Spice and Ice and Everything Nice
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or make profit from this.
Warnings for chapter: AU, character death, references to mature themes; #96 falls in the same universe as 76, 56, 36 and 16.
96. Rough Start
Sasuke is fourteen and a half. This will be his second attempt at the chuunin exams and he aims to pass this time. Already, several of his peers have advanced in rank, including Sakura, and Sasuke refuses to let them leave him behind. But, then again, he knows he'd needed the extra time away to help deal with the horrific losses that had befallen his clan during Orochimaru's attack. He'd been an utter wreck afterwards and his clan needed him to help with the reconstruction, so he isn't able to begrudge Sakura for doing what she needed to and filling in for Shikamaru on Team Ten.
He sighs as he leans over the rails of the bridge. Naruto isn't going to be joining him for this one either. The blond idiot is off on a training journey with Jiraiya, trying to get that, well, weird chakra of his under control, so Sasuke is getting shuffled onto a team with Chouji, the only member of Team Ten that had yet to pass, and some prodigy out of the Academy.
Sasuke frowns at his reflection in the water, which is looking more and more like his older brother's every day, and tries not to think about how this doesn't feel right going into the test without Naruto or Sakura. As his brother would say, it's not about his friends, it's about complimentary abilities. Sasuke has a bit of a gift as a tactician – he's nowhere near as good as Shikamaru, but good enough – and Chouji's gift lies in his musclepower, so he figures the third member they're being saddled with has to be some form of support ninja.
The sounds of footsteps on the bridge make him raise his head. It's a girl with a familiar face, one he hasn't seen for over a year, not since just after Orochimaru's invasion when they were looking for survivors in the border villages the insane old man had razed in his retreat. She is out of breath and panting as she stops near him, her red hair flopping in her face as she adjusts her glasses and asks, "Is this the meeting place for Team Seven?"
"Yeah," he says, blinking a little. She looks different, but maybe it's because she's no longer covered in dust and bruises with a broken leg. What was her name again? He's sure it starts with a K – Karin! That's what it was. "Karin, right? Do you remember me? I was on the team that rescued you."
"Yes, I remember," she says, blushing a little as she fiddles with her glasses. She schools her face and adds, "You've grown a little."
Sasuke resists the urge to comment about how different she seems from the girl he'd carried on his back and idly wonders if she's become another one of his fangirls, like so many other girls have. "So you're the prodigy they told me about? I didn't think you'd join the..."
"I needed the money," Karin says sharply, her arms immediately crossing over her chest, and he knows he's touched a raw nerve. "And I've got a talent for tracking. It'd be foolish to waste it."
Sasuke nods, but inwardly he's got a feeling she's not really ready for this exam and both he and Chouji are going to spend the whole time defending her. It's going to be really troublesome to manage.
"Don't," she says suddenly, the pitch sharp, and he stares at her livid face in complete confusion. She glares at him, unmoved, and levels an accusing finger at his face. "I know what you're thinking! I'm not some kind of useless baggage, damn you!"
"I didn't-" Sasuke starts, utterly bewildered. He's sure he hadn't said a word of what he'd been thinking out loud. Could she read minds or something?
"Your chakra doesn't lie, idiot!" she says, "I don't care how nice or cute you are, I refuse to be underestimated!"
"My chakra -?" Sasuke manages, blinking.
"I'm going to go do my paperwork," Karin huffs angrily and stomps off, pausing only to loudly shout back, "And don't you dare follow me! I'll know the second your chakra moves from this spot!"
"You can sense..." he trails off, narrowing his eyes on her retreating back. Oh, now that is certainly interesting.
"Oi, Sasuke," Chouji's voice calls from behind him. "Was that our teammate for the exam?"
He nods, mulling over the words again as the other boy approaches. Could she really be that good at sensing chakra? She has to be. No one is accelerated through the Academy like that without really good reason.
"Are you okay, Sasuke?" Chouji asks, looking a little concerned. "You've got one of those scary looks..."
"Interesting, very interesting," Sasuke smiles and claps his former classmate on the shoulder. "Chouji, I think I know how we're going to pass this exam. I have a plan."
"Should I be frightened?" Chouji asks.
"Don't be silly," Sasuke chides and starts forward. "Come on, we've got a teammate to catch up to."
"Are you sure? She looked kind of mad at you," Chouji gives him a concerned look. "What on earth did you say to her?"
"Nothing. She'll get over it, I'm sure."
Later, Chouji would comment to the amused members of Team Ten that Sasuke getting slapped by Karin had only served to make him more interested in the obstinate redhead than he was before. The betting pool on when Sasuke and the new girl would officially hook up started shortly thereafter.
Karin is afraid he's leaving. Not physically, but mentally and the difference between the two extremes is what's really scary. She's able to deal with him leaving her behind physically – she knows she's not strong and he doesn't like putting her in danger – and it makes sense. But mentally, that's another story. The more distant his gaze becomes and the darker his chakra gets, the more afraid for him she gets and it eats her up inside because it's all happening too fast, far too fast and it doesn't make sense at all.
He lies before her, cold and pale as death, and she gets a bad feeling in her gut that he'll leave soon, probably for good, and the next time she'll see him, no amount of her healing will be able to pull him from death's grasp again.
So, she kisses him, because she's impulsive and scared she'll never get another chance.
His eyelids flutter and he steals the very breath from her lips to whisper her name, questioning even as his lips brush the syllables of her name against hers.
It's the first time they're alone in a long time and, after all that can be said is said, it's just silence, the empty realm of boxes, and the taste of his lips on hers.
"What will happen to me if you don't come back?" she asks, because he's told her he has a plan and that he wants her to be safe and hide while he handles the rest from here.
"Nothing will happen to me," Sasuke says. "You know me – I'm not weak."
"Even so, I'd like to know," Karin responds, because she can feel that dread feeling in her gut that it's all ending.
Sasuke frowns, his gaze unfocused and it bothers her because it's happening more often. "If I die, find Juugo and Suigetsu and run as far as you can. Find somewhere safe and hide. Don't even wait to find out if it's true or not. I'd rather have to go and find you than come back to find you dead."
"I want to stay," she whispers. "But I don't know if I can stand to watch as I lose my precious person again."
He stares at her, wide-eyed and blushing, and she puts her hand on his.
"Kiss me," she says, "For luck."
It's clumsy and sloppy and she knows it's not all because he's new to this – she's noticed something off with his depth perception and she knows he's worried, so she hasn't said anything. And then his fingers are feather-light on her neck and his kisses have become hungrier, more intense and it's all happening so fast, so very fast as her cloak and his shirt fall to the wayside.
He pauses suddenly, blushing brighter than ever, and quietly admits, "I don't know what to do next."
"We'll learn," Karin smiles, kissing him, "Together."
And they do.
When Madara arrives some time later, Sasuke convinces him to leave Karin in Wave Country in exchange for accepting his brother's eyes. Before he disappears with the crazy elder, he reminds her of what she must do if he should fail and makes her promise to do as he's told her, despite the ache in her heart and body.
So, Karin waits and listens as the days turn into weeks and anxiety churns her stomach, until at last the rumors have confirmed her worst fears. She packs her gear and leaves the very next day, even though it hurts to the point of illness. She'll mourn later. She's shed enough tears already and Sasuke would never forgive her if she didn't keep her promise to him.
She owes him that and so much more.
She makes a new promise, too: it's a promise to herself that she'll live for him and for the sake of his legacy.
It's what he would want and she's never been able to deny him what he wants, even now.
Karin finds Sasuke sitting on the porch with his head in his hands. "What's wrong?"
He grunts, running his hands through his graying hair as he raises his head, and lets out a heavy, despondent sigh. "Our son hates me," he says.
"What?" she asks, bewildered. "Rinji? He adores you."
Sasuke shakes his head and sighs again. "He hates me. That much is obvious. Why else would he be in such a rush to join that idiot's family?"
Karin sighs and rolls her eyes as she sits down next to him. "What happened?"
"We were just talking," Sasuke says and she doesn't need her ability to see how upset he is. His tone screams frustration and anger, but his posture is weary and closed off as if it were an inward issue. "He said he wanted to marry the idiot's daughter and I said all right. And then he said he wanted to join her family book and I asked why, but he insisted. We started arguing and I..."
Sasuke pauses, shaking his head and closing his eyes. With another heavy sigh, he finishes lamely, "I fucked up. I fucked up, big time. He'll probably never speak to me again."
"I'm sure it's not that bad –" Karin starts, a steady hand on his shoulder.
"I called him Itachi."
"Oh," Karin says, pulling back her hand.
It's always been one of those things they skirted around with their eldest son. For the longest time, Rinji has preferred to wear his hair long in a similar manner to his long-deceased uncle and, graced with Sasuke's features, he is easily able to pass for a younger Itachi. That resemblance has haunted Sasuke and, in a way, she's glad their younger son and the girls take more after her. A slip-up like this has always been one of Sasuke's big fears because he knows that Rinji worries he's just a replacement for Itachi.
"Yeah, you definitely fucked up," Karin says, sighing.
"It just slipped out," Sasuke moves his hands in a helpless, frustrated gesture. "I didn't even mean to say it, but he's... he just looked so much like him and even sounded like him and I... I wasn't even thinking!" He pauses, sighing again, and shakes his head: "I'm such an idiot."
"It sounds like it was an accident," Karin tells him. "Did you apologize?"
Sasuke's face fell. "I tried... he stormed out. I've never seen him so mad with me. He looked like I'd hit him, Karin. I'm a horrible father."
Karin sighs again and gets to her feet, reaching down to tug at his hands. "Come on, get up."
"What are you doing?" he asks, bewildered.
"You're coming with me and you're going to stop wallowing in your guilt and apologize to your son, you great idiotic chicken-shit," Karin says firmly, tugging.
That one vein in Sasuke's jaw bulges like it always does when he's being a stubborn ass and he shakes his head, protesting, "But Karin, he hates me! And he should! I practically called him a replacement for my brother! What kind of father does that?"
"You said it yourself – you were arguing," she points out, "And people go too far when they argue all the time. It happens. Stop beating yourself up over a stupid fight! You're a good man and a good father, but you're only human."
Sasuke groans in frustration, turning his head away. "But Karin..."
"Stop being stubborn," she commands archly.
"I am not being stubborn," Sasuke snaps, sulkily. "It's just pointless. Rinji's not going to forgive me – he's the stubborn one."
Karin puts her hands on her hips and frowns. "Well, now I know where he gets it from – you're both being stubborn asses!"
This time it's Sasuke who stares, eyes wide.
Karin pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs. "I love you, but you're both acting like idiots."
"If he'd just told me why he doesn't want to be a part of our family anymore, instead of dodging the issue," Sasuke grumbles, "I wouldn't have gotten so mad."
Karin shakes her head. "What did he say?"
"Something about the future," Sasuke says, waving his hand, "I don't know. He was being vague."
Karin laughs then and her husband stares at her, a frustrated frown on his face. She smiles, leaning down and kissing him on the forehead. "You know, for a genius, you can be remarkably thick sometimes, Sasuke."
His frown deepens, just like it always does.
"He probably doesn't want his kids to be teased because of their family name," she explains. "Remember how he and Kadou would get teased? The girls never got it quite so bad – they had each other to fall back on, but the boys got the worst of it. If Rinji joins Hana's family, his children will be Uzumaki and no one would dare tease them – they respect Naruto too much."
Sasuke's frown dissipates slowly into a sad sort of resignation and he gently takes her hand, running his thumb over her knuckles. He's quiet for a few unbearable minutes and then he quietly speaks, "I always worried that what... I did would never be forgotten and that people might take it out on my family, but I wanted to be with you, to have a family. And I turned a blind eye to what that meant, because as long as I had you and the kids, I could – we could handle it, as a family and we could make the Uchiha name mean something good again. But I've always known, even just a little, that maybe it was better to let that name just disappear."
"Sasuke," she whispers, her face falling because she knows how much his name means to him.
"Rinji will always be our son, Karin," Sasuke says, firmly. "Just as Kadou and the twins will always be our children, no matter what name they may choose to carry. I don't mind being the Last Uchiha, if it means my grandchildren will avoid pain. I just want them to be happy."
Karin gives him a watery, happy smile and kisses him softly as she sinks into his arms. They sit in silence, folded in an embrace for a while.
"Sasuke," Karin mumbles, "You still have to apologize to him."
Sasuke groans theatrically. "Don't remind me."
99. Next Generation
Sasuke curses as he peers through the bottommost lenses of his trifocals to read the pill box. Eternal Mangekyou, yeah right – sure, he still was able to see and could turn people's minds into split pea soup if he liked, but eternal? Not so much. It seemed that his Sharingan may be still be good, but the rest of him was suffering the human condition known as 'getting old,' a luxury few ninja had ever lived to enjoy, much less ninja of his rather colorful reputation.
He frowns at the box as he empties the morning's pills in his hand. He has no idea what half the bloody things are for and there are so many of them, but he takes them anyway and tries to ignore the age spots on his hands.
Behind him, Karin sits at the table, as she's done every Sunday morning for years now, and reads the paper.
He sighs, looking out the window as he puts the pill box down, and then frowns as he sees the distinct shape of children on the lawn. "Karin, those darn kids are back again."
"That's probably because it's your grandchildren," she says, turning the page. "They always visit on Sundays, remember?"
Sasuke grumbles, taking off his reading glasses, and puts on his other pair of glasses. He looks again and sees that, indeed, the three children picking their way through his traps are his grandchildren, the kids of his eldest son, Rinji. "I hate getting old," he mumbles as he puts the reading glasses in his pocket.
And he does, really. He hates forgetting simple things, the way his joints creak when he moves, and having to lean on a cane because his old injuries ache more than usual. He hates having to switch glasses just to read the damn pill box and the ungodly number of pills he has to take. He hates the wrinkles, the age spots and that his hair is now a rather solid grey.
His children are grown now, all four of them out of the house and off on their own. His second child, Kadou, shows no signs of quitting his off-duty skirt chasing and settling down, not that his teammates would let him. The twins, Ariko and Kawori, are on-again, off-again in love with guys in their departments. Heck, even Sasuke's first genin squad and their kids are all grown up now, living lives of their own. It's weird having them all gone. The house seems so much emptier without them.
Idly, he wonders when he got so used to the noise.
There's a polite knock and Karin puts down her paper to get the door while Sasuke shuffles to the table and sits down, wincing as his knee aches sharply.
The first through the door is the oldest, Tsubaki and she greets him politely, but distantly. She looks a bit like Karin used to, save for the dark Uchiha eyes she possesses, and the distinct shape of her face that screams of her mother's line. He likes her – she reminds him of Itachi, a little – and he tells her to help herself to the jutsu scrolls in the other room. Maybe when she's physically ready for it, he'll let her have some of the more advanced ones. She's still just a kid, genius or not.
The next through the door is Hasuka, who looks so much like Sakura it's frightening. And yet, he's got a funny feeling that under her looks, she's inherited something of Karin. It's a suspicion he's had for a while and he snorts when she hugs him, smiling a little as she tells him it's to 'cheer him up.' Only Rinji and his little sister Ariko, both having inherited Karin's talents, ever had a chance of reading his moods, and he thinks, maybe, he'll tell them his suspicions about his granddaughter's ability if they stop requesting the Hokage to assign genin to fix up his house. Damn it, he's old, not an invalid and he doesn't want those idiot genin messing with his damn house.
Then again, Karin probably already knows about it. She's still as sharp as she ever was, or maybe Sasuke's just aging badly.
The last inside is his youngest and only grandson, Minoru, and he gives Sasuke a wide grin. Sasuke looks at him and sees his oldest son's face as it was years ago, but Minoru's eyes are different, green instead of dark grey. His grandson, in many ways, is too much like Naruto for comfort, what with his habit of wearing orange, the boisterous, energetic nature and mischievous streak. In other ways, Sasuke sees himself in Minoru as he once was, back when he wanted to prove he wasn't just Itachi's little brother, and it pains him a little to know Minoru is struggling to get out of Naruto's rather lengthy shadow.
Karma, indeed, Sasuke thinks, and beckons the boy to come closer. "My leg is not what it used to be," he explains, ruefully. "And I could use some air."
His bones creak painfully as he stands, letting his grandson think he's helped him up, and he leans heavily on his cane as they move slowly towards the door.
"There's a genin squad coming in a while," Hasuka tells him and Karin nods absently, making a hand sign for fifteen minutes out.
Plenty of time, then, Sasuke thinks and lets Minoru guide him onto the front porch. He sits down, grunting as his joints creak again, and pulls out a scroll. A little blood, a little chakra and a small arsenal is at his side. "You remember where the traps are, right, grandson?"
"Well, they need to be reset. Get on with it."
And like a monkey, the boy is off, scrambling nimbly up the side of the house to rig the first set of launchers. Sasuke watches, envious of the nimble grace of youth he no longer possesses, and pipes up with the occasional correction. No grandchild of his will ever be accused of stringing together a piss-poor trap and Minoru takes to the exercise like a duck to water. When it is all done, the boy swings down from the tree near the roof and unsteadily lands on the porch. He runs over and sits down, giving Sasuke a thousand-watt smile. Sasuke ruffles the boy's hair affectionately and settles in to wait for the genin squad.
"Grandfather?" Minoru pipes up, questioningly. "Do you think I can be Hokage?"
"Don't see why not," Sasuke says with a grunt and watches as the genin squad appears, pale and shaking with horror. The reputation of his being a nightmare D-rank client has obviously preceded him. "But you don't want it, not really."
"That's not –" Minoru protests and the first explosion cuts him off.
"Everyone sees you as the grandson of the sixth, right?" Sasuke asks candidly and uses his cane to flip a hidden switch on the walkway. Shuriken and kunai rain down on the yard from the trees. "You want to be seen as yourself, not just as his grandson. The Hokage is the strongest, but exists as one who puts the needs of the village above their own. The position of Hokage doesn't belong to those with selfish reasons."
Minoru looks down, obviously hurt.
Sasuke sighs. He's always been hard on children, but this is his grandson and his grandson's dream is to be Hokage. It's something he can't just crush and Karin would never forgive him if he crushed his grandkid's dream. Maybe... maybe an old fogy like him can help somehow.
The genin trying to weed the lawn dodge several timed exploding tags and he idly notes they're getting more nimble, which is probably why the Hokage hasn't lectured him for putting so many genin in the hospital. Karin and their eldest son, on the other hand, aren't nearly as pleased with his idea of a crash course in trap disarmament.
"Did I ever tell you that Naruto used to do pranks as a kid?" Sasuke asks, smiling.
Minoru perks up, immediately interested, "Really?"
"Oh yeah," Sasuke says, nodding. "He was pretty good at it, too."
One of the genin screams and drops to the walkway, their jacket on fire.
"Just roll around on the ground a bit! You'll be fine!" Sasuke shouts, harrumphing. Kids these days – honestly, it was just a little fire! "What was I saying again?"
"You were telling me about how Grandpa Naruto played pranks," Minoru says helpfully.
"Oh yes," Sasuke pauses, reflecting. They had been so young once. "Things were different back then and he was a sneaky little bastard. He wanted everyone to look at him, so he did pranks. After a while, he didn't get caught so much but everyone knew he'd been behind them. Eventually, he stopped, but he didn't mean to, not at first. He was just doing what he had to do to protect his precious people. And then people started to see him, not as some kid, but as a man, you understand?"
Another explosion goes off and he adds: "If you want to be Hokage, that's what you've got to do. Get them to see you as a man."
Minoru chews his lip a little and bows his head as he thinks about it.
"Hey," Sasuke says and, as soon as the boy raises his head, he pokes him in the middle of his forehead with two fingers, just like Itachi used to do.
"Ow," Minoru whines, rubbing his forehead.
"No moping. You're a kid. You've got a long time before you need to grow up," he says, chidingly. Sasuke then laughs a little, idly aware he's scared the genin in the yard senseless, and gives his grandson a mischievous look. "We should play a prank on Naruto."
Minoru's eyes widen comically as he dons a surprised expression. "Are you serious?"
"Pranks teach good ninja skills," Sasuke says sagely. "Deception, subterfuge, infiltration and stealth – it's very good training."
Minoru scrunches up his face in thought. "What are we gonna do?"
"Your grandfather has a plan," Sasuke says and beckons him closer. "Gotta cut your hair for it to work, though. Turn around."
"Cut my hair?" Minoru asks, scooting closer and turning around. "How's that gonna help?"
Sasuke picks up a kunai and gathers the start of the ponytail his grandson's sporting in one hand. "The best tricks are ones based in something real," he says, gently sawing away the black locks. He works fast and as soon as the heavier weight of the small ponytail's gone, his grandson's hair springs up in an all-too familiar way. "There we go. Now, let's go find one of your father's old shirts and see about pulling this off."
Minoru runs his hand along the back of his head, curiously. "It feels different."
"Of course it does," Sasuke says, brushing the hair off his grandson's shoulders. "Now, help me up. My leg's aching."
They go inside and Karin gets one of those looks on her face when she spots them, but she doesn't say anything. Sasuke knows she's going to give him an earful later, though, but the idea of this prank is making him feel like a kid again and he thinks it's worth a little scolding from his wife. She's forgiven him for worse things.
Minoru pulls one of his father's old shirts over his head, the Uchiha fan big and bold on his back, and, for a moment, Sasuke is floored by how much his grandson looks like him. It's like staring back in time. And then Minoru laughs, looking up with those big green eyes and the all too tan skin, and the illusion shatters.
Sasuke shakes his head and smiles as he leads his grandson out of the house, shouting at the badly singed genin limping through his lawn that the weeds won't pick themselves. He whispers his plan in Minoru's ear and the boy nods eagerly. It's a game now, but someday it won't be and Sasuke can teach him how to play ninja until he's ready to be ninja.
They find Naruto lingering by the monument and Sasuke hides himself behind a tree, urging his grandson to go out there, and grins like an idiot as he sets a low-level genjutsu into place. Minoru goes through their little script easily, pretending to have mistaken the robed form of Naruto for the Sandaime from the back, and then starts wailing about how he can't find his big brother and how the Uchiha district is missing. And predictably, Naruto panics over 'Sasuke' and something about quantum physics and time paradoxes before finally figuring out it's probably a genjutsu. Minoru's sheepish expression is all the confirmation Naruto needs and Sasuke knows the jig is up.
Naruto hits Sasuke on the head, scolding him thoroughly, and the three of them head back into town, Minoru walking ahead of them.
"Corruptor," Naruto says, pretending to sulk, and Sasuke laughs, because it's just how it is. He expects payback eventually.
At the end of the day, when their grandchildren have all gone home and Rinji has finished scolding him for cutting Minoru's hair for a prank and maiming another batch of genin, the house is empty and quiet again. Sasuke takes his pills, cursing out his trifocals, and climbs into bed next to Karin.
"You're an ass," she says, cupping his face with a wrinkled hand. "But I love you anyway."
"Even with all these wrinkles?" he asks jokingly, "You're such a strange woman. That's probably why I married you."
Karin shakes her head, smiling as she lets down her hair from the bun she's had it in. It's almost all white now, a few stubborn strands of red hanging in there, and, absently, he brushes it off her shoulder. It's funny how much they've changed and stayed the same. She gives him an amused look: "Don't be silly, I married you. Those wrinkles are going straight to your brain, old man."
He snorts in amusement and lies back, taking off his glasses and putting them aside. He then rolls onto his side, though his hip protests, so that he's facing her. "You should have seen Naruto's face, Karin. Minoru and I got him good."
"Teaching him to pull pranks on old men is hardly commendable," Karin says, lying down. She rolls over to look at him and smiles. "But I know why you did it. It was a good thing."
"He's a good kid," Sasuke says, taking her hand in his.
Karin nods, squeezing his hand. "He looks a lot like you."
Sasuke hums in agreement and sleepily adds, "He'll be Hokage some day."
Karin nods sleepily and they both drift off to sleep together.
They find them at the end, a bloody, broken pair of bodies lying in the aftermath. Their hands are but the length of a fingertip apart, as if they had died reaching for one another, and their heads face each other, their lips frozen in soft, happy smiles.
Naruto and Sakura mourn hardest for their lost teammate. From others, they learn the redheaded girl's name and they mourn her, too. There is something in the haunting way they reached for one another in death that lingers and tells them this was a girl who meant something to him.
They dare not leave the bodies. Instead, they burn them together and bury the ashes in a secret place, carving the names in their memories.
"Maybe we'll see them again," Sakura says.
Neji agrees – calls it destiny and speaks of reincarnation. Hinata suggests they've become birds and Ino suspects flowers, while Kiba laughs and says they're fools, since it's obvious they've become dogs with that kind of loyalty to each other. Shikamaru calls them troublesome and Shino says nothing.
Time passes and they get older, they have kids, and those kids grow older.
One day, Naruto goes to the Academy to address the new potential genin. He is not as young as he once was and soon he'll turn over his hat to Konohamaru. He enters, immediately everyone snaps to attention, and he starts to speak the speech he's made a hundred times when something catches his eye. Two of the potentials he recognizes and not because they're the children of his friends. No, they are strangers to him.
The boy is not Sasuke, but there is something in the set of his jaw and the way he holds himself that is so Sasuke that it's jarring.
The girl in the back is not the redheaded girl from the valley and, yet, he sees that broken girl's face in her.
Naruto finishes his speech and sits to observe the tests. Discreetly, he taps into his sage mode and feels out the chakra of those familiar strangers. The girl's is curious, responding to his gentle nudge with a questioning feeling, and the boy's is lightning and fire that gives him a wary spark and, though it's smaller and clearer than it ever was, it is definitely familiar.
He smiles and silently welcomes Sasuke and Karin back.
AN: And that's it for Spice and Ice and Everything Nice. I hope you enjoyed it.
96: Rough Start - non-massacre AU. Sasuke discovers firsthand how sensitive her ability to read chakra is and is fascinated by the implications. When a Jerk loves a Tsundere ensues.
97: Live - I've purposely left some things in this one ambiguous. It's kind of meant to be similar to 95 - Empty, in that she has to deal with losing him, but it went in a very odd direction.
98: Obstinate - Rinji wanted to address the fact I designed him to resemble Itachi and Sasuke wanted to show just how stubborn and wangsty he was. And yeah, it does happen that guys join the "family book" of their wives, but normally it's the other way around and Sasuke, who's kinda keen the survival of his family, would probably have an issue about that.
99: Next Generation - LONG FICLET IS LOOOOOOONG. But Old Bastard Sasuke is hilarious and just wanted to keep going. I had a ton of fun with his "training from hell" on the poor, poor genin. Old Sasuke is that old man that has a shotgun and tells kids to get off his lawn. Just replace shotgun with explosives and kunai. Same universe as the one right before it, only much further down the line. Minoru and his older sisters from In Memoriam Tales reappear. Minoru does really look a lot like Sasuke (especially since he wears his hair in the same style normally) only his skin's more tanned and his eyes are green; in this story though, he starts out wearing his hair longer like Rinji and Sasuke cuts it into the duckbutt.
100: Beginnings - Because an end is not always the end.