A/N: I realise that #29 is more of a Team 7 fic, but there's still some SasuSaku if you squint. ;)

And #30... Before anyone asks or gets angry with me or smth, I'm not supporting Sakura's actions or making a statement about similar actions with this fic. This is just what came to mind when I approached this particular prompt. I know it's a serious issue, and I'm not trying to trivialise it or anything.

- 28. Tensai or Baka? (a fool's quest) – follows the events of # 17 - Uncertainty

She's been tracking him for nearly a month now, and she can tell that he's not in the best of health, most likely due to injuries that were infected or haven't been allowed to heal properly, but he's still Uchiha, still remarkably talented, and therefore still wretchedly difficult to locate if he doesn't want to be found.

So when at long last Sakura finally does manage to track down her quarry, it's hard to tell which of them is more surprised, the pink-haired kunoichi or the raven-haired missing-nin; it's hard to tell because neither betrays much in the way of facial expressions, each staring at the other across the clearing through ever-so-slightly narrowed eyes. A jaw might have clenched, or a hand tightened into a fist, but otherwise they are utterly motionless for the space of at least a dozen heartbeats.

Then, as if by some unspoken command, they leap forward simultaneously, chakra coiling visibly around a black-gloved fist, kusanagi crackling with electricity.

Steel rings on steel, and Sakura struggles just slightly, because the sword gives him a great deal more reach, and he's not just good he's amazing, and it's all she can do to parry his blows and take minor cuts on her shoulders and forearms and watch and wait for an opening. She still isn't as fast as he is, not nearly, but she knows his fighting style, she knows him, and that is what saves her, what evens out the playing field, because he has no idea what she's become and all the things she's learned, which ends up being enough to give her a chance to land a hard right cross on his jaw.

It's obvious that Sasuke is surprised to find himself so abruptly knocked on his ass--so surprised that he only barely keeps hold of the hilt of his sword. He simply stares at her for a moment, expression unfathomable but probably more bemused than anything else, before turning his face to the side and spitting out a mouthful of blood; and then he makes his biggest mistake. As he slowly gets to his feet, he meets her unswerving gaze straight on, something cruel and unexpectedly childish in his expression.

"You hit like a girl," he says with a condescending half-smirk.

He knows he's said the wrong thing the second the words leave his mouth, as he watches her expression harden from grim determination to simple anger. And then again maybe she is as fast as he is now, because he didn't see her move and she's already right there in front of him, fist drawn back, and he belatedly realises that perhaps he should've been using his Sharingan after all, flat black eyes widening in the brief instant before her knuckles connect with his cheekbone.

And this time, she doesn't pull the punch.

She watches with cold satisfaction as he flies backward, crashing through two trees before leaving a noticeable impression in a large boulder.

She'd hit him hard enough that she'd broken a few fingers herself (at least two); and despite the gloves and the calluses, blood drips from the inside of one of the black cuffs as she raises a hand to wipe away the perspiration beading along her upper lip.

She checks him over quickly--a few broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, lots of bruising and some splinters, along with a mild concussion from the impact, which had been enough to knock him unconscious--and snaps his shoulder back into place, though she leaves the rest of his injuries untended; then with surprising ease, she slings him roughly across her shoulders in a fireman's carry and starts off towards Konoha at full speed.

It's time for someone to make some serious restitutions.

- 29. Fire; Water; Earth; Metal; Wood (basic elements) -

When it all comes down to it, who and what they are is easily surmised by looking at their elemental inclinations.

He is Fire, he is Lightning. Once he starts burning, he cannot stop. He is swift, deadly, powerful, there in a flash and then gone, a force to be reckoned with; one strike can mean instant death.

He is Wind. He can fan the flames, he can whip it into a frenzy of sparks and spread it for miles in every direction, destroying everything in their path. He can make him stronger, but he can't stop him.

But she, she is Earth. She keeps them both grounded, and the wind breaks around her unyielding face; she is a shelter from its continuous howling. She banks the fire, keeping the flames under control, holding them closely, keeping them hot and glowing and drawing out their life long past anyone's expectations. And she is Water, healing, rejuvenating, allowing the wind a portion of her strength, and the resulting storm is powerful and terrible, but it soothes the raging flames, subduing the previously-unchecked blaze, preventing it from becoming nothing more than a tool of devastation.

Without them, she is placid, unmoving, unmotivated. She freezes, she crumbles, she is worn away.

Without her, they burn themselves to the ground. They leave burns and broken landscape and no life, nothing new in their stead.

Together, it could all balance out.

- 30. Angst (never coming back) -

It is impossible to look beautiful while lying in a hospital bed, but somehow Uchiha Sasuke almost manages it.

It is also impossible for Sakura not to stare at him, as she has nearly every day for three years.

She stands beside the bed and looks down, re-memorising features that she's had memorised since she was a very small child.

His hair still frames his face perfectly despite its lankness and dull sheen, his skin is pale and smooth and flawless as ever, and his eyelashes, long and dark, practically fan out over his well-set cheekbones. But his body is thin beneath the many blankets, once-strong muscles wasted into bare strips of sinew, all excess flesh seemingly flushed from his gaunt frame.

Sakura slowly traces a finger along his jaw, then her hand drops lower, finding his cold, limp one and fitting her own inside it in a tight clasp. Staring down at their joined hands, she swallows hard, and without really looking, does what she came to do.

She's tried every jutsu she can think of to bring him out of this seemingly permanent state of limbo, every technique that had even the slightest chance of reviving him as well as countless others that had no chance of doing so, but it didn't really matter, because they all yielded the same result: nothing.

Sasuke is not dead, but neither is he truly alive, for there is not the smallest sign of cognisance, not barest glimmer of awareness. Utterly and completely unresponsive.

Irreversible coma. Somatic death. A hopeless case.

But in spite of this diagnosis, Sakura has stuck by him. Blind optimism or misguided love or whatever the motivation, she has defended his very existence on many occasions. She's cut his hair and cleaned him, visited him, talked to him, discussed all sorts of matters large and small with him, and always he is uncharacteristically willing to listen, and not-so-uncharacteristically silent.

But it's been three years now, and there has never been the faintest flicker of life, or sentience, never the slightest indication that there is anything left of his soul, and Sakura has at long last come to realise the awful, painful truth:

It is just a shell. And Sasuke is never coming back.

She's here now, and she's going to do this, because it's not the shell that she loves, it's the person who was once inside that shell; but he's gone now, vanished or lost or destroyed, and she knows that all that's holding him back is the weight of that abandoned casing that he once filled with such life and power and grace.

It is cruel to force him to remain with her any longer, a selfishness, an indulgence that she will no longer allow herself; so while her right hand remains in that firm, one-sided grasp, her left wanders, fumbling across buttons and dials until it rests, trembling, on a particular panel. She pauses, not quite hesitating, swallows hard, and then that unsteady hand obeys her will.

After that, it's easier. Tubes and cords and needles are pulled and ripped and torn away like wrapping paper--no, like an eggshell, because this is another sort of birth. The various machines wail out electronic shrieks of protest and warning, all the readouts flatline, but Sakura doesn't even doesn't even look at them. Jerking one final cord from the wall silences them all, and as she turns back to survey her handiwork, Sakura learns (for the hundredth time, it feels) that sometimes it is very hard to be merciful and selfless.

She smoothes his hair down one last time, pressing her palm to his face as his skin slowly grows cold. Tears run freely down her own face, but she suddenly smiles through them, then closes her eyes, tilts her head back and forces herself to laugh. It is a halting, broken noise that is scarcely recognisable for what it is meant to be, but it is a laugh nonetheless, and mingling with the straining, choking sound of sorrow and regret are hints of fulfillment, and of relief.

It grows stronger and fuller, until she is not truly sure whether she is laughing or crying, but the feeling of release flooding through her is even thicker than the tears pouring down her cheeks.

Grief scrabbles for purchase, anguish tries to force its claws into her, but she pushes both away for now. There will be time for them later: all the time in the world.

Right now, she can only look up, can only permit herself to be happy.

Because she has finally, finally succeeding in letting Sasuke go.

And he had wanted so badly to be free.