10 – Slate


Hot. Humid. Blistering. He steamed and cursed beneath his breath, feet moving faster against simmering asphalt. He couldn’t even bear to look up, beads of sweat dripping into narrowed eyes from damp locks that clung to his forehead and cheeks. He loathed summer with a passion and longed for the cool safety of his humble abode. In there, he could at least begin thinking aga-


“Happy Birthday, Sasuke!”


(what the- ?!)


He froze at the doorway of his apartment, and struggled to make sense of the sight before him, while fantasies of spending the rest of the afternoon in nothing but a pair of shorts shattered abruptly. Sakura was at the forefront - still in her school uniform - but holding up a large colorful cake lit with sparkly candles. They flickered so brightly, it nearly overshadowed the grinning flushed visage above it. Behind her was Sai – in school wear as well – half-heartedly popping open the confetti while waving a ‘birthday’ flag wearily. It was clear someone hadn’t wanted to do this, but at least he made the effort to chirp out a “Happy Birthday, Sasuke”.


“Don’t just stand there,” Sakura invited with a laugh. “Come blow them out before it melts. Besides, you’re letting the heat in.”


“So this is why you disappeared after History today,” Sasuke muttered as he stepped inside, while taking off his shoes. He dumped his bag in the corner and fiddled with the neck tie, which felt like it was choking him. “I told you I hate surprises…and sweet things.” At least he stopped long enough to blow out the candles before walking past her and into his living room.


“I remembered that,” Sakura replied and trotted after him. “This cake is special. It’s made with lots of sweeteners, so there’s no worry about your blood sugar shooting through the roof.”


“It’s not my blood sugar I’m worried about,” Sasuke stated with hands on his hips as he eyed the layout on the coffee table. She had really gone out of her way, hadn’t she? There was a sukiyaki hot pot simmering on a mini-gas stove, and the delicious smells of beef, vegetables and tofu, tantalized his senses. Large bottles of his favorite beverages – none alcoholic since he was just turning seventeen after all – sat waiting for his consumption. He would have tried to dismiss it all, if his stomach didn’t decide growl, creating twin spots of colors on his cheeks as he met (and looked away from) the girl’s amused gaze.


“I skipped lunch,” he explained gruffly as he sat on a pillow and grabbed a bowl and chopsticks to dig in.


At least this was considerably far better than the last two birthdays he’d had.


The next half-hour was spent feasting and chatting over trivial matters amidst the sounds of a rather entertaining afternoon talk-show featuring a teen pop-idol group Sakura admired. To be honest, she was the one who did most of the talking, while Sasuke responded wherever he felt necessary. Sai wasn’t much of a conversationalist either, but then again, after spending the last five months with these two, Sasuke had come to learn so much more about their personalities.


Sakura, he knew, was as bubbly as she was voracious with her thirst for knowledge. To think that she was already as well-versed in the medical field as any of the ‘regular’ surgeons out there was outstanding. So you could ignore the fact that she was over a hundred in age, and that she’s had so much time to perfect her skills, it still didn’t deter from the idea that she had ‘died’ as a teenager and anyone looking at her now would be foolish to assume she was some dumb airhead. She was so smart; it was rather difficult for her to not reveal too much of it in school. She wouldn’t raise her hand during lectures, and if she was called upon to answer anything, it would take some self-control not to go overboard with her answers. Tests and exams were a cinch, and it was safe to say that she had acquired quite a few ‘enemies’ (read as jealous classmates) who felt she was a know-it-all. Not that she seemed to give a damn about their feelings.


If Sakura was outgoing, then Sai was the exact opposite. His quiet demeanor did not betray that he was just as studious and hungry for knowledge like his counterpart. Sasuke had come to learn that Sai seemed to favor the quiet comfort of the school’s library, and on particularly slow days (as in no real crazy yōkai activity), his nose would be buried in a book for hours on end or sketching incredible pieces of art worth being in a gallery. Sasuke had always thought his skin too pale, but Sai’s complexion took the top prize. The other man looked ghostly at times, especially when he chose to wear all black. He spoke only when he felt it prudent to do so, and Sasuke hated to admit that he found himself rather comfortable in Sai’s presence. Maybe it was because Sai had – somewhat – taken over Naruto’s role recently, and since his induction into S.W.A.T as an official member, Sai had become his ‘confidante’ of sorts.


(an official spirit warrior, huh?)


He swirled the noodles in his bowl absently, Sakura’s shriek of laughter at the antics on the television, barely registering in his mind.


A lot had happened in the past few months; all starting from the night he was teleported to the impressive S.W.A.T headquarters (who knew the Kyoto National Museum was the façade for such a group in the first place?). He got to meet Tsunade-sama for the first time, having to shake off the mental image of some old, wizened woman at the sight of the busty blonde with the booming voice and matching personality. Jiraiya and Kakashi had been there as well, including several other high-ranking officials Sasuke couldn’t really be bothered to remember their names at the time.


The next several weeks were spent in more ‘simulations’ with even stronger yōkai, as well as intense mental challenges he was sure he could not handle. Being forced to recollect his past - to confront those fears and doubts and to gain strength from them - had made him angry and resentful. However, during quiet moments of meditation, he came to realize just how much ‘stronger’ it made him feel emotionally. He knew a part of his apathy and anger had come from the gnawing void he had felt when Naruto disappeared, but he was now determined not to let it weigh him down. For the answer was so painfully obvious now.


To bring back Naruto, he would have to become stronger than ever before.


He would have shed the cloak of naivety and innocence, and take on the shield of resilience and tenacity. It was no time to sit around licking his wounds or whining over the blond’s decision. This was his time to grow up as a person, and so far Sai and Sakura had been his much-needed anchors of encouragement and support. They were wise not to bring up the topic of Naruto, seeming to understand his need to work out the situation on his own.


His gaze drifted to the photograph of the three of them sitting on top of his television. It was the day after he had received his spirit world license, which consisted of an actual ID card, only visible to other spirit warriors (to normal humans, it looked like a piece of white plastic), and an invisible yet elaborate tattoo around his wrists. He had the option of getting the tattoos anywhere (and a part of him had wondered just where Naruto’s was), and he had chosen his wrist. However, the tattoo wasn’t just for show, and in addition to them being invisible to the naked eye, each symbol and marking represented a skill he had acquired so far.


“When in battle,” Jiraiya had explained during the process. “The markings become more prominent and you can use them to increase your skills or to summon spiritual beings to help you fight.”


“Spiritual beings?”


“Yes. In a situation where you find yourself unable to combat the Malevolents effectively, you have the ability to summon creatures of the spirit world to help. For instance, if I’m ever stuck, I have quick access to the frog sages, same with Naruto. It could also work for you, since you’ve trained at Mount Myobōku, but if I know anything about the history of your clan, you have the ability to summon other creatures to do your bidding.”


“But what are these creatures?” Sasuke had demanded of the elusive leader, who seemed just as reluctant to reveal anything. Hell, it was a golden opportunity to suck out as much information as he could from Jiraiya whenever he came around, and Sasuke had tried to make the most of it.


“We have an extensive library at SWAT,” came the cryptic reply. “Spend some time studying and perhaps something will come to you.”


Frustrated, yet aware that Jiraiya had set out a challenge, Sasuke had done just that. He couldn’t teleport yet, but whenever he had some time, he’d take the bus to the museum and scour through the thousands of books, documents, and scrolls searching for anything that could give him an idea of what his clan’s summoning techniques or skills had been. So far, the results had left him unsatisfied. For all the supposed history of the Uchiha, it was hard to believe that S.W.A.T barely had anything other than general summaries of his ancestors. It was as if the Uchiha had done their best to protect their secrets from becoming public knowledge, and with the awareness that he was the ‘last’ of his clan, Sasuke’s aggravation and impatience teetered at breaking point.


(did Itachi have the ability to summon anything? And if so, what? Does Naruto know about it? He must have or maybe he didn’t, which is why he never mentioned anything during training.)


However, when he wasn’t studying (or bogged down with questions), he was busy honing his other spirit warrior skills. He learned how to create stronger barriers with Sai – who proved to be a rather patient teacher. He sought out stronger yōkai, not just to get better at his fighting techniques, but to earn more fees. The stones seemed to fetch a little more money than before, and Chiyo-baasama had to reluctantly agree that the quality of yōkai he presented were getting better and better.


In the midst of this, there was school to deal with (and to this day, he’d have no idea what Sakura had done to make them forgive his three month absence) and his BL game gig with a very impatient client. Oh, and let’s not forget that there were those who still wanted a piece of him – clans who hadn’t gotten the memo yet that he was no longer the meek Sasuke they had once known.


“It’s still no time to relax,” Tsunade had warned. “These might be the weaker fighters coming for you, but it doesn’t mean that the much stronger clans have given up yet. You must always be on your guard. At least now they know you’re an official spirit warrior, they’d have to be extra careful. They wouldn’t want to break our laws by being so bold.”


Laws. Rules. Guidelines. Orders.


Damn. It was like being in the police force without actually having to arrest anyone.


“Aah,” Sakura suddenly cried out, forcing him back to the present. He could see her tattoo appearing, the same diamond-shaped marking on Tsunade-sama’s forehead. It wasn’t a brilliant green as it tended to become whenever she got really serious during their sparring matches (and boy, could she pack a mean punch!), but it was glowing all the same.


“Looks like I’m needed,” she said with a sigh as she eyed the remnants of their little party. “I have to head back to headquarters. I’ll leave you boys to enjoy yourselves. Be good while I’m gone. And happy birthday again, Sasuke.”


She leaned in to place a hard kiss on his forehead before he could protest; her giggles disappearing with her as she teleported as quickly as she had done the act. He rubbed his forehead, cheeks flaming with color, only to meet the amused gaze directed at him from his lone companion.


“What?” he finally snapped.


“She’s developing stronger feelings for you,” Sai replied bluntly. He helped himself to another piece of cake. “I’ve tried to warn her that it’s fruitless, and she’s aware of this, but she cannot help herself anyway. It’s human nature after all.”


Sasuke remained silent. He wasn’t blind. He knew Sakura’s attention had gone from mere ‘friends’ to the little acts of devotion that made him a little uncomfortable. Maybe it all started with the tasty and well-thought out bento lunches she’d make for him, or coming over to help with his laundry and clean the apartment when he least expected it. Or was it from their sparring sessions when she’d hold him just a little bit longer than necessary, or was it the stolen brief kisses on his forehead or cheeks whenever she would say her goodbyes? He honestly didn’t really mind, because she was…well…Sakura. Still, a part of him felt bad that he’d never be able to reciprocate her feelings in the way she’d like.


“And what about you?” Sasuke asked. “You make it seem like you’ve never fallen for anyone before.”


Sai shrugged, eyes glued to the television. “My personal life is no concern of yours.”


Sasuke scowled and was ready to retort back, when Sai continued quietly. “But if you must know, yes, I did have feelings for someone a while back…many years ago.”


Sasuke held back the question he burned to ask. Come to think of it, he still didn’t know how Sai had died, and Sakura hadn’t known either when he prodded her. Maybe he’d finally get the answer today.


“He was mortal,” Sai stated flatly. “And that was already doomed from the start.”


He? He?! That meant…!


“Yes,” Sai replied with a hint of a smile on his lips even though he still wasn’t looking at Sasuke. “Yes, I did have feelings for a member of the same sex, but then again, when you’ve come from my era, such things shouldn’t be shocking.” He rubbed at his neck and finally looked away from the screen, but only to close his eyes. “I was an orphan, that much I remember, and if I’m not mistaken, I am at least ten years older than Naruto…so you do the math. Either way, I remembered living on the streets for a while until a wealthy daimyo took interest in me and…the rest as they say is history.”




Sai lifted his lashes with a sigh. “I became a…what’s the term for it these days? Let’s just say I kept my master’s bed warm when he needed me to.”




There was a tense pause before Sasuke asked quietly. “So how did you get mixed up with all this then?”


“How did I become a spirit warrior? I ran away from my master’s house, but didn’t get far enough. I was shot several times over and my body tossed into a ravine. The next thing I remember was waking up in Jiraiya-sama’s arms with the promise of a life where I could use my inherent skills to do good…and exact revenge if I wanted.”


“And did you? Exact your revenge?”


Sai didn’t answer, but if the brief twitch of his lips was any indication, Sasuke figured it out easily.


“And this mortal you fell in love with?”


“You’re full of questions today, aren’t you? Is this all part of the ritual of growing up?”


“Now listen -”


“His name was Shin,” Sai interrupted. “And I fell in love with him – as you put it – not immediately mind you. However, he was the first person to ever really appreciate my work. He was a high-school student just like you, and I was surprised at how well versed he was in the Arts. He showed me his portfolio, and from there we struck up conversation and became fast friends – odd because I was never really the kind to want to begin such relationships. I couldn’t tell him what I was, but he eventually figured things were different about me when he got older and I still looked the same.”


He stopped talking and bit his lower lip, perhaps wondering if he ought to continue. He was talking way too much already, but a quick glance at the boy beside him made him sigh inwardly and continue.


“I was afraid. Afraid I would lose him if I finally revealed that I could never die, that my curse was to watch him grow old, while I lived until…God knows when. On his twenty-fifth birthday, he finally made me spit it out, and as I confessed, I watched and waited for him to loathe and despise me.”


“But he didn’t,” Sasuke said quietly. “He still stuck with you, didn’t he?”


Sai was horrified to find it was becoming a little difficult to swallow. This was a memory he had long locked away and never wanted to reveal to anyone, but somehow…this kid…


He shrugged and reached for the bottle of sweetened water, wishing Sakura had purchased something stronger. “Yes,” he finally replied tightly. “He chose to remain with me until his dying day. It was a beautiful funeral.”


He drank and fell into silence; a silence in which both men’s thoughts swirled with the tumultuous range of emotions within them.


It was Sai who finally broke it after an eternity. “I can only assume that is what Naruto was hoping to avoid…again.”


At the sound of the blond’s name – Sasuke’s head snapped up, his heart skipping several beats for his thoughts had been trained on his teacher’s indescribable expression that cold, rainy night.


“I cannot say I know him that well,” Sai was saying, “but he does come across as a person who can easily lose himself in another only to regret his decision eventually. It’s the reason he has to try to harden himself to becoming too involved with anyone. He must have lost so many people he loved over the years…it does take an emotional and mental toll on you. So if he’s pushing you away, by his leaving, I would hope you wouldn’t think it’s because he hates you.”


I guessed that, Sasuke thought feverishly, but that didn’t mean he had to just leave me like that. He should have at least given me a chance to…


“I should leave,” Sai suddenly announced, jerking Sasuke out of his reverie. “I’ll help you tidy up, so you can get some rest. You’ve had a long day.”


Sai was already on his feet before Sasuke could object. It forced him to move as well, and together, both cleared up the mess until the living room was as pristine as it once was.


“Don’t quote me on this,” Sai said as he lifted the trash bag to begin heading out the door. “But I’d be more vigilant regarding your whereabouts without me or Sakura with you. I guess you’ve been hearing the rumors about the dying spirit warriors especially the immortals, correct?”


Sasuke nodded. He didn’t know the full details, but there had been whispers and besides, the obvious tension around S.W.A.T was a dead giveaway that something was seriously wrong.


“I’m still not sure how Immortals get to die -”


“Considering it’s your clan responsible for developing that method, you can see how some might want to put the responsibility on you.”


Sasuke’s eyes widened in disbelief. “But I don’t have any clue as to- !”


“When your brother passed away, did he not leave anything behind? You lived with him, did you not?”


“Yeah, his clothes and work stuff…and some old school things, but nothing really fascinating.”


“Search harder,” Sai pressed; his dark eyes intense. “There must be something Itachi must have left behind; a clue of some sort to help you. I doubt he would have died without preparing you for the worst. If the stories I’ve heard about him are true, he’s much smarter than you give him credit for.”




It would take him a week before he could finally get himself to do as Sai asked.


After nearly two hours spent playing “PSYCHO Pathway” – the new BL game for testing – which had a rather intriguing plot, and another thirty minutes spent taking a very cold shower –


(damn if Hamazaki and his team weren’t getting more and more creative with the sex scenes)


…Sasuke strode into his bedroom and toward the closet to reluctantly dig out his past. He hadn’t kept much of Itachi’s things, and he sincerely hoped that his donations to the Thrift Store hadn’t contained anything of significance. He shoved aside the neat pile of pants and shirts to reveal the slate-colored cabin trunk hidden behind it. It took some effort, but he managed to drag it out into the open, aware that he had not bothered opening this since he moved here three years ago.


Trembling fingers brushed away the thin layer of dust accumulated on it, and he wasn’t surprised to realize that he could already ‘smell’ his brother. Itachi had always had a unique scent about him that had nothing to do with overpowering colognes. It was the smell of warmth, kindness and love, and as Sasuke flipped open the locks, he had to chew hard on his lower lip to prevent the surge of emotion to hit him.


All right…we can do this, he thought as he took a deep breath and opened the box.


The smell was much stronger now – a combination of dust, age, and pine. The indent of where the katana had once lain was still evident on the protective cloth covering. Sasuke pushed it aside to rummage carefully through the box. He had kept a few of Itachi’s favorite clothes – just a couple of tee-shirts featuring his favorite band – and the two traditional outfits he’d wear for New Year celebrations. There were some of his favorite books and movies, and a small wooden box which contained a silver necklace and ring his brother would wear occasionally. Sasuke had put them on one night, and had to admit the pieces of jewelry made him feel awkward. Besides, they looked much better on his brother. He wasn’t the jewelry kind of guy anyway.


There were several notebooks – mostly Itachi’s school books and programming jargon Sasuke had kept for sentimental reasons obviously. Maybe it was just the idea of having his brother’s scrawling handwriting for memories sake, but he couldn’t really see any particular need for them. It was a bit disappointing there were no other childhood items here. The fire had completely destroyed their home and everything with it. So there were no family albums or memorabilia to add to the collection. The only thing that was to remind them of even having parents was the lone photograph now tacked on his living room wall.


“Search harder, huh?” Sasuke thought bitterly as he prepared to toss everything back into the box. “So much for tha…eh?”


He had picked up one of the DVDs – with looked like a cheesy comedy – to open it for no real reason, when he was stumped at what it contained. Instead of the usual shiny disc, the DVD case was hollow enough to contain a small brown notebook, so worn that its pages were curled tightly. There was no indication of whom it belonged to, but upon opening the first page, the familiar scrawl had his heart thumping hard within his chest.


(I don’t believe it)


He tore through the rest of the DVDs and was rewarded with the same thing. Five small dairies in all – some older than others and evidence of the fire (burn marks) still on them.


“Why in the DVDs?” he asked. “What if I had given them away to the thrift store?!”


Christ! Just the thought that he might have sent them into the wrong hands was enough to have him having a minor panic attack. He couldn’t tell you why he had chosen to keep the movies in the first place, but something must have compelled him to just snatch them all and toss them in the box. Had Itachi assumed he’d just keep them? Either way, it wasn’t a very clever way of hiding what must obviously be important, and recalling Sai’s cryptic words was enough to have Sasuke bundling his newfound treasures into a pile before putting the trunk back into its place.


/Search harder…for some clue…/


Still trembling, he closed his blinds, made sure his protective barrier was in place, and dove into bed with the books to delve into their secrets.


For the next several hours, time held no meaning. With every word, he felt his brother’s presence grow stronger until he was sure Itachi was actually whispering them into his ears.


He knew his brother had loved him, but he never knew just how much.

He knew his brother had lived a relatively peaceful and happy childhood before he was born, but never would he have guessed what a lie they had been living.

He knew his family had a connection with a certain blond-haired spirit warrior, but little had he known just how intense those ties had been (or maybe he did since it had all started with Madara).

He knew his brother had known Naruto, but he had no idea just how close their relationship had been. And though his heart ached at some of the poetic words Itachi would use to describe his teacher, Sasuke could relate in more ways than one.

Itachi had loved Naruto and the feelings must have been mutual at some point.


“Guess it’s our curse as well to give our hearts to you, Naruto,” Sasuke whispered into his pillow as he closed his eyes and tried to control the unwarranted pangs of envy and pain. “It’s just unfortunate you decided not to let me in while you gave the others a chance. That’s so not fair.”




January 15,

He asked me to meet him at the park today. I couldn’t get there fast enough after school. He looked the same as always, and it was all I could do not to run into his arms in relief and happiness. He’s been gone for over four months, stating that the mission in South America was rather difficult. He went into detail, describing all the different yōkai he fought with. His eyes are so blue – a wonderful cerulean hue like the ocean - when he gets excited, and when he smiles, the whole world smiles with him. Just being there was enough of a gift, but he was adamant in wanting to give me a present. It was a souvenir he claimed has Aztec powers. I allowed him to put the necklace around my neck, which is nice. And though I doubt it has any magical ability, it’s still the thought that counts.




March 10,

He kissed me today! Or rather I was the one to finally initiate it. How bold and daring of me. I fully expected him to push me away and warn me against it, but he didn’t mind at all! I know I sound like a blushing teenage girl receiving her first kiss, but I swear it felt that way. I’ve never kissed a man before, and I assumed it would feel as soft and sweet as the kind I’ve shared with my ex-girlfriend, but it was so much more than I expected. His kisses are hard and thorough – as if he wishes to imprint his lips on mine and never let me forget the experience – and yes, I will definitely NEVER forget them for as long as I live. I wonder if he’ll let me do it again tomorrow. Let’s hope and see.

P.S: I doubt I’ll be able to sleep tonight. I’m still burning up all over.




June 9,

I’m disappointed. I know it’s my birthday and Father and Mother and even Sasuke got me lovely gifts, but I had hoped he’d do so much more than kissing tonight. For the past year, it’s been that way and I’m wondering if he’ll ever let me get past that stage in our relationship. He seems wary of letting me touch him intimately, and would always stop me when I try to rub him down there. He’s gotten me off a few times, and even then I can feel the guilt rolling off him even when I try to convince him that he’s done nothing wrong. I wonder why he’s so afraid of getting too close to me. Is there something wrong with me? Does he not love me anymore? I don’t want to lose him, but I’m tired of waiting for him to do what he clearly wishes he could. (sigh) I wonder what will become of us now.




April 25,

We had another argument today. He can be so stubborn and impossible sometimes. He still asks that I become Immortal, but I cannot. I dread the idea of living for eternity and having my brother grow up wondering why I never age. The thought of watching him die terrifies me, and I’d rather give up my life for him to be happy than to be selfish in Immortality. I want Sasuke to live as normal a life as possible. I want him to grow up never having to worry about beings that aim to destroy him. I know I’m caught between a rock and a hard place, and that no decision I make will be suitable for everyone. So please forgive me, my dearest love, for though I wish I could make you happy, Sasuke means so much more to me. He’s all I have now, and I swear to protect him with my life.




June 10,

Sasuke has the sharingan. Why, oh why did this have to happen? Have my fervent prayers gone unheard? Is this God’s way of punishing me? It kills me to hear him whimper in pain at night, and to know that from now on his life is never going to be the same. I can only assume that this is what I deserve for being so selfish. I do not know what I’m going to do now. How can I continue to keep our family’s secret away from him? And I have no idea where Naruto’s gone. It’s so hard not to cry as I write this. I’ve never felt more alone and afraid in my life. I need him. I need him so much it hurts. Please come home soon, Naruto. Wherever you are.




September 24,

Today I learned of something troubling. Naruto had hinted at something like this in the past, but I never fully understood until I decided to visit the family temple in Mount Takao. Naruto claimed that this was the place he had fought and killed Madara, and that he couldn’t be certain, but there must be some kind of cave where the Uchiha kept their family secrets. Father had left no notes or diaries, or maybe they were lost in the fire, but I searched long and hard for this cave – even asking some of the temple priests about it, but no one seemed willing to tell me. According to Naruto, this cave contained the seals and materials created by our clan capable of killing all Immortals, and it was Madara responsible for wiping out half of the Immortals during the Great War. I’ve tried desperately to find this cave, but to no avail. Perhaps it doesn’t exist for I’ve often wondered – if this ‘thing’ actually exists, how come Madara never used it on Naruto?




“Because he still loved him,” Sasuke had deduced with a groan when he read that part. “Despite everything…he was still probably unable to kill Naruto.”


But at least it was now clear that Naruto was the one responsible for taking the life of the man who had caused him so much grief. Sasuke was sure the battle between them had been wrought with passionate emotions and lingering feelings of betrayal. Yet how had Naruto felt when it was all over? How had he felt standing over the body of the man he had once loved and given his heart to?


/ He must have lost so many people he loved over the years…it does take an emotional and mental toll on you. /


And what a burden that must have been, made even worse with some of Itachi’s last thoughts.




December 12

I am dying. My so-called innocuous coughing has proven to be worse than I assumed. I have an incurable lung infection, and I’ve had to hide my blood-tinged sputum from prying eyes (Sasuke) as much as possible. What’s worse is Naruto’s reaction to the news. His anger, frustration, and anguish is palpable as he begs and pleads for me to be with him, to become Immortal and to continue to protect Sasuke if that’s my main concern. He claims my illness will go away, and that I’ll be free from all pain and suffering, but I still cannot make him understand my fears. I know that a part of him wishes for me to be with him as a companion, to help him should Kurama decide to act out selfishly, but I am no longer strong enough to do that and we both know it. Even if I become Immortal, will I be of any use to him? And how would Sasuke treat me then knowing that his brother could never die? I couldn’t bear it. “I love you,” I told him as he hugged me tight to him and wept into my hair. “I will always love you. Never forget.” And when we kissed, I could swear his tears tasted as bitter as his heartache.




He snapped the diary shut as his vision blurred. From the date, it was clear that Itachi had known about his impending death a whole year before it actually happened. Sasuke had heard and seen his brother coughing, but had always assumed it was just the cold weather responsible for it.


(if only I had known)


And then what? What could a kid like him do? The disease was apparently incurable, so it wasn’t as if he could have done anything to heal Itachi. What was the point of allowing this well of guilt to fill his heart? And there was Naruto who had been willing to offer Itachi a chance at that and his stubborn brother had refused all because of him.


(if only you had said “yes” nii-san…what kind of a life would we have been living today?)


The sudden buzz of his cell phone jarred him from his thoughts. Sasuke reached for the device with an inner sigh and stared blankly at the name on the caller ID.




Great. Some idiot trying to bug him.


He prepared to toss it aside, when the blimp of a text message had him frowning again. What now?


Come see me tonight, read the mysterious message. I have something very important for you. Love and molten kisses, Mei. P.S: I will send Chōjūrō to pick you. Be nice to him!


Mei? That name ought to ring a bell for him, but he was drawing a blank at the moment. Besides, he was still so emotionally wrung out with all he had read so far, his head was throbbing and he was definitely in no mood to go out anywhere to meet anyone tonight (or any other night for that matter). He sulked beneath his blanket, squeezing his eyes shut and trying desperately hard to ignore the mental image of Naruto crying over his brother.


(the day he does that for me…dream on, Sasuke)


Second was this mysterious cave Itachi wrote about. Mount Takao wasn’t too far from here – just a bus and train ride away, and if he could set aside a day to really go searching for this place, perhaps it would help answer some of his burning questions. Besides, someone (or something) must have access to the cave because he/she/it was currently using it against the spirit warriors and Immortals in particular.


(no one’s safe…not even me…not even Naruto)


His lashes flew open; the pangs of worry now getting stronger. He had done well to curb (as much as possible) his thoughts when it came to Naruto and his whereabouts, and it was obvious from Itachi’s diaries that the blond was prone to disappearing for months at a time. He knew he couldn’t be on a mission because even Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya had claimed they hadn’t assigned him anywhere. Naruto – though still under the rule of the tribunal and its laws – was one of the few elite warriors who could get away with (almost) anything. If he chose to go on ‘vacation’ for goodness knew how long, he could do so. Sure he’d get a scolding, but it wasn’t as if they were going to ban him for life. They needed his strength just as much as he needed their guidance.


/I have something for you/


What could it possibly mean? Did this Mei have a message from Naruto? That could be it, couldn’t it? Suddenly feeling encouraged and hopeful, though a small part of him warned that he was getting excited over nothing, he all but leaped out of bed in search of something decent to wear. He was hardly done brushing his hair into some semblance of normalcy, when the chime of his doorbell filtered through the apartment.


(he’s here)


Not sure of what to expect, Sasuke was definitely not ready for the nerdy-looking kid shuffling his feet at his doorstep. About as tall as Sasuke’s chest, this Chōjūrō character had short blue hair and shy dark eyes protected by a pair of glasses and ear protectors attached to them. Despite the summer heat, the guy was clad in rather thick camouflage pants and matching jacket, and he appeared to have twin swords attached to his back. He looked up with a small smile at Sasuke before asking in a voice that was barely audible.


“Are you ready? Mei-sama is ready to see you now.”


Always prepared for the worst, Sasuke nodded and grabbed his sword as well; now choosing to have it carried behind him (like Chōjūrō) as compared to the waist before. It was easier to withdraw from its sheath anyway and was less cumbersome to deal with especially when running.


Chōjūrō leapt nimbly onto the railing and would have leapt to the roof, if he didn’t suddenly remember he was with someone. He looked behind him at Sasuke. “Can you jump? If not, we can walk…?”


Sasuke smirked lightly. He hadn’t been sitting on his ass for the past five months doing nothing, and besides, while with Naruto, he had learned the trick of getting enough chakra to push him off the earth and into the air at great distances. He proceeded to do just that, leaping past the stunned Chōjūrō and onto the next building’s roof to wait for him.


There was an ‘art’ to doing this for you didn’t want to attract the attention of humans too much. Though Sasuke had floundered the first few times - with Sai and Sakura teaching him - he eventually got the hang of timing it just right until  he became nothing more than a blur to the normal eye. It was thrilling to say the least; an adrenaline rush to know you could move as fast as the wind if you set your mind to it.


In mere minutes, they landed in an inconspicuous neighborhood, where its shops seemed to gear toward the eccentric and eclectic. Despite it being early in the evening, there weren’t a lot of people on the street, and as Chōjūrō came to a stop before the building tucked between a pottery shop and a seafood restaurant, Sasuke took in the exterior décor with its weird assortment of hanging vines and curling, spiral-like flowers with mild distaste. There was a simple sign that said “Mei’s Garden”, and stepping into the shop, it was clear the proprietor had a penchant for the really bizarre side of Nature. Gaping Venus fly-traps, as tall as Sasuke, seemed to lean toward him as if eager to take off a chunk of his flesh. aldrovandras slithered toward him, seemed to sniff his presence and shrink back in repulsion. He couldn’t be sure, but were those roses (if they really were roses) making those tinkling sounds? Every corner of the shop seemed to have some kind of plant stationed there, and though there was an area set up as a café – complete with cozy small tables and chairs – the overbearing foliage and blend of smells, made it rather claustrophobic. No wonder there were no customers.


“Mei-sama!” Chōjūrō called out loudly, while Sasuke fought with a plant with spidery tendrils trying to stick to his shirt. “He’s here!”


“Hold on, my darlings,” came the sultry response from behind a beaded curtain. “Just let me make myself a little prettier.”


“You couldn’t possibly be any prettier, Mei-sama,” Chōjūrō sighed in a love-sick voice. The expression on his face made Sasuke nauseous. “You are a goddess.”


Tinkling laughter floated toward them, and soon enough the mysterious lady in question appeared with the gentle brush of the curtain that sang just as lightly as her sound of mirth.




She was stunning, to put it mildly, and he was male enough to find himself responding to the sight and appreciating just how good she looked (for someone probably in her late 200s if not older). Her slender yet curvaceous body was draped in a rich royal blue sari, her green eyes shimmering like emeralds beneath the artificial light. Her skin was lovely porcelain accentuated by thick auburn ankle-length hair with a top knot and bangs for a unique style. Her lips were full and red with color, which were now being licked slowly as if savoring something delectable.


“God, you Uchiha men are all the same. Such sinful pleasures designed by God Himself to tease us mere mortals,” she crooned in a voice dripping with promiscuous connotations. She reached out to caress his cheek, a reluctant shiver going through him at the touch. Cold at first, but then a heat he couldn’t explain as her rid-tipped fingernails scraped tenderly at his skin. She sighed and leaned closer, her breath warm –




…her fingers tightening around his jaw to hold him prisoner. His eyes widened as he realized what she was planning to do, but he need not have panicked, for Chōjūrō’s jealousy came in the form of him pouting and crying out a breathless “Mei-sama’, which snapped her daze abruptly.


“Oh my,” she giggled and stepped away, finally releasing the boy much to his relief. “How bold of me. You must forgive me, Sasuke. I’ve wanted to see you for quite a while. Sit. Sit. Make yourself at home.” She ordered as she flounced away from him with a wave of her arm and the jangle of golden bracelets to race down its length. “Chōjūrō darling, get us some tea, will you?”


It was clear the boy didn’t want to leave their sight, but at the glare from his boss, he slinked into the backroom leaving them alone.


“He likes you,” Sasuke finally said as he sat across from her. “Is he your boyfriend?”


Mei laughed and shook her head. “Oh darling, Chōjūrō is like a son to me. I can’t help it if he has those kinds of feelings for me, not that I’m not flattered. It’s so hard to find a good man these days. Are you available?”


Sasuke ignored the question and asked curtly. “Is he Immortal too?”


She smiled mysteriously and made a tent with her hands beneath her chin; eyes lit up with amusement. “No, he’s special. He’s actually a yōkai. You couldn’t tell, could you?”


Sasuke masked his shock at the news, just as Chōjūrō appeared with a tray. He studied the boy intensely, but could get none of the malevolent vibes he usually received from the spirit beings.


“You can search hard and long, but you’ll never find it,” Mei was saying as she smiled warmly at the boy who blushed so hard, Sasuke thought he would pass out. “Chōjūrō is a rare breed, a child born from two half-yōkai parents, though abandoned. I believe he was a gift from God, and so far he’s proven me right. He’s a wonderful young man and loyal to a fault. Aren’t you, my darling?”


She received a whimper and even more blushing from the boy who sat away (but not too far) from them.


Sasuke sipped his tea – which actually tasted decent – and went straight to the point. “Who are you?”


She attempted to look pained. “I can’t believe they haven’t told you about me. I knew that old hag had something against me, and yes, I mean Tsunade.” She huffed and dug into her sari to whip out a familiar set of cards Sasuke now knew all too well. It was the same thing Chiyo-baasama used to appraise the yōkai stones he brought in, which could only mean –


“Chiyo isn’t the only one able to bring good or bad fortune, but I’d like to think I’m fairer with my prices.” She smiled and spread them out on the table, before hovering her hands over them as they, one-by-one, began to float in the air in a circle. Unlike Chiyo’s glow, which could be a soothing blue, Mei’s cards glowed a brilliant green to match her eyes.


“You said you had something for me,” Sasuke asked as he studied her features. “What is it? I have no stones for appraisal today.”


“Oh, I know that,” she replied and lowered her hands. The cards continued to hover in the air. “And I also know that you are now even more of a target by people who wish to confiscate the seals used to kill the Immortals.”


“I don’t know anything about that.”


“Of course you don’t, you poor thing. Itachi was wise to keep you in the dark. He knew if you were aware of the location, you’d be even more of a target from hostile clans. Not only would they use your powers, but they’d be able to will you into killing their enemies. Think about it. You are invaluable.”


“Itachi didn’t know its location either,” Sasuke replied cautiously. “The only person who might know is Naruto, and even he’s not talking.” He frowned. “How do I know you’re not working with the ‘enemy’?”


Mei’s eyes narrowed. There was a brief flash of anger before her features broke into a smile. “It is only natural for you to suspect me; after all, I’m a strange woman appearing before you all of a sudden. But you can be rest assured that I am not one of them. It should be easy enough for you to tell the difference if you use more of your sharingan abilities or has that not fully developed yet?”


Sasuke was a little embarrassed. Using the sharingan was tiring though not as bad as Amaterasu, so he avoided using it often.


“How will that help me?”

“To tell the difference between the shape shifters and the real ones, of course.” Mei flicked the cards with a wave of her fingers and they each began to reveal images. “Whoever is behind the attacks has developed a way of creating shape shifters so real; it’s becoming more and more difficult to tell the difference. It’s why so many spirit warriors and Immortals have been taken by surprise. S.W.A.T is trying to come up with a new seal to imprint on all real spirit warriors; a way to tell the real from the fake. I told them at the last meeting that it was going to be a waste of time. All they had to do was find the source of the problems and eliminate him from there.”


“But who’s the source of the problem?” Sasuke asked with a pound of his fist on the table. “Who else knows about the Uchihas' seals and where they are kept?”


“Someone who obviously was close to your family.”


Sasuke’s breath caught, for the first name to come to his mind was –


“Not Naruto surely,” Mei said with a knowing smile. “Why on earth would he go that far? Your clan had friends in many not-so-high places. There were many insidious people who teamed up with Madara during the Great War and some did survive over the centuries.”


Sasuke rose to his feet. “I don’t understand.” He paced the small room, his mind churning. “I don’t get it. Why is this all happening now?”


“Why else? Whoever this person is seems to have taken your ancestor’s creed of eliminating the Immortals to heart, and with The Calm coming -”


“The what?


Mei sighed and lowered the cards to the table. “The Calm. It comes every quarter of a century; a day when most spirit warriors powers are weakened and yōkai have a tendency to roam even more freely. Only a few select clans can deal with them during that time, and these are the clans with special bloodline limits; the Uchihas being one of them. Whoever is behind the shape shifters has timed it perfectly. The Calm will be coming within the month, and who knows what will happen then?”


“Isn’t there anything you can do to help me? Any idea at all of who might be behind this?!”


Mei lowered her gaze to the cards, and was silent for so long, Sasuke feared she had dozed off. However, she soon picked up one of the blank cards and held it up until the lone word “Hebi” flashed upon it.


“…snake?” Sasuke read out slowly. “What the fuck does that mean?”


“It is written in the books of old that there were three great sages; the frog, the snake and the snail. You have already met the frogs, but there exists a place for the snakes; a place with close ties to your clan.”


Another name was slow to appear on the card, this time with the word “Ryūchi”.


“They say it no longer exists, but like Mount Myōboku, the cave only appears to those who are destined to see it. I have no idea where it is…”


I do, Sasuke’s mind screamed. I have an idea of where to start looking!


“But we can only hope that the answers lie there,” Mei continued. She slammed the card upon the table and took a deep breath as if suddenly weary of the conversation. She sighed. “I only called to warn you and to tell you as much as I know. My dreams have been filled with both names, and I had hoped they would trigger something within you.”


She reached out to place a hand on his wrist, her grip strong and her gaze intense.


“I would suggest you do not do this alone. Seek those two you work with – Sai and Sakura – though I would have preferred you have someone of Naruto’s caliber with you. But…” She smiled sadly at the brief pained expression in his eyes. “…I am sorry. I wish I could give you the answer you seek to that particular question. Unfortunately, I am not a psychic or fortune teller. I can only -”




What the hell?!


“Get down!” Mei yelled in a voice much stronger and louder than the sultry tone she’d been using so far.


She pushed Sasuke to the ground and spun around quickly, just as another of the thunderous explosion sent even more of the furnishings and deadly plants collapsing to the ground. Sasuke would slide away just in time before the jaws of the Venus flytrap clamped his thigh, and looked up to notice that ‘shy’ Chōjūrō had somehow transformed into a fearless bodyguard. The innocuous sword, which he had kept behind him, was now withdrawn to reveal a large blade that could probably cut through steel. Charged with so-much chakra, the sword blazed brightly.


Meanwhile, Mei appeared to be doing something with her lips, and it wasn’t until he began to notice the growing cloud of mist enveloping them, did Sasuke realize she was the one responsible for it. However, whoever their attacker was, had no plans to give her enough them to cloak them completely, for another blaze of fire came their way, sending the three of them flying back with such force, it knocked their breaths away. The mist was clearing, but Sasuke was already struggling to his feet with his sword unsheathed.


“Is everyone all right?” he barked while helping Mei to her feet. Chōjūrō brushed aside the pieces of debris to fall on him, safe to say that the once standing shop was no more. Fortunately, it looked like the least of Mei’s worries, for her furious gaze was trained on the person responsible for the destruction.


It was Chōjūrō’s low gasp and the breathed words “Naruto-kun?” which had Sasuke spinning around with his heart in his throat.


Im…impossible…it’s…it can’t be…


And yet as the dust, smoke and mist finally dissipated, there was no mistaking the familiar perched figure of the man he had dreamt and worried about despite his attempts not to.


(oh God)


This wasn’t particularly the reunion he had envisioned, but then again…why the hell would Naruto want to attack Mei?


“You talk too much, Mei-chan, but then again that’s not surprising considering what else your mouth is known for. And as for you,” Those icy blue eyes were now trained on Sasuke. “You’d think after all I’ve taught you, you’d be able to tell the difference between those who wish to help and those who seek you for the wrong reasons. Do you honestly think this bitch is trying to help you? She only wants you to lead her to the cave, so she can claim the seals for herself. Aren’t you, Mei-chan?”


His lips formed a sneer of derision. There was something colder…harder…a darkness that seemed to surround Naruto than ever before. He looked no different physically, but Sasuke couldn’t place a finger on it. His grip around the sword tightened, and he was aware that his palms were now damp with sweat.


(Is this Kurama talking? But why…I don’t seem to sense it…)


And another thing, this Naruto didn’t seem to care much about putting up barriers since this was supposed to be a battle between spirit warriors. If it wasn’t for Mei doing the honors, more humans would have been aware of the destruction and more lives lost, for looking down the street, Sasuke could see the still bloody figures of mortals caught in the middle of a fight that made no sense. Sirens were already shrieking in the distance, and the wails and confused cries from onlookers had was wrenching to witness.


“What the hell happened to you?” Sasuke growled beneath his breath; forcing himself to meet those eyes again. “What the hell happened to you, Naruto?!”


The blond laughed; a loud bitter sound before suddenly leaping off his perch on the wall to grab a surprised Chōjūrō by the neck.


“Chōjūrō!” Mei screamed and let loose a wave of what appeared to be molten lava from her mouth. However, Naruto was too fast for her, and he took off with the screaming boy, whose sword slipped from boneless fingers as he was slammed hard into a wall with a sickening crunch.


“You bastard!” Sasuke roared; his fury at the sight (and the hurt at how Naruto could act this way) giving his legs flight. He leapt after the blond, who danced away from reach with another mocking laugh.


“Weak!” he jeered. “Too weak! I’m ashamed to call you my student, Sasuke!”


Not true, Sasuke’s mind wailed as he swung and missed, though he was still able to channel enough of his chakra into the sword to hope it made contact with the blond. That’s not the Naruto I know. He’s proud of me. I know he is. He might not have said it out loud, but I could see it in his eyes. Just what the hell happened to you these past few months? Why have you changed so much?


He struck hard again, and would have cheered at the result of seeing his chidori finally striking its target, when a figure suddenly appeared before him to take the brunt of the blow.


“Ouch…that hurts. It seems you really are as strong as I had predicted, Sasuke.”




And just like that, the world suddenly stopped spinning for the young man. It felt like the energy was being sucked out of him as he stared at the familiar black ponytail that fluttered gently in the night breeze. That tall back he had always looked up to and strong shoulders he had ridden on so many times as a child. His legs buckled and he fell to his knees; the tears welling up in his eyes before he could control them.


This really had to be the cruelest joke of them all.


(was it all a …lie?)


“See?” Naruto laughed with a hand on his hips, while holding onto Mei’s head as if dragging a mannequin. Her face was bruised, though there was still defiance in her eyes. She was mouthing something to Sasuke, but his mind was slowly shutting down at the surreal sight before him.


“Told you I’d keep my word and bring back your brother, didn’t I?” Naruto was saying. “You should be thanking me for this wonderful reunion. Now kiss and make up before he kills you.”


(it’s not true…)


Mei was screaming now.


(Itachi can’t be here…)


His brother was turning around slowly; something long and hard glinting in the night sky as he raised his arm.


Your sharingan, Mei seemed to be saying. Use your sharingan, Sasuke!


(my what? Sharingan? What good does that do now? I’m…weak…didn’t you hear him? I’m not as strong as I could be)


And yet…how was it possible? How could this Itachi have the same sword he was barely holding onto? He didn’t remember Itachi having two katana. Or was it a new one?


It’s not…! Mei was bellowing, but a hard kick to her stomach, from Naruto, silenced her and her body was flung aside like a rag doll.


(Mei…sama…Chōjūrō…I’m so sorry)


“Finish him now,” Naruto was saying impatiently. “We do not have time to waste, Itachi. Hurry up and finish him off now!”


“I’m sorry to have to do this,” came the quiet words filled with regret. He looked like he was about to cry himself. “I’ll explain it to you in the afterlife, so for now…please go to sleep, Sasuke. I’ve left you with so much pain and suffering, but be rest assured that everything is going to be all right from now on.”




The sword carved - in a graceful arc - through the air, and would have taken off the young man’s head when something blindingly fast stepped in-between to freeze the weapon in mid-swing.


“Fuck,” came the long grunt of pain as beads of something warm, thick and wet began to drip on Sasuke’s forehead. They trickled down his face and toward his mouth, where the coppery taste of blood on his lips and tongue sent a tiny jolt of awareness down his spine.




“I leave you alone for a few months and come back to this,” the newcomer was saying in a tone that seeped through his muddled senses and was slowly bringing him back to life. “Get the fuck up, Sasuke, and fight back!”




He blinked hard in disbelief, for looking over his shoulder with Itachi’s katana buried into his right shoulder was none other than…well…Naruto.


“Naruto…” he began in confusion only to gasp as he felt the surge of energy directed into his lower back courtesy of the first Naruto who had no plans to let Sasuke fully comprehend what was taking place.


The pain was excruciating, but even worse was seeing the horrified expression on the second Naruto’s face as realized what was happening. Sasuke’s vision shimmered when an anguished wail of ‘Nooooooooo!’ cut through the night. He saw the ground rapidly rising to his face, and he would barely feel the hard collision of his body against the asphalt.


So cold, was his fading thought, though he was sure he was smiling somewhere deep inside. For at least his simple wish to have Naruto weep for him had finally come true.




Chapter 11

Naruto Home



















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