Author: More Than I Appear PM
Sai's making the effort to get along with Sasuke but even his patience has its limits. Elsewhere, Naruto is determined to see his deal with Tsunade through to the end but things spiral out of his control once the Kyuubi makes an appearance.Rated: Fiction M - English - Humor - Naruto U. & Sasuke U. - Chapters: 9 - Words: 60,328 - Reviews: 65 - Favs: 59 - Follows: 86 - Updated: 03-14-11 - Published: 06-14-08 - id: 4324269
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Hearts and prayers to Japan during this time of tragedy. Thank you to everyone who reads and especially to those of you who review!
Chapter 9: Short Notice
Sasuke stood in the doorway of the closet and looked upward toward the shelf Naruto had mentioned before leaving. The distance between his position and goal seemed absurdly monumental considering that, if things were normal, this would not have been the seemingly daunting challenge it presented at that moment. As things stood though, the situation was far from normal and the tiny Uchiha had to fight to keep his emotions in check, to keep steadfastly looking up instead of looking to his right into the depths of Naruto's closet.
He would not look at the boxes. He didn't care what exactly Naruto had saved before the Uchiha estate was demolished and inwardly Sasuke cursed the blonde for telling him about the damn boxes' existence. Part of him would rather not have known because then he wouldn't have had to deal with the nagging sense of curiosity plaguing him. Disgusted, the brunet rubbed the right side of his neck in an effort to ease the tension in his muscles and abruptly stomped back toward the living room, Ami a large furry shadow following behind him.
Sasuke ignored her and scowled at nothing as he headed through the apartment and into the kitchen. He wanted a weapon and knowing that Naruto had kept them only made Sasuke want his sword even more. It wasn't that he resented the sedate spider following him around constantly; quite the contrary, actually, but the longer he was stuck in this tiny form, the less he felt in control and Sasuke hated feeling so helpless. He hadn't felt like this since the massacre and had never, ever wanted to experience that level of vulnerability again.
His hands itched for a weapon and he curled them into tight fists to stop the sensation, the skin between his shoulder blades tightening as tension filled his muscles. Feeling exposed, Sasuke looked up automatically and scanned his surroundings, searching for the threats his instincts warned him were present. Ami looked unbothered, patiently waiting for him to finish as she idly groomed her fangs, but, then again, what did he expect from a stupid spider? Sasuke felt himself sneer at the arachnid but his arrogance was quickly wiped away when she shoved him hard enough to knock him on his behind.
…The hell? Shock held him captive long enough for Ami to actually bop him on the head with her foreleg but then the Uchiha was on his feet, chasing after the spider as she shot past him toward the kitchen.
"Are you two fighting?"Sai stood in the apartment doorway and stared, his eyebrows high in his hairline as he ignored his wet state and the bags hanging at his sides as he watched the battle taking place not two feet from where he stood.
"No." Sasuke grunted, clearly struggling as he grappled with Ami.
The Uchiha's hands were occupied with keeping a strong grip on the spider's forelegs, using them to keep distance between his upper body and Ami's bared fangs. Despite the display, Sai could detect no malicious intent coming from Naruto's pet and so, after another cursory glance, the artist checked that the apartment door was locked and took his purchases into the kitchen.
"Are you hungry?" Sai asked when he was through restocking the refrigerator, the book he had purchased taking temporary residence on the counter. Traditionally, meals were a means of gathering numerous individuals with little in common together and facilitating a safe level of intimacy. Though he had yet to even unwrap his new book, Sai was determined to make a concentrated effort to bridge the, admittedly, wide gap between himself and the Uchiha and food seemed to be a safe means to do just that. "My culinary skills are limited but I should be able to make you something."
When he heard no answer, the artist grabbed a clean tea towel and began using it to dry his hair as he peeked into the other room to find that Sasuke had gained the upper hand in the fight and was now on Ami's back, using his limbs to incapacitate the spider's legs while he used his weight to pin her. Ami made a tap out motion and the brunet let her up, the two combatants taking positions in front of one another for another round.
Sai's eyebrows arched but he retreated silently into the kitchen again, opting to allow the Uchiha to continue training so long as Ami was a willing sparring partner.
Heading to the counter, he decided to get lunch ready. Even if Tsunade was keeping Naruto this long, it was unlikely that she would feed him and the blonde was sure to be foul tempered and absolutely ravenous by the time he was allowed to return home. Having food ready and waiting would be a way to solve both issues while helping to promote peace within the household among the three ninja within. With Sasuke and Ami training so aggressively, they too were going to need sustenance shortly and Sai began chopping up ingredients for stew, at the last minute adding de-boned chicken to the meal for additional protein. After fetching the appropriate cooking container, placing everything inside it, and setting it all to cook, the artist began cleaning up after himself, listening to the automatic garbage disposal hum gently as it shredded discarded vegetation.
Washing his hands, Sai frowned thoughtfully then moved to stir the pot one more time before leaving the room, carefully stepping over the fight in which Ami currently had the upper hand. Proceeding into the living room proper, the artist stopped at the bookshelf and hunted through the titles until he found the one he wanted, absently noting that he was leaving a trail of water behind him as he moved about. Making a mental note to wipe down the floors once he was done cooking, Sai dried his hands on his pants and pulled the book from its placement. As he turned to return to the kitchen, another title caught his eye and, on a whim, he pulled that one as well.
Once again stepping over the match and sparing a glance at the strange sight of Ami executing an impressive high kick to the Uchiha's jaw, Sai set the books on the counter next to his new one before returning to the stove to lower the heat and stir the stew. Now that lunch was out of danger of burning, he opened one of the books and began flipping pages until he found the section he wanted, then began making additions to the stew.
There was a soft grunt from behind him and, mindful of the small puddles covering the kitchen floor, Sai immediately headed toward the source, unsurprisingly finding Sasuke on the floor as Ami came to stand over him, one long leg probing gently at the Uchiha's chest.
"That is enough training for today." Sai said pleasantly, motioning Ami back as he squatted down beside the pair. Sasuke's breathing was stilted, proving that his ribs were still indeed bothering him, but he glared up at the artist defiantly. "Lunch is almost ready. Would you like to wash up beforehand?"
The Uchiha's mouth thinned down into firm line in response but other than that he did not move, prompting Sai to wonder if he could do so at all. Turning his head to the side, Sasuke waved him away, prompting the artist to frown.
"Naruto will be upset with me if you are injured when he returns." Sai said, standing to fetch a paper towel from the kitchen. Sasuke was still in the same position when he returned and Sai knelt again, smoothing the paper towel on the floor next to the Uchiha.
"What are you doing?" The tiny brunet asked, turning back to glare impatiently up at Sai, glancing at the towel with blatant distaste.
"I do not wish to cause you further harm when I move you." Sai said amiably, already using the thumb and forefinger of one hand to circle the Uchiha's ankles and working the forefinger of his other hand under the small protesting ninja's neck. Before Sasuke could move, the artist had lifted him just enough to get the other onto the towel then had grabbed the ends of the towel firmly in both hands, the artist lifting as he stood and headed into the kitchen.
"Don't do that again." Sasuke hissed, rising from the towel once Sai placed it on the counter top near the sink.
"I could not wait for you to move under your own power," Sai said, expression neutral as he returned to the stove to vigorously stir the stew. "Lunch was burning and it is hard enough to get Naruto to eat vegetables when cooked properly."
"Did the note say he'd be back soon?" Sasuke asked and Sai's years of ROOT training told the artist that the Uchiha was working very hard to appear nonchalant as he asked the seemingly innocuous question. Though his expression remained arrogant, the tiny ninja's posture was too tense where he stood near the sink and Sai wondered what Sasuke thought Sai knew that the Uchiha did not.
Note? The artist outwardly appeared unsurprised but under the pretense of tending to the stew, Sai surreptitiously scanned the counter top for anything resembling a note. Once the artist had finally gotten the blonde to accept the idea, Naruto always left a note if he was not going to be at home when expected. The only problem with this was the jinchuuriki's sense of humor; Naruto had an irritating tendency to play hide-and-seek with any type of message he left behind and this was why Sai had designated the kitchen as the only place where Naruto could leave messages.
There was nothing resembling a note on the counter top and Sai turned the stove off before moving the stew to a cool burner. The refrigerator had held nothing either when the artist had been putting his groceries away so that meant that today Naruto had to have chosen a cabinet as his hiding place of choice and Sai inwardly groaned.
Ami touched his foot and the artist automatically reached down to offer his hand to the spider and lifted her up onto the counter top where she rubbed against his fingers once before heading over to take position next to Sasuke. Reaching him, she rubbed against him and, as he retrieved a bowl from the closest cabinet, Sai spared a brief glance at the cute display as Sasuke staggered in surprise at the forceful greeting. Hands occupied with fetching a second bowl, in his peripheral vision Sai watched Sasuke abruptly disappear and the artist immediately abandoned the bowl, trying to cover the distance between himself and the Uchiha as fast as possible, lunging sideways recklessly with both hands outstretched to grab whatever he could. The counter top connected painfully with Sai's side and ribs, but his fingers connected with a small limb and he grabbed it, yanking upward harshly until Sasuke reappeared, clearing the sink and the danger it held entirely. Relief over the successful rescue coursed through the artist briefly but was wiped away as Sai stepped wrong, his bare, wet feet slipping on the already wet floor, and the artist automatically brought his fist to his chest, curling his body around the tiny brunet in his grasp as he fell.
It was like being underwater, as if he were struggling against some vast boiling ocean that ebbed and flowed on a random schedule, buffeting him mercilessly under its dark depths. It drowned him and seared the flesh from his bones in an awful but familiar manner, conjuring random memories of Sai hovering over him in a room Naruto didn't immediately recognize. In the rare moments he would surface from this terrible sea, he would hallucinate and reach out to grab hold of some imaginary person before being pulled under to suffer again as the burning agony pummeled him into so much raw meat.
Dumfounded, Sasuke's eyes darted around the room looking for any sort of threat that may have been summoned.
"Well that's no fun…" Orochimaru did nothing to disguise his disappointment over this fact and Sasuke was torn between the twin desires to put his own head through a wall or walk over and strangle the Sannin. Or scream- screaming was always a good option. As it was, the Uchiha's body was perilously close to having a seizure as he twitched with the desire to do both at once, his eyebrow threatening to jerk right off his head as his hands spasmed at his sides.
"Perhaps it has a delayed onset?" Kabuto offered, rubbing the Sannin's slumped shoulders consolingly. "We may yet see a hideous, murderous breast appear! Wouldn't that be pleasant?"
Orochimaru's head bobbed slowly and Kabuto made a disapproving sound low in his throat, quietly chiding the considerably older male before continuing in his attempts to cheer the Sannin up, verbally painting an incredibly gruesome image that involved feeding some poor idiot to a frightening creature Sasuke never wanted to meet.
Now that the danger had passed, the teenager was angry that he had allowed himself to get so worked up over what had amounted to nothing, even if it wasn't without provocation. Scowling at nothing and everything in general, Sasuke rolled his neck to loosen the tight muscles and listening to the vertebrae pop, the sound oddly loud in the quiet room.
Feeling claustrophobic, he turned around and grasped the door handle to leave when arms wrapped around his waist, lifting his skyward.
"I'm so sorry, Sasuke-kun!" Orochimaru groveled, burying his head against the Uchiha's hair. "I know you were looking forward to it!"
Like a hole in my head. Sasuke thought irritably, attempting to reign in the impulse to stab the Sannin and remain calm. Orochimaru continued to cuddle against him and, after several seconds, Kabuto wandered over to join in the pair, hugging Sasuke from the front and sandwiching the Uchiha between them.
Why in God's name had he come to this den of insanity?
Let me go. The words were right there on his tongue, waiting to come forth, but, though his anger simmered like heat in his chest, Sasuke couldn't seem to say them. He kept being distracted by the warmth soaking into his skin from the other two, the pressing weight of them against him. By all rights, he should have been pulling hair and screaming threats and hacking at their limbs until he was free but…
The heat and the weight of another body, the firmness with which they held him prisoner within their cage of flesh, sheltering him and protecting him while crushing him at the same time. It reminded him of another person.
It reminded him of Naruto.
Disoriented, Sasuke opened his eyes slowly then blinked rapidly in alarm as he tried to free himself of the heavy warm weight trapping him flat against an equally warm surface. Realizing that it was a hand pinning him against a chest, the Uchiha looked up to check the identity of his captor, disappointment flashing through him as he recognized the underside of Sai's pale jaw line.
"Sai," Sasuke allowed his voice to show the irritation he felt. "Move your hand!" Annoyed by the artist's lack of response, the tiny ninja rolled carefully onto his stomach and began crawling out from under Sai's fingers. Once he had cleared the trap, Sasuke stood up, checking himself for injuries caused by either the prior rough handling or his fall into the sink that had made the dimwitted artist overreact.
"Sai!" The Uchiha called, making sure to drive his small heels into the former ROOT member's chest as he stomped to the other's head. It felt weird to call someone he barely knew by their first name since it implied an intimacy that neither shared but, Sasuke decided upon further consideration, 'Dobe number 2' simply wasn't going to cut it as a nickname for Sai. No, Sasuke was going to have to get creative if he wanted to find something suitably irritating to call the intruder, something that would annoy the artist to the Uchiha's satisfaction but wouldn't make Naruto too upset. "How long are you going to sleep…"
The tiny brunet reached Sai's shoulder and stopped, paling.
Fuck! Head wounds always bled a lot but, even though he knew this, Sasuke still felt a little flutter of panic in his gut as he watched the steady flow Ami was valiantly attempting to stem with a wad of silk she pressed against the gash. Grabbing hold of the artist's lips, the Uchiha began yanking and yelling, cursing belligerently and loudly until Sai's eyelids began to flutter. Relaxing marginally, the little ninja released his hold and moved backward to stand squarely on the other's chest as Sai blinked slowly.
Then, as if someone had flipped a switch inside him, the artist sat straight up without warning, causing the Uchiha to tumble roughly into Sai's lap.
A little warning would have been nice! Sasuke mentally grumped as he struggled into a sitting position, frowning irritably up at the larger brunet as Sai put a hand to his head, smearing the crimson flow messily. For his part, the artist seemed vaguely puzzled as he frowned, looking at his hand curiously as if wondering why on earth he was bleeding, and Sasuke clapped his hands sharply to gain Sai's distracted attention.
Sasuke may not like Sai but the artist was Naruto's friend; if he died, the blonde would be sad and that was the last thing Sasuke wanted.
"You slipped and hit your head." The Uchiha explained slowly after making sure that the other was listening. Thinking furiously, Sasuke tried to remember the danger signs of head injuries. Sai was a ninja and ninjas by definition were trained to be harder to kill than the average individual but that didn't mean they were invulnerable to the dangers everyday mundane life could produce. The only ninja in the village who could be deemed an exception to this rule was Naruto but only because he had an incredibly thick skull. "Do you feel nauseous? Can you see straight?"
"I…" Sai blinked, his gaze sharpening on the Uchiha. "My vision is fine and I do not feel ill. I do have an awful headache, though."
Apparently Sai had a thick skull, too. Figured. Resisting the urge to snort in irritation, Sasuke jumped to the floor and walked until he stood by Ami, out of danger of the artist's limbs. "Whatever. Get an aspirin after you clean up that cut. Try not to bleed all over the place on your way to the bathroom."
Sai's eyes, as dark as the Uchiha's own but as unfeeling as a doll's, roved over him slowly and Sasuke stiffened, glaring challenging up at the other as the artist continued to look him over from head to toe. The level of intensity made the tiny ninja's skin itch and Sasuke had to fight the urge to move from his spot or glance away, unsure as to why it was so bothering beyond the fact that it felt as if Sai were assessing how much trouble it would be to dispose of the Uchiha.
This is what a bird being stared down by a snake feels like. A thrill of fear flowed through Sasuke and he had to work hard to keep his face blank as his heart began hammering in his chest, his instincts warning him to get away from Sai until then the artist blinked and looked away, gripping the countertop with one hand as he gathered himself to stand. Moving with cautious slowness, Sai stood, checked his balance and left the kitchen, and Sasuke, heart still hammering, automatically watched the threat leave, taking careful note of the other's gait until Sai disappeared into the bathroom.
Uchihas did not cower in fear. They did not allow others to affect them to the point of incoherence. Uchihas were proud and strong, scoffing at the petty worries that plagued other ninja. They were the kings, the elite of the elite, and kings did not run, did not back down, and certainly did not get upset just because someone stared at them!
Attempting to salvage his dignity, the Uchiha unlocked his knees, took a shuddering breath, and stood straight only to have his efforts undermined as he began shivering uncontrollably despite his efforts to remain unaffected. Ami leaned against him, steadying him, and he placed a trembling hand on her back, concentrating on the texture of the small coarse hairs there against his skin. The fear Sai had ignited wouldn't go away however and, in a distinctly un-Uchiha like manner, Sasuke began putting more of himself in contact with Ami, clinging to her instinctively, thankful that she could not speak or question his behavior. He couldn't explain his sudden uncharacteristic actions, not even to himself, and Sasuke cursed Naruto for leaving him behind, especially so when Ami forcibly wriggled free from the Uchiha's grasp. Sasuke did not make a grab for her- he didn't- but he hated the sudden feeling of abandonment her departure invoked.
Resolutely, the Uchiha mentally gathered himself and curled his hands into tight fists as he concentrated on his breathing, silently counting down from ten as he mentally berated himself all the while. Sai had stared at him, fine, and? Was that really something to get upset over? Lots of people had stared at him over the years, especially so after the massacre, and it was something he had learned to ignore. The stares of admiration, of lust, of jealousy, of pity- they were but gnats buzzing at his ear, vying for his attention, and Sasuke had never had a problem ignoring them before. Now, though, he seemed unable to do so, as if being shrunk had somehow stripped him of all his careful shielding, leaving him naked and vulnerable and desperate for some sort of reassurance like a pathetic weak child.
Sasuke frowned and glared hard at the floor until he finally succeeded in getting his emotions under control. Listening intently, the Uchiha waited another few seconds before stomping down the hallway into the bedroom.
Even if it took him all day, Sasuke was going to be armed, damn it.
"Naruto-kun?" Though he reacted immediately to the sudden verbal assault, it took a long time for the jinchuuriki's brain to process the fact that someone was calling his name and not, in fact, torturing him. When the message finally did get through he struggled to open his eyes, blinking weakly in an effort to rid himself of the gritty, sticky feeling coating his eyelids.
"Hello Naruto-kun," Shizune greeted him, smiling down at him. Her voice was soft and low but Naruto felt as if she were stabbing needles through his ear drums, the shockwaves of pain wracking across his skull and making his eyes begin to roll into the back of his head before he could even tell her to stop. She seemed to sense that she was causing him pain and thankfully remained silent as he fought the battle to remain conscious. Several minutes crept by but Shizune waited patiently until he nodded wearily for her to speak, the blonde visibly bracing.
"The hard part's over now and all that's left is for you to rest up for your mission." Shizune whispered, smiling gently as he sighed and relaxed. The amused expression she wore made the bags under her eyes stand out as she sat heavily in the chair next to his bed. The vague thought that she looked tired eventually penetrated his mind but Naruto couldn't scrape up enough empathy to really care.
She looked at him expectantly and Naruto merely blinked at her slowly as he tried to remember both why he was there and what mission he was supposed to go on afterward. He felt so tired though, just completely ill with exhaustion, that concentration was beyond him and the details kept slithering away before he could mentally grasp them.
"This is going to make you feel a lot better." He felt rather than saw Shizune's hand encircle his upper arm gently and seconds later a sharp stab of pain from the sensitive skin lining the bend of his elbow let him know that she had injected something into the IV port there. "In a little bit you'll feel right as rain."
Naruto nodded to show that he had heard her but doubted that any medicine she gave him would ever make him feel anywhere near 'right' again and his mind mercifully shut down, succumbing to whatever Shizune had given him.
"Sasuke-kun? Ami?" Sai called again, carefully checking under the sofa again before deciding to concede to their apparent demands for privacy. He had returned from the bathroom to find both the kitchen and living room empty with no clues as to where the pair may have gone. A check of the apartment revealed nothing helpful other than there was no evidence that foul play had occurred, a fact that had made Sai's heart feel lighter while simultaneously increasing his irritation. If the Uchiha wanted to hide then so be it- the artist already had a multitude of tasks on his hands that needed his attention.
Another search of the kitchen provided no further information regarding Naruto's whereabouts- if the blonde had left behind a note, Sai could not find it no matter how diligently he searched and inwardly the artist grew annoyed that his jinchuuriki friend refused to simply leave the damn things on the counter like everyone else. After collecting the laundry, sorting it, and setting it to wash in the small washer Naruto owned, the artist seated himself on the lone chair at Naruto's table and pulled out his sewing materials to begin arranging them on the scarred and worn wood in front of him. When he was satisfied, Sai began pulling items from the shopping bag he had loaded with paraphernalia from Naruto's room, adding them to the table as well so that he would easily be able to switch from one task to another.
Picking up one of the ANBU dolls the blonde had purchased, Sai stripped it of its mask and clothing. Setting those aside, the artist then picked up a narrow brush, dipped the bristles in paint thinner and began carefully erasing the painted face already decorating the plastic. Thankfully it and the rest of the dolls Naruto had purchased were in exact proportion to Sasuke, all even having dark spiky hair, so that Sai would only have to do minimal work to alter it enough to look like the Uchiha in the hopes that it would be enough to fool Sakura or anyone else who handled them after the artist was done. Once the doll's face had been completely obliterated, Sai set it aside and picked up another doll from the bag, giving it the same treatment, continuing until every one of them was lined up in front of him with only a blank space where a face should have been.
While he waited for them to thoroughly dry, the artist picked up his sewing supplies and pulled the cloth he had purchased closer to his side, unrolling the fabric to check for flaws in the threads before cutting. Soon the only sounds in the room aside from the rain outside were the subtle snip-snip of Sai's shears followed by the near silent slip of thread being pulled through cloth as he created suitable clothing for Sasuke, the artist settling quickly into the oddly soothing pattern.
Before he realized it, the morning had faded into late afternoon and on the table before Sai sat a row of six doppelgangers all exactly like the Uchiha with the exception of their faces as well as several new outfits including an ANBU uniform for Sasuke to try on once he revealed himself. Standing, Sai listened to the muffled pop of his bones realigning after being stationary for so long and glanced at clock on the kitchen wall, frowning both at the late hour and Naruto's continued absence.
"Sasuke-kun? Did Naruto tell you when he was coming home?" The artist asked, irritation welling up as he walked further into the apartment, careful to keep an eye out for the tiny ninja. Peeking into the bathroom revealed that it was empty though the sink's basin was wet, proving that it had been used relatively recently. The Uchiha must have taken considerable care to be stealthy if he had had a bath without Sai noticing and, for a moment, the artist wondered how on earth Sasuke had been able to cover the distance between the floor and the sink.
"Ami-chan, huh?" He murmured, gently plucking at the delicate silk strands coating the wall with his finger. "Another pack mate then?"
Sai was not sure how he felt about this possibility as he turned off the light and left the bathroom, by-passing the hall closet in favor of the bedroom.
"Sasuke-kun," He called again softly, entering Naruto's room with care. Sweeping his gaze over the floor critically, Sai stepped lightly as he approached the bed and knelt beside it, peeking cautiously at the space underneath. "I require your assistance with a project…"
There was nothing under the bed, nor was there any sign of the Uchiha anywhere else in the bedroom when Sai searched. Annoyed, the artist left the room and retraced his steps, this time stopping to search the hall closet before returning to the kitchen.
"Hn." Sasuke greeted him, the Uchiha blending in easily with his lifeless doppelgangers as he walked around the table.
Sai felt his eyebrow twitch and his hands curl into fists before he could stop it, having to pause as he smothered his frustration. "It is significantly past lunch. Are you hungry?"
"Hn." Came the reply and, because Sai was not fluent in 'Sasuke,' the artist had no idea whether this was an affirmative or not.
"Is that a yes or a no?" Sai queried, his voice taking on an edge as he fought to remain calm. How did Naruto put up with the traitor's obnoxious attitude so effortlessly? It was a mystery Sai didn't have an answer to and the more contact he had with Sasuke, the more the artist wanted to simply slap the life out of him.
Sai refused to say that he was failing but he was admittedly not succeeding in fulfilling Naruto's request that the pair get along in the blonde's absence. Making friends had never been Sai's strong suit but perhaps he could overcome it with a bit more reading suited to this particular situation. Without another word, the artist headed into the kitchen for information and, after debating between the two books on the counter, Sai picked up the smaller of the pair before returning to the table, nimbly dodging the barrage of little plastic swords being thrown at him.
"'The Care and Feeding of Small Animals?'" Sasuke hissed, expression a cross between horror and outrage as he glared up at Sai. "What the hell, dumbass!"
The artist blinked and cocked his head as he watched the Uchiha fume. "Given the circumstances, I thought it appropriate."
"Appropriate?" Impossibly, Sasuke's glare intensified even more, to the point that Sai half expected the wood of the door behind the artist to burst into flames and, for the first time, Sai was acutely glad that the Uchiha had no chakra to use. As he watched, Sasuke's pale face and neck flushed dark red, his hands balling into fists, his entire frame shaking to the point that Sai began to wonder if the traitor was in danger of exploding.
Frowning, Sai consulted the index of the book, hunting for any mention of impending mammal self-ignition and how to prevent it but the sound of the front door of the dollhouse slamming shut drew the artist's attention back to the now empty table.
"How's he doing?" Tsunade stood outside the sealed room she had placed Naruto in hours ago, her left hand resting lightly against the door to turn its opaque color clear enough to see through to the contents beyond. On the bed, Naruto was still and silent except for his chest moving regularly to breathe and the blonde woman's eyes automatically sought out the monitors he was connected to for reassurance that all was well.
He'd only been in there for a few hours regular time but it felt like an eternity for the Godaime and she leaned forward gently until her forehead rested lightly against the door.
"From the reports I've received from my clone," Shizune began quietly, standing beside the Hokage and shifting her eyes from the room to look at the papers in her hands. "The trembling has stopped and his blood pressure is back within an acceptable range. The systemic influence of the Kyuubi's chakra has lessened but he's been demonstrating an extreme reaction to stimuli, almost as if all five senses are in overload, and I've had to give him a mild sedative to be able to treat him."
"A double edge sword, huh?" Tsunade murmured, watching her assistant's clone go about its duties inside the barrier, the actions blurred and indistinct due to the rapid acceleration of the activated jutsu. The Godaime knew that Shizune, and by extension her clone, was a competent medic but Tsunade couldn't help but wonder if Naruto would have been recovering better if he had been directly under the buxom blonde's care instead.
"Lying and using a forbidden jutsu," Shizune chided her mentor gently as she looked up at Tsunade, her expression unabashedly disapproving. "Such behavior is unbecoming of a Hokage."
"Not 'lie,' Shizune, mislead." Tsunade snapped waspishly, annoyed that her actions were being questioned. Feeling defensive, the Godaime turned to face her assistant squarely, folding her arms and glaring. "And using that jutsu was necessary- even with the Kyuubi's healing ability, doing this would put Naruto out of commission for weeks under normal circumstances. There was no other way to allow him the necessary recovery time and start his mission in time without it."
Shizune looked down, giving ground in the argument as a long, tense silence settled between them.
"Do you think it will be enough?" The brunet asked eventually, her voice quiet and subdued.
"No." The blonde replied just as quiet, just as subdued. "No, I don't, which is why I am making him a care package. How are the arrangements with his clothing going?"
Shizune consulted her notes before answering. "His formal attire is almost finished and the… leisure… clothing is both complete and scheduled to be delivered to your office tomorrow morning."
Tsunade nodded absently and pinched the bridge of her nose as a mild headache formed, the weight of her pact with Naruto settling heavily upon her shoulders at long last. The brat was living up to his end of the bargain and, though she had already taken preliminary steps, she could no longer dance around the main condition that the teenager had argued for.
"Summon Kakashi and Shikamaru for me." Tsunade ordered as she put a hand on her assistant's shoulder, squeezing the rounded flesh affectionately. "Then go get some sleep in my room. I have a lot of work to do if I don't want to fail my gaki."
She pulled her hand from the door and immediately the section of wall faded to gray with no outward indication that it was anything other than part of the hallway. Originally, as Tsunade had found out upon becoming the Godaime, this room had been Naruto's for the first year after his birth and the seals engraved in the walls had been made at the council's behest after the Yondaime's son became the Kyuubi's vessel. The political climate at the time had been one of fear and grief and anger, all of which only grew once the Forth Hokage passed away and Konoha's elders, not knowing anything about the intricate seal Minato had used on his son, had ordered the child confined in a place where the damage would be mitigated if the binding failed. A little tweaking, however, had turned what was probably one of many oubliettes throughout Konoha into the perfect place to conceal activities that otherwise would draw unwanted attention since it would hide and maintain a jutsu taking place inside.
Pressing her lips together tightly, Tsunade put her hands together and cast an alarm jutsu over the doorway to alert her if anyone came too close to Naruto's hiding place. The jutsu was subtle and effective, the chakra powering it would be too minor an amount for most ninja to sense thus ensuring that the alarm itself would not give away what Tsunade desired to protect, and the Godaime sighed gently, frustrated that this was all that she could do. Thankfully, Naruto would only be in there for another hour or so then would be on his way to Claw Country to play marriage counselor to the prince and princess as the two royal families were adamantly- and loudly- requesting.
Their shoes clicked sharply against the concrete as the pair left the lowest underground level of the hospital and, using the single stone stairway that accessed this area, began the laborious climb upward to street level.
"Sasuke-kun, it is important that the measurements are correct." Sai said, his usual unflappable patience being severely tested. "Please try it on and tell me if you are able to move freely."
From the kitchen table, the Uchiha stared up at him with a superior expression and, despite their vast differences in size, the obstinate traitor still managed to look down his nose at the artist. "I have better things to do than play dress up with you, Replacement."
Thus far, Sai's attempts to 'make friends' had failed spectacularly and, beyond his initial greeting, the artist had seen very little of the traitor as Sai had puttered about the apartment. The diminutive ninja had refused to eat with him and had consented to dine only after Sai left the room to put the laundry in the dryer. Returning, the artist had tried to engage Sasuke in idle conversation but that had become a monologue immediately since the traitor ignored his inquiries. Sasuke studiously rebuffed the former ROOT member at every turn and Sai was quickly running out of tactics with which to court the Uchiha's good side with.
Of course, that was assuming that Sasuke had a 'good side,' a likelihood that Sai found less and less possible as time wore on.
Frowning, he tried again. "If I am going to make you suitable clothing, it would behoove you to try on the first attempts of each outfit both for fitting purposes and for fabric compatibility."
The Uchiha toed the heap of fabric in front of him, his lip curling in obvious disdain. "Naruto already bought me clothes."
"We both know that they are inappropriate for you, Sasuke-kun."Sai retorted flatly.
Sasuke glared up at him, lips turning down in a small defiant frown.
"Even if you could move freely, you cannot go outside in such clothing. To do so would put you at risk for exposure and becoming ill." Sai explained reasonably. "They are fine for a protected environment such as an apartment where the climate is controllable but anything beyond such an area would only render you useless-"
"Useless? Useless?" The traitor repeated, voice rising sharply. Sasuke's dark eyes blazed up at Sai and for a second, the artist thought he saw them flash a familiar Sharingan red. The artist watched as the muscles in Sasuke's jaw bunched with tension, his tiny body suddenly taunt as his hands balled at his sides."I'm useless?"
Sai had inadvertently stepped on what Naruto quietly referred to as a conversational landmine and the artist licked his lips, conversationally back-peddling in the hopes of salvaging the situation. "I said that being improperly dressed could render you useless…"
But it was too late. Sasuke was already too angry to listen to anything Sai said, almost abnormally so, and as the Uchiha stalked away into the dollhouse, slamming the front door behind him, the artist wondered if perhaps the fear that Sasuke was and would be useless from now on had already taken deep root within the traitor's heart.
Naruto woke with a jerk to the sound of the Kyuubi growling angrily and, though the soft lighting in the room hurt his eyes, the blonde forced the lids open so that he could look at his arms, finding several tubes in each one. This discovery was mildly alarming but much more so was the multitude of machines surrounding his bed, all of which were connected to him via the aforementioned tubing, presumably processing the liquid contained in the colorful thread-like containers. Speaking of which, he could understand the familiar thinner clear tubing used for delivering medicines but the thicker, red hued tubes baffled him and he stared at them until his eyelids began to droop and his head started to nod forward.
"Are you in pain?" Shizune eased his head back against the pillow behind him, putting his face directly under the light illuminating the area and the blonde shut his eyes tightly in an effort to shut out the harsh glare. It didn't work, though; the light seemed to stab through his eyelids like kunai, making him twitch and toss as he tried to make the sensation stop, remembering at the last moment not to move his arms. With great effort, Naruto worked moisture into his mouth and spoke.
"Light." He croaked hoarsely, feeling if his eyes were bleeding. "Off!"
Naruto heard the click but, though the pain lessened marginally, it did not stop. Instead it spread in a slow burn from his eye sockets into his skull and down his spine to radiate out into every nerve, making his limbs throb and ache. Even worse, now that one sense had been stimulated, it was as if the remaining ones had awoken, translating everything into echoing signals of pain. Every beep and hiss of the machines hurt. His skin felt raw from the loose press of fabric of his clothing. The patina of scents in his room burned his nose and seared a path straight down his throat, the air tasting sour and bitter as he swallowed thickly, his lungs heaving.
"Naruto-kun, you have to stay still." Shizune reminded him gently, attempting to sooth him by placing her hand atop his clenched fist. It made his hair stand on end and even that was painfully because he could feel each individual strand as they rose all along his arm and scalp. Words beyond him, he moaned lowly in an attempt to warn her away but the sound only brought more pain as she continued to touch him, petting his hair. Naruto could feel a scream building in his throat and he clenched his teeth, baring them at the Godaime's assistant as he sucked air through them, becoming more agitated and it was while he was squirming on the bed that Naruto abruptly discovered that he was shackled to the frame.
Shizune continued to talk to him but it was just sound without any meaning other than pain and Naruto had to fight to think beyond the constant agony, beyond the enraged growling of the Kyuubi in its cage. The memory refused to become clear but he knew he had been through this before except what had he done at that time? He'd been incapacitated and vulnerable but he'd made it through… somehow… What had he done? Naruto was certain that restraints hadn't been part of it but he had had something …no, not an item… He'd had Sai- Sai had found him, helped him, hidden him to keep the mission going and they'd had a code word for if a similar situation ever cropped up again.
"Turtle!" He yelled at her, arching and kicking, clawing at the bed and through the mattress, was the sensation of pressure building inside his stomach and chest, adding to the agony already present. Naruto felt the sound of tortured metal grate against his eardrum before the bed began to list ominously. "Turtle! Turtle! Turtle! TurtleturtleturtleturtleTURTLE!"
Sai! He needed Sai. Sai would understand what he wanted, what he needed! With a scream, the metal gave way, spilling Naruto to the floor with a crash, one of the restraints tearing with a thick sound, and the blonde clawed at both the remaining one and the tubing until he was free, mind chaotic and frantic as the pressure inside him built and built until it felt as if he were bleeding from every pore, his chakra swirling wildly around him. It engulfed him, surrounding him, blurring the room around him until it vanished completely in a red ruin.
Sai frowned at the large spider wedged firmly in the doorway of the doll house and wondered if it were angry with him for upsetting the sulking Uchiha. Ami had taken a protective position not long after the two ninjas loud exchange, easily pushing the miniature door out of her way then backing into the opening and settling inside it to watch Sai as the artist sewed Sasuke's new clothing. Even when the former ROOT member finished his task and took on a new one, the spider did not move, merely watched him silently.
Naruto had told him that he often talked to Ami during times when she displayed similar behavior and that it had a calming effect on the animal. Sai, however, failed to see how since spiders did not actually hear as humans did but sensed vibrations through its legs instead. It was why both Naruto and Sai had taken to stomping a foot in specific patterns outside the apartment, to let Ami know in advance that they were home and that they were friendly.
Desert Lion spiders were pack animals by nature and that instinctive behavior could be used to a ninja's benefit but only if training was done very early on to acclimate the animals to the distinctive scents of their intended humanoid pack since anything non-pack was considered food or a threat. Gaara had placed one of Naruto's unwashed shirts in Ami's cage when she was a spiderling to get her familiar with the blonde and the jinchurriki had accidentally used a similar method to get her used to Sai since, after missions, Naruto usually smelled like the other male to some degree. Because Ami had used Naruto's closet as a nesting ground she had become accustomed to the Uchiha's smell which was probably why the deadly arachnid hadn't attacked and killed him the moment he broke into Naruto's apartment.
Feeling foolish and rather frustrated, Sai put aside the doll he was examining, placed his hand palm down on the table, and began channeling a small amount of chakra into it. "Ami, would you like some chakra?"
A window on the second floor of the doll house opened as Sasuke, expression arrogant, looked out at Sai. The artist expected a verbal inquiry to follow but none came though the silent Uchiha did stay in the window, watching as Ami sidled slowly over to Sai until she was within range of his offered hand.
"No biting, please." The artist requested as Ami's large fangs ghosted over the flesh of his finger, instinctively looking for breaks or soft areas. Though their inch long fangs were strong enough to pierce animal hide, Desert Lions were not above searching out and exploiting preexisting weaknesses in their prey and Sai fought to hold still to avoid startling her as she shifted around to press her mouth directly against his unbroken skin, feeding.
"She eats chakra?"
Sai glanced briefly in the traitor's direction before returning his attention to the spider. "Yes, it is what makes them so deadly. Their venom damages not only the muscular and nervous systems but also the chakra pathways of the body. To a ninja, they are the biggest threat when out in the desert."
Sasuke made a rude noise. "To an incompetent ninja, you mean."
"No." Sai said calmly, suddenly very tired of talking to the Uchiha and the diminutive ninja's superior attitude. Naruto put up with it on a constant basis and the artist seriously began to wonder if exposure to such negativity could be toxic in the long run. Using his free hand, he tapped the scarred wood of the table with a knuckle near Ami and began to gently pull his finger away from her mouth until she reluctantly let go. Sai watched in mild amusement as she used her front legs to thoroughly groom her face and fangs, the spider stretching languidly before turning back to the doll house.
She was halfway there before she abruptly turned around and barreled back to the artist at a run, skidding to a stop just in front of where Sai sat, reaching to pick up another faux Sasuke doll.
"Yes?" The former ROOT member asked, eyebrows arching as the spider lifted a front leg and gestured for him to come down. Warily, Sai moved his hands and complied until his chin was nearly on the table, fighting his training and forcing himself to hold still as Ami arched herself against his cheek and rubbed against him like an enthusiastic kitten.
"You are welcome for the meal." He said, carefully running his fingers over his cheek and checking to see if Ami had inadvertently left any irrigating hairs behind. Finding none, the artist picked up his paintbrush from where he had placed it, dipped the bristles into his small container of paint thinner and, after wiping the excess from the brush's tip, Sai began carefully applying a base coat to the ANBU doll's face. Once he was done priming the plastic, the jaw structure would have to be reshaped slightly before Sai could paint but that wouldn't be much of a problem for the artist.
No, the problem lay in how to get Sasuke to hold still long enough so that the artist could accurately recreate the Uchiha's facial structure and, as if sensing that Sai was about to speak, the traitor disappeared back into his small home, closing the window behind him.
The sound of something breaking pulled Sai's gaze away from the Uchiha's window and the artist stared in confusion at the broken doll now laying in his grip, the small plastic head compressed vertically between his fingers, the less malleable body in multiple pieces across his palm. Sai blinked at the mess slowly, comprehension eventually dawning, and, irritated by his lack of self control, the former ROOT ninja began putting his tools away. Though he was confident in his artistic abilities, Sai knew that to continue now would be a mistake and would only lead to a considerably higher workload later.
When the table was once again clear of everything except the dollhouse, Sai pushed his chair away and rose, sparing a minute to push the seat back into place before he went into the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. A break was in order, preferably one spent far away from the Uchiha, and with relaxation in mind, Sai unwrapped 'Deep Love,' carrying it, his drink, and all of the Uchiha-related paraphernalia through the apartment to Naruto's bedroom.
After the doppelgangers and clothing had been safely away hidden in the Naruto's closet, Sai settled himself on the bed and began reading, relaxing as the story unfolded, smiling as he identified familiar personality quirks in each character that mirrored the ones Sai associated with himself, Naruto and Sasuke. Yes, Sai congratulated himself as he took a drink of his water and turned the page, this would be an excellent source of information about how to interact with the Uchiha…
…! Sai's train of thought didn't just derail as he stared at the illustrations- it went off a cliff and twisted violently in on itself before bursting into flames. Choking on his drink, his confusion mounting, Sai's jaw dropped as the scenes became more and more sexually explicit, the artist unable to look away as an unfamiliar and unwanted sense of excitement raced through his system. This…this was not what Sai had had in mind at all when considering the best way to cultivate an amicable relationship with Sasuke although…that…would be one way to shut the Uchiha up. The artist tilted his head as he turned the page, dark eyes taking in the reaction of the traitor lookalike to one specific action preformed by another character, contemplating it thoughtfully.
"Are you reading PORN?!" Sai jumped at the accusation, dark eyes darting down to the foot of the bed where the traitorous Uchiha stood, expression one of disgust as he marched up the bed like some sort of guardian of morality. "Why are you reading PORN on Naruto's bed? Do that at home, pervert, not in someone else's house!"
As Sasuke jumped onto the artist's chest and stood glaring furiously at him, Sai decided that he had finally reached the end of his patience with the Uchiha.
Ignoring Sasuke's squawk of outrage, the former ROOT member began, thumbing back through the pages of his manga until he found a suitable scene and displayed it for the tiny ninja to see, satisfaction coursing through Sai as the Uchiha stopped dead in his tracks, jaw dropping as the blush that swept across his pale features spread all the way to the tips of his ears.
The impending outraged tirade that undoubtedly would have followed was eclipsed by the odd pop of displaced air and a crash from the living room joined by the unmistakable howl of someone in agony. Sai knew that voice, knew what it meant, and, before he was consciously aware of it, he was throwing himself off the bed, the Uchiha clutched to his chest as Sai rolled under the bed to narrowly avoid the surge of chakra that ripped through the air overhead, splitting into streams that lashed like the tails of an angry beast.
Or, more specifically, like the tails of a certain nine tailed fox and Sai inwardly cursed as he curled his body more tightly around Sasuke. However inadvertently it had happened, someone had let the Kyuubi out of its cage and now it was loose-
He barely had time to push the Uchiha away deeper under the bed before something burning hot wrapped around Sai's ankle, yanking him roughly out from under the bed, and knocking the breath from his lungs as it hurled him into the closet in an explosion of splintering wood. Back a fiery mass of pain as he gasped for air, Sai could only watch as the blonde advanced on him, startling when the Kyuubi, looking out from Naruto's eyes, knelt in front of him and spoke in a heavily accented voice.
"Make it stop." Chakra steaming off the tan skin in hot clouds and burning the artist's skin when they came into contact, the Kyuubi grabbed Sai by the collar and hauled him forward until they were nearly nose to nose. "Make. It. Stop."
"Let him go!" Sasuke demanded from somewhere behind the blonde and Sai blinked, pride twinging over the face that he was being rescued by a six inch tall traitor.
Kyuubi shoved Sai away and turned fully to face the Uchiha, slowly stalking the small ninja on hands and knees around the room, the movements so predatory- so natural despite Naruto's human body not being constructed for it- that it raised the hairs on the back of Sai's neck. Sasuke had a sword held firmly in his grasp as he maneuvered to keep distance between them, but the weapon was doubtful that it would prove much of a deterrent considering the intensity of attention the fox was giving him.
"Quite the jutsu on you, little Uchiha." Kyuubi purred, rolling the consonants in a way that Naruto never did as it backed Sasuke toward Sai. "Forbidden for a reason."
Once he could do so, the artist snatched out to grab the little traitor, pulling him out of the Kyuubi's immediate range, Sai's gaze never leaving the dangerous blonde. "What do you know about it?"
"Won't reverse on its own no matter how long you wait." Kyuubi murmured, sitting back on its knees, tilting its head at the pair and looking thoughtful, the chakra in the air starting to dissipate. "Need a key to undo."
"And you have that key." Sasuke said flatly before Sai could, practically vibrating with tension in Sai's hands. "What do you want for it?"
Instead of verbally answering, Kyuubi moved, the demon closing the nearly three feet separating them in the fraction of a second, a liquid-fast movement that was beyond impressive. The blonde was just suddenly in Sai's lap pressing flush against the artist's body as he captured Sai's head in his hands, keeping the artist still as the blonde pressed his mouth against the other's. Hot and insistent against Sai's, Naruto's lips and teeth worked with dedicated fervor, forcing the former ROOT member to either open his mouth willingly or have his lips cut up as it was taken by force.
Something foreign and warm stirred inside Sai's lower body, sending a thrill of aroused excitement so strong through his frame that Sai's fingers tingled as they tangled in Naruto's clothing, pulling the other closer in a desperate bid for more contact. Surging forward spurred a struggle for dominance, and suddenly Sai found himself in the role of the aggressor, forcing Naruto back against the floor, the blonde making wonderful little sounds that had a direct line from Sai's ears straight to his groin.
There was a sound from behind them, an almost pained whimper, and with a gasp Sai tore his mouth from the blonde, panting heavily as his eyes landed on Sasuke, the Uchiha's expression stony but his eyes full of emotion. Sai had wondered long and hard if the little bastard could care for another and now he had the answer to his question, the sight like a bucket of cold water poured over the artist's head. Embarrassed, Sai backed off the blonde and kneeled, working hard to get himself back under control as he looked away, cheeks hot and pants too tight.
Naruto- no, Kyuubi because it was the demon in control not Sai's friend- sat up, face flushed and expression amused, crimson eyes roving over the artist then drifting to where Sasuke had been left standing on the broken remains of the closet door. Performing another one of those lightning fast moves, the blonde was abruptly in front of the small ninja, large tan hands disarming him easily before capturing Sasuke with minor effort and placing a kiss lightly on the struggling Uchiha's head. It made the other freeze and Kyuubi took full advantage, pulling Sasuke's shirt up and kissing the newly exposed skin delicately, making the Uchiha's face flush red as he wriggled, practically flailing in the blonde's grip when Naruto's tongue ghosted up Sasuke's spine. Sasuke cried out, the sound part pain, part pleasure, and Sai realized that the demon had sunk his teeth into the skin between the Uchiha's shoulder blades, capturing a section and rolling it between the incisors showily.
"Release him," Sai warned, pulling a kunai, fully intending to use it if he had to. He may not like Sasuke but Sai wasn't about to sit around while the Uchiha was harmed. "I will not ask again, Kyuubi."
At best baiting a demon was a questionable decision but the blonde merely smiled and, with a final lick to presumably soothe the abused skin, Kyuubi released the Uchiha, tossing him to Sai gently just as the apartment's front door banged open. Sakura and Tsunade's alarmed voices rang out into the sudden quiet and the artist quickly shoved Sasuke deep under the bed for cover.
"Keep that blonde bitch away from me." The demon warned, the crimson of its eyes beginning to be usurped by brilliant blue as Naruto regained control of the beast, swallowing all that power down and using it to shove the demon back in its cage. Winking at them playfully, Kyuubi then looked over his shoulder to watch the pair of kunoichi approaching the bedroom, stating loudly, "She will kill the brat if she continues."
Then the demon was gone, leaving Sai alone to deal with the aftermath of its arrival and heal the damage inflicted to Naruto by whatever Tsunade had done.