A note to all confused souls - Sakura is the narrator, and she is talking about herself (no, inner Sakura does not exist in this story).
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
You Used to Watch His Back
Silence speaks better than words. That is the way it has always been between you and he. If you speak, you would be ignored; if he speaks, he would be unforgiving. Ever since Naruto left, the battle proceeded in complete silence.
Silence, except for the pouring rain.
Silence, except for heavy breaths that escape your lips.
Neither of you says anything. He stands with his hands in the snake seal, it is probably the second last seal to his jutsu. You know from the order of the seals he used that this will be an offensive attack. His first offensive attack against you today. Before this, for reasons beyond your grasp, he had only defended. Will this be his strongest jutsu, something created to kill? Did he suddenly find you worthy to attack? Or did he wanted to end this battle because he was losing his patience? Or was it because he, like you, was getting tired of fighting?
Probably, possibly, perhaps.
Opposite to him, you stand with a ball of deadly chakra between your palms, ready at your command. You are at your limits, but you know he must be close to his too. In the last exchange he tripped once. Only fatigue can cease his impeccable agility. The tension is neck breaking. It is the end. One movement in your surrounding is all it takes to send you into action. One of you will fall when the tension breaks, and it will probably be you. But in the mean time…
In the mean time, time moves at a painfully slow speed. You find yourself staring into his eyes, his red eyes, his cursed eyes. There you can see your bloody twins, one in each of his orb. They stare back at you, almost mesmerizing. You feel sleepy. You wonder if that is induced by his Sharingans. It may be. His eyes have three tear drops now, like Kakashi's, one more drop than when you last saw them three years ago.
It can be mere exhaustion. That is a possibility. The fight is long. Girls have lower chakra capacity than boys, Tsunade told you once. The human body shuts down before complete chakra drain; it is a self defence mechanism.
A stoic smile plays on your lips. Either way, you cannot afford to fall. You must stay awake.
Awake. What an absurd, ridiculous state. None of what happened in the past few hours seemed any more real than your reoccurring dreams. Yes, you have been dreaming about him. Every night you meet him in a different scenario, a new setting, a new situation, but death always awaits in the end.
In some nights you would see him lying on the ground, life juice slowly flowing out of his pierced chest. In other nights you would see him standing above you, watching you with his emotionless red eyes while your vision dimmed.
What makes this any different?
But of course this is different. If you fall in this dream, you will not find yourself in your cold bed the next morning. That is why you must keep your mind active. Keep thinking. But don't think about your aching legs, your weary arms, or sore neck. It is tempting to lie down and sleep forever, but of course you will not dwell on that.
So what can you think about? The future is too treacherous a road for you to imagine. You do not want to think, you are too scared to think, about what may happen in the next second, or minute, or hour. The consequences to actions you may or may not take give too many uncertainties. You always have a fear for uncertainties.
'All thoughts can be categorized into three groups: the past, the present, and the future,' according to a book you read when you were a child during one of your daily library sessions.
So, really, you only have one choice.
This morning you came with Naruto, Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya to find Sasuke engaged in battle with Orochimaru. You left Leaf with a much larger party, but one by one, members were left behind to fight off pestering enemies.
One of them was Kakashi-sensei.
Another was Hinata.
It was her scream that echoed through the air.
You saw the anxiety on Naruto's face when he heard the familiar scream, the way his blue eyes darted left and right as an inner battle raged on in his mind. Duty told him he must stay to fight Sasuke with you, but his heart told him to leave and fight the vile fiend that had harmed that girl. His inability to concentrate cost him a punch, then a kick and then another kick from Sasuke. When you barely managed to push him away from a second punch, you knew keeping Naruto here was completely pointless.
"Go to her, Naruto," you commanded, you healed his wounds while dragging him a fair distance away from Sasuke.
"I can't. I can't break my promise."
Naruto: so kind and understanding but still an idiot.
"She needs you more, damn it! You will never forgive yourself if she ends up hurt because you do not go to her now!"
"Just go! I will take care of Sasuke." When he did not look too convince you added, "You are welcome to come back and finish him off after you save her ass, Naruto."
That took enough guilt off his shoulder for him to agree. You shooed him away. He nodded, giving you one last reluctant look he disappeared into the forest.
It was quiet. Too quiet.
"The Hyuuga Heiress? I thought he would never figure that out."
His voice startled you. You cursed yourself for not noticing his presence as you instinctively jumped back a few steps. When you frantically turned to face him, you found him with his trait-marked smirk on his face, exceedingly amused. It was then you realized he was standing in the shadow for a long time.
"Why didn't you attack?" you asked through gritted teeth, kunais in hands.
"My fight is not with you," he replied simply. Once again there was that arrogant, mocking smirk. As he stood casually with crossed arms, his eyes turned black.
You glowered. "You better make it to be. If you don't, you will die." You answered in as dangerous a voice as you could manage.
The decisiveness of his reply took you by surprise. For a moment you stared, taken aback.
Then, the words sank in. Anger surged.
"Don't look down at me because I am a girl!" you yelled although you knew, without knowing the actual reason, that being a girl had nothing to do with his actions. Your words were a defence mechanism, a distraction, something to keep you from pondering on his reasons, something to suppress any dangerous hope that you naturally possess.
You lashed out without a second thought. Your fist connected to his unsuspecting chest, he flew across the field.
For the first time in history, Sasuke Uchiha was dumbfounded by your action. You, Sakura! You felt strange pride coursed through your veins. You watched with morbid satisfaction as Sasuke pushed himself up off the ground. With the same slowness, he wiped away the trickle of blood that had leaked out of his pale lips with the back of his hand. His dark haired obscured his eyes the whole time. "You trained."
"Everyday for the last three years."
"Ah." He smiled, you thought it looked sad. Or regretful. Or both. But that was impossible.
"I am a Jounin now, like Naruto."
He did not reply, but you knew he finally understood, perhaps not completely, but at least enough. When you finally saw his eyes again,they were red.
"He is even more handsome than he was before, isn't he?" Tsunade mumbled into your ear the moment she was sure you had a good look at him. She was right of course, but you kept your face inscrutable and refused to answer. It was her last effort to convince you to stay behind, you knew.
She thought you were too emotionally attached to him for this mission. "And Naruto is not?" you retorted when she expressed her concern. "Naruto is better at controlling his emotion," she replied as if that was the most obviousfact in the world. How could she possibly consider depriving you of the sole purpose for your life in the last three years? You almost snapped, but you held back. Instead, you looked at her evenly. "I am going," you said, "I will not be left behind again."
The next day she signed the permit. Tsunade understood, as always.
As blasphemous as it may sound at times you love her more than you love your mother.
"That kid is holding up quite well, remarkable even for an Uchiha," she observed upon initial arrival.
"He is the brother of genius Itachi, do you expect any less?" Jiraiya retorted, a rhetorical question, since they all knew they should not.
You deduced from the few chilling words spurted from Orochimaru's angry lips that earlier in the day he attempted to over take the Uchiha heir. His frustrated eyes told you he was unprepared for failure. Absolutely pitiful. Orochimaru is an old fool, Tsunade said to you once during one of her reminiscing moments. You could not agree with her more. Did he expect Sasuke to give up his body quietly? Or did he fail to see how much his pupil had matured in power?
Either assertion would prove him to be extremely silly.
A silent agreement passed between Tsunade and Jiraiya, they were going in. Neither could risk Orochimaru gaining the Sharingan, and neither could allow the fight to continue uninterrupted. You watched as the two legendaries prepared for battle, at first distantly because you fully expected their decision, then you watched with apprehension as heavy as lead.
Intuition is a funny thing.
For the first time since the beginning of the mission you felt uneasy. You felt fear. Before you could stop yourself, you grabbed her hand. "Tsunade-sama, don't go," you begged, "Something is not right."
"What is not right?" she asked, startled by your remark. You could not answer her, when you tried to repeat your plead it came out as a stifled sob. Instantly, she turned to you. "Sakura –" she stopped when she noticed the tears in your eyes.
Powerless. You felt powerless as she looked at you with her intense and melancholic eyes. "I have to go," she muttered and pulled you into a comforting hug, "Orochimaru cannot get the Sharingans."
"Let me go with you then, I can take care of healing for both of you," you suggested, although you knew that was impossible.
"You have more important things to worry about." She did not specified what but you knew she was talking about Naruto and Sasuke. "Remember the reason you came." Naruto and Jiraiya were standing behind you, but you could hardly feel their presence. "Live Sakura," Tsunade chocked. Suddenly, you realized she was crying like you.
Did she feel it too? That inexplicable sense of dread?
"Don't let history repeat itself. Don't worry about me." She pulled away abruptly. Whipping her tears away, she nodded at Jiraiya and was gone.
It would be moments after she left, when you realized you had no idea what she meant by history repeating itself. What history were you supposed to prevent? Was she talking about Sasuke's departure? The break up of Team 7 three years ago? Or was she talking about her own team? The death of the friendship once shared among the three Legendaries? Or…
Once, you walked passed the hero's memorial in the morning and you over heard Kakashi speaking to his dead friend. Obito, he said, if I died instead of you, would things turn out better?
Surely Tsunade knew about Kakashi's team. Was she telling you to stay alive and keep the others alive as well? Was that what she meant?
And a better question yet: why did she speak like she would never see you again?
You wanted to leap after her, but Naruto stopped you. His solemn eyes calmed your turbulent emotion. Your shoulders sagged, the invisible wall that had collapsed moments before quickly rebuilt itself. Anxiety left you. With Naruto's soothing hand on your shoulder, you watched the three Legendaries, disillusioned and frigid, exchange greetings. All three saw the full irony of their reunion.
Somehow, Jiraiya forced distance between Orochimaru and Sasuke. You could not clearly remember how, but you knew it was done. When the three summoned they were in the vast forest ahead, away from you. Away-
"Sakura," it was barely audible, almost a whisper, but you heard it. You turn your full attention back to the present.
Did your senses snapped from the tension? Did he really speak to you? You do not dare to hope.
But his voice pierces through the silence again. "Leave. I will not pursue." No mocking smirk, no arrogant tone, no deadly glare. Instead, there is a sort of gentleness in his voice that you cannot comprehend.
You stare at him, flabbergast. His Sharingans stares back, unreadable. You notice that he has undone the snake seal, and that his hands has fallen casually to his sides. He is determined not to attack, you realize. Is that an act of compassion? But no, that can never be, he is Sasuke Uchiha and –
Why? Yes, the question of all questions: Why?
"You may die," he answers your unspoken question.
What is it to him if you die by his hands? Will that not just mean one less pestering girl chasing after him? Why are his actions always so contradicting? Why is he always the one to put you in complete confusion? You can feel your calm exterior breaking, but somehow you hold your battle trance, somehow you still manage to make a last retort, "Not if my next attack hit."
"Is that right?" He gives you a long look, his eyes grow soft. The amused smirk returns to his face. "You are…"
He turns away. "Annoying."
You watch his back. It is the same back you saw three years ago.
There it is, that omniscient number: Three.
Oh what a magical number it is! Everything comes in threes. Three years since he left for Orochimaru. Three years since Naruto's journey with Jiraiya. Three years since your training with Tsunade. Three Legendaries: Orochimaru, Jiraiya, Tsunade. Three summons: snake, toad, slug. Three men team: Sasuke, Naruto, you. Three times Sasuke said his three words: you are annoying. Too many times, you said your three words: I love you.
Tears roll uncontrollably down your cheeks. You start laughing.
Tsunade was right. You really are bad at controlling your emotion.
"Don't leave!" you bellow. The familiarity of the situation makes your mind spin. Fate is definitely mocking you in her cruel and ironic way. You look at your hands and the chakra glowing between them. You will not let history repeat itself, this time you will be less pitiful than to threaten him with a scream. This time… "If you go, I will kill you."
His steps never falter. You know he heard you, you know he is only ignoring you the way he often does when you speak.
"I. Said. Don't. Go!" Your legs move without your command. Your frustration is overtaking you. How immature! How silly! How rash! But how unstoppable. Tears still rushing out of your eyes, you find yourself charging toward him with the killing chakra in hand at a speed you do not know you are capable of going. Closer, closer, closer –
His Sharingans spin, he moves just enough to avoid contact and catches your wrist. Suddenly, motion cease. You stand still and he stands still. Your tears stop, and the chakra in your hand fades into nothingness. His hand is cold, with his fingers enclose tightly around your wrist, you finally comprehend the extreme paleness of his skin, the product of three years living underground.
Silence, except for the pouring rain.
Silence, except for heavy breaths that escape your lips.
Then, a question. "Why are you so persistent?"
What answer can you possibly give to such a good question? You close your eyes.
Part One Ends.