Crumble Flower

Chapter One: I Fought the War

The police car rolled to a stop at the curb near where the wrecked car rested up on the sidewalk and an officer popped open the driver's side door to step out.

"Hey there," the officer greeted, shutting the driver's side door behind him, "everyone ok here?"

"It's just me," Naruto mentioned, praying the man hadn't spotted Sasuke before he got out of plain sight. "And I'm ok. I just – screwed up."

The officer took a prolonged look at the front end of the car, most of which was crushed into the lamp pole before it, and he let out a low whistle. "What happened?"

"I thought I saw a cat."

The man clicked on his flashlight and searched the surface of the road. "Well that's one lucky cat. Looks like it'll live to see another day – or wreck another car."

Naruto only replied with a deep sigh while the gravity of his situation began settling heavily on his shoulders.

"You have a license, right?" the officer clarified; Naruto nodded in response, pulling out his wallet and handing over his driver's license. "You want to give your parents a call?"

"Not really," Naruto admitted candidly.

"I'm sure they'd be relieved to know you're ok."

Naruto was quite sure Kyuubi wouldn't care either way. "I don't…have a phone," the blonde confessed with a shrug. "But I live right down the street. I should probably just go get my foster-dad."

The officer didn't say anything after learning the news of Naruto's home situation, but he got the same look on his face that most people did when they learned he was in foster care – like it just explained everything.

"Why don't I go with you?"

"Because you think I'm gonna run away or something?" Naruto assumed unhappily.

"Because it's late and you're a minor," the man corrected while he held up the license in his hands. "Even if you run for it, I still have this."

"It's not even the right address anymore."

"All I need is your name."

Naruto let the air in his lungs out through his teeth, shoulders sagging in defeat. "Fine," he caved unhappily. "Wanna hold my hand, too? Cuz we'll have to cross the street."

The officer replied with a stiff laugh before motioning for Naruto to get moving. "Lead the way, kiddo."

The next several hours were an uncomfortable blur during which Naruto wished the officer would both go away and never leave – he hadn't been living with his new foster-parent for very long, but he was already quite aware of the man's short fuse and how easy it was to light it.

To be fair, Naruto was sort of a pain-in-the-ass – but weren't all sixteen-year-olds?

In the span of the last two hours, Naruto was awarded the privilege of waking Kyuubi up to explain that the front end of his car was wrapped around a pole down the street, was told to sit on the curb and try not to wreck that too while the adults coordinated a tow truck, and wondered if or how badly Kyuubi would beat him for all of this.

It was nearing three in the morning before Kyuubi was finished dealing with everything, and the silence that trapped the pair of them inside the small, two-bedroom apartment felt so tense it was tangible.

"You wrecked my car."

"Whatever – ok? You still have two left."

"You little shit, I swear to god –"

"I'm gonna pay for it," Naruto reassured quickly. "I swear."

"You're kidding right?"

"I will, ok?" Naruto insisted. "So you can skip kicking my ass over it."

"I wasn't gonna kick your ass – I was gonna kick you out."

"Wait! Please just – don't kick me out."

"What's the difference for you between living here or with some other stranger?" Kyuubi pressed on coldly. "They might have a nice garage for you to burn down or something."

"C'mon, I'm –" Naruto let out the air in his lungs through his teeth. "If I get one more strike, I'm gonna go to a group home," he explained anxiously. "I'll do anything, seriously. Just don't kick me out."

Kyuubi didn't respond for a moment, as if he was contemplating what he would do. "How the hell do you expect to pay me back?" he inquired caustically. "Your foster care reimbursement checks? Y'know I barely get six hundred bucks a month to keep you here. You'll age out of foster care way before you could pay off my car. Not to mention that I use that money to pay for all your shit."

"I'll get a job."

"A job?" Kyuubi repeated condescendingly. "You think you're gonna make enough working some minimum wage job on weekends and after school?"

"Just give me a chance," Naruto asked, near the verge of begging. "Please don't kick me out. Please."

Kyuubi looked down thoughtfully upon the young blonde before him for a quiet moment, contemplating what he would do; Naruto suspected he may have tapped into some closed off reserve of empathy stored somewhere deep inside the angry, red-haired man, but he really couldn't be sure.

"So you think you're gonna get a job, hm?" the man humored, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Yeah, why not?"

"I'll just cut to the chase. There's no way your pot-smoking-pain-in-the-ass would ever get hired anywhere." Naruto looked like he was prepared to argue but Kyuubi pressed on firmly, cutting him off. "I'm not stupid, ok? You come home reeking of marijuana all the time – you have a pot-stem stuck to your sleeve right now."

Naruto looked quickly to confirm, finding the damning piece of evidence caught near the back of his left sleeve and he responded with a regrettable click of his tongue. "How'd that get there?" he posed flatly.

"Were you high when you crashed my car?"

"No," Naruto confirmed steadily. "I swear."

"Well maybe you should have been – that way you'd of probably been moving too slow to crash into anything."

Naruto responded with a frustrated exhale between his lips. "Maybe," he shrugged, "but I wasn't and I crashed it while I was totally sober and speeding."

"What the hell were you trying to do, by the way?" Kyuubi pressed on curiously. "Seriously – what were you thinking?"

"I dunno, okay?" Naruto nearly yelled back, feeling powerless; he was wondering the same thing with Sasuke, and made his best guess at why Sasuke himself did it. "I'm a stupid, pissed-off teenager!"

"Yeah you're stupid, alright," Kyuubi agreed easily. "Stupid as any teenager, but I guess it does come with the territory. Either way, stupidity sure loves company."

"What's your point?"

Kyuubi responded by walking toward the front door to pluck a set of keys from a row of hooks on the wall. "Come with me."

"Where?" Naruto asked apprehensively.

"Not into a pole," Kyuubi snapped back quickly.

"Ok, that's –" the blonde complained at first before changing his tone under Kyuubi's abrasive gaze, "…fair, I guess."

At that, the pair of them closed up the apartment and left in one of two un-totaled cars parked in the driveway.

They drove in silence, taking the freeway out of the city and into the hills miles to the east; it was a half an hour before Naruto felt too anxious to keep quiet.

"Are you gonna kill me?"

Kyuubi let out a stilted laugh. "A dead body pays no man back."

"What – you gonna sell my organs or something?"

"That's actually a great idea," Kyuubi mentioned, "but not today. We can throw that idea on the backburner in case this one doesn't work out."

"Where are we going, then?"

"Fifteen more minutes and you'll find out," Kyuubi began while he turned the nob on the radio to turn the music up, if not to listen to it, then to drown Naruto out, "so shut up."

Five more minutes on the freeway, and another ten navigating small side roads through farmland brought them to a plot of land with a modest house lodged a ways back from the main street, and Kyuubi took the private, narrow, dirt road leading to it.

Once in the driveway, he put the car in park and killed the engine. "Get out," the red-haired man advised, pulling the keys from the ignition and exiting the car himself, Naruto following suit.

They walked up the driveway, through the front door on a small porch; Kyuubi kept moving straight through the empty living area just inside toward the back door where a rusty nail in the wall functioned as a makeshift hook for a single key on a metal ring.

Kyuubi led Naruto out the back door through the dark; they walked several minutes through the unpaved land behind the house before reaching a cellar door in the ground in what felt like the middle of nowhere – there was a chance Kyuubi planned to bury him here; horror stories usually started similar to this, right?

"What's down there?" Naruto asked while Kyuubi stuck the key he'd retrieved from the house into the padlock on the door.

The red haired man responded by lifting the door and swinging it open on its hinge and Naruto felt the stench of marijuana like it physically hit him in the face and he suddenly had a much better picture of what was going on.

"Let's go," Kyuubi nodded, motioning for Naruto to head down the dark steps leading into the earth beneath the door; Naruto complied with only a fraction of trepidation over the lack of light when Kyuubi followed, closing the door and sealing off the small amount of moonlight from outside with it – but in only a moment, the man hit a light switch to illuminate the hall of narrow stairs before them. "Stop at the first floor," he advised when Naruto neared the bottom of the flight.

"How many floors down does this place go?"

"Three."

"Three?" Naruto repeated while Kyuubi unlocked yet another door – this time with a key on his personal key ring.

"Yep."

Kyuubi pushed open the now unlocked door and the strength of the smell seemed to just about double; Naruto was, by no means, abject to the smell of marijuana, but even he would admit it was more powerful a smell than he thought possible.

The air inside was hot and humid from the heat of the grow lights hanging above. Naruto looked down the rows of hundreds of plants lining the room from wall to wall, very little space to walk between them.

"Green Crack, Sour Diesel, Maui Waui," Naruto noticed, reading the different labels with each new row of plants, "Jack Herer? Is this a whole floor of sativas?"

"Good eye," Kyuubi nodded in affirmation. "Indicas are down one more and hybrids under that."

"Holy crap," Naruto marveled while he walked down a row of plants all growing taller than him.

Kyuubi watched while Naruto looked around the room at everything, features a mix of both amazed and apprehensive; small amounts of marijuana weren't often taken too seriously by law enforcement where they were from, but illegal production on this scale would turn a few heads, and he was standing right in the middle of all of it.

"Why'd you bring me here?"

"I'll sell to you in bulk," Kyuubi explained with a nod toward the plants next to him, "and you can turn around and sell that to all your little pothead friends until you make enough to pay off my car."

"How uh–what's–what're we looking at, price wise?

"I paid thirty-four thousand dollars for that car – and it had about two hundred miles on it."

Naruto responded by letting the air in his lungs out through his lips, feeling discouraged; that was a lot of money.

"You're lucky you didn't take the truck," Kyuubi reassured.

"Y'know, you could have made your point by handing me a bag of weed instead of bringing me here – it's kind of reckless, isn't it? To trust me with the location of this place?"

"This is one of nine cellars just like it and is my smallest production site," Kyuubi justified. "I'm not saying I love the idea of losing any one of them, but it wouldn't put me out of business to lose this particular cellar."

"So, prison wouldn't put you out of business?"

"There's not a single thing linking this property to me and if you try to sell me out, I'll have your tongue cut off," the man explained simply. "So no, I'm not worried about prison."

"How much land do you freakin' own?"

"According to the United States government? The house the two of us are living at."

"How much land do you have here?"

"Four hundred acres," Kyuubi answered like it didn't matter. "Look, I'm not going to force you to say yes, because that would be another level of illegal, but just to put your position into perspective, it takes a full year for a fulltime minimum wage employee to make eighteen-thousand dollars."

Naruto knew it would be tough – but he also wanted to go to college and have a shot at life after, which would be a lot harder to do with a record if he was ever caught; on the other end, college might be out of his immediate grasp if Kyuubi kicked him out and he went to a group home – he could kiss the possibility of a soccer scholarship goodbye and his first priority after aging out would be finding a place to live and a way to pay for it. School would inevitably go to the backburner.

"Can I think about it?

"Think about it all you want," Kyuubi encouraged airily. "It doesn't matter how you pay me back, or even how long within reason. But I do expect you to pay me back every single penny."

"Yeah, I got it."

"Good," Kyuubi confirmed while he waved a finger in the air. "Let's wrap this up. You have school in a few hours."

Naruto's shoulders sagged in fatigue because he realized Kyuubi was right; tomorrow might be rough.

oOoOo

Sasuke spent a good majority of the night laying awake, staring up at the ceiling of his bedroom, feeling consumed with guilt and unable to do a single thing to appease it.

He wanted to text Naruto – or call him – or speak to him in any form, but Naruto didn't have a phone or a computer, so talking to him was done exclusively face-to-face, which was hardly an option right now.

No matter how badly he wanted to talk to his altruistic friend now, he knew it'd have to wait until school the following morning.

When Sasuke got to school that next day, he waited around near his locker because it was near Naruto's, and he knew it was the first place his blonde companion would go.

Sure enough, some twenty minutes later and Naruto was heading toward him, looking exhausted and aggravated upon spotting his raven-haired companion and possibly debating skipping his locker altogether.

"Naruto," Sasuke called abrasively, ready to pursue him if needed and determined not to let the blonde avoid him; with a sigh of resignation, Naruto completed the distance to his locker, sending Sasuke a furious glance upon reaching it.

"Are you mad at me?"

"What the hell do you think?" Naruto snapped while he spun the knob of his combination lock to get into his locker.

"Are you –" Sasuke began hesitantly, "are you in a lot of trouble?"

"I guess that depends on your definition of 'trouble'," Naruto supposed dryly. "For example, would you define 'trouble' as acting like a smug, conceited narcissist deep in the throes of an existential crisis? Because in that instance, no, I think I'm doing ok."

"I meant with Kyuubi."

"Oh, the guy who's supposed to be my guardian? Who also thinks I just wrapped his car around a lamppost for no reason?" Naruto clarified sarcastically. "Yeah, we're on super great terms right now – basically best friends."

"Naruto – I'm sorry…"

"Sasuke, feel free to underage drink all you want – maybe invite me next time – but don't drink and get behind the wheel of a car," Naruto emphasized plainly. "What if you killed someone? What if you killed yourself?"

Sasuke at least had the tact to look ashamed with himself. "No, you're right, Naruto. I crossed a line."

"At least you're not in denial about it."

"Do you know what the car was worth?" Sasuke asked cautiously. "What's the uh – damage?"

"Thirty-four thousand dollars."

"Jesus Christ," Sasuke sighed heavily. "I tried getting into my trust fund this morning, but I don't have access like Itachi does until I'm eighteen. I'll just ask him to get it for me."

"Don't," Naruto reassured, "it's fine. He'll be more pissed off with you than I am. Pay me back on your eighteenth birthday."

"Pay you back?" Sasuke repeated unsurely. "How the hell are you gonna pay for it?"

"Like all the other kids in the world who weren't born in a bath of cash," Naruto resolved simply. "I'll get a job."

"A job?" Sasuke repeated, like it was the most mundane thing he could come up with. "Who the hell is gonna hire you?"

Naruto didn't even bother acting offended by the backhanded question. "I might have a lead on something."

"Naruto, I feel so bad."

"Good," Naruto determined while he piled the last book he needed into his bag and shut his locker in resolution. "Remember that feeling next time you're about to do something self-destructive and stupid."

Sasuke responded with an aggravated scoff, his indifferent gaze shifting away from Naruto. "I'll leave 'stupid' to you."

Naruto responded with a dry grin and a sarcastic pat at Sasuke's shoulder. "Good plan."

"So I'll see you at practice?"

"No, see you in Ethics, I thought," Naruto reminded. "Are you not going to class?"

"No and neither are you. We're on C rotation."

Naruto nodded while he thought about it and realized Sasuke was right. "Oh my god, it's only Wednesday."

"Yeah." Wednesday was Sasuke's least favorite day; although Naruto and Sasuke were on two different academic paths and took few of the same courses, there were still those general education classes that no one could avoid, no matter how smart they were. And Wednesday was the one day of the week their shared class didn't meet.

"Then yeah – I'll see you at practice."

oOoOo

By the time practice rolled around, Naruto had spent the entire day sitting through his classes and thinking about how pissed-off he really felt with Sasuke; he couldn't think of a better way to shake the feeling than by running it all off during soccer that afternoon.

"Sasuke's open!" Jiraiya called from the side of the field; Naruto ignored him. "You have Sasuke! Right beside you – no defenders in front of him!"

Naruto responded by cutting to a stop and "passing" the ball to Sasuke – only feet from him – just about as hard as he could kick it.

Sasuke tried trapping it, but it just hit him in the stomach with a hallow reverb before bouncing out of reach from the force of the "pass" and into Gaara's territory.

Jiraiya blew the whistle around his neck, pulling the entire field to a grinding halt, every eye directed toward him.

"Naruto, what the hell was that?"

"That was the best pass in the world followed by the worst trap ever."

Sasuke scoffed, eyes taking a trip toward the sky in agitation and Jiraiya laughed openly in response.

"As if," Jiraiya settled. "Any reason you're trying to kill Sasuke?"

"I have a lot of reasons, actually," Naruto admitted openly.

"Just one reason," Sasuke reminded bitterly.

"A good one!"

"Alright, why don't the two of you take a few laps around the pitch," Kakashi interjected tiredly, "so you can work out whatever issues you have today. And leave the rest of us out of it."

Naruto felt the burn of injustice because, although he couldn't say why without risking Sasuke's perfect record, he felt he had a pretty good reason to be angry with his raven-haired companion.

"Fine, that gives me a way better shot at killing him with no one getting in the way," Naruto consented while Sasuke's eyes took a second trip around his eye-sockets in irritation.

The pair of them took off around the soccer field, Sasuke interjecting any version of "I'm sorry" he could think of and Naruto shooting them down, one after another.

"I don't know how else to say I'm sorry!" Sasuke finally admitted, his frustration leaking into his tone.

Naruto responded by kicking out Sasuke's feet from beneath him and giving him a good shove, sending him crashing to the grass below.

"What the hell, Naruto?"

"I'm sorry," Naruto bit back sarcastically. "Which apparently means I can do anything I want."

"Ok, how much longer are you going to be pissed off with me?"

"Like a week at least."

"Fine," Sasuke resigned. "I can deal with a week."

"We'll see."

Without waiting for Sasuke to get up, he turned to finish his run alone.

Naruto wasn't particularly faster than Sasuke, but he could run faster for a lot longer without tiring, and Sasuke knew he'd never catch up once he was behind, so he didn't bother trying.

oOoOo

From the other side of the field, Jiraiya and Kakashi watched Naruto and Sasuke while they jogged the perimeter, arguing the entire way; the two men couldn't hear anything either of them was saying, but it was obvious in their body language.

"Ooh," they both exclaimed in empathy when Naruto tripped up Sasuke and pushed him to the ground.

"Oh man, Sasuke must have really screwed up," Kakashi guessed, watching while the blonde yelled at his raven-haired teammate where he sat on the ground.

"Really," Jiraiya agreed with an entertained laugh, "Naruto is the most forgiving person I've ever met. Sasuke probably deserves it."

"Sasuke's had it rough lately."

"So have a lot of our students over the years," Jiraiya justified easily. "It's not a free pass to do whatever you want."

"Well put," Kakashi agreed with a sigh. "He's lucky he has Naruto to keep him in check."

It was only a few moments before Naruto finished the lap, coming to a stop near where Kakashi and Jiraiya stood, both of them turning to face him.

"I have to go," the blonde began through his heavy breathing while he reached for his equipment bag to sling it over his shoulder. "I have a thing and I forgot to tell you earlier so I'm sorry for the short notice, but I have to go."

Without waiting to hear any sort of argument, Naruto turned to leave, exiting the pitch abruptly before Sasuke could make his way back within earshot.

"What the hell?" Jiraiya breathed while he watched Naruto depart. "When has Naruto ever 'had a thing'? Soccer is his thing."

"I'd bet anything his 'thing' is getting away from Sasuke."

Upon seeing Naruto exit the field, Sasuke abandoned his lap and cut quickly across the field until he was directly behind his coaches. "Did Naruto just leave?" Sasuke asked while the pair glanced over their shoulders to acknowledge him.

"He had a thing," Jiraiya disclosed unhappily. "So, yeah – he left."

Without another word, Sasuke took off for the lockers too, without bothering to gather his equipment, Jiraiya yelling at him in disapproval while he left.

Sasuke ignored the man easily, hurrying to the locker room in hopes of catching Naruto before he could leave. He reached the locker room door and hurried inside. "Naruto," he called, looking through the rows of empty lockers and spotting Naruto just as he was leaving through the door along the wall opposite from where Sasuke entered. "Naruto, wait."

"What?" Naruto snapped.

"Come eat dinner at my house," Sasuke offered meekly. "You can come eat whatever Itachi cooked for me as retribution."

"I can't," Naruto denied simply. "I'm looking into that job I mentioned earlier."

"Alright," Sasuke conceded flatly – which Naruto knew was his closest version of disappointment. "Let me know how it goes."

Naruto noticed Sasuke's subtle deflation and, although he would have preferred to let Sasuke stew in his anxiety, Naruto's heart was too big. "Just – chill out. I'm super pissed off with you right now, but you're still my best friend."

Sasuke appeared visibly consoled by the abrasive statement, but didn't respond beyond that.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Sasuke."

With that, Naruto exited the locker room to leave the school; this time, Sasuke didn't follow.

Naruto walked home in silence, thoughts heavily directed upon what he decided to do; he spent most of the morning trying to find a good reason not to take Kyuubi's deal – aside from the risk of being arrested – but he kept coming up blank; probably because he honestly didn't hate the idea of selling marijuana at all.

He unlocked the front door and entered the house to the smell of burning weed, and he followed the scent into the living area where the smoke was accompanied by the sound of the television.

He spotted Kyuubi on the couch through the dense haze of the smoke hanging thick in the air.

"That you, kid?" Kyuubi assumed through the smoke escaping his mouth.

"Yeah," Naruto confirmed while he stepped further into the living area to speak with his guardian. "I thought about everything – and I'm gonna do it."

Kyuubi snapped his fingers in triumph, dragging heavily on the blunt between his lips. "That's the best news I've heard today," he exhaled, smoke pluming from his mouth with each word. "But let me be abundantly clear – if you get caught, you're on your own. Sell me out and I'll make sure you regret it."

"First – I'm not afraid of you," Naruto resolved firmly, "and second – I would never sell anyone out because I'm not a pathetic coward. I know what I'm getting into."

Kyuubi looked at him quietly for a moment, as if he was determining Naruto's sincerity.

"Y'know what?" the man decided, "I believe you."

Naruto didn't respond because expressing how little he cared whether Kyuubi believed him or not would have sounded ungrateful, and he didn't want to make his situation any worse than it already was.

"Sit down," Kyuubi proposed while he offered the half-smoked joint in his hands in Naruto's direction. "Let's talk business."

Naruto thought for only a short moment about whether or not to do it before deciding there could be no harm, joining Kyuubi on the couch with a drag at the pre roll to further discuss their arrangement.

"Ooh," Naruto realized uneasily upon inhaling, handing the joint back quickly, "that's not weed."

Kyuubi only laughed a little in response – like he was just waiting for Naruto to realize it.

"What is that?" Naruto coughed, feeling anxious at the near immediate response to whatever drug was mixed in with the marijuana they were smoking.

"Y'know what, kid?" Kyuubi humored easily. "Just embrace the night."

And that was the last thing Naruto remembered.

A/N:

If it's not obvious by now, there's a lot of drug use ahead. If you're not into that, now would be a good time to hop off this train wreck. Thanks for reading everyone :]

(For those the very small number of you who may be waiting on an update for Reality Bites, I'll be posting a new chapter for that one soon as well.)