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’. There is also a one-shot ‘Silver Leaf Tales: Tying the knot’.

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. Without his support, this story would not exist.

Thank you to those readers who have written a review and particular thanks to richon, angelj232000, Dorkchic, Aflyingmonkey123, unneeded, sadie237, cynaga, satterb and disembodiedvoiceofthedying who reviewed chapter 96 was posted. You reviews help me keep writing.

I would like to thank all readers for their patience. I shall be returning to twice weekly posting this week, so there will be a post on Wednesday 13 July (2011) as well as Saturday. Remember, if you want to receive an email announcing each posting, my email address is in my profile – drop me a line.

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

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 hoping for Sasuke/Naruto or Naruto/Sasuke action in every chapter.

Chapter ninety-seven: Voids

The words were so unexpected that Haru did not process them. Kazuki’s ears twitched.

“We all go next time,” he repeated.

Haru swallowed. There wasn’t meant to be a next time. He had his network; he had managed to finish it over the last five days. He had posted Kazuki as look-out, removed each grille, reached into the duct and made the necessary connections. Finally he had altered the wireless capacity of his tablet so that it talked to his network as well as the computer Shi-chan had set up for him.

“All?” he asked, cautiously.

“Not Hoshi,” Kazuki conceded. “Hoshi mustn’t know. Not Yuki. Yuki not want to go.” He gave a beaming smile. “Everyone else.”

Haru took a deep breath. “Ka-chan, it will never work...” he began.

“Got a plan,” Kazuki insisted.

“A plan?” Haru queried. It would not be practical; no plan of Kazuki’s ever was.

“Kuu-chan’s plan,” Kazuki told him.

Haru revised his judgement. A plan by Kuuya had a chance of working.

He listened. It was brilliant. Yuki would tell Ayame that he wanted to go on a sleepover and that he wanted Hoshi to come too. Papa and Kotetsu-san would agree because it was Yuki and Hoshi who were asking. Papa was so tired that he would sleep if Yuki wasn’t waking him up; with any luck he would sleep in his own room. They would go down a duct into the void and have an adventure. Ran could come too, using the duct from his room.

Haru imagined what would happen if they were caught. Papa would be cross but maybe not that cross. There was a good chance Haru would keep the network because Kazuki and Ran had promised to keep it a secret; even the other kits did not know about that bit of the adventure.

“We would have to be quiet,” Haru warned.

Kazuki considered. “Yes,” he agreed.

Haru thought about what Ran had said. “We would need to wash us and our clothes afterwards.”

“You wash clothes,” Kazuki suggested. “Or Hi-chan.”

“Hi-chan knows?” Haru asked.

“Ry-chan wants to go,” Kazuki explained. “He told Hi-chan.”

It went surprisingly smoothly. Yuki turned huge, sad eyes on Papa and Papa folded. Papa took advantage of Yuki being in Ayame’s apartment to sleep in his own bed. Haru had checked and memorised the route along the ducts so he was less scared and Ran was already there in the void to help him down.

At first they split into three groups. Kazuki showed the other kits the length and breadth of the void. The five of them dashed about almost silently; Haru assumed they were communicating with tiny yelps that were too high pitched for any purebred to hear. Ryuu and Hikaru explored more slowly. Haru followed Ran, who was investigating each of the duct openings in turn.

Once the kits had finished exploring Kazuki ran about collecting everyone together.

“Game now,” he whispered.

Haru was about to remind him that they had to be quiet when Kazuki took off a small backpack Haru had not noticed he was carrying. He opened it and spilled out a ball, a stopclock and nine of Itachi-san’s training devices; armbands that shone red if the wearer made too much noise.

They divided into three teams of three and established three goals. You could not move when you had the ball. Every time a goal was scored the ball was placed in the middle of the void and all the players had to retreat to the side walls. If your armband was triggered you had a time-out.

Haru spent almost the whole game in time-out. Hikaru was not much better. Ran was impressively quiet, but far slower than the kits or Ryuu and not particularly good at catching or throwing. Haru’s team won, but only because the other members were Yasushi and Yoshimi.

Kazuki wanted to re-sort the teams and play again, but he was outvoted; it was time to go home.

Hikaru was first back up the ducts. His job was to collect the clothes and make sure everyone wiped the worst of the dirt off their skin. Haru was in the middle because he was slowest and they knew you never put the slowest at the end.

Once everyone was up Haru loaded the clothes-cleaner and set it running. It was Ryuu’s job to unload it the next morning; if he got caught he was to say that he was trying to do some of Kiba-san’s jobs to help Papa.

Papa was late coming to check that they were up, which was perfect because that meant he did not notice that they had all washed unusually thoroughly. Ryuu even had time to unload the machine and put the clean clothes in the correct places.

Yuki and Hoshi had enjoyed their sleepover with Ayame, which was a bonus.

The kits immediately started talking about next time. Haru sighed; at this rate they were bound to get caught.

Sasuke woke to day 22 of 105 in his own bed. He stretched, relishing the effects of an uninterrupted night’s sleep, before checking the chronometer; it was a bit late but not too bad. He pulled on some clothes and went to the nursery. Everything seemed fine; the boys were dressing. He told them to meet him in the kitchen.

A quick shower, a check to gather up the stragglers and he sat down with them in the kitchen. It was odd to have two missing; Hoshi and Yuki were having breakfast with Ayame and Kotetsu in the apartment.

Breakfast went smoothly and they moved on to the playroom. Sasuke decided to stay until Hoshi and Yuki arrived.

The two of them were keen to tell him about their adventure. Yuki had enjoyed himself, which relieved a knot of tension in Sasuke’s gut. Hoshi assured him that Yuki had not had any nightmares. Ayame conveyed Kotetsu’s message that they were welcome to stay whenever they wished, which Sasuke interpreted as confirmation that the sleepover had been a success.

He was much more comfortable with Hoshi and Yuki staying with Ayame than with Haru and Kazuki spending the night with Ran.

Then it was on to his office; this morning was one when senior members of the crew came to his office to update him. Rin was first. She had excellent news about Kiba; apparently the transplanted tissue had accelerated his healing more than she had anticipated. Sasuke made a note to contact Gaara; he had promised to keep him updated as to Kiba’s progress.

Haku and Izumo were recovering on schedule, which meant that Izumo would be detanked soon.

“And Naruto?” he asked.

There was that awful momentary hesitation. “Having stem cells would help,” she admitted. “I have a proposal. Shizune thought of it.”

Sasuke made himself stay calm.

“The kits’ umbilical cords were placed into stasis. It is standard practice. They contain stem cells. Naruto-san did not specify not using the kits’ umbilical cord cells. Keizo’s would be the best choice. He has the fewest fox characteristics, so his cells may show less epigenetic variation than the other kits’, or even than Naruto-san’s own cells.”

Sasuke stopped himself yelling ‘yes’ and demanding why she was even hesitating for a moment. “What consequences would that have for Keizo?” he asked.

“Minimal,” she replied. “We would process the umbilical cord and use a fraction of the stem cells. The rest would be put back into stasis for use with Keizo later if necessary. There is a tiny risk that the procedure for isolating stem cells will fail but that risk is the same whether the umbilical cord was being processed now or later.”

“And if we don’t do this?” Sasuke made himself ask.

Rin bit her lip. “Naruto-san’s body rejects tissue with any more than a very low level of epigenetic variation. This is probably why he is so physiologically perfect. Much of the regenerated tissue is failing to meet the standard.. We would have to start discussing permanent, prosthetic implants,” she admitted. “I have some experts in mind. Shika-san and Kotetsu-san could work with them to see if we can refine the implants further.”

Inside Sasuke wilted. Naruto was not recovering. Rin thought the implants available were inadequate. Shika could not take the additional pressure of designing implants for Naruto; it would be unfair to even ask him.

“We go with the stem cells from Keizo’s umbilical cord,” he decided. “Do you have a consent tablet prepared?” he asked.

She did and he authorised the procedure.

“How is Yuki-chan?” Rin asked as she replaced the tablet in her satchel.

Sasuke put thoughts of Naruto to the back of his mind; Keizo’s stem cells would work for him, like the transplanted tissue had worked for Kiba.

“He is still having nightmares if he sleeps alone,” Sasuke admitted. He had a sneaking feeling Yuki had avoided nightmares during the sleepover by sleeping with Hoshi.

Rin nodded. “Perhaps Haku-san can work with him once he is detanked. He has the necessary expertise and a very sound relationship with Yuki-chan.”

It was a good idea. “Thank you, Rin-san, I shall ask Haku-san once he has recovered.” Sasuke pulled himself together. He had lots to do; many people to see. He stood and bowed. “Thank you and all your team for your hard work and determination, Rin-san. I know that Naruto and the others could not be in better hands.”

Rin flushed slightly. She stood and bowed in return. “You are welcome, Sasuke-sama. I shall convey your thanks to the other members of the team.”

She left. Sasuke made another pot of tea and refreshed the tray in preparation for Neji’s arrival. The door announcer sounded as he poured the boiled water over the leaves.

Neji kept it brief. Sasuke knew that Neji was filtering the information but trusted his judgement; he would mention anything important.

He did not mention Shika, which Sasuke had expected. To Sasuke’s eyes, Shika was near the edge. Perhaps he was wrong. Neji was so close to Shika; surely he would know?

Instead they talked about Tatsuji and how long they dared leave addressing the gap that C-san’s death had left. Again, Sasuke found himself deciding that they could wait until Haku was detanked.

Itachi was next. He explained that he had nothing to add to the report he would be giving to the strategy meeting that afternoon.

They sipped tea in silence. Sasuke decided to ask a few questions.

“Are you and Shika-san working together better?” he asked.

Itachi paused. “Yes,” he replied.

Sasuke was sure there was more. He waited.

“I believe Shikamaru-san may be hiding how hard he is working from Neji-san because he believes that Neji-san is at his limits,” Itachi added.

Sasuke did not like the sound of that. He had no idea how to detect when Neji was working too hard. He sighed. “Thank you, Itachi-san, I appreciate you telling me.” He considered what else he should say. “I understand from Rin-san that Haku’s recovery is going well.”

Itachi actually smiled. It was small but it was definitely a smile. “Yes. Kisame and I miss him, Mai and Shou very much. We are very much looking forward to being a family again. And Naruto-san?” he asked.

Sasuke found it difficult to reply. “The regeneration is failing,” he admitted. “Rin-san and the team are trying a different approach.”

Itachi looked stricken. “I had no idea that was a possibility. You should have told us so that we could support you.”

“I do not want to think about it, never mind discuss it,” Sasuke replied. He pulled himself together. It had been weak of him to mention it. “The new approach will be successful.”

Itachi was studying him. “And if it isn’t?” he asked.

“Implants,” Sasuke admitted.

There was another silence. Sasuke broke it by looking at the chronometer. “I am sorry, Itachi-san, but my schedule is very busy this morning.”

Itachi’s expression was sceptical, but he left without commenting.

Shika was next. He was too thin, too pale and too quiet. Sasuke wished he had not told Itachi about Naruto; the information might find its way to Shika and Shika could not cope with any more bad news. He refused coffee and his tea sat untouched on the table. Like Itachi, he insisted that he had nothing to say beyond the report he would be giving that afternoon.

Shika never had nothing to add; there was always another layer, usually another twenty. It was as if he wasn’t actually in the room. Sasuke cast about for a way in.

“Do you think we could relieve any of Neji’s workload?” he asked.

It worked; he finally had Shika’s attention.

“Is there anyone who could do more and whom Neji would accept?” Sasuke suggested.

Shika’s gaze went distant for the moment and then he was back. “Tatsuji.”

It was so unexpected that Sasuke wondered if he had heard right. “Tatsuji?”

“Tatsuji,” Shika repeated with more conviction. “He’s obsessively neat and Neji would think being more involved in the day-to-day running of the household would be good for him.”

Sasuke was struggling to imagine the most lethal of the elite fighters folding laundry.

He decided to wait until he had checked with Kakashi, which was after Shika had left and Kakashi had taken his place.

Kakashi studied him. “This was your idea?” he queried.

“Shika’s,” Sasuke admitted.

“Maybe,” Kakashi conceded. He considered. “Yes, it could work. As long as he took it the right way.” He stood up. “I will go and get him.”

Sasuke was left worrying about what would happen if Tatsuji did not take the suggestion well.

When Kakashi returned he had Tatsuji with him.

“Tatsuji-san,” Sasuke acknowledged, gesturing him towards one of the comfortable chairs.

“Sasuke-sama,” he whispered before moving soundlessly across the office and sitting down. Kakashi sat next to him.

“Would you like some tea, Tatsuji-san?” Sasuke asked.

“No thank you, Sasuke-sama,” he replied.

There was a short silence.

“These are hard times,” Kakashi prompted.

Sasuke picked up the thread. “Yes, these are hard times. Many of us are performing unaccustomed duties. It is difficult to fill the roles of those who are incapacitated and those we have lost.”

Tatsuji was watching him with incredibly sad eyes. Sasuke pushed on.

“Neji-san is trying to fulfil his duties as my advisor and run the household. I fear that he is struggling, although he would never admit that.”

“Not a Hyuga but proud like a Hyuga,” Tatsuji suggested. “Proud like an Uchiha is proud,” he added, which Sasuke recognised as a compliment. He was about to speak again when Tatsuji continued.

“New Uchiha is different. No one is too proud to help when needed. Even Sasuke-sama scrubs floors.” He stood up and bowed. “Please allow Tatsuji the honour of being temporary housekeeper.”

Sasuke was scrambling to catch up. He recognised the reference to him scrubbing floors in the unit they had occupied when they first came back to Tarrasade and he did remember his mother having a housekeeper; an older woman who had overseen cleaning. Sasuke stood up and bowed in return.

“That is an excellent idea, Tatsuji-san,” he acknowledged. “I accept your offer. Thank you.”

“I shall go inform Neji-san,” Tatsuji told him.

Sasuke considered stopping him but decided against it. “Thank you, Tatsuji-san.”

The morning’s meetings over, Sasuke made his way to the playroom, collected the children and headed for the kitchen. Choza was looking particularly cheerful; Sasuke guessed Rin had told him that Kiba would be detanked earlier than they had thought.

Shikamaru joined them at the table. He smiled at Sasuke, which Sasuke took to mean that Tatsuji had already spoken to Neji. Ran and Ayame were in among the litter, looking happy in as far as Ran ever looked happy. Sasuke decided that the sleepovers represented a step forward and decided to talk to the children about inviting Ran and Ayame back in return.

His gaze came to rest on Keizo and he thought, briefly, about how Naruto would react to Shizune’s idea to use the stem cells from his umbilical cord. Less badly, Sasuke hoped, than to a life with implants.

He refused to dwell on it. Maybe he could keep this afternoon’s meeting short so that he could take the children to play on the trampoline or, better, in the zero gravity gym; it was too dangerous to have them all on the trampoline at the same time. He sighed. He knew it would not happen. Perhaps tomorrow. Yes, he would organise a trip to the zero gravity gym tomorrow; he would ask Hamaki, Terai and Fu to help supervise.

Haru had decided to give up trying to make Kazuki and the others see sense. It was far too soon for another adventure. Papa wasn’t too tired to notice things. Hoshi would think it odd that Yuki wanted another sleepover so soon. Tatsuji-san had taken over all the laundry, even theirs, so it would look very strange for them to be cycling the clothes-cleaner.

He had even tried talking to Hikaru about it but Hi-chan had made it all about Haru being frightened of the dark.

So he stopped trying and concentrated on exploring the weird world of his data crystal array. He now realised that Shi-chan had lots of tools for talking to the crystals. Haru only had the simple programmes on his tablet.

He was over the initial disappointment. He would change the programmes he had or write others. It was a challenge. It wasn’t boring.

His latest idea was to use his ‘clean’ tablet and his sanctioned access to information to learn more about programming. No one thought it strange that he wanted to do that; Biwako-san was encouraging him.

Next thing he knew, Yuki was asking about another sleepover, Papa agreed and they were on. Haru would have liked to study Hoshi’s reaction but there was too big a chance she would notice. Instead he buried his head in his tablet until the two of them were gone and it was clear that Papa was going to sleep in his own room.

“New game. Don’t need to be quiet,” Kazuki told him.

“We don’t?” Haru asked.

“Going to the next void down,” Kazuki told him.

Haru’s mind churned. Was there any reason they shouldn’t go down a level? It would take them a whole layer away from the crew room, which was good. He wouldn’t be able to access his network down there but he had not been planning on taking his tablet; it might get damaged.

He nodded.

He thought differently once he was looking down the service shaft that linked the voids. It was deep and dark. Suddenly he imagined one of them lying broken at the bottom. How long would it take for Rin-san to arrive? Would it be too late?

Kazuki and Kuuya were already climbing down the ladder, vanishing into the gloom.

“We stay here?” Ran asked him.

Haru imagined the others running about down there. If something went wrong, would they make good decisions? Would they go for help quickly enough?

Keizo stepped out on to the platform, onto the ladder and started down.

“We go,” he decided.

“Come on,” Hikaru encouraged, going past him and starting down the ladder as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Ryuu followed.

Yasushi looked at him. “Ha-chan stay here,” he suggested. “As look-out,” he added.

It was sweet of him to think of a reason for Haru to stay.

“You and Yo-chan go on. Ran and I will follow,” Haru told him.

He watched the two blond heads vanish one by one. Then, before Ran could say anything, Haru stepped out onto the platform, grasped the rung with both hands and stepped down onto the ladder.

It was only a ladder. True, the rungs were further apart than he was used to but he just had to concentrate. Right foot, left hand, left foot and then right hand. He could do it.

He reached a platform and almost stepped onto it before he realised that he had yet to reach the next void. He could see a hatch that he guessed opened into the lower layer of accommodation.

Then, finally, he reached the lower void.

This void was almost identical to the one above. A swift recon and they were ready for a game. Freed from the need to be quiet, they chose the kits’ favourite game; football. It was five against five with Ran as referee because he did not like touching people.

They played until Haru was too tired to run. Hikaru dropped out with him and the two of them watched the kits and Ryuu play four against four until Ryuu decided to stop.

It was time to go back. Kazuki put the ball in his backpack, they formed up in order and Hikaru moved out into the platform and started up the ladder.

There were a few minutes before Haru registered the small yelps and whines coming from Ryuu and Kuuya, who were both on the ladder. He touched Yoshimi’s arm.

“Hi-chan finding it hard,” Yo-chan told him.

Up was much more difficult than down; Haru had not thought of that.

If Hi-chan was struggling he did not have a chance; he was both smaller and weaker.

“Find another way,” Ran stated. “Get Hikaru back before he falls.”

Haru’s gut clenched. He pushed past Yoshimi, Yasushi and Keizo to where Kazuki was looking anxiously upwards. Haru peered up the shaft. He could not see anything past Kuuya.

“Ryuu, Hikaru, come back down,” he called. “Down is easier than up.”

Kuuya immediately reversed, came down the few rungs he had climbed and stepped onto the platform. Ryuu did not follow. There were more of the anxious yelps and whines. Haru’s heart began pounding. How much trouble was Hi-chan having? How close was he to falling?

“Can he get onto the platform next to the hatch?” Haru called. Maybe they could go back into the void, up the ducts to the lower level of accommodation, find the hatch and open it.

Ran was pushing past the kits, something he would normally avoid. He moved Haru to one side and looked up the shaft. Eight suddenly seemed a lot older than six, almost seven.

“Ryuu, go up a bit,” Ran called. “Push him against the ladder. Stop him falling.”

Haru saw Ryuu’s feet go up a few rungs.

Kazuki poked his head between them. “Climb past, get to platform, pull him up,” he suggested.

“No!” Haru ordered and realised that Ran had said the same thing at the same time.

Then, suddenly, the shaft was flooded with light and there was the welcome sound of Papa’s voice.

“Hang on, Hi-chan, Ry-chan. I will have you safe soon.”

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