Obito-Sensei Chapter 46

Unexpected Allies, Again

No other nation, perhaps, but the gaudy bandits of Rain. Who but a comedian could call such a collection of determined anarchists a nation? To allow them their self-appointed label is to make an unforgivable concession; forgive me for sullying this letter with even a suggestion at such poor humor. However, it seems we must speak of such unpleasantries due to the recent tragedy within the Land of Waves...

###

Sakura Haruno sat in a hotel room with Suigetsu Hozuki, Karin Uzumaki, Naruto Namikaze, Sasuke Uchiha, Ino Yamanaka, Shikamaru Nara, Hinata Hyuuga, and Kurenai Yuhi and wondered when the building would explode.

Saying the tension in the room was palpable would be a comical understatement. The walls groaned with the weight of all their chakra; even if this meeting was happening under the flag of a temporary detente, there wasn't a single person here who was comfortable with it. The shinobi of Rain, five strong, were lined up along one side of the room, leaning against the wall or sitting on the floor: Sasuke was the only one with some furniture to his name, an oversized chair that could recline to an absurd degree.

But Sasuke didn't recline: he was bolt upright and at the ready. Even if it wasn't ideal, they weren't making a deal with friends right now.

The shinobi of Konoha took up the other side of the room and its furniture, taking up one of the beds and the entire couch. Kurenai was the only one who stayed standing, while Ino and Hinata had taken the couch and Shikamaru the bed.

They'd been stuck in this awkward pause for almost ten seconds now, which had happened a couple times since they'd arrived at the hotel. There had been no time to regroup, just going from one confrontation to another. It made Sakura's whole body itch. Finally, Sasuke, always making the effort, pushed through it and spoke up.

"I'm curious about something," he said, and the Leaf ninja stirred.

"Yeah?" Ino asked. Just like Sasuke was always making an effort, she was always abrasive. She kept looking over at Sakura, and Sakura kept looking back. They were both searching for something that wasn't there, and the eye contact would always break unfulfilled and frustrated.

"How'd you get me with your Shintenshin?" Sasuke asked. Ino smirked as he continued. "I was watching out for you the second Shikamaru showed up. I figured that would be your team's strategy, and you still caught me off-guard."

Ino glanced at Hinata and Kurenai, obviously asking a question. Kurenai shook her head, but Hinata spoke up nonetheless.

"I guided her," she said, and Sasuke made an understanding sound. "We waited until your companion… Haku?" she asked, and Sasuke nodded. "Until Haku was sufficiently far away, and then until your team was more spread out, and then I aimed the jutsu for her."

"In the middle of the city?" Sasuke said with a faint smile. Sakura cocked an eyebrow, remembering a teasing conversation from a lifetime ago, just before Waterfall. She wouldn't have expected that look out of him then, and seeing it now was still just as unexpected. There was an uncomfortable feeling filling her up, a nostalgic past and an uncertain future grinding together like broken bones. "That must have been difficult."

"She shot me through a couple buildings," Ino said, obviously unimpressed with Sasuke's attitude. Ino had always been hard to impress: Sakura supposed that was part of why she'd tried. "It was pretty amazing, but I guess it was for nothing."

"Hey, that's not true," Naruto said. It seemed he finally regained his confidence. "It brought us back together, you know?"

Shikamaru laughed. "That's a hell of a thing to say," he said, and Naruto shrugged.

"We're both after the same thing, right? And I doubt you guys woulda just walked up to us otherwise." Sakura had to admit he was likely right about that. Would they have even known the team from Konoha was here otherwise? Would they have met in even worse circumstances, both of them clashing together over the same objective? "So what, do you know anything more than we do?"

"Well, what do you know?" Kurenai asked. Sakura watched the woman carefully. She was the one who presented the most danger here. Once upon a time, Sasuke had said Kurenai might be their sensei because of Sakura's proficiency in the simple genjutsu training the academy had. Even if she was far more sure than she should have been that Sasuke could take the older jonin if it did come to a fight, Kurenai's illusions and greater experience could be a deciding factor.

She narrowed her eyes. It was way too easy to look at these people as enemies. Why? Just because they'd tried to kidnap Sasuke? Once upon a time she'd been driven into a murderous rage by the very idea of Hinata and Shikamaru and Ino getting hurt, but now she was thinking about hurting them herself.

Had Rain changed her that much, or had her anger just been that shallow and easily redirected? Sakura clenched her fist: she hadn't had these many questions to ask herself for the last couple months, and she'd been getting used to it. Growing to like it, even, the surety and silence in her head. But one glance at her former friends, and all her doubts were surging back. Her inner voice wasn't quiet anymore.

'When the month was done, your anger didn't go away. It just became a part of you. Now, you'll be angry forever.'

"Not that much," Sasuke guilelessly admitted. "I found the counterfeit bills being carried by some smugglers in the Land of Rivers, and they told me that they'd picked them up in the Land of Waves. The Nation did some independent verification, spying I assume, and I was selected to lead an extra large team to ensure mission success. We're to capture the counterfeiters and their production facilities if possible and turn them over to the Land of Fire immediately."

He leaned back, relaxing for the first time, but Sakura was sure even that was a calculated move. "And is it the same for you guys? Or do you have something more?"

Kurenai narrowed her eyes. "We don't," she said shortly. "I suppose it's sensible that the counterfeits would be noticed at around the same time. I don't imagine the Hokage thought that any other villages would be onto them so soon." She smiled bitterly. "After all, you're one of the only Uchiha outside of the village, Sasuke, and it would take you or a Hyuuga to notice them."

"A Hyuuga?" Sakura was surprised too; she would have assumed that the Byakugan's range would have made it less precise than the Sharingan. Served her right for making assumptions about a Kekkei Genkai she only had the barest knowledge of. "Not one of the Military Police?"

"I found them," Hinata said, and Ino nudged her. She was looking down now, some of her courage fading. "Just by luck." She laughed, though it was more of a cough. "I guess it was the same for both of us, Sasuke."

"Guess so…" Sasuke trailed off, staring at the girl. Sakura was getting tired of the stilted back and forth, so she stepped forward, off the wall. She looked back as she did, but it looked like Karin and Suigetsu were content to listen at the moment. Suigetsu gave her a cheeky grin, but nothing more.

"How were you planning to track it down?" she asked, and Kurenai gestured with mock graciousness.

"You first," she said, and Sakura snorted.

"Sasuke?" she asked, and he waved her ahead. You had to be a model ninja to get into the Akatsuki, and a model ninja asked their commander before they gave away sensitive information.

Sakura forged ahead, holding onto the new, unfamiliar her with a steel grip. Living the lie was the only way she could keep herself together. "We already know the money is being moved through the black market, since the smugglers ended up with some of it," she said. "That's why Haku left, to try and make contact with some of the market's vendors. We figured that in a place like Fukami City it would be thriving, and we're planning to make a generous offer there to see if we can draw out any counterfeit bills. Assuming Haku finds someone willing to buy, of course."

"Clever," Shikamaru grunted, and Sakura gave him an insincere smile. He looked at her cockeyed, clearly measuring her as always. He was the smartest one here, she thought. Were his own words as sincere as her smile? "We were just going to brute force it."

"Brute force?" It seemed Karin was no longer content to stay silent. She leaned forward, curiosity plain on her face. "Do you mean just searching the city? That would take weeks in a place like this."

"Karin, right?" Ino asked, and Karin nodded.

"Karin Uzumaki," she confirmed, and for just a second an obvious look of surprise flashed across Ino's face. She recovered, turning to Kurenai, who just sighed.

"It seems this is the best option," the woman said. Ino took that as her permission.

"Hinata saw you all from pretty far away," she said smugly, and the Hyuuga blushed. "Her range has gotten crazy in the last year."

"Really?" Naruto asked. "Wasn't it like, a hundred meters or something back in the Exam?" Sakura nodded, pretty sure that was right. "What is it now? Like a couple hundred? That's great, Hinata."

Hinata blushed. "A couple thousand," she said, very quiet, and Sakura couldn't help but blink. Suigetsu whistled.

"Damn, you could follow us around all day and we'd never know," he said with a laugh. Ino laughed back, the tone a little meaner.

"If we had a reason to," she said, showing teeth. Suigetsu smiled back, his triangular teeth a little more intimidating, and Sakura felt a bit of pathetic relief as the tension in the room ebbed into something more resembling… rivalry? She shouldn't have been relieved. She didn't want to be.

She didn't want to think about the serrated homesickness digging a hole in her heart.

"So you were just going to scan the city, kilometer by kilometer, until you found any production facilities," she said to take her mind off the ache, and Hinata nodded. "And if you didn't find anything…" She looked at her old friend. "You were here just in case, Ino."

"Just in case," Ino slowly said, locking eyes with her. "I'd like my knife back, by the way."

That was the first thing that almost knocked Sakura back. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, and opened them to find Ino still watching her.

"Are we starting that now?" she asked, and Ino's nostrils flared. The girl came up off the couch, and the semi-comfortable atmosphere snapped like a rubber band pulled to its limit. At her side, Hinata raised her head, her expression going flat.

"You owe us an explanation," Ino said. Sakura's heart became a stone, though the hole in it still remained.

"I didn't mean to hurt anyone." Her hand wandered down, and she saw Kurenai tense. "And I meant what I said about this knife."

"'A part of you'?" Ino said, trying to muster up a sneer. Something was holding it back. That incomplete feeling, the vacuum in their life that they could all feel, kept her from putting her all into anything, even her anger. "Yeah, that was a pretty good line. I didn't know what to say at the time. But I had some time to think about it when I was running off with Sasuke-!" She stopped to glare at the Uchiha. "You're really fast, by the way, it's super annoying."

"Thanks?" Sasuke said, bemused, and Ino snarled.

"You can't just say something like that!" she said, spinning back to Sakura. "You can't run off and leave us all behind and then say 'Oh, I've got a part of you with me, it's okay!' Only a real piece of shit would do that! It's not like we had anything to hold onto, Sakura! We only had questions!" She took a step forward, and Sakura clenched her fist on reflex. "You brought us together for your birthday and then you ditched us, all of us, the very next day! What, did you want a final good memory or something? If that's what you were shooting for, it didn't fucking work!"

"That's-" Sakura started to say, before the words froze in her throat. Shame almost weighed her head down, but she stayed standing tall. Suigetsu and Karin were watching her, she could see out of the corner of her eye, and with interest. Even if it wasn't their intent, she had to watch her words carefully. "That's not what I was trying to do. I wasn't lying about forgetting my birthday. I just wanted to leave quietly, without a fuss." She centered herself. "Did Sasuke tell you what happened? Is that why you all stopped?"

"He told me you dragged him and Naruto along," Ino said, and Sasuke stirred.

"Well, Naruto at least," he said, looking back at his friend, who gave him a queasy thumbs up. "I told them I was looking for Itachi."

"Ah," Sakura said, her throat dry. Had she been under some delusion that when she came back the conversation would be easier. 'I had a mission, I'm sure you understand?' Had she really thought that, or had it just been that she hadn't even been thinking about going back lately? "Yeah. That's pretty accurate."

"What the hell made you think that?" Ino asked. Her team was happy to let her take the lead. That wasn't surprising. Shikamaru had always been passive, and Hinata was out of her element here. Kurenai though… Kurenai was just watching. Waiting for a slipup. The women's eyes may have been red, but they were cold as ice. "That it was okay?"

"I didn't think it was okay. I didn't want them to come," Sakura said. "We almost fought. I told them I'd beat them up before they could tell Obito, and that even if they dragged me back I'd just keep running." Just some embellishment, but she had to use the gap of a year and betrayal to make it more believable. The second Ino wondered why Naruto or Sasuke hadn't just grabbed Obito to take care of her, everything would come apart. "I didn't deserve for them to come along. I didn't. If we could redo it, I would have made sure they hadn't known I was leaving."

Naruto looked hurt at that, but Sakura shut him out. They both knew it was a lie; didn't that make it okay?

"How about why you left then?" Ino said, her anger going from hot to cold. "You gotta good line for that too?"

"Maybe she figured-" Suigetsu started to say, his tone lackadaisical, and Sakura turned her head towards him. It wasn't conscious, but her chakra was like a spear, long and sharp enough to pierce right through him, and he froze at the look on her face. Sakura wondered what she'd see in a mirror as she turned back to Ino.

"It was the Chunin Exam," she said. Shikamaru grunted.

"Because you weren't promoted?" he said. Sakura closed her eyes.

"No. I didn't care about that. I didn't think I would be from the beginning, especially after I got matched against Gaara." She opened her eyes to find the whole room watching her, even Naruto and Sasuke. Had she ever laid it out for them like this, as plain as she could? Sakura was pretty sure the answer was no. "I had a conversation with Haku during the Second Exam, when we teamed up in the Forest of Death. It was late and we were keeping watch together, and it made everything seem like a dream. I think that's why it stuck with me."

"He's not that pretty," Ino said, and she smiled a little when Sakura laughed.

"It wasn't like that. We talked about why Amegakure was sending ninja to the exam at all. What being a ninja is, the kind of perverse incentives it creates. Haku hadn't really put it to words before, I don't think, but he told me about the Akatsuki and why it had been founded and created the Nation of Rain. He told me that fundamentally, the Akatsuki was trying to create peace. And I think he was right, cause we're here now on a mission like that, trying to bring our villages closer together."

Sakura took a breath. "It was like… I'd never had a conversation like that before, and only one since, and that was with Jiraiya of the Sannin." She looked over at her team to find Naruto putting on a mock hurt look.

"No offense, guys," she said with a small laugh. "But you know, we came up with a name for it, the Shinobi System, an economy based entirely around selling and demanding violence. So when the final for the exam came, and I thought about how there were people who had come there from all across the continent just to watch people like us fight each other, a bunch of kids who'd been taught how to kill people since we could walk, when they were cheering when someone like Kabuto, who's kind and only wants to heal people, almost got his hands sawn off…"

Her knuckles were going white. "It made me angry. It made me think about it more, about what kind of ninja I wanted to be, what kind of world I wanted to live in."

Uninterrupted attention. Sakura hated it. She breathed out. "Some of it was probably intentional. Haku came to me a couple days later, once I was out of the hospital, and gave me an offer to join the Nation of Rain. So I think the setup there was targeted. You-" She pointed at Suigetsu. "You and Kabuto and Haku teamed up with us because of Naruto and Sasuke, hoping to recruit them, but the connection Haku forged with me was the most genuine."

Suigetsu shrugged, but the Leaf ninja just looked disturbed.

"That's manipulative," Hinata said. Sakura frowned and nodded.

"It was. But that was why I left. I guess you can call me an idiot if you want, but I really did think… I still do think, I guess, that Rain wasn't just another village, and that I could make the world a better place there. Be another shinobi who wasn't just spreading violence and pain and giving nothing back." She looked down. "I guess when I say it that way, I do sound pretty stupid."

"It's a nindo," Shikamaru said after a short pause, and Sakura gave him a confused look. "I guess that's better than not having one." He shifted forward. Ino, it seemed, was taking a moment, muttering something under her breath. "What was the other conversation?" he said, the gleam of curiosity in his eyes. "The one with Jiraiya?"

"Hey, yeah!" Naruto asked. "You said he visited, but you didn't talk about it!" He scratched his head, feigning outrage. "How the heck did that go? That was months ago!"

Not sure why everyone in the room was so focused on her, even Kurenai, Sakura tried to not fall back into herself. She frowned. "We talked about loyalty," she said, and Shikamaru scoffed. She raised an eyebrow at him. "He was there with the Amekage, and they asked me if I thought loyalty was important."

"Subtle," Kurenai said with a bit of a bite. Sakura saw Sasuke shake his head.

"I doubt it was about that," he said. Sakura confirmed with a nod. It felt good to share, she realized. Like they were catching up on lost time. It was a time where they could pretend things were normal, even if she wasn't a fan of herself being the focus.

"He wanted to know if I was loyal to people, or to structures, or to ideals," Sakura said. To her surprise, Hinata had the most dramatic reaction to those words: she leaned back, her brow furrowing in a frown. Sakura had no idea what that could be about. "I told him that I'd gone to Rain because it was the closest to my ideals, and that if it didn't line up with them, I'd just have to make it."

"And Konoha was too entrenched for you," Shikamaru mused. Sakura found herself nodding along. "Damn. I was hoping-"

"That's not enough," Ino interrupted, shaking her head and drawing the room's center to herself. She sat down on the bed and crossed her arms, letting out a harsh sigh. "That's not nearly enough."

"I don't have anything better," Sakura said, some of her fire returning. She spread her arms. "Everyone, let's be honest: there was never going to be something that was enough. I did something incredibly selfish and hurtful leaving." She smiled, not sure if she was happy or sad. "If you were thinking that there was something I could say that would make everything better… you'd be just like me. And just like me, you'd be deluding yourself."

Though that was a lie, Sakura realized. She had one thing: an ace up her sleeve, something that not even Naruto and Sasuke knew about.

Ino was quiet at that: the whole room was. Sakura took the opportunity to step farther away from the wall, almost to the center of the room. Ino watched her come with bitter eyes, but as Sakura knelt down before her she finally saw the hope that was behind them, the feeling that had been holding her friend back this whole time. The notion that loss and hope were really two sides of the same emotion hit Sakura hard enough to make her glad she was on her knees.

"Seriously?" she heard Suigetsu say behind her, before there was a loud thwack. Someone next to him had hit him: she wasn't sure if it was Naruto or Karin. She rolled her eyes, and saw the ghost of a smile appear on Ino's face.

"I can't make it up to you," she said, dropping her head. "All I can do is apologize." They were only a couple feet apart now. She just needed to get a little closer. "I'm really sorry, Ino. All of you. I didn't mean for it to go this way."

"Sakura…" Ino's eyes were welling up. "I'm glad you're okay, but I also really wanna hit you, you know?"

"Yeah, that's fair," she admitted. Ino's smile wasn't a ghost now. "But after this mission, okay? I don't want my teammates getting the wrong idea."

She reached out, opening herself up for a kneeling hug, and after a second of hesitation Ino barely took it, the two of them wrapping their arms around each other. It was tentative, careful, like they were both afraid one was going to pull the other into a grapple.

It was there, in that moment of distraction as everyone else was keeping an eye on the other shinobi in the room, seeing how they would react, if they needed to spring into action, that Sakura whispered something into Ino's ear.

###

Sasuke watched Sakura hug Ino and wondered what his teammate was thinking as she pulled back. This was only going to make everything more painful in the end. He turned to Kurenai, who regarded him impassively with her crimson eyes.

"It's getting late," he said. Sakura backed up, returning to their side of the room. She looked a little rough, not that he could blame her. "And this isn't something we could resolve in one night." Maybe ever, he internally amended. "Are you at least content to work with us for the time being?"

"No," Kurenai said flatly. "But we'd be foolish not to." Sasuke nodded, noticing that Ino still hadn't pulled back. She looked confused: had Sakura thrown her off that much? "For now, we'll search for the counterfeiters together."

"Finally," Shikamaru groaned, leaning back and closing his eyes. "Now we can talk about the actual important stuff. He cracked open one eye, glancing between Ino and Hinata. Finding that Ino was still apparently frozen, he nodded at Hinata. "Do you wanna tell them, or should I?"

"What?" Naruto asked. Sasuke was curious too. The Nara was trying to pretend he didn't care, but his whole body was tense.

"I will," Hinata said softly, drawing Sasuke's attention to her. "I'm sure you are already aware there are many other shinobi in the city."

"About two dozen, including us," Karin confirmed. Hinata nodded.

"One of them is Gaara of the Desert," she said. Sasuke felt his heart speed up at the name, and he wasn't the only one. Even though they'd already known, the Leaf team looked uncomfortable even bringing up the ninja from Sand. Sasuke's teammates were worse: Naruto flinched, and Sakura just stopped where she was, staring straight ahead.

"The sand guy?" Suigetsu asked. He was smiling, but Sasuke could tell he was thrown off too. "Yeesh, wasn't he a freak?"

"Yes," Kurenai said flatly. "We don't know why he's here, but we're going to avoid him. I would recommend you all do the same."

"What's he been doing?" Naruto said. His face twisted into a grimace. "No way he's here for the counterfeiters. He wouldn't get sent after people like that, right?"

"I doubt it," Hinata said. Her Byakugan activated, and Sasuke wondered if it really was that easy for her to cast her perception through a city of thousands to pinpoint a single person. If he looked at a thousand faces, it would take him time to scan them all: was Hinata just more proficient than him at breaking down that information, or did the Hyuuga have some special training in the matter? "So far as I've seen, he's just been sitting around. Right now…" She blinked. "He's on the roof of his hotel. He's staring at the moon."

"The moon?" Sakura asked. Her whole body was rigid, and Sasuke almost reached out to snap her out of it before she sucked in a quick breath. "That's it?"

"It's almost full," Hinata said quietly. "An April full moon like that… it's got a special name. I don't remember it. But it's enormous. And beautiful." They looked out the window to a city bathed in moonlight, and Sasuke had to admit that the moon must have been particularly huge and bright to fill up the sleet-covered city with so much pale light. "Maybe he's just appreciating it."

Sasuke couldn't help but notice that there wasn't just moonlight out there. Zabuza Momochi was across the street, crouched atop a light pole with his sword swung over his back and at the ready. He'd been there for a while, but Sasuke was pretty sure that only he and Hinata would be able to spot him without making an effort. The older shinobi barely breathed, and his sword didn't reflect any light. He was just another spot of darkness amidst the light and shadows and sleet.

Even if the man had left, blatantly testing whether the Leaf shinobi would just snatch Sasuke back up and keep running, he had come back to observe the proceedings. Sasuke wasn't sure whether that was loyalty to the Nation or self interest. Maybe both. Right now, it didn't matter.

"That doesn't sound like him," Shikamaru said, obviously surly and even more obviously unaware of their observer. "Maybe he's changed, but I wouldn't risk it."

"He can't change," Sakura said. She smiled grimly. "He's a Jinchuriki. He wouldn't be allowed to."

Kurenai gave Sakura an odd look at that. "If we're doing this, we'll meet up tomorrow. Maybe… Haku will have returned something by then," she said, searching for the name. She smiled without smiling and gestured at Karin. "We can both find each other easily enough, after all."

"For sure," Karin said with the same smileless smile. She sat up from the floor and looked at Sasuke. "Sasuke?"

"Yeah." Sasuke nodded, sitting up from his chair and trying to smile more genuinely. "We'll get going."

"Just like that?" Ino finally spoke up, and Sasuke shrugged.

"Just like that," he said. His eyes were drawn to Hinata, and once again they were stuck looking at each other, something obviously unfinished and painful filling the line of silence between them. Once again, Sasuke didn't have anything to fill it. "See you tomorrow."

When the doors to the lobby of the hotel, smaller and cheaper than their own, closed behind them, Suigetsu heaved a dramatic sigh.

"What a bunch of drama queens," he groused, swiping some sleet out of his hair. "I thought they were gonna start weeping. It's no wonder you guys left."

"They're our friends," Sasuke said, his voice flat, and the Hozuki shut up. They glanced at each other, and then at everyone else. Karin just seemed to be relieved to be away from the high concentration of tense chakra, while both Sakura and Naruto were stuck in their own heads. They both stared out into the shadowed city, obviously trapped in the past. "We left in spite of them, not because of them."

"Yeah yeah," Suigetsu said, waving him off. "Sorry. I guess I was just…" He laughed. "There was a second there where I thought 'Shit, they might just murk me and follow them back,' you know?"

"That's not going to happen," Sasuke said, and Suigetsu gave him an appraising look. He rolled his eyes. "You saw how they acted. We knew what we were doing when we left. We knew it wasn't something we could just walk back." He stepped out into the street, and the others followed him. "What we did is permanent, as far as we're concerned. Rain is our home now, no matter our feelings on it."

"Wow!" Suigetsu laughed. "Little bit bitter, don't you think?"

"It's not bitterness," Sasuke said with a grin. "But we're not like most who come to Rain. We didn't come from a failed society; we weren't hunted or persecuted. We all still have families back in Konoha. We left because of our ideals."

"You've talked about that before. You even had a fantastic sensei that you abandoned. I was surprised you didn't ask about him," Karin said softly, and Naruto shrugged.

"I'm sure he's doing fine. He's Obito. He can handle anything," Naruto said, and Sasuke could just about believe that was true. "Besides, we'll be seeing more of them, it sounds like. We can ask them if we need to."

"I suppose," Karin said, obviously doubtful. "I just… whenever you talk about leaving, it always sounds like it was Sakura's ideals that drove you guys. It makes me wonder why you'd give up so much." The sleet was still coming down hard, and they walked quickly through the streets on the way south back to their hotel. Zabuza was shadowing them, Sasuke was sure, but he could barely sense the man.

Once again, Naruto took up Karin's question. "Sakura was the first one, sure," he said, sounding thoughtful. "But I think it was all our ideals. It's like Shikamaru said, I guess; it really was a nindo thing."

"Elaborate," Suigetsu drawled, and Naruto laughed.

"I mean, I guess you could say that Sakura was all about what Haku talked about, being a ninja looking for peace." He smirked, and Sakura smirked back. "She was always really shy at first, and then she started being angry instead. That must be what she was angry about. And Sasuke, I reckon he's all about justice."

Justice? Sasuke almost came to a stop, but it made sense. He and Naruto had been obsessed with Itachi ever since the massacre, and that obsession had always manifested with the excuse of it being for justice on behalf of his clan. The obsession had never really changed, only morphed and grown nuanced and painfully complicated, and Sasuke found that he couldn't disagree.

"So he thought Rain's ideas might work for that-" A lie, but a good one. "And of course, he's still looking for his brother." Naruto gave Karin a cockeyed look. "Though you've said a bunch of times you've never felt him in the village."

"Never," Karin confirmed. "I wouldn't lie to you about that. No matter what." She brushed some wet hair out of her eyes. "And what about you then, Naruto?"

"My nindo?" Naruto asked with mock surprise. "Well, that one's easy. I guess I kinda inherited it from my parents, but I bet a lot of people would if they grew up in my house." He stuck out his tongue. "You gotta protect the people who're important to you, or else there's no point in being a ninja. So when Sakura and Sasuke were both going to Rain, it was a no brainer for me. I had to come along." He grinned. "Make sure they didn't do anything too stupid, you know?"

As the rain and snow beat down on them all, Sakura spoke.

"I never heard your parents say anything like that," she said quietly, and Naruto gave her a quizzical look. "About protecting people. I'm sure you knew them better than me, Naruto, but everything your father and Kushina and Obito ever talked about… it was always that a ninja has to be ready to sacrifice. I would have assumed that was their nindo."

"Yeah…" Naruto said, getting a distant look. "That got different when I got older. But I remembered the stuff from when I was younger. I guess I liked it more." He kicked a bit of garbage out of the street. Sasuke watched it skitter into the gutter.

"I wonder why they changed."