13 – Hunter


He wasn’t too surprised to see them waiting outside. Should have expected it really.


(besides we could always use some backup)


“Gooooodmorning, Sakura-chan!” he greeted with enthusiasm and a grin as brilliant as the sun threatening to peek above gray clouds. “Fancy meeting you two here.”


Sakura pretended to look offended, while Sai - who had been reading a book- lowered it to smile a little. They were both dressed in their school uniforms, though from their aura, it was clear they had absolutely no intention of going to said school today.


“Thought you could sneak away without us?” Sakura asked as she tugged on Naruto’s ear, ignoring his wails of ‘ouch! Ouch! Ouch!  You meanie!’ while scolding him. “Have you forgotten that we work as a team?”


“But how did you know about it?” Naruto grimaced and rubbed his throbbing ear with a pout. “Were you eavesdropping last night?”


“Not really. I sensed Sasuke wasn’t being too honest with us at the restaurant, and when Sai said you didn’t show up at the apartment last night…I put two and two together.”


“Damn,” came the low grumble. “You’ve missed your calling as a detective-”


The sudden pounding of footsteps behind them, forced their attention to the appearance of Sasuke all but leaping down the steps in haste. He wasn’t in uniform; choosing, instead, a pair of jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt that covered his head and most of his face from prying eyes. His sword was strapped across his back, and he was just about to call out to Naruto and apologize for running a little late, when his steps faulted as he noticed the other two.




“And good morning to you too, Sasuke,” Sakura greeted with a smile - though the flood of color to fill the boy’s cheeks and the quick look exchanged by both he and Naruto before they turned away as if the very act of looking into each other’s eyes was humiliating – did not escape her observant gaze. “Going somewhere this fine morning?” she teased.


Sasuke cleared his throat and scoffed at the ground with a sneaker. “We were just -”


“We’ll explain everything later,” Naruto interrupted with a firm clap of his hands. “We don’t want to miss the first train heading to our destination, so let’s get going. Ready?”


And without waiting to see if he was followed, he leapt onto a wall and then the next rooftop to lead the way to the station.


(how do you prepare yourself for a possible battle?)


If anyone asked him that question, there was really no way to give a direct answer. What kind of answer was there to give anyway? Perhaps, for the military-minded individual, there were battle plans and strategies involved before bum rushing into enemy territory. So where was the manual for individual grudge matches? He was yet to find one if it was ever in existence. Personal vendettas usually involved trying to eat as much as you could the day or night before and getting as much rest as possible. No need to show up half-asleep and giving your enemy even more reason to consider the fight a joke.


Last night, he had managed to at least get half of that routine done – the eating-as-much-as-possible part that is. The sleeping part would have been great if he hadn’t suddenly woken up in the wee hours of the morning desperately needing to relieve his bladder…and what happened next…




His peripheral vision caught sight of something black, and a quick glance to his left showed that Sasuke had just about caught up to him. It was amazing considering he was still ‘new’ at this, and yet he was now much faster than Sakura and Sai.


(talk about your student surpassing the master)


Naruto shook his head lightly and gave a wry smile as he landed just briefly on yet another rooftop before blasting off again with even more chakra – as if to put some more distance between them.


And why shouldn’t he?


How was one to explain waking up to the sight and sensation of something warm and very much alive pressed against you? Naruto’s initial thought had been that some kind of animal (a cat maybe?) had crept into the apartment and snuggled up to him (which would explain the ticklish sensation beneath his chin). However, when the now familiar scent of Sasuke’s citrus shampoo filtered into his dulled senses, and ‘fur’ somehow transformed into soft dark hair that threatened to make him sneeze and that the kid’s warm breath was felt upon the thin layer of his tee-shirt against his chest – it didn’t take Naruto long to realize just how dangerous the situation was.


(huh…wai…wait a minute!)


What the fuck is he doing on the floor?! was the first panicked thought, quickly heightened as the boy shuddered and pressed himself even closer to a body that was rapidly losing its fight to remain disinterested.


A blanket had been thrown over him, though now askew thanks to Sasuke’s need to crawl into his personal space. It was now apparent that the kid had not slept on the bed after all, and Naruto wracked his frazzled mind to recall if the plans had changed while they had discussed sleeping arrangements. But no, he was damn sure Sasuke had said he would sleep on the bed, so now why…?


A moan.


Another subtle motion of that young body, creating a gentle collision of thighs. Sasuke’s arms were tucked against his chest and now trapped between them. Naruto dared not breathe. His bladder ached with an urgent need, yet worse was the throbbing ache now forming somewhere else.


(how long has it been since I…?)


He cursed and blamed it all on allowing himself to be caught up with those damn perverted games; that despite his sneering at the sex scenes and how ‘fake’ they looked; there was no denying the natural instinct and carnal desire that still flickered deep within.


His heart leapt in a wild staccato.


He had then made the terrible mistake of looking down at the cause of his current distress, and every emotion; ranging from the horrific realization that he was allowing himself to get turned on by this kid, to how innocent he looked in sleep, to how sick it was to even consider the temptation of tasting those slightly parted and moistened lips – had him moaning in dismay and squeezing his eyes shut.


Calm down, Naruto, he chided himself as he began to slide away slowly so as not to wake the boy. Besides, since when did you start getting the hots for him? Such things don’t happen overnight!


Except, if he was to be damn honest with himself, the flickering flames of this (physical) attraction didn’t just happen in the space of a few hours. It had always been there; probably from the first moment he had allowed himself to really see Sasuke as more than just Itachi’s baby brother all those nights ago – in this same damn apartment.


His soul pierced right through me, he thought with a wistful smile as he rose silently to his feet and away from a warmth he could get used to if he wasn’t too careful. He rubbed his chest gently; the area where Sasuke’s sword had once wounded him, and thought it really too ironic. That for all his bravado and attempts to distance himself away from Sasuke…


(it’s just a fucking waste of time and energy)


He knew he was probably setting himself up for disappointment in the future; that in due time Sasuke would find some other interest and wander away in search of something (or someone) new. An eternity was just that – an eternity – and Naruto was not naïve enough to believe that Sasuke would want to remain by his side for all that time. But for now…


“What will be, will be,” he whispered.


He would not question why this declaration suddenly made him feel ten times lighter; as if a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders, and just one more step was likely to have him flying up to the heavens. He would have burst out laughing at how cheesy it all seemed, when -


“Almost there!” Sakura cried out to interrupt his thoughts. “We better land somewhere we don’t get noticed!”


They agreed and Naruto came to a stop in a nearby park devoid of many visitors at this hour of the day. There were only a couple of joggers too focused on their workout routines to question why four people suddenly appeared from nowhere.


While Sai procured tickets for the shinkansen, Sakura got them some snacks from the vending machines. In the train, Naruto chose a window seat with Sai as his companion, and closed his eyes to get the much needed sleep he denied himself after last night’s debacle. Sakura and Sasuke occupied seats across the aisle, and while she picked up a magazine to thumb through, her companion chose to feign sleep with his arms folded upon his chest.


He was perturbed over what happened earlier in the day.


It was one thing to go to bed on an emotional high, and to assume that maybe – just maybe – Naruto was finally ‘warming’ up to him, but another to wake up alone (and cold) with the man of your fantasies, already dressed and eager to go. From his position on the floor, Sasuke realized he had probably tossed and turned his way right into Naruto’s personal space, which must not have sat too well with the older man, for it was clear that Naruto had been up for quite a while.


He probably woke up and was disgusted with me, had been his first thought as he fumbled around with a mumbled greeting before hiding inside the bathroom in utter humiliation. By the time he finally crawled out to civilization, Naruto was ‘gone’ with a note that he would be waiting outside and for him to eat something because he sure as hell wasn’t making (or buying) them any breakfast.


(damn cheapskate)


And though he would have wished to be alone with Naruto to pester him about last night, Sasuke was glad for Sakura and Sai’s appearance. The tension was less obvious and anyway, he had to focus on what was ahead instead of worrying too much about whether Naruto hated him or not.


He lifted his lashes to look out the window; much of the landscape flashing by so fast, it was a little difficult to appreciate the scenery. Still they would be in Hachōiji in less than thirty minutes, and then would begin the arduous task of locating his family temple and hoping this elusive cave would reveal itself to him. If not –


(all a waste of time)


He prepared to close his eyes again, when the sudden screech of the train’s wheels against the rails had it shuddering and causing the passengers to gasp or cry out in surprise. The lights began to flicker as the tunnel approached, but for the spirit warriors; they were already more than aware that something was terribly wrong.


Sasuke stiffened and gripped the seat’s handles. A glance at Sakura showed that she too was frowning with concentration. Across them, Sai was on alert, though he pretended to still be engrossed with his book and as for Naruto…


(it’s here!)


What happened next would have Sasuke still shocked at how fast it all went down.


The train had barely nudged its nose into the tunnel, when a barrier was put up by Sai just as the carriage doors, on either side, burst open and four shape shifters – in the form of conductors – dashed toward them; their intent clearly to kill. Naruto, who had been ‘sleeping’ mere seconds earlier, leapt with powerful grace over his seat and the oblivious passengers, to deliver a hard kick to the head of the shifter. Sai slashed at another with a wave of acidic ink, while Sasuke – not wanting to risk drawing out his sword in here – ignored the familiar faint sting of his sharingan being activated as he ducked the outstretched dagger-wielding arm of his attacker to grab its wrist and hoist it over his shoulder. The aisle wasn’t all that spacious to begin with, and it was tricky maneuvering the hefty bastard in the grapple move. However with a roar, Sasuke dragged his new burden toward the exit and tossed him out with all the strength he could muster.


He nearly fell out of the train himself, for its speed was enough to have him planting his feet more firmly on the ground and bracing himself lest he fly out with the creature. He grimaced as it tried to latch onto the heavy wrought iron handles to get back in; its features distorted in a half-growl/half-grin. Its lips moved and seemed to utter the words “just you. You’ll do just fine”, but Sasuke had heard enough. He unsheathed his sword swiftly and slashed at its wrists; brilliant orange and red sparks flying as steel met iron. And since it was relatively safe to do this out here, he took a deep breath and conjured up enough chakra to scorch the lingering appendage with a small blaze of fire from pursed lips.


Behind him, it appeared as if the trio had taken care of the others – though there was a dark stain spreading across Sai’s right shoulder. Sakura was already working on healing his wound; her features strained.


“They were clearly targeting me and Sai,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’m not sure they want us with you.”


“Bullshit,” Naruto retorted as the train shuddered its way toward the end of the tunnel. “Either way, we’re getting off now. We risk putting the rest of the passengers in danger if we stick around.”


“Out here?” Sasuke asked in disbelief as he steadied himself against a seat. “We’ll get crushed!”


Naruto smirked; darkened blue eyes flashing with mischievous and almost devilish intent. “What’s this? Never jumped out of a bullet train before? Where’s your sense of adventure, Uchiha Sasuke? Live a little, will ya?” He turned to Sai and Sakura. “How’s the damage?”


“I’ve stopped the bleeding,” she replied.


“I’ll live,” Sai added with a nod as he rotated the shoulder slowly. “Don’t worry about me.”


Naruto grunted in approval and led the way toward the exit doors. The gusting wind forced his black trench coat to flap around him; almost giving the illusion of tattered wings. His golden hair whipped across his features, and not for the first time, Sasuke felt a sliver of adrenaline surge down his spine at the feral expression on that visage. His stomach fluttered with breathless anticipation; the beat of his heart a rapid dance of excitement that needed to be satiated.


“Ready?!” Naruto yelled, and again, not waiting to see if they followed him or not, he jumped out of the train in a blur.


Sakura was the next to go, and just as Sasuke took a tentative step forward -


“Don’t think,” Sai breathed behind him. “Just do it.”


There was a gentle nudge and Sasuke found himself leaping into open space; the wind inside the tunnel and the blistering speed of the train, almost plugging his ears and sucking away his very breath. He was unable to see his landing spot, but he needn’t have worried for strong hands gripped his wrists and dragged him to safety.


A ‘safety’ he could have done without; for finding himself mere inches from Naruto’s face (and lips) as his entire body still thrummed from the dangerous jump, did more to keep his voice trapped somewhere in his throat.




“You okay?” came the husky question of concern. The impish expression of mischief on those features was now replaced with an unreadable one. In the gloom of the tunnel, Naruto’s eyes flickered with violet warmth. His lips curved into a small smile. “Not bad for a first time.”


Sasuke felt the heat surge through him at the double innuendo and the irresistible primal magnetism that threatened to make him a fool in this man’s presence. Besides, this was a terrible time to be turned on by whatever Naruto did or said, but damn if his wrists didn’t still tingle from the firm grip, while his legs did a fine imitation of gelatin. With monumental effort (he might have mumbled something along the lines of “being fine”), he took a few unsteady steps backwards. He stopped when he collided with the grimy wall and tried to catch his breath; though a shy glance toward the older man revealed that Naruto was apparently no longer interested in teasing him.


His stern gaze was directed at the train that was just about completely out of the tunnel, and as soon as it burst out of it, the warriors were left inhaling the thick stench of burning oil and smoke.  


“We continue on foot,” Naruto commanded tersely. “Looks like they already know we’re coming. So let’s be more vigilant. How much further do we have?”


“Five miles to the station and if we had made it, at least a mile to our destination,” Sai replied.


“Stay close to me,” came the firm order as he again led the way, this time running upon the tracks that still let off a little steam from the train.


This time, there would be no stopping them.





Except for Sasuke’s growing panic that their efforts were really all going to be for naught.


Past the line of curious tourists, past the hidden trails attempted only by the bravest of hearts, and into the thickest part of the lush forest; there sat the temple claimed to have been a part of the Uchiha clan for centuries.


For a long moment, the quartet studied the historical site (after a rather tedious march up over a hundred flight of steps) in mute silence before Sakura broke the spell.


“It looks…” Her words faltered and she shrugged her shoulders; looking to Naruto for help.


“Dead,” came the flat statement from the blond.


“Looks like no one’s been here in years,” Sai muttered as they took in the derelict conditions.


Once proud slate stones were now covered in layers of moss, vines so thick you couldn’t pull them off with just a tug, and spider webs hovered in every possible corner. Piles of dead leaves and knee-high grass blocked their path. The pagodas were littered with even more debris and pieces of broken mortar and brick; some still cascading to the ground with a particularly strong gust of wind. Daring birds had made nests in some corners, and when Naruto tried to get into the temple, he sank right through the termite-infested steps.


While he cursed and grumbled as Sai and Sakura tried to pull him out, Sasuke wandered around in a daze, desperately trying to re-call if his previous visit here had left him with such feelings of emptiness and desolation.


I don’t…remember, he thought with disappointment as he stood before a withered shrine with its miniature statue of a praying priest. It must have once been gray, but it now looked green with age.


I don’t…remem…wai…wait…wait!


[a sudden flash of an image – his mother smiling and leaning down to give him something – right before this shrine – his father bowing his head before it with clasped hands – his older brother repeating the gesture – two priests walking behind them – someone crying – his mother shushing him with a tender kiss on his forehead – his feet – so small in simple slippers – chubby short feet – he can barely walk, but mother holds onto him – and then Itachi takes over as his parents walk into the temple, which looks considerably better, cleaner, brighter and then…!]


“Sasuke?” someone called out tentatively.


He shivered.


[the tree – he runs toward it – trips and falls and cries – Itachi runs over to help him, wiping his cheeks and chiding him lovingly for being such a klutz – but he gets a lollipop and he’s happy – and Itachi’s leading him away from the temple…]


“Where’s he going?” Sai asked as they noticed Sasuke begin to walk a little faster before them; his expression intense and yet his gaze distant as if he was not there with them at the present.


“Just keep following him,” Naruto replied quietly.


[Itachi leads him down a rocky path – he tries to keep up with big brother’s strides – it’s a little quieter out here, but it’s creepy all the same. It’s as if all the birds decided to fly away. There’s no sound – not much anyway. The trees aren’t even moving. It’s as if the wind  has stopped. Yet Itachi walks on as if he’s not aware of the changes. Nii-san, he calls out fearfully. He doesn’t like it here. There’s a smell now. A sick, yellow, decaying stench that’s slowly rising out of the ground. It frightens him. He wants to tell his brother, but he cannot say it. He’s still so young. He does not have enough vocabulary to describe this ominous feeling. Nii-san, he tries again. Let’s go back. But Itachi does not listen – he makes a turn and then comes to a sudden stop – he bumps into big brother’s back and looks around tentatively – before them a ravine – beyond that what looks like a…!]


“Oh my God! That has got to be the biggest tree I’ve ever seen,” Sakura gasped. “The trunk’s as wide as a damn house!”


[…the biggest tree he’s ever seen – he ‘oohs’ in awe – but Itachi does not seem impressed – he tries to take a step further, but a strong hand falls upon his shoulder – it’s father and the scowl on his features tells the story. He scolds Itachi for wandering away and endangering their lives – he hoists the baby brother into his arms – wags a finger at the contrite older sibling and motions for them to turn away – there is nothing to see here…]


“Nothing…to…see…here,” Sasuke muttered beneath his breath.


“Wrong,” Naruto replied with a grim smile as he placed a hand upon Sasuke’s shoulder and leaned close to whisper into the dazed boy’s ear. “Looks like you’ve found the entrance to the cave after all, Sasuke. Way to go.”


“Cave?” Sai asked with a raised brow. “What’s this all about?”


“Yes, Naruto. maybe it’s time you finally told us exactly what’s going on,” Sakura chirped in with arms across her chest. “What are we doing here?”


“The cause of all our anguish,” Naruto replied with a cold smirk as he cracked his knuckles. “Can’t you smell them? They’re everywhere. Those damn shape shifters. This is their base. Somewhere beyond or beneath that tree.”


This revelation had Sai and Sakura gasping in disbelief. They looked back to the tree, where faded o-mikuji had survived over the years and still hung around the massive trunk; swaying gently in the wind.


“How the hell did they get across this ravine though?” Sakura asked.


“The bridge was destroyed,” Sasuke replied; his voice still distant and his dark eyes with that same troubling glazed look, which even had Naruto a little concerned. He couldn’t be sure, but he had a feeling that Sasuke was simply a shell, and someone (or something) had taken over the boy’s spirit guiding them to their destination.


(could it be…?)


Naruto shook his head firmly and tried to squash away the troubling thought, though there was no denying the sensation of that ‘presence’ around. He tried to tell himself that it was simply because he was back in Uchiha territory; that it was simply an accumulation of all the years he had spent with these people and that his body was now attune to everything related to them. Still, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was about to see something he’d rather not.


He was just about to warn them about the danger they were to face, when Sasuke took off as if being chased.


(the hell?!)


“Sasuke, you bastard! Wait up!”


He dashed after the teen; Sai and Sakura hot on his tail. They sped alongside the ravine until the unmistakable sounds of rushing water filled their ears. From a jutting piece of rock – on the other side – was a spectacular waterfall; a breathtaking sight if it wasn’t for the now pungent rotting stench that seemed to emanate from it.


“Behind it!” Sasuke yelled; his eyes now flashing with a hint of something akin to madness. He grinned and Naruto shuddered at the sight. It was the same way Madara had acted when he realized he had the power to take whatever he wanted – when he felt his power was beyond the reach of Immortals and Mortals alike.


(this place…it might change him too…there’s something about this place that reeks of evil…)


“Be careful,” Naruto said quietly to Sai and Sakura as they watched the boy pace before them. “In that cave contains seals that have the capability to kill us.”


“You mean…” Sakura began in a trembling whisper.


“Yes. Besides, I’m not sure Sasuke’s in his right mind at the moment. There’s something about this place that makes the Uchiha men go nuts.”


“You’ve been here before?”


Naruto shook his head lightly, but it seemed half-hearted. “I can’t remember. I might have, but that’s not the point. Right now we have to…what the hell do you think you’re doing?!” he roared, but he was talking to thin air for Sasuke had leapt off the edge of the cliff and into the rushing waters below. “That inconsiderate bastard! Let’s go!”


They all leapt off the cliff to join their new impatient leader. Naruto now furious at how rapidly things were going out of control. If Sasuke was to become too overcome by the power of this place, what hope did they have to defeat their enemy? His breath caught as he dove into the icy depths and quickly burst to the surface in time to see Sasuke already swimming toward the crux of the waterfall.


I swear to God, if I get my hands on you, Naruto thought with a growl as he began to swim as well, though he’d pause to take off the trench coat which made it difficult to move in the water. With the extra layer of cloth shed, he picked up the pace and was just in time to catch up to the teen already hopping onto land.


Sasuke would have taken off again, if Naruto didn’t leap out to grab him by the neck and slam him hard against the side of the cliff.


“Wake the fuck up!” he bellowed. “Have you forgotten you’ve got us with you?! Snap out of it and realize the danger we’re in!”


Sasuke’s eyes maintained that fever of madness for an instant; unable to see past the furious visage before him before the pain of being rammed against uneven rocks finally sunk in and had him shuddering. He blinked hard and shook his head lightly; the hoodie of his sweatshirt now hanging limply off his head to reveal the wet locks beneath. He finally met Naruto’s gaze with confusion and tried to explain how he felt inside.


It’s weird, he wanted to say. I don’t understand it, but…it’s as if something is calling me inside there…something or someone I should know. I can feel it in my heart…in my head. It’s like a merciless drill wanting to bore a hole right through my skull. If I don’t answer it, I’ll die. Can’t you see? Can’t you understand what I’m going through?!


But the words failed him, and he could only settle for bowing his head in apology before he was released with a huff.


“If you’re back to your senses, and you’re not likely to go running off like some idiot, you can lead the way,” Naruto stated firmly, before turning away to make sure Sakura and Sai were okay.




There it was again.


Sasuke felt his head throb as he watched Naruto’s strong back.


(kill them now)


He was unaware of the expression returning again; that slithering voice within him coaxing, cajoling, and slowly stripping away the side of him that wanted to scream for his sanity to return.


(this place belongs to us. They are not welcome. Kill them all now)


His hand reached for the hilt of the sword behind him.


(yeeeess, that’s it. Do it now. Quickly!)


He slowly unsheathed it and began to walk toward the blond; his steps steady and sure. He twirled it once and held it outstretched to his side in a motion ready to slice. However, just as Sakura’s eyes widened when she realized what was about to happen, Sasuke spun on his heels and fell to a knee; the sword moving up swiftly to pierce through the white mass dangling above them. It spurred the others immediately into action; their cries of surprise at being silently ambushed by seemingly thousands of plain white shape shifters drowned by the waterfall.




“Shut up,” Sasuke growled and slashed through five at a time; grunting as his arm muscles protested the effort it took to get through them. The annoying thing was that they still tried to reform despite being cut, and he’d have to rely on using his fire technique to take as many of them out. Still his head throbbed with the voice that insisted on him being a traitor; of not wanting to help his own kind, of being willing to fight with ‘the enemy’.


(he is a curse!)




(he has brought nothing but shame to your clan!)




(get rid of him while you have the chance!)




(he will bring you nothing but pain!)


It hurt. A lot. The voices were becoming louder; seeping into his pores and taking root. It was hard to concentrate. His vision swam and the world seemed to take on a shade of amber and maroon. He longed to slam his hands against his temples, to stop them from driving him toward the edge of insanity. He wanted to scream in protest to their accusations. This was his choice. He had chosen to be with him. No matter what. And nothing – not even these damn voices of doubt – would make him change his damn mind!




Yes. I know, he agreed with a bitter smile as he watched Naruto blast away several shifters, while somehow trying to protect the other warriors at the same time. He was willing to sacrifice his body, willing to accept the extra blow or strike as long as it did not touch his companions if he could help it. However, despite Sakura and Sai holding their own, they were making no progress toward their final destination. Was there no end in sight?


He could feel the thread of despondency begin to wrap around him; a heavy weariness descending upon his body as he struggled to maintain his stance. That putrid stench of decay was getting stronger now, filling his nostrils until he could barely breathe, and just when he thought he was going to let up the contents of his stomach in revulsion; Sakura’s piercing scream snapped him out of his depressed state in a hurry.


“SAKURA!” Naruto screamed as the girl was lifted up by an endless string of the white substance. It wrapped around her neck in a coil, and the men could only watch in horror as scales began to protrude from its ‘skin’ until it was completely covered.


“…a…snake?” Sai whispered, only to cry out in surprise as another of the white string (or snake in this case) wrapped around his ankles to dangle him upside down and several feet above his astonished companions.


“Let them go!” Naruto yelled as he gathered some more chakra in his palms. This time with even more of a red hue than its’ usual blue. His eyes flashed with a hint of Kurama’s power within, and as he set out to blast the base of the snake, he would fail to see the two black objects heading toward him until they pierced through his back forcing him to fall flat onto his stomach with an agonized howl.


“Naruto!” Sasuke immediately dashed to his side with his heart in his throat, but Naruto stopped him with a wail.


“NO! Don’t touch them,” he gasped through gritted teeth. “This…this is -”


“Truly what he looks like,” came the sonorous voice, which seemed to fill the entire cave. “Take a good look at what your dear Uzumaki Naruto really is if he hadn’t signed the deal with the Devil for Immortality.”


The two black rods, which appeared to be as heavy as steel pipes, thrummed with suppressed energy. Sasuke could make out some kanji appearing and disappearing upon it, but it was pale in comparison to the sight of the man pinned beneath it.


No…please no…


Once beautiful golden hair was slowly, as if being painted by invisible brush strokes, turning into silver threads of white. Once healthy, lightly bronzed skin was beginning to shrivel up slowly, like crinkling pieces of paper folding upon itself. Sunken in, thinner, skinnier, the threat of bones protruding through weary muscles.


Stop…please stop…he’s dying…withering away…


“St…st…stop,” he begged through lips that felt numb. His heart felt like it was going to be ripped into pieces as Naruto’s head remained lowered to the ground; skeletal fingers digging into the earth and trying desperately to grasp onto something.


When Sasuke fell to his knees beside the dying warrior, he had no idea, but he did reach out for those hands; hands that now felt clammy and frail within his. He raised them to his lips and squeezed his eyes shut; wishing now that he had been bold enough to take advantage of Naruto while he still had the chance.


“What are you crying for?” came the raspy whisper before him.


He lifted his lashes to look into cerulean eyes that still flashed with defiance despite the skeletal husk of a face around it.


“This is the real me…not bad for a nearly two-hundred-year old, eh?”


Sasuke, who hadn’t even been aware he had been crying in the first place, sniffled and laughed a little. If he sensed the ‘voice’ getting agitated at this display of affection, he ignored it and continued to focus on the man before him.


“It doesn’t matter,” he said quietly. “Even if I have to end up living with you like this until you’re nothing but ashes. You’ll always be Naruto to me.”


Naruto’s eyes widened at this, before his  lashes lowered as if unable to look into the face of such innocence. It really was so difficult to understand this young man sometimes…


“How sentimental,” the voice sneered in derision. “Brings tears to my eyes, it does. You’re almost as useless and foolish as your older brother. Who chose to die instead of betraying the husk that calls himself Uzumaki Naruto. In this state, it should be more than easy to extract the bijuu from him. After hoarding it for so many years and not making the most of it, I think it’s time it had a new master.”


Sasuke maintained his grip on Naruto’s hands and lifted his gaze to his other unconscious companions who were still trapped by the snakes. He looked back at Naruto, specifically the rods still thrumming upon his back.


“These rods…they were conjured up with the seals by our clan, correct?” Sasuke asked.


“Yes,” Naruto replied weakly; though his features began to contort as Kurama’s power began to surge within him. His body was now no longer strong enough to contain such a powerful spiritual being, and Kurama was beginning to rebel; seeking something healthier to survive in. “If you touch it… you might die too. As I was made to believe…only mortals are unaffected. You are Immortal now…so…”


“So screw that,” Sasuke hissed and leaned forward. “The blood of the Uchiha runs through me, and if we’re the ones responsible for this, then I’ll end it.”


Naruto struggled to raise his head, eyes widening again but this time in fear. “What do you think you’re planning to do?”


The younger man smiled grimly and reached out for one of the rods. “It’s okay, Naruto. Even if I end up dying, I think it’s only fitting this way. We’ve brought you nothing but pain and suffering, haven’t we? You deserve some form of happiness even if it isn’t with me.”


“Wait…don’t do something stupi…!”


But Sasuke wasn’t listening. He wrapped his hands around one of the rods and began to pull with all his might.


“YOU FOOL!” the voice raged as something caused the cave to shudder as if experiencing an earthquake. “You will die! Do you not understand?!”


Sasuke ignored it and pulled even harder; his features straining and now damp with sweat. He could feel his palms begin to chafe and sizzle; the smell of burning flesh filtering into the air. The pain was excruciating, and he held back his scream by biting hard on his lower lip until the blood dribbled down his chin.


“Sto…stop,” Naruto pleaded as he watched the boy struggle. “Don’t do this for me…I’m not worth it, Sasuke.”


“Shut…up…” came the gritted words from clenched teeth. “I’ll decide who’s worth dying for, damn it!”


And with a roar that was ripped right out of him, he gave one final pull and was rewarded for his effort. The victory would have been short-lived, for two more of the rods flew toward Naruto again, only this time, Sasuke was ready for them. He snatched up his sword and knocked them aside, now panting to catch his breath. The good news? It appeared as if some part of Naruto was getting back to normal. At least the lower part of him. The other good news? He didn’t appear to be dying anytime soon. Exhausted? Yes.


The earth rumbled again, but this time it was the sudden grating of rock against rock as it slowly parted to reveal the hidden chamber. It was there that the roots of the massive tree they had seen outside was finally revealed, and even Naruto – who was beginning to feel the effects of the rod being taken out of him – gasped in disbelief at the sight.


“What…the…hell is this?” Sasuke asked in awe and disgust; for instead of leaves, there were more of the white shifters hanging from the branches.


“This is where you meet your end, Uchiha Sasuke,” came the voice that was less thunderous now that its location and owner was revealed.


Sasuke stared at the seated figure beneath the tree, which hadn’t moved a muscle, yet seemed to be leader of this whole thing. Long white hair fell to the ground and if Naruto appeared to be a shrunken shadow of himself, this person was nothing more than a skeleton with lots of hair draped with a heavy ancient black robe. There was barely any flesh hanging onto him. His eyes were so old, they could not open let alone his mouth which seemed gummed together. This was a living mummy!


“Im…impossible…” Naruto whispered. “It…it can’t be…”


“Who is it?” Sasuke asked, though a part of him felt he ought to already know the answer. That hairstyle alone…


The voice cackled and they watched in horrified silence as a long white snake slithered its way from beneath the robe to wrap itself around the skeleton’s wrist and throat; as if to support it from rolling off.


“Though I wish I could say I was Uchiha Madara,” the voice began slowly. “I’m afraid I’ll have to be completely honest with you all. I am disappointed that you no longer recognize my voice, Naruto. After all, we did meet years ago and you could even consider me the reason why you were able to defeat Madara.”


Naruto clenched his teeth or would have if it were possible to do so without losing the few he had left. He should have known there was only one person sick enough to disrespect the dead like this. One person he wished he had never met, and yet was indirectly indebted to.


“I should have known…”


“Yes, you should have,” the voice taunted. “You deceived me, Naruto, and now you must pay for your sins.”


“What is he talking about?” Sasuke asked even as his bleeding hands wrapped around the second rod to begin pulling. This was going to be a little trickier due to how slippery his palms had become, but he wasn’t about to give up yet.


“We had a deal,” the voice continued through Madara’s husk. “Didn’t we, Naruto? Shall I remind you of your promise?”


Naruto’s head was bowed again; his breathing ragged and getting weaker by the second. Sasuke could feel the clock ticking and he gritted his teeth in desperation. This was no time for story-telling. Naruto needed to conserve as much energy as he could!


“Well allow me then,” the voice sneered. “I was once a very dear friend to Uchiha Madara; a renowned scientist who was fascinated with the human body and how it worked. While Madara publicly shunned the idea of Immortality, in reality he was fascinated by it. He craved it like a drug, and since he had so publicly declared war on all Immortals, it would look bad to suddenly choose to become like them. So what did he do? He got the next best thing. That man at your knees. Uzumaki Naruto – a relic of a once proud and dangerous clan. Even without the power of the bijuu, just taking a sip of his blood was enough to give you the strength of a hundred men and to cure all ailments. What stroke of luck!


“But Madara was a selfish man and would not share his treasured prize. No matter how many times I implored him to release Naruto to me; that I would be able to harness the power of the bijuu and give him the strength he truly desired, he refused. For years I was baffled by his decision – even after Naruto left him – until I realized what had caused him to be that weak. I’m sure you know the answer, Naruto, don’t you?”


The fallen warrior didn’t look up though his body shuddered lightly.


Love,” came the word laced with venomous bitterness. “Yes. That foolish old man still harbored feelings for the beast and would rather share his other secrets with me except giving up Naruto or wanting anyone to hurt him. It was infuriating! Did he not understand my desperation?! I needed him! I was dying and that body and its ability was all I wanted to continue existing.”


The snake flicked its long pink tongue and seemed to grin. “But my patience finally paid off, didn’t it, Naruto?  You finally came to me when I least expected it. You were different now. No longer afraid of dying because you dared to sign your soul away to the Devil. You came to me because you knew I was closest to Madara; that I would be the one able to tell you his hiding place – this cave - and his eventual death bed several miles from here. By now, I was nothing more than a living shell myself; my body deteriorated to a point that I was barely recognizable. You swore that you would return Madara’s dead body to me in exchange for my information, and you never kept that promise, Naruto!”


The snake seemed to swell as the voice became louder; its grip around the neck of Madara tightening until they heard a painful crack.


“You lied to me!” the voice raged on. “I waited like a fool, but you hid him away after you won the battle. You thought burying him in the ravine and right beneath this tree as homage would absolve you of your sins, but you miscalculated, didn’t you? I searched for years, and I was not only rewarded for my tireless efforts, but I also managed to create my greatest masterpieces yet! Shifters that are able to transform into anyone and anything they desire; with the ability to absorb chakra and defeat their enemies. And not only that, they would all be given the ability to take down every single Immortal  out there just as Madara had intended; only he was too much of a coward to complete the job. He had the opportunity to kill you and he failed yet again! You both sicken me!”


The snake moved – so swiftly – Sasuke barely had the time to dodge, but at least had the good sense to lift his sword in protection. It managed to nick the creature, but his left shoulder stung from where its fangs had grazed it. He swayed as he felt the gush of blood trickle down his arm.


Fuck, that hurt!


“Sas…Sasuke?” Naruto called out in concern.


“I’m fine,” he grunted with a tight smile. “It’s going to take a lot more than that to kill me.”


“It seems like it,” the snake hissed. “Not only do the seals not work on you, but all you Uchiha seem to have been inflicted with this disease of being unwilling to give him up! You will die just like your brother did!”


The snake lunged again, but this time Sasuke was more than ready. Perhaps it was the mention of Itachi and his pointless death, or that his feelings …no their feelings for Naruto – was being mocked. So what if it was their curse or destiny to be involved with this man beside him? What was so wrong with that? Madara, Itachi, and perhaps even his father and everyone else in-between might have felt some form of affection for Naruto. For despite his troubled past…


“…he is kind and would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needs it,” Sasuke growled as his sword began to glow with a surge of chakra. “He might be stubborn, a cheapskate, and as thick as a brick wall sometimes, but he has more heart, soul, and spirit than ten million of your pathetic pastry creations. So shut the fuck up, you piece of shit, and go back to the Hell you belong!”


He lunged to his feet with a roar that sounded louder and deeper than he had ever given. Naruto wanted to plead with him to return; that it was going to be pointless dealing with this person he had failed to put away when he had a chance. The realization that all of this; all the pointless deaths had been due to his mistake, was enough to make him want to remain in this dying state. Losing Sasuke now would add to his curse of cyclical despair, and as he looked up to call out to the young man…


(what…what is this…?)


His eyes widened as he saw a sight that would leave him breathless. It was probably just an illusion. Nothing more than his tired (old) mind playing tricks on him; and yet there it was. The gossamer spirits of his ancestors trailing behind Sasuke as he plunged ahead. From Madara to Fugaku to Itachi and all the other Uchiha men he had encountered in his lifetime, they all seemed to morph into an entity that engulfed the youngest and lone survivor of their proud clan in a purple haze. It was a haze that kept expanding until it took the form of –


“Su…Susanoo?!” the snake hissed in shock. “How is that even possible?! Only Madara should have been able to wield such power! Why should you have the ability, you pathetic remnant of a discarded clan?!”


Sasuke seemed unaware of the spiritual force built around him, but as he slashed his sword through thin air, the sudden surge of chakra to burst out of the simple strike nearly threw him off his feet. He couldn’t explain it even when asked later, but it felt as if there were a thousand other hands upon his at that moment; that he had felt a flood of warmth and energy assuring him he could never lose this fight.


The hanging inanimate shifters were promptly scorched by the force of Susanoo’s power; melting to the ground and forming puddles of white goo until they shriveled into nothingness. The snake unwound itself from Madara’s neck and attempted to escape, but Sasuke charged for it; leaping into the air and plunging his sword right into its head until the tip of the weapon pierced right though its mouth clamming it shut. He gritted his teeth and slashed through it, sending the head of the creature flying through the air before it smashed into the cliff in a bloody pulp. This caused the snakes wrapped around Sakura and Sai to ‘dissolve’. Sasuke – who was sure he wouldn’t be able to reach those two in time before they fell to their deaths – could only gasp as he finally ‘saw’ the purple haze around him stretch out a limb to cushion their descent.


(what in the world?)


Whatever it was, it seemed to be moving of its own accord now (or perhaps it was simply the will of the spirits it inherited), for it moved toward Naruto to remove the rod still protruding from his back effortlessly.


By this time, the earth was beginning to tremble and quake even harder than before; causing huge chunks of rock and sand to cascade around them.


“We’ve got to get out of here!” Sasuke yelled to no-one in particular, for his three companions were out cold.


However, Susanoo seemed to understand and it burst through the thick layers of rock to lead them all back to safe ground. Once in broad daylight – or rather early evening – the spiritual being vanished just as quickly as it appeared. Even then, Sasuke still felt the lingering warmth it left behind and though he was in agonizing pain from being so beat-up, his throat tightened as he closed his eyes and felt the unmistakable presence of his family – his father, his dearest brother, and the most powerful of them all; a man who had simply died for one simple (yet complex) emotion.


(he’s all yours, Sasuke)


“Thank you,” he whispered, in sincere gratitude, as their spirits faded away. “I promise to take good care of him.”





“…you should have killed me when you had the chance.”


“You don’t have to remind me of that.”


“This is really all your fault, you know.”


“How was I to know that Orochimaru would end up betraying me?”


“You were friends with that sleazy bastard. It was your choice.”


“He seemed normal to me at the time -”


“Your definition of normal worries me, I swear.”


Madara chuckled and blew out a cloud of smoke from his pipe. His thick dark hair fluttered gently in the wind and Naruto couldn’t help thinking of how picturesque and majestic he looked in this setting. Except…


“You shouldn’t be here,” Madara said quietly. “You know that, don’t you?”


Naruto shrugged and smiled. “I know. He’s waiting for me, and I get the feeling if I don’t show up soon, he’ll probably find a way to get to me here anyway. I wonder where he got that streak from.”


Madara’s lips quirked into a grin. “We are all fools when it comes to you, Naruto. I was the biggest of them all, and you know what?” He turned to look into patient blue eyes. “I would do it all over again if I had the chance.”


“No thanks,” Naruto replied as he rose to his feet. “One time with you was more than enough. I think I’m ready to move on now…and finally ready to really let you go. I’ve mourned enough for the dead, don’t you think?”


“He will have a lot of questions about today.”


“And I’ll answer them as truthfully as I can.”


“Hmm.” Madara gave a wistful smile and cocked his head a little. “You are a different man now, Uzumaki Naruto. I am almost envious of him and his luck to get to spend the rest of his life with you. Will you take good care of him as well?”


Naruto nodded as he watched the apparition of a once great man begin to slowly disappear like scattered ashes into the wind. He would try to reach out to catch just a piece, when he heard his name being hollered from miles away.


“Damn,” he muttered with a chuckle as he closed his eyes and fell back to the ground. “You’re always too damn loud, Sasuke…”





“…quiet it down, will you?” he grumbled as he lifted his lashes slowly to find the kid’s face mere inches from his. All soot and blood and sweat-stained and decidedly the most beautiful visage he had ever seen.


“Thank God! I was so worried,” Sasuke sputtered in a trembling voice filled with relief. “I kept shaking you awake, but you wouldn’t move and your body’s back to normal by the way! And I just wanted to make sure…


(you are too damn noisy)


“…that you were alive and…what?”


Naruto was motioning slowly with his finger.


“You want me to come closer?” Sasuke asked in bemusement; doing as he was told. “What is it you want me to…?”




Sudden and unexpected and far from anything his fantasies could have conjured up. Widened dark eyes struggled to comprehend what he was feeling; that this hard collision of warm lips - intensified as Naruto’s strong hand curved around his neck to hold him prisoner – was nothing more than a figment of his overzealous imagination.




His stomach fluttered.


The taste of smoke and blood permeated his senses and shocked him to the core. His lashes flittered closed. He gave in willingly. Where was the need to fight this? There was the gentle prod of Naruto’s tongue seeking entrance into his mouth, and his shy invitation, causing him to tremble when they finally met and tasted each other for the first time.


(oh God…I’m going to faint…probably…)


He wouldn’t consider it a ‘sweet’ kiss – for there was something rather powerful and forceful about it -but it was a wonderful thing to behold all the same; a moment he would cherish for the rest of his life even if Naruto would eventually say something along the lines of it being done ‘in the spur of the moment’ and that it ‘meant nothing’.


(a thousand nights I have dreamt of this…)


When they finally broke apart slowly for air, Sasuke lifted lashes that now felt ten times heavier but only to meet the hooded and darkened eyes beneath him. His already flushed being burned at the unreadable expression, compounded when he dared to glance at Naruto’s swollen lips that were licked slowly.


(more…I want…)


“If you two lovebirds are finished,” came a familiar boisterous voice that had both of them looking up in surprise at the towering figure walking in their direction. “We’ve got a lot of explaining to do at headquarters.”


Sasuke blushed to his roots, and Naruto grumbled before reluctantly withdrawing his hand from the neck he had been caressing absently. He winced as his back throbbed, but was pleasantly surprised when Sasuke wrapped an arm around his waist to help him to his feet.


“Sai,” he whispered at the silent question from raised brows. “He sent a bird to S.W.A.T with information about what happened here. Jiraiya and the Cleaners arrived to pick up the pieces. Sai and Sakura were already taken back to headquarters.”


“I see…” He paused and took a deep breath, cleared his throat and looked away. “Uum…about that…what just happened -”


“It’s okay,” Sasuke interrupted with a small smile; though he was sure his heart was going to shatter if Naruto didn’t deny this. “It was a spur of the moment thing, right? It means nothing. I understand.”


“It was -”


“Come on you two,” Jiraiya interrupted as he helped Naruto from the other side. “You have lost a lot of blood and need some patching up. Hold onto me tight. I’ll take us to Tsunade. Ready?”


Sasuke nodded and moved in closer to form a tight circle with the other men, and just as he closed his eyes and began to feel the familiar wave of vertigo which came with teleportation, he would be rendered speechless at the husky words whispered into his ear.


It didn’t mean nothing, Sasuke, and don’t you ever forget that.





Chapter 14

Naruto Home

















































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