Author's Note: Hey everyone. Sorry I didn't update as soon I should have. I know, I know, I'm a horrible authoress! But you'll all be happy to know that SWBOS has now been turned into a doujinshi! That's right, now you can read this story, and see pictures to it as well! You can find it at http: wilted-blossom .deviantart .com . Without the spaces, of course.

Sacrifice: Wilted Blossom of Spring

Chapter 12- Self Elucidation

A tapping sound filled the tower. Tsunade's hands continued with the annoying movement across her desk, flowing in tune with her concentration. The mission synopsis was raising more questions than it was quelling them. She'd been worried about the increase in violence from the Hidden Earth village, but a full scale ambush simply tipped the scales into offensive mode. For them to have discovered the undercover operations of the ANBU meant there was an information leak she'd have to take care of.

She had been dismissing each member of the 8-person rescue squad one by one, delving information from them and then sending them on their way. Eventually, only Sakura remained within the office. With calculating honey eyes, Tsunade placed her full attention upon her pupil. To say she had expected a smile to spread over the girl's face upon being forced out of hibernation would have been foolhardy; but as the Hokage, she'd expected to see more than a glare. It simply wasn't Sakura's nature to have so much anger.

"Is there anything you have to add?" Tsunade questioned, her face impassive.

Sakura was silent for a moment. "Orochimaru was there."

There was no warning as debris flew across the room when Tsunade's fist hit her desk. Sakura allowed the pieces of wood to strike her skin and made no attempt to protect herself from the sliver projectiles. She was still numb from her plunge into the lake, so the pain didn't register as wood wedged itself inside her skin and amongst her nerves.

Curses of every nature escaped Tsunade's lips.

"Why didn't anyone else mention this?" she exploded. "That should have been the first thing I was told!"

"Because, Tsunade-shishou, only Sasuke and myself/I saw him."

Plopping back down into her seat, Tsunade placed her head into her palms and bit her lip to release her anger. Orochimaru was the last person she wanted to deal with. It was hard enough to protect the village without him trying to come in and ruin the years of reconstruction from the first Sound invasion. She was still under the scrutiny of the elders for her controversial ways of rebuilding the village— another attack by Orochimaru would only lower her reputation more, and annihilate the morale of Konoha as a whole.

Releasing a breath she'd been holding to calm herself, she continued the questioning. "How did the curse seal react?"

"It stayed intact within the seal, but caused him great pain." Sakura responded, her voice grating on the words. "He wasn't after Sasuke."

This peaked Tsunade's interest. "Did he say what he wanted, or what he was planning?"

"Besides trying to spark war with Konoha again?" Sakura started shaking as the sarcasm dripped from her words.

Silence floated in the air. Tsunade made no attempt to force more of an answer out of Sakura—she knew well enough that she would tell the whole story. Emotions flew across Sakura's face and eyes. Tears were welling up behind her façade and she was cracking, one thought after another. It hurt to watch someone who was once so strong fallen into such a state.

After a few moments of contemplation, Sakura finished her statement.

"He was after me."

His neck and shoulder still felt stiff, but Sasuke thanked Shizune for her diligent care nonetheless. The pain of the curse seal had ebbed, and now he felt exhausted. It showed in the droopiness of his eyes and slight way he slouched upon standing. A motherly smile fell over Shizune's lips as she watched him work out the remaining evidence of the curse seal's attack. Thanking him, she gave him instructions to report to Tsunade. After rolling his stiff shoulder a few more times, he walked out of the office and started up the stairwell.

Sasuke would have preferred to have someone with him. It was unlike him to feel that way, but he didn't want his thoughts to travel to Sakura—which he knew they would unless he was distracted. Small talk with Shizune had served its purpose of prolonging the confrontation with his thoughts, but now there was nothing stopping them from floating out of his subconscious and into the forefront of his mind frame.

He'd been looking for a reason to his actions—he narrowed it down to confusion, circumstance, protective urges and relief. It was a dangerous mix that caused him to act on impulse instead of thinking things through. The most aggravating part wasn't that he had actually given in and kissed Sakura— it was the fact that he had enjoyed it, and wanted more. Sasuke was well aware he had severely overstepped a boundary that once never existed, but he couldn't find himself feeling remorse for it.

By the time he'd reached Tsunade's door, Sakura was stepping out. Sasuke sidestepped and backed himself up against the wall when he saw her coming. Neither one looked at the other, and no words were exchanged; but that didn't keep Sasuke from sensing the way she flinched and edged as far from him as a restricting corridor would allow. Clenching his fists, he used all his self restraint not to scream for her.

He stood there in the hall long after she'd left. His body wanted to chase her, but his mind was scared. Sasuke didn't regret what he had done—but he did regret the distance he had created in doing it.

Trying not to worry about the riff his actions had created, he turned and stepped into Tsunade's office. The dishevelment of the room didn't surprise him; obviously, she had not been happy with the mission report. She had a history of throwing inane fits when things didn't go the way she had plotted or hypothesized.

He slid against the wall, keeping himself as far from the Hokage as possible. Sasuke forced all thoughts of Sakura out of his conscious mind and focused solely on the movements and eventual words that would come from the protector of the village. She was still in the middle of a cursing rampage, turning around and pulling at her hair as if it would magically pop up a solution to her problems.

"Uchiha Sasuke, I have one thing to say to you." She stated upon seeing him against her wall near the doorway.

Raising an eyebrow in question, he waited for her to finish her statement.

Tsunade marched up to him, anger burning in her gaze. He supposed she had good reason for whatever her rage toward him was for, so he made no attempt to press her further or escape the punishment she was going to inflict upon him.

The smack that echoed throughout the room left a deep red mark across his cheek, but his face showed no sign of pain or shock.

"What the hell were you thinking?" she cried. "Kissing Sakura, are you an idiot? You know what happened to her! You were the one who pushed me to place her in this mission in the first place! Did you honestly think she wouldn't react negatively to your advances?"

Sasuke's eyes looked toward the floor, his face turned away from hers. He hadn't expected this to be the first point of business. "It wasn't my intention to do that."

"The fact of the matter is that you did, and now she's afraid of you!"

He didn't respond. Tsunade stepped away from him, calming her frustration enough to make a better inspection of his body language. He seemed impassive, but it was obvious he was hurt by his own mistake as much as Sakura was. Sasuke couldn't look her in the eyes, and his fists were clenched. She sighed and turned back toward the only thing she hadn't shattered to pieces—her chair.

"Did Orochimaru say why he was after her?" Tsunade questioned, her voice quieting.

"He said something about her having the power to defeat Nishi Kyo." Sasuke offered, glad for the subject change. "Am I right to assume that's the mission…?"

She nodded. "Orochimaru may have said that, but it's not his real reason. My guess is that mentioning his name was to test his resources, and see if whoever is leaking him the information on Sakura and ANBU can be trusted. Obviously, I'm assuming he got a positive answer. There is a different reason he wants Sakura."

"It has something to do with you." Sasuke deducted.

"You've always been sharp." She noted, slightly impressed at his ability to figure this out. "I have two techniques Orochimaru wants, and I'm sure he assumes Sakura knows them as well. My jutsu of youth, and my Ninpo Sozo Saise."

He looked surprised. "You haven't taught these to her?"

"She has no use for the jutsu of youth, and although Ninpo Sozo Saise can keep her from dying in battle, to hasten her healing so much will shorten her lifespan. She's too young to start shedding years off of her life." Tsunade commented.

"Why would Orochimaru want a jutsu that would eventually kill him?"

"He doesn't know of that side affect." She answered. "All he saw were my wounds instantly healing."

Sasuke was silent for a moment. "So you think he wants Sakura for that reason, so he can learn those skills?"

"I'm sure he also feels it would be a great advantage over me—he could learn more of my fighting style, and ways to counter it. The only other reason I can think of would be to heal his arms, but as you reported back when you first returned from Sound, Kabuto already found a way to give Orochimaru back some mobility and use of his arms for jutsu."

He nodded.

Tsunade was quiet, contemplating her options as she glanced around at the destruction of her office. She eyed the boy standing in before her, the determined look in his eyes causing her thoughts to wander. It was a risk, she determined, but one that she was willing to take for the sake of her pupil. With a sigh, she leaned back and began to speak with a professional air she only used when her mind was made up.

"Sasuke, I have an extension mission for you."

The hallway of Sakura's apartment was dark and silent except for her sobs. She tugged roughly at her hair, screaming out in agony and betrayal. Pain rooted itself deeply within her being—she felt her regret and fear in the marrow of her bones and every muscle she possessed. Increased emotional turmoil was starting to chip away at her sanity; Sakura knew this, and she understood it. There was nothing she could do to stop the process as it gradually tore her away from life and humanity.

Letting her legs slip out from between her hands to splay out across the floor, the tension under her skin started to ebb. She continued sobbing, her face turning up toward the blank ceiling over her.

"Why…?" she questioned aloud, flashes/images of Sasuke blinking before her eyes. "All this time…"

It didn't make sense to her. Sakura wasn't sure if she should be glad he'd opened himself to the emotions and dreams she'd had before her rape, or if she should hate him for trying to make an advance on her after she'd been destroyed. Part of her wondered if the twitter in her chest and the tingle in her stomach she had felt during his kiss had truly been fear.

She closed her eyes in resignation—she was afraid of him. She was scared he'd take advance of her. She was worried he'd betray her in a way that was deeper than his betrayal of Konoha. What frightened her the most was the risk that Sasuke would abandon her. As much as she wanted to be away from him, Sakura wanted him to fight for her.

Sakura wanted him to prove the kiss in the forest meant something.

She laughed; inane realizations clearing her mind. Nishi had torn away the only thing that made her body her own—he'd infected in her with a strange kind of disease that men could detect. Maybe it was something in her aura, or perhaps it was a scent she couldn't smell. Either way, her body meant nothing; it was just a shell meant for the instinctual carnal pleasures of men. What was the point in trying to keep it to herself anymore when she had no reason to be saving it? He had tainted her… enough so that when she glanced into the mirror, she didn't recognize her own reflection.

What was she saving herself for now? She meant nothing… she was nothing. Everywhere she turned there was a new mistake, a new incident that hurt someone else or destroyed something. Little by little, she was doing nothing but destroying the people she once tried so hard to protect.

Orochimaru's face flashed within her closed eyelids.

Sasuke waited impatiently at Naruto's apartment door, wondering where his blonde counterpart was. This late night meeting had been his idea—what right did he have to be late? Considering Naruto picked up his perversity from his two years with Jiraiya, Sasuke concluded it made perfect sense he'd also picked up Kakashi's tardiness through the years.

'The idiot's like a sponge.'

"Oi, Sasuke-teme, I was wondering when you'd get here!" Naruto shouted from down the hall. "I've been here and back twice already!"

Sasuke huffed. "Why did you tell me to meet you here?"

Naruto's lighthearted mood turned dark. "What was wrong with Sakura-chan?"

"What do you mean?'

The growl that erupted from within Naruto's throat was intimidating, but Sasuke continued to stare him down with his classic impassive expression. He knew what Naruto was trying to pry at. It had been Naruto who had found Sasuke and Sakura in the forest after Orochimaru's trap and explosion—it didn't surprise Sasuke that he knew something had happened. Unfortunately, the conversation with Tsunade was still sitting ill within his stomach—he was in no mood to repeat the situation again.

"What happened to her?" Naruto demanded. "Whatever it was… I've never seen her like that in my life, not after you abandoned the village, not even after the…"

He stopped, watching as Sasuke's eyes moved toward the place where the wall and floor met. Naruto wasn't used to seeing such a far away gaze coming from the cold Uchiha. It was strange… but at the same time, supported his theory on what was wrong with Sakura.


He started walking away. "I have a mission. I wasted enough time waiting for you to get here. We'll have to talk later."

"What did you do to her?"

Sasuke halted in his retreat. He turned turn toward Naruto, looking at him with a calculating expression. "I'll explain it to you later; right now, I need to find her."

Checking her pack for the fourth time, Sakura decided she hadn't forgotten anything she'd need. There was no reason to turn back toward her apartment and search for something that wasn't missing in her supplies. With a sigh she continued with her trek toward the Konoha gate. There was only one way to get out of the village without being spotted—that was during the shift change at the gate.

She'd come to her decision without much extra thought on the subject of Orochimaru; if he wanted her, then there was no reason to keep prolonging his grasp upon her. There was no point in fighting his want of her as a container. Her body was simply a shell of her soul and held no true value.

All Sakura wanted to do was delay Orochimaru's ability to attack Konoha. She had rationalized this sacrifice as the only way she could possibly protect the people who had been fighting to protect the village for centuries. If this was the last thing she could do as a kunoichi of Konoha, then she'd willingly do it. She couldn't be put through much more than she already had. Although Orochimaru had a lecherous malice to him, and although the thought of being near him frightened her, she had no other choice. She was a pointless link in life unless she took this path.

"The last time we met out here at night, I was the one leaving."

Sakura stopped, refusing to move her eyes from the cobblestone street. His voice had come from behind, and it forced her hair to stand on end. She was scared. Her fear centered around the conversation at hand more than the person himself. The temptation to run was overwhelming; so was the urge to speak.

He took a few steps closer. "You're walking straight into the trap you fought so hard to get me out of."

"You had too much ahead of you." She responded, her voice nearing a whisper. "It would have been wrong for you to lose it all for a false power."

"What makes the situation any different in your case?"

She was silent. A breeze blew, lifting her hair and skirt. She didn't move as the skin was revealed; there was no attempt to cover herself from his eyes. Sakura weaved her words together in her mind, formulating the best way to answer his question.

"I'm an empty shell—nothing but a useless body. I might as well put it to use and delay this war."

"Give me your headband."

Sakura turned, finding herself closer to Sasuke than she'd originally thought. Cautiously, he tugged on the ends of her forehead protector, allowing it to drop soundlessly within his palm. She made no attempt to move from the close proximity of his hand. Her eyes were on the scraped one he pulled out of his pocket.


He shook his head. "It's not mine— this was Itachi's."

Sasuke placed the bloodstained object on her head, tying it efficiently after he placed hers into his kunai pouch. She couldn't quite fit an emotion to how solemn his face appeared as he gave her the remaining momento of his older brother—a man he had both loved and hated.

"You are as weak as he is." Sasuke spat. "If you are going to run, you have the same place as he does in my heart. I thought you were stronger than this."

"I've never been strong!" she screamed suddenly.

He glared at her, taking a hold of her wrist and drawing her hand up toward her face. "Look at the scars on your hands—the scar on your stomach and back. The bruises and calluses on your skin. That's from training, from fighting, from the near death situations you've been through. The fact that you're still alive is strength. You're strong, Sakura—stronger than most."

She wasn't sure how to take his words. It was taking everything in her not to squirm out of his grasp and slip away into a protective stance. Sakura had made up her mind, but his words were starting to sting. She could feel the anger and fear boiling within her heart—it was a dangerous mix threatening to unleash.

"What right do you have to say any of this to me?" she shrieked. "You've always belittled me—telling me what I do wrong! Why the sudden change of heart? I was raped, Sasuke, did you forget that? I have no use— I truly am nothing but a hindrance now!"

"How was that your fault? You couldn't control the situation, you were paralyzed, Sakura! There was nothing you could have done!" he growled.

She blinked a few times, registering his words with the emotions that were splayed across his face. Sakura couldn't remember ever seeing so much raw emotion—other than rage—from Sasuke. It seemed out of place on his face, twisting it in angles that weren't meant to be formed. His grip on her wrist began to wane before he finally let her go, turning on his heel and walking away.

"You're not the useless person you make yourself out to be… but I can't tell you to stay or not. If you walk through those gates, you become my enemy. I will hunt you down."

Sakura stammered for a response. "Sasuke… what else am I supposed to do? You don't understand!"

"Yes, I do!" he spun around, his eyes fierce. "I understand too well—I probably understand better than anyone else."

"I have no purpose anymore! I'm of no use to anyone— the mistakes I make may one day cost someone their life!" she cried.

He turned away again, clenching his fists together in a rage. "I'm not saying goodbye to you again, Sakura. It hurt enough the first time."

With large boisterous steps, Sasuke walked away. Sakura stared at his back, watching as his hands fell into place within his pockets, and the tension remained in his back. Each step he took broke her resolve. Every movement of his muscles caused her to panic. She was second guessing herself, and she hated it. Taking her hand and feeling the scratch which marred Itachi's headband, words just started to flow.


Author's Notes: Yup, that's the end of the chapter. Hope you liked! I have no idea how long it will take me to update again. I'll try to make it faster!

Love and Hugs—

Crystal Renee