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.
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.”
“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?
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.