-Disclaimer: Own nothing, make no money, you please no sue.

(AN): Summer, summer summer. Why is it that I can write so easily compared to before? It's a mystery.

"Your comrades will die on the battlefield! You have to be prepared for the worst! If you let it get to you, even more people will die! Turn one comrade's death into another's life! Got that rookie!?"
- Maito Gai

Bitter cleaning chemicals wafted through his nose, adding a painful thump to the headache pounding between Itachi's ears as he swam up from the depths of unconsciousness and opened his eyes.

White lights spun crazily, flickering in and out of clarity as the raven blinked crusty lachrymal buildup from the corners of his vision and struggled to sit up.

Only to be slammed back down onto the hospital bed when a hand reached out, snagged the collar of his gown, and yanked backwards.

Blinking slowly, Itachi turned his head to the side and stared into the impassive face of his younger brother. Seconds ticked by as Itachi flickered his gaze over Sasuke's form, taking in the unruffled appearance and freshly pressed white jacket. Only the faint dark rings colouring Sasuke's eye sockets told of sleepless nights.

Nostrils flared as Sasuke took in a short breath. "You," he rasped, dark eyes glittering with darker fury and a shadow of grief "Are an idiot. An utter moron of the highest order, the King of all fools!"

Snarling wordlessly the younger Uchiha made a quick abortive motion towards that older Uchiha's throat, wrapped up in heated anger and the need to strangle something.

Itachi rose a thin dark brow, carelessly calm and utterly patient with a touch of amusement as he waited for his more anger-prone brother to calm.

Sasuke slapped him with an open palm. The sound of flesh on flesh was shockingly loud in the quiet white hospital room.

Tension quavered in the air as Sasuke clenched a white knuckled shaking fist. "Damn it, Itachi." he raggedly sighed "You could have died! Would have died if Jiraiya hadn't decided to show up when he did."

Stiffening imperceptibly at the memory of the battle, with it's blood and burning pain and dismemberment, Itachi closed his eyes. His left hand fisted in the sheets, while his right -

There was no feeling.

Dark eyes shot open as Itachi allowed the faintest trickle of horror to jump in the tense line of his jaw. Steeling for the sight – because he had to see, had to acknowledge the severity of the damage – the Uchiha craned his head down to gaze at his limb.

Only to stop when Sasuke reached out and seized his chin in one hand and settle the other hand on Itachi's elbow. Sasuke's nail dug almost painfully into his jaw, whitening the skin under the pressure of his fingertips.

Dark eyes met dark eyes, and Sasuke frowned. Guilt crawled into the corners of Sasuke's expression as he cast a glance down at the cloth draped limb.

"I had it reattached." Sasuke confessed, staring blankly at the wall opposite. "Maybe you would have wanted it left off but I thought it... wouldn't look as bad." he finished, grimacing before meeting Itachi's blank gaze.

Releasing his grip a moment later, Sasuke leaned back in his chair and watched as Itachi drew his right arm up and held it over his head.

A thick red ropy scar curled around Itachi's forearm, cutting around the limb in an inflamed diagonal loop. The skin below the scar was noticeably paler than that above, white and waxy as a corpse under the unforgiving light of the hospital lamps.

Itachi ignored the queasy feeling that roiled through his gut at the sight and reached out a tentative hand to touch it. Surprising warmth suffused the limb, traveling down to his drooping fingers and turning the beds under his nails a faint pink.

But his right arm couldn't feel the touch from his left.

Attempting to clench his limp right hand into a seal, or a fist, or anything yielded no results. The fingers curled easily enough under his questing grip. Itachi turned a questioning look on his younger brother.

"When Kisame cut it, he didn't just cut it off."Sasuke answered, a faint line of pity curling the corners of his mouth down and softening his eyes. "He destroyed everything. Muscles, nerves, bone, veins. It was reattached, but you'll never be able use it for anything again."

The dead limb flopped down on the bed as Itachi stared blankly up at the ceiling, wondering vaguely if he was doomed to a life of misfortune. Crippled by a disease and then crippled again by the blade. But it was perhaps what he deserved for killing his entire family, the Uchiha thought darkly.

"I have to wonder if you're getting used to me making all kinds of decisions about your body. First the eye and then this." One of the corners of Sasuke's lips quirked as he attempted to inject a drop of humour into the air. "Perhaps if you're not careful one day you'll wake up with horrible tattoos."

"Of a fox no doubt." Itachi leered as he shuffled up into a sitting position. "Have to match my younger brother do I not? Do remember otouto that you must use full kanji when inking love into our skins. As Uchiha anything less formal would simply be uncouth."

Sasuke snorted, leaning back and kicking his feet up on the corner of the bed.

Smoothing wrinkled sheets over his knees with a hand, Itachi murmured "What news?"

"Sarutobi is dead." Sasuke began without preamble, polishing his nails on his shirt and failing to chase away the disturbed narrowing of his eyes. "Got himself killed by Kakuzu while Hidan was getting himself killed by Nara."

Disapproval graced Itachi's tone as he turned to watch his younger brother carefully. "A feint? Did you plan for him to die?" he accused.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed to slits. "Of course not!" he barked, gripping the flimsy armrests of the chair tightly. "I just... forgot about it."Sasuke admitted, lowering his eyes to stare grimly at the floor. "It's not like Sarutobi ever mattered to me in the first place."

"Sasuke." Itachi sighed, prompting an eyeroll from the Clan Head.

"Yes, Will of Fire. Comrades and free love and all that garbage." Sasuke grunted. "I'm more concerned about having forgotten that he'd get killed than about him actually dying."

"...Indeed." Itachi agreed after a moment, moving on from his failed attempt to chasten the headstrong younger shinobi. "You don't have the luxury of making mistakes like this. When I'm out of this place," Itachi motioned distastefully at the hospital around him "We're going to have to sit down and go through everything that happened that you can remember. Every battle, every death."

Sasuke rose to his feet, face pale and drawn as he shoved back the mental tide of memory and loss and the grief that marked his tenure as Hokage. "Fine."

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Sasuke strode for the door with a muttered excuse of alerting the doctors that Itachi had woken.

Itachi watched as Sasuke stopped at the door, whirling about and pinning him with a glare.

"Don't you ever do something that stupid again, Itachi. Your life belongs to me, and you better not forget it."

The slam of the door was shockingly loud in the silent room, leaving Itachi to his thoughts and regrets.

Mist wafted up from the piping hot tea, curling over and over through the air like faint white smoke. Thin, dainty fingers curled around around the dark porcelain, raising the warm rim to ruby lips to taste the excruciatingly expensive green tea.

Thousands of commoners across Hi no Kuni would never come close to mustering the necessary savings to purchase the leaves needed. And even those few determined and frugal enough would never dream to consume it on any occasion but the very special.

It was common fare on the tables of the noble Hyuuga.

Veins showed faintly blue under the thin fingers of her delicate hands as Hinata set her cup back down, pale eyes watching with detachment as the much older man across from her drunk deep of the draw.

Bushy white mustaches shook when the old man at last removed the cup from his lips and returned it to the table with decades of trained grace. Only another Hyuuga or perhaps one of the Uchiha would have noticed the faint trembling of age in his weathered fingers or the glistening of water among the ivory whiskers.

Silence hung between them, a faint tense thread of expectation as the older man watched the Hyuuga heir with a clear white gaze. Perhaps in days gone by he would have prevailed on the younger woman with the authority graced from age and experience, and perhaps Hinata would have quailed under the expectations of her elder.

But the quiet firmness of Hinata's gaze cautioned him to wait and simply observe courtesy. Responding to summons worded as coming from the Heir to Hyuuga demanded that he at least wait and find out what the younger woman wanted from him.

Amusement curled through Hinata's veins as she watched the Hyuuga elder grow increasingly impatient. Wrinkled fingers settled expectantly across his fine red silk hakama, drawing the close tense until at last the elder opened impatient lips.

"Hyuuga Akihito-sama." she cut in gracefully, raising an elegant brow when Akihito's jaw shut with a click. "I must apologize for calling you here so suddenly, but I've heard some very distressing news." Hinata's tone was slow and regretful and obviously insincere.

By the way Akihito's eyes narrowed, the older Hyuuga knew how very false her apology rung.

"It has come to my attention that there have been some oddities in the administration of duties to the imports and exports of Konohagakure." she began demurely, sharply observing the way Akihito's expression flashed from confused to fearful to blank.

"Indeed?" the older man responded after a long pause, injecting a measure of concern into his voice.

"Indeed." Hinata agreed instantly, folding white hands across her lap and tilting her head at the other Hyuuga. "Just rumours and slander, I am sure. After all, positions of power tend to draw animosity and gossip, do they not?"

Dark lashes fluttered low, and Hinata leaned in. The lilac kimono clung to her curves and drew a distracted eye from Akihito as she breathed low and throatily "I can simply not imagine that a man of your nobility and standing would be involved in something as plebeian as bribery and fraud."

White eyes flew up from her chest, and Hinata tasted victory. He'd registered the threat.

"Of course not." he murmured, cheeks bloodless at the prospect.

"I could just imagine the shame involved." she pointed out mercilessly. "Why, every commoner in the streets would be talking about it. The very honour of our clan could be impinged. A black mark for the rest of our history."

She was laying it on thickly, Hinata knew. But better to strike hard and fast while the man was unbalanced than wait for him to regain his bearings.

"We are very fortune indeed it appears any evidence that could possibly link you back to the crimes has been expunged."

Akihito breathed easier, warmth returning to his cheeks and frantically hammering heart slowing to a regular beat. The shame and embarrassment that would haunt his every step if he was ever caught skimming from the profits of the government would be substantial. Akihito could imagine well the sneering of his peers and the jeers from the filthy commoners that would rejoice at seeing one of their betters brought low.

It appeared that despite growing physically, Hinata-sama remained the same foolish child craving the approval and love of her elders. Not that he would dislike 'loving' the girl, he decided lecherously. But such a weak-minded girl could never head the Hyuuga. Fortunate that Hanabi-sama showed a great deal more promise and ruthlessness.

"Of course." Hinata interrupted his thoughts, ruby red lips curling at the ends and her eyes hardening. "It would be very unfortunate and I am sure distressing if such evidence were to reappear, or find its way into the hands of the Hokage."

Akihito stared blankly at her even as the curve of her lips grew ever crueler.

"Which is why I am sure Akihito-sama that you will be willing to aid me in whatever endeavors that I decide are necessary to promote the honour and welfare of the Hyuuga."

There was only one answer he could give, swallowing past resentment and bowing his head.

"I will follow your lead Hinata-sama."

For now, he promised himself.

Nothing changed people so much as grief, Sakura decided as she stared at a cloud wreathed Ino over lunch. The cheap tobacco that Team Ten had taken to smoking in the wake of Asuma's death stunk heavily in the air, forcing Sakura to ignore the itching in her eyes and poke listlessly at her cold miso soup.

It'd been quite the shock when her blonde friend and former rival sidled up the day after Asuma's bones were lowered into the ground with a half charred cigarette. Ino had always been the picture of lady-like refinement for most of her life, and to see the young woman lighting up smoke after smoke like some forty year old wrinkled prostitute struck Sakura as jarringly wrong.

Ash crumbled to the table as the cigarette burnt right down to the filter, and with a faint sneer Ino dropped the mangled butt into the pile of powder. Threading shaking fingers together, the Yamanaka fixed a gimlet eye on a clock hanging on the wall and waited.

Sakura winced automatically, pitying the poor waiter that would have to clean up her grieving friend's mess. Thankfully, at least the table was glass and thus unlikely to be burnt or stained by the ash.

Fingers began to dance on the table as Ino stared unceasingly at the clock. Reaching out and settling a firm grip around the blonde's wrist, Sakura gave a reassuring smile and rose, dragging an unresisting Ino along with her.

Better to be early to meeting the Hokage than late, especially when Ino grew increasingly agitated as the days drew on and was liable to snap at anyone for any reason. The restaurant staff were terrified when they'd asked the blonde not to smoke indoors and got a lash of killing intent in reply.

It was all Sakura could do to smooth over the ruffled feathers and play peacemaker, a role the tempestuous pinkette was not used to.

Not five steps outside the door Shikamaru descended from the rooftops in a silent movement, falling in behind Ino. The Nara wordlessly passed Ino a lighter and blinked sluggishly at Sakura, who found herself forced to turn away from the negativity hungering in those dark eyes.

She worried her lip as Chouji slipped out from around the corner of the building and fell in beside her. The Akimichi's chubby face could have been carved from stone for all the expression it showed, and Sakura decided she would be well pleased when she had her team at her back.

The ninja of Team Ten were her friends, and they'd had a recent bitter and grisly loss. Sakura understood, and she sympathized.

That didn't mean that she was happy to see the shuttered black in their faces. The pale and gaunt Ino with shaking hands and a reflexive and explosive anger. The quiet and austure Chouji with unkempt hair and a lingering and pervasive melancholy. The tense and alert Shikamaru with a straightened spine and a glittering and simmering hate.

Grass rippled under the faint breeze, waving green stalks bright and cheerily green under the summer sunlight. There was a faint rush in the air, just at the edge of hearing that told of a merrily bubbling stream that ran swift and clear down through the hills to the forested lowlands below.

Sasuke splayed a pale hand against on of the few boulders that dotted the field like rebellious growths. The stone was warm from the light of the sun and warm summer air, and smooth under his skin after thousands upon thousands of rainfalls.

The mountains were at his back. Dark reckless stone ranges that demarcated the border between Hi no Kuni and Kawa no Kuni. Fire country spread out before him to the North and East, and Sasuke allowed himself to settle on top of a boulder and just absorb the sight of his homeland.

Forests and rivers crisscrossed as far as his Sharingan could perceive, broken only by grasslands and tiny farming villages. And just at the very edge of the horizon Sasuke could fancy that he saw the shimmering of light off the ocean. Though it could have simply been another river instead of that great southern sea.

"Homeland." Sasuke rolled the syllables around on his tongue and decided that he liked them. Ever since Itachi had passed into the Netherworld without answering any of his desperate questions Sasuke found himself afflicted by a wanderlust.

Itching soles that demanded travelling to see a world he'd only glimpsed in missions for Konoha or Orochimaru or Akatsuki. His sandels were worn down over the years, and Sasuke kicked them off with abandon and stared up at the azure sky.

Tsuchi no Kuni was a seemingly barren wasteland of rocky outcroppings and mountains that hid fertile valleys and lucrative gold mines like a blushing highborn noblewoman hid her virtue. Kaminari no Kuni growled lightning between the mountain passes and bordering lowlands.

Mizu no Kuni was a wet but exotic place, vividly poisonous and beautiful between narrow seas and in deep dark lakes. Kaze no Kuni was a hard land, beaten but unbroken beneath the desert sun and unbent before the shrieking gales.

Great or small, famous or forgotten, Sasuke spent years wandering the world while he heard whispers of a war tearing down the shinobi villages around the horizon. The Uchiha couldn't truly bring himself to care for any of it, apathy growing inside him with every foreign step and new sight seen.
They were good years, or would have been if Sasuke were anyone else and not acutely aware that he was running away from the past. From Konoha and Naruto and Madara and Itachi and himself, first and last and most of all. But he wasn't sure he knew who he was any longer.

Or perhaps Sasuke had always known who he was. Uchiha. Firebreather and red-eyed and raving passion to his very bones. Because in all his travels and despite all his denials he found that he could no longer refuse a very basic truth about his own existence.

Stepping in Hi no Kuni was like stepping into himself. Casting a detached gaze out over the land like an apathetic diety, Sasuke found it good. Only in the land of his ancestors did he find anything resembling the heart he'd buried long ago, spinning out fragile timid trendrils to take in and become a part of Fire Country.

And why should he not? Before the Senju had come over the mountains from Tsuchi no Kuni with their hard hands and harder heads, the whole of the country bent knee to the fan. Spinnings about Wills of Fire and love and other nonsense held nothing against the blood and bone of his kin, a thousand generations living and dying and becoming part of the blazing spirit of the land.

Sasuke was home.

Rubbing faintly glowing green fingers against her blonde temple, Tsunade staved off the beginnings of a pounding headache and watched impatiently as Kakashi sidled into her office only slightly late. She was not entirely unsympathetic, knowing the pain of loss herself. But if the man couldn't force himself to be consistently on time perhaps something needed to be done.

The Hokage shook off her wandering thoughts and clapped sharply, extinguishing the low chatter between the ninja crowding her office. Sound trickled off, and Tsunade was pinned by more than a few curious eyes.

"Well now that you're all here and accounted for." she began, tossing a scathing look at Kakashi. "I've decided that we're going to keep pressing our advantage."

"Akusuna no Sasori and Hoshigaki Kisame are dead. Uchiha Itachi defected back to Konoha after a certain series of events came to light." Tsunade briefly considered a commiserating look for the only Uchiha in the room, but swiftly decided against it when she took in his lounging form against the wall. It would probably only aggravate the proud brat.

"Deidara was injured in a battle with the Kazekage, but remains at large and is presumably active once more. Hidan was utterly destroyed by Team Ten, at the cost of Sarutobi Asuma's life." Ignoring the shadow that passed over the faces of the trio, Tsunade cracked her knuckles and frowned.

"Our current target is the S-ranked nukenin Kakazu, formerly of Takigakure, whom some of you are more than familiar with."

"Team Ten!" the Hokage barked suddenly, smirking inwardly at the way the three jumped in surprise at her tone. "Your experience with the enemy is crucial to the success of the mission. You three are dismissed. Assemble at the East Gates within two hours. Your team leader will be along with the specifics of the mission. Dismissed!"

The trio grinned with a hint of bloodlust and bowed low before filing out. Shikamaru tossed a last thankful glance over his shoulder to Tsunade, nodding in gratitude that he wasn't forced to lead the squad. He could admit he was... compromised, and that his astounding failure that led to Asuma's death had shaken him greatly.

Swinging shut silently, the door wobbled on its hinges before stilling, and Tsunade sighed before turning her gaze to Gai's Team. "Gai, as much as I'd love to send you out on this mission, I can't afford to show Konoha as being afraid. Sarutobi's death shook up more than you'd expect, so I have an A-rank bodyguard mission for you."

Shrugging ruefully, the Hokage scooped up a scroll from the haphazard pile on her desk and flung it to the green-clad jounin. "High publicity, short length, very lucrative. Show the world that Konoha isn't shaking in its boots over a couple of cocky nukenin."

Thick eyebrows lowered as the bowl-cut jounin sent his team a concerned look. "My team-" he began, voice uncharacteristically serious.

"Will join on the assassination mission with Team Ten under Kakashi, sans Tenten." Pointing at the surprised young woman, Tsunade motioned a careless hand towards the other side of the room, where Team Eight stood grim and watchful.

"You'll be joining them instead girl, C-rank escort of a merchant to the port city of Nagoya on the Eastern Ocean. Aburame is designated Team Leader for you squad. Dismissed! You as well Gai." she added lowly.

A muscle jumped in the man's square jaw regarded the two young men he'd trained. "Rely on each other, and on your friends, and your Youth will never burn out." Gai stalked solid strides from the room, pausing only to settle a hand on Kakashi's shoulder and give a signficant squeeze.

Take care of them old friend.

Clapping the other man on the back, Kakashi craned back to watch his Hokage with a lazy gaze.

Of course.

Tsunade waited for the chuunin and jounin to file out, flicking her gaze from her nervous apprentice to the tense Hyuuga to Danzo's little rat skulking in the corner behind Yamato's shoulder. Both Kakashi and Tenzo vouched for the teenager's growing shreds of a heart and surprisingly loyalty to the Will of Fire Naruto espoused, but the Hokage wasn't quite willing to place trust in someone raised under Danzo's iron teachings.

A pity that Shimura had broken so many, and even more the pity that she couldn't simply eliminate him without a suitable replacement for his admittedly valuable activities in the shadows and the likely defection of Ne to rogue elements.

Catching the scroll that flew at his face, Kakashi narrowed his visible eye at the Senju when she sent a quick furtive glance at a fidgeting Naruto.

"Command of the squad is invested in Hatake Kakashi, passing to Yamato, passing to Hyuuga Neji." Tsunade ordered sternly, sending a significant glance at the black haired Root member. Yamato nodded minutely, understanding that under no circumstance was command to pass down to Sai.

Even if the boy's heart seemed genuine. Yamato ached a little on the inside at the callous treatment the conditioned teenager was subject to, even though the boy himself took no offence to it. He hoped one day that Sai would understand enough to realize that people could have faith in him. And until that day Yamato was more than willing to take a young man he saw more than a little of himself in. Two children born to be living weapons, struggling against the mechanations of those that condemned them to that fate and those who regarded them with suspicion.

"The remainder of Teams Seven and Nine are assigned to this mission. Dismissed!"

Kakashi nodded and turned to leave, only to spin back as he caught the odd word out.

"What do you mean remainder?" Sakura broke in for the group, noticing the confusion on her blonde teammate's face and the sour realization on her raven comrade's.

"Uchiha Sasuke is not assigned to this mission." Tsunade declared with all the immutability of stone, settling a hand over a significant stack of folders piled in the corner of her desk. "He has an alternative assignment within the village."

"What?" Naruto exploded, barrelling forward and yanked back by Kakashi's tight grip on her collar. Sending a blue glare up at her sensei who merely shook his head, the blonde subsided into a sullen silence and crossed her arms.

"You are all dismissed." Tsunade growled out, smoothing a green hand again over her temples and ignoring the confused look of her apprentice and the annoyed look on Kakashi's as they began to file out. "Uchiha, you remain behind."

All emotion fled Sasuke's face as he turned away from the door, sliding it shut in Sai's curious face as he strode across the room and sunk into the chair across from Tsunade. The blond rose an eyebrow at his audacity, but shrugged and shoved the stack of folders into his arms.

"You wanted to be Clan Head, brat." she snarked, tapping the top of the pile with a significant look and ignoring glare Sasuke sent her over the folders. "That means you've got responsibilities here. You can start with these shinobi profiles."

A single dark brow rose in confusion, and Tsunade rolled brown eyes. "You're the Uchiha Clan Head. Rebuild the Military Police. I'll leave it to you to negotiate with other clans if you want to employ their shinobi as your personnel."

Sasuke peered down at the profiles with newfound interest, shuffling them in his arms to get a better grip before blinking darkly up at the Hokage. "Is that all?"

"That's all." Tsunade agreed. "Now get the hell out of my office."

Dumping the piles of folders on the desk in his father's study – or rather his, since his father was slaughtered in the night Sasuke decided bitterly – the Uchiha swiped one at random and opened it to the light streaming in the window.

Inuzuka Hana. Female. Age 21. Tokubetsu Jounin. Inuzuka Clan. Extensive training in medical jutsu and classified Inuzuka techniques. Three personal ninken: Takeo (Male, 11) Akira (Female, 5), Hikaru (Female, 7). 500 successful D-rank missions, 100 successful C-rank missions, 68 successful B-rank missions, 23 successful A-rank missions, 1 successful S-rank mission. Temperment...

Sasuke flicked the folder shut with a snap, setting it to the side and reaching for the next. It would be useless to begin dismissing possible candidates for his Police Force without comparing several for general quality.

A thrum of pride straightened Sasuke's shoulders and curled a smirk on his lips. Despite the choices he'd made in his life, one thing he'd always resigned himself to was the wallowing of his family name in the books of history. A once proud clan, stained with slander of treachery and universally reviled. Yet in his hands was a new beginning Sasuke could have scarcely dreamed of, a chance to bring honour to the clan's name and pay tribute to his father's memory.

Flipping open the next folder, Sasuke caught a glimpse of a plain-faced man with dark hair and dark eyes before a shadow crossed the light.

Darkening the pages with a silhouette, Naruto threw open his window and casually backhanded the shuriken sprung by trap wires beneath the frame of the sill.

The blonde crawled in through the opening, depositing a stuffed rucksack on the tatami and stalking across to Sasuke with an odd expression on her face. Snagging the back of the white jacket, Naruto tugged and pushed until Sasuke tumbled back onto the bed.

A perverted glint shone in dark eyes as Sasuke lifted himself on his elbows and leered at the Uzumaki.

Undeterred save for a faint dusting of pink on her cheeks, Naruto crawled over him and settled down on the bed beside him, laying her ear over his heart. Blue eyes shuttered closed as the blonde curled up against the Uchiha.

All the building heat in his loins fled, but as Sasuke threaded fingers through blonde strands he couldn't feel anything but content and loved and home.

"It's not fair you know." Naruto murmured into his chest, curling fingers into his shirt and tangling their legs together. The world was dark behind her pink lids, but the warm scent of thunderstorms was in her nose, and the sound of Sasuke's heartbeat was in her ears, and it was all Naruto could have dreamt of.

"Of course it isn't." Sasuke drawled, curling one hand behind his head and continuing to play with her blonde strands. "No one in the world could ever feed you enough ramen, it's no surprise the shops ran out."

Growling without any heat, Naruto thumped a soft fist into his side. "Bastard."Cracking her lids open a slit to peer at the clock and confirm she had at least an hour before she absolutely had to meet with the squad, Naruto sighed and closed out the world again. "You're our's." the blonde breathed. "Our's. Team Seven's. You belong to Sakura-chan and Kaka-sensei and me, and it's not fair that we keep getting split up."

"Hn." he grunted back, staring up at the ceiling and fisting a handful of her blonde mane. Naruto was more right than even she knew – shinobi and war and time and death had come between them, and it seemed fate conspired at every turn to keep them separate. It was more than enough to make Sasuke bitter.

"What the hell does Tsunade-baa have you doing anyway that's so damn important?" Naruto growled louder, opening her gaze fully and staring down at their tangled legs.

Sasuke turned a weary face to the precarious stack of folders at the corner of his father's desk. As a child he'd never really understood why his mother had insisted so long and hard for a bed in the study as well as all the bedrooms. He supposed it had something to do with unwanted work needing to finished late at night with a nearby place to crash.

"The Konoha Military Police Force." he sighed out after a long pause. "She wants me to rebuild it."

"We don't need one of those." Naruto argued, poking his side and smirking at the grunt he emitted. "ANBU does just fine catching all the criminals, and us shinobi beat up the rest of the bad guys. So you should just come along with us anyway."

"We do need one of those." Sasuke disagreed, deciding it was better to begin educating Naruto on some very basic concepts of ruling for when she became Hokage. And he knew that she would, because he'd sooner die than see her perish again or not attain her dreams.

"ANBU have been doing the job the last decade, but that's not what they're really around for. ANBU is supposed to deal with high ranking missions, not catching petty criminals. And it's a waste to have them running around here arresting civilians that stole some old woman's purse than out in the field. It makes Konoha look weak, and it keeps us from doing as many missions as we can."

Naruto remained silent as she digested the thought. Keeping their best ninja for the best missions...

"Kind of like how genin get all the shitty D-ranks but the Jounin get the cool missions?" she ventured, weighing one of Iruka's old lessons in her mind. If it seems odd at first, relate it to something you know...


Grinning, Naruto tracked her eyes back to the clock and frowned as she saw time ticking down. Three quarters of an hour remained, and the blonde began to draw patterns over Sasuke's stomach.

"Why you though?" Wrinkling her nose, Naruto traced a smiley face around the Uchiha's navel. "Couldn't she get some old geezer to do that?"

"Technically I suppose so." Sasuke murmured. "But I wouldn't want them to anyway. The Konoha Military Police has always been led by an Uchiha, and until we all died it was comprised solely of Uchiha as well. It's my legacy."

Died. What a polite way of saying slaughtered in their beds like animals on the order of a thankless village.

"My father was the last head of the Police Force before he died and it was disbanded." Sasuke added, tossing a glance at the clock. Half an hour.

Naruto bit her lip, fisting her errant hand back in his jacket and just listening to the slow beat of his heart.

Nothing risked, nothing gain. And besides, she was curious. "What was he like?" Naruto ventured. "Your dad?"

Sasuke froze, turning a wide-eyed look down at the crown of Naruto's blonde head. Never had anyone asked that. Most simply had the sense not to dig around in his past. Itachi already knew their father very well. And Naruto had never bothered to ask him. Firstly when she was too young to care about him as more than a rival and friend, and when he raised his blade at her she'd been too busy defending her life.

And their moonlit nights had been melancholy things full of remembering their shared past and mistakes, and that Naruto would have had enough tact not to ask.

"Not that you have to answer or anything." broke through, Naruto babbling nervously at his silence and hoping she hadn't pissed him off. She was a fool! The blonde panicked inside, he was going to just run off again. "I just never knew anyone in my family and never had any idea what it would be like to have parents and -"

"My father." Sasuke cut in, voice a low croak. The Uchiha swallowed drly before continuing more strongly. "Was a hard man. He rarely smiled. He held himself and all of us to very high standards, and demanded everything we could give, and all that he could give."

Idly twirling her blond strands around his finger, Sasuke gave a small smile. "But despite all that, he loved us all very deeply."Digging back through foggy memories and the soft voice of his mother, Sasuke blinked away a touch of moisture building in the corners of his eyes. "Many in the clan looked up to him like he was their father, and he took his responsibility to the clan very seriously. There was little time for me, but he still tried. He taught me the Gokakyou no Jutsu, which was the signature technique of our clan."

Time passed by quickly, wrapping the two up in tales of a man gone on from the rims of the world.

"I'm late!" Naruto yelped for the third time as she and Sasuke flew over the rooftops toward the distant Eastern wall.

The Uchiha merely smirked, shrugging indolently and scanning the horizon in the ingrained reflexes of Shinobi paranoia.

Huffing at Sasuke, Naruto readjusted the bulky pack strapped to her back and descended to the streets. Shoving through the crowds, the blonde rounded the corner and sauntered up to her assembled teammates.

Sasuke hovered in the jinchuuriki's shadow, shoving anxious hands into his pockets and scanning the surroundings again. Nervous didn't even begin to describe the anxiety crawling under his skin at the thought of letting Naruto run missions without him.

But if the Uzumaki ever caught him even thinking of keeping her safe and protected and out of the way until he killed everyone that needed to be killed, Naruto would tear his guts out and use them as toppings for her ramen.

At least Sasuke could console himself with the knowledge that Naruto had gone up against Kakuzu in the past and obliterated the man. And compared to the tales the Uchiha had heard of that hectic revenge mission, the squad Tsunade was sending out in this life was both larger and more powerful.

"I got lost on the road of life." Naruto chuckled, scratching the back of her head when Kakashi gave her a questioning glance.

Sakura snorted, smoothing away the irritated expression on her face at her teammate's lateness with reluctant amusement. The blond gave the pinkette a grin and opened her mouth to continue joking at their tardy sensei's expense.

A low snarl cut through the air."Do you think this is a game?" Shikamaru turned an intense gaze on Naruto, frowning severely. "We're not playing around. Asuma is dead and we're out to tear apart the one that did him in. We don't have time for your jokes!"

A flash of hurt crossed Naruto's eyes before the blonde scowled back. "You think I don't know that?"

"Evidently you don't!"

"Nara." Sasuke cut in, turning red and black irises on the seething Shikamaru. One word with all the chill of the grave and a promise of violence.

Settling a supportive hand on the Nara's shoulder, Chouji slowly stepped up to stand protectively at his friend's side. Seconds later Ino followed suit, hands coming up pre-emptively to smooth her skirt. Or form hand seals.

Tension skyrocketed, the air filling with absolute silence and the heavy stink of killing intent. A long moment passed while Sakura looked worriedly back and forth between her friends.

A sigh broke, Kakashi running a tired hand through his messy strands and giving a quick clap that was shockingly loud in the spaces between them. "Maa," he began cheerily. "It's not good for comrades to get mad at each other. Now kiss and make up."

Shikamaru and Sasuke spared the jounin twin glares of revulsion. Naruto snorted with humour and the cloud passed. Ino strode forward to engage Sakura in a low conversation while Chouji broke away to gingerly open a bag of chips.

Throwing a deceptively light arm around the Nara's shoulders, Kakashi drew Shikamaru up to the front of the group and crossed under the auspices of the gate. "Death is hard."the jounin pointed out in a low tone, recalling to mind a dark obelisk under the dawn.

"I can see how a thing like what happened is going to be difficult to accept. I should know, I've been there." Kakashi murmured. "Now I'm just a piece of trash that managed to live on when better people like my sensei and my teammates got put in the ground."

"It's not easy." Shikamaru agreed after a pause, peering down at fisted hands and white knuckles.

Humming back, Kakashi shrugged. "Exactly. But unless you can learn to take that pain in and make it a part of you instead of lashing out and everything and anything, it'll destroy you. It never stops hurting, and when in all likelihood others you know die it'll only get worse. An emptyness that gnaws away at you until you don't even know who you are anymore."

"But if there was one thing I knew about Asuma," the jounin began, tossing a thoughtful glance at the blue sky and white clouds gently rolling by. "It was that he would have wanted you to remember the good things. That your comrades still have your back, and that you should cherish every moment you have with them instead of giving in to anger. Fill up that emptiness with good memories and better friendships. Don't become consumed by revenge! It'll only leave you with bitter regrets."

Shikamaru frowned at that, sending a considering glance back at Sasuke. The Uchiha was listening with an apathetic expression to an eagerly chattering Naruto, only the steady regard of his dark eyes and the small curve of his lips giving tell to his interest.

A delirious scenario crossed his mind of shoving his hand through Ino's chest, and the Nara shuddered. It bordered on the unforgiveable to turn on your comrades to such an extent. Yet Sasuke had done it easily enough when push came to shove.

Did Shikamaru want to become a man like that? Of course not. Sasuke shifted on his heels, a carelessly lethal roll of muscle and sinew, and Shikamaru blinked.

Of course not.


"Alright, let's move out." Kakashi called from the other side of the gates, and Sasuke repressed the urge to scowl ferociously.

Naruto did not repress the urge, sending a pouting look over her shoulder before darting forward and wrapping Sasuke in a tight hug.

The Uchiha blinked before returning the embrace, burying his nose in sun-kissed strands and inhaling her scent of lavender shampoo as if it were his last chance. It just might be, Sasuke thought with a thrill of paranoia before crushing the thought ruthlessly.

Beaming up at him with cerulean eyes and whiskered cheeks, Naruto leaned in a pressed a soft peck to on of his cheeks. Both teenagers coloured, and without another word Naruto spun about and jogged after the rest of her squad.

A few passing children giggled and made rude catcalls, prompting the blonde to blush further and remain at a steady jog only through stubborn force of will.

"Naruto!" Sasuke called out, prompting her to slow to a stop and give him a curious look over her shoulder.

Marry me. Crossed his mind like a delirious lightning bolt, and Sasuke bit his lips until the tang of blood flickered on his tongue with a desperate need to contain it. 'Fool!' The Uchiha berated inwardly, cursing himself for being so... needy.

"Take care of yourself." he finally grunted.

Naruto laughed, a high and clear note as she shook her head. "Follow your own advice for once teme!"

(AN): Quickly updated I suppose. Ouch my foot though, stepped on a nail today and managed to top this chapter off and post it before heading to work.

On the note of annoying interruptions – fuck Windows 8.1, for serious. I wasted like three hours last night that I could have been writing when the mood was on just installing the annoying thing. Should've stuck with 8 for a little longer.

In other news – I don't know how many of you are eagerly watching my story ideas and hoping they'll be posted son. I changed the title of The White Snake to Deadlock (as in Kuchiyose Deadlock) to better reflect that the story is going to be Team Seven-Team Hiruzen centric, rather than Orochimaru or him and Sasuke only. Lately I'm inspired greatly by Team Seven's Ascension, and am inclined to write a chapter (or more?) of Deadlock ASAP. Rokudaime has also become Chasing Tomorrow.

And here, you got a few thousand words of Naruto and Sasuke being all cuddly.


1) No I have not passed away. This is part of why I say please PM me if you're concerned. I log in to like every single day. If I'm not dead I'll almost certainly reply to you within the day or two. If you're worried about my health you can ask, it's not a bother.

2) As you can see, Itachi is not dead. Merely mutilated further. I thought about leaving him without a hand, but I'd rather the look of a dead hand than none at all. For the curious, this doesn't mean Itachi is entirely useless. He still has his Mangekyou techniques, and is so skilled he can probably one handed seal a lot of things. So he can still be his meddling ill self. Just less effectively. I might have Itachi go full man-balls and decide to cut the useless thing off if you all prefer it as such.

3) When I say growing up Naruto I don't mean changing her basic character. I'm not trying to make her Sasuke 2.0. I guess overall I mean more aware and more self-confident.

4) Sasuke not telling people about the future – it's logical. Firstly because people aren't just going to believe you if you say you're from the future, they'll think you're a loon. And secondly because when he tells people he loses the element of power – knowing that he is the only one with the pieces. He told Itachi because he needs a backup, but he's hardly going to tell everyone and their mothers.

5) Ashura-Indra in this? I am unsure, I'm inclined to include it because it gives even more that breath of destiny to Naruto and Sasuke's interactions, as well as explaining the red thread of fate mentioned in the second chapter.

6) I've said it before, and I'll say it again here. Sasuke is going to learn no sage techs. Zero. None. Never ever in this story. That's a development you'll see in Deadlock if I get that far, but not here.

7) Itachi is supposed to be stronger than Kisame though? Yes, technically I suppose, which is part of why he won in the first place. Simply being more skilled. But Kisame certainly has always had more chakra, more strength, and more stamina than the Uchiha. Toss in him being ill and not guzzling down drug cocktails to mask the symptoms and it's a more even fight.