Hello! This is my… counts on fingers third Naruto fic! Sasuke-oriented. There are some instances where he may seem OOC, but hopefully, it isn't too obvious. Anyways, please review! Constructive criticism welcome!

Between the Shadow and the Soul

Prologue

She was a happy girl, but she always cried around him.

That time she thought he had been killed by the Mist Ninja and the first time the curse seal took him prisoner… Both instances, her eyes had rained sorrow. He had always thought of her as excessively cheerful so he had been surprised by the change sadness wrought in her. Back then, it hadn't seemed right.

But he hadn't been killed and he had fought off the curse seal so the sad Sakura faded away and she eventually returned to normal.

He thought he had seen the end of it.

But then came the night when he decided to leave and join the Sound Nin. He still remembered the sight of her, standing in the lonely street, trembling beneath the dark sky.

Nothing could've shaken his resolve that time. Not her tears, not her pleas, not even her declaration of love. The encounter with Itachi was still burned onto his mind and there was no room for anything else.

Love, he had thought, contempt masking the confusion, Why does she fool herself into loving me?

"You really are annoying," he had said at last.

But maybe some part of him acknowledged that her feelings were genuine, maybe some part didn't want her last memory of him to be tainted with cold, blunt remarks…

She was his teammate and they had been through quite a lot together. That had to carry some weight.

So he thanked her for everything and for nothing. Then as the tears slipped down her face and he could tell that her heart was shattering in her chest, he had walked away.

And that had been all.

Then chaos ensued and he was caught up Orochimaru's plans for destroying the Leaf, in the powerful ninja's struggles for reincarnation and for immortality… trapped in that never-ending vortex of revenge and hate and blood… and lost in the curse seal that was destroying his soul and eating him alive… lost until Naruto found him, beat the crap out of him, and carried him home…

Home…Konoha…It wasn't much and yet it was… Truly… He never thought he would actually see it again…

She didn't cry the day he came back.

When Naruto deposited him on the hospital bed and turned to her with a proud, weary grin, she had lunged to bury their blonde teammate in an embrace, saying over and over again, "Arigatou, Naruto… Arigatou…"

When her attention had focused on him, he had tensed in expectation of extreme anger or happiness. Either one would've been satisfying to witness, preferably the former than the latter as he had been feeling particularly guilty. But she had merely stared at him with those glad, green eyes and that relieved smile as if she had known all along that he would return.

"Welcome home, Sasuke-kun," she had said softly.

And that had been all.

She came to visit him once more after that.

"I want to give you something," she had said, pressing a flower into his hand. It was a sakura blossom, beautiful and in full bloom. At the time, he had wondered if it meant something for there was a new strength in her face that he had never noticed before. There was also a peculiar calmness in her movements and in her expression. He had studied her carefully and then had realized that, for once, she was restraining her emotions.

"Do you like it?"

He had muttered something and she had said lightly, "Well, I suppose it doesn't matter if you like it or not. I like it." And she had put an emphasis on the 'I'.

He hadn't known whether to be surprised or not. Sakura had always been bright. Had she figured out finally that he was never one for expressing feelings? Had she finally discovered that her silly crush was pointless?

"Kakashi-sensei told us that you'll be staying now that he's promised to train you up to Itachi's level."

"Aa," he had nodded, looking away in case his next words would cause her grief, "I don't know how much that'll help. He's probably lying. He's not as strong as Itachi. But he said I could leave once I became eighteen. With the permission of The Fifth Hokage. That way, I won't be a missing-nin and I won't cause trouble for the village." It was either that or death, but he didn't tell her that.

He had been bracing himself for her reaction so when she gently took his hand and squeezed it, his head turned against his will in surprise and he was taken back by the acceptance in her eyes. Unconsciously, he returned the action, relieved that she wasn't begging him to change his mind.

"Arigatou," she had said, "I know it's not easy for you to stay."

Then she had let go and walked to the doorway. Pausing, she had turned back with a wistful glance as if trying to memorize the sight of him. Then, in that same soft way in which she had welcomed home, she had told him, "I won't hold you back anymore."

At his open sigh of relief, her lips quirked up ironically and she had said, "But… in the future, please find happiness, Sasuke-kun."

And that had been all.

He couldn't have known that she was saying good-bye.

But at that moment, something ended between them. Perhaps it was her infatuation, her annoying habits of trying to get his attention and talking to him about irrelevant things, or maybe just the simple need to get close to him.

Yet, the ironic thing was… the moment she stopped trying to reach him, she touched him.

The following years were marked by a quiet friendship. After that visit, she never sought him out anymore. At least, not in the romantic sense. She stopped being Sakura, the girl who chased after him nonstop, and become just… Sakura, his teammate, his… friend. And along with Naruto, she was the closest thing he had to family.

She and Naruto began to take on missions while he continued to train under Kakashi. Sometimes, they went together but more oft than not, Naruto and Sakura would be out completing tasks while he learned and perfected techniques. Occasionally, though, the three of them would get together after long training sessions and have ramen at Naruto's urging.

It was almost odd. He didn't mind it that much anymore. Their company, that is. It was suddenly much more bearable when he no longer saw them as stumbling blocks. And they – mostly Sakura and Naruto – would share stories about their day while he dropped a comment here and there, one that usually sent Naruto into an indignant rage while Sakura laughed.

Suddenly, he wanted to hear it again. Her laugh. Suddenly, nothing in the world mattered as much. It would've been equally enough to just simply hear her voice. Or the way she said "Sasuke-kun" or "Naruto" as if they were important to her, whether she was talking or yelling at them…

Maybe it was all these memories that were holding him back from reality. They seemed so real and she had always been so animate and so warm… not like this emotionless, lifeless body before him. The truth didn't seem possible and yet it was.

They said it had been an ambush during a protection mission. She had been trying to save the target and the kunai had gotten her directly in the heart. They said she had died instantly without pain and in the line of duty. They wanted her name on that rock. That damn rock Kakashi's friend was on. They put her in the burial hut, they put her here on the outskirts of town, alone and waiting to sleep forever in the earth…

He dropped soundlessly to his knees, letting his fingers graze across her cheek. She looked so peaceful that he could imagine her opening her eyes and sitting up with her usual, sunny smile.

Her skin was cold.

Her lips, ummoving.

Her body, dead.

Sakura was dead.

Beside him, Naruto howled with grief.