Under the Same Sky: Sasuke and Sakura (Naruto) Part 1
Title: Under the Same Sky: Sasuke and Sakura (Naruto)
Pairing: Uchiha Sasuke/Haruno Sakura
Spoilers: Through chapter 476 of the manga
Words: Approx. 8,900
Beta'd by the amazing ngure.
Sasuke and Sakura are first introduced in chapter 3 of the manga as Naruto’s rival and crush respectively. At this point, neither one of them is particularly desirable choice for a pairing. Sakura is loud and naïve, almost entirely at odds with all ideas associated with “ninja”. Sasuke is cold and arrogant, characteristics which may be fangirl bait in fictional men, but become tiresome very quickly during an actual relationship.
As time passes though, we learn more about these initially-unattractive characters. We watch them grow up.
Sakura matures from a squealing young girl into a proper kunoichi. Over the course of part 1, her development does not involve gaining the fantastic abilities she possesses in part 2, but rather gaining the desire for those abilities. We see her forced to realize again and again how far behind she is compared to her teammates. And we see her desire to change that.
At the same time, we also learn why Sasuke is so cold and arrogant. At age eight, he was forced to watch helplessly as his beloved older brother slaughtered every member of their family in one night, sparing Sasuke on a whim and telling him to grow stronger to avenge them. At first, those words hang over every aspect of Sasuke’s life, shaping him into an avenger who lives for nothing other than achieving his revenge. Yet, after being placed on Team 7 with Sakura and Naruto, we see that begin to change. Sasuke opens up to them. They become his precious people, and when Naruto fights Gaara, Sasuke tells his teammate to take Sakura and run while he stays to buy time for their escape.
Before any of these developments had occurred, one aspect of Sasuke and Sakura’s relationship had already firmly established itself, an aspect that would shape the way the rest of their relationship was formed.
Sakura liked Sasuke.
And thus SasuSaku was born.
Few people support this pairing because Sakura had a crush on him in chapter 3. That point marks the birth of SasuSaku, but it definitely isn’t the reason people like it. The Sakura that appeared in chapter 3 was shallow and childish, and her feelings were presented similarly. The Sasuke that we saw was cold and distant, far from what is desired in a love story.
The reason many people—the reason I—have fallen in love with this pairing is because of what has happened since.
Even during the earliest chapters of part 1, we see Sasuke and Sakura’s relationship begin to change. Chapter 7 shows us Sakura offending Sasuke once again, this time by saying that they should give up. Sasuke’s reaction, however, is different. He doesn’t call her annoying. Instead, he states why giving up would be unacceptable. He finishes as the bell rings, saying that he shouldn’t have wasted his breath. Though harsh, that line is very important. Sasuke knew that he was speaking aloud, and he knew that Sakura was present. His words were for her benefit. This is the first of many cases that give lie to the idea that Sasuke only ever insulted Sakura. For saying that orphans were lucky not to have parents, he called her annoying. I would have too. But when she specifically showed that she didn’t understand him, he explained what made her wrong. To do so, he was even willing to bring up what was undoubtedly the most painful event of his life.
Sasuke was far from loving Sakura in the beginning of the series. His feelings for her were probably closer to apathy, bordering on outright dislike. Yet even still, Sasuke doesn’t just leave her here. First, he waits for her to regain consciousness, though he’d be well aware of the time he was losing to do so. Then he remains to explain even after she’s insulted him again. It’s not love. But it is a beginning.
The first is when Sakura disregards Kakashi’s orders to stay and protect Tazuna in order to try to help Sasuke. This marks a very important point in Sakura’s relationship with Sasuke. It marks the first time she watches him demonstrate something less than perfection. We’d seen her worry briefly during the bell training that Kakashi might have defeated Sasuke, but just as quickly we see her refuse to believe it. Here, Sakura realizes that her perfect Sasuke is out there, bleeding and screaming. It’s because of this that we see her tell Tazuna that she needs to leave him to act. It doesn’t matter that her efforts met failure, because there’s not much else I’d expect from someone like Haku. What matters is that, for the first time in the manga, Sakura tried.
The next instance occurs during chapter 31, when Sakura sees Sasuke dead. Tazuna tells her it’s okay to cry, but Sakura hesitates. She reminds herself of the 25th Shinobi Principle, the one that forbids ninja to ever show their emotions. From what we’d seen so far in the manga, Sakura didn’t do a very good job of following that. She would hug Sasuke and smile at him and cheer on his successes. Not very emotionless if you ask me. But, despite this, Sakura considers it a big deal when she eventually breaks down crying. For the manga, it isn’t that much of a change. For Sakura, it is.
Seeing Sasuke’s “corpse” also drives home his full imperfection. Sasuke can make mistakes. Sasuke can die. Once Sakura has seen him like this, defeated and dead by all rights, she can no longer pretend that he’s some perfect angel among mortals. She is forced to realize that he’s human, just like everyone else.
We see her deny that at first, when Sasuke wakes up. She tells him that she always believed in him and he’s amazing for dodging any death blows. And we see Sasuke admit, aloud, that she’s wrong. In his head, he says that it was a conscious decision by Haku to spare him.
So, why did I bother to include that Sakura witnessed Sasuke’s imperfection if she didn’t choose to act on it? Because it’s a step. It’s a part of the bigger process of Sakura falling in love with him. At the beginning of the series, everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that her feelings were a crush rather than actual love. Sakura placed Sasuke on a pedestal, and it was impossible for her to really love him until that pedestal shattered and she could see him for the real, flawed human that he was. A huge step towards seeing him that way is the first realization that he isn’t perfect and yet continuing to love him anyway.
That is what we see from Sakura here. At first she denies her doubt, because acknowledging it would mean fully admitting Sasuke’s imperfection. And, with her character where it was at this point, that’s not a step that Sakura is ready to take. She still acts like—and is—a twelve-year-old girl. Unlike Naruto and Sasuke, she’s a twelve-year-old girl who appears to have grown up with both parents, and her worst issues with her home life were when her parents scolded her for acting up. In her past she was teased by the other kids in school for her forehead, yet even that appears to be years ago. Sakura is a normal girl, and normal girls like to believe in fairytales. All kids have dreams: some want to become president, others want to be a movie star, and still others want to be the next J. K. Rowling. Sakura’s dream had to do with Sasuke. No, I’ll correct that. It had to do with her idealized version of Sasuke. At age twelve, for a normal girl, it’s hard to fully let that dream go. People want to cling to it; they want to believe that they’ll get the one-in-a-million lucky shot and be the person who gets to see their dream become reality. So we see Sakura deny what we as readers know she just felt, to keep Sasuke perfect for a little longer.
During this arc, we also see development of the relationship from Sasuke’s end. We see him protect Sakura from the Demon Brothers and worry when he hears her scream. Neither one of those events is a scene that I personally view as romantic, but I’m including them in here anyway. Why? Because they illustrate more clearly than any words I could possibly use that Sasuke is growing to care for Sakura. She’s his teammate, someone he later refers to as a precious comrade. Sakura was someone Sasuke valued, and that is something that I see overlooked far too often.
The next significant interaction between Sasuke and Sakura took place after they returned to the village. Team 7 had taken some mission, and they had failed it miserably due to poor teamwork. Sakura asks Sasuke if he wants to do something together to work on their teamwork, and he responds by telling her that she’s worse than Naruto. Frequently, I see this and other scenes used to argue that Sasuke acts towards Sakura with needless cruelty. Yet his criticism is directed at a very real flaw. Sakura was worse than Naruto at this point in the manga, and many people agree that her preoccupation with dating Sasuke was a major factor in that. Here, we see Sasuke tell her exactly that.
A mere two days later, the genin are preparing for the Chuunin Exam. We see Sasuke notice that Sakura is acting weird, which we know is a result of her low confidence in her ability to succeed in the Exam. Four pages later, Sasuke points out her strengths. She’s “the most analytical and the best in our cell at understanding the art of illusion.” (Viz)
In these two scenes, we see that Sasuke is unafraid to point out the very real flaws that Sakura possesses if he thinks she needs to be aware of them. Yet at the same time, we also see that he’s able to tell when she’s upset or acting differently, and that he’ll cheer her up during these times. Sasuke has a realistic impression of the person Sakura is, as well as the ability to read and understand that person. He cares about her.
Later, when Sasuke freezes in fear before Orochimaru, we see Sakura call him a coward. By some this is interpreted as a sign that she’s realizing his many flaws, and that she’s starting to dislike him. I, for one, fail to see the connection between the two. Many arguments criticize Sakura’s behavior towards Sasuke in the beginning of the series due to her apparent lack of ability to stand up to him and notice his imperfections. Here though, we see Sakura pointing out a flaw in Sasuke, at a time when it definitely applies. If anything, this scene shows that she wouldn’t be subservient in their relationship, because she’s willing to stand up to him when she disagrees with his actions.
The next incident I’m referencing isn’t really a development so much as a revelation. Through a flashback of Ino’s, we learn that Sakura’s original reason for liking Sasuke actually wasn’t because he was popular. In fact, she was quite surprised to learn that. We have yet to learn what actually did cause her crush to first develop, making Sakura’s feelings unique in that regard among the Naruto crushes.
Soon after this, we see Sasuke regain consciousness, the marks of the curse seal coating his body. Even possessed by the rage of the curse seal, Sasuke still manages to maintain some control of himself. He doesn’t simply attack the first target he sees in order to sate his bloodlust. Instead, he asks Sakura who the hell hurt her. When she simply repeats his name in worry, he asks again. The following pages show Sasuke completely demolishing the Sound Ninja.
In fact, we see Sakura remark on how cruel he’s being with his attacks. He broke Zaku’s arms by yanking them until the bones were ripped out of their sockets. Sasuke thrives on this torture; he smiles from it. And yet at a request from Sakura, he stops.
Their next significant interaction occurs just before the preliminaries. Sasuke is suffering because of the curse seal. Sakura speaks up and tells him to drop out for his own safety. Sasuke refuses to listen to her, but once again, that refusal isn’t all we see. First the two of them lock eyes as Sasuke tells her that the pain is his “burden to bear… alone.” (Viz) Sasuke follows this by explaining to her why he can’t drop out. He then goes on to tell her that “not even for her sake will [he] turn away from the path that leads to [his] dream.” (Viz) Sasuke considers Sakura’s opinion important. He places weight on it as “even her”, but he still finds himself unable to choose compliance with her wishes over the chance to test his strength.
Later, when Sasuke wins his match, we see Sakura content simply to smile. She doesn’t squeal or attempt to go into the arena to glomp him, or perform any number of other immature actions. Instead, she just smiles. We know that her feelings for him weren’t vanishing, because she still clarifies them to be romantic love more than 100 chapters from now. What we see now isn’t her feelings disappearing. Instead, we’re seeing them mature.
While Sasuke is in the hospital, we see Sakura and Ino bring him flowers. Instead of picking one of the many flowers with a meaning of love, even a rose like Ino, Sakura chooses a daffodil because it’s a flower that doesn’t give up even in the face of the cold of winter. The wish she makes with it isn’t for Sasuke to fall in love with her. It’s for him to recover soon.
Against Gaara, we see a continuation of that wish. Sakura jumps between Sasuke and Gaara, holding nothing but a kunai as her weapon. She makes no move to attack Gaara using the kunai, nor does she form hand seals for a jutsu. Instead, she just stands there, using her body as a human shield to protect Sasuke. If Naruto hadn’t pulled out more power than ever before and defeated Gaara, Sakura would have died there. She would have been permanently rendered unable to date or marry Sasuke. And, judging by her expression, she wouldn’t have cared. Sakura wanted Sasuke to be safe. If she had to die to achieve that end, she would.
Later, we see a similar (though nonromantic) care demonstrated by Sasuke. We see him tell Naruto to save her no matter what. He says that, once Naruto has her safe, he (Sasuke) will hold Gaara off to buy them time to escape. On the next page, he goes on to compare what it would be like losing Sakura and Naruto to what it was like when he lost his family.
We see this care once again after Sasuke catches Sakura as she falls. He looks at her with an uncharacteristically tender expression while telling Pakkun to take care of her.
The next moment the two of them share is a little ambiguous in regards to whether or not it was supposed to be romantic. During chapter 144, we see Sakura thank Sasuke for saving her, only to have him reveal that Naruto was the one who really saved her. Quite freqently, it is thought that the only focus of that scene is on Sasuke and Naruto's rivalry, and indeed that is its most obvious subject. However, what makes this appear to involve SasuSaku as well as Sasuke/Naruto rivalry is the first panel on page 8. The previous page had already ended with a panel to show us Sakura smiling at Naruto, so this panel wasn't designed to show Sakura's smile. The focus of the panel itself isn't on Sakura's smile at all. It's on Sasuke. The next panel shows a closeup on his face, highlighting his grimace.
Here, it wasn't Naruto's superiority that had him grimacing. We'd seen a panel two pages previously that had him looking intensely in what was probably Naruto's direction, with an expression that was very different from the one he had at Sakura's smile. The page following that panel focused entirely on Sakura's expressions. It isn't until after we already see her smiling that we see Sasuke's glare, directed not in the direction of his male teammate, but in the direction of Sakura's smile. Chapter 36 had shown Sakura smiling after Sasuke cheered her up, accompanied by a panel showing a smile on Sasuke's face as well. Here, we see Sakura smiling after hearing that Naruto saved her, but a grimace adorns Sasuke's face rather than a smile. He was happy when he cheered her up, yet annoyed when Naruto did the same.
For the first time, we see a hint of jealousy from Sasuke.
Chapter 36 had shown Sakura smiling after Sasuke cheered her up, accompanied by a panel showing a smile on Sasuke's face as well. Here, we see Sakura smiling after hearing that Naruto saved her, but a grimace adorns Sasuke's face rather than a smile. He was happy when he cheered her up, yet annoyed when Naruto did the same.
Following this, we see Sasuke and Itachi’s brief fight, which results in Sasuke remaining unconscious in the hospital for a solid month. When Tsunade arrives to heal him, she notices the flowers by his bedside and wonders if Sakura has been visiting him every day. When Sasuke finally regains consciousness, opening his eyes for the first time in a month, Sakura hugs him, crying with relief that he’s alright. We see Naruto begin to speak, but he stops. And it isn’t Sakura’s face that we see him staring at. It’s Sasuke’s.
For a moment he pauses, confused. But after only a panel, we see him begin to smile before leaving. Tsunade thinks approvingly that he’s more considerate than she thought.
From the order of the panels, we can tell that it wasn’t Sakura’s reaction that caused Naruto to leave. It was Sasuke’s. Something in Sasuke’s expression made him decide to let the two of them have their reunion alone.
The next SasuSaku moment is probably the most famous and also the most heavily debated. Whether pro- or anti-, this chapter ties together all the development that the pairing has received so far, and it affects everything that is to come.
Chapter 181: The
This is the moment where I could truly look back and see how much Sakura had grown from her introduction in chapter 3. The girl back then would never have offered to leave the village for Sasuke, or if she had, it would have seemed incredibly false and ill thought-out. I didn’t get that feeling from Sakura here. She said that she would do anything for him, and she meant it.
The scene begins with Sasuke walking down the cobblestone path. He halts before Sakura, asking why she’s out so late. Sakura reveals that she’d been keeping watch in case he tried to leave. Naruto had told her that Sasuke was super strong and would never leave. Kakashi had told her that things would be alright. Sakura doubted both of them, and so she showed up to wait. She was right.
We see her begin to cry as Sasuke walks away. She turns and asks why he never tells her anything. Sasuke cuts across her coldly, telling her not to try to look after him. Instead of relenting, as the Sakura in chapter 3 would have, we see Sakura smile fondly as she reflects that he always seems to hate her. She recalls their previous interaction in that same spot, reminding Sasuke of when she had insulted him. His response is to deny that he remembers it. For a second she pauses, looking shocked and a little hurt, before continuing. That was when it all began. Team 7. The four of them, together. It had been hard, and painful, but in the end it was fun.
Sakura pauses sadly for a moment before continuing again. She knows about what happened to his family. She knows why he longs for revenge. But, echoing the words Kakashi spoke earlier, she tells him that revenge alone will not bring anyone happiness.
Sasuke acknowledges that fact, but his heart has already decided on achieving it anyway. He’s on a different path from the rest of them, and they can never be the same.
Sakura responds by asking if he really wants to be alone. She says that, "I've... I have family and friends, but Sasuke, if I lose you... I... I'll be... I will be very lonely." (Viz) Sasuke hesitates before replying. When he speaks, he tells her that they’re all starting new paths; they’re just different this time.
Here Sakura confesses: “I’m so in love with you I can’t even stand it!” (Viz) She’d do anything to make him happy; they’d have fun every day. Just please, let him stay! She’d even help with his revenge. She’d find a way, somehow. If he would just stay… or take her with him.
Sakura warns him not to leave, saying that she’ll scream if he does. Sasuke’s response is to teleport behind her. He says her name and then he thanks her. We then see him knock her out by hitting the pressure point at the back of her neck. He then carries her over to the nearby bench rather than leaving her on the ground.
As I said before, this scene ties together all the development that the pairing has received so far, and it also introduces several new things. For example, Sakura tells us quite clearly that she knows what happened to his clan. She understands one of the driving forces behind Sasuke, his motivation for revenge, but she correctly tells him that achieving revenge for his family’s massacre won’t bring him happiness. For 474 chapters, this has proven correct. Revenge has not brought Sasuke any happiness. It has only brought suffering and pain.
A second thing shown by this scene is the lack of truth in Sakura’s early statement that Sasuke never opens up to her. Sasuke was trying to leave the village under the cover of darkness, implying that he wanted to avoid tear-filled goodbyes like this one. Yet, when Sakura finds him anyway, we don’t see him choose to skip the goodbye and simply knock her out. Instead, he talks to her. He opens up to her by telling her that he already knows that revenge will only hurt him, but that he’s already set himself on that path anyway. And we also see him extend a small form of comfort to her by telling her that their paths are just different. He lies to her, saying that he doesn’t remember the time when she had made him angry, yet we see him repeat those same words back at her with a smirk on his face.
Sakura didn’t rule this scene as the Smashy Princess with the killer punches. Instead, we saw her as a young girl, a person who was twelve years old and faced with losing the person who meant the most to her. This emotion showed through quite clearly in her tears and in her pleas. But we don’t see even Sasuke criticize her for this. Early chapters of the manga showed that he held no reservations about pointing out her weaknesses. During the entirety of chapter 181 though, not one criticism is directed at her tears. In the end, we see him thank her.
That line is probably one of the most widely interpreted in the entirety of the manga. Thank you for what? For caring so much about him? For threatening to scream rather than just watching him walk away? For always being there for him, for giving him a hand to hold?
No one really knows what that line meant, and I actually prefer it that way. Sasuke’s feelings when he left were not ones of romance. He undoubtedly cared for her, as the above portion of this essay shows, but romantic love was clearly far from his revenge-obsessed preteen mind. By thanking her, Sasuke is not offering a fake promise of a love that he is in no position to give. And yet, at the same time, he is still acknowledging her feelings for him, and he’s showing that he doesn’t hate her for them. Had he given a clearly romantic response, in my opinion, it would have destroyed some of the beauty of that scene. The fact that Sasuke's answer is ambiguous leaves this moment off at a touching conclusion that just begs for resolution.
Sasuke and Sakura have yet to have a proper interaction since then. They saw each other during the brief reunion between Team Yamato and Sasuke at Orochimaru’s lair, yet the focus of that scene was far from romance. Despite this, the pairing isn’t nearly as wanting for part 2 focus as many believe.
Against Sasori, we saw Sakura go from (healthy, justified) fear to determination because he revealed a connection to Orochimaru, and by extension a connection to Sasuke. Later during the chapter, she shouts at him that “[She]’ll get [him]!! [He] can blow [her] limbs off! [He] can poison [her] until [she] can’t move, and [she]’ll still get [him]!! No matter what [he] pull[s]! No matter what [he has]! [She]’ll drag [him] to the edge of death and make [him] scream all about Orochimaru!” (Viz) Her mission at the time was completely unrelated to retrieving Sasuke. Any desire she felt was personal.
During the mission to the Heaven and
She punches the living daylights out of him. Sai doesn’t have to forgive her for that. If he badmouths Sasuke one more time, she won’t hold back.
When they finally see each other again at Orochimaru’s lair, an entire page is dedicated to Sakura’s expression. Her eyes are wide with shock and awe as she sees Sasuke for the first time in two and a half years. During chapter 469, it was confirmed that Naruto, at least, viewed this as a sign of her continued romantic love for Sasuke.
During chapter 469, it was confirmed that Naruto, at least, viewed this as a sign of her continued romantic love for Sasuke.
Later during that reunion, we see her attack Sasuke, recalling her promise to Naruto that they would bring him back together. She tells herself that she’ll stop Sasuke using her own power. We see her acting on the goals she’d established for herself at the end of part 1. At the same time, we also see the first bit of part 2 SasuSaku that focuses on Sasuke. We see his expression change from complete neutrality to slight disappointment as he watches Sakura charge him. He sends Chidori down his sword, originally intending to use it as a counter for Sakura, but Yamato intervenes. We see that the blade strikes Yamato’s shoulder. formal instruction in how to use his sword, Sasuke should know this. So why was it such a far miss?
According to the third databook, Yamato is 178 cm tall, while Sakura is only 161 cm. If a blade pierced the far edge of Yamato’s shoulder, where would it have hit Sakura? The air above her shoulder would be in far more danger than Sakura herself. Having likely received some
formal instruction in how to use his sword, Sasuke should know this. So why was it such a far miss?
After the mission ends in failure, we see Sakura sitting in her room at night, crying over their team photo. She looks up at the crescent moon, the same moon as on the night Sasuke left, and a single tear falls from her eye. It was on the left side of her face, the side that corresponds with Sasuke in the photo.
After Konoha hears of Sasuke’s defeat of Orochimaru, Teams 7 and 8 are assigned a joint mission to track down Uchiha Itachi. Sakura is placed by herself, with two of Kakashi’s ninken. When one of the dogs catches Sasuke’s scent, a large panel, similar to the ones used during the reunion, is devoted to her shocked expression. She knows that Sasuke chose not to return to the village even after killing Orochimaru. She knew that he left Konoha behind... he left her behind three years ago. But when she is faced with the prospect of encountering him, we don't see resentment. O nly shock. Even after three years, after seeing him try to kill Naruto, her desire to retrieve Sasuke remains as strong as ever.
She knows that Sasuke chose not to return to the village even after killing Orochimaru. She knew that he left Konoha behind... he left her behind three years ago. But when she is faced with the prospect of encountering him, we don't see resentment. O
nly shock. Even after three years, after seeing him try to kill Naruto, her desire to retrieve Sasuke remains as strong as ever.
During chapter 450, a brief allusion to the pairing is made by Omoi. He ponders what he will do if a girl from Konoha falls in love with him and tells him that she can’t bear to be apart from him when he has to leave.
Mere chapters after this, we see Karui ask Sakura what Sasuke is to her. She breaks down crying, unable to respond. Sasuke is the boy she confessed to loving. He’s the boy that just joined the Akatsuki. Which one is the real Sasuke? Can they even exist at the same time? Both are very relevant questions… questions that it would be difficult to answer if the last time you’d seen Sasuke had been when he told you that he’d gladly give his body to Orochimaru if it meant gaining the power to kill Itachi.
Why am I just summarizing these part 2 moments? Chances are that if you’re reading this manifesto, you’ve seen at least some of the events I’m talking about. You can read them, especially when I’m accompanying most of these descriptions with links to chapters that show exactly what I’m talking about.
The reason I’ve just been listing summaries is because there’s really nothing more to say. Sakura herself had already told us during chapter 181 that her feelings had matured into love. She was willing to leave her village, leave her whole life behind, in order to stay with Sasuke. From her end, there’s really not much more that Kishimoto can provide in the way of development.
Instead, what I’m showing with these summaries is that Kishimoto hasn’t forgotten the feelings he’s established. The end of part 1 showed Sakura confessing to Sasuke that she loved him more than anything. Three years have passed since then though, and it is often argued that that’s more than enough time for her feelings to change. Yet when one observes this, when one sees that her desire to retrieve Sasuke appears as strong as ever, how is it doubted that her feelings remain? In real life, feelings will change and fade and the person won’t ever comment on it. In fiction, it’s different. Authors have to show (or tell, in less well-handled cases) their readers every change that occurs, because that’s the only way for readers to know that it exists. By showing that Sakura continues to long for Sasuke’s return and delving no further into the matter, Kishimoto is not giving the impression that she’s moved on from loving him.
During chapter 474, the idea that Sakura still loves Sasuke is all but confirmed through Naruto's insistence that Sakura still loves Sasuke so much. Even Sai, the one who believes that Sakura left to kill Sasuke, agrees with this. He says that she wants to kill him, not because she's grown distant from him or because she's ceased to want him back, but because she loves him and wants to save him even if the only way to do it is to kill him. These are two characters who should be biased against the idea that Sakura still loves Sasuke, as they just heard her say with her own lips that Sasuke has grown distant to her. Yet Naruto remains firmly convinced that Sakura loves Sasuke, and Sai doesn't hesitate to affirm that he believes the same. Still, one must note that Sakura herself still has yet to state where her feelings lie.
Frankly, I’m glad for this. From what we've seen so far in part 2, there hasn’t been an appropriate time for Sakura to say that she still loves Sasuke. Her character has grown a great deal since she was first presented to us in chapter 3. Dating Sasuke is no longer her primary concern in life; protecting him is. With things as they are, Sasuke definitely needs that protection more than he needs her romantic love. He needs friends who are willing to keep trying to save him from his darkness, no matter how bleak his chances of redemption look. He needs Sakura, and Naruto as well. He needs Team 7.
From Sasuke’s side, the bonds he possesses with both his teammates have remained relatively unaddressed throughout part 2. During their brief reunion at Orochimaru’s lair, we see him say that he’ll choose to end Naruto’s life at a whim. At that point he sounds as though he has changed beyond all recognition, yet later chapters have shown that that indifference was a lie. In particular, his recollection of his teammates during his fight against Killerbee highlights this. Right before Sasuke unlocked Amaterasu, he noticed how badly Juugo, Karin, and Suigetsu had been beaten. He recalled how each of them had almost been killed in order to keep him safe. And then he recalled Team 7.
To me, that says that Sasuke's mind wasn't comparing the two groups' equal caring towards him and deciding that maybe his new team could be as precious to him as his old. It sounds like he was simply remembering Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi as precious people, as people who would give their lives in an instant to save him. As people he wanted to protect. Sasuke saw how much Juugo, Karin, and Suigetsu had given for a fight he had started. It looks like seeing that was what motivated him to unlock his new power, because he wanted to be able to protect them in turn. But it wasn't only his new team that he apparently wanted to protect. It was his old one as well. It was Team 7.
Based on this, we can conclude that Sasuke’s bonds with his original teammates hadn’t decayed as much as their original encounter had led us to believe. They’re still precious to him—all of them. The relationships are being repressed for the moment, but they're still present. And they're far from unimportant.
Tying It All Together
SasuSaku is a pairing of second chances and redemption. Sasuke is offered a second chance at having a family, a second chance at truly allowing himself to love and trust another person. Sakura’s second chance is at proving herself. Sasuke’s initial interaction with her earned her the label “annoying”, but she later grew to become one of his precious people. Both characters began the series with serious flaws that prevented them from developing a strong bond from the beginning. The manga itself gave them a second chance at that. They were placed together on a team, these two children who were so unlikely to be able to work together, and then they were placed under conditions that forced them to get over that inability. At the end of it, the readers saw that those initial impressions had been wrong. Despite their difficulties in the beginning, Team 7 gave Sasuke and Sakura the chance to genuinely become each other’s precious people. During the fight with Gaara, we saw them both offer to give their lives to save the other.
Isn’t that what we all want from life? A second chance? Sasuke and Sakura’s relationship is built on the idea, and it isn’t any worse because of it. If anything, it makes it more beautiful, because we can see how unlikely it was that such a thing would ever happen. And we can fully appreciate that it did.