The water was incredibly cold and Naruto shivered as he sat dutifully on the stool that had been provided for him. He remained silent as he listened to the low slush sound of the small wooden bucket being refilled again. No words were exchanged as teacher doused the icy liquid upon his naked student’s body again. The blond wrapped arms around his waist and lowered his gaze to the cobbled stones beneath his feet. He felt incredibly small and humiliated at the moment. Never in his life would he have thought he would lose control that easily. The beast within him was growing even more in strength and if he wasn’t careful, he was sure he’d soon be consumed by the ferocious hunger that was beginning to boil like warm milk in the pit of his stomach.
“Ah…!” It was a small wince of pain that was lost in the sounds of the rough sponge that was now being used to scrub his back. He watched white soapsuds turn into a pinkish hue as the caked blood was cleaned off his flesh.
His teacher motioned for him to lift his hand and he complied with no complaints. He was too far gone in his thoughts to really give much thought to the fact that an older man was performing such an intimate act. He could very well take a shower on his own, but what would be the point? He was already too exhausted both physically and emotionally. He also knew that he was an embarrassment to the team for he had allowed himself to be teased and taunted by the stupid fox contained in his soul.
If only…if only he hadn’t gotten that damned bracelet!
Satisfied with how well he had washed his young ward’s back, Kakashi held out the sponge to the blond and said quietly. “I highly doubt you’d want me to wash the front, Naruto. So, if you’d do the honors?”
Flushing, Naruto accepted the small brown but rather coarse sponge and began to scrub his nether regions thoroughly but quickly. The sudden images of the badger writhing upon his lap had him whimpering softly and he had to squeeze his eyes shut and shake his head rapidly to get rid of the thought. It had all been a dream. It had to have been a dream! But no, even he knew that dreams couldn’t be this realistic. He tried to convince himself that it had been the fox that had been the one to take the red-haired boy. Gaara was smitten with the beast within him, not Naruto himself.
And what about Sasuke, came the taunting voice within him. You saw what happened. You hurt him, Naruto. You hurt him very badly.
“It…it wasn’t my fault,” he whispered harshly, oblivious to the fact that he was beginning to scrub his torso so hard that his pale flesh had begun to glow a dull red with his exertion.
“Hmm? Did you say something, Naruto?” Kakashi drawled lazily. He had had the decency to turn away and was now leaning against one of the many stone pillars that surrounded the bath.
“No…nothing,” came the quick reply. He tossed the sponge to the ground and spun around to pick up the bucket. Filling it with water from the large circular fountain that sprouted jets of the liquid from a statue of some unidentifiable beast (Naruto assumed it was supposed to be a lion, but he couldn’t be sure), he took a deep breath and poured it over himself again. He gave a small shudder and dropped the bucket to the floor before rising to his feet to stand naked, chilly and flushed before his teacher.
“I’m…ready,” he mumbled and held out his hands as a towel was tossed towards him.
“Get dressed quickly and come and eat something,” Kakashi said in that same quiet tone as he shoved his hands into his pockets. He began to walk out of the room but not before saying over his shoulder,
“We need to talk.”
Naruto stopped drying his hair long enough to feel a cold weight of dread settle in his stomach. He knew that Kakashi would want to know just what the hell had happened in that room and Naruto doubted that even he would be able to explain that without making himself look like a fool.
Things were definitely not going to be easy from here on out.
Someone…someone help me…please!
Although, her mind screamed for rescue, Sakura could already feel the effects of the pill begin to take place. The bitterness seeped into her tongue and made her eyes water. She tried to spit it out, but Kikaida had her jaw clamped tightly, forcing her to swallow it. The kunai against her neck seemed to dig deeper and she shuddered in response. Anguish and sorrow washed over her body in waves and she fought back a harsh sob while watching the world swim before her eyes.
I’m…I’m disappearing. It’s actually working!
But then again, this could be a good thing for her. If she could become invisible, she could run away and Kikaida would never know where she was.
“Don’t even think about it, my dear,” he drawled softly as he grazed her ear with his teeth. His warm breath flickered against her skin causing her to shiver in response. “I can see you quite well even though you’d be invisible to everyone else. If you even think of escaping, I won’t hesitate to kill you. Do you understand?”
She nodded quickly in comprehension and almost cried out as a sudden and almost blinding pain shot up her legs. She glanced down quickly; cold beads of sweat breaking out on her skin as she watched what was beginning to happen to her body in complete and utter horror. Her feet and lower calves were now ‘blending’ in with the concrete floor below them. The pain, like being burned with a hot poker, was beginning to spread up her torso and ribs and she had to fight the urge to scream as Kikaida’s death grip on her neck loosened a little.
“Ah, sorry for not telling you that it takes a while to get used to the whole disappearing thing,” he said in a tone that was supposed to be apologetic. He looked and sounded anything but and Sakura wanted to smash that smug grin off his face. She tried to lift her arms, but as with her lower body, they were now beginning to blend in with the surroundings as well.
“After the first time, you get used to it,” Kikaida was saying. He licked off the blood that had accumulated on his kunai and grinned amiably enough at the panting girl. “Now remember what I said. No hanky panky. Get me the bracelet and you can go free, got it?”
“Why…why don’t you…get…it…yourself?” she gasped quickly. The pain was now around her shoulders. It was ‘disappearing’ as well.
“Why should I?” Kikaida asked with a shrug. “I’m supposed to be the victim here. I don’t need my reputation tarnished by stooping down to the level of stealing. Why not let someone else do it for me? Makes things so much easier, don’t you think?”
Bastard! You bastard! I’ll make sure you pay for this!
With a small cry, the unbearable pain finally reached the top of her head. For a moment, the world seemed to become a blinding flash of white while spinning out of control at the same time. Falling to her knees, she began to cough – deep, wrenching sounds that looked as if it were more likely to cause her lungs to shatter into a million tiny pieces. The first thick red drops of her blood upon the ground had her eyes widening in horror. She turned panicked eyes to Kikaida and could have sworn that he too looked a bit concerned. He had definitely not foreseen this. Wasn’t the girl strong enough to withstand the power of the pill? Damn Konoha females! They were all too weak.
“Hurry up and get me the bracelet!” he commanded in a harsh whisper. It was going to be daylight soon and they didn’t have much time. “If you do not want to die from the effects of the medicine, hurry it up and get it over and done with.”
She was going to die. Taking this medicine was going to be the death of her after all. She staggered to her feet, still coughing but with a hand slapped over her mouth as she tried to make her way into Temari’s room. Her vision grew clouded and she placed a hand against the door to steady herself. She could clearly make out the gold item on the table and taking a tentative step within the room, she froze in mid-stride as the blonde sand nin’s voice rang clear and true beside her.
“Who goes there? Show yourself and I just might spare your life.”
Sakura held her breath and took another step forward, but she could clearly see that Temari was ‘watching’ her every move although she was sure that the blonde could not ‘see’ her at all. The sand nin was holding onto that rather large fan of hers and she stood braced and ready for a possible attack.
Sakura grit her teeth and struggled not to blurt out just what was about to happen. However, one glance at Kikaida who was still hiding in the shadows outside the room was enough to let her know that doing such a thing could result in both girls dying in a matter of seconds.
She eyed Temari’s room quickly, trying to see if there was another way of escape besides the door. To her right, there was a window that was slightly ajar. It was wide enough to leap out of and Sakura judged that she might be able to get the bracelet and then make a beeline for it in a few seconds. But to achieve this, she’d have to use Temari as a diversion to give her more time. She lowered her gaze to the floor, noticing that the girl’s futon looked barely slept in. It looked as if Temari might have been waiting for someone to come into her room. Had she had suspicions that someone might try to steal the bracelet?
“I said ‘who goes…aaah!!!”
Temari’s shrill cry was a clear sign that Kikaida had gotten wind of what she planned to do. Knowing she had little to no time left, Sakura dived for the circular object. Holding it firmly in her grasp, she leapt towards the window, stealing a quick glance behind her to see Temari doing her best to hold back a very angry looking Kikaida.
“Give that to me!” he bellowed and tried to lunge for Sakura, but Temari didn’t look like she was ready to give him up so quickly.
Thanking the blonde inwardly, Sakura jumped out of the window and began to leap from rooftop to rooftop, the bracelet now seeming to burn a hole within her pocket. She had to find Kakashi sensei and give this to him as quickly as possible. Who knew what might happen if it got into the wrong hands again?
She would have to put an end to all the madness herself even if it meant losing her life in the process. In her haste, she barely noticed that her body was becoming visible again as she continued to take flight.
Sasuke washed his hands beneath the cool running water that flowed from the pump. He gathered a handful and splashed it upon his heated cheeks. Now that he had managed to work away his frustrations that had stemmed from watching Naruto and Gaara, he felt satisfied and confident enough to go in search of his elusive teacher and the blond.
For one thing, he knew now that he had to speak to Naruto about that other ‘thing’ within him. Sasuke wasn’t sure he was willing to deal with the malevolent spirit again for he knew that his chances of winning were extremely slim if at all.
He stepped onto a ledge and stared at the rooftops of the Sand village below him. Daylight was coming fast upon the horizon and the early morning chill was already beginning to give way to the impending heat of the day. There would be feasting and celebrations tonight in honor of their safe arrival to the village and Sasuke was beginning to wish he could find a way to avoid attending. He wanted to go back to Konoha – to his peaceful village of lush trees and nature’s beauty that he had finally had the chance to appreciate after all these years. But what good would it be to leave for Konoha without Naruto? What was worse…if Gaara had indeed developed feelings for the blond, things could be quite difficult for him in the long run.
Sighing heavily, he got ready to leap off his perch, only to blink in surprise as he noticed the looming shadow heading towards him. He barely had the time to brace himself as he thrown back against the wall with a painful thud. Surprise gave way to agony which soon gave way to even more confusion as he felt the warm body pressed tightly against his. With hands that trembled slightly, he tried to push the person away and saw to his shock that it was his pink-haired teammate. She looked pale and there were trails of blood slipping from her mouth and down to her neck and into her dress. Her breathing was harsh and shallow, her entire body quaking as if she was in the throes of a convulsion or worse.
“Sakura! Sakura, answer me!” he cried out in concern as he lay her gently upon the ground.
She jerked once, her body lifting off the ground in a small arch as she gave a gut-wrenching cough. A wad of blood spewed from her mouth and Sasuke was stunned at how thick and dark it looked. What in the world had happened to make her like this? Shit! Just where was Kakashi when you needed him?!
“Hang on, Sakura,” he whispered thickly as he placed his arms beneath her waist. “I’ll take you to a hospital or something and find Kakashi sensei. Hang on, okay?”
She couldn’t respond. The words seemed to be lodged somewhere deep within her throat and try as hard as she might, she could not say all that she longed to say. She could hear his voice – his deep, wonderful voice - and she wanted nothing more than to cry and hug him in relief but she couldn’t. She felt cold…so very cold. It was a kind of cold that could only happen when one was dying and it frightened her to the depths of her soul. It was only the dull heat that seeped from the bracelet within her pocket that gave her any source of warmth at this time.
It was small consolation but for that, she was very grateful.
Gaara landed lithely upon the grounds of his home. He stretched aching muscles, a smug smile still on his features as he began to walk towards his quarters. A quick bath and a few early morning practice sessions would be good enough to get him ready for the day. If he was lucky, he would be able to find the time to visit Naruto sometime in the afternoon before the feast was to begin.
The redhead winced and held a hand to his forehead, almost stumbling at the malicious echo of Shukaku’s voice within his mind.
Surely you didn’t think he was the one who wanted you, you stupid fool, Shukaku teased mercilessly. In case you didn’t notice, it was the fox that was manipulating you two. The selfish little ingrate.
Gaara fell to his knees, his body trembling in denial at what he was hearing. No, he had been with Naruto himself. It was the blond shinobi that had taken him in that room! It had to be! Every touch, every kiss, every thrust of that thick flesh within his body had been Naruto. It hadn’t been a fox. It couldn’t have been!
/Used you…like a toy…to play with…/
No…shut up! No! He…he said he…
/Loved you? Cared for you? What a load of bullshit and you know it too, Gaara. No one could ever love a person like you, remember?/
No…Naruto does…he said so…he changed…
/Lies. All liiiies! You know that he’ll go back to that Uchiha boy when this is all over. It’s in his eyes and you know it all too well./
He wrapped his arms tightly around his naked form, shivering uncontrollably as the voices of doubt began to fill his mind. Shukaku was lying. He was only doing this to take control again and Gaara had trained himself over the years not to let that happen.
/Admit it, Gaara. You saw it too. The way they stare at each other when they think no one is looking…/
/The way the dark-haired one wants your blood. He’ll kill you if you dare to touch his precious Naruto again…/
His tortured scream bounced and echoed off the walls of the surrounding buildings with a force that seemed to cause the earth to tremble in response. Rage – one of which he had not felt in a long time coursed through his veins like a turbulent stream. He grit his teeth, pale teal eyes glowing darker with fury as he rose to his feet.
Sasuke. Yes, that was it. It was only Sasuke that was in the way now. All he had to do was find that dark-haired chuunin and take out his revenge. Once Sasuke was out of the picture, he could be with Naruto again.
He made to go towards his bedroom with that firm thought in mind, only to stiffen as he heard the blood curdling scream of his older sister.
He couldn’t risk going to her bedroom in his naked state and he had to settle for creating his third eye. Sending it quickly to her direction, he ran towards his bedroom to get dressed. He was still sticky and ‘dirty’ from his encounter with Naruto, but it would have to wait. As he slipped into his shirt, he froze at what his met his ‘eye’ and mind.
It was Temari’s room all right, but there was something rather wrong with the sight before him. Standing in the middle of the room was Kikaida. The same Kikaida that had taken him so many years ago and had promised to be his friend. Kikaida was holding something in his hand – a kunai - and it was dripping with blood. Whose blood? His eye traveled down to Kikaida’s feet and Gaara could feel his rage rising to the surface again. Temari lay at an awkward angle on the floor with a small pool of blood beginning to form around her yellow strands of hair like a red abstract halo.
He watched in horror as Kikaida brought the kunai to his lips to lick off the blood. Gaara’s eyes widened, his head beginning to throb with the familiar headache that always seemed to happen whenever Shukaku saw the sight of the red liquid. Excitement, anticipation and the lust for death. This was the perfect opportunity, Gaara thought with a crack of his knuckles. This was the perfect excuse to get rid of Kikaida once and for all. He would pay for using him so callously at that time and he would pay even more for messing around with his sister. He knew Temari was not dead yet, but that didn’t mean he would go easy on the Sound nin.
“I’ll…kill you…” he growled softly as he stepped out of his room, his feet beginning to quicken their pace as he ran towards his sister’s room.
“This time, I’ll definitely kill you!!”
Kakashi stared out of the window, watching with impassive admiration at the slow rays of sunshine that had begun to creep over the horizon. The wooden chair he was sitting on, tipped back slowly on its hind legs as he began to rock back and forth. Despite his supposed indifference, one could see, on closer inspection, that the man was on edge. He had been listening to Naruto’s story for the past few minutes and was still not sure of what to make of it. Of course he had heard of magic and its many uses for some of the villagers but he had definitely never heard of a bracelet that was capable of telling one who loved him or her.
What was more troubling was the story about the fox within Naruto and its growing strength. Kakashi had been sure that Jiraiya had taken the time to teach the blond shinobi of ways to harness the kyuubi from overtaking his physical and mental capabilities. If this bracelet was a trigger for the beast within, then it would have to be confiscated and destroyed as quickly as possible.
Only problem was that he had no idea where the damn thing was.
He stole another glance at the sleeping teen on the bed before him and he felt something tighten within his chest as he noticed (and not for the first time) the uncanny resemblance he had to his sensei. Kakashi had once spied his teacher sleeping beneath a tree while they were supposed to be training and he had been awed by how young and almost childish the Yondaime had looked back then. Naruto looked no different now. Even beneath the pale morning light, the ‘whiskers’ on his cheeks looked faint and barely visible. Although, they had been rather prominent when he had rescued the boy last night.
“Naruto…” he began softly, only to stiffen as the door was suddenly thrust open. He raised a brow as he noticed the heaving and panting Sasuke standing within it. There were blood stains on his shirt and this caused the older man to frown in bemusement.
“What’s the matter, Sasuke?” he asked quickly, as his senses tingled with growing concern. “Why…?”
“Sakura,” came the fevered reply as the dark-haired shinobi stomped into the room. “You’ve got to go be with her, sensei. I managed to find a hospital to check her in, but she couldn’t talk to me…”
His words trailed off as he noticed Naruto’s sleeping form. He flushed and swallowed tightly, feeling a ridiculous sensation of gratitude and fierce protectiveness come over him as he walked closer to the bed. Naruto was safe and that was all that mattered right now. His heart rate quickened with that emotion he was becoming quite used to.
“She…she did have this though…”
He hadn’t torn his gaze from Naruto’s handsome visage and his voice sounded as if it were coming from a million miles away. However, he did slip his hands into the pocket of his uniform to hold the small golden object in his hand.
Kakashi sucked in a harsh breath and rose to his feet quickly. He could feel the malevolent energy that seemed to thrum from it. No, he couldn’t say it was malevolent…it was more of a mixture of different emotions. They seemed to range from hate to lust to desire and finally…love? – a simple but yet powerful emotion that seemed to cause the bracelet to glow a dull but soothing blue hue.
It reacts to whoever wields it, Kakashi thought as he reached out for it. Whatever emotion the person is feeling at the time is magnified ten times over…
He watched as Sasuke fell to his knees beside the bed with the bracelet still firmly gripped in his hand. The sun’s rays cast a golden column upon the two boys from the window above them as Sasuke leaned closer to the blond. Kakashi smiled softly as he plucked the bracelet from Sasuke’s unresisting fingers. He had to go and visit Sakura now and find out just what had happened to her.
He tucked the jewelry into his pocket and gave a small nod to the boys who were hardly paying any attention to him before leaping out of the room and towards the hospital he had noticed yesterday.
He could only hope that he made it there on time…