Warning: there's violence and sexiness in this chapter.

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Naruto is not mine, unfortunately.

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I couldn't remember much when I woke up of what had occurred before I blacked out, except the feeling of pain both physically and emotionally. When my eyes slid open, crusted over and aching from sleeping so long, I found a medic leaning over me changing the bandage around my upper chest with as little care as if he were scrubbing the dirt off his shoes.

When he was done, I lay there piecing everything back together with a growing sense of doom as my chest burned and my lungs struggled to take in air. I would've taken deep breaths to calm myself had it not hurt so damn much. I would've jumped up from the makeshift cot and gone to find Itachi had it not hurt so damn much. And then I looked over and found Sasuke staring at me from the other side of a cot with another prone body on it.

"Sasuke," I croaked, but he didn't move. I would've thought time was frozen had he not blinked and his chest moved with deep breathes. It was nearly unbearable to move but I managed to get up onto my elbows, my entire upper body shaking with the effort as sweat beaded every inch of my skin. I couldn't do more than that, couldn't sit upright or get to my feet to reach him so I whispered, "I'm so sorry," like it could make things right.

At that point I expected him to say something, to yell or scream or curse at me, to have some reaction so we could move forward and I could explain myself and he could eventually forgive me, but he just stood and walked out of the tent. I felt like I wanted to cry, but I'd become so hardened that the tears didn't come. I fell back heavily against the cot and focused through the black spots dotting my vision. The air smelled of blood, both old and new, dirt and death. I observed the other beds when my vision cleared, looking for signs of movement in each body with a feeling of emptiness. It didn't matter if they lived or died because eventually they'd have to get back out to the battlefield, unless I somehow stopped this war beforehand.

My eyes finally found Itachi's bed and I stared long and hard at the way his chest rose and fell with the smallest of movements. He was alive, but I didn't know the details. If I fell asleep, would he still be there when I woke? I could feel the exhaustion setting in, the emotional stress using up all my energy, and kept my eyes on Itachi until they closed and I drifted off.

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I was floating above the trees, taking in the carnage with a growing scent of guilt. The metallic scent filled the air, even this high up, and I felt anger fill the remaining space in the hollowness in my chest.

For one split second, right when I realized I was flying rather than floating, pure amazement overcame me and I stared up at the sky above. The clouds seemed so close now, within reach, and maybe I could've tested that theory if I'd been able to control this body rather than see through its senses as the dream played out.

There was a black spot up ahead, an oddity smack dab in the middle of the lush green forest, and I sped up. The smoke slammed into me like a wall and I landed in the middle of a newly formed field that was still on fire at the edges. Something crunched underneath my feet and I tried not to look down because I was sure it wasn't tree remains. What lay dead in this area had once had heartbeats.

I searched for something, eyes scanning frantically among the charred remains. The blood pounding in my ears settled slightly and I could hear the noises of the dying, half burned to death and yet still clinging to life. I didn't know which side they came from, couldn't tell from the crispy sigils and destroyed armor, but it was better that way. Each soldier I passed who was still alive, still moving in some way, I kneeled down and put out of his misery. I knew where the heart was, knew how to aim for it through the space where the armor didn't cover below the arm. Quick and painless, the most I could give them.

I was nearly to the other side of the fire-made clearing, unable to get to every soldier who lay dying, when I saw him. He was just on the other side of where the fire had ended, obscured by a tree with green moss slightly burnt. I could only see his shoulders from where he sat on the other side of the tree, facing away from the carnage he'd created, but I knew in my gut it was him.

My feet broke into a run. The pounding in my ears was back and it echoed through my body.

I came around the tree, dropping down onto my knees and skidding to a stop in front of him. My eyes took in his rough form, the barely there movement of his chest as it weakly rose and fell, the badly burned side of his neck that disappeared down under his singed armor, the blood running down his temple, the hazy look in his eyes.

"I didn't mean to kill them," he whispered weakly, eyes nearly rolling into the back of his head. "But I had to hold them off."

"Shh, it wasn't your fault," I tried to reassure him as I palmed his cheek. "Hold on, we'll get you to a medic."

He shook his head slightly. "You have to get to Orochimaru."

I frowned, tears in my eyes. "No, I'm staying here."

His hand caught mine, pulling it away from his face. "No, you need to stop him or else more people will die than..."

Than you? I wanted to ask but I couldn't find the words. I shook my head.

"I'm staying here with you."

"It's too late," he told me and pulled his other bloodstained hand away to reveal a large gash across his stomach.

I sobbed then, hating that I could heal myself but not him, hating that I was still alive while he was on his way out, hating that if I lived through this I'd be alone. Holding one hand over my mouth to keep from screaming, I looked him in the eye and nodded. I bit my knuckle when he asked for my dagger.

"I need you to," he said as he looked me in the eye. "I can't wait here to..."

"Please don't," I pleaded even as he wrapped his fingers around mine and led the dagger to his ribcage. He winced as the tip pressed into his skin after he'd unfastened a section so it'd fit through.

"I love you," I said through shaking lips, trying to remember every little detail about him in our last moment. My fingers ghosted along his hairline and down his temple, palm finding his dirt and sweat smeared cheek softly like I was afraid to break him. I leaned forward to kiss him, struggling to keep my lips from shaking and failing miserably as I ignored the taste of blood and tears. "I will always love you, you know that."

He nodded and smiled weakly, eyes roaming my face hungrily. "And I will always love you, Sakura."

I knew he wanted it quick, without warning, as I would've wanted it, so I closed my eyes and pushed the dagger in with a steady arm. I flinched when he gasped and then let out his last breath, whispering a quiet 'thank you, Sakura' as his body sagged. I let go of the dagger, leaving it in its place, and sat back on my heels for a moment to catch my breath, eyes still squeezed tightly shut. Then I got up and stumbled further away from the clearing, letting my wings unfold and carry me into the sky. When I felt I was high enough, I opened my eyes and stared ahead.

Without thinking, I turned into the direction of where Orochimaru was to finish this. It would be the end for both of us, I'd make sure of that.

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Sasuke wasn't there when I woke next, but Itachi was. He was still asleep but when I asked one of the medics how he was doing, I was told he was doing better than he had been two weeks ago. He'd even woken a few times, barely coherent but still it was an improvement.

My body started to ache with the amount of time I'd remained bedridden and so after lunch when the medic that usually tended to me left the tent to take his own lunch break, I put my feet on the ground and stood up shakily. My vision went fuzzy for a moment with the sudden rush of blood throughout my body and I hunched over slightly to lessen the pain of the scabbed over wound stretching, but it didn't stop me from leaving the opposite side of the tent. The fresh air filled my lungs, only with a hint of smoke rather than the metallic tint of the wounded. I took in as deep a lungful as I could and took a long stick from one of the woodpiles to help me walk. My wound didn't hurt as much as it had a couple days ago but it still ached if I didn't hold still.

At a painstakingly slow pace, I made my way through camp searching for my section. The day was hot, more so than usual, or maybe it was the exertion I was putting on my body as I took one step after another and another. Once I started seeing familiar faces, I moved slower as my comrades stopped to talk to me, to pat me on the back and ask how Itachi was. I realized too late that my hair was in plain view and the word spread fast. People started to gather around, following me, whispering and asking me things. My surroundings blended one into another and I stumbled along searching for something else, something I couldn't put a finger on until I realized words were coming out of my mouth.

"Has anyone seen Choji?" people from my section shook their head and I started to move faster, more frantic. I could feel the tears building in my throat, my windpipe cutting off, but my eyes stayed dry. I hated that I couldn't mourn properly for a lost friend, that I couldn't shed the tears he deserved. But then I shook my head because he wasn't gone yet, not until someone could confirm it.

Feeling out of breath and extremely tired, I settled down against a tree and watched people pass as I searched for that one familiar face. Each and every one of them looked at me. There were different emotions on each face: hope, sadness, anger, more hope, surprise, disbelief, wonder, more anger. None of them approached though. I was the plague.

This happened for the majority of the remainder of the day. One of my comrades stopped and did a double take before hurrying off. He came back with some food, handing it to me without a word. He may have been brave enough to help me, but there was no way he was going to stay and strike up conversation when someone might see.

I gave him an encouraging smile to show I understood and thanked him as a way to show him he could leave if he wanted. He left to go sit with some friends and didn't look my way again. I slowly ate to save the little food I had. The combination of being asleep for so long and healing made me feel like my stomach was a mile long hole that would never be filled. If I'd been up and moving or fighting, I would've been able to ignore it but my sudden lack of activity gave me plenty of time to think and notice how crappy I felt.

It was pitch dark before I knew it. I didn't want to go back to the medical tent where I'd have to face a silent Sasuke and an unconscious Itachi. I was tired but I couldn't figure out why. It felt like all I did these days was sleep. With nothing else to do and no one else to talk to, I quickly found myself falling asleep. It didn't matter that I'd pointedly left the medical tent because when I woke up again the next morning, slightly groggy and disorientated, I found myself back on the cot I'd spent the past two weeks on, sleeping and waking and sleeping again.

I didn't have to look far to know who'd done it. Sasuke sat there with his back to me, but his shoulders stiffened when he heard me moving around like he was trying to keep from turning around. And so, our routine began.

Each afternoon, I'd find a way to slip out of the medical tent without anyone noticing. At first it was more to move around rather than sit in bed all day, but then I found myself asking around for Choji more and more frantically as the hours passed and the sky turned from blue to red to black. As my energy drained, I'd find some food and then a place to settle down and would eventually fall asleep only to wake up again in the medical tent, Sasuke's back in the corner of my eye. Sasuke would always find me, especially after everything that'd happened, so I always let myself fall asleep instead of trying to put up a fight. This was his silent way of taking care of me while also being angry at me and it was the least I could do to try and make him feel more in control.

This went on for a week before I woke one morning to find him staring at me, fingers steepled under his chin and his elbows on his knees.

I swallowed, throat dry and scratchy. "Are you going to talk to me now?"

He raised an eyebrow, his only indication of emotion in the past three weeks.

"What's the point? You're not going to listen."

"I am listening."

"Just like how you listened to me before when I asked you to stay behind-"

"You didn't ask me to do anything-"

"-so that you wouldn't get killed-"

"-you made the decision for me but you're not my father-"

"-because goddammit I fucking care about you."

I drew up short, forgetting my train of thought. His eyes widened for a fraction of a second before he seemed to accept what he'd said and returned to normal, staring intensely at me. There were a million and one options at that point and I could've picked any of them but my mind wouldn't work. I'd known that he cared about me but actually hearing it sent goose bumps along my skin. A rock of guilt sank in my gut because I'd known and ignored it like it didn't matter just so I could prove something. Even though I truly believed I had every right to do what I'd did, it still didn't change that fact that if I'd died it would've hurt a lot of people, Sasuke most of all.

Sighing, I put my feet on the floor and leaned forward. Our knees bumped and I placed one hand over his, unable to stop from smiling slightly when his fingers wrapped around mine. That was how it was. Being around him meant constantly being surprised by my own emotions. I couldn't control them, couldn't control being sarcastic with him and argumentative when he said something stupid and wanting to jump him. The list went on and on and I was okay with that even though it was foreign and slightly scary.

"It seems we're at a stalemate," I finally said after a few moments. "My decisions are my own to make."

Sasuke opened his mouth, ready to argue, but I held up my free hand to signal I wasn't finished.

"But...I didn't take into account the effects they could have on others, including you and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I became so careless with my life. I'm sorry I didn't come find you sooner and I'm sorry I let Itachi get hurt. I'm sorry for everything, but I'm not sorry for fighting a battle that is rightfully mine. I need to be here. This is everything we've been gearing up for and it's absolutely horrible, all the blood and death, I can't even put it into words, but that's why I need to be here. I will not hide from this. I will face it, but this time I won't be alone. I know you guys will worry about me as I will you, abilities or not, and I will be more careful, as careful as I can be in war. We'll fight together, a team like we once were."

I looked up from the ground as I finished my speech. Even now I wasn't able to remember half of what I'd said because it'd come straight from inside of me, straight from my mind and my heart to my voice box.

There was a warm hand on the back of my neck between one breath and the next. I looked Sasuke in the eye and then his lips were on mine and my eyelids fluttered. I pressed forward when he tried to pull back, seeming to question if he'd done the right thing, and our teeth clashed when he went to speak.

I smiled in embarrassment but he didn't seem to mind as he tilted his head, his breath brushing across my jaw and down my collarbone, and kissed me deeper. His chest was warm under my hand and I clenched my fingers around the plain shirt in an attempt to anchor myself to him.

Someone cleared his throat behind me and I pulled away slightly, Sasuke's lower lip still caught between my teeth. I let it go as my face flared red and slid back on my cot, nearly falling off the other side with how fast I moved.

"This is the medical tent," the medic who normally took care of me said as if I didn't already know. He loomed over me with a raised eyebrow, blocking out the light from the closest opening.

"Yes, thank you," I said and watched the medic start to set down the supplies for changing my bandage.

Sasuke stood and grabbed the supplies from the bed and said, "I can do it."

The medic eyed Sasuke warily and then reminded us, "The medical tent."

When he was gone I buried my face in my hands. Sasuke started to chuckle and I glared up at him from between my fingers.

"Shut up," I warned him.

"Or what?" he asked and I balled my fist, ready to punch him in the face.

"Don't think I can't physically harm you," I said and socked him right in the ribcage. He inhaled sharply and then continued on with his work, pulling my sleeve down off my shoulder so he could get to the bandage below my collarbone.

I punched him again, slightly lighter this time, right in the hip and he glared at me. "What was that for?"

"Everything," I said with a small smile.

"Care to go into detail?" he asked.

"No," I replied and then winced as he started taking off my bandage. Even though he was gentle, it still hurt when it pulled at the tender skin around my wound.

"Son of a bitch," I ground out when he finally finished removing the bandage. I took a deep breath, the pain calming to a gentle throb. The salve they'd put on it had made the wound heal faster that I would've thought. As Sasuke applied some more, he started to talk.

"I know I can't control you, but Jesus I wish I could. I care so much about you, so fucking much I can barely handle it sometimes and with you being here now makes me more on edge. I never want you to leave my sight but I know you'll have to and I don't want you to go to battle but I know I can't stop you. Jesus, it's almost too much."

I sat there quietly, letting him talk. It was easier for him to speak his thoughts while doing something else so I didn't say anything when he applied two more coats of the salve, even though I didn't need them, and then carefully worked on recovering the wound.

When he was done, he sat back down across from me in his chair and admitted quietly, " I don't know what to do. This is all foreign to me."

I nodded my head and took his hand again without really needing to reach for it because it was already there, waiting.

"Me too, but it's better that way. We'll find the way together."

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After another week of searching for Choji, I still hadn't found him. I'd scoured every inch of the camp and was sure I'd asked every single soldier too. My heart broke more each day until I found myself wandering around camp with the irrational hope of seeing Choji somewhere in the hustle and bustle. I'd look up and see him standing there, eating and completely oblivious to me and then I'd go up to him and smack him upside the head for causing me so much worry and guilt.

But none of that happened. Instead, I was left with the horrible feeling of wanting to make something right, to be able to go back in time and change things, without being able to do so. I'd have to live with letting him die for the rest of my life.

I could feel Sasuke's presence behind me. He was far enough away to give me space but close enough to keep an eye on me. When he wasn't, Shikamaru, Ten-ten or Neji were nearby. I'd crossed that bridge a few days ago and thankfully they'd only stared hard-faced at me rather than screaming. Slowly, though, they were starting to actually talk to me again in between watching me like a hawk. Once they realized I wasn't as fragile as everyone thought, they'd calmed down.

My eyes searched for something I didn't find. I looked at him over my shoulder at Sasuke, giving him a look that said not to follow me, that I'd be okay, that I needed to be alone for a while, and he nodded back to show he understood.

My feet carried me through the camp, past the outer edges and onward. I made sure not to go too far, just past the point where I couldn't hear the camp's noise anymore, and then sat down on a small fallen tree. I willed myself to cry, to mourn for my friend, but I'd become too hard.

There was a small patch of flowers at the base of the tree and I kneeled in front of them, setting my katana at my side. I'd started wearing my armor again as a sign that I was still in this war, that I wasn't about to run away because of my near-death. If I couldn't cry, I could at least do something for him so I set to work digging a deep hole. Then, I placed my bandana in the hole to symbolize his loyalty. Even when he'd known who I was he didn't tell anyone and stuck by my side. Part of me wished I'd been able to stay by his side to protect him, but I knew I'd done the right thing by getting Itachi to the medics. Choji had made his own choice, I just wished I'd had more time to appreciate him. I knew death was a part of war, but my small world with the ones I cared about still seemed untouchable even when I told myself it wasn't. He was the first to go and it was hard to accept the fact that he wouldn't be the last. Who would be next?

I finished pushing the dirt back into the hole and then laid some of the flowers over it. Sitting back on my heels, I stared at the small makeshift grave. I tried to say a small speech in my head but my mind kept flashing back to memories of Choji. Unwilling, it started to picture his death, how he could've died. I felt nauseous at the mental image and tried to push it away but it kept coming back no matter what else I thought about.

Something itched at the back of my mind then, something that felt off. My gut twisted, tightening in on itself like it was preparing for a fight. I couldn't tell exactly what it was, but I stayed kneeling with my eyes on the ground but my ears wide open for sound. The nearly silent footsteps reached me right as the smooth touch to my mental walls did. I had no time to decide what to do. My instinct would guide me. I kept my body perfectly still even as my face flinched. Slowly, I let my mental walls down to make it seem like I was becoming weaker.

Right when she moved in, I looked over my shoulder to see her standing a few feet behind me. She thought she had full control now that she was in my mind, but I still had one surprise up my sleeve, one I wasn't sure would work.

Her black hair blended in with the quickly darkening surroundings but her silver eyes shone even in the lack of light. She eyed me for a moment and then took a step forward without drawing her weapon, seeming to deem her mental control over me sufficient.

"I've been waiting for this moment," she said, looking up at me through her eyelashes with a smirk. "I couldn't kill you before because Orochimaru still needed you, but now there's no one protecting you."

She let out a shaky breath of barely concealed excitement. And then she screamed as I slammed my walls back up, trapping her between two mental shields. It'd only been a theory when Itachi and I had talked about it, unable to test it out, but now I'd be able to tell him it'd worked.

"I..." I ground out as I slowly got to my feet, "don't need protection."

All the fear she'd caused me from the very beginning turned into anger and she saw it in my eyes. I understood she was just doing her duty to Orochimaru, but I was just doing my duty as well in trying to stop her. My palm found my katana and I pulled it from its sheath. She looked nervous for a moment, never having had to rely so heavily on combat before when she could just use her mind, but then her face hardened and she pulled out her own sword.

I could feel her trying to break free from my hold on her, but it was too much multi-tasking for her. She couldn't fight both physically and mentally like I'd been training for with Itachi. Even then, I could feel her breaking free little by little and she seemed to know it too because her efforts doubled.

The first clash of our weapons seemed to wake her up and she stumbled back after we'd pulled apart, panic clear in her wide eyes. I was taller than her, stronger, more comfortable with my sword. I'd changed since our first encounter, since she'd last seen me, since leaving for war, and she was just now realizing it. She'd had this unchanged image of me as some weak, powerless person, but what she'd failed to realize was one didn't need power to overcome someone else.

She took another step back and tried to move around a tree but caught her foot on a tangle of branches and fell to the ground. At that moment she looked younger, in her teens, than the centuries she carried. Her fight against my shields weakened, but I didn't finish her because I wanted this to end in a fight, not with me standing over her.

"Get up and fight," I commanded. "Prove to me why I'd been so afraid of you."

My words brought some sense back into her and I let her get back to her feet. She came at me with her katana, seeming to give up for the moment on freeing the part of her mind trapped in mine. She swung at my stomach and I deflected it with my own before coming in for my own attack.

I pressed my katana against her own and each moment she held off gave her more confidence. Her fight in my mind strengthened but this time she aimed inward when she realized her only choice wasn't to escape but to get to me before I killed her. I felt the sweat bead on my forehead and temples. A headache started and I yelled as I swung for her neck but at the last moment she stepped back to avoid it. She didn't expect me to use my momentum to slam my shoulder into her chest.

We tumbled to the ground I shoved her weapon away right as she broke free from my mental trap and entered my mind. I screamed loud enough to wake the whole forest as the claws that seemed to rake through the inside of my skull. My hand shook on my katana hilt as I tried to press the blade down to her neck. Her own hand was over my own, trying to keep the katana away from her skin.

Then, desperate, I placed my other hand on the other end of the blade. It wasn't as sharp as the other side but the force I put on it caused it to cut into my skin. The girl tried one last time to shear through my mind but I'd managed to reconstruct some shields and so it only left me with a skull splitting headache rather than dead on the ground with blood running from my nose.

"Please," she begged as the blade hovered an inch over her neck. There were tears in her eyes. It was the first time I'd seen her show weakness and it would be the last.

"How many people begged you to spare them?" I grunted and leaned over my katana without feeling anything but the sweet taste of victory. Sweat ran into my eyes and I realized I'd bit my lip at some point and blood was running down my chin. This was the final stretch and all I needed was...

The girl's arms gave out when the blade touched her neck, accepting her one and only defeat after living so long. The disappearance of the resistance sent the sharp edge clean into her neck. It scraped against bone and she coughed up blood, quickly suffocating.

I looked her in the eye as the silver turned a harder color, the shade of a rock in a rainstorm. Her mind slowly slipped from mine but it felt more like it was tearing than going peacefully and I was left with the remnants of one last memory.

A little girl was crying, black hair curtaining her face from the bright morning sun. It'd been so long that all these centuries later she couldn't remember what had caused her such sadness. She hated how nice of a day it was because it only made her feel worse. She wanted it to thunder and rain to match her mood.

Wallowing in her own self pity, she failed to notice the shadow that'd come to cover her. It wasn't until the person shifted a few minutes later that she looked up. Her father stood over her, hands on his hips with a mix of anger, annoyance and worry on his face.

"Why are you crying, Helena?"

"You know why," she whispered and tried to wipe away the tears but they kept coming.

Everyone always said she looked just like him with her pale skin and pitch black, straight hair. The only thing that was different was the eyes. She'd inherited her mother's silver eyes and centuries later, when she stopped calling him father and instead Orochimaru, she'd become thankful that there was still something to set her apart from the monster he'd become. And each time she realized she was becoming just like him, the side result of a daughter trying to make her father happy, she'd look at her reflection and into her own eyes to keep herself grounded.

"I am not him," she'd whisper to herself at night, warm on the outside but cold deep down on the inside. "You are not him."

I came back to my own senses to find myself staring up at the night sky. The girl's body lay motionless besides me and I got up without looking at her. I wasn't sure if it'd been an accident for me to see that one final memory or some sick joke but whichever it was, it'd left its brand.

My katana slid easily from her neck with a wet sucking sound and I managed to make it a few feet before throwing up. Then I set back towards camp without really seeing anything until someone grabbed my upper arms and I realized I'd wandered back to the medical tent.

"I can't leave you alone for two seconds," Sasuke started and then saw the look on my face and steered me into the tent without another word.

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There was a tight band inside my skull and it had nothing to do with Helena having been in my mind during out fight. It was the remnants of everyone who died, friend and foe, that built up inside me. Each death was a rock weighing me down. Even after putting Choji to rest in my mind and watching from a distance as they buried Helena's body, I didn't feel at peace.

I spent my days wandering around, trying to help where I could since I still didn't have leave to go back to battle. When I wasn't doing that I was with Itachi. He'd finally woken up but spent most of his time grumpy because he'd let someone get through his defenses and stab him. Sasuke was there most of the time except when he wasn't. He was still required to go to battle and so I sat at the edge of camp each time he left and waited until he came back with my fingers crossed and stomach in knots.

And then one morning, barely before dawn, he came riding in hunched over in his saddle with someone else leading his horse by the reins. It felt like another arrow to the chest, but this time I didn't have the adrenaline to block it out and my nerves lit up like an inferno.

I followed behind his horse to the medic tent and tried to help lower him down but got ushered aside by the men. Sasuke looked at me weakly and tried to reassure me with a small half smile but it did nothing to settle the nerves in my stomach. His face was so pale and he was so out of it that his eyes nearly rolled into the back of his head as he tried to keep eye contact with me.

"It's okay," I whispered, but I wasn't sure if it was to him or myself. "It's okay."

It was hard to keep an eye on him when we entered the tent because the medics surrounded him quickly and then his comrades made an outer circle to watch over him. I'm sure he would've wanted me there as well, but I wasn't about to fight. This moment wasn't about me, so I settled down next to Itachi's bed and watched from a distance.

What felt like hours passed, but I was used to that feeling when waiting for Sasuke. I watched the medics and soldiers move around him, gauging their body language and words. It seemed Sasuke would be fine and that the worst was the blood loss. The combination of the side wound, the exhaustion of fighting a surprise attack while returning and then the rest of the ride back had drained him completely.

"He'll be fine," Itachi said, drawing my eyes down to meet his now open ones. I hadn't realized he'd woken up but it must've been all the commotion.

I looked at him and nodded, trying to hide the sudden appearance of tears in my eyes. I didn't really understand why I was on the verge of crying when Sasuke was going to be fine, but it felt like my world was breaking slowly. Forgoing words, I simply nodded.

We sat there for another couple of minutes but I didn't feel any better as the soldiers started to disperse and the medics stopped running around. And finally, when Sasuke was left to sleep on one of the cots, I got up and moved over to sit next to him. I took his hand, wanting to cry again at how cold it was. Encasing it between both of mine, it slowly started to regain warmth.

"I don't understand, why now of all times," I said and felt the first tears fall, fighting to break past the walls I'd created since coming here. Even then I restrained myself, putting my hand over my mouth to keep any sound from coming out.

I sat with him for a while longer and then left the tent to go find a place to sleep. It was too much being in there with two people I'd come to care about recovering from wounds. Even though the ground was hard, making my wound twinge slightly, I lay down with my group and tried to fall asleep. I ended up staring at a patch of sky through the trees for a long time, hating the fact that this world could give out such powers like controlling water and fire but not make wishes on stars real.

I realized that this was the first time in a while where I'd thought about my powers. Maybe, finally, I was starting to move on, but in its place was another sadness, a deeper sadness, that was growing. As hard as it was, I could live without my powers, but without the people I cared for, I didn't know how I'd find the strength to do so.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sasuke was back up and moving the next day, once he'd eaten enough food for two and slept for nearly twenty hours. I came by to check on him when I could, but each time I saw him I felt like crying so I made up excuses of having to help this person and that person. It took him another two days to approach me on it and I hated him for it because I was still trying to rebuild my walls and regain control over my emotions. I didn't understand how I could've gone from stone-cold killing machine to crybaby in such a short amount of time and being around Sasuke did nothing to help.

When I saw him coming towards, I lost all rational thought and did the only thing I could think of, I ran. I pretended like I hadn't seen him even though we both know I had and slipped into the bustle of the camp like my life depended on nothing more than my stealth at that very moment. And in a way it did because I definitely couldn't go to battle in the state I was in now. I was too unstable, too irrational and too afraid for those I cared about.

It'd been stupid to assume Sasuke wouldn't be able to track me. It'd also been stupid to assume that slipping out of camp would be the best option for hiding.

His fingers hooked around the crook of my elbow and halted in my escape. I stopped and took a deep breath to gather myself before turning to him with a raised eyebrow.

"Going somewhere?" he asked, matching his facial expression to mine. I lasted for about a minute before my face fell and I stood there, frowning at him. I could see the dark circles under his eyes.

"Just to check on some things," I attempted the lie anyways but he didn't let go of my arm.

"There's nothing out here," he said, calling me out on my lie. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," I said. My mouth felt dry but I could feel my emotions trying to break free. It was the calm before the storm. When he still didn't let go, I tried again, "Nothing's wrong."

"Bullshit, Sakura, why are you avoiding me?" he asked and pulled me closer when I tried to step away. I didn't want to talk because if I opened my mouth I was 99% sure a scream would come out, that or a sob. I didn't want him to see me as weak because then how could I justify going back to battle. I didn't want him to see me as weak because I didn't want him to be worried and be distracted. I didn't want to admit I was afraid because then I'd have to accept that one of these days one of us might not come back and then the other would be left, alone.

"I..." I swallowed thickly and tried to think of something to say but as my eyes traveled in a straight line up his throat, over his chin, along his cheeks and to his eyes I realized we both already knew the truth and not because he was reading me like I was an open book but because he, of course, had the same fears I did and no matter how strong I was, it wouldn't change how he felt. I couldn't promise him I wouldn't die out there just like he couldn't do the same for me and we both hated that fate was out of our hands.

He sighed heavily and ran his free hand through his hand, wincing at the way it pulled at his side. "Now do you understand why I wanted to stay out of this? I don't want you to die."

"And if I'd stayed away and you never came back? It's a two way street and I'd be just as heartbroken as you," I countered in a small, shaking voice. Even though I still held some control over that part of myself, I couldn't stop the tears. I ran the back of my hand across my cheeks, not caring that the force I'd used hurt a little. It was nothing compared to this. I pulled away and he let me go. I made it a few steps and then stopped because my vision was so blurry I knew I'd trip over something.

"I don't understand, why now of all times," I whispered and pressed a hand to a nearby tree to support myself, clenching the moss as hard as I could between my fingers in an attempt to feel like I had control over something. It didn't make me feel any better. I tried to reach for the iron grip I'd had when dealing with my comrades' deaths, with Helena's death, with Choji's death, with Itachi's near death, but it was like trying to grab sand, there one moment and gone the next. The idea of Sasuke dying, of seeing it in my dreams and knowing it had actually happened, was the final push of the arrow in my heart.

We're never prepared for sadness, we can only try to deal with it after it's come and torn through everything.

I felt Sasuke's arms come around my shoulders and pull me against his body. My body was shaking but I was cold deep down in my bones and so I turned, pressing my cheek against his shoulder in the hopes of absorbing some of his body heat, but it wasn't enough. I needed to be ignited from the inside. I knew this was just another coping mechanism; I was in survival mode and my body was flipping through the options, moving on to the next when the previous one failed.

But as I caught the back of Sasuke's neck with my hand to keep him still and pressed my lips against his, I felt something click. This had to be the answer.

He didn't fight me when I broke past his teeth and touched my tongue to his. I felt his teeth against my own and then he pulled away to move his mouth across my quickly warming cheek to my ear only to find lips impatiently. We came apart and together like crashing waves and I clutched the front of his shirt to keep him close even though there was no space left between our bodies.

"Careful," I murmured as his mouth ran down my neck towards my collarbone. I stared at the branches above, felt the bark rough against my shoulders. His hands ran over my hips and then up my back, arching me into his chest and holding me tightly. I shivered even as my body warmed, to the point where I wanted nothing more than to pull my shirt off to feel the air against my skin.

Right before he reached my bandage, he switched to my other shoulder. One hand slipped under my collar and pulled my shirt away so he could reach more skin. I felt his breath as it ran down the front of my shirt and before I could register what I was doing, my fingers were at the hem and I was yanking it over my head. He only hesitated for a second before following my bra strap down with his teeth to the swell of my breasts.

I encouraged him as my palms ran under his shirt, lifting it as I felt up his stomach. He hissed when he lifted his shirt off over his head. I was careful as I ran my hands down his chest and he shuddered slightly but I didn't know if it was from the pain or the sensation of my hands. I tried to lean forward and kiss him but he pushed me back against the tree as his mouth went back to where it had left off. His thumbs ran hesitantly along the bottom edge of my bra before his palms skirted my ribs and down to clench at my hips. I thought nothing of it, or anything for that matter, until his hands came back up and once again ran along the bottom edge.

My face was buried in his hair, nails biting into his scalp, and I nodded just enough for him to feel it. I felt him reach around and undo the clasp, but he didn't pull back when it fell around my feet. He grabbed me around the thighs, hoisted me up and latched onto one nipple. I tried to get him to look up by pulling on his hair so I could kiss him because I wanted to do something as well, but he merely groaned. And then I forgot everything because his hips started moving against mine.

I started feeling that tingle between my legs but he stopped right as it started to build. He was breathing heavily and let me kiss him for a minute before he pulled back, still holding me up between his body and the tree but out of reach.

"Why'd you stop?" I asked, looking between his mouth and eyes. I felt restless as we hung in his awkward pause.

"I can't, not like this," he explained and slowly lowered me to my feet.

I crossed my arms, partly to cover myself but mostly because I was angry. "Why?"

He ran his hand through his hair and reached down to retrieve his shirt. He shook off the dirt and leaves and slid it back on carefully. "I'm not here to just fuck you, Sakura."

"Maybe that's what I want, Sasuke," I countered and then looked him in the eye, knowing it would be a low blow when I said, "This could be our last night together."

He stared at me for a long hard moment, even as he picked up my bra and held it out for me. I didn't take it immediately, but then I started to feel stupid standing there half naked while we had this argument so I quickly put it on.

I'd just slipped my shirt when Sasuke leaned down to kiss me lightly.

"Last night could've been as well and the night before that and before that but that doesn't change the fact that I care about you and I will not take advantage of you," he said firmly and then kissed my forehead. "We'll have plenty of opportunities after this is all over."

"Why can't you be an asshole when I actually want you to be one?" I grumbled but let him lead me back to camp anyways. My eyes found his back and I smiled a bitter sweet smile, torn between the knowledge of what'd happened in our last lives and trusting him when he said everything would be fine.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I went back to battle three days later. Sasuke nearly killed one of the generals for prohibiting him from going due to his injuries but I managed to talk him out of it after nearly two long hours of reassuring him. I didn't want him to come, not when he was still recovering and I wasn't ready yet to fight side by side with him. I didn't know how he'd react, how I'd react.

The ambush went routinely and I headed back without any new injuries. We were halfway back when a messenger met us along the way. A scout had spotted Orochimaru on the move, heading straight for the portal, and although we had less distance than he did, our half of the army was on a frantic march to get there first. The other half should already be there, but Orochimaru's numbers had grown considerably through the promise to cities of power and wealth and the threat of destruction.

We caught up with them that night. I was barely off my horse when Sasuke appeared, relief clear on his face. His eyes scanned me for injuries.

"I'm fine, it was routine," I told him and motioned to his side. "How're you doing?"

He shrugged. "Still not allowed to fight, but at this rate we'll reach the portal long before I'm cleared."

"What happened? Why are we in such a hurry based on what one person said? They could be lying," I said as we walked towards the medical tent. I still slept outside, and Sasuke would've too if I hadn't insisted he sleep on a cot, but Itachi was the main reason we spent most of our free time there. He was up and moving now, could ride a horse just fine, but he was still stiff as he healed and could only lift his arm halfway. He tried to help out where he could, but understood his limitations even if it pissed him off.

"He's not the only one," Sasuke explained. "Six scouts have come back with the same information. No one knows what, but something happened and he's hightailing it."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We made it to the portal in a week and a half after long days of riding from sunrise to sunset. It felt like I'd just gotten down from my saddle when I had to get back up onto it again. Part of my exhaustion came from being so tense all the time. I was dreading seeing my friends because I didn't want to know if they'd made it, and if so, if they were angry at me for going behind their backs.

That night after we had created one large line, I was sitting with some others around one of the small fires when I heard someone approach me from behind. I expected it to be Sasuke, finally giving up on the medic tent once and for all, but when I looked over my shoulder I found Ino staring down at me with a mixture of disbelief, horror and anger.

I waved with my eyes trained on the ground, ashamed, and scooted over so she could fit around the fire next to me.

"So..." Ino started barely a second after sitting down. "You're here and alive, thank God."

I inhaled deeply and then, like a balloon popping, said quickly, "I know and I'm really sorry for not telling you and putting myself in danger and please don't ask me to go back because I won't. I won't sit around while you guys are out there fighting a fight that is just as much mine as yours."

"Don't worry, I'm not here to drag you back by your hair," Ino explained. "I had to see for myself that you were okay. They told me you were, but I had to physically see you."

Her arms wrapped around me like iron and we sat there like that for a while. It didn't feel like a weight was being lifted entirely, but rather a piece was being chipped off.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

They attacked two nights later, right after the sun had gone down, as the men were serving themselves dinner. Scouts came riding in hard, blowing their horns as they came and setting into motion a frantic assembly of soldiers. Sasuke had been at my side, but shifted even closer at the sound splitting through the chilly night air.

I felt his heat and heard his breathing pick up. The adrenaline was kicking in and we both felt the energy humming in the air as we quickly suited up and headed off to meet the wall of enemies coming at us. I didn't particularly like being trapped with our backs to the water, but there was no other option.

We lined up with our comrades, five rows in and waiting for them to come down on us. It was quiet and I waited, expecting things to sped up and happen all too fast. It was something akin to an explosion of enemies appearing, but it wasn't fast. They came and we waited with held breaths as they approached, roaring to create a facade of courage, and then one by one dropped as bowmen picked them off.

They hit the first row and the formation broke. Even through the chaos Sasuke and I stayed close. It still felt weird not having Itachi at my side as well but I'd grown used to it and somewhat grateful that at least one person I cared about would live through this.

My arm quickly grew tired as my katana cut through air and clashed with other weapons and muscle but I was accustomed to it and ignored the ache. Sweat poured into my eyes and I could feel my hair clinging to my skin but I wasn't afraid because no one could tell the color without being really close. And if they got close, they were as good as dead.

I felt the heat of Sasuke's fire around me but didn't flinch away. Someone charged me from behind and Sasuke cut him down before he could raise his weapon. I caught the guy as he tried to get up from the ground and get Sasuke in the calf and then nearly got hit with a stray arrow.

Glancing up to find the shooter, my eyes found Orochimaru in the distance. He was looking around for something, for someone, and I had a gut feeling it was me. I couldn't see his face, but I could guess the myriad of emotions that'd be there: anger, hope, and hopefully desperation.

I had a split second to decide. The memory still burned in my min of my dream. Sasuke had felt so real as he died in front of me and I couldn't stand it again. I refused to let him be apart of this and run the risk of him being hurt. My feet moved in the direction of Orochimaru because there really wasn't much to decide at this point. Deep down, I'd always known I'd have to do this alone if I wanted to save everyone else.

He called my name from behind me but I ran through the crowd of soldiers as fast as I could without looking back. If any of them were following me, I quickly lost them as I zigzagged through the soldiers, blocking and parrying where I could before moving on. I climbed the hill and then raced down the other side towards the water as the soldiers thinned out to those that were dying or fleeing. How he'd managed to slip through the troops, I didn't know. How he'd managed to do a lot of the things he'd done, no one would know.

I could see them at the water's edge, waiting, him and Kabuto and his bodyguards. It would be impossible to fight them all at once but I knew Orochimaru wanted this to be his fight just as much as I did.

"She's here," one of his bodyguards murmured without turning around. Everyone remained still except for Orochimaru as he looked over his shoulder at me with a frown.

I could barely feel my chest rise and fall, I was so still like I was on a tightrope unsure of whether I'd keep it under my feet or fall.

"You knew I'd come," I said at last, breaking the silence between us even as the sounds of war roared behind me, "so let's finish this, right here, right now."

"Yes, let's," Orochimaru agreed and came at me while drawing his katana at the same time. I drew mine up to block his with more than enough time, surprised he'd come at me so slowly. As we moved, things became faster. Just as I'd finish an attack, he'd counter with his own. We went back and forth and minutes felt like hours as we traded everything from parries and deathblows to wounds. I'd nick him in one spot and he'd get me in another. I got him in the face, a long, bloody gash that ran from his temple to his jaw, but it was too soon to think I was winning. Right after that, he caught me in the ribs with enough bite to make me yelp in pain.

Throughout the whole thing, he never once used his powers like he was trying to prove something.

Neither of us would stop until our bodies couldn't physically carry on anymore. Or, as I'd feared, I'd make a mistake.

I should've known it wouldn't take long for Sasuke to find me. He dropped from the sky like a black arrow and I lapsed in judgment for one split second. It was enough for Orochimaru to draw back his fist and catch me right in the jaw. I temporarily blacked out but then I hit the ground and the world came back to me.

Sasuke was yelling, but I didn't know at who. Both of the bodyguards slammed into him from the side and he was knocked backwards, further away from me.

My katana was trapped under Orochimaru's foot and he picked it up without taking his eyes off me. I stared at the ground and then dragged my eyes up to the katana and finally his horrid face. My chest rose and fell irregularly, mirroring his own.

He came closer, but I refused to cower in fear. I had known this would happen, of course it would. He had my powers, leaving me at a large disadvantage from the beginning. I could cut him as many times as I wanted but the second I came close to killing him, he'd use them.

"It seems coming here drew you out like I wanted. Sadly, I thought you'd put up a real fight, but it seems I was wrong," he murmured with a frown, not even slightly amused like I had expected. "With the recent turn of events, I thought you'd somehow regained your powers and this would actually be a challenge but it seems you are still nothing."

I pushed myself to my feet unsteadily, bent over with one hand on my thigh to support myself. The world swam in the corners and the entire side of my face ached like a burning hot brand was against my skin. He took a step closer and I backed up, my foot submerging in the edge of the water.

"I don't need my powers to kill you." We both knew it was a lie but there was nothing else I could do at this point except exude confidence and get him to hesitate one moment. My eyes looked over his shoulder as Sasuke took out one bodyguard in a bright ball of fire. Kabuto jumped into the fray and my eyes switched back to Orochimaru as he took another step closer.

"Oh, but you do," he said and I heard movement behind me. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the water rising like a giant tidal wave. "What I don't get is how you managed to kill her...Helena."

My time was up. I was about to be drowned and I couldn't fight him off any longer to buy myself time so I looked Orochimaru square in the eye and said, "You killed her a long time ago when you stopped being her father and made her into the same monster you are. I saw her last thought before she died and she absolutely despised you. She couldn't stand to look at her own reflection because it reminded her too much that you were her father, that you'd failed at being her father."

He hesitated for a split moment, but it wasn't enough to allow me to escape.

"And you failed at being the Chosen One," he countered right before the water crashed over me. My eyes widened and my mind went blank as a searing pain erupted from my stomach. It spread up into my chest like a series of explosions, each one worse than the last. It took me a moment to realize that the pain wasn't going to go away. My hands unthinkingly clutched the wet katana where it cut through the water encasing me and pierced my stomach. I felt the symbols on its smooth, bloody surface like an old friend.

I lost my footing and breath at the same time and was dragged back into the water so fast I couldn't even scream for help. The blurry surface got further away until it was just a patch of light too far up. It was ironic, really, how the things that were supposed to save me in the end would kill me.

At least I wouldn't have to see my friends die, to see the thousands of soldiers die at the hands of Orochimaru. I wouldn't have to feel the guilt and the sorrow as others gave up their lives for me, for a war that was taking place because I had been too stubborn. For giving up their lives for a war that I couldn't win because I was too weak.

Sand whirled up around me as I hit the bottom and the momentum held me there. Eventually, my body would float back up, but I didn't have the strength or breath now to make it. Orochimaru's last words replayed in my head over and over as I lay there and waited to die. A stomach wound like this was too serious, too deadly, to hope to survive.

It was so calm down here and so silent. I was glad I couldn't hear the sounds above the surface. My lungs felt like they were going to burst. I slowly tilted my head so I could look down at my stomach with blurry vision. Red ribbons floated up from my stomach, swirling and twisting as the water swayed back and forth. Maybe, hopefully, I would drown before I bled out. I closed my eyes and I waited, my whole body on fire.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Phew, that chapter's done and uploaded! So, sadly, there is one chapter left. Gosh, it's been a long journey with this story and I know it's not everything I hoped it would be and I couldn't include everything I wanted to (for the sake of the plot), but at the same time it's more than I could've hoped for in terms of learning to write better, seeing the plot and characters progress and surprising myself with what I could do.

I hope you all have enjoyed the journey as well and I look forward to spending more time with some of my other pieces.

Thank you!