A/N: This should be the end of this. On the VERY off chance I ever actually make it a story, I'll take this down. Until then, someone is talking about taking up the plot bunny - if anyone is interested I can PM you when/if they do take it. Otherwise, I'm working on the next chapter of Zanzou and I'm re-doing Return.


Every day, the boys argued.

Every day, they ignored one another unless they were absolutely required to interact.

Every day, when so required, they sniped and insulted with low, venomous voices.

Every day, Tenten tried - and barely managed - to play the peacekeeper, the mediator that kept the two from actually assaulting the other.

Every day, Kakashi watched, Kakashi listened, and Kakashi lectured.

Every.

Single.

Day.

Today, it was too much.

"That's ENOUGH!" Kakashi snarled. All three Genin immediately snapped around to stare at their unexpectedly furious teacher. "Tenten, go home." Suddenly afraid, she backed away a few steps, but then hesitated. Tenten was clearly unwilling to leave her teammates alone with their instructor. "Now!"

Her courage abruptly failed, and the teenager bolted. The usually well balanced kunoichi ran until her feet slipped out from beneath her, spilling her to her knees in the middle of the street. Gasping for breath despite the lack of strenuous work, Tenten pressed one shaking hand over her pounding heart as she whispered. "Neji, Sasuke-kun… what have you done?"

-o-

The two boys stood frozen, shock and the first stirrings of fear in their eyes as Kakashi stalked towards them. His voice was vicious, hard and sharp as he hurled words like weapons. "Are you both so blind? Does this Village mean so little to you? You are supposed to be Konoha shinobi, damn it, but all you are right now is trash! You might – might! – be fit for ANBU. Not for a squad, but for assassins, for hunters."

Neji drew in a breath, almost as if he would speak - but Kakashi cut him off. The Jounin pulled off his hitai-ate, allowing the boys to see the truth reflected in his Sharingan eye. "That is NOT a good thing. That is not honorable, not a life to be proud of. It is cold and sharp and ugly."

Black eyes dropped to the ground, but Kakashi would not allow it. "Look at me. Look at me, Sasuke." Almost against his will, the boy looked back up into his teacher's face.

The man's voice was quieter now, with a cold edge that was somehow worse than his fury. "That life is exhaustion, emptiness and grief. It is your enemies wanting you dead and your people being afraid of you. It is coming back with pain in your body, with the scent of blood in your nose and the sound of your enemies' screams in your ears, and finding nothing but an empty house to greet you. Having no one to watch your back, and nothing to live for but your sense of duty. And eventually, unless you are fortunate enough to change, you will die as you lived – cold, hurting and alone. Is one man's life so important to each of you that you would damn yourselves to such a fate?"

A long moment of silence, none of the three so much as drawing breath in the tension. And then Kakashi's eyes closed, his shoulders slumping slightly as he breathed out a soft sigh. The anger bled completely out of his voice, leaving only a weary sorrow behind. "Then God help you both, because you obviously won't let me. Until Sunday, then. Dismissed."

-o-

Tenten returned home, her steps dragging as she tried to fight her own sense of failure. As she sat down to supper, her parents exchanged worried glances until her father finally spoke. "Ten, sweetheart, did something happen today?"

The girl nodded, disinterestedly pushing her food around on her plate. "The boys got in a fight again today, but… but Kakashi-sensei really got upset this time. I've been saying that I wish things would change, and now, I really think something will. I… just hope that the team can survive it."

-o-

Neji nearly stumbled his way into the hall, shock numbing his mind. As he turned the corner into the inner courtyard, a small sound caught his attention. Clouded eyes lifted, traveling from socked feet up to a hand held nervously before a pale face. "N-Neji niisan?" the girl's soft voice asked. "A-are you alr-right?"

Hinata was clearly afraid of his normally razored tongue, but her concern for him was greater than her fear. Standing in the evening light, Neji finally saw his cousin for what she was – a young girl, nearly beaten down by the weight put on her slim shoulders, but still trying to ease another's burden. The revelation floored him, leaving him standing still and silent for long minutes.

And then, for the first time, Neji bowed, willingly and respectfully. "I am so sorry, Hinata" he whispered around the sudden lump in his throat. "For everything."

-o-

Sasuke was running by the time he reached his house, his mind whirling with things he had not allowed himself to think of in years.

Things like his own future, apart from his self-assigned role as Avenger. Things like how often he had wished to join the children playing, but had never deviated from his goal. Kakashi's words painted a picture that the boy had never imagined, and wasn't ready to face. For the last five years, everything had been put on hold – after I defeat Itachi, he had told himself – but he was suddenly forced to confront the idea that, even if he succeeded, his life might not change.

Sasuke curled up on top of his bed, listening to the silence of his empty house and wrapping arms around his own waist as he shivered. Resting his head on his knees, the twelve year old finally allowed himself to cry, suddenly feeling empty, lost, and so very young.