RECAP:

"Speak to Sasuke? Right now? The last time I checked, they were moving him to a holding room. I don't think—"

"The last time you checked?" The realization hit me like a blow to the stomach. "You mean he's not with you?" My heart pounded. "You said he was with you!"

"I said he was here. Here in the police station."

This time, I'm in it for the kill.

"So he's not with you."

"...No."

"Then who's with Sasuke?"

Inbox (4)
1 New e-mail message: UNKNOWN
Are you trying to anger me on purpose?
Well, congratulations.

"He's in a holding room, Sakura."

Oh god, oh god.

"No one would be with him."

Because you finally succeeded.


Instant Message
by KEELAH


There, parked hastily in the police station's front lot, was a white-and-red van.

An ambulance.

No.

He'd won. Even as I ran toward the entrance, I knew:

The Rogue finally won.


Chapter FIFTY-SIX
Blood-Stained Hands

Please. Please be safe.

I barely felt the distance of four or five blocks, lungs and legs throbbing with adrenaline and desperation. My newly acquired phone chimed again and again as new e-mail messages came one after another. I'd stopped reading them a long time ago, but I didn't need a glance at the screen to know from whom were the messages. But though I tried to focus my attention on putting one leg after another, though I tried to pay no heed to the shrill, ear-piercing scream of every notification, each one still sent a bolt of thick, suffocating dread down to my guts.

Because I knew—

I knew that every message meant he was one step closer to his kill.

Damn you, Sasuke. Be okay. You better be okay.

When the square buildings of the police department finally rose to view, I nearly collapsed with relief. I'm here, I thought, barely able to hear the thoughts over the rush of blood in my ears. I'm here. I'm close. I'm—I stumbled, feet halting against the asphalt as every limb numbed in shock. I stared ahead, eyes fixed on the sight before me.

There, parked arbitrarily and hastily in the police station's open lot, right in front of the entrance doors, was a white-and-red van.

An ambulance.

No.

I broke into a sprint, cold sweat trickling down my neck.

No, damn it, no…

The only thought in my head at that very moment was that the Rogue had won—

He finally won.

He'd taken away everyone I loved within a span of three hours, without even so much as an opportunity for me to fight back.

It's over.

My legs ached and the muscles throbbed, but I dashed through the sliding entrance doors anyway—the pain of fatigue was nothing compared to sense of defeat flickering in the depths of my guts, churning and clawing. No. I hadn't even fought back. As bloody and dark and helpless these few months have been, I'd never once imagined losing to the Rogue without even so much as a struggle.

I took note of the paramedics and officers dotting the lobby, in between the bustling and restless bodies of the civilian crowd. He's here, he's here—he had to be. I refused to consider the possibility that maybe Sasuke was outside in the ambulance, lying on a stretcher. Where? Sasuke, where are you? The lobby was too full, and I too short to look over shoulders—I hadn't expected to find Sasuke within the first second or so of arriving at the station, but the crowd only further ignited my panic. Too many people. Too many noise and distractions. Too easy—it would be too easy to slip through security.

Heart pounding and gaze sweeping frantically across the busy lobby, my eyes landed and locked on a bright yellow tape that sectioned off the far back corner of the first floor: KEEP OUT. My heart stuttered violently. An unusually greater amount of officers were concentrated in the surrounding area, their voices low and posture taut. In a hurry, I pushed my way over, shoving too many people a little too harshly. The small commotion caused some officers' heads to snap up and narrow their eyes. As I burst through the crowd and stumbled to a stop just before the yellow tapes, the tall, muscled cop standing nearest to the off-limits area stiffened and pursed his lips in immediate disapproval.

"This area is closed."

"Sasuke," I blurted out, trying and failing to catch my breath lest hyperventilation was a suspicious trait. "Uchiha Sasuke. Do you know where he is?"

"Records and visitations are dealt with at the front desk," he motioned dismissively over my head, where I knew a long, long line of people stood. It would take too long. God, this was taking too long. Standing in front of a naturally wary officer trained to pick up every cause for suspicion, I tried to push down the panic in my gut, knowing it wouldn't help, but it continued to swell in bubbling, bursting hysteria.

The cop's eyes narrowed as he took in my harried appearance, or the harsh gasps of air I couldn't bring under control. "What's wrong, miss? Are you alright?"

No, no, I'm not alright. I was growing more and more frantic. Because despite the bustling noise of the crowd, despite the constant shuffling of too many people crammed in one lobby, it was too quiet.

Too quiet.

My phone had stopped ringing.

"Please, please, it's important. Find Sasuke. Uchiha Sasuke—"

When the ringing had stopped exactly, I wasn't sure. Sometime during my sprint, somewhere between the hospital and the station, the e-mails had ceased—and the subsequent silence was cold and ominous.

"I'm not aware of any officer by that name."

"He's here being detained. He was taken in last night."

If the Rogue had fallen silent…

"We have visiting hours soon. You can check with the front-desk clerk for—"

Perhaps he had nothing more to taunt me with.

"No, goddamn it! I need to find him now!"

Just like that, the officer's eyes hardened. Heads turned our way but his cold, unyielding eyes fixed only on mine. "Now, little girl, you better—"

Another thought flashed through my head. "Hatake Kakashi," I blurted. "Get me Hatake Kakashi."

"Officer Hatake?" He blinked, the firmness momentarily gone. "If he's working today, he should be somewhere in the building."

"So FIND HIM!"

My patience had run out, but so had his. The officer glared, his gaze as hard as stones once more, and his fingers suddenly in locked around my arm in a firm, threatening grip. "Step. Outside."

No.

Panic shot through me. "But—"

His grip tightened as he twisted me around, firmly urging me towards the entrance doors. I dared to push him away and pull my arm free, but my strength was no match for his. "You'll conduct yourself in a calmer manner or you leave."

I wriggled my wrist from his grasp, feet planted into the floor. I caught sight again of the KEEP OUT tapes, bright yellow in reminder. "Tell me what happened," I said, so suddenly that he hadn't expected it and momentarily forgot that he was kicking me out. "What happened here? Why is this area closed off? Why is there an ambulance?"

He sighed and gripped my wrist harder. "It's none of your concern."

"I think I know the victim!" I yanked my arm away and turned to glare at him. Nothing to lose. With my family, my best friend, Sasuke and most of my sanity gone, I had absolutely nothing to lose. "Tell me. Please, just tell me what happened."

"A scuffle. Happens all the time. You need to step outside, miss, you're causing a scene."

"What scuffle?" I froze. "When?"

"Step outside."

"When?"

Another sigh. "You're a stubborn little thing, aren't you? Just in the last hour. Someone was hurt. It's why we're all a little busy and I don't have time for this—"

"Who?" No. Please, no. "Who was hurt?"

He paused suddenly, a frown settling on his serious visage. "A young man in custody." He stared at me, as if seeing me for the first time, gaze softer with a touch of sympathy I absolutely hated. I was so damn tired of being pitied. "Was he a relative of yours?"

My head throbbed. My vision spun.

He was wrong. Sasuke was still here—he was arrested and in trouble and I'd abandoned him, but he was still in the building somewhere. He was alive and safe and breathing and—

"Where is he?"

"The first ambulance took him away, but the wound had been fatal."

Nothing. I could feel nothing but numbness. "Is he... is he...?"

His gaze softened further, and I knew instantly the following words out of his mouth would shatter my world to pieces.

"He was stabbed in the chest, miss. He was dead by the time the ambulance came."

I stared at him. Frozen. Empty.

"So he's a relative? Did Officer Kira call you in? He was the first one on the scene."

He waited for a response but got none. Blood drained from every one of my limbs, leaving cold, lifeless flesh that knew not what to do now that there was no one left to fight for.

"If he is, I can refer you to the information desk. They can give you the address to the hospital—" He laid a hand on me and suddenly I felt suffocated. I shook him off and stumbled forward, bringing myself in the center of the crowd. Scanning every face. Heart breaking every time it wasn't the one I wanted to see.

This time, I'm in it for the kill.

I couldn't breathe.

Couldn't get enough air.

No.

No.

He can't be gone.

Sasuke can't be—

But he was.

No amount of denial or disbelief could change that reality. It felt impossible—that the one who stood as my center, the one who was always, always, a constant and unwavering presence, was now just suddenly... gone. I guess assumed he'd always be there, as he always was without me even asking, that now... it felt impossible that I could never assume that anymore. This was Sasuke. Sasuke. It was me and him—all this time, it was always Sakura and Sasuke. But now—how could I—how would I even... He couldn't be gone, he couldn't be—

I felt cold and suddenly alone.

Because he was my rock and strength and best friend and I never even knew.

"Ma'am? Ma'am, are you alright? There's a waiting area by the..."

Numbly, I shook off the hands on my arm and turned, swayed around. The lobby was full of blurry bodies, the air with incomprehensible murmurs. I couldn't see anything—the station was suddenly all but a hazy mist and unfocused images, but it wasn't until I blinked that I realized why.

A tear trickled down my cheek, as alone and empty as I was.

I forced myself to think it, to think of the four-letter-word that painted my world with darkness.

Dead.

Sasuke was dead.

Sasuke was—

I halted. Stared. Still as a corpse, breath held and dreading that moment of disappointment. The sight disappeared in the crowd of strangers. I was unmoving.

One second.

Two.

Three.

There. Again. Emerging from a narrow hallway in the back corner of the offices. A guard and a woman in white clothing. Standing silent, eyes weary, mouth pressed in a grim line. Hands in metal handcuffs. Tired, grim and pained, but breathing and standing and alive.

Sasuke.


Uchiha Sasuke

"Sasuke!"

His head snapped up, instantly spotting the mop of light-red hair struggling to push through the crowd. His eyes met hers, emeralds clashing with coal. She jumped over the wooden, waist-high gates meant to keep civilians out and slipped past the fingers of several stunned and reprimanding officers.

"Sakura? What are you—?

She rushed towards him.

For a moment, Sasuke merely stood there, unmoving in disbelief and bewildered at her unexpected appearance, until finally, finally, instincts kicked in. At the very last second, he lifted his handcuffed wrists, hooped them over her head, and slipped her into the circle of his arms just as she came crashing into him. He moved quickly, instinctively, like sheltering her was so natural to him that not even the chains on his wrists were enough of an obstacle.

"Sakura," he grunted as she slammed into chest.

"Oh my god," came the breathless murmurs from her lips, "You're okay, you're okay..." He could barely understand the words muffled into his shirt. There was a distinct smarting at the side of his rib cage, screaming for attention, but they were lost with her small frame trembling against him.

"Sakura?" Dread filled him. She hadn't been like this last night. He'd assumed she got home safely, but each passing second shed more doubt on that assumption. God, what had happened? His hold on her tightened, his hands unthinkingly brushing down her back and up her arms, checking for cuts, bruises or broken bones. "Sakura. Sak, what's wrong? Are you hurt? Are you okay? What—?"

She was shaking. Goddamn it. His hands fisted the shirt at the small of her back and pressing her closer as every sob and fragile gasp sliced through him, more agonizing than he had ever thought possible.

"Stop it," Sasuke muttered, annoyed not at her but at the sharp twinges shooting through him that had nothing to do with the wound at his side. She still trembled in his arms and it scared him that he couldn't stop it—terrified him even more that it pained him this fucking much. "Stop, damn it, Sakura. Calm down."

She shook her head harshly, mumbling in broken whispers. "Sasuke… oh my god, I didn't—I thought—"

"Hey," he breathed, his lips firmly pressed into her soft, light strands. He was surprised to feel his heart was pounding: from the surprise of seeing her, from the shock of her tears, from the intensity of their embrace. They had never been this close—not on purpose.

Not this desperately.

"I got you. You're okay."

"You were dead!"

He froze. "What?"

"I thought you were dead." Her soft, gentle fingers that he once thought looked so fragile now buried themselves into her scalp and fisted the strawberry blonde strands in a taut and barely controlled grip. Her whispers were lost and desperate, frantic and weary. "I thought you were dead."

"Haruno, I'm pretty sure I'm not." His hands were cuffed behind her, so all he could do was lean down and softly bump his forehead to hers, to force her to meet his eyes. It all felt so second nature now – somewhere in the chaos of fights and feather-light caresses, all the glares and touchless embraces… somewhere in that chaos, holding this fragile and resilient and reckless and brave little thing had become the most natural thing in the world to him. "Look at me. Sakura. I'm fine. I'm here. There's nothing—"

Suddenly, she was torn away.

"Step back right now! I don't know what the hell this is, but—"

The cuffs locking his wrists together ensured that Sakura remained inside the circle of his arms, but a large, forceful hand had planted itself on her still heaving shoulders. Sasuke glared at his guard, a burly man who thought Sasuke was dirt beyond hope and had taken delight in expressing this opinion at every opportunity. "Let go," the younger man growled.

"This area is off limits," the guard hissed, his steel grip tightening. At Sakura's flinch, Sasuke almost lost it. "I'm calling back up. Girl, if you don't step back right now, you will regret—"

"For God's sakes," Sasuke swore, loud enough for every officer in the floor to turn their heads and some civilians near the front-desk. "She's hardly five-foot-three and weighs less than half of you. You need back-up for that?"

The guard's face purpled, effectively kicked off of his macho high-horse. "She can't just barge in—"

"He's right."

Ibiki. Though the stern, brawny man wasn't exactly a bundle of unicorns and rainbows, Sasuke sighed with relief. Ibiki didn't coddle him, he coddled no one, but at least the man never showed prejudice against Sasuke either. Sasuke supposed it was because of his experience with similar young offenders in the Outreach program. The man turned his callous, unsmiling eyes on the suddenly uncertain guard. "The girl's harmless. Let go."

The guard let go, and Sasuke glimpsed dark red finger-shaped marks on the pale, once-smooth shoulder, the beginnings of a bruise on her skin. He clenched his fists and drew her back to him—and stopped.

Damn it. What the hell was he doing?

"She can't just barge into the offices," the guard barked, the anger practically steaming from his nose like an ugly, furious bull. "These are custody areas, it's prohibited—"

"Ibiki," Sasuke called, addressing Kakashi's partner in the rehabilitation program and completely ignoring the blubbering fool on his right. "Can we have a minute?"

Ibiki grunted in disapproval, communicating like a wild boar... or a primitive cave man who'd forgotten to evolve. "Visiting hours are at noon. You wait out the two hours like everyone else."

"I just want to make sure she's okay."

The man's eyes narrowed in suspicion, the grim downturn of his lips never shifting. "Immediate family members only."

If the man wasn't twice as large as him, Sasuke would have kicked him on the shins. That fucker. He had no immediate family members. Everyone knew he was an orphan. Pushing down his sudden temper, he glanced at Sakura. Sister? No. Even the biggest idiot wouldn't believe that lie. Black and strawberry blonde weren't exactly close in the color spectrum.

"She's a girlfriend."

Ibiki raised a brow. "A girlfriend? Exactly how many do you have?"

The barely evolved ape chose now of all times to develop a sense of humor. Sasuke's scowl couldn't get any darker. "She's mine—I meant my girlfriend... Just one. Goddamn it, Ibiki, you know what I mean. Can we have a few minutes or not?"

Another disgruntled sound. Ibiki repeated, unyielding: "Immediate family members."

Sasuke clenched his jaw. "They're dead." He growled, the words out of his lips before he could comprehend them: "I have no immediate relatives, remember? She is my family."

Sakura stilled. Ibiki watched him closely, methodically, scrutinizing for signs of truth or untruth like the top interrogator that he was. Sasuke raised his chin and met the man's intimidating gaze. He'd find no traces of lies.

Because it hadn't been a lie of convenience.

She is my family.

—It wasn't a lie at all.

"Five minutes," Morino Ibiki barked, his solemn face dark with irritation. He paused, changed his mind— "No. Two minutes. Make it quick, Uchiha. I don't play favourites." And then, as if to show he actually had a human heart, instead of a hardened glob of brick and testosterone, Ibiki nodded at the guard and gestured at Sasuke. "And take off the handcuffs. For heaven's sakes, he's practically crushing her."

Sasuke loosened his hold immediately, and Sakura gasped in the same moment. "Sorry," he muttered bending down check her face as the guard huffed, grudgingly moving behind Sakura to unlock the mental handcuffs. Sakura had turned a little red, but it was probably from crying rather than the lack of oxygen.

The moment his hands were freed, Sasuke cupped her face on either side and scanned her from head to toe, lingering particularly on the reddening hand print on her shoulder. "Are you hurt?" She was frazzled and out of breath, but seemed unharmed enough. The marks on her shoulder had him seething though. He tried to shake it off but found he couldn't, not as easily as he did before. When had every bruise and cut on her affected him so much?

Hit her and he flinched. Cut her and he bled.

It suddenly occurred to him what made her so freaking annoying: she had too much of an effect on him. It was frustrating—that she was too careless of her own well-being while he cared a little too damn much.

Their friendship had been hard to get off the ground in the first place, and here he was already falling.

Go fucking figure.

To his surprise, Sakura slapped his hands away. "Stop," she huffed angrily, though it didn't seem the frustration was directed at himself. "Stop worrying about me. I scared for I scared for you! Something happened. Something's wrong."

He grabbed her hand again, the one that had slapped him away. Just to tick her off. Just to prevent himself from doing anything more… stupid. "What is it?"

She met his eyes, her emerald orbs despairing and resilient all at once. "He's going down a hit list. The Rogue… I don't know. There's something strange. Something different with him. He's lashing out. He was here—to kill you."

He stilled, a thousand thoughts whirring through him at once until he realized Sakura was staring at him.

"Sasuke?"

Sasuke's gaze flicked over to the guard that still lingered a meager few feet away, unabashedly eavesdropping. With a hand on Sakura's back, he urged her down the hall a few yards away, to a slight downward ramp that led to the overnight holding rooms and a small cafeteria. Once assuredly out of earshot, he backed her against the wall and gripped the railings on either side of her.

"Keep it down," he muttered, but his demand only fueled her frazzled nerves further.

"Did you hear me?" Of course she'd be practically yelling just when he told her to keep it down. The remnants of panic still laced her voice. He glanced at the guard again, peering at them with eyes of suspicion. "The Rogue was here. He's probably still here. I'm getting you out of here. I'm—"

"Look at me: I'm fine. He was bluffing."

"Except he's tired of bluffing," Sakura muttered, running a pair of trembling palms down her face. "He's not bluffing. Not anymore Sasuke." A sigh escaped her, long and weary, before finally looking at him with clearer eyes. "I thought you were dead. The cop at the front said something about an accident. Some guy stabbed and rushed to the hospital. There was an ambulance parked out front. I thought the worst."

"There's always an ambulance here, for emergencies," he dismissed. "There are always fights breaking out too. It's nothing. Now tell me, what makes you think he's tired of bluffing? The Rogue's scared you with threats before." Her earlier words suddenly snapped back to him. "What hit list? What happened?"

The haunted look on her face alarmed him.

"Sasuke—" Her jaw locked, face hardened in anger and agony and helplessness. "My parents. And Ino. He worked so fast. All at the same time. I couldn't even—"

"Did he hurt you?" Sasuke hissed urgently.

"And I don't even know if Ino's alive, and I don't even know how he moved so fast or how he planned this or—"

"—Sakura!"

She broke off, eyes wide in shock as he suddenly snapped and gripped her arms.

He glared into her eyes. "Did he hurt you?"

Sakura stared. "What?"

"Did the Rogue hurt you?"

It was the first and foremost thing he needed to know. Because he was a selfish bastard.

"No. Not me, but—"

A booming voice interrupted her. "Alright, Uchiha, let's go!"

Damn. He turned quickly, eyes catching hers. "Visitations are in two hours. Stay."

Sakura gave a nod, albeit reluctantly. "I'll be here."

"Uchiha!"

"You're okay?" He spared no glance at the angry officer as he gazed at her and whispered, "You're sure?"

"Will you stop it? I came here to make sure you were okay."

He looked at her again, drinking up the sight. Her hair was a tumbled mess. Her skin was pallid, almost sickly. Her eyes darkened with shadowy bags beneath. But his breath caught anyway, from the simple miracle of her chest heaving up and down, her gentle pants of air, her cheeks reddened from the blood rushing underneath—surely, wonderfully, beautifully alive.

"Uchiha!"

Damn it.

"I know!" he snapped, quickly turning back to Sakura. Before she could react and before he could stop himself, he buried a hand into her hair and brought her closer, kissing her forehead. It wasn't like the one he'd given her downtown, back when he'd stashed her in a cab with a broken ankle and sent her home. Or when his lips grazed her skin while she was half-asleep, only hours before she found Kankuro's body. It wasn't a fleeting graze done out of instinct or a soft brush for comfort. Sasuke pressed his lips pressing against her skin—hard, meaningful, deliberate.

He pulled away, eyes locked on hers, owning up to his actions, daring her to say anything.

Then his gaze dropped to her lips.

Sasuke clenched the railings behind her—

"UCHIHA!"

He jolted away.

God fucking damn it.


Haruno Sakura

I stumbled to the nearest of the chairs lined up along the hallway, heart pounding from the remnants of adrenaline and terror and frenzy, the skin at my temples still burning from the touch of his lips. Bluffing, he said, the Rogue had been bluffing. But as much as I wanted to believe Sasuke, I knew the Rogue was no longer hiding beneath pretenses. Especially not after this morning. It was the very reason why a chaos of relief and confusion rushed through me as I buried my face into my palms. I pressed hard against my eyes until the darkness burst into black, blinding lights behind its lids.

Relieved that Sasuke was unharmed.

But confused that he was.

The Rogue had worked so fast, getting my mother first, then Dad all within the span of half an hour. I didn't know whether Ino's machines were sabotaged before or after he'd attacked at the house, but all the same, he had set it up so I would have been at the hospital to find out about Ino's situation too. And then Sasuke. The Rogue had inflicted injury and harm to every one of his targets this morning. Sasuke was next. I was so sure Sasuke was next.

But Sasuke turned out to be fine. Guarded by an officer, grumpy as ever, and always so easily annoyed at me just a second ago. He was perfectly fine. So what happened? Where was the Rogue? Had the Rogue been bluffing and he hadn't been here at all? I scanned the busy lounge, the floor filled with energy and urgency as both civilians and cops scurried here and there. Every single police officer had a gun strapped to their waist. It would be foolish, crazy, to attack here of all places. But the Rogue wasn't mentally stable. Not anymore.

I shook my head, prying my hands off my head before I accidentally tore half the hair out. At this moment, it was enough that Sasuke was safe. That he was alive. Whatever game the Rogue was playing now, whatever disaster came my way, I could find the strength and courage to deal with it all—as long as breath still passed Sasuke's lungs and blood still pumped through his heart.

Forcing my nerves to calm down, I unclenched my fists—

...And felt my insides turn cold.

I stared, breathing growing heavier by the moment.

Thin, crimson streaks stained my palms.

Blood.

In an instant, my hands were back on my head, running through my hair and pressing my scalp to search for any tender or wet spots. I didn't remember hitting my head. I drew my hand away and found no new blood on the pale flesh.

Overwhelmed with nearly a thousand thoughts a minute, I tried to recall whether I had blood on my hands on my way here or how long I'd had this crimson stains. I didn't remember seeing blood-red anywhere, though I would have been too filled with dread and adrenaline to notice. And Sasuke would have noticed instantly if I'd had blood on me—the way his gaze scanned over me so intensively for injuries, he would have been the first to take note. I tried to remember whether I'd helped bandage my mother's foot, or touched the wounds in anyway. But no—my dad had done the job. He wouldn't leave her side. I'd seen the glass fragments on the kitchen floor but never touched them either.

I suddenly remembered the smears of blood on the cupboard doors, the crimson message still dripping fresh.

But I hadn't touched the message either.

I traced a finger across the crimson streaks. It smeared slightly, not quite dry just yet.

I stood, my feet leading me across the hall before I knew where I was going, intuition already forming the answers I didn't want to know. With a straight back and confident steps, I walked past bustling police officers as though I had every authority to walk around here and slipped into a familiar hallway—the same one Sasuke had walked out of.

Once out of sight from the main lounge and offices, my pace slowed. The hallway was lit but isolated, the ceramic tiles glowing under fluorescent lights as I walked further in. Within a few seconds, I laid eyes on a plain, pale-cream door and knew instinctively that I found what I was looking for. On its center hung a square, forest-green logo with a white cross.

FIRST-AID ROOM

I clenched my hands, feeling the thick fluids as it stuck and crusted on my skin.

I remembered how he'd flinched away from me, so briefly and imperceptibly that I hadn't noticed, since he had taken me in his arms in the next second and returned the embrace just as tightly. I held on tighter than I should have, and though Sasuke held me close, his body was rigid, stiff from effort. My arms were around him, hands clutching his side.

If he came back now and lifted his shirt, I knew I would see bloody bandages.

"I'm fine."

He lied.

He'd been bleeding.

I knew instantly. The Rogue had been here. And while I didn't know what exactly had happened, I knew for certain that the madman had been close enough to hurt him, and Sasuke was sure enough that it had been the Rogue that he wouldn't tell me. But there was no denying it now. I'd put Sasuke in danger again and almost, almost lost him. I felt the world suddenly tipping, but I fought the nausea, pushed aside any trace of fear and reached for the urge that grew and swelled from within: the sudden urge to protect. He'd been the strong and steadfast shield around me every single minute of every single day. It was my turn to do the same for Sasuke. From the Rogue. From being wrongfully jailed and punished.

As I stood there in the empty hallway, stripped of every pillar of support I had, every loved-one I held dear, every source of strength—as I stood there, with Ino and my mother and father and Sasuke taken away, with even Shikamaru no longer there, with everyone I loved either broken or bleeding... I felt it. A flicker. A flash of strength even at my lowest, a glimmer of rage and desperation and resolve, fragile and small, but growing, swelling. Because I could stand here, and crumble, and cry. Or I could end this game forever.

A thought crossed my mind, then another, and another. Not quite formed. Brewing.

I stared at the blood on my hands.

Felt I could no longer handle having them so drenched in crimson.

If the Rogue claims I'd pushed him over the edge—well, he'd done the same to me. And he would be sorry for it.

The Rogue was filled with anger. I was too. He had become crazy, too bold, and undeterred and uncontrollable. Then I would be just as bold, just as undeterred. Just as crazy and uncontrollable.

If caution no longer held him back, then fear would no longer restrain me either.

Fight fire with fire.

And at that very moment, I swore to myself. I swore that the next and last time I would have blood on my hands—

It would be the Rogue's.


Memo: QUESTION! What's your favorite SasuSaku Moment/Scene in Instant Message? I'm really curious, since most of it is implied rather than obvious make-out sessions and "I love you's". Also, I need writing-the-ending inspiration.

THANK YOU to all you super awesome readers and reviewers! To anonymous reviewers: I can't reply since you didn't log in, but I appreciate all your comments! Especially you, reviewer with the chainsaw.

Pro tip: READ INSTANT MESSAGE IN THE DARK! x)

If You're Happy and You Know It – The Instant Message Version #2!
Do you feel those claws of fear, down in your spine?
Read this story in the dark, and you'll be fine!
Shut the blinds, turn out the lights, drown a little bit in fright
Close your eyes, and hear the Rogue, whisper "Good night..."

Ahaha. Good luck sleeping! (And if you listen closely, you'll hear someone asking, "Do you want to play a game?")
~ Keelah