Naruto © Masashi Kishimoto

The Blurring Lines


"You handled that situation pretty well," Jiraiya remarked, patting my back. "I can't thank you enough for keeping Naruto safe. I'm surprised, y'know? I thought you'll sell Naruto out in no time at all." He laughed boisterously, leaving me quite miffed.

"Hey, I can be loyal to my friends!" I protested.

"Is Naruto your friend? It doesn't seem that way to me."

I scowled. Gai was lifting Sasuke onto his shoulder, talking to Naruto, and handing him a green jumpsuit while he was at it. Jiraiya had left us to fend for ourselves among wolves and only came back after everything had ended. And he joined me, started a conversation and just to insult me. You should be able to understand my annoyance.

"He's my brother's BFF—or just BF as in Itachi-Kisame BF—" Jiraiya chortled. "—so I'm going to have to protect him to some extent, don't I? Besides, he's not too annoying."

"You're like an onion," Jiraiya told me.

"Are you saying I stink?" I raised my voice, glaring murderously at Jiraiya who roared with obnoxious laughter as he threw his head back to let his voice touch the heavens.

"No, kid," he coughed, snuffing the remains of his laughter, "I'm just saying you have tons of layers no one had explored and if we did try to penetrate all of it, we'll be crying from frustration or regret for ever judging you so harshly … people might've treated you horribly because they only see the ugly exterior."

"Me? Ugly? I look beautiful next to you!"

"Hey, you little brat! I'll have you know this handsome face is sought after in every continent." Jiraiya glowered, gesturing wildly to his face.

I cracked a mirthful grin. "Sought after to be used a punching bag, sure," I retorted coolly. Jiraiya huffed, plopping down beside me, crossing his arms. Crickets were signing somewhere. I spoke over the offending sound: "Seriously, an onion?"

"Shut up. You know it's deep."

I pressed my mouth to my forearm and let my silent laughter rock my body.

:: :: ::

I hadn't got my ryō back from Itachi—someday, that weasel would pay—but I chose to go back with Sasuke and Gai. Actually, I wouldn't want to be caught dead with Gai but I had no choice. In the next town, I bought a camera and started snapping pictures for further blackmailing. I actually had fun, even though there was this sense of foreboding curling in my gut. I laughed a lot, actually, when Gai started striking poses.

Then, inevitably, I would remember Naruto's words: "Man, that … that's the saddest, bitterest sound I'd ever heard. Why do you laugh like a Chidori?"

I'd sucker-punched him more than fifty feet away but that remark still stung. Jerk.

I stopped laughing and sulked the whole way home. Stupid Naruto. What did Hinata see in him anyway?

I was steaming the whole way back to Konoha and refused to respond to Gai's misguided attempts in cheering me up. I only spoke to the Green Monstrosity of Konoha when we were through its gates: "I can take Sasuke from here," I told him, fisting a hand in Sasuke's shirt.

"You are not going to the hospital?" Gai asked, voice surprisingly low for him as he obediently lowered my brother's prone form. I patted the new camera I'd brought to ensure its relative safety in the pocket of my jacket before I wiggled impatient fingers at Gai, a clear indication that I wanted to carry Sasuke.

"Nah. It's not a serious injury—Itachi didn't even do anything to Sasuke," I said nonchalantly, as Sasuke's whole weight was now resting against mine.

His overloaded senses would be cooling down soon. It'd been a couple of hours. The sun dipping behind the clouds and mountains afar was now casting Konoha in shades of red, orange and the rare purple. "Thanks," I said gruffly to Gai.

Gai struck a Nice Guy pose, grinning. I averted my eyes before they rotted in my skull. "No problem!" he boomed. "If you are ever in need of help, fear nothing! For the Green Beast of—ah! Rude! Walking away before people has even finished talking!"

I ignored him and kept walking.

Civilians found it imperative to stare as the two remaining Uchiha in the village—one unconscious and being dragged by the younger brother—made their way slowly to the Uchiha district. I'd barely entered the district when Sasuke stirred.

"Perfect timing as usual, Sasu-nii," I chirped sarcastically. I crouched. Sasuke's knees hit the dusty pavement of our district. He blinked a couple of times, obviously confused. His eyes refocused onto my face. Perhaps my appearance reminded him of Itachi because he jerked like someone had electrocuted him.

"Itachi," he choked out, Sharingan suddenly alive and spinning wildly in every direction. "Where?"

"We're back in Konoha. Itachi left already," I informed him, wondering if I had to overload his senses again to calm him down.

"What happened?" he demanded, grabbing my arm roughly and pulling me to my feet.

I glared at him for manhandling me. "I knocked you out by overloading you with chakra," I snapped, snatching my arm away from him. I activated the shōsen jutsu and held my palm over the stinging, paining area. "It's pretty obvious that—"

Rolling my sleeves up to check the extent of the damage on my beautiful skin, I didn't see the blow coming and I careened into the wall. My shoulder blades screeched at the impact. I yelped in pain. My head had smacked the uneven surface hard—my vision was spinning. I crumpled to the ground, dizzy and confused. Then anger surged, wiping away the confusion. My head jerked up and my eyes glared holes into Sasuke's equally furious form. "What the hell is that for?" I shouted.

"Why did you stop me?" His voice was raised as high as mine.

A part of me spared a moment to feel grateful that we were out of sight 'coz this was pretty embarrassing. Brotherly feuds should be carried behind closed doors, in my opinion.

Spite crawled up my throat and painted my features something dark and ugly. "Because you would've been killed!" I located the most logical answer in spite of knowing Itachi's true nature, and hurled it in Sasuke's face. I sought hurtful answers. "You're weak! Itachi would've pulverized you! And dying of stupidity and obstinacy is nothing short of rid—"

Sasuke swung his fist. I reared back, twisted my head and his fist impacted the wall. He'd stepped closer as I was screaming at him. My scalp felt the imprints of the tiny protrusions from the rough, painted walls, as Sasuke cornered me.

I could feel every furious breath, inhaling more anger from me, feeding him as his fury fed mine—I wasn't the type to back down. With my superior strength, I could've punched Sasuke away but I merely balled my fists, trying not to resort to violence.

"What?" I challenged scornfully, literally butting heads with him. His forehead protector was cold against my heated, flushed skin. "Just because big brother's out of your league, you choose to pick on the supposedly weaker and younger brother?" I sneered. "Think again, Sasuke. Being younger doesn't equate to weaker—it applies to you, yeah, but not to me."

Sasuke didn't need words to answer the challenge. In the blink of an eye, Chidori had been summoned to sing its song of a thousand birds. At this distance, I felt the electricity spearing through the fabric of my clothes, stinging my vulnerable skin.

"Oi, oi, oi," I cursed myself for sounding weaker than I should, "At this distance, it's going to be instant death." Rasenringu was slower—a whooshing torrent that vacuumed the song of birds. "Let's see whose attack is stronger, eh?"

Sasuke wavered. I slammed my palm into the wall behind me. The impact Rasenringu made blasted the brick walls into rubble, dust sprayed. I caught the flash of red that was Sasuke's Sharingan. I refused to be cornered and leaped back, twisted and launched a punch.

Chidori left a crater in the ground. The spider-like cracks spread and caused my imbalance. I flailed like an idiot. And, sadly, without the Sharingan, I couldn't see where the hell Sasuke was coming from. He slammed into me from behind and I fell face-first onto the ground, his weight pinning me to the ground.

I let out a sharp, high-pitched whine of complain. "Saaaasuuuukeh! Sauce-cakes, I swear, if you don't get off me, I'll kill you in the most painful way possible!"

I jerked slightly but Sasuke was way heavier than me. He didn't budge and I had not even thought of how to expel chakra from my spine until now, when I needed it. "So the younger is weaker, huh," Sasuke wasn't mocking me; he was being rhetorical and bitter.

It didn't erase the pain left by the sharp stab of humiliation. "I wasn't even taking it seriously so I—" I bit my tongue hard enough to stop sounding like such a sore loser. I balled my fists, feeling the slippery substance was dirt and dust in my palms. Even if it was a tiny bit, I understood how Sasuke had felt before Itachi: helplessness wasn't a pleasant feeling. It made me—him—feel weak.

I slumped deeper into the pavement. Defeated by the frustration I felt bubbling in me. "Get off me," I bit at my older brother, steamed.

I couldn't imagine the expression Sasuke was wearing. "Miyo—"

"Off!" I snarled, bucking hard and this time, he rose and stepped away. I pushed myself to my feet, wiping my dirtied palms on my cargo pants. I turned away from Sasuke, facing the direction of our house. The house was large enough for us to completely avoid one another; hoped he would bug me. "I hope your ego has been healed by beating your younger brother," I snapped waspishly—well, I was a sore loser—and stomped off.

Sasuke got the message: he left me to my own devices. It was my turn to make dinner today but I felt spiteful and thought it was too tedious so I just went to bed early and let Sasuke deal with dinner on his own. I think he left to get training in at night.

I wasn't weaker than Sasuke, I told myself as I glared at the Dictaphone. I flicked it on: "I love you, Miyo." I sighed. Great, I was longing for a bodiless voice. It wasn't Itachi; it wasn't his voice. Maybe my eldest brother sounded different before puberty or the recording had completely distorted it, but this Itachi didn't give me the impression he was the one who'd left a recording of this confession of love.

"Call me crazy but I love you, too." I started laughing hysterically.

"Who on earth are you talking to?" someone—unwelcomed—butted in.

I scowled fiercely. "Respect my privacy, Sauce-cakes!"

My older brother ignored me. "Well?" he prompted. My room was dark and though it should've prevented him from seeing me, I still felt a tad vulnerable: I, freshly showered, was clad only in a towel. I pulled my blanket onto my legs.

"No one in particular," I said, rapping the Dictaphone gently to indicate what I was talking about.

Sasuke's voice was inflected with confusion. "What … is that?" he asked.

"It's a Dictaphone," I replied curtly. "Did you come here to borrow it or something? If so, no way. I'm not lending you my stuff."

"No, I just …" Sasuke hesitated, and was that embarrassment I heard in his voice? "I just wanted to say goodnight, Miyo."

Taken aback, I returned the greeting dazedly, and nodding curtly, he left. He lingered at the doorway though. The light from the hallway shone through the crack he left: I saw the curiosity on his face as he inspected the Dictaphone. "That … did you invent it?"

I blinked, surprised by the odd question. "What? Of course not." Perhaps sensing that I didn't want to prolong the conversation, he left without another word, closing the door to my room. I felt a tad bad for causing the emotionally-constipated Sasuke more emotional turmoil but another question had risen in me.

He'd never seen a Dictaphone before? That guy really needed to walk around town instead of immersing himself in our clan's library of scrolls and those pointy weapons.

Still, I had a weird feeling—it tugged at me and I didn't fall asleep until I hit the play button and let that voice cradle me, rocking me until I fell asleep. (Needless to say, I always woke up with a sore thumb on such sleepless nights where I needed the constant repetition of love confessions to sleep.)

:: :: ::

The next few days without a Hokage's intimidating (to our enemies) presence was tense, at best. Smiles cast around the streets were flighty and nervous. You could sense how much the Hokage mattered to the villagers: the Hokage was the generous amount of foliage weighing down branches and spreading its protective shadow over us. Without a protector, everyōne was afraid.

Well, I was largely unaffected. Sasuke didn't care. He trained even more rigorously. He left at dawn—woke me up once, when he checked up on me and accidentally slammed the door—and returned home at midnight (once I noticed he was increasingly absent, I started investigating so I found out).

I looked for Asuma to some help but he wasn't present. To keep up appearance that Konoha was still as grand and powerful as ever, the Council Elders had taken over and continued assigning missions (perhaps even more rigorously) and most well-known Chūnin and Jōnin had been absent this week. Even the Academy teachers had to take a break from teaching to help.

I only knew because on one sunny day I was to undertake a mission 'for the good of Konoha', I found myself with Niji Suzune. I flipped my shit. I thought I'd seen the last of her—sayonara, lady! May you live a short, unhappy, old maid life and all that jazz—and yet, here we were, traipsing through the forest with awkwardness a solid wall between us.

Man, this was even more awkward than the silence between Sasuke and me. Between Itachi and me. At least with Itachi, I could … y'know, talk. There were so many questions to ask Itachi (mainly, about the amount of money he owed me plus the interest). Also, Sasuke could be teased, he provided a lot of good material to get some brotherly talk on (e.g: bro, stop making out with the punching bag. Find a real girl. I can introduce ya to a couple of Shikari's cousins).

But Suzune?

I would rather talk to a clone of myself who'd likely say, knowing me, that I was a freaking lunatic and to get a grip already.

The mission was a B-ranked one. It should be simple: get in, plant some misleading evidence to distract some of Kumo's forces, get out. I'd never heard of a more straightforward mission. The toughest challenge was staying together for one whole week.

It wasn't until night fell and we had to set camp that Suzune finally broke the stony silence between us. "Who first?" she grunted.

"If you'd stop using ape-speak and elaborate, I might know," I automatically responded.

Suzune bit back a snarl. Inhaling and exhaling with some difficulty, she managed through gritted teeth: "I asked, who is taking first watch? Are you volunteering to go first?"

"I can summon Tensa or Setsura," I said dismissively. "We don't have to strain ourselves, the both of us can rest for the night. Rikudō Sennin knows you need it." That said, I summoned Setsura. "Keep watch," I told my Summon and flopped onto my sleeping bag.

Suzune growled as deeply as Setsura did at my blasé, leader-like attitude. Well, Suzune was the Chūnin and I was a Genin: she shouldn't have asked for my opinion if she wanted to assert dominance. Now that she'd given me the chance to wedge in, there was no way I was backing out. And I didn't care if Setsura was older than me or whatever; I summoned her, she obeyed me, simple.

All things considered, I was well-rested and ready to move on by tomorrow morning. Setsura had kindly hunted for us before disappearing so we only needed to skin it and roast it for breakfast. It wasn't until I had the rabbit in front of me that I realized that I did not … know how to skin a rabbit.

I'd seen Chōji and Asuma doing it but I never really bothered.

"What's with you?" asked Suzune impatiently, gesturing for me to hand the rabbit over to her. I did as she bade and she whipped a kunai out. "Watch closely, Miyo," she told me gruffly, as if unhappy she had to teach me. Then why did she, you ask? Teacher instinct, I suppose.

I edged closer in spite of myself and watched. "This is what you get for skipping classes," she said, sounding annoyed.

I was unable to stop my eyes from rolling in their sockets. "Why are you so hung up on that?"

Suzune huffed a frustrated breath. "You still think I'm wasting my breath, don't you? I teach survival skills, Miyo!" she snapped. "You don't even know how to skin an animal and keep yourself fed!"

"Asuma would've taught me," I muttered petulantly.

"Your Jōnin-sensei?" Suzune snorted derisively. She tossed tufts of white fur onto the ground carelessly. I'd killed people but I was still squeamish about skinning animals. Ew. Ew. Yuck. She was cruel. "Trust me, he wouldn't have taught you this—it's a general skill! Jōnin teachers don't give you a recap on Academy lessons, Miyo."

It was amazing how she could say Miyo like a naughty word. I quite liked my name, regardless of how distorted it had been through the blender of people's tongue. "If they did, it would've saved us a lot of time. Honestly, the Academy years should be limited to three years at most. It's a wonder how Konoha manages to produce some of the strongest shinobi alive. Oh, wait," I paused for dramatic effect, then venom injected into every word, continued, "they all skipped grades because they know Academy schooling is pointless. Case in point: my beloved Itachi-onii-sama and Kakashi-senpai."

My taunt infuriated Suzune enough to ram her kunai through the rabbit's eyes, brains and all, and sheared it in half. I winced; there was an ache in the middle of my forehead spreading to the back of my neck. I think she had some voodoo magic in her. I bet she just imagined the rabbit's head as my head.

Suzune refused to speak another word to me for the rest of the day.

A smirk spread across my lips. "Hehehehe." I was silly to have thought this would be boring. It was turning out to be quite the contrary: interesting.

:: :: ::

"Why are you so happy?" asked Asuma suspiciously. In a stroke of wonderful coincidence, Asuma and I were returning to the village on the same day. I'd dumped the mission report part on Suzune, on account that she was the leader of the two-man team ("Oh? So you finally acknowledged I led this mission—I'm not finished with you, Miyo! MIYO!" Yeah, I tended to make women scream my name loudly).

"Oi, do you like the new Hokage so much?"

I chuckled. "She's a sight to see, isn't she?" Senju Tsunade was even hotter in person; she definitely gave the rumor mill some credit. "Heh. But no, I still haven't wind down from my last mission."

Asuma wrinkles his brows. "Isn't the woman … Niji? She's your former homeroom teacher, right? I thought you hated her."

"Yeah, and that makes riling her up even the more fun!"

Asuma shook his head, smiling ruefully as he ruffled my hair. "Okay, let's go out for lunch. Do me a favor and gather the rest of Team 10, okay?"

I recoiled, good mood cracked slightly. "What? Why?" I demanded. I hadn't seen them since the prelims. I hadn't even bothered looking into the crowd during the Finals to see if they were there.

"It's been awhile since we grouped together—even longer since we had a mission to promote teamwork," Asuma said, eyeing me shrewdly. "Did something happen in the forest, Miyo?"

Eek. I laughed it off. "No, why?"

"… Just a thought," he finally conceded and I dashed off to find Ino. She was, by far, the easiest to locate, always helping out in the flower shop instead of training. Then again, she was a kunoichi. And the female race didn't fought with jutsu as much as shinobi did so maybe she didn't train herself in violent arts.

Ino looked ready to spit poison in my face when she saw but I quickly relayed the message without her getting a word in until she screeched, "What about Lee?!"

I stopped, hand resting on the handle of the glass doors that admitted customers to the Yamanaka Flower Shop. Ino was scrutinizing me with sharp, sharp blue eyes. "Lee?" I echoed, momentarily baffled.

"Yes, Lee, try to keep up Miyo. Aren't you going to visit him in the hospital?"

I wondered if she'd lost her marbles. "Why should I? Wait, he's injured?" He didn't fight Gaara in the prelims. How on earth did he get injured? I was baffled.

"I heard from Shikamaru," Ino explained, looking deeply troubled about something else. That was saying something. Usually, she was deeply troubled about me. Her animosity was toned down though. "During the chase to stop Gaara—and the Sand Siblings—Lee helped and Gaara … he, I dunno the details, but he broke Lee's arm, leg and spine or something. He's in the hospital, under critical conditions, and …" she lowered her voice dramatically, "… and they say he has to stop becoming a shinobi."

There was a lot I could say. But I only said, "Wow, you're a beastly gossip." The news didn't really surprise me. Lee was clearly outmatched and he'd charged in head-on. What a stupid thing to do. I would've taken off the other direction when I'm facing an opponent I couldn't beat.

Ino's glare turned murderous. I'd seen worse, though so it didn't affect me. "Ugh! You're such a vile creature—I can't believe I actually thought I'd garner sympathy from you!" She scoffed at herself. "And tell Asuma-sensei I'm not going to lunch. I think I speak for the rest of my teammates—even Chōji would decline, I'm telling you. If eating a free meal means stuffing myself while suffering your presence, I'd rather starve." She wrinkled her nose, glancing at me like one would a snail nibbling at cat's poop: was I that repulsive?

… Harsh. Especially towards an eleven-year-old boy. I did have a heart that could scar and hurt as much as hers, y'know?

I sighed in mock-relief. "Oh, thank goodness. I thought I had to force you to watch as I eat your own kind, Ino." Then I left before she could steal the last word.

:: :: ::

Asuma took a drag of his cigarette. "I should not have asked you to invite them," he finally realized.

I cracked a smirk, sliding into the seat next to him in the booth. "Really? I think you aren't regretting anything, especially since you don't have to pay for three more people."

Asuma chuckled, snuffing his cigarette after casting me a guilty look. He tossed it aside, steepling his fingers as he gazed at the opposite empty booth, probably imagining a date between him and Kurenai. "You've got me." He paused. "But honestly, I wanted to talk to each of them. A scrooge, a trash-talker and a lazy bum … I'm really worried about those three. I don't think I've done a good job as a teacher at all. Do you think they've improved?"

"In teamwork, I guess," I acquiesced, feeling the burn of Ino's words from earlier. I didn't show it but my heart wasn't made of steel: I could still feel hurt, damn it. "But even their teamwork can't beat me," I stated confidently.

"I fear if they die on the battlefield, it'd be my fault. They couldn't even pass the Second Test but Gai's and Kakashi's team managed to. Eh, Kurenai's a newbie when it comes to teaching, you can't expect more but this is my third Genin team …"

I cleared my throat. "Actually, the reason they fail is … well, it has something to do with me?"

Asuma glanced inquiringly down at me. Sighing, I elaborated, making sure to paint Kabuto in the bad light. "…Dunno what I was thinking, really. The silver-haired bastard's pretty convincing … oh, yeah! He was there, putting Hinata and Kiba to sleep in the arena!" I slapped my forehead. "I completely forgot to report that!"

"He's a traitor?" Asuma didn't sound alarmed at all. He looked more troubled about me. "Why did you sabotage them?"

I bit my lip. "Well, I wanted to pass and lessen the number of enemies for Nii-chan …"

Asuma sighed. I didn't need to look at his face to tell his disappointment in me. He was the Sandaime's son, after all, and he was bound to promote Senju shit. "I mean, they hated me anyway. I completely fulfill their expectations." Trying from another angle, I muttered, "Isn't that what being normal is about? Fulfill expectations of others? If I actually helped them, all I'd receive is—"

"Well," Asuma cut in, conceding to my genius, "they haven't been really fair to you …"

Hook, line, and sinker. Scoreboard: Asuma, 0; Miyo, 1.

I turned away to hide the smirk but Asuma mistook it as me trying to hide a hurt expression because he patted my shoulder comfortingly. "Oh, look, lunch!" He seriously sucked at changing subjects but I played along anyway, turning around, grinning.

After that, we talked about other things—things that, notably, did not include teamwork and dissension in Team 10.

I was grateful Asuma didn't try to push it. Team 10 and I simply didn't click: it was one of the laws of the universe. And I absolutely hated it when peopled tried to mash puzzle pieces that didn't fit together.

We were different and I relished it—outwardly, we were different anyway. Deep inside though, they hid individual monsters that could bite as harshly as I did.

I didn't think I'd be the first to be bitten by it.

:: :: ::

[AN]: Dun, dun - dramatic ending, I know. I hope you like the brothers' conflict in this chap. I've mapped Miyo's relationships with his brothers out: Miyo-Sasuke, violent love; Miyo-Itachi, corrosive love.

It seems like the majority of the readers don't mind shonen-ai. Nothing explicit, no worries. XD

Question: What do you like best about Miyo?