Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and Company and therefore I do not make money from Naruto and Company. It is what it is.
Summary: As the youngest son, Prince Sasuke Uchiha never thought he'd be offered the title of king. Now, with his dreams at his fingertips, he will learn that sometimes you must get lost to be found and not all favors are easy to return.(SasuNaru)
Author's Note: My second twisted fairytale. The heart flutters at the thought. This is based on a story written by Madame D'Aulnoy titled "The White Cat". In my childhood fairytale book, that I called my mother to dig out of storage, the story is called "The Cat Queen". I spent quality time… well, more than ten minutes, searching the internet and found nothing. When I shared my trials with my darling beta and she found it in less than a minute. I felt very, very small.
So, my mortification is your gain. Thank you, Master. The original story can be found here:
www . surlalunefairytales . com /authors /aulnoy /1892 /whitecat . html
Warnings: Fluff and sex. Sex and fluff. You have been warned.
Returning the Favor
A Twisted Fairytale
Once upon a time there was a handsome, young prince named Sasuke Uchiha. He was the youngest of three brothers and his father, Fugaku Uchiha, was the wise and noble king of Konoha. Sasuke and his brothers were all tall and handsome, the very definitions of chivalry, bravery, and cunning. They were everything a king could want in his sons and the kingdom ran smoothly with Fugaku on his thrown and his sons at his right hand.
Sasuke knew change was on the wind when his mother gave a disgusted huff one morning at breakfast and stood from the table before she demurely, as was her place, stormed out of the room.
Sasuke's eyes met his brothers' only for a moment before turning toward his father. Itachi, his oldest brother, didn't say a word and simply looked at his father with a dark eyebrow raised, silently inquiring as to what had just happened. Sasuke's attention shifted to his other brother and he had to force himself not to roll his eyes. Here it comes…
"You know, Father," Sai, the middle of the Uchiha brothers, began, "They say that when married people fight it's about one of three things. Money, which isn't a problem, children, and I'm sure Tiny's penis will catch up with the rest of him one of these days…" One of Sai's pale hands waved absently in Sasuke's direction. "… so nothing to fight about there, or sex, and I really thought that book I lent you might…"
Although Sasuke and Itachi's faces hadn't changed at all, Sasuke was well aware of the amusement that swirled in his older brother's eyes and his own nails bit into his palms to stop himself from jumping over the breakfast table and showing Sai how Uchihas…
"Sai," Fugaku said tiredly, "That is enough." Sasuke wondered if his father ever questioned Sai's paternity. No one wanted to think that their mother was anything less than virtuous, but Sai… well, Sasuke didn't doubt for a moment that the entire kingdom was singing in their heads, 'One of these things does not belong here, one of these things is not the same,' whenever they saw the brothers together.
The king pushed his chair away from the table and, crossing his arms over his chest, looked at his sons. Sasuke, like the other two, stared back but Sasuke resisted the urge to just get up and walk away. None of the brothers would be found lacking. All of them were perfect. Perfect sons. Perfect soldiers. Perfect scholars. Perfect everything. The problem? Sasuke was perfect… last.
His whole life he strived to do the best but he was, and always would be, third place. There was just no way to beat perfect. It was the best after all.
Finally his father cleared his throat and motioned to the table. Servants appeared from nowhere and began clearing their dishes. Sasuke turned his attention to the large windows leading to the garden. The morning fog had been burned away by the sun and he saw his mother walking along the stone bridge that crossed a small koi pond. His father's attention must have also been drawn to her because he sighed.
"I am not getting any younger," he began and Sasuke chose to listen to his father but watch his mother. He knew where this was leading and, surprisingly, he wasn't very bothered by it. Itachi would make a fine king and Sasuke would be proud to be at his side. Someday, he might marry and…
"Each of you deserves a chance."
"What?!" Sasuke's eyes ripped from his mother and fell on his father before rapidly falling on his older brothers. Itachi's eyebrow was raised in a manner Sasuke was quite familiar with and, had his father not been sitting at the table, would have been followed by a poke to the forehead and a sighed 'silly little brother'. Sai's smile hurt to look at and he said, "I thought we had broken you of these outbursts, Tiny."
With his composure back in place—Sasuke would berate himself for the slip up later, no doubt with his brothers' help—he turned to the head of the table. "Father?"
Fugaku ran a hand over his strong jaw and looked intensely at his youngest son. "The idea that the eldest son is better suited for running the kingdom simply because of his order of birth is preposterous. Each of you is more than capable and your mother and I think you should all be given the chance to prove it." Fugaku stopped and looked out the window. Mikoto, his mother, stood with her hands on her hips just outside and mouthed something that looked suspiciously like 'annnnnnnd'.
The king looked back at his sons. "And I'm really not ready to give up my throne but your mother," he glared pointedly at said woman, "and my council thinks it is time to move on and apparently the countryside is quite lovely." For the first time in their lives, King Fugaku rolled his eyes and all three Uchiha brothers shivered and excused themselves.
Three days after the announcement that the throne was up for grabs, Fugaku called for his sons once more. Kneeling on one knee in the great hall, the brothers bowed their heads respectfully and waited for their father to speak.
"Stand up," Fugaku ordered and rubbed a hand over his jaw. "I have decided on the task you will complete. Being king means fighting to the death to protect your kingdom and its people. Therefore, you will need a sword that will never fail, just as you will never fail your kingdom. I want you to locate a sword with a blade that never dulls." Three sets of black eyes held the King's. "And rest assured, they will be put to the test. Whosever sword comes out the winner will be the new King of Konoha." The brothers nodded. "I also will expect, at that moment, for the remaining brothers to pledge their loyalty to their new king. Will this be a problem?"
Sasuke shook his dark head and knew his brothers did the same. He would have pledged his loyalty to Itachi three days ago and although he worried for the sake of them all if Sai were to win, he'd fall fighting before letting anything happen to him. Family… it is what it is.
He was jerked out of his thoughts when a leather drawstring bag was tossed into his chest. His father nodded at the pouch, each brother holding one. "You leave first thing tomorrow morning. Each of you will start with the same amount of gold and are expected back at the castle by sunset, one month from tomorrow."
The brothers nodded their understanding. Fugaku stood and clasped each brother on the shoulder before stepping back to allow their mother to gush over them. When Mikoto was done, Fugaku held her against his side and addressed his sons once more. "Go. Remember you are Uchiha. Be safe. We will see you on your return."
The brothers bowed and left the hall, ready to prepare themselves for the journey ahead, ready to make their father proud and, of course, ready to win.
And so it was that the three brothers found themselves in the early morning hours atop their horses as the thick fog rolled in off the hills and settled into the valley. The horses, sensing the impatience of their riders, scarred the wet soil with their hooves as they pranced in place in the crisp morning air. Sasuke pulled the reigns tighter on his own horse and watched his brothers do the same. The morning dew dampened his cloak and he pulled the black hood over his head.
"Little brothers," Itachi said, breaking the silence and his breath misting in front of him, "I will see you in a month." He looked at his two younger brothers, pulling up the collar of his cloak, and ran a gloved hand over his horse's dark mane. "I look forward to seeing you on your knees."
Sasuke smirked and, with a curt nod and a nearly unheard 'hn' that expressed his concern, amusement, and irritation, turned his horse to the left. Itachi turned to the right, leaving Sai facing forward.
"Wait!" Sai said even as his two brothers were swallowed by the fog. "No hugs?!"
Sasuke couldn't be sure, but even as he bit his own lip to keep the sound at bay, he thought he might have heard a husky chuckle come from the direction his oldest brother took.
One month. Approximately four weeks. On average thirty days.
Many things can happen in that amount of time and as Sasuke trudged forward in the rain, pulling his horse behind him and giving up any hope of making it out of this godforsaken forest alive, he considered the things he had done.
He had been to every town he came across. He had inquired about the sword he needed and if it passed his simple tests, bought it and moved to the next. Unfortunately the next town always had a better sword. He would buy or trade for the new sword and move on. Three weeks into the month, Sasuke turned his horse around and rode hard to get back home. Sasuke couldn't say he was confident in his sword but it would be worse not to show up than it would to be to show up and have his sword fail.
And then it started to rain like Sasuke had never experienced. Water fell from the sky in sheets instead of drops. The clouds were angry and black and blotted out the sun until midday looked like midnight… if he could see through the rain to begin with. It wasn't long until he found himself misplaced, lacking in proper direction, bearing impaired… fuck it, he was lost.
Even thinking the word made his teeth grind and his jaw ached from the hours… days… his teeth had been set. His boots suctioned into the wet dirt and moss of the forest floor. Each step was a struggle but he had to dismount his horse when the animal became spooked. Neither man, nor animal, could see much in front of their faces and the horse trusted Sasuke not to lead it astray.
To add to his irritation, the sword that he was carrying home had started rusting in the rain. Rusting! In his disgust, and because no one but his horse was there to witness, he threw it rather peevishly into the blackness of the forest. It wouldn't matter now if he came home without the sword because he was due home tomorrow by sunset and he was stuck here, wherever the hell here was.
Suddenly, between Sasuke's imagining Sai as king and Itachi and himself dressed as jokers, a soft, yellow glow illuminated the forest floor. Impatiently brushing aside his wet hair, Sasuke looked into the darkness only to find that he stood at the edge of a clearing and inside that clearing was a small castle. The building was nothing in comparison to the Uchiha castle and more like something his father could expect to live in when he retired to the country.
The castle grounds were wild and overgrown and as he walked toward the stone building, there was no set path. It was almost as if the castle had dropped from the sky. He tied his horse to a nearby tree, affording it as much shelter as he could, and made his way under a stone arch to the large wooden doors.
His gloved knuckles barely connected to the wood before the doors swung open and he felt a blast of warmth caress his face. He waited only a moment before stepping inside and then almost started when the doors closed behind him.
Sasuke looked around suspiciously and turned back around when he heard the gentle sound of a page being turned in a book.
"Well, come on," a droll voice said and Sasuke watched a tall man with shining silver hair and his face half covered step out of the shadows. Without looking up, the man turned his back to Sasuke and began walking down the hall away from the prince. "If you're just going to stand there, would you mind doing it outside? You're dripping on the floor."
Sasuke looked down to see that he really was standing in the middle of a puddle and followed the strange and rather rude man down the hall. After several turns, Sasuke found himself in a bedroom decorated in deep greens, rich mahogany wood and gold accents. Laid out on the large, four-poster bed were a fluffy towel and dry clothes. He made out soft black pants and a matching black shirt. It was like they were expecting him.
"Hmm," the silver haired man said, having paused in the doorway on his way out. He turned and caught Sasuke's eye, his own face split into a wide smile that curled his exposed eye into an inverted U. "We are expecting someone, it waits to be seen if that someone is you." And then he disappeared, closing the door behind him and leaving the young prince to wonder if he had spoken aloud or if that man had read his thoughts.
Sasuke made quick work of changing out of his wet clothes and pulling on the new ones, but not before he caught a chill. As he stepped back into the hall, he was unable to stop the shiver that raced through his body.
"Oh my god! You're beaut… cold!" Sasuke turned and found a pink haired woman standing directly behind him, her emerald eyes flashing as they moved slowly over his body.
"Excuse me?" Sasuke said in a cool voice that made her eyes fly up to meet his own.
"Come on then," she said and walked past him, brushing fleetingly against his side. He chose to ignore the giggle. "We'll get you taken care of."
"Hn," Sasuke said and walked behind her. They hadn't walked far and, although he had paid attention to every turn they took, when they reached their destination, a large library with full book shelves scaling all four walls and a crackling fire place surrounded by plush maroon chairs, he had no idea how to get back to his room. His sense of direction was flawless, it always had been. Something was… off about this place. Sasuke was beginning to feel uncomfortable and because he was an Uchiha, he reacted to this feeling with annoyance and anger.
"Where is this place?" Sasuke asked and the pink haired girl hesitated but then continued across the room toward the arm chairs. "Who are you?" Sasuke persisted darkly.
Finally the girl turned with a worn, multi-colored quilt in her arms. "Have a seat," she said and nodded toward a chair in front of the fire.
Sasuke glared and made no move to sit. "Answer the question," he commanded and he saw the woman stiffen. She slowly turned and the firelight revealed a gentle smile on her face. Before the prince knew what had happened, he was physically forced into the chair and had the quilt tucked around him.
"My name is Sakura," she said pleasantly and straightened a wrinkle in the fabric of her red dress, "and you are… well," she shrugged, "wherever here is." With that, she turned and left the room.
Sasuke yanked his arms from where they had been pinned by the quilt but didn't throw the blanket to the floor. Regardless of the indignity of having Sakura tuck him in like a baby, he really was cold.
He must have dozed off because the next time he opened his eyes, he heard the library door open and close and the heavenly smell of chicken soup filled the room. Oh god, when was the last time he had eaten something that wasn't dried meat? He listened for the sounds of feet and, almost like he had called them to existence, he heard the fumbling of feet on carpet and a muffled curse.
Sasuke shifted forward but stopped when a soft voice said, "Just stay there. I'll come to you." Sasuke leaned into the back of the chair and watched a young man with messy golden hair step into his view. He was dressed in tight tan pants and a loose white shirt. His skin was the color of warm honey and his eyes were like glistening sapphires in the light of the fire. Sasuke had never seen anyone like him. He knew what beauty was. He was an Uchiha but this man was… staring at him like Sasuke probably should have been staring had he not been schooled in how to hide his emotions.
Dusty rose lips lined a mouth partially open as if it was frozen between speaking and not. Pink brushed the man's cheekbones and golden lashes opened and closed over wide blue eyes. Sasuke smirked and the man's mouth snapped shut.
"Your dinner." Something flashed in blue eyes and Sasuke nearly gasped. He'd never seen so much emotion in a gaze and as such, had no way of deciphering the meaning.
Sasuke raised a dark eyebrow and the man moved forward and set the tray with a steaming bowl of soup carefully onto Sasuke's lap. Sasuke's fingers itched to grab the bowl and tip it into his mouth but instead, he gathered up the spoon and waited for the man to leave.
To his surprise, the man didn't leave but moved to a far wall with his back to Sasuke. He couldn't make out what the blond was doing but the sounds of glass clinking and liquid pouring told him all he needed to know.
"You should eat that before it gets cold. You have Sakura beside herself thinking you might perish in the night because you got a little sniffle from stumbling around in the rain." The blond grinned and brought the hand not holding his now full wine glass to the back of his neck. "I might have paraphrased a bit there."
Suddenly, watching this man smile and walk towards him filled Sasuke with unease. Where was he? Who were these people? What was going on? And, as was expected of an Uchiha, he lashed out in his confusion. "Is it customary for the servants to linger after they deliver the meal? Shouldn't you be leaving, dobe?"
The blond's smile slipped and his blue eyes darkened. "Is it customary, bastard, for the guest to insult the host of the castle? If you don't like my company perhaps you should leave. It's my bloody library."
Sasuke heard his etiquette tutor screaming in his mind but it was for naught. "Hn, you play the servant well."
The blond stared for a moment before he nodded and grinned. "And you play the pompous little prince well. Uncanny really." With a wink, the man fell backwards over the arm of the chair opposite Sasuke. With a grace that belied the movement, his young host lounged in the chair with one leg bent at the knee and dangling over the arm while the other foot rested on the floor. Not a drop of the red wine in his glass escaped to the floor. "So, little prince, do you have a name or will you answer to bastard?"
Sasuke's fingers tightened around the spoon in his hand but his voice was smooth and calm. "My name is Sasuke Uchiha and I am the third prince of…"
"Sasuke is fine. I don't suspect we will need to know much more," the blond interrupted, bringing the wine glass to his lips while his other hand played with the fabric on his knee. It didn't take a master of emotions to read that the blond's movements were motivated by nervousness. "My name is Naruto."
Sasuke sat and waited for Naruto to continue but the blond didn't and instead stared into the flames, occasionally taking a sip of his wine and seemingly ignoring Sasuke's presence. Unable to ignore the delicious smell coming from the soup, Sasuke silently ate while keeping an eye on his host.
Sasuke had just finished his soup, setting the bowl on the table beside him, when Naruto turned and smiled at him. "So, what brings you out in the rain?" For the first time, Sasuke noticed that Naruto's feet were bare, his tan foot bouncing up and down over the side of the chair. Sensing his gaze, Naruto chuckled. "I don't like to wear shoes. My toes need to breathe." Happy toes wiggled in response.
Sasuke raised a dark eyebrow and Naruto just smiled back at him. "Where am I?" Sasuke asked and watched while Naruto took another sip of his wine and then darted out his pink tongue to catch the moisture on his upper lip. Something stirred low in Sasuke's abdomen and he hoped to god it was the soup and not…
"Would you believe me if I told you I didn't know?"
Sasuke blinked. "How can you not know?"
Naruto sat his glass on the carpet, the fire casting a long shadow across the floor. "Do you know where you are?"
Sasuke fisted his fingers again and bit out, "No, I do not."
Humor flashed in blue eyes. "How can you NOT know?" Naruto asked innocently.
"Is this or is this not your castle?"
"Yes," Naruto answered helpfully.
"Yes it is or yes it isn't?" Sasuke felt a headache forming behind his eyes. "If this is your castle, shouldn't you know where it is?"
"Well, that's the thing," Naruto said and laced his fingers over his stomach, his bare foot bouncing once again, as he looked at Sasuke. "This is my castle but I'm not always… privy," he said softly and his brow furrowed almost as if he was apologizing, "to where it is." Sasuke opened his mouth to comment, or maybe yell if the ominous scowl was any indication, but Naruto cut him off. "Listen, for tonight, let's both be comfortable with not knowing where we are. If you think about it, it's kind of liberating. No one knows who you are or how you should act. All responsibility is lifted because chances are since you don't know where you are, you'll never be here again." The whole time, the young blond nodded and smiled but Sasuke saw that the action never reached his deep blue eyes and Sasuke got the oddest feeling that maybe the speech wasn't just to convince Sasuke but himself as well.
They fell into a stained silence where both stared at the fire before Naruto sighed softly. "I had your horse moved to my stables for the night. No sense in him staying under a tree."
"Hn," Sasuke said automatically and once again the nasally voice of his etiquette tutor echoed in his ears demanding a 'thank you'. He was ignored. Sasuke looked up to see his host smiling to himself.
"You're welcome," Naruto whispered. With a sigh, he moved his leg and sat up correctly in the chair, his back straight and his bare feet firmly on the floor. His tan fingers played with the seam on the arm of the chair and blue eyes held Sasuke's as if trying to figure out something important. "What were you doing before you got lost?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to argue the word lost, but Sasuke was tired and had already admitted to having no idea where he was. He looked into Naruto's blue eyes and realized that had it been anyone else, he would have told them to mind their own damn business. However, Naruto's words only moments before had hit their mark. After he left this place, he would probably never see the blond or his odd castle again. Decided, he ran a hand through his dark hair and relaxed into his chair. "My father is handing over his throne to one of his three sons and, because my parents believe we all deserve a chance, he has sent us on a quest to prove ourselves."
Naruto nodded slowly and leaned to his right, resting an elbow on the arm of the chair and his chin in his hand. "A quest to prove your worth? Isn't that the stuff of fairytales?"
Sasuke considered the question. "I wouldn't say that what I have been through in the last month resembles any fairytale." The last word was nearly spat out as though it left a bad taste in the prince's mouth.
Naruto nodded sagely, "Ah, but that's just the point isn't it. 'Once upon a time' is followed by a brief description of our noble hero, suffering under an impossible quest or wicked curse. We never hear the pain or suffering. We come in at the end, as he is conquering his demons, only to watch him survive victorious and be rewarded, always, with his true love." Naruto's blue eyes darkened until Sasuke couldn't distinguish the black pupil and Sasuke longed to force the look away… hit the blond, yelled at him, or hold him until the hunted look vanished. The blasted feeling was back in his stomach. "And then they live happily ever after," Naruto concluded in an overly cheerful voice, waving his free hand flippantly in the air as though the whole room hadn't dropped in temperature throughout his assessment. "So, what did your father ask for?"
Sasuke watched Naruto's blue eyes lighten once more until they shone like the afternoon sky. "A sword."
"Hmmm," Naruto said and nodded, blond strands of hair brushing his faintly scarred cheeks, "What kind of sword?"
"A sword that never dulls, no matter what it cuts through," Sasuke said and under his breath added, "And preferably one that doesn't rust either."
Naruto laughed and the sound carried through the room, warming Sasuke in ways the fire never could. "Really? What a disappointment."
"Hn," Sasuke grunted, irritated that his quest to prove himself, which had turned into a colossal failure on his part, was so amusing to the young blond.
"Well, it's just that I have one of those. Where's the challenge?"
"Excuse me?" Sasuke said.
Naruto leaned forward until his elbows rested on his knees and his chin in his hands. "I have one… well, actually two… swords that will cut through anything and remain as sharp as the day they were forged."
"Two," Sasuke said and refused to acknowledge that disbelief might have colored his voice.
Naruto nodded. "Yes, two, because what's the point of only having one? How would you train with the sword if it always cut cleanly through your opponent's weapon?" Naruto asked with humor in his eyes, as though Sasuke were a silly child for not thinking of it. Sasuke glared, midnight black eyes narrowing and he was glad to see Naruto fidget in his chair under the look. For awhile he had considered the horrible possibility that the blond was immune. "If you would like," Naruto said, breaking Sasuke's dark aura with his gentle voice, "You can have one."
Sasuke blinked. "I have no way to pay you and nothing to trade."
Naruto waved his words away with his hand. "I never asked…"
"And I have to be back to my castle by tomorrow's sunset. Even if what you say is true…"
"It is, bastard!" Naruto interrupted angrily.
Sasuke continued over him, "There's no way I will get home in time. It's impossible."
Naruto ran a hand over his face and stood, gathering his wine glass before he returned it to the cabinet. Sasuke listened to more clinking of glass and Naruto finally turned and offered Sasuke a cup of tea. Sasuke nodded and wrapped his fingers around the cup, feeling the warmth before bringing the cup to his lips.
"Listen to me, little prince," Naruto said, drawing Sasuke's attention up until he was looking into Naruto's soft blue eyes. "I will give you the sword and I will get you home." He raised his hand when Sasuke tried to interrupt. "All I require in payment is this," his tone was cool and Sasuke found he couldn't look away. "Someday I might need to ask a favor of you and when I do, you must promise to do whatever I ask."
Sasuke tossed the blanket off his lap and set his empty tea cup on the table. He stood and stepped into Naruto's space. He was a few inches taller than the blond and blue eyes flashed in irritation at the realization. "Why would I ever agree to that? Do you think I'm a fool?"
Naruto shook his head but didn't back up even as Sasuke's glare intensified. Sasuke felt the tug low in his abdomen at the show of stubbornness? Bravery? And then shoved the feeling aside.
"No, I do not, but I do think you want to be king and I am handing you, the last of three sons, the key to that dream."
"How did you…" Sasuke began suspiciously. He reached out and grabbed Naruto's arm. Blue eyes widened and dusty rose lips parted, a gush of breath escaping before Naruto shrugged free and took several steps away from Sasuke.
"What do you have to lose? You will leave here and be crowned king. Your brothers have no chance of winning, I promise you that. You will never see me again and therefore I will never be able to ask you to do anything, much less something you might object to."
Sasuke ran the words through his mind. The blond was right; he would never see him again, but something still prickled in the back of his mind. This place and Naruto…
"What do you have to lose, Sasuke?" Naruto whispered and Sasuke looked down to see Naruto only inches from him, looking up at him with clear blue eyes… why does he look so sad and resigned, Sasuke thought and then blinked when his vision blurred. Naruto reached out his hand and Sasuke felt the warmth flood him when the hand came to rest flat against his chest. "You're tired and you need to rest. Just say yes."
Sasuke shook his head and his eyes widened when he realized Naruto had put something in his tea. "You," he began but the rest of the words died on his lips when Naruto wrapped his arm around his waist and moved him toward the door.
"It's to help you sleep," Naruto commented as though Sasuke had finished his sentence. "I wasn't joking when I said Sakura was worried about your health." Naruto maneuvered them through the halls until Sasuke found himself once more in his room. Naruto eased him onto the bed and pulled the covers around him.
"It was nice to meet you, little prince," Naruto whispered and Sasuke closed his heavy eyes. He felt a hesitant hand brush over his forehead and told himself, and his rapidly beating heart, that it was only to check for fever. "The sword is yours, you just have to promise, Sasuke…"
"Hn, dobe…" Sasuke said and struggled to hold onto consciousness. "I promise."
Sasuke heard the gentle sigh and the covers were adjusted once more. "Good night." Sasuke listened for Naruto's feet to sound across the stone floor but he heard nothing until the door clicked closed. He worked to push the sleepiness away. Sasuke had promised and Naruto's sigh had sounded even more disappointed than his voice had when Sasuke had disagreed. His thoughts were drawn by voices outside of his room. He heard Naruto and the silver-haired man from earlier.
"Stop looking at me like that, Kakashi!" Naruto snapped. "It's not what you think. Stop getting your hopes up. He won't be back."
There were several moments of silence and Sasuke wondered how much Kakashi was reading in Naruto's expressive eyes. "He could be the one."
"He's not! Do you hear me? It's not him. Tomorrow he goes home."
"You've never acted like this. Normally it's me telling you to stop hoping…"
"Shut up," Naruto hissed but Kakashi continued as though Naruto hadn't spoken, his words slow and filled with new understanding.
"You never really believed it was any of the others, did you?"
"Kakashi," Naruto whispered and Sasuke almost couldn't make out the words but he felt the pain in the tone as though it were his own. "It is not him."
Sasuke heard the rustling of fabric and knew Naruto had left. He was just drifting off when Kakashi spoke outside his door once more. "Just because you don't want him to be, doesn't mean he isn't." And then Sasuke heard the man chuckle, "Good night, little prince," before his mind descended into blackness.
A sharp knocking and a sing-songed, "Wake up, little prince," were the sounds that brought Sasuke into the land of wakefulness and…
"Where the hell am I?" Sasuke muttered and sat up, looking around the dark but spacious carriage he found himself in. To be honest, Sasuke thought while he looked down to see that he was dressed in his own, now clean, clothes, he was getting really fucking tired of that question. The door to the carriage swung open and as light poured in, he realized that the heavy forest green curtains of the carriage had blocked out the late afternoon sun. What the hell had Naruto given him?
When his eyes had adjusted to the light, Sasuke looked to see Kakashi standing outside the carriage. With humor present in his uncovered gray eye, the silver-haired man executed a mock bow and swung his arm out magnanimously toward…
"That's my home," Sasuke said flatly while stepping down from the carriage.
"Thank goodness," Kakashi said, shutting the door smartly and clapping his hands together as if in silent prayer. "I tried to ask directions again and again but you just kept snoring."
Sasuke glared rather peevishly and, with a curt nod that in Uchiha-ese could be translated into a 'thank you', 'please die', and 'you are dismissed', he made his way up the stone steps to the castle's door.
Sasuke turned only to have a sheathed sword pressed into his hands. The hilt was an intricate design of braided gold but the sheath that carried it was simple, wore leather rubbed smooth in some parts. Oh yes, the sword that Naruto had insisted would win him his kingdom in return for a favor. If it was so sharp, how was it not cutting through the leather of its sheath? With an internal sigh he decided that it didn't really matter. He would present this sword to his father because he didn't have any other choice.
"Hn," Sasuke replied and although he was sure his face didn't give away any sign of his thoughts, Kakashi chuckled.
"You have to trust him," Kakashi said and Sasuke turned and met the man's eye. All humor vanished and Kakashi's face turned hard and somber. "You have to trust him… there's no other way."
Sasuke lowered his eyes to the sword, his fingers curled around the smooth leather and felt his mind explode with questions and his chest tightened with… something.
In a whisper he asked slowly, as if the words were being forcefully pulled from his chest, "Why? Why should I…"
His words were answered with the sound of a whip and the clattering of horses' hooves and wooden wheels on cobblestones. Sasuke looked up to see the carriage disappear around the bend.
Still watching the dust settle, Sasuke felt his brother come up beside him but refused to look, wrapped up in questions while his fingers clenched and unclenched around Naruto's gift. "Itachi."
"Mother was beginning to worry," Itachi said conversationally but Sasuke felt Itachi's eyes analyzing, contemplating the reasons for Sasuke's tardiness and odd behavior.
"There was no need," Sasuke snapped, mildly surprised that it came out steady.
Itachi's eyes narrowed and he nodded curtly, "No, it appears there wasn't."
When Itachi turned and moved toward the doors, Sasuke cast one last look in the direction Kakashi had disappeared and sighed, his grip tightening on the sword, before following his brother inside.
"Let's begin," Fugaku announced and the hundreds of observers that lined the sides of the large, brightly lit ballroom cheered and clapped. The three princes of Konoha kneeled before their father with their offered swords extended. "Today you will put your swords through many tests to determine which sword is the strongest, sharpest, and most durable. At the conclusion of these tasks, I will not only announce the winning sword, but also my successor to the throne."
Another round of cheers echoed in the hall and the trials began. The brothers were presented with thick blocks of wood, stone boulders, slabs of iron. Each of their swords cut through every object as though they were warm butter.
As the challenge progressed, Itachi and Sasuke's expressions became darker and darker, where Sai's smile became more and more forced. Finally Fugaku stopped his sons. Sitting back on his throne, he ran a hand over his jaw. "It seems as though your swords are all equally matched." The hall fell silent while the kingdom and his sons waited for Fugaku to conceive of a solution to the problem.
The choice was taken from his hands when Mikoto stood and, bowing respectfully, said, "If I may?"
Her husband nodded and she approached her sons, slowly pulling a whisper-thin, gold silk scarf from around her neck. "Turn your swords until the sharp edge is facing upwards." As the brothers complied, the queen pulled her own dagger from an ornate sheath at her waist and cut the silk into three equal pieces.
Mikoto held a piece of her scarf shoulder's height above her eldest son's sword and released it. The golden fabric floated down and landing on the blade, it slid, cutting in a smooth line until a single thread snagged, puckering the fabric.
She moved to her second son, offering her own smile to Sai's nearly ecstatic one. Repeating the process, the silk fell slowly and like Itachi's, the fine fabric snagged on an invisible dent on the sword's edge.
The king, the crowd, and his older two brothers watched as Mikoto moved to Sasuke's sword. Although he didn't smile, she offered him a gentle one and released the last piece of silk. The room had fallen into silence and Sasuke could almost hear the sound of the silk slipping through the air until it fell against his sword. The fabric didn't slide and it didn't snag. The moment the silk touched the sword it was cut in two and continued until both pieces rested on the marble floor.
Sasuke forced his eyes up from the floor and met his father's. After a moment, the king nodded and the hall exploded in cheers.
"I present to you, the future king of Konoha, my youngest son, Sasuke Uchiha!"
A month went by when Sasuke and his brothers were called before the king once more. In this time, Sasuke had been congratulated by his mother, his brothers (and yes, seeing them on their knees was quite satisfying) and from his soon-to-be subjects. His father had been mysteriously silent… until today.
"My sons," Fugaku began and Mikoto rolled her eyes and stood before he could continue.
"I can't watch this," she said and glared at her husband. Before leaving, she nodded affectionately at her sons and the princes watched her walk away before looking once more at their father. He seemed tired and perhaps, although they couldn't imagine why, nervous.
"I have decided that only having one test is not enough to really prove which of you is best for the heavy burden of running a kingdom."
Sasuke didn't move and just looked at his father. Oddly, he didn't feel upset. Like when he had thought Itachi would be crowned king, this was something he had been expecting. He was surprised when Sai growled beside him.
"Father," Sai began and there wasn't an ounce of mocking or forced feeling in his words. He was, for this moment, the perfect Uchiha. "Ti… Sasuke won. Why would you take this away from him?"
Fugaku eyes widened for the briefest second and he said, "Don't you want the chance…"
"Sai is correct." Sasuke, Sai, and his father looked toward Itachi. "Sasuke won."
Fugaku's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Am I, or am I not, still your king?" he asked dangerously. Sai and Itachi glared back at him and Sasuke stood.
"Enough." Once again heads swiveled. "He is our father and our king."
Sai and Itachi's faces were expressionless but their eyes still swirled with irritation. Sasuke gave them a pointed looked that expressed his seriousness and his appreciation at their support. Pulling his eyes back to his father, Sasuke said, "What quest do you have for us now, Father?"
For a moment, Fugaku seemed to falter but Sasuke merely stared back with a bored look. "Tomorrow morning you will all leave and return in a month with a pet. Your pet should be gentle enough to be around the children of your kingdom and aggressive enough to help should the need arise."
Sasuke bowed and turned on his heel, leaving his father and brothers behind, his mind already on the next day's task.
The next morning, with the fog blanketing them, the princes of Konoha waited to depart. Sasuke was on the right, Itachi in the middle and Sai to the left because Sai had thought it would be fun to mix things up. Like the morning the brothers had left for their first task, their horses moved, agitated by the feelings swirling around them. This time, however, Sasuke's irritation had nothing to do with nervousness and really nothing to do with the prize at the end of this task and instead, everything to do with Sai heading in the direction he had last seen Naruto. Not that he cared, dammit!
"I'll see you both in a month," he snapped and, without waiting for their reply, urged his horse into the fog.
Dogs, cats, birds, lizards, hell, Sasuke had even considered a speckled iguana. He had been to small villages, bustling cities and zoos that boasted exotic creatures. He hadn't purchased a single one.
It was now nearing the end of his month time frame and he was finding it difficult to care. His father wasn't ready to relinquish the throne, this was quite obvious. Even if Sasuke won… again… he and his brothers would probably be sent out again.
The sun shone brightly through the trees, lighting his path to the next village in a peaceful glow. Small forest animals scrambled across the dirt road and Sasuke considered his quest. Who the hell puts that much thought into a pet? He should just trap a rabbit. When he got home, he would stuff it, thereby fulfilling the child-friendly portion, and then show his father how 'aggressive' the animal could be when he threw it at the old man's face.
Closing his eyes, Sasuke ran his hands over his face, rubbing at his eyes and his temples before lowering them to his horse's mane. With his eyes still closed, he lifted his head toward the sun, feeling the warmth soak into his hair and seeing the red glow through his eyelids.
Had he been any less of an Uchiha prince, his horse's sudden rearing would have ended with him lying on the ground, nursing a bruised tailbone. As it was, he gripped the reins tightly and looked around for the cause of his horse's distress.
What he saw made his heartbeat quicken and his fingers fist until his knuckles paled against the black leather of his saddle. Here, in the middle of a path, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of seemingly nowhere, Sasuke had stumbled upon a castle. A very familiar castle.
Calming his horse, he spurred the animal forward. How was this possible? He wondered as he dismounted and approached the wooden doors. There was no way that he was anywhere near where he had been the last time he came across this castle and, he turned around to look out on the path, once more it appeared as if the castle had fallen from the sky.
He knocked heavily on the dark, wooden doors and nearly jumped backwards when they were immediately pulled open. Blond hair and blue eyes, sparkling with mischief filled his vision.
"May I help… oh."
Sasuke watched the sparkle in Naruto's eyes fade as recognition filled the blue depths. His tan face paled and Sasuke noticed the faint scars on the man's cheeks stood out even more. In the next moment, a smile crossed Naruto's face and he brought a hand up to rub the back of his neck. "Little prince! Welcome! You are just in time."
Without further warning, Naruto leaned forward and wrapped his warm fingers around Sasuke's wrist, dragging the man into the castle. Sasuke was forced to follow behind and, as the blond continued to smile and chat merrily, he had to wonder if he had imagined Naruto's initial reaction.
"Come on, bastard," Naruto said, jerking Sasuke both figuratively and literally from his thoughts, "It's a beautiful day outside. Time for a game."
"What game, dobe?" Sasuke twisted his wrist, loosening Naruto's hold and shifting his hand until his fingers were laced with Naruto's. Once more, a shimmer of unease flitted across Naruto's face only to be smothered by a joy filled smile.
"Fox hunting, bastard," Naruto said sweetly and pushed on another set of dark, wooden doors. Sasuke blinked at the change in lighting and then stopped in his tracks, causing Naruto to stumble a bit as he regained his balance.
They stood overlooking a gorgeous garden. The slope of the landscape made Sasuke feel as though he were overlooking the whole yard. Red rose bushes, sparkling fountains, colored glass bird baths, intricate white garden furniture and a hedge maze filled the space. Throughout the garden, Sasuke saw men, women and children laughing, talking, and playing.
"Where do they live?" Sasuke asked and didn't even notice that Naruto had starting walking, pulling Sasuke along with him.
"Here," Naruto said, "We all live here."
Sasuke caught the underlining bite to the words and didn't know why it bothered him so. Raising a mocking eyebrow, he said, "And do you know where 'here' is?"
"Wherever you are, apparently," Naruto said softly, looking right at Sasuke. Sasuke wanted to say something more. Ask why Naruto seemed disappointed and why, in heaven, he was still holding his hand, but a large group of men and women approached them.
"I didn't know we were having guests?" Kakashi asked and then made an exaggerated show of being surprised to see Sasuke. "Little prince! Are you here to play with us?"
Naruto and Kakashi smiled, Naruto's slightly more forced than the silver-haired man's, but the rest of the group stared nearly slack-jawed at Sasuke. Several sets of eyes fell on their conjoined hands and Sasuke felt Naruto rip his hand away before wiping it on his pants nervously.
"Alright," Naruto said happily and once he had all of their attention continued, "Yes, Sasuke is here to play today. It is nothing to get worked up over." The silence that followed confused Sasuke. Naruto seemed to be consoling them. Finally, many of the heads nodded sadly and Naruto clapped. "Let's begin!"
The group began to break up and Sasuke wrapped his fingers around Naruto's shoulder, drawing his attention. "Don't I need a weapon?"
Naruto's head tilted to the side. "Why?"
"To kill the fox?" Sasuke asked with disbelief and was shocked when Naruto nearly tackled him, slapping a hand over his mouth while blue eyes scanned their surroundings to see if anyone else had heard.
"No! My god, NO!" Naruto hissed and with his body still pressed against Sasuke's and his hand still on the taller man's mouth, nodded pleasantly to a confused lad as the boy passed them by. "Don't let anyone hear you say that!"
Sasuke brought his hands around and held Naruto's waist. Blue eyes widened comically at the action and Naruto removed his hand from Sasuke's mouth and instead held onto Sasuke's shoulders. Sasuke smirked. "Well, dobe, how are we going to hunt the fox then?"
Naruto made an attempt to pull away but Sasuke's fingers held him in place. Blue eyes drifted closed and Sasuke felt Naruto relax, whether from want or resignation he couldn't tell. "You just have to touch him."
Sasuke's thumb began tracing small circles against Naruto's hip and blue eyes fluttered closed. "Sasuke… please, you…"
"Well, well," a voice interrupted and Sasuke looked up to see Kakashi standing behind Naruto, book in hand, as he leaned against a tree trunk. "Are we still laboring under the pretense that this is 'nothing', because maybe we should send the children and virgins inside?"
Sasuke growled and Naruto pulled out of his arms. "That's enough, Kakashi. It. Is. Nothing." Sasuke had to bite his tongue to stop another, deeper growl from escaping. Naruto had walked several steps away when he turned and looked questioningly at Sasuke. "Explain something to me, bastard," he said and Sasuke walked toward him, falling into stride beside him as they walked further into the garden. "If you kill the fox, what do you chase the next time you want to play?"
That fox was not human. Or animal… Fuck, whatever it was, it wasn't normal, Sasuke concluded as he pulled himself out of yet another rose bush, wincing at the scratches on his arms and legs.
Laughter rang throughout the garden and Sasuke frowned. The fox they were 'hunting' was small, with a fluffy, creamy-orange coat and more tails than Sasuke could count as they swished this way and that. He yipped excitedly, jumping up and down before leaping away.
Sasuke couldn't be sure but it sure seemed like the little fox was teasing him, playing with him and then laughing in its little yippy way when Sasuke's fell into a rose bush or backward into a fountain.
"Yip! Yip! Yipyipyipyip!"
He slowly turned his head to see the bane of his existence barking at him from the entrance of the hedge maze.
"Oh hell no," Sasuke said. Lovely, now he was talking to foxes. "I'm not following you in there. Go bother someone else."
A tiny growl followed by more yipping.
"I said," Sasuke began but the fox just jumped up, twisting in the air, and dove into the maze as though the devil himself were behind him.
Sasuke looked around and saw that most of the party was up near the castle. He looked for a mop of golden blond and didn't find it. "I wonder where…"
His words trailed off when on the wind he heard a soft, "Calm down, Kyuubi, you found me." Without another thought, Sasuke entered that maze.
An hour later Sasuke decided that if he ever got his hands on that fox, he wouldn't need a weapon and Naruto would just have to find another plaything. He was hungry and tired and more than just mildly irritated. He was moments from forsaking generations of Uchiha-ness and yelling out like a child for help when he turned to corner, a corner he was sure he had turned twenty times over, to see Naruto sitting on the ground. The blond leaned against the dense green hedge with that damn fox curled up in his lap.
"Dobe," Sasuke said and when Naruto jumped, startling the fox, he realized he might have yelled.
"Sasuke!" Naruto said and looked around confused. "How… I mean, well, HOW did you find me?"
"I…" Sasuke stepped in front of Naruto before bending his knees so he was eyelevel with the wide-eyed blond and shrugged. "I got lost."
"And you found me," Naruto said softly.
Sasuke shifted until he was sitting next to Naruto, their thighs brushing pleasantly. "You win," Sasuke said after awhile.
"Huh?" Naruto said absently and Sasuke nodded toward the sleeping fox. "Oh, well, I always do. Kyuubi plays until he gets bored and then finds me and naps." Naruto looked Sasuke up and down and chuckled. "It looks like he had a very good time playing with you."
"Hn," Sasuke said and half glared before leaning his head back and closing his eyes. "What is this place, Naruto?"
He heard a soft shuffle. "My garden…"
"Why do half the people in your castle look at me like I'm their savior and the other half like I'm their living nightmare?" The last being a look he had received on more than one occasion from Naruto himself.
Silence followed and he lowered his head and looked at Naruto. Bright blue eyes looked back at him in speculation and Naruto tilted his head to the side before standing, holding the small fox against his chest. "Come on, little prince. It's dinner time." The sound of a bell ringing filled the air and Sasuke stood as well.
He wondered how they would be getting out of the horrible maze, when they turned the corner and the hedge opened, revealing the back door of the castle.
"Where am I?" Sasuke mumbled and Naruto just shook his head, lacing their fingers before pulling him inside with a chuckle.
To Be Continued…