Warnings:  Incest, ItaSasu, KisamexItachi, smut

Part 3

The water demon's shrine was set high on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Itachi led him to a small cave at the edge of the water.  Tide was out now.  The mossy
cave would be flooded when it rolled back in.  Like most inland exorcists, he'd never learned to swim.  He'd spent more than enough time in close meditation to
ignore the claustrophobic setting, though.  Tiny patches of eerie green glowed along the walls, lighting the way.  The cave narrowed further in until he had to
turn sideways to slide in after Itachi.  Then they were in a large cavern.  The demon waited, sitting at the edge of a pool of brackish water.  It was humanoid,
with pale blue-gray skin and dark slitted gills on either side of its neck.  It was also dressed in a long robe of black and red.  He'd never heard of a demon
wearing clothing so casually inside its own territory.  Itachi stepped back, placing a hand on his shoulder.  His voice was quiet, but more than loud enough for
the demon to hear him.  He was surprised that Itachi addressed him, rather than his mate.

"Kisame is male, Sasuke.  Think of him as such.  He will never have daughters."

The demon laughed, revealing vicious teeth.  "If you'd ever met a female shark, you wouldn't mind so much."

"I don't understand," Sasuke admitted quietly.  He had prepared himself for anything the demon might do to him.  He hadn't expected conversation or the
casual way the two spoke to each other.

"Only demons can give birth to females," Itachi explained.  "A female is truly female.  They can't assume a male form even in the human realm.  The sons of a
human mate may choose to take female form, but they aren't limited to one."

Kisame grinned again, catching and holding Sasuke's gaze.  "When I finish with you, I'm taking him with me.  He won't come back to this world until my sons are
old enough to take sustenance on their own."  He must have seen the horror rising in Sasuke's eyes because he scoffed suddenly.  "He isn't pregnant yet.  I
wouldn't let him touch you if he were."

Itachi's fingers tipped his chin back, drawing him to look over his shoulder at him.  Sasuke flinched at the contact.  He'd never been so close to a tainted
exorcist.  The mix of human and demon energy set his nerves on end.  He didn't know how to respond, how to feel.  So few demons actually reproduced with
their human mates.  Itachi still looked to be in his early twenties.  Giving birth to demon spawn would turn him into an old man when his mate discarded him
afterward.  Yet Itachi didn't look upset or even resigned by the prospect.  There was something forceful and determined about his eyes.  Sasuke didn't know
what to make of that.

"We'll change the world, little brother," Itachi murmured.  Then he kissed him.

Sasuke recoiled, his feet slipping on the slick ground.  A threatening waft of energy struck his back and cool hands settled on his shoulders.  He froze as the
demon leaned over to growl in his ear.  "Are you defying me, Exorcist?"

"No," Sasuke whispered.  Itachi was staring down at him.  Now there was sadness in his eyes, resignation.  "I don't understand what you want from me."  The
grip on his shoulders tightened painfully.

"Because of you, I've had to share him again and again.  Our children should have been ruling these waters by now.  I had a mind to tear you apart, to repay
every degradation he's suffered because of you.  He'd never forgive that.  Instead, I'll share you with him."

"It's forbidden," Sasuke said shakily.  He couldn't tear his gaze away from Itachi.  "He's human."  An exorcist.  A brother.

"He's my mate," Kisame snapped.  "You owe him as much as you owe me."

"You have no choice," Itachi pointed out, in a calm soothing tone.  He came forward and trailed the fingers of one hand over Sasuke's cheek.  "I have more
demon than human energy now.  Just think of this as another exorcism.  You aren't doing anything wrong, just your duty."  He leaned down to press a warm
kiss beneath his ear. "This is my last act as a human, Sasuke.  I love you."

Tears sprang to his eyes.  He'd rather have been tortured.  Anything but this.  Itachi stripped him slowly, his hands running over every part of him, pressing,
feeling him through his skin.  The demon was a cold presence at his back, no longer touching him, but holding him in place just the same.  A steady reminder.  
He struggled to latch onto that, the idea that this was simply another distasteful obligation.  Penance.  A different sort of torture.  But he didn't feel like an
exorcist now.  He felt like a child, shamed and betrayed by the brother he'd worshiped his entire life.  He was humiliated by his own weakness.  How would he
ever deal with Kisame in the future if he fell apart now?

"You've grown well," said Itachi.  He was on his knees now, looking up at Sasuke's averted eyes.

"A little on the short side for my taste," Kisame muttered.  "His hair isn't long enough, either."

"You're cross because he isn't me," Itachi said dismissively.  "He's perfect.  I've simply ruined you for anyone else."

Kisame snorted.  "True enough."  He curled a hand under Sasuke's chin and tilted his head back so he could see his face.  Dark eyes turned to him and he
licked them closed, catching salt off the lashes.  "Don't you dare ruin this.  You survived Orochimaru, didn't you?  This is nothing."

This was a thousand times worse.  Itachi's hand closed around his cock, stroking him to hardness and then taking him into his mouth.  His knees shook as a
small whine started in his throat.  He didn't want to enjoy any part of this.  He wanted to be used, hurt, punished.  He knew how to handle that.  He didn't know
how to handle this at all.  The demon reached beneath his arms, wrapping around his chest and lifting him so his feet left the ground.  Itachi positioned his
legs so they were resting on his shoulders.  He continued to stroke him with his hands and mouth, dragging a muffled whimper out of him.  The sound drew a
sharp breath from the demon and then teeth that were sharper still sank deeply into his shoulder.  He cried out.  The pain was sudden, bone deep, and very
welcome.  He wanted to squirm, pull, force those blades to tear more so he wouldn't be able to feel anything but that biting throb.  The arm around his chest
kept him firmly in place, and those powerful jaws didn't close any further.  It wasn't enough to distract him from the feel of that moist heat leaving his cock.  
Then Itachi spoke so coldly that his eyes flew open to look down at him.

"Don't be rough with him."

Sasuke stared at him in horror.  How could he speak to his demon mate that way?  He was even more shocked when the demon made an unhappy whine and
pulled its teeth free, licking the wound.  Was it - no, he, this time the demon was definitely a he - actually following Itachi's order?  What kind of hold did his
brother have on his mate?

"It's harder than I thought," Kisame muttered, bitterly.  "You should be doing that to me."

Itachi ran a hand over the slick moss beneath them.  Sasuke's eyes closed quickly when he touched him again.  He pushed two fingers into him, watching the
grimace tighten his face.  He eased them in deeper and snapped a taunting look at Kisame.  "You won't let me do this to you," he reminded him.  "You don't
want daughters."  He pressed his tongue along the underside of Sasuke's cock.  The sounds he made were tantalizing.  He was holding back desperately.  His
tormented shame had brought a beautiful flush to his face.  He was too precious to be wasted on exorcisms.  Itachi had always known that.  Now even the
demons could see it.  He ran a slick hand over his own cock and rose.  He knew Kisame was watching his every move with jealousy heated eyes, but his eyes
were only for Sasuke now.  He'd never done this to anyone and likely never would again.  But he was going to have him.

Sasuke choked back a whimper as his legs were pressed tightly to the arm around his chest, bending him in half.  Fingers spread him open, prying so that he
had to fight to keep from clenching up.  He could feel the fingers make way, and then Itachi slid into him with a low moan.  The sound tore at him, making his
tightly closed eyes burn again.  He wouldn't cry.  The demon didn't want him to cry and he didn't want to be reduced to tears.  He felt like part of him was dying,
yet his body enjoyed the feel of Itachi's cock pushing thick and hard inside him.  Human and warm.  The demon's arm left his chest, allowing his legs to be
pressed closer still.  Large hands gripped his hips, holding him still as Itachi thrust deeper into him.  His brother was panting his name, kissing his mouth, his
cheeks, and then pressing so closely it hurt as he kissed the demon behind him.  He opened bleary eyes in time to see one of the demon's hands bury itself in
Itachi's hair as they kissed.  A surge of envy and lust coursed through him.  He couldn't begin to make sense of the emotion.  He didn't want to look away, he'd
seen humans kiss that way, but never imagined a demon doing it.  He had to look away, though.  If either opened their eyes and saw him watching, he really
would die inside.

They continued to kiss, moist sounds hot in his ear, as Itachi thrust faster into him.  Another groaning whine started in his throat and he swallowed it down.  
The demon's free hand closed tightly over his mouth.  He thought he understood then.  The demon wanted him to disappear, as if it were just the two of them.  
He struggled to stay silent, but couldn't stop his harsh breathing.  Fingers pinched his nostrils shut when Itachi groaned suddenly and ground into him so hard
and deep he would have screamed otherwise.  The demonic energy his brother had absorbed gushed into him, so mixed with his own that the conflicting
natures burned him to the core.  He wasn't even aware of his eyes changing.  He'd passed out.

Icy cold water shocked him awake.  He was in the dark pool, with Itachi holding him, keeping his head above water and running fingers through his hair.  As if
he were a child again, sick with a fever.  His brother's eyes were black, filled with such open concern he could hardly believe this was the person who'd just
taken him the way a demon would.  Itachi looked him over carefully and sighed.

"He's always wanted me to take him," he explained.  "But he's too stubborn to risk being impregnated himself.  The idea of daughters scares him to death."

The demon's head rose from the water right in front of them, startling Sasuke so badly he splashed him in the eyes and nearly slipped from Itachi's hold.  He
was trying to stammer out an apology, whatever was the proper thing to say, when the demon snorted.

"Nothing scares me," Kisame scoffed.  "Females are more trouble than they're worth, that's all."  He stared hard at Sasuke for a long moment.  Then suddenly
he was out of the water, standing at the edge of the pool and slinging his cloak around his shoulders.

The demon had moved so fast, Sasuke didn't catch so much as a glimpse of his body.  For some reason, he found himself staring at the demon's feet.  Other
than being the same color as his hands and face, they looked entirely human.  He'd expected webbing at the very least.  His attention shifted to Itachi.  His
brother's expression was so serious it bordered on emotionless.

"What are you doing?" asked Itachi.

"I changed my mind," Kisame muttered.  He crouched beside the pool, completely ignoring Sasuke as he frowned at his mate.  "I'm going to fuck someone
alright, but it's going to be you.  Make this quick.  I'm sick of seeing you touch him."

Itachi dropped his eyes, looking at Sasuke now.  His tone was patient and impartial, the same as when he'd explained, years ago, exactly what it was demons
did to exorcists.  "Impregnation is risky and time consuming.  If the amount of youki in the host drops for even an instant, the infants will attempt to feed off the
human's lifeforce.  It isn't the sustenance they need, so both they and the host will die.  Kisame won't be able to come to the human world for very long during
the incubation period.  His relatives will patrol his territory.  If they give you any trouble, petition at the shrine and Kisame will deal with them.  Don't let them
con you into an exorcism.  You have no obligation to them.  The villagers have been warned not to be tricked into additional offerings.  They already give more
than they should."

"None of that," Kisame growled.  "A portion of the take is standard."

"A tenth is standard," Itachi said coldly.  "They give a third of every good haul."

"It's because of me that they get any good hauls at all.  I told you there are fucking dinosaurs in the depths.  Those bastards consume more than thirty
demons and still have room for more."

"Demons have peculiar notions," Itachi told Sasuke.  "Ocean dwellers in particular.  It's best if you have as little contact as possible with his kin."  Kisame was
now muttering under his breath.  Itachi ignored him.  "As far as the immediate future is concerned, consider this area taken care of.  You'll have your hands full
with Kyuubi as it is."

Sasuke almost forgot that he was naked, being held in a bottomless pool of icy water by the brother who'd taken him not long ago.  He couldn't forget, but he
could disregard it for the moment.  His body was numbed and his mind was alarmed and confused.  If Itachi were about to be impregnated, this might very well
be the last time he saw him.  "Have you heard something I should know?"

"Yes."

"But he's not going to say anything about it," Kisame cut in sharply.

"No," Itachi agreed, giving a strange smile.  "I'm not.  I will tell you to be careful.  Stay away from the snake for a while.  Have Mother make you blood wards and
keep them on you any time you're not performing an exorcism.  Remember, to a rogue, not even the temple is sacrosanct.  You're the only exorcist now.  You'll
never be safe anywhere."

Sasuke was set to demand he explain what he meant by that.  He didn't get a chance to.  The demon closed a hand over Itachi's shoulder and he was
suddenly being held in a tight embrace.

"We're going to change the world, little brother," Itachi murmured into his ear.  Then he vanished along with his demon mate.

Without any support, Sasuke sunk like a stone.  Salty water burned his eyes and it was too dark to see the surface.  In that instant he was consumed by
absolute panic.  He kicked his feet, arms flailing in search of the walls.  The pool was small in diameter, so the walls couldn't be far.  Yet he couldn't find them.  
He forced himself to be still.  He floated up, kicking lightly, and finally his outstretched hands struck something.  A rocky ceiling.  There weren't any walls at all,
he realized.  The pool extended beneath the floor of the cave and now he had no idea which direction the opening was in.  For a moment he was caught on
how utterly absurd this was, that he could very well drown and die right here.  Hysterical laughter wasn't any more useful underwater than blind panic, but he
couldn't help himself.  Then arms closed around him and he was pulled to the left and then upward.  He let his first hungry gasp of air out with a disgusted
laugh.

"How is this funny?" his rescuer demanded angrily.  "You could have died!"

"Exactly," Sasuke said, with another choking laugh.  Then he was occupied with coughing up water he didn't recall having swallowed.  He was shoved, roughly,
up out of the water.  He wiped a hand over his mouth and looked back.  The shape of the head and shoulders were human, but he could see through them.  
As he watched, the water solidified to white hair and a pale frowning face.  It was a lesser demon.  He was surprised, and grateful, it had been close enough to
come to his aid.  

"Don't you know anything?" the demon scowled at him.  "All you had to do was use Kisame's energy to breathe.  That's how you'll be purging it later, isn't it?"  
It shook its head in disgust, not giving him a chance to respond.  "If you can't swim, stay the hell out of the water."

Sasuke flushed, annoyed and embarrassed.  Itachi's notes specifically said purging was to be done underwater.  He should have realized.  "Thank you for
your assistance," he said stiffly.

Now the demon shrugged, its annoyance replaced by a leer.  "No problem.  I've got bragging rights now for getting to lay my hands on you.  If you're looking to
learn how to swim, stop by any moving water and ask for Suigetsu.  I'd be more than happy to give you a few lessons.  I'd give you one now, but you smell a
little too much like Itachi for my taste.  The last thing I need is a pissy shark snapping at my heels."  It waved a hand at him and then dissolved back into the
pool.

Sasuke stared at the surface of the pool for a minute before turning to find his discarded clothing.  The demon was still there, undoubtedly watching his every
move.  It was weak enough that he could have run it off with a kekkai.  Instead, he ignored it, leaving it to watch from its watery guise.  If this one did travel the
rivers and streams, it would know better than humans what was going on in the different territories.  With its name, he could summon it in the future.  That
might come in very handy.

Someone was waiting for him just outside the cave.  He'd left his horse there with Itachi's assurance that it wouldn't be bothered.  The one waiting was a young
man, around his age, blonde and tanned enough to be one of the locals.  He was patting the horse's neck and feeding it something out of his palm.  Sasuke
stopped a good distance away, his red eyes narrowing.  This person felt more like a tainted exorcist than a demon, but no exorcist that young would be here.  
"What are you?" he asked bluntly.  The blonde looked up, giving a bold and friendly smile.

"The name's Naruto.  I want to help you."

"I don't need help."  He motioned for his horse to come to him.  Unfortunately, the blonde came with it.

"You haven't even heard what I have to offer," Naruto said, frowning stubbornly.  "I'm a shinobi."

"You're a halfbreed."

"I'm still a shinobi.  What?  Do exorcists look down on halfbreeds now?"

"No," Sasuke admitted.  His own brother was probably being impregnated with halfbreeds at this very moment.  That didn't change the fact that he was
tainted.  Not even halfbreeds should feel comfortable approaching him now.  He was sure Suigetsu would never have touched him if it hadn't been necessary
to save his life.  He swung himself into the saddle, grateful now to the icy water that had numbed any discomfort he might have felt.  He kept a wary eye on the
blonde.  "The shinobi are gone.  That era is long over."  The humans with enough energy to have become ones were exorcists or mikos now.  Their work was
the same, dealing with demon threats, but their methods had changed considerably.  Civilian casualties had been enormous during the shinobi reign.  Now it
only took one exorcist to guarantee the survival of an entire country of humans.  The only true shinobi left were raiders, and they were eagerly exterminated
by the demons.

Naruto let out a frustrated huff.  "Why do you exorcists insist on making things harder for yourselves?  Not all of the shinobi arts were used for bloodshed.  You
should have at least kept the teleportation jutsu.  What do you think your mikos use to heal?  Or the shielding and wards?  You do them without hand signs
now, but they're the exact same techniques.  Demons teleport constantly.  Horses are nice and all," he nodded at the beast as if it could understand him, "but
it's just plain stupid that you should have to rely on them so much."

Some halfbreeds lived as long as their demon sires.  This one could easily be old enough to have lived during that time.  Sasuke had considered looking for a
healer to help with remote locations.  Most villages had their own healer, someone with just enough energy to do the task, but not enough to be a miko or
exorcist.  The problem was they found tainted exorcists as repulsive as everyone else.  They also tended to be old and disinclined to travel and risk
themselves.  "Petition my father."

"I tried that," Naruto scowled.  "They wouldn't even give me an audience.  They took one look at me and pulled that 'demon begone' shit on me.  I was tempted
to sneak in and find you myself, but I want to help, not get everyone riled up.  That's why I waited till you'd left.  You should do something about that.  Most of
the strongest demons in the human realm today are halfbreeds.  If your personal guards have no respect, it doesn't say much for the country itself."

"I'll speak with the ones responsible," Sasuke promised.  Inside, he was furious and a little alarmed at the breach.  Even lesser demons were treated with more
respect than that.  For a member of the Uchiha clan to do so was shameful.  It was just such slights that led to messes like the one in the ninetail's village.  He
looked at Naruto differently now.  It wasn't unheard of for a demon to seek a mutually beneficial acquaintance, like the one Suigetsu had offered.  But for a
slighted demon to do so?  That was automatically suspect.  "Why would you want to help exorcists?"  Halfbreeds who chose to live as humans were only
accepted in a few parts of the world.  They stayed out of an attachment to their human parents.  Once that human died, they became rogues, underlings, or
lords in their own territories.  Villagers put up with them for the sake of the human parent, usually a former exorcist.  Once that man died, the demon spawn
were driven away.  Halfbreeds had more reason than full demons to hate humans.

"I wouldn't help exorcists," Naruto scoffed.  "Most are so rigid there's no point.  We're the enemy from the day they're born till the day they die.  Some things
never change.  The one's who don't consider themselves martyrs are snatched up as mates first chance.  If they're taken by the wrong demon, they get
tossed back broken shells, giving the next exorcist even more reason to hate us.  It's a waste of time.  I want to help  you.  You're different.  There's a chance
you'll actually listen to reason."

"What do you want in return?"  He had to consider Naruto a rogue.  As a rule, dealings with rogues were dangerous.  They were unpredictable.  Without being
tied to a single territory, they had nothing to lose if they were shunned.  On the other hand, they were looked down on by humans and demons alike, so they
had more to prove.  Naruto's blue eyes hardened.  He predicted his response.

"Respect."

Sasuke shook his head.  "You already have that from me."  All demons did until proven unworthy of it.  That was one of the first things an exorcist learned.  
Respect them, never trust them.

Naruto grinned, suddenly as bold and cheerful as he'd been before.  "I know.  Let me repay you by taking you back.  You didn't bring your carriage.  Without
Kisame's mate as an escort, the way back isn't safe."

"You know Kisame?"

"By reputation only.  He's done well for himself."  Naruto wrinkled his nose.  "I wouldn't want his job, that's for sure.  Those sea monsters are crazy.  Did you
know most of them live for three hundred years?  It's no wonder ocean dwellers die so young.  Those things take out more demons than anything in this realm."

Sasuke stared at him.  "Dinosaurs."

"That's what you call them now," he shrugged.  "Sea monsters fits better, if you ask me.  They're a lot worse in the demon realm.  That's why the ocean
dwellers prefer to live here.  It's still a tough territory to keep.  Think about it.  You fight the monsters there to see who gets a territory over here, and then the
second you claim your prize, you get eaten by a monster over here instead.  Really makes you appreciate living on land."  He tilted his head when he caught
Sasuke's blank stare.  "That's why no one contested Kisame when he took your brother as his mate.  They figured he'd have him for a year or two, get eaten
by a monster, and then Itachi would be available again.  No one expected him to live as long as he has."

"We have little information on ocean dwellers," Sasuke admitted.  He had a sudden urge to smirk.  He wondered how Itachi would react when he learned there
really were dinosaurs living in the depths.  "They haven't had much contact with exorcists."

"Because most of them don't live very long," said Naruto.  His head lifted arrogantly.  "I'm a well of information.  I can tell you about all the species, anything
you want to know."

"Tell me about you.  What species are you?"

Naruto's eyes narrowed in a pout.  "Except that.  If you can't tell, I'm not saying."  He spread his arms wide.  "I look human, right?  I can pass as one, too."  His
energy vanished so abruptly that Sasuke flinched.  "So consider me human.  I fought on their side during the Shinobi Wars.  What?  That surprises you?  A lot
of us halfbreeds did.  Humans aren't the only ones loyal to their parents, you know.  When my father died, I took up his fight.  That's what sons do.  At least,
they used to..."

"They still do.  Some of them."  His own father hadn't had enough energy to be an exorcist, but he'd sired two of them.   It was in their blood.  They were direct
descendents of shinobi, still protecting the people to this day.  "If you can pass for human," and he certainly could, so well that Sasuke found it unnerving,
"then why didn't you do that when you requested an audience?"

Naruto's eyes narrowed.  "Because I shouldn't have had to.  I'm warning you now.  I never forget an insult.  If those guys look down on me like that again, I'll
retaliate.  I don't care if they're ignorant or weak-blooded, they're still Uchiha."  He snorted.  "They must be Madara's ilk."

"If it happens again, I'll deliver them to you personally.  But you know a lot about my clan to drop that name."

"I've been around a long time," Naruto shrugged.  "The natives are getting restless.  Can I take you straight to your temple?"

Sasuke could sense the lesser demons stirring, creeping closer out of curiosity.  He didn't know when Kisame's kin would be taking over the area, but his
absence must have been noted for the natives to be so bold.  He knew from Itachi's notes that Kisame kept his underlings well under control.  He raised an
eyebrow at Naruto.  "Can you?"

"It's easier to teleport past a kekkai than it is to break one.  Not even wards will stop a determined demon.  It isn't as safe there as you think it is."

That was exactly what Itachi had said.  He wouldn't trust Naruto any more than he trusted any demon.  But if Naruto could get past his mother's kekkai that
easily, then just as Itachi had said, he wasn't safe anywhere.  Better to stick to tradition and hope for the best than to have an enemy rogue roaming about.  
Besides, Naruto could prove very useful.  "How does this work?"

"Just hold onto your horse," Naruto grinned.  He placed a hand on the animal's neck and murmured up at its tilted ear.  "Close your eyes.  That's it.  Just a little
stumble now."

Sure enough, the horse stumbled forward a step when it suddenly found itself standing on the paved walk outside the temple instead of soft sand.  It rolled its
eyes, snorting at Naruto, who patted its nose.  Sasuke felt as if he'd stumbled as well.  He'd had a strange sensation of motion outside him, as if the
surroundings had moved rather than he himself.  

Servants had been tending the temple in his absence.  The woman sweeping the steps cried out in shock at their arrival and dropped her broom.  Sasuke
addressed her as soon as he'd dismounted.  "Clear everyone out.  Inform my mother that we have a guest."  She rushed past him, too polite to give him a wide
berth and too human to avoid cringing at the demonic energy he was letting out.  He was used to that, so it surprised him when Naruto scowled after her.

"Are they all like that?" Naruto demanded.

"Servants come here because it's easier than the manual labor in their own villages.  They usually have advance notice so they can keep their distance
following an exorcism.  Don't take insult from them.  They've had no training to deal with demonic energy."

"You're the one she insulted," Naruto muttered.  "They should at least respect their own exorcist."

"They do."

"Not enough.  Not like they used to.  They don't have to deal with demons anymore, so they don't appreciate the people who deal with them on their behalf.  
The early exorcists were revered.  Now you can't even travel without being attacked by your own kind."  He shook his head in disgust.  "Missing nin were
supposed to disappear along with the shinobi."

"People like that never disappear," said Sasuke.  "We call them raiders now."

"No.  Raiders are thieves and outcasts armed with arrows so they can attack the weak from a distance.  Missing nin are the same as they always were,
powerful humans who enjoy killing their own.  You've never had a problem with them here because there aren't enough exorcists around to make good
hunting.  The exorcists up north didn't ask for your help just because you made a name for yourself.  They asked because they're being hunted and wiped out
by shinobi more powerful than their own demons."

"I haven't heard anything about that," Sasuke frowned.

"Of course not.  You'd never agree to go if you knew they were wanting to use you instead of risking themselves."

"You're wrong.  I would have gone if they'd explained what was happening."  There were large populations to the north and an equally large variety of
demons.  They needed every exorcist they had to maintain peace.  "Why aren't the demons protecting them?"

"Because they're weaker than the enemy and too stubborn to accept help from the ones strong enough to handle the pests."  Naruto stalked to him suddenly
and grabbed the front of his shirt.  If he were disturbed by the energy tainting him, he gave no sign of it.  His voice was quiet, but chilling all the same.  "You're
not going.  Get it out of your head."

"You put it there," Sasuke reminded him.  The demon must have had a reason for bringing it up.

"Because it's only a matter of time before they admit the truth.  If exorcists from all over rush to their aid, they'll be wiped out the same as them, giving the
hunters exactly what they want."  He released him, giving him a knowing look.  "Stay here.  They'll target you eventually.  When they do, your demons will slay
them before they can lay a finger on you.  Some are already on their way.  You'll do more good by staying right here."

Naruto's reasoning was sound.  He was still curious enough to ask, "What if I did go?"

"I won't let you," Naruto said flatly.  Then he snorted suddenly, rolling his eyes.  "Even Orochimaru would go after you.  Can you imagine how the demons up
there would react to that?  They won't accept help, so they sure as hell won't take kindly to having him running around their territories.  They'd fight the
intruding demons and be killed.  Then the demons who replace them could be even worse than the missing nin, as far as the human population is concerned."

Sasuke had thought of that himself.  If anything happened to him, the demons here would have twenty years before they could hope for a new exorcist.  Even
if Itachi were discarded quickly, giving birth would age him considerably.  Demons didn't like their exorcists to travel at all, certainly not to troubled areas.  Then
there were the people here, who'd be condemned to twenty years of misery.  If other regions did send anyone, it would be the oldest and least attractive, the
most expendable of their own exorcists.  What had happened with the nine tail would repeat itself all over the land.  And when an exorcist finally was born, he'd
have a hell of a mess to clean up.  Still, Naruto's manner was interesting.  He still wasn't used to conversing with a demon outside of an exorcism.  He didn't
know what to make of him.  "Just how strong are you?"

"Take care of business and I'll show you," Naruto grinned, with a wave toward the temple.

"You don't want me to introduce you first?"  He'd assumed Naruto would be staying in the area, if not in the holding itself.  His parents wouldn't dare turn him
away.

"No.  You're bleeding."  He wrinkled his nose, directing Sasuke's attention to the growing stain on his shoulder.  "Besides, now that I'm past the front guards, I
can introduce myself, thanks."

"What will you tell them?"  He blinked when Naruto's grin switched into a seriously sober look.  Naruto changed expressions so easily he wondered if any of
them were real.

"The truth," said Naruto.  "They won't deny me."

"No," Sasuke agreed quietly.  "I don't think they will."

.-.
TBC



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