Sasuke approached the village gates the same way he had done on several occasions over the past three years. Every time there was a rumor that Naruto had been spotted heading in the direction of Konoha, he would go to greet him. This wasn't because he was friends with the other boy, but because every day that Naruto was alive was a day that That Man's plans, or rather the plans of the criminal organization that That Man belonged to weren't completed. That, and the fact that every time Naruto returned, he would have a new trick to show him.

Too much had passed between him and Naruto in the early days back when he believed that the other boy was a stepping stone towards his goal of defeating That Man for them to ever be friends. They could be friendly towards each-other, but they had not crossed the line of friendship and likely never would.

He himself wasn't without friends however. After Naruto, Shino, and Shikamaru had been promoted to the rank of Chunin, he had been folded into Team 8 under Kurenai. He had been somewhat resentful of this at first, but had held his tongue around his team as there had been nothing he could do about the situation, especially after the Godaime had refused his transfer request. It could have been worse however, much worse. He could have been on team 10 with Ino for instance, or he could have been stupid enough to take the body-snatcher Orochimaru up on his offer when his minions had turned up on his doorstep.

After a while, when he realized that Hinata wasn't ever going to go all rabid fangirl on him since she was obsessed with Naruto of all people, he had begun opening up to her, and she became the first of his friends, the first true friend that he'd had since the Massacre. Hinata was good if quiet company, had a wicked sense of humor when she chose to show it, and knew when to leave him alone. He'd had more difficulty warming up to Kiba who reminded him of Naruto during their Academy days, but warm up to him he did, especially after they'd saved each-other's lives several times during missions after they'd been promoted to Chunin.

Before he knew it, both of his teammates had wormed their way into his life and into his heart. Team 8, or Team Kurenai as it was now called since Hinata and Kiba were Chunin and he was a Tokubetsu Jounin, became for him what Team 7 should have been.

Little Fugaku fussed as he shifted him to his other arm since he'd been getting heavy.

He hadn't been quite ready to be a father when Fugaku was born last year, and frankly still wasn't. The Hokage had ordered Fugaku's conception as well as the conception of his two daughters Mikoto and Aiko after he had started taking dangerous missions so the Sharingan wouldn't die with him if he had the misfortune to die while he was away. He had little to no idea of who his children's mothers were as he'd merely supplied the genetic material that had been implanted, and had requested no contact with the women in case they decided to get any "romantic notions" and tried to trap him in a situation where his only option aside from killing them was marrying them. He was not yet ready for marriage, and wasn't sure he would be any time soon.

That wasn't to say he wasn't a family man when he had the time, much like many shinobi were. He did visit his children regularly while he was in Konoha, and had a system set up for that which involved the children being brought to a neutral and above all safe location where he would pick them up shortly after their mothers had dropped them off and left the room. Today was Fugaku's turn for a visit, and instead of doing something the child might find fun like he usually did on such visits, he was waiting for Naruto to return, and the wait had better be worth it.

Eventually, after what had seemed to have been an eternity, he saw a spot of yellow on the horizon. Naruto had indeed returned today as had been expected. There had been times he hadn't however, in order to throw off the Akatsuki and any other potential captors.

As he watched, the spot of yellow became a wild thatch of hair - not that he could talk - atop the head of a small figure in the distance which steadily grew larger as Naruto approached. After the small figure grew to be human sized as the distance between them closed, Naruto finally reached the gate several minutes after he first appeared. Upon spotting him standing near the gate as he signed in, Naruto paused for a moment and nodded. He nodded back, and Naruto continued on his way.

His vigil over, he headed off to the park for some playtime on the swings before his visit with Fugaku was over and he had to return the boy to his mother who cared for him because she was in Konoha 24/7 unlike him.

One day, maybe...But, for now, that was the way things were, and they worked.

Naruto was glad to be back in Konoha once again. Over the last three years, his returns to Konoha had been exceedingly sporadic, and he hadn't been allowed to stay long. Jiraiya had told him that this had been in order to keep both him and the village less at risk, as the Akatsuki would be less likely to attack Konoha to get him if they didn't have any idea whether or not he would be there. The Akatsuki could still attack Konoha while he was away, but without him there, there was less of a reason for them to do so, as it would be exceedingly unwise for a bunch of missing-nin no matter how powerful to antagonize the villages without getting something big out of it in return. If they could manage to hold on to it that was...

After signing in at the gate and giving Sasuke his obligatory greeting, he smiled as he continued towards Ichiraku Ramen. When Kiba had first told him that Sasuke had pulled that stick out of his ass during one of his prior visits, he hadn't believed him. It had actually taken him a couple of visits which had included encounters with the bastard to accept Kiba's claim as true. Having kids had apparently helped significantly when it came to Sasuke's rectal stickectomy, as Sasuke seemed more relaxed and at peace with the world when he had one of his three brats in his arms.

He was sure that the fact that Sasuke had brought one of his children near the gate when he'd waited for him was significant somehow, especially considering the number of kidnapping attempts that had been made since the first of the children had been born. As it was, there had been five ANBU discreetly hiding nearby when he'd arrived. The large number of ANBU had been a necessary precaution, since there couldn't be any risks taken with the Uchiha clan now, especially with Itachi still being on the loose, and Orochimaru supposedly still being obsessed with capturing Sasuke for some reason.

Deciding to shelve the mystery of why Sasuke would get so close to the village gate with one of his precious offspring for later, he took his usual seat at his favorite Ramen stand. He couldn't have picked a more opportune time to do so, since Iruka-sensei had been grabbing a quick lunch when he arrived, and had been happy to see him.

After he'd finished his customary fifteen bowls of ramen and Iruka-sensei had gone his own way, he headed out in search of his friends and teammates as he usually did shortly after he arrived on one of his all too short visits to the village of his birth. He soon found Suzume, Sakura, and Ino sparring at one of the training grounds. As soon as they registered his presence, they quickly broke up their three-way match to greet him. Suzume looked very much as she always did, Ino had changed her hairstyle sometime since the last time he was back, and Sakura was wearing long sleeves which was surprising considering the weather and the fact that she preferred to wear short-sleeved shirts and dresses.

Ah, of course. It would seem that Sakura had attained the goal that had been her reason for joining the Ninja Academy in the first place back before she'd filled her head with all of that nonsense about becoming Mrs. Uchiha. Short sleeves wouldn't be adequate to cover the tattoo.

"Congratulations Sakura" he said after all the greetings had been made and excited hugs exchanged between him, Suzume, and Sakura.

The slight widening of the girl's eyes, and the swiftly aborted move her hand made towards her arm had been all of the confirmation he needed. Sakura was indeed to be congratulated, as she had proven herself to be one of the best Shinobi in the village, as the best and those who had the potential to br the best were usually the ones who caught the Hokage's eye when it came to certain postings and assignments.

After catching up on current events for a while, he, Suzume, Sakura, and Ino fell to sparring. Eventually they all fell to the grass either completely exhausted or feigning such. Sakura had shown phenomenal improvement since her days on Team 7, but that was to be expected considering her new status.

"So, where's Satoshi?" he asked when the girls had all caught their breath.

"He's at home." Suzume replied, looking worried for some reason.

He'd heard that Satoshi had been having some problems, but they couldn't have gotten that bad, could they?

He soon took his leave of the trio, and headed for Satoshi's house. There had been a time when he had not even been allowed to set foot on the front porch of his former teammate's home, but over the years, Satoshi's family had gradually allowed him inside, and had invited him to dine with them on a couple of occasions.

Satoshi was upstairs in his room, sleeping of all things which, considering the looks that Satoshi's parents had been shooting at his door, was quite likely cause for concern. Satoshi eventually opened his door after a couple minutes of knocking, and hadn't looked too happy as he did so. Upon spotting him, Satoshi's mood rapidly changed from surly to extremely happy, and he pulled him into the room before shutting the door once more. As he seated himself on the only chair in the room, Satoshi started telling him what he'd been up to while he'd been gone.

He frowned as he listened to Satoshi's tale of his most recent exploits. This was getting worrisome. Satoshi - as he'd learned soon after he'd joined the team - had always been a thief and a gambler, but it seemed to have gotten worse over the years. Now, it seemed that stealing and frequenting the gambling halls, both legal and not was taking up all of his time outside of missions rather than the few hours a week it used to. The books and the rocks that Satoshi had so treasured when Naruto had first met him sat on their shelves untouched and gathering dust. Satoshi's skills with a sword had dulled as well, as he had seen when his friend had displayed a particularly fine weapon he'd won off of another shinobi in a foreign gaming hall. Someone who didn't know him probably wouldn't have noticed the last, but he'd known Satoshi for years, and because he'd known him for so long, the decrease in skill that seemed to be the result of a lack of practice was blatantly obvious.

What had happened to his friend?

When he joined Tetsuo-sensei and his family for dinner that evening, that had been one of the questions he'd asked. Tetsuo-sensei didn't know exactly what had happened to trigger it, but he had known what was going on with him, having seen several good shinobi become like Satoshi and worse over his career, his old friend Morishita included. Shinobi often indulged in various vices as a form of stress relief, and sometimes - quite often in fact - the shinobi would become addicted to said vices and they would start to control them, eating into training time and dulling their senses until they became a danger to both themselves and their teammates. There had been any number of cautionary tales attached to the reasons why a ninja shouldn't overindulge in the Three Shinobi Vices, but it had taken seeing Satoshi as he was for them to finally be driven home. With youth comes a sense of immortality, and his hadn't faded quite yet despite the number of horrors he'd seen in his short life.

He was glad to learn that Morishita-san who had lost two of her Genin in the Chunin Exams in Kiri several years ago had finally gotten help, and was getting herself clean and sober. Unfortunately, it was far too late for her to salvage her career, and it had been strongly suggested that she voluntarily retire before they removed her from the active duty roster themselves. Hopefully Satoshi would get help before something like that happened to him. He'd do his best to help his friend so he hopefully wouldn't turn out like Morishita, but he couldn't be around all the time, and if Satoshi didn't want help, there wasn't really all that much he could do for him.

Despite the rarity of such visits and the levity that usually came with them, it was with a sad heart and a troubled mind that he bid his sensei goodnight and headed back to his apartment which had lain vacant for several months. For several hours after he'd gone through his nightly routine and turned in for the night, he lay in bed unable to sleep. He would have to find a way to sleep somehow despite the thoughts that were preying upon him though. Jiraiya had only given him today off, and had turned him loose while he went to report to the Hokage. Tomorrow, there would be training, and possibly missions. If he wasn't at the very least somewhat rested, he could become inattentive, and therefore a danger to himself and his teammates. But still, Satoshi...

Edited 4/21/13