Sasuke stood with his back to the rugged stone wall, sweat beading off his forehead in glistening sheets. Karin was by his side, fussing over the state of his left arm, bloodied and almost split in two by his own broken blade, but he paid her no more attention than he normally did. He was, as always, focused only on Itachi, on seeking revenge on the man that had taken everything from him. A small part of him was thinking of Aoi, the time that they had spent together, the embraces, the secrets... everything that they had ever shared. He never would have guessed in a million years that it would vanish instantly, never thought for a second that Itachi would have been the one to steal her away... He always thought that it would have been Kabuto, or even Orochimaru, who would have taken her from him, not his brother...

"Sasuke-kun!" Karin shrieked with concern, unzipping her lavender jacket and presenting him with her healing abilities, simultaneously pulling him back to the present.

He shot her a glare that could have turned a lesser girl to stone, only causing her to flinch, but he took her up on her offer to heal, knowing that if he left his arm unattended for too much longer, the consequences could have been severe, "Hn."

"Hm," She giggled suggestively after he had finished, "It feels so good, I wish you'd never stop ~ Oh, that's right," She darkened instantly, "It's because of that other woman... the one who left and broke your heart... Sasuke-kun, you're too cool to worry about the likes of some heart-breaker who left you in the dust! I mean, it's been seven months, so she's probably a corpse, rotting away in the dirt where she belongs."

He had never raised a hand to a woman unless she interfered with his plans, or she had deserved it, but Karin was caught in a death-choke before he even registered what had been said, "Don't you ever talk about Aoi like that again. I don't care how useful you are - I will kill you."

She nodded, eyes wide, frightened by this side of Sasuke that she had never seen before. Unremorsefully, he let her go, turning around and leaving the training room, stopping for a second before he actually left. She thought that he was about to address her, but he only threw his sword into the wall, the remainder of the blade sinking into the stone as if it were jello, the blade submerged to the hilt.

Mind wandering from his brother to the woman he cared deeply for (thanks to the conversation with Karin, who was just as annoying as Sakura had been), he stormed to his room at the far end of the lair, flinging himself down on his lumpy, poorly-made bed, angry black eyes glittering like the endless pits of hell at the ceiling. Aoi never would have upset him half this much, but if Aoi had been there, he probably won't be this fired up in the first place. If she had never been abducted, Aoi would have known exactly how to treat him right now, rushing to his side, cradling his head in her lap as he cooled off, her hand gently stroking him with soothing motions.

They had only shared the one night together, but he knew that he loved her, truly loved her, not the sort of love that guys claimed to have for a woman before leaving her shortly after they had been intimate. They had known each other for years, gazing passed the pain and bullshit to really learn who the other one was. She knew him, he knew her, and at the end of the day, they still loved each other, so it was only natural that he would have proposed to her.

Plagued by guilt at the memory of his proposal and later refusal to chase after Aoi, he thought about why it was that he didn't go after her himself. It was one of the hardest decisions he had ever made, but he honestly felt as if it were the right thing to do, though admittedly at times he questioned if it really was for the best. When Aoi had been snatched away, Sasuke immediately knew that he was too weak to personally go after Aoi, and when he had tried to send a summoned snake to track her down, he suspected that the ruthless fate it met (he could tell that it had died) had been at either Kabuto's or Orochimaru's hand, for one way or another, he knew that one of them was involved with Aoi's kidnapping. He had tried to follow her, but the trail had quickly gone cold, leaving him with absolutely nothing to go from.

Besides, he knew that if he had managed to find her, to verify her status, he would no doubt spring into a fight he was not yet prepared for, which would have done no one any good. Hateful as his soul was of Itachi, he knew that he had to play this game with intelligence, and unfortunately, sacrifice. It wasn't that he was giving her away, Sasuke had merely sacrificed everything else to protect her from what he felt would be a greater pain. Better that she should hate him then to lose him, especially when losing him would have been due to his feelings for her...

Oh. My. Glob. I totally forgot that I had Sasuke propose to Aoi (way back in chapter 10)! Do you see what happens when you write chapter by chapter? You forget things because of the excitement you get in the current story... Dammit, this really throws a wrench into my plans... Or does it? We'll just have to see! Anyways, I'm glad to hear that this story is entertaining! I really do worry about how I handle things, if I convey my message properly, and the general likeability/believability of the current chapter. I probably care more about my reader's approval than I should, but without readers, can it really be said that I have written anything at all?