disclaimer: the general plot is mine, but the characters belong to Kishimoto (though i did originally write it with my own characters)
dedication: to my wonderful plot bunnies. here's to hoping they'll stop attacking me now. cheers, mate.
notes: first experiment with this writing style that i just never posted. Enjoy. i know, i know, i should be writing the next chapter of by trial of fire, but this bit me in the ass and wouldn't let go, so i had to put it up.

and yes, in the first part of the alternate universe, sakura is in fact, scottish. who cares, its AU, and you'll see where i'm going with it later...kind of...

title: found
summary: they are team seven, and no matter what happens they will always find each other. NarutoSakuraSasuke, AU in beginning

.

.

.

left or right

.

.

.

Stop.

Rewind.

An echo. The remnants of a past that should have never been.

Press play.

.

.

.

The air is still and filled with the heady scent of summer sun, languid days and the smoke of burning wood. It is still morning, still cool-with-a-promise-of-hot-afternoon. The sky is a clear, cloudless blue, the shadows long and stark against the light grey concrete.

Sakura yawns widely into the silent morning and stretches her arms high above her head, arching her back like a cat and grinning into the sky at the satisfying pops and cracks her muscle joints make.

Propping her fists on her hips in true childhood confidence, she looks down the street; first one way, and then the other.

Which way today, she muses. Left or right? Town-ward, or beach-bound? Fear and shadows and the dull marching of hundreds of GUARD, or quiet and solitude and sun in her little cove, sheltered away from the rest of the world?

In the end, the choice is so easy she wonders why she even bothered to debate it.

Setting off towards the beach, bare feet slapping on the concrete, Sakura takes the time to observe the bleak houses that line her street. It is a prison of tall, metal buildings that block out the sun, silhouetted against grey cement and an endless backdrop of cloudy blue.

She hates every inch of it.

She hates it even more now, at 7:30 in the morning when the sun has only seen the world for an hour and everything is new and clean, all sharp angles and softened shadows. It is at this time that some distant part of her realizes everything could have been different. She isn't stupid. She's heard the stories of how the Governor of times long past, hundreds of years ago, destroyed all that is colourful and light and destroyed the personality of the people.

She thinks the time should be long, long over. She thinks the Rebellion is right and good and that what they are fighting for is much more important and beautiful than what the GUARD fight for.

But who cares what one little 7 year old thinks.

Tilting her head back, she closes her eyes and breathes in the salty ocean air as the concrete under her turns to the soft, grainy sands of Willow Beach.

It's funny, naming a beach after a tree, but then again, no one ever said Sakura's town is normal.

And her Governor is certainly NOT normal.

She reaches the coast a minute later and turns left, towards the rolling sand dunes and jagged rocks soaked in the sea and covered in seaweed and mussels.

With ease, she scales the tall rocks, calloused hands and feet fitting into groves in the old stone with the practice and comfort of someone born to the sea. She stands tall on the top, staring down into the not-so-little cove that is sheltered from prying eyes and greedy hands.

He is already there, but then again, Sakura reflects, she never expected him to be anywhere else.

He looks almost out of place against the pale golden sand and the clear, blue ocean. All black hair, pale skin and dark eyes, he stands with his hands behind his back, relaxed and only slightly slouched in the remnants of sleep.

With a quiet smile, Sakura slides down to the sand below and plods up silently beside him. He glances at her out of the corner of one dark eye and offers a small smirk in greeting.

Flashing a bright smile back, Sakura flops down beside him and leans back on her elbows, stretching out her legs and revelling in the feeling of the cool sand on her skin.

A moment later, he sits down too, and Sakura can't help but laugh loudly at the sleep-tousled look on his normally composed face. Her laugh shatters the silence like glass, and she fancies she can almost see the incandescent shards glittering like rain as they fall and disappear into the gentle rolling waves.

"Dinnae get much sleep last night, huh?" she asks.

Sasuke – her best friend since forever and a day – grunts and runs a hand through his already-messy hair. His young, sleepy face settles into a scowl and Sakura can almost see the proverbial storm clouds gathering above his head.

She laughs again. "That bad?"

"You have no idea."

"I do so have an idea," Sakura snorts and her Scottish brogue is heavy. "When Karin gets excited about a movie, it's like Neji that one time we got him high on sugar."

They look at each other in silent mutual horror and shudder in unison. Sakura frantically banishes the thought of a sugar-high-Sasuke's-other-best-friend from her mind. The normally stoic boy had literally bounced off the walls, and hadn't spoken to them for a week after that.

Actually, he mostly didn't speak to Sakura, because she had been the one to come up with the idea.

A comfortable silence descends on the two of them. They were just close enough for their fore-arms to brush, tanned skin dark as night against ivory snow. Eyes fixed on the distant shore, Sakura hooks her pinky finger with Sasuke's and basks in the warmth of best-friend-dom.

"Hey, Sasuke," Sakura murmurs, pausing as he grunts in acknowledgement, "What do ye think is beyond that horizon?"

A shrug.

"Hn."

A smile twitches at the corner of Sakura's mouth. "That isn't an answer." She sings lightly.

The condescending smirk on his face tells her that, yes, he is very much aware of that fact.

Snorting in a very unlady-like fashion, Sakura leans back onto the sand and brings Sasuke with her. "One day," she says, "I'm goin' ta see the world. And yeh'll come with me, right Sasuke?"

"Aa," he agrees, a not-smirk curling his lips again.

"And we'll always be best friends right?" Sakura says, and suddenly she seems so much younger than seven years old.

They are starting elementary school in two months. Elementary school means new friends and new expectations. Elementary school means that everything is different and strange and Sakura doesn't want that.

She doesn't want anything to change.

Sasuke is quiet for a long while, and just when Sakura thinks she should cut her losses now and just run, he speaks.

"Yes."

That one little world causes Sakura's racing heart to calm and the butterflies in her belly to diminish like fog in the morning sun. A beatific smile lights up her face and she laces her entire hand with his, anchoring herself to this moment, this reality where everything is warm and solid and real.

A moment later, Neji saunters into the cove and Sakura leaps on him, tackling him to the ground. He spits out sand from his mouth and growls and chases Sakura into the surf, laughing. She glances back at Sasuke and smiles. She smiles even wider when he grins back.

.

.

.

Sakura is 7.

Sasuke is 7.

And the time of SakuraandSasuke is now.

.

.

.

But everything ends.

Summer ends, people grow older, choices are made and deeds are done that scar the purity and innocence of children. When Sakura is 8, the GUARD kill her parents because they did not conform to what the Governor wanted.

They were part of the Rebellion. Sakura joins to spite them and looks to Sasuke and Neji, her wingmen, to back her up.

But sometimes, the fear of losing family is greater than the fear of losing a friend.

Sasuke doesn't go with her. He stays with his family, with the GUARD and now, with her enemy. And Neji, quiet, solemn, stick-up-the-ass Neji, turns away from her as well.

Sakura is eight years old, newly orphaned, and her heart is shattered. She doesn't understand, and she never will, not until she is much, much older. All she knows is somewhere along the way, Sasuke abandoned her.

Somewhere along the way from 7 to 8, a friendship is shattered.

Somewhere along the way, a promise is broken.

Somewhere along the way, a childhood is lost.

Somewhere along the way, she is alone.

.

.

.

Sakura is eight now.

Sasuke is eight now.

And the time of SakuraandSasuke is over.

.

.

.

When Sakura is nine, she meets a young Russian boy of nine with white-blonde hair and eyes blue like the sky. He is loud and too bright and fake and so very real and absolutely nothing like Sasuke and Neji used to be, but that's okay, because Sakura isn't bright and kind anymore. She is hard and jaded and he understands more than anyone else. They wear masks now, her a mask of sweetness and sincerity and he a mask of overly big smiles and unending ethusiasm.

He tells her once that his smiles taste like ashes in his mouth. She tells him her mask makes her want to throw up. So, one day, they throw the masks away and stand naked before each other. Naruto doesn't smile nearly as wide, but his optimism does not diminish, and Sakura turns just a little bit colder, but her time with the Rebellion has thawed her out and she thinks that maybe one day, when the war is over, she can go back to being the old Sakura again.

He calls himself Naruto, and he becomes her partner when they turn ten and are sent out into the field. Sakura and Naruto, best friends, partners, and, as they get older, something more.

.

.

.

Sakura is ten.

Naruto is ten.

And the time of SakuraandNaruto is beautiful.

.

.

.

They are twelve, young and headstrong, when they come across Sasuke slinking through the hollowed out remains of a house, burned black and sooty by fire.

He freezes as they appear around a corner, nearly blending in with the black background. He's in GUARD now, and Sakura wonders why she feels so surprised. Naruto narrows white eyes at the intruder and stands shoulder to shoulder with Sakura, hand resting on the end of his gun. Sasuke doesn't breath until Sakura speaks.

"Why are ye here?"

Her words are flat and cold, and he flinches slightly. The movement is so small, only someone who knew him really well could have seen it. Sakura had seen it - this surprises her, as well. She thought, after four years of absence, she would forget about him, forget about the times they shared, and the way he walked and talked, and the subtle movements of his body...

But she hasn't forgotten.

"I was looking for you," he says quietly. A growl rumbles in Naruto's chest, a remnant of the experiments performed on him when he was just a baby, by GUARD. His white eyes flash red and Sakura ress a hand on the bare skin of his tanned arm. Naruto calms and Sasuke stares.

"Why would ye be lookin' for me?" she demands harshly. "Why do ye care?"

This time, Sasuke's flinch is more pronounced and guilt swims in his dark eyes, because he can hear the echoes of what she didn't say in that sentence - why did you leave me why did you abandon me you were my best friend and you left, leftleftleftleftleft so don't youre think you can just waltz back in here and pretend everything is okay you sick fucker - and part of Sakura feels pleased that he is now feeling the same pain she felt when he abandoned her.

Mostly, she just feels sick.

"I..." his voice trails off, but Sakura understands. She hears what he couldn't say -

- missed you.

Slowly, she steps forwards, and extends a hand, reaching for Sasuke while holding on to Naruto with the other. "We have a camp near here," she whispers, "Ye can come if ye want."

Sasuke doesn't hesitate.

He takes her hand.

.

.

.

Sakura is twelve.

Naruto is twelve.

Sasuke is twelve.

And the time of NarutoSakuraandSasuke is beginning.

.

.

.

Two years pass, and Sasuke continues to steal away, spending more and more time with the Rebellion and less and less time with the GUARD. He is always careful never to get caught, and Naruto soon establishes a rivalry with the dark-haired boy. They fight and insult each other, but they also love each other deeply, as if they are two thirds of a whole.

Sakura says thirds, because she is as much a part of their dynamics as they are a part of each other.

Most times, when they fight, she sits and watches her boys, proud and ever watchful for the moment she will have to step in and mediate the fight when it becomes too heated. Because, inevitably, things will go sour. Naruto, for all his optimism and smiles, is still jaded, still broken, and the edges of the glass chafe at his skin and make him bleed red. For his part, Sasuke is too proud; proud of his family and his people even as he looks around at the lives they have destroyed and the people they have hurt.

So, when things get bad, Sakura steps in and ends the fight. Its usually easy - she pulls them apart, smacks them over the head and sits Naruto down with ramen and Sasuke with a tomato, and eventually the two simmer out. But today...

Today everything will change. She knows it, because Naruto is being harsher than usual, and Sasuke is looking ready to kill. He defends his people and his family, and their actions that have ruined countless lives, and suddenly, Sakura has had enough. She gets up, pastel pink hair flying behind her as she stalks over and physically rips them apart. They still try to argue, but she screams, loudly and angrily and they stop and stare at her in shock.

She tells Naruto to leave, because she will deal with him later, and he nods and walks away to find Kakashi - their father and teacher and best friend and uncle and everything all rolled into one perverted silver-haired man - and as soon as the blonde is gone, Sakura turns white eyes onto Sasuke and says, very slowly, "I don't care if yer proud of yer family. I don't care what good yer people have done - which is none, by the way. And quite honestly, I don't give a fuck if what Naruto says pisses you off, because its true. They're killers, Sasuke, and they're not killin' like us, for freedom. They're killin' because they can - they're killin' because they enjoy ruining lives and fucking families over. They don't care, Sasuke. They are not good people, doin' a noble deed by riddin' the world of strife. All they're doing is riddin' the world of difference, and colour and vitality and love and life, and I am not goin' to just sit here and listen to ye defend them like they're... people. Because they're not."

Sakura is breathing heavily at the end of her tirade, and Sasuke stares at her, wide-eyed. "They're not, Sasuke, they're bad people, even if they are you're family."

"You don't understand," he snaps angrily, coldly. "You can't possibly understand the ties one has to their family. You don't have one."

She swells in rage, and screams at him, "WHO'S FUCKING FAULT IS THAT!"

Sasuke goes white as what he just said sinks into his mind, and Sakura turns away angrily. "Leave." she hisses out.

"Sakura - "

"I said LEAVE!" she shrieks, whirling around and slamming her fist into his jaw.

He reels and stumbles away from her, a hand to his red cheek in shock. Sakura is blinded by tears, and snarls at him viciously. She looks feral, with shocking white eyes and teeth bared in the grimace of a snarl. "I hate you." she hisses.

Sasuke flinches, and she turns and flees into the forest, back to camp, to safety and solitude and warmth and home.

Sakura doesn't see Sasuke again.

.

.

.

Sakura is fourteen.

Naruto is fourteen.

Sasuke is fourteen.

And the time of NarutoSakuraandSasuke is broken.

.

.

.

The war begins, and Sakura fights.

She expects to see Sasuke in every battle she goes into, selfishly wishing to see him one last time, just so she can apologize for those horrible words she said to him in that clearing a lifetime ago. One day, she gets her wish.

And now, staring across the street at the familiar form of her best friend (ex-best friend her mind whispers traitorously) she cannot help but wonder that if Sasuke had had different parents, had grown up in a different Clan, then maybe, maybe he would be standing by her side, a cold sneer fixed on his face as he glares at the GUARD and prepares to wipe them off the face of the earth, maybe she wouldn't have screamed at him, maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe.

But he isn't, she did and there are no more maybe's.

He's glaring at the Rebellion. At her family, her friends, her kin. At her.

She glances down the street, searching for a familiar face. Blonde hair flashes in the overcast light and she smiles under the bright scarf that covers her face. She's not alone.

Naruto glances over his shoulder and gives her a nod, white eyes blazing. He knows how much this hurts her, hurts him, but he also knows as well as she does that sometimes sacrifices have to be made, and he knows as well as she does that Sasuke made his choice a long time ago.

Sakura's insides feel hollow with guilt as she raises her gun and squeezes the trigger, aiming at the neon sign dangling above Sasuke's head.

It explodes in a shower of hissing sparks and glass, and Sasuke and Neji dive out of the way. Their comrade lets loose a string of swear words against her and Sakura fights not to recoil from the sheer physical pain the unknown man's hatred brings to her (because he is only echoing what Sasuke feels and he can't see you and Naruto not anymore you are faceless nameless wrapped in the colorful scarves of his enemy).

She grits her teeth and fires at their comrade, who goes down in a blaze of curses and the shiny spray of blood.

Bile rises in her throat and she forces herself not to retch in the gutter. Dimly, Sakura realizes she doesn't want this. She wants to go back to before they were Rebellion and GUARD.

She wants summer sun and laughter and Sasuke sitting by her side, amusement in his dark eyes and happiness in his soul. But then she remembers Naruto and his playfulness and his hero-complex and his laugh-that-isn't-really-a-laugh-but-when-he's-laughing-with-her-it-is and his voice and the way he and Sasuke would fight and protect her and make her laugh and love and thinks that maybe, if she lives through this, everything will be alright, because she will have Naruto and Lee and Tenten and Ino and Shikamaru and Kakashi. She will have her family.

She and Naruto just won't have Sasuke.

A bang echoes along the emptying street and Sakura is forcibly reminded of why you do not dream of what-was and what-could-have-been and what-will-be's in the middle of a battlefield.

Pain rips through her chest as the bullet cleaves through fabric and flesh. Her gun falls from limp fingers to the ground as her legs buckle and she crumples in its wake. Her bandanna falls from her face and into the puddle of blood that is spreading around her body.

Naruto turns and she sees him drop his gun and his sword and run, blonde hair free of the bandanna and white eyes blazing, and he is screaming, and she wants to scream at him to stop, to run away, because Neji and Sasuke have guns and they'll kill him and –

Neji fires and Naruto goes down a few feet from her. He raises his head and looks at her and she takes a rattling breath. He crawls to her on his stomach and stops within arm's reach, too exhausted to move.

She reaches out her hand and holds on to one of his, peeling off the glove that is always on and twining her fingers with his. They are long and pale and soft and something like beautiful, and she keeps her eyes locked with his as their lives bleed out all over the street.

There is a noise, like the whine of an injured animal, and Sakura turns blurry eyes towards Neji and Sasuke and sees the dark boy (with his dark dark hair and his dark dark eyes) standing with the gun pointed to where she had been, the barrel still smoking. His face is white.

Oh the irony.

The Rebellion girl snorts softly and presses a free hand to her chest. It comes away sticky and red with blood in the light from the clouds, and Sakura inwardly scoffs as she feels the first tell-tale drops of rain fall on her face. Soon, it is pouring, and they are wet and their blood creates a river of red against the stark grey concrete.

Sakura sucks in a breath and turns her head to spit the blood out onto the road, away from Naruto. When she turns back, a pale face framed by messy black hair is in her vision and she cracks a small smile despite the pain. Naruto's thumb brushes over the back of her hand, soothing her, and she is prepared because she knows that when he goes he will be waiting for her because he –

Something builds in her, like the great force of a tidal wave. She knows these will be the last words she ever says, because when this wave hits it will wipe everything away.

Sakura will be gone.

"We could have been great…" she whispers to Sasuke, "If things had been different. All three of us." She reaches out a hand, because she still loves Sasuke as much as she loves Naruto, and maybe she reaches out to Neji too because they are still her first family and she just wants to feel again because she is cold and numb and so damn tired...

Her hand falters inches from his face and he leans forwards so that the bloody appendage comes into contact with soft, wet skin. Sakura is surprised. She expects him to kill her the moment he realizes a Rebeller is down for the count.

She certainly expects him to knock her hand away and spit curses about how he hates her and Naruto and everything they stand for: freedom, peace, hope. But he doesn't. Naruto reaches out a hand and Sasuke grasps it, and Sakura can feel the dark boy's hand shaking ever so slightly in hers.

He looks so heartbreakingly beautiful that Sakura cannot help but trace his features, leaving bloody streaks of red all along porcelain skin. When the strength leaves her arm, he holds her hand there with his own. Naruto watches them both quietly, and sighs softly, "Bout time you came to your senses, bastard," he whispers into the rain, and Sasuke makes a choking sound that maybe was a sob and maybe was a laugh.

Sakura can't tell anymore.

She smiles a bloody, razor smile and her white eyes (a mark of the rebellion of hope of freedom a mark of everything she lived for and what she is - dying - for) hold his shadowed onyx ones with pride.

"I love Naruto," she whispers, and his silence is her answer.

I know.

"I love ye," she continues.

I know.

"Did ye ever love me? And Naruto?"

Yes. Yesyesyes oh god yes.

She nods. "Good," she whispers, quirking one last cheeky grin in Neji's direction (whose face is blank behind his long coffee brown hair because his sister best friend family is dying and there's nothing he can do anymore).

Sakura feels so tired, so tired of the fighting and the hatred and she wishes with every fibre of her being that everything HAD been different, and that there was no Rebellion or GUARD or Leader or Governor, and that there was just Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke, best friends forever, meeting under different circumstances and remaining together until the end of their days, when they're old and crotchety, when Sasuke will grumble about the damn grandkids when he doesn't mean it and when Naruto will prod him and piss him off and when Sakura will sit delicately in the middle and laugh at them as they go to the next world.

She doesn't want to die now, but she knows she has to.

Everything dies; not everything grows old. (1)

She turns her head and looks at Naruto, who stares back, too serious and too calm and too pale. Sakura opens her mouth to speak, so say out loud, to his face that she loves him when he smiles – his first real smile since she met him, since his parents died, since Sasuke left – and she doesn't have to say anything, and he doesn't either and then they look at Sasuke and he looks back and none of them say anything because they all know. They just know.

And as Naruto closes his eyes and exhales and leaves, Sakura wishes again that things had been different, and that she had had more time with Naruto and Sasuke and Lee and Tenten and Ino and Neji and her family, and she wishes she could have lived to see her eighteenth birthday.

But wishes are for dreamers, and Sakura stopped dreaming long ago.

She closes her eyes to the sound of Sasuke's scream.

.

.

.

Sakura is seventeen.

Naruto is seventeen.

Sasuke is seventeen

And the time of NarutoSakuraandSasuke… is just beginning.

.

.

.

A drop of water falls in the pond, and the ripples spread outward as the strings of Fate, Destiny and Time begin to weave a new tale, a new story in a different world.

Maybe this time, they think, things will turn out different.

.

.

.

Stop.

Fast forward.

A different life. A different world. A different time.

Press play.

.

.

.

Lifetimes, miles, universes away, Sakura Haruno wakes up with a start. She lays quiet for a moment, staring at the dark ceiling above her and shuddering with the pain of the bullet that cleaved so easily through her flesh in the dream. One hand absently sneaks under her pajama top, and she freezes as she feels the raised ridge of scar tissue on her stomach. Her mind flashes back to the battlefield and of Naruto dead beside her and Sasuke, her killer, screaming as she dies and she nearly screams herself.

But then she steadies herself and remembers Sasori's sword did that, not a bullet, and takes comfort of the warm reassuring bodies of Naruto and Sasuke, slumped on either side of her, both sound asleep. She shifts and wiggles until she is curled up against Naruto's side with Sasuke pressed to her back, and smiles into the blonde's bare chest as he drapes an arm over her and Sasuke's bodies while Sasuke shifts and mumbles somethin into the soft skin of her neck, one arm over her side, touching Naruto as all three of their legs' tangle below.

"I love you both, so much." she whispers to them, and thinks of Dream-Sakura, who never got a chance to say it, and of Dream-Naruto, who bled out before her eyes as Dream-Sasuke howled his fury to the skies...

She shifts closer to her boys with happiness as he whispers back, "I love you too, Sakura-chan. An', an'-" he yawns widely and presses a cheek against her hair, "I love you too, bastard."

Sasuke grunts, and Naruto carefully kicks him. "Don' be a prick, asshole," he slurs, "Jus' say it, I won' tease you..."

There is silence. And then -

"Aa. I love you too. Both...of you."

Sakura smiles.

.

.

.

Pause.

Smile.

Press play.

.

.

.

notes: i apologize for any ooc-ness. i tried to keep them as in character as possible, although the au allowed for some divergence - like neji and naruto and how sakura accidentally drives sasuke away - but keep in mind they are growing up in a war and its a lot bloodier and more oppressive than the one they are fighting in the actual naruto-verse, AND they started fighting way younger than they did in the naruto-verse. so, that is my explanation for how naruto is sort of quieter and more serious and why sakura's jaded and why sasuke and neji are close friends, and also the circumstances of sasuke and sakura and naruto all meeting (they have to, it is a team seven fic after all...)

sasuke and neji, in the AU, are close friends because in my mind, the uchiha and the hyuuga are prestigious familes of the guard, and would therefore socialize a lot. neji would become close with sasuke, both overshadowed by the main-family-slash-older-brother, and both very alike. then sakura would come, pull the sticks out of their asses, and all would be good until her parents are killed and she joins the rebellion. THEN, sasuke finds her and naruto and begins to lighten up, but fucks up royally (because he's an ice cube, and as such prone to being an ass most of the time) and leaves, even though he loves them and doesn't want to be in GUARD anymore...

i had to make the friendship between sasuke, sakura and neji because naruto was part of the rebellion with lee, tenten, ino, shikamaru, chouji, kakashi, asuma, etc and therefore wouldn't have met sasuke until sasuke started looking for sakura and started a big domino effect... so, anyway, review please?

i apologize also for any spelling mistakes.

(1) that quote was borrowed from another story, who in turn i believe borrowed it from St. Augustine? i cannot, for the life of me, remember who it was - though i'm pretty sure i have then favourited, but then again, i have almost a thousand stories favourited... - so, if anyone knows who it is, please tell me so i can credit them properly.

-natrissabelladonis