04 – Copper


Sasuke! Sasuke! Can you hear me?!”


He longs to respond, but he cannot. His voice has been stolen by the living nightmare around him. He dares not even breathe, for the very act seems to be a lesson in pain. Billowing clouds of black smoke suffocate him, the hungry orange and yellow flames greedily licking and swallowing every item he had once considered precious.


“Sasuke! Stay where you are, all right? I’m coming to get you! Don’t move!”


It’s no use, nii-san! You can’t come any closer! You’re going to die, he wants to cry out just as another loud groan from above signals the descent of yet another wooden rafter of what used to be the roof. He grimaces and curls even tighter into a ball against the wall; a wall that’s just as scorching as everything else he dares touch. His bare legs are already covered with soot and ash; his toes barely moving away in time from the slither of fire threatening to engulf them. His eyes sting and water as he thinks he sees the silhouette of his older brother at the doorway, but it’s got to be a figment of his imagination. There’s no way Itachi can get to him with all the obstacles between them. There is, literally, a wall of fire separating the brothers now.


He draws his knees tighter to his chest and buries his soot-covered face against them. He knows he’s going to die even if his wonderful brother does his very best. Perhaps it was poetic justice; after all, hadn’t he overheard most of the kids (and some adults) in the neighborhood muttering about how this house was cursed in the first place? They claim it is full of evil spirits, and even he began to believe the stories despite Itachi’s attempts to convince him otherwise.


There are no such things as evil spirits, Itachi had said. They are only lying.

But they say the evil spirits are the ones who killed Mom and Dad.

That’s not true. Our parents died in a car accident, remember? Who are you going to believe? Me or a bunch of gossipers out there?


And for a while, he truly did try to believe; to hold on to the innocent child within willing to continue to see the world through rose-colored glasses despite the streak of bad luck to come their way recently. How can he tell his brother that he sometimes dreads returning home on some days? That having to listen to his classmates tease him about being a “bake-mono” is more than he can bear? How does he tell his brother that he sometimes wishes they’d just move away and leave this haunted house with all its darkest secrets? He might be only five years old, but there are just some things he’s sure he sees and hears that Itachi might never understand.


“Sasuke! Goddamnit!”


More beams from the ceiling fall and create a spectacular display of sparks; feeding into the flames which seem to swell with gluttonous intent. Sweat pours off him in rivulets, and yet he cannot look up. He can vaguely hear the sound of sirens, but his vision (and mind) is fading fast. He wishes – more than anything – that he had at least finished the last meal his precious brother had made for dinner last night. He wishes he could have stayed up a little longer to listen to the bed time story read to him; to see that face one last time, to touch him, and to tell him beyond all else, just how much he really, really loved him.


Never again, he thinks sadly; hardly feeling the wet sensation of his tears upon his cheeks. I’ll never get to see you again, nii-san. I’ll be sure to tell Mom and Dad hello when I see them soon. I’ll always, always lo-


His thoughts are interrupted rudely as a loud crash and the sudden gust of fresh air has him wincing and looking up through wet lashes. He still cannot see what’s going on much, but there is no mistaking the presence of something (or someone) seeming to swoop down from above to wrap a strong arm around his waist. He is lifted up effortlessly, the words from his rescuer –


/Just hang on to me, kid. I’m going to get you out of here, okay?!/


…barely registering as he clings on for dear life. All he remembers is just how yellow this man’s hair is; that his eyes – as blue as the oceans in his picture books - seem wild yet warm and kind, and that he smells so much like … like …




He never wants to let go, and yet the sirens seem to be getting louder, shriller, but intense, until it threatens to rip a hole right through his skull. He wants to make it stop, but he now has trouble opening his eyes, and he wonders if the smoke has finally made him blind. He reaches out desperately for help; perhaps the man with the yellow hair would be of some assistance, but the more he tries, the further it seems out of reach until…







“Oooouch. The fuuuuck…?” came the groggy complaint laced with pain. He was now flat on his back on the floor, of his bedroom, with the blanket tangled around his legs.


The shrill noise was coming from right beside him, and it was slowly driving him nuts. He reached for the offending object; assuming it was his alarm clock (though why it would suddenly start making siren noises was confusing in itself), only to find himself staring dumbly at his cell phone with the name:




…flashing on the screen.


Is this a prank? was his first confused thought as he pressed the button and replied cautiously. “Hello?”


“Piiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty!” came the familiar annoying whistle and greeting so loud, Sasuke had to hold the device away from his ear.


Of all the –


“Do you know what time it is?” he barked as he eyed the clock. The hell? It was only five in the morning!


“Yes, I do know what time it is, Sunshine,” Naruto drawled with clear amusement in his tone. Someone was definitely enjoying himself. “And if I were you, I’d be getting my ass out of bed ASAP. If you don’t want to be late for school, that is.”


“I don’t leave the house until seven,” Sasuke replied irritably as he struggled to his feet in preparations to return to bed. He had stayed up late last night trying to catch up with school work and practice using the barrier wands as well. His worrisome nightmare hadn’t helped the cause either and now this.


“Besides,” he added quickly as he tossed the pillow back in its place. “I use the train.”


“Not anymore you don’t.”




“I took the liberty of confiscating your train pass, Mister. Oh, and your bus pass as well.”


Sasuke’s mouth opened and shut in disbelief. Perhaps hoping Naruto was bluffing, he dashed toward his school bag, emptied its contents to the floor, found his wallet, dug through it and to his dismay, he could not find the familiar plastic cards used for his daily transportation to school.


“Thought I was lying?”


“How did you…when did you…?”


“While you were sleeping like an angel,” Naruto teased. “By the way, you do look adorable when sleeping. I took a picture with your cell phone. Check it if you like. Good thing I didn’t put it on Facebook or what’s that thing called? Instagram?”


Sasuke could feel the blush filling his cheeks, as trembling fingers did as told. To his chagrin, Naruto was right. There were two photos of him tucked beneath the blanket like a child, and even one of the cheeky blond bastard making a peace sign right next to Sasuke’s head, with the biggest shit-eating grin in history. He deleted them quickly; burning up as Naruto cackled like the evil son-of-a-bitch he was. In fact, not only had Naruto managed to unlock his phone to take the pictures, change his ringtone (to the annoying police siren sounds), but he had edited his name among his contacts to the self-congratulatory “Greatest Sensei Ever”, Sakura became “The Pink-Haired Talkative” and Sai was “Creepy Dude”. What else had the asshole done while he was asleep? And there really was no point asking how Naruto had gotten into his apartment in the first place. 


He could feel a headache coming on.


“How the fuck am I supposed to get to school now?” he finally growled as he lessened the damage by changing back his ringtone to its usual theme. “And how the hell did you unlock my phone?!”


“Really? Using Itachi’s birthday as your password? Any moron could have figured that out.”


The blush this time did not fade so easily. Sasuke wished the ground would open and swallow him whole. He had chosen Itachi’s birthday for sentimental reasons, obviously, but knowing that Naruto had figured it out so quickly…




He made a mental note to create an even tougher password; one that the spirit warrior would never be able to crack easily.


“As for how you get to school…how else?” Naruto was saying. “Use what the good Lord gave you.”




“Your legs, Uchiha Sasuke. Your L-E-G-S. Legs.”


Sasuke looked dumbly down at his sweatpants in bemusement. “What are you trying to say?”


“Is it really too early in the morning for you? Or is your brain just not cooperating?” Naruto’s hard edge was returning. “You’re going to be walking – or I’m assuming you should start running if you really don’t want to be late because you’ve still got detention for throwing your sensei to the ground, remember?”


Sasuke groaned. Yes, his little stunt to prove himself worthy of being Naruto’s student, unfortunately, hadn’t gone unseen by one of the senior staff. Naruto had stood there nodding and feeling sorry for himself while the teacher had apologized for Sasuke’s ‘rude behavior’. His punishment for harassing a teacher? Well, it was all up to Naruto-sensei; something that had pleased the blond greatly. Who knew what was planned for him after school today?


“From now on, Sunshine, we are going to work on your stamina and it begins with you running to and from school each and every day.”


Sasuke choked in disbelief. “What the…?! That’s over ten miles each way!”


“I really don’t give a fuck if it’s ten miles or three hundred miles,” Naruto interrupted curtly, and there was something in the blond’s tone that had Sasuke realizing the teasing had stopped. “You’re a mortal, which already puts you at a disadvantage when you come in contact with immortals. Your brother was an exception though. Could never figure out how he was able to be so damn fast sometimes, but that’s beside the point. You are going to have to build up your stamina because at this level, you won’t even last a minute with a true spirit warrior.”


Sasuke’s lips tightened. It hurt to have to hear the truth about how weak he was, but hadn’t he told Naruto and Sakura that he’d be ready for them? This was only the beginning, wasn’t it?


“Now get your shit together and start heading out. You’ve got less than thirty minutes to get ready if you want to make it on time. Ciao!”


He hung up before Sasuke could get another word in, but it was more than enough to get the teen darting into the bathroom to do as he was told.


By the time he stepped out to a chilly morning, he was not only feeling a little apprehensive, but incredibly –


“Stretching is a good way to get started,” came the voice above him. “Don’t want you pulling a muscle.”


Sasuke spun around with a ready glare, for there was the bane of his existence perched on the wall, dressed in the now familiar green tracksuit with a smirk on his face.


“What’s wrong?” Naruto asked innocently.


Sasuke’s clenched fists trembled before he snapped angrily. “What’s wrong? You ate every fucking thing in my fridge! I had no breakfast!”


“Did I now?” Naruto’s eyes widened; the blue almost startling against the shadows created on his features. The sun hadn’t yet broken over the horizon, and only two early risers and a sleeping dog kept them company. “I guess I was so hungry I didn’t know when to stop.”


“Why you…!”


“Don’t worry. Sakura will buy you breakfast at school, but here …”


Sasuke barely caught the honey bun tossed in his direction, and was just about to consider Naruto so kind enough to buy him something, when he realized it was actually his honey bun – the one he had been saving for lunch today anyway. He looked up at the blond in exasperation.


“You really are a cheap ass-”


“You’re wasting time,” Naruto cried out and rose to his feet, ready to blow the whistle. However, fearful that his neighbors would awaken to find out what the commotion was about, Sasuke waved his hands in panic and began to jog off at a steady pace.




Naruto hid a grin as he heard the unmistakable curse word muttered beneath Sasuke’s breath. He watched the boy disappear around the corner; barely turning around to acknowledge the new arrival beside him.


“You really are evil, aren’t you?” Sakura remarked with a sigh. “Making him run with little to eat?”


“Evil? Heh. You should have seen my training with that sadist Jiraiya,” Naruto replied with a shrug. “If anything, I’m being too easy on him. Besides, you said it yourself that his stamina sucks. He doesn’t participate in any school activity that doesn’t involve him sitting before a computer or stuck behind a book. At his age, Itachi was already faster than some immortals.”


“Itachi was unique,” Sakura countered as they leapt off the wall at the same time and began to walk after their ward. “You cannot compare the brothers. It’s unfair to Sasuke.”


“I’m not trying to,” Naruto scowled. “But it can’t be helped. As long as he’s got that last name, folks are always going to compare the two. It’s up to Sasuke to make a name for himself and stop living in big brother’s shadow.”


He paused to eye the school girl beside him; appreciating how cute she looked in her uniform, complete with the large pink scarf draped around her neck, before grinning mischievously. “Really now? Should you be seen walking to school with your sensei? You don’t want to get tongues wagging, do you?”


Sakura had the grace to blush, and she took a step back. “You’re right, but just remember…he’s still human. Don’t overdo it, all right?”


“Fine, fine. I’ll go easy on your boyfriend. Sheesh.”


Her blush deepened and she rolled her eyes. “You know it’s not like that. Besides, something tells me I won’t have a chance in Hell with him even if I were human. He’s got eyes for only one person.”


And with that enigmatic statement and matching smile, she teleported from sight, leaving Naruto with a lingering scent of her fragrance that never failed to make him warm inside.


Speaking of warm…he wondered how his ‘dear’ student was doing, but not before taking care of two promising-looking yōkai coming his way. He could always use some extra cash.





Three miles in and Sasuke was ready to call it quits. The blazer was now wrapped around his waist, the school bag he had once draped over his shoulder now a burden he wished he could toss away. Why the hell hadn’t he worn his P.E clothes and kept his uniform as backup? Now his shirt and tie was already drenched with sweat, and he wasn’t even at the half-way point yet! The honey bun had long been consumed, but he was now incredibly thirsty.


He stared longingly at the train as it sped past; wishing so very hard, that he was seated comfortably inside with nothing but his headphones and book to keep him company. He ignored the curious looks he received from other students at nearby schools who were either walking casually or using their bicycles. Though a part of him now wished he had chosen those schools instead of going to the more prestigious one despite its distance. He had only chosen Toshiro High for its excellent academic records, and besides, they had courted him because of his middle-school achievements anyway. How was he to say ‘no’ at the opportunity to make his resume more appealing to potential colleges in the future?

Fat load of good that was doing now.


He could feel his unused leg muscles begin to protest, and by the five-mile mark, he had to lean against a lamp post to catch his breath. Good grief! Was he really this out of shape?


“Tsk, tsk, tsk. This generation really has gone soft,” came the low voice of suffering behind him, which caused Sasuke to pull away from his resting place so fast, he nearly fell on his ass.


Naruto was crouched behind the bushes in a ridiculous disguise (oversized glasses with a bulbous nose and moustache), while shaking his head back and forth like an old man in mourning. Sasuke didn’t know whether to laugh or to knock that ugly thing off his face. He settled for making a loud sound of exasperation.


“You giving up?” Naruto asked almost too eagerly.


Sasuke’s mind screamed “Yes! Yes! I give up! This is too much! I’m not Itachi for God’s sake!” but there was something within those blue eyes (magnified to saucers behind the glasses) that dared him to say them out loud. And so gritting his teeth, he wiped the sweat off his brow with the sleeve of his shirt and replied tightly.




“Good,” Naruto replied with a small smile. “Better hurry though. You’re not going to make it at this rate.”


Sasuke spun on his heels and continued; slightly surprised to find that the weariness he had experienced just moments earlier was no longer a factor. Maybe it was Naruto’s silent dare or the fact that he had indeed stopped to catch his breath. Whatever it was, Sasuke felt a little more energized and went a little faster than he had earlier. He wasn’t immune to some of the yōkai he noticed as he sped past, but he would have no time to deal with them at the moment. All he could focus on was the goal of getting to that gate before the bell rung for the start of the day.


Unfortunately, he failed.


He arrived nearly thirty minutes late and had to kneel (on hamstrings that felt on fire!) in front of the staff office for a few minutes while he was written up for the first time in his life. He was at least allowed to change into his tracksuit for the duration of the school day, but it was embarrassing to have to look so ‘different’ and to explain to several eager sports team captains that he was definitely not campaigning to be in any of their stupid clubs.


He fell asleep in two classes, suffered being called out for it, and by lunch time - instead of heading to his secret spot to get some nourishment - he found himself collapsing on a narrow bed in the school clinic in exhaustion. His impromptu early morning workout was finally catching up to him and badly. His leg muscles were cramping to the point that even walking here required him acting as if it was nothing more than a more limp, and yet each torturous step had felt like his muscles were being sawn into pieces with a chainsaw.


Through it all, he cursed Naruto – more to make himself feel better since he couldn’t dare to punch the blond in the face (in school at least). He couldn’t believe that his two years of a blemish-free high school record had effectively been ruined in just two days. He was in already so much trouble with authority, he couldn’t believe it. He had ignored Sakura for most of the morning, though a part of him knew he was only taking out his frustrations the wrong way. He hadn’t seen much of Sai, and as for Naruto…well the blond seemed to have pulled a vanishing act, which was fine with the teen. The way he felt right now, he was likely to do something homicidal to his dear teacher.


He sighed and rolled onto his side, lashes growing heavier as he planned to nap for just a few extra minutes while waiting for Miyabi-sensei (the school doctor) to arrive. Maybe she could rub something on his legs to ease the cramps or give him some painkillers, but until then…


/You do look adorable when sleeping/


“That idiot,” he muttered as his cheeks flamed at the memory of Naruto’s flippant comment. He buried his face against the pillow and squeezed his eyes shut, willing the sleep to return and for his heart to stop beating faster for a whole other reason.


To make matters worse, his overactive imagination was somehow integrating the conversation into a BL game simulation. The scene would probably be his bedroom – in anime form of course – and a character who looked remarkably like Naruto sans the ‘whiskers’ – would pop up at the bottom of the screen with a warm smile:


>>N: “S-san…are you awake?”

Character changes to the brunette protagonist

>>S: “…” (perhaps he is pretending to be asleep)

Character N walks into bedroom and sits on bed, hand reaching out to caress Character S’s face.

>>N: “Hmm…you do look adorable when you sleep, S-san”

Character S blushes and tries to hide his face, but Character N is the dominant one and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer as he leans in to...


Oh God, Sasuke groaned, shifting restlessly on the bed as a familiar coil of heat and ache formed in his lower regions. I really need to quit playing those damn things…


“Enjoying your nap?” came the sudden soft question to interrupt his semi-sleepy/semi-aroused state.




He wasn’t sure if his eyes were completely open or if he was simply dreaming the entire thing, but last time he checked he was sure Miyabi-sensei’s hair hadn’t stood out on all ends as if she had been electrocuted. He had pulled the curtains around the bed to protect him from curious eyes, yet it wasn’t difficult to make out the silhouette of a female beyond it…a female he most definitely didn’t recognize. He scowled lightly and tried to sit up.


“Mi…Miyabi-sensei?” he called out warily.


The curtain pulled aside slowly, and even before he noticed the glint of the needle, Sasuke knew that something definitely wasn’t right about this new visitor. He tried to swing his throbbing legs off the bed, but wasn’t surprised when they buckled beneath him. He cursed and had to hold on to the side table to steady himself.


The curtain widened and he found himself staring at the face of a woman he had never seen before. Her features were nothing exceptional, though there was an intelligence within those teal eyes that were now lit up with muted victory. Her blond hair was done up in four haphazard ponytails, which would explain why they looked so ‘weird’ earlier. She was dressed in a rather sexy nurse’s outfit, but it wasn’t hard to sense that there was no way in Hell she could have walked through the school grounds like that without getting noticed.


“Please don’t struggle, Uchiha Sasuke,” the woman said with a small smile. “Let’s make this as painless as possible, shall we?”


She dove for him, and he moved; sending the table hurtling toward her with as much chakra as he could gather into his palms. She grunted in surprise as it collided into her midriff, sending her crashing back onto the bed. Sasuke didn’t wait to find out if she was all right or not. He forced his burning legs to move as fast as they could, his intention to find any ‘weapon’ among Miyabi-sensei’s medicine cabinets to help defeat this crazy bitch.


Can’t use the black flames in here, he thought desperately, though the prospect of straining his eyes just to achieve that was not enticing in the least. His fingers wrapped around a pair of scissors, and he spun around to face her again; just in time too for she had extricated herself from the bed and was now lunging for him again, the needle held up like a dagger.




He barely dodged and would have assumed the needle would bury itself into the desk behind him, but the agile female seemed to twist in mid-air, and Sasuke soon found himself being flung back with a gust of wind so strong, it couldn’t have come from the outside. He collided against a chest of drawers with a low grunt of pain, falling to his knees and looking up with a wince as he noticed her whipping out what looked like a simple fan…or it should have been simple if it didn’t seem to be expanding and getting bigger by the second.


My eyes are playing tricks on me, he thought with growing panic. But whether or not they were, she was raising that huge thing above her head; needle still clenched in her left hand and prepared to swing again. Sasuke gritted his teeth, willed himself to bear through the pain (and sincerely hoped he wouldn’t cause too much damage) as he began to gather enough chakra within his palms. He had to conjure up the lightning aspect of this, but with how much he had worn himself out already…

“It’s no use, Sasuke,” the woman was saying as she took a step closer. “In your weakened state, it should be easy to take you nowURGH!”


Neither Sasuke nor the girl knew what hit her as she found herself slammed hard against the wall and promptly knocked out cold. The fan and needle slipped from her fingers, and Sasuke watched as it seemed to shrink back to its regular size. However, what was even more astonishing was noticing the smoldering residue of what looked like a rotating blue ball of chakra against her abdomen. It had scorched through her clothes, leaving an ugly-looking redness on her flesh.


“Are you okay, Sasuke?” Sakura asked as she darted to his side; completely ignoring the comatose female beside them.


Sasuke nodded absently, for his gaze was now trained on the man still hovering by the doorway with a frown on his visage. He had never seen Naruto use his powers before, but there was no doubt that he was the one responsible for taking out his newest attacker.


What the hell was that? Sasuke thought in slight awe and envy as he tried to relax his tense muscles and contain the chakra he had been charging up. He guessed he shouldn’t have tried to, because his body literally spasmed in retaliation. If it wasn’t for Sakura holding him up, he might have begun having a seizure attack or something worse.


“Just relax,” Sakura was saying as she began to heal him. “Your body’s still not used to all of this.”


“Who is she?” he asked as he looked up at Naruto (and Sai, who had joined them).


The trio exchanged quick looks, before Naruto replied with a tightening of his lips.


“Temari,” he replied simply. “She’s a spirit warrior as you might have noticed, but I’m kinda confused as to why she’s here trying to get you.”




“What Naruto’s trying to say,” Sai explained quietly. “Is that Temari is actually supposed to be on our side. They should have no stake in claiming you.”


“Unless they’ve changed their minds,” Naruto said curtly. “I won’t put it past them to want to try to get their hands on Sasuke as well. It’s too good an opportunity to pass up.”


“They’re supposed to be neutral in all matters concerning spirit warrior battles,” Sakura said with a frown. “After all they all answer to Chiyo-baasama, and she’s one of our most respected appraisers.”


“Then guess we need to pay that old hag a visit,” Naruto replied with a grim smile. “Someone’s got some explaining to do.” He eyed the mess in the clinic and sighed. “Sai?”


“They’re already on their way.”


Naruto nodded and looked at the duo still on the floor. “Well? How long is it going to take you to get him all patched up?”


He ignored the glares both threw his way, especially Sakura’s. “Considering he’s still trying to get adjusted to you making him run all morning, give us a little more time. We’re not leaving anywhere until after school anyway.”


“Yeah, well keep babying him and he’ll never turn out to be a decent warrior,” Naruto huffed, now meeting Sasuke’s angry gaze head-on. “You’ve got to toughen up, kid. You can’t keep relying on Miss Healer over there to keep making you feel better. I didn’t have that option when I trained, so suck it up and grow a pair.” He turned to leave the room, but not before snapping irritably at Sai. “Let’s go.”


“Oh and before I forget,” he added when he got to the door. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten you’re still under my mercy for after-school detention. Don’t be late.”


Sakura shook her head and continued to work, or would have if Sasuke didn’t reach out to still her wrist gently.


“It’s okay,” he said quietly, with a small smile. “I think I’m fine now.”


She looked at him with widened eyes, knowing full well that he wasn’t at a hundred percent. “Sasuke…”


“He’s right,” he interrupted gently but firmly. “I can’t keep relying on you all the time, Sakura. I really appreciate what you’ve done for me, but if I hope to be as good as my brother – if not better – I have to learn how to deal with the pain and get stronger from it. Today…” He glanced at Temari’s still body. “…I should have been able to take her down, but I couldn’t. I don’t want to keep relying on you three all the time to save me like some damn damsel in distress. I have to be able to fight on my own.”


“But you’re mortal, Sasuke,” Sakura reminded him gently. “Your body can only take so much, and knowing Naruto, he’s probably not going to go any easier on you. He sometimes forgets what it’s like to be human and to experience all those aches and pains that linger long after a training session. He already had an amazing ability to heal when he was mortal, but that ability is even greater in his current form. Yes, he might hurt from a punch or a blow or a gunshot to the head, but he gets over it a few hours. You are not the same, remember that. If you know you’re at your limit, I’ll always be here for you, got it?”


“Got it.”


“Good. Now come on. We’ve got to get out of here before the cleaners arrive.”


“The cleaners?”


“Oh…didn’t I tell you about them? They’re the ones who -”


And as she helped him to his feet – glad to see he wasn’t limping as much – she explained the role of one of the most vital players in the spirit realm, and reassured him that Temari’s body would be well taken care of. Besides, the girl wasn’t dead – but she probably would wish for it once she was before Tsunade-sama for interrogation.





He thought up all possible scenarios awaiting him as he trudged toward the gym after school. What next did Naruto have in plan? More ways to humiliate him? More ways to make him feel inadequate and even more useless than ever before? Sakura’s concerns still weighed heavily on his mind, for he knew she was right. What was the point of trying to please Naruto to the point of literally killing himself? He sighed and clutched the strap of his bag tightly. If he couldn’t get Naruto to start seeing him as nothing more than a pansy to be taken care of, then what hope did he have to prove himself worthy of being his student? And besides, what was all that talk about his training being even more difficult? Who had been Naruto’s teacher, and just how grueling a lesson must he have gone through to become the hard ass he was today?


“Good news, bad news,” were the first words out of Naruto’s mouth once he stepped into the large gymnasium.


The blond was twirling a basketball upon a finger; Sai and Sakura perched on the benches behind him.


“We’ve been talking,” Naruto continued. “And we’ve decided…well I’ve decided to postpone your punishment until we’re done with the old hag -”


“Can’t you call her by name for once?” Sakura snapped impatiently.


Naruto ignored her. “Should be the first time for you to see what a spirit appraiser’s like and maybe finally get rid of those things in your bag.”


Sasuke’s grip tightened around the strap, but he said nothing except to nod in understanding.


“You three get going,” Naruto ordered. “I’ll meet you there in a bit. Got some damn notes to submit to the principal. Who knew there was so much work involved with being a Physical Ed teacher for chrissakes?”


He kept grumbling as he absently let the ball fly off his finger. Sasuke watched as it seemed to arch through the air in a motion so graceful, for a moment he wondered if the ball weighed nothing more than a feather. He almost wasn’t surprised to see it fall neatly into the basket, and perhaps would have (sarcastically) praised Naruto for his skills, when he was stumped into silence at the barely audible words to filter into his ear when the blond brushed past him and left the building.




The heat to fill him was the kind to make him want to hide beneath the safety of his blanket in embarrassment. He couldn’t believe he had heard those words - considering how Naruto had treated him for the better part of the day - so forgive the sudden rush of warmth to fill his chest at the simple words of encouragement –


(hang in there, all right?)


Sai and Sakura must have known, for they simply smiled softly and began to lead the way.


“Come on, Sasuke,” she invited as she reached for his hand to pull him gently. “Let’s go.”





Chiyo-baasama’s shop was a restaurant – at least it was to the normal human eye.


At first Sasuke wondered if the spirit warriors had made a mistake when they stepped into the rather busy establishment where the delicious smells of freshly cooked tempura, tonkatsu, okonomiyaki and other tantalizing delicacies, had his poor stomach growling with the reminder that he hadn’t eaten much today. He had to control the urge to drool, wishing he could buy something to satiate the hunger. However, he was already running low on spending money for the month (and Naruto hadn’t helped the cause by emptying his fridge), so he sincerely hoped this appraiser would pay him well for the yōkai he had captured so far. Besides, his other source of income had to be put on hold due to the chaos that was his life in the past two days.


Meanwhile, Sai had caught the attention of one of the cooks behind the counter, who in turn nodded at them – though his gaze stayed a little longer on Sasuke – before disappearing through a door at the back of the bustling kitchen. 


“This way,” Sai said quietly, as he led them through a side door and down a narrow corridor lined with crates and boxes of processed food. The heavy smells of fresh vegetables, raw fish and meat assailed their nostrils, but those were soon quickly replaced with a scent that promptly reminded Sasuke of the ocean on a summer’s day. The cook was waiting for them at the end of the hallway, where he pushed open yet another door (on which some weird markings were etched upon it), and motioned for them to step in.


The ocean smell was much stronger in here, and why wouldn’t it? Sasuke’s eyes almost fell out of their sockets as he found himself literally standing on a beach. He was on an endless stretch of pristine white sand, the sea before him a stunning expanse of turquoise that almost made his eyes hurt with its beauty. The sun shimmered upon it, creating an illusion of sparkling diamonds on the calm waters. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply; allowing the sounds of the birds, the gentle breeze, and the realization that this was the paradise he had always dreamed of, to wash over him. He could remain here all day if allowed to, and as he took another step forward –




Reality came crashing down as he bumped his shin against something hard. He looked down in annoyance, blinking in confusion as he met with a low wooden table on which sat an ancient lamp (akin to the kinds seen in Arabian tales) from which tendrils of blue smoke escaped into the air. A quick sniff told him that the lamp was responsible for the scent of the ocean, and as he willed his senses to re-function effectively, he was embarrassed to find himself staring at nothing more than a simple traditional Japanese room.  


With opened shoji screen doors with a view of a beautiful garden outside, the interior décor was Spartan and tidy. Its only accessory (besides the table) was a small shrine with a photograph of a smiling couple sitting amongst fresh colorful potted plants and burning incense. Before it sat a woman in her late seventies dressed in a black robe and a brown wool hat, which covered shoulder-length gray hair. Her wizened, ashen features were marred with twin red blemishes on her forehead and left cheek, her narrowed black eyes trained squarely on Sasuke with acute interest. There was something welcoming about her, and yet there was a quiet strength that was almost awe-inspiring. She finally broke into a small smile and held out a trembling hand.


“Please sit, Uchiha Sasuke. It is a pleasure to finally see you face-to-face,” she greeted in a voice that was strong despite her age.


He obeyed her command, hardly noticing Sai and Sakura sitting on either side of him for he was mesmerized. Maybe it was the smoke from the lamp, but he simply couldn’t look away. And though commonsense begged to ask how she knew about him, he had come to realize now that in the spirit world, everyone seemed to know everyone else.


“How you’ve grown,” she was saying. “You are becoming your own man now, aren’t you? Nothing like your older brother.”


“You knew Itachi?”


“Of course. He always managed to bring in the best yokai for appraisal. He nearly made me bankrupt,” she chuckled dryly. “What a shrewd businessman he was. Now then…show me what you have to offer.”


He nodded and dug through his bag to bring out the two spirits he captured yesterday. He placed the green and purple colored rocks before her and sat back in fascinated silence.


Almost immediately - as if reacting to her presence - the rocks began to glow from within; a dull humming sound emanating from them before they rattled violently as if afraid. Chiyo held up her hands as it to pick them, a frown of concentration on her features. Once satisfied with something, she snapped her fingers and from seemingly nowhere, a baby-faced young man with shocking red hair - dressed in similar robes - knelt beside her with a deck of what looked like tarot cards.


Instead of picking them, she waved a hand over the cards, and Sasuke watched as one by one, they began to flip into the air until they formed a floating circle over the glowing stones. The cards looked blank to him, but they must have meant something to the old woman for as they began to emit a soothing yellow glow, she ‘hmm’d’ and ‘hmm’d’ a little more before looking up to meet his gaze.


“You found some good ones,” she said kindly. “But they are not quite as troublesome as others. How about I give you 1,000 yen for each.”


Sasuke blinked. “1,000 yen each? Are you kidding? That one alone,” he pointed at the purple rock. “Nearly took my head off. My school lunch almost costs a thousand yen! I can’t survive on only 2,000 yen!”


“Then fetch me better ones,” Chiyo countered with a huff. She motioned for the cards to return to the hands of the silent redhead. The rocks still glowed, but they weren’t as strong as before. “2,000 yen for the two or you can take ‘em back.”


Sasuke opened his mouth to protest, but at the breath-sapping jab at his ribs from Sakura’s elbow, he was forced to only nod. Like magic, the rocks disappeared and a white envelope was pushed toward him.


“Thanks for your business, young man,” Chiyo said with a warm smile.


(whatever, you old hag)


Somehow Sasuke had a feeling he had just been gyped (and barely acknowledged that his innermost thought had sounded like Naruto’s usual sneer), but he accepted the money and tucked it into his bag.


“We actually came to see you about something else rather important, Chiyo-baasama,” Sakura was saying, but before she could continue, the old woman was raising a hand to silence her.


“I am aware of what you’re about to say -”


“Then you’ll spare us the trouble of asking just what the hell you all are trying to pull,” came the familiar, yet cold voice of a certain blond. He hadn’t used the door the others had come through, and was instead perched on the railing just outside the opened shoji screen doors. Gone was the green tracksuit, and in its place was the dark ensemble he had worn on the first night Sasuke met him.


The silent redhead rose to his feet with clenched fists, and though Naruto’s gaze was trained on the old woman, his lips quirked into a smirk at the motion. He slowly lifted his right hand, which was enclosed in a leather black glove and Sasuke’s breath caught as he noticed it; the blue orb of energy gathering on his palm. Unlike his chidori which seemed to be ‘scattered’ energy, Naruto’s surge of power was more controlled; a ball chuck full of a swirling chakra that could be deadly depending on how hard it was directed at its opponent.


“It’s all right, Sasori,” Chiyo said quietly to the redhead, who reluctantly stepped back. “There will be no fighting here. I do run a business after all, and the last thing I need is unnecessary battles taking place in this neighborhood.”


She turned to Naruto; dark eyes glittering with some indescribable emotion. “I am aware of your concern, Uzumaki Naruto, and I can assure you that we are just as worried over what has taken place. You know our clan has an allegiance to the alliance, and we have been its staunchest supporters over the centuries.”


“So why did she suddenly try to attack Sasuke?” Naruto asked with a scowl. His once glowing palm was now clenched into a tight fist; his features darkening with impatience.


Chiyo sighed and clasped her hands. “We fear that she might have been possessed.”


Sakura gasped. Sai stiffened, and Naruto’s expression remained unchanged. Chiyo continued quietly,


“She was sent on an assignment, in the mountains of Tibet, with Kankurō as her companion; their job to eliminate the influx of strange yōkai attacking the monks at their temples. For weeks, we kept up with their progress, and things were going just fine, however just yesterday, we received troubling news from Kankuro. Temari has become severely ill and is now a comatose state. The monks are taking care of her, but are unsure of what could be the cause.”


“That doesn’t make any sense,” Sakura whispered. “If she’s still in Tibet…then who…?”


“A shape shifter probably,” Naruto grated tightly. “Someone who knew Temari was out of commission and decided to take her form.”


“Shape shifters usually revert back to their original state once defeated, but this one -”


“There is a newer and stronger breed out there,” Chiyo replied with a frown. “Shape shifters who have been created to retain the form of their possessed bodies for a while after defeat; more to confuse the spirit warriors than anything.”


“Christ,” Naruto muttered beneath his breath.


“And it is only our guess who could be responsible for releasing such highly-evolved malicious yōkai now.” She looked at Sasuke, who had been listening to all this with rapt attention, though his expression gave nothing away.  “There are some ruthless clans who will stop at nothing to get what they want, even if it means creating confusion in the spirit world.”


She reached out to place a warm hand upon Sasuke’s forehead, and he was immediately filled with a soothing warmth, which almost brought tears to his eyes. He was painfully reminded of his mother and the last time he had felt her arms around him. He swallowed tightly and struggled to hold onto Chiyo’s kind gaze.


“So filled with turmoil and sadness, young man,” she was saying quietly. “But you will get stronger, so do not fear. You are no longer alone, and this battle is not yours alone. You have a strong army on your side. All you have to do is believe in them and in yourself.”


She withdrew her hand and seemed to sag her shoulders as if suddenly weary. Sasori placed gentle hands upon her shoulder and whispered something into her ear, to which she nodded and pet his hand tenderly.


“It has been a long day, my dear children,” she said with a nod. “I will be traveling to Tibet to be with Temari and to perhaps heal her as best I can. If you need any more appraising, you’re welcome to deal with Mei or if you can wait for Gaara to return -”


“Where is he anyway?” Naruto asked with a raised brow.


“Somewhere in India for a mission. He will return soon; at least once he hears about the new developments. Now if you will excuse me. I must take my leave.”


They all bowed in respect – Naruto included (shockingly) – and watched as she was led into her private quarters.


Later, while gorging on bowls of delicious hot noodles (which were on the house much to Naruto’s delight for he was already three bowls in and counting), the quartet tried to come up with a new game plan.


“It’s becoming even more dangerous than before,” Sakura mused as she swirled her noodles in the bowl with her chopsticks. “At this rate, Sasuke can’t be left alone for one minute.”


“And we haven’t even scratched the surface of his training,” Sai added quietly. “When are you going to be able to get anything done if every other minute, we are confronted with a shape shifter or a rival clan eager to grab him?”


The duo went back and forth with their concerns, while Sasuke remained silent with his gaze lowered to the half-finished bowl of food before him. He knew all of this was for his sake. He knew how much of a burden his very presence was, and just how much chaos the spirit realm was becoming thanks to his powers. It made him wonder just how much pressure Itachi must have faced while alive. Was that the reason he had chosen to die? It would make sense, wouldn’t it? Who wanted to continue being in a world where every other person probably had some ulterior motive? That was no way to live, and his brother might have probably had enough.


Why bother, he thought miserably as he clutched the chopsticks tightly; his mind whirling with the decision he was going to take. It would make things easier for everyone if he just died and let his body disappear just like…


“Hold that thought right there, Sunshine,” Naruto suddenly said flatly; though his face was covered with the bowl as he slurped the remnants of his meal hungrily. He belched and lowered the dish with a smile of satisfaction, before tapping his chopsticks on the table in a disjointed rhythm. “You were about to say something really stupid, weren’t you? I could see it on your face.”


Sasuke’s cheeks flamed with color, and he opened his mouth to deny it, but Naruto silenced him by placing the chopsticks against his lips.


“If you think you’re going to back out of this by taking the easy way out,  you’re even dumber than I thought,” came the firm words. “Do you really think  your brother died in vain? Huh? You think he was doing you a favor by ending his life, and you think you should do the same so the spirit world goes back to holding hands and singing kumbaya?”


“If there’s one thing Sakura failed to teach you about the spirit realm, it’s that there’s no such thing as peace and love,” he continued bitterly. “Since the dawn of time, there’s always been rivalries, wars, battles, arguments and all the same shitty things you humans do; only it’s ten times worse in this realm because of the supernatural elements. So far, we’ve been able to keep the fighting within our kind, but one of these days, some idiot is going to find a way to involve the humans and then we’ve got a serious problem on our hands. But what am I saying? I’m getting way off tangent here.”


He lowered the chopsticks and reached for his bottle of beer to down the contents in one straight gulp. There was another rude belch before he sat back with a sigh.


“The only solution to our problem, lady and gentlemen, is simple. We move his training location to the outskirts of the city.”


Sakura sat up with interest. “Where?”


Naruto was eyeing his fingernails. “The same place Jiraiya trained me.”


“But isn’t that…?”


“Far? Yes, but it’s away from civilization and the natural barrier there is enough to keep away pesky yōkai for a while.” He stopped flicking his nails to study the three of them with an intensity that sent shivers down their spines. “I have only a short period of time to get him ready, and I’m going to need you two to back me up with everything you’ve got. Sasuke?”


“Yes!” the boy replied breathlessly, for the knowledge that Naruto was willing to take him to a place that must hold special meaning to him, was somewhat overwhelming.


“You might have to miss school for a while -”


“What? For how long?”


“It all depends on you, won’t it?” Naruto replied with a smirk. “Work your ass off and we’ll probably be done in no time, but if you turn out to be whiny crybaby…it might take years.”


Sasuke’s eyes widened; his head already shaking with the idea of spending years being tortured to death (probably). He frowned and clenched his hand into a fist. “I won’t slack off,” he declared with more bravado than he felt inside, but Naruto wasn’t about to tease him about it. He instead glanced at his watch and nodded at his teammates.


“We’ll leave in about an hour, so go back home and get yourself prepared, Sasuke. Pack what you feel is necessary, though it shouldn’t be more than one carryall bag. You’re not going on a vacation for fuck’s sake. Sai will tidy up after  you, and don’t worry about anyone wondering where you are. Sakura should be able to deal with the school authorities and your records.” He rose to his feet and stretched before snapping his fingers as if remembering something. “Ah, our rendezvous point is on the Togetsukyo Bridge, and here…”


He tossed a familiar rectangular plastic object into Sasuke’s waiting palms. “I’ll let you use it tonight since you’ll need the train to get there. I’d ask you to run, but I’m afraid you’ll die before we even begin training. See you in an hour.”





He was grateful for Sai and Sakura escorting him home, even if their attempt at conversation could not dampen the excitement coursing through his body. What a strange day it has been, but what else was to be expected when dealing with such intriguing characters barging into his life?


They chose to wait downstairs while he packed what he felt would be necessary for the journey; the last being Itachi’s sword within its elegant scabbard which he attached to his jeans. Once satisfied that he was ready, he stood for a moment to survey the place he had called home since his brother’s death. With the computer silent, his bed neatly made and main lights turned off, there was a yawning emptiness he had never really felt before. For the past few years, his life revolved around this apartment and school, but now…


(there’s a whole new world out there just waiting for you, Sasuke)


He smiled wryly and let himself out of the apartment with a firm click of the door behind him. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever return to it again, or if he did come back, it would be as a completely changed man (he hoped). Either way, this was no time to stand around reminiscing. Someone was waiting out there for him.


“Sakura,” he began as he began to jog down the flight of steps. “Do you know when…?”


The words died on his lips when he made the turn and nearly collided into the solitary figure standing there. His first instinct was to excuse himself, but when she turned around slowly; his breath caught at the pair of pale-colored eyes to capture his.


(what the hell…?!)


She outstretched her hands with a small sad smile, where a surge of blue chakra began to form…and morph into what appeared to be lions.


(shit! A spirit warrior!)


“Please don’t scream too loudly, Uchiha Sasuke,” she began in a voice that was barely louder than the whisper of the wind.


“I only wish to set you free.”





Chapter 05

Naruto Home


















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