"Run, run little brother…"
He woke up with a start, sweat shimmering on his forehead under the wan moon beam. Casting the blanket aside, the rather lean teenage boy with hair as black as coal sunk his face into his palms. That very nightmare had come back to haunting again. After taking those miserable tranquilizers he had gotten from the hospital (along with assurances that the dreams would stop coming), he found himself wide awake in the middle of the night suffering from the aftermath of Itachi's shadow.
Oh yes, Itachi, the person he wanted to slaughter with his own hands. How long had he yearned for his elder brother's blood seeping seamlessly between the gaps of his fingers.
Sasuke had given a long thought about his future. He knew he would someday leave the village to seek vengeance, and perhaps to widen his experience of life. He would be traveling alone, that was for certain, and he would dedicate his life to becoming a hired assassin. He heard the pay was good. Or Konoha would allow him to live like the legendary Jiraiya-sama, still loyal to the village yet bodily, he would not be there.
Selling Konoha off would be the last on his mind. He would never repeat what his dear older sibling had done.
Unfortunately, tracking Itachi down would take a lot of his time and he would not have the leisure to earn any money. No money meant no support, and no support lead to utter poverty, something even the thrifty boy could not stand. He had been 16 for two months already. Surely the Hokage would assign some real missions for him to do. All he had gotten so far were petty D to C-rank missions. He had his best friend to thank for – Naruto. The Elders had intervened; they wanted to keep Naruto chained to Konoha, spiritually and physically. While Sasuke still had the heart to sympathise with Naruto's predicament, he found it difficult to extend his pity now that it had burdened him financially indirectly. Those lowly missions did not earn him much. In fact, he had only enough to save for a modest retirement.
He doubted that amount would suffice if he were to go after Itachi.
The great thing about being 16 was he would be able to go on missions alone. No Naruto to bother him, no team mates to look after. Perfect. But the Elders insisted that Uchiha Sasuke should never be left alone. The reasons were still unclear even to himself but he had a shrewd suspicion that deep down in their mind, they viewed him as the next coming of Itachi. Screw Itachi for messing up with his life.
There were so many reasons to slay the man yet so many obstacles to pass through.
Sasuke got to his feet and walked towards the window. He looked glumly at the unsightly grasses thriving prosperously in his neighbours' yard. Maybe they were keen in hiring a Genin to weed the lawn? What a laugh, he, the proud descendent of the Uchiha, bowing humbly to a mound of earth pulling plants from dirt?
It would be cheap; both to his pride and his wallet.
Sasuke sighed, ruffling his hair as he racked his brain for the conversation he heard over a brief visit to the toilet. Some men were talking about a bar at the end of the village. Apparently five rich big timers were on a business dealing in town and had organized a luxurious bet for the villagers. In a nutshell, if Sasuke wanted to earn some easy money, that was it.
The boy stretched and turned to his bathroom. As the sun rose, he was already slipping behind the shower curtain, laying out a time table mentally to allocate some time for some snooping at the bar.
"We'll meet here at nine. Sharp. And I mean it."
So Kakashi said.
Yesterday, they departed from yet another tedious D-rank mission which involved loads of fishes; a fisherman by the village's river hired them to locate 17 of his lost fish traps. It so happened that all 17 were so full of fishes and fries that they had the time of their life unloading the catches onto a wagon. And after hours of meaningless effort, Team 7 bid themselves goodbye but not before the team leader-cum-teacher set an appointment at 9 the next morning. Two of his students groaned openly, whining about how tired every little bone in their bodies was.
As if Sasuke was having fun dealing with fishes.
Sasuke walked towards the rendezvous point, his eyes scanning no where in particular. As he gazed nonchalantly into the sky, a swift blur evaded his sight. Sasuke stopped. The blur had vanished. He was almost sure he had not imagined it and was just as confident that a shinobi was running about on the roofs. It was normal to see people hopping off roofs in Konoha, but shinobi of Konoha did not dress in black from top to bottom unless there was a funeral. Sasuke turned around to trace the figure and saw it sprinting towards the opposite side of his destination and raised his brow.
The figure wore a porcelain white mask; he saw it reflected sun light.
An ANBU was on the move.
The Elders had denied one too many times that they had dispatched ANBU members to spy on Sasuke. The latter was no fool; he had seen their reflections from mirrors, glasses and even the back of his teaspoon. At least one will be tailing him, gathering information he presumed. Since ANBU was directly under the order of the Hokage, he had suspected that she was behind it.
Unfortunately, even though he did not know Tsunade-sama well, he trusted her enough to believe that those ANBU were not acting on her behalf. And the other party who had the power to control the ANBU was the Elders.
The teen growled silently, detesting the fact that he could not live his life as freely as he wanted. With all the intention to postpone his planned meeting with Team 7, Sasuke took off and followed the fading blur with comparable speed.
Yet not two minutes had passed when he noted a queer looking bar at the end of the road. The ANBU had landed and Sasuke took cover behind a large billboard. Squatting behind it, he discerned the dismal atmosphere of the place and the identities of the visitors of the bar. It smelt strongly of sake, something Sasuke could not stand. He half-heartedly wanted to turn back and let the ANBU go for now but decided against it when the masked man crouched mysteriously by the chimney. Removing the porcelain masquerade, he jumped into the vent and was gone.
ANBU were not supposed to drink while on mission, that is, while donning his mask. It was against the rule; his dear elder brother had told him before. Entering via the most troublesome way proved his guilt somewhat.
"Got you," Sasuke muttered triumphantly.
The delinquent of an elite shinobi was going to end up in jail. Sasuke on the other hand might end up with a hundred pieces of gold richer from the reward.
He got up and tucked his right ring and little finger below the thumb. Gathering chakra into his hand seal, he said, "Henge no jutsu."
The bar was off limits to underage and being one, Sasuke had no choice but to disguise himself. Tsunade would have to reprimand him later but for now, he was more interested in the reward money than his merit points.
Sasuke leapt off the roof and stood by the entrance. Almost all of the clients were male – that was a relief. So there was nothing shady going on in there like prostitution since there was a lack of number in the female species. Swinging the flap over his shoulder, he walked in and immediately searched for a mirror.
He saw it; his reflection.
He had Henge-d into a lean, tall man about the age of twenty. Generally he looked just about the same but there was a change in his brows and eyes that made this "adult" looked more confident and sturdy. Inside, he was a tad nervous; this was his first time coming into a bar while facing a high probability of battling a full-fledged ANBU in public.
"So good fellows, what do you want to bet on?"
It caught his ears.
"Bet on anything! You either win or lose the money you bet, so it's a clean game folks!"
That was it; the bet. It had begun.
Not wanting to lose out on anything, Sasuke inched closer to the middle table where a small crowd was gathering. He saw five big lumps huddled around in the innermost circle. They could only be the rumoured big shots.
"Ah, sorry for my lateness! There was a meeting five minutes ago."
A stranger strode into the mass with a grin carved on his face. The five large men waved their hands impatiently, flagging him to come closer and cut the unnecessary cordiality. Sasuke studied the newcomer for a while, noticing his wavy black hair and –
"The mask," Sasuke mumbled, frowning. It hung loosely around his neck on his back.
Everything was falling into the right spaces. If the bet was done scrupulously, he would not mind chancing a shot, and at the same time he would be able to apprehend the ANBU personally. So all in all, he would gain money, some satisfaction and freedom. It was all good to Sasuke.
He made up the backmost line of the barricade of crowd and tried to pay attention to the speaker. He had a weird symbol on his left cheek and the rest kept quiet whenever he spoke. Sasuke assumed he was the leader.
"'Right, thanks for your ears. We know Konoha villagers are interested in making easy money and we've gained quite a lot from Konoha. Consider this a give-back month; we'd like to do something for all of you!"
A raucous applause met his speech.
"But since we're also businessmen, we can't do charity all the time. So, we set up this little bet for all of us to get equal chances of winning. What do you think?"
More cheers from the audience.
Sasuke was very irked by the animalistic response. This was the other façade of Konoha citizens; they were beasts in places where they could show their fangs. If Sasuke had not joined them today, he would not have known the truth either. But what had that got to do with him; he distanced himself from other people all of the time.
He shifted onto his other leg and listened once more as the hoots died.
"As you know, this bet consists of three separate rounds. All will be carried out in one month," the speaker faltered as a loud groan of disappointment emanated from a corner. "We're constantly on the move so I hope you can understand the situation, gentlemen."
After the bet was done, Sasuke would be glad to send them off the village's border. They were partially why Konoha citizens behaved like this. Or perhaps they were just lacking in the moral department from the start?
"The level of difficulty increases as we progress further. Of course, the person involved will get more money if he succeeded."
"What d'you mean?"
"We mean," the speaker said, "that you'll be betting on this person."
The dull murmur which had erupted before dispersed.
"We're changing the rules a bit this time, folks. We'll invite a gentleman from your midst to participate in this bet. He will take on three challenges and you will be betting on his failure or success. If he succeeded, he will get his share of money, which will ultimately, come from your pocket. If he lost, he loses nothing but you will lose your bet."
An angry chorus wreaked the bar.
"How is that fair to us since that person will either win some money or get nothing?"
The five men laughed. Slowly, the speaker turned back to the crowd and addressed the dissatisfied.
"It is fair once you know what we're putting him through," he said darkly.
Sasuke folded his arms across his chest. If he meant carrying out life-threatening tasks, then they meant nothing at all. In fact, the prospect of either winning or losing nothing enticed him. Sasuke was sure he would be able to surf through this one month easily and collect that money along the way.
When will they start selecting the "chosen" one?"
"We're putting up an initial price."
The speaker splayed his palm clearly to be seen by everyone.
"5 000 gold pieces."
Sasuke's lips curled. That was a good start. It seemed that the crowd was interested by the gold too. He had gotten some competitors then.
"Now that you know what's up for grab, what do you think? Are you answering the challenge, citizens of Konohagakure?"
Sasuke expected half of the crowd to march up the men and expressed their want but to his silent amusement, none did. Were there no ninjas around to take up the battle?
It was not like he would complain anyway.
"I accept your challenge," Sasuke declared clearly from the back. The strangers about looked at him with bulged eyes as if the young lad had lost his mind for volunteering.
Too bad for them – they did not know this young lad had the Uchiha blood in him.
"Oho, we have a prospective contestant!"
The temporary silence was then broken by the loud mass clapping. Sasuke walked up to the central table where the attention was most intense. The five men stood up. Sasuke was quite aware of the ANBU's searching look.
"Great, great… you're a brave one, young lad. And a rather charming one at that…"
Sasuke glared. That was not how you greeted a person whom you just met.
"Young lad – ah, you have a name don't you? What is it?"
Sasuke smiled curtly and replied, "Naruto." It was the first name which crossed his mind.
"Naruto?" the speaker repeated questioningly. It was not a common name after all. If luck was against him, Uzumaki Naruto was really the only Naruto in town and if his fake identity was uncovered, he was done for.
"Okay then, Naruto-kun! Welcome to the bet!"
He actually bought the lie.
"Now, I'll repeat the conditions, and you'll sign a contract and then we're good to begin. Is that clear?"
"Good. Rule number 1, there are 3 rounds in this bet. Once you've participated, there's no turning back," the speaker said, scratching his chin. "And your life is your own responsibility," he added thoughtfully.
How longsighted he was…
"Rule number 2, as mentioned, if you win, you get your share of money. If you lose, you lose nothing. Save for your pride… Rule number 3, you have no say in determining what challenges we assign you to do. And they must be completed within the time limit. Failing to do so, you lose the bet. Is that clear now?"
"And that's it! Aoi, the contract please."
Shadow loomed behind Sasuke; the ANBU was holding out a piece of paper crammed with miniscule writings and a pen. Sasuke pretended to nick the hairline of his bangs and bowed lower to read the contract. In truth, he was flashing his Sharingan, memorizing every character within a fraction of time and closing his eyes, searching for loops in the contract.
It was not easy to con him, not with his cautiousness at maximum level.
"So, are you happy with the agreement, Naruto-kun?"
Sasuke found no wrongs and proceeded to signing Naruto's name on it. He made sure to avoid any curls, swirls, and spring-like motives, just in case.
"Good, good… Aoi, if you may?"
Sasuke handed the contract back to the ANBU.
A pen clattered loudly on the linoleum floor as a piece of paper cascaded weightlessly onto the ground. Sasuke had his arms twisted back and his back pressed firmly into Aoi's front. The latter had even curled his left foot around Sasuke's left ankle. One clumsy move from the younger man and both would topple painfully onto the metal floor.
"Bastard… what do you think you're doing?" Sasuke hissed.
"I'm just doing my orders. You ought to prepare yourself too."
Sasuke gathered his body weight into his free right foot, aiming to throw the witless man towards the opposite end of the club. It was at that exact moment that one of the five rich men dug a finger below Sasuke's chin and lifted his head up. Bright light shone into his irises and he was forced to shut his eyes.
"Care to explain what is happening here?" he asked venomously.
The man stepped away. Sasuke glared at the jeering crowd and to his disgust, five leering men.
"Naruto-kun, since you're going to deal with us throughout the month, allow us to introduce ourselves," the speaker said lightly. He gestured to his chest and said, "I'm known around here as 'Ichi', and from the left to the right, 'Ni', 'San', 'Yon' and 'Go', all in that order."
Sasuke scoffed, "Heh, easy enough to remember, Ichi."
"See, we're getting along fine!"
Ichi was referring to Sasuke dropping the suffix on his first conversation. To the older man, it meant closeness. To Sasuke though, it simply meant insolence. If they thought they could roughen him up before they send him on missions, they were wrong.
"Get off me," Sasuke said to Aoi who was still firmly attached to him. "Shouldn't you show some respect to your volunteer?"
Aoi nuzzled closer into the crook of Sasuke's neck, much to the latter's dismay. "You're not counted as a volunteer, Naruto. You're getting paid for. Also," he kissed playfully on Sasuke's clothed shoulder, "what do you expect from this anyway?" and he chuckled into his mop of black hair.
Sasuke could not deny it; he was freaked out by the entire weird circumstances.
"It's not funny anymore," he argued heatedly. "Let go."
Suddenly, as if his ears were beginning to function again, Ichi boomed, "Okay, we'll start by testing Naruto-kun's level of –" the man allowed a sick smirk to grace his lips before saying, "– sensitivity."
Aoi nodded. Sasuke did not understand the order.
And then, he did.
One of Aoi's hands released his arms to grope at his buttock. Sasuke was thoroughly shocked and he gasped audibly, much to the excitement of the audience. He started thrashing in Aoi's grasp but froze immediately when the ANBU tugged at his collar with his teeth. Sasuke turned away at the coldness of bare skin exposed to the dingy bar. Aoi hooked a finger at the edge of the collar and tug them down to Sasuke's pale shoulder. Leaving kisses from the base of his neck down to his collarbone, his hand holding Sasuke's hip to keep him in place. The hand then dislodged itself and slipped into his shirt, creeping upwards; the fabric hiding its journey up Sasuke's torso from the crowd's view. The cold finger dug into his navel before rising upwards, scratching lightly all the way. Sasuke screwed his eyes; he did not like being touched that way. Aoi had purposefully lingered on his stomach, rubbing circles and littering the skin with caresses which made goose bumps appeared.
"Your heart is beating very fast," the ANBU whispered into Sasuke's ear. His palm was splayed across Sasuke's chest, pushing the body closer to his. Sasuke could already feel the tingle left on his upper torso as Aoi's little finger rubbed carelessly on the teen's right areole. Whether it was on purpose or not, Sasuke could not tell, not that he wanted to know.
"How is it, Aoi?"
"Well, we'll have to see for sure eh, Ichi-sama?"
Ruthlessly, Aoi tugged at Sasuke's bent arms so harsh that his spine arched outwards, sending Sasuke's head resting forcefully against the other man's shoulder. Two subtle tickling tottering on the brink of itchiness – no, a sensation so peculiar he could not describe – erupted on his chest when his shirt brushed on their tips.
"Oh, that's interesting to know," Ni commented.
Aoi smoothed the disarrayed shirt and two pert nipples stood shamelessly from beneath the fabric. Sasuke gritted his teeth. Everyone was going to see.
"I assure you, his shirt isn't very thin. And I hadn't touched him at the proper places…"
Aoi eased Sasuke's body into a more comfortable pose. Sasuke was beginning to become restless; he wanted to nurse the "itchiness" on his chest away. Scratching, rubbing, anything he could do to satiate his uneasiness.
"Also, gentlemen, allow me to check below."
"Check?" Sasuke asked uncertainly.
The next thing he knew, Aoi had clamped his fist on Sasuke's crotch and squeezed the flesh there, extracting a yelp of pain from the young lad. There was a poof of smoke and Aoi let go out of reflex. As it cleared, the crowd, the five businessmen and Aoi went mum.
A young teen no older than 16 was on his knees; holding onto the hem of his shorts as he tried to disguise his wince.
"What in the world –?"
Sasuke's eyes widened as realisation hit him. He had released his Henge no jutsu accidentally.
His lower region still hurt. Curse Aoi for applying such force onto a man's weakness. And he had the balls to stand here, watching Sasuke recompose himself? When he recovered, he would beat the stuffing out of Aoi…
"You, boy!" San exclaimed, pointing rudely to Sasuke. "How old are you?"
The teen merely glared again. "16."
Ichi smacked his forehead while the mass complained. So they finally found out that Sasuke was underage. Was he disqualified now?
"Damn boy, why the hell are you participating if you're not old enough to enter the bar?"
Sasuke stood up and pulled his collar back into place. "That is my business, old man. I've signed the contract haven't I?"
That was true. In the eyes of laws, Sasuke had rightfully participated in the bet and since he had to abide by the rules, there was no providence for him to forfeit the round. Underage or not, it was Sasuke's name written on the contract –
Aoi fisted Sasuke's collar and pulled him dangerously close to his face. Snarling, he asked, "You're not Naruto are you? I've seen your face in the office." Aoi's forehead creased. "You're an Uchiha."
Blood red irises bled into Sasuke's eyes. The kekkei genkai of the Uchiha clan – if that was what the ANBU was seeking, he had gotten it.
Aoi released Sasuke's shirt. His visage smoothened considerably and he assumed an expressionless one, "Leave this place at once."
"Leave. And never come back."
All eyes were on them. Aoi looked at Sasuke coldly as he shifted aside to allow the teen to walk himself out of the bar.
"I'm not backing out of the bet. You can twist it in any way you like – it was me who signed the contract."
"You're not Naruto."
Sasuke could not help grinning sardonically at this. "So you want an actual Naruto to replace me? Even though it's against his will?"
"Enough Aoi, boy."
San had seized the microphone from the counter and was talking through the loudspeaker. He cleared his throat and addressed the crowd instead, "We're extremely sorry for this happening. At the moment, we cannot say anything for sure, but the boy can decide for himself we think. What is your decision, Uchiha Sasuke?"
So his name as one of the last two remnants of the dead clan was known to all…
Aoi's fists tightened by his side. Sasuke could feel the hating aura accumulating behind his back but he paid no heed to it. He was here to win the money.
"So uh, back to the initial price value. It was 5 000 gold before. Now, it is… 7 500 pieces!"
The rowdy crowd came back to cheering. With the mood reinstated, Sasuke could breathe a little more easily. Hopefully they would forget the fact that he was only 16.
"So, shall I reveal the all so important item for the first round?"
San dug deeply into his pocket and fished a rod as thick as his little finger which was connected to a fine wire; Sasuke could see it with his refined eyesight. Judging by the noise everyone was making, it was something of big importance but he failed to comprehend what was so exhilarating about that tiny object.
"It's a custom made vibrator," Aoi said stiffly, as if he was able to read Sasuke's mind.
"What can a small thing like that do for this round?"
Aoi pressed on seriously, "It isn't that tiny once it's up your ass, Sasuke."
It was really confusing…
"I've warned you. You should've walked out the door when you had the chance. This isn't the place for people like you."
Was that subtle pity laced in his voice?