The sound of metal.

Her eyes are wide.

She watches, as his face snaps to the side, her fist weakly hanging post-strike.

The wind blows. She blinks. Her headband comes apart, and soon her forehead protector drops to the ground. She looks from the metal plate back to the Uchiha, confused, but wary and alert.

He sheathes his blade.

She glares at him. "Why?"

Sasuke touches his cheek, where she just struck him, expression neutral. His mouth moves and—

"Sakura-san!"

Sasuke leans forward, back-grabs the kick aimed at his head, and performs a single-handed kata-guruma that transfers the momentum into the throw.

"Lee-san!" Sakura cries as she catches and struggles under the teen's weight.

"I'll protect you, Sakura-san!" Lee shouts, an arm slacking at his side, and nearly collapses right on the spot as his breath hitches.

Sakura tries, but she can barely stand, let alone draw forth any more chakra to use iijutsu.

Sasuke takes another step, and hops, hovering right above a jyuuken strike, tantou swing, and a claw swipe. He kick-spreads, and swings with the scabbard, sending Neji, Tenten, and Kiba to the ground.

Kiba lands nearly face first, clutching his side in severe grimace.

Sasuke touches ground, and kicks, lifting Kiba like a log, and punts him towards a boulder.

In a blur, Tenten and Neji both intercept, catching Kiba midair.

"L-look out!"

They both turn too late, and Sasuke holds them both by the shoulders, and charges a chidori through all of them.

In pained screams, they collapse into a heap.

Struggling out of Sakura's arms, Lee charges at the top of his lungs, and punches. Only for Sasuke to streamline right under the strike and counter-punch, right in the face, and sending him sprawling to the ground.

Sakura runs over, but her legs suddenly give away, and she nearly falls to the ground.

Sasuke takes another step, before raising his scabbard and deflecting a rock.

Completely disheveled, and void of all armor, which are discarded and still burning in black flames, Chouji pants, post-throw, while the other arm cradles the slumped forms of Shikamaru, Ino, and Sai.

Next to him, Akamaru limps over, carrying Shino.

Sasuke stares, tomoe spinning. He scoffs. "Really, all of you…"

He blurs.

Chouji is barely able to blink before he lurches, eyes rolling into white, and collapses forward, the butt of Sasuke's blade withdrawing from the back of the head.

Akamaru snarls and charges, fangs first. He flinches, though, when Sasuke blurs and grabs him by the snout, tomoe spinning, and suddenly his eyes droop and he falls to the ground with Shino in toe.

He looks all of them over. No movements.

His eyes turn dark, and he finally looks over.

Sakura grits her teeth, clenching a fist.

Sasuke blurs.

Her eyes widen and she swings an elbow backwards.

Sasuke catches it easily. The other hand gently pushing on her waist, he spins her around, but not releasing his hold on her arm.

She finds herself staring into his eyes, again, and up close.

A beat.

"You really do believe in that loser," he says.

She blinks. She scowls. "Did I stutter?"

He doesn't frown. Doesn't even blink. He just stares.

And Sakura stares fearlessly right on back.

A beat.

And another.

He nods.

She blinks. She moves to speak—

Her eyes widen in shock before her eyes droop, peripherally aware of a withdrawing knife-hand, and slumps forward.

Her forehead taps against, something, something soft. And she swears she hears the sounds of heartbeats before everything goes dark.

.

.

.


.

.

.

Naruto smiles, wide and wobbly because his eyes are tearing up and the smile just keeps getting wider and wider. "Fuzzy Brows! Neji! Tenten!"

"Y-yosh…" Lee grins with a shaky fist, eye swollen, and unable to walk without the support of both Neji and Tenten, but very much alive.

"Y-you guys aren't dead!" Naruto cheers tearfully, bolting over.

Tenten looks ill. "R-really? I s-sure f-feel like keeling over."

Neji groans his agreement.

"Neji-niisan!" Hinata cries happily, right alongside Naruto, who is slapping the trio into a very funny looking hug.

"D-don't f-forget me," Kiba mutters, slung over Akamaru's back, bandages wrapped around his waist, "a-and Akamaru, too."

Akamaru barks.

"Gluuurk…"

"Oh. A-and Shino is k-kinda okay too."

"Kiba! Akamaru! Shino!" Naruto cheers. "Oh, man, I never thought I'd miss your nasty dog breath so much!"

"U-up yours, Naruto."

"Arf!"

"Glorrrpp…"

Hinata laughs and wraps her arms around Akamaru's neck.

"Daddy, I wanna go home~" Ino whines, half-conscious, slumped over Chouji's back.

Chouji chuckles.

Shikamaru limps over, an arm slung over Sai's shoulders. "I think the situation speaks for itself."

Sai nods. "This is bloody troublesome."

Shikamaru raises an eyebrow.

"Chouji! Ino! Shikamaru! Sai!"

Shikamaru winces. "Dammit, Naruto, you're lowering our chances of survival by making us deaf."

Naruto laughs and smacks the Nara on the back.

Sai smiles from ear to ear.

Lying prone on the ground, Sasuke blinks at the presence next to him. He stares up into green eyes.

A beat.

She crouches down.

Another beat.

"Why?" she asks. Voice even. Clear.

It goes quiet.

In another moment, Naruto crouches down next to Sakura. Both of them stare.

Gradually, Sasuke turns to Naruto, then back to her again, his breath slow and in rasps.

He stares into eyes of green. A pair of eyes, that just refuses to look away.

Because…because just once. For just one time, I wanted to be the liar. The one who lied…and made everything…just maybe…make sense. Somehow. Just once.

A beat.

Another beat.

And another—

"Hn," he grunts, and turns away.

Silence.

"Told you you'd lose," Sakura deadpans.

A beat.

Naruto laughs in surprise.

Sasuke tries to roll his eyes. Damn it hurts. "He…g-got…l-lucky…"

Naruto grins widely. "Dammit, Teme! You're such a sore loser! Just admit I whooped your butt and save yourself the humiliation!"

The Uchiha opens his mouth, and hacks blood.

Sakura's eyes narrow, and immediately starts preliminary administrations, her hands glowing ethereal green as she moves over his torso.

He grimaces. "…stop it…I d-don't need your…"

She ignores him and looks over to Naruto. "Naruto, go into my pack and get the vial bag. Also, see if you can get some clean water."

"On it, Sakura-chan!"

She nods and looks towards Hinata. "Hinata-san, can you come here and look?"

The Hyuuga girl nods, jogging over, her byakugan flaring to life the next moment. "I see…I see a lot of damaged chakra coils and tissues."

Sakura nods, again. "I figured as much. Hinata-san, I'm going to need you to close specific tenketsu when I tell you to. Can you do that?"

Hinata nods firmly. "Yes."

He coughs and tries again. "…S-Sakura…I said…I d-don't want—"

"Sasuke-kun," she glares. "Shut the hell up." She continues working.

He sighs.

She really is annoying. All of this…is just so annoying.

He looks up into the sky.

The rain has stopped, but the rainclouds have yet to part.

Somehow, though, a crack forms right above him, above all of them.

In that the crack, he sees the sun.

Minutes pass, during which he watches the sky and listens. The clouds move, like a slow moving herd of sheep. The others continue to chatter and fuss, like a bustling market place or classroom of students.

He takes all of it in, because now, finally, after so long, he's emptied himself.

Breathing gets easier. His eyelids get heavier.

Nii-san…if I close my eyes now and smile…will you be smiling too?

As he closes his eyes, his lips curled ever so slightly, and everything goes dark and quiet, he thinks he sees someone smiling back.