Author's Notes: Well everyone, this is it! Thank you for being patient with me and for being loyal with this story. It means more than you will ever know. At the end of the chapter, after the author's notes, there is a sneak preview to my new story, Love and in War, which will be up very soon.

Title Reference for Chapter Eighteen: "Love is a Song" from Bambi



Title: Laying Claim

Rating: T (or PG-13)

Summary: (SasuSaku) An ancient law in Konoha permits people from prominent clans to buy people who aren't from clans at all. Unfortunately, Sakura just refused to believe it until her mentor confirmed that, yes, she was now owned by Uchiha Sasuke.

Pairings: SasuSaku

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Chapter 18: Love is a Song



Sasuke choked on the dense smoke as it filled his lungs, his eyes watering, and the small hairs on his body sticking up due to the intense heat that surrounded them. None of the three shinobi of Team 7 had moved from their spot at the edge of what used to be one of the villa's outside walls. The area around them must have once been beautiful, with remnants of flower beds and trimmed hedges that were now blackened or smoldering. The once tidy grass crunched under their feet when they stepped on it, like dead leaves in autumn.

They couldn't move, couldn't even breathe hardly. Logically, Sasuke knew that it was dangerous to stand in a barren wasteland of flames, when any motion threatened to send sparks flying into their face or clothes. Any other time, they would move someplace cooler until the worst had passed, or at least been working their way through the debris to complete the mission and then high tail it out of there. Any other time, Sasuke would reflect how the heat of fire reminded him of the Uchiha clan and their Katon jutsus. Any other time, Kakashi would have barked orders to his team to do something.

But this wasn't any other time.

Because any other time, Sakura would have been next to them, telling them to put something over their face to avoid breathing in the smoke. Or she would have advised them to step away from the inferno to prevent burns…but she wasn't here.

Sasuke searched for chakra in the area to find any sign of life, but there wasn't any, none that he could sense anyway. He turned to Naruto to see that the blond had practically read his mind, the stirring of wind signifying his change into Sage Mode. Naruto's pupils were yellow and there was a hint of orange around his eyes. He was searching, tears already rolling down his cheeks.

It was Naruto who really moved first, sinking to his knees and fisting his hands in the charred dirt. "WHY?" He roared. And then even Sasuke felt his chest constrict at the heart-wrenching sobs. "Sakura-chan…"

A hand landed on the Uchiha's shoulder, and charcoal eyes turned towards his sensei. "Sasuke…" Kakashi asked, his hitai-ate pulled up and the Sharingan spinning, revealing that the white haired man had been searching for a sign as well. "Do you feel…anything?"

Sasuke took a moment to answer, desperately trying to reach out to Sakura in that time. Slowly, he shook his head.

Suddenly, Naruto's eyes snapped up, and he was on his feet in an instant. Before either Sharingan user could ask him what it was, the blonde had already jumped to a place in the center of the burning wreckage. "Here!" He yelled. "There's someone alive over here!" He pulled a bed frame off of the pile and kept digging, the other two joining him in mere seconds. They dug through the wood, feeling it scorch their hands through their gloves but not seeming to care in the least.

It was Sasuke who saw the cloth first, and he desperately tried to clear off the rest of the body. When he could take it no longer, he grabbed the arm and gently pulled upward, immediately knowing from the feel of muscles who it wasn't. It was a guard dressed in all black, his heartbeat slow and fading. The missing nin was yanked from his hold and Naruto shook him a few times. "Where is she? Where is Sakura-chan?" The man didn't have a chance to answer, since his heart gave out on him and he went limp. Naruto let out another cry of pain towards the sky, dropping out of Sage Mode.

Sasuke shivered as something horrific passed through him, and he sunk to the debris, his body thankful it was only warm and not burning and his mind not caring. He saw a bit of movement in the corner of his eye and he snapped his attention to it, hopeful, but it was only one of the snakes he dispatched earlier.

"Uchiha-sama." The cobra hissed.

"Report." He barked to his summons, not sounding unlike Kakashi had just a few long minutes earlier.

"By the time we arrived, the structure was already on fire. We found Haruno-san with that man. He was hurting her so we killed him, per your orders."

"And Sakura?" His heart was pounding in his chest, and he noticed Naruto and Kakashi were standing over him anxiously, waiting for good news. Sasuke wanted the cobra to say that they had escaped with the medic, and were somewhere out of sensing range. Tell me anything, Sasuke thought, just don't say…

The snake ducked its head. "More men attacked at the front door…Haruno-san escaped back into the building while we dealt with them."

"So…she…" He couldn't say anything more than that.

"She was definitely inside during the explosion, we have not found her body—" Naruto wailed. "—outside."

"Could she have gotten away from the blast?" Kakashi asked.

The snake shook his head. "She was too badly wounded, and her chakra levels were low."

"There's no other way she could have…?"

The cobra's head sunk and he looked about as depressed as a snake could. "Forgive us, Uchiha-sama…"

Naruto sunk down next to Sasuke as the snake disappeared with a small cloud of smoke. The blond boy was wailing, tears rolling down his cheeks. Sasuke saw that Kakashi wasn't doing so well either, since his breath was coming out shakily, his eyes revealing his heartbreak.

As for Sasuke, he knew he should have been in tears, but they hadn't come yet. The worst part about it was that he didn't feel numb, either. He felt like there were claws scraping at his heart, his stomach churned uncomfortably, his mind kept flashing images of her…it was like each part of his body was conspiring to make this the most painful experience possible. He couldn't stop the thoughts of what if and if I'd only, thinking of all the things he could have done to avoid this moment.

When he started to cry, he didn't mistake it for the rain he craved to put out this damnable inferno. He wasn't numb enough not to feel the way that his eyes prickled, the way that the first tear rolled down his face, making a visible track in the soot. He had been surprised at the memory that had caused him to finally give…thinking of pink hair splayed across his sheets, her face illuminated by only moonlight as she had slept against his shoulder uneasily. That had been four nights ago…the last night she'd spent in his bed before moving back to her own apartment. All he could do was respect her wishes, since there hadn't been any trouble then. He doubted that she knew it had felt like he'd taken a kunai to the chest when she told him she was leaving. Despite that, he'd let her…fighting the child within him that wanted to demand that she stay, because she was his.

You're an idiot. A little voice inside his head whispered, and Sasuke was compelled to agree. He never should have let go of her.

Sakura…he thought, running a trembling hand through his hair, trying not to completely lose it and failing. How was he going to continue without her? The mere idea seemed impossible to imagine. He would wake up and reach towards her, only to realize that there wasn't anyone there and there never would be again. No…he needed her. How could she die? She couldn't be dead because he still needed her!


Naruto snapped his head up in full Sage Mode about the time Sasuke felt it. There was a ghost feeling of pain that he would have brushed off on any other occasion, but this felt too similar to the feelings he'd gotten earlier that day. He and Naruto scrambled up, Sasuke following the blond to a pile of debris.

"She's alive!" The blonde yelled, pulling what was once an oak door off of the pile. "I can feel her chakra!"

Kakashi joined in, the men pulling off whatever was in reach. Naruto occasionally called out the kunoichi's name, but she never answered him. Sasuke felt a panic settle in his chest. What if Naruto was wrong? What if he had just been imagining things to convince himself she was alive? Were they getting their hopes up again?

The panic doubled when Sasuke realized they were getting close to the bottom of the pile, and there was still no sign of the medic.

"No!" Naruto screamed, pulling things off with more haste than before. "You have to be here Sakura-chan! You can't die on us!"

They reached the bottom and there was still no sign of her. It was Naruto who still insisted that he could sense her…that the Sage Mode was more reliable than this. And, Sasuke would never thought he would be so grateful to have the blond around, because it was Naruto who turned over the bathtub at the bottom of the pile.

Sasuke had never been so happy to see pink.

She was there.

The Uchiha picked her up slowly under her arms, leaning her against him while he felt for a pulse. His fingers slid along the side of her neck and found that, while weak, her heart was beating. She groaned a little in his arms, and green eyes slowly and tiredly flickered open. It took her a moment to recognize him, but once she did Sasuke saw a small smile stretch across her face.

"You came…" She said weakly.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto yelled. "You're alive! Are you okay? How do you feel? Do you need…um…oh…" Naruto's statement ended with a slight splutter and a blush across his face that had nothing to do with the heat surrounding them. Sakura had reached up, grabbed the hair at the back of Sasuke's neck, and had pulled him down so that his lips met hers in a rather bruising kiss.

Sasuke held onto her, closing his eyes and not caring that his teammates were witnessing this rather intimate moment. He couldn't care less about them right now, because having Sakura in his arms…kissing him with probably what remained of her strength, was like breathing clean air in the middle of all the smoke.

The kiss didn't last long. In fact, Sakura parted from him much too quickly for his liking, giving him one last look before collapsing against him.



Sakura's instincts drew her awake when she felt water on her skin and a presence at her side. She inhaled sharply in slight panic, trying to push the arms away from her and open her eyes as fast as she could. Unfortunately, the drugs were still very active inside her system, so all she managed to pull off was a weak squirm and a whimper.

"Sakura?" A voice asked, and the vibrations from his chest pressed against her side made her shiver. "Sakura, look at me."

Sakura slowly opened her eyes and looked up into onyx pools lined with worry. She was sitting between his legs sideways, so he could easily hold her up with one arm. They were in what looked to be a hotel shower, sitting on the dark tiled floor, the water from the showerhead washing over them like rain.

"Sasuke?" She asked, berating herself when her voice came out weaker than she would have liked. "What's…Where are we?"

"At a hotel a few miles inside of Hot Springs Country."

So she had been right about her location after all. That was good to know. Still, something else was bothering her.

"Where are my clothes?" She asked him seriously, noticing with a bit of tired amusement that he looked embarrassed for a moment. Although she thanked her lucky stars that she wasn't naked. Her bra and panties were still on, and he'd laid a towel across her front for her, which she promptly held onto. Sasuke himself looked to only be in a pair of pants and she blushed a little since her entire left side was flush with his bare torso.

"We had to wash the blood off of you to clean your wounds properly. This was the easiest way to do it."

"You couldn't get Ino to do this?"

He shook his head. "They're half a days travel away, and once we found you the other teams were sent back to Konoha. And…I figured you wouldn't want Kakashi or the dobe doing this."

Sakura thought for a moment and nodded. She would feel far too awkward around either one of those choices, and she wasn't sure which was the lesser of two evils. She was glad Sasuke volunteered, otherwise she would be having a very different conversation right now.

"Thanks," Sakura said quietly. She tentatively took the washcloth from his hand. "I can take over now." He allowed her to start scrubbing the blood from her arms and legs, but he didn't move from his position. Actually, his arm was just about the only thing keeping her upright. She was moving slower than she would have liked, and she feared if she shut her eyes for too long she would succumb to the drug's effects again.

"Are you okay?" Sasuke asked after a long minute between them.

"I think so." The medic said after a quick assessment of her wounds. "The only really bad cuts I have are the one on my side and the ones that Cain…the ones here." She gestured to her hip and thigh. She lightly washed the excess blood away from her thigh, watching as the water ran pink down the drain. How much blood had actually been on her? She surely hadn't bled this much.

Soon the water was running mostly clear, with only a little bit of blood remaining on her arms now. Sakura could feel herself slowing down, the results of using up energy she really didn't have in the first place. Sasuke must have noticed this too, because he took back the washcloth to finish her arms. Green eyes blinked at him for a few moments, thinking about arguing, but eventually she talked herself out of it. The kunoichi lowered her head to rest against his shoulder, closing her eyes and sighing at the soothing motions of Sasuke's hands.

Sakura heard a sudden plop, and only vaguely registered that it had been the sound of the washcloth falling to the shower floor. She thought nothing of it, until one of Sasuke's arms slid up her back and into her hair, pulling her upright again. Sakura couldn't even open her eyes before she was suddenly being kissed. His mouth wasn't moving, but that didn't stop the heat of the action from sending shocks down her spine. Sakura shivered, very much aware that she was still pressed against him. The Uchiha pulled away slightly, only to give her another short kiss a second later before resting his forehead against hers. He stayed like that for a long moment, collecting his frayed nerves, as if just affirming to himself that she was here and breathing and so very much alive.

"I thought you were dead." He whispered, and Sakura barely heard it over the water.

"For a minute, so did I." Sakura admitted.

"I felt your fear, but I couldn't—can't—sense you anymore."

Sakura nodded. "I tried to find you the first day, but I couldn't."

"I know." He said, his arms tightening around her back. "I tried, too."

The pink haired woman didn't know where all this was coming from, but everything coming out of his mouth made her feel cared for. He had been worried for her. Uchiha Sasuke, who had practically remained emotionless throughout his entire childhood, was admitting to her that he had been worried. She'd had faith in him the entire time, knowing that he was out there looking for her, doing his very best to find her and bring her home safely.

"I knew you'd come." Sakura said quietly.

"We were almost too late." He said. "How did you escape the blast?"

The medic swallowed, thinking about the fear that had overwhelmed her when she knew she was about to die. "I used the last of my chakra to punch a wall out. It was just dumb luck that it was a bathroom." She really didn't remember the actual explosion, just diving for the tub. The next thing she knew, she was in a lot of pain and she was in Sasuke's arms. And then she vaguely remembered Naruto's babbling and then—

Sakura drew in a sharp breath, her face flushing. She had kissed him! Of course it appeared he had been fine with it, since he had just kissed her back, but she didn't really remember that much about it. If she had more energy, she would have slapped her head to her forehead. What rotten luck that she didn't even remember her first kiss with Sasuke.

She saw him looking at her strangely. "I remember waking up after the blast and then…" She couldn't say it, because she was going to start stuttering in embarrassment. What on earth had she been thinking? Of course this was probably not the best place to talk about it, since she was half naked and sitting in Sasuke's lap.

"It wasn't the first time." He said, and Sakura snapped her eyes to his.

"What do you mean," she began almost dangerously, "it wasn't the first time?"

"When you were drunk…"

"I knew it!" She exclaimed. "I knew you were holding back on me! Damn it, Sasuke, what else did I do?"

His mouth twitched upwards. "Let's just say it's a shame you don't remember anything."

She glowered at him, but didn't have time to say anything else, because there was a sudden knock at the door. "Sakura-chan! Are you okay?" Naruto's concerned voice filtered in, and his voice was loud enough that she could hear him through the door and over the sound of the water.

"She's fine, dobe." Sasuke ground out. Then, he sighed. "Are you ready to get out? He's probably going to break down the door if we stay in here any longer."

Sakura nodded. If they stayed in here any longer, she was going to either kill Sasuke or kiss him again, maybe both and probably in that order. She did want to see the rest of her team, anyway, since she was sure they had been just as concerned for her wellbeing.

Sasuke stood up, somehow managing to keep her in his arms the entire time, something she just had to attribute to his shinobi strength and balance. The towel around her middle slipped off in the process, but to his credit, Sasuke didn't look. Of course, if what he said about the night she had gotten drunk was true, it wasn't the first time he had seen her in her underwear. He set her down on a bathmat, waiting until she had her balance and was able to stand on her own before releasing her. He handed her a towel and said he was going to get her some dry clothes.

He stepped out of the bathroom and was almost immediately tackled by a rather frantically worried blond. In fact, he had to dig his feet into the floor to keep Naruto from seeing anything that he really had no business seeing, almost slamming the bathroom door to accomplish this.

Sakura could hear the argument through the door.

"She'll be fine, idiot."

"I want to see her!"


"Oh, so you get to see her half naked, but the rest of us—" There was a loud thump followed by an, "Ow! Damn it, bastard! It's not like I wanted to go in there for that! Although it's still not fair—" The sound of someone hitting something made its way to the bathroom again, right before a string of loud profanities from Naruto that made Sakura giggle.

When Sasuke came back in, his eye was twitching.

He put a set of what looked like his clothes and some gauze for her wounds on the counter, and frowned at the way she had to support herself on said counter. He asked her if she felt strong enough to change by herself, which made Sakura blush as she told him she felt fine. It was a bit of a half-truth, to be honest, as she still felt a little shaky on her feet, but there was no way Sasuke was going to help her get dressed. It had been embarrassing enough waking up in only her underwear. He looked like he knew she was lying, but didn't press the issue and left to give her some privacy.

She dressed her wounds and changed slowly, panting a little and trying to avoid the black spots that danced in front of her eyes. The drugs were working their way out of her system far too slowly for her liking. She was still tired, but she really didn't want to sleep anymore. After all, she admitted to herself, blushing a bit. There was so much more to do when you're awake. She didn't quite know what to think about her teammate, or his recent actions. He could have kissed her in the moment, just glad she was alive, she mused as she rolled the end of his pants up to make them fit better. That seemed like the most likely, because the other option was that he kissed her because…well, she didn't even want to go there, because finding out he hadn't kissed her for that reason would be a little crushing.

There was a knock on the door, and Sakura called out to say that she was decent. The door opened, and Sasuke came in, took one look at her in his clothes, and Sakura saw his eyes look her over as relief and something else showed through his normally stoic façade. Her heart fluttered in anticipation and nervousness as he strolled into the bathroom, and the next thing she knew, he had backed her against the counter.

He was close, Sakura thought dazedly. Both of his arms went past her to brace himself on the counter, and he leaned in far enough that she could smell the way he was all wild and masculine. She bit her lip a little, and out of reflex brought her hands to his chest, Inner Sakura lamenting that he had changed into dry clothes as well, which unfortunately meant a shirt. Still, she could feel the muscles underneath the fabric, and the way that they jumped at her touch.

The look in his eyes was also completely masculine, as there was something intense and hungry lying in those black depths. It was a strange thing to feel so desirable, even though she had looked in the mirror and had seen that she looked like hell. But here he was, looking at her and making her skin tingle without even touching her.

He leaned into her further, and put his temple against hers so very gently. Sakura's eyes fluttered shut, and she unconsciously nuzzled his head before leaning against him. Almost tentatively, her hands clenched in his shirt. He let out a long breath through his nose, and the kunoichi shivered when it ghosted across the top of her ear and through her damp hair. Having him here like this, with her, felt more intimate than the kiss earlier.

Sasuke was so warm and solid. She had been so scared over the past few days, terrified of what Cain could do to her. Having the Uchiha wrapped around her made her feel safe for the first time in days. How many times had she wished for him since she had been kidnapped? How many times had she longed for him to rescue her? Or even just to see him again so he could tell her everything was going to be okay?

Sakura's lower lip wobbled, and she pressed her mouth together to keep from crying. It didn't help though, and a tear slipped down her cheek. Her breathing hitched, and she gave a silent curse. She really didn't want to do this in front of him.

He pulled back from her, but Sakura kept her eyes closed and she didn't move. He wiped the tear track away from her face. "It's over, Sakura." He told her, dropping a kiss to her forehead. "You're safe."

Sakura nodded, but that didn't help her stop crying. How was it that he always knew what she needed to hear?

He pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms around her back. She didn't sob, because having him around her was enough. She needed a moment to feel small before she could move on, and he gave it to her, acting as her anchor and her protector. He set his head on top of hers and didn't say anything.

Sakura didn't move even when she stopped crying. Using that much energy to cry had been a mistake, she discovered, because she was just exhausted now. She clutched onto Sasuke's shirt tighter to keep herself upright, because she didn't want to let go of him. After a few more minutes, she realized if she didn't lay down soon, she was going to collapse again. Damn that stupid man and his stupid drugs and his stupid jutsu—

"What man?" Sasuke asked. Sakura hadn't realized she had been cursing him aloud.

"The man who…who bound me to Cain." Her voice was quiet. "He tried to knock me out so he could sell me back to you. The drugs haven't fully metabolized yet."

He was quiet for a moment, and since she wasn't looking at his face, it was impossible to tell exactly what was going through his mind. "I would have done it." He said, his voice low enough that she felt the rumble in his chest. "I would have bought you again."

Sakura pulled back far enough to look into his eyes, and she saw that he was being entirely sincere. He would have paid whatever ridiculous amount the man was asking just to get her back. Her eyes widened a fraction. "Sasuke…" She breathed.

Someone cleared their throat, and Sakura jumped a little, startled out of the moment. She realized for the first time that the bathroom door had been open the entire time, and blushed at the sight of Kakashi standing there. Despite his mask, she could tell he was smirking knowingly. Had he been listening the entire time?

"Glad to see you're okay, Sakura." He said, ignoring the way his female student looked embarrassed that she had been caught in the middle of such an intimate moment. Sasuke just looked a little annoyed. "I sent Naruto for food to keep him bouncing off the walls."

Sasuke muttered something derogatory under his breath before picking the medic up and carrying her off into the main room, laying her down on the bed. Sakura glowered at him a little bit, since she could have probably walked, it just would have taken a lot longer. Kakashi talked with her for a minute before Naruto came into the room, out of breath. When he saw that the Uchiha was not monopolizing Sakura, he just barely managed not to drop any of the food in his haste to get to her. He set it down and almost jumped on her. He would have done it, too, except Sasuke was a lot faster, and grabbed the back of his jacket.

"It's fine, Sasuke." Sakura said, wanting to at least assure Naruto that she was really alright before the drugs pulled her into sleep once more. It was a miracle she'd managed to stay awake this long. He did end up jumping on her, but managed to avoid all of her wounds so it really didn't hurt. Sasuke looked like he was itching to reach for his sword.

Naruto began to babble, the gist of which was that he was worried that she was dead and he had been scared for her and the bastard had been a bastard, but he had really been worried, too. Sakura hugged him back, assuring him that she was alright, and barely managed not to cry. This feat became harder when Naruto started crying, and Sakura ended up letting a few tears slip.

Sakura didn't know when she drifted off, but the next thing she knew her ninja senses were pressing her to wake up. It appeared to be the middle of the night, and she panicked for a second when there was a figure beside her in the dark, but then she calmed as she recognized the hair. It was Sasuke.

He turned the lamp on to its dimmest setting, but that didn't stop her from cursing the light anyway. She grumbled and let out a few choice words.

"You've got to eat something." He said, helping her sit up before pushing a warm bowl of ramen in her hands, which she suspected had been reheated from Naruto's earlier trip to get food. It was typical, but that didn't stop her mouth from watering.

"Where is everyone?" She asked, taking a bite of noodle.

"In another room." He said.

Sakura raised an eyebrow, and almost inhaled her ramen when she realized the other side of the bed had obviously been slept in, which meant Sasuke had been with her the entire time and she hadn't even realized it. She didn't know why she was suddenly embarrassed, it's not like they hadn't ever shared a bed before, but she couldn't meet his eyes. She did, however, manage to see in her peripheral vision that Sasuke was smirking.

He gave her water when she was done with the ramen, and she drank all of it, not realizing how thirsty she had been. He helped her back into a sleeping position and it was seconds after he turned out the light that she was asleep again.

The next time she woke up was a few hours later, when the sun was barely above the horizon line. She was obviously the last one up, too, because Naruto and Kakashi were silently moving around her room, packing. Sasuke was picking her up.

"Where are we going?" She asked sleepily.

"Home." He said.



Sakura spent the trip mostly on Sasuke's back. He would have insisted that she rest while they took their breaks, but she argued with him a little bit, insisting on walking around. Sleeping so long felt unnatural, and she really wanted to at least stay awake while the rest of her team was. She tried to stay conscious throughout the journey home, as well, but occasionally she would catch herself waking up and wondering when she had dozed off.

After they reached Konoha, Sakura spent a very restless two days inside the hospital. They had healed her wounds the first day and had hooked her up to an IV with an antidote that would take the remaining drugs out of her system. By the end of the second day, she was practically bouncing off the walls trying to get out. She felt great, she told them, she was ready to leave. They said they'd had it on strict orders from the Hokage not to let her go until five, and before then she was to rest.

It turned out Sakura could only stand being in the hospital when she wasn't a patient.

Sasuke showed up at five. He didn't seem surprised by her enthusiasm to want to get the hell out of there, because as a general rule no shinobi liked being in the hospital for too long. Apparently, she had finally rested enough for his liking, because he didn't protest when she started to walk beside him. She hesitated for a moment when she recognized where he was leading her: back to the Uchiha Compound. Her eyes widened for a moment, and she stopped dead in the middle of the road.

He turned around to see why she had stopped. "Coming?" He asked, expecting her to follow. With that, Sakura realized he was silently asking her to stay with him again. This was probably just as well, because Sakura really hadn't looked forward to going back to her cold apartment, remembering the few nights she had spent there and had reached across the bed to Sasuke only to find he wasn't there.

She thought that it was going to be a little awkward for the first few days, but they slipped back into old routines easily enough. Really, the only thing different was that their dinner had been a little quiet. Sakura took the first shower, scrubbing her hair with shampoo and conditioner, and winced when she realized that she should have probably left more hot water for Sasuke. She got dressed in some of his clothes, as she had taken all of hers with her to her apartment when she'd moved out.

Sakura offered to finish cleaning the dishes from dinner while Sasuke showered, and the cleaning motions were a little soothing. The truth was, she had no idea where she and Sasuke stood. True, he had been more…attentive over the last few days, but Sakura just attributed that to her being alive after a few heart-wrenching moments when everyone thought she had died. And, it wasn't like the rest of her team hadn't been there over the past few days. Naruto had stayed in her hospital room until they had kicked him out.

But with Sasuke, it was a little different. His attentiveness was more obvious because he was normally so stoic. And, of course, there was the little fact that he used to be her owner—

All thoughts flew out of her head as a thought came to mind, and the dry plate in her hand slipped from her fingers and clattered back into the soapy water in the sink. Back when she had woken up in the shower with him, he'd said, "Look at me," and there wasn't…there hadn't been…

Dropping everything, Sakura raced to his room. She heard the shower still running and began pacing until he got out. When that took awhile, she sat down on the bed and tapped her foot, wringing her hands. Finally, he came out of the bathroom. She thanked the heavens he was completely dressed.

"Hey Sasuke." She said, calling his attention to her. "Order me to do something."

He lifted one eyebrow at that. "Why?" He asked, running a hand through his damp hair.

"I want to see something."

He rolled his eyes a little, but nevertheless said, "Sakura, come here."

A few moments went by and Sakura blinked from her position on the bed. There was nothing. No tug inside of her to respond to him. There was nothing even special that happened. It felt like it could have been anyone asking her to come to them. It didn't feel like it was coming from an…owner. Most importantly, there was no shock of pain when she failed to comply.

She gaped for a minute before she felt her eyes get a little glassy. She stood up excitedly, looking at Sasuke who had both eyebrows raised now. "Do it again!" She practically squealed.

"Come here."

Sakura's smile widened when, again, there was no reaction to his obvious command. She could barely believe this was happening! "I'm free…" She breathed out, barely able to contain her excitement. She wasn't bound to Sasuke anymore!

She didn't notice how close Sasuke had gotten until he lifted her chin with a finger. "And if I still want you to be mine?"

Sakura's excitement stopped as her brain suddenly shut down. Her eyes widened at his question, and her stomach developed instant butterflies. Did he really mean…? There was a part of her that hoped…and then a tiny part that wondered if he still wanted her as a possession. Her eyes glanced downward at this last thought. "Be careful, Sasuke." She said. "If you keep talking like that, people are going to start thinking that you…love me."

"And what if I do?"

Her shocked eyes met his again, all coherent thought leaving her as she gaped at him. She had dreamed of this moment countless times in her childhood. She had thought about each way that he would confess his feelings to her, and for every different scenario she had the perfect response planned. Sakura had always imagined she would reply with something that would just melt his heart away, or something achingly sincere as she told him she loved him back. But she found out that none of that had helped her when it came to the real thing. Here he was, telling her he loved her, and none of the scenarios she had planned in her youth even remotely compared to the real thing. She imagined that she would get all excited, but the actual reaction was so much more powerful than that.

She felt loved. Suddenly, she wanted to belong to him again. She wanted to spend every night beside him, wrapped in his arms. She wanted to be here…with him and no one else. There was no one else. There was only him, and there would only ever be him. The way he looked at her right now was so intense, and there was no rational thought in her head. She just knew what her answer was, what it had been since the beginning.

"Does that mean," Sakura asked, collecting herself. "That you belong to me, too?"

It was the first time Sakura had ever seen him truly smile. "Yes." He said. "That's exactly what it means." And he didn't give her a chance to respond to that, because he tilted his head downward and kissed her gently. She had always imagined that he would kiss her passionately at this moment, but she found that this meant so much more. The heat rolled down her spine, and the gentleness from the kiss didn't stop her heart from speeding up. His hand cradled her jaw and the other hand came to rest at the small of her back pulling her closer to him, and she shivered, drawing her hands up his chest and around his neck. Her knees went weak, but that didn't stop her from kissing him back.

They broke apart, and Sakura eyes blinked open languidly as she felt both of his arms around her, holding her to him. None of the fantasies she had ever concocted had been even remotely close to the real thing.

"When did you…"

"When you told me you were leaving. I almost made you stay."

"I really hate to say this," she began, "but it's probably for the best that you didn't. I really hate everything that happened, but…"

"You're free." He finished for her.

"Not anymore, apparently." She joked, and smiled widely at him. "But make no mistake, Uchiha Sasuke…" she leaned in close to his ear. "You are mine."

He pulled back and gave her a scrutinizing look. "Are you sure you don't remember anything from the night you got drunk?"

Sakura tensed in his arms. "What did I do?" She half screeched. "Damn it Sasuke, tell me!"

She went very, very still when he started to smirk, his gaze turning into something wicked and predatory. Her heart started to beat faster, and she realized that no part of this relationship would ever be boring. "I think…I should show you instead." Sasuke said, and he gave her that passionate kiss that she had always fantasized about.

And Sakura thought that, just maybe, belonging to him again wouldn't be so bad. She would always be his, and this time, he was hers.





The End





Author's Notes: Before you do anything else, go listen to the reprise of "Love is a Song" from Bambi. It is just beautiful, and it is the perfect ending, even more so than I could write. Thank you so much to everyone. I appreciate your enthusiasm, your critiques, your demands for me to keep going…all of it has been a wonderful part of this experience, and I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I loved writing it. Again, thank you.

As promised, here is a sneak preview to my new story, which is coming very soon.

Love and in War

Chapter 1: Once Upon A Time

The news that the Prince of Konohagakure was coming had been the most exciting announcement since the end of the war. The gossip spread like wildfire and no one was immune. The first I'd heard of it had been due to the televisions at the bar I worked at, which were always tuned to either news or sports. Since the start of the war, the news had been popular. Now that the war was over, I was slowly getting back my knowledge of which football teams were going into the semi-finals.

I'd first seen him on that screen. He had been walking along the army base with his Captain, who was a lanky man with silver hair. The Prince was in full military uniform looking as polite as he could having a camera follow his movements, but I could detect a subtle agitation in his eyes. Seeing him for the first time, I nearly spilled a pitcher of beer all over a table of college frat boys. I hadn't grown up with a television, so the most I'd heard about the Konoha Royal Family had been word of mouth. They said he was handsome, I just didn't expect obsidian pools to be able to pull me in across a television set of all things. I could only imagine what meeting him in person would be like. The thought alone makes me shudder.

Of course, living in an all-girls dorm makes me all too aware of when he is visiting. I have seen girls get their hair cut, their nails done, and their legs waxed just in case they happen to meet the Prince. There was no solace in my own room since my roommate was practically obsessed with him. In fact, he was coming so that he could be given medals for his bravery in the war, and Tayuya was already planning to be outside the ceremony hall if she somehow couldn't sneak in. I have even seen her skip classes while she goes shopping for new clothes. I want to tell her she's being silly, that there will be tons of security around him since he's in a foreign country, but she will probably say something nasty and I would like to avoid that particular conflict.

Prince Sasuke had already arrived in the country, so she was constantly online trying to see where he was staying. I rolled my eyes at her when she wasn't looking. Personally, I thought the whole obsession was a little stupid. He is just a human, no matter what title he has. He may be royalty, but that doesn't really mean that his life is worth more than anyone else's. I'll give him my respect—I figure he's earned it since he's actually fighting in wars as opposed to being pampered all the time—but I won't treat him like some god.

Of course, that was before I'd seen him the first time. I'll admit that I didn't expect to feel the magnetic pull of attraction—I thought I was above all those other girls—but I could see why they were so obsessed. Still, my mind reasoned, he's just a person. No matter how attractive he is.

Behind the bar's usual weekday chatter, I listened to the local football team lose while hefting a pint of beer and chilled glasses on a tray. Hidden Sound was the only place I could get a job. I figured this was because my exotic colorings would likely bring more customers, which it did and my supervisor had been thrilled. Truthfully, I would rather work anywhere but here, since the fact that people thought I was foreign got me hit on twice as much. I was sick and tired of restraining myself from smashing dinner plates over customers who got a little too hands on. Though admittedly, this was one of the cleanest bars in Oto that I could work at. If possible, the rest of them seemed even seedier.

The first thing that I was going to do when I had money was to leave the Land of Rice Fields for good. I really wanted to go to Konoha, but anywhere else would be fine. The air in Oto was stale and smelled like prison. But I would be stuck here for a while. After I got my undergrad degree in Biology, it was off to Otogakure University's med school. OU wasn't my first choice, but it was the only one that I could afford with my own wages and the money I'd inherited when my parents died.

I forced out a smile as I took orders from the next table, my fingers twitching when a hand purposely brushed mine when the customer handed me his menu. This job doesn't pay enough, I thought.

I clocked out of Hidden Sound at nine, stretching a little when I felt the bonds of work release me. I walked out of the side entrance and breathed in a little of the fresh air, wincing as I smelled the taint of the city along with it. Nothing could ever compare to the crisp air of the country, but since I wasn't returning to my hometown I'd better get used to it.

I walked out of the small alley and onto a street that would lead to the main road, tugging the white fitted shirt of my uniform to cover more of my body as I did so. This street was quiet, much quieter than it ever is on the weekends. Downtown Oto was miserable on the weekends, as college kids and businessmen all took the time to drink and party. It was actually safer walking around on those nights, because the police were always around looking for disorderly conduct. On a Wednesday night though, the streets were quiet as most of the businesses closed for the night. I had to walk with my head high and ignore the human shadows lurking in the corners, steeling myself to look like I wouldn't be afraid to fight back if need be. No one would be around to hear me scream. Of course, the citizens of Oto tended to turn a deaf ear onto cries of help.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed by arm and forced my back against the side of a brick building. My teeth rattled and I forced my head forward so that it couldn't bounce off the wall and possibly give me a concussion. The pressure on my arm eased a little and I finally snapped open my eyes to look at my attacker. Or rather attackers, as I found out. There were three of them and it wasn't really hard to place them. They were known well enough that even I knew of them, and that was purely by the rumors that floated around.

Their leader, Abumi Zaku, stood in the middle with a smirk on his face. One hand was on his hip and the other had just let go of my arm. His dark eyes regarded me with wicked amusement, like someone taking glee out of torturing a bird in a cage. His two favorite lackeys stood on either side of him. Dosu wrapped in bandages as usual and Kin looking like she had better places to be.

The Abumi gang…

Of course, ask any of the aristocracy and they'd tell you that Abumi Zaku and his friends had just formed a group. Not a gang, just a group of friends who hung out together in the city. Ask anyone else and they'd tell you that the Abumi gang was a deadly force to be reckoned with, and it was better not to cross them if you valued all of your body parts. They all wore light jackets, which was surprising for the exceptionally warm weather. Though when I finally saw the gun bulges under those jackets, I was surprised behind a wall of cold chills. They were known for hand to hand fighting, specifically their viciousness during the fights. I'd never heard of them carrying guns before. Not that they ever got caught. The Abumi family was well connected, with Zaku's own father being a Councilman with friendly ties to the Otokage.

"Look what we caught on our turf, guys." Zaku said, grinning wickedly. "Poor little girlie must be lost."

"Ugh. Just take her money and let's go." Kin said, more interested in her nails than she was in me.

"Don't be like that, Kin." He said and the woman shot him a glare. "Fine, fine." He reached for the pockets of my black shorts and I slapped his hands away once he got uncomfortably close.

"I don't have any money." I told him. It was the truth, since everyone knew it was just stupid to carry a purse or wallet downtown. Pickpockets were everywhere, and you couldn't even cross the street without someone trying to steal money from you. I never brought any with me, since I didn't need it. I went straight to work from my dorm and then straight back to my dorm after work. I didn't need money. I kept my ID in my back pocket and buttoned the pocket, but that was all.

Kin regarded me with disgust, but Zaku only worked harder. "No money? I guess we'll have to teach you what happens to people who don't pay up."

His hand reached for me again, but higher this time, grabbing the hem of my shirt and lifting. I gasped in surprise, struggling, and Zaku clamped a hand over my mouth. I struggled harder, digging my nails into Zaku's wrist before Dosu grabbed both of my arms and pinned them above my head. Zaku gave me an, "Ah ah ah. No screaming now" and lifted my shirt higher.

I took a deep breath through my nose to steel myself for what I was about to do. I opened my mouth as much as I could, biting down on whatever skin I could reach. Zaku retracted his hand with a wince and a "bitch!" I didn't waste any time and kicked him in the groin. I watched with satisfaction as he fell to his knees cupping his privates. Dosu was watching his friend in sympathetic pain, and I'd felt him flinch after the initial hit. I took advantage of his distraction and wrenched my hands out of his, elbowing him in the cheek.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kin's fist pulled back, so I kicked her at the most vulnerable part of her pelvic bone. She doubled over and I turned back around to see Dosu coming at me again. I thrust the heel of my hand upwards into his nose—or where his nose should be, I can't really see for all the bandages—hearing the crack I was aiming for. Zaku was slowly getting up again, and I kicked the small of his back, sending him sprawling forwards.

All three were incapacitated, so I took that as my cue to run for it.

A "get her!" followed me down the street and sent horror and adrenaline racing through my veins. I turned a corner sharply, hoping to make it to the main street where there would be more traffic. I heard footsteps running after me, but it seemed like there was only one pair. They must have split up to cut me off. I tried to quiet my footsteps, but that slowed me down too much. I took another corner, racing off away from my destination. The main street would provide more traffic, but there were fewer places to hide along the streets that led to it.

I ran for what seemed like hours, my frantic mind trying to discern the best way back to civilization. I hadn't ever been to this part of Oto before, but it was closer to the center of the city. The streets were deserted around here, having fewer shops that needed to stay open this late. I couldn't even see a convenience store to get help from. This was just my luck…to be chased into a deserted part of town and not be able to get help. I didn't have a cell phone, and I didn't even have money for a payphone.

Silence surrounded me, so I took this opportunity to lean against the building next to me to rest. I was panting from all the running, and I was trying to keep my heavy breathing as quiet as possible. I was decently in shape, but being on my feet for six hours carrying pints of beer had exhausted me. I didn't hear anything for awhile, and I hoped this meant that they'd given up.

"…can't find her…back to base…" My head snapped to the other end of the street where I head a quiet voice. My body tensed, ready to run again. "Sure…bye."

I heard footsteps, and didn't bother to wait to see whoever it was. I turned and started running, eventually hearing footsteps running after me. They were quiet, which meant that they were still a couple blocks away. That was a small comfort, at least, but not enough. I tried to run faster, picking up speed and putting another block between us, looking at the road ahead and deciding on how I was going to lose them this time.

I turned the corner into a seldom-used side street and immediately crashed into a warm body. An arm came to rest around my waist and I gasped in fear. My eyes screwed shut and my hands instinctively went to his chest—there's no way the wall of muscle I ran into could be a woman—to push him away. I wasn't expecting him to let go of me easily, but I certainly wasn't expecting the arm around me to turn to iron and hold me in place. I was stronger than the other girls I knew, and even some boys, so how could I not make this man even loosen his arm even a little?

I opened my eyes and felt them glassy with unshed tears. Please don't let it be someone from Abumi's gang, I thought. Granted, he smelled better than Zaku or his lackeys had, and when my eyes focused I could see that he dressed better too. Without my noticing, my fists had clenched in a navy blue button down shirt. I slowly trailed my eyes up towards his face looking to either see my savior or my enemy. My eyes looked upwards at his pretty features until I came to two onyx orbs that I could drown in. His black hair covered some of his face, but I immediately knew who he was.

I had just run into Prince Sasuke.

Coming Soon.