In The Name of Life

Chapter XIX

"The battle you are going through is not fueled by the words or actions of others; it is fueled by the mind that gives it importance."
~ Shannon L. Adler

The large hawk landed at the top of a rocky hill. The wind was rather turbulent, showing Sakura that they were at high latitude. It swept her filthy hair away from her face, gave her a better sight at her surroundings. Sasuke and his two companions seemed unaffected by the geography, as if they were familiar with it. They were in Sound after all, Sakura thought. Their main choice would be to go inside one of Orochimaru's hideouts. Though the place where they had landed did not look like a typical shinobi base, it might have been because it was hidden.

"Get off," Sasuke commanded.

He stood in between the other two shinobi, giving her his back. Sakura knew he was talking to her, and his manners were infuriating every cell in her body. As she sat at the back of his giant hawk, Sakura wished she could punch the daylights out of Sasuke's head.

"Why?" she asked, anger spitting out of her mouth. She was met with his silence, while the other two companions exchanged questioning looks, "Do you think you can leave me here all by myself?"

She had just healed him, in the name of life! Sakura would've never thought that her dynamics with the youngest Uchiha would change so drastically. She had been switching back and forth from believing that there was some hope in him –thanks to Itachi—to thinking that he was a lost case, like he'd been since he departed Konoha. Sasuke confused her even further by initially taking her with him and the other two boys and then wanting to leave her at the top of a hill with no aid.

Sakura knew she could get off the hill with no problem. He was underestimating her abilities again, that boy. She'd been able to survive through a lot since the war started; this was no challenge for her.

"Aw come on, Sasuke, she looks fun," the white haired shinobi slightly smacked Sasuke's arm, and the Uchiha boy tensed up at his touch.

Sakura's eyes narrowed, analyzing the familiarity the three boys had. She could make out many conclusions in regards to their dynamics, but the most prominent response was that they had known each other for a while. Sasuke was going to leave her all alone and run off with two other shinobi to destroy Konoha. The thought brought despair to her chest; she couldn't hold them all off at once from reaching Zetsu. She needed a plan. Desperately.

"I've changed my goal," Sasuke completely ignored his companion's pleads, "Now, my target is Zetsu. You three will get off this hawk, because I am not bringing anyone with me."

That was a turn of events she wasn't expecting. Up until that moment, it seemed that Sasuke was fine with having the two shinobi alongside him. But he was planning on leaving the three of them stranded atop the hill, against the wild wind.

"Are you fucking kidding me!? How many times are you gonna find new people to kill? You don't even let me kill!" the white haired shinobi started screaming, "And we have information, Sasuke, in-for-ma-tion!"

"Suigetsu..." Sakura took notice of the orange haired shinobi, who had actually gotten off the large hawk and started walking towards the cliff of the hill.

While the white haired boy known as Suigetsu kept arguing, she decided to follow Sasuke's other companion, who was now kneeling, covering his head with his arms in desperation. His odd attitude caught het off guard, and she could feel that there was something wrong with him. He kept muttering words that she couldn't catch on, adding on to her confusion. Much like she had known that C was no danger to her, she decided that this boy was the least dangerous out of Sasuke's party.

But they always say that the calmest are the deadliest.

In a sudden move, the orange haired man stood up and started laughing uncontrollably. Sakura was close enough to place her hand on his shoulder, but his abrupt standing was also accompanied by the abnormal growth of his shoulders and arms. His skin colour changed as well. He was losing control in his mind, going insane. And his insanity had a cruel effect on his physical formation. Sakura tried to take a few steps away, but with the wind current going against her back and her malnourished frame, she could not get far enough from him before he turned around.

The boy's eyes had turned into two bloodthirsty orbs that were staring right at her. Sakura was shocked at the drastic change, and wasn't able to move.


He lunged forward, with an enlarged arm ready to crush Sakura's skull. She quickly took a kunai out of her pouch in order to defend herself. The deafening screams that came out of the orange haired boy's mouth muffled Suigetsu's cry of help. He had taken notice in his companion's sudden change and also attacked forward. Sakura missed the arm's punch by a few centimetres, as it landed on the ground and split it up in half much like her own punches did. She noticed how close she had gotten to the giant hawk, and found it as her only escape.

Sakura hurried over to the hawk with the purpose of taking flight. It didn't matter if Sasuke and his companions didn't make it out of the hill; he was ready to leave her behind anyway. Curse that bastard. However, once she took a seat on the large bird, it disappeared amidst a poof!, leaving her knelt over the ground. She redirected her eyes back to the orange man, who was now fighting against Suigetsu. The smaller boy was being taken over by the other's enlarged limbs. It was obvious that death was going to follow.

And something inside her said that she couldn't allow any other death to happen in front of her. She had suffered enough, and the scare of thinking that her two best friends had almost killed each other ignited a protective feeling inside of her. Sakura lunged forward once again. With all the chakra she could gather in her fist, she jumped up and aimed her punch at the orange haired boy's shoulder. It landed with a deafening sound, shredding the soil to pieces, and the boy's lower half body was buried beneath the ground, restricting his moves.

He kept screaming, craving for killing whoever came at his sight, while Sakura hurried over to Suigetsu. He sat on his bottom, perplexed at the girl's actions.

"I've never seen anyone bury Juugo like that, thanks!"

She didn't fully trust Suigetsu, but the tugging feeling of letting someone else get killed lingered in her chest. She decided to drag him away from the orange haired boy for safety, knowing that the two of them wouldn't be able to escape for much longer. However, the sound of a bird caught her ears, and she turned around to see Sasuke's large hawk grab Juugo by the shoulders and dig him from the ground. The Uchiha boy stood atop his summon, with his Sharingan activated. With flickering moves, he somehow climbed with his head upside down in order to look at the other boy in the eyes.

Sakura watched with shocked eyes as Juugo's abnormalities receded. His blood craving expression gradually changed to a frightened one, while his limbs went back to normal size and his skin colour lightened. Her mind concluded that his uncontrollable state was not something he had acquired through training, but more like a curse that haunted every second of his living life. The regret that washed over Juugo's face as the hawk settled him back in the ground tugged her heart as well. He hated his condition.

It suddenly reminded her of the one occasion where Uchiha Sasuke had been completely possessed by the lust of causing pain on others. The expressions were very similar. Sasuke had also displayed a craving for attacking others, whether there was a valid reason. It had been from that damned Cursed Mark. Perhaps Juugo's condition was due to the same experiment.

And her mind could not stop replaying that moment when she stopped Sasuke's similar condition with her own actions.

Sakura's attention didn't deviate from the fact that Sasuke could control it with his Sharingan, or that he no longer had the three tomoes imprinted in the back of his neck.

"Anyway," Suigetsu dusted off his clothes as he stood up, "as I was saying, you can't be that fucking stupid, Sasuke—"

"Shut up," the alluded boy interrupted.

How could they pick up their argument in such a normal manner after the attack they had just witnessed? Juugo wasn't right in his mind, and several hypotheses swam around in her thoughts.

"At least you could introduce us to the chick. She saved Juugo's and my ass just now, y'know."

His vocabulary reminded her a little of Naruto's. He had a sharp tongue, but was just as loud-mouthed and an extrovert. And he didn't seem to fear Sasuke's darkening chakra, or perhaps he couldn't sense it as well as she could. Suigetsu glanced over at her frame, which was still sitting on the ground. Sakura quickly stood up and dusted off her –or Kakashi's—flak jacket. The thing was indeed too big for her, but it would protect her malnourished body while she would have to regain all of her strength with good nutrients.

"What's your name?" Juugo asked her, timidly. He was still far away from the rest of the group.

Sasuke, meanwhile, kept his back facing her. Despite all the ups and downs she had experienced with the boy, he still regarded her as an inferior kunoichi. He tried to kill her, threatened to destroy her beloved village, almost killed her best friend, and declared that Zetsu was his target. And she had survived all those horrors and more, proving how stronger she had gotten. But it was never enough for Sasuke to noticed, and it infuriated her.

"Haruno Sakura," the turbulent wind had calmed, so there was no need to use a loud tone of voice. Nonetheless, Sakura declared her name with a firm voice, showing Sasuke that she was not weak.

Juugo's regret softened into a serene expression. He took cautious steps towards Sakura as he extended his right arm. It was the same arm that had almost crushed her five minutes ago, "Thank you, Sakura-san. My name is Juugo."

Despite his turbulent side, Sakura concluded that Juugo was the most trustworthy out of the three shinobi in front of her. Juugo pointed at Suigetsu, introducing him on the boy's behalf. The alluded waved a hand at her and showed his sharp-like teeth before taking a sip of a water bottle he held on his thigh. Sasuke was still ignoring the interaction between his companions and his former teammate, but Sakura dismissed the idea that he would try to kill her at that moment.

"You seem pretty cool, cherry. But you belong to the Alliance so I don't see why you would be mingling with the likes of us," Suigetsu said.

He placed his elbow on her shoulder as a resting stance. She realized that if they were on the same side as Sasuke, it would make them her enemies. And much worse, she would be one against three if anything were to go down. Sakura had to be careful with her words and actions. Zetsu hadn't been able to extract information from her after a month filled with painful torture sessions; she wasn't going to let her guard down because the two new shinobi seemed friendlier.

They were still the enemy. Everyone was still the enemy. Naruto and the Alliance were far, far away from where Sakura was.

"Cherry?" she asked with an eyebrow sticking up, playing along with Suigetsu. She remembered her classes in the Academy where girls were taught skills on how to be a good kunoichi without blowing the cover.

"Well, I figured, y'know. Your name, hair and pretty face make you look like a cherry blossom," he grinned at her.

"Are you hurt, Sakura-san?" Juugo asked.

"I'm alright," her hand glowed green as she quickly healed a small scratch in her arm.

Throughout the whole conversation, Sasuke remained silent. He wasn't going to acknowledge any of them, knowing that he could depart at any moment. Nonetheless, Suigetsu's earlier words had caught his attention. He held information in regards to Kabuto's Edo Tensei and Zetsu's cell makeup. His mind linked the snake-like ninja's jutsu with Itachi, and whatever Suigetsu had found could lead him to see his brother once again and settle everything for once and for all. The information on Zetsu was definitely an advantage in learning the Akatsuki member's strong and weak points.

But Sakura could also get her hands on this information, therefore taking his target away from his grasp. He would've never imagined that Sakura would try to take down the same opponent as him. She didn't have enough strength to take down anyone. If she had, then Zetsu wouldn't have been able to imprison her in Madara's hideout.

With his Sharingan deactivated, Sasuke glanced over at the three shinobi who were interacting with no problem. Suigetsu seemed to take a good liking at Sakura, as his elbow comfortably rested on her shoulder. It unconsciously made the weight of her hitai-ate heavier in his robe. He was surprised that the forehead protector remained untouched, albeit his battle with Naruto. Sasuke would have taken a peek at the red cloth that clashed against the grey of his upper piece of garment, but it was more practical to interrupt the others' conversation.

"We will set camp in near a river," he announced, and then commanded his large hawk to follow him suit.

Sasuke took descending steps towards the opposite side of the hill, reaching a flowing body of water that could grant them enough provisions for a few days. He felt the others follow him, with the knowledge that he was not leaving Suigetsu and Juugo behind because of the information they held. Sakura was another story. She was his competition now, but could be an asset for his cell as well. It was a decision he had to take before dawn.

To get rid of her or let her join his revenge.

Then he was reminded of his earlier resolve of not staining his hands with Sakura's blood, and wondered where his mind had gone. He was far away from the cold-blooded killer that had murdered dozens of samurai in the Land of Iron, yet there was still a hollow space in his chest. Like the lack of a heart, of feelings. Sasuke resolved that he was no longer taking the approach of killing whoever came between him and his revenge, much like he almost killed Karin and Naruto. He would just focus on the one person that took away what belonged to him, and then fade into darkness.

After all, there was no point of seeing the world once his goals were reached. Zetsu would be his first target, for sure, and then he would move on to the Konoha elders. He hadn't forgotten about them either.

And where Sakura fell in his plans, it was something he still had to figure out.

Sasuke took a seat on a tree branch, giving him the view of both the top of the hill where they had landed, the sky's orange-hued clouds, and the three shinobi who he had decided to keep along in his journey. It gave him time to think, again. The last time he had used Sakura, she had turned out to be an effective tool up until she confessed that Itachi had told her that whatever needed to be said would be between the Uchiha brothers only. It infuriated him, the waste of time he spent trying to get Sakura to work for him, for a useless end. Although he found out that there had to be another meeting between him and Itachi, Sasuke expected to extract more information than just blurred images in between his nightmares.

Sometimes, he hated how subjective Itachi could be. Sasuke loved his older brother dearly, but the manner of sending messages was making him impatient.

Perhaps Sakura was also a tool to Itachi. She could act as a pathway between the brothers, something to bring them together. Sasuke's mind pondered on this theory. It would make sense, in some twisted way. Itachi had previously spoken to Sakura, and based on her calm manner of referring to him, Sasuke could deduce that they held a peaceful link. Suigetsu and Juugo had important information about Kabuto's Edo Tensei and Zetsu, something he couldn't dismiss.

In the end, he could always get rid of the three once his plans were completed. With that final thought, Sasuke watched as Sakura departed from the other two, heading towards the flowing river.

Sakura felt her feet sink in the water, not bothering to look back at Suigetsu and Juugo. The last time she had seen a body of water, it had been to send C's corpse away from the shore and the injustice of the living world. Now, however, she felt at peace with herself. The flowing river was acting as a purifier for her bloodstained skin. She tried to remember the last time she had taken a proper bath, but the memory was too far in the back of her mind. Her hair felt heavier than before, perhaps due to its growth or grease that had accumulated in Madara's hideout.

Although it was not at the right temperature, nor at the right place, Sakura felt that she could finally have a proper body cleanse. She could sense Juugo's chakra on her right side, a little further. The chirping of birds caught her attention, and she turned her neck towards him in fear that Sasuke had created a Chidori. However, she only found Juugo sitting on a rock, with a small flock of birds perched on his shoulders as he calmly recited some words to them.

The large boy was a real work, she smirked. It'd been a while since she could feel at peace with her companions, despite Sasuke's constant presence. He no longer frightened her, but rather ignited overwhelming emotions that she didn't want to deal with at the moment. Or ever. Sakura didn't want to preoccupy her every thought with the Uchiha boy, knowing how contradicting the outcomes might be.

She remembered Kakashi's weapon pouch, which was tied around her calf, right before she sunk her lower half in the water. Rummaging through its contents, Sakura was glad to find that her teacher did not only give her a useful set of weapons, but also hygienic products. The small flask with soap inside wasn't her preferable choice, but it had been a long time since she could give herself some luxury. It would be enough to scrape away the remains of several tortures and battles.

Sakura took off Kakashi's flak jacket and place it on the ground. She didn't care if her top got wet; it needed a wash as well. The presence of three boys didn't matter to her either. Her desire to cleanse her body was more important than self-consciousness. It was unwise to keep her guard down when she was surrounded by three shinobi who technically were allied to the enemy, but all the rules that she learned in the Academy flew out of the window when she sank her head in the water.

The flow of the river hit her right side peacefully, calming every cell in her body. It was so calm, so purifying. Sakura remained in that state for a long moment, feeling how her hair was being washed from all the filth that gathered during her imprisonment. She opened her eyes to see how her hands were also being cleansed of all the dried blood that stained them. It was a combination of her own blood, of C's, Naruto's and Sasuke's.

It was like she was finally having closure with her old self. She was cleaning away all the remains of the pain that made her into the person she now was. When her lungs ran out of air, Sakura regretfully surfaced from the flowing water. Her hands ran through her hair, untangling it, and then went on to grab the bottle of soap that lay on her flak jacket. She was starting to shiver due to her wet clothes, but dismissed it at the realization that her hands were constantly trembling.

"It would be wise to take your shirt off, cherry," Suigetsu's head surfaced from the water, a few inches away from her.

Sakura startled at his proximity, and how she didn't even notice his presence. She looked under the water and was shocked at seeing that Suigetsu's head was not accompanied by a body.

"You're trembling," he continued with a sided smirk, "Perhaps I could act as your personal heater? Well, not at this state."

"Can you dissolve in water?" she asked out of curiosity. Self-consciousness filled her body as he had probably been spying on her.

"Yeah, don't you think it's useful? Sasuke didn't tell me anything, but it's obvious that he wants to keep tabs on you, so don't stray too far away."

Suigetsu's head ascended from the water, and then it was followed by the rest of his frame. His body took shape once it was out of the water, much to Sakura's surprise. He stood on the water with his hands resting on his hips. His side grin hadn't disappeared, which slightly annoyed her. She understood why Sasuke wanted to keep an eye on her, to make sure she didn't run away. Nonetheless, he didn't need to send someone to do it on his behalf.

"Well, you can tell him that I don't need a babysitter," she responded, and then opened the bottle of soap and poured some of it on her hands.

Sakura started to wash her hair while Suigetsu filled his water bottle. She couldn't see his very well with all the foam that was on her head, but she could now sense his chakra signature. It was like a liquid, flowing from one state to another.

"You're still more fun than Karin. Speaking of her, I wonder what happened..." he pondered.

The name sounded very familiar to Sakura. She quickly put a face to it; Karin was the girl she had found in the Land of Iron with Sasuke. The one she had healed, and then taken back to Konoha with Kakashi-sensei and Naruto. And then, her mind started to piece things together. If Suigetsu knew who Karin was, and acted so familiarly with Sasuke, it only meant that them along with Juugo had been a team. Her heart tugged at the realization. Even though she and Naruto would have begged to be with him many moons ago, he still chose another set of teammates.

"Whatever, she was annoying anyway," added Suigetsu as an afterthought.

That bastard.

"So how do you know Sasuke anyway? He couldn't have picked you up on the way. You seem to be too familiar with him," Suigetsu took a long sip out of his water bottle.

She felt her insides well up with anger. And hurt. And regret. She was angry at how much it hurt to know that Sasuke preferred other over his original teammates, despite their willingness to help. He couldn't get any more ridiculous! She regretted how much she was once eager to help him, to think that she could end his path to darkness. How he tried to use her as a link between him and Itachi, starting a chain of thoughts that made her wonder if he had changed his path.

But he was the same selfish asshole who had left her many years ago.

"The Sasuke I once knew always protected his teammates. He was selfless, astute, and ready to die for those who meant something to him," she started, her voice picking up volume with every word she spoke, "That person over there is just a ghost of who I once knew. This Sasuke," she pointed back to where she could sense Sasuke's chakra, "is willing to kill whoever comes in between him and his goals, like he did with the kunoichi you named Karin!"

Although Sasuke's eyes were closed, he could still feel Suigetsu's enraged chakra leaping towards him. With a swift move of his sword, he unsheathed his weapon and sliced Suigetsu's body in half, which in turn turned into two large puddles of water. In less than a second, the water boy had returned to his solid state, with an enlarged fist of water, with the intention of sending Sasuke flying away from the tree branch. The Uchiha boy activated his Sharingan immediately.

Suigetsu was furious. He kept sending attacks towards Sasuke, who elegantly dodged them with his chokuto. They were now nearing the river, where Juugo and Sakura stood on opposite sides. Suigetsu's screams were deafening. They were only annoying Sasuke further, seeing that he could easily slice the boy into several pieces and continue his journey without him if it wasn't because Suigetsu held important information. The Uchiha boy was now standing on water, Suigetsu's main element. He could finally make out the screams.

"Is she saying the truth!? Did you kill Karin!?"

Sasuke's eyes quickly looked over at Sakura. She was soaked from head to toe, but held an angered expression that brought more questions to his mind. He realized that he hadn't seen Suigetsu or Juugo since they separated in the Land of Iron, so they were unaware of his sudden use of Karin. Sakura, on the other hand, had witnessed Karin's injured body while he fought against Kakashi.

"What're you gonna do next!? Kill Juugo, kill me!?" Suigetsu screamed, sending another punch towards his direction.

He shot up a large splash from the river's water. The current suddenly stopped as most of the water splattered upwards, landing on the trees near the borderlines. Sakura ran towards Juugo with her flak jacket, and tried to protect his large form from getting soaked. It was going to be dark soon; they couldn't afford getting any wetter. She watched as the two boys battled, Suigetsu on full offensive while Sasuke was blocking all of his attacks.

He wasn't trying to fight back. He was only acting in defence.

"You go around killing people and tell me I can't, and you know how much I love to rip things apart. And then you attack one of us on a whim, you hypocrite! Gah, where's my sword when I need it!?"

Sasuke's large hawk appeared out of a poof! and took Suigetsu by the shoulders, lifting him up from the river. The water boy's limbs moved frantically, demanding to put him down to 'get his hands on that fucking asshole.' Nonetheless, Sasuke simply walked near Suigetsu until he was close enough to speak in a normal tone.

"She's not dead," he declared, "and seeing that our target has many clones, you may slice them all apart at your pleasure."

"And I had information for you, asshole! You still attacked Karin and –oh, I can rip things apart?"

Sakura's confusion increased tenfold as the water boy's limbs suddenly relaxed. One second ago, he was fully intent on killing Sasuke, and then he calms down at the Uchiha boy's words. She couldn't grasp the dynamics of this group and doubted that she wanted to. Sakura had just told Suigetsu that Sasuke almost killed one of their teammates, and he merely reacted to this because he was forbidden from killing others? Did he have any sense of comradeship, of caring for teammates?

She guessed not, seeing how he was partnered up with Uchiha Sasuke out of all people. Juugo seemed to be a different story; half the time, he wasn't acting on his will. If there was anyone she wanted to help, it was him.

"Juugo-san, are you alright?" she asked, sincerely worried at her companion's state. She didn't want another episode like the earlier one.

Sasuke's hawk disappeared in the same cloud as it appeared, and Suigetsu landed on the river gracefully. He joined the Uchiha boy as both of them walked towards Juugo and Sakura like nothing had happened. She was definitely losing her sanity with this group.

"I'm fine, thank you, Sakura-san," the large boy responded as a bird chirped on his shoulder.

She could barely remember the last time she'd been in a four man cell alone with three boys. In fact, every memory of her life before the Mountain's Graveyard seemed like it had happened centuries ago. The shivers brought her back to reality. She realized that they needed to set fire before it got too dark, and knowing that Sasuke wouldn't be willing to help, she set off to find dry wood. It was rather difficult, seeing that most of the trees had been splattered with water with the encounter between Sasuke and Suigetsu.

"So what made you want to harm Karin? Damn, she was such a pest but still. I would've never pictured you attacking women, Sasuke."

If he only knew, Sakura thought with irritation.

"So this scroll has information about Zetsu. Ain't it neat? He's such a fucking freak..."

Suigetsu's silhouette was lined by the shadows that contrasted with the fire. They had set camp near the same river, but within the forest area. It was the best place Sasuke found, seeing that it was already dark and the soil near the river was still soaking wet. They were able to start a fire with no problem, and Juugo had commanded his animals to bring them edible plants. Suigetsu took care of catching a few fish. He shrugged off Karin's attack with ease, while Sakura remained silent.

She had her hands wrapped around her knees. It was very similar to how she always sat when she was twelve –in fact, she looked like she was twelve again. The long stay in the Mountain's Graveyard had affected her body, judging by the greying shade of her skin and the lack of muscles. Occasionally, she would throw a few extra branches to keep the fire alive. Sasuke observed every move she made without bothering to go unnoticed. Sakura was staying with him and his two companions. If she wanted to act unexpectedly, she was at a disadvantage.

It was past midnight. Suigetsu had laid out all the scrolls he found in one of Orochimaru's old hideouts. There were two large scrolls, one labelled 'Resurrection' and the other one named 'Replication.' The first one had information about Kabuto's Edo Tensei, while the second –and most appealing scroll—held data in regards to Zetsu's origins.

"I tried reading the first line but got bored. You'll probably find it more interesting."

Suigetsu made a gesture for Sasuke to take the 'Replication' scroll while Sakura's eyes shot up to his actions. She observed him take the scroll, open it, and scan his eyes over the first pieces of information. Obviously, she craved to read whatever was written about Zetsu. Sasuke had taken notice that she was a person who relied heavily on written information. Since she was a medical nin, the need to study a wide array of books was her top priority. Sasuke recalled the several times he found Orochimaru and Kabuto sinking into thick, worn out books for hours to no end. They would then exchange information, jot down notes, and continue studying. Sasuke had to join them several times in order to do his own research. Although he was not as perceptive as Sakura, he still needed to know information prior to absorbing Orochimaru and expanding on his range of jutsus.

He looked at the scroll again and concentrated on the information.

"Sakura-san, your clothes are still wet."

"Oh, you're right. I'll be fine."

"Here, take my coat."

Sasuke's eyes drifted from the scroll to Juugo and Sakura. The two were sitting on the opposite side, Juugo with a bird on his shoulder while Sakura accommodated herself in the boy's large robe. Her clothes were still wet, as her oversized flak jacket lay near the fire to dry up. Sakura looked fatigued, with dark circles under her eyes. It was as if she was drained, but he knew that she could control her chakra to stay up. Or perhaps she couldn't sleep. The weight of her hitai-ate became heavier, reminding Sasuke of the token she had given him before he left Mountain's Graveyard to kill Naruto. Sakura's uniform was missing it.

Her expression was calmer when she spoke to Juugo. She probably thought that the large boy didn't activate his sadistic side if he wasn't provoked. But then again, she had always been too gentle for a shinobi. Too gentle, too emotional, too annoying.

He tried to read the scroll once again, but Suigetsu's chuckling sounds averted his eyes for a second time. The water boy was now sitting at the other side of Sakura, showing his side grin.

"You're probably really cute when you're normal, cherry," he commented, wrapping an arm around Sakura's frail frame.

The girl showed the ghost of a smile. It was the first time Sasuke had seen her take in a joke since... since three years ago. He wondered how often she smiled, and if she would still be able to do so after he killed his targets. Sakura probably held high esteem for the Konoha elders. She loved the whole damned village, or rather what was left of it.

"Why don't you get some sleep?"

"I don't sleep, Juugo-san," Sakura replied with a soft voice.

Sasuke recalled her earlier words, of how she could finally understand him. She wanted revenge, much like he did. She was a smart and skilled kunoichi, hand-picked by Kabuto himself to help him in reviving resurrected shinobi. His brother wouldn't be resurrected and ready to explain his past actions if it wasn't because Sakura took care of strengthening his body, regardless of how forced she was in doing so. But her suffering, her current state, it was due to more than just the loss of the Kumo nin.

He wasn't sure if it was safe to explore that side of Sakura. She looked different, more unstable. More like he did during his childhood, after Itachi killed their family.

"Why's that? We don't like sleeping a lot anyway," Suigetsu commented.

Sakura didn't answer. She just showed another fake smile.

It was incredible how he could still see through her actions. He did so in the Land of Iron, in Mountain's Graveyard, and even now, in the middle of a war. She was too easy to read.

Sasuke looked at the scroll one more time, finally able to focus on every symbol.

Zetsu: Two Parts

White Zetsu – cells of Senju Hashirama

See sections 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 for further information on Hashirama's cells

See sections 1.5 to 1.10 on everything else

Black Zetsu – combination of several donated organs and special herbs

See sections 1.1, 1.11 to 1.15 on the donated organs

See sections 1.16 to 1.30 on everything else

He recognized Orochimaru's hand writing on the side. It seemed that he took part in creating Zetsu. Sasuke slanted his eyes, trying to find a weakness on all the information the deceased Sannin had left behind. But everything he read he already knew. This scroll was a useless piece of information. Not to mention that the chatter amongst the other three shinobi were filling in the silence he so wished to have in order to study the texts. Once again, Sasuke lifted his head from the parchment.

Sakura was looking right at him. She wanted to analyze the information as well.

Perhaps he could use her as a tool again. Sakura was weak. She was an average shinobi who took care of healing her comrades. Nonetheless, her arduous discipline of studying books could help him decipher a plan in order to eliminate Zetsu's two parts. He was going to take revenge on his own; Sakura was just going to be a disposable tool who he was going to get rid of after he achieved his goal.

He didn't even need to say a word. With a small, barely visible hand gesture, Sasuke gave her permission to look at the 'Replication' scroll. She silently moved to his side, not showing any sign of emotion. Sakura was taking this seriously. He was expecting a small lift from her lips, satisfaction at their newly formed allegiance. Instead, he was met with a calculating demeanour that could only relate to serious matters. It was going to be an easy plan; he could use her abilities to get to Zetsu and the Konoha elders, and then kill them all.

After that, she could do as she pleased. What happened to Sakura after his goals were over was none of his concern.

She took the 'Replication' scroll from his hands and started to read it. Her eyes didn't avert from the parchment, not even when Suigetsu commented on how he could entertain her with his explanation on how to amputate opponents before killing them. Sakura just sat there, beside him, closer to the fire for more light. She occasionally muttered some words in order to understand them better. It reminded him of how analytical she was.

Sasuke took the 'Resurrection' scroll to learn more about Kabuto's information, and saw the same style of notes on the sides of the paper written by Orochimaru long ago. Juugo settled closer to the fire, starting to gaze into his sleep, while Suigetsu would make a comment here and there.

"So I was telling Juugo about the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist. Once I get all of their swords, I'll be the leader of the group, and make it better than it has ever been."

"I had a friend who wanted to be the best, too," Sakura commented.

"What was he like?" Suigetsu repositioned his body so that his back was on the ground, while his hands were behind his head acting as a pillow.

Sakura laid the scroll on her lap and remained quiet for a few moments. It was as if she was thinking. Sasuke observed her fromt he corner of his eye, waiting for his reply, even though he had an idea of what she was going to say.

"He was –he's my best friend. And I would die for him."

"Is that why you wanna kill Zetsu?" Juugo asked.

His companions were taking up an interest in Sakura. They hadn't been with a normal person in a while. There was another long pause before Sakura opened her mouth again. She was struggling with her answers. Talking to the should-be-enemies about her own plans was not a good move. In fact, she should've kept her mouth shut long ago and separated from the three members of Taka. But like always, Sakura chose the wrong decisions. She was still an emotionally-driven kunoichi.

"Partly," she responded, "Zetsu took something and someone from me. He has to pay back."

Her voice sounded different. It was filled with... hatred, suffering. It reminded him of how he felt during his late childhood, when Itachi had forcefully taken everything from him. Was this the same Sakura he almost killed in the Land of Iron?

"A lover, perhaps?"

"... Kind of. More like a really good friend."

His three companions spent the rest of the night talking quietly about small things. Sasuke decided to remain silent, to study the 'Resurrection' scroll because the information could be useful for the future. Neither he or Sakura closed their eyes that night, while Suigetsu and Juugo drifted into sleep at around five in the morning.

I know it's been an embarrassingly loooong ass time since I updated. But I thought that it would be nice to see if there are still readers out there. This is so outdated that the whole story needs to be rewritten. I'm slowly regaining my inspiration and I know where I want the story to go. Thanks for sticking around to those who have.