He stood on the crest of a hill, overlooking the gate of Konoha. Even though the headband pressed against his forehead represented his village’s forgiveness, as his gaze panned over the bustling streets and familiar buildings, a well of guilt flooded in the pit of his stomach. It had been years. Even so, the village didn’t seem all that different. Just based on the rooftops, he could still recognize buildings and homes.
Even so, just because he recognized them, didn’t mean they were all the same. While he had left Konoha, Konoha, and the people in it didn’t pause. Much like the village, the people were probably similar, but they wouldn’t be the same. While guilt and anxiety were toiling within him, he couldn’t help feeling hopeful as he imagined all of his old friends.
Naruto and Sakura were the most prominent figures in his memories. They were in the village somewhere. He wondered what they had been told. How did the Hokage explain away his return? More importantly, how did they react when they were told? The last time he saw Sakura, she had tried to kill him. He could still see the intensity in her face, her green eyes wide with fury as she clenched her fist and swung toward him. The thought of her wrath, while not a threat, still made him fearful.
He was sure Naruto had been furious. While he and Naruto were so different, they were also very much alike. Imagining himself in Naruto’s position, he would have been furious. There was so much build-up. So many missions, so much training, all in an attempt to drag him back to the village. In the end, Sasuke Uchiha ended up crawling back, asking forgiveness. Sasuke couldn’t hold back the chuckle as he imagined Naruto yelling and pumping his fists in the air. He could almost hear Naruto screaming:
“Sasuke put us through all this, and now we’re just going to let him waltz right back in? He’ll be lucky if I don’t throw him right back out!”
With that, Sasuke sighed. There was no use lingering on the outskirts any longer. It was time to go home. Readjusting his pack on his shoulders, he began the descent down into the valley where Konoha awaited. As he neared, two shinobi stood at the front gates. While it wasn’t uncommon for guards to be posted, it was unusual from them to appear so stiff, as if an imminent threat were approaching. It was clear he was what they considered a threat. As he approached, the two shinobi locked their gazes on him. While it would be imperceptible by the average passerby, Sasuke watched as their hands casually made their way to the kunai hanging from their belts.
He did his best to appear casual, though even he stood a bit straighter as he met each of their gazes. He offered each of them a nod, and though they reciprocated, they each gripped the handles of the kunai. It was much like what the Hokage had described: his return wouldn’t be met with a parade. He was still the traitor. Another Uchiha traitor, it seemed to run in the blood.
With a sigh, he tucked his hands in his pockets, ducked his head, and headed into the village. Even as he distanced himself from the front gate, he could still feel the glares of the shinobi burning into his back. While he couldn’t blame them, anger still toiled somewhere deep inside him. Somewhere, an avenger still hungered for revenge, including against those who hated him.
He walked without purpose, unsure where he should go. He hadn’t returned with any real plan in mind. It was impulsive, much like his decision to leave the village in the first place. The moment he left, a hollowness had carved its way inside him. It was a gaping wound that no medicine could heal. As he walked the familiar roads and began to notice some familiar faces, the edges of that empty wound began to stir. It wasn’t far into the village’s center that something flickered along the edge of his vision. It was only for an instant, a flash of unusual hair color.
Someone with pink hair was milling through the crowd.
He paused in his aimless walking and stared out at the woman with pink hair. Her hair was short, balled up in a bun on top of her head. She was standing at a produce stall and appeared to be haggling with the merchant. It had to be her. Sasuke’s suspicions were soon confirmed as she traded money with the merchant and grabbed her fresh produce. The moment she stuffed her produce in her shopping bag, she immediately turned to face his general direction.
As he watched, he willed her to meet his gaze. Somehow, he assumed there was a natural gravity between them. She would see him. Her eyes had no choice but to meet his gaze. Despite this, Sakura peered around, only to fall into the crowd and head away from the market. Sasuke stood there, blinking. It seemed more had changed than he had expected. Even so, this at least gave him purpose now. Making it a point to keep an eye on her pink bun bobbing just above the crowd, Sasuke assimilated himself into the traffic and followed a reasonable distance from Sakura.
She didn’t go far. Sakura had moved into a reasonably large home, close to the markets. It wasn’t a building he immediately recognized, but it was clearly not a new build based on the worn walls and roofing. She stepped out from the main path and stood in front of the door, digging in the produce bag that hung from her shoulder. As she struggled to find whatever she looked for, Sasuke fell from the crowd and ducked around the corner of a nearby building, watching from afar.
It seemed whatever Sakura was looking for was not where she expected as her eyes bulged with fury, and what appeared to be a curse danced across her lips. She sighed loudly and wrapped her knuckles against the door. Within moments, the front door opened, and while Sasuke couldn’t see who was on the other side, he could clearly hear the bright cadence of a familiar voice:
“Didn’t have to knock. I could hear you sighing from the living room.”
It was Naruto. Sakura frowned deeply at him before leaning forward, eyes drifting shut as her lips puckered. Meeting her halfway, a blond head poked out from the door and kissed her. It wasn’t a particularly deep kiss. It was brief, but it was familiar. They had done that same thing many times. The frayed edges of the emptiness stirred. Rather than mending as Sasuke had hoped, the wound was beginning to widen. Without even realizing it, Sasuke clutched at his chest, willing the pain to cease.
Sakura was saying something to Naruto, and in turn, he was laughing, but Sasuke could no longer hear them. Really, he didn’t want to know what they were talking about. Blood was pounding in his ears. Despite his better judgment, he stepped out from his hiding place and stomped his way over to them. Even as he came right upon them, neither noticed until he was a few feet away. Even then, as their gazes broke from each other to meet his own, neither seemed to register who he was until he spoke.
That was all he could muster. A lame monotone greeting, as if that would explain away everything. Sasuke clenched his teeth as the word hung in the air between the three of them. Sakura blinked, looked at Naruto, and blinked again. When she looked toward Sasuke again, Sakura was squinting as if she didn’t believe her eyes.
She asked so nonchalantly. Many years had passed, of course, but based on both of their looks, it was as if Sasuke was utterly unrecognizable. Surely he hadn’t changed that much. Looking at them, they hadn’t changed at all. They were taller and older, of course, but otherwise, he had recognized them immediately.
Was all he could muster. At least it was two words this time, though that didn’t make the encounter any less awkward. Surprisingly, Sakura smiled, her eyes cinching to match her widening grin. Then, she did something he never expected. She opened her arms and folded him into a hug. Flabergasted, Sasuke kept his arms pressed tensely against his sides.
“Oh, Sasuke. I am so glad to see you.”
As Sakura held him, Sasuke met Naruto’s gaze, only to find him peacefully smiling. Neither of them reacted as he had expected. Somehow, he found it disappointing and mildly irritating. Once Sakura released him from the hug, she held him away at arm’s length to look him up and down.
“You haven’t changed a bit!”
As much as he tried not to, Sasuke couldn’t help rolling his eyes. Clearly, that wasn’t the truth based on how long it took the pair to recognize him. Even so, Sasuke did his best to smile and nod.
“Neither have you two.”
It was then that Sakura and Naruto glanced at each other, but it wasn’t just a casual glance. There was a message in that look, but it was in a language Sasuke didn’t speak. Once again, Sasuke faced the reality that much had changed. Sakura squeezed his shoulders before letting her arms fall back to her sides. Clearing his throat, Naruto stepped back into the house:
“Well, let’s get the gang back together inside. Team 7, back once again.”
While Naruto said it with a smile, there was a lack of enthusiasm in his voice. It was clear that this conversation wasn’t going to be a fun one. Despite his better judgment, the Uchiha made his way into the house as Sakura followed close behind and shut the door behind them.