AN: As usual, unedited until I get to it. It’s on the to-do list…
With Sakura’s continued treatments, Itachi is soon at the point where he can receive visitors for short periods of time. To make the most of it and to offer a show of his own strength, he has Sasuke convene a counsel one morning with his remaining advisers.
The war council of the Uchiha is a different sort from ages past; time and bloodshed have robbed them of the traditional council of twelve, and these days they settled for barely more than half that number.
The last of their father’s council, Yakumi, sits at attention beside Shisui and Obito, frowning at the younger men in disapproval. Obito’s grandmother and the oldest living Uchiha, Masumi, sits beside Uruchi, Itachi and Sasuke’s maternal aunt. Their uncle Teyaki once joined them, but his mind has left him in his old age, and as such he is often left with an attendant. Finally, Itachi’s mother-in-law Hazuki has been invited since the death of her husband.
Now, she peers worriedly at Itachi. “Are you well, my son? It has been so long since we’ve seen you, and I worry at your pallor.”
“The medics assure me I will be on my feet again soon,” Itachi says, waving dismissively. Only Sasuke notices the effort he puts into the gesture.
They’ve been circulating the story among the camp that Itachi has been fighting a stubborn strain of pneumonia. Considering the poor battlefield conditions and the general stress of his position, it’s entirely plausible, and even healers sometimes have difficulty with the disease. Many a common soldier has succumbed to it over the years.
“Medics?” Yakumi echoes. “None of our camp healers have been in to see you for weeks.”
“Hopefully because they’re seeing to the men,” Itachi says in a way that isn’t really an answer to Yakumi’s unasked question. “Let us return to the matter at hand. My brother assures me that the latest conscription efforts have been successful and there are more than enough recruits at the ready should there be an imminent attack – yet the same cannot be said for our supplies.”
“Another eight months to a year, at most, barring unforeseen circumstances,” Sasuke elaborates.
“There’s a village to the southwest offering supplies in return for manpower,” Yakumi says. “Enough to keep us going for another six years if necessary.”
“You speak of Oto, yes?” Itachi asks, glancing at Sasuke in confirmation; he nods. “Then, no.”
“But Itachi-sama –”
“Orochimaru betrayed the Senju, there’s no reason he wouldn’t think to do the same to the Uchiha. His purposes are his own and separate from ours.”
“Then the army will starve!”
“If our army is starving, you can be sure that of the Senju is as well,” Shisui interrupts. “My people report that they’re dealing with the same concerns over supplies and rations as we are.”
“So it’s a long-game – who can outlive the other in the face of starvation,” Obito says, grim.
“Or perhaps it’s the opposite,” Itachi suggests. “If we bring this war to an end, then both sides will be able to focus on survival, and our children and their children will not have to
There’s almost a palpable collective sigh. It is not the first time Itachi has expressed interest in a permanent cease-fire with the Senju, but given the unsuccessful nature of all future attempts, everyone tends to react with the same weary exasperation.
“Peace is obviously the preferable solution, but not if it comes at the price of the Uchiha being relegated to second-class,” Uruchi says.
“I remember my mother telling me stories,” Masumi says quietly. “Before the peace, of how the Senju tried to claim all Uchiha on their land as their serfs. They wanted us to be no more than a mercenary class, bred to serve them and guard them.”
“The Uchiha were not blameless in this,” Itachi reminds her. “Madara and his tried to utterly eradicate the Senju from the face of the planet.”
“As a preventative measure to ensure our own survival,” Yakumi reminds him. “If any of the Senju continue to sympathise with the ways of Senju Tobirama, there is no possible way to reconcile. We cannot be the vassals of our enemies, or war will commence again in another generation.”
“There won’t be another generation if we don’t at least try,” Shisui argues.
“But it’d be stupid to rush it just on account that we’re desperate,” Obito shoots back.
“Itachi – why not wait a little longer?” Hazuki suggests softly. “The floods will end soon, and then request a parlay with Senju Tsunade. Find out what they would expect for a truce – or a long-term peace. In the meantime, we can go amongst our people and learn what they will tolerate and what they will not. If we then present our demands to the Senju, whether they choose to honour them or not will indicate whether they have the same wish for peace as you do.”
“And if they don’t accept everything we simple continue as we have done for so long?” Itachi asks mildly, but his distaste for the idea is clear.
“Well, obviously there are certain things we wouldn’t budge on, but we too can be flexible,” Shisui suggests, briefly putting a comforting hand on Itachi’s shoulder. “If it’s just a matter of convincing our people what we should be willing to bend on, I can manage that.”
“That’s not an option I would like to pursue,” Itachi replies darkly.
Obito snorts. “If after charging it up for ten years you’re finally going to use your kotoamatsukami, you should use it on the enemy. It’d be nothing for you flutter those pretty eyes of yours and make the old woman do exactly what we want.”
“You think I’m pretty?” Shisui asks, affecting an air of surprise.
“Have some decorum,” Yakumi snaps at the younger men in disapproval.
“You know why that isn’t an option, Obito,” Masumi interrupts the argument, and her grandson frowns as if he has been chastised. “You too, Shisui. Peace that is not arrived at openly will fester. It would be a short victory for us, yes, but in another generation the children of those you’ve ensorcelled will begin to question. And we’ll be back in this same conundrum.”
The question makes Sasuke startle, and the rest of his relatives adopt an uncomfortable quiet. It is no secret that he doesn’t support peace initiatives, that he believes them to be no more than idle fantasy and naivety. His enjoyment of battle is also well-known.
But he envisions Sakura’s eyes shining at him, and Naruto’s idiot grin, and Hinata’s hopes for peace before he is forced to kill the other man. And there are deep, secret hopes that he barely wants to pay attention to, that linger in his heart and could only exist in a world where there is peace.
And so out loud he says, “If peace is what you deem best for the Uchiha, then it should happen as soon as possible.”
There is a sense of astonishment and disquiet among his relatives, but Itachi nods slowly, with an irritatingly unsurprised gleam in his eyes that suggests he knew Sasuke would say this.
“Go, then,” he tells the others. “Obito, inform our generals that we will continue this ceasefire as long as possible. Have them focus on finding new providers for our supplies if necessary. Shisui, you have a means of getting a message to Lady Tsunade’s forces that we wish to consider a truce?”
“Keep it quiet. The fewer people who know of this – on either side – the less likelihood of sabotage. The rest of you will go among the people, find out under what conditions a peace could be possible. But be careful in your information gathering. Sasuke –”
“Speak to Neji and gauge what the Hyuuga might think of the truce. It’s best we know their frame of mind before we broach the subject in earnest.”
As the other members of the council speak amongst themselves, Sasuke stands to leave. He pauses, sparing a moment to study his brother, who is smiling wanly at something Shisui is whispering in his ear. For a brief instant his brother manages to look carefree and happy, and Sasuke decides that alone is worth attempting a peaceful resolution to this conflict.
Later that day, as he leaves the Hyuuga compound, Sasuke finds his way blocked by several of his relatives and members of their vassal clans. Heading up their little group is his cousin.
“Inabi,” Sasuke says, attempting to walk around him, but the other man steps to one side to plant himself in front of Sasuke. He stares down at him, jaw-clenched in the same annoyance he always displays when they interact. Inabi has never made a secret that he dislikes deferring to Itachi and Sasuke in matters of leadership, especially given they are younger than he, but he has never tried to argue with clan law. “Was there something you wanted?”
“You were in counsel with your brother this morning. What’s the news?” he asks. “Should I prepare my raiding squads for departure?”
“It’s been months since we’ve left this godforsaken camp,” one of his cronies adds.
“The Senju still have many deaths to pay for!” another agrees. “Their blood will be sufficient recompense!”
The statements are met with cheers of agreement.
“You are to continue to mind your posts and remain on the defensive,” Sasuke says. “There will be no incursions into enemy territory until the order is given.”
“If we simply wait, they’ll take us when we least expect it!” Inabi protests.
“It’s not their style,” Sasuke dismisses. “Go spend your time doing something useful like rebuilding our fortifications or distributing the non-perishable supplies to our caches.”
“Until there is credible threat, we are not launching any attacks,” Sasuke snaps. “Those are my brother’s orders, and if you disobey them you’ll answer to me – is that understood?”
He allows his Sharingan spin to the surface as a means of hammering the point home. Inabi steps forward, his own eyes bleeding red to meet the challenge, but Sasuke doesn’t move, unimpressed by his cousin’s show. They both know that in a fight, Inabi is no match for Sasuke.
Eventually Inabi looks away and grunts, “Understood.”
Nodding, Sasuke deactivates his Sharingan and turns his back on the group. He begins to walk away.
“That’s a change,” he hears one of Inabi’s lackeys mutter. “Remember the days when he’d have jumped at the chance to spill Senju blood?”
“He’s gone soft.”
Someone else snorts. “Some men are like that when they finally get a woman on her back.”
“Heh,” Inabi jeers, “who would have thought the great Uchiha Sasuke would turn into a weakling because of some common whore?”
His first instinct is to draw his katana and cut the man to ribbons at the insult, but he forces himself to remain utterly still. Killing these bastards now, while his brother is desperate to promote peace, will be counterproductive.
Breathing through his nose, he tries to ignore the disbelief and dismay that threaten him, because he and Sakura have been very careful since Kakashi expressed his concerns. No one among the men should know of his dalliances – unless they noticed Sakura slipping away following those first illicit encounters.
“Maybe if she disappears he’ll get his balls back…”
The words are said at just the right volume that they could either be a passing comment between chums or an actual threat.
Rage at the audacity threatens to overwhelm him, and his fingers clench around Kusanagi, but he stays his hand. If this is meant to provoke him, his reaction will show that they have touched on a nerve. That will make him look weak, which historically leads to people trying to pick fights - either with him, or someone foolhardy enough to try to find Sakura.
He imagines her crushing Inabi’s bones for his trouble, and smirks.
Turning ever so slightly, only to indicate that he has heard them, he levels meets Inabi’s gaze.
Perhaps he and his cronies take note of the expression, and the message behind it, because a general atmosphere of uneasiness falls over them at the sight.
Sasuke leaves them like that, his languid gait meant to show he isn’t worried about their bluster.
But when he is far from their line of sight, his mouth turns downward.
Peace aside they are, all of them, running out of time.
Whisperings of a truce aside, the temporary ceasefire is not utterly without incident.
During a routine visit to one of the neutral villages nearby to find workers for their fields, Sasuke and his men encounter Naruto, accompanied by his own cadre of men. It isn’t the first time it’s happened – there have been times throughout the years where they have met outside of the battlefield, but there is usually a tacit agreement not to cross blades until far away from possible civilian casualties.
This time,certain words are exchanged – also, certain kunai – and the skirmish begins before Sasuke or Naruto are quite able to stop it. Once their hotblooded comrades are set off, it becomes a chore for them to prevent any fatalities that might spark an full-fledged assault.
The only saving-grace for Sasuke is that Inabi and his crew are patrolling in a completely different area, or they would be winding up for their next siege.
“Considering you’re they’re leader, shouldn’t you be able to better control them?” Sasuke sneers as he uses the hilt of his katana to knock some face-painted lunatic in the face.
“I could say the same for you,” Naruto shoots back as several of his shadow clones try to divert the growing melee away from any of the village’s structures. “Or maybe you people don’t have the same understanding of ‘ceasefire’ as we do?”
“The fact that you understand what a ceasefire is at all impresses me,” Sasuke snorts.
Sasuke snaps at his men to fall back and leave the village, but they are too far away to hear him.
“Maybe you’re just having an off-day,” Naruto suggests. “Maybe you’re a little…distracted? Possibly thinking how it’s not worth it anymore? I bet you’re getting tired of all this fighting, too.”
“Don’t project your wishes on me.”
“Aw, come on – I say we get over the past and think of the future,” the blond man declares, ducking a stray kunai. “I don’t even know what we’re fighting about anymore. Your man insulting Kiba’s mother or some pissing contest from way back.”
“If you feel that strongly about it, you could always surrender,” Sasuke suggests.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Naruto shoots back, as the momentum of the fight brings him and Sasuke into close quarters. Both of them have unsheathed their katanas, and the blades cross as they meet. “Speaking of fun, asshole – check out my latest jutsu!”
He disappears in a cloud of smoke, and when it clears a bevy of buxom, half-naked women stand in his place. It’s a version of his favourite idiotic jutsu, which has never worked on Sasuke, who disperses it easily with a light Katon.
“Moron,” he adds as Naruto reappears, diving out of the way of the flames.
“You just wait! One day I’ll figure out what your poison is!” the other man insists with a grin that isn’t affected by Sasuke’s actions in the least. “Then you’ll be knocked out cold on the floor and I’ll win.”
“And after that, we can put all this stupid clan stuff behind us and be friends again.”
Sasuke bristles. “Who says were we ever friends?”
“We were when we were kids,” Naruto reminds him insistently.
“Those days are long gone.”
“So? We can start over. And I was also thinking –”
“Shut up! Anyway, when this war is over –”
As if it’s the exercise of an afternoon and not a generations-long feud, Sasuke scoffs inwardly.
“ – you should come over for dinner. We can eat ramen!”
“Fine, if you don’t like ramen, I’ll get Sakura to cook something else – but just so you know, she’s a terrible cook.”
Sasuke is startled at this.
She wouldn’t have told him…would she…?
What does Naruto know about Sasuke’s connection to Sakura? Is he somehow informed about their liaisons?
Carefully controlled, he asks, “Why on earth would your medic be cooking your food?”
“Huh? I dunno…that’s something a wife’s supposed to do, right?” Naruto asks absently, pulling back his fist. “I mean, I guess we’d be married by then, but maybe you’re right. Maybe we won’t be yet…”
At this point Sasuke is so caught off-guard that Naruto’s next blow sends him reeling backwards.
There are distant cheers from Naruto’s people and rallying cries from his own, but Sasuke barely hears them. The words ring in his ears, over and over like the fading echoes in a bell.
His eyes film over with red.
“Oi! You were supposed to duck that!” Naruto yells at him, hurrying over. “Listen, that was not me breaking the truce, okay, I was just –”
Sasuke is barely cognisant of the palm of electricity that jumps to his hand, or his body moving forward. He’s on a collision course with Naruto’s face, and the other man barely ducks out of the way in time.
“What gives?” Naruto demands, but Sasuke doesn’t bother answering, instead swerving around and taking a second shot at him.
And suddenly, the lighthearted skirmishing transforms into the usual duel to the death – lightning and wind clash against one another, until their comrades finally manage to drag them away from one another.
It isn’t until Sasuke’s recovered his breath that he recognises the feeling that flooded his entire system just now.
Jealousy, he realises with disbelief that borders almost on horror.
So, it’s a little short and we didn’t get a lot of SasuSaku action, but I’m trying to set the stage for something (seriously, I just spent the last three days plotting this entire freaking fic, there’s a lot coming that you guys are going to like…and a lot I’m pretty sure you might hate me for haha). I’ll try to get the next chapter up ASAP.