Disclaimer: If I owned anything more than an expensive imitation of Naruto's Sleeping Cap, you would most certainly be the first to know.

At four a.m. in the morning, I bled on my keyboard. After I had cleaned up the mess, I discovered this:


And then she was hugging him –crushing him against her and all he could think about was breathing because if he stopped for even a second she was going to suffocate him. He was in so much pain already; it was taking everything, all of his willpower just to limp away from his teacher, from that idiot kitsune, from her…again. He knew his path, had no doubts or hesitations to keep him here, despite what he may or may not have felt for any one of his former comrades. He was hurt, he was drained, and now she seemed to have channeled all of her chakra into her feet, to keep her grounded before him, and into her arms, to possess such impossible strength, to hold him against her even as he prompted his feet to move and his hands to shove her away. He couldn't understand it but he certainly respected her apparently tremendous growth during his absence.

Belatedly, he realized she was crying –if crying were an adequate term to describe the heavy tears leaking onto his shirt, commingling with several days worth of dirt and dried blood, if crying could properly convey the emotional keening sounds she was making into his chest while she clung desperately to the back of his clothing –to the flag of his namesake, the herald of his sole and all-consuming purpose in life—and begged him not to leave again. Not to betray them, betray her.

"Shut up." He heard himself snap tersely at her, his hands curling into fists at his sides as he struggled not to lean into her for support, because it felt like his own legs were breaking under the weight of his head and torso. But she seemed not to have heard him, because she continued to speak, tremulously, hysterically.

"…and I know you've lost so much, but you can't go on living like this because it's killing you; you're so thin and we all miss you so much even Naruto even though he'll never admit it to anyone and we can protect you in Konoha! And we've searched everywhere for you, Sasuke-kun and you can't just leave us again like this…" Pressed so closely against her, underneath the more unpleasant aroma of sweat and blood and dry, salty tears, he wondered insanely if that was lilac he smelled.

"Stop talking." He insisted, his voice more firm now even as his body wavered in her embrace. He was so tired…but Itachi was laughing at him, at his weakness, and so before he knew it his hands had relocated themselves firmly around her thin forearms and he found the strength within himself to push her away from him –but she did not budge. Instead she wrapped herself around him all the more securely, her arms parallel across his back as she persisted to entreat him to stay.

"…everyone knows you're not a bad person and everyone wants you back and we've been so worried…" She seemed to have paused in her tirade for a moment, perhaps contemplating whether or not she should have said what next spilled softly from her lips: "Sasuke-kun, you can be an Avenger without driving yourself into an obsessive need for revenge…your brother destroyed your life, but the only reason he keeps winning is that you keep letting him win…we're in a team for a reason, Sasuke-kun –because real strength lies in numbers, in knowing that you can trust other people, in realizing that sometimes, it's okay to ask for help and depend on someone other than yourself and you're not alone, Sasuke-kun –we'll always be here for you why won't you let us help you!" He was shaking now, rage simmering dangerously just beneath the surface.

He had to do this alone. Didn't she realize that he could never avenge his family if he let others in? The only dependency that existed in this equation was that of his family; their dependence on him to seek reprisal for the wrongs committed against them. It was a heavy, lonely burden, but one which he readily accepted by himself, to keep others from harm…and ultimately from the same grizzly fate his clan had suffered. He wasn't being selfish; if anything, he was being considerate of their lives. Couldn't she appreciate that?

"Urusei." His tone was darker, sharper now, but she still did not appear to be listening.

"IIE! You can't go back, Sasuke-kun! He's destroying you!" He wasn't sure if she were referring to Orochimaru or Itachi. Possibly both, he mused. "Onegai…don't leave us again, we-I don't want you to die! You're not alone, Sasuke-kun, we're here, we'll help! Why can't you let yourself be happy? Doesn't that take some of the power away from him? Cripple him? To know that despite his best efforts, he can't control you, can't dictate how you live your life? It means that you're winning, that you don't have to pull yourself down to his level; it makes you stronger in a way that he'll never beat you! Don't you see!" His hands had never fallen from her arms, and his grip became painful. His nails bit uncaringly into her flesh, and she faltered but held tight.

Her non-sequitur comments and random tangents of thought aside, Sasuke was furious. Sakura, for all her lauded smarts, was an idiot, just like that naïve and annoying fox. She was trying to be perceptive and proffer assurance, but it was misplaced. Her logic was incorrect. She assumed that this was, in some capacity about him. Or about Itachi. And she couldn't be further from the truth. It concerned both of them, yes, but the only thing important in the whole mess was the retribution. For his family, for his honour, for closure. So what if as a result Itachi controlled his life? He had come to terms with and surrendered his will to this realization long ago. Itachi was only the vessel through which he would redeem himself for his weakness all those many years ago. His life, who was in control of it, who was winning…it was all inconsequential. All that mattered was his hatred, which he fostered and utilized to help him to remember that his single purpose in life was destroy what had taken away his reason to live it.

Itachi would die, and no hapless, love-sick kunoichi was going to stop him from reaching that end.

"Sakura." He said, and this time there was grim resignation in his baritone. And this time, she noticed. Cautiously, she chanced a hesitant glimpse up at his face, and was almost startled to find him glaring down at her. Almost, because she half-expected his discernible enmity as he had yet to stop hurting her. "You don't know anything. Let me go and get out of here." Despite his harsh words –at which she had flinched and he had almost declared victory—he still cared enough about Naruto, about Kakashi, and about her, to want them to walk away from this alive. That meant something, it had to. More than anything, she hoped that it meant that somewhere, deep inside of him, he did want to go back with them, to stop this ridiculous revenge business, to compete with Naruto and fend off her puerile advances and ultimately live a normal life free of his obsession. But there were fetters that had been in place for years, which no one had taken the time before to break, and which now bound him so absolutely that he no longer even realized that he was tied down. If she could just show him, reach him through all those careful coils of rage, of hate, maybe he could begin to unravel his bonds. The only trouble was…she had no idea how to do this seemingly impossible task when he refused to listen to logic, refused to meet her half-way, or even just part of the way…he was most certainly the human ice cube everyone made him out to be. And Sakura was a ninja, not an icebreaker. A healer, not an expert at untying metaphorical knots.

Still, Sasuke was not going to walk away from them, from her. Not again.

Steeling her resolve,

"You're an idiot, Sasuke-kun. Just like Naruto." She said harshly, and he had the good sense to look taken aback, if even only slightly, at the unwitting echo of his earlier thoughts. Also, he had to admit, it was unusual for her to speak this way to him. And by 'unusual,' he supposed he meant that she never spoke to him this way. Because she didn't. Unconsciously, his grip on her arms slackened. "If you leave again, I won't forgive you." He appeared unfazed. "And if we meet again after that, I promise you that I'll find some way to kill you." He knew in his mind that her words were hollow, but for the moment, at least, they sure as hell sounded convincing. Her voice didn't waver, her eyes did not stray; nothing in her body language betrayed her, and he was left with a niggling doubt in the back of his mind that perhaps…just maybe…she wasn't making an idle threat. "So," She started, her voice deeper, huskier, and he watched her with quiet suspicion as she lifted herself onto her tip-toes and brought her face closer to his, her breath ghosting across his lips, fanning over his cheeks, "I suggest…" Her hands had fisted over the fabric of his shirt again, he dimly noticed, and he wondered in dread if she had not lost her mind. "…that you stay…" If he pushed her now, he still wouldn't have the strength to dislodge her, but he'd certainly be able to jar her enough that she would take those burning jade eyes (had they ever been so deep a shade of green before?), filled with a purpose he could neither recognize or name, away from him. Reason told him to find some way to hurt her, to deter her, because what was coming could not be sensible. But Instinct carefully, and with finality, instructed Reason to be damned, because what was coming had nothing to do with logic or sense. "…right here."

And then Sasuke was on fire with a new sort of pain. Because the instant it had taken Sakura to conclude, she had separated what little distance remained between them and lightly, firmly, innocently attached her lips (soft, though chapped, and wet) to his. And he was burning, suffocating even though she wasn't holding him tightly anymore at all, his knees buckling under the pressure of something wholly other than fatigue or soreness. Just as unconsciously, his hands were gripping her painfully again, but this time it was because he wasn't sure he would be able to keep his feet otherwise. He became hyper-sensitive, aware of everywhere her new, supple curves pressed against the hard, unyielding planes of his chest, his stomach, his…he didn't want this. He didn't want Sakura and her childish affections, didn't want attachments, didn't want physical reminders of everything he had decided to give up. He didn't want her, damn it!

And so naturally, when finally she pulled away, her cheeks burning and her eyes flecked with emerald uncertainty, he discovered new stores of energy to maneuver her violently backward and into the nearest wall, bring his hands up to tangle in sweat-drenched (though somehow still impossibly, maddeningly soft) hair the colour of her namesake, and none-too-gently pull her head forward to taste her a second time. Where her kiss had been soft, gentle, filled with purpose, his was intense, brutal in its abandon. She had wanted to give him a reason, any reason to stay, while he was determined to take reason entirely out of the equation. When she gasped (or maybe she was just trying to come up for air? –he couldn't tell, but he also couldn't care less if she asphyxiated right here so long as he got whatever he could from her), he roughly invaded her mouth with his tongue, devouring her and wanting more when, as a result, she whimpered, a mellifluous, delicate sound that rattled his eardrums until he thought they might explode. And then she was kissing him back, with a fervor that had him thirsting for still more.

He was only vaguely aware that his hands were moving until they found their way underneath and in between cloth, where they encountered warm, trembling flesh. Then, he was suddenly newly absorbed in finding more skin, inexplicably curious to discover if she was this soft everywhere. When one hand brushed casually over the cloth of her bra underneath her outer garment, her head snapped back with a gasp, separating them for an agonizing instant before he renewed their interrupted kiss. He didn't want this, he knew, but he sure as hell needed it.

Sakura had not anticipated this reaction. Anger, sure. Violence, most certainly. Perhaps even some embarrassment mixed in there somewhere. But never this. When he'd shoved her so hard against the wall, she had been half-expectant that he'd yell at her, and then possibly strike her, and so had been appropriately shocked when instead he'd grabbed her and kissed her with a desperation of which she wasn't aware Sasuke was capable. She'd hardly had a heartbeat to draw in a breath from her kiss, and so she'd tried to suck in a mouthful of air, only to be daunted by the rough entrance of his tongue, which he employed in a deft manner that left her wondering, somewhere in the haze of her muddled thoughts, how on earth he'd gotten so good unless he'd secretly been throwing girls against walls and assaulting them for years without her notice.

She decided it didn't matter, and instead threw her arms –which had previously been around his waist—around his neck, bringing them even closer as she attempted to learn quickly from his example. She wanted this, she had wanted this for so long…

She started when his hands began to explore, seemingly of their own accord, and she felt herself begin to shake with fine tremors as strong, calloused hands found the flesh of her stomach before traveling upward, over the skin of her ribs, and still on, until they had closed over breasts. Her head fell back against the wall with a sharp 'crack' that had stars filling her vision and a small yelp of pain escaping her lips, but he apparently had no time for her distress, and had soon found her mouth again, even as his hands continued to quest.

And that was when she realized…he wasn't in control anymore. He hadn't –and still didn't—want this. He'd told her that, she didn't know how many times. This was years of deprivation, a pent-up need for physical affection, and she had merely been the catalyst to inspire all of his careful control to come crashing down. Sasuke didn't want her; he wasn't even there. He hadn't responded to her pain, hadn't spared it so much as a thought –if he'd even noticed it at all. And despite how platonic his feelings for her may have been, he had always cared enough about her as a friend, as a teammate, if nothing else, to keep her out of harm's way to the best of his ability. There was nothing real in this for him; he was still going to walk away when he was done with her. She'd miscalculated. She'd failed. Part of her wanted to kick, scream, fight him. But mostly she just wanted to cry at the unfairness of it all. She'd finally gotten Sasuke to respond to her, and he hardly even realized she was there. This had to stop.

Sasuke had just discovered a delightful way to make her moan with his fingers when she abruptly tried to push him away. Weaker now from his exertions, he stumbled back a step, outrage, confusion, and anger evident in his usually stoic expression.

"Stop, Sasuke-kun…please." His body was waging a small war with his mind to continue despite her wishes, but the sight of her almost cowering before him made something connect in his mind.

This was Sakura. And he had just assaulted her. And enjoyed it. Reality came tumbling back down over his head as he put more distance between them, staggering backward on weak legs as he stared in abject disbelief at her, and then down at his hands, the same hands that had only seconds ago been preoccupied memorizing the flesh of her small, lithe body.

Disgust twisted his features, and Sakura nearly choked at the sight of it. He hated himself now, because of her. Not only had she failed, she thought, she had pushed him even farther away. Provided still more incentive for him to never return.

Sasuke had had enough. She wasn't going to stop him this time, no matter how much chakra she was able to channel. Not that it appeared as if she were intent on stopping him anymore, but he was resolved nonetheless. He had to leave, to get away from her, from the shame of what he'd just done, and regain the control he'd lost so easily. She'd put him right back at square one. He knew now that he'd never be able to return, that he'd made a huge mistake letting her get to him –if even only for an instant. This was it. With one last fleeting, guilty glance at her weary form, he turned and fled, as fast as his beaten body would carry him, and was unspeakably relieved when she did not follow. He hoped he never saw her again.

"You're not alone, Sasuke-kun…" She whispered, sure he hadn't heard. And then she slumped against the wall and cried.

Sasuke is a bitch to write. Do you hear that Sasuke-sama?


But I love him all the same.

Cheers, jeers, and all that Jazz.