Author's Notes: Wow, it's been a while. I would take time to beg forgiveness, but I'm trying to keep this brief. The Naruto Universe has changed a whole lot since I started this. My grasp of the characters has become stronger (I hope), though some of their relationships/personalities have changed, some. I like Sakura a lot more, now. Anyway, I'm doing my best to incorporate the new while keep as true as possible to my original plot. Okay, I'll shut up. On with the story!
Part 7: Working on the Details
By the time they got down the street and back to Naruto's apartment, there was a dead demon lying amid wooden-walls-and-shingles debris. The creature was big, ugly and a bit…gelatinous. It was that last part that had Yuusuke fascinated as he inched forward for a closer look, whistling low with appreciation.
Kuwabara shoved grocery bags into Yuusuke's arms and picked his way deeper into the wreckage, shoving aside wooden planks without much care for glass shards and the remnants of metal pipes. It took until the other man reached in and grabbed Kurama, hauling him out of the wreck, for Yuusuke to figure out what he was doing. Naruto kicked a piece of door aside and stood up, rubbing his head and looking around a bit dazedly.
The glare Kurama threw in Yuusuke's direction had a touch of dry humor in it. "Yes, we're alive, thank you for asking."
Yuusuke spared a minute for sheepish guilt, and then shrugged, looking over at Hiei as the demon jumped down from whatever tall thing he'd been standing on and landed next to Yuusuke.
"Nice work." Yuusuke nodded at the dead demon.
Four people dropped in loose formation around them, and Hiei bristled. For a moment, Yuusuke could only see a wash of white and black, deliberately faceless in masks, and almost went on the offensive. Then he remembered--ninja guards. Right.
"Wow guys," he said in a friendly "how-do-you-do" way. "Nice response time."
"What are you doing here?" the nearest one asked sharply. Woman, Yuusuke noted by the voice. He could also see the vague outline of her breasts under the white chest plate of her uniform. Not that he was looking hard, or anything.
Her tone made him straighten defensively. "Hey, we have permission to--"
"You are to be confined to Uzumaki's home."
"Dudes, chill. We were just shopping down the street--"
"You are confined to Uzumaki's home unless given express permission to leave, and if you violate this condition again, you'll be charged and fined. After three violations, we will escort you out of the village and ask that you don't return."
Naruto had, apparently, finally taken stock of the situation. Everyone paused briefly to look at him, and Kuwabara reached out to pat his shoulder, then went back to helping Kurama and a growing group of others pick out people from the wreck of the building. So far, no one seemed particularly hurt, which Yuusuke counted as a good thing. The demon had only taken out the front of the building complex, leaving it open like a picture diagram of the inside of ninja apartments, before collapsing in a pile of goo. Gross, but not damaging.
Yuusuke gave the ninja-guards a hard grin. "Yeah, well, the kid's place is a rubble pile, so now what are you gonna do?"
Even though it was difficult to see the woman guard's eyes, despite the eyeholes in her mask, he could still feel her glare. Despite that, she didn't seem to have any answers for him.
"That thing," she said, finally, pointing to the sticky mess that the rest of her team was approaching cautiously. "What is it?"
"Demon," Hiei said, and her head twitched in his direction.
"Impossible." She said, addressing it to Yuusuke, and the accusation in her voice was plain.
"What--" Yuusuke bristled. "How is it my fault?"
"Isn't it always?" Kuwabara asked.
"We can't rule out that the demon's appearance is somehow related to our coming here. It's difficult to believe it could be entirely coincidental."
Yuusuke rolled his eyes at Kurama. "Someone wanna translate that?"
"We're pretty sure it's your fault, we just don't know why," Kuwabara summed up.
"If it is your fault..." the ninja-guard began, her voice taking on a harder edge.
Which Yuusuke reacted to with his usual diplomacy. "Yeah? You'll what? Go ahead and finish that sentence."
It was difficult to be threatening when holding bags of groceries and looking basically domestic, but Yuusuke thought he managed it well.
"Whoa--stop!" Botan was a flutter of blue hair between them. Both sides paused, and in that hesitation the ferrygirl interjected, "Instead of fighting, why don't we take Naruto-kun to the hospital, and await further instructions."
"I'm not hurt!" Naruto protested.
Kuwabara poked him in the arm, where a wide red streak of blood darkened the orange material of Naruto's jacket. "Tell me another one."
"It's nothing. It'll heal--"
"Let's go anyway," Botan said with a fierce sort of cheer. She held her arms out and Kuwabara lifted Naruto up to her before anyone else could protest.
The medical staff didn't seem all too alarmed or surprised to see them, nor in any hurry to attend Naruto, who was grumbling and bracketed in by Botan and Kuwabara. Most of the staff knew the blond by name, which earned him curious glances from his companions until he shrugged and said, "I volunteer here a lot."
"Naruto!" It was the pink-haired girl with her hair pulled back, looking serious as she hurried toward them. "I heard your apartment collapsed, are you all right?"
"Yeah." Naruto shifted his feel and attempted a grin. "I'm fine. You know me! They made me come." He jerked his thumb at Botan, who smiled her most pleasant smile. "I wouldn't have bothered otherwise."
Cat-green eyes flickered over them, and then the girl gave a small, formal bow. "I don't think we've been officially introduced. I'm Haruno Sakura."
"Botan!" This was accompanied with a bounce and straight-up enthusiastic arm wave, the kind that you gave to someone at a distance who might not see you otherwise. It was completely unnecessary, considering the close quarters of the hallway, but completely Botan.
"Kuwabara Kazuma." The tall boy gave Sakura a firm handshake.
Yuusuke saluted lazily. "Urameshi Yuusuke."
Kurama returned her bow. "Kurama."
"And there's another guy floating around," Yuusuke added. "Hiei."
"You'll know him by his shortness and his attitude," Kuwabara said.
"Oh, yeah!" Naruto exclaimed. "He reminds me of Sasuke!"
Which pretty much killed the conversation dead, awkwardness instant and painful between Naruto and Sakura, the Thing They Weren't Talking To Each Other About suddenly laid bare. Naruto looked at the floor. Sakura folded her arms and hunched her shoulders a little.
Kuwabara winced, then nudged Yuusuke. "Wow, I'm thirsty. I think I'll go find something to drink. What about you?"
"No, I'm good."
Kuwabara elbowed Yuusuke again, harder, and added a glare for good measure.
"Er, but--yeah! I could use something. Kurama?"
The redhead nodded and followed the other two.
"This is probably the nicest hospital I've ever been in," Botan said with a perky head-tilt. "And I've been to a lot. The positive energies--"
Her sentence startled to an abrupt stop, and she caught the sight of Yuusuke glaring at her from around the corner. "Oh! Ah, well, I'll just go...um, help get drinks! Do you want something?" She looked between the two teenagers in front of her, and felt a tug on the back of her sweatshirt. Kurama had come back, taken a handful of cloth and was pulling her gently away. "Okay, I'll get you something!"
They rounded the corner and left Sakura and Naruto alone. Well, alone except for the hospital staff and the other people in the corridor, most of whom were carefully Not Listening In.
"Sakura-chan..." Naruto had had a speech prepared for this moment. A good speech! Full of righteous anger and Sasuke-bashing. But, in the face of Sakura's uncertain expression and closed-off body language, the words seemed inadequate. "It really wasn't my fault, this time. Really!"
Sakura frowned at a framed photograph of Konoha on the wall and said nothing.
Naruto's shoulders slumped. "Do you want to hit me?"
She seemed to seriously consider this for a moment, and then turned toward him, arms dropping. "Don't tempt me."
Her tone was prickly but not that cold anger that had made Naruto's heart clench. Relief was tentative but stubborn. "Okay. Because Ino already beat the crap out of me in Sasuke's defense and twice in one day would kinda be overkill."
"Did she?" Sakura looked thoughtful. "I didn't ask her to do that."
"D'you think that actually matters?"
"No." Sakura's lips quirked. "I should take her some flowers as a thank you."
"She has flowers. A whole shop full!"
"I'll bake her a cake, then."
"Bake? Sakura-chan, you generally don't poison people to show gratitude."
Naruto had never been so happy to have Sakura punch him in the head, even if it hurt a lot. They scuffled briefly, and then broke apart, grinning at each other. He felt more than saw people around them go back to whatever they'd been doing originally as the Sakura and Naruto Teenage Drama drew to its natural conclusion.
"Besides," Naruto said, "you really ought to hit Sasuke." And then he winced, wishing he'd kept his mouth shut, glancing at Sakura furtively.
But Sakura only shrugged. "He doesn't stand there and take it like you do. He's smarter than you, remember?"
Naruto let the insult slide as he felt his grin jump back into place. "Then I'll do it for you!"
She quirked a pale pink eyebrow. "Think you can?"
"I promise!" He pumped his fist and flexed a bit for her.
She rolled her eyes. "So what happened to your apartment?"
And, suddenly, everyone was listening again. Naruto froze, darting a glance around. He realized that only made him look more suspicious, but he couldn't help it. The word "demon" was heavy on his tongue, just a repeat of what he'd overheard in snatches of conversation when he'd not been overwhelmed by the destruction of his home, but it wasn't a word to be used in Konoha lightly.
"Um...not sure," he said, lamely.
Sakura studied him for a moment, then said, "Okay. Your friends..." She nodded in the direction Yuusuke and the others had gone.
"Do you think we should let them wander around here on their own?"
That was a good question.
Kuwabara popped his can of coffee open and took a sip. "How long do you think we need to leave them alone?"
Yuusuke was eyeing his own drink. "You know what would make this better?"
Kuwabara eyed him. "What?"
"If it were beer."
"More importantly," Kurama said from near the window, "Botan--"
The ferrygirl, who'd been making spirited efforts to poke a straw through a squeeze-y drink, looked up. "Eh?"
"Explain the demon, if you please." And though he worded it politely, his tone of voice made it clear that it was not an open ended request.
Kuwabara eyed her. "Which one...?"
"The one that broke the kid's house, Botan."
"Oh!" She stabbed her drink again, and the straw slid over the slick surface. "That one!"
"Yeah," Yuusuke said, glaring. "That one."
Kuwabara held out his hand and Botan put her drink in it obediently.
"Well, you know how some demons eat souls?" Botan said, and took her drink back from Kuwabara with a beamed thank you. "And the bigger the soul energy, the more tempting it is?"
Yuusuke cocked his head. "Yeah?"
"Naruto's soul is very powerful, and since he hasn't passed the Test of Reincarnation, yet, it's sort of up for grabs." She sipped from her straw. "It's attracting any nearby demon."
"I am not attracted to the kid," Yuusuke said, folding his arms.
"That's not what she meant, idiot," Kuwabara muttered.
"I felt it."
That quiet statement earned Kurama a horrified look, Yuusuke's eyes widening. "Ew! He's like...young!"
"He's not that much younger than we are." Kuwabara threw Yuusuke a quelling frown when it looked as if the other boy might say something insulting.
"And age is all relative when you're a demon," Kurama said with a shrug.
"No," Yuusuke said firmly.
"I'm not going to jump him," Kurama answered with an expression he reserved for times he realized he was surrounded by people barely out of their teens. "It's not about sex. It's a draw of pure energy, and it's very strong."
"So, demons are going to keep showing up, huh." Kuwabara looked to Botan and the ferrygirl nodded.
"Which is why you need to stick close to him." The ferrygirl eyed the groceries, which had been set on the floor, with an accusatory eye. "Until Naruto passes the Test, and his soul is resealed, completely in the world of the living."
"There's a TEST?" Naruto walked quiet as a cat on the hard tiles of the hospital floor, but his voice was still loud enough to bounce violently off plaster walls.
Yuusuke, with his back to the snack alcove's entrance, and the only one who didn't see the bright yellow hair pop into view, spun with a startled curse, almost squeezing the life out of his drink. Sakura's hand nearly slammed Naruto's head into a wall as she slapped her hand over his mouth. Then she scowled at her friend, before turning sternly on the rest of them.
"There's a test?" she asked more calmly.
Botan tilted her head, "Yes. Didn't anyone mention that?" She handed Sakura a fruit juice and then tapped her chin. "Well, I suppose you weren't there for it. The Angel did mention..."
Naruto had struggled free of Sakura's hand. "But I suck at--oh, hey, thanks." He took the offered chocolate milk and busied himself opening it, always pleased with free food or drink.
Sakura looked less pleased about the interruption, though she was polite about it. "Naruto sucks at tests."
"I usually have to take them at least twice to get them right." He caught Sakura's incredulous stare, and coughed a bit. "Or...more..."
"There are no second chances when it comes to a Test of Life," Botan said, face serious.
Naruto's shoulders slumped.
"But," Yuusuke said, "sometimes even when you screw it up completely, it turns out all right. It did with me." He grinned.
"That's Yuusuke's entire life philosophy, though, and for some reason it always works for him," Kuwabara said. "So you probably shouldn't count on it."
"But we'll do our best to help you," Kurama added.
"So, what is the test?" Sakura asked.
There was a swirl and twist of space next to Botan's free hand, and suddenly, she was holding a long oar. "Koenma's still figuring that out. I should probably check on how he's doing. It's complicated, since Naruto's soul has been reborn once already, guards a demon, and Koenma used Kurama's blood as a temporary seal."
Yuusuke blinked. "Wait--?"
Kuwabara frowned. "What--?"
Naruto gaped. "Huh?"
Sakura eyed Kurama, who looked carefully at a corner of the ceiling and pretended to be deaf.
Botan had already hopped on her oar. "You boys be good. If any more demons show up, try to draw them out of the village to keep down on property damage okay? I'll be back!"
Kurama opened the window for her and then stepped back. With a wave and a flash of blue hair, she was gone, and he was left alone to the silent press of questions.
Except Yuusuke was there, so it wasn't silent for long. "Koenma did what with your what?"
"That sounds dirty," Kuwabara snickered, then caught a look from Kurama and closed his mouth, looking contrite. "Sorry. Reflex."
"I remember that," Naruto said, glancing at the redhead, openly curious.
Which provoked a sarcastic, "You remembered something?" from Sakura.
"Hey, it was pretty important!" the blond protested, and when that failed to move her, admitted, "It happens...occasionally."
"My body," Kurama said, forestalling any further degeneration into squabbling, "is accustomed to binding and controlling demon energy."
"What?" Yuusuke gave his teammate a blank look. "Why?" He recoiled from and then bristled against the heavy looks that got him. "What? It's not like Kurama's...oh." Yuusuke blinked, and then attempted to cover his sudden revelation with a smooth, "Riiight."
Kuwabara rolled his eyes.
But the shinobi were both staring at them, watching the Significant Glances and words bounce around like rubber shuriken, looking more confused than ever.
"WHAT?" Naruto exploded, finally. "Tell us already!"
Kurama shook his head. "I don't think this is the place to discuss details."
At the same time Yuusuke blurted, "Kurama's soul's demonic."
In the silence that followed that statement, Kurama closed his eyes as if praying for strength. In the hallway beyond the alcove, people continued to trickle by, a couple having an intense discussion about their future living arrangements, their apartment having been destroyed by the monster that had come for Naruto. No one had died in the attack, but there had been several injuries, and a lot of property damage. The word "demon" was carefully absent from all conversations, but buzzed around the hostility that lingered in the space left behind.
Naruto eyes had a hunted expression, darting to one side. Sakura shifted back slightly, guarding his back. "No," she agreed. "Not the best place to talk about it. And I have to get back to work, so not the best time, either." And then cat-green eyes gave them all a hard glare. "But we will talk about it."
"Yes," Kurama agreed, meeting her look.
Kuwabara reached over and smacked Yuusuke upside the head.
Quiet effectively broken, Naruto shook himself out of his stillness. "But where else are we going to talk about it? My apartment is out. I don't even have a place to sleep."
"I think I can help with that."
Kurama jerked and almost shut the window in Kakashi's face on reflex. The masked shinobi perched on the sill and smiled with his visible eye, lifting a hand in a pleasant greeting. "Yo."
"Yo, yourself, Spiderman," Yuusuke said, folding his arms, and shifting his stance. Something in him itched to challenge the silver-haired nin. Something about not being able to judge his strength properly. "What's shakin'?"
That earned Yuusuke a politely blank silence, which wasn't broken until Naruto burst out with a, "You've found someplace for me to stay? Is it with you?"
"No," Kakashi said, with a swift, vaguely horrified firmness that couldn't quite be covered with his calm expression. "If you'll follow me, I'll show you."
"OH. HELL. NO."
They were standing, a little helter-skelter group of people who absolutely didn't look as if they belonged together, in front of the gates to what looked like a tiny village inside the Hidden Village, and Naruto had refused to go in any further.
"What's wrong?" Kakashi asked, with the air of a man who knew exactly what was wrong and was having a great deal of fun screwing up someone else's life. "The Sandaime himself arranged the whole thing. What's remains of your possessions have already been moved in."
Naruto spun to glare at the other ninja. Outranked or not, out-classed or not, it didn't look as if he was going to back down any time soon. Though, for the moment, it appeared sheer horror had frozen his voice. His jaw worked, and his aura twisted dust around his feet, but he couldn't quite seem to find the words to express his utter refusal.
Kurama studied the simple red-and-white fan that marked the gate with some trepidation. Not only because of the argument to his left, but also because Kuwabara, on his right, looked a bit pale and about as unwilling as Naruto to cross the threshold. When the psychic on your team started to look skittish, it was probably time to duck and cover.
"Looks like a Poké Ball," Yuusuke announced, staring at the fan as well. He had the groceries propped on his hip and his head tilted in the other direction.
"It's the Uchiha Family crest," Kakashi informed them in his best tour guide voice. "They specialize in fire jutsu and it symbolizes fanning the flames."
"Something horrible happened here," Kuwabara murmured. "This is not a good place."
"It still looks like a Poké Ball."
"There is no way in HELL I'm playing house with SASUKE!"
Kakashi shrugged. "Then you'll just have to tell him that."
"I WILL!" With that, Naruto was gone, sprinting past the Reikai Tantei with enough speed to ruffle clothing in the wind he created.
Kuwabara gave Kakashi a sour look. "You did that on purpose."
The masked shinobi smiled in that secretive way only people with most of their faces hidden could do.
"Come on, troops!" Yuusuke snapped with a grin. "Let's go meet the Pokémon Master and get this over with already."
Kurama glanced at Kuwabara, who was still eyeing the path and houses beyond the gate with suspicion and dread. "Well, Botan did say we had to guard Naruto."
"Yeah, yeah," Kuwabara sighed and followed Yuusuke, suppressing a shiver as he crossed the threshold. Behind them, Kakashi waved and vanished in a puff of smoke. "I have the feeling I'm going to hate all of you by the end of this."
"Is that your expert opinion as a psychic?" Kurama asked, a smile curving in his tone even if his expression was perfectly serious.
"It's my expert opinion of knowing Yuusuke too long."
"I can hear you from here, you know," Yuusuke said, over his shoulder.
Kurama and Kuwabara shared a smirk.
"Can't get anything past you, can we?" Kuwabara drawled.
"Damn straight. Hey, wait." Indignant realization colored Yuusuke's tone. "Why the hell am I still carrying the groceries?"