Chapter Three

by Ember

A/N: Ohmigod, I'm so sorry this is late. D: And short. D:D: But it was hard and it took forever and I just wasn't in an agsty-mood for a while. Now, though, I'm PMSing and in perfect mood to write some dark, angry fiction. Alright, now some speculation.


Reading your reviews, I realize something odd- some of you seem to expect Sasuke to be a far more fluffy character than I intend to make him. I almost hesitate to mention this, because fluff is really more my thing than angst and all that, but- that's not my intention at all. () Sasuke is going to probably do bad things, make huge, harsh mistakes and have to pick and chose what parts he makes better. I'm trying to really... I dunno, capture Sasuke? He's a bitch on the outside and not altogether that bad on the inside, he just likes the outer-him better. Err... I dun' wanna give too much away. Just... fluff won't be too often, and it'll probably take a while and a lot of blood and a lot of black-soul sobbing first. So enjoy.

The second chapter's dream sequence was NOT prophetic. It was, in fact, a memory, but some parts of it, particularly the end, which was mostly influenced by Sakura yelling his name in real life, didn't really happen but only happened because Sasuke was dreaming and you never really dream exact memories... Sakura's not going to die. Sorry, those who hoped she would... ()

Your constructive criticism violently sodomizes me and I love every one of you for it. I'll try and keep Lee more IC but he's so HARD... Well, thanks for all the reviews, and much love for everyone:D

Naruto - not mine - Kishimoto's.


I'll be

Your cryin' shoulder

I'll be

Love suicide

I'll be

Better when I'm older

I'll be the greatest fan of your life


If he put more spin on it, it would go faster, hit harder; three kunai were already hilted into the tree but he was desperate to get them deeper. Couldn't Naruto entirely lose one in green wood? Couldn't Sasuke show the pointed tip through the opposite side? Why couldn't he? He concentrated on the trunk, on the exact ripple of bark where he wanted the tip to hit, to bury in, to strike through. He focused himself, found his equilibrium, rooted himself on the ground in an automatic exercise a million hours of meditation- and counting- had taught him.

If he got the kunai through the trunk in one try, Sakura would dump Sasuke.

"Hey, Lee!" He let fly, startled by the outburst, and watched in heartbroken horror as the weapon not only failed to go through the trunk, but failed to hit the tree at all. Naruto sauntered towards him, his arms pillowed behind his blonde head, still dressed only in his boxers despite the early morning chill with his hair unbrushed and the unshowered, sleepy look still clinging to his face. Lee calmed himself down without even giving himself time to get angry; he wouldn't be annoyed at Naruto, it wasn't his fault. Lee shouldn't have let himself be startled like that, should have grown to expect it. He'd have to work on that.

"Good morning!"

"You're up early." The blonde trotted over, grabbed the fallen kunai, and, with a flick of his wrist and undoubtably an unconscious surge of chakra, buried it deep enough into the tree that the hilt was gone into the wood.

Not really, actually. It was already noon. "I wake with dawn to train," the taijutsu-nin responded instead of pointing this out, hiding his own emotion at what the blonde had accomplished without trying. "Hinata also woke early, and went out to breakfast and to shop. She wanted you to come, but you weren't yet awake, and I can't skip my exorcizes."

Naruto nodded, understanding, and grinned with sudden inspiration. "Hey, you wanna spar?"

Lee blinked. "Like that?" A stiff nod in the kitsune's direction illustrated his point.

Naruto looked down, taking in inventory of himself; he was dressed in his boxers, still hadn't taken a shower, brushed his teeth or hair, washed his face, or put on deodorant; still hadn't even eaten breakfast or grabbed his sandals. He had, in fact, gotten up as soon as he'd woken up and wandered off, wondering why Lee had gotten up at the ungodly hour of whatever-came-before-eleven-thirty. "Why not?"

And so, they sparred. It took an hour and a half before Lee finally admitted defeat, reeling and bruised, while the demon fox inside the blonde automatically began to heal his minor wounds. The stretch of tan skin across his chest and stomach was dotted with bruises that had just a few minutes before been vividly purple and were now swirling a less livid yellow-green. The beautiful green beast of Konoha frowned slightly, vowing to train for five hours after they stopped for the night later, and get up a few hours early to train yet more in the morning. He shouldn't have lost so early. He'd been training for so long to get this far, so how could Naruto still take him out like that?

When they had been Genin, Lee had been able to defeat the kyuubi bearer easily, with barely any effort at all. But with time, Naruto had met and passed levels that Lee's limitations had kept him from, tapping into the demon fox's chakra with a skill that seemed second-nature by now. Now, only Sasuke could really rival Naruto and Lee was left struggling in their dust, and behind most of the rest- especially, to the taijutsu-nin's distaste, Neji- working twice as hard with half the reward.

It was frustrating, but it wasn't over. He had gotten this far, gotten to be a Chuunin and at the same time as his peers, and he could become stronger yet, could become a Jounin or even Hokage, and then- then, surely, Sakura would see that Sasuke, for all his genius and his pretty face, wasn't good enough for her.

Nothing against Sasuke, of course. But combined, Gai's perfect model of masculine beauty that Lee had been so quick to adopt and his own determination and strength had to overpower whatever charms the Uchiha had.

"Are you alright, Lee?" The blonde held a hand down to the black-haired boy and helped him to his feet, smiling genially as the frustrated scowl dissolved into the familiar determination on Lee's face. Yeah, the extra seven hours of training would help; he'd like it to be more but they were on a mission, and too much training would have to wait until they'd finished it.

"Fine," he replied, giving the blonde a thumbs-up and hurrying inside to finish getting ready for the day. Naruto would want to shower, first, while Lee put something on the shallow cuts the spar had left him with, then the taijutsu-nin would take a turn and comb out the mess the training had left of his perfect bowl-shaped hair.


Ichimaru's would have been fine with Sasuke but Sakura had wanted something nicer, a little closer to 'classy' while still being in their budget. Or, really, Sasuke's budget, since he automatically, trained and honed by nearly a year of dating, and being the one with far more money, offered to pay. Shikamaru and Ino were there, too, both paying their own portions at their insistence, which seemed to tick off Sakura a lot more than it ticked off Sasuke. Maybe she wanted to feel justified in depending on her boyfriend; she'd offered to pay her own share the first few times but after all their dates she'd gotten used to being covered.

Ino took a sip of water, waiting for Shikamaru to make up his mind on what he wanted to eat so they could go ahead and order. "So," she said, making both Sasuke and Sakura jump, "what kind of mission is Naruto on? I didn't hear the details but Neji says Lee was really excited about it, so it must have been something entertaining."

Sasuke pressed his mouth against his glass so he wouldn't be expected to talk while listening to Sakura explain. "It's an arrest-mission," she said, "like the ones we almost always do."

Shikamaru trailed a finger down the menu and said, "Lee was excited because he was asked to go and not Neji."

Neji and Shikamaru had both been made Jounins the past exam, and though the genius ninja's Anbu jacket was at home, Neji had the tendency to wear his around to tick off Lee. They weren't the two strongest-to everyone's surprise, Sasuke and Naruto kept that title between them- but Naruto wasn't deemed mature enough to take on the responsibility a Jounin held and Tsunade was reluctant to fully trust Sasuke after the Orochimaru incident. Neither one of them had been told this but both had inferred it, and neither one of them mentioned it. Naruto, because it would be admitting that he was still childish and rude, and Sasuke out of an odd twist of guilt and anger.

Shikamaru and Neji had gotten the positions because one was brilliant and the other one a prodigy and both had been on more missions than half their peers combined. Maybe it was this new rank that had finally opened Ino up to her Teammate but either way shortly after the Jounin exam, while Sasuke and Sakura were just getting into the swing of being together, Ino had announced that she and Shikamaru were officially a couple.

In a way, Sasuke sympathized more with Ino than with Shikamaru. After all, the former had been pursuing him until he had been taken away, and he knew what it was like to lose hope for one person and take second-best far better than he knew what it was like to be option number two. He wondered if Shikamaru was as blind to it as Sakura; the two smartest Chuunin in Konoha blinded by years-old crushes. It made him feel a little bit sick and he wondered if he was going to eat anything for lunch at all.

Ino and Sakura began chatting idly about Neji and Naruto and the Jounin exam, about how explosive the fighting had been and how amazing it was when Chouji had been paired up to fight Gaara and had shocked everyone by winning. "I had no clue he had been anywhere near that strong," Sakura was saying.

Shikamaru just smiled and lifted one hand to signal a waiter, who came scurrying over, as always impressed by the presence of an Anbu, to take their order.

An hour later Sasuke paid for his and Sakura's meal while the other two counted up their due in cash. The pink-haired shinobi covered the tip, saying that she had to pay for something with an odd smile towards Sasuke, and, talking idly among each other, the four got up and filed out, Ino beside Sakura, Sasuke beside Shikamaru.

"Amazing," Shikamaru muttered out of the corner of his mouth as Ino stopped for him, smiling brightly while she waited for him to catch up. Sasuke shrugged in response, assuming that he'd meant Ino and not anything he'd done, and, his gesture gone primarily unnoticed, caught up to Sakura while Shikamaru sidled next to his girlfriend. They walked in these pairs for a while, until the latter two split off from the former, Ino, with a chivalry that she couldn't count on out of Shikamaru, walking her boyfriend home before going to her place. Sakura waved goodbye, her arm wrapped around Sasuke's, while Ino called almost-entirely-joking catcalls after Sasuke.

Sakura and Ino had almost completely regained their easy friendship of childhood, especially once Sakura had permanently 'won' Sasuke and they no longer had him to fight over. For a few weeks their relationship was primarily the rose-haired girl bragging to the other, having for the first time completely beaten Ino at something, but then even that faded away, leaving first companionship, then friendship once more. Sakura had helped Ino ask Shikamaru out, probably not thinking about it in the same cynical tones as her boyfriend, and Ino had dragged the genius-nin out on a few double-dates with Sakura and Sasuke. Maybe, even with the slightly-uncomfortable overtones, it was still a more solid friendship than before; Ino no longer had the popular-girl-stooping-to-your-level undertone when she was with Sakura and the rose-haired girl no longer felt like she had to prove herself.

"Are we just going to my house?" Sasuke said after a second, breaking what he just now noticed to be a sort of icy, uncomfortable silence. Sakura jumped slightly but seemed glad to have something to talk about.

"No," she said, smiling up at him. "Actually, could you walk me home? Kakashi wanted to train some tomorrow morning, so I should probably have a quiet night." Added to the fact that between the Uchiha questing for distractions from disturbing dreams and Sakura's own libido, always misbehaving around him, she would probably have a late night at his house.

"Of course." Maybe she was encouraged by the disappointment in his voice and she didn't have to know that he bit his tongue to keep from screaming a name that was very different from her's whenever she did spend the night.

In her front yard she paused and put both of her hands- so small and so deceptively tough, they were wire-fingered and calloused, a ninja's hands with a female's appearance- into his and looked up into his eyes. He stared just below her's, at the curve of her cheek, and tried not to feel guilty, swearing to himself that he didn't care, that shinobi didn't 'love' anyway, that he never did lie to her, anyway.

"Thanks, Sasuke," she said, quietly, pushing a heavy lock of hair behind her ear. "Ah... I had a great time, tonight."

"Me, too." That wasn't a direct lie; for all that their 'dates' were hellish at best because the facade was exhausting to keep up, the food had been good and he wasn't directly adverse to the company, just a little uncomfortable trying to keep his masks in place. It was easier when it was the three of them, just Team 7, and he could act a little more relaxed because between the challenges and the second-by-second recounts of their missions, comparing difficulty and technique, he and Naruto never ran out of things to talk about the way he and Sakura did.

But Naruto was gone for now and he had to learn to keep himself standing without the blonde. He didn't need the arrogant little idiot running around after him like the lapdog he was, he didn't need him at all and life would have been easier if they had never met in the first place.

She leaned forward and pressed her lips against his cheek and he held himself rigidly in place. "I love you, Sasuke."

Once or twice, he'd told her the same thing, and maybe he had believed it, then. Probably not, because he refused to believe that love existed. And so rather than lie; he couldn't lie to her, he wouldn't, he leaned over and kissed her on the mouth, pretending that a kiss said everything that needed to be said even if it was a hypocritical kiss, a false kiss. Even if it tasted bitter and felt odd and even if it was the last thing he wanted and the last thing he needed.

She smiled up at him, then left him standing there in her lawn while she ran inside, left him standing there for a second before he walked slowly away.

He felt cold and dirty and absolutely horrible, a liar, a cheater, an asshole, a freak. Maybe Naruto had been right all along, he didn't deserve Sakura; but at the same time she asked for it, begged for it, and he had just been giving her what she wanted. She wanted a lie. He wouldn't hurt her with the truth, especially when the lie was the thing that made everyone happy in the end.


Argh. Short chapter, and once more ending on Sasuke-contemplation. Poor Sasuke. He thinks too much. And poor Lee! Maybe I was a little mean to him this chapter, but I think he might have gotten a little more IC, don't you? Maybe? A little? Ah, well, I'm trying, alright? XD Reviews are always appreciated.