Authors Note: Hello everyone, its been awhile. I would like to apologize for the extended wait. I've been dealing with a substantial amount of creative burnout and life in general. But, I was able to push through and finish chapter five for you all. Though, I am going to give myself a few days off before I begin work on chapter six. I hope that you all find this chapter an enjoyable read. I also tried a few new techniques in it.

Fire Country, Unknown Forrest:

"Hm." A Hickory stained eye peers back. Its pupil locked onto a little silhouette in the shadows. The obscure figure slinks through the dense underbrush.

"Lad, if ya gonna keep at it, den keep step." The burly man states with a sigh and pause. At not seeing a lick of movement from a particular bush, he grumbles to himself.

"Aight, I've had enough of ya!" Walking up to the thicket, he brushes it aside. A wide-eyed boy stares up from behind the obstruction.

"Huh?" With a swift hand, the mountaineer plucks the child up. The bearded fellow haphazardly deposits him by his side.

"Gah! Wha- that for?" Inquires the blonde. His hands roughly dust off his oversized pants. Leaning down to the boy's level, the man narrows his eyes.

"I ain't gonna have it. I don't be needin two shadows. Ya, hear me? Eider ya walk at me side, or leave me be. Got it?" A furrowed brow and a pout met his demand.

"Well, what's it gonna be?" The boy crosses his arms and turns his head away. "Hm." With his piece said, he marches off ahead.

Shaking his head, the man caught up with the tike in a few measured strides. For minutes the pair merely walked—the forest's ambiance filling the void of conversation.

Once they had crossed a winding brook, the youth peers up to his companion. "Hm. Waki?" The elder tilts his head toward the child.

"What is it, lad?" The boy crosses his arms behind his head, and looks up. "Where go?"

Stepping atop of a rock, the mountaineer lends him a hand. "Same as last." At his words, a small frown crumples the boy's lips. "Hm. Why?"

"Well, Lad. I be in need of a barter. Ya'd know if ya had come a fortnight ago." The boy puffs his cheeks to the remark. "No, like." A snort escapes the elder.

"Of course ya don't." Waki treads past another bend — the worn trail snaking its way down the rolling landscape.

Beyond another knoll in the forest, the gaps between the trees begin to lighten. In a matter of moments, the pair meanders out onto a cobbled road.

A few carts and commoners roam the path. Swiveling his gaze off to the right, the mountaineer expresses a broad smile.

"Ah. Dere it be, lad." The boy creases his lips to the expansive fortified city. It's gates spread apart as many individuals milled about just past it. A rough hand pats at the child's back.

"Well, what'll it be? Ya gonna go in?" The boy chews at his bottom lip. "Hm. No." His feet shift himself behind the looming man.

"Heh." Getting down on to one knee, Waki brings the boy out from behind him. He motions his hand toward the turbulent street.

"It ain't dat much furder. I dink Ya might like it." The bushman stands back onto his feet and pauses for a moment. "Hm." With a quirk to his lip, he offers a hand to the boy.

"Come on. It'll be fine, lad." Crinkling his brow, the youth glances from the cluster of buildings behind the city wall, to the open hand.

He hesitates for a few seconds. Nevertheless, the boy gradually places his tiny hand within the elder's calloused palm.

Nodding to himself, the bearded fellow leads the child at a sedate pace to the gatehouse.

The blonde shuffles behind him. His head partially pokes out from his side — lone cerulean eye waivers. Its pupil swivels to and fro at every passerby.

"Don't ya worry. I got ya." The mountain man states with a slight squeeze of his hand. With every step, they near the check-in counter. In time, the pair tread up the line of travelers and merchants.

Before them, a horse-drawn cart carries bushels of tarped over peaches. Their velvety blond skin tarnished with an ever-present blush near their stamen. A few of the momo's barely peeking out from under the cart's canvas.

Waki glances down to the quivering boy. His companion's eyes fixate onto the baskets of fruit.

"Hm." Waki shifts his gaze up to the cart's keeper. "Hey, Nofu!" The middle-aged farmer turns his head over to the mountaineer.

"Huh. Ah. What is it, ronin?" Releasing his hold, the highlander approaches the man.

Frozen in place, the whiskered child stares at the departing man. Wide eyes trail after Waki's shrinking back. A muted whimper escapes his lips.

Feet riveted to the ground, the blonde observes as the mountain man exchanges a few notes for a handful of peaches.

"Ya, have a good one." He calls back with an offhanded wave. Waki then steps back up to his charge. The Nofu returns the gesture and leads his steed up to the gatehouse.

"Oh, quit yar quakin. I haven't been long. Hm. Ya've gotta toughen up dere, lad." His little hands quickly find purchase around the elder's forearm.

Waki merely sighs and levels his other hand out to the boy. "Here, give one of dem a try." Blue eyes blink and zero in on the fuzzy drupes adorning his palm. "Huh?"

The ronin rolls his eyes and bites into one of the peaches. "Come on. It ain't gonna hurt ya." He mumbles between bites.

Narrowing his eyes at the lobed fruits, the boy carefully plucks one of the peaches. He gives an inquisitive glance up to the man.

At a roll of Waki's eyes, the boy draws the fruit to his lips and takes a tentative bite. "Hm! Wha- this?"

Waki snorts as the boy takes a generous bite. "Dat be a Momo, lad." A squelching crunch accompanies the blonde's generous mouthful.

Traces of marigold droplets drip around his beaming lips—Waki's right cheek dimples at the bits of juice staining his cheeks.

"Hm." He ran his thumb against the boy's chin and wiped the residue onto the thigh of his pants. The blonde tilts his head up to him, The chance gesture bringing a crease to his brow.

"Ya've got to munch with some dignity, lad. Can't be havin ya dribble like a pup." The boy flushes slightly at the comment and wipes away the moisture with his forearm.

Chuckling around his own Momo, Waki swivels his gaze back up to the departing farmer. "Ah, come on. It be our turn."

Together, they meander over to the booth stationed within the gatehouse. An older gentleman sits behind the cubicle's window. His smile widens as he spots Waki's own measured grin.

"Ah, back for another visit, Niwashi? What'd you bring me this time? Burl Oak? Some Pearl Ash, perhaps?"

Waki chuckles heartily at the sun spotted man. Readjusting the large pack on his shoulder, the bushman smirks.

"If only. It be de wrong season for dem, Katou. But, if Kami favors me orchard, I may have a bushel of dem pearly beauts for spring."

He states as he offers the man a card. "Ha, you and Shoka goin to have a great season then?

"One would hope so. I be in need of me, Mushi-Pan!" The salt and pepper haired clerk chuckles while scribbling notes down onto a piece of parchment. Multiple other records lie inscribed on the rows above.

"Don't be gitting like me now, Waki!" He chortles with a pat to his swollen belly. Handing his card back, the gentleman blinks as he spots a pair of blue eyes peering up from behind the ronin.

"Oh! And who might you be? Waki! You didn't tell me you've been siring chaps now."

Drawing the boy out from behind him, Waki stands him by his side. The boy's stares, wide-eyed. Situated between the pair. His mouth agape mid-bite. Only a sliver of the peaches flesh remained attached to the pit. A drip of the momo's nectar falling from his damp chin. "Hm?"

"It be a bit complicated." At Waki's declaration, Katou couldn't hold himself from a deep bellowing laugh.

Fort Katashi, Corrections Quarry:

The clang of hammers and striking chisels, resonate throughout a quarry. One such gouge bores into a boulder of limestone lining the pit.

With every blow, a figure uses the instrument to flick out any loose debris. To the side of his dusty and calloused hands, a line of boreholes trails across the rock.

Finishing with his last hole, he tosses the chisel into a nearby pail. His hand secures a case hardened iron stakes from a pile at his side.

Placing one into a hole, he abruptly beats it into place. Each emplacement soon follows suit with another wedge. The rusted nails forming a linearly impale the multi-ton piece of stone.

Itachi positions himself above the first set as he lifts a large two-handed sledgehammer. A solid wack rams the wedge a millimeter into the stone.

Every hammer strike befalls onto a subsequent spike. This proceeded until he reaches the final nail on the opposing side. Despite reaching the end, the figure merely retraces his steps with another line of hits.

Each pass, the wedges sink even further into the slab. Then with another blow, a fissure snaps across rocks surface. Blinking at the crack, Itachi gives one more firm thwack.

It stood for only a second while a chorus of deep snaps and crackles within. Then the slab gives and careens over to one side. Gravity pulls its hulking form shattering across the rugged and rocky earth.

"Heh." The male's shoulders ease. His forearm brushes his moist brow.

"Boy!" Another yells from atop of the quarry's wall. The teen raises his gaze to the Nin, observing his work.

However, a lone man stood at the forefront of a small squad of personnel watching the pit. The soldiers roam about the quarry's uppermost edge. Their eyes silently critique the assortment of miners. The teens obsidian irises land onto the Sergeant motioning him over.

"Get your ass on up here." Dropping his gear into the pail, the ravenette ascends a hickory ladder up to the level ground. The boy rights himself up before the older man.

"What would you have me do, Sergeant?" Not receiving an answer, the officer gestures for him to follow.

After a few minutes, they near Katashi's primary Keep. "You're quite the popular fellow." Itachi raises a brow to the comment. "I'm not sure that I-."

"You've got another visitor, boy." Itachi lifts his eyes to the rising sun. His lids narrow at the celestial body's placement. "Hm. She's early."

A snort escapes his superior's lips. "No, it isn't your folks." Itachi cocks his head to the statement. Before he could comment on the remark, two guardsmen open the Keep's door.

It didn't take the pair long to traverse through the stone laid corridor. They soon arrive at a reinforced wooden door. Peeking into the doors steel grate window, Itachi catches a glimpse of an ash braid.

"Alright, boy. Let's make this quick." The Sergeant motions for a guard to open the door.

With a measured step, Itachi rounds the corner. A familiar pair of misty and narrowed chocolate eyes meet his own. Exhaling a tired sigh, the boy utters out. "Hello, Shinko."

She didn't respond outright. Her fingers tighten into a shuddering fist. Sitting down across from the young woman, Itachi cocks his head. For a few moments, not a word was spoken between the two. "Hm. You seem to be doing well for yourself. How goes yo-?"

"Don't." Shinko snarls out through grit teeth. "Just. Don't. W-We're not friends. Not after-." A tear trails down her cheek as her voice breaks. "Not after what you've done." She hisses out.

"What I've done?" Itachi muses to himself. "And what would that be, Inari?"

The brunette blinks at the title. Yet, it did little to hinder her reddening cheeks or creased brow. "Y-You. You. Killed. Tenma!" She roars out in a whisper.

"You must be mistaken th-." Shinko springs up from her seat and points to the boy. "Th-There's no fuckin mistake! You-."

"Been absolved from any criminal act other than a false statement, obstruction, and negligence. I'm no murder-."

"Bullshit! What'd he do? Tell me!" She shouts out. Her fist slams down onto the table.

"Miss!" A guard states as he approaches from the door. Before he could separate the teens, Shinko secures a hold of Itachi's collar. Her hands draw the boy up to her level.

"Get used to this. I'm gonna make it fuckin permanent!" She gruffly hisses. A toothy snarl flares her nose as tears dribble down her chin.

Itachi's eyes narrow and flash scarlet. "If Tenma's any hint, you'd know to not step in my way, Inari."

"Gah!" A chakra infused fist accompanies the shout as it collides solidly with the bridge of Itachi's nose. The contact elicits a sharp crack. Her knuckles skate off the crumpled cartilage and crash into the socket of his eye. With nothing supporting his spine, the Uchiha collapses onto the floor.

"Guh." Itachi groans. His eye tries to blink away the teary haze as blood dribbles down his bent nose. The flesh around his eye swells and fills with blood.

"You murderer!" Shinko screams as the guard pins her to the table. Another Nin quickly bursts in and cuffs her wrists behind her back. "G-Get off me!" The guardsmen ignore her.

"Kenta, get the brat out of here." At the Nin's word, the officer lifts the boy onto his feet. "Alright, let's go."

In the midst of being pushed out of the meeting room, Itachi peers back at the girl. The other Nin leads her through another door. Outside the chamber, he reacquaints himself with the Sergeant's empty stare.

"For the-." The man merely shakes his head and pulls out a pair of senbon. "You really have a way with women, don't you."

Motioning Itachi to the wall, he forces him to stand up upright. "Hey, go get a rag or something." The subordinate Nin promptly does as he's told. "Alright, boy. Keep still. This'll only take a moment."

Slowly feeding the blunted back ends of the senbon into his nostrils, the Sergeant pinches the bridge of his nose. With precise and gradual movements, he gently realigns the cartilage.

The connective tissue crackles as it is placed back into position. A slight wince jolts the teen. "Hm." From his periphery, a Nin jogs back up to him. "Here, Sir." The Sergeant nods his thanks to the man and slides the senbon out.

"That'll do for now. Here keep this on you." Itachi took the rag without hesitation. At seeing the boy plug up his leaking nose, the Sergeant pulls him along.

"Come on. Its time to get back to it." Wiping his bloody nose, he receives a side glance from the commander.

"Keep the touching to a minimum, boy. I'm not going to correct it again."

Itachi drops his hand at the comment as blood freely drips from the orifice. "Pfft." The boy spits out a scarlet globule of blood that dribbled into his mouth.

Squinting at the harsh morning light, Itachi steps out from the Keep. It didn't take him long to find himself back at the ladder.

"Huh." With a steady pace, he maneuvers himself back into the awaiting abyss.

"Damn. Who'd you piss off?" The Uchiha disregards the chatter and laughter. In no time, he finds himself standing before the fractured limestone.

Grabbing a mallet and hatchet, he begins to mark a line across a stone. Rock face thoroughly furrowed, the teen hefts it over onto its side. The strikes repeat until the calcium ore splits across the ridge.

The chunk tumbles atop of the rocky earth. Without a word, Itachi lifts the stone onto his shoulders. As he carries it over to an awaiting pulley crane, he looks up to the clouds dotting the blue sky.

Fort Hiroshi, Training Bailey:

"Hana?" Silence met Anko's call. The teen persists in doing push-ups without comment. "Hana?"

"What?" Miterashi narrows her eyes.

"Check your tone, girl." A growl reverberates from Hana's throat. Her torso continues to dip and rise with every push.

You really going to keep this up?" Kneeling before the mute, the Jonin huffs out through her nose. "Hana. Talk to me." The Inuzuka pauses amid her set. Her fists tighten beneath her. "Hana?"

"There's nothing to say." After a few moments, Anko swivels her gaze off to the side. Her pupils land on Izumi and Saisu. The pair go through their own sets. Shifting back to the girl before her, she places a hand onto the teen's shoulder. The hand holds her in place.

"Hana, look at me." Said teen shrugs her off and rears back onto her knees. Her wavering eyes narrow onto her sensei. However, Hana didn't utter a word. Anko exhales through her nose as her shoulders drupe ever so slightly.

"Look. Uh. I'm sorry for how things turned out. But, you've gotta understand. You being out there wouldn't have changed anything." Wiping away a stray tear from her cheek, the brunette skewed her eyes away from the woman. "You don't know-."

"Yes, I do. What could've you done? He masked himself from hunter nin. Tell me. What could you have done that the Anbu couldn't? Well? Hana, tell-."

"I don't know! Okay, I-I don't know. I c-could've. Heh. I don't-." She sniffles as more tears joined the first.

Miterashi embraces the teen within her arms. Resting Hana's crown on top of her collar, the Jonin lightly strokes her scalp. Off to the side, Anko spots her two other subordinates eyeing them.

Parting, the woman cradles Hana's head within her hands. "Listen, what's done is done. Just give it some time." She tilts the teen's head up. Anko's thumb lightly runs across her cheek. "Alright?"

"A-Alright." Hana sniffles out. Rising to her feet, Miterashi helps Hana onto her own. "Anko?"

"Hm. What is it?" Hana glances up at the woman. "You alright. If I. Um. If I take a breather?"

After a brief pause, she dips her head. With a brief pause, Hana steps off to the gatehouse. "Just keep it short." Seeing the teen walk off into the main keep, she swivels her attention back onto the remaining pair.

When her eyes met Izumi's, the teen quickly diverts her gaze away. However, Saisu remained steadfast on her as she neared them. "Quit your slacking. The show's over."

"Y-Yes, mam." Izumi squeaks out with a start. Pulling a masked helmet back down over her face, she unsheathed a worn shinai. Saisu followed suit with a grunt as he re-masked and modified shinai tonfa.

He quickly positions himself in a Ban-Ma-Bu stance. Swiftly, Izu mimics him and prepares her Seigan-No-Kamae stance. Crossing her arms below her chest, Anko took a measured step back.

She eyes both of their stances until she catches sight of the subtle deviation of Saisu's right arm. "Sai, move your fist past your hip."

"Acknowledged." With a quick adjustment, she reexamines them.

"Hm. Begin!" Lurching forward, the man flips his left tonfa and aims for a head swipe. Izumi ducks below the strike. Her hands deftly realign and thrust her shinai toward his exposed kidney.

With a swift turn of his hip, Sai swings around his other tonfa. The blunt instrument deflects the thrust. He raises his other elbow and thrusts it back into her helmet.

Before Izu could register the hit, she found herself splayed on her back. "Guh." She groans as her eyes slowly begin to refocus.

"You alright?" Inquires a hazy figure just above her. Her vision slowly clears to find Sai knelt beside her. Anko's silhouette not too far behind covering the morning sun.

"You hit like a fucking mule. You know that, right?" He smirks at the remark and gently pulls the helmet off of her head.

"Then learn to keep your distance." A light growl escapes her lips as he lightly checks her brow for any residual mark.

"Then, how am I supposed to hit you?" Anko steps over to her with crossed arms.

"Izu, how long is your katana?" She blinks and raises a brow at the question. Her gaze shifts down to the blade beside her. "Uh. A little over Six decimeters."

"Alright, and your arms are pretty much the same, right?" Izumi dips her head, forehead still furrowed. "So what's that then? Nearly a meter and a half for you to work with?"

The older woman kneels beside her subordinate. "Let me ask you something. How much of the blade do you need to cut someone?" With her teeth ensnaring her bottom lip, Izu's eyes latch onto the boshi of the blade.

"How much?" At seeing Miterashi's nod, she continues. " Um. Just the tip?" A smirk met her reply.

"That's right. Now, why are you still trying to get closer? Saisu and others like him are taijutsu specialists. They want to close in the distance. You getting closer only makes it easier for him. "

"B-But? Hm." Anko places a hand on the girl's back as she tries to process the information.

"Look, I know it's off putting. But, all I'm saying is to only use what's necessary. Keep your guard up and stay distant. Only press forward if your sure you can parry a counter. Alright?" At her nod, Anko rights herself back to her full stature. "Now, how about we give it another go. But, this time, you can only use the boshi for hits. Nothing more. Got it?"

"Wait. Th-That's it?" A light chuckle escapes her sensei's lips. With a light pat on the back, Anko returns to her post at the edge of the ring.

"Yep, now up. Let's give this a try." With a sigh, the Uchiha forces herself onto her feet. Placing her helmet back on top of her head, Izumi reverts to her previous stance.

"You ready?" Inquires Saisu as he meticulously returns to his position.

"Yea, let's do this." Steadying her breath, she glances over to Miterashi. When Anko raises a hand above her head, Izu aligns her eyes back onto her target. With an exhale out her nose, she tenses in preparation.

"Alright, begin!" At her words, the pair launch at each other. Izumi lunges to the right and plants her feet nine paces off to his side. The fast shinai parts the air. A thwack sounds from the bound bamboo slats meeting with Sai's tonfa.

Shoving the blade aside, he advances towards her. With a step, she nullifies the motion. Her arms draw the sword from below and slice up to his torso. Saisu swiftly utilizes the same tonfa to deflect the strike. Winding his other arm back, he switches the tonfa to its forward grip.

Within an instant, he releases the tension and launches the tonfa's end towards her neck. Quickly shifting her sword, Izumi halts the incoming assault. Yet, just a few milliseconds after the two shinais collided, Izumi gasps as Sai's elbow slams into her diaphragm.

Collapsing to the ground, Izumi wheezes and gasps for air. While she recuperates, the patter of feet draws Anko over to her. Squatting down to her level, the woman gave her student a light pat on her cheek. "Well, that was better."

"Seems like she lasted longer." Izumi merely groans as her breathing steadies.

"Hm, had you kept your distance on that last block, you wouldn't be down there right now. You know that, right?"

"I. I d-do now." She wheezes out. "Good, now up. Let's give it another go."

Fire Country, Akashi Port:

The chaotic rhythm of tradesmen, beasts of burden, and machinery flooded the Port's Main Street. Among the bustle, a pair of small feet pranced beside a lumbering man. Feeling a tug on his belt loop, Waki gazes down to the child, avidly pointing to the bay. "Look, Waki, look!"

"I see it, Lad. Dere be quite a few of dem, ain't dere?" His smile falters as he cocks his head to the side. The gargantuan vessels and their towering masts cast imposing shadows all along the edge of the harbor.

"Hm. What it?" He rose a brow at the comment but merely scratches his head at the boy's expectant look.

"Oh, well, dat be a ship. It takes folks and dings over de sea. Ya know. To oder peoples and such."

"Oh, we see! I wanna see." A hearty chuckle left the man's throat at the boy's exuberance.

"Oy, and what happened to yea? Last I checked ya didn't even want to come 'ere." The child pouts and crosses his arms.

"No." Waki snorts and shakes his head. "No? I believe dem peaches in ya belly says different." His lips crease at the remark. The child's eyes venture back over to a boat careening past the harbor's outer watchtower.

After minutes of meandering down the street, the blonde looks up to the mountain man. His steady gate leads them further into the heart of the port city.

"Waki, when?" The bearded fellow glimpses around the buildings littered about the route.

"It shouldn't be much furder now. Hm." Looking past a horse-drawn cart, he spots a familiar whitewashed brick and daub abode. A large red-lettered sign displays its name. 'Shoka's Exotic Lumber'

"Ah, dere it be. Come on, lad." He readjusts the pack on his walk over to the structure. Cerulean eyes widen as they enter the forest of timber slabs, beams, and blanks stacked and sorted neatly throughout the store.

Redheart, Ebony, burls, and more lined the shelves in a myriad of colorful and earthy tones.

"Mornin Shoka." The child's gaze shifts over to another burly man situated behind a counter. "Mornin to you too, Waki. How's the month treating yea?"

"It's been good. Different, but good. dough, I do dink em' Cherry Tourmalli's maybe a bit short come winter." Shoka sighs and shakes his head.

"That's unlucky; yea gets any of them buggers munchin on them. Yea know. I've got a few bushels of Sulfur outback. It'll keep them out of your orchard." The mountain man waves the suggestion off.

"Dat ain't it. Poor saps be weak is all. Just gotta give dem another go come spring." The retailer nods and sits back into his chair.

"Ah, yea. Not all sprouts are cut out for it, aren't they?"

"Dat be true." A short pause befalls the pair till Shoka pats himself on the thigh.

"Well, how about we take a look-see at what yea brought?"

"Right, let's see." Removing a bulging pack off of his back, Waki sets it down onto the counter. He flips the flap off and draws out sets of beeswax coated wood blanks.

"Aight, here be some straight grain and burl from one of dem Turquoise Birch." Both the boy and the shopkeep take a closer look at the collection.

"Oh my, will you look at that." Shoka lifts a piece of burl and pulls out a set of spectacles from his breast pocket. The chaotically swirling bands of tan intermixed with deposits of finely ground turquoise intermixed throughout.

"Yea sure have outdone yourself with this beaut. I swear it. Yea're just gettin better every comin winter. How'd you get them to sparkle this time?"

Waki scratches the back of his head. A light flush comes across his cheeks as he chuckles.

"Oh well, ya member dem Jade Yew's a few winters back?" The shopkeep purses his lips and hums while he taps his fingers on top of the counter.

"Hm. Oh. Yea refferin to the Taira fellow?" The niwashi nods with a nostalgic simper on his lips. "Yep, dat be the one. Ah, dat be a trying order ya brought me. De Yew be a stubborn sap all de way to de mill. But, it came out good in de end of it. Dat be where I learned it."

"Well, I heard from Abe that the fellow went to good-ol Daiku and turned it into a fine Yumi." Waki furrows his brow and cocks his head to the side.

"Dat be why? I swear. Took me many seasons to de right size. Was it aight?" A bark of laughter escaped the older man.

"Alright? Waki, last I heard the Daimyo's son wants one. Oh. that reminds me." He motions Waki closer as he rubs his chin.

"You know I may have gotten yea some more work. General Nakano sent a vassal here. He's lookin for some of your fancy timber. I think he said somethin about a Katana and Wakizashi. I showed him a few of yea're scales too."

Shoka states as he draws out a leather ribbon with a variety of knife scales tied to it. A spectrum of vibrant colors, gems, and metals lay embedded within the blanks. Fanning them out, he allows for each scale some visibility on the countertop.

Placing an elbow atop of the table, Waki peers down with a large smile. His fingers traces and sifts through them. "Did de lad like dem?"

"Well, he seemed to like these two." Shoka muses as he brings forth a blank of a ruby and charcoal hued blank. Its face bestows a chaotic burl that mirrors that of burning brimstone.

However, the other shows something that contrasted it quite sharply. The other scale displays a swirling ocean of Sapphire burl imbued with bands of metallic silver. Waki scratches the side of his bearded cheek. "Are ya sure it be dese two? Pretty different, ya know."

"Sure? Damn, right, I be sure. I asked the very same. From what he says, he liked the colors of the red one here. But, the General fancies them pricey metals and such."

"Oh, I see now. Hm. Dat'll be a tuffy. You tell him dat he'd be offerin de metal?"

"That I did. How about a wager? two hundred Ryo he be back in a fortnight or two for an order."

"I hope so. It be a good test." The pair share a mirthful chuckle that gradually fell into a tranquil silence. "So. What'll ya give me for de lot? I be low on me, Mushi-Pan."

"Ha! I see it too. Yea're belly be gettin thin. Now let's see, it be a tenth of a Koku, right?" Noting the bushman's nod, he pulls out a scroll and pen.

"Hm. I suppose forty-seven thousand and five hundred Ryo be good?" Waki brings his hands to bare and shakes his head.

"Dat be too much, Shoka."

"Nonsense, how am I to keep yea comin back if I don't? Plus, I gotta get yea enough for them cakes."

"I. Hm. Danks." The man states with a slight bow. His hand taking hold of the stack of Ryo, he shoves it into his pack.

"Ah, it be nothin. Yea're work be more than worth it. Use it for the tyke if ya'd like. He be lookin thin too." The bearded man blinks and turns to find his little shadow quietly observing the pair.

"Oh, I dink I'll do dat. danks again, Shoka." Waki says with a growing smile as the shopkeep waves him off.

"Sure. Sure. Now get on with it. I'll tell yea if the vassal comes by with any work. "

"Danks." Waki calls back as he leads the blonde out of the lumber shop."

Fort Hiroshi, Records Office:

With arms crossed below her chest, Hana briskly treads through Fort Hiroshi's maze of corridors. Coming around another bend, the teen pauses as she looks at a plaque on an office door. The bold kanji for 'Records' embossed onto the plate.

She bit her bottom lip. Chocolate eyes veer back and forth from the office to the remainder of the hallway. The Fort's main lobby visible not that much further ahead.

"Hm." Shaking her head, Hana approaches the room and enters it without falter. While the door creaks open, she meets the eyes of a pair of secretaries.

Their discussion trails off into a hushed whisper. "Hm. Good morning, Genin. What can I do for you today?"

"Oh, uh. Yea." She inches closer to the desk and looks to the files littering the table.

"Do you have any info on recent events by chance?" The woman behind the counter and raises a brow. Her eyes glance over to her partner.

"It depends. What information are you looking for? Some files may require authorization from a higher ranking officer?" Hana quickly shook her head and hands in the negative.

"No. No. Nothing like that. It's just. I just wanted to know if the Anbu have found him yet?" The woman behind the counter furrowed her brow. "I'm not sure. Who exactly are you referring to?"

"The boy. They've been looking for him all month!" The secretary off to the side perks up from her chair. "Wait. I think she's talking about the SR on the delta."

" Yes, that's the one! Do you know if they found him yet? A clue? Anything?"

"Uh. Give me a moment." The secretary states as she maneuvers herself over to one of the many cabinets lining the back wall. "Hm." After a few moments, she retrieves a file from its depths and opens it. Quickly scanning through the manila folder, she nods to herself.

"It's all here. Hm. It's a civil matter. So there shouldn't be any clearance issues. Here." Taking hold of the packet, Hana turns the cover over.

With a steady finger, she scans through the various lines of text. That is until she halts above the particular field. 'Mission Status - Search Suspended.'

"I-Its been put on hold? No. That can't be right." She mutters under her breath. "Miss. Is this right?"

Rotating the folder around, the Secretary gives the packet a quick read. A light sigh escapes her lips as she turns it back.

"I'm afraid so. Honestly, I'm surprised they kept at it for as long as they did. Most SR's only last a fortnight. At max a month."

Hana's fists tighten beneath the counter. "There's gotta be something that they can do. They can't just stop."

"Look, I'm sorry, but that's just the way things are." The Inuzuka bites her bottom lip as a tear rolls past her cheek. She takes a shuddering breath. "C-Can I take this with me?"

With a shake of her head, the secretary retrieves a piece of paper from a shelf. "No, but you can take some notes on it."

After some time, Hana steps out onto the main road. The forts gatehouse situated at her back. With a slight sniffle, she peers down to a bit of parchment. A few lines of text scribbled onto its surface.

Stuffing the slip into her pocket, Hana quickly glances around at the signs and landmarks littered around her. Moments pass by while street goers cross the brunette by.

Hana's eyes lock on to a street corner on the horizon. With an intake of breath, she sets off down the road. The midday sun bears down on the populace milling about.

Past an outcrop of trees, a large and worn structure emerges. Its cedar walls and blue roof stands out amongst the surrounding woods. Stepping up onto the stone and mortar porch, Hana hesitates before knocking against the double doors.

Minute's trickle by as the ruckus of movement and voices of children bustling about breach the barrier. She releases a sigh before trying the knock once more. After some time, a pair of hasty steps approach the entrance.

Said door abruptly opens to reveal a young woman. Her disheveled clothes and hair waver in the slight morning breeze. "Can I help you?"

Hana fumbles for the slip of paper. "Yes, I was." Taking a quick glance at the parchment, she looks back up. "Um. Does a Tenten live here?"

The caretaker creases her brows momentarily. "Oh, yes. Are you an Uchiha too?"

"An Uchiha?" Hana states with a furrowed brow. "No, should I be?" The woman waives off the remark. "No, no. It's just that an Uchiha family's been coming by lately. They've been taking her out on play dates with their son."

"That's nice of them." The older woman nods as the conversation devolves into silence. "Then, is there something else you wanted to see her for perhaps?"

"Oh, yes. I'm here to discuss an incident with her. One that happened just a few weeks back." Leaning against the door frame, the guardian readjusts a few belongings under her other arm.

"I hope you don't mind me asking, but who are you again." Hana reaches into the pouch on her right hip and retrieves a wallet with a card and badge. The emblem of Konoha's military embossed onto the badge's face. Just within its epicenter, the Kanji for Hiroshi is etched. The card displays her Identification number, picture, designation, and other details etched into its metallic surface.

"W-What? Is she in t-trouble? Tenten's a charming girl." The woman quickly stammers but is appeased by Hana's open palm.

"No, no. Nothing like that. She's not in any trouble. This is just a follow-up. I just wanted to review her past statement and see if there's anything my colleagues may have missed."

"Huh. I see." The woman muses for a moment. "Um, why don't you come on in and I'll go and fetch her."

"Thank you," Hana says with a small smile. Her hand quietly shuts the door behind her.

Lithely treading across the cedar floors, the Inuzuka glances about the large lobby. A staircase off to the side leads up to a hall up above. She gradually nears a cabinet situated by the main entrance. A few decorative pieces surround some photos of the staff and children.

Behind a photo of the headmistress, she spots a misplaced a lathe spun kendama. Its surface intricately painted in vibrant blues and reds. Lifting it from atop the counter, she smiles. Her other hand gently snatches up the red wooden ball.

With practiced movements, she drops the ball. It's fall stopped by the cord connecting it to the handle. Hana swings it up and lightly catches it atop of one of the concave drums.

She drops it back onto its tether; a light furrow adorns her brow. A light smirk joins it soon after. Her wrist flicks up the cedar ball and deftly aligns its hole with the peg carved atop of the plaything. The ball neatly clicks into place. Turning the toy end over end, Hana inspects it.

At its base, a pair of Kanji spell out a name. "Doi. Hm." The clamor of steady and heavy feet signals the caretaker's return.

"Ah, Kunoichi. She's right this way. Oh. What do you have there?" Hana lifts it to give the caregiver a better look.

"Does a Doi live here?" A long sigh escapes the older woman as she reaches for the little toy.

"I swear that boy would lose an arm head if it weren't attached to him. Come, I'll take you to her."

Fire Country, Akashi Port:

Glimpsing up to the sun, Waki shields his eyes with a hand. "Hm. Hey, lad. Ya up for someding to eat?" The boy seemingly lost in his musings, stares out to the ships littering the harbor.

"Hm. Oh! Look! Look. So big." He exclaims excitedly to the sight of another large vessel approaching the mouth of the port.

The child's body propped against the railing. His petite hand points toward the floating structure. The appendage bounces up and done in union with his own little hops. A cool ocean breeze ruffles his blonde curls.

"Heh. I see it, lad. Ya know ya didn't answer me." The older man claims as he leans against a post. "Huh?" The boy notes with a cocked head.

"Hm. Ya up for putting someding in dat belly?" Waki merely receives a blank stare and a blink before the kid hops off his perch. Food?"

The bushman chuckles at his companion's exuberance. "Yes, food. Now ya up for some?"

"Yep!" The blonde declares. His little fingers take hold of and tugging at Waki's own. "Hey, calm down dere. I'm a coming."

Together, the pair wonder about the coastal town. Their bodies slip past the crowds walking in either direction.

After a few minutes, Waki's eyes land on to a sign off to the right. "Come on. How about we get ya someding hearty?" The boy merely follows him past a few carts and into a well-maintained restaurant with a covered porch overlooking the harbor.

Stepping up onto the veranda, the pair venture off to the restaurant's counter. "Ah, what can I get for you, Nofu?"

Waki scratches at his beard and looks toward the menu hanging from the rafters. Lists of dishes painted on to the wooden board. "Hm. I'll take some Beef Udon. Extra Beef."

The shopkeep gave him a swift nod, as he calls it out to the back. Turning back around, the balding man scrutinizes the boy standing by the highlander's side. His little fingers heave himself up to peek above the high countertop. "Now, what'll you have."

"Oh. Um." The child mutters as he examines the board. He scratches the back of his head. Cerulean eyes dart back and forth at the plethora of options.

"Don't ya fret over it, lad." The bushman states as he lays a hand onto the blond's shoulder.

"Say, how about ya get him a bowl of dem Miso Pork Ramen." Quickly the clerk calls out the order and writes it down onto a pad. "Alright, anything to drink."

"Uh. Tea will do." He mumbles out. His hand reaches into a pouch and retrieves a brass and nickel-plated copper coin.

Its decorative surface displays the numerical value of one hundred Ryo encircling around its central hole. Accepting the currency, he places it into a box and retrieves a pair of single Ryo coins in return.

"Hm. Oh." Waki mumbles all the while he takes one final glance to the board above him. His eye landing on a particular line of Kanji.

"Say. Get me and de lad some Mushi Pan too." A 25 Ryo coin accompanies the order. Receiving and pocketing his change, Waki directs the boy back towards a table looking out to the open sea. The boy quickly hops up onto the bench and observes the controlled chaos of the pier.

After a few minutes, the mountaineer gave off a soft sigh. "Ya really like dem, don't ya?" The boy's simper grew as he nods.

"Ya. Like." A pensive expression overtook the older male. He leans back and taps his fingers against the cedar top.

"Hey, lad." Looking back, the child spots a growing smirk bud onto his lips. A light twinkle appears within his eyes. "What do ya say we make one. Ya know, togeder and such. We can go fishing if ya'd like."

"Make boat?" He questions with wide eyes. At Waki's nod, the blond sprung back down from his perch and propped himself onto his palms. His body reverberates amid his beaming smile.

"Really!" A light chuckle slips from between the bushman's thin lips.

"Ya, ya. A boat. But a small one." The comment brought upon a small pause, but it was quickly brushed past. A broad smile illuminates his face.

"How?" A scruffy brow rose from Waki's marred face. "How what?" Lightly scratching at his cheek, the boy spoke. "Uh. How make?"

"Oh. Well, out of wood. We'd be carvin it with me tools. But, don't ya worry about it. I still know me way with a Kanna and Nomi." He boasts with a wide grin and a pat to his bulbous forearm.

With a blink, the youth merely nods. Before either could state anything further on the matter, a middle-aged yet youthful woman walks over with a small simper.

"Hey, did you two order the Beef Udon and Miso Pork Ramen?" Motioning for the boy to sit, Waki dips his head and waves her over.

"Oh! Yes. Come on, seat yourself, lad." With practiced grace, she lays the bowls down before each of them. Besides the dishes, she lays clean cloth, spoons, and chopsticks.

Once placed, she delicately sets a pair of cups and a kettle of steaming Bancha tea. "There you go. Is there anything else you two need?"

"Nah, I believe dat'll be it for now. Thanks, las." She dips her head in a small bow and saunters away.

Deftly, Waki lifts the kettle and pours them both a cup of amber-hued tea. "There ya go. Eat up, lad. Ya ain't gonna find a better bowl den here.

With small fingers, he snatches up the spoon. He dips it into the warm broth. A light blow and slurp emanate from his puckered lips. "Hm. Good." The boy mumbles as he drinks up another spoonful.

Taking hold of a pair of chopsticks, Waki picks up a sliver of beef and a noodle or two. Waki shuts his eyes for a moment as he savors a bite. After a few minutes, the bushman raises and sips at his beverage. When he opens his eyes, the man spots the boy struggling with his own porcelain sticks.

The child's eyes every once in awhile glimpse up to the pair wielded within his own. "Give me yar hand, lad. Ya've got to pin de bottom one with your dumb and dird finger. Hm. Now, take your middle and forefinger and press it here."

Gently manipulating his fingers into position around the sticks, he assists him through the motions. "Dere you go. It'll take ya a few fortnights, but ya will figure it out." The child creases his lips and furrows his brow. Concentrating on the pair of chopsticks, the single-action acquiring his full attention.

In a matter of moments, the boy lifts a few of the thin and smooth noodles. "There ya go." Proclaims Waki as the boy chomps down onto the silky strands. The older man snorts as the child before he struggles to slurp up the lengthy noodles.

He retrieves his own sticks and begins to resume his meal. The call of seagulls and the roll of the ocean waters filling in the void in the conversation. The occasional slurp accompanies the chatter and commotion from the common folk milling about outside the eatery.

The ambient sounds of the men working on the docks below echoing off of the shop's beams as the seawater mists up with every wave.

Once the last of his meal had been swallowed down the boy's gullet, he lifts the bowl to his lips. Greedily gulping down the remaining broth and the scant piece of noodle or topping. "Ah. Good."

"Is it now?" Inquires his guardian. Propping himself on his elbow, Waki finished the last drops of his Tea. "I take it ya'd like another next time?"

"Yep. Oh. Stay?" Waki shakes his head. "Can't do dat, lad. Me place is wid me trees and in de hills." The youth's shoulders slump at the comment. His eyes shift and linger on to the port.

"Lad, ya know what? Ya can stay if ya'd like. I know a house for tikes like yarself. I here dat de mistress is nice." His brow furrows at the thought and promptly shakes his head.

"N-No. With you. Hm. If okay." The weathered and scarred skin of Waki's cheek dimple at the plea.

"Hm. I suppose it be. Hm." His eyes spot the waitress in his periphery. Taking a closer look, his eyes zero in on the steamed cakes she's carrying over on a plate. "Oh! Here be our Moshi Pan. Dis here be a good treat."

Benjiro Orphanage, Dining Hall:

The symphony of clicks, brush strokes, and the occasional grind of a Sumi into a Suzuri fills up a classroom.

A pair of pale blue eyes peer up to another desk beside her. Kie's lips scrunch and focus onto another with twin hickory buns affixed to her head.

The girl's arm propped between her cheek and table. Her opposite hand lightly grinds her ink stick away into her Suzuri. The brunette's glazed eyes remain unfocused as she continuously circles it repeatedly into her ink stone.

With a quick glance over to the clock, Kie leans in and reaches out. "Tenten."

The youth jolts at the contact and utterance of her name. "Huh! What?" Tenten swivels around and spots the frown marring her friend's lips.

"Kie?" The preteen's searching eyes soften as she met Tenten's eyes. The sclera tarnished pink while tracks glisten from her cheeks. A hand quickly clears another salty tear amid a sniffle.

Kei merely squeezes Tenten's shoulder and offers her a somber smile. A creek of a hinge brought both of their eyes to the front of the classroom.

"Tenten, are you in here, dear?" She hesitantly raises her hand. "H-Here." Spotting the child, the guardian waives her over.

"Come over, dear. Someone's here to talk to you." She stands up and makes her way through the cluster of desks and bags. The caregiver leans towards the instructor and whispers into the man's ear. After a few moments, he nods.

Tenten steps up to the older woman. Her eyes search her for an answer. "Who is it, Miss Abe?" Leaning down to her ear, Abe whispers.

"It's a Nin, honey. She wants to ask you some questions. Is that alright with you?" With a bit bottom lip, she dips her head. Together, the pair walk out of the classroom and to one of the many halls of the orphanage.

Outside, her chocolate eyes take in the nin before her. Bending down, Hana offers the girl a small smile.

"Hm. Why don't we take this outside, hun?" She offers the little girl her hand. Tenten glances back to her guardian. The woman gently nudges her forward.

"It's alright, dear." Abe locks her gaze with the teen. "Just don't be too long; she still needs to finish her arithmetic."

"Of course, mam. We won't be long. Maybe a few minutes, nothing more." With her piece said, Hana leads her charge out to the courtyard. For some time, neither spoke.

Yet, as they neared a sun-bleaches bench, Hana motions for them to sit. Taking a seat opposite to the Kunoichi, Tenten begins to fiddle with her fingers.

Her pupils take an occasional peek to the older teen sat before her. As Hana opens her mouth to speak, Tenten mumbles. "I. Um. I already know."

The teen leans in and takes hold of Tenten's hand. A frown mars her face. "Know what, hun?"

"H-He's gone." She whispers out all the while a tear cascades down her cheek.

"Who told you that?" Hana presses further. "F-Fugaku." Tenten murmurs in a discouraged tone.

Tightening her grip, Hana then exhales through her nose. "I know. Hm. I know they couldn't find him. But I don't want to give up. Not yet. I think I can still find him." Taken aback by her declaration, Tenten fails to comment on it.

Hana leans forward. "Look, I just. Just tell me what he was like." With her brows creased, the Tenten stares down to the tabletop. Her focus directed beyond the grains of wood.

She raises her gaze and scrutinizes the young woman before her. "Will you help me?" Hana pushes her. After a few moments, Tenten scrunches her lips and nods. "Good. Is there anything you can tell me about him?" The teen prods as she scoots closer.

After a brief pause, Tenten begins to speak. "Um. He's different." Tenten muses aloud. Her eyes narrow as she ponders the question.

"Different how?" After some time, the girl proceeds. Her finger scratches her chin in thought.

"Hm." A small quirk buds onto the side Tenten's cheek. Her eyes drift out to the woods just visible from within the courtyard. She nudges her nose towards the spot as she rests her head atop her palm. "The trees, they're his home. The animals, his people."

The quick patter of steps ascends multiple flights of stairs. At the third, Hana makes her way towards the third door down the left corridor. Pulling out a key, she fiddles her way into the room.

"And where've you been?" Hana blinks and pans the room to discover Izumi sat nonchalantly in an armchair. Her feet propped on top of a desk.

The Inuzuka's eye twitches as she swats the offending appendage off of the tabletop. "I thought I told you to quit that." She points out while she heads to her dresser.

Her hand snatches up her rucksack from the floor. "Nu-uh. You're not gonna brush this off. Where the hell did you go?" Izumi presses on. Her companion pauses momentarily from her packing. A shirt dangles from her clasped hands.

Biting her lip, Hana avoids her friend's gaze. "Nothing, I just had to go and check on something." Izu narrows her eyes before standing up from her seat.

"Nothing? You just fucking left, Hana." Not receiving a response, she comes up and snatches Hana's wrist. "You gonna tell me what the fuck's going on or not?"

Hana releases a sigh as her shoulders drupe. "I'm gonna go look for him." For a brief moment, neither moved nor uttered a word. Izu's eyes roam across Hana's resolute expression.

"Hm. Fine." After a few moments, the brunette looks on perplexed, "Huh?" Izu snorts and begins to pack her won things.

"I've seen that face before. Nothings stopping you. So, I'm coming with you." At seeing Hana stumble on her words, the Uchiha holds up a finger. "Uh, uh. No buts. If you go, I go. Got it?" With a defeated grumble, Hana mumbles. "Fine. Just. Uh, pack for a few days or so."

The pair goes about securing various articles and items for the trip. The silence between them only broken by the random ruffling of fabric. As Hana hefts her pack onto her shoulders, she glances over to her roommate. Only to find Izu waiting for her. "You sure about this?"

"Yep." She states matter of factly. Hana's gaze swivels over to the window. The afternoon sun slowly descends to the horizon. "Hm, we better head out now if we're goin to go."

Together, the two walk out of the apartment. Izu momentarily waits for Hana to lock the door. Making it out onto the street, Hana directs them towards the West Gate. The ravenette tugs on one of her pack's straps as they pass other citizens and travelers littering the streets.

"So, what makes you think that you'll find him. You know. When the Anbu couldn't?" The Uchiha presses on. Hana, after a moment's thought, shrugs. "I don't."

That brought her companion to pause midstep. "But, I won't forgive myself if I don't at least try." As the pair neared the gatehouse, Hana mutters under her breath.

"Besides, I know a few more things than even they did." Izumi's ear twitched at her words but said nothing of it. Once they made it to the Gatehouse's window, a voice greets them.

"Afternoon, ladies. Can I see your ID's, please?" Swiftly procuring their cards, they hand them over. "Here." The man scribbles things down onto a pad. "Alright, and where will you two be headed this evening?"

Fort Rikona, Corrections Bailey:

Mikoto jumps at the clange of a reinforced steel door. A hand's grip tightens around her own. She peers back around and meets Itachi's swollen gaze. A glossy red and purple welt envelops his left eye and nose.

The magenta lids were swollen and prohibiting his eye from seeing the world. His other remaining sharp and observant to the world around him.

Miko's teary eyes scrutinize the wound. Her hand tenderly prods the raw flesh. "H-How could she do this? To you of all people." Itachi merely grunts. "She's suffering. More so then once considered."

"And that give's her the right to hit you?" Her voice rises an octave as she spoke. Her son rubbed his thumb across the back of her palm.

"No. It doesn't. But, what's done is done. Just leave her be. I'll be alright." Miko glances down to the table to their interlocked hands. Pursing her lips, she gives a stiff nod as her shoulders slump.

"F-Fine." Itachi adopts a pensive gaze. His eyes then veer up to meet his mother's. "That girl. Are you still entertaining her presence?"

"What? Oh, Tenten? She's the sweetest little thing." Her frown quickly evolves into a nostalgic smile. "You should have seen them."

The boy narrows his eyes at the remark. "Them?" Mikoto props her head onto her cheek. Her simper broadens and illuminates her face.

"Yes, them. Her and Sasu. They're inseparable. Just last week, I took them to Minato Park. I swear, they would've stayed till the sunset."

Leaning toward her, Itachi marginally tightens his hold. "Why do you harbor her. She's no Uchiha."

"Oh, quit that nonsense of yours. Who cares if she isn't. She's a wonderful girl." Itachi releases a muted sigh through his nose. "It would be best to let her be."

"No." Miko states with the shake of her head. "If anything, she needs us. Besides, I think she's a welcome addition." Her son's pupils bounced to and fro. Their avian gaze critiques the minor crinkle to her eyes and the minuscule quirk to her lips.

Shutting his eyes, Itachi releases a final exhale through his nostrils. The tense musculature within his forearms dwindles with the passing of air. "I see. Mother, are you keeping something from me? From the family?"

The quirk dimpling her cheek only grew at his inquiry. "Maybe, but its nothing to concern yourself with. Not now, at least." Mikoto leans back to him and cups his cheeks in both her hands. Her lips gingerly place a kiss onto the crown of his head.

"For now, just stay strong and make it through this. The rest can wait. Alright?" She says, all the while her fingers gingerly stroke his scalp.

"Look, if anything happens, I'll be the first to tell you. Okay?" Her gaze pivots up to a clock hung on the adjacent wall of the meeting quarters.

"Hm. I need to get going. Turning her eyes back onto Itachi, she proceeds to speak. "Is there anything else I can do? I could bring you something?"

"No, no. I'm fine." The boy states dismissively. After a brief pause, Mikoto lifts herself from the table. Itachi follows suit. Yet, before he could head back to the quarry, a pair of arms wrap around his torso.

"Stay strong, Ita. Soon you'll be back home where you belong. I'll even have Wakame Onigiri and Tsukemono waiting for you?" A glint appears in his good eye. The corner of Itachi's lip quirking at the comment. "Hm."

The teen leans into her embrace ever so slightly. "The action eliciting Miko's smile to grow considerably.

"Alright." Parting herself from the teen, the woman holds his hands in her own. With one final goodbye, she drifts off towards the door. Her hand wipes a stray tear from her cheek as she waves.

In the midst of nodding in return, Miko steps out into the corridor. A serviceman briskly shuts the door behind her. With a deep inhale, she presses on. Her feet carry her through to Katashi's gatehouse.

Exiting the Fort, she momentarily shields her eyes from the glaring sun. Her squinted eyes do little to hinder her feet as she makes her way back to the Konoha proper. The ravenette rounds atop of a grassy knoll overlooking the village and fixates her gaze to the westernmost district.

Mikoto habitually adjusts the strap of the bag that rests atop her shoulder before setting off. Just as she passes the ridge, Miko takes one more look back.

With a measured gate, the Uchiha persists through the busy roads. Weaving past a cart of produce, she makes her way down Ito Street. A large navy blue sign lays fastened to a stone monument.

The fresh cerulean paint contrasting against its vibrant white letters. The elegant kanji spells out 'Benjiro Orphanage for Displaced Children.'

Mikoto runs a stray hand over the carved sandstone bordering the ornate slab. Her never-ceasing feat forces her fingers to trail across the coarsely chiseled rocks and mortar.

Breezing past the sign, she strolls through a wooded path. Her pupils lock onto the cedar walls, and navy blue roof as her smile grows with every step. She hops up the steps and knocks on the door. In a little time, a woman opens the door.

"Oh. I'm glad you could make it today, Miko." States a caretaker as she ushers her into the manor. Together they walk in lockstep through a corridor. The Uchiha furrows her brow to the inflection in the woman's voice.

"Why, is something the matter?" A tired sigh escapes the caregiver. "She's been slipping with her studies, friends, and everything else lately." Miko's grip tightens around the strap of her bag.

"I see. Its Hikaru. Isn't it." She pauses and drums her fingers against the leather shoulder band. The caretaker stops in here tracks and observes as Mikoto nibbles on her bottom lip.

"I believe so; it's difficult to lose a friend. Especially for one so young." Her eyes lock onto a lone figure sat just outside the window and within the grassy courtyard.

Mikoto steps closer to the window, separating them from the playing children. Her topaz eyes bolt onto Tenten's form. The petite girl sitting with her legs pulled up to her chest in solitude. "You think we could give the trial a try? Perhaps today?"

"Oh, I suppose that we can. Have you talked it over with Fugaku or the boys?"

"Uh. No, but I doubt that they'll mind. They love having her around. I doubt a few more days would change that." A frown forms across the caregiver's face as she crosses her arms. Her eyes glance between the pair separated by the thick pane of glass.

"A prolonged visitation is different from a play date. You and I both know that. Trials are risky. It can bring out the worst in both parties. I really think you should reconsider. At least until you tell-."

"Chiasa. I appreciate the concern. I really do. But, we can handle ourselves. If anything, I'm confident that the boys will be more than fine with it." Peeling her eyes off of the child, Miko locks her gaze onto the caretaker.

"Now, is there anything I have to sign?" With a drawn-out sigh, the caseworker waves for the woman to follow her. Coming across another guardian on their way to the office. Chiasa pulls the man aside.

"Hey, Sana. You think you could help Tenten prep for a trial." The man's lip quirks at the comment.

"Of course." Nodding to himself, his grin quickly erupts into a toothy smile. "Don't you two worry. I'll have her prepped and ready in the lobby before you know it."

With his piece said, Sana walks off at a brisk pace. "Alright, come on. Let's see if we can get through the paperwork and get you two on your way then.

River Basin, Konoha Perimeter Woodlands:

A hand reaches down and lifts pieces of bark and timber from the base of a tree. Hana's chocolate eyes inspect the small hallow decorated with a red tassel. The markers number matches the data entry listed within Hana's notebook.

"So this is it, right?" Inquires Izumi as she kneels beside her companion. Her fingers trace the jagged edges of the remaining wood cover. "Yea. It should be."

"Don't you think this is a bit much for a kid? The kid can move, I'll give him that. But, even this is-." A frown mars the Inuzuka's lips all the while her brow furrows in thought.

"I know, but even we don't know what all he can do." Izumi crosses her arms at the remark. "Right. Did Tenten say anything about this?"

"Uh, no." Hana tersely remarks. "Okay, when you were with him. Was he capable of any of this?"

"I don't think so?" With every question, Izu crosses her arms below her bust. Her finger tapping against her arm in thought.

"Um. What if it wasn't him?" Hana tilts her head to the side and mulls over the thought. She raises the notepad and scribbles onto a clear portion of the parchment.

Hana looks back up to Izu with squinted eyes. "Hm. So, maybe he had help?" She receives a shrug as a reply. For a moment, neither spoke as Hana pensively analyzed the seen around her.

"But, who would've helped him? There's no other notable scent here." Izumi smirks to herself at the thought. "Right, huh." Rising to her full stature, Hana kneads the back of her neck.

"So, if he left, then where would he go?" The Uchiha merely shrugs at the question.

"Hm. Wouldn't know." Hana sighs at the remark and observes the surrounding foliage. "You think you can smell him if we're close enough?"

"It depends. The weather and anything else can make it harder." She affirms as she begins to walk off due west.

"Hey, where are you goin?" Hana peers back and waves Izu along. "Come on; we're not gonna find him by staying here.

Izumi gnaws at the side of her cheek. Her hand lightly rubs her other arm. With a quick change of pace, she matches Hana's gate.

"Say, um. Look, I know you care for him and all. But, what makes you think that you'll find him?" Hana narrows her eyes at the comment. Her glare bores into Izu. "That's a bit rich coming from you. Don't ya think?"

"What? Oh, come on. You and him are totally different." She emphasizes with a wave of her hands. Stopping, Hana crosses her arms and faces Izu.

"How?" Taken aback by the sudden halt, the Uchiha steps back. "Well, you know. You're what? Over twice his age and capable. We even knew where to look." She waves her hands to the forest around her.

"Besides, the whole fucking forest is a lot bigger than a river. And we don't even know if who found him didn't just finish him off." Her words only served to increase the tension within Hana's forearms as her fingers tighten into fists.

"You think I don't know that?" A few tears trace around Hana's slight snarl. "Yea. For all I know, he's dead. And I had him. He was in my arms. Safe and breathing. H-He was fine. But, then-. Heh. Look, I just. I only want to know. I want to be sure." With that, she turns around and advances further into the forest.

Izu remains mute and bows her head to the admission. Her feet trails after her roommate. Together, they wander through a maze of underbrush and branches spanning kilometers in either direction. For minutes on end, they traversed past dense thickets and leaves.

After some travel, the pair near an opening in the trees. "Huh, this is a road? You got any idea which?"

Hana peers back and forth from either end. Dust and leaves waft past them on the cobbled path. A light breeze brushes through them.

She pulls her pack off of her back and filters through its contents and retrieves a small leather pack. Briskly slipping the strap off of its button, she draws out a folded map from its pocket.

"Hm." Izumi leans closer to peer over her shoulder. "You see something?" Her companion narrows her eyes as they dance across the inked parchment. "This is. Uh. I think its Shu Jomyaku."

"Wait, doesn't this lead back home?" Izu remarks offhandedly. Hana stands up and returns her gear to her bag.

"Yep." Though, Hana swivels her gaze towards the west and proceeds to walk down the path.

"Hey. Where are you going?" The ravenette quickly sidles up beside her. Hana looks over to the teen.

"If I'm right, then Akashi port shouldn't be that much farther." Without as much as a word, Izumi trudges on after her teammate.

As the minutes dredged on past an hour and a half, Hana could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Peering back, she came face to face with Izumi's mild glare.

"What?" The Uchiha snarled at the inquiry. "Don't what me! You said it was just around the corner." Izu states with a wave of her hand.

"Well, sorry. It looked closer on the map." " That's the thing. Do you even know where we're going? For all we know, we could be headed to Suna."

Hana merely deadpans at the comment and dismissively waves her forward with a low grumble. "Oh, quit it. I know where I'm going."

"Uh-huh. Of course, you do." With a roll of her eyes, Hana persists down the street.

It didn't take much more than a few minutes before either girl took notice of a growing abundance of merchants and travelers. Striding past another bend, the pair catch sight of wharves lining the sea's edge.

A slight smirk sprung upon Hana's lips. Yet, when she turns to her friend, she is unceremoniously glomped by Izumi. A broad smile crinkles the sides of her gleaming eyes.

"Oh, finally! I thought we'd never get here." With her piece said, Izu jogs on ahead. Leaving Hana in the dust to sigh to herself. With her companion trailing off, the Inuzuka gives off a huff before following suit.

In little time, she soon rejoins with Izu. The pair advance to the booming port town at a mild pace. Every so often dodging passersby and carts. Hana looks ahead of them and spots the gatehouse, not that much farther. Taking hold of Izu's arm, she gradually pulls them back to a walk. "What are you doing?"

"We can't just go charging in." With a swift glance around the crowded street, she finds and makes her way towards a row of people. "Come on; the line's this way."

"A line?" Izumi balks and groans when she spots the lengthy row of travelers. A soft chuckle escapes Hana's lips. Her hand lightly pats Izumi's back.

A meager pout sets itself across her face. "Oh, don't give me that. It won't be long." Despite her words, Izumi took a moment to peer down the line.

"If you say so." After a few moments, the Uchiha turns her obsidian eyes over to Hana. "You really think he's here?"In response, Hana simply inhales and laments. "No clue."

As the line progresses a few paces, the two follow in step. "You think you can tack him down?"

Hana shuts her eyes and wrinkles her nose as she sniffs the air. "It's a little hard to tell what's what, really." A crease develops on Izu's brow. Her eyes scan the intermingling crowd. "Is it the people?"

"Them, the carts. Everything, theirs just too many smells." Hana states with a groan. Her fingers knead the bridge of her nose.

Uchiha Compound, Front Porch:

Tenten peers up at the door as Miko fiddles with the lock. Her keys jingle all the while she opens the door into the house. Placing her keys back into her bag, Mikoto reaches down and lifts a duffel bag from off the ground.

"Go ahead, Sweetie." Tentatively, Tenten walks past the threshold. Her feet take her slowly through the house.

"Why don't you head out back while I put your things away? If I'm right, the boys should be out training." With a muted nod, the girl wiggles out of her pack. Taking it from the brunette, Miko heads down a hall.

With practiced ease, Tenten treads through the living room towards the back porch. She opens the back door and shuts it behind her.

The door softly clatters against its frame. The noise elicits a pair of onyx eyes to shift her way.

A broad smile quickly develops onto Sasuke's cheeks. "Tenten!" He waves to her and swiftly dashes over. Tenten's lips reciprocate with their own crooked smile.

Yet, her eyes widen as the boy fails to slow in his accent up the porch steps.

"Kya!" She yelps out as the two tumble down to the ground. A hearty chuckle reverberates from the other side of the field. Peeking over the boy atop of her, the girl spots Fugaku making his way over.

"Your back already?" Sasuke inquires in the midst of sitting back on top of her.

"Yea, and your heavy, Sasu. He blinks and peers down to discover his comfortable seat just so happens to be her stomach.

"Oh! Sorry." He states all the while he plops himself down beside her. With a sigh, she heaves herself back up. Her hand propped up behind her for support.

Though the tumble had been quite the blow, it did little to hinder her growing smile.

"So, whatcha doin?" As Sasuke opens his mouth, a deeper voice answers for him.

"We're just getting Sasuke here started on some Chakra exercises. Would you like to join us?" She blinks before nodding. Sasuke takes hold of her hand and energetically tugs her over to the small training court situated at the edge of the yard.

"Daddy, you gotta show her the jutsu! It's so cool. Ya wanna see it too? Right, Tenten?" A light blush colors her cheeks while she nods in agreement.

"Alright. Alright. Let's sit down then." He motions for the duo to do so. The man personally crosses his legs beneath him.

"Now, before we get back at it. Tenten, has anyone told you what Chakra is?"

"Um, kinda. Hm. Some of the older girls say stuff. You know sometimes." She states with a pensive look decorating her brow.

"I see, and what're some of the things they talk about?" The girl squints down at the ground. With a shake of her head, Tenten looks back up to Fugaku.

"I don't know. The stuff doesn't make sense." A slight smirk morphs onto the edge of the Patriarch's lips. His eye darts over to meet Sasuke's. At his father's wink, the little boy could do little to contain his giggle. His being vibrating concurrently with his snicker.

"Come on, daddy. Show her. Show her!" Tenten's eyes dart back and forth from the two.

"Alright, now don't blink or you'll miss it." In response to his words, Tenten inclines toward his open hands. For a second, nothing occurs.

Then without warning, a spark ignites for a brief millisecond. Tenten flinches back and gasps. A small flame quickly develops within the gap of his hands.

Just as quickly, it evolves into a turbulent mass of fire. She squints ever so slightly. Her hand reaches out to feel the permeating warmth.

Edging ever closer to the rolling ball of flames, it vanishes into a myriad of diffusing whisps. "Huh?" Tenten utters out amid a startled blink.

"Now, hasn't anyone told you that you shouldn't touch fire, sweetie?" She spots her outstretched hand and swiftly retracts it to her chest.

Her cheeks inflame to harbor a color that mirrors the extinguished flame. At Sasuke's snicker, Tenten delivers a light elbow into his ribs.

"Hey! What was that for?" The little girl simply crosses her arms and turns away from him.

"You know why." She grumbles out under her breath. With a snort and a shake of his head, Fugaku motions for their attention.

"Alright, that's enough of that. Now, have you learned anything about chakra, sweetie?" The orphan purses her lips momentarily. "Um. It's real?"

"Ha. Yes, it's very real. Anything else?" For a minute, she stares down at the patch of dried clay beneath her. Her fingers roam through the fine dust at its surface. "Uh. I don't know."

"I see. Well, just because chakra looks like magic, it is very real. And it comes with very real dangers. The fire in my hands. It will burn anything it touches. That includes you." He says with a boop to her button nose. Her nose crinkles at the offending touch.

"You understand, sweetie?" She mutely nods her head. Her eyes avoid his own. Fugaku reaches out and tenderly draws her to look into his eyes.

"I'm not scolding you, sweetie. I just want you to be careful. Alright? If I'm going to teach you. I need you to promise me that you'll be careful. Alright? Promise?" After a moment or two, she dips her head and mumbles. "What was that?"

"I Promise." Fugaku smiles and ruffles her hair. "Good. Now, are you two ready to learn?"

"Yes." The pair chorus together. "Then, let's begin." Repositioning himself with his legs crossed below him, Fugaku places his hands into a Ram sign. Tenten catches Sasuke following his lead and mirrors them.

"Perfect. Now I suppose you should know that you two already have chakra within you. All people do. But, most normally can't use it without activating it first." As Tenten cocks her head to the side, Fugaku clarifies further. "Hm. It's like a fire. You still need a spark to start it. Right?"

She hesitantly acknowledges the concept with a dip of her head. Tenten's gaze swivels back down to her conjoined hands. "Now, both of you. Close your eyes and search within yourselves.

Inside, you'll find your core. Just as your heart will beat, your core will hum. Follow this hum until you feel its warmth. Then and only then, I want you two to try and draw it out. Okay?" The pair nod and close their eyes.

After minutes of observing them, Fugaku leans back. One arm propped behind him and another laying over his knee. Taking a second to look around, he notices Mikoto silently watching from their porch.

A pitcher of fresh and iced Wakoucha tea lays beside her. At Miko's wave, he stands up with a grunt.

The children's eyes suddenly open at the sound. "Ah, don't you two give it a rest just yet. Keep at it, and I'll watch you over there with the misses. Alright?"

With his piece said, he ventures over to Miko and graciously accepts the glass offered to him. Swiftly, he gulps down an ounce or two.

Just as he sidles up beside Mikoto on the bench. His arm wraps around her shoulders while she props her head against him.

"Ah. That's nice. Hm. Peaches?" Her smile ever-present as she observes the pair before them. "I thought you might like it."

"That I do." He comments as he takes another swig of the sweet beverage. Miko accompanies him and sips from her own glass.

Her simper swells as she catches hints of Sasuke's and Tenten's playful whispers and banter. All the while, the two kids tried and failed to retain their focus.

River Basin, Konoha Perimeter Woodlands:

A branch rustles as a figure lands atop of it. Soon, the Anbu is met by another. "Report." Mite utters abruptly.

Righting himself on the branch, Shepard's porcelain mask reflects the evening hues of the sun. The oranges and pinks sporadically disrupted by the trees swaying foliage.

"The lake's shores are clean. So too are the neighboring woods. Hm. Sir, if I may. Hasn't this gone long enough?" Mite crosses his arms over his chest and opens his mouth to speak. Yet, he quickly shuts it and flexes his jaw.

With a sigh, he gazes out at the setting sun. "It's not my place to say. We'll keep at it till we're recalled. Understood?" Shepard stiffly nods and joins his captain in observing the sun's gradual descent.

Shifting his eyes towards Mite, Shep motions for his superior's attention.

"Well, if we're to remain assigned to this mission. What say we approach the search differently?" Mite meets his subordinate's gaze with narrowed eyes.

"And what would you suggest?" The man retrieves a small note pad from his side holster. He flips through the pages and stops on a particular page. On closer examination, a bulleted list can be found.

"I still have a few outliers and sites that I'd like to reexamine. " Taking a moment to glance through the list, Mite provides him with a nod.

"Hm. I suppose that would do. Head out, and I'll have Alba meet up with you at the river bend." At his words, Shepard nods and hops down from their perch.

For a brief moment, Mite traces the man with his pupils. Dutifully following his subordinate till he vanishes past the treeline.

Not waiting any longer, the captain leaps off. Once his feet touch the ground, he departs at a brisk pace. The surrounding foliage dissolves into a blur. Every so often, he would bound above or evade an obstacle brought before him. The seconds accumulate into minutes.

In record time, he comes to a silent halt. The break of another treeline just ahead. The small patch of grass allows for his eyes to scan the surrounding brush.

Only a few meters forward, he catches sight of a sliver of porcelain in the dimming woods. With the manipulation of his lips and tongue, he ushers out a distinct whistle.

Another distinct whistle quickly succeeds it. He elevates himself up from his crouch and wanders toward the origin of the responding call.

Making their way from behind the other side of the clearing, Mite finds Alba and Drosera stepping up to him.

"You bring back some good news?" Alba inquires as she steps up to her captain. He merely shakes his head.

"Negative, the mission remains as directed." While Alba releases a barely audible sigh, Drosera did little to conceal his grunt.

"For fuck's sake. We've been at this for what? Weeks now. What gives? It's just a kid, right?" Mite narrows his eyes behind his mask.

"It'd be best if you watch your mouth, recruit." The man utters out as his tone partially subdues the teen.

"As for the boy's significance. It's irrelevant. A sortie is a sortie. You'd be best to remember that." Turning his sights over to Alba, he motions for the woman back from which he came.

"Alba, with the circumstances surrounding our objective. I've given Shepard the liberty to investigate a few loose ends. I want you to accompany him."

She dips her head in acknowledgment and places a hand on his bicep. "Alright, and where will I meet him?"

"By the river bend. The primary discovery site."

"Hm. I see." She nears and tilts her head towards his own. "And what of tonight?" He flexes and nudges her away with his arm.

"The mission takes priority." Mite states with a sense of finality. A mere grunt escapes her lips.

"Of course it does." Alba huffs out as she silently steps off without another word. The captain allows for his gaze to linger on the spot where she had vanished into the forest.

"Really?" A tired sigh escapes the Anbu. His head rotates to meet Drosera's bewildered stare.

"Let's head out." He made to move on, yet was stopped by his subordinate stepping in front of him.

"Wait. You're just going to refuse something like that? Really?" He levels a glare at the child before him. His porcelain mask does little to conceal it from the boy.

"Such things are of little importance. The mission always takes priority. You'd be best to refrain from emulating her. Now. Step aside."

Yielding to the man, Drosera lets him pass. After a few paces, he trails behind his captain.

Alba casually steps her way over a pebbled bank. Another nin looks up from his notebook as she nears.

"It's good to see you, Alba." A sigh makes its way from her lips. "Ya. Ya. How about this. You keep this brief, and I'll lend you some honey? Deal?" She emphasizes, with a hand taking hold of the hem of his pants. A slight smirk etches its way onto her cheek.

Shepard only utters a grunt. His hand-drawing the woman closer. "You'd no better than to offer a pup a treat."

Disengaging from the woman, he begins to make his way into the forest. Alba follows after the man as her smirk evolving into a full smile.

"Is that a yes then?" For a moment, not a sound emanates from her companion. Their feet lead them ever deeper into the woods.

"Depends," Shepard mutters under his breath. The woman slants her head to the side. Her eyes narrow as she shifts a branch out of her way. "On what?"

"If there's anything significant at the site." Alba's shoulders slump at the news and grumble to herself. Despite her reluctance, she persists after her comrade.

Mutually, they traveled in relative silence for minutes on end. Coming across another clearing, Shep gradually brings his pace to a halt. He stoops by the hollow between a tree's roots.

"So, did you miss something?" He didn't respond to her. His hand trails through the compact earth.

"I simply have a theory. And it seems that I wasn't the only one who thought of it." Alba bent down beside him with a perplexed gaze. Her eyes rake over the mossy and earthen landscape.

"Which is?" Shep motions towards the little nook and to a path that led further northwest. On closer inspection, she could just barely make out the imprints of footwear atop of the disturbed earth.

Shepard's nostrils sniff and crinkle at the mesh of scents that littered the air.

"The pocket the boy had hidden in. It has a faint trace of nitrates." Taking a few experimental steps west, he bends down for another whiff.

"Which means." A gruff sigh escapes his lips as he makes to stand back up to his full height.

"It's sour. Hm. Two females are pursuing it." Alba exams the route before them in the darkening forest. The last few rays of light bleeding past the horizon. "How far behind are we?"

"A couple hours, at least." With a shake of her head, she motions him to press forward.

"Then, let's close the gap." She orders Shep. He gives her a brief nod and lurches forward into the twilight. As they blur through the branches, Shepard glances over to his partner. His eyes glint in the moonlight.

"And when will I get my treat." The woman scoffs at the query. "You fucking finish the mission, and I'll give you more than just a treat."

Uchiha Compound, Chief's Dwelling:

Mikoto allows a small smile to grace her lips as her fingers run through Tenten's tussled cinnamon hair. The girl's drowsy eyes slowly close as her breath evens out.

Leaning forward, Miko places a tender kiss atop the girl's temple. The woman rises from her knees and makes her way to the bedroom door. She concedes to one more glance and quietly shuts the door behind her.

Mikoto peers out down the hall. Her eyes linger on the two other darkened doors for a brief second more. She exhales out through her nose and walks off toward the other side of the house.

Spotting light emanating from beneath the door, she pauses midstep. Miko relishes in a deep breath for a just moment. Then she steps forward into the room.

While she enters the room, the Uchiha hears a slight commotion come from within the bathroom.

She shuts the door and slips onto the bed. A head pokes out from the bath with a wooden toothbrush affixed to Fugaku's mouth.

"Gimme a sec." He mumbles out. Miko's wavering smile grew ever so slightly at the comment.

"Alright." She responds all the while she twiddles with the sheets. Her ears catch Fugaku as he rinses off. His figure strides out soon after. The man dries off his hands with his shirt.

With practiced ease, he slides onto the bed beside the woman. His arm boldly wraps around her waist. Fugaku's lips contact her own in a passionate embrace. He pulls ever so slightly away to kiss her neck.

"Fugaku?" Miko whimpers out. Her cheeks flush as her husband's lips grace the underside of her jaw. He pulls her closer and onto his lap. The woman's eyes widen at the growing pressure beneath her.

"Tenten, had me thinking. What if. We uh. What if we give it another try?" Miko bites her bottom lip as Fugaku pulls back to look at her.

Her eyes soften at the suggestion. Yet, she couldn't bring herself to look at him.

"I know you've always wanted a girl. How about it? We could use a little princess running around the house?" At that, Miko's lips twerk up into a grin.

"Miko?" Fugaku tenderly cups her cheek and draws her gaze towards his own.

"W-What if?" Her eyes broke away from his own. Mikoto's smile falters amidst her falling gaze.

"What is it, Miko?" At that, she releases an audible sigh. "Um. W-What. What if." Taking a second to gather herself, she locks back onto Fugaku's searching gaze.

"We already have our little princess. We can keep her. You know. Here, with us." Fugaku furrows his brow and shakes his head. "Tenten? But. She's not an Uchiha?"

"So what? I don't care if she isn't? Sasuke loves having her around. I love her. I know you love her, too, and don't you try to deny it!" Miko states out in a heated whisper. Fugaku shifts his head away from her.

"You can't tell me that you didn't feel anything. I saw you out there. How you treated her. Had she-."

"That's enough, Miko. As much. Heh. As much as I care. For her. It can't happen."

Mikoto narrows her eye's at the remark and separates herself from him.

"And why not? What's so wrong with her!?" She emphasizes with a finger to his chest.

"Nothing! Nothing's wrong with her. But-." His shoulders deflate at the admission.

"Then, why?" He takes a deep breath and coarsely exhales. "I. It's my duty. I'm supposed, to-." Miko's eyes moisten at his downcast expression.

Cupping both of his cheeks, she brought him into a tender kiss. As they part, Mikoto props her head against his.

"And you have. You've given me to beautiful boys. That's more than enough." Fugaku breaks away from her and shakes his head. "No. I have to."

"No. You don't. And I can't wait another nine years. Even if we do, theirs still no guarantee."

Inching up behind him, Mikoto wraps her arms around his chest. Her chin gingerly rests atop of the crook of his neck. Gently, the woman draws his cheek towards her lips. The action leaves a few velvety kisses in their wake.

"Why not. Can't we at least try? I know she'll be a good fit. Please." She whispers into his ear. A few droplets cascade past her cheeks and onto his drooped shoulders.

"I. Um. I signed the trial form. Please say something, Fugaku. I-I'm fine if you want to keep trying. Just please, can we give her a ch-chance? Fugaku?"

With a deep sigh, he forcefully severs himself from his wife. "F-Fugaku?" Miko whimpers out through trembling lips. Her teary eyes widen from the act.

Fugaku lifts the sobbing woman and nestles her into his arms. He lightly kisses away her dripping tears. Just as a few of his own trickle down the creases of his cheeks.

"O-Okay." Furrowing her brow, Miko turns her eyes up to meet his own. "W-What?"

"Okay. If. Hm. If you're sure about this. Then I'll. I'll find a way to be okay with it." Mikoto lays her head against his chest. A cross between a grimace and a grin develops onto her face. "Thank you."

Her husband's arms pull her ever closer to him. Together, they sat there for minutes on end. Miko's eyes flutter closed till a modicum of movement brings herself to open them.

"G-Gaku?" She meekly mumbles out against his chest. Her pupils drowsily search around in mild bewilderment.

"Shh. It's alright, Miko." Fugaku whispers into her ear. His arms deftly secure her beside him in the bed.

He reaches below them to the nearest sheet. Drawing it up, the man loosely wraps it around them. With their arms enwrapping each other, Miko nestles her head atop of his bicep.

Her eyes flutter against his chest. At a chaste kiss atop of her head, Fugaku continues to lightly stroke her back. Then with every passing second, the lids of her eyes drift ever closer together.

As they shut off to the world, her breathing soon follows suit and evens out. Despite his wife succumbing to Baku's domain, Fugaku's eyes remain open and alert.

"Hm." He exhales out quietly. His breath shifts a few strands of her unkempt hair. Repositioning himself onto his back, he places an arm beneath his head.

Fugaku's eyes drift towards the bedroom door. The patriarch's gaze lingers for a moment. His eyes see past the barrier before him. The irises switch over from intense coal to vibrant crimson.

A pair of tomoe rotate lethargically around each of his dilated pupils. With a squint, Fugaku could just make out Sasuke's gradually expanding chakra signature.

The blue and wispy coil of energy seeps out from his slumbering form. Drifting his eyes over to another room, the man spots a flicker of a spark. He remains on the budding source of chakra.

In a blink, the ruby glow vanishes from his eyes. Averting his gaze, he directs it back up to the ceiling. His searching pupils dart around the wooden slats and beams above him. He takes in a shaky breath and releases a drawn-out sigh.

With a shake of his head, Fugaku shuts his eyes and turns to wrap around his beloved. In time, he too drifts off to sleep.

Miles away in a correctional quarry, another crimson eye opens. The set of tome held within speedily revolves and pulsate sporadically within their sockets.

Itachi looks out the cell window and up to the waning moon. His fist tightens over his chest. The teen's knuckles turn white as he dispenses a shuddering sigh.

End Note: Hello again, I hope that you enjoyed the read. I truly appreciate every single one of you. If you would like to leave a comment, ask a question, or make a suggestion, I'll try my best to respond back to you. In addition, if any of you have advice as to how I can further improve my writing skills, it would be greatly appreciated.

Side note: Does anyone know any decent methods to mitigate burnout? Contrary to some, I never really experience writers block. Instead I have a tendency to burnout and want nothing more then to avoid writing a chapter for a few days at a time. I have attempted a few methods, but nothing seems to be working.