Thunder roars somewhere within the armada of rainclouds that pelts rain at the ground below nonstop and with no foreseeable end.

Uchiha Sasuke walks, leisurely, almost swaying side to side, leaving a long trail of footprints in the mud.

"Soon…" he whispers, a dark, unhappy grin as he continues to trudge along in the direction of the literally tangible source of massive chakra clashes.

That is until he spots a figure just across the field. Someone is there. Someone he recognizes.

Barely a minute later, they are standing face to face.

A beat.

Another beat.

And another—

"Sasuke-kun," Haruno Sakura says, maintaining firm eye contact.

He doesn't answer, and moves on past her—

He catches movement in his peripheral and instinctively leaps backwards, landing in a blade-drawing stance, and watches as the tendril of shadow slithers back.

Immediately after, part of the muddy field erupts and a couple of figures emerge.

"Troublesome," Nara Shikamaru sighs, swiping some mud off his shoulders. "Figures the landscape offers no advantages for an ambush."

Akimichi Chouji grins and smacks his friend's back. "It was a good try, though, Shika!"

"Good try!.?" Yamanaka Ino screeches. "I have mud in my hair!"

Inuzuka Kiba barks in laughter, as he and Akamaru charges close from the left. "I think it's a good look for ya, Ino!"

"Arf arf!"

"Akamaru says you look kinda like bacon!"

Ino just growls as she stands next to Sakura, who is smirking.

"Yosh!" a blur that is soon revealed to be Lee Rock exclaims. "Worry not, Ino-san! Your hair is still very lustrous! Perhaps not as silky and well-conditioned as Neji-san's hair, but still very admirable!"

Sai, who is right beside the taijutsu specialist, smiles. "Hyuuga-san indeed has the flair of traditional beauty. Perhaps a nickname regarding that is in order?"

"Lee, Sai," Hyuuga Neji hisses through his teeth, coming up from behind with Tenten. "Shut the hell up."

Tenten giggles and pats the Hyuuga's arm. "Oh, don't worry, Neji. You still look very manly. Well, mostly. Partly."

Neji gives her a flat stare.

A floating swarm of insects pass, and suddenly Aburame Shino stands in sight, eyes shaded, hooded, and hands in pockets. "We are here, of course, to stop former Konoha-nin, Uchiha Sasuke, for the obvious reason that he was once part of the Konoha Rookies, and we take care of our own."

Sasuke stares at them, apathetic. "Isn't there supposed to be a war the lot of you should be dying in?"

"We're right where we need to be, Sasuke-kun," Sakura says suddenly, barely above a whisper.

The Uchiha almost scoffs at his former female teammate. "What does it take? What does it take to get it through your head that I don't want to go back to that vile village?"

Sakura…smiles? "We're not here to bring you back to Konoha, Sasuke-kun. Didn't you just hear Shino-san? We're here to put a stop to you."

Sasuke scoffs, and is about to retort when—

Two, clear trails of tears stream down her cheeks, mingling with the rain.

The Uchiha scion stares.

A beat.

"I love you, Sasuke-kun," Sakura declares, voice serene and calm. "I love you more than anyone else in the entire world. Well, maybe except for Ino."

"Pfft!" the blonde girl bristles, exhaling hard enough to lift her wet bangs. "You can keep that victory, Forehead. The duckbutt hair, anal prince of fashion disasters is all yours where I'm concerned."

Sakura giggles. "You have no idea how much I love you. You know, just a few days ago, someone confessed to me, during a war of all times. Said it was love at first sight. And when I rejected him, the only one I could think about was…you."

He frowns.

"I told him I was already in love with someone. He said the man who earned my affections must be a wonderful person." She looks at him for a long moment. "How ironic."

Sasuke's eyes narrow. "As if I care what you think."

Sakura smiles. "I know you don't. But I'll tell you anyway. I love you, Sasuke-kun. Always have, and apparently always will."

She sighs. "How I hate that."

He blinks.

"This is going to sound weird, but I love you more than I love Naruto, and I wish so much it's the other way around. Naruto is everything you're not, and he's wonderful."

He snorts. "No wonder he has no brain."

She smiles. "He has heart. A capacity to love."

He glares at her. "I have that as well. Just not for any of you."

"You may say that," she replies, eyes still soft. "But it's not true. Do you see these tears? I'm shedding them. But I'm not crying. I don't do that needlessly anymore. I'm no longer twelve. I've been through a war. I don't cry, least of all for you. I just wanted to let you see something familiar, and you didn't even blink."

The teen almost looked surprised. "You faked?"

The girl shakes her head. "No. I'm sad, so I shed tears. I'm just not crying. Do you get it? You don't get it, and that makes me sadder. You need to be stopped. I know you're hurting on the inside from whatever happened that made you so, so like this. But that's no excuse, Sasuke-kun. So I'm going to hurt you on the outside, too."

Sasuke frowns, clearly annoyed. "This is obviously a waste of my time. Move aside. I made a promise with the idiot to avoid harming all affiliations with Konoha until I take him down. Count yourselves lucky, and get out of my sight."

Sakura shrugs. "I remember your promise with Naruto. So?"

Sasuke almost snorts. "I see, hedging your survival on my ridiculous promise with Naruto."

Sakura shakes her head. "No, Sasuke-kun. You're as likely to keep a promise as you're likely to forget about your clan. No, I don't want you to keep your promise with Naruto. If anything, I fully expect you to break it, here and soon."

The last Uchiha blinks.

Sakura just smiles. "I love you Sasuke-kun, but Naruto is more important to me. More important to everyone else. He can't die in this war. He won't. I know him. We know him. He'll win, for sure. But he's so eager to save you, even at the risk of his own life. I can't have that. Konoha can't have that. He's going to become Hokage, sooner or later. And every Konoha-nin is obligated and willing to protect the Hokage, and that's what we're going to do."

She takes a step forward, a chakra-entrenched fist briefly visible underneath her cloak. "You're stronger than all of us combined, I can tell just by looking at you. But we're strong too, and you won't win without a scratch. It would be all the better if we can defeat you without suffering casualties, but it's very unlikely. So we're going to fight, and you'll probably kill most if not all of us. But you'll have big scratches. And Naruto will know of this. We've made sure of it. He'll know that you've broken your promise, then he won't hesitate anymore. He'll fight with everything he's got. You will lose, Sasuke-kun."

Sasuke scoffs. "As if."

The pinkette almost laughs. "You'll lose, Sasuke-kun. Deep down, you know this too. You just won't ever admit it."

"So you're willing to die for the Dobe just so he can have motivation?" he asks, a sliver of… admiration (?) in his voice.

"Just like he's willing to do for you," she replies. "Even if you're too far gone to be worth it. Like you said, he's a bit of an idiot, so these kinds of things escape his notice. But he's worth it. Worth every bit of it."

He stares at her, who is still all smiles. His face is neutral, but his hand is resting on the hilt of his blade.

A beat.

Another beat.

And another—

"Sakura… …" he sighs.

The girl tilts her head.

"…you're still annoying."

She beams widely. "Sorry, everyone," she calls out to the Konoha Rookies, "Sorry for dragging you all into Team Seven's mess!"

"Sorry indeed," Shikamaru grouses, cranking his neck slightly, eyes sharp despite the lackluster voice. "This is so damn troublesome. But I guess someone needs to be the brains in this operation."

Choji grins. "Alright! Skinny Akimichi Chouji is ready to rumble!"

"Yosh!" Lee exclaims. "Your spring time of youth is truly invigorating Chouji-san! Neji-san! Let us have our final challenge here! We shall see who can land the first attack! If I lose, then I'll—"

"Probably be dead, Lee," Neji drones.

TenTen nudges the Hyuuga prodigy. "Don't be so negative! Lee can survive longer than that!"

Neji rolls his eyes. "Joy."

"Man," Kiba whines. "Hinata-chan is going to be so upset when she finds out we ditched her."

"It was unavoidable," Shino says, voice ever void of inflections. "The reason for which is because we need someone to relay our intended joint operation to Naruto-san should the worst case scenario come to pass. Also, neither you nor I can tolerate the thought of seeing her brought to harm."

Kiba grins toothily. "Ain't that the truth? Well, we can trust Naruto to her, right, Akamaru?"


"Of course," Neji nods. "Hinata-sama is too important to be risked here."

Tenten quirks an eyebrow. "What am I? Leftover kimchi?"

The Hyuuga lad turns to her. "You are important, too, of course. But, I prefer you here. With me."

The weapons-girl smiles.

"What!" Ino nearly shrieks and glares at her teammates. "And you assholes didn't think about protecting fragile ol' me!"

"Please, let her die first," Shikamaru mutters.

"I heard that!"

"Why is my presence required?" Sai asks, seemingly amused. "The Konoha Rookies take care of their own, correct? I am merely the replacement. I should be exempt from this insanity."

"Well," Ino purrs, batting her eyelashes. "You're here because your lil' miss beautiful is here, right?"

Sai gapes slightly. "I…uh…yes. I guess…I guess that is the reason."

Ino beams.

"Well, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura grins. "Do you think you're ready?"

Uchiha Sasuke stares, long and stern. His eyes shut for one brief moment—Mangekyou Sharingan.

He draws his blade. "No regrets?" he asks, softly.

She smiles.

"Nope," she says, and makes the first move.

AN: Please read and review!