Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto, et al. Not included in the et al. Wishing is useless. (And if it weren't, be very afraid.)

Hedging Dawn
(First of Many)

The house was dark. Nothing stirred within the whole complex, the neat and empty compound she had called home for nearly three years now. It had been only that long, but she felt like she had lived there for a long time, had established a sort of permanence among its walls, a claim and ownership of its secrets. But when she came home late that night, her huge empty house seemed to retract upon itself, seemed to emanate a sort of rejection, a jealousy that yielded nothing for her to embrace and seek much needed comfort from, refused to conjure memories of the past or dreams for the future, anything that could inspire hope. Her heart remained leaden in her chest, and only her pride kept her from turning back and running for sanctuary elsewhere.

Only very rarely was the main gate locked. There wasn't anybody who ever did enter, though the massive doors were left unbolted. Visitors usually stopped there and waited for her or her husband to come out and lead them in, perhaps, out of respect for what the place stood for: grief, tragedy, retribution...

Her husband. For a brief moment, her guts constricted and her breast imploded into a barely bearable density that crushed her lungs to stillness. She inhaled long and deep to relieve the pressure, and the early winter air quickly cooled her lungs and mind into a calm iciness.

She was not going to dwell on him tonight.

Her appetite for food deserted her yet again, so she by-passed the kitchen and tiredly made her way to their bedroom. When she opened the door, though it was pitch-black inside, she immediately knew she wasn't alone. Her throat dried up.

She guided herself to the bathroom using the silhouettes she was able to make out. As was her routine, she brushed her teeth, showered, and prepared to go to bed. There was no reason for her to change anything in her ways. Gliding again in the darkness, she slipped under the covers on her side of the bed, still silent. The other person in the room drew away from the window and walked to the bathroom. She watched the lights turn on and listened as the door slid shut and the water started running. Even through the lulling rhythm, she remained awake, alone with thoughts she couldn't coherently think through to completion.

A few minutes later, the door reopened. Confined by the parameters of the doorway, the flood of yellow light halted some feet away from where she lay, and she knew her face was as invisible as his was, that both of them could only see the other's outline. Then the light went out, and instead of feeling the mattress dip as she half-expected, she heard the bedroom door swing open and, a few moments later, shut.

The hollow sound it left made the air constrict, and she curled up protectively against the chill like an unborn child, the blanket and sheet tangled around her body. But she didn't have energy left to rage tonight, her eyes too dry and too tired to work its ducts, and she remained tearless and unmoving. Still, she couldn't sleep, so she stared at the wall nearest to her, almost able to make out the shape of the window and the vague shadows of the wind-stirred trees. Streetlights weren't popular in their area (her neighbors were ghosts so it was understandable) and it was always dark, so dark, at night.

She was still angry, angry with a dull sort of anger that hovered in the background of her every other thought and emotion. They had fought once or twice before, quarreled now and then, nothing very serious, nothing like this. When he didn't come home after the first night, her fury had ignited so hotly that only a single frustrated scream escaped her before she burned out and began to weep in this same dark silent room, huddled in a corner and quivering with the amalgamation of emotions and thoughts besieging her before dropping into fitful sleep—she spent the following nights the same way. And she learned to hate dawn, because at dawn her weakness did disappear but it was replaced by that implacable ire she struggled to control continually as she went through the motions of her day: the missions she had to accomplish, the patients she had to treat, the apprentice mednins she had to teach, the lessons she had to learn from her shishou. The world didn't stop moving just because she felt it was on the verge of falling apart.

When she realized a few moments ago that he had come home, more than a week after, she thought... well, she didn't think anything. Of course, now she realized that this house was his by right, hers only be extension. And that thought alone added another wound to her heart, and piteously it throbbed too near her throat; fleetingly, a curious image crossed her mind of her gagging on the fist-sized muscle, of her regurgitating it, of her watching its paced beats slowly dwindle down till they were reduced to impotent little twitches. She swallowed again and again, trying to wash the misplaced organ back down in place with her saliva, even though she knew the notion was ridiculous and it was her mind that screamed she hurt like hell in places that weren't even named.

She would have said before that life with him was simple, but that was ridiculously false because no relationship was just that unless it involved two neighboring cabbages sharing water, sunlight, and a patch of earth. It was simple and complicated at the same time, because human nature was that way-and people have always been annoyingly hard to quantify into words, anyway! He carried a considerable amount of baggage into their marriage; oh, she understood that. She adjusted for him, he adjusted for her. It was supposed to be that way.

Oh, and she understood all the explanations of why, why he acted this way or why he acted that. She was a mednin, a damn good one, and her training didn't stop at treating physical ailments, extensive jutsu damage, or poisonings. The most powerful genjutsu masters could be so insidious in their methods that sometimes a ninja simply ended up a vegetable or so disturbed and twisted that his/her entire psychology had to be explored and analyzed several generations back—heck, those were the hardest patients to deal with.

But still, she was an idiot. A unbelievably big idiot tonight for thinking—no, even considering the thought!— that Uchiha Sasuke would actually speak first. The man had his pride and he would be unrelentingly stubborn, most likely clutching on a rationale that he just knew was right and that she should know herself. He wasn't going to admit being at fault—why, to think of Uchiha Sasuke of being at fault for anything! Who the hell did she think she was?

The mattress suddenly dipped from behind her and she was startled out of her internal rants. She blinked both eyes once and swallowed hard. Why didn't she hear him coming back, she wordlessly demanded from the unlit table lamp beside her. What the hell was he trying to do? Incensed, her breathing quickened and her face, though hidden under an arm and the covers, hardened into a scowl.

He sat there on his side of the bed for a long time. He neither spoke nor moved, but she heard the regular pace of his breathing, and if she turned around, she would have seen his back shifting at each breath, and vaguely, perhaps, the muscles contracted tensely under the snug wife-beater he wore to bed.

Maybe he had been inside the room the whole time.

Yes, she remembered now. She had left the hamper outside the bedroom door the last time she did her laundry and had neglected to bring it in again. Her husband had always been religiously neat in his ways and it was just like him to notice where the hamper was and, as if to say, "You should be as neat and orderly as I am," actually go to it even in the middle of the night when he could have just bundled it up and left it at some inconspicuous corner of bathroom just to satisfy his obsessive-compulsive tendencies and just put it in the hamper the next day-kami-sama, he pissed her off so much!

She exhaled a scraggly sigh and calmed herself, focusing her mind's eye on a plain and, as yet, unchangeable fact seared on her brain: Uchiha Sasuke was not going to initiate this conversation.

And so, she spoke first.

"I hated you."

Her throat was hoarse and it made her sound like one of those pathetic down-trodden women in the evening soaps. She paused to clear her throat then turned to face him. "I hated you," she repeated flatly.

He nodded slowly in acknowledgment of her words but said nothing.

"You humiliated me in public," she listed, passionless. "You humiliated yourself. You hurt both of us repeatedly and spitefully."

They had both been assigned to an S-class mission; they were to stamp out the remnants of the long-dead Orochimaru's Sound nins. It wasn't going to be a pleasant job, but Sakura was ready and determined to see through to its completion. But before she could even accept the mission, Sasuke had disputed her inclusion in the team—in front of the whole council of strategists, ANBU captains, and the Godaime.

"As co-captain of the unit," he had said business-like, as if he were requesting the butcher to chop his side of beef into cubes. "I want a subordinate with a more appropriate field of expertise. Her experience isn't pertinent in this mission."

What? She had demanded silently then. For what kind of a mission was her experience not invaluable? If he was trying to protect her, well, he did that once in a while, but never clumsily. And never in a way that made her wish for the ground to swallow her.

"What makes her unqualified?" Tsunade had asked, her hazel eyes hard and probing.

"An extermination is no place for a mednin. We need weapons, not bandages."

"Unfortunately, Sasuke, weapons sometimes backfire. We don't want too much of our numbers exterminated."

She bristled at the incident for a while, but she let it slide. For some reason, she didn't get a chance to confront him about the exchange. What he did was uncalled for. What was wrong with speaking to her first? She wasn't unreasonable. If he asked her to stay home, would she have? Probably not. At least, they could have cleared the air, though, reached some sort of concession.

During the mission, he made her life hellish. The reinforcement positions and back-up posts were given to her, as if she were a newly instated jounin on her first important mission. He gave her assignments that required long, tedious labor like laying traps and using genjutsu that took a long time to prepare. Of course, he made sure to keep himself away from her. It drove her mad. She was along for him, the bullheaded bastard. The other ninjas sensed the tension between them, naturally, but very discreetly stayed out of their private business.

On the second series of their attack on the Sound village, she was distracted from a fight by the feel of the familiar and disconcerting force of the curse seal spiraling out of control. There were possibly other ninjas still bearing Orochimaru's seal, but she knew with a sick certainty that it was her husband. Terror made her sway on her feet for a fraction of a second, but she pushed away the faint her body brought on to try to help her deal with the shock.

So she decimated her way through the Sound ranks with her immense strength. Sure, she was ignoring her commanding officer's instructions, but as her husband, his orders were void. Carving her way into the innards of the dead Orochimaru's stronghold, she was greeted by the ghost of the Sannin's outcast, wreaking havoc. At one glance, she knew he was a breath away from the point of no return. Her instincts hit and she directed everything she had at stopping the final blow he was about to deliver the Sound's leader. The man escaped.

Sasuke had been furious.

Worse. He was furious, but not at her.

"Why the hell is she here?" he had hissed at nobody in particular.

"Because that blow would have been your death!" she had practically shrieked at him. "What are you doing, Sasuke?"

Sasuke had ignored her. "Watch her," he ordered his subordinates tersely, leaving to pursue his target once again.

"Damn it, Sasuke, I told you to stop." But he was well on his way. "Stop at this instant! I order you. I have the authority. Stop!"

And she was left behind to deal with the melee that poured into the room. The fight through the rabble took time, and before long, the mission had been completed.

Sasuke seemed fine to the others afterwards, even as they marched back to Konohagakure no Sato. Of course, she was more familiar to the progression of the curse seal, and knew she had to prepare, for the curse seal's effects were variable and largely unpredictable. To the others, she was the hysterical wife of Uchiha Sasuke; the mission truly was no place for poor compassionate Sakura-san, as Sasuke-san had warned the Godaime. Sasuke allowed such talk and continued to avoid her, when he knew very well there were measures that needed to be done to prevent the worst things from happening.

She had been watching him as closely as possible, simmering with both anger and worry. Even so, her exhaustion caught up with her and for a few brief moments, she closed her sandy eyes.

It happened then.

Roused by the startled cries of her comrades, she opened her eyes to the sight of him writhing in agony, convulsing with the erratic contractions of every dying muscle in his body. His eyes were rolled to the back of his head, the sharingan spinning underneath his lids. Power exuded from every pore of his body and filled the atmosphere with an overwhelming miasma.

It must have been a dramatic sight to the others. She had seen it before and her terror was speedily engulfed by an intractable sense of responsibility. She was by his side in a heartbeat, a series of actions already planned in her head, a barrage of commands already on her lips.

Even faster, he recoiled from her.

"Get her away from me!" he had roared, even through the spasms that racked him. The others stood gaping at the two of them. "That's an order!"

The fools did as they were told! Well, they were S-class and A-class fools. What could she do?

Well, she found out that evening. She was Sakura the mednin, the protege of the slug, the only one capable of controlling a curse seal at that stage. They had tried to restrain her, but she fought back. She was dangerous at that point and they all knew it. She wasn't simply going to sit back and watch her husband die.

Before she could take out more than half of her comrades, Sasuke did something she still couldn't believe he did.

The idyllic scene of twilight under the Konoha giants melted, replaced by a mass graveyard. The graves were shallow, the earth newly turned to accommodate the soon-to-be additions to its rich loaminess. She knew of the toil that was involved in such ceremonies; her finger nails were still ringed with dirt. Her sweat and a place in nature's bosom was all she could offer the last one hundred of her beloved village.

But now she readied to give the finest gift to lost Konohagakure no Sato: the demise of the bringer of chaos, the dark-destined child that destroyed the ninja village that birthed him.

She was strong and she knew it. The two of them were the last Konoha nins, the antithetical Mother and Father. In myths and legends, the Mother always came into existence first. It was fittingly symmetrical that she be the last now, the destroyer of the destroyer.

The fight was arduous and repetitive, a tiring cycle of shifting upperhands, but she kept on, fueled with the dead certainty that she would be the victor in the end. Though the end was slow to come, teasing in its piecewise revelation, it was disappointingly anticlimactic. Uchiha Sasuke died crudely and excruciatingly, staring into the cold eyes of Haruno Sakura as she twisted his heart in her hand. Grim and emotionless, she kept her pincer grip around the fist-size organ as its contractions decelerated, diminishing first to an impotent fluttering before sinking into a final stillness. Only then did she wrench her arm from where it was embedded in his still-warm thorax, only then did she allow his limp cadaver to meet with the dust it came from. His blood was still hot, oddly searing, when it spattered on her face, tickled her lips. Sharp and metallic, she did not find the taste unpleasant.

And she knew she could do it again. As coldly inexorable, as blankly remorseless, she could kill him again. She could slaughter him again and again. Again and again and again and again... However often the tsukiyomi made her do it.

Her skin still crawled at the memory of how he invaded her mind with such set deliberateness and tortured her in the world of the tsukiyomi for three days and three nights with the sight of his own demise. Of course, she was incapacitated—he knew her too well, damn him!-trapped in a world that did not exist, with a single blink. His most powerful attack in a single blink directed at her and effectively he got what he wanted. She was out cold while the others scrambled to save the Uchiha, had to send messengers to Konohagure no sato to summon the Godaime herself.

Sakura awakened a day later, faced by the immaculate ceiling of the Konoha Hospital. She was alone.

Furious, she had marched from her room with her bare feet and an untied hospital gown. She was coolly civil when she asked for his room number, coolly civil when she overruled the nurses' respectful requests for her to leave. He had asked for them to restrict visitors, did he? Well, he was going to hear several things from her, least of all about refusing to share a room with his own wife.

"Sasuke," she had calmly said as she shut the door behind her. "You owe me explanations."

He had stared at her balefully, his eyes bloodshot and ringed with dark circles.

"I know you didn't want me along in that mission—who knows why. But that was uncalled for." She inhaled raggedly. "Why?"

"You know why," he said quietly.

"I don't!" She wanted to strangle him. "Obviously, that's why I'm asking."

"It's exactly what it seems. You were a liability."

"What!"

"For your own good," he sneered. "That's why I did it."

"You bastard."

"Go back to you room," he said vaguely, not looking at her but out the window. "You're annoying me."

Sakura had stormed out the hospital, and in the revealing johnny coat, she tore through the obstacle courses in the training areas. He was unbelievable. He made a scene in a hospital she spent several hours a day in. He insulted her, made her look like the hysterical wife of dutiful Uchiha Sasuke. He used the tsukiyomi on her, an atrocity she could not even begin to digest, used all that he knew of her to twist her effectively into a mindless, gibbering weakling... but even worse than that, he dangled himself in the jaws of death simply out of some misplaced pride.

She was angry. Beyond words. But still she came home that night, expecting an explanation. Anything.

He didn't come home.

Remembering the feeling of the world collapsing around her... even now it made her want to lunge at the man beside her, be it to beat him to the ground in sheer blood-rage or to crush him to her breast so he knew he was hers and hopefully he would suffer from her grip even a little, just to make up for the amount of pain he never failed to inflict on her.

"I hated you so much," she said when he remained silent still.

Another nod.

"I've never hated anyone so much in my life."

He answered then. "Then you knew how I felt."

Sakura nodded once. She felt no triumph over his admission. She went on. "I was terrified at how much I hated you. It chilled me to my soul. That I could hate you so much, precisely because... because..."

"You love me."

The words clawed at her. She almost whimpered in hearing them issue from his lips, wavering and thrashing on the grief that crested at the realization of what she could have lost, what she could lose. But she nodded, nonetheless, and suddenly she understood what she wanted to say, determined to say it all.

"Anyway, it gave me a glimpse of your hatred for your brother," she said quickly. "I'm sorry for forgetting. What Orochimaru and his Sound nins were to you... it was something you had to do alone. I shouldn't have been so angry."

"You idiot," Sasuke muttered as he lay down beside her. "Why the hell are you apologizing?"

"I didn't say you weren't wrong. Only that... I could have responded differently."

Whether he agreed or not, he did not say.

"Even so, " she continued. "You must understand that I couldn't have allowed you to have gone without me. You know why."

He nodded. Then, they lapsed into silence.

"Why didn't you come home? That night?" She turned to him, curiosity getting the better of her.

"You were angry," he replied. "I didn't have anything to say."

"I see."

She turned back to face the wall. He wasn't going to leave tonight. She was contented with that. She would sleep.

"Good night then, Sasuke-kun."

"I was afraid."

Sakura twisted to look at him, chewing on her lower lip. "Sasuke—" No, she didn't want him to go on, but the only thing she would be able to do to stop him was cover his mouth and that would be a little too much, wouldn't it?

"I didn't expect you home."

"Oh."

A brief silence.

"Sakura."

"Yes?"

"I want to tell you why."

She was suddenly very afraid. "Tell me tomorrow."

"Now."

Too much. She was afraid of what he would say, afraid of her own anger coming back. And it was so new, their tentative reconciliation. She didn't want to test it. No. She shut her eyes against his words.

"I didn't want to touch our child with his power. I don't want the child tainted."

"What?" In spite of herself, she sat up and turned to frown at him. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've—"

She stopped. It made sense then, his refusal to have him near him. She was a liability— to himself.

"Do you know for certain?" he asked seriously. "As mednin, as mother... That the power of the curse seal wouldn't harm the life in your womb?"

She faltered. "I... I don't know."

"If possible, I don't even want to cast my shadow upon my children," he murmured.

Her chest throbbed. It hurt even to sigh. "Sasuke..."

"But the tsukiyomi..." He looked at her. "I have no excuses."

"Sasuke." She crawled to him and leaned her head against his back. "Whether you like it or not, you shall influence your children. They will be touched by your shadows."

"I won't—"

"Shh... But that's how they'd grow. The world will taint them, but so will we. At the same time, we will teach them how to deal with their own shadows. And they'll be just fine." She shook her head. "Listen to us thinking of them in plural when I've barely just conceived. This is our first. Believe it or not, I am just as scared as you are."

He chuckled against his pillow, his laughter rumbling and low.

"But we'll learn, Sasuke-kun. We'll learn."

"I certainly hope so. How many again, Sakura?" He turned to smirk at her.

"A whole new clan, Sasuke-kun," she answered primly as she settled herself back in bed. "Let's not get too excited, ne? Good night."

"Make-up s—?"

"Don't push your luck, dear."

"Kiss me then."

Sakura glared, then poked him vindictively.

Sasuke poked her back.

Sakura pouted. "I'll snuggle against you," she conceded.

"Good enough," he approved, pulling her close and burying his nose on her pink hair. "Good night."

But they didn't sleep. As rarely as it was, when Sasuke opened up, he did so rawly and the night was littered with hushed snippets of conversations.

For the tenth day in a row, Sakura wished for dawn not to hurry. This night, it was for an entirely different reason.

22:20 013006

This fic has been started in September 23, '05, for a 31days (an LJ community) theme, "To Aurora, not to hurry." Managed to put an ending to it early October, hated it, thought of how to fix it, decided to do it later, and abandoned it for a few months. Re-wrote it in January 06. Still not satisfied. But. Whatever.

Oh well. Simply not what I'm used to writing. Let's leave it at that, as I have ranted about this several times before. (It's Sasuke, it's Sasuke!)

And yes, I do realize that Sasuke may not get the Mangekyou sharingan in canon, much less use it the way his brother does, but still... Humor me?

01/31/2015 - I deleted a line, "It was... it was rape! Worse, than that." I've regretted that word for years. I know better now and have finally removed it.