Of Fear and Women

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. That copyright belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.

I also do not own any rights to The Princess Bride, nor any references/lines attributed to it that are presented herein.

Warning: The following story contains crack! content that may not be appreciated my some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Guttersnipe's Foreword: There's a bit of angst to start this chapter out, but it'll lighten up later on, honest! Please enjoy.

Chapter 7: The Underneath the Underneath

Life sucked.

That was Sasuke's assessment of it.

There were no bright sides or saving graces. They said that every cloud had a silver lining. But Sasuke had it on good authority that those silver linings were actually mercury, which was poisonous, so when it rained, the mercury tainted the rivers and lakes, got into the fish living there, and then gave you mercury poisoning when you decided to have some sushi. And that light at the end of the tunnel? Yeah, that just meant you were dead. (Uchiha Sasuke: World Pessimism Champion, eleven years running.)

It wasn't like the movies. A woman could give you her unending devotion and claim to love you with all her heart, but that didn't mean she would be waiting for you when you finally got your act together. Sakura wasn't like Buttercup from The Princess Bride, though they were both named after flowers. She wasn't being forced to marry some evil prince she didn't love and she didn't think Sasuke was dead, as was the case with Buttercup and Westley. Sakura just didn't want to be with him.

As Sasuke lay on his bed, watching the very familiar scene of a masked Westley talking to Buttercup as the Dread Pirate Roberts, accusing her of being unfaithful to her love, he felt like he could somehow relate to Westley's position, in a way he hadn't before. Usually, Sasuke paid the most attention to Inigo Montoya's scenes, but something about his state of mind at that moment had him hanging on Westley's every word, relating to his righteous displeasure with Buttercup in a way he never had before.

But it only lasted for so long, because the scene switched gears soon after. Before long, Westley and Buttercup were tumbling down the side of a ravine and suddenly they were together again; in love and inseparable. Like how he and Sakura were not. Like how he and Sakura would never be.

Exasperated with the train of thought his entertainment was taking him on, Sasuke switched off the television and lay back with a huff.

"Teme! Oh, teme, dearest! I'm home, dattebayo!"

A deep-seated scowl etched its way into Sasuke's face, accompanied by a decidedly homicidal glint in his eyes.

From around the door, an obnoxiously blonde head showed itself, sporting an annoyingly wide grin and an over-excited sparkle in his gaze.

The dobe was in higher spirits than he had been in a week. That could mean one of three things had happened: Ichiraku was having an all-you-can-eat special and the blonde was on his way over, stopping by to see if Sasuke wanted to come; the Godaime was stepping down and had just named Naruto her successor or; he had somehow managed to harness his fear of women enough to allow him to spend time with Hinata, after a week of avoiding her at all cost. Considering how Ichiraku had gone under the last time they offered an all-you-can-eat special and had to rely on government relief to not go out of business completely after Naruto's visit (Chouji had been away on a mission, thankfully), Sasuke doubted it was the first option. And since the Godaime was actually a fairly capable leader, despite her irate drunkenness, and was just one of the many people in Konoha who were acutely aware of the jinchuuriki's room to grow in intellect, among other things, he was pretty sure the second one was out, too. That left the third possibility. Sasuke gritted his teeth. He did not need to be around an overly joyous Naruto at a time like this. Sasuke could handle being in the presence of happy people even when he himself was in the pits of despair. Heck, he had spent most of his life like that. He didn't find a need to rain on anyone's parade. But today was not one of those "hold it all in until you get an aneurism" days. No. Today was a "kill anyone and everyone who dares to so much as think a non-gloomy thought, be it uber-happy or simply indifferent" day. And Sasuke's Anti-Emo Radar was off the charts as soon as Naruto showed up. Someone was happy while in his presence and Sasuke simply could not allow that to pass.

"Your children will look like blind hamsters," he muttered through clenched teeth.

A crease of confusion quirked Naruto's face. "What?" Sasuke-teme always said the strangest things when he was down, down in the dumps!

"Tch," the Uchiha scoffed, cursing the blonde's slowness. It was next to impossible to lower a person's spirits when they didn't understand the barbs thrown at them. There went Sasuke's plans.

"How are ya feeling today, teme?" Naruto bubbled, rocking on his toes, goofy grin still in place. Oh, if joy were an airborne poison, all the inhabitants in that section of Konoha would be on the ground, foaming at their mouths by now. That is, if anyone other than Sasuke actually lived in that section of town. Well, he was pretty sure a whole colony of cats had taken residence in a number of abandoned buildings. And they probably lived there because of the banquet of rodents that no doubt moved in shortly after the past occupants' abrupt departures. And there were always birds around. And those annoying little brats who dared each other to spend the night in the "haunted Uchiha district," too. Yeah. So, if joy were an airborne poison, those annoying trespassers would get what was coming to them and there would be a whole slew of dead animals laying about his neighbourhood. Probably start stinking up the place; rot was not pretty. He'd have to clean it all up before they started to decompose, or else they would attract more animals who would come to eat them and then those animals would get poisoned and die, adding to the mess, while attracting still more animals. It would be an annoying, vicious cycle. And heck, he would probably be blamed for those delinquents' deaths when they were the ones who were committing a crime by trespassing. Stupid dobe. It was all his fault.

Sasuke shook his head and blinked a few times. He had been taking analogies and metaphors way too far lately. What was wrong with him? He was becoming as logically-challenged as Naruto.

"Sasuke? You okay, man?" Naruto asked, leaning toward his friend, trying to get a look at his eyes. He wasn't high, was he? "You looked like you were having one hell of a talk with yourself inside, dattebayo."

"Hn." He glared at the person who dared to breach his metre-wide comfort zone.

"And you're back!"

"What are you doing here, dobe? If it's to share your joy of love and being not-friends with the girl you were after, you can get the hell out. I don't want to hear it."

"Oh, you know me so well, teme, dattebayo!" Naruto grinned, waving a dismissive hand at said teme's words, as he plunked himself down on the chair opposite the bed where Sasuke brooded.

"What are you doing here?" the dark-head snapped. "This is not a tea shop; it's my house. You can't just walk in here whenever you want!"

"What?" Naruto half-screeched, truly not seeing what the big deal was. "Was I interrupting something important? Seems to me all I did was stop you from sending yourself deeper into your depression, with all your thoughts of how you can't have Sakura-chan and how you'll probably go hurt yourself and let loose your inner-emo that you've been trying and failing miserably at suppressing, dattebayo. I see so much as a scratch anywhere near the vicinity of your forearms, I'm dragging you to the psychiatric ward of the hospital, datte—"

"I swear, on all that is holy, if you say "dattebayo" one more time, I will hurt myself."

Naruto paused a moment, seeming to contemplate Sasuke's threat. Then, realizing that the threat would bear no pain to himself—or so he thought—he continued, "—bayo."

Here, we will just say that those trespassing children hightailed it out of the Uchiha district at the sound of something they were convinced was the collective scream of every ghost haunting the abandoned buildings there. In fact, the terrifying sound only came from two, very much alive people, one fearing the impending pain of flame and the other intent on delivering said discomfort.

Once the smoke cleared, and he had sliced the fire alarm from the wall to shut it up, Sasuke sat back with a huff and muttered, "I'll be emo if I want to be emo. You're not one to talk."

"I'm not emo," Naruto wheezed, coughing out a lungful of smoke as he collapsed into the chair.

"Yes you are. You're always going," here Sasuke inserted a whiny lilt into his voice before he continued, ""The world saw me as a monster and I had no friends and they didn't have the ramen flavour I wanted and why can't the world acknowledge me? And why can't everyone bow to the will of my Jesus-complex and be happy, while I take on the weight of their troubles? And I would cut out my eye and crush it in my fist and then lick it up for my important people. I even stabbed my hand with a kunai when I was twelve to prove my determination in the only way a true emo knows how: self-mutilation.""

A frown bent Naruto's face, as the blonde sat and stared at his friend in silence for a good minute, before he finally muttered, "I don't sound like that."

"Yes you do," Sasuke sniffed.

"Do not!" Naruto insisted, voice teetering on shrill.

"You sound exactly like that. Like a slightly masculine, little girl. That's what you sound like."

"Teme!" the jinchuuriki screeched, rising to his feet, huffing deeply.

Sasuke had to smirk; it was just what he had been expecting. "Just like that," he murmured, noting Naruto's shrill, almost girlish tone.

"At least I care about people, teme! I'm an emotive person, dattebayo." He cast the Uchiha a condescending look. "At least I emote positive feelings, unlike you, Mr. I-Don't-Like-Anything-Cuz-Everything-Sucks-Except-Me-Because-I'm-A-Cool-Avenger-And-It's-Not-Cool-For-Avengers-To-Like-Anything-Except-Avenging-And-Since-I-Am-A-Cool-Avenger-I-Don't-Like-Anything-" (deep breath) "Uchiha."

"Tch. I like things," Sasuke growled, irritated with Naruto's dead-on description of him. "Not a lot of things, but things, nonetheless. It's just that what I like doesn't like me back!" He tried to ignore the sizable pang in his chest that reverberated through his ribs, at putting his circumstances into words of the bare truth of it all.

Naruto was unaccommodating, shaking his head at what he thought was just his friend pouting over not getting his way. "Yeah, and now you're angsting over it, like some uber-emo! Ero-sennin was right; you need to learn how to let things go, dattebayo. This isn't healthy."

"Naruto," Sasuke sighed, rubbing a hand over his suddenly worn out face. "Do you understand the concept of "never"?"

"Huh? Well, duh, teme. I'm not stupid," the blonde scoffed, looking affronted by his friend's query.

"Then you should be able to grasp why this is as horrible as I'm saying it is and why I can't just let it go."

Naruto paused, staring blindly at a wall hanging above Sasuke's brooding form.

Never. The single term for "not ever." To not happen, now or in the future. Ever. It shall not ever exist or occur. Despite all efforts, it simply will not come to fruition. Related to "impossible," "futile," and "no," preceded by "hell." A negative term.

Applied to Sasuke and his relationship with Sakura, it meant a lifetime of not ever being more than what they were right now. It meant they would ever be separate from one another. It meant it was impossible to surpass their current situation, and so it was futile to try, making any further attempts at doing so a "hell no" course of action. It was never going to happen.

Oh crap.

A dim light went on in Naruto's head while the good-natured sparkle in his eye faded. He tried to force his steadfast grin to his face, but it came out shaky and as far from genuine as the sentiment it attempted to convey was.

His mind was spinning with platitudes and earnest words of faux-sage wisdom, but nothing struck Naruto as appropriate for the situation. He could throw out a generic assurance, but it would be useless. Sasuke wasn't fond of words at the best of times and he hated platitudes all the time. Sasuke didn't like comfort; he liked brooding solitude and blaring silence, so he could vent, ruminate, and then seal up all emotions concerning the issue in its own special little box, never to be opened again. He would then go on with his life, ignoring his wounds, allowing them to bleed all over everything else, all the while telling himself that the superficial Band-Aid of ignorance was enough to staunch the flow of discontent. A living statue in the making, that's what he was. But Naruto wasn't sure how to bring the petrifaction process to an end. How do you explain away the loss of Forever?

If it had been any other person, Naruto would have slapped him on the back, shot out an amiable quip, and then dragged him into town to see the feminine sights of Konoha under the banner of "there are other fish in the sea."

But this was Uchiha Sasuke. And when Uchiha Sasuke devoted himself to something, he did it whole anchor. Telling him to find someone else would be like telling him to gouge out his eyes: it wasn't just one part of the whole; it was a defining necessity to who he was. He had gained identity and meaning and strength from this, and to just drop it where he found it for something lesser would erase all of that. Erase things that he would very much like to keep.

He needed this. This or nothing, it was as simple as that.

And because that was the only thing that would interest Sasuke to hear, but the blonde couldn't tell him it would be so, Naruto fell into one of his rare, truly mature silences, contemplation upon his face and no answers in his mind.

A muted "poof" broke the two minute silence that hung in Sasuke's room, gray smoke clearing to reveal one Hatake Kakashi, book in hand and droopy eye on its contents.

"Yo," he greeted, only to be met with a mute nod from the blonde and just muteness from the dark-head.

Whoo boy! Someone break out the Prozac air freshener because this place was rank with emo!

"Sasuke, Jiraiya-sama is waiting. He wishes to see you," the Copy-nin said quietly, carefully studying the prone and deflated form of his protégé in his peripheral.

The immobile lump remained as such, not shifting and not responding to the sensei's words. He just lay there, arm across his eyes, breathing calm and nearly imperceptible. He could have been sleeping, but Kakashi knew better. For one, Sasuke would never fall asleep alone in the same room as Naruto. Despite his age, the jinchuuriki still found drawn on moustaches and unibrows to be the funniest things in the world—Sasuke did not, nor did he ever, share that sense of humour. And in the nearly impossible event that Sasuke had been asleep when Kakashi had arrived, the youth would have awoken immediately as soon as the Copy-nin's presence began materializing in the room. He was a shinobi, after all. And even as ninja went, Sasuke was cautious. Even in his own home, but you learn that from such life experiences as the Uchiha's, Kakashi supposed.

"Sasuke," the older man repeated, wanting more than silent resentment from the younger male. "He has some questions he wants to ask you. There's more that can be done here."

"Huh? Ero-sennin thinks he can still get them together?" Naruto frowned as his memory of the pickup line disaster replayed in his head. "He told me that if a woman isn't interested, there's nothing you can do about it. If she doesn't feel that way, nothing you can do will make it different. That's what he said. Sakura-chan's not interested; what's there to do?" The Uzumaki's brow creased slightly at the thought of the Toad Sannin attempting to work something out of Sasuke's situation. It wasn't like Naruto didn't want it to be fixed, he just didn't relish the thought of Sasuke's hopes, however small they may be, rising only to be shot down again, especially since the Uchiha had already begun his own personal recovery process, complete with near catatonia-style brooding and full-blown emoness. To interrupt the process... It had better be a sure thing.

Kakashi cast purposely blank looks at his two former students. There was much knowledge behind that gaze, but he let none of it show as he spoke, "There are some ambiguities that we must clear up before we can truly say it's a lost cause, Naruto. Women are complicated beings. As such, we cannot hastily jump to conclusions where they are concerned, even when the truth seems obvious. There are always other sides to a story. Sometimes we need other people to see it for us, though." He watched the yet-to-move form of the Uchiha as he spoke. The guy hadn't shifted a cell. But Kakashi knew his student—they were very similar, after all. Sasuke was listening intently to every word. And the fact that he hadn't moved nor said anything meant he was contemplating it. He was hoping. That was good. If there was one thing Sasuke needed—had always needed—it was hope.

"We'll be waiting at the room," Kakashi said, before poofing away, knowing the younger man wouldn't appreciate being silently nagged by his continued presence. Besides, he knew Sasuke would come. Hope was a difficult thing to deny oneself, especially one as inexperienced in the feeling of that particular sentiment as Sasuke was. He wouldn't know how to deny such an ardent emotion, so different from his usual vapid irritation and mild amusement, and so alien to his boiling rage and burning hate. Hope was a light that had burned out long ago, snuffed by blood on a night black as pitch. To feel it again must be nothing short of novel; a confusing and undeniable experience, to be sure, but not frightening, no. Uchiha Sasuke wasn't scared of anything, after all. Which was the only reason this spark was running its course. Pride generally got a bad rap, but sometimes, as in this instance, it was as necessary as the humbling actions that would need to be performed when Sasuke finally got through his issues in regards to Sakura.

"Yeesh. You look like me after being thrown out a window by Tsunade and going on a weekend bender! And it hasn't even been twenty-four hours since you were shot down. You work fast, man," Jiraiya said, watching Sasuke with amused eyes. He leaned forward slightly, squinting as something on Sasuke's face seemed to have caught his eye. "Is that a five o'clock shadow?"

The Uchiha stepped away from the studying gaze with a huff. "Can we just get on with whatever inhumane torture you've cooked up?" he muttered, casting himself against the wall by the door, apparently poised for a quick escape should Jiraiya's "genius thoughts" turn out to be unacceptable.

Naruto snickered at the sour look on his best friend's face, walking over to a rickety chair by the Sannin. "He has a date with Ben and Jerry should this fall through, Ero-sennin. Something with cookie dough in it, right teme?"

"Shut it, usuratonkachi," the troubled ex-avenger snapped, eyes narrowed dangerously on the grinning blonde.

"Ho... You look like crap's crap, Uchiha."

Sasuke's death glare shifted to the dark-haired male in the other corner. "You want to die, Hyuuga?"

"Seems to me that you're the only one here with a death wish," Neji shot back, looking Sasuke over meaningfully. Turning slightly to Naruto, he pretended to speak to the blonde privately, all the while knowing that the Uchiha could hear him. "Did you check his wrists for cuts?"

"Yeah," Naruto nodded. "He's intact."

"How about drugs? Were there any suspiciously empty pill bottles near him when you went to see him?"

"Nope. Well, there was some cough syrup by his bed, which I thought he might be using to drown his sorrows in, but it was barely tapped. Caught him in the nick of time! But I'm just awesome like that, dattebayo," Naruto quipped with a falsely humble shrug.

"I had a coughing fit last night," Sasuke grumbled, glaring at the two conversing males as they continued to ignore him and discussed Sasuke's supposed substance abuse and self-mutilation.

"Oh, yeah, and Neji?" Naruto said, snapping his fingers as his memory kicked in.


"You have a date with Tenten-chan tonight at seven. Wear something nice!" He flashed a bright grin while giving the Hyuuga a wink and the two finger-guns of assurance.

"What?!" Neji shouted, eyes widening as his face reddened and his blood pressure rose.

Naruto began to whine, huffing at the injustice of his situation. "I had to hook you up with her! It would have blown my cover if I hadn't!" he cried, flailing his arms in a desperate need to make his point.

"Uzumaki," Neji hissed, narrowed eyes cast in shadow. "I am going to kill you."

"I knew you'd say that..." the jinchuuriki sighed, shaking his head at the ceiling. "But, I mean, she's pretty hot, right? It won't be too bad, dattebayo!"

Here, Neji lunged at Naruto in a blur of beige and brown, intent on delivering a world of hurt to the conniving blonde.

Completely ignoring the scuffle and the shrill screams coming from his protégé, Jiraiya assessed Sasuke as the youth stared blankly at the violence before him. The kid wasn't even taking a small bit of joy in his rival's pain. This depression of rejection had influenced Sasuke's sadism! The end of all was nigh!

Right then, Jiraiya realized that he would have to work fast if he were to save the progress from this past week and convince Sasuke to continue with it.

"Well, Sasuke," Jiraiya began, leaning against his desk. "I think it's time we start our little salvage operation."

Sasuke looked at the older man with flat eyes. "What's there to do? She wants to be friends. That's what she said. There's no point in pursuing this anymore."

A knowing smile quirked Jiraiya's lips. "What did she say to you?"

"I told you, she said she just wants to be friends."

"No, no." The white-haired man shook his head at Sasuke's narrow-minded stubbornness. "I need the exact words she used."

The Uchiha frowned, shrugging at the request. "Why? It all amounts to the same thing."

"Not necessarily," Jiraiya said, raising a point-making finger in rebuttal. "The wording a woman uses is vital in untangling the ulterior meanings of what they say. Now tell me."

A sigh left Sasuke's lips as he cast his serious gaze to the rickety chair nearby, staring hard at the wood grain on it. "She said, "I just want to be your friend, Sasuke-kun.""

"Mmhmmmm… And?"

Sasuke's head snapped up. "And what?"

"Did you say anything to that?"


"Okay, then what did she say after that?"

"Tch," he huffed, leaning against the wall more, already fed-up with Jiraiya's questions. Reliving the slap in the face that Sakura's words had been was not on the top of his to-do list today. "Something about never asking for what she's asked of me in the past… Just wanting to be acknowledged by me as a friend rather than a nuisance who's just interrupting my alone time with Nar—" He stopped abruptly, eyes widening in a distasteful grimace. "Rather than as a nuisance," he finished with a mutter, looking off to the side.

Jiraiya looked up with a raised eyebrow. "What was that you were about to say there, Sasuke?"


"Eh heh heh! I bet I know!" Naruto chuckled, grinning from ear to ear at his friend's expense as he dragged himself to his feet, Neji's assault having just completed its course. "She thinks you have the hots for me, doesn't she?! Ah hahahahaha! That's priceless! Disgusting! But still priceless!" The blonde snorted as he continued to laugh at the idea, pointing in glee at Sasuke's glowering face.

"What?" the Toad Sannin grunted, frowning in confusion. "Why would Sakura think you…?"

"Sakura-chan thinks Sasuke's gay, dattebayo," Naruto explained, a smile still in his voice. "Or at least that there's a very good chance that he is."

Jiraiya cast a glance over at Sasuke, eyes turning up at their corners as he failed to suppress his own grin. "Hmmhmmhmmha Haa ha ha! That's great!"

Sasuke was not amused by the other males' enjoyment of his misfortune. "It's not funny," he snapped. "You don't know the trouble it's caused me. And she thinks I'm after him!" He made a stabbing motion in Naruto's direction. "She created this elaborate story in her head that I had threatened the Hyuuga to try and separate you two."

"You better not have, teme!" Naruto shouted, body suddenly tense and threatening.

"Dobe! Shut up! If I'm going to threaten anyone, it's going to be you!"

"My, my," Jiraiya hummed, face forcibly serious as he put a hand to his chin in faux thought. "Yours is a violent relationship, isn't it? Naruto, you should respect yourself more and get yourself away from him."


"AARR!" (Yes, Sasuke was so irate, he went pirate on them!)

"Hey, hey! Take it easy!" the Sannin said, waving his hands in a "calm down" motion. "It's nothing to get all worked up over. So your lady love thinks you like boys. Bid deal. I've been misconstrued as gay before." At the questioning looks he received, he elaborated, "Apparently I become highly fashion conscious when I'm drunk. Who'd have thought?" He shrugged. "You just need to tell it to her straight, is all. Show her what you really like!" A lascivious light lit his eyes as he said that.

"He can't show her what he really likes," Naruto sighed loudly. "She won't let him near her like that because she thinks he's freaking GAY!"

"Shout it louder, will you dobe?!" the ex-avenger snapped, glaring menacingly at the blonde.


In a quick, violent motion, Sasuke lunged at Naruto and somehow tackled the Uzumaki to the floor, restraining his arms behind his back and squishing his face into the hardwood floor with a foot, making it impossible for Naruto to properly speak, just the way Sasuke wanted it.

"Naruto," Sasuke spoke quietly and extremely evenly.

"Hmm?" the addressed teen hummed.

"Right now…at this point in my life…with the way things have been going for me…I'm finding myself really trying to resist the urge to kill myself. And being near you and listening to you speak does not help me do that. So…be the friend that you've been claiming to be, and shut the hell up."



"Well," Jiraiya sighed, running a hand through his white mane. "We need to get started on getting her to understand you. Then after that, we can resume the training."

Sasuke shook his head, irritated with the older man's words. "I already told you; there's no point. She just wants to be friends."

"Ah, this is where conversation skills come in handy, Sasuke," Jiraiya corrected, wagging a finger at the Uchiha. "Sakura said she just wants to be your friend. That she'll never ask for something like what she's asked of you in the past, yes?"


"Well, it's quite likely that she's saying that to protect herself."

Sasuke frowned. "Protect herself from what?"

"You breaking her heart again. She wanted more from you before, but you turned her down and ignored her. She thinks you've been pushing her away because you don't want her getting it into her head that you want her close to you the way she wants to be close to you. So, as a different route to getting near you, she's offered straight-up friendship. No strings attached. It's not what she really wants, but she thinks it's the closest she'll ever get to you, so it will have to do. She's giving up her desire to be more than your friend so that she can at least have some manner of relationship with you, rather than the tumultuous nothing that's been going on this past while."

The dark-head blinked at the explanation. "And you got all that from two of her sentences?" he deadpanned.

"Yes," the Sannin nodded. "You'll find that women are a lot more loquacious than they initially seem when you learn to read between the lines, Sasuke. Their words are rarely the only things they're saying, if you catch my drift."

Sasuke mulled over Jiraiya's words for a few minutes, weighing them carefully. "I'm not convinced," he finally said with a shake of his head. "This is just a huge gamble. She could really not be interested. I can't... I can't do that."

"Can't or won't?" Jiraiya challenged.

"I can't so I won't."

"Really? Because from here it sounds like you won't, so you're saying you can't as an excuse."

"No," Sasuke snapped, irritated that the Sannin had drawn him into yet another "meaning" debate. "I can't do it because your theory is built on suppositions and I know that acting on conjecture never turns out well."

"Yet your assertion that my theory is faulty is based on your own supposition that I'm wrong, making the reason you "can't" act on it false, and therefore making the reason for your lack of action because you won't do it, not because you can't."

They stared back and forth between each other for a few moments, Jiraiya's face the picture of self-assurance, Sasuke's the picture of grudging defeat.

With a huff, Sasuke looked away, mutely ceding to Jiraiya. "So... You're saying, even though she said she just wants to be my friend, that doesn't mean that that's what she really meant?" Sasuke summed up, wanting to be certain he wasn't misunderstanding anything. There had been far too much of that happening with him lately.

That's exactly what I'm saying," Jiraiya answered, nodding.

"Why couldn't she just say it to me straight, then? She keeps telling me to do that but she doesn't do it herself."

"Sakura won't say it to you because she has done that in the past but it didn't turn out well," Kakashi explained, turning another page in his book. "To put it in terms you'll understand, I'm going to use the allegory from your genin days. In order to understand Sakura, as you used to, you're going to have to learn how to see underneath the underneath."

"Kakashi-sensei," Naruto interrupted, his face a mask of malcontent. "Shouldn't it just be "seeing underneath," instead of "seeing underneath the underneath"? Sakura-chan only used one layer to cover the truth so there's only one layer to see under, therefore it's only "seeing underneath.""

"Well, that's not really the point of the saying," Kakashi sighed. "But...I'll humour you. Her top layer, of wanting to be friends with Sasuke, is a split layer itself, since it's partially true but not entirely so, making it a double layer, thus "seeing underneath the underneath.""

"And there's also her anger and violence," Neji offered. "That adds to the distortion of the truth; adds layers."

Naruto frowned. "Well, then it's gotta be "seeing underneath the underneath the underneath the underneath," dattebayo."

"Naruto, I think you're missing the meaning of the term..." Kakashi said wearily.

"You're saying I'm not seeing underneath the underneath of the meaning of seeing underneath the underneath the undern—"

"Dobe, shut up! Geez!" Sasuke shouted, glaring at the others with twitching eyes. "I don't care how many layers of subterfuge Sakura's working with or how many "underneaths" that classifies the situation as! Just shut up and let the pervert talk!" After receiving blank, confused looks, Sasuke clarified, "That pervert," he thumbed in Jiraiya's direction, "not you two."

Kakashi and Naruto shrugged in acknowledgement that they understood that neither of them was the pervert Sasuke was referring to.

"Well, Sasuke," the Toad Sannin began, looking thoughtful and serious as he formulated the words of wisdom he would impart to the hopeless Uchiha. "I'm going to lay this out there as I see it. You're probably not going to like this but it's the only way." He eyed Sasuke carefully as he explained, "Sakura's not hoping for things from you anymore. She's not watching for possible affection from you and if she ever catches it, she'll just wave it off as her imagination. Because of this, the only way for you to get her to see you differently is for you to say it up front, as blunt as can be. That's it. This will make it or break it, because this is your last shot. I cannot stress enough just how important it is that you don't go Nancy on her and bite your tongue when you should spill your guts. That's your problem, you know. You say what you shouldn't and don't say what you should. Am I going to have to repeat myself, yet again?"

"Tch. No," Sasuke muttered. ""Tell it to her straight. Clarify. Make my intentions clear." I got it."

"Well, I know you understand the theory behind it, but you've yet to demonstrate full comprehension of it through exhibition. I mean, what's so hard about saying, "Sakura-chan, baby! I think you're sexy as hell. What do ya say we head on over to my place so we can further explore that topic with hands-on demonstrations?"?"

Sasuke's face went from a scowl to a full-blown grimace of disbelief and distaste. "What the hell is wrong with you?! I will never say that! I-I mean, my goodness! Who talks like that? Does that even work?"

"Oh, you'd be surprised by the things women will fall for," Jiraiya answered airily. "They can be the shrewdest of operators, never ones to let a man's indiscretions pass them by, yet at the same time, they'll fall for the cheesiest lines. They're contradictions personified. That's why we'll never understand them." His voice quickly became musing as he continued, "But we try, Sasuke. We will always, always fail at it, but still, we will try. Women are contradictions and men are devout practitioners of futility. Maybe that's why we go so well together: they're impossible to understand and we find it impossible to stop trying to understand them."

"Mmm. Truly sage, Ero-sennin," Sasuke commented dryly.

"I'll have my moments, Sasuke," Jiraiya quipped, opting to ignore the insult and just let the boy have his snappish moment; it was just the frustration talking, anyway.

After today, the Uchiha would have respect for him like never before, anyway. That was what had happened with Naruto.

Through the entirety of their therapy, the blonde had been belligerent and an avid unbeliever of Jiraiya's ways. But yesterday, after leaving Sasuke's place to allow the ex-avenger his space, Naruto had run into his cute and concerned lady love, Hinata, and the healing had begun.

He had tensed up at first, all manner of rationale fleeing before the encroachment of the fear of small hands wandering where they ought not be. But, as the timid girl relayed an abridged account of her day's events, complete with her odd encounter with Sasuke and the ample concern she had for her cousin's state of mind—and why would Neji-nii-san be muttering, "Please, Haruno-sama. It's my crowning glory!" under his breath?—Naruto found that his panic and terror had been grossly misplaced. Watching Hinata describe Neji's apparent newfound respect for her fighting techniques that were apparently "definitely every bit as formidable as any male shinobi's techniques, just like Haruno-sama said," and seeing the shy blush that still painted her cheeks when in his presence and the well-hidden insecurities she still carried with her, even as she attempted to be strong before him, he couldn't help but feel like a complete and total retard.

This was Hinata-chan. His Hinata-chan. There wasn't a thing about her that scared Naruto except for the prospect of her leaving him.

Then it had hit him: Hinata-chan wasn't the problem; other women were! So, all he had to do was avoid the company of other females and stay around Hinata-chan at all cost and he'd be fine! Yes! And there was no need to worry about being molested; Hinata-chan wasn't terribly handsy like that. And if she did choose to be so, Naruto was certain she would be very gentle about it. She would understand his discomfort and how he was damaged goods that needed to be handled with care.

Wow. Ero-sennin's crap-talk actually works! I'm cured!

He had opted to ignore the fact that he had really only cleared his fear away from one member of the female persuasion, and had dumped it all on the rest of them, not really being cured, but just reassigning the source so his denial could flourish as usual. But to Naruto that had been enough. Especially when he saw Hinata's blush deepen when he finally held her hand for the first time in a week.

Now, Naruto had nothing but praise for the Way of the Gallant Jiraiya. And the Sannin was certain Sasuke would be the same once he got his act together.

The Uchiha in question was clearly thinking hard on Jiraiya's words.

Just say it. Just say it. That's all. So simple. He should be able to do that. He should be.

How am I going to do this? And if I do say it, what if she doesn't believe me? What if she doesn't care? What if the old pervert is wrong?

The thought of working up the nerve to confess something like lo—like that to Sakura only to have her laugh in his face or simply say no, was enough to send shockwaves through Sasuke's resolve. He didn't handle defeat well and rejection was the worst form of defeat; it largely had to do with another person's thoughts. They determined the outcome. You could try to influence them but, in the end, it was their decision that determined the result—your fate rested almost completely in another person's hands. That wasn't a situation that Sasuke was often in. On missions, his fate was largely in his own hands, dependent upon his own performance and ability. This was more like a hostage situation; he could plead his case, but Sakura would still do as she saw fit. There was no guarantee of life here. She could ruin him, quite effortlessly and he would have no guard, no protection from it.

Could he do that? Could he put all that he was out for weighing before the discerning eyes of someone who had no reason to not see him as a waste of time?

Lost in his thoughts, Sasuke barely registered the odd looks he was receiving from the room's other occupants, or the calls Naruto shouted after him as he wandered out the door.

Can I do that?

The prospect unsettled him in ways he rarely was affected, which only served to complete the vicious cycle of it unsettling him further that he could be so unsettled.

To attempt to gain something and have all endeavours destroyed was utterly crushing, he knew. H had experienced such in his earlier attempts at avenging his clan. He had wanted it so badly and he had worked so hard for it, only to be thwarted effortlessly. That situation had been founded on hate, the very opposite of the instance he found himself in now. But the desire—the need—was the same, as was the hold it held on his life.

A wayward glance offered his listless eyes a glimpse of his reflection in a dingy window.

Huh. I really do look like crap's crap. And it's only been one day. What will forever like this do to me?

The thought hit him hard.


He needed to get cleaned up.

She was on her way back from the training grounds when he found her, just off the beginnings of Konoha's streets.

He didn't have much of a plan. After washing up and finagling his hair into a less mad scientist-like coif than he had been sporting earlier, Sasuke had headed out in search of the tell-tale pink head that belonged to the kunoichi he sought. All of his attention was devoted to just finding her; he was near frantic when he didn't find her within the first ten minutes, his overactive mind conjuring images of her going on a date with some guy and then eloping with him and miraculously getting pregnant and giving birth to triplets—who had green eyes but were not little Uchiha minions—that very same day. Yeah. Logic told him that was impossible, but panic had a mean right hook and had sucker punched logic, as Sasuke sped through town seeking to thwart the plans of the nonexistent man who was trying to steal Sakura away. When he finally found her—alone—Sasuke promised himself that he would discreetly ask Sakura for the name of the shrink she visited (read: break into her house when she wasn't around and get the name from her list of contacts); even he knew he needed mental help after his little internal freak-out.

Sakura let out a quiet gasp when Sasuke leapt in front of her as she made her way into town. She nearly ran into him, but stopped herself with a sudden jerk, taking a few uncoordinated steps back so she didn't have to stare straight up to see who had so rudely interrupted her trek.

"Sasuke-kun..." she murmured hesitantly, a frown forming on her face as she tried to discern the reason for the Uchiha's abrupt presence before her by gauging his facial expression. She quickly gave herself a mental kick, laughing at herself for thinking she could determine anything from Sasuke's disposition. The faces on Hokage Mountain were more expressive.

"You lied to me," he spoke quietly, watching Sakura evenly.

She had to blink at that. "What?"

"You lied to me, Sakura," he repeated, eyeing her carefully as he attempted to string together a plan for what he was about to do. He hadn't even planned on saying what he had just said to her. He had no idea what he was doing, only that he had to do something.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Sasuke-kun." She shook her head at the Uchiha's strange activity.

A surge of panic swept through Sasuke at her words. What if she was telling the truth here? What if she had been telling the truth and she really did only want to be friends? But he shook the thought from his mind. To think of such now... He couldn't do it. She just didn't know what he was accusing her of lying about. That was all. He had to elaborate. He had to clarify.

"You don't just want to be friends," he continued, watching her face as she paled a few shades and her eyes widened ever so slightly. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn't have been a good sign, but right now that was just what he was looking for. "That's not what you want. That's not what you're after."

She was shaking her head insistently before he had finished speaking, her eyes wide and he could tell she was trying to keep them bright with a calm look, but her own panic was seeping through. "No, it is," she answered, but her voice was too high. "I told you, I promise that's all I want. I'm not after anything else from you."

"You're not after anything else, but you still hope for it. Don't you?" he asked quietly, hesitantly. Here was unstable territory—his heart was half-way out of his chest it was beating so fast.

She looked away, her form rigid. "…No."

His eyes narrowed on her slightly when he said, "Is that a "no," or a "yes" poorly concealed within a "no"?"

Sakura jerked, mildly as could be, but Sasuke still saw it. He was getting at something, he just didn't know if it was something he wanted to get at.

Was it true? Or was she just protecting herself?

"That depends," Sakura began slowly, not meeting his eyes. "If it's a poorly concealed "yes" will you not allow us to be friends? Because I really do want that." Her eyes rose to meet his gaze, their light no longer panicky, but ardent. "I don't want it to be like it is right now. It's not…fair that Naruto gets to be around you all the time but I don't. I'm your teammate too, you know. I worked just as hard trying to bring you back. And it wasn't about me wanting you back. At least...not mostly. I did it for Naruto and the team, not just for me. It wasn't like I was thinking you'd come back and we'd be together." Her brow furrowed as her eyes dropped to the ground between them. "But I had hoped that you'd respect me after," she almost mumbled. "That you'd see me as a peer, not a tagalong."

A flash of guilt shot through Sasuke's chest at her words. He knew exactly what she was talking about. That was just another thing he was going to have to set right with her soon. His disrespect for her abilities had never been intended to become what it had. It just always came out wrong, as did most things he said in Sakura's presence. He hoped she could look past that for the time being, just long enough for her to understand what he had sought her out to say. He would find a way to make up for his indiscretions later. Soon, but not now.

"Sakura, I... I don't want to be your friend," he spoke lowly, forcing himself to meet her eyes, even as it became uncomfortable. "If I said that we could be friends it would be a lie because that's not how we are."

"But-But we could be!" Sakura insisted, face pinched in distress as Sasuke denied her friendship. "Just because we're not doesn't mean we can't!"

"Yes, it does," he said, watching her entire body flinch at the answer.

She went still, thoughts, screams, and questions whirling through her mind before they muted to a singular realization.

"It's just never going to be enough, is it?" she spoke quietly, eyes on the ground before they hardened and snapped up onto him. "I'm just not the type of person you will ever want as your friend, am I?"

"That's right," Sasuke said, watching her closely as he formulated his words. "But it's not about being "enough." It's more like you and I aren't suited to being friends."

"Why not?" Sakura asked, a pained look shifting across her features as her eyes became glassy, moist.

Sasuke shifted, warring internally with the urge to stop talking and to just say it as he should have from the start.

"Because I don't feel that way about you. You don't mean the same thing to me as Naruto does. That's why you can't be my friend...like he is." He watched her emotions as they shifted across her face and he steeled himself as he hoped against hope that she would accept his words, his meaning. "You don't really want to be my friend, Sakura. And I don't want to be yours. And we both don't want to be friends for the same reason."

Sakura's brow puckered as she tried to give voice to her confusion, but he interrupted before she could speak.

"I don't want to be your friend because I want to be more than that with you. Not with some other woman and definitely not with the dobe." He grimaced at the thought. "With you. That is...if you want to be with me."

Wide, green eyes met his look with shock while her slightly parted lips were silent. A small measure of her wits seemed to return to her, and some of Sasuke's tension almost disappeared until Sakura just had to ask, "Are you doing this to make Naruto think you've moved on from him?"

"Sakura!" Sasuke half-shouted, barely restraining himself from shaking her by the shoulders. "I'm not interested in that moron! I'm interested in you. Not as a replacement or a-a placeholder or a diversion for my other preferences—because I don't have any—just you."

"Me?" she breathed out, frowning slightly again. "Why didn't you just say it before?"

He winced mildly. "It takes me a while to get things right, Sakura."

She nodded at that and Sasuke chose to ignore the stab his ego took from the movement.

He had been slowly gravitating toward her through their entire conversation, but he was only now noticing that he had done so. What was it about Sakura that threw him off his game so completely? He wondered if he would ever know.

Sasuke wasn't used to having Sakura so close, since she had given him considerable space since his return. But he found that he didn't dislike the infringement on his metre-wide comfort zone. Not at all.

There was something he ought to be doing right now, he knew. Something in regards to lips...but his mind was blank. Thankfully it seemed that Sasuke's body knew what to do, judging by the slowly closing gap between them, even if it was taking its own sweet time doing so.

"Psst! Teme! This is the part where you kiss her!"

Aaannnddd the movements were frozen as both Sasuke and Sakura tensed up and turned toward the source of their interruption.

"Naruto! You moment-killer! We were finally getting somewhere good and you just had to open your mouth! There goes my material!" Jiraiya lamented, casting his notebook to the ground in disgust.

"Well, he was taking forever!" Naruto defended, voice screechy. "How hard is it to plant your lips on hers?! I mean, come on! I was helping, dattebayo!"

"Yes and they look so grateful, too," Kakashi murmured, nodding at the new couple who was sending disbelieving, dark looks Naruto's way.

"You might as well have put your hand between their faces, for as much help you were," Neji commented dryly, looking away from the blonde in that aloof manner of his.

A din of agitated voices rose behind them, as a bustle of bodies formed a crowd in the previously quiet street. There seemed to be a commotion in one of the street's shops, a women's swimwear and lingerie store, by all appearances. The patrons were fleeing and screaming some choice words back at someone, anger, embarrassment, and insult apparent on their faces.

A familiar green form came crashing through the boutique's window moments later, appearing as a Nerf ball thrown by a giant as it tumbled into the door of the shop on the opposite side of the street.

The person lay crumpled and unmoving for a few moments before they slowly peeled themselves off the door and leapt to their feet, a flash of ocean spray and an impossible sunset framing their form.




"Is that...?"

"Ho boy..."

"Ladies! Your Youthful energy is most alluring! Why don't we see if we can't channel that Youthful Fire into something a little more hands on?! Let us enjoy our Springtime of Youth to its fullest by stoking each others' Flame of Youth!"

Yes. It was none other than Rock Lee who had apparently been peeping in the fitting rooms of the now vacant shop. The Rock Lee.

All males present in the group turned suspicious eyes on the Toad Sannin.

"What the hell did you do to him, Jiraiya-sama?" Kakashi asked lowly, mindful of Sakura's presence—who was oblivious to their activities of the past week and ought to remain that way—but still too shocked to ask the question in a more polite manner.

"Hm, hm!" the white-haired man stifled a pleased laugh. "I cured him, that's what! Five straight days of nonstop Icha Icha! Six hours a day of listening to Icha Icha audio books. Six hours of watching the Icha Icha movies. Six hours of having the books themselves flipped open before him—subconscious memory is a powerful thing. And six hours of direct tutorial from yours truly. This process was repeated daily for the five days I've had him under my experimental therapy."

Kakashi stared back at the Sannin, awe and disbelief on his face. "When did he sleep?"

"Didn't!" Jiraiya answered with a wide smile. "I had to break him to my will. Sleep deprivation is one of the best ways to do that, as all ninja know."

The Copy-nin watched the older man for a few quiet moments, his mind whirring. "Jiraiya-sama... Did you ever work for ANBU's torture and interrogation division?"

"Heh! Wouldn't you like to know!"

"My eternal rival, Kakashi! Jiraiya-sama!" A large, green blur came to a sudden stop before the two addressed shinobi. Maito Gai had arrived and he looked more harried than ever, his eyes darting about anxiously, his entire body coiled tight, ready to spring into action at any moment. "I believe your therapy has gone awry! My dear, adorable Lee is partaking in lewd and lascivious acts! He's hitting on girls left, right, and centre! And he's even been...peeping on them!" Gai slapped his hands over his mouth, shaking his head as his thick eyebrows wrinkled in distress.

The Toad Sannin simply let out a booming laugh and answered, "I know! I taught him well. All that I know, really."

"Jiraiya-sama!" the Green Beast gasped, staring at the Sannin as though the older man had just let out a string of obscenities in front of five-year-olds. "That's not what I thought you were intending for adorable Lee! This is a crisis of Youth! I cannot watch my dear student turn to a life of debauchery, using his Youth-given good looks and the self-enforced discipline I myself taught him for such Unyouthful endeavours! This must be stopped! If I cannot stop him, I shall die with him as I bring an end to this madness!" he cried, making his vow to the heavens with an outstretched fist as holy rays shone down from the suddenly parted clouds and righteous fire burned in his eyes.

"Oh no you don't!" Jiraiya shouted, towering over the other man. "That's my successor, right there. The heir to the Icha Icha legacy! The next generation's ERO-SENNIN!" Fireworks suddenly shot off behind a proudly posing Jiraiya when he made that declaration.

He says that like it's a title to be proud of, the nearby youth grumbled to themselves.

A leering Lee suddenly sprang up in front of a Sakura, making the girl jump back into Sasuke who was automatically scowling at the man who dared to get so close to the kunoichi.

Lee's unique eyes quickly looked the girl before him up and down, before he flashed one of his blinding smiles and said, "Sakura-san! Angel face! I think you're sexy as heck. What do you say we head on over to my place—"

"Fuzzy-eyebrows," Sasuke hissed through gritted teeth, recognizing that particular line coming from Jiraiya himself and certainly not relishing the thought of someone actually using it on his woman. After the hell he had recently endured to get her, there was no way he was going to watch as another man tried to take her away, even if he knew Sakura would never go for Lee's proposition. She'd probably smack him hard for it.

... ... ...

... ...Hmmm...


On second thought, she was a big girl. Strong, too. She could handle this. It might even be entertaining.

"Lee-san," Sakura spoke calmly, smiling at the older male, even if it was a little strained. "Though I think you're a wonderful person, I simply cannot have you asking me such...things. I'm with Sasuke-kun now, see?"

"Oh, he doesn't have to know!" Lee said amiably, waving off Sakura's gentle rejection with a movement that brought his hand dangerously close to the kunoichi's chest. "Our burning Flames of Youth cannot be denied, fair and sexy Sakura-san!"

Sasuke initiated his most lethal glare and directed it squarely at the Rock, as his teeth gritted and he bit out, "I...am right here, Fuzzy-eyebrows."

"Oh, Sakura-chan's gonna pound him into dust, dattebayo!" Naruto stage whispered as he and Neji watched on from their position a couple metres back.

"Let's hope," the Hyuuga muttered, distaste for his teammate's new persona creasing his face.

"Hey, don't you have to get to your date with Tenten-chan?" Naruto asked, peeking in a shop window to check a clock. "It's six-thirty, man! Don't want to be late and you still gotta go change." An over-excited light sparked in his blue eyes as he bounced on his toes, waved his hand about energetically and practically squealed, "Ooh! Wear that dark gray outfit of yours. It'll go well with what Tenten-chan will be wearing, dattebayo."

"There is a special place in hell reserved for idiots like you, Naruto," Neji spat as he headed for home and a date with fear.

Back with Lee, Sakura, and Sasuke, things were rapidly turning violent, but not in the way Sasuke had hoped.

"Sasuke-kun, don't!" Sakura cried, putting herself between the Uchiha and Lee, her back to the latter, who took the opportunity to ogle her rear, inciting a low growl from Sasuke. "Can't you tell he's not well?" she spoke, a reproachful look upon her face. "I mean, this is kind of your fault, anyway."

"What?!" Sasuke practically shrieked in disbelief. "I didn't do this to him. He was a blubbering pile of trembling tears because of what I did. This has nothing to do with me."

The kunoichi was not convinced. "This is obviously a defence mechanism for him to deal with what you did to him!"

"No, it's not! It's because of that perv—" He stopped abruptly, remembering the warning they had all been given just before they had left the dingy hotel room on their very first day of tutelage under Jiraiya. They were never to disclose their therapy to others, particularly not to females. He couldn't tell Sakura what was really going on here; it would not go well. Crap.

A piece of advice from Jiraiya's newest book, where they had gotten their pickup lines from, came to mind as he considered the argument he was in right now: "Nine times out of ten, an argument can be resolved in your favour if you simply cede to the woman's assertions, whether or not she's actually right."

Okay. Pride was going to have to take a timeout right now. Deep breaths, Sasuke.

"Right," he choked out, unable to make eye contact as he kept his pride locked up in its rarely-used holding cell and lied through his teeth for the sake of harmony. And this was only the first day of their relationship. Nice.

"What?" Sakura asked, frowning with wide eyes at Sasuke's gruff response. He didn't say what she thought he did, did he?

"You're...right," Sasuke practically gasped out, mouth feeling unto cotton as he swallowed as surreptitiously as possible.

There was an extended silence, wherein Sakura seemed to go to a place within herself, eyes glazed over and... Oh lordy! Tell him those weren't tears!

"Sakura?" Sasuke asked hesitantly, lost by her actions, as he often was.

"I have always dreamed of you saying that to me one day," she sniffed, swiping at her lashes before they lost their moisture and letting out a short laugh accompanied by a smile.

Sasuke stared at her as though she had turned green and sprouted trees from her skull. Who dreamt of that? And weren't they arguing? But now she was smiling widely, completely serene. Was she bipolar?

"Hey, Sasuke-kun," Sakura grinned, pulling him down the street. "We just had our first fight!"

"Uh... I'm...sorry?" he offered, completely at a loss as to how to respond to that. Is she disappointed? Angry, but pretending not to be? But she sounded happy...

"Sorry? What for?" she laughed, smiling back at him. "It's a memorable event! At least it happened on the day we got together, that way it will be easy for you to remember the anniversary for it."

Anniversary? Of their first fight? Why would anyone...?

He glanced over at Sakura and just by the contented look on her face, so soon after being upset with him, he knew he was in over his head again.

A quiet knock carried through the door as Sasuke's knuckles rapped against the dark wood. It was embarrassing and he was loathe to do it, but Sasuke knew of no other recourse.

The door opened and he was greeted with an unsurprised, knowing smile from one Toad Sannin.

"She's insane," was all he said, to which Jiraiya's smile widened as he gestured for Sasuke to enter the room.

"I've been expecting you," Jiraiya said, closing the door.

"Hey, teme."


Sasuke blinked as he realized he wasn't the only one seeking Jiraiya's help again. "What are you two doing here?"

Oppressive condescension radiated from Neji as he explained, "Naruto freaked out at Hanabi-sama when she stood too close to him, which naturally disturbed Hiashi-sama. Hinata-sama is trying to calm the situation while Naruto gets himself out of the pit of denial he's apparently backslid into."

"And Neji's date with Tenten-chan went very well," Naruto said, describing the reason for the Hyuuga's presence with as much arrogance as Neji had supplied. "When he took her home, she was fiddling with her keys—obvious invitation for a little lip locking, dattebayo! The idiot thought she couldn't see her keys in the dark, so he took them and did it for her! Practically shoved her inside and shut the door in her face! Moron! There was pretty much a whole battery of missiles shooting after him from her house, dattebayo."

Neji shifted the ice pack on his face enough to level a Class-1 glare at the blonde.

Sasuke stared at his two incompetent peers, wondering at the insanity and idiocy that bred such actions, when he came to a conclusion.

"I think...I can do this on my own," Sasuke said slowly, edging back toward the door. "I thought I needed this but...you guys..." He shook his head in quiet awe. "You guys are way more challenged than me. I mean, you guys are freaks."

"That's the spirit, Sasuke!" Jiraiya boomed with a wide smile. "Confidence with women! You now have it! Now, go get some hot lovin' from—"

"Shut up!" he shouted as he headed down the hall.

"Heh, heh!" Jiraiya chuckled, closing the door quietly and leaning against it, sharing knowing looks with Naruto and Neji. "He'll be back," he sighed. "We haven't even touched on how to handle a PMSing woman. When that explosion hits, he'll come crawling back for the wondrous tutelage of the Gallant Jiraiya. Now then! Naruto! Neji! You're going to get this right! I will teach you this, even if it kills you!"

"Uhh...Ero-sennin?" Naruto said hesitantly, frowning. "Don't you mean, "Even if it kills me"?"

"Hell no! Why would I do something that would kill me? I'm worth ten of you. I'm not the problem here. You brats are! Now get out your books," he ordered, paging through his newest work for the right chapter. "We'll pull an all-nighter if we have to!"

There were three all-important rules in the world that people had to follow to avoid misfortune. This Sasuke knew. The first two he learned from watching The Princess Bride (he had learned that Sakura also loved that movie, though she was not aware that she had that in common with the Uchiha; he would have to build up his courage to admit that to her), those being, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia" and "Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line." But the third—as he did with most things—he discovered all on his own. The third being, "Never believe that you have finally hit the bottom, because the bottom will inevitably turn into a Black Hole of Doom that will suck you down even farther and send you spiralling into territory unknown."

However, since finally succeeding in getting out what he had been trying to tell Sakura for so long, or at least as close to it as he could get (those three little words that he knew she was still waiting to hear from him had taken up permanent residence in his throat, despite his efforts to evict them and have them leave his mouth already. But he was getting there...), he had come to the conclusion that "territory unknown" wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Jiraiya's therapy was a perfect example.

"Sasuke-kun? This has been bothering me for a while now. If you've been trying to get together with me, why were you hitting on those girls that day a little while back?"

...But just because it wasn't a bad thing didn't mean it would be painless.


"I... I just have to step out for a minute."


"...At this time of day...he's probably peeping in the women's hot springs."


"Uh... I'll be right back!"

The End

Guttersnipe's Word: Okay. It's finally finished. As in, over. As in, there will be no more chapters after this. Yeah. I turned Lee into a super-pervert. You had to see that coming. There's no way any of you can be surprised by that. At first, I was actually going to make Jiraiya afraid of women, but then I thought, "No. He would take that experience and completely pervert it into something appealing to himself." So, I wrote it thusly. And I also figured it wouldn't be much of a tribute to the guy if I ended it with him fearing that which he loved most, i.e. peeping on and pursuing the ladies. But I have no excuse for what I did to Lee. I love that guy to death, but I just couldn't resist making him a total perv. I mean, can you imagine?! I would die of laughter if he went hentai in the manga! Just positively die! Strutting about in his sexy green spandex… Yep. That's the stuff!

Thanks to everyone who has read this story. An extra big thanks to those who have reviewed and/or put this story on their favourites. It means a lot. Really it does.

Now for some useless stuff, because I like to ramble! Whoot!

This is the first multi-chapter story I've ever completed! I feel marginally accomplished. I will now be focusing on finishing my uber-crack! fic Public Service Announcement (so the ten people who read that fic can rejoice! Ah, I'm joking. I love that fic to death. I'd finish it even if no one read it), after which I will be beginning a new uber-crack! fic called Konoha Gangsters. I'm not going to say what it's about yet, but you can be sure that it will be chalk-full of severe crackage like PSA. Also, A Family of Sorts will be getting more updates now, as well as The Eternal Soundtrack. I've got a whole lot of SasuSaku angst fics lined up for the latter, while the former will offer the humour and some crack! that you addicts are after. Crack! and angst. Is there any sweeter pairing? I think not.

Later peeps!