Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

I should, though.

Rating: Mature

Ages: 17/18.

Just read it...summaries are difficult for me.

Prologue: The Drinking Eight

"Now get the fuck out!"

Her piercing, utterly teeth-grinding order echoed through the village, which had only begun to slow down for the night; her absolutely furious voice accented 'get' and her curse in a most vicious way. There was no need to see the young woman to know that someone was very close to being nothing but a mere memory from her wrath. Lights that had been just clicked off now clicked on abruptly, with shuffling and the sound of windows opening to accompany it as curious children and tired parents obnoxiously stuck their heads from the comfort of home to satisfy their wonder.

Strangely dull sounds, as though a body were being shoved against a wooden, bolted door, now were heard from, predictably, the inside of an entrance to the local tavern; furious snarls of a woman at the drop-off of her patience and coarse language, presumably from an older man, were heard, along with someone in the background positively shrieking with indignation.

A few more witty exchanges, a scream from a banshee, and another loud thump, and the sound of splintering wood cut through the night air and caused late-night stragglers in the street to jump and cower as though being shot at. Whether a human natured reaction or the fact that many were nursing a hangover and did not like the noise, young and old alike glared disgustedly down at the heap of rags that had been forcibly punted through the wooden door. The pile of rags sat up, and rubbed a gloved hand through it's matted hair, presumably unwashed, and stared blearily through glazed eyes at the doorway, where light was flooding onto the ground, silhouetting a young woman of average height and build.

She pointed a thin but powerful finger at the man, who half-heartedly raised a hand to his face as if to ward off a blow.

"I expect better from someone of your status," she hissed, trying to instill a bit of guilt in this normally easygoing man; he was a regular at this particular bar. Although feeling a bit shamed for yelling at him, she had to look as if she really gave a shit whether the bar was trashed or not, so she threw his shoe–which had fallen off during the scuffle–out after him and shut the door; the light disappeared from the ground, throwing a shadowy figure's face into darkness. Slowly, the curious minds began to think of sleep, and the myriad of lights scattered across Kohona Village began to disappear as if they were candles, snuffed out by a breath of wind.

The shadowy figure sighed; that bitch could never help the drama, and he had the distinct feeling she was hanging around Yamanaka for too long. Letting out a breath and an indistinct "Hn", he leaned against the wall with a quiet creak, and realized someone on the other side was doing the same thing. Shrugging a shoulder to hitch his collar higher over his neck, he listened–

The young woman inside the dimly lit bar let out a groan and blew a strand of bubble gum pink hair out of her dirty face.

"You're welcome," she huffed, raising her head to glare the tall blonde that had begun to slink quietly behind the bar, hoping to be unnoticed; she stopped and turned around, safely behind the long counter in case her friend decided to start throwing bottles or knives.


"Save it," the shorter one interrupted and with a heavy sigh, pushed her back off the wall and stretched her arms toward the ceiling, every now and then shooting daggers at the blonde, who was currently wiping the inside of shot glasses clean, carefully surveying for smudges.

Abruptly, the pink-haired girl let out a groan and threw her arms out dramatically, as if she was preparing for a lightening bolt to strike her down. "God, Ino, you're the one who wanted this job. Grow some balls and do it right."

"Cute," Ino replied, tossing her head to let her blond hair cascade down her shoulders; she stuck her tongue out at her childhood friend and sighed. "I was doing this for money...I mean, who couldn't love the smell of piss and sake, the drunken fights we break up-"

"Who breaks up?" Sakura interjected, picking a broken chair off the dusty ground and inspecting it to see if it was still usable.

"–And now we've thrown our friends into the mix and gotten them drunk off their asses eight ways to Sunday now too," she finished, stacking cleaned and smudge-less shot glasses of various colors into a cabinet. Turning, she smirked and put elbows on the dirty bar counter (that Sakura was supposed to wipe down) and rolled her eyes. "And as for growing balls, Sakura, I'm sure you'd like that. If I were a man I'd still be sexy as hell."

Sakura let out a "Ha!" of disbelief and dragged the chair after her as she walked up to the counter and sat heavily on one of the bar stools, rubbing her eyes. The shadowy figure that still leaned against the outside wall allowed himself to quietly chuckle; he leaned his head back against the cold wood and sighed heavily as he closed his eyes as though it had been a particularly tiresome day for the young man. It had. In the dark, he allowed pain to make it's way onto his face as he grimaced, his usually stoic expression contorted into one of distress. Damn this headache...although his newfound hobby of drinking usually left him with headaches from a nasty hangover, the resident medic in the house would take pity on him and give him something to relieve it so, as she insisted was the only reason she let him have it, do his goddamned job so she could do hers. But this wasn't his normal, ever-pounding headache caused by his stupid attachment to the bottle, no, it was his lovely, piercing tension headaches that had been taking a toll on him ever since his new rank had been confirmed. And although the stupid blonde that he roomed with was now equal with him too, the fact remained that combined with the drinking, the stress, and the constant emotional battle he waged with himself–particularly that bitch of a medic he was now living with–he was now irritable almost all the time.

God I can't believe I'm going to be 18.

Truthfully, it was not that old compared to most, but holy shit was it a snap back to reality. If he was 18, that meant the 12 year old Naruto had been 6 long years ago. He had gotten so much strong in both body and mind, but lately, after turning 17, he had acquired a habit to soothe his depression and stress; drinking at the bar that Ino and Sakura worked part time in. Still the number-one, hyperactive blonde thick-skulled idiot, but with a slightly more perverted mind did he emerge, technically underage, in full glory.

Ino and Sakura were still the loving-hating enemies, as always, and it would never change. But the reasons were merely growing pains and were done with a less vindictive nature now; now that both had given up on trying to break through to him. He almost missed it.

But sure as hell not from the screaming blonde banshee they call a ninja.

"Don't get soft, Uchiha," he whispered to himself, his eyes squeezed shut in pain and the annoyance of his relentless conscious. When he began to delve deep within his screwed up mind to seek answers, he was tossed out on his ass by another face of his many sided personality, preventing him from ever getting anywhere.

"Eight–fucking–teen," he said quietly, applying heavy pressure to his temple and gritting his teeth. Only a few more minutes; he did not dare go in there with only Sakura, the banshee, and a besotted Naruto, who tended to rant loudly and blurt out Sasuke's rare confidences (which Sasuke regretted doing long ago), which ultimately led to awkwardness from everyone.

A cabinet opened, two clinking glasses, and heavy sighs.

"So," Ino began, filling Sakura's glass up to the brim, even though Sakura hadn't specified how much she wanted and technically underage, but Tsunade never minded. "Feeling the age yet, forehead?"

Sakura did not react to her now overused nickname; she sipped her drink and absentmindedly grabbed a toothpick and began to stir it. "Nah, Pig, I suppose 18 can't be any worse than 17. I've seen enough of the organs of a person to map it out, I stay up late watching friends undergo painful reconstructive surgery, an apprentice to Tsunade, who spends more of that oh-so-helpful hangover medicine on herself than actual patients. I'm fine." The contrary to her point, she closed her eyes and let the liquid swirl in her mouth and caress her lips;

Ino let out a high-pitched laugh and choked on her drink, snorting in a way that made her live up to her nickname "Pig", and would embarrass her thoroughly had anyone important crossed the threshold of the tavern that was now nearly empty besides the two friends and Naruto, who was passed out on a table, surrounded by empty glasses and had not moved for a couple hours. Neither woman was concerned; if he was on a mission his habit would not be supported; it was only for the knowledge of stress that the girls gave into to his demands, although he was underage too. Out of the usual crowd that would stop by sometime that night, only Lee and Tenten were of legal age.

"Well speak of the devil!" Ino burst out dramatically, already fairly tight (for her habit of sneaking drinks herself while serving others was in full swing after the stressful tirade of four back-to-back missions), slamming her hand down on the bar that Sakura had still not wiped down, the glass clinking noisily; the shadow, still waiting outside, inwardly cursed and clutched his temple.

"Already, Ino?" Tenten teased, motioning for the girls to take a seat at a table with her and Lee, who removed his coat, flung it over the back of his chair, and, spotting Sakura, subtly stretched his extremely defined arm muscles. Sakura smirked and joined him at the table.

"Who the hell are all these people?" Naruto burst out abruptly, sitting up; his eyes were severely bloodshot and he pointed with a shaking finger.

"Go to sleep, Naruto," Sakura said quietly, as not to yell and cause him to wince.

"Gotcha," he agreed, raising a thumbs-up and rocking slightly before letting his face fall into the table with a loud, strangely hollow 'thunk'.

"Ino, girl, you want me to do that? I'm not getting drunk off my ass again...I have to train," Tenten asked.

Ino let out a giggle and swayed slightly as she carried drinks for both Tenten and Lee, and knowing Ino, they were presumably full and straight liquor.

"I'll help her with that," a voice from the doorway offered insistently, wearing his usual grimace and rolled his eyes at the sight of Ino, who was still swaying as if dancing in the wind.

"Looky, we got all the under-agers in the bar ta' night," Tenten said, laughing, as Shikamaru muttered quietly, "Ugh, look at her, what a drag," as Ino began to attempt to tap dance. Relieving his friend of the drinks, he steered the blonde by a shoulder and forced her into a chair; carefully clearing any empty glasses away from her; he took a seat next to her and sighed. "I've only got 3 more months...geez..."

"I don't really care," Tenten replied, eyeing Lee next to her, who was determined to make his refined muscles noticeable and a topic of worthy conversation. "And honestly, there's no difference between being 18 than 17 besides the fact that you are technically an adult and can now legally act stupid and be held responsible. Of course, it may take a toll on your psyche," she added, nodding toward Naruto. "He's got a while and he's already feeling it."

"I'll kick this bad habit eventually...it's fairly new to my lifestyle anyway," Sakura said, staring at her glass as though ready to drown herself in it's contents; it was taking quite a bit of willpower not to drink it.

"It's stress," Tenten said knowledgeably, watching Shikamaru quietly prod Ino to a decent, presentable sitting position; it didn't take much for her to get buzzed and ironically, she was the least tolerant of it all, despite the fact she worked around it all day. "And Tsunade doesn't mind, does she?"

The table was alive with laughter as this thought sunk in; Sakura laughed, but pushed her drink away all the same; Ino giggled obnoxiously and swayed left to right, hitting Sakura's shoulder and Shikamaru's, who gave her a pained look and distinctly muttered his famous line under his breath; Lee had not spoken yet, but abandoned the pretext of making his muscles a topic of conversation and watched Sakura laugh, knowing she was covering up her stress inside. Frankly, he was no better; none of them were. The ties between villages were hanging by a thread at this point in time; with many of these ninja around the table having extremely close ties with their former Sensei's, not to mention current mission leaders, the worries of the village were spreading, and rumors abound, one by one, seemingly random murders had been carried out within the village. It was frightening, but the general public had not been informed, and it did not seem to matter anymore; the truth was leaking out.

Naruto gave a loud groan that caught the attention of all at the table; Sakura swivelled her head in his direction and slapped Ino's hand away from her drink, which she still had not touched aside from that original sip that had sent the blonde into hysterics. He raised his head and blearily gazed at the five drinking partners seated around the circular table, then looked around the room, and back again at the ninja, who were watching him in puzzlement.

"What time is it?" he whined, a slurred edge to his words. "I have...to go to...mission...early..." He continued to speak quietly to himself in a drunken voice, occasionally muttering other recognizable names. Tenten giggled, Lee shook his head with a chuckle, Ino was still giggling in a high-pitched, besotted way, Shikamaru rolled his eyes once again, and Sakura heaved a heavy sigh.

"Just leave him," she muttered, turning her head away. "I'll pick him up before I leave; I have to wipe down the counter-"

"I can do that," Ino interjected, shaking her head like a besotted dog and reaching a placating hand toward her friend.

"No," Sakura immediately replied, nudging her drink farther out of Ino's reach; her hand had started to inch toward the still fairly full glass. "You're drunk off your ass again, and I already have to take Naruto. Shikamaru will lug your ass home," she continued, glancing around Ino's slumped form and nodding to the latter, who looked as though he would rather have his teeth pulled. "Starting tomorrow, we're gonna try to break this habit."

Abruptly, Naruto threw himself into a seat between Sakura and Tenten, glass in hand and staring wildly around at them all, his blonde hair a mess of unkempt spikes and his bright cerulean orbs standing out further against his bloodshot eyes. With a lopsided smile, he waved his glass under her nose and said, "One more, I swear, then I'm going to bed early!"

The table erupted in laughter again, but that laughter was not directed toward him. On more than one occasion had each of them made an idiot of themselves, and thankfully, these eight ninja had become so close over the years that they had the decency not to blackmail and gossip about the strange events that went on in this little tavern after hours.

Sakura sighed and patted his head like a dog, then gently removed the glass from his fingers and placed it on the floor. "You're going to be part of our abstinence plan too, Naruto, now go to sleep."

He sulked like a little child wanting sweets and pouted, much to Sakura's delight and embarrassment; she loved when he acted like a little child, but he could take it to a point where it was embarrassing. Lee was watching the two friends with a strange look on his face, but replaced it with a genuine, warm smile and began, "So, Sakura-"

Sakura looked up to her friend but almost immediately stood up and looked over his head; a loud shattering of glass had pierced the friendly atmosphere, and everyone at the table, including Naruto, to find Hinata Hyuga, pupil-less eyes wide and scared to death as she took in the sight of everyone in the vicinity staring at her; presumably her glass had dropped to the floor in her want of not being seen or noticed.

Everyone smiled at the sight of Hinata; it was a fight of tooth and nail when it came to dragging this girl out of her anti-social rut, and after moving in with Tenten and Lee, they had insisted she come out with them at least twice a week, to slowly break her emotional walls down. Drinking remained a bit of a kibosh in the Hyuga's book, but at least she had taken to not covering herself up so much.

"Hinata!" Naruto cried happily and stumbled out of his seat and toward her, who, predictably, blushed at the sight of Naruto and all the people, who all smiled. Sakura gave Naruto a disapproving glare; whether it was because she was angry that he was drunk or because seconds earlier the hyperactive blonde and been admittedly fixing her with his full undivided attention, no one could tell, but in light of recent painful events, many suspected the latter; Lee in particular surveyed her expression as Naruto slung an arm around Hinata and dragged her to the table, and she was still blushing furiously.

"Want anything?" Tenten asked politely, gesturing to the empty glasses on the table. Naruto grinned stupidly at the shy girl, and Hinata pressed her fingertips together and stuttered, "May-may be just a little, a sip." Immediately her face was as red as those tomatoes that their last member of their drinking crew loved so much. Only one was still missing.

"Gotcha," Tenten replied, and Lee jumped up to help, a meaningful look on his face; luckily Tenten caught it and obliged as he dropped his voice and they walked toward the back, conversing in whispers.

"How has your day been, Hinata?" Sakura asked kindly, her eyes darting from Hinata's face (to seem polite when she spoke to people) to Naruto, who had his arm loosely slung around Hinata and was nuzzling her the way a dog did. Sakura did not have anything against Hinata. Shikamaru was by no means an idiot in any way, and sensed the tension in the air that hovered over the table like an ominous presence, and that tension only intensified as heavy footsteps crossed the threshold and the ninja (other than Lee and Tenten, who were still 'getting Hinata's drink') turned to see a tall man in a long, dark green overcoat with a high collar walk slowly into the room. He surveyed the crowd; whether he admitted it or not, they were his friends, and he could at least do them the courtesy of drinking with them once in a while.

Sakura's lip jerked irritably, while her body made a strange movement, a mild sort of seizure and her nostrils flared. Sasuke merely stared through her as he always did, a pained smirk on his face to disguise his now piercing headache, complete with sharp neck pains that left him breathless.

"Sit down," she said in an annoyed voice, pushing out a chair across from her with her foot; as he removed his coat, she peered into her glass; it was still full. He let his coat hang from the back of a chair and hunched a bit over the table to push his shoulders against his neck:

Sakura narrowed her eyes at his hunched figure, then grabbed her full glass and shoved it down the toward him; automatically his hand went out to clench it, his white fingers wrapped around the perspiring glass of liquor. "Drink that."

He obliged after a moment, drinking slowly and deeply to distract him from his painful headache while the table watched him silently. The only solace he allowed himself was a pleased "Hn", which meant 'Good, but I don't thank you'.

Lee and Tenten reappeared through the back doorway and stopped at the sight of their table; everyone was watching the silent battle of hate raging between the stoic Uchiha and the fiery Haruno medic. Tenten gently removed Hinata's drink from Lee's shaking fingers; the glass would have stood no chance against his powerful crushing fists that he clenched mere seconds later. That asshole is in my seat, staring at Sakura like a fucking crazy animal. That bastard doesn't deserve her, and he doesn't deserve us, or any friends. And although Sasuke had helped him many times in the past, the fact remained that with the things he put Sakura through and everybody else, not to mention turning his back on the Hidden Leaf Village and suddenly reappearing, Lee did not have very much sympathy in his heart for this stoic piece of shit that spit on the world every day and all who inhabited it.

And yet–

Sakura still liked him, and he might have been the only one who believed it anymore. Ino, Tenten, Naruto, Shikamaru and even Hinata were convinced that she hated his living guts when he spoke them about it, but Lee was not sure. In fact, he was not sure that Sakura's attitude was even her. But she had grown up quite a bit since Sasuke's departure, and maybe Sasuke was liking her thick skin just a bit more.

Sasuke closed his eyes for a moment, letting that healing liquor course through him to ease his pain, then opened them and placed his elbows on the table, his chin on his interlocked fingers, and he surveyed her with a look of dislike and indifference. She leaned on one elbows and let her chin rest in her palm, and shot daggers at him with her round, jade eyes and they simply stared.

Lee and Tenten quietly joined the crowd; Tenten smiled at Hinata and handed her the glass, while Lee shot a fierce glare at Sasuke's back and grabbed another chair from a different table, careful to bang it around with unnecessary noise, but Sasuke did not even glance.

The only ones who could not sense the tension were Ino, who was trying to catch Sasuke's eye but failed, and toppled backwards off the chair with a laugh, and Naruto, who was still nuzzling Hinata in a way reminiscent of a puppy. Hinata was patting his head, but she struggled to start a much-needed conversation with Tenten, who obliged after glancing at the two old teammates' silent hate match, and Shikamaru and Lee fell into stride without a further hitch, trying to speak loud to mask the conversation that was now taking place across the table–

"So are you actually going to stay home tonight?" Sakura asked brusquely, putting out her hand to catch the glass that he slid back across the table at her. There was barely a swallow left. His eyes told her to finish it. She drained it and returned the glass to him in the same fashion.

"Hn,". That meant 'Yes, I am."

"Will you be leaving early, or should I expect you at breakfast?" Sakura asked.

He raised his eyes to her with a questioning look in them.

"Naruto should be home, but I don't know about Kakashi Sensei," Sakura continued, little worry lines etching themselves in her forehead. "I don't know what he's been up to lately."

"Ah," Sasuke said, the glass still in his hand; he raised it to his lips and simply pretended to take a sip of what was not there, just to rile her up by placing his lips exactly where hers had been seconds before.

"Okay then," she replied, nodding, trying to disguise the smirk making it's way onto her face. It was like trying to speak to a boulder or a wall...but this man was of action and not words.

The ninja who were fairly sober watched this scene unfold in confusion. They hated each other, and yet the actions proved more than the words that tumbled out of their mouths; Sasuke's words usually meant more than Sakura's, for she was constantly talking.

This had been going on ever since Sasuke's return.

"Huzzah!" Naruto broke the silence with a loud battle cry and slid sideways out of his chair, while Hinata simply looked down at him with a small smile. She had not touched her drink, due to the fact that she had been fearfully watching the confrontation out of the corner of her eye as she attempted to make small talk with Tenten. Sakura broke her gaze with Sasuke and stood up, yawning and picking Naruto off the ground; she slid his arm around her neck and heaved him to his feet.

"Shikamaru," Sakura said pointedly, and he abandoned his half-finished drink and huffed. Begrudgingly, he lifted Ino off the floor fairly easily and carried her bridal style toward the door, but stopped as Sakura said "Wait."

She dragged the lifeless Naruto with her and slapped a small bottle into his hand. "Make her take this, it'll help."

Shikamaru stared from the bottle to Ino with a look of utter confusion. "How do you expect me to get her to take this?"

Sakura shrugged and grinned. "You live with her...you probably know her habits as well as I do. Find a way."

Shikamaru huffed again and muttered, "Ugh, she's drunk, what a drag," before carrying the tall blonde out the door, not noticing (or maybe not caring) her head slam against the doorframe on the way out.

"See ya later, Sakura, Naruto, Sasuke," Tenten recited, taking Lee by the elbow and steering him toward the door; Lee was pointedly glaring at Sasuke, who had finally complied and turned around to fix the bushy-eyebrowed man with one of his own piercing stares. Hinata was quietly putting on her tan coat, keeping her head down, every now and then glancing at the still-stoic Uchiha, Sakura, and Naruto, who was pulling on Sakura's neck as he slipped farther toward the floor, leaving marks on it.

"Bye," she replied in the silence as the door swung shut. Sighing, she let Naruto fall off her onto the floor and walked behind the bar; she grabbed a rag and began to wipe down the long counter. As she scrubbed at a particularly stubborn spot, she did not notice Sasuke abandon his seat and help Naruto to his feet. He was almost out the door when–


Sasuke turned to see the pink-haired woman hop deftly over the counter, apparently too lazy to go around and walk toward her, offence etched on her face.

"I can do that myself," she snapped, trying to take Naruto's weight onto her completely, to no avail. He simply let her struggle and tug, and eventually he fixed her with a dangerous look that clearly told her to back off. She did not comply; she turned off the light switch and they were plunged into darkness, while his onyx eyes glittered with a strong passion of hate toward her. Together, they lifted their teammate through the door and slowly made their way down the street to where they lived, in silence, occasionally letting their fingers brush each others' as they went

"Omigod!" Ino shrieked, wrapping her fingers around Shikamaru's upper arm, who cried out in pain but did not have the heart to slap her or otherwise release her grip. Her hangover was long gone, and now they sat on the couch watching a movie that apparently was quite good. He found scarier things in battle, in his humble opinion, but if she enjoyed it, it was a price to pay to keep her off his back for not ever taking care of his share of chores.

A strange scraping sound issued from the television set; shadows were cast all around on the walls and Ino made a face. "Ohh...look what they're doing to it. That's disgusting."

"And so is your face," Shikamaru muttered quietly, adding 'what a drag' to the end of his sentence inaudibly.

A loud thump caused Ino to point up at the ceiling and shriek loudly once again.

"You're the man of this house; go check the roof!"

"Fucking wuss," he retorted angrily, leaving the confines of the warm blanket and giving her a dirty look as she impatiently waved a hand for him to get a move on. He grumbled and opened the front door, looking left, right, up down and all around and saw nothing; he did not notice the two golden scrolls laying on the 'Welcome' mat.

"There's nothing there," he said, shutting the door and huffing at the blonde he was living with. God I should've roomed with Hinata...at least she doesn't talk.

Tenten grinned and twirled another kunai between her thin fingers, smiling in satisfaction when she saw that her weapon had hit it's target dead center, not that she expected anything less. Hinata watched from a corner near the fireplace, silent as usual, mulling the events of the tavern that night in her ever-thinking mind.

Lee sat on the other end of the couch from Tenten, upsidedown; his feet dangled over the back of the couch while his bowl-shaped haircut hung down off where feet would normally be. Nimbly, Tenten's fingers barely required movement as she shot another kunai dead center, which forced the previous one out of the way. She sighed and closed her eyes.

"I should start practicing with those needles," she said quietly to herself; Hinata turned away and stared into the leaping flames.

Lee let out a yawn and closed his eyes as well. "We both need to practice...we don't have missions for a few days."

"Thank god," Tenten said, curling up against the soft, black leather and sighing in content once again.

"Did you see what happened in the bar, Tenten?" Lee asked, using her name to imply that he was truly affected by the night's events.

Tenten did not look at him or open her eyes. "Yes. Why?"

"I...do you...Why do they do that?"

Tenten frowned. "I don't know, Lee, okay? You ask me this all the time. Don't ask me to delve into their crazy-ass minds and find out what makes them tick. I'm not good at it."

"You were with some," Lee muttered quietly before biting his lip in regret. He didn't need to see; Tenten stiffened considerably and the atmosphere changed considerably; Hinata swallowed nervously.

Some people had liked her cousin more than others.

A strange rustling caught Hinata's attention; a gold flash of ribbon fluttered past the window, and she stood up.

"What is it?" Lee asked her, following the shy girl's gaze.

She shook her head, sitting back down and stuttering, "I...Nothing..."

"Probably just the wind," Lee muttered, looking up at Tenten, who had now turned her entire body into the couch to show that she was done talking that night.

I'm so sorry...for you...Tenten.

An unearthly hush fell over the Village of Kohona.

Not a leaf stirred, not a light remained on, winds and breezes did not exist at this current point in time, which caused the dust, among other things, to settle abruptly wherever they happened to be. Although many were asleep, and therefore not noticing this sudden ominous silence, those who were awake noticed it immediately, and it was unnerving.

The ninja responsible for guard duty (which had gone into effect ever since the 3rd unsolvable murder of the month) surveyed the unusually still night with narrowed, tired eyes.

A strange rustling–

A fast-moving shadow–

Sentries everywhere leapt to their feet, chakra at disposal, weapons at the ready, but as soon as the noise had passed, time restarted once again.

It spread slowly, moving over neighborhoods at a time: The sudden hush, the fast moving shadows and barely-there rustling, and then nothing. They were searching.

Near the middle of town, Sasuke was perched on the top of his roof, rubbing his shoulder with as much pressure as he could take, which was plenty to say the least; he blinked away tears; he would sooner die than admit that he had just gotten cloudy-eyed over a bit of pain.

But the strange rustling drove pain from his mind as he gently fingered a razor-sharp kunai in his pocket, waiting, his dark profile blending in with the roof most admirably.

He watched the square of light on the ground cast by Sakura's window; she was moving about, back and forth, in a heavy pacing sort of way, every now and then standing in the window and simply not moving. He could hear her talking to herself in a way so reminiscent of him that he flung his kunai toward her stock-still shadow on the ground; the part of the roof he rested on was far above her window, but he still nailed her heart with fairly decent aim. Of course, he could not match Tenten's aim, but hey, no one was perfect, although the Uchiha so wanted to be...he wanted many things...that he would never get.

A loud snore jerked him from his thoughts; Naruto was clearly sleeping off another hangover. Cursing him inwardly, he let himself fall roughly onto his back as another wave of stabbing pains, like being struck with thousands of needles, swept through his shoulder and up his neck.

Abruptly he flung a kunai into the darkness; the strange whistling told Sasuke that he had missed, and further implied that he would not get to fight tonight. A flash of gold ribbon caught his attention, but it disappeared as fast as it had come, and as another wave of needles stabbed themselves into his neck, he decided to not worry about it, though his conscious would be berating him all night, as if it didn't already. But that was okay...it had been a warning to stay the fuck away from his house.

"What the hell are you doing, flinging weapons past my window?" Sakura demanded, her face appearing over the seemingly dropped-off edge that was the edge of the roof. She was standing on her windowsill, pulling herself up with her arms to see her teammate on his back, angrily flinging weapons in any direction he pleased without worrying who it hit. "Go to bed," she ordered, giving him a look as though he were crazy sitting up here.

He muttered "Hn". This time, he had pretty much said "Fuck you, speak for yourself."

Without warning he grabbed his shoulder again; these stupid pains were driving him crazy and keeping him up more than usual, and he forgot to be discreet about it as he swore under his breath and Sakura gave him a searching look.

"Pull something?" she suggested, pulling herself up with her arms to kneel on the roof edge. Sasuke watched her muscles flex considerably as she heaved herself over the edge, not to mention she was accidentally (or maybe not) giving him a full view down her camisole. She straightened to an attentive sitting position, shrugged her shoulder to adjust the annoying strap, and peered at him, her green eyes struggling to remain impassive and not as concerned as she felt. This had been happening more often lately...

When he did not answer (he merely looked down at his lap after attempting to look at her and getting a full view down her camisole) she simply sat and stared, a few feet away, tilting her head and surveying him owlishly.

"Well, go to bed soon, okay?" she said in a quieter voice, but no less comforting or soft. She pushed herself backward, letting her weight lower down; she stood on her windowsill and held herself up by her arms and fixed him with a glare that said, "Or else."

She meant it; there had been many a time where she had come up here to forcibly drag him to bed as if she were an overbearing mother...or girlfriend. But it was never the sweet, overly concerned Sakura he used to know; she lost her temper in the same span of seconds, but no matter what he said to her, she took it with a grain of salt and showed him the thick skin of her back as she walked away.

Her head vanished from the edge, and Sasuke sat in silence a full minute before deftly letting himself drop to the ground and walk inside.

Sakura sighed and turned off her light in her bedroom; what she wouldn't give for everything to be normal again between them.

A ribbon of gold caught her eye; it fluttered in and out of her vision so fast she was sure she was hallucinating; she didn't exactly drink a little bit either.

Shrugging it off, she sat in her windowsill and leaned her head against the frame, letting the breeze pick up again and ruffle her pink locks. She felt so old.