12 – Indigo


She would find him fast asleep by the window; Sai’s cell phone still held within his bloody grasp. Tendrils of pre-dawn light flickered across exhausted features, revealing what appeared to be streaks of dried tears on his scarred cheeks (though it might have just been a play of the light for she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen the man shed a tear for anything). Strained recollections aside, she was astute enough to know that his aura was anything but its usual welcoming warmth. It appeared to have dimmed a little; as if struggling to hold on to its usual strength.


(nothing but the embers of a dying flame eager to roar again)


Her heart stirred.


You poor thing, she thought sadly, reaching out to brush aside the stray strands of hair across his cheek tenderly. Why do you allow yourself to suffer so much? No matter how hard you try, you can never eliminate that inherent trait you so wish to destroy. It’s your ability to love, to give love, and to seek it desperately that brings you such despair, Uzumaki Naruto. Yet it is your most magnificent gift, which draws everyone to you, whether you like it or not.


She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on the one-sided conversation, but on her way to the kitchen for some early morning coffee, she had heard his anxious plea to Tsunade regarding the dying mortal boy.


/”Promise me one thing. Don’t…please don’t make him choose. Let him be at peace.”/


At peace? What peace? Where was the peace in this world of theirs? Was he still willing to think in such naïve terms? She really had no idea why Naruto would wish for such a thing when many knew having Sasuke by his side would be beneficial in the long run. Why be so selfless?


(or is there something else you’re really afraid of when it comes to the boy?)


She took a deep breath and shook him gently. “You’ll catch a cold if you remain here, Naruto. You can at least sleep on the couch if you won’t accept the futon Chōjūrō set up for you.”


His lashes lifted slowly; twin cerulean depths glazed with a layer of weariness. He tipped his head in her direction; his unfocused gaze unable to appreciate her close proximity.


“Hold on,” Mei was saying. “I’ll wipe away the bloodstains…goodness; you even got them on my window seat.”


He remained silent as she tended to his wounds. He might have muttered a “thanks” when she was done, but she couldn’t tell. He only shuffled his way to the futon when she was through and buried himself beneath the comforter as if hoping to shield himself away from the world.


By noon, however, she began to lose her patience. Half of the day was already gone, and Naruto was still buried away in his self-pity funk.


Chōjūrō, who was helping to sweep up the storefront (the Cleaners had worked tirelessly through the night and the store was more or less back to normal), noticed his scowling mistress with concern.


“Mei-sama?” he asked tentatively, as he watched her clip the branches of a bonsai plant with more ferocity than was needed.


“Just how long does he plan to mope over the boy?” she snapped and chopped off another branch. The poor plant looked more like a mushroom now.


Chōjūrō cleared his throat. “They appeared to be quite close -”


“Yes, I’m sure they were the best of friends. However, we need him to be back to himself as soon as possible. We’ve got our hands full with these shape shifters going around and causing havoc, and with The Calm approaching, we need Naruto to pull himself together fast.”


“But isn’t he the most dangerous at that time?” Chōjūrō asked with a light frown. “I heard the monster within him gets more active and tries to take over his body then.”


Mei sighed and dropped the shears. “Yes. But can you imagine if Naruto continues to remain this passive, just what could happen if he doesn’t even try to put up a fight against Kurama? That beast could consume him completely and the effects could be irreversible. The Naruto you know will no longer exist!”


Chōjūrō winced. “So what do you suggest we do?”


“Get him out of bed for one thing,” she huffed and took off her gloves. “I’m going to force him to cheer up whether he wants to or not.”


Thirty long minutes later (for the blond could really be a stubborn asshole when he chose to be), Mei congratulated herself on accomplishing a minor miracle. Though he still looked like he hadn’t slept in days, she had done her best to bathe and dress him in items of clothing she kept around (just in case the ‘right man’ ever came along). Not that she would ever tell anyone that she was still waiting for the man-of-her-dreams.


“I still don’t know why we have to go out to eat,” Naruto grumbled as he tucked the shirt into his pants. “We can just order something, can’t we?”


“It’s a beautiful summer afternoon,” Mei argued as she flounced back into the room, now changed into a pretty summer dress that revealed her curvaceous figure to its fullest. She twirled around for him. “What do you think?”


“You look good,” he praised with a small smile and a slight shake of his head.


He wasn’t a fool. He realized what she was doing, and a part of him was grateful for her attention and attempts to make him feel better. He doubted he’d be able to convey just how deep his fears went; that a part of him was sure that Tsunade (and Jiraiya) had ignored his request anyway. He couldn’t claim to be a psychic, but he had a damn good feeling that Sasuke was no longer on the threshold of death. If he had given in to that, he was sure he would have received yet another tearful phone call from Sakura by now.




“Let’s go!” Mei cried out in excitement, as she draped her arm around his and led him outside to a world that knew no better of the dangers it faced. “I’m taking you to my favorite restaurant ever. You’ll love their variety of meals.”


“…is ramen a part of the menu?” he asked while sliding into the passenger’s side of her blood-red convertible. Someone really did know how to show off, didn’t they?


She slapped his arm playfully and rolled her eyes, before sliding on a pair of oversized sunglasses. “You and your ramen fetish. I’m going to get you to eat something that’s not related to the pasta family, and you’re going to enjoy it, Mister.”


With that declaration, she sped through the streets of Kyoto; Naruto glad he had the good sense to buckle up as she swerved dangerously and seemed oblivious to the rules of traffic. It was a major feat that they received no citations, but then again, Naruto was sure Mei would have sweet-talked (cast a spell) on the unfortunate officer to dare stop her.


“Doesn’t it feel good to be out and about?” she asked with a smile thrown in his direction. “I know last night was a harrowing experience, but it’s not the first time you’ve had to deal with such a thing, right?”


“Which part?” Naruto asked with a wry smile. “Fighting with my look-a-like or…?” His words trailed off as he hesitated to say “watching Sasuke die”.


She knew anyway. “Do you really think he’s still dead?”


He captured his lower lip between his teeth and refused to answer that.


“It doesn’t matter,” he finally muttered beneath his breath when she threw a knowing glance at him. He turned away and pressed himself closer to the door, as if hoping to not just avoid her looks, but that massive mane of hair that kept whipping across his face. She could at least put the roof up again. “He’ll have to deal with the consequences of becoming the undead like us.”


“The Undead,” she scoffed and licked her lips. “How cheap-horror-movie like. Immortals sound so much sexier, don’t you think?”


She screeched her way into a parking spot and stepped out of the vehicle to offer her arm to him, when he could finally extricate himself, from his seat, while checking to see if he had broken anything from her mad driving skills.


Ignoring her would have been rude, so he settled for acting like the loving boyfriend; her conversation and laughter making up for his quiet responses as they walked through the bustling city and toward their final destination. If he was aware of the appreciative looks they received, he couldn’t be bothered. Yōkai flittered here and there; his primal instincts to go after them, especially the ones that teetered on being malevolent. Their smells didn’t bother him, not as much as the reminder of how ‘scentless’ the shape shifters were. It was what made them much more difficult to pinpoint. That any of these ‘humans’ walking around them could actually suddenly turn on them…


“Here we are,” Mei announced with a flourish as they approached a pleasant-looking eatery appropriately called “Kōfuku no Kōnā” (Corner of Happiness). Its interior gave off the vibe of hoping to attract the young at heart (or really color-blind folks, for the clash of hues were beyond one’s comprehension). A catchy pop song blasted from unseen speakers, waiters and waitresses skipped around in butler and maid outfits any otaku would have appreciated, the walls were adorned with bright posters of what meals they had to offer or photographs of famous celebrities who had stopped by to bless the restaurant with their presence in the past. Most of the booths were filled with hungry customers, and there was a general atmosphere of gaiety and joy that stirred something warm in Naruto’s heart.


Hell, even the yōkai in here didn’t seem to care that two more spirit warriors had stopped by, for their auras were too weak to be a nuisance.


“Why don’t you find us a table,” Mei was saying. “I’ll just go to the restroom to freshen up…ooh!”


Her ‘ooh’ had him looking away from a particularly interesting photograph of one of his favorite comedians (who knew Hanase-sensei enjoyed pancakes so much?) to what had captured her attention.


“What’s wrong…?” he began, only for the words to get stuck in his throat as a pair of oh-so-very-familiar dark eyes met his for the briefest (and coldest) of moments, before their owner barged his way through a set of double-doors leading to the men’s room.




“Well, either that’s a very good shape shifter who wanted nothing of us, or that was the very boy you were crying over last night, Uzumaki Naruto,” Mei said with amusement in her voice once the shock was over. Her gaze drifted over the diner until it fell on the couple still at the booth. With a wide smile, she waved her hand in greeting; ignoring the curious looks that came their way. “If it isn’t Sakura and Sai. Then I guess that really was the real Sasuke. Let’s join them!”


“Maybe we should…” Naruto tried to argue, but Mei was already making her way toward the spirit warriors, while he debated on whether or not to follow the boy who had obviously got something stuck up his ass. What was he so pissed off about anyway?


He took a deep breath and made up his mind.


Confrontation first.


Except by the time he got to the restroom, Sasuke had pinned a much bigger man against the wall - by his neck - and was in the process of yanking out a screeching yōkai until it was blasted away with a surge of his chakra. He carefully let the comatose man back to the floor and stepped back, and without looking at Naruto, he stated calmly.


“It tried to attack me when I came in here.”


“You don’t have to explain it to me -”


“So why are you here?”


“Why were you frowning? You always frown when you have to take a leak?”


“It’s none of your business if I choose to frown during my personal toilet affairs.”


“Oh right. I forgot. That’s just the way your face is ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time.”


“I have a right to keep my face however I choose to.”


“Geez. You’re just back from the dead, and you still haven’t lost that damn attitude of yours.”


“Geez. I’m barely dead and you’re already in the arms of someone else.”




Sasuke cursed beneath his breath and made his way to a urinal. “Nothing.”


Naruto hissed and made to stand in the next urinal just as the door opened and two laughing men walked in to join them. Though he hadn’t felt the urge to do so, as he unzipped he figured he might as well.


“I don’t know what you’re getting all pissed off about,” he growled beneath his breath for Sasuke’s ears only, but then again, considering their two new companions were too busy cracking loud lewd jokes –


“It’s okay, Naruto. I am more than aware of your need to block out things that are ‘unpleasant’ to you,” Sasuke growled back. He shook himself, staring morosely at the stains he had created on the wall, before zipping up again. “I just didn’t expect you to be so ready to say goodbye that quickly.”


Naruto raised a brow in bemusement as he met the dark eyes that seemed to swirl with so many unspoken questions, but there was no denying the flicker of an emotion he could recognize as hurt before it was masked with indifference. He groaned inwardly and looked away.


(teens and their goddamn hormones)


But then again, it could just be an Uchiha thing.


“There’s nothing between Mei and I,” he muttered as he zipped up and joined Sasuke at the sink. Their companions were still cackling amongst themselves and both spirit warriors noticed their yōkai was just as fun-loving. Nothing to worry about.


“Not that it’s any of your business who I choose to date anyway.”


“I don’t care who you choose to date,” came the clipped retort. “I just assumed you’d have the decency to at least come see me -”


“What did you expect? A bouquet of roses at your bedside? Me sniffling and sobbing over you like Sakura?”


“Is it too much to ask for your own teacher to show up at your ‘funeral’?!” came the impatient snap. “Would it have killed you to just make that one pit stop even if it was for five minutes?”


“What’s the point? You’re here now, aren’t you?! Even after-”


“Oh that’s right,” Sasuke sneered. “You told Jiraiya-sama not to let me make a choice, right?  You were so concerned about me, weren’t you? Give me a break.”


Naruto yanked several napkin sheets with more force than necessary. This kid was really –


“Well congratulations, Uchiha Sasuke. Welcome to the land of the Immortals.” He made a show of bowing, though his features were taut with barely controlled irritation. “You’ve made your choice, so now you’ve got to live with it. If you were expecting me to jump for joy and swing you all over the place, you’re following the wrong story route. There is no such thing as happily-ever-after in this game you’ve stepped into, so buckle up and get ready for one hell of a bumpy-ri-”


“Now, now, you two,” came the sudden drawl as an arm was thrown over his shoulder and the other around an equally stunned Sasuke. It was one of the other men, who was now grinning at them with a slow nod.


“Looks like you two just need to kiss and make up, eh? Nothing is worth getting this upset over, right Mako-chan?”


“Right, Rei-chan!” the other man hailed with a thumbs-up sign and a matching cheesy grin.


“I know what!” Rei said with a snap of his fingers as he pulled Naruto closer to him. “How about we do something for you guys? You can come to our club this weekend, eh? Mako-chan? Do you have any extra tickets in your pocket for these boys?”


Mako dug around in his jeans for a moment; his features contorted into one of concentration. Finally, he pulled out two small white tickets, which he handed to Naruto with a polite bow of his head.


Not sure if he had stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone, Naruto accepted and stared numbly at the fine print.




Saturday 11pm – 6am



Free Drinks after 11:30pm

[Dress to Impress!]


“See?” Rei breathed into his ear, sending a reluctant shiver of awareness down the blond’s spine at the sensation. “Just the perfect place to let loose and have a little fun, eh? We look forward to seeing you and your sexy, brooding twink.”


He squeezed Naruto’s shoulder and dared to place a light kiss on Sasuke’s forehead, though he was lucky he didn’t stick around a second later or he might have gotten a very hard punch to the face for that stunt. Sasuke’s fists had been forming from the moment the man touched him. 


Naruto was still staring at the tickets while Sasuke wiped his forehead over and over, and when his fingers weren’t good enough, reached for a napkin – wet it – and proceeded to scrub off the tainted spot.


(sexy, brooding twink? Dear God)


“Great,” Naruto finally growled as he tossed the tickets onto the counter. The man Sasuke had knocked out earlier was beginning to rouse out of his stupor. “Now we get invited to a gay club.  Unbe-fucking-livable.”


Not waiting for the boy, he excused himself from the restroom and breathed in a lungful of air as if the one in there had suffocated him, and perhaps it had. Not for the first time, he was realizing just how much being in Sasuke’s presence made him want to go extreme with his emotions. There was no mid-point with the kid.


The door behind him opened, and a shoulder bumped hard into him almost sending him slamming into the wall. He scowled and looked up to meet the defiant dark eyes.


“Sorry,” Sasuke said, though he looked anything but. He was walking backward slowly, but with his middle fingers raised in a salute Naruto was all too familiar with. “I know what route I’ve chosen in this game, and I’m going to get my good ending even if it means dragging your ass along with me, Naruto. I plan on being your worst nightmare.”


And with an added blown kiss in his direction, Sasuke spun on his heels and made his way back to the dining area; leaving a flabbergasted sensei to watch after him in silence.





“Took you two long enough,” Mei burped around her second glass of vanilla milkshake, when the two men finally joined the table. “I was beginning to wonder if giving each other blow jobs took that long.”


Sakura choked on her drink. Sai allowed himself a small smile. Sasuke turned a bright red, and Naruto was still too busy ruminating over Sasuke’s words that he barely acknowledged Mei’s teasing.


“Mei-sama!” Sakura finally hissed; though her cheeks were warm.


“Oh come now,” the older woman said with a laugh, wishing it was ‘happy hour’ where she could order something alcoholic. It was still too early in the day and despite her many attempts to order just a little hint of vodka in her shake, the manager had declined. Boo! “Surely you can’t tell me you’re still a virgin after a hundred years, young lady?”


Sakura sputtered. “I am not…!”


“Then we’re all adults here, and we’ve got nothing to hide,” Mei cut in as she leaned closer to Naruto to nuzzle him playfully. “But don’t worry,” she added quickly with a smile at Sasuke. “I promise not to make any moves on him. Hopefully, he explained all that to you in the restroom.”


It was Naruto who finally cut in with a firm but low “Mei”, which had the woman pouting and sitting upright with a sigh.


“All right. All kidding aside, I’m glad you’re all here so I can get this out of the way.” She finished up her drink and proceeded to cast a spell that would render their conversation unheard to human (or yōkai) ears. “I’ll go straight to the point. The Calm is less than a week away.”


At that, they all seemed to straighten up a little more; their gazes trained on her, though Naruto appeared to be staring at his glass of water intently.


“We all know the chaos that happens in the spirit world that night, and I’m sure S.W.A.T has probably made plans to keep Naruto under its protection then. Yes?” She looked at Sakura as she asked this, and the pink-haired girl nodded.


“Fair enough,” Mei continued quietly. “However, this year might be even more troubling for we have the new problem of the shape shifters. With most spirit warriors weakened and unable to fight, it’s likely that more of them will show up to eliminate them. I know Jiraiya, Tsunade, Kakashi and the others have been doing their best all this time to find their source, but no luck yet, correct?”


“Correct,” Sai responded with a slow nod. “We’ve gone as far as Antarctica and even the South Sea Islands, but no one has been able to find anything. Samples we’ve received only show that these things come from a plant that’s never been recorded in the history books. Just where is it coming from?”


Mei glanced at Sasuke. “Perhaps this thing…is much closer than we think.”


Sasuke held her gaze prisoner; his voice giving nothing away as he replied carefully. “If you mean those cryptic words you showed me yesterday…they still mean nothing to me.”


“You did not discover anything from Itachi?” Sai queried with a light frown.


Sasuke shook his head, but was able to catch the dark look Naruto threw his way before the blue eyes were lowered again. His heart skipped a beat for he knew he was treading on dangerous ground. It wasn’t as if he didn’t trust them, but at this time –


“Nothing that should concern you,” Sasuke replied with a light shrug. “Most of my family’s records were destroyed in the fire. We barely managed to salvage anything, and Itachi wasn’t much of a writer. If there were any secrets he had to reveal, he took them to his grave.”


“So we are at a dead end,” Mei moaned and slumped her head onto the table; narrowly missing dunking her face into a half-finished place of chicken teriyaki.


“Gi…” Sasuke began and then cleared his throat as all eyes were immediately fixed on him. He felt his cheeks grow hot, but he plodded on. “Give me some more time to search.”


“More time? More time?! How much more time do you need? We need to figure something out before The Calm!”


“Give the boy some time like he says,” Naruto said curtly; his tone more authoritative than ever before and enough to have Mei blushing at the reprimand. “I’m sure he’ll be able to figure out something by then.”


“But what about you?”


“What about me?”


“The Ca -”

“We’ll deal with that when the time comes,” Naruto interrupted with a wave of his hand. He was already sick of the damn ‘event’ because it was always the worst time for him anyway. Maybe a small part of him really didn’t want to make it through this time around. “For now, I suggest we all split. We’re beginning to draw more and more restless yōkai this way, and I really need to take a nap. It’s been one hell of a past twenty-four hours.”


He rose to his feet and held out his hand to Mei. “I’ll escort you to your car.”


He offered to pay, apologizing for interrupting their lunch, before leading the woman out of the building.


The trio watched them leave, though Sakura observed that Sasuke didn’t appear to be as upset as he had been earlier. She wasn’t sure what they had discussed in the restroom, though she doubted anything lewd had gone on between them. She was already more than aware of the teenager’s feelings for the older man, and though a part of her was always going to feel a sense of resentment, she could at least try to encourage him even if it seemed one-sided for now.


“Would you like to go back to your apartment, Sasuke?” she finally asked with a smile.


Sasuke finally tore his gaze from the couple to nod slowly. “Yeah…why not? I need a change of clothes anyway. This stuff itches.”


Sai made a face, for the ‘stuff’ was actually his clothes, and he didn’t appreciate them being called ‘itchy’. He gripped about that on the way to Sasuke’s apartment, much to his companions’ amusement (for it was rare to get Sai riled up about anything). Sasuke apologized profusely and promised to get Sai even better clothes when he was paid, but that didn’t seem to help matters either.


He would later leave with Sakura, promising never to lend Sasuke his clothes again even if he was the last man on earth.





I am dead.


He stared at the soapsuds enveloping him.


No…I am undead.


He scooped up some in his palms and blew on them gently; watching the bubbles float into the air before dissipating into nothingness.


I am Immortal.


His lips twitched at how that sounded in his head. It was like something out of a really bad movie, but the temptation to test this out…to see if he couldn’t die was like an itch that really needed to be scratched.


(to live forever)


He could try slashing his wrists or stabbing himself in the heart, but that would be too dramatic (and then again, a small part of him was concerned that this was really just a dream and if he did do those things, he’d be dead for sure.) Why not try something tamer but no less dangerous?


(here goes nothing)


He took a deep breath, squeezed his eyes and mouth shut, and slid lower in the tub until he was completely submerged. He knew he could hold his breath for almost a minute, but that minute was rapidly passing and his lungs were slowly beginning to scream for oxygen.


(not yet…)


Predictably, his body began to protest. Muscles twitching. Nostrils flaring. Eyes straining in their sockets. His ears buzzing and now ringing. His lashes flew open and soon his mouth. First instincts were to raise himself out of the tub, but he couldn’t. He bore with the excruciating pain; of soapy water rushing into his mouth and down his throat until his chest expanded with the overflow of fluid. He choked and sputtered and began to thrash blindly.




For the next three minutes, mind and body battled against each other, until one of them surrendered the fight. He could feel his heart rate slowing down; a drunken ba-dum…ba-dum…ba-dum…weaker and weaker until there was nothing left. His thrashing stilled and he drifted to the bottom before floating back to the surface. His eyes were open yet he could see nothing; that once bright white ceiling now a fading halo of gray.


(so this is…drowning…this is…death…)


There was one last final push of his heart to beat before everything went dark. When all was still and nothing – not even a pin drop - could be heard in this space between life and the afterlife. He fully expected to hear Jiraiya again, but unfortunately –




There was a sudden sensation of being thrust or slammed hard into something. It literally felt like his heart was being thrown against his ribcage and he was forced to ‘see’ again; eyes widening like saucers before he burst out to the surface to cough out all the water he had swallowed earlier.


“Fuc…fuck,” he panted in disbelief; as he rubbed a trembling hand down his face. “Urgh.”


He leaned over the side and vomited; cringing at the sight of everything he had eaten today and then some. He slumped back into the tub when he was through, but his entire body was still shaking and weak; as if he had been put through an emotional washing machine and wrung out completely.




Dying was exhausting work.


Now he had an idea of what Naruto went through each and every time he got ‘killed’. He wondered how many death throes the guy had been through since his transformation.


“Gotta get up,” he groaned, but couldn’t get himself to move just yet. Thinking of the blond had brought back the ‘strange’ conversation they had in the restroom, though the most he had gotten from all of it was that he and Mei weren’t in a relationship; something Mei had seconded much to his inner pleasure. Unfortunately, all that meant jack shit if Naruto was still obstinate about not wanting to see him as nothing more than a boy with ‘issues’. However, a line from Itachi’s diary immediately came to mind:


/ 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! /


“Initiate it,” he whispered as he wrapped his arms around his raised knees. “…I can’t.”


His features burned at the sudden image of him daring to press his lips against Naruto’s. God knows how many fantasies he had about that, but reality was completely different; at least not with the way Naruto felt about him. At that stage of their relationship, Itachi and Naruto were already practically a couple, and so Itachi kissing him must have been a-okay with the blond. Why would he be upset?


“If I do that now, I’ll probably get the mother of all scoldings, and he’ll disappear again. I need him to stick around to find the damn cave so we can solve the mystery of the shape shifters.” He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the gnawing ache inside of him. “That’s our relationship. Simply working together…that’s it. I am not Itachi after all.”


Hating himself for moping about the situation, he finally let himself out of the tub, cleaned up his mess, and wrapped a towel around his waist to head into the kitchen for a quick bite before catching up on emails and his online haunts.


“Hey, Naruto,” he greeted absently at the familiar figure browsing on his computer, and it wasn’t until he opened the fridge did it finally sink in as to what and who was in his home.


(the hell?!)


He dashed back out to gawk at the blond still clicking away on his desktop; looking for all the world like he had been there for quite a while. With the T.V. on, a half-finished box of western-style pizza and two cans of beer on his coffee table…someone had definitely been here for some time. How come…?


(when you were busy drowning, remember?)


“’Sup, my Worst Nightmare,” Naruto greeted with a raised hand as he clicked on –


(aaah! It’s one of the games! What the hell is he doing?!)


His entire being burned as he watched Naruto scroll through the conversations; the sound of the mouse clicking faster and faster as he bypassed the ‘boring’ scenes. No longer dressed in the tailored shirt and pants he had worn to the restaurant, Naruto looked more like ‘himself’ in a pair of jeans and tee-shirt. His left leg was raised upon the swiveling chair, his chin resting on his knee as he played on. When he finally got to a fighting scene, his blue eyes lit up with excitement.


“Not too bad a game,” he commented; absently reaching for the small bowl of cashew nuts beside the keyboard to throw some into his mouth. “If you skip the yakking and the horny bastards, you actually get something quite decent.”


Sasuke tried to say something, but nothing could come out of his mouth. He was already familiar with the game Naruto was playing, so he was more than aware of what came next if Naruto continued on the path he was taking. He was tempted to spoil it for the blond, but bit his lower lip and shook his head. What was the point? As long as he was having fun…


(in my apartment!)


He ignored the gleeful voice inside of him and blushed his way back into the kitchen to help himself to something. Unfortunately, whatever hunger had driven him there was now fading rapidly. He still couldn’t help peeking into the living room, just to be sure if he wasn’t hallucinating the entire thing as he overfilled his bowl with too much milk and had to step aside as it trickled to the floor.


He wiped it quickly; embarrassed to find he was trembling. It was one thing to exhibit bravado in a public place, but to be alone with Naruto despite their argument and everything that went on today…


“Ah fuck,” came the groan of dismay as Naruto’s path ended rather abruptly. “Should have picked the other one I guess. But damn…that’s a bloody way to end, isn’t it? Too much gore if you ask me.”


He clicked back to the beginning of the route, took a swig of the beer beside the bowl of cashews, belched rudely before spinning in the chair to face his quiet companion. For a long moment, both men studied each other, perhaps wanting to believe that they really were in the presence of one another. It could be easy to forget that one of them had been on Death’s door before his fateful decision to defy It; to forget that one’s selfless act of courage had dared to give the other hope. That in those dark (or blue eyes) they were forever going to be intertwined no matter what each other did to prove otherwise. It was Naruto, who finally broke away with a sigh and slow shake of his head.


“Go put some clothes on for Christ’s sake,” he ordered gruffly. “You’re shivering like a dog.”


“I -”


“Besides, we need to talk. So hurry it up.”


He spun back to the game and started all over again; a cue for Sasuke to get his feet moving into his bedroom to change into something decent.


Several minutes later, he was ‘protected’ in similar wear to Naruto’s, only he had felt the need to add another layer of a sweatshirt despite it being a rather muggy evening. Even the open window didn’t help relieve the tiny beads of sweat forming above his upper lip. He tried to lick it away unsuccessfully, and shoved another spoonful of soggy cereal into his mouth as he stared at the broad back above him. Naruto was approaching yet another crucial choice in the game, and he was smart enough to take the ‘safe’ route which would soon involve him being in a rather intense bondage scene.


Sasuke felt the cereal go the wrong way at the memory of those particular moments and hoped to goodness Naruto would pause the game before things got even more awkward between them.


“You know something, don’t you?” came the sudden question which had Sasuke looking up with a hard blink.




Naruto wasn’t looking at him as he clicked away. “Back at the restaurant when Mei asked if you knew anything about her prophecy or whatever, you said you had no idea what they meant, right? You were lying right through your teeth, weren’t you?”


Sasuke’s cheeks colored. He cleared his throat and looked away. “Maybe.”


“Cut the bullshit, Sasuke,” came the impatient response. “You heard what she said, didn’t you? We need to find the source of those things before The Calm; and the sooner we figure it out, the better.”


He finally paused the game to swivel around; his gaze dark and intense. “What do you know so far?”


Sasuke tucked his legs beneath him and lowered his bowl to the floor. “The only thing I know is what Itachi wrote in his diaries. I found them hidden among some of his personal items I managed to salvage.”

I also found out a little more about your relationship with him, but I can’t tell you that. You’ve probably figured it out already.


However, nothing in Naruto’s expression gave away his surprise or disapproval of this nugget of information. Sasuke continued quietly.


“He mentioned a place called Mount Takao. It’s where our family temple is located. I don’t remember much of it, but Itachi apparently went there a few times to try to find a way into the legendary Ryūchi Cave.” His eyes narrowed as he studied the blond carefully. “Have you heard of it?”


“Yes,” came the straight answer, which caused Sasuke’s eyes to widen. Naruto rubbed his chin; his brows furrowed in thought. “It was rumored that it was nothing more than a fable and such a place did not exist. But just as Mount Myōboku is only visible to those destined to see it, I believe the same principle works for Ryūchi Cave.” He studied Sasuke for a moment, before allowing a small smile to come to his lips. “Who knows? Maybe you’re the one destined to find the damn place. If even your genius of a brother had a hard time locating it, and your father and grandfather had no idea either, what are the odds that you’re that special someone?”


Sasuke would have been embarrassed at the idea of being that ‘special’, but there were too many thoughts spinning through his mind now. “But even if we find it, what’s the proof that the answer we need will be in there? If these shape shifters are things that evolve from a rare plant…?”


“Way before our time,” Naruto cut in softly. “There was a tale of the Senju and Uchiha clan being one; not related by blood per se, but combining forces to become a united front. The Senju had the inherent ability to use Natural energy; a fusion with the earth to regenerate and manipulate it to do their will. The first person to be able to harness this gift was the one named Hashirama. Imagine being able to create entire forests with just a wave of chakra, or creating deadly plants that could release pollen to render opponent useless.” Naruto clenched his fist and released it slowly to stare at his palm. “I wouldn’t learn until much later that I was actually a descendant of Hashirama, not that I can create any damn forest, but I still have a part of the Nature energy inside of me. It’s one of the reasons why I should be able to detect the shape shifters from the real ones.” He looked up to meet Sasuke’s eyes. “These shape shifters are creations from the Senju’s DNA; which is why it’s so rare and hard to find. If the stories I’ve heard over the years are true, then a member of the Uchiha clan stole some of it to grow within Ryūchi Cave. Someone or something has access to that cave today, and we need to find out who it is and where it is fast.”


Sasuke tried to digest this, but it felt as if someone had just shoved him back into the tub and was trying to drown him again. He slapped his hands over his face and took a deep breath; trying to gather himself.


“What…?” he began in a muffled yet trembling whisper. “Are you trying to say that there might be another member of my clan in existence?”


“Highly unlikely,” Naruto replied as his hands twitched lightly. The urge to pull the boy to him in an embrace was so overwhelming, he had to grip the back of the chair to control himself. It didn’t help when Sasuke lowered his hands to reveal the haunted expression in his eyes.


“So what then? I don’t understand? Who could…?”


“I wish I could pinpoint an exact person, but the truth of the matter is, your clan had some rather shady partnerships in the past. Many who ended up betraying your clan and getting you eliminated all for the sake of power. Sucks, but that’s the harsh reality of our world, Sasuke. Those who you thought you could trust end up stabbing you in the back when you least expect.”


He finished this in a pained voice;  having to clear his throat and look away to reach for the nearly empty can of beer. He drained its contents and wished he hadn’t sounded that way, for the last thing he wanted was for the kid to assume he still wasn’t ‘over’ what had happened to him all those years ago.


“Anyway, that’s the way things stand now,” he continued in a stronger voice. “I’ll give you a day to rest up and then we can start making our way to Mount Takao.”


“What if I don’t find it?” Sasuke asked hoarsely. “What if I’m not meant to find it either? What if this all comes to a dead end?”


“Then we’ll just have to keep fighting those sons-of-bitches until one of them reveals who their master is.”


“And The Calm?”


Naruto sighed and rubbed a hand across his forehead. “The Calm, huh? Shitty time for me that’s for sure.” He smiled bitterly. “Mei must have told you what it’s all about. Your brother just missed the last one before he was born, so I’m sure he didn’t reveal the ‘fun’ that takes place then.”


“That bad?”


Naruto managed a weary smile. “The Calm is a brief period in time when some cosmic shit…I mean shift takes place and spirit warriors tend to become weaker. Yōkai take advantage and go about causing even more havoc, especially the dormant ones. Malevolents have a fucking field day, and as you can imagine…” He placed a hand against his stomach. “My seal gets considerably weaker and Kurama tends to want to take over…and I mean over.”


Sasuke gawked. “You mean…?”


“Yeah…one time he almost did take complete control, and it took Jiraiya and his cronies almost a week to get me back to normal. I nearly died. Which is why I’ll need yo…”


He stopped himself quickly, but not quick enough. He met the understanding dark eyes for a moment before turning away with a huff. “Don’t get the wrong idea,” he muttered thickly. “Usually, they’ll keep me locked away in an underground dungeon in S.W.A.T. and have their strongest warriors seal me in as best they can…at least that was the plan this year. So don’t…”


“I’ll be here,” Sasuke cut in firmly. “I’ll do my best, don’t worry.”


Naruto stubbornly pretended to be interested in the frozen image of the protagonist on the computer screen; trying hard to ignore the warmth of intense gratitude to surge through him, at those simple words. He wanted to tell Sasuke that it wasn’t going to be easy, that if he slipped for even a second, Kurama could kill him. However, recalling how Sasuke had somehow managed to calm the tumultuous spirit within him back at the train station…


(I’ll be okay…with him…I’ll be…)


“…tomorrow,” Sasuke said forcing him out of his daze.




Sasuke was rising to his feet to stretch out his limbs. “I said we could start tomorrow.”


“You have school tomorrow. You might be Immortal, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip your classes.”


Sasuke made a face. “School can wait. You said we had to hurry up with this, remember? Besides, get off my computer, so I can check out what I’ve missed so far.”


“Not to worry, your porn links are still intact.”


Sasuke sputtered and kicked at the chair, sending the older man toppling to the ground.




“Fuck you. I don’t visit those sleazy sites. Besides,” he added as he shoved Naruto aside to straighten the chair before plunking himself on it. “This route in the game is likely to take you into a hardcore bondage scene. Doubt you could handle it.”


“Says the virgin,” Naruto taunted and smirked as the boy turned a lovely shade of red. “Seriously,” he continued as he made his way to the kitchen to help himself to another can of beer (he had purchased the six-pack). “You should consider finding yourself a damn boyfriend or whatever, Sasuke. And since you grabbed those tickets anyway, maybe you were thinking of finding one at that club, eh?”


Sasuke prayed for the ground to open and swallow him whole. He knew he  should have hidden those tickets Naruto had left behind in the restroom. It wasn’t as if he was planning on going there…


(oh yeah? So why did you take them?!)


…and now Naruto was going to think he was that desperate to find himself a date and…


(oh God)


“…that guy in your class who keeps ogling at you…”


“Stop trying to match me with anyone,” Sasuke snapped; more to hide his embarrassment than any real annoyance. “I’m fine being alone.”


“Yeah, yeah,” came the yawned words. “Just don’t stay up too long on that thing. We leave first thing in the morning.”


“Okay…” Sasuke began as he logged into his email account, only for his fingers to freeze in mid-type at the connotation of Naruto’s words. “Wait…”


He turned with his heart beating a little faster. Naruto was lying on his side on the floor; remote control in one hand and flipping through the channels while munching on a slice of pizza at the same time.


“Are…umm…” he stammered weakly. “You…are…uh…slee…sleeping here?”


“You don’t want me here?” Naruto asked lazily and yawned again. “You want to kick me out, you heartless creature?”


“I don’t care if you sleep here, but…I don’t have an extra futon,” he finished weakly. “And…uum…”


(you can’t share my bed either! I’ll probably die if you suggest that)


“Just toss me an extra blanket. I’ll be fine,” Naruto shrugged lightly. “Don’t worry about me.”


“O…Okay, if you say so.”


He forced himself to concentrate; trying hard not to envision all the common scenarios such sleepovers usually involved. One of them would eventually have to make a move. Maybe Naruto would suddenly suggest that he was too cold to sleep on the floor and would sneak into his bed at night to keep him warm and then…


“Fuck,” he hissed as he noticed he had typed “keep me warm and whisper in my ear” instead of “keep all routes open” in response to Hamazaki’s email regarding his new BL game. He backspaced so fast, he nearly erased an entire paragraph in his panic.


(I’m such a klutz)


By the time he was through with the damn email, he felt he had gone through every possible BL scenario in his mind, while erasing so many wrong sentences, he had to proof-read his email three times to be sure there was nothing ‘weird’ about it. Hamazaki might begin to worry about his sanity.


The ‘send’ button had never looked so good, and when he finally pulled away from the computer an hour later, it was completely dark outside. His first full day as an Immortal and besides the drowning incident, it really felt no different.


(well, not really…)


He swiveled his chair around slowly to study his now sleeping roommate. He had failed to turn on the lights in the room, leaving the flashing images from the television screen to dance across the features in repose. Sasuke thought back to the first time they had really met and how he had felt then. The emotions had been a mingle of fear, anger, and that first pang of awareness of who this man really was. But now…


“Naruto,” he worshipped the name on his tongue as he got off the chair as quietly as he could.


He crawled on his hands and knees toward the older man, not stopping until he was close enough to touch him if he so chose. It hit him now that for a man who seemed so eager to cover himself up all the time, this was really the first time Naruto had felt ‘comfortable’ enough in his presence to wear just a tee-shirt. Sasuke didn’t know if that was something to cheer about, considering just how much of Naruto he had seen (and been) in his past. Still, it was a big step in their relationship, he thought. The tee-shirt was scrunched up a little to reveal the pale torso, and Sasuke might have dared to caress that skin when he noticed the three balls of paper next to a now empty pizza box. He might have assumed they were only used napkins, but the pen lying next to them told him otherwise.


I’m just clearing out the trash, he made up quickly in his mind as he unraveled each carefully. If he asks, I’ll just tell him that…




Something fluttered within his chest as crinkled (and crossed out) words were slowly revealed.


Thank you, the first note read.

Thank you for coming back, the second note read.

I’m so glad you’re here, the third note read.




With fingers that trembled, he carefully straightened the notes out; every stroke and letter imprinted into his memory as he read and re-read them over and over again until his vision blurred.




He had no idea when he finally rose to his feet to reach for the blanket on his bed and the spare one in his closet, but he figured sleeping on the floor tonight wasn’t going to be such a bad idea.


Besides, he thought as he placed the notes under his pillow and lay beside the older man (though not too close). His warmth is more than enough to comfort me.


And as he allowed himself to memorize every feature of that scarred face – where he might have (just might have) traced those ‘whiskers’ shyly – before burrowing beneath the safety of his blanket for fear he would incur someone’s wrath, he still couldn’t help the small smile of happiness he dared himself to feel.


For though it was just a small step forward in their relationship, it was one he would take wholeheartedly.




In the bowels of the earth, the white spore shivered.


It slithered and burst its way through thick layers of underground strata; sedimentary rocks shattering, deeply buried roots splitting apart, and creatures who seek comfort in its depths crushed with the force of this thing that dared to disrupt their natural solace.


It eventually reached its destination and morphed out to the surface of an interior that was no less dank and gloomy in appearance. It rose to its full size and stood before the heaving, breathing white massive tree; only instead of leaves, over a million (if not more) of its kind hung from its sturdy branches awaiting their rebirth.


Sitting at its root – on a carved wooden chair – was the ‘remains’ of what was once a man. Skeletal hands gripped its handles and the sunken body cloaked in a black robe, seemed to shrivel even more into itself despite its attempt to breathe with the aid of clinging branches wrapped around its neck.


The spore moved closer and bowed in homage.


“They are coming,” he announced simply. “Just as you predicted, my Lord. What do we do now?”


The figure’s lips parted in a smile that revealed no teeth, and it seemed to sigh in pleasure.


“We welcome them with open arms,” it spoke through the branches attached to him; his raspy voice trembling with excitement. “For I have waited far too long for our reunion.”


Chapter 13

Naruto Home




































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