New readers this note will spoil you-I have forgotten how Naruto works and this story reflects that. Sakura is not the strong heroine in this fic, and is instead fragile and emotionally driven. Gaara grows up to be an arrogant villain that's very ooc from his original character. This story deals with dark subjects and sexual themes in the second part of the story. If you're not okay with any of that this story will disappoint you.
Beta'd by Errihu.
"What is it called?"
With each tired, dragging step, Sakura swore the barren sand around her only expanded with time.
Words of encouragement. The young woman spoke only to herself, her breath heavy from the heat surrounding her. The quick pace she kept with this past day travel also made her lungs clamor for a relaxed breath. Yet, Sakura forced herself to pick up her speed. There was no reason for this, perhaps another self-satisfying achievement she could add onto her long list. She once remembered Lee mentioning he could easily make this few day's trip within a day. She smirked at the idea of matching his determination and speed.
It had been months since she was requested for a mission like this, and years since her last travel to Suna. It still baffled her why the Hokage, her past teacher, bid her a simple task such as this. Her field of knowledge, and skill, belonged in hospitals, in battlefields. She belonged in places where wounds were inevitable, but death was preventable. There was no reason to send a medical ninja for a transporting mission.
"This is an S-rank mission."
Sakura thought back on Kakashi's words. At the time, she argued that this operation was not for her.
"Surely someone else," she tried to reason, to bring him back to his senses.
"This document was requested by the Kazekage himself. I need someone I can trust to deliver this to him."
Sakura remembered staring at the scroll that was handed off carefully to her. She scrutinized the rolled up parchment for some time before turning back to her aging instructor.
"Remember Sakura, Kazekage-sama's hands only. No one else. That is what he requested."
Sakura had fidgeted with the scroll in her hands lightly, curious of its contents. Why was this tiny document deemed so important? Mission accomplish only if in the hands of Gaara?
"What's in it?" she had boldly asked.
Kakashi's gaze was passive when the young woman questioned him of this. It was as if he was letting her figure out, on her own, how informal that inquiry from her to him was. However, her stare never wavered, and in time, he felt his patience fall.
"Something Konoha has that Suna would like to borrow for the time. Village matters." He told her before marching back to his desk. "Something that doesn't involve you in any way."
"Yet, it's me you need to deliver it."
"I wouldn't trust anyone else but you, or Naruto, for this."
Kakashi had taken a moment to cross his hands over his face, his expression stern on Sakura.
"I couldn't even begin to explain to you how urgent Kazekage-sama's request for that scroll was."
Again, Sakura stared at the paper curiously. Her attention was only drawn back to the Hokage when his deep, serious tone shook her body.
"Sakura," he had spoken, "do not let me down. This could possibly jeopardize our strong alliance with Suna. You got that? Failure is not an option."
Sakura had gawked lightly at Kakashi's grave manner of speaking. Where there was no pressure before, the rosette suddenly felt a little overwhelmed.
"I'm counting on you, Sakura."
Sakura gasped at her speech, but her swiftness did not waver. The embedded memories of her youthful days, spent training with Kakashi and her teammates, suddenly found their way to the front of her mind.
"Yes Sensei?" she repeated, flabbergasted at herself. "Idiot. Those days are long gone."
Sakura reprimanded her mind for picking up on old habits. She also blamed the sweltering heat for making her suddenly stupid.
She was Haruno Sakura, top medical ninja of her village. She was the apprentice of Lady Tsunade, the fifth Hokage. A proud member of team seven, who's teammates consisted of the great war hero Naruto, the body host of Kurama the Kyubi, and child of the late fourth Hokage, Namikaze Minato. The other member of team seven was the last survivor of the famous Uchiha clan. Strong, elite...
Sakura could feel her spirits falling at the thought of her first, and only, love. Every day that she could not physically see Sasuke felt longer than forever for her. The second he returned to Konoha, to team seven, to her; he turned around and bid them farewell with the promise of returning. Years later, she was still waiting for the young man to fulfill that expectation.
'Damn him,' Sakura thought bitterly, feeling her eyes burning. 'Damn him for making me still care.'
She at first didn't mind the wait, she was in bliss knowing he was somewhere out in the world without dark hate clouding his vision. But when months turned to years, she began to grow resentful towards the Uchiha, wondering why he took so long to return to her. Her anger in time turned into unnecessary guilt. Was she to blame for his quick departure? Did he run away from her, or found her annoying still? She had remained loyal to him, never knowing any other kind of love or looking at any other man for his sake. She wondered when he would realize this and come back to her. At the same time, a certain distaste for him began to grow deep within the rosette. Would she ever be good enough, she questioned?
Was the purpose of her love life only to fantasize about the "what ifs" instead of experiencing what others were already privileged to encounter? Hell, even Naruto was beginning a romance with Hinata, and while she was overjoyed at the two's new love, the envy was evident even in her ever denying mind. When would it be her turn? She blamed Sasuke for all of this, but also held herself accountable for holding onto a love she could have given another.
"Ah!" Sakura suddenly cried when she felt herself trip.
She quickly corrected herself before again tangling her feet, this time she was not able to pull herself back up in time and her speed caused her to roll violently across the sand.
"Damn it!" Sakura cursed, pushing herself up against the hot grains when she came to a stop.
It was only when she was settled on her knees, her breaths coming out long and heavy, did Sakura realize tears were staining her cheeks.
"Stupid," she mocked herself, hurriedly wiping away the drops from her eyes. "Don't cry for that bastard."
For the past months, Sakura had been doing her best to stop basing her happiness off of a man. A man who probably didn't think of her day and night like she did him. She had wanted to become dependent of nobody but herself. She built herself stronger every day, expecting to never rely on anyone for her welfare. She wanted to see herself as a strong, independent woman. It was a good thing, she concluded, that Sasuke would not be returning anytime soon, for these fresh tears just drove home how much she needed to work on herself still.
Though she could feel many scratches and new aches from her tumble, Sakura reached behind her and rummaged her hand through her pack. She eyed the scroll carefully the second she pulled it out, checking for any type of damage. As soon as she concluded that the parchment was as intact as it was leaving Kakashi's office, she turned her gaze back to the setting sun behind her. She searched for a village in this hot, lifeless wasteland, hoping her feet had carried her as quickly as Lee bragged his could.
While there was no building to be seen, Sakura could make out a lone, tall palm tree in the distance. Where there was vegetation, she knew there would be water. She could at least freshen up, and refill her canteen before continuing her journey she decided. The rosette jogged lightly on top of the golden, sparkling sand, and realized soon that she may need to use her chakra to heal a sprained wrist.
"Of course," Sakura huffed with intolerance.
She reprimanded herself once more. Kakashi emphasized to her that failure was no option here, yet here she was rolling down sandy dunes. She knew better than to let her mind wander and become distracted. Her senses had to be on edge for any ambush or attack.
'It's because you're pushing yourself to Suna more quickly.'
Sakura grimaced at her thinking. She couldn't help but ask why that itself was a problem. There was nothing wrong with wanting to get a mission accomplished as soon as possible.
'That's not why you run.'
Her mind was battling with her again. The truths she did not want to face were beginning to come forward. She decided that next time she would refuse a solitary mission, for she needed a companion to keep her psyche off of these buried thoughts.
'You run because of Sasuke-kun. Whether it's to him, or away, you run. You chase after the hope of catching up to him, to see him again. Yet, you would bound the other way from the fear of rejection he may possibly have in store for you.'
"Shut up!" Sakura cried into the silent air, gripping her head tight and trying to bury that voice deep into the back of her mind.
'The damage is already done. He has you on the run.'
Sakura narrowed her eyes the minute her empty thinking returned. She was a proud ninja of Konoha. These internal struggles did not belong during an important mission, she reminded herself. Yes, she admitted she would love nothing more than to run into the raven-haired man, but what were the chances of him actually being in this desert?
The sun had set by the time Sakura reached the tilted tree, and like she thought, a small pool of water resided next to it. The moon, and twinkling stars reflected on the clear water's surface. Despite the beautiful image, she dipped her hand into the cool water, the moon and stars disappearing behind the ripples. The rosette could feel her hot body now cooling with the night air, and from the chilly, fresh drink she brought to her lips. She let a heavy sigh escape her mouth before dunking to refill her canteen.
"I can't stay her for long." She reminded herself. "Fresh water attracts."
As much as Sakura wanted to pull out a blanket and call it a night, she found she could get no rest until she stepped foot inside the Kazekage's office. As she had said before, an ambush of any kind was possible. Water attracted possible predators, though, she wondered what type of creatures dwell in the hot desert. She took a moment to stare down at her reflection, disgusted at her sunburnt cheeks, and at the way dust caked onto her face. She brushed some of her pink strands off of her sweaty, sticky forehead, and noted how clammy her hair felt as well.
'If Sasuke-kun was actually here in Suna, then I wouldn't want him seeing me like this.'
Sakura blinked again at her reflection with that thought. Her wandering mind was again traveling back to him, so instead, she lingered on the idea of Suna, of its people, and their leader.
'I don't think Gaara would allow Sasuke-kun into the village.'
She didn't think either of them to hold grudges against the other, but it seemed nothing but fighting happened when putting those two into a room together. She had witness the damage Sasuke did to Gaara during their Chunin Selection Exams, and had even heard of them battling at Gokage Kaiden. It surprised her slightly that the events that unfolded after that fight made her forget completely about it. She had disregarded to ask for any more detail, and wondered who it was that had the upper hand in that battle. Perhaps they were equally strong, for they both survived the other. Still, who knew what distaste they each may hold for the other.
Shaking her head, Sakura pushed those thoughts away and instead turned to her backpack behind her. She decided to wash up her hair, and face, some before coming to face the great Sand Lord himself. Surely he was aware no one came to him beautiful after a few days in his sweltering desert. Still, she thought it best to be as presentable as she could. She represented her people, her Hokage, and did not want to be sneered at by Gaara.
With heavy shoulders, Sakura sank to her knees before burying her Konoha headband into her pack. She dug for the soap bar she brought along before bringing her eyes up to the small tree in front of her. It was only then that she noticed the woody plant had been slightly carved into.
"Hm..." she hummed to herself, bringing herself to her feet to study the small engraving closer.
Her fingers brushed lightly against the foreign marking. It was a symbol unrecognized, and unreadable, for her. Yet, she knew the sign was placed there purposely. Sakura licked her dry lips while studying it more, curious of its meaning.
'Not a good idea,' her mind reminded her. 'Someone has been here, and may return at any moment. Friend or foe.'
Sakura silently agreed with herself. She needed to freshen up now and return to the important task at hand. As she turned from her spot, she kept her head back, still perusing the little engraving in the bark. It slipped her mind that her pack was in front of her until her foot collided with the old bag.
"Shit," she hissed as her personals spilled out in front of her.
She frowned slightly before dropping to her knees to pick up her belongings. However, when she noticed a certain scroll rolling rapidly down the small dune and towards the bed of water, Sakura shot straight back up.
"No, no, no!" she cried before running down the sandy hill after it.
'Failure is not an option.'
Kakashi's words rang in her ears as she raced for the parchment, it's direction straight towards the small pond.
"No!" she shouted when a familiar plop sang into the night air.
Her hand shot straight forward, quick like a viper, the second the scroll hit the water. It had only been a second and despite it somewhat wet, perhaps the message inside was still salvageable.
'Please,' Sakura begged in her mind. 'Don't let me mess this one up.'
With her hands around the scroll, Sakura tried to pick it back up and towards her. Tried. She couldn't figure out why, perhaps it had soaked up so much water, but the scroll was suddenly heavy like a weight, and while she pulled with all her might; the rolled up document seemed to sink instead. Still, while she refused to let go, she could feel herself being pulled into the water along with it.
"What the hell?!" she cried out.
This didn't make sense to her. She carried the small parchment with her all day in her bag, but now struggled using her inhuman strength just to lift the tiny scroll. It was incomprehensible, and before she could dwell on the why and how, a bright light erupted where the scroll had sank.
Now Sakura was in her ninja mode. Something inside her mind was warning her she was in danger, and to let go of the tiny scroll. As the bright light grew, the rosette forced her head to the side. The flash blinding her.
'Failure is not an option.'
Kakashi's voice kept playing in her mind.
'This could possibly jeopardize our strong alliance with Suna.'
Though the scroll was already submerged, her grip on it only tightened. She still tried with all her power to pull it back out of the water, but felt her heart sinking while the weight of the scroll began to pull her into the pool with it.
"No..." she whined through her teeth. "Please. I can't mess this up!"
Despite the obvious damage to the scroll, Sakura refused to let go; even when the heavy item began to pull her whole body into the small lake. When she felt the water hit her chin, Sakura forced an eye open, to peek at the scene around her. Yet, the white light only grew stronger, and she forced her gaze shut. She tried one last time, with every ounce of her strength, to pull the crucial scroll back out of the water. Unfortunately, that too was in vain, and when Sakura felt herself having to spit out water from her mouth, she made the decision every proud ninja dreaded.
Tilting her head above her, Sakura drew in a heavy breath before releasing the scroll from her hold. Despite the repercussions that would soon follow, she wasn't willing to drown for a paper that was surely already deteriorating from the moisture. Her hands quickly let go of the sinking item, and she tilted her head upwards to shoo away the water that was trying to enter her mouth and nose. She had tried to turn away from the light, to swim back to the sand. Tried. She was thrown off again when, despite the scroll out of her hold, her body did not comply with her mind. She, too, was sinking like a stone.
'What the hell is happening?!' she screamed mentally before feeling her whole head submerge under water.
She tried to force an eye open, but again the bright light in the water blinded her. She held her breath while her body sank lower and lower, and she couldn't help but wonder.
'Is this the end?'
Under the water, she let out a gasp when the bright light shook around her. It was like an explosion, and her vision changed from the dark waters, to just piercing, white light. Despite the change in her scenery, she still felt as though her lungs were filling with water, and her body grew heavy like a boulder. She screamed at her mind to swim, to take her back to land above her, but she was unable to move.
'Is this what it's like to drown?' she thought tiredly to herself.
She thought the ordeal of drowning to be a painful one. Yet, this sinking feeling wasn't half as scary as she always imagined. Still, that didn't mean she was prepared to face death yet. She peeked an eye open again, and was shocked at what was happening around her. There was no blinding light, but there was also no water. There was absolutely nothing. She found herself staring face first into an empty void of white.
'What is this?'
She opened her mouth to cry out, but found her lungs still struggling for a breath. She tried to move, but the only motion her mind would let her were slow blinks.
'Genjutsu?' she thought to herself, wondering how skilled someone would have to be to make her fall for it.
She was immune to most effects of the technique, but the area was so bewildering, so unrecognizable, that she had to think of the most logic explanation for this empty plain. She felt like she was hanging in mid-air, dangling by string in this empty null. It was maddening. When would this end? Her heart was racing as minutes ticked by. Her lungs too, screamed in agony. In time, she wished for anything to escape this empty world. Even if it meant death.
'Someone,' she tried to scream. 'Anyone! Help me!'
That's when she heard it. A faint noise, and she focused all she could onto that one sound.
'Take me there!' she begged her mind. 'To that noise.'
Her heart began to pick up more when the noise became louder. It didn't feel like her body had moved an inch, yet, whatever was making that small wail was becoming more and more apparent with time. Soon enough, Sakura was easily able to recognize the soft sobbing, and sad whimpers, as someone crying.
'Who?' she wondered. 'Who is it? Can you help me?'
Sakura mentally sneered when she realized her voice was nothing, and whoever was shedding tears near her would not hear her desperate plea.
'Please, help me,' she invoked to no one. 'Bring them to me. I can't breathe.'
Sakura's words were desperate. All she knew was that the small whimpering voice was her only chance for survival. She wanted to reach out to this crying person for her sake, she was not yet ready to die. However, as her body remained unmoving, she began to wonder why this person was shedding such sad tears.
'What's the matter?' she wanted to ask. 'Are you stuck here too? Is that why you're crying?'
If that was truly the explanation, then Sakura could see reason. She wondered if her body would let her shed tears for being stuck in this vexing world. Her lungs were still uproarious for air, and she lingered in thought about when death would claim her. It was overdue, she finally decided. She did not want to be here any longer, listening to the soft cries of someone around her and staring at an empty nothing for eternity.
'Please,' she asked once more. 'Not here. Anywhere but here.'
That's when she felt her body twitch slightly. Hope returned in her to this small movement, and before she could focus on it, she felt her back soaring upwards. Despite the nothing around her, she could hear and feel an explosion of water behind her. Her body was still frozen, but it was finally racing upwards. As far as she sank, she moved as if she was rewinding time, passing through the water once more and racing towards the top.
'What's happening?' she thought, unable to control her movement.
Despite her questioning, though, she was thankful she was no longer in the nothing and instead soaring up through the water. It felt like forever though, and she wondered if she was simply doomed to be racing through this dark, murky water. Was this really any better than the empty void?
"Do you recall, not long ago, we would walk down the sandy roads?"
Sakura blinked slowly at the new voice. It drowned out the soft sobbing around her, yet she could not pinpoint anyone to be down here in this water with her. Even if someone was, how could they speak to her so clearly like this?
"Innocent. Remember? All we did was care for each other."
Sakura strained her ears to hear this voice. His speaking was clear, tone soft, it was foreign to her. Yet, something inside her reminisced. She had heard this voice before, but from where, and who; she could not remember.
"All around us, sand and wind blew. But you only held on just to let go."
Sakura mentally frowned at the odd words, still trying to pinpoint whose deep voice this was.
'To let go?' she thought. 'Is he talking to me?'
Suddenly, Sakura felt herself slamming hard onto cold, brick floor. The impact had been so hard, that it knocked out whatever little air was still in her lungs. Despite her traumatizing ordeal, she quickly pushed herself up to draw in a long, needed breath. As soon as her body filled with air, it sent itself into a fit of heavy coughs. She struggled with herself, trying to draw in breaths yet trying to calm her shaking body. She worried she was going into some sort of shock.
Her fingers dug into the hard brick under her, trying to reassure herself that she was in control of her body once again and that she had escaped from that wet hell.
'My back was flying upwards,' she thought, her coughs beginning to settle. 'How did I end up landing on it?'
Sakura swallowed hard when her coughing subsided. A sigh escaped her as she leaned back, pushing her weight into her hand before glancing at the area around her. Her eyes quickly narrowed when she realized the scene around her had changed drastically. Where she had been outside, next to a small oasis, she now found herself inside some sort of deserted, ruined building. A temple she even wondered.
"How did I get here?" She asked no one, rubbing her aching wrist.
The thought of danger presented itself once more. How did she get here? Had someone brought her here? Who's voice had she heard? The small crying too. Was everything before some sort of trick, or had it all been just a nightmare? What had happened at the small oasis and the scroll?
'The scroll!' Sakura screamed in her mind, wasting no time to reach for her pack.
However, as she reached behind her, her old bag was nowhere in sight. Had it been stolen, or was it left in the last spot she remembered it to be?
"Damn it!" she mumbled, remembering how the scroll had sunk to the bottom of that oasis. "I'll have to report this to the Kazekage."
Sakura frowned heavily at that thought. To be lectured by another village's leader was embarrassing beyond belief, but more importantly, she hoped this failure wouldn't irk the Sand Lord as much as Kakashi proclaimed it would. There was peace in their world, for the time being, and she would hate to be the cause of resurrecting calamity.
A sigh escaped her again before she turned up to the only light source in this dark, dreary room. She could see the sun shining down through a hole above her, and again she wondered where she was. It had been night when she was at the oasis. Had she been out for many hours? She shook the idea off, simply trying to figure a way out.
"I must be underground," she spoke to herself, turning towards the moss covered bricks.
Rising, Sakura was slightly wobbly, but managed to get herself straightened up. She thought long and hard of a way out of this room, for the only tunnel out was blocked by fallen rocks and rubble. She wasn't in any mood to start digging her way out. She also worried that if she punched her way through, that this old ruin would come crashing down on her.
"Of course." she mumbled bitterly when thinking on her lack of options. "My luck."
She only took a step, just one, when a long, heavy, weak breath hit her ears. Sakura's eyes had widened to this, and she quickly spun on her heels. She glanced around the room, knowing that strained noise assured her she was not alone. She had to twirl around the room a few times, for in a dark corner is where she finally spotted a small body. It was petite, a child, and it had curled itself so deep into the black nook that it blended so perfectly in with the dark rubble.
Sakura bit her lip, anxious yet nervous. That noise she had heard awoke her medical side, and a part of her wanted nothing more than to rush over and assess the damage. Her other side, warned her of the danger she had just escaped. As small, and weak as this body seemed, it could be a trap. Size did not matter in the ninja world, everyone was a potential threat, including this child. It could have been the one to put her in such a bizarre place.
However, when she saw the small body's back rise, another struggling breath escaping it, her medical side won. She quickly rushed towards the fallen child, sliding onto her knees the second she approached it. Her eyes scanned the small body, its features, before concluding it was a young boy. He lay curled up, eyes shut.
"Hey," Sakura spoke, patting his cheek to try to see if he would wake. "If you can hear me, open your eyes."
Sakura studied his face, her heart dropping when she saw his eyes flutter lightly, but not open fully. She panicked when she noticed his breathing was irregular, and the wheezing sounds he made had the hairs on the back of her neck stand. He was struggling, that much she could tell, but from what?
"Don't worry," she spoke, hoping her voice was reaching the kid to reassure him. "I'm going to help you."
Sakura reached for his small frame, turning him onto his back so she could assess him better and figure out what type of healing she needed to begin. She just prayed, as she rolled him, that he had no broken bones. The second she straightened him out, another struggle for breath escaped him. The rosette glanced once again at his body. He looked pretty beat up to her. He was missing a shoe, his pants and black shirt had holes in it and looked dirty. There were also small patches of burnt skin on him. His eyes were black, and that scared her and made her wonder if one of his organs were failing him. Again, she wondered what had happened to such a young boy.
While she studied his dark eyes, she now noticed a trail of dried blood painted one side of his face.
"Ah!" she cried, bringing her face closer to examine him "Did you hit your head somewhere?!"
Sakura quickly followed the dried blood up his face to the left corner of his head. There she could see the excessive amount of it.
"There!" she spoke to herself, knowing he had hit himself there.
Sakura did her best to wipe away the dried up blood, for it covered whatever wound this boy suffered. When she realized it was an excessive amount, Sakura spit on her hand, hoping some moisture would brush off the dried crimson. As her ministrations became more aggressive, she could see some fresh blood beginning to seep out from whatever wound he had, she must have been rubbing off some sort of scab.
"What happened to you, kid?" Sakura mumbled before ripping a part of the young boy's shirt.
She used the new cloth to dab at his head wound, trying to soak up the fresh blood as well as take in the odd shape of the somewhat fresh wound.
"I've never seen an injury like this before..."
Sakura patted the spot one more time before she suddenly stilled her hand. She blinked as she stared into the wound. Then again. Then a third time, just to make sure she reading the familiar looking symbol right.
"But that's..." Sakura couldn't bring herself to say it, there was just no way.
Her eyes darted back to black rings around his eyes, they were just as well-known to her as the kanji etched into his head.
"There's no way..."
Her eyes traveled back up, noting how this child had no eyebrows. Finally, when her eyes met the familiar red hair, she felt a hitch in her throat. She was staring at the impossible.
He was a child, but he was the spitting image of someone much older. A past killer, but now fearless leader. A man who hosted a demon inside of him before turning around and leading a war to keep his only friend safe. Someone who had marked himself with the word love before earning that affection by all those around him. A young man, who was best known by his formal title as Kazekage, but who's real name would go down in history as...