I'm literally leaving for vacation in three hours, so I wanted to put this up. Sorry it's short, but I LOVE YOU ALL and I will be back in a week -ish. Please read and review.


Chapter Two: Shattered Porcelain

"Get him inside this instant!"

"Karin, if he wants to be left alone, then respect him and let him be," Juugo snapped, glaring at her with passionate annoyance.

"Ah, let her go bother him. Next time his aim will be true and we'll have a souvenir–"

"Are you implying that Sasuke–kun would even dream of hurting me?"

The men rose their eyebrows in unison; evident amusement. Karin rolled her eyes and adjusted her black glasses, turning away from them with a stomp and folding her arms.

"You'd better get some sleep, Sasuke–kun!" she called to the window, wide open, curtains dancing on a warm, end–of–summer breeze that filled the room with a distinct calming aroma. Unfortunately, it did not affect Sasuke; obsidian eyes glittering in the darkness, he glared at her out of the corner of his eye from the branch on which he sat, perched like a restless predator.

"Tch, you're not his mother," Suigetsu chastised. Tossing his head and adopting a feminine tone with a familiar expression, he whined, "Eat your vegetables, Sasuke–kun, get to bed at a decent time, Sasuke–kun, ravage me in my wet dreams, Sasuke–"

Juugo stepped nimbly aside as a flurry of kunai whistled through the window and pinned Suigetsu and Karin to the wall behind them. Karin seemed overcome by shock while Suigetsu erupted into untoward gales of laughter, doubled nearly to the ground as his companion grimaced, removing the knives from the drywall one by one. When finished, she quite predictably, kicked him in the ribs.

"You...bastard," she hissed, hands resting on her hips as she bent her tall frame over him and snarled. "Look what you did, you pissed him off!"

Juugo glanced at the arguing couple and sighed heavily, shoving his hands into his pockets as he crossed the room and quietly climbed into the windowsill. Folding his arms, he rose his head to gaze silently up at the slightly swaying branches where his leader sat, stiff and lost in thought. So calm and collected on the outside.

His insides were a ranting, raving, guilt–ridden mess, and he was so well at disguising it that no one would notice. Just as he liked it.

"Sasuke."

Without blinking, the Uchiha turned his head slightly and gazed down at Juugo, whom watched him carefully through strangely piteous eyes. Other than this minimal gesture, Sasuke did not acknowledge him further.

"Sorry," Juugo began, the single word coming out blunt, loud, and awkward in the stillness of the night. An unusual, unwarranted, and unexpected gesture, to apologize the things that, even if they were the problem, could not be fixed. "About them," he elaborated, jerking his head towards the room where loud screeches could still be heard, along with occasional thumps of overturned furniture.

"Used to it." Sasuke's reply was abrupt and clipped in syllables and tone. It was true; it was all too familiar.

"NARUTO!" Sakura screeched, bringing back her well-used fist to shove his blonde head into the table. "That's no way to act around a girl that actually likes you! USE YOUR HEAD!"

Naruto turned his head to the side, his pathetic retaliation muffled into the wood. "I know, Sakura–chan, I wasn't expecting her to ask me, but I want to go with her, of course I do!"

"Then you'd better make it up to her, damn it," Sakura retorted forcefully, releasing her frighteningly powerful grasp and shaking her head at him, exasperated. "Do something nice for her; you're not completely stupid, I hope?"

"Of course not!" Naruto protested, throwing up his arms in an admittedly helpless gesture. "But I need to know what she likes–"

"If you continue to act like a spaz, Naruto, she may have second thoughts."

Sakura stifled a giggle at the blonde's misfortune and socked Sasuke gently in the arm, smiling almost wistfully. She reprimanded the dark–haired man with a tender tone, "Sasuke–kun...now now...obviously, she's attracted to that."

Sasuke snorted derisively in reply, raising an eyebrow as if to say "And you? You find that tolerable?"

Answering his silent question, she said quietly, "Tolerable, but not my forte."

"I don't mean to be nosy," Juugo began, in a voice barely above a loud whisper; Sasuke cut him off.

"Don't."

Taken aback, his companion fell silent.

For only a moment.

"I've never seen you act that way."

The Uchiha stiffened, but did not choose to reply.

"It worries me–"

"It is not your job to do so," Sasuke interrupted coldly.

"I presume it was someone you knew...when you were younger?"

Tense. Inhale. Crimson eyes glinted in the thick darkness, catching, for a fleeting moment the lamplight from inside. Juugo recoiled slightly; he knew the power all too well, but set his jaw and continued.

"Former team, right? I've heard of Uzumaki Naruto."

"Congratulations," Sasuke spat, words weighted with sarcasm.

"There was a girl."

"Shut up."

"You said her name."

Head whipping around, those bloody eyes sent waves of paralysis through the taller man, crouched double in the windowsill. With a shaking hand he clutched the whitewashed sill and steadied himself as the sensation subsided, the furious stare lingering obstinately.

"Once," Juugo dared to say under his breath. "You didn't think we'd heard."

He was a statue. Necessary breaths refusing to commence, adrenaline pounding through veins in every limb and still he did not move, did not so much as twitch. The single syllable cut through the air as easily as his kusanagi, an acute whistle of movement and of tone.

It cracked.

It broke.

It was a giveaway.

"Go."

--

Break me please, break me please.

You have her, (don't break her),

You'll hurt her (don't harm her),

Take mine, this tainted soul,

Instead.

--

He obeyed his master.

Leaving a being so frigid on the outside, so pathetic, lonely, and deprived on the inside.

He left him sitting upon the branch, asking a mind that had no answer, asking

Why did he take her?

What is he doing?

Why?

Why?

Why?


Reflections often illustrate the cruellest pictures, to view in full glory as a truth that is best left unsaid.

Her own, labeled innocent and beautiful and all of the above, existed as a paradox. Lies.

What innocence?

I'm a lie.

Raising her hands from their clutching convulsions at the sides of the ivory basin, she spread her fingers apart and stared at them with unnaturally cold eyes. Shaking. Those tendons that made her fingers were not strong, they never would be, and adorned even in those black gloves, she could see how little her hands were.

Few times, there had been, when he had taken her delicate hand in his. Needy. Grasping. Touch.

Here she was, standing at his brother's side and still, there was nothing she could do about it.

Shaking her head, she whispered. "No. This isn't for him. This is for the child."

"Your motives do not sound clear, girl."

Stiffening, Sakura raised her eyes to the mirror and remained unnaturally rigid as he loomed over her, watching her through desolate, black tunnels.

"Itachi."

"You."

He never used her name.

"I still find it fairly amusing that you hope to accomplish anything by coming along with me."

"I don't want–"

"Yes, the child, I have heard."

She sunk her teeth into her bottom lip as his hand carefully rested on her shoulder, his gesture too gentle, too unexpected, too-

"AUUGH!"

Clinging to slippery porcelain with painted fingernails, she was unable to suppress her cry of pain as his hand passed across the back of her neck. A dull sound echoed off the tiles of the ebony-tiled floor.

Running his fingers through her hair, he grasped the back of her skull with powerful fingers and without hesitation, slammed her face into the shallow ivory basin. Blood spurting across the mirror.

Her hated reflection.

"Don't hope," he hissed, lowering his lips to her ear, listening to her struggle to catch her stolen breath, watching, with satisfaction, the crimson streaked across the once untainted sink. "I will never love you."

"Oh, I know," she replied in similar fashion. Seething, blinking tears from her now bloodshot eyes.

Slamming her porcelain, tear-stained face against it again. Listening to her nose break.

"But...dear girl...will you ever love Sasuke again?"

Swallowing, she surveyed his looming profile, almost a flickering shadow, in the mirror.

Her answer was brittle and muffled through the swollen mess that was her face.

"Never."


He knew they were talking about him.

He could see them huddled in a corner booth, under one dim light and sitting upon weak-springed cushionswith their heads together in a way that illustrated, quite clearly, the severity. The importance.

They knew he was coming, and sprang away from each other in a fierce panic, the damage already done but perhaps not solidified in such a way that Sasuke would remember it.

He could recall memories as vivid as a movie. Chances were, he would remember this too.

Eyes, three pairs, stared him down as his boots echoed ominously across the dusty floor, soaked with sake, piss and other assorted bodily fluids that were supposed to be cleaned after hours. Again, chances were the cleaning maid was having sweet nothings whispered in her ear by a drunken mess with a wife and three children at home, was being groped in a dark closet or a dark room in the very inn that secured her profession.

Karin was easily distracted; Sasuke was shirtless.

"Sasuke–kun!" she exclaimed, only a hint of guilt in her expression and demeanor; her possessive fangirl personality kicked into overdrive. "Sit down, are you all right, you want a–"

"So even a girl that licks my boots has the gall to talk behind my back?" he inquired, his tone silky, minacious. Undoubtedly dangerous. "Move."

Karin adopted an expression appropriate of one that had just been smacked across the face with a saucepan, but had the sense to edge away from him and granted him room to sit in the corner.

"Look, ah," Suigetsu began, leaning closer to Sasuke with the intent of keeping the conversation quiet; Sasuke glared at him. There was no conversation. Juugo stared Suigetsu down, until he desisted, huffing.

"My personal life is none of your concern." Keeping his eyes upon the table in front of him, he clenched his jaw slightly in the dim, flickering light emanating from the simple chandelier above. "And it will remain so. You all have a job to do. That is the reason I brought you together."

Each teammate raised his (or her) head to meet his eyes, and tense seconds passed as he stared into each in turn.

Slowly, they nodded with newfound resolve.

Oh, and then it was broken, the silence that would have ended the night on a semi peaceful note, shattered.

"WHAT D'YA MEAN THERE'S NO ROOMS LEFT? WE'VE BEEN TRAVELING FOR HOURS!"

Sasuke rose his head.

Companions fell away as they locked eyes on each other. Across an empty room with little light to fall upon the less than dramatic, unexpected reunion.

Obsidian. Cerulean.

Wide with impalpable emotions.

And of all the memories that played before his eyes, Sasuke remembered a vivid one that made him shake, made him want to tear that former teammate, that could-have-been-friend, apart.

"Protect her when I can't, Naruto..."

Failure. His one request, unfulfilled.

"Promise me."

"You failed."