Disclaimer: Nope, I don't own Naruto.

A/N: Italics – Sakura's thoughts, or a dream sequence

These events occur pre-time skip.

Prologue


Her hands were shaking. She looked through at the world with trembling lenses, eyes searching wildly for someone, somewhere, anyone who could help her understand what was happening. She didn't want to look down at her hands again. She didn't want it to be so sickeningly red, his blood dripping thickly into her eyes and sliding from her fingers. The tears only washed away so much of it… there was so much…

"…not again… oh please, not again!" She rasped, weeping, looking down at Naruto's shocked and lifeless face.

Sasuke's laughter echoed through the trees, receding, as she mourned them both, now.


Sakura awoke violently, bolting upright in bed with clenched teeth, clutching the kunai now always under her pillow. Sucking air desperately, she swallowed through a dry throat and wiped the sweat from her brow.

The dreams were happening almost every night now, becoming more and more frequent over the years. Each night it seemed that they became more real, more difficult to distinguish from reality.

Naruto, would you do that? What would you do? Would you force me to make that choice?

It had been almost 4 years now since Sasuke left to go to Orochimaru. He was a traitor, a missing-nin, and who knew what had transpired during his time with the snake sannin? Had he done his dirty work? Ushered resisting experimental bodies to Kabuto? Brought him sacrifices, children? And maybe the most painful question… did she care? All she wanted was to see him again, touch his face, embrace him tightly… she didn't want to know what he'd done and she didn't care. That was the truth. A pang of guilt swept through her. In her more lucid moments, though, she admitted this much to herself. She'd do anything for Sasuke. Even now.

Her dreams were proof of that. The subconscious doesn't lie.

A warm breeze blew through her open windows, the blue moonlight spilling over her long pink tresses. Shaking her head, she breathed deeply, slowly through her nose and out her mouth.

calm down, breathe, calm down…

When they'd heard the news of an Akatsuki attack on Orochimaru's Sound compound, they feared the worst of course. Konoha was likely too late to intervene to get Sasuke away, and could not (no, indeed, would not) commit Konoha's forces to retrieve him, knowing Orochimaru had another deadly enemy stalking him. They'd decided to let them battle, in hopes that one or both sides would suffer enough casualties to make their eventual intervention more feasible. It was argued that it was simply not worth it to save Sasuke. Tsunade had gone with the council on that.

Sakura, on the other hand, refused to give up. She held stubbornly to the hope that she would see him again, touch him again. She swore on that day that Naruto returned, empty-handed, that she would never sit back and expect others to do everything. It was past time for her to stop looking at her teammate's backs. Naruto would smile sadly when she'd bring up the subject, his oceanic blue eyes betraying for a moment his rare lack of faith.

From there on, she'd studied under the Hokage herself, and Tsunade taught her everything she knew; how to be a medic-nin and their role in a team ("It's your job to stay alive, so that your team stays alive; stay unnoticed, and when you are caught, dodge like hell – remember that."). She learned how to gather and explode her chakra, demolishing anything she connected a punch or a kick on. She studied genjutsu under Kurenai, and even came up with a few of her own.

For a long time, she was allowed simply to train and take on duties at the hospital. She was a regular medic there and was largely the main medic-nin on staff, as Tsunade was of course busy with her other tasks most of the time. She'd attained jounin rank in the last year, but was most needed at the hospital, rather than missions.

Then the dreams started.

It wasn't until they'd persisted, happening almost once a week, that she started to become… haunted. Afraid. There had to be a way to stop them; perhaps it was simply that she knew, somewhere deep inside, that she was still weak, she still wasn't good enough? Sasuke…

She took up weapon training, learning to wield sai, long dagger-like weapons with tsuba, two points extending up from the bottom of the blade, useful for disarming – one in each hand and one tucked in her belt on reserve. She spent countless hours on the training grounds, bristling with traps, improving her speed and perception. She'd started to do that blindfolded. She even trained with Naruto and his army of Kage Bunshin, using tiny, precise shots of chakra to increase her speed to evade, and her medical expertise to increase the sensitivity of her eyes, reducing the time it took for messages to enter them and be relayed to her brain.

No one ever accused Sakura Haruno of being stupid.

Despite all of this, she was still afraid of a lot of things. Afraid of Akatsuki, afraid of what might one day happen to Naruto if he got out of control, afraid of her own loyalties. The dreams made her question that. Sometimes, Sasuke would come to her repentant, begging forgiveness and return. He'd hold her, stroking her hair gently, his fingers tracing her jaw, a look of need and tenderness in his eyes… other times, he'd battle fiercely with Naruto, who screamed Sasuke's betrayal to the sky, his anger and pain ripping a hole in her heart, Sakura paralyzed with fear and ineffectual... until the final moments. It was maddening.

They're so real now… once, I could touch him and awaken tingling from the contact, my skin warmed as if he'd been holding me…

This one, tonight's dream, this was different. After Sakura had saved him… Sasuke left this time, laughing, the ghostly echo of a mirthless chuckle blistering her ears. What could this mean?

She shook her head again, tears welling in her eyes and seeping into her blankets. It was enough. It was all she needed. It had now been almost four years since Sasuke left for Orochimaru. Sound had been decimated in the recent Akatsuki attack, but that was the only place she knew to look for him; if Orochimaru hadn't taken his body yet, it would be ripe for a transfer now. It was time.


A/N: Reviews are much appreciated. :)