Disclaimer: Being the property and creation of Kishimoto Masashi, the manga, anime, and name Naruto are not mine. I own none of the characters or their names mentioned in this story. All credit goes to Masashi, because without him this story would not exist.

Warning: As a courtesy, I'm reminding readers that this story is rated M. Chapters may contain intimate situations, blood and violence, swearing. but then that is to be expected with this rating, right?

Terms: otouto-little brother; Shi- death.

Chapter One: Haunting Memories; Ruled by Realities

He disliked emotion, not because he felt lightly, but because he felt deeply. John Buchan

Sasuke watched her from afar, watching as she flipped her pink hair through her fingers and talked animatedly with Hinata. If he strained every now and then he could make out her soft tinkling laughter.

He wanted her with a fierceness that was matched by nothing. It had taken a journey through hell to show him how much he loved her. Unfortunately it was too late then.

God his heart hurt.

Sasuke reached back rubbing the newest seal he'd been given. It sat right next to Orochimaru's. He was a prisoner again, had been for two years now. He'd accepted the seal and the loss of freedom that went along with it willingly, knowing that another would have control over his life again. He'd done it for her. He thought her worth any price to himself. Still did.

He fought the urge to laugh. What bitter irony that he fought death's call to return to her, killed the master of his cursed seal for the freedom to pursue her, and threw away his pride to confess his love of her only to have her refuse him.

He knew it had been awfully presumptuous of him to show up after six years and ask that she belong to him, but that's just what he'd done.

He'd had nothing, had lost everything, and he cared for nothing but her. The only reason he still breathed was to see her smiling face again. Through all his dark deeds he saw only her face.

As soon as he saw the nightmare he'd plunged himself into joining Orochimaru and killing Itachi he recalled her face, her voice, her touch. It was solely because of those memories he was even sane.

That day, two years ago, when he'd seen her for the first time in six years was a very vivid memory. Just one more incident among many that haunted him day and night.

She'd cried in his arms pleading with him to leave her alone. Her pleas had been so gut-wrenchingly heartfelt he couldn't refuse her.

"Please Sasuke. I'm begging you. Leave me alone. Please leave me alone. If you have any feelings for me at all you'll leave me alone." She had fallen to the floor, losing her strength to stand. Sitting at his feet she'd reached up and clutched his shirt with white knuckles absolutely sobbing.

She clung to him as if she never wanted to let him go. Yet that's just what she was going to do; only she didn't have the strength. She was inadvertently asking him to give her the strength to deny him. Hell, she wanted him to do it for her, push her away, deny her. He looked down at her. She was such a broken thing in his arms.

He'd done that. He'd broken her, left her, broke her heart. She still loved him, he could hear it in her voice, sense it in her cry, feel it in the way she hung from her grasp of his shirt.

He hated to see her this way, like her bright light for life went out. This wasn't his Sakura. If his letting her go would make her whole again, give her back her inner light; he'd do it. It would hurt like hell, but he'd do it, for her.

"Okay Sakura. Okay." His voice was a soft whisper more full of sorrow and disbelief than the soothing caress he'd meant it to be. He'd stroked her hair as she released a relieved breath. She was so afraid of being hurt. He loved her too much to deny her this request. He grabbed her fingers, prying them from his shirt. She'd cried harder, tightening her hold on him.

"No." She'd whispered viciously putting her arms around his waist, fighting him. He'd knelt before her then. Captured her eyes with his, "Sakura. Let go." Her arms slackened for a moment and he pushed her away. Quickly jumping back to put distance between them. He turned his back to her. "Go."

And she'd left.

That was the last time he'd spoken with her. He could still hear the door as it closed behind her retreating form. It was a soft click of the latch but to Sasuke it was a booming slam, one that replayed itself many times these past two years.

He owed her for all the hurt he'd caused her. It was slowly killing him day by day to not be with her, talk to her, hold her, anything. But he would keep his word to her. His pain was unimportant. Two years of watching her from afar hadn't diminished his want of her in the slightest though.

He took a deep breath gearing himself up for having to be in the same place as Sakura and pretend she didn't exist. Why he told Naruto and Neji he'd go with them to the teashop he had no idea, but he had and now they'd be expecting him. Perhaps he'd spar with them later. Kick their asses for putting him through this.

Sighing, Sasuke made his way down the street, dodging the stream of villagers that crowded his path.

Sakura watched from a teashop as Sasuke weaved his way down the busiest street in Konoha. He wore his Shi uniform, mask resting on his head, and he seemed to be in a hurry.

Absently sipping her tea, Sakura watched as the coal black uniform shifted with Sasuke's steps. It was beautifully tailored, not too snug or form fitting, but it hugged his body in very flattering ways, not that Sasuke needed extra flattering. He was gorgeous enough on his own, but she admired him in the outfit nonetheless.

Villagers jumped out of Sasuke's way when they saw him approach. Some jumped from surprised fright, they hadn't heard him approach, and some simply because he was of the Shi.

The Shi were both Konoha's pride and its dirty little secret. An elite branch of the ANBU, the Shi were assassins, gifted killers with no qualms about making quick decisions to kill. They wore nothing but solid black, their masks not the usual animals of the ANBU, but death skulls. They were only ever sent after the most dangerous of criminals, diplomat assassinations, or on the dirtiest of missions.

Oh yes, pretty little Konoha got its hands dirty, it just never admitted to it. When a Shi was sent on a mission, most likely someone was going to die.

"I wonder where Sasuke's off to in such a hurry?" Hinata inquired, her voice breaking Sakura's reverie.

Sakura shrugged. It wasn't supposed to matter to her anymore where Sasuke went. It was near two years ago she told him to stay away from her. She had pleaded with him to not be friends with her, to talk to her, anything. She wanted to forget him, needed to forget him, for sanity's sake.

Sakura winced, remembering her last time with Sasuke, when she'd told him to leave her alone. Everything from that day was so vivid in her memory, the sounds, the smells, him.

His arms had felt so good around her. She'd wanted to melt into him, let him hold her for the first time in her entire life. The very thing she'd wished with all her heart for was finally hers for the taking, and she'd been too terrified to grab it and run.

Sakura closed her eyes remembering how great he'd smelled. His words that day filled her mind.

'I lived only for you. Out there away from you I'd wished for death a thousand times. Woke up countless mornings hoping it would be the last, but then I would think of you and I would go on another day. It was always you calling me back, asking me to come home.'

His words had shocked her. The Sasuke she knew never would have said such things, and yet he did. She couldn't help but wonder what had happened to change him so dramatically. What kind of horrible things had he experienced?

'After the hellish things I've done, after the horrible things I've seen and experienced I'd have gladly died. But I heard your voice calling to me. It was your face I saw in the darkest parts of my life. Your arms I felt around me when I thought myself utterly lost from humanity.' He paused for a moment, his once stoic eyes filled with longing and pain. His words were beautiful and his voice sincere.

Sakura shook her head, chasing the memory off. God she wished that memory could be burned from her forever. It was so painful to remember. She continued to watch the dark haired ninja's progress. 'Was that Naruto?'

Sakura watched in near horror as Naruto joined Sasuke, and the two of them began making their way toward her and Hinata. 'Dammit.' Sakura silently cursed, hoping she'd turn invisible before her ex-teammates noticed her.

"Good afternoon." The speaker spoke softly, but Sakura near jumped out of her skin.

"Kakashi! Damn you. You scared the shit out of me!" Sakura yelled, knowing full well her former sensei had snuck up on her purposely. Hinata giggled, and Kakashi smiled devilishly, at least his visible eye did. He loved getting Sakura's ire up. It was so, entertaining.

Kakashi had seen how distracted she was, knew it would be easy to surprise her, and he couldn't resist. Besides, he knew why Sakura was distracted, and he wasn't about to leave her to face the object of her preoccupation alone.

He'd seen her watching the Uchiha and Naruto, knew of her wish to avoid her former teammate, and was silently glad she dreaded seeing the dark haired genius. She was his now, not the brooding Uchiha's, though no one but he and Sakura knew.

Kakashi silently feared Sasuke. His ex-student was the only thing that could threaten his relationship with Sakura. He should have felt confident in their love, they'd been together for three years, but for some reason the Uchiha made him nervous.

Sakura relented in her anger of the silver haired jounin, smiled and invited him to sit. He gladly accepted. She could never stay mad at him long. She was in love with him. She tried to keep her smile one of friendship, as did he, not wanting Hinata to see the affection in their eyes.

Sakura wanted to keep her relationship with Kakashi a secret. She didn't want anyone to know about her and the handsome jounin. Why she couldn't say; she didn't know the reasons herself. It just didn't feel right. She felt as though she were breaking some law or something being with him.

He didn't seem to mind her request for anonymity too much. He never said much, but she knew he wondered why. He questioned her on it enough times. His arguments on why their relationship wasn't wrong played through her head. 'She was twenty-two; he was thirty-six. They were mature adults, no longer student and sensei, no longer of the same team, both jounin.' All his reasons were true and they made sense. 'So why does it feel so wrong?'

And her relationship with Kakashi did feel wrong. She couldn't help but feel something was missing, but when she tried to figure out what that something was she came up blank. Kakashi was kind, attractive, and nice, if a bit of a pervert. He was everything she could want.

Sakura could find no flaw with him, no fault with the way he treated her, no fault with the way he looked, no fault with the way he kissed her. Everything seemed so, perfect. And yet so damned, wrong.

A hip brushed her shoulder, and she looked up to see Naruto's smiling face. Sasuke silently nodded to Hinata and Kakashi, mumbled something to Naruto Sakura couldn't quite make out, and made his way to the counter. Hyuuga Neji, who was also wearing the uniform of the Shi, followed closely behind him. He nodded a quick silent greeting to all at the table before joining the Uchiha at the ordering counter.

Sakura watched the two dark haired men a moment, seeing them talk and laugh companionably. It was a strange sight. They were both usually so serious, so dark, so aloof, so, quiet. It was strange to see them act so, normal.

She noticed it was only when Sasuke and Neji were together that they acted so normal and relaxed. Their posture and aloof guarded nature seemed to slacken a bit. They even tended to smile at others when they were together.

Something had happened between the two during their absence from Konoha those six years, but she didn't think anyone but they knew what.

Naruto whipped a chair around to straddle its back, and sit at the table. "Hey Sasuke bastard!" He yelled out loudly yet jovially, waving his fist in the air. "Don't forget my order!"

Sasuke dismissed Naruto with a wave and went back to talking with Neji. Those two were the only Shi members Sakura knew of. It was a new branch added to ANBU after the two dark-haired ninja returned to Konoha. It seemed created just for them.

Rumor spread that the Shi was created as a type of parole for ninja that broke Konoha's trust, some sort of penance for their wrongs against the Leaf. The logic was let them sully their hands with the dirtiest, most dangerous, and bloodiest of the missions, and not denigrate the hands of ninja like Naruto who'd always been loyal and good to Konoha. How true that was Sakura didn't know. Everyone was so tight-lipped about the whole thing.

Naruto studied his pink haired friend a moment, noticed her tenseness. It didn't take a genius to figure out what was distressing her. "Don't worry Sakura-chan, we won't sit here. I just wanted to say hello." He glanced warmly at Hinata. 'God but she was pretty.' He smiled warmly at her. "You look lovely today Hinata-chan." She blushed sweetly, and he smiled wider before moving away to join Sasuke and Neji.

He'd only just begun dating Hinata, and already he was falling deeply for her. She was just so, special and sweet. And pretty. He was smitten with her.

Kakashi watched as Sakura listened half-heartedly to the conversation they were having. She was twirling a piece of hair around her finger, periodically glancing at Sasuke's table. He kept telling himself it was just nervousness, that she was with him, loved him, that Sasuke was old news, but part of him feared he was wrong. He saw her tense, and he turned to see what had caused her reaction.

Ino had joined the group, sitting very close to Sasuke. She turned and smiled amiably at Sakura, as if her sitting by Sasuke was nothing but natural, 'maybe it is,' then turned her attention back to the dark-haired man.

Sakura was trying her hardest to ignore the other table, but they seemed to be having so much fun. It was impossible to drown out their loud laughs, and Ino's close proximity to Sasuke. She may not want anything to do with Sasuke, but she didn't exactly want anyone else to either.

Willing herself to look away, Sakura immersed herself in her beautiful silver-haired jounin's story, and Hinata's soft laughs and gasps at the appropriate places. Kakashi was a wonderful storyteller. She loved to listen to him. She became so enthralled with his tale of a mission long gone that she never noticed Naruto and the others leave.

Finishing his story and wiping mirthful tears from his eye, Kakashi took his leave of the women. "I have to go see Tsunade-sama about my mission tomorrow." He stated simply, making poignant eye contact with Sakura. She understood. 'Meet later at his place.'

"Well Sakura. I'd better go too. I promised Naruto I'd cook dinner for us tonight. I need to go shopping and clean the place up a bit before he comes over." Sakura nodded; Hinata smiled and shook her head. "I don't understand you Sakura. Why don't you just talk to him already."

Sakura gave her friend a frown. "I don't know who you're talking about." She stated rather petulantly, knowing full well whom Hinata was referring to.

"Okay Sakura. I'll keep playing your game, and I'm sure Naruto will too. But for goodness sake, if you don't want Sasuke then why don't you at least humor Lee or something." Hinata waved her hand. "You claim you want nothing to do with him, but you can't keep your eyes off him and you turn down every guy that asks you out. What's going on with you?"

'Geesh. She sure has gotten a lot bolder since dating Naruto.' Sakura could still remember the timid Hyuuga girl that used to practically pass out at the mention of Naruto's name, let alone actually confront someone. She certainly had changed.

"How do you know I'm not pining away for someone else?" Sakura asked.

"Two things Sakura. One, you're with me all the time. Two, your eyes are always on Sasuke. I thought you'd burst a blood vessel when Ino sidled up to him today."

Sakura opened her mouth for a snippy retort, but shut it just as quickly realizing she really didn't know what to say without sounding like a petulant child. Had she really been watching Sasuke so often and so obviously? According to Hinata she had.

Hinata gave her a knowing smirk before turning to leave. The dark haired girl had the audacity to look amused.

Scowling, Sakura rose from the table and began her walk home. She only half paid attention to where she was going, her mind was on Hinata's words. 'Your eyes are always on Sasuke.'

'Are they?' She hadn't thought she watched Sasuke that often, not enough to draw attention to herself anyway. She hardly ever saw him, so how could Hinata say something like that?

Besides, he was nice to look at. Couldn't she enjoy looking at a handsome man without everyone thinking she was pining away for him? Anyway, she had a man. She didn't need another.

Putting a bounce in her step, and a smile on her face she hurried her steps to her apartment. She was going to spend tonight with Kakashi. She was near skipping like a gleeful child at the thought of being alone with him.

Unbidden, a blush covered her face as her mind recalled the last several nights she'd spent with the silver-haired jounin, alone. 'Honestly Sakura.' Three years of dating him, the last year and a half of which were intimate, and she still blushed like a schoolgirl.

"I noticed you rubbing at your neck again." Ino commented.

Sasuke could hear the question in her voice, but he didn't answer her. She probably hadn't expected one anyway. He never answered her questions about the new seal. He was forbidden to.

"You were wincing like it hurt you or something." She hesitantly prodded on as she strolled along beside him.

At her reminder he absently rubbed the area over the seal. It had been burning something fierce back at the teahouse. He'd tried to ignore it but it had gotten pretty painful. As fast as the pain had come though it had stopped. He only tried soothing it now out of memory.

He'd have to see that bitch Tsunade and find out what the hell was going on with it. She was the one that insisted he have it.

'I wonder if Neji's was burning too?' He thought as he lost his mind to the day they'd received the mark.

He could still hear Neji's pained screams as he was given the seal. God he'd hated that Neji was punished for being a good friend to him.

It was funny. Once they might have been described as enemies, well perhaps not quite enemies but definitely not friends, but now they were beyond best friends, beyond brothers. Both would gladly die for the other without regret or hesitation.

He'd tried to stick up for Neji's supposed betrayal of Konoha, tried to explain why the Hyuuga had done what he did, but it was impossible to put into words the nightmares he and Neji had been through.

Can anyone truly understand the bond you share with someone when you've went through hell together? When intimate moments like seeing them at their absolute worst and them seeing you at yours have been shared is there anything more to say? To learn? How can you explain something like that?

Sasuke had tried to tell their tale, tried to make Tsunade understand, but in the end she was unswayed and Neji received the seal same as he did.

"Sasuke?" His eyes looked so far away and he was so quiet Ino had to wonder if he'd forgotten she was with him.

He turned and smiled at her. She was a very attractive woman, and she had a good heart. Any man would be lucky to have her.

"My place?" He asked. She nodded.

She really hadn't expected an answer.

Author's Note: There are bound to be questions, so ask away. However there are purposely many things left unexplained in this first chapter. There are going to be many future chapters, so if something is not fully explained here it is most likely because I have it planned for another chapter. If something seems out of place or not quite right it's very possible I'm going to justify it throughout the story or at a later date. So that means if I can answer a question I will, but if I don't it's because it's not time for you to know yet.