Things to be noted from Kenhime:
- Departure from the major fluff I've been known to write, but I will keep to the canon mood of the Naruto manga as much as I can
- A major character death before the start of the story, for the sake of the complicated story plot. This is not character-bashing.
- Mature characters in their mid twenties, and an alternate storyline
- Slow updates for thorough writing and editing.
Genre: Angst, Drama, and Action
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Who gets to be with whom? Well, that power is in Kishimoto's hands. The song "I Must Be Dreaming" by Frou Frou doesn't belong to me either.
Warning: This is strong NaruSakuSasu friendship, and includes profanity.
Chapter 1 – Rudus Exposition: Discordant Harmony
The Sixth Hokage was not the sort to be confined inside his office room. The Leaf ninjas who reported to him often found him standing on the rooftop of the watchtower, gazing at the village or the Hokage Memorial, a look of fond reminiscence in his jubilant eyes. If not, he was most likely to be inside the Academy doing a routine 'check-up' on the classrooms, which was a cause of more havoc than what the students could have done themselves. It was especially ironic to see their revered leader being literally thrown out the window in the midst of deep-throated shrieks of rage. The window belonged to the classroom taught by good old Umino Iruka.
Pay close attention
The history of this vivacious Hokage, nicknamed the "Dead Last," was an incredible story of breaking the odds, one that was told repeatedly ever since his inauguration, perhaps even before, by the academy teachers to their class. He was the Fourth Hokage's legacy, a resented boy with the nine-tailed demon fox sealed on his bellybutton. Cast aside by others, he sought for glory and accomplishment, hoping to win the acknowledgement of the Konoha village. But he was a fortunate boy from the start, partly from this curse and partly because he was too damn stubborn to give up. Blessed by his three predecessors and two great teachers, he grew rapidly in strength until he could successfully manipulate the explosive chakra of the Nine Tails. Blessed by an obdurate will, he made many friends along his journey of life, changing lives as he went. When he reached his late twenties, he was chosen as the Fire Shadow, winning the vote among the Elder Council by a landslide. And if anyone had ever scoffed before at his dream, no one laughed now because this dream was no longer a joke. Contrary to his nickname (given by his old companions), he was recorded as the strongest shinobi in the history of Konoha.
Don't listen to me from now
These accomplishments, however, came with a price; when his dream was realized and he was finally recognized, he was also forced to accept the massive responsibility it placed on his shoulder. As the Sixth Hokage, he could no longer enjoy the battle adrenaline of the missions and the camaraderie of his teammates; they were replaced by huge stacks of paper he had to deal with everyday and administrative shinobi who chose the sedentary life. He was the pillar of Konoha, and protocol required him to stay stationary often times, even if he was proclaimed the strongest in the village. Where his past experiences had not sobered the hot-headed young man, the realities of being Hokage seemed to have.
In spite of this, he remained exuberant as ever, and very much the troublemaker. When he managed to escape the workload and the commitments, he would often visit the Academy to see his old teacher and rile up the students. It was his way of feeling young in an old title, of being that number one loud-mouthed, hyperactive ninja he once was. In fact, he still acted childish at times. No one knew how he could be so powerful and clever, and yet…so stupidly nice. Thus, the people of the Leaf have come to love him as much as their own families for his lively personality—and enemies have come to underestimate him for his moronic antics. It was a win-win situation for the twenty-six-year-old, and he was not even aware of it.
He had the natural talent to be a leader and an idiot, one woman thought conclusively.
She stormed up the stairs leading to the roof, a typhoon that everyone tried to evade as she passed. Some stood watching, frozen in both fear and awe, at the beauty she seemed to emit even in her fury. A goddess, they whispered about her. A beautiful, angry, deadly goddess.
George'll be flying this one
But she did not care for their opinions like before. She was deeply preoccupied, and she had no heart to voice it out to anyone but one person. The guards wordlessly parted to allow her entrance to the door and she burst out into the open air, the doors banging as it rebounded, her hands on her hips. The subject of her thoughts was at the same exact place as she had thought he would be.
And it's anyone's guess how he does
The dangerous inflection in her tone gave no indication to the blond Hokage of what she was about to do, and he pivoted away from the Memorial view to greet her with all smiles.
"Sakura-chan! What brings you here today?"
There was a distinctive twitch on her right eyebrow before her fingers deftly took hold of a senbon in her pouch and threw it at him in one fluid motion. The strongest ninja of the village barely had time to dodge the weapon. Briefly, Sakura enjoyed the sight of Naruto flailing his arms as he lost balance and crashed to the ground.
His eyes wide at how close he had been to being impaled by his best friend, Naruto scrambled to his feet and wondered when she had grown past the habit of punching him. At least the old attack had had a higher chance of survival than this new lethal tendency towards flying long needles. He winced, waiting tirade that always followed, but only silence came. When he glanced at her, his puzzled expression fell away to genuine worry.
"Let me go," she interrupted.
This is the right turn, wrong universe
"You know what I'm talking about," she replied adamantly.
He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "I can't let you go. You've got some business to take care of back here, and since I'm gone, I'm counting on you to handle everything."
She looked away. "No, you're not. You were planning to give the job to Kakashi-sensei." Sakura's gaze trailed to the portraits of the Hokages, her usually sharp green eyes dulled with something akin to self-depreciation.
"Will you ever stop protecting me? I'm one of the anbu; can't you accept that?"
He was startled by her words, even though he had suspected she would say it when he had assembled the anbu force for the trip. The grin slipped off his face, and for once, his bright eyes held a hint of sadness. Where did his Sakura-chan go, the one who relied on him and…and that bastard?
"I thought maybe," she said hesitantly, "that by becoming one of the elite would make you realize that I can fight. I may not be as strong as you, but I am experienced as a ninja. I can do my job."
He watched her without a word, his head cocked slightly to the side. They had been friends for a long time, yet he could not help himself from looking at her as if for the first time. Despite her perpetual expression of weariness, Haruno Sakura was among the prettiest of Konoha, ethereal and glowing at the peak of her womanhood. Even back then, she had been beautiful. It had been difficult for him as a young boy to not be attracted to her, especially when they had shared the same longing to be acknowledged by others.
Taking me in full bloom
At this time and age, when they have gone very far on their paths to recognition, this was no longer a reason of attraction.
Then he spoke. "But I want you to stay here. You've just recovered from the mission four days ago. It's a long trip to Grass Country, Sakura." Only in the rarest of moments Naruto went without the '-chan': when he used the most serious and commanding tone he could muster.
"Shikamaru is assigned to the defense forces; I'm not needed back here. I want to help you." She locked his gaze with her own, her face stony with icy determination. "I'm going. Not even a hundred anbu will stop me."
Just as the words fled her mouth, Naruto's shuriken imbedded Sakura's chest. She staggered back, eyes wide with surprise, before there was a familiar poof of smoke, leaving an unfortunate piece of wood to drop to the floor. Naruto twisted to the side as a sandaled foot whipped past his head and he counterattacked with a punch. With swift grace, Sakura evaded his fist and attempted to land in another attack. In the chills of early morning, the two fought on top of the watchtower, never stopping the beautiful rhythm of taijutsu.
Naruto did not enjoy fighting his former teammate and crush, but if the one hundred anbu would not prevent her from following him, then perhaps the strongest ninja would. But she left no opening for him. This, he thought with some innate pride, was the skill of a Leaf anbu.
For a kunoichi who had no shinobi background, she had carried high potential since the beginning. Late as she was in training, her talents were truly revealed soon after the bastard left, and she rose to jounin status faster than he could blink. In the space of a few more years, she would reach the second-highest level of skill—sennin. Yet as he expertly parried her blows and landed some of his own, his arms brushed with hers, and he felt the deep scabs of recent wounds that marred the soft flesh of her hands and arms. She had paid her price for this strength, pushing her body to the limits beyond most women. It was not right at all that she should torture herself; not worth it, he believed, for even vengeance.
Careful with that there
The bitter feeling seeped through his indomitable features and the moment was quickly taken advantage of by Sakura. She pulled his fist to her, swung her body in an arc, and elbowed him hard in the chest. The two of them fell to the floor, sprawled and breathless. The curtain of glossy pink hair touched Naruto's cheeks as Sakura brought a dagger close to his throat, the one she had taken from her pouch.
See what you made me do
"Not even you," she panted through her words.
Naruto growled. It was one thing to protect a person, but quite another thing when you were defeated by that very person. His eyes involuntarily stared at the triumphant smirk that stretched the girl's lips, and he felt a sudden strain in himself from exploring that naturally full and pink mouth.
I must be dreaming or…
"I won't let you go, Sakura," he said through clenched teeth. Her hair, lightly scented of blossoms, brushed his whiskered cheeks.
"Not in this case."
"I will." Her face was very near to his own, the resolute flame behind the jade depths unknowingly taunting his inner struggle.
We're onto something
"Yes." She was his best friend; best friends didn't kiss each other.
"You're being extremely stubborn."
"You idiot, who's the one who won?" For so long he had constrained himself successfully, but today he was losing grip on his self-control. There were too many things he wanted to say to her, too many thoughts and worries for her about this particular mission.
I must be dreaming for…
"I was easy on you."
"If I believe you, then pigs fly." Those lips… Naruto fought the good battle—and lost.
He broke into a seductive grin. "Pigs do fly."
I don't fall in love lawlessly
Before she could retort, his head shot forward and his mouth crushed hers. She made a startled sound, her eyes widening, then settled to the feel of his lips against hers. She parted her mouth to allow his tongue entrance and their two tongues caressed each other's. Naruto's hand reached around her head to deepen the kiss. As a soft moan escaped from her, Sakura dimly remembered Sasuke saying that he tasted like miso…
I must be dreaming or…
She broke away, trembling. She caught the brief look of hurt when he opened his eyes; then it disappeared, hidden underneath his bitter smile. For fourteen years they had known each other and grown up together. She knew how handsome and sought after Naruto had become, her eyes always involuntarily watching his lean and tanned face, the way his skin crinkled and folded to fit the large grin he always gave to others. But no matter what she felt, she could not give him what he desired. It was not supposed to be this way, not after all that had happened before.
Pinch me to waking
Dangling at her wit's end, Sakura jammed the kunai into the floor next to Naruto's neck and sat up, the close contact broken. When she stood up, her hand stretched out to him. He shook his head in response and got up himself. As they dusted themselves off, Sakura felt his eyes on her. He said nothing, and his face was impassive, but his washed-out blue orbs betrayed him, clearly expressing the longing he felt inside. Her throat constricted, and she could barely breathe. She forced herself to keep her eyes averted, fearing the intoxication of his love.
So undeniably yours
After moments of awkward silence, she spoke again. "I know how much you care, but I…I don't want you to leave without me..." She dropped her head. "I can take care of myself, and I won't be a burden. After all, I'll be your sentinel. I'm not as weak…as I used to be."
He turned away to pick up his hat from the ground. "That's not what I mean, Sakura-chan. You're part of the hunter-nin division in the anbu. I know what you're thinking."
Her eyes widened. He walked past her, the large straw hat obscuring his eyes.
"We'll be leaving four in the morning tomorrow. Bring month-long provisions and necessary weapons with you." He looked over his shoulder, giving her one of his characteristic grins, ones that were so sincere and yet, so deceiving. And she knew it hid the misery inside of him.
As long as I'm losing it so completely
A grateful smile found its way to Sakura's face and she seized him in a hug from the back. "Thank you, Naruto."
"I know…because I don't want to lose you either, not to him, not to anyone," she murmured. She gently kissed his cheek before letting him go, her pretty smile engraved into the deep recesses of his mind. "I should go before you change your mind, huh?"
And so she left him behind, the very same highly-esteemed Hokage…who happened to be in love with an ordinary girl.
Ignoring the bewildered protests of her younger sister, the Hyuga heiress hastily ran out the door, her hand lifting the hem of her restrictive kimono to allow more leg movement. The early morning held a cold but comforting solitude, and all that filled her ears were the heavy clip-clops of her geta.
She was a dignified young woman who carried the weight of responsibility as the head of the Hyuga, coming unexpectedly into the role with much graceful strength and quiet determination and surprising those who had thought her unfit to fill the role. With short ivory black hair and a reserved silvery gaze, her exquisite beauty was a wintry contrast to Haruno Sakura's vibrant visage. And in character, unlike Sakura's penchant for fury, Hinata was mostly passive. However, that did not mean she was gullible in any way, for her keen sense of perception and intellect made her powerful among the leading kunoichi in Konoha. There were many young suitors who set their eyes on her, admirers who watched her every step with wistful thinking. Yet she held no interest in them. After much argument on her marriage prospects, her parents relented to her desire to wed freely and without ulterior motives. Thus, the person she wanted to be with the most ended up to be the most improbable person, and the most obvious to those who knew her well.
Even when she had known her chances were scarce, as he already had someone else to love.
But could she forget? Could her love subside to nothing more than a memory? She did not know, but the feeling for him in her heart was so overwhelming that at times she could not breathe at all, exhilarating and excruciating at the same time. This love was too deep in her to fade away because he gave her a reason, the strength of courage people praised her for, to bear her responsibilities, her power, and most of all, her life. He was everything she loved, and had wanted to be until now. And if she was asked the one thing she would always remember about Naruto, she would answer: his eyes. It was those eyes she had fell willingly in, the flames of blue that licked at her, sometimes warm and sometimes burning hot.
Cursing the constraints of her dress, she raced up the hill until the departing group appeared in the distance. She recognized the shock of blond hair among the dark-clothed anbu, and felt her heart pound when he turned to her direction. His eyes brightened considerably at her appearance and he jumped up and down, waving at her like the ecstatic twelve-year-old he once was.
"Hey Hinata! You came!" An expression of relief crossed her face; she made it in time.
"Naruto-kun!" She pushed herself to run faster, but she tripped over her clumsy wooden geta. Her eyes wide, she let out a yelp and her arms flailed, but Naruto came forward and caught her to keep her from falling. With his broad hands on her thin arms to steady her, he let out a good-natured chuckle at her flushed face.
Be come and collide in me
"You're graceful," he teased.
"T-thank you," stammered Hinata.
"I'm glad you came to see us off. Thank you for coming."
Smiling shakily back at his sincere words, she replied, "Since when did you become so considerate, Naruto-kun?"
He gave her a startled glance before he burst into laughter. "Since I've become Hokage; since I've met you," he shook his head, grinning, before he paused to watch a tide of crimson rush over her cheeks. "You know, Hinata, you look awfully cute when you're so red."
"I was just…caught off guard." Smiling timidly again, she averted her pale eyes to the floor in embarrassment; Naruto never ceased to make her blush with his simple compliments in the most unexpected circumstances.
Zoom in, enhance
Puzzled, he cocked his head at her before turning to survey his beloved home with a grin. "Well, we'll be leaving soon. After being trapped in there for so long, I won't be missing Konoha for a while."
"Are you sure the trip will be safe?" she asked, biting her lip.
"It's still too early to worry," he patted her shoulder reassuringly. "Besides, you're talking about the Hokage here! There's still a long way to go before I'll turn old."
"Lord Hokage," an anbu ninja interrupted, bowing promptly. "We are ready to depart."
Nodding, he turned back to Hinata, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"I'll be fine, don't worry so much. You've got a clan to handle. And if anything does go wrong, I'm relying on you and rest of the village to be able to handle it without me."
His brow furrowed slightly at the odd expression on her face. "What's wrong?"
Pushing away doubts and anxieties, she daringly stood up on tiptoe (he grew very tall!) to circle her arms around his neck, pulling him close to her. While Naruto was rendered speechless for those few precious moments, she relished the smell of him. It was a smell of the sweetest pinewood and the greenest leaves…
While I go helplessly
"Be—be careful, Naruto-kun," she whispered before letting go. "Farewell, and have a safe journey."
For a moment, his cerulean eyes were gentle to her affection, but it was soon replaced by his virtuous determination.
She smiled. Indeed, she loved his eyes best of all... "I will wait for you…always."
His cheeks turned a faint shade of red, and he rubbed the back of his head modestly.
The ninja dropped down to his hunches before giving his feet an extra push of chakra to propel him high into the air. He landed on a far tree, stumbling a little in his panic, and continued to flee on the thick branch tops. He threw all shinobi protocol and wits away and ran with the bestial instinct of a wretch running for his life. His breaths came out ragged and slivers of sweat slid down his scarred face, where a fresh wound ran diagonal across his petrified expression. It came from a kunai that aimed to kill him in one sure slash, but thanks to his admirable reflexes had his hunter mask sliced in half instead.
However, he felt that he would have rather died swiftly than to be running, scared out of his mind.
But all of the sudden that…thing stopped its pursuit. For that split moment, he paused to look behind him, hoping in vain that the monster had given up on him. It only took that amount of time for the explosive force of chakra to materialize before him and catch him. When he turned back, he jumped back and clumsily slipped off the branch in his horror. Landing fifteen feet below, the impact great enough to break his spine, the hunter-nin realized the inevitability of his death. As the terrifying umbrage approached him, the ninja tried to shut his eyes, but his eyelids did not budge. His eyes remained wide open, inevitably caught by a spell in those demonic crimson eyes.
A scream wrecked the still air, and abruptly ceased when life's blood was shed.
"A weak prey," the predator's voice, scratchy and unused, spoke aloud. In the overbearing silence, the isolation of one who was feared, he sometimes needed to hear clear, coherent words when there was none; it kept him from falling deeper into the seas of insanity. Words were his only link to humanity, and of all things he had lost, he spared only that. His appearance was not even human. The white, almost translucent, color of his skin stressed the sable color of his hair and the startling red of his dispassionate eyes. To those on threshold of death, he was the infallible Death. In reality, Uchiha Sasuke was just a wasted wraith of a mere man.
The dagger was cleaned and quickly hidden underneath the folds of his shapeless black cloak that covered him from the neck down. He bent down over the dead body and pulled a scroll free from the leather straps of his uniform. Releasing the jutsu sealed in the scroll, the summoned vultures quickly swarmed around the carcass, traitorous to the hunter-nin they once served. As Sasuke walked away, he felt his body go stiff before a lightning jab of pain struck his chest and shook him. The prickling feeling, like having needles pressed into his skin, spread like fire through his senses, reminding him bitterly again that he was not a corpse yet. His body suffered spasms as the curse seal on his neck burned threateningly.
His hands convulsing, he groped around in his pocket for the small pouch of pills. A shaky sigh of relief escaped his chapped lips when he found the blasted bag and managed to grasp one round pill between his fingers. He pushed the drug into his mouth and weakly swallowed it. The side effects of the curse seal stopped as soon as it had come. In rare moments, Sasuke had asked himself whether or not it was necessary to have followed Orochimaru when he could have killed his brother without the ophidian sage. And in those times, he would not give himself an answer. Instead, he pushed on in his path.
Akatsuki had given him orders to track the Hokage down. It was long since he had seen this side of the continent and walked on the soil of Sound Country, for during the past decade he had been working in the northern Earth country until his partner was felled by a hunter-nin's blade. From Konoha, no doubt. No ninja outside of his former village could obstruct chakra channels with a finger and kill his competent partner so easily. But it made no difference whatsoever if he had once known that the man who carried that special ability. He did not care either at his partner's timely death. When years flew past like the kunai he threw, past acquaintances were as dead as those he impaled.
He abruptly stopped walking and dropped heavily to the floor, sprawled on his back. Besides violent tremors that came from the level two curse seal, he had unexpected bouts of extreme exhaustion that resulted from taking the pain relievers. He did not bother to move a single limb, even though he was in the middle of the road.
All he did was gaze at the sky. A never-ending night. But right now he was tired. Just tired.
After giving the area one last survey, Sakura leapt down from her guarding standpoint and with a curt nod, allowed the second anbu bodyguard to take over her shift. The traveling band had decided to rest for the night at the lake since they were far ahead of schedule, and had reached the border between Fire and Sound country three days earlier than planned. Crouching down, she opened up her bag and took out a sleeping roll, which she then laid across the floor. The day-shift guards have already gone to sleep, but she noticed that Naruto's bag was still unpacked. At the corner of her eye, she spotted the blond ninja reclining on a boulder near the rocky shores of the lake. She stood up as she rubbed her stiff neck, and decided to put off her sleep to see what he had been up to.
"Naruto, aren't you tired?" The chucked pebble shot towards her face and she caught it deftly with her left hand before it hit, an eyebrow raised.
"Looks like you aren't either," he quipped.
"Actually…" She seated herself comfortably on the boulder next to him. "I am tired. We already arranged a night shift. Why don't you go to sleep? Your boundless energy needs to come from somewhere."
He stuck his tongue out childishly. "Haven't you heard of my reputation for high stamina? I never get tired!"
"Is that why you used to come back from missions and sleep for days?" was her wry reply.
"But I dream! That doesn't count as sleeping."
"Oh really?" She glanced at him with interest. "What do you dream about then? You've already become Hokage…"
I must be dreaming or…
Naruto did not immediately answer. He enjoyed the quiet music of water splashing steadily against the rocks; in the bustling days of Konoha, he had missed this simple sound. The comfortable silence between them lasted for awhile because there was no need to be boisterous around Sakura, no need to force her attention on him like he had used to. They had been inseparable for twelve years since the massacre, and knew each other as well as the back of their hand.
Thoughtfully, he picked up a medium-sized pebble and threw it across the lake. The rock skipped on the water three times before it sunk underneath the rippling surface. Sakura smiled and mimicked his movement, except her pebble traveled one skip more.
We're onto something
Shooting her a frown, Naruto tried again and made five skips. They competed in a silent contest over whose rock could go the furthest, the little competition bringing back memories of their adolescence. During the time they were under Kakashi's tutelage, competitiveness had always defined the basis of Team Seven's teamwork, and they rivaled each other to even the simplest of games, such as this one. The only difference now was that the twenty-six-year-old Naruto had lost his childish inclination to shout or argue during the game. When they both tied at seven skips, they left it at that and settled down on the rock.
"Hmmm…" he murmured finally, crossing his arms behind his head. "I dream about many things…the past, the present, and even the future. But I especially dream about you."
Hey just whatcha make me for
Sakura leaned her head onto his shoulder and closed her eyes. "Naruto…"
A sigh. "I know, Sakura-chan… I try, I really do…but I can't help it. Since we were young, I've liked you. Since I've started to help you train, I was attracted to you. Since we've been together, I've loved you—in the past, in the present, and maybe in the future. It's something I can't explain. Even if I'm beginning to like her, this won't ever change…this feeling of wanting to protect you." He chuckled softly as he ruffled his hair, eerily white when struck by a moon ray.
I don't fall in love lawlessly
"Sometimes, I ask myself questions. Why couldn't I have been him? Why couldn't he just have stayed? Why and why and why? I've wondered if things could've been different. But nothing can change now…except, maybe time."
"Time?" she interjected quietly. "But wasn't it time that changed us—no, me? A span of twelve years has given me hatred and a hunter's mask. It has given me the you I see now. I, too, wondered if I didn't have to know or feel like this; and I've asked myself questions. Like…" She swallowed down the lump that formed in her throat and smiled dismally. "I must be really tired. Tell me more about what you dream about. We've never gotten the time till now to do this."
I must be dreaming or
"There are so many things to dream about that I can't name them all. I'll try though." He grasped her hand and she made no move to pull it away as she might have done years ago. His voice dropped to a quiet, slightly lethargic murmur. "I dreamed of a time to come when we won't ever have to be scared…or be alone. When life passes slowly and peacefully by…when I can just lay on the grass with Shikamaru, watching the clouds. When you are in the Academy, teaching students how to control their chakra…"
As Sakura listened, she gazed at the sky, lulled by the visions that he spun, of the fresh mornings, the lazy afternoons, and followed by the warm nights. Those were dreams she never had, but listening to Naruto gave her the guilty desire to see it come true.
"And most of all, I dream of the time when the three of us were together, doing missions under Kakashi's watchful…Icha Icha Paradise." Sakura laughed, remembering how their teacher was always reading his favorite book. "I dreamed of you, the prettiest girl I had ever seen. I dreamed of me, who dazzled everyone with my amazing feats of talent. And I dreamed of Sasuke, who—"
He did not anticipate her gasp of surprise and her hanging mouth.
"What?" he asked.
Her eyes were twinkling with mischief as she said nonchalantly, "Well, I shouldn't be surprised. I always thought you were bisexual."
His own mouth dropped open. "SAKURA-CHAN!"
"I don't mean it that way!"
She broke into an impish grin. "Well, from the way you two had always been glaring at each other, hating each other, it wasn't hard to assume…"
He hid his shamed face in his hand. "Ugh, don't…"
"He's always ignored the girls. They say arrogant bastards tend to be gay."
"If he had, then why…"
Her blood ran cold, and her hand tightened in his.
Pinch me to waking
"……Don't say it, Naruto."
"Why do you avoid this?"
The kunoichi pressed her face into his shoulder. "Do I have to tell you?" she whispered.
"Sakura-chan, I can't hide it from you. I've been having these dreams about the three of us…something tells me that very soon we will see him again. And I'm afraid about what will happen when we do…"
Her words turned icy as the water. "Don't fear, don't question the future. When I find him, I will kill him."
"No, don't say—"
"This is my duty—a promise I cannot fail to her. If I die by his hands, I'll make sure he comes down with me."
The blond Hokage shook his head desperately. "You weren't meant to die, Sakura-chan. She saved your life—she wanted you to live."
"I'm not the one in denial here." She sat up stiffly. "He wanted to kill me. I will not rest until he dies. He and I—we will never be who we used to be." Cold mirth seeped through her tone. "Only you, Naruto, only you will not change."
Hurt by her words, Naruto turned his head away as his voice fell flat and heavy with unrestrained emotion.
"No, you're wrong. I don't know what's going to happen when you're gone. Even though he's left us, I'm still glad that he is alive somewhere, that he was once apart of our lives. But if he dies, and you die too, I'll…I'll be alone again. You were the closest to a family I ever had, besides Iruka-sensei and Kakashi-sensei. That's why I can't lose you—I won't lose you."
So undeniably yours
The kunoichi nimbly jumped off the boulder and turned to him. Her eyes were aquamarine like the moonlit waters it reflected, yet unbreakable and gleaming like the ice she felt inside. Naruto looked down, his brows furrowed in dejection.
"I can't stop you, can I?" he said sadly.
"No…but…" She gazed across the lake. "Do you know what I dream about?"
She glanced back at him impassively. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
As long as I'm losing it so completely
Sasuke never got the dreamless sleep he desired. He was always haunted by dreams, nightmares, and visions—anything that appeared when his eyes closed. It was irritating to have to look into his subconscious, but as they were the only semblances of his thoughts and free-will, for he had no such thing when he was awake, he did not hate it.
But the images that encompassed him this time were different from the usual. They were memories, not the psychotic and twisted fantasies that came out of his disturbed mind and the wretched curse. Memories that had managed to trespass the psychological barrier of the seal and entrap his unwilling mind in the flow of reminiscence.
Leaves of deep green, struck golden by the morning light, fluttered around him, as if embracing him in a whirlwind of the summer color. He blinked, his eyelashes flicking away the raven bangs that hung over his forehead, obsidian eyes lost in the well of thought, almost unaware of the watching girl who stood behind him. As she pulled back thick coral locks of hair behind her ear, she opened her mouth as if to say something, but then decided against it and shut her mouth to wait for what he would say.
"All alone…" he murmured, mostly to himself. Granted, he and Naruto were two classes apart— he was the Uchiha prodigy and Naruto was the moron—but what Sakura had said about Naruto struck close to his own pain and solitude. This was a rare instance where Sasuke and Naruto were the same, and the raven-haired genin found himself defending the blond idiot.
Sakura found that she had lost all sense with the breeze; her dumbfounded expression would have been almost comical if the atmosphere had not suddenly felt cold and…forlorn.
"Huh?" she responded blankly.
"The sadness of having a parent yell at you is nowhere near what he feels…"
"What's this…all of a sudden…"
His eyes hardened into obsidian, his hands unconsciously clenching in contained fury. He understood fairly well where Sakura stood in life. Blessed with an ordinary family and an ordinary background, she would never feel what the two boys felt. Just like the rest of Konoha, she had no right to criticize them, who lacked what she had. She had no right to understand at all.
I can't take any more of yah
He pivoted around, startling her with his frigid glance. "You're…annoying."
The mid-afternoon breezes picked up again, and he gripped a nearby tree in futile resistance, but he was pulled into another image, another memory of a time when he was human. Meanwhile, outside his psyche, his body thrashed restlessly in the curse seal's rejection of the intruding visions, and beads of sweat trickled down his stricken face. He hated these memories, these utterly vile, unfathomable, awful memories he could never escape from. They made him emptier.
I'm losing it
It was another moment with Sakura, this time in the training fields during their survival test.
"There's a man that only I can kill…" His head hung low, weighed down by the responsibility given by his heritage, feeling those eyes of cursed ruby stare down on him with contempt and pity. Breaths came in and out, even and calm, reminding him in every moment, in every inhale and exhale, that he was alive for one reason.
"That time…crying…" The shame of surviving the massacre was a constant in his mind, especially when he had done absolutely nothing to have been kept alive...
…Except that he was the closest kin of the greatest Uchiha prodigy who had ever lived—and killed them all.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
The meddlesome question cut through the veil of dark remembrances and pushed him back into the reality of the situation. He straightened his posture with renewed alertness, limbering his muscles for a second fight with the grey-haired jounin. Anyhow, Sakura's suggestion to fail the survival test was not an option for the Uchiha survivor.
"I am an avenger," he told her. "I have to become stronger than that man. So I can't just stay around here."
I must be dreaming or we're onto something
The time currents that overtook him this time were much forceful than before, almost storming him from the memory to a cyclone of various recognizable flashbacks. He was not taken back by this; previous experience has made him almost expectant of what would happen next. While slideshow usually lasted no more than a few moments, he was very well aware of a certain importance that lied within these image-sparks of people and their lingering voices. But the exhaustion that followed after these visions had made it difficult for him to mull over them before they slipped away, like the teasing waves that swung forth and back on a rocky shore. What the importance was, he could never figure out. That was…until now.
Never forget. Never deny.
His inner self stiffened at the intrusion of a bodiless voice. The words glided past his ears, latched onto the autumn leaves of warm, soft red that waltzed around him in taunting circles and whirls.
Hey just whatcha make me for
What do you mean? he asked hesitantly, wondering if the unknown voice was an indication that he had gone completely insane.
The images of a very familiar blond ninja infused the screens of his mind.
"My dream is to surpass the Hokage! And then have all the people in this village acknowledge my existence!"
"Hey…you eyebrow-less freak…Put this in your notebook. The man who will one day become Hokage…Konoha ninja—Uzumaki Naruto!"
"I'm going to become a ninja in my own way!"
You heard him, whispered the turbulent winds, the faint words toneless and yet silky. He was memorized almost to the point of believing its unctuous words. You were among the first to acknowledge him. Why have you stopped listening?
No, he shook his head to repel the voice within the walls of his mind. I never listened. He was a fool!
The responding silence stretched thin across the overbearing shrills of the air currents. Then he came under another onslaught of words and images.
"You guys are the first. Everyone else would just do whatever I told them. They were all just morons. …A ninja must see underneath the underneath. Those who break the rules and codes of the ninja world are called trash. But you know what? Those who don't take care of their comrades are lower than trash."
"I won't let my comrades die."
"Because he was like me…Because he lived the same kind of loneliness and sadness I did…I thought he was strong 'cause he survived that solitude, fighting for only himself. But I was wrong. His strength isn't real… Strength doesn't come from fighting alone. Real strength is not what you have when you fight for only yourself. When you have something special that you want to protect, only then can you become truly strong! I'll protect them no matter what!"
"You should know from your loss… The Chidori is a power given to you because you've found things important to you. That power is not something to be used against your friends or for revenge. You yourself should know what that power should be used for."
You knew what they meant, said the voice, you knew how much it meant to you to protect the ones close to you. Where has your strength gone?
I don't fall in love lawlessly
He was unable to answer. Instead, more voices.
How about her?
"You and me, along with Naruto and Kakashi-sensei…We did all sorts of missions, just the four of us. It was painful and difficult at times, even with that though…I still enjoyed it."
One autumn day…
"I know all about your past, Sasuke. Even if you get revenge though, it won't bring anyone happiness, not even you Sasuke …nor me…"
She knew you.
"Do you really want to go back to being alone? You told me how painful it was to be alone! Right now, I know your pain…! I may have friends and family, but if you were to leave, to me…to me, I would be just as alone as you…"
She did everything for you.
"I—I love you with all my heart! I would do anything for you! Please, just stay with me…"
She fell for you.
I must be dreaming or
"You can't do it! I'll take you back with full force!"
He fell for her.
"I…I made a promise, Sasuke…a lifetime promise to her."
He did everything for her.
"…I don't understand. I—do I know you? Why? Why did you kill them, Sasuke? They didn't have to die!"
Yet you took away everything he gave her.
"But now, it doesn't matter anymore… Know this, that when we will meet again, I won't stop either, Sasuke-kun. No, now it's Uchiha Sasuke. I won't stop until I kill you."
And you threw away everything she gave you.
Pinch me to waking
No more! I can't take it anymore… No…
The haunted young man staggered under the inner burden, swiping madly at the offending leaves as if they would go away by doing so. Instead, the winds became a typhoon and the leaves spun faster and faster, closer and closer, until the razor sharp edges grated his skin.
Forced awake by the mental agony, he let loose a scream into the silent night, a howl that sent shivers down the spines of anyone and anything that heard it. He gripped his plagued head until bruises began to form under his fingers. There were no longer voices in his head. There was only a gamut of pictures that flickered across the theaters of his mind in a soundless movie: pictures of Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi.
So undeniably yours
Sasuke hated to ask himself why; he hated to ask any questions at all. He wanted vengeance, and got what he wanted. Now he was paying the consequences by working under his deceased brother's organization. Now he was paying for all those years he had wasted—he was paying for living. Why?
As long as I'm losing…I'm losing it
He curled into a semi-fetal position. Blood specked the floor, dripping from his pale mouth. His eyes wavered from obsidian to crimson, back and forth until he regained his chakra control back, setting them back once again into its hypnotic state. Shivering in the cold night air, he heard nothing else but his own haggard breathing. The familiar, welcoming burn of the curse spread throughout his body, sealing the fissures of his mental state with its black tar and readjusting his body back to its pseudo-normal state. The side effects of the pain relievers by now had completely worn off and he was able to sit up, albeit shakily. His breath got caught in his throat when he noticed the small dew drops soaking into the dirt. His trembling fingers touched the darkened spots; they were wet. He looked to the skies, checking to see if it had rained. But the night was as silent as ever. He looked down again.
I'm losing it in the end
There was no time to waste. He needed to hurry before the night faded into dawn, before anyone discovered his intentions and be harmed from them. It was best this way, especially when traveling in enemy territory.
Faster and faster his feet carried him from branch to branch, without stopping, without knowing where it went except forward. With his head pounding with adrenaline, he enjoyed the freedom he had not experienced in a long time, the familiar feelings of fear and exhilaration he had missed having.
Then something caught his eye as he passed.
It was small, hardly noticeable, but with the heightened senses of a ninja, he recognized it. The floating lone eye stared up at him unblinkingly, its brown irises tainted with specks of malevolent red that unsettled anyone who saw it. Within a split-second decision, he dove down from the branches and grabbed the eye with his hand before landing nimbly on the floor.
The eyeball in his hand became sand that sifted through his fingers and when his head shot up, he saw from a distance a silhouette in the vague and foggy morning, standing over a prone body.
"Still killing?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. He stepped closer, feeling the other man's measured gaze land on him. "Senbaku no Gaara."
When Sakura woke in the hours before dawn, it was to the sounds of metal clashing and the moans of pain that followed. The instinct of danger shot through her and her head swerved to the side to dodge the weapon, the kunai thrumming near her ear when it stabbed the wood. Growling, she jerked the kunai out of the tree trunk and slipped on her mask. The pink-haired ninja fell off the tree and quickly rolled when she hit the ground to soften the impact. Now fully awake and her heart beating wildly from the sudden exertion, she assumed the formless stance of a fighter, tense for battle and the kunai twirling in one hand.
She easily spotted the intruder among the blurred fighting, and let out a curse. The signature black mantle identified him as one of the notoriously lethal Akatsuki, but how could one man easily slaughter a whole team of anbu from Konoha? The only one standing against the Akatsuki member was the Hokage himself. Her fist clenched into a tight ball.
I'm losing it…
No more time to think. She sped forward, the stolen dagger raised above her head. Let the attacker die by his own weapon. The mission preceded everything, especially when it came to Naruto. As she charged, she reached for her back pouch and threw out several shuriken at the enemy. Even with the heavy cloak he wore, he dodged it almost lazily and jumped back to avoid her following kunai strike. She could not get a good look at his face; it was half covered by the collar of his mantle and the straw hat that curved over to shadow his eyes. Frowning at the anonymity, she came to the Hokage's side.
Naruto shot a glance at her. "Stay out of this!"
"I will not tolerate your indiscretion, Lord Hokage." Her voice, muffled through the mask, was clipped and toneless, as it was taught to be during training. "I can handle it."
"No, that's not what I mean," he roared as he dunked to evade an upper kick from the enemy. Taking advantage of the enemy's distraction as Naruto fought him, Sakura plunged her knife into his back. She caught a strange look on Naruto's face with a confused frown before the Akatsuki man dissipated into smoke. Her head snapped up just in time to see the real man falling through the air, brandishing a kunai before him. By sending waves of energy to their feet she and Naruto barely managed to leap out of his attack range. The enemy plummeted down into the earth, causing an explosion of dirt that left a huge crater in its wake.
"Why are you not using your Rasengan?" Sakura asked, noticing that he had been fighting hand-to-hand only. It was peculiar how he was not putting his acclaimed strength to use. The kunoichi made a long horizontal slash at the intruder, who stepped to the side to dodge it. "Now is not the time to be merciful!"
I'm losing it in the end…
"Because…" He looked away. "Because I can't."
She furrowed her brows. "What?"
"I can't believe how foolish Konoha has become," a coarse voice broke in, "to choose Naruto as Hokage."
I must be dreaming…
The tone of voice had certainly changed, rough and cacophonous, but she had known it well—too well. At one time, the deep bass would travel down her spine in a warm tingle, making her blush. But now it made her remember very clearly, images assaulting her in the most inopportune moment.
"You can't stop me, Sakura. Nothing will get in the way of my revenge, not even you, and not even Naruto."
She did not see the look of dread that crossed Naruto's face.
"I won't stop either, Sasuke-kun. No, now it's Uchiha Sasuke. I won't stop until I kill you."
I'm losing it in the end
The grip on the kunai was so tight that the skin of her knuckles stretched taut and white.
"I swear I won't cry anymore! I won't be helpless, I won't be weak! Give me insanity, please and I won't ask anything else!"
"Why are you hesitating?" he asked with cold amusement. "Aren't you going to protect your precious Hokage?"
"N-Naruto…will you train me?"
I must be dreaming
Uchiha Sasuke lunged forward to kill the unknown anbu, who stood stock-still. Scowling, Naruto intercepted the attack by parrying his kunai with his own.
"Stop it! Your opponent is me!"
Behind the collar of his cloak, a vicious smirk curved his thin lips. "Can you, you low-rate ninja? Can you kill me?"
Naruto's eyes darkened. "What?"
He did not anticipate the sudden lightning static that gathered in Sasuke's hand.
The Chidori struck the Hokage on the shoulder. Naruto's eyes widened; Sakura jerked awake from her trance. Soon the blond ninja was on his knees, holding his bleeding wound. He bit his lip enough to bleed to suppress any cry of pain, trying to keep his composure from writhing. Sasuke stepped forward, ready to send the Hokage into unconsciousness for his taking. He needed to report to Akatsuki as soon as he captured his prey.
But four shadow clones of the anbu stoically stood in his way, trembling in anger. Behind them, the real one was treating his target. "Don't you dare touch him," they spat out in unison.
The fight was on. The Akatsuki member flipped backward to dodge the shuriken that rained down from above, and then leapt forward to attack. Meanwhile, Naruto gazed up at Sakura with eyes narrowed, his consciousness wavering.
"What…what are you doing? I shouldn't be this tired…"
He could not see behind her mask. "To stop the bleeding, I'm going to put you into momentary death," she said. He opened his mouth to protest, but it never left his lips. He slumped over her shoulder. Careful not to push the needles further in, she embraced him before setting him down. For him, for herself, she must fight him, even if Naruto was the stronger, even if she would never win. Her surrender would only occur by death.
I must be dreaming
Sasuke had just finished the last of the clones when she stood up. His head jerked to the side as he promptly caught the kunai thrown at him.
"I'm going to use that kunai to kill you, but I'll let you hold onto it for now. Look closely; I'm not only an anbu." Needles slid out of the spaces between her fingers as she fell into stance. She had the upper hand; he knew not her identity.
"A hunter-nin…" he mused. "In a team of bodyguards…"
"You will die by my hand and no other, Uchiha Sasuke."
The winds…were beginning to pick up again.
So you ask: "WHY ARE THE CHARACTERS SO OOC!?" Believe me, everything will work out. ;) And no, Naruto is not weak. Out of the three, he is probably the strongest. Just stay with me, readers, until the end and you'll find out.
Well…how was it? =) Please review if you like it!