Engagement On Hold

Summary: (AU) Uchiha Sasuke is Konoha High's reigning prince. Haruno Sakura is…? Who is she again? What happens when the guy everybody knows finds himself engaged to the girl nobody knows?

Genre: Romance/Humor/Drama

Pairings: Sasuke/Sakura, Naruto/Hinata, Shikamaru/Temari

Author: pei-chan

Disclaimer: Wouldn't it be nice if Sasuke and Sakura were really engaged in the Naruto series? Then again, that would only occur in our dreams… ne?

A/N: I'll be brief. This is supposed to be the climax of the story, but it ended up being a pain in the ass to write. It has many transitions, but that wasn't the hard thing to write. The scenes with the Uchihas were. Don't ask me, I just kept scraping all my ideas because there was a distinctive feeling that nothing is ever good. No matter what I write I just can't help but feel that way. In short, I'm thinking that I'm becoming a bit repetitive or rather too repetitive. I sincerely hope that isn't the case.

I hope you guys enjoy this long chapter after the long wait.

Chapter 30―Fiancée (Part 2)

Photographs and detailed logs filled the file Itachi had given Sasuke the night before. It was even organized so that all he had to do was read through it. Everything was there: the time when Sakura's father died, her moving to her mother's house, and her connections with Yamanaka Ino and Arisugaki Sai.

There were even dates listed: when Haruno Sora died from an accident that soon led to Sakura moving to her mother's house and a new extended family―the Sabakus; when Sakura met Yamanaka Ino and became close friends with her; and her encounter with Arisugaki Sai that soon became her love interest. There were even pictures to prove her association with each individual, but the ones Sasuke found the most distasteful were the ones Sakura had with Sai.

However, there was one individual that he didn't find familiar. The picture and name didn't register to him, but he saw tons of information about the girl Sukishiro Tsubasa. After going through this girl's history with his ex-fiancée, Sasuke knew the great significance in their relationship.

This girl was the reason for Sakura's complete change of behavior throughout the years Sasuke hadn't seen her. Sakura changed her look as an act of repentance, and she lost her memory because of a car accident during the time she had a fight with the girl Tsubasa. It was the same as controlling Sakura's life, and it was just like his stupid ex-fiancée to let herself be manipulated in that way.

Stupid woman.

Though it was clearly stated in the documents Sasuke held that Sakura wasn't the one who caused the incident that created the great rift between the two girls, he could understand why his ex-fiancée felt responsible. Not that it mattered to him. He couldn't care less about all of those other people.

He was already enlightened by the one fact that only made him sick to his stomach: Sakura never thought about him. Not once, did she bother to write him any letter after she moved out of her father's house. Sakura had moved on with her life, while he spent the remainder of his clinging onto their past. The memories of their time together were something that was totally insignificant to her.

It was his turn now to let the past go as well. It was time for him to move on with the person who had stuck by his side all this time.


It wasn't wrong for him to choose her.

That was how Temari had walked in on them. She was just walking towards her classroom when she noticed Shikamaru's familiar figure from her peripheral vision outside the window in the school grounds. However, as she was about to greet him, she noticed the presence of a female companion. She stopped when she felt an odd atmosphere around them. She debated whether or not to leave them alone, unwilling to intrude on their privacy, but before she could do so, she witnessed a caring gesture from Shikamaru. She couldn't look away because of it.

Shikamaru patted Ino's head caringly, making the girl flinch in self-disgust.

"Forget about it," Shikamaru said. "I know why you did it. I've been over it for a long time now, so there's no need for you to keep torturing yourself about it."

Ino peered up at him hopefully.

"Maybe if I'd been more serious about our engagement, you wouldn't have left," he joked. "Though after much thinking, I realized that you've done me a favor."

"What's that?" Ino asked; curiosity alive in her eyes.

"You showed me what it was like to love someone… if you can call it that."

Temari took that as her cue to leave, which this time, she was happy to do. There was no need to eavesdrop any longer. With her chest aching weirdly for the first time, Temari walked away before she ended up doing something she would regret later on.

Love, huh?

"Stupid coward," Naruto gritted in exasperation. "He's skipping school just so he doesn't have to deal with the problem he caused."

"Hey, if I was in his situation, I would do that same," Kiba countered. He wasn't trying to defend the Uchiha, but that kind of attention was something Kiba would want to avoid if necessary.

Hinata followed with a concerned remark, "But I'm worried about Sakura-chan as well. She didn't come to school today."

"Sasuke deserves a good kick in the ass to wake him up," Naruto urged, punching the other palm of his hand for good measure. "When I see that bastard, I won't hold back."

"Are you sure that's going to help? Considering how thick headed you both are, I don't think what you do will matter much," Kiba taunted with a scoff.

Hinata could do little to pacify the situation. With homeroom delayed because of the inevitable arrival of the media a bit earlier, they were left to wait inside their classrooms with nothing to do. Judging from Naruto and Kiba's personalities, they neither cared about being deprived of their education, nor how loud and chaotic the class was becoming: because the reality was, they were the cause of most of the noise in the room.

Hoping that he would listen to her, Hinata decided to push her luck by initiating physical contact with him. She touched Naruto's arm, and he immediately ceased arguing with Kiba and peered at her questioningly.

"Since Sakura-chan isn't here, I want to go visit her after school… to see if she's okay," Hinata requested, flushing lightly.

Kiba could see the quick change in Naruto's reaction, giving Hinata a smile of approval. "Yeah, let's do that," the blonde replied.

It was easy to see that he was now out of place. Trying not to look so awkward, Kiba left the classroom and loitered at the corridor outside the classroom. He leaned against the window and drifted into his own thoughts.

Those two might not have exclusively gone out, but it was clear to Kiba how much their feelings for each other had grown. It was just like they were already going out. With them acting like that, there was no way Kiba could intrude upon them. It'd only make him look stupid.

Darn it; this sucked.

Having no one to talk to was a total bore.

Where was Sakura anyway?

Despite the shady advice she received from her rival's mother, Karin tried to be optimistic that everything would eventually go her way. However, her optimism failed to get her through the beginning of the school day when she was ambushed by her schoolmates. Thankfully, she was able to get out of the mob before the paparazzi came to join in.

Now, she was stuck inside the school, trying to hide from everyone who wanted to invade her privacy. She could trust no one. The only person who had earned it unexpectedly had suddenly gone AWOL.

Was this the price for her going for what she wanted?

Taking a peek at her phone, Karin sighed when she merely saw an empty background with no missed calls or text messages.

Why didn't Sasuke come today? Why wasn't he here for her at a time when she needed him the most?


Where are you?

As he sat on his bed thinking about what he had learned after reading the file that Itachi had given him, he slammed his fists on his thighs in frustration.

Even after reassuring himself that Karin was the right choice, his thoughts kept flashing back towards the moments he had with Sakura.

He remembered seeing her in her mother's mansion the day their engagement was announced. They argued and ended up making a silly bet on who would find who first at school the next day. He didn't know who she was then and ended up playing along with her game that he effortlessly won. Well, he had Naruto's help by triggering the alarm early, but not that it mattered much.

His interest in her increased every time they interacted―mostly because of her great displeasure in seeing him and the arguments they had that she would usually lose against. Every time he would mess with her, she would react in the most intriguing way that he couldn't stop himself from going back and teasing her some more.

And then there was the time when she came to the school festival in a stylish modern kimono―that was when their relationship swerved in a direction where there was no going back. The memory of when he first laid eyes on her elegant figure, where her gaze was seemingly transfixed on a distant point on the horizon, was when he began to remember the childhood friend that he treasured. The resemblance was uncanny. Would Sakura look like this now? His Sakura―the little girl he cherished who adored him as a child; where was she now? How would he speak to her after not seeing her for many years? As those questions popped into his head without a clear answer, he tried to imagine what he would do instead if he saw her once more. As he greeted her casually and she turned around to meet his gaze, he couldn't understand the horrified look she gave him before she fell into the water below. It was later that he understood why she was wary with him.

It was when she lost her glasses when she was rushing to get to school and bumped into him in the process did the puzzling pieces start to gather. The sight of her unmasked features gave him the time to inspect her more carefully. Why did she always bring back the memories of his childhood friend? Why did he have the urge to see his childhood friend when he saw his fiancée without her spectacles? He took his time and reflected on the beauty she tried to hide: 'Would Sakura look like this as well?' As those thoughts overwhelmed his mind, his body reacted on its own and before he knew it, he kissed her on the cheek―a greeting only they used to share.

Despite everything he had done, she never found out or realized what he had done. It was only later that he realized the girl from the festival and his fiancée were the same individual. That time also triggered the beginning of his suspicions.

The arrival of Arisugaki Sai that day only made matters worse. The fixed attention he gave Sakura only made Sasuke wary of his intentions. From afar, he continued to watch over her and he planned to not interfere with how she conducted her life in any way, but when the new student started insulting her and drawing from her a reaction that only he used to do, whenever he teased her, he snapped. Immediately, he put a stop to their socializing and punched the guy without even realizing that she had originally planned to do the same until his untimely intervention.

He couldn't be gladder at his initiative. However, his suspicions with her identity didn't arise any further until the weekend he saw her in casual clothes.

She wasn't wearing any glasses at the time, and seeing her firsthand without them gave him a clear idea that it was her. He didn't bother feigning ignorance of her identity like his best friend and merely dragged her away, leaving his best friend stunned at his unexpected assertiveness towards the opposite gender. The sight of her forlorn expression made him see beyond reason and he pulled her away without a second thought. Their conversation didn't bode so well, since his suspicions tainted his good nature and he pressured her with questions she wasn't ready to answer. All he could think of at that time was: why was she pretending not to know him at all?

They didn't talk again until their parents arranged a dinner together that also marked the anniversary of the death of his fiancée's father―whom he would later realize was Haruno Sora. They were forced into marriage counseling, coerced into kissing each other and was later manipulated to sleep in the same room. In Sasuke's opinion, the whole enchilada was a complete waste of time, except for the misunderstanding that was cleared up and a new unspoken truce that came with it. They didn't hate each other, which oddly brought great relief to him.

After that, they went back to normal and treated each other the same as they used to. However, as soon as they started going out together, that familiarity gradually changed.

He continued to feign ignorance of her identity for the sake of quenching his desire for his childhood friend. He figured that since his fiancée reminded him of her… then maybe, she could also help him forget about her. It wasn't until he decided to gain more depth in their relationship and finally eliminate the invisible wall between them by asking her name did everything get thrown into chaos. When they unanimously agreed on her name being, Sakura, Sasuke immediately knew right there and then who she was. How could he not have noticed it? They had the same name―Haruno Sakura was his long lost childhood friend. So why did she continue to remain ignorant of his existence? Did she forget about him? The endless questions turned into frustration and he finally decided to make sense of it all by investigating on his own. When that led him nowhere, he agreed with Yamanaka Ino's plan to force Sakura to reveal her own secrets herself.

Their plan soon feel apart when Yamanaka got cold feet and told him how important her best friend was to her and abandoned him to his own devices. In the end, the unanswered questions got to his nerves that he ended up taking it out on his ex-fiancée by hurting her continuously.

Now that everything was clear, he couldn't help but feel guilty even though he thought there was no need to be.

Damn his older brother to hell!

No, Sasuke also needed to blame himself. He shouldn't have accepted his brother's proposal no matter how harmless it seemed to be. Even though he ended up realizing that it was inevitable.

He was already swayed―and convinced.

No matter how hurt he might have been, it was clear that he had judged Sakura prematurely, and had been a complete asshole about it.

Still, he already made his choice and he would stick by it.

He was so lost in his own reminiscing that Sasuke didn't hear the constant knocking on his door until his mother called his name.

"Sasuke…" It was faint and muffled by the door closed between them.

How could he have forgotten about them? His parents were also to blame for this. Why didn't they tell him about Sakura from the very beginning? There was no way they didn't know about Itachi's continuous investigation of the little girl that became a part of their family all those years ago.

There was no way he was answering that door.

Screw it! Leave me alone!

Mikoto didn't know how long she had been standing in front of her son's door, asking to be let in.

Ever since yesterday's party, Mikoto and Fugaku had yet to have a talk with their son. Fugaku had already warned her that it would be pointless to reason with their stubborn son and to just leave him alone.

"He wouldn't want to talk to us anyway," was his notice to her.

Going against his advice, she went anyway. Mikoto sighed. She knew that this would happen, but she couldn't bring herself to turn away when her son was still within their reach. As his mother, there was no way Mikoto could back down when her son clearly needed her.

"Sasuke, open the door this instant." When there was still no answer, Mikoto tried to be a little creative. "If you want, I can call Itachi here to―"

A clicking sound came from the door. The lock was released, giving Mikoto the freedom to come in if she wished. She opened the door, and there was Sasuke, sulking on his bed. He wasn't wearing his pajamas but casual clothing. Well, his casual clothes were lacking since he was only wearing a pair of jeans.

It was like he was debating earlier whether he should go to school or not but ended up lazing around his bed instead.

"Shouldn't you be in school?" Mikoto carefully asked.

"I didn't feel like going," Sasuke responded curtly, not caring how he might have offended his mother. At this point, he had no particular concern what his parents thought of him.

Scolding someone who wouldn't be listening was pointless. Mikoto knew this, and showed him how concerned she was about his welfare. "You shouldn't talk like that when your father might overhear."

"So what? It's not like that matters to me."

Mikoto sighed. Sasuke might be able to say that to her, but it was debatable whether he could put up the same defiant persona in front of his father. "You're mad about Sakura, I know. You hate us for not telling you, but that's because Itachi didn't want us to. He wanted us to deal with your engagement just like how we would, pretending it was our decision to begin with."

"And you just said 'yes'? Just because he became the head of the clan for some time, you're following whatever he says?" Sasuke gave a spiteful scoff. "What about what I felt?"

"You were still a boy at that time, Sasuke. You wouldn't have understood."

"And you're saying that it should make sense to me now? Explain it to me, mother―because I still can't comprehend why you both agreed to it so easily. I can understand it if father was the one who planned it, but Itachi…" Sasuke trailed off, frustrated by his parents' betrayal.

This time, Mikoto was able to give him a more direct answer. "Your older brother loves you more than anything in the world. You were the reason why he gave up being the head of the clan."

Itachi gave it up for him? That sounded too good to be true. "Itachi gave it up because he was incompetent."

Mikoto smiled softly at her son's insulting remark. "Before he gave up his responsibilities, however, he talked to your father and me about arranging an engagement with your childhood friend, Sakura-chan. We wondered why, when the two of you haven't seen each other for so long, but he only told us that she was perfect."

Perfect? How could Sakura be the perfect fiancée for him?

"But I think you know the reason for that, don't you?" Mikoto asked perceptively.

"That doesn't make any sense." He didn't sound as aggravated as before, but confused about not being given the clear picture. First, they dictate his life, telling him that he was engaged to someone he barely knew that he would later find out that he knew that person all along, way back when he was still a boy. Now, with the instigator of his unexpected engagement revealed, he was being told that he had a choice.

Though, Sasuke felt it otherwise.

When did he even have a choice?

Sasuke flinched when he felt his mother's hand cuddling his cheek adoringly. Yet he said nothing, but he made no motion to push her hand away.

Even though he wasn't looking at her direction, Mikoto knew he would be listening. "I know it's hard to take it, but your brother really does love you. He wouldn't do anything that you can't handle.

"The same thing applies to your father. He might not show it, but he cares a lot about your well being. He won't stop asking about you whenever we're together… even more than your brother."

Sasuke's tough persona softened, yet he still had some concerns. "What about you?"

"Well," Mikoto paused, flattered that her son was concerned about what she thought. "I should be reprimanding you and telling you to stop behaving like a child, but your father's already capable of doing that."

Hearing about the condition her two sons made, Mikoto was aware about her youngest son's dilemma. She was already aware of what choice the whole family wanted, but regardless of it all and how crucial it could influence their family, Mikoto refused to pressure her child.

They had pressured their children enough.

"Sasuke, don't stress yourself over what you should do. Whatever choice you make, as long as it's what you really want, I will support it no matter what."

Her supportive statement was one Sasuke did not expect in the least. He only felt awkward when she lightly patted his cheek with a playful smile, and eventually enveloped him in a motherly hug he hadn't experienced in a long time. In turn, the awkwardness melted away and he could only feel the warmth of being in his mother's arms.

The warmth her gentleness brought inside Sasuke eased his worries. It had been so long that he never would've expected it would still have the same effect on him. However, he wasn't at ease for long, when his mother's next statement struck him.

"As long as you're happy, nothing else matters."

Itachi had been looking outside the window when Mikoto came into the room. Because of the hardheadedness of her husband, it was now Mikoto's job to find out how her sons were doing, which she barely minded. Having these personal conversations with her boys was one of her strong suits.

"How was your talk with Sasuke, mother?" he spoke, before she could close the door.

Leave it to her oldest son to remain as sharp as ever. "I did the best I could. Though I'm worried about what he's going to do from here," Mikoto replied, closing the door to ensure their privacy.

"Are you worried that he's going to choose Karin?" Itachi turned to her, seeing through her worries as if he was reading an open book.

"Isn't the main reason why you asked your father and I to get your brother and Sakura engaged was to eventually get them married?"

"Actually, they need not do that at all. Right now, it doesn't matter who Sasuke chooses."

Mikoto frowned, "What are you talking about?"

"The main reason of the engagement is to serve as a bridge."

"A bridge?" Mikoto repeated questioningly.

"Haruno Sakura was the main reason Sasuke continues to behave like a child, and since she's the inhibitor of Sasuke's development, only she can act as the cure for it."

Mikoto couldn't believe how merciless her son was in treating the girl who used to call him older brother. "How could you do that to the girl you used to consider as part of the family?"

Itachi smiled ironically, understanding his mother's distress. He could give no explanation, but only reassurance, "But this is the only way I can protect her."

Mikoto only became more confused with her son's simple reasoning.

"It's much better that Sasuke hurts her now, rather than later. If he does choose Sakura now, she'll have to go through the pain of losing him again. Or if Sakura gives up now, we can be sure that she won't be able to get through what will happen later."

Mikoto couldn't deny it.

"If by any chance they agree to be together now, how do you think Sakura would react if she finds out that by the end of high school, Sasuke will have to leave the country to be the successor of the Uchiha clan?"

"Just like you did when you turned eighteen," Mikoto added painfully, vividly recalling the time her oldest son left Japan. It was what changed him completely.

"He will have to leave her behind again for who knows how long. It'll all depend on Sasuke."

The day quickly passed like a cool breeze on a warm spring day. It was the start of Naruto's favorite subject, the lunch period.

Every sophomore was at their usual spots and groups. That included Ami's exclusive group, the A3. They were sitting by the door, trying not to look so conspicuous that they were planning something horrendous. Their main problem, Akashi Karin, was currently not present in the room, to Ami's disgruntlement.

The less she saw of the obnoxious bitch, the better. The sight of her might make Ami snap at the wrong moment.

"Why aren't we targeting Sakura?" Aki asked.

"Yeah, shouldn't we be going after her instead of that new transfer student," Aya chorused in agreement.

Ami shook her head and replied intensely, "No, we go after Akashi Karin."

There was no way Ami was going to let that pass by, not after hearing Sasuke making a vow to the girl about staying with her no matter what.

It was one of Ami's typical sporadic visits to her crush, Uchiha Sasuke. Usually she would try and visit him during the start of the day, but this time, it was more convenient for her to come by his classroom after school.

Unfortunately for her, she came in at the wrong time and witnessed a private matter between him and the new transfer student, Akashi Karin.

She was able to hide before the two had noticed and leaned on the wall beside the doorway, eavesdropping on their conversation. She only heard small and unclear statements made by the transfer student that made her assume that she was going to hear firsthand what it was like for Sasuke to reject someone. What she didn't expect was for her idol to blurt out such a declaration.

"I will never leave you no matter what."

It was clear to Ami what Karin's role was in Sasuke's life, so it wasn't hard to guess how serious he was when he made that announcement. It made her boil with rage. Ami was going to show that girl not to be so conceited.

However, no matter how well planned anything was, there was always a chance of failure. Depending on luck and many other variables, the rate of success could change exponentially with each situation.

But who had the luck in this given situation? The predator? Or the prey?

Pausing by the cafeteria doorway at what she heard, her blank expression tightened distastefully. Fortunately, her companion was able to remind her, "Remember what we came here for." He walked out of the cafeteria, expecting her to follow him.

And follow him she should. She didn't forget their main goal for coming by the lunch room during the second years' break. The school year was almost ending and with their exams just around the corner, their college applications had already been sent.

However, just because they were sure what college they were going to didn't mean their career path was any clearer. That was the reason why the two of them came, to ask their sensei for other requirements they needed.

Well, her friend only came to remind his sensei for a recommendation he would need by the end of the day. Even though her visit wasn't as beneficial firsthand, at least she was able to find out that she just needed to get her own recommendation elsewhere.

Though, straying from the issue about their future, she focused at the current situation at hand.

Not complying with his request for long, she asked her friend to stop. If he became irritated and thought her dawdling, he didn't show it. "We can't just walk away after hearing that."

"What do you want me to do? Be her knight in shining armor?" he shot back sarcastically.

Tenten couldn't blame Neji's cynicism. He was right that it was none of their business, and trying to help a person they barely even knew was a burden they didn't need to carry. "No, but we should at least tell someone who can help."

Neji didn't protest any further. Maybe he didn't need to help personally, but as a third party, there was something else he could do.

"You're Karin-san, right?"

Karin didn't want to turn around, wary of everyone and anyone due to her sudden increase in popularity. She planned to just walk away, but the stranger remained persistent.

"You're the one Sasuke-kun wants to marry, right?"

Becoming alert and conscious at who her stalker might be, Karin looked around and to her relief there wasn't anyone other than a single girl, who smiled slyly at her reaction.

"Oh, so I was right! You are Sasuke-kun's sweetheart!"

Karin could only register the condescending tone she heard associated with the statement.

The girl giggled, making Karin more uneasy around her company.

"Don't look so anxious. I just want to talk to you." If that wasn't enough, she added a threat, "It would be such a shame if the information Sasuke-kun tried to keep ends up becoming public knowledge. It'll be so sad if all his hard work ends up a waste after just one day."

There was no way Karin could resist, but still, she wasn't stupid. "Why should I go with you when I know exactly what you're planning to do?"

The girl wasn't impressed by Karin's stubbornness. "That's where you're wrong, you conceited fool. I was just pointing out an observation and you're the one who's taking it negatively."

Then how was she supposed to take it?

"I'm just saying that if you want me to talk to you about some private things that I could only talk to with Sasuke's fiancée, then you'll be fine with your secret being officially confirmed by the student body. You know that when that happens, nothing can stop them from talking about it online.

"Hiding won't be much use to you anymore then because once they find out; your freedom will be ripped apart from you in a matter of seconds."

Such was the power of the internet.

Karin couldn't deny that this girl was making a valid point that she couldn't just ignore. Yet, she still couldn't trust her. "Who are you anyway?"

"My name is Watanabe Ami, one of the most influential students in this school."

The way she carried herself did speak of arrogance, and it only made Karin more uncomfortable around her. "Why should I trust you when I know you're jealous that I'm Sasuke's fiancée?"

"Jealous? Honey, you must be hallucinating if you came to that conclusion," Ami laughed outwardly, but inside she was seething. How dare this stupid redheaded bitch think she was so much better than her―Watanabe Ami! It was an unpleasant thought.

Karin looked confused. "Then…"

"Like, come on, just because you're currently Sasuke's fiancée doesn't mean that you'll end up marrying him. Wasn't Haruno Sakura his fiancée before? I know he chose you and all, but his family doesn't even approve―"

Karin focused on ignoring Ami's senseless babble. There was no way she was listening to this; however, there was no way Karin could ignore the girl completely.

"Pretty soon, he'll get tired of you and pick another person as his new fiancée. Everyone's just waiting for it to happen―"

Ami's mouth was forcibly shut by a hard smack on her cheekbone. There was no pain, only shock from realizing that she had just experienced a physical assault from a no-account lowlife. This nobody didn't just raise a hand to her, did she1? It was absolutely unforgivable!

"Shut up. I've had enough of your yapping." Karin wasn't able to control her strong emotions and did what she initially tried to avoid. Apparently, the subject was too personal for her, and any small criticism brought out the worst in her personality.

While one showed her great dislike of being mocked by retreating into her shell, the other thought of how to get even.

There was no way Ami was going to let this Karin girl get the last laugh. One way or another, she would make her pay. She was going to show this bitch not to mess with her.

After protecting his childhood friend from a huge scandal earlier that day, Shikamaru took it upon himself to act as her guardian for the rest of the day. Thankfully, his over protectiveness wasn't brought up as a teasing subject by his friends.

It was good to know that they had a tiny bit of consideration in those puny little heads of theirs.

Just like any job, he was relieved from his responsibilities when the school ended. Ino reassured him that she was alright and left for work, offhandedly reminding him of his other commitments.

There had been too much going on that he had almost forgotten his session with Temari. He rushed back into the school towards the meeting area.

He was late and she would surely kill him!

He arrived at his destination with the woman he was meeting lounging casually by the window. She turned around when she heard him come.

"I thought you weren't going to show."

"I told you I was. There's no reason for you to be so pessimistic."

"What about your friend, Yamanaka Ino?"

She just had to ask him about that, didn't she? "What about her?"

"You could've cancelled our session if you need to be by her side."

Judging from that, a new rumor had already circulated around the school and Temari was already well informed of it. It was still unclear to Shikamaru how much she really knew, but not wanting to hear any false assumptions, he immediately clarified, "Ino's a childhood friend. There was a time when we were really close, but not anymore. Still, I try to look out for her.

"In a way, my relationship with her in the past was the same as your sister's and Sasuke." He wasn't sure if that was the right description. "Kinda like that."

"I see," Temari nodded imperturbably and dropped the subject. "Well then, shall we get started?"

Wait? That was it?

"We don't have all day you know," Temari reminded him.

Where were all the anger and the yelling? Shikamaru knew that Temari wasn't like other women, but the topic about Ino really didn't affect her―at all?

It was now or never. After going through these doors, there would be no going back. There would be no more self-pity about making the wrong choice. The moment he spoke about it would be the same as setting down his fate in stone.

Was he confident with what he was doing? He didn't know, but there was only one way to find out.

The door opened and Sasuke was greeted by an expectant Itachi, who didn't waste any time and went straight towards the issue at hand.

"So… tell me, have you decided?"

Sasuke didn't hesitate as he replied, "I have."

Shifting his tone into something more appropriate for polite conversation, Itachi inquired neutrally: "Who shall it be, then?" A beat of silence thrummed between the brothers, while Itachi placidly waited for Sasuke's reply.

At the same time the Uchiha siblings were having their ultimatum showdown, another couple was on their way out of the school premises. Only about a quarter of the spots in the parking lot were filled, as the said couple was walking towards Naruto's car. "I'm glad your cousin didn't murder me when I told him that I was giving you a ride home," Naruto remarked, the relief that this was so, evident in his voice.

"Eh? I thought you guys were friendlier these days," Hinata wondered. After all, Neji-niisan was Naruto-kun's tutor, meaning that they would be seeing each other more often. They should be at least more pleasant around one another, but that could just be wishful thinking on Hinata's part. It had been a while since she had seen her cousin and Naruto interact.

Naruto was reluctant to tell her about how harsh Neji was whenever Naruto would ask him a question. He decided not to humiliate himself any further by asking his tutor, only to be in an awkward position when Neji would find out about his low test scores. Thus, Neji would be even harsher when dealing with him in order to try and bump up his scores.

When his methods didn't work and he was shown another red mark, Neji decided to threaten Naruto instead. "If I don't graduate this year with honors and a good recommendation from this school, I'll make sure you won't ever get near my cousin again. I don't care if your parents own this school; the Hyuuga clan has enough influence to ruin your reputation with the colleges around the city. I'll make sure you have to go into another country to get a good education. Dating her will forever be a dream for you―understand?"

Naruto didn't argue, and from then on, he worked his ass off, trying to study the parts in the lecture that he didn't understand on his own.

Not wanting to go further on the taboo subject of Hinata's cousin, Naruto asked, "Hinata-chan, have you called Sakura-chan?"

Hinata shook her head, "It went to voicemail. Now, it makes me doubt if we should still go. She might want to be left alone."

"Sakura-chan would never turn you away. If it was you, she would welcome the visit."

Hinata still looked doubtful. "Do you think so?"

"I know so," Naruto grinned lopsidedly in a way that always made Hinata giggle.

They were about to get in Naruto's car when Kiba yelled after them. Turning to the familiar sound of their friend's voice was an understatement. Hearing it laced in fear and urgency could only mean that something dreadful must've occurred.

Kiba wasted no time in bringing the bad news. "Akashi Karin's been kidnapped."

Hinata paled considerably, while Naruto went still as a corpse. Despite their current state, Naruto was able to utter a question out of concern, "Who? How?"

"I didn't see their faces, but judging from the vehicle they drove away in, my guess would be Watanabe," he replied grimly.

Watanabe Ami-san?

Cursing at how horrible the situation had become, Naruto was already certain what the main cause of it was. "We have to tell Sasuke."

Sakura and Sai had parted ways shortly after their date. Now she was wandering aimlessly around the neighborhood with no specific destination in mind. She didn't want to go home, but she didn't know where else to go.

What was she supposed to do now? She had rejected the guy who had finally noticed her after all the years of her yearning for his attention and interest, only to choose her ex-fiancé who wanted nothing to do with her. Now that she thought it over, Sakura couldn't help but regret her decision. Rejecting Sai might have been the right thing o do, but she felt lonelier than before.

She was such a masochist. There was the promise of love right in front of her, and yet she chose the one that was way out of her reach.

The promise of love… it was only an illusion. Love wasn't a concept that could be understood easily. Here she was in love with Uchiha Sasuke that it was almost idiotic. Regardless of the signs that Sasuke didn't want her, she continued to hope.

Regardless of Sasuke already choosing Akashi Karin, why couldn't Sakura let him go?

There was nothing that could've shaken her decision not to care about anything else, but the familiar silhouettes of two significant acquaintances made her turn. There was Akashi Karin, walking inside an abandoned building with Ami and her crew.

There was only one question in Sakura's mind: what were they doing together?

She didn't stick out to find out why. Oddly enough, seeing Ami lurking in a suspicious place like this made her want to see Tsubasa.

Even if she didn't want to see her.

Disregarding the distance between them, it was easy for Sakura to notice them. Though noticing someone's presence was natural, sometimes behaviour was overlooked upon when nothing suspicious was happening. It was simple to overlook that Akashi Karin wasn't there of her own free will.

And that was exactly how Ami wanted it. Besides, it wasn't the first time she took her prey in a place like this. Ami was only this ruthless when they deserved it.

Coming to the hospital was one thing, but going in to meet Tsubasa was a whole entire dilemma. Tsubasa had already indirectly claimed to hate her, so seeing her would be out of the question. It was simple: Tsubasa didn't want to see her, but…

It would only be out of her own selfishness if she went in now. However, if not now, then when?

"What are you doing here?" The question was asked as abruptly as Tenten coming out of the building. The hospital uniform that she had was absent, but her Konoha High School uniform clung comfortably on her petite form.

It was her day off and she only came by to get a recommendation letter from her superior. The deadline for college applications were already done, but Tenten was hoping that she could still have a chance to change her major. She had been volunteering in the hospital for quite some time now, and it was only logical to pursue a career where her experience could be made useful.

Though, Tenten did not expect to have such an eventful visit to the hospital by meeting Tsubasa's friend and foe. How unfortunate.

"Tsubasa…" Sakura started hesitantly, "How is she?"

Oh, so now she wanted to talk about Tsubasa. Not that it mattered. Any additional concern wouldn't miraculously cure Tsubasa's condition. In fact, Tenten had already witnessed the negative influence Sakura had with regarding Tsubasa's health.

"Why are you even here? You've heard it yourself, didn't you―Tsubasa doesn't want to see you."

"I know she doesn't want to see me, but…" the dejected expression Sakura showed brought out a little of the respect that Tenten had for her and she said nothing else.

Putting the blame on Sakura was unfair, not to mention uncalled for on her part. However, the girl's gullible and ignorant front was irritating her to no end. "Did you know that Tsubasa has barely a year left to live? She won't live through your graduation―" Or mine, Tenten wanted to add.

Numbness consumed her. She felt nothing but her own cold sweat dripping down her back.

"And here you are wasting your time deciding if you should see her or not. Your indecisiveness is really infuriating."

No one dared to mention how exhausting a guilty conscience could be, and here she was experiencing it firsthand. "No matter how repentant I may be, it's never enough but if I try to move on and forget about it, I remain a hypocrite. What is it I should do to be forgiven?"

There was a double meaning behind her statement that Tenten didn't see. "You want to be forgiven?" Tenten asked, testing Sakura's resolve. "Then take responsibility."

Who could have thought that Tenten's own self-righteousness would be a cause of an even greater disaster?

Their tutoring session went by smoothly and repetitively like usual. They talked about nothing else but formulas, equations and word problems correlated towards the final lectures of senior year calculus. Everything seemed to be just like normal, but the great distance between them was more evident than ever, like a wide chasm in between their feet. Temari would usually be more open with her occasional offhanded remarks that would show her displeasure about being taught by a younger man and not to mention the same age as her stepsister. However, currently no such familiarity existed between them. They were simply two schoolmates meeting after school because of the benefit of it. They weren't friends.

They weren't anything.

Temari's coming departure was brought into Shikamaru's thoughts. Maybe… it was better this way.

The professional atmosphere around them lasted until the end and it was only when both were getting ready to head on home did Shikamaru find out the reason for Temari's peculiar behavior. Right before Shikamaru could leave, Temari decided to finally engage him in a casual conversation.

"Hey Shikamaru, the test… do you think I'll do well?"

Was that why she was acting so strangely―because she was worried?

"You really do want that acceptance, don't you?"

Temari simply replied, "It's my dream."

"But why do you have to leave Japan to do it?" Shikamaru hesitated, "Why can't you just stay here? It would be easier to aim for the best that you envisioned." He didn't realize the selfishness of his request revealed his desire for her to stay.

Temari did not point this out, however, and stayed on topic. "I want to gain a different perspective. Besides, change is good."

It was too big of a change.

Shikamaru knew that he should be a supportive friend and cheer her on, but he just couldn't do it. Yet, he admired her determination and courage in pursuing such an uncommon and difficult goal. Temari knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life, while he had no motivation or dreams of his own even when he soon had to make that decision with his final year coming up. It was to say… he was envious to see her so confident.

Despite his pessimism, he showed her none of his weakness. "Don't worry; if you review the ones I told you that would come up in the exam, you should be fine. You might even get a perfect score on it," he said, trying to keep as nonchalant as possible.

Temari nodded gratefully, but Shikamaru could sense that there was something else bothering her.

Regardless of what he had observed, Shikamaru continued to play ignorant. "This should be our last session, but if there's anything you're not confident about, then just call me and we can meet up."

She sent a thankful smile, but was still concerned on his behalf. "What about your exams? Don't you need to get ready for them as well?"

There was no need for her to get worried on his account. "Don't mind me. Just keep focusing on yourself. You can't afford to get distracted now."

"What if I call you just so we can hang out? I want to thank you for helping me out."

"You don't have to." Clearly, she was ignoring what he had been telling her. He didn't need her doing anything for him. From her, he needed nothing. Nothing at all.

"Then how about you go out with me?"

He was about to repeat himself for the third time when he got a clear sense of her statement.

Wait… what?

Like a date?

Did she just… ask him out? Why? He didn't even realize that he said that out loud, in which Temari replied to.

"Because I like you Nara."

The pregnant silence was broken by a sudden ring. Sasuke wanted to ignore the persistent call and let it go to voicemail, but when he saw the identity of the caller through his caller ID he hesitated.

Why would Hyuuga Neji be calling him at this time?

Seeing his brother's uneasy expression, Itachi helped him in casting away his hesitation by suggesting, "If you're so worried, it shouldn't hurt to answer it."

Sasuke didn't show that he acknowledge the remark, but answered the phone nonetheless. Dubiously greeting the other person in the line, Sasuke wondered what was so important for the Hyuuga to call him so unexpectedly. "What is it, Hyuuga?"

"I don't know what your deal is for not being with your fiancée after just recently declaring to the world that you want to marry her, but that selfishness of yours is already giving her more problems she doesn't need."

Sasuke didn't like the vagueness of that statement. "What the hell are you talking about?" Can't he just get to the point!

Meanwhile, Itachi continued to patiently observe his brother talking on the phone. When Sasuke had suddenly gotten pale and speechless, Itachi immediately knew that something was wrong. Itachi said nothing when his little brother ended the call and said that he was leaving.

Itachi immediately understood before Sasuke even said it and even beat him to it. "Let's continue this later then."

"Karin's been kidnapped," Sasuke explained even when Itachi didn't ask for it. "I'm sorry nii-san, but I have to save her."

"Because of your announcement, she now has become a target of your enemies."

Sasuke only became annoyed with the clear point. "I know that already! That's exactly why―"

"That's exactly what you have to face if you're going to succeed the clan. Everything you do, every choice you make, will be observed, criticized and challenged. Picking the best candidate as your wife is also a factor. She needs to be able to stand up beside you and be strong enough to face those challenges with you.

"You should have already been aware of this the moment you chose Karin as your fiancée. The moment you told everyone your decision, you should have been ready about this occurrence."

Defiantly, Sasuke challenged Itachi's logic with his own determination. "That's exactly why I'm going to save her. Since I was the one who brought this on her, it's my responsibility to make sure nothing happens to her." He said nothing else and ran out of the room to do what he proclaimed.

Moments later, Itachi turned to look out of the window, watching his brother's car zooming out of the property.

Sadly, it would seem that his plan wasn't working as well as he hoped.

"How if you aren't there in time to save her Sasuke? What will become of you then, I wonder?"

The fact that his little brother had finally called him 'nii-san' could only bring him mild comfort.

"You might succeed in protecting her today, but you can't protect her forever."

If she can't protect herself, she would never survive the weight of the Uchiha clan.

Bewildered at her odd confession, Shikamaru turned away, replying as objectively as possible. "Going out… only two people who hold romantic interest in one another can do that."

He gulped anxiously when Temari didn't reply. How could she remain calm in this situation?

"I've only ever looked at you as a friend. I never figured that you feel that way about me."

"I see," Temari said evenly despite the somberness of the situation. She acted like her confession minutes before didn't happen. "Thanks for all your help anyway, Shikamaru."

Why did he feel like he was just stabbed by a sharp knife just now?

Temari picked up her bag on the desk and exited the room, but not before bidding him goodbye.

Being left alone in the room to think about what had happened, Shikamaru tried to make sense of it all. The way she said his name just then when she thanked him…

It was like he was a stranger to her, but who could blame her.

He rejected her after all.

"Wake up, skank."

Karin waited to wake up from this nightmare. She would wake up soon somewhere far from here with Sasuke reprimanding her for dozing off. But the stabbing pain in her abdomen relentlessly persisted that she was stuck here to bear witness to her own upcoming demise. Will she be able to live through the living hell Watanabe Ami was going to put her through?

She remembered trying to flee from her captors, even though she knew it was futile. Ami was accompanied with dangerous men who only felt pleasure in seeing her scared and were excited by the dehumanizing task they were assigned to do. Clearly they had a plan for her, and how she prayed her deductions to be proven false.

Fear was what made her run in the first place, but they were prepared for her attempt and they knocked her out before she could even begin to struggle. She knew it was inevitable when she was already in the car with them, but when she realized their plans, she just had to try.

And now that they were waiting for her to regain consciousness, or rather, open her eyes since they already figured that she was awake, it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. Karin unwillingly opened her eyes out of fear of being physically abused if she didn't comply.

It had been a while since she was bullied like this, but it had been the first time she was brought into an abandoned warehouse. Judging from the rust of the left over equipment around the place, it had been a while since the place had been operational. What served as a light in the room was only the setting sun shining through the windows. However, its illumination served no purpose in lighting a way for her out of this situation.

"So… do you know why you're here?" Ami asked.

Karin didn't reply out of caution. She wouldn't give this lowlife an excuse to bully her just because she found her reply antagonizing. However, that plan was rendered useless and it only aggravated Ami further.

Ami slapped Karin as hard as she could, finding it pleasurable seeing the girl fall back down on the ground. "Stop looking at me like that bitch! That's exactly why you're here! If you only be a good girl; and do exactly what you're supposed to do."

Karin tried to ignore the stinging pain on her cheek. Do what exactly?

"I tried to be nice to you by being your friend, but you just had to throw that back in my face, didn't you," Ami chuckled maliciously. "Since pleasantries don't work on you, maybe this will."

No matter how many ways she imagined what was going to happen, Karin always ended up with the worst conclusion. Now her worst nightmare was going to become reality.

Gesturing her henchmen forward, Ami introduced her companions with a sick smile in her cruel features. "Maybe you'll reconsider being so arrogant after being acquainted with my friends."

Karin immediately started backing away when they started advancing towards her. With them blocking the exit, Karin panicked in what to do. She already tried getting away before and failed. She had to―she just had to find a way to get out of here! Sasuke wasn't here to protect her and―

"Hey, I hope you be gentle with them, okay?" was Ami's last taunt before Karin's mental state shattered.

No, no, no, no! This wasn't happening to her―it couldn't! All she wanted was to be by Sasuke's side. Why couldn't anyone understand that?

Was there something wrong with being with the person you love?

Sasuke. Sasuke. Sasuke, Karin chanted mentally with the hope of him saving her keeping her sane.

There was no need for her to be scared. Sasuke… Sasuke would definitely come and save her. He promised her that he would always be there for her. That was why she would continue to believe in him. She had to!

Karin paled when they started reaching out for her.


"Hold it," said an unexpected visitor.

All turned to the sound of a terse command that brought a chill down Karin's spine.

"You've become bold Ami."

Where was that girl? Skipping school was already unlike her, and he was willing to forgive her for keeping it a secret from him if only she didn't stay out so late. When he arrived home to find no sign of her around, he decided to go out and look for his sister.

Luckily his older brother got home before he was about to leave and suggested a location where she most likely would be.

"You should try the hospital downtown. Since she's with that guy, they would most likely go to that place," Kankuro helpfully suggested.

Gaara took his word for it, but didn't have the time to ask his brother how he knew about it. Such private matters that he wasn't privy to, made Gaara uneasy. There was more going on between his sister and that new transfer student, and no one was telling him anything. And why would they go to a hospital?

Reminding himself to inquire more about the matter when he had found his sister, he looked around the said location, but found no traces of the person he was seeking.

Should he go inside?

"Gaara," a feminine voice called out of concern.

"Tenten-senpai," Gaara greeted back respectfully. People might think he was scary and avoided him like a plague. Sometimes, others would pick a fight with him to prove they were better than him. Those reasons were exactly why he respected only a number of people, and this person was one of them.

She was a fellow classmate of his brother, Kankuro. They weren't exactly close friends, but Gaara knew his brother was on good terms with her. Add that to the simple notion that she didn't give him any reason to be wary of her.

"I assume you're here to look for Sakura."

Gaara immediately became suspicious. So, she knew something too, did she? "Has she come here?"

"Actually, she has, but she left not too long ago," Tenten replied. Gaara was about to ask in which direction that would be, but her confession beat him to it. "I'm sorry Gaara; I think I've done something terrible to your sister."

"What are you talking about?"

"Please save her," Tenten pleaded guiltily.

Gaara went rigid. "Tenten…" Gaara said, leaving out the honorific on purpose because of what he had heard, "what have you done?"

Tenten didn't explain herself, knowing he would hate her no matter what excuse she would give. She could only repeat her plea in anguish, "Save her… before it's too late."

He asked nothing of her reasons but quickly demanded where his sister went. She didn't flinch when he glared at her and gave her a chilling warning, "If something happens to Sakura, I'll hold you responsible." That was the last thing he said and hastily left, sprinting away from the area towards the location Tenten pointed to. It was fine even if she was persecuted, or hated. That was fine.

Taking out her cell phone from her pocket, she gazed over the picture message with remorse. The picture of Karin being pushed into a car by a middle aged man brought chills along her spine. This picture was what pushed Tenten into manipulating Sakura into saving Akashi Karin. She tried to satisfy her own righteousness by pushing the task onto someone else.

Tenten thought she was doing the right thing, but when she opened the new picture that was sent to her minutes ago, those thoughts were instantly vanquished. It might look like a harmless photo between Karin and another man in his mid-20s at first glance, but after looking at it more closely, it was clear that Karin was flinching away from the man's touch. His arms were around her, leaning towards a Karin who tried to distance herself from him.

There was also a message attached saying, "Uchiha Sasuke's fiancée―a sex addict!"

Tenten immediately panicked after reading it. This was horrible. How could she send Sakura into such danger?

With a group of men, mostly older by Ami's side, the chances of Sakura getting out of there was slim. She wouldn't stand a chance getting out of there unharmed while protecting someone.

What had she done?

"I don't care what punishment I'll be given, but please: let help get there on time," Tenten prayed.

That was the only thing she could do at this point.

Ami's startled expression immediately turned dark when she recognized the intruder. "Sakura," she hissed.

Karin couldn't believe her eyes. Sakura? Her rival Haruno Sakura was the one that was here… to save her? That couldn't be.

What was she doing here?

Sakura smiled pleasantly at her nemesis' reaction. "And oh" ―She briefly looked around their location, boldly turning her back to Ami like a taunt of overconfidence that Ami detested― "You really have no originality."

Ami's head throbbed painfully in irritation. "And who are you to judge me? You're nothing."

"Well, we were friends, weren't we? Isn't that what friends do―judge each other."

Karin could only watch helplessly as her savior continued to taunt her assailant. There was something seriously wrong with their conversation: that wasn't how friends should be.

Or rather, there was something definitely wrong with their relationship.

Sakura was able to circle flawlessly around the room until she now stood before the perplexed Karin. She remained her focus towards Ami who continued to justify her superiority towards everyone else and ignored Karin's questionable whispers.

"When it comes to judging people―I am the only one who's qualified to do so," Ami retorted strongly.

Sakura chuckled, "Typical Ami; you never learn do you?"

"What are you doing?" Karin asked once more, trying to avert Sakura's attention to her.

"You're still the same even after all these years."

Getting annoyed because of being continuously ignored, Karin took the time to stand up that no one seemed to have noticed. However, Sakura showed that she was aware of Karin's actions and murmured still facing Ami, "Can you try to get away?"

Thankfully, Ami was too absorbed with fixing her damaged ego.

Sensing Karin's distress before the girl showed it, Sakura tried to explain to her. "I'll distract them. When you find an opening―run. Get out of this place."

It was the same as being slapped on the face. How could Karin just run and leave her behind in kind of situation? She was not at all grateful that her rival was trying to protect her, not when her pride has been hurt. She was offended in being in this kind of situation where the one person she had to rely on was the person she never would've expected. It was offensive like being looked down upon.

Torn by what she should do, Karin could only listen to the continuous argument between the two individuals who clearly had a distinctive past together.

When Sakura said nothing, Ami averted her gaze towards Karin, who immediately flinched at her penetrating gaze. "I see it now… this situation reminds me of something. It's just like that time with that girl. Though I can't remember what her name is?"

As expected, Sakura's attitude changed now glaring at Ami. "Her name is Tsubasa―"

"Oh yeah―that's right, Tsubasa! How is she now by the way?" Ami asked as if inquiring about a common friend, enjoying the change in Sakura's attitude.

"I know what you did, Ami. That time two years ago where you arranged to have Tsubasa 'punished' for being close to Sai. You used my phone to send her a message, knowing she would go anywhere you ask her too. I don't care if you used my name or wanted me to get in trouble for it, but… how dare you do such a thing!"

Ami scoffed. "Don't act all high and mighty when you wanted the same thing to happen as well."

"I didn't want her to be raped!"

Karin gasped, that statement confirming her doubts and making her choice easier. Raped? She was brought her to be violated and humiliated. The girl they were talking about… was the same thing done to her as well? Bile rose up from her stomach making her lurch. Ugh, she felt sick to her stomach.

"I would never want such a thing," Sakura denied strongly.

Ami chuckled, "What are you talking about? We even planned it together―"

"In which I repeatedly told you I didn't want any part into. And yet, you made it look like it was my plan all along just to get back at me. Your inferiority complex is getting tiring Ami."

Shrugging as if it was nothing, Ami said, "I was doing you a favor. Admit it; you wanted her gone as well so you can have Sai-kun. It was a matter of friendship."

Friendship my ass, Karin thought condescendingly.

How superficial; even now Ami didn't seem to realize that the Sai at their school was the same as the transfer student named Arisugaki Sai, though Sakura doubted that Ami could be that stupid. Maybe, time just changed things and Ami just found Uchiha Sasuke more worthy of her affections. "You weren't doing me a favor and you know it. All you were trying to do was making sure that you didn't have to deal with the repercussions. You wanted to get of both Tsubasa and me in one move. That's why you planned to make me as your scapegoat―somebody to blame for your cruel deeds.

"I might not have paid for your crime, but you should be happy. Everybody else thought I was the one at fault. No one even thought of thinking of anyone else." Sai and Tsubasa blamed her for it. Sakura may not have paid for the crime, but her relationship with both individuals had changed because of it.

"From the sound of it, it seems you're still keeping in touch with that loser. Tell me, how is she by the way. Is she still traumatized by that?" Ami laughed, finding Tsubasa's weakness humorous, "She's lucky she wasn't even raped, even though she always gets in my way. It's quite unfortunate I wasn't able to pay her back with her meddling."

Karin could barely stand being in the room any longer. Watanabe Ami was such a messed up person, and Haruno Sakura was actually trying to converse with this crazy person. It might be to distract her, but the topic of their conversation wasn't something Karin didn't feel comfortable listening into.

There was no way for the situation to continue going this smoothly. Soon, one of them was bound to snap at the other, and Karin wasn't willing to stick around and be there for it. She had to escape somehow.

Oddly enough, she was given such a chance when Sakura's abrupt chuckle engulfed the entire building, echoing around them. Ami's confused frown along with her cronies' attention remained focused on Sakura's laughing figure, giving Karin the opening to slip out of the door unnoticed.

Ami's frown turned suspicious. "What are you laughing about?"

"I was just thinking how wrong you are Ami. All this time you've been focusing your attention on the wrong people… then and now."

"Excuse me."

"The person's always been in your way all this time is me." Sakura smiled triumphantly. She had noticed Karin had already slipped away, but could now barely remember what her main intention was. She was only supposed to distract them, but now it was different. This wasn't about just Karin or Tsubasa. Everything was entirely about her and Ami. This was what she should have done from the very beginning.

Consequences be damned! If she could rile this person up, who had been the consequent thorn at her side, she would be satisfied. This had been prolonged long enough.

"The person that Arisugaki had always liked wasn't Tsubasa, it was me."

Ami's eyes widened in disbelief, but she quickly reclaimed her lost composure and said, "So what? It's not like he matters anymore. He doesn't hold my interest any longer."

"I know, but I still wanted to tell you anyway," Sakura replied placidly. "And adding to the fact, or rather confirmed rumors that Uchiha Sasuke was my childhood friend and ex-fiancé, we date for a short while. The videos were true as well; we were close as children and even promised to marry each other when we were older."

She purposely didn't bring Akashi Karin into the picture, knowing that Ami wasn't too bright to ask about her.

"So you see, all this time, I've always been ahead of you. No one has ever chosen you, and I doubt anyone ever will."

That did it. Sakura was immediately shoved backwards after Ami grabbed her hair and started shaking her, slapping her repeatedly as she yelled. Sakura didn't bother to fight back and even expected it. She couldn't wipe the smile off her face, and that must've only fuelled Ami's anger even further and her hits got stronger, using anything and everything she could think of to cause pain for Sakura. It wasn't long for Sakura to fall down on the ground, her face arms and body bruised and bleeding from cuts and scratches.

How peculiar that Sakura wasn't feeling the pain regardless of being beaten into a pulp. Ami's anger was an ointment for her wounds, filling her with victorious pleasure. And here she thought she had gotten rid of this dark side of hers. She took each blow with pride, taking it without any ounce of protest.

But then, Ami stopped. Wondering why that was so, Sakura looked up at Ami. The lack of fear in Sakura's eyes brought Ami over the edge and she said, "Since I failed with Tsubasa last time, I'll make sure you get the worst punishment for it. I'll have you raped, taking not only your share but those two girls as well. I'm going to have you raped over and over that you're going to wish you were dead.

"After I'm done with you, you would never dare show your face to anyone ever again."

It was a declaration―a promise.

Before she could properly process Ami's shocking plans, Sakura was already being dragged by two men towards a mattress lying near them.

Itachi stared outside of the window, thinking back to the last conversation he had with his younger brother.

"Who shall it be, then?" A beat of silence thrummed between the brothers, while Itachi placidly waited for Sasuke's reply.

"Before I tell you my decision, I want you to explain something to me first."

"I'm listening," Itachi confirmed, urging Sasuke to continue.

"What's the point of doing this? For what; what's your goal?" Sasuke asked.

Itachi admired Sasuke's newfound patience despite purposely prolonging his answer. And yet, he continued to avoid answering the question. "Will my answer affect your choice in any way?"

It clearly showed in his face the irritation of not being answered properly. However, unlike his brother, there was no need for Sasuke to lie. "No, it won't," Sasuke honestly replied.

"Then I will answer your question once you tell me who you choose?"

"Sakura… I choose Sakura."

It was the first time Itachi didn't know how to respond and they were soon engulfed in silence.


A/N: I really do appreciate the reviews, and I would appreciate to see what you guys thought of this chapter. With the end creeping up closer and closer, the efforts in finishing the chapters are becoming harder and harder. I'm sure you guys know what I mean.

Chapter 31―Trauma

Just when he finally had a chance to talk to Sakura, there wasn't any sign of her. Was this his punishment from hurting her over and over?


He turned to see if the sound of hearing her voice calling his name was a hallucination. However, to his aching relief, she was there, standing outside of the doorway looking at him in surprise.

She was here. He wasn't dreaming.

"Sakura," he called back.

Was Itachi right? Was he already too late?

Updated: September 16, 2011