Summary: "It says here that you were sent along with the proposal to demonstrate Orochimaru's deep appreciation of my special consideration and attention to this matter," Sasuke said, his voice inflectionless.

Sasuke eyed him with seeming disinterest. "Is there a problem?"

"No," Naruto said sinking fluidly to his knees, his hand slowly rising to Sasuke's zipper.

Warning: Graphic depictions of violence, character death, and intermediate yaoi in this chapter. 18+

Special thanks to WordWriter and BriEva for beta'ing and sanity checking this (officially my longest ever) chapter! Yes... as promised, it is a beast. But we all knew that was coming, right?


"You're sure you want to do this?" Temari couldn't keep the worry from her voice. She'd just got her baby brother back. Now she could lose him all over again.

"He did the same for me," Gaara said simply, giving Temari a small smile before she closed the trunk of the Suna diplomatic car. He had plenty of time to get to his destination in the timeline that he and Sasuke had agreed to. He had given the driver had specific instructions on where to stop the car and let him out, near a subway tunnel where there were no street cameras or ATMs nearby to record his movements. No one would ever know he had left the Sunan embassy.

As the car left, the guards simply nodded at the driver, glancing in the windows to see an apparently empty vehicle, likely off to get some fancy food for the new delegates who had arrived the previous day.

When they reached the appointed destination, the driver popped the trunk when the street was clear and Gaara quickly slipped out, heading immediately down the steps to the subway, his cap covering his hair and tattoo to pass unnoticed, blending in seamlessly with the crowds in his black jeans and black T-shirt.

Gaara took the subway to the stop two blocks from Sasuke's apartment building. He walked one block in the opposite direction until he came to the narrow alley that held a relatively concealed entrance to the storm sewer that connected to the underground parking garage where he needed to go.

He checked his watch. There was still more than an hour. Plenty of time to get into the air duct that would lead him to the elevator shaft access he'd found on the twentieth floor and get into position. He just hoped Sasuke was able to make Naruto stick to the plan.

Twenty minutes later, he was sitting atop the elevator car in total darkness. Knowing he was likely to be there for several hours, he had thought ahead and brought a flashlight and a deck of cards. The top of the elevator car was dirty, but it was far from the worst place he's had to lay in wait for a target.

The sound of Sasuke entering the elevator and telling Naruto he'd be right back was enough warning for Gaara to grab his cards and grip the handle of the hatch at the top of the elevator as it begins its rapid descent to the lobby. Gaara held himself still, though he was curious as to what Sasuke was doing leaving the apartment. This wasn't part of the plan, but they did sometimes need to come down to pick up food if the lobby was too crowded to let one of the officers or Juugo bring it up. Given that it was around lunch time, Gaara assumed that was what was happening.

But when the elevator almost immediately began its ascent back up to the penthouse, Gaara went on alert. If Sasuke had gone to pick up the food, it would have taken several minutes for him to pay the guy. Gaara slid the monitoring device from his pocket, somehow not feeling relieved that none of the motion sensors had gone off.

Something wasn't right.

The elevator came to a stop at the top floor, and Gaara heard the doors sliding open and the sound of something being smashed.

When he heard the sound of a gunshot, he knew they were fucked. Not waiting for a signal, he flung the hatch door at the top of the elevator open and drew his gun, jumping down and landing into a crouch as he took in the scene in front of him.

Tobi was just entering the living room, clearly having come in from the balcony where two men with guns drawn were following him through the smashed glass door. But the immediate threat that Gaara instantly focused on was the police man from the lobby, who was reaching for a concealed gun holstered around his calf. Naruto clearly hadn't noticed him going for a second gun, as the blond was currently facing the other direction, his eyes locked on Tobi.

Gaara was already in motion, cursing that he couldn't just shoot the guy. Mizuki was standing right in front of the video camera. If Gaara shot a cop in the back on camera, even a dirty cop, things would difficult for him and Naruto. They both had lives to look forward to now, and he wasn't going to blow it. Unfortunately, that meant he had to stop the shot without killing the policeman. Not even looking at the three killers coming in from the balcony, Gaara launched himself at Mizuki, grabbing the man's gun hand just as the shot went off, sending it off target just enough that it only grazed Naruto's arm rather than killing him, but it made Naruto drop the gun, sending it sliding across the floor.

"Fuck!" Naruto cursed as the bullet passed through the muscle of his forearm, ripping through the white, long-sleeved T-shirt he'd been wearing. Blood rapidly soaked through the fabric and dripping onto his jeans. He saw the two thugs on the balcony raise their guns and fire. He rolled to the side, reaching behind him for the knife sheathed at his back. A bullet lodged in the floor where his head had been, but Naruto didn't bother to look as he rolled into a crouch and threw the knife in one fluid motion, watching as it embedded into Dosu's throat. The man dropped to his knees, his hands gripping uselessly at the weapon embedded in his neck. Naruto didn't waste time looking at him again, knowing the man would be dead within seconds since the blade had pierced his jugular.

Unfortunately, he no longer had a weapon, and Zaku still had a gun. Naruto had seen Gaara take down Mizuki from the corner of his eye, and wondered what his friend was doing that Zaku was still standing. He knew Gaara had a gun. And Zaku wasn't a cop.

A muffled cry from behind him caught his attention, and turned to see Gaara holding Mizuki by the throat, a crimson patch spreading on the shocked police officer's chest. Zaku had evidently shot Mizuki instead of shooting at Naruto, which made no sense at all. Gaara's face looked strangely taut. Naruto wondered why he wasn't shooting, as the redhead still had his gun gripped in his hand.

He glanced over to where Tobi was walking steadily towards him, not even glancing at the other men in the room. His eyes were locked on Naruto's with an intensity that was more than a little unsettling.

Naruto felt the old, embedded fear begin to build, and his mind wavered.

"You pose more danger to him than he does to you." Sasuke's words replayed in Naruto's head. He drew a breath. He had to stay present. He could do this. He finally had Tobi where he wanted him, and he would not fuck this up. It didn't matter how the psycho had gotten into the penthouse, there would be no escape for him. It wasn't like all the other times where Tobi had been the one deciding the location and calling the shots. Even if he had arrived a little ahead of schedule, Naruto was still the one in control.

"Fucking shoot already!" Naruto shouted over his shoulder to Gaara as he saw Zaku raising his gun again, pointing right at Gaara. To Naruto's horror, Gaara fell to his knees, allowing Mizuki's body to hit the ground in front of him. It was then that Naruto saw that the bullet had evidently passed through Mizuki's body and hit Gaara in the chest as well. Clearly there was no loyalty lost between these temporary teammates if Zaku was so willing to kill Mizuki just to get a shot at Gaara.

"No!" Naruto's scream flooded the room. Zaku was smirking as he walked further into the living room, leveling the gun to point at Gaara's head. At Naruto's scream, he glanced over, shocked to see the blond coming right at him full speed and unarmed.

Sasuke dialed Kakashi as soon as the elevator doors closed behind him.

"What the hell is happening?!" Sasuke shouted into the phone, slamming his fist against the polished steel wall of the elevator at the seemingly snail-like pace of its ascent. Panic twisted his stomach.

"Someone barred the door to the roof from the inside," Kakashi growled. "I can't get back in. Where are you? Why the fuck was Naruto left alone!"

Sasuke swallowed around the guilt. He shouldn't have been so confident that Tobi would play by his rules. The guy had avoided capture for almost two decades… it was arrogant of Sasuke to assume this would go off without a hitch. "Mizuki hadn't started his shift yet. The lobby was packed and Juugo said it wasn't safe to send someone up with lunch, so I went down to get it. I was only going to be gone for five fucking minutes!"

Kakashi could hear the panic in the councilman's voice, and knew that Sasuke was beating himself up enough already. There was no point in piling on. He just prayed Naruto was handling it.

The wind at the top of the building was loud, muffling the sounds of the city below. Kakashi heard a sharp sound. He froze, waiting to see if the sound would be repeated.

"What should we -" Sasuke began, but Kakashi cut him off.

"Quiet. I think I heard…" his voice trailed off as he listened intently. He could hear Sasuke's harsh breathing in the phone, and it was a credit to the dark-haired man's restraint that he wasn't screaming for Kakashi to finish his sentence.

Two more sharp noises had Kakashi cursing. "Fuck. Shots. I'm pretty sure I just heard at least three gunshots."

Kakashi heard what sounded like a fist hitting metal, and more cursing from Sasuke.

"What floor are you on?" the silver-haired policeman asked, pulling his gun out and shooting the lock on the roof door. He lunged against it again, but the door didn't budge. It appeared to be barricaded rather than simply locked.

"Thirty-six," Sasuke bit out. "I'm going to take the fire stairs to the penthouse."

"It will set off the alarm. They'll know you're coming," Kakashi said, already knowing what Sasuke's response would be.

"I don't give a fuck."

The line cut off, and Kakashi assumed Sasuke had reached the thirty-ninth floor and was on his way up to the stairway. He hurled himself one more time against the door, but it was hopeless. The only damage he was doing was to his own shoulders.

Holstering his gun, he turned and walked to the edge of the roof. He looked down, seeing the forty-story drop and the tiny cars far, far below him.

Closer - and much, much smaller - was Sasuke's balcony. It didn't protrude out very far from the overhang of the roof. It seemed an impossibly small target to hit, especially compared to the four hundred foot drop waiting for him if the wind caught him and swung him out too far.

"Goddam, motherfucking... I knew I should have gone out and gotten laid last night," Kakashi muttered to himself, wishing he had time to have a smoke before he did something this completely insane. But instead, he simply lowered himself off the edge of the roof, dangled precariously by his fingertips as a strong gust of wind caught him, then let go.

"No!" Naruto's scream flooded the room. Zaku was smirking as he walked further into the living room, leveling the gun to point at Gaara's head. At Naruto's scream, he glanced over, shocked to see the blond coming right at him full speed and unarmed.

Taken by surprise by the apparently suicidal attack, Zaku froze for a moment, firing one second too late. That was all the time Naruto needed before he struck Zaku hard in the temple with the edge of his open hand strike, quickly bringing his other fist hard against the other man's throat. The shot went wild, passing by Naruto's shoulder harmlessly as Orochimaru's ex-underling crumpled, his eyes wide in shock before his body hit the ground, unmoving. Naruto was glad that Orochimaru had never been a player in hard core crime. His underlings wouldn't have lasted a day under Nagato.

Without waiting to see if the man was dead, he spun around to grab Zaku's fallen gun but another hand was there before him. Naruto slowly straightened to see Tobi leveling the gun directly at him, far enough away that he was out of Naruto's reach.

The blond shot a panicked glance over towards Gaara, seeing blood pooled there and not knowing how much of it was Gaara's and how much was Mizuki's. He knew that every second that ticked by, Gaara's chances for survival went down. He cursed his friend's insistence that he come back and help. Gaara had a future now… and a family. Naruto was not going to let him throw it all away for him.

"Oh, did you lose your little pet?" Tobi's voice was mocking, and Naruto felt his anger surge. It was strange how there was no fear this time. "You seem surprised to see me here, Naruto-kun."

"Maybe not as surprised as you might think," Naruto said, forcing his voice to sound calm. His arm was hurting like a bitch, but it wasn't life-threatening. The bullet had passed through the muscle, not hitting a bone and not staying embedded. He needed to ignore it and stay in the present. Tobi fed on fear. His victim's fear made him feel in powerful. Naruto was done giving this man power over him. "I see you got my message with the little press conference Sasuke and I had."

Tobi's eyes narrowed, and Naruto could feel the anger rising in the man. It humanized him, giving Naruto further control over his own emotions. This was not a monster. He was just a man. Older than Naruto. Slower. Not used to having his prey fight back.

"How did you manage to get into the building?" Naruto asked almost casually while he looked for even the tiniest sign that Tobi was dropping his guard.

"The front door. In fact, you have greeted me almost every day since you got back from your little trip. Quite disappointing, actually. I had thought you would be smarter than that. Yet another example of how you've failed me as an apprentice," Tobi said, circling around him.

Naruto turned slowly, keeping them face-to-face and never letting the killer get behind him. Tobi smiled, shifting the gun to his other hand as he reached into his jacket pocket to pull out the bladed glove that had filled Naruto's childhood nightmares for years and sliding it on. He slowly articulated each finger, the blades flashing in the sunlight. Naruto stood completely still, momentarily unable to tear his gaze away from the hypnotic sight. The scent of blood was heavy in the room, and his eyes were trapped by the sight of the man walking towards him.

Sounds of screaming… his mother…. so much blood

He heard a soft groan, a voice he knew.


It brought the present back to him. If he was going to save Gaara, he had to get Tobi to get rid of the gun. Tobi wouldn't hesitate like Zaku had… he was far too experienced a killer for that. Naruto had a flash of insight as he realized that Tobi's weakness was the same as his… an unstable mind.

"I thought you didn't want to use guns. In the note you left me, you said how blades were so much better. What… afraid I'll win if you fight me on your own?" Naruto infused every ounce of mocking scorn he could into his words. Sasuke had said that Tobi likely had a bit of a god complex. He wouldn't like to be viewed as cowardly or inferior. "I guess that's why you attack helpless civilians. They're all you can handle."

Tobi's eyes narrowed, and Naruto closed his mind to the pain in his arm and the scent of his own blood. He kept his eyes trained on Tobi's, avoiding looking at the weapon he wore on his hand. The blades that had killed his parents and countless others.

"You need to know what you are being punished for, Naruto. Before I kill you. I want you to know that it is all your fault," Tobi hissed, the calm, rational look in his eyes making Naruto's skin crawl. "Your parents' deaths, your lover, your best friend," Tobi glanced over at Gaara, sneering. "It's all your fault."

Naruto tried not to let the panic overtake him as no further sounds came from Gaara. He didn't dare look over to see if his friend was still breathing. Getting himself killed wouldn't help anything.

"Maybe. But you're still the coward hiding behind a gun. Because you know I'm better than you. The people I kill are trained killers… they are predators, like me. You only kill weak, pathetic victims that can't fight back. You're a coward. You don't impress anyone anymore. The press isn't even talking about you. All they care about is me. They cared more about me when I was eight. Even at eight I was better than you. So go ahead and shoot me. It's the only way you could ever win. But of course, everyone will know that you had to use a gun. They'll know that you were too scared to do it right."

Naruto could see the point at which Tobi's control snapped. Throwing the gun to the side, Tobi lunged at Naruto with almost preternatural speed. But Naruto was just as fast, reaching down and grabbing the knife out of Dosu's body, blocking Tobi's gloved hand. But he didn't have time to ready the knife before Tobi was on him, the pale hand viced around Naruto's throat. Tobi's elbow dug into the wound on Naruto's arm, trying to force him to drop the knife.

Naruto grit his teeth at the pain, unable to make any sound with the hand closed around his throat. He couldn't breathe, and if he didn't act fast lack of oxygen would sap his strength long before he lost consciousness. He struggled, but Tobi knew how to hold a victim down one he had them in his grasp. Naruto found himself trapped in the eyes of the killer again, the pain and fear eroding the hold he had on his mind as he felt himself slipping again into the past.

"Get up, Naruto," a low voice came from across the room, and Naruto focused on the sound with every ounce of strength he had.

"Pussy. Fight!" Gaara couldn't move enough to reach the gun to help his friend, but he could help keep him anchored in the present. He was having trouble breathing, and guessed that the bullet must have caught the edge of one of his lungs. He would have cursed if he'd had the breath to spare.

Ignoring the pain in his arm and the lack of oxygen fogging his mind, Naruto focused only on the sound of Gaara's voice. He rotated the knife in his hand and thrust down with as much strength as the awkward angle would allow, digging the blade into Tobi's shoulder.

He hadn't been able to get a lot of power in the blow, but it was enough to force Tobi to let up on his grip around his throat. Naruto immediately kicked him off, sending the older man stumbling backwards with a grunt of pain while Naruto sucked in air.

He rolled to his feet immediately, shaking the spots from his eyes that lack of oxygen had caused, readying his knife. Being older and slightly slower, Tobi was not as quick to recover his position and Naruto didn't waste the opportunity. He lunged in, going straight for the jugular. But Tobi saw it coming and blocked his initial strike with his bladed hand before slashing back, catching Naruto across the chest and opening up fresh gashes in his white shirt that rapidly bled red. Naruto ignored them and countered, this time aiming low. The blow struck, cutting into Tobi's muscled thigh with his knife. He put as much force as he could into the thrust, trying to ignore the pain in his right arm. Tobi's eyes went wide as he felt the blade slide in and he gave a sharp growl of pain, stumbling back again.

"Fuck!" Naruto cursed, realizing his weakened arm hadn't been able to put enough force to hit the femoral artery he was aiming for. He had definitely done some damage. But he had to hurry this up if Gaara was going to have any chance. How many minutes since he'd been shot? One? Two?

He fought the panic back, knowing he had to focus. If he didn't end this in the next minute, Gaara, could die. If he lost the battle with Tobi, Sasuke would be at the serial killer's mercy when he returned to the apartment. He refused to acknowledge the possibility that Mizuki could have killed Sasuke on his way up.

He could not lose.

Naruto dodged the clawed glove that swept towards his face. Oddly, his panic over Gaara's condition and Sasuke's safety made him completely numb to exactly who it was that he was fighting. In the scheme of things, Gaara's and Sasuke's lives mattered more to him than Tobi's death. It would have been an earthshaking revelation to Naruto if his mind had time to process it. Instead, he was focused on trying to find the smallest opening to take Tobi down without wasting any more time.

The fire alarm suddenly sounded, the light above the emergency exit flashing as the annoyingly loud buzzing pulsed. Tobi glanced at the door for a split second, and Naruto lunged with all his strength, knocking the man to the floor and pinning him down, one hand locked around the wrist below the gloved hand, the other pressing his knife into the flesh at Tobi's throat.

"I win," Naruto said, his face only inches above Tobi's. "And I would love to savor this more, but my friend needs a hospital."

Tobi sneered. "You wouldn't dare kill me. We're on camera," he lied, hoping Naruto wasn't aware that he'd had the video feeds cut by Mizuki this morning. "How would it look for the heroic little boy from Konoha to be seen slitting a man's throat in cold blood on tape?"

"Slit his throat," came Gaara's vote.

Naruto's wrist flexed, and a line of blood appeared beneath the blade. The pressure was not enough to sever the jugular.

"You're still armed, and my friend is bleeding out. There's not a jury on earth that would convict me," Naruto's voice lacked the confidence the words implied, and Tobi immediately pressed his advantage.

"Then do it," Tobi taunted, straining his neck up so that the blade pressed deeper into his flesh, causing a fresh ribbon of blood to slide down his neck. His eyes burned with an unsettling look of pleasure that made Naruto's skin crawl. "Or better yet, use my glove and do it with that."

Naruto's didn't care if he went to jail if it meant saving Gaara. He sat up, not releasing his grip on Tobi's wrist, and flipped his grip on the knife so it would be easier to plunge directly into the man's heart rather than slitting his throat. "I have no interest in being like you. But I will save my friend." He raised his arm for the killing blow. Tobi's eyes gleamed in almost triumph as Naruto's hand began to descend.

The door to the fire stairs slammed open at the same time there was a thud and a curse from the balcony. Naruto didn't release his grip on Tobi's shoulders as he plunged the knife down, but he diverted the blow at the last instant, piercing the shoulder of the man's killing arm rather than his heart. The blade went all the way through the joint and embedded into the floor, pinning him there. Tobi's scream of pain was drowned out by Sasuke's panicked shout.

"Naruto! Behind you!" Naruto barely had time to process the fact that it was Sasuke's voice he'd heard before two shots sounded almost simultaneously. Naruto looked up to see Kakashi on his knees on the balcony, gun drawn. Behind him, Sasuke's gun was also out. And Mizuki was laying on the floor, two additional bullets in his body that would ensure he didn't rise again, the gun he had been about to shoot Naruto with falling uselessly to the floor beside him where he lay behind Gaara.

Sasuke had felt his heart freeze in his chest when he'd walked in to see Naruto covered in blood, on the floor on top of Tobi with Mizuki – still laying on the floor – gun raised about to shoot him. There would have been no way for Naruto to dodge the shot without letting Tobi up. Maybe he could have rolled and had Tobi take the shot, but it would have been tight. And it was clear that neither Naruto nor Gaara had seen the slight movement of the cop as he'd picked up the weapon lying next to him.

Sasuke paused to check the cop's body, verifying that he was in fact dead before kicking the gun aside, just in case.

He realized that Naruto and Kakashi were speaking, and forced himself to focus on what they were saying as he ran across the room to Naruto, keeping his gun trained on Tobi. He wasn't sure why Naruto hadn't killed the man yet, but the tight grip that Naruto had on the gloved arm made him wonder how in control Naruto really was.

"Call an ambulance! Gaara's been shot," Naruto shouted to Kakashi. He glanced over to where Sasuke stood in clear line of sight of the security camera. "And you just shot a fucking cop on video! What the hell were you -"

"Don't look away from me!" Tobi tried to lunge up, but Naruto still held his gloved hand tightly. The knife that had been embedded in his shoulder slipped and angled in. Tobi screamed again as the blade cut through the muscles and ligaments of his shoulder.

Sasuke cautiously drew closer, careful to stay out of reach of the man on the floor. He noticed that Tobi's eyes never wavered from Naruto's face, despite the fact that two other people now had guns trained at his head. The eerie intensity of the sociopath's gaze was more than a little unnerving, and Sasuke was acutely aware that he stood in the presence of a prolific serial killer.

"I called down when I heard the shots from the roof. Paramedics should be arriving shortly. And Mizuki disabled the security cameras before he came up here, though it won't matter. This was clearly a justified shooting." Kakashi pulled himself to his feet and limped over to them, keeping his gun trained on Tobi.

"How hurt are you?" Sasuke's voice was strained as he fought to keep from pulling Naruto away from the killer pinned beneath him.

"I'm ok," Naruto's voice was tightly controlled as he glanced back over towards Gaara, worry clear on his face.

Sasuke saw the flash of anger in Tobi's eyes at his words, but the man had ceased to struggle. He looked down, noticing that there was a large pool of blood forming beneath them. "That's a lot of blood..." Sasuke hoped like hell it wasn't Naruto's, but the way the blond's shirt and jeans were soaked he knew at least some of it was.

"Are you going to finish it?" Sasuke asked quietly, clearly accepting whatever Naruto's choice was on the matter of Tobi's death, regardless of what Jiraiya had asked them to do.

Naruto thought briefly about literally twisting the knife in further, but in the end, Gaara mattered more.

"He's bleeding out," Naruto stated, his voice toneless as he struggled to stand, placing his foot on Tobi's wrist to keep his gloved hand still. He looked down into the eyes of the man who had killed his parents... the man who was slowly dying at his feet. Mutual awareness of the killer's impending death flashed between them. It was over. "I guess nicked his femoral artery after all. There's no need to bother."

Sasuke's arm went around his waist to stabilize him. Naruto realized he must have lost more blood than he'd realized, but there wasn't time to worry about it then. Both men ignored the anger that seared out of Tobi's eyes still lividly following Naruto's movements.

"If you try to sit up and go after him, I'll be more than happy to put a bullet in your head," Kakashi said almost conversationally. But he didn't have to worry, as Toby was clearly not able to move anymore.

"Naruto…" Sasuke could hardly get any words to come out at the sheer relief he felt that Naruto was alive. When he'd walked in and seen Mizuki about to shoot, he felt like time had stopped. Nothing else had mattered except saving Naruto. Their eyes locked for a brief moment, but there wasn't time to say more.

"I need to check on Gaara," Naruto quickly crossed to his friend, dropping to his knees and putting his fingers to his best friend's pale throat. He closed his eyes in relief when he felt the faint pulse fluttering there. "He's alive."

Gaara's eyes opened briefly before closing again.

Kakashi nodded his eyes showing relief but they did not waver from the sight of his gun targeting directly between Tobi's eyes, which were already glazed as he seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness.

Naruto looked briefly over at where his nemesis lay, silent and unmoving.

The sounds of sirens floated up from the street below. Naruto turned to the elevator, which was still standing open. Kakashi's phone went off, and he answered it, keeping his attention tight on Tobi.

"Paramedics are on their way up," he said after he hung up.

"We can bring Gaara down the emergency exit and meet them by the other elevators," Sasuke said, unsure how to read his lover's total emotional shutdown. He knew that - if that were Itachi laying there bleeding - he'd be in about the same condition as Naruto was. "Let's go."

Naruto's worried eyes met Sasuke's briefly, and gratitude flashed through them. He nodded, scooping his unconscious friend up in his arms and carrying him to the stairs despite his own injuries.

Gaara's eyes opened briefly, and he raised an eyebrow at the sight of Naruto carrying him. "You're bleeding on me."

Naruto snickered. "You're bleeding on me, too. Suck it up."

Sasuke was on the phone, telling the paramedics to meet them on the floor below by the fire entrance.

"You're too much of a coward to kill me," Tobi's weak voice floated over to them from where he was laying on the floor.

Naruto shot a glance over his shoulder, not breaking stride. "I already killed you. You're just not dead yet."

Sasuke opened the door for Naruto as the blond carried Gaara out, neither staying to watch the final moments of life fading from the man who had tortured Naruto through most of his life, blue eyes instead locked on the pale face of his best friend.

The door closed behind them, and Kakashi crouched down, taking his weight off his broken ankle. He was careful to stay out of reach of the man slowly bleeding to death on the floor. He could see the man's breathing becoming shallow. It wouldn't be much longer. He thought about all the people who had tried to find this man. All the lives Tobi had destroyed.

Some criminals could be rehabilitated. There was no doubt in Kakashi's mind that this was not one of them.

"It's funny. You spent so much time trying to shape Naruto into what you wanted him to be. So fixated on him. And yet…" Kakashi sent a seemingly casual glance to where the blond had exited, knowing he would do everything in his power to take care of Gaara. The redhead was in good hands. Kakashi's job was to make sure there were no loose ends when it came to Tobi. "... when it came down to it, he really didn't give a fuck about you at all. It doesn't matter to him whether you live or die. He's found a new life for himself. In a few years, he won't even think about you anymore."

A weak anger flared in the killer's eyes. Kakashi smiled. "I suppose I should call down and let them know that you're here. Too bad with my broken ankle I can't carry you."

Kakashi dropped his phone on the floor before kneeling on it. The sound of breaking plastic seemed unnaturally loud in the stillness of the room.

"Oh, dear. It looks like my phone is broken. I guess there's no way to call for help after all." Keeping his gun level on the man, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. He placed it between his lips, then reached for his lighter. "Well, I know CSI will be here soon enough. I'm sure someone will see to your body then."

He lit the cigarette and took a drag before putting the lighter back in his pocket. He blew out a stream of smoke, assuming that - given the state of utter destruction that Sasuke's apartment was in - a little smoke wouldn't matter. His eyes never left the face of the man lying on the floor.

Fifteen minutes later when the paramedics arrived, Tobi was pronounced dead on the scene. The face of the infamous killer was frozen in an expression of pain and frustration.

Sasuke helped Naruto get Gaara down the stairs just as the paramedics arrived...

"He's been shot in the chest," Naruto said, his voice shaking slightly. The one of the EMTs reached out to take Gaara from Naruto's death grip while the other set up the gurney to lay him in. Naruto's hands tightened around his friend, despite the pain his weakened arm was causing him.

Sasuke gently set his hand over Naruto's wrist. "Let them take him. We'll go with him, but you need to let them treat him now."

Gaara's eyes didn't open this time, but he breathed out, "It's ok."

Naruto swallowed, then nodded, walking with the medic over to the gurney and laying Gaara gently in the bed. One of the medics immediately went to work, cutting Gaara's shirt open and putting a pressure bandage on.

"You need to be treated as well," the other medic said, taking in Naruto's bleeding arm and blood-soaked clothing. "There are two other ambulances arriving shortly. Let's all go down together."

Naruto didn't really listen to what the man was saying, focused only on following Gaara into the elevator. He stood by the side of the narrow bed Gaara was resting in, careful to stay out of the way of the EMTs as they worked.

All Sasuke could process was that Naruto was alive. Tobi was dead, and Naruto was alive and finally it was over. He glanced at where the paramedics were working feverishly over Gaara. They'd already got an IV into him, and were radioing down stats of his vitals, presumably to the hospital so they'd be able to get the right surgeon and operating room ready for their arrival.

But there was a steady pulse, and Gaara was breathing, and the blood loss seemed to have stabilized. He looked back over at Naruto. The blond's face was still blank, his eyes not shifting from his friend's form as he watched them work. Sasuke brushed along Naruto's arm, wanting to reassure him. The tan hand reached out and grasped Sasuke's like a vice.

"It's going to be ok. The hospital they're taking him to is very good. You got him out in time," Sasuke's voice was calm and solid, slowly working its way into Naruto's consciousness.

Naruto turned to look at him. He blinked once. "I don't know what I would have done if either of you died. Sasuke, I -"

He cut off as the elevator doors opened at the lobby and the medics immediately wheeled Gaara out to the waiting ambulance. Naruto tried to follow Gaara into the ambulance, but the paramedic stopped him, insisting he had to be treated.

Sasuke heard the discussion, and quickly intervened. "Naruto, they need to get him there quickly. If you pass out or bleed on him, it will only slow things down."

Giving one last glance at Gaara, Naruto sighed and nodded.

The medic shot Sasuke a grateful glance as he quickly closed the door to the ambulance and they sped off. Another two ambulances had arrived on the scene, and one crew immediately headed up to the penthouse along with an apparent fleet of police officers with the letters CSI printed out across their backs. Sasuke told them that Kakashi was up in the penthouse with a broken ankle and four dead bodies.

Naruto's bloodied appearance drew the attention of an EMT who hurried over.

"Can you tell me what your injuries are?" the man asked, signaling his partner while he reached to examine Naruto's arm.

Naruto took a reflexive step back. Sasuke sighed, placing his hand in the small of Naruto's back to stop his retreat, only mildly amused that medics scared his lover more than assassins.

"If you let them take you to the hospital in the ambulance, you'll get to see Gaara sooner," Sasuke rationalized.

Naruto narrowed his eyes at the blatant bribery, but he knew the man was right. Reluctantly, he allowed himself to be led into the ambulance with Sasuke. Their ambulance followed Gaara's as the EMT assessed Naruto's wounds.

"Can you call Kakashi and ask him to call Sakura? She'll want to be at the hospital, too. Not to mention she's probably been climbing the walls in protective custody," Naruto gave a weak smile, then winced at the medic cut his shirt off revealing the long gashes across his torso. They might scar but they weren't life threatening. Sasuke's eyes didn't leave his lover's body as he made the call, watching as Naruto's wounds were cleaned and treated or at least bandaged enough to slow the bleeding until they got to the hospital. The bullet wound would require stitches but most of the gashes could be held with suture tapes.

As soon as they pulled into the emergency room bay and the doors were opened, Naruto got out and walked over to the desk in the emergency room, ignoring the shout of the EMT that he still needed to get his gunshot wound treated. He closed his mind to the antiseptic smell that always pervaded hospitals. He wasn't leaving until he knew Gaara was ok.

"Gaara Sabaku was just brought here with a gunshot wound to the chest. Can I find out his status or what room he's in?" Naruto asked, ignoring the way people in the waiting room were staring at his bloodied, shirtless appearance. Sasuke stayed a discreet distance behind the blond, already having a pretty good idea of how this was going to play out.

"Who are you and why are you bleeding all over my floor instead of being treated in one of the examination rooms?" the young blond woman asked him tartly, shooting the hapless EMT a glare as though he should have had better control over his patient.

"I'm… I'm Gaara's brother," Naruto stated, leaving no room for discussion. He was sure he could come up with some identification that would prove that if needed. One way or the other. "I just want to know if Gaara made it ok to the hospital."

The woman's face softened slightly, but then she glared. "He's been taken to the OR. He's in good hands. You can go to the waiting room AFTER you've let someone treat your wounds. Come with me. I'll get you stitched up, and you can shower so you don't scare everyone away. I'll let them know he has family here."

Naruto hesitated.

"Look, he will be in surgery for at least a couple of hours. You can't go into the OR while he's in surgery, so you might as well get yourself seen to before you pass out."

He reluctantly agreed, and allowed himself be dragged into an examination room, ignoring the sound of Sasuke chuckling behind him. It occurred to him that Gaara's brother and sister would also want to be notified. As if reading his thoughts, Sasuke pulled out his phone to call the Sunan embassy.

The nurse stitched him efficiently, using the local anesthetic that Sasuke informed her was safe for Naruto to have. In less than twenty minutes, Naruto was stitched and clean and wearing a spare pair of scrubs that the nurse was kind enough to provide for him.

She then finally let them go to the waiting room to wait for news on Gaara.

Feeling the effects of the fight, Naruto went and sat down on one of the hard, plastic chairs that the room was lined with, his eyes fixed on the door to the hallway that led to the operating room where Gaara was undergoing surgery. Sasuke joined him on the adjacent chair, trying not to think about how Naruto looked in his scrubs. Hoping they'd be able to keep them for later.

"I never thought I'd willingly sit in a hospital while fully conscious," the blond murmured.

Sasuke didn't say anything, knowing there really was nothing that would help.

"I told him not to come. I told him I could handle it…"

"I know you took out the Russians, but this was different. If he hadn't been there, do you really think you would have been able to take on three men with guns, plus Tobi?" Sasuke asked.

Naruto thought about the moment Gaara had arrived. His expression clearly said the answer was 'no'.

"And do you think Gaara would handle it any better than you if you'd died because he wasn't there to help?" Sasuke persisted.

Naruto closed his eyes, knowing that answer, too, visualizing New York City in burning ruins.

"So have some faith in him. His pulse was strong. The bleeding was under control. This is a good hospital. It will be ok."

Naruto blew out a shaky breath, and shot a grateful glance at Sasuke. "Thanks." Naruto bumped his shoulder against his lover's.

"Hn." Sasuke nudged Naruto's leg with his.

"What's the situation?" Itachi's voice drew their attention as he walked over with Shisui beside him. Sasuke stood to greet them, and Itachi's eyes quickly scanned over his little brother looking for any sign of injury.

"It's done," Sasuke said.

"Tobi?" Itachi asked.


"So your plan worked," Shisui stated, a bit of pride coloring his voice.

Sasuke snorted, and Itachi raised an eyebrow. "Barely. Tobi somehow managed to come in through the balcony of a forty story building, before Mizuki even started his shift while I was down in the lobby picking up lunch. He came in with two of Orochimaru's former henchmen while Mizuki disabled the elevator. Naruto had to face them alone. Gaara came in after the first shots were fired but…." Sasuke broke off, not wanting to think about what could have happened in those first few second when it was four on one and Naruto wasn't expecting them from that point of entry. To his utter horror, he found his hands starting to shake.

Ignoring Uchiha protocol, Itachi put his hand on Sasuke's black, spiky hair. "No plan is perfect. You did well, little brother."

Sasuke let out a shaky breath, allowing Itachi to pull him to his chest, breathing in the familiar scent of the one constant source of strength he'd had since his parents had been killed.

After a moment, they both stepped back, masks firmly in place.

"So what went wrong?" Itachi asked, seeing that Sasuke was back in control of himself.

"I can answer that," Kakashi said, coming in on crutches, his ankle in a cast. "Tobi had been getting frustrated that he couldn't get at Naruto when he was in Sasuke's building. So he found out who lived directly below, killed him, and took his place."

Sasuke frowned. He didn't do a lot of socializing with his neighbors, so he had no idea who lived below him. "But the security was checking all new tenants, and monitoring everyone who came and exited the building. They would notice if someone new came in."

"Not if they didn't ever see the man's face. The unit directly below yours belonged to a Mr. Maruboshi. We found his body stuffed in his refrigerator. Dead for probably about two weeks."

Naruto blinked. The old man. That's what Tobi had meant. No one really looked that closely at the face of someone so instantly recognizable by his walker and shawl and…. hat. Hunching over a walker would be an easy way to disguise any difference in stature. And it wasn't uncommon for the man to be in the lobby, simply watching people go by. It had been a perfect opportunity for Tobi. The old man had been killed before they'd really cracked down on security in the building. Tobi had been able to walk right in and set up base in Sasuke's back yard. Naruto shivered as he realized that the person who had been watching him when he'd spoken with Kiba in the lobby had been Tobi. Five feet away from him, and he hadn't recognized him.

"No wonder he didn't need to use the air ducts or the elevator shaft," Naruto muttered.

"What happened to Raidou and Genma?" Sasuke asked. "They were missing from the lobby when Mizuki took the elevator."

"Mr. Maruboshi had left some cookies for the nice officers keeping the building safe," Kakashi said on a sigh. "We found them unconscious in the bathroom. They either had some sort of laxative and Mizuki was waiting there to take them out, or they passed out and Mizuki dragged them into the bathroom, unnoticed in all the commotion. It turns out that someone set a listing in the paper that there were cheap sublets available, first come, first serve today only."

Sasuke blinked. "They created a distraction from the guards so Mizuki could go up."

Kakashi nodded tersely. "Our only advantage was that we knew Mizuki was working for Tobi, hoping to get an in with Konan. Tobi thought we were unaware, so he didn't expect us to be so alarmed when Mizuki went up to the penthouse. He though that would buy him more time, not less."

Kakashi looked over to where Naruto was sitting, still watching the doors which led to the operating room where Gaara was undergoing surgery. "Is Naruto ok?"

Sasuke followed his gaze. "Physically? Pretty much. Mentally? He's a mess."

Kakashi nodded. All things considered, they'd come out extremely lucky in the end.

A female voice came from the waiting room entrance.

"I'm looking for Gaara Sabaku and Naruto Namikaze. Do you know where -?" The pink-haired woman cut off when she caught sight of Sasuke and Kakashi. Her eyes continued searching until they found a familiar blond head of hair. "Naruto! Oh, my god, are you alright? Where's Gaara?"

Naruto looked up to see Sakura rushing over to him. He was only slightly surprised to see Kiba beside her, given that the tattooed man was likely her first call once she was finally allowed to use her phone. He stood as she drew near and winced when she firmly grabbed his shoulders, looking him over for injury. Though he knew she had been safer than the rest of them, it was still a relief for him to see she her standing there, unharmed.

"Gaara was shot in the chest. It didn't hit his heart, but it got a lung. He's in surgery. That's all I know," Naruto's voice was low and heavy with worry. They exchanged a look of shared pain before Sakura hugged him tightly.

"What about…" she trailed off, looking over her shoulder at the large group of people in the room just as Kiba drew near.

"Tobi's dead," Naruto stated emotionlessly, his eyes locking with Kiba's over Sakura's shoulder. He saw the surprise and something like admiration on the tattooed man's face before relief set in with a feral grin.

Sakura nodded her head against his shoulder. "Ok. I'm going to go in and see if they'll let me assist on Gaara's surgery, or at least observe." Her voice was slightly shaky, but she held herself together.

She pulled back and Naruto looked at her blankly. "But... you don't work at this hospital?"

Sakura scoffed at him. "I'm his regular physician. They will at least allow me access to his charts."

With that, she walked through the doors that Naruto had been staring at for the past hour, disappearing behind them.

Naruto glanced over to where Sasuke was talking with his brother and cousin, along with several police officers that had come to talk with Kakashi.

Kiba sat down next to him on the bench. "So… you've been in the news a lot."

Naruto snickered at the man's somewhat appalled tone. Kiba clearly shared Naruto's aversion to publicity, and was a bit surprised at all the media attention Naruto had been tolerating. "Yeah. I'm… turning over a new leaf, I guess." Naruto's eyes drifted over to where Sasuke was talking with Kakashi, appearing cool and aloof as always. As though feeling his stare, Sasuke's eyes turned to his, their gazes locking for a moment before Sasuke continued on with his conversation.

Kiba grinned. "I can see you have some motivation there, it's just hard to believe someone like you is giving it up. You gonna miss it?"

"Miss what?" Naruto asked, his eyes still resting on Sasuke.

"The freedom… being able to decide on your own about right and wrong without suffocating under someone else's rules." Kiba paused, waiting to see if the blond was listening to him before he cracked a smile. "Not having to pay your parking tickets."

Naruto laughed, finally meeting Kiba's curious gaze, and missing the dark eyes that had shifted to him at the sound of his laughter. "Nah. I think I'm good. Plus I never learned to drive so… I don't have to worry about parking tickets." He thought a bit about the man that he'd met in the Japanese embassy, and what Sasuke had told him about him. "Besides, just because I have a better cover story now doesn't mean everything's changed."

Kiba looked at him assessingly, then stood. "Well, I have no idea how long Sakura will be playing doctor with Gaara, and the room is getting a little too law abiding for me," he glanced over to where another several policemen had joined Kakashi and Itachi. "I think I'm going to head out. The offer still stands, though."

Naruto snorted in amusement, but raised his eyebrows at Kiba's final comment.

"If you need anything. Just give me a call."

Naruto nodded at him, and Kiba turned and left just as Temari and Kankuro arrived.

The surgery lasted for three hours, but in the end they were told Gaara was going to be fine. Naruto went to see him in the recovery room along with Temari and Kankuro, but Gaara was still under heavy sedation. The hospital let them stay for a short while, then kicked them all out telling them that they could come back during visiting hours the following day.

Naruto and Sasuke were allowed to briefly return to Sasuke's apartment to get some clothes. They stood in the taped-off entryway while the officer escorting them told them where they were allowed to walk. The bodies had been removed, but the markings on the floor of where they had lay were still visible. The bullet holes in the walls were marked and flagged… the shattered glass of the balcony door scattered haphazardly throughout the room.

"I guess we sort of trashed your place, huh?"

Sasuke smirked. "Yeah. Well, you can't have your friends over again any time soon."

"Pfft," Naruto snickered, but sobered as his gaze went to the spot where Tobi's blood still stained the floor. "Yeah, we don't have to worry about that, I guess."

"You ok?"

"Yeah," Naruto shot him a grin. "Actually… I'm… strangely good. I didn't really think it would ever really be over."

Sasuke decided not to say anything about that, knowing that the implication was that Naruto didn't think he would survive. But he had, and that was all that mattered now.

They walked carefully over to the bedroom to get their clothes. Sasuke pulled out a suitcase, since it would be at least a week before the apartment was released by the police and even longer before all the cleaning and repairs would be completed to make the place livable again.

"So, where are we going to stay?" Naruto asked, suddenly realizing that they were temporarily homeless.

"I booked us a suite at the Waldorf for the next month. We'll see how long it takes to get the place ready for us to move back in."

Us. It was a strangely solid word to Naruto. More real than it had been a day ago. With Tobi dead, the final barrier for them to actually spend a life together was gone.

Naruto looked at Sasuke, drinking in the fact that he really, honestly, could allow himself to have this man now. Fully and forever. Without damaging or destroying him.

"Dobe, if you keep looking at me like that, I'm going to make our police escort very annoyed by locking him out of this room for the next six hours," Sasuke's voice was low and husky.

Naruto swallowed, but couldn't shift his eyes away. "How far away is the hotel?"

Sasuke groaned slightly, cupping Naruto's face in his palms and pulling their mouths together. He brushed his lips over Naruto's gently, then pressed more forcefully. Naruto's hands immediately fisted in the black hair as their mouths opened and they drew each other in.

The sound of a throat being cleared behind them made them remember where they were. "Not close enough, but we don't have much choice," Sasuke breathed out against Naruto's mouth, wishing they had gone directly to the hotel rather than coming here. He could always buy more clothes.

"Then let's get out of here," Naruto zipped the suitcase closed and slinging it over his shoulder.

They reached the hotel, telling the bellhop to just leave the suitcases in the entryway as Sasuke stuffed some bills into the surprised man's hand and shoved him out the door.

He had just closed the door when Naruto's arms circled around his waist, pulling him back against him. Sasuke could feel Naruto's breath on his neck, the warm air causing the small hairs there to shift slightly, sending goosebumps over his skin. There was no mistaking the feeling of the hard body against him, and Sasuke let his head fall back against Naruto's shoulder, a dark smile on his handsome face.

He glanced down at the bandages on his lover's arm, hoping this was the last time he'd see Naruto injured, and grateful that it hadn't been worse than a simple bullet graze and a few shallow gashes. The thought of what could have happened, what he would have done if he'd burst in to find Naruto on the floor instead of standing…

"Shhh," Naruto said as he felt Sasuke's body tense in his arms. "It's over. It's ok."

Sasuke allowed the embrace as Naruto made small circles on the flat of Sasuke's stomach with the palm of his hand. The politician smirked as the circles slowly began slipping lower and lower. He could feel the blood pool into his arousal in anticipation of the final destination of that hand.

When Naruto's fingers at last slid over the zippered front of Sasuke's pants, he was already fully hard and groaned into the touch. He could feel the hard length of Naruto's own erection pressed against his back.

He turned, pulling Naruto to him and crushing their mouths together. He let out a frustrated growl at the fact that they were still both fully clothed. He didn't want anything between them right now. Without breaking the kiss, he quickly unbuttoned his shirt, tossing it aside.

Naruto's shirt required more effort since he had to pull it over his head, taking care not to disturb the bandages. They had to slow down, but neither minded. There was no rush for once. They had the rest of their lives in front of them now.

Sasuke watched hungrily as Naruto undid the drawstring of his pants, reminding himself to save the scrubs for future use as the blond pulled them down and kicked them aside. As usual, he wore nothing beneath. Naruto quirked an eyebrow at him and stepped back unabashed by his nudity and obvious arousal. "Your turn."

Sasuke's fingers slowly closed over the button on his pants, enjoying the fact that he had Naruto's utter and complete attention. He noticed the blond swallow and lick his lips as Sasuke leisurely undid the fastening and pulled down his zipper.

"You're such a fucking tease." Naruto's eyes had darkened considerably, and were already glazed with lust.

"Do you want to come help?" Sasuke asked, a slight note of taunting entering his voice.

"No," Naruto's voice was rough, his eyes locked on where Sasuke's hands rested on the fabric of his pants. "I'm good just watching."

"Hn," Sasuke never broke eye contact as he gave his pants a slight push down over his hips so they pooled on the floor at his feet. Usually fastidious about leaving a mess, he ignored the garment and simply stepped out of it.

Sasuke walked slowly toward Naruto, aware that his own cock was in a matching state of arousal with his lover's as it hung heavily between his legs. He walked right past Naruto and headed for the bed, sending a smirk over his shoulder at the dilated eyes that followed his every movement. "You coming? Or are you just going to watch."

Sasuke lay down on his back, eyes locked on Naruto's, his pale hand closing over his own cock and slowly stroking himself. The intensity of Naruto's gaze feeding his lust, making him groan slightly.

Naruto gave Sasuke a crooked grin that made him wish the blond was in reach. "I guess it depends on the show that you're putting on. It looks pretty good so far."

Sasuke could see the beads of precum forming on the tip of Naruto's shaft, and began to lose patience. "Looking isn't mutually exclusive to touching, idiot. Get on the bed."

Naruto smirked at the command and walked unhurriedly to join his lover. "You make me so hard when you're bossy like that," Naruto murmured as he crawled over his lover.

"I make you hard anyway," Sasuke stated arrogantly.

"Hmmmm," Naruto agreed, closing his hand over Sasuke's nearly purple erection. "Looks like that train runs both ways."

"Shut up and put your mouth to better use," Sasuke didn't give Naruto a chance to respond to the familiar taunt before he'd fused their lips together.

Finally, there was nothing between them. They took pleasure in exploring it over and over throughout the long night in the large hotel bed.

Naruto stood at the wrought iron gate at the driveway of the large estate. He looked directly into the security camera, making sure his face was clearly visible. He would not hide or try to do this by stealth. He had far too much respect for the owner of the property to do so.

He didn't bother to push the intercom button on the security panel outside the gate. Knowing Konan, the cameras were constantly monitored. He was not surprised when he heard the sound of the electronic lock on the gate being released and it slowly opened.

"Come to the front entrance," an anonymous male voice spoke to him from the intercom.

He nodded, and walked up the long, curved driveway to the house. He felt a strange buzzing in his pocket, and pulled out the cell phone that Sasuke had insisted he take with him. He was pretty sure that his boyfriend had set it up with just about every monitoring device known to man, but he went along with it. There was no longer any reason to stay off the radar.

It was an odd feeling, but not an unwelcome one.

Call me as soon as you're done

Sasuke hadn't been happy that Naruto had wanted to come alone, but he'd known Konan for longer than he'd known Sasuke. Konan deserved to say her piece, without Sasuke losing his temper at her.

He reached the large, arched door and knocked. The door opened within seconds and a man Naruto didn't recognize answered, ushering him inside, then disappeared discreetly after assuring him that Konan would be down momentarily.

Naruto leaned back against the wall while he waited, an old habit of being in unfamiliar territory filled with people who knew how to dispose of inconvenient guests.

He sensed her presence a moment before she appeared in the doorway nearest him.

"Naruto," she said, her voice careful, neither hostile nor welcoming.

He smiled, glad to see her regardless of the circumstances. Even if he had been closest to Nagato, he had always cared for her. "Konan. I missed you."

Her eyes softened at the obvious truth to that statement. "I can see I was correct in my estimation of your ability to finally tie up loose ends from your past."

Naruto gave her a crooked smile. "Yeah. It was a bit bumpy, but we got it taken care of."

She nodded. "I read about his death in the papers. You're quite the hero now."

Something about her tone made it clear that was not entirely a compliment. Naruto tilted his head on his side, considering her expression. "You know most of it was lies."

She looked at him a moment, then gave a short nod. "I was told someone from the Jinchuuriki program set Nagato up. I started looking into it, and found out your roommate was one of them."

Naruto's eyes widened as he took in what she was saying. "You were the one. You were hunting Jinchuurikis. Because you thought they were responsible for taking down the Akatsuki."

The beautiful woman didn't deny it.

"But they weren't the ones who did it," Naruto said, and Konan's eyes narrowed.

"You know who it was."

"Yes. And so did Nagato. It was Kakuzu."

Konan looked thoughtful for a moment, then slowly nodded. "Because Nagato cut off his sex trade activities."

Naruto nodded, remembering when he'd told Nagato about his friendship with Gaara, and told him that if he didn't shut Kakuzu down, then Naruto would. He'd expected Nagato to be angry if not shoot him outright, but he wouldn't betray the man who'd taken him in when he could have had him killed years ago. But Nagato had heard him out, and in the end agreed. It was a piece of his business that he had never been fully comfortable about anyway, even though the money was good. Konan hadn't objected when they'd brought it to her, and Kakuzu had been furious.

He'd tried to go it alone, but had quickly found himself in jail. Obviously, he'd cut the first deal he was offered, selling out anyone of value. Nagato had figured it out only after the raid had started, too late to do anything about it.


"Did Nagato know you were helping the police?" Konan asked, her voice calm.

Naruto nodded. "I told him about how I'd met Gaara. You've heard his story on the news by now, I'm sure."

Konan nodded, and Naruto continued. "Gaara and I took out a lot of child trafficking rings. But we didn't interfere with our own organizations. I told Nagato directly what I wanted to do. I didn't betray him. Or you."

Konan was silent for a moment, taking it in. But if he hadn't made a mistake in trusting Naruto, she didn't understand why he had done what he had at the end. "But then why did he… why would he…"

Naruto bit his lip, hating to see her so distraught. He hadn't had a chance to talk to her after the Akatsuki raid. He had been injured then taken to the hospital after his episode in the holding cell, and by the time he'd gotten out she was gone without a trace.

"He was dying," Naruto said softly. "He told me he was going to tell you, but…"

Konan's eyes snapped to his. "What?"

"He found out the week before that he had pancreatic cancer. He had less than two months left. When the raid came, he didn't want to spend the rest of his time in jail. He figured if he were dead, people could lay the blame at his feet and at least he'd be able to help that way. This way, everyone would say he was the only leader of the Akatsuki. They'd be able to leave you out of it without having to worry about Nagato suffering the consequences for it."

He could see Konan's throat working as she tried to fight back her emotions. "That… idiot. Why didn't he tell me?" Her voice was soft, but heavy with pain.

Naruto felt his own throat close at the anguish in her voice and face. "I told him to. But he knew there was no hope of treatment, and he wanted the time he had left with you to be… normal."

Konan let out a soft huff, but her face softened in understanding. If she had known Nagato was dying, all she would have done was start her grieving sooner. At least this way she'd had two more weeks of happiness. But it still wasn't enough.

"Have you visited his grave?" he asked her. She paused as she struggled to get herself under control.

"Yes. Would you like to go to see him together?"

Naruto nodded. It was the least he could do to say goodbye.

He thought of his own parents. He had never visited their graves. His birthday was coming up in a month. He wondered if Sasuke would be willing to fly back to Japan with him.

Two weeks later

Naruto and Sasuke were laying on the couch in their hotel suite, enjoying a rare moment away from Sasuke's job, police investigators, and reporters. The media had decided to proclaim Naruto a hero again, and Kakashi and Sasuke were held up as shining examples of brave public officials. Sasuke's poll numbers had never been higher, which amused both him and Naruto significantly.

Naruto had just finished his fifth therapy session with Shikamaru, and was feeling mentally worn out, but encouraged. The paperwork clearing up his official dual-citizen status with Japan and the US was still in process, but both governments were making it as easy as possible. They'd been granted access to Sasuke's apartment again, but cleanup and repairs were going to take at least another two weeks.

"Your birthday is coming up in less than a month," Sasuke began, cautiously. He knew this was sensitive ground for Naruto, but he wanted to help him really move on from his past. He could feel Naruto's body tense at his words, and he tightened his arms around him slightly.

"Gaara. That asshole. Giving away all my secrets," Naruto grumbled, but there was no heat in it. Gaara had recovered well from his surgery and was already back in Suna, starting his new life. But he would be back in New York in two months as part of a diplomatic venture, and Naruto was looking forward to seeing him.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Well, given that we had to put your actual date of birth on the dozens of forms you've been filling out over the past week, there's no surprise that I know your birthday."

Naruto tilted his head back to shoot Sasuke a skeptical glance.

"But of course, Gaara did tell me," he conceded.

Naruto grunted at the confirmation.

"So. What do you want to do?"

Naruto was silent for so long that Sasuke wondered if maybe it was too soon to have brought it up. Finally, he responded.

"I'd like to go to Japan. I never… I never saw my parents' grave."

Sasuke drew a breath, thinking of all the complications going back to Japan would pose for him, even for a short visit. Still, there was no question that they would go. Naruto needed closure. It was well past time.

"Hn. Here I was thinking I could take you out to a club and get you drunk and have my way with you." He was only half joking, but Naruto was glad Sasuke wasn't making a big deal out of this. It was going to be hard enough as it was. "So, how long do you want to stay there?"

Naruto thought about all the time Sasuke had already taken off his work for him. He didn't need to spend much time there. "Just three days maybe. I don't have anyone I remember from that time. The guy from the embassy said there is some paperwork I need to clear up about my father's estate, but most of that can be done from here."

Sasuke nodded. He could handle three days back in Japan. He'd promised himself that the next time he returned it would be to finally get to the bottom of his parents' death, but this was more important. He could be patient on the other.

"I'll arrange things. We can stay at my family's estate."

Naruto looked at him. "Are you sure? I know that things are… not settled for you."

Sasuke kissed the side of Naruto's neck. "It's fine. I'll have Shisui set it up."

Naruto closed his eyes, relaxing into his lover's embrace. "Let me talk with Shisui about it. He's going to be staying with Itachi, I would guess. I might as well get used to handling things on his side."

Sasuke froze, remembering when Naruto had said he would be taking over Shisui's role but not really having taken him seriously at the time. There were formal rituals for becoming the guard of the head of the clan. He wondered if Naruto knew that.

"Talk to him. See what he wants to do. I'll let the two of you work it out."

Naruto nodded, letting his hand slide up along Sasuke's hip suggestively. Sasuke shifted his legs wider apart, feeling his body's immediate response to his lover's touch. Before they could take it further, there was a knock on the door before Itachi used the key card they'd given him to enter.

He looked at the two men on the sofa and his eyes softened slightly before he remembered himself and his Uchiha mask was back in place.

"So Naruto. What did you do today?" Itachi asked the seemingly innocent question, immediately making Sasuke tense. Itachi never asked pointless questions.

Sasuke had to work late at the office, and had assumed that Naruto had been home or maybe at the gym after his appointment with Shikamaru. He suddenly had the feeling that was not the case.

Naruto's silence made the worry climb slightly. "Naruto?"

Itachi held out his hand and examined his nails for a moment. "I got a call from Sing Sing today. It seems that - somehow - two maximum security prisoners escaped today. No one can figure out how it happened. None of the security cameras picked anything up. There was evidently a series of small, precisely timed detonations in the locks of their cells and the cameras along the escape route."

Sasuke breathed in, noticing for the first time a very subtle trace of smoke in his lover's hair. It could have been from a restaurant. Or a cab. Or a bomb.

"Hmmm. Sounds like a pretty high class job. Any leads?" Naruto asked, his conversational tone not fooling either of the other men in the room.

Itachi looked at him, amusement showing in his eyes. "As a matter of fact, no. Aren't you going to ask who it was that escaped?"

"Ah, yes?" Naruto blinked, the picture of innocence.

Sasuke snorted. "No leads and no evidence?"

"None. Though Hidan and Deidara will have a hard time hiding out if they're going to stay in the city," Itachi said.

Naruto cleared his throat. "Well, I mean, this is just speculation, of course, but I would say that if a criminal is smart enough to get out of some place like Sing Sing, then probably they're smart enough to leave the country as soon as possible. Especially if they have job opportunities elsewhere."

Itachi looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "Interestingly, Konan's estate was put up for sale two days ago."

"Is that so? That's quite a coincidence," Naruto said grinning at Itachi.

Sasuke sat up, turning Naruto to face him. "But your address is staying here. Right?"

Naruto looked at him steadily. "Yes. I already have a new job. I don't plan on going back to my old one."

"Hn," Sasuke said, leaning back down. "Now is probably as good a time as any to let you know that Gaara gave me the receiver for the tracking device he put in you. Just for future reference."

Naruto's eyes widened, and Itachi shocked them both by laughing out loud.


Note: Thank you for having patience to make it all the way through this gigantic fic... and sorry it was more than double the length than I had expected. I learned a lot as a writer about how many plots I can (reasonably) collide within one fic. This one had 5. I think 3 is probably better. Lessons learned LOL.

Special thanks to my betas and sanity checkers BriEva and WordWriter. This would have gone much more slowly without their help!

I am trying to decide whether to do a sequel (at some later point, since I need a break from this genre) or an epilogue. Would love to know what you're interested in.

Epilogue would be: Naruto's recover - visit to his parents' grave, learning to drive, going to a club, settling into life (probably getting an Uchiha tattoo as he takes over from Shisui, which Sasuke will have some reaction to LOL)

Sequel would be all of the above (stretched out over more time, with more detail) but would take on Sasuke finding who killed his parents, flashbacks that show Gaara and Naruto's childhood, more info on Itachi and Shisui's past. Maybe Konan and Yahiko. Maybe Kiba and Hinata. I need to re-think the plot I had originally thought through because it was just as complicated as this one and I don't want another 34 chapter fic LOL. At some point Naruto would probably be captured and tortured by Yakuza. Will not likely involve Naruto and Sasuke breaking up or cheating, since I don't think anything could tear them apart at this point.


Now I can finally get back to only working on 2 fics at a time, which is I think my ideal limit. Healing the Broken (canon angst) and Daily Ramen (AU humor) will be my focus until one of them finishes up, then I will start posting something else.

Thanks for all the amazing comments! This fic is my first to reach over 1k reviews, so I am really happy. Given that it has been reported so many times, I will probably at some point go back and 'tone down' the lemons, but the full version will always be on AO3. - Kizu