I've been hella busy lately.

Things are heating up, people. Literally. Blasted heat wave.


"Don't jump in front of the enemy's attack, dumbass!" Sasuke said, glaring at the older Uzumaki, who was massaging the back of his chest. "And you should still be resting!"

"Well, if he heals like ours, then he should be fine training..." said Sakura, a smile on her face. "It's nice to see you care, Sasuke."

Both Uchiha boys rolled their eyes. Then they glared at each other, which caused them to huff and turn away.

Haruno giggled, seeing that and getting all sorts of images in her head.

A tense silence crept onto them, once that brief moment of respite was over. Haruno could feel it, and had been feeling it, for a while now. She knew that it had something to do with what their teacher had told the interdimensionally stranded group when he had pulled them aside for a minute. It was... disconcerting to know they were privy to something she was not.

Were they so pathetic that their teacher trusted a pair of strangers over his team? Was he trying to convince them to switch?

Kakashi had seemed the unfailingly loyal type to her, even if he was also the unfailingly lazy friend that's not really a friend but everyone tolerates for some reason, or at least he'd given that image with his speeches on teammates... But Haruno was aware she was, essentially, a load and dead weight on her team.

She contributed remarkably little up until their first encounter, and there she had been more of a distraction and was certain they'd survived on sheer, dumb luck and that strange power her blond teammate was using. She had no idea the blond had a bloodline, much less so one that powerful, but the Uzumaki clan (which she ironically knew more about than Naruto himself) was said to have naturally strong and potent chakra...

Perhaps it was that?

The blond always had a lot of energy and chakra...

Whatever it was, she was just thankful he had it, as it had almost certainly saved their lives. Well, that, and the other Team 7's presence. Without them, Zabuza, as Kakashi had named him, and his accomplice would most likely have killed them all.

Now, her lingering terror was minimal, and while she was aware she had much to do to progress beyond being a helpless little girl found in the middle of a combat situation, she still had some of the trappings of her prior, immature self (even though change is gradual, one can't fault her for thinking herself a new woman after an experience so harrowing). More importantly, she was still incredibly curious about the secret that had the two dimension travellers so... tense, for lack of a better word.

It was a combination of things, really. They were quite obviously worried about something, yet at the same time she could see subtle differences. Sasuke seemed... angrier, as if he was offended about something, while Haruno's own counterpart seemed to be less angry and more... it was a strange thing, but she seemed to be genuinelly afraid.

Haruno's worries about a fracture in their fragile coexistence were proven when they were but a few hours' walk from the town their client was from.

"I can't take this. I've got to go looking for him... I'll find him! He can't be alone right now!" Sasuke spoke.

And then Sakura nodded. "Sorry guys, but I'm with Sasuke. It was fun hanging around for a while, but... I'm worried about our third teammate. You get that, right? Well, I'll see about seeing you before we leave if we can manage it!"

There was a strange sense of optimism in her words, that seemed utterly... fake. She was worried about many things and just trying to convince herself everyone would turn out fine.

"You have to go!? That sucks!" declared the Uzumaki of the team.

"And it's not the best of ideas right now," said Kakashi. "Can't really allow that, plus, it'd get really confusing if someone saw you two. They could assume the worst."

Sasuke scoffed. "Unless you're willing to subdue me, then you can't do much to stop me. I'm going to go search for Naruto. And I will find him."

"I'm still your superior-" Kakashi countered.

"Not really. You're their superior," Sakura said, gesturing to the local Team 7. "They're not us. I think that's quite obvious. They've still not seen the light," she said, gesturing towards Kakashi's left pocket.

"I'm working on that," Kakashi replied, defensively. Regardless, he didn't move, crossing his arms over his chest for a few seconds before he sighed and gave them an eye smile. "Just promise me you'll be safe, okay? We've been together just for a short while, but it's been fun."

"Can't promise that. Not when Naruto's involved. If there's nothing or no one to hurt him, he'll do something dumb to hurt himself," Sasuke countered, a somewhat fond and yet alarmed expression on his face. It was kind of a weird thing to see, to the locals.

"You've been all sorts of super helpful," the client said. "If I could, I'd pay ya too, but I'm dirt poor as is, and all I've got is going to the bridge. Maybe once I get back on my feet I can pay you guys a super big bonus or something," the drunkard said, moving the jug of sake he still held onto as if trying to offer it as payment.

"That won't be necessary. We really had nothing better to do..." Sakura said, smiling... and then she realized that Sasuke had already jumped into the trees. "Hey! Wait for me, jackass!"

"You're slow!" Sasuke called.

"Gotta go, sorry, bye!"

The locals were left dumbfounded as the two identical... well, almost identical, teams separated.

"I really do hope they stay safe," Haruno muttered. "We owe them our lives, after all."

Uchiha finally spoke after a long stretch of quietness, since they had restarted travelling again. "Indeed... Perhaps more than just that..."

His cryptic statement got everyone to stare at him.

"Oi! What's that supposed to mean?" Uzumaki asked, raising an eyebrow and looking utterly confused.

"Oh dear, Sasuke's growing up!" Kakashi muttered, wiping an imaginary tear. From the sharingan he kept covered up. "But narcissism isn't a very morally acceptable thing..."

The Uchiha just glared at his teacher.


At a civillian pace, it had taken several days to get to Wave Country.

At the pace of Leaf ninja, jumping through trees full speed ahead, Sasuke and Sakura had covered that same distance in an hour and a half. Admittedly, if they didn't have a clear destination they were gunning straight to, they would've taken the scenic route themselves.

As it was, it was much too important for Sasuke to head towards a very specific place to investigate himself. He needed to get to the Fire Temple and see what had happened. He needed to know how, and if, Naruto was involved. It didn't matter that he wanted to question Sakura about her opinions on Naruto's status as a jinchuuriki. At this moment, he was scarcely thinking of Sakura, who no doubt already found herself tired from the exertion.

She was used to using much lesser amounts of chakra over a wider time frame, which meant that this was taxing her reserves, much like the way Kakashi's impromptu 'Let's Beat The Crap Out Of My Team And Hope They Learn Something From It' lessons put her physical fitness to the test, Sakura probably found herself lacking as she usually did.

Odd, considering that she could use explosive bursts of physical strength that baffled him, given her thin arms. Sure, he could lift her axe and swing it about, but it made his arms hurt like crazy, while Sakura actually trained with the damn thing. Said it was all in the technique. Sasuke had chosen a weapon that required far more skill than it did brute force, while Sakura had gone for brute force over skill, so he found this mildly amusing at the time.

Now he wondered if it was actually a life-saver, given that Sakura had proven capable of bursts of speed, as well. As shown when a tail had caught up to them and forced them to split up. Sakura was to go straight for the temple, while Sasuke would attempt to lose his tail and join up with her if he could.

If he couldn't, then he'd simply claim it was clan business. Kakashi would cover for him. This world's Kakashi seemed as willing to throw a wrench into Konoha's gears for the sake of his own amusement as the one in Sasuke's world, and both found that kind of mayhem just delicious.

For all the difference that was between the worlds, Sasuke understood that at their cores, they were the same people, just under different circumstances. He could not pretend to know what it felt like to have your beloved elder brother massacre your family, and thus couldn't say if he'd turn out like the embittered young man his counterpart was.

Sakura was pretty similar, except her infatuation with this world's Sasuke seemed more... potent than in Sasuke's home world. As he dodged thrown weapons, Sasuke mused that it most likely was because his other self's story was much more tragic. Instead of being the spare in a dysfunctional family... well, it wasn't time to dwell on that.

It was also possible this Sakura had a much worse relationship with Ino, stemming from a bigger obsession with Sasuke. Their friendship had been pretty strained by their mutual crush, all things considered, it was a miracle they had managed to remain somewhat friendly, no matter the issues they resolved by beating each other up.

Sasuke was a man, or at least mature enough to be a hired killer, so he thought that beating up your best friend to get all of your problems and tension out in the open to be resolved was a perfectly acceptable form of troubleshooting for damaged friendships. Hell, his friendship with Naruto was based entirely on how they could beat each other up in a variety of ways (okay, so it was mostly Naruto beating him up in a cool variety of ways, but it still counted).

Casual thoughts aside, Sasuke reminded himself he was being chased by a ninja that was by far his superior, in the characteristic bone white body armor, black get up and, most importantly, mask of Konoha's most elite force, the Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai, the Special Weapons and Tactics division, or ANBU for short.

One could excuse Sasuke's inner monologue attempting to focus away from the thing that actually terrified him. He needed to keep calm and logical, and Kakashi's 'goof out your nerves' approach seemed to be working. For all that the man was a lazy and incompetent excuse of a teacher, he seemed to actually have taught them a lot.

Distressing though the thought of praising Kakashi in his own mind was, Sasuke had to give him at least that much. He would've spent longer thinking about Kakashi's way of teaching, and how much inspiration would be right to take for the team Sasuke one day expected to have, but there had been a kunai that passed dangerously close to his face. How did he know this, one might ask?

Well, the angry red cut that was even now bleeding that Sasuke hoped didn't leave a scar (Sasuke was proud of his good looks, much as he might deny it) seemed enough proof.

An idea came over to Sasuke, something he'd actually been told was an usual occurrence. Just as Sasuke had figured out a practical application for a very basic lightning chakra exercise, he was certain he could weaponize a certain problem that usually happened to genin with too little chakra control to properly jump on thin branches (an actually surprisingly complex art to master).

Usually, you don't want to leave the tracks that breaking the branches behind yourself leaves. Now, though? Sasuke was glad that he had the chakra control to actively force that outcome.

Sasuke jumped, carefully concentrated on the branch he landed on for a fraction of a second, flooded it with chakra and exploded into motion once again, snapping the branch behind himself. He vaguely heard his tail's curse. For all that he was a genin, Sasuke was trained by an ANBU captain who had nothing better to do than teach them about how to get away from an ANBU captain that is angry because his genin team stole his porn.

Kakashi had never truly quit the service, and it showed because he had snapped into ANBU protocol pretty damn quickly when his precious was in danger.

Thus, Sasuke had very little trouble dealing with the ANBU tailing him at the moment. Sakura had split, and the man had chosen to chase Sasuke. All for the best, as Sakura wouldn't be able to continue the chase for much longer, not at the speed Sasuke found himself jumping. The only reason Sasuke could was that he had been training his chakra far longer than Sakura, and while her control was still superior, Sasuke's own improved control and base reserves had granted him a pretty large advantage over the pink haired girl.

The ANBU was faster and his jumps were executed with far more grace than any of Sasuke's. It wasn't a mystery why. The man (or was it?) was clearly just a scout sent ahead, but he was still ANBU, and according to Kakashi their training was brutal enough that even the weakest ANBU was considered a force to be reckoned.

That, and they were trained to actually chase runners, like Sasuke himself.

That had turned out to be a disadvantage when Sasuke utilized what he knew of ANBU tactics to slow himself down long enough for the ANBU to jump to his position in order to catch him, believing him an easy target due to his young age, and then jumped before the ANBU could actually land, causing the agent to attempt to land on thin air.

It had taken two seconds for the elite nin to cling to the trunk of the tree Sasuke had left behind instead, but it had been two seconds that Sasuke was unseen, and he'd put his full speed beneath his feet as he dashed away as fast as he could.

It didn't work in the long run, but at least he annoyed the purple haired woman who caught him a great deal, and it showed. At least Sasuke had managed to confirm that it was a woman. Bound or not, breasts of that size are noticeable at close range.

The Uchiha boy had led her on a merry chase, attempting to lead her away from the place she had been guarding, but Sasuke eventually recognized the futility of it, as she had seen both himself and Sakura heading that way.

Once he was cornered, and he knew escape was futile as the woman outclassed him in pretty much every way, Sasuke just raised his hands in a clear gesture of surrender, holding them wide apart and palm forward, showing he held no weapon and wasn't intending on making handseals for a jutsu either. He also held his legs shoulder width apart and stood straight.

Ninja could find a great deal of ways to kill you, and it was hard to tell when it was a true surrender, so in order to not get preemptively punked, they had to make it as clear as possible, hence the exaggerated motions to show his defeat.

"Identify yourself," the ANBU intoned, glaring at Sasuke.

"I am Uchiha Sasu-" then he groaned and wanted to smack his head. It was an automatic response when dealing with Konoha authority, but he remembered this would probably make shit worse than it already was. "I am Uchiha Sasuke," he decided he might as well continue on.

"State your business in the area," the woman said, tone crisp and clear.

"I am searching for a missing teammate," Sasuke said, frowning at the ANBU.

"Why did you escape from ANBU?" the woman asked, still as unforgiving as before.

"Because right now Naruto could be anywhere and you woman are stopping me from fetching him and learning just what the hell happened. I know he was innocent, but you sure as hell aren't going to just believe me. And yes, I know what happened here. Kakashi-sensei told me," Sasuke explained, seeing that the woman had been clearly going for the tanto strapped to her waist, disbelieving of his story.

The ANBU probably assumed that he was an impostor, looking for the Jinchuuriki, based solely on the fact that Sasuke knew enough about Jinchuuriki to assume that Naruto would be the assumed culprit. And given that his other self almost certainly didn't know Naruto was a Jinchuuriki, he suspected it wasn't common knowledge in this world either.

"Identify yourself," the ANBU repeated.

"I am Uchiha Sasuke, Genin of Team 7 under Hatake Kakashi, ID 063793," said Sasuke, rolling his eyes, forgetting for a moment that his ID number did not match up to the Sasuke in this world. Given that his self in this world was the last Uchiha, he imagined that he was actually monitored very tightly, and giving an ID on an impossible range was probably a red flag.

The woman began to pull out her tanto and Sasuke rolled his eyes, causing her to no doubt glare at him from beneath her painted mask.

Sasuke activated his Sharingan. "This is the undeniable proof I am an Uchiha, since only an Uchiha can activate or deactivate a Sharingan freely." For good measure, he deactivated it and reactivated it a few more times, the tomoe in his pupils swirling lazily as proof of their activation.

The woman's hands met in a handsign, reminding Sasuke that his arms were getting tired. She muttered something softly and then set herself at rest. "Is your captain close by? Report to him and tell him to report to Captain Rat."

Given the dangerous situation gone, it seemed the woman was actually surprisingly pleasant.

"Kakashi isn't here. He is still on our mission in Wave Country. He does not have authorization to leave that mission, but that doesn't extend to his genin team."

The woman sighed. "Typical Kakashi," she muttered, clearly annoyed. "Very well then. I shall collect your teammate and then we will report to Captain Rat. We will contact Hokage-sama and someone will be sent to escort you to Konoha, where you will await further orders. Understood?"

"Understood," Sasuke said.

"Fortunately, your teammate didn't cover her tracks very well... Oh dear-"

"BOOYAH, MOTHERFUCKER!" Sakura yelled, coming right the hell out of nowhere swinging her massive axe. Sasuke for a moment felt incredible terror at seeing the humoungous blade descending, only to stop just in front of him. A nearby animal was split in twain, spraying Sasuke in blood, as the ANBU substituted herself. "... Oh crap..." Sakura muttered.

Now, one might think that Sakura was stupid for yelling that she was going to attack right before she attacked. But she hadn't actually wanted to hit the ANBU with her attack. That was why she gave the signal with a long enough amount of time that the purple haired woman could switch herself with an animal.

Sakura just wished it didn't need to be an adorable looking squirrel. Were they even native to these parts? It didn't matter now, it was pretty dead, but still...

Sakura slapped the flat left side of her massive axe, specifically two inches away from the handle the blade was attached to as well as two inches below the end. It immediatelly exploded in a poof of smoke, and Sakura was holding a scroll instead. "Hella useful, that," she remarked.

Sasuke nodded. "I had the situation well in hand. You probably just pissed her off," Sasuke said, shaking his head.

"You looked pretty cornered to me. Frankly it's just sheer dumb luck I chose to double back and follow you two. I'm... pretty exhausted. Didn't think I could make it to the temple."

"After that, you'd be lucky if you go anywhere but the hospital," Sasuke remarked. "Because there's a very pissed ANBU behind you, and I don't have the energy to run, either."

Sakura smiled as she heard the sound of cracking knuckles. "So, in as few words as possible, we're screwed?"

"And not in a good way," the ANBU whose mask was now a little skewed, as well as her hair, stated, a remarkable amount of emotion in her voice.

"In my defence... I did warn you so I didn't kill you by accidents. I just thought this idiot would have enough energy to let us get away," Sakura replied, turning around and offering her a smile.

The ANBU sighed, shaking her head and dropping the threatening gesture. "Just promise me that you won't have any more bright ideas and I will not have to kill you in a horrible way that involves disgusting uses of Earth jutsu."

"Not dying seems like an excellent idea," Sakura spoke. "For now, though, I think I'm just gonna pass out from exhaustion. Sasuke, this is totally your fault," she said, glaring at the Uchiha for a few seconds before she fell to the ground.


Sasuke had taken a long time to explain his situation in excruciating detail, as much as he could, as well as all the details of the shrine he could remember, to Sarutobi Hiruzen. The office he had been brought to after he had been arrested and processed, along with Sakura, was exactly the same as it was in his own world, except there were a lot more papers present in the Hokage's desk at present, there was one potted plant less in the room and the desk had quite clearly suffered a lot of abuse recently, from the cracks it sported down the middle.

If this was the same desk used by Hiruzen in Sasuke's world, that was a mighty impressive feat of strength on the Hokage's part. Hashirama-made wood was very tough.

The old man looked somewhat startled. "So... Perhaps it was for the best, then..?" he said, clearly talking to himself. The Third Hokage, a man seen by many as the definitive Shinobi, looked every one of his sixty nine years of age (though the way Kakashi giggled when he said that, Sasuke doubted that was his true age). "I recognize the shrine you speak about. Well, you call it a cave, when it is in truth one of the few places I know that the first Hokage, Senju Hashirama, called a temporary home away from home."

Sasuke seemed confused by the relevance of that. Then again...

Then again, Hashirama of the Mokuton was oft described as freakishly powerful and as having strange powers that lent themselves to odd uses. Such as making a tower made of fire retardant wood. Or, according to some of the old journals Sasuke had found, a giant wooden dildo as a crude joke only him and the much hated leader of the Uchiha, Madara, had found funny. To Sasuke, it was just immature enough to be stupid in a funny way.

It was a mystery about whether or not they had carved that dildo to make the tower or the tower was a separate construct. Nobody was sure and nobody truly wanted to know.

Who was to say Hashirama didn't test the limits of his power's freakishness somewhere he truly should not have, and accidentally did something Sasuke found as frightening as dimensional travel (having experienced it first hand, he could say that it sucked, since he was really starting to get sick of it, no matter the enjoyable company he'd found)?

"Many years ago, before I first retired, I paid that shrine a visit. It was surprisingly bare, for a place that he supposedly lived in the sixth time his father kicked him out of the clan compound. I heard it had some vague sentimental value to him from my teacher, Senju Tobirama. It's an old Uzumaki property, though. They have all sorts of odd properties strewn around the world, where they stored treasures of lost sealing knowledge."

Sasuke frowned. "So, I accidentally stumbled into what should be a monument to Hashirama and sent myself and my team tumbling through dimensions because I was dumb enough to use a jutsu near something even Hashirama himself didn't understand."

Hiruzen chuckled. "Hashirama seldom understood his own powers, let alone the intrincacies of an art as complex as sealing. I believe he was baffled by seals as simple as the exploding tags that are so common nowadays," Hiruzen stated, fondly. "What you stumbled into is most likely the incomplete work of an Uzumaki. You wonder how I know so much?"

Sasuke nodded.

"Well, I know because I decided to retrieve the object in that shrine and took possession of it. I am certain you know of the attack on the fire temple, yes?" Sarutobi asked, and Sasuke nodded in response. "Well, I placed the object I retrieved from the shrine in the care of the monks at the temple. I fear this attack might have been targetted at obtaining such an artifact. Which presents me with a conundrum. I know there was a copy of Naruto in your group as well. He is presently missing, and yet there are remnants and traces of the Kyuubi's chakra..."

"NO!" Sasuke yelled, startling the Hokage out of his calm demeanor for a few seconds. "Naruto would never do that! Sure he's a little weird sometimes, and he's not very nice to most people, but he wouldn't ever betray Konoha like that! Even though this village does its best to crap all over him and his sacrifice every single goddamn day!"

Sarutobi chuckled, warmly, as if it was something he wished to hear. "Your devotion to your teammates is a great virtue," he stated, evenly. "However, as Hokage I cannot discount this possibility. The only other is that it was our own Naruto who did it, and as he was with you, that is quite an unlikely possibility, is it not?"

Sasuke shook his head. "There has to be some other reason! Maybe Naruto came for the artifact... he said he could figure out a way to go back to our world..." Sasuke shook his head and stopped his mind from going on a tangent. For the moment, he could assume that the closer relationship between Naruto and the Hokage had made the old man share this particular bit of information with Naruto in his world but not in this one. "Anyway, maybe he came looking for this whatever it was and he just caught up to the people who massacred the monks just as they finished and-and- he drove them off!"

By the end, Sasuke was nearly dropping into hysterics, because he could not, would not believe that Naruto would do something as ridiculously evil as killing a whole bunch of defenseless monks over something he could just steal by being sneaky.

Naruto was not the most morally upstanding of individuals, given that he was, well, a goddamn ninja, but he was not a monster. Naruto detained the monster. Naruto's will was what prevented Konoha from becoming a smoking crater, even though everyone was making it more difficult.

"I wish I could believe in him as easily as you do. But I do not know this Naruto. What I know is what a berserk Jinchuuriki is capable of, and what I know matches up pretty well to the image painted at the temple. They were ravaged, as if a savage beast had brutalized them for sport. The monks were not defenseless or weak by any stretch of the word, otherwise I would never have entrusted such an important item to them, so whatever did this had to be powerful. The Bijuu chakra presents a very clear picture."

"You can't be accussing Naruto! He looks up to you! He's a loal ninja! Naruto's a goddamn hero!" Sasuke snarled, standing up and nearly yelling into the Hokage's face, his sharingan blazing into action as he glared, as hard as he could, at the God of Shinobi.

The man all ninja aspired to be was not impressed. The old, kindly and wizened grandfather was gone and in his face stood one of the longest-serving Shinobi the world had ever seen, who drew himself to his full height and power. "Sit down, Genin," the Hokage commanded, and Sasuke immediately sat down, almost as if he had been slapped. The Hokage remained standing.

"B-B-But sir!" Sasuke tried to protest, no matter how terrified he truly was.

Hiruzen's face was etched into a cold mask of indifference. "I am accussing no one. Merely stating the facts. Whether or not he is the true culprit, Uzumaki Naruto of your world is currently the highest suspect in the list."

Sasuke's fury resurged. "Is this how you repay all his sacrifices? By discarding him the moment he's no longer useful!? Is this the village I serve so fervently!?"

"Welcome to Shinobi Life, Genin Sasuke," the Hokage stated, perhaps a tad more harshly than he'd intended, bitterness in his voice clear. "We sacrifice it all, so the masses of ingrates can go on with their lives," said the old man, shaking his head. "For all that we are called cowards and dishonorable curs by samurai, our sacrifices are the greatest. For that, we are heroes."

Sasuke glared at the old man, his terror forgotten. "And yet you treat a hero amongst heroes like a pawn in a disturbing game of shogi," said Sasuke, nearly sneering in contempt.

"He himself is expendable. As are you, as am I. We are all expendable heroes, Sasuke, never forget that. Perhaps one day, you will understand, and you will see what I fight for. What Naruto fights for. One day, you will understand, and come to see everything in a different light. Until then... I am afraid to say that you will suffer."

"I am prepared to weather any suffering," Sasuke countered.

"No, you are not. You are not a true shinobi," Hiruzen muttered. "Too young. Too innocent. You have killed, have caused death, but you do not understand the beauty of life and thus the horror of death. Until you do, you are not a true shinobi. Nobody should be a true shinobi. The beauty of death is as terrible as the horrors of life. Our lives are suffering and pain, Sasuke. A shinobi is one who endures that suffering, and uses it to temper and hone his edge."

"So it comes down to that, then? We're simply weapons to be used by greedy and power hungry men?"

"In the end?" Hiruzen asked, as if he had been asked the million dollar question. "Yes. Shinobi are tools of war to be used by the highest bidder. We are what we do."

"Are we? Or is it just cowardice that makes you assume that philosophy, to run away from the sins you've commited in life!? Have you thought that you might just be justifying your actions with flimsy-"

"ENOUGH," Hiruzen commanded. "Cowardice? Insolent child! Your words show your immaturity, as do your actions! You believe me a coward? You believe me afraid of facing sacrifices for the village I so love, despite its many flaws? I killed my own son in cold blood, Sasuke. He had planned to betray the village, and you know why? Because his father was a terrible father. Because his father couldn't turn his eyes aside from his job for one minute to see that his son desperately needed him. My son betrayed this village I love because he hated me and thought it would be the best way to get back at me for my failings. And I only realized how much I loved him the day I decapitated him with his own sword."

Sasuke recoiled, instantly, feeling well and truly horrible.

"We all make sacrifices, Sasuke, and some are worse than others. Don't believe your pain above everyone else's. Don't believe yourself to stand above others. It will only make the fall that much worse. I had the good luck to have a teacher who was a much greater shinobi than he was ever credited for, a man who understood this wretched world and its problems better than any other, and he taught me that this world is a shithole, and we have to live in it the best we can," explained the old Hokage, reverting to a soothing, grandfatherly tone.

"But... But what are our rewards? What do we fight for? Why go on, if all we're going to get is more pain and suffering?" Sasuke finally asked, looking up with tear filled eyes at the Hokage as his rage gave out and he just felt empty inside, realizing for the first time the enormity of the weight being a shinobi carried.

"Our rewards?" Sarutobi asked. "For each and every one of us, it is different. To me, my reward is the smile that people give me when they see me pass. It is their talking to each other without a care in the world. My reward is knowing that my efforts, that my pain and suffering, makes a difference. That I can make a difference. That is the greatest reward this job has given me, and I would not change it for anything. Have I made mistakes? Do I regret things? Of course. But I don't let the guilt I feel for my actions consume me. I do not let my past mistakes haunt me at every turn, much as they try to. I live, the best I can, knowing that those people out there can smile because I can give them a reason to. For you? You will have to find your own, Sasuke, but perhaps you already have, but just can't identify yet. Just think about what you do and why you do it, and eventually the answer will come to you."

Sasuke slumped in his chair, exhaustion overcoming him. "S-Sir... I..."

"You will be granted lodging for the time being. We will look to the bottom of this and find out the truth, Sasuke. If Naruto truly is innocent, then we will know, and all will be better. I do not wish to see him in pain any more than you do. Interdimensional traveller or not, he is, like all of Konoha's children, part of my family."

Letting out a thankful sigh, Sasuke just collapsed into uncousciousness.

The three ANBU that guarded the Hokage made their presence known when the Uchiha relaxed fully, and took him away, silently. Hiruzen merely let them, and then turned to stare out a window. "It is knowing that I avoid boys as young as yourself having to learn the ugly truths of the world, that I find joy, Sasuke. It's in knowing that I can give you the childhood that I never had. The childhood I denied my very own kin... It's in knowing that the mistakes I made can never be repeated..."

The old man wiped a tear from his cheek, before he returned to the papers in his desk.


Surprisingly shorter than the other chapters. Admittedly, at nearly 6k words, it's not precissely short, but... whatever.

And now you know where the title comes from. Nice, huh?

Oh, and you all also know how Konohamaru's dad died. Probably not the same as in canon, but hey, canon didn't specify so I'm running wild with that.