Three days since I left Water and I had pretty much nothing to do.

This past couple of days have been pretty boring, even with all the things I've been trying to accomplish, so there's been plenty of time to just sit and think. Mostly because it's been the Shadow Clones doing all the actual moving and shaking while I've mostly kept myself available every-which-way.

Just in case a clone was popped somewhere in the Elemental Countries; as a precaution, if I need to be close enough to any one of them to jump over and pick up the pieces.

"Sasuke! Come'n play with us!" a young boy shouts as he's running towards me with a gaggle of running feet in tow.

I roll my eyes.

"I'm busy."

"No, you're not."

"You're not!" says a second voice.

And third. "He's just sitting again!"

And a fourth, and a fifth, sixth, seventh...

Bloody hillbilly peasant kids. Don't they realize I'm a super-dangerous and internationally feared missing-nin? They should be running for the hills at the sight of me. Don't they have like... newspapers here, or something? My face should totally be on the milk cartons by now.

Or something. Seriously!

"It's called thinking, Tanaka, you should try it sometime. And Ume, you even try putting that burdock seed in my hair and I will toss you in the river."


"Yuh-uh," I reply and flare the intent clearly at her, she giggles and hides behind her brother who sticks his tongue out at me. I think he's jealous because his little sister likes me more than him. But she's clearly just got good taste, so I don't know what his problem is.

"But you're always thinking Sasuke. My dad says only lazy bums do nothing but think all day."

"Yes. But, I've got a lot to think about, unlike some people."

He shoots me a victorious look. "Yesterday you said everything after a 'but' is always bullshit."

The gaggle jeers at me, the giggling Ume and her brother already clumsily sneaking up behind me with armfuls of burdock seeds.

I sigh, getting up.

"Alright – if you want to play with me, then you have to find me first."

And I turn invisible with the Chameleon jutsu in the midst of cheering kids before hopping up into a tree and lying back down to ignore the brats now running everywhere.


Nothing to do but wait and think. Nothing else to do at all. Just sit down, train Warp to try and improve its efficiency and quickness, and think...

Specifically about energy.

Because there is something like a rule with energies in physics about reversibility.

It wasn't probably called that and I don't know if it was actually a codified rule, but from my experience, it was still definitely there. Basically, pretty much any reaction could also be reversed so long as all the constituent parts were there. It was like the gears and cogs: if one could spin another, then the other could also spin the first one.

Conservation of energy.

Take electrolysis – something I had been excited to realize might be possible to realize with chakra.

It was also known as water splitting because it was a process where by directing an electrical current through water it was possible to simultaneously oxidize and reduce the liquid molecules into their component atoms. In other words, splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen gases by shoving a bunch of energy in there.

It wasn't very easy or efficient, though, since water wasn't very conductive and it was a pretty stable molecule. Usually you had to add some salt to it, and there were other, better ways of getting pure oxygen and hydrogen gas.

But what made this process interesting was that it could also be reversed, by simply setting the hydrogen gas on fire where it would react with oxygen and reverse the process in a quick foof-like fireball, creating water vapor while releasing all the energy that had been shoved into it during the splitting. So it was easier to burn hydrogen into the water than it was to create it with electricity because the former was letting the metaphorical rock fall downhill, while the latter was using another rock to try and push another rock up another hill.

So you could turn water into hydrogen and oxygen with excess energy, and you could release it through combustion and get water again.

Conservation of energy.

Or if something could generate an electrical current, then an electrical current could also produce that thing; like windmills and propellers or generators and motors, where both were just opposites of each other. Kind of like how loudspeakers could act like microphones.

It was actually kind of the idea behind photovoltaics.

Photons would jostle electrons and would under the right circumstances generate a proper electrical current. Because currents generated electromagnetic radiation in the electromagnetic field, so too could radiation in the field cause a current.


To make an analogy with something intuitive—and thus wrong in many other ways, but useful in the immediate—if the electromagnetic field was air, then the electrical current was a fan or windmill blade, with the motion of air being the electromagnetic radiation and thus the individual molecules being the photons.

The windmill could be spun by the moving air or then it could spin to move the molecules in the air.

Current could be generated by radiation in the em-field or the current could flow and generate photons.


Conversation of energy.

It was kind of a big deal in physics. And that made a lot of other pieces fall into place as well about how chakra seemed to work in the first place.

The Akimichi used calories and fat to supplement their stamina, but for most ninja the amount of energy they ate couldn't possibly be the source of their chakra – or so I had thought. Because if ultimately all the energy for our chakra came from food, why did the presence of chakra make it seem like we had so much more energy available to us?

Sure, ninja did eat a lot more than civilians did.

But if it was just eighteen homes to the nine of normal people, then that was merely a doubling of input.

A far cry from the amount of energy that went into, say, a single Great Fireball jutsu. And I could toss those things around pretty casually despite not gorging myself with food at all hours of the day. Were we conjuring energy from nothing in that seemingly greater output?

I had thought that perhaps there was something in the food itself; maybe everything from the plants up had some sort of chakra which piled up until we humans ate it, like in the Forest of Death. But that merely punted the question down the food chain and implied either that photosynthesis was that much more efficient in this world, or that the sun was shining that much more brightly...

Which given that most plants appeared pretty normal and that the seas weren't boiling, I wasn't inclined to believe.

Besides, I had been taking a pretty close look at everything I ate these days to avoid food poisoning and I hadn't seen any hint of the fish or crabs or noodles having any chakra, yet my own chakra levels remained mostly unchanged. Excepting the slow, steady growth from my continued training.

So what if...

Instead of there being more energy in the food it was rather a matter of improved efficiency in utilizing the energy that was already present there?

See... the thing about the bomb calorimeter test—burning food to test how much heat it could generate—was, that only a sliver of that total energy ended up available to us as the energy we could consciously use, even when setting aside the issues of how efficient digestion was and what could and couldn't be digested in foods.

Most of the energy that could be measured by burning food actually ended up doing the same thing in our bodies – creating heat.

Waste heat, most of the time.

Because as far as I recalled, about 80% of all the energy in whatever we ate was 'lost' as heat during the various processes inside our bodies. Like when we needed to generate force through our muscles, as a side-effect of the chemical energy being expended, our bodies would grow much, much warmer. And then we would begin to sweat to cool down.

Hence, we were warm-blooded animals, and why we had to constantly drink water to regulate our body temperature. Life was a continuous process of making piss, really.

So I had a thought.

Or perhaps - a revelation, of sorts.

What if instead, the difference between ninja and civilians wasn't the presence or amount of chakra per se, but merely that the chakra of ninjas knew in the first place how to take the excess heat and store it for later use? Because all humans had some chakra from what I had seen, even those like Lee who couldn't use it for jutsu.

What if the initial stumbling block was merely teaching your chakra how to feed and grow in the first place?

My chakra had readily learned how to perform jutsu without handseals when I consciously directed it to do so and taught it all the steps. It was somewhere between muscle memory and teaching a dog how to do tricks.

Because we ninjas never seemed to really get cold, even here in the chill of the Land of Water where most ninja could be recognized from the fact that they kept some major limb uncovered and bare. Nor did we seem to get that hot, either. I hadn't seen it for myself yet—not having visited Wind yet—but I still remembered the manuals for desert operations from the Academy. It mentioned water as a necessity for survival but implied one canteen was more than enough for a day out in the sun.

Or, hey, what about the symptoms of chakra exhaustion?

Loss of motor skills; shivering; weakening pulse, breathing, and blood pressure; confusion, memory loss, and fatigue leading into loss of consciousness and finally death?

That almost sounds like severe hypothermia.

Specifically, exhaustion hypothermia, where the body just didn't have enough energy to keep itself warm anymore, requiring warmth, rest, and food to recover. And if your chakra was panicking all the while and trying to take all your excess body heat with the desperation of a drowning man pulling a lifeguard down with him...

Yeah, I could see how chakra exhaustion could kill you.

Anyhow, with this the amount of energy ninja had available for chakra skyrocketed. With the doubled amount of food we ate multiplied by five—assuming chakra could make use of it all—then suddenly, yeah, it makes sense how we're just throwing around rice-powered-fireballs.

No wonder the Aburame loved honey. That shit is like the caloric nuclear bomb.

But taking this idea further: was it really possible to derive that much energy from merely eating food?

Because when I really thought about the peak of chakra some—relatively normal—ninja had, figures like Jiraiya, Orochimaru, the Third Hokage, several of the ANBU, Kisame... They had pretty damn massive reserves from what I had been able to sense.

Definitely more than a bowl of cup ramen could provide, and—

Wait, was that why Naruto loved the stuff so much? His metabolism constantly craving for energy because of his chakra trying to keep up or balance itself with the Kyuubi or something?

Whatever, he was an anomaly on so many levels that he was not worth analyzing – back to the normal curve-breaking ninja: Had their chakras simply learned with time how to derive energy from other sources as well?

Like a Shadow Clone absorbing an excess of kinetic energy and returning it to its creator?


Any process chakra could create or mimic, should on some level also be possible for chakra to gain energy back from as well.


It was the thing about rocks rolling downhill—gradients—again.

Was chakra 'low' enough to capture energy like that? Because most of the time in those 'reversed' processes, you need to shove in a bunch of energy to get it back out in the opposite process. But if chakra could do it with body heat as I thought, then it shouldn't be impossible.

Body heat was pretty high up in the hierarchy of entropy in terms of inefficiency and scatter.

Living beings are like little entropy machines.

Anyhow, what if the process of teaching elemental affinities also taught your chakra how to more efficiently replenish itself from various sources in some way? Teaching it to recognize those applications as methods for manipulating energy in the first place? Because most of the absolute monsters noted for their immense chakra and power seemed to have at least three elemental affinities solidly under their belts.

The one exception I could think of was Kisame—the Tailess Tailed Beast, as they called him—but that was probably due to that nifty sword of his doing it for him.

I hadn't ever seen it give him any of the chakra it had eaten...

But that sounded like something a Stormbringer expy-sword like it would do. Of course, that was applying meta-knowledge inappropriately again and thus very suspect.

Was this perhaps the 'spiritual energy' ninja went on about?

The ability to just reach out and find more energy from seemingly nowhere with training and meditation?

Because it still sounded like the dark matter and energy from physics back before – an inexplicable factor they had to throw in because otherwise the gaps between theory and practice could not be bridged or explained.

Or, speaking of tails...

The actual Tailed Beasts themselves?

Tobirama wrote that they were living energy, given shape by yin and animated by yang.

Did they eat anything? Did they need any kind of sustenance? Kyuubi couldn't have eaten a damn thing in over a damn decade, yet it had never been implied to be losing chakra or having a finite reserve of power. Hell, none of the Tailed Beasts could have been eating much for a damn long time, considering they were the weapons of the Hidden Villages, yet they all seemed to be going strong.

But if they were instead capable of refining power from their surroundings with their massive chakras...

That meant with enough practice there was no limit to how great a given chakra could grow.

None except what energy there actually was to be had around you. Sucking the whole planet dry and taking it all for yourself was an eminent possibility if you just got good enough at that process.

Hmm... Gonna have to keep an eye on those trees.

Historically the First Hokage had supposedly created many of the trees around Konoha, so it was probably fine, but it wouldn't hurt to be careful given precedent for people-eating.

Anyhow, back to the topic of this reversibility.

Chakra could produce light – not just by way of the Chameleon jutsu manipulating existing light or elemental jutsu like the Great Fireball or Chidori causing it as a byproduct, but also as a visible aura of light around a strong ninja when they flexed or performed jutsu.

That aura was a form of direct work performed by the energy we called chakra.

But what was it?

Some kind of black body radiation of exited gas or plasma, like St. Elmo's Fire or neon lights?

See, hot things glow when their energy state rises and they have to radiate it away – that's called black body radiation, based on a theoretical black body which would not reflect anything external, thus all the light coming off of it must be coming from within it.

But it's not strictly because they have more energy that they glow.

It's like a glass being filled with water; when water falls into the glass the surface rises, not just as a whole but also as droplets that are ejected into the air and are then pulled back down. When the droplet lands back in the water, that's as if a region of the hot thing released its energy into an adjacent area. When the droplet lands outside of the glass that would be black body radiation – substance lost because of overt its excitation.

Except instead of water molecules it's light and heat.

Things tend to glow because they are trying to cool down, even while they might be getting hotter as a whole. So things like glowing metals or the sun would glow because they're extremely hot.

But some gases like neon, argon, xenon, and helium will do the same thing at much lower temperatures, making them useful as colorful lights – hence 'neon lights'. Same with plasma TVs, I think. But I had never looked into how they worked and only assumed that from the name.

Could have just been a corporate branding for the coolness factor.

Anyhow, when that happened with oxygen or nitrogen—the two most common gases in the air—they glowed blue and purple, I think?

Or oxygen could be any number of colors as they were in aurora borealis, but I think nitrogen was primarily purple, hence lightning and St. Elmo's Fire having that color. Electrical powerlines had to be designed to not cause St. Elmo's Fire to occur, because it was a loss of power from the lines, like a leaky pipe.

But then shouldn't purple auras be the common thing?

Not blue as we all seemed to have, excepting Naruto when he went berserk? Not that I had actually seen it this time around, even against Gaara.

Was I missing something? Was the concentration of oxygen in the air higher than nitrogen here, or was there some other factor at play like Rayleigh scattering?

Would need to figure out a test for this...

Because the only other alternative I remembered was Cherenkov Radiation, which was, ah, kind of neat but also kind of scary. Think sonic booms but with the speed of light. The black body radiation of excited gases was definitely the less intense avenue to first explore, at least compared to charged particles exceeding the speed of light in a given non-vacuum medium.


Let's just go with black body radiation for now.

Anyhow, if chakra liked to interact with electrons—as I had observed with fair regularity—then it was likely that a large amount of excess chakra released into the air was likely to glow the same way to maintain conservation of energy.

It wasn't that chakra auras were a sign of power – they were a sign of wasted power.

So no wonder Naruto had them but traditionally strong ninja like Orochimaru and Danzo generally didn't even when they threw around massively powerful jutsu. The same was probably with sound from chakra. That work—pretty lights and sound—could be put to much better use in an actual jutsu with better chakra control.

Huh, need to start focusing on that more. Eliminate all waste, eliminate all waste, eliminate all waste...

I needed to figure out how the aura was generated and how it produced light, exactly. Because with that, I could figure out if and how to reverse the process and then use that to improve my chakra regeneration. Or well, at least work out the most likely ways it could work, so that once Haku-sempai and I got busy we wouldn't be wasting time with me just scratching my head and feeling very stupid.

Proper preparation and planning prevent piss-poor performance!

Because I don't get to spend all that much time with those two, so I have to make every interaction count. I barely even got to pop by for an evening last time around. Might as well do all the lengthy legwork first and save them the trouble. Probably wouldn't even enjoy it the way I did.

Besides, I haven't made any headway on any of my big heists yet.

That team of Mist-nin had completely evaded my notice. But that's probably because they took a boat and I flew, so it can't be helped – I just have to keep a unit of three Shadow Clones hanging around Hidden Cloud to keep an eye out for them to pick up their tail there before they manage to return to Kiri.

Not too close to Kumo's gates, but within sight of all the major entrances, since I don't want to alert anyone within. Stakeouts make me skittish, even with my Chameleon jutsu and the ability of clones to change shape. Since the team is expected back within a week, I expect them to arrive in Kumo soon. Ish.

Aside from that, I had another unit of three back in Fire Country and another three running the trade routes.

A boy has to eat, you know?

Also, I needed to find some sake before I forgot about that promise again. Plus, they could try and figure out how to make some explosives.

I had some knowledge of how to make detonations, but chemistry had never been my forte so I was kind of limited in that regard.

Like every growing boy with way too much time and no oversight, I had tried things like mixing gasoline, oil, and styrofoam—napalm!—before, or burning iron powder and steel wool—it burns very prettily—and making tiny explosives out of sugar and saltpeter, making miniature frag grenades by filling small metal containers like spent CO2 capsules with that mixture and rocks...

But most of those were just little tricks. Napalm aside, I mean.

And while I knew roughly how to make some more... potent poppers—it was mostly about finding a fuel source and an oxidizer and slapping them together without premature detonations—I didn't know how to recognize or create most of the base ingredients for such.

Like for starters, there are no real hydrocarbons here.

Gasoline, I mean.

They had lamp oil, but it wasn't anywhere near as energetic and prone to vaporizing in the air as gasoline had been, so it really wouldn't work. The Great Fire Bridge had taught me that. Wood chips and dust were an option for fuel, but that still required me to ignite them with a Fire jutsu which would be pretty obvious.

We had alcohol, but distillations were... iffy. And even if that wasn't a problem, a basic Molotov Cocktail wouldn't stand up to a water jutsu for long.

Something like thermite would have been perfect even if I had never made it before.

Just make a bunch, plop it on the roof, ignite it and then step back and watch as it melts its way through to the ground with the fury of the fucking sun.

Except I had no idea where or how to get my hands on aluminum, even if getting rust would be easy – just sweep the floors of every smithy I could find. Heated iron constantly oxidized and shed mass while it was being worked in the furnace and on the anvil, so any major smithing center would have loads of free rust.

So no thermite.

I knew that nitric acid—the stuff Mei could create—was used in creating TNT and nitroglycerin...

But I didn't know even the first how there, much less the dozen subsequent hows that it took to create either of those things.

Blackpowder was the old isekai standby.

Charcoal, saltpeter, sulfur.

But unless I could find a source of saltpeter it would take me months to get that process started, without even getting into figuring out a proper mix and getting a large-scale operation smoothly running for a sufficient amount to do any damage to a building.

Also, I didn't really fancy burying and watering piles and piles of excrement...

What did that leave me with? Sugar and cooking oil?

But I was certain that Mist-nin knew not to try and put out an oil fire with water—or at least, had some alternative ways of choking it out—since cooking with hot oils was so common here.

Also, those were both expensive as all hell in bulk.

What the heck did I ever even buy that one notorious cookbook for if I never get any use out of it?

"I hope the clones think of something..."

Here comes one now, in fact.

I look up and raise a hand in greeting at the disguised Shadow Clone. If I didn't know it was me, I might even be fooled, since with the combination of their physical mutability and the doubled-masking of the Chameleon jutsu they were the perfect infiltrators.

Neither physical tells like sight, sound, or scent, nor chakra sensing could reliably recognize them.

But Sharingan-on-Sharingan buzz didn't lie.

"Have a good one?"

"You bet," he replies, shrugging off a pack from his shoulders. It makes a heavy sound against the ground and clinks with the tell-tale sound of coins.

I raise a brow.

"Dramatic. But couldn't you just use a Holding?"

"Huh? Oh, I did. But it kept overflowing. But you'll want to hold onto your butt for this. And I want to Sharingan-drop it."


He grins at my nonplussed expression. "And you'll want to clear your mind for all this."

"Okay, gimme a minute..."

I had been rolling some old thoughts over in my head and trying to find new angles in either the energy or the explosives issues but hadn't really reached any new conclusions. But it was still good form to make sure I didn't forget anything.

Looking up from my notebook, satisfied with everything, I nod at him.

"Alright, hit me."

He grins and I fall headfirst into memory lane.

Is that fucking Tayuya?

Right, this is the border between Fire and Sound countries.

If Konoha was pushing for war—or at least to hold Orochimaru accountable—then it was entirely likely for the Sound Four to be out in force. Or perhaps even the Sound Five? Hard to tell whether the old leukemia boy could be dusted off without dying two steps out the door.

Should I...?

I lick my lips and land some ways off, taking my normal form again as my soundless feet hit the ground.

Yeah, I should - I totally should.

I only spent like a year trying to figure out how to write a NarutoxTayuya fic where they both washed up after the failed Sasuke retrieval mission before giving up on writing altogether for two years after my failure.


This is my chance!

Dropping off the goods from my Holding into a hiding spot for later retrieval, I make sure my appearance is impeccable. Dashing kimono coat, bandages, hair just the right amount of spiky, and the low ponytail straight down my back.

I lick the back of my hand and smell my saliva – I haven't brushed my teeth, but I'm not sure if I actually need to as a clone.

"Okay... Okay... Take it easy, Sasuke. You're the coolest thing since sliced bread. Chicks dig you. Alright. Let's do this."

I take off at a run, kick off a tree, Warp across the distance, and land in the clearing with a backflip.

"Tayuya-chan, go on a fucking date with me!"

"What the fuck!?" she shrieks, almost falling out of her hiding spot where she's been eyeing a nearby field. "Who the fuck are you, dickhead!"

She pulls out her flute as she whirls towards me.

Is she going to play for me? Awesome!

I raise my hands towards her and fall to a knee. "I'm the dickhead who has a crush on your cunt-face ass!"

"What!?" She boggles as her eyes find me. "Are you picking a fight with me, you fucking trash?! How did you find me—are you one of those Konoha fuckers!?"

"Yup!" I pop the p, jumping back up to my feet. "I flew aaall the way here across land and sea to confess to you!"

"Bullshit!" she shouts and hands whip through seals.

Oh, the summoning jutsu. Guess I get to dance a little. Well, if Shika could do it...

I could make this fancy.

The smoke parts, revealing three hulking figures behind her. She called them demons, I think, but I wonder if they're just dead bodies being puppeteered? Like remote-controlled organic robots. Just with weird chakra-eating things coming out of their mouths once they really get going.

"Oh, are these your over-protective brothers? Or are they your ex-boyfriends?" I ask as she begins to play, and the tightening around her eyes is all the reaction I get. The summons begin moving - shambling, really. "Because I know you're a horny girl, Tayuya-chan!"

She does a spit-take through the flute, her three shamblers spasming and stopping as the music dies. "How do—Who the hell are you!?"

I strike a Kamina-pose, pointing at the heavens with my feet wide.

"I'm the man who shitposted all of 2009 about how you're the cutest girl in the world, who crossed dimensions and death to get to you! I am certain that all of this was merely for this one moment! All of my boredom, most of my hard work, a little of my pain - it was all so I could meet you, Tayuya-chan!"

"Wha— Go fuck yourself, you freak!"


"Fuck me yourself, you coward!" I've always wanted to use that line and seeing her eyes just bulge when I said it made it ten times better.

She splutters again in confused protest for a second, before something like recognition sparks in her eyes.

Did my heated confession get through to her?

"...Wait a second, you're... You're Uchiha—"

"Sasuke, yeah. Nice to meet—eh?"

She just turned tail and started hauling ass, leaving behind her summons in her hurry to run away.

"Was it something I said?"

Mm, it's kind of bad manners to follow after a girl when they're running away from you. But this is definitely a misunderstanding. Mm, definitely.

So I make chase.

"Why are you running?!"

Tayuya looks over her back, actually flinching as our eyes meet and I sense the purest terror there.

Aww, nuts. I don't think this relationship is going to work out.

Her cursed seal activates and I slow down for a second as my spinning tomoe analyze it. The black lines spreading over her body, they're pretty much doing exactly what I had been trying to figure out with the Chameleon jutsu: taking in light and turning it into chakra to supplement her stamina. Or more like enhance its potency? Supplementing it somehow.

But with this much, it's hardly enough to overcome the difference between us.

She's a genjutsu-tactician, while I'm a...

I'm a...?

Uh, I don't actually know how to classify myself. Jack-of-All-Trades, sure. But that implies I'm half-assed at most things when actually I'm just one step below the actual masters in most of my skills, pretty world-class all around? I mean, I can't keep up with Gai for more than ten seconds, but that's still better than 99.99% of all ninja alive can manage.

Anyhow, noticing that it's barely making a difference, Tayuya kicks it up to full burn as her head wrappings are torn to shreds and she sprouts horns.

And then she stumbles, almost breaking her neck as she misses her next step on a branch.

But well, the gentleman that I am, I manage to grab a hold of one of her horns—it was very smooth and firm: perfect handlebars for you-know-what—mid-air and correct her posture so she can land on her feet.

Or, into a sprawling, limp roll as she struggles to even breathe.

Wait a tick, I know this chakra.

"Orochimaru, you fucking asshole. Quit that – whatever it is you're doing. Just so you know, I'm a Shadow Clone. Real me is like... continents away right now so you're just making an ass out of yourself right now."

He's taking this 'toxic ex'-thing with a little bit too much enthusiasm.

Tayuya gasps, the curse mark's second stage reverting and receding back all the way into her normal state. She looks up at me, eyes wide, and clearly wants to crawl away from me but is still too weak to move.


Pretty much according to pattern, again.

This isn't an anime.

Orochimaru is her actual boss with all the history and insanity that implies. She's not just a cute and feisty redhead with cool powers – she's someone who's had to claw her way into a position of some stability out of a mire of suffering. Because Orochimaru—who makes prisoners fight to the death for the honor of being his next vessel—kind of has a type for his followers.

Those either completely touched in the head and those too desperate for anything else. She's probably more than spread her own fair share of iniquity to get where she is today, even before becoming a direct subordinate.

I'm not exactly squeaky clean by any standard either, but...

"Yeah. I was just being blinded again."

We clones are more impulsive and excitable, I guess. We're all just bound to vanish at the end of the day, so we want to make our marks somehow.

I turn to look back at Tayuya, my previous excitement gone.

"Is Orochimaru somewhere nearby? I guess I should go have a little chat with him."

She swallows, avoiding my eyes.

Right, my Sharingan.

"I don't know what ol' Oro told you, and I know our little break-up was pretty explosive, but I'll have you know I'm actually very reasonable and safe to be around most of the time."

I doubt she believes me.

"So why don't I stand over here, looking over that way, and we can talk to each other?"

I turn around and walk seven steps away, plenty enough for her to gather herself. Which she does, I think. Judging by her furtive glances and intent, she's getting herself under control again. She's actually a little mad, too?

Probably at herself, since she's carefully trying to let none of it slip my way.

As far-removed as I am from normal people—civilians, let's say—so, too, is she. Just, in another direction and dimension entirely. We're two aliens, meeting out in the middle of nowhere, barely able to comprehend one another.

So, I'll just give her all the time she needs for now.

"I'll... I'll take you to his base."

I nod. "Want to go get your boys first?"

She's baffled for a full second.

"N-no, they're just summons."

Tayuya gets up, most of her strength seeming to have returned, but she shuffles around for a second as if looking for something.

"Your flute is by the bush over there. Didn't think to catch it."

"Oh, yeah, uh... thanks," she answers in a small voice, almost as a flinching afterthought.

"Want me to take point? Just tell me which way to go and you can keep your distance."


She sounds a little angry at being so comforted by the offer but still takes it.

We take off, her guiding the way roughly and needing to take point a few times when we stray, but we arrive at some kind of underground bunker's entrance quickly enough.

"Huh, Orochimaru still has terrible taste in everything."

Tayuya can rock the outfit, but that's because she has nice legs.

Aaand there's another familiar face ahead.

"That will be all, Tayuya. I will take him from here, you may return to your duties," Kabuto says, all smarm and sleaze.

I almost tell him to fuck right off, but the relief I sense from her is enough to hold my tongue. Guess I really blew that chance. She leaves as quickly as possible, leaving me with tall, gray, and unmemorable.

"Sasuke-kun, right this way," he says to me with a bland smile with absolutely nothing behind it.

I sigh heavily.

"Alright, let's get this booty call out of the way. I have another appointment in an hour."

Kabuto doesn't react.

Yeah, fuck this guy – no fun at all. In fact, fuck everyone in this place in all likelihood. But putting aside those emotions for now, let's just see if I can salvage something out of all this.

He leads me deeper and deeper, until we arrive at a cluttered office.

The first thing I spot is a half-rotten hand upright on a stand with an Akatsuki ring on it.


Kabuto stops by the door and closes it behind me, though he doesn't leave.

"Sasuke-kun. We meet again," Orochimaru says as he turns around to look at me, not quite welcoming and definitely making no pretext of being anything other than what he is anymore.

"Oro old friend. Good to see the haircut I gave you didn't keep you down for long."

A hint of a smile plays at his lips, but it's a mask to hide the indignation in his eyes.

He died.

I killed him.

And if not for Danzo's interruption... Well, who knows what would have happened in the end, if my suspicions about the curse mark are true.

"Yes. But we cannot say the same for our mutual friend, can we?" he deflects with a knowing smile.

"Well, you know... Danzo always wanted to be a tree-root, so fitting for him to be pushing them out from the ground now as one, eh?"

Fuck that guy.

We both chuckle darkly.

Also, why is Kabuto now radiating some kind of smug vindication from behind the door? Is he eavesdropping? He's not even trying to hide it. Is this some kind of weak-ass powerplay thing?

Noticing my looking at the door four-eyes is haunting, Orochimaru decides to speak.

"But what brings you here? I cannot imagine your reservations having changed much, even with your untimely parting with the Hidden Leaf – an event that brought me great pleasure, if I may say."

I wouldn't be here as a clone if I had changed my mind, is what I think he means.

"Ah, well... Was in the area and saw a cute girl, and hormonal-hornball that I am I rushed right over, but you saw that already, didn't you?"

Curse marks allow Orochimaru to track and listen in on whoever has been tagged with one. At least, the second stage seems to. So goddamn glad I didn't get one stuck on me. If a smartphone wasn't enticing enough to be constantly tracked and tapped before, then a little power-up sure wasn't going to do it now.

Yeah, also, gonna bet all the change in my Holding that it's also some kind of phylactery that allows him to resurrect or something.

Because he's that kind of guy. You know the type; tall, dark, and snakey, hates the thought of dying, marks his followers with tattoos... He's even got an orphan boy as a Harry Potter-lookalike!

I mean, that's what I would do if I wasn't more of a 'just send clones'-kind of guy.

"Ah, yes..." he looks away to one of the many tables, brows furrowing slightly as if he's trying to remember or locate something. "I do think one of the recent bingo books made note of that."

I perk up.

"You have recent bingo books? Been meaning to read through them and see what they say about me."

He smiles predatorily, only a hint of that indignation lurking deep beneath. "They certainly do you justice. 'Waking Nightmare' and the 'second coming of Izuna'..."

Izuna. Izuna? Izuna.

No idea what that was, but...

"Waking Nightmare? Oh, yeah, I did say that - glad it stuck." I grin toothily. "But what was that you were saying about them noting something, before that?"

"The other villages suspect Konoha may have exaggerated your abilities some—the same way as they once did for your brother, not greatly but enough—but that you may still be open to seduction and honeypot-tactics given... certain rumors of your conduct during the Chuunin Exams."

My brows rise up into my hanging dark bangs.

"They're gonna send hot kunoichi to seduce me?"


Oh wow. That might be a problem.

Because I know I'll totally fall for that. Damn hormones. Damn teenager's libido. Damn cute, sporty girls in bandages and mesh that's barely able to contain their overflowing curves and...

What were we talking about again?

"Ku ku ku... I certainly hope you will make the most out of any such encounters."

Right, because he wants the Sharingan and to unravel the mysteries of ninjutsu and chakra. Which was kind of why I wanted to visit, excluding the disaster with Tayuya.

"Orochimaru, what is chakra?"

The Snake Sage blinks at the abrupt tangent, the previous calculations behind his eyes wiped clean.


"Right. Is it a particle, a fluid or a solid, where does it come from? Why does it work the way it does? So, what is chakra?"

He looks at me. Really looks at me, then.

"Have you not visited the Naka shrine's innermost sanctum?"

My turn to blink.

"...That old thing near the Uchiha compound?"

He nods, almost hesitantly.

"Uh, no?"

His turn to blink again.

I feel like I've just admitted something huge, given just how baffled he seems.

"Did your clan or your brother never speak of it?"

"Uh... Not that I remember?"

Orochimaru blinks again and then lets out a bark of laughter that descends into a hissing fit of cackles.

"I see. Then it is no wonder you have not been traveling along the paths all others have."


Pretty sure that place was just a rickety dump. Or at least, I don't remember anything about it in the anime.

Well, duh.

The world extended beyond the illusion of canon. Didn't we just establish this again, for the nth time you numbskull?

"I'm guessing there's some kind of mythical origin tale stored there, or something."

He nods. "Indeed. Along with the answer for how to reach the peak of the Uchiha's power, and beyond."


The Sannin pauses, giving me a measured look.

"Those traditions are just piled up misconceptions and misunderstandings. I've had enough headaches trying to parse the truth out for myself without trying to pay heed to them."

"...I see."

Or so he says, even though he's obviously still thrown for a loop by my dismissiveness. I think he wants to believe I'm bullshitting him again, but given how I'm making zero effort to hide my emotions it should be obvious I just don't give a flying fuck about any of that.

Finally, he shakes his head with some annoyance.

"Then perhaps it is for the best that we did not cooperate – our values appear to be diametrically opposed on more than one level."


His entirety sharpens somehow, intent, body, mind, and spirit all so unified in that instant that the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.

"The legends of the Sage of the Six Paths are true and I intend to witness them for myself."


I mean, still seems kind of regressive and limited, but it's his life and goal. Besides all the inhuman experimentation and stuff he's been doing to accomplish that - that's kind of not just his deal.

"But I see that does not satisfy your original question," he says with a shake of his head. "Chakra is form and function, darkness and light, seals and power – it is yin and yang brought together. So taught the Sage long ago."


But what does any of that even mean?

This is again that didacting bullshit that I hate. Like trying to read Japanese samurai manuals that start off by explaining things from the fucking i-ching, rudimentary alchemy—as above, so below, as within, so without etc. etc.—and then trying to make eeeeverything about that.

Like, kendo had like five different seigan-no-kamae before they got rid of it. One for each truth of Buddhism or something equally inane and irrelevant since 'sei' means right or true, and you're just supposed to see with your inner virtue which one is right for each situation.

Or how Aristotle dominated western thinking for thousands of years to the point where galaxy brain intellectuals would just turn off their brains and accept every little bit of it as gospel alongside the actually good bits.

Better to be an inveterate skeptic and verify everything for yourself, I say.

"I see that still does not satisfy you. Then, what do you believe it is?"

If we're going to talk past each other, citing things we've read that the other hasn't, without bothering to explain what we mean, then...

I smirk.

"It's Maxwell's demon, with a little bit of Laplace on the side."

That obviously means nothing at all to him as he frowns.

But if he doesn't want to explain himself, then why would I? Besides, this works better for me.

"Still, this doesn't mean we can't cooperate to some degree. Share findings, bounce ideas off of each other, that kind of thing."

His eyes narrow, sensing the 'but' coming.

"But, this has all got to go," I airily wave my hand. "The pointless cruelty, the sheer waste, the fucking around with human lives because you can't be arsed to care."

Orochimaru's eyes burn and it's only the fact that I'm a clone—and attacking me would be pointless—that stays his hand. And even his restrained killing intent—the tangible proof of how steeped in death he is—he would root most ninja to the ground.

But there are nuances to killing intent, as I realized with Zabuza.

I don't need to match him in sheer intensity or volume, because I have something better.

Absolute certainty.

I killed you once. I'll do it again if I have to and make it stick.

Come on. Come on. Let's dance already. Give me a reason to indulge – let me make it fucking rain blood; I've got so much new fucking shit to show you it'll make your head spin; let me savour you again properly this time, Orochimaru, with no one to interfere.

But as the second passes and the impasse wears trite, I exhale a long sigh to signal my disappointment.

Guess we're not rumbling this day.

"It's give and take, you know? Equal exchange. Or if you'd prefer, I can also revert to the carrot and the stick, I don't mind calling it that. Because I can make your life very difficult, Orochimaru. I don't even need to do it myself; you've gone and made so many fucking enemies on your own already – don't think I missed that ring back there."

Slitted eyes twitch toward the rotten hand.

Orochimaru inhales very slowly, deliberately matching my relaxed posture.

"Then you will assist me against Konoha, and—"

"No. This isn't a negotiation. This is you choosing whether or not you want me as your enemy. Because I get what you're after—even find it admirable to a degree—and I sure as hell have indulged in more than a little bit of wanton cruelty, and I know you're giving those who've hit rock bottom a chance at something more, and I know it seems like a waste of time to do any of this shit..."

Actually, that's a lot of ands there.

But it's because I get what he's doing – we're pretty damn similar fundamentally. Maybe only a few bad decades apart in how much effort we're willing to put into pretending to care about everything normal.

"But that's exactly why it shouldn't take that much effort on your part to clean this shit up. I'm just giving you an excuse to do it."

Because we're similar, we think in terms of gradients. Least amount of effort for maximum gain. Until now it just hasn't been worth the effort to do anything about all this. It's probably even generated some stress relief and amusement for him. But with me in the picture, the factors shift - suddenly there's a new hill and a big fucking rock rolling his way.

And unless he changes something, it will squish him.

Normally, he's not someone I can just dictate terms to. I'm badass, sure, but he's still Orochi-fucking-maru.

But it's also precisely because he's Orochi-fucking-maru that he's in such a precarious situation right now. He tried to build a powerbase, but the infrastructure is too fragile, and he's offended too many people in his hasty attempts to get everything, and now he's surrounded by enemies on all sides.

In such a pickle, I'm more than just the straw that'll break his back.

Unless he's willing to throw everything away and start over, he can't exert himself properly and without restraint. His laboratories, archives, trained aides, currently running experiments... He's got all the time in the world if he's immortal, but losing decades and decades of progress in his beloved subjects?

That's one hell of a stick against a guy like this.

Even he can't remember everything. There are just so many little details that you know aren't relevant right now but might become vital with any one surprise discovery...

Time for the carrot.

"And in return... I can tell you what I figured out about improving the curse mark's ambient power absorption."

Orochimaru's wide eyes swivel at me, his astonishment absolute for a moment before he notices my confusion and he masks it up tightly again.

What was that about?

I was going to offer him a Shadow Clone Sharingan or two as bait, too, if he behaved well, but this... There's something more here. He almost panicked at the prospect that I might know more about how to use ambient energy than he does. Was I stumbling on some other dusty legend? Something about that Sage he mentioned?

Damn it, I might have to investigate this shit now, too...

At least it doesn't sound like we're thinking of the same things.

Because he should know what entropy is, and if he knew what energy actually was then he would probably understand what Maxwell's Demon is in that context. But I get the feeling his knowledge base is tainted: the fact that chakra exists is coloring his perceptions of how reality works too much.

A noise by the door and a second later it explodes into pieces as someone comes rushing in, Kabuto nowhere to be seen.

In wades through another gray-headed ninja entirely.

Aww, nuts.

"Kakashi. What a surprise."

His Sharingan is blazing as he looks at me. Decidedly unsurprised - must have tracked me here somehow. It must have been those damn dogs of his; the Shadow Clones still have a smell and I took on my original form to flirt with Tayuya.

He couldn't have picked a worse time.

Because now Orochimaru has a potential hostage against me. No, wait, before I get too one-track about taking Kakashi's side, how do I know it's actually Kakashi? It could be someone in disguise.

Where is Kabuto?

But there's no faking the buzz of Sharingan-against-Sharingan.

This is the real deal. A Sharingan, at least. But Danzo had Sharingans. Danzo was working with Orochimaru. Orochimaru wants the Sharingan. Why doesn't he already have a Sharingan?

I glance at the Snake Sage whose emotions and face have gone carefully blank again.

It's incredibly taxing as an implant?

That's hardly a problem, given his abilities and resources. He wants something more? Something about the curse mark, making use of ambient energy and a natural Sharingan, all in one package, perhaps?


Doesn't matter right now. Is this Kabuto or Kakashi?

Well, that's easy.

"Hey, when did Haruka shave her pubes?"

There's an almost audible beat of silence as everyone turns to look at me.

"Maa... Volume 2, page 15? But that wasn't really Haruka... it was Chitose in disguise to seduce Shinami."

Yeah, okay it's Kakashi.

"Well, then, this was a nice chat," I say and turn my back to him, ignoring his surprise and flex my chakra at Orochimaru. "But we will be leaving now."

"Sasuke, if we take him together..."

"Shut up, Kakashi. I'm just a Shadow Clone."

I can sense the realization even behind my back as I keep a careful eye on Orochimaru.

He's got all the cards now. I can just pop and that's that – real me can pick up the money and goods I left behind and raze this base to hell if need be, and I trust Kakashi to keep himself safe for a little while...

But all the long-term consequences are now solidly in the Snake Sage's hand. He can say anything he wants and I have no way of disproving it.

Of course, technically Kakashi isn't exactly someone I need to care about anymore, it's still...

It's still something I don't want misunderstandings about?

A little late for that, Sasuke m'boy. Should've thought of that before you torched half of Konoha.

"In this... deal of yours," Orochimaru sibilantly says, definitely putting on a show of smug amusement for Kakashi's benefit.

Aw nuts, here we go...

"Assuming that I cease 'pointless cruelty,' as you put it. How often would you be willing to meet and discuss matters?"

Alright, that wasn't too incriminating.

Is he trying to placate me? Might just be to buy time so he can start planning countermeasures against me, but I'll take what I can get.

"Right now I've got a pretty packed schedule. But we've got all the time in the world, don't we? So, let's say in half a year I look for you again, and then we have another little chat?"

"Mm..." Orochimaru glances at the jounin behind me with the mien of an ex-girlfriend who just sabotaged something. "Agreed. Anything else?"

Kakashi shuffles awkwardly and I can feel his eyes on my back every other second.

"Mm, well..." I think. Well, why not? Orochimaru used to be teammates with two legendarily degenerate ninjas. "Know any good sake?"

Again everyone blinks and looks at me.

"...What? I'm meeting this really beautiful girl later and I need to bring something to impress her."

The Sannin inhales and actually answers: "...The Land of Sound was once known as the Land of Rice. There are a number of fine suppliers in Shumachi."

"Oh, thanks. I'll definitely check it out later."

He nods, shaking his head.

"If that is all... leave."

I nod and turn back to look at my old sensei.

"You heard the man."

Kakashi only numbly follows as I leave the base, following the path from before and keeping my senses peeled for Kabuto or any other creepy crawlies that might think to follow us. Four-eyes must have let the jounin past without a fight so he could attack from behind once—if—Orochimaru made a move...

It's only as we make some three hundred meters from the entrance that I finally whirl around and look at my old sensei who's been following me like a lost puppy.

"So. Are you fucking stupid?"

He blinks.

"One blink. I'll take that as a yes. Fuck, you almost—did you even think about what would happen when you came rushing in? What if I was actually working with Orochimaru there? Think you can take us both on, you stupid fucking moron?"


"You what, caught scent of me and then just stopped thinking? Rushed headlong into a secret underground base to find me? I thought you were supposed to be smart to get into jounin-leagues."

He blinks again, and I can hear him closing his mouth with a click of his teeth.

I rub at the bridge of my nose.

God, I leave behind the creepy one and switched him for the clingy one.

I sigh and raise my hand to lower his headband over his Sharingan, since he seems to be at a complete loss right now, and I don't want him dropping half-dead on me if we talk too long. I already have more chakra than he does and I'm like, thirteen.

Real me, anyhow.

Finally, it seems like he wakes up from whatever shock he was in and he exhales slowly.


Mm, no. Still barely out of the monosyllables.

"That's my name, yes. Though I've been thinking about changing it to Sebastien Alejandro Botswana CXV, recently. You know, for a cover identity - I could shave my head and wear sunglasses and no one would be able to tell it's me. Maybe wear platform shoes, too."

Another blink.

Good to know I can still throw him for a curve.

And I think I got most of my annoyance out of my system with that. Okay, deep inhale, and let's be people again, Sasuke.

"You, ah..."

"Been pretty good, yeah. That whole episode with Danzo aside. Went to the Land of the Moon and relaxed for a week or two, just had to get all the mindfuck out of my system."

He straightens up, brow rising with startlement.

"Sasuke, whatever Danzo did, it's not the Hidden Leaf. He's..."

"Yellow Leaves, third of the sun, reversed rivers, all shall be forgiven."

Kakashi looks like he's swallowed a frog.

I mean, I did just utter his old Root control and identification phrase.

"Trust me, I know all about that. Had a good and proper look-see through Danzo's head, y'know?"

He swallows, his throat must be dry all of a sudden.

"Did you know the fucker had Uchiha Shisui's Sharingan? The one that could genjutsu anyone without their notice? Oh, and about three dozen more in jars when they started going out of fashion, so he could switch with every season. Probably all burned with his fucking mansion now. Good riddance."

"Uchiha Shisui's?"

"Ya. Ever wonder why the old Hokage spared him after the assassination attempt you foiled?"

His lone eye goes even wider.

"Couldn't genjutsu his way under the hat, but he could out from under the executioner's axe."


"So, you know, had to do something. And you do know how my mind works when it comes to problem-solving."

Kakashi swallows.


"Boom." I nod. "And fwoosh, can't forget the fwoosh."

Well, looks like this talk's just about over.

Feels alright, getting to air out some of those topics. Not that I'm expecting anything to change, or—

"Sasuke, you're a hero of the Leaf, if—"

"What? No."

He blinks. A lot of blinking going on today.


"God, no. I'm, I'm not like fucking Itachi; I didn't kill Danzo and... I dunno, shoulder the blame all on my own for the good of the village. Fuck no. The Leaf is a fucking mess and I'm done with it. I did all that for myself. I'm done with the villages right now."

And now he's back to conflicted.

Because unlike me he does on some level love Konoha.

"So no: I'm not coming back. Be it in chains or at the head of a parade. I've got my own plans right now."

He inhales slowly, eye narrowing as he gives me a tired look.

"Then are you still intent on chasing Itachi?"

"What? Why would you—" I sigh, rubbing the bridge of my nose again. "No. Weren't you listening? He did that on Danzo's orders. Now, he may be a psycho, and he's probably just as cognitively deficient as you are—seriously, killing the Uchiha to save the Leaf?—but I don't give a flying fuck about him either, anymore. Fuck you people and your retarded and regressive paradigms."

Kakashi is now just completely confused.

Too confused to even be offended.

"Then... what are you after?"

...Can't exactly tell him that, now can I?

I mean, I would have to start by telling him about my old memories, about all the lies, about how Zabuza's still alive—not just despite me, but because of me—and all that I've got going on that front...

But I can give him something close to the truth.

Adjacent and parallel to it.

So close enough.

"That organization Itachi is in... Akatsuki. It's all kinds of foul."

I don't actually know all that much about them, but they're convenient because they were the villains and they're gunning for Naruto.

"They're obviously after the Tailed Beasts and broth brain, so they can't just be left alone."

"You're... protecting Naruto?" he asks, straightening up with something glistening at the corners of his lone eye.

I shrug, looking away.

"I don't want to say yes... But more or less. Sakura at a stretch, too."

I like that we just glossed over the part where I know Naruto has the Kyuubi in him, because, duh, and I'm not an idiot. Honestly, how did that ever fool anyone?

But it seems he accepts me at my word.

"...You had been planning something like this for the longest time, hadn't you?" he asks, slumping a little, looking away from me, too.

"Not exactly. But it's true I never really wanted to get close to anyone while in Konoha."

"That... is how it did come across to me." He seems to be thinking back to something else, eye lost and unseeing. "Was... Was there some reason? Could this have been changed or prevented somehow?"

'Could I have done something differently?'

I inhale slowly, trying to think about his question seriously.

In canon, Sasuke runs away because traumatized fuckwit. Meanwhile, I had been lying to everyone since the moment I first opened my eyes.

It's... difficult to imagine how it could have gone any different.

I can't speak for others, but I know that sooner or later I would have likely snapped if I hadn't confessed to someone. Unless the truth of the day I woke up in Konoha was somehow brought to light, it would be impossible for me to remain there for very long.

But my personality also makes it damn near impossible for such a scenario to occur without someone dying.

At least by the time I had come somewhat grips with chakra and my powers as a ninja. And there is no circumstance under which the revelations about Danzo's dealings would have gone down peacefully, had I been involved in any way.

Kakashi sighs, looking extremely tired when I have no answer for him.

"Guess I should apologize."

He looks up, utterly nonplussed at my words.

"I'm sorry, Kakashi – you were a massive jackass at the start, but out of everyone in Konoha I ended up liking you the most, somehow."


I think that helps a little. With all that shit I left behind.

Still not going back though. Kinda killed way too many people for that. But there's been something I've been thinking, though. Or rather, plotting.

"Tell you what, why don't I make you a promise?"

He blinks. "Yes?"

"I'll return one day to Konoha. And I don't just mean the infiltrations I've been doing this past week."

His lone eye widens comically at that revelation.

"You—You've, you've had clones in Konoha."

It's a statement, not a question.


And yeah, I'm pretty sure I've had a bunch of clones going in and out of the Hidden Leaf by now, even if I don't have any memories of it. With all the tools and techniques at my disposal and my familiarity with how everything works there, I seriously doubt any clone would fail.

"And when I do come to visit it'll be through the front gate."

I can see he finds that prospect highly unlikely.


"Have you already joined another village?" he asks, almost dreading my answer.

"Naah, but I'm thinking something along those lines, yeah. Get into a position so high-up you can't risk offending me because it'll be a serious international incident. It'll be fun waltzing back in like I own the place with everyone gnashing their teeth and chomping at the bit."

Kakashi sighs, shaking his head.

"Then, I'll wait for that day." Then he gives me a hard look. "But what was that about infiltrating the Hidden Leaf?"

Mm, well. Kakashi is Kakashi – the rules on paper don't matter much to him so long as you respect the spirit of things. And if he tells me to lay off, it's probably better that I do give up on it.

Just, can't reveal too much about my dealings with Zabuza this soon, since it's just not my call to make. Though an alliance with Konoha would probably help his cause immensely, if I could finagle such a thing.

"So I'm trying to find the Demon brothers: the two dweebs I one-hit KO'd on that first mission, while on the road to Wave."

Kakashi blinks and I can see from his half-lidded expression this wasn't what he was expecting.


"I wanna make them my henchmen. Go all 'Rawr I beat the shit out of your old boss, now you work for me, yea?', you know?"

It's the truth, too.

He facepalms, sighing heavily again before looking at me with an extremely tired expression.

I raise my hand into the air and acquire a look of pure innocence.

"I haven't touched anyone or genjutsu'd anyone in Konoha. Just, you know, gone through the paperwork. Probably. I dunno, it's other clones doing it. And if they get caught, they'll just turn it into a joke – you know me."

I can see myself trying to pull off Lupin III jokes if I got detected.

"The Hidden Leaf has no official ties with the Hidden Mist, so they would have been extradited to the Hozuki castle beside Hidden Grass."

My eyes widen.

"That famous Blood Prison?"

Oh, hell yeah!

I'm organizing a jailbreak!

"Do not organize a jailbreak."

I pout.

"Just a teensy tiny one?"

Kakashi sighs, palming his face again.

But he's not saying no anymore.


"Suddenly, I wonder why I even bothered trying to find you all this time."

I grin at him. "I know, right? You must be stupid or something."

He levels another unimpressed look my way, before shaking his head. "If this goes on much further, I might ask the Hokage to reconsider sending a team after you."

"Hmm?" I query.

"Normally Konoha does not have a policy of hunting missing-nin, but at this rate, it'll turn into an international incident sooner rather than later."

"Ahaha, you worry too much. Relax, your hair's turning gray enough as it is."

"Maa, I was born with this hair. But I would prefer not losing them to stress..." he muses, looking up into the sky. "So try not to do anything too crazy, Sasuke."

Probably too late for that already.

"Well... I'll try, if you insist."

"I do. Very much so."

I shrug.

"No promises. But I gotta go. Can't let all this juicy intel wait."

He starts but then stops as if wanting to follow me, one hand raised.

I give him a second, before taking another step towards my cache. He's like a dog who doesn't want you to go to work in the morning, somehow.

"Kakashi. I know I'm the one who ran out of the village and all, but you kinda need to take better care of yourself. Seriously. I worry for you, man."

He blinks, expression so unguarded and surprised that it almost makes me want to laugh.

"See ya!"

Now just need to make sure he can't tail me. Probably marked my cache of hidden goods somehow, too. Well, I'll just need to sell it all and switch the coins I have for other coins. But first, need to make sure he can't just follow me by sight or smell.

That'll be a buttload of chakra for Midnight Warp, cutting my trading round short.

But it will so totally be worth it.

My eyes flutter open as my jaw drops.

This fucker...!

"Your face! Aahahahaahahahahha!"

And then he pops before I can punch his smug face in.

Fucking clones!