Chapter 15 – The Unwitting Life Line
“Naruto. Your left side is too open.” Sasuke observed.
“Huh? How?” Naruto dropped his arms from the guard position he brought up when Sasuke went in for an ax kick.
“When you block like that, you- never mind. You learn better by doing don’t you? So let me show you instead,” Sasuke said, and with that he took a stance and resumed their taijutsu training.
Somehow Naruto had progressed from being just a classmate to becoming Sasuke’s friend. It was one of those relationships that grew inconspicuously and by the time you realized it, it had already sprouted all over you like a fungi, and was still multiplying by the minute.
It began with a rather rambunctious prank in class. Iruka-sensei was covering history; something that Sasuke tried hard to pay attention to since he wasn’t a great Naruto fanatic before and so did not retain much future knowledge to help him along. It probably didn’t matter considering the changes already wrought, but every advantage helped. And Naruto was being disruptive in class because according to him history was boring and had no use in the present. Fed up with Naruto’s antics, Sasuke shouted for him to stop, which he surprisingly complied with.
Then Sasuke found out the real reason that Naruto had stopped was because in Sasuke’s irritation he had dropped honorifics with Naruto’s name, and the blond would not let that go. Sasuke tried to revert back to honorifics, but the damage was already done. So it was with some trepidation that Sasuke finally acknowledged that he and Naruto were friends; and probably had been friends for a while now.
Once coming to the conclusion that they were friends, Sasuke simply could not ignore the hot mess of a student that Naruto was. Naruto often skipped class to pull pranks or to laze around with Shikamaru, Chouji and Kiba. If he was in class then he was sleeping, pulling pranks, or simply zoning out. His taijutsu was horrible and his ninjutsu was laughable. Watching Naruto was like watching a train wreak.
Finally, Sasuke had pulled Naruto aside after school to tutor him from time to time. They started with academics, Naruto’s dreaded enemy.
“Naruto. How do you expect to become Hokage if you don’t pay attention to academics?” Sasuke scolded. Naruto opened his mouth, but Sasuke stopped him, “No, you can’t just beat everyone up on your way to the top. You have to be subtle sometimes and learn tactics.”
Naruto pouted and dropped his forehead onto his workbooks.
Sasuke massaged his nose bridge. “Naruto, do you know what the Sandaime’s nickname is?”
Sasuke held back a snort. “Try the other one.”
“It’s Professor, you idiot.” Karin interjected. She was sitting in the living room with them, reading through a medical scroll. More scrolls on human anatomy and fuuinjutsu were piled next to her.
“Professor?” Naruto repeated.
“Yes, and why do you think that is?”
“Um, ‘cause he’s smart?”
“Really? That perverted old man is smart?”
“Yes, and if you want to be Hokage then you should at least make an effort.”
“Not that he has much going on in that department,” Karin jibed.
Naruto growled. “I’ll show you,” he pointed his pencil at Karin, “I’ll pass the next exam, dattebayo!”
“Only pass it?” There was a challenge written in the quirk of her eyebrow.
“I- I’ll score a hundred on it!”
“Not likely,” Karin scoffed.
Steam leaked from Naruto’s ears. “Sasuke! Explain this section to me.”
Sasuke chuckled. “Okay, okay. Now pay attention.”
Turns out, with patient one-on-one teaching and a bit of ribbing from Karin, Naruto was a very motivated student. He still had a short attention span, but for the periods he did focus, he was actually a pretty good student.
The next area that Sasuke worked on with Naruto was taijutsu. Naruto had such a big pool of chakra that conventional teachings just wasn’t the best fit for him, but Sasuke couldn’t help holding on to a secret hope that Naruto would fail the exam so that he would then learn his signature move, and not to mention learn about the responsibility he carried within him.
Thus, it was with those conflicting thoughts that Sasuke and Naruto were working on their taijutsu after school. As expected, Naruto learned best by doing. Sasuke repeatedly aimed for Naruto’s weak spots, and after getting hit in the same areas again and again, Naruto was learning to watch out for those openings.
Naruto wasn’t the only one to benefit from their training sessions. The blond was not known as the most surprising ninja for nothing. His fighting style was even more unorthodox and creative than Sasuke and Karin. Fighting against Naruto taught Sasuke to think outside of the box. In some ways it was exhilarating to fight against Naruto, and Sasuke always looked forward to what new tricks and traps Naruto might use.
Sasuke considered it a victory as a teacher when Naruto managed to force him back and knock him into the pond. Of course Karin threw a fit and then proceeded to kick Naruto into a tree.
It was just another day at the Uchiha residence.
“Sasuke-sensei! As always your advice is spot on. At first my beautiful lotus blossom kept rejecting my offers to go to a teahouse, but today she finally agreed! This ohagi is a souvenir from the teahouse. Please accept it with my compliments.”
“Lee-san…” Sasuke sweatdropped at the parcel of sweets being pushed into his face. Then he brightened with an idea. “I would love to share this with Naruto… But I’m a little held up at the moment. Will you help me deliver this ohagi to Naruto? Let him know that you bought it and that it’s from the heart. If you don’t deliver it within five minutes then upon delivery you must immediately go and run five laps around Konoha.”
“Yes! I will do as you say, Sasuke-sensei!” With that Lee ran off in search of Naruto, leaving Sasuke coughing in the dust he left behind.
“That was very mischievous of you,” Ranmaru grinned up at him.
Sasuke smiled and patted Ranmaru on the head. “Just having a little fun.”
Ranmaru giggled and followed Sasuke inside.
“Please stop banging on my front door like that. You’ll knock it down,” Sasuke chided.
“It happened again.”
Sasuke studied Naruto’s eyebrow with a critical eye. “They look the same as usual to me.”
“No, I mean Fuzzy Eyebrows, he gave me ohagi this time and said they were from the heart, dattebayo! How am I supposed to handle this? You’re the love expert right?”
“I keep telling you people I’m not some love guru.” Sasuke heaved an exaggerated sigh. “And?”
“And? I need help, dattebayo!”
“I mean did you accept it? The ohagi that is.”
“Well, yeah. It’s free food. And Fuzzy Eyebrows ran off so even if I wanted to I couldn’t give them back.”
“Then, did you eat them?”
“Free food, Sasuke.”
“Right,” Sasuke’s smile was indulgent and amused. “By accepting the gift and then consuming it, you are essentially accepting the giver’s feelings for you.”
“I’m sorry Naruto, but it’s too late to turn back now.” Sasuke patted Naruto’s shoulder in commiseration. “You’re going to have to accept responsibility for what you’ve done.”
“Noooo!” Naruto wailed grabbing onto his sunshine locks. “Say it isn’t so Sasuke!”
“You’re the one who led him on.” Sasuke shook his head. “You shouldn’t be playing around with Lee-san’s feelings like that. Lee-san is a very pure and straightforward individual.”
“Not even Sasuke is on my side anymore?!”
“Shame on you, Naruto-nii-san. Lee-nii-san is going to be very hurt by this,” Ranmaru piped up. He had followed Sasuke to the front door when he heard Naruto shouting.
“Even Ranmaru is saying this…” Naruto deflated. A cloud of doom hung over his head.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be upfront and honest about your feelings towards Lee-san. Don’t lead him on anymore than this, Naruto.” Sasuke said sternly.
Naruto straightened up. “You’re right. I have to clear up this misunderstanding.” Without so much as a by your leave, Naruto was running off in search of Lee.
As soon as the hyperactive blond was out of sight, Ranmaru and Sasuke looked at each other. Then they broke down into peals of laughter, right there, standing at the front door.
From the training field behind the house, Kimimaro and Juugo startled at the sound. They stopped their training and peered into the hallway to see Sasuke and Ranmaru doubled over with laughter. For a rare moment, Sasuke looked like the eleven-year-old child that he was supposed to be, instead of the clan head that he tried to be.
From a second story window of the house next door, Karin pouted after Naruto’s retreating form with envy. Sasuke had never laughed so freely before Naruto’s arrival.
“I’ve been wondering what’s gotten Naruto and my student so worked up lately,” Gai said sipping at the tea that Sasuke served. He looked at Sasuke from the corner of his eyes. “So you were the culprit.”
“Just having a little fun,” Ranmaru chirped as he bit into a senbei. Then he laughed at something only his eyes could see, “By the way, they’re still blushing when they touch each other anywhere that’s not on the arm or the leg.”
“Are you going to tell?” Sasuke teased as he placed down cups of tea for Lee and Naruto.
The two had gotten over their misunderstanding after much blushing, stammering, and youthful declarations, and were now sparring each other in the training field behind the house. Sasuke wished he were there to see it when it happened, but then they would’ve cottoned on to his little prank if he had burst out into laughter at their unfortunate misunderstanding. As of now the two still had no idea that Sasuke had set them up.
“I am glad to see that you are enjoying your youth!” Gai said with a firm nod.
Sasuke just gave the Green Beast a vague smile and munched on a senbei himself.
“Those are some weights you have on.” Gai noted.
Sasuke paused. “As expected from a taijutsu expert,” he remarked and sipped on his tea. Sasuke have been training with weights for some time now. He had upped the weights on his arms and legs just yesterday and was still getting used to the new weight. Gai must’ve noticed the jerkiness in his movements.
“Are you following a regime with your weights? If you’re not careful you can end up causing damage to yourself.”
“I am using reasonable amounts under the consultant of a medic-nin,” Sasuke assured.
Gai nodded in approval and then raised an eyebrow at the almost imperceptible shiver that racked Sasuke’s body. “Sasuke, are you feeling unwell?”
“Side effects.” Sasuke gritted out and sipped his tea more forcefully.
“What?!” Gai exclaimed.
“It’s fine,” Sasuke reiterated. “I’m working with an expert poison master and I’m monitoring my dosage.”
“That’s a very dangerous practice! You could-”
“I know.” Sasuke sighed. “But I’ve been drugged before,” a hand unconsciously comes up to rub at his neck, “and I don’t want it to happen so easily again, so I’ve been building up my resistance. I’m actually frustrated that my progress in this area is going so slowly, but I have to be careful not to take too much or else I won’t have the strength and focus to work on other areas of training.”
“This is not something you can rush.”
“…Who was it? The one that drugged you?” Gai heard about the kidnapping of Uchiha Sasuke and suspected that Sasuke might be talking about that time period, but he couldn’t help asking, couldn’t help prodding at the boy with too heavy shoulders to open up a little.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Sasuke stood up abruptly. “Ranmaru, please look after our guests. I’m retiring for the day.”
“Okay…” Ranmaru murmured into his tea. He peeked up at Sasuke uncertainly through his eyelashes.
Sasuke ruffled his hair and left the room, presumably to go sleep off whatever poison he introduced into his system.
“Why is your brother pushing himself so hard?” Gai directed the question to Ranmaru.
“It’s because of us.”
Ranmaru nodded. “Me, Kimimaro-nii-san, Juugo-nii-san, and even Karin-nee-san. The Elders didn’t like us at first, having a bunch of outsiders running around with the Uchiha name. If an outsider marries into the clan and stays in the clan then that is still acceptable, but as you can see, that doesn’t work out with our situation.”
Gai couldn’t help noticing how eloquent and perceptive the young purple-haired boy was. It was like he experienced too much, saw too much, and heard too much for his age.
“In order to keep us with him, onii-sama is working hard to prove himself as the future clan head. And since they won’t bestow the title of clan head to him until he makes jonin, he feels like there is extra pressure on him to maintain the clan as he is now, with no official title and no way of obtaining minor emancipation until he becomes a genin.
“And to be honest, when I first met onii-sama and the others, excluding myself, onii-sama was the weakest one in the group. He was dexterous and fast, but anyone in the group could’ve taken him down if they were serious about it and had chosen to do so. I suspect he suffers from low self-esteem and still does till this day. He believes that in order to be clan head, he has to be the strongest one in the Compound. I wish he would rely on us more. Like he used to when we were traveling together. It’s as if ever since onii-sama entered the gates of Konoha he picked up a weight that he refuses to share…”
Gai detected a note of resentment against Konoha in Ranmaru’s voice, but did not comment on it. It was understandable considering the child’s concern for his older brother. Politics had never been Gai’s cup of tea, and his eccentric behavior helped to buffer some of the village’s political influence from him. It was like the Elders decided he was too much of a headache to deal with. They also underestimated him a lot, thinking him more dull-witted than he was, but he didn’t earn his jonin vest by being stupid and brash.
When Ranmaru looked up at him with those discerning eyes, Gai knew that the child could see through his exuberant personality to the keen mind underneath.
“Thank you for sharing this with me,” Gai said unusually solemn. “I will do what I can to look out for your brother.”
Ranmaru nodded and smiled in thanks.
A shout came from the training field as Naruto was dunked into the pond. Ranmaru laughed a little.
“I’m thankful for Naruto-nii-san. Onii-sama won’t admit it, but ever since Naruto-nii-san joined the family, onii-sama has been much happier.”
“That boy really is something.” Gai agreed. “Straightforward and honest, like a ray of sunshine that penetrates all darkness.”
A/N: This chapter is meant to highlight the fact that OC!Sasuke is not a mastermind pulling the strings of canon events from the shadows. This is not that type of story. The OC was thrown into Sasuke’s body without so much as a by your leave and is just trying to make the best out of his given circumstances. He may try to hold himself back from forming certain bonds in a misguided attempt to “preserve canon,” but those relationships can still creep up on him unexpectedly.