OOC: References made to Taylor Swift's song "Red" at two points in this chapter. A little more family moments that now include Kaori. Next chapter will be told from Sakura's POV and include more action (hopefully will end the mission there, if not then the chapter after for sure) as well as KakaSaku.

Thin curtains fluttered liberally in the calming afternoon breeze, providing a limited sense of relief to the heat that had accumulated from the hot mid-day sun. From the top floor of Tazuna's spacious residence, Kaori gazed upon the bustling of the streets below with a small smile as she sorted through a rather large pile of freshly washed linen and clothing. It was truly a lovely day to take a break from the gravity of the mission and enjoy the small menial details that came with life in general, like helping Tsunami-san with chores around the house.

Turning her attention to the sleeping bundle tucked snugly in the futon beside her, the silver-haired kuniochi could not help but smile at Itachi's peaceful face as he rested. Despite all of Tsunade-sama's efforts to cure the older Uchiha's pulmonary embolism, the humidity of Nami no Kuni combined with whatever low-risk remains of the illness that had been left behind after several highly successful treatments was still enough to cause prolonged coughing spells that lasted late into the night. Luckily, Sakura had been able to stage a timely intervention this morning with to clear the last remnants of the illness while Kaori and Kakashi kept a nervous Sasuke and Naruto occupied in the next room. Although the two teens were skilled ninja who have seen their fair share of gory violence in combat, they were still strangely queasy when it came to seeing blood and had almost bitten their fingernails off in nervous anticipation of news related to their precious older brother's welfare. At this point, it was fair to say that the last members of the Uchiha clan had adopted the hyperactive blonde as one of their own.

Carefully adjusting the covers so that the sleeping Uchiha wouldn't catch a cold from the chill, the silver-haired kuniochi hummed softly as she returned to her work. There was an unusual but comfortable silence that surrounded the house at this hour since most of the inhabitants were out on business of their own. Tsunami had left shortly after lunch to run some errands for the household now that she had six extra mouths to feed. Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto were on a half-day trip to the more remote outskirts of Nami no Kuni in order to gather information from the smaller and more distant villages as well as scour the landscape for anything suspicious or uncommon from business as usual.

Kaori bit her lip lightly in annoyance as she thought of the mission. Despite having acquired some important bits of news during the last few days, they were more than painfully aware that vital clues were still amiss. Naruto, by a stroke of pure luck, had managed to find the general parameters of the physical location where the neurotic shipments were coming to and leaving from Nami no Kuni just yesterday afternoon. On the other hand, Sasuke and Sakura, through some careful searching, had found information that enabled the team to gain a relatively good idea of just who was behind the entire orchestration.

Nonetheless, the silver-haired kuniochi was still rather troubled. The most important aspects of this entire enterprise still lied beyond their reach as of now. Where the people in question were storing the neurotics and through what channel they were masking their operation behind was another kettle of fish altogether. It was also rather worrisome that despite all of their careful searching, Team Kakashi had yet to see a single shipment of the smuggled goods either. Even Pakkun had been unable to help since he struggled to pick up any specific scent trails among the many types of cargo that were being unloaded at the dock and complained that the entire area smelled awfully foul of fish preserves. The young woman sighed softly as she turned her attention back to the shirt that she had been folding. Just what on earth could they be hiding behind…?

"Is something wrong?"

Averting her eyes to the sound of her kareshi's voice, Kaori smiled tenderly before shaking her head. "Iei, I was just thinking about something."

His skeptical look was enough to make her laugh audibly. "It's really nothing important, Ita-kun." The silver-haired kuniochi said as she got up to fetch the tea that she had picked up from the kitchen earlier. "I guess I am just a little frustrated by the slow pace of our mission, that's all." She added as an afterthought before resuming her seat next to the futon.

"They are still new at this, Kaori." Itachi reminded her with a small smile before lightly kissing her forehead.

Giving herself a moment to breathe, she nodded in agreement. "You're right. I shouldn't hold them to our standards. Besides, they've already made a lot of good progress despite not having very much experience in this field. Although…" she paused playfully, "I don't know if that compliment extends to Naruto-kun."

"Kaori." The older Uchiha chuckled as he took a sip of his tea. "He is trying his best, and we should account for that."

"I was joking, Ita-kun." Kaori smiled, shifting herself closer to plant a small kiss on his cheek. "How are you feeling anyways? You were asleep for quite some time."

"Better." Itachi replied, wrapping his free hand around hers before giving it a soft squeeze. "How was your day?"

"It was alright I suppose, although I haven't been outside much." Kaori replied as she gestured to the neat piles of folded laundry behind her. "Luckily, it was enough to keep me occupied since lunch."

He found himself smiling at the small hint of sarcasm in her voice. Nonetheless, Itachi was no fool to the fact that his kanojo had purposefully shut herself indoors so that she would be able to tend to him if needed. "Kaori?"


"Thank you."

The silver-haired woman's expression softened visibly at just how much love the older Uchiha's onyx eyes were able to express. "You're very welcome, Ita-kun. Now drink your tea before it gets cold."

"Loving him is like trying to change your mind once you're already flying through the freefall."

The sound of murmured voices and the front door opening and closing disrupted the couple's quiet conversation. Soon, the sound of wood creasing could be heard in the stairway that led to the third floor. Itachi and Kaori exchanged looks. Neither of them were surprised.

"Nee-san?" Sasuke's voice was low on the other side of the door as he knocked with some hesitation.

Kaori smiled knowingly. Of course the raven-haired teen would be here to check on his brother the minute that he was home. "Come in, Sasuke-kun. Your nii-san's awake."

Making his way inside, the younger of the Uchiha siblings could not help but notice how harmonious his older brother was with his ex-sensei's younger sister. Watching them interact was like reading a crossword puzzle where very single touch, smile, moment, and gesture always held so much meaning. It suddenly struck Sasuke how familiar this scene was to the tender exchanges that he had frequently witnessed between his parents when he was a young boy at the kitchen table, and just how much he was projecting his own image of a loving mother onto Kaori. (Not that she actually minded to begin with, really.) Of all the little things that she did, such as bringing him lunch while he trained with his brother on their days off or taking him and Naruto to run errands in the next town whenever she was free, Sasuke especially liked the way that she would softly dust off his and Naruto's vests after they returned from their missions while playfully reprimanding them for not taking more care of their clothes. They were a family. Her, Itachi, Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi-sensei, and he wouldn't trade that for the world.

"Oi Sasuke! Do you want some-oh hey! Itachi-nii you're awake! Are you feeling any better?"

"Naruto…do you have to be so loud?" Sasuke sighed as the blonde plodded closer before taking a seat beside him. However, that did not deter him from taking a snack from the plate that Naruto had brought with him.

Kaori stifled a small laugh as she watched the two teens converse with Itachi. They were such good boys who had been so unfortunately deprived of their happy childhoods, and she would be damned if she couldn't give Naruto and Sasuke the kind of maternal love and affection that they so rightfully deserved and had gone on so long without. Averting her eyes to the trio once more, the silver-haired kuniochi was somehow unsurprised at the affirmative smile that Itachi was directing her way rather inconspicuously. Stop reading my mind already!


Uchiha Itachi, wipe that smirk off your face right now!

I don't know what you're talking about.

She almost rolled her eyes at how visible his teasing had become. "You're horrible at this, Ita-kun." Kaori whispered so that only he could hear.

"Kaori-chan!" Sakura's voice wafted to them from downstairs. "Tsunami-san said we should hurry to the market now if we want to get any of the fresh groceries."

"Be right there!" The silver-haired kuniochi managed to call back before she was interrupted with a kiss to the lips. Kaori could only laugh at the embarrassed blush on Sasuke and Naruto's cheeks as they watched her return the gesture. In one swift movement she stood and made for the door only after giving them each a small peck on the forehead. "Make sure your nii-san doesn't kill himself from over-exhaustion." She instructed the boys with a playful smirk before vanishing down the stairwell, pointedly ignoring Itachi's somewhat indignant look directed at her back in order to hide a laugh.

"Memorizing him was as easy as knowing all the words to your old favorite song."