09 – Olive


The pavilion was a wonder of Nature’s architecture – a natural amphitheater where ancient and moss-covered gray statues of tailless amphibians sat in silent judgment. They towered over likely participants, casting early morning shadows as the sun broke just over the horizon.


For a while he remained standing in the middle of the arena, eyes closed, and sword unsheathed while trying to meditate in the blissful silence. He knew he was probably early – but then again, Naruto hadn’t given him any specific time to show up. His cold instructions had been all too clear yet vague. Be here or else.


/You have twenty-four hours to rest up…/


The longest twenty-four hours of his life.


He must have probably spent every waking second of those torturous hours going over their argument; dissecting every scene and wondering where things had gone so horribly wrong. Emotions varied from regret, to anger, to sullenness, to self-pity, and the cycle would repeat itself all over again until even Shima-sama had to knock him upside the head with a fan to get him to stop pouting.


“What’s the point of sulking?” she cried out with hands on her hips. “So you had a fight with him, big deal! We fight with him all the time and he still slinks his way back here anyway. If you show that you’re going to be such a baby over every little thing, he’ll never respect you. Now suck it up, apologize to him when you see him and move on. Life’s too short to sit around grumbling over your ill luck. You don’t need the wrinkles at this age, my dear.”


(heh…wrinkles, eh?)


He lifted his lashes slowly and took a deep breath.


Shima-sama was right. What was the point of moping? He would take her advice and try to apologize – if Naruto would let him – and let it go. He came here to train after all, not to worry about the disastrous results of a route he had (foolishly) chosen.


If this were a game, he thought with a cynical smile. I’d be in the mother of all bad endings right about now.


But this isn’t a game, a much louder voice screamed from within. You’ve got to stop thinking in those terms, Sasuke! Naruto is not some video game character you can maneuver to do your will. He’s flesh and blood, and his reactions to your actions are not going to be limited to a fake smile and instructions for you to press the ‘next’ button. This is reality, and you’ve got to deal with it in that fashion.


“I know that,” he hissed beneath his breath as he forced himself to concentrate and channel the chakra he’d need into his weapon. “I fucking know that!”


He charged toward an unseen enemy, swinging the katana with a fluid grace, which would have made his older brother envious. For the next half-hour, he pared and feinted; stabbed, cut and thrust with vivid visions of yōkai before him. He couldn’t help the smile that came to his lips as he felt the effects of his week-long training on those godforsaken steps. He felt like he was floating at times; his foot speed, so incredibly fast (and light), it was amazing. He discovered he could leap just a little higher, his hang-time in the air alarming if it didn’t leave him feeling like he was drowning in a pool of adrenaline.


In time, the light tee-shirt he had chosen to wear became damp with his exertions, and he figured he’d stop using the chidori for fear he’d drain himself of chakra before Naruto appeared. 


He stopped to catch his breath and twirled the weapon into the air before sliding it back into its sheath – or would have if something didn’t come flying toward him from behind. His periphery vision would be just enough to have him ducking out of the way and swinging the sword in defense, when he realized it was a familiar glowing ball of energy which had now buried itself into a stone structure several feet away. It mustn’t have been powerful enough, because the only damage was a section of charred cement.


He swirled around, heart thumping hard in his chest, to see his teacher perched silently on the tallest statue. For how long he had been there, Sasuke had no idea, but it was enough to have his features flushing for a whole other reason now. He wiped the sweat that threatened to enter into his eyes with his forearm and tried to look less flustered. He couldn’t tell if Naruto was still upset with him or not, but he got his answer when the blond promptly leapt off his perch to land before him – his expression a painful neutral.


“Good to see you’ve worked up a sweat,” he began brusquely as he paced away from the younger man. Dressed in his usual black – a pair of sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt, which appeared to be lightweight and clung to his body like a second skin - he gave the appearance of complete intimidation and all-business, forcing Sasuke to hold back on whatever cheerful greeting he might have tried to conjure up.


“Also seems you’ve gotten a little better with your sword-fighting techniques. Saves me the trouble of having to teach you any of that. However there’s more to dealing with yōkai than just swinging that thing around. What happens when you’ve got yōkai who are long-range fighters and won’t stick around to be close enough to your sword and chidori?”


Good point…and one that Sasuke didn’t really have an answer to. Perhaps he would have blurted out the Amaterasu, but Naruto must have figured that out because he held up a hand to silence him.


Amaterasu, as you might have noticed, takes a toll on you. I doubt you want to go blind before your next birthday, so we’ll save that little trick for when the shit really hits the fan. Until then, you’re going to have to work on another technique your damn clan has in their arsenal.”


Sasuke did his best to ignore the insult - for he knew exactly where Naruto’s bitterness was coming from now - and nodded solemnly in agreement. He watched as Naruto crouched down to his haunches and began to draw out something on the ground with a jagged piece of chalk. It looked like a diagram of sorts – little circles with kanji written within all interconnected.


“The first thing to do is figure out exactly what your natural affinity is for, though I’m sure it’s going to be obvious,” he muttered once he was done drawing. He dug into the pocket of his pants to whip out what looked like ordinary white paper. He held it out to Sasuke, who accepted it tentatively. “Channel a tiny bit of your chakra into it,” came the quiet instruction. Sasuke did as told, blinking in surprise as the paper immediately went up in flames and turned to ash.


“Fire,” Naruto stated flatly. “No surprise there.”


“What does that mean?”


“It means that your clan has an affinity for fire…and so can manipulate that nature element into powerful fighting techniques.” He stared at the drawing below him. “Damn…now I have to go into all of this because it’s obvious neither Itachi nor Kakashi bothered teaching you.” He ran his fingers through his hair restlessly, before sighing and motioning for Sasuke to sit across him.


“And you better listen,” he ordered irritably, “because I’m not going to repeat this crap again. Got it?”


Someone’s definitely not forgiven me yet, Sasuke thought with an inner groan as he obeyed the command. However, all thoughts of earning Naruto’s forgiveness would have to wait as for the next few hours he listened to Naruto’s (surprisingly clear) teachings about the Uchiha clan’s techniques and skills. The downside to this was that Naruto really couldn’t show examples of how they worked, and could only trust that Sasuke would figure them out eventually.


“At least Itachi said all you had to do was focus, mold or knead an enormous amount of chakra inside of you, channel it toward your mouth and then expel it as if you’re going to vomit or something. The more chakra you’re able to mold, the bigger your fireball.”


“Did you ever see Madara use it?” came the blunt question that had Sasuke kicking himself inwardly (why did he have to ask that now?!) as he was met with an expression that seemed to be a cross between a scowl and surprise. Pity he couldn’t take it back now.


“I’m surprised you’re asking me that,” Naruto finally replied with a sneer. “Figuring you went rooting around my past, didn’t you find the answer?”


“I came back just as Jiraiya made you immortal. The only thing I know about Madara is that you lov…eh…had strong feelings for him,” he finished beneath his breath; the unwanted and rather painful memories of Naruto writhing and moaning in that man’s arms making him squirm a little. He couldn’t dare to look into that face he had been studying all morning now, and the diagram on the ground looked just a little more fascinating.


Naruto made a low sound beneath his breath before replying tartly. “Yes, I did see him use it, and it’s not something I wish to recall ever again. Now let’s try to work on you figuring out this damn fire release thing. Up.”





If there was any space in the dictionary next to the word ‘humiliation’, Sasuke was sure his name ought to be next to it. His first pitiful attempt at expelling fire from his mouth had resulted in something akin to him choking out a cloud of smoke. His entire being had burned with embarrassment, and he fully expected Naruto to laugh at him. Fortunately, all he received from the blond was a shrug of shoulders and the order for him to try again.


And try he did again…and again…and again…and again…and again…until his cheeks felt raw, his throat felt hot, and he was sure he was going to throw up.


“Take a breather,” Naruto finally ordered after several fruitless hours. “Your cheeks look like they’re about to start bleeding, and you’re going to pass out. Shima-sama left us some lunch.”




“When you were so busy huffing and puffing over there, she stopped by to see how you were doing – or rather to make sure I hadn’t killed you yet.” Naruto rolled his eyes and motioned toward the large basket sitting on the ground several feet from their training area.


Sasuke almost moaned in gratitude at the sight and smell of something edible. He staggered toward the meal and collapsed next to it, trembling hands reaching for the large bento to dig into it hungrily. Though he had always doubted Shima-sama’s choice of ingredients, he was too hungry to be picky and he was nearly through with his meal before he realized he was being studied.


Naruto wasn’t quick to look away as the dark eyes met his. He shook his head and continued to eat quietly, ignoring the rush of color to the boy’s cheeks.


There was a moment of awkward silence, broken only by the sounds of chirping birds, the distant – yet soothing – sound of the waterfall, and chopsticks smacking lightly against teeth. Sasuke’s lunch was almost finished, and as he stared morosely into the box, debating on whether or not to keep practicing his fire release or to –


“For what it’s worth…your father sucked at it in the beginning,” Naruto finally blurted out with a light cough. Sasuke’s head shot up, eyes widening at this nugget of information. Naruto wasn’t looking at him as he continued quietly.


“He struggled for a while, and your grandfather was a pain in the ass…gave him hell for not being able to do it as fast as the others.”




“Yep.” Naruto paused with the chopsticks in his mouth; eyes narrowed as he tried to recall something. He wondered if it was prudent to tell the kid about his Dad being a crybaby, but figured it wasn’t exactly something Fugaku would have wanted his children to know. That man had enough pride to last ten generations. “But he kept at it…no matter how long it took and he eventually figured it out.” He shrugged lightly. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to feel discouraged about not being able to do it now. If you could manage to use the Amaterasu and chidori already, this should be a cinch.”


“Ah...” There was that damn heart skipping thing again whenever this man encouraged him. “Than…” he began in a whisper, but was interrupted when Naruto rose to his feet abruptly.


“You finished with that?”




“Hurry with your meal. It’s taijutsu time.”


Sasuke blinked in confusion. “Wha…what?”


“Hand-to-hand combat,” Naruto explained with a frown. “You didn’t think you’d only get to deal with the supernatural elements, did you? Some yōkai can be pretty pesky up close and personal, and you might not always have that sword with you. Come on. The day’s a-wasting.”


“I took karate,” Sasuke began as he jogged after the striding blond. He would have asked that they at least rest for a few minutes to let the food they ate digest, but he doubted Naruto was going to listen to him.


“So what?” came the retort. “Anyone can take karate and act like they know what they’re doing. So come at me. Show me what you can do…whoa!”


Sasuke had struck with a speed, which Naruto had to reluctantly admit was pretty damn impressive. The kick would have scored a direct hit with the side of his head, if his quicker reflexes hadn’t set in to block the surprise attack. Not deterred, Sasuke lowered his leg and swung again; nearly leaping off the ground in a technique that brought a smirk to his teacher’s features and a matching one on his student’s as – this time – Naruto’s left shoulder was the victim.


“Lucky strike,” Naruto grunted and returned the favor with an outstretched swipe to Sasuke’s lower legs, which should have toppled the boy to the ground, if the astute brat hadn’t done a neat backflip to escape, but only to return with a roundhouse kick that was again blocked by a strong pair of arms.

Sasuke mimicked Naruto’s attempt at a sweep down, and almost got tackled to the ground as those arms caught his waist and tried to hoist him over into a fireman’s lift.


“Fuck,” he growled in frustration at the stalemate position; trying to ignore the warm breathing against his sweat-slicked neck, or the pressure of the older man’s body against his. He knew it was the most terrible time to be reminded of just what his sensei looked like naked, or how he tended to sound while in the throes of passion, but he couldn’t help it. With the way they were both breathing heavily from their sparring…


Please let me go, he begged feverishly as he strained against Naruto’s grip; desperately trying to get the leverage he needed to topple the other man down. You are not helping matters at all. I can’t…I don’t know how much longer I can…


“Go, Sasuke-kun!” came the sudden loud cheer from above them. Both men looked up in surprise and sure enough, Shima-sama and her husband – as well as a few other residents of the village – were watching the match with acute interest.


Feeling his features get hot with embarrassment at their audience, his brief lack of concentration was enough to have Naruto whispering a husky “got you” into his ear before tightening his grip, hoisting Sasuke above him and throwing him to the ground, though not hard enough to break anything. He added insult to injury by holding onto Sasuke’s arm against his chest and pinning the other to the ground with a foot; lips curved in a smirk as victorious blues clashed with exasperated obsidians.


“I win,” Naruto announced unnecessarily as he finally released the boy. “Let this be  yet another lesson for you. Never lose concentration…no matter what.”


“Booooo!” came the jeers from behind them, which had Naruto whirling around with a pout.


“Why aren’t you cheering for me? I’m the one who…!”


“Shut up! We’re cheering for Sasuke-kun because he’s nicer than you!” one of the other female frogs in the audience interrupted. She even had a sign with Sasuke’s name on it (and lots of hearts) for good measure.


“And cuter too!” another one piped in.


Naruto growled and stomped after the adoring peanut section to playfully chase them off, leaving Sasuke behind to watch the scene with a small smile as he rubbed his aching wrist. It wasn’t bad to lose every once in a while, but he’d be damned if he was going to allow it to happen again.





He struggled to hold onto those feelings of righteous anger and betrayal.


Yet every time he found himself in the presence of the kid, every time he watched those dark eyes flash with determination or lose its luster with weariness, every time he noticed the growing ‘scars’ from their countless hours sparring, and every time the boy would be dead on his feet, but would still argue that he could go for one more round despite the aches and pains - his reluctant admiration grew stronger and stronger.


He would never tell Sasuke that he was more than aware of his midnight meanderings; of him sneaking off to the pavilion or lake to practice his fire breathing skills  until he had simply no more to give. He would not question the two large tapes stuck on his cheeks (thanks to Shima-sama’s treatments) every morning, but would simply pretend as if they weren’t there as they’d go straight into warm-ups and then training.


Several weeks of this, and the kid was already able to do a decent-sized fire ball release; an event that brought the biggest smile to Sasuke’s face as he waited for Naruto’s sign of approval. And what could he say besides smile in return and give him a thumbs-up?


What would Itachi say?


But then again, Itachi had been a freak of nature since he had learned the skill in less than three days. Fugaku had taken a couple of months to get the hang of it, and yet here was Sasuke giving his brother a run for his money. So it wasn’t quite as powerful yet, but it was bound to be good enough to fight with any possible yōkai they might face.


And besides, I really need to stop recalling that damn smile of his, Naruto thought with dismay as he closed his eyes and tried to relax. He had never seen Sasuke look that pleased with himself, and he hated having the kid try to ‘thank’ him for anything. It was embarrassing.


And what was that “I’m sorry” thing about anyway?


But of course he knew exactly what it was all about, and that was the reason why he was now finding it even more difficult to maintain his annoyance at Sasuke’s decision to go poking into his life. It was a major violation of privacy, and yet it was ironic considering the kid had found a way to see Kurama for the first time.


Still, it was my life he went snooping into. I didn’t ask him to go that far. All he had to do was ask and…and…


(you probably wouldn’t have told him anyway)


He cracked open an eye as he heard the loud cry from the river where Sasuke was washing up after another particularly hard day of training. One of the playful monkeys had jumped in to begin splashing water on the surprised teenager, who retaliated by splashing back with mock sounds of anger. For a moment, Naruto watched the scene with a dull pang in his chest. He tried to recall the last time he had truly been so carefree, and was aware that it was probably the year before his whole life took a twisted turn with Hiromi-san’s gang of thieves and meeting Madara for the first time.


The same age, he thought ruefully. I was already an ‘adult’, Sasuke, but I guess you know that sordid detail of my life now. So why…?


(why hasn’t your attitude changed about me yet? Don’t you consider me filthy and unfit to be your teacher?)


It was humiliating to know that Sasuke had observed such intimate details of a life he would have rather kept secret. However, Naruto had ‘seen’ it, the rather aggravating wisdom and understanding in that kid’s eyes whenever their gazes met. It wasn’t pity – for that would have been the worst – it was just ‘something’ intangible, something he couldn’t put his finger on, something that was probably beyond his comprehension and something he was going to choose not to explore any further. At least he was glad Sasuke hadn’t gone beyond his initiation into immortality, for all the things that happened since that day…


(your attitude about me just might change then)


Either way, he had made a promise to Tsunade-sama and her cohorts when it came to the kid. He really had no other obligation once they were finished here. Although a certain someone had thought otherwise.


“Stop being so mad at him all the time,” Sakura had chided during their phone conversation the other night.


“What? Did he go crying to you?”


“No, he didn’t, but I can still sense it.”


“Hmph. I’m actually proud of myself,” he retorted. “I didn’t scream at him once all day.”


“Oh really? That’s nothing to brag about, Naruto. Besides, I’ll bet you don’t know a damn thing about him, do you?”


“What are you talking about? Of course I know stuff about him!”


“What’s his favorite food?”


“…how the fuck is that important?”


“What’s his favorite color?”




“Wrong! It’s blue. What’s the most recent music he’s been listening to?”




“Wrong again! It’s alternative rock, and the band’s name is ‘The Rage Machine’. What’s his favorite movie?”


“Wait a minute! How the fuck do you know all of this anyway?!”


“Because we talked! And while you were busy sulking away, I was paying attention to his surroundings -”


“You mean being a nosey little bit-”


“Watch it now, Blondie,” she growled and then huffed. “The point is, you’ve spent all this time with him and  you’ve not made any attempt to get to know him better.”


“I’m still trying to figure out why that’s so important. It’s not as if we’re going to be together once this training thing is over.”


At the tell-tale silence at the other end of the line, Naruto sat up with a frown. “Sakura?” he called out slowly. “Please tell me that my stint with him ends after the training.”


“We’re supposed to protect him, aren’t we?” she asked in a coy voice. “Sooooo…”


“My ass! The deal was for us to be with him until he was strong enough to take care of himself, wasn’t it? Why does he need us to keep following him around?”


“We all saw how well he was able to control Kurama when you went berserk…!”




“So I think Tsunade-sama and the others are thinking it might be a good thing for the both of you to become partners -”


“Hell no!  I work alone!”


Sakura pretended to yawn. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that one before. Look how well that’s gone for you over the years. Anyway, calm down and don’t freak out yet. I’m just guessing as to what she might be thinking, so don’t take my word for it. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll go back to being a solo hero or whatever. Either way, how is the training coming along? When do you think he’ll be ready?”


Still simmering over the idea of Sasuke tagging along with him in the future, Naruto almost missed the question before replying curtly. “He’s actually doing much better than I thought. He should probably be ready in a few days. Just have to do a simulation with some yōkai to see how far he’s come.”


“Don’t conjure up the really bad ones,” Sakura warned with concern.






“Fine then. I’ll go easy on him. Damn.”


He sighed and scratched at an arm absently. He would probably have to do the simulation next week, but it would mean transporting them out of the safe confines of Mount Myōboku and back into the ‘real’ world, so to speak. Though he wasn’t really worried about how well Sasuke would do even with yōkai of average strength. He really hadn’t been kidding when he told Sakura about Sasuke’s progress. He was sure there were many who had doubted his teaching capabilities, and boy, would he love to shove their doubts in their faces now.


“Simulation?” Sasuke asked with a raised brow, when Naruto approached him on the topic during dinner. “What do you mean?”


“You’ll get your chance to fight with several generic yōkai…probably up a hundred or more…don’t look so panicked,” he added quickly when he noticed the boy’s eyes lighting up. “These are going to be weak or average ones. So you should be able to handle them easily.”


“I’m not worried,” came the quiet reply, as lips quirked up in a small smile. “Actually, I’m glad I get to finally deal with them even if it’s a simulation -”


“They’re real,” Naruto explained. “Don’t think it’s just some computer generated thing that gives you scores with each one you take down. You might get hurt.”


“Then I’ll just have to be extra careful, sensei,” Sasuke countered back, the smile now becoming a smirk that had Naruto shaking his head in reluctant approval.


(damn smart ass)


Get to know him better! Sakura’s voice suddenly screamed in his head, almost making him drop the chopsticks.


Naruto blanched at the mental reprimand and dared to steal a glance at his companion. Sasuke was eating, but reading a book at the same time; something he had borrowed from Fukasaku’s extensive library. However, there was something a little different about the kid tonight, and it would take him a moment longer (damn he could be slow sometimes!) to realize that Sasuke wasn’t in his usual jeans and shirt or similar attire. Tonight, he was clad in a simple dark blue yukata with a black sash to hold it in place, though it must not have been tied tightly enough because his torso was completely visible to anyone who cared to look, especially when he leaned forward and more of the clothing’s sleeves would droop off his shoulders. Naruto winced inwardly at the image, for he could suddenly picture the young man back in his era; that strong youthful body and handsome (borderline effeminate) features being the target of men twice his age. Add the delicious knowledge that the blood of the Uchiha ran through him, they would probably pay an arm and a leg to keep him as their personal plaything.


(like how you were with Madara, right?)


Damn…I have to get out of here!


“Is everything all right?” came the sudden quiet question, which had Naruto freezing in the process of dropping his bowl and bolting the room to get some fresh air.


Sasuke was no longer reading, his curious dark eyes watching his teacher. The natural light made by the fireflies trapped in a wooden lantern, cast shadows upon his pale flesh, and as he sat up a little straighter, he wondered if he had done something to upset the older man without realizing it. Maybe reading a book at dinner was a no-no, but then again, this wasn’t the first time he had done it. Naruto didn’t seem to mind especially considering them sharing dinner together in Shima’s home was something they had just recently started. In the past, Naruto would have chosen to eat in his room, or skip dinner altogether, leaving Sasuke to keep himself company. So imagine his surprise (joy!) when Naruto showed up that first night to join him…and ever since then. They didn’t speak much to each other besides the usual good-natured complaint about Shima-sama’s cooking, and though Sasuke burned with a  million questions for his sensei, Naruto was like a brick wall when it came to starting up conversation. He would simply have to wait until the blond was ready to break it down at his own time.


“Fine,” came the gruff response, as Naruto sighed inwardly in resignation and sat back down.




Sasuke was just about to go back to his book – which was a rather interesting folk story about rouge ronin in the feudal era – when he was stumped into dumbfounded silence at the next question to escape the other man’s lips.


“Are you into men?”


What?! Sasuke’s mind screamed in growing panic.


(does he know? does he know?! Has he guessed it? Finally?! Is he going to tell me to go fuck myself?! Do I have to make some kind of stupid confession to him?! Holy shit! This wasn’t in any game simulation I’ve ever had to play!)


The hell was that?! Naruto’s mind screamed. He had meant to ask about the BL games – Sakura had said he should know more about him right? – so why the hell had the question come out like that? Someone ought to put a gun in his mouth and shoot him now. It didn’t help that Sasuke looked as if he was about to experience a stroke. The kid’s face was turning so red –


“Forget that,” Naruto blurted out. “It didn’t come out right.”


“I -”


“Doesn’t matter.”


“But -”


“It’s just those damn games you’ve got at your place, that’s all.”


Games? Sasuke blinked in confusion before it all finally clicked into place.




Why the fuck does he sound disappointed? Naruto wondered as the boy lowered his head and cleared his throat before looking up with a mildly sheepish expression.


“It’s a job…of sorts,” Sasuke replied. He played with the hem of his yukata gently. “It’s a way to earn some money to keep me going.”


Naruto looked lost, and Sasuke must have seen it because he sighed and went into detail.


“Itachi was good at programming…computer programming that is, and he would sometimes do that for extra money to help pay the bills and feed us. I know that because he would spend a lot of time on the computer, and I’d see all these really weird symbols on the screen and the books he’d bring home to study. Sometimes he’d work late into the early hours of the morning…but why am I telling you this?  You should know this, right?”


It was Naruto’s turn to feel a little embarrassed. “I wasn’t with your brother as often as you think. I didn’t know what he did during his spare time, but enough about me. What’s this got to do with your fetish?”


“It’s not a fetish,” came the flustered retort. “It’s what I do to earn money. I told you!”


“And how?”


“Itachi had a friend who works in the video game industry…eh…in the adult entertainment or hentai game industry,” he added in a smaller voice as if ashamed to admit this.


He failed to notice Naruto’s eyes lighting up at this information.


“I used to remember him always trying to convince Itachi to invest in his business, but my brother would have nothing to do with it. Anyway, after Itachi passed away…he called me up one day out of the blue and asked if I was doing okay and all that. I told him I was, but I wasn’t…really. I was barely able to get by, and though I had a part-time job at a convenience store, it wasn’t enough to sustain me. So I come home from school one day and there’s a package at my front door. Inside is a BL video game and a note from him saying that his small company is in the process of branching into that line of business and would love to have a tester for their products, and would I be interested in it? They would pay me good money – and he had the fee written there which was ten times more than what I make at the convenience store – and all I had to do was play the games, see what could be improved and let them know.” Sasuke paused and looked up with a look of defiance in his eyes as if daring Naruto to judge him. “What would you have done if you were in my shoes? Wouldn’t you have said yes?”


“Hell yeah. If he was paying me, I wouldn’t mind,” came the blunt response, which had the boy stumped for a second. Damn Naruto and his honesty, but still he couldn’t help the small smile to come to his lips.


“Good. You probably have your perverted reasons for taking the job, but mine was just for the money -”


“And that makes you any better? You’re like a whore…only for video games.”


Sasuke turned crimson. “I am not a whore!...for video games…okay maybe some video games, but not all of them!”


Naruto grinned. “So let’s see. You’re getting paid to watch naked men get it on…cartoon naked men get it on.”


“Anime! There’s a difference. Cartoons are almost childish.”


“Well forgive me, you otaku.”


“I am not…!” Sasuke ran fingers through his hair in frustration and gave up. What was the use arguing with this man over the little things?


“You do realize that because I’ve been stuck here, I’m losing quite a bit of money. He’s probably wondering where the fuck I went,” Sasuke mused with a purse of his lips. “The game you three happened to stumble upon was his latest. They’re actually selling quite well in the market, and believe it or not, most of their buyers are female. I guess girls like that sort of thing.”


“You should have seen Sakura’s face when she saw them. It was like she had hit the jackpot.” Naruto made a face and stuck out his tongue. “Now if you were playing the kind with big-boobed girls, we’d be in business.”


Sasuke studied the expression on the blond’s face before asking quietly. “You really would prefer hentai games to yaoi?”




“The BL stuff.”


“Oh…sure. Why not?”


Sasuke captured his lower lip between his teeth, his heart now thudding just a little faster as he prayed that he wouldn’t get struck or ignored with his next question. “Are you…are you saying you’re no longer interested in men?”


“I never was,” Naruto replied after a moment’s pause. “When you were in my past, you didn’t see me cavorting around with any other men until I met Madara, did you?”


“But…I mean…”


Naruto sighed heavily. Guess he’d have to talk after all.


“Madara took away my innocence, Sasuke. You must have felt how horrified and disgusted I was after that first time with him. However, as time went on…and he treated me as a human and ‘cared’ for me as he assumed I wanted to be cared for, I…eh…I developed feelings for him.” He laughed bitterly. “I was a needy little bastard, wasn’t I? Ready to jump into the arms of anyone who would show me an ounce of affection, and I believed Madara was the one for me. I gave my heart to him…this body…everything…and you saw what happened in the end. Bottom line? I’ve rarely slept with another man since then and if I can avoid it, I will. It’s not something I blatantly go around searching for, do you understand?”


Sasuke couldn’t trust himself to speak or look into those blue eyes that seemed to change hues with the flickering lights. What little hope he had was slowly being dashed, and it hurt like hell.


“And as for you,” Naruto continued, oblivious to the pain he was inflicting. “You’re at an age when you shouldn’t be so quick to assume you’re into men or not. I mean before those games came at your doorstep, you didn’t really know, did you?”


“I was too busy with school or mourning my brother,” came the somewhat bitter retort muttered beneath his breath. “I didn’t care either way.”


“So there you go. Then all of a sudden you’re bombarded with images and simulations of men enjoying being with each other, so you assume that it’s supposed to make you feel good, right? I wouldn’t rely too much on those things, besides, they’re not exactly accurate -”


“Your trysts with Madara seemed just about the same,” Sasuke grumbled. “It was sometimes hard to tell the difference.”


Naruto’s jaw worked. “What the fuck are you trying to say?”




“You want to experience being with a man that badly?” Naruto snapped impatiently. “Is that what you want?! Nights sitting in front of that damn computer has finally got you losing your fucking mind?”


Sasuke glared back with an anger he couldn’t explain, but who the hell was Naruto to tell him how to feel or not feel?!


“Yes! So what if it’s a video game? You’d be surprised at just how much you learn from them!”


“Oh really? You think you can learn life lessons from two cartoon characters fucking each other in relationships that don’t make any sense?! The only reason they probably get together is just so you can earn a few extra points to get you to the next level! You think that’s how life is?! If you’re so desperate to find a fuck buddy, I’ll be glad to drop you off at Ni-chōme, and you can fuck the next pervert to strut up to youURGH!”


The blow, he had not seen coming, but it was enough to send him flying back against the wall and sending some of Shima-sama’s precious vases shattering at the impact. He held his aching jaw, his mouth already filling with blood, and was ready to retaliate, when he looked up to see the boy towering over him with his bruised fist clenched and ready to strike again. Unfortunately, the image was tarnished by the trembling body, the heaving chest and eyes that seemed just a little too bright.


(great job, Naruto. Way to hurt the kid’s feelings again)


“You’re angry,” Sasuke began in a voice that shook with the intensity of his feelings. “I know you’re angry. I know what Madara did to you was unforgiveable, and if I were in your shoes…what am I talking about? I was in your shoes, I’d be devastated at the betrayal. But you’ve had years…centuries to get over it, Naruto! And you can’t keep holding that against me! I am not the one you should be upset at! I am not Madara! So stop comparing him to me in your head! And stop treating me as some kid either! I’m old enough to know who or what turns me on, and if it’s a couple of cartoon men – as you so wonderfully put it – then so be it.”


He stopped his rant long enough to catch his breath, but he apparently wasn’t done, for he continued, in a much quieter tone. “Besides…you don’t have to worry about me trying to latch on to you or express my undying love to you if that’s what you’re so concerned about. I know the only reason you came into my life was because of your superior’s orders, and you’re probably going to get rid of me when you feel I’m strong enough. So I’m going to help make the process faster. I promise to do my best at the simulation and then  you can give the report to your bosses. I only ask that when you feel I’ve passed, you at least tell me where Itachi’s body is, so I can pay my respects.” He gave a pained smile, which had something writhing hard in Naruto’s chest. “I might act like everything is okay, but I’ve never really gotten over the loss of the only person who meant the world to me. For months…no…the years after his death were the worst. You wouldn’t have recognized me then. At least knowing he died trying to protect me made it a little bearable, but still…you owe me that much.”


He finally stopped talking and almost shook himself a little as if coming out of a daze; perhaps realizing this was probably the longest he had ever said anything in his life. Without another word, he bent to pick his book and left the room, leaving Naruto to mull over the young man’s words and to question why that godforsaken ache in his chest hurt so much more than any physical blow the boy could have struck.




On the day of the simulation, the heavens finally burst open and poured its contents angrily upon the earth. Even the frogs had to agree they had never seen such a downpour in years. Was it possibly a sign of things to come? Needless to say, many made the trek to the temple just in case.


Shima and Fukasaku-sama were waiting at the summoning well, where Naruto and Sasuke jogged up – both drenched despite their layers of protective clothing.


“Have you chosen your location?” Fukasaku asked from beneath the comfort of an umbrella that was several sizes larger than he was. He was barely visible.


Naruto nodded and had to yell to make his voice heard just as the booming rumble of thunder echoed around them. “Togetsukyo Bridge!”


The sage frogs nodded solemnly and motioned for the two men to move closer to the well, but not before Shima-sama (while wiping a tear from her eye for she had grown quite fond of the young man) moved closer to give him a quick hug in farewell. It would have been comical, considering she was only as tall as his knee - if not shorter – but the warmth to exude from the embrace was enough to make him flush with gratitude. Though he had thanked them both the night before for their hospitality, he didn’t hesitate to do so again.


“You know you’re welcome back anytime. Just call on us if you ever need a place to get away from it all,” Shima-sama invited.


“Yes, yes, you said that a million times already,” Fukasaku chirped in impatiently. “It’s time for them to leave. Are you both ready?”


Sasuke, who had never experienced the effects first hand (for he was passed out the first time around), felt himself suddenly being pulled by an invisible force toward the well and dragged into it. His first wild thought was that he was going to drown, but there was that now familiar rushing sensation (just like when Sakura had teleported them) of speeding through a vacuum before tumbling out into the other side with an immediate wave of nausea hitting him.


He coughed for a good long minute, while looking at his surroundings in surprise. They were no longer at Mount Myōboku, but the scene was still familiar all the same. It was the last place he had been with Naruto before their training began.


“The train station…”


Which he was sure had crumbled to pieces thanks to Naruto’s biju form, but it was now standing again – looking just as it must have been before the fight. There wasn’t much that could be done with the trees destroyed in the fire, but aside from those, everything else looked untouched and just as peaceful.


Yet the air ‘smelled’ different.


In Mount Myōboku, there was a sense of peace, serenity and pureness; something Sasuke had gotten used to over the past few months, but returning to the real world…it almost made him sick to his stomach. The air was thick with pollution and not just the man-made kind. It was in the permeation of the yōkai in this place, and thanks to his time in that other surreal land, his body and mind had become more sensitive to the evil manifestations. He was suddenly distracted from his thoughts when he noticed the familiar shimmer of energy as a considerably large barrier was put up. He had never seen Naruto do one before, and the older man must have done it quickly because he was now on his haunches; his intense gaze trained on the muddy ground.  


“Give me a minute to summon them,” Naruto was saying, still having to raise his voice because of the pouring rain. “You might hear a sound like thunder, but it’s just them waking up from their slumber. These are the more dormant kinds…they don’t bother us much unless you go looking for them, but they need to be eliminated anyway.”


Sasuke nodded and stepped back, watching the broad back beneath the wet black trench coat with heaviness in his heart.


Things had definitely gotten ‘weird’ between them since his outburst that night.


Though it was only a few days ago, he had kept to himself, choosing to practice alone, and eating whenever he was sure Naruto wasn’t around. He knew he was being a coward, but he couldn’t help it. It was one thing to defeat your sensei in a sparring match - and he had won his share of those during training - but a completely different thing to hit him out of anger and rant at him at the same time. It was a miracle Naruto hadn’t retaliated yet, but he guessed the ‘silence’ from the older man was punishment enough. The ironic thing? Naruto wasn’t particularly upset with him, neither was he pleased either. There was a stoic politeness in his demeanor, as if simply tolerating Sasuke’s presence for the sake of it.


It’s okay, Sasuke told himself as he took a deep breath and paced away to unsheathe his sword. I’ll be fine. It’s better this way. That way we can say our goodbyes with no hard feelings…I guess.


(keep telling yourself that, Uchiha Sasuke. Because you know damn well that you’re never going to-)


“Ready?!” Naruto yelled without turning around. “I’m about to bring them out!”


Sasuke shook away his negative thoughts, took his stance and began to channel his chidori into the sword. He could barely see in front of him – the rain really was that heavy – but goodness knew he’d have to manage somehow.


“Ready!” he bellowed back, and immediately wished he hadn’t, for once Naruto slammed his fist into the ground –


Holy shit!


Yōkai – in all shapes, sizes, and forms (the most ugliest ones at that) seemed to burst out of the ground with a boom and into the air, some screeching horribly, while others seemed to want to attack immediately. There must have been at least two hundred of them and the smell…oh God…the stench!


“Don’t let any get away!” Naruto instructed. “Get them all as quick as you can!”




He spun around with the katana, unleashing a brilliant flare of lightning to match the ones from the heavens. It was perfect in a way, for it gave him even more power, sending at least fifty yōkai disintegrating at once. He leapt away from a couple that came after him, unable to stop the smirk at how high he seemed to get off the ground, but only to spin in mid-air with another swing to take even more down. A particularly huge yōkai approached, and Sasuke would dodge just in time to avoid the flood of black ink to escape its yawning mouth. Whatever the ink was, it must have been acidic, for it left huge craters on the earth below.


Mold the chakra within you…knead it…let it build…


He took a deep breath, feeling the familiar heat forming in the pit of his stomach. He tried to give himself some distance, while judging how many yōkai he could take down at the same time, and just when he felt he had enough chakra –




…he let it rip with the biggest fireball he had created yet. Their dying screams were like music to his ears, but he knew he still had more to do.





Naruto, for his part, watched the battle with a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. The kid was really putting on a show, and he had to admit…


“He’s a natural,” he whispered as Sasuke took out yet another group of them with another fire release. “And he’ll only get better and stronger…just like you predicted, Itachi.”


It was just a damn pity he had no plans to stick around to find out if it came true or not. The past few days had been spent pondering on the future, and his decision was one that had come with a tangible taste of bitterness on his tongue (and a heaviness he would not elaborate on). He figured he had done his best for the kid, and everything else was now up to Fate.


(and besides it really doesn’t matter if you’re able to curtail Kurama. What good does that do in the end? Your brother wanted no part in being my immortal babysitter, so what makes you any different?)


And yet try as he might to ‘distance’ himself from these budding feelings of protectiveness (especially now whenever a yōkai seemed too close for comfort and his first instinct was to run down there and help the kid), it was becoming tougher than he’d like. Looking back now, he realized that he could have answered Sakura’s question about just how much he ‘knew’ Sasuke, and none of them would have required asking direct questions. Just from watching and studying the boy these past few months, it wasn’t hard to pick up particular habits here and there.


For instance, Sasuke’s ‘allergy’ to the sun. The kid couldn’t spend more than a few hours out there without his ‘fragile’ skin turning red in protest. And there was Sasuke’s innate curiosity; wanting to know about everything and anything as long as any of the frog sages was willing to tell him the answer. He was studious, that much was obvious, and Naruto could literally see those dark eyes soak in information – even during training – like a sponge. If he could dissect the kid’s brain, he was sure it would reveal gears spinning rapidly or something weird like that. Oh, did Sakura also know that Sasuke always curled up on his right side when asleep? It didn’t matter where they were, whenever they took a break, it was the same position every time. It was uncanny. Even more creepy was that when the kid slept deeply, he wouldn’t change position until he woke up.


(not that he had been studying Sasuke that intensely while he was asleep or anything)


Still there were moments when the ‘childish’ Sasuke would take a back seat and the more somber, serious, and thoughtful one would take its place. That Sasuke usually showed up on the few ‘off’ days or on nights when Naruto would go walking and notice the kid sitting by the window of his room, simply staring off into space. Those were the features of a young man who had witnessed a lot of pain and suffering in his life, and at the recollection of Sasuke’s admission of just how much Itachi’s death had affected him, it was yet another grim reminder of just how nefarious his family’s history was.


(he might not be Immortal, but he’s had to watch everyone he’s ever loved die. So he understands you more than you want him to, Naruto. Why make this choice now?)


Naruto bit his lower lip at Kurama’s open taunt, but remained stubbornly silent.


(aaaah, could it be that you’re afraid after all? You just don’t want to have to experience all that you went through with dear Itachi?)


He pressed his hand hard against his stomach.


(you can be an asshole, Kurama, you know that? Just leave me alone!)


He didn’t turn around when the other two landed beside him, but Sai’s low whistle was enough to create a warm glow of pride in his heart. Screw Kurama and his teasing.


“I don’t fucking believe it,” Sakura whispered in awe. “Just what did you do to him, Naruto? You can’t tell me you taught him all that.”


“I am the best teacher after all,” he bragged and earned a cuff on the head for that.


“He’s really improved,” Sai agreed. “ Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya-sama are also watching from headquarters.”


“That’s right,” Sakura replied. “And they say if he does well here, they might ask him to stop by at S.WA.T. and become an official spirit warrior. Isn’t that exciting?!”


Naruto’s lips thinned, but he said nothing. Of course they’d want Sasuke to join the ranks (no surprise there) and when that happened…


/I’m sorry, Naruto. I really am, but I choose not to become Immortal./

/I don’t get it, Itachi! You’ll be perfect! You’ll even become a much stronger warrior! Think about it!/

/I have…and I can’t. I can’t think of living on endlessly watching those I love die. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you, but I’m too much of a coward to choose the easy way out. If it’s my time, then it’s my time. Please don’t look at me that way. You know my feelings for you will never change./

/Shut the fuck up! You have no idea…!/

/I am not as strong as I can be for you, Naruto./

/You are…/

/I will always love you. You know that…/


/But I am a coward, so please…please forgive me…/


“…ruto? Naruto!”


“What?!” he snapped back impatiently at Sakura’s scream into his ear.


“He’s finished! He got them all,” she screeched happily, and before he could say anything, she was leaping down to run toward the exhausted young man, now covered in filth yet pleased enough at his result. Pity he almost got trampled to the ground at Sakura’s exuberant collision/hug.


“Congratulations, sensei,” Sai applauded quietly beside him. “You should be proud.”


Naruto shrugged and rose to his feet with an exaggerated yawn. “Guess my work here is done then. Tell me how the initiation ceremony went.”


“Where are you going?” Sai asked in bemusement. “Don’t you want to escort him to S.W.A.T to share in the good news?”


(good news? What good news? He might be able to fend off a bunch of power-hungry clans, but besides that, his life is going to be one continuous battle after another. Guess Itachi had a point there after all.)


“They are not going to be very happy with you if you just disappear again, Naruto,” Sai was saying quietly.


“I’m sure they’ll be fine without me,” came the distant reply. “With him around, and all the lessons he’s gonna learn from you folks…I’ll probably be forgotten eventually.”


Naruto sunk his hands into the pockets of his pants and stared down at the two figures below. Sakura was yapping excitedly at Sasuke while wiping his face with a handkerchief – a complete waste of time in his humble opinion since it was still raining – but the boy would eventually look up, the happiness still in his eyes until they met the cool blue ones watching him. His tentative smile faltered and he seemed to realize what Naruto was about to do, for he pushed Sakura way gently; his heart now pounding with fear, panic and dismay.


No…wait…please don’t go…not yet! Not like this! There’s still so much I want to say to  you!


Naruto took a step back as if able to hear the boy’s pleas and not wanting any part of it.


Good job, Sasuke, he thought silently with a two fingered salute and a small bittersweet smile. The next time we meet, it will be to honor the vow I made to you about your brother. Until then, be the best damn spirit warrior you can be.


(and no matter what happens and for as long as you can manage it, please, please, pleasestay alive)




One minute he was there; the next he was gone.


For a moment, the trio could only stare at the place the blond spirit warrior had once stood, until Sakura broke the silence with a stomp of her foot in frustration.


“I don’t believe it!” she wailed. “Just where the hell did he run off to now?!”


“Your guess is as good as mine,” Sai replied as he leapt down to join them. “He didn’t look particularly happy, so I’m not sure what must have happened between…” His voice trailed off as he glanced at Sasuke.


The boy’s head was now lowered; his fingers clenched tightly around the hilt of his sword. His hair lay slick and flat upon his head and cheeks, preventing the duo from seeing his eyes until he finally lifted it slowly to reveal an expression that had Sakura sucking in a breath.


(oh Sasuke…)


She couldn’t put a finger on it, but the luster was gone. The glow of happiness she had seen just moments earlier was no longer there. Those beautiful dark eyes now seemed devoid of emotion; a blank slate simply needing something to ignite another spark into them. She felt him withdrawing further into himself with every breath he took, and as he tightened his lips and finally sheathed his sword, she had a feeling that Sasuke had put up a barrier neither of them ever had a  hope of breaking anytime soon.


“So?” came the flat question as he looked at both Sakura and Sai. “I guess we head to this S.W.A.T. place, correct?”


“Ye…yes,” she stammered with a weak smile. “Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya-sama are waiting for you. You just might become an official spirit world warrior. Pretty exciting, eh?”


He shrugged and pushed away the hair from his eyes. “If you say so. Look, can we get going already? I think I’m about to get a cold.”


Sakura was tempted to smart-mouth him back for his rude demand, but figured this was not the time to do so. She simply nodded and placed a hand upon his, wincing inwardly at just how cold he felt.


What the hell have you done to him, Naruto? she thought sadly as Sai moved in to close the circle. You better get your ass back soon, or I swear I’ll hunt you down myself! Don’t you realize just how much he needs you?!


For that answer couldn’t be clearer when she wrapped her arms around him; now convinced that the shiver to run through Sasuke had absolutely nothing to do with the cold.


His silent tears were mingling with the rain.





Chapter 10

Naruto Home














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