Disclaimer: 'Naruto' and all related characters and events are property of Kishimoto Masashi-sensei.  Please don't sue, as all I'd have to give is my pile of old 'Shonen Jump' issues and I want to keep them.

The Flame That Burns Brightest

She never had gotten him to agree to a date, but one day Sasuke consented to training with her, under the condition that he dictated what techniques they worked on, what day and for how long.  Deciding that this was a good deal, Sakura jumped at the chance to spend some time alone with him.  She never thought she'd regret this choice, but before long, she was beginning to wish she'd told him, "I said 'train,' but I meant 'make out.'"

                He came to her house to pick her up on a Friday evening, dressed normally with his forehead protector and his hands, once he'd rung the doorbell, jammed safely in his pockets.  He scowled at Sakura's mother when she answered the door, told her he was there to pick up his teammate for training and declined the invitation to come inside.  Sakura's mother didn't care for young men with attitudes and he didn't care for people in his way, thus a motionless battle of wills took place over the threshold until Sakura finally dashed down the stairs, past her mother and shut the door behind her.

                "Sorry about that," Sakura said as Sasuke turned and began to walk away.  Unsure of where they were going she followed.  "My parents are…" she trailed off without a way to end the sentence.  Picky about who I date?  Overprotective?  Annoying?  Just trying to watch over me, which your parents can't do for you because they're dead?

                Unsurprisingly, Sasuke's pace never wavered and he didn't show any indication that he minded the incompletion of her sentence.  Sakura watched his expression carefully from the corner of her eye, so it took her a little longer than it should have to notice that the longer they walked, the more frequently the red and white Uchiha symbol appeared.  She finally noticed it when the fan was painted in steady lines across the walls of all the buildings and the decals on flags. 

                As Sakura looked around, she was sure her heart was beating so loudly and rapidly that he could hear it.  He had taken her to a large and deserted portion of town.  Sakura had always thought of being alone with someone has having no one else at their table at a restaurant, not having no one else around for blocks.  She bit her lip and blushing, wondered if it was possible that he had the same ideas as her after all. 

                By the time they arrived at their apparent destination, the sky had grown dark enough for a few of the brighter stars to become visible.  The view was spectacular—they were standing on a small dock that fed into a black lake, which reflected the stars and the buildings around it.

                "It's beautiful," Sakura breathed.  She turned when she got no acknowledgement.  Sakura gasped.  Sasuke had disappeared!


                He reappeared, a lit lantern in each hand, both bearing the Uchiha fan.  He hung them on poles on either side of the dock, casting it in a reasonable amount of light.

                "This is a strange place for training," Sakura ventured.

                Sasuke shook his head.  "It's the best place for the techniques I have in mind.  Morning would be a better time for training, but you can't practice if we're on a mission or waiting for Kakashi."

                Sakura nodded, though she deflated a little.  He was concerned with training after all.

                "The only signs you need for this technique are the horse and the tiger," Sasuke was explaining, "though you may want to use a few extra signs before you start channeling your chakra as a misdirection."

                "You're teaching me the Fireball technique?!"  Sakura's mind raced.  Surely Sasuke didn't go around teaching people what was clearly his highest favored technique.  It must mean something, but what, Sakura couldn't fathom.

                Later, when the sky had darkened considerably and Sasuke seemed unreasonably annoyed by her struggling with the skill, Sakura came to the conclusion that she should have explained "I said 'train,' but I meant 'make out.'"

                "You want to focus your chakra into your lungs, and then blow it out your mouth," Sasuke was explaining for the umpteenth time

                "I KNOW!" Sakura finally screamed in a voice generally reserved for Kakashi-sensei's lateness or when Naruto was being extra annoying.  "To properly do this technique requires the manipulation and use of a lot of chakra," Sakura stated, falling back on her second favorite way to speak—sound like an instruction scroll.  "On top of that, the body generally resists draining this much chakra at once.  These techniques require conditioning to successfully execute."

                Sasuke made a deeply disgusted noise from his throat.  Sakura followed in suit and dropped into a sitting position on the dock, scowling.

                "So quit," Sasuke said.  "Doesn't make any difference to me."

                "I'm not quitting!" Sakura shouted.  "I just need a new approach."  It certainly appeared that her new approach was brooding, but it seemed to work for Sasuke, she had to admit.

                "It's not complicated."

                "Nothing's complicated with Sharingan," Sakura snorted.  "You see it, and then you can do it."

                "I learned this technique long before I had Sharingan.  Its got nothing to do with it."

                "Was it easy for you to learn?"  Sakura intended it to prove a point, but she didn't get the answer she expected.


                Sakura started.  "I thought everything was easy for you," she muttered.

                "Why the hell would you think that?"

                She shrugged.  "You're the genius, the number one rookie; you've been on a different level from day one."  She looked up, wanting to apologize, but not sure what for.  Sasuke, in any case, didn't seem offended.  He was staring into the distance, more sad than annoyed now.  Probably remembering something, Sakura reasoned.  She didn't want to pry, but she did want Sasuke to open up to her and they were alone.  Maybe he wouldn't mind a little bit of prodding.

                "Did your brother teach it to you?"  Might as well cut right to the chase.

                "My father."

                "Oh."  Sakura realized she knew nothing about his father, but then he'd never mentioned his parents.  "Were you close?"


                Frowning, Sakura slipped off her sandals and put her feet in the water.  The lake was cold enough to be unpleasant, having had no flames dance over its surface and be extinguished, has Sasuke had intended.  Once, not too long ago, Sasuke had almost opened up to her.  It was the day they had become genin, so Sakura treasured it for two reasons.  She had fainted for the second time in one day and he was kneeing over her when she woke up.  Afraid of being separated, Sakura had tried to stall Sasuke, but then he started talking…  She knew now he was referring to his brother, but even though she hadn't understood at the time, Sakura still hoped she was the only person he told that Itachi had made him cry.

                Sakura opened her mouth to speak, but Sasuke beat her to it.  "I wanted to be close to him, my father.  He always acted like he only cared about my brother, though.  My mother told me once, that when my father spoke to her, he would talk about me.  She said he was proud of me, but not good at expressing it.  My dream was his acknowledgement.  I thought I was close when I mastered the Fireball technique, but then he died."

                Unsure of what to say to that, Sakura rocked her legs back and forth.  She watched the ripples that she created silently for a bit.  "You say," She ventured, "that your path isn't like ours, that your not like any of us, but we all want the same thing.  We all have someone we respect the most and what their respect in return."

                "That is no longer my path," he responded.


                If it was, we'd be the same.

                "I want--"

                "I know."

                I guess you do.

                "I still--"

                "I know."

                --love you.

                Sakura stood up, shook the excess water off one leg, then the other.  "I'm ready to try again."

                Like nothing had happened or nothing had been said, Sasuke cleared his throat and entered teaching mode again.  "When an Uchiha learns this skill, it is then they can wear our fan without shame."