06 – Cerulean




Tearing through towering stalks of dying sunflowers; every shuddering breath a painful hitch in his chest. His feet bleed with every painful step. His yukata is ripped in several places; barely managing to stay upon bruised shoulders. His hair is a wet mop upon his head and face; the sweat dripping into eyes that sting and make visibility next to impossible.


But he cannot stop. He dares not stop.


He nearly stumbles and falls, but manages to right himself quickly. His katana is a hindrance, but he refuses to detach it from his hip. And still he can hear them gaining upon him; their angry voices echoing all around like an oppressive wall he cannot escape.


[Don’t let him get away! Catch that son-of-a-bitch! He must be re-captured!]


He wants to cry; to scream to the heavens, to query God on why he must be treated like so. And yet he cannot make a sound except to expel trembling breaths of desperation and panic. He knows there is no hope for him if he is caught this time.


He will be killed. That is inevitable.


He squeezes his eyes shut and staggers blindly. He smells it then; the thickening stench of smoke. They plan to raze the field to the ground. They will stop at nothing even if it means starting another meaningless fire. And despite the palpable taste of fear on his tongue, something flickers within; something darker and sinister. It is a something that finds this all tiresome and annoying. It is a something that wishes for him to stop acting like a coward and to face his attackers like a man. It’s a something that lusts for blood, to rip through flesh, and to feast upon their dying screams for mercy.


Ah, it could be so easy to give in to this thing, and yet the painful irony is that it is the cause of all this. It is this damn thing inside of him that’s made his life a living hell. All of a sudden, he feels the hysteria bubbling inside of him. It couldn’t have come at a worse possible time, and yet he cannot control the almost shrieking laughter to escape his lips.


They hear him and their anger intensifies. How dare he laugh at them? How dare he exist?!


He sniffs the air hungrily and welcomes the tangy salty smell of the sea. He hears the waves crashing angrily against the rocks, and imagines himself running…running…running…running right into its cerulean depths. The ocean will welcome him gladly and then…maybe then he’ll finally have that peace he so desperately needs…





“…traveling through many distant lands in search of the one thing he could never find…”


(that voice)


“…encountering many strange creatures both big and small…”


(…his voice…why?)


“…all he ever wanted was to be loved…”


(stop…please stop…)


“…but as long as he refused to give up what was within, he was forever loathed by those who feared him and chose not to understand…the end.”


There was the gentle slam of a book, a deep inhalation of breath and the subsequent slow exhalation that was accompanied by the familiar sweet-smelling tobacco he knew he would never forget for as long as he lived.


(unless I’m dead…I hope I am)


“Unfortunately, you’re still stuck with us in the land of the living, so do me a favor and stop pretending you’re sleeping, you little troublemaker. You think it’s fun sitting on my ass watching you snooze off for three days in a row?”


(huh? Three days?! Christ)


Naruto cursed inwardly and stirred; finally forcing his lashes open to acknowledge the smiling man sitting on a wooden chair beside him.


For a heart-stopping moment, Naruto was sure he was back in Edo; back in that stuffy apartment where this same man had leaned over him with an expression of such kindness, it brought tears to his eyes. However, unlike back then when he teetered dangerously between the land of the living and the afterlife, Naruto felt relatively more alive than he had been in days (apparently). He looked down at himself and gave an inward sigh of relief. Besides being swaddled with bandages around his torso, he was glad to see he wasn’t lying on a futon on a cold hard floor. The wooden bed, with its soft bedding, was one he was familiar with, and as he struggled to sit up, he also managed to take in his surroundings with a pang of nostalgia.


(still as beautiful as I remember it)


It would be strange to consider the room as being a part of a living tree, but to anyone looking at it for the first time, it definitely would appear that way. Walls of thick oak formed a protective cocoon; giving one the illusion that you were snug within the tree itself. Weaving its way around the walls were rich, sweet-smelling vines accentuated with dots of blossoming cerulean flowers still glistening with dew. The floor was an amalgamation of sprawling sturdy roots and polished wood, while carved oval windows filtered in soothing rays of sunshine and the pleasant sounds of Nature beyond.


He closed his eyes and allowed himself to listen; unaware of the small (almost beautiful) smile on his visage. He could hear the birds chirping happily outside his window, and even without lifting his lashes, he was sure one or two had come hopping onto the sill in an effort to greet him. There was the rustle of leaves and branches that came with the Northern breeze, and the unmistakable (though faint from here) rushing sounds of waterfalls and springs likely to refresh the weary warrior.


“Brings back memories, doesn’t it?” came the gentle question that forced him to open his eyes again.


He focused his attention on the older man, whose white hair seemed even shaggier than he remembered it. And yet Jiraiya-sensei did not look a day older than the first time they met. Not that it should have been surprising. The old man still favored his precious short kimonos and pants that always revealed his ankles and wooden sandals, though he had tossed aside his haori to look considerably less casual than usual. He sucked on his pipe again, dark eyes still watching the blond carefully.


“Did you enjoy my story?” he suddenly asked, causing Naruto to raise his brows in bemusement.


“What story?”


Jiraiya held up the book he had been reading from. “This beauty. It’s still in editing stage, but I wanted to share it with you anyway. What did you think?”


“I was sleeping,” Naruto remarked with a roll of his eyes. “I couldn’t hear anything.”


Jiraiya’s face fell. “But you were smiling at some parts.”


“Yeah right.  You wish I was smiling. Haven’t you tortured me enough with your readings? You always made me listen to them whether I wanted to or not.”


“It’s not as if you had anything better to do,” Jiraiya mumbled beneath his breath. “Besides, I needed a second opinion. Kakashi always loved whatever I read -”


“Then go bug him,” Naruto interrupted curtly. Sure Kakashi had always enjoyed Jiraiya’s brand of writing material. The old geezer had a penchant for erotica that was slightly disturbing. Naruto couldn’t count the number of times he had listened to both men – heads bent together like co-conspirators – as they discussed the intricate details of the Kama Sutra and how it applied to the characters in the books. The amazing thing? His damn books were best sellers and no one really knew he was the man behind them.


With a heavy sigh, while absently rubbing his torso (the bandages itched like hell), he decided to inspect the rest of his body to see how much damage it had taken this time around. He lifted the blanket and examined his lower half. Luckily, someone had been kind enough to at least leave him in a pair of shorts, but other than that, his legs seemed fine. He flexed his arms; no pain there. He reached up for his head and was glad to see there was nothing to write home about either.


“You were burned rather badly,” Jiraiya stated quietly. His expression was now pensive as he crossed his legs and folded his arms across his chest. “Both Fukasaku and Shima-sama worked really hard to get you healed.” He paused before adding slowly. “They believe your generation abilities might be slowing down a little; that or you really pissed off Kurama this time.”


Naruto ‘tch’d’ and slumped back against the pillows; his lips forming a thin line of irritation.


(Kurama…you asshole)


“What’s the last thing you remember?” Jiraiya asked.


Naruto’s jaw worked for a second before reluctantly answering. “That Hyūga bastard.” He rubbed his temple as if the memory was wavering before continuing quickly. “He spewed some shit about how they had to get Sasuke and they needed me out of the way, but it was…”


(I heard his thoughts…could see the fear and hate he had for me…he called me a monster, and that triggered it, I think)


But he didn’t say this aloud. There was no way Jiraiya (or anyone else for that matter) could understand just how painful it was to be considered as something other than human. He had assumed he would have gotten used to it after two centuries, but damn, it angered him to know that the effect was still the same. That no matter how many battles he faced, or how many times he had barely clung to life, just sensing that another human considered him a beast or something to be afraid of, hurt him more than he cared to admit. 


In retaliation, he (and Kurama) would always feel the need to lash out as well; to show those people just how much of a monster they could be. If that was what they wished to see, then who were they to deny them the pleasure of dying at the hands of such evil?


“Is he dead?” Naruto finally asked wearily.


“No,” Jiraiya replied, and if he noticed the brief look of relief on Naruto’s features, he gave no indication of it. “However, he’ll be requiring a lot of medical attention. He’s currently at SWAT awaiting his hearing, but as you can imagine, the Hyūga leaders are not too pleased and are currently all up in arms wanting him – and Hinata – to be released.”


“Hinata, huh?” Naruto’s lips curved into a cynical smile. “Can’t believe she would allow herself to get involved with all of this. Last time I checked, she was too scared of her own shadow.”


“You’d be surprised at her growth. She almost did a number on Sasuke…who you haven’t bothered asking about yet.”


Naruto flushed at the expression on the older man’s face and looked away with a scowl. “I was getting to that,” he finally grumbled.


He tugged at a frayed piece of thread on the blanket, somehow struggling to form the simple phrase “How is he?” to escape his lips. He was sure there was something very important (and probably embarrassing) that he was forgetting when it came to the kid, but right now…


“Ah…” He took a deep breath, and looking at somewhere other than the, no doubt, amused dark eyes before him, he tried again. “So…eh…”


“He’s fine, you insufferable dolt,” Jiraiya finally responded after several moments of Naruto battling within himself. “He was out for a day, but he’s up and about now getting a tour of the place with Shima-sama. As you can well imagine, he’s quite surprised and delightfully intrigued by all of this. Unlike a certain blond who only bitched and moaned when we came here the first time-”


“That’s because you just summoned me without warning,” Naruto huffed; his features red with not just embarrassment. “How the hell was I to know you’d bring me here for training?”


“And yet you wanted to bring him here for training too, so I guess I must have done something right.”


Naruto ran fingers through his hair in frustration. “For your information, the only reason I chose this place is because of its seclusion, and the fact that no other pesky spirit warrior or troubling yōkai can bother us. In case you’ve not been paying attention, the past twenty-four hours with him had more headaches than I’d care to deal with. Damn, this is all a pain in the ass…”


“Even after he single-handedly saved your life?” came the quiet retort that sent a jolt of something hot right down to the pit of Naruto’s stomach.


/“It’s all right, Naruto.”/


That…hadn’t been a dream then?


/“Everything’s going to be all right. I’m here with you, so you don’t have to be afraid of him anymore. If he tries anything to hurt you, I’ll take him down. I promise.”/


He covered his eyes with a trembling hand; his humiliation knowing no bounds as he reluctantly recalled something he had only assumed was just another of his many nightmares. In fact, he was sure he had assumed it was Itachi, for hadn’t the older Uchiha said the same words to him several times in the past? And while he had nearly taken out Itachi while in his biju state, somehow Sasuke had escaped without a scratch.




“It’s all right to thank him when you see him, though knowing you; you’ll probably not have the decency to do so.”


Naruto burned at the insinuation and lowered his hand to pout at his mentor. “My gratitude will come in the form of teaching him to become the best spirit warrior out there. That’s all, and besides, I don’t need you interfering.”


Jiraiya raised his hands and grinned, while rising to his feet. “I wasn’t planning to anyway. I only came here because I was concerned about my precious little student.”


“Fuc -”


Even before he was finished, Naruto could feel the familiar slithering sensation upon his tongue and down his throat. He clutched his neck and tried to prevent it from going any further, but it was no use; the spell was already working, and unlike Kakashi’s that he could dispel quickly; Jiraiya’s was a little more difficult to deal with.


“So while you sit there glowering at me,” Jiraiya continued with a smile. “I’ll give you a little update. Sai and Sakura – as I’m sure you’re also concerned for them – got some treatment here, but have returned to SWAT. You won’t be needing their help since Shima-sama and Fukasaku-sama are strong enough to assist with Sasuke’s training. Secondly, you should have no fear of going insane here, should you get carried away with your training and Kurama decides he’s tired of taking a nap or something. Thirdly, and most importantly, remember he’s a mortal and does not have your abilities to regenerate injuries as quickly as possible. When I brought you here, you were already in your Immortal state…and add that to your biju abilities, it was easy to train you in the harshest way possible. Your main goal is to get him to display all his skills – and you should already be aware of most of them thanks to your relationship with Itachi – and to hone them…refine them…make them work in a way that will not create unnecessary destruction.” He stopped and sighed. “Almost ironic that we’d want you to do such a thing when there’s still really no way to control your transformation except to have him by your side. It was one of the reasons you were disappointed when Itachi declined to become Immortal, wasn’t it?”


Naruto’s eyes widened at the direct hit. It was a sore topic he didn’t really want to think or talk about, and his scowl (which quickly masked the hurt), was enough to get Jiraiya to change the topic.


“Either way, you’ve got Sasuke now, so don’t fuck it up this time. Though he seems more eager to work with you…” He smiled at the raised brow. “Yes, we had a very illuminating discussion earlier. He wanted to know so much more about you. You fascinate him.”


He laughed at the rush of color to fill the blond’s face, knowing full well if Naruto could speak, he’d probably be cursed out to death by now. And still he sat on the bed, ignoring the initial jerk of rejection as Naruto pulled away a little. He felt a dull ache in his heart at the slight expression of fear and caution within those impossibly blue eyes, and Jiraiya was again reminded of the wounded creature he had rescued so many, many, many years ago.


(the pain never really goes away, does it, Naruto?)


He placed a gentle hand behind the man’s head to pull him closer until their foreheads touched, and at the shuddering breath released by the blond, Jiraiya’s heart broke a little more for him. How he had tried, so very hard, to make Naruto happy while they were together. He had cherished those few times when the young man would laugh in such carefree manner, when his cheekiness and wit would either drive him nuts or make him shake his head with amusement. Naruto was like a son to him, and if given the chance, he knew he would give up his life just to see him finally be at peace with himself.


(do we both regret the choice we made to make you immortal? Is it my fault for being so selfish? Have you never forgiven me for what I did to you?)


“Take care of yourself,” he whispered thickly, before pulling back a little to place a hard and lingering kiss on the cool forehead. “I’ll check up on your progress with your new student, and you know you can come to me should you need any help.”


Naruto, whose eyes were closed, for he was sure looking into those warm eyes would have him regressing back to a child again (and bawling like one too), simply nodded in understanding. However, just as Jiraiya placed yet another tender kiss on his forehead, both men barely heard the soft click of the door opening, though the breathless gasp and hurried “Sorry! I didn’t know…excuse me…!” as someone all but bolted out of the room again, had them finally pulling apart.


Naruto would have cursed out loud if he could, but settled for expelling a breath of exasperation. Jiraiya chuckled and pet his head gently. “You should explain the situation to your dear student before he gets the wrong idea. I’m not sure he’ll appreciate the idea of me taking his place…if you know what I mean.”


He cackled at the raised middle finger and prepared to leave the room while saying his farewells. However, it wasn’t until he was outside, did Naruto’s frantic gestures finally sink in. He had forgotten to remove the spell.


“Ah well, it will wear it out in a couple of hours anyway,” he said with a shrug as he noticed Sasuke making his way back toward Naruto’s tree room. He smiled and shook his head lightly. “Besides, should give the kid a chance to talk and Naruto to finally listen for once. Good luck to you both.”





Sasuke had woken up to paradise, for there really was no other way to describe this place.


In fact, he was almost sure this wasn’t Japan for how else was one to comprehend the oddities that made up this landscape? Amidst towering mountains and jagged cliffs, there were plants and fauna likely to be seen when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Petals and leaves – as wide as cars - could be in the shapes of spiral cones with colors so rich and vibrant they were nearly blinding. Waterfalls seemed to be everywhere you looked, some flowing into sparkling springs and brooks leading to miniature lakes with waters that glittered beneath the sun. The creatures, he had seen so far, seemed to have no fear of his presence, neither did they appear threatening. It wasn’t unusual to have a bird or two perch on your head or shoulder, while cheeky monkeys danced around for your attention or lazy large cats (he had seen a tiger and panther), only eyed you as the newcomer before looking away in boredom.


However, what was most telling (and impressive) was the Sacred Oil Fountain, which was believed to allow one to become even more sensitive to Nature and to  harness the natural energy around them. Like its waterfall counterparts, this oil fountain gushed its thick, golden liquid rushing into a cavern on which a towering frog statue sat as if on guard. It smelled intoxicatingly sweet, and Sasuke had almost been tempted to taste it – though Shima-sama had slapped his wrist to prevent him from doing so.


Speaking of which, his kind and extremely short hostess, had been a wonderful godsend so far. From the moment he lifted his lashes and found himself staring into large eyes filled with warmth and concern, Sasuke had come to rely on her and her husband to teach him as much as they could. They had healed all his wounds and except for the faint scar on his cheek (thanks to Tenten’s dagger), he felt as good as new.


He still refused to believe they were actually frogs though, for their pale green skin and puckered, leathery features screamed otherwise, but once he caught sight of their webbed hands and feet, he had to reluctantly come to terms that there were really some strange beings in this world. Hell, hadn’t he been fighting weird yōkai all this time anyway? So what was so wrong about talking and walking with frogs dressed in robes?


He was also shown the summoning portal – Enshinsui – which looked like an ordinary shallow stone well with waters that could have come from the heavens itself. According to Shima-sama, this well was a way to summon a select few spirit warriors from the human realm to this place – Mount Myōboku. It was how he and the rest of the spirit warriors (Sai, Naruto, and Sakura) had been brought here.


“Sometimes it takes years to find this place if you are not summoned,” Fukasaku had told him; his white beard bobbing up and down as he spoke, while tapping the ground impatiently with his walking stick. “And that stubborn brat, Jiraiya, actually did.”


Sasuke could not believe his good fortune when the man of myth himself asked to see him personally. Not knowing what to expect, he was sure Jiraiya would prove to be as ornery and bad-tempered as Naruto tended to be. However, once in the presence of the smiling, jovial (and perverted bastard since his first question to Sasuke had been if he liked reading ‘ero-ero’ books), the teen found himself warming up to Jiraiya quickly. He had burned with so many questions – mostly all related to his mysterious new teacher – but Jiraiya was shrewd enough to escape most of them, choosing instead of talk about Mount Myōboku, its significance, Sasuke’s health and other mundane subjects.


It wasn’t until after a barely digestible breakfast of what appeared to be worms floating in a bowl of miso soup, did Sasuke finally have enough. He needed to see Naruto for himself. He had been patient enough, understanding that the older man had been through a terrifying ordeal, and needed to heal properly. Still, his curiosity was now at fever pitch. He still couldn’t forget all he had experienced during the battle at the train station, of how he had somehow penetrated Naruto’s subconscious to find that dark thing lurking within.


What a terrible burden Naruto had to live with each and every day. Was it any wonder he acted so boorishly at times?


All I want to do is talk, he thought as he made his way toward Naruto’s residence. I want to know more about this thing within you. I want to know how you came about it, and why it’s so difficult to get rid of. I want to help you in any way I can, so please…try to open up to me a little…


And perhaps he would have started off that way as he slowly opened the door (after a moment or two to compose himself), but he definitely wasn’t expecting to barge into an intimate moment between former teacher and student. Feeling an intense rush of embarrassment (and a less obvious, but still there, bubble of envy), Sasuke had excused himself and darted down the wooden flight of steps to ‘hide’ behind another large tree until he was sure Jiraiya was gone.


He slowly sank to his haunches and buried his heated face against his raised knees; unable to get rid of the burning image of Jiraiya’s lips against Naruto’s forehead in a kiss that was anything but a simple brush of lips against skin. It was clear that those two had a relationship and bond that was unbreakable, and why not? After all they have known each other for over two centuries. All things considered, he was an insignificant aspect of their lives – something new and too different to be a part of their world.


(and what about Naruto’s face?)


Sasuke’s stomach gave a nervous flip as he recalled the expression, that he wished – oh, so wished – that he would someday receive. There was serenity on those usually frowning or disinterested features; a look that almost made him look like a child – a beautiful, wild child who only needed someone to show him some kind of affection.


He caught his lower lip between his teeth and sucked on it absently. He knew it was nothing more than a pipe dream. Naruto would never feel that comfortable with him, and if he was hoping for some kind of kiss on his forehead in the near future…forget it.


He looked up as he heard the heavy footsteps; turning his head a little to notice that Jiraiya was finally leaving. He debated on whether or not to go into Naruto’s room now, for he was sure his jealousy would still be etched on his face like a neon sign.


“Ah fuck it,” he muttered as he rose to his feet and made his decision. “What’s the worst that could happen?”


And yet as he approached the door again, Sasuke could feel his palms getting a little sweaty. His heart was a jackhammer in his chest, and he felt a little lightheaded. Wondering if he should just call it quits and simply wait for Naruto to come bother him, the sudden image - of that crying young boy – to fill his mind, had him gritting his teeth and knocking on the door with determination.


Besides, if this was an option in a BL game, he knew whatever awaited him from here on out would determine the final outcome. He could have a good ending, or he could be wallowing in a pool of blood in the most pathetic bad ending ever. Might as well take the risk.


He knocked again when there was no answer, though there was rustling inside as if someone was trying to get out of bed.


“Naruto?” he finally called out tentatively and opened the door slowly. Patience wasn’t quite a virtue for him yet. “Are you…oops! Sor-sorry!”


His cheeks flamed as he tried to look at any place but at the man who was only clad in a pair of boxer shorts, though in the process of slipping into a pair of pants. He floundered for words, but they remained stubbornly lodged in his throat as he got redder (and hotter) by the second.


“I should go,” he finally managed to squeak out, but Naruto was waving for him to get into the room with a frown of irritation (or agitation?) on his features. He turned away from Sasuke to continue dressing, allowing the teen to get a good view of slightly broad shoulders, where underlying muscles rippled and moved in a motion that begged to be touched. However, it was what was beneath the layers of bandages that struck him hard, for though Naruto had the ability to heal most of his wounds  (if not all), there was still no mistaking the faint scars etched upon his back.




Those were the scars formed from being whipped or beaten severely…hundreds…no…countless times. Sasuke’s heart clenched tightly at the sight, unsure of why he was sure he could literally feel Naruto experiencing the torture. He lowered his gaze just as a shirt was thrown over the scars and bandages preventing him from seeing anything else, but it was no good. Sasuke was dying now to know more, and he seriously doubted he’d be getting anything from the older man.


“Sorry,” he finally whispered as he scoffed at the floor with a sneaker-clad foot. He had chosen to dress in his regular clothes since the yukata Shima-sama had provided itched quite a bit. “I wouldn’t have entered if you were getting dressed.”


Naruto didn’t answer, and when he looked up to see if his teacher was still upset, it was to see the blond reaching for a small rectangular chalkboard (at least it looked like it) and a jagged piece of white chalk, from a desk – which was hardly noticeable since it blended so well with the wall – to scribble quickly on it.


(what is he doing?)


Naruto spun around to hold up the board, on which he had written in uneven letters.




You misspelled ‘cannot’, Sasuke thought wildly, as he tried to make sense of what was going on. Naruto was erasing his previous words and was writing again. This time the board said,




More erasing and writing, and this time Sasuke was struggling not to laugh at how absurd this all seemed. He was biting hard on his inner cheek as the words blared at him again.




Sasuke shook his head and tried to look serious. “No…you spelled funny wrong too.”


This time the message was simple and quite clear.




And, this time, Sasuke didn’t bother trying to hold back his laughter. He did manage to duck from the incoming chalkboard aimed at his head, and felt his heart stir at the obvious blush on Naruto’s cheeks despite his scowl.


A good ending? He smiled and reached out to pick the thrown object. He was scoring major points in this BL game so far. Though, every good gamer out there knew, there was still a long way to go.





This was ridiculous.


How the fuck did Jiraiya expect him to teach when he couldn’t even speak? Even imploring Shima and Fukasaku had yielded no results. Either those two cunning sages were lying about not knowing the antidote to the spell or they were in cohorts with Jiraiya to keep him silent for goodness knew how long.


Two hours into his ordeal, and Naruto was ready to stab something.


Unfortunately, the closest thing available to vent out his frustration was the dark-haired teen walking beside him. Sasuke had finally shut up after spending quite some time gushing and praising every little thing that they came across. He couldn’t get enough of Mount Myōboku, and was amazed that such a place even existed, and how many times had Naruto come here before, and how long did he spend training, and could he really eat those things Shima-sama cooked? And so on and so forth. Naruto had at first tried replying to some of the shorter questions with monosyllabic written answers, but he eventually gave up. He didn’t have the energy to deal with all that especially knowing his spelling skills weren’t up to par with Mr. College Bound here.


(just as much of a smart-ass as your brother, aren’t you?)


He sighed heavily and walked a little faster, unaware of the pained look he received from his silent companion. It wasn’t until they made the turn toward their final destination, did the quiet words finally float to him.


“I annoy you, don’t I?”




He blinked at the lowered head in bemusement. What was he going on about now?


Sasuke took a deep breath and lifted his gaze. They were at the foot of a temple, with weathered, vine-tangled steps that seemed to go up to the heavens. Hell, it was almost impossible to see where it ended for a low thick cloud of fog prevented them from doing so. Still it wasn’t difficult to assume that the steps led to a sacred place, and as Naruto began to scribble something, Sasuke stopped him again with his words.


“It’s all right if you find me irritating, but you’re just going to have to get used to it. I have no plans to change who I am just because you don’t like me.”


Naruto stiffened for he was sure he had heard those words somewhere before.


(it’s you, isn’t it? You said those same words to…)


He looked at the boy’s profile and shuddered – not so much in repulsion (and not for the first time) – but at just how much Sasuke reminded him of someone he would rather forget. Unlike Itachi and Fugaku, whose features were more distinct  and their ‘own’, Sasuke seemed to be channeling the spirit of the one man who had helped in making his life a living hell all those years ago. In fact, Naruto was sure if Sasuke turned around and curved his lips into a smirk, it would be like looking at that sadistic bastard all over again. All he had to do was grow out his hair and have a few heavy bags under his eyes and they’d be all set.


(damn his cursed fate with the Uchiha clan)


He gritted his teeth and looked away…stared at what he had written before erasing it to try again.




Sasuke’s lips tightened, but he said nothing. He waited until Naruto had written something else.




“But you…!”


A finger was pressed against his lips, and though Naruto was more than tempted to cast his own spell – though it was probably going to wear out by the time he released the boy’s lips – he shook his head firmly with a frown.


“Don’t say another word,” he mouthed slowly, so the boy could read his lips. “And listen…eh…read.”


This time, Naruto decided to use the ground as his canvas. He fell to his knees and began to write and write and write until he had a little essay going – misspellings and all. When he was done, Sasuke had to stand back to read it.


“This is where you’ll begin your training,” he wrote. “There are over four hundred steps leading to the temple of ōjiji-sama – our Ōgama Sennin. Once there, you are to receive a prophecy from him – who knows what the old bastard is going to say? However, make sure you scream your presence to him or he’ll just sleep on you. He’s senile like that. You will also get to see Gamakichi and Gamatatsu. They will help purify you…sort of truly initiate you into the word of spirit warriors. Don’t freak out. It will be over quickly. You are then going to come back down here, and for the next week, keep up with the trip back and forth while you build up your stamina and strength especially in your legs. One of the key things to being a good fighter is speed. If you cannot run or leap away in time – basic skills for any warrior – you are toast.”


When Naruto was sure Sasuke was done, he reached into the pocket of his pants to bring out a small brown cloth bag wrapped with a golden thread. He tossed it toward the boy who barely caught it. He was motioned to open the bag, which he did tentatively. Inside were several round brown pebbles, each one no bigger than a pill.


Naruto was writing again.


“Energy pills,” he explained. “Sakura left them for you, and you’re going to need them, but do not waste it. You use it only when absolutely necessary. It’s the equivalent of a full meal, so if you run out quickly, you’re on your own. The frogs up at the temple can be pretty stingy, so you’re unlikely to get anything from them if you aren’t too careful.”


He paused in his writing. He could feel something ‘loose’ in his throat; the familiar sensation of the spell finally dissipating. His tongue felt wetter and he licked his lips in relief.




Sasuke, who had been busy studying the pills, finally looked up with a frown of confusion. “Why do you make it sound like I’m going to be stuck here all week? Don’t I get to go back to my room?”


Naruto was just about to begin writing again, when he remembered he could speak now.


“No,” he said aloud; his voice sounding harsh and foreign to him. It must have startled Sasuke as well for he almost took a step back with eyes widened. Naruto coughed and tried again.


“No, you’re not going back to your room for a long while. This…” He waved his hands about. “Is the first stage of your training. So you’ll make either the temple above or the trees around you below to be your resting points day or night. It will all depend on how well you navigate your way around the steps.”


He stopped to look upwards, recalling how aghast he had been when Jiraiya brought him here the first time. He had definitely bitched and moaned about it, but this kid was simply taking it in stride –


/I annoy you, don’t I?/


He bit his lower lip and sighed softly.


(at least be a little nicer to him…after all he saved your damn hide, didn’t he?)


From his periphery, he noticed Sasuke was already slipping out of the shirt he was wearing to reveal the t-shirt beneath. The boy tied the shirt around his waist, tucked the bag of pebbles into his pocket and began some stretching exercises; his features etched into a frown of concentration. Naruto wasn’t sure if to laugh at how serious the kid was, or to control the twinge of admiration within his chest at the sight.


Either way…


“It’s almost noon,” he said aloud. “So you should probably be there in a couple of hours give or take. Remember all I told you, and you should be fine.”




The boy continued stretching; hardly looking at his teacher. Naruto shuffled his feet restlessly. He wasn’t sure of what else to say, and from Sasuke’s expression, he was almost sure the boy was definitely not expecting him to say anything decent either.


(maybe he’s losing all respect for me)


“I’m heading off,” Sasuke announced eventually with a deep breath after working himself into a light sweat. He finally turned to face Naruto; his features still wary and drawn. “I guess I’ll see you in a week?”


Naruto shrugged and nodded. “Yeah…uh…”


Sasuke waited solemnly.


Naruto felt a familiar surge of heat, which made him curse beneath his breath.


He settled for reaching for the chalkboard and scribbling hastily on it, before holding it up to his face, so Sasuke couldn’t see it as he read the simple words:




Hardly waiting to see the boy’s reaction, he spun on his heels and walked away; though he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck prickle with awareness. For how long he was watched, he had no idea, and it wasn’t until he finally heard the distinct steps of someone running, did he finally turn around to peer through the trees.


The boy was no longer in sight, and Naruto couldn’t verify this, but he was definitely sure that this damn forest seemed just a little bit lonelier than ever before.





He’s such an idiot, he thought as his quads screamed.


Why can’t he just say it out loud, he mused as hamstrings trembled with every punishing step.


Why does he always have to make things so difficult? God, he’s such a … an idiot!


So why – despite every muscle in his body throbbing with pain – was he still unable to stop the flutters of pleasure still felt in his stomach? It really was becoming embarrassing to allow every single word of encouragement from that man to affect him so much, and yet here it was again. It was a damn good thing Naruto hadn’t stuck around to see his face after he read those words, or he would have had a lot of explaining to do.


/Thank you and good luck/


He knew what the ‘thank you’ was for. It was that unspoken thing that had hung between them like an invisible third wheel all morning, and Sasuke had been too shy to bring up the conversation despite his eagerness earlier to bother Naruto about it. Maybe it was having to deal with the spell that was a hindrance as well. It was one thing to have Naruto write out his history, but another to actually hear it from his lips.


(and what fine lips they are)


Sasuke gasped at the sudden errant thought and nearly found himself kissing aged stone as he tripped over a step. However, quick reflexes kicked in and he steadied himself, though the very act of stopping caused a severe cramp up his right leg. He hissed and gritted his teeth, stretching out the leg in question and hoping it would stop soon. Drops of sweat dripped from his damp locks now stuck to his head and cheeks. He had to lift a hand to wipe away the growing accumulation on his forehead, but it was no use. With the sun now at its zenith, he had long taken off the t-shirt, which he was considering wrapping around his head to protect it. His pale flesh – not used to being out in the sun like this for so long – was already beginning to redden in some places. He resisted the urge to scratch at the itch, fearful he might start bleeding if he wasn’t careful. Not that he wasn’t likely to bleed from some part of his body anyway. His feet felt heavy and swollen inside his sneakers, and he was sure he’d develop some blisters soon. He was more than tempted to begin running barefoot, but the sight of jagged pieces of rock, some bugs and God knows what else was crawling around here, was enough to dissuade him from that decision. He winced and looked up with longing. How far had he come? He had tried to keep count of the steps, but had lost track all thanks to Naruto’s words still swimming inside his head.


Either way, he was sure he was at the halfway point. Though the fog blocked most of his vision, the air up here was much fresher (and thinner hence his breathing a little difficult), and despite the heat, there was a cool waft of breeze that was soothing to his aching body. He dug into the seat of his pants for the bag of energy pills and took one, only to nearly vomit as the revolting taste settled on his tongue and teeth as he chewed.


What the fuck is this? It tastes like…something rotten!


And though every part of him wanted to heave in repulsion, he forced himself to swallow and to let its effects work.  It was almost immediate.




It was the equivalent of suddenly being given a gallon of ice water and the best meal he had ever tasted – all in one. He could almost picture his insides – once shriveled and dying from the steep, uphill climb – now being renewed and shocked back to life. He felt he could run a thousand more steps, and even the cramp in his leg was beginning to fade away.


You really are something, Haruno Sakura, he thought with admiration. She would make one fine doctor if she was invested in the human realm. And I’m missing her already.


He shook his head at his foolish thought – now aware of just how much of a sister role she had become in his life in such a short time – and rose to his feet to stretch his arms above his head. He took a deep lungful of air and let it out in a whoosh, before continuing his journey; his steps much quicker now.


It would soon hit him that Naruto must have done this as well; that these very steps he was running up had – centuries ago – been the training grounds for the man (hopefully) waiting for him below. Sasuke tried to picture how Naruto must have looked then. He wouldn’t have had access to the pills since Sakura wasn’t in existence yet, so how had he managed? Was he exhausted too early? Had he even managed to complete the steps in one day? What prophecy awaited him from the Ōgama Sennin. Come to think of it…just what prophecy awaited him when he got up there? Was he even sure he wanted to hear about his future?


So engrossed was he in his thoughts and concerns about what was to come, he failed to notice he had reached the final step. His body now so attuned to the automatic motions of raising one leg before another, he did it one more time and fell flat on his face with a bone jarring thud, which effectively negated all the good feelings from Sakura’s pills.


(the fuck!)


“He’s even clumsier than I expected,” came the amused comment, which had Sasuke lifting his head quickly.


Standing (or sitting, he couldn’t tell with these creatures) was a dark orange frog about as big as a house. This one looked younger – compared to Shima and Fukasaku - and he was dressed in a short blue-kimono that was belted around his waist. Around his neck was a large pearl necklace with a glowing blue orb, which seemed to show the kanji for oil – though Sasuke couldn’t be sure. Leaping – from seemingly nowhere - to stand beside him was an even bigger but lighter colored frog, who was dressed in similar fashion. Both had large katana attached to their hips, and they stared at him with bulbous eyes filled with curiosity and yet amusement.


“So this is he?” the newcomer asked in a rather high-pitched voice. “He don’t look anything special.”


“He’s from the lineage of the Uchiha,” the first frog replied. “Can’t you tell?”


“You’d think he’d train at that other place, not here.”


“That’s because Naruto don’t know the other place. Only the Uchihas know the place.”


“So why ain’t he there. He’s Uchiha, ain’t he?”


“Now listen here, Gamatatsu, I ain’t saying this again. This kid here don’t know nothing about that place. If he did, he woulda told Naruto, won’t he? Look at him. I bet he can’t even fight right.”


“He don’t look too strong. Lemme see.”


And before Sasuke could get a word in, he was unceremoniously picked up by his pants – as if he were nothing more than a twig – by Gamatatsu and held up to the face that looked monstrous from his vantage point.


“Too weak,” Gamatatsu decided with a ‘pfft’ sound which sent a putrid stench in Sasuke’s direction. They smelled like wet cloth and saltwater, and the sensation of Gamatatsu's slippery webbed fingers was more than he could bear. Sasuke scowled and asked as politely as he could manage.


“Please put me down. I’m about to throw up.”


“What he say, Gamakichi?” Gamatatsu asked with a raised brow at his brother.


“Put the kid down,” the older said with a sigh. “Ojiji-sama has been waiting for him.”


Gamatatsu, who looked as if he wished he could gnaw on Sasuke as a snack, pouted and did as told. He let Sasuke back to earth gently, and both watched as the young man steadied himself as best he could.


“You don’t look half-dead yet,” Gamakichi praised reluctantly. “The last man who came up them steps, we had to carry him inside.”


“Naruto, I’m guessing?” Sasuke asked, and both frogs looked at each other before shrugging and leading the way without giving him a response. And though Sasuke would have loved to pester them with questions, he was too awed at his new surroundings, he couldn’t speak.


It was a temple all right, but a temple probably built for the gods. Never had he seen any place so…massive, but it would all make sense considering how humongous the frogs were up here compared to Shima and Fukasaku below. Let’s not even talk about the view from up here either. Sasuke’s breath caught as they walked across the courtyard, for it seemed as if he could see the entire country from here. The view was  otherworldly; an experience even the greatest of writers would find difficult to put into words. The setting sun burned just a little brighter here, and yet he didn’t feel as if it would scorch him. If he stretched out his hand, he was almost sure he could touch it for it really felt that close.


(imagine how the moon would look then)


The trees, plants and flowers that blossomed here seemed to thrive on nourishment not favored to the ones below. Never had he seen such vibrant colors in his life…such richness. He froze at the sight of a particular flower; whose cerulean petals seemed to pucker and open as if kissing the air in gratitude. He reached out to trace them, sucking in a breath as he was damn sure the flower leaned into him as if appreciating the gesture. The odd thing about this flower? It was the only one of his kind…at least up here, for he had noticed quite a few of them in Naruto’s bedroom.


“That flower,” he asked as he jogged to catch up to the frogs. “What does it mean? How come there’s only one here and so many others in Naruto’s room?”


“Because it’s his flower, that’s what,” Gamatatsu replied. “It only blossoms when he comes back. When he ain’t here, they close up and die. That’s all there is to it.”




He glanced behind him at the plant, which was again puckering up tenderly to the heavens in silent homage. There was something quite beautiful about it, and Sasuke’s heart trembled at what it could possibly mean.


However, all thoughts of the flower and its owner was erased from his mind as he was lead up another flight of steps and into the cool confines of a room that knocked the wind out of his sails. It wasn’t so much the giant scrolls that lined the walls or the intimidating statues of other (probably) great toad sages from long ago, but the living monolith – who could have been statue himself with how still it was – sitting in a pool of shallow water with the word ‘Sage’ written upon it. He was easily the biggest frog he had ever seen in his life, and his brown weathered skin and squinted eyes spoke of his age. Or was he simply ageless? On his head sat a black professor’s hat with tassels, and around his neck was a similar pearl necklace to the one Gamakichi was wearing. Only his didn’t glow any particular color at this time. His mouth seemed to be frozen in a perpetual smile; an overall serene expression on its features as if trapped in some place no one could ever reach him.


“Ojiji-sama!” Gamakichi suddenly bellowed in a voice so loud, Sasuke had to slap his hands over his ears lest he go deaf. “The Uchiha kid is here!”


For a moment, the relic did not move except to keep breathing, and just when the trio assumed he was going to completely ignore them, those slits for eyes opened just a little bit wider…but not by much.


“The Uchiha kid is here,” Gamakichi repeated himself. “What do you want us to do with him?”


It was a slow (almost tedious) process, but the Ogama Sennin lifted his left index finger to point toward Sasuke.


“Come…closer…” he invited in a voice that was as loud as it was wise and ancient.


Sasuke took a step forward, finally aware of the slight tremble in his knees. He wasn’t afraid in as much as in awe of who he was standing before, and when he stopped, the finger motioned for him to come closer still.


“You are curious,” the sage rasped kindly. “Your curiosity to know everything…the truth behind certain things…”


It held up his hand when Sasuke was barely inches away from the pool of oil.


“You wish to know more,” the sage stated.


“Yes,” Sasuke replied; his voice sounded distant and disembodied; as if he were not the one actually speaking. “I want to know the truth. I want to know about him.”


“You might not like what you see, young one,” the sage replied. “What you might see…might determine your prophecy.”


“I don’t care,” Sasuke replied defiantly. “I’m tired of the secrets from everyone. I need to know why he’s the way he is! You can tell me, can’t you?”


“Why not ask him yourself?”


“Because he won’t tell me the truth or he’ll keep things away from me. If I could…if I could…”


He formed tight fists and squeezed his eyes shut; the sudden overwhelming rush of emotions nearly making him weak with its intensity. “If I could go back in time and see it all…I would.”


“Would you now?” the sage replied; his eyes widening even more and this time with some expression that was not lost on his subjects though Sasuke missed it. “If I could grant you that wish…what good would it do?”


“I want to understand him better,” Sasuke replied without hesitating.


“But is it wise to pry into another’s life without his permission?”


“…I know...I know it’s wrong, but I feel it’s the only way I can reach him. How can I help him without knowing him?”


Sasuke looked up with an expression that was enough to have the sage even more intrigued. Was it the earnest determination or stubborn resolve in the youngling’s face? He did not know, but what he did know was that this child of the cursed clan was unwilling to yield.


“So be it,” he finally replied with an even wider smile. “Your wish will be granted. However, know that where you are going, you cannot be seen or heard. You are only going to observe and whatever you glean from your experience will determine your fate. Choose wisely when the time comes.”


Sasuke felt his heart leap as the enormity of what he was about to do - of what he was risking to do - finally sunk in. He wondered if it was too late to change his mind, but as he watched that webbed finger approach him, Sasuke realized that he had always wanted this from the moment he met Naruto. He had always wanted to be a part of this man’s life in some way, and if it meant intruding into the most personal details of his past, then so be it.


I’ll suffer your wrath later, Naruto, so please forgive me for what I’m about to do, Sasuke thought as he felt the heavy drop of oil pressed against his forehead and the immediate wave of weariness to wash over him.


He was suddenly falling fast, and though a part of him was sure he’d hit his head against the stones below and die, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, it appeared as if the world was rushing right past him at an alarming rate. He could vaguely see objects (modern people, homes, cars dissolving into simpler patterns, clothing, shacks, more forests), hear the sounds (from the cacophony of trains, planes and automobiles to the soothing clip-clop of horses on dirt roads), even the smells seemed to change from the stench of modernized pollution to the less toxic air of an era long forgotten -


(I’m falling back in time…literally)


He would have laughed at how clichéd it was, but just as suddenly as it started, it ended rather abruptly with his breath catching hard in his throat as if sucker-punched in the gut.


He blinked hard and looked around him slowly.


(where…am I?)


He was lying on something hard and rather uncomfortable, and as he lifted himself unto his elbows, he noticed it was nothing more than a straw mat upon a dusty floor. On closer inspection, he was in a tiny rundown shack, which had only enough room for his straw mat and the small wrought iron pot hanging above dying embers. Sasuke reached for the pot, for his stomach suddenly growled with hunger, but there was nothing inside but a tiny bit of watery thin soup, which he lapped up anyway.


It wasn’t until he was licking his fingers, did he notice that he was no longer dressed in his modern day attire of jeans and shirt. He was in a drab, gray yukata which was torn in several places, while his underwear was nothing more than a cloth folded to make a rough tong that was quite uncomfortable (and embarrassing). On his cold feet were a pair of worn straw slippers, which didn’t do much considering he could still feel gravel and sand on his soles anyway. There was an old katana lying next to him, and just as he was about to investigate the weapon a little more, he stiffened at the sound of low voices outside the shack. Sasuke rose to his feet unsteadily; his heart thumping hard in his chest.


He crept toward the door of the shack and looked out – through a splintered piece of wood - with a wary eye.


There were two men whispering to themselves, each with funny straw hats he had seen in history books with cloth bags draped over their shoulders. They would look toward the shack and then huddle together in serous conversation, and Sasuke now had no doubt they were making plans to take him down.


(but what the fuck did I do?)


Panic filling his insides – for reasons unbeknownst to him for hadn’t the toad sage said no one could see or hear him? – he dove for his katana, attached it to his hip (more like tightening the sash around his waist to hold it in place) and began to sneak out through the back door before the two men could notice he was gone. It wasn’t until he was deep into the forest and sure he was out of sight, did he finally relax tense muscles.


“Phew. Close one. Might as well wash up a little,” he said aloud, only his voice didn’t sound like its usual tone. It was a lot older, more ‘bouncy’, and the language somewhat archaic and ‘stiff’.


(wait a minute…)


Still he continued to saunter toward a river, whistling happily beneath his breath, and soon began to peel out of his clothes – tong undergarments included – with absolutely no shame, considering it was broad daylight and anyone was likely to see him naked.


(wait…wait a minute here…what’s going on…)


He’d have only a second to notice the reflection in the water before he dove into the cool depths to cleanse his grime-caked skin. However, it was more than enough to have the teenager frozen in stupefied silence at the enormity of the situation.


(I…I don’t fucking believe it)


He had gotten his wish in more ways than he could have possibly imagined, for that shimmering reflection belonged to a certain blond young man, whose expression wasn’t quite as hardened and cynical as it would eventually become two hundred years from now.


It was a shocking thing to comprehend, but a reality he knew he’d have to accept whether he liked it or not.


He was now Uzumaki Naruto, and the year was 1813.




Chapter 07

Naruto Home




























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