Sasuke was sitting in a tree outside, and it was almost dark out by the time Itachi found him. He'd tended to Naruto himself, thinking it better not to let the staff see the boy like that, they were almost as attached to him as Itachi after all. He was especially wary of Iruka and Kakashi, the first because he had a tendency to overreact and become quite emotional at the drop of a hat, the second because he was sharp as a razor's edge, and he'd figure out Itachi's game in a second if given all the pieces, and working as close to Sasuke as he did the man had most of them already.

This had allowed his anger to cool, which was a good thing. As he thought about it, he realized he might well have hurt his brother badly if he had run across him too soon after the incident itself. Naruto had been a wreck when Itachi had put him to bed, not in Itachi's bed but in one of the guest rooms, close to his own but out of the way. It seemed to calm him.

He'd set to looking for Sasuke then, and it had taken him quite awhile to track the boy down. When he finally found him, kicking his feet from the branches of one of the tall sturdy maples out back, his anger had also tempered a bit, and while he wasn't sure what to say to make Sasuke see quite how badly he had fucked this all up, he knew the words would come. They always did.

"Foolish, stupid little brother. What you did this afternoon was inexcusable. Naruto-kun cried for hours, and while I'm not sure what you did to him to make him like that without a scratch on his body, I hope you understand that it was completely out of line."

Sasuke turned to face him, throwing him a glare, and Itachi was taken aback for a second, not that he let it show. The boy looked terrible, his eyes red and puffy as if he'd been crying, the skin of his cheeks paler than usual, his lips a tight line. He obviously had gone through almost as much as Naruto during their little altercation, and that alone told Itachi more than he'd hoped to glean from the conversation.

"Now Otouto, would you care to enlighten me as to what happened with Naruto-kun this afternoon?" Sasuke's glare intensified for a moment before he looked away with a scowl, shifting on the branch to draw his knees up to his chest, hugging them tightly to him.

"Why don't you ask him Aniki, he is your faithful little bitch, is he not?" The words didn't quite carry the venom they were meant to, not in the tired and cracked voice in which they were spoken. Itachi marveled at the range of emotion his brother was capable of when provoked, and couldn't help but think distractedly of how good Sasuke looked like this, tear stained and desperate.

"Well normally I wouldn't have to, but he has been quite incapable of speech, at least coherent speech, ever since your little encounter. Now I will ask you once more, kindly, what did you do to him Sasuke?" The boy flinched a little, and sighed, but remained silent, his jaw working air, unable to find the words he needed. Itachi was half impatient to know the details and utterly satisfied with the mess Sasuke had become.

"Just... I don't know what happened, I was mad, but I didn't hit him, I said something, he... I just don't know, I don't know at all." Sasuke dropped down from the tree in one smooth motion, and took off at a walk. His voice had trembled slightly at the end, and Itachi was certain he'd seen tears in his eyes as he turned, as certain as he was that Sasuke hadn't told the whole truth.

Something had happened, something that Sasuke had done. In a flash Itachi had a hand on his brother's shoulder, and wrenched him around, so their eyes met. Sasuke looked so scared right then that Itachi almost just bent down and kissed him, hard and fast, taking what had always been his to take. He didn't though.

"And why on earth were you so mad, Sasuke? What could have riled you up enough to provoke poor Naruto-kun into such a state?" He knew it was the kiss, he'd planned that kiss quite exactly after all, but he wanted to hear Sasuke say it. He didn't get the pleasure though, as confusion swirled in his little brother's eyes then, mixed with hatred and anger and something softer, not sadness, though that was there as well. Then Sasuke ran, took off as fast as he could, leaving a strangely disappointed Itachi to walk back to the house alone.

X

By the time Itachi got back to the house the sun was setting dramatically in the west, and Naruto was still looking a bit worse for the wear, but awake and calm, which was better than before. Itachi smiled as he sat by the boy's futon quietly, putting out a hand to rest by the boy's side, careful not to touch him now.

"Hello, Naruto-kun. Are you feeling better then? I had a little chat with my dimwitted brother by the way, and if it makes you feel any better he certainly looks worse for the ware as well. He should be back by nightfall though." Naruto's face fell a bit at the news, and Itachi felt himself backpedaling.

"Hey now, don't worry. He'll be fine, he just hasn't quite got the hang of this whole 'emotions' thing yet. You just focus on perking up by the time he returns. I have to go back to the city tomorrow, but I thought I might take you with me this time. I'm sure Iruka can pack you a bit of work to do while your there, and we can see if we can make time to take in a museum or something, alright?"

Naruto smiled at this, the kind of smile Itachi hadn't seen from him since before the morning's incidents. It relaxed him a little. He had planned on waiting to introduce Naruto to the city, and his partners, but this little bump in the road would speed things up a bit. That was alright though, in fact things would work out better this way.

There was a party he was obligated to attend, and it would give his partners a chance to see the boy the way he could be, shining like a jewel, and perfect. If there was one thing Naruto was flawless at it was being a slave, beautiful respectful and deferential to the last. Itachi smiled then as he stood, dropping a tender kiss to Naruto's forehead as he did, bidding the boy come to dinner in an hours time. Until then, he'd let the boy rest.

X

Dinner was quiet, and Itachi didn't stay for it, having gotten a frantic call asking why he hadn't been in the office, and complaining about some minor crisis or another that had happened that afternoon. He'd left a neat little note for Naruto on the door, and the blond had smiled when he read it. It made him drag his feet a little on his way to the kitchens though, not sure what he would say to Sasuke when he saw the other boy again.

He was so confused, on one hand Sasuke must hate him now, for coming between him and Itachi again and again, for using him as some sort of replacement, which Naruto would deny. Sasuke and his brother weren't the same to Naruto at all. His bond to Itachi was different, born of duty and fealty. With Sasuke he was free to be someone else, someone he couldn't be with Itachi, and it made him so happy when it was just the two of them, like friends. On the other hand though, if Sasuke hated him so much then why on earth would the boy kiss him? It wasn't as if that would get him any closer to Itachi, or benefit him in some other tangible way.

So maybe Sasuke still might like him, maybe he still had a chance to at least win the boy back as a friend. Still, he felt heavy with dread as he slid open the screen to the kitchen. He found Raidou there, finishing dinner for the staff, and he smiled in relief as the man turned to smile at him. If he ate with them then he wouldn't have to worry about Sasuke.

"Hey Naruto-kun, haven't seen you around much lately, been busy with the brat?" Naruto smiled and shook his head, sliding onto one of the stools that sat at the prep island.

"You shouldn't call Sasuke that, he'd flip out if he heard." Raidou chuckled at that, and the two of them kept up a light banter. Naruto helped the man to put everything into the big serving dishes they used, the staff preferring to have their meals family style in the kitchen. He looked up at Naruto as he pulled down a set of plates.

"You eating up with the brat?" Naruto faltered a second before shaking his head. He bit his lip as he caught the concerned look the cook gave him.

"Sasuke's a bit preoccupied today, I think it's best to leave him be for now." Raidou cocked an eyebrow at him, obviously not quite believing Naruto's explanation, but he didn't push the matter. He just made up one set of plates, covering them immediately and setting them on a tray.

"Alright, but Sakura's busy right now, and I have to finish setting the table, so can you at least find him and give him this? When he gets into things he doesn't think to come down on his own and we'd be in big trouble if we let him starve." Naruto forced a smile as he nodded, hopping down and picking up the tray.

It took him awhile to find Sasuke, carrying the tray very carefully the whole way. By the time he arrived in the library where Sasuke was holed up, he had decided this would probably be good, though he didn't have a clue what to say to Sasuke to make things better. His throat suddenly went dry as he stepped in with the tray, and he barely managed to croak out a greeting to the boy, his face still buried in his book.

"Ano... Sasuke, I-I brought you some dinner, I know you haven't eaten much today and..." He trailed off, holding the tray helplessly in front of him. Sasuke stiffened, but didn't turn to look at him. Naruto sighed, feeling like he might cry again. He walked over, setting the tray down on the floor beside Sasuke's chair before standing, nervously wringing his hands.

"Hey Sasuke? Look... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pull away from you like that, or anything. I like you Sasuke, I like you a lot. You've been like my first friend, and it's just that I... I don't always know what to do, I've never done this before, and I really just hope you don't hate me..." By the end of his sentence Naruto could feel the tears bubbling up in his eyes, and in his voice, breaking it slightly in the end. He turned, starting towards the door when he heard Sasuke move. He stopped, almost flinching.

"Wait. It's okay Naruto. I shouldn't have said those things, I didn't want to hurt you but I just felt a little... left behind I guess. I dunno, I've never done this before either, never wanted to... but with you..." Naruto felt something get lighter in his heart, and he smiled, though he still felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He turned back, smiling, and only his rigid training kept him from running over and tackling Sasuke, chair and all, in happiness. He walked slowly instead, but there was still a spring in his step. He faltered a little when he reached Sasuke though, biting his lip. There was still one string left untied for him.

"Ano... when we were in the dojo, after you said those things, why did you...?" He trailed off, blushing hotly. He wasn't sure why the idea of Sasuke kissing him was so different than Itachi. It just was, it made him nervous and uncomfortable inside, like there was something itching but it wasn't in a place where he could scratch. Sasuke's face tinted as well after a moment, and the boy pursed his lips in thought.

"K-kiss you?" The words were small, hesitant, so much different than what Naruto was used to from Sasuke that it took him aback a little. He nodded still, and watched Sasuke shift in the chair.

"I don't know, Naruto. It just sort of happened, like something else took control of me." Naruto wasn't sure how to feel about that answer, it stood on ambiguous ground in his head, like everything else, and suddenly he just felt so tired, so frustrated with the whole situation. He felt like crying again, or maybe just yelling and storming away. He just sighed instead, heavily, and clasped his hands. Maybe some time away from this would do him some good.

"Thank you, Sasuke. I'll leave you to your studies now. You should eat your food before it gets cold, alright?" He bowed slightly, though he wasn't sure Sasuke was watching anymore. He waited for a dismissal but when none came he withdrew anyways. His hand was on the door when Sasuke's voice stopped him.

"Naruto? I-I don't regret it, if that's what you wanted to know. I couldn't regret that." Naruto smiled as he nodded again, slipping from the room with a smile and a mumbled goodbye.

X

It was very late before Naruto went to sleep. He waited downstairs for Itachi, helping Raidou clean the kitchen. The man had told him he seemed happier after his return from the study, and that made Naruto smile even more. When his Master got home, he had made a small dinner for him, bringing it out to Itachi's room after the man had bathed and dressed for bed. He'd looked so tired that Naruto had been worried, too worried to think about Sasuke until after Itachi had gone to sleep.

Naruto had sat in his Master's room then, thinking about the conversation he'd had with the younger Uchiha earlier. It was a weight of his shoulders certainly, knowing that Sasuke didn't hate him, but it was just as much of a puzzle as to whether Sasuke might like him, really like him. In Naruto's mind that would solve many problems, and it might even end whatever strife had gone on between the brothers to cause this tension. Kakashi had said that Sasuke just needed to find someone else to infatuate himself with, in order to get over this 'Itachi thing' as he called it.

He thought that maybe this time apart from Sasuke, and this house, would be good for him, give him a chance to figure out what to do with this situation. Then again, he didn't want Sasuke to think he'd abandoned him either. He pondered this for a long time, watching Itachi sleep soundly in the low light. It came to him then, and he crossed the floor, slipping quietly from the room, creeping down to the library, where they had their lessons.

Naruto slipped inside, flipping on the lights and wincing momentarily at the brightness. Still, he remembered his mission here, crossing to the chest where the supplies they used were kept, and pulling out a sheet of paper and a pen. He sat down at the big table then, and began to write Sasuke a letter. It was almost light when he finished, and he folded the missive in half carefully, writing Sasuke's name on it before setting it back inside, where the other boy would be sure to find it.

He smiled as he crept silently back to his Master's room. He slipped inside, padding over to the futon and slipping in next to Itachi. It felt so nice to have a warm body next to him, something to snuggle up to, to let envelop you as you closed your eyes and drifted off to sleep.

X

Itachi shifted, cracking his eyes when he was sure the boy was asleep. He had been a bit worried when he'd woken to a small sound in the hallway, and found Naruto not beside him. Where would the boy go at this hour? He bit his lip, not liking any of the answers his mind supplied, but still he went back to sleep. They had a big day tomorrow, and he would have to be awake to supervise it all.

X

The morning dawned rather late, though Itachi didn't mind much. He'd taken the day off to account for his traveling and getting settled in, having called ahead to the townhouse in the city and arranging to have it ready when they arrived that evening. As soon as he woke, stretching lazily, and found Naruto still beside him, he smiled. He sent the boy about packing then, making sure all of the boy's new kimonos and such were packed away carefully, along with a few items of his own.

He had most everything he needed at the townhouse, but a few choice items traveled with him from place to place. Lastly though, he packed a carryon bag, instructing Naruto to do the same. The flight they were taking wouldn't be long, but Itachi was still counting on the time to get at least a little bit of work done, not babysit the blond on what would almost definitely be his first flight.

The preparations, and a rather long telephone call from his local office branch, made the day fly by quickly, and soon if was time to leave, and he found himself waiting in the sleek car for the rest of the luggage to be loaded, and for Naruto to return. He grew impatient quickly, though he might expect such things from his staff it didn't even occur to him that Naruto might well show the same disrespect.

He was on the verge of stomping back into the house himself when the door to the car opened, and a smiling Naruto climbed in, two cases clutched in one hand, while the other held a package, all wrapped up in a plain black tying cloth, balanced precariously as he stepped inside. Itachi felt most of that impatient anger he'd felt seconds earlier melt away to a little, private smile as their eyes met. Naruto was beaming with excitement.

"I apologize for my tardiness, Nushi. I had to collect my school assignments and Raidou-san sent me with these at the last moment, for the road." He thrust the box at his Master as he climbed in, almost toppling over. Itachi caught him though, steadying him and helping him climb inside. Itachi shook the package, and was met with the soft sound of something inside. Probably a snack, some sort of baked good if the warmth he could feel from the bottom was any indication. He set them aside after this cursory examination, settling into his seat, his hand falling to Naruto's hair as the boy kneeled beside him on the floor as usual, the boy's calm face resting on his knee.

He heard the door slam in the front, and the engine start. He smiled.

X

Naruto was excited as he climbed out of the car, fiddling with the kimono he'd been dressed in this morning. Sakura had picked out his outfit, gossiping lightly with him as he had gotten ready, telling him things about Itachi's partners, they'd visited in the past. He'd never been to his Master's office before, and he'd never been on a plane either, and both of those things made him nervous with excitement. He concentrated on putting one foot before the other, walking carefully in his geta as he carried the two cases with him, one with Itachi's computer and some important papers, the other packed with a book and some exercises Iruka had given him before he'd left.

The building was impressive, smooth and modern with the lobby's high ceilings and floors polished to a mirror shine, echoing his footsteps as the wooden shoes he wore clicked against the tiles. Itachi had been met at the door by a secretary who took his bags from the curb where their driver had unpacked them, and the woman smiled as she updated Itachi on the situation, stopping to compliment him on Naruto's beauty and dress.

It had been flattering, and made him warm inside. He hadn't felt like this in awhile, there was a certain and definite pride for a slave in reflecting well on one's Master, and since his failure during his last interaction with his Master's friends and colleagues he felt like this was redemption for him. He took the compliments with a gracious nod, remaining silent next to Itachi in the elevator. He listened to their conversation though, feeling like maybe it might be useful to Itachi if he could help the man keep track of these details.

The expectations of him changed when Itachi had started his education, and he felt a sense of honor in this, anything that would help him be more useful to his Master was good after all, and this showed a degree of trust and respect as well, like Itachi thought that he was smart enough to take note now. It made him smile, but he kept the expression light and distant as was expected.

The elevator stopped on the topmost floor, and Naruto felt the nervous excitement bubble in his stomach once more, admiring the clean lines and simplicity of the decor as he past, filing this fact away in his head. It must have been his Master's decision after all, Itachi's aesthetic guiding this, and it fit with his conception of the man.

He couldn't quite hide the enthusiasm from his face as he stepped out onto the landing strip though, small surely but large enough for the little jet that stood there. He concentrated on not falling as he followed Itachi across the tarmac, staying to one side and slightly behind as he had been taught, almost jumping in anticipation as he climbed the little white steps that led up to the plane very carefully.

There were only a few seats, though they were large and plush, and he waited for Itachi's instructions, following the man to one tucked in the rear, setting Itachi's folio on the table beside it and kneeling to the floor on the other side automatically. Itachi smiled at him, and motioned him to stand again. Naruto did as he was told, but confusion showed on his face.

"Naruto-kun, you have to sit in one of these seats, and strap yourself in, at least until we're in the air. It's dangerous otherwise, and while I trust our pilot quite a lot, I wouldn't want to put you in any sort of danger." Naruto blushed heavily, and hurried to the seat beside his Master, silently asking if it was alright. The man smiled.

"Don't be embarrassed, Naruto-kun, it's your first time after all. Come, sit and relax a little. You can even look out the window here, the town may not be big but it's still a rather nice view as we take off, ne?" Naruto nodded, sitting and folding his hands in his lap. He heard the quiet chuckle of the secretary, as she made sure Itachi was secured properly, making small conversation the whole time, twittering at how cute Naruto was. The boy payed close attention to this, jealousy burning small in his gut, wanting to be able to do this himself next time, to take care of his Master as he was supposed to.

The woman left after that, passing Shisui on the way in. The man smiled at the two of them, nodding to Naruto silently and turning to Itachi as he secured himself across the cabin. The two of them discussed the meetings Itachi would have tomorrow in brief, and Naruto felt his heart pulse a little in disappointment. It looked like his Master would be busy all day, though Naruto consoled himself with the fact that he also had work to do, set by Iruka before they left, and that would be servicing his Master's wishes as well, even if the man had no need of him directly.

The atmosphere in the plane grew quiet and relaxed, both men pulling out papers and laptops, sinking easily back into working as the plane's engines started, and they began to roll, faster and faster, Naruto's stomach rumbling queasily as they moved towards the edge and then that one second where his heart almost stopped, his knuckles white on the arms to his seat, as they took off, no more ground beneath their wheels, and they were flying, they were flying, and while Naruto had know this was possible, known that people do this all the time, he was still nervous, still worried that maybe gravity would take over any second and pull them back to a fiery death in the town below.

He pressed his eyes closed, hoping to whatever god might be up there that they wouldn't die. The plane was climbing, slowly, and they were tilted a bit, the force pushing him back into his seat disconcertingly. He murmured softly to himself, not even aware he was doing it. He jumped then, as an unexpected hand covered his, his eyes springing open to meet dark, concerned ones, Itachi smiling a little as he leaned in. Naruto fought to steady his breath then, suddenly remembering that he shouldn't be worrying or disappointing his Master here, he was safe and he couldn't ask for more. He breathed deeply, smiling shakily at Itachi, as the man got up from his chair, leaning in to drop a chaste little kiss on his forehead.

Naruto noticed then that the plane had leveled out, they were still moving but it was smooth, no longer like he might be sucked out or something. He felt that thought relax him, and he smiled, fiddling with his own belts nervously, wondering if it would be alright to get up and get his book. He was contemplating this when a boy he didn't recognize appeared in front of him, smiling in a way that made him vaguely uncomfortable.

The boy could almost have been an Uchiha, the same pale skin and dark hair, but there was something about the shape of his face, the tilt of his eyes, the weird, almost sickening smile that made Naruto sure that he wasn't. The boy spoke then, and it made Naruto jump.

"Hello, I'm called Sai, I'll be your steward for the flight. Would you care for a beverage or snack?" His voice was almost too sweet, and Naruto found himself shivering slightly at the sound, and shook his head. Really, he just wanted the boy to go away and Itachi to come back. He bit his lip.

"Ano... may I get up and retrieve my case? I'd like to get my book." The boy smiled, and cocked his head to the side.

"There's no need, I will fetch it for you. I assume it is this one?" The boy picked up Naruto's case with one hand, holding it out like a prize. Naruto nodded reluctantly, and held out his arm for it. He jumped when the case's handle was set into it gently, the boy's cool, almost clammy skin lingering a bit too long against his own to be purely coincidental. He pulled away quickly though when the sound of someone clearing their throat pointedly behind him broke the tense silence. He pushed that sweet smile back to his face and nodded to Itachi.

"Uchiha-sama, I was just helping your young... friend here. May I get you anything?" The man's eyes were ice as he met Sai's, and even the boy had to shiver a bit at that.

"This is Naruto-kun, he is my newest... acquisition. I trust that you will treat him with the same respect you would treat any guest though, Sai-kun." The boy smiled, and bowed slightly to both of them.

"I see, Naruto-san. Welcome, and if I can be of any... service to you over the course of the flight, please, don't hesitate to let me know." With a wink the boy stood and disappeared. Itachi sighed, setting a bottle of water in Naruto's lap gently.

"This should help a little, with the decompression. Your ears may still pop from the change of pressure though. Don't worry, it's normal and it won't hurt you." Naruto blushed, and mumbled a thank you as he buried his face in his book.

The rest of the flight was fairly inconsequential, with Itachi and Shisui each fixed on their own work. Naruto tried hard to concentrate on his own book, but he felt the excitement and nervous energy of the day coming down on him now, as the sun began to set outside the window. He nodded off then, and he was having a wonderful dream about playing some game or another, in a garden, a very big garden, laughing and chasing a boy who looked suspiciously like Sasuke.

He was woken though, by a hand shaking his shoulder gently, but as he woke he felt another, sitting on his thigh, a steady downward pressure as if someone were leaning on it. He tensed, the shape of the hand and the scent that surrounded him were unfamiliar, not belonging to his Master, or even Sasuke.

He went with his first instinct then, his fingers wrapping around that hand, the one set against his leg, and twisting it backwards, springing up at the same time to flip his attacker around. By the time he was really awake, Itachi's calming hand on his shoulder, he released the boy. It had been Sai, and he didn't hesitate in narrowing his eyes at the boy slightly, even as he bowed.

"I apologize for my actions, Sai-san. You startled me from sleep." Itachi squeezed his shoulder reassuringly as he stepped closer, taking the situation into his own hands.

"Yes, Naruto-kun has been training with Kakashi-san and my Otouto, he even beat my foolish little brother in a spar. He's quite good at defense, which is just what I'm looking for. I am always hearing how important I am, and Naruto-kun here is like an investment in my own safety." He smiled like a tiger, cool and sly and deadly, and then turned back to Naruto.

"We've landed, Naruto-kun, so gather your things so that we may disembark." Naruto nodded, slipping his book back into the case he'd brought, and grabbing the little bundle of baked goods Raidou had given them this afternoon when they left. He turned, smiling slightly at his Master, and turned to the exit.