There was a soft knock on the door and Gaara looked up, eyes meeting the gaze of his blond friend. He sat back, setting
down his quill, and gave the other man his full attention. "Naruto," he greeted.
Taking that as silent permission to enter, Naruto stepped inside and shut the door behind him. "You don't usually call
me in the middle of the day, Gaara," he commented, hands shoved into his pockets. "Did you get news?"
Gaara gestured for him to sit. Naruto didn't. The redhead sighed. "Mm... yes. For some time now, Uchiha Sasuke has been
systematically wiping every Konoha nin he crosses paths with off the map," he said grimly, voice soft. "Hokage-sama has informed
me that she's already sent one team to apprehend him, but they never returned. She should have sent the second team by now."
Naruto's hands curled into fists in his pockets. "Killing them?" he asked, face paling. "What about Sakura-chan?"
"I do not believe they have crossed paths," Gaara replied, and mentally added, Yet.
"They will soon," Naruto growled as if reading his mind. He pulled one hand out of his pocket and rubbed his face. "Sakura-chan
will want to confront Sasuke herself. She feels that she owes it to Itachi. She says it's her fault that Sasuke won't ever
get the revenge he's always wanted..." He dropped the hand and fisted it once more. "I'm going. Don't try to stop me, Gaara."
Gaara gazed at him calmly for a long time, then nodded. "Very well."
Naruto smiled at him. "Thanks. I'm gonna get ready and go, then. I guess... I'll see you around, okay, Gaara?"
The redhead nodded. "What will you do after?"
Blue eyes crinkled slightly with the sad smile he gave. "I think it's time I went home."
Sasuke had managed to acquire a new rope, which was good. It meant that he didn't have to carry his sash or his katana
around anymore. It also meant that his hands were free in case of attack. Which was also good.
Heaving a sigh, he sat down for a moment. Revenge driven? Yes. Unbreakable? Likely. Powerful? Definitely. Human? Unfortunately.
So, occasionally yes, he did have to sit down for a minute or two.
Reluctantly, he pulled a bento out of the hip-pouch he kept underneath the sash. He'd take a moment to eat, and then he'd
go back to tearing Konoha to pieces for stealing his revenge.
Yamato flickered into view just outside the gates of Suna, startling the guards. One, a tall man with graying hair, blinked
at him in surprised. "Yamato-san! We did not expect you to return," he admitted, brow furrowed.
Yamato blinked back at him. "Why not?" he asked, frowning.
"Because Naruto-sama is already gone," the man answered.
Yamato stiffened. He must have heard... "How long ago?"
"Um... three hours?" the man ventured, suddenly uncertain. He blinked, and Yamato had vanished. "Huh?"
Sasuke landed lithely on the forest floor. He straightened from his half crouch, gaze sliding to the right, but remaining
mostly unfocused. Aah, these guys were smarter than your average group. Shikamaru, perhaps? Sasuke didn't know of anyone -
alive - that matched Shikamaru's brains, at least. Well, maybe Kakashi.
But Kakashi should still be in the hospital right now.
At any rate, this group had surrounded him, and without knowing it immediately, he'd dropped right into their trap.
Near invisible razor wire surrounded him left, right, front and back.
Perhaps these ones would be harder to kill? He grinned. No. Just trickier. But that was just fine with him. They'd die
Careful to avoid any wires, Sasuke reached back and unsheathed his katana slowly, still smirking. "Ooohhh, come out, come
out, Konoha nin," he drawled. "Let me see your pretty faces. I'll dine on your fear."
But he didn't expect her to step into sight. Haruno Sakura. "Hello, Sasuke," she said softly. She wore no
mask, but then she wasn't ANBU either.
"What, no Sasuke-kun, Sakura?" he asked, smirking. "I'm shocked. Have you finally given up on me?"
She smiled sadly and shook her head. "We'd never give up on you, Sasuke. I'm just no longer in love with you."
Sasuke snorted, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword. "So what? I never cared. Fangirls don't appeal."
Sakura flinched and closed her eyes, lowering her face. She swallowed. "Sasuke, come back. Come home. Give this up," she
plead, looking back up at him. Like always, she met his eyes. She'd never feared to do so.
His eyes were red when she did. "Tell me, Sakura. When you were getting close to him, flirting with him, healing him...
Did you ever think for one moment about your supposed love for me? Did you see me when you met his eyes? Did you think
'no, Sasuke' when he died?"
Shockingly, she laughed. "No. You don't get it, Sasuke, do you?" she asked, uncrossing her arms. "It's not all about you.
In fact, with Itachi, it never was about you. I don't think you came up in our conversations more then... maybe once. He never
brought you up. I only did it once, after I had a nightmare about you. About the day you betrayed me, left me out on
a bench to catch a cold."
He sneered. "Is little Sakura heartbroken? I just left you out like the trash you are."
Her fingers tightened in the fists they'd become, the sound of leather creaking against leather echoing unnaturally in
the silence that had settled. Her fists glowed green, and he could feel the unsettled chakra in the air. He knew Naruto wasn't
here right then. The idiot would have leapt out at him and right into his trap if he'd been there, especially after that comment.
"I'm not trash," Sakura said softly, and if he paid attention close enough, he'd see how badly she was shaking.
Not that he cared. "Prove it," he sneered.
"I already have," she replied softly. "Over and over and over again. It's not my fault that you weren't there to see it."
She pulled her fist back and slammed it into the ground.
Naruto took to the trees as soon as he reached them, his speed doubling with the extra leverage. He was glad, as he'd been
getting a little sick of running on sand that only slid and slowed him down. He launched himself from a branch, landed on
another and did it all over again, his gaze fixed on some invisible point ahead of him.
I'm coming, Sakura-chan, he thought, and was left with only the soft clatter of beads and the heavy thunk of his
feet for company.
Sakura jumped back at the resulting explosion, landing in the boughs of a tree. She felt Genma land beside her and pat
her shoulder in silent congratulations. Neither said a word as they waited for the dust to clear.
Sasuke was gone, and then they heard a scream of pain to their left. Genma and Sakura cursed in tandem. Sakura was pale
as she darted toward the noise. Her heart sank into her stomach upon finding one of the ANBU beheaded. Another scream from
directly across the clearing, Genma went off toward Itachi's location and Sakura found another beheaded ANBU.
She spun and dashed toward Genma and Itachi, but used a tree-branch to flip back and out of the way as Sasuke came at her
with a kunai. Her chakra-laden fist caught him in the jaw, and he poofed out of existence. She ducked out of the way of the
flying kunai, and a log fell to the forest floor.
He came at her from behind next, sword crackling with the chidori. She dropped from the tree, letting gravity take hold,
and barely avoided the fatal strike he aimed for her throat. As it was, she knew he'd just sliced through her hair.
She reached up as she fell, grabbing his ankle, and heaved him aside. He slammed into a tree, grunting, and poofed into
another log. Then she was landing, and had barely touched the ground before he was right above her, sword raised and leer
on his face.
"Escape this!" he yelled, and swung.
Genma flickered into view, tanto raised to parry Sasuke's katana. Electricity ran down the older male's blade, making him
grunt with pain, and then the tanto shattered, but not before Genma managed to shove Uchiha away.
Then Genma dropped to one knee, teeth gritted. He let go of the tanto's hilt, palm smoking, and clasped the wrist of his
injured hand. Sakura watched Sasuke come at them again and pulled back her fist. He stopped, flipped back using one hand on
the ground for leverage, and vanished into the shadows of the forest.
Sakura crouched in front of Genma, back to him and fists glowing. She waited. Taicho... you'd better hurry it up!
Yamato reached the first forest of Konoha in record time. He glanced around as he traveled, noting the minor signs that
this path had been recently passed. He eyed one, pausing on a branch. Maybe two and a half hours previously? He was catching
up, slowly. Hopefully, he'd get to Naruto before Naruto reached the Uchihas.
Sighing, he continued on, offering up a quick prayer for his fellow nin.
They waited for maybe fifteen minutes in silence before Sasuke attacked again. His whole body glowed with the Chidori,
and it sang along the length of his blade. Genma knocked Sakura back, taking the blade in his bicep. He cried out in pain,
body spasming, but it was enough of a distraction for Sakura to come at her old teammate from behind.
Her fist crashed into his spine, glowing and heavy but once again he vanished, a log shattering to splinters in his place.
She ducked, a kunai grazing her cheek from behind. She slapped her palms on the ground and kicked out behind her, head turned
to watch as Sasuke took the attack on his arm guards and flew backward. She dropped her feet to the ground again and put her
back to Genma's.
"I'll watch," he grunted.
She nodded. "Soon, I'll be able to heal you. Do you think you can hold on till then?"
Genma coughed, back brushing her's. "Maybe." He knew she was referring to Taicho's preparations... she just hoped he would
be able to last until then.
Then Sasuke dropped from the trees, eyes red and tomoes whirling. He met Sakura's gaze, and the tomoes morphed. "Mangekyo
sharringan," he whispered.
Yamato was so close. Did he just see a flash of white? He narrowed his eyes, trying to speed up, and nearly tripped
over his own two feet at what he finally saw. White sleeved cloak with fire climbing up the hem, blond hair, black pants...
"Yondaime-sama?" he whispered, and then the Yondaime was gone, flashing out of sight.
She stood alone, on a plain of flowers, staring ahead at the sunset. Itachi was next to her, and their fingers were interlaced.
He turned his head, black eyes surveying her quietly. "Sakura."
She blinked and looked at him. "Itachi?" she asked, surprised. Her brow furrowed. "What is it?"
He pulled his hand away and stepped back. "I'm dead, Sakura. You let me die."
Ice went down her spine, and her eyes teared up. "No, Itachi! You wouldn't... you wouldn't even let me be there for you!
You sent me away, otherwise I would... I would have..."
"Saved me?" Itachi asked, and frowned at her. "You couldn't have saved me."
She frowned at him for a moment. "I didn't need to. I-" She stopped, memory flooding back. "This is a trick."
"You're dreaming, Sakura. And you failed me. I died because you failed to save me," Itachi went on.
Sakura almost laughed. "Wow, Sasuke, did you not get a news letter? I mean, really? It's no secret."
His eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?" The facade of Itachi faded away, leaving behind her old teammate.
She smiled, and felt a flood of foreign chakra surging through her from her shoulder. Genma. She blinked the image of that
field away, and swung her fist. Sasuke shoved himself back, sprawling out onto his back and scowling at her. "What did you
mean?" he demanded.
She looked behind him and smiled. "Done, taicho?"
Sasuke turned his head, staring up at the masked figure standing just behind him. The man was staring back down through
cat eyes, one hand holding a condensed ball of fire, the other hanging by his side. "Yes, Sakura-san."
The color drained from Sasuke's face. "You were dead," he whispered, sitting there on the ground like a bump on a log.
Itachi's shoulder rolled in a smooth semblance of a shrug. "Emphasis on 'were'," he replied boredly, and lifted the fireball.
"Good bye, little brother."
Sasuke barely managed to dodge. Sakura had gotten Genma the hell out of there, and when she looked back, she was glad she
had. The only thing left for about a twenty foot diameter was a deep, smoking crater. The Uchiha brothers stood on either
side of it, one slightly singed, the other as immaculate as usual.
"You are a sore sight to lay eyes upon, ototo," Itachi said calmly. "A traitor."
Sasuke laughed, a tinge of madness coloring the sound. "That rich, coming from you!" he shouted back, and any mirth
that may have been there was drowned in fury. "You selfish bastard! You betrayed me!"
Itachi inclined his head. "So I did. Perhaps you should do something about it, then?"
Sasuke screamed wordlessly and lunged forward. Sakura looked away, forcing herself to focus on the badly injured Genma
and not the sick display of brotherly hatred. "I don't think I've thanked you," she said softly, pausing as a thundering crash
made it impossible to speak. "If you hadn't been here, I would've been trapped in the Sharringan."
Genma cracked a tired smile. "Only for you, Sakura," he teased flirtatiously.
She laughed a little. "Flirt," she accused. Her hands glowed green with healing chakra and she lay them gently on his shoulder.
"Just relax. I've got you, Genma-san."
He let out a relieved sigh and closed his eyes. "Don't let taicho die again, huh? Or me. I'd much appreciate it."
Sakura nodded, closing her own eyes. "Yeah," she breathed, and focused on mending his injuries.
"HE WHAT!" Tsunade yelled, hands slamming down on her new desk.
Shizune cringed and pulled slightly away. "Um... Na-Naruto... went after Uchiha Sasuke." She held up the scroll from a
messenger bird. "Kazekage-sama says he did not try to stop him, as 'it would have been a pointless battle to keep him in my
village, he's your responsibility, and I don't feel like arranging for property damage repairs'," she quoted.
Tsunade growled. "GET ME SHIKAMARU! And find out where the hell Yamato is!"
Tsunade sat down, biting the tip of her thumb after Shizune left. Yamato was supposed to keep this from happening! Had
he been too late in returning?
Itachi's fist rammed into Sasuke's stomach, knocking the breath out of his lungs. Sasuke snatched at his face, fingers
hooking in the strap of Itachi's mask, and he snatched it away. They leaped apart.
Sasuke dropped the mask to the ground and stepped on it, crushing the porcelain beneath his heel. "I'm going to kill you,
Itachi. Once and for all. This will end today."
Itachi's hand slid around him and started going through seals behind his back. "You're right. But it will not end in death.
It will end with your return to Konoha."
Sasuke sneered. "What, are you suddenly a saint?" he demanded angrily. "Suddenly, you care?"
"I have always cared, Sasuke," Itachi replied, shrugging. "It was you who did not care enough to find out the truth." He
was finished. All he needed was contact now.
"WHAT TRUTH!" Sasuke roared, surging forward. "You're a murderer! You killed everyone! Who cares what truth there is to
it?" He swiped at his brother with his katana, meeting only air.
Itachi's arm wrapped around Sasuke's neck from behind, and he placed his other hand against the side of the younger Uchiha's
head. "You are still foolish, ototo."
Sasuke forced his brother away with a full-body chidori and spun to face him, katana slashing out. He caught Itachi's arm,
metal slicing flesh, and smirked victoriously when Itachi's frown deepened with the pain.
"You are blind, ototo. You never sought the truth. You took my words at face-value, and that is why you were never destined
to best me," Itachi continued. "How pathetic."
Sasuke was blind. Blind with rage, and pain. "You killed them!" he yelled and lunged at his older brother. At the last
second, he abandoned his katana and stabbed Itachi in the stomach with a kunai.
Itachi's face smoothed out with surprise. "You..." He poofed into smoke, and Sasuke crashed to his knees on the ground.
A shadow clone.
"That was unpredictable," Itachi murmured behind him. "I see you've been studying Naruto."
"He's been unpredictable his whole life," Sasuke snarled, turning his head. He climbed to his feet. "I picked up a few
pointers." He leaned over and retrieved the sword from the ground, eyes never once leaving Itachi's face.
Itachi's eyes narrowed. "I see." He unsheathed the ANBU issued half-sword, called a tanto but not exactly the same, from
his back. He pressed the hilt to his covered wrist, then flicked it. The poison capsule hidden beneath his arm guard was punctured
by the tiny needle in the hilt. The clear liquid ran inside the needle and then through the curves of the blade when Itachi
"You won't be coming back, then," he said, realizing it. There was a brief moment of sorrow, and then nothing. He would
"No," Sasuke growled, and his blade glowed with the chidori.
"Then I have no choice. This battle must end with death," Itachi said, face a mask like the ANBU could never wear.
Sasuke sneered. "That was the way it was from the beginning," he retorted. "You just wouldn't admit it."
Itachi met his brother's gaze as his eyesight sharpened, becoming clearer, and everything around him seemed to slow. Sasuke
was smirking knowingly. Itachi's gaze flickered toward Sakura, who was focused on healing Genma and trusting him to
keep Sasuke occupied. Sharringan red eyes widened as the clone appeared behind her and lifted his blade.
"You destroyed what I loved," Sasuke said softly, suddenly in his path, blocking him from Sakura. "It's my turn."
Time slowed to a crawl. Itachi's blade flashed, was blocked. Sasuke's blade swung down to behead her, pain ripped through
Itachi's side. Another clone behind him. A flare of color. White, red, black, orange, yellow. The clang of steel, screech
of metal, grunt of effort.
Wet and heat seeped into Itachi's side, but his eyes were glued, fixated, on the back of a man with yellow hair.
And then time sped up. Itachi jerked his elbow back, and the clone behind him shattered, popped into oblivion. His tanto
slid through Sasuke's guard and into a log as Sasuke vanished, though he managed to catch the younger male's arm. Naruto.
Itachi had never been so happy to see the blond, or the man that arrived just behind him. Yamato.
Sasuke didn't return, as it was obvious he was outnumbered more than he could handle, especially with poison running through
his system. Itachi barely remember the knick he'd managed to give his younger brother in their scuffle. He didn't care.
He dashed over to a surprised Sakura and grabbed her arms. She looked into his eyes fearlessly. "I-Itachi? What's going
Naruto, having dispatched the clone, plopped down on the ground beside his friend as Itachi scanned her for injuries. "Sasuke
sent a clone after you, Sakura-chan. Weren't you paying attention?"
"Yes," she replied, blinking at Itachi. "I was going to turn around, but when I felt your chakra, I knew you'd take care
of it- Itachi, what's gotten into you?"
He sighed and released her biceps, gaze trailing over to Genma, who was also staring at him like he'd lost his mind. He
shook his head. "No, it's nothing," he muttered, trying to slow the frantic beat of his heart.
The look she gave him was clearly unconvinced, but Naruto was already speaking and thus saving Itachi from one very uncomfortable
conversation. "Ne, Itachi, weren't you dead?" And pitting him right into another one.
Itachi eyed the blond, noting his rather interesting change of attire. Gone were the orange pants, replaced by black ones.
His orange and black shirt had been replaced with an orange form-fitting cotton shirt covered in a black vest similar to the
Jonin vest. His necklace remained in place, and his shoes were the same. And then, to top it all off was a collared, sleeved
white cloak with fire climbing up the hem at the bottom and the collar, though the sleeves were pure white.
"Itachi?" Naruto prompted, scowling at him. "Oi, stop staring. I haven't changed that much, you egotistical jerk.
I asked a question, dammit!"
Itachi's brow lifted. "Well, considering you haven't yet leapt for my throat..."
"Don't get your hopes up," Naruto retorted. "I'm still considering it."
The corner of the Uchiha's mouth twitched. "I will explain further when we are in a secure location." He glanced toward
where the bodies of his comrades lay, mirth evaporating. "For now, we must bring them back to Konoha for burial..."
Naruto frowned and nodded. "Yamato-sensei? Can you make a couple stretchers? It's okay if they're made of all wood. I'll
make some clones to carry them."
Yamato nodded and went to work doing as Naruto had asked. Meanwhile, Sakura helped Genma sit up, sighing. "Can you walk?"
she asked him.
"Well, lessee," he replied, holding out a hand.
She scrambled to her feet and helped him stand. He managed a few wobbly steps without help, then nodded. "Yeah. Not very
fast, but I can walk. My legs are still pretty numb from that electric shock, though."
Sakura nodded. "I'll help you," she replied.
Naruto got up and made some clones, then they all went with Yamato to get the bodies of their fallen comrades. Suddenly,
the real one stopped and came back as Itachi slowly got to his feet. "Oh, and one more thing. Itachi?"
Itachi lifted his gaze, brow quirked. "Yes?"
And Naruto slugged him right in the jaw before backing up several steps. "Okay, now I feel better."
Itachi frowned and rubbed his jaw. "I will have to return the favor eventually, Naruto-san," he informed the blond.
Naruto shrugged and finally smiled at him. "That's cool! Actually, I'm just glad that Sakura-chan doesn't have to cry anymore."
He waved and left to go help Yamato.
When Itachi glanced at the kunoichi, he was amused to find that she was pointedly not looking at him, face bright red.
Genma was grinning beside her.
"Mm. Interesting," Itachi murmured.
"Jerk," he heard her whisper, though it was up in the air as to whom she was talking about.
Naruto was the first to walk through the door into the Hokage's office and Itachi grabbed Sakura's arm, pulling her ten
feet away. Yamato had the same idea. They all watched in fascination as Naruto went flying through the wall to slam into the
wall on the other side of the hallway. Tsunade came stomping out, grabbed the dazed blond by the hair and dragged him down
A pale Shizune poked her head out the door, looking sheepish. "Um, I'll be taking your reports, if you don't mind. Yamato-san,
please wait outside while I get Sakura-chan's and Itachi-san's."
Yamato nodded, peering curiously down the hall their Hokage had gone down. Itachi sighed and followed Sakura into the Hokage's
office. Ten minutes later, they were just finishing with Shizune taking notes when Tsunade came back in and took her seat.
She took the notes from Shizune and Itachi's written report, glanced over both and nodded. "You're both on a week's mandatory
recovery leave," she said. "Genma is to have five days once he's released from the hospital."
Sakura nodded. "Hai! But... Shisho-"
Tsunade smirked. "You're allowed to work in the hospital, Sakura. I know how much it means to me, why would I take
it from you?"
Sakura gave her a relieved smile. "Thank you, Shisho."
Tsunade nodded. "Dismissed. Send in Yamato."
Sakura nodded and dragged a slightly surprised Itachi out behind her with inhuman strength. "She's ready for you, Yamato-sempai!"
she chirped, and then pushed Itachi ahead of her. "And you and I simply must have a word."
He blinked, stumbling forward. "Sakura-san, I really must protest," he began.
She laughed sharply. "Oh, no you don't. You're not getting out of this talk. Don't make me get Ino."
The Uchiha sighed. "Very well," he muttered. "I will meet you at home." He stepped forward and completed the transportation
"Goddammit! UCHIHA!" she shrieked.