Chapter 28:

Potent Fragility


As Mount Arima
Sends its rustling winds across
Ina's bamboo plains,
I will be just as steadfast
And never will forget you.

-       Daini no Sanmi, Lady Kataiko


Haku had seen everything – at least enough to know that his master was probably not going to be returning to their apartment tonight.


In silence, he put away the tray of food that had been specially prepared in case his master returned starving and requesting nourishment. He debated on whether or not to roll up the futon he had laid out for Sasuke-sama, and after an inner argument for all but a minute, he quietly put it away in the closet; instinct telling him it might definitely not be needed. He closed the book he had been reading and turned off the lone Japanese lantern to immerse himself in darkness, before settling beneath his blanket for the night. He willed himself to sleep even going as far as squeezing his eyes shut as if to rid himself of what he had witnessed in the hallway minutes earlier.


Sasuke-sama and Naruto-kun...kissing?


He literally had to slap himself a little as the image burned hot and sharp within his troubled mind; finally forcing him to lift his lashes again.


Had he really seen that? Or had that all been a figment of his imagination?


There was really no way Sasuke-sama – THE Sasuke-sama who abhorred anything remotely close to another male’s intimate contact except for the few times he had allowed Haku to give him massages – could be engaged in such an act. The Sasuke-sama he knew would never allow another man to touch him in that way. The Sasuke-sama he knew had always looked upon the act of love between men as something disgusting and revolting. He would spend hours preaching to Haku about the sins of the flesh, and how his relationship with Orochimaru’s cronies and then Zabuza-san were nothing more than evils set within the human heart. Obediently, Haku had listened to the lectures; never having the willpower to tell his master that not all love between men was to be reviled and found grotesque. Sure what Orochimaru-sama did in his bedroom was not exactly enough to convince Sasuke-sama otherwise, but Haku had wished he could show his master the ‘other’ side of love; the more powerful, sweet, wonderful, all-encompassing devotion one could feel when in the presence of another man.


He had, naively, assumed that his loyalty to Sasuke-sama; his ability to discern between the love he had for his master as a servant and that of a real lover, would prove to the older man that it could indeed be beautiful.


So what exactly had he seen out there in the hallway?


Sasuke-sama pinned against the wall. Sasuke-sama allowing Naruto-kun (who supposedly was opposed to the whole male relationship issue as well) to take him at will in such a passionate way that even Haku was unable to stop the flood of heat that raced through him at the sight. It was a miracle he hadn’t been caught now that he thought about it. But then again, those two had been so into what they were doing, even if Haku had run past them naked, they probably wouldn’t have noticed a damn thing.


He moaned and clamped his thighs together; forcing himself to will away the growing strain in his nether regions. It had been so long since he had been involved in any kind of sexual activity, and though he did pleasure himself to relieve some of the ‘stress’ (and never in the presence of his master as that would be disrespectful), Haku realized that he had not experienced such intimate contact with another human being in almost a year! Seeing his master and Naruto-kun out there had triggered that primal need deep within which in turn, made Zabuza-san’s death all the more bitter to swallow.


It wasn’t until he felt the salt of tears on his upper lip, did he realize he had been crying silently all this time. Embarrassed and angry at his reaction, he wiped them away quickly; subconsciously imagining Sasuke’s authoritative voice in his head. His master would never approve of him being so weak over something so stupid, and yet - deep down inside - Haku felt a sliver of resentment at that. That this same master who would preach to him about the vices of the flesh would turn around and do the exact opposite. And what about Naruto-kun himself? Wasn’t it the same Naruto who had shuddered at the mention of Haku’s preference with the male species? And now this same Naruto was slobbering all over his master as if he’s never been with another human before?


Hypocrites, his mind screamed and he promptly sucked in a harsh breath and covered his face in shame at his angry thought. Oh, if his master could hear him now, he’d be thrown out to the streets. That he would.


He lowered his trembling hands and turned restlessly on the futon to stare blindly at the ceiling. He knew he owed his life to Sasuke-sama, knew that without Sasuke-sama’s intervention his life might have turned out differently. So what was this inexplicable ache throbbing within his chest? Why was he going through a gamut of emotions over what he had witnessed? It didn’t make much sense to him.


When it had been revealed that Sasuke-sama had been with a woman, Haku couldn’t remember even feeling this agitated over it. Even knowing that Karin-chan was gung-ho over his master wasn’t enough to stir these intense emotions. Sure he was still worried that someday Karin might take over his job as servant to Sasuke-sama, but with how lukewarm their relationship had become in the past week or so, Haku knew he really had not much to be concerned about. All the same...why? Why now? Why this burning sensation in his heart at the idea of Sasuke-sama and Naruto-kun becoming intimate?


Was it because he was ...jealous?


Envious perhaps – yes. But jealousy? And at whom? And why? Was he jealous of Sasuke-sama? Was a part of him really actually in love with his master after all? Was that why he was so shocked by what he had witnessed? Had a part of him wished that Sasuke-sama would continue to remain ‘hateful’ of homosexuality, hence only allowing Haku to be the one male who could touch him and elicit those helpless reactions of arousal? Had a selfish part of him been glad that his master was likely never to court the affections of another male and that he would remain ‘safe’ in this master-servant relationship until their dying day?


Or was he jealous of Naruto-kun? Haku sucked in a harsh breath as something twisted even harder within his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lower lip as the truth struck him like a blow.


Uzumaki Naruto; the charismatic blue-eyed, blond-haired man who had seized his attention from the moment Haku laid eyes on him that cold winter morning. Naruto, who could be venomous with his insults and hate when provoked, yet lovable, kind, and helplessly funny when in the best of moods. The Naruto who could be kind to a fault and would stand up for you when he felt you were downtrodden. The Naruto that Haku was slowly beginning to realize that – deep down – he had wished and hoped that in some way, the blond would find him just as attractive and would want to see him as more than just Sasuke-sama’s servant. If his master had been fascinated with Naruto from the beginning, then Haku had been enchanted from the start. He had wanted to become Naruto-kun’s friend, and had done all he could to prove it to the blond as best he could. He had secretly relished the platonic hugs or hi-fives or absent-minded kisses Naruto would plant on his forehead or head after a job well done. He had felt his heart flutter a million times whenever that smile was trained on him or those blue eyes flashed with warmth for him. As much as he cherished Sasuke-sama’s praises, Haku knew that getting one from Naruto-kun was worth even more. Naruto made him feel special even without knowing it. The blond’s ability to make Haku feel like he was the only one in the world worth being around made his heart beat just a little faster whenever they were together. This was why that day in the Laundromat – when Naruto had made it clear that he would never be involved with another male – had hurt deeper than Haku wished to acknowledge.


He knew all his innocent flirtations– and Naruto’s responses sometimes – were nothing more than a waste of time. He knew his place now in the blond’s world. He would be nothing more than a friend, and Haku had gradually begun to accept his role...until tonight.


From what he had seen, Naruto was obviously not as averse to males as he once presumed. Either he had lied to Haku at the Laundromat or he had finally decided to give it a try – to see what it was like on the ‘dark side’ as he had so eloquently put it during one of their many conversations.


So Sasuke-sama has succumbed to the dark side as well, he thought with a wry smile. It was so ironic, he could laugh, and yet all he felt like doing was sobbing into the pillow in misery.


He knew he was dealing with two powerful men; men who had for so many months crossed paths and triggered off emotions within each other they had never experienced before. Haku was observant enough to have noticed the signs; from his master’s seeming obsession with the sinner back at Byaku-Shinkyou, to the snippy arguments, the side-long glances, the tension that seemed to brew whenever those two were in the same space – let alone room – all finally coming to a head in an explosive ‘embrace’ that would have made even Orochimaru-sama blush at the sight. Speaking of Orochimaru-sama, Haku wondered what the man would think if this news ever reached him. Haku was more than aware that Orochimaru had his eyes set on taming Sasuke-sama so many times in the past, and each time he had been rebuked or shot down by a very uninterested and unimpressed young man. Wouldn’t Orochimaru-sama laugh and pat himself on the back for a job well done if he was to witness those two tonight. He would probably assume that all his years of ‘teaching’ were finally being put to good use.


And at whose expense?


He eventually fell into listless sleep, where his dreams were plagued with images of his master and Naruto-kun running away and leaving him behind. He awakened with a pounding headache, his eyes puffy, his cheeks caked with dried tears and a feeling of general apathy. He really did not feel like doing a damn thing today, but knew he’d have to get ready for a day in which he’d have to put on his best acting performance yet. He knew his master would never reveal what had probably transpired last night, and Haku knew it was not his place to ask any questions that were of no concern to him. So he would play the ignorant fool for now; pretend as if he had seen nothing and keep serving his master as best he could.


It was going to be hard to pull off, but Haku was resilient if nothing else.


After his morning prayers, he gathered his toiletries and made his way to the bathroom, but not before halting before Naruto’s apartment for a brief moment to stare at the solid oak door. Behind it, his master and his (probably) new lover were fast asleep. It was a strange concept to reconcile himself to, but things were changing. They were all changing. Life away from Byaku-Shinkyou had opened them up to new experiences and Haku would have to find a way to be happy that his master had finally found someone he could be close least physically. Besides, wasn’t that his role as servant? To feed off his master’s happiness and sacrifice his own?


Biting his lower lip, he forced himself away from the apartment and pushed open the door to the bathroom. If he had been focused on his surroundings, he would have noticed the red plastic card they had all agreed would be placed on the door to tell that it was occupied. This had to be done especially for the girls, as it was hard for anyone to hear a knock on the door with the showers going or water running.


It wasn’t until the cloud of steam, which had blocked his view at first, slowly began to dissipate, did it finally sink into Haku’s mind that the bathroom was occupied. Kicking himself mentally for his stupidity, he began apologizing for not knocking or seeing the red plastic card when the steam cleared long enough for him to make out who the occupant was.




Haku, who had reached for his basket of toiletries, barely felt it slip from boneless fingers to clatter to the floor loudly. It was enough to have the blond finally turning around on the stool, hands still stuck in his lather-coated hair (and running down the sides of his face) to notice he had a visitor with him. For a long, heart thumping minute, both men stared at each other incredulously; Haku aware of how hot he was beginning to feel (and it had nothing at all to do with the temperature in the room) as the memory of how dominating Naruto-kun had been while kissing his master occupied every section of his mind.


Oh dear! I have to get out of here!


“Sor...sorry! Sorry!” he stuttered breathlessly; bending down to pick up his things with hands that trembled violently. He felt incredibly clumsy and ridiculously close to tears. In fact – and much to his horror – he was crying, and he mentally kicked himself for being so foolish. After all his inner pep talk about being happy for these two, here he was weeping over dropping his damn shampoo and soap. He really was becoming too weak.




“It’s okay!” he said with as much gaiety as he could muster in his voice...except an uncontrolled sniffle from him ruined everything. “I’ll leave you alone to bathe. I apologize. I did not see the card on the door because I was thinking about something else...not that you should be concerned about what I’m thinking about. It’s just that I didn’t see the card and I wasn’t paying much attention and...and...”


Realizing he was rambling and not making much sense, he finally jammed the washcloth into the basket, gave a quick bow and would have bolted out in shame, when he felt the hard tug on his wrist to hold him prisoner.


“What’s wrong? Did something happen?” came the gentle, concerned question that broke whatever little resolve he had left.


It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t he conjure up some form of anger at Naruto-kun for what happened? Why did that voice of genuine caring have to make him this fragile? Ah, if only he hadn’t heard that ‘thump’ last night while dozing off in his attempt to wait for Sasuke-sama. If only he had remained in the room instead of being curious enough to see what was responsible for the noise. If only he had closed the door immediately after seeing the familiar silhouettes of his master and friend instead of remaining transfixed on watching two beautiful men display their desire for one another...


“Haku? Is everything -?”


“I’m fine, Naruto-kun,” he stated in a voice that was considerably stronger than he assumed it would. He took a deep breath and rubbed at his eyes with the sleeve of his kimono, before making himself turn to face the bemused man with a small smile. “I...I guess I’m still a little tired. That’s all.” He smiled a little wider and playfully poked the blond’s forehead. “The soap will get into your eyes soon. You should rinse off.”


“Ah, almost forgot all about that,” Naruto replied with a weak chuckle; though his eyes proclaimed that he still didn’t believe Haku’s story about ‘tiredness’ making him all teary-eyed. “Come join me,” he invited as he settled back on the stool and tugged the shower head toward him. “Plenty of room.”


“I’ll just wait until you’re finished,” Haku said with what he hoped was nonchalance. “Don’t want to bother you -”


“You’re not a bother. Geez,” came the low grumble as soap suds cascaded down his hair and back; that strong back his master must have probably...




Chiding himself and shaking his head a little, Haku took another deep breath and obeyed without a fight. Soon, he was sitting across from Naruto and absently combing his fingers through his long hair. It was now almost waist-length; something Karin was now determined to get him to cut before it dragged on the floor.


From beneath hooded lashes, he watched Naruto, who was now scrubbing down himself...except for an area below his right breast. It looked like a bruise of some sort, and Haku’s immediate thought was that they had gotten into another fight; although it still wouldn’t explain why his master hadn’t returned last night if there was indeed an argument.


Or maybe they ‘made up’ afterwards the best way two hot-blooded male could.


“What happened to you there, Naruto-kun?” he finally asked when his curiosity could be contained no longer.


Naruto, who was probably lost in his own thoughts as well, looked up with a blank expression before noticing what Haku was pointing at. He eyed the bruise and allowed a wry smile to come to his visage.


“We got attacked by a bunch of thugs last night,” he explained with a shake of his head. “It was the damnedest thing, I tell you.”


And just like that, Naruto began to regale Haku with the story of what had transpired after the festival. Haku listened with rapt attention, always finding himself enthralled whenever Naruto began his tales –fact or fiction. In this case, it seemed like fact, and knowing that his master had almost spent a night in jail was too much to comprehend. He would have paid good money to see Sasuke-sama behind bars, not because he wanted something bad to happen to him, but to think that a man, who was the next leader of the Japanese police force, had been locked in a small jail in the backwaters of Korea...Haku couldn’t control the giggles even if he wanted to. At the sound, Naruto seemed to relax a little more and didn’t hesitate to embellish a few of the things that happened for Haku’s entertainment. He really did like listening to that soft laughter.


“Was that bruise on your neck part of the fight too?” Haku asked as he gladly accepted the wash cloth from Naruto to help wash his back. Almost as soon as he asked, he felt the shoulders stiffen a little; a subtle body language that told Haku all he needed to know. Of course it wasn’t a part of the fight with the thugs. It was the same mark Sasuke-sama had on his neck a few weeks ago, only this time – it was Naruto-kun’s turn to sport one. Just how long had their relationship been going on without the rest of them knowing? How long had they continued to deceive everyone about their ‘hate’ for each other, when they were probably laughing behind their backs at how gullible they all were?


He watched Naruto’s hand reach up to caress the hickey in a way that sent a stab of pain right into his heart. He couldn’t see Naruto’s face, but if he could, Haku was sure there was probably a small smile there; that his eyes would probably be glazed from the memory of what had transpired last night, and that Haku was no longer in the room with him. Naruto was simply back in his apartment with his master, and Haku was again relegated as nothing more than the token friend. He gripped the wash cloth tightly and resisted the urge to scrub Naruto’s skin until it was raw and bleeding. Goodness knows Haku wished he could do the same to himself right about now.


Bleed all my pain away...


“Anyway,” he said aloud and with that same false sense of gaiety that made him sick to his stomach. “It sounds like you both had a very interesting day. I wish mine was that fun. I did get to work on my throwing -”


“With the knives?” Naruto asked incredulously. He had, thankfully, stopped caressing the hickey and had half-turned to look at Haku with raised brows. “Where do you get to practice?”


“Jae Weong took us to this empty warehouse not too far from here. He says we can practice there for as long as we like. So while Karin tested her shooting skills – and she’s so good, Naruto-kun – I worked on my throwing.” He flexed his wrist and looked at his hands for a long minute. “I think I’m getting a little soft,” he muttered to himself. “I missed several targets, but today, I’m going back to practice even harder. You should come too. Jae Weong says he has a special trainer just for us.”


“I should,” Naruto agreed with a purse of his lips in thought. “To be honest, I haven’t used a gun in ages, and I wouldn’t even know how to shoot a target an inch in front of me without messing things up. When do you think you’ll be ready?”


“Hmm...after Sasuke-sama’s had breakfast...?” Haku asked; knowing he was leaving his statement with a sort of open-ended question. “I haven’t seen him since last night, so I’m assuming he...” He paused and then forced himself to finish; though his gaze was lowered to his lap. “He spent the night with you.”


There was a tense silence in which the only sounds were the trickle of water from the shower head and their shallow breathing. Naruto eventually cleared his throat and seemed to take a deep breath.


“Uumm...about that...”


“You don’t have to tell me anything,” Haku insisted with a firm shake of his head. He could tell that Naruto was hesitant about sharing what had transpired, and the last thing Haku wanted to do was make him uncomfortable. “I guess Sasuke-sama was just so tired last night he wanted to spend the night with you. I understand completely.”


He gave a shaky laugh and reached for his shampoo, but damn his butter fingers for the bottle slipped out of his grasp and spilled its gooey pink contents to the tiled floor.


“So clumsy today,” he laughed weakly. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me -”


“Are you mad?”


“Wh...what?” Haku looked up with widened eyes at the blunt question; wondering if he had upset Naruto. However, all he could see in those blue eyes were doubt, concern and some other emotion that was hard to discern.


“I mean are you upset that Sasuke didn’t come back to your apartment last night?” Naruto asked in that same quiet voice. His gaze never left Haku’s now flustered features, and the servant was finding it a little difficult to breathe.


“I’m...I’m not upset,” he finally managed to stutter. He clutched the now half-empty bottle of shampoo between his hands. “It’s not my place to be upset -”


“Stop thinking of ‘your place’ and think for yourself, Haku,” Naruto cut in with a light frown. “I know you’ve got this loyalty schtick going when it comes to Sasuke but be honest...does it bother you that he was with me last night?”


“’s not the first time I’ve slept without Sasuke-sama,” Haku replied quietly. “Why should he not being there be a bother to me?”


“Because you’ve been acting weird all morning.”

“Weird?” Haku gave an uncharacteristic snort of derision. “What do you mean by that, Naruto-kun?”


“I mean you’ve been acting as if I have the plague. You hardly look me in the eye, and then there was the whole crying thing.”


“I was not crying about...about Sasuke-sama not being with me!”


“Then what the fuck’s bothering you?!”


They were now yelling at each other and not even realizing it, none more so than Haku who felt every fiber in his being thrumming with the embers of the jealousy he had experienced last night.


I saw you first, his mind screamed. While Sasuke-sama was busy trying to maintain his neutrality over you, I was the one who saw your true potential and how wonderful a person you really were beneath the surface. If anyone has the right to be upset at how things are going, it should be me! I wanted you first! It’s not fair!


“Haku....” Naruto warned lowly with a crease of his brows. “If you don’t stop glaring at me like that -”


“Then what?” Haku allowed a small smile to come to his features; a smile that seemed oddly dangerous and gave Haku an expression that had Naruto doing a double take. “Would you push me up against the wall like you did to Sasuke-sama and take me as you will?”


The reaction was priceless, and Haku would have burst into laughter if he still wasn’t burning up inside. The rush of color to fill the blond’s visage, the dropped jaw, the sucked in breath and the barely audible “ saw...?” had Haku shaking his head. He rose to his feet slowly to tower over Naruto allowing the blond to see him completely naked.


No pretenses. No barriers. Just him.


“I saw,” Haku agreed quietly. “Saw enough to fuel my imagination as to what possibly happened in your apartment last night.”


Naruto licked his lips and shook his head a little. “’s not...”


“You really don’t have to explain yourself to me, Naruto-kun,” Haku insisted in that same quiet voice. “But I just wanted to make sure of something.”




“That the Laundromat...when you seemed appalled that I was interested in relationships with the male sex...was that all a lie?”


Naruto’s lashes lowered, but only for a second as Haku reached out to cup his cheeks gently but firmly, forcing his gaze back to the features he still found beautiful for a guy. It didn’t help that with that thick long hair all around his slender frame like a wet shroud...God help him, but it was sexy as hell.


Besides he was only human, and last night’s escapades with Sasuke had broken open a dam within that was going to be extremely difficult to shut down quickly.


“Well? Naruto-kun? Can you look me in the eye and tell me now that you feel absolutely nothing for men?”


A sound – akin to a moan of suffering escaped Naruto’s lips and he shuddered as Haku moved closer still.


“You obviously liked being with would you be averse to me then?”


“Haku...” Naruto half-pleaded/gasped as the undeniable brush of Haku’s erection against his chest had him trembling in response. The ache between his legs was now a tangible thing that needed satiation and fast. It was almost embarrassing to be experiencing this now especially with someone he had tried to tell himself was no more than just an unfortunate man born too beautiful for his own good.

“We should...shouldn’t do this...”


“Why?” Haku asked with such genuine innocence that it stumped Naruto for a second. “You are responding to me, Naruto-kun. I can see it in your eyes and feel it in your body. All men react the same way to me.”


“Don’t lump me with all of your previous boyfriends or whatever,” Naruto growled beneath his breath. “I am not like them.”


“Of course not,” Haku agreed with a warm smile. He allowed his fingers to trace the outline of Naruto’s scars as if worshipping each line on his cheek with reverence before sinking his fingers into the roots of his hair. The ensuing groan of approval was more than enough for Haku, though he knew he wanted to see more...more of how Naruto would react if he was to give him a massage as detailed as the one delivered to Sasuke-sama so many times in the past.


“You are special, Naruto-kun,” Haku whispered thickly as he leaned in to trail his lips along Naruto’s cheek and toward his ear. “And that is why I envy Sasuke-sama so very much.”




Haku blushed at the incredulous cry and finally stepped away; unaware of how much damage he had caused...or maybe he did from the evidence of Naruto’s arousal he was making no attempt to hide. He turned redder still at the sight of how much longer and thicker it looked in this state. To touch taste it would be...


He slapped himself mentally; ashamed that the wanton side of him – no thanks to those endless nights pleasing Orochimaru’s friends – had crept to the surface so quickly. This was unlike him to be so daring and bold to someone he considered a friend. Naruto-kun would lose all respect for him, and he would rather die than lose that.


“I apologize,” he stuttered and sank back onto his stool. “It’s just...nothing. Nothing at all.”


He bit his lower lip hard and struggled to hold back his tears again. He fumbled blindly for his shampoo as he spoke in a rush.  “I am just happy that you’ve stopped lying to yourself and that you’ve found someone else to make you satisfaction. Sasuke-sama is a good person. He really is and you should...mmmmppff!”


When later asked to describe it, Haku would liken it to liquid fire baptizing his lips. Unexpected yet oh-so-needed, Naruto’s kiss was able to do something within Haku he had never thought possible. He had always assumed that Zabuza-san’s kisses were knee-weakening, but this...this was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. Desire flared through his body in a flood that had his head spinning and his heart beating loudly within his chest and ears. His slick hands reached up to try to grasp Naruto’s forearms, more to steady himself as he felt the stool slipping from beneath him.


It didn’t help much for they both ended up collapsing to the wet floor anyway. It would have been a nasty fall, if Naruto didn’t suddenly break the kiss with a gasp while rescuing Haku at the same time.


“ all right?” Naruto panted breathlessly.


Haku, who felt he was still probably dreaming this whole sequence up, blushed a million shades of red and could only nod like a fish. Speaking was no longer an option. His lips, mouth and tongue still tingled from the delicious assault even as Naruto helped him sit up again.


“Damn it,” came the muttered curse from the blond. He closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, and not opening them, continued quietly. “I am one sick bastard. Between you and your master -”


Haku smiled; his heart still racing but now with a lightness that words could not describe. Naruto-kun had kissed him and that was all that mattered! The rest of the day was going to be wonderful. He just knew it! Even if nothing else came out of this relationship, just knowing that he had managed to get such a fiery gift from the older man was enough. He grinned and snuggled against the stiff body beside him with an arm wrapping around the slender waist.


“Hey now...” Naruto began weakly. “Don’t get too cozy. Just because I did that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be hitting the sack soon.”


“Hitting the sack? What sack?” Haku asked innocently. He looked up at Naruto causing the blond to cover his eyes with an arm and with a louder groan as if in pain.


“Damn it, Haku! You’re doing that on purpose!”


“What? What am I doing?”


“Stop looking so goddamn cute. Now get off me.”


“But I don’t want to. I want to remain like this forever.”


“Our butts will start hurting in this position,” Naruto protested. “And besides...I’ve got to take care of something anyway.”


“What is it?”


Naruto lowered his arm to nod at what was so glaringly obvious between them. Haku felt the rush of heat to his features and licked his lips in hungry anticipation.


“Would...can I, Naruto-kun?”


Naruto raised a brow. “Can you what?”


“Take care of it for you?” Haku whispered shyly as he lowered his lashes. He squashed the brief but bitter memories of how many old, fat, greasy men he had said the same words to while they lounged on satin sheets and gloated with evil satisfaction as he sucked them to completion. He could still remember how horrible their semen had tasted as it coated his tongue and went down his throat; seemingly buckets and buckets of the damn sticky fluid drenched into him as if he was a drain of some sort. He would be forced to swallow it all before them, some even going as far as inspecting his mouth to make sure there was nothing left. How many times had he run off in shame, throwing up in the privacy of his bathroom as if hoping to rid himself of their defiling taste? For days afterwards he couldn’t even get himself to eat solid food for the taste of their cum would interfere and make everything edible revolting to his palette.


I am no longer in that place, he told himself as he slid lower down the lithe body before him as if in worship. I am no longer that Haku who was a toy. I am wanted and needed by someone who cares for me in his own way.


His fingers wrapped around the hard length and he smiled as it responded even more to his touch. Naruto was saying something, but Haku couldn’t hear a damn thing. All he wanted...needed was this beautiful man before him. He was going to take Naruto-kun to heights he had only dreamed about, and it would all start with a simple, slow, lingering lick of his throbbing manhood and a tender kiss on its swollen cum-slicked head.


Welcome, my dearest Naruto-kun, he moaned as he parted his lips to accept a most precious gift. Welcome to the pleasures of the flesh like you’ve never experienced before.







Hell has a special place for me, and I’m guessing it’s right between Satan’s bedroom and his toilet. Why? I’ll tell you why. Today has been the weirdest (and happiest) day of my life, and I’ve got two guys to thank for it.


Imagine that.


Even Shikamaru seems to have noticed my good mood, not that he should be talking considering he’s been banging Temari for a week straight with no breaks (I’m sure). It’s a damn miracle he’s out here with us at the abandoned warehouse for training as I had assumed he’d be ‘too busy’ to hang out with us. Like Haku, he too had asked about the hickey on my neck, but I was glad to have the back up story about the thugs because telling Shika some lie about being bitten by a weird bug was not going to cut it. At least he had sympathized with my plight and wished he had come with me, though I was more than secretly glad he hadn’t.


Wonder what you’ll think of me if I told you just how much fun last night and this morning really was, Shikamaru. You’d think I’ve lost my mind, or maybe no longer be buddies with me, but I swear...being with a guy isn’t as bad as it seems. At least if you are with guys who are decent human beings.


“She’s good,” he muttered as we watched Karin fire off a few rounds at set targets several feet away from her. The sound was deafening, but Jae Weong had been nice enough to give us headphones to protect us from going deaf.


As for the warehouse itself, it was a huge relic from back in the day, a survivor from a terrible fire that had destroyed most of the other buildings in the vicinity. It apparently once belonged to a fishing business, but all that remained now were rusty steel frames, peeling and weathered brick walls with unreadable Korean script to signify the building’s former glory. Shame really, but damn perfect for us all around.


“Uh huh,” I muttered absently to Shika’s observation for my attention was distracted (again) as my gaze drifted to Sasuke and Haku. Both were inspecting Haku’s throwing knives and talking about techniques on throwing the deadly weapons, but all I could see – all my sick, twisted, perverted mind could see – were those set of hands doing so many other things to this body of mine I had once almost considered useless and tainted beyond repair.


These two men had managed to do things I had only assumed I could achieve in the comfort and arms of a woman, and what made it even more alarming was that I had enjoyed every sick, twisted, and amazing moment of it.  


It was Sasuke with his expertise in jerking me off harder and better than I had ever done before. It was the way he caressed my bruised flesh with a gentleness that had surprised me as I had no clue the guy had it in him. It was Haku using both his hands and mouth (and damn! What a goddamn mouth on that kid) to send me nearly screaming with an orgasm that would have killed a guy with a weaker heart. I still couldn’t explain to you how I had deserved to get such special treatment, considering the only reason I kissed him was to stop him from crying. I know, I know, stupid way to do so, but I couldn’t help it! Seeing Haku in tears makes me feel so damn funny inside. Like my heart was literally breaking in two. I hated to see him look and sound so damn depressed, and I knew it was all my fault in some way. The guy cared about me – more than I deserved – and I wanted to make him happy in some little way, even if it meant stealing a kiss from those sweet lips (and they really had tasted as sweet as they looked). But man, talk about getting the mother of all blow jobs. I think my heart is still racing from the whole thing, and he’s not helping matters by smiling at me (in that way) whenever our eyes meet.


Sneaky bastard!


That secretive shy smile would have me blushing in embarrassment, and then it would be Sasuke’s turn to give me ‘a look’ (only his was far from shy) and my insides would go nuts too. This was too much! The first time I allow two dudes to touch me, and I forget how to act like myself. Where the hell had Mr. Tough Guy run off too? Who was this impersonator in his place and how could I get rid of him?


Goddamn it!


“Oy! Focus, man,” Shika snapped as he nudged me harder. “It’s your turn.”


“You ready?” came the curt question from the burly man who must have been at least ten feet tall. With silver hair in a severe crew cut and a penchant for wearing army fatigues and combat boots, our trainer was none other than another ‘good friend’ of Jae Weong’s, Sergei Mutko.


An ex-lieutenant colonel of the Russian army, Sergei now worked underground as a military specialist (read as hired assassin) to anyone willing to pay for his services. It was beginning to make me wonder just what kind of circles that old fogey – Jae Weong (who was currently sleeping in the van outside) – ran in. But then again, if Itachi could trust him, I guess we’d have to.


“You hold the gun like it’s a limp noodle, Naroot!” Sergei retorted in sharp Japanese. The man was fluent in the language as well as Korean, English, his native Russian, French, Chinese and Spanish. It helped that he had to travel around the world a lot when he was still in the military, but it still didn’t explain why he found it so damn hard to say my name right. What the hell does ‘Naroot’ mean? There’s a goddamn ‘o’ at the end of my name damnit!


“The gun is not a rose to hold so limply. You grip it. With a strong wrist. Like a man!”


He proceeded to show me just how ‘manly’ I had to hold the damn thing, by seizing the Glock from my unresisting grip,  pulling back the hammer, cocking it and then sending a blast right into the head of the shadowed man target about fifty feet away – all in mere seconds.


Holy shit.


That is how you shoot, Naroot,” he clipped and slapped the still warm weapon onto my palm. “They told me you were a natural -”


“I’m not so sure about that -” I mumbled in protest.


“So prove it to me!” Sergei interrupted and shoved me toward the large white X drawn on the ground. I held the weapon between hands that trembled a little, aware now of just how real this was all becoming. In the hands of Sergei, the Glock had looked small and insignificant, now it felt like it weighed a fucking ton. It was one thing to pretend that I knew what to do with it, since I had taken it with me last night in the hopes that I wouldn’t get to use it, but this place...with everyone watching and judging me, could I really prove myself as a legitimate gunslinger?


I looked back at my eccentric ‘family’ – weird to even consider them as such – but after living with them for what seemed like an eternity, they had come to mean that much to me. Shika and his ‘wife’ were both smiling and encouraging me with nods. Karin with her fingers crossed and a smile on her face. Haku all but biting his nails nervously while mouthing ‘good luck’ and Sasuke...heh. As if I expected anything different. He was not smiling or giving me any real look of encouragement – except I could still somehow tell what he was thinking anyway.


Don’t fuck it up.


Yes, sir.


I smirked and turned back to my target, idly wondering if both men (Haku and Sasuke) knew what the other was up to. There was something rather tantalizingly dangerous about harboring such secrets and being kept in the middle of it. Only problem was, Haku already knew Sasuke and I had done ‘something’ together, but getting to tell Sasuke that his servant had gone down on me in the bathroom...I had a nasty feeling someone wasn’t going to take that news too well.


To tell Sasuke or not to tell, now that is the question.


(I pulled the hammer and lifted the gun chest high with arms outstretched and an eye closed to focus on the target that now seemed a million miles away. Did he really have to put it that far? Christ!)


Waking up first, I had spent a good ten minutes or so watching Sasuke sleep. He looked so much younger in that state; almost like a kid who had never seen the horrors of death or been responsible for so many others.


(I stuck my tongue out at the corner of my mouth and steadied my breathing.)


I had wanted to kiss those lips again; to ravish them as I had the night before and to savor their sweet and salty tang until I drowned in it. But I controlled myself long enough to clean him up – since he was still sticky with cum – and had fully expected him to wake up during the ‘bath’. Fortunately, he didn’t. Poor guy must have been more exhausted than he thought. Either way, it wouldn’t do for anyone to walk into the apartment and wonder what the weird white stuff on his body was, so I made him as decent as possible. I left the apartment feeling mighty good about how the day was going to go. It was going to be a little strange having to look each other in the face after such an intimate night together, but damn...who knew I was going to get an even better gift in the bathroom in the form of a BJ even Shika wished he could get?


And from a guy too. Imagine that, dear friends and neighbors.


My finger curled around the trigger, and just like that, everything went still. I could see everything.


It was no longer a silhouette of a man before me, but the gradual morphing of the shadow into that all too familiar visage; his gold tooth glinting in the midmorning sun as his lips parted into a mischievous smile.


Well hello there, Masataka, or should I say, Ikegami Kojima, you sick fuck. Looks like I’m going to have to kill you all over again.


I couldn’t recall pulling the trigger, but I do remember the recoil of the weapon nearly taking my damn arms off as the bullet took off and never looked back. But wouldn’t you know it? Kojima was still leering, still mocking, still thinking I was that naïve little prick he had messed up. Well about eating this?!


I used up the rest of the bullets in a continuous round of shooting until there was nothing left but the dry click of the empty cartridge filling my ears, when I was through.


Someone whistled – or at least it sounded like a whistle – but the headphones were making it a little difficult to hear. I watched Haku dash toward the target to bring it back to us, and even I had to be impressed by the result.


I had taken the damn thing’s head off. Not bad at all, Uzumaki Naroot. Not bad at all.


I looked at Sergei. He looked back with a cold smirk; a smirk that clearly said I was a new weapon he would be glad to mold in his image. I grinned back and gave him a mock salute. Bring it on, big guy. I more than welcomed the challenge.






Or maybe I thought too soon.


The son-of-a-bitch wasn’t human!


My aching hands were currently soaking in a bowl of ice and some kind of mint concoction Karin had come up with, which was actually quite soothing to my raw and reddened flesh. Sergei was a slave master, for not only had he set out to make me a better gunslinger, I was to work on improving my arm strength...which involved doing over a hundred push ups (under the hot sun on asphalt that just about burnt off my skin) while he taunted me with his one-fingered push-ups.


/Look at me, Naroot! Doing one fingered pushups without even breaking a sweat. And what are you doing? Panting and whining like a baby and you’ve not even gotten to twenty yet. Come on, Naroot! Take it like a man! Sweat! Struggle! That’s the spirit! You are no longer a boy now! You are a man! /


Like hell, you steroid-infused psychopath.


Tomorrow, we would begin a drill that included learning how to shoot from long range and improving my marksmanship. In other words, I was going to learn how to become a sniper like my father. Assassins had to learn how to shoot from up to a distance of three miles! Seems impossible, but Sergei had claimed he had a friend in the army, who could take out anyone from at least five miles away. Either that guy had the greatest vision in the world or he was super human. Either way, I had to admit that I was reluctantly excited to become familiar with the sniper rifle and other types of guns in his collection. If I was going to set myself as Danzo’s confidante, I’d have to prove to him that I had the same skills my father had possessed if not better. He would no doubt what to see what I was capable of, and my aim was to worm my way into his heart until he’d have no choice but to trust me completely.


“Looks like you’ve made up your mind,” came the quiet question that jarred me from my thoughts.


Sasuke was in my apartment again – not that I’m complaining – but unlike last night when we had christened the floor with our shenanigans, tonight we were more subdued (read as exhausted) after Sergei’s punishment/training. Turns out Sergei also knew his way around the swords too, and had trained lightly with Sasuke for at least an hour. Watching those two brought back memories – both good and bad. Good for the times I spent with Asuma in that hot basement struggling to survive and bad at having to use my skills to inflict pain on others - especially the battle with Sasuke - beneath that damned steel dome cage. I had almost forgotten how good the guy was with the katana, for despite his bum leg, he was still able to move gracefully –


(a beautiful dance of death)


...around the warehouse. Sergei might have been bigger and more aggressive, but Sasuke was able to display years of training with skills that looked effortless. I envied his ability to move that fluidly while I was sure I would clunk around like a robot just like the first time we met in the dojo at Byaku-Shinkyou. He ‘killed’ Sergei a bunch of times during their practice, so much so, the big guy was a little put off and had to reluctantly give Sasuke his props for being such a skilled sword fighter. Pity it was all catching up to him now. There was a large ice pack on his thigh to ease the swelling.


“Made up my mind about what?” I asked. I wished I could move closer to him, but I was instructed to keep my hands in the ice for at least ten more minutes.


He flipped the next page of the book he was reading - some boring paperback about Korean dynasties or whatever - and repeated himself quietly. “Going to Danzo.”


“Ah...” I paused and lowered my lashes. Funny how this guy could read me so easily these days. “Yeah...I was going to ask you that last night.”


He blinked in surprise. “When?”


“You know...” I could feel my cheeks burning. “When we were done with...after that...I was going to ask you what you’d think about me leaving for Japan.”


He looked put out for a moment before nodding as if finally understanding what I was talking about. “So that’s what you were going to ask...” he mumbled.


Now it was my turn to look befuddled. “What did you think I was going to say?”


He shrugged lightly. “Nothing. So, you want my opinion on what I think about it?”


“Not really,” I admitted bluntly. “You’re probably going to try to talk me out of it, right?”




I had been bracing myself for an argument, but at his quiet response, I had to do a double-take. I blinked hard. “Huh?”


He lowered the book to pin me with that all too familiar intense dark stare. “I said I wouldn’t stop you. I know your reasons and if I were in your shoes, I’d do the same thing.”


I whistled softly. “Wonders shall never cease. The great Uchiha Sasuke-sama agrees with me. This must be a dream.”


“Shut the fuck up.”


Still, I could see the smile he was trying to hide, although a part of me was a little bit...what? Hurt? That he wouldn’t try to talk me out of it? Did he really want me to go or was he just trying to support me in a roundabout way?


“Yeah well...Jiraiya said he’ll check back in about a week to see how I’m doing and when I’ll be ready. Hopefully Sergei would have made me more “manly” by then.”


We both snickered at the term, since that seemed to be the Russian’s theme all day; trying to make us all men. It really was hard to impress the guy, even after seeing our individual skills. Hell even Temari – who had wowed us with her dexterity with the katana – hadn’t gotten a nod of approval from Mr. Manly. Shikamaru – who was no slouch either – had received a stern warning from Sergei, who insisted that Shika train harder with him during their next lesson. He had failed to see Shikamaru give him the finger behind his back.


“Did you see his face when he realized Haku wasn’t a girl?” I asked while cracking up at the mental image of Sergei’s paled features during Haku’s indignant response at being considered a weak woman.


Sasuke chuckled at the memory. “Or how floored he was when he saw just how good Haku was with the knives?”


“Oooh, priceless moment!”


And was it ever. Sergei was still bad-mouthing Haku at that point and pretty much belittling his appearance, and having had enough of it, Haku all but pinned the guy to one of the steel frames of the building with about five knives. We are talking enough pinpoint accuracy to miss the guy’s vital organs and simply target his clothing – though one of the knives did manage to scratch the guy’s cheek before embedding itself into the steel frame right next to his ear. Damn. Remind me never to piss that guy off.


As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Haku had thrown those babies pretty fast too. So fast, you could hardly see them leave his hands! Something about watching him crouched like that and doing his thing, with that intense dark look on his face, made the events in the bathroom all the more...


(fucking hot)






“You sighed...”




Sasuke eyed me warily. “You...gave a you were thinking of something...”


Yikes! Think fast. Think fast. Think fast, Naruto!


“Uum...well...I was just thinking know...last night...”


“How did talking about Haku’s skills turn into what happened between us last night?” And yet he was blushing as well as he muttered this. Did I forget to mention just how ‘innocent’ a flustered Sasuke looks? Burning fingers be damned. I was getting more than a little flustered myself. All this thinking of blow jobs and potential hand jobs was making me hard as a rock.


“What are you doing?” he asked incredulously as I left my position – wet hands and all – to crawl to where he was. I grinned at the flood of color to rush his face and though he tried to prevent me from doing so with his book, I pushed it aside to claim what I wanted anyway.


(mmm...still every bit as delicious as I remembered it. God, I almost feel like eating this guy. Scary.)


“Your hands are cold, you idiot,” he muttered against my lips when we finally broke apart for air.


“So...warm them up for me?” I whispered back with a smirk; my hand roaming restlessly beneath his tee shirt to caress those abs that clenched in response before finding his nipple to pinch and tease it gently. His response was to yank me back to his lips again, only he was the one taking charge with the kiss this time. I was most definitely not complaining. We tumbled back to the floor, and someone (me probably) kicked aside his ice pack so it wouldn’t be in the way. We were aching all over – thanks to Sergei – but a whole new other ache triggered by what we had started last night – was just going to have to take precedence for now.


“How much time do we have before Haku and Karin return?” I panted breathlessly against his lips as he tugged the zipper of my pants impatiently. I was working on his by the way.


He stopped long enough to glance at the alarm clock before looking back at me with a shrug. “Half-an-hour?” he deduced and smirked as he elicited the correct response from me with the firm squeeze of a very happy-to-see-him part of me.


“Perfect,” I gasped in welcome resignation. “Absolutely perfect.”


Thinking coherently – for the next half an hour – would be strictly optional.







As much as Haku enjoyed his outings with Karin, he had to admit that she really could be the most indecisive and wearisome shopper in the world.


The last three times they had gone to the supermarket, she would spend at least five minutes per item, struggling to find which one would work best but at a cost they could still afford. It wasn’t as if they were short on cash – as Itachi-sama sent them regularly – so Haku really couldn’t understand why she was so damn picky. If he was any less of a gentleman, he might have told her to hurry it up already.


“Karin-chan,” he began, hoping he didn’t sound like he was whining. “Karin-chaaan.”


“What is it?” she snapped impatiently as she eyed two perfectly identical cans of miso-soup flavoring.


“I’m going to wait outside for you, is that okay? There’s a nearby park across the street, and you can come get me there when you’re done.”


She nodded absently and put the cans down...only to pick up the next two flavorings to examine them with microscopic intensity. Haku was officially done. He excused himself and stepped out of the relatively busy supermarket, made sure he watched the street carefully for passing traffic, and jogged lightly when the coast was clear to the welcoming peace and tranquility of the small public park. It seemed an oddity in the middle of a busy section of the city, but they had managed to create a little nook of heaven away from the craziness of reality just a step away. In here, amongst a clutter of trees, well-kept lawns, a beautiful man-made pond with a glorious fountain in the middle, and rows upon rows of breathtaking flowers; it was a paradise amongst towering steels and concrete.


Haku sighed in pleasure and sat on a wrought iron bench to admire the ducks wading in the pond as well as the children trying to feed them some snacks. Sunlight was quickly fading, and it wasn’t unusual to see couples finding the time to seek their romantic moments in this place. Haku smiled wistfully as a teenage boy and girl stole shy kisses and whispers on a bench a few feet away from him; completely oblivious to the world. Haku lowered his lashes and tried to imagine he and Naruto-kun in such a position, but knew that not only was that dream never going to come to fruition, society itself might find their activity strange. He was yet to see two men display their affection for one another so publicly. In fact, there were moments when he was sure that such practices were an anomaly for he had never seen any such behavior since he left the confines of Byaku-Shinkyou.


They will not be as accepting, a small voice within him argued. He would later realize this voice sounded eerily like Kimimaro-sama’s. This is not Byaku-Shinkyou were men are not afraid to tell you how they feel in public. In the real world...things are not so easy.


How sad.


Well at least he could be happy knowing that Naruto-kun didn’t despise him after what happened earlier today. Haku felt his cheeks flood with color and he had to slap them literally to control the giddy rush that seared through him at the memory of their encounter. How bold and daring had he been then? It was so unlike him, and yet he had loved that devilish side of him. It felt good to be bad and naughty every once in a while. Still...was he able and willing to do something like that again?


Sigh. How he wished.


Watching, feeling, and tasting Naruto-kun was still a high he had ridden all day. Like walking on a cloud, Haku had done his chores with a song on his lips (much to Sasuke’s bemusement), and had even tolerated that Russian buffoon for the most part until he finally pushed the wrong buttons.


Nobody called him a gutless coward and got away with it.


Still, Haku knew that right now his master was probably with Naruto-kun...again. And would be with him so many more times in the future (unless they had a major falling out). Though he had resigned himself to their encounter being a one-time thing as Naruto had more than insisted that it would never happen again, Haku held onto the hope that it would happen again. He wasn’t sure how yet, but he was going to work on tearing down Naruto-kun’s defenses and catching him at his most vulnerable. He could still and would never forget just how beautiful Naruto sounded when he was in the throes of passion. Those breathless moans, helpless whimpers and soft sobs told Haku all he wanted to know about just how sensitive the blond’s body was.


He probably won’t last as long as Sasuke-sama during a massage, he thought with a giggle.


So lost was he in his thoughts, that he failed to notice he was being studied by the silent newcomer across him.


It was only when the little boy’s voice filtered through his thoughts, did Haku finally allow himself to be drawn back to the present. He watched as the boy, of about five or six, picked up his ball and said something in Korean to the man sitting on the bench. Haku’s ability to grasp the language was getting better and better, and he was able to discern that the boy was apologizing for dropping his ball into the man’s lap. The man in question did nothing but smile and pat the kid’s head gently before looking up to catch Haku’s gaze.




No...wait...that was impossible. The Shin he had known was probably still in Japan or dead. He hadn’t seen that boy in years! Still the shock at seeing that pale face was so much Haku was unaware of the start and breathless gasp he had given. It took him a second longer to realize that the man was smiling at him, and Haku forced himself to respond, though his heart was still thumping a little harder in his chest.


He does look like least his profile, Haku thought wildly. Maybe I should just go up and ask him. Couldn’t hurt, could it?


Wouldn’t it be something if it turned out to be that very same Shin? The boy had been recruited as a potential officer when Sasuke-sama was about fourteen or fifteen. Back then, Haku had still been under Orochimaru and Kimimaro-sama’s employ, so he had seen the pale-skinned quiet boy a few times during lessons at the dojo. Shin had always kept to himself, though he was quite proficient with the knives and katana. Back then, he had even been a sparring partner for Sasuke-sama a few times, and many assumed that he’d become a captain of a squad someday with his devotion and attention to lessons and his duties.


However, just as quickly as he had appeared at Byaku-Shinkyou, he was gone.


No one knew what had happened to the quiet kid with the near translucent skin, and though Haku had shyly asked Kimimaro about his whereabouts, all the older man had said was that Shin was no longer fit for the watchdogs. End of story.


It was hard to think that Shin might have been killed; though Haku wouldn’t have put it past Orochimaru-sama to do something that terrible to such a young kid who couldn’t live up his potential. All the same, there was one other thing about Shin that Haku had liked. The boy had a natural talent in fine arts. He had once caught Shin drawing something during a break in lessons, and had shyly gone up to him to ask what he was doing. Shin had seemed surprised that anyone – aside from the instructors – was even speaking to him, but he had seemed pleased at seeing Haku and had gladly shown him the pictures he had been drawing in his little note book. There were wonderful still life drawings of fruits and people or buildings, and Haku had genuinely praised the boy, glad to see that his words seemed to make Shin happy.


If Shin was still alive, would he still be drawing things? Was he now famous? Or had he become a recluse?


“Uum...ex...excuse me,” he began in halting Korean; struggling to remember the basic phrases Sasuke-sama had taught him. Now that he was closer to the stranger, that overwhelming feeling of déjà vu was even stronger than ever.


He really does look like Shin if he was older, Haku thought. What if it’s his brother? Wouldn’t that be something?


“I’m sorry,” he stuttered. “I can’t speak Korean very well.”


“Me neither,” the man said in fluent Japanese to a very stunned Haku. He smiled and scratched the bridge of his nose as if embarrassed. “I hope I’m not being too forward, but I noticed you speaking the language while you were in the store with your sister.”


Though a part of him stiffened at the notion that this man had been observing him for quite some time, Haku was still too floored at finally meeting someone else who could speak his language. What a relief.


“No, no, you’re not being too forward,” he said with a light laugh. “It’s just that...I didn’t want you to think that I was staring at you rudely. I just couldn’t help noticing that you looked so very much like someone I knew a long time ago.”


“Oh?” The man looked down at himself. He was dressed in a black ensemble; something akin to what Japanese middle-school students wore, and his short, cropped black hair didn’t make him look any older. “Who is this doppelganger I remind you of?”


Haku blushed at the look in those dark eyes; they seemed intrigued and yet cold. It was hard to explain. “Oh, he was a former classmate of sorts, but as I said, it was a very long time ago.”


“I see...what was this friend’s name? Oh, and silly me.” The stranger stood up and politely motioned for Haku to sit. Haku felt his cheeks burning hotter still, realizing that this man – like so many others – assumed he was female hence the extra show of respect. He opened his mouth to correct the man, but decided not to. Let this stranger think whatever he wants. He already assumes Karin is his sister, so what the hell?


He sat with a warm smile and bow of politeness. “Thank you.”


“The pleasure is all mine,” the stranger replied as he sat back down again. “So, you were going to tell me about this friend of yours?”


“Oh...right...” Haku, skipping over most of the details, simply told of Shin and his skills as a fighter and artist. He never mentioned Byaku-Shinkyou, but merely mentioned that they were both students at a famous dojo.


“It’s one of the things I’ll miss about him,” he confessed quietly as his gaze lowered to his hands. “He was such a good artist, and sometimes I got the feeling he’d rather do that instead of spend his time fighting.”


“What makes you say that?” came the quiet question that somehow sounded raw and pained – if Haku had been paying much attention to that side of things.


“Oh, I don’t know,” Haku replied with a light laugh of uneasiness. “It’s just a gut instinct, I guess. We used to talk a few times and he always seemed much happier whenever we talked about his art. Everything else, he was vague or disinterested.”


“I see...and...what happened to this friend of yours?”


Haku shrugged sadly. “I have no idea. One day he was there, and the next...gone. Without a trace. I asked about him, but no one could give me a straight answer. It would be sad to think that he’s dead. He had so much potential, you know?”


“What would you say to him if he was to come back to you today?”


Haku looked floored at the question and spared the stranger a glance. He wasn’t sure of what he expected to see on that face, but it revealed nothing except plain interest. “I...I’m not sure,” Haku replied carefully. This guy still exuded a cold warmth. “Maybe I’d ask him where he went and what happened to him and if he still spent his time drawing. A part of me thinks and hopes he became famous, but...who knows? Life is ever changing, isn’t it?”


“Indeed it is, Haku.”


“Chung-hee! Chung-hee! Where are you damn it?!”


“Ooops!” Haku stood up with a start and a look of guilt at the sound of his adopted Korean name. Though hard to get used to at first, it was surprising how quickly one could adjust to being called something differently in a few weeks. “I have to run now. So sorry for talking your ear off. I sincerely apologize.”


“There’s nothing to apologize for,” the stranger replied with that same smile that felt neither warm nor faked. “It was a pleasure getting to speak to you.”


Haku bowed quickly and prepared to leave when he was stopped again.


“I would like to see you again, Haku. Will you be back here again tomorrow?”


Haku looked shocked at the blatant invitation. Who was this guy? “I’m not sure,” he confessed with a light shrug. He could now see Karin making her way toward him, and she wasn’t looking too happy. “I am quite busy.” Which wasn’t a complete lie. They did have training with the buffoon again, only this time, Haku hoped he wouldn’t have to kill Sergei if he was insulted again.


“I understand,” the stranger said with a soft nod. “But just in case you do return here, I’d love to speak to you again.”


“Ah...okay...I’ll -”


“Chung-hee! What the hell are you doing? Come on let’s go already!”


He spun around and pretended to cover his head from any incoming attacks. “Sorry, Karin-chan. I was just talking to that nice man over there and lost track of time.”


“What man?”


“The man over...” Haku turned to point to the bench, but to his chagrin, there was absolutely no one there. In fact, if it wasn’t for the boy who was still playing with the ball several feet away, it would seem as if no one had been in that place in ages. Haku shivered as a slight chill ran down his spine.


Had the whole conversation been nothing more than a figment of his overactive imagination?


“Haku?” Karin asked warily. “What man are you talking about?”


“No...nothing,” he replied faintly as if in a daze. “I thought there was someone there, that’s all.”


Karin looked over his shoulder again and shrugged. “Sure...whatever. Urgh. Knew I should have picked up some more pickles at the other store.” And as she began to complain about her grocery list, Haku followed behind with more measured and troubled steps while musing over what had taken place just minutes before. He couldn’t have imagined things. If he was to ask that kid with the ball, he was sure the boy would also recall seeing the strange pale man in the black suit. Haku couldn’t have been talking to himself for almost twenty minutes without anyone thinking he was insane, which meant the man had indeed been there. Perhaps he just left really quickly at the sight of Karin.  


It was only then that it hit him like a slap to the face. He came to a sudden stop with his jaw dropping slightly and his heartbeat thumping just a little harder.


The stranger had called him by his Japanese name. Not once, but twice.


/Indeed it is, Haku. /

/I would like to see you again, Haku. /


Haku couldn’t remember telling the man his real name, and he was sure Karin was always careful to use his Korean name in public. So how? How had this man known who he was?


Shin-chan...was that really you after all? Have you returned from the grave to haunt those you left behind?


The chill was much stronger now and Haku could literally feel his teeth chattering in response. There was something suddenly uneasy in the air, and he simply couldn’t wait to get back home.




Chapter 29

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