the final night.

Sakura had a nice sleep. In fact, the nicest one she'd had in a while. She couldn't remember the last time she slept with friends, but made a mental note to do it more often.

It was late morning by the time they woke up, due to staying up so late. She didn't mind, though; she was most likely staying in the cell the entire day, anyway. Naruto and Sai had confirmed that they would stay the entire time as well, claiming that they had nothing to do.

She didn't believe them, but accepted their company, anyway.

When they woke up, Sasuke was gone again. She doubted he slept well, if at all—if unconsciousness was even considered sleeping—and was worried about, not his well-being, but his life. It was difficult to lie or stay quiet with Morino Ibiki—but if you could, like she suspected the Uchiha to do, he might die before they give up and send him off to his execution. Every human had approximately the same physical limits.

"Sakura-chan," Naruto dragged out, waving something in front of her. She furrowed her brows and took it from him.

"Cup ramen?"

The blonde grinned. "Of course! A sleepover isn't a sleepover without the ramen!"

She rolled her eyes. "Tell me when you find some hot water, and maybe I'll have some, too." With that, she promptly began her breakfast of cereal and orange juice given to them by the ANBU guards.

They didn't have to wait long to be let out. Proof was found in Sasuke's mind that he did, indeed, use the Sharingan on her. At this piece of news, the tight grip on her heart loosened considerably, and she felt relatively at peace again. Now, at the very least, she still had a home to return to. She had friends that she didn't betray. It wasn't her fault.

Well, not entirely, anyway. But she was sure she could keep that little snippet of information to herself.

After Naruto cheered and cleaned up his mess, they all headed upstairs to the main level of the Hokage tower and stepped outside, stretching and enjoying the warmth the sun was providing.

Just as they were about to head back to their respective homes, Sakura caught a voice. And it wasn't saying things she liked to hear.

"We sucked him dry, Hokage-sama. Nothing left to take from him." She glanced over her shoulder and saw Morino Ibiki waving a hand carelessly at her shishou. "I would proceed to lock him up for another couple of years, but he refuses to do or agree to anything. Either he's plotting, or ready to die."

"They really should be discussing this in her office," Sai murmured under his breath.

Tsunade's brows knitted together. "What are you suggesting?"

"Execution. As soon as possible, and away from the general public's eyes. Killing the last Uchiha would cause an uproar." The interrogator paused, waiting for some sort of reaction. When he didn't receive one, he continued. "I suggest this afternoon."

"No way—" She clapped a hand over Naruto's mouth, and together, she and Sai pulled him away, with much effort.

"What are you doing?" the Jinchuuriki demanded when they dragged him into a nearby alleyway. "Do you guys understand they're saying? They're going to execute him! That means they're going to kill him!"

Sai took out an empty scroll, a brush already dipped with ink, and began to write on it. When he was finished, he held it up to Naruto, where the word execute was written. "To execute means to kill as a socially sanctioned punishment—" He didn't look the least bit surprised when the blonde hit the scroll out of his hand.

"He's going to die! Do you feel nothing for him?"

Sai looked away from him and locked gazes with Sakura for a brief moment. "He deserves to die."

Naruto's attention was then averted to her. "Sakura-chan? You understand, don't you? We have to stop them! We have to tell Tsunade-baa-chan!" He grabbed her shoulders, almost desperately, and she felt her heart break a little more with the pained expression crossing his features. "Hey, Sakura-chan, say something! You love him, don't you?"

And much to her surprise, she found herself crying. She made no sounds, and there was no lump in her throat, but the tears were streaming down her cheeks in a way she had never experienced before.

Sasuke was doing to die.

Uchiha Sasuke was going to die.

The one person she was willing to give everything to ever since she was a child—Uchiha Sasuke—was going to die.

"No," she breathed, broken. "He can't die. Sasuke-kun…" Her knees gave out from underneath her, and she collapsed into Naruto's arms. "Sasuke-kun can't…"

"We need to stop this," Naruto said, his grip tightening on her and tone deathly serious. "Sai, you coming?"

She heard the artist pause for a long, tense moment. "I do not care for him." Feeling Naruto tense up in anger, she brought her arms out and wrapped them around him, almost sure that their pale teammate had more to say. "But I hope that you would do the same for me if I was in a situation like that, so…"

Well, at least those two could agree on something when it really mattered.

So they took no time to turn around and race right back to the Hokage's office.

Naruto pounded on the door. "Oi, Baa-chan! Baa-chan!" After a few short moments of no response, he barged right in, patience clearly gone. She and Sai followed without hesitation.

They met with the Hokage sitting at her desk, downing a cup of sake. Sakura couldn't help but laugh sheepishly. She had a terrible habit of doing that when she was stressed. Actually, she did that when she wasn't stressed, too—depending on where Shizune was, anyway.

"Baa-chan, what are you thinking?" the blonde demanded, slamming his hand onto her desk. Tsunade didn't look the slightest bit fazed—she supposed she had to expect it sooner or later. "You're going to let them just kill him?"

"What else can I do?" She sounded surprisingly calm. "Do you expect me to help him when he plans to annihilate Konoha?"

"The village will be safe! I'll even offer to watch him, if you like! We'll have chakra seals on the door, ANBU standing guard at all times, the entire area under surveillance—it'll be fine!" She had to admire his determination. It was still as strong as ever, even after all of these years.

The woman watched Naruto as he continued to ramble on. "Sasuke has no use to us anymore!" she barked suddenly, causing the hair at the back of her neck to stand on end. "He was even put into our bingo book recently! He poses as a major threat to Konoha, and you think I can just keep him locked up? He's an Uchiha, Naruto, and I hope you understand that. Do you not think that I, as Hokage, should do whatever it takes to keep my village safe?"

Naruto took a deep breath, never once breaking eye contact with her. Sakura glanced at Sai uneasily, who held his calm façade amazingly. "He won't harm the village," he repeated, tone dangerous. "He's Sasuke. He won't."

Tsunade sighed. "Naruto," she said slowly, "you should understand the responsibility that comes with being Hokage, as you plan to take my place in the future. You have no idea what's going on in Sasuke's mind, and if you so happen to make the wrong mistake, the damage will be yours to take when everything is gone."

"I would still let him live."

The woman's hazel eyes began to harden. "Favoritism at this point is unacceptable—"

"That is the most hypocritical thing I think I've ever heard you say in my life." The entire room fell in silence for a moment, everyone staring at the blonde, who was practically radiating anger from his body. Sakura even thought she felt some of the Kyuubi's disgusting chakra.

Naruto didn't make a move to stop talking. "You say favoritism is unacceptable, but you let me go on that mission three years ago to check on Sasori's spy, even though you knew I might be in jeopardy. If I fell into Akatsuki's hands, that would be the end of the shinobi world as we know it. And yet, you're saying that at the risk of one fucking village, you're not going to even try to save a shattered man?"

Sakura held her breath. She wasn't sure if she wanted Tsunade to allow Sasuke to live or not. She understood both sides; she wanted the Uchiha to live, but at the same time, she couldn't bear to have Konoha destroyed, knowing that she contributed to it.

She honestly didn't know what to think or do.

The Hokage stared at Naruto. And she knew, by the way the woman furrowed her brow, that her decision was final. "That's what I'm saying. I'm not going to save him."

"Then what was the point of even trying to get him back all those times?" Naruto shouted, gesturing wildly. "Why did we even try, if he was going to die in the end?"

"Understand that it was different!" Her shishou was angry, now; she could tell. "At that time, Sasuke's goal was to kill Itachi, and wanted nothing to do with Konoha. This time, Konoha is his target!" There was a tense pause. "He's going to be executed, Naruto. I'm not changing that. Be at the execution grounds this afternoon if you'd like to say goodbye."

It was final. She knew it was final. And she didn't know whether to feel relieved or afraid.

"Naruto…" She hesitantly made her way towards him, reaching out to hold his arm. "Come on, let's go."

The sight of her friend's tortured expression tore her apart. She had no idea what to say or do. In a situation like this, she couldn't even help herself.


Did she love him more, or did she love her village more?

Why do you continue to hurt all of us this way, even when you're going to leave?


When it all came down to it, Sakura wasn't sure if it was all real or not.

The past week flew by much too quickly for her to register it. The hours seemed like seconds, gone with a blink of the eye—it was surreal.

Inner Sakura snorted. "So, what, you expect to wake up snug in your bed when you're at the climax of this twisted dream?"

And in a way, she wanted to. She wished for nothing more than Sasuke to be a missing-nin again, and for Itachi to come back to life. That way, the younger Uchiha wouldn't be sentenced to death just hours—seconds—from now, and she wouldn't see this cruel side to him.

Or maybe she had always seen it subconsciously, but shoved it away.

Naruto promptly went home after they left Tsunade's office—to do what, she had no idea—and Sai disappeared, they way he often did whenever he wasn't needed. Sakura didn't return home—in fact, she went straight down to the basement of the Hokage's tower again, persuading the guards to let her through.

It wasn't much of a surprise when they did.

Sasuke wasn't in his cell when she arrived, and she didn't expect him to be. So she seated herself against the stone wall on the cold ground beside his prison, prepared to wait.

She went over a lot of things as the time passed by.

She did love him. As she had told Sai, she loved Sasuke unconditionally, and was willing to give him almost anything. She loved him…but she wasn't in love with him. She cared about him the same way she did about all of her other friends; she was willing to die for them, willing to help them by any means—even if it meant bending the rules a little. And maybe her feelings for him were extended just a little…but not even past a silly infatuation.

But that was a mighty long infatuation.

She supposed all of the affection he had given her was payment for everything he had made her feel in the past. Although she was sure he didn't mean it that way, she wanted to take it that way. It was the only way she could.

Feeling emotionally burdened, she drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them, resting her forehead on her arms. It was cold down here…

She still couldn't believe he had manipulated her. For him to do something as taking advantage of her; she wasn't sure if he had lost everything he had ever lived for after that battle with Itachi, or if he really just never cared about her in the first place. She hoped it wasn't the latter.

But, reluctantly, she had to admit that it was a very Sasuke thing to do, and…perhaps she didn't mind the journey here as much as she should've.

She wasn't sure how long she had waited until they brought him back from their interrogation, or whatever it was that they did with him. She suspected it to be hours—but it really felt like seconds—and she was almost chilled to the bone from sitting down here for so long.

His ANBU escorts paid her no heed as they chucked him into his cell. She flinched when she heard his body collide with the hard ground, and waited until they left before she did anything.

"Sasuke-kun?" she asked tentatively as she crawled to the cell door. "How are you feeling?" She was actually slightly surprised that he could pull himself into a sitting position.

He looked terrible. Cuts and wounds marred his perfect skin, and the exhaustion under his eyes reminded her of another certain Uchiha she had seen years ago. His hair was dishevelled, his lips dry and cracked, and a good deal thinner.

"As good as a prisoner is supposed to feel," he responded dryly. She was glad he still had his sarcasm.

She gestured at him through the bars. "Come here. I'll heal some of your wounds."

He snorted lightly. "As if you weren't accused of treason enough." But he slowly made his way towards her, nevertheless. Pulling off her ANBU gloves, she reached through the metal bars and was surprised that she could actually reach quite a ways.

A light smile reached her lips as she started with his face. "I don't think Shishou will mind." She enjoyed the feeling of her chakra pressing against his skin; being able to heal him was one of the few things she was able to do to help him.

"Because I'm going to die anyway, right?"

The question hung heavily in the air, and she shivered at its somber tone. "Yes," she answered quietly. "I would rather you die looking a little healthier."

"Not going to try to save me?"

"After what you've done to me? I don't think so." She felt the tears prickling at the back of her eyes, and she forced them back, hearing Inner Sakura's mocking laughter ringing in her mind. "Knowing you, you probably have some escape route planned already. And if not, Naruto will most likely initiate some weird plan and get you away."

When his skin was the way it should be—pale and flawless—she moved to the cuts and bruises on his torso. They really didn't hold back; judging from the swelling in one of his elbows, it was probably broken.

It was silent for a few blissful minutes as she continued to work. She hesitated as her hand hovered over his elbow, wondering if she should fix it or not. Making him too strong wouldn't be a smart thing to do…

"You wouldn't believe anything I say anymore, right?" The Uchiha looked careless as he watched the chakra in her palm flare up. One last parting gift, she supposed. If she didn't heal it, it most likely wouldn't function as well as it used to, if he survived.

She laughed dryly. "Do you expect me to?" Her eyes locked with his; emerald to obsidian. "If I don't, you can just make me believe, right?"

"What if I wanted you to believe on your own?"

She pretended the words didn't faze her. Messing up once was more than enough to teach her that Sasuke would never be the caring man she had dreamt him to be. "Depends on what you said, I suppose."

"I do care about you."

Her chakra continued to weave into his arm, and she nodded dryly. "Uh-huh. And during my spare time, I dance in front of my mirror in nothing but my underwear."

"Really, now?" She glanced up at him, surprised that he would actually believe that—until she noticed the faint smirk on his lips. She blinked and stared, removing her hand from his elbow.

Inner Sakura seemed just as speechless as she was. "He just made a joke, didn't he?"

She rolled her eyes and took his arm, bending it in every way possible to make sure it was alright. "Yeah, Sasuke-kun. And let me tell you, I'm pretty damn sexy when I'm only in my underwear." His Sharingan was off right now, and he was going to die later, anyway; exchanging a few banters was alright, right?

"I'd say you're sexier naked."

At this, blood rushed to her cheeks and she glared at him, hands coming down to a rest on the cold ground.

She didn't believe his words for a moment. They were all lies—even if they were…nice lies. She had always wanted him to care about her the way she did about him.

She looked at him, afraid to lock eyes. But when they did, she could feel a painful lump in her throat and she was worried about crying in front of him. In a while, this face, this voice, this person she loved so much…would be gone.

"Are you scared?" she asked quietly

There was amusement in his voice. "I don't think I could be considered a shinobi if I was afraid of a hanging." When she didn't respond, he chuckled lightly. "But to have a pathetic ending like this wasn't at all what I had imagined."

"Sasuke-kun…" She reached out for him in between the bars, and he let her touch his face. "It's alright to be afraid."

"I am afraid of nothing, Sakura."

"Then…" She swallowed. "I'll be afraid for you." Her fingertips just barely grazed his skin, and she leaned forward on instinct. It was then that she wished these bars weren't there dividing them, and maybe she could feel him hold her one last time, even if it wasn't real—even if it meant more pain later on…

He chuckled wearily. "You're pathetic." But he leaned forward anyway, and allowed their lips to meet.

She didn't let him go. Her hand made its way to the back of his head and held him there. He would have to wait until she was willing to let go—and it wasn't going to be anytime soon.

His lips were so soft. Or, maybe she was just imagining it. She always saw Sasuke to be perfect, after all; to have flawed lips would be a little out of place. She controlled their pace; slow if she wanted to, fierce if she wanted to. She could feel her cheeks warming up, and her heartbeat quickening. It was delicious.

Her other hand reached out to grab whatever she could to bring him closer, but was surprised when it met with his hand. His palm pressed against hers, large and warm, and she felt weakened by his touch when his fingers intertwined with hers.

At this rate, she didn't know how hard the blow was going to be once he was gone.


The execution came too soon. She stood with Kakashi, Naruto, and Sai, a grim foreboding settling in her stomach. All of the other shinobi were there; Ino, Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba, Shino, Hinata—even Gai's team. There were many others that she didn't recognize, but their hitai-ate said everything.

The execution stage looked so empty. She shivered as her eyes fell onto the rope that hung eerily, tied into a single loop. How many lives had it stolen before?

It was such an old and simple way of killing people, but still so effective…

"Naruto, I'm scared," she told him brokenly, turning towards him with tear-glazed eyes. "I don't want him to die…" They were a family. True; a warped, dysfunctional family, but a family nevertheless.

The blonde placed a warm hand in her shoulder. "Don't worry. I'll save him."

She sniffed, roughly wiping her eyes before the tears could fall. "But that'll be going against Konoha…"

"I don't care. We came all this way for him; I'm not going to let him die just like that and have all of our efforts gone to waste."

Swallowing, she managed to nod meekly. She glanced over at Kakashi, whose Icha Icha wasn't even in sight, completely somber. Sai seemed normal—as normal as he got, anyway. When he noticed her looking at him, he flashed his smile flawlessly. She was sure it was fake.

The crowd suddenly hushed, and her head whipped towards the execution stage. Her eyes widened when she saw Sasuke being led to the deadly rope in the center, wrists tied behind his back with chakra chains. She was sure he was drained right now, being kept just enough to stay alive.

Unbearable anguish began to well up in her. Memories began to flash in her mind; his kiss, the chuunin exams, saving her from those thugs, holding his trembling figure in her arms—his smile. A smile that looked as real and genuine as it could get.


They brought him to the rope, and secured it around his neck. She could feel Naruto tensing beside her, ready to go at any moment. Kakashi's chakra wavered for a small moment from behind her.


Tsunade stood at the side of the stage, while the executioner, masked, was at the lever that he would pull, which would cause the floor under Sasuke to drop and hang by the rope.


The Hokage cleared her throat. "Fellow shinobi. Today will be the day Uchiha Sasuke will be executed, due to betraying Konohagakure and plotting to destroy it. With this, the Uchiha clan will be eliminated."

She took a deep, shaky breath. This couldn't be happening. This couldn't.

Sasuke looked so peaceful. His eyes surveyed the audience, and when they locked with hers, he didn't remove his gaze. And maybe she was just imagining it because she was so desperate, but she thought his lips managed a final smile.

Tsunade signalled to the executioner. "Do it."


Time stopped. Or maybe it just slowed down just for her. Just in her peripheral vision, she saw Naruto begin to move towards the stage. Her eyes widened as the man at the lever began to pull.


Desperation bubbled in her stomach. All this time, and she still couldn't do anything for the Uchiha. She had wanted to let him know he was loved all those years ago and he didn't have to avenge anyone, but it was never enough to reach him. She had wanted to save him from his hatred by bringing him back to Konoha, but she was never strong enough. She wanted to save his life…and look at her now, useless and on the brink of tears.

"Two," Inner Sakura offered, contributing to her silent countdown.

She scanned the crowd. Ino looked just as dumbstruck as she felt, and, in fact, everyone in her generation was speechless. She was sure none of them wanted Sasuke to die, despite his actions. He meant too much to all of them.

And finally, she looked at Sasuke again. His eyes were still on her, and she squinted when she thought she saw his lips move. Was he saying something?

I do love you…

No. That wasn't right. Something was off.

I did love you…

Her heart felt like it stopped beating. Her breathing came to a halt, emotion welling up completely and overflowing from her eyes.


The floor from beneath the man dropped, and a muted gasp rippled through the crowd as his body fell slightly, hanging by his neck. His head fell forward, suddenly limp.

"No…" The tears were overflowing uncontrollably, and Naruto had already disappeared from her side. If she went over to him right now, she could still save him. Only his spinal cord snapped to detach all his nerves, so he wouldn't feel himself suffocating. If she removed him from the rope and healed him, he could breathe again, and he would live…

But her eyes widened when the body disappeared in a cloud of smoke.


"A shinobi must be able to deceive, fool the enemy, and hold his act out until the very end."

She could see Neji's Byakugan on and scanning their surroundings immediately. By his expression, she could tell that his eyes told him nothing. The real Sasuke must've been far away by now. Perhaps out of the village.

He was gone with no explanation, no traces, no nothing.

Just like a dream.

Inner Sakura punched the air, suddenly very lively. "Yeah! Shannaro!"

The ANBU members on guard took off immediately. The loss of Uchiha Sasuke was a huge shock, and he could be anywhere right now—maybe on the outskirts of the village, ready to strike with his little group of talented shinobi.

She didn't know whether to laugh, or to continue crying. Relief swept over her like a tidal wave, and at the same time, indescribable fear took over for her home, her friends, her family.

As of today, they might all die.

Everyone dispatched immediately. All of the spectators were shinobi, anyway, and Tsunade issued an immediate S-class mission to catch Sasuke at all costs. The grounds were suddenly empty, leaving only Sakura, Kakashi, Sai, and Naruto. Said Jinchuuriki stood at the very front, just a mere foot or two away from where Sasuke was supposedly hung.

And she was so dreadfully afraid.

She turned her head to look at Kakashi. "Do we…?" She couldn't bring herself to say the words. Do we go after him, too?

Her former teacher sighed wearily. "Is there anything else we can do?" No one could simplify things the way he could. Just in those few words, she was told that he didn't want to chase after Sasuke, that he was tired, so tired of everything—but the Hokage's demands were the village's law.

And, so, after a prolonged moment, she took off with Kakashi and Sai, Naruto trailing behind them.

Sakura wasn't sure if the tears were blurring her vision, or if she was just growing lightheaded from hyperventilating. In any case, she wished Sasuke would just take this chance and leave while he could—saving them in the process.

She couldn't believe that just an hour or two ago, she was in the heart of the village, kissing the prisoner, expressing her feelings the only way he could accept them—with him kissing her back with as much intensity. She wasn't sure if she felt passion in those kisses—how did people detect that, anyway?—but they had to pull away to breathe several times.

It sorely disappointed her to admit that he was like a craving that she could never satisfy, and that she would always, always be craving him until the end of time.

"Split up," Kakashi told them all, voice strangely empty. "There are more shinobi in the area; if you encounter Sasuke, there should be others nearby to help." With a single nod, the four leapt apart from each other with practiced synchronization that they had acquired over the years.

Immediately, she turned and headed towards the main gates—not because she knew he'd be there, but because she hoped he'd be there—or somewhere beyond that, at least. Without even bidding the guards a good day, she raced through the gates and a good ways until she stopped amongst the trees, only just beginning to grow short of breath.

She had to find him. She had to convince him to cease his attack on Konoha.

"I could kill you right now, you know." A kunai pierced into the ground at her feet, and she turned to the left where it came from. She wasn't quite sure if her expression showed her feelings or not, but as the Uchiha stepped out from behind the tree, she couldn't feel more relieved.

Well, at least, if he wasn't a clone this time.

"Please don't," she said desperately—she couldn't really call it begging—hating herself when her shinobi instincts began to dull in his presence. "Don't destroy Konoha."

Sasuke made his way towards her, coming to a stop only a foot or two away, a hand on his hip. "With security like this, I doubt I could do it without major casualties."

"You'd do it anyway, though, if that was what you really wanted. Are you the real Sasuke-kun, or are you just another clone?"

He tilted his head to the side, lips curving into a slight smirk. "Does it really matter?"

She grew quiet. And when she did, everything quieted with her. The animals stopped rustling, the wind stopped blowing—and, for a moment, she had thought that she even stopped breathing. It seemed so peaceful, and yet, at the same time, so dangerous.

"Why aren't you attacking?" she asked quietly, gaze falling to the grassy ground. She stared at the kunai, remembering how all of her weapons were in place the first night.

"I changed my mind." She looked at him incredulously from the corner of her eye. "Sort of."

"What do you mean?"

Sasuke reached out, and she was surprised to find him twisting a lock of her hair around his finger.

"That's so depressingly ironic," Inner Sakura said, voicing out her thoughts at the very back of her mind. "He has all of you wrapped around his finger. It's not just your hair."

"I suppose," he said slowly, as if looking for the right words, "I don't want to do it quite yet."

Her heart leapt to her throat, and she dared to ask. "Why?" For the love of the Third, she couldn't possibly think of a legit reason for Sasuke to halt his plans. This was Sasuke—the man who never cared about anyone other than himself.

The Uchiha turned away, and she swore she found something sparkling in his eyes. "People live there. It's their home."

"As if he ever knew what the word home met." Inner Sakura rolled her eyes.

"Why would you show sympathy when your own home had been destroyed?" she asked cautiously, not sure if she should broach the subject or not.

"It's your home as well. I can't picture you living without a place and friends to return to." Her eyes widened slightly in astonishment at his indirect comment. She felt her heart leaping too her throat in a sudden frenzy, and she was sure he heard her sudden intake of breath.

She hesitated. "So, you're saying you're not attacking because of…me?"

"Don't get cocky. The world doesn't revolve around you."

Sakura completely brushed off his harsh words and all but pounced onto him when she pulled him into a hug. The thought that doing so was probably life-threatening didn't even enter her mind, and as she buried her face into the crook of his neck, she took in his musky scent. "Thank you," she murmured quietly against his skin. "You don't know how much that means to me."

"Hn." One arm snaked around her waist and he held her there loosely, until she pulled her head away just so she could kiss him. Maybe…Maybe he cared after all, she thought. Just maybe.

It had always been her dream for him to care about her.

When her lips were just a hair's breadth away from his, he stiffened. On instinct, she froze as well, afraid that she had done something wrong. The temptation to just lean a little closer and press their mouths together was strong, but she was able to restrain herself due to the fact that—well—he might slit her throat if she did anything.

Being a medic, she could sense his chakra flare for a minute moment. She watched as his eyes flashed side to side, checking their surroundings. His breath against her skin made her heartbeat quicken, and his entire body was so still, she was afraid that she was going to fall over from the tension.

And then he disappeared. A cloud of smoke in her face and his body vanished; arm gone from her waist, dark eyes no longer staring at her.

Another clone.

It was a long moment, before she allowed her arms to drop back to her sides. What had happened?

"You should've kissed him while you had the chance," Inner Sakura snapped irritably.

And, suddenly, three shinobi arrived. She felt the familiar probe of Ino's chakra, and she allowed the blonde kunoichi to place a hand on her shoulder from behind. Sakura turned to her absently, making sure to mask her emotions as well as possible.

Chouji and Shikamaru were off in the distance, and when her eyes locked with the Nara's, she wasn't sure what to do. But when he stared at her lazily, she decided to turn her attention back to her friend.

"What's up, Ino-pig? You find him?"

The other girl peered at her curiously. "I was just about to ask you. I thought I felt something over here, but you were just standing there like a total loser. The shock hasn't worn off, yet?" At that last comment, Ino's lips curved into a slight smirk.

Sakura rolled her eyes in response. "I doubt yours has, either. I don't know whether to be glad, or scared shitless."

Her friend's expression softened at her words. She was sure they didn't suspect her of anything—except for Shikamaru, she supposed—but having to lie to Ino was one of the most painful things she would have to do in her life.

She had managed to avoid the betrayal of her friends, but was it worth it?

She honestly didn't know.


Back when everything was still peaceful, Kakashi had invited them on an outing.

It took place in a field near the edge of Konoha, where the nature remained untouched. They had brought their supplies to last them the night, and waited for their teacher to arrive, knowing that he'd be late anyway.

They stayed up until they couldn't feign off their sleep anymore, just talking, laying on the grass and staring at the sky. They counted stars, pointed out constellations, sang songs (except for Sasuke, of course), and even started a small game of Truth or Dare.

Needless to say, it was one of the best nights Sakura had in her life.

Of course, there had been a lot of conflict as well. The rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke didn't fade in the slightest, and she and Sasuke never really did have a romantic moment like she hoped they would—but it was so uniquely them in a way that she didn't seem to mind.

Kakashi never did come that night, and something in her told her that he never intended to. She appreciated his effort to strengthen Team Seven in his own lazy way.

Ironically, at that time, she thought to herself, If only things could stay this way forever.


When Sakura arrived home that night, she wasn't sure what to do.

Follow her normal routine and shower? Make a late-night dinner? She was so physically and mentally exhausted, she wasn't sure, exactly.

She could still feel the ghost of Sasuke's lips lingering at her own. She had been so close, so close to stealing a last kiss before he finally disappeared for good. Reports told that he and his little team had escaped Konoha's grasp. Perhaps they were many miles away even before the execution began; they had it all planned out from the start.

Another thing that bothered her was the fact that he actually halted his attack. Although she had no idea why he would ambush Konoha, she was sure that if it was what he wanted to do, he wouldn't stop it just for her. She wasn't special enough. In fact, no one was special enough.

Indeed, it bothered her greatly. What did it mean?

Uchiha Sasuke was never known for his feelings—maybe because he didn't show them, or because he simply didn't have any. He was born into the Uchiha clan, meaning that he possessed talent, apathy, and good looks.

He would have never given her the time of day.

Her heart throbbed achingly when she reminded herself why he had done what he did to her. It served her right. Believing him for even a moment—even if it was because of his Sharingan—was absolutely ridiculous. She didn't even question him. Didn't even try to fight back.

But it felt so right…His words were so soothing, his touches so intimate, his kisses so real—or maybe, she just wanted them to be.

She honestly didn't know anymore. Would she do it again if given the chance? Without a doubt, yes. That was what frightened her. What if he came back? What if her repeated mistake cost the lives of everyone she held dear?

She wandered to her room, where they had made love two nights ago. No—that wasn't the right term. Sasuke didn't make love.

But that was the only way she could describe it. Maybe it was just her; maybe she wanted to imagine that his fleeting touches held some feelings in them, and that he kissed her while thinking of her and not how he was going to destroy Konoha.

But, again, maybe it was just her.

Her bed sheets were crumpled due to her laziness and not wanting to make her bed that morning—and then it had been left alone for a day when she was locked in her cell. She was about to just fall onto the bed and fall asleep in whatever position she landed in, until she found a little note placed on her pillow.

Her heart skipped a beat, and she paused, not sure if she wanted to see it or not. Maybe it was a secret profession of love—Inner Sakura snorted—or a threat to destroy the village properly the next time. She really didn't know.

But her fingers acted on their own accord, and took the piece of paper.

She blinked and she stared at the awkward scrawl. It looked as though the person who wrote it hadn't written anything in years.

The message was short, but it left her mind spinning:

I'll show you a dream another night.

No signature, not indication, no direct meaning. Sakura blinked as she stared, more than positive that Sasuke had written this. She could almost imagine him standing in the exact same spot she was now, writing with the pen on her bedside table, a blank expression on his face.

Dream. What exactly did that mean? Genjutsu? What he had done to her every night these past six days? The colossal wave of emotions that crashed onto her every time she saw him?

She wasn't sure. Just as always, he was confusing, indirect, and selfish. Not even considering how she felt about the way he acted.

But maybe, she supposed, that would be okay. For now.

She smiled softly at the piece of paper and held it to her chest for a moment, feeling her heat beating in a steady thump-thump, thump-thump. Not racing like she expected it to, just because he had gone out of his way to write her a note—but for the first time in a long while, she looked towards the future and found that it was bright.

There was still that little nagging at the back of her mind—and her heart—that was telling her that she was playing right into his hands again. It was saying how stupid she was to even be the slightest bit glad that she'd hear from him when not on the battlefield.

Placing the note in the top drawer of her bedside table, she headed to the kitchen to make herself a warm dinner. She needed to get rid of that bittersweet taste at the back of her mouth.

On the seventh and final night, Sakura was at peace.

A/N: Oh, my gosh, this is the end! I'm so sad to see it go!

You guys, this isn't cool. xx. false - deception had to deal with beta reading every single chapter of this fic. You really need to PM her, or review her stuff, or something, as a thank you, or it would have never been the way it is now. I'm psychic. I know you guys read my author's notes. I know you guys aren't acknowledging her.

Thank you guys so much for supporting me. It got a lot more feedback than I had anticipated, by far. That makes me incredibly happy. I'm now working on another SasuSaku—a happier one—titled Sticks and Stones. The first chapter is officially posted—go check it out!

I would like to give thanks to those who reviewed every single chapter thus far (in alphabetical order): C.A.M.E.O.1 and Only, Chantrea Moonbeam, MyUsedRomance, and TrinityAngelX. You guys really helped me get through this. There were one or two of you that reviewed on all chapters but one, and I was like, "Argh, no! I wanted to add them!"

And, of course, the ones whose reviews really stuck out, or helped me in some way or other to improve (again, alphabetical order): Ayame, kheidianne, Market Rush, sharingan dream, stones, The Sometimes Hatter, and yuki_shukara. Detailed/long reviews that tell what's specifically good or bad make any writer happy.

I hope all of you are satisfied with this last chapter, because the chances of there being a sequel are very small. -tears up-

EDIT: Okay, so, I know I'm going to be bombarded with questions, so let's hope I can answer them here, before you ask. If you made it through the blocks of text before this.

1. Does Sasuke really love Sakura?
Well, the question is, do you want him to love Sakura? Because, if you do, then, yes, he does. If you want him to fuck her over again and hang her by a thread just so he can catch her and mess with her one more time in the future, then, by all means, he'll do just that. It's all up to you.

2. Are you satisfied?
Me? Am I satisfied? Yes, very. This is probably the most successful and well-recieved (and, complete, may I add) multi-chaptered fic I've ever written.

3. Will you write more SasuSaku angst in the future?
Mm, that's debatable. Maybe. ItaSaku's sort of my OTP, but that may change. You never know. I want to aim for more happy stuff right now, though, 'cause this wore me out, and angst really deserves to be with Sakura paired with any Akatsuki member.

4. What about SasuSaku in general?
I probably won't write any oneshots on the pairing. Multi-chaptered fics are a maybe, though. I have no other SasuSaku works planned after Sticks and Stones that might be posted. Technically, I do have one under my sleeve, but whether or not it'll be posted is a real big maybe.

If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask.