Two cigarettes and an inner pep talk of epic proportions later, Naruto found himself strolling down the crowded hallway and towards Class 3-1 on Thursday morning. It was the brief period between classes as students caught up with friends and classrooms were noisy with everyone trying to out talk each other. No one thought much of the blond making his way to the classroom and no one paid much attention, but Naruto still felt as if the eyes of the world were trained on him as he approached the supposed brainiac class of the school. He could see the senior class president Aburame Shino engaged in conversation with a fellow classmate. Neji Hyuuga and Rock Lee were bent over what seemed like their assignments, while Haruno Sakura, the pink-haired beauty was laughing out loud with a group of girls as they read through a set of magazines. He had to admit he once had a major crush on her as a freshman, but selling her pictures now seemed more lucrative than courting her affections. Karin’s familiar shock of red hair was noticeable as she rummaged through her school bag in search of something, while Suigetsu was trying to explain something to (a not very interested) Juugo via his handheld game.
Naruto’s gaze drifted over the chaos of the room, searching for the elusive dark-haired teen he had come to see. A mixture of relief and mild disappointment washed over him when he noticed the empty seat by the window usually occupied by Sasuke. However, as he began to turn to make his escape, especially before anyone else from the team noticed his presence, a familiar deep voice that could only belong to one person interrupted his thoughts.
“What are you doing here, Naruto?”
The blond spun around quickly, kicking himself inwardly for the sudden quickening of his heartbeat/pulse rate. Putting it to just a natural reaction at being surprised, he gathered himself and gave a quick nod of acknowledgement.
“I need to speak to you. Got a minute?”
“Why? Thinking of quitting the team already?” Sasuke asked with a raised brow, his lips tightening with growing irritation.
Naruto did a double take as he found himself thrown off his train of thought at the sudden question. “What? No…!”
“Then what could we possibly have to talk about?”
“If you’d just…”
“I don’t appreciate teammates who do not show up for practice when they’re supposed to, and keep the rest of us waiting when we have less than a month until the goddamn tournament starts.”
“Wait a minute…”
“Ever heard of the word responsibility, Naruto?” Sasuke continued relentlessly, his dark eyes seeming to flash with malicious intent. “No? Well go Google it and find out what it means, and when you do, perhaps then you can figure out how you plan to be productive member of Team Taka. Or maybe that’s a bit too hard for you as the last I heard, your brain cells seem only geared towards spying on naked women and taking their pictures. Now then, what could you possibly want to talk to me about?”
Naruto felt suffocated and humiliated all at the same time. He could feel his cheeks burning as Sasuke’s voice had been loud and clear and the obvious hushed silence from the classroom behind him was a sign that their conversation had carried over. He didn’t need to look around to know that they were now the objects of interest and his blood boiled with a dull fury that Sasuke had done this on purpose. To embarrass him like this before his classmates was simply… unforgiveable.
“You bastard,” he growled, hands clenching into tight fists at his side. He was so mad; his body was literally trembling from the amount of self-control he was exerting on himself. It could be so easy to punch that smirking visage before him…so damn easy to make Sasuke bleed. “You goddamn no-good…”
“Save your fury for practice this afternoon,” Sasuke sneered. “You can unleash it then when we spar. Just you and me. Got it, Naruto?”
“Oh you bet we’ll spar,” came the cold reply. “And by the time I’m through with you, you’ll wish you hadn’t fucked with me, Uchiha.” With a deliberate bump of shoulders, Naruto walked past his nemesis, still bristling and counting the minutes until the final bell rang for the end of the school day. He couldn’t wait to pummel Sasuke to a pulp and Naruto just knew he was going to enjoy every minute of it.
Sasuke watched the striding figure, his heart still thumping hard and fast within his chest at the exchange. It was a risky tactic, but the end result was what he had hoped for. With Naruto now officially pissed enough to kill him, Sasuke had no doubt their practice this afternoon would be more than he hoped for.
“Was that a good idea?” Suigetsu asked as he popped up beside his team captain. “The kid looks like he’s going to murder you later on, man. I felt chills.”
Sasuke shrugged and walked to his seat, avoiding the concerned looks from Karin, Juugo and even Sai. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, hoping his excitement wouldn’t be too evident. Months of anticipation had finally led him to this point and he wasn’t going to miss such a golden opportunity even if it meant experiencing some pain in the process.
Shikamaru stifled a grimace as Naruto slammed the door to his locker with more force than was needed. They were in the boys’ locker room – Shikamaru getting dressed for his baseball practice, while Naruto was just about done with his gi for Team Taka’s practice. Shikamaru watched as Naruto tugged the belt around his waist with tightly controlled motions, and shook his head as he laced up his cleats.
“You seem eager today – trying to make up for missing yesterday’s practice?”
Naruto gave a huff in response.
“Just go easy on the guy,” Shikamaru finally muttered as he rose to his feet. “Whatever he must have done doesn’t warrant you getting expelled in the process.”
“Getting expelled is the least of my worries,” Naruto hissed. “In front of everyone, Shika!” he added with an angry punch into the locker. “He insulted my intelligence and pretty much called me a pervert in front of everyone! That asshole!”
“It’s okay…just a limb or two is enough to make me happy. Better yet, I’ll rearrange that mug of his and he’ll be looking for the best plastic surgeon on the planet when I’m through.”
“Hey guys!” came the cheerful greeting from Kiba as he bounded into the room. True to his word, he looked much better today and had made his return/presence known by being as loud as he possibly could in class all day. “What’s going on?”
“Naruto’s going to kill Sasuke today,” Shikamaru offered with a light shrug.
“No shit! About time someone took that guy out. Can I watch?”
“No can do,” Naruto replied with what looked like pity on his features. “The dojo is within another section of the building and non-team members can’t watch.”
“Fuck that,” Kiba grumbled. “There’s got to be a window to peek in through.”
“The windows are pretty high.”
“Geez, what is the place? A fortress?”
Naruto shrugged and slipped into his school shoes. “I’m off. I’d tell you to wish me luck, but you know I won’t need it.”
Kiba sneered and punched Naruto’s shoulder playfully. “I want to see some red stains on that gi when you come back, Naruto. Evidence of Sasuke’s beat down, got it?”
They gave each other a fist bump in parting before he left the room, leaving both Shikamaru and Kiba watching after him in silence.
“He’s changed,” Shikamaru eventually commented. Kiba nodded in response for he knew his friend was right. “I’ve never seen him so…so…”
“…alive,” Kiba finished. “And here I thought we’d be slackers forever. This club thing’s made him even more…I dunno…different.”
“Just the club thing?” Shikamaru asked as he pulled out his baseball bat and helmet from his locker.
Kiba blinked in bemusement. “What do you mean?”
“I might be wrong, but hey, since that day he and Sasuke were on the roof…I did tell you he’s been acting weird, right? Maybe Sasuke must have done or said something to him.”
Kiba opened his mouth to tell Shikamaru about Naruto’s actions the other day at his house, but decided it was best to keep it to himself. No need stirring the pot and causing more of a ruckus – but then again…wasn’t Shikamaru only confirming what he had thought himself the other day? Was Sasuke really the catalyst for this change after all? And if so, was he ready to accept Naruto ‘changing’ in that way so quickly?
“Whatever it is,” Shikamaru was saying as he began to walk out of the locker room with Kiba in tow. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t do something he’s bound to regret in the long run.”
Kakashi looked up from the papers he was grading (he was an English teacher as well), and into the determined features of the young man standing before him.
“You want me to let you and Naruto go at it with no time limits?” he repeated carefully as if weighing the words on his tongue.
“Yes, sensei,” Sasuke replied with a small nod. “For missing practice yesterday, I think he has to make up for it and I plan on pushing him extra hard today.”
“Uh huh.” Kakashi turned his attention back to his papers, although a light smirk was forming on his lips. “And this wouldn’t have to do with any personal vendetta or feud, would it, Sasuke? That ultimatum thing maybe?”
The boy had the grace to blush at the insinuation, but he held his ground. “Nothing of the sort, sensei. This is only a spar. You don’t even have to watch us since you’re so busy….actually Suigetsu and the others don’t have to be here…”
“They’re your teammates, Sasuke,” Kakashi interrupted. “If they want to watch, they have the right to. Why do you want to practice with Naruto alone? Something else you want to tell me?”
Sasuke’s blush deepened at the knowing look that came his way and he scowled in response. “Sensei, as team captain, it’s my duty to make sure my teammates are…”
“SASUKE!” came the sudden loud bellow from the dojo. “WHERE ARE YOU, YOU DIPSHIT?! COME OUT HERE ALREADY! I’M WAITING FOR YOU, ASSHOLE!”
Kakashi dropped his pen and held his head between his hands in disbelief. “Doesn’t he have any respect for where he is? It’s a dojo for chrissakes and he’s acting like it’s a mere school yard for a street fight.”
Sasuke, whose heart had skipped a beat in response to the near barbaric call, smirked and gave a light shrug. “Looks like I’m needed, sensei. If I may be excused.”
Hardly waiting for Kakashi’s permission anyway, Sasuke left the office and walked into the dojo where Karin could be seen trying to ‘shush’ Naruto into being more respectful and quiet. Suigetsu looked like he was enjoying himself tremendously as he snickered at the blond’s antics, while Juugo and Sai remained quiet, even though there was a pensive look on the bigger boy’s face.
“Stop yelling like a banshee, Naruto,” Sasuke said calmly, not betraying the surge of adrenaline that charged through him at the moment. Damn, Naruto looked feral in his fury and Sasuke shivered with satisfaction at what was to take place. “If you want me that badly, all you had to do was ask me nicely.” And I’d definitely come running.
“Shut up, you piece of shit,” came the retort as Naruto flicked his nose, in an obvious gesture of a taunt, before giving Sasuke the middle finger as a follow up. “Time to make you pay for that stunt you pulled in class today.”
“As much as I appreciate the battle that’s about to take place,” Kakashi cut in as he leaned against the door of his office to watch the proceedings. “I’d prefer you not swear or curse so much in here, Naruto. The dojo is a place of respect and we do take the Martial Arts quite seriously. If you’re to be a member of this team, you will abide by the rules. I do take it you managed to read them, right?”
Naruto hadn’t, but he didn’t care at this point. All he could see was the smug-looking Sasuke standing before him – all he could hear was the pounding of his heart like a drumbeat rising to a crescendo in his ear. His body thrummed with barely suppressed excitement and anticipation. His hands itched and burned to pound into Sasuke’s flesh – to make him bleed and suffer for all the mess he had created in the past few days.
“I’ll check ‘em out later, sensei,” he finally replied as his eyes narrowed. “Right now…I’ve got something to take care of. Ready, fuc….Sasuke?”
Sasuke fell into his stance, an arm outstretched before him, and with a single wave of his hand, he commanded firmly. “Come.”
Naruto needed no second invitation as he dashed towards Sasuke like a caged beast let loose. His intention was a well-aimed blow towards the other boy’s stomach, but Sasuke was fast and somehow managed to block it by thrusting both arms before him. Not only was the block effective, but he was also able to push Naruto backwards with a powerful thrust that seemed to be laced with latent energy. Naruto felt the surge – like a dozen bolts of electricity coursing through his body and he winced in pain but held it in by biting hard on his lower lip. He lunged again for Sasuke, now punching and kicking wildly even though it seemed like Sasuke was holding his own by either blocking or dodging the attacks. Naruto thought he was fast, but hell, Sasuke was…
“Urgh!” he grunted and fell to his knees, unable to believe what just happened. One minute Sasuke was before him, the next, he seemed to vanish and appear behind him with a well placed chop behind Naruto’s neck. “You bastard,” he growled and promptly lashed out with his leg, catching Sasuke off guard and sending the dark-haired boy toppling to the floor with a light grunt of pain. Quick to take advantage of Sasuke’s position, Naruto formed a fist and with as much anger as he could muster, he drove it into the boy’s stomach, smirking in glee as Sasuke curled up in agony at the assault. He barely heard Karin’s gasp of shock as he grabbed Sasuke’s gi and prepared to send another fist into the boy’s face.
“That the best you can do?” came the sudden question that had Naruto’s eyes widening in disbelief. He could have sworn the last punch was almost lethal and yet Sasuke looked as if he was bored with the whole affair. A light chuckle soon followed and before Naruto could blink, white hot pain shot through his body as he was flung away like a rag doll. He slumped into a heap against the wall, wheezing, coughing and aghast to find he was now bleeding. His throat felt like it was on fire, and it was becoming a little hard to gather air into his lungs. There was a deep cut to his forehead and the blood seemed to flow down the bridge of his nose and into his mouth. The salty, metallic taste on his tongue was all it took to finally send him over the edge, and with a howl that sounded anything but human, Naruto lunged again - so swift, that Sasuke barely knew what hit him.
Several photographs and scrolls fell to the floor as Sasuke was all but thrown against the other side of the room. It felt as if he had been run over by a semi-truck. His legs trembled as his stomach protested any movement he would have made. He could feel his meager breakfast and the lunch he had threatening to spill from his lips. He tried to get up, but suffered a punishing blow to his cheek, sending his world exploding in a shade of red as his mouth filled with blood. Subsequent punches to his stomach and chest had him doubling over, and just when he thought Naruto would finish him off with the final deadly blow, the torture ended as soon as it began.
“Enough,” came the voice (sounded eerily like Kakashi sensei’s) that seemed to come from a million miles away, “Calm down, Naruto. It’s over. You’ve defeated him.”
Defeated. He was…defeated. Why wasn’t he surprised?
“Sasuke? Sasuke?” Karin’s concerned voice this time. He could feel her hands on his shoulder and he wanted to shrug it off, to scream that the fight wasn’t over…that he could still finish this and defeat Naruto… to show that he could hold his own. However, the pain was too much – physically, mentally and emotionally. His vision was fading fast and he wondered how he could face his teammates again, especially to look into Naruto’s eyes without feeling like he was lacking in some way. Maybe he ought to give up trying to woo the blond. It was too much of a hassle anyway and besides, Naruto’s hate had magnified that much was certain. It was a knowledge that hurt more than any physical blow could ever deliver.
Naruto parked his motorbike in the garage and got off slowly, wincing as his ribs protested the movement. The after effects of Sasuke’s blows were becoming more evident, as the ride home alone had been a lesson in patience and pain. He wanted to lie down and never wake up and perhaps forget that the fight had ever happened. Strange, he thought with a bitter chuckle, he had been in fights before, and had taken his share of deadly blows from his opponents, but he couldn’t remember the last time he was left this physically and emotionally drained.
He sagged against the wall, trying to catch his breath as his heart seemed to skip a beat, shooting a searing pain down to his stomach. Whatever skill Sasuke had with that energy thing in his punches and kicks, it was definitely working. Naruto couldn’t even remember much of what had happened after he tasted his blood for the first time during the fight. All he remembered was the fury he had felt and then…nothing. Something had taken over him – the same ‘something’ that seemed to overwhelm him whenever he got too angry and lost control. In his street fights, he usually didn’t remember much of what happened during the fight, but always ‘came to’ once all his opponents lay in pools of their blood and barely recognizable. It was a miracle he hadn’t been arrested yet for all the injuries he had caused so far. Naruto was sure that if Kakashi sensei hadn’t stepped in, Sasuke would have been worse off. How worse off? Naruto didn’t want to think about it.
He couldn’t remember what the teacher had said, neither could he remember feeling Karin’s gentle hands as she washed his face and applied the band-aids to his cuts and bruises. He must have walked out of the dojo in a daze, not speaking to anyone and deliberately avoiding meeting his friends who would no doubt want to find out how the match had gone. He had turned off his cell phone, wanting and needing the solitude.
“Welcome back, Naruto,” came the cheerful greeting from Ms. Fuyutsuki, as he finally let himself into the familiar and welcoming confines of the kitchen. Her cheerfulness was soon replaced with a gasp as she noticed his banged up body. “Oh not again,” she said with a look of sadness that tore through the blond’s heart. Over the years, she had become the mother figure in his life. He knew his fights always made her unhappy and he usually tried to sneak into the house without her knowing about it. “Why do you keep doing this?”
Naruto tried to smile in reassurance. “I’ll be fine, auntie. I just need to lie down for a bit. Just promise you won’t tell uncle, okay?”
He silenced her with a much-needed hug, enjoying her warmth, and for a brief moment, he felt a burning sting in his eyes as he tried not to break down in tears. He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried anyway and he pulled away quickly so as not to give in to the overwhelming emotion. He trudged up the flight of stairs, holding back his grimace so she wouldn’t worry, but as soon as he was in the comfort of his room and the door was locked behind him, Naruto collapsed to the floor with a choked sob.
What kind of a monster was he? Why did it take his fight with Sasuke to finally realize that he was actually…afraid of the person he could eventually become if he didn’t control himself.
“I’m scared,” he whispered into the darkness, clutching his shirt above his aching heart as the silent tears finally spilled down his cheeks. “Oh God, help me…I’m so fucking scared of myself…help me…”
“Looks like your parents aren’t home,” Suigetsu observed as he walked into Sasuke’s kitchen. He noticed the note Mikoto had left on the counter. “Gone for date night with Daddy. Eat what you like in the fridge’. How sweet.”
“Stop fucking around,” came Karin’s sharp retort. “Can’t you be serious for one minute?! Let’s take him upstairs, Juu.”
“It’s okay,” Sasuke began in a voice that sounded hoarse even to him. “I can walk…”
“No way,” came the vehement reply from the redhead. “You almost fell just walking to your car earlier. You need to rest up. Let’s go, Juu.”
Juugo, who was actually carrying Sasuke piggyback style, gave a slow nod and did as he was told, leading the way to their team captain’s bedroom. He waited for Karin to fluff up the pillows and pull back the thick blanket, before laying Sasuke on the bed.
A thick white bandage covered most of his face, his torso wrapped with thick bandages thanks to the school nurse. Sasuke was sure he looked like a walking mummy, but didn’t want to think too much about it as he closed his eyes and tried to slow down his racing thoughts.
“…ruthless,” Suigetsu was saying as shook his head in disbelief. “I swear if Kakashi sensei hadn’t stepped in…”
“I would have stopped it,” Juugo offered quietly. “He would have killed you, Sasuke.”
Karin stifled a sob and took a deep breath to gather herself. “Why does he hate you so much? I thought with him on the team….we’d all work well together and…and…”
Sasuke remained silent, unable to confess or tell his teammates that it had been done for purely selfish reasons. His lust for Naruto had superseded rational thinking and now threatened to divide a team he felt was worthy of winning the upcoming tournament. The last thing he wanted to do was have them worry about him, and he knew now that his decision to let Naruto ‘go’ would be the best thing for all of them.
“It’s okay,” he finally said as he opened his eyes to give them a small nod of reassurance. “It’s my fault for making him mad and I take full responsibility. I’ll apologize to him first thing in the morning.”
“You can’t come to school like this!” Karin cried out. “You look…”
“Like road kill,” Suigetsu offered with a nod which earned him blow on the head from the irate female. “You bit…!”
“You should get some rest,” Juugo cut in as he noticed the duo about to get into another argument. “We’ll go now.”
“I’ll visit you tomorrow,” Karin offered. “And maybe Naruto…you did some damage too, I think.”
“Not enough,” Suigetsu muttered. “But yeah…like stay home and stuff. I’m sure you’ll be fine on Monday. We’ll train hard, right guys?”
The others nodded, even though Sai wasn’t with them as he had to stay back in school for an art club meeting. They said their goodnights, with Karin promising to lock the front door behind her since Sasuke would be all alone in the rather big house.
In the silence that followed, Sasuke climbed out of bed, staggering as a shot of pain ran up his legs, forcing him to clutch the bed post for support. Cursing beneath his breath, he hobbled to the bathroom and turned on the light. He had to get a better look at the damage inflicted on him. He stood before the large mirror and winced at the sight. He looked pale beneath the bandages and he was appalled to find himself still trembling as the memory of Naruto’s last series of attacks flooded his mind. He sank to the floor and closed his eyes. It was the same look he had seen that night while on his way to a video store to return some movies. He had decided to walk instead of drive, preferring to enjoy the evening air, even though it was getting a bit late.
At first the commotion beneath the pedestrian bridge had not interested him, and he would have walked past without a second look, if it wasn’t for the familiar school blazer and shock of blond hair that had him doing a double take. Not wanting to get into the fray, Sasuke had watched from the relative safety of the bridge as the group of thugs – about six of them – continued to tease and taunt the silent Naruto who seemed to be taking the abuse without saying much. It wasn’t until one of the guys, who had sneaked up behind Naruto, raised a crowbar to apparently hit Naruto’s head, did the blond explode in a most spectacular fashion. Sasuke, who had been ready to scream a ‘Watch out, Naruto!’, could only look on in shock at the events that took place next. There really was no other way to put it. Naruto had ripped through his opponents as if they were mere puppets. It was a brutal, bloody affair that Sasuke couldn’t look away from. He had never seen anything like it and the realization that this was the same Naruto, who could look like a complete loser/slacker in school, had sent a perverted thrill of delight down his spine once the massacre was over.
Today, he had gotten a taste of that rage. Today, he had almost had a rendezvous with Death.
His stomach muscles clenched with an emotion he realized as fear and he shivered at the notion that he had almost lost his life. It was funny how he had always enjoyed the thrill of a good fight over the years and it had to take Naruto’s beating to remind him of just how fickle one’s life really was. Imagining his mother’s tearful countenance or not being able to accomplish all the goals he had set out for himself was an eye-opener for the teen.
Damn it all to hell.
Sasuke knew he had vowed to leave Naruto alone and not to bother him anymore, but could he really do it? Could he really stay away from the blond, despite the fact that they’d still be teammates? How could he continue to act like nothing had happened if Naruto decided to return to the dojo? It was going to be difficult, but Sasuke knew that trying to establish nothing more than a platonic relationship was the best way to go – anything to keep the team together.
He opened his eyes and stared at his reflection, barely blinking as his image seemed to waver and he found himself staring into the familiar passionate blue eyes. He still wanted Naruto…still entertained the thought of being with the boy eventually…but for now…
“I’ll try to be nothing more than a friend,” he whispered into the silence. “If you’ll only give me a chance…”