BY : Mannah_Pierce
Category: Naruto > Yaoi - Male/Male > Naruto/Sasuke
Dragon prints: 1191
Disclaimer: This story has some of Masashi Kishimoto's characters from Naruto in a universe of my own devising. I do not own Naruto. I do not make any money from these writings.

Iteration’ is part of the space saga that began with ‘In the cold of space you find the heat of suns’ and continues in ‘Tales in Tarrasade’.

This is posted in the Naruto/Sasuke section because it is part of a Naru/Sasu/Naru space saga. However, it does feature many other pairings (and a few threesomes). Apologies to those who are expecting Naruto/Sasuke or Sasuke/Naruto every chapter.

Apologies if the characters have grown differently in their new environment.

Thanks to Small Fox for being my beta. For this story he has also been my muse, suggesting a number of the ideas that have evolved to create this arc.

Thank you to those who have left a review, particularly unneeded, the_boyfriend, jackie, v, sadie237, disembodiedvoiceofthedying and meow-ku who left reviews for chapter 32 and SunaoTsuji who wrote a review covering everything I have posted so far. I truly appreciate them.

Chapter thirty-three: Genius

Kakashi watched Shikamaru. He did not like what he saw. Shikamaru was pale and his usually warm eyes were expressionless. His body was tense and he looked haggard. He was avoiding Neji’s small gestures of affection, in which he usually delighted.

His eyes went to Neji, who was also watching Shikamaru. There was an air of hopeless puzzlement in the pale, lilac eyes that worried Kakashi.

He waited until Iruka had persuaded Shikamaru that he had time for a quick shower while Sasuke gathered everyone together in the meeting room on the Oak. Shikamaru had agreed too easily. When Neji went to follow Kakashi stopped him and closed the door.

“We need to discuss Shikamaru,” he stated, bluntly.

Iruka opened his mouth and then closed it again. Neji looked towards the door.

“I need to follow him,” Neji complained. “I think he might take another stim.”

“If he is determined he will take it. Probably while he is in the head,” Kakashi told him. “It’s the only place he can be sure of being alone. Neji, a few stims are the least of the problem. I...” He looked at Iruka. “...we have never seen him like this.”

Neji sighed. “He is separated from Sasuke, Naruto and Haru. Sasuke and Naruto have spent part of the morning exposed to extreme risk. He has promised himself that he will save the hybrids for Naruto and it has pushed him to his limits.” He took a deep breath. “It is Sasuke, not me, who has been keeping him this side of the line during the last few days. Now not only has the problem become more intractable but he is away from Sasuke. To make it worse, Sasuke has made it clear that Shikamaru’s solution has to be lawful. Shikamaru has never understood lawful.”

“That’s true enough,” Kakashi agreed, thinking about the number of laws Shikamaru had broken on his home planet. He had to ask. “Has anything amiss happened between the two of you?”

Neji would not meet his eyes. “No, but you need to understand that I am not as important to him as Sasuke or Naruto. Or either of you,” he added. “I am a focus for his love because he wants sexual intimacy but, for Shikamaru, his closest family will always come first.”

“Neji...” Iruka began.

Kakashi deliberately interrupted him. “Ir-chan, please go and see if some mothering will make a difference,” he asked.

Iruka looked from Kakashi to Neji and left.

Kakashi scowled at the young man before him. He had very little idea of what made Neji tick other than that he was genuinely fond of Shikamaru and that he, like Shikamaru, intended to spend his life at Sasuke’s side. However, this was not the time for caution. He would have to follow his instincts.

“Very few people could do a better job of contributing towards making Shikamaru happy than you do,” he began. “Many people could have tried to be what you are to him and they all would have failed. Each time one of them failed it would have made him more fragile. Instead you have made him stronger. You know what happens to other typed geniuses?”

Neji nodded. “Many are insane or lose their sanity. Others are depressives and many suicide. A few build lives they can bear to lead, like Klennethon Darrent. Of those I have researched I cannot think of one who managed to be happy into adulthood. Other than Shika, of course.”

“So you should be proud of your contribution to this incredible and rare achievement.” Kakashi told him. “As I am. As the others would be if they had any idea of how unlikely it is.”

Neji’s eyes lit up. “I have never thought of it that way. And, even if our relationship is not perfect, it stops him forming less successful attachments to other, less suitable, people.”

Kakashi could not believe it had worked. “Exactly, Neji-kun.” Even calling Neji ‘kun’ had the desired effect. He was on a roll.

And when Shikamaru returned he looked better. He was dressed in clothes obviously picked out by Iruka and his hair was loose and freshly brushed. He did not stiffen when Neji hugged him. Kakashi hoped the improvement was more to do with Iruka’s intervention than with Shikamaru taking another stim.

Kakashi smiled at Iruka. Iruka gave a brief, uncertain look in Neji’s direction and then smiled in return.

Then Shino’s voice issued from the speaker. “I am linking the projectors. Is everyone there, Kakashi-san?”

Sasuke called the meeting to order.

“The sooner we fully understand the situation the better,” he began. “Inari-san?”

Inari’s voice came from the speaker.

“Inari reporting. We are fine. There have been a number of developments. The soporific has worn off and people have woken up. However the air pumps have been switched off and there has been an announcement over the public address. Kurotsuchi has declared an emergency, saying that the air purification system has failed...”

Shikamaru’s voice cut across Inari’s. “She said it was an emergency; that the air purification system failed?” he demanded.

“Shikamaru-san!” Sasuke complained. “Inari was in the middle of his report.”

“We haven’t got time for everyone to report,” Shikamaru retorted. “Have we got the exact words she used?”

“Yes,” Shino confirmed. “It was repeated on the local news several times.”

“There is one time when outsiders can interfere, Sasuke-sama,” Kakashi reminded him, sounding positively elated.

The pieces clicked into place in Sasuke’s mind. Kurotsuchi had, without meaning to, declared a life-threatening emergency due to system failure. It was their duty to give assistance.

They listened intently to the recording of Kurotsuchi’s voice. In both the announcement given over the public address system and in the holovid shown on the news the three essential elements were present: system failure, emergency and life-threatening.

“You will have to make sure that the description of the assistance we are giving is well publicised,” Neji was saying. “So she has to grin and bear it.”

“Can we do it?” Naruto asked. “Can we evacuate all those people before the air goes bad? There are tens of thousands of purebreds as well as the hybrids.”

The holoprojector sprang into action. A three dimensional map of the lower levels was displayed and, as they watched, a complete air purification system was designed. Ships were linked via the small airlocks that existed to allow maintenance of the station’s outer skin. Additional air scrubbers were moved from the Oak’s cargo hold into each of the three lower levels. Calculations flickered, equipment lists compiled and schedules were generated.

“It looks like we won’t have to,” Asuma observed.

Sasuke had never watched Shikamaru work at his own pace. Apparently none of the others had either. They watched the evolving display in awed fascination.

Then, having tweaked the schedule to ensure that the air quality never dropped too low, Shikamaru began to model the evacuation of the remaining hybrids. He had them exiting by the small airlocks, either into the ships that had been contributing to the purifcation system or other, additional, vessels.

“By the time the emergency is over all the hybrids will have gone,” Shikamaru observed. “This will be fine because, officially, they never existed.

“Apologies, Sasuke-sama.”
he added. “I do not wish to overstep my authority but there are thirty-seven tasks that have to be completed within the next one hundred minutes if we are to keep to the schedule. None of them are irreversible or require us to have declared our intentions, but they must be done. I am downloading them to your tablet, Sasuke-sama.”

“Stop ‘sama-ing’ me so much, Shikamaru,” Sasuke grumbled, scanning the list of tasks and the crew members who had been assigned to each. It looked fine and there was no time to double check it.

“Yes, boss,” Shikamaru replied, cheekily.

Sasuke was glad to hear Shikamaru sounding more like himself. “I am sending out the tasks. If you have one, please get on with it immediately. I know this is not how we normally work, but this is an extraordinary situation. Please stay in contact by radio. If you haven’t got a radio, tell Shino-san on the way out and he will ensure that one is brought to you.”

Half the people left the room while Shikamaru briefed Inari and Sasuke listened in with half an ear, knowing that he could rely on Kakashi and Neji to listen more carefully.

He looked at the holoprojection. He then thought of Naruto’s phenomenal display that morning.

With Shikamaru and Naruto at his side, remote possibilities became real.

As had happened the time before, Naruto-san came out to greet them when they started to walk up the spur to the ship. He treated each of the group leaders with respect, even though they were children, and Sickler was impressed that he did not offer to carry any of the smaller individuals this time; he was sensitive enough not expect the groups to show weakness in front of each other.

There was a sticky moment when the other alphas realised that Chamu’s group was already established in the guest crew room. Sickler thought they might refuse to stay but they reconsidered when they saw how comfortable and separate the rooms were.

Sickler joined Kamatari in the kitchen, which apparently was called the galley because it was on a ship. Kamatari had looked alarmed when he saw the five additional groups. Sickler sympathised. He could barely cope with Chamu. Six Chamus would be impossible.

Once the six groups were in their rooms, Naruto-san came into the galley and slid the door shut behind him.

“The alpha males will fight,” Sickler told him. “And they won’t do what Kamatari or I tell them because we aren’t alpha.”

“They might do what Kiba-san told them, or you,” Kamatari added.

Naruto-san was silent. His whiskers twitched. “Wait here,” he said finally.

They waited. Kamatari made tea and found Sickler some food. He told Sickler what supplies he had placed in each room. Apparently the sweet catgirl had been very helpful when Chamu was not about to stop her communicating with an outsider.

Then the door opened and suddenly the kitchen, despite its considerable size, felt small. Kisame-san, the sharkman, was huge.

“They will do what Kisame-san tells them,” Naruto-san observed.

Sickler nodded. He could see Kamatari doing the same.

“And this is Isaribi,” Naruto-san added gesturing towards a girl whom Sickler had not even noticed. “Some of the children may recognise her because she helped care for the babies in the hybrid engineering facility. I have also asked Sasuke if Haku-san can be spared, he is one of our queens, but it will be a little time before he can arrive.”

Sickler followed Naruto-san and Kamatari when they left the guest crew room. Sickler was not sure where he was going but he wanted to talk to Naruto-san about Ebisu.

“Naruto-san?” he asked.

Naruto-san stopped and turned to face him. “Yes. Sickler-kun?”

“About Ebisu...” he trailed off, not knowing what to say.

Naruto-san’s eyes looked sad and his whiskers drooped slightly. “Sickler-kun, I am sorry. At the moment there is nothing that Sasuke-sama or I can do. We could have asked Onoki-sama but he has gone and the new mayor, Kurotsuchi-sama, she does not like us much. Also, the situation is difficult. Once things have settled, we will try. Perhaps Sumashi-san will be willing to look into it for us.”

Sickler was relieved that Naruto-san had remembered and hopeful because he had thought about it. With the lower levels sealed and with no air supply, Sickler understood that one purebred man’s life could not be given priority.

“I understand, Naruto-san,” he whispered.

Naruto-san whiskers twitched. “You will stay in our crew room for now,” he decided.

Sickler saw Kamatari’s surprise. It would appear that this was not usual.

Naruto-san activated his radio, using a channel that Sickler could hear through his earpiece. “This is Naruto. Asuma-san, Sickler-kun will be a crew guest in our crew room. I shall take personal responsibility for him.”

Sickler waited.

“This is Asuma. Understood. Please thank Sickler-kun on our behalf for bringing the feral children in. Without him that part of the evacuation would have failed.”

Naruto-san smiled at him and Sickler flushed.

“There are two other groups,” he admitted, “but their territories are in the lower levels so we could not reach them.”

“You did your best, Sickler-kun, putting yourself at risk to do so. We appreciate it,” Naruto-san assured him.

Sasuke settled behind his desk so that Shino could line up the holocamera. Konohamaru was setting up a viewscreen so that he could see the script while looking directly into the camera.

“The lighting could be better,” Neji complained. “Are you sure...?”

“I am not wearing cosmetics,” Sasuke snapped. “It gives the wrong message.”

He heard Neji’s sigh. “Make sure you are resting your hand on the desk so that they can see your rings.”

Sasuke shifted his arm and Shino nodded.

“We’ll record the rehearsal in case you get it right the first time,” Neji announced and Shino nodded.

Sasuke watched Shino’s fingers indicating three, two and then one.

“Mayor Kurotsuchi has declared a life-threatening emergency due to failure of the air purification system in the lower levels of the residential sector. This is a formal notification of responding assistance from Uchiha according to the spacefarers’ and space residents’ code. Standardised calculations indicate that it is impossible to evacuate the residents in the time available, so we will concentrate on maintaining air quality until all residents are safe. Be assured that Uchiha will use all its resources to mitigate the impact of the emergency and save lives.”

Sasuke stopped speaking and concentrated on making eye contact with imagined eyes until Shino signalled that he had ceased recording.

“Can’t see anything wrong with that,” Neji admitted. “Liked the look at the end; part threat part promise. I now understand why Uchiha insists that all full blood Uchihas look so similar. All that history is evoked by an image of your face.”

Sasuke wondered what was happening on the Sakura; Shikamaru was having mood swings and now Neji was chatting. “Glad you like it,” he acknowledged. “Remember, broadcast it at the same time as you send it to the media and the mayor’s office.”

Sumashi was, like other members of the council other than Onoki, being held in the meeting room besides the mayor’s office. He wished he knew more about what was happening. He had been on his way to the spacer quarter early that morning, intending to check on the progress of the evacuation, when an AHB squad had intercepted him.

He had been relieved to be escorted to the meeting room rather than killed. He was almost certain Onoki was dead.

One of the other advisors had a small radio receiver that could pick up some media channels. He had used it when escorted to the washroom. Apparently Kurotsuchi was now mayor, the AHB had been foolish enough to invade the spacer quarter and she had stopped the evacuation.

He had also, like everyone, heard the three cross-station announcements. His gut had clenched as he had heard the third; failure of the air purification system in the lower levels had always been Kurotsuchi’s cover story for the purge.

The small side door opened and he heard Kurotsuchi’s voice.

“Get in here, Sumashi,” she ordered.

He concentrated on appearing confident and assured; Kurotsuchi fed on weakness.

“You are a lawyer,” she declared, making it sound like an accusation. She signalled at a display screen. “Can he do this? Legally?”

Sumashi listened and watched Uchiha-sama’s message. He was determined not to smile. He imagined Kurotsuchi’s reaction. It helped him maintain a suitable expression.

“Your announcement described the situation as an emergency that threatened lives and had been caused by a system failure,” he told her. “The spacefarers’ and space residents’ code requires all ships to provide immediate assistance. It states that they do not have to check with the local authorities but rather should do what they consider best to save as many lives as possible.”

“Uchiha can invade my station?” she checked.

“Temporarily,” he confirmed. “While the emergency persists.”

“Then it will end,” she retorted.

Sumashi had gone into politics to make people’s lives better. The least he could do was stop them becoming much, much worse. “Permission to speak frankly, Kurotsuchi-sama,” he requested.

She scowled at him then signalled the guards out of the room. They shut the door behind them.

“Speak freely,” she told him. Each syllable dripped with honeyed poison.

“Switching on and then off an emergency that threatens the lives of four-fifths of your citizens may cause the people, even the station security personnel, to lose confidence in you as their leader,” he began.

This was it; the moment. She did not know that he knew about the ill-advised excursion into the spacer quarter. He did not know how many AHB fighters had been killed by the spacers.

“Of course, you can replace key elements of station security with members of the AHB who are personally loyal to you. That should ensure stability,” he concluded.

He waited. He could see the first hint of uncertainty in her eyes.

“You are mayor,” he reminded her. “When the situation is resolved there will be no hybrids in the residential sector.”

She considered. “I am mayor. The hybrids will be gone.” she agreed. “The killer squads are also gone,” she added, which surprised him. So she had begun to wonder what you did with hundreds of violent thugs who were addicted to killing.

“Kurotsuchi-sama?” he queried, careful not to give away that he knew about the AHB’s defeat.

“I shall issue a statement accepting Uchiha’s assistance,” she told him.

Shikamaru leaned back in his chair. He was confident that Sasuke and the other leaders understood the new plan and were monitoring the schedule. Exhaustion lurked but it felt good, unlike earlier that day when he had been on the edge of flying apart.

He had discovered one of his limits. He could not cope with the stress of people he loved being exposed to uncontrolled and ill-defined risk. Being safe himself made it worse; his mind had the leisure to throw up one awful possibility after another. He had listened to the battle through his earpieces. One was tuned to his private channel to Sasuke; he had heard each breath Sasuke had taken and jumped at every unidentified sound. The second earpiece was dedicated to the general channel and while the more experienced fighters usually had their microphones deactivated, there were occasional or temporary exceptions.

He would never forget Naruto’s yelps of pain as the bullets hit or Choza’s wail of agonised denial as the vehicle had hit the wall.

He had caused all this. It was his plan. If he had planned better fewer people would be hurt. Inoichi would be alive. He should have considered the possibility of sabotage. He should have asked Akatsuchi-san to check that the doors in the spurs functioned first thing in the morning.

He took a deep breath and made himself review what they had achieved; every hybrid they saved made Inoichi’s sacrifice more meaningful. The evacuees who had been waiting on the spurs had embarked on the modified freighters, where they had been given food and somewhere to sleep. The Silver Leaf had brought in fifty-four hybrids from the upper levels. The HDL mother ship, the mobile assessment centre, was on its way but it would be another ten days before it could arrive. Knowing that would be the case, he had sent Tennyo One to fetch Yugito and Roshi to help manage the evacuees in the interim. They had been lucky; using the improver there was a quick route so they should be arriving soon. Thanks to the unexpected intervention of Kamatari’s littermate they had a significant number of the feral children safe, which would mean a great deal to Na-chan. Best of all, they now had a new plan for finishing the evacuation.

“Shika-kun,” Iruka said gently. “Maybe this would be a good time for some food and a nap?”

He was glad that Iruka-sensei was there. Being hugged and having his hair brushed had brought Shikamaru back from the edge. It had made him capable of seeing the opportunity Kurotsuchi’s careless choice of words had presented.

“Food would be good,” he acknowledged. He could not imagine sleeping, he might miss something. “Thank you, Iruka-sensei.”

Inari, Tayuya and Shizune stuck together as they walked about the station checking aspects of its structure and function for Shikamaru.

At first people had seemed reassured by the promise of temporary evacuation to the upper levels but then the news spread that the gates were blocked by the Kaiju. Even the announcement that Uchiha were going to establish a temporary air purification system did not help; people no longer knew who to trust.

People, all purebreds, were gathering at the junctions and in the communal spaces. The three of them were stopped more and more often by belligerent people asking who they were and what they were doing there. The one time someone had recognised the Uchiha crest on their suits the situation had deteriorated far too quickly for Inari’s liking.

He was relieved when Shikamaru told them to wait in the airlocks.

The smaller airlocks were the better choice; it would take less of the station’s precious air to pressurise them. They were easily big enough for one person but snug for two; three in one airlock would be impossible.

He and Tayuya ended up in one, Shizune in another; Shizune had insisted, saying that she was too claustrophobic to cope with another body in such a small space.

Inari was sure he would know if a crewmate suffered from claustrophobia.

Once inside they raised and closed their helmets before pumping the air back into the station. Inari held still while Tayuya pulled out a cable from the collar of her suit and established an intercom. Then they switched off their radio transmitters so they could talk freely.

Only neither of them seemed to know what to say. Inari could see that Tayuya’s eyelids were drooping. He reactivated his transmitter.

“Inari here. Shikamaru-san, would it be acceptable for us to sleep for a while? Perhaps in turn?”

There was a pause. “Shikamaru here. We can’t see any reason why all three of you should not sleep. If you crack open the outer doors no one will be able to open the airlocks from the station side. We have drones deployed watching the station. I’ll make sure we monitor the outer doors, even though the chances of anyone approaching that way are extremely low.”

They could sit down if Tayuya sat on Inari’s lap.

He held her close while she slept.

Kotohime stared at the speaker. When she recovered enough she checked Denka and Hina’s faces. Yes, their expressions were consistent with what she thought she had heard.

“Persistent, aren’t they?” Denka murmured.

She reached out and switched on the microphone and transmitter. “This is Kotohime. We acknowledge that you intend to board the station and establish a temporary air purification system. You say you have Kurotsuchi’s permission?” she checked. She was struggling to comprehend that Kurotsuchi had switched off the pumps, creating the ‘emergency’ but was now accepting Uchiha’s interference.”

“The spacefarers’ and space residents’ code requires us to give assistance in an emergency caused by system failure,” the voice over the radio informed her. It was not Sasuke Uchiha, or Naruto, or the clever one, but the one they called Neji. “The mayor has recognised this fact. How do you think the Kaiju will react?” he asked.

It was an excellent question. She looked at Denka.

“At the moment, we think they have concentrated their attention at the doors between the lower and the upper levels,” Denka answered. “Originally they were expecting the AHB to enter while people were unconscious. Now we think they are intending to stop the purebred residents leaving.”

“Han won’t like Uchiha interfering,” Kotohime stated. “He does not want the hybrids to leave. He wants their rights as residents recognised. He wants them no longer to be owned as objects. He wants these things here and now.”

“He hates purebreds,” Denka added.

“And the hybrids will follow his lead?” Neji queried.

“Yes,” Denka replied.

“Not if Naruto-san comes,” Hina said simultaneously.

Kotohime looked towards Hina in surprise. It was so unlike her to speak out with strangers.

“Naruto-san represents hope,” Hina insisted. “Han represents desperation. In Han’s world death has become a realistic option. In Naruto-san’s world, hope becomes reality. Naruto-san must come,” she emphasised. “If Naruto-san comes, the hybrids will follow him rather than Han.”

Kotohime realised Hina was right, but that she had only grasped half of it. “If they both came, Sasuke Uchiha and Naruto, both purebred and hybrids would respond well,” she told him. “We used to live in harmony. They represent the good of the past and a better future.”

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