Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto and I make no profit from writing this fanfic.

(AN): Okay. So it seems you guys prefer to have "The White Snake" started before "The General". Fair enough.

Re "Are you still writing this story?":


So I know that I've been a pretty shitty writer the last few months. I wrote up so much in so short a time and then pretty much died for like half a year. I'm sorry. There really are no excuses for that sort of idiocy and laziness. I can't say that I was busy with my work or my university or my friends. That'd be a cover-up. While I have been busy doing all those things, it's not so busy that I couldn't have written if I wasn't a lazy fuck. I'm sorry for all my dedicated readers that have been hanging on for months now patiently (or impatiently) for my updates. Thank you for you perseverance.

That being said, my solemn promise to you is that I will never abandon a story without ensuring that I've informed my readership. If a story goes without an update for a significant period of time, check my profile. If I haven't posted anything else in a long time, then if you're worried you should send me a line – because if I don't reply within a week I've probably died or become seriously ill.

Alright. Enough moping. On with the show!

"I never really liked Sasuke, but all the same, he's a member of Konoha; he's a comrade and I'll put my life on the line to help him, that's the way of our village. I know I usually seem like a pretty lazy guy but not today, because now I'm responsible for your lives too." – Shikamaru Nara

"It's about time you imbeciles got here."

Tsunade's voice cracked like a whip, splitting the atmosphere of Team Seven's ingrained interactions. Naruto and Sasuke immediately ceased their nostalgic exchange of biting insults. Pulling her fist out of Sai's gut, Sakura whistled with faux innocence while the Root ANBU choked silently. Kakashi's book remained steadfastly in view, but the observant Hokage noted his visible eye was no longer staring at the pages.

Craning his head back, Shikamaru drew in a gaping yawn before dropping his bleary gaze to take in the latecomers. Team Seven was the last team of their graduating year to join their ensemble – plus one ANBU Root member and a team instructed by a man with too much fascination with lurid green jumpsuits.

Sharingan eyes briefly drilled into the lazy Nara's, before pointedly fading to black and cutting back to the Godaime. Shikamaru took in the hint: There were more interesting things happening, so he'd best pay attention.

A thin smile grew on the Hokage's lips as the errant focus of the stragglers centred on her.

"If you are all quite done," she bit out, sarcasm colouring her tone; "We have some things to discuss."

Threading her fingers together, Tsunade cleared her throat.

"As you all know, there is an organization taking a strong interest in Naruto, and it's not the friendly kind. And indeed all the tailed beasts." Her brown eyes narrowed, darting speculatively over the Uchiha head's form before pinning a fidgeting Kiba with a stern look. "Certain information has passed into our hands regarding Akatsuki – its members, its strength, but precious little as to their true goal."

Kakashi surreptitiously slid his dog-eared copy of Icha Icha into his pocket. Playfully annoying his superiors and subordinates was a great source of amusement to the last of the Hatake. But there some situations that impressed the need for professionalism.

"Permitting Akatsuki to capture jinchuuriki, to extract their bijuu for some unknown purpose, and then leave their corpses rotting is not in the interest of Konoha or any of the Hidden Villages."

A lance of killing intent rocked through the room, drawing all gazes to a slit-eyed Naruto that was visibly grinding her teeth. The Yondaime's student dropped a settling hand over the back of her neck, silently warning the girl to rein in her anger. Swallowing tightly, the Yondaime's child repressed her murderous intent, and the heavy atmosphere dissipated.

Shooting an annoyed glare at the Hokage, Kakashi choked back his own spurt of instinctive anger. The older blonde knew very well that Naruto had a very strong feeling of kinship with her fellow hosts, despite never having met the majority of them.

The language was incendiary to the extreme, spoken in such a way as to inflame Naruto. The Hatake understood why she had done it – to motivate the admittedly scatterbrained Uzumaki heir, but he felt it was quite unnecessary to needle his student in such a way.

Tsunade gave Naruto a distinctly unimpressed look, blowing out a sigh and shuffling her papers together with a facade of normalcy. The tension in the air began to ebb, and the Hokage killed it entirely by proceeding with a "Thus I've decided that it would be the best option if we were to take preventative measures."

"Asuma!" she barked, and a scroll went flying through the air. Catching it with a bemused expression, Team Ten's jonin cocked an eyebrow. "You'll be pursuing Hidan and Kakuzu. Those dossiers are as complete as we can make them, drawing from our own resources, Itachi's observations and Orochimaru's research." The Sandaime's son pocketed the scroll with a nod.

"Teams Ten and Eight!" Snapping to attention, the two groups of shinobi thrummed with anticipating energy. "You're with Sarutobi. Set out as soon as possible."

Honey eyes narrowed, and the Godaime instructed in a low tone. "Be careful. You're tracking after two S-class nukenin who have been trained killers since before you were alive. Your goal is elimination. Standing orders for retrieval of the bodies for the purpose of research are rescinded. Considering their abilities, I don't trust their bodies to stay dead and I don't want those bastards within a hundred leagues of our walls unless we have no other choice. Dismissed!"

Bowing respectfully, half the shinobi in the room turned and filed out in silence. Somber looks dominated most faces, save Asuma who wore a pensive look, and the pure calculation written in Shikamaru's face.

Fingers threading, the last Senju turned to the remaining shinobi and gave a thin smile. "Kakashi, you're team leader here. And Gai is your second. After that..." Tsunade's lips tugged down in an instinctive frown of thought. A twitch of nervousness in her toes was all that declared her anxiety. "After that Uchiha has command. Further succession is up to you to decide on your own time."

Another scroll leapt through the air, snatched up deftly by Kakashi and dropped in the front pocket of his vest. "Your target is Hoshigaki Kisame. Be wary – he's been called a bijuu without a tail enough, and with reason. The man has an absurd amount of chakra. Don't underestimate him. Policy regarding the retrieval of his body stands, but take special care with that sword of his. The sword of one of the Kiri no Shinobigatana Shichinin Shū has a lot of value."

Tsunade's tongue wet her lips, glistening and pink. "Samehada must come to Konohagakure. Both for study and for leverage. You're dismissed. Set out as soon as you can."

"Hai Hokage-sama!" came the crisp reply, more grudgingly from some than from others, and the group filed out. The last thing Tsunade saw as the door shut behind them was a pair of red eyes, tomoe swirling contemplatively.

Running her hand down her face, the Godaime sagged, tension running out of her like effervescence. Warmth settled on the back of her neck, callused fingertips pressing into her muscles with the ease of long practice. "They're young Jiraiya. Too young."

A snort of laughter. "Oh aye. And we're too old eh, Tsunade-hime?"

She hummed her agreement, letting her old teammate force her into a state of relaxation. She supposed it was trust that made Jiraiya one of the few that would be able to touch such a vulnerable spot without losing a hand.

But only when he wasn't being a raging pervert.

"Are you sure that Uchiha brat is ready for that kind of responsibility?"

Jiraiya's hand stilled as his Hokage sighed and rose to her feet, large strides taking her across to stare out the window.

"Who else could it have been Jiraiya?" the blonde frowned. "If Gai and Kakashi died, who else could have brought them back? Lee? He would've been beside himself with grief and rage after his sensei died, and in no condition to lead anyone to anything. Sakura has seen people die in the hospital, but never someone she loved – and she'd be like Lee. Tenten doesn't have the enough strength or respect from the others to force them back home instead of vengeance."

"Naruto would be a seething wreck, and the Kyuubi would be taking advantage of that." The Toad Sennin muttered, and the Slug Sennin nodded with agreement.

"That just leaves Uchiha and Hyuuga." Tsunade shook out her hair. "They've both capable enough, and cold fish. But I'd put more faith in Uchiha's ability to drag Naruto back home than Hyuuga's. And for all of Hyuuga's prodigal talent, he doesn't have the instinct for murder Uchiha has. I don't know if he learned it from Orochimaru or his brother, but I suspect Sasuke would drag the team home kicking and screaming and go back out on his own for vengeance. And if there's one thing that boy is practised at, it's chasing revenge."

"Well I just hope you know what you're doing." Jiraiya grunted, and vanished in a swirl of leaves.

The woman replied to the empty air.

"I hope so too."

His foot settled in the mud, crushing a pair of expensive sunglasses it's the blood soaked ground, and he knelt. Fingers settled over dark skin, pressing into the hollow of the throat, and he held his breath. Listening, feeling, praying.


Killer B stared up at the sky sightlessly, his corpse spreadeagled and broken. The cavity of his chest had been torn open, his ribs cracked open to pull out his lungs and settle them bloody and mangled off to the sides.

Sasuke hoped that he'd been dead before being so mutilated. He took comfort in the assumption that the extraction would have been painful but fatal, and his erstwhile acquaintance would have been dead before their masked enemy had so totally destroyed his flesh.

If anything, he should have been glad that Tobi had wasted time and rage on it, so comfortable at the end in his total victory that he'd not taken caution.

His trail was fresh, and Sasuke rose to his feet in anticipation. The hunt was in earnest, and it all came rushing to the end.

To death or to vengeance. And if he died, the world would end.

The ground exploded behind him as he vanished, chakra enhanced burst of speed kicking up the mud.

If he'd had sake, he would've made a toast.

"To the end of everything."

Suigetsu was sipping tea, enjoying the subtle fluctuations in taste the more expensive herb gave his taste buds as compared to cheaper blends when Sasuke's foot slammed in one side of his head and out the other.

"A tea connoisseur?" Taka's leader drawled. "Really now Suigetsu? How womanly of you." As his head reformed from the strike, the Hozuki turned and snarled at the Uchiha, shark teeth bared. He almost missed Juugo's amused addendum.

"Oh yes. He makes such a good housewife for Karin. A real Yamato Nadeshiko that one is."

Sasuke's snort of amusement was drowned out by twin cries of rage as Suigetsu and Karin jumped at Juugo, piling onto the cursed man with cursing and swinging fists.

"I'll show you Yamato Nadeshiko!"

"Paired with that moron? Not a chance!"

"You think I'd go anywhere near that stupid bitch?"

Sasuke's voice sliced through like cold steel, accompanied by a thrust of killing intent and bloody red eyes. "Enough. Be idiots on your own time."

Rubbing her cheek with a sullen look, Karin was the first to rise from the pile of tangled limbs and cross the room to collapse in her violently vacated chair. Suigetsu merely turned into water and flowed away from Juugo to lounge carelessly on the floor. Alone, Juugo rose and leaned into the wall, folding his arms over his chest.

Three pairs of eyes watched Taka's leader with careful consideration.

"I'm leaving on a mission." Sasuke told them crisply, continuing over their exclamations of dismay. "Juugo, I expect you'll be staying here to continue Tsunade's work with your condition. And Karin will continue her studies to learn medical jutsu. As for Suigetsu..."

Wordlessly, the Uchiha held out an empty water bottle. The Kiri-nin stared at it in comprehension, before understanding dawned and he shook his head.

"Oh no, not a chance."


"I am not!"

"Yes, you are."

"Sasuke, I don't care how much of a fuckin' big shot you are! I'm not getting inside a damn fucking water bottle."

"We're going after Samehada."

And silence reigned.

Suigetsu regarded him with an inscrutable look. Sasuke stared back, and slowly shook the bottle.

Growling, Suigetsu melted into water and flew across the room, slamming into the nozzle to squeeze inside the water bottle. "This better be damn well worth it Sasuke!" his voice echoed out, thin and ghostly.

The other two in the room looked like they were barely holding in their laughter.

"I'll be keeping you with me until the fight." Sasuke muttered to the liquified shinobi. "I've taken the liberty of having the bottle expanded through seals, so it shouldn't be too uncomfortable while you wait. But it's absolutely essential to keep you as my hidden kunai. I've never faced Kisame in battle before, and I have no idea how good he truly is."

Red orbs glared at the other two as he screwed the cap back on the bottle. "Needless to say, I expect you two to keep quiet about me smuggling Kiri-nin in and out of Konoha'." They nodded in acceptance, and Sasuke spun about and left hurriedly. He couldn't afford to dally.

Juugo and Karin managed to wait until his footsteps faded away before breaking out in laughter, howling with mirth as tears streaked down their faces.

"So. Would either of you care to explain to me how you can get into a fight with a bunch of kidnappers a few days ago and I have to find out from my spies of spies?" A's voice was low and dangerous, anger building slow like a pot brought to boil. "Konoha found out about it before I did. Konoha!"

Yugito winced, looking instinctively at the Raikage's brother to bail them out. Surely he was able to explain in such a way that their boss wouldn't order them confined for a vacation in a interrogation cell? The Kunoichi had no such luck.

"What can I say bro? It's not my fault your spies can't keep you in the know." The Hachibi's jinchuuriki replied breezily, giving a lazy shrug.

"Not your fault?" A whispered, hands loosening, before clenching tight around his ink pot. "Not your fault?" he roared, and the pot flew, narrowingly missing Yugito to smash into the wall, dark splotches spreading. "You stupid, thankless fool! I'm your brother and you can't even be bothered to keep me in the loop when you're going out to fight S-ranked nukenin?"

Killer B looked distinctly unimpressed.

"You turn around and tell me we're family, and you constantly do things like this! Hiding things from me, lying to my face, beating around the bush. I'm your brother – and your Raikage, but I guess that means nothing to you does it?"

A launched into a rant, obviously a long time in coming, and Killer B bore it all stoically with the air of one long practised in the skill of nonchalance. Yugito couldn't help but feel like an intruder, and she couldn't help but feel relieved as the Raikage wound down into a tired silence, staring at his brother through disappointed dark eyes before sighing.

"Get out."

They went, turning the stairs of the Raikage's tower to the ground floor and out onto the streets below. With nothing else really in mind, Yugito followed her elder jinchuuriki through Kumo's orderly streets and joined him when he ducked into a dango shop. Killer B ordered with automatic responses, ignoring the elderly proprietor's sympathetic smile as he gulped down his ordered food and carefully sipped on his ordered tea.

Only then did he break the silence between them. "You know, for years now my brother and I would fight. And after every fight, I'd come here for dango and tea and think it over."

"If it bothers you so much, maybe you should simply stop fighting with him?" the blond muttered, leaning back into the counter and watching the street with a shinobi's eyes.

"I can't."

A thin gold eyebrow rose in question.

"One thing you have to understand about my brother is that he's arrogant." Killer B stared down into the steaming cup, his lack of rhymes speaking as to his seriousness.

"He believes the legacy of a Raikage is what advancements they leave behind, and because of that he's always spent his time leaving behind the sharpest blade for the village. And he's succeeded. And because he's been a good Raikage, he thinks he's immune to mistakes. He doesn't exert himself to keep questioning the information he's given. If he learns something, he will accept it and move on. Because he feels that he needs to keep ahead of others, and if he spends time being cautious he thinks he'll loose that lead."

"And by keeping yourself and what you do hidden, you ensure he spends time scrutinizing the information he's given more closely – if only to ensure you're not getting up to things behind his back." Yugito completed. "Clever."

"Yes." the dark-skinned man agreed, swallowing back the last of his herbal remedy and giving a grin as he shot to his feet.

"Alright little cat, we've got some more planning to do – stat!" And he rushed out into the street, leaving her to follow behind with an air of bemusement.

Sasuke, despite his best efforts, was still the last person to reach the gates of Konoha. It was Neji who noticed him first, pale eyes regarding him with silent contemplation before he inclined his head in acknowledgement. The Hyuuga hadn't ever really cared for him before, but if Sasuke was truly going to aid his cousin in changing the clan, he could afford to give the Uchiha Clan Head some measure of real respect.

Then it was Naruto, favouring her teammate with a smile over her shoulder, the sun rising in her eyes and Sasuke didn't spare much thought for anything else as he crossed the distance to join his team.

"About time you got here, eh teme?" the whiskered girl hooted. Sasuke grunted, not wanting to start up an exchange of amusing insults before they'd even left Konoha. His mind drifted to the bottle containing Suigetsu stashed in his pack, and he reconsidered the Hyuuga. If anyone would notice anything awry, it would be Neji.

Luckily the teen didn't bother to have his Byakugan activated.

The Uchiha's ears tuned out the boasts that Gai was making to his Eternal Rival, as well as Lee's fervent exclamations of faith, and took in his team.

All in all, it seemed a bit overkill to him, considering the various prodigies and aces loaded on the squad, but undoubtedly it was all for the better. At least it made it easier for him to keep Naruto safe. Especially from such a shinobi as Kisame.

That one was dangerous.

"Alright." Kakashi called out, silencing all the small talk between them. "Now that we're all here, it's time to move out. Remember your orders. And don't go rushing off anywhere without us. Kisame is a dangerous one, and I'd hate to have to bring any of you back in pieces."

His one visible eye crinkled in amusement before Kakashi turned and led the way, leaping off into the trees at speed. Sasuke followed, tension slowly building in his mind as he began to debate battle plans in his mind.

Sharingan and Byakugan kept an eye on their surroundings, working together for the first time in history without enmity as the group vanished into the forest.

The sparrow landed on his windowsill, feathers aflutter and scuttled curiously. Talons clicked as it curiously moved from one end of the mahogany to the other, and the bird trilled.

Itachi sighed, Mangekyo eyes tracing over the creature's body and taking in the variation of length in individual feathers. Cocking its head at him, the sparrow considered him before erring on the side of of caution and fleeing back out the open window. Lids lowered over his eyes, and the Uchiha pressed fingers over his eyes.

The level of detail he took in through Shisui's eyes was excruciatingly absurd; much more than even his own had been able to perceive when they were at their healthiest. And he'd been used to having less than healthy eyes for a very long time. It was a price he'd paid for his sins, and to have all that washed away...

He didn't like it. Not even when it was Sasuke who was responsible. But unless he wanted to compromise his effectiveness in protecting and aiding his brother by destroying his eyes, he'd have to learn to deal with it.

Rising from his seat, Itachi strode across the room to stand at the window and took in the view. His Sharingan took apart the scene for threats; and failing to detect any, faded to black with a last lazy swirl.

Itachi's first instinct was to trail after his brother, unseen and unheard until he was needed. Kisame was a powerful enemy, and despite his best efforts there remained an uncomfortable thrill of anxiety in the pit of his stomach.

Digging his fingers into the wood sill, the raven shook his head. He'd have to place his trust in Sasuke. His instinct was to protect, but he couldn't ignore the trembling in his limbs or the pain in his head or the way that his lungs burned whenever he walked too long.

He was too weak and too ill, and without the numbing poison he'd been taking he stood little chance of defeating an enemy like his former partner.

A thin smirk grew on his lips.

When Sasuke had been younger and less experienced, Kisame would have eaten him alive. But a Sasuke who'd fought a decade of war and ruled Konohagakure?

Perhaps his little brother would be having shark fin soup after all.

Creaking; the branch sagged down beneath his weight as his knees curled up before kicking down, launching him forward several yards to crouch on another bough.

Shikamaru yawned.

The Nara had been turning over various plans in his mind, weighing risk and reward as the day had passed on. Sunlight filtered through from the West, shining true or rebounding off leaves to light up the forest in a show of green and gold, and a hint of red with the dusk.

"We'll stop here." Asuma called over his shoulder, and dropped to the forest floor. Following close behind, Hinata took in the trees around them before silently deactivating her kekkai genkai. Taking that as a sign of clear surroudings, the Sarutobi motioned the circling shinobi above to join them in short order.

Cigarette smoke had filled his lungs by the time they landed, and the bearded jonin exhaled a white cloud. It took two more puffs to settle his nerves to a state of relaxation.

Giving Shikamaru a lazy smile, Asuma jerked his head in the direction of a crop of boulders at the outer ring of the clearing. The Nara teen's dark eyes stared at him, and the boy gave a shrug of agreement. Detaching from the scurrying group as they began to set up camp, the pair crossed the clearing and sunk down against the stone.

Silence hung between them as Asuma wordlessly offered a cigarette to Shikamaru, who just as wordlessly refused it.



Sucking in the last bit of smoke, Asuma blew out his last cloud in his student's face, and dropped the stick to the ground to be crushed under the heel of his boot.

Shikamaru; long used to his sensei's habits, simply watched and waited.

"Do you have any plans to deal with them?"

And the Nara heir looked away, threading his fingers together as he watched the bustle of their team's activity with a blank expression.

"It's not easy to kill the immortal."

"I would expect not. That's why I'm asking you."

"Troublesome." Chewing his bottom lip, Shikamaru turned over his plans mentally one last time before sighing "I suppose I have an idea."

"You suppose?" The look on Asuma's face was wry, smirk twitching and eyebrow cocked.

"Yes. I suppose. So stop making troubling interruptions and I'll tell you." Taking the moment of silence as acquiescence, he pushed on. "There's two of them, obviously. So we'll need to make a distraction and take down one at a time. Hidan will be the harder one to kill, but he's the stupid one too. Kakuzu is the smart one, but he's the greedy one, - or so I've read. And there's a pretty big bounty on your head."

Asume blinked, and motioned for the younger male to continue.

Implicitly accepting his role as bait.

Muttering "Right." the Nara swallowed back his distaste for putting a comrade on the line. "So you'll need to 'appear'. As soon as Kakuzu goes for you, I'll immobilize Hidan with my Kagemane. That will give Ino the time to take his body with her Shinranshin. After we net him, the rest of the team can ambush Kakuzu. We'll need to keep him off his feet and do our best to get rid of him before Ino's jutsu fails. If we can kill him, it will be a lot easier to dispatch Hidan. If we can't in time, then we'll need to take off Hidan's head before Ino loses control entirely."

"And in that case, if we have to retreat at least we do so with one target down." Asuma nodded. "The plan seems sound. Do you want to pitch it to the team or do you want me to?"

Picking at the dirt under his nails, Shikamaru shook his head. And with a pat on the student's shoulder, the older man climbed to his feet and left the Nara to go call a team meeting and explain the plan.

Shikamaru supposed he'd ought to be glad that his sensei was taking the responsibility himself. Leaving him behind to come to terms with a plan that purposely put one of his precious people in danger. Trying to kill the itching sensation of foreboding and fear.

It was hours later, when he'd eaten a mechanical dinner that he was leaning forward to stare down into the campfire as the flames burned lower and lower, and at last went out that he was able to sleep.

Ashes to ashes.

The red light that glinted from Sasuke's eyes was for once not that of a murderous bloodline spanning back centuries of insanity and murder. Red gold flames glinted off obsidian, and Naruto turned her face back down to scarf her dinner with single minded determination.

She didn't care how pretty that bastard looked in the firelight.

She didn't.

So Naruto stared at Neji instead.

Neji stared back, thin eyebrows arching over milky orbs as he slowly spooned the rest of his meal. And then calmly set his bowl with the rest of the dirtied dishes and fled into the night to go 'scouting', unwilling to be party to a childish staring contest.

Blue eyes shifted across to Tenten, who'd watched the exchange with an amused expression. The bun-haired girl tilted her head before spinning away to stare out into the darkness. As far as it concerned her, Naruto could go find someone else to stare at.

So Naruto did, peering at Sakura, who scowled back. Satisfied with her newest partner, the blonde gave a fierce frown, and absorbed herself in making faces at her female teammate. She'd almost forgotten her male partner until he strode past and casually ran fingers through her mane.

The Uzumaki was unsure if it was the burning of her face, the intimidating attention Sasuke paid, or the high peals of laughter Sakura burst into that drove her to dive into her tent and wrap herself in her blankets.

Despite her lack of social experience, the jinchuuriki was intimately familiar with the feeling of embarrassment and intimidation. And for all her courage in regards to pounding faces into the dirt, Naruto didn't have a whole lot of courage when it came to amorous interactions.

She was an old hand at rejection and isolation, and acceptance was a disconcerting elixir.

Snuggling further into her faded orange blankets, Naruto listened absently as the conversation and noise outside her tent wound down until all was silent save the chirping of the crickets.

When the flap of her tent crinkled open, and Sasuke crawled inside, the Uzumaki's heart gave a frenzied shudder, leaping into action. Her previously languid thoughts churned madly, and for the first time in several weeks Naruto felt fit to vomit from nervousness. What if he pressed her for touches? For sex? Would she even be willing to turn him down? And if she did, would he leave? What if he left because of her? Left behind again, abandoned again, because she was a prude with no social skills?

So when the Uchiha sunk down behind her and threw a lazy arm over her waist, the girl froze. But when he buried his face in her hair, she relaxed, because here was a Sasuke she was getting to know. Most of his faces were ones she knew.

Sasuke the Bastard smirked and sneered and made arrogant remarks, and she turned a barbed tongue back to give him as good as she got. Unless he was jousting with someone else, in which cases it was safe to give in to the bubbling laughter.

Sasuke the Avenger cursed and swore and trained until his hands bled, and she trained with him to push them both as far as they could get before their knees gave out. And when they fought together, it was back to back until they destroyed all their foes.

Uchiha-sama watched her with cool eyes and a disappointed frown and told her that they'd make a Hokage out of her yet. And she knew the implication that she wasn't good enough yet, and that she needed to work harder to get him to stop looking at her so chillingly.

But there were faces she didn't know. She didn't know the Sasuke that laughed like insanity boiled over with blood streaking down his face as he murdered without remorse. The Sasuke who promised to kill the world for her.

Neither did she know the Sasuke the pressed her into the walls and kissed her like fire and made her want to weep in desire and fear as he touched her and demanded answers from her.

This Sasuke was one she met rarely and craved all the more for it. The Sasuke who murmured softly and pulled her in his arms and made her feel safe. The safety of being protected by someone who considered her precious. Only Iruka-sensei had ever stood between her and the world like that and let her know he would die to defend her.

It was odd, for someone so used to standing alone and breaking anyone who tried to hurt her.

But Naruto supposed that when it was Sasuke, she could roll over and press her face into his chest. Smelling the scent of fire and lightning and listening to the slow steady drum of his heart as it pushed his blood through his veins.

So she did.

And Sasuke's arms encircled her and pulled her tightly against him. She felt content.

Though she didn't know how they were going to explain it to the others in the morning.

As it turned out, there was very little explaining she'd have to bother with. By the time Kakashi poked his head in to order her into wakefulness, Sasuke was gone, leaving only the fading warmth where he had lain behind.

Giving a jaw-cracking yawn, the blonde stretched. One hand came up to feebly attempt to comb her bed-mussed hair into a semblance of order as Naruto crawled forth.

"Hurry it up Naruto." Kakashi nudged, pushing the blond forward. Rubbing her eyes, Naruto nodded sleepily. "Going to take a piss." the blonde called as she vanished, and Sakura snorted.

The medic decided to forgo a rant on propriety when her teammate returned, and only favoured the girl with a silent nod as they packed up Naruto's tent with military precision.

Sasuke waited impatiently as the two worked, left behind to ensure that Naruto didn't decide to take a short nap while the rest of the team scouted out the area.

"Kakashi decided that when it comes to Kisame, we're going to go in loud."

Stilled momentarily by the unexpected tenor of Sasuke's voice, Naruto blinked. "That right?" the blond questioned as she finished tying off her canvas.

"Yeah. Kakashi-sensei thinks that since Kisame was involved in guarding and smuggling the Angōbu of Kiri, he's probably most skilled at detected and evasion than any of us except perhaps sensei himself." Sakura chimed, standing and cracking her knuckles.

The Uzumaki grinned. "So I guess that means we can bust in there and kick his ass, neh?" Sticking her tongue out at Sasuke, the girl taunted "Don't worry Sasuke-chan. I'll make sure that no one can touch your pansy ass."

"No one but you, you mean." the pink-haired girl muttered as she peered up at the canopy. Naruto coloured and began to sputter as Sasuke smirked triumphantly. He hadn't even needed to say anything and he had scored the point.

"Maa. Don't be making fun of Naruto-chan so much Sakura. I'm sure she has quite a few embarrassing tale to tell about you." The jonin ignored Sakura's protest and ordered the three to join them in the trees.

"Now, as I'm sure you all know by know – Gai and I are agreed that we'll be striking fast and striking hard when we find him. We should still be able to pick up some tracks, considering that Kiba-kun had a run in with him only a couple of weeks back while on patrol." Kakashi took in the group crouched on the branchs in front of him, the visible dark eye trailed from one face to the next until it settle on the teen with white eyes.

"Neji, after Sasuke the command is your's." The Hyuuga nodded. "If it comes down to someone being after Neji, I think perhaps at that point you should all just run like hell." His eye crinkled into a smile.

"Now why don't we go find what sort of clues our fishy friend left behind after he fought with Kiba-kun, shall we?"

Shikamaru trembled, whey-faced and sweating and drowning in grief and fear and rage. It hadn't been supposed to end this way!

The plan was simple and calculated. All Asuma-sensei had to do was step out in the street with his sash from the Shugonin Jūnishi. Kakuzu would notice him and make a comment to his partner about the bounty on the Sandaime's son. Hidan would complain loudly about the offence and worthlessness of pursuing money as a way of life. The two would argue until Shikamaru's shadow entrapped the Jashin-worshipper.

Ino's hands would flash into seals and send her mind careening out at the Akatsuki member, and mind would sink into the man's silver haired head and take control of him. And she had, until Kakazu had taken one frozen look at the pair of chuunin and turned his arms into twin seething masses of wire and struck.

Striking out at Asuma, sinking into and through him and tearing his heart from his chest in a splash of gore. And then all hell broke loose.

Howling with grief and rage, Chouji exploded into his human tank form, rolling murderously with one target in mind. A target who scoffed and dodged easily to the side, allowing the Akimichi to roll right by him.

Kiba's spiralling tsuuga was sent careening off to the side by a well placed strike, and the feral teen drove into a nearby building, scattering planks of wood along the street.

A brief expression of surprise flashed through the undead bounty hunter's eyes as his partner swung blindly at him through a haze of tears, Ino alternating between screaming hysterical murder and weeping in Hidan's body.

Striking swiftly, Kakuzu snapped the bones in Hinata's forearm with an awful crunch, ending her Jyuuken strike before it ever began. To her credit, the Hyuuga didn't scream, but rather withdrew with an expression of mingled pain and determination as she readied her other arm.

It was Shino that gave pause to the cloaked man, body landing limply on him before exploding into a cloud of kikai. The Aburame's kikai bunshin did it's murderous work, formerly docile insects turning carnivorous and boring into the man's flesh, seeking to consume a heart in exchange for one torn from their leader's chest.

Shadows entrapped Kakazu, who stood motionlessly with a stoic face as insects ran through his insides. The dark threads the lurked under his stitched flesh gave a heave and crushed the intruders without effort, but not until they'd ingested what they sought.

The glare he shot at Shino was chilling, and his skin gave one final seething push before opening up into a shivering cloud of black thread. Shikamaru stumbled, the rebound of broken shadows and broken hopes needling through him.

Dark hairs clouded over the field, settling onto Asuma's flesh to feed. And they could only watch and swallow the need to vomit when Kakazu departed his victim, leaving only bones with flesh and organs picked right out.

"Children." the bounty hunter scoffed, turning a curious eye toward Hidan as the Jashin-worshipper shuddered and finally broke the hold that the blonde Yamanaka had over his mind.

Shikamaru had just the presence of mind to shout "Take him out!" in a choked voice as the immortal fanatic stumbled.

Kiba answered, diving out of the wreckage like a ravaging spear and grinding into Hidan's back. The Tsuuga obliterated flesh and bone, and sent the silver-haired head flying across the street to land in the mud. The real Shino melted out of the shadows and scooped up the head by its hair, ignoring the cursing and swearing.

Landing on his feet in a crouch, the Inuzuka shook off the instinctive dizziness of his technique and glared across at the nukenin in front of him. Limbs showered down on the street, one landing in a nearby yard where a cowering dog snatched at it and ran around the house with a new chew toy between its teeth.

One for one. A Hokage's son for a apparently immortal priest. And Shikamaru felt ill and on the poor side of that particular bargain.

Kakazu favoured them with a glance of purest contempt, eyes flicking to the now useless bones of the Sandaime's second child. Without the flesh it was simply a skeleton, and no one would pay him for it.

So he turned and left.

Tossing a biting "Time is money, and you are not worth my time." over his shoulder, the nukenin strode off. His sour mood at having lost a bounty weighed by having gotten rid of a pest in a way that even Pein could not reprimand him for.

Collapsing to his knees as their enemy left the field, Shikamaru stared sightlessly at the empty sockets of Asuma's skull. Ino dropped beside him, sobbing into his vest and soaking it with her tears. Chouji settled a hand on both their shoulders as he stood over them, furious tears leaking from his usually warm eyes.

Kiba stood off to the side seething and watching down the road Kakuzu had vanished down. Hinata crouched eside him and attempted to bind her broken arm in a makeshift splint as best she could with one hand while peering in all directions with her kekkai genkai.

It was Shino that began the cool and methodological process of wrapping Asuma's bones in canvas, ignoring the hateful head of the immortal priest beside him as Hidan cursed and threatened them and his traitorous partner.

Shikamaru failed to notice any of this. Because it was Asuma's dark sockets that held him, that drove mourning into his chest like a flood and emptied him of everything but the pain and the dark flame of hate he would always carry for the man who'd slain someone he'd considered nearly a second father with nary a whimper.

The Nara wondered if what he felt was anything similar to what Sasuke had felt when his family had been killed.

The Aburame heir stood over him in the next blink, shifting his glasses in the way that told them he'd managed to glean some very important information in the short battle.

But Shikamaru was beyond caring.

There were no more words.

Porcelain shattered, spilling milk over the floor like a white stain. And Kurenai settled a hand over her stomach. Her child had given her one unexpected and painful kick, and the Genjutsu Mistress rubbed her stomach soothingly and sung a gentle ditty under her breath before pulling a towel from one of her kitchen drawers and tossing it over the mess she'd just made on the floor.

Reserve duty didn't agree with her, Kurenai realized. She was still too hair-triggered from a decade of constant active service. Taking a desk job at the Hokage's tower had been necessary to ensure a source of income while keeping her child safe. But it didn't stop her from reaching for a kunai every time someone or something surprised her.

And it didn't stop her from missing Asuma terribly while he was gone.

Soaking up the spilt milk in her cloth, Kurenai wrung out the dishtowel in her sink with a small smile. Asuma's face grinned back at her from the shelf above the sink, his arms wrapped around a much younger Kurenai as they posed for the camera. The pair had been immortalized in paper and ink – a type of sentimentality that Asuma had that she'd never expected from him when they first met.

"Really." the red eyed woman scoffed to the quiet room. "My boyfriend is such a hidden sap."

Asuma was even emotional enough to propose to her on occasion. She'd always turned the Sandaime's son down, but the womanly part of her that she often buried appreciated the offer. Kurenai was strong and independent, and she didn't need his name. She had one of her own.

Some part of her had grown strong over the months though. It'd whispered into her heart at night that she was keeping too much pride in herself. That marriage wasn't about submission, but rather about binding vows. Marriage didn't even necessitate her taking his name anyway.

"Yes." she decided before she could turn around and defeat her own arguments. "Yes."

The slender gold band he'd given her the first time he'd proposed was keep on a silver chain about her neck. It looked pretty enough, and she appreciated the thought behind it.

It looked prettier on her finger.

Rubbing a gentle palm across her swelling stomach, Kurenai grinned foolishly.

"Oh we shall have such a surprise for your father when he comes home."

(AN): 7114 words. And it turned out better than I'd expected really, for all the difficulty I had writing some parts and meeting the minimum. Amusingly, alcohol seems to make me more creative – or at least more motivated. I spent two weeks or more grinding out the first thousand words. Then I got drunk last night and crapped out 4000 or so.

Again, I'm really sorry about how long it's taken. (And I suppose I'll get drunk again on Wednesday and see If I can repeat my mad writing frenzy? Just for you faithful readers, I swear.)

It seems you cool cats vastly prefer the idea behind The White Snake over The General. And that's fair (even if I'm more partial to The General myself). I'll see what I can do when I finish this.

And yes, that's a promise. I will finish this. Both for my sake and for your's. Even If I have to drink and write, or even if I get so disinterested that my writing deteriorates to pure shite, I will finish this story.

Oh yes. Asuma dies. It goes to show that even time travel doesn't prevent anything if you're not on the ball. Anyone can die. And it all depends on how competent that Sasuke if. Kids, we're playing for real.

I hope to head off complaints about sky!Naruto. You do realize that Naruto is a socially inept virgin with absolutely no prior experience? Romance is thrilling and intimidating. And Sasuke is like a bi-polar Casanova with sociopathic tendencies. Add in the other stuff about Naruto never being loved for like a decade and you get this girl.

Now on to answer reviews I suppose?

Yugito and Killer B have their own memories up until their deaths. The demons have their ownad memories up until they merge with the Juubi. Theoretically – only the Juubi reformed would have access to the memories of the Juubi. That's not concrete. I may mix it up to give the demons fragments of the greater demon's memories, but as of now they don't.

Will Naruto remember the past? I don't know. That sounds like a spoiler. Maybe you should ask in PM if you really want to know.

Will Sasuke be evil again? Sasuke will be Sasuke. And there's little to good and evil for him save for what Naruto likes and what she dislikes.

"unbelievable, Uchiha takes down Madara and he gets taken down by a bunch of chuunin. " Yes, yes he does. The vast majority of Sasuke's skills land on a scale from extremely lethal to genocidal, and he's not much in the skill of fighting to win without damaging people a great deal weaker than him.

"fire is just hot gasses so really in the end for fire a fire and wind battle the one with the most momentum wins and havent you played pokemon ground(earth) is not affected by electric(lightning)" Fire is hot gases yes, but fire is hot because of energy. Energy flows from high to low – that's the second law of thermodynamics. Hot gas meeting cool gas will heat up the latter – or "air will burn" as it were. Grounded earth is not affected by lighting. And not because it's earth but because it's grounded and the current disperse through the mass of the entire earth. Zap an isolated ball of clay with a lightning bolt and it'll explode. Concentrated lightning on a wall of earth would shatter it by breaking the bonds between molecules.

And I guess that's it for now? Hope that this one is up to snuff. I promise not to leave you hanging this long next time.