Title: Promises
Chapter: Oneshot
Type: Fanfiction
Fandom: Naruto (by Masashi Kishimoto)
Character(s): Sai, Sakura, Naruto
Genre: General
Word Count: 1,000
Notes: Again, written on a whim. I wish I put more planning into these things.
Summary: Sai might understand a little.




She had always been a puzzle. But she was a puzzle he enjoyed trying to figure out. What made her happy and what made her sad – it was a never-ending cycle of guess and experiment. None of his friends were easy to sort out, not even Naruto, but he appreciated looking at them and pretending to understand. He dipped his paintbrush in the water, watching the ink bleed through the liquid like fresh blood in the bottom of the shower.

One of the things she liked the most, she told him once, was being strong, which she wasn't, but he didn't dare tell her that. Her latest obsession was being strong for Naruto – always Naruto, Naruto, Naruto – because of that terrible promise she had forced him to make. She liked to mask her pain with need. Naruto needed her help to retrieve Sasuke – Naruto needed her fists to shield him from the fate he'd been dealt. She had ignored Naruto's pain all this time, she said, and now it was her turn to do something for him. But that didn't make her hurt any less. He could see it in the way her eyebrows scrunched up and the way her eyes glistened when she hid her face behind books.

Naruto stayed close all the time, making her happy when he was there. It was the only time Sai saw her smile reach her eyes. It wasn't that false thing she showed him when they sat in the library for long hours at a time – she reading medical texts and he scanning psychological research. But Naruto was distant, too, in all the things that mattered – like grave concerns regarding enemy movements. For that, there was Sai, and though he felt that information regarding Akatsuki when it directly pertained to Naruto was best received by someone like himself, he could still feel Sakura's resentment boring into his back. But she was just too emotional, and that's how it remained. Naruto was too emotional as well, but Naruto was strong, and that made all the difference in the world.

He didn't completely understand why Naruto had made the promise to bring Sasuke back. True, there was the matter of a very personal bond, but the matter of the lingering, useless promise was confusing. Why bother making a promise to another when the situation involved your own business – your own bond? Why respect and adopt someone else's feelings so utterly? Or was it infinitely more complex than even that? A mesh of resonating emotions, perhaps. Not something he could completely grasp, after all. But why not tell the truth? Tell her you'll try and tell her the likelihood of success. But he never got around to asking Naruto why.

He smeared paint on the canvas, painting the scene red, just as he had seen it that day. There had been three. A large man lying like a carcass, his facial hair stained a deep crimson as he twitched along with his last shallow breaths. Another body was the shell of a precious friend – Yamato-sensei – with an expression of ingrained terror on his too-motionless face. And last, there was Sakura, doubled over and bleeding, but still alive. His heart had beat slow and then fast and then slow again, but he hefted her on his shoulders and rushed her away. She kept muttering, "Naruto, Naruto, Naruto," and he desperately wanted to double back and look for the boy, but Sakura's blood was warm as it dribbled down his arms.

Tsunade's face had been grim when she saw Sakura, but it molded into something unlike Sai had ever seen when Sakura mumbled something quietly about Naruto. And Sai had wanted to see Naruto waltzing through the door more than ever then; a huge ear-splitting grin and twinkling blue eyes would have surely brought out the green in Sakura's. Tsunade had seen to basic repair before shoving her dark-haired apprentice forward and rushing off in a whirl to meet a big man with long white hair. The warning to the younger woman to watch over the village if anything should happen did not go unnoticed by Sai. He took the warning as a sign of turbulence and inevitable downfall. Dimly, he wondered what Danzou was doing, and if the worst should happen, if he would seize the opportunity to achieve the power he had always wanted.

Sakura had awoken within a few hours of his unofficial watch.

"Sai," she'd croaked, trying to be strong and failing miserably. She cast her eyes around for Naruto, a natural reflex she didn't even know she had. He'd moved just a bit closer then, just enough so that he could sit comfortably on the edge of the hospital bed. But her eyes were still dark emerald and unseeing – turned inwards and reliving some private horror.

"Naruto's gone," she whispered. "Now they're both..."

Sai watched in fascination as her knuckles turned white as she gripped the sheets. Before long, that frail composure broke and there were tears slipping down her cheeks. Then, she was coughing. He surged over to hold her shoulders, pressing one hand against her back for support as her body shook violently. He had never seen anyone cry like that. Never ever.

But it shed some light on something. He couldn't piece together the enormity of emotions or even the basics. But before he could stop himself, he'd made a promise. Not only for himself but for Sakura. He'd bring Naruto back. He couldn't find it in himself to tell her the complete truth – how, in all likelihood, his attempts against a foe so strong would be equivalent to suicide. But he promised, nonetheless.

That was last night.

Now, he was finishing what was, in all honesty, his last leisure painting. He slung the rest of the paint against the canvas and tapped some pink against an outline of hair. He pinned the painting next to "Friends," as "Promises," he had learned, went hand in hand.