Chapter 7: Progress Report

Warning: chapter contains swearing

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

"She's late," said Sasuke.

"So she is," agreed Naruto, as he prodded the fire with a stick; it hissed in response. "She probably just got caught up at the hospital." He watched the man seated opposite. Sasuke, was perched on a log, like him, and was staring straight into the fire with an unfocused gaze.

More moments of silence ensued, but this did not bother Naruto. He embraced the opportunity to unwind and let his mind turn blank. When so much was happening, and there were so many things to do; it was easy to forget what it meant to be still. He looked at the house Sasuke was determinedly restoring... it looked as though work was being done on the roof, the holes were smaller.

"How's the house coming?" asked Naruto.

Sasuke looked at him for a moment and then began sharpening his katana with stone.

"If you've still got water coming in, there might be structural damage..." continued Naruto. Sasuke did not look up from his weapon. "Even in a simple house like that, the support beams would be a bitch to replace alone...I'd be happy t"

A rustle of a leaf and a soft pat of weight connecting with the ground signalled the arrival of Sakura. She looked around, took in the positions of Naruto and Sasuke, and promptly sat beside Naruto. Focusing on the person next to her, she said, business like, "shall we start?"

"You're late," said Sasuke.

"Yes," agreed Sakura, as though they were voicing similar opinions on a choice of paint colour. She turned back to Naruto, and said, "Perhaps we should begin by-"

"When you agree to a time and place" continued Sasuke, "the people you're meeting expect you to be there at that place at that time."

Naruto trusted his instincts and remained silent. It would be silly to engage in a battle of wills between these two and even sillier to prevent what, given their history and current animosity toward each other, was inevitable.

"Thank you, Sasuke, for your view on punctuality," said Sakura, with mock pacification, "Now, if you're ready to move on, maybe we can get started on what we came here to discuss."

Sasuke's gaze narrowed. "We were ready to start before only you weren't here."

"You keep bringing that up," challenged Sakura, "if you're trying to make a point make it."

"I am making it, you're just not listening," said Sasuke looking at Sakura.

With a snort, Sakura said "Then maybe you should make it clearer, instead of tossing around cryptic bullshit."

When Sasuke's gaze met his, Naruto held up his hands to signal his position as a bystander. Turning back at Sakura, there was a steely edge to Sasuke's voice. "Let me make it plain. Aside from schedule delays or poor organisation," Sakura's eyes narrowed, "what other interpretation could be made from your poor punctuality?"

Sakura frowned. "You're afraid I'd rat you out if I met trouble?"

"Your meeting trouble of any kind would indicate that someone else was more aware than we want them to be. So you need to be here when you say you're going to be here and if you can't make it, let us know."

"Much as I hate to admit it, Sakura," said Naruto in a tentative voice, "Bastard's right. We can't risk the security of what we're doing by being sloppy." Despite the practicality and apparent earnestness in what Sasuke had said, Sakura knew enough of her old team mate, and of egotistical idiots in general, to recognise the signs of suppressed smugness when she saw it.

"Yeah, I know, you're right," admitted Sakura, looking at Naruto and avoiding Sasuke completely. "I'll send word next time." Inside her, there was still a small amount of immaturity that would not let her openly concede Sasuke's win. I shouldn't even call it a win... She thought from Naruto, its advice. From that... prick, I see an attempt to score points against me.

For a while, no one spoke. Naruto stood from the log he shared with Sakura and stretched out in front of the fire, with an appreciative hum at the increase in warmth. Sakura felt uncomfortable and looked over the fire at Sasuke to find him staring straight at her. It made her angry that she could read nothing of what he felt or thought on his face, especially when she showed so much on her own. The level of control he must maintain at all times was staggering to made her want to test it, put pressure on it, break it. As if he could read her precise thoughts on her face, one corner of Sasuke's mouth tilted upward.

"Barstard," said Naruto, looking at what little night sky was apparent through the towering trees of the clearing. "Stop being a creep."

The upward tilt of his mouth deepened and Sasuke returned his attention to his sword.

Naruto grinned. "Though," he continued hands behind his head, "I guess that's like asking you to stop being yourself."

"You still enjoy the sound of your own voice," remarked Sasuke.

"Growing up with you as a mate, I've learned to. A person can only stand 'Hn' for so long, you know?"

"You rarely say anything worth replying to."

Naruto released a huff of laughter and leaned back on his elbows. With a small smile, Sakura said "Much as I hate to admit it, Naruto, Barstard's right." Naruto's grin widened.

In a sudden motion, the fire went out, and the only light available came from the stars. Everybody leapt to their feet. In a split second, Sakura felt her arm seized and her body rising upward at a ridiculous speed. After a small fall, her feet landed on a thick branch. As her eyes began to adjust to the dark, she could make out Sasuke crouched in front, sword drawn. He was staring down at the clearing. A small rush of wind told her Naruto had landed on a nearby branch, or at least one of his clones had.

Naruto gestured a few well known signals with his hands: Stay put, I'll use my clones and assess...

Sasuke did not wait for Naruto to finish, before he began communicating a message of his own: Less talk, more action.

Naruto's response was abrupt and clear: Asshole.

The clearing was still silent and Sakura's legs began to cramp. She shifted her position slightly and felt an angry tap from Sasuke on her arm. Stay still.

Naruto gestured at them again: One person, masked chakra, have travelled from the direction of Konoha.

Sasuke was frustrated: Have you assessed anything that isn't obvious?

Naruto re-used a gesture: Asshole.

Sakura added her opinion: Let's get in there and find out the rest.

Naruto gestured in agreement. Sasuke did not: Wait.

A soft glow illuminated the area once again the fire had been relit. Sitting on one of the logs was a familiar soul, with grey hair, slouched posture and a black mask covering half his face.

Leaping to the ground Sakura put on her gloves, while Naruto and his clones formed a rough circle around the clearing perimeter.

Kakashi looked around and said cheerfully, "You're acting like you've seen an intruder."

"And are you?"

"I'm no more than an old man who enjoys perverted books."

"That you are," agreed Sakura as she relaxed and joined her former Sensei at the re-lit fire. Kakashi showed his fondness for her with an eye crinkle.

"You know, it's down to your terrible karma that I was allowed to choose your password," said Naruto.

Sasuke re-entered the clearing and joined them at the fire. He gave a brief nod of acknowledgement toward Kakashi. "I came to check up on progress," said Kakashi, looking around at them all.

"You mean you came to check how many corpses there were and how difficult a cover up would be..." quipped Naruto.

An eye crinkle showed Kakashi's amusement. "Precisely. So...progress report?"

"We haven't any to report," grumbled Sasuke. Sakura fought the desire to roll her eyes.

Naruto took the lead. "Well, let's make a start."

They began to discuss their respective paths of investigation. Naruto had located the storage centres the village's records, and under the pretence of learning about the history of the village in greater detail, he would scour the records for anything on the Uchiha Massacre. Sakura would approach Tsunade about any other information that was not stored in the archives. Sasuke was going to search abandoned Uchiha houses that were scattered throughout the fire nation.

"Would there be anything in the Uchiha Manor in Konoha?" asked Kakashi.

"Unlikely. Madara would have taken anything of value or power. Any scrolls left behind are to do with the Sharingan," replied Sasuke.

"Still...maybe it's worth taking some photos?" suggested Sakura, tentatively, "just in case anything happens to the place later on?" Sakura made sure to be careful of her phrasing.

"Couldn't hurt," agreed Kakashi, and Naruto nodded his agreement. Kakashi turned to Sakura, "Perhaps you could do that too? If Naruto or I were to go there it would attract too much attention. You could claim you're looking for a useful medicinal herb or something."

"Right," scoffed Sakura, "because I've all the time in the world to pretend to pick flowers." She sighed, and shook her head tiredly, "but I can do it."

"I'll go with you," said Sasuke.

Naruto shared a cautious look with Kakashi. No one wanted to deny Sasuke's right to go, but there was the real danger that on entering the village, he would be caught. "Is that wise?" asked Naruto.

Sasuke shrugged. "I've entered the village several times without detection. It won't be an issue."

Kakashi summarised their progress, looking at each person he addressed. "Okay. So Naruto: get on those records, Sakura: talk to Tsunade and go flower picking with Sasuke, Sasuke: check out those Uchiha places and go flower picking with Sakura ...that it?"

"Were you here to help our progress?"asked Sakura. A small huff of amusement came from Naruto's direction and Sasuke's mouth had an upward tilt again.

Kakashi looked offended. "I'm hurt."

"Ah," said Naruto waving flying embers out his face and getting to his feet. "You're big enough and ugly enough to manage. I'm going to head, early start and all. Right old man?"

Now it was Sakura's turn to huff in amusement at Kakashi's despondent expression. "And you're our future Hokage...," muttered their old sensei.

Naruto leapt into the trees and out of sight. Kakashi busied himself with putting out the fire, leaving Sakura with an awkward pressure to talk to Sasuke. As she stood, she paid extra attention to the dust on her trousers. Really, she thought, it does travel, oh it's even on my shoes...


Her neck snapped up to find Sasuke still seated by the now dead fire. She noticed Kakashi give his customary wave over his back and disappear into the night. "Are you free tomorrow to go to Uchiha Manor?" asked Sasuke.

"Um," she said, thinking about her day tomorrow, "I should be. Over lunch time would be the easiest lots of people about will provide cover."

Sasuke nodded. "I'll meet you at the Manor then. If anything changes..."

"I'll send word," clarified Sakura, with small smile. She turned to leave, but paused. Turning back to the person who was both familiar and unfamiliar, she asked, "Why are you back?"

Sasuke just stared at her.

Sakura stared back.

Speaking slowly, Sasuke stated what he considered obvious, "to avenge my family."

Sakura nodded, and backed away; in the direction Kakashi and Naruto had just left. "See you tomorrow." Then she was in the trees, and moving toward her home. We could be your family, if you let us...

It's been quite a while since my last update. Hope you enjoy the chapter.