This chapter isn't very fluffy or poetic with the words. It's intensely focused on dialogue. In my defense, I think it starts to answer a lot of questions.

"How can I… I-I don't even know how it happened the first time. I can't…" Despair filled the green eyes staring through the floor between her and the council seated in a row behind a long desk. There was so much storming through her mind, she was having trouble staying focused. The information was overwhelming to process.

"This isn't a test, Sakura." The voice, normally stern and straight to the point, was softer now, "I am not asking you to bring someone back to life again. If everything goes the way it should, you won't need to do anything at all. What I want is for you to be on standby."

She looked up, lips parted slightly. Tsunade sat in the center of the desk. On either side of her, two more council members watched the young kunoichi. All elderly faces masked with indifference. Seasoned by decades of experience. Behind Sakura, two shinobi stood on either side of the door. Silent, nameless sentinels concealed with true masks of white and decorative red patterns that took the vague shape of animals.

"You won't be alone, but if the situation does fall to violence, I know your presence could save lives. That is our goal." With her fingers laced in front of her mouth, her mentor waited for a response.

"If the Uchiha insist on violence after our painstaking efforts to maintain the peace, we shouldn't waste our resources on–"

A flash of irritation flit like lightning across the Hokage's face.

"It is the worst case scenario, but if it comes to that, we will minimize the damage as much as possible. A slaughter will put us back where we started with the younger generation festering in distrust and resentment. This all started with their belief that they have been isolated and ostracized for years. Needlessly killing their members is not the answer. This cycle needs to end peacefully."

"Tsunade-sama…with all due respect, we are not the aggressors. I am merely saying that if they choose violence, then for the sake of the village itself, they need to be eliminated. Not subdued and then treated by our own medics. That will teach them there are no real consequences for their actions. Treason, especially, needs to be dealt with by a heavy hand. We already gave them one chance. Why would you show such leniency to a group who plans to kill you?"

Wide saucers stared at Tsunade. Grateful, at first, for the council's interruptions giving her more time to come up with a response. But as the conversation before her tangled even thicker, her grasp on any sort of meaningful decision slipped further from her reach. There was so much light being shed on secrets hiding for so long in the dark that it was now blinding.

The hard brown eyes stared back at Sakura. Using her student, unbeknownst to her, as an anchor. A focus for peace, while anger and frustration simmered through her veins. A reminder of why she was choosing this route.

She found Sasuke in her eyes, most prominently, but more than that. Shisui and Itachi… The three promising prodigies. Two of which were the reason they had evaded a clash for this long in the first place. They were named the strongest in their clan, and yet they chose to serve the village at the expense of their own peace and safety.

Could a coup have slipped under the radar and successfully uprooted the stability of Konoha, had they not chosen to defy their own clan leaders and family? She believed it was not only possible, but likely.

They were owed a future, at the very least. The opportunity to supersede, and steer their clan away from ruin. The previous Hokage's mistake was letting the original clan leaders maintain their positions. That would not happen again.

"My grandfather convinced his most formidable rival to make peace. He could have put an end to the Uchiha a long time ago, but he became their friend instead. This village exists solely because of their combined cooperation, despite the losses they suffered at each other's hands."

"And yet it was their decision to plot the overthrow of the government they helped to establish. They have chosen this conflict, not us."

"I understand that." Tsunade conceded, continuing to reign in her patience while she watched Sakura standing mute in front of them. The poor girl looked shell shocked. "But there will be no more bloodshed than is necessary to neutralize the threat. I want prisoners, if it comes to that…but not corpses. We need to plant seeds of goodwill and trust in the younger generation. Their current leadership will be replaced with new blood, and they will be shinobi we can depend on. We're not going to cut off an arm just because some of its fingers are infected…are we, Sakura?"

The pupils quivered, refocusing on the council leaders at the sound of her name.

"No…" She murmured, "Not unless it's systemic and beyond saving."

Tsunade nodded.

"And we know that it is not."

The concerned council member sighed. Pausing their debate, at least for the time being. Sakura could see their perspective, but she was relieved to hear Tsunade's conviction. The thought of a civil war breaking out between them and the Uchiha clan–even if it wasn't all of their members–horrified her.

It was too surreal knowing this had been brewing while she went about a normal life. They were talking about Fugaku. The man she had dinner with in his own home. Whose youngest son she shared countless missions with. Whose oldest son she now loved.


Her eyes unfocused again, drifting down. The emotion came so naturally, without thought. There was no point in trying to analyze why, or second guess herself anymore. She knew it was true. She loved him. Not by choice… It was just an inescapable fact that dawned within her. It first breeched the surface after her fight with Sasuke.

She tried to play it off back then as a different kind of love…but there was no denying its nature now.

It was so soon. Maybe she was being crazy. Maybe the stress was getting to her.

It didn't matter. Trying to rationalize it wouldn't change the way she felt. It was there to stay.

Sometimes…you just knew.


Tsunade called her name. She didn't look up.

A long, audible inhale and exhale billowed from the Hokage in the quiet room. She knew this wasn't going to be an easy assignment for her. It was a heavy burden to bear for anyone. Even if, in a stroke of unparalleled luck, nothing was required of her in the end, the knowledge alone was life-changing.

It was one thing to journey into no-man's land, or another village, and fight whoever the enemy of the day was. Preventing a coup in their own home, with faces and names they all grew up with, was in a league of its own few could endure without taking a psychological beating that could forever change them.

It was the entrance to a dark road. One designed for ANBU, not her.

"You have a choice. I am not forcing you to be involved. In the event we need medical care, I know you would be invaluable, but if you don't think you can do this, nothing will change."

"Everything will change…whether I'm there or not." She mused distantly. The shock was disintegrating in grief.

"Yes… but the way things change is something you can help shape. We all play a role in guiding the outcome of this."

A bout of loud, drunken laughter snapped her from her dazed, zombie-like walk. The recent memories she was reliving washed away, reality reeling her back to the present. Sakura watched a man stumble by her with two more following his inebriated footsteps. All talking and joking without regard to their volume as they made their clumsy way home from the restaurant they came from.

Their voices faded as they rounded a corner. Once more leaving her in the solitude of the vacant street. She stood there, looking around in vague wonder. Realizing slowly how far she wandered from home. This was nearly the opposite end of the village. Fewer lights were on than when she first left. It was past midnight now, she was sure.

Movement caught the corner of her eye, and she glanced next to her to the dark shop window. Her own reflection stared back numbly. Cheek glistening with a tear she didn't know had fallen.

"Just tell me what to do."

Her own words echoed back in her mind. The response she finally gave her mentor, when she spoke.

How could she not agree to help? It was too late. Once she knew, it was impossible to continue on with her life as if she was still blissfully ignorant. And if she did , and something happened to Itachi, or Sasuke, or Shisui…how could she live with herself, knowing she did nothing?

A series of soft clicks and rattling noises came from above. She tilted her head in search, and with effort, found the dim silhouette of a crow ruffling its feathers as it hunched on the rooftop of the shop. When it noticed her watching, it angled its head to the side and let out a more pronounced caw .

Sakura blinked slowly, and then let her eyes travel aimlessly down. Her feet pulled her forward without direction once more, and her mind sank back into replaying their discussion, though not quite where she had left off.

"Sasuke has no involvement, as far as we know." Tsunade's voice returned.

"He will no doubt be manipulated by his father into going along with their plan." The same elder interjected. Their pessimism was unsettling to Sakura.

"We have no reason to believe he will sympathize with a coup. He's never taken part in a clan meeting. His father is still trying to convince Itachi to change his mind." Tsunade reasoned, but Sakura could sense that she wasn't entirely convinced of his innocence.

"I may consider giving him the benefit of the doubt, in light of his brother's loyalty to us, but we cannot assume he will follow in Itachi's footsteps. Too much is at stake."

"We won't be making assumptions about anyone." Tsunade insisted firmly, "He's being watched, along with the rest of the key members of the Uchiha. That will not change."

She glanced to Sakura, giving her pale visage a quick study. Where the enthusiasm and positivity usually shined upon the assignment of a new mission, lurked something different. Something much more serious and grave. Her vibrant young face looked as if it aged 20 years.

"Which brings me to another request. Sakura… I need you to report any unusual changes in behavior. I'm not asking you to go out of your way to spy on him. We don't want to rouse suspicion. Just pay attention when you're with him."

Another caw interrupted. The shadowy street took shape all around as she broke from her daydreaming. She glanced up, seeing the crow perched on the back of a chair outside of a tea shop.

A tilt of its head and a shuffle of its feet made her curious. The low crooning noises returned. Sounding like a purr… Or a growl? Whatever it was, she found it strangely soothing.

She shuffled past. Watching it while it watched her, and then returned her attention to the path ahead. Far in the distance, beneath a golden lantern hanging above an unknown overhang, a few bodies lingered. Their voices too quiet to hear from her position.

They weren't given a second thought.

"We don't know yet." Tsunade admitted, eyebrows pinching as she glanced off to the side in thought. "What I want to see is how he reacts when he thinks no one is watching him. I want him to show where his true loyalties lie, without our interference."

"If we wait too long, we risk his father corrupting him. It's possible he already has. Family has always come first for that young man. You can't disagree with that." The council member continued.

"Yes, but he idolizes his brother-"

"-Who has kept him in the dark."

"We don't know everything they have discussed behind closed doors." A sharp brown eye snapped to the elderly woman next to her.

"Which is precisely why I think waiting much longer could be a mistake."

"I understand your concern, but I am not making a move until we know when they will act. We have reliable informants that have always kept us 2 steps ahead. We will be prepared when the time comes."

The wrinkled face frowned mildly, adding even more lines to the sagging, sun-damaged skin. She nodded quickly. Not agreeably, but in acceptance that the decision was ultimately out of her control. Her tone and mannerisms were always respectful and intent on Konoha's safety, which was the only reason Sakura could fathom her mentor hadn't ripped her head off by now.

This time, there was no warning caw . A brush of feathers startled Sakura nearly out of her own skin. The crow grazed her cheek as it swooped past. Its tiny nails clicking as it landed on the ground, blocking her way. It stood with its beak pointed up. One small black eye glinted with a cock of its head. Difficult to see as it was, she swore it was making direct eye contact with her.

Dumbfounded, she gazed at the persistent bird. Their staring contest stretched for a solid minute without sound before she took a single step towards it.

A deep groaning came with a shuddering of feathers from its throat. It chattered in soft noises at her. Nothing she understood, yet she couldn't shake the feeling that she needed to listen. Somehow figure out what it wanted.

Hesitating, she took another slow step.

With a hop, it closed the distance and pecked at her sandal.

"Hey!" She whispered in surprise, taking two steps back to her original location.

The crow launched at her in a blur of shadows. Giving her enough time to flail her arms and lift one foot off the ground in mild panic and pitiful defense. When it landed on her shoulder and continued its quiet grunting, she froze in the awkward position and stared into space ahead of them.

This was a first.

The move redirected her attention up to the small group standing beneath the lit overhang. Something she had been ignoring as she crept gradually closer. Now, she was near enough to see the stark white and red fan symbols on two of their backs. Embroidered over the familiar green jonin vests.

None of them were looking in her direction. She couldn't even place their names from her current position, as they were facing away from her. Yet, she felt her stomach drop like a stone.

Intuition screamed danger .

There was no explanation. Nothing she could attest to feeling the way she did, except for the meeting she had with Tsunade earlier that day. Logically, that was a solid enough reason by itself to make her nervous. They never did share with her all the members they believed to be involved in organizing their coup. Whether it was a small handful, or half their clan, she didn't even know that much.

Still, she doubted her own instinct. At least long enough to continue in their direction a little longer. The crow remained faithfully on her shoulder, chattering caution in her ear at a volume that suggested it did not want to be detected.

Her eyes never left the figures as she advanced. Waiting for some revelation that would confirm or deny the uneasy feeling.

The memory of another crow flashed in her mind abruptly, stopping her in her tracks. One that was perched on a fallen log, screaming at them while Sasuke pinned her to the ground. Shrill cries that preceded the assault Shisui used to knock him clear out of the forest they were fighting in.

"Shisui…" The name breathed from her lips, suspicion taking root. Next to her head, the crow fell silent. There was a brief pressure on her shoulder, and then it was springing into the air. Taking flight with purpose down the alley to her side.

She watched it disappear into the dark. By the time she returned her attention to the figures ahead, one of them was staring back at her. Short brown hair in a style similar to Fugaku set her on edge, but it wasn't him. His face was younger, though just as strict. The intensity of his stare was too much to be more than passing curiosity.

The hour was late–or early–so maybe that was why. Odd for a young girl to be wandering aimlessly by herself.

"Haruno…" With a nod of his head, the Uchiha acknowledged her.

He knew her name… He knew her name and she still couldn't sift his from her memory bank.

"Ah…" The sound choked in her throat. Whatever she thought she might say, it never came out. She sealed her lips and offered a brisk nod in return. He showed no expression other than a slight narrowing of his eyes in the warm glow of light.

To her benefit, one of the men lacking a jonin jacket barked something rude at the Uchiha next to him, and he whipped his head back to the confrontation. Whatever was going on, it wasn't pleasant. They must be responding to some kind of civil disturbance, if she had to guess.

Seizing the opportunity, she darted down the alley. Following the lead of the crow, though it was no longer in sight. The only sound was the cool wind rushing through her hair. No footsteps tapping behind her. No shouts of her name.

It seemed she was unimportant to them. Thank the heavens…

The solo race ended when the last two buildings vanished on either side of her. Skidding through the grass, she glanced around at the park that opened up. Dew speckled her feet. The canopy of trees rustled in a mild breeze. There was nothing else. Not even a caw .

Beneath the trees, an empty swing set took shape.

Sakura stared at small seats for a long while. Hands hung without purpose at her sides, and eyelids drooped heavily. Remembering what it was like to be a kid. When things seemed more black and white, and her biggest concerns were getting Sasuke's attention and passing her next exam.

She floated towards it, and eased into one of the seats. It creaked and whined as her foot dug into the earth and nudged her back and forth.

"Who can I talk to?"

"No one." Tsunade insisted firmly. There was a hint of regret in her eyes, but it changed nothing. "This is a delicate and covert mission, Sakura. You will be cooperating with ANBU. Your discretion is critical."

"Not even…Kakashi-sensei?"

Tsunade watched her with a pause. Considering how to drive home her point.

"As I said before… You are not alone in this, but the information we have shared with you today is meant for your ears only. You do not speak to anyone about what we've discussed in this room. The only thing I want you to do right now is wait for further instructions."

"I understand." The words were quiet and resigned, accompanied by a subtle nod.

Tsunade shifted in her seat and scrutinized her student. She trusted her. If she didn't, she wouldn't have pulled her into this mess, but they all had their flaws. Sakura wasn't immune to making mistakes, and this was a significant tightrope for her to walk. One that might not have a safety net, if she lost her balance in the wrong place.

"You've grown closer to Sasuke and his family since you saved Itachi. That is part of the reason I am giving you this assignment, but know that I am not blind to the impact it must have on you. I am putting a lot of faith in you, Sakura…and it's because I believe you could help this end with the best possible outcome."

The rope groaned, straining with the sudden change in pressure. It wasn't her swing this time, but the one next to her. A shadow slipped down onto the narrow plank, and sat without announcing its presence.

She didn't acknowledge her visitor right away. They arrived seemingly without intention. Nudging themselves back and forth the way she did with a sandal digging into the beaten grass under their feet. Silent as she was.

When she turned her head, she was surprised to see who it was…but only a little.

"I wondered…" She croaked, the words thick in her throat. It had been a few hours since she last spoke to anyone, if she wasn't counting that crow.

Shisui looked at her. Eyes almost as tired as her own, but without the intense weariness. Something she sorely envied.

"You've been watching me?" The question was hesitant, unsure. The peaceful look on his face confused her. Made her second guess some of the assumptions she was making. Particularly his level of involvement in…everything.

How could anyone feel at peace with this looming over them?

"Mmm…" He seemed to consider the question, and then snorted softly. "I watch a lot of people. It's my job."

"Because you're ANBU…" She put the words in his mouth.

The Uchiha was staring at the ground. Eyes flitting around the specks of dew glittering under their feet like crushed diamonds. Choosing not to answer right away, but without any concern for such a forward statement. It wasn't as if he was trying to keep it a secret. She already knew.

"And because I am a friend."

Sakura searched his serene face, and then looked away. Tilting her head, she pressed the side of it into the rope of her swing.

"You must have had a rough day, being out here so late." Shisui mused conversationally. A suggestive counter statement of his own, in which he didn't expect an elaboration. He was simply letting her know, like Tsunade had said more than once, that she wasn't alone.

"I had a meeting today…with Tsunade and the council…" Sakura murmured distractedly, as if she was talking in her sleep. Her eyes glazed, peering into the shadows cocooning them.

There was no answer. After a break, she continued.

"A while ago, you said something to me about going on a mission… The day I had lunch with Sasuke. Did you know what it would be then?" There was no accusation. It came across as benignly inquisitive, and nothing more.

Remorse found him. The emotion lingered for a second on his face, but she wasn't looking.

"No." He spoke the truth.

Sakura took his word for it, and nodded.

"Ah, well… I found out what it was today. It's…not exactly the mission I was expecting, but…it's… It's…the hardest I've ever been given." A knot was forming in her throat. She fought the urge to swallow, knowing it would do nothing to ease the tension.

"The more you prove yourself, the more responsibility you gain." His comment was neutral, though empathizing. Intent on finding a balance between being there for her, and avoiding the details of the conversation she had with their Hokage.

"There were two ANBU in there." Her eyes fell shut. The fleeting memory of the silent, masked men guarding the door tormented her. Twice she walked past them, and they might as well have been statues. They never moved once.

A small voice pleaded with him, "Will you please just say you were one of them…"

"Do you realize how easy it would be for me to gain access to classified information just by telling you what you want to hear?"

The words were like a splash of cold water on her face. Sakura opened her eyes and gazed thoughtfully into the dark.

The swing swiveled, angling herself to get a better view of his face.

"You would believe me without question if I said yes. That is incredibly dangerous, Sakura."

"I know you, Shisui. I've seen enough to know what kind of person you are. I trust you. So yes, I would believe you without question."

Eyebrows wrinkled in alarm beneath his wavy hair. His stare was intense. Conflicting emotions writhed at her response, with worry at their core. It was flattering, but he didn't want to be flattered. He wanted her to have a healthy skepticism of him…of everyone. "You shouldn't. There are a lot of convincing actors in this world."

"You're not going to trick me into doubting–"

"I'm not trying to trick you. I'm trying to make you see clearly. To comprehend the position you have been put in. I don't think you've fully grasped the dangers, and you don't have much time to figure it out. Simply by knowing what you do, and how you choose to use that information…"

She let him continue, listening without taking offense.

"When you are working with ANBU, you don't say or do anything that is not explicitly ordered of you. It doesn't matter if you trust me. There is a reason I was not standing next to you in that room, and you don't know why. You just assumed I was safe. You need to trust your Hokage–no one else. It's for your own safety, but more importantly it is your obligation. Your duty as a shinobi of this village. Anything less could jeopardize the mission and everyone involved."

The faint smile blooming on her face shocked him. So opposite to the heartbroken and drained expression she had a moment ago. He expected her to look hurt, embarrassed, or even angry. Anything but relieved

"See… I knew I was right about you. You just proved you have Konoha's best interests at heart."

Shisui froze for a moment, and then sighed. He turned away from her, searching the night and reflecting.

"I do… But if you were wrong–"

"I knew I wasn't."

"You're going against direct orders." He reminded her, tone changing in an instant. Steeling itself, along with his eyes.

Sakura continued to watch him while he was turned away from her. The smile faded from her face, slowly replaced by sadness.

"I haven't told you anything sensitive… But I… I can't do this, Shisui…"

That made him glance back.

"I can't sit here in silence. I can't do nothing. I can't just wait for something horrible to happen in our own village, and then try to pick up as many of the pieces as I can grab at the very end. See if they'll all fit back together. I know they won't. That's what they're expecting of me and… no. Something needs to be done to prevent it from happening in the first place. There has to be another way…"

"Do you trust Tsunade?" He asked the question in a voice that didn't sound like the man she knew. Less of a familiar friend, and more like…well, someone a part of ANBU. Unemotional. Focused only on the target.


"There are always more pieces at play than what you can see. You need to demonstrate that trust by following instructions while accepting there are things you are not meant to know."

"But if you are someone I can trust too, why can't I talk to you? Why do I have to be quiet and pretend everything is fine, and wait to see how it all falls apart?"

"Because I'm supposed to be watching you, Sakura. Sasuke is your teammate. He's someone you've had strong feelings for, and right now he's…" He paused, reluctant to finish his train of thought. It was a slip of his own that confirmed what she suspected. She wasn't the only one going against orders now, but it was because he saw some merit in her concern, even if he could see a bigger picture.

The pale eyes sank down knowingly, losing themselves in the ground as her foot released its anchor. The swing swayed gently around of its own will. Shisui's gaze softened.

Sometimes he forgot what it was like. To some extent, he was desensitized. For years, they'd been wrestling with the looming threat of his own clan betraying the village. For years, he'd been a member of ANBU. He had plenty of time to practice making difficult decisions, and reigning his emotions under control. At 24, there was a lot of experience under his belt. A lot of pain and stress he learned how to manage.

His sharingan scanned the area. Activating long enough to give a quick sweep and ensure they were still alone. Something she missed, while she mulled over her thoughts.

"What makes you think no one has tried to stop it already, Sakura?" He murmured quietly, the edge melting away. "I did… I thought I got it right, a long time ago. I had a plan that I was sure would work. All it did was delay the inevitable. Some things…aren't meant to be in our control."

"So, you really were there…" She responded meekly, letting the swing settle on its own while her ankles crossed beneath her. There was plenty to read between the lines already, but hearing him say it for himself was different.

There was no point in shutting her down anymore. Sometimes, rules were meant to be broken. He didn't like it, but he was beginning to sense there would be more harm in withholding from her.

"I know more than anyone, except maybe Itachi. I'm leading the team that will intervene when the time comes."

The sudden transparency caught her off guard. She expected him to continue being a little more evasive, based on how resistant he seemed a minute ago. Before she could look at him, a hand touched her head. Palm planting over her crown, and then smoothing down the back of her hair.

"I'm telling you this because I'm worried about you. If you're going to slip up, then I'm glad it's with me…but it can't be with anyone else. If it were up to me, you wouldn't have any part in this at all, but I respect Tsunade's decision. If she thinks you can save lives, then that's what matters. But I need you to promise me something…"

Sakura glanced to him. Apprehensive, but ready to accept what he asked. The hand trailed down to the back of her neck and rested there.

"Promise you won't speak to anyone. Not Sasuke…not even Itachi… I need your word."

Her eyes snapped wider, as if to protest.

"But Itachi–I thought he was against the coup…?"

"He is. Do you really want to do this, Sakura?"

"I can't say no now. It would eat me up inside."

Shisui nodded in understanding, "If he knows, he will find a way to stop you."

"Why?" She asked with a flash of hurt on her face.

"For the same reason he hasn't told Sasuke, after all these years." The warmth of his hand disappeared. A heaviness found him at last. Something she could see, that made his shoulders slouch a little as he pulled away.

"Itachi is like a younger brother to me. I trust him more than anyone, and I will always have his back. But I also know him more than anyone. He's never been good at sharing his burdens. The weight will crush him, before he lets it touch someone he cares about."

"So… Sasuke…has no idea what's happening?"

"No, I don't think so. He hasn't taken part in any of our meetings. I don't know how much longer that will last, though."

"Why haven't you said anything?"

"We thought it was resolved, so it wouldn't be necessary. Itachi…really needs to be the one to have that conversation."

"What if he doesn't?"

"We'll have to see what Sasuke does if he finds out. I expect he'll approach Itachi himself."

The breeze hissing through the trees returned. She paused her questioning to stare up through the leaves. Watching the tiny pinpoints of stars blinking down through the swaying shadows.

"It's a lot of information." She heard him distantly. Agreeing with the words she never spoke. It sounded like an apology, but it wasn't one he needed to give. This wasn't his fault. She was just thankful he was there, and willing to share as much as he was. None of this was comforting to hear, but not having to be isolated with her own thoughts and worries anymore was helping more than he knew.

"It all seems so sudden…but I guess it isn't. I just didn't know… Some timing I have." She smiled, but there was no happiness there. How could there be, when so much corruption was threatening to ruin so many lives.

"A few weeks ago, I was eating dinner with all of you. It was so…normal. Now it all feels like…a false memory. Like none of it was real. It'll never be the same again."

"There will be more dinners." Shisui murmured with confidence. Almost as if it was a challenge he refused to lose.

She didn't know if she believed it, but she could tell that he did. It gave her some hope.

"How did this all start? The council said…" She drifted, trying to remember the exact words, "...Something about already giving the Uchiha a chance. What happened?"

Shisui stared into space, as if he didn't hear her. As she waited, she noticed the change in his eyes. The glint of red that wasn't there before. He wasn't facing her, but she could see. He was searching again.

"That's…a very long story." The swing creaked one last time as he leaned forward and out of its seat. "We shouldn't be talking about any of this here."

"We aren't safe?" Perking up, she looked around. She didn't know what she expected to see in the dark, but she followed his lead instinctively.

"We are, for now…but we should leave soon." Feet shuffling through the grass, he paced slowly in front of her. Hands hid in his pockets. Looking unusually relaxed, but maybe because he could see much more than she could. Literally, and figuratively.

"I think it's been almost 10 years now. Itachi was…maybe 11, when he joined ANBU. His job was to leak information back to his father, but he became a double-agent instead. We worked together. Spying on our clan, keeping the third Hokage updated with everything we learned. Your sensei was still part of ANBU, back then. He helped train Itachi, but I don't think he ever knew the real reason he was there."

"Kakashi…" She whispered his name. Yet another piece of intel for the exploding library of new information. Maybe one day she could ask him about it.

"Ahh…" Shisui closed his eyes for a moment. A hand left his pocket to rub the back of his neck. "There's so much, Sakura. I don't want to bury you with this. Let me just stick to the key points…"

They were silent. She watched him while he organized his thoughts. More questions rising and falling, but never leaving her mouth. She would be lying if she said she wasn't feeling overwhelmed already. The day had been exhausting, and now most of the night was gone. Her eyes were burning. Sleep was calling, and slowly winning the battle against an insatiable need for more answers.

"He was so young, and they expected so much from him…" Shisui murmured in regret, and then fell quiet again.

"We don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to." She suggested, thinking of him as much as herself now. Beginning to step outside of her own emotions, now that the initial wave was passing. Being able to share with him had made it easier to slow down the anxious merry-go-round she was riding. If it was hitting her this hard, how must it be for them? It was their families. Their friends. Their own clan they were betraying while they led double lives.

She couldn't imagine being in their shoes.

"No… I want you to understand something." His eyes reopened, lashing at a tangent that was important to him, though she couldn't follow.

"The Uchiha have good reason to feel the way they do. They have been dealing with generations of resentment and mistrust. A coup is obviously not the answer, but their anger and fear isn't without cause. I didn't understand how they could take such drastic action back then, but I can empathize now."

"What do you mean?" She asked warily.

The realization of what he was saying made him wince a little, but he continued. "This isn't going to make the council look very good…but it's the truth. When I was your age, I shared my idea for stopping the coup with them. Hiruzen gave me permission to act. Then, one of the council members went behind his back and tried to stop me. Danzo…"

Sakura's eyes widened in fascination.

"He wanted to kill me and take my eyes. I think he would have succeeded, if Itachi hadn't shown up. He wasn't even supposed to be in the village, but he found me…"

Danzo was a mystery to her. The name was vaguely familiar. Something she might have heard once or twice when she was a kid, but she couldn't even put a face to his name. All she knew was that he died when she was young. About 7, give or take.

"Wait… You killed him instead?" She blurted, the math coming together.

Shisui nodded. Frustration the only hint of emotion on his face.

"Before he died, he told me my plan wouldn't work. He said it was only a matter of time before they started plotting again. Turns out, he was right. I used a genjutsu on Fugaku to change his mind, and lead him to change everyone else's. I thought it would be enough, but it wasn't…"

"Shisui…" Her brows wrinkled in sympathy.

"We'll make it right." He affirmed, glancing down at her. The smile he gave was fleeting, but genuine. A spark of light that promised to show the way in a sea of darkness.

"Danzo wouldn't have stopped with me. He wanted the entire clan dead. I'm telling you this because…I want you to know that it isn't just greed or ego pushing them. They are completely in the wrong for what they are doing, and they need to be stopped, but it's never as simple as it seems. They are still my family…please learn to forgive them for this."

The distraught look on her face bothered him. He didn't want her to be upset. He didn't want her to know any of this in the first place. What was the point of enduring this kind of pain if there wasn't something she could do about it? This wasn't her clan. This wasn't her responsibility. Yet their Hokage deemed it necessary to reel her in. If a fight broke out, and she did minimize fatalities, then perhaps it would all be worth it. That was the endgame he needed to cling to. The only possibility that didn't stir up his own anger.

He wouldn't try to stop her…not like he knew Itachi would. It wasn't his call to make. That didn't mean he was happy about her addition, though.

She was a shinobi like them, in the end. Not a defenseless civilian. The end of her fight with Sasuke still replayed in his head from time to time. She didn't beat him, but she held her own longer than some others would have.

Maybe he was being unfair and selfish, in a way…but he didn't want to see her as a fighter. He wanted her to stay blissfully unaware. Live in benign ignorance, while he and the rest of them got their hands dirty behind the scenes.

These were thoughts he would always keep to himself. He would never treat her like anything less than what she proved herself to be. If she was going to fight the demons of their own village with them, then he would try to be her safety net as long as he could manage.

He wasn't looking at her when she moved, but he heard the wobble of the swing as she stood up. The arms that reached for him were slow and tentative, causing him to glance down at her empty hands curiously. With both his hands back in his pockets, she encircled his waist. Closing around him in a hug. Squeezing a little tighter, once she realized he wasn't going to jump away.

Whether it was more for his benefit or her own, he didn't have a clue. The gesture of affection was the last thing he expected, but he accepted it without question.

It was an unfamiliar thing. Never crossed his mind until then, but he suddenly couldn't remember the last time someone hugged him. His parents were gone. He didn't have time for a girlfriend right now. He had no siblings. There was never an opportunity.

If she sensed his slight discomfort, she didn't say anything…but he hoped she never noticed.

"As long as nothing happens to you three, I can forgive them."

The lost look on his face faded, and he smiled.

"Good…" He murmured, "Now…can we go to sleep?"

Her cheek pulled away from his chest, and she looked up at him. The fact that his arms never returned the hug didn't offend her. It was a little forward, but she trusted he would understand the intent, and give her a pass.

"Yeah…I guess we should. The sun will be up in a few hours, huh."

Finally. He'd been following her and Sasuke all damn night. He couldn't sleep until she did. Of course, he'd never tell her that, and he didn't fault her one bit…but Kami, he'd been up for over 24 hours already.

"I'll take you home."

"Oh, you don't need to. I can w–"

The movement was so fast, it made her teeter a little on her feet. One second his body heat was still radiating between her arms. The next he was ducking down and spinning around. Sakura blinked, staring at his back as he knelt in front of her.


"Oh…uh, if you insist." Thinking nothing of a piggyback ride, she draped over him and crossed her arms around his neck. If he was anyone else, she might have argued, but it didn't feel right with him. In a weird way, she felt like she owed him some kind of debt for tonight.

The moment her arms locked, a burst of wind so powerful she thought she would fly away swallowed her. Like crashing through the wall of a hurricane. There wasn't even time enough to panic before it was gone again.

"What the hell was th–" The exclamation died with the view of rooftops spanning all around them. In a blink, the park was gone, and she was standing on…wait…her own house?

The tiles hit her feet as he let her slide down his back. When he straightened and looked back at her, she was staring in pure disorientation at the change in scenery.

"How did… Did you just…teleport?" She muttered under her breath.

"It's just the body flicker technique. You learned it in school, didn't you?"

Slowly, her head turned to gaze at him in the most peculiar way.

"Shisui… You just body-flickered to the opposite end of the village."

"Well…" He looked just as confused as she did now, but for the complete opposite reason. This was something he did without thinking. Like skipping, or throwing a ball. It was natural and easy. "I… How else could I spy on so many people? There's a lot of ground to cover."

"C-cameras…?" She peeped in exasperation.

"Yeah, we use those, too."

She blinked a few times, and then rubbed her eyes with a groan.

Gaze flit around the roof, and then out into the dark horizon dotted with sparse lights. The sunrise would be there sooner than either of them were prepared for, and he was determined to be sound asleep by then. He knew she wasn't going to feel settled about anything yet, but they both needed rest. The earth wouldn't stop spinning just for them.

"I still need you to give me your word…" He prodded. Voice serious, but gentle.

Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy when her hands fell. Invisible sand scratched beneath her eyelids. Harassing her until she would relent and go to sleep.

"I promise… I won't say anything to anyone. But, Shisui… I don't know how I'm going to do it. Sometimes I think Itachi can read minds. He's going to know something is wrong, and he's not going to let me lie to him."

His glance was pensive. That wasn't something he could deny. Itachi would know within seconds of being near her that something had changed. If she managed not to cave in to his questioning, he would just do his own investigating.

"I think your best course of action is to bury yourself in work, until further notice. Pick up extra shifts. Take on more critical cases, when you find them. It will keep your mind busy, and give you an excuse to avoid him for a while. Eventually, he will have to find out…but now is not a good time. Our plan isn't set in stone yet."

She nodded, looking down with a fresh crease of worry on her brow.

He watched her, and the silence sank in. Returning like a heavy cloud threatening to drown them in the torrent of unspoken grief it yet carried.

The tiles clacked as he stepped towards her. Slow and tentative, just like when her arms moved to embrace him. She felt the pressure on her head again, but didn't look up. This time his hand rested against the side of it. She leaned with the motion unconsciously, and then felt the slight pressure on the opposite side when he kissed her somewhere above her temple.

It came as a shock, but she said nothing. Only a comforted smile melting on her face.

"Sleep…as long as you can." The words disappeared into her hair, and then his mouth pulled away. "And try to let go of the burden you've shouldered. It wasn't meant for you. Just know that however this ends, it would have been worse without your help."

No one knew for sure what the end would look like, but he wanted her to keep as positive and calm as possible. A lot to ask, given the gravity of the assignment, and how much it personally affected them all…but it was critical in his mind for the sake of her own mental health. If that started to crash, then her physical health would follow. He didn't want to see either of those things happen to her.

"I'll do my best… Thank you, for…everything." She gave a weak smile

Stepping back, he let his hand slip once more into his pocket. His eyes relaxed just enough for her to see how tired he really was, underneath it all. Then he smiled, and in a shimmer of unnatural movement, he was gone.

I wish I was joking when I say that I dreaded this chapter the way you dread starting a massive paper that's worth 50% of your grade. It was hard for me. I did not have the mental organization for the information I was juggling...hah. I edited it so much, it was painful. Trying to fill in plot holes...trying not to create new ones... Trying to keep my facts straight. Hooo...

But it's over now. Whew.

There is one small plot hole that I will address because it's irritating me, no matter how trivial it is. Yoji Aburame should have killed Shisui with his bug poison, whether Danzo snatched his eyes or not. So uh...we're just going to pretend that guy doesn't exist. Yeah.