Note: I have been waiting so long to get to this point. This was originally going to be one massive chapter, but I decided it would be better to split it into two parts. Mostly for my own sake, but it will also enable me to uphold the bare minimum quality I'm trying to maintain. I'd rather move a little slower and reflect on smaller pieces, than throw it all out there and later realize I missed something I meant to add, or wrote too sloppily.

The numbers at the top of each line break are the clock in military time.

Friday - Part I


The table was stacked with so many books and notes, its surface was completely obscured. The small mound of pink hair floated amongst the scribbled pages like a lone island in a sea of overwhelming knowledge. Far too much reading for any one person to soak in all at once. Given the light snoring muffled beneath the mop of hair, Sakura seemed to have exhausted herself trying to stubbornly cram it all in anyway.

No single page was left open by chance. There was a correlation between each subject and chapter, with half a dozen books sourcing the majority of the notes she had been taking. A few short towers of closed books framed the outer edges of the table. Either waiting to be investigated, or already skimmed and discarded.

Directly across from the snoozing Chunin, the short stacks of medical books shifted towards her. Sliding with a hiss of heavy weight across the sleek wood. The sound wasn't enough to wake her, but it did disrupt the rhythmic snoring a little.

Tsunade stared down with interest at her unconscious pupil. One thigh displacing the books as she half-leaned, half-sat against the edge of the desk. Arms crossed beneath her chest. With a sigh, a waft of sake faintly perfumed the air. A light scent of floral and citrus.

"You know, if Naruto studied half as hard as she does, he would have been a sage by now." Jiraiya chuckled quietly from the doorway, as though trying not to wake the girl. Oh, she would be awake soon…but he wasn't about to be the reason. He would leave that bit of fun for her own mentor.

The Hokage hummed in the barest acknowledgment, sounding distracted by her own thoughts.

Leaning against the doorframe, the toad sage waited with a patient smile. If he was annoyed that their rare night of drunken revelry and gambling had been cut short, he didn't show it. Tsunade already consumed enough sake for the both of them, so the interruption probably did them a service. If nothing else, it saved her from losing more money.

Reaching forward, a single finger slipped beneath one side of the open book in front of Sakura, and flicked upward. The book closed with a loud whap.

The shoulders jerked with a start. A wave of hair flung itself back as she bolted upright. Her cheek was pink from being smashed into the table for so long and glistening with drool. Foggy and disoriented, she stared up at Tsunade without a single coherent thought taking shape.


"I was having fun. Do you know how often I get to have fun these days?" The desk creaked as she leaned over the pile of books, staring into the bewildered green eyes that struggled to adjust to the brightness assaulting her from all angles. The hospital library was lit like the sun itself. The fact she managed to fall asleep in the first place was impressive.


The toad sage snickered to himself, white mane shaking in amusement at the lost look on her face.

"It's past midnight, Sakura. Why are you here? I thought you left hours ago."

"Oh…ohhh." She blinked a few times. Chasing the sleep from her eyes and rubbing them with her palms. She'd been out so cold she didn't even remember dreaming.

"Yes, 'ooohhh'," Tsunade echoed, "What's this sudden obsession with expanding your chakra reservoir and–" Gesturing to the array of books she glanced over quickly, she snatched one up and brought it closer to her face with a squint.

"...Advanced Chakra Transfer Techniques…" There was a short pause as her eyes flit over the first few sentences on the page, and then the book shut between them.

"I'm out drinking and you're in here preparing like the Fourth World War begins tomorrow?"

Hands slipped from her face to drop to her lap, she leaned back in her chair. Joints popping in complaint as she realigned herself. "I was just studying… How did you know I was here?" The tired voice slurred. Her gaze swept over the encumbered desk, and then glanced at the clock on the wall.

"I see that. Why?" Pulling back, Tsunade resumed to her half-seated position with her arms crossing again. She ignored the question.

Jiraiya didn't.

"One of the nurses told on you. Guess she saw you on her way out, and…turns out she likes to drink as much as Tsunade does." He laughed.

"You know, a lot of medical staff like to drink, I've noticed…"

The hard stare lingering on Sakura lifted to the wall above her head as he continued in the background. Tsunade's eyebrow twitched.

"There's a lot more staff here at night than I thought there would be, too." He mused almost to himself.

At that, a blonde pigtail swished along her back with a turn of her head. A single brown eye zeroed in on the sage behind her. To no surprise, his attention was cast down the dim hall at something she couldn't see…but she didn't need to see to know what he was looking at.

"Do not."

The deadly tone pulled a glance from Jiraiya. He stared innocently at the eye glaring at him.

"What…? I'm not doing anything." He murmured, appearing shocked.

"My staff is not for you to ogle."

"Tsunade… Why would I google your staff when I have the most beautiful sight right in front of me?" Hands raising in surrender, he locked her in a shameless stare. Smile inching slowly on his face.

"Oh, for the love of–" She muttered hopelessly, her eye narrowing in doubt. Reluctantly, she turned away from him at the sound of shuffling papers. She watched as Sakura began organizing her notes and closing all the books she'd been sifting through.

With the feel of her mentor's gaze following every move her hands made, she paused and spared a glance up to her. "There is always more to learn, right?" The smile that followed was deflecting and passive, and Tsunade didn't buy into it for one second.

"This is more than that. This is you thinking you're not doing enough, and now you're overworking yourself trying to compensate for whatever it is you believe you're lacking. What are you looking for in this mountain of text?"

Jiraiya winced silently, the humor leaving him.

The bluntness did a better job at waking her up than anything else up to that point. The papers and books stilled as she stopped rummaging and organizing. She looked hurt at first, but she didn't answer right away. Her brows wrinkled while she looked down at a chapter detailing a method for precise chakra control when healing the vascular network of the brain.

Tsunade huffed in frustration, and her eyes closed for a moment.

"Sakura…I'm saying that your skill level is where it should be right now. You've been doing just fine."

"Thank you…" She bowed her head slightly, "I'm…not trying to compensate for anything. I just want to be the best I can be. I want to feel like I'm prepared for anything. I know I'm doing alright, but…I don't want to settle on just 'alright'. That's not what saves lives."

Tsunade's back straightened and she cocked her head slightly. Considering her more astutely than anyone half as drunk as she was would normally be able to pull off.

"You're still worried you won't be able to bring someone back from the dead again."

Jiraiya's gaze fell to the floor as he listened. The tone of this conversation was beginning to shift into something more serious than he was expecting. A bit of a buzz kill, but he already accepted their night of fun had ended the moment they left the pub. Without a word, he slipped from the doorway and wandered down the hall leisurely, giving them some space. Not so far that he couldn't hear, though.

The desk creaked again as Tsunade abandoned it to stand and plant both of her palms on its cramped surface.

"I want you to be prepared, too…and a prepared shinobi is one who sleeps. You've been here every day for at least a week. Your shifts are too long. I'm not going to keep approving this kind of overtime. You're burning the candle at both ends. If you keep doing that, you will be useless when we do need you."

Her eyes were cast down when she nodded. The reprimand was coming from a benevolent place. She couldn't fault her mentor for that.

"I just wish I knew what I did…"

Tsunade watched her, eyes narrowed curiously. All the sake coupled with this pesky detour of damage control to prevent her own student from burning herself out was starting to give her a pounding headache, but she remained focused. And in her opinion, she had been pretty patient until now.

"I want to know that I can do it again. Revive someone… But how can I know, until someone dies in front of me? That isn't something you can just…practice whenever you want."

"If you did it once, of course you can do it again." Her voice softened a little.

"But how did I do it in the first place? I was trying to heal him, but I knew it wasn't working, because…he was already gone. I was about to give up. Why did he suddenly come back? It doesn't feel like it was under my control. That's what concerns me. I can't recreate it if I don't know how I managed it to begin with."

The brown eyes fell down to the table in thought. One idle fingernail tapped over the surface. There was no way she could provide a specific answer. She wasn't there when it happened. She didn't see and experience what Sakura did. It was difficult to explain a process that wasn't witnessed. But…maybe she didn't have to.

"Sometimes…a powerful emotion can be enough."

Sakura looked up.

"It might not explain the how, but the why. Take the Uchiha… The only way they can awaken the sharingan is through trauma. Every tomoe they gain afterward is caused by additional trauma. Emotions can play a crucial role in a lot of unexpected ways."

There was a small snort of recognition. Tsunade glanced to her student, seeing her nodding slightly. With one quiet thump after another, she began stacking the books again. Shuffling them into the easiest order so she could file them away on the surrounding shelves.

"Now if only I could wield a revival jutsu as easily as they wield their sharingan."

Tsunade watched her sluggish chore of clearing the table. Rather than help, she gazed at the books that disappeared while searching through her own memories and experiences. The towers dwindled down until they left behind only the notes Sakura planned on taking home.

"If you could do that, you would be a god."

Sakura paused, fingers resting on the spine of a book she was sliding into its nook. She stared at the words lined vertically down its full length, listening.

"Knowing that you managed to revive even one person, Sakura… I think if you understood just how unlikely that is–impossible for most shinobi who have ever existed–you wouldn't be trying to rush this. An ability of that magnitude is not one you can expect to master in a short period of time. It would not be without its own consequences either, if you did."

Flushed as her cheeks were with the impressive amount of alcohol flowing through her veins, Tsunade was beginning to feel much more sober than she wanted. This was one of the most inconvenient times to have a discussion like this, but it seemed to be an unfortunate necessity.

"What do you mean…?" Sakura asked softly, sounding just as afraid as she was eager for her to elaborate.

'It means I need more sake.'

Palms lifting from the table, Tsunade stood to face her with a sigh of resignation. She kept the quip to herself.

"One of my most valuable techniques is Creation Rebirth. I've saved my own life and many others with it by instantly healing injuries, but there is a price every time it is used. Its cell proliferation accelerates aging. I have never regretted using it, but only as a last resort."

Sakura mulled over this information. Considering how it could relate to a technique that successfully revived corpses. She tried to return to that night in her mind. Analyze how and what she felt, while everything was happening. So much chaos…and yes, some powerful emotions were at play. The only effect she remembered was how tired she was afterward, and how she wanted to immediately pass out. She always attributed that to the long day she worked prior to the event, and the emotional rollercoaster of the event itself.

"I'm surprised you didn't lose consciousness, at the very least." Tsunade said, getting to the point. Unwittingly answering her unspoken curiosity. "If you found a way to not only repeat, but master what you did, there would have to be some kind of negative impact on you. I couldn't tell you for sure what that would be, because to be completely honest, I have never met a shinobi who can do what you did. Healing extensive injuries is taxing enough, but bringing someone back from the dead…? That is in a tier of its own which even I don't understand. But I do know there is a balance to all things. Often the most powerful abilities come with equally powerful consequences. At the bare minimum, it would have to siphon a lot of your chakra."

The table was mostly empty by the time Sakura eased back into her chair. Her hair fanned down as she tilted her head. Staring into her palms as they lay in her lap. "I thought so…" She murmured, a grave appearance chasing away the fatigue. "That's why I pulled as many books as I could find on building chakra. If I could contain as much as you do…" She glanced up to the lavender diamond imprinted on Tsunade's forehead, "Maybe I would be in a better position to figure it all out safely."

Sakura couldn't tell if the intense, ambiguous eyes staring back at her were more concerned or skeptical. She did know one thing, though. Tsunade was right to give her a verbal smack upside the head for trying to maintain her current schedule. If she didn't have an alarm clock to wake her up tomorrow–in a few hours, actually–she was confident she could sleep for the full day ahead. There wouldn't be a repeat of the past week.

"Then I will train you."

She gave her a quizzical look.

"You want to match my chakra reserve, then I will teach you how to use the Strength of A Hundred Seal, and we will go from there."

She shifted around in the chair to face her, eyes widening in awe.

"It's less painful than watching you bury yourself alive in dusty books. This isn't something you will learn from reading until you pass out. So yes…if this is what you want… I think you're ready for it."

"Tsunade-sama…" The voice bubbled with both confusion and excitement. She rose from the chair and hopped around the table to stand next to her. Unable to decide if she was going to bow in reverence or squeeze her into a hug.

"I'll learn everything you'll let me!'re so busy. How could you make that kind of time when you're the Hokage?"

"You let me worry about that. Just meet me here tomorrow at 1800. We'll come up with a schedule."

"Oh, uhm…my shift doesn't end until 1900."

Tsunade huffed with a sharp shake of her head. "You're not working tomorrow. Right now, your job is to sleep and prepare. I'll revise the rest of your shifts later so you can devote more time to training."

Sakura's mouth clamped shut, silenced before she could begin to protest. She smiled slowly, relenting with a single nod.

"Now for my sake, if not your own, will you please go home and drool in your own bed, instead of the library?"

Hands crossing, she decided on a bow, and then swiped her stack of notes off the table. "Yes, ma'am! I'll see you tomorrow night!"

The hurried steps tapped out of the room and down the hall to start her late journey home. The toad sage watched her round the corner, going in the opposite direction of where he silently waited with crossed arms without noticing him. He leaned against another wall with a row of windows opposite him. Broken rays of moonlight shone between the clouds and drifted their abstract glow through the panes.

He smirked softly as she disappeared, and glanced to Tsunade as she came through the doorway.

"Think she'll be as good as you one day?" He asked conversationally.

Tsunade gazed through the windows. Vision sharp and brows pulled together in concentration. Cheeks still a little pink.

"No… If she keeps this kind of motivation, she will surpass me." She murmured thoughtfully.

"Really…?" Brow quirking curiously, his eyes followed his old friend as she wandered past him. Nudging himself from the wall, he kept the slow pace next to her. Geta clacking along the floor.

"I've never resurrected someone. I could heal an entire army of wounded shinobi simultaneously, with the help of Katsuyu…but I have never done that. It shouldn't be possible."

Jiraiya nodded, hands moving to clasp behind his back while they strolled.

"Well…maybe you're right. But how far she gets may depend on you."

"As if I need that kind of pressure, Jiraiya…"

He snorted loudly in amusement at the unexpected response.

"Pressure? Since when is training your own pupil too much for you? There is no one better suited for the job."

"I'm worried about what her future could be, if she does succeed. That kind of power…" Her voice was quiet. Both reserved and serious, and her eyes were alert for anyone who might overhear. Not because this was meant to be a secret, but she didn't see the benefit in announcing such information to anyone who didn't need to be in their business.

"I think she would make as many enemies as she would make friends. Death is the one thing that unites us all. The one thing none of us can avoid. She would be sought after, even by other nations. Invaluable…"

Jiraiya hummed in thought. Agreeing, yet choosing to see a slightly different perspective.

"She will also be strong enough, at that point, to hold her own. Don't you think? She will have the right friends by her side, as well. She'll never be alone."

"No, she won't be alone." Tsunade conceded, dipping her head and watching the floor as they neared an intersection in their path. "But I have seen enough strong shinobi fall in my lifetime…"

"We all fall, sooner or later…just like you said. It's about what we do on our journey. Not its end."


The clouds churned high above his head. Thick tufts of gray moving as if in a race to catch up with the heart of the storm that passed the day before. Every so often a spurt of light rain speckled over him, but it never lasted more than a minute. Just long enough to keep the organic paint from drying and cracking on his skin.

The longer he laid there, the chillier it was getting, but he couldn't bring himself to move. The mud caked him from head to toe. Resembling a lean pig lounging right at home in the middle of the field. The grass had ripped and smashed in the wake of their fighting. Pounding into the soaked earth until the center of the training area had turned into little more than a giant gooey pit.

The brilliant red of his sharingan glinted like jewels in the sea of mud. Refusing to shut it off, as if it would be the signal of his defeat…rather than his obvious reluctance to peel himself from the slippery mess and get back on his feet.

"I'm fine…" He reaffirmed calmly, feeling the intent stare boring into him from several meters away.

"You don't look fine." Shisui countered in the distance, managing to mask his amusement for now. He was concerned, but only a little. Not enough to embarrass him further by letting it show. He just expected him to have gotten up by now.

"I am. You just…could have hit any other spot…on any other rib… But it's fine." Itachi repeated. Trying to convince himself more than anything. It wouldn't surprise him if the freshly healed crack reopened with the force he absorbed, but he kept that to himself.

"Oh… Well… We could go to the hospital. I'm sure Sakur–"

"No. I just need a minute."

The grin of white teeth appeared, unable to contain itself any longer. Glittering in stark white against his own mud-smudged cheeks. Itachi wasn't in the best position to see it, but he expected nothing less. Shisui knew he would never agree to go, especially for something like this. He just couldn't help but flick a grain of salt into the wound, while he had the chance. It wasn't very often one was presented to him.

"Alright, alright… If you need more time to heal, it's okay, you know. I just hope you don't get too rusty being a couch potato for so long."

The glinting red narrowed a hair on the ever-changing sky.

One grain of salt turned into two. He knew what he was doing…

It was probably going to work, too.

Itachi learned a lot from the older Uchiha over the years. That did include a bit of antagonizing, but he wasn't necessarily immune to it himself. The right kind would stick, just like a well-placed kick did.

"I'm not rusty." Itachi argued quietly. Doubt infecting his own words.

Steps squelched through the thick mud as Shisui meandered closer. Relaxed and unguarded. There was no real danger here. Nothing he couldn't fend off, even if his friend suddenly leapt to his feet. All he would have to do is poke that same spot, in that same rib, now that he knew it was there. The idea made him smile.

"No…not yet." He agreed easily with a small shrug. Eventually treading close enough for his head to poke into view, blocking the rolling clouds above Itachi. The red eyes watched him carefully as Shisui knelt down next to him on the balls of his feet, and rested his forearms on his knees.

"Just a little soft." A single finger lightly jabbed the rib he had struck previously with his heel.

Itachi's eyes narrowed even further, and he burst into action.

The wad of mud he dug from the earth next to him narrowly missed Shisui's head as he whipped it to the side. A mere diversion so he could sweep one leg beneath him.

His friend evaded both.

Snickering as he sprang upward and tucked his legs out of reach, an arch of watery mud fanned into air below him from the swipe of Itachi's foot. As he was about to launch after him, Shisui used his chest as a springboard and soared backwards to purchase more space.

Itachi slipped in the mud with the blow, nearly toppling over a second time, but caught himself with one fist smashed into the ground.

"I'm not soft." Grumbling sourly, he chased after the older Uchiha. "You just kick like an ass."

"Thank you! I've been working out."

Shisui continued to dodge his strikes. Focusing strictly on defense, he was able to slip past each one. Delivering the faintest taps and pokes in return, instead of true counterattacks. Further provoking the wrathful muddy tornado of limbs that kept on his heels. The field came alive with thick chunks of brown and flecks of water spinning and snapping through the air.

Whatever soreness he felt didn't prevent him from gaining speed with each missed assault. Fueled by the singular need to land at least one more hit before he threw in the towel.

Eventually, Shisui resorted to genjutsu. A flicker of illusion that he hoped would be too quick for him to recognize before reacting.

Itachi rounded on the false clone after his friend ducked beneath a lashing blur of fist. Instead of striking through the illusion, he snapped his elbow backwards and at an upward angle, smashing the real Shisui in the middle of his forehead protector behind him.

A flick of mud shot straight up into the sky like reverse rain, and a flailing hand followed as he violently lost his balance and splat down on his back.

Itachi twirled around and stared down at the sprawled body, now as filthy as he was. When the older Uchiha didn't immediately jump to his feet, he knelt down next to him. A single finger tapped the metal plate he had struck. Short nail tinking quietly on its soiled surface.

"Now who's soft."

A hand swiped drunkenly through space in an effort to smack him away. In his disorientation, he swat in the wrong direction and ended up patting him sloppily on the arm. Equilibrium was out the window. The shifting clouds in his vision spiraled erratically, making him woozy.

"Want to go to the hospital?" Itachi mocked, mud cracking over his lips in a smile.

"Yeah…so I can tell Sakura what a sore loser you are…" Shisui groaned. He blinked a few times trying to refocus his eyes, and then squeezed them shut when that didn't work.

"You're the one on the ground." Itachi laughed softly.

"I was just going easy on you, since you want to act like you're still a cripple."

Itachi laughed louder, leaning back to splat on his butt. His fingers disappeared into the muck as he braced himself upright in a lazy slouched position. No sense in caring how dirty he was anymore. It was far too late for that. If he was lucky, it would rain hard enough again to wash him clean. Then he wouldn't have to figure out how to sneak into the shower without leaving a snail-trail of sludge through the house for his mother to find. She might turn him into a true cripple for that.

"Have you heard from her lately?" Shisui asked.



"Oh… I saw her yesterday."

The pillar of mud ascended abruptly into the empty space next to Itachi as Shisui swung himself upright. Faster than he should have. His head swirled, and he smacked a palm over his crown as if it would help him settle.

"Oh? How did that go?" The question came much calmer than the previous rush of movement looked.

"She was heading into work, so we didn't talk for long. I did run into her sensei afterward, though."


"Mmhmm… That was…interesting. I guess I'm the reason he…" Itachi paused and cleared his throat, fidgeting almost imperceptibly in his seat, "Made her take a pregnancy test before she could meet with ANBU."

The pillar of mud grew eyes. Not that they weren't there before. They were just so dark and relaxed that the coal blended in easily with the earth. Now they were wide enough for the whites to show.

Shisui stared silently at him. Then, he lifted a finger and rubbed it dubiously against his own forehead protector. Wondering if he was hit harder than he initially thought, and needed to be treated for a traumatic brain injury.

"No…you heard me correctly." Itachi murmured, giving him the side-eye while he poked at his head.

Slowly, the hand lowered to his lap. Shisui continued to stare at him. Unsure of what to say next, and for many reasons. Most of all, he was waiting for some clue of what the result of this…test…would be.

With infuriating stoicism, Itachi merely stared back.

The coal swirled into red and black. Shisui leaned closer to his face, unblinking.

"If you make me read your mind, I will find more than the answer…out of spite."

"You can't read minds." Itachi shut him down in confidence with a chuckle.

"How do you know?" The tomoe in his irises morphed into the curved points of his shuriken-like mangekyou. An obvious bluff. Even if there were no repercussions to his own health, they both knew he would never use the dojutsu on him.

Itachi blinked slowly at him, without concern. His eyelids sank heavy, and a sly smile crept on his face. Head cocking slightly to the side, he held his intimidating gaze with an openly devious one of his own.

Shisui waited, determined to win their silent staring contest as if the threat of his mangekyou could trump anything thrown his way. As the seconds ticked by, a rising tide of incomprehensible nervous energy washed over him, instead. Becoming so overpowering that he unconsciously leaned backwards, and the stern stare weakened into something unsure and hesitant.

"What are you doing…"

"Proving you can't read my mind." Itachi murmured. His patient stare was nearing lascivious territory now.

"Why do I feel uncomfortable all of a sudden…" He muttered back, voice dropping to a near whisper as his eyes flicked suspiciously up and down the Uchiha sitting across from him.

"You would know, if you could read my mind."

The eyes snapped wider in horror as the hint of some nebulous realization pricked at the corner of his mind. Shisui slammed his mental door on it before it could reach the surface and brand itself into his imagination in acute detail.

"You stop that right now." He hissed between his teeth.

A knowing, triumphant smile answered him. This was one game of chicken he would always win, and he never tired of it.

"The test was negative."

"Oh, okay. That's nice." Shisui commented too quickly, with the most forced indifference. Beyond relieved to finally hear the news, primarily so they could change the subject now.

"I think Kakashi would have put me back in the hospital if it wasn't."

"As he should."

Itachi's narrowed gaze snapped back in his direction.

"Anyway! Did…anyone happen to mention why she met with ANBU?"

The glare hovered for a second or two, and then he snorted quietly, "No… I haven't heard anything. Unless someone volunteers the information, clearly I can't ask. But I am curious."

Shisui nodded to himself, eyes dark once more and peering out into the distant trees encircling their training ground. Willing to look at just about anything except him, and decidedly unwilling to touch the subject of ANBU with a ten-foot pole. If never addressed it, he would never stumble upon a crossroads where he was invited to lie.

"Well… As much as I would love to see a miniature you running around–with pink hair–" He coughed, "This would be extremely bad timing."

The younger Uchiha simply nodded without reaction. There hadn't been much time for him to try to process the information. The idea of him suddenly having a baby was too surreal. He wasn't really sure how to feel about it yet. And he was right. The timing could be horrible, depending on what unfolded in the near future for all of them.

He meant what he said the day before though, when Kakashi asked. He would have done whatever she wanted. He was just relieved he didn't have to worry about an additional responsibility like that at the present moment. There was too much uncertainty in his world. At least until this cursed coup d'etat was settled once and for all. It hung over his head like a guillotine.

"So, on the topic of bad timing… There is another clan meeting tonight."

A flake of drying mud fell to his lap when his eyebrows knit. Itachi leveled a hard stare into the ground.

"We just had one last week. Why…"

The obvious confusion cleared up a nagging suspicion for Shisui. He was never informed. That would be a first, considering his father usually hounded him for his shoddy attendance.

"Yes, it's…very soon."

"It's too soon."

They both stewed in silence for a time. Speculations circling unanswered.

"You're going, right?"

Shisui nodded once, still gazing thoughtfully into the distance. The troubled look on his face was difficult to read, beneath the mess.

"I'll update you. Probably tomorrow, if it runs late."

A single nod returned.

The chill set in as the sun sank closer to the tree-line, casting a harsh golden glow between the black silhouette of the branches and the weighted clouds above. Streaks of crimson and pink bathed the bellies of the passing clouds. Neither of them cared for the change in temperature. Too preoccupied with the resurgence of their shared burden coming to a head.

"I wish…I understood why it didn't work." Shisui murmured finally in a soft voice. All humor snuffed out.

Itachi said nothing. He listened, even while his mind traveled so far away.

"Everything was good, for a while. It all…went back to normal. Why did it change again, after so long? The mangekyo–"

"It's not your fault. None of this is." Itachi interrupted him, matching his pensive tone.

The cool breeze picked up, bringing with it another light shower of rain. Shisui tilted his head to the sky and closed his eyes. Letting the drops slowly rehydrate the drying dirt and drain it down his cheeks.

"I bet you could help me figure it out…if you had it, too."

"I don't want it." Itachi admitted with conviction. A decision he already made up his mind about long ago. "If I had it, you wouldn't be here anymore."

Shisui's eyes peaked open, and then his head tilted down. The smile that twitched in the melting mud was more wistful than anything.

"I know… But if you could do what I couldn't. If it would end this peacefully…it would be worth it."

The younger Uchiha glared angrily down, keeping his thoughts to himself. None of his feelings were directed at Shisui, but at everyone who contributed to the words that left his mouth. He was worth a thousand of them. Every last one of them, who aided in some way to breathing life into this coup. His own father most of all.

If they only knew Shisui's devotion was the reason they were still alive at all. They owed him more than they would ever know. Maybe not all, but he could count at least a couple dozen that didn't deserve the second chance they were given. And they proved him right by wasting it on a second betrayal.

"Has there been any sign of him since we returned from our last mission?" Itachi asked in the same vein. Weeks of recovery left him feeling out of the loop, even with Shisui at his side. He was anxious to return to their primary assignment. The importance of it weighed on him as heavily as the future of their clan did, and with good reason. Something he understood more than even Shisui did.

Shisui hadn't followed his tangent, yet he knew exactly who he was talking about.

"No. Not that I've seen. I've scouted everywhere he's been sighted before. Either he hasn't come back, or he's found a way to avoid detection completely." He paused, and then asked a question that sounded more like a statement. Certain he knew the answer already. "You think there's a connection between him and the clan's change of heart?"

"I think…" Itachi began, choosing his words carefully for reasons only he knew, "If there is an outside influence involved…it could be him. I don't know how, given how irregular his presence seems to be, but it's a possibility we shouldn't rule out."

"I can't speculate why he would benefit without knowing where he's from. Unless his goal is to push civil unrest in general… What country has the most to gain from dividing us? Iwagakure? They never wanted peace at the end of the third war." Musing aloud, he didn't expect Itachi to be more than a sounding board, knowing he didn't have the answers. They had gained little to no intel on the silent ghost that sporadically infiltrated their village, and successfully evaded capture more than once. He could think himself in circles–and had, for many weeks–but he would get nowhere until they were fed another lead.

The sounding board fell flat when he received no response. After a moment, he glanced to the side. Chin tilted down, Itachi's attention was lost elsewhere. Gaze solemn and distant. The coated strips of hair curled at the ends as they dangled in the breeze, dripping into his lap.

"Mm… I should probably go get ready. This shower is going to take a while." Shisui sighed, swiping a hand down through the muck on his shirt and flinging a generous glob off to the side.

The younger Uchiha stayed silent, listening to the squish and smacks as he rose to his feet next to him. There was a sudden cold and slimy smush against the side of his face as a chunk of mud was oh-so affectionately slapped into him. Shisui passed behind him, shaking the remains back to the ground as he drifted away.

Itachi's eyes squeezed shut in reflex, and he smiled to himself.

The steps sloshed into the distance as he retreated slowly from the training ground. Glancing back curiously only once he realized there would be no retaliation. Shisui watched his slouched posture still seated on the ground. So deep in thought, but he supposed it couldn't be much of a surprise. When Itachi showed no sign of joining his journey back home, he turned around.


"Hm?" He paused again, and was left waiting longer than expected.

Between the angle of his hair and the smears on his face, the worried brow was hidden. He searched himself in vain for what he wanted to say. The memory of that swirling orange mask haunting him, along with his own secrets left unshared. They pulled at him like multiple fish hooks from different angles. As impossible to remove as they were painful to endure. Guilt, concern, and uncertainty.

The painted lips parted to speak, and then sealed again. The regret in his eyes forcibly steeled.

"Do you think I should go tonight?" He asked, changing directions convincingly enough without alluding to what was truly unsettling him.

Shisui considered him skeptically, and then glanced away in thought. "They know you're against them now. I don't see what difference your presence would make. Unless you want to start a fight… I'm not sure what the consequence would be. If things would be better or worse…" It was an honest answer. Without putting more thought into it, he couldn't say for sure what the best decision for him would be.

Itachi nodded, conceding with a mutter, "You're right…there would probably be a fight."

"It'll be hard for me to have your back when they think I'm on their side. I might have to watch you get pummeled. I would hate for someone to hit that rib again." Shisui smirked slightly, teasing him even while a hint of sadness infected his eyes. They both knew the opposite was more likely to occur, but that would do little good in the end.

A sound of bitter amusement caught in the back of Itachi's throat, but he kept his tongue still.

"I'll tell you everything that happens…okay?" Reassuring him, Shisui watched him for a little longer. The sadness lingering. When he heard nothing more, he reluctantly turned and walked away.

Peeking through his hair with a tilt of his head, Itachi followed his trail with his eyes. The steel dissipating back into regret and doubt. Throat full of words he continuously denied, and piling denser until his friend disappeared from the field.

Note: I know there isn't a lot of action going on, but that's about to change. I just needed to finish planting all the seeds, so that when I finally get to shake down these fruit trees, it'll be juicy…and also hopefully make sense as everything comes together.