viii. The Big Reveal

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Sakura's thrown gauntlet struck the two boys silent. She watched Sasuke carefully as confusion rippled across the surface of his face before it quickly settled back into its usual mask of impassivity.

"Fight you," Sasuke repeated for clarification.

Sakura nodded curtly. "First person on both knees looses. No jutsu." He looked at her as if she'd just made a really bad joke.

"That's crazy!" Naruto burst out from behind them.

The hackles on Sakura's pride rose. "Why? Why is it crazy that I fight Sasuke, Naruto," she demanded with challenge in her eyes.

"No, no, no, no," Naruto amended hastily, desperate to find safe footing on thin ice. "I just meant this whole thing is crazy, ya know? We're all on the same team! We shouldn't be fighting each other like this!"

"You two fight all the time," she pointed out.

"Yeah, but we're us and you're…" Naruto trailed off.

"Go on," she snapped, daring him to finish his words. "I'm what. A Girl?"

Naruto squirmed uncomfortably beneath the press of her angry eyes. "Well, yeah…sort of?"

"So, just because I'm a girl you think I shouldn't fight, because I'm weak."

"Yeah!" Naruto enthusiastically agreed, glad that Sakura-chan was finally seeing his point of...

"Wait a second," the blonde backpedalled. "Wait, Sakura-chan that's not what I—"

"You're being stupid Sakura," Sasuke cut in.

If there was one thing Sakura couldn't stand, it was a slight to her intelligence, no matter the context. A snarl instinctively ripped across her features, but she forced it into an awry, teeth-baring grin. "Is that what you think Sasuke-kun," she bit out. She had the sudden urge to grab him by his pretty white neck and pop off that big fat head of his. "Do you really think I'm 'stupid'?" She took the porch's stairs with slow, easy steps. The old wood barely creaked underfoot as she stalked towards him like a lioness, her gait languid and predatory.

Unease prickled the back of Sasuke's neck. Something was off about the girl. It was like taking an image of the Sakura he knew and superimposing it over the Sakura he saw now. She had the same pink hair—albeit it was shorter—the same face, the same clothes, but something didn't quite match up. It was in the unsettlingly way she moved; the way her gaze wouldn't break no matter how much force he put into his; the way something inside of him shook like it had when he had come face to face with Zabuza. Instinctively, his foot slid back. Sakura's head slightly canted to one side, like a cat watching a bird.

"Or maybe you're just afraid." A soft, wicked little smile curled over a corner of her mouth.

Afraid.

The word set Sasuke off like a gun. With one almighty sweep of his pride, all the fear and uncertainty was gone, replaced by anger, disgust, and above all arrogance. He was an Uchiha, damn it, and with that name he carried on his shoulders the illustrious legacy of Konoha's most skilled and privileged. As the last of the clan it was his duty to keep that name unsullied, and he most certainly wasn't going to let some pink-haired girl from a civilian family taint the great name.

His gaze hardened. If Sakura wanted a fight so badly, then so be it. She would learn despair when he showed her the vast distance that separated their levels.

His body's image wavered like a mirage under the desert heat before snuffing out of view. A cloud of dirt roiled in the small eddies of air he had left behind. Just as Sakura tensed for the coming blow, she felt the air move around her as he reappeared behind her, grabbing her arm in an iron-tight grip. He planned to twist it back, locking her elbow and forcing her to submit. It was simple really, but that simplicity would drive home the point of how much greater his skill level was in comparison to hers. Plus, Sasuke always had been a great believer in economical moves.

However, his neat little plan began to unravel when Sakura, in a surprising display of speed and strength, wrenched her arm out of his grasp and grabbed his wrist instead. Her other hand whipped back and grabbed a fistful of his shirt. He looked down at her in unguarded surprise.

She caught his eye and answered with a bat of her lashes and a saccharine smile. "Flat out on the back counts, too Sasuke-kun." Before he could ask, he felt his feet leave the ground as she swung him over her shoulder like a human sledgehammer.

The dirt was rushing up to meet him and, by the grace of his reflexes, Sasuke managed to throw out his free arm to brace himself against the earth before his face could be pile driven into the ground. He let the momentum of the throw wrench him out of her grasp and carry him through a backflip. Landing lightly on his feet, he spun quickly to face Sakura, sensing it unwise to keep his back to her. He was right. Not giving him a chance to collect him self, she charged him like an angry bull, fist drawn back and ready to drive a hole through his face. Or at least that's what he gathered from that barbaric battle cry she was roaring.

He dropped to the ground to evade her punch and kicked his leg out, hoping to sweep her legs out from beneath her. Already having anticipated the move, she planted her hands on his shoulders, using them as leverage to lift her off the ground, up and over him. She landed lightly on her feet, twisting around straight into a dead run. She leapt into the air, raising her leg straight up before bringing down on Sasuke like a guillotine. He rolled out of the way, and the axe-kick slammed into the ground where he had been just moments ago. Dust exploded at the point of impact, and Sasuke swore he heard the earth crack.

Sakura straightened slowly, a cloud of flustered dirt billowing at her knees like waves of ochre mist. She was breathing hard, her lungs clattering up and down against her chest bones as they expanded and contracted. She sucked in painful, but much needed gulps of air through her clenched teeth. She didn't have much time; already she could begin to feel the strain on her twelve-year-old body.

She glared at Sasuke with one eye; the other was squeezed shut as if she were trying to tamp down on the pain. Physically he was pristine—literally untouched. His expression, on the other hand, looked as if he were undergoing a lobotomy; great paradigm shifts tended to have that effect.

She allowed herself a cocky little smirk. Smashing someone's initial expectations of her to itty-bitty bits was always oh so satisfying.

"HOLY CRAP! Sakura-chan! You're. Freaking. AWESOME!" Naruto shouted from the sidelines, forgetting it was in his best interest that she'd loose. This was, after all, a side of her they had never expected.

Her unprecedented speed aside, Sakura's fighting technique went against everything Sasuke had assumed about the girl. It was an aggressive, no-holds-barred style that had all the subtly of a rampaging rhino. There was no way in the farthest depths of hell that this was the same girl who complained about getting sweat stains during training.

Sasuke shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. Okay, fine, so had made a few erroneous assumptions and maybe Sakura hadn't spent all those free afternoons painting her nails, but that didn't change anything. They were in the middle of a fight, and he had his clan's name to uphold. He took in a deep breath, and closed his eyes, letting the calm settle over him. 'You're an Uchiha. Focus.'

The smirk on Sakura's face twisted into a grimace as she eyed Sasuke warily. Up to this point in their fight she knew her unwarranted strength had frazzled his nerves, but it seemed he had finally collected himself; the real fight was about to begin.

Sasuke eyes flicked opened and in the same moment he disappeared.

'Here it comes,' she thought, steeling herself.

The air in front of her vibrated and Sakura barely had the chance to mutter a curse before a kick came at her ribs. She raised an arm up to block it, wincing as the force of the blow reverberated through her very bones; oh she was going to feel that one tomorrow. Not giving her the time to retaliate, Sasuke flickered out of view again. He appeared crouched down with his back to her. Using his arms and foot as supports, he brought his leg back and Sakura crossed her arms just in time to receive the vicious mule kick aimed at her solar plexus. The attack sent her sliding back a few feet in the dirt, and then he was behind her. She was just beginning to turn around when his kick connected with her head and sent her flying. She hit the ground, tumbling a few times across the dirt road before managing a few back handsprings to contain the momentum.

Sakura had just regained her footing when Sasuke blitzed her again, showering her with a torrent of kicks and punches; appearing and disappearing like strikes of lightening. Her breathing was already beginning to grow labored, and she couldn't tell if she was slowing down or if he was speeding up. He clocked her at the base of her spine with his elbow, driving her downwards. Her hands flew out to keep her face from smashing into the ground, and the skin of her right knee burst open as it scraped the rough earth.

"Damn," Sakura rasped out, panting hard. Unlike her explosive, take-no-prisoners approach, Sasuke's attacks were ruthless, precise, and mechanical, raining down continuously, giving his opponent no room to catch a breath or regain footing.

But technically speaking, Sasuke wasn't better than her. She knew where the blows were going to land, where she was supposed to be, and how she should counter. It was just that her body couldn't keep up. It was as if the signal between her brain and the rest of her nervous system was jammed. She grimaced at her own thin, bony wrists—achieved after months of dieting, she was sure—shaking as they struggled to support her weight. Twelve-year-old Sakura needed to get her priorities in order.

"Give up, Sakura," Sasuke warned.

She looked up, wiping the sweat and spit from the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand. Fire still burned in her eyes. "One knee doesn't count, Sasuke-kun," she said and—Was she seriously going to do this? Screw it, she had a future to change—drove her fist into the ground.

The earth blew up, to put it mildly. It wasn't even a quarter of the craters Sakura preferred to make, but her chakra tank was beginning to run low, and blowing open an eight-foot basin into the ground would just lead to difficult questions; she could pass this one-footer off as the result of some intensive strength training. Besides, rocks still crumbled away, clouds of dirt exploded in all directions, while Sasuke lost his footing and looked like he just got his second lobotomy. All in all, Sakura was satisfied with the results. Her knees buckled slightly beneath her. Steadying herself, Sakura looked down at her legs, frowning.

Despite his initial shock, Sasuke quickly composed himself, stomping down on his back leg to regain his balance. He looked down at the shallow depression, the wheels in his head clicking and whirring, trying to come up with an explanation.

"YEAAAAAAAAH!" Naruto blared again. "KICK HIS ASS!"

'Ignore the idiot and focus, Sasuke,' he tersely reminded himself, 'you can think later. Quick, here she comes.'

Sakura barreled towards him with fire in her eyes. Sasuke jerked his head back to avoid an uppercut. Suddenly those tiny fists seemed a lot deadlier than before. Clasping her hands together, Sakura brought it down towards the crown of his head as a double axe handle. He whirled out of the way and the blow slammed harmlessly into the ground, shattering the earth. Cracks spider webbed out beneath her fists and Sasuke felt the ground tremble.

"Gorilla," he muttered.

"What was that?!" Sakura roared, clearly having heard the insult. She twisted around with a wild haymaker aimed at his head. He ducked, slipping past her defense. Sakura's glance flitted down and their gazes locked. Her eyebrows furrowed and she grit her teeth. 'Shit.' She brought her knee up, trying to smash it into his face, but he pivoted easily out of the way.

'Behind you!' She had just spun around to face him, when his punch rammed straight into her stomach.

Her eyes grew wide as the air was forced out of her. Her body crumpled forward, folding over his fist, and she grabbed onto his arm to keep her self from falling, coughing loudly.

Surprise flitted across Sasuke's face; he had expected her to catch that.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto thundered down the stairs towards his teammates.

"This is why I told you to stay down!" Sasuke hissed angrily as he tried to retract his arm, only to have Sakura tighten her grip on it.

Sakura steeled her shaking leg and dug her heels into the ground. She lifted her head, still struggling to breath, and Sasuke was dismayed to see the defiance in her eyes. "Go. To. Hell," she bit out between ragged breaths. God damn this body.

Sasuke felt her hands loosen and she slipped down.

Startled, he instinctively reached down for her, but Naruto was already by her side. "Sakura-chan!"

"Don't," she snarled emphatically. Naruto's hands froze, hovering uncertainly above her shoulders. She looked up at Sasuke, wincing and glaring at the same time, clutching the throbbing, white-hot spot in her gut. "Still. One. Knee," she managed to gasp out. Sure enough, she was crouched over with one knee digging into the ground, the other pointing triumphantly up towards the sky.

Sasuke clenched his fists, diggings his nails into the flesh of his palm. Sensing his anger, Naruto whirled on the other boy, spreading his arms between his two teammates like a blockade. "That's enough!"

"Naruto! What're you doing? Get out of the—!" Sakura started, but he cut her off.

"I've decided!" He said. "I'm not taking the Chunin Exams either."

"Wait, Naruto—" She began to protest, and then bit back her complaint.

"So Sasuke, you can try and make us both take the test, or just give in now."

The two boys squared off, a silent exchange passing between them. Sasuke broke eye contact, his gaze landing on Sakura for a moment before meeting Naruto's again. The fight in his body slowly drained out. Muscle by muscle, he began to uncoil. His expression was unreadable. Sakura thought he might have nodded a little. Without a word, he turned to leave.

Sakura let her other knee thud to the ground. The orange jacket filled her vision, blurring behind a watery veil of hot tears. 'This view, again,' she thought bitterly, focusing on the red spiral on Naruto's back. She knew she was being petty. She should be happy she managed to keep the boys away from the Chunin Exams, that had been the main point, but shame burned through her. They had rescued her. She slammed a frustrated fist against the ground.

"Sakura-chan?"

She looked away, trying to hide her face while blinking away the tears. It didn't do much. Soon, a steady stream was spilling down her cheeks, dripping down and splatting wetly against her bare legs.

Naruto crouched down, his blue eyes big with concern and empathy. "You okay?"

Sakura bit held back a sob and silently shook her head: No.

After a long moment he placed an awkward hand on her shoulder. "Uhm there, there," he tried.

The tears started coming faster and she felt a sudden lurch of homesickness. She missed Naruto—Big Naruto who always seemed to know just what to say and during moments like this to make her feel better. The Naruto who'd gather her up in his arms, crush her in a bear hug, and joke about ding-dong-ditching that ass-hole Sasuke's house later. Then going on to actually do it.

And she missed herself, the eighteen-year-old, 115 pounds of fury that could bring mountains to their knees and give an upstart genin a sound thrashing with both hands tied behind her back, Sharingan be damned.

Before she could really get going on her crying jag, an arm hesitantly wrap around her. "Hey," Naruto said, pulling her closer against his chest when he realized she wasn't going to punch his face in. "What's wrong? You totally kicked ass out there!"

"No I didn't," she burbled morosely. "I sucked."

"Hell no! Did you see that bastard's face when you blew up the ground? He looked like someone kicked him in the nuts! Where'd you learn to do that? Scared the living crap out of me," he said, laughing nervously with genuine fear.

"Really?" She asked between snuffles. She knew she was fishing at this point, but his words felt cool against her burned ego, and honestly she didn't give a shit if she was maybe being a little needy and asking a twelve year old for compliments.

"Swear it," he said solemnly and held out his pinky in front of her. A girlish giggle bubbled out of her as she wrapped her own pink around his. Naruto grinned cheekily. "We can even go egg that bastard's house later, too, if it'll make you feel better."

Sakura looked up at him in all her tear, snot-smeared glory, and smiled. "Thanks, Naruto."

Before Naruto had a chance to suavely brush it off and take advantage of the really good atmosphere they had going, Sakura's eyelids slid shut and she wordlessly crumpled against him.

"Sakura-chan? Hey, c'mon." Worry crept into Naruto's voice when she didn't respond. "Sakura-chan. Sakura-chan. C'mon wake up." He began to shake the lifeless girl with a sense of urgency. "Sakura-chan! No! You need to stay awake! You can't die, not now! Sakura-chan!"

Suddenly a shadow slid over him. Naruto looked up woobie-eyed at the figure. "Kakashi-sensei," his lower lip trembled. "Sakura-chan…Sakura-chan, she…she…"

"Is fine," Kakashi finished for him. He crouched before his students and laid two fingers against the girl's neck to check her pulse. "She's just a little a low on chakra, that's all."

With that diagnosis, Kakashi gently swung Sakura's limp arm around his neck and maneuvered her onto his back. Straightening up, he gave his blonde student a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, I'll take her home." Before Naruto had a chance to protest, (after all, as the hero of this scene, wasn't it supposed to be his duty to take her to the hospital?) Kakashi placed a hand on top of his student's head. Naruto grimaced as the gloved palm ruffled his hair. "Good job today. I'm proud of you."

"Huh? Wha' did I do?"

Kakashi's eyes crinkled into a smile. He patted Naruto's head a few more times before walking off with Sakura.

Naruto stomped his foot petulantly against the ground. "Wait! Kakashi-sensei! You can't just do that!" He shouted after his teacher.

Without turning around, Kakashi raised his hand in goodbye.

For some reason, Naruto felt like he'd just been jipped.

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Kakashi was ambling along when he felt Sakura stir at his back. "Kakashi-sensei?" She croaked muzzily into his ear.

"The one and only," he said and adjusted his grip on her.

Sakura squeaked as her stomach flipped over and a wave of nausea rolled through her.

"Everything all right back there?"

"Fine. Just a little drained," she managed to mumble. It felt like her brain was on a seesaw; everything was moving up and down.

Sakura felt Kakashi's chuckle rumble through her. "I would think so. You've used up quite the amount of chakra."

"Whoops," she croaked with a half-assed attempt at a laugh; her teacher's gait was making her head spin. "Where're we going?"

"Home."

"Oh."

Neither of them said anything for a while.

Sakura rested her forehead against his shoulder, squeezing her eyes shut. "Kakashi-sensei?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm sorry," she rasped.

"Sakura, if you're going to throw up…"

"No, I mean the Chunin exams."

"Ah," he said. "That. Well, don't worry too much about it."

"Aren't you disappointed?" She asked gloomily against his shoulder.

"Furious, actually," he quipped.

Sakura's head shot up. "Sensei!"

She felt his chuckle again. "I'm kidding, Sakura. No, I'm not mad or disappointed."

"You're not?"

"Well I had hoped you guys would participate so that I could watch my cute little genin tear apart the other students—"

"Sensei."

"Sakura," he replied gamely. "But, I left the final decision up to you. I'm sure you had your own good reasons not to take part."

"You're not going to ask me why?"

"Would you like me to ask?" He rejoined with a playful smile.

Sakura bit her lip. She should just tell him. "Sensei, could you put me down for a sec?"

"Now? Right here?"

"Right here," she said, knowing she had to tell him before she wimped out. Strike while the iron's still hot, as they say, or more accurately, while her common sense was still malfunctioning from the lack of chakra.

Kakashi crouched low and she slid off of his back like a boneless mollusk. An apt comparison, since her legs gave out as soon as her feet touched the ground. Before her face could make an unfortunate acquaintance with the ground, Kakashi quickly steadied her.

"Easy there," he said. "You can always show me later, Sakura."

"You never know, Sensei, you might have to go rescue a cat out of a tree later," Sakura said dryly.

"Ah, yes, that's always a possibility," he agreed.

"Anyways," she forged ahead, shifting into a more serious tone, "just pay close attention."

"I'm all ears and half-an-eye," he assured her.

If Sakura thought his joke was lame, she didn't express it. Her attention was already focused inwards as she carefully began to draw upon her chakra.

In hindsight, it was an incredibly stupid idea given that the dial on her chakra tank was already wavering just above the critically low mark. Later, she would just blame it on fatigue messing with her head. It's not like she was actually stupid.

"Kakashi-sensei, I," Sakura paused for dramatic effect as a halo of green light flickered around her hand, "am from the future." She then placed her glowing hand over the scrape on her knee. The skin tingled as she regenerated cells and zipped them back together again. She pulled her hand away, revealing the smooth, unblemished skin beneath.

She looked up, preparing herself for the inevitable onslaught of questions when things took a downward turn. The world tipped over and she felt as if she were looking out of a tumbling machine, everything was going around and around and around. She took a drunken step back before sinking to her knees. The ground had this amazing gravitational pull, and she had no choice but to lower herself onto her stomach and let her cheek press against the dirt. Someone was breathing funny, as if there was a carpenter sawing away wood in the person's lungs. Through the haze draped over her thoughts, she sleepily wondered if the person was her. Further away she could hear Kakashi calling her name, but her tongue felt too heavy to answer, so she kept quiet and let the darkness drag her deeper into unconsciousness.

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A warm afternoon breeze wandered through the open window. It skirted across the tops of the seated genin whose gazes were transfixed on the battle-scarred man who loomed before them at the front of the class. A dark, twisted grin stretched across Ibuki's face as he undid his bandana, revealing his head with a flourish. A wave of startled gasps washed over the crowd of young shinobi. "These are the scars," he said, amused by their reaction as he displayed the holes drilled into his skull.

The breeze sighed out of the room, flowing through the hallways, quickly gaining strength and speed until it burst through the academy doors. It rushed through the village, sweeping past the stalls and homes and ripping across the river until it barreled headlong into the fence, sending the rusting links shivering in the ominous breeze. The forest rose up before her, the gnarled trees twisting out of the out of the gloom with a prisoner's anguish. It seemed alive, like some slow moving behemoth with it's moss-ridden maw open wide with anticipation.

The monstrous face before her stretched with horrifying viscosity. Ochre seeped in from the edges. A pair of venomous yellow eyes peered out beadily from a black mask. Something constricted around her chest and she struggled to breathe. The face grinned before it extended its jaws, exposing a cavern lined with jagged, sandstone teeth. A hot, dry wind blasted out from the creature's gullet, and sand scattered across her face; it was going to swallow her whole. She wanted to scream, but there was no more air left in her lungs. She twisted and flailed, but couldn't get loose.

Then creature's maw snapped shut on her.

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Gradually, Sakura came to. Her vision was still blurred with sleep, and though she couldn't see clearly, the familiar smell of ammonia and the metronomic beep of the heart monitor clued her in on where she was. She stayed still and waited for the rest of her conscious to slowly rise to the surface.

She turned her head. Past the bars on the hospital bed, she caught Kakashi sitting on a folding chair against the wall reading that orange book of his. "You're awake," he noted without looking up. It was only when the bed creaked as she struggled to sit up that he gave her his attention. "How're you feeling?"

Sakura eyed the needle in her arm critically—whoever had stuck her had done a sloppy job with the taping. "Better than before…how long was I—?"

"Just a few hours. Your chakra plummeted pretty low. Gave us all quite the scare," he said, and returned to his erotica.

Sakura didn't doubt him. It must have been pretty bad if even her flaky teacher stuck around to wait for her to wake up. She had grossly overestimated 12-year-old Sakura's stamina. Again.

Which reminded her. "Sensei, I need to tell you something important, I—"

"Am from the future?" He guessed as he flipped a page.

"How did you—"

"You did mention it before passing out."

"Oh…right…"

Sakura picked at the lint on her blanket as the clock ticked loudly on the wall. She waited for Kakashi to jump out of his seat in disbelief or call her a liar. Instead he sat there reading that damn book like she'd just made some lame remark about the weather.

She heard the dry rasp of paper as Kakashi turned another page.

"Sensei!"

"Yo," he said a little too nonchalantly.

Sakura made a frustrated noise. "I'm being serious here!"

"Mmm, I know."

"Well you're taking this all well," she huffed. She knew she was being petulant, but really, when one announces that she just warped through the time-space continuum, a reaction is to be expected at the very least.

"Am I?" There was no hiding the amusement in his voice.

"I don't know, does this happen often?"

The book finally closed with a loud clap. "The time traveling? No, first time hearing of it, but it's the only thing that makes sense."

"…makes sense?"

"Well a few days ago, I was helping this old lady back home with the groceries—true story," he said with a hand raised to cut off her protest. "Anyways, I was cutting through the training fields on my way back home, when I spotted you practicing."

"What does that—"

"I believe it was five trees."

"What?"

"That you destroyed. With your bare hands."

"Oh…oh. OH!" Sakura quickly did the math in her head. "So, when you were joking about my being from the future yesterday…"

"Mmm," he nodded blithely.

"If you knew the whole time, why didn't you say anything?"

"I did try," he reminded her.

"I didn't know you were being serious!"

"I'm always serious Sakura," Kakashi said. He let out a heavy sigh, as if the conversation was wearing him out. "Besides, I figured you'd tell me if it was important."

Sakura nodded slowly, letting it all sink in. Fair enough.

Once again, silence descended upon the room. This time, it was Kakashi who broke it. "So," he lazily began. Icha-Icha's spine cracked as he picked up on the story again.

"So…?" Sakura parroted, trying to get a read on where her teacher was taking the conversation. She knew his blasé attitude could be deceiving.

"Why exactly were you so dead set against take the Chunin Exam? We both know it can't be because you were afraid."

'This is it.' Sakura thought. This was the part where she told her teacher everything that happened. Maybe this time, with Copy Ninja Kakashi on her side, she had a fighting chance against fate. She started stitching the story together. "Well, the thing is," she began, and then stopped.

Her gaze turned inward and a look of consternation crept into her expression. She looked like someone rummaging through her bag. Her search began to grow frantic and her eyes grew wide with panic as it dawned on her that it wasn't there. Her heart did a free fall into her stomach.

Kakashi looked up from his book, sensing his student's agitation. "Sakura?"

She strained to keep the hysteria out of her voice: "…Sensei, I can't remember."

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Author's Notes_

1. Have you been punched in the gut before? It hurts like a little BITCH. If you have been clocked in the stomach and came away totally unscathed then a) whoever punched you must have had sissy fists or b) you have abs of STEEL (holy shit). Either way, for narrative's sake, let's just agree that taking a blow to your stomach (or any internal organ for that matter) is painful enough to bring you to your knees.

2. As an aside, I've heard being punched in the kidneys is also pretty rough going. Anyone have first hand experience?

3. Lastly, but definitely not least..ly. You guys are amazing. For everyone that has come to this point, thank you so much for giving this story a fighting chance. I know that updates can be slow (Really. Slow.) but it's your encouragement and ego-stroking that keep me from giving up.

4. Basically, I love you guys. Here's a big ol' lusty kiss for all you beautiful reviewers: MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMWAH.

5. Also, would it be heresay for me to change my penname? Food for thought.

6. As always…REVIEWS, EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS, LOVE, AND COHERENT HATE APPRECIATED (okay, maybe not so much the last one.)