Riyo had been covering shifts at the library for a while. He wasn’t a bookworm, not like most of his coworkers, but he’d messed up his leg real bad a few months ago and he prefered to keep busy while keeping off it. That’s why he’s kept in charge of the dusty medical texts section of the library- nothing too valuable for him to fend off thefts of, nothing to draw a big mess for him to walk around cleaning up. Sit down, read a bit, nothing crazy. Konoha had been suffering a real loss of interest in medic careers lately, not that Riyo can blame any of the genin when he’d skipped that option just happily as them, but still. It means for the time he’s worked at the library, in that poorly lit corner of shelves, he didn’t see more than a handful of visitors below the age of eighty stop by to collect reading material.
So he’s pretty surprised when a genin stumbles over, and doesn’t promptly run for the hills when she sees the size of the books or their complicated titles. Instead she starts digging, wandering through the racks and clearly searching for something, and while the shock of such a young visitor had initially thrown him off, he did have a job to do.
“Hey.” He called out gently. “What’re you looking for?” He asks, as nicely as he can. She looked up at him with wide, nervous eyes. That’s pretty worrying, and it only gets worse as she answers, voice wobbling,
“I think my teammate is really sick!”
So Riyo gets the genin settled down next to the desk in one of the sturdy chairs that can handle the stress from how tightly she’s clutching at the arms of the damn thing, and nudges her as softly as he can into talking. So he can point her towards the right book, really, because there’s not much else he can do. Stationed in the medical section, but if you pressed him, he’d have to admit he couldn’t remember how to properly fix a broken nose. The kid doesn’t need to know that, though, so he just asks for some more details on whatever’s got her so freaked out. She’s a weird looking thing, all bug-eyed with a big forehead and pasty skin, long pink hair that she keeps tugging at when she manages to let go of the creaking arms of the chair. He’d been a weird looking kid, too- teammates say it’s more like he’s fuckin ugly, and that much hasn’t changed, but that’s ‘cause they’re assholes who can’t handle him beating them at poker twice weekly- and it gives him a soft spot for the girl despite himself.
“He’s got a cough.” Is how she starts off, and maybe she’s cut out for a medic’s path one day, because then she rattles off symptoms like a nurse with a vendetta. “Nasty cough, keeps getting worse, and you can just tell it’s from his chest and not his throat, and sometimes it’s like he’s choking. He’s been getting tired easier, lately, even though he’s always had way better endurance than everyone else in class, and even when he’s not coughing, he gets short of breath really quickly.”
“Well.” Riyo says, because he’s no expert, nobody else, but there’s something familiar about that description in a way that hits closer to gossip then it does to science. So he might actually have an answer. “Tell me, kid, this teammate of yours...is he from an old clan?”
She looks up from her lap, surprise in her features enough of a confirmation even if she hadn’t followed it up with a vigorous nod.
“You’re from a newer one, yeah?” He presses, and she shrugs it off.
“Civilian one, what does it matter?” She asks, and he nods.
“That makes sense. Either way, your family wouldn’t have to worry about it, but older clans- ah, well.” This used to be covered in the academy, but after the war...The older clans liked to keep their secrets from each other, and there weren’t many of them left, anyways. It wasn’t worth the class time it would’ve wasted. “They get sick in...weird ways, sometimes. Same reason they get their dojutsu. Chakra manifests strange, sometimes.”
“So you know what’s wrong with him?” She asks, eager, and he nods.
“It sounds ahellof a lot like your buddy’s got Hanahaki. It’s, uh- shoot. You know about Wood Limit, right? Hashirama?”
Her expression turns confused, but she agrees quickly, “Yeah, the first Hokage.”
“Well, sometimes, when a clan shinobi’s got enough chakra, and they get….huh. Look. I don’t really get how it works, but that sh-stuff. Flowers, plants, whatever. It starts to grow inside of them, when the situation presents itself. It’ll get worse, until...well. They die, or they get the flowers to stop growing.”
“I- I don’t understand.”
He can’t blame her. He doesn’t really get it either, and he’s not doing a great job explaining what he does know. “Look, I’ll find you a book on the stuff if I can, but it’s actually pretty simple. Your teammate is trapped in an unrequited crush. He either gets that person to love him back, or…”
Well. He could lie. Say it’d be enough to have the teammate get over it, but that was the whole problem- old clans never got over it. Stubborn bastards. Probably why the vines would start to grow in the first place, stubborn as the feelings that made them manifest. Still. She’s just a kid.
“Ah, it’s no big deal. Kids your age fall in love all the time, I’m sure he’ll get it worked out.”
There, that should fix it, right?
The girl bursts into tears.
It’s not that Sakura doesn’t care that Sasuke-kun is apparently in love with somebody who isn’t her. Of course she cares- she gave up a lot to try and win him over, and when they’d become teammates, she’d thought her crush had turned into something more than distant admiration. Something respectable, even if fully unreturned. It’s just that she cares a lot more about Sasuke-kun.
He’s sick, and in a way that seems more fatal then the librarian-nin had wanted her to realize. If the way to help Sasuke-kun is to set him up on a date, no matter who it’s with, then Sakura will- will happily play matchmaker. The trouble is, Sasuke-kun is much less willing to play along.
Which really, is infuriating. When she’d confronted him about his illness, only to learn he hadn’t known there was a name or a cause for it either, he hadn’t denied that he was sick. He wouldn’t have been able to, given soon after her arrival he’d hacked up what sounded like a lung but proved in appearance to be brown twigs and pale white petals. If it was Naruto, maybe he could’ve claimed he’d eaten a branch earlier- nothing surprised her, when it came to Naruto’s more unusual habits- but this was Sasuke-kun , and a rare, mysterious illness was far more his style.
But as soon as she told him what the cause was, he’d snapped.
“I don’t love anyone.” He told her. “I don’t even like people.”
That seemed true. He wasn’t particularly nice to anyone, after all, and it’s not like a girl would keep it to herself if Sasuke Uchiha had ever made a move. Even girls who didn’t like him- few though there were- would’ve bragged endlessly about it. Affection from Sasuke was practically gold in social currency- or it would be, if it existed. The problem was, it didn’t.
“What about Ino.” Sakura had asked. She could understand if it was Ino. Ino was beautiful, and clever, and very talented. She was the clan heir to a formidable clan, too, and for all of Sasuke-kun’s mysterious appeal, Ino had a friendly, talkative charm that seemed to draw people in. “Everyone likes Ino. Maybe you just like her a little more than you realized!”
Sasuke looked at her, eyes a little blank, and responded, “Which one was Ino?”
“The….the pretty one.” Sakura tries, valiantly hoping that perhaps he was just very bad with names. You didn’t need to know someone’s name to be deeply in love with them, lots of romance novels had taught her that! Shinobi could go their whole lives with false names, after all. Sasuke’s stare remained passive, and Sakura held a hand over one of her eyes. “With the ponytail and the bangs, you know?”
“Ah.” Sasuke said. He didn’t say anything else. Sakura regretfully crossed Ino off her mental list.
Somehow they’d managed to sit down for this conversation. It was sort of nice, sitting on Sasuke’s lawn; he took good care of it, or hired someone to, and he actually had a lot of space. Sometimes she’d have the boys over to her house, but there wasn’t much space- more than Naruto had, sure, but Naruto didn’t have a thousand nosy neighbors coming over to stare at the baby shinobi- and Sasuke had a lot prettier gardens to look at, instead of just grass. She’d have to strong arm him into letting their next team meeting happen at his place instead, after this.
“Don’t worry Sasuke-kun, I’ll figure it out. I know you’re not very good with emotions, but just leave it to me!” She promised. Sasuke scoffed, but he also didn’t curse her out like he did when he disagreed with Naruto, so Sakura took it as a hearty agreement and a statement of faith in her abilities, and got up to head home and consider her- his?- options. Really, things would’ve been so much easier if he could’ve just been reasonable and have been in love with Ino, but she supposed she can’t fault him for being difficult now as if he wasn’t difficult about everything else, too.
She’d had an epiphany the next morning, as she’d tugged her brush through a particularly nasty tangle, and daydreamed about chopping off all her hair before remembering that she’d finally gained an inch more than Ino and she wasn’t about to sacrifice a win to her rival for something so stupid as comfort. Then she’d thought enviously about Hinata’s lovely short locks, how she’d kept them trimmed high enough that even her neck was kept cool, and how sensible that was.
Well! That was it! Ino was the sort of girl anyone could love, but Sasuke-kun was special, and a little odd, so of course he’d be a little odd in who he liked. Not that it was bad, if he liked Hinata- she seemed like a great girl, if terribly shy and a little too jumpy to get to know well- but still, she was a bit unexpected.
So Sakura met with Sasuke like she normally did, nice and early before team training; Naruto always slept in, since he knew Kakashi wouldn’t be there for hours, but Sasuke had refused to stop arriving as early as possible, and Sakura had gotten used to using the time to study or eat with Sasuke-kun. She practically ambushed him in her excitement, knocking him into the dust, and sending him into one of his coughing fits. This time, at least, he didn’t see the point in trying to hide it from her, and he spat out what seemed like a mouthful of still-closed white buds. Gross, but kind of cool! It was better than when the training made them spit up blood, at least. She wondered what it tasted like, but decided it was better not to ask.
“I think I figured it out!” She tells him excitedly, and Sasuke kun knocks her off him but doesn’t bother to stand back up. She rolls over to sit next to him, careful to watch his reactions to her suggestions. One must be diligent when communicating with Uchiha Sasuke-kun, she’d learned, to catch visual cues that would never become verbal. For example, his grimace right now meant that those buds had probably tasted really bad, but he was way too dignified to ever say something like ‘ew’ out loud.
“Hinata.” She stated proudly, but his expression did not change. Well, she’d already learned he was bad at names. No sense giving up so early. His life was on the line! “The hyuuga heirress. She’s really quiet and nice and she has short practical hair, and uh-” she racks her mind for anything else she knew about Hinata, “a little sister! She’s a great big sibling-”
“No.” Sasuke-kun says.
“No?” Sakura asks.
“Hn.” He says.
“Hn.” Sakura repeats, crestfallen. Again, another perfectly good girl turned down! Sure, Hinata hadn’t been interested in him in the Academy, so that would’ve been tricky, but he’s Sasuke-kun, so really, he just would’ve had to try a little bit and everything would be fixed. Hinata was sort of weird, when she got all stuttery, but she was very pretty and nice and even put up with Naruto really well, so it wasn’t like she would’ve made a terrible wife!
Sakura sat there, feeling rather grumpy despite how nice a day it was, her mood only growing worse as she bumped her head onto Sasuke-kun’s shoulder and he burst into another rattling cough- those seemed to be happening more and more often, now, and it was an unfortunate reminder that she was failing her teammate. Even trying as hard as she could, she couldn’t think of a single girl Sasuke had ever been nice to. The closest he came to being nice was to his teammates, and that was ridiculous to even consider. His love wouldn’t unrequited if it was her, after all- she’d confessed to him nearly everyday, and even now she made sure to tell him she loved him as a teammate because he seemed sort of like he needed the emotional support, and Naruto was impossible because he-
“Oh!” Sakura announced. “Oh, Sasuke-kun.” He looks at her, very confused.
“Sakura.” He replies, coldly, and her heart flutters in a way that she ignores because her heart is stupid and she’s too busy being extremely smart for that right now. She leans in towards him, trying to study his eyes- they’re still the prettiest eyes she’s ever seen, except maybe Ino’s, but that’s unfair competition and anyways it’s like trying to compare night and day, and maybe she’s been staring too long because Sasuke looks a little constipated and also like he might start coughing any second now.
“You like Naruto !” She announces, and Sasuke promply shoves back, rolls over, and gags. No flowers, this time, which might be a good sign?
“Oh, it makes so much sense now.”
“It does?” Sasuke-kun asks, glaring up at her and appearing to be inching away.
“Well, you have already kissed.” She points out. Sasuke gags again. “And you’re sort of like opposites, which are supposed to attract. Like you’re very introverted, and he’s very friendly! Or how you’re a bit uptight, and he likes to pull pranks. Or how you’re smart, and he’s-”
“A fucking idiot?” Sasuke suggests, and Sakura shrugs.
“Well, you both wanted to eat Tora instead of turning it in last mission, so…”
“Whatever.” Sasuke replies. “But you’ve got the wrong idea. I don’t like the dobe.”
Sakura wants to point out that they even have cutsey nicknames for eachother, but, well, it’s easier to say, “But Sasuke, you don’t like anybody, so you might as well be in love with somebody you dislike a lot!”
Something about that doesn’t sound right, but she’s not sure what.
“He’s…..Ugh. Like a brother to me.” Sasuke tries to explain, and then shudders. “Well. Let’s say sister. Let’s just say sister, but the point stands.”
Well, it’s his feelings. Sakura can’t really disagree when he speaks with so much certainty. Still, the possibility of it being a boy gave some more options- Sasuke-kun wasn’t very nice to any boys, but he also hadn’t actively had to turn too many down, which meant he might be sort of kind to one of them at some point because of feelings. It’s worth a shot.
“How about Shikamaru? You care a lot about intelligence, right?”
Sasuke looks at her, relieved that she’s moved on, and says, “Who?”
It’s going to be a long day.
Unfortunately for the both of them, their training for the day arrives before Sakura can think of a single person in the village, regardless of gender, who Sasuke remembers and also doesn’t actively dislike. She couldn’t even come up with a taken person, which was particularly frustrating, because there still stands the issue of the love being unrequited, and one of the few reasons to not like Sasuke-kun would be if you’re too busy liking someone else.
Luckily for her, their mission is an easy one; they just have to tail a couple on a date, steal the contents of the taller woman’s bag- some sort of later delivery to a family member that will never reach it’s destination, if they succeed- and whisk away with the goods without being spotted. Naruto suggested they follow the couple around by Heng’ing into super hot ladies to distract them, so as punishment he’d been put on lookout duty. They just wanted to rob the ladies, not ruin their relationship!
So instead Sasuke and Sakura sat at the table behind the ladies, acting like two normal genin hanging out after getting the day off from a lazy sensei- sometimes the best cover is closes to the truth- and talking about feelings.
Well, Sakura talking about Sasuke’s feelings, at least, while he frantically signalled for the waiter as often as possible. He kept drawing looks for the coughs he tried to keep contained, though luckily their targets seemed to be too focused on each other to pay them much mind. Naruto, watching from the window across the street, was very cross- he absolutely would be much better at blending in right now! Even if he had been a hot lady! Hot ladies take their nieces out for lunch all the time, dattebayo! Equality for hot ladies! They can do more than just be distractions!
Finally, Sakura sighs, and says, “Sasuke-kun, I’m really trying, but I can’t solve anything if you don’t help a little bit at least.”
Sasuke let out a groan, rolled his eyes, and the furrowed his brow. “But Sakura.” He replies. “I don’t like people. And I don’t like talking! So how am I supposed to talk to you about liking people.”
“Well. Uh. Hm.” That was a good point, but she wasn’t the smarted genin from the academy (shikamaru might’ve bested her in strategy, but he was way worse at both social dynamics and applied physics, so the title was totally hers to claim!-) for no reason at all! She could figure this out, and get the mission done on time, no problem.
“Well. Maybe it’s the words that are the problem.” She suggested. “How about I ask you questions, and you just answer them with the person who comes to mind, okay?”
“Whatever.” Sasuke grumbles, but he’s not frowning like before- well, he’s frowning, but he always does this, and Sakura classifies it as more of an accepting, slightly pleased frown to have received the accommodation, as opposed to an annoyed frown or an angry one.
“If you had to trust anyone, who would it be?”
Well, she should’ve expected that, though it was nice to hear that he trusted them.
“If...if you had to spend your day with someone, instead of by yourself, who would it be?”
Sasuke shrugged, and gestured around them. Well, this was them hanging out, even if it was a mission, and they’d been doing that a lot the past few months, so Sakura guessed that made sense too.
“Um, if you had been terribly betrayed by a person you trusted and also the village was on fire and also maybe there was like a love triangle or something, and there was a few chapters to go so technically things might still have plot twists to come, and somebody told you not to kill the person who’d betrayed you, who would that somebody have to be for you to believe them?”
Sasuke stared at her. That was fair, she’d been drawing a little too much on the romance novels on that one for it to make a lot of sense.
“Nevermind, uh. Do you know. Things. About anyone?”
“Things?” Sasuke asked.
“You know, things! Like- when their birthday is, or their favorite color.” She nodded happily. “Their hobbies or the food they like.”
“But that’s easy.” Sasuke says. “I mean, I know all that stuff about you, you’re always talking about it. That’s not special or secret information.”
“Well, it’s not special to know, but it’s special to remember, you know?” Sakura says, but Sasuke’s blank look makes it clear he doesn’t understand. “Do you really know all that stuff?” She belatedly adds, a little surprised.
Sasuke just shrugs again, before pointing out, “You talk a lot.”
She can’t disagree, so she just moves on, feeling pretty pleased to know he actually listens when they chat.
“Does spending time with someone make you feel all...warm and fuzzy?”
“Like...like body heat?” Sasuke asks. “Because Naruto’s like a furnace, but sisters, okay? Sisters, so don’t even-”
Sakura giggled, cutting him off. “No, no, not like that, like uh...like you’re excited to talk to them again when a conversation ends. Or like you want to do better at stuff when they’re watching.”
Sasuke looks a little flustered. “But you say interesting stuff, why wouldn’t I want to talk to you again?”
This conversation is doing wonders for Sakura’s ego, though not much for their actual problem- even if she’s got a weird feeling that she’s onto something with this.
“Well, I don’t know Sasuke-kun, it’s not easy to put this sort of thing into words! Isn’t there anybody you want to make happy? Even if it means sometimes you have to be sad? Somebody who makes you try harder at stuff you’re bad at, just so you can help them out?”
Sasuke glared at the table, fidgeting with a kunai that he somehow managed to pull out and start spinning while she talked, which seemed like a bad idea for their whole ‘undercover mission’ that neither of them had been focusing on.
“These questions are stupid.” He complained, before adding, “What even made you think of a stupid question like that?”
“Well, that’s how I feel about you, so-” Sakura began, and Sasuke fumbled the kunai, nearly dropping it into his lap blade-first before he managed to catch it.
“Shut up, no you don’t!” He said, but the blush tinting his ears and their entire conversation rushed back to Sakura with sudden clarity and she realized,
“Oh my god, Sasuke-kun, I think you like me !”
It was good he’d put the kunai away already, because from the way his went slack, he’d probably have been torn between dropping it with a clatter or stabbing her with it in shock.
“That’s- that’s so- no way!” He tells her. “I don’t- I would never-” His splutters turned into a cough, and the frantic attempts to argue only made it more severe. This was the worst coughing fit she’d ever seen, and it drew the attention of the entire cafe. She nervously tried to reach out for his shoulder, ready to call the mission off, when the hacking finally stopped, and an entire branch of cherry blossoms landed on the table in front of them, still slightly sticky with Sasuke’s spit. His face turned bright red, and they stared at each other for a moment, before he declares, “ That doesn’t prove anything! ” and ran away.
The nearby tables break into polite applause for what they assume is an odd magic trick; next to them, Sakura can hear one of their targets say to the other, “You never buy me flowers anymore!”
She feels a little faint. Also, very giddy.
Still, as she walks back to meet with Naruto- having snagged the goods from the target’s bag during the commotion- she decides she’s not going to press. Sure, her crush apparently likes her back, and not dating her is maybe literally killing him, but Sasuke-kun is fragile! She needs to proceed with caution, that coughing fit at the cafe being more than enough proof of it.
“Come on Naruto, I’ll buy you ramen.” Sakura offers, good mood making her generous; she doesn’t want Naruto to feel like a thirdwheel in the future, so she might as well start now. Besides, if he’s like a sister to Sasuke, that’ll make him a sister-in-law to her, right? It’s important to get along with family!
The dinner actually goes kind of nice, especially once Sakura’s called him Nee-chan a few times and Naruto has stopped giving her a perplexed look over it. Apparently all it took for him to forget about his silly crush was some firm boundaries and a free meal- she sort of regrets not doing this sooner. Especially because hanging out with Naruto is pretty nice!
The very next day, she decides to make things as easy for Sasuke-kun as possible, so instead of confronting him about yesterday, she lets him know that she had hung out with Naruto. “He’s pretty funny when it’s not during a mission, actually!”
“Whatever.” Sasuke replied, looking more upset then she’d expected. She decides to change the topic, just to be safe. Yesterday must’ve been pretty tough for him.
“I’m going to hang out with Ino after training today. Her favorite cafe just opened a new location, so we’re going to try it out together! She’s so good at dressing nice, though, I’m a little worried I’ll be underdressed when I go. I don’t want to embarrass her, she always looks so pretty!” She’s about to say, like you! , but before she can, Sasuke stalks off towards the trees and drops like a rock to crouch near the ground, pouting. Sakura just can’t figure out what she’s doing wrong today, or if maybe this is just an off day for Sasuke-kun, but it’s getting pretty frustrating for her, too!
She walks over to him and leans over to peer at his face, but he refuses to look back. “Annoying.” He mumbles, and she pulls back.
“Well, if I’m being annoying.” She starts to huff, tempted to kick out at his shins but refraining.
“Shut up, wait.”
Sakura pauses, crossing her arms and tapping her foot as she waits for him to at least try to explain. Sasuke-kun collapsed from his crouch to laying on the grass, covering his face to hide his embarrassment, and said, “It’s just. That’s couple stuff. For couples.”
Not really, Sakura wants to point out, but she doesn’t want to get off topic when Sasuke’s finally managing to communicate. “So?” she prods. Sasuke rolls over so his face is buried into the grass. It takes him a moment, but he finally responds,
“Shouldn’t...you know…. We do couple stuff?”
“Well, Sasuke-kun, we’d have to be a couple first.”
He jerks up, surprised. “Aren’t we?”
Now they’re both confused.
“Since- since when?”
“Yesterday?” Sakura asks, racking her mind for any point where sasuke could’ve asked her out and made her so delusionally happy she blacked out the entire memory, but there wasn’t a blankspace in her schedule at all.
“You know, when we both realized….”
“That you like me?” Sakura asks, resisting the urge to tease him about it. Sasuke gave a half nod, then stopped to shake his head no. She hadn’t meant to press him about this so soon, but really, he was the one bringing it up, so...
“Sasuke-kun. You know both people have to like each other for them to be a couple, right?”
“I’m not dumb.”
“And you know I love you.”
“Whatever.” Sasuke said, kicking at the grass, but there’s a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Knowing he’s not looking, Sakura rolls her eyes. Boys can be so immature sometimes.
“So if you want us to be a couple…” She trailed off, ignoring his grumbling about ‘want is a strong word’, “You have to also like me. ”
Sasuke looked at her expectantly.
“You have to admit that you like me.”
“More than once!” She added. “You have to admit that you like me when people ask why we’re dating. Or when I say that I like you. Or- or- or whenever couples are supposed to say that stuff. I don’t want to date someone who won’t say that they like me, even if it’s you, Sasuke-kun.”
“Whatever.” Sasuke said. Sakura deflated, for a moment, and then he continued, “I guess I like you.”
She glanced at him, and he flustered, but regained some confidence and amended, “I do like you.”
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH?” yelled Naruto, having arrived slightly early for training for the first time in months, eager to try and talk Sakura into treating him to dinner again. “BASTARD??? SINCE WHEN DO YOU LIKE SAKURA-CHAN????????!! THE HELL IS THIS??! DON’T YOU KNOW SHE’S MY SISTER NOW!? DON’T BE SO GROSS!!? TO SLEEP WITH A TEAMMATES SISTER….”
“But Naruto,” Sakura said, “You’re his sister. I’m just your sister-in-law, so really-”
“Forget about it.” Sasuke-kun said, cutting her off. “It’s not worth trying to explain."
“YOU’RE CALLING ME STUPID?” Naruto tried to tug at Sakura’s arm, glaring fiercely at his teammate, only for Sasuke to step between them both and lean his chin on Sakura’s head.
Honestly, it was a pretty good day. Sakura had saved Sasuke from the terrible disease, gotten Naruto to pay for his own dinner, caught Tora with minimal scratches, and got to eat sweets with Ino in the afternoon. Plus, Sasuke-kun liked her. It’s true.
You can even ask him.