He made the distance. They mapped it.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.
Notes: I wasn't intending to write another dreamfic like Trivium or Aquarium Steps, but this sort of just happened. :S Anyway, please do review if you like :D.
i. A Map in Outer Space
In dreams, space has no linearity. It is appropriately envisioned like the charting of a map: at various intervals in time, one takes note of the placement of things in the universe and plots them. With the accumulation of points and diligent bookkeeping, an accurate portrait of space may be made.
So Sakura keeps a tally of distance. Meticulously.
If asked /how much/, she would have given the numbers that denoted it: kilometres, miles, inches-distance and all its units. All measurements were varying, they changed based on where Sasuke was, where she imagined he would be.
As for the space between her and Naruto, it fluctuated frequently. But the overall average of between had been an increasingly lessening value.
If asked /how/, Sakura would have no answer. She would have liked to blame it on time, but that's not really true. There hasn't really been any intervening time between with and without in the slightest. Two years was moment. Two years was lifetime.
More accurately, Sakura woke up one day and Sasuke had vanished from the axiomatic humdrum of reality, into the fringe ethers outside of the periphery of their existence. How was not the question so much as why. In terms of consequentiality, Sasuke was simply not there anymore. But he had never ceased to exist.
It was there that the cruel irony lay. If he had died, it would have given them closure, a finale they could have bundled up nicely in words and painful ceremony. An ending they could have sought shelter for and waited out like a violent storm. It would wreck and it would ruin, but they would linger in pensive silence for its passing, then total the ruins of their lives and slowly begin piecing them back together. In all theoretical sequences, it would have been better if Sasuke had died, but Sakura wasn't intent on becoming a liar and therefore couldn't say so.
But truth was not a finite concept. It was relative, like time or position in the dreamplane. Like Sasuke, who possessed myriad, shifting definitions based on the here or not here frame of perception.
For the longest time, Sakura-needing to think of these things because Naruto never did-contemplated the after. There was here and now and then there was Sasuke; but there would time and existence outside of that and what of it? They had been searching for so long, but the unasked question had never been brought to light. What would they do if he didn't want to come home? The likelihood of him abandoning all hopes of revenge were near impossible. Letting go would be the rational thing to do, she figured stoically, but theirs were not practical hearts. The fact remained that there was a glaring and heartbreaking truth here. She had watched Naruto chart out their voyage with trembling fingers and come to an important realisation.
Space was paradox with no true definition. The universe expanded with every second lost in their immense, variable mess of a timeline.
The fact remained that there would not always be a map for their distance. How would they find him then?
ii. The Triangulation Method
In their dreamlives, Earth was an insubstantial, undefined thing. It possessed no gravity; they rested there by the weight of their own free will-or at least according to the whims of their subconscious. It had no magnetic field and thus all compasses led nowhere, least of all to him.
Triangulation was the best method but an obvious problem existed. The land was a shifting, changing behemoth and neither of them could draw any lines because no topographic feature was static. So Naruto wove the threads and Sakura wound them around the landscape, trailed them back and took snapshots from a mountain.
If the world was to hold still for one moment in time, there would be patches of earth seen from space covered with a large scale grid-pattern in yarn. Marking areas already travelled, marking how much less distance they had to travel to Sasuke.
Right after Sasuke had left, near the time these dreams had started, Naruto tied a blue string around her wrist tightly. "This one's the most important, Sakura-chan," he told her with a smile, holding up his own wrist and the matching string there. She had squinted off into the distance to see what they were attached to, but the two lines extended out towards the flat, empty horizon, with no anchor in sight. "Make sure it holds tight, okay?" Naruto smiled at her, she smiled back. She knew where their tethers led.
But thinking about it now, there were some things that were just too hard to hold onto. Keeping track of Sasuke was akin to tying their strings to a whale. They had no mastery over its will, no comprehension of its foreign language. It went where they couldn't follow.
So the two of them tried to parallel his journey as best they could, trekking through paths of earth and water alike, enjoying the scenery along the way. But the journey was getting perilous, both in this life and the other. How much longer would they be able to stay in tow?
One particularly stormy night, Sakura had feigned rest in the damp hull of a ship they had bartered passage onto with spare rolls of thread. Beside her was Naruto, unsleeping and oddly contemplative, lightly tugging at the yarn around his wrist and thinking of how many miles they had to cover until they reached him. If she had merely reached out and slipped the worn loops off of both their wrists, watched the lines retreat away from them, towards the horizon and their unapologetic and uncompromising anchor, she could have managed to veer their ship off a course of likely suffering.
Instead, Sakura had breathed herself into heavy oblivion, blinking with heavy lidded eyes, once, twice, while staring at the still form of Naruto, meticulously tying tiny knots in their fraying lifeline to Sasuke with a trembling delicacy she had once thought beyond him.
The heart worked in funny ways, didn't it?
iii. Toponomy for the Laypeople
So what of the landmarks, then? Where did they exist on the shifting face of their dreams? They would have needed established edifices, things that were relatively constant and unchangeable. In this world, such things were a rare commodity.
Near the start of their journey, the two of them had docked at a port town briefly while the ship they were on had stopped for supplies. There, they had run into Ino.
"Sakura!" She had been standing near the waterside a little way away, waving at her friend exuberantly. Apparently they had just missed the other two-thirds of her team, who had docked a leaving ship just moments before. "You'll run into them eventually," she assured Naruto flippantly. He blinked, mildly offended by her familiar attitude, before leaving to obtain more thread, promising to be back by nightfall.
Ino wrapped her hand around Sakura's wrist and tugged her into the crowd of people. Sakura couldn't help noticing that she placed her fingers right over the blue yarn, only glancing at it briefly.
After a day spent roaming the market, they returned to the assigned rendezvous point. Naruto wasn't there yet. Ino bought candied apples and handed one to Sakura, resting beside her on the dock and swinging her legs in the empty space above the dark water. Sakura asked how long the ocean had stayed there.
"Have things been moving?" Ino asked back, clearly perplexed by the question. "I haven't noticed. I've been here a while. I'm not going anywhere, too, at least until the other two come back."
They sat for a moment, eating their apples. Sakura licked at the caramel thoughtfully, then decided to ask. "Why are you here?"
Ino swung her legs back and forth. "I don't know. We're looking for something, I guess. Why are you here?"
Sakura explained their journey in light detail. Ino nodded understandingly. "Basically, you're looking for something too."
They were looking for Sasuke, Sakura had said, but figured Ino's wording was more correct. What was it they were looking for? Him, the way he used to be, but that was a goal with little chance of fulfillment. They might eventually need to settle for something else.
"I wondered what the thread was for," Ino added, raising an eyebrow. "No offence, Sakura, but blue's not your colour."
Sakura swung at her with the apple viciously but had to settle for mock anger considering her candied weapon. Ino laughed, dodging the swipe.
"So why not let go?" Ino asked lightly. "Sounds like you'll run out of time."
Naruto had come back then, with a wavering gait, trying to walk without dropping the armfuls of thread he held in both hands. Sakura sighed at his clumsiness.
"Ino? You're still here?" He wondered out loud, dropping two spools as he did so. He glanced down at the dock. "The water's still here too..."
Sakura didn't say so, but she had a feeling Ino wouldn't be leaving for a while. She picked up a spool from where it had fallen near her feet. "Say, Ino," she asked, unrolling a length of the thread. "Mind if I give you this?"
Her friend glanced at the yarn with disdain and laughed, asking: "Maybe. Do you have another color?"
They tied the loop around her wrist firmly, making sure there would be enough slack before the next triangulation point, and left. They called that country /Ino/.
iv. On Matters of the Weather
Rain spells here were long and heavy. The clouds swept in suddenly, angrily, and poured their wet contents relentlessly onto the land underneath, irregardless of all the people there.
They had been standing on the deck of the ship at the time, contemplating the cracked earth beneath them. An ocean had existed here the night before but moved while they slept, pulling away from each shore before slipping away into the night, leaving behind trails of fish and seaweed in its slippery wake. The ship and all its occupants were suddenly left stranded, a beached, wooden whale.
And then the rain came in. Sakura had watched it fall contemplatively, shuddering as cold drops of water splattered against her skin.
Naruto noticed the movement and turned to her with a surprised grin. "You're not scared of the rain, are you?"
"No, it's just cold and wet," she told him. After a moment, added: "You shouldn't have to feel that way in a dream," mostly to herself.
Naruto cocked his head to the side, contemplating her cryptic words. He abandoned his thought process after only a moment, grinning widely before suddenly hoisting Sakura up in a piggyback and leaping off of the deck. She shrieked with surprise. He ran out into the rapidly filling valley; the cracked mud hungrily lapped up water, regenerated its broken surface with the lifeblood. All around them, the rain collected and rose.
Naruto and Sakura stood in the middle of that great sinkhole, heads tilted towards the sky.
"Hey, Sakura-chan," he said suddenly. She looked down at his sopping, smiling face. "You shouldn't be scared of a little water. It's the same stuff we saw last time, or the time before that." The rain. The water that moved all around this insubstantial place. Somewhere out in time, it once dripped down the pale curve of Sasuke's cheek.
The water level kept rising slowly, steadily. They ought to go back, or else catch cold. Naruto kicked out at the puddle of water around his ankles but tripped over a raised patch of earth concealed there, dropping Sakura at the same time.
"You were heavier than I thought," Naruto offered with an apologetic grin when she rubbed her sore backside. She gave him a half-hearted punch for the comment.
"But listen," he turned to face her, belly down in the water and immersing half his head as he did so. "Doesn't it sound weird? Kind of like a heartbeat." His words was light, his tone reverent. He pressed his ear against the ground; she watched him for a moment while wriggling her wet toes in the rising rainwater. After a beat, she followed suit.
The undulating fluid was alive with sound, a rumbling, echoing sort of noise that suddenly brought her own breathing into stark relief. Naruto grinned; his smile was a brief flash of light in all that water. He blinked once, twice; she heard the movement through the waves. With her mind, Sakura followed the path of air up through the trachea, past the beating heart and out of the prison of her lips.
In the end, it was all that they were made of. Air and rhythm. Space and light. It held a rather simplistic beauty, all encompassed in the rainsong. Their symphony.
"What do you think he's listening to now?" He asked then. The water and sky stretched infinitely into the curved, distant horizon, one luminous monochrome slate for as far as Sakura could see. Naruto's blue eyes glittered among all the grey.
She lowered her eyelids and nestled her head back in the cold water. It was reasonable to say that there would not always be time like this, that dreams would not always link her back here, their blue gridlines were finite. There would not always be two accompanied with a question mark, nor the slender curves of their still forms engulfed in the wet dullness. There would not always be endless miles of monochromal sky and land and the hovering medley of notes from their lonely melody. Their symphony for him.
But there would always be the rain.
v. A Dreamlife for the Relatively Rational
She had been the first to catch a glimpse of his late, famous heart.
He called her name then, while her fingers were pressed against the smooth column of Sai's throat, and from those syllables an aching, claustrophobic rush of emotion came forth, rending Sakura's steely logic entirely. It affirmed a fact that had not yet occurred to her: there was no charting of Sasuke's heart. In its dark depths it bred a story that, even watered down with time, could never be labelled beautiful. It was a tragedy of the worst degree, without logic or reason rooted in science or even fate, but full of raw, seedy hate and pain inimitable by the worst torture. This was a distinction of utmost importance. The reason why its trajectories would never be found.
But it existed, in the same kind of way some people understood the concept of god. Some things you don't need to see to believe in. Their religion was built off of something far less tangible than relics: the pledge both had made to find him again. Sakura shouldered the burden of both their promises, a feat Naruto managed readily. Despite the fact that he possessed no effortless grace or propriety in the slightest, he still accomplished the near impossible. He rendered not having into beautiful brilliance. Only Naruto could make missing an art form.
But hurt was relative; it could be washed away by ample amounts of time. Where the time would come from, that was another matter.
Sakura stood there, almost content with the canyon-unit of distance between them and the elegant curve of his lips around the syllables of her name. It felt like more than she was ever supposed to have had.
Truthfully, the semantics of the argument did not lie in entitlement. Upon closer examination of the storyline of Konoha (in real time, of course) evidence pointed to the fact that the three of them were heirs apparent to a long, convoluted line of non-parallel existences.
But fate, too, was relative. Sasuke had rendered it so.
Sakura was not an artist. She would never be able to meld this into something memorable and beautiful in Naruto's effortless way. She was a woman of medicine and understood it as such: Sasuke's sickness had crept up a remnant limb of their three-man cell. Incompleteness was their ailment, it reeked of sadness in the worst sort of way. She should have hacked off the offending extremity while she still had the opportunity. There was still a minimal chance of recovery.
But she didn't remember anything except the heavy burden of the yarn around her wrist, the uncontrollable flow of time, slipping away from them. And a sudden urge to laugh at the ludicrousness of her intent to sever this one and only fraying and tremulous lifeline. Admittedly, it would have been merciful to have done so, but Sasuke had never been merciful. They were more like him than they had once thought.
She would never hack off that leg because they needed it to stand upon. Instead, the two of them banked on the impossible chance that the disease would recede, repair the already rotting flesh and restore their once-easy gait. That this, like time, would soon pass as well.
Sakura had always bordered on closet optimism, after all. And every time he saw a slender hand, pale and stark in moonlight with a finger-length greater than that of the palm, Naruto would look for Sasuke.
vi. The Rainmaker
When they had met him again, Sakura's dreams had not let her forget the encounter. They played on a sick loop for many nights in a row, all variations on the same scene.
Sasuke wrapped an aristocratic hand around the curve of Naruto's shoulder; leaned in close like he was telling a secret. Said, "On my whim, this time you'll die," with an angry fire in his eyes.
It's funny that so little distance could be the most fitting tribute to the miles and miles of space and time the two of them have endured. But it had been too, too long for it to end like this. Sasuke's words were believable, frightening. He exuded power; his form was alight with it. His words were menacing, a testament to his enormous ego. His words were, as they still remain, the saddest, most stupid thing Naruto had ever heard.
He couldn't help it when his hands fluttered to motion at his side. Will lost substance, turned to water; he was driftwood in its gyres. And slowly reached up, unwillingly, towards white skin but no alternative end. To shake him violently or else tenderly press fingers against all that cold fire.
In the space bridged by the arcing path of Sasuke's sword, contact was made.
There were these things: one less litre of blood in Naruto's body when the blade drove cleanly through his back. One more time Sakura stood, helpless, as her boys brutally collided. One more tug at her fraying thread, now strangely fused, telling her that she had lost her chance in this lifetime. One more touch for the number of times they had brushed up against each other, all adding up to the one conclusion that had always been the most obvious thing in the world.
There was no letting go now.