Chapter 4, AN: I am so sorry it took so long. Real Life hates me, I have work, school, psychotic relatives… oh and my grandfather passed away two days before Christmas and my family and I have been having to deal with the aftermath. I loved my Poppop, but I didn't know him that well, so… Sad, but not devastated; more regretful really. So many things I could have done, could have learned… Can't anymore.

As for the fic, there's going to be a scene later on that I know I'm going to get yelled at for. Just to let you know now, IT'S JUST A CRUSH!!! Nothing more! You'll see and it should be obvious why it happened. Not going to spoil it anymore, go read and have fun and burn incense that I get the next chapter out sooner. I need all the help and incentive I can get. Have fun!

I could end up in real deep trouble… Sasuke thought casually as he carefully stalked his quarry. Very carefully, this was no ordinary quarry. In fact, if he wasn't near-paranoid in his technique, Sasuke could well wind up with a nasty case of dead if he were caught. Spying on ones own elder brother tended to be dangerous.

Torimiya hadn't anticipated finding the Uchiha brothers when he did, so he had a few accounts to settle before they left. Settling said accounts was apparently a lengthy business since he had told the brothers to relax for the next couple of days.

Itachi had taken to that news almost eagerly and had trained with Sasuke ruthlessly all day, barely giving the younger brother any chance to catch his breath. Now it was evening, and Itachi had 'gone for a walk' right after dinner. Was Sasuke suspicious? Oh, just a tad. Was he curious? Was fire hot?

Somehow, by some streak of insane luck, Sasuke had managed to trick his brother into thinking that he was more tired than he really was. So Itachi wasn't watching his back nearly as well as he normally did. This was making it very easy for the younger to follow the elder, although if the neighborhood kept growing Red Light like this…

Itachi turned a corner and Sasuke followed via the roofs. EEP!!! Oh, uh, my, er, did bodices normally come that low cut? Holy Nine! That woman there is about to pop out of her- uh, yeah, I'm trailing my brother, not ogl- er looking at the, uh, 'scenery'. Many of the woman started to cat-call as soon as they saw Itachi, but somehow the elder Uchiha just ignored it like there was noting of note around him.

Nothing of note?! Sasuke was about to die of a heart attack or a massive nose bleed, which ever came first. He could not figure out how Itachi was remaining so unaffected. Then he watched his brother enter a building- who are we kidding, it's a brothel- with a sign declaring it the 'House of The Night Blossom Tree'; and saw the kind of women there and suddenly understood.

Comparing those women to these is like comparing back-alley mutts to pedigree show dogs! Not only was the physical appearance of the women superior, but the manners as well. No cat-calling, no lewd suggestions or looks, just kind welcoming expressions.

Sasuke found a flat roof near enough to the brothel so he could watch the door, but far enough that he wouldn't be forced to suppress his chakra too much. Then he settled down for a long wait as his brother was ushered into the building. So when a window half-way up the multi-story building was opened to reveal his brother, Sasuke was taken by surprise. So much so that he caught himself staring without meaning to. The fact that neither of the two figures there were wearing a shirt didn't help.

The younger Uchiha was well-acquainted with the fact that the elder was in very good physical condition, so he didn't spare a second glance on him. The woman there on the other hand- she was, uh, also in good condition. Quite, um, healthy in fact! With grand, er, natural endowments. Now Sasuke wasn't only staring, but gaping as well. He hadn't known that people came with proportions like that.

His, cough, view was suddenly cut off by something equally awe-inspiring but not nearly as nice; Itachi's scowling face. Ulp…Sasuke didn't need to use Sharingan to read his brother's lips. 'You. Are. Dead. LEAVE!'

Yessir! Sasuke left. Rapidly.

"So that's the little brother you talk about so often, eh?" Apple Blossom asked as she languidly pulled the shutters closed. The room hadn't been properly aired out after her last customer had left, so she'd opened the window for a fresh breeze. "Didn't seem all that little."

Her tone was speculative, and Itachi was broken out of his murderous musings in favor of something more… vindictive.

"In a few years, maybe I'll bring him by to… meet you." Itachi offered. The image of Sasuke dying from the world's most spectacular nose-bleed ran through his mind. Oh, he'd bring Sasuke by here sometime in the future. Whether he remained conscious to appreciate it or not remained to be seen.

"I'd enjoy that, especially if he's anything like you." Blossom said as she poured a cup of wine and tested it before offering it to Itachi. He allowed her to hold the cup while he drank a sip.

"He is, only more innocent." He said. Blossom smiled most seductively.

"And we both know how easily I can fix that, now don't we?" She cooed, half veiling her eyes with her long lashes. Gently she guided Itachi to the large bed that dominated the room.

"I'm not sure I do. Perhaps you can show me." Itachi said, almost playfully. Apple Blossom then proceeded to 'show' Itachi just how easily she could 'cure' anyone of innocence, let alone Sasuke.

Halfway across town, in the safety of the inn, a young boy sneezed and shivered, certain that he was doomed.

When Itachi finally got back to the inn after a very satisfying evening with the highly talented, highly creative Apple Blossom, it was nearly dawn. So he wasn't very surprised to see that the only thing there to greet him was a blanket lump.

He regarded the lump carefully, he knew that Sasuke was in there, somewhere. His ototou's chakra signature was unmistakable. What needed careful regard was just what he was going to do to his precious little brother. A grin tried to surface, but was automatically suppressed, Itachi had an idea.

He grabbed the blanket and ruthlessly pulled it away. Sasuke yelped and rolled onto his back defensively. He looked very guilty and embarrassed. Perfect.

"Oi, just what the hell kind of stunt were you trying to pull early? Do you have any notion of privacy?" He growled, not bellowed. They were in an inn, some consideration for their neighbors was required.

"Nii-san, I'm sorry, I didn't know-" Sasuke apologized frantically, holding up his arms as if to protect himself.

"Didn't know? Didn't know? Did it ever occur to you that maybe I had it that way for a reason? Do you think you're ready to 'know' yet?" The elder demanded.

"No! Except I- Ah! Wait! I was just- I was just-!"

"'Just' what?"

"I was curious…" Sasuke admitted in a small voice. Itachi almost smiled.

"Oh, is that so?" He stood back, grinning evilly inside. Sasuke clearly saw the signs of that and cringed, expecting the worst. "Well, if you're truly that curious then maybe I can introduce you to a few people."

"Wai- wha-? Ack!" Sasuke went from frightened and pale to embarrassed and red.

"You know, Apple Blossom was rather interested in meeting you." Itachi continued.


"You should know her, you were admiring her physique earlier this evening."

"Ack! Wai-wait!"

"Not that I can't see why, she is a rather handsome woman, but you only got to see the less impressive half earlier."

"'Less impre- Oh no!"

"Truly, if you want to fully admire the specimen that is Apple Blossom, you have to view her nude and in be-"

"Noooooo! No more! No more! Please!" Sasuke had buried his head under one of their much-abused pillows. From the deep crimson color of the back of his neck, he was testing the limits to which one could blush without fainting from the rush of blood to the head. For the first time in many years, Itachi actually chuckled out loud. Ah, punishing one's mischievous younger brother could be so much fun sometimes.

He sat down next to the pre-teen who was wistfully hoping to spontaneously drop to the center of the earth. "No more spying?" He asked.

"No more spying." Sasuke's declaration came clearly in spite of the muffling pillows. "No more spying, not now, not ever. If I get curious, I'll just ask! …Maybe."

Itachi grinned again inwardly. He pulled back the pillow, revealing Sasuke's still beet-red face.

"You do realize that you're an evil bastard though, right?" Sasuke asked, glaring.

"With you to constantly remind me? How can I ever forget?" A wicked twinkle enter his dark eyes, "Now, are you certain you don't to meet Apple Blossom? She's free this eveni-"

"Ack! No! No! Bad Nii-san! Bad!" Sasuke lashed out with a pillow to fend off not only his brother's suggestions but the images that came with them. Itachi fended off the flailing pillow with one hand while reaching for a return weapon with the other.

"Now boys," Came an all-too-familiar voice from the doorway, "What have I said about pillow fights?" It was the inn-keepers wife again, somehow stifling her amusement. But it was hard when she got near-identical embarrassed faces turned towards her.

"Yes ma'am, sorry ma'am." The brothers chorused. The woman shook her head and continued down to the kitchen. She hadn't been sure about giving a room to two young mercenaries at first, but these two had earned their place. They were good kids, good, polite young fighters; even if they were easy to tease.

The day after the almost-pillow-fight found the brothers back at Torimiya's mansion. Torimiya had stated that he and his daughter needed to get to Konoha as soon as possible. Itachi had mentioned the fact that their traveling pace was going to be determined by how quickly the two civilians could travel, which was far less swiftly than the Uchiha brothers could travel. Torimiya assured Itachi that he could travel rapidly enough, with a little help and had led the brothers downstairs to view that help. Downstairs and outside. To the stables.

Which was where Itachi was having a minor crisis. Bad enough that there were two horses, a pretty little mare and a nice looking gelding, but the other two… creatures…

The other two were as tall as horses, had four legs like horses, and a flowing mane and tail like horses, but they were most definitely not horses. Not when they had scales and forked horns, nor with claw like 'hooves', sharp fangs and dramatically draconic heads…

The creature in front of Itachi, a gold colored male, glowered at him and snorted. Itachi thought it sounded contemptuous, which was fair since he didn't know the first thing about riding. The elder brother broke out in a nervous sweat; he cleared his throat. Hopefully he wouldn't squeak.

"Torimiya-san?" Itachi managed to say.

"Hmm?" The spice merchant asked as he rubbed under the chin of his placid gelding.

"I assume that you are aware of the fact that you own two Kirin?"

"Oh, yes. One of my more wealthy customers gave these two to me in lieu of cash." He looked up at his hired guard, smiling benignly. "I've been told that they are the preferred mounts of fighters, seeing as they are good fighters themselves." The merchant looked like he had just given a great gift to a friend and was waiting for thanks. Itachi hated to disappoint such a kind soul but-

"Be that as it may, Sasuke and I don't know how to ride horses, let alone… these." Itachi gestured at the gold male Kirin in front of him, who lifted his lip in a warning snarl. Silence descended in the stable, and even Jessinina, who was stroking the nose of her mare, looked over in faint astonishment. She was, of course, well acquainted in the care of horses, or any animal that she spent time with. Itachi just happened to be her opposite in that.

"M-my apologies." Torimiya stammered, "By your manner, I had assumed…" Itachi flinched. To most minds, noble or common, noblemen equaled landed and mounted. The Uchiha brothers were noble born with the manners and speech patterns that came with it, things that couldn't be successfully copied. Naturally, Torimiya had assumed that they knew how to ride as well.

"Regretfully, shinobi of any class rarely need to know how to ride, or even have the time to learn." Itachi explained. What he did not say was that even if he had had the time, he didn't have the inclination. He wasn't fond of horses, mostly because they weren't too fond of him.

"Ah, er, well, I'm in no shape for a marathon dash cross-country anyway, so there should be time to teach you." The merchant said a frantic edge to his voice. "And I've often been told that riding Kirin is easier that riding horses…" The gold male snorted as if to challenge that. Apparently Kirin shared the horses' opinions of Itachi. The elder Uchiha began to feel as desperate as his employer.

Torimiya had no real choice in who he hired; his only option was the Uchiha brothers. Itachi had done a little snooping and apparently Torimiya had interviewed every available guard in the area and only the Uchiha's had been found suitable. He was either stuck where he was or stuck with the brothers, so he was going to have to ignore the lack of one skill.

Itachi was in a similar impasse, Mercenary Guild fees had for some reason increased in the last several months. He and Sasuke had no choice but to pay the increased fee, they needed Guild protection and patronage, for who knew what the future held? Torimiya was going to pay them a very great deal, the brothers needed that money. So they were going to have to learn this skill. No matter what ugly look the gold male was giving Itachi.

A soft laugh broke the desperate mood in the stable and the two adults looked at the source of the sound. It was Sasuke, apparently his Kirin, a crimson female, had taken a great liking to him and was nuzzling his hair, making the boy laugh. Oh, sure. Go right ahead and make friends with your beast. Traitor.

"Ah, good. That's an excellent sign, quite excellent." The merchant said. Beside him Jessinina was watching Sasuke with gentle smile and a slight blush. Uh-oh. "Well, how about I show you how to get these lovelies kitted up and then we'll head out, shall we?"

The gold male was growling at Itachi now, challenging him to do anything. 'Excellent sign', yeah right. Why do I have a feeling that this is not going to be a good trip? The male snorted and scraped his sharp claw-like hoof. Apparently he agreed that this was not going a good trip because he himself was going to make sure of that.

One of Torimiya's hired hands walked up with the saddle and harness, giving Itachi a very skeptical look, which his employer echoed. It looks like I'm going to be right, again.

Sometimes I hate being right, Itachi thought as his mount, Stardance, tossed his head, again, nearly stabbing his rider with his antlers, again. The elder brother sighed and thumped the beast right between those antlers and jerked the reins, forcing the beast's mouth down and antlers away from Itachi's chest. Stardance snorted and started chewing the bit. This was the eighth time that day that Stardance had tried to gore his rider and Itachi was getting sick of it.

He was also sick of the doubtful looks that Torimiya kept giving him, and just because that damned beast was making his life difficult. Itachi was a professional shinobi, damnit; shinobi had no reason to ride! It was the Kirin that was making him look bad and Itachi didn't like it. He was used to looking impressive, not incompetent. And Sasuke was not helping one bit.

The elder brother cast a slightly sour look at the younger. Sasuke was chatting amiably with Jessinina, or rather, was talking to her while she listened and made the appropriate responses. He was also riding Fireshadow, the crimson female, as if he'd been born to the saddle. The fact that she clearly adored her rider and would do anything he asked didn't hurt one bit.

""Enjoying yourself, ototou?"" Itachi asked. Sasuke suppressed a twitch at the unexpected contact and responded.

""Um, yeah, I am. Jessinina's a nice girl."" Sasuke's embarrassment was blatant, as was his budding crush. That was the other thing that was making the two adults uneasy was the fact that the two youngsters were enjoying each others company so much.

But Itachi at least could see how it had happened on both sides easily. Jessinina was a polite, quiet and kind girl and also happened to be rather pretty, if not beautiful. She listened to Sasuke attentively without hanging off his every word, she made it clear but not painfully obvious that she enjoyed his company, she would greet him with a shy smile when he came back to camp after scouting the perimeter but didn't try to glomp him. To make it short, she behaved in a wildly different way than any other girl, or even woman, that Sasuke had encountered before. Novelty was assisting nature, Sasuke was twelve after all, and he was supposed to be showing some interest in the opposite sex naturally.

On Jessinina's part, Sasuke was kind, gentle and well-spoken, and only mildly protective. He didn't criticize her quietness, just looked for the clues of her response, he complemented her manners and accepted her help in camp with thanks, but didn't make a fuss of it, as if it were a given that she could and would help. He knew of her burden, but ignored it without ignoring it. He occasionally made reference to it, asking if she could sense this or that and stated that it was helpful that her burden gave her greater endurance and accelerated healing. But that was all, since of course she had the Bijuu under control, her father was still with her and loved her, didn't he? For her as well, Sasuke's behavior was novel, he treated her as a person, an equal, and she liked it. Very much.

Natural attraction, and it could cause more problems than it solved if it grew too much. She's the employer's daughter. Sasuke may be nobly born, but he doesn't have the benefits anymore, so in that she's out of his league. Also, they are going into the Fire Lands, to Konoha, and we can't follow. And she's Jinchuuriki, and I have no clue just how that will complicate things beyond the fact that it will.

And my dear little brother is letting himself get distracted from his job of rearguard.

""Anything on our tail, chibi?"" Itachi asked.

""Don't call me that! And- oh, oops?"" Sasuke said, looking up at him sheepishly.

""Mind your job, there will be time for flirting tonight."" Itachi warned.

""'Nina and I aren't flirting, we're just talking!""

""Is that what they're calling it these days, and "'Nina" is it?"" Sasuke didn't respond to that, just concluded whatever it was he was saying to Jessinina and reigned Fireshadow up a bit, falling back. Itachi sighed and focused his attention forward again, just in time for Stardance to decide that that stump beside the road was going to leap out and get him. The elder Uchiha swore and struggled to keep his seat, rein the devil-beast in and punching his neck in retribution. Torimiya gave him another doubtful look, which Itachi masterfully ignored. At least he kept his seat this time. The last time Stardance had spooked at a boogieman, Itachi had gone flying and it had taken nearly an hour for Jessinina to coax the beast close enough to grab his reins.

Sasuke had never been so embarrassed in his life, his brother had had to remind him to do his job. Not even the humiliation from his last spying trip could measure up. That was just… normal. His brother had been teasing him and yes it was embarrassing, but nothing at all like this. Sasuke was a shinobi, an Uchiha, trained by his brother who had made Anbu captain at age thirteen. He should be far more professional than to get side-tracked by a girl. Even if that girl was kind and pretty and easy to talk to, and- No! No and no and no and no! I can't think of that, there's at least a hundred reasons why I can't and the main one is I'm rear-guard and I have to focus!

Sasuke sighed and refocused his mind, scanning for chakra or strange noises. Fireshadow flicked her tufted ears back at the sound of his sigh, making Sasuke smile and stroke her neck. 'Shadow responded by arching her neck more, flagging her tail and letting a prance enter her step.

Kirin were odd creatures, with vaguely deer-like bodies, although heavier than any deer could be, a flowing crest of long fur running the length of their spine, and the underside of their curved tail. The rest of the Kirin's body was scaled, save for silky tufts at ankle, knee, shoulder and withers. That and the head, which was straight off of a statue of the classic oriental dragon. 'Shadow was smaller and slimmer than Stardance, but not by much and both were larger and more muscular than the horses. And both showed far greater signs of intelligence, or at least 'Shadow did.

Sasuke had been able to train her a little already and he'd only been riding her for two and one half days. He'd taught her to kneel for him so that it was easier to put her saddle on, and to bow her head for the bit. Not that he'd been using the later much recently; his body position and the pressure of the rein on her neck seemed to be enough.

He'd taught her to do these things with the reward of praise and a mouthful of smoked meat, her favorite treat, alone. Recently, Sasuke wondered if his praise would be enough. It was for Jessinina. Sasuke's eye's strayed to her figure, and he wondered at the change in her. It wasn't much, but she was less painfully shy out here than she had been back in the city. Her head was raised, her back straight and she was looking around, smiling softly when she saw or heard something that pleased her.

She really was rather pretty, even if she wasn't beautiful. Her features were very even, although her nose was a tad too long and her jaw just slightly too strong for true beauty. But so much else about her was so very appealing, so very different than any other girl that Sasuke had met that he didn't even note the tiny flaws in her features. Not that those flaws were important anyway.

She didn't throw herself at him; she didn't chase him or try to show him why she and she alone was the perfect bride. All 'Nina did was listen, make small comments and small smiles. She helped out when they camped and willingly lent a hand when Sasuke tended to 'Shadow, which was an enormous help since he didn't really know what he was doing. He liked her more than he had liked any other girl in his acquaintance and- and I'm not doing my job again, Nii-san's going to kill me!

He refocused, and just in time to see Stardance jump his entire body length sideways, shooting Itachi out of the saddle. It was a bad spill, 'Nina gasped softly and Torimiya uttered a worried oath. Sasuke sent out a worried thought and encountered- anger. Sasuke pulled his mind back and just sat, watching. Itachi rarely got that angry. This could be bad.

Itachi rose to his feet stiffly, even if he was a well-trained shinobi, that tumble had hurt. He caught that damned beast's eyes, making it prance back in budding alarm, but not bolt off. The next thing everyone saw was Itachi's hands grabbing the hell-beast's antlers. With a grunt, Itachi heaved the creature into the air and slammed it down on its back. The elder Uchiha was beyond fed up, and now Stardance knew it.

The male Kirin tried to scramble to his feet but stopped all movement when his muzzle was grabbed in an iron grip.

"Do not test me." Itachi growled. Stardance stared and whimpered. "Understand?" The Kirin tried to bob his head, staring straight into Itachi's red eyes. Itachi stared back and was evidently satisfied with what he saw. He let go of the Kirin's nose. Stardance didn't move, just watched the elder Uchiha.

"Up." Itachi barked. Stardance scrambled to his feet. "Stand." Stardance didn't move a muscle as Itachi hauled himself back into the saddle. The Uchiha settled himself and then glared at his traveling companions. "Well? Are we just going to stand here?"

With a growl he set Stardance's nose back on the trail and kicked him into motion. The Kirin limped forward, but took evident pains to disguise his limp.

"Wha-wha-?" Torimiya started to ask, but Sasuke rode 'Shadow beside him and distracted him.

"Don't ask him anything just now, Nii-san's not going to be in the mood to answer any questions." Sasuke explained. Torimiya stared.

"But- but- That Kirin is over 1500 pounds and he- and he flipped it like I would an unruly ten pound dog!" The merchant exclaimed. Sasuke nodded.

"Nii-san was an Anbu captain before he left Konoha." Sasuke said as if that explained everything.

"But- but- so strong!" Torimiya gaped some more.

"Well, he wouldn't have made captain at thirteen if he wasn't."

"Thirteen! But Jessi's that old!"

Sasuke shrugged, "Shinobi have to be strong with all that's asked of us."

"You mean you could-!" Torimiya was staring like he'd never stop.

Sasuke cocked his head to the side, considering. "I'd have to use more chakra than Nii-san had, but yeah, I think I could do that too." Torimiya's eyes were fit to fall out of his head.

"Well?!" Itachi yelled from farther up the road, "Are we going?"

"Coming Nii-san!" Sasuke called back. He looked over at 'Nina, who was watching and waiting patiently, and then grabbed the reins of Torimiya's gelding and trotted up to the impatient Itachi. Stardance had his head bowed submissively, licking his lips in an appeasing gesture. Torimiya was staring at Itachi in awe. Sasuke stifled a smirk, one thing was certain now; no one was going to question Itachi's abilities anymore.

It was late evening, camp had been made, the beasts settled for the night, dinner made and eaten, and Itachi was trading watch with Sasuke. The pre-teen tended to get wired in the evening and had to wear out his mind thinking before he could sleep, whereas Itachi had a true soldier's instincts and could sleep anywhere, anytime. Oh, true, the younger brother could cat-nap anywhere, but it was usually best he take first watch. And right now, he was done and ready to crawl into his sleeping bag.

Itachi smiled gently down at him and touched his mind to share a moment of affection. Sasuke returned the gesture and then curled into his usual sleeping position. In moments he was asleep. The elder brother scanned the immediate area with all senses but found nothing amiss and so settled down to a long watch alone with his thoughts.

But it wasn't that way long; Jessinina sat up and gracefully exited her sleeping bag to join him near the fire.

"Can't sleep?" Itachi whispered to her.

"The child can sleep, but words should be exchanged between us two." The young girl said in deep, hollow tones. She raised her eyes and they glowed with a fey light. Itachi swallowed hard.

"To whom am I speaking?" He asked as politely as he could manage. The person across the fire chuckled softly.

"I believe you know to whom you speak, but I shall grant you the name that I go by. I am Jourmund, Hachibi, the Eight-tailed Leviathan." She said. Itachi bowed his head, wanting to show that he respected what he was speaking to.

"To what do I owe the great honor?" He asked. The girl-shaped demon looked over at Sasuke, her expression gentle.

"So kind," She murmured, "Both of you, so incredibly kind. Have you any notion how wonderful it is, kindness, to one who all but never knows it?" Itachi regarded her.

"I can imagine," He said slowly, "I remember how it was in the village, just before I left. Only two people were really, honestly kind to me. One was Sasuke, the other…" he paused, letting the pain come and go, "The other died, because of my foolishness."

Jourmund closed her eyes and nodded her understanding. "So you know, so you understand. I treasure my host, for she is of good heart. To her, you and especially your brother are also treasured as two of the three humans she has encountered in her life that treat her as she is, human and good. For this, I thank you, truly, for her sake and mine."

"Your thanks are received gratefully." Itachi replied carefully. Jourmund looked at him again, her marine eyes glowing brightly.

"And to show my thanks, a word of warning," She continued. Itachi sat up and focused all his attention on the being across from him. "The ones who hunt us are more then just the soldiers of the one who bound me. Those are the lesser threat; the greater are two who cloak themselves in red clouds on a field of black. These two are strong, yet individually less so than you." She paused expectantly.

"How likely are they to work together?" He asked.

"Not, I think. The one who uses water is disgusted by the one who uses snakes, and rightfully. The latter is the one to watch however, he knows honor not!" Itachi nodded. "He seeks power as well. He may come to seek your eyes, if he can."

"I'll bear that firmly in mind," He said, narrowing his coveted eyes.

"Another thing, perhaps the harder," Jourmund said, then hesitated a moment. "The bond you share, you and your brother… it could become… double-edged."

"How so?" Itachi asked, cautious again.

Jourmund stared at a point above Itachi's head, clearly struggling to put her knowledge into words.

"The more you grow, the closer you become, the more… intertwined you become." She said, "You could become so- intertwined, it could become- hazardous. If one should fall, so too would the other, if things continue as they are."

"How could that happen?" Itachi asked, confused.

"You and your brother were bound since his birth, but the bond could have faded, yet it was nurtured and not unwisely. But the way the bond grows, ever tighter… It is hard to say, but now you are not only bound but linked, as two made one." She paused, frustrated, and worried. "I know not how to explain better than that."

"I understand." Itachi said, staring into the fire trying to figure out the demon's words. Bound? Linked? How and in what way? Did the ease he had in talking telepathically with Sasuke have anything to do with it, or the way that Sasuke could easily judge Itachi's mood play a part? "You said that my brother and I are nurturing this bond; is there a way to not do so?"

"Aside from living apart, no." Jourmund replied easily. Itachi looked at her aghast. Live apart from his brother, the only kin he acknowledged, the only constant he had to hold onto. To do that was… unthinkable. Jourmund read his response easily. "You see? You are bound."

If one should fall, so too would the other. Itachi had never thought about it before, but if Sasuke were to die… I'd follow, immediately. Why would I want to live without him? What would be the point? He couldn't think of one. Shouldn't that frighten him? Yet it didn't, only the thought of Sasuke dying. That thought… was beyond frightening. It was terrifying. But on another level, the fact that it did terrify him just felt… right.

A.S.: FINALLY!!! I finally got this done and got it out! Yeah for me!

Itachi: (comes up on right side) 'Mi-chan…

Sasuke: (comes up on left side)(singsong) Skitty….

A.S.: (writer-senses tingle with oncoming screwed-ness) Ulp?

Itachi and Sasuke: How many times do we have to tell you that we're not fking each other!?!?!

A.S.: Ack! Wait! When did I ever say you were? When did I even hint that you were?

Itachi: Oh, I don't know, maybe the last scene for this chapter hinted at it just a little?

A.S.: Hey, hey! Whoa, whoa! I'm foreshadowing and building up the relationship here! I'm trying to make a brotherly bond like the Elrics from Full Metal Alchemist! Nothing more.

Sasuke: Do you have any idea how much that doesn't help? Have you any idea how much Elricest is out there?

A.S.: Uhm…(checks stats)(squick!!!!!!) yeah… doesn't help much, does it… Uh, okay, how about Ninja Turtles brother bond?

Itachi and Sasuke: ……………………………………. WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!

A.S.: ………….Okay that doesn't help much either, does it? Well, I tried.


Sasuke: You would want to read it.

Itachi: Damned pervert, yaoi fanatic authoress, grumble-mumble.

A.S.: (evil look) Oh, Shisui! I think Itachi needs a hug!

Itachi: Eh? (pounced)

Shisui: Ita-bita-bou-chou-chan!!!!!!! (snuggles)

Itachi: Get it off!!! Get it Off!!!

Sasuke: Heck no way! I don't know where it's been, it might be contagious!

A.S.: Until next time everybody! Don't forget to read 'Different Paths'! Ja ne

Itachi: Somebody help!!!!