A/N: Excessively long title but the lyrics don't make sense broken up. So. The idea came to me for SasuSaku month, so I wrote it down for the "phobia" prompt, and posted it up on my ss blog. But after a lot of consideration and flailing over it, I decided to just continue it here without having to bend anything to fit a theme. I edited and fleshed it out before posting it up. Pleasepleaseplease remember to leave a review! I'd love it enormously.

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"Of if you can't stay, take me with you…"

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He didn't leave her on the bench.

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"We shall begin tomorrow morning at five. Be ready."

Sakura watched Sasuke nod, hands shoved into his pockets as he looked around the room. It was cold down here, colder than she had expected, and goosebumps trailed along her arms. The five young Sound nin that led them down here had accompanied them since she woke up in Sasuke's arms miles and miles into the Fire Country. They left as quickly as they had ushered them into the poorly lit room with the two figures standing resolutely in the dark.

She could tell the man standing next to Kabuto, tall and haughty, was Orochimaru. His hair and eyes were the wrong color and his face was bandaged away. Sakura almost shivered when she looked at him. Who's body had he taken this time?

But she couldn't really afford to shiver, so she steeled her spine and breathed.

Sakura stood tall and with her chin high. She could not afford to look as scared as she felt, could not afford to make herself look weak.

"And what about her?" Sasuke asked, jerking his head behind him to his left side. Her entire body stiffened at the callous way he referred to her.

Orochimaru laughed lowly, and Kabuto's glasses glinting with sharp light. "I'd love to run a few tests on her," she said in an unkind voice. Her chest constricted with pure fear.

"If you touch her, we're gone," Sasuke snapped, taking his hands out of his pockets and curling them into fists. "I have no time for your freak show experiments to try and attach another arm to her body."

"Oh, I would do much more than that, Sasuke-kun," Kabuto replied.

"I dare you," he hissed. Sakura felt his chakra flex and shift. She could almost see his eyes bleeding red. "I dare you to try. You will accommodate her and train her as necessary. And if I find out you're doing more, then you're dead. Do you understand me?"

All the fear flooded out of her body, Sasuke's harsh voice treading against her nervous system with confidence she didn't have and suddenly she looked them in the eye.

Sakura watched Orochimaru smile slowly at her hard stare. "Yes…Kabuto can train this girl just fine," he said smoothly.

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Training with Kabuto is terrifying.

He teaches her Earth Release jutsu she barely gets the hang of before coming at her with chakra scalpels, urging her to defend herself. He teaches her the cruelest genjutsu and forces her to practice on men with faces she does not know. He teaches her medical ninjutsu, tearing victims apart for her patch together again before they bleed out. He teaches her to create deadly poisons and tests them on her, forcing her to extract the poison manually before it kills her.

He pushes her body and her mind and her heart to every imaginable limit she has and just when she feels like letting the ground swallow her up and take her far far away, she thinks of Sasuke, and his own painful training that he doesn't speak of once.

There is a goal she promised to help him accomplish, and for that, she needs to be strong.

So she grew stronger and watched the world become colder.

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Walking through the base in the morning for training was one of the highlights of her day - right after leaving Kabuto's presence at night. Her room was right across from Sasuke, so he had a habit of waiting for her to finish getting ready for them to walk together until they parted ways.

Their footsteps were always loud and lazy, too tired for stealth in a prison they owned.

Sakura played with her shoulder length hair and frowns mildly at the split ends. "Medical training with Kabuto is actually harder than field training," she said in a sleep-thick voice. "Especially the chakra scalpels."

"Specialized training is always harder than just learning to fight," Sasuke said with a shrug. Sakura nodded, searching for something else to say so their footsteps don't echo so loudly.

"I guess. I just feel like knocking heads today."

"You always feel like knocking heads."

"I resent that."

They get to the point where the tunnels split apart, the training grounds to the left and the lab to the right. Sakura sighed internally, looking at Sasuke expectantly. She hated leaving him to his own devices. If she had it her way, she'd be able to keep an eye on him the whole day.

But she doesn't have it her way most of the time.

She pressed a hand to his bicep and smiled softly, before turning to leave.

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Sakura learns to sleep with clothes she can fight in, learns to become hyper aware of every touch lest she wake up strapped to an examination table, learns to think of Sasuke whenever she is bleeding her heart out. She learns how to survive, losing the girl she came here as. She learns how to to survive as the girl with hip length hair and heavy callouses on her palms. She learns to watch out for Sasuke at every turn, with hands that heal just as much as they break.

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"I'll be stronger than him soon," Sasuke murmured.

Sakura nodded, continuing to braid her hair as she read scrolls. He sat upright on his bed, leaning against the wall and gazing around the room. He still had a towel around his neck and dark pants riding low on his hips.

"I watched you train with him yesterday. He was working against you harder than he should have," she murmured. The image of Sasuke jabbing and parrying and slicing with his chukoto would always be burned in her mind, no word strong enough to encapsulate the flexing of muscle under pale flesh as he moved. "When do we leave?"

He smirked a bit. "Soon. We'll need a team first."

Sakura frowned, looked up at him and tossed her long braid over her shoulder, flinching when it slapped against the bruise on her back. She leaned back on her hands and openly looked at him. "Just me and you isn't gonna cut it this time is it?" she muttered, brows furrowed.

"I wish," he said through a sigh.

Quietly, she is pleased - more people to help her keep this boy alive when he finds the man that ruined his life. More people to bring him back from his fight with everything still attached where it should be. She'd decided that she had the skill to heal him after his fight with Itachi, but everything up to that point is a blur for her. How would they track him down? Hunter-nin would follow them resolutely wherever they traveled.

Just the two of them just wouldn't cut it in that environment, with the scrutiny of the world to follow them wherever they went, and Naruto following the trail on whatever chance he got. There were so many anomalies that they still had to consider.

Sakura is too scared to send him on his own to a battle she doesn't know he'll come back from.

"Whatever. At least you get to kill that nasty snake," she said with a snarl; every mention of Orochimaru was like a disease on her tongue to her. The pink haired girl rolled up her scroll and tossed it on the bed standing and crossing her arms. "Who are you thinking of?"

"Two or three people. They're at different bases, so it'll take some time to actually recruit them," Sasuke said, watching her pace slowly.

Sakura shrugged with a feral grin growing at her lips. "We have all the time in the world."

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"Why don't you ever cut your hair?"

It is two in the morning and Sakura is trying to stuff her face with tomato-stuffed onigiri, a stick of yakitori, several different pieces of takoyaki when Sasuke suddenly pulls a strand of her hair from her shoulder and plays with it, making her choke on her food.

Sakura is not sure when he took off his shirt - was it the third kiss or the fourth? The sight of him with lax, bare shoulders does something to her chest and her throat suddenly didn't want to cooperate with her any more.

She took a moment to swallow and flush heavily, the skin of her cheeks and neck burning. Sakura is angry for a quiet moment because when will he stop making her so damn flustered?

"Not sure," she lied. She glared at the smirk playing at his lips, a lock of her hair still between his fingertips. "I just…prefer it long."

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Sakura decided a long time ago she wouldn't cut her hair until she'd helped Sasuke kill Itachi. It was a small burden, the mane of thick pink that was always tangled and unruly from lack of care - because there is so much more to do than hair maintenance and there is so much more to worry about perpetual dryness.

It was a small burden that she would be carried until she helped Sasuke relieve his.

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Meeting with Naruto is more painful than she expected.

She can feel Sasuke beside her, looking down on her old teammate with a cold stare neither of them could ever read.

"You both need to come home," Naruto laments, his voice catching and looking betrayed, desperate and betrayed and resentful. He is trailed by Team Gai, looking more than a bit disgusted at them.

Sakura pulls on the collar of her mesh shirt, pulls the long braid falling down her back over her left shoulder, not meeting Naruto's eyes. "There are a lot of things you don't understand, Naruto-kun."

There is nothing more for her to say as the blonde beckons Sasuke down for a fight, pulling at the jealous rage that he is not very good at hiding, not very good at keeping at bay when the rival he will always resent calls him down with a sharp teeth and a sharp smirk.

Sakura watched them, wondering what idiot let Naruto run all the way to Otokagure alone as Team Gai sans Gai himself come upon them, intercepting Sasuke and his attack.

"You idiot!" Neji snarled, shoving him as he sank into a fighting stance. Tenten pulled out weapons, and Lee looked wantonly at her above with a stare that made her twitch in agitation. "You weren't supposed to go ahead without us!"

"I had no choice!" Nauto huffed, pulling out another kunai and staring at Sasuke angrily.

Sakura sighed, jumping and flipping and falling next to Sasuke in a crouch. The wind she whips through slaps against the bare skin between her thigh-high boots and skirt and litters it with goosebumps.

"We don't want to fight you," she intoned, trying to keep the guilt from her voice. She feels the angry glares more than she really sees them. "It's not necessary to shed blood over something trivial."

"Speak for yourself," Sasuke snapped. She glared at him, wondered when he got so bloodthirsty.

"There's nothing trivial about this!" Naruto seethed, looking at her with fury and tossing an errant kunai. She formed hand signs faster than she could blink at the weapon, a thick and earthen wall coming up in front of Sasuke and blocking him.

It crumbled as the dark haired boy spoke. "If you want a fight so badly, dobe, we'll give it to you," he murmured, cocking his head to the side.

Sakura was forming hand seals before he could pull out his sword once more.

She watched the dreamy look in Naruto's eyes as he fell, the others surrounding him.

"You've been working on your genjutsu," Sasuke commented, watching an unconscious Naruto twitch his fingers into a fist and Tenten shoulders shift in a sharp motion against the ground. "You weren't able to affect several targets before."

"Well, yeah. They won't wake up any time soon. They think they're fighting us," Sakura said with sagged shoulders, looking up at Sasuke red in the face from his almost-compliment. "Can't let you be the only one to show off."

"I had no intentions of showing off," he snapped, cutting a sharp stare at her. Sakura spout out a mean laugh, glaring back.

"As if! You were so eager to show off your fantastic new abilities! The only person you need to be worried about impressing is me, Sasuke-kun," Sakura ranted, stepping towards him to shove him and staring down at the Leaf shinobi again. Their foreheads glinted in the afternoon sun, metal reflection bright light that made her dazed for a moment. "Let's just go. Gai is probably finished fighting with Orochimaru."

"He's going to want us to kill them," he said, giving Sakura a hard stare. "You shoudn't have just left them unconscious."

"Having an entire team of Leaf shinobi dead right now wouldn't be beneficial to anyone right now," the pink haired girl reasoned. "Just shut up and come on."

Sasuke rolled his eyes and followed.

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The night they come to kill Orochimaru leaves jitters through her spine.

She has her medical pouch strapped to her back, bags of poisonous senbon strapped to each thigh, and a Sasuke to her left with his sword tossed over his shoulder.

"You can still turn around, you know," Sasuke said, looking forward as they walked down the halls they had so many times before. Sakura braided and rebraided the ends of her hair, staring down at her shoes and hoping Orochimaru didn't get too gross.

"As if I'm leaving you by yourself," Sakura muttered.

"I can handle him by myself," Sasuke continued, tossing her a pointed look over his shoulder. "I'll be fine."

"Sasuke-kun, what did I promise you when you brought me here?" Sakura asked, eyes trained to the floor studiously.

"You promised...to help me."

"Even when you don't want it."

She swallowed the fear, an old fear - the rejection that always stung in her chest as the little genin in Konoha - that always managed to slap her in the face whenever it came to him, and looked up. She met his sideways gaze as evenly as she could as her voice from three years ago echoed through her ears like the cold memory it was. "I will be beside you, even when you don't want me to, because I promised to protect you and I promised to help you reach your goal."

Sasuke shrugged, his footsteps stopping as he faced Sakura. "You know I'll never hold you to that if you want to walk away," he said, looking hard and serious and older than fifteen.

"I know," Sakura replied. Smiled. Ran pale, calloused fingers over her scalp and looked down again. "I know, Sasuke-kun. But right now, this is what I chose."

They are quiet for a long time until they continue down the hall, stopping when they get to Orochimaru's door. Sasuke points a hand towards the door, glowing a hot electric blue that crackles with raw chakra, but she holds out a hand for him to wait. She ignores the questioning glare he gives her when she steps back and claps her hands together in the snake seal.

The wall in front of them crumbled, crushing the wooden door between it and fallen to see an upright Orochimaru in bed, staring indignantly - but moreso surprised.

Sasuke lifted his hand once more, the raw energy shooting out and piercing he Sannin by his wrist to the wall behind him.

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Killing Kabuto was sweeter - honey sliding down the back of her throat with a swallow of satisfaction.

Sakura had almost grinned when she'd seen him coming through the entrance of the room, snake skin and blood littering the floor. Her hands flit through seals until chakra scalpels stretched from her hands and she glared like a lionness, ready for her dinner.

"Try and impress me," Sasuke drawled, stabbing his sword into the ground and leaning onto it with his hand as he watched Sakura stalk towards Kabuto, who was rapidly questioning the beheaded snake laid out on the ground.

"Don't I always?" she called over her shoulder.

And then she was flying.

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They leave the base, leaving Orochimaru and Kabuto's bodies in their wake. It is a black sky with pale stars that do not do the job of lighting the way, but she follows Sasuke's knowing footsteps until they're just outside of Otogakure, in a small civilian village that is quiet and empty as they come in.

They book a small in, ignoring the old woman smiling on them as they trudge into the room they booked.

"I need a shower," Sakura muttered, grasping the key from Sasuke's hand and shoving it into the door. And somewhere to wash her clothes. She'd splattered so much blood over her shirt and skin when she'd slit Kabuto's throat. "A long, hot shower. And antibacterial soap. And a priest so I can get you an exorcism."

"Don't be over dramatic," Sasuke replied, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms.

"Over dramatic is what I do, damn it. You're the one who's always stoic. I'm the emotional one in this fucked up pair. I have to play my role somehow," Sakura half-hissed, jamming the door open to reveal a small one-bed room, that looked immaculately clean. The sight brought a large smile to her face. "Thank god."

"You done?" Sasuke prompted. Sakura frowned, watching him walk in behind her as he dropped his cloak.

"Well, not really. I could go on for a little bit."

"Of course you could." Sasuke stepped towards her, grasping her chin between his fingers and leaning in for a kiss.

Sakura's body melted, flushed with indescribable warmth that flooded through her skin. She untied her cloak at her neck and grasped the sides of Sasuke's shirt, clenching and fisting at the white fabric. He curved his hand around the back of her neck, stepped closer and trailed his tongue against her bottom lip.

She gasped, breathing hard and stepping away from him. "No no no, okay. I am going to shower and you are not going to distract me," Sakura snapped, slapping him against the bare skin of his chest and ignored his smug smile.

"I'll come with," he decided cockily.

Sakura almost grinned at him.

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Sasuke laid beside her, skin warm and heart pounding slow in his chest, and she still felt the fear constricting her throat like a vice. There was so much more to do. So much more they had to go through to reach their end game.

So much more danger.

No matter how long she tried convincing herself that she had nothing new to fear, it still hit her again and again, fresh waves of paralyzing hysteria that froze her to her bones because it didn't matter how fast he was and it didn't matter how many jutsu he learned and it didn't fucking matter how many people he already killed. when he could still die to someone with more power than they held between them.

And she feared it more than her own death, losing this boy she cannot unlearn to love no matter how many dark moments she wished to.

So Sakura pull the blankets up to their shoulders, naked flesh pressed firmly into his and mouth aligned to his pulse point. She pressed a hot kiss to the thin skin beating with life just beneath it and willed herself to fall asleep.