A/N: Disclaimer, blah. Haven't reread this, haven't edited it, so sorry if it doesn't make much sense. Just a moment in time that flashed through my head and necessitated me putting it out there. Enjoy and let me know what you thought, if you're so moved.

Rain poured down all around them, a hazy curtain of moisture blurring the lines of the trees and reducing the world around them to a hiss of water. Droplets pounded the leaves and branches, obliterating the sounds of animals or enemies. The velocity of the water as it hurtled toward the earth from the heaven was such that it actually caused pain when it hit flesh, and as such they knew they were safe. Sometimes a storm was so severe that not even mortal enemies dared venture out.

The four men glanced at each other, mouths set in identical lines as they huddled in the branches of a particularly large tree, pressing as tightly to the trunk as they could to avoid the barrage of precipitation just inches away. They remained silent for long moments, eyes searching their surroundings, ears straining for a sign of the enemy, until one of them, moon-white eyes relaxing, slowly nodded.

The others nodded in return, bodies slumping a bit as tension leaked out of their limbs, one or two shifting on the branch they squatted upon. There was time for rest, at least for a moment. One of them reached up and wiped a bleeding cut on his forehead, the sourness of his perpetual scowl intensifying for a moment, and the blonde turned to him, handing him a clean square of cotton cloth. "Sakura makes me carry them," he explained as the other man's scowl eased slightly, his hand closing over the cloth.

"She always said you had horrible manners," the third man said, still scanning the area from underneath thick, black brows. "She said you wiped your nose on your sleeve until you were twenty-two."

"Shut up," the blonde growled. "Old lady Tsunade beat that habit out of me. Now they're just nice to have."

"Yes, you're an authentic gentleman, all right," the white-eyed man mumbled, and his thick-browed counterpart grinned.

The blonde grumbled a bit as the scowler smirked, but eventually all fell silent again, staring out at the bank of thundering water. The absence of their words stretched and wrapped around them as each sank into private thoughts, but here was no discomfort in the lack of conversation. They had been sent on the mission as killers, but as humans they all needed time to reflect.

The white-eyed man took a deep breath and let it out through his nose, although none of the others even spared him a glance. "Tenten's pregnant," he said quietly, his words barely audible above the hiss of the rain. "Three months."

Thick-brows shifted on the branch, his dark, slick ponytail collecting droplets of water that fell down his back as he moved. "Congratulations."

The other two men murmured their agreement, pretending not to notice the worry etched around the kaiten-user's mouth, ignoring the memories that were reflected in the man's eyes, memories of white, smooth, female skin arching with pleasure beneath his bandaged hand as she moaned his name and clawed at his bare back, memories of a steely smile as their weapons met in heated training.

"You had better hurry up and become Hokage so we can marry," he mumbled, shooting a glance at the blonde, who merely grimaced.

"I'm doing my best. The elders are trying to block my succession on account of Kyuubi."

"They don't know you. They don't understand," thick-brows said under his breath, the words hot and glowing as he released them.

"But you can see why they'd be frightened," the last man said, scratching his stubbly chin and turning his scowl upon the rain-saturated forest before him. Mist had begun to rise from the ground, obscuring the view even more. "People always fear what they don't understand."

The four of them nodded, thinking about their mission, wishing they were elsewhere.

Thick-brow's face softened as he thought of home, of his green-eyed wife, of her tender smile and gentle, skilled hands. There was steel and grace in her, strength and beauty, and he adored every aspect of her. "Saori will be two in three days," he said aloud, eyes unfocused as they saw things other than the surrounding woods. "She looks more like her mother every day."

"When's your next, do you think?" the blonde asked.

"Not for a year or two. Sakura is focusing on work right now."

The other three made small noises of agreement. Being a ninja came first. It was a fortunate child who had talented ninja for parents, for they came home alive more often than not. The parents were even more fortunate for being able to pass on their love before dying young.

The jounins' thoughts rushed down the path of the future, wondering about children, love, greatness, honor, and the chance of survival, the opportunity to enjoy all the things that had come before. There was a delicate balance between love of one's country and love for one's family, and love of one's self was entirely out of the question. It was love of family and country that had germinated their need to grow, to improve, to become better, to overcome obstacles like inability to perform ninjutsu, laziness, social isolation, or the crushing grip of fate. It was love that had made them tools, and they served willingly, if not always gladly. The irony of killing for gentle love was lost on none of them.

The silence was comfortable as the green foliage around them faded to misty gray, daylight fading somewhere above the clouds that hid the sky. The thoughts of each were recognized by all even as their faces remained impassive masks. Years of fighting together, surviving together, had forged unbreakable bonds. The bond did not extend to them alone, but to all they had fought with side-by-side. Nothing needed to be said about such complete solidarity; no words could have expressed it, anyway. Joy was just as easily shared as fear.

"I asked Ino to marry me," the sour-faced man sighed, reaching a callused hand up and brushing beads of water out of his bushy ponytail. The words were like pearls in his mouth, beautiful, polished by adversity, and easily shattered. "I will hear her say yes."

"You shouldn't have asked her right before we left," the moon-eyed man mumbled.

"Sometimes things can't wait. It was troublesome enough as it was."

"The power of passionate youth," thick-brows said, voice tight with restrained emotion.

"That's what got Sakura pregnant after you'd been married only two months," the blonde snickered, and the man with white eyes reached over and smacked him without even turning his head.

The thundering of the rain drowned out their voices, the larger sound accompanied by the staccato of individual droplets rolling off of nearby leaves. They moved together slightly for warmth, pulling flak jackets more closely around them and ensuring weapons were at the ready. There was no undercurrent of nervousness, for each of them knew what had to be done and precisely how to do it. It was merely bad fortune that their mission, although it was difficult, had taken even this long.

"Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be a civilian?" one of them whispered. "To go home and the end of the day and have your family there, waiting, knowing that you're all safe?" The voice was so quiet the rain nearly drowned it out, and none of them would own up to having said such a thing, even though they all had thought that very thing at one point in time or another.

Hours stretched around them, bringing forth many varied memories. Thoughts of loss and pain, laughter and joy trickled through their minds, the occasional smile making their lips twitch or remembered sorrow pulling their eyebrows down into a frown. Daylight faded further, darkness settling like a blanket above them, and the blonde finally stood, glancing at the white-eyed man, who immediately glared into the gloom as web-like veins spread across his temples.

"The rain is letting up," thick-brows said, stretching as he stood and ignoring the grumblings of the sour-faced, bushy-haired jounin to his left.

"You take point," the grumbler said to thick-brows, gesturing with an arm, and the head protector fastened to his sleeve caught some remnant of light and flashed, reminding them of their purpose.

The blonde turned, hands on his hips, and shot them all a wild grin. "Let's get this show on the road. Hinata's waiting for me at home," he said.

The others nodded in agreement, and they all faded into the night to fulfill their purpose. The rain would stop, their heads would clear, and they would return home.