the third and Yamato the fourth.”
She nods, a rigid jerk. Kakashi hasn't taught her much apart from not trusting your teachers to have your best interest in mind, but at least he's giving her a window of opportunity. She can't read him well, but she doubts he knows what she plans on doing.
Kakashi has already begun steering away from her when he halts. There's a small delay before he opens his mouth. “Oh, and Sakura-chan? Keep it professional until we're in the village. We're still in Grass Country, and I don't want you distracting Sasuke.”
She stiffens ever so slightly. He pats her head again and makes his way towards Yamato and Sai, who have been quietly conversing in the shadow of a birch tree.
Sakura has had enough of being left out and left behind. She's not twelve years old with stars in her eyes, insecure and with much growing to do. She's not dead weight or a damsel and she's so tired of being treated like all she's good for is healing. That's just not who she is.
The sour taste in her mouth lingers.
She forces herself to go to sleep, later. Tsunade-sama had taught her a trick to make the most of it. She needs the rest. If sucking up to Sasuke is what Konoha stands for then they don't get to have her. Her Shishou will not like her decision, but she will understand. Maybe she had seen it coming. Collateral damage.
Sakura has a dreamless night until Sai wakes her silently, the pitch-black darkness engulfing them making it impossible to make out much of his face. He nods at her and slips into his sleeping bag.
When she rises to survey the camp Sai is already out of it. Yamato is huddled against Kakashi for warmth. Her former teacher clings to him like he's drowning, and maybe he is, in his dream. She feels a sting of guilt seeing Naruto toss around, mumbling Sasuke's name. When she notices Sasuke propped up against him she quickly sniffs that feeling out.
Sakura is sixteen and she makes a choice. Hers isn't out of misguided notions of revenge or scalding anger. It's a choice by necessity. Konoha's Team Seven is a fantasy that only includes a shallow version of her. It never existed in the first place. Naruto won't drag her back like he did Sasuke. Maybe he'd chase after her younger self, but he'd never think to look for who she really is.
She thinks of the people who've been kind to her, Konoha nin, for the most part. Thinks of Tsunade-shishou's excruciating training regime, Shizune's neat lab, Tenten's sharp weapons and her sharper tongue. Her best friend, Ino, who she has so much love for. Thinks of an area-effective Genjutsu that will let her slip away unnoticed.
Sakura's hands flash through the signs. She wonders if she would have turned out differently had not the only female role model in her life been a doctor; if girls weren't put on Genin teams in a 3:1 ratio more often than not, almost as an afterthought.