Chapter 5: Crash

-When it comes to how to live his life he can't be told, says he's got it all under control, thinks he knows it's not a problem he's stuck with, but in reality it'd be a problem to just quit.-

-Carousel, Linkin Park-

The cold water washed over his skin as he placed a hand against the wall of the shower stall. He welcomed the frigid current as it helped to ease his mind. For years he'd believed he had finally figured out his life and had believed the choices he'd been making were finally taking a turn for the better. He wasn't exactly hopeful, but he had come to accept whatever the future may hold, and welcomed the reprieve the concentration he needed to focus on his new goals allowed, as it warded away unwanted memories.

Now however, with the reappearance of one of his former team mates in his life, he had been forced to reconsider, and remember, a past he had most certainly preferred remained ignored.

In a way, he did not regret getting her involved in his affairs. Her presence gave him more time; time that he desperately needed. He was not sure he even wanted an heir, and would prefer a few more years to come to a decision on the matter.

Whenever he had given it consideration, he felt like he would never curse the damnable legacy of the Uchiha on any possible children he might someday have. Still, he felt conflicted when he considered that in deciding not to restore his clan, he would be the one to cause the true extinction of the Uchiha. It made him question whether he wanted the Uchiha name to simply be remembered, or to be carried down through the generations, perhaps giving the clan a second chance.

Whatever his decision, he was not yet ready to decide upon the matter. In getting Sakura to play the part of his matriarch, he was allowing himself the chance to postpone his choice. Once their two weeks were up, he would be able to continue to put off his decision under the pretence that he had believed she had been the only possible candidate, and was not yet ready to try and find another.

She was also uncomfortable in his presence-seeming about ready to decapitate him if he got too close. Because of this, he would not have to deal with any kind of physical relationship, the likes of which he was far too uneducated in to perform efficiently.

He could have, of course, dealt without her attitude and evident loathing, but he supposed it was a small price to pay for the benefits their charade would eventually grant him.

Even having to deal with the dobe at the end of it all wouldn't be so bad.

If he was being entirely honest with himself, he was slightly interested in what might happen when the three of them reunited, and Sakura was given the chance to act upon her anger.

It was going to be quite the show.

Xx

Sakura found her way to the council chamber, having sensed that the chakra signatures of the two advisors who had forced her into her uncomfortable situation that morning were situated inside.

They sat at the large table, filing paper work.

"Sakura-san!" One of them looked to her as she entered.

"Did we ruin the mood?" The other looked honestly concerned.

"No. We're taking a break." She answered, smirk still on her face.

"W-what?" The first stammered.

"It would do you both well to steer clear of our room-there's no telling what you might walk in on." She laughed inwardly at the blush creeping up their necks. "We're trying diligentlyto restore his clan." She explained, "You barged in just as we were about to continue...We had barely stopped at all through the night; you could have interrupted the conception of his heir." Her tone was both accusatory and provocative as she appeared to revel in the memory of what had never happened.

"A-all night?" The second gulped, a look of awe and embarrassment upon his features.

"Yes. So please, restrain yourselves from interrupting unless it's an emergency." She commanded, as though pretending to sleep with the Otokage gave her all the right in the world.

They nodded bashfully. She turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" The first asked.

"To get my new clothes, even if I'll hardly need them." She gave a little wave as she heard their audible gulps before departing.

She was, admittedly, quite enjoying playing the part of a temptress.

Two could play at this game of deception. It was all about who was in control.

And Sakura intended to be.

Xx

As Sasuke re-entered his room, fully dressed, he had to suppress the urge to produce a katon to cleanse his room of whatever had it smelling so...floral.

Several boxes of scented candles had been placed on his beside table, while multiple bouquets of roses decorated the area in porcelain vases.

His door clicked open a moment later, revealing one of his assistants carrying a bottle of sake.

"Who asked you to bring this in here?" He demanded, as he crossed the room and took the bottle from the now scared looking man.

"One of y-your advisors." The man seemed to be fighting the urge to cower.

"Did you bring the rest of this," He gestured to the flowers and candles, "As well?"

"Y-yes."

The interference of his council members had just crossed a line.

"You can go." He waved the assistant off as he seriously considered removing the entire tradition of having a council.

The assistant bowed hurriedly and left.

With bottle in hand, Sasuke left his room in search of the nearest advisor he could find.

One of them, called Tatsuya, just so happened to be the first unfortunate soul to cross the now more-than-annoyed Otokage's path.

"What's the meaning of this?" He glared at Tatsuya, shoving the bottle in the man's face.

"Ah...W-well, Osamu and Toru felt we should make up for their carelessness this morning..." He attempted to explain. Sasuke felt there was something more to this.

"Where is she?" He demanded.

"I-I think I saw her downstairs..." Tatsuya replied meekly, not needing to ask who he meant.

Sasuke nodded and shoved the bottle off in Tatsuya's hands before turning down the stairs.

Sakura must have been suppressing her chakra signature, or perhaps he had simply been too annoyed to have bothered to take in his surroundings, because he hadn't noticed that she had begun to climb the very stairs he was now descending.

They met half-way.

"Hi." She said brightly, an annoying smirk playing on her lips.

He frowned, "What are you doing?"

"Taking this," She lifted the box in her arms slightly, "To the room."

He nodded and followed her as she continued up the stairs, not wanting to pursue their conversation near prying ears.

As they returned to his room, she snickered quietly at the sight of the advisor's gifts before heading to the coffee table and placing the box on top of it. She opened it just as Sasuke came up behind her.

"What did you say to them?" He demanded as soon as the door had swung closed.

"Nothing really." She sounded bored with him as she appeared interested in the pieces of clothing she pulled out of the box.

She held up each item in front of her to inspect them. The old man had really outdone himself. He had fashioned two sets of everyday wear, comprised of two white t-shirts emblazoned with the sound emblem and two pairs of slim-fitting black pants. Two kimonos for special occasions were underneath these, one a navy blue embroidered with light pink cherry blossom petals and one a deep violet edged with white and patterned with an intricate white floral design. He had added two sets of what appeared to be training outfits, styled similarly to her ANBU uniform, with a strong black vest, two chocolate brown tank tops, and black cargo-style pants. As she pushed aside the cargos, her fingers brushed a soft satiny material, before she pulled out two sets of silky lingerie-style slips. While amazed at how beautiful they were, one a deep red, the other a soft ivory, she shoved them quickly back into the box, deciding to keep the loose clothing she now wore for sleep wear instead.

"I don't believe that." Sasuke spoke, his voice empty.

"I just lectured them on the costs of insubordination." She shrugged, holding up the navy kimono to her body while further inspecting the cherry blossoms. It was uncanny how the pink matched her hair colour almost perfectly.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow; sure there was more to it than she was letting on. With her focus on examining her personally tailored clothes, she didn't bother to see his reaction.

"Quit breathing down my neck before I cut off your-"

"That's not very ladylike." Sasuke smirked, interrupting her, before deftly stepping away to avoid a chakra-fuelled punch aimed at his shoulder, and turning to leave.

"Where are you going?" She asked, allowing her chakra to slip back into her network.

He didn't answer, ignoring her completely, opening the door once more, and walking from the room.

Sakura abandoned her inspection for the moment, tossing the kimono back onto the messy pile she'd made, before making to follow him.

He paused a few feet from the room.

"Aren't you going to bathe?" He asked stoically.

Sakura forced an embarrassed blush away.

"Oh. Right." She covered lamely, before retreating back to the room and running a shower.

It dawned on her that he might have been attempting to give her some privacy; ensuring there would be a wide enough area of personal space for her to feel comfortable. Perhaps he was trying to obliterate the awkwardness of earlier that morning as much as she had been forcing herself to forget about it.

Whatever the reason, she deeply appreciated the silence and finally being alone as the hot water washed over her skin.

Xx

Sasuke had just finished his daily briefing and was heading towards his office on the first floor, down the hall across from the main staircase. He knew mountains of paperwork were sure to be piling up after having neglected his regular duties the day before.

When he approached his desk however, he found very little had actually accumulated and noted that much of the work for the day had already been filed and cleared away.

There was a memo on the top of a small pile of paper on his desk.

Otokage-sama

We took it upon ourselves to clear away as much work as possible. These remaining documents require only your signature. Please use your free time to your advantage. Perhaps you could show Sakura-san around the village?

It was signed by his advisors.

He crumpled up the note angrily and tossed it aside.

They had left him with nothing to do for the day, and had stripped him of his only reprieve from his own thoughts. His mind-numbing paper work would have meant keeping his thoughts off of recent events.

He sighed as he sat behind his desk to begin signing the remaining forms, occasionally scanning their content and stamping the sound symbol upon them.

As the small stack dwindled down to the last few documents, he began to sign his name with deliberate slowness-not particularly fond of the idea of having spare time on his hands.

Just as he was completing the final 'a', his office door slammed open.

"What the hell is this?" Sakura nearly screeched as she gripped tufts of her hair in her fists. Sasuke glanced stoically up at her. He knew his advisors who all had offices along the same corridor would be listening intently thanks to her volume.

"You used my hair products." He noted, keeping his voice even. It was a good thing he had forgotten how to make the sound of a laugh for he would have only made the situation worse.

Her hair had turned an awful shade of purple, the result of having mixed in a blue tint.

"What the hell was in those bottles?"

"They're specifically made for me by the village's herbalist." He shrugged.

"Well, do something about it!" She stepped closer, slamming her hand down on his desk. Her other hand was wrapped around the edge of one of his navy towels.

"I had my assistant set out separate products for you." His usual indifferent expression was set in place.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sakura fumed.

He shrugged again. "Could you refrain from dripping water all over my office?"

A familiar blush, a faint remnant of the kind she would acquire when they were twelve, bloomed on her cheeks.

"W-whatever!" She stuttered, gripping the towel tighter to herself, "Just tell me how to fix this!"

"It's not permanent." The shampoo the herbalist had designed for him was not necessarily a permanent hair dye-its purpose was to simply define the blue hues his obsidian hair occasionally revealed. It had been one of the countless gifts the villagers had given him on his birthdays, and the herbalist had ensured to give him several bottles each year. He found no harm in using them, although he remained completely unconcerned about his appearance.

"It will wash out?" She reverted back to her indoor voice, hope filling her words.

"In a few days." He answered.

"A few days!" She shouted, "I have to look like this for a few days?" She pointed at her hair as she spoke. The colour reminded him vaguely of an ugly bruise.

"Not my problem." Sasuke returned his attention to the last form he had been signing, and went to stamp it with the village's seal.

"You're impossible!" She clenched her free hand into a fist.

Sasuke frowned as he put the stamp away, moved the file to sit atop the rest of those he had completed, and stood to face her.

She seemed confused a moment, as he narrowed his eyes at her, before shifting his gaze to stare angrily at a point past her shoulder.

It took her a fraction of a second to understand his meaning. She sensed the advisor's chakras all down the hall, and turned her head slightly to see some of their heads peeking out of their doors.

She quickly snapped her attention back to Sasuke. They were listening.

Her new favourite smirk began to tug at the corners of her mouth, before she leaned towards him from across the desk.

"You know, you can always make it up to me..." She purred seductively.

Sasuke swallowed back whatever it was that formed a lump in his throat. The fluffy towel she had wrapped around herself fell dangerously short, revealing a lot of leg, and a lot of cleavage. He had somehow missed that she had become a woman underneath her uniform and substitute clothing.

Her sly grin revealed that she was more than simply playing along with their charade. He wondered briefly if she actually believed she could sway him with her womanly charms-him, the last great Uchiha. He stifled a snort. She undoubtedly imagined she could gain the upper hand in their situation, perhaps turning the tables in her favour, giving herself control over him.

He certainly wasn't going to allow that.

Uchiha Sasuke was never in anyone's clutches for long, and he had become quite comfortable with his position as head of the village. No one controlled him.

"Hn." He smirked, agreeing to her statement just loud enough for those in the hall to hear.

A brief look of shock flitted across her features, with a hint of fear, or was it disbelief, flashing behind her emerald orbs as Sasuke grabbed her wrist and pulled her forcefully down the hall.

The doors to the offices snapped shut as they passed.

His smirk broadened.

Xx

As they returned to his room, Sakura seemed to lose all sense as she began to laugh. It was unlike the fake laughter she had given the advisors to assuage their doubts. She was laughing wholeheartedly.

Sasuke gave her a look that seemed to question her sanity as he released her wrist.

After wiping a tear from the corner of her eye-seemingly finding her reason as she calmed-she grabbed the first outfit off the top of the box of her tailored clothes and headed to the bathroom to change.

When she returned, dressed in one of the everyday outfits that fit exactly right, he noted she still seemed amused at the situation. At the very least, she seemed to have forgotten the state of her hair.

He resisted the urge to ask her what she found so amusing.

"That should shut them up for a while..." She placed a hand on her hip as she busied herself with contemplating where to put her box of clothes, appearing to have simply spoken to herself, and answering his unasked question, "Though, don't think you've won just yet." She added.

"What happened to you worrying that I'd kill you?" He asked, noting she had been in his presence without a single weapon, unless she had hidden it somewhere... His mind threatened to wander until he was distracted by her response.

"I figured you'd have tried by now." She shrugged, having decided to pick the box up and place it at the foot of the couch.

He took note of the way she had said he would only be able to 'try'-implying he could not succeed. He wasn't sure what annoyed him more-her initial paranoia around him, or her new-found cockiness, which could have conceivably been an after-effect of having become an ANBU for a few years.

Yet even without his debt to Naruto, he knew he would not consider harming her, for there would be nothing to gain in doing so. His desire to sever bonds with those from Konoha had died along with Madara, and he was not fond of the idea of the war it would undoubtedly cause between the Hidden Leaf village and his own.

He wondered vaguely if he would even try very hard to retaliate should she ever decide to attack him. As far as he was concerned, he would have only two options in any future confrontation: either incapacitate her, rendering her unable to continue fighting, or allow her to take her revenge.

The latter option had, after all, been the very same his own brother had allowed him.

Still, he could not die yet-not with his most recent goal unfinished.

He had to continue leading his village.

Xx

The ensuing few hours had passed uneventfully.

Sasuke had settled into an armchair, picked up several books, and had continued to leaf through their pages, successfully ignoring Sakura's presence.

Sakura had spent a good hour in the washroom attempting to wash out any trace of the blue, but was met with very little success. All she had managed to accomplish was to fade the purple slightly, turning it to a strange light mauve taupe colour.

Afterwards, she had settled herself onto the couch, deciding to sharpen and polish her weapons.

Unfortunately, having been well-practiced in this area, she had soon found herself without anything to do. She had simply sat on the couch; arms crossed, and had deliberately avoided looking at the only other occupant of the room.

The sound of him flipping the pages of his books had not helped her growing irritation caused by insufferable boredom.

In Konoha, she had barely had the time to eat with how busy her missions, duties to the Hokage, and hospital shifts had kept her. Moments of relaxation had been extremely rare.

She had made up her mind a few minutes later, deciding she would require sustenance.

She had begun to make her way to the double-doors of Sasuke's room when she heard him set his most recent book upon the side table.

She hadn't needed to look to know he would follow her out.

Xx

Presently, they found themselves seated at a kitchen table. Sasuke was leaning his elbows against it, fingers laced before him in his usual posture as he stared past his hands at the pots and pans on the stove. Sakura was playing lazily with a strand of her off-colour hair, seemingly moping.

She had discovered that the chakra signatures of the advisors and of Team Hawk rarely left the Otokage's complex. Sasuke had led her past multiple sitting rooms, kitchens, washrooms and offices, and she knew the upper floor which contained many bedrooms stretched all around the building. It was clear the council members, his team, certain members of his guard, and several assistants, actually lived in the same building. It seemed to make sense, given the size of the village, and the construction in the eastern district, for despite the wonderful design of many of the structures, there was a sense of lack of room for the ever-growing city. The communal environment was both somewhat welcoming and somewhat uncomfortable to Sakura after having spent a few years living solo in Konoha, and having experienced the rather solitary nature of her career. Welcoming, because it reminded her of days when she would spend time with the other Konoha teams, celebrating successful missions with trips to Ichiraku, and revelling in each other's company; and uncomfortable, because those around the complex were strangers, the man sitting across from her now having even been an enemy at one point, and she was merely a visitor to their home.

The timer on the stove went off, jarring her from her contemplations and disrupting the silence.

She shoved the chair back, standing to tend to the now cooked yakisoba noodles and miso soup. A minute later, the rice cooker clicked off. She plated the yakisoba, ladled out the miso into two bowls, and formed the rice into onigiri, wrapping them neatly in dried seaweed.

She placed the yakisoba on the middle of the table, and put one of the bowls of soup in front of Sasuke. She turned to get the onigiri, plating it too alongside slices of tomato, and setting it down in front of him.

After turning to get her own bowl of miso, she passed him some utensils as she made her way back to her chair, and became aware of the way he had not yet moved, and had simply been observing her, as if curious of her actions.

She took a heaping spoonful of miso and ate it, enjoying the taste of tofu and green onion, deliberately keeping her attention on her food.

It wasn't until she reached to take one of the plates of yakisoba once her miso was finished that she paused and looked at him.

"I didn't poison it." She offered, hoping he would get the hint and start eating too.

He looked down at the onigiri, though she was unable to discern any kind of expression, as stoic as it always was.

It was the longest two minutes of her life before he finally picked up one of the onigiri and bit into it.

He made no reaction as he took a few more bites, before picking up a pair of chopsticks and plucking up one of the slices of tomatoes, eating it alongside the last morsels of the onigiri. As he made to start on his miso, Sakura noticed she had been staring before quickly returning to her noodles.

They ate in an almost-comfortable silence.

As their bowls and plates cleared, Sakura had been mostly picking at her remaining yakisoba, having become lost in thought, as she heard Sasuke's chair scrape across the floor.

She glanced up and watched him clear away his dishes, rinsing and stacking them in the sink.

She was sure he would head back to the room without a word, leaving her to finish eating alone.

Sighing, she stuffed a few more noodles into her mouth, before standing and picking up her unfinished plate.

Just as she turned towards the sink, she noticed the Uchiha had not yet left. Instead, he was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, apparently debating whether he should say something.

"Thank you." He muttered, before disappearing beyond the doorframe.

The plate she was holding slipped from her fingers, but she snapped out of her shock just fast enough to swiftly snatch it back up before it smashed on the floor.

"You're welcome..." She mumbled to the empty room as she turned to tidy up the mess.

She forced herself to repeat the various motions and names of hand seals in her mind as she washed the dishes, effectively distracting herself from picturing a much younger version of Sasuke.

Still, her inner mantra was doing very little to slow her now pounding heart beat.

Xx

Karin frowned. She had been in the middle of her daily patrol of Otogakure's prison, when it had dawned on her how she had vaguely recognized the pink-haired wench.

It was eight year ago-the day Sasuke had...

She shuddered suddenly at the recollection of his Kusanagi running through her and the incredibly evil chakra surrounding him that day.

She'd resigned to the fact that he was too far gone. She recalled the pinkette had interfered. Back then, she hadn't looked so...for lack of a better word, tough. Her delicate features still had a childlike grace, and she'd seemed so conflicted. Karin recalled warning the girl of Sasuke's intent, and the way the girl had taken her to keep her out of harms way. But most of all, she remembered the sadness as the girl wept for the same realization she'd had: Sasuke had been more than lost.

She had accompanied the kunoichi to Konoha, along with what she had learned were the remnants of Sasuke's former team. When rumours of Otogakure's reformation had reached the Hidden Leaf village, she had pled with the Hokage to let her off her guard duty. She had played the role of jailor after she had gained their trust. The Godaime had granted her permission to investigate, only as long as she reported back with her findings.

She never would have guessed that Sasuke was behind it. She had both wished and expected he had been dead. When she noted a ghost of his Chuunin exam self had returned, his chakra no longer exuding such evil and corruption, she'd been just about ready to forgive him, as obsessed as she was.

It was soon after her return that Suigetsu and Jugo had found their way back as well. Team Hawk had been reunited. She had decided to defect from Konoha, having only gone back once to inform the Godaime that Otogakure had indeed been reformed, although it would not pose a threat. She hadn't let Konoha's leader know the identity of the Otokage. The Godaime hadn't seemed too torn up by her decision...After all; she hadn't truly been a Konoha-nin in the first place.

What really sent her mind reeling however was why the girl from all those years ago had changed so much...

She'd seemingly cared deeply for Sasuke at the time, and yet here she was, constantly glaring at him-perhaps with a similarity to the way Sasuke had once glared at anything that approached him.

She considered then, that maybe the pinkette had been planning this all along-thinking that she'd have a better chance with the Uchiha if she played hard to get.

Karin cracked her knuckles. She wasn't going to let the pink-haired freak win.

Sasuke-kun was hers.

Xx

Night had crept up on Sakura after they had eaten. She had found reviewing techniques in her mind would only work for so long, and had decided to ask an advisor she had come across where the village's library was. To her dismay, he had informed her that the library was one of the incomplete buildings in the eastern district. He had however, found her a few of his own books and had let her borrow them for as long as she wanted.

She'd spent the entire afternoon pouring over their contents. It took her but five pages to understand what the books were about.

They were records from the time when Orochimaru had conducted his countless experiments-many signed by Yakushi Kabuto, and others signed by the Sannin himself.

She was amazed that the advisor, whose name she had learned was Toru, had bothered to keep them.

The contents of their pages were often gruesome, some of the details even turning her stomach. She had known the Sannin had been a twisted man, what with his snake-like features and obsession of Sasuke, but the steps he had taken to even develop the curse seal were just sick.

She was on the third book that Toru had leant her, when she turned to a page near the end and paused. The advisor's name was at the top of the record. She traced her fingers down the page as she read the details of what had been done to the poor man. They had injected him with one of the worst poisons Sakura had ever learned of in her studies. It caused it's victims to feel as though their own blood was on fire. They had used it to see how long Toru could have withstood the obscene amounts of pain. He'd had the ability to mould his chakra into an armour-like barrier. This unique ability had caught Orochimaru's attention, as he had been ever-searching for new pawns. If Orochimaru could gauge how effective the barrier was against the poison-if the barrier prevented inner as well as external damage-he would find a way to mimic his technique when producing the power of the curse seal.

From the record, however, it seemed Toru was even more susceptible to the poison than most-having nearly died from the test. They had thrown him back into a cell in one of the old bases, believing he would die even after having administered the antidote. The prison form had been included, signed by Karin, one of Otogakure's original citizens, and apparently willing Orochimaru follower.

She flipped through a couple more pages, before finding a follow-up report, explaining that Toru had lived, though he had lost the ability to manipulate his chakra in the same way as before, rendering his techniques useless. He had been asked if he could describe the experience of the poison within his system. Sakura shuddered as she read his response.

He had said it was as though they had poured molten lava into his veins. He had wanted nothing more than to tear away at his own flesh in an attempt to drain himself of his blood.

Sakura flipped to the last page. At first glance, she was simply going to skim it as she had so many others, but it was the name at the top of this record, too, that caught her eye: Jugo.

She read the page in its entirety, going back to read it a second time, and then a third. It was after this revision that she realized the record was incomplete, the book having had several of its pages torn out. Although at first disappointed, her interest in what was available to her kept her occupied.

The first page contained the explanation of how Orochimaru had believed Jugo could be the key to the curse seal. It detailed how Jugo might, after a few more tests, demonstrate that he would be the curse seal's originator.

She would be sure to speak with the orange-haired man the next chance she had. New knowledge to Sakura was like candy to a child-she simply couldn't get enough.

She put the book down on the coffee table in Sasuke's room after reading the last page enough times to have its contents memorized. She stood and stretched, before realizing the Otokage was watching her from his chair near the windows. He had continued his earlier reading after their shared meal.

Neither had exchanged another word since.

She suddenly felt guilty-as though she should have asked his permission before examining the records of his village. She shook the feeling, reminding herself that the records rightfully belonged to Toru, and he had quite willingly leant them to her. Besides, she wasn't even sure if he could tell what they were from where he sat, or whether he would even recognize them.

Deciding to break their awkward staring contest, she picked the books up and placed them in her box at the foot of the couch, before saying, "I wasn't sure if you still liked onigiri."

She turned to see his expression, which hadn't changed in the least.

If she had thought bringing up something relatively neutral would break the tension, she had been mistaken. If anything, it might have made the atmosphere worse.

Xx

Sasuke listened to her attempt at a conversation, and made no move to respond.

He felt as conflicted as he had earlier that day when they had been in one of his kitchens.

He couldn't comprehend why it was that she hadn't forgotten what his favourite food had been, or why she had taken it upon herself to make sure that was what he would eat.

Perhaps she had finally been able to push aside her frustration with him, realizing that she would need to do so for another thirteen days, and that acting on her loathing would be detrimental to their goals.

He almost scoffed at the idea. No matter how much time had passed, he figured Sakura would never be that rational, or capable of reigning in her emotions, and letting her grudge go.

Whatever it was, it nearly gave him a headache trying to understand the girl's annoying actions.

What frustrated him further was the fact that he had no idea of how she had managed to get her hands on copies of the old records of Orochimaru's experiments. He assumed an advisor had something to do with it, as meddlesome as they had become in the past few days, though he couldn't figure out how he felt about the fact that she was exploring what his once-mentor had been capable of.

He settled on the fact that he probably should not care, though Sakura would undoubtedly have a way of making it a big deal. She hadn't seemed to lose her knack of blowing things out of proportion in her early-twenties.

He looked at her mauve coloured hair that she had pulled back and tied up in an attempt to keep her attention away from its unusual state. She most definitely still over reacted.

The colour wasn't that bad.

He stopped himself before he could think of any more 'positive' thoughts of his ex-team mate.

"I didn't know you still cooked." He said without thinking.

Xx

"I have to...I live alone back home." Sakura offered, a bit surprised at his being forthcoming.

Sasuke didn't say anything to this, though she assumed the next part in the line of conversation would be to explain why.

"It's easier to live closer to the hospital and the Hokage's office." She began, "And my parents weren't-"

She was cut off as the sound of an alarm blared loudly.

Sasuke jumped up so quickly, that she had barely managed to blink before he had gone to his Kusanagi and pulled if from its stand.

"What's happening?" She shouted above the deafening sound.

"We're under attack." Sasuke said, "You can choose to stay here and wait until I come back, or you can come and fight." He had paused near his door to look back at her, waiting for an answer.

She had already fastened on a black vest over her white t-shirt, strapped her holster around her thigh, and was in the process of securing her medical-pack to her waist.

"I'm coming...I've been getting soft sitting around here all day." She replied, adrenaline now starting to flow through her veins. She grabbed her katana once she'd finished gearing up, before following the Uchiha from his room.

Xx

"What's going on?" Sasuke asked an advisor hurriedly as they stood just outside the Kage's complex.

Gathered around them were all nine of his advisors, geared and ready for battle, several of his guard, and Team Hawk.

"There's an unmarked force attacking our front gates. One of our scouts barely managed to escape when he and his squad were ambushed, though the others weren't so lucky..." The advisor pointed to a man who was lying on the ground a foot away from the gathering, bleeding out as a medical-nin worked furiously to try and heal him.

Sakura noticed the woman was having difficulties, seemingly channelling the wrong technique for the severity of the wounds. She made her way over to the dying man, pushing the medical-nin away gently before surging her own healing chakra into her palms.

The green glow of her chakra illuminated the deep puncture wounds and gashes as they knitted back together, healing both the inside damage and the external skin. She stepped back, muttering a few instructions to the medical-nin who had been observing with awe, and returned to Sasuke's side.

The medical-nin took the man away to do as Sakura had instructed. Sakura knew the man would make a full recovery.

"Thank you, Sakura-san." Toru said appreciatively, apparently having watched the interaction.

Sakura simply smiled at him, as Sasuke had begun to divide those gathered into specific units.

"Sakura and I will lead the defence. My team will be right behind us, and the rest of you will be our support. I need all of you to watch out for those who seem to be struggling. Tatsuya, notify the medical squads to take up the rear and heal anyone who has been injured. Osamu, make sure the Academy genin are being kept away from the battle and make sure all of our capable shinobi will be fighting. Let's move." He said, before the group disappeared into the night as they headed to their respected positions, Sakura sticking close to his side.

Xx

As they neared the front gates, Sakura heard Sasuke curse and turned to see he had activated his sharingan.

She looked to find what he was observing, and felt a similar dread.

The enemy forces had broken through the gates and were currently engaging several of Otogakure's shinobi. The number of the force seemed to match evenly with the number of Oto-nin who had come to the defence of their village, but they seemed to be struggling with the skill level of the attackers. Every single enemy wore nothing but black, having everything obscured but their eyes, and not a single hitai-ate was in sight. They had no desire for their village affiliation to be known, which only meant one thing-they weren't there on the orders of a Kage.

Mere feet from the oncoming wave of attackers, Sakura noticed several bodies lay scattered about the wreckage of the gates, and forced herself to focus back on the enemies before she could be able to identify to which side they belonged.

Sasuke dove at the first several attackers they met with, effectively slashing through torsos, limbs, and often, clones. He ran swiftly passed the first group he had felled, jumping off of a boulder that had been jutting out of the cracked earth, and launching himself at a group of fresh prey. They'd barely had half a second to notice a shadow, cast by a street lamp far above, was descending upon them. The light as they gazed upwards nearly blinding them, before the glint of a sword became the only indicator that death was upon them.

Sakura sprinted to a group at Sasuke's right, coming in at a low crouch, and flicking her wrists to release several poisoned shuriken. They spun madly through the air, before embedding themselves deep into the bodies of her targets. The enemies appeared as though they had been frozen in their tracks, the poison spreading like wildfire through their veins to paralyze them from the inside out-shutting down their internal systems.

They collapsed in a heap.

The small victory was short-lived as Sakura sensed a powerful chakra signature directly behind her and immediately bent her knees, arching back her upper body and throwing her arms up and over, her hands finding the earth and steadying her enough to keep her back from crashing into the ground. She felt a massive weapon miss her by a nose as it sliced through a few strands of stray hair. She forced chakra into her palms and used its force to propel herself forward and back into a standing position, this time jumping into the air to avoid another swing of an intimidating, two-handed axe.

"Stay still!" Growled the owner of the fierce looking weapon, his black uniform appearing more elaborate, having been embellished with spikes and chains. The man must have been nearly seven feet tall, with massive bulging muscles, undoubtedly necessary to wield the weight of the outrageous weapon.

"You first." Sakura challenged, unleashing half a dozen senbon just as she landed a few feet from him. They impaled several pressure points along the arm that wielded the axe, forcing the massive man to drop it with a loud clanging noise. Two other enemies barrelled in at her after hearing the commotion, while the bulky man, although disarmed, used his unhindered arm to shove a forceful blast of chakra towards her, calling out an unknown name of a technique as he did so.

Sakura, her focus having been on the two new challengers, had drawn her katana, and in one fluid motion decapitated them both when they'd approached, before they had even managed to take their next breath. Unfortunately, she became aware of her previous opponent's attack a second too late, and was sent flying into a tree by the force of the blast. It felt as though he'd whipped a boulder into her left side, and it seared with pain as her right side became crushed against the bark of the tree, littering her exposed skin with deep gashes.

She cursed, and fought to regain her bearings, pushing green chakra into her palms to quickly heal her right side.

She faced her opponent who was now looming over her, an eager glint in his eye as though he was excited that he was about to crush the life from her. He aimed a punch at her with his massive left fist. Having been pinned between the tree and the enemy, Sakura smirked as she realized her only option was to meet force with force.

She immediately dropped her katana, pushing chakra into her right fist, and watched as their punches collided.

Her dainty little arm and slender wrist were unharmed as she watched as the collision seemed to ripple through the man's gigantic fist, all the bones in his muscular arm shattering and splintering upon impact. He bellowed in agony, infuriated at having both arms rendered useless.

Sakura flash stepped behind him, wrapping her arms around his broad neck in a choke hold. He thrashed about, howling in anguish, being unable to pry her off. He turned and slammed her back into the tree in an attempt to crush her from him. She cried out in pain, tightening her hold on him, before clenching her teeth together in a grimace while he stumbled back away from the tree.

Sakura gave one quick pulse of chakra to her arms, tightening her grip further, and before he would be able to slam her into the tree again, she snapped his neck in two.

She jumped off of his back, landing agilely, and watched him fall with a resounding crash.

She quickly snatched her katana up from the ground, and turned to find the next unsuspecting fool.

She ignored the bruises blooming over her body, the blood trickling from her lip, and the cuts and scrapes she didn't want to waste chakra healing, but she couldn't help wincing in pain from what she felt was a fractured rib.

She looked up to see another peculiar enemy, dressed in a buckled, strappier version of the unmarked uniforms, and forced herself to deal with the tormenting injury. It would take more than a little battle-healing to deal with the mending of bones.

Xx

Sasuke kept a close eye on the chakra signatures of Sakura and Team Hawk. He could feel their movements from beside, and behind him, as they fought against their unknown foes.

Suigetsu had apparently been having a great time, what with finally having the approval from Sasuke to kill, and being able to wield his precious sword in his very expert-like, and deadly ways-kenjutsu being his most favoured strong suit. Jugo was not having the same experience in the least, with his general desire to avoid confrontation, and difficulty in fighting against his enraged state. He had begun a partial transformation in order to best many opponents at once, hoping the current level would be enough for him to manage through the fight, and that he would not have to reach a fully transformed state, in which he would lose his mind to his murderous side. Should that happen, there was no telling whether he would bother to differentiate between friend and foe. Karin fought by Jugo's side, hoping to keep an eye on him as much as he would be protecting her. She had few combat abilities that would be able to stand up against the skill level of their enemies, though she timed basic attacks with her superior chakra sensing technique to the point that she became effective enough in her own way-slipping whatever weaponry she had on her into the soft flesh of any enemy that thought they would be able to sneak up on Jugo.

It seemed as though Team Hawk, Sakura, and the Otokage himself would be quite capable of dealing with the assailants. His advisors and the highest ranking Oto-nin however, seemed barely on par with the attackers, while lower ranking nin struggled desperately with each new opponent they faced.

More Oto-nin corpses littered the ground than did the unmarked shinobi's.

Sasuke made to bark orders at the weaker defenders to stay together, before being interrupted as he realized he was surrounded by many of the aggressors.

He faced a large group of the unmarked attackers, each varying in height and size, wielding different weapons, ranging from sickles to bombs to short-bows. They undoubtedly believed sheer strength in numbers would be able to outmatch the Otokage. He smirked as he felt an attack coming at him from behind, spinning and catching the shinobi in the gut with his trademark lightning ability. The pa-chi-chi-chi of the Chidori sliced through the man's stomach, his blood dripping down Sasuke's arm.

Sasuke threw the man to the ground as the death of their comrade spurred his surrounding opponents into action. They became nothing but blurs as they sprinted, flash stepped, clashed in mid-air, and unleashed their fury on the Uchiha. Occasional cackles of blue lightning distinguished the Otokage from his targets. Screams cut through the sounds of the battle around them as an enemy became trapped in a hellish nightmare by the sharingan.

A bomb went off near the chaos, blowing up the area, and sending Sasuke skidding backwards, arms shielding his face.

Bolts shot at him in rapid fire from nearby on a high roof top. He sprinted away from the barrage, hoping to get out of the bowman's line of sight, but was clipped and caught by a few of their steel points. They had managed to shred both clothes and flesh, and had nailed him in his left shoulder. His own blood mingled with that of those he had already killed.

He quickly circled around the building upon which the bowman resided, being pursued by those who had engaged him in combat, and jumped up to the rooftop, hoping to dispatch the shooter before he could take out too many of Otogakure's struggling defenders.

The bowman had seemed to predict his approach, and was facing the ledge the Otokage had just landed skilfully upon. He took aim, but blinked and the Uchiha had disappeared, having left his now confused-looking pursuers in his place.

The smell of burnt flesh filled the bowman's nostrils as he heard the shrill call of the chidori crackling along the Kusanagi's blood-soaked blade. He looked down, stunned to see his arms had been severed and cauterized by the lightning's heat. A scream of agony that had begun to bubble up from his throat was interrupted as Sasuke slashed it with a kunai, silencing him. The chidori dissipated.

His pursuers jumped at him, and he threw the kunai into the forehead of one of them, only to have it disappear in a puff of smoke.

Sasuke jumped backwards off the edge of the roof, landing agilely on the ground below, and watched as his pursuers clamoured over the edge like silent shadows slipping after him.

It was then that he heard rather than saw the trouble that Sakura was in, having discerned her gasp of pain rather clearly over the din of the battle. She had been keeping close to him, and was directly to his right, more than a dozen enemy bodies leaving a trail behind her.

He glanced with his peripherals to his former team mate. She was slumped over, clutching at her side with a glowing green hand, a look of pain set on her face. The enemy she faced had peculiar whip-like weapons, one in each hand, and each ending in three curved blades.

Sasuke focused his attention to those coming at him. Four remained from the original group that had surrounded him. He began to back cautiously toward where he had seen Sakura, ending up pretty well back to back with her.

"What's wrong?" He muttered so only she could hear when there was a lag in the fighting as each combatant waited for their opponents to make the first move.

"Fractured rib...Grazed on the same side by whatever those are." Sakura answered through gritted teeth, indicating the strange whips.

"Help me with these four and we'll take him out." Sasuke ordered, knowing that she was at a disadvantage alone as her opponent had apparently learned where her injuries were-a weakness that could very well cost her, her life.

Sakura nodded, forcing back a groan of agony as she straightened, pretending as though she was no longer wounded. She tightened her grip on her katana.

She charged at the whip-wielding enemy and gave a battle cry.

The enemy snapped his whips at her, effectively slashing through the head-on attack, cutting through her with all six blades.

She was replaced by seven pieces of chopped wood.

Sasuke smirked, seeing the kunoichi's plan, and turned his back on the four that had pursued him. He let lightning dance around his form as he dashed towards the whip wielding man.

The four he had ignored began to charge at the raven-haired man's back, until they realized why he had been so unconcerned about their presence.

Sakura's fist came smashing up from underground, effectively throwing all four unmarked shinobi several feet away along with the debris. As she came up into the air, she launched a barrage of kunai and shuriken into their unbalanced forms, each one having been laced with a different poison.

Two were killed instantly from having been sliced or punctured in critical areas, not needing the poisons effect to work at all.

The other two weren't as lucky. Having hit non-critical areas, they had both laughed at Sakura and had dug the weapons out from their bodies, grunting a little, before realizing that something was incredibly wrong. Unlike the paralyzing poison she had used earlier, these poisons were designed to ensure their victims felt the pain of death, and were normally reserved for only the most extreme cases of missing-nin hunting. Sakura was, however, running low on supplies, not exactly having brought her entire store of weaponry and poisons.

Both men could only scream in terror as they suffered bone disintegration, leaving nothing but a squishy, mushy, mess of skin and insides. Sakura shuddered, having briefly acknowledged how little difference there might have been between her and Orochimaru, before turning to help Sasuke deal with the whip-wielding shinobi.

Sasuke was engaged in close-combat with their enemy, apparently having decided that it would hinder the whip's ranged abilities. It seemed it was useless to hope for an advantage however, when their enemy managed to wrap one of the whips around Sasuke's right arm, dislodging his Kusanagi from his grip, and dislocating his shoulder. Sasuke grunted in pain, though Sakura could tell it took every bit of his strength to not cry out and show weakness.

Sakura quickly jumped into action, using her katana while their enemy was preoccupied to slice through the tough leather bound around Sasuke's forearm. The whip man became enraged to see one of his weapons had been destroyed before rounding on Sakura, three sharp blades flashing through the air in her direction. Again, his incredible speed and precision nicked her arm, blood seeping from the deep gashes as she sprinted around him trying to keep one step ahead of his lashes.

Sasuke used his injured left arm to shove his right shoulder back into place with a loud, crunching pop. He growled low at the pain, before grabbing his Kusanagi and charging in at the man responsible.

He and Sakura danced around the skilled man, each taking turns to launch creative attacks at him, though finding little success. Sasuke had sheathed his sword momentarily to pull out the bolt from his left shoulder and stab it into the eye socket of another enemy who had thought he could interfere with their battle and had been rushing towards Sakura. Sakura had spun around to slice through the stomach of another hopeful enemy who had been hoping to get a shot in at Sasuke during their altercation, effectively disembowelling the poor fool. They watched each other's backs as they engaged the whip-wielding man.

Xx

An advisor was nearby, having just dispatched his enemy, though the battle had been long and gruelling. He glanced over to check on the Otokage's location, being stricken with awe to see how gracefully and yet fiercely his leader and his new fiancé fought side by side. It was mesmerizing to observe how impressive their nearly matching skill levels were, and it left him hopeful that she was indeed a good choice after all.

He quickly scanned the area, noting the Oto-nin were struggling, some having unleashed abilities they had earned as a result of being a part of Orochimaru's experiments. It was a gruesome sight, and he was thankful for the distraction an approaching opponent served.

Xx

Sakura knew the strength of their enemy lay in his remaining whip, and without it they would be able to eliminate him easily. Still, his expert movements and unfamiliar techniques gave him the upper hand as he seemingly was always half a step ahead of her and Sasuke.

She could tell Sasuke was becoming impatient and knew he would soon finish the fight with one of his many impressive techniques. She just hadn't expected he would use one she knew would take a great toll on him.

Black flames erupted upon the sleeve of the whip man's uniform, spreading to his hand, his weapon, his shoulder, his neck, and to his face. He screamed in agony as the eternal fire seared his flesh.

Sakura watched as the man's skin melted away, revealing only a pile of skull and bones, and filling the air with a ghastly stench.

She looked over to Sasuke and saw him smearing blood across his cheek in an attempt to wipe away the aftermath of his ability. The irises of his mangekyou slowly receded.

It was then she heard many loud screams and shouts coming from the back of the clashing forces. A beat up looking man came up to the Otokage, a look of sheer terror upon his features.

"F-from the back! N-nearly two hundred more!" He exclaimed. It was clear he did not believe they would survive.

It was one of the oldest tactics in the book. So old and so typical in fact, that it had been completely overlooked by Sasuke, who would not have guessed they would try and employ it.

"Damn it!" He cursed. He had set up the medical-nin forces behind the fray, hoping it would keep them out of immediate danger.

"Keep pushing this wave back." He barked the order to Sakura, before calling for any nearby who were not currently engaged to come over to him. Two of his advisors and Suigetsu flash stepped over to him.

"'Sup?" Suigetsu asked. He was covered in bloody gore.

"Help her force these idiots back to where they came from." Sasuke informed them, before turning to sprint off in the direction of the new wave spilling into the battle. They watched him a few moments as he grabbed any available nin to aid him along the way.

Sakura turned towards the front gates, the members of her makeshift squad following behind her.

She had a gut feeling that separating from Sasuke might have been a bad idea, but forced herself to put her all into stopping the oncoming enemies from getting further into the village as they continued to rush in from the front gates.

Xx

It was nearly an hour of fighting back the unmarked enemies before Sakura paused to wipe sweat from her brow, undoubtedly smearing a clean streak through the dirt and grime on her forehead. Her body ached and her chakra was depleting quickly. She knew she would have to back off soon if she expected to live through the attack, but was resolved to keep up her determined appearance to inspire those who fought alongside her. She could tell Suigetsu's attacks were becoming slower as he exhausted as well. He had stopped beside her, taking a swig of water from one of the bottles he kept hanging from his waist.

"They better quit comin' soon or we're gonna lose." He muttered, apparently having grown less amused with the concept of fighting and killing.

They had hacked and chopped and sliced and impaled foe upon foe. The battlefield in front of the gates was strewn with corpses. The advisors had more wounds on their bodies than did Sakura and Suigetsu, but they were all worn down and beat up. Those who had managed to slip past Sakura's temporary team and into the village were met with the other Otogakure forces, including Jugo and Karin. Few enemies made it to the town's centre from the front gates, though Sakura often looked back to see where the new wave had broken through. The small cluster of forces Sasuke had managed to dig up to help him defend in that area looked worse than they did.

What was worse, the medical-nin teams had been taken off guard. Many had died in the initial surprise assault. More than half of the dead bodies belonged to Otogakure-nin, and Sakura knew many of them may have been saved had there been more medical support.

As the Otogakure forces continued to push back the wave at the front gates, weapons clashing and blood spilling all about her, she chanced a moment to search for Sasuke's flash of the chidori in the masses fighting behind them.

Her heart began to pound as she realized there were no white-blue flashes.

An opponent charged at her, and she distractedly dispatched him, shoving her katana through the roof of his mouth without a second glance as she kept her focus on the other cluster of forces.

After observing not a sign of any of Sasuke's signature techniques-not a flash of lightning, not a flare of fire, nothing-she came to the conclusion that something was wrong.

She flicked a kunai into a man's jugular as he leapt at her, before turning slightly to look at Suigetsu, who had just finished assassinating two opponents that had been engaged in combat with other Oto-nin.

"I'll be right back..." She called to him. He glanced over at her and nodded to show he understood before turning and silencing another group of enemies forever.

Sakura dashed off towards the second group of defenders.

She pushed what little chakra she could spare out towards the mass of clashing bodies in an attempt to pick out the Otokage's chakra signature.

She found it near the head of the forces, but frowned as she noticed how faint it had become.

XxTBCxX

Author's Note: Phew 25 pages! This one's a longer chappie because I know I won't be able to update for a little bit (about two weeks or so) because I've got four annoying essays, and several midterms to accomplish in that time lol. So I hope this is satisfactory enough for now. I had lots of fun writing the battle bits. I wanted more action and less just talking or feeling awkward going down. I needed a major ice-breaker or something to get things kind of going between Sakura and Sasuke and I'm hoping this fight will act as that. You'll get to see more gritty action scenes next chapter, learn about what the hell is going on, and see what's up with Sasuke...So I hope you guys will look forward to that! There's also going to be some development when it comes to Sakura's feelings...I wanted to show in this chapter that she's accepted that she kills people for a living as much as she saves others in her spare time, but she still can't really handle seeing people horrendously tortured too much...I didn't want to make her too desensitized just yet-she hasn't been an ANBU for too long after all. I also wanted to get her out of her "annoying" persona...She was even pissing me off when I was writing her what with all her anger and her hating of the hottest man in the Narutoverse haha. So I wanted to show she can still be smart, cunning, and sly but still very vulnerable and still (maybe) has dormant feelings for him hehe. It's easier to write Sasuke who doesn't really having very many feelings to express anyways...as opposed to the conflicting personality of older, ANBU Sakura, who has actually matured very little. So yeah! Anywho, hope you liked! R&R! xo

P.S. I'm out of time to do review answers/shout outs this chapter, but know I loved reading each and every one of them and hearing everyone's opinions on the story so far! I will try my best to thank you all properly next chappie! Also, if you're bored waiting for Chapter 6 (which I've got planned already, couple pages written out too) then you can check out the beginnings of some new SasuSaku story ideas I've posted. Lying From You will be focussed on of course, but my new ones are just to dabble with and have fun writing. Check 'em out!