Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto anymore than you do; Naruto belongs to Kishimoto-sensei. The thumbnail is used with permission from the wonderful artist fallenkarma.

A/N: My attempt at a Samurai story, I hope it proves to be fulfilling and enjoyable. This story is dedicated to fallenkarma as she provided the inspiration for me to finally pursue the idea of writing a story such as this. It seems I've fallen into a writing slump as of late, real life and that so I'll just say that I will update when I can and still stand by what was stated before, not giving up on this story regardless of how long it may take to finish. ^^;

Watch the end through dying eyes

Now the dark is taking over

Show me where forever dies

Take the fall and run to Heaven

I Will Not Bow

© Breaking Benjamin

Chapter 15

It was not particularly hard to picture himself in such a situation considering his upbringing and the abrupt change of employment upon his arrival into heart of the providence in which he had grown up. War was something they were trained for, something that was always a possibility of occurring and to have set foot on such a battlefield was hardly surprising or unexpected. He still found himself inclined to thoughts about the unproductiveness of this so called war, those in power trying to take over those with power with the intent to gain even more power. But those who waged such battles hardly ever fought the battles in which they waged and when one is walking amongst the death and destruction it is hard to see anyone who is victorious.

For more than what had accumulated into two and a half years he had stood on this battleground stained with blood and littered with death and agony. Every turn of his wrist, every twist of his foot to either avoid a strike or deliver one was second nature, monotonous and completed without a thought to who he was cutting down. His blade was stained with too much blood for it to ever be washed clean despite any efforts he may make.

Following orders blindly was something he never thought himself capable of doing but his participation in this war proved otherwise. When he was told to kill that is what he did and whether it was a single man or an entire group of warriors he would continue to do so. Even as a blade grazed his arm from behind he did not falter or pause, the pain was in the back of his mind and the coldness that had taken over in the course of time spent standing within this grave setting had distilled any emotional attachment he may have.

He turned after his blade swiftly cut through his opponents' neck to throw a kunai knife at the assailant who thought to attempt to kill him from behind. He heard the gargled yell of anguish but turned back to the enemies before him cutting them down with quick, calculated movements and the swing of his blade all the while parrying when needed and side stepping out of the way when such movements were called for.

In the short amount of time he had spent at his elder brother's side, at first shocked at the amount of death and bloodshed accompanying the violence spiraling around him he had learned that to waste one movement, to hold one breath in one's lungs, could lead to one's demise. In the span of time which had passed he had learned a great deal and was forced to accept that he had known so very little about true battle before stepping foot on this battlefield. While he may himself find such brutality unneeded it was not his place to question those at stations above his own. His place in this was that of a warrior told to engage in battle and nothing more or less than that.

He had seen countless fellow samurai from many clans and reaches of his country fall because of hesitation or carelessness. He would not be killed in such a manner, he had much that he wished to still see, experience, and accomplish not withholding meeting with his best friend once more along with finding the ex-Daimyo that was responsible for the slaughter of his clan. That spark of anger ignited within him a growl as he cut his sword clean through the neck of the assailant blocking his path, decapitating him effortlessly. He felt with that anger a strong sense of disgust at the blood staining his blade, hands, and the cloth of his hakama and kimono that were hidden well beneath the armor he was given to wear for protection. Noticing the diminishing light however many hours later he knew it was close to the time he was expected within the encampment.

Forced a step forward and to his knees from a powerful and cutting slash across his already scarred back he let out a barely discernable growl amidst the continuous yells and calls of those engaged in battle around him and rolled through the grass, mud, and blood out of the range of another and even deadlier blow. He would discern that these warriors should be well aware by now that he refused to be killed and so should aim for the most fatal of blows should they wish to engage him in battle. The armor he wore was woven with bamboo but as he turned to face his opponent, he knew that the thick and broad blade had the capability to turn his armor to nothing but splinters upon the ground.

Looking closely and taking in everything even as he was forced into a defensive stance that the blade of the one before him was indeed thick and broad, as though the design were a larger and thicker version of the katana he wielded. That his armor had withstood such a blow spoke well of the armor, he was given to wear. This man was not the typical warrior; he was one with experience and intelligence. He was forced back another step when another downward strike was made and felt the breath knocked out of him when he was struck in the mid-drift with the back of the broad and heavy sword.

Rolling across the ground and jumping to his feet, ignoring the sharp pain that shot up his back at the action, he moved quickly and with a sense of urgency to avoid all other attacks. This battle would take his full concentration and some quick thinking, but he would not die, he refused to allow death to stake claim on his life. Raising his sword to try for an offensive move resulting in a throbbing pain shooting up his arms even as he stood his ground as the blade collided with his own.

In only a matter of seconds several things happened at once, first was the distinctive sound of metal hitting metal as blows were thrown at him repeatedly, and then he could hear the sound of cracking, glancing at his blade he could see that it was indeed cracking under the strain. Shoving the heavy blade away with all of his strength managed to cause his opponent to lose their footing and distracted them enough to allow him to put some distance between them. Glancing about quickly he sheathed his sword and was forced to roll on the ground out of the way of another attempt to cut him in half horizontally he managed to put his hands on a heavier sword, one that may not crack under the strain of the broadsword his opponent was fighting with.

The blood on the hilt of the sword he had taken from the corpse of an enemy warrior made his grip slippery so he used his sleeve to quickly wipe it clean within just enough time to raise the sword while on a bent knee to block the other strike. Shoving upwards as he pushed himself to his feet, Sasuke managed to parry the strike and swung, feeling everything in the upper half of his body burn and strain with the effort. Within the exchange of a few blows as their blades collided, he managed to tune his body well enough to counter the burn in his muscles.

He was also able to take in the appearance of his opponent, not the typical Chinese warrior he encountered countless times before. No, this man was different; he had a bandana of dark blue color tied across his forehead that left his short, dark hair to spike up in every direction at the top of his head. Half of his face was concealed in bandages along with his arms, the bandages traveling up to just past the elbows. He wore a strap that crossed his chest in the shape of an 'X' that was used to hold his sword when the man was not wielding it himself.

The pants were baggy and the bottom part of both calf's bandaged much like his chest until the wrappings met his ankles which he noticed that the man was wearing what he had come to know were standard shinobi shoes. He had taken this all in as they continued their back and forth blows and blocks with their swords. He was forced back a few steps by the neck blow and when he felt his foot hit something he worried that he would trip but then the man before him paused, straightened, and put his blade into the sheath and stood there with a smirk on his face.

He was no fool, he kept his defensive stance and his hands tightened around the hilt of the sword in his hand as he narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his opponent. The man just continued to watch him and made sure to keep his distance. He had taken notice that many of the warriors from before had lessened and that the main area of the battle had moved away from them. No one had engaged them in battle while they were locked within their own exchange, for that he was grateful, as he would not have been able to split his focus while fighting with this mysteriously strong man.

"You must be one of Kakashi-san's students," the man said after several silent moments had passed.

He tensed at the observational comment and straightened minutely trying to lessen the strain in his back from having swung such a heavy blade while injured, something he was not accustomed to nor trained in how to wield. Rolling his shoulder and feeling the fabric tug at the gash both on his back and arm he said nothing in reply.

"You have the eyes of a killer young Uchiha-san," the man continued only waiting for a moment to see if the one he was attempting to engage in conversation would respond. He did not like this, standing here as though a war were not being waged around them. He could not take his eyes off his opponent and thus had no way of knowing if anyone else would come along to attack him from behind.

"Considering the setting, it is fitting," the other replied tilting his head to the side a bit and raising one hand in the air as though to signal to someone else that he could not see. Sasuke tensed and any tension he had released returned in the next moment as he waited for something to happen. He felt as though something had raised the hairs on the back of his neck, now adorned with his uncut hair and matted with dried blood and mud in different blotches amongst the dark trends.

He closed his eyes for only a second as he took in a calming breath, as soon as his eyes had opened and he had exhaled he was using both the sword that was too heavy for him and his own katana to block the blades of the sword from his opponent and the thick needle of the sudden new opponent. Pushing at both resulted in the three of them separating, whoever this other person was they had a mask to cover their face. He noticed the thick cloth meant for cold weather and the mask had two slits in it for the eyes and four slits on the forehead of the piece with red paint that gave the impression of a crooked grin and cheekbones along the sides and front.

This silent and deadly warrior had a stance he recognized, that of a trained and experienced shinobi despite the apparent youth he had. The musculature that he could see was that of a lithe form, much like his own, and the kimono top was of a bluish green color with a brown long necked shirt underneath. Usual dark blue pants followed, those same shinobi shoes, and the painted nails added color to the ensemble. He was at a disadvantage here, both were deadly and he had barely managed to defend himself against the broadsword-wielding warrior so he knew there was very little chance he could prevail against both without changing his battle tactics.

He knew without a doubt that both were shinobi but could not recall from which village they might be from, though the clothes and the slits in the forehead of the mask should have clued him in on such. All this time spent on the battlefield fighting endlessly against those he found to be monotonous and ever repetitive in the simplicity in which they were defeated had made him grow cold and distant. Now he felt very much alive, his blood pumping through his system with adrenaline and the rush of engaging in a truly challenging battle.

"He is eager Master," the one in the mask said without any particular emotion, it was simply spoken as a statement and Sasuke could not figure out whether this opponent was male or female nor their age even with hearing their voice. He simply knew that this person was young because of the hands not showing the same age as that of their companion.

"Indeed, but as an Uchiha I am not surprised," the other said with a smirk and sheathed his sword, "I shall leave him to you, we have more company arriving," and with that the other was gone leaving the masked shinobi. He was grateful and bitter for that all at the same time, grateful because he could focus on one opponent at a time and bitter because the other had spoken dismissively as though he did not consider him worth the time for both of them to need to engage in a battle with him.

He did not have the time to think much on such menial matters however as he found himself blocking and parrying the others very quick and precise moves. Those needles would seem harmless at first glance but right now only his own instincts and engaging the Sharingan of his clan allowed him to avoid being struck by those invisible blades. They were so thin that it was as though they became thread in the air around him as they were launched his way.

He released the broadsword from his grasp as he turned and moved in whichever direction he needed in order to avoid being struck by such weapons and could not shake the feeling that he was simply being toyed with and tested. Who were these two and why exactly was he simply being played for a fool while engaging them in battle? Surely, they were fighting with all their strength but from the continuous circle he was forced to stay within he knew that he was only entertainment for the pair.

He leapt away from the circle on the ground in which he had been forced to remain within when a shower of those needles made to rain down on him only to have another shower of needles strike him from behind. He did not falter simply gritting his teeth through the pain and grateful that none had struck him in vital areas, why was this person not trying to kill him, for what purpose would that be advantageous?

Halting in a defensive stance, he asked aloud, "What is the purpose of a battle in which neither is trying for victory?"

"Victory, what purpose would that serve," the other commented without infliction. He was forced back a few steps and then had to back-flip in order to avoid another needle shower and continued on with side steps, cartwheels, side flips, more back-flips, and quick footwork to continue to remain untouched by those sharp weapons. He saw no point in this endless exchange, words were useless here and his blade was used only in defense as it required a closer range in order to cut and he would prefer to have it within his grasp than risk exposing himself to further injury by using it in much the same way as a kunai.

He had to change his weapons and his way of fighting if he wished to be able to take on any sort of offensive action. Blocking another rain of needles, he switched his hold on his sword so that it was now positioned in an underhand way he withdrew three kunai knives and threw them. Knowing the focus would shift to parrying those weapons, he tried to close the distance only to have his opponent dance out of range. Again, the same tactics and a bit more speed allowed him to close their distance but his sword was knocked away by an actual kunai to which he withdrew more from the satchel at his waist.

Now they were getting somewhere, this close the other would not risk another shower of those chosen weapons, or so he thought. As they exchanged blows he saw that the other was making signs with his free hand and after the sixth sign was made he felt a tug from his instincts telling him to move away. Therefore, he did moving just in time to avoid a puddle of water forming into grasping ice that would have held him still and avoiding the shattering ice needles that seemed to have fallen from the sky overhead.

As he stood waiting and watchful for another attack he could see that as well as feel that the atmosphere around him had indeed changed. All the blood and muddy water about the ground had turned to ice, the air was thinner and colder, and there was fog moistening the ground around them. He had long since forgotten of the tricks and illusions that could become reality when engaged in a battle with shinobi. In the next few moves of parrying needles and kunai knives, his sword was forced from his hand when a particularly powerful blow cracked the blade to the point of breakage.

Cursing under his breath as the hilt was knocked from his hand, he was forced to put some distance between himself and his opponent. He withdrew more of the kunai knives he had. Soon he would be left with very little to defend himself with other than the genetic ninjutsu available to him only through Kakashi's tutelage but unlike this opponent he could not work the signs with only one hand and he needed both to defend himself against this very deadly shinobi.

The air around him was steadily growing colder, much like it would become on a cold winter's night near the peaks of a mountain, which made his breath burn as it passed in and out of his lungs. It was steadily becoming harder to breath and his wounds were no longer distant annoyances but throbbing distractions that complained persistently with every shift of muscles he made. He continued to parry and block the others' attacks but the ground beneath him was growing hard with the freezing change of temperature and his footing was becoming less graceful with every new exchange of blows.

He knew that should he take care to tend to his wounds, truly rest, and take care of himself so that he did not find himself at such a disadvantage and found it a bit ironic that had he done as such previously perhaps he would be more capable to fight this new opponent. A certain friend and female medical shinobi often told him that he would be in better shape to face any challenging opponent if he took more care of himself but as it was, he was quickly losing ground. Were this a serious exchange between them he would surely lose his life. As it was he could discern by the fact that he was still able to draw breath that the objective of this battle was not to kill. It irritated him that he was not being taken seriously and his pride was severely agitated by such. Nevertheless, there was still a small part of him that was grateful for the merciful way fate had decided to give him a challenging opponent not bent on ending his life.

While he was grateful for such he also felt as though such an exchange and his lack of strength in this battle would dishonor his clan, surely his father would feel shamed by his son's weakness. But his tutelage under Kakashi's capable teachings had often taught him that losing but keeping one's life was the world's mercy showing him that he still had much to learn. He had lost plenty of exchanges with the elder shinobi in his time of training and knew he would lose many more but had felt a sense of accomplishment for every lesson he had learned. In fact, the few times he was teamed up with other shinobi he had even learned teamwork, a concept not taught to him by his clan where nearly all warriors were taught to stand strong on their own and he had been too young to have ever received a mission which required him to work with others.

When the rain of those deadly ice formed needles ceased to fall upon him his body ignored his demands and dropped him down upon one knee with exhaustion. Even in his best form he had the feeling he may have trouble landing any form of offensive moves against this person. He kept his eyes on the other even as he replaced his chosen weapons and released whatever ability he had to change the atmosphere so that the cold became a normal temperature for this season and moved to stand before him.

A hand was held out to him seemingly in assistance but he refused it and stood on his own narrowing his eyes suspiciously at the other. Before any words were said by either of them a new and demurely familiar voice called out to them breaking the tension between the two and averting their attention to the source all at once; "That was more than enough Haku-kun."

Now on his feet once more he was able to deliver a glare to the previously mentioned sensei whose teachings had enabled him to prevent any further serious wounds for which he would be dutifully lectured about having received in the first place by the medical kunoichi he was sure he was about to have to deal with. The silver haired man raised an eyebrow in amusement at the glare his student was directing to him before he said, "Sakura-chan was adamant that this exchange cease," the other explained.

Sasuke continued to glare at the other man not only for the interruption but also for the lack of warning concerning these two shinobi who had engaged him in battle. It was obvious not only by how the other had addressed this Haku by name but also in the ease in which he emitted in their presence that he knew both of them. Looking past his sensei he saw that the man whom this younger opponent was making his way towards was also present and had a grin on his face.

Scowling deeper for a moment and then bringing his mask of indifference to his face he looked for the hilt of his now broken sword, retrieved it and put it back in its sheath and walked past the three of them without another word or acknowledgement. It did not take long to reach the encampment and less time to reach the medical tent which as he approached he saw a very irritated pink haired medical nin standing outside of waiting for him. She looked him over quickly and her expression turned into one of worry and anger before she held the flap of the tent open and ushered him inside. Usually he would be the one to show chivalry and hold the flap open for her but such would only end up with him receiving a sound blow to the back of his head as he often found out when he did not treat his friend as the equal that she most certainly was.

He knew he was to find an empty cot within the tent and so did so finding one towards the very back. He sat down upon the piece of furniture and waited for the medical nin to tell him what it was she wished him to allow her to examine first. She came to stand in front of him with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.

Taking a deep breath and then narrowing her eyes at him she broke the silence between them, "Sasuke-kun, I expected better of you. You are supposed to take care of yourself if not for your own sake then for the sake of those who care about your wellbeing."

She had delivered her lecture with a calm but stern voice which only alerted him to how very angry she truly was. When she was shouting it meant her anger was less but to address him so calmly meant she was a great deal more than angered, she was quite possibly prone to stab him with one of her surgical utensils out of rage or something equally as damaging. She motioned to his armor in a way he recognized meant he was to remove it so she could get to his wounds and as he did as she silently ordered him she got together the items she would need including a bowl of clean water and some clothes used primarily as bandages.

Now that he was no longer engaged in battle and had adrenaline running hot in his veins his body was not withholding its complaints about his injuries. Every movement pulled at the wound on his back and every muscle ached from using a sword he was neither trained nor truly strong enough to use. Straining his muscles far past their limits was something he was going to pay for dearly throughout the next few days.

Setting his armor next to him on the cot he let out a low hiss of pain when he set to pulling the kimono underneath free. Tugging it free would not be an option as he soon found out when he tried and a groan of pain caught in his throat. Sakura turned to him looking him over with a look of distaste, most likely because of all the mud and blood that had bled through the armor to stain his kimono. She scowled at the cut on his arm, narrowed her eyes at the other shallower cuts and marks of wounds that littered what she could see of his neck, chest, and arms and then she walked around him.

He tensed under her scrutiny knowing her anger would only increase when she saw the deep graze upon his back. She let out a low hiss and then knelt behind him using the cloth and bowl of water she had in her hand to dab at his back. It burned but he gritted his teeth through such discomfort and with gentle but confident hands she was able to help him pry the cloth free from his back. The cloth was set aside and she set to work cleaning, doctoring, and dressing the wound. The herbal salve applied to his wound smelled quite horrible but had properties within its ingredients that lessened the pain so it was something he could tolerate.

Once that wound was tended too she moved to address the other nasty graze upon his arm which also burned in protest of being agitated but he again gritted his teeth through as it was cleaned, doctored, and dressed. The other wounds were tedious by comparison, save for the two day old wound upon his leg which he had been able to ignore thanks to the wounds he had received today. However, now that they were treated and the salve was lessening the pain he could feel the wound throbbing out its complaints. She tsked at him as she pulled the cloth away to exam his leg and he was forced to lean back on the cot as she lifted his leg so that it rested on her knee as she knelt before him.

The wound carved its way up the back of his calf to curve at a hook just before his knee and had indeed been painful. A warrior's last effort to land a wound on him as he lay in the mud and blood of the battlefield drinking in his last gurgled breaths. It was no one's fault but his own, he should have made certain of his surroundings so as not to be caught off guard in such a way, in retaliation he had plunged the end of his sword into the other man's throat ending his life very quickly.

Distracting himself with his own thoughts made her tending to that wound easier at the very least. However, he was pulled from his own musings when he felt a bit of warmth at his leg and blinked back to the present and looked down to see that her hand hovering over the wound was glowing a light green, her chakra, she was healing the wound. He made to pull his leg away wanting the wound to scar as a reminder to himself to keep aware of his surroundings but she tightened her hold and said without looking up at him, "I'm healing it because the wound is infected. So, stay still so I can finish otherwise I will cut off your leg," her tone evoked no arguments so with a scowl he did as he was told.

Once she was finished he looked down at his leg as she stood and moved away to put up the supplies she had used and he could see that she had only closed the wound and healed it enough that it would not easily be reopened. The wound would still leave a scar so he relented in silent gratitude to her honoring his request. She often had to do as such with his more serious wounds as he often did not bother to tend to his wounds since he was always receiving more with each passing day.

Once she had returned her attention to him he had begun to pull his kimono back on to which she stepped towards him and stopped him pulling the garment away from him. He narrowed his eyes at her to which she glared at him and said, "That wound on your back needs to be tended to regularly and kept clean. I will get you another shirt but I am burning this one," she shook the mentioned garment to emphasize and then left him sitting on the cot as she walked away to do just as she said she would. He was left alone for a short period of time.

Thinking back on his most recent battle he scowled in anger directed towards himself for his failure to defeat or even hold his own against the two very capable opponents. He had grown and learned a great many things over the course of the last two and a half years spent on the battlefield. But he obviously still had much to learn, as was always the case regardless of age or experience. If not for his forced abandonment of his home land and the deaths of his clansmen and then banishment of his father he was sure he would have felt too much dishonor at such failure to have been able to continue on. With things having changed a great deal since those days and his elder brother having admitted that the lost battles were always the hardest to overcome and his sensei making him swear to learn and not allow his sense of honor to control whether he lived or died he had come to terms with losing a battle.

Nevertheless, it still greatly angered him and that self directed anger was steadily rising especially after this battle. He should have paid closer attention to the shinobi he engaged in battle with and fought alongside of and he knew that he could no longer deny that he did need further training in the way of shinobi in order to be better prepared for such battles. He was not pleased with his losses thus far and letting go of the dishonor that was engrained in him since birth was a task he found more difficult to do with each battle he lost. This was the first in the stretch of little over a year but the previous one had stung a great deal more.

The first battle he had lost was also with a shinobi, one who possessed a frightening level of defensive prowess and a great deal of hatred and resentment towards every in existence. He had allowed the taunting words and his own emotions blind him in that battle and had paid dearly for it. If not for the very capable and determined medical nin he would have lost the very leg which was now scarred. The other shinobi had fought with sand and had caught hold of his leg crushing it within the iron grip of his very own brand of ninjutsu. He had never come across an opponent so very malignant and devoid of all emotions except unconquerable rage and hatred. He had no idea what happened to the other young man, he had indeed been young, as young if not younger than himself, but so very cold and tormented that there seemed to be a demon laying in wait within the other.

When he had regained consciousness after having been tossed around like a rag doll and nearly crushed to death beneath the weight of the others emotions and sand he had felt nothing but shame and rage towards himself at such an undeniable defeat. Throughout their exchange the other had goaded him with words that claimed they were the same, that the hatred within them was exactly the same and that they were meant to engage in a battle of hatred in which the one whose hatred was strongest would prevail. Those words remained with him even to this day and he could do nothing more than seethe with the idea that his hatred towards the one responsible for the slaughter of his clan was less than that of the red haired young man who had defeated him so effortlessly.

"Here," she said as she tossed a black kimono top at him alerting him to her presence. He had been so lost in his thoughts he had not noticed her approach or presence to which he scowled further. His mood was sour to say the least with his thoughts having returned to that battle which was hardly a battle to begin with. He stood and gritting his teeth through the pull and complaints of his wounds pulled the kimono on and grabbing the obi which had slid to the floor when he stood he secured the garment.

Moving to grab his armor he was brought short by the sudden tension in the air and looked up to see Sakura scowling at the entrance of the tent. Turning he looked to see another shinobi had arrived, one he did not recognize and whom was wearing a mask to cover his face, he was approaching them silently and again he could not help but to scold himself for having not sensed this arrival. He moved to stand next to the medical nin and gave no acknowledgement to the slight bow the other greeted them with.

Rising he pulled from the satchel at his hip two scrolls which he held out for each of the them to take. They did so and he turned and was gone before either could reply so they simply exchanged a glance and then pried open the scrolls. They were a summons from the kingdom, apparently the acting Empress and her council wished for them to return at once. There was no explanation as to why, after two and a half years they were suddenly being called back but he needed not to know simply that he was told to return was enough for him.

Rolling the scroll shut he looked to see that the pink haired kunoichi was scowling thoughtfully. He would have asked why this summons gave her such an expression but considering that the pair of them were summoned and not simply one or the other he had an idea as to what this was about. He was no longer so young and Sakura was indeed past the age of marrying so he could easily assume that it was possible they were being summoned to be married.

If that were the case then that would be the first order he would refuse of the council and the Emperor's wife. He refused to marry for diplomatic, economic, or political reasons. It was a childish ideal that his mother and father had imparted to both of their sons. He knew that when his father had told both of his sons they were to marry only a woman of their choosing it was to ensure that the blood of the clan was not wasted on a woman unworthy of the Uchiha name. Often times those within his clan would marry others within his clan or those who were distantly related to them, such as the Hyuuga clansmen. When his mother told them of her agreement with such a notion she had done so because she wanted her sons to genuinely love and treasure whomever they chose to marry so that they could lead happy lives.

Clearing his throat to pull them both from their musings and speculations regarding the orders to return to the kingdom he said, "I will need rest before we depart, you should rest as well. We leave in the morning," he added as an afterthought before turning to retrieve his armor and swords and then turned to leave the tent. She was watching him walk away no doubt wanting to argue but he did not give her the chance as he continued on his way to the tent in which he shared with as many samurai as could fit into the small alcove. The journey would stress his newly acquired wounds but orders were orders and he was in no place to argue with or refuse them, at least not quite yet.

As he place his armor in the crate arranged beneath his bed and climbed into his cot with both swords at his side however useless his katana was currently he could not help but to allow his mind to run free with his thoughts from earlier. He had given up a great deal to serve his lord and lady and had done everything ordered of him since his father's banishment that was asked of him. However, this, an arranged marriage with someone he cared for but did not love in the way they wished him to do, he could not follow this order. He knew that his friend, such a new word to him even now, cared for him but if she were to marry an Uchiha it would surely be the elder she would prefer.

The thought of his elder brother and Sakura marrying nearly brought a smile to his face. He could look back on their exchanges with genuine amusement and even fondness. They argued quite a great deal but within the course of these months spent on the battlefield thwarting the attempts of mongrels from China their interactions had changed. What used to be hostile and sharp with tension and frustration had become taunting, teasing, even playful. The tension had remained between the very different pair of individuals but such tension had shaped from frustrating, aggravating, and anger driven to one of grudging respect, tolerance, and something he could only define as lust for the other. Such he recognized from his own rivalry and tenuous relationship with a certain blond haired shinobi.

Thoughts of his sorely missed friend always dampened his mood to that of loneliness and loss. He greatly wished to meet with the other again but knew that such wishful thinking was wasteful. They would meet again when it was right that they meet again. He would not run or hide from his own emotions, which had sharpened and shaped into what he could only describe as fascination and curiosity in their time apart. Before he had feared repercussions from society as well as those which he had sworn to serve but after having been forced to admit to himself and his sensei of all people that he felt more than friendship for the blond haired shinobi he had made a decision. Through his exchanges and conversations as well as observations of other shinobi he had learned that there was a society, hidden within the one seen on the surface, which accepted such a relationship simply because any sort of reprieve and offering of happiness was welcomed and treasured regardless of whether it was accepted outside of their society or not.

Those thoughts and memories only further cemented his reason to refuse this order. He would follow all others without question, and had since his service began, but not this order if it actually were an order to marry. He would not suggest that they allow Sakura and Itachi to choose who they would marry for such would be overstepping his boundaries. However, he also knew that once the speculations he and Sakura had both come to were directly stated that both would refuse. She would because she was in love with another Uchiha and he because he wanted his friend and brother to be happy and was also in . . . well at least interested in another that was shinobi not kunoichi. Thinking to himself that he was possibly in love with Naruto was stretching the truth a bit much, or perhaps from the way his emotions seemed to lighten at such a thought, it was very much the truth. He could not be sure until he confronted the other concerning their feelings as well as the exchange between them before they had parted ways.

Rolling over so as to alleviate the painful wound on his back he closed his eyes and willed his thoughts to silence themselves so that he could sleep. He was too exhausted and lost within the perils of his sleep to notice the familiar and watchful presence of a certain silver haired shinobi but a few hours after he had fallen into a deep slumber. The other turned away with a fond smile that quickly became a worried from as he made to circle the perimeter in wait of an elder Uchiha's arrival.

Upon heading out of the encampment through well used pathways the shinobi often used to avoid detection by enemy forces they were halted by the presence of two others. Sasuke immediately recognized not only their chakra signatures but the faces of both of those before him. He allowed a brief and slight smile to curl his lips at the sight of his brother and let out a breathless chuckle at the greeting Sakura gave Itachi which as to throw her sandal at him and scowl.

He looked to Kakashi as he tuned out the heated exchange between the pair, Sakura yelling at the elder Uchiha because he did not stay in touch with either of them and the other informing her in clipped and irritated words that he had matters to attend to that did not include trivial matters such as 'staying in touch' with either of them. The elder man appeared amused by their interaction but was leveling him with an obviously concerned gaze to which he tilted his head in reply asking silently what worried the other.

They short exchange was interrupted as the elder Uchiha addressed his younger sibling with a serious expression, "You will not follow this order," it was said as a statement neither a question not order to which he not in agreement with the words. This brought a great deal of tension amongst the four to which Sakura broke with a deep scowl, "We still are not sure that's what they have in mind."

"Why else would they send for both of you when only one may be required for a mission?"

She glared at Itachi for his tone of voice, a tone his younger sibling often found agitating as well because it meant the other was pointing something out that should have been very obvious to everyone. He and the silver haired shinobi kept their silence knowing that the pair before them would simply argue their way through this issue without any input from them being required. He did idly wonder where those two shinobi from yesterday had gone but had other matters to consider currently and if Kakashi and Itachi were traveling with them then he would have his chance to interrogate his sensei about the pair.

"Maybe they just prefer to have a pair travel instead of just one of us. Sasuke-kun is not a fully fledged shinobi after all," Sakura commented.

This caused the elder to narrow his eyes at her as though angered by her naivety, "And yet you are a skilled medical kunoichi whose presence on the battlefield is key to saving lives," the compliment caused the young woman to blink but she recovered quickly as he continued; "and no more skilled as a shinobi than Sasuke-kun."

Of course there was an apparent insult within the compliment; his elder brother could not simply compliment another. While it was also a jibe at his own skills he had to admit, especially after yesterday, that he was hardly as skilled a shinobi as those whom had grown up taught in the ways of the shinobi. He was samurai with some tutelage in the shadow arts which the shinobi lived by. Sakura was trained to be a medical kunoichi first and shinobi second so her skills on the battlefield, while just as deadly as her fellow kunoichi, were less sharpened by battle than those of her age group.

"You arrogant son of-" she was silenced Kakashi clearing his throat which earned him a scowl from her as the older man motioned that they move on and said, "We should be going, it never bodes well to keep the Empress waiting."

Sakura and Itachi appeared to agree to such and so continued on with exchanged glares and a few haughty scoffs from the young woman. It allowed for the mood to be lightened and amusing for a short amount of time which helped a great deal to distract him from the weight of what he knew awaited him. There would be consequences, possibly very severe, to refusing orders from the council and Empress. He did have his doubts that the boisterous and outspoken woman who currently stood in the place of her husband as he and her grandson traveled and trained agreed with the orders of the council. Too often he was led to believe that the council were the ones that controlled the kingdom in which he lived and served but again it was not his place to question.

They covered a great deal of land before the sun began to set having set off shortly after it rose. It would take them quite some time, possibly a week considering there were four of them traveling and the number would allow the time to be shortened by less need to wait on everyone to sleep. Since his time on the battlefield he had noticed that the Emperor's influence, as well as the council's was lessened this far from the kingdom itself. Instead a Shogun was in charge of who was stationed where as well as the placement of encampments. He had yet to meet the Shogun in charge of what was being called the 3rd Regimen but as they were given highly defensible locations and a number of samurai, soldiers, and shinobi in order to engage in battle and defend their encampments he had no need to question their commander.

Of course the elder shinobi still dictated orders to those who were younger and less experienced which the shinobi also practiced. None of those within the encampment argued with such and he was currently directed to turn to his sensei for any matters concerning orders, placement, or any sort of information he should require. As they set up camp for the night he could not help but to muse over the fact that those of power within the kingdom seemed to only rule that which was directly within their grasp. Outside of the kingdom matters were handled by the Shogun or Daimyo within the village or encampment.

That simply made this journey and what consequences he would face because of his refusal to follow the order he had no doubt would be given to him more aggravating. For the second time in his life he was feeling resentful towards one he had sworn to serve and follow the orders of. Before the asinine and mundane orders he was given had annoyed him and when they had grown to become grotesque and ludicrous they had enraged him. Now he was being asked to go against what he was taught and a promise he had made to his deceased mother simply so that they could tighten the leash about his throat as well as the Empress. He knew full well about the machinations of politics and knew the real reason the council would order that he and Sakura marry.

As he began the tedious chore of skinning and washing the rabbit which was caught and tossed at him he thought more of what their motivations were. They wished to force him to marry because he had shown to them before that he would refuse to follow orders he did not believe needed to be followed even at the risk of death. They had interrogated Orochimaru he knew and the man had probably told them everything that could have resulted in him being sentenced to death. Furthermore he knew they also wanted him to be married because it would result in more Uchiha under their control, which was what they had always wanted to begin with.

As for Sakura, he knew that she was the collar around Tsunade and Jiraiya's throats because they did indeed love her as a daughter. But they also wished to control her because she was indeed Tsunade's protégé and had proven she was more than capable as a medical shinobi and was well on her own way of becoming another legendary medical shinobi. They also greatly disliked her outspoken, independent, and intelligent nature which they only tolerated from Tsunade because they were frightened of her and her husband turning on them. Instead by engaging in such an underhanded tactic they could tighten the noose about the necks of those who were the most dangerous to their positions and ensure that they had any further dangers collared before they became a threat. Going through the motions of setting up camp, cooking the meat that he skinned and cleaned and then laying out a sleeping bundle after eating he lost himself in his thoughts for another night.

TBC . . .