12-3-2011. Hello my wonderful and faithful readers! Sorry it's been so long. I've been busy with essays and reading and such. I find it hard to remember the beginning of the story where the time between my updates could be measured in days and weeks instead of months :( But now I've reached chapter 15! A number I never thought I would reach! I'm grateful for all of you who have stuck with me this whole time and for the new readers who probably randomly clicked on this link haha. Those last few lines sound kind of like a goodbye, but don't worry, I'm not done with this fic yet!

With lightning fast moves, Sasuke made the hand signs he needed in order to spit fire at the targets in front of him. The heat blazed in the training room as Sasuke continued to let out the stream of fire from between his lips, holding it as long as he could. When he finally needed to take a breath he released the chakra and watched the room darken from the sudden absence of firelight. Hardly a second passed before Sasuke was launching another attack, this time with kunai and wire. Sending the weapons flying through the air, he soon had his targets trapped. If they had been real opponents, this would be the time they either had to surrender or die for Sasuke would have them at his mercy.

Stepping back he studied his handiwork and looked for any place where he could use improvements. He spotted a wire that had come loose from a kunai and went to investigate. Hmm, I'll have to tie the knots better next time. I can't have them come apart in combat. He thought to himself as he collected his weapons. Deciding to work on his fire jutsu some more he took a sturdy stance and made the familiar hand motions once again.

The room blazed as fire balls went shooting away from him, illuminating even the darkest corners. It was at this point he thought he caught a glimpse of something hiding in the shadows of the hallway. Not wanting to appear surprised he continued the barrage of flame all while surreptitiously glancing through the open doors to the dark hallway beyond. He had been so sure he had seen a face; a pale, snake-eyed face.

The thought that Orochimaru might be watching from the darkness put Sasuke on edge. It was one thing for Orochimaru to watch the progress Sasuke was making, but another for him to do it in secret. Usually Orochimaru liked to make his presence known so that Sasuke would display all his most difficult techniques in an effort to demonstrate that he was capable of harder missions. Watching from the dark hallway was spying, and Sasuke didn't like it.

Ever since Kabuto had dropped in on Sasuke's training, Sasuke had been agitated. He knew there was a good chance Kabuto had gone to Orochimaru and talked about Sasuke's quick recovery, so it made sense for Orochimaru to covertly check-in on Sasuke's training in order to see for himself. Sasuke really should have been more careful before returning to train after such a short time, but that was in the past and he couldn't change anything now, only adapt to the situation as it came.

Lighting up the room with fire again Sasuke looked into the hallway, searching for anything out of the ordinary. Seeing nothing, he released his jutsu and walked through the door into the space we he could have sworn Orochimaru had been earlier. From where he stood in the dark hallway he couldn't sense anyone nearby, but that did not necessarily mean the snake had slithered away since Sasuke knew Orochimaru was adept at hiding his presence.

Turning back and reentering the training room, Sasuke thought about whether or not Orochimaru had actually come to secretly check up on him. He had been jumpy ever since waking from his dream last night, so Sasuke could blame his paranoia for what he saw. Deciding not to dwell anymore on this mystery since he would never figure it out completely he tried to return to his training, annoyed at the fact that his concentration had been broken. He had had trouble that morning focusing his thoughts enough to train, and now he had to try to do it again. That time though, his thoughts had not been on Orochimaru but on Sakura, which was just as confusing a topic but more pleasant to ruminate on.

Waking up with her in his arms had been an experience he enjoyed, although he still felt a little uncomfortable about it since he wasn't sure if she had liked it. He had become used to her presence in his life but he didn't know if the feeling was mutual or not since they never talked about her confinement to his room. She had loved him once when they were young, but years had passed since then and her emotions toward him might have changed. However, last night she did kiss his forehead after calming him from his nightmare, which meant there must still be a part of her that wanted him.

But how did that make Sasuke feel; relieved, apprehensive, glad, worried? He couldn't stand the confused bundle of emotions that surfaced whenever he thought about her; it made everything so much more difficult to deal with, especially the issue with their future.

Sasuke still had not come to a conclusion about whether or not to let her go or have her stay with him. He would like to continue living like they were, but that was impossible and would mean he had to reveal her presence to Orochimaru, which was a task he had no desire to do. He doubted that Orochimaru would be okay with a Konoha ninja freely living amongst them and that he would probably want to lock her away. If that happened, Sakura would be sure to resent Sasuke. He knew the decision wasn't fully his to make, but he didn't want to bring it up with her just yet.

Exasperated with his confusion, he tried to clear his mind of all thoughts by focusing on a spot on the wall until his mind was blank and he was ready once again to train. Lifting his hands, they blurred with the speed of his hand signs as he started a new barrage of fighting on the invisible enemies in the room.

The day wore on as Sasuke continued to practice his jutsu and work through battle strategies in the training room. As far as he could tell, he had no more secret visitors during that time but he still kept an eye out just in case. Finishing his last routine of the day, he picked up his sword and weapons from where he had left them earlier and got ready to leave.

Walking through the dark winding hallways Sasuke made his way to the kitchens to eat something and also get some food for Sakura. There never was very much to choose from, but at least she never complained about her fare. He was tired of always having to figure out what to bring her to eat but he knew she couldn't do it herself without risk of discovery. This led him to once again think about what he should do about their predicament. Something had to be done soon, but he just didn't know what.

Leaving the kitchens he headed to his room while contemplating the day he'd been having since he woke up that morning. Each day was different now that he no longer spent them alone. As he arrived at his door, he paused and was careful to study the surroundings before going into his room. From what he could see and feel, he was the only one in the hallway. Reassured that Orochimaru wasn't nearby, he unlocked the door and walked in. Sakura was sitting on the chair staring off into space but quickly snapped out of her trance when he entered the room.

"Welcome back." She said with a soft smile.

He nodded to her, deposited the food on the table, then headed to the bathroom to take a shower and wash off the sweat of the day. Earlier he had worried that Orochimaru might have stopped by his room, but seeing that nothing had been disturbed and that Sakura appeared to be fine, he relaxed slightly. As the water heated he undressed, then he stepped under the shower and let the water fall on his shoulders and run down his body.

He was tired; tired of worrying about being found out, tired of keeping secrets, and tired of being confused. Unless he did something about it, he was going to continue to wear himself out. He knew he shouldn't complain if there was a way to fix the problem, but all the solutions were more difficult than he wanted them to be. Sighing, he started to wash himself with soap and tried to think about nothing at all. Not surprisingly, it didn't work.

After drying himself off with a towel and putting on the shorts and t-shirt in which he slept, he reentered the room. Sakura had moved from the chair to the bed and looked to be entirely focused on the book in her hands. Checking the clock, Sasuke decided it was too early to go to sleep and instead picked up the book he started the night before. He sat in the vacated chair and opened to the spot where he had left off. To him this book wasn't very interesting, but it gave him something to do and he was grateful for it.

For ten minutes or so he was able to concentrate on the book, but soon his thoughts strayed back to what to do about Sakura and what would happen if Orochimaru found out. It seemed like his whole day had been busy with thinking about this and it was really starting to annoy him. Then an idea came to him to talk about it with Sakura, right now. For a few moments he battled with himself about whether or not this was a good idea, for broaching the subject could either prove helpful or it could drive a wedge between them. Although he wasn't quite sure what would happen, he opened his mouth to speak before he lost his nerve.

"Sakura, what do you want to do?"

She looked at him confused, unsure of what he was asking. "What do you mean?"

Sasuke shut his book and turned in the chair a little so that he could have a better position to converse, and to buy some time before speaking again. "I meant, what do you want to do about the future? You don't believe we can continue living like this for very long, do you?"

Sakura sighed, this had been what she thought he meant, but hadn't wanted to say anything until she was sure. "I know this situation won't last forever and that it was only a matter of time until we had to confront it, but I can't really make a decision until I know the full story of why I am here."

Sasuke frowned, he was hoping he wasn't going to have to do much talking, but it made sense that she wanted to know the full story. Taking a long breath he began.

"When I found you unconscious in the woods from your fight, I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to take you with me but it wouldn't have been right to just leave, so I ended up deciding to take you back here to Orochimaru's hideout since that was really the only feasible option I could think of at the time. I snuck in and brought you to my room so that I could keep you hidden. I didn't have any sort of plan, but I knew it would be better if Orochimaru didn't know about your presence. I knew I would have to wait for you to heal before either releasing you or imprisoning you, but one thing led to another and now we are here with no idea how to move forward."

Looking at him carefully, Sakura could tell that he felt unsure of himself, which was not a common sight. "Do you think Orochimaru knows I'm here?"

"Not that I'm aware of, but Kabuto said something the other day that put me on edge and I thought I caught a glimpse of Orochimaru during training today, which is unusual."

"What do you think we should do?" She asked him, wondering what Kabuto might have said but deciding not to bring it up.

"I don't know. I'm asking you because I know you can't stay hidden forever and we need a plan for that." Sasuke paused before saying his next words, not wanting to bring them up but knowing it had to be done. "In all honesty, what do you want to do? Stay or go?"

Sakura looked at him for a moment in surprise before looking away. He was giving her a choice and as far as she knew, he would let her decide her own future. The opportunity was amazing, but left her confused. She had gotten used to the idea of continuing to live with him, but now he was offering her freedom. Aware of the silence in the room but not sure what to say, she started talking about what she had thought and felt since waking up in his room that very first day.

"When I regained consciousness I had no idea where I was, it didn't seem threatening so I sat and waited. But once I saw you and learned where I was I got scared. I was afraid I was going to be forced to divulge information about Konoha for Orochimaru. As time went on and I realized I didn't seem to be in any danger I relaxed, but I was always thinking of a way to escape. I thought my chance had come when you left on your mission, but the disabling bracelet stopped me." Sakura stopped and took a few breaths. It felt odd to tell Sasuke about what she had been through and she felt self-conscious, but she continued on.

"After you returned terribly injured from your mission, I realized how badly I didn't want to lose you. It was terrifying to see you so broken and I started to remember the times before you left Konoha when we were a team. I guess nostalgia got the better of me and I thought about escape less and less and got used to the idea of staying here for a longer time since there didn't seem to be any chance to leave. After that we were so comfortable around each other that I could barely believe it. We were talking like normal people and it was easy to forget where I was."

Getting up from where she sat on the bed, Sakura began to pace back and forth a short distance as she started talking again.

"And then…and then you kissed me and I was so confused. It had taken me a long time to get rid of my feelings for you after you left and to have them brought to the forefront of my thoughts again was unsettling. I didn't know what you thought about me, and to be honest I still don't, but I knew you probably didn't dislike me. And now you ask me what I want to do, and I don't know. The other night I had decided that I wouldn't try to leave anymore and that I would like to stay here even though that meant abandoning everyone I love back home. But it seems like you are offering me a chance to leave now and I don't know whether I want to take it or not."

Sakura stopped pacing and stood still, trying not to look at Sasuke. She could feel her eyes starting to tear up as she thought about what to say next. After all this time, it had come down to this moment to make a final decision.

As he listened to Sakura explain the thoughts she had since discovering her predicament, Sasuke had been surprised by how much she had been mentally battling. He had been so busy with his own worries that he never stopped to fully comprehend what she had been dealing with herself. He was interested to learn that she had planned on trying to escape when he left on his mission, like he thought she might, and was glad he had used the disabling bracelet on her. If she had been left to her own devices, she could have gotten lost and wound up in a fight with Orochimaru and his guards.

Now he watched her as she tried to come to a decision. He stayed silent; not wanting to distract her from what he knew was a difficult choice since he still wasn't completely sure what he wanted either. He had an idea, but he didn't want to say in case it changed her answer. He wanted to hear what she honestly decided, so all he could do was wait.

Tears began to sting her eyes and run down her cheeks as she came to a conclusion and started to explain her thinking. "It hurts me to think of abandoning my friends and family in Konoha, I know firsthand what losing someone feels like and I hate to do that to them, but I don't think I could stand to lose you. Recovering from that would be harder this time and I don't know if I would be able to do it again." She took a shaky breath before continuing with "So, I guess what I'm saying is that I – I want to stay…with you."

Sakura didn't look at Sasuke's face even though she wanted to. If his expression showed displeasure, she didn't know what she would do. She stared at the floor feeling embarrassed and waited for him so say something.

Looking at her, Sasuke knew how much pain it caused her to decide to forsake her life in Konoha. That village was everything she had ever known and she was much more attached to it than he had been. Getting up from the chair he walked until he was standing right in front of her.

It was then he said "I want that too."

She lifted her head and looked at him, not believing what he had said. They looked into each other's eyes for a moment, unsure of what to do now that they had opened up about what they wanted. Sakura smiled slightly before she was reminded about what still stood in their path, and then weakly asked "But, what about Orochimaru?"

In all honesty, Sasuke had actually forgotten about having to inform Orochimaru after hearing Sakura's decision. Not wanting to think about it now he simply said "We'll figure it out." He brought his right hand to her cheek and gently wiped away the tears that were still falling. She looked so beautiful standing there so close to him, and he bent to kiss her. Closing her eyes Sakura leaned to meet him in a soft kiss.

They stayed together like that for a moment before his arms wrapped around her waist and her hands slid up his chest, their kiss deepening. The feelings they had for each other but had kept mostly hidden suddenly swelled in them, increasing their passion. Sasuke ran his tongue gently along her closed lips, asking permission. He didn't have to wait long before Sakura invited him in.

She ran a hand through his soft hair that was still slightly damp from the shower, too enthralled with the current situation to think about how unbelievable this all was. If somebody had told her a month ago that she would be kissing Sasuke in Orochimaru's hideout she would have thought them crazy, but here she was.

When Sakura literally went weak at the knees and thought she was about to fall, Sasuke held her against him before lifting her and walking to the bed. Laying her down, Sasuke took off his shirt before climbing on top of her and continuing where they had left off. After a moment, Sakura reached for the hem of her shirt before breaking the kiss in order to pull it over her head.

Sasuke looked in her eyes, silently asking if this was what she really wanted. It wasn't too late to stop and he would be willing to if this was too much for her right now. Smiling up at him, she pulled his head to hers and pressed her lips against his, giving Sasuke all the confirmation he needed. Helping each other remove the rest of their clothes, they reveled in the feel of being so vulnerable and so close, both glad to be together like this.

They spent the night exploring their passions, losing themselves in each other in ways they never thought possible.

Though no words were used, they communicated every thought and feeling they had, knowing that the other understood completely. They fit perfectly together, like they somehow knew they would. After all the uncertainty and worry of the past days, they were finally able to forget about everything except what they felt for each other.

When at last they were finished, Sasuke got out from under the covers and turned off the overhead light they had forgotten about in their haste. Returning to the warmth of the bed and Sakura's body, they held each other as they drifted to sleep, cherishing the moment and not wanting to let the other go.

Following the small map Tsunade had given him that pinpointed the areas from which the trackers had sent reports, Kakashi soon arrived at the spot of Sakura's battle with the three rogue ninja. It had been two weeks since the battle had scarred the earth and foliage was beginning to regrow, slowly erasing the marks that had been left.

When the trackers were there they had disposed of the bodies of the three rogue ninja, so nothing was left in the clearing for Kakashi to find. He looked around for any clue that might lead him to a discovery, but nothing came into sight. If the skilled trackers hadn't found anything, Kakashi doubted that he would be able to do much better.

Quickly making the hand signs needed, he bit his thumb hard enough to draw blood and placed it on the ground. Almost instantly one of his tracker hounds appeared, looking at him and waiting for instruction. Kakashi opened his mouth and spoke. "If you could, please check around this area for a scent of my student Sakura. She did battle here about two weeks ago."

"Two weeks? That's a long time for a scent to linger and still be detectable. Besides, I don't even know what she smells like." The ninja dog said.

Kakashi reached into his pouch and pulled out a small scarf of Sakura's that had been left in Tsunade's office shortly before the ill-fated mission. The Hokage had given it to him for precisely this purpose. She would have sent it with the first pair of trackers, but there had been no ninja dogs or any other tracking animals available at that time. Guessing the item was something of Sakura's, Kakashi's summons stuck his snout into the fabric and inhaled deeply before starting to circle around the area, nose continuously twitching.

Watching him, Kakashi leaned back until he was sitting on the ground. He knew there was little chance of picking up a strong scent, especially after the heavy rains that had swept through the forest, but he still had to try. Kakashi was going to head out for Orochimaru's suspected hideout, but he wanted to see if there were any other possible trails to follow first.

He found it both terrifying and unbelievable that Sakura could have fallen into Orochimaru's hands. If judging by the wreckage of this site was any indication, he doubted Sakura would have been able to wander that far on her own, which implied she must have been taken. But who would do that? Orochimaru rarely ventured out of his snake-hole so it probably hadn't have been him. That left Kabuto, other loyal minions, and, of course, Sasuke.

Kakashi didn't think Orochimaru's other servants would have recognized Sakura and he knew Kabuto didn't often leave Orochimaru's side, so that left Sasuke. That was most confusing of all to Kakashi because he knew his former student and didn't believe Sasuke would bother to pay attention to Sakura, let alone take the time to kidnap her. It was more likely that he would have just killed her.

Horrible as it was to imagine, Kakashi knew Sasuke would be capable of doing so. Sakura had meant little to him, and if he had found her alone and weakened in the woods Sasuke could have finished her off. By why then take the body? If Sakura had been killed there would have been a good chance that her remains would still have been here when the trackers arrived, and at which point they would have been able to end their search. If Sasuke was involved with Sakura's disappearance, it could be possible that he took her to Orochimaru for the information she held about Konoha. Or, if Sasuke and she had crossed paths, she might have convinced him to let her come along.

Kakashi rubbed his face, trying to snap out of the trance-like state he had fallen into while going over all the potential courses of action. He mustn't let himself forget there was still a chance she had simply been picked up by a concerned citizen and taken to a small town the trackers had somehow missed, however unlikely that scenario might be.

The sight of his summons loping toward him from the other side of the clearing made Kakashi sit up straight and wait for the news. "Did you get anything?" Kakashi asked.

"Unfortunately, no. The rain and wind have carried everything away. It might have been possible if only a few days had passed, but it's just simply been too long."

Sighing, Kakashi closed his eyes for a second before opening them and thanking the ninja dog for trying. With a puff of smoke, the dog disappeared.

Kakashi knew it had been a long shot all along, but he had needed to at least try. Standing, he stretched his arms and legs before checking the map and heading in the direction he knew would lead him to the suspected hideout.

Sooooooooo, did you like it? Did you enjoy the intimacy of Sasuke and Sakura? Yup, I thought you would ;) It's not a super descriptive lemon, but it's the closest I've ever come to writing anything like that so I hope it turned out okay! I really enjoyed coming up with this chapter and I was grinning almost the entire time I wrote their lemon-y scenes.

There's probably two chapters left. I know I said that last time, but this part went longer than I thought it would so I decided it would be a good place to stop, and because I knew you guys all really wanted an update. Haha, watch; I'm going to write the next chapter and then end up going "Oh, two left! I know I've said that before but this time I really mean it!" Hahahaha I don't know what's happening to my head.