Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

AN: So I got it all figured out and this story will be fourteen chapters! That's right! I sorted through all my notes, put them in order and labeled the chapters. I'm so ecstatic with the outcome. I've never been so ONE HUNDRED PERCENT sure about what was going to happen in a story, from beginning, middle, to end. It's a relief, honestly.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed and to my silent readers! Love you all so much!

(P.S. E. Pure! Ohmigosh, it's been forever since I've heard from you! Sorry to hear about your Skype, that really sucks. Unfortunately your new account didn't show up in your review so I don't know what to do, but I'd love to talk to you again! If you happen to remember my account don't hesitate to add me.)

Okay, onto the story!


Chapter Nine

When You Love Me I Can't Adjust

"Today's the day! Sasuke!" It took everything in his power not to jump the boy where he sat calmly in his desk. How could he not be excited about today? That was a rhetorical question, of course, because the only thing Naruto ever saw Sasuke get 'excited' over was molesting Naruto.

As time went on, he found himself less and less reluctant to think freely of his and Sasuke's…er…relationship. Neither of them had outwardly come out and said that they wanted to be in an exclusive relationship, but Naruto knew for a fact that Sasuke wasn't going to be seeing other people and Naruto wouldn't even dream of hurting Sasuke that way. They just…were…for the time being. They existed as a pair, knowing that if one or the other needed company it was them who answered the call.

Naruto didn't notice the twin pair of interested eyes on his back as he announced loudly, "Today are the kendo tryouts! I hope you brought your fighting spirit! Hah!"

He made a karate chop motion at Sasuke's head, his hand being easily caught between Sasuke's in a clapping motion. Dark eyes glared up at him, but it did nothing to help dissipate the broad grin on his face.

"Naruto," Sakura called behind him, making both boys turn to see her and Ino standing with their shoulders pressed together. "You two are trying out for the kendo team this year?"

He couldn't help the snicker that filled his mouth. "Nah, just the bastard. I promised to go to each and every one of his matches if he joined the team!"

Something flashed across Sakura's face; it was so fast that Naruto was sure he had just imagined it. "Really?" she said with an excited smile. "That's great, Sasuke-kun! We'd love to watch you tryout."

Ino and Sakura linked arms, as if to indicate that they were the 'we' she had mentioned. Neither boy needed the confirmation, everyone knew the two girls were joined at the hip and went everywhere together.

"Yeah, that'd be awesome! You'll have your own cheer squad, Sasuke!" Naruto elbowed Sasuke in the shoulder suggestively.

Sasuke scoffed. "I don't need a bunch of loud mouths distracting me."

"What's with that attitude?" Naruto pouted, along with Ino and Sakura.

"Yeah, we only want to wish you best," Ino shrugged her shoulders, her tone more questioning than factual. Clearly she could think of better things to be doing than bothering Sasuke. Those thoughts probably went along the lines of bothering Shikamaru instead.

Naruto flapped his hand back and forth in a flurry of motion, pretending he was erasing the girls' presences. "Come on, you can't sit in your desk for the rest of the evening. I already told Tenten you were trying out. Believe me, she can't wait to see what you can do."

Sasuke almost appeared dismayed by the thought of having to face the kendo team captain. He was unceremoniously dragged out of his seat and to the school's small dōjō, Ino and Sakura at their heels. A second year girl greeted them with a smile, a shy blush directed at Sasuke that in turn made the back of Naruto's neck prickle with heat, and lead Sasuke to the locker room to get him fitted into the proper gear.

Naruto and the girls were sitting on their legs, watching the returning members of the kendo team practice with each other at the booming instructions of Gai sensei, when a masked member walked up to them briskly.

"Hey guys!" They knew who it was before she even removed her headgear, revealing her brown hair in a low bun at the base of her skull rather than her usual up do of two buns. Tenten beamed down at them, resting her shinai on her right shoulder while she gripped her custom-made men in her gloved hand. "Where's Uchiha? I can't wait to wipe the floor with his ass. The dōjō could use a good cleaning."

Someone cleared their throat and the four teens smiled guiltily at said boy. Sasuke adjusted the on his chest, then his tare belt with one hand while he kept his headgear and shinai snug between his waist and arm. He almost looked like a completely different person in the kendo uniform, especially with his bangs pushed back and out of sight with a soft looking white towel tied around his head. His visage was more open, allowing more expression, and he was definitely more attractive with his face clear of his hair.

Naruto bit down on the inside of his cheek, his hands coming up to cover his lap incase his inner thoughts were making an outward appearance. Luckily Sasuke seemed unaware of the blue eyes ogling him otherwise he'd never be allowed to live down his attraction to his best friend.

"He looks great, doesn't he?" Sakura asked behind him. The question was directed at him, though Ino answered positively anyway.

Naruto rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment and nodded, certain that his cheeks were covered in an obvious blush. He licked his lips and glanced up at Sasuke as the teen put the men on his head. He was almost unrecognizable, but Naruto knew just who he was and it made his heart thrum with excitement. He couldn't wait to see Sasuke in action.

Tenten started calling out the basics to kendo as the two third years walked into an open space on the floor. "Kendo is a way to discipline the human character through application of the principle of the katana."

Sasuke raised the shinai in front of him as she spoke. He twirled it in his hand (a difficult feat with the kote he was wearing on his hands, Naruto was sure) until he was gripping the handle on the opposite side, the length of the wooden sword pointing towards Naruto and the two girls. He quickly corrected his hold on it, gripping it with both hands and sliding his feet into the proper stance Tenten was demonstrating across the way.

Naruto swallowed. Sasuke did look really good, but it was more than that. He looked natural; he was ordained to take up a fighting stance, to hold a sword. Even with the headgear obscuring his visage it was obvious that Sasuke was concentrated on that very moment. The air around him was practically crackling with electricity. The younger classmen in the club stopped their practice to watch their captain and the new recruit. Naruto leaned forward in anticipation.

In a split second Tenten lifted her shinai over her shoulder before striking at the left of Sasuke's men with a deep cry, even for a girl. Sasuke took a step back to avoid being hit, but the girl was on him in an instant. She hit the right side of his faceguard despite his attempt to block it with his own shinai.

"You have a weak kisei!" Tenten yelled, and she quickly demonstrated what was called the tobikomi-waza technique on Sasuke. He backed away again immediately, and a low cuss left his mouth.

Sasuke pivoted on his left foot, driving the shinai at Tenten with the force of his right arm. She knocked him back immediately.

"You have excellent control of the katana, but you can't rely solely on avoid-then-strike tactics!" Tenten and Sasuke's shinai clashed and they came to a stalemate. She forced him back and seemed as though she would topple after him, but she caught herself at the last second.

Naruto mildly wondered what it would be like on the floor with Sasuke; against Sasuke. They had gotten into fist fights before, and wrestled around a bit. But to go up against him with a weapon, another sword…something like déjà vu fell over him in waves. It left him practically vibrating with energy in his seat on the floor of the dōjō. He wanted to be up there, and he wanted to be facing off with Sasuke. He knew he could take him on. He was possibly the only one who could fight Sasuke to the point of exhaustion. He'd be collapsing right next to the bastard because they'd be perfectly matched.

He cussed when he realized he was missing the action in front of him, and he caught the last minute of Sasuke striking Tenten on the right side of her protective gear covering her ribs just as she was coming at him.

"That's a point, right?" Ino asked Sakura behind him.

"I think so…"

Tenten lowered her shinai and retreated a few steps. She removed her men to reveal her shocked gaze fixated on Sasuke. The shock melted away into a bright, excited grin. "That was awesome, Uchiha! What a perfect execution of debana-waza technique! It's about time we got someone like you on the team!"

A few disgruntled whines from the other members earned them a sharp snap from their captain and they quickly returned to their earlier practice. Tenten quickly engaged Sasuke into another practice battle, which Naruto was all too eager to watch.

Or he would have if it wasn't for the delicate tap on his bicep that pulled him away from the action. He stared into soft green eyes, and he could immediately remember why he had had such an enormous crush on Sakura as a kid. Of course those feelings had dwindled into nothing but friendship, maybe even brotherly, after the thirty or so rejections (and not to forget the current relationship he was experiencing with Sasuke).

Seeing that she had his full attention, Sakura spoke no louder than a whisper, "Will you walk me home?" Her breath smelled like a mint candy.

"Sure thing!" Naruto beamed at her. He watched her stand and got to his feet quickly as well, standing awkwardly. "Oh, now?" He was reluctant to leave while Sasuke was still on the floor.

"If that's not a problem,"

"Well, Sasuke's trying out now…" Naruto looked behind him to see that he and Tenten were engrossed in their battle, though Tenten was definitely on the winning side.

Sakura adjusted the twisted shoulder straps of her backpack and shrugged. "You heard Tenten. He's already made the team. I need to get home before five."

Naruto went to his wrist immediately to check his watch, but then remembered that he never wore one. Sakura was already leaving the school's dōjō, an unaware Ino watching the students in the zone. Naruto hastily threw his orange and black backpack over his shoulder and trucked after the pink-haired girl. He didn't look back, completely missing the black, somber glance thrown their way.

The walk to Sakura's house was quiet, the only sound coming from their footsteps and other residents of Konoha greeting them or driving by in their cars. They were in the middle of crossing a crosswalk when Naruto finally took notice to their surroundings. They had passed the street to get to Sakura's house four blocks ago. He looked to Sakura in confusion. The girl was walking with great determination; she obviously knew where they were going and it wasn't her house.

"Sakura-chan?"

"I know we've passed my house, Naruto," she said quickly, proving his suspicions correct. "We're making a stop somewhere else first."

"Oh," Naruto had wished she had said so before. He had been planning to drop her off at her house and running back to the school to walk home with Sasuke. "Where are we going?"

"There," Sakura lifted her pointed finger to the line of faces on Hokage Mountain that towered over Konoha.

Naruto frowned. It took a while for him to be able to pull his attention away from the rocky wall and avert it back to Sakura. "Why there?"

"Because I want to."

Naruto rolled his eyes. Girls were so weird. One minute they wanted to be watching a classmate tryout for the kendo team, the next they wanted to climb a mountain. Total wack jobs if you asked him. If he knew anything about Sakura, though, it was that he shouldn't question her and just go with the flow; that was the best way to avoid major injury.

They reached the stairs that lead to the top of the mountain, and only made it half way up the second set before he had to stop and remove his blazer. "I wish we would switch to our summer uniform already…" he whined, rolling up the blazer and shoving it unceremoniously inside his backpack. He waited while Sakura did the same, only with more delicate precision.

"You know we don't switch till June."

"Can it be June now?"

"Stop being an idiot." They continued walking. They were making way on the third and last set of stairs in the zigzag along the mountain side when Sakura spoke again. "Do you know about the rumor for these mountains?"

Naruto immediately recalled Ino telling him about it. "Yeah, that silly one about shouting your crush's name from the top or something."

"Some people don't think it's silly. To them it is hope," Sakura clipped, stunning Naruto into silence. "To someone like me, it's the only chance I have when the guy I've been in love with since I was a kid is dating a total moron."

Suddenly Naruto didn't like where this was going. They reached the top and even though every nerve in his body screamed for him to stop where he was, he continued to follow her to what he supposed was the designated spot from the rumor. He cleared his throat, ready to say something, anything, but found that he just couldn't. He wanted to run from here, to leave Sakura behind. He didn't want to hear what she had to say. Judgment, anger, maybe even hatred. Naruto was afraid – no, he was terrified of what Sakura was going to do or say next.

The wind was much stronger up on the mountain, and it whipped their hair around wildly. Usually Sakura would complain about her hair getting everywhere, but not this time around. She didn't even try to shield with her hands. Sakura's eyes remained stubbornly ahead of her, watching over the town below that they had both lived in all their lives.

A town that had seemed so empty when Sasuke first left, whenever Sakura rejected him, when Jiraiya went out of town, or when his friends and their families went on vacations.

"I overheard you talking on the phone at McDonalds…I heard you say that thing about Sasuke finally having your virginity."

Naruto's face went red immediately. "Wait, Sakura-chan, it's not what you think! We were joking and-"

"Don't lie to me about something like that, Naruto!" She smacked him on the shoulder, hard enough to leave a bruise. "If you're lying about it, then that means you regret it. Do you regret being with Sasuke?"

Naruto shook his head after a moment. To say he was confused right now would be an understatement. Where was Sakura going with this? Why did she bring him up here? "No, I don't. Sasuke is…he's the only guy I could ever trust to be with like that."

"Do you love him?"

Naruto's face felt like it was going to melt off at any point. He put a foot or two between him and Sakura, lifting his hands up as though to protect himself from her. "Wait a minute…what does that have to do with anything?" Love was such a strange word when he applied it to him and Sasuke. Sure, they had sex, and sure they've kissed and said a few things here and there. And yes, he loved the things Sasuke did, and there were things he hated, too. There was so much he still didn't know about Sasuke, so many questions he wanted to ask. One could say Naruto was almost insecure about admitting his love for Sasuke. They were there; those feelings had always been there even if they hadn't always been of the romantic sort. Yet they had turned romantic, like the sky changing colors when the sun set, and it was inevitable and beautiful and full of wonderment. He could burst with these new feelings and still feel whole.

"If you really love him, you should yell it out to Konoha. I'll do it with you because I truly love Sasuke." Sakura slapped a hand to her chest to emphasize her participation. "But I swear Naruto, if you don't love Sasuke then I don't want you to make a peep."

Naruto's eyes widened a fraction and he closed the space between them. "How could you say that? Of course I love Sasuke! I love every part of him! I love that he still treats me like an idiot even though we're dating now, and I love that he's always thinking about me. I love the way he kisses me and I love that he won't let me copy his homework no matter how much I beg him. I love him. I love him!"

Sakura didn't say anything at all. If she was surprised by anything Naruto had confessed, she didn't show it. She simply grabbed Naruto by the shoulders and forced him to face Konoha, pushing him as close to the edge as the railing would allow. Taking his left hand in her right, she gripped the railing with her free hand and leaned forward.

Naruto mimicked her stance and together they inhaled deeply.

"SASUKE UCHIHA! I LOVE YOU!"

Their voices rang throughout the town. Naruto could see people leaving the high school from where they stood, and he wondered if they could be heard all the way down there. It was more humoring than disconcerting, and air filled his cheeks before being expelled in high-pitched fits of laughter.

Sakura joined him, and together they stepped from the railing to laugh, still holding hands. She took in a shuddering breath before suddenly dropping to her knees, yanking down on Naruto's arm in the process. All merriment dissolved as he gazed upon her curled form.

"Sakura-chan?"

"I knew he didn't love me back…and I knew he never would no matter how hard I tried. When I as little I was forward about my feelings, and I thought that was my mistake. So when he came back I tried to be subtle, to give him a chance to see how mature I was, but…he was always looking at you. I just wanted him so much. But if he's with you, Naruto…that's not so bad. I can accept that because I think I always knew it was you, even when we were kids. Ugh, look at me crying like some stupid girl." She wiped at her eyes. Naruto couldn't help but think that Sakura was kind of an ugly crier.

Then what she said hit him. "Huh?"

Sakura looked at him as she stood and wiped at the remaining tears that threatened to spill, knowing exactly what he was confused about. "Don't tell me you never noticed that Sasuke only wanted to hang out with you."

He didn't tell her.

She rolled her eyes. "You really are a big idiot. My mom used to always say, 'That Uchiha kid could lose everything he owns now, but as long as he has his big brother and Naruto he'll still be happy.' See, even the adults saw how much Sasuke loved you. It might not have always been romantic, but he loves you so much Naruto. Heck, neither of you would have been able to date other people and be completely happy."

Naruto frowned at this. He wasn't so sure of that. He had been perfectly capable of liking Sakura without thoughts of Sasuke getting in the way. Then again, he had had a plan where he would divide his time between Sakura and hanging out with Sasuke for when he and Sakura got married (in his delusional head, of course). "You're wrong. Sasuke and I-"

"I don't know what it was, but something pushed you and Sasuke to this point, right? You two had basically been on the edge, and needed one little shove. What was it?" Sakura looked at him with genuine inquisitiveness.

Naruto had to watch her for a minute, gaging whether or not she would laugh at him. Sakura could be a little on the judgmental side when it came to these things, she and Ino constantly gossiping about girls in their class hooking up with other boys. He could sense nothing but mellowness and understanding rolling off of her. It made him feel safe, enveloping him in a sense of security. So he entrusted her with his and Sasuke's history. "It was more than one thing. It took different things for each of us. Sasuke was the first one to…understand his feelings, I guess."

"I figured," Sakura commented curtly.

Naruto frowned at her, but continued nonetheless. "With Sasuke, it started with the kiss on the dock when we were twelve. At least that's what he had said."

Sakura looked shocked, and Naruto assumed it was because she hadn't figured it went that far back. "That long ago?"

Her question proved his theory correct, and he nodded. "As for me, well…it was much more recent." He blushed as he remembered the night Sasuke and his gang had barged into his apartment. He decided to leave that bit out for obvious reasons. "I think it was when he confessed his feelings to me on the night of the group date."

"Huh?" Sakura balked. "The barbeque one all the way back in April?"

Naruto nodded, cringing at Sakura's shock.

"Where was I when this happened?"

"You guys were walking right in front of us."

"Ohmigod…he just came right out and said it?"

Naruto scratched the back of his head. He probably shouldn't have been telling Sakura all of this, and her reactions made it a bit awkward, but it was still a relief to confide in somebody about this. Throughout the entire process of falling into a relationship with Sasuke, he had been alone through it. Of course that was partly because he didn't want anyone to know if it turned out to be something unofficial, but after Boys' Day it seemed appropriate. He needed someone apart from Sasuke to talk to about this kind of thing and Sakura was the best person for that. "Well, basically. He just asked me if I would kiss him back and…well…I didn't reject him."

Sakura frowned at this. "That Sasuke…he can't just come out and tell people what he's really feeling. Not even you, huh?"

He wasn't sure why, but he did not like that she was insinuating that Sasuke couldn't be forward with him. He's been plenty kinds of forward in the bedroom- ah, she was right. When it came to feelings, Naruto had to prod to get any semblance of a straight answer. Well, Sasuke just wasn't that kind of guy. He didn't just open up to people, probably because he was afraid of rejection. Naruto didn't have a problem with it as long as Sasuke was able to tell him about most things (most things being everything). He hoped.

"He opens up enough," Naruto smiled. "I don't need him to, and he himself doesn't need to. He's happy, I'm sure. And if he isn't then I'll make sure he's always happy."

"Promise?" Sakura said earnestly.

Naruto hadn't been expecting to make a promise with her for Sasuke's happiness, but he was nonetheless eager to make it. "Definitely. Or how about…" He returned to the railing, bracing it in tight hands, and leaned forward so that his thighs pressed into the metal. "SASUKE UCHIHA I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU THE HAPPIEST MAN ALIVE! Ah, no, or should I say something like…EVEN AFTER DEATH!"

Sakura burst into a fit of giggles. "It sounds like you're proposing to Sasuke!"

Heat swirled within Naruto's cheeks and he let out a bashful chuckle. Yeah, he supposed it really did sound like a proposal. He just hoped he didn't get too much attention because of this at school the next day.


"You heard them right?"

"Yeah, it was two of them. How weird is that?"

"Shh, there's Uchiha."

Sasuke pretended not to hear the whispering in the hallway, just as he did with the shouts that resounded over Konoha yesterday evening. He ignored the watchful eyes that followed him as he made his way to the classroom, knowing that they were looking for some kind of reaction to yesterday. They weren't going to get one.

He opened the door to the classroom and the chattering he had been hearing from the other side dwindled into silence. He headed for his desk, only focused his gaze on those who were necessary.

The culprits.

First they landed on shy, smiling green eyes. He glared threateningly till Sakura's smile disappeared. Good riddance. Last, he aimed his glare at the blond head of hair in the desk behind his. Naruto was occupying himself with the clouds outside the window, a smart avoidance maneuver but also a dead giveaway of his involvement in the act that was today's raging topic.

Sasuke debated smacking him over the head, but he didn't want to instigate anything or inadvertently reveal the nature of his and Naruto's relationship. He already suspected that a certain someone knew everything now, and what was to stop her from passing it on to the blonde gossip queen that insisted on remaining by her side constantly?

He begrudgingly took a seat in his desk, kicking his backpack underneath and out of the way of his feet. He was sure that Naruto would just love for him to let this slide, but Sasuke wasn't going to let him off that easily. It wasn't that he was angry, though it wasn't far from that. He couldn't explain exactly how he felt about the whole situation. When he heard his name in the middle of that messy love confession coming from the mountain, he hadn't smiled. He couldn't, he was walking alongside Tenten and a couple of other members of the kendo team. But that didn't stop the blush from coloring his cheeks, dangerously close to revealing the flips his stomach was doing and the abrupt thudding of his heart as though he had just run a triathlon. If he had known he'd react like that to Naruto saying that he loved him…maybe he wouldn't have come out and lead the idiot to bed (that was a lie, of course).

He had to immediately excuse himself from the other team members and hurry home. Never before had he been so humiliated in his life! So humiliated and yet so…happy? He knew Naruto's voice anywhere, there was no mistaking it was that idiot and Sakura. It had to be those two, they left together after all. The fact that Sakura was mixed in there left him a bit on the tense side; beggars couldn't be choosers but he would have preferred just Naruto.

The last bit that Naruto yelled really did embarrass him. Make him the happiest man alive, even after death? What kind of moron actually said something like that, let alone shout it for the whole town to hear? Clearly the one sitting right behind him, pretending to have an intense interest in the clouds in order to avoid any kind of confrontation.

What had started that? What made him burst out like that? Why had he said all those things? What had he said to Sakura?

So many questions warped his mind into anxiousness. He wanted to know. He wanted to know every detail of what happened after those two left the dōjō together. They had something now…they shared a moment. Sasuke wasn't sure why he didn't like that, but he couldn't keep his hands from curling into tights fists beneath his desk. He couldn't believe he was being resentful over the fact that Sakura had been with Naruto as he confessed his feelings for Sasuke. It should have been him up there, not her. Damn it, why was he reacting so childishly?

Nonetheless, they should have known better than to go up there and say all that in the first place. Sasuke knew it couldn't have been Naruto's idea, which made the confession all the more annoying. Would Naruto have said all that if he hadn't been prompted to do so?

All sorts of emotions whirled around inside him, leaving him confused and distant for the rest of the day. At lunch he hid himself away in the backroom of the school library, having access to it due to being on the committee. He was grateful for the privacy and silence away from the circulating gossip that centered around him and the two mystery voices.

While the solitude was nice, it still left him muddled about how he should feel about the whole situation. He tried to take his mind off everything, applying himself to the numbing activity of organizing late fee slips and check-out cards, but it only distracted him for ten minutes before he began obsessing some more. By the end of lunch, he decided that Sakura was no longer important in this scenario. The only one who mattered, the only one who ever mattered, was Naruto.

He found himself sitting back down in his desk, vaguely aware that he had walked back completely on autopilot. Naruto came in a few minutes later, walking ahead of Kiba, Shikamaru, Sakura, and Ino. Sasuke studied them discreetly, but none of them seemed to be concerned with the gossip. They didn't even make any indication as to knowing it was Naruto and Sakura, otherwise one of them would have most likely looked his way by now. Not even Ino gave him a cautious, meaningful glance.

So Naruto and Sakura weren't blabbing to everyone. That was a good thing, and a load off his back. Now he only had to untangle his own chaotic thoughts and emotions. He'd rather just be swallowed up and not give a single care like he did with most things; however, he couldn't let this go.

One part of him mulled excitedly that Naruto admitted to loving him, chanting it like a mantra. It annoyed him how love struck he became when Naruto returned his feelings in one way or another, verbal or physical. Just being allowed to be inside the idiot was enough to send him to an early grave. How had he ever been okay with remaining at Naruto's side as a platonic friend?

Sasuke didn't think he'd be completely satisfied any time soon, if at all. With that in mind, he should be thrilled that Naruto loved him back (so much that he had no reservations about shouting it for all to hear). He simply couldn't accept it, though. If Naruto had said it to his face, Sasuke was certain he'd still be having a hard time figuring out how to react.

Thankfully Naruto didn't seem to be waiting for some kind of response from him, as the other teen returned to his desk without so much as a hopeful look when he walked by. He exuded an air of utter calm, probably thinking he was in the clear since Sasuke hadn't approached him yet. Or he felt absolutely no guilt about turning Sasuke brain into an overthinking disaster zone.

Sasuke wasn't sure what he was going to say to Naruto, but he wasn't going to pummel him black a blue or embrace him romantically. Could he really just leave things as they were, though?

Before he could come to any final decision, the dismissal bell was ringing through the school and the teacher quickly listed off their homework that was due next class. Sasuke hadn't paid attention to any of the lessons all day. He couldn't help brooding obsessively. Naruto stuck him like a knife and twisted inside the wound with everything he said and did that threw Sasuke into overdrive.

A hand touched his shoulder and Sasuke turned in his seat slowly, meeting endless blue eyes. He loved Naruto's eyes; he wondered if Naruto ever closed his eyes and saw Sasuke's staring right back at him as Sasuke did his. Why did he even care about something like that? He wasn't some pathetic girl with a crush.

"You look tired." Naruto said, concerned.

He was exhausted. "I'm fine."

Naruto waited for Sasuke to gather his things, neatly placing them in his backpack and standing. "Want to walk home together?"

Sasuke considered this carefully. It was Wednesday, so he had to go straight home. He groaned inwardly, realizing that Wednesdays were the only day he could freely leave school without any obligations. Mondays and Thursdays had him working in the library, and Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were reserved for kendo practice. He let out a hot breath and nodded his head in answer to Naruto.

Naruto bid his other friends goodbye as they exited the classroom together.

Thankfully they were able to leave the school without overhearing anyone talking about the stupid rumor. Yes, stupid. Sasuke was done with worrying over yesterday's incident. Being in Naruto's presence calmed him considerably, an exceptional characteristic the other boy possessed that Sasuke had been grateful for since they were kids. Like being put under a spell, his mind could rest easy without him having to forcefully shut it down. It was this state of tranquility that allowed Sasuke to smoothly convey his thoughts.

"Don't do that anymore."

"Do what?"

"What you did on Hokage Mountain yesterday." Sasuke's dark gaze shifted to Naruto on his left, daring the other to oppose him. Of course Naruto took it as an invitation to argue.

"Why don't you like it when I'm being forward?"

Sasuke swallowed. The need to take Naruto and forcefully make him understand his irrational need to maintain control rushed forward, and his hands twitched with readiness. He quickly shoved them in his pockets. He couldn't deal with Naruto the way he had learned to deal with things back in Otogakure. "It's a simple request, idiot. Just don't it again."

Naruto was getting mad if his furrowed eyebrows and defensive posture was any indication. It was too early to tell if they would break out into a fist fight. "I meant what I said!"

Inhaling deeply, Sasuke looked Naruto in the eyes, hoping to transfer his thoughts without being forced to say them aloud. I know you meant it. I'm happy that you do. Your forceful approach to our newly developed relationship is embarrassing and hard to swallow. I'm not used to this; this is more than I had ever dreamed about. Please understand that I'm not turning you down or not taking this seriously. I need time to process this, so please be patient with me. You mean so much to me.

Naruto's lips parted and Sasuke knew that he understood. As much of a total idiot as Naruto was, he was pretty well-versed in reading people. They fell into stride together, a comfortable silence leaving them both feeling lighter on their feet. There was just one thing Sasuke had to get out in the open, to both clear his conscience and leave no doubt between them.

He turned to Naruto and said, "The first night I was back in Konoha…"

As predicted, Naruto was perplexed by the sudden topic. It was probably something he didn't really want to think about.

"That time, in your apartment, I told you that I hated you. I didn't mean that. I've never hated you."

Naruto gave an unexpected snort, and he smiled at Sasuke. "Same here. I just said it back because you did. You were always my best friend, Sasuke. You still are."

"Moron."

"What?"

Sasuke sighed. "After everything, you're still calling me your best friend."

"Well I made it pretty obvious on the mountain that I think of you as more than a friend." He snickered to himself like he had heard a funny joke.

Sasuke didn't laugh with him, and stared straight ahead again. They were nearing the point where they'd have to go separate ways to get home. Naruto must have noticed, too, because he stopped at the street corner and looked at Sasuke with coy curiosity.

"Want to come back to my place?"

The temptation was a physical ache. He almost wanted to curse his other responsibilities, feeling even the common, daily needs such as eating and using the restroom to be burdensome. If he had it his way, he'd spend days on end with Naruto in his bed. They didn't even have to have sex; he would appreciate the constant closeness. "I have to go straight home today."

It pleased him to see the disappointment on Naruto's face. He scanned their surroundings quickly before stealing a single kiss and turning left down the adjoining street. Naruto had to keep walking straight to his apartment building.

If it had been any other Wednesday, he'd have taken Naruto up on his offer. He'd much prefer his company over what he was about to go home to. He truly despised the second Wednesday of every month. Not like he could blow it off. If he had a new assignment, he'd be finding out about it today. Things had been slow since his last successful mission, which he had received back when he was thirteen.


The door to the sitting room was ajar, so why should he have thought twice about listening in on the conversation his brother was having with two men sitting opposite of him on the couch. He was only curious after seeing two extra pairs of shoes by the door. The men on the couch were bizarre, and they were dressed too casually to be coworkers that Itachi had brought home. His brother was still dressed in a button-up shirt and tie from what Sasuke could see.

One of the men had long blond hair, a handful of strands pulled into a high ponytail at the crown of his head. His one eye that wasn't hidden by his hair was blue, but it wasn't as captivating as Naruto's. Ah, there he went again thinking about his childhood friend in a less than friendly manner. He supposed it was a good thing that he was far away from Konoha, otherwise he'd have a hard time facing the idiot everyday with the dreams he was having. He rid himself of those thoughts and returned his attention to the other man sitting beside the blond.

There were no distinct facial features as his entire face was covered with a weird, orange mask. There was only one eyehole, for the right eye, which made Sasuke wonder vaguely if these men were trying to set some trend. It was a stupid one if you asked him.

"…killed your parents." The man with the mask was saying to his brother, snaring Sasuke's attention and holding him in his spot in front of the cracked door.

Why were they talking about their parents? Itachi was very reserved about the topic, rarely ever bringing it up with Sasuke. Not that Sasuke wanted to hear about them very often.

"But first we want to know where you are with Orochimaru." the blond man said, sitting with perfect posture and arms folded over his chest. His stare was critical, complementing to the gravity of his statement.

Itachi emitted a deep sigh, and Sasuke wanted to know immediately what they were talking about. His brother had always been open with him about many things, but he never once mentioned anyone by the name Orochimaru. It was unusual for Itachi to keep something from him, if not completely unheard of.

"I've tried to get in, but he doesn't trust me. I think seeking him out had been a bad plan." Itachi explained, though his tone didn't sound remorseful. Just tired, and maybe a bit rehearsed. He spoke like that when he had thought things through thoroughly, including the day he broke the news to Sasuke that they would be leaving their home in Konoha.

The blond-haired man narrowed his right eye at Itachi. "Well waiting around for him to notice you wouldn't have worked. Hate to say it, but you're too old for his tastes."

Sasuke pondered what he meant by that; Itachi wasn't too old, he was only nineteen. Realization hit him like a slap to the face, and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. Was Itachi trying to get the attentions of some creepy pedophile?

"That is true," the man with the orange mask said. It took a few seconds, but Sasuke became aware that the masked man was staring right at him. "Maybe he can help us?" He pointed innocently at the door.

Sasuke kept himself from recoiling when the blond-haired man and his brother suddenly turned to the door. Itachi shot out of his seat and he quickly crossed the space to the door, swinging it open to fully reveal Sasuke standing there in his black gakuran uniform.

"Sasuke, go upstairs and do your homework." Itachi ordered, his jaw set sternly. He reminded Sasuke of their father for a moment. He already had large bags under his eyes like their father, though it did nothing to take away from his initial beauty that both sons had been lucky enough to inherit from their mother.

"Hold on a minute, Itachi." The masked man stood and was walking up behind the older Uchiha. "We could use him. He's young, quite the looker. Orochimaru will snatch him right up."

Sasuke was ready to downright refuse, not appreciating that he was being sized up as some creep's type. Itachi spoke up first.

"Absolutely not. He's not to be involved in any of this."

"If you don't complete this mission with Orochimaru then we're going to withhold the information on your parents' deaths, un." The blond man sounded bored despite the severity of his statement.

Itachi looked at the man sharply. His usually calm, indulgent eyes were dilated beneath his furrowing brows. That should have tipped off the younger Uchiha right there, but he wasn't paying any attention to his brother. If Sasuke had known any better back then, he would have realized he was being lead on. Instead, he fell right into their hands.

"You know who killed our mom and dad?" Sasuke asked in earnestness, eyes shifting between the two strange men with suspicion. They both stared back at him with their only visible eyes. Irritated, Sasuke turned his glare on Itachi. He was being so passive all of a sudden. 'Say something,' Sasuke wanted to scream at him. 'Give me answers! Tell them to leave!'

Seemingly bored of the staring game, the man with thick blond hair huffed in annoyance. "How am I supposed to kill the bastard if you're incapable of getting anywhere close to him, un?" He patronized Itachi as though he was a child. He placed a hand with black painted fingernails on his narrow hip while he pointed accusingly at Itachi with his other. "All you had to do was get him alone so I can blow him up. You said you could get him for us. That makes you inferior and a liar, un."

"Shut up!" Sasuke shouted before he could stop himself. His nostrils were flaring; when had he started breathing so heavily? Watching this man pose there and downsize his big brother, his only family and his idol, right to Itachi's face infuriated Sasuke beyond any level he'd ever felt before. They never had to deal with this sort of treatment back in Konoha. People in Otogakure were offensive and inconsiderate. Why did Itachi allow these men in their house? That didn't matter, because Sasuke was going to make them leave at that very moment. Or he would have, if the taller man hadn't interjected first.

"Ah, Sempai!" the masked man whimpered, waving his hands around animatedly like an idiot to get the other man's attention. "Be nice to Itachi. He did his best. We know it's not his fault that Orochimaru didn't rise to the bait." He clasped his hands behind his back to indicate that he was done defending Itachi.

Sasuke would have pegged the taller man to be the one in charge, but his submissive attitude was easy to trample over with a stern figure like the man with the blond hair. He didn't like either of them, but he found the stranger with the weird mask was far more tolerable. He studied the eyehole of the orange mask, trying to see the eye within it, but it was veiled in the shadow of the cover.

Itachi let out a shuddering sigh. He had obviously been thinking hard in his silence. "I don't need your information. I hereby resign from the organization."

The shorter of the two men sneered at him. "Do you doubt the authenticity of our information?"

"No," Itachi shook his head. His eyes slid shut and Sasuke could see just how truly exhausted his brother was. "I no longer desire it. If it means getting my little brother involved, then I'd rather remain ignorant."

"Ignorant my ass," the blond-haired man snapped. "You think you can just drop out of the Akatsuki like that? You should know better, Itachi. The whole reason you were assigned to take out Orochimaru was because he left the organization, too."

"You said it was because of his chokehold on this town." Itachi's words were slow, anger bubbling below the surface.

The tall man stepped in quickly. "We didn't lie, we swear! Orochimaru is a tyrant that must be dealt with." His irritatingly bubbly tone dropped, and he suddenly spoke with solemnity. "However, he was a part of the Akatsuki at one point. He randomly dropped out some time ago and went off the radar. We found him later, but he was already monopolizing this town with blackmail and brute force."

Sasuke's lips parted, any urgency he felt in removing these men from his home now replaced with intrigue. He wasn't completely up to date on the situation, but it sounded as though this Orochimaru person was some kind of boss of this town's yakuza. It was inappropriate, but Sasuke couldn't help feeling admiration towards his brother. He was attempting to bring down a bad guy and save the city like a hero from manga. He wanted to help in any way he could! Especially if doing so would bring to light more info on their parents' mysterious and untimely death.

"That doesn't matter-" Itachi began.

"What can I do to help?" Sasuke blurted out suddenly. He cussed inwardly for sounding so eager. All eyes zeroed in on him and he wondered if he had said something wrong.

Itachi blinked away his stunned expression, replacing it with a strict one. "Sasuke, you are not part of this. Leave us alone to talk."

Sasuke masked the hurt he felt at his brother shunning him. He thought that he was doing the right thing by offering to aid them. The taller man had said that Sasuke was perfect for the job, hadn't he? Why was Itachi refusing him?

The masked man's voice reverted back to its goofy pitch. "But if Uchibi-kun can capture Orochimaru's attention, our plan can get rolling and then you can find out about your parents' murder! Everybody's happy!"

"He's right, un." The blond-haired man grunted.

Itachi turned his glare on the tall man. "No-"

"Itachi, let me do it." Sasuke almost pleaded, but he did not beg under any circumstances. Such measures to attain what he wanted were beneath him. "I know I can do it."

"Sasuke, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into." Itachi snapped. "Orochimaru is a dangerous man. People in this town are terrified of him. Not to mention his tastes are less than admirable. I won't let you be exposed to him."

"You don't know what will happen," Sasuke argued, his cheeks heating from how childish he felt for arguing with his brother like this. "I can handle myself!"

Itachi exhaled in his aggravation. "No, you can't. I will not continue having this conversation with you. Go to your room." He pointed a finger at the stairs on his right.

Sasuke scoffed. "That's immature, ending the conversation when you want to. We have the chance to learn more about mom and dad than the cops told us. Why won't you let me do this? Do you hate mom and dad or something?"

His only response was a singular slap to his left cheek that made his ears ring. He had felt his neck pop at the impact, and he was sure that the other three men had heard it. It took several seconds for feeling to return to his face, and he raised a trembling hand to touch the burning skin. Tears pricked his eyes, but he refused to shed them as he glared at the floor.

He was shocked. He was dejected. He was angry as hell, and he was embarrassed beyond words. Itachi had struck him. His big brother had actually hit him on the face, and in front of these two strange men, too! Who was this man posing as his brother? This was not the Itachi who had raised him with unadulterated love and compassion since their parents' deaths in their house in Konoha. That Itachi had never – would never – laid a hand on Sasuke in aggression or discipline. Where was the brother that believed words were far more powerful than a pair of fists? Sasuke wanted the old Itachi back; the one who didn't keep secrets from him, and didn't come home late, and didn't tell Sasuke that he wasn't capable of achieving something.

This Itachi…the one standing before Sasuke with a detached gaze…he…

"…hate you…"

Black orbs that matched Sasuke's widened, indicating that he heard the whispered words clearly. Itachi's hand automatically rose between them to soothe his younger brother like he usually did when Sasuke was upset, but it was smacked away and he couldn't resist flinching as though he had been scalded.

"I hate you, Itachi!" Sasuke's shout kept Itachi rooted in place while the thirteen-year-old ran to the door and slid on his shoes. He didn't bother tying them before running out of the front door.

He ran down the street as fast as his legs could carry him. His vision began to blur, and he was grateful for the tears as they shielded him from the curious glances he received from the people he passed. Those lucky people who were going home to a normal family where everything was just fine, and they ate dinner with each other every night while sitting in front of the TV to watch some mindless program. Meanwhile, Sasuke's world went straight to hell as his life in Konoha became an increasingly distant memory and reminder of what had been.

Damn it! He wished he could see Naruto right now. The moron would reassure him that Itachi was just in a bad mood from stress. That he hadn't meant to hit Sasuke. Those tan arms would hug him, and Sasuke would be assaulted by Naruto's scent…shit, what did he smell like? He had forgotten. Slowly his senses were losing all traces of the person Naruto. Soon he would forget how soft that unkempt blond hair was, or how smooth his skin was. The way those blue eyes sparkled when ramen was set in front of him, or how round cheeks became discolored with an angry blush when Sasuke insulted him. The sound of his annoying voice when it raised an octave to shout at Sasuke for offending him, or when it dropped and became raspy when he was contemplating something serious. Naruto's lips had tasted like…

He stopped in his tracks, turning on his feet as he studied his surroundings. He was at the corner of some street lined with a textile shop, a bicycle sales and repair store, and a few bars and restaurants. Across the two-way street in front of him was the sea wall that was Otogakure's northern border. He looked both ways before crossing the street to the sidewalk on the other side. He followed the railing mindlessly, keeping his eyes on the water that only appeared calm. He knew that the currents were so strong they could pull the most experienced and strongest swimmers under with little effort.

He finally stopped next to a street lamp that interrupted the railing briefly and leaned against the metal bar. It came up a couple of inches above his elbows, so he was easily able to fold his arms and rest his chin on them.

Amazing…even miles away from Naruto, and the idiot somehow managed to take his mind off the things that bothered him. But now he was thinking about Itachi again, and his mood dropped even lower.

How could he have told his own brother that he hated him? Itachi was his flesh and blood, and Sasuke had said something worse than a thousand slaps to the face. He had just been so…angry. What was worse, he had accused Itachi of hating their parents; he of all people knew that was far from the truth. They were a solid, loving family. Itachi had been aspiring to follow their father's footsteps in law enforcement, and Sasuke wasn't far behind him. To even suggest that his brother felt anything less than love was an insult.

Sasuke wished he could take it all back. He wanted to go back in time and stop the words from leaving his lips, the thought from crossing his mind. Tears that had vanished with thoughts of Naruto came back with a vengeance. Sasuke wasn't allowed the chance to force them back, and they spilled over his cheeks and onto the sleeve of his school uniform. He held off on wiping his runny nose on the scratchy fabric as long as he could.

The street lamp had been on for a whole hour when he finally ran out of tears. His eyes and face felt stiff from crying for so long, and the sleeve of his school uniform was slimy and crusty with mucus. He wasn't sure what time it was, but he knew he had to get home soon. He could get in trouble for being out late in his uniform, not to mention he didn't want Itachi to worry about him.

He knew he had to apologize, but how to do it left him torn. He messed up big time and still had no clue how to make up for it. He just wanted his old life back.

Naruto and the others were in the junior high school back in Konoha, now. He wondered what the blond boy looked like in his uniform. He knew Konoha's junior high boy uniform was similar to his own gakuran uniform, but it was also a public school so it had plain bronze buttons while the private school he went to in Otogakure had its school emblem on each gold-painted button. They were expensive to replace, but already Sasuke's top button was loose from his constant fiddling with it during boring classes.

It was mundane thoughts such as these that put Sasuke at ease whenever he had pressing matters on his mind. Unfortunately, he wasn't allowed the luxury to escape in his head a minute longer. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tall figure lean on the railing on the other side of the street lamp.

Sasuke turned his head only a smidgen and caught a glimpse of the orange mask. He looked at the man fully. He realized fleetingly that he still didn't know either of those men's names. "What are you doing here?"

"We were all worried about you, of course!" The man held up his hands, fingers positioned in peace signs.

The bubbly voice irritated Sasuke and he glared out at the dark water.

"Were you hoping that I was Itachi?" His voice dropped. At least he was speaking like an adult now. "He doesn't know what to say to you. He's really torn up."

Sasuke's breath hitched within his throat, eyes narrowing. "I know…I shouldn't have said…"

"Oh, he's not upset about that," the man assured him. "He can't believe that he hit you."

Sasuke touched his cheek as though he had completely forgotten about the slap. It was sore to the slightest pressure. He didn't care, though. He was no longer mad at Itachi for hitting him. "I should still apologize to him."

"Whatever clears your conscience." The tall man shrugged. "You Uchiha brothers are so melodramatic."

Fed up, Sasuke glared at the man. This was their fault. He and Itachi never fought like that, if at all. If they hadn't been there, none of this would have happened. "Who are you people?"

"Us, meaning me and my partner?" At Sasuke's nod, he continued. "My name is Tobi, and the other man was Deidara. We're members of an organization called Akatsuki."

Sasuke filed the names away to memory. "What is Akatsuki, some sort of yakuza?"

"Not at all!" Tobi's higher pitched voice came back with vigor. "We fight bad guys and bring them to justice!" He snickered. "Or at least that's a nice way of putting it."

"Well what's the other way to put it?"

"We kill high class criminals."

Sasuke almost choked on his own spit. "Did you just say kill?"

"Yes. The people we go after are usually corrupt politicians who bribe and lie their way out of trouble. It's nearly impossible to beat them in court, even with the right evidence, and if they are found guilty they usually get bailed out of jail for one reason or another."

"But those people don't deserve to die."

"Not even if they have killed others to get what they want?"

That was always a rocky topic for Sasuke. Naruto had always believed that people deserved a second chance, and his words were instilled in the Uchiha. Who was he to pass judgment on bad people? They would all get what they deserved in the end, right?

"I'm not talking about the accidental murder of one person, Sasuke," Tobi said as though he had been listening in on Sasuke's thoughts. "These bastards have slaughtered many, usually to cover their own tracks. Innocent people that could have brought them to justice. People like your father and mother."

Obsidian eyes widened, and he turned his whole body to face Tobi. There was something about this man that rubbed him the wrong way. Tobi somehow knew how to get under his skin and say all the right (or wrong) things to make Sasuke react. It was childish, but Sasuke wanted so badly to rip that mask off his face and fling it out into the water. At least then he wouldn't feel like he was being mocked behind it. He would never do that, of course. He was too mature (and he probably wouldn't be able to reach the tall man's face, even if he jumped). "What do you know about my parents' murder? Tell me everything."

He couldn't see it, but Sasuke could hear the smirk in the older man's voice. "I know exactly who sent out the order to have them killed. A man very much like the ones I have been talking about. Your father had been trying to get him in court for years, but the man made sure that didn't happen-"

"Just tell me who he is!" Sasuke shouted, not caring if there was anyone around to see or hear them. He was so sick of this man and his partner, and he hadn't even known them for more than a few hours. He just wanted answers so that he could…could…

"Why? What will you do once you know who the man is?" Tobi asked, voicing Sasuke's inner hesitance.

"I'll…" Sasuke fought with his mind for the right words. He'd what? Bring the man to justice? His father already tried that, and look where it got him? Suddenly the goal of the Akatsuki organization was much clearer, much brighter. He could understand it wholly, and knew exactly why Itachi had gotten mixed up with them in the first place. "I'll kill him. I'll avenge my mom and dad."

"Good for you. Your brother took a lot more convincing to accept the idea of revenge. He had been so certain that he could win this through hard work and concrete evidence. But how do you accumulate evidence for a plotted murder committed over five years ago? It's not easy playing the good guy, is it?" Tobi's voice was low, yet somehow every word he spoke was distinct even with the mask in place.

"Tell me who killed my parents."

"On one condition. You join Akatsuki and take out Orochimaru."

Sasuke remembered Itachi's wish of him not getting involved with Akatsuki, which seemed even more foolish now that he knew the cause behind it all. Still, he had to take a moment to consider one thing. What would Naruto think of him going around and giving criminals their just deserts? Would he be proud of him? If Naruto had the chance to find out where his parents were, would he go looking for them? He knew it wasn't the same thing, but the choice of the matter held equal meaning to each boy. Naruto would go out and find his parents, much as Sasuke would kill the man that took his away from him as a child.

Something nagged at the back of his mind, but he had to face reality. Naruto wasn't here for him to bring his concerns to. Even if he was still in Konoha, he probably wouldn't have wanted to get the idiot involved. He'd try to stop him anyway, hold him back and bring him down. This was his chance, and no one was going to talk him out of it. He was certain he was making the right decision for himself.

"Do we have an agreement, Sasuke?" Tobi asked.

"Yes," Sasuke said flatly. "I'll do whatever you need me to do."


It wasn't until after it was too late, till the deal had been sealed, did Sasuke learn of everything Itachi had been doing behind his back for years. The truth behind their sudden need to move to Otogakure left a bad taste in Sasuke's mouth to this day. He was almost glad, in a twisted and sadistic way, that he accepted the task of taking out Orochimaru. Itachi suffered as he watched Sasuke walk around with that man's brand tattooed on his shoulder, working to achieve the position of Orochimaru's favorite. Each night Sasuke spent gaining that snake's trust by doing his dirty work around town left a tear in his and his brother's relationship.

And he didn't give a damn. Sasuke couldn't have cared less about the pained looks that followed him when he and Itachi were in the same room. He had wanted the guilt to eat away at his brother until Itachi was an empty husk.

The deeper Sasuke sank, the farther away Itachi's voice sounded to him. Yet they both kept their hands clutching around anything that could keep them together. The moment Sasuke lost sight of everything, including (regrettably) his guiding light, Itachi had taken hold of that decaying connection and yanked him back.

Where would he be today if Itachi hadn't been there to wake him from the constant nightmare that was his reality? If that promise hadn't been made…

"We'll go back to Konoha the moment this is all over."

Sasuke closed his eyes, Naruto's face being the first image he was able to conjure up at the mention of Konoha. The idiot had absolutely no idea exactly how much trouble he had kept Sasuke out of during his days under Orochimaru's control.

He should truly feel guilty about going behind Naruto's back like this, continuing his service under Akatsuki without putting up a fight. A part of him did feel that guilt, and it stacked up inside him like a tower of books that threatened to topple with each novel added to it. He had to manage it as best as he could, holding a hand on the top to keep it steady. What would he do when it became one book too many? It was already a close call as it was. All Naruto had to do was say one thing, or ask on question, and it would be up to Sasuke if he decided to continue adding to the pile.

For now he did his best to maintain the three parts that made him whole so that they didn't flow together and mix to become something poisonous. As long as he barricaded his revenge, his brother, and Naruto securely there would be no chance for lines to blur and any of the three to meet in the middle. His main concern was Naruto getting mixed up in his revenge, but he didn't see any way of that happening. They were practically polar opposites. He knew this wasn't a stable way to live, but it worked and he didn't see any reasons as to why he couldn't have everything go his way.

Things were fine the way they were, so there was nothing to worry about.

He entered his house and saw that there were already two pairs of shoes in the entryway. He left his neatly beside them and quietly padded up the stairs to dump his school bag on his bed. He wasted no time returning downstairs where Itachi and Tobi would be waiting in the living room.

As predicted, both men where there. Itachi was sitting cross-legged on the couch with an arm resting across the back while Tobi stood aimlessly by the extensive CD collection that had been their father's. Itachi rarely played any of the music, but he refused to get rid of them.

"Uchibi-kun's here!" Tobi sang when Sasuke entered the room. He threw his arms in the air as though the teen's arrival really was something to celebrate. "I already gave Itachi his assignment. Nothing for you, sorry." He didn't sound regretful.

Sasuke turned his gaze on Itachi. He'd only received two or three assignments after Sasuke's joining of the organization, but none of them had required him to kill anybody (not that he hadn't done such missions before his little brother's involvement). He merely dug up information and reported back with his findings. Somehow, by the look on the older Uchiha's face, that wasn't the case this time. "What's the assignment?"

Tobi answered for him. "He's going to kill Danzō Shimura!"

An icy chill shot down Sasuke's spine. Danzō…the man who had given the order for Fugaku and Mikoto Uchiha to be slaughtered in their homes to prevent them from getting any closer to revealing his dirty dealings. He hadn't thought twice about the consequences. Itachi and Sasuke had only been children, but that didn't stop the man from doing anything to keep his record clean.

Sasuke's skin felt tight, and he balled his hands into fists. He opened his mouth to announce his desired involvement in this particular case, but Itachi beat him to it.

"I don't want you to be a part of this, Sasuke. Danzō isn't just some gang leader. He has ties with the Konoha politicians." Itachi's voice was stern, leaving no room for discussion. That didn't stop Sasuke.

"Yeah, so did Orochimaru." Sasuke hissed.

"Blackmailing politicians is different, Sasuke." Tobi interjected abruptly. "These guys actually like Danzō and won't be relieved when he's knocked out of the picture."

Sasuke loathed it when Tobi got serious like that. He didn't know what annoyed him more, the goofy idiot side or the one that was the voice of reason. Perhaps he just hated that the man was always right.

"Not to mention he has his ANBU doing all the dirty work for him, so there's no visible proof of anything on him. Speaking of gangs, when are you finally going to tell your little followers that you're not who they think you are? How long will you keep up the delinquent act just to please them? They should know the only reason you came to Orochimaru was to kill him."

Sasuke swallowed to soothe his dry throat. He stared at a spot on the wall behind Itachi's head and pretended that he hadn't heard anything Tobi just said. He didn't have to answer to that. Mostly because he didn't know how. It wasn't as though he could just turn to Karin, Suigetsu, and Jūgo one day and shout, 'Surprise! It's all a lie! I actually don't care about staking turf and fighting enemy gangs. I only started hanging out with you three because I had to kill the one man that took you in and gave you a bed to sleep on in exchange for your services. I'm not actually your savior, I had been ordered to do it and I wouldn't have given a flying fuck about Orochimaru or you guys otherwise. And the only reason I let you guys come back to Konoha with me was because you had nowhere else to go.'

He may be considered a cold-hearted bastard by some people, but he wasn't that bad. The three of them were doing much better here in Konoha than ever before. Suigetsu was the star of the school's swim team now, and Karin and Jūgo were excelling in other extracurricular activities of their own. He had successfully picked them up and helped them back on their own two feet. He saw no reason in telling them about his mission when things had worked out so well.

Now the ANBU…that was another matter. He had pissed them off, so there was no doubt that Danzō was aware of his presence in Konoha. He didn't know if the man held any ill will towards him and Itachi because of their parents (not that he would care if the bastard did), but he still had to tread carefully from now on. He hadn't run into any more trouble with the ANBU since the last time, but that didn't mean they weren't watching him from afar.

Movement in his peripheral vision pulled him out of his thoughts and he watched Tobi walking over to the coffee table in front of the couch. His eyes widened when he saw what had caught the man's attention, but he couldn't move fast enough to keep him from picking up the picture frame. Damn it, why hadn't Itachi put it in his room like he had asked? It was his brother who had insisted on getting the dumb pictures framed in the first place.

Sasuke yanked the frame that contained a copy of the photo booth captures he and Naruto had taken over a month ago. He had completely forgotten about showing them to Itachi and the older man requesting to frame it as the exchange happened over two weeks ago. Why were they suddenly making a reappearance now of all times? Now Tobi knew what Naruto looked like…something Sasuke had been hoping to put off for as long as possible.

He fixed a glare on the tall man, silently daring him to make some kind of weird comment on the photos.

Sensing the threat, Tobi reverted to his giddy persona. He jumped a foot back and wiggled his hips from side to side while swinging his arms about. "What are ya blushin' for, Uchibi-kun? Haha! I didn't see anything!"

Sasuke growled deep in his throat and Tobi feigned shaking in his spot.

"Oooh, scary!" Tobi stood straight and turned to Itachi as though completely forgetting about Sasuke attempting to glare a hole through him from across the room. "You won't believe what I heard yesterday while taking a walk. Two people were shouting their love confessions to Sasuke from the mountain." He looked back at Sasuke, smirk evident in his voice. "One of them was a boy."

Sasuke sighed in annoyance. He had done so well without having to deal with the topic at school, but clearly he couldn't get off that easy in his own home. He glanced at Itachi and knew he was doomed from the look of intrigue on his brother's face. He better not pester him for more details, though Sasuke had a feeling Itachi was making his own assumptions already.

Tobi giggled behind his mask at the brothers' silent exchange.

Itachi lifted an eyebrow and turned to the other man. "Is that all, Tobi?"

"Oh, there was one more thing…" The switch between personas was almost physical in the way Tobi's back straightened, and he folded his arms over his chest. "New information from a secret source. Your father wasn't working alone on the Danzō case. There was another man deep within the government who was close to bringing Danzō's crimes to the surface. His position wasn't public, so when he and his wife went missing seventeen years ago, nobody gave a second thought about the rumor that they had skipped town. But Fugaku Uchiha knew better and that was why he became more involved with the case."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. He didn't see how any of this was important to his parents' murder. So some other poor bastard and his wife got whacked before them. All the more reason to spill Danzō's blood, but it didn't intensify his need for revenge. He wanted Tobi to leave so he could be alone with Itachi and convince him to let him join the assignment.

Itachi's breath hitched, and Sasuke gazed at him in bemusement.

Tobi also watched him. "Have you figured it out, Itachi? Exactly whose parents preceded yours?"

Itachi's eyes locked with Sasuke's, and the urgency within them made it dawn on the younger Uchiha. Suddenly the need to kill Danzō intensified greater than he thought could ever be possible. The barrier containing his revenge cracked and began to leak. He already wanted the bastard's head on a silver platter for the murder of his parents, but now there was even more weight added to it. It was no longer just his mother and father that he would be avenging, but also…


A violent sneeze ripped out of Naruto, the tip of his mechanical pencil breaking off at the force. He blinked several times, the force of the sneeze leaving him disoriented, before returning his attention to his homework.


Yup, a Sasuke-centric chapter.

Don't worry, if you were hoping for more smut there is plenty to come next chapter and the others after it.