At first glance, it would seem that the smiling Buddha statue is harmless, being only a creation of gray clay, weather worn around the edges and the features slightly marred with time.
But upon closer inspection, one may see that the smile is sinister, and there is a touch of something unpleasant and fiendish in the dark holes that constitutes as eyes. Alone and hidden in the darkness, it sits upon the topmost shelf with an aura of evil and so great wrapped about it that even the dust refuses to settle upon its visages.
So it waits, as it has for many years, for the chance to unleash its unholy powers upon poor, unsuspecting sods. While it is true there are more dangerous things existing in the attic, things capable of killing even the greatest of ninjas, this one creates hell upon earth for its victims.
Sometimes, living in hell is far worse than death.
Naruto's eyes narrowed in concentration. The enemy was strong and, thus far, fighting it proved to be futile. He needed his cunning, wits, and skills to achieve victory in this war.
The Dust, thick and gray and sometimes sticky in areas that were damp from moisture dripping from miniscule holes in the roof, was everywhere. It lay upon the heavy canvases that covered many a box and crate in the attic and covered the floor, except where footmarks scuffed and disturbed its uniformity. It was an evil Dust that had accumulated over the course of many, many years, silently awaiting for those foolish enough to disturb it from its resting area. A broom could battle many hours against the Dust and the Dust, with its great age, would win. A mere dusting cloth would become swallowed and doomed if reinforcements were unavailable.
Should the Dust be stirred, it leapt from the chosen cleaning utensil to another area. Shifted from one spot, forced to evacuate a chosen region, but never defeated was this enemy.
There was an entire landscape beneath Dust, hidden from prying eyes and searching fingers. Naruto had no idea what lay beneath the heavy canvases, but exploring was not a viable option. He could barely detain his boredom as it was, even if he forced himself to imagine the Dust to be a powerful opponent. He hadn't expected it to be this stubborn and this persistent, and he was bored, bored, bored, after the novelty of declaring war on Dust faded four or five hours ago. He didn't need the extra trouble of an aroused curiosity mixed into the situation. He brushed the broom over the canvas, and all it did was lift the fine Dust into the air. If Dust had a laugh, it would have chortled with morbid glee at the shinobi whose mission it was to clean the attic.
Naruto dropped the broom in disgust and looked at his comrade-in-arms. Sakura was using wet cloths to remove the Dust. Dampness, she had told Naruto in a superior voice when he first surveyed his dark surroundings, would keep the Dust from stirring. Naruto supposed, because Sakura was Female, she would know how to Battle Dust. As far as Naruto had always been concerned, Dust was a lurker that could be shuffled anywhere. He had never expected Dust to be so big and so, well, so everywhere!
And he was fairly sure the large dust bunnies he stirred whenever he swept under the edge of the canvases were breeding new recruits in some hidden corner.
Overhead in the eaves, between the outside and the inside, something stirred and shuffled absently. Naruto hardly paused in his cleaning – squirrels had a bad habit of living in the eaves (he should know; his bathroom was plagued by the furry critters). Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sakura stop, place her hands firmly on her hips, and glare at the large shelf that stood before her.
"These could do with a good dusting," Sakura said as she ran her fingers along the surface of the eye-level shelf. This was despite how everything could use a good dusting, including the two brave, astute warriors. She stared critically at her finger, and then turned to Naruto. "You can help me instead of shuffling the dust," she said, with a pointed look at the downed broom.
Naruto stooped and grabbed the broom. "I am cleaning," he said defensively, gripping the handle hard enough to easily snap it in two.
"No, you're not." The look Sakura gave Naruto warned against arguing, so he switched subjects.
"Why do we have to clean up an attic, again?" he asked. "It's so useless! Konohamaru could do this!"
Sakura turned back to looking at the shelf. Various objects and boxes lined the shelves, but distinct features were buried beneath the heavy layer of dust. "Because we were the only ones Grandmother Puu could trust."
Naruto threw his broom down once more as his boredom and impatience got the best of him. "I fought demons and faced Orochimaru and Gaara, and we gotta clean an attic? Hokages don't clean attics!"
Sakura glared at Naruto. "Didn't you listen to Grandmother Puu when she said she requested us because we were the best?"
Naruto stopped fidgeting and looked at Sakura in surprise. "What?" Best? For cleaning? Nowhere on his resume (at least, if he had a resume) did it say he cleaned. How could he have been chosen for cleaning? Sakura was okay, because she was Female and supposed to clean. Except, well, he did live alone, which meant he did his own cleaning. Sometimes.
In all actuality, all he heard was Blah blah clean attic blah blah lotta dust blah blah tea, my dear? blah blah blah unsafe. "Then where's Sasuke?" he muttered resentfully, because Sasuke also lived alone. "Why doesn't he help?"
"Because they split the teams in order to fulfill as many missions as possible! Honestly, Naruto, in case you haven't noticed, our village is almost in ruins because of Orochimaru."
"I know that!" At the loud sound of Naruto's voice, there was a brief but loud rustling in the far corners. Both looked up at the black eaves, but saw nothing. The rustling died down.
Sasuke had been given the responsibility of supervising and watching the children when the younger ninja classes took a trip into the forest to gather medicinal herbs at Tsunade's request. Naruto secretly thought Sasuke got the better of the two missions, even if it meant Sasuke had to handle runny noses, whining, and constant supervision of creatures with the attention span shorter than Naruto's. "Why do we have to clean the attic though?"
Sakura turned her back to Naruto as she carefully began dusting the statues. "Because the attic is full of dangerous, cursed, and dark objects and artifacts from all over the world!"
That perked Naruto's interest. "Really?" That gave the Dust a more sinister, interesting identity.
Sakura whipped around, her eyes glowing with anger and her hands curled in tight fists at her sides. Naruto stumbled back a step, raising his hands to ward off her anger (and punch, should it come). "Don't you even listen? Grandmother Puu's husband was a traveler of exotic places! He was killed by a rhinoceros two years ago!"
"Huh?" Naruto vaguely recalled a wizened old man in the village, who used to stick his tongue out and poke Naruto a meeting such a tragic end. At the time, Naruto had been pleased, because he hated that cane with a passion. He narrowed his eyes at Sakura and tried to study her in the dim light. Was she still upset about the whole try-to-kill-each-other-with-Chidori-and-Rasengan bit between him and Sasuke? Sheesh, how many times did a person have to apologize before they were forgiven?
It was only a slight consolation to know what Sakura hadn't forgiven Sasuke either.
Sasuke stared at Naruto a moment more, and then turned her back to him. She began to trace her fingers in the dirt, drawing nonsensical doodles. Naruto wondered briefly what was the matter with Sakura, but he brushed it away with the simple fact that she generally acted like this toward him anyway whenever Sasuke was involved. The silence was uncomfortable and there was a tension in the air that had been building slowly since they had declared war upon the Dust. Naruto fidgeted nervously. He opened his mouth to apologize, and then changed his mind about saying that.
"Say," he said, "why don't we take the slates off the window and get some light and a breath of fresh air. Neh? Neh?" He smiled hopefully at Sakura as she turned to look at him. The only light they had been working with filtered through the slates that barely tried to cover the only window at the far end of the attic, and the air was stuffy.
Sakura gave Naruto a small nod of her head and a smile. Naruto felt a sense of triumph and giddiness at seeing the smile; it being the first Sakura had given him all day. Together, they pried the largest slate off the window; the nails worked free of the window's wooden paneling with a high-pitched creak. The rustling over their heads began again.
Naruto and Sakura paused, and looked at each other. "Sounds like birds," Sakura said nervously.
Naruto looked down at the floor. "All I see is dust though."
"And birds don't roost in the dark." They glanced up, but the dim light left behind a barely-setting sun did not penetrate the black eaves.
"Is it dusk already?" Naruto asked as he peered through.
"Ugh. We've spent the whole day cleaning." Sakura looked outside as she stretched her arms overhead for a moment, swiveling her hips and sighing as her joints popped. Naruto glanced over the attic. The Dust had resettled itself in the areas it had been earlier vacated. He glared narrow-eyed at it. If Dust could mock, it would, so they went back to prying another board from the window. The nails pulled free with a louder grating noise. More light poured through from a different angle and suddenly, the rustling burst into a racket and the air was filled with high-pitched squeaks and black, furry bodies. One of them dive-bombed Sakura and entangled itself in her forehead protector and hair.
"Ahhh!" Sakura flailed her arms and darted across the room. "Bats!" Naruto threw up his arms to protect his face from the flurry of bats sweeping through the window. He ducked beneath the flurry and scrambled on his hands and knees after Sakura. She slammed unexpectedly into the stand where she had doodled in the dust. On the stand's topmost shelf, a statue rocked precariously as a red light flashed through its eyes. Sakura, cringing, buried her hands into her hair and tugged at the forehead protector as the bat beat its wings and squeaked in protest. Just as Naruto reached her side, the bat untangled itself and flapped after its companions, free and screeching with what anyone could consider indignity. Sakura dropped her hands and looked at Naruto.
They stared at one another. The tension in the air faded, and it left a sense of lightheadedness that made Naruto feel giddy. Or maybe that was due to not having eaten since early this morning.
Sakura and Naruto burst out laughing, not noticing how the statue above their heads rocked closer and closer to the edge.
"I can't believe I was so frightened at a bat!" Sakura exclaimed as she wiped tears of mirth from her eyes. Naruto nodded and snickered in agreement.
The statue tottered off the shelf, and plummeted downward. Warned by senses used to detecting evil feelings, Naruto and Sakura froze in mid-laugh and looked up at the same time to see the statue falling toward them. As one, they stretched their arms upward to grab the statue. It brushed past the tips of their fingers at exactly the same moment. Naruto jerked backwards as vertigo slammed into him, an overwhelming dizziness that seemed to knock him into an unpleasantly hard surface and push the air from his lungs. There was a sharp tug, a sense of displacement, and then the feeling of falling . . . falling . . . falling—
Tsunade froze in mid-paper shuffle. What had that been? She looked up and glanced to the window. She had felt something an explosion of chakra, but nothing beyond that. Worried, she called for one of her aids. He appeared before her in a flash and she looked at him, trying to recall his name. After struggling a moment to remember but to no avail, she said, "I felt something explode. Investigate it."
The ninja bowed before her. "Yes, Hokage-sama," and disappeared in another flash. She realized later she should have specified what sort of explosion she felt.
The Sound Nins, perching on a nearby wall and exchanging words before they split for a new shift, turned their heads at the same time at the same direction. "What was that?" one asked.
"Dunno," said a second.
There was a long pause before the third spoke up. "Should we investigate?"
The fourth waved them quiet. "No. Our mission is to watch and wait for the right moment to speak with Sasuke-kun."
Everything was dark and so very silent. Naruto blinked his eyes and wrinkled his nose, but he still couldn't see. Had he gone blind? He rubbed his hand over his face, not really feeling anything except that his eyes were open. He lifted his hand in the air and studied the dark outline it made. The sun must have set.
Set? How much time had passed?
He heard a moan nearby and turned his head toward it. His cheek brushed against the wooden floor and he took in a lungful of dust. It tickled his senses and he clapped a hand over his mouth as a fit of coughing came over him. Why was he laying on the floor? He didn't remember collapsing. Did he? He heard a stirring. Were the bats back already? Another moan. No. The voice sounded familiar. "Sakura?" he whispered, nervous to disturb the heavy silence that hung overhead.
"What?" She whispered just as he did, and sounded just as confused. "Did we pass out? Together? At the same time?" Her voice rose with each new question, but fell back into silence.
"Can you see?"
"No." She was whispering again. "The sun has set."
Naruto finally sat upright and heard a stirring. Sakura was sitting upright as well.
"Ooooh!" There was a sudden thump as she collapsed backwards that made Naruto's heart race.
"Sakura-chan! Are you okay?" He lunged forward and a sense of dizziness swept through him. He stumbled on his hands and something sharp cut into it. The pain pushed the dizziness away. "Ouch!" He snatched his hand up and felt warm stickiness. There was a sharp shard of something—glass? Clay?—that dug into the palm of his hand. "I cut my hand on something."
He gently worked the shard free in the silence. After a moment, he heard Sakura whisper, as if she did not want to disturb the silence. Despite that, he could still hear the confusion in her voice clearly. "I remember reaching up to grab the statue, and I felt something heavy hit me and throw me away."
Naruto froze. That was exactly what happened to him.
"And I don't remember anything else. Do you know what happened?"
Naruto pressed the bleeding palm of his hand against his chest. "Not—" He froze in mid-sentence. In a circular motion, he rubbed his chest, his fingers splayed wide and probing gently.
There were two round, soft, and bouncy mound-like somethings clinging to his chest beneath his shirt, the material of which felt different. It would be a lie to say that Naruto never had to contend with such mounds before, but these felt too small to be part of his technique. "Sakura-chan," he whispered, his voice shaking unexpectedly. He stopped, gulped, took a deep breath, and tried again. "Something is wrong."
"I know that." He barely comprehended the testiness in her voice amidst his own growing panic. "I'm trying to figure out what just happened because nothing is right."
Naruto's hand traveled up his chest, over the round mounds, over his collarbones, and up the slender column of his neck. Over his face—the nose was different, as well as the shape of his jaw—until it reached his forehead. It was bare, and a little wider than he knew was normal. He could not stop the whimper of fear from his lips as his fingers swept through the longer-than-normal hair until it reached the forehead protector. "Sakura-chan," he said again, "we have a problem."
The silence was now deafening, ringing in his ears. He heard the stirring from Sakura as she sat up again, and the worry in her voice as she spoke, this time at a normal level. "What is it?" The shock that followed was astute, despite the silence. He could feel it in the darkness just as surely as he tried in vain to control his panic. "Why is my voice different?"
Naruto's panic peaked and his voice burst out in a yell to address the situation that was most important to him. "Why do I have your breasts?"