Standard disclaimer applies.

Itachi and Madara were tense, warm bodies in this too cold room beside her. They hid their anxiety well, both using that stone-faced gift all Uchihas seemed to be born with. Well, all Uchihas except Shisui, it seemed.

Sakura forced herself to not look at Shisui, to not take inventory of his wounds or if his chest was rising up and down. She looked at Orochimaru through a hooded gaze, leaning her weight on one foot nonchalantly. If she could just divert his attention from the bleeding body on the table to her, to her sharp words thrown at him like knifes . . . then maybe, maybe they'd get an opening.

Orochimaru was chuckling, and it sounded like the rattling of something about to break. "Pretty little Sakura-chan. I can't tell you how happy I am that you're here for this. It's been a long time coming, you know." His snake-like eyes slithered over to Madara. "I wonder, have you heard the story yet, of how the great Madara Uchiha lost his hubris and reputation because of the death of an innocent child?"

At that moment Sakura was beyond grateful that Kakashi had told her everything; Orochimaru was trying to throw her off, to get a reaction out of her and see just how much she knew, if they were all still keeping secrets from her. "Oh?" she drawled. "That story? Seemed like you had more to do with the death of 'an innocent child' than anyone else."

He quirked his head at her. Sakura froze. "I suppose you are correct, Sakura-chan. Little Rin was cleverer than I had expected. A pity that she couldn't be more useful." He sighed, like her death was something that simply couldn't have been prevented, like she died of an illness or natural disaster. Like it was simply something that was. "I admit I lost my temper, but Obito was not as . . . gifted as I'd expected."

Sakura licked her lips. "Gifted?"

"The Uchiha gene is very particular. What would you say if I told you that, if replicated, could cure certain defects in children?"

"I . . . don't understand." She really didn't. This was more than likely the ravings of a madman, but . . . there was still that annoyingly little voice in her head—the scientific, selfish, and greedy part of her—that was curious. That wanted to know about the mere possibility of such a thing. The things that it could accomplish.

She'd seen the journals and entries. Maybe that was why some of the crates had been left open—so she could see and read about experiments already done and see that, though through extreme methods, some of them paid off. Some of them worked. It was the reason Madara had first made deals with Orochimaru, after all.

Orochimaru drew his gaze up and down her figure, and Sakura had to repress a shudder. "Genes—genetics—are a peculiar thing. Why do you have pink hair and green eyes? Because it was passed down to you from previous generations. Because even though neither of your parents have pink hair, they were carriers. Now, pink hair—while unique and pretty, don't misunderstand, Sakura-chan—is, at its core, useless. But it makes one wonder how it came to be from the beginning. If religion is to be believed and the first humans were Adam and Eve and, say, Adam was blond and Eve was brunette, how did someone like you, generations and generations down the road, end up with pink hair? Were they both carriers? And if so, what about people with black or red hair? They couldn't have been carriers of all of them. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it?"

Sakura was only half paying attention. The thing about narcissists was that they saw themselves as gods, and the thing about people who saw themselves as gods was that they liked to talk. It was all very tedious in Sakura's opinion and she was more focused on Shisui and the fact that she could not see his chest moving and that considerably worried her.

"Is there something to be gained from this little scientific and religion rant, or are you just talking to hear yourself talk?" Madara growled.

Orochimaru continued as if he hadn't spoken. "The Uchiha clan carries an interesting gene in their eyes, you see. I'm sure you've noticed their habit of getting red eyes when their emotions are running high. That's enough to warrant some kind of attention, but then there's also the fact that the Uchihas are seemingly perfect at everything."

He waved the hand not occupied by holding the scalpel to Shisui's throat around lazily in the air. "Now this could just be due to stern raising and good luck, but even those things are not effective on everyone. It's simply impossible. So it must come down to something in their basic makeup," Orochimaru went on.

"Get to your point already," Madara snarled.

"There is something in their makeup that prevents the Uchihas from getting sick. Mental sickness, common cold sickness, everything." Orochimaru locked eyes with Sakura, and it was abundantly clear to everyone in the room this whole debacle was for her. "Think about it, little Sakura-chan. We all know Obito—or shall I refer to him as Tobi?—is faking his little split persona. The Uchiha genes are not as strong in him since he is not part of the main branch—something I sincerely regret, as his . . . operation was a failure." He says all this with such sadness, like Obito was the one to let him down.

"What if it could be replicated? What if all those pesky little illnesses could be cured? Little Sakura-chan—what would you do without the weight of depression and anxiety to hold you down?"

It was a struggle not to rear back then, to not react. She didn't want to know how he could know such a thing about her . . . that he would even spend the effort to find out such a thing about her. To say it so bluntly for Madara and Itachi and Naruto and Sasuke and God above to hear it laid out in all its ugly bareness.

Orochimaru smiled what might have been considered softy, tenderly. It looked like oil and something slimy to her. "It would be nice, wouldn't it? It's possible, you know. Achievable." He looked pointedly at Shisui then, the first time since she'd been in the too cold room that he'd even acknowledged him laid out on the table.

"Shisui isn't from the main branch," Sakura said slowly.

Orochimaru's eyes flashed. "No, he isn't. Those pesky elders have been keeping too close of a watch on the main branch unfortunately." He looked at Itachi, Madara, and Sasuke then and cocked his head. "But now there's three of them right here in this room."

Sakura narrowed her eyes at him and his tone. "You're not strong enough to take them."

"Oh, no. Of course not!" He grinned at her like he'd already won. "But you are."

The air froze and Sakura along with it. She nearly sputtered. "Wh—no I'm not," she said indigently. "And even if I was—"

"Of course you are, Sakura-chan," Orochimaru chided like she was a child unable to grasp a simple concept. "Look at them—worried for you, caring for you. I doubt even you understand the depths of their affection and loyalty to you." He held his one unoccupied hand up in an oh-well gesture. "All you'd have to do is ask."

It was then she understood. He wanted her to ask one of them to sacrifice themselves, to take Shisui's place on the table and let Orochimaru extract whatever it was in them able to cure illnesses and give people the idea of perfection. If it was even possible, which Sakura sincerely doubted. All in the name of The Greater Good.

What a load of bull.

"They'd listen to you," Orochimaru went on. "If you only ask."

Sakura's eyes darted down to Shisui. The silence in the room went on.

Madara began to step forward and Sakura grabbed his arm tightly. "Oh, don't even," she hissed at him, sounding full of exasperation and the result of having to deal with too many men's bullshit over all these years.

She turned to Orochimaru. "You, sir, are full of shit."

Dead silence.

Orochimaru threw his head back and laughed loudly. "Oh, what a treat you are!"

"Enough of this," Itachi said. "Hand over Shisui or we will kill you." He said it the way someone would say they're going to pick up milk at the grocery store.

"Or—" Orochimaru grinned and laid his hand on Shisui's head, tilting it back for all to see his pale, bleeding throat. "—I simply kill Shisui now and be done with all of these pesky failures." His eyes narrowed.

Sakura pursed her lips. "He is a failure to you, isn't he?" she said idly, not really looking at anyone.
Orochimaru blinked at her.

"You don't want Shisui—you never have," Sakura went on. She shrugged. "You went to all this trouble getting him to bait us all here . . . but it's still a failure, isn't it?" She looked pointedly at Shisui's eyes then.

"You thought he was different, didn't you?" she said slowly. She bit back the smile that wanted to curve her lips. "You thought he would work."

Orochimaru hissed. "Shisui Uchiha is more part of the main family than Obito Uchiha was. I admit that I had better expectations for Shisui, but alas," he sighed, "twas not to be."

"And me?" Sakura asked. "What was the point of getting someone to attack me in the parking lot of a college, of luring me out here like this? You knew I'd come."

"Pretty little Sakura-chan," Orochimaru cooed. She wanted to tear his lungs from his chest to prevent him from ever gathering the oxygen again to call her such a thing. It wasn't worth the oxygen—he wasn't worth the oxygen, she thought bitterly—nor was the carbon dioxide he was creating. "Don't you see your worth? Everyone's tied around your pretty little finger. It's just a question of who's worth more to you in the grand scheme of things: Shisui or . . ." he let his question trail off, smile curling his lips and eyes darting meaningfully back to Madara and Itachi and Sasuke.

"Is Shisui worth more to you than Madara, the once great patriarch of the Uchiha clan? Who so carelessly used his power to bait the young Obito and his friends up to the mountains?"

Sakura froze, ice rushing in her veins. Her skin felt like it was on fire all at once, itching and she wanted to crawl out of her body.

"That's not true!" Madara roared. "I never—"

"Uncle," Itachi murmured, looking at him out the corner of his eye. Sakura felt for the first time that she was standing between two beasts. "What did you do?"

"Nothing!" Madara snarled.

At the same time, Orochimaru hissed out, "Why, he gave me the location of the Uchiha house up north, of course."

"I gave you that location months in advance," Madara said defensively. "You had the locations of many Uchiha households for transactions and meetings. Obito had nothing to do with it."

Sakura narrowed her eyes, her mouth pressed into a hard line. "Get to your point, Orochimaru."

He licked his lips. "Isn't it odd how the location the great Madara Uchiha gave me was also the location he pressed little Obito to take his friends to? Odd coincidence, isn't it?"

"Well," a voice drawled out lazily, "we could debate about it being fate, but that seems a tad morbid to me."

Sakura blinked in his direction, irritated at Kakashi. "Took you fucking long enough," she muttered bitterly under her breath, letting out a shaky sigh. She scratched at her arm where her scar was without thinking.

Kakashi wiggled his fingers in her direction, never taking his dark eyes off Orochimaru. He was behind him, black gun to his head and nozzle pressed to Orochimaru's temple.

Orochimaru smirked, but the rest of him was frozen and tense. A small trickle of sweat fell down from his temple. "Ah, little Kakashi-kun. Though not so little anymore, hmm? Tell me, where is the other one?"

"Right here," Yamato called, close against the wall nearest Sakura. He moved into the light with his arm wrapped tightly around Kabuto, gun pressed to his white head. His eyes were wide and made of iron. Kabuto was struggling in the way a hurt, rabid dog would—all flailing limbs and pinched faced, not really doing any damage to the man holding him except to be more annoying than he was worth. Yamato kept a solid hold on him and pressed the gun harder to his temple. "Stop moving," Yamato hissed, and surprisingly he did, though slowly.

Kabuto looked more than a little annoyed. There had been another door behind Orochimaru, Sakura noticed. It had been in the one dark spot of the too bright room, and she kicked herself for not seeing it sooner. Though it made sense that Orochimaru would have a way to get out of the room even with all of them blocking the exit they came in by.

Honestly, how anyone could think Kakashi wasn't going to find his way to Orochimaru was ridiculous. Hidden door or not, there wasn't much on earth that could stop that kind of man.

"Not you," Orochimaru hissed. "The other useless Uchiha brat."

Kakashi hummed. "Obito? No idea."

Sakura didn't think that was completely true, but whatever. "Let Shisui go, Orochimaru," Itachi said blandly. "You're finished."

Sakura locked eyes with Kabuto. He stropped struggling completely against Yamato's hold and smiled, long and slow. She felt something coil and contract in her gut in pain and apprehension. Kabuto—even more so than Orochimaru—would be the one she'd be glad to see gone.

Naruto and Sasuke—having both been completely silent up until that point—must have noticed her diverted attention. Both stepped forward in Kabuto's direction.

"Ah-ah!" Orochimaru sing-songed in a high-pitched whine. "Careful you two," he purred. "He likes to bite."

The way he said it sent shivers down Sakura's spine. Something wasn't right. They had the upper hand—Kabuto in a chokehold, Orochimaru with a gun pressed to his head by a man not afraid to fire it.

Then Kabuto tilted his head down and bit into Yamato's arm.

To Yamato's credit, he didn't immediately release his hold on Kabuto, just made a sound of pain in the back of his throat. But when Kabuto let up just for a moment, only to bit back harder and deeper, and only when blood welled up on Yamato's arm did he loose enough of his hold for Kabuto to escape.

In the next instant Kabuto had Yamato's gun in his hand, and then Kabuto had knocked the butt of the gun hard enough to Yamato's head for him to crumple to the ground in a heap. Sakura was already moving, had been moving from the moment Orochimaru had said the word bite.

The world tilted around her.

It was a mistake. Kabuto was so damn quick. Sakura had a gun in her hand, but she was too scared of hitting Yamato to use it right away and something was undeniably wrong.

In the next instant, Kabuto had Sakura's legs kicked out from under her and had his chest pressed to her back, one hand wrapped around her waist, right under her breasts. Her gun was on the floor, and she couldn't remember how he'd managed that so quickly. She didn't understand how he'd managed any of that so quickly.

Something was wrong. The lights seemed to be getting brighter and brighter and brighter. The cold was getting colder, and Sakura tried and failed to remember the last few moments, grabbed at the space of time between Orochimaru saying bite and now, locked in Kabuto's arms with desperate hands, and yet couldn't conjure up anything to fill in that space.

She swallowed thickly, feeling like a cotton nest was taking home in her mouth and throat. She blinked rapidly, trying to think, to fucking understand.

Kabuto chuckled in her ear, and this time Sakura couldn't stop the shudder that raced down her spine. "Something wrong, Sakura-chan?" he purred. "Take deep and slow breaths, sweetheart."

If these ridiculous pet names didn't stop, Sakura was likely to set something—or someone—on fire.

Then his words hit home.

Oh, god.

Breathing. Breathing. Was she hyperventilating? She thought about the heart pumping blood and oxygen—in through the inferior and superior vena cava and then into the atrium. In through the right atrium, into the right ventricle. Use the tricuspid valve. Exit oxygen stage left—out through the pulmonary veins and out through the left atrium and left ventricle. Out through the aorta and into the body.

Breathe, breathe.

Naruto's face blurred near her. She could see him trying to take slow, even steps to her, but she couldn't stop blinking against the rays of the lights above to understand why he was looking so horrified. Naruto shouldn't look horrified; it didn't suit him at all.

Kabuto said something near her ear. She tried to focus, to understand, but the words obviously weren't meant for her. Naruto stopped walking towards her, and she watched with growing fascination as his face so quickly went red and angry. So much loathing in that kind face. Sasuke was next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. His face wasn't much better, going stone-still and reminding Sakura of an Adonis carved from marble. Her little Greek god, all hers and the baka's.

She closed her eyes. Sakura caught a handful of the words coming out Kabuto's mouth.

Air. Poisoned. Skin. Toxins.


She kept her eyes closed against the oppressive lights even as her body screamed at her to open them and rage. Zetsu—fucking Zetsu.

She was so going to kill him for this.

An I-owe-you, her ass.

She thought about him rubbing his face into her hair, his plant and cannibal tendencies. How he had licked her.

The thing about Zetsu was that he sold information to the highest bidder. He wasn't exactly a member of the Akatsuki—he just worked for them a good deal of the time. No one really expected his loyalty, but when Sakura opened her eyes and breathed deep, she saw the flash in everyone's eyes at the betrayal.

She licked her chapped lips. No. Not a betrayal.

An opening.

An I-owe-you.

Zetsu may have poisoned her with some kind of skin-to-skin toxins, ones that likely didn't affect him due to his unique genetic makeup, but he was still a clever bastard.

She internally scoffed.

A fucking I-owe-you.


"May I eat him when you are done killing him? You can even chop him up first, make him easier to chew."

She was thinking about poison ivy and its ability to cause reactions on a person's skin so quickly, and how it wouldn't be difficult for someone of his caliber to find—or create—a poison that did something similar, along with the nice little issues she was having with thinking and breathing and concentrating—that little fuck. She thought about how she wanted to crawl out of her skin—everything felt like it was on fire inside her, even though she knew she was cold. It was so damn cold in this fucking freezer-like room. She wondered if the poison Zetsu carried on his person had to do with how he only liked warmer climates. She also wondered how she was going to get around to skinning him alive for this.

Sakura breathed deep as she felt Kabuto's hand creep down her stomach, pulling her impossibly closer to him. She swallowed the bile trying to inch its way up her esophagus, not sure if it was a side-effect of the poison or from Kabuto's close presence.

"Pretty little Sakura-chan's mine now," Kabuto said next to her head, more for Naruto and Sasuke's benefit than hers. She could hear the roar of rage from Naruto, almost animalistic in nature.

"No," she muttered, eyes flashing.

I am mine before I am anyone else's.

Taking another breath, Sakura closed her eyes and thrust back the knife into Kabuto's leg.

He screamed, and Sakura nearly fell to the ground once he released her. It was just enough space and she had barely—barely—enough time to slice her hand—right over her scar—and shove it between Kabuto's teeth.

"Bite," she whispered. "Bite, you bastard."

Kabuto shoved her back and she fell into Sasuke. This time, however, the arms that wrapped around her did not bring bile up her throat.

She chuckled, paying no mind to how blood fell down her hand in a steady stream as Sasuke struggled to bind it and as Naruto threw Kabuto to the ground and pulled handcuffs from somewhere off his person to restrain him.

"The lights and breathing will be the most difficult to get used to," Sakura told Kabuto, eyeing the blood dripping down his mouth as he spit and gagged. The bloodied knife was still in her hand, closed in a bloodless grip. Her vision swam in front of her as she listened to Sasuke's muted curses from beside her.

Kabuto glared at her with at first confusion, and then cursed under his breath. "You bitch," he hissed. Naruto gave him a rough punch to his head for that one.

Personally, Sakura was just glad the pet names were done.

"It appears," Itachi drawled from somewhere besides Sakura. She refused to turn because it hurt her head too much to do much of anything but attempt to stay on her shoulders, "that Zetsu is still a bit more loyal to Sakura-chan than to you, Orochimaru."

Sakura closed her eyes and breathed.

Sasuke's hands were warm on her skin and she felt a trickle of sweat trace its way down her back. She ran through how she was going to get the cure for whatever was in her blood stream. Zetsu would have it; she knew that. But it wouldn't be free.

An I-owe-you.

That fucker.

Zetsu wanted more than for Orochimaru and Kabuto to die—he wanted them to suffer. He wanted them to feel the pain of being experimented on, of having poisons tested out on them without their permission.

"I, too, have a hunger that needs to be sated when it comes to the snake bastard."

She may not know the specifics, but it would make sense. Zetsu's odd genetic makeup, his personality . . . his hatred for Orochimaru and Kabuto.

His fucking I-owe-you.

Consider it paid in full, you bastard, Sakura thought.

Then she almost gave herself whiplash with how fast she tried to struggle out of Sasuke's lap. He caught her by her shoulders before she could move far, however. Her eyes darted to his face in fear and then down at her hand where her blood flowed. She had to blink multiple times before focusing her vision on her clear, bloodied skin . . . but no rash. No odd coloring.

She heaved a sigh of relief. She might be wrong. Maybe she could only pass along the toxin through her blood. But if not . . . if it could be passed along by just touching her . . .

She turned to Sasuke and looked pointedly down at her arm and where he was holding her, skin-to-skin.

He grunted. "We'll deal with it later."

Kabuto was thrashing on her floor. Finally, Naruto just hit him in the back of the neck with the butt of his gun, grumbling to himself as Kabuto lay unmoving on the ground, not far from Yamato, where the exact same thing had been done to him.

Naruto looked behind his back then, flashed a sly smile to Sakura and Sasuke and rubbed the back of his head. "Seemed like the best way to get him to shut up." He chuckled nervously.

Orochimaru hissed. "This isn't over, you fools."

Madara chuckled and spread his arms wide. "What's next, Orochimaru? What else do you have to throw at us?"

Then Orochimaru turned around and cut into Kakashi with the scalpel that had been held against Shsiui's throat.

"Uncle," Itachi said, "please shut up."

Madara cursed and Kakashi let out a pained groan. Orochimaru was able to push him away and Kakashi stumbled. Sakura's vision was blurring horribly at the edges, but she struggled to her feet. The next thing she knew, Kakashi's gun had been kicked over to one of the walls and both he and Orochimaru were scrambling against each other, throwing punches and kicks. Orochimaru hissed. Kakashi grunted.

Sakura pushed Sasuke's hands away and hissed at him and Naruto to go help Kakashi when the back door behind Orochimaru opened—the same door Kakashi and Yamato had snuck through with Kabuto—and more bodies pushed through.

Sakura would swear on her life that she heard Itachi curse colorfully under his breath then.

Then it was chaos.

There were gunshots. Itachi and Madara were moving too quickly for her muddled vision to focus on, and Sasuke and Naruto were near her still, picking off enemies one-by-one. She didn't know where her gun was.

She gripped the knife in her right hand and scrambled over to where Shisui was. Kami, everything hurt.

Someone grabbed onto her elbow.

Sakura threw out a punch before she was even done processing that someone was touching her. Tobi caught her fist. "Sakura-chan," he whispered, so softly Sakura was surprised she could hear him. Her eyes flicked out behind him and she dropped her knife.

He twirled then and shot at a woman who'd been coming up behind him. He didn't pause to watch her fall to the ground, just turned back around with an unreadable mask and pressed the knife she'd dropped in her hand. "For protection," he said.

Sakura nodded and let him help her get through the mass of bodies to find Shisui's table, where surprisingly no one seemed to be paying the bleeding boy much mind.

Sakura stumbled to the metal table and hunched over it, over Shisui's body. She nearly whimpered at all the blood up close, running down his soft, pale skin. She felt the rage coil in her gut and used it to push back her feelings of discomfort and nausea.

She reached one hand up to push his wild dark curls out of his face, nearly stumbled backwards when he opened one eye to look at her. "Sakura-chan," he grumbled. His chest moved slowly up and down in shallow breaths. "We gotta stop meeting like this."

She choked on a laugh. "You don't get to be sassy when I'm trying to rescue you," she said. "Leave the clever one-liners to me, okay?"

What she really meant was: Stop talking, you're losing blood and, oh god, why aren't you opening your other eye?

Shisui let out something that sounded like a choke mixed with a chortle. Then he went completely serious. "Sakura-chan," he began, "where is—?"

"Kakashi is fighting Orochimaru," Sakura began, looking at his restraints. Leather cuffs tied to chains fastened his arms and legs down to the table while a thick cord wrapped around his abdomen. She could try to hack at the leather with her knife, but . . . "Kabuto's unconscious. Itachi, Madara, Naruto, and Sasuke are fighting. Tobi, too."

Shisui blinked his one good eye rapidly. She watched as his throat bobbed with a thick swallow. He licked his cracked and bloodied lips. "Sakura-chan, I—"

A body rammed into her side then, cutting off whatever Shisui was going to say. Sakura nearly screamed at the impact, hearing Shisui's hoarse and raged cry of "No!" But she managed to keep herself from falling all the way to the floor. She looked around wildly and noticed Tobi was gone, probably had been gone the second she'd gotten over to Shisui. Stupid . . . It was so damn stupid not to think to protect herself in that room, where everyone was fighting and dying.

She honed in on the body that had slammed into her. A girl . . . it was a girl with red hair and a snarl carved onto her face. She had a white bandage tied around her forehead, like she was healing from a wound there.

And she was glaring down at Sakura with a long knife in her hand, a lock of red hair falling between her eyes. "You," she hissed. "You're the one who killed Jirōbō and Kidōmaru!"

Sakura blinked. "Who?" she slurred.

This seemed to enrage the girl even more. She thrust her knife in Sakura's direction. "Don't play games with me, you stupid girl! They were my friends."

Then it clicked. "Seriously?" Sakura said almost stupidly. "One of your so called friends attacked me in a freaking parking lot and the other one was content to let him die to jail instead of going against Orochimaru." She shook her head, still eyeing the girl, thinking of which of them would be faster. "Just . . . seriously?"

This, obviously, did not fly well with the girl.

Shisui yelled when the girl flung herself at Sakura, arms outstretched. Sakura easily side-stepped the girl and gave herself enough room to land a well-placed kick onto the girls backside.

"Also," Sakura went on, because talking was keeping her from focusing too much on how the edges around her vision swam and her body was positively thrumming was pain, "I didn't kill anyone. You'll have to file a complaint with the Akatsuki about that one." She thought for another second and then said, "And Yamato, too, though he's a little bit out cold at the moment, so—"

Okay, the punch Sakura got in her stomach that time was a little more her fault. She stumbled back and reached out and clung to the side of Shisui's table to keep from falling over. Sakura was able to kick the knife out of the girl's hand after a few more moments, and they traded more punches and kicks.

When the girl caught Sakura's hair in a fist and pulled, Sakura ground her teeth together and lost all her damn patience.

Kicking out behind her, Sakura connected her heel with the girl's shin, causing her to flinch and let Sakura rip her hair free. She flinched and knew she'd just lost more hair to the girl's fist than she would have liked. If she had a bald spot after this, she was going to be so pissed.

When the girl stepped towards her, Sakura backpedaled until she was on the opposite side of Shisui's table. The red-headed girl reached for her with a scream, and Sakura was able to grab the knife she'd left on Shisui's table to slice at her abdomen.

The girl let out a shrill scream and covered the bleeding wound with one hand.

Sakura lunged again.

And again.

She parried, kicked, bit, punched, scratched, thrust, and lunged as the girl did the same.

Sakura was breathing hard and bleeding more than she knew she should. The girl wasn't doing much better. If she just wasn't poisoned and already hurt . . . god, this could have been over already. But, damn, this girl was good.

Then one white hand reached out from behind the girl and tugged her red hair back in one unforgiving movement. She screamed as Sakura watched, wide-eyed.

Orochimaru sneered out at Sakura, pushed the girl away with one nonchalant push of a hand. The girl tumbled to the floor. "Go away, Tayuya," he commanded. He had a deep red gash on his temple, likely the result of Kakashi.

The girl looked like she was going to fight him on it for a moment, but then scuttled away in the opposite direction.

"Where's Kakashi?" Sakura asked, panting. "I was expecting you to be dead by now."

He chuckled, and it was at odds with the glare he pinned her with. "He's a mere boy, barely any different from when I last cut him open on a silver table . . ." He glanced at Shisui then, and dread coiled tight in her gut. She struggled not to sway. "Much like Shisui here."

Then he raised a gun to the side of Shisui's head.

Sakura froze, her eyes darting to Shisui's one good eye as he stared at the nozzle of Orochimaru's gun.

"You stupid girl," Orochimaru said almost fondly, and Sakura knew in that instant he was truly and utterly insane. "All I wanted was a Uchiha vessel. Just one. That's all I asked."

He shook his head in a false act of regret. Sakura could barely breathe, thinking and coming up with nearly a dozen plans on how to get that gun away from Orochimaru, to get Shisui out of those restraints, to distract Orochimaru, to at least get the bullet to hit something non-vital, to kill Orochimaru . . . and all had probabilities of them utterly failing and Shisui getting shot and dying.

"Do you favor that false patriarch so much more than dear Shisui?" Orochimaru cooed. "How is it dear Shisui is worth less than the others to you? Is Itachi a better lover than Shisui? Is Sasuke a better friend? Is—"

"Wait a second," Shisui interrupted, the first time he'd spoken. He tried to lift his head enough to look at Sakura with one wide eye. "You're sleeping with Itachi?"

Sakura choked on the laugh that boiled up her throat. One tear slid down her cheek—the first of many. "Obviously not."

Orochimaru's eye was twitching.

He took a calming breath, then two. Sakura wondered where the hell Kakashi was, if he was even alive. Where anyone was, but this room was still too crowded and too much fighting was going on around her. Just keep him distracted, her mind told her. Just wait him out.

When he was calm and in his element again, Orochimaru spoke. "Tell me, Shisui," he said, not turning away from Sakura to look at him, "was it worth it?"

"Was what?" Shisui questioned, not tearing his eyes away from Sakura.

"Loving her," Orochimaru said, tilting his head. The gesture made him look young, like this was truly something he could not understand.

Shisui didn't hesitate. "Always," he said, and then thrust out his arm to wrap his hand around the muzzle of the barrel.

Sakura screamed when the gun went off.

She was running before she thought better of it, but Tobi was suddenly there, behind Orochimaru, and Orochimaru had gone very, very still.

Sakura was at Shisui's side in the next instant. She was pulling at the leather restraints. She hacked at them with her knife, but they didn't budge. She looked him over and . . . no bleeding. No puncture wound. He wasn't shot and it was nearly enough to make her crumple.

Shisui touched her face with his one free hand, having somehow gotten himself loose through stubbornness and the knife she'd left by his hand before.

His fingers rubbed against her face and the blood there, but when she saw his fingers, she saw that they were smudging at a combination of blood and tears. She smiled painfully at him. "You asshole," she choked out.

"Hey, that's no way to speak to the dying man on the operation table," Shisui said, then smiled sadly at her. So much blood was on his face still. "Sakura-chan."

"No," she said harshly. "You're going to be fine, Shisui. Fucking fine. Do you hear me?"

He just continued to smile sadly at her. "I told you I wasn't a good person, Sakura-chan."

He coughed, and it came out bloody.

Sakura choked and felt close to hyperventilating again when she heard more voices come from behind her.



"He always ruins the mood," she heard Shisui mutter. "Fucking prick. I am trying to be all dramatic and on my deathbed and he still . . ." Muttering continued.

Sakura looked up long enough to see Tobi and Orochimaru. Orochimaru was turned just enough to see Tobi. Sakura could see the knife sticking out of Orochimaru's back.

"This is for Rin," Sakura heard Tobi—no, Obito—say.

Orochimaru looked up at him with wide eyes and a parted, pale mouth, a trickle of blood coming out the corner of it. He gurgled something Sakura couldn't make out, and then Obito pulled back the knife and sliced it across Orochimaru's throat.

Sakura never looked away.

Orochimaru fell in a bloody heap to the floor. Obito looked at it, toed the body with the tip of his boot and looked up at her. He didn't smile his normal, goofy Tobi-esque grin, didn't have a trumpet twinkle in his eyes.

He just looked so, so tired.

Sakura didn't pay a whole lot of attention to everything that happened next. There was screaming. So, so much screaming coming from every direction around them. Sakura was using the metal table to hold herself up by that point, her limbs betraying her.

Shisui was saying something and pulling her more on top of him and the table. She made a sound of protest about putting her weight on him when he was already so injured, that of which he promptly ignored.

"Sakura-chan, I have more drugs in me than I can even begin to say," Shisui said, giving her a half-smile. Or tried to, at least. "That monster at least gave me that."

"What did he do, Shisui?"

She watched the movement of his throat. Sakura cursed herself and pressed a hand against Shisui's throat where Orochimaru had cut him with the scalpel, even though the blood that had been leaking from it was nearly gone, the wound clotted. Still, she tried to wipe away as much of the blood as she could with the sleeve of her already ruined sweater.

"Your eyes . . ." she began.

Shisui closed both eyes. Swallowed again. He brought his one free hand up to the eye he hadn't opened yet. "I still have it," he murmured. "It's just . . . not cooperating right now."

Sakura bit back the questions she had, and instead asked, "Does it hurt?"

He shook his head slowly. "Not right now. I think it's all the adrenaline and drugs I've got in me." He chuckled. "If I hadn't heard your voice earlier, I don't think I would have woken up."

"Shisui . . ."

He wrapped his hand around the back of her neck. The screaming and sounds of gunshots around them were lessening, even though Sakura knew it had only been a few moments since the rest of the Akatsuki had entered the room. She wasn't worried about being caught off guard again, not with Obito standing guard right next to them.

"Sakura-chan," Shisui said, "you're about to pass out."

It was true. She was putting all her weight on the metal table, was nearly on top of Shisui. She felt her vision going black, but blinked multiple times and bit her lip and gouged her nails into her thighs, trying to use the pain to keep herself awake.

She inhaled shakily. "I thought you were dead," she whispered. There was moisture on her face.

Then she steeled herself. "If you ever do this again, I will hunt you down and use all those baby photos of you Mikoto has as blackmail. I swear I will—"

He cut her off with his mouth. Sakura was pliant in his arms, nearly falling into his face with how weak she was and the hand wrapped behind her neck. But she found she didn't mind. She braced her hands on either side of his head, holding herself up as much as possible.

Sakura shuddered into the kiss. Her eyes were open and she could see her tears fall onto Shisui's face, mixing even more with his blood. His eyes were closed, and when Sakura pulled back, his face was soft and relaxed. She could feel his chest rise and fall underneath her, felt his ribs contract and expand.

"'I hope to arrive to my death late, in love, and a little drunk,'" Shisui murmured, more to himself than to her.

She leaned back down to softly place her mouth on his.

He was obviously shocked to feel her a second time. He was still and Sakura placed small nips along his bottom lip, tracing her tongue against his lips until she was inside his mouth. One of her hands found its way into his hair and she scrapped her nails across his scalp. He moaned into her mouth, and Sakura felt a rush of feminine pride.

She kept the pace slow and languid, kissed him like it was a common practice, like it was a comfort she came back to time and again. Her hair was a curtain around them, long and in disarray and caked in sweat and gore.

Sakura could taste blood on Shisui's mouth. His, she knew, and she licked his lips clean of it. She knew what it was like to have your senses full of blood and gore and sweat and horror, and she instead filled his senses with her. All her, from her taste to her smell to her trembling mouth against his, making promises she intended to keep.

Shisui caught on quickly enough, keeping his palm curved behind her neck, keeping her there against him, all soft curves against hard flatness. It was the only thing keeping Sakura from falling off the table in her exhaustion. Everything she had left was for Shisui.

It reminded her of a time so long ago, on a couch with a storm raging outside. With Sakura straddled on his lap and him so feral and soft looking and welcoming below her.

It reminded Shisui of a promise he had made when Sakura was settled on top of him, where she would always be in his mind. Her, looking down at him in partial shock and arousal and apprehension, and damn if he didn't understand why. A promise he'd had every intention of keeping.

Sakura was the one to lift her head from Shisui. He made an annoyed sound of protest, and her lips quirked. His hand behind her neck prevented her from moving more than an inch or two from his face.

"So," he began, a bit cockily, "just be to clear, you're not sleeping with Itachi?"

She rolled her eyes. "Stupid. No."

He grinned. "Good." He glanced down and struggled against his restraints. "As much as I enjoy you on top of me, I can't say these restraints are much fun."

Sakura raised an eyebrow.

Shisui leered. "But we could later revisit this particular setup with maybe my handcuffs instead?"

Sakura blinked down at him for a moment, confused, then lit up bright red and collapsed on top of him, finally passing out from the poison in her blood and exhaustion and just being completely and utterly done with this shit.

"Sakura-chan," someone whispered in her ear. "Sakura-chan, we need you to wake up now. Please, Sakura-chan."

There was white silence reverberating in her head. She felt weighed down, like someone had piled on too many blankets on top of her chest. Something was propped under her head and she felt a crick begin to form in her neck. She felt so damn sore.

"Sakura-chan," the voice came back. It was male and familiar. "Please, Sakura-chan," his voice broke, and Sakura felt something snap in her mind at this, at this pain in the man's voice. She didn't like it one damn bit.

She cracked one eye open, feeling like there was something keeping them glued shut. She wheezed out, "Naruto?"

"Sakura-chan!" his voice croaked, relieved all at once. "You're awake!"

She had to shut her eye again at the volume of his voice. "Shhh. Inside voices, Naruto."

His voice lowered considerably. "Sorry, sorry!"

She tried to lick her cracked lips with her too dry tongue. "Where are we?"

"Home," he said simply. It was then Sakura could smell it—home. Everything that made up home. Sasuke's cologne, perpetual wet dog smell, paint, burning pancakes, lilac flowers from the candles she was always buying . . .

She felt a wet lick on her cheek then. Sakura groaned and lifted one hand to bat at the furry head. "Hi, Blue."

There was a whine in her ear.

Hands were behind her back and neck then, lifting her up on the couch. She opened both eyes when she was sitting up all the way to see Sasuke frowning down at her. There was a smattering of cuts and bruises on him, but she was beyond relieved to see that neither he nor Naruto were injured too much. Sakura could see that Naruto had some of the same bruises and there was one shallow cut down his cheek.


She blinked. "Sasuke."

"You worried us. It's been two days, Sakura. Don't worry us." He pointed at Naruto with his thumb nonchalantly. "You left me alone with him for two days. You're lucky you still have a kitchen."

She just kept blinking.

Then she started crying.

Sasuke froze, going wide-eyed. He looked like a spooked deer in the headlights.

Naruto was blubbering and waving his hands in the air already from Sasuke's comment, but when he saw Sakura's tears he started to cry too. But while Sakura was crying quietly with only a sniffle or two, Naruto was full on sobbing with her name thrown in every once in a while.

Sasuke looked back and forth between them, horrified.

"W-where is e-e-everyone?" she choked out between tears. Sasuke quickly handed her the tissue box she'd given Mikoto once before, what felt like forever ago.

"Zetsu came over to heal you after we all left the warehouse," Sasuke started, moving her feet to the side to sit on the couch with her. Naruto scrambled over to sit on the floor next to her. "The Akatsuki—and us—" he gestured to Naruto and himself, "didn't react very well once we realized Zetsu somehow poisoned you."

"Zetsu w-was one of Orochimaru's t-test subjects," Sakura said, dabbing at her eyes. She blew her nose loudly into a tissue.

Sasuke looked at her for a moment and then nodded, his jaw locked. "Yes. We realized that as well. The journal entries we found in the warehouse confirmed it. None of us had any idea."

Sakura just shook her head. They were all fools. Zetsu, who was a spymaster. Zetsu, who was half plant, part cannibal. Zetsu, who was dangerous.

None of them had taken him seriously enough.

"Did he heal you too?" Sakura asked, coming back to herself enough not to stutter anymore.

"Didn't need to." He shrugged. "The poison was only in you and Kabuto, after you made him drink your blood. Zetsu was the only one able to spread it from his skin like he did with you."

"What was the poison?"

"No idea. Zetsu was tightlipped about it all, even his time with Orochimaru. Some of the others tried to push him to tell, but it didn't do any good."

"If he could withstand Orochimaru, he can withstand the Akatsuki," Sakura muttered.

Sasuke tilted his head at her and nodded. "He said to tell you that your part of the bargain has been paid in full."

Sakura's head snapped up. "What?"

"We gave Zetsu Kabuto."

"He was still alive?" Sakura said, incredulous.

Sasuke thrust his head over to where Naruto had his head in her lap. Blue also had his head in Naruto's lap while he idly stroked and scratched behind his ears. The dog's ears, that was. "That one wanted to kill him," he said easily, "but we didn't. Good thing, too."

Sakura closed her eyes. It made sense, she supposed. Zetsu wanted revenge for everything, hence why he poisoned her in the first place.

Zetsu was dangerous. Zetsu was conniving and clever.

Zetsu knew she would figure it out and come in contact with Kabuto. He wanted her to poison him. He could heal her afterwards.

Sakura highly doubted Zetsu had extended the same courtesy with Kabuto that he had with Sakura.

"Zetsu's gone," Sakura stated. It wasn't really a question.

"Hn. Yes."

She swallowed thickly. It was at that moment Naruto's eyes went wide and he scrambled for the coffee table nearest him and handed her a glass of water. "Thanks," she said over the rim of the glass.

"Orochimaru's dead," Sakura said. She remembered the waterfall of blood that had streamed down his throat after Obito had sliced it.

"Yes," Sasuke said again, while at the same time Naruto muttered, "Good riddance."

"And everyone else from the warehouse? There was a girl I fought; I think her name was—"

"Tayuya?" Sasuke filled in. Sakura raised her eyebrows. "She's dead. Everyone is. We found a catalogue of all the people Orochimaru had experimented on. Photos, details of the experiments, everything. We counted and checked, and it seems that everyone he had was at the warehouse. It's finished."

"He called them 'The Children of Sound,'" Naruto said with distaste. "In the files, I mean. All those kids he took . . ."

"Tayuya was grouped with your attacker and the man you, Kakashi, and Yamato saw before at the other warehouse," Sasuke added. "They were the closest things to friends each other ever had."

Sakura closed her eyes. She thought about herself, Sasuke, and Naruto. If someone ever dared touch one of them, she would rein down hell and heaven. The mere idea of losing them made her feel itchy and uncomfortable.

Then she remembered. "Kakashi? What about Kakashi?"

"He got knocked out by Orochimaru," Naruto said. He chuckled. "Was damn pissed about it too."

Then she asked the question she'd been dreading. "Shisui?"

There was a heavy pause. Sakura felt a heavy pressure on her chest again, even though she was sitting upright and there were no blankets on top of her anymore. Tears gathered in her eyes once again. She ducked her head.

"He's alive," Sasuke finally said. "But he lost the use of one of his eyes."

Sakura remembered how he could only open one of his eyes before.

"I still have it," he murmured. "It's just . . . not cooperating right now."

It would never cooperate again, it seemed.

"He's out of the hospital," Sasuke went on, like Sakura wasn't stuck in her own head, like she wasn't replaying the conversation she'd had with Shisui over and over. It was on repeat. "He's at Red Dawn."

Sakura looked up and narrowed her eyes. "Have I been on this couch for two days?"

Naruto stuttered. "Of course not, Sakura-chan! You were in your own bed, but you were sweating so much and your sheets needed to be washed so the teme and I, we—"

Sakura rolled her eyes and waved him off. Now that he mentioned it, she felt sticky and gross. "I'm gonna take a shower, I think," she mumbled and made to get off the couch.

Sasuke and Naruto were immediately there, hands on her elbows and back. She grumbled, but didn't protest.

"You're not going in to the shower with me," she said when they helped her to the bathroom door.

Naruto gave her puppy dog eyes. Blue was at his heels, looking all the while like his twin. Sasuke just scowled at her.

A moment passed.

Then two.

She sighed. "Fine. But I swear to god, if either of you look—"

With a whoop Naruto skipped into the bathroom ahead of her with Blue right there next to him. Sasuke just smirked in his self-satisfied way and put his hand on her back to usher her into the bathroom.

Sakura was never more thankful that the bathroom was so large and Sasuke had exuberant tastes.

Red Dawn was empty. Technically it was closed, but that hadn't stopped them from getting in, especially since Sasuke had oh-so casually taken the key out of his pocket.

Sakura had raised an eyebrow. "How long have you had that?"

Sasuke didn't look at her and just grumbled something under his breath before opening the door for her.

The first person Sakura saw was Karin at the bar. And then she saw the blonde sitting on a bar stool next to her.

Sakura felt something lodge in her throat when they both turned to look at her.

Next thing she knew, she was in their arms, and it was a mess of pink and blonde and red hair in everyone's mouth and getting stuck in earrings. Ino was screaming something about stupid men in their life and oh, why weren't they just all lesbians for each other? while Karin made some very colorful remarks about castrating the males in their lives.

God, she loved them.

To Naruto and Sasuke's credit, neither ran away when both Ino and Karin pinned them with their glares. Though they did avert their eyes and shuffle a bit. Karin mouthed something creative to Sasuke that Sakura didn't catch, but watched in fascination as Sasuke went pale.

"That's it," Ino cried, ruining her mascara, pale hands wrapped around Sakura's shoulders. "You're moving in with me. No excuses."

Sakura more felt rather than saw both Sasuke and Naruto tense up behind her.

Sakura chuckled and gently pushed Ino off her. "But then who would feed Blue?"

Ino just blinked back tears while Karin made a slicing motion across her throat towards Sasuke.

"Cake," Ino said. She sniffed daintily. "That's what we're going to do. We're going to have a gosh darn girl's night and make cake and order pizza and drink wine while Kar and I try to convince you to be gay with us."

Karin made a sound of assent. "How about bi?"

Naruto and Sasuke just looked at them all, wide-eyed, and obviously not knowing what to do with the strange creatures in front of them with long nails and pointed smiles that hid far too much.

Shisui was in the back, sitting alone in one of the private rooms and drinking from a beer bottle. He looked up when she entered through the heavy curtain. "Sakura-chan, baby," he purred.

"Shisui," she greeted, looking at his one covered eye.

He held out his arms and made a grabby motion towards her. "Come!"

She raised an eyebrow. "That's one thing you're never supposed to say to a woman." But she went over to him anyways.

He chuckled and closed his one good eye. "I am on alllll the good pain killers. It's spectacular." He spilled some of the beer, that of which Sakura was pretty sure he wasn't supposed to have.

"You look like a pirate," Sakura deadpanned.

"A sexy pirate," Shisui exclaimed. "I am a sexy pirate and I am hoping that you have a roleplay fetish, because hot damn, this eyepatch should be useful in some kind of way. Also," he slurred and swayed a little bit in his seat. Good pain killers, indeed, "I am sorta hoping you take me up on my handcuff offer." His voice dropped to a whisper for that last part, like it was a secret.

Sakura doubted any of the Akatsuk missed seeing Sakura passed out on top of Shisui's chest, though. "I don't know about that," she teased, one side of her mouth quirking up in an amused grin.

Shisui pouted. Then he wrapped one arm around Sakura's shoulders and pulled her to him. "Thank you, Sakura-chan," he whispered into her hair. He pressed a kiss there. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Loose both eyes?"

Shisui pinched her side and she jumped. He was chuckling into her neck now, and she could feel his soft, curly black hair on her face. She turned her face further into him.

"Maa, maa, Sakura-chan," a voice came from the curtain covering the room. "Don't excite the boy too much. He needs to be able to rest without—"

There was a thud and a whine. "Maaaaaa, Yamato-senpai—" Kakashi whimpered.

"Stop using perverted innuendos," Yamato chided. He peeked his head into the room and blushed. Sakura saw the bruises along his face and neck, thought about Kabuto hitting him with the gun. "Sorry for the disturbance, Sakura-san."

Shisui grunted next to her as she smiled softly at him. "Not at all, Yamato. I was just about to look for everyone."

She looked at Kakashi then. He was no longer wearing his black scarf, and he was ruffling the back of head, upsetting the white hair there. He looked . . . relaxed. There was a white bandage around his head where Sakura guessed Orochimaru had hurt him.

It was then Obito came into the room.

Sakura could tell right away that this was Obito, not Tobi. Tobi was gone.

Obito smiled softly at her with a twinkle in his eyes. He was limping, but just barely, holding in his pain. He had the goofy grin Shisui so often sported, and he no longer was wearing anything to cover his face, much like Kakashi. While Tobi had been hyperactive, Obito was more serene. He still had that excited energy around him, but he was more tamed, not as likely to jump off the walls at all times. He looked happy, content.

Sakura almost had to blink back tears. Again.

"Sakura-chan," Obito said softly, and it was so like Tobi but also completely different. It was like Tobi was the doppelganger of this person, like the persona was just the mask hiding the man.

His eyes flicked over to Shisui. Something clever and conniving crossed his gaze when he took in Sakura's positon so close to Shisui, his arm wrapped around her and his head buried in her neck. "I see you've found the new pirate."

"The new, sexy pirate!" Shisui corrected.

Kakashi and Obito shared an amused look, full of meaning and secrets and a past friendship. Yamato eyed them both with a small, proud smile on his face.

Sakura cleared her throat to get their attention. "Are the Akatsuki here?" Sakura asked.

Kakashi shrugged while Obito answered her. "Actually, everyone not here is at the main Uchiha estate . . ." He didn't quite meet Sakura's eyes.

She frowned. "Why?"

Shisui chuckled next to her. "It appeared Madara had some unfinished business with the clan elders. The Akatsuki went along to have a few things settled, such as the Uchiha's shady business partners and how they deal with things in the future. Mikoto and Fugaku will be there too."

Sakura remembered Mikoto's tear stained face at not being able to make a direct move when Shisui was kidnapped because of the clan elders. She knew Mikoto would have a thing or two to say to the elders before this was all over.

She narrowed her eyes at Shisui and then turned to face Obito. "What are you all up to?" she asked slowly.

"Why, Sakura-chan—" Kakashi put a hand over his heart in mock offensiveness, "—when are we ever up to something?"

Yamato made a choking sound.

"It's been a long time coming," Obito went on, shuffling from foot-to-foot. "It's something the Akatsuki have been working towards for a long time. The clan elders need to learn a thing or two about human rights and morals and how not to deal with things. This has been the goal for a while, especially after your own little conversation with the elders." Sakura clenched her teeth at the memory.

"So they're not here," Sakura mused to herself. Maybe that was for the best right now—it let her get her thoughts and feelings in order before she was thrust back into the chaos that was the Akatsuki. "When will they be back?"

Kakashi shrugged again while Obito answered. "It depends. Might be a little while."

"It'll be a bit of a war over there for a while," Kakashi said gleefully.

"I see," Sakura said slowly. She turned to Shisui and grinned like a Cheshire cat. "And you got left behind."

Shisui scowled. "Bastards didn't give me much of a choice."

"So what I'm hearing here," Sakura teased, giving them all a sly smile, "is that I should change my name and move to a new country before they all get back?"

Shisui tightened his arms around her and moved his mouth to her ear. "Only if I get to come with you and we try out those handcuffs?"

Sakura punched him in the shoulder while he laughed. Kakashi pinned her with a very, very interested look and Obito glared daggers at Shisui while Yamato just looked like he was about to pass out.

Sakura felt his pain.

"She wore her scars as her best attire.

A stunning dress made of hellfire."

Author's Note: Well, that's all folks! This is the end of the road for this series; I hope you've all enjoyed it. Thank you so, so much to everyone who's stayed with me on this little journey from the very beginning. Your favorites, comments, and follows have always been noticed and I am so thankful for every one of you. I had no idea this story, all the way back from Sakura's Moronic Best Friends, was going to blow up in such a way. What started out as a silly little fic turned into this mammoth of a thing I have immensely enjoyed writing.

Now I'm off to write about vampire!Sakura and a certain stalker-ish original vampire who just doesn't understand the concept of personal space. ;p

Please give me your final thoughts on this very last chapter! REVIEW PRETTY, PRETTY PLEASSSSEEEE!

Until next time~