Disclaimer: I hope it goes without saying that I don't own any of these characters.

Author's Note: I'm going to apologize in advance. This is the penultimate chapter of the story, and things kind of reach a head here. The pacing is a bit off, and a lot happens here, so please forgive the fast speed of the chapter. Especially considering the last two chapters all took place over the course of a single night.

Chapter Forty-Three: The Living Dead

Sasuke tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for his suitcase to appear in the baggage claim. He didn't even want to bring a suitcase—he was just in New York to find Itachi and bring him back to Konoha before he did something stupid. But he knew he had to bring the gun, just in case, so he filled a suitcase with clothes and buried the gun inside.

After Sasuke had called Tobi from Hiashi's phone, that was the first place he'd gone—back to his place to pack. He checked in quickly with Neji before getting on the plane. Neji told him that after he'd fled the Hyuga mansion, he'd managed to make Hiashi submit. That was good for them—they didn't need Hiashi to worry about with everything else going on. There had been no change in Suigetsu, who had just been pulled out of surgery.

His phone buzzed more times than Sasuke could count when he turned it back on after the flight. He glanced briefly at who he'd missed calls from—Neji, Naruto, Sakura, and Mikoto. He had a few voicemails and more than a few texts, but he didn't bother to look at them.

He looked up at the baggage claim rotator and saw his bright-orange suitcase come around. He chose to borrow one of Naruto's, knowing he would be able to distinguish it from the usual black, blue, and brown colored suitcases after the flight. He grabbed it quickly and turned around, heading for the streets.

He pulled out his phone and redialed the last number he had dialed before leaving Konoha—Yamato, Itachi's PI. He needed to know where Itachi was staying, what Tobi's address was, and anything else that Yamato could tell him to help stop Itachi before he confronted the mob boss. He'd left a message all those hours ago, but it had been nighttime. It was now late enough in the morning that Yamato should have seen it.

The phone rang three times before a young-sounding woman answered the phone, Yamato's secretary.

"I need to talk to Yamato immediately," Sasuke said urgently into the phone. "Tell him it's an emergency."

"May I ask who's calling?" she asked him.

"Sasuke Uchiha," he answered. "Tell him I'm Itachi's brother."

"One moment, please." Sasuke didn't wait long at all before she was back. "Here he is."

"Sasuke Uchiha?" Yamato's deep voice came on the line.

"Yes, it's Itachi's brother," Sasuke replied. "I need to know everything told Itachi yesterday."

"Itachi tells me you're a smart kid," Yamato said. "We both know I won't do that."

"I'll pay you everything my brother is paying you and more," Sasuke promised. "You have to tell me what you told him. He's running into a very dangerous situation right now. You don't know what he's getting himself into."

"It's none of my business," Yamato answered. "And I'm sorry, but I won't just sell out my clients to their family for money. That's a bad way to keep customers in my business."

"Then I'll hire you," Sasuke said, angry that Yamato was being so difficult. "Like I said, I'll pay more than Itachi. I just need to know everything he knows about Tobi. It's a matter of life and death." There was silence on the other line for a moment. "Are you still there?" Sasuke exited the airport and made his way to the car rental area.

"Yeah, I'm still here. I guess if you're both clients, then I could give you some information."

"Good," Sasuke said with a sigh of relief. He stood on line to wait for a car while Yamato told him everything he could.

"I need to go up to see Mr. Tsukyomi," Itachi told the receptionist on the ground floor. He knew that the elusive CEO, who wasn't at his house when Itachi got to New York a few hours ago, would be a few floors up.

"Is he expecting you?" the girl asked in a so-Cal accent. She seemed unimpressed by Itachi's casual attire.

"No, but it is urgent that I see him," Itachi told her.

"No one goes up to corporate without an appointment," she said, as if reciting from a staff manual. To accentuate her statement, she popped a rather large bubble of gum.

"Well, I'd like to make an appointment then," Itachi said. "As soon as possible."

"You can't just walk in here and make an appointment with him," she told him. "Does this look like a doctor's office?" Her sarcasm served only to infuriate him more.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a hundred dollar bill and placed it on the counter in front of her. "I need to see Mr. Tsukyomi."

"A hundred dollars isn't worth my job, sir," she told him rather pointedly. "Five hundred might make me have to go to the bathroom real quick, though." Itachi ground his teeth at her obvious extortion. He'd brought cash because he figured he'd have to bribe his way up to see Tobi. But he didn't figure he'd lose $500 in one hit.

He balled his right hand into a fist as his left hand fished through his wallet for his last four hundreds. He laid them down on top of the one that was already there. She looked around to see if no one was watching, as did Itachi. She put the bills in her pocketbook and then pressed a button.

"Security, we have an issue."

Itachi didn't even have time to get back at her for robbing him of $500. He bolted towards the employee elevators in the back. He could see two security guards in suits running towards him. He pressed the button rapidly, but the door opened too late—he already felt the hands on his shoulders as he was manhandled and dragged out the side towards a side exit.

The door was opened and he was shoved into an alley, before the door was promptly closed behind him. He banged on the door twice, and tried tugging on it, but it was no use. I was such an idiot! He thought he could just walk in to the headquarters of a multimillion dollar corporation, and just walk up the stairs to see the CEO? He kicked a metal trashcan over in his anger, and garbage spilled out onto the ground.

"Fuck," he said, running his hand through his hair. What was his next move? He didn't have one. He had no plan B. Hell, he had no plan A. He'd have to hope that he could ambush Tobi in his house, but those chances were just as slim. First he'd need to be let into his apartment building, and then invited into his apartment.

Was this all for nothing?

He started to walk towards the side street, hoping to find a place to eat a nice meal and contemplate his options. I can't go back to Konoha a failure. Not after I made such a big deal about this to Sasuke. He was about to turn onto the street when he heard a high pitched yell from behind him in the alley.

"Hey rich guy!" He turned to see the receptionist waving him back from the door he had been shoved out of. "Do you want to see the boss or not?"

He thought it was too good to be true, but money must talk to some people. He ran back down the alley and stepped into the building.

"I thought—"

"Well now when you get up there, they won't blame me for letting you get past me," she said. "Right now I'm on my bathroom break. Anyway, you're going to want to go down that hallway." She pointed down the hall to Itachi's right. "You're gonna make a left, and walk down, past a few different hallways. Make a right and you should come upon elevators. They won't take you anywhere, you'd need a key. Pass the elevators and make another left. There will be a set of emergency stairs on your left. Take them up to the twenty-third floor."

"Twenty-three flights?" Itachi asked. His calves hurt just thinking about it.

"Do you want to see him or not?" she asked. "Anyway, when you get up there, there's gonna be a secretary who will probably stop you. Don't mention me. Once you get there, you're on your own."

"Understood," Itachi said with a sigh of relief. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it," she said. "Seriously." She went back the way she'd came, while Itachi took her directions.

He made a left, then a right, passed the elevators, and made another left. He opened the door to the stairs and began his twenty-three flight of stairs. He was panting after three. After ten, he considered going back down. After twelve, the thought occurred to him that he might need to walk back down all these stairs. After sixteen, he'd decided he'd rather just jump out the window.

He had to take a break at twenty. He sat, head in his hands. If he couldn't even climb up the stairs to Tobi, how was he supposed to intimidate him?

It might have taken an hour by the time he actually reached the top. Then he had to stop and make sure he didn't look too sweaty. He sat back down on the first step on the twenty-fourth flight, hoping to catch his breath again. He couldn't be winded when he confronted Tobi.

When he finally caught his breath and felt good to go, he then paused to consider how he'd handle the secretary. He didn't want to make this whole thing a waste of time. He'd already given all his cash to the receptionist downstairs. He didn't think he'd need more than $500. But he couldn't bribe his way. He couldn't threaten his way in either. He had nothing.

He stepped out into the small hallway, and found himself right next to the elevator. Further down the hall was the only other door there—presumably the door to Tobi's office. He bit his lip in contemplation, when he saw the fire alarm. Without any other option, he pulled it. The alarm went off, and Itachi rushed to stand next to the door, on the other side from the elevator and stairs.

He heard some loud talking from inside the office, and a few moments later, the door opened. The secretary was the first out the door, followed by someone Itachi never thought he'd see again. He didn't let shock get the best of him. He surprised both the secretary and the man, who had obviously not seen him there. Itachi pushed him back into the office and slammed the door behind him, locking it. The secretary banged on the door, but Itachi wouldn't let her disturb this reunion.

"How are you alive?"

Sasuke held one hand on the gun in his waistband as the cab came up alongside the skyscraper. He quickly paid the cabbie and made his way into the building, towards the receptionist. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and found a photo of Itachi.

"Can I help you?" the receptionist asked in a not-so-helpful tone.

"Have you seen this man?" Sasuke asked, showing her the picture on his phone. From her expression, she'd definitely seen him.

"No," she said quickly.

"Are you sure?" asked Sasuke.

"Yes," she answered.

"Good," Sasuke said, more to himself than to her. Maybe he'd gotten here in time.

"Why is that good?" the girl asked.

"This man wants to see Tobi Tsukyomi, and if he does," Sasuke trailed off. "Well, it's not gonna be good." He turned to leave, but her words stopped him.

"Fuck, I'm so getting fired for this," she said, barely more than a mutter.

"For what?" Sasuke asked her. She looked around her for a moment before leaning in to Sasuke.

"I let him go upstairs almost an hour ago," she whispered.

Fuck, he thought.

"Fuck," he said.

"Is it that bad?" she asked.

"Did he come back down?"

"Not that I saw," she said. "He had to go up a ton of flights of stairs, so he probably hasn't been up there long."

"We need to get up there fast," he told her.

"I can't go up with you," she said. "But come on."

She led him through a few different hallways until they arrived at a set of elevators. She pulled out a key from her pocked and put it in a keyhole by the up button. She then pressed the button, and they waited.

"When the elevator comes down, you can take it up to the twenty-third floor," she told him. "I've probably been away from the desk for too long already, so I can't come with you. Please stop whatever is going on here, and don't let my boss know I was involved at all."

"I promise," Sasuke told her. She walked back to where she came from, and the elevator dinged moments later. He stepped inside and pressed the '23' button.

The elevator began to rise, but after passing the eighteenth floor, the elevator shook and came to a stop as alarms went off. The elevator brought him back down to the eighteenth floor and let him out.

There were people rushing from offices to get to a stairwell. An alarm was going off, obviously a fire alarm.

He followed the crowd into the stairwell, but where most went down, he went up. He passed a few people who tried to stop him, but he knew that he had to get up to Itachi. Hopefully he'd find his brother coming down the stairs, and he could convince Itachi to put this whole thing behind him.

By the time he reached the twenty-third floor, he realized that Itachi wasn't coming back down.

He gripped the gun in his waistband and pulled it out. What he was about to do was probably pretty stupid, but no stupider than running up the stairs while the fire alarm was going off. He took the safety on the gun, just in case, and cocked it. When dealing with Madara, he couldn't take any chances.

It was lucky that he hadn't. He found his uncle with his brother and two bodyguards, one holding Itachi in some wrestling hold that prevented him from moving, and the other, whose back was towards the door, had a gun against his brother. Madara was just talking.

"The family is very much in tact, Itachi, you shouldn't be so simplistic with your accusations," his uncle was saying. "I did what I had to do, not just for the family, but for our legacy. This organization has been the legacy of our family for generations."

"Let him go, Tobi," Sasuke said, pressing his gun to the back of the armed thug.

"What are you doing here?" Itachi spit out, infuriated.

"Sasuke, what a surprise," Madara said with mock-respect. "I guess it's a family reunion after all. I trust you left your mother at home, though."

"Don't talk about our mother," Itachi yelled. "After what you did."

Madara ignored Itachi, however. "Itachi was just regaling me with tales of all the horrors I've caused." He turned back to Sasuke's brother. "He isn't nearly as much of a drunken mess you made him out to be."

"I said let him go," Sasuke warned. "I'm not afraid to shoot."

"Yes you are," Madara said, uncrossing his arms and standing up straighter. "I'm a wealthy businessman, and you two are tresspassers who are now guilty of what I could spin to be armed robbery. Thanks to your brother, the fire department is already at the base of the building. I'm the only hope you two have if you don't want to spend the rest of your lives behind bars at this point."

Sasuke knew his uncle had them. Itachi was too quick to take action, not knowing what he was getting into. And Sasuke was too quick to jump into the jaws of the lion, not caring to come up with a plan. And now, their drastic actions fucked them over beyond all belief.

"You seem to be a bit less surprised to see me, Sasuke," Madara observed. "How long have you known?"

"Only a few hours," Sasuke answered. "I heard your voice when I called from Hiashi's office."

"Ah, Hiashi," Madara said thoughtfully. "I guess this brings us back to our issue. Itachi was getting very emotional about a certain young man who put himself in a very unfortunate situation."

"You put Suigetsu in that situation," Sasuke yelled. "You tried to have him killed."

"It was necessary," Madara answered. "Your friend was meddling into business he shouldn't have meddled in. And his business partner—the one who was in bed with Suigetsu from the start—was getting to close to finding out who I am. He's already taken care of, though, so we don't need to worry about that."

"There is no we!" Sasuke yelled.

"Not yet, I don't expect you to forgive me overnight," Madara acknowledged. "I understand your anger, I even planned for it. But that too shall pass, and then I'll begin training you—both of you—to carry on the family legacy after I'm gone."

"You have to be on some serious shit if you think either of us are going to ever have any involvement in this," Itachi said. "After what you did. With Mother, with Suigetsu. Hell, you faked your own death! We'll never forgive you."

"You blame me for keeping your mother from you, but you don't acknowledge that she'd be dead if I hadn't intervened!" Madara yelled, the first sign of anger Sasuke had seen from his uncle. "I couldn't save my brother or the baby, but I saved her, and I saved her for you. All of this has been for you two, don't you see?

"Our family has been involved in this business for generations."

"A technology conglomerate?" Sasuke asked sarcastically.

"The business of fear," Madara answered back. "The actual economics are ever-changing, but the premise is the same. We adapt, and we control. And then we pass it on to the next generation. I saved your mother, I saved our legacy, and I saved you two."

"You've done no such thing," Sasuke said.

"Why do you think I faked my death?" Madara asked. "You both have no idea what has been going on for over a decade, because I've kept you ignorant. You think I left the family business after your parents' accident? I didn't. I adapted. And then it started to become clear that I would have to adapt again.

"The reason your parents were in their accident to begin with was because they were collateral damage, killed by my enemies to get to me. My brother and my nephew, both killed. And it was beginning to get dangerous again, so I killed myself to put distance between us. My enemies wouldn't kill you if Madara Uchiha was gone. So I killed him, and became Tobi Tsukyomi, a man with a forged past, but no loved ones. No collateral damage. You're welcome."

Sasuke tried to retort, but found himself locked in a chokehold. He was so engrossed in his uncle's story that he hadn't noticed the thug he'd been holding at gunpoint had started to move, and by the time Sasuke realized what was happening, it was too late. The gun fell to his feet.

Madara slowly walked over to the gun at Sasuke's feet, and the sound of the fire alarm started to overwhelm him. Madara bent down and picked up the gun, and held it to Sasuke's forehead.

"If you two really think I'm such a monster, then maybe I should do it, get rid of you two," his uncle said. "They're ultimate liabilities, are they not, Tobirama?" he was talking to the man holding Sasuke. He pressed the gun further to Sasuke's temple before pulling it away.

"Let them go," Madara commanded his thugs. Sasuke and Itachi were both released, and fell to the ground. "Leave us." They both left the office, closing the door behind them. Madara cocked his head at Sasuke. "You have a lot of spirit," he said. "I've always been impressed by you, Sasuke." He threw the gun at Sasuke's feet. "If you're going to kill me, do it."

Sasuke picked up the gun and got to his feet. He held it in front of him, pointing it at Madara in point blank range.

"Don't do it, Sasuke," Itachi told him. "Don't let Madara take your life away."

"He deserves to die," Sasuke told his brother. "Think of all he's done."

"He deserves to die," Itachi agreed. "But you deserve to live more. We can still get out of this, go back to Konoha, back to Mother and Naruto and everyone. We can forget about him or tell the FBI. At the very least, faking his own death is a crime. Let him rot in prison."

Slowly, Sasuke lowered the gun again.

"We're not going to tell the FBI anything," Sasuke announced to both his brother and his uncle. "Not if Suigetsu lives. If Suigetsu makes it through this, he gets to live," he told his uncle. "You will let him live, and we will keep this secret—from everyone. And we will make sure that he doesn't investigate further. It ends here."

"I agree to your terms," Madara said with a slight bow of the head. "You're a good negotiator, Sasuke. But you're wrong. It doesn't end here. This is just the beginning."

When the plane landed in Konoha, Sasuke turned his phone on to find even more messages. He regretted not checking them in New York, but he had much more to attend to.

He had eight voicemails—two from Neji, one from Sakura, one from Gaara, one from Kakashi, and three from Mikoto. He had thirteen missed calls—from those five, as well as from Naruto and Hinata. He had more missed texts than he could count.

Sakura and Gaara were both concerned, but they didn't say anything about Suigetsu. Mikoto was flipping out, as Sasuke expected, and Kakashi's was a courtesy to Mikoto, who thought Sasuke was just screening her calls. It was Neji's voicemail that was interesting. "He's awake." That was all he said, and it was more than enough.

"Good news?" Itachi asked.

"Suigetsu's awake," he said with a smile. "I guess he's gonna be okay."

"What else? You look like someone ran over your puppy."

"Naruto called. Once. Didn't he care that I was gone? He didn't even know I was going anywhere!"

"I'm sure he has a reason," Itachi told him. "Don't jump to conclusions, especially with all the shit that's been going on. Go find Naruto, talk with him, and I'll meet you at the hospital."

"Where are you going?" asked Sasuke.

"First, I'm gonna bring that gun back to Mangekyo, where it should have stayed," Itachi said pointedly. "And then I'm going to find Kakashi and Mother."

"What are you gonna tell them?" Sasuke asked.

"That it was a dead end," Itachi said with a shrug. "We said we weren't going to tell anyone. That's the price we'll pay to make sure no one ends up in a bed next to Suigetsu."

"Yeah," Sasuke agreed.

"And that means you too. No telling Naruto, or Gaara. And especially not Neji or Suigetsu."

"I know," Sasuke said. "But Neji and Suigetsu are at the center of it with us," he said after a moment.

"If Madara finds out they know, then our deal is over," Itachi reminded him. "Sometimes, keeping a secret is the only noble thing to do. Now go find your boyfriend."

Naruto didn't answer Sasuke's "where are you" text, but he found out from Neji—whom he assured he would fill in later—that Naruto was back at the dorm. It just happened to work out that the university was on the way to the hospital, so Sasuke wouldn't be going out of his way, stopping there first.

He spent the entire drive to the dorms wondering what he would tell Neji and Suigetsu when the moment came. He had—luckily—not stopped to tell Neji that it was Madara's voice on the phone. But he had to come up with a convincing enough lie that would make Neji and Suigetsu drop it without looking for justice.

He was no closer to the answer when he pulled up in front of the dorm. With a heavy sigh, he got out of his car. He was almost resigned to the fact that he and Naruto were going to fight. Along the same lines of when Naruto hadn't responded to Sasuke last week in Uzushio.

What he didn't expect was for Naruto to throw himself at Sasuke the second he was in the door.

"Sasuke!" he yelped. "Where have you been?"

"You didn't sound so concerned on your voicemail," Sasuke said with a bitter tone to his voice.

"What voicemail?"

"Exactly." Naruto stepped back and gave Sasuke a glare.

"You put me on blast a couple of days ago for not calling you while I was out of town," Naruto said with an angry tone. "And now you're angry because you vanished without telling me for a whole twenty-four hours, and when I called you worried, I didn't leave a voicemail? God, you're such a dick Sasuke."

"I had important shit to take care of," Sasuke said, starting to walk towards the closet near Naruto's desk.

"Where are you going?" Naruto asked panickedly, standing in front of Sasuke.

"If you haven't noticed, I have a suitcase to put away." Naruto's eyes finally went to the orange suitcase in Sasuke's hands.

"You took my suitcase?" Naruto asked. "Where were you?"

"New York, now will you get out of my way so I can put this away?" Naruto stepped in front of his computer to let Sasuke by. Sasuke dumped the clothes out on the floor—he'd take care of them later—and turned around to see Naruto doing something frantically on the computer.

"What are you doing?" Sasuke asked as the browser closed.

"Nothing," Naruto said quickly. Warning bells went off in Sasuke's head, but he knew he shouldn't let Naruto know he was suspicious.

"I'm sorry for snapping at you, you're right," Sasuke told his boyfriend. "I've just had a rough couple of hours."

"What were you taking care of in New York?" Naruto asked. Sasuke walked over to his bed and flopped down.

"I had to stop Itachi from doing something stupid to the CEO of the company that did all those experiments on my mom," Sasuke answered.

"Did you? Stop him, I mean?" Naruto asked, sitting next to Sasuke on the bed.

"Yeah," Sasuke lied. The room was quiet for a moment. "Do you think he did a good thing?" he asked Naruto. "It was illegal human experimentation, but it saved her life."

"I think it's a good thing that it happened," Naruto said quietly. "But I don't know that what he did was a good thing. He didn't know how it would turn out. If you have the evidence, you should tell the police about him."

"Hashirama Senju was released, all charges dropped," Sasuke said. "If they couldn't prosecute him, they won't prosecute the CEO with the money to fund it."

"That's not justice," Naruto said.

"No," whispered Sasuke, thinking of his uncle. He was sitting in an office in New York City, conducting business. Fear is his business. "It's not." They sat in silence for a few more minutes. "Hey Naruto, think you could get me a Sprite from the vending machine?"

"Sure," Naruto said, standing up.

"And after, I want to go to the hospital," Sasuke said. "I want to see Suigetsu."

"Sure," Naruto said again, grabbing his wallet. "Give me a couple of minutes."

"Of course."

As soon as Naruto was out the door, Sasuke sat down at Naruto's desk and opened his laptop. He entered Naruto's password—he'd figured that one out before they'd even got together, back when they were just roommates—and pulled up Chrome.

The first page in the history, the last closed page, made Sasuke's heart drop.

"What are you doing?" Naruto yelled from the door. He dropped the can of Sprite on the floor and it rolled towards Sasuke.

"What am I doing?" Sasuke asked angrily. "What are you doing? 'Submit your deposit to Uzushio University'? What the fuck, Naruto."

"See, this is why I didn't want to tell you," Naruto said, throwing his hands in the air. "I knew you'd overreact."

"Overreact?" Sasuke asked. "You're planning on transferring to Uzushio, and you don't even discuss it with me? How long has this been going on?"

"I applied when I found out my grandfather lived there," Naruto answered, looking down at his feet. "I didn't get the acceptance until last week. I was there while I visited my grandfather, and it's a really great campus. I tried to tell you the day I got back, but you jumped down my throat for not calling more often, and then everything with Suigetsu happened."

"How can you leave Konoha? Your friends are all here! I'm here!"

"Uzushio has a much better psychology program than Konoha, and they have a med school. If I get good grades, I'm almost guaranteed to get in. This is a really big deal for me. I can still be friends with everyone even though I'm a few miles away."

"More than a few miles, Naruto," Sasuke said, grasping for straws. Naruto sounded like his mind was made up, but it couldn't be. How could he do this? "It's a whole eight hours drive. And what about me, Naruto? You can't just make decisions like this without talking to your boyfriend."

"I told you that I wanted to tell you before. But there's a deadline for deposits, so I had to submit it. Maybe if you didn't disappear without a word to anyone, then I would have had time to talk this out with you."

"Do you even love me?" Sasuke asked. "You sure don't act like that."

"Don't say that, Sasuke, you know I love you," Naruto said. "I know this isn't the best situation, but it's the situation now. People make it work long-distance all the time. Who knows, it might even make things better for us."

"What do you mean, 'better for us', that we should see each other less? If last week was a preview of the next three years, I don't think that's gonna be good for us at all."

"It won't, I'll be calling all the time," Naruto promised. "But as it is right now, I think we need a little more independence from each other. I know I haven't been the best boyfriend since I went to Uzushio, but for you to be so insecure about our relationship because we didn't talk every day for a week is probably not a good sign. You actually asked me if I want to break up with you."

"I'm still wondering," Sasuke asked. "You don't really sound like you're as invested in this relationship as I am."


"You never were," Sasuke said, stepping back. He started to wonder if it had been like this the whole time. "You weren't sure about this from the beginning. I was the one chasing you. You were the one with the girlfriend."

"Now you're being ridiculous, Sasuke."

"I can't do this right now," Sasuke said, shaking his head. He turned and ran out of the room.

"I'm not innocent here, but you're overreacting," Naruto's voice followed him.

And Sasuke knew he might be overreacting a little, but it was hard to be rational when he was feeling so emotional. He ran down the steps and found himself behind the wheel of his car, speeding down the highway.

Naruto couldn't leave! It was so out of the blue. He'd never even talked to Sasuke about it, and now he'd already put in a deposit. That was it, right?

So maybe Sasuke was a little overly-dependent recently, Naruto could have had a valid point there. With his family situation imploding, Naruto was the one solid thing he had in his life to keep him grounded—and now Naruto wasn't going to be there anymore.

He tried to think of next year, not having Naruto. He couldn't even picture it. Naruto was such a huge part of his life. And he was under the impression that they could have a long-distance relationship, but Sasuke knew that could never happen. He could never content himself with video chats and phone calls and the odd visit every month or so. He needed more.

He wasn't the bad guy here! Naruto was! Naruto was the one who was fucking everything up! Sasuke was feeling alone enough already, and now there was this.

He still had a few more exits before the hospital, but he pulled off three exits early and found himself navigating the back streets to his bar. Itachi's car was nowhere to be seen, so he must have already been at the mansion or the hospital. Sasuke parked right in front of the bar and contemplated his next move.

His knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel. He pulled his hands free from it, and found them shaking. Maybe he just needed something to calm his nerves?

No, he wouldn't destroy this. He still had too much to do to let himself go.

But he felt it coming. After seeing Neji and Suigetsu, after finally letting Naruto break up with him once and for all, nothing would keep Sasuke from drinking. And to be honest, he was looking forward to losing control.

He didn't want it anymore. He'd give anything at this point to just be able to leave Konoha forever. All the drama, all the angst, all the baggage. He wanted to leave it all behind, and start a new life in the middle of nowhere as the town drunk.

He started to sob, and then the tears came. How fucked up was it that he was so resigned to throwing away his sobriety. He looked at the outside of the bar, and he could feel the booze calling. It was palpable. It was a need. And it would make him feel so much better. Sasuke could almost feel the alcohol on his tongue. He could almost taste the bourbon burning his throat.

His frantically pulled out his cell phone and thumbed through his address book. He found the right name and pressed call. And a few moments later: "You've reached the office of Masashi Kishimoto, M.D., at the offices of Konoha Mental Hospital. I am out right now. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 9-1-1. If this is not an emergency—"

Sasuke hung up, and thought about it. It was an emergency to him, but the police probably wouldn't see it that way. He thumbed through the address book until he found another name. The only other name he could think of calling. He picked up on the third dial.


"Gaara?" Sasuke could hear how pathetic his own voice was, and he wondered what Gaara would think of him.

"Sasuke? Are you okay?"

"N-No," Sasuke said. His whole body was shaking now, and the tears were flowing through. "I'm sitting outside Mangekyo. I—" He took a deep breath. "I really want a drink."

"Are you with anyone?" Gaara asked.

Sasuke shoot his head, not that Gaara could see. "No."

"I'm at the hospital," Gaara told him. "Drive over here, and text me when you get here. I'll come down to the parking lot."

Sasuke knew he probably shouldn't be driving like this, having a full-fledged panic attack and sobbing almost uncontrollably. The last time this happened to him, it was right after Madara's "suicide". Isn't it ironic that Madara contributed to this one as well?

He didn't remember getting to the hospital, and he didn't remember texting Gaara, but he finally seemed to register his surroundings when Gaara hugged him from the passenger's seat of the car.

"I've never seen you like this, Sasuke," Gaara said. "What happened?"

And Sasuke didn't mean to tell him, but he told him everything. Everything from his feelings about his mother to his problems with Naruto, to everything with Madara. He knew he shouldn't divulge any of that last bit, but it all fell out of his mouth unbidden.

And when he was done, he didn't feel any better.

"Y-You can't tell anyone about Madara," Sasuke told Gaara. "He'll kill Suigetsu if he knows I told. And especially don't tell Itachi. He'll kill me."

"I'm not telling anyone, as long as you manage to pull yourself together," Gaara told him. "You're better than this, Sasuke. You're falling apart, and for what? Because you're afraid you and Naruto are going to break up? From what you said, he doesn't even want to break up with you and you're like this. I don't even want to think what you'd be like if he actually wanted to end things."

"He's going halfway across the country," Sasuke said. "Even if he doesn't want to break up, it's going to happen."

"Uzushio isn't halfway across the country, not even close," Gaara said. "Now you're just being ridiculous."

"It's just too much," Sasuke admitted. The panic was starting to ebb, but it was being replaced with something worse: a resigned depression. "I don't think I can handle this. I'm not better than this. All I want to do is find a nice, quiet bar and drink myself to sleep."

"No more talking about drinking," Gaara told him. He reached over, turned off the car, and put Sasuke's keys in his pocket. "You're not going to a bar on my watch."

"What else is there for me to do?" Sasuke asked. "I feel like I'm losing everything."

"You're not losing everything," Gaara promised him. "You still have me, and Neji, and Suigetsu, and Sakura. You've still got Hinata, and your godson, you've got your mother and your brother and Kaksahi. Hell, Ino, Shikamaru, and even Kiba consider you a good friend. You have more than a lot of people. You just need to pull yourself together."

Sasuke started to wipe his cheeks and eyes with his shirt sleeves.

"We're going to go upstairs, now," Gaara told him. "Itachi and Neji are both up there, and Hinata and Suigetsu are in the same room. I know they'll want to see you. So pull yourself together."

His cheeks were dry, but it wouldn't take a detective to realize he'd been crying. Still, he let Gaara lead him up to the hospital.

Itachi and Neji were nowhere to be seen, so Sasuke walked into the hospital room that Suigetsu and Hinata were sharing. He found Suigetsu sitting in a wheelchair next to Hinata's bed. Her belly was exposed, with a goo spread all over as a doctor sat moving a wand around it. And next to the doctor was a machine, and Sasuke could see his godson on the machine.

"Sasuke," Hinata was the first to notice him. Suigetsu looked over so quick that he could have gotten whiplash.

"There you are!" he said. "I've been waiting hours for you to show up. Where have you been?"

"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt," Sasuke said, stepping back. He didn't realize they were having a sonogram at the moment.

"No you can stay," Hinata said. "Dr. Yamamoto was just checking to see if the baby is still doing okay. Come here, you can even hear the heartbeat."

With the invitation, Sasuke stepped further inside, and he let himself listen to the heartbeat. It was beautiful, and for a brief moment, Sasuke forgot about booze, and Madara, and Naruto. And then he thought about whether he'd want a kid of his own. And that train of thought led back to Naruto again. He was sick in love.

"It's amazing," Suigetsu said. His smile was as wide as Sasuke had ever seen. "We made that. God, I hope he looks like your side of the family."

"He is amazing, isn't he?" Hinata asked. "Hariko," she said. "Hachabi."

"What are you doing?" Suigestu asked.

"Coming up with a name," she answered. "Haroshi," she said.

"I like Haroshi," Suigetsu said.

"Then it's settled," she said, putting her hands on her stomach. "You have such a beautiful heartbeat, Haroshi."

"Marry me."

Hinata was obviously as stunned as Sasuke was at the unanticipated proposal. She looked at Suigetsu and then to Sasuke, with a bit of panic in her eyes.

"I think I'll leave you two alone," the doctor said, standing up.

"I'm right behind you," Sasuke said. When he got out, he found Gaara talking to Itachi. As soon as they noticed Sasuke, they stopped talking.

"You look like shit," Itachi commented.

"You don't look much better," Sasuke said. Itachi had a frown, and he seemed to be a lot more serious than he thought he'd be. He looked at Gaara. Did he tell Itachi that I told him? "What's wrong?"

"Hiashi Hyuga's dead."

Sasuke barely had time to comprehend what he said before the door opened and Suigetsu wheeled himself into the hallway. "She said yes!"

It was left for Suigetsu to tell his new fiancé about her father's death. Sasuke went down to the ER waiting room where he and all his friends had spent hours sitting vigil for Suigetsu just a night ago. There was no vigil now, only a queer mourning.

"He was my uncle," Neji told him. He wouldn't even look at Sasuke. "He was an asshole, and I might have killed me yesterday, but he's still my uncle." He was shaking, not unlike the way Sasuke had been shaking in his car before his panic attack. "I should have made up with him, I shouldn't have let him die like that."

Sasuke left the comforting to Gaara and Sakura, who had shown up only a few minutes after Sasuke had told her the news. He couldn't sit there listening to Neji talk about his uncle. He kept thinking of Madara. If he died tomorrow, would I feel like Neji? He wanted to think he wouldn't, but he wasn't sure.

"It was Madara," Itachi told Sasuke when he found his brother. "He still had one loose end besides Suigetsu, and he took care of it."

"Who was the guy Madara was talking about—Suigetsu's 'partner-in-crime'?" Sasuke asked.

"I found an obituary," Itachi said "Mogiko Tsugi, of Tsugi Tech. Hiashi orchestrated a hostile takeover, but it fell through at the last minute. I guess he was the one that gave Suigetsu the information to connect Hyuga to the Sharingan Project."

"How'd he die?" Sasuke asked.

"Official cause of death is heart attack," Itachi answered. "Poison is more likely. But does it really matter?"

"I guess not," Sasuke answered.

"Gaara told me you were having a rough time earlier," Itachi told his brother.

"Gaara should learn to keep his mouth shut," Sasuke muttered.

"He cares about you, and so do I," said Itachi. "Please see Dr. Kishimoto as soon as you can. I don't like to hear you talk about drinking that way."

"I need to leave," Sasuke said suddenly.

"I'm not going to lecture you like Mother, if that's what you're worried about," Itachi told him.

"Not the hospital. I need to leave Konoha." Very rarely had Sasuke seen Itachi stunned, but now was one of those moments. "Naruto is going to Uzushio for school."

"And you're going with him?" Itachi guessed.

"No," Sasuke said, feeling a piece of him break inside. "I need to get away from it. All of it. There's too much going on here. I'll never be able to just be happy. There's always something."

"You're a drama magnet."

"Konoha's a drama magnet," Sasuke argued. "If I stay here, I give it a month, maybe more, before I can't stop myself from drinking."

"You can always stop yourself," Itachi said.

"I'm not that strong," Sasuke argued. And with every little drama, what little strength I have keeps chipping away. I need a break from it. All of it. I just need to get away from Konoha."

"Do you know where you want to go?" Itachi asked. Sasuke shrugged his shoulders. "How about Japan? We still have a cousin who lives there. I could give you his number."

"Sure," Sasuke said. "Japan could be a nice change of scenery."

"I'll get you Shisui's number when we get back to the mansion," Itachi said. "Unless you're gonna go back to the dorm?"

"No," Sasuke said. "I'm not."

Author's Note: So we have the final twist/reveal of the series: Madara is alive. I hope this doesn't seem like it came out of complete left field, because it's been the plan since I first killed him off all those many chapters ago.

We had a lot of stuff in this chapter, and it's all building towards next chapter, which will be the LAST CHAPTER. And then of course an epilogue afterwards.