Author's Notes: Illustrations for this Chapter are at ohshush(DOT)com/fandom/images/superfluous-fluff/2bsch05(DOT)html - Further notes are at the bottom and there are loads of them. Thank you for reading.


"No matter how dangerous the risk... there will be missions you can't decline."

Ibiki - Naruto Chapter 44, Volume 5


"I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that"

- U2, Acrobat


Chapter Five - The Circle Offense

+

Naruto woke up with a horrible crick in his neck and a squirrel gnawing at his hair. Grumbling he pulled himself to his knees, scowling in all directions. He was in a damp and empty forest, scarred with obvious signs of violence, missing most of his uniform, weaponless and alone. He -needed- to stop waking up like this. Normally Ero-Sennin was at fault but as the fog lifted from his mind, an intensity rose and he set his jaw tightly.

"Sasuke," he growled contemptuously, the scent of his former teammate thrumming thick through the air. Naruto bristled instinctively, spinning around to attack, only to confront the view of a bleak uninhabited forest. There were no signs of a sneak attack; more alarmingly came the realization of why Sasuke's scent was so strong. Blood; not enough lost to be lethal on its own, but if the aim had been right, if Sasuke had been knocked out and if the weapon was deadly enough, than it was entirely possible--

"SASUKE!!" Naruto roared, in no particular direction, "You bastard! You better not be dead!!"

Not that he was afraid for the guy's welfare or that he cared about him so much, but if anyone was going to off the bastard, it was going to be him. No one else had the strength, no one else had the know-how, but more importantly no one else had the right!

Recalling one of his first lessons, Naruto reflected, -'a true Shinobi seeks for the hidden meanings within the hidden meanings'-. Something in this area will answer the who, why and how?

If the past was any indication, it meant he owed thanks to Kyubi that he'd healed faster than Sasuke, probably woken up first too. Not that the Kyubi had aided much in preventing their sneak attack. He was knocked out cold, as was Sasuke, so their enemy had to be very strong. -If only he could remember-- Well, since it was likely that he was first to arise, it meant he could get the drop on Sasuke if he acted fast enough, even if he wasn't alone. No, certainly not alone. Naruto prowled the clearing, --foot prints, Chakra impressions, cracked branches, a chase and-- analyzing and trying to sense his surroundings; he found leaves, dirt, trees and a discarded Senbon needle, more than likely intentionally left behind.

Naruto plucked it up, not caring that it might carry poison; he could heal from poison. He frowned at the red fluid that ran off its tip. Evidence dictated Sasuke wasn't among allies.

A still foggy memory played tricks on him, made him try and remember whom he knew who carried weapons like this, whose signature it was, was it familiar? The first person he'd ever seen wield this weapon had also appeared as a Hunter-Nîn, right? Maybe it was 'her' weapon of choice? Naruto rubbed his face, trying like hell to clear his thoughts.

No, the first one seemed like a 'she', but turned out to be a pretty lethal underestimation--

Haku, soft features, pale round cheeks, eyes closed in sleep... no, in death. So, no, not a threat, plus that was years ago, so many years ago; why would something from so long ago feel so familiar?

God, he hated waking up like this, so thoroughly mixed up. Last thing he could recall felt more like a dream than a memory because--because it felt too upfront, deceptively clear, the figure cloaked in hunter-Nîn garb, dropping down to kneel beside Sasuke where he lay on his back, sprawled like a discarded toy--the more he remembered more it angered him--the expression she wore while she poked and prodded him; she wasn't hurt but she wasn't okay either. He growled, trying to shake the cobwebs free of the memory, because it was familiar but different, because she was longer, rounder and prettier. Far prettier than he'd imagined she could be.

"Sakura-Chan," he murmured, baffled at the realization, both then and now--where had she come from, what was she doing, why was she here and where was she now--in his recollection, he hadn't needed to see her actions to draw the conclusion her intentions weren't pleasant. Sakura had done 'something' to them, whatever it was, his mind was still clouded and it had likely been the same 'something' that knocked them unconscious then,... and now, he wasn't fairing any better. The 'something' was still with him, even though he was alone in a blood stained landscape. Sasuke left no trail, but there was the scent of cherry blossoms vague enough to seem non-threatening, except Naruto had begun to know better, to see the 'hidden meaning'--

-'No'-, he reminded himself, confusion and realization building in his throat into something nearly choking, something tasting a hell of a lot like fury, -'no one else had the strength, no one else had the know how-- but more importantly no one else had the right to kill him...- except maybe her.'-


Blood-thirst, -Ki-, a killer intent, a sense of which consumed and enveloped; a driving intensity, none of it good. A Shinobi didn't need to master this to be respected as a Ninja. They mastered it to be powerful, to be feared, to render their victim useless with little more than a glare.

"Knock it off," Sakura grumbled, waking from where she was lounging on a nearby windowsill.

Sasuke didn't have to announce he'd woken up; his Ki made everything living within a hundred yards flee for their lives, except Sakura. That wasn't to say that she was brave, although she was, but she knew 'intent' to kill wasn't the same as 'ability'.

"I'm serious," she warned from beneath her mask, coming to stand by his bedside. Yellowish serpentine eyes slid and regarded her, narrowing while a glaze lifted and he recognized where they were and what it meant.

"You," he sneered threateningly, then said nothing while he tried to attack, but couldn't.

"Ah, well," she admitted with a shrug, "I guess the mask is pretty pointless by now."

She removed it; her expression carried none of the false light-heartedness her tone did.

"I just wanted to portray the seriousness of this scenario to you, -Uchiha-," she used his family name as a device. It worked partly, it shocked him out of his misaimed observations, drove them back to where they should be. "Fact is, I've got a mission to complete and I need you to help me. Well, part of you anyway."

"Why should I help you?" he answered in humoring disbelief, "You've forcibly restrained me here, of all places, and now you're asking me to aid you. You're not exactly winning any points of valor here."

"'Restrained?'" she repeated, indulging him, "I haven't restrained you, I've crippled you."

Eyes widen in panic, nearing gold in color, acknowledging she spoke the truth.

"I snapped your fifth and seventh cervical vertebrae. You're paralyzed from the neck down. The damage should be permanent but a specialist in Medical treatment..." she paused significantly as she came to sit beside him, irrationally close, emphasizing his helplessness, "someone like me, can treat you, maybe even fully heal you, if it's caught early enough."

Sasuke groaned, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to figure out what to do or say next. This was worse than fighting that unreasonable Naruto. Sakura was methodical, he'd have to outthink her, which meant playing her game for now until she slipped up. If she slipped up, which wasn't very likely.

"I hope you enjoyed the freedom you had outside of Konohagakure," she said evenly, her eyes skirting over his face, restlessly, as her hands reached up to brush aside hair from his face. All without touching his skin. She seemed determined not to directly relate to him. She sighed, sounding bored, when she continued, "Because if this mission doesn't go down the way I've planned, than this is what you have to look forward to. A lifetime, wasting away, abandoned within the walls of your childhood home, no one to seek you out, no one to care."

"I. Get. The. Point" Sasuke spat.

"Oh," Sakura replied in a small voice. "Well, you always were a fast learner."


Fury tasted bitter on the wind and it never lasts long, especially when it's so entirely unfounded. Naruto realized this when he noted that he'd gone full-circle...he was chasing shadows, needing to move but without a direction. Head bent in thought, he stopped and clung to a branch, nails digging deep.

His Chakra wasn't flowing right, that was to say it wasn't flowing at all. Pulling on it was like trying to make a sleeping limb respond. He realized this after the third time he'd tried to focus his Chakra into his feet to cling onto a tree-limb or to hold his place on a trunk and nearly fell to his death as a result... fury helped then, but it was bestial and crazed and confusing. And then he'd black out again. Without the powerful irrationality of the Nine-Tails to rely on he realized finally that his Chakra simply was not supplying his demands. It dizzied him to try, which led to the conclusion that something was sealing it away from him. Another important piece of evidence he'd overlooked and it was painted all over him.

Chakra, his Chakra, and more than likely Sasuke's Chakra, had been permanently sealed.

If that had been Sakura's intention all along it didn't explain the needle or the excess of blood. It did explain why the forest was now a clearing, where remnants of their misaimed and malfunctioning Chakra had charred the land. Her absence only made it obvious that her scheming wasn't done; if she wanted to kill Sasuke she wouldn't have had to disable him, but if her aim was to capture...

Naruto's nails dug harder into the tree limb he clung to, which was fraying under his grip. He had to read the evidence right this time; he'd misread it the first time and it led him to getting knocked out again and no closer to finding Sasuke... and in turn Sakura. The question of 'could she' had already been answered, she obviously 'could' bring Sasuke in on her own, given that Naruto apparently provided a big enough distraction. But that didn't answer the question of 'would she'? He shook his mane in aggravation, she wouldn't, he thought repeatedly, trying like hell to convince himself. She wouldn't. They had a promise, she wouldn't take this from him, she just wouldn't. They'd had a promise. But then he'd negated on his side of their promise, but he was a jerk and she was a better person than him, at least he thought so. So, given that she was capable of bringing him in, but more than likely wouldn't; where than would she be likely to take a hostage?

Naruto looked out over the horizon than closed his eyes gently, tranquil in thought. At least, they were alive. He couldn't say why he knew this, only that in his gut he knew it to be absolutely true; it was just a matter of finding them. -If only they'd left him something to follow--


"Why are we here?" Sasuke asked finally when the stillness of the home was too familiar to endure any longer.

"Comfort is important to your recovery," Sakura answered from across the room while she dragged a chair over to his bedside. "That is 'if' you're to recover" she grinned impishly.

Sasuke pointedly stared at the ceiling. This was all familiar, laid out, and he found himself reading nonexistent patterns in the panel work.

"You are my patient after all. So, I figured 'all the comforts of home'," she shrugged, taking a seat.

"This isn't a home," he observed coolly, "it's a prison."

"Yes, that too," she acknowledged; she shrugged back her cloak, revealing a Tunic, darker than anything he was used to seeing her in. Gloves covered her arm from bicep to fingertips, obscuring but not completely hiding the lacework of henna stains on her skin. She used the cloak to cushion the hard wood chair for extended comfort; looked like they were going to be here for a while.

Sakura's eyes dropped to his white robe, lined with red kanji, folded neatly at his feet, showing the strangely inverted Uchiha Clan's insignia, which he had boldly stitched by his own hand. The Fan, the Uchiha Family trait was the manipulation of fire. The mind of an Uchiha...and yet he had inverted the color and therefore the context, a blood red base, pitch black fan, contrasting sharply against the robes harsh white material. She wouldn't touch him but she was perfectly comfortable fondling his personal items.

"I learned a lot about your clan's history, -Uchiha-," she said more toward the jacket than him, "It's a sad history really and I'm talking way before your generation. It's just..." she sighed, pulling her hands away she crossed both arms behind her head. She glanced past him toward the window where she had been before. She gathered her thoughts, trying and failing to seem unfazed by his presence, "if you had to die, and the last bits and pieces of your family be put to rest, it makes sense that it be here."

Sasuke breathed out, scoffing slightly, "You're even worse than that -brat-. You know what I am, what I need to do, but you're wasting time doing this anyway."

Sakura smiled sadly, "Yeah, I know what you are. That's exactly why." Her eyes were distant, while they locked onto something abstract across the room; "If you can't be saved now... then it's better to kill you, right? Exert some control over destiny."

Sasuke focused on escape, or at least tried to, but her being so near, and in this place of all places, was distressing. He should have burned it. Across the room, he knew what caught her fascination and he silently wished he'd thrown it away when he'd had the chance; the picture, the last remnants of what Team 7 was. This place was full up with dead and dying things. He'd come too far to be considered among those statistics.

"Can't you see the patterns for what they are?" she said, her voice sounding nearly desperate for a moment, but that jaded tone returned to it in as little time as it took for her to sigh. "No, of course not, you always missed the most obvious things, like our friendly Jinchuuriki and Kakashi's aim with you."

This time Sasuke had to struggle to keep his face impassive. Sakura was both clever and observant, so she wasn't one to throw information around lightly. Mentioning these things was her way of showing he still somehow had her confidence, not in the way of trust but like a diary that had to endure her teenage ramblings.

"Just look at the patterns," she said with an absent gesture to her hand, "everything that was ever important to you died here. Why not me? Why not you?" She laughed suddenly, like the most amusing thought had just struck her, "I think subconsciously it's why you didn't kill Naruto at the Valley of the End, because that place just wasn't appropriate enough. Not personal enough for you. This place, though maybe it isn't that monumental, but it is home. I'd thought you'd appreciate that."

Eyes narrowed, Sasuke glared at her profile, his eye color dimming as he contained his anger. "You said you wanted my aid."

"Yeah," she replied but seemed resolved to say nothing more.

"Like this," he reminded irritably, "there isn't much I can do."

"Ah, that," she answered with a partial smirk. Sakura stretched, leaning to reach toward the nightstand. On it was a bottle of his father's preferred unfiltered Saké, a cup and an odd number of scrolls lying near it; Sakura had obviously had enough time to familiarize herself with the place. It was disturbing, but more worrying than upsetting, not that he was willing to admit it.

"It's a lot simpler than you think, you see," Sakura continued after finishing off a cup with practiced ease, "do you feel that pulse, that something different churning within you? Go on, dig deep."

Sasuke strained to focus on his 'self'. It wasn't easy, partly because having Sakura around was distraction in itself. Also because every time he reached within all he could feel was helplessness, paralysis, the absence of Chakra. He closed his mind and relaxed as much as he felt he could afford, "I can't tell, there's too much..."

"Noise?" she offered, "Interference? Yeah, I'm noticing that too. But I'm sure you've noticed a bit of a difference since you've woken up. That the headache you'd had for weeks now has started receding."

Sasuke slowly opened his eyes and glared in her direction. Damn it if she wasn't right.

"I'll take that as a yes," she said smugly, "See, I borrowed a little bit of Naruto. A little bit of me too, and placed it inside you. Not a physical thing either, just an impression, like a shadow in your mind. It's just how the technique works, you see."

The first question he wants to ask is 'why?' or more rightly, 'WHY THE HELL?' but that'd just play into her hands.

He breathed deeply, calming him, "What do you aim to do?"

"I...I don't aim to do anything," she said morosely, "this isn't about me. It's about you. What do you aim to do with it?"

She tilted her head slightly, a stray hair grazing her cheek while glassy eyes glanced over his features. "Still don't see the pattern, do you? Damn it, I'll try a different approach."

She sat up abruptly, leaning forward to stare him directly in the face; Sasuke sucked in a breath to keep calm, hating his paralysis something lethal. If only he had his hands, he could perform a million and one Jutsus, -'Precious Jutsu'-, as a defense, but now he was forced to simply remain a target to her tactics.

"Do you hate me?" she asked frankly. Her voice didn't tremble when she said it but it was smaller than what it had been. The woman before him merged momentarily into the girl he remembered.

"I'm starting to," he answered, more honestly than he'd expected too.

"Just annoyed with me then, of course," she said, rolling her eyes, nodding her head thoughtfully before she continued, "right, of course. Do you hate Naruto?"

Sasuke stared blankly. Sakura of old was too self-involved to fully see the dynamics that once made up their team. The Sakura before him certainly was not.

At his hesitation, the corner of her pale mouth turned upward into some bitter resemblance of a smile, "Do you love him than?"

"No!" he instantly replied.

Her smirk lengthened as she reached to pour herself another serving, "I wonder if you're even capable of it."

"Shut up," he bitterly retorted, eyes screwed closed at the sight of her, at the sight of this place and the fact that he'd really just like to reach out right now, a few measly inches and just...

"I hate you sometimes," she abruptly added, cutting off his train of thought, looking over at that damn picture again, "I really do. You turned your back on me."

The cup hovered near her lips, while she evoked some pain or hardship she seemed determined to focus on. She stood, skirting around the foot of the bed. She plucked up the framed photo, leaned back against the bookcase, jutting her hips with a lazy grace. She propped the bottom of the photo against her waist and looked down over it analytically while she sipped at her cup.

"Only you knew how much I cared for you," she continued, her voice low so he had to strain to hear it. "We all cared for you, but you left anyway. We saw the best in you but you gave us your worst instead. All that hate..."

She smiled sadly when she placed the photo back on the bookcase, leaving it face down like she'd found it hours earlier. "You know, I've seen failed techniques before, self-inflicted being the worst sort. I know all the signs. You've turned into a hollow shell of what you could have been and now... well," she crossed her arms, the empty serving cup clutched tightly, contradicting her posture of ease, "now you're paying the price aren't you?"

It sounded like she was judging him, no, more accurately she sounded like she was trying to sound judgmental and not lost, because somewhere in that fogged over expression was the remnants of a girl who cried over him in his dreams. Maybe she tried to bury that girl with alcohol or maybe she tried to evoke her with it, but either way the façade she was trying so steadfastly to maintain was beginning to crumble around the edges. Maybe she had no plan at all, and this was as far as she had thought; to catch him and keep him, and then what?

"But you see," she continued, sounding lost in thought rather than the strategic and levelheaded Shinobi she needed to be, "hate, like love, is blinding. It's why Naruto couldn't believe you'd walk away, it why I couldn't believe you'd ever willingly return."

She smirked again, maliciously, and Sasuke was already weary of that expression when she said "it's why Naruto wants to catch you and keep you and screw you till you atone for all the pain you've caused."

Okay, maybe she was even more aware than he'd given her credit for, but playing victim wasn't his nature, so he resolved himself to glare at her. She, of course, decided to interpret this as an invitation. She returned to his beside, opting to sit on the edge rather than the chair. Her hand came up again to wipe away strands of hair that refused to stay out of his eyes. "It's why I wanted to snap your neck and bury you in this morgue of a household. It's all wrapped in a bundle of sameness."

From this close he could see the features he had trouble remembering, the exact shape of her pale and nervous mouth, the insolent lift of her chin, the way her hair was fair but not thin, it hung weighted against the curve of her cheek, cut shorter in the back (privately, he missed the length), but most especially the way the muscles around her eyes slightly tightened. These nuances used to warn of on-coming overly dramatic tears or episodes of voluminous rage and tantrums like he'd never seen from a girl. The edgings were still there but she didn't succumb to them.

It certainly took a while, but she seemed to have mastered the twenty-fifth rule of Shinobi conduct. Although it was pointless to hide from someone who knew her as well as he did. He could still tell; she was grieving for him. He'd seen it before. A part of him, deep within his mind was relieved to have had a chance to see it again before he died.

"It's enough power to do the impossible. It's strength." She sounded wistful. Her hand trembled, clipping bone-carved earrings when she withdrew, continuing, "Strength you don't have, because you're empty."

"...Your philosophy isn't sound," he quietly accused, "it's filled with holes, just like this whole scheme of yours."

She breathed out raggedly in something meant to be the shape of a laugh. "It isn't a Philosophy, it's partly facts and mostly faith. Blind-faith, or in your case paralyzed-faith. " She laughed weakly at her bad-joke and ignored his glare.

"I would rather kill you than have you leave again, fractured and fucked-up as you are," she stated frankly while she placed the bottle and cup on the floor off to one side, near the head of the bed.

"I can save you, but I won't," she admitted while she reached up to steal one of his extra pillows. "You have to want me to, but you don't. You resent me for ever caring for you, just like you'd fuck Naruto for the sake of destroying him." Airily she talked, while she propped the pillow against the footrest, making a slope to rest on. She poked it and pressed it till it was firm enough for her liking, than leaned against it making the bed shift with the combined weight of her and her hidden weaponry. She folded her still boot-clad legs under her, curled, half-sitting half-laying at his feet, staring blindly in his direction, but not looking at anything in particular.

Sasuke sighed, wishing he could press his hand to the side of his head where a headache was newly forming. "You're not making sense."

"No, not to you I guess," she replied, shifting and curling to avoid actually touching him, "because you'd still rather be blind to the obvious. To the very possibility..."

"Of what?"

"Of being saved." Her eyes didn't carry any of the over-bright hopefulness he'd expected. She stated it like a fact, a sad predictable fact, sounding just as unenthused as the times she had addressed him by his surname.

Sasuke laughed bitterly, amazed at the realization, "You think I can really be saved?"

"I know it," she mumbled tiredly, eyes closed slightly, weighed with sleep, "but only if you want it. But you don't, so no, I guess no one wins." She shrugged and tugged at her long gloves, pulling them to bunch more comfortably. If she were more sober or more awake she probably would have realized that it would have been easier to take them off, although it wasn't something he was willing to point out. He'd had quite enough of watching this older Sakura butcher memories of a softer, caring and infinitely more pliable Sakura.

"So, stubborn -Uchiha-," she muttered, sounding mirthful, "you're so much dumber than that -dobe-. I think you always were, but I ignored it because I loved you then."

"But not now?" he angled, faintly.

"No, not right now," she answered, sounding detached. "See," she started again poignantly, eyes closed, making languid gestures with covered hand, like she was pointing out something obvious, "sameness. It equals out. I loved the boy of promise so much that I hate the man you've grown to be. Do you get it yet?"

He glanced hidden markings on her skin over edges of fabric, a dark stroke at her collar-bone just beneath the tie of her cloak, a crescent shape on her brow, petals patterning over fingertips and bits of bicep edging her full-length gloves. Sasuke's eyes were drawn to them, the familiar cherry blossom outline, mapping Chakra concentration points, on her otherwise flawless skin. No, he was very glad she hadn't taken anything else off, this Older Sakura wasn't how he wanted to remember her, lethal, unreasonable, manipulative and deadly. It helped that she was sad though; he could sense that off her like smelling rain on the wind. 'You can never go home again', as the saying goes. He had his teammates to thank for making that a reality.

"Sakura," he started, without thinking to. Her eyes narrowed, she silently glared toward him, alert and intense for all her laxity. "If you're going to kill me, get it over with. Torturing me will prove useless."

She smirked, evilly, than shifted slightly to look at him better, "Talking, like this, is torture to you?"

Sasuke sighed, closed his eyes, exasperated.

Her voice was light; she wasn't laughing but she was not far from it. "Then maybe you're not as thick-skinned as I thought. You're coming disturbingly close to not being entirely hopeless."

"Bold words from someone who can't bring herself look me in the eye," he responded, staring pointedly at the ceiling.

"Right, right," she nodded, her weight on the bed shifting slightly when she threw an arm over her face, "Well, we all have our inner demons. You're not so god damn special."

Sasuke would have liked to think the reason why he was staring at the ceiling was because he was theorizing how to get out of this mess, and not at all because the more he watched her, the more he hated her and the more he hated, the more he missed what she used to mean to him. Admitting that would mean admitting too much and it would be pointless to fill his head with this sort of sentimental drivel, especially now when the mental fog had only just begun to clear. With his mind finally his own, he should move on to the other great ambition of his life: Revenge.

Except his mind wasn't fully his own anymore... there were impressions he could feel, pulls he could succumb to, an awareness that was nearly sickening. Restlessness colored red and gold, prowling and searching, aimless and angry. Naruto. She was in there too, maybe not as prominent due to proximity and intoxication, but he could sense it, her presence a shade mixing of pink and blue, amethyst nearly, hurt, sad and completely remote. He glanced down to where she was curled up beneath him, close but not touching. He had the urge to want to reach her and then he was thankful for the paralysis because he wasn't sure if the impulse was intent to harm or comfort.

This whole stupid scenario was just too uncomfortable, too idiotic for his liking. How typical of Konoha's forces, why attack head on when you can super-impose sentiment onto everything?

"I'm going to sleep now," Sakura spoke softly, "feel free to wake me if you think you've found a solution to our stalemate. Keep in mind, the longer we wait the direr your condition becomes."


Sasuke stared at the ceiling, willing her to disappear, willing this to go away, willing he could close his eyes and sleep, some genuine, restful, peaceful sleep without a darker presence pressing in on him, without the voices that crawled around his head, the things that destroyed the bits and pieces he was, or had been, and inevitably drive him insane.

When he could think of nothing else to calm himself he listened to her breath; he wouldn't look at her, but listening to her gave him something to focus on, something to listen to other than tormented thoughts. Even if at the worst times she could be annoying, she was at least useful.

...Unlike that idiot, that powerful, untapped, aimless, shiftless, moron Naruto. Surely that idiot could talk some sense into her; well maybe not sense but he could talk to her, get her to do something, anything other than drink and sleep. Getting through Sakura's pained indifference wasn't really an option for him. It was armor for her and like all armor, the direct approach never worked.

Naruto was as indirect an angle as he could fathom, and Sakura, manipulative as she'd grown to be, admitted to using part of him as well. He may not have had his Chakra to ascertain the specifics but it seemed logical enough, that if he was sensing Naruto, sensing his confusion, his displacement, than maybe Naruto could sense Sasuke in return, even over the distance. And what was distance to Shinobi anyway?

Their battling had happened on the outskirts of Konoha, in a deserted shrine of all places. It was a hop, skip and a jump away, but would the dimwit know where to go?

Sasuke sighed, no, that logic was pointless and verging on hopefulness. He couldn't rely on the blond, not now, not ever. He never understood anything, always took things to heart, always too laid back to be critical when it mattered. Time hadn't put a dent into his ambitious optimism, which as much as it seemed useless was a credit to the idiot.

Not that Naruto was ever very intimidating, but Orochimaru was worried that his recklessness would cost the Sannin too much in the end. Although, Itachi had thought otherwise... and with that thought Sasuke's eyes bled from dim-orange to shimmering red, not Sharingan, but spiteful enough.

Itachi had seen assets in Naruto, assets that Naruto seemed then incapable of tapping into of his own free will. Recent events certainly proved that Naruto had learned draw on that demonic strength, however to what degree was still unmeasured. Also, underestimating Naruto always ended badly, even if it was Sasuke who was pulling the strings.

Sighed disparagingly, he realized how simple this would be -if only he could reach out and just signal--


Sakura sat up slowly, stretching with languid ease, ironing out the kinks.

"Forty-five minutes," she said suddenly, and a smug smile pulled at her lips, while she glanced around the room, assessing things. "It wasn't much of a nap," she admitted with a sigh, standing to double-check the straps on her thigh holster, "but it's going to have to do. You always were such a fast learner."

Sasuke's blank face tightened, eyes slightly widened in recognition; he'd fallen for her ploy. Sakura patted his knee sympathetically before she turned to the door.

"I've got a couple of last minute things I need to set up, but if you need me," she grinned cheekily and tapped the side of her head, as an example, "you know how to summon me."


It was a mental hiccup. It wasn't a proper technique. To make the Justu manifest, it wrapped around the concept of 'if' which wasn't a concept a Shinobi entertained.

--IF I can make this leap, IF I can fight this enemy, IF I can surpass this hurdle, IF I can reach this goal-- No Shinobi was familiar with 'if'. They had the will to do or not to do; to kill or to run away. Analyze and decide. IF wasn't considered; leave it to the cleverest Kunoichi in her generation to intricately wrap a psychological technique's effectiveness and weakness around the concept of 'IF'.

It suddenly felt so obvious it might as well have bitten him on the ass. It was abnormal for a Shinobi to structure anything around a concept as unreliable as -'IF's-, and -hope- and -faith-- but if lowering himself meant a chance at escaping then it wasn't beneath him. After all, crippled and imprisoned was no way for an Avenger to achieve his means.

Sasuke remembered himself; an Avenger, an intensity, an unrestrained sense of hate, a focus so clear and precise any distraction from the goal is immediately crushed underfoot. This was all that was left to him, all he ever had to begin with, but no means with which to act. Naruto, however, was a variable of considerable potential --'if' only he could be made to see.-

The ends of his pale lips pressed into a smile of triumph as a plan formed in his mind's eye. Notably, traps were only as effective as their bait, which was where their strength was based, and wherein lay their weakness. And so Sasuke figured, following the method of traps, it was just as well that he could manipulate these empathic threads provided, maybe even to wrap them around her throat till she choked.

He focused his mind with pin-point severity, his bruise-tainted eyelids closed, and behind them his irises' color shifting in intensity. He pulled on the hate he held in supply, on the focused determination his vengeful mind provided by and pressed against the sense of Naruto.

-If only Naruto can sense this--

Like adding a log to a blaze, Naruto devoured it wholly, willingly, Ki and all, because it was Sasuke and only Sasuke had access to Naruto like that. Far underneath it all a beast threatened to consume him as readily as the blond boy's rejected spirit and Sasuke thought he might, -'if only'-

Solidified picture in mind, a loathsome visualization articulating everything about Sakura; weak, pathetic, manipulative, changed, an obstacle, a threat...

-If only he can see her through my eyes--

There was a flicker of resistance while Naruto's consciousness combined with everything Sasuke visualized Sakura as being. Sasuke strained to focus while the line of definition blurred into something illegible. Thankfully, underneath Naruto's restraint was something readably familiar: 'passion'. It was enough.

-If only Naruto's passion would consume him, than Sakura will no longer be a threat, no longer be an obstacle, no longer be--

Mapping out their location, imagining it like a line of oil, for Naruto to catch hold of like the spark he was, to burn brightly through the Jutsu binding them, drawing nearer, angrier, hotter by the second.


"All done," she announced, a mock brightness in her tone when she reentered minutes later, "and you?"

Sasuke glared at her, hate-filled eyes keen in their glowing intensity. Sakura smiled; she'd sensed his ministrations as steadfastly as if they were her own, but it was fun to make him guess how far she'd set her claws in.

"Not yet than? Should I give you another minute?" -Not that she would.-

He made a derisive sound and resolved himself to staring back at a far point in the ceiling. Sakura seated herself in the bedside seat, sighing gratuitously while situating herself. She wasn't making the racket to annoy him, she was making noise because the place was too dead without it, the tomb too real rather than symbolic.

Sakura stared at her hands for a long moment, concentrating on something unseen, sensing out the shifts taking place. Sasuke's mental outcry, Naruto's obedient and approaching response, the sense of something that tasted nothing like satisfaction to know that her plan was coming together. There really were very few options left for her to choose.

Finally, she pulled on her cloak fully and grabbed her discarded weapon up from the back of the chair. She yanked her loose collar and strapped her sheathed sword to her back in preparation, flexed her fingers a number of times, mentally preparing herself. It wouldn't be long, but it still seemed like an eternity.

"If you could be anywhere in the world," she asked suddenly, never glancing up from the backs of her hands, "where would you want to be right now?"

"Anywhere but here," he answered quickly, voice indifferent. She only marked the voice because it was familiar; she missed his expression entirely while he analyzed the smile that flickered across her lips.

"That's not a real answer."

"What does it matter?"

"It doesn't really," she replied very quietly, like she wasn't even talking to him, but rather to herself. "Just killing time, I guess."

Sasuke watched her close off again, her expression slackened in profile and her mind tucked away, hiding from him while still swimming underneath his thoughts. He could try and goad her, anger her like she had effortlessly angered him, but sensing her numbness leak away into nervous concern was fascinating, in that whole 'holding-a-magnifying-glass-to-ants' sort of way.

"Snow country," he answered unexpectedly. Sakura blinked once, not looking toward him, but her confusion was visible. "It never snows here in Leaf. It's interesting, watching ice masses thaw, slowly revealing what time has seen fit to bury."

The earlier false smile jumped to her features, while she listened intently to him speak. Her hand flexed and relaxed, expressing her unease.

A sound like nothing audible reached them simultaneously. Both Sasuke and Sakura's eyes sped over in the direction they knew Naruto was coming from; Konoha's Main Street. With his temper and his speed, it wouldn't be very long at all. Sakura reached up both hands and pushed them through her hair, shaking out her lethargy.

"Yeah, me too, -Uchiha-" she said haphazardly, unsheathing her blade, checking its readiness and then returning it to her back, "I wish I were anywhere but here, too."

+


Firstly; Alright, that looks to be it for a while. Chapter Six is giving me brain explodies. That, this fever I can't get rid of, this oppressive heatwave, plus the general wibbles over writing angry sex. . . well, it could be a while. Not "Two Years" sort of 'a while' but I can't say how soon either. Reviews are always encouraging but questions help to! They really do 'cuz they get me to be more direct in my narrative. There are clues 'like whoa, so many' in these few chapters already that it sets a good groundwork for where the story will go, and your feedback gets it there. So thank you 3

Secondly; Oh, and buco-buco gratis to my beta, who I won't link to because I want no one to steal his genius but me!! He always makes me sound significantly less like an idiot, he fan-girls accordingly and he adds Neat-O notes like this to my chapters:

"Sasuke's spine being broken at the 2nd cervical vertebra as I'd previously had it ...would mean he wouldn't be able to breath, ...Breaking below the 5th would allow him to keep breathing while leaving his arms mostly useless and his hands completely useless. ... (:D If you want to get incredibly technical, he would still be able to move his arms away from his body and weakly bend them at the elbow, but that's pretty much it.)"

How great is feedback like that? I mean really. I loff on my supportive, excitable, eternally patient Beta!! He's OMEGA-BETA! I seriously would have given up at Chapter Two without him. -gives a round of applause-

Lastly; If you have an LJ add community./fareviler/ for art, fiction and various updates that these lovely free-but-flawed archives won't administer to. I promise, though I may never be consistent, I will also never be boring :D