Chapter 22:

Budding Memory


The memories of long love 
gather like drifting snow, 
poignant as the mandarin ducks 
who float side by side in sleep.

-       Murasaki Shikibu


Sasuke-sama’s orders were absolute...ninety-nine point nine percent of the time that is.


In the year (and some odd months) he’s been under the servitude of the younger Uchiha sibling, Haku has never disobeyed his master’s orders. Sure there were times he questioned some of said orders (privately), but his role was never to speak about it in the open or vocally express dissent. As a ‘tool’ for his master, his job was simply to execute whatever directives were given and tonight his master’s directive had been simple – to stay put.


Easier said than done, when one considers how volatile the current situation could be if no one took the initiative just to check up on –


“It’s been almost half-an-hour since he left, hasn’t it?” Shisui drawled lazily as he continued to watch the drama currently being shown on T.V. though his watchful gaze was actually trained on the fidgeting manservant sitting across him.


“Just about,” Karin replied. She was clearing away the dishes, however she had set aside a plate for Naruto incase he wanted to eat something when he returned. “I hope everything’s okay...”


“No explosions yet,” Shisui said slyly.


“Let’s hope there isn’t,” Itachi murmured. He was half-asleep; no thanks to the great meal and having had a long day in general. Tomorrow wasn’t going to be any easier. They had quite a few errands to run before the tiring trip back to Japan.


“Although,” Shisui continued, now feeling more mischievous by the second. “It wouldn’t be impossible for Naruto to have taken out Sasuke and is now trying to find a way to hide the evidence of his homicide.”


“Shisui,” Itachi warned though he could tell that his partner was being cheeky and clearly trying to get under Haku’s skin. Shisui was no longer bothering to hide that he was watching the flushed teen carefully.


“It is likely,” Shisui insisted. “Or maybe...” He snapped his fingers and widened his eyes as if discovering something astounding. “It’s the other way around. Sasuke has finally finished what he started and killed off -”


“Sasuke-sama would never do that!” Haku snapped; visibly bristling at the insinuation that his master was a mindless murderer.


(and yet you know he’s capable of doing something like that if adequately provoked...)


“Never?” Shisui raised his brow in mock surprise. “This is a guy who has executed several ‘sinners’ in the past, right? What stops him from beating Naruto to death with that damn walking stick of his?”


“” Haku sputtered and turned a bright red; torn between wanting to do the unthinkable (throttle Shisui-san) and running out of the room to stop himself from actually doing it.


“Be nice now, Shisui-san,” Karin chided as she walked back into the room. “You know how Haku feels about hearing such things concerning his dear master.”


It was hard to tell if she was joking or not, but Itachi finally cracked an eye open to focus on Haku. “You can see what’s going on,” he said quietly. “Just make sure they don’t see you.”


If he could have kissed the older sibling, he would, but Haku spared himself the embarrassment by grinning and hopping to his feet before he could be talked out of it. It wasn’t difficult to find the door leading to the roof, and he knew there would be no worry about being ‘invisible’ as one of his many skills involved being able to blend in with the shadows effectively. His only gripe was the loud groan the first door made as it was opened, and he sincerely hoped that his master and Naruto-kun would be too engrossed in whatever they were doing to pay attention to the odd sound.


As he climbed the stairs, he tried to ignore the many worrisome images that filled his head. He was sure he would come upon those two at each other’s throats, or worse what Shisui-san had insinuated. Haku shuddered and wondered just what he would do if such a scenario actually came to fruition. Though he knew he would have to take his master’s side, he was sure this was going to be one sin that he was never going to forgive Sasuke-sama for committing.


(just like Zabuza-san’s death...)


He kicked himself mentally for that thought. It hadn’t really been Sasuke-sama’s fault that the torturers in the East Block were too happy at their jobs and had made Zabuza’s life a living hell. Still Haku knew, deep down inside, that a small part of him would never forget the dreaded sentence his master had given on that fateful day. If only Zabuza-san had not been such a hot-head -


“Wait...a minute...” he whispered.


He froze on the top step as the memory of Zabuza-san’s last words came to mind. What had he said that time about protecting Sasuke-sama again?


/Listen to me. It’s only a matter of time before they come back here to take his head... even that one you call a master...though he’s too stupid to realize that they are doing all this for him./


So was that it then? Had Zabuza-san been a member of Akatsuki? Had he also been a spy for Itachi and Shisui-san? It was highly probable; for though Zabuza hadn’t lived in Byaku-Shinkyou for a while, he did still stop in for visits and important meetings. It was surprising neither man had spoken about their dead comrade...or maybe Zabuza-san hadn’t exactly been the most reliable of comrades to begin with.


Either way, that was water under the bridge now. Haku had more important things to deal with; such as wondering why it was so damn ‘quiet’ as he pushed open the second door as carefully as he could. He strained his ears to hear the raised voices, but was presented with nothing more than the sounds of the city at night. He stepped onto the roof and promptly fell to his haunches; knowing that standing up would attract attention as he scanned the vicinity quickly. It took him less than a minute to locate the two figures sitting side by side (not too close though), beneath the towering shadow of the largest water tank at the other end of the roof. For a moment Haku wasn’t quite sure of what he was seeing, and he literally had to rub his eyes to be sure they weren’t deceiving him.!


And yet there it was; his master and Naruto-kun actually having a conversation without someone threatening to blow the other’s head off with a gun or slice it off with a katana. At the sound of a low chuckle, Haku decided that pinching himself might work. But no matter how hard he pinched (and the pain he inflicted on himself), it really was happening! Sasuke-sama and Naruto-kun were friends!...well...maybe that was jumping ahead too much...but still! This was progress! And for a master who was extremely anti-social and closed off from the notion of engaging in conversation with anyone he didn’t really know...


Haku sniffled and blushed darkly as he realized he had begun to cry a little without even realizing it. God, he was such a weakling. What would Sasuke-sama think if he saw him like this? He took a deep breath to compose himself before slipping back to the exit as silently as he had arrived. He all but skipped down the stairs to tell the others the good news. There was hope yet that those two could end up working well together, so Itachi-sama (at least) wouldn’t have to worry too much about any potential ‘accidental’ deaths while he was away.


“Wonders shall never cease,” was all Shisui muttered when Haku recounted what he had seen. Itachi had given a small smile of relief. Karin gasped in shock and disbelief, while Shikamaru appeared to be skeptical.


It wasn’t until both young men appeared at the doorway - with Naruto leading the way; announcing loudly that he was hungry enough to eat a cow – and Sasuke hobbling behind him without a scowl or general countenance of irritation, did the other occupants in the room finally believe what Haku had told them.


“Oh my! You’re bleeding!” Karin cried out, having noticed the scraped knees and elbows on Sasuke. She was already searching for her first aid kit. “What happened to you?”


“Fell on his ass as usual,” Naruto replied as he dug into his tepid meal with gusto. However, unlike his previous taunts, which were usually filled with venom and bitterness, this sounded flippant and absent-minded. Naruto trained a winning grin on the young woman. “Mmm...delicious as always, Karin-chan! I looooove your cooking!”


Karin had the grace to flush at the compliment, though she returned it with a gentle tap of Naruto’s forehead as she made her way to Sasuke. “Let me look at it.”


“I’m fine,” Sasuke began, but his protests fell on deaf ears as the (quite strong) woman all but yanked him to the floor and began to attend to his wounds.


Both Shisui and Itachi exchanged a quick look before turning their attention back to the blond, who was still busy gorging himself and trying to talk to Shikamaru at the same time. Both men had read the contents of the dossier, so there was no doubt that Naruto must have had a strong reaction to it (why else would he remain outside for hours on end?) However, to see him acting this way, both were smart enough to realize that it was nothing more than a coping mechanism; a way to deal with a harsh reality the best way one knew how. For now, they respected his wishes and kept their thoughts to themselves, though for a brief moment, those piercing blue eyes had met the dark ones with an unspoken agreement passing amongst them.


It would be much later, long after everyone had retired to their apartments and Shikamaru  had fallen asleep, did Naruto finally creep his way to their room. He had barely knocked on the door once, when it was opened abruptly to reveal Shisui, who gave a curt nod in greeting.


“Took you long enough,” he said as he ushered Naruto in and motioned for him to sit. Itachi - who was looking as if he was ready for bed with his long hair unleashed from its usual ponytail and dressed in a pastel blue yukata that revealed his chest - closed the book he had been reading to give the blond a small smile in acknowledgement.


“I should begin by saying I owe your father my eternal gratitude for not killing my father on that day,” Itachi said softly. “At least, he delayed the inevitable.”


Naruto, who had opened his mouth to begin speaking first, was stumped into silence as his entire body flushed with heat at the sincere expression on the older man’s face. At least one question was answered with that statement. Both men were more than aware of the contents in the dossier.


“ can repay him back by helping me defeat the bastards responsible for his death as well as my mother’s,” Naruto replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “My battle is with the Bakufu; to be more specific Shimura Danzo and Ikegami Ryoichi.”


“We figured that would be the case,” Shisui said with a light shrug, though there was an inscrutable expression on his visage. “And how do you plan to go about dealing with them? You should know by now how the Syndicate operates. Picking a fight with one, is picking a fight with all of them.”


“I have a couple of things on my side,” Naruto reasoned with a wag of his finger. “According to that Jiraiya guy, there are still those who were loyal to my father -”


“They might be in hiding and not with as much strength as they used to have. Even Jiraiya can only do so much if you’re considering running to him for help,” Shisui stated.


“We don’t know that yet,” Naruto interrupted with a firm shake of his head. “Also, we’ve got your organization...not Akatsuki. I know you guys have got your hands full dealing with Snake Dude.”


Itachi raised a brow. “You’re talking about the Triad?”


Naruto smiled. “I know these days that they try to steer clear of the yakuza’s turf, but there’s been a history of bad blood between them anyway, right? What better way to exploit that than get the Chinese to cause some problems for the Bakufu?”


The older men gazed at the bright-eyed teen in quiet disbelief and reluctant admiration. “And I thought you were supposed to be the idiot,” Shisui finally muttered. “What you’re thinking about is insane. If the Triads and Syndicate got into a could last for years...”


“...and what’s worse, imagine having to give up turf to the Triads anyway,” Itachi added. “Even if many do not agree with Ikegami’s methods, the yakuza still have their pride and they’d rather die than allow the Chinese to take over their businesses and run their country from the underground. are supposedly going to be the head of the Syndicate...”


“Not interested,” Naruto asserted with a light shrug. “Like I could run one of those damn things anyway -”


“Then carry on the legacy your father had in mind,” Itachi insisted.




“Your father wanted to make the yakuza more respectable, correct? Instead of leaving it to chaos after Ikegami is taken down, why not lead the organization in the direction of being more legitimate?”


“A yakuza is always going to be a yakuza, no matter how ‘good’ they want to be,” Naruto muttered with a sullen look. He gave an inward sigh and absently watched the lights of the city skyline beyond the sliding doors. “As long as there’s money to be made from prostitution, drug trafficking and all those other illegal shit, you can count on them being there. What good could I do? Besides...I’m not exactly thinking beyond the fight with those guys. Who knows?” He gave a bitter smile. “I might not make it out alive, and if that’s the case, then the whole Syndicate can go to hell. Who needs them anyway?”


“People like Saitou-san,” Itachi replied quietly; causing Naruto to look at him sharply.


“Think about it, Naruto,” Itachi continued. “We have a corrupt government at the moment; fat cats who only seem more interested in filling their pockets with the people’s hard earned money instead of dealing and focusing on those who need it the most. That’s where the yakuza come in. Yes, there are some sleazy bosses in several districts, but for every sleazy boss, there are those – like your father – who genuinely go out of their way to protect small businesses and citizens from becoming bankrupt. Take for instance Jiraiya-sama. He was one of those bosses who presided over one of the most successful districts in the nation. Why? Because he had a heart and was well-loved by those he protected. His subordinates did odd jobs for civilians here and there...they even patrolled the streets and prevented unnecessary crimes from happening. Yes, there were the bad seeds in the bunch; those who wanted to make names for themselves, but even at that...the civilians found themselves going first to the yakuza for help instead of their locally elected politicians or officials. What does that tell you?”


Naruto lowered his head and mumbled something unintelligible beneath his breath. However, this did not deter Itachi.


“It doesn’t always have to be about drug, guns and killing people. You can make it more than that, and like I said, carry on the legacy your father hoped to accomplish before evil came in the form of Ryoichi and Danzo. In other must live long after your battle is over. Just as you’ve survived the trials of being a prisoner at Byaku-Shinkyou, you must overcome this next obstacle and rise above it.”


Like he needed to be reminded of his days there. Naruto gave a loud sigh, ran his fingers through his hair, and then eyed the older man with a light shake of his head.


“Man, I really hate the way you talk,” He finally muttered; though a small smile threatened his lips. “You just make everything sound like it’s no big deal.”


Itachi chuckled. “Well, you have such grandiose plans that if left to your devices, I’m sure you’d run out of here tomorrow morning with your Glock in hand willing to take on anyone and everyone without thinking it through. Someone has to be your voice of reason, Uzumaki Naruto.” He took a deep breath, shared a meaningful look with Shisui (who shrugged and leaned against the wall with his eyes closed as if shutting himself off the conversation) before nodding.


“All right then...give me some time to speak to the members of my organization...the Triad I mean,” Itachi said. He rubbed his chin in thought. “I am already sure they’ll oppose my suggestion, but I’ll do my best to get them to listen. If they agree to at least meet you in person, then I’ll return to take you there. If you can prove to them your worth, I have no doubt they’d be willing to bring down Ikegami’s false empire. So...will you at least have the patience to wait for me?”


Naruto expelled a whoosh of air from between pursed lips. “How long are we looking at here? The longer I stick around this dump, the more depressed I get.”


“If I had to give you a timeline, then within the next month or two. Remember, I’ve still got business to conduct in Japan, and I am a wanted man...traveling between countries these days might not be so easy.”


Naruto winced inwardly; realizing just how dangerous the whole thing was for these guys anyway. They were taking a damn huge risk returning home in this climate, but hell! If Snake Dude was already on the move, they had no time to waste sitting around here doing nothing.


“Thanks...I really mean it,” Naruto said with a small smile. “I...”


He wasn’t quite sure of what else he was going to say, but he was saved the trouble by Shisui’s next words.


“At least for now you’re keeping the peace with Sasuke, which is a good thing. I’m really surprised you guys didn’t walk in with major bruises...or maybe you did push Sasuke...”


At Shisui’s smirk, Naruto stuck out his tongue. “I wanted to, but he’s doing a good job falling on his own without my help. I’m sure he can’t wait to get rid of that stupid crutch anyway.”


“Considering who made him start using it in the first place...”


“Hey!” Naruto pointed to his shoulder. “He nearly took out my fucking arm!”


“Did you tell him about the dossier?” Itachi asked with a look in his eyes that was hard to read.


Naruto shrugged and shook his head. “Not really. I just told him that he had to leave Danzo to me. I had beef with him and the Bakufu.”


“And he agreed?” Itachi asked with a raised brow.


“Yeah...though he was just like you, saying I shouldn’t go rushing into things.” Naruto leaned back against the wall and bit his lower lip as something immediately occurred to him. Wouldn’t be surprising if it turned out to be the case... after all, the last time Sasuke had taken the initiative to do anything, it was only because Haku had told him to do so.


He cleared his throat and tried to act as carefree about this as possible. “Hey...uh...did any of you send him out to look for me?”


“No...why?” Itachi was watching him carefully again, and Naruto could feel himself squirming with discomfort and growing embarrassment.


“Nothing...just thought it was weird he’d come looking for me for no reason.”


“He was we all were,” Itachi replied with a small smile. “He was just the first person to decide to bring you back....and I’m glad that things went in neither of you getting into a fight.”


Naruto shrugged and scratched the bridge of his nose. He really didn’t like the way his heart had seemed to skip a little at the notion that Mr. High and Mighty had not come to the roof because someone sent him, but that Sasuke had chosen to listen and spend some time with him and not because someone else asked him to. It made those moments of listening to the other guy talk about his childhood all the more...




“So just what the hell did you guys spend almost an hour talking about up there?” Shisui asked with a raised brow in curiosity.


And Naruto, not in the mood to share jack with anyone, stuck out his middle finger and smirked.


“None of your goddamn business.”


At their stunned expressions, he laughed and rose to his feet. “See you guys tomorrow, and eh...thanks again for everything.”


With a final two-fingered salute, he left the apartment, leaving the two men still staring at the door for a long minute before they burst into low chuckles or laughter.


“He’s crazy all right,” Shisui said as he stood to peel out of his yukata before tossing it over the lamp to significantly dim the glow in the room. “But...I think you should stop worrying so much about those two. I have a feeling they’ll be all right without you being such a Mother Hen.”


“I can’t help it,” Itachi confessed, while shamelessly admiring the way the shadows and light played upon the pale and scarred flesh of his lover. His fingers itched to touch them; his lips burning to taste them all over again. Each scar professed of battles won and lost, and as Shisui fell to his knees before Itachi to cradle his neck within a strong hand, a soft moan escaped his lips as knots of stress were relieved with Shisui’s gentle massage.


“He is my baby brother after all,” came the groaned words that turned into a low hiss of pleasure as Shisui’s other hand had moved beneath the yukata to find what it was looking for. A wider spread of those strong thighs brought a wicked grin to the older Uchiha’s visage.


“And for the next hour or so,” Shisui growled into Itachi’s ear while pushing him back to the futon gently. “You’ll forget he even exists. Deal?”


Oh God, yes...


And with a sigh of willing resignation, Itachi closed his eyes and allowed himself to be taken away from their reality.


Words would no longer be necessary.






I was jealous. Plain and simple.


It just didn’t seem fair.


“You sure?” I asked for the one thousandth time, and Shika, who was now soaking in the tub, removed the washcloth that had been covering his eyes to look at me; pure amusement on his visage now. The bastard was enjoying this. I just knew it!


“Yes...I’m sure,” he drawled. “I asked Shisui and he confirmed it. She’s coming next week.”




I grumbled and scrubbed my armpit viciously; imagining some hot banging babe who would be taking up residence in our apartment in a few days. How was I supposed to deal with that situation when it came up? It was bad enough that my relationship with Karin was going absolutely nowhere (I mean how many times can I walk around shirtless, hoping she’d take a second to admire my abs or something, before it sunk in that she just didn’t give a shit). I was yet to have a decent sexual encounter with a chick in what seemed like decades. I could only work myself to an orgasm every other night - and only when I was sure Shikamaru was definitely asleep so he didn’t hear the embarrassing sounds I made – for so long. Even my fingers needed a break every now and then.


I had to find a red light district around the area and fast. I just hoped the prices wouldn’t be too exorbitant though...


“Don’t expect me to come with you,” Shika uttered before I was even done with my proposition.


“You don’t have to sleep with anyone, goddamn it.” I poured the warm water over my head and shook myself. I was messing up my dressings, but at least it was going to be another ‘excuse’ to have Karin fuss over me instead of hanging around Sasuke like a smitten robot.


“Just escort me there,” I insisted and pinned him with my most plaintive expression.


The evil bastard shrugged and covered his eyes again with the cloth. “I’m not going. Remember what Shisui said? No wandering around town for at least a week or so. We’ve got to lay low.”


“I just need to find a district and that’s all I’m doing! I’m fucking dying here! At least you’re lucky you’ve got your girl coming and you can do whatever the hell you want with her -”


“Speaking of which...” The cloth was lowered and Shika sat up a little more. “You wouldn’t mind giving us some space know...”


I glared at the smirk he gave me and chucked the bottle of shampoo in his direction, which he managed to dodge with a chuckle. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, still smiling. “But I will still need you to -”


“Only if you escort me,” I retorted. “If not -”


“We’ll just move into Itachi’s apartment then,” Shikamaru said with a shrug. “They said it was fine to use it until they came back.”


“Why you...!” I got up from my stool to mock wrestle (or drown him) in the tub, and we ended up making a mess of things; all flailing bodies and limbs. Ten very wet and soggy minutes later, we had exhausted ourselves out and ended up sitting opposite each other in the soothing water that licked gently at my flesh.


“I think someone came in,” Shika murmured.


“You’re hearing things,” I replied in kind; wash cloth over my eyes as I threw my head back and tried to relax. “Don’t hear a single thing...”


“Probably went out again when they saw it was occupied.”


“Maybe it was Karin,” I drawl with a low chuckle. “Bet we gave her an eyeful.”


Shika snickered and kicked my shin gently and I returned the favor with interest. We fell into companionable silence, and I was almost about to drift off when I heard the quiet statement.


“About the other night...when you missed still haven’t told me why. Hey, you don’t have to tell me anything though. Just wanted to make sure you were really all right. It’s just that I’ve noticed you spacing out a few times since then...”


Spacing out, huh? I pursed my lips and contemplated telling him everything. What would be the harm in that? Shika was the first person to see me as something other than a ‘sinner’, and I have come to see him as not just a friend, but a brother (in some roundabout way). With a soft sigh, I removed the cloth to meet his gaze; studying those dark eyes carefully to be sure I could trust him with this information. I saw nothing in them but the same frank honesty and understanding; wisdom beyond his years that made me feel secure in his presence. Besides, I had the right to brag about my father, and who better to share the story with than Shika.


I began to speak; telling him everything the dossier contained and how interwoven our lives were, especially between my non-existent family and the Uchihas. As I spoke, a part of my mind drifted to the ‘farewell ceremony’ last night. It wasn’t so much a ceremony as a gathering of everyone to leave last minute instructions again. If we needed anything Jae was our guy (and he was in the meeting too by the way). I didn’t think I’d get emotional about seeing those two guys leave, and I tried to blame it all on Karin who had begun to sniffle as hugs and handshakes were exchanged. Shisui’s was firm and quick, though the rare smile he gave was enough to show he wasn’t such a complete heartless prick. Itachi’s was just as firm, but with a warmth that made me flush as he leaned close to whisper huskily into my ear.


“Don’t forget your promise and thank you.”


I couldn’t be sure if he had kissed me on the cheek because it happened so damn fast and I was sure my face was as red as a goddamn tomato. I did, however, feel something else prickle the back of my neck, and turning around proved my theory right. Sasuke had watched the whole thing go down, and I wasn’t sure if he was pissed off or not, since his expression was that annoying blank mask he used to have in Byaku-Shinkyou. The sudden urge to apologize to the guy for what had just transpired with his brother, had me opening my mouth before I was spared the arduous task by Itachi walking up to him and leading him aside. least they were going to be too busy doing the whole brotherly bond thing, so I could breathe again. Besides, what the hell was there to apologize for? It wasn’t as if I had done the kissing (if it was a kiss...and I rubbed my burning cheek as if hoping I could get rid of it that way). Still, things have gotten a little dicey between us; not that we were mad at each other. I guess it was the ‘bonding’ moment on the roof the other night coupled with the awkwardness of the ‘not-kiss’ from Itachi that had Sasuke resorting to his aloof demeanor. Meh, I wasn’t even going to bother. Besides, I haven’t seen him that much since last night anyway. He’s been cooped up in his apartment and that was fine with me. I had absolutely no intention of stressing myself over forcing a friendship.


“And that’s the whole sordid tale,” I finished with a weak smile. “I’ve just gotta wait to see what Itachi says, and hopefully get to meet the members of his Triad soon. I’ve got no time to waste.”


“Hn...” Shika looked pensive, and I could imagine why. I didn’t really want him involved with this, and left to me, I’d rather he run away with his girl and find the peace he so deserved instead of getting tangled with my burden. “And what about Jiraiya? Are you going to call him?”


I nodded; having made up my mind I was going to do so anyway despite Shisui warning me against the old man’s inability to be as much of a driving force as he used to be. I wasn’t buying that. Jiraiya had to be able to pull some weight with his former status. Why else would he promise to help me with anything I needed if he didn’t have any clout?


“As soon as I get laid and can think clearly again, that is.”


Shika chuckled and sprayed some water on me. “You have some serious problems, kid.”


At my smile, he rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders. “All right...I’ll follow you...but just to make sure you don’t get into trouble. With the story you’ve told me, I’m even more concerned about your visibility now. Those scars of yours...”


I caressed them absently. “Don’t worry about it. You forget I was on the run for two years from the Bakufu while in Japan.” I gave a smile that didn’t quite reach my eyes. “I can take care of myself, and besides, this time around...I won’t be running away from any of them. This time...I’ll be the one hunting each and every single one of those fuckers.”


I was unaware of the tight grip I had on the towel or the haunted expression in my eyes as I recalled the final moments of my parents’ life. I say both, because I was sure my mother had ‘died’ that night as well. She had only gone through the motions of living during those early years of my life, and finally gave in when her spirit could no longer sustain her. When Sasuke had asked what smells reminded me of my mother and my initial response had been ‘vomit’, I really hadn’t been kidding. The mother I barely knew was sickly; always throwing up or too tired to move for days on end. Looking back now, it really was a miracle I had survived an execution style massacre as well as a journey with a mother who was on her death bed every single day.


I guess He wanted me to live long enough to do this, I thought with a bitter smile. God, with His weird sense of humor, made me survive long enough to reward those assholes who ruined my life. Who am I to deny His request? Heh, you could even consider it Divine Punishment.


“Naruto?” came the tentative call of my name that forced me out of my reverie to notice the worried expression on my friend’s face. I wondered what he was seeing on mine. “You okay?”


I took a deep breath and gave him a more genuine smile. “Sure. I’ll be fine...let’s just get the fuck out of here before we turn to prunes. I think my dick’s shrinking!”


“There’s nothing left to shrink, man.”


I pretended to flail in panic, and though he laughed with me, we both knew we were simply masking the underlying terror at what our future possibly entailed.





Not surprisingly, Jae Weong seemed to understand my plight and was more than willing to assist me in finding the perfect nighttime companion. Or maybe he was just an old pervert anyway. He grinned and rubbed his hands together before thumbing through a worn manga-sized magazine behind his cluttered desk. I had no idea how it could be possible, but the cramped space looked even more claustrophobic than the last time I saw it. I wasn’t sure how the guy could work in there, let alone breathe.


“Ah, here is one,” he muttered with a nod to himself. “Good price and girls too.”


“There’s a magazine for whores?” Shika whispered into my ear in disbelief.


“I guess so,” I replied in kind. I had never seen publications that openly advertised call girls in the RLD, but I guess they did things a little differently in Korea.


We watched him pick up the phone to dial a number, and after a conversation in rapid Korean to someone at the other end, he hung up and grinned at us; revealing teeth that didn’t look so white beneath the gloom of the lone bulb.


“Taxi will be here in one hour,” he said in Japanese. “So you boys just wait around and I’ll call you when it’s here, but remember.” He lowered his voice and leaned closer to us. “You stay out of trouble and return as soon as you are done. No overnight stay, got it?”


“You bet,” I said with a grin and a firm shake of his hand. Finally! After months of celibacy and near death experiences, I was going to be in the arms of a (hopefully) beautiful Korean chick. Well, I guess beggars couldn’t be choosers. If the girl turned out to be average, I could just close my eyes and pretend she had Sakura’s face.




It hit me – just as Shika and I crossed the street on our way to the laundromat – that I had not thought of my ex-girlfriend in so long now. Besides the fleeting moment of recalling her words to me about my smile, Sakura had not infested my dreams or my every waking thought like she used to. However, I realized that it was inevitable since the last few months of my life had been spent either being on the run, being incarcerated, being close to death, and repeating the cycle all over again. In the two years prior, I hadn’t really had much to do besides brood on her passing, and now with so many other things happening in my life...


(she’s fading away)


“Naruto-kun! Over here!”


I stiffened and jerked myself out of my reverie, only to place a finger against my lips to shush the loudmouth. “Shsssh! Remember my name over here.” I tapped Haku’s head gently as he blushed in embarrassment. “It’s Kim Junghyun.”


“Sorry, sorry,” Haku apologized and bowed to Shikamaru as we pushed open the glass door leading into the cramped and very hot building. It was just big enough to host six large washing machines and dryers, and it seemed like each one was filled with something. From the steel rafters in the low ceiling, clothes of every shape, size and color hung from wooden hangers. Colorful posters tacked on the wall (some of which were peeling off) advertised the latest cosmetics, movies, apartments for rent, and instructions on how clothes were to be washed, how much to pay and so on and so forth. We would have been lost at the guidelines if it wasn’t for the accompanying diagrams to go with it. I couldn’t read Korean for shit, and Shika only knew so much himself. Haku...well he was pretty much useless at this point, and I wondered where his brainiac of a master was. We could have used his ‘talent’ to decipher what the hell to do. The last thing I needed was to be taken for granted by the locals.


“Where’s Sasuke? I thought he’d be here with you.”


“He’s preparing to go to the temple with Karin,” he replied with a sheepish expression, “So I thought I’d do this today.” He lifted the large black bag to emphasize just how much he needed to get done.


“Typical,” I grumbled beneath my breath as I stomped up to the tiny cashier’s window, where the owner was watching a game show on his tiny T.V surrounded by washing detergents and other knick knacks he sold ranging from cheap cigarettes, beer, lucky charms to women’s underwear. I knocked on the grimy pane, and for the next five minutes struggled and haggled with the guy to assist us with the machines. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know how to use them since I made use of the coin laundry a lot back in Japan, but there was the problem of having to deal with getting the right change (coins), and learning if their machines were any different than what I was used to. The owner – he didn’t look any older than twenty-five – bellowed out to someone in the back, and an older lady (I’m guessing his mom?) came shuffling out to berate him for being such a jackass to the customers. I guess it was her hitting his shoulder with her cane that had us chuckling and trying not to laugh too loud.


All the same, we finally managed to get our clothes in the machines and half-an-hour later; we were still sitting in the stiff wooden chairs, watching our clothes go around in circles – over and over and over and over and over...


I yawned and stretched out my legs. I wanted to go outside and take a walk or something, but knew it wasn’t exactly conducive. Our job was to run in and out of here as fast as we could, and though a few other customers had wandered in, no one seemed to pay much attention to us. Shika was browsing through a local newspaper, which I had tried to read earlier but gave up when all the letters began to swim before my eyes. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually missed reading in kanji.


Haku was mesmerized by the machines. He had never seen them before, since doing the laundry at Byaku-Shinkyou had involved simply leaving the basket of dirty clothes at the back door for one of the sinners on duty to pick ‘em up and return them once finished. I smiled ruefully as I recalled those cold days spent eating in the rafters of my ‘hideout’ while watching the steam from the chimneys evaporate into the atmosphere from those buildings below. If I closed my eyes, I could still smell the waft of laundry detergent and hotly pressed uniforms or bed sheets. I wondered if there were some poor unfortunate fools still there...still toiling away – day and night – making sure that everyone else looked and felt good in clean clothes.


Speaking of the other was Old Man Chef? And Chouji? And all the other sinners I had established some form of rapport with during my stay there? Were they all right? Had some of them managed to escape like Shikamaru and I? Had the kitchens been destroyed? I couldn’t remember if Shisui had mentioned that, but it would really suck if that happened; not so much that I cared whether or not those damn officers and guards (or Snake Dude) had anything to eat, but I knew Old Man Chef loved his job and took it seriously. Without his kitchen, what would he do? His dream, he had confessed, was to go back to his hometown and die in his own established restaurant. It was a nice dream to have, and though I had felt it hopeless at the time, didn’t seem so impossible after all.


/Continue the legacy your father would have wanted.../


It was stupid even consider what Itachi had suggested, but thinking of what he had said...about how yakuza could be powers for change (of the good kind), I wondered if helping Old Man Chef get his own restaurant wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. I stared at my hands in thought. If I had the power to do change the lives of all those who deserved a second chance -


(like Soujiro and his five children...his little Minami...)


“Naruto-kun?” came the barely audible whisper beside me. Haku had all but breathed my name into my ear, and my natural reaction had been to shiver at the sensation of his warm breath against my skin. Hoping he wouldn’t take it the wrong way, I gave him a quick smile.


“What’s up?”


“You were looking a bit sad,” Haku continued in his low whisper as if not wanting Shikamaru – who was sitting across us – to hear us. Not that he should have worried. With all the noises coming from the machines, the dead couldn’t hear us even if we screamed. “Is everything all right?”


“Yeah...I’m cool...” I tapped his nose gently and was rewarded with a cute blush that made him look so damn pretty; it was a little weird to feel my heart twisting a little at the sight.


(if he was really a girl then I would have...)


I squirmed in my seat and shook my head a little to get rid of that errant thought. “So...Sasuke’s going out with Karin, huh?”


“To the temple,” Haku explained with a smile. “He says he needs to be purified...”


I rolled my eyes. “My ass.”




“Nothing.” I snorted and tried to ignore the pang of jealousy that was rearing its ugly head again. Just what the fuck did Karin see in that guy anyway?


(the same thing you noticed the other night...that beneath the layer of toughness was an actual decent human being)


“Don’t get why he has to be so damn self-righteous all the time when he’s got just as many flaws as the rest of us,” I muttered as the chime of the door signaled the arrival of two old women (geez, where were all the hot girls?) into the Laundromat.


“Sasuke-sama acknowledges those flaws,” Haku was saying. “This is why he has to purify himself to start anew. It’s like a cleansing of the soul, not just the body. Have you ever been purified, Naruto-kun?”


I barked a laugh. “Nah. The temple would probably go up in flames once I step foot in there. I’m beyond redemption.”


Haku gave a smile that was wise beyond his years. “No one is beyond redemption, if you set out to achieve it.”


“I guess...” I mumbled, and needing a change of subject, I grinned at him. “Speaking of redemption, how about I show you what a real good time is tonight, hmm?”


“A real good time?” Haku looked clueless. I was guessing he assumed I was talking about a night of watching his new addictions: Korean dramas and stupid game shows.


I waggled my brows. “I’m talking about hanging out with the hottest babes this side of Korea. You, me, and maybe Shika – wining and dining with girls who are ready to do whatever you want at the drop of a hat.” I failed to mention we’d be paying said girls, but he didn’t need to know the details. “So? What do you say?”


Haku lowered his head and I was sure he was blushing even harder than before. Aw, the poor guy was probably a virgin, but it’s okay! That’s what Uncle Naruto was here for. I was going to make this kid a ‘man’ tonight. He’d definitely thank me later.


“Uum...I...I mean -”


“You don’t have to worry about a thing if it’s your first time,” I encouraged with an arm thrown over his shoulder. I hugged him to me a little. “You just leave everything to me, and I’ll be sure to find a girl who’ll go easy on you since it’s going to be your first time -”


“You don’t understand, Naruto-kun,” Haku whispered as if in pain. He finally lifted his head, and the look on his face should have spoken volumes then. “I’ve...I’ve never been with a woman before.”


“I figured that,” I replied with a smile. “Byaku-Shinkyou wasn’t exactly crawling with chicks, was it?”


Haku shook his head and clutched fistfuls of his kimono; gaze lowered again as if in shame. “’s not just that, Naruto-kun. I...I could never be with a woman -”


“Oh my God! Don’t tell me they cut off your dicks because you’re servants! What kind of monsters are they over there?!”


This was loud enough for Shika to lower his newspaper and to gawk at us in confusion at this line of conversation. Not that I blame him, I was still trying to get over the horrific image of Haku being sexless. God. What a sick, sick, sick, sick –


“I do have a ...di...di....” Haku sputtered. I thought he was going to pass out because he was literally red all over. “I would show it to you to prove it, but we are in a public setting.”


I expelled a breath of relief. “Well, keep it in your pants...or whatever it is you wear under that thing.” I patted his shoulder gently. “So if it’s not being dick-less that’s the problem...what is it?” I frowned as a thought occurred to me. “Don’t tell me that you have to get permission from Sasuke before getting to do anything like that, do you?”


Haku looked bemused for a second before giggling behind a cupped hand. “No...I do not need to ask his permission and besides, I really don’t think Sasuke-sama would want to hear of it anyway. The last time I tried to explain...”


“What happened?”


Haku flushed and shook his head rapidly. “Uumm...just...Sasuke-sama didn’t quite want to know about it, that’s all.”


“So you did have a girlfriend,” I beamed and jostled him playfully. “What did she look like? Was she as cute as you? Which would be kinda weird having to compare which of you two looked prettier.


“Thank you for the compliment, Naruto-kun, but ‘she’ was actually a...a...uh...a ‘he’.”


I must have misheard him because of the machines rumbling and grinding in the background, but had he actually said a...he?


Think about it, Naruto. The guy’s probably lived in that hell hole all his life, and remember that there are no women in the place, so what do you think?! Jesus fucking Christ! It really was all beginning to click into place...and wait! What was all that about Sasuke not wanting to hear anything? Maybe Haku had tried to explain that he liked this other dude, and Sasuke was so jealous about it, that he banned Haku from being with the one he really wanted to be with. Poor Haku had to suffer in silence while his master went about pretending to be straight with that Ino (God rest her soul) while banging Haku in the background.




“Say no more, Haku,” I said with a gentle squeeze on his shoulder as I stared into the confused countenance before me. “I understand what you’re trying to tell me, and it’s a damn shame. Sure it’s a little gross that you have a thing for the fellas, but’re an all right dude. Some of the homo guys I’ve seen in the past didn’t exactly do anything to make me want to appreciate their lifestyle.”


I shuddered at the disgusting blatant expressions of their sexuality the one time I made a mistake of going down the wrong red light district in Shinjuku. I knew I shouldn’t have listened to Kobayashi. I could still hear his laughter when he realized he had played the mother of all pranks on me.


Haku still looked confused and gave a half-smile. “Tha...thank you?”


“Don’t mention it. Listen,” I leaned closer to him, now relishing in my role as potential matchmaker. “Is Sasuke your type?”


“What?!” came the incredulous response that had me covering his mouth and looking around quickly. Shika had lowered his paper again and the two old women were eyeing us and talking to themselves. Probably wondering why a bunch of weird kids were hanging around their joint. I turned back to Haku and when I was sure he had gathered himself, I removed my hand.


“I’m trying to help you here,” I insisted with a pout. “If you were a normal guy, you’d have urges too, right? I mean...when was the last time  you got laid?”




“Slept with some other dude or whatever it is you guys do in the bedroom.”


“” He lowered his head and fiddled with the sash of his kimono before muttering something unintelligible beneath his breath. I took that as a ‘not-in-a-very-long-time-Naruto-kun’. I pursed my lips in thought and gave a nod. Might be a bit tricky to find a guy for Haku, but I’m sure Jae Weong would know a good place to find someone to keep Haku company.


“I guess he’d have to look like Sasuke then,” I muttered to myself. I winced at the now familiar pang that made my chest throb. I really didn’t know why the very notion of those two hooking  up was bothering me (a little). Maybe it was because of those expressions I had seen on their faces in the bathroom; that knowing if we had come in a minute later...


“Why must he look like Sasuke-sama?”


“Because you like the guy, don’t you?” I asked with a raised brow. “The way you throw yourself at him...”


“He’s my master,” he stated as if that made anything better. “It’s my job to throw myself at him.”


I sighed and rubbed my temple. “ you like-like the guy or what?”


“Like-like...I don’t understand...”


“Do you love him?!” I snapped in irritation, and he must have seen something on my face because he backed off a little and seemed to stiffen as if I had physically slapped him. He tightened his lips and took a deep breath.


“Yes. Yes, I do, Naruto-kun. I have devoted my entire life to him and that’s the way it’s always going to be until my dying day.”


I stared into those determined but shiny gray eyes; aware that with the trembling of his lips, he was trying not to burst into tears. He really wasn’t kidding about the way he felt about Sasuke, and I figured that my job/role now was to try to get that idiot to realize the way Haku felt about him. Or maybe Sasuke already knew and just didn’t know how to express it back...

(so what was that in the bathroom then?)


I sighed and slumped back into my chair, folding my arms across my chest and trying not to appear as sullen as I felt on the inside. Man, this whole thing sucked balls, and suddenly a night filled with debauchery and decadent pleasures, a night I had looked forward to - after so many long and trying months - didn’t sound that exciting anymore.


Thanks a lot for ruining everything, Haku, I thought angrily. Thanks a fucking lot.







The temple was miniscule compared to the ones I was used to back home, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and this was the closest one we could find after almost an hour of scouring the countryside.


I sat on the topmost steps to catch my breath, absently watching Karin as she wandered off to admire the pristine gardens. It was quiet here, with my only company the birds chirping in the trees and the occasional rustle of some unseen animal in the bushes and boulders around me. The grounds were surprisingly empty today (well besides the two monks that greeted us earlier), which suited me fine. I was able to wash my hands, feet, and face at the pool with no disturbances, said my prayers and gave my offerings at the beautiful altar. Its pièce de résistance was a large gold statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) which was rather soothing and comforting as I knelt (as best I could) before it while recalling some of the sacred scripts from the Great Book.


Gwanseeum-bosal sees all and hears all.


From my vantage point, on the steps, it was a breathtaking view of the countryside. With our current living location in the city, it was hard to tell that we were close to such a mountainous area, and looking at the distant mounds now, a pang of homesickness hit me with a vengeance. I missed Byaku-Shinkyou; not so much the other things (aka Orochimaru), but it was my childhood home after all. I missed waking up in the morning and seeing the beauty of the first rays of sunshine breaking over the crest of the mountains. I missed seeing the haunting mists rise over the lake as I took my early morning walks. I missed the fresh, crisp air of living in the North (there was something smog-like and suffocating about the Southern air) or the sensation of fresh fruit plucked from its branches as it melted in my mouth with each bite. Simple joys like that made me remember what Byaku-Shinkyou used to be before...


What’s the point of mulling over that now, I thought, with a weary sigh, as I took off the face cap I had worn as part of my disguise. I fanned myself with it (it was a little muggy) and squinted through the sunglasses protecting/hiding my eyes. I couldn’t see Karin anymore, but I assumed she had only gone around the corner to investigate more hidden treasures. I would have liked to go, but the walk up the fifty steps (yes, I counted) had left my leg throbbing with the exertion. It was a reminder that I was due for another check up with Dr. Woo soon. He’d probably have to prescribe something stronger for the pain.


Speaking of pain...saying goodbye to Itachi had been a little bittersweet. After fourteen years of absence, our reunion had lasted about a week and some days before he was taken away from me again. I knew it was no fault of his. Others needed him now; others who had entrusted their lives to him and Shisui. I did not kid myself in knowing that it could probably be the last time I’d see him alive, and he must have known that as well because he pulled me aside to reassure me as best he could.


“I promise to come back,” he said softly, and to my mortification, he had leaned close until our foreheads touched. So it wasn’t exactly the kiss he had given Naruto – which still annoyed me that he would even do something like that in the first place – but it was enough to bring a hard lump to my throat. Crying was not going to be an option this time around, so I settled for squeezing his upper arm hard enough to give him a bruise he wouldn’t soon forget.


“I’ll be waiting, nii-san,” I whispered and closed my eyes until he pulled away reluctantly, but only to replace where his forehead had been with a hard kiss that sent a warmth of such an intense emotion through me, that I really did feel I’d burst into tears.


“Be good to each other,” were his final cryptic words of advice before Shisui yelled for him to get onto the bus as they were already running late.


Be good to each other.


I glanced at Naruto then, who was trying to chat up Karin (again!), and though she wasn’t giving him the cold shoulder, she wasn’t shoving him away either. It was a sign that she was beginning to warm up to him even more. I wasn’t sure if I felt too happy about that...why, I had no idea, but maybe it was because I wanted to latch onto something...that night on the roof...that memory of being ‘myself’ in front of him. Maybe it had meant nothing much to him after all, since his attitude since then had been all but lukewarm. Besides, as long as dear Shikamaru was around, why would he want to bother with me? Seeing them in the bathroom, as they splashed around and laughed in the tub, with such a carefree attitude...


Whatever. If he wants to act that way....then so be it. We’ll be cordial and try as best we can to forget about that so-called ‘moment’.


(so why the fuck does it hurt?)


Naruto’s behavior aside, I had to admit that being in the temple was a relief, for it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. There is no better feeling in the world than knowing that your sins – at least most of them – were probably forgiven. Still old habits crept in as my heart weighed the decision to accept Itachi’s relationship compared to how I felt about such relationships in the first place. It was true that thanks to Orochimaru, my view of being intimate had been tainted and distorted. Orochimaru had never taught me the pleasure I had experienced with Ino, neither had he taught me how beautiful it could be if I only allowed it. With Orochimaru, the idea of intimacy involved fear, domination, humiliation and pain. I really couldn’t understand how Kimimaro could survive that sort of a thing on a daily basis. If I ever allowed my heart to be swayed by another person, I guessed I would want the type of thing Itachi had with Shisui; that feeling of being secure, protected, and at peace with the other.


I guess I could find it with...Karin?


I made a face and shook my head rapidly. So what if she had acted like a non-infatuated girl for the better part of the day and hadn’t annoyed me for more than five minutes? She was pretty...yes, and her disguise (a black wig and green contacts instead of her usual glasses) had made her look completely different. However, she still wasn’t able to conjure up those emotions that made me want to keep her around for a long time. I assume I was pitting her against Ino, who I had barely known (to be honest), but at least, she had come across as more feminine and nurturing compared to Karin, who had some tomboy tendencies.


So how about...Haku?


Even I had to chuckle at the notion. So yes, there was the very idea that I could spend the rest of my life with him, but no matter how much we might try to be partners, there was always going to be that barrier of master and servant between us. I wouldn’t want someone to be completely subservient to me at all times, and it would take nails being driven into his skull before Haku would to get into an argument with me. I wanted someone who could stand up to me and yet give me the companionship I craved. I wanted someone who could appreciate the beauty of nature and the power of prayers, while still being able to keep up with me in combat, for I still had plans to take my position as a member of the watchdogs when all this was over and done with. My partner should be able to understand my job and appreciate the dangers that came along with it.


So what about...?


The heat surged from the soles of my feet to the roots of my hair, and I was never more glad I was all alone as I covered my heated face the cap.






Very stupid.


And not going to happen...


After the way he’s already treating me, I was sure Naruto would really not even entertain the very idea. Even when I hugged him (if you consider that a hug), he hadn’t returned the gesture. Could I blame him for not trusting me though he had shared a little of himself that night? I was, or had been, an enemy to him for a very long time. Was I really naïve enough to believe he’d accept me as a friend that quickly? That only happened on cheesy dramas, and even at that, the actors did go overboard while acting as if they had fallen in love at first sight. was nice to fantasize about the ridiculous possibility, and there was no crime in doing so, was there?


Naruto could stand toe-to-toe with me, that much was certain. Whether in combat or arguing his head off even if he was wrong most of the time. I wouldn’t have to worry about him being subservient...


Naruto...subservient? Haha! What a concept!


I was unaware I had laughed out loud at the image of Naruto bowing at my feet and looking at me with worshipful eyes (like Haku at times) until a flock of birds flew out of the bushes at the sudden sound. I stopped laughing and chuckled. Hell no, as he would say. Naruto would rather return to the dungeons or face Gudan again than accept me as his master. was a nice image... my feet...perhaps wearing nothing more than...




I blinked and sat up with my cheeks flaming at the notion of being caught in a daydream that would have made the monks or Buddha Himself contemplate revoking my penance immediately. Shifting myself into a more comfortable position, I noticed it was Karin approaching with a concerned smile on her visage.


“I heard you shout,” she said with a cock of her head. She looked nice in a pair of denim shorts and a pink tee-shirt with the word ‘PRINCESS’ on it. Not exactly temple-visiting attire, but then again, she hadn’t joined me during the purification process. “Are you okay?”


Shout? My laughter was more like a shout? Figures. I don’t even remember how to laugh properly anymore.


“Something stung me, I think,” I lied and shrugged. “But it was nothing.”


“Oh...well...are you ready to go back? It’s getting late, and I want to check out the museum we passed by earlier.”


“Ah...okay.” I wasn’t in the mood to wander around a fucking museum, but she had been nice enough to bring me here, so I could indulge in her little outing, couldn’t I? I allowed her to help me to my feet and together we made our way down the steps without me cracking a skull in the process.


By the time we got home, we had not only ended up going to the museum, but she had to stop by two other stores to pick up ‘a few things’, which turned out to be a goddamn shopping extravaganza. I hoped she realized we were all on a budget and her sprees would be coming out of her tab. I just hadn’t expected her to buy me a few more clothes as well. I swear the girl was an enigma sometimes.


“How did your day go, Sasuke-sama?” Haku chirped as I dumped the shopping bags on the floor and he immediately dove to help unpack them.


“I survived,” I muttered and hobbled to the bathroom to relieve myself. “How was your day?”


“Wonderful,” he replied and began to tell of his ‘fun’ at the Laundromat (not sure how much fun that could be), but Haku was a born storyteller, and his ability to make something as mundane as sitting and watching clothes dry was amusing. He told of how they had struggled with the coin machines and how the owner had haggled with Naruto over prices, nearly blowing their cover of being Korean-born but Japanese-raised students visiting only because Naruto had been close to punching the guy for calling him a degrading name. Then came the fiasco when Naruto realized he had turned the heater too high and most of his clothing including his underwear had all come out looking two sizes too small.


“We were laughing so hard – Shikamaru and I that is – but Naruto-kun didn’t find it funny and when he began to complain, the mother of the Laundromat owner chased him out with her walking stick. It was the best time I’ve ever had, Sasuke-sama.”


“I’ll bet,” I replied with a soft chuckle at the image of Naruto being chased around by some little old lady. “Is he around?” I asked flippantly. “I didn’t hear any noise from his apartment.”


“Oh, that’s because he and Shikamaru-san went to” Haku pursed his lips and frowned as he thought for a second. It finally came to him and he snapped his fingers. “They said they were going to find some girls to keep them entertained. Jae Weong had his friend pick them up.”


My fingers froze in the act of unbuttoning my shirt as Haku’s words slowly sunk in.


Gone to find some girls, huh? Of course...what else would he do?


Suddenly my ridiculous fantasy now seemed even more humiliating to me. This was reality after all. Naruto loved his women. Weren’t his fruitless flirtations with Karin enough to prove it? Wasn’t his devotion to his dead girlfriend enough to prove it? Had I been hoping that maybe...just maybe he’d want to see what it was like on ‘the other side’ just like I did? That though I was beginning to get scared and worried at how easily my thoughts had progressed to the idea of being in a relationship with another male – after years of abhorring it – my desires would lean toward the one person who just didn’t have an interest in that possibility?


“...strange conversation with him though...”


“Hmm?” I forced myself back to the one-sided conversation. Haku was back to watching his show, but he stopped long enough to look at me with a warm smile.


“I was just saying that Naruto-kun and I had a very strange conversation. He asked me if I loved you.”


If I had been eating or drinking something, it would have probably gone the wrong way. Instead, it was the sudden jack hammering of my heart that forced me to steady myself against the doorway. “Why...why would he ask you that?”


“It’s embarrassing to admit,” Haku said shyly. “But he wanted me to join them tonight, and I told him that I couldn’t because of...well...”


“You told him you loved me?!” I asked incredulously.


Haku, looked a little confused at my outburst, and shook his head rapidly. “No, no, I didn’t say that I couldn’t go out with him because I loved you, but because I liked in general over women, and then he started saying something about ‘my type’ and that I threw myself at you and...well, he just suddenly asked me if I loved you and I said yes, because I have devoted myself to you, like I always have.” He took a deep breath, somehow managing to look confused and miserable at the same time. “I must have said something to annoy him because he wouldn’t look at me after that.”


Of course he’s annoyed, I groaned inwardly. He hates the idea of two men being together and you just had to open your stupid mouth to make him think that we were a couple!


I leaned my aching head against the door. This was a disaster.


“Did I do something wrong, Sasuke-sama?” came the barely audible question.


“” I shook my head and straightened up. “Forget it. Just prepare something for me to eat, okay? I’m famished.”


It was with an effort that I finished his food – which was actually delicious – but my stomach was in such a knot I could barely get anything down. I had to speak to Naruto. It was a burning need that ate at me like a goddamn virus. Long after Haku had finally drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t even close my eyes. I watched the clock like a hawk; counting the agonizing seconds while my imagination took flight in ways that only did more to torture my already swirling mind.


Who would he pick tonight? A girl that looked like his precious Sakura or maybe someone who looked like Karin? Would he put his hands all over her...touch her in places that would make her sigh with pleasure as Ino had done when I did the same? Would he allow the girl to kneel at his feet and to savor him as Ino had? If would he sound when he was in the throes of passion? How would his face look when he was at the brink of no return? Would he be forceful when he took her, for I doubted Naruto understood the first thing about being a gentle lover. I sucked in a harsh breath at the sinful images that came rapidly with each descent of my thought processes. I had to lie on my stomach to control the ache that was now so painful, I could barely breathe. I swore I wouldn’t touch myself; after all I had just spent half of my day at a temple begging for forgiveness. How weak in my faith would I be if I gave in to temptation so quickly?


I hope whichever slut he ends up with tonight leaves him unsatisfied, I thought bitterly only to stiffen (no pun intended) when I finally heard the sounds of the duo returning. It was almost midnight.


I gave them (him) two more hours before rising to my feet and slipping out of my apartment without waking my companion. As usual, the hallway was empty at this hour and the sounds of nighttime involved listening to creaking pipes and the clunk whirr of the unseen cooling units and plumbing system. I had left my crutch again, but I was fine and felt no pain as I walked gingerly toward his door.


What would I say this time? That I am sorry I woke you up at this ungodly hour just to tell you that Haku and I have nothing going on. Haku says he loves me because it’s a love a servant feels for his master and that’s it. The way he feels for me is nothing like the way I feel for him and –




The door had opened before I even lifted my hand to knock on it.


It was Naruto – dressed in his pajamas but with his favorite black and orange jacket thrown over it. He had something tucked beneath his armpit; something I recognized as the dossier he had been reading the other night. His eyes widened in shock at the sight of me, and I guess I must have been looking the same...except I was yet to explain why I was hovering around his door at this hour.


“Uum...” Say something! Say something! Say something quick! “I...”


The shock wore off as quickly as it appeared and in its place was a weariness that made me wonder just what kind of a girl he had spent the night with. “What do you want now?” he asked tiredly. “You really do need to pick better hours to come talk to me, Sasuke.”




He shifted the dossier from beneath his right armpit to his left and sighed as if in resignation. “Wanna join me?” He pointed toward the roof, and I must have given some form of acquiesce because he nodded and began to lead the way. He was patient with me on the steps – as I had assumed he’d go jogging off without me – and even lent a hand when it looked like I’d slip off the top step.


In silence we made our way to ...well hate to say ‘our spot’, but somehow we both knew that was the only place we could be anyway. At this hour, the city was much quieter and peaceful. The air wasn’t still as crisp as back home, but it was much better from the oil and smoke-drenched stench of the daytime.


“You should have worn a jacket,” Naruto muttered as he began to peel out of his to toss it to me.


I shook my head. “I don’t need this, I -”


“You’re shivering,” he interrupted and whipped out a flashlight from the pocket of his pajamas bottom. He was right. I was only in a  tee-shirt and sweatpants while he was in a long-sleeved top to match the bottom half. As I shrugged into his jacket, warming up immediately from not just the comfort it provided but the realization that I was wearing something he had just worn...and it smelled just like him and...


“I was going to read this again,” he admitted as he patted the dossier. “Just to see if I missed anything the first time around.” He sighed and scratched his  head. “I couldn’t sleep.”


“I thought you went girl hunting tonight,” I asked in bemusement. I was under the impression he’d be too exhausted to think straight. Or maybe my bitter curse/wish had actually worked.


“Who told you that?” he asked sharply before shaking his head. “Never mind. Should be pretty obvious.” He shrugged and stretched out his legs. “A word of advice to your money when it comes to those chicks. They ain’t worth the won I put in their fucking hands.”


I tried to hide a smile of satisfaction. “...I see...”


“But then again, you wouldn’t need to do that, would you?” he asked cryptically. I tried to decipher what his expression meant, but he looked away and turned on the flashlight. “Anyway, why were you loitering in the hallway again? Can’t tell me it’s sleepwalking.”


“I do not sleepwalk.”


“So what were you doing outside my apartment?”


I flushed darkly. “I ...uh...I actually wanted to clarify something that might have been misconstrued.”


“I don’t get it. Speak in simpler terms please.”


I sighed and rolled my eyes. “I mean, what Haku told you in the Laundromat today about his feelings for me.”


“Ah...that...look, I don’t really give a shit what you and your servant do in the bedroom,” Naruto began with a wave of his hand in dismissal. “The guy loves you and that’s all that matters, right? Just treat him the same way and you two can go run off and have babies or something.”


If I hadn’t been so wired up at the insinuation, I might have noticed the irritation in his voice, but I was too busy trying to explain myself. “What he meant was that he loved me as a servant would love a master. That’s all. He doesn’t actually feel any other thing than that.”


“Uh huh.”


“I mean it!”


“Okay, already,” he snapped; looking genuinely taken aback at my vehemence. “Geez. He doesn’t love-love you. Got it. Don’t even get why we’re having this stupid conversation...” he muttered and tried to focus on his dossier again.


“I just didn’t want you assuming that he and I were in some sort of a relationship. We are not like that, can be rest assured. Like you...I pre...prefer women...”


“But you’ve only had one woman,” Naruto said with a raised brow and what looked like a smirk. “What would you know about women?”


“And you’re the expert?” I sneered though my cheeks burned at the deliberate jibe.


“At least I’ve slept with more than you.”


“Your choices haven’t exactly been prime examples of the species, have they?” I retorted with the intent to hurt his pride. “Your first girlfriend cheated on you, Karin doesn’t really give a damn about you, and the one whore you finally managed to meet tonight was a big disappointment. Makes me wonder if you...urgh!”


His hands around my throat were unexpected. What was even worse was knowing he had moved so damn fast, I hadn’t reacted in time to dodge the sudden attack. He leaned over me; an expression so dark and ominous, I really did entertain the idea of my death in the next second.


“You haven’t changed a bit after all,” he growled and squeezed harder. My eyes watered, and I reached up to grasp his wrists; trying to pry his hands off me as my windpipe was being shut with every passing second. Breathing was becoming extremely difficult. “You can call me anything you want, but you leave Sakura out of this!”


You idiot! If she was so perfect why was she with the man you killed?! I screamed silently and thrust upwards to lodge him off, but this didn’t help at all. If anything, it made me aware of one very humiliating reaction to all this.


I was....excited.


I hoped to God he wouldn’t do something pointless like straddling me, but just as I thought it, my dismay was tenfold when he did just that to get a better grip around my neck.


Oh God. He’s going to know. He’s going to know. He’s going to know. He’s going to....


“Fuck,” he suddenly uttered and released me as if disgusted with himself. “What the fuck am I doing?”


He leaned back and covered his face with hands that trembled, took a deep breath, and then lowered them to reveal a bewildered expression on his features. He still looked mad enough to kill me, but at least I could breathe again, though I was currently doing my best not to cough up a lung. Circulation was gradually returning, and when I felt I could think again...


(leg be damned)


...I reached out to push him off with so much force, he fell back with a loud grunt of surprise and pain. Hardly giving him a chance to catch his breath or get his footing, I straddled him, formed a fist and drove it into his left cheek with as much anger and frustration as I could muster. His head whipped to the side and the evidence of my blow came in the form of a trickle of blood escaping the corner of his lips.


“Open your fucking eyes!” I roared while gulping in air and wincing at how raw my voice was. “Sakura...the girl you so worshipped was cheating on you, remember?! I know you want to latch on to the good memories you have with her, but you’ve got to realize the truth as well! You can’t keep shutting it out forever, goddamn it!” I gripped his pajamas top and shook him as if hoping to knock some sense into him.


“Did she truly love you? Huh?! Is that what people in love do to each other?!” I stopped shaking him and with a low groan, I buried my heated face against his neck to whisper brokenly. “She hurt you, didn’t she? What happened that night wasn’t just over what Kojima did to her, but what she did to you, wasn’t it? Killing Kojima was like killing her too, wasn’t it? I read your many times to try to understand and that was all I could make from it. You don’t have to keep lying to yourself about her anymore, Naruto. It’s okay to be angry at her now. It really is...”


I could feel his heartbeat in the hollow of his neck; my lips were mere inches from his Adam’s Apple, and when he swallowed, I felt it. When he hitched in a breath, I felt it. When he made a low sound of suffering from deep within him, I felt as if my damn fucking heart would burst at the same time. When I finally pulled away a little to look at him, I’m sure in that very moment it did. We were literally breathing each other in, for that was the only distance as our foreheads bumped each other’s gently. A mere breath between our parted lips, but it was enough to have every damn fiber in my being thrumming with an adrenaline I had only believed I could achieve in the throes of combat.


“You bastard,” my blue-eyed sinner croaked as a tear slid down his cheek to mingle with the blood that still trickled down to his chin. “You fucking asshole.”


Yes, Naruto...I deserve your wrath for what I’ve done.


But instead of showing visible empathy, my lips twitched into a small smirk and with a finger, I gently wiped off the mingled fluids to savor it on my tongue, sucking hard on the finger to show that I truly was appreciative of his tangible fury. I was faintly aware that this was a part of Orochimaru sneaking out from within me; that dark side that relished the feel of pain and its taste, that sadist who took pleasure in watching others suffer at my expense, and like my ‘teacher’, I wanted and craved more of it...


(more of him)


....which scared the living hell out of me for I was sure I could see and hear him laughing (always laughing) in the deepest recesses of my mind. He had managed to carve a piece of himself in me after all, for despite my pitiful attempts to resist, I was always going to be a product of his upbringing.




“I’m...I’m sorry,” I stuttered in confusion and began to climb off him. “I...I don’t know what came over me. In fact...I’ll just go back downstairs and leave you alone to do whatever it is you wanted to do...”


I was rambling and becoming more mortified by the second. I don’t recall the walk back to my apartment, and though a small part of me wished he would have stopped or called me back, he didn’t and I was somewhat grateful for that. I couldn’t stop shivering as I crawled into my futon and covered myself from head to toe as if wanting to shield myself from the dangerous path I was taking. I didn’t understand what this could entail, but I knew I was terrified of the possibility of becoming the very man I loathed someday.


No one deserved to be treated like that. No one.


It wasn’t until waking up, from my troubling dreams, did I realize I had fallen asleep still wearing Naruto’s jacket.


How to explain that to my perceptive servant was going to be another matter all together.




Chapter 23

Naruto Home






































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