Guttering flames. Shadows danced across unyielding sandstone walls. Darkness pressed in on all sides. Hurried footsteps and heavy panting were barely masked by the oppressive silence. Occasionally, ear-splitting creaks would pierce the air as great wooden doors screamed on rusty hinges.
"Not here," her friends' voices sighed as an empty room was found beyond each door.
He's nowhere to be seen. Sakura's gloved hands curled into fists, roughly wiping away the angry tears stinging her green eyes. I won't give up now.
An ominous rumble. She skidded to a halt. The ground trembled as an explosion rocked the passage. The blast had torn a large wound in the stone, bathing them in sunlight.
Sakura broke into a sprint. Her friends' calls fell on deaf ears. He was there. She felt it.
"Who did this to you?" he demanded.
His skin was covered in writhing, smouldering black blotches, appearing almost mottled. His fists were clenched. His Sharingan activated; scarlet bled through his dark irises. Two black comma-like shapes were arranged in a concentric circle around his pupils. Raw chakra swirled around him. His entire being radiated an intense fury.
Sakura did not answer. She stared up at him in disbelief. His blazing eyes, coupled with the midnight marks of the Curse Seal, made him seem almost akin to a demon. It took a lot to raise his ire but upon seeing the magenta tresses littering the ground, her painfully short hair, the bruises covering her body and her swollen, bloody face, something within him must have snapped.
"Who did this?" he repeated. "Tell me."
"I did," smirked a smug ninja cockily. "Why?"
Sasuke's gaze met his, scarlet eyes flinty.
Before Sakura knew what was happening, Sasuke had dodged the man's strike with alarming speed, twisting his arms behind him at strange angles. Crack. The ninja's agonised yell was like a knife on raw nerves. He turned on the other cowering ninja, a cold smirk spreading across his face.
"Only you left."
With that, he advanced on him. Sakura and her friends looked on in horror and revulsion.
She stared at his retreating back, her mind racing. This – This isn't Sasuke! He wouldn't ever do something like this. She sprang to her feet and ran after him.
"Stop!" she grabbed him in a desperate embrace from behind.
He paused mid-stride.
"Don't!" she choked.
Silence. His eyes pierced hers. Tears flowed unchecked down her face. Her heart pounded in her chest. Come back to me, Sasuke.
Slowly, the dark marks receded. The Sharingan faded away.
The opposing ninjas and her friends had seen a monster. She had seen only him.
It had always been that way. No matter what, she had somehow known what lay beneath his actions, his few words. She had been able to see beyond the cold mask, his silence; which was why she had been the only one to discover his true intentions on the night he left the village. That night he had broken their bond and she had lain bare her heart and soul. He had spoken two words; they would resound in every fibre of her being for the next three years.
She found herself in the centre of a vast crater. The sun beat down from an endless sky. All that could be heard was her ragged breathing.
"Sakura..." rippled a rich, deep voice.
She froze. The breath hitched in her throat. That voice... Slowly, she raised her head.
A tall, powerful silhouette contrasted starkly against the sun. Her eyes became lost in his.
"Sasuke," was all that escaped her quivering lips.