Sasuke had never even noticed Sakura until he ended up face to face with her inner self -- then his face to her fist.
Sure, he has protected her, held her skills and her eidetic memory in high regard -- not admitting it, though, because that isn't his way-- but up until Inner Sakura exploded at him with all her anger and her rudeness, that bottled up storm of raw fury, he had not noticed the person, the girl behind the teammate. But now her eyes aren't like soft grass fluttering in the wind anymore; they're emeralds, hard, sharp, cutting; they slice into him to the bone. And her chest is heaving as she pants between two screams. It's making him notice how much she has grown up -- and not only up. She's a woman, she's furious, and she's beautiful.
He wonders if that's what Naruto sees in her, why he's always so desperate to cherish and protect her, why he tries and tries again to make her laugh, to make her smile. Why he keeps on insisting on flirting with her even though she will shoot him down, scorn him, scream at him --or maybe that's exactly why. Maybe Naruto does it because, at least in her hate of him, she's honest, open --she's herself. Maybe it's better to be hated and screamed at by the real Sakura than to be coddled and giggled over pseudo-politely by a sham. He knows he'd rather take her rages and her passions than her gentleness.
Because the saccharine-sweet giggling, the demure attitude, the supposedly subtle, utterly girly flirting--he hates it. The Sakura he knows is all an act. She pretends to be that soft, moderately skilled kunoichi --who will be faithful and a perfect spouse and never want anything more for herself than cook and breed for her husband. He doesn't have time to lose with people whose only ambition is to be someone's wife, someone's brood mare, someone's lackey.
He wonders, as the curse seal burns, flickers of ghostly fire under his skin, if that makes him a hypocrite. But no. Being Orochimaru's lackey was only a mean to an end.
Of course, the end result was the same. He was still a lackey. Still a possession. Still an empty shell, to be used, discarded, shed like an old skin. You have to be Naruto to still want something so useless, to still cling so passionately to it. He never backs down, never lets go. He doesn't know common sense and restrain, he doesn't understand the word impossible. This is why Sasuke allowed Naruto to bring him back to Konoha. Because he's too damaged to reach out and cling to anyone, but so long as Naruto is alive, so brightly burning, he'll cling for him. That's just the way he is. This is why Sasuke loves him.
Sasuke loves Naruto, that idiot powerhouse who never got that dreams aren't supposed to come true. And Naruto loves him, enough to bring him back -- but Sasuke doesn't know where he is on the brotherly-loverly scale, even though being loved is enough and it doesn't matter which kind. Naruto loves Sakura also, that apparently ordinary girl still fumbling to find her nindo. And Sakura loves Naruto as much as she hates him, almost like a sibling in a way, but less than she loves him, Sasuke, cold, dark, aloof, damaged. She wants to heal him, and maybe she would know how to -- but she's always been too soft to blast past his walls like Naruto does.
That Sakura --sweet, demure, polite-- is now growling, glaring at him with her emerald-sharp eyes. She looks like she wants to punch him again -- no, wait, she looks like she's about to pull a kunai and stab him somewhere painful. Isn't he listening to her?!
No. He isn't. He's watching her instead. Seeing her. And it feels like the first time.