A/N: Wow, you guys are fucking great. Amazing response as always – I love all of you!

I just uploaded a new story, with Female!Sasuke. It'll be pretty dark later on, but the chapter I uploaded is super nice. So check it out! (shameless self plugging and I'm not sorry)

Thanks as always to my fantastic beta, Ser Serendipity. Check out his story, Not Sick, because it's getting really, really good.

Also, I'm really sorry this is really late. I will do my best to keep up the weekly updates from now on. I've been really busy. :( You're all amazing, and thanks for your support!

Sai did not know what to think of Hatake Kakashi.

Even with Sai's expertise – which was genuine – he was nothing compared to this legend of a man. He was an assistant to him on this mission, and nothing more; their military backgrounds allowed flawless communication with no words at all.

Sai had read a great deal about Hatake Kakashi. He was renowned for his expertise in a plethora of jutsu, with his obtained Sharingan. Said Sharingan had been given by a dead team mate – the details of which had been classified, presumably by the Uchiha – and he had aced through the ranks at a young age.

His sensei had been Namikaze Minato. The Yondaime himself. Just that alone indicated that he was more then met the eye.

He was not married. He had no children.

His most infamous jutsu was Raikiri.

Hatake Kakashi was also renowned for his bad habit of being late. He had been considered for Hokage Candidacy after the Third had passed away.

The more time he spent with Kakashi, the more the feeling grew that Sai, indeed, knew very little about Hatake Kakashi. He found himself questioning how much the knowledge he did have truly meant.

Textbook, readable knowledge – he began questioning it more everyday he spent away from Danzo.

"10km. Prepare yourself."

The communication was aesthetic only. They knew they were both being watched; if they displayed the ability to understand one another wordlessly, the Akatsuki member might report suspicion of ulterior motives that too were only visible to the discerning eye.

Sai nodded nonetheless.

Navigating through the woods, Sai glanced at Kakashi's movements; pre-ordained every time, fluid and powerful. He seemed familiar with the surrounding woods, but why wouldn't be, Sai supposed, as an ANBU of Konoha-

"Use your Choujuu Giga to scout out any guards or traps." His tone was firm and left no room for question.

Not that Sai ever would have.

He withdrew a scroll swiftly, inking his brush and drawing it across the plain white expanse of parchment with speed and expertise. In milliseconds, the designs sprung out; tiny mice emerging and scurrying with peculiar speed across the forest floor below; and then, tiny birds, that flew higher into the canopy and darted branch to branch ahead.

Sai dispersed the small animals widely, each of them with intelligence and perceptibility sufficient enough to serve their purpose.

"Female client at the wall ahead. No guards stationed nearby. No travellers or shinobi nearby either. Appears to be clear."

Sai wondered if the Akatsuki member, whoever they were, could tell how uncomfortable they were with one another. That said, Sai didn't feel any discomfort. He just had no comfort at all. But Sai had not ever really felt comfortable in anyone's presence before, because Danzo had never educated him on how to feel comfortable.

In Shin's presence, he had felt... strange. But Danzo hadn't ever told him what that was, so he didn't know. He doubted it was important.

He wondered if he would ever see Danzo again.

They drew closer, and Sai knew that he and Kakashi were thinking alike when they wondered who the spy was. Although Sai did not know her, why was she a spy? What were her purposes?

Although Kakashi had originally planned on having this rendezvous provide info for their reports back to Konoha in identifying the spy, they both knew now that it was unlikely. They were under heavy surveillance. Getting away with a report back to Konoha couldn't be done safely, and Sai wasn't going to chance it.

They were coming closer, and he could see her himself-


Kakashi's eyes narrowed, and they came to a stop on the ground, Akatsuki cloaks stilling a second later.

"No. Merely free."

The woman – Sai wouldn't have been able to tell beneath that dark cloak, had it not been for the obvious breasts – shifted her weight, bringing her arms up to pull back her hood. Her lips contorted into a malicious sneer. "So you know the password, but what of the kid? I wasn't told of a second informant."

But Kakashi didn't say anything, and Sai knew that he was looking at the girl. He could read little of body language, but it was obvious that the Hatake was in shock. After a few strained moments, Kakashi spoke.


She tutted, dusting off her thigh and checking her nails absent-mindedly. Sai noted that she was actually wearing gloves. "What, are you going to lecture me? I don't think you're exactly on the moral high-ground here, Kakashi."

"I just wasn't expecting you." Kakashi's voice had quickly stabilised, the tone giving away none of the shock that it had been before.

"Yeah, well," Anko said, "no one expected you to kill four ninja and then run off to the Akatsuki. Especially Danzo. Good call, though. He must've been a pain to take down."

"Here's the intel you requested." Anko had always been like that, as Kakashi recalled. He passed her the scroll, and she opened it, giving it a once over before nodding contentedly.

Anko sighed, leaning on one leg. "Are you not in the mood for nostalgia? I'm seriously bored, Kakashi. What are you even up to, anyway? It's been so long, I was thinking we could head off to an inn and get reacquainted-"

Kakashi looked at her coldly. It hurt.

"So you're in the Akatsuki now. Huh. International criminal and all that jazz. Can't imagine the bounty on your head, now. I could decapitate you here and go collect my weight in ryo, you know."

Sai stiffened, and she laughed.

"Kid, if I did, you wouldn't be able to do a damn thing. Don't worry about it. But Kakashi..."

Kakashi hadn't wanted it to be Anko. So many other people being the spy would have been fine. Well, not fine – but acceptable, easy to deal with, impersonal, but she was as personal as a person could get-

(a living person, anyway-)

Anko walked to him, each step light and careful and swaying. She looked at him, flat tone eyes filled with things that were not flat, things that were full and hurting and happy and thoughtful. She trailed a finger up his arm, up to his shoulder, and Kakashi could see Sai reaching for his weapons.

But instead of hurting him like she should have, killing him like she should have, Anko hooked her gloved index finger beneath the edge of his mask, pulling it down and past his lips and she leaned forward and pressed her lips onto his-

"Take care of yourself, Hatake."

The words were quiet and near inaudible. Sai did not hear them.

Kakashi left wordlessly, feeling as though he had been given the betraying kiss of a kunoichi courtesan.


His voice resounded through the hallway, and Itachi peered in; Sasuke wasn't directly around, but he knew his younger brother was listening intently.

Naruto pulled at his pants leg, whispering quietly. "Itachi-nii-san, I'm gonna go outside."

Itachi nodded at him, ruffling his hair slightly with a tiny smile. Naruto grinned broadly in response, bounding off the doorstep and into the garden.

He silently respected for Naruto for the silent insight in the necessity for the private conversation.

Itachi proceeded in, closing the door behind him and going through his general routine. He pulled his ponytail out, running his fingers through his hair, and he put his shoes by the door. As he walked forward, he took off his gear bit by bit, leaving only his plain black clothes beneath. He had a faint glimmer of hope that by acting normal – things would perhaps become so.

Or Sasuke would perhaps even become a little bit more pliable in the forthcoming events.

"Sasuke, are you home?"

The boy didn't respond, but Itachi saw him staring at various papers on the kitchen table. Itachi's heart sank. "Sasuke, what are you reading?"

Sasuke turned to him, and the long, hard stare he gave Itachi bore a hole in his heart.

"So when did you plan on telling me?"

He suppressed a wince, keeping his gaze level with Sasuke's. "Is it relevant for a child, Sasuke?" Itachi asked, expression slightly sad. "He's fled. What can we do?"

Sasuke stood up abruptly, forcefully. He looked furious, and he grabbed a paper that he had been reading, storming up to his older brother and pushing the paper forcefully at him. "Hatake Kakashi! Son of Konoha's White Fang! Legendarily known as Sharingan no Kakashi! Murderer of hundreds – including our parents!"

The paper said that, and more; it was a file that Sasuke had clearly sought out himself, describing Kakashi in every sense that the Konoha higher-ups would ever require. Itachi faintly wondered where he had got such a high-detail profile.

Itachi saw Sasuke's eyes, and had to refrain from looking away. He had seen that expression before, worn many times – less expressively – on Fugaku's face. The stare in itself was especially similar.

"Revenge is a funny thing, Sasuke."

The boy glared, advancing on Itachi with an unrelenting anger. "Is it? It sure is to you, Itachi! It all seems like one big joke to you! Our mother – our father, your best friend!"

Itachi noticed tears welling in Sasuke's eyes.

"I know why," Sasuke continued, voice lowering as he faced the floor. "This is all because of that fight! Is that why you don't care?! Because you got in a fight with them? You wanted them to be dead!"

Itachi's heart clenched. "Sasuke, I- that's not true at all... I miss them too. But... revenge isn't right, Sasuke. Even if you kill Kakashi... then what?"

"I'll be happy! So will mother and father, and I-"

Itachi grabbed his younger brother by the shoulders, staring straight at him. "Will they? Will you? No matter how many people you kill... mother and father will never be here again."

"That's not why I'm doing it-"

"Then what are you doing it for?"

Sasuke's mouth opened, but Itachi shook his head, silencing him. His older brother turned away from him, looking outside for a moment.

"I lost a teammate of mine, not long ago." Itachi's gaze was distant, and his hand seemed to wander to his right thigh, grip longing for a protective weapon. "We had worked together for a long time. It wasn't just professional; we were friends. I lost him to a selfish enemy. He had friends, family, and he had planned a proposal to his girlfriend."

He ran his fingers through his loose hair, looking elsewhere as though he was lost in thought. "I was angry. I wanted to kill the person who had taken away my friend." Itachi closed his eyes, expression bitter. "At his funeral, his younger brother cried for him. His parents. His girlfriend the most. I never hated that man more than at that moment. I hated that man for taking away my friend."

Sasuke wondered if Itachi had cried, too.

"But I realised that no matter what, I would never see him again. He would never propose to his girlfriend.

"My friend and I had always believed in pacifism. Believed in a world without war. But as ninja, we never knew what could be done. Even now... I am still unsure. But I realised something."

Itachi opened his eyes, a faraway look on his face.

"I don't yet know what I can do to stop war. What I can do to stop conflict. But hatred is what causes it. If I killed that man – then what? His family and friends too would seek me out. Hatred breeds hatred, until every man alive is hateful."

"But-" and Sasuke was speechless, but Itachi knew he was still fiercely invigorated with that feeling of vengeance, and he wasn't letting go. His mouth was opening and closing with mere angry spittings of noises that half-resembled words.

"But," Sasuke began. "Itachi- that man is evil! How can you- how can you allow him to be alive?"

Itachi was silent for a moment, and the sun poured in through the window; for a split second, Sasuke was astonished. The sun bore down on Itachi's shoulders and left side, his dark hair – which Sasuke had once thought to be free of any colour at all – glimmering with hidden tones of orange and other murky but beautiful colours.

He was in awe of his older brother, because Itachi was always so striking and older than he should have ever been. Itachi always looked like he understood everything, and sometimes Sasuke felt he did. Even though he was so young really, was he?

Sasuke didn't know what he had seen.

"Kakashi is not the only evil man in this world, Sasuke," Itachi said. "There are many others. Even if I killed every evil man, evil would appear anew in the next generation. Revenge is fruitless. I want to create a world free of conflict."

And it didn't really change anything, because Sasuke still hated Kakashi. He still hated him – he would still dedicate his whole life to hating him, if it were the last thing he did – but somehow, his older brother...

He spoke words that Sasuke didn't understand. The feelings, the comprehension was beyond him – Itachi's words were no more than an idyllic dream, and yet Sasuke was left awestruck. His feelings were unchanged... but cast in a new light.

"So, who's the little one?"

"Hmph!" The girl huffed, folding her arms and tossing her head back, the hood slipping down her shock of crimson hair. "I'm not little! Who are you?"

Anko's eye twitched. "Never did like kids who spoke back too much."

Red eyes shimmered beneath the cloak of the rooms only other occupant, and Anko felt very abruptly cornered. She'd never liked Uchiha, even after that kid showed her the 'future'- ('-it did seem very much like the future-') she knew those eyes weren't trustworthy.

Filled to the brim with lies.

"Show me the intel." The tone was unrelenting, and for a moment, Anko found it funny. She wouldn't even have to give away the intel she'd been sent, because of how the Sharingan read and absorbed and stored that information in eternal stasis.

She suppressed the laugh as soon as it'd came, and tossed the scroll fluidly. It was caught with a slender hand – unravelled for but a moment, rewound and passed back.

"When will you come?"

"I dunno. Later."

"Before. You must come before then."

"Yeah, yeah, I got it. See ya! I'll write, okay? What address?"

Beneath the hood, a flicker of a smile emerged.

"Itachi's out again."

Sasuke hated it when Naruto whined. "I know."

"Can we go for Ichiraku Ramen? Pleaaase?"

"We don't even have any money."

"I do!"

"We're not. Going."

"But you said-"

"I'm not having ramen!"

Naruto huffed, folding his arms and turning his nose up at the young boy. His expression was indignant, but it eventually fell into a defeated pout. He sighed, rubbing his head. "Fine... we'll just make something here."


"Duh! By cooking!"

"You can't cook."

"Like you'd know!" As if to prove his point, Naruto stomped forward, hauling himself onto the counter so he could reach.

As he opened the cupboards, he near knocked himself out, and Sasuke snickered. Naruto's head whipped around, glaring, but only managed to knock his head heavily onto the corner of the cupboard door.

Sasuke laughed, until he saw the red beginning to color the blonde's hair.

"Oi, Naruto-!"

"It's fine." Naruto winced, poking the wound lightly. "It'll be fine in a minute."

The Uchiha snorted. "Come on, you need to wash it, usuratonkachi. It'll get infected-"

"I'm a fast healer," Naruto snapped back, tone more aggressive and biting than it ever should have been. He looked as though he regretted it the moment he said it, and he looked down, biting his cheek.

"Sorry. But I will be fine. Promise."

Sasuke wasn't sure how to respond, so they stood in silence, until Naruto began rummaging through the cupboards once again, bringing out an array of spices. Once he was satisfied, he clambered back off of the counter.

It was weird, how Naruto knew how to cook. But that was because he was an orphan. Sasuke always forgot that, because he was just so annoying and loud and hyperactive that you wouldn't think that no-one was waiting for him at home. And no-one ever had been, as far as Sasuke knew. Naruto hadn't even met his own mother; he'd always been alone.

He couldn't think of anything worse.

Naruto ran a flannel beneath cold water, wiping blood off his head and face and straining the cloth out beneath the tap. He turned to Sasuke, grinning too widely with a finger tapping the side of his head. "Look, bastard! Nothing!"

Sasuke snorted, but he did look. And there was nothing.

There was fast healing, but that was something else.

All of a sudden, it hit him how little he knew about Naruto. Then again – why would he know anything? They hadn't known each other for long, and yet...

Sasuke shook off the thoughts, approaching Naruto as the boy pulled a rolling pin out from a drawer.

"What are you making?"

The boy turned, smile deviously wide.

"Home-made ramen."


Gaara did not know how to begin.

He had ventured into the village library in an effort to find out what symbolised a peace offering, but all he could really find were books on how to 'say sorry' to people. Gaara supposed that was sort of what he was trying to do.

The best – and most suitable – suggestion was to purchase flowers. But the more he looked, the harder it became to find them. Although he had seen them – scarcely – it appeared the only place flowers could be found was in tiny bunches, in the desert. They were adapted flowers, with large roots but tiny themselves. Gaara decided these flowers were hardly suitable.

Looking elsewhere, he had found flowers with beautiful petals and shocking colour, but only atop chubby cacti. Although Gaara was well aware of his emotional insensitivity, he knew that if he gave someone an abrasive plant, it might not be taken so well.

But the more Gaara looked at the cacti, the more he convinced himself that they were perfect. Cacti were the largest growing plants in the desert; every other plant struggled in those conditions unless they were small, due to the surface area to volume ratio in small plants allowing greater heat loss. But cacti managed, storing water, offering reprieve to an adventurer. They were abrasive on the outside, but they had nourishing cores.

At least, that was what the books said.

He left the home quietly, venturing out into the village- this part was cold and dusty, though Gaara was sure it hadn't always been. It was probably because of him, but he tried not to think about it, walking forward with a determination in every step.

Gaara knew where the flower shop was, and although every child in street fled at the sight of him (except the very young ones), he did not stop until he reached the door. It had been quickly closed the moment he'd entered the street, but Gaara opened it, slipping sand carefully into the keyhole.

The woman, smiling as though she had a knife pressed to her tail bone, had shaking hands on her broom as she dusted the floor. "G-Good morning, Gaara-sa-"

"Give me your finest cacti."

The crow's feet about her eyes stretched out as she raised her eyebrows. Her mouth gaped and shuddered as she tried to speak. "I don't- we don't stock-"

For a moment, Gaara wondered; he gave her a look up and down. And then he snapped her finger.

Gaara had never heard such a high pitched wail.

Sure enough, by some means or other, Gaara had one hundred cacti within a matter of minutes. When she had tearfully offered to deliver them, he had shook his head and taken them on his sand.

As he maneuvred through the house, he faintly wondered what people would say if they saw Gaara of the Sand being followed by a trail of potted cacti.

He settled down in his room, potted cacti covering every free inch of room, and he admired his handiwork. They were all nice cacti, he decided. Most of them had a small, bright bloom atop their tiny cacti selves, most of them small and spherical and covered with spines.

Gaara hardened his heart, as he looked at the sea of cacti.

"Now comes the elimination process."

Over the next couple hours, Gaara slew many a cacti.

First, he removed the ones with blemishes, deformities. He crushed them with his sand, and then came the ones without a blooming flower; they too fell, the spilled sap of their loved ones staining the remaining cacti.

The ones with odd shape, the ones with insects; obliterated. Utterly crushed. Gaara used their corpses to nurture the growth of their teammates, putting their crushed remains in the other pots.

Gaara needed to teach these cacti about life. For one man to step up, he must step on the back of another. Whether that meant plant cannibalism or not.

After each individual round of elimination, Gaara had finally come up with the cacti elite. They were beautifully shaped, almost-spheres that were chubbier around the bottom, like a thick tear drop as it hit a surface; their spines perfectly aligned, blooms untainted by insects or rot.

Only 6 remained, and Gaara finally selected the one. It had a coral bloom, a strange but bright tone hued an odd and vibrant shade of green, and it was perfectly shaped.

As he potted it carefully with the corpses of its family, he stopped, and gazed at the one cactus he had been unable to crush.

It was, quite frankly, tiny. Barely the size of his thumb.

It looked like a tiny green animal, curled up, terrified and hiding from the world. It had no bloom to speak off, and the vast pot too much for the tiny plant. Its spines were uneven and small.

Gaara had found himself unable to crush it. It wouldn't even provide much sustenance for the other plants – and it was just so pathetic, too. It wasn't even young; the woman had assured him that they had all reached a similar stage of growth, although not yet maturity.

He placed the plot on his windowsill.

Gaara picked up the coral-bloom cactus. He stroked the flower gently, grooming the petals and turning the soil about the cactus. It had such wonderful curves.

He applied some finishing touches, before arriving at Temari's bedroom door with a small pot in hand. He knocked with the other hand.

"Who is it?"

Gaara didn't answer, for fear she wouldn't open the door at all.

There was a clack, and then Temari was peering out of the small gap in the doorway. Upon seeing him, she opened the door, a strange expression on her face. She fiddled with the hem of her pyjama top as she stood there, and then she spied the pot in his hand.

"Gaara? What's that?"

For the first time ever, he found himself lost for words. He tightened his grip around the pot, clasping it with both hands. "It's a cactus."

The young girl's eyes were wide. She regarded the cactus, and then Gaara. "I... for me?"

His throat was choked, and he extended the arms and extended the cactus out so the tiny bristles were millimetres from her chin. She stepped back.

"Water it once a month. Keep it in the window, and rotate it so it grows evenly."

Temari's mouth opened and closed, and she finally, gently took the pot from his hands, biting her lip. She held up a single finger, motioning for him to wait, and she rushed into her room.

A moment later, she came back, hands free of the plant as they threw themselves about Gaara's neck and sent him tumbling to the floor.

The roaring in his head had been quelled.

A/N: Cuties. Thanks for all your support!

ALSO: After this chapter is a timeskip! So look forward to it!