A/N: First off, I want to thank absolutely everyone who even glanced at my story. You motivated me beyond belief to keep working on it. I know it took a long time between updates, and I'm sorry for that.

If you liked this story, I recommend you read the books "Can't Get There From Here" by Todd Strasser and "Water For Elephants" by Sara Gruen. I was also inspired by the movies "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Heathers." And many, many songs.

Anyway. On to the deleted scenes.

1. A scene from chapter five. Sakura wakes up at the night club, Sound. I got rid of it because it ended up being too much like something I'd read before.

She grabs the items from him and moves to the floor. It looks so different when empty. What the night before had looked like a flashing, twinkling room of excitement and passion and sex instead looks just like an empty warehouse with chipped flooring and a dingy bar.

She goes to the sink and starts to fill the bucket with dish soap and water. The DJ leans against the wall and watches her.

"Where's Tayuya?" she asks, shifting uncomfortably. The leather is pinching in all the wrong places and she wonders if she looks as hellish as she feels. She wonders where her shoes are. The floor without the heat of dancing bodies is hard, cracked, and cold.

"She took the wallet from your coat and took off," he says with a smirk, then pushes off from the wall with a practiced grace and stalks toward her, "But if you need money, I know a way you can make some."

She tries to feel anger toward Tayuya, but the girl did her a favor by bringing her here to begin with. Sakura needed to get away from her thoughts of Naruto, and escape she nearly did. She hopes he's okay. She wishes she could leave right this very second, but she doubts the DJ would take too kindly to that. She wants to sigh and grumble at the world and it's piggish males, but instead she flutters her eyelashes and pouts her lips, "Yeah? How's that?"

He laughs sardonically and walks back to the room behind the bar, calling back over his shoulder, "You can do the dishes, too!"

When she's done mopping the floor and doing the dishes, the DJ is asleep on a red sofa upholstered with fabric that feels like itchy carpet. His arm is thrown over his eyes to block out the light and he lets out soft snores. She doesn't want to leave the warmth of the establishment, but she has to check on Naruto.

She taps him lightly on the shoulder. He snorts and jerks into a sitting position, sucking air in through his teeth. He looks around wildly for a minute, trying to orient himself, and then he settles on her with a glare.

"What the fuck do you want?" he asks gruffly, rubbing the stubble on his face. His wrists peeks out from beneath the fabric of his long-sleeved shirt and she notices for the first time that his arms are tattooed with a strange, swirling design.

"I did the floor and the dishes," she says softly with a shrug. He groans and falls back into his reclining position, throwing his arm back over his eyes.

"Whoop-dee-doo," he replies, and for all intents and purposes, goes back to sleep.

She stares at his sleeping form for a moment, pulls on her old sneakers and her new fluffy coat and decides it's time to leave. But she breaks a few things first.

2. A scene from chapter seventeen. I wrote it before I decided that I wanted there to be a part of the story where Sasuke gets Sakura coffee instead of hot chocolate, just as another hint that they aren't really right for each other.

He wishes he had been less considerate. The ruffled tank top and teeny shorts he supplied Sakura with offer full display of the blooming purplish marks that mottle her creamy skin. He wants to tell her to cover herself up, but that would be a little ridiculous, wouldn't it? When he both caused the bruises and chose the outfit?

But the mosaic of injury is making him ill. He can't stop wincing at whatever fleeting glances he gathers from the corners of his eyes, and he can't sooth the churning of his stomach when she smiles at him with that fake doe-eyed persona she has used to cope with whatever feeling she is hiding from him.

Anxiety keeps gripping at his lungs and ripping through his muscles. She does not love him, he's sure of it. Whatever affection he might have seen in her eyes was an illusion brought on by the Technicolor strobe lights. He was wrong. He was wrong and she is going to leave him, he knows it. His hands keep quaking on the steering wheel, his foot twitching on the gas pedal. He can feel the spasms of his pulse in his throat, threatening to choke him.

His eyes flicker from the road to the girl beside him, and his heart leaps in his chest when her vacant eyes crinkle in another forced smile. She is tired, but afraid to fall asleep so near him. He broke this. He ruined it. She's going to leave him.

Suddenly the car sputters and rolls to a groaning halt on the shoulder of the freeway.

"What's going on?" Sakura asks, blinking rapidly as if to clear her eyes of smoke. Sasuke trembles in his seat, scanning his dashboard for emergency lights. The tank is entirely empty of gasoline. It must have been warning him since the night before. He is so stupid.

He wrenches the keys from the ignition with trembling hands, paws at the button to trigger the hazard lights but misses until Sakura presses it for him. "I fucked up," he says.

Sakura sits silently, waiting like a patient doll. He continues with a quivering voice, "I can fix this. I just need to get some gasoline. You…You wait. Just wait right here! I'll be gone half an hour. I can fix this!"

She does not offer to go with him. She nods like this was always going to happen, like she expected this of him. He was going to screw this up no matter what. If he had remembered the gasoline, he would have forgotten something else.

"Wait for me," he says. She nods. She can't even hear him.

3. A version of chapter eighteen where Sasuke is being pathetic. It explains why he left Sakura at the gas station. I didn't like it because it felt way melodramatic, and it was kind of choppy and all over the place.

When he opens his eyes, his blind brother is standing over him more furious than Sasuke has ever seen him.

"Get up, Sasuke," Itachi says, pent up aggravation barely concealed with effort, "This is getting ridiculous."

Sasuke tries, he really does. But the bed is just too comfortable. It's warm and soft and it smells like his older brother and Konan, lavender and sliced oranges. The femininity is soothing in its sweetness, and he can't rightly figure out why anyone would ever get out of bed on purpose.

"I understand you're depressed, little brother, but this is a pathetic waste of your strength and intelligence. Madara has put the show on hold for you two days already, and I will not ask him to do it again. You are being selfish."

He's heard this rant. Soup bowls and thermoses of neglected coffee on the night table are a tally of skipped mealtimes, but food sounds unappetizing to his caving stomach.

"So what? I never asked you for any favors," Sasuke growls, "Leave me alone."

Then it is cold. And bright. Sasuke hisses when the cocoon of blankets is ripped from his legs, clawing pathetically at the pillow as it vanishes as well. Konan appears in his bleary line of vision, holding the linens in bunches. She's frowning so deeply he wants to laugh. Your face will stick that way.

"This is for your own good," she says, dropping the sheets on the floor in exchange for a bucket. Then icy water is plastering him to the bed and he's shouting obscenities that Itachi will make him apologize for later. "Fuck you," he concludes his speech, and curls in on his semi-nude self.

"Sasuke," Konan insists, her voice an echo of his mother's, "Get up."

"Get up," Itachi urges, impatient and humorless, like his father, "Sasuke!"

Konan sighs and Itachi sighs and then they give up. A wad of blankets hits him in the stomach and the lights go off. Sasuke wants to feel guilty, but instead he goes back to sleep. (Pathetic.)

"Please let me talk to him," pleads a muffled voice. Sasuke glances at the clock and finds only twenty minutes have passed. He's still soaked, but the blankets are keeping him warm. "I just want to see him."

He sits up in the darkness and stares at the shut door that divides him from his lover. For a moment he imagines the gangly, straw haired wraith he first met, and even though he reminds himself that she's different now, the image sticks.

"I'm sorry, Sakura," says his brother's rumbling baritone.

Sasuke chokes and pulls the blankets further over his head.

"I know you can hear me, Sasuke!" she screams, but he pretends he can't.

It happened like this:

He went to get her hot chocolate. (He was sick and regretful and angry, and the bruises on her wrists wouldn't stop staring at him.) The door resisted his push, and he had to throw his whole weight against it to maneuver it open. When he stumbled into the establishment, peanuts crunched beneath his tennis-shoes and the cashier gave him a disbelieving once-over.

Sasuke gave the young man what he intended to be a pacifying smile, but it caught at the corners and turned into a bewildered grimace. The run down place smelled like fryers and motor oil, the stench thick enough to close up his throat. He promised himself that after this, he'd take Sakura to a real restaurant. One with fancy chandeliers and silk table cloths. Was that too much? Would it make her uncomfortable?

"Forget something?" the cashier asked, cradling his heavy head in his hand. Sasuke already took too long earlier to decide what to get Sakura, caught between the desire to impress her and the need to protect himself with the façade that he didn't care.

He'd told her he loved her, but her response was swept away.

"Hot chocolate," Sasuke grunted, tossing quarters on the counter, quickly giving the display of cigarette cartons a once-over. A couple of drags would level his head. Then he would stop stammering and his hands would stop shaking, and he could fucking treat his woman the way she needed to be treated.

The cashier gave him a bemused smile, his eyebrow raising challengingly, "We don't sell that. We have coffee and water. You can get a soda from the fridges in the back, or a six-pack."

A sigh escaped his lips without permission and he looked to the window. He could see Sakura waiting patiently, chewing at her hangnails and threading her fingers through hair the color bubblegum.

'God, you're fucking Gorgeous,' he whispered between clenched teeth, tangling his hands in her hair. (Please stop, it hurts!)

"Marlboro Gold," Sasuke grumbled, throwing a few dollar bills down over his quarters with quaking arms. The man turned around to grab the pack.

"Sasuke," Sasuke heard, and he glanced around, looking for Sakura or maybe Ino or Konan. The store was empty but for a preschool-age kid fumbling with postcards and his overweight dad. Immediately, Sasuke knew what was happening, and he rolled his tense shoulders to rid himself of poltergeists.

The cashier cleared his throat. And Sasuke blinked to discover the pack of Marlboros hovering in front of his face. "S'cuse me," Sasuke whispered and skulked off to the restroom, ignoring his incomplete purchase.

The door opened with a slam, ripping the water-damaged wallpaper. The lights came on with a reluctant flicker, but they served their purpose.

"Mom," Sasuke sighed to the room, "Go away."

Whispers built in his cloudy ears as he splashed lukewarm water in his face. Sasuke. Sasuke.

A hand on his shoulder startled him into an upright position, but there was no one in the reflection but his own sorry self.

"Sasuke," said no one, "You disappointed her."

He hung his head in defeat and uttered a quiet, "I know."

He took the back exit. No alarm sounded, despite the red lettered warning. Sasuke scuffed his shoe on the curb and tripped over a beer bottle that skidded away with an echo that rang in his ears. He laughed quietly to himself; a trapeze artist should hardly be so clumsy.

He walked through a parking lot and then over the edge of a grassy ridge. He'd been there once before (with Suigetsu, before Sasuke stolen Karin from him and painted her skin the color of her hair.) and knew that there was a bus stop on the other side of the trees. The bus could take him to a more urban area and he could get Sakura a cup of hot chocolate.

Sasuke. Sasuke. He stumbled on a gravelly patch and landed on his ass. "Fuck," he swore, rubbing his tailbone and continuing into the ravine. A tree branch caught the sleeve of his T-shirt and ripped a hole in it.

Daylight was wasted.

He didn't reach the bus stop, but he couldn't remember why he was headed there anyway. He just knew that his throat hurt and his head ached and he was soaked to the bone and it was dark. When he blinked up at the sky, he realized he couldn't find it. There was no North Star to guide him.

A pick-up truck pulled up to where he was hunched over on the side of the road, breathing heavily and trying to keep bile from climbing up his throat. A flashlight blared in his eyes and he winced into its blinding white.

"Do you need some help?" asked a woman, and with the glare in his face he almost thought it was her. Her long inky hair spilled past her throat and for a second, she was pinning him to the bed and begging for him to love her. Do you love me, Sasuke? I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU ILOVE YOU I LOVE YOU.

"Orochi…" his voice caught in his throat. When he tried to back away, his legs gave out and he landed in the dirt.

"Damn, son. What happened to you?" asked a bearded man, climbing out of the cab of the truck. The flashlight left his face and he realized belatedly that it wasn't her. His mother breathed a sigh of relief in his ear and he almost cried.

The man helped Sasuke climb in the back of the truck, not requiring a word of response. The metal of the car was cool and soothing and Sasuke pressed his cheek against it to erase a burning touch from his memory.

"The trailer park. Will you take me home?" he begged.

And his mother whispered inside of him, "Oh, Sasuke. You've made a mess of things."

4. A scene from a version of chapter eighteen where Sasuke was going to decide to stay with Madara's circus. It takes place after he runs into Ino, but all she knows is that he's made Sakura upset somehow. I didn't plan on Sasuke staying with Madara, I just wrote it because I was battling with writer's-block.

"The show must go on," he says and heads toward his uncle's office. Ino's perfumed smell and the crunch of her high-top sneakers follow behind him.

He opens the door without preamble, strutting in with stiff shoulders and a thin-lipped frown. Ino trails in after him, making herself invisible in the doorway as Sasuke seats himself blatantly across from Madara.

"Uncle," Sasuke begins, "I've made my decision."

Madara finishes writing the sentence he began before Sasuke's entrance, without pause or acknowledgement. Ino fidgets uncomfortably in the silence, figure blocking the overly enthusiastic sunlight from filtering into the abode. Sasuke shares a brief glance with her, one that couldn't possibly channel enough of her contempt for him.

After a minute of tense quiet, Madara slowly caps the fountain pen and places it aside.

"Judging by how hard you're shaking, I'll take it you won't be joining us next season," Madara replies, smiling misleadingly.

Sasuke swallows, hard and noisily beneath the heavy scrutiny of both Ino and his uncle. But he can be as strong and stoic and confident as the best of them, and he does his damnedest to conceal his heartbreak.

"No. I'll sign your contract. I'll be your permanent trapeze artist, your poster boy, and your lackey. But it's going to be on my terms. I don't want your money," Sasuke says, and his deep voice is too large for the tiny room. Ino steps away from the doorway to let the sound escape, and the trailer bursts into bloom, Madara's golden trinkets blinking bright rays of reflected light.

Sasuke continues, backlit by the camp grounds, "When Sakura leaves, I want you to give her all the money that was going on my next paycheck. And I want you to keep sending her that money after she's gone."

Madara's lips twitch into a vague smile of amusement before he sweeps his long-nailed fingers through the ends of his hair, relaxing almost condescendingly in his chair. "I knew you would make the smart decision, Sasuke. I'll have the contract typed up and reviewed by our lawyers by the end of the week."

Ino lets out a derisive snort and slams the door behind her as she exits, her muttered curses following behind her. The room goes dark and Sasuke's eyes can barely adjust.

"One more thing," Sasuke says quickly, wanting to get out his last request before his illusion fails him, "I want a partner. Solo acts are losing popularity."

Madara grins at the empty space where Ino was standing and nods in understanding.

This circus is a dark pit of gilded lies and it's exactly where his world will end. Sasuke excuses himself; nothing matters anymore. Sakura will go home and Sasuke will sign his soul to the devil. All paths lead here.

Here's some extraneous information, if you were wondering what happened in the nine months between the last chapter and the epilogue:

Sakura ended up not finishing high school, but getting her GED and going to college to become a veterinarian.

Sasuke donated a large sum of money to a certain prestigious college so they would accept Sakura.

Sasuke decided not to go home to Fugaku and Orochimaru, but to take the money he earned and live on his own. During this time he became less angry and burdened.

Sakura and Naruto went back to DONT and the little nesting place beneath the bridge, but found no trace of Neji, Tenten, Kiba, or Tayuya.


prologue: christmas
one: dec 26
two: dec 27 and 28
three: dec 29
four: dec 30
five: dec 30 & new years eve
six: jan 7, 8, and 9
interlude: jan 10
seven: feb 1
eight: feb 1
nine: feb 2
ten: valentine's day
eleven: valentine's day & feb 15
twelve: feb 15 & feb 16
thirteen: feb 16 & 17
fourteen: feb 18
fifteen: feb 18
sixteen: mar 4
seventeen: mar 4 & 5
eighteen: mar 6
nineteen: mar 6 & 13
twenty: dec 24

I hope you will all add me to your author's alert lists! Thanks again for all your wonderful support!

If you have any questions, feel free to PM me or ask in a review!