Continuity: AU after Sasuke leaves

Pairings: Undecided

Disclaimer: I make no profit from this and the copyright for this belongs to various assorted peoples who are not me.

AN: This is both my first fic and currently a one-shot.

Colors of Hate

Sakura had once worn rose-tinted lenses over her eyes, ones that softened the sharp, cruel edges of her life in exchange for being blind, but those had been left shattered on a cold park bench in her twelfth year by a boy who had once been a friend. Now she wonders how she was so blind, because she had seen it written all over his face, written in black flames and crimson eyes. His hate. She can't remember him without seeing that now. Because that hate is all there was underneath the exterior, something far fouler than maggots under flesh. The maggots only consume that which is beyond saving, but Sasuke's hate burned so bright it consumed everything good and bright as well as those things dark and terrible.

When she remembers Sasuke, all she can see is black, an inferno of dark, crawling hate.

After that cool evening full of damp nightmares something had been shattered inside Sakura. Where once she had shattered her psyche so fully as to almost have two separate souls, Sakura had allowed that subtle darkness to seep back in, and in its place pushed her innocence and blindness. Kakashi-sensei had once told her that it was a ninja's job to see underneath the underneath. It was one of the few useful lessons he ever gave to the swiftly wilting blossom that had been Sakura Haruno. Sakura had made it an art. Suddenly the scales fell away from her eyes and the world was full of cruel colors and heartless edges. Naruto could emphasize with his enemies, but he was blinded by the present. Sakura understood her enemies, could see what they could have been in a world where the rose colors were real.

She understands Sarutobi's weakness. When she next looks in Orochimaru's eyes, she is caught by the lost child who was pushed too far, too fast, gained too much power and slowly forgot his humanity. A child of war, trained to feel nothing, care for nothing, because he is a shinobi. The same child who fails to understand the limits, morals, because he is the weapon they have made him. She is glad it is only a glimpse in a genjutsu, not a true battle, because she is caught in those cynical golden orbs, a dark child denied what he believes is his by right. Sakura understands his hunger, his need to fill the empty pit his life has become. But there is no picking up the pieces of his shattered team, just as Sakura cannot.

Yes, she understands what Sarutobi saw when he looked deep in Orochimaru's pitted soul, tattered by decadence and evil and a quest for power that won't ever end. And Sakura is caught by gold, missed opportunities and lost souls. To herself, Sakura swears to learn every jutsu she ever encounters and etch their memory on the surface of her heart until the scars are deep enough to read in the dim light of her soul. And she dies her hair as black as Orochimaru's heart had once been.

She recalls a man who made himself a demon, one whose color is grey and who is the first to blur the lines between what is 'good' and what is 'evil' beyond all recognition. Zabuza Momochi is her first, as important as a first lover, her first time to encounter something real, something that is not a situation in a textbook. She can only curse she was so blinded, so weak at the time. If Tsuanade is fazed by her request to learn to wield a katana, she does not show it, but instead sends her off on a mission that lasts three months with a lonely man on a cold mountain, who turns out to be another of the Seven, the once feared and now lost. And at the end she walks down that mountain and into a morning fog that does not lift and Sakura thinks about how similar medic techniques are to the Silent Kill. All it takes is one blow and it is finished and she grips the cold steel of her katana for comfort in a world that is suddenly awash with the smell of salt and blood and the memory of wasted tears.

And when she begins to look at the Akatsuki, she wonders if they are all the lost children. If they all have sad stories that have made them into monsters, into men without hope, which is the darkest creation of all.

When she looks at Deideira, it is blue she sees, the blue of sky, and art, and freedom. She remembers flying and misunderstanding and a need to belong, and she had wanted to tell him she understands what is is to want to have someone, something last for more than the moment it takes for art. When no one is looking she takes the 

ring he never wanted to wear and promises that he will live on in memory, even if she could not save him in truth. She wears it on her little finger on her left hand and nearly blows Naruto up in a pitched battle a week later. When she's sure the Kyuubi is healing the worst of the burns and he demands to know what that was, she answers vaguely, "Art." and doesn't see the look he gives her. She is looking up into blue and wondering what it would be to fly.

When she leaves Sasori dead in the arms of his parent's corpses, she wonders who she is to kill this pitiful mound of flesh and dreams. But it isn't really flesh and she has done it to protect those dreams most precious to her, so she does not weep. She wears this ring on a string made of the fibers of a tough desert plant whose name she does not know, and allows it to fall near her heart. Sasori is green, the green of her eyes, of what she could have become, what she can become. Sasori is hurting so much that he decided to never hurt again. Sakura can understand that, when the garden of her life is filled with bees whose sting is deadly and whose honey is poison. The week after the explosion Sakura brings home a human skull, one which has had kanji engraved on it in brilliant, poisonous green and unforgiving black against the bleached white. When Naruto sees it, he asks the familiar question and she gives the familiar answer. "It's art, Naruto."

Itachi is the worst though. He is the crimson of Sharingan, of blood, of a self-hate that goes so far that he hopes only for death. Because he has done everything he can to protect his brother, and yet he is thwarted by that same brother. When Sakura finds the site where the battle took place, she doesn't just take the ring that marked him for what he was. His cloak, that tattered garment so stained with red it won't ever come out, and the hat that chimes gently in the passing wind. And Sakura cries over the body, a single perfect tear, the only one she has shed since the colors began. She knows that Itachi was only a captured spirit, even before, because something was broken when he was forced to choose between what was precious to him. And to that corpse, to the man who tried to keep Konohogakure from war, she makes a promise, as Naruto would say "the promise of a lifetime". She will bring Sasuke to his knees.

Naruto peers at his formerly pink-haired friend from the corner of his cerulean blue eyes. She is watching impassively the forest before them, her green eyes as still as a mountain pool at midnight. They are darker than he remembers them being, he thinks as he watches a slight breeze play with the long strands of inky black the Sakura allows to fall in front of her face. Her hair has grown long again, something to be expected after such a long period since the Forest of Death. Sakura has changed since then. If he was given to poetry he might have said that all the petals of the blooming flower had blown away to reveal the viper at its core.

The playful breeze ruffles the full length black yukata she wears under a white sleeveless version that has black diamonds edging the bottom hem and the Haruno clan crest on the back. Sakura perches the branch next to him, one leg hanging down in an indolent pose, one hand slowly fanning herself with a handfan he knows is not just for the purpose. It has kanji intricately woven into the traditional design, this one with curling flower blossoms and small songbirds. He has seen her flick open that fan in a practiced movement, smearing her blood across its surface in a single smooth movement. Naruto wonders which jutsu it contains today and decides he is probably better off not knowing.

Sometimes, in the dark of night, when his treacherous thoughts are loosed, he thinks that this Sakura could be a totally different person from the one in his genin days. This Sakura will never cry, will kill without mercy, and sometimes, when the green eyes don't seem to be that green at all, then she calls explosions art and speaks with perfect, careless precision. He cannot understand this girl, the one who wore the rings of killers, who looked at the ground with single-minded intensity. But he felt the edges of chakra touch his conciousness and was forced to leave his musings. Unwillingly, he felt his nails force themselves into the bark of the tree as Kyuubi strained against his bonds.

Naruto struggles to contain his chakra, knowing the Sasuke will feel it if he's not careful. A sudden, blanketing feeling passes over him and he stops his struggle, surprised. At his side Sakura's eyes were dialated 

with something he might call excitement and he realized she had concealed his chakra. He wonders to himself when and where she learned that, but he keeps his silence as Sasuke and his team moved nearer.

They basically walked under them in their perch and Naruto wondered when Sakura had gotten this good.

"Well, well, Sasuke Uchiha." Sakura drawls at his side and below them Sasuke immediately tenses and looks up. Naruto can see looks of confusion on the other three ninja, but they are ignored in favor of their former teammate.

"Naruto." His voice is hard, unflinching, but the next is hesitant, "Sakura?"

"Sasuke-kun, who are these people?" the girl with glasses asks.

"You needn't answer Sasuke. This doesn't concern them. After all, this is just a reunion of a few old friends, right Sasuke?" The fan in her hand never breaks its steady pattern. Her form is still loose, like this is what she has done every day of her life. Her head is tilted downward, her eyes in shadow, and Naruto instantly knows this is one of her dark days.

"They're my old team." Sasuke says, explaining himself in that irritated way that he had never lost even after all this time.

"This is it teme. We're going to bring you back." Naruto growls

.

"I have broken those bonds." Sasuke says coolly.

"Pity. It seems we'll just have to break you then." Sakura says. "Now, this will be far more entertaining with an audience. It was so kind of you Sasuke to bring one along." The fan clicked shut and then spread again almost too fast for Naruto's eyes to follow, but when it was opened there was a line of blood along the silk. "Mortal Coil Jutsu."

Serpents burst from the earth, seemingly created of shadow and chakra, just at the feet of Sasuke's teammates. With noiseless efficiency they curls like smoke around the three stunned ninja, but their screams were quick in coming when the shadow snakes plunged into their bodies. Naruto flinched involuntarily. Sakura had just taken control of their chakra systems with those snakes, more or less paralyzing their bodies.

"Wha..." The shark-like one couldn't even verbalize his question.

"An interesting little jutsu. Don't you agree? It's Orochimaru's, really." Sakura said, finally lifting her head to gaze down on the ninja below them.

"What?! I thought you weren't going to use any more of the snake bastard's jutsu Sakura!" Naruto said accusingly.

"I lied." Sakura replied evenly, placing the bloodied fan inside her robe. Then she began to make handsigns that Naruto found uncomfortably familiar. His suspicions were proved right as the shark-boy's arm began to move as Sakura's fingers began to manipulate chakra.

"If anything blows up, you're not to say a word about art." Naruto growled at her as he completed his own shadow clone jutsu.



"I'm wounded Naruto. Really, you just have no appreciation for what art entails." She grinned at him, suddenly stunningly predatory as two of Sasuke's teammates began to advance on him.

"Well, this is unexpected." Sasuke hissed.

"One can only hope." Sakura said politely, unsheathing Zabuza's sword and taking an exploratory swipe at Sasuke with it. "The credit for this technique belongs entirely to Sasori of the Red Sands." Another flick sent the ninja...Suigetsu, careening towards Sasuke. And Naruto knows this is the end of an era, and the beginning of something new.