AN: Arg. Life got really busy, so fics got pushed to the side. Sorry 'bout that. Here's the updated and pray that my life doesn't get that busy ever again, I might go insane!

http:// bea87. deviantart. com

BEA's dA site, check her out and tell her that she's awesome since her fanart of my fic 'New Bloodlines' got me typing again.


I hate my life sometimes, Nibiiro thought as he exited his small room to lean against the balcony and watch the sun set. He and Sasuke had been in Kariudo for roughly a week now and things weren't getting much better. Oh, he and his apprentice were pretty well recovered and the youth was making a great deal of progress in learning how to use a kodachi short sword, but the kid still wasn't talking. And Nibiiro still hadn't gotten a decent job yet.

There had been many tiny little jobs, all of which were low pay, but nothing large enough to fund an cross-country treks yet. Essentially, all that Nibiiro was doing was paying for current expenses, he wasn't making any money. Of course, if I'd just kept the money Sasuke and I made when he sold that small emerald, we might have enough to leave, but I gotta be a softy don't I?

#Some things do not change.# Byakko added smugly.

#I didn't ask for your opinion, fur-ball!# Nibiiro snapped without heat. #Besides, I don't have a weapon on me that would work well for the kid. Hell, my swords are taller than he is and are way heavier. How's he supposed to use those?#

#I did not say that your kindheartedness was an ill thing, I merely commented that such kindness has not changed since the beginning.#

#Yeah, well…# Nibiiro had bought the sword that Sasuke was practicing with, a very high quality, folded steel, Cold Iron alloy sword. It was a thing of beauty and the kid had spent a full five minutes just gaping at the it, eyes filled with awe. And then Nibiiro had gotten his first real smile out of him, it had taken nearly bankrupting himself to do it.

He sighed and rested his head on his arms; still, it was worth it. He's really improving his strength, and he get's a little better in swordplay each time we train. A worth-while investment, I think.

#Agreed.#

#Even so, we still aren't getting anywhere, and I don't like the silence I've been getting from Laniana-sama and Ashante. They should have tried to contact me by now, even if I'm not where I'm supposed to be.#

#Assuming they did not encounter the same difficulty as you.# Byakko pointed out. Nibiiro felt sick, that was exactly the thing that he was worried about. Not that Lana-sama couldn't take care of herself, but Ashante was….

#Fragile# Byakko filled in, regretfully. Nibiiro winced, fragile indeed. It had been a few years since the young man had last seen the slightly older woman, but if his childhood had been harsh, hers had been torturous. Sasuke's ordeal looked like a walk in the park by comparison. If Akastsuki attacked and used any kind of psychological assult, it was quite likely that she would break beneath it.

#You are assuming that she is as she was. Ashante may not be so broken any longer. Suzaku is a kind spirit.#

#True, but I don't know if Ashante is capable of healing!#

#Do not underestimate, and hold to hope.# Was Byakko's response. Nibiiro was feeling pessimistic though, and continued to fret for moment. #Enough, there is not that you can do for the moment, focus on your own concerns. You need money so that you may travel comfortably and the office here is not providing. How might you over come that?#

Nibiiro sighed, #The only thing I can think of is to team up with Akari. Most of the jobs I saw needed three people at least, and she's the only one I'd trust working with.#

#Ugh.#

#Tell me about it. The problem with that plan should be obvious enough. She still want's to force-feed Sasuke his own liver, and he'd bloody let her!#

#Familial devotion is an odd thing.#

#Is that what it is? He just rolls over and let's her say whatever the hell she wants, lets her order him about, then bad mouth him, because she's his aunt?!#

#That is my thought.# Byakko said. Nibiiro grumbled verbally after that, he couldn't figure it. Was Sasuke's devotion to his only remaining family member who wasn't a psychotic killer (that they knew of) really that great? Apparently. Nibiiro sighed again and stood up, tomorrow was going to be another day devoted to making money and training in every spare moment. He needed to get some sleep.

"Where are you going?" A familiar voice asked.

"Akari-san," Nibiiro acknowledged, turning to look at the woman walking up the outside stairs, "I'm heading to bed, but since you're here, I'd like to ask you something."

"Go ahead," She said as she reached the balcony level.

"Mind if we work together on a job?" He asked, "All of the decent paying ones need more than one or two people, and I need the money. We've worked together before, so it shouldn't be too hard…"

"I have no problem working with you," She growled, "But that chuck of filth you're traveling wit-"

#Wham!#

She never got the chance to continue, Nibiiro's patience had been pushed to the limit.

"One more word, one more look of contempt at him, and I swear I'll not be responsible for my actions." Came a grating purr from the Jinchuuriki's throat. He had Akari slammed against the inn wall, arm at her neck, mouth near her ear. Her expression was one of total shock, and well it was! Nibiiro was usually endlessly patient with mild harassment, letting insults roll of his back like water from duck feathers. Never, in her entire association with him, had he ever lost his temper.

But he had lost it now. He was more than a little fed up with her. Yes, the matter of her birth was painful to her, but Sasuke was not responsible. Just because they had an ancestor in common did not give her leave to attack him verbally each time the passed each other on the street, in the inn, in the taverns, anywhere!

"A thing for you to consider," He continued while Akari struggled to breathe around the pressure on her neck, "Did you ask to be born?"

"What?" she gasped, confused. She glanced at her assailant, and paled at what she saw. Nibiiro was pissed, and his anger brought out the demon in him.

"I said, 'did you ask to be born?' Answer!" He pressed in more, then eased back to let her breath and respond.

"N-no… No!"

"Do you think Sasuke did?"

"No!"

"Did you ask to be born as you were?"

"No."

"Do you think he did?"

She whimpered, "No…"

"Well then," He pulled back and his intense blue eyes glared fiercely at her from a tiger-like mask, "Why do you treat him as if he did?"

"I don'-" She was slammed against the wall again, choking.

"Are you responsible for the sins of you father? Of you're mother?"

She hadn't the air to answer, so Akari shook a hard negative.

"Is anyone responsible for the sins of their parents? Answer!"

"No!" She gasped.

"Then stop making Sasuke pay for the crimes made against you." Nibiiro stood back and let Akari collapse to the floor, gasping and choking. "Or…" She stared up fearfully. Nibiiro's fist smashed through the mortared stone wall, without the help of chakra. She shrank back, then, when Nibiiro made no further moves, ran.

Nibiiro stood there for a moment, trying to regain control of his temper. And then-

"Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! What the hell was I thinking!?!" He scolded himself as he oh so sensibly slammed his head against the balcony railing. "Gah! Now how am I gonna get her help? That's got to take the prize for stupidity!"

#Agreed.#

"I wasn't asking for your opinion…" He muttered to his guest quietly as he leaned against the railing again, cradling his now-aching head.

"You weren't asking for whose opinion?" Came another familiar voice, this one much more welcomed. Sasuke came out of the room they were renting, loosely wrapped in a blanket over his nightclothes.

"Sorry, did I wake you?"

"No, Akari did," Sasuke said, yawning as he too leaned against the railing, "Her signature is very 'loud'." Different shinobi have different chakra signatures that can be read at a distance if one knew how to do so. Sasuke was getting rather good at 'reading'. It was odd, given their current environment, that he was picking up this skill now.

"So what's going on? Wasn't Akari-san here?"

"She was, and then she and I had a… disagreement." Nibiiro answered, carefully not looking at his apprentice. Sasuke blinked up at him then rested his head on his arms with a sleepy sigh. His sensei glanced at him, pleasantly surprised that the kid had chosen to stand so close to him that he felt his body warmth. The proximity showed that Sasuke was coming to trust his sensei a little more. "C'mon kid, we need to get to bed."

"Unn," Sasuke answered, already half asleep.

"Careful, that's the wall, not the door…"

"Unn,"


The next morning came too early, as all mornings seemed to do. Nibiiro hurried Sasuke out, hastily passing by the innkeeper that was wailing over a new hole in the wall. Sasuke peered at it curiously, and then peered at his suspiciously sweating sensei.

"So, you had a disagreement with Akari-san last night, right?" He asked.

"Yup," Nibiiro answered, voice slightly higher pitched than usual, "Just your run of the mill mild argument."

"Uh-huh, right, sure! I believe you." Sasuke got a bap upside the head for that. They headed over to the Bounty Hunter office, passing down one of the busier market streets. Merchant stalls lined either side of the road, and almost all of them were doing brisk business. Sasuke eyed some of the goods, not that he or his sensei could assist in the brisk business, but he liked seeing the various things that were for sale.

Some of the items were really nice, woven blankets, ceramic jars, jewelry, all of which could be art pieces rather than everyday goods. Kariudo was a popular trading outpost, partly because of the nearby bounty office, which attracted potential buyers, and partly because of the valuable metal that was mined there.

Weapons' merchants from all over the entire continent, and some from other continents, came to Kariudo for the high quality weapons that were crafted in the city. There were also a number of kenjutsu dojo's hosted in the city, Sasuke would spy on a number of various lessons whenever he could, working on his spying skills at the same time as picking up some tricks. Nibiiro didn't seemed bothered by his apprentice sneaking off to watch other teachers, in fact he approved, saying that he was a master of the broad sword, not the short kodachi blade.

But, from current Nibiiro's expression, Sasuke judged that he wouldn't have the spare time to peek in on a dojo today. The youth knew that his sensei was worried by their financial state, something that gave Sasuke an unfamiliar pang of guilt. If Nibiiro hadn't been so generous with his gift, they might have enough money to move on.

Still, this long delay is doing wonders for my recovery. I feel much stronger now, and I know that I'm learning a lot about the sword. It's not an extension of my arm the way Nibiiro's blade is to him, but it's getting there. Also, Sasuke was happily basking in the company of a relative, however cranky that relative was.

Sasuke had long since resigned himself to being the last of his kind, discounting Itachi. One of the youth's goals was to reestablish his clan, a goal that he hadn't thrown away, even with his zeal to kill his brother. He had fretted about how exactly he was going to go about doing that, beyond the obvious that is. Akari's existence gave him a little lee-way; the burden of rebuilding the clan needn't be on his shoulders alone, thanks to her.

Now, if only he could gain her acceptance and liking, so he could encourage her to find a suitable mate with which to make a family…

Probably not going to happen any time soon, not with her wanting to kill him because of his grandfather's sin. He sighed; his grandfather was already dead, killed by Itachi. Couldn't she leave what happened in the past? He twitched at that thought, but couldn't understand why.

They finally reached the Bounty office, Nib- er- Ryoushi asked what jobs needed doing and started to leaf through the stack that was handed to him. Sasuke, on the other hand, leaned against a nearby wall and settled in to be seriously bored for a long time. It always took awhile for Ni- Ryoushi to pick a job that could be done by just the two of them.

They'd only been in the office for a short time when Akari walked in. She hesitated when she saw who was already there, giving Ryoushi a wary look. This was definitely not like the confident, aggressive young woman, and Sasuke had to wonder just what had gone on in that 'disagreement' that the two adults had had.

Ryoushi gave her a cold look before he continued to look for a good job. Akari swallowed, gathered her courage and approached, not the sensei, but the student.

"Sasuke-san, could I speak with you for a moment?" She asked, her tone… polite? Sasuke blinked, that was different.

"Of course. Here? Or-"

"Oh, outside, if you don't mind." 'If I don't'- what's going on? The youth cast a suspicious glance at his sensei. Nibiiro/Ryoushi's face was uncharacteristically closed and expressionless, although his eyes were hard and cold. "We'll be right back, sensei."

"Hn." Was all the young man said, as he gave Akari a warning look. She paled, but lifted her chin stubbornly. Then she and Sasuke stepped outside, Sasuke ready to kill to know what had passed between the two.

"Yes?" Sasuke asked, when Akari opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to find something to say.

"I, uh, I, um, I need, uh, need to, um, apologize to, er, apologize to you, uh, for, uh, my behavior." She finally managed to say. The youth blinked again, oookaaay…

"I, uh, I've been, um, I've been really, er, really cruel to, uh, cruel to you, uh, for, er, for something that, uh, happened before you were born and, uhm-"

"It's okay, I can understand." Sasuke said. Akari looked up at him and smiled sadly.

"I wonder if you really do." She sighed and looked uncomfortable. "Anyway, the furball in there thinks we'd all do better if we worked with each other, and well… I've not been too kind you."

Sasuke said nothing, just bowed slightly, neither denying nor confirming her statement.

"C'mon, let's get back inside before the bastard thinks he should look for us."

"Right."


After that… seriously weird conversation, things improved dramatically. Akari decided to help out Sasuke and Nibiiro and the three of them finally started to make some serious cash. It was really odd that most of the jobs available required three people, but that was how it was.

As the week passed, Sasuke and Akari's relationship slowly improved. They never really became friends, per say, nor did they gain an aunt/nephew bond But Akari no longer wanted to kill Sasuke, which, needless to say, was a good thing. She even decided to help Sasuke train with his sword, and miraculously did not make dirty sword jokes. Often.

But Nibiiro was still worried about his student, Sasuke still refused to talk about his problems. Each night still, the young teen would have nightmares, although the older teen was able to wake him before it became too bad. Sasuke still hated to sleep next to the adult, although he had no choice and exhaustion usually knocked him out as soon as he lay down.

They were all working hard to earn money, and Sasuke was training hard in every spare moment. Add to that the constant exhaustion of being perpetually pained by the metal in the soil, on top of the boy's fragile mental state... The situation couldn't last like this, something would have to break. The Jinchuuriki dreaded the moment it would.

Nibiiro counted out his money in the safety of his empty room. Akari was training with the kid, her sword style being much more similar to the style that Sasuke wanted to learn, and she was finally being decent enough that he trusted his student with her. The Jinchuuriki smiled at the coin piles, he had more than enough now to not only get to the Hidden City, but also to buy a couple of horses as well. Shinobi moved fast in a forest, but they'd have to travel across a vast savannah and in that, horses were faster.

The door banged open, and Sasuke walked in. Nibiiro looked up and felt his fond greeting die on his lips. The youth was pale, sweaty and shaking. His eyes were glazed over and held an anxiety that was frightening. The older teen dropped the coins he was counting and rushed over to his student, wondering what Akari had done.

"What happened? What's wrong?" What did she do? He asked reaching out to hold Sasuke. Nibiiro became very concerned when the youth buried his face against his sensei's chest. This wasn't the boy he knew! Yet his scent was the same and a henged bushin would have had a different smell. Not to mention a henged bushin would vanish the moment that it encountered the soil here, but that was beside the point.

"Snake…." Sasuke whimpered, and started to shake in earnest. Nibiiro was earnestly confused, he knew that Sasuke hated snakes and feared them, but for one to provoke this reaction? Something else must have happened.

"What about a snake?" He asked softly.

"There- training…" Sasuke choked out, "Remembered-"

Ah-hah… Akari was a fierce tutor, demanding perfection in her students. Not that Sasuke would do any less, but then Orochimaru wouldn't demand anything less either. Nibiiro had noticed that Sasuke would spend a period of time after each spar with Akari, alone, just leaning against a tree, face a blank mask. Nibiiro had assumed that Sasuke was cooling off, catching his breath. But what if he'd been suppressing negative emotions instead, triggered by a similar training style to that of his former master?

Add to that the symbol of his former master, the snake… No wonder he broke. Memories of that time would be irrepressible. And he came to me for comfort? Nibiiro hadn't realized that he and his student had forged that close of a bond; Sasuke was always hiding behind his mask, never really showing his true feelings. The adult's lips twitched, it was nice to be needed, but why did it have to be like this?

He carefully steered his student over to the bed and sat down with him on the side. Rubbing the boy's back, he waited for Sasuke to regain some composure before asking anything.

"Wanna talk about it?" He asked carefully when Sasuke pulled away a bit. Firm head shake. The young adult sighed.

"It really will help if you just let it out, and maybe I can help you rationalize some things."

"This…" Sasuke said slowly, Nibiiro held his breath hopefully- "It's not something I can talk about."

-And let it out in disappointment. "Why not?"

Sasuke's lips pressed together, "I can't! I just- I can't!"

Nibiiro rested his chin on the boy's head, and felt him stiffen slightly, "You know I won't let Orochimaru-" Sasuke flinched, "-get to you, right?"

"Promise?" The word was whispered softly, the Jinchuuriki looked down at his student. Sasuke looked up, eyes filled with unshed tears, "Promise you won't let him get me?"

"I promise."

"Even if you have to kill me to keep him from- from-?"

"Whoa, wait a sec!"

"Promise me!" Sasuke demanded, suddenly frantic, "Promise me you'll kill me if he get's hold of me! Promise me! I'd rather die than- than-!"

"Shh, hush, I promise, I promise, hush it's okay… it's okay…" Nibiiro was baffled at the sudden turn, how had Sasuke gone from mildly upset and in need of reassurance to utterly hysterical? Duh, he's been raped and tortured and not that long ago! Hello Captain Oblivious? Nibiiro winced at his cynical conscience, A-heh, yeah, oops? He didn't have time to argue with his conscience right now, Sasuke was sobbing inconsolably against his chest.

He murmured soothing nonsense to the boy, just as he'd done that night just over two weeks ago, grateful that this time at least, Sasuke hadn't had a panic attack before hand. Or did he? I'll have to ask Akari what happened, he might have had an attack when he saw the snake, he was certainly shaky enough when he came in to have had one. Nibiiro stifled a sigh; he was slightly grateful that Sasuke was venting his locked up emotions this way, but the kid wasn't doing himself any favors by letting everything build up to the breaking point like this!

#And think you not that that is the reason he ran to that mock-human in the first place?#

#Huh, that'd make sense. That'd make a lot of sense, considering how Orochimaru tempts people to him.#

#As he tempted you.#

#Don't remind me! Please?# Byakko receded again and Nibiiro noticed that Sasuke was becoming less hysterical and more spent, clinging weakly to his sensei and protector, shaking occasion in hiccupping sobs.

"Better?" The adult asked. Sasuke hid his face against Nibiiro's chest, ears red with embarrassment at his weakness. "That means 'yes' then. You know, if you let me know about things when they're still small problems, things wouldn't build up to this point."

"What do you mean?" The boy asked, voice muffled by over-tunic.

"I mean, you're letting your negative emotions build up by not talking about it and venting. Emotions can't be blocked away like that, you're human and sooner or later something will break. And that's why you get panic attacks and go hysterical like this, your inner emotions are breaking free to the surface."

"This never happened- before-" Sasuke said, turning his face a little. Suddenly, he seemed to notice his position and pushed away, blushing furiously. That was the boy that Nibiiro knew! He nobly refrained from chuckling and let Sasuke move back, but could resist ruffling his hair affectionately. Sasuke blushed deeper and batted his sensei's hand away. "You still haven't answered." He growled.

"Hmm, oh, I think we both know why you're, uh, having emotional episodes now. It's harder to suppress emotion if you've been, um, 'injured' the way you have been." Nibiiro gently tilted Sasuke's chin up so that they were looking eye to eye. He wanted to impress the sincerity of his next words on his student. "It's still never good to lock things away, Sasuke. If you've been hurt badly physically, would you hesitate to ask for help in tending the wound? No, so why should you not ask for help if you've been hurt, emotionally."

Sasuke glanced aside, "It's not the same…" He protested weakly.

"I beg to differ." Nibiiro said sternly, then gentled his features, "Please, let me help. Let me…" His tone changed, "Let me… redeem myself…"

Sasuke stared, "What?"

Mood swing! "Anyway, you look exhausted; let me clear the bed for you. You haven't been sleeping well, how do you expect to recover if you don't get some sleep?" Nibiiro pushed the now thoroughly bewildered Sasuke down on the bed after he'd cleared the coins away. The young adult tucked in the sputtering boy and then swept out with a cheery "G'night!", leaving Sasuke to wonder just what the hell had just happened.

Nibiiro leaned against the balcony rail and blew out a dramatic sigh at the close call.

#And who the hell was it that spoke of locking up emotions and not letting others assist?!?# Byakko demanded angrily. Nibiiro winced.

#I know, I know, I just… I just don't want to talk about that just yet.# Byakko growled warningly, and Nibiiro hastily continued, #I'll tell him! I'll tell him about… that, but not now. He needs to deal with his own problems, he doesn't need to know about mine. When we get to Talon, I'll tell him.#

Byakko sighed, although how a beast without his own body could do so, Nibiiro never figured out. #So, you are planning to head there.#

#Only makes sense, it's one of the safest places in the world and I think he'll like the people there.#

#Your people or the citizens?#

#Both, and I think it'd do him good to get a good close look at the citizens. It'll show him that you can loose all and still move forward.#

#All too true,# Byakko suddenly chuckled slightly.

#What?#

#Oh, I just thought about what the young ones first encounter with Laniana and Tiamat-sama would be like.#

Nibiiro choked, dear gods, he hadn't thought of that! He was probably going to have to wait a while until Sasuke was in excellent health before he went to Hidden Talon, for Sasuke's sake.


The next day was rough, Sasuke was only half in the real world, thinking hard about what had happened last afternoon, for which Nibiiro was somewhat grateful. It was nice that his words were being given that much attention, but still! It'd also be nice if his partner would bloody pay attention to his work. And since Akari was packing to leave, saying that she'd amassed enough wealth to carry on her plans, whatever the hell they were, Nibiiro really need his partner's full attention with no third person to pick up the slack.

At least I got a good long talk with Akari-chan; turns out Sasuke did have a panic attack. She hadn't expected that, but I'm glad she didn't try to beat Sasuke out of it. Actually, he was rather pleased with the way his former partner had handled the event, sitting next to the gasping boy, rubbing his shoulder and pleading with him to snap out of it. She hadn't scolded him, hadn't struck him, she'd just stayed with the boy, being a constant positive presence to home in on.

But she's leaving now, Nibiiro shrugged, well, she has the right to do what she want's and go where she pleases. Nibiiro was planning to leave soon as well. Right now, he and Sasuke were looking over horses. Or rather, Nibiiro was looking over the horses, and Sasuke would do the haggling to buy them. Nibiiro still wasn't so good at the latter, in spite of over two weeks of 'training'.

As they walked down the stalls, one of the horses, a blood-red bay mare, nudged Sasuke and nickered demandingly. The action jarred the boy out of his musings and with a small chuckle he reached up to scratch her ears. The mare groaned happily, leaning her head into the touch. The stable master stared in surprise.

"Tha-that 'orse almost never let people near 'er, and she ain't never asked for attention afore! 'oo the 'eck are you?"

"Just… Just a traveler." Sasuke answered, kind of surprised. He paused in the scratching and got nudged sharply and snorted at. Hastily he continued and the mare drooped her head, groaning in pleasure.

"What's this one called?" Nibiiro asked, inspecting the mare. She had good conformation, although he'd like to lunge her to see if she had any hidden foot or leg injuries.

"Shadow Fire," the stable master said grudgingly.

"I'd like to look her over, if I could." Nibiiro said. The stable master grunted and grabbed a halter. As soon as he approached the mare, her demeanor went from happily relaxed to angry. She laid her ears back and bared her teeth, squealing and scraping her hoof in outrage at his proximity. Sasuke blinked and pulled away a bit in surprise. The stable master thrust the halter into the boy's hands.

"'e-'ere, you d'it." The man stuttered backing away even farther.

"Uhm, how?" The youth said, looking at the tangle of straps in confusion.

"Like this," Nibiiro said, taking the halter from him and then held out his hand for the mare to sniff. She did so condescendingly, acting more like a princess cat than a horse. Still, she permitted Nibiiro to slip the halter over her nose and cinch the straps together behind her ears. And she allowed herself to be led out, neither balking nor starting at odd sounds or invisible boogiemen. Some highbred horses insisted on spooking at everything, as if to prove that they are indeed the ones in charge.

Sasuke watched it all in amazement, and then watched carefully as Nibiiro lunged the mare in the provided round arena, tossing a soft rope at her heels to encourage her to trot, then canter. The young man murmured encouragement, never taking his eyes off of the dainty creature.

"She moves nicely," He said to the cautiously watching stable master, who was leaning against the round pen railing. That man may not have liked the beast, but he wasn't about to let a good piece of horseflesh get damaged by an incompetent potential buyer. So he was supervising, making sure that Nibiiro did indeed, as he'd stated, know what he was doing.

"She's a nice piece, well bred, but fractious." The stable master grunted, "She don't take to just anyone, but she seems to 'ave taken to you twain." He stared at them suspiciously. Nibiiro focused on bringing the mare to heel, tempting her with the oats he'd stuffed in his pockets. That was one thing that all horses everywhere have in common, their natural greed.

She came eagerly; lipping up every stray piece and then letting herself get rubbed down with a damp cloth by Sasuke. The boy looked absolutely charmed by the mare, who was leaning into the rub like any good, pleasure seeking creature would.

"Have you a spare saddle I could use on her? I'd like to see how she rides." Nibiiro asked the stable master. In answer, he bellowed at one of his stable boys, who quickly returned with the needed tack. Nibiiro quickly saddled her, and then gestured for Sasuke to mount.

"I have no clue how to ride." Sasuke stated firmly and with only a trace of embarrassment. For a moment Nibiiro was completely flabbergasted. Sasuke was noble. Like every good commoner, Nibiiro paired noble with mounted. Oh, sure, Sasuke hadn't known how to tack the mare out, but a nobleman would have had stable boys in plenty to do that for him. So it never once occurred to him that Sasuke wouldn't be as competent in the saddle as Nibiiro himself was.

The young adult retrieved his jaw and cleared his throat. "Then this would be an excellent time to learn, don't you think?" And before Sasuke could protest, Nibiiro lifted the boy and placed him firmly in the saddle. The mare craned her neck to look, and lipped Sasuke's foot and then went back to trying to get the grain out of Nibiiro's pocket. She was a clever beast, and had noted immediately where the treats had come from.

Sasuke's seat in the saddle had all the grace of a sack of turnips. Nibiiro set to correcting that.

"Back straight and tuck in your knees. Heels down and feet in the stirrups, no not on, in. Do you call that tucking your knees in? Pretend that you have a silk scarf between your knees and the saddle that you don't dare drop unless you want to tell the lady why her token has dung on it…

"No, no- grip with your thighs, not your calves…

"Do you call that posting? I've seen arthritic old grannies do better!

"How many times do I have to tell you? Sit up straight!

"Knees in. Heels down. Don't put your weight in you feet, you put it in your thighs."

Four hours passed like that, Sasuke's jaw clenched firmly to keep from snapping back at his sensei. Nibiiro wondered if the boy had cracked his molars. But finally the youth was riding nicely, the mare responding as sweetly as you please, all for the occasional mouthful of oats. She was a definite keeper, especially since the stable master had hinted that he wouldn't mind seeing the last of her. All animals were prone to their moods, and would take a liking to this person, but a venomous dislike to another. The stable master and his mother were two of the latter, for no real reason.

None of the beasts here were ill cared for, and the dogs fawned on the stable master with real love, one of the reasons that Nibiiro had picked this place to shop for horses. A second beast was easily found, Sun Leaf, a young dun gelding that, while not as finely conformed and dainty a horse as the mare, was still as nice tempered and sound as her. And as easily bribed, an important point.

Sasuke haggled for the beasts, and then haggled for tack at a used goods store, since the stiff leather of brand new saddles would chafe both beast and rider. Then Nibiiro eyed the state of his purse with woe; he'd not thought to get as nice of beasts as the two he'd gotten. They'd been worth it, but buying them had been a little dearer than he'd wanted. Back to the missions office, with fingers crossed for a good job.

Wonders of wonders, there was a good job for just two people, and a burden beast. The dun had been trained to harness, something that not all horses were trained for. Nibiiro was just signing the job contract when who should walk in but- Itachi.


A.S.: WAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Cliff hanger!!! Woot! And can you tell that I took riding lessons? Just to clarify, Bay is a brown or red horse with black legs and mane. A dun is pale brown or yellow horse. Posting is when you lift your body during a trot, something you want to do if you don't want to pulverize your hipbones. And if you've every walked a long way with brand new shoes, then you'll know what I mean by wanting older, beaten in tack.

Believe it or not, this entire chapter except for a couple of ideas was made entirly on the spot with out any preplaning. Hope everything in here made sense to you. 'Til next time, ja ne.

A.S.