A/N: So, it's been ages. Hi again. Please forgive my long absence. Hopefully this new story will serve as a sufficient apology.
Speaking of this story, while it has the same title and inspiration ("Better Man" by Pearl Jam) as the potential ItaSaku story I mentioned in my profile a long, long time ago, it is a KakaSaku story. The way the manga ended gave me a different idea, and I couldn't resist. And yes, I know there is another story up that I never finished (I still hope to someday), but unlike that one, I've laid out the entire plot for this story so it will be completed ... you have my word. Chapter 2's already almost finished.
Other notes about the story: It takes place in the Naruto Gaiden timeline. I estimated ages based on the assumption that the Rookie 9's kids are somewhere around 11-12. In my world, Sakura and Sasuke had Sarada around age 18-19, so they are each 30. Kakashi is 44. There will be some SasuSaku, but it's necessary. Also, the Sasuke in this story won't be the complete d-bag I imagined he would be in my original ItaSaku Better Man idea. While I'm not particularly happy about the way the manga ended, I am following from where it left off, and I do think Sasuke grew up a bit based on his portrayal there, so the Sasuke in this story reflects that. That having been said, this IS a KakaSaku story.
Oh, and it WILL have adult content. It's rated M for a reason ... underage peoples beware.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters. They belong to Masashi Kishimoto. This story is purely a work of fanfiction.
Sakura lay awake in the dark, right arm resting on her forehead, palm of her hand facing the ceiling. Her body was bathed in the hazy moonlight that reached through thin curtains as she stared upwards, but the rest of the room was in shadows. If she tried, she could just make out the door frame ... and she tried.
She'd been tossing and turning for hours, unable to sleep. Every so often, her gaze would shift unconsciously to the door. She knew it wasn't going to open, but she couldn't help looking. She sighed, rolled onto her left side to face the door, and, with one last glance at the dark outline, closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep.
It was no good.
Even with her eyes closed, she couldn't quiet her thoughts. As it had been for most of her life, her mind was on Sasuke. Her husband. She still had trouble believing it, and they'd been married for over a decade now. There was something unreal about possessing what you'd wanted for so long but that had seemed so far out of reach.
Maybe "possessing" wasn't the right word; she didn't "possess" Sasuke. Far from it, really. And it was this knowledge that kept her awake at night. It wasn't that she wanted to own him or to control him … she just wanted more of him. More of his touch, more of his voice, more of his time. When had he last been home? Akatsuki had been quelled completely at last, and she'd thought he would come home for good, leaving only for the usual short-term missions.
He didn't. He was still out there, on pretense of ensuring that no new groups had arisen to take Akatsuki's place. She knew better. ANBU could handle scouting like that, as they always had. She knew he was out there because he didn't want to be here. With her. With their daughter. With Naruto.
Sakura sighed again and rolled back over, slinging her arm a bit roughly into the pillow behind her head. She deserved better than this, this nearly colorless life she led. It was as if he had taken the sun with him when he went, and now she was stuck in this dull world.
She huffed. What a silly thought. Sasuke had always carried darkness with him, not light. It was she who had painted him with the sun in the life she imagined for them. And she still did - she still imagined a vibrant and happy life, browsing the stalls at the market on Saturdays, sparring amidst the green leaves that lent Konoha its name, laughing over meals with their daughter. She even imagined them having another child, a son with the same dark hair and eyes as his father and sister but with her fiery nature.
She knew that, in his own way, he loved her, he loved Sarada and his village. Of course, it had taken some time for him to reconcile what he knew of Konoha's past and the decisions that had had such tragic consequences for his family, but that final fight with Naruto had opened something in him that allowed him to let them back in … or perhaps to let them in for the first time.
Yet it didn't seem to be enough.
Sakura's fist tightened and pressed harder into the pillow.
Sasuke still couldn't stay in the village for long before he had to get out. And while a part of her understood, the rest of her was beginning to think that 15 years should have been enough time to settle his demons, at least enough to stay for the sake of his family. Their daughter hadn't even seen her father once in her life until a few months ago, and then only because she had gone in search of him. But what was almost worse was that Sarada had barely seen him since; he'd stayed for a couple of weeks after the battle with the clones before making his excuses and taking off. He came back only once after that, for two days.
Sakura knew she loved him. She knew that she'd been in love with him for most of her life.
She sighed again. Even the verb tense she used when she thought about him lately gave away the struggle she was having … "she knew that she had been in love with him ..." But no, there was no way she had fallen out of love. He had been the only man to enter her heart since she was 8 years old; there was no better man than he for her. She'd grown to understand him in addition to loving him, and their relationship had been strengthened by it.
How much had he grown to understand her though? That traitorous part of her mind wondered how much he could have learned about her in the brief moments they'd spent together since the fourth ninja war. And honestly, though she felt she understood him better now, how much could she really have learned about him under those same circumstances?
She thought about the time they'd had together. A light blush graced her cheeks at a few of those memories, and she couldn't help the soft smile that came to her lips. But the smile faded as she found it hard to remember many conversations they'd had or dates they'd gone on or even moments alone together that weren't either silent or sexual. She tried to conjure up the last time they'd had a serious discussion, just the two of them, but she couldn't. He communicated mostly without words, and she'd thought she'd been fine with that. After all, he was Sasuke, her dream-handsome, elusive, a ninja almost without peer. And he was hers.
Sure, he wasn't perfect, their relationship wasn't perfect, but what better could she ask for? She trusted him implicitly; she knew that he wasn't cheating on her out there. She knew that he kept leaving because he simply didn't know how to deal with loving and being loved in a normal family context. She wanted to teach him, to show him that it was okay to stay with the people you loved and who loved you in return ... but she needed him to be there for her to accomplish that.
She resolved to talk to him when he next returned. She considered what she would say to convince him to stay, not just for her but for all their sakes. Perhaps Ino would be able to help … she had married Sai after all, one of the most emotionally constipated people she'd ever met. If anyone knew how to deal with men like that-
No. Ino didn't need to know her struggles; she had enough of her own. This was something Sakura would handle by herself.
She began planning her "stay with us, Sasuke" speech, and with the calm that naturally came with resolve, before long, she'd fallen finally into slumber.