Weather as charged and tumultuous as the circumstances; rain that couldn't make up its mind – Pein must already have his hands full. So it was no surprise to her when the Village Hidden in the Rain began to live up to its name again.

Sakura cut across the rooftops toward her rendezvous point. She had lost her cloak battling Karin earlier and this improvised route gave her a better chance of remaining undetected. Defeating Karin had cost time – she was supposed to be in position already. The industrial, labyrinthine field of towers, pipes, and scaffolding made a challenge of moving through the electrified glow of night.

A flicker of white caught her eye. What --

Sasuke. His white shirt whipped in the wind as he stepped out on an open tower balcony. Aware of her transient presence, he coolly observed her. He, too, glowed against the bleak village; it made her heart pause. . .

She wasn't seeing the pipe she was about to bash into. "Sakura!" he called out before he realized what he was doing.

Her well-placed hand; a redirection; a landing on a neighbouring tower across from the balcony.

Hn! Sasuke eyed her more closely. Her reaction had been lithe and quick. Did his warning make her avoid the pipe or did she already know it was there? Sakura was certainly still talented in chakra control – she had deftly landed on a sheer vertical.

She looked at him, inscrutably, but didn't meet his gaze for long. Of all times, why now? Sakura thought. There was nothing for it. She grit her teeth in sharp frustration and sprung forward.

He wasn't about to underestimate her and readied his sharingan only to see that she was going to bypass over him. Sasuke frowned: he wasn't done with her yet. Her vault over the scaffolding anticipated, Sasuke cast wire to catch her wrists at the critical moment. His sharp pull grounded her on the balcony with a rough thump.

He waited until she met his eyes to enquire as to what she was doing in Amegakure.

Sakura rose awkwardly without the use of her hands, leaning against the balcony's door frame to help herself up: "I don't have time for this." Despite the pride with which she faced him, the answer sounded weak, even to her. If it irked Sasuke, his expression didn't change. But neither did he release the wire trap. She considered her situation: this detour didn't negate her need to be at the mission rendezvous point ages ago. Perhaps blunt honesty would get her out of there faster.

"I have to neutralize any Akatsuki I see" she said pointedly.

Skeptical, Sasuke raised an eyebrow as he closed the gap between them, resting an incisive hand on the wall beside her head.

"Try me," Sakura said defiantly with a burning look, her response heated by his closeness.

Neither is she lacking in confidence, Sasuke thought.

He pressed on: "Then why didn't you attack me on sight?"

"I'm Tsunade's student; I have her ear," Sakura began. "She agreed to convince the other kages to classify you a missing nin rather than an Akatsuki." She added: "That's also why you've had so much freedom of movement over the years."

He was taken aback and took a minute to absorb the information. Now that she mentioned it . . . but "Why did you go so far for me?"

If her eyes softened before replying, it wasn't because her response lacked determination. "Years ago I said I'd help you with your revenge. With Itachi dead I don't know what you're after but—" She looked at him fully, heart pounding. "I still believe in you . . ."

They looked at each other for a long moment.



He turned his head aside, obscuring his eyes.

A third voice sliced the moment: "Busy, Sasuke?" Madara was perched on the balcony.

Unsettled, Sasuke stepped back from Sakura and faced the interloper while still firmly holding the wire: "Yes."

"Well, change your plans. Pein's under attack."

"That's no concern of mine; I owe him no loyalty," Sasuke said dismissively. "You're mistaken to think I would stay past Akatsuki's usefulness for my purposes."

"Oh ho!" Madara crowed. "I know where to find the Konoha Elder that you can't locate" Madara closed his sharingan eye and pushed his mask up.

"Danzou!" Sasuke spat and readied himself.

Sakura leapt off the balcony.

Her hands were still caught in the wire which was unreeling fast from Sasuke's hand. Instinct had him snatch at the remaining wire to wrench her back in. Success! Sakura thought. Turned around and hurtling back toward the tower, she whipped the wire ahead to loop it around Madara's neck. Slam landing into a brace against the balcony's edge she forced her end taut.

"Sasuke! Now's your chance!"

Mindful of his part in maintaining Madara's noose, Sasuke's raikiri sprung up to surround him and sizzled as he plunged a quick fist into Madara's chest. Retracting his hand, a swift slice from his katana cut Sakura free. She nimbly evaded the stumbling Madara and drew three small kunai, ready to pierce his vital points but there was no need. Sasuke solidly kicked the damaged chest and Madara crumpled and fell from the slick wet balcony, between the towers, and down the many stories. The night and rain obscured his spattered end.

Sasuke turned to Sakura, genuinely impressed – "How did you stop him from teleporting?"

She grinned at having piqued his interest: "I hyper-condensed my chakra and ran it through the wire – it weighs down on his chakra until his was almost frozen. He couldn't–"

Madara blinked into existence behind Sakura. Unceremoniously her ran her through, glaring at Sasuke as he grimly pronounced: "I'm not called immortal for nothing". He tossed Sakura aside and pointed with the bloody kunai: "Back up Pein or there will be one fewer Uchiha".

Sasuke's shuriken hit only the swirl of air left from Madara's teleport away.

To the matter at hand.

Two strides and Sasuke was crouching over a motionless Sakura. Leaning close he could still hear shallow breathing. But his hand found her wound which confirmed the terrible, inevitable result. He let out a long, ragged sigh. He brushed Sakura's hair from her face and found his hand lingering.

As if it would make a difference, he spoke: "You know, I always admired your heart." It was like his. Tenacious. But better than his somehow. The kind of heart that could carry a past and a future. The kind of heart that included him. It was too late now – "I guess not all dreams can come true" Sasuke said unhappily. His voice guttered into a whisper: "If you're gone, I'll be alone as you've been."

Lightning brought his attention crashing back to everything else. Gently removing himself from her, Sasuke stood and moved toward the balcony. He couldn't leave her here – Zetzu said earlier that he was coming back. Where to take her?

He gripped the arch and stared at the rain. The cold and smooth of the stone under his hand irritated him; too much like her skin. He withdrew his hand from the offending stone. Not for long. He rammed his fist into it. Again. And again. Fresh thunder masked his infuriated, anguished yell. Fuck, fuck, fuck! It wasn't supposed to happen like this. It was. . . It was. . .He couldn't put together how it should have been. He wearily stepped into the rain and looked up, hoping for some clarity. His hand ached. His heart ached: "Sakura. . ."

"Thank you."

He whipped around. She was bloody but no longer bleeding. A blue-purple seal that decorated her face and the length of her arms was receding back under her shirt. She gave him a lopsided smile. He just stared.

"I really want to kiss you right now," Sasuke managed.

Sakura's hopes violently rose but she didn't want to tempt fate: "So what are you going to do about that?"

His hair brushes her face; they kiss. As if it were to be the last time.

They part, flushed at renewed precious possibilities.

"I still have to go – I'm part of the support team attacking Pein."

"Could you use a hand?" Sasuke asked rhetorically. He said it so matter-of-factly, it made Sakura pause, flattered. But it was with a fierceness that he continued: "From now on, I'll watch your back."

A/N: I hope you enjoyed the chapter, thanks for reading! This chapter was based around nami86's "sketch: too late" and partly on her "what are you doing here?" on deviantArt