Thank you for continuing to read!

Note: Since this is a 'slight' AU, there might be some OOC-ness. I will try to make them as natural as possible.

Disclaimer: They aren't mine. O RLY? Yes, really! NO WAI!


Chapter 3

Sakura awoke on the Wednesday accompanied with a light pounding of anticipation in her chest. Last night had been an experience she found quite favorable despite the unfamiliarity of it all. She had slept early, ignoring warning bells about her complacency. She shouldn't be so at ease, never had been so at ease, regarding the issues that sprung up in the last days. Ino had been acting strange. Tsunade was surprisingly silent. Sasuke he—where to even begin? It was incredibly unlike her but Sakura for once didn't felt like dissecting information and mulling over theories.

As long as Tsunade thought it safe, there was no wrong in relaxing a bit longer, right?

She was gathering information, wasn't she? Even though she knew clearly her motives were purely selfish, the important part was that no one else did.

Sakura gave her head a small shake before closing her bedroom door behind her and making her way down the stairs. Then she had to blink twice before the image of her mother in the living room fully sunk in. "Kaa-san? It's not like you to be up so early." From the color of her mother's face, Sakura knew the older Haruno had been awake way before dawn.

"Oh, I just wanted to tell you something before you leave," Kiseki replied as lavender eyes followed Sakura's back into the kitchen. The sounds of breakfast being prepared filtered in and the woman paused, taking her time, knowing Sakura was patiently waiting for her to continue. "Ino is taking a week off from school starting today. Something came up and she had to go help her aunt at the farm again."

When Sakura reemerged she was nibbling on a piece of toast, looking curious but unsurprised. "What trouble? I hope it's nothing serious this time." Then she froze before gasping lightly, "The spring festival!" The toast fell out of her mouth and was reflexively caught, "She's on the committee! They were so busy… Do you know if she can get back earlier?"

"It depends; I believe Ino said something about rodent infestations. Usually the workers at the farm can handle it, but apparently it was really bad this season. Ino is going to stay awhile and see if they can figure the problem out."

"I hope it goes all right, she never really liked rodents."

Information retrieval mission at the borders under Tsunade's direct orders.Target are lured jounin. Extract then dispose.

Kiseki gave her daughter a smile, "Well, she might get some company then! From the sound of things, you're going to have to help out cleaning the mess this weekend!"

Sakura made a face, "It must be really bad if Ino would have me help out. The last time I helped out at that run-down farm I got heat-stroke in the first hour. But eww, not looking forward to it…"

Rendezvous with the team, provide medical assistance if needed, and dispose of any enemy or ally corpses. The fact that her assistance is requested set the mission as high priority.

The dark-haired woman chuckled lightly before taking out a letter from the sleeves of her sleeping yukata. "Here, Ino dropped it off yesterday night after you went to bed. Be sure to hand it to your teacher."

"I will, Kaa-san." Sakura slipped the envelope into her bag and finished her toast in three large bites. "Itekimasu!"

"Iterashai," Kiseki replied, smiling until her daughter closed the front door behind her. After the sounds of footsteps faded the smile dropped completely and two slim figures in black materialized from the wall next to the kitchen archway. The Haruno matriarch poured every ounce of conviction into her words. "Monitor their movements. Watch out for the boy's eyes. Do not engage them no matter what." She never imagined giving such orders against her own daughter. Disappointment and guilt fought each other for dominance.

"Affirmative," both black figures said in unison before blurring away.

The older woman listened to the ambient sounds in the empty house before scrunching her eyes shut and sinking to the wooden floor. She prayed that Sakura will hold true, she just has to. Being Tsunade's apprentice meant that she was too valuable to risk falling into enemy hands. In the event that she does so, willingly, for the sake of all Sakura's only fate was death.

They underestimated him.

The moment Sasuke slid the classroom door open he already detected the unnatural shift in the trees outside the windows. It was but a split second blurring in his peripheral vision but he knew what it was. Did he surprise the hiding nins? The pink-haired girl was at her desk, dozing away. From the speed of her breathing and the slackness of her muscles, he could tell she was not faking it. But then again, one could never know for sure with medical ninjas.

He casually made it to his own seat and after setting his things down he got up and left the classroom. Along the hallway, all the way to the men's restroom, he could feel one of them following outside exerting great care in staying out of his vision. Interesting, one apparently stayed behind with Sakura. As protection? Was she in on it?

Had she betrayed him?

A twinge of annoyance in Sasuke's chest told him more than he wanted to know. His reaction to the thought was annoying in another way as well: why should he care? She was enemy kunoichi. If anything, it was more plausible that she was playing him all long. There was nothing between them she could betray. This was all the proof he needed and he could report her in, ending the whole matter. No more games and no more guilt. It was simply easier that way.

At a corner before the bathroom, there was a dead angle with no view from the windows. Sasuke easily replaced himself in that second with a clone and stayed behind in the shadows, Sharingan ablaze, watching his clone walk on before a figure followed on the row of trees outside. It was a kunoichi dressed in slim fitting black leotard, completely covered save for the eyes. She kept her eyes on his clone, merely watching the whole time.

Sasuke debated whether he should get rid of the two spying kunoichi before reporting in. It would definitely end his charade, more than anything, and he might even have to go ahead and subdue Sakura as well. If he did nothing, would they do nothing as well? Could it be they are uncertain of his status? With all the questions whirling in his mind, he realized why he was questioning so much in the first place. He didn't want to leave yet.

Damn it. Damn it all to hell.

His clone returned from the restroom and Sasuke dispelled it while merging into the steps. He returned to the classroom with his mind made up to find out one thing: if Sakura was indeed in on it. If she was, truly was, then he'll end it all with his own hands.

"Eh? Yamanaka's absent?"

Sakura took the chance to raise her hand before hurrying up front to hand over Ino's absentee letter to Fujiwara. "Family matters came up suddenly, Sensei," she kept her voice low, hoping that it might not reach the ears of a certain student but knew it might be futile anyway, "I'm sorry I didn't drop it off this morning to the teacher's office since I was sleeping…" she blushed a little and Fujiwara chuckled good-naturedly, knowing well of Sakura's habit from other students.

"Thank you, Haruno-kun, you may be seated."

Sakura did a quick bow and returned to her seat, inadvertently catching the look on Naomi's, and a few other girls', faces—they knew he had a clear shot at her without Ino. It would be a matter of time (mainly after recess) before they found out just how long Ino would be absent. Things would get troublesome very fast.

Ino never had to be called off on missions in the middle of a school week therefore Sakura considered the timing highly suspicious. They do engage Konoha nins regularly to keep tabs on the political climate but such a mission shouldn't be due in another two months. With Sakura's assistance requested afterwards, it seems the kunoichi weren't exactly sure how the mission would turn out or they would have called her in from the start or not request her at all. It would appear Sasuke's appearance would be a plausible cause for the irregularities.

Did it mean they knew who he really was? But then why would they not inform her about it?

Somewhere between equation number 8 and 10 on her workbook Sakura felt dread clench in her chest.

They did not trust her. They did not trust her?

Sakura didn't know where to think beyond that and just stared at her half formed bracket. She was so out of it that she almost reacted to catch the flying eraser before remembering she wasn't supposed to be able to. It hit her on the head with a dull thump before falling down on her desk. Sakura didn't bother to look up, able to hear the suppressed feminine giggles, and just untied the note from the eraser.

Why didn't you drop off the letter to the teacher's office, doll? Wanted to suck up to Fujiwara in front of everyone? Do the sucking in private, you little whore.

From the handwriting, it appeared to be from Matsushima Natsuko, Naomi's right hand girl who was also the one to trip her on Monday, and besides, only Natsuko ended obscene letters with a hand-drawn heart. It was amusingly, really, but many things have happened the past two days and Sakura felt a bit of anger seep in her usual indifferent façade. It surprised her somewhat to find herself grimly appreciating the knowledge she could twist the girl's head off and chuck it in the trash bin before Natsuko herself realized she was dead.

She crumpled the letter slowly, not wanting to show that she was affected, and set it down on the corner of her desk to throw away later after the period ended. No more notes came and she was glad for that fact while wondering if she could keep the eraser this time. Soon enough, Fujiwara's period was over and everyone raised themselves to call out a lazy parting greeting as was the case for all early morning periods. The class then busied itself to prepare for the next teacher. Sakura bustled along, getting her notebooks ready before reaching for the note to dispose of it. It wasn't there.

Surprise was not hidden as she stared up at Sasuke who was reading the note passively. Sakura didn't dare look around but knew Naomi and her gang were gaping at him as well. Not to mention others of the female, and male, students that were unoccupied. "Do you get these often?"

It took her a while to realize he was addressing her. "Huh?" was her intelligent answer.

"Do you get these kind of notes often?" He repeated his whisper patiently, his voice just loud enough to reach her ears, turning unreadable eyes to her wide ones.

"I…" she didn't know why she felt suddenly ashamed, it never bothered her before. "It's hardly the worse one." His eyes narrowed. She winced.

"I see."

"It-it's no problem really!" She whispered and snatched the note out of his hands nervously and would have applauded her own performance of a jittery teenager if only she wasn't faking it. Her inner self was roaring that the moron had no idea how much he increased the potential of immense annoyance to be subjected onto her. "It's just a joke!" She quickly hurried to the back trash bin, ripped it apart, and threw it in, mentally cursing the rise in pitch of her voice in the last statement. She sat back down at the desk, smiling up at him, knowing perfectly well he could see through her act.

"I'll talk to you later, Sakura." He said this in his normal voice, insuring all who were listening in to know he called her by her first name without honorifics. Sakura could only nod dumbly, inwardly wailing out an extended "shut upppp", feeling the piercing glares now directed at her. Sasuke turned to the side at the spectators who then snapped their attention back front with such perfect timing it was accompanied by a single snap. He eyed them with passively before returning to his seat. Once he did so, the unattached females of the class slowly rotated their heads to glare at Sakura with more whites of the eyes visible than normally possible.

Sakura never wanted to go home so badly.

The sound of the recess bell was like a starting clash of kunai for a bloody and chaotic battle. Sakura mulled over her options of staying in class and skipping lunch or braving the outside where girls could ambush her. Already she seen a few of Naomi's cronies rush out; no doubt to spread rumors and get info on Ino's absence. The coordination and efficiency of these gossiping cliques can be admired. It was an information network ninjas would envy.

However, before she could go over her options again, Sasuke stepped up to her with his lunch box in hand. "Let's go."

Sakura gave him a puzzled glance, ignoring the gasps from a few nearby girls, but complied. It was clear she underestimated the travel speed of gossip as hardly five steps into the corridor she could already pick up updated whispers and scowls.

"With her? With her? Impossible!"

"Why the Haruno girl? She's so plain!"

"He called her by her first name? The little tramp!"

"She doesn't deserve him!"

It was interesting to note that the rest of the whispers were all positive towards Sasuke—if one ignored the indirect insult of him having a taste for "a complete nobody". Sakura knew Sasuke could hear them as perfectly as she did, but he kept his face in an unreadable mask. However, when she glanced at him after a particularly nasty comment about her, she swore she saw an irritated twitch of his eyebrows. She could be imagining it, but it made her feel lighter knowing he wasn't totally unaffected.

She wordlessly followed him, knowing they were also being closely tailed by a number of girls, until he suddenly turned a sharp right down one of the smaller corridors reserved for janitors. Initially surprised, she quickly darted after him, realizing he was jogging at a normal pace. It was peculiar as if he really did want to get rid of their stalkers quickly he could have moved at much faster ninja speed he would know she could follow.

Sakura didn't comment as he navigated them through paths even she wasn't too familiar with, successfully throwing the girls off, until they reached a side door to the outdoor incinerator at the back of the school. He stopped before opening it absently noting that Sakura, just like him, wasn't the least winded. She took the opportunity to tilt her head up at him. "What is this about?" He gazed at her in the semi-darkness until she scrunched her eyebrows in worry. "Uchiha-san?" Worry, not suspicion.

"Call me Kei from now on."

"What? Why…" she trailed off, suddenly finding the only reason for the sudden need for such precautions. She showed no reaction to the revelation before whispering lowly, "We're being watched?" He didn't say anything for a few seconds, just reading her face, before nodding crisply. Sakura let a slightly apprehensive light seep into her eyes. "Yours?"

Sasuke debated in his mind, he really did, but he just wanted to know… "Yours." And he knew, from the sudden flash of betrayal in her face, she had nothing to do with the kunoichi. The abrupt relief and another unnamed emotion that filled his chest were hard to ignore.

Sakura wrenched her eyes away from his, "Impossible… "

"There were two, for each of us."

"Each… ?" She squeaked, closing her eyes for moment. She knew what it exactly meant that she was kept out of the loop; exactly what it meant that they actually resorted to such means. Suddenly, she hardened her expression to look back at him. "Why should I believe you?" They could be foreign kunoichi, they could be from anywhere… He could be lying.

"I'm not asking you to." He watched her let his words sink in. "Tell me, Sakura, what exactly does this mean?"

"I'm not obliged to tell you anything. In fact, I think I want to return to the classroom." She shouldn't have taken the chance, the imminent danger for them both never felt so real. She turned and was a few steps away before his next words made her freeze.

"I don't want to leave just yet."

She didn't turn around. In the narrow corridor lit only by reflected light from another hallway it felt like they were standing closer than they were; darkness had a way of shortening distance. The air was damp and it was only because of superior senses that the distant buzz of activity could be heard. Even so, she couldn't hear him, not a single breath, but she realized she could feel him when she previously never could. The darkness shortened the distance. "Just why are you here?"

"At the moment, I just want to talk."


He didn't answer.

There was a long silence before Sakura sighed loudly. "We're getting ourselves killed." She turned back to look him straight in the eye. He revealed nothing of his thoughts but she tried to look for them anyway. He melted into the shadows naturally, a fact that's hard to comprehend taking into account how pale he was, and so she tried not to blink. "Why should I trust you?"

His eyes narrowed ever so slightly, hardly a fraction—she would have missed it if she wasn't looking in them so intently. It wasn't long before he answered firmly, "You shouldn't."

And she believed him. But it was too late for both of them. "What now?"

"Just talk."

Without another word, he opened the side door, flooding the small corridor with sunlight, before stepping out. It was a harsh transition and for a second all she could do was squint at his silhouette. She emerged from the building in time to see Sasuke scan the trees before making his way over to one that had sturdy branches and a thick trunk. She watched in curiosity as he beckoned her over before having her hold his lunch box for him to make his way up into the foliage. He climbed up normally, reminding Sakura that they were most likely not alone, and settling on a branch thick enough to support both of them easily.

"Um… Matsunaga-kun," It would be uncomfortable to call him by his first name, even if it's a fake one, "I can't climb up."

Wordlessly he reached down and she handed his box for him to take before he reached down once more to grab her out-reached hand. His palm was calloused, particularly the pads of his fingers which was a tell-tale sign of hours upon hours of drawing out kunai and shuriken. It wasn't the first time he held her hand, but this time she could analyze the rough sensation better. He effortlessly hoisted her up, earning a small yelp from her, to sit beside him.

"It's higher up than I thought," she whined softly, tucking in her skirt. "What if somebody sees us?"

"Precisely why we're in the tree," Sasuke mumbled back, unpacking his onigiri as he leaned back against the trunk. He realized a second later Sakura was looking at him--specifically his lunch. "What?"

Sakura quickly looked away, slightly blushing. "Nothing!" He eyed her profile a second before handing one of the onigiri over to her. She looked down at it, before looking back up at him, and then stuttered out her gratitude before taking it. They ate in companionable silence, interrupted once when three girls burst out from the side door to look around, probably for Sasuke, before leaving. Sakura gave Sasuke a cheeky grin at the event and he replied with a roll of his eyes.

"Does this happen everywhere you go?" She didn't really know what Sasuke wanted to talk about knowing they were being monitored, but she figured no harm in starting a conversation.

He gave a small grunt as his reply.

"I take that is a 'yes'?" She laughed lightly. "You do know this means trouble for me." Well, more trouble.

"Why?" He looked genuinely puzzled. "It's none of their business who I chose to talk to."

Sakura gave him a tired grin, "If I was the most popular girl in school it wouldn't matter. You're supposed to be unreachable, and for you to be accessible, so to speak, with someone low on the chain like me… well, I guess it's like an insult."

"For what?"

"For choosing someone lower than them."

They lapsed into silence after that. Sakura finished her onigiri, closing her eyes to the cool breeze, waiting as he finished his. "Why do you not fight back?" He inquired when he did.

"I don't know," she kept her eyes closed and head tilted. Sasuke took the opportunity to watch the pattern of shadows dance on her skin. "I just don't feel like attracting more attention."

He scoffed and she opened her eyes to look at him. "You're just encouraging their behavior. They now know what methods of intimidation can be applied with satisfactory results."

She crooked an eyebrow at his wording. "You're right, I guess… But at this moment it wouldn't achieve much. We're six months away till graduating. All I want is to get through till then."

It was the extra weight behind her last words that let Sasuke grasp how much this fake life meant to her. What a pity. "I'm not convinced. Why doesn't your friend help?"

"She understands my reasons." Right? Suddenly, it occurred to Sakura she wasn't positive where Sasuke was sent from. She assumed him to be from Konoha from the start… but didn't that mean Ino should have recognized him and vice versa if he was such a powerful shinobi? Or were the Konoha ninja even more segregated than she thought? However, on Tuesday Ino had glared menacingly at Sasuke—or was it general hatred for male ninjas? Sakura filed the subject away for later ruminations. "Why do you care? It's none of your business, you know." A touch of bitterness can be detected in her words, but she smiled at him afterwards, making it clear that she was more exasperated than angry.

"You don't deserve it and it's annoying."

Sakura gave out a bark of laughter, "Ino said the same thing. Well, minus the annoying part." As if on cue, the bell rang and Sakura gasped. "We'll never make it back in time!" Unless they run full-out which was unfavorable for many reasons. But arrive late together was looking up to be the greater evil.

"Hold on," Sasuke said, "let's take a shortcut."

She seriously hoped he wasn't talking about anything that involved chakra use and so was relieved to see him climb a little bit further up to reach the second story storage room window which was conveniently open for airing. She followed slowly, making sure her skirt didn't snag on anything, before reaching the branch he was on. There was still a little way from the branch to the window so he climbed in first, an easy feat for his long legs, positioning himself halfway through the window and reaching out a helping hand to her.

"This is a bit scary," she remarked, "But I feel like a ninja!"

He actually smirked in amusement. "Unfortunately you aren't one, so concentrate on your footing."

She once again placed her palm in his, and let him pull her in smoothly. For a second they were both in the window frame, the top of her head brushing under his chin and her right hand grasping lightly on his left forearm as their other hands were joined between them. It was just a single second but they found themselves holding their breath—time stopped—before Sakura passed him to step into the room.

"Thank you," she whispered. Then they both let the moment die, determined not to give it any meaning. They couldn't afford to.

They made it back to the classroom on time, gathering attention from the fact they were together, but for once Sakura didn't register a single harsh whisper.

The rest of the day passed by with no further incidents save for glares and whispers during the period changes. Then it had been a bit harrowing leaving the class ahead of Sasuke and a few times she almost got cornered by girls before she made it to the sanctity of her club room. The large space was modeled to mimic a luxurious tea room with tatami covered floors, a working shoji, and even a tokonoma which was the elevated alcove where the best flower arrangement and artistic scrolls by students were placed. The ikebana club shared the space with the calligraphy and tea ceremony clubs along with a couple of the other smaller traditional arts clubs.

Some of the club members were already present and Sakura bowed politely to them and the club head. They smiled and bowed back, welcoming her cheerfully—it is known that the ikebana club consisted of girls like Sakura herself who have no care of gossip and such. As a senior, Sakura was the assistant head and so it was even more fortunate to her that the Wednesday class was so small. The club head, herself, and two other girls were the only third years while the remaining five were underclassmen. It was an enjoyable time where Sakura could let herself shine through a bit. Within these walls, she was known for her bold and elegant designs, natural grace, and quiet confidence. She was glad that she had extensive instruction from the moment she could grip a kunai. She mastered the other arts as well, but ikebana has always been a favorite pass time of hers.

Before long, the club activity was in full swing with the seniors overlooking the work of the younger students. Sakura let herself be carried away by the serene atmosphere after briefly wondering what club Sasuke joined. It's mandatory upon enrollment so he had to have chosen one. From process of elimination only the archery and kendo clubs were suspect since those were the only clubs for the men that were on Wednesday to Friday. Unless Sasuke joined a club for the Monday and Tuesday classes but skipped them.

The mystery was solved the moment she stepped out into the hallway during the break and discovered a horde of girls gathered outside around the kendo hall. They were squeezed together trying to peer through the windows and falling over themselves trying to get a better view. Surprisingly they were trying to be peaceful, probably having been threatened to quiet down or else they would be prohibited from watching. Sakura shook her head after witnessing a girl tumble into her friends after standing too long on her tip toes.

Club activities resumed soon after and Sakura noticed the louder chattering in the room before the group of juniors went up to her and the club head. "Um, Iwasaki-senpai?" one of the girls started, turning large puppy eyes at the older girl. "We were wondering if we can be let out early today. We're already finished with what we need to do…"

Iwasaki Yuri eyed the girls before sighing, "This wouldn't have anything to do with the new student, would it?"

The blush that bloomed on their faces gave the answer clearly. Sakura laughed lightly before turning to smile at the girl beside her, "Let them go, Yuri-san. They've been working hard all this year."

The older girl sighed again before smirking at their club members. "Well, since Sakura-san so nicely pleaded for you, I shall consent to your wishes. Now go and don't forget to review the Rikka style at home!"

"Thank you, Iwasaki-senpai! Haruno-senpai!"

Soon the other members filed out as well, leaving Sakura and Yuri to clean up. They chatted lightly about ikebana, being only acquaintances in club matters. Yuri was from another class and had her own group of friends while Sakura had, well, she had only Ino. Even so, the pink-haired girl shared a comfortable camaraderie with the no-nonsense but friendly brunette. Sakura just finished jolting down the day's progress in the club record book when Yuri shifted the topic almost too smoothly, "Aren't you going along with them, Sakura-san?"

The tip of the pencil broke off and left a black gouge in the paper. "Ex-excuse me?"

"Well, with all those rumors flying around, you can't expect even one such as myself to not be curious, could you?" Yuri made an exaggerated gesture of splaying her fingers at the top of her chest and looking miffed. "So? You better hurry if you want to catch a glimpse of him before he goes home. Or is he going to be waiting for you?"

Sakura did not blush, did not stutter, did nothing but smile firmly. "I'm well aware of the rumors, but I can tell you that there is nothing of that sort between us. He finds it easier to talk to me than the girls who swoon at him the moment he turns his eyes to them."

Yuri raised eyebrows over dark brown eyes. "So you're saying he sticks with you because you don't have any interest in him?" Sakura nodded, glad that the older girl was always sharp at getting things right on the bat. "Plausible enough, though, you would think he'll try and make some guys friends. Wait, what am I saying? Half of them probably hate his guts!"

Sakura giggled along with Yuri, relieved for the support. Inwardly, Sakura wondered why it was so easy to lie to anyone but Sasuke. She had been trained to use deception flawlessly almost without thought, so why couldn't she do the same towards him? It distressed her when she couldn't find the answer.

Sakura had no intention to stay around at school even though she was sorely tempted to get a glimpse of Sasuke in a gi and hakama. One, she needed time to think, and two, there simply was no reason to stir up more trouble. Now that she knew she was being followed, she could easily detect the sole kunoichi tailing her. The kunoichi was good, probably one of Tsunade's kokuei, a term for the kunoichi that specialize in acting as silent eyes and ears for Tsunade. Kiseki had been one of the kokuei up until Sakura's assassination attempt so Sakura knew exactly what to look for. Even so, she would not have bothered to find the signs if Sasuke had not alerted her. How did he find out anyway? Was he truly that good to detect their best genjutsu specialists? Why did he even tell her? To protect himself? Her? Both of them? By the time Sakura reached home, she knew what she wanted to do. It wasn't what she had to do, but Sakura would rather stress over the fine details some other time.

Later that night, she reported the day to her mother, masking it as daughterly venting. The note, the lunch, even the conversation with Yuri; she revealed it all. She complained loudly about the rumors and that the new student was curious but no more than that. She even smoothly mentioned that she and the new student had gotten lost in the corridors leading to the incinerators. Her mother would then laugh and throw suggestive comments back and Sakura would blush and deny the accusations hotly. Even so, Sakura whispered that probably the boy could use a friend; it seemed she was gaining his trust anyway. She would like to know more about him, in a non-romantic way of course. Her mother laughed and gave her encouragement for the idea, eyes shining proudly. Sakura triumphed over the desire to look away. Right before the end of dinner Sakura would muse out loud that she felt like she had been getting more stares before shrugging it off not a moment later. She pretended that she did not catch the uncharacteristic pause before her mother moved on to a different topic.

The night passed quickly afterwards and Sakura would start to get ready for bed. Later, she pretended to be asleep then slip into the shadows to witness her mother and the two kunoichi in the living room. She listened intently, reading eyes and postures, inwardly marveling at her mother's acceptance to break protocol. No unveiled ninja matters in the house. It was the rule. Her mother must have been incredibly worried. The kunoichi reported everything they saw and heard, collaborating Sakura's timeline and story to a point. Everything would be accounted for. Sakura was hiding nothing; she could be trusted. She was vigilant as well, seemingly have caught the presence of the two extra pair of eyes. How admirable, truly Tsunade's heir.

The next day, in the tree by the incinerator, he would confirm they were no longer followed. She would then smile at him and offer him her own onigiri as repayment for his the day earlier.

The moment he took it, they knew it truly was the point of no turning back.

Friday arrived too quickly for Sakura's taste.

The previous day had been a breather as Naomi had been absent and her followers tend to be less irritating whenever so. Rumor has it that Naomi had been sulking mightily when Sakura and Sasuke disappeared together on Wednesday only to return together. Sakura still gathered hostile whispers and stares that Thursday, but knowing that Naomi was off the school grounds and that kunoichi were no longer monitoring them lifted a weight off her shoulders, albeit temporarily. Sasuke had once again lead her to the tree after PE and they ate together, that time Sakura considerably less hungry as she bought her own lunch. They had talked sparingly about school and other light topics, still steering away from anything pertaining to their true lives. After school he had stayed to help her clean the classroom and walked her home.

Today, Naomi was still blissfully absent and Sakura reveled at the knowledge, surprising herself that she had let herself be bothered by the red-head's presence after all. Ino's absence, she curiously mused, wasn't as depressing as she feared it to be. Sakura glanced at Sasuke through the reflection in the window, glad at the pine trees outside were dark enough to show his bored profile quite clearly. Without Ino… If Ino never came back…. Sakura looked away from the reflection and inwardly burned with shame.

During lunch they were in the tree again, munching way on their food. Sasuke once again ate his seasoned onigiri as Sakura herself settled for her mother's hand-made bento. As she daintily shoveled in the lightly seasoned rice, she was reminded once again it was Friday and that it arrived too fast. Unlike the regular seasoning on Sasuke's onigiri, hers were laden with special drugs that needed six hours to completely be absorbed by the body and boost chakra flow. It was odorless, but the knowledge made her taste bitterness amidst the sweet rice. Friday really arrived too fast.

"Ah, Uchiha-san?"


"What's your hometown like?"

He glanced up at her from his position leaning against the trunk to find her still picking at her bento. "Compared to here?"

She shrugged and swallowed some chicken before finally looking up back at him. "I guess. Is it lively? Are there a lot of people? How big is it?"

"It larger than here, maybe three times larger. It's… colorful."


"The buildings."

Sakura turned her eyes back to her lunch and smiled almost wistfully. "Sounds wonderful." In her mind's eye, she could only picture the muted pastels of houses there in Urakawa, splashed with night-covered blues of other places she had visited on missions, and not for the first time tried to imagine what an authentic ninja village looked like. Colorful was not one of the adjectives she had attributed to the place where her destiny was decided.

Sasuke watched her pushed around a clump of rice in obvious thought. It was anything but from spontaneity when he broke the silence. "I can bring you there someday."

And then she stilled for what seemed like an eternity. She turned back at him and he found he couldn't look away even if threatened. "I… I don't know," she blinked and he could swear a light sheen now covered her irises. She continued on, "Do you have friends and family there?" Then blinked until her eyes were dry and clear once more.

He let her change the topic, satisfied with the response she had shown. "A friend… he's like a brother to me." He normally would rather strangle himself with his wires than acknowledge his attachment to the irritating blonde, however, it felt like the correct follow-up if he was to play his cards right. The latter half of her question he simply pretended not to hear.

Sakura nodded and stopped her line of questioning; recalling that he lived alone somehow sensed that it was all he would tell her today. She did not want to pry any further regarding his family. And she most certainly did not want to know what his friend looked like. It would be an unwelcome distraction later on. "I would like to meet him." Sasuke grunted his acknowledgement and Sakura told herself that she could lie to him face on after all.

They lapsed into comfortable silence and finished their lunch. When the bell rung, they made their way up to the open storage room, already going through the motions as if they done it everyday of their lives. He would reach out to her and she would rely on his strength to pull her in. They were no longer being watched but it felt right to do so. This time however, it was no longer a second that they paused between the thresholds. It felt like trespassing, stepping where they shouldn't belong—it wasn't where they were supposed to be.

She slowly trailed green eyes up to settle on his, dark and unreadable. For a moment they just stared at each other before he leaned down and she tilted her head to have their lips brush detachedly, as if they were just shaking hands, eyes open the whole time. They both leaned back for a beat before coming forward again, this time with eyes closed and decidedly more pressure and intent. Sakura felt her heart clench painfully even as his lips moved against hers and felt his palm warm on her lower back. She wanted to cry, but not because of any pleasant feeling.

They broke apart and just stayed there breathing each other's air for the duration they needed to compose themselves. Sakura was the first to move away, slipping into the room and stood there waiting for him but not looking back. He walked past her to the door and she followed a step behind, watching him, all the way to their classroom. They were the only ones left in the hallways and entered 10 minutes late to stares and glares of the class and teacher. New rumors would circulate but neither cared.

Unlike the previous two days, it was raining again—pouring actually, even harder than at their first meeting. Sasuke pulled his usual clone stunt to lure away fan girls and again walked her home using the less frequented path they had decided upon the day before. Just before reaching the housing district, Sakura stilled. Sasuke stopped to eye the top of her head, waiting patiently for whatever she stopped them for. The rain was incredibly loud around them, and he noted distastefully that the edges of his pants were starting to get soaked.

In the end, he wasn't really that patient. Spurred on by the memory of warmth against his lips his voice came out a bit more clipped than intended. "What is it?"

Sakura seemed to jump a bit at his voice and hastily looked up at him. After a moment of looking perplexed she steeled her expression and he recognized the light in her eyes. "You should leave." She said it so coldly that it stunned him. "We should stop this. This isn't right." She turned away to stare resolutely forward at the gray landscape. "This was a mistake." They both wondered just what "this" stood for.

"Is this because of earlier?"

Yes. "No. This is because of everything. From the start." Yes. Because it had felt wonderful and it hurt and in that moment of clarity Sakura realized what she should have from day one.

"Then why now?"

"It's Friday." The words came out before she could stop them and she realized how nonsensical they would be to the man beside her.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means this has gone on too long."

There was a long pause, filled in with the roar of rain beating down, where the tension was palpable. Her hands clenched at her book bag so tight it was almost as if she was readying it as a weapon. The calloused hand that held up the umbrella was exerting a similar level of strength. At that point Sakura realized nothing was in control anymore and the game had ended. She could feel them both slipping into the state just before battle, waiting for the other to move first, waiting for the first opening. They weren't touching or even looking at each other, but the distance was stifling.

"What are you so afraid of?"

There was something in his words that totally set her off. She whipped a killing fist towards his head, glaring into blood red eyes.


Sakura slipped but was quick to reach out and steady herself on the soaked ground. She blinked at the supportive arm in front of her, not expecting it to be there, and quickly released it after the contrast of her porcelain skin against black fabric focused her mind. Somewhat embarrassed at her clumsiness she thanked her escort, glad they were a few blocks away from her home. The lack of conversation usually didn't bother her, but for some reason it felt oddly out of place this time. It was really a bad day for any distractions so she wasn't particularly troubled.

Sasuke dropped her off at her gate and waited until she dashed under the overhang of her front door. She gave him a grateful smile and a quick, "See you on Monday!" He merely nodded in return and Sakura's smile slipped a bit at the look in his eyes. There was something disconcerting about them, but she couldn't place just what exactly. It might just be the heavy rain. He left and she entered her empty home, breathing a heavy sigh before readying herself for the long night ahead.

Friday arrived way too fast.

To be continued…

kokuei - silhouette, dark shadow

A.N. Sorry for the slow update, this chapter has actually already been completed for quite some time but I had wanted to change some things around. I won't comment or clarify on anything in this chapter, as I don't want to give away anything from the next installment, so interpret what you will on what happened. But do expect a bloody chapter coming up. Again, thank you for all your reviews and support! You guys are the best!

On a parting note, the line "do not engage them no matter what" in the beginning of this chapter cracks me up. Specifically because I find myself thinking, "No! You must engage them! Think about all the beautiful Uchiha babies!" Haha. I slay me.