Author's Note: I've always been fascinated by the idea of Sasuke taking Sakura with him, allowing her to be the only exception to every barrier he'd set against the world, so I hope everyone who reads this will be just as happy as I am to see this idea come to life.

Thank you.

The two wonderful, warm words were swirling inside of Sakura Haruno's half conscious mind. All she could feel was the wind brushing on her skin, strong hands grasping at her legs and a ticklish sensation on her left cheek. Mind still fuzzy, she could only assume she was being carried on someone's back.

Voices would occasionally break the silence, mentioning words like "underground lair" and "Orochimaru". As Sakura's mind started to clear she only became more confused. Thinking back on her last encounter with Sasuke Uchiha, the boy she had been so desperate to keep home, she was firmly convinced she had not gotten through to him. So why was she waking up to this strange situation?

"I don't understand why you have to bring her with you. She's slowing us down significantly," said a feminine sounding voice.

"Complaining isn't going to speed us up. Just shut up and focus on taking me to Orochimaru," replied a voice all too familiar to Sakura.

Her body stiffened, realization crashing down on her. Sasuke, in spite of his behaviour and intentions, has taken her with him. Why had he knocked her out then, she wondered, if he never intended to leave her behind? No doubt the sudden change in her was noticed, but for whatever reason Sasuke chose to not outwardly acknowledge that he knew she was awake.

Well aware of the fact that she would get no answers by pretending she was asleep, Sakura inhaled deeply and, as quietly as she could, she asked:


Eyes were on her the second she spoke. Neither Sasuke nor the other people Sakura could sense around her stopped running. Tension hung heavily in the air for a few long seconds, until Sasuke replied.

"You're awake." he said, simply.

Uncomfortable with the people around her, Sakura chose to remain silent for a while. Her eyes, now open, were adjusting to the morning light, and she realized she had no idea where they were or where they were headed.

As expected, Sasuke, too, remained silent, and Sakura received nothing but hostile looks from the odd people that were following the young Uchiha. Knowing all too well they could all hear her, even if she whispered, she still chose to continue asking her questions in an almost silent voice.

"I thought you were going to leave me behind. Why did you take me with you?"

For a few moments, Sasuke's hands tensing, applying a bit more pressure to her legs, was the only response that she received. She could not see his face, and even if she could, she figured there was not much she could read on his expression. For a brief moment her heart felt light, imagining a scenario in which Sasuke decided he couldn't possibly leave her behind. The moment of happiness was short lived, however, when Sasuke decided to speak.

"It would have been troublesome for you to wake up and tell the Hokage what happened."

Love stories of princes who could not leave their loves behind no matter what were a thing of the past for a kunoichi of Sakura's age, who was already acquainted with the harsh reality of the shinobi world. That did not, however, stop the pain she felt from being told she was there only in order for Sasuke to protect his goal. She was a nuisance he did not want that would only cause more problems if left behind.

"Why did you knock me out and act like you were going to leave me behind, then?" she asked, pleasantly surprised that she sounded more angry than sad.

"I didn't want you to see where we were going." he replied.

Sakura took note of the fact that he answered only half of the question. She did not push the matter, knowing Sasuke well enough to know that he would only get irritated. Conflicted, now that her head was clear, she realized that her conviction to stay by his side no matter what was strongly influence by her having to face his inevitable departure. Unsure of whether or not she was truly ready to leave her family behind, she felt deep desperation. It was replaced quickly with the determination that always seemed to overwhelm her when in Sasuke's presence.

She had a choice, and a very clear one. Depending on what was going to happen from now on, she could either support Sasuke or find a way back to Konoha carrying useful information about a very dangerous and important missing nin. All she had to do was wait and see which choice was the right one.

"I can run on my own now, Sasuke-kun." said the pink haired kunoichi in a clear voice.

Sasuke stopped suddenly, as did his companions, and he looked over his shoulder into her eyes. For a brief moment she could see doubt and his struggle over whether or not she could be trusted.

Cautious as always, aren't you Sasuke? Even when it comes to me...

Nodding, Sasuke let go of Sakura's legs, setting her free. After a few moments of stretching her stiff body, Sakura glanced at the other four... no, five people. They all looked like they would happily send a sea of unkind remarks in her direction, had it not been for the Uchiha's presence. Putting two and two together she figured they were supposed to be Sasuke's team, or bodyguards, sent by Orochimaru himself. Her eyes went back to Sasuke, who, looking incredibly impatient, turned around and took a step forward.

"Actually..." the large man out of the group started saying "it's good that we stopped. There's something we have to do, Sasuke-sama."

Surprised she had not noticed it before, Sakura's eyes landed on the large scroll the man with two heads was carrying. As she glanced worried between it and the man himself, he began explaining:

"Orochimaru-sama gave us an order, something we must do before bringing you to him."

"What is it?" asked Sasuke.

"You have to "die" once." the man said cryptically, half smirking.

Die? Why would Orochimaru want to kill Sasuke? Why would he go through all of this trouble only to murder him before he even got to his location? Sakura asked herself all of these questions in a fraction of a second, and before even realizing her body was moving she dashed between the man carrying the scroll and Sasuke.

Mocking laughter surrounded her instantly, but she did not falter. She had nothing but her bare fists, but she knew she had grown, even if only a little, and she would protect Sasuke.

Sasuke's hand was on her shoulder, his expression as stoic as always. He squeezed briefly before letting go, as if to tell her to calm down, then stepped in front of her.

"What do you mean, I need to die once?" he asked, irritated.

"Exactly what he said." replied the voice Sakura had heard earlier.

"Stop fucking around and explain already." threatened Sasuke, glaring at each of his companions one by one.

The man carrying the scroll began his explanation. He told a brief story of how himself and his brother, whom he introduced as Sakon and Ukon, along with the woman, Tayuya and the other two, Kidōmaru and Jirōbō, acquired their powers. They presented Sasuke with a small, glass bottle filled with pills meant to kill him, then explained how their barrier would lessen the effects and simply induce a deep coma, while the pill did its job and Sasuke's curse seal advanced to the next level.

Needless to say, Sakura was horrified by the notion of Sasuke dying or being in any kind of coma, the memory of him in a hospital bed for weeks, never waking up, still fresh in her mind. She wanted to protest as soon as Sakon finished his explanation, but Sasuke, as if he read her mind, shook his head at her before turning towards the rest of the group.

"How confident are you in your skills?" he asked.

"Don't worry, there's no chance you could die." answered Kidōmaru, the strange man with six arms.

As soon as he spoke those words, Sakon opened up the large scroll and summoned what looked like a large, wooden barrel with black markings surrounding it. Sasuke took one of the small pills in his hand and after looking around at his group for a short moment, he swallowed it and hopped into the container.

Standing back, Sakura observed Orochimaru's followers perform a series of complicated seals, and a dark smoke erupting out of nowhere. The smoke rose into the air, swirling up, almost like a tornado, then finally descending into the container Sasuke was inside of, darkening the top and being sealed by the tags Sakon released into the air.

When the barrier was completed, they all sighed with relief, looking slightly exhausted. Sakura stepped closer, feeling the need to protect Sasuke who was now more vulnerable than ever, and was met with amused looks. Scared and unsure, she decided the most important thing was to not show any of her emotions. She would stick with Sasuke, help and protect him, and she would sure as hell never allow Orochimaru to turn him into monsters like the ones currently looking down on her.

"Welcome to the group, little girl." said Kidōmaru mockingly "Let's hope Orochimaru-sama likes you."