Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
A/N: OOC. A/U. And holy crap. This was long. It took me a long time to write, and I think it's now December the 12th. I'm really, really sorry this took so long to come out. I do hope y'all like it, even if somewhat. Thank you to those who kept bugging me to write and…ah, read on. :) Rated for language.
There were a few things that were bothering him a great deal, and that in itself was bothering him - that he, of all people, would be this...bothered. He was Uchiha Sasuke, after all. And Uchiha Sasuke never got bothered. See, he just wasn't like that.
Of course, Uchiha Sasuke was also never one to permit himself to worry over his opponent, since within the span of a few minutes - five minutes was the absolute maximum - he would usually not have an opponent to concern his pretty little head about.
Yet this fight had dragged on for at least fifteen minutes already. He had a right to be perturbed. And this disconcertedness of his was fueled by the many questions he had that were whirling through his mind. Like how she found him in the first place, despite Orochimaru's lair being supposedly "impossible to find"; why she used the Gokakyu no Jutsu on him, when they both knew it would be ineffective, seeing that it was one of the jutsus he specialized in; why their current positions were oh-so-reminiscent of a time six years ago when he walked away from the one particular girl who tried to stop him, when he stopped her instead, and when everything changed, for better or worse; why she wore the face of Haruno Sakura, said girl who was involved with that same incident when he was twelve, said girl who kept him as sane as could be, and said girl whom he had spent sleepless nights lying awake thinking about.
Why she smelled like her namesake, even in the midst of a battle.
Oh yes, and was her neck always this slender?
When did she become so...beautiful?
Now where the hell had those last three questions come from?
The Uchiha kicked himself mentally, for such distracting thoughts were going to cost him this fight. Never mind the fact that they were at a tentative standstill - he needed to concentrate solely on the situation at hand, on her.
He nearly laughed. How damned ironic. He had to concentrate on the very person he was trying to wrench his thoughts firmly away from.
Involuntarily, he let out a sigh, and saw her shiver - again - as he exhaled unintentionally on her bare skin, a movement that he, so caught up in his musings, nearly missed.
"I don't believe your last four words," He said. "and it seems like you don't either. Am I right?"
He saw her flinch, yet another movement he would have overlooked had he not been paying close attention to her body language.
"What does it matter?" Her response was terse, tight, and skirted the question entirely. "I'm still going to kill you."
He permitted himself a little smirk. "That doesn't answer my question."
"Why should I?" She retorted.
"Humour me," He drawled, his eyes still glued to her back - well, more so her vibrant pink hair, beautiful locks that a tiny, hastily stifled part of him really, really wanted to thread his hands through to see if it felt as silky and soft as it looked. "I find it hard to believe that so much could change after six years."
He was not expecting her to laugh softly in response. He had never heard a laugh so cold and chilling in his entire life - and that was saying something; he did spend the last few years training under Orochimaru. "You bastard," She shook her head, pink hair swirling slightly. "What do you know? All you ever cared about was revenge. Power. Nothing else. No one else."
That...stung him. A lot. Her accusation wasn't completely true either. There were - other things...people...he cared about. "You've changed," He finally said, when he found his tongue after a few seconds of floundering for what to say. "Why? You're not the same person you used to be when I lef - we were genins."
This spun her around, and without warning, before he could react - who knew she could move so fast? - she hit him. Hard. The force of the impact forced him to stumble back a few feet, and he could only blink in astonishment at her as he regained his footing atop the branch, his eyes refocusing. Her chest heaved as she sucked in mouthfuls of air, something glittering wetly in her eyes.
"Whose fault do you think that was?" She hissed, taking a step towards him, and he unconsciously took a step back. "What the hell did you expect? Are you really that naïve, believing that things would be the same as it was when you left? Did you truly think," Something slid down her cheek, and she angrily brushed it away. "that nothing had changed since that night? You don't even know half of what's happened since you've left." She gritted her teeth, and something found its way down the other cheek. It dawned on him abruptly that she was crying. And, just like it had so many years ago, his heart clenched painfully. "And you have the nerve to ask why I've changed? You asshole. You selfish prick. You -"
"Sakura," He quietly said, surprised at how the conversation had been steered from him being the interrogator to him being the brunt of insults. "stop."
"Do you want to know how your friends are doing back home?" Emphasis on the word friends. He tightened his jaw.
"No." Shut up.
"Let me update you." A ghost of a smile lingered on her lips, despite the wetness in her eyes. "A lot of things happened after you - left. Naruto was the first to attain the status of ANBU. Team 13 and Kiba followed soon after him. The members of Team 10 are Jounins now, along with Hinata and Shino."
"Why are you telling me all this?" He interrupted with furrowed eyebrows, but she continued on as if he had said nothing, causing his eye to twitch at being ignored completely. What was the point in her catching him up with the ongoings of the last six years? It was not as if he cared how they were doing, did he? What they'd become, how far they'd gotten, whether they'd attain their dreams or not. Naruto obviously hadn't, since he wasn't the Hokage. That almost made him smirk. Almost.
"Gaara's been Kazekage for a few years already..."
That he knew. He had been more than surprised when he heard that from Kabuto a few years back, for he would not have expected that bloodlusting maniac to become the Kage of Suna.
"...his brother's a Jounin..."
No surprise there, despite this being news to him. From what he heard concerning Kankuro, Gaara's sand sibling was a formidable opponent, never without more than a few tricks up his sleeves.
"...and his sister's engaged to Shikamaru."
His jaw dropped. Surely he hadn't heard correctly. "What?" He voiced out, closing his jaw with some effort.
A laugh escaped her, and the tense atmosphere around them relaxed a little. "I know! No one expected it, least of all Shikamaru. Although it was quite obvious that they had a thing for one another."
A smile rose unbidden to his face. This Sakura was the one he knew and lov – he knew. It felt a bit natural, talking to her just like that. "He proposed to her?"
She chuckled. "Yes. But apparently it was done while he was drunk on sake, so he claims that he wasn't thinking straight when he proposed. Temari's got the wedding date settled though, when they both reach the age of twenty-one."
Sasuke snorted. "He's doomed."
She laughed again, and a tingle went down his spine as he heard her genuinely giggle. For some reason it felt like old times, like the good old days. "He is," She agreed. "but at least he's got a few more years of his freedom left."
There was someone she still had yet to mention. It took him awhile to realize who it was. "And you?" He tentatively queried. "You've mentioned everyone else but yourself."
"Me? I -" She suddenly stopped, pain sweeping across her face, agony that caused her face to pale so strongly, raw anguish that saw her green eyes widen in fright and barely restrained terror. Her hands, he saw, unconsciously rose to cover her wrists, before jerking and falling to her sides. His eyes narrowed imperceptibly at the slight display of emotion.
Something had happened to her. Something...bad - no, he would even go so far as to say awful. Something he definitely wanted to know about. And something he was sure she would never tell him.
But whatever it was, the moment they had just shared for that brief few seconds was now gone, and the tension in the air redoubled. It was at this point that a faint crackling sound reached his ears, as did the nearly undetectable smell of smoke. The forest below them was still burning, a result of her Gokakyu no Jutsu. The problem wasn't the spreading fire; that he could take care of easily, given time. Rather, it was the fact that the smoke and fire was very likely to attract people. Sound-nin. People like Kabuto. Or even worse, Orochimaru.
Her harsh laugh brought him back to reality, snapped him out of his musings. Her visage had hardened, making him wonder if what he had just seen was purely from his imagination. "Never mind me. I shouldn't even have wasted my breath on telling you about the rest. Why would you want to know about me anyway? It's not like it matters. You never cared. All I ever was to you was...annoying."
He closed his eyes in frustration, his smile fading. Frustrated at the way she had closed off so quickly. Frustrated at her. "Look, I don't recall -"
She cut him off swiftly, and even though her face said differently, her tone reflected a bitterness that he did not see. "Of course not. You never remember the things that you do. Always the things that others do to you. Never what you do to others. Never what you say to others."
What? "That's enough." His eyes snapped open, his voice getting colder with each word, anger slowly creeping its way into his tone. "You have no right to judge me." Something stirred within him restlessly before subsiding, but he ignored it, balling his hands into fists.
"Speak for yourself," She shot back. A tiny smile was now obviously visible upon her face, one that served to piss him off further. Those beautiful ruby lips of hers were mocking him, laughing at him. "you prick."
His anger was clouding his judgement, and he had to refrain himself from attacking her. Slowly, he took a deep breath. He was not going to lose his temper. Especially not with his - problem. "Go home." He spat out, spinning around so that his back faced hers. "I'll let you live - today."
A musical chuckle floated towards him, and in it he heard her fully smile. "Still arrogant as ever, Sasuke-kun," She mused. He refrained from cringing at the way she pronounced the suffix on his name, venomous and dripping with scorn. "You really are quite hilarious"
"Get out of here," He answered evenly as he turned back to face her slowly. Her face, he realized with certain uneasiness, was completely smooth, emotionless. "I don't want to kill you."
She brought her hand up slowly, and he tensed, but saw that she was only replacing her mask atop her face. Her mask, he duly noted, unsettled him greatly. In many ways, it was exactly like Haku's mask - the image of it was forever ingrained in his mind; his Sharingan did develop during the fight against him - with two curving red streaks slashing across the mask horizontally from right to left, arcing in a slight curve midway up the face when it reached the center and ending abruptly. However, unlike Haku's mask, there was no leaf symbol on the forehead of her mask.
And, unlike Haku's mask, instead of the face being a pure white...the mask was black. Jet black.
"Sasuke-kun," Her voice was muffled as she replied. Slowly, he fell into a fighting stance. "I assure you that you won't."
The Uchiha never saw her move, never saw her hand flicker rapidly through the seals of a jutsu that he would have been unfamiliar with anyway. Yet his mind screamed for him to move, to do something. He acted on instinct, hands flashing, and not a moment too soon, for the moment he finished, she blurred and appeared in front of him, slamming her hand into his chest, fist ablaze with crackling energy, punching with enough force and power to destroy his internal organs.
Or what should have been his midsection. Instead, her hand tore through wood, bursting the log into pieces of shrapnel, which scattered in various directions through the combined smoke of the jutsu and the smoke rising from the flames below.
"Kawarimi no jutsu," He heard her hiss from his vantage point several metres above where he had previously stood before. Too close, he grimly admonished. His right hand rose to his stinging cheek, and when he brought his hand away he saw blood. He closed his fist tightly. Way too close.
"Sasuke-kun," Her voice rang out steadily, dangerously. "You can't keep running."
He paused, then flipped down to land in front of her. "If I attack you, you're going to lose. I'm stronger than you are."
"You're not." She replied. "Tsunade-sama is stronger than Orochimaru. Do you know what I mean?"
Warily, he shook his head, keeping her within his sights still.
"It means two things." She removed her mask briefly to smile at him. Her grin, he found, was eerie as hell. "The first is that I will see your death by the day's end."
Sasuke frowned. She just would not get off that topic of killing. It was as if...she was some unfeeling...tool. An ache started from within his chest. How could he have mistaken her for Sakura? "You seem awfully confident in yourself." He kept his eyes locked on hers.
Her smile became wider. Scarier. "I am. Because, lastly, I've gotten stronger." Her grin became feral. "I'm stronger than you."
This made him flinch, and he saw her smile stretch even more before she replaced her mask. He could hear the words that were coming after her last sentence, the words that only one person had ever told him before beating the crap out of him. A dull roaring started in his ears, even as anger stirred from deep inside. Anger...and once again, something more. Something dark. Something menacing.
"You - "
Red tinged his vision, bringing to life the phrase "seeing red". She was not going to complete the statement. "Sakura -" Except he no longer saw the pink-haired ex-teammate of his standing in front of him.
" - are - "
Instead, he saw crimson eyes, eyes ringed with black with red with three ebony flecks set in a circle that when activated would spin along the lines in a blur of blood and darkness and -
" - weak."
An inarticulate roar of anger ripped from his throat as he lunged at her. Neatly, she sidestepped, instead, slamming a fist into his midsection, sending him back at least several feet so that his back smashed into the trunk of the tree they were still balanced on. Something cracked audibly; he bit back a groan. Most likely a broken rib. Or two, he amended, gingerly touching his side.
He suddenly realized that she hadn't been kidding when she said she had gotten stronger.
Then there was no more time to think. She was already flinging eight shuriken at him with devastating and deadly accuracy. Gathering chakra into his feet, he concentrated, and flipped back and up, relying on the chakra beneath the soles of his feet to keep him held to the tree, despite him being parallel to the ground. The shuriken embedded themselves into where he had been only milliseconds before. A glint of something on the shuriken caught his eye, and out of pure instinct, he forced himself backwards further up the trunk of the tree, silently hoping that the trees around this area were really as tall as they looked.
Just as he anticipated, the section below him where the shuriken had been flung at exploded, sending metal bits and wooden bits flying in all directions. Those exploding tags were definitely something to be wary about. A cloud of smoke billowed upwards from where the explosion occurred, and warily he looked around for his opponent, knowing that she was most likely planning something -
- and didn't see the fist that shot out from the smoke beneath him until it was too late.
The force of her fist connecting with his chin had his vision going black within a matter of seconds - and it was just her fist. No chakra - that was why he sensed nothing amidst the sea of smoke. She had simply hit him with her bare fist. He winced, losing his concentration and tumbling the short distance to the branch, and put out a hand to halt her as he reeled to his feet. She did nothing of the sort, and instead launched a flurry of blows at his upper torso, forcing him backwards step by step...
...and finally, off the branch.
He didn't notice he was falling until he saw her materialize in front of him, the blaze of chakra slowly starting up in her poised-to-strike fist. Ignoring his wavering vision and the aching of his body from a few well-placed blows from less than a minute ago, he summoned up his chakra, and quickly performed a few seals. She struck the moment he finished, and he closed his eyes in concentration as a barely visible barrier shimmered into existence around his entire being in a curving, cocoon-like embrace, effectively halting her fist.
He heard her snarl, and felt the pressure on his shield disappear. Eyes snapped open, he twisted in mid-air, concentrating further on his chakra to adhere to the tree trunk he was falling right beside. Splinters of bark went spinning in all directions as he used the trunk and the friction of his chakra to slow his descent so that he landed safely on the ground. At least he hadn't landed in the middle of the fire.
She continued her attack, relentless in her assault. More shuriken sped at him from nowhere, and he flipped to the side, responding in kind with double the amount of kunai in the direction the shuriken had come from. Senbon needles answered him, and he countered with shuriken.
There was a momentary lull; then, from out of nowhere, she appeared from above him, and he lashed out with his arm.
That was a bad move. She brought her fingers squarely down on his arm, and immediately, he felt his arm go numb. His face twisted in shock.
"Pressure points." She said, alighting gently on the ground in front of the tree. "You can't move your arm unless someone hits that point again."
He grinded his teeth, cradling his useless arm as he jumped backwards to place her squarely within his sights. Fury bubbled from inside his chest. He was losing. Losing. It wasn't the nicest feeling in the world. There was no point in him using the Sharingan to try to gain any upper hand; he was sure she knew its strengths and weaknesses. The only way he knew he would win would be by using the cursed seal...
...but he'd be damned before he'd use that.
A plan started in his mind, and it prompted a smile. That...might just work after all. It might just be able to end without further damage to the either of them. He took a step towards her.
Then it happened.
As if a dam had been broken, chakra burst from deep within him, exploding from his entire being in a spray of dark energy to spiral around him upwards and outwards. A startled choke escaped his throat, even as he fell to his knees, and dimly, he saw his opponent tense. He thought he heard her call his name, but he couldn't hear anymore, couldn't see, could only convulse on the ground in an effort to stop the excess chakra that just wouldn't stop flowing out of him before he levelled the entire forest, before he killed her.
Rapidly, his thoughts turned to what they usually did in cases like this...except this time, it didn't work. And subconsciously, he knew why. Oh yes, he knew why it wouldn't stop. And it was Sakura's fault.
Lurching to his feet, he staggered to her, and to his surprise - and for some reason, pure annoyance - she took a step towards him, then another, until she stood in front of him. The power leakage brought him to his knees once more, and he struggled to breathe. He was fighting a losing battle. The chakra was going to flare from him in all directions. People were going to die. Sakura was going to die.
With a surge of energy born from panic and anger, he reached up with his hand, the only hand that could move,and grabbed her by the wrists, catching her off-guard and yanking her to the ground beside him. His teeth caught the edge of her mask, and with a quick jerk, tore it off her face, revealing a wide-eyed Sakura. Then, before she could react, before she could move out of his reach, before she did anything -
- he kissed her.
So…how was it? Continue? You know the drill...please review! No flames!
Thanks go out to: Kiria Kare, Aemkea, raikujin, SakuraSasuke29, kasumi, grilledjellyfish, Reven-chan, psychicbunny, It.q. ryu, Shinobi Darkbeak, blackyuki, yin vs yang, daydreamer53221, Snotty Chim-Chim, Byakugan13, RunRAMENrun, Mimiru-Chan, fallendreamer, Kist, Only Secret, LadyMist, Arounai, twigy, lolly pop3, BlackFeatherz29, InuyashaObsessed101, Ori, Fomgoms, iluvanime493, GUEST-WITH-CAPSLOCK, K-chan, Higurete Michi Toushi, nekozuki10, pureblood01, Zionne, Silver Kitsune6291, Yachtzee, ellamoony, Fukari, Lexy the Thief, DanTheGreat, BloodySakuraLeaves, Watashi Wa MuryOku, mughph (XD), kristie, b0rEdToDeAtH, a nice reviewer, Merle, Mana Moon, animEvivvErz, kawaii.athcaq, Lone Sakura, angel-puppeteer, Angelic Warrior, Princess Sakura Haruno, Queen Cow and Steak, Rel, Dark Angelic Kitty, SaNdEr-ThE-rUbBeR-bAnDeR, LittleLetty, Raspberry Polar Bear, Itaka, KuriQuinn, Itonami, Conciliateur, Tenshi no Hana-chan, freakenout, -brezoflower-, Silver Suzaku, Merffles, Sakura-Girl 2005, Fiana, So-kun, Sunran, Ayane Selznick, yoshi92punked, fuu-nk, Icygal237, Nicole, me me me and only me, Airen-kun, DarkNightDreamer, Tsukinowa, Cherry Arrow, The Squabbit, Sakran
My back hurts, and I'm so tired.
Special thanks to Fiana, who was the 100th reviewer!
-UPDATED JAN. 16, 2006-: -throws self at feet of reviewers- I'M SO SORRY FOR THE LACK OF UPDATING. I seriously, seriously am. School's been crazy (despite having a relatively easy courseload) due to my inability to manage my time (feh…). And writer's block kept appearing (THE ULTIMATE BANE OF ALL WRITERS). I mean, I knew how to start Chapter 4, but didn't know how to write it. And in the end, it wasn't supposed to turn out like this…but it did. TT. I'm well aware there's probably a bunch of grammatical mistakes as well…so apologies on that too. I beta-ed it myself the best I could, but being without a beta (still…-sighs-) I'm sure some errors slipped through.
Anyhow. I don't know how to do replies, because some of them date back like…4 months or so. :( Perhaps I should start using the new reply feature and stuff…but here goes. These are replies for Chapter 3. Incidentally, I think doing this (-points below-) is "illegal" in fics now. Oh…well?
To all the reviewers who told me to update: thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. And I'm so sorry once more that chapter 4 took ages to come out, but thank you for still bothering to follow this story. This fic would have been long dead if it weren't for you all. And do not fret (and please don't hate me :( ) if you are not individually mentioned below, because you all are equally as awesomely amazingly unbelievably wonderful. -glomps reviewers-
mughph: you're so mean. XD. Go eat frogs, ahaha. . AND FOR GOODNESS SAKES, WRITE! So many people want a new fic from you. And I'm one of those people.
Only Secret: thank you for not flaming! Haha…and thank you so much for the compliment! I'm glad the scene between Sakura and Tsunade turned out alright. That you found it realistic means that I do have hope as a writer. :)
Snotty Chim-Chim: right! . Thanks muchly!
a nice reviewer: lol, here I was thinking that I had too much description. --. It's great to know that I lack those adjectives and adverbs, TT. The whole point is, thank you for telling me that! I will be sure to increase the amount of description in this fic. Er, I'll try anyway…
Kiria Kare: I'm sorry this chapter didn't have much by way of explanation about what happened between Sakura and Sasuke…but be patient, for explanations will come out in further chapters. XD.
kawaii.athcaq: Will they? Won't they? Sasuke took a really big risk kissing Sakura at the end of the chapter, lol. Since she's changed so much…she might just kill him for it…
BlackFeatherz29: Why was your brother so mean? EVIL KID (no offense!). And for the record…that part did make me cry -embarrassed look-. Haha, thanks anyway!
angel-puppeteer: I…still haven't decided fullyon the ending. Personally, I love and hate tragedy stories…so I don't know…keep reading though! The answer will be revealed at the end. -winks-
InuyashaObsessed101: haha, no, although from reviews there are people who were hoping that had happened -sweatdrops- Thanks:)
Dark Angelic Kitty: You must go to one! Absolutely imperative! It will be well worth your money and time. And the animethon was my first one ever. And I see you used to live in Canada (yay!). If you ever read this…where did you use to live? (Lol…)
LittleLetty: Thank you muchly! Again, I don't quite know how it's going to end, but do keep reading! And OMG: I love your artwork. I am a huge fan of your works, despite not having a deviantart account (because I can't draw…). And yeah, er…just thought I'd let you know that. XD
Itaka: What! You want Sasuke dead too? OO. Haha…
SaNdEr-ThE-rUbBeR-bAnDeR: -hopes name was not misspelled- You were right. . The Sakura in his mind – the one he once knew and relied on to control his cursed seal – has completely changed, and is no longer the…"pure soul" he always envisioned her to be. Whenever he thinks of her, he sees the changed Sakura, and that changed Sakura is not one that can save him (she is trying to kill him). So yeah…as you saw (if you've read up til here, lol) he wasn't able to control his seal.
Itonami: …ouch...-depressed look- Aha, thank you! Your review means a great deal to me (and it really does), especially since you're an amazing writer. The reason she's so cold will be revealed though…and perhaps it brings up the question of whether or not Sasuke can bring her back to who she once was; her emotionless-ness was really all his fault. . Stupid Sasuke, leaving Konoha so long ago. -sob-
Conciliateur: thank you! Aww, I'm sorry I made you depressed. -bows apologetically- You're the third person who's wondering about the ending…so I do hope that you'll keep following this fic to the very end. :)
grilledjellyfish: your review made me laugh aloud! Thank you for having made my day. . And Sasuke didn't give her a big bear-hug…he gave her more. -grins-
yoshi92punked: thank you for pushing me. Thank you so much for telling me to update. I'm so sorry I made you wait! Each time you reviewed (over the few days) I felt really bad for not having written…so thank you for pushing me. I hope you liked Chapter 4!
Nicole: thank you! SasuSaku all the way! And why GaaHina? Personally I'm a fan of NaruHina…:D
Airen-kun: AIREN-KUN! I will be sure to wish you first (obviously; your birthday's before mine...>>). Happy belated anyway (for your last birthday! Lol)! -hugs- Thanks as well for the review! And you must update your fic! XD.
THANKS ONCE AGAIN!