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Tightrope 10

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Chapter 10 – Toeing the Line

“My name is Uzumaki Naruto!”

“I know. Iruka-sensei said your name during roll call.” Sasuke said, not once pausing on his way home.

“Oh. Well, get this; I’m going to become the Hokage! Dattebayo!”

“Hmm… That’s nice.”

“Huh? You think that’s nice? You really, really think so?”

“I don’t mean nice in that-” Sasuke cut himself off and massaged his nose bridge. He cast around for the right words to explain, “I just meant that it’s a nice ambition to have.”

“So you think I can become Hokage?”

“Certainly not now, but nothing’s impossible with hard work.”

Naruto’s eyes sparkled at that answer, and Sasuke got the feeling that he would never be able to shake off the blond now, but he hadn’t wanted to be rude just to avoid the protagonist until graduation. It just wasn’t in his nature to be mean.

“Right? Right? I’m going to work hard and become the Hokage. Dattebayo!” Naruto grinned, beaming sunshine and rainbows. “Hey, hey! Where do you live? I went to the Uchiha Compound to find you but you weren’t there. Do you live somewhere else? Outside the Compound? In an apartment?” Naruto was running his mouth a mile a minute as he dogged Sasuke home after school.

They were walking through a rather scenic trail, with white cobblestone pavement, soft dappled lighting, and cherry blossom petals fluttering everywhere.

Sasuke paused and turned to Naruto with a raised eyebrow. He didn’t look annoyed, just bemused. “What is it that you want Uzumaki-san?”

“Eh? Don’t be so foreign, call me Naruto! And I’ll call you Sasuke. We’re friends right?”

“Since when?”

“Since you gave me presents! I still haven’t returned the favor,” Naruto said, then he thumped a fist into his palm, “Oh, I know, I’ll treat you to ramen. It’s the best food in the entire world.”

“You’ve never been out of the village,” there was a definite undertone of amusement in the voice and Naruto took that as a positive sign.

Naruto grinned, “I don’t have to. I know it’s the best thing ever because Teuchi-san makes ramen from the heart!”

Sasuke smiled, amused. A soft pink petal drifted onto his hair. Naruto reached up and casually brushed the petal off Sasuke’s dark locks.

“You know…” Naruto leaned forward slightly with his hand still settled on Sasuke’s hair in a light caress, “You’re very beautiful.” A soft flush spread across Sasuke’s cheeks at that candid proclamation. Naruto couldn’t help thinking how cute he looked.

Sasuke pushed Naruto’s face away. His expression was part amusement, part exasperation. “You’re a smooth talker, aren’t you?”

Naruto grinned, unabashed. “You’re so pretty I thought you might be a girl when we first met.”

“Hn.” Sasuke continued down the path and Naruto trotted next to him, a content smile on his face. Sasuke didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t shoo Naruto away either, so Naruto followed him all the way home.

“You do live here!” Naruto pointed an accusing finger at Sasuke, who arched an eyebrow.

“I never said I didn’t.”

“What? But- but-”

“Are you coming or not?”

“Of course! Dattebayo!”

Naruto still had vague memories of combing through the Compound when it was empty and eerie. With Sasuke walking beside him, the Compound didn’t seem so bad.

As soon as Sasuke opened the door to his house a blur barreled towards him. “Welcome home, onii-sama!”

Sasuke hugged the little boy. “I’m home, Ranmaru.” The boy nuzzled his face into Sasuke chest.

Naruto watched the display. “Who’s this kid?” He smiled at Ranmaru.

“This is my adopted brother, Ranmaru. Ranmaru, this is Uzumaki Naruto-san, my classmate.”

Naruto’s smile drooped a little at that. Classmate, not friend…

“Uzumaki?” Ranmaru queried.

“Yes. I assume Karin is still out with her team?”

“Yeah, another D-rank,” Ranmaru giggled.

“Well they only graduated three weeks ago. No matter how skilled they are, I doubt their jonin-sensei would just throw them on a C-rank mission,” Sasuke reasoned.

“Who’s this Karin?”

Both Sasuke and Ranmaru smiled eerily at Naruto. “You’ll meet her soon.”

Naruto wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Yeah, Naruto knew for sure he didn’t want to meet this Karin, but he met her anyways. He was surprised to learn that she was an Uzumaki too. For a while it looked like they were going to hit it off well. Naruto complimented her hair. Karin told him stories of Uzushiogakure. Then things got weird when Naruto invited himself to dinner.

It was Karin’s turn to cook. The entire time she was in the kitchen she was muttering and cackling to herself. Naruto feared for the safety of his stomach lining. While Karin cooked, Naruto got to know the other members of Sasuke’s family, Juugo and Kimimaro. They were nice enough, but Kimimaro was always there when Naruto tried to get closer to Sasuke to talk. Juugo seemed shy and didn’t want to interact much, so Naruto let him be for now. There was plenty of time to get to know each other later. For now, Naruto focused his attentions on Sasuke and Ranmaru whom were the most receptive and indulgent to his motor mouth.

When Karin dished out the food, Naruto immediately smelled something different about Sasuke’s portion, but it wasn’t poison. If anything it smelled like Karin put extra spices into Sasuke’s portion, which was odd since Naruto was sure she was cooking everyone’s share at once.

They dug in. The food was nothing like Ichiraku’s but it was good and he told her so. She thanked him for his compliment – “It’s a recipe from Uzushiogakure!” – and they were still getting along well, making conversation about the Uzumaki clan while they ate.

After dinner, Ranmaru did the dishes. Juugo excused himself for the night. Sasuke stumbled, pink-faced, into the living room area, and the other three followed suit.

“Sasuke, what’s wrong?” Naruto asked.

Sasuke collapsed on the couch, looking boneless and limp, his head lolled back on the backrest. “Hmm?” Sasuke looked at Naruto through half lidded eyes.

Naruto’s heart fluttered. “Guys, what’s happening?” He asked the other two.

“Witch,” Kimimaro sniped at Karin.

“He ate it willingly,” Karin snapped back.

“It’s fine,” Sasuke murmured. “I feel relaxed.”

“That’s right,” Karin smirked at Kimimaro and went around to the back of the couch. “Just relax, Sasuke. You’re always working so hard.” She started to give Sasuke a massage.

“Feels good,” Sasuke said, his eyes fluttering close.

“It’s the clams,” Kimimaro said.

“Clams?” Naruto asked.

“Clams,” Karin confirmed, her hands working at the knots in Sasuke’s shoulders. “Imported from the shores of Uzushio. Expensive products you know. This is only the third time I got to make it,” she purred.

“I don’t get it.” Naruto said, watching as Sasuke melted into boneless putty under Karin’s skillful hands.

“When I first started experimenting to see if I could recreate the taste of home, I had to substitute some spices, because imported products are expensive you see.” Karin explained. “In one of my experiments I found out that if I mix certain spices native to Konoha with the clams from Uzushio, it produces an interesting effect in Sasuke.”

“So Sasuke is… drunk? On clams?” Naruto blanched.

“Not drunk. Relaxed.”

“Tipsy,” Kimimaro said.

“No one asked for your input,” Karin snapped at him.

“And Sasuke just goes along with it?” Naruto asked.

“He trusts Karin too much,” Kimimaro frowned.

“Of course, I’m very dependable,” Karin crooned.

“You said you wouldn’t overdose him again.”

“I didn’t. This is the perfect amount. By the way, you should go take a bath, Kimimaro. You stink. I’ve got it covered here.”

“I’m not leaving you alone with Sasuke-sama.”

Karin glared daggers at Kimimaro even as her hands kneaded Sasuke gently. Naruto heard a ripping sound and then there was a bone-white blade in Kimimaro’s hands.

“Whoa!” Naruto jumped in. “C’mon guys, Sasuke wouldn’t want you two to fight. Kimimaro, why don’t you go relax with a hot bath, I’ll keep watch over here.” Karin stopped glaring and looked away. “Okay?” Naruto prompted Kimimaro.

After an eternity, Kimimaro left the room.

“Finally. I thought he’d never leave. That spoilsport,” Karin complained. Her hands never once stopped moving against Sasuke, who was half asleep by now. He looked so relaxed. Naruto kind of enjoyed seeing it.

“Hey Naruto, can you go to my house across the street and fetch some massage oils for me?”

“What? Me?”

“Who else, dummy? Does it look like it’s a good idea for me to stop now?”

“I guess not…”

“It’s just across the street. The oils are all in a basket. Hurry back.”

“Okay…” Naruto rushed to the house across the street. He sneezed as soon as he got in. The house was covered in dust and didn’t look like it had been lived in for some time now. Maybe Karin was just really lazy about cleaning. Naruto wasn’t too keen on cleaning either. It had to be an Uzumaki thing.

He searched the house. He had suspected it from the beginning, but he didn’t want to doubt a fellow Uzumaki. Now Naruto knew for certain that he was duped. He went back to Sasuke’s house only to find Karin and Sasuke gone. He kept his panic under control. If Kimimaro found out there would be hell to pay.

“Which house does Karin live in?” Naruto asked Ranmaru.

“Just next door.”

Naruto found the two people he was looking for in Karin’s living room. Sasuke was shirtless and lying sprawled on his stomach on the couch. Karin straddled his waist and was rubbing unscented massage oils into Sasuke’s bare skin. Sasuke was moaning softly, completely oblivious, as Karin worked the kinks out of his body.

Something down south twitched at the scene and Naruto tried very hard not to think about it.

When Karin’s fingers trailed Sasuke’s spine a little too low, Naruto felt a surging panic. He threw her off Sasuke and picked up the dark haired boy to carry him back to his house, where Kimimaro could watch over him. Due to the way Naruto held Sasuke, his soft golden locks brushed against Sasuke’s neck as he moved. The uninhibited Sasuke moaned into Naruto’s ear, and Naruto groaned himself as a shudder ran down his body. Karin’s sharp eyes did not overlook his reaction.

After delivering Sasuke into Kimimaro’s arms, Naruto hightailed it out of the Compound as if actual ghosts were chasing after him.

Naruto’s dreams that night were… confusing.

Confusing, because he wouldn’t describe them as disturbing, and he would never admit that they were stimulating.

He woke up with morning wood the next day and stumbled into class late on his second day.

It was going to be a long school year.

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Tightrope 9

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Chapter 9 – Academy Line

Kimimaro, Karin, and Juugo were finally off probation with sparkling clean records. Well, asides from that one time Kimimaro nearly boned a merchant for hovering too close to Sasuke. Then there was the time that Juugo broke a training field. He literally broke it – into pieces. Good thing no one was hurt. Then there was the time when Karin- okay, the point has been made. Their record was good enough and that’s all that mattered. Now they were finally off probation and could do more in the village, namely, like applying to the Ninja Academy. Just in time for the new term this spring. They all passed of course.
Story by Vanilla Muse.
Based on skills and age group, Karin was seeded into the year above Sasuke. Both Kimimaro and Juugo were older than Karin, and Kimimaro was definitely much more skilled and controlled, but they were also placed into the same year as Karin. It probably worked out like that so that the instructors could observe all three of them at once, and this ensured that they spend a good enough length of time in the Academy – two years – to foster their loyalty for Konoha before becoming official Konoha ninja.

Sasuke was just glad that all the initial tedious procedures of inducting his friends into the village were over and done with. He suspected the Elders were very happy when Kimimaro’s Bloodline Limit came to light. Though Sasuke would rather Konoha not know about his family and friend’s special talents, lest they’re taken advantage of, Kimimaro’s ability was impossible to hide due to it being his signature fighting style. Sasuke had to be thankful for other small miracles. Karin’s unique healing technique was still under wraps, Juugo did not once go berserk within the village proper, and Ranmaru played the quiet child in public lest he revealed his peculiar abilities.

On the first day of classes, Umino Iruka walked into Sasuke’s classroom with Mizuki.

“Iruka-sensei will be working with our class as an assistant instructor. Don’t haze him now just because he is new, he might be your official instructor next year.”

Iruka introduced himself to the class and the class drone back a response. A few of the girls thought Iruka was kind of cute. Just like that Iruka joined the class seamlessly. The first minor hiccup came in the form of Uchiha Sasuke.

The class was on their way out for recess, and Sasuke was the last one to leave the classroom, preferring not to fight the throngs of student eager for fresh air. When Sasuke passed by Iruka, who was erasing the board, he stiffened and halted.

“Is something the matter, Sasuke-kun?”

Sasuke took a step closer and sniffed. Then he shook his head and walked outside to join his year mates. Iruka watched his student thoughtfully until he was out of sight, then he went back to tidying up the classroom for the next lesson.

The next day, Sasuke came into class with his hair in a high ponytail. Just like Iruka’s ponytail. He gave Iruka a deliberate look that had the assistant instructor blinking with confusion. Was this a form of hazing? This continued for a full week, until Iruka came in one day with his hair down because he was running late. He was harassed by the girls in class and by his fellow female co-workers (some male) who kept telling him how cute he looked. Sasuke took pity on him and gave him his hair tie during lunch, and ended up suffering the same harassment that Iruka did, except that Sasuke had a better time fending off the attention since it was more acceptable for a student to be rude. The next day Sasuke came into class with his usual low ponytail, and Iruka made sure to always carry extra hair ties with him.

There were no more hiccups after that. At least concerning Sasuke that was. Now, Uzumaki Naruto, from the other class that Iruka was assisting with was a whole different can of worms.

The next school year, Iruka did indeed become their class’s official instructor. He was just as effective if not more so than Mizuki as an instructor and the class welcomed the change, which meant they heeded his teachings, but some students still tried to prank him, and failed spectacularly.

This was the year that Karin, Juugo, and Kimimaro would take the graduation exams. Sasuke had no doubts of their success. Sasuke himself still had two more years to go at the Academy before graduation, but it felt like time was running short, and despite his unchallenged position as top student, he couldn’t help feeling like he wasn’t doing enough.

xxx

“You’ve been staring at Sasuke-kun a lot,” Ino teased as she nudged her best friend, Sakura.

Sakura blushed. “So what?”

“Whoa, no need to bite my head off. It was just an observation. Say, since when did you become interested in my Sasuke-kun? I thought you didn’t care for him.”

“I never said that,” Sakura protested hotly.

“No, but you tried so hard to act nonchalant when I bring him up that I thought you were trying to prove a point.”

“That’s because!”

“Because what?”

“Because Ino-chan likes Sasuke-kun, so I didn’t…”

Ino made her own deductions, “Oh? Are you saying you like Sasuke-kun more than me now, is that it?” She ribbed.

Sakura flushed. “It’s different!”

Ino shrugged and said flippantly, “As long as you know that he’s my man then I don’t mind if you crush on him. All the other girls in class do too.”

Sakura looked gobsmacked, and that was when Ino knew the joke went too far.

“Ino-chan… I don’t like him the way you or the other girls in class do. I like Sasuke-kun,” Sakura grounded out, and it sounded like it took a lot of effort for her to admit it out loud. “I’m willing to fight for him. I won’t give him up, not even to my best friend. Especially, not for the reasons that you like him.” Her knuckles were white as she clenched her hands together.

“Uh, so what are you saying?”

Sakura took a deep breath, her body was shaking, and Ino marveled at the courage Sakura was mustering. When Sakura opened her mouth to talk, her voice was steady, “I’m saying I’m going to be with Sasuke-kun in the future, and I’ll win him over fair and square.”

“Hoooh?” Ino made a sound of surprise. Then she smirked, a challenge sparking in her eyes. “Sasuke-kun is currently at the top of the class, the only one who can measure up to him is the top kunoichi of the class.”

Sakura nodded in agreement, a grim smile on her face.

“Then… may the best kunoichi win.” Ino flicked Sakura on the forehead, a playful smile on her lips. Sakura covered her forehead and glowered at Ino, but it was a look filled with determination.

Ino quite enjoyed that spark of fire. Her little cherry blossom was finally starting to bloom.

This would be a fun challenge.

xxx

Naruto was bummed.

The Hokage had pulled strings for him when he had said he wanted to be a genin as soon as possible. He entered the Academy early and took classes with kids older than him. Despite everything, he just found it so hard to concentrate on theoretical work, and had flunked his exams twice already. This year would be his third attempt. Naruto sighed as he trudged into his new classroom. This year, he would be attending classes with those his age. He wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they be crueler or nicer than his previous classmates?

He was the last one to arrive. When he entered the room, he scanned the classroom layout and the occupants quickly. He hoped there’s an open seat by the windows. No such luck. Should have arrived earlier. Then he spotted a person glowing in white and Naruto’s mouth dropped open.

“Pork Bun Ghost!” He pointed at the child dressed in white. The child was older now and there was a scar along the child’s jaw, but the angel was as beautiful as Naruto remembered. Or was it a ghost? Naruto wasn’t sure anymore.

“What did you call Sasuke-kun?” Two-thirds of the girls in class shrieked.

Naruto had just enough time to utter an “uh oh” before they dog piled him.

“What is this nonsense?” Iruka demanded when he entered the room. The girls paid him no mind and he had to physically pull them away from the pile. Some of them jumped right back in.

“Everyone,” the voice was young, but sharp and reprimanding. The girls stilled. “This is unsightly behavior and you’re disrupting the class.”

The girls apologized – although it was hard to tell if the apology was directed at Iruka or at Sasuke, definitely not at Naruto – and clambered back to their seats.

“Thank you, Sasuke. And…” Iruka studied the boy curled up on the floor and immediately recognized the blond hair of their resident prankster. “Naruto? Would you like to go to the nurse’s office?”

“I’m fine!” Naruto jumped to his feet.

Trusting in Naruto’s resilience Iruka just sighed and said, “All right then… Please take a seat. Class will now begin.” Then he began to do roll call.

Naruto climbed the steps to find an empty seat near the back. Sasuke, the Pork Bun Ghost, was seated in the back corner by the windows. He watched as Sasuke put away the scroll he was reading and pulled out supplies for class. When he looked up he made eye contact with Naruto.

Naruto blinked a few times, still not believing his eyes. After all this time, he was finally reunited with the Pork Bun Ghost. Sasuke caught his bewildered look and smiled softly in amusement. Yeah, that was the smile. He’d remember it anywhere. Naruto grinned and took a seat. He might actually like this class.

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Author’s Note: There is a reason behind Sasuke’s initial “hazing” of Iruka, which won’t be revealed until much later on. But it’s only a minor detail for now, so don’t be bothered by it.

Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 8

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Chapter 8 – Plucking at the Heart Line

Although it was never confirmed, whispers spread through the Academy like wildfire at the long absence of the Uchiha Sasuke. The children were never explicitly informed – they were told that Sasuke-kun had some family problems, which was putting it very mildly considering that did nothing to cover the scope of the problems, not to mention there was the hushed up kidnapping incident – but overhearing gossip from their parents, they knew vaguely of the Uchiha Massacre.
Story by Vanilla Muse
After months, the sole Uchiha survivor finally returned to school. But in the place of the once happy and energetic yet snooty and arrogant boy was a child with a delicate air about him. Gone was the enthusiasm to best his brother, and in its place was a quiet demeanor and faraway eyes.

In the months that the Uchiha was absent, his hair had grown out and gravity tamed the tufts of hair that used to stick out in the back. The longer hair was now pulled into a ponytail at the nape of the neck. One had to wonder if he was trying to emulate his brother a bit. He had also switched out his usual black outfit for an all white one, which was perplexing, since black was the color of mourning in Konoha. Perhaps it was the Uchiha’s way of saying, “I am done mourning.”

The fangirls could care less about the meaning behind his wardrobe change though. They were more mesmerized by the ethereal effect that the white had on their Sasuke-kun, coupled with the longer hair and subdued attitude, the new Uchiha Sasuke was a nosebleed trigger and just begging to be coddled.

“I heard about your family,” Ami approached Sasuke just before the start of class. “I’m sorry.”

Sasuke tilted his head, his dark eyes scrutinizing the young girl. Ami fidgeted. Sasuke nodded at her condolences. She flushed and hurried away. The girls tittered and push at each other to approach Sasuke. The Uchiha huffed an imperceptible sigh and looked out the window. Just as another girl worked up the courage to approach him, Mizuki walked in and class began.

During recess, Shikamaru lazed under the shade of a tree with his best friend Chouji snacking by his side. He took note of, but didn’t pay much attention when Sasuke leaned against the other side of the tree and cracked open a tome. As long as Sasuke was quiet and didn’t disturb his peace, he was fine with the boy being there.

For most of recess the area under their tree remained undisturbed. The other children played ninja games and chattered with each other, all activities that took way too much effort in Shikamaru’s opinion.

Nearing the end of recess Kiba bounded up to Sasuke. “Hey, hey. I heard your family all died and that you fought off the killer. That’s how you got the scar. Is that true?”

Shikamaru sighed at Kiba’s lack of tact. He was not looking forward to the fall out from that blunt statement. He prepared himself to roll away from the conflict, but Sasuke surprised him with his answer.

“I have family.” Sasuke closed his book. “I didn’t get this scar from… the killer. It was my carelessness.” He stood up. “Now if you’ll excuse me, recess is about to end.”

“Huh? What? I didn’t understand that at all. So is your family dead or alive?” Kiba shouted after Sasuke. Shikamaru wanted to tell him to shut up, but it was too troublesome.

“Kiba, put a sock in it,” Chouji said. Shikamaru looked over at Chouji and his friend took it as a sign of thanks. Chouji shrugged in response. “Didn’t do much good,” he noted.

Kiba was running after Sasuke and peppering him with questions until an instructor heard him and roughly pulled him aside.

By the end of the day there were various stories behind Sasuke’s new facial scar. It ranged from Sasuke getting cut while avenging his family honor to falling into a ditch by accident. The girls beat up the last person that suggested the ditch theory.

The laziest Academy student in Konoha sighed and dropped his head into his arms. He didn’t have the energy to deal with all the drama.

Things were a lot less troublesome before Sasuke came back.

xxx

It was the spring before Haruno Sakura’s fourth year at the Ninja Academy. She had turned ten not too long ago. Right now the Academy students were on a three-week long break, as the instructors got ready for the transition into a new school year.

Seeing that Sakura was on break, her mother decided to bring Sakura along to the marketplace to show her off to the uncles and aunties while they did their weekly grocery shopping. Sakura hated it when her mother got it into her head to show off the Haruno family’s budding ninja. The limelight made her feel uncomfortable and despite Ino’s reassurances that she looked cute with the red ribbon, Sakura still couldn’t help feeling insecure about her large forehead from time to time.

But as it was break time, Sakura did not have an excuse to refuse her mother. Plus, she was promised anmitsu on the way home to sweeten the deal, so Sakura grudgingly agreed to tag along.

Sakura smiled nervously as another auntie patted her on the head and called her “precocious” and “cute.” As soon as the auntie turned away, Sakura tugged on her mother’s shirt hem, eager to be home, away from all the attention. That was when a ripple of angry whispers went through the crowd. Sakura looked around perplexed by the change in atmosphere. Then she spotted a little blond hair boy standing in the middle of the street with a glower on his face.

The boy wore a tattered cream-colored shirt with a red spiral on it and navy shorts. There were dirt stains and scuffmarks all along his arms and legs. The adults were all looking down their noses at the boy and talking behind their hands. Sakura did not understand. Did the boy do something bad?

Her mother took her hand and pulled her away to the next street over. Sakura’s legs followed, but she couldn’t help looking over her shoulder at the boy. She has never seen a child her age look so angry and… sad before.

As her mother continued to converse with the local tenders, Sakura could not help thinking back on that boy. She tugged at her mother’s hem for attention.

“Mom, I’m going to go check on something,” she murmured.

“Aw sweetie, just wait a little bit longer.”

“Mom,” Sakura whined.

Her mother sighed, “Oh all right, don’t go far, I’ll meet you at the park once I’m done here.”

“Okay!” And then she was off.

By the time she retraced her steps to that spot, the boy was already gone. She fidgeted before mustering up enough courage to ask one of the shopkeepers where did the boy go.

“Oh dear, you don’t want to get involve with that boy, nasty little demon.”

Sakura was taken aback by that answer. She murmured something incomprehensible and jogged away. It took all her courage to approach an adult for help, and to be given that kind of response… Sakura found herself shrinking away from the adults. Why were people so scary and mean? Only Ino-chan was nice.

Giving up hope, Sakura decided to head to the meeting place to wait for her mother. The sakura trees were in full bloom at this time of the year, so the trail through the park should be beautifully littered with the light pink blossoms.

Sakura was ambling leisurely to the meeting point, which was the center of the park, when she heard a little chirp. She followed the chirps to a find a featherless baby bird stranded on the ground.

“How did you get down here?” She wondered as she cradled the bird in her tiny hands. She looked up to see a bird nest nestled high in the branches of an old sakura tree. She swallowed. It was so high.

Sakura shook her head at herself and drew her lips into a determined line. She was a ninja (in training)! She can take on that tree! And so, with the baby bird in one hand, Sakura began to scale the thick tree. In her devotion to not jostle the baby bird, Sakura misjudged her next foothold and slipped. She held the bird close and screamed as she fell.

The sound of wire being pulled reached her ears and next thing she knew, she was caught in a slow descent. Sakura blinked in surprised. All she could see was white. Her savior set her gently on her feet. She took a step back to take in her savior. A boy her age, dark hair, fair skin, a thin scar along the jaw, and dressed in white.

“Sa- Sa- Sa- Sasuke-kun?” Sakura exclaimed.

The corner of Sasuke’s lip twitched. “Why were you climbing the tree?”

Dumbstruck, Sakura stuttered and could only hold up her hand as explanation. The bird chirped at Sasuke.

He quirked an eyebrow at the animal and then looked up to the bird nest. “I see.” He held out his hand. “Allow me?”

Sakura nodded and transferred the bird gently onto Sasuke’s palm. Their hands touched. Sasuke’s hand was warm. Sakura blushed and snatched her hand back. Sasuke snuggled the bird into the high collar of his shirt to free up his hands. By swinging back and forth between two trees with the help of ninja wire, Sasuke easily made his way up to the nest. He carefully returned the bird to its nest. After making sure the bird was okay, he looked down to her and smiled, as if to say, “mission accomplished.”

Crouching on a dark branch of the sakura tree amidst pale pink blossoms, with his hair and clothes ruffling gently in the breeze, and a gentle smile on his handsome face, Uchiha Sasuke was a vision. Sakura stumbled a few steps back. Upon realizing what her body just did, she burned bright red. She did not just swoon.

From his vantage point, Sasuke admired the blossoms. It was like sitting in the middle of a bouquet. “The blossoms in this park have the most beautiful color,” he remarked casually. He caressed a pink petal. “Like your hair,” he added as an afterthought.

Okay, she just swooned.

Before the… tragic Uchiha incident, Sakura had always thought Sasuke was cute. He wasn’t gross and unrefined like the other Academy boys. Coupled with that was the fact that he was the top student in their class. Sakura appreciated brains and talent. She could understand why the girls in class went ga-ga over him. Then after the incident, Sasuke returned a changed person. He had a mature yet sad air about him, like a rare ephemeral blossom that grabbed your attention and had you fretting over how to preserve the beauty and life of such a fragile existence. It made one’s heart clench and roused maternal instincts.

Despite all that, Sakura always held herself back. Someone like her would never be able to have someone like Uchiha Sasuke. He was like a god on a pedestal, way too good for her. He also had a huge fan base, with his number one fan being none other than the number one kunoichi in their class, Ino, her best friend. Sakura had convinced herself that she would be satisfied to nurse her baby crush on Sasuke from afar and maybe see him get together with Ino-chan in the future. Sakura didn’t know about Sasuke, but at least Ino would be happy. And if her best friend were happy then that would make her happy, too.

Now, however, gazing upon that smile, remembering his warmth as he held her and saved her from a nasty fall, seeing his gentleness with the baby bird, and hearing that compliment, Sakura could not contain the feelings that burst within her chest. Her hair was the second feature that she was most insecure about, following her forehead. Her bullies used to taunt her about it being a weird color and that it was unsuitable for a ninja to have such unsightly hair. But Sasuke said he liked that color. The way that he said it, so flippantly, the sky was blue, the grass was green, her hair was pink, and it was a beautiful color. Like it was a matter of fact. It filled her with pride and made her chest swell with unbridled joy. He was the second person to give her confidence in her appearance – Ino being the first, and her parents’ opinions didn’t count.

In that moment, Sakura felt a connection with Sasuke. At the Academy, he was an untouchable being – never mind the fact that his fangirls would step all over her if she tried to get close to Sasuke – but here, he was close. Close enough to touch, and they did touch. Twice. Uchiha Sasuke used to be just someone to admire from afar, but here and now, Sakura thought she played witness to the human side of that untouchable god, something softer, and she liked what she saw.

She liked it a lot.

“Sakura! Where are you?” Her mother called.

“Coming!” Sakura replied. There was a snap of wire, and when she turned back to the tree, Sasuke was gone. On the ground by her feet there was a sprig of cherry blossoms.

Sakura took the sprig home and pressed it into a bookmark to commemorate the date that she confirmed her feelings and set her heart on one Uchiha Sasuke. Even if she was not yet worthy, he was someone worth fighting for. She was sure of it. A voice in the back of her mind bellowed its agreement.

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Author’s Note: I have no idea how the Academy curriculum works. I assume that it’s year round. Since they’re ninjas in training, I doubt they would get as much breaks as civilian students would. So I’m going to say the Academy runs year round with weekends off and a three-week break in between school years, and that break time is somewhere around springtime.

Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 7

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Chapter 7 – Drawing New Lines

After the incident with the missing-nin that Sasuke killed, Ranmaru had been on high alert. He didn’t want to see his new friends getting hurt again and he definitely did not want to see the look of deadness in Sasuke’s eyes again, so he had taken to using his Kekkei Genkai to avoid anybody that might be honing in on them. Ranmaru could see and hear ninja coming from afar – although Karin was more adept in this area with her sensor abilities – and he could cast genjutsu to misdirect them. He tired often, however, and he still wasn’t strong enough for large-scale genjutsu, but he did what he could to help out the group.
Story by Vanilla Muse
Sasuke wasn’t in a rush to return to Konoha. He led the group leisurely and they took frequent breaks. While the group rested and enjoyed Konoha’s temperate environment, Sasuke would often practice with the weapons foraged from the bandits and rogue ninja that attacked them. He had poor aim with the shuriken, but did better with the kunai.

If Sasuke wasn’t doing target practice or ninjutsu training, he would be coaxing one of the older children in the group to spar with him. Taijutsu practice, he said.

Juugo was a poor taijutsu partner in that he lacked form. When he needed to fight he usually relied on his nature chakra to transform himself and go berserk, although he was learning to be more conscious of his actions during those periods, but the going was slow.

Kimimaro preferred using his bone weapons to fight, especially in close combat. It was the way of his people and Kimimaro didn’t see any special need to change that, but he would indulge Sasuke.

Karin turned out to be the best sparring partner out of the three, as she didn’t have a previous style of fighting that she liked to fall back on. She had some formal training in Uzushiogakure, but didn’t get to learn much before the invasion destroyed her village. Her style was a mix of formal learning, instincts, and fighting dirty. This seemed to work just fine for Sasuke, for he used a rather unorthodox style of fighting too. There was definitely a form and a flow to his movements, speaking of a past teacher, but it wasn’t anything you would see in a ninja village.

Sasuke’s form was graceful and fluid and relied on evasion and redirecting of the opponent’s momentum instead of powerful punches and kicks. The style suited Sasuke, because he was so flexible that he would often evade an attack in a way that no one else would or could. Watching him fight was like watching water dance.

They continued on for a time like this. Strolling through Konoha, training, hunting, camping, and generally bonding with each other. The bonding helped each of them in ways that they did not realize, but as they grew closer and the loneliness moved further, they became lighter on their feet and smiles came more readily.

Once they hit the outskirts of Konohagakure, it wasn’t long before ANBU tracked them down. Upon confirming that Sasuke was Uchiha Sasuke, the Last Uchiha and sole survivor of this clan – the others were not informed about this little important tidbit until then – an ANBU entourage arrived to escort them back to the village. Karin also got to see firsthand a medic-nin at work.

Once they arrived inside Konoha, they were given three days to clean up and recuperate before politics and paperwork come breathing down their necks. During that time, each one of them had to go through a therapy session to assess their mental state. Asides from a few minor hiccups that were to be expected from their experiences outside of the village, their mental states were considered stable and no one was pronounced clinically insane.

For Ranmaru, registering to become a Konoha citizen was simple enough, a brief meeting with the Hokage and mounds of paperwork. Applying to attempt for a Konoha genin position was more of a hassle. There would be an interrogation followed by a probation period in which they would be monitored by ANBU to ensure that they were not enemy plants. After which they would have to pass a test before general admission into the Academy.

What caused uproar was when Sasuke wanted to write Kimimaro, Ranmaru, and Juugo’s name into the Uchiha family register, to officially bestow upon them the Uchiha name. Murmurs of unrest rose in the Council. Talk of some Itachi dude came up, something about blood purity, and something about them lacking the eyes. They do have eyes and they can see just fine, thank you very much.

Karin was fine with keeping her Uzumaki name, so she avoided that whole debacle. She did have pride in her birth village after all. Besides, she would be an Uchiha in the future when she married Sasuke, or so she’d like to believe.

Sasuke stood at his full height, which wasn’t much considering his age, and presented his arguments to the Council. “As the Last Uchiha I am now the Head of the Uchiha clan. I hold full authority over the Uchiha name. I have an obligation to rebuild my clan and these are the people I choose to become my new family. Together we will rebuild the Uchiha clan and serve Konoha with pride!”

Murmurs.

“You are still a child, hardly the head of a clan.”

“I grew much in the time that I was taken from my beloved village. I have escaped my captors and made an example of them. I have led our group safely from The Land of Mist back to Konoha. I think I have proven myself capable of taking care of myself and that of others. I understand the heavy duty that comes with being responsible for human life. If Itachi should come to attack my village or my clan, I will confront him myself. Konoha is my village, and I have acknowledged these people,” he waved to Ranmaru, Kimimaro, and Juugo, “as my people now. I hold full responsibility for their safety.” Sasuke was laying it on thick, but the Council was still tittering back and forth.

Sasuke breathed deeply, “Once I am a genin I will be acknowledged as a full adult. If it will settle your minds I will take the graduation exam now.”

“No!” The Hokage put his foot down and everyone was startled by his vehemence. “We are not in a time of war, there is no need for Konoha’s children to graduated from the Academy early.”

“Yet you would make exemptions for that monster instead?” One member sneered.

Sasuke spoke up before the conversation could digress, “Very well then. I shall graduate on time with my year mates, at the top of the class,” he declared. “I will prove that I am a man of my word, and that I am capable and responsible enough to be the Uchiha Head. I hope this will set your minds at ease.”

Of course the Council didn’t just bend over at that point. There was a lot more beating around the bush, but Sasuke pleaded to the Hokage with his eyes, and eventually with their effort saw three new names added to the Uchiha family register.

They all moved into the Uchiha Compound. Karin was shocked at the eerie, desolate state of the place. The once proud Uchiha clan, reduced to a compound of ghosts. Ranmaru just looked sad.

Sasuke told them to choose whichever property they liked. Kimimaro and Ranmaru moved in with Sasuke naturally. Karin chose the house next door. Juugo decided to choose a place further away just to be safe. If they hear him raging, they will have time to plan a course of action before he reached their houses.

Sasuke was given ten days to settle his new family members into the village and then he was to return to the Academy. Sasuke did just that, and he also threw himself into his training and studies. Every morning he trained in his weaker aspects and at night he would pour over his Academy notes meticulously. He even dropped by the Academy to pick up a packet covering the lessons he missed in class.

His friends tried to be as supportive as possible. They hadn’t realized what it took for them to join his family; even opening the Compound to Karin, an outsider, was fraught with arguments against the Council. Karin wondered if the Elders liked to argue just to be difficult or maybe they had nothing else to do in their old age, because they ended up approving of her stay in the Compound after all. Seeing the struggle that Sasuke went through, was still going through, and probably would be going through for a long time in order to keep them, they developed a new appreciation for his dedication and devotion to them.

The four of them, Kimimaru, Ranmaru, Karin, and Juugo, explored the village as a group to familiarize themselves with Konoha, so that Sasuke wouldn’t have to show them around everywhere – he did make a point to show them major establishments at least. Juugo was surprisingly adept at cooking once he figured out the kitchen implements, so he would come to Sasuke’s house and cook a big meal for everyone, allowing Sasuke more time to study. Karin took care of any more paperwork that came their way. Kimimaro and Ranmaru took over household chores.

All in all, it was a tough week, but Sasuke’s house had never been so lively and warm.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 6

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Chapter 6 – Crossing Lines

Although Ranmaru was a frail child, his stamina had been building day by day ever since he met Sasuke. Each day he would walk a little longer. Today he walked up front with Karin and the group’s latest addition, Juugo. Juugo was immediately taken by Ranmaru and the two hit it off well. Karin was still leery of Juugo, which was just as well, because when Sasuke asked her to stay close to Juugo to keep an eye on him, she did not have an excuse to refuse.

Sasuke and Kimimaro trailed behind because Sasuke had sensed questions weighing on Kimimaro’s mind since the night before.
Story by Vanilla Muse
“What’s on your mind?”

“…It’s nothing, Sasuke-sama.”

Sasuke huffed, “We’re family now, are we not, Uchiha Kimimaro?” It was still weird to say the Uchiha name, but Sasuke shrugged it off.

Kimimaro straightened at the name.

“You can talk to me about anything. Ask me anything. I can’t promise to answer all of your questions, but I can promise to listen and I won’t ever get angry at you for simply being curious.”

“I was wondering how did you control Juugo-san’s rage? What did you do?”

“I didn’t really do much. The thing with Juugo is that he needs to know that there is someone forceful to control him should his anger get out of hand. He’s insecure, and desires a sense of security. By being confident and forceful with him, I was showing him that I was in control. That I could and would control him if anything went wrong.”

Sasuke sighed, “I’m really not too keen on trying to dominate over others like this, but Juugo seems to need that outside force to ground him. Masochist is what I would call it.” Sasuke shook his head. “I hope he gets over it eventually. Anyways, keeping the parameters of Juugo’s needs in mind, I then implanted a strong suggestion into his mind and he calmed himself down. I inserted the connection between my touch and tranquility into his brain. Truthfully, it was all a gamble.” Sasuke’s eyes flashed red for a second. Two tomoe spun lazily in each of his irises. “I’m still very green with this.”

“The… when did you…?”

“When I killed that missing-nin. Or more accurately, he did something to trigger it right before I killed him.”

“Sasuke-sama?”

“It’s over now.” Sasuke shook his head to indicate he didn’t want to talk. Kimimaro, being the person that he was, did not push. If it were Karin, she would’ve pestered Sasuke for an answer. Her desire to “fix” everything wrong for Sasuke was disturbingly devout.

Sasuke studied Kimimaro for a long moment, and Kimimaro found that he could not turn away from that gaze. Sasuke smiled, a genuine, pleased smile. “I entrust my secrets to you Kimimaro, because I know that you will never betray me.”

“Never!”

“And I you, my brother.”

Kimimaro fell silent, touched by Sasuke’s words. It seemed that no matter how often Sasuke is kind to him he would never get enough of it. Before meeting Sasuke, his life had been a harsh string of reprimands, fear, killing, and the coldness of death and loneliness. Here with Sasuke, there was warmth, kindness, smiles, and gentle words. Kimimaro didn’t think he would ever be deserving of having family like Sasuke, but he’d try anyways, because he wanted to always walk in Sasuke’s light.

xxx

They were attacked by a group of bandits.

Karin felt them coming a mile away and they were ready, but when the bandits reached them, it wasn’t Kimimaro or even Sasuke that took them down. It was Juugo. He went into rage mode and slaughtered the entire troupe.

Using ninja wire and a nearby tree, Sasuke thrust himself into the air. He came at Juugo from above just as the orange-haired boy set his sights on a shivering Karin. Sasuke landed nimbly on Juugo’s shoulder, and before the bigger boy could throw him off he touched the top of Juugo’s head with his entire palm, applying light pressure.

“Juugo,” he said. “Focus.”

Juugo growled, but he didn’t try to buck Sasuke off. He breathed heavily. His transformed arm morphed back into normal skin and the black lines slowly receded.

“Good job,” Sasuke praised and he petted Juugo on the head while he was at it.

Even he was surprised that his trick had worked. In all honesty, Sasuke was hesitant about bringing Juugo into the fold. Physically, Sasuke was still only seven, he wasn’t very strong, fast maybe, but far from physically strong, and he had no confidence that he could smack down a raging Juugo or cow him with killing intent, but Ranmaru had been insistent on “giving the beast a chance at salvation.” Ranmaru sees a kindred spirit in every tortured soul, so Sasuke had braved Juugo for Ranmaru.

Sasuke addressed the redhead, “Karin-san, are you hurt?”

“One hundred percent fine!” She gushed with stars in her eyes.

“Good. Let’s collect what’s useful from these bandits and move on quickly.”

Twenty paces away from the gruesome sight, Ranmaru couldn’t hold it in anymore. He barfed and Sasuke joined him. Karin rubbed their backs and held Sasuke’s growing hair away from his face.

Sasuke had lost his hair tie when tussling with the missing-nin and now his hair fell freely around his face in a lustrous black curtain. Ranmaru thought it made him look pretty, like an onee-sama instead of an onii-sama and had told him so. Juugo had chuckled in agreement. Sasuke had sighed and patted Ranmura on the head.

Once Ranmaru and Sasuke were done heaving up their lunch the group pretended it never happened and continued along their merry way.

As fate would have it, they were soon accosted by trouble again. This time it was in the form of a bloodthirsty rogue ninja looking for some fun. Sasuke, as if in a move to prove something to himself, took down the enemy alone. He approached the missing-nin from a blind spot and with a series of quick jabs to pressure points he rendered the enemy ninja’s arms temporarily immobile.

As soon as the missing-nin realized what had happened he delivered a sharp snap kick to Sasuke’s gut, sending him crashing into a tree. Juugo started to roar to life, but Ranmaru held him back.

The ninja charged at their group when ninja wire wrapped around his ankle and tripped him up. Sasuke emerged, coughing and cradling his stomach, but he grimaced through the pain and made quick work of trussing the enemy up, using the enemy’s struggling movements to his advantage to tangle the ninja up even more.

However, when it came to dealing the final blow, Sasuke stopped. He gazed down at the tied up ninja with impassive eyes.

“Sasuke-sama, allow me.” Kimimaro stepped forward and pulled out a bone sword from his arm.

Sasuke held out his hand for the weapon. “I’ve made my decision to set on this path. I will do this.”

“Sasuke-sama…”

“Onii-sama.”

“I have to do this.” Sasuke said. Although at that point, it was hard to tell if he was talking to the group at large or to himself. “I did this before, I can do it again,” he murmured and adjusted his grip on the bone weapon. “Don’t look Ranmaru,” Sasuke commanded, but Ranmaru looked anyways as Sasuke took the weapon from Kimimaro’s hand and drove it through the missing-nin’s neck in one quick thrust. He jumped back as he pulled out the bone weapon to avoid the spray of blood.

“Sasuke-kun, let me heal you,” Karin offered her arm.

He shook his head. “After he dies,” Sasuke nodded to the missing-nin, “retrieve my ninja wire for me please. It’s still a long way from Konohagakure and we’ll need to stretch all the supplies we have.”

“But Sasuke-kun.” Sasuke looked at her and she conceded with a reluctant nod.

“Let’s find a place to set up camp after this. I’m sure we’re all tired.” Sasuke said. Then he walked away from the cooling corpse and wretched bile in a patch of dry grass. Ranmaru’s eyes trailed after Sasuke with a worried light. At the very least, only one of them was throwing up their stomach this time.

That night, they had to create a campfire manually because Sasuke was having trouble getting his breath together to use his clan’s technique. Karin suspected a fractured or broken rib.

Falling asleep was a task in itself. It was hard for Sasuke to find a comfortable spot to sleep in, but eventually fatigue took over and he fell into a fitful sleep. Karin and Kimimaro made eye contact over the smothered campfire and came to a silent agreement. Together they got the unconscious Sasuke to bite down on Karin and she transferred her chakra to heal him.

The injury wasn’t life threatening yet, but traveling on the road was sure to make it worse. Already, Sasuke was warm with a rising fever. If only Sasuke wasn’t so stubborn about not using her forbidden technique. Though it warmed her heart and made her blush when she replayed his reasons in her head. Maybe she should pick up some medical ninjutsu in case something like this came up again. She hated seeing Sasuke’s face contorted with pain.

At dawn, Sasuke jerked awake with a scream in his throat, rousing Karin from her vigil by his side.

“Sasuke-kun, it’s okay. It was only a nightmare,” she soothed.

There was cold sweat dotting his brow. She touched his forehead; glad to note the lack of fever. He breathed deeply and raggedly until he got himself under control. The others were rousing, too. Since everyone was up, they decided to start the day early. A quick breakfast and then they were packing up camp.

“Karin.”

The redhead girl shivered at the low timbre of Sasuke’s voice. And did he just drop the honorific with her?

“Show me your arm.” Karin skipped over to him in a blissful haze and showed him her arm. “The other arm.” She hesitated, but showed him the bite mark on her wrist. She chose the wrist because it felt more intimate somehow. Sasuke studied her wrist for a long while, at war with himself over what to say. For a while it looked like he might apologize, which was absurd because she chose to heal him. Finally he traced his thumb over his teeth imprint and said, “Thank you, Karin. I promise to be stronger next time so that you won’t have to resort to this.”

Tingles went up her arm and down her spine. “If it’s for you, I don’t mind using this technique an infinite number of times,” she admitted with hearts in her eyes. Sasuke was so cool.

The look on his face was pained at her admission. She sobered up. “I’ll learn medical ninjutsu so that I can heal you even without using this technique.”

He startled at the declaration, and then gave her a gentle smile. “Thank you, Karin.”

“Anything for you, Sasuke-kun.”

“Maybe I should get some training in the medical field too,” he pondered out loud.

“Eh? But then it would defeat the purpose of me healing you.”

He gave her an amused looked and she blushed but didn’t look away.

xxx

Juugo did not quite know what to make of Sasuke.

When they first met, Sasuke gave the impression that he commanded authority and demanded absolute obedience. Which would work out just fine for Juugo if Sasuke were to be his master and his cage, but after their first meeting Sasuke began to use less and less of that imperious tone on him, and to the others in the group he was downright clement and even sought to serve them in some ways, by helping them complete a task or volunteering to do the harder chore when it came to setting camp.

But none of his actions made him subservient to the others, in fact, everyone in the group deferred to Sasuke. Ranmaru obeyed and looked up to Sasuke like an older brother. Kimimaro guarded Sasuke like a loyal vassal to his lord and never challenged Sasuke’s authority. Karin threw herself at Sasuke’s feet to be helpful to him. And Juugo listened to Sasuke of course, because Sasuke was the lock for his rage.

Then there was Sasuke’s changing attitude towards him. The more control Juugo showed over his rage the more friendly Sasuke became towards him. Sasuke was benign even before, but now it was like he actively sought a – dare Juugo believe it? – friendship with Juugo.

It was all very jarring and perplexing.

For now Juugo decided to just go with the flow, and he promised to hone his rage into Sasuke’s shield, so he would do that too. Maybe in the future there could be something more between Juugo and Sasuke, but for now, this was enough. This was contentment enough for Juugo.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 5

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Chapter 5 – The Boundary Line

They were taking a well-needed break. With Ranmaru’s weak health, it wasn’t a surprise that they would need to stop often. Even taking turns carrying the small child could still be taxing for their underdeveloped bodies; hence they were taking a break.
Story by Vanilla Muse
Kimimaro was keeping a look out while Ranmaru took a light nap. Sasuke was molding chakra and Karin was watching Sasuke mold chakra. It was so tantalizing to feel the chakra moving actively through Sasuke’s body. Sasuke frowned in concentration. The chakra was moving sluggishly through his body.

“What are you doing Sasuke-kun?” Karin asked.

“I’m trying to perform the Clone Technique, but I can’t seem to get my chakra to cooperate. I’ve read the theory on it,” Sasuke said.

“Your chakra is stuck, and you’re pulling too much yin energy and not enough yang energy,” Karin supplied.

“What?”

“Can’t you feel it?” Than Karin shook her head, remembering that sensing chakra did not come as easily to others as it did to her.

She walked up to Sasuke and mapped out the flow of chakra in his body with her finger. “Can you feel it? Your energy is running smoothly from here to here,” she ran her finger along his body, “but it gets caught up here,” she pressed lightly at the spot. “What you need to do is…” And Karin explained to Sasuke how to direct the flow of chakra. She can sense a lot more yin energy in Sasuke than yang energy, no doubt he’s a scholar, but his yang energy is nothing to be scoffed at either. His reserves were quite large for a boy his age. There was a reason she found his chakra dazzling after all.

With Karin’s guidance, Sasuke coaxed his chakra to do his bidding. His first couple of attempts was laughable. They came out colorless and flopped to the ground like rice paper. It was even worse than Naruto’s blotched attempts. Sasuke blushed and kept trying. Internally, Karin was cooing at how cute a determined Sasuke looked.

Behind Sasuke’s back Kimimaro was giving her the stink eye. He did not miss the fact that Karin took advantage of the guise of helping Sasuke to touch him all over with her finger. Sasuke didn’t even seem to realize he was molested. He was so unguarded that it made Karin purr with devious ideas.

By the time the group made it to Kiri’s border, Sasuke had perfected both the Cloning Technique and the Transformation Technique. The Substitution Technique was still proving to be tricky, but Sasuke was determined to master it and Karin knew that he would.

Using the Henge, the group, sans Ranmaru, transformed and posed as a family trying to escape from the war ravaged land. Sasuke and Karin were the parents, Kimimaro was their mute son, and Ranmaru was their sickly baby boy. Karin spun a sob story so well that the fishermen agreed to ferry them to the Land of Fire for only a small fee.

Once they landed and were out of earshot of the fishermen, they dropped their Henge and Sasuke praised Karin for her ingenuity. She blushed and clung to his arm. Sasuke tried to unravel her arms from around him, but she clung on like a limpet until Kimimaro forcibly pulled her away. Sasuke sighed and then he stilled when he noticed the color of Ranmaru’s eyes. They were glowing bright red.

“What do you see?” Sasuke asked.

“In a cave, nature calls. The beast awaits a firm lock and cage. Two clicks northwest.” Ranmaru pointed. The glow faded from his eyes and he dropped his arm.

“Well, it’s along the way. Can’t hurt to take a look.” Sasuke thought out loud.

“What was that?” Karin demanded.

Sasuke placed his hands on Ranmaru’s shoulders in a supportive and protective gesture. “Ranmaru has a special gift. It’s hard to explain. Even Ranmaru himself doesn’t seem to know the full extent of his abilities. But he’s been very helpful in our journey, helping us find useful things and avoiding unnecessary conflict.”

Ranmaru blushed under Sasuke’s praise.

“Oh,” Karin shrugged.

“I’ve told Kimimaro this, but I’ll ask this of you, too, please keep Ranmaru’s abilities a secret. I don’t want people trying to hunt him down to dissect his eyes.” Here Sasuke touched the corner of his eye subconsciously. “Even within Konoha proper, you must keep quiet about this. Unlike us, Ranmaru doesn’t yet know how to defend himself.”

“I won’t crack even under extreme torture,” Karin promised, thumping a fist to her chest.

Sasuke didn’t know how to respond to such a statement with words so he just smiled, which was more than enough for Karin.

xxx

By the time they reached the cave that Ranmaru saw, it was already getting dark, so they set up camp. Tomorrow, they would search for the beast. They each split up to do their part. Ranmaru picked up firewood, Kimimaro foraged for edible fruit, Sasuke went fishing, and Karin tracked a rabbit.

Sasuke used his Great Fireball Technique to light the campfire. He’s been practicing it with Karin’s help. It helped that the body seemed to remember the technique, but what he was able to produce wasn’t all that ‘great’ yet, although in this case it was perfect for a campfire. After dinner, they set up a watch schedule and fell asleep.

Karin was on watch when she heard a groaning coming from Sasuke. He was shifting in his sleep and making tortured sounds. She’s been noticing it for a while now; it’s hard not to after traveling together for two weeks.

At first she would shake him awake and demand to know what’s wrong so that she could make it go away, but he would never give her a straight answer. She suspected that the missing-nin they talked about was his first kill. It was normal to have nightmares for a length of time after the first kill. Karin would know. She couldn’t have escaped from Uzushiogakure and made it all the way deep into the Land of Mist by keeping her hands clean. Come to think of it, maybe that was another reason why the villagers segregated her. They were all simple farmers; none of them have killed anything bigger than a pig. But she digressed.

Sasuke’s problem seemed to stem deeper than that. At the very least, the first kill was only one of his many problems. And while she could talk him through how to work pass that first kill, she couldn’t do much more than be there for him and allow him to sort out the rest himself since he didn’t want to tell. Kimimaro was no help in this area. He was bred to kill and have been desensitized to it for so long. Ranmaru was out of the question. Even though Ranmaru already knew, Sasuke still refrained from talking about killing in front of him. It was sweet how Sasuke tried to protect the boy’s innocence. It wouldn’t last forever, but they’ll take what they could get.

Sasuke lashed out sharply with his leg in his sleep. The motion jolted him awake. At the same time Karin felt the beast move. It was running away. Sasuke was about to roll over and attempt to sleep again.

“Sasuke-kun,” she whispered sharply. He sat up, alert. “The beast is on the move, about a half kilometer that way.” She pointed.

He nodded. “Guard Ranmaru. I’ll be back.” He tapped Kimimaro on the shoulder. “Come with me.”

“Wait, Sasuke-kun!” She hissed, but he was gone, flitting off into the night like a shadow. Karin was still amazed by his speed. In an area with trees and a bit of ninja wire, it would be difficult to outrun Sasuke.

Kimimaro spared Karin a brief look before chasing after Sasuke. If he didn’t have such a straight face on, Karin would swear that he was sneering down at her, as if to say “Ha! He asked me to go, not you.” Karin stomped her foot and fumed.

xxx

Juugo was alerted to the group’s presence as soon as they arrived. The animals informed him. At first he thought they were just travelers and would move on soon, but then they decided to camp at the base of his mountain. A little more spy work, credit to his animal friends, and he deduced that they were here for him. Which was absurd, because he hadn’t left his cave in ages and no one should be aware of his existence. Still, just to play it safe, he decided to relocate when the group fell asleep. He couldn’t chance the group stumbling upon him by accident. He was simply too volatile to be around humans.

He didn’t expect that he would walk right into one of them. It was a young boy, three years his junior, with hair so dark that it melted into the night and made his face stand out in stark contrast. A thin cut ran down the right side of his face.

“S- Stay away from me. It’s not safe.” Juugo warned.

The boy advanced forward.

“I’m warning you!”

“I’m perfectly safe,” the boy said.

“I said stay back!” Juugo took a swipe at the boy to scare him off. Already a bit of black was bleeding onto his skin from anxiety.

Suddenly a length of diamond hard bones was wrapped around his body, preventing him from moving. His fist stopped just short of hitting the dark-haired boy’s face. Another boy stepped out from the shadows. The moonlight reflected off the newcomer’s pale skin and white hair. The red markings on his face seemed to be giving off an eerie glow. This boy was older, probably only a year his junior.

Juugo was so surprised that someone could restrain him that he was speechless.

“See,” the younger boy said, “Perfectly safe.” He hadn’t batted an eyelid when Juugo charged at him. Just who was this kid?

“Kimimaro, you may release him now,” the boy said.

“But, Sasuke-sama…”

“It’s fine. You’re here.”

So the boy’s name was Sasuke. Kimimaro released Juugo, and Juugo retracted his fist. The black receded a bit, but it lingered at the corner of his eye, just waiting to spread and take over his body.

“What do you want?” Juugo asked. Kimimaro was the one with the power to stop him, yet for some reason he deferred to this boy called Sasuke.

Sasuke took another step forward. That was another step too close to danger. “Well, for starters, Ranmaru seems to want you.”

“Ran- what?”

“So I’m here to talk to you.”

Juugo deduced that this kid was bonkers. He seemed to be aware of Juugo’s berserker tendencies yet had the gall to approach him for a talk?

“I heard of a beast hiding out in the caves. A gentle beast with a bit of a… rage problem,” Sasuke said, confirming Juugo’s suspicions, but Juugo still had no idea how the boy knew. Perhaps there was a survivor from his village who told the boy about him.

“How-”

“Do not interrupt me,” Sasuke said with such command in his voice that it gave Juugo pause. “Now, as I was saying,” Sasuke continued amiably, “You seem to be having a bit of problem controlling your temper, so I’m here to offer you an exchange.” Juugo waited for him to continue. Sasuke’s lip quirked into a half smile. “You’re learning already.” Despite the baiting tone, Juugo felt no rage at the tease. “Come with me, turn your rage into my shield, and I will be your lock and cage.”

“I don’t understand.” Juugo whispered, hardly believing this. Could this boy really give him a lock for his rage? It was impossible. That’s why the people of his village died. No one could control his rage, not even himself.

Sasuke stepped into his personal space. Juugo twitched and so did Kimimaro, but Sasuke remained firm and unyielding. He pressed two fingers against Juugo’s forehead.

“Focus on my touch. Your rage is receding, see?”

Remarkably, the black ink on his skin dissolved at Sasuke’s proclamation.

“This is the lock. Now remember this point well. Rage simmers in you always, but the secret is to temper that rage under your control and wield it as a shield, not a sword. You will learn this lesson well.”

Sasuke dropped his hand from Juugo’s forehead to his shoulder. “My name is Uchiha Sasuke. What is your name?”

“Juugo…”

Sasuke nodded, “From henceforth I take you into my heart and home. Welcome to the family, Juugo. You will never be alone now.”

Juugo’s eyes widened.

“Now come, Ranmaru is eager to meet you.” Sasuke showed Juugo his back and began walking. Kimimaro trailed after him.

Juugo could still feel the lingering warmth of Sasuke’s hand on him. “You mentioned a cage. Where is that?” Juugo asked. He’s not sure what power Sasuke wielded over him to dampen his rage, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a back up plan, a place to lock Juugo in just in case he went berserk.

Sasuke turned around and smile guilelessly. The moon shone on his face, highlighting that scar. Sasuke touched his fist to his heart. “Your cage is right here.”

Juugo was not sure he understood, but those words must have touched his heart somehow, because his feet instinctively began to follow Sasuke.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 4

Author’s Note: I followed the Naruto anime, not the manga. That’s why you have an anime only character like Ranmaru pop up. (Please note that I did not find the explanation of Ranmaru’s powers very clear, and it’s been a very long while since I last saw that episode, so if anything seems weird, let’s just say canon was vague and roll with it please.)


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Chapter 4 – Lines of Red

Karin was trudging away from her little village. Early that morning she had woke with a start when she felt huge groups of people amassing on the village. She tried to warn the family that took her in, but they told her to “stop lying,” “stop trying to seek attention,” and to “get back to work.”

So with the excuse of going to fetch water from the river, Karin had packed what little she had, took the money from under the floorboards – hey, dead people don’t need money – and left. She felt no remorse for leaving the villagers to their doom. Sure, they took pity on the little orphan girl and took her into the village, but no one really cared about her.

Her adopted family only took her in to show the villagers how nice they were, but the couple had three children of their own and absolutely no time for her. The children in the village were terrible too. They picked on her, the outsider, and laughed at her bright hair color, calling it an eyesore. Red hair was common where she came from, but none of these stupid outsiders knew how to appreciate the beauty of her people.

Karin felt three people coming her way. They probably wouldn’t bother her if she kept her head down but just to be on the safe side, Karin made her way to the wooden bridge standing over a brook and hid under it. She’ll just wait for them to pass and then continue on her way.

As they drew near she heard one of them said, “The village should be close. He said it wouldn’t be too far once we reach the brook.”

They lapsed into silence and Karin held her breath as they crossed the bridge. Suddenly she felt something sharp pressing against her neck.

“Don’t make any sudden movements,” a low voice intoned into her ear. The voice was pitched low, but she could tell it belonged to a child. That was hardly any comfort though, considering many children became ninjas when they were young. “Put your hands above your head and come out of hiding.”

Karin wondered if she was going to be robbed. She followed the instructions and soon found herself standing on one end of the bridge instead of under it. She studied the three people before her. The one threatening her with a sharp white stick of some sort had white hair, green eyes, and red markings on his face. He had a rather severe look on his face for a child. She was surprised to see a young child with purple hair and rust colored eyes present. He looked thin and frail, hardly intimidating at all.

The final person in the group was a boy with a face thinned from hunger and travel, but still looked pleasing to the eye. She would’ve called him cute, but the mark of hunger and travel left him with a hauntingly beautiful look instead. There was a cut on the right side of his face that looked to be in the process of healing. He was dressed in once white clothes. And his chakra. Oh god, his chakra! It was dazzling and beautiful, just like the boy himself. There was an undercurrent of something sad and lonely in his chakra, and Karin found herself wanting to remove that burden from him, to witness the full brunt of his dazzling chakra.

“Now what is a pretty young lady like you doing, spying on our group?” Dazzling Chakra asked her.

“You think I’m pretty?”

“Answer the question,” Somber Face said.

“I wasn’t! I wasn’t spying on you. I was just hiding until you guys passed by.”

“She’s telling the truth,” Frail Boy said.

Dazzling Chakra nodded to Somber Face and Somber Face removed his weapon slowly from her neck.

“I heard you were heading to the village near here,” Karin said.

“Yes.”

“Don’t go. It’s already been burned down by now.” Dazzling Chakra gave her a look that said, “go on,” and so she explained, “I came from that village. I fled because I felt a bunch of people coming. It’s the war. My village will just become another casualty of war.”

“War?”

“Yes. There’s something big going on in Kirigakure, a revolt I think, and it’s affecting the small villages in the area.”

“Kirigakure,” Dazzling Chakra murmured. “I see. Thank you for telling us.” Then he smiled. Karin blushed as red as her hair.

“Um,” she fidgeted with her shirt, “What’s your name?”

“Sasuke.”

“Sasuke…” she repeated. Her heart thumped.

“These are my companions, Ranmaru and Kimimaro.”

Karin barely noticed Kimimaro giving her a dead fish stare and Ranmaru bowing politely.

“My name’s Karin.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Karin-san.” Another smile. Oh, she could die happy right now. “We must be on our way now. We still have need of a map, and it looks like this village is a miss.”

“Oh, I have a map,” Karin offered. She quickly pulled it out from her pack. “We’re right here,” she pointed.

Sasuke seemed shocked by her forthrightness, but nonetheless leaned forward to study the map. She took a long deep whiff of his smell. Ahh, he smelled so nice. Kimimaro noticed and glared at her. She turned her nose up at him.

“Would it be all right if I buy this map from you?” Sasuke asked. “I don’t have much money but-”

“Oh, just take it.”

“Ahh… Thank you.” A hesitant smile. Karin sighed blissfully.

“Can I come with you? I wandered around Kiri a bit before settling down at my old village, so I know some parts of the land. And now that my village is burned down I have nowhere else to go,” Karin said in earnest.

“Back off,” Kimimaro stuck an arm between Karin and Sasuke. She had not noticed that she was leaning forward so much. Sasuke was starting to look uncomfortable. She pouted but backed off. Sasuke breathed a sigh of relief.

He studied her and seemed to be thinking about her request. She clasped her hands together and tried to look as earnest and helpful as she could. Finally he settled on a decision. “All right,” he said haltingly. “I’m not sure where you want to go from here, but we’re heading to Konoha. We can travel together if it’s along the way for you.”

“Oh, it’s totally along the way,” Karin assured him.

“Well then… it seems we have a new companion,” he said to his friends. “Welcome to the group,” he told her.

She sighed again, an amorous smile on her face.

xxx

They were taking a lunch break by a river when Sasuke commented, “Were you originally from Uzushiogakure?”

“How did you guess? I am part of the Uzumaki clan,” Karin said.

“Ah, I thought so. Your red hair, it’s a common trait of the Uzumaki, or so I’ve heard.”

Karin grew self-conscious as she fiddled with the ends of her hair. “Is it weird?”

“Huh?”

“My red hair. I mean, it’s so bright and red and stuff. It’s an eyesore, don’t you think so?”

Sasuke tilted his head in confusion, “I think it’s a lovely color. It’s uncommon in Konoha.”

Karin flushed to the tips of her ears. “Y- You really think so?”

“There is someone with the name of Uzumaki in Konoha.” Sasuke said, completely bulldozing over her question, but she didn’t care. He called her lovely. Well, her hair, but… same difference. “It would be nice if the two of you could meet and become friends.”

“There is an Uzumaki in Konoha? I always knew we couldn’t all be dead, I mean, I’m still here. But when Uzushiogakure was attacked only a few of us survived and we all scattered. I didn’t think I would ever find another one of my clan.”

The smile on Sasuke’s face was wistful and faraway. “I think he would be happy to meet you, too.”

“Hey, Sasuke-kun. How did you get this wound?” Karin reached out a hand to brush against the thin vertical cut that ran from mid-cheek to jaw line on the right side of Sasuke’s face.

Sasuke caught her hand gently before she could touch his scar, and she blushed at their joined hands.

“It’s my fault,” both Kimimaro and Ranmaru said at once.

“Onii-sama was trying to protect me from that missing-nin and got hurt,” Ranmaru sniffed.

“It was my fault. I couldn’t protect Sasuke-sama in time,” Kimimaro said, contrite.

“If anything, it was my fault for not training hard enough. Don’t blame yourselves. And Kimimaro you took care of the missing-nin, so now we don’t have to worry about her following our trail.”

“Onii-sama.”

“Sasuke-sama.”

Sasuke sweatdropped. “And I told you two to drop the honorifics. Just Sasuke is fine.”

Karin swooned. Sasuke was so noble and magnanimous. Not to mention he was still holding her hand. Oh, never mind, he just dropped it. “Can I drop the honorifics, too?” Karin ventured. Kimimaro glared at her. Sasuke opened his mouth, but Karin held up a hand to stop him from answering. “Kyaa! What am I saying? I was being too forward.” Karin buried her face in her hands. Even her neck was blushing this time.

Personally, Sasuke didn’t care if everyone forgo honorifics, it would make everything so much easier, but he had a feeling dropping the honorifics this early in the stage with Karin would be a Bad Idea. He took the out that Karin gave him and shut his mouth.

Karin rolled up her sleeve and offered Sasuke her arm. “I can heal the cut for you. It looks like a relatively new wound so this should work. If you bite down on me I can transfer my chakra to you and heal all your injuries.”

Sasuke’s brow rose, “That sounds like an advanced technique. What are the drawbacks?”

“Drawbacks?” Ranmaru piped up.

Sasuke nodded, “A technique that can heal all wounds at once must have some side effect for the user.”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Karin said.

Sasuke shook his head. “Thank you for offering, but I’m afraid I will have to decline. I am not grievously injured. As a ninja a little scarring is nothing. I won’t have you suffer for a vanity project.”

Karin couldn’t hold it back anymore. She launched herself at Sasuke and glomped him to her chest. “Oh, how can you be so wonderful?” She squealed.

“Karin-san, unhand Sasuke-sama this moment!” Kimimaro prided her off.

Sasuke was beet red. He looked so cute that Karin just wanted to grab him again.

The scar wasn’t that bad. In fact, it made Sasuke look a little dangerous, which in turn translated to cool. Yeah, Karin could learn to like that scar. Not to mention every time she sees it now she will remember this moment.

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Author’s Note: Since I stopped watching Naruto after the part where Chiyo revives Gaara, the characterization of characters that shows up after that point (i.e. Karin) is from reading Naruto Wiki, so excuse the inconsistencies if the character seems out of character, because I wrote them based on my impression from reading a text description of their personality. You could also say that the difference between the character’s canon age and their age in this fan fiction contributes to differences in their personality.

Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 3

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Chapter 3 – Breaking Down the Lines

Kimimaro sat in his little man-made burrow and looked up at the world through the bone white bars he constructed. His entire clan was dead and he did not know what to do. When his clan was alive, he was always kept inside a cage – much like this one – until they had need of his powers in battle. Only then would he be let out of the cage. Kimimaro hated fighting, but he hated the cage even more. So he would fight. He would fight and kill and bleed for his clan if it meant proving his worth and leaving that cage.
Story by Vanilla Muse
But now his entire clan was dead, and he didn’t know what to do.

He had made this cage and holed himself up in it because it was familiar. If he wasn’t fighting then he belonged in a cage. That was what his clan had always said. But now they were dead and there was no one to tell him such things, or give him orders.

He didn’t know what to do.

He knew he would have to leave eventually. If he stayed in the cage without food he would die, but for now he tried to find comfort in the familiar. Sometimes he wondered if he waited long enough, thought hard enough, or searched far enough, maybe he would find out what his new purpose should be.

Light footsteps approached. By the time he registered the sound a shadow had fallen over his form. He looked up, and passed the bone bars there knelt a boy all dressed in white. He looked ragged and worn and his clothes were stained with blood and dirt, but he was smiling gently down at Kimimaro and the sunlight outlined him from behind like an ethereal glow.

“I found you,” the boy said, his voice gentle and lilting.

Kimimaro’s breath caught.

The boy was beautiful.

“Why are you in this… place?” the boy asked.

“My clan is dead. I have nowhere to go,” Kimimaro found himself admitting.

The boy frowned. Kimimaro hated to see the smile go. No one had ever smiled so benignly at him before. All the smiles he saw before were full of teeth and bloodlust.

“I see…” the boy murmured to himself. “I think I understand now.” Then to Kimimaro he said, “If you have no clan and nowhere to go then join me. Become my brother and I will bestow my clan’s name unto you.” He held out a hand to Kimimaro, extending it through the bars. “Are you willing to be my brethren?”

Kimimaro’s eyes widened in disbelief. The sunlight seemed to shine even brighter around the boy with those words. Could this be god’s answer to his prayer? Was this his new purpose now?

He reached out to take the outstretched hand, and as he did so the bone bars became brittle and he easily broke free of the cage. The hand in his was warm and calloused, and so small but firm.

“My name is Uchiha Sasuke. What is your name?”

“…Kimimaro. U- Uchiha Kimimaro.”

Sasuke looked surprised at first and Kimimaro wondered if he was too audacious in assuming the boy’s name, but before Kimimaro could apologize for his transgression Sasuke smiled at him, gentle and warm, and Kimimaro wished he would just keep on smiling at him like that all the time.

“Welcome to the family, Kimimaro.”

Kimimaro’s face felt warm and strange. Later he would learn that he was blushing and that his lips were smiling without his knowledge.

Kimimaro followed Sasuke into a thicket of trees. Nestled in the hollow of an old tree was a little boy, no more than four years of age. The boy had purple hair cut into a blunt bob and rust colored eyes.

“Ranmaru, I found him,” Sasuke announced. Ranmaru, the purple-haired boy smiled. He looked frail and weak. Sasuke then introduced the two of them.

“Is he part of… o- our clan, too?” Kimimaro wondered.

“Ah… it’s not quite like that,” Sasuke replied. “I found Ranmaru when his village was in the midst of kicking him out and decided to bring him back to Konoha with me. As we were traveling Ranmaru suddenly… well, he sensed something and he told me-”

“You will find what you need in a burrow one click east of here,” Ranmaru recited.

“Ranmaru has a unique ability,” Sasuke explained.

“Find what you need…” Kimimaro repeated. He turned to Sasuke with hopeful eyes, “You need me?”

“Well, ah, yes. It would be helpful to have another fighter in the group. I’m being chased by missing-nin and Ranmaru can’t defend himself.”

“I understand, Sasuke-sama. I, Uchiha Kimimaro, will be your sword and your shield, from henceforth until the day I die.”

Sasuke looked truly flustered. “That’s not what I meant.” At Kimimaro’s straightforward stare, Sasuke blinked and then adopted a somber expression. “As clansmen we guard each other’s back. I will protect you, as you will protect me.”

Kimimaro bowed. “I am honored, Sasuke-sama.”

The flustered tone was back. “Ah, please, just Sasuke is fine.”

“As you wish, Sasuke-sama.”

Sasuke blinked at Kimimaro, at a lost for words.

“I didn’t know Kimimaro was your clansmen,” Ranmaru spoke up. “What a co-in-ci-dence.” He pronounced the word carefully as children were wont to do when they learned new words.

Sasuke smiled. “Actually, we became family just now.”

Family.

Kimimaro marveled at the word.

“Huh? I don’t understand. How did you become family if you weren’t born in the same family?” Ranmaru asked.

Sasuke knelt down and petted Ranmaru’s hair. “Family comes in many forms, Ranmaru. You have your biological family, um, that’s your blood related family, and then you have the family that you make as you create ties with people.”

“Oh. I see.” Ranmaru got silent as he went deep in thought.

“Anyways,” Sasuke addressed both of them, “we shouldn’t stay in one place for too long. I… I killed one of the missing-nin, but there’s still one more after me and she might recruit more people to hunt me down.”

“You killed one of them,” Kimimaro looked Sasuke up and down, he did not seem to be carrying any weapon, “with what may I ask?”

Sasuke pulled out a spool of ninja wire from his pocket. “I strangled him.” He smiled sardonically.

Kimimaro didn’t much like the smile on Sasuke’s face at the moment. It looked like he was hurting somehow. “Were you injured?”

Sasuke looked shocked and vaguely sick by the question but before he could answer Ranmaru tugged on his hand.

“Hey, hey. Can I join your family, too?”

“Huh?”

“Well, Kimimaro-san did it, and you’ve known him for a shorter time than me right? So shouldn’t I be able to join your family, too? I’ve known you for longer,” Ranmaru reasoned. Such was the logic of a child. Sasuke wanted to say that quality time was more important than quantity time when it came to establishing bonds, but at the stubborn set of Ranmaru’s mouth Sasuke gave up that battle for a lost cause before even beginning it.

He ruffled Ranmaru’s hair. “Sure, Ranmaru. You can join the family, too.”

The purple-haired child grinned. “So now I’m Uchiha Ranmaru, right? Right?”

Sasuke chuckled, “If you insist. Welcome to the family, Ranmaru.”

Ranmaru beamed at him.

Sasuke stood up. “Let’s be on our way. We have a long way to go and frankly I have no idea how to get back to Konoha. We will need to procure a map first.”

“That means we need to find a town or a village,” Kimimaro inputted.

“Yes.”

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 2

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Chapter 2 – The Line Between Living and Dead

Uzumaki Naruto was walking through the marketplace with his head bowed, as if doing so could shield him from all the harsh whispers and glares. He wouldn’t even have come to the marketplace if he didn’t need to buy groceries for the week. As he trudged through the main street with a frown on his face, he passed by a stand with a rack of porcelain masks on display.
Story by Vanilla Muse
Naruto was instantly drawn to a mask that was created in the image of a fox. He thought it reminded him of the masks that the nice ninja who protected him from the shadows wore. His feet stalled as he stopped to admire the mask, and without conscious thought he reached out a hand to touch the fox mask on the snout.

Immediately the shop owner was bearing down on him with a broom. “Don’t touch my merchandise with your filthy hands, you little monster!” He swatted at Naruto’s hand with the broom. Naruto flinched. His hand brushed the mask causing it to drop from the display. The man took another swipe at Naruto with his broom, and Naruto hightailed away.

He wiped at his eyes angrily as he ran. He would not cry. He didn’t do anything wrong. Naruto ran until he was far from the marketplace. He took a breather at a desolated park. There was a dried up fountain in the middle of the park. He climbed into the white stone structure and curled his small body up against the side of the fountain. Unless someone got close enough, they wouldn’t be able to see him sitting inside the fountain.

Inside the fountain, surrounded by a stone barrier, Naruto focused the force of his glare at the cracked stone statue situated in the middle of the fountain. The statue used to spout water, but not anymore. Like the rest of the park, it was dried up and lifeless.

Naruto kicked at the fountain’s base and cursed at his life. He didn’t understand it. Why was he born to live such a horrible life? What had he done to make the villagers hate him so much?

“Why are you sitting inside the fountain by yourself?” A soft, melodic voice questioned him. The voice came from directly behind him.

Naruto let out a shrill yelp. He simultaneously turned around to face the speaker and shuffled backwards away from the person. He stopped scuttling backwards on his bum when his brain registered the speaker. It was a young child about his age. Just one child, Naruto thought, if things got nasty he was strong enough to defend himself from one brat.

The child had an inquisitive and half-amused look on their cherubic face. Soft black hair framed the genderless face in long strands and a short tail of hair was tied at the nape of the neck. The child wore a simple white high-collared t-shirt and white shorts. Bandages were wrapped around the child’s small hands.

“Wha- what? Who?”

The child smiled, clearly amused, “I asked what were you doing in the fountain by yourself.”

“None of your business!” Naruto declared, defensively. He didn’t like the smile on the kid’s face. When people were amused, it was usually at his expense.

“Oh,” the smile dropped and the child looked thoughtful for a brief moment. “I suppose you’re right. Pardon me for asking.”

Par- what? Naruto had no idea what that word meant. Was the kid mocking him? Before Naruto could give the brat a piece of his mind, the kid pulled out something from behind and presented it to Naruto.

“Here. You dropped this.”

It was the porcelain fox mask.

“Huh? It’s not mine.”

“Well, the shopkeeper wouldn’t take it back, so I assume it must not be his anymore. And if it’s not his, then it must belong to you now.” With that leap of logic, the child nodded as if to end the discussion, and then the child placed the mask in the fountain like an offering, handling it with both hands.

The child stood up and picked up a giant brown bag full of groceries. “I must be going. I only came to return the mask to you. You take care now.” When the child turned to go Naruto could clearly see the red and white fan embroidered on the back of the shirt.

“Oh.” The child paused and rummaged in the brown bag a bit. “Here!” The child tossed him a small wax lined baggie. Naruto caught the little white bag. It was warm. “Steamed pork bun from the Fukui Teahouse. It’s good.” Then the child smiled. The sunlight hit the child just so and reflected off of the white clothing, making the child appear to glow. It was like rainbows, sparkles, and blooming flowers. Naruto thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his short miserable life.

Naruto sat there in the cold stone fountain with a warm bun in his hands completely flabbergasted. When his brain regained coherency that beautiful child was long gone.

The bread had gone cold by the time Naruto decided to try it. He knew better than to accept food from strangers, but he couldn’t bring himself to just throw away what looked to be perfectly good food and he didn’t smell anything wrong with the bun either. Eventually he gave into temptation and took a hesitant bite of the bun. A lump formed in his throat. It wasn’t due to the pork bun; even cold the pork bun was still good. He realized that he hadn’t asked the name of the child and wondered if he would ever meet that kind person again.

The latter half of the pork bun was flavored with salty tears, but Naruto had never tasted such a delicious bun. And when he didn’t get sick from the bread later that day, Naruto felt a flutter of hope in his chest; hope that the kindness freely given was real.

xxx

The red and white uchiwa fan was the emblem of the Uchiha clan. They served as Konoha’s police force and lived in a special compound just like all the other clans in Konoha. They used to prowl the streets of Konoha, keeping the peace, but as of late, not a single Uchiha has been seen in the village’s main proper. Naruto fumed at that. He had planned to find an Uchiha and tail them home to their compound. From there it would only be a matter of time before he tracked down that child with the pork bun.

It took some snooping and dreaded researching, but eventually Naruto found the location of the Uchiha Compound. It was situated on the outskirts of the village, far from the Hokage Tower. When he arrived at the Uchiha gates he expected to be cursed at and chased away, instead he found opened gates and not a soul in sight.

Naruto tiptoed through the Compound with his shoulders hunched up, as if doing so could protect him from the eerie quietness of the place. Did the glowing white child with the pork bun really live in this desolate place? There were absolutely no signs of life.

“What are you doing here?”

“AHHHH!” Naruto screamed. He backpedaled away from the ANBU that suddenly appeared before him. “What are you doing here?” He demanded instead. The ANBU did not answer. Naruto squinted at the falcon mask but could not read the face under the porcelain mask at all. He huffed. “I’m looking for… a Uchiha,” Naruto finished lamely. He kicked himself mentally for not asking the child’s name.

“There is no Uchiha in this compound now. All that’s left are ghosts.”

“Ghosts…?”

“Leave,” the ANBU commanded and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Choosing not to heed the ANBU’s words, Naruto returned to the Compound consecutively for a week. He scoured the Compound from front to end, but it was as the ANBU had said. There were no signs of life.

Naruto shuddered and frowned.

Was Pork Bun really a ghost?

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Author’s Note: For now, this story is being told from POVs outside of Sasuke, so the reader will have to extrapolate from the context how much Sasuke actually knows about the Naruto-verse and what are his plans for his new life there or if he even has any. Of course, things often happen outside of his expectations (like kidnapping) so his plans will have to constantly change to adapt. Likely, by the end of it all, Sasuke’s plans will look nothing like his original intentions. Because messing with him is so fun. I also won’t divulge his past life in full detail, because a lot of people seem to find that stuff boring, but there will be hints of it based on his actions and reactions.

 

Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 1

General Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto Masashi.


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Chapter 1 – Falling in Line

When the nurse came into the room, Uchiha Sasuke was already awake. The boy lied in bed; eyes open, but gaze blank, as he stared up at the white ceiling. Mina was the boy’s designated nurse. At first it was considered an honor of sorts that the upper echelon entrusted her with the daily care of the Last Uchiha, but as she watched over the boy during his comatose state, Mina came to realize exactly what that title meant for the too young boy.

She shook her head and tried for a smile to make her voice chipper as she entered the private room and closed the door behind her. “Oh good, you’re awake! How are you feeling?” She approached to check his vitals.

Sasuke blinked his eyes slowly and tilted his head just slightly to be able to look at her. He seemed to look through her, his mind not all there. He turned to the ceiling, looked back at her, and then away again. Mina didn’t let it get to her. Disorientation was to be expected from this patient, especially after what the boy’s brother had done to him. She finished checking his vitals. Everything looked okay.

“Head… hurts…” The boy croaked out. “Con… cussion?”

“No, Uchiha-kun. You don’t have a concussion. It’s likely a lingering effect from the genjutsu,” she explained gently.

The boy’s eyebrows scrunched up in confusion. Then his eyes widened and his pupils dilated as realization struck him. He shot up in bed. “Where is he? That bastard! Was he caught? What am I… what am I doing here? I thought I… I thought he-” the boy touched one hand to his neck delicately in a protective gesture, the other arm wrapped around the front of his body like a shield, “I thought I died…”

Mina raised her hands in a placating gesture. “You’re fine Sasuke-kun,” she said, switching to his given name instead of his surname. Maybe the reminder of his family name was causing him distress. “You’re not dead. You have no physical damage. But I regret to inform you that Itachi was not caught.”

“What? What are you talking about? He… he choked me to death! I… I… I should be dead! Why am I- what am I doing here?”

She pressed the button to call for help incase the boy became violent. “That was just an illusion in the genjutsu,” she tried to reason with him. The boy did not have any signs of strangulation marks on his neck or any other physical marks when they found him. “Please, Sasuke-kun, calm down! Don’t agitate yourself too much.”

The boy looked at her with confusion, as if unable to comprehend the words coming from her mouth, but he seemed to be thinking at least and no longer in hysterics. Good, Mina thought. At that moment the door swung open. A veteran medic-nin and his apprentice entered the room. “What’s the situation?” The medic-nin demanded as he approached Sasuke’s bedside. His apprentice trotted behind with a clipboard in his hand.

Mina tried to explain that the patient was in hysterics, but is better now when all of a sudden Sasuke started screaming and shuffling backwards in the bed. “Get away! Get away from me!” He threw the pillow at the medic-nin and the apprentice and started reaching for other things to throw.

They were all startled at first, but soon the three move in unison to subdue the patient. When the medic-nin and his apprentice got close, Sasuke’s hysteria rose. They soon got the young boy subdued, however, and into an enforced sleep.

“It seems the patient’s mental state is much worse than we first anticipated,” the medic-nin noted. “Keep monitoring him for changes.”

“Understood.”

“What a horrible thing to do to your own little brother,” the apprentice remarked. Mina could not help agreeing and pitying the poor boy. And to think the one time she met Itachi, he was such a polite young man.

xxx

The second time the boy woke up he was much calmer. When Mina entered the room it was to find Sasuke sitting up, propped by his pillow and staring out into the village. When she approached him, he requested a mirror. Perplexed by the strange request, she nonetheless brought him the requested item.

Sasuke took the mirror with trembling hands, as if frightened to look at his own reflection. Mina wondered why that might be. The boy looked at his reflection. His eyes widened at the sight, but then became half-lidded and dull as if in resignation. He stared at his reflection until she finally took the mirror away and proceeded to check his blood pressure and other vitals. All clear.

“How are you today, Sasuke-kun?” She asked gently. The boy gave her a half-dead look that startled her, but she tried to keep her smile firm and her eyes gentle. Eventually he opened his mouth, but then the medic-nin came in to check on the patient.

“How is he today?” He asked.

Sasuke gave a visible start and backed away from the approaching doctor with frightened eyes, his legs coming up like a shield. The medic-nin noticed this and paused in his step. Man and boy stared at each other until the medic-nin took a step back and the patient slowly loosened up from his defensive curl.

“Sorry,” the boy murmured. “I- I don’t know why- I couldn’t help- I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He sobbed.

“Shh. It’s okay, Sasuke-kun,” Mina said. She glanced at the medic-nin and he took the message to step out for now. He closed the door behind him with a soft clack. She approached the patient who was crying now. Giant tears rolled down his chubby cheeks and too small face. She held him as he cried- broken and breathless sobs- and her heart went out to him. “You’re safe now, Sasuke-kun. He’s gone. He won’t hurt you anymore. You’re safe.”

They kept him in the hospital longer than necessary to monitor his mental state. It seemed that Sasuke became agitated at the presence of grown men when he wasn’t prepared for it, but he was fine in the presence of female personnel. Upon noticing this, the staff switched around their shifts so that only women would be tending to Sasuke at the beginning, but eventually they had to expose him to some male personnel to evaluate his reaction to them, to see if he was fit to be reintroduced to the village. To their relief, there was marked improvement in Sasuke’s reaction to men.

As days passed and he became more orientated, Sasuke’s mental health improved. His crying sessions with his designated nurse, Mina, seemed to contribute greatly to his improvement. In the first few days after he first awoke, Sasuke would often times stare off into space lost in thought, and then all of a sudden the waterworks would come on. At those moments, Mina would hold him as he cried and murmur gentle reassurances into his ear. “It’s okay now.” “You’re safe.” “He’s gone.” “It’s not your fault.” “It’s all his fault. He was in the wrong.” “He won’t hurt you anymore.” “You’ll get through this.” “You’re a strong boy.”

Eventually Uchiha Sasuke was discharged from the hospital, and he was escorted back to the Uchiha Compound by ANBU.

Upon arriving at the main house, Sasuke stood at the entrance as if lost and uncertain.

“Do I…” Sasuke licked his dry lips, “Do I have to live here?” He asked his ANBU escort.

ANBU Wolf knelt to the boy’s level and informed him as gently as an on-duty ANBU could be, “The Hokage is willing to get you settled in an apartment outside of the Compound if you wish.”

Sasuke bit his lip in hesitation. “No. No, I think I want to stay here… in the Uchiha Compound. Is there- is there an uninhabited house I may stay in?”

ANBU Wolf nodded and showed Sasuke the properties that were uninhabited before the massacre. Sasuke chose a moderate two-story house with a training field and an empty pond in the back. The ANBU helped Sasuke moved things in as directed, stocked the pantry and refrigerator, and generally did their best to help the boy get settled in.

“Is there anything else you require Sasuke-san?”

Sasuke shook his head. “Thank you,” he murmured. If the boy’s voice sounded a little shaky and uncertain, ANBU Wolf did not comment on it, instead he nodded and Body Flickered to a nearby tree to begin sitting watch over the Last Uchiha.

xxx

The ANBU kept a twenty-four hour watch over Sasuke in shifts. The ANBU watch was necessary to ensure that the Uchiha traitor did not come back to finish off the Last Loyal Uchiha, and to monitor the boy’s mental state. Mostly they kept out of sight and relied on the telltale sign of a sudden spike in chakra to tell if the boy was distressed or relapsing. This served to provide the boy with some measure of privacy, but even when not directly observing, the ANBU was well aware of Uchiha Sasuke’s activities.

For the first day, Sasuke did nothing but putter around his new home in a mindless sort of trance. He sorted through the objects in the house, skimmed through a few books and scrolls without focus, and made simple meals. Mostly, he just stared off into space in silent contemplation.

The second day was much of the same, except Sasuke went behind the house to putter in the training field instead of inside the house. When that got boring, he sat by the side of the empty pond and skipped stones half-heartedly. Eventually, he fell asleep while cloud gazing. After the sun had set, ANBU Wolf carried him back inside.

The third day marked the beginning of change. Sasuke went far out to the edge of the training field. There, he dug a shallow hole and pulled out a stack of paper dolls from his pocket. There were scribbles written on each doll, but the scribbles were indecipherable without further analysis. Sasuke murmured under his breath as he burned the dolls one by one and sprinkled the ashes into the hole. He buried the ashes and piled stones on top of the freshly turned earth. Then he poured water from the pond over the stones, like he was cleaning them. Finally he gathered a bouquet of wildflowers and laid them before the stones.

Then… he cried.

On the fourth day, Sasuke began his day with a complicated set of stretches that required a great deal of flexibility. They weren’t the standard Academy stretches or katas, so it was hard to imagine that his parents or maybe his brother might have taught it to him. Sasuke repeated the set of stretches three times and became a little more fluid each time. Then he cooked a decent sized breakfast.

He spent the rest of the morning scribbling in code in a diary. After lunch, he went out into the field. He tumbled around in the grass by himself, performing back flips and cartwheels. He climbed trees and leaped from them nimbly like a cat. He skipped around the field, did flips and spins in the air, and in general, looked like he was playing by himself. At the end of the serious of exercises, he was sweating and only just slightly short on breath, which was to be expected of a serious clan child like Uchiha Sasuke, who trained constantly. After dinner, he perused the books in his new study room, and fell asleep with a scroll in his hands.

Two days later, as Sasuke begins to show progressive signs of recovery, ANBU Wolf approached him at the behest of the Council.

“Sasuke-san, the Elders would like to know if you feel ready to return to the Academy at this time,” the ANBU intoned.

The light that was beginning to return to the boy’s face over the past few days dimmed and his eyes glazed over. Sasuke sniffed. “Will they force me to go if I say no?”

ANBU Wolf did not reply right away. When he did, it was in an unhesitant and monotonous voice, “I will rely whatever answer you wish to give to Hokage-sama himself. The final decision will be up to the Elders.”

“I see…”

In a voice that was just slightly less emotionless than before, ANBU Wolf said, “Give your most honest answer, Sasuke-san. I’m sure Hokage-sama will be understanding of your circumstances.”

Sasuke managed a partial smile. “Thank you, Wolf-san.” The ANBU gave no reaction to the name. Sasuke took in a deep breath to fortify himself, “Please tell the Hokage I do not want to return to the Academy.”

There was a note of finality in the boy’s voice, but ANBU Wolf did not comment on it. There was no way that the Last Uchiha would be allowed to quit the Academy completely. But time, the time to heal, at least, could be afforded to the boy.

“As you wish, Sasuke-san.”

Sasuke sighed like he dodged a kunai, but the relief was short lived. It was evident by the resigned look in his eyes that Sasuke knew he couldn’t avoid the Academy forever.

xxx

A month later, Sasuke was as well adjusted as a boy who had witnessed the murder of his entire clan at the hands of his beloved elder brother could be. He woke up screaming and thrashing from nightmares every morning and he didn’t speak much but it was more of a personal choice rather than a side effect of trauma.

Everyday Sasuke would set aside a chunk of time to jog and to perform his little self-play of tumbles and cartwheels in the training field. Asides from that, the rest of the day followed no particular pattern, Sasuke seemed to do whatever struck his fancy at the time. He’d read through the scrolls and books in his study with the fervid interest of a scientist whom had discovered a scintillating new species. He experimented with new recipes in the kitchen. He walked through the Compound, studying every house and alleyway, and salvaging seemingly random objects. When he felt like it- and when he needed groceries- he would stroll through the village and marketplace with no particular destination in mind.

Sasuke went around to all the training fields in Konoha, and was immediately taken by a field crowded with tall ancient trees. The training area, which was in effect a forest, was located close to the village’s boundaries, which wasn’t too far from the Uchiha Compound, and far away from the noise pollution of the main streets. Sasuke started to take his daily routine into that training field. This time he incorporated ninja wire.

He’d wind the ninja wire around the thick branches to form makeshift swings and then he’d flittered around the trees like a monkey. Sometimes he performed complicated aerial maneuvers that would give any mother a heart attack. When he had familiarized himself with the lay of the forest area, he would even go about his routine with his eyes closed. It was all very fascinating and confusing to witness.

Ninja wire came in many forms and had various uses. There were the thin, razor sharp ones that could behead a person, and then there were the thick, sturdy ones that didn’t cut but were used for other purposes, such as setting traps. Sasuke used the latter type in his daily exercise, but ninja wire was still a weapon, an unforgiving tool. At the end of the day Sasuke would go home with calloused and bleeding hands, but he just bandaged them gingerly and continued on nonetheless.

It was during one of these romps in the forested training area that the incident happened.

Sasuke was swinging through the trees with his ninja wire. His hands were calloused enough that it didn’t hurt quite so much anymore and his body was becoming more fluid with moving in a three dimensional space. Flitting through the treetops, Sasuke chanced upon three missing-nin huddled on the forest floor. Judging from their slashed forehead protectors they were once ninja of Kirigakure.

Sasuke was so shocked that he didn’t react quickly enough. In retrospect, this training area was close to the village borders, so missing-nin trying to slip into the village through this area was not an improbability, though difficult and rare. He had the presence of mind to retrace his steps for help or to hide in the canopy and perhaps eavesdrop, but the missing-nin spotted him before he could commit to either action and he was brought down. He tried to resist, but the three grown ninja had him pinned and tied in a flash.

As they towered over him, fear entered Sasuke’s eyes and he began to shake. His pupils dilated and he fought to remain coherent even as his mind threatened to retreat into murky memories.

“Hey, look at the emblem on his back. Isn’t he the one we came for?”

“Uchiha,” another one sneered.

“Say, have you activated your Sharingan yet boy?”

Foreign hands grabbed him by the face and tried to prod at his eyes. He thrashed as his eyes slipped in and out of focus, caught in a time between present and past. His screams for help were muffled behind a gag.

A string of silver glittered in the dappled sunlight. Ninja wire wrapped around a missing-nin’s neck and pulled taut. The flesh constricted, pressure built until the skin caved in and blood spurted out. Warm red liquid splattered over Sasuke’s face and chest.

Everything went still and then battle erupted in the next second. The body of a fourth missing-nin dropped to the forest ground. Dead. Two Leaf ANBU leaped in to engage the missing-nin. Their masks proclaimed them as Wolf and Boar.

The fight that ensued was bloody and quick. Sasuke couldn’t follow the action, and even if he could, he didn’t want to. He paid enough attention to know when to roll out of the way, but for the most part, he tried to block out the violence, the blood, and the death.

There was a fifth missing-nin that managed to get the drop on the ANBU, leading to Wolf getting a nasty slash diagonally across the collarbone, and Boar receiving a kunai to the calf. While the ANBU was distracted, one of the missing-nin threw Sasuke over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Her companion threw down a smoke bomb and the two missing-nin escaped from Konoha with the Last Uchiha.

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This story will contain LGBTQ+ themes and scenarios, but family and friendship is still the main focus, so any romance will be a slow burn subplot.