Yo! I would like to thank all of my patient readers who have not once sent me a complaint for being a lazy bum. This chapter's for you guys. A side note, updating will be very, very slow, as the new school year is dawning. I'm apologizing in advance. I will not abandon this story nor will I slap it on hiatus for longer than two months. I am churning out other chapters. Just very slowly.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or anything affiliated with Naruto. Well, except some manga and anime but I don't make any money from that either. No profit comes from the production of this story and it is strictly for amusement-purposes. Enjoy.
Chapter Twelve. In Which Time Flies When You're Having Fun.
Iruka's old black turtleneck fit him really well, he mused as his eyes dropped down to the jeans Sasuke was feeling up. They rode very low to accommodate for the tail, and Sasuke kept petting the material. It was rather eye-opening that a god never heard of jeans yet knew exactly how to work a tv...
Sasuke glanced up at him and he frowned.
"Nothing." He shook his head, ignoring the question in favor of another. "What's Heaven like? That's where you live, right? Do people go there, after, you know...?"
"It's very boring, nothing like Earth. The weather's always the same, the people are the same. It gets dull. Other than that," He shrugged. "It's just like Earth, minus the technology. Gods have their own form of communication. And, no. Human souls tend to go wherever they truly want to be. No mortal knows about my home, so no one arrives. I never really thought about if they did know."
He was petting his tail now, letting it slide through long, pale fingers. Naruto grinned, leaning on one arm.
"What did you do all day?"
"I trained, studied and slept. I ate when I felt like it. Other than the war, there isn't much of anything to ever do."
Naruto held back the questions he had about that. He'd already seen a death today and experienced an emotional overload. He could do without the added stress.
Sasuke looked up at the blond. Unlike normally, he didn't feel any need to anger and make Naruto hate him. It was odd. He went out of his way to make everyone else hate him, to feed his powers, and the only ones who had been immune were Kakashi and Itachi. Itachi loved everyone, most especially Sasuke, and Kakashi went out of his way to do the opposite just because. Everyone else, though, was open season. Except him. Sasuke reached above him, slipping his hands into the blond spikes. Naruto glanced down at him, paralyzed by the contact.
"You don't make my powers work right. Do you know that? I don't normally have much patience either." Sasuke frowned up at him. Naruto's blue eyes were wide as he stared down. One of Sasuke's ears flicked, drawing his eyes. Sasuke's hands moved as if they were burned, releasing him.
"How long are you stuck as a cat?" Naruto hesitantly asked, eying the ears with ill-hidden amazement.
"Well, it was fifty years. Now, it's more like sixty. Or until I die ten times. Well, nine, now."
"Why did it change?"
"I'm not supposed to be able to use my powers. This gift I have is a punishment as well. Every time I use it, I add ten years onto my sentence, but I'm still stuck on ten lives. I've lost one of those already. I drowned earlier before you brought me home. When I die the tenth time, I'm going to Heaven to be executed. That was my sentence."
"That's so stupid!" Naruto exploded before he hesitated. "I mean, er."
"It's fine." He waved a hand absently. "I already know. It's the shit end of the stick. Trust me. Live a day as the God of Hate and see if you don't always end up with that end." Sasuke stretched, before smirking. "Not that I mind. I get to turn around and shove it down their throat. A few minutes of disgust in exchange for a lifetime of hatred. Very satisfying."
"You're insane." Naruto laughed a bit into his hand, shaking his head. "I can't believe anyone would go out of their way to make people hate them."
"Well, not everyone hates me. I have quite the fan club." He grimaced. "I guess that's my shit creek."
Naruto just laughed. Sasuke smirked amusedly up at him, glancing over at the wall.
"Are you going to school today?"
"After everything that's happened? Hell no! I can't believe I haven't passed out yet though." He glanced over at the clock. Sasuke only had about nineteen more hours before he was a cat again. He sighed and then yawned. "If I go to sleep, will you still be here when I wake up?"
Sasuke smirked a bit, looking up at him. "Sure. I'm not going anywhere."
"I'll see you when I get up then." Naruto grinned, hastily retreating to his bedroom. His pillow was still a mess, but he grabbed a spare and ignored it. He settled down, forcing his mind away from his guest. He began to count in his head, ignoring everything so he could sleep peacefully for once.
Sasuke sighed as he heard the door shut. What was wrong with him? What was wrong with the kid? Had he really proclaimed himself the kid's caretaker before Shikamaru and Hyuuga? He groaned. What was he thinking?!
He wasn't really though. He hadn't once sat down and given any of this mess a thought. Damned stupid of him. He knew Hell was hungry for blood yet he basically ignored the warning. His mouth just kept getting ahead of him today.
He couldn't ever remember being this calm around anyone before. It didn't sap his energy like his brother's powers and it didn't anger the voices either. If anything, both his powers and the voices liked the blond. Liked Naruto. He scowled, glaring at the clock face. Kyu was another story; he'd felt drunk when he sapped the energy from Naruto's other personality. The god that was sealed away. How could Naruto stand that?
He couldn't, he realized. That's what he got treatment for. To block Kyu's hatred. He obviously had kept the god silent until Sasuke had shown up. He was the reason Kyu was awakening and terrifying Naruto. But why? Gods didn't affect other gods that way. Unless Kyu's powers were active inside a human body, which they shouldn't be, and his powers were somehow fueled by a god's presence, then he should have remained sealed.
Something was going on here that was grander than his entrapment, Hell's attacks and his own screwed-up powers. His tail twitched as his ears flattened in anger. Something was going on here that centered around that bound god. He could feel it all the way down to the tip of his tail.
He could hear soft laughter, a cloud of red blocking the bright, unchanging blue sky. A deeper laugh joined it as he caught slender fingers with his own clumsy hands. He felt a brilliant warmth spread through his body as he was cradled to her chest, something inside happy and content. Thin sounds tugged at the edge of his hearing, ignored as the lady laughed again. He squealed with delight as they twirled, the blue steadying in its constancy.
"Naruto!" She said it so sweetly. He felt so safe and happy here with felt his eyes slip closed as she rocked him steadily back and forth, singing under her breath.
He came awake with a few tears across his cheeks but more content and refreshed than any other sleep. He glanced over at the clock, staring blankly as he did a few mental calculations, guessing that Sasuke had about seven more hours before he would be a cat again. It just seemed so unfair to him.
He padded out to the living room, being extra careful. He stopped as he took in the mess his living room was in. His table was splintered and laying in an ungainly heap. His broken bat was further away. Ramen cups lined the floor. A half drunk glass of milk was inches from a lax hand. Sasuke was stretched out across the couch, pillows thrown off to the floor. He was snoring slightly, tail dangling limp off the couch. A bit of drool traced down to his chin. He was fairly certain that Sasuke had never been caught more undignified than he was right now.
Shaking his head, he began to gather the empty cups to thrown them away. The tv was nearly silent as he cleaned up the small mess. He sighed as he sat on his heels, staring at Sasuke's sleeping face.
Maybe it was fate that landed him as Sasuke's savior when he'd found him nearly drowned in the river. He nearly resented it, as living with Sasuke brought very dangerous consequences, but he couldn't really dislike it. He saved his life after all.
/One that wouldn't be endangered if he had never arrived, if I may remind you./
'Ah. I wondered when I would hear from you, Kyu.'
/I'm never leaving, kit./
'I can hope. You know, I've heard some odd things about you.'
/I know. And to let you in on a secret, they aren't completely correct./
'What? About you being a god?'
/Hn. I find it curious that you don't seem particularly worried./
'Oh, I'm pissed as hell but I'm too happy to let that bother me right now.'
/Such a selfish attitude./
'You're not as loud as you normally are. Are you happy too?'
/Me? Happy?!/ There was manic laughter for a moment. /Kit, I will not be happy until we are separated. And that smug little neko-teme is bleeding at my feet./
'Sasuke makes an impression, doesn't he?'
He didn't receive an answer, only a low growl and the sensation of the voice settling back. Sasuke must have done or said something to get Kyu as worn as he was. Maybe it was because he'd had control over his body? Whatever the reason, he was thankful. The only thing that he truly wished for was Kyu to be silent.
"And he wanted to stay there?" He asked in disbelief. Of all the possible outcomes he predicted, this one had never even entered the running.
"He's staying. I have had time to recover and I'm still freaked out about this. Isn't it his personal mission in life to be the most hated being alive?"
"Well, yes." Kakashi frowned out the window as he held the phone up to his ear. "I pushed him in the right direction about the kid. He needed to know about that. I'm just surprised he's staying with him."
"He's staying for the god that calls itself Kyu." Neji hissed, viciously throwing a pillow. "He can suck the hate out of him when he possesses the human. It's the only reason he won't listen and let us take him somewhere safe."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were worried."
"Of course I am! If he's caught, Heaven falls! You should be busting your ass to try and stop this unholy alliance before it destroys us all!"
Okay, Neji was pissed. Kakashi sighed in a way that would inspire the envy of a martyr.
"Listen, Hyuuga. Sasuke must have his own reasons for staying there. The best we can do now is to protect him. You trained with him so you can understand his personality. Okay, the kid may be running the bases backwards, but that doesn't mean the rules change. Sasuke will still respond to everything the same as he would in Heaven. I'm sure you can manipulate him. Now, about the plan. Just call your relatives, Hyuuga, and have them place a barrier. Get an apartment above them. Just in case."
Shikamaru listened to the steady beep of the disconnected phone call and sighed. "Doesn't anyone say goodbye anymore?"
"Are you sure this is it?" He looked at the imposing gate slightly nervously before he was pulled inside.
"That's what it says. Come on. The sooner we locate this boy, the sooner we can find Sasuke."
He fluttered a found poster and pulled the scowling Zabuza into the library. Honestly, if he hadn't stayed on top of the human's constantly changing history, they would be so lost right now. He wasn't sure what the Superior was thinking, sending so many demons and lesser djinni out into the human world with no education. It would be his own fault if they were discovered.
He saw Zabuza scout out the library floor as if it were a wooded area filled with hidden bandits. Honestly. Times had changed since Zabuza last globe-trotted.
"Excuse me, miss?" He approached the desk and signaled the attention of the woman behind the counter. "Are there any computers here available for use?"
"And how sure are you that this is the right Gate?"
"I say fifty-fifty. Are the 'I's supposed to be after the 'V' for eight or before the 'X'?" He glanced over at his companion and met her blank stare.
"You're asking me how to read Roman numerals?" She scowled and tossed her hair. "I'm the Goddess of the Winds, not Minerva."
"You're supposed to be dating the genius though."
"Dating one doesn't mean I am one." She scoffed and heaved the large fan up from the ground. She tested it a few times before nodding. "Let's give it a try, anyway. It's not like we can't come back if it's the wrong one."
He nodded and joined her as she spread her fan and settled on it. It was a tight fit but he wasn't planning on plummeting through the barrier that kept their home secret from the world below. Unlike the gods that lived here, he and Temari had to rely on their own powers to get them safely through this barrier.
"Let's hurry. He could have already found him." He felt a sharp burst of wind jangle Krow and wisely chose to ignore it. He could have convinced her to do this, but not even all his powers as God of Manipulation could convince her his head was more aesthetically pleasing on his shoulders.
Sasuke came awake smelling the most heavenly scent. It was spicy and pleasant, reminding him of the joyous days after a victorious war and its many offerings. The thousands of years man had lived in comfort of his own sin had gifted Sasuke with such decadent pleasures. There was nothing like feasting on stolen cattle while the prisoners of war looked upon hungrily. Such wonderful days.
His eyes fluttered open as he began to track this scent, stretching and twisting. His tail flickered as he noticed someone had cleaned up after him and felt slightly ashamed. He had accustomed himself to take as many liberties in other's homes as possible, as it made them fuel his inner demon, to use the comparison. Instead of feeling pleased with a job well done, he was surprised to feel guilty even if only in the slightest. Uchihas didn't do guilt. Ever.
"Are you up?"
Naruto's voice made his ears perk up, he noticed slightly irritably. He located the voice in the kitchen, along with that wonderful smell and pursued them.
The blond smiled as he entered the kitchen, replacing the lid to the skillet.
"Hey, you are! Great! I was just coming to get you. Hungry?" Naruto asked, smile bright as he turned toward Sasuke. He hummed his agreement and sat down at the bar, careful to avoid squishing his tail. The blond gathered plates, silverware and glasses from their various cabinets and began to set them at the bar.
Sasuke was fairly quiet as he watched the proceedings. Naruto looked like he'd enjoyed his nap and seemed in far greater spirits than he'd been the last few days. The blond set a glass of milk in front of him and began to spoon his concoction onto the plates. Sasuke's tail flickered and his ears swiveled toward the sound. His nose was twitching and he felt incredibly hungry.
"I don't really have a name for this. It's one of Iruka's family recipes." Naruto set the plate down and Sasuke dug in greedily, ears flickering back in embarrassment as he noticed Naruto wasn't eating yet, but watching him.
"What?" He asked moodily. "I've been eating cat food and tuna since you found me. I'm hungry."
"Do you want other things, instead of cat food?" He asked as he sat beside Sasuke at the bar and, taking up his fork and shoveling some of his food on it.
"I'd like it a hell of a lot more." Sasuke agreed, savoring the taste of real food. It wasn't anything like Heaven, which gradually grew bland after eating the same 'perfect' food day after day. It was slightly over-done in some places, a little undercooked in others and he relished each bite as if it were his last meal.
"Do you think I'll be getting more visits like that one?" He asked a bit nervously. Sasuke tilted his head, ears drooping and then sliding back.
"I'm still here and you've got that god trapped in you, so that's a definite yes. The good thing is, though, that Shikamaru and Hyuuga will have started to set up base here. Don't be surprised when you start to see them everywhere you go. Some others will probably be dropping by as well." He tilted back a bit, looking at the ceiling in contemplation. "Don't worry. Even if Hell gets through all the protections, I'm still here. I'd rather add ten years than be captured."
"Thanks, Sasuke." Naruto smiled a bit, eyes drawn to the ears that perked up cheerfully. "You won't exactly be forgettable though. I mean, with that tail and those ears, if anyone sees you, there will be big trouble."
"I'm pretty good at disguises." Sasuke said flippantly, holding out his plate. "Is there anymore?"
Naruto bit his lip, glancing at Sasuke. The cat-god seemed content to lie there in silence and watch the TV, but he really wanted to know somethings. He looked up and jerked back, blushing slightly as he noticed that Sasuke was staring at him.
"Uh, yeah?" He asked nervously. Sasuke shook his head and then sat up, brushing a hand through his hair and touching an ear.
"Why... Why are you taking this so well? I've told you things today that should have sent you running for the hills. Demons and Hell truly exist. I was a cat just yesterday. You were almost killed. You're fixing me dinner and taking naps and sitting here quietly as if this stuff is a regular occurrence!"
Naruto's eyes widened at the outburst and Sasuke seemed to realize what he was doing, as he blushed and his ears flickered but he met his eyes confidently. Naruto sighed and brushed a hand against his face, fingers tracing the scars.
"I guess... I... I have a thousand questions... I want to know so much and I still have trouble grasping this... But I saw you become a person in front of me. I saw this disgusting troll-monster try to kill me. I've been hearing this voice in my head for years! If... If this can be real... If I'm not just suffering some hallucination... if this can be real, then it means that I'm not a freak. It means that I'm a normal person!"
He wiped away the tears that had started to gather and smiled at Sasuke with a pained but gentle smile.
"Besides, you said that you would protect me... So I'm not worried. As long as you're here, I'm not worried about any of this."
Sasuke had to avert his eyes quickly. Only Itachi had ever had such complete faith in him and they were blood-brothers. But Naruto... Naruto had faith in him without any of that. He stared at his wavering tail and clenched his fists.
"I'm not sure how often I'll be in this form, but I'll answer whatever questions you have when I am. When you see Shikamaru and Neji again, tell them that I said they need to educate you about Heaven, Hell and the Kurayami. If they're going to be after you, you deserve to know everything that's going on."
"Thanks." Naruto smiled again and then frowned, staring at Sasuke's hand where it rested on the couch. With a flickering look at Sasuke, he warily reached out and took the hand that the beads were wrapped around. "This was around your neck as a cat, too. Is it anything special?"
Sasuke stared at his hand where tanned hands were holding it between them. Naruto's blunt fingernails were haggard and bitten. Anxiety, he mused. His ears flickered as he heard the question and nodded absently, relaxing his hand and loosening his fist. Naruto spun the beads around his wrist.
"It's my life-counter, I guess you could say. It doesn't have a proper name. The red beads are the lives I have left."
"Eight." He touched on and looked at where the pattern dictated there should have been another red. Instead, there was a black bead with a shattered texture, unlike the surrounding black beads. "Did... Did it hurt... when you died?"
"Yeah." Sasuke said quietly. "It felt like I was getting cold and empty. I was hurt so I couldn't swim as well and the water was really cold. I was sinking and couldn't breathe. My lungs were on fire and I couldn't feel my arms. It... It hurts to die... every time."
"Have you died before?"
"Once. Stabbed through the chest. I was resurrected because my powers and soul hadn't separated from my body yet. It is possible for gods to die permanently. When it happens, they are drained of their powers and another god takes them. They usually go to a child, with undeveloped and newly-born powers. I was the God of Hate since birth. The God of Revenge had died on my third year as you would count and his powers found me. Then, I became Hatred and Revenge."
"What if the powers don't find someone?"
"They always find someone. The bad thing is that a god's powers are easily accessible after death and often, their killer claims them."
Haku stretched his arms above his head. Sitting at the computer, hunched over to type and read, had put his back in all kinds of hell. He winced as the muscles and bones stretched and cracked and sighed when Zabuza's shadow fell over him.
"Are you done? Did you find him?"
"Yes." Haku tapped the screen and pointed out the address. "It's not that far away actually. We could get there tonight."
"No. The address is enough. We'll have to alert Kisame and Suigetsu, set up a stakeout. We have to know what kind of protection he's got and we've got to know if the human knows about him yet. There are others searching for him. We may not be the first visitors they get."
"I'll print this stuff off and we'll take it back to the building. Can you contact Kisame and Suigetsu and have them meet s there?"
"It's done." Zabuza nodded and followed Haku's slight form as they headed for the front desk. A casual wave of his hand and the patrons forgot they had ever been here at all. It was best not to leave even a lingering memory behind.
Gaara tilted his head back, breathing in the air. It was thick and foul, full of pollution and smoke. There were other scents as well, sweat, blood, chemicals, grass, dirt and water. He could hear so many things. It was too much and yet... It felt empty, in a way, and a little muted. Underneath all those smells and sounds was another sense. Like a siren's song, it called for him, called to his blood. It washed everything else out.
His red hair hung lank and he deemed that it needed cut. He'd need clothes, as he was certain that the garb of the lower realm wasn't casual wear here. He needed to look the part, blend in with the human scum here, if he wanted to heed that calling. His sand was spilled around him, the large gourd on his back empty still. It was easier to find his way around as a raccoon than in his current state. These humans didn't pay any attention to animals.
He let the sand wash over him again, covering his arms and legs. It gathered around his torso and climbed higher to cover his head. His form melted and shrunk until he was again a sandy, tawny-colored raccoon-dog. He squeezed his way between a building and a narrow alley and ran, catching a breath of the woodland. He'd make a nest somewhere out there and he'd begin to hunt.
That smell was in this city, somewhere not too far. The calling was ever-louder and he craved to hunt it down.