Hinata couldn't believe she was there again. She stood in front of his door, that notorious door. It was synonymous with everything she deemed too painful to bare.

She noted the cobwebs that formed in the crevices of his porch. Sasuke had so much nerve, well, his house did. After everything, it just carried on with its hideousness. She was sure he continued on with his lifelessness. He didn't need Hinata to check his pulse, he was barely alive and that was a certain thing.

Hinata wasn't sure if she could knock or just enter. Entering would be easier. In fact, she was almost certain that even if she did knock, Sasuke would not hear it from his desolate corner in the center of the house – even if he did, it wasn't likely that he'd come to the door. She imagined many people came knocking at Sasuke's door, whom he ignored. Then again, the last time she had entered without knocking she saw something she didn't like. Weighing her options, she chose what she thought was wise.

She knew for a fact that knocking was simply not enough, she needed to be more forceful or the sound would barely penetrate the thick wooden door. She banged on the door with all her might, hoping that the sound would carry to the other side. She waited a moment. The funny thing being that her heart began to pick up slowly but surely when no one came. It wasn't that she was eager to get the thing over with, it was that damned nurse. Something she said stuck with Hinata.

What if – and this was unlikely but what if something happened to him?

He was thin and pale and weak and he did have a herniated spinal disc. What if he fell and put his back out? No one ever came to check on him. He would just lie there and…

Hinata balled her fists, urgently throwing them at the door.

He had to be in there, he just had to be.

Because if he wasn't… why, she'd go to jail, she'd be shunned by her family, ridiculed, condemned and he'd be… gone.

That was enough; it had gone farther than she ever wanted it. So Sasuke was wrong in his actions, but was that reason enough for her to break her oath? She was a nurse, aside from all other things, it was her duty to keep tabs on Sasuke and she neglected him for her own selfish reasons. She denied it no longer, he'd hurt her but was it possible that subconsciously she wanted to hurt him as well?

Then she manifested the strength from deep within her heart, she grasped the door handle and flung it open in one motion. She wanted him, she wanted to see him, to know clear in her heart and mind that he still existed even if he'd never accept her friendship. That wasn't what mattered. She was bigger than that, bigger than him. Sasuke was a person, as was she.

She ran, she actually ran and this was rare. She made her way down the exact route to where she was sure Sasuke would be, well, where she hoped he would be. Her feet slid across the floor clumsily, though that wouldn't stop her. When she caught sight of the hall she threw herself between the two close walls. It was like some sort of trap, some sort of illusion. The walls seemed to come closer together the harder she struggled to get through them.

How had she gotten lost in her feelings? It was all flooding into her mind at once. Sasuke was hurt; he had things going on inside his body that he wanted no one to know about, and continued suffering as a result. It did not matter what he did, what he said, or what he didn't say. He needed her – and she, she was absent in his time of need.

When she reached the end of the hall she felt a false sense of cooling relief fall over her entire being but only for a short time. She took a long, desperate glance around the room. He wasn't there. He wasn't there. He wasn't there – but he was always there. That marked it – something happened. It was all her fault. But no – sometimes he'd go out and train or he'd be upstairs brooding. Hinata darted for the stairs, flying up all thirteen easier than she had any time before.

The halls were dark upstairs and so silent that she could hear her eyes blinking – or atleast that's what she thought. It was always dusty and hazy, a haven for spiders and unknown wafting shadows to send her spirits otherwise reeling downwards. That didn't matter; not here, not now. She knew exactly where his room was and she made her way to it without hesitation. As she came closer, something brought about an eerie caution in heart.

The hall was crowded with furniture.

It was all dusty and lazily thrown about. His clothes dresser was on the floor with drawers jutting out in the most hazardous of ways. To her surprise, Sasuke actually had clothes in those drawers – some which Hinata was sure he could no longer fit. It was all just spilled out on the floor next to his authentically hand-carved end-table with the gold drawer handle. Hinata walked by as slowly as humanly possible. She brushed her hand gently over the top surface of the end table. Dust clumped around her fingertips and made her shudder crudely.

She stepped over his clothes, a square wooden cup full of dried-out pens, a silken robe baring the symbol of Sasuke's clan and a foldable hand-fan until she was just at the entrance of his room. The shutter doors were ajar enough to expose the disastrous scene of his bedroom. Hinata took a short glance down the hall in the opposite direction. Sasuke's bedframe was taken apart and thrown up against the wall, as was his mattress. His bedroom was left empty.

She took a slight, anxious step inside when terror struck. She paused, covering her mouth in awe and disbelief. Her eyes began to water helplessly as she stepped closer to the wall immediately in front of her. She placed one hand on the wall, tracing the lines with her index finger. Orochimaru was written on every clear inch of the wall that was reachable. It seemed to be carved into the wall in some places like someone had used a blunt object to do so. In other places it seemed to be etched or scratched, as if someone had done it with their fingernails – but worst of all, in some places it was drawn… unevenly in what looked like dried blood.

Hinata snatched her hand away in pure terror. "W-what t-the hell?" She whispered to herself, backing away cautiously. She shouldn't have looked down; she should have turned around and went straight for the door. None of that matters in retrospect, because she did. She looked down at the floor fearfully to find that the cursed seal was painted on the floor in browned blood. She took a step back; traces of the blood followed her shoe in the form of a print.

That was all she needed to see. There was nothing she could do. She would no longer question what could be and what could not. Hinata was a coward above everything by nature, and she would not easily forget that. She turned around, simultaneously gliding across the floor for just a split second which made her stomach turn and incited a terrible feeling of disgust in her soul.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Sasuke stood there, as straight and still as any time before.

Hinata's eyes widened in great fear and trepidation. He had blood smeared all over his face, his arms, his legs and his knees. His hair was mangled and disorganized, so unlike him. She could help but notice his fingernails were split and crusted over with old blood.

"Hinata, you shouldn't have seen this." He growled through gritted teeth.

In Hinata's mind, everything was coming together. He'd done this and if she didn't disappear, and quickly, he'd exterminate her as well.

So she ran.

She ran right past him, down the stairs and out of the house. He didn't even budge; he didn't attempt to stop her. He understood. He understood everything she was thinking, everything she was feeling. This was bazaar to say the least and he didn't expect her to see past the oblique insanity that she was presented with. Because this is Sasuke, he thereby deemed her less intelligent – though he knew somewhere in his subconscious that that was just his ego trying to maintain the last shred of humanity he had, if he even had that.

Hinata would not understand that the Orochi himself was there with Sasuke just the night before. She did not understand anything that was going through his mind, all the endless thoughts. If it wasn't for the fact that he'd acknowledged his adaptation, his attachment for the girl, he'd likely feel relieved that she was gone – hopefully forever. This time was different, only not by much.


"Home." Shikamaru said nonchalantly, slamming the flimsy screen door that protected his and Ino's house from the perils of the climate. Ino was lying on the couch, face down in a pillow. She was… recovering, in her mind. She had a lot to think about. Yes, things were better with her and Hinata – but they'd surely never be the same. Not only that, but now she had this horrible weight on her shoulders. She had this thing she needed to do and it had been looming over her head for quite some time. It all brought her so down, so down that she laid on her sofa lifelessly for hours at a time. She didn't want to watch TV, she didn't want to shop, she barely wanted to work.

So she got to make love with the Uchiha she so lusted after. That didn't make anything better. It did not compel her to feel more feminine or valuable. She was now valueless, hopeless, helpless, drifting in and out of a perpetual nightmare.

"I brought you some… um, cereal." Shikamaru placed a box of what he'd hoped was cereal on the counter behind the couch. He raised a brow at it curiously. He'd first purchased it just as a quick make-up gift for Ino, now he was unsure whether or not it was the best idea. "Maybe."

Ino didn't respond. What good was it? Shikamaru's behavior was so repetitive; no doubt he'd be disgusted with her again when his next mahjong tournament is televised on the same night as her ridiculous Chinese drama.

"You okay?" He turned his head to her, asking without very much concern of enthusiasm. He stepped over to her, leaning over the back of the couch to look down at her. "I bought you cereal." He reached out and shook her shoulder gently. "Ino."

"Thanks." She mumbled into the pillow, if only to get him to leave her alone.

"Hey." Shikamaru said, tapping her back.

Ino looked up just for a second. Her face was reddened from the heat and welted from the grooves in the couch pillow.

"Babe, I realized that… you were right… for once." He sighed, walking over to the other side of the couch and moving Ino's feet up so that he could sit, then placing them on top of his lap. "I don't spend nearly as much time with you as I do playing chess or mahjong – or whatever."

A smile crept upon Ino's face as she blinked, her eyelashes mashed into her eyelids. "Aww, Shika."

"I know I changed a lot from when we first got married, and I'm sorry for that." He smiled. "And I'll try harder."

Ino sat up, feeling her emotional capacity becoming a bit rejuvenated from that last spiel. "Really, Shikamaru?"

"And I love you, a lot." He chuckled, baring a sly smirk. Shikamaru placed his hand on Ino's cheek, bringing her in for a kiss.

It felt so right, so needed. That was where she belonged. This was normal, everyday. This was the marriage she'd so easily slipped into; not fighting, not infidelity.

"Hold on." Ino pulled back a little, fiddling with the ends of her hair nervously.

Then came her subconscious thoughts, pressing for her to keep her mouth shut, continue being happy, what Shikamaru didn't know surely had no chance of hurting him. She'd just gotten there, to that place where she could be just a little happy. She could finally be reminded of how she fell in love with Shikamaru in the first place, of his quirks, his disposition. Now it seemed like she was purposely disrupting that balance. However, surely there were things about her which Shikamaru found lovely, or sweet or desirable. Certainly he had reasons to forgive her for her misdeeds in the same manner than she forgave him.

"Don't tease me." He mumbled flatly.

"I don't mean to be a tease." She sighed, rubbing the side of her neck.

"No?" He smiled smoothly. He took the end of her hair out of her hand and played with it himself momentarily, awaiting her invitation to proceed. It often took a little coaxing to get Ino in bed after many laborious days of treating her poorly. He only realized there was something amiss when he didn't hear her notorious cue. She would coo gently just before letting out a very soft and passive, 'Well, okay'. "Ino?"

She said nothing, but pulled the strings of hair from between Shikamaru's fingers and let them fall gently upon her shoulders.

"Ino Nara, look at me." Shikamaru carelessly tugged at Ino's sleeve.

She glanced up slowly. Ino never liked it when Shikamaru, or anyone else, saw her cry. She wasn't the crying type. She wished she had some control over it… to regain something she'd given up.

Shikamaru swallowed cautiously. It was a shock to him even. Ino never cried. Now that he thought of it, she'd been crying quite a bit lately – not that he was involved or cared to be involved. Ino had a way of sorting things out on her own. Previously Shikamaru would be reprimanded simply for trying to assist her. She never needed help before, why now? "Alright, what is it?" Shikamaru pulled away, just a bit cross that his sex appeared to be foiled. "You're crying and it's freaking me out."

"I'm sorry." She sniffled, wiping the space under her eye. "It's um… nothing really – my period."

"It's not your period is it?" Shikamaru sighed, rubbing Ino's back. "Cause if it was I would have seen some of those gross little tube things in the toilet – I tell you not to, but you always do." He shook his head. "Now, how bad can it possibly be?"

Shikamaru got up to stand in front of Ino before taking a knee on the floor in front of where she sat. He gently took her hands into his, looking up at her meaningfully. "You know you can tell me anything – as long as you're not pregnant." He smiled humorously, shaking her hands playfully. "Ino?"


The previous day was surreal to say the least.

Hinata didn't have the mind to think about it. It was far away now. She sat in the white wicker rocking chair in the corner of her room, fresh out of the shower in her pale pink shower robe and Chinese slippers. Her hair was damp and clung to the skin of her face and neck. She was safe now, that's all that mattered.

Safe from what, though?

Not from Sasuke. He would never hurt her, would he? No, as it turned out, that wasn't exactly what she was worried about – atleast not purely. She was merely confused, yes, confused.

With a sigh she contemplated where all of this was going. By now she'd accepted in her mind that she was – in a way – treating Sasuke while simultaneously providing security for her own motives. There was a gap in the clause, where she should have known exactly what she was trying to get from Sasuke. It wasn't quite friendship. She even questioned whether friendship with him was acquirable.

Then Hinata heard a sound that was notoriously familiar. She was relieved that it wasn't at her bedroom door for once, that was usually Hanabi hoping to find some type of loan in money or clothes. This tapping was different, it was one she missed. She stood up eagerly, taking a few steps towards the window then paused – that tapping was… familiar and comforting. It also either belonged to Kiba or…

"W-who i-is it?" Hinata flushed, shaking where she stood.

"Open the window."

Hinata's spirits immediately lifted higher than she desired. They lifted in a manner that shook her entire being. She was happy in the most cynical, morbid way possible. However, for the most part, she was reluctant and afraid. It was Sasuke.

Hinata walked over to the window, leaned over, and pulled it up slowly and securely to reveal his face, body, ups and downs squatting on her window ledge. He looked just like the Sasuke she knew when she was sixteen; handsome, stoic, and up to no good.

"Hi." Hinata breathed out with a slanted smile and stepped back so Sasuke could enter freely. She watched him crouch over and thrust himself through the window, then stand tall, rising up to her height and far beyond. He was so intimidating.

Today he was cleaned up. His hair was a little damp as if he'd just washed it. His clothes were even clean, neat, appeared to be pressed. There was no blood under his fingernails, no cuts or scrapes on his body. He was himself, a rare sight.

"Why did you run?" He asked. His voice was solid and powerful, so much that it could coax anything out of the small girl.

"I… uh… I-I'm… I d-don't know." She whimpered in fear. What was she to do, or to say?

"Don't lie." He commanded, clenching his fists at his sides. Hinata caught sight of it and it made her stomach turn.

"S-Sasuke, please." She shut her eyes, breathing heavily. This wasn't happening. How much nerve did he have? He'd scared her away and now he was here to hear about it?

"Why?" Sasuke gritted his teeth, staring at her so deeply that she thought she would break into pieces under his gaze.

"I… I was afraid!" She cried, taking a swift step back.

"Of what?" He growled.

"You!" She spat, covering her face briefly. It was so flushed, her lips were throbbing and her eyes felt strained beyond their abilities. The heat rushed all over her body and spilled out through her mouth. "You… you have blood all over you… all over the walls, I mean – you haven't been yourself at all and I… I'm sorry but this, this is just... I don't know…" She groaned. She had her bravery and she lost it, either way she was proud that it even came about.

Sasuke paused for a moment just to think over everything she just said. It was a lot to take in, though not something he didn't already know. Acknowledging all of this previously was his only purpose for coming – that and the itching, burning idea that if he didn't he'd likely lose something he cared for.

With no words being said, he took a step closer to Hinata. She flinched in terror, her eyes as wide as dinner plates watching his every move. Sasuke bent over, wrapping his arms around the girl's hips. It amused him generously to feel her shake furiously in his arms. With one step over, he plopped her down on top of her bed just before taking his seat next to her. He felt the texture of her down comforter with the tiny pink threads just a bit frayed. It had been years and she still had the same blankets. He always did admire her simplicity.

"They had some type of torture device." Sasuke squinted and exhaled, trying to recollect the harsh and jagged memories of the past. "It was like – there was a long corridor with prison cells on each side. Towards the front there was a platform on the floor that was all metal. You'd think nothing of it at first. Then they let you out of your cell just for a second, close off the back end with a wall of chains, or something. You'd run forward, trying to get away, just trying to see… outside for a second, like you have a chance of getting out of there." He swallowed through labored breaths. "Then they'd put down another wall and before you know it, you're boxed in. He laughs. He's not there but you just know – he's there. Then one of those… drones pulls a lever on the wall and it shocks you."

Hinata flinched.

"It shocks you in a way that I… can't describe." He looked up at the ceiling, fighting the emotions boiling inside of him. "The floor shocks you to your bones. It feels like your… skin is being burned off from the inside. And they keep going and going and going – but not enough to kill you, not yet."

She didn't know what she could say to comfort him. So she just sat there stupidly. Anything was better than opening her mouth and releasing something she'd regret.

"So I gave myself to him again. I still surrendered." He murmured seemingly to himself. "How long will it be, Hinata – until I give myself to him again?"

"Sasuke-"

"When I led under him… I ate anything I desired, I could have had any woman I wanted, I had someone to do everything for me, I had anything I wanted that was possible to obtain. So why would I ever want to leave?" He went on.

Hinata's heart pounded in hopes, somewhere, that he'd be talking to her, about her, connecting his heart with hers.

"I just didn't want to fight anymore." He turned his head, looking at her with those gray, lifeless eyes. They were so listless, reflecting the pain only years of inner turmoil could bring. "Yet, all I can think about is fighting – defeating him. It's driving me insane."

The clock on the wall ticked away. Hinata's eyes dripped but she couldn't look away. She was staring into the portrait of pain.

"I didn't sleep last night. I laid awake, trying to keep myself from coming here." He said, slowly scooting his hand a bit closer to hers on the bed and stroking it with two of his fingers thoughtfully. "When I was there… I would go to this place in my mind where everything was the way I wanted, I told myself that's where I would be when I got out. It gave me a reason to fight for my existence; it's what separated me from them."

"Yes?" Hinata slid her hand closer to him so that her fist was not under his palm. She wanted him to go on; she wanted to know all of it.

"You were there." He spoke. "You were… all of it."

"Sasuke… I… I'm not sure what you're saying."

"I still go there." He whispered, bringing himself closer to her. "But since you won't stay there, I have to come to you."

Hinata blushed. This was… happening. She could smell his breath, feel his breath, she was tantalized by it. He was so close, so very close. Her heart pounded inside her chest. It was all coming together so… perfectly.

"Your skin is so soft." He breathed, stroking the side of her face with his palm then moving a few strands of stray hair out of the way. "So fare."

Hinata swallowed nervously. "Sasuke." She whispered, placing her other hand over his as it caressed her cheek sweetly.

Her lips trembled in the most adorable way. He told himself he wouldn't do this again.

Sasuke pressed his lips to Hinata's in the most pleasant and genuine way. He felt them shake against his for just a second before they calmed and conformed to the movement of his. Her eyes were open, his eyes were open, and they stared at each other fondly. Just another second passed and Hinata's eyes fluttered closed. Yes, for her third kiss ever, that felt more natural.

Sasuke, once again, fought the urge to do the same. He wasn't so sappy. A kiss felt the same whether or not his eyes were closed. However, it didn't take long before his were closed as well. He indulged in her, nothing was forbidden. Now he could freely taste her perfection and know that unequivocally, her innocence and radiance was real. She was like a precious pearl; a flawless, shining beauty.

Ten seconds later Sasuke pulled himself from her. He could only indulge so much without the guilt he was ashamed to have forcing him to give attention to their setting. When they opened their eyes, simultaneously at that, Hinata blushed. How was she to recover from that? She'd have to learn eventually. Now she was petrified in fear of a different kind.

Last time Sasuke kissed her, long ago it was, it was followed by a certain unmatched coldness. He pushed her away crudely, dismissing the affair as meaningless, and refrained from speaking to her for a little over a week. To her surprise, Sasuke took her face within his hands and stroked the sides passionately. He then smiled halfheartedly and touched their foreheads together so that their eyes matched levels and their noses brushed lightly. There was nothing more satisfying than that, than being that close, than being able to be that close.

He was lost in it.


Prayer for Sandy Hook Elementary and Newtown, Connecticut.