Face the Future
"Meekness is rot of the Shinobi soul. I will cut it out of you, if I must."
The Chunin came at Sasuke with a roar, and for a moment the sounds of battle drowned out Kuri's reading of Tobirama's The Three Part Snake.
The Chunin – Uchiha Kaito, a wiry wisp of a man a few years older than Sasuke – leapt and spun, his leg cutting through the air like a sword. Sasuke ducked under it, then handsprung backwards so he could hear his assistant again.
"The rattle is not merely a warning," Kuri was reading, "but also a distraction. The thought of fangs is overwhelmed by the deathly sound, and-"
Hatake Izumo, a man of nearly thirty and a veteran of three wars, came in from the side. Oversized fists threatened to take Sasuke's head off his shoulders, so he twisted to the side to dodge the first punch, then deflected the second upwards with the lightest push to Izumo's elbow. Once inside the man's guard, it was the easiest thing in the world to place a swift barrage of punches on his chest and stomach. Izumo grunted and fell, body slamming heavily against the wood of the training floor.
Kaito came again, trying to take advantage of Sasuke while he was distracted – but he himself was also a distraction. Mitarashi Rin was pressing in from his blindspot, and Sasuke was forced to throw himself into an awkward roll to gain distance. Emboldened by his retreat, Kaito and Rin pressed their advantage, and Sasuke was only barely able to bat aside their punches and kicks. The two moved in unison, flowing in and out of battle as if it were a dance they had practiced beforehand, forcing him to spin from one side to the next to keep up with them. Their offensive was so relentless that Sasuke nearly forgot to follow along with his assistant's reading.
But it was only a matter of time. Kaito got too eager, came down too hard on his lead foot. When Sasuke swept it out from under him with an arcing kick, he tumbled hard to the floor. Rin, desperate to cover for her ally, charged in, and Sasuke ducked under the punch, grabbed her elbow, and threw her across the room. She slammed into the dojo's wooden walls hard enough to shake the entire structure.
Itachi had taught him that move.
The bile rose in Sasuke's throat at the thought. Kaito had regained his feet and was springing back, buying himself time. Sasuke pursued, a burst of speed putting him directly in front of his clan cousin, and beat his way through Kaito's guard with a storm of punches. Kaito fell and Sasuke was on him, fists screaming, blood singing.
He could still remember entering the dojo as a child, with Itachi waiting for him. Learning how to watch an opponent for the inevitable mistake, to capitalize on it swiftly and fiercely. He remembered Itachi's smile, the blood red eyes that marked him a wielder of the Sharingan, their family's birthright. It had been such an honor to learn from him. Itachi, who would be lord of the Uchiha clan. Itachi, who would usher their family into a new golden age. Itachi, his brother.
"Uchiha-sama!" Came a voice from very far away. "Uchiha-sama!" And then- "Sasuke!"
Sasuke snapped back to reality. His chest rose and fell, heavy. Sweat slicked his skin. The dojo was silent except for the steady drip drip drip of blood against wood.
He looked down. Kaito lay beneath him, limp. Sasuke had seized the front of his tunic, and his grip was the only thing stopping the Chunin from falling to the floor. His face was a mess of blood and bruises, his nose broken, his lip split in three places. The knuckles of Sasuke's free hand ran red with blood.
"Sage," Sasuke whispered, quietly, hesitantly. "Cousin." He lifted Kaito to his feet, still mostly supporting him. "I- I'm sorry."
Kaito sagged but managed to keep his feet, standing under his own power. "Nothing to apologize for," he said after a moment, though his words were slow and thick. "It's a spar."
Yes. A spar, not a flogging. Sasuke swallowed, but it did nothing to ease the taste of bile. "You should go and get healing," he said, unable to look Kaito in the eye. "Take a few days off."
"What, for this?" Kaito's face twisted into something likely intended to be a smile. "I just need to catch my breath."
"Take the day off, at least," Sasuke said. "Am I being heard, Shinobi?"
Kaito sobered, then touched his right fist to his left palm and bowed. "You are being heard, sir." He nodded to the rest of the room and then left through the sliding doors.
That left Izumo, Rin and Kuri. The silence was deafening. "Leave," Sasuke said, and when nobody moved the fire rose up and he shouted. "Leave!"
Rin and Izumo were gone before the word was entirely out of his mouth. Kuri, a mousy girl of the Tatami clan, looked respectfully at the floor. The Three Part Snake lay forgotten in her lap. She had been his assistant long enough now to know when it was best to stay silent.
Sasuke took a moment to compose himself. His heart stopped slamming against his ribs, his breathing settled. The adrenaline of battle faded, and for the first time Sasuke noticed the early morning air seeping through the wooden slats of the dojo. It was chilly – he wore only pants, loose fatigues of black silk.
Finally, he looked up at Kuri. "Kaito has a wife and two daughters," he said, his voice tight. "Buy them something."
Neither of them said anything as he dressed, donning the rest of his fatigues and the dark blue flak jacket. Three flames gleamed on either shoulder, a sight he was still not entirely comfortable with. For his age, Sasuke was one of the best Shinobi in Fire – and yet, he wasn't entirely sure he was suited for the rank of Jonin. In a year, likely less...but it would not do for the future Lord Uchiha to remain a Chunin, not at sixteen. He did not have the privilege of knowing he truly deserved the gifts he was given, but he thanked his ancestors all the same. Uchiha Sasuke would not be ungrateful for the gallons of Uchiha blood that bought him what he had now.
He gathered glossy, blue-black hair up and tied it off in a high ponytail, rolling his shoulders. His body ached from exertion – the best kind of pain, the kind that kept him strong and sharp and alive. He opened a sliding door and stepped out into the Konohagakure morning, bare feet against stone still damp from the night's rain.
It was late fall, nearly winter, and the Land of Fire was, for once, blissfully cool. The Uchiha compound, a vast expanse of land in the heart of Konohagakure, stood peacefully in the light of dawn. Stone pathways cut through gently rolling fields, and cherry blossom trees sent pink petals dancing through the wind. Sasuke took a moment to drink the beauty of it.
By the time he sat down to enjoy a breakfast of rice and fish, Kuri had spoken to the other household servants and was waiting for him. "Shisui-san returned from his mission not an hour ago," she said when he gestured for her to begin. "He seems to be unharmed, and is debriefing as we speak."
"Good," Sasuke said, unable to suppress a small smile. "Ask him if he would enjoy dinner tonight." It had been months since his cousin Shisui had been assigned his mission, a diplomatic excursion to Amegakure. It would be good to see him again.
"The Sarutobi wish to know your terms for a betrothal between Sarutobi Konohamaru and Asuna-san."
"The sixth's grandson?" Sasuke asked, receiving a nod of confirmation in reply. "I thought he was spoken for."
"His betrothal to Hyuga Hanabi fell through. We're not entirely sure why."
Sasuke grunted. Asuna was so far removed from the main Uchiha line that she was unlikely to ever awaken a Sharingan - but not so far that it was impossible, and that made her betrothal tricky. "Give them good terms," he decided, "but keep reversion rights for a few years."
Kuri made a few quick scratches on her notes. "The Sarutobi won't like that."
"I'm sure they won't," Sasuke said, turning back to his meal. "But I won't seal an Uchiha who still has a shot to awaken. Not even for Sarutobi Konohamaru. If they want a sure thing, offer Yoshino."
They went back and forth like that for half an hour – Jonin had been killed and needed to be replaced, Chunin were requesting time off to have children, rice shipments from the farmlands were slow and they might not make their quota for this harvest – the day to day mundanities of rule. In these matters Sasuke spoke with the full force and authority of his father, who of course was far too busy with important military and political governance. Finally, Kuri reached the last item on her list. "The Hyuga have requested another delay regarding the building rights by the south wall," she said. "They've sent a representative to beg your pardon."
"Sage," Sasuke swore, "again? They can't hide her from me forever." Hyuga Hinata was a meek, timid girl, more suited life as a kitchen maid than heir of the third most powerful clan in Konohagakure. But she was the Hyuga heir, and that came with responsibilities. Eventually, she would have to sit across from him in negotiation, and no amount of coaching could protect her from that. "Send him in."
The Hyuga representative wasn't actually a Hyuga. He was a Chunin of the Shimura, one of the petty Shinobi clans who had been sworn to Hyuga since the days before the Founding. Other Shinobi clans preferred not to invite Hyuga into their compounds if at all possible, for their bloodline, the Byakugan, gave them eyes with the ability to see through solid walls – a fact as unnerving at home as it was dangerous on the battlefield. "Uchiha-sama," the Shimura said, bowing low. He held a polished wooden box in one hand, and presented it to Sasuke respectfully. "I bear a gift from Hinata-sama, whom it pains deeply to be unavoidably detained."
"Let her take as much time as she needs," Sasuke said flatly. "I will be here, waiting." He took the box from the Shimura's hands and slid it open, examining what lay within.
It was a small statue, carved of delicate stone. Gold and silver embroidered its armor, wrought in the style of the warring clans era, and its eyes were tiny rubies – an Uchiha, as if there was any doubt. In his right hand he gripped a gunbai, a large war fan, and in his right he held a lantern. "It is Uchiha Setsuna," the Shimura explained, his voice cloyingly pleasant. "Of the warring clans era."
"Obviously," said Sasuke, placing the statue on the table in front of him. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, he had to admit, but he didn't understand it. Shinobi didn't give gifts without some kind of message attached. What did the Hyuga mean to tell him?
The Shimura seemed undaunted by his curt response. "Setsuna was a fascinating figure, was he not?" He asked. "His own brother sought to usurp his position as Lord of the Uchiha. One of the few times in history your clan fought amongst itself…so evenly matched were the two sides, that Setsuna was forced to turn to their enemies in the region, the Shirogane clan. Only then was Setsuna able to triumph, and reclaim his birthright."
"I know my history, Shimura…-san," Sasuke said, lingering just long enough between the name and the honorific to be disrespectful. "Make your point."
"I often think of the Shirogane who chose to aid Setsuna," the Shimura said, his placid smile never wavering. "Surely they saw the opportunity that the fighting presented to them…the chance to destroy a rival."
Sasuke grunted. "The Uchiha weren't their only rivals in the region," he said. "The Subaku ruled land to the north. Only the Uchiha could check their advance." Even now, the Subaku clan ruled all the Land of Wind from their seat in Sunagakure. In the warring clans era they had been a terror, a great power to rival Uchiha, Senju, Kaguya.
"Quite right," the Shimura agreed. "They understood that peace in the region was more important than petty inter-clan squabbles. But…perhaps more importantly…they understood the ancient rights of succession. The clan belongs to the firstborn, no? Setsuna's brother was usurper. So, when forced to choose between Uchiha and Uchiha, the Shirogane chose the rightful heir."
Sasuke remained quiet, waiting for more, but it quickly became clear that the Shimura had said what he had come to say, Sasuke cleared his throat. "I see. Thank Hinata-sama for the gift…profusely. And remind her that I can't speak to the Aburame until I speak to her. We're running out of days."
"I understand, Uchiha-sama," the Shimura said, standing only to bow again, even more deeply than before. "It is my sincerest wish that we need not meet again."
"That makes two of us," Sasuke muttered as the man exited the way he came. When he was sure that the man had gone, Sasuke collapsed back onto the floor, staring up the wooden beams that crisscrossed the ceiling.
"Shall I have the statue put in your room, Uchiha-sama?" Kuri asked.
"Why not," Sasuke said. He still didn't understand what the damn thing meant. At first he had been convinced that it was intended as some kind of slight – a reminder of his status as the secondborn. But he had not usurped his brother. Itachi himself had abandoned all claims to the title of Lord Uchiha. And besides, he didn't think of Hinata as someone with enough guts to insult him like that, even through a proxy. "I hate the Hyuga," he said, to nobody in particular. "You would think a clan full of people who can see through walls would be a little more straightforward."
The clan belongs to the firstborn. But that wasn't necessarily so. Of Konohagakure's noble Shinobi clans, The Uchiha, the Hyuga, the Senju all clung to the tradition of primogeniture, but the Nara and the Aburame exercised different methods for determining their lords. Even amongst the petty clans, the exception was at least as prevalent as the rule. The Inuzuka, the Hatake, the Sarutobi…none passed Lordship to the firstborn by right.
Sasuke sighed and rolled backwards, pushing himself into a handstand before landing lithely on his feet. There would be time later to unravel Hyuga riddles. As always, he had work to do. He led Kuri out of his personal dining room and into the public areas of the compound's main building. Elegantly carved wooden columns supported a high vaulted roof, and the sun poured in through long windows, drenching the building in soft light. Armored Shinobi moved purposefully through the halls, while civilian servants cleaned and bustled and gossiped. All who saw him bowed respectfully, and Sasuke kept his face a mask of dignified composure. "How goes the scouting of this year's civilian Chunin?" He asked Kuri.
"Not well," Kuri admitted, struggling to keep up with his long strides. "We're combing through all the Genin likely to be promoted but…well, it's not a process built to favor the clans."
"I know that," Sasuke growled. It had been the answer he'd been expecting, but it still stung. It was a system that had begun under the third Hokage, back when civilians hadn't even had the right to advance beyond Genin. The Hokage provided for the training of civilian Genin, the third had argued, and so it stood to reason that the Hokage ought to have the right to promote those Genin if it so chose. In exchange for the approval of the noble clans, the third had thrown them a few measly opportunities to draft civilian Chunin for themselves. After the Hokage had picked the class clean of the best and brightest, of course. And under the third, that had been fine. It gave the Hokage more Shinobi under his personal control, but civilian talent was so few and far between that the noble clans thought nothing of it.
Then, one hundred years later, the sixth had tripled the budget for the civilian Shinobi program – and with modern advances in chakra theory and training techniques, the civilians in the corps became a force to be reckoned with practically overnight. The clans, ever slow to adapt, had managed to claw away only a handful of additional picks for themselves. It had been a paradigm shift in inter-village politics, but it all could've been tolerated had the sixth's radical agenda ended with him. Instead the seventh took office, and established new petty Shinobi clans answering directly to the office of Hokage, all without giving the noble clans a single new pick in the Chunin draft. It had been an outrage. It had been unprecedented gall. And yet he had done it, and now the noble clans were forced to grit their teeth and watch as the power of the Hokage – built on the backbone of a heavily preferential Chunin draft – swelled.
Now, all the noble clans could do was attempt to steal away a few Genin that might've slipped under the Hokage's nose, which was a taller order each year. Not for the first time Sasuke cursed the office, and lust for power it inspired in the men who held it. "Are we really so petty?" He asked. "That whenever we're given power we strive to hoard it, and forget the name given to us by our family?"
"I wish I knew, Uchiha-sama," Kuri said quietly. There was caution in her voice, and maybe a sliver of pity.
Sasuke shook his head, suddenly remembering that she was there. "Keep looking," he said, eager to put the slip behind them. "Every Chunin we pry away from the Hokage is a victory for Konohagakure. Double the number of scouts."
"Is that…" Kuri withered at his glare, and nodded. "At once, Uchiha-sama."
He increased his pace. The bows that came were no less numerous – but they were shorter, jerkier. Servants moved into adjoining rooms and hallways as he passed. Shinobi watched the ground when they walked by.
Calm. He was calm. He tried to make it show on his face.
Suddenly, the air of the compound was stifling. He stopped and stared down at his knuckles, still raw from the beating he had given Kaito. I will be lord of the Uchiha clan, he wanted to say to the servants who could not be near him. I am in control, he wanted to scream at the Shinobi who would not meet his eyes.
It was Uchiha Haru who interrupted his introspection. One of Sasuke's distant uncles, Haru was a powdered and perfumed man a few years past fifty. Birth had given him a twisted leg, and now he walked with a cane and served the clan as a bureaucrat. "Sasuke-sama," he said, bowing as deeply as his leg would allow. "I trust your morning has been well." He reeked of flowers.
"Uncle," Sasuke replied. "You're not usually out of bed before noon."
Haru laughed, a nervous titter. "Well, when you get to be my age you find yourself needing more and more sleep. But today it seems the Sage has seen fit to give me work. The Jonin Library has called an immediate meeting of the board. As I speak for our clan's two seats, it's imperative I attend."
The Jonin Library. Sasuke had nearly forgotten that the Uchiha still held a say in its administration. He had hardly read a report on the institution since he began undertaking duties as heir – it was not a particularly exciting post. "Did they say what the meeting concerned?"
"No, but it is quite unusual for them to call us in this way," Haru said, fanning himself. "It is quite a distance, so if I am to go-"
"Go back to bed, Uncle," Sasuke said.
"I'll attend the meeting in your place," Sasuke said. "I must familiarize myself with all the clan's duties, and I've already delayed this task too long."
"Be that as it may…" Haru said, "I'm sure you have more pressing matters to attend to…"
He was sweating, despite the cool air. Worried that he might lose a cushy posting, with no emergencies and less responsibility. He shouldn't have been concerned, not really. As an Uchiha, he had to be doing something, and there were few tasks inconsequential enough to risk assigning Haru to. Still, Sasuke couldn't say he hated watching the man squirm. Uchiha were warriors, Shinobi. They were the clay soldiers in which the will of fire burned. This…was not Uchiha. "Rest, Uncle," he said, clapping Haru on the shoulder. "I'll have Kuri brief you when the meeting is over."
"Yes. Of course." He couldn't hide the venom in his tone, but it didn't matter. Uchiha Haru didn't matter.
"Handle things here while I'm away," Sasuke said to Kuri, who nodded. Then, without another word, he stepped out a sliding door and was on his way.
Two Chunin trailed him at a distance as he dashed across the rooftops, careful never to get too close but also to never let him out of their sight. They were good, he had to admit. Better than some of the idiots who ended up following him around. Still, he took the opportunity to put them through their paces, pouring on the speed and taking a looping, circuitous route through the village. The wide, clean streets of the Uchiha district gave way to the cramped, graffitied alleys of the rest of the village. Sasuke dropped down to street level a few blocks over from the Jonin library and took a moment to admire a mural of Senju Tsunade – one of the sixth's legendary Sanin students – painted in bold swathes of color. It was an excellent likeness, and though there was little love lost between the Uchiha and Senju clans, Sasuke had to admit it was a fitting memorial for one of Konohagakure's most revered heroes. The artist's signature, a line and semicircle forming a sai, was one that Sasuke had been seeing more and more around the village. Perhaps he could commission something, a gift for when his father returned.
Making his way through the press of foot traffic, he finally arrived at the Jonin Library itself. A short, squat building separated from the rest of the village by a high fence, it was built for function over style, in the simple, utilitarian fashion that characterized most of the rebuilding that had occurred after the Nine Tails attack. A Hyuga posted at the door watched him as he approached, white eyes taking in every twitch. Sasuke suffered no additional pat down or challenge as he walked into the library – that, at least, was a benefit of the Byakugan's invasive nature.
The first level of the library was the least restricted section, books and scrolls that could be accessed by any Jonin in the village. They lined long wooden shelves, everything a Jonin might need to better perform as a Shinobi. History and tactics, maps of varying levels of reliability, sealing and chakra theory, elaborate drawings of taijutsu katas, manuals for basic poisons. Sasuke plucked a random book from the shelf as he walked and read for a moment on theoretical applications of nature chakra before putting the book back down on a shelf near the stairs.
The more flights of stairs he ascended the more restricted the selection got. Chunin guards watched him as he passed, bowing respectfully when they realized who he was. He nodded back, not really seeing them.
He was the last to reach the meeting room on the library's top floor. The other representatives had already gathered around a circular table, with some watching an adjoining room through a thick pane of one-way glass. A Kato girl with dark hair was holding the Senju's seat. A minor Hyuga cousin Sasuke didn't recognize represented the Hyuga, also with one seat. The Aburame's three seats were under the care of…well, truth be told, Sasuke couldn't exactly tell. The Aburame were an odd, deeply religious lot, and all the clan who came of age hid every inch of skin behind heavy clothes and bandages. Sasuke's best guess was that their representative was a girl, older than him. The Nara held four seats, though their representative, a spiky haired boy his own age who Sasuke recognized as Nara Shikamaru, seemed to be napping with his feet on the table. Finally, the Hokage's seat was represented by one of the library's head administrators, a balding Namikaze man. Sasuke held back a scoff. The Namikaze had been made a clan in the wake of the seventh's legendary ascent through Konohagakure's ranks, but they had yet to produce a Shinobi anywhere near the man's equal.
Still, all the other representatives were Shinobi. Sasuke could see it in the way they held themselves, the deadly grace of each movement. Perhaps posting Haru here was a mistake after all.
"Now that we're all here, we might as well get this underway," the Namikaze said, clearing his throat. The others shifted to face him, except Shikamaru, who merely opened a single eye. "We've called you here today on short notice because several hours ago, the library was subject to a security breach," the Namikaze continued.
Sasuke looked to the rest of the representatives. None of them showed surprise on their face, but that meant nothing from Shinobi.
The Namikaze cleared his throat again. "Two Genin infiltrated the lower levels of the library at oh-four-hundred hours," he said. "They were apprehended before they could escape the premises." As if on cue, burly Chunin guards entered the adjoining room, which the representatives watched through the glass. Each carried a bound and blindfolded figure over one shoulder, which they deposited in chairs before taking up positions at the door.
"Hello?" Asked one of the intruders, a scrawny blond with rough cut hair. "Hello? Are you going to talk now?" A stream of dried blood ran down his chin, and his face was more bruise than unmarked flesh, but if he was in pain he didn't show it. "I'm the one who planned everything!" He shouted, head swinging this way and that, as if maybe the right angle would let him see through the blindfold. "I made Sakura come! She didn't have a choice!"
Sasuke watched the boy thrash. He had a lot of fight in him, for someone who had likely spent the last several hours being beaten and interrogated by his superiors. Most Genin would be thoroughly cowed, but the boy didn't strike him as a spy from some other village. He had the blonde hair really only common in Fire, and his accent was straight from Konohagakure's slums – all slurred vowels and dropped consonants, as if saying the entire word took far too long.
Sasuke supposed he could've been a particularly good spy – but would a particularly good spy really have gotten caught like this?
"I needed her to get through security!" The boy shouted, his voice growing wilder. "I had a kunai at her throat! I-" One of the guards stepped forward and hit him across the face, not gently. The girl – Sakura – looked up, and her lips began to move in some whisper Sasuke couldn't make out. The guard hit her too, and she fell silent despite the boy's protests.
Namikaze cleared his throat yet again. "They have been identified as Koji Naruto and Haruno Sakura, from the sixth and tenth divisions, respectively. Haruno is a civilian clan, and Koji is Koji, of course."
"Do you know why they did it?" The Aburame asked. Definitely a girl, although all the Aburame sounded strange, as if they buzzed faintly whenever they opened their mouths. "Are they spies?"
"We don't believe so," Namikaze said. "Both have records in the village extending back to childhood. Both are also seventeen…so with the Chunin draft in a few weeks, it seems likely that they panicked and tried to look for a shortcut." He coughed, and then pounded on his chest. "Typical punishment for this level of offense is a public beating and dishonorable discharge from the Shinobi corps, which will be carr-"
It was Shikamaru who interrupted him. "Did they try to take anything, specifically?" He asked, hands folded behind his head.
"…A book was confiscated from Haruno," Namikaze said, sounding distinctly displeased. And no wonder – two Genin had actually managed to get their hand on a text before being apprehended. Clearly, somebody had been slacking off. Namikaze would be on the receiving end of a harsh lecture, if he hadn't been already. Quite possibly a demotion.
"What was the book?" Shikamaru asked.
Namikaze sighed. "Is that really relevant?"
"Depends on the book, I guess. You took it from her, what was it?"
"Yang Chakra Expression, by Akimichi Taichou," Namikaze said, looking more disgruntled with every word.
Sasuke saw it in Shikamaru's eyes – the question, the confusion. Yang Chakra Expression. A disgustingly dry text covering relatively basic chakra theory application, in any other context it would mean nothing. But here it turned the whole situation from a novelty into a mystery.
Yang Chakra Expression. It wasn't unheard of for Genin to try and make their way into the Jonin Library, seeking a text that might earn them a coveted Chunin spot. But that text? Basic chakra theory? There were books here with knowledge that was actually helpful, techniques that would impress any Chunin evaluator. So who bothered to break into the place, only to steal a book like Yang Chakra Expression?
Shikamaru was sitting up straighter now, and Sasuke didn't need the Byakugan to see the gears of the boy's mind turning. For a single moment he considered letting this pass – returning home and dedicating himself to mystery he already had on his plate, the mystery of the Hyuga and their curious statute. But as he thought about it, he kept coming back to the idea that this time, he wanted to be the one ahead of the game. He wanted to be the one walking out of the room with others staring at his back, trying to figure out what the hell he was up to.
"Shinobi," Sasuke said, standing up just before Shikamaru could get a word out. "It seems I've been the cause of some unintended confusion."
All eyes in the room turned to him, and Namikaze tilted his head. "Uchiha-sama?"
"Koji-kun and Haruno-chan broke into the library on my instruction," Sasuke said, meeting the eyes of each representative in turn. Nara Shikamaru's seemed to scream with accusation, but the boy himself said nothing. "They acted as my agents in this, and I take full responsibility for the mess that has resulted."
"I…don't understand," Namikaze said. "Why would you do this? Why have two Genin break into the Jonin Library?"
"As a test, of course," Sasuke said, mouth curving into a tight smile. "As the Uchiha hold two seats on this board, I feel we have a right to know about the measures in place to protect the knowledge here."
It was a lie, obviously. Everyone present knew it was a lie – and yet they couldn't do a thing about it. Not here, not now. Oh, there would be consequences to this stunt. Likely another clan would use it as an excuse to pry one the Uchiha's seats away from them. Most likely it would be the Nara, who seemed determined to build a majority on the board, though it seemed equally likely that another clan would step in to avoid that exact outcome. Either way, the Uchiha wouldn't escape from this unscathed. Haru would be pissing his pants now, Sasuke reckoned.
"This is incredibly unusual," said Namikaze, which was basically as close as he could come on calling Sasuke out on his bullshit. "I really should talk to a higher up."
"There's no need for that," Sasuke said. "This resolves the situation, doesn't it? I admit my methods were disruptive, but I do hold the privilege of entering the library, and the power to bestow that privilege to others." Suddenly, an early promotion to Jonin didn't seem all that bad.
Namikaze frowned. "I suppose that's true."
"Then there's been no crime," Sasuke said, spreading his hands. "Koji-kun and Haruno-chan were here on my instruction. They have never once set foot in an area they aren't permitted to be. If you would release them, I would like to see them to my healers." He turned to the rest of the representatives. "Unless someone would like to raise an objection?"
They didn't, although Namikaze was so quiet for so long that Sasuke feared he actually might. But finally he sighed and stepped out of the room, appearing through the one-way glass to exchange words with the two guards.
"Again, I'm so sorry," Sasuke said as the representatives filed out. "I'll be sure to send something to make the inconvenience up to all of you." Nara Shikamaru was the last to leave, and the boy gave him a lazy shrug, as if admitting that you couldn't win them all.
He met Naruto and Sakura outside, far from any of the Hokage's prying ears or eyes. They looked even worse than they had through the glass, but their eyes were still sharp, their movements quick. Neither bowed, as would have been customary. Instead they stood side by side, leaning on one another for support, and watched him.
"Hello," he said, putting his hands in his pockets. "Koji Naruto. Haruno Sakura." A civilian and a gutter rat. Had he reached beyond his wingspan here? Had he been too desperate for a victory after a day, a month, a year of nothing but defeat? Even if he had, it was too late now – he had no choice but to commit to the path he had chosen. He was a leader, and he knew what that meant.
"Yeah?" Naruto asked, scowling. "And who the hell are you?" Sakura whispered something in his ear, and his scowl deepened, blue eyes flickering to Sasuke's black ones, as if expecting to see the telltale crimson of the Sharingan.
"I'm the man who owns you," Sasuke said in answer. "I'm the only reason you aren't currently being dragged to the center of the village, to be beaten and stripped of your Genin titles." They flinched at that, for they knew the truth of it.
"What do you want?" Naruto asked.
"I want to know what the two of you were doing in that library," Sasuke said.
Naruto's reaction was automatic. "I made Sakura come. She didn't have a-"
Sasuke held up a hand, cutting him off. "None of that," he said. "I know bullshit when I smell it." He unzipped his flak jacket and reached inside, then in one smooth motion he pulled out the book and tossed it to them. It was Sakura who plucked it out of the air and turned to look at it, the confusion evident on her face.
"Yang Chakra Expression," she said, as if she didn't quite believe it.
"A lot of trouble to go through for a book like that," Sasuke said. "So, assuming you're not just a pair of idiots…and I'm really hoping you're not…what the hell have you got up your sleeves?"
They exchanged looks, as if sharing a silent conversation. Sasuke let them have the moment. There was no point in pushing now, not when they only had one option. Apparently they agreed, because after only a brief hesitation, they sat down and told him.
And for the first time since he had been told that it was he who would be Lord of the Uchiha Clan, Sasuke lapsed into a stunned silence.
It took him nearly a minute to recover. "Unbelievable," he murmured, looking up at the sky. Naruto and Sakura sat cross-legged in front of him, watching him intently, and when he looked back to them he smiled wide. "I might finally have him with this one."
"Him?" Naruto asked.
"The Hokage," Sasuke said. "The two of you are about to help me thoroughly embarrass my older brother."