Formatting: A better-formatted version is available in my livejournal (user: shinigami39); the link is also in my profile :D
Disclaimer: NARUTO © Masashi Kishimoto.
Pairing: SasuNaru, ItaNaru, GaaNeji, NejiNaru, GaaNaru, KakaIru, Jiraiya/Tsunade, NejiHina (but only if you want to read it that way), others (for the surprise element haha)
Word Count: 8340 words
Contents: Yaoi, shounen-ai, het, shoujo-ai, foul language (LOL capslock?), violence (in Naruto's thoughts, definitely), AU, unbeta'd D:
Notes: As I mentioned in the previous chapter, this one is going to be long. There are also a lot of flashbacks/backstories and since I didn't want to use chunks of italicized text, hopefully the 'headings' I included made the flashbacks obvious enough XD Also, there's been quite a number of reviews/PMs that asked me if they were imagining Itachi's interest in Sasuke. Well, this chapter should make the answer clear! LOL Comments, questions, criticism, feedback are all welcome! :D
It's been hours since their encounter, but Naruto's heart is still playing a complicated drumbeat against his ribcage. He mentally adds another count to the list of reasons why he shouldn't talk to Kakashi ever again—if only Kakashi didn't send him over to find Itachi in the studio, he wouldn't have had to face Sasuke!
Naruto thinks that it's only sheer luck that he hurried to find Itachi, to the point that he forgot to remove the mummy-like bandages over his face and hair, to the point that he was rendered apparently unrecognizable. It hurts a bit, still hurts, to remember Sasuke's blank look at his arrival. He has known Sasuke for so long; he didn't think Sasuke wouldn't recognize him just because there were a few pieces of cloth scattered all over his face.
He turns over, hugging his pillow, nearly crushing it in his grip. He needs to sleep early so he can wake up early. Tomorrow is the most important day of his career. He can't afford to greet his coworkers with eyebags and fatigue. He needs to sleep. He needs to stop thinking about Sasuke.
He needs to stop thinking about how Sasuke looked tired, but otherwise fine—as though he isn't even affected by the loss of his most devoted fan. Rather, he even looks like he's flourishing. Like he's pampered by that cute manager of his. Like he's blooming even with his strict schedule.
He needs to stop thinking about Sasuke.
It took him an hour to stop analyzing why Itachi was there, of all places. He doesn't need to spend four more hours to think about Sasuke.
Sasuke doesn't deserve anyone thinking about him. He's a bastard who deserves to be ignored the same way he ignores the efforts of all those who care for him. He's an asshole who deserves to be forgotten by the public. He's a—
Naruto bites his lip.
Against his will, Naruto remembers: the confident smile strained at the edges, the cocky pose stiffened at the shoulders, the courageous figure weakened at the knees.
Naruto remembers Sasuke.
Remembers the boy who wordlessly helped put ointment and bandages over the raw lines on his back. Remembers the boy who unflinchingly shouldered the responsibilities of being the school's number one delinquent in order to protect him. Remembers the boy who kindly pulled him away from the sticky claws of their hometown.
Naruto remembers Sasuke.
"He's not my friend. He's my servant."
Kinomoto Sasuke, the boy who uttered those words.
"I don't need you anymore, Naruto."
Kinomoto Sasuke, the boy who threw him away.
"I'd love to see you try."
Kinomoto Sasuke, the boy who thought nothing of him.
Naruto remembers Sasuke.
It's been many weeks since that day, but Naruto remembers, and Naruto understands that he still has a long way to go before he can reach Sasuke, before he can drag Sasuke down from the throne he calls his own.
Naruto is going to catch up to him.
Even if he has to become Akatsuki's errand-boy, even if he has to be injured every day, even if he has to become Uchiha Itachi's boyfriend-harem-boy-whatever.
Naruto is going to catch up.
No matter what.
The Revenge Scenario
Scene 04: memories of nobody
Behind closed eyes: memories of a boy.
It was just another reason why the two of them were definitely soul mates.
"You should stop hanging out at the creek," Kinomoto Sasuke murmured with a voice too low and too melodious compared to other ten-year-olds. "Harusame is just going to keep bullying you. And your stepmom—"
Naruto winced with each dab of antiseptic on his back. He was starting to regret his decision to come to Sasuke; usually, the other would just wordlessly disapprove of the marks on his back and just as silently help patch him up. Sasuke was more talkative today, something Naruto wasn't sure whether to be thankful for or not. Scolding from Sasuke aside, Naruto was also worried that he was disturbing Sasuke from his chore with the hotel.
"You should be more careful."
Naruto craned his neck backwards to take a peek at Sasuke's expression as he uttered those words, but he couldn't see anything. Sasuke had his head bowed down. Naruto smiled. He was a hundred percent certain that Sasuke was hiding his worry.
"I will," Naruto promised his friend, "you worrywart."
Sasuke briskly helped Naruto put his shirt back on as soon as they were finished.
"You should be more obedient for the time being," Sasuke suggested as he reached up to return the first aid kit back to where it belonged, "you wouldn't want your stepmom to hit you again so soon."
Naruto shrugged. They never really talked about it—because Sasuke was akin to a stone and Naruto wasn't really the type to convey his angst in eloquent words—but Naruto understood why his stepmother hated him with all her heart. Naruto accepted that hate, because it was the only thing he could do to help ease her pain. Naruto knew that she wasn't a bad person, knew that she was grieving even after so many years. The villagers all knew about it too, about how Uzumaki Naruto brought all sorts of bad luck to his foster family the moment he stepped inside their welcoming home.
If being injured regularly was going to be his way of making up for the sorrow he caused the family who took him away from his downtrodden orphanage, then it was a fair price.
"I need to deliver the empty containers back to our restaurant," Naruto broke the tense silence that settled over them. It was true though; his stepmother was expecting him to be back in twenty minutes, with the empty food containers from the Kinomoto hotel in tow.
Their foster families were connected to each other as business partners, while the adopted sons were connected to each other as friends who shared a similar pain.
It was just another reason why the two of them were definitely soul mates.
Memories of a boy: behind closed eyes.
Behind closed doors: memories of a nobody.
—'That person' was here again today.
Kinomoto Sasuke was already twelve, already aware that eavesdropping warranted severe reprimand, already aware that he was being kept here, in this unchanging town, under a certain person's orders.
Sasuke had no idea who 'that person' was. He toed the line between rules and punishment, but he never found the courage to actually push open the door that separated the guest room from the hallway where he lurked. He never found the resolve to actually carry the consequences of being discovered, and of discovering who 'that person' was.
He only had bits and pieces of knowledge regarding 'that person'. He knew that 'that person's presence was important enough to warrant his parents ordering the finest wine they could get their hands on. He knew that 'that person' was terrifying enough to bring his parents to the floor, groveling for mercy. He knew that 'that person' was rich enough to be able to pay for the failing Kinomoto business that served as the 'exchange' for taking him in.
Sasuke had no idea why 'that person' sealed him inside the rotting town.
But Sasuke knew that he couldn't tell anyone about the convoluted family that he had, knew that he couldn't break free of this vicious cycle unless he did something drastic, knew that he couldn't stop being a scared little kid as long as he was in the shadow of 'that person'.
Kinomoto Sasuke was already twelve, already aware that his parents would have loved to throw him out of the house and into the unpaved streets, already aware that his parents would not even feign an attempt to bring him back if he one day decided to leave.
—'That person' was here again today.
"Sasuke is doing well at school," thirteen-year-old Sasuke couldn't help the grin that stretched his lips as he eavesdropped from beyond the door, "his homeroom teacher told us that Sasuke was good enough to be promoted to the best section next year."
The day after, Sasuke received the results of his midterm tests and they were all way below average.
He tried arguing with his teachers about how his answers were obviously correct and his papers were obviously not marked properly. He tried bringing Naruto into the argument by claiming that there was no way that the dobe who submitted a drool-covered exam scored higher than him.
—'That person' was here again today.
"Sasuke's been at the infirmary again," Sasuke frowned when he heard the note of distress in his foster parents' voices, when he heard the dull thud of knees meeting with floorboards, "he's been picking a lot of fights lately…"
The day after, Sasuke walked briskly to school as though he didn't just spend the entirety of yesterday not wincing at every stretch of his muscles. He was greeted by a cheerfully smiling Naruto, who then immediately launched into a hundred-word-per-minute story about how he met the coolest person ever while Sasuke was at home nursing his bruises and ego. Sasuke noticed the odd, shiny necklace Naruto was wearing, but to point it out meant that Sasuke cared.
He did care, but he liked to keep that a secret, especially since he was building his reputation as the town's number one delinquent.
"Oh yeah, by the way," Naruto paused in his rambling to peer at Sasuke in half-curiosity and half-awe, "I heard that you destroyed Harusame's gang. How cool is that? And how come you never invited me to join the fight? I could have practiced my moves on them!"
Sasuke gave a fleeting retort about how the only moves Naruto knew were the ones from his delusions, but there was no bite in his words. After all, he was too busy being surprised. He was there at the creek yesterday, and he was pretty sure that he was the one who got his ass kicked soundly. Apparently, in the time between yesterday's trip home from the infirmary and today, he suddenly gained the title of being the most badass delinquent in town. Even though he was the one who got beaten up.
The day after that was a weekend, and Sasuke quickly finished the hotel inventory before he sneaked out for a quick break. He wasn't feeling any guilt, but there was a nagging feeling at the bottom of his stomach. He wondered if he was simply hungry and if he should just go and visit Naruto next door. Sasuke ignored those thoughts and set out for Harusame's house, not to apologize, but to observe how the other was doing. If Sasuke believed the rumors that circulated like a hurricane in-between classrooms, Harusame was rendered nearly unable to walk and even speak.
Sasuke arrived at Harusame's house, anxiety in his gut. Sasuke took a hesitant step inside the unkempt front garden.
"They moved out," a deep voice offered from across the street, "earlier today."
"Who are you?" Sasuke shot back, because he was already fourteen, because he already knew every single person in this town and that person was definitely not from here.
"You should go back to the hotel," the stranger said, arms crossed over his chest, entire posture deceivingly lax, "Sasuke."
Sasuke stared at the man with an all-black attire, with a face almost-completely covered by a high-collar jacket and huge black sunglasses.
He didn't know this person, but he knew how to trust his gut feeling.
—'That person' was here again today.
Memories of a nobody: behind closed doors.
—From behind closed eyes: a dream dissolves.
Itachi wakes up as efficiently as he falls asleep: his dream retreats to the shadows at the back of his mind and his consciousness rises up to remind himself the things he needs done today.
Three-fifty-five in the morning and Kisame will only arrive at four-thirty.
Itachi wakes up routinely at four-fifteen, but he is admittedly more rattled today than any other days. His work ethic for the past few years of being at Akatsuki involved him seamlessly gliding into his roles and effortlessly handling all his tasks. But he does feel a little strain with each job; it's just inevitable that his recent projects are causing him more stress than usual.
Three-fifty-seven and Itachi is finished with making his bed. There are no visible creases in the sheets and Itachi thinks of sitting back on them, maybe throw the pillows into disarray. He ends up sitting on the edge of the newly-made bed, barely disturbing the smoothened sheets.
Itachi mechanically reaches for the hair brush laid on the table by the foot of the bed. The floorboards are cold against his bare feet but he doesn't mind the chill. From his spot, he can see a neon orange pillow on top of a battered couch. The color makes his head hurt for a moment, but Itachi simply closes his eyes to rid himself of the sight. He focuses on counting each stroke of the brush against his hair.
Four-o-two and Itachi sets the brush down as he makes his way to the dining area of his one-room apartment. Despite the stressful encounter (that isn't really an encounter if nobody recognized anyone) yesterday night, his routine is still unaffected: he managed to prepare his breakfast before he allowed himself to be swallowed by stormy thoughts in his sleep. Itachi frowns as he takes out the sandwich he prepared the previous night, notices that one slice is three centimeters off the mark. He sighs and thinks that it really can't be helped that he's losing his focus lately.
Itachi neglects to turn on the heater before he showers, but the heater fails to work seventy-nine percent of the time anyway. He doesn't mind the cascade of cold water; Kisame has stopped reminding him that normal people catch cold from such practices.
Four-fifteen and Itachi is in front of his laptop, a steaming cup of coffee beside him.
Itachi doesn't look up when the front door clicks open and Kisame comes in two minutes later than usual. Kisame wastes a moment complaining about Itachi's strange taste in apartments, before he brings the empty coffee cup to the sink. Kisame tells Itachi about an interior decorator who knows how to keep clientele confidentiality. When that suggestion fails to even get an imperceptible tilt of the head, Kisame sighs and starts writing down orders for IKEA shelves to be delivered to Akatsuki HQ. Itachi is thankful that he doesn't have to repeat himself when he said that he doesn't want too much change in his apartment; Itachi is even more appreciative that Kisame knows how to make himself useful by stacking up the box upon box of documents scattered all over the living room.
Four-thirty-nine and Kisame is already bringing down most of Itachi's stuff for the filming. They need to leave in five minutes if they want to avoid traffic and reach the filming location with ten minutes to spare, as per Itachi's perfectionist workaholic standards.
Itachi isn't moving from his makeshift office at the dining table, eyes focused intently at his laptop screen.
"…Itachi-san, it's not healthy for your eyes if you keep on glaring at your computer screen." Kisame politely avoids mentioning Itachi's mutterings. He has never seen Itachi angry (except maybe that one time?). Itachi seemed like a very serene person, which is why his unpleasant stare at whatever he's reading is sending shivers down Kisame's spine. Naturally, Kisame takes a peek at the page Itachi is so focused at.
Kisame blinks. He notices the bright orange pillow on the battered couch that is way below Itachi's salary. "And why are you even researching those two, anyway? Isn't that the newbie? And the other one? Looks familiar…"
Itachi levels him with a disapproving look. A pale hand promptly closes his laptop. "I'm researching my rival, Kisame."
"A rival?" Kisame is all for team spirit and what-not, but he doesn't think the newbie is even at the level of Itachi's ankle. "Really?"
Four-forty-four and Itachi shuts the door to his scarce one-room apartment. A flight of steps, a short walk after, and Itachi settles himself on the backseat of the company-issued car.
"Yes," Itachi doesn't seem to mind the blatant disbelief in Kisame's tone and facial expression, "he's my rival in everything."
Kisame keeps his eyes on the road, because he doesn't want to spend another second looking at the chilling smile on Itachi's face.
—From behind closed eyes: a dream capsizes.
Naruto wakes up from his power nap a few moments after the director yells at everyone that break is over. He gratefully accepts the store-bought cappuccino that Itachi passes to him. Naruto regrets spending too much too time tossing and turning last night, especially since the director doesn't seem to be satisfied with whatever everyone is doing.
It's in the middle of Take 18 when Naruto makes a mistake of thinking about Neji and his motorcycle commercial with Gaara (…isn't that being filmed nearby?).
"CUT! CUT!" The director, Mizuki, yells while making wild hand gestures. "I NEED YOU TO SHOW MORE PASSION! MORE ALLURE!"
Naruto frowns when the director calls for another short break. It's only the first day—that's a good thing because Naruto doesn't think they can finish anything today. What the hell is up with 'more passion' anyway? Isn't it enough that he's practically humping Itachi's leg already?
"Naruto-kun," Itachi's voice floats from his corner, far away from the director ranting at his producers and cameramen, "I need to talk to you."
Those words draw the attention of some of their fellow actors and some of the staff, but Naruto doesn't mind them. Itachi motions for him to come closer; Naruto feels a little awkward now—he's been hanging all over Itachi's legs during the shooting after all. Itachi doesn't look affected by any of it—the passionate scenes, the steadily rising sun, the director's loud complaints. A spark of admiration grows within Naruto—he should be more professional like Itachi, or else, he can't even hope to take the number one spot and pummel Sasuke with it.
His thoughts are so focused with the mental image of him beating Sasuke up and Naruto nearly shrieks when Itachi's right hand reaches out to hold his trembling left fist.
"W-W-W-W-W-WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
His would-be shriek downgrades to a fierce whisper instead.
"You should forget that you're 'Uzumaki Naruto'." Itachi's eyes are set straight ahead. Naruto feels his face burn as he spots Kakashi blatantly taking pictures from the other side of the set. And as though to add to his cause for embarrassment, Neji and Gaara (presumably having finished their own shoot) are now making their way towards Kakashi.
"…Are you hypnotizing me?"
Itachi's eyes swings back from wherever he's looking to lock gazes with Naruto. "Hypnotize you?"
Despite his elementary and high school classmates routinely calling him an idiot, Naruto has never believed them. Until now, that is. "Uh, you know. I heard that it's easier to act if you're hypnotized. Saw it in one film. And you look like the type who can, erm, hypnotize people."
Itachi's eyebrows twitch, almost imperceptibly. Naruto averts his eyes and regrets the move because now he can see both Kakashi and Gaara openly taking pictures. It's a small mercy that Neji looks disapproving of the two's actions, but it's not like Neji is actively doing anything to stop those two from substituting for paparazzi.
"You should forget that you're 'Naruto'," Itachi continues as if Naruto didn't interrupt and misinterpret his previous advice, "and take on the character's persona. Your character in this commercial is my 'boyfriend', who wants me so badly." Itachi laughs a little at that. "Because of the perfume I'm advertising, apparently."
"My type doesn't matter in this shoot," Itachi goes on—and as though to provide more things for Kakashi to tease Naruto about—pulls Naruto up by their linked hands, "all that matters is that you want me and you look at me like I'm everything you can ever want."
Itachi breaks their strange hand-hold once they reach the mini-stage in front of the cameras. Director Mizuki is calling back the actors for Take 19; said actors are openly gaping and eavesdropping at the conversation happening in front of them.
Itachi's voice is breathy and sensual, just like how the protagonist of the commercial should sound like.
"You can do that, right, Naruto-kun?"
"Well, that was a great shoot," Kakashi congratulates Naruto with a grin that turns lecherous in a flash. "So, I see that you've become really close with Itachi, hmm?"
"He gave me advice about my role," Naruto protests, swatting away Kakashi's attempts to take a picture of his flushed face. "And I'm really thankful for that, because I don't think I could have finished today's shooting without his help."
"Was the advice somewhere along the lines of: 'look at me like I'm the hottest person in the room'?"
Neji sighs and gives in to the urge of hitting Gaara over the head with a rolled-up script.
"Naruto, this is Gaara, the idiot I'm working with." Neji gestures to the space between the two of them, figuring that since they're now all colleagues, a formal introduction is needed. "Gaara, this is Naruto, the idiot I'm on probation with."
Naruto looks too spent from six hours of shooting to even argue with Neji's words.
"Hey, I resent being lumped together with him," Gaara smirks at the exhausted-yet-still-fiery glare Naruto shoots him, "at least call him the idiot of all idiots? Or at least call me the very talented 'idiot' you're working with?"
Neji rolls his eyes and hits Gaara again, this time on his forehead, targeting the bright red tattoo. "Idiots have no right to complain."
"Okay, okay, settle down, kids!" Kakashi interjects, lightly hitting all three of them with his thicker rolled-up script. Gaara looks downright murderous at the action, but Kakashi only grins cheekily at him in response. "Save your energy for later, okay?"
The word 'later' is like a sobering reminder to the three newest Akatsuki talents about the filming of Memories of Nobody, possibly the most anticipated movie of the decade.
"I'm not sure if they informed you already, but Director Pein made some changes in the script so that the three of you can have some parts in the movie—"
"ALL RIGHT!" Naruto pumps his fists in the air, jumping around as though he didn't get just an abysmal two hours of sleep the night before. "BRING IT ON!"
Kakashi chuckles at the energy Naruto is displaying. "But of course, you won't be shooting your scenes today, but you can see the set, learn about the movie—"
Kakashi trails off when Naruto doesn't even try to pretend to listen, and Gaara is busy harassing Neji about something. It's great to see them all act friendly with each other, really. The lively newcomers provide a nice contrast against Akatsuki's number one actor, whose emotionlessness can rival a stone.
It's also great to see said stone interacting with Naruto.
Kakashi is aware of Naruto's almost-insane hatred for Sasuke. He's all too aware of the consequences if Naruto is unable to control that hatred, or worse, if Naruto is consumed by that hatred. Itachi is probably the first (and hopefully not the only) person that managed to coax a heartfelt emotion from Naruto aside from hate.
…Of course, as Jiraiya informed him last week, Itachi has his own set of issues too, but if Itachi can help Naruto out, then there's no harm there, right?
The two of them have to bring back some materials to the Akatsuki main office, so Neji and Gaara part ways with Naruto for the moment.
Normally, Neji welcomes any Naruto-free time, but the way Gaara is staring at him intently is making Neji wish that the idiot-blond is here instead. The uncomfortable stare doesn't let up even while they're handing over a briefcase of documents to Shizune, even while they're reporting to Tsunade about the end of the shooting for their commercial.
"What is it?" Neji finally asks, headache brewing at the base of his skull.
Gaara looks contemplatively at him. "Do you like Uzumaki Naruto?"
Neji is a grown man, he's nineteen already, he's a sophomore at Tokyo University, he's in public, he's in front of Akatsuki's main office,he's not going to snap.
"What makes you ask that?" Neji only lets the question out once he finishes his mental counting from one to twenty, forwards-backwards. Neji resumes walking toward the restaurant they always eat at, not because it's probably Gaara's favorite restaurant, but because it's the nearest food establishment and Neji is famished. Gaara's nonsensical questions are only making his stomach acid bubble even more.
"You're more energetic when he's around," Gaara observes, matching Neji's pace, "you even hit me. Twice."
Neji sort-of wants to cry about the injustice in the world. But he's too hungry to even do that, so he settles for walking faster. And maybe retorting a little bit. "Look, I know that it's because of you that I've been selected for probation, but I don't know what makes you think that you can just—"
"…It's because your piano is enchanting."
"Like I said, it's because your piano is enchanting."
"I heard what you said!"
"So you made me repeat myself for nothing?"
"You're impossible!" Neji almost throws up his hands in exasperation, but they've already reached the restaurant and Neji has a strict policy about making a fool of himself in front of others.
"…So do you like Uzumaki—"
Gaara doesn't look convinced.
Neji elbows Gaara sharply in the ribs for good measure.
They don't talk about Naruto for the rest of their meal. Neji wants to clarify the statement about his piano, but Neji doesn't know how to ask.
…Maybe some other time.
—From behind closed eyes: a dream bursts.
Neji wakes up from a short nap when their car hits a particularly sharp bump in the road. A blanket is pulled up until his shoulders—it's a blanket that Neji doesn't remembering putting around himself, because it's a blanket he doesn't even own. They're due to reach the filming location of Memories of Nobody in roughly twenty more minutes. He's thankful that it's not Gaara driving; Neji's not so keen on the idea of arriving half-an-hour early thanks to the redhead not allowing common sense such as traffic laws to stop him.
Neji tries to sleep for the remainder of the ride, but it's a futile attempt. He spies the back of Gaara's head, and thinks about coincidences and second chances. Truthfully, Neji doesn't have any interest in acting or show business. He doesn't even watch the television for anything aside from news and business channels. He's a Tokyo University student, working for a specialized degree in International Economics; the road to get there has been paved with time spent on books and studying. But here he is now, nevertheless, as one of Akatsuki's newest talent.
It has never been in his life's plan to be here.
Neji lightly bumps his forehead against the tinted windows, his eyes wide open but he's not looking at the repetitive scenery outside.
The gentle face of his cousin, Hyuuga Hinata, is what he sees instead.
It's no secret to everyone in the Hyuuga Clan that Neji has a deep-seated interest in business. More importantly, Neji actually has the ability to handle business transactions and understand the way economies work. It's also no secret to everyone in the Hyuuga Clan that Neji comes from its so-called secondary family, a family that shares the famous Hyuuga name, but nothing of its dignity and wealth. It doesn't matter if Neji is smart, capable and confident enough to be the next president of the Hyuuga Industries. Neji hails from the secondary family and thus, has no standing in the family business.
It's no secret to everyone in the Hyuuga Clan that Hinata has a deep-seated fear of dealing with people. More importantly, Hinata's dream has always been to work with movies, to help produce films that can uplift spirits and bring enjoyment. It's also no secret to everyone in the Hyuuga Clan that as the heir to the Hyuuga Clan's primary family, Hinata has to shoulder the responsibilities of leading the family business. It doesn't matter if Hinata is supremely unsuited for anything resembling cutthroat business deals. Hinata is the heir and it's her responsibility, and it's never been a choice.
Against her will, Hinata is going to be the next Hyuuga Industries' President.
Neji can only stand in the sidelines and help coach her so she can get in Tokyo University as well.
Hinata's fragile shoulders have never been made to handle all those responsibilities and all those broken dreams.
The car stops.
Neji blinks to chase away his thoughts. There's no telling what kind of teasing Gaara would launch at him once he sees the blank look on his face.
Just as Hinata is living out Neji's goals, Neji is going to make sure that he accomplishes Hinata's dream in her stead.
"What are we even doing here?"
Two weeks later finds Naruto in a restaurant two blocks away from the Akatsuki main offices. Filming for Memories of Nobody is continuing smoothly, but there's no scheduled shooting for the next few days. Instead of resting or studying the script, Naruto is slacking off with two other colleagues in a fancy restaurant, and they're not even there to eat.
"We're spying on Neji's date," Gaara's eyes are staring intently at the couple seven tables away from them, "so far, there's been that kiss to the cheek, and—"
"You're really keeping tabs on those?" Naruto's tone is disapproving, but even he is not-so-subtly observing the couple.
"I take pictures!"
"That's not really something to be proud of," Naruto is already looking forward to Neji's reaction once he notices his mini stalking squad, "and aren't you supposed to be busy training us, Kakashi-sensei?"
"Well, take this as a lesson for espionage?"
Naruto would like to argue that wearing a very conspicuous mask isn't something a spy would do, but Kakashi shushes him when Neji starts ordering desserts.
"I thought you said they were cousins?"
Kakashi smiles. Or at least, Naruto thinks he just smiled. It's hard to tell. "They are. But, you know."
No, Naruto doesn't know.
Gaara seems to know though, because he nods at Kakashi's words. "She's the Hyuuga heiress."
Naruto doesn't know much about big-shot companies, and he lets his companions know as much. He's here as an actor (under probation) for Akatsuki, not as a businessman!
Naruto also doesn't find it strange: the fact that Neji is meeting up with his cousin on his day-off. What he finds strange is the usually-arrogant Neji's surprising gentleness with his date. Naruto isn't sure which Neji to believe: the stuck-up person who believes he's fated to Japan's top star, or the amiable person who treats his pretty cousin like she'll break with the slightest pressure.
While Naruto is busy pondering about Neji's possible bipolar tendencies, Kakashi and Gaara are discussing the Hyuuga Industries.
"It's even possible that Hyuuga Industries will overtake Uchiha Corporations," Gaara comments with a sip of his drink, "and the Sarutobi International appears content with maintaining their current state."
Kakashi chuckles humorlessly. "Aren't you forgetting to include your family's business?"
"I'm not the one in-charge of the Sabaku Group," Gaara's words are stone-cold, green eyes shifting their stare from Neji's table to the much-older Kakashi seated beside him, "and I never will be."
"Well, a lot of this generation's showbiz stars come from top-class business empires," Kakashi comments lightheartedly, "it's interesting."
Gaara regards Kakashi with a severe look. He doesn't see anything that warrants a scathing remark, so Gaara exhales and lets the matter go. It's not wise to keep discussing these things openly too, even if Naruto is virtually clueless about them.
"…It is curious," Gaara replies after a drawn-out moment, "and very interesting."
Gaara knows that despite his apathy regarding the business rivalries between Japan's most powerful families, he can't escape the consequences of his actions forever. He wants to do what he wants, but he there are also things that he needs to do. His family isn't saying anything at the moment, but he's sure that it has come to their attention: the strange closeness between him and Neji. It's only a matter of time before they send someone to give him instructions on how to deal with someone from a rival company. It's only a matter of time before Gaara does something stupid and fling back those instructions to their faces.
…It's only a matter of time.
"Wow, you guys look good." Naruto feels a flash of respect and admiration for his fellow newcomers. And because Naruto can't resist adding a jab: "You guys looked like a couple."
Neji's cheeks are too pale to hide the sudden burst of red. "We're not a couple, you idiot."
"But you do have natural chemistry," Kakashi chimes in with his two cents, looking too amused at their antics. The commercials are set to air later in the evening; this special advance screening is courtesy of Kakashi.
Neji appears like he's physically holding back from chastising their senpai. But fortunately for him, Gaara shifts the topic to another target. It's not like Kakashi only showed them the motorcycle commercial, after all.
"Speaking of natural chemistry, you look like you really enjoy working with Uchiha-san."
It's now Naruto's turn to start sputtering denials. "It's only because Itachi told me to act as his boyfriend, okay?"
Kakashi looks surprised. Itachi has been in the business long enough for him to have been involved in a handful of romantic roles, but this is definitely the first time (as far as Kakashi knows) that Itachi actually requested for his co-actor to act like that. Kakashi wonders, for split-second, whether he should tell Naruto about that, but he decides against it. He still can't shake off the ominous tone of Jiraiya's words regarding Itachi—and he doesn't want to give Naruto weird ideas.
"Well, you look like you enjoyed acting as his boyfriend, Uzumaki Naruto."
"They even had a 'moment' during the filming," Neji chips in, apparently realizing that as long as the teasing is focused on Naruto, there is no room for any more comments about his working arrangement with Gaara. Then, almost as an afterthought, "make that several 'moments'."
Kakashi grins at them. "I have the pictures too!"
Naruto rolls his eyes, a bit awkward at the teasing, but admittedly enjoying himself. It's only harmless fun—it's not like anyone actually thinks that he has something going on with Itachi, anyway. The mere prospect is ridiculous, not only because Itachi is their senpai and is way out of their league. Naruto doesn't love anyone that way—at least, not anymore.
Just the thought of love is enough to drive his thoughts to Sasuke and straight to hatred. He knows it's unhealthy and unwise to keep on hating the idea of falling in love, but he can't help it.
Naruto allows himself a small smile as his colleagues continue on pestering him about working with Itachi.
He's smiling, but his thoughts are still boiling on the inside.
It's just another reason why Sasuke ruins everything.
Sasuke walks back home, after a day spent holed up in the studio trying out his composed lyrics and studying the script for the movie he's supposed to sing for. He vaguely thinks about grabbing a bite of dinner, but he isn't so hungry. Maybe he can get an onigiri from the convenience store? Seeing Kabuto just before going home definitely soured his appetite, but he also knows that it's not going to do him any favors if he starts skipping meals.
The crowd around him is thick, faces bowed down, umbrellas and raingears everywhere. Sasuke wonders if he should have allowed Sakura to hail a cab for him. He tries to remember if he actually told her that he's going on ahead, because he doesn't have enough patience to wait for a cab or for the company-issued car. Well, Sakura is smart, so she should notice that he already left.
Sasuke reaches the city's main intersection, and makes the mistake of looking up.
In front of Sasuke are a plethora of electronic billboards: neon lights bright and dazzling against the background of heavy rain. He catches the last few seconds of the commercial about the launch of a new gaming console, and makes the mistake for continuing to watch.
He continues to stare at the flashing lights, eyes widening at the commercial now playing before his eyes.
His hands ball up in fists when he recognizes Uchiha Itachi's face, overly familiar even under the heavy, exotic make-up. His teeth grind dangerously when he notices the surrounding crowd look up from their feet and gape at the perfume commercial being aired.
Sasuke prides himself on his poker face, but even his self-control isn't enough to conceal his shock when he spots a very familiar blond in the commercial, isn't enough to cushion his burst of anger when he sees the person he least expected to betray him this way.
He loses his grip on his umbrella, but he doesn't notice.
Sasuke continues staring blankly at the screens, airing the commercial over and over and over again.
And like a sudden fall, he realizes that despite the mountain of things still left behind on his apartment, Naruto is already—
"What the fuck are you doing, Naruto?"
End: Scene 04: memories of nobody
Enter Next Scene?
The Revenge Scenario
Scene 04.10: the needle night rain
"Hoshigaki Kisame-san," Sakura acknowledges with a bow and watches her fellow manager do the same. They've been crossing paths quite often lately and Sakura is suspicious, to say the least. It's a bit of a consolation that Kisame looks similarly curious about their third meeting in less than two days.
"Are you looking for Uchiha-san?" Sakura takes a peek at the luxury shop they're in front of and decides that Sasuke is most definitely not inside. Sakura mentally tallies the places where Sasuke could have gone, and realizes that Sasuke probably walked back home. Again. Sakura can never fathom why the rising star refused to enjoy the luxuries of being a celebrity. That, and Sasuke's steady refusal to allow his manager to see his place of residence. Sakura understood the need for privacy, but she's his manager!
Kisame is also surveying the displays of clothing. "And I guess you're looking for the kid."
Sakura bristles at that, even though it's true that compared to Itachi, and to the much-older Kisame, Sasuke is really just a kid.
"I didn't know Uchiha-san enjoyed running off," Sakura actually enjoys watching Itachi's works, but she is compelled by her loyalty to Sasuke. Plus, it's not like it isn't true. The times she bumped into Kisame were also the times he was looking for the missing Itachi.
"I respect Itachi-san's space," Kisame answered with a challenging grin.
Sakura is about to retort heatedly, when she notices the new commercial being aired in the electronic billboards in front of her.
She notices Uchiha Itachi, of course, but the blond in the commercial (with the incredibly enviable role of being allowed to bodily cling to Itachi) is also familiar.
Sakura tries to think where has she seen him before, but before she can pinpoint the man's identity, she sees Kisame running towards the city's main intersection. Without thinking, she follows the older man. After all, in their last couple of encounters, she always finds Sasuke not too far away from where Uchiha Itachi is.
Gaara returns to a spacious, empty house, his wet footsteps soaking the carpet in the foyer. He mechanically removes his jacket and his socks; his bare feet welcoming the immense cold of the night. The rain is still pouring, a sharp contrast to the scorching afternoon. He passes by the hallway that is devoid of any decorations aside from the clean, white paint; he routinely inspects the kitchen, the dining room, the backdoors, before going to the living room. It doesn't seem like anybody went inside the house while he's out—there are no signs of forced entry and everything looks as they should. Still, it doesn't hurt to be careful, so Gaara will review the security tapes before he goes to sleep.
On his way home, he passed by a couple of billboards, colorful words and vibrant pictures all but a blur to his eyes. Of course he noticed the new motorcycle advertisement, as well as the perfume commercial.
He thinks back on Kakashi's words earlier this afternoon, about 'natural chemistry', and realizes that Naruto's expression looks genuine enough to look real, while Itachi's look a little forced. Of course, that just might be because Gaara is privy to information about the Uchiha Corporations. The fact that the Uchiha Clan's prodigy entered the show business surprised him when he first learned about it; it still doesn't make sense to Gaara, even now that they're in the same company.
Gaara's gaze lingers at the grand piano in the middle of the living room. He remembers Neji—but then his eyes catch the sight of the blinking answering machine, and he remembers Neji for an entirely different reason.
He knows that his siblings call at least four times a day; he also knows the words they undoubtedly left behind.
One of the billboards had an advertisement about the new gaming console. It's only a matter of time before the Sabaku Group releases a product to compete with their rivals. It's only a matter of time before his father sends his men to bring Gaara back to their headquarters.
Gaara lets his eyes stray back to the piano, to the enamel-white keys, and decides that he can live with another day of not hearing the words of his family.
"I'm sorry but the bathhouse is closed for the night."
"So you're going to leave me out in the cold, pouring rain?" Kakashi asks mournfully. As if on cue, thunder roars in the sky and the rain comes down even harder.
Umino Iruka knows that this man is dangerous—he may not be a delinquent, but danger can appear on different forms—but he also knows that this man needs someone. That 'someone' isn't Iruka—they're hardly friends, after all, but Iruka knows that right now, there is no one around for this man.
…Plus, he feels a little guilty for overhearing the phone call just now.
"No, I'm not," Iruka stands aside and opens the door a little wider. Naruto is currently staying at the Akatsuki-provided hotel rooms, so Kakashi can take Naruto's room if he needs to stay overnight.
Kakashi looks surprised at the charity. Iruka isn't surprised by that; after all, the few times they have previously interacted consisted of him being hostile to the other man. But Iruka owes this man for taking care of Naruto now, and well. It's also to make amends for listening in to that phone call.
"Thank you, Iruka-san," Kakashi says quietly, before entering Iruka's house.
Outside, the rain continues to pour.
There are hundreds of civilians milling around, eyes focused on their paths, umbrellas drawn over their heads, but even the nearly monochromatic drone of the surrounding people isn't enough to hide pale-white skin and deep-black eyes of the person in front of him. There are a couple of people that bridge the distance between him and the still figure in the middle of the bustling intersection, but Itachi feels as though they've never been closer.
A worrying expression is on the upcoming singing sensation's face: an expression that Itachi can clearly see despite the dripping wet locks sticking on his eyelids and despite the steady downpour of rain blanketing the black-suit-wearing crowd with ashen gray.
There have (only) been a handful of times that he has spotted Sasuke, but during all those times, Sasuke sported an arrogant countenance.
Cool, calm, confident.
That's why it's disconcerting to see a dumbfounded expression on the younger one's face; that's why it's surreal to see anger-stiffened shoulders hunched in the rain.
Itachi takes a sudden step forward, fingers tightening their grip on his umbrella. He doesn't question the need to bring Sasuke away from the rain, or at least, shield Sasuke from the downpour. He doesn't look up at the blinding commercials being aired on the electronic billboards overhead, because his eyes are focused on his path and his path alone.
And just as quickly as his steps start, they stop. Itachi's eyes narrow a tiny fraction, recognizing the disturbance in the monochrome with Sasuke's manager's appearance. Black eyes narrow further when he senses Kisame's presence from a few steps behind.
Kisame's words blend into the background of 'Sasuke-kuuuuun, I've been looking for you—!', a hundred footsteps and a thousand raindrops.
"You shouldn't be drinking too much," Jiraiya verbally chastises his drinking partner, but he doesn't make an effort to remove the sake bottle out of her reach, "you need to be at the office early tomorrow, right?"
Tsunade glares at him for even daring to suggest stopping. The two of them have been friends for nearly a lifetime, so Jiraiya knows that look well enough. He raises his hands in a placating gesture, surrendering this round. Still, he does make a mental note to remind Shizune to bring in a box of aspirin tomorrow.
"I've been doing some research," and that almost immediately sobers up Tsunade, who moves in closer to listen to the whispered words, "as you requested."
Tsunade's hands bypass the now-empty sake bottle and instead reach for the surveillance photos and reports in Jiraiya's envelope. She asked her old friend to do background checks on quite a number of people, and Jiraiya always manages to fulfill her requests thoroughly.
"I've traced Naruto's orphanage, but I still don't have enough evidence to link him to—"
"There has to be a link," Tsunade insists, her fingers twisting their grip on the papers in her hold, "he has that necklace!"
"I know, I know. I didn't say I will stop researching him." Jiraiya replies good-naturedly; he's too used to Tsunade's impatience to feel alarmed, though he does worry about the documents in her grip.
Tsunade sighs and starts opening another sake bottle.
"Itachi… do you think we should schedule him for an international film?" Jiraiya asks, nursing his drink. The information with him is still incomplete, but it's enough to inform him that keeping Itachi in this city or even in this country isn't such a good idea. Itachi's films are also grabbing the attention of some foreign companies, so sending him overseas will definitely bring promising prospects for his career.
"He is getting along with Naruto quite well, actually," Tsunade considers the information, "and that worries you?"
Jiraiya chuckles, the hollow sound drowning with the steady sound of the raindrops outside.
"Well, he is a worrying person."
"…I'm going to collect payment."
The sound of water gushing into the sewage drainages overpowers the sound of footsteps upon a dirty alley floor wet with rain and sticky with grime.
"What for?" The man echoes the question uttered by the person on the other end of the line.
Even with the ash-grey haze caused by the relentless downpour, the malicious glint in the person's eyes remains vibrant. The sardonic scoff that accompanies the man's next words is even colder than the entire city drowning in its sleep.
"For your failure."
Aside from the blazing charcoal eyes, nothing in the man's appearance suggests that he's madder than he's ever remembered, or that the person on the other end of the line has already collapsed to his knees in a desperate bid for forgiveness. And that's possibly the most terrifying thing about this man—to be able to affect and control other people with just a displeased hiss of words… and it's all effortless.
The man puts an end to the phone call abruptly, effectively cutting off the pathetic groveling from reaching his ears.
He hears it clearly: the sound of drumbeat-raindrops, the sound of streaming-floodwater and the sound of unrefined-swaggers.
The sky above is unforgiving and dark.
He sees it clearly: foolishness in the form of human beings drunk with cheap booze and delusions of strength.
The high collar of his raingear covers the bottom half of his face; the bangs glued by raindrops to his forehead conceals the rest of his facial identity. The jacket he's wearing grants an illusion of him being bulkier than he really is, and judging from the muggers' confident grins, they see through that illusion.
Usually, he doesn't drag this type of scenario out. Prolonged exposure to the rain is also not advisable for anyone's health, including his. But he welcomes this icy temperature, if only because it helps alleviate the bubbling anger circulating all over his body. He is angry and he is tired. This is certainly not an advisable situation, but he is angry enough for it to not matter.
He sees it clearly: the slightly-displaced cover of a manhole ten feet away, the pile of non-biodegradable garbage of the city's unconcerned citizens seventeen feet away, the inebriated grin of a human trash looming right in front of him.
Everyone in the city is huddled inside their homes; nobody is awake to witness a couple of garbage disposed properly along with their brethren.
With perfectly calculated movements, the muggers who were planning to steal the man's belongings were instead the one stolen from.
It only takes ten minutes.
The man leaves the alley and resumes his roundabout stroll back to his home.
The high-collared jacket is discarded in a different drainage; the man's identity isn't covered at all.
And just like earlier, nobody is awake to see the man's cold smile.
End: Scene 04.10: the needle night rain
To Be Continued
DUNDUNDUN—! I'm so sorry, this is mostly a lighthearted fic, but I just can't resist SRSBSNS plots—! …Ahahaha;;; Also, Kakashi/Iruka scene, get? LOL The phone call is going to be revealed in the future chapter(s), but for now, it's going to stay as that mysterious plot device for KakaIru LOL
Side Story: Starting next chapter, I'm including a mini-side-story about each character's pasts. I'm still deciding whether next chapter's side story is for Neji or Kakashi. Hmm.
Next Chapter: Scene 05: the whirlwind opera (keep your enemies closer) – snippet one
Kakashi knows that he shouldn't, but he can't help it. "Why don't you guys practice kissing first?"
Naruto is ready to retort that perverts aren't allowed to give their opinions on these things, but Itachi speaks up first. In a tone that dooms Naruto to another round of teasing, this time not only from his peers but from the entire cast, Itachi says: "…That doesn't sound like a bad idea."
Next Chapter: Scene 05: the whirlwind opera (keep your enemies closer) – snippet two
"Pleased to meet you, my name is Sai."
Naruto is stunned, but he reaches out anyway to receive the proffered handshake. But before he can even introduce himself, the person who looks alarmingly similar to Sasuke speaks again (in words that are definitely not Sasuke-like). "So I heard that you're in a relationship with someone who looks like me?"
"It's not like that! We just used to live together!"
"…But didn't you join Akatsuki just a few months ago? My, you move fast, don't you? Even if you're small." Sai's gaze drops pointedly.
Naruto tries to ignore the blatant stare; he hopes that Sai is just suddenly finding the tiles interesting. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Hmm, well. I figured that Itachi-san is the type who will wait for a long time before moving in with anyone. Or rather, I figured Itachi-san isn't interested. Even though I also figured that Itachi-san has a large penis. And I figured that—"
"CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?" Naruto hurriedly covers the newcomer's mouth in an effort to stop the stream of garbage from coming out. "And what does Itachi have to do with all of this?"
"But you just said that you used to live together?"
"I wasn't talking about him!"
Sai's blank expression barely changes, but his tone is a blend of amusement and despair. "Huh, so I guess I do have another look-alike? How can I ever stand out with such a stand-out face?"