AN: Hi! I'd like to present my first Naruto fanfiction! I'm a long time reader, though I just joined now that my Internet situation is finally stable. I hope everyone enjoys it!
Summary: Depressed, Naruto agrees to join his friends at a hot spring. But, odd things happen in the hot spring and odd things start to happen to him in particular.
Pairings: SasuNaru, KibaHina, LeeSaku, implied ZabuHaku
Basic info to know before reading:
Shinto gods - Inari (God of Rice), Benten (Goddess of Beauty), and Hotei (God of Happiness and Generosity).
Foxes are known as Inari's messengers and often called zenko foxes, meaning Inari foxes. Malicious foxes are called yako. Nine-tailed-foxes are the most powerful of the foxes, and their fur will turn white or gold when they are old enough for their final tail. It was thought that rain falling from the sky on a clear day would mean the marriage of foxes or other creatures. It is called a sunshower and thought to be a good omen.
The honorific -sama indicates respect.
Hanyou is the term for a half-demon and Daimyo is the regional ruler of an area.
The modern piano was invented in the 1700s by Bartolomeo Cristfori. The Moonlight Sonata was written in 1801, called the Piano Sonata No. 14 and dedicated to pupil Countess Giuietta Guicciardi. It was believed he was in love with her. The Tokugawa Period in Japan lasted from 1603 to 1868. It was the beginning of the early modern period and showed an increase in the shipping of commodities.
Disclaimer:I don't own the anime and manga Naruto. I don't profit from the production of this story.
Rage Spread Thin
"C'mon, it's the perfect excuse to get close to her and you know it!"
"Yeah, but what's my excuse for going? It's a couple's hotel. Who would I even ask to go along? All the girls we know are married or dating!"
"You could ask a guy. I think Neji's free..."
"Like Neji would want to come along on a romantic trip that his favorite little cousin is going on with her boyfriend!"
He started to massage his temples. "Whatever, Kiba. I'm not going."
"Have you seen the two of them together?! It's freaky! He's always spazzy! She doesn't know what she's missing! C'mon, Naruto!"
"Okay, Kiba. Here's a fact you're missing...They are in love! I'm not going to help break them apart!"
"Fine!" The brown-haired boy was silent for a while before he smirked. "You know the name of the place where we're staying?"
"Yeah. It's called Midnight Hot Spring."
"That's only the name they use on ads. It's secretly gained the name as Hotel Vanishing."
He sighed as he turned his attention away from his friend to the people outside the cafe.
"The story says that every night at midnight, these strange sounds start to occur. When it hits the moment between midnight and one o'clock, the song Moonlight Sonata starts to play. All the clocks stop working and need reset in the morning."
"So there's a malfunction with the electric system. I really can't see what the big idea is."
"Shut up. That's not the scary part. What's really scary about it is the ghost."
"Ghost?...Kiba, are you seriously telling me this? You can't honestly believe it..."
"It's true! I heard from Tenten. You know, Lee's old classmate? She went there with that Kankuro guy and she saw it!"
"Yeah! She said that she was going to the manager's office to complain about the clocks when she saw it. It was leaving the piano room and stopped when it saw her. She said it looked up at her and said, "Have you seen my fox?" with these freaky spinning eyes and she fainted. She's a tough girl. She wouldn't have fainted over nothing."
"She was probably drunk. Kankuro always was a bad influence on her." He made a mental note to talk to Temari about that habit again.
"Other people've seen it too! It always asks different questions, too! One time, this guest went to the piano room while the music was playing and saw the ghost playing on the piano. But the freaky part was that he was surrounded by fire. The hotel was burning around him. He could smell the smoke and everything."
"Someone left the heater on."
"Damn it, Naruto! Would you please just come! If nothing else, you could get some good pictures of the countryside. There's a bunch of preserved shrines and wells and stuff. There's even an old-fashioned lighthouse. It'll look good in your application."
"Fine. When are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow evening. We'll get there around noon the next day."
"Okay. I'll just meet you at the hotel. I've got to get a few things taken care of and finish my shift at the restaurant." He shook Kiba's hand and smiled at him, lightly.
"Hey, Jiraiya. I'm going with my friends this weekend up to Midnight Hot Springs. Sorry for the short notice. I need you to come by and feed Gamakichi this weekend. I left some money in its usual spot. I'll call when I get to the hotel." He hung up the phone after leaving the message in the man's voicemail. Once again he was suckered into going away with his friends. They did this once a year, thinking that they needed to pull him away from his work.
He shouldered his bag and carried it to the dark room. He set it inside, shutting the door before he exposed his negatives and turned on the lights in his studio. The various pictures in the room seemed empty to him. Most things did. Something about his life just seemed gone, missing. It was something he couldn't put his finger on, but it never really bothered him as bad as today. Today, it seemed as though even his pictures were blank white paper for all that mattered.
He loved his work though. It was his one passion. It was the one thing that excited him. Or...did. Ever since he took...that...picture, everything seemed to matter less and less. He crossed the small room to stand in front of it. There was nothing overly special about the picture. He'd went to an Inari shrine and took pictures of the stone foxes. It'd been night, but not even a special one. The only thing in the picture that was only slightly out of the ordinary was the large crow that was perched on the fox. It just sat there, it's glossy feathers brighter in the dark with the camera's flash. He didn't know why but it seemed to hold his attention the most. Everything else just seemed to matter less and less. He'd stopped hiding his loneliness with smiles and laughter, dropped the bright and outgoing personality, and went out less and less. Whatever passion he'd had was slowly dying away and there was nothing he could do about it.
He didn't expect this to change anything, but whether or not he enjoyed work anymore didn't stop his pictures from being beautiful. He could probably get some good shots and sell them off to horror magazines. If the hotel was supposedly as haunted as Kiba said it was, they would probably earn a good price. He shut the window at the end of his studio and gathered up the pictures that had scattered in the wind. He shut the light off behind him, closing the door as the window blew open again. The curtains fluttered in the wind and the pictures fell to the floor.
He checked Gamakichi before he set out the food beside the cage and the brief instructions for Jiraiya. The morning light brightened up his apartment considerably but the loud furniture seemed diminished. The blinding orange couch and armchairs were angled around a black coffee table and the entertainment center. The navy blue walls would have made this stand out amazingly but the effect seemed washed out. His luggage was piled by the door, three black suitcases, one large, one small and one full of camera equipment. He grabbed one of the instant ramen out of his cabinet and mixed in the hot water, letting it set on his counter as he poured some milk. He'd leave in another hour or so, and get set up in the hotel before going out for photos.
"I'm glad you came, Naruto." He looked up from fitting his camera together to see Hinata standing in the doorway. She was as slight and slender as he remembered. Her hair was longer though than it was months ago and she stopped wearing those heavy overcoats all the time. She shut the door behind her as she came in and sat in the other chair.
"Kiba mentioned a few shrines and stuff I thought would be good shots." He shrugged, turning his attention back to the gleaming black plastic.
"He's just gone out with the rest of the guys and Sakura and Ino went to the bathhouse. I didn't want to get in the way, they looked like they were about to have a very private chat."
"It's no problem, Hinata. I like spending time with you. At least you and Neji don't try to push me out the door for every new exciting thing."
"You need some space." She shrugged. There was a sound of dishes being moved as she poured tea. "Whatever is building up inside you is going to be released sooner or later and there's nothing we can do to stop it."
He nodded, taking the cup as she handed it to him. "More of that fate stuff, right?"
She shook her head. "Not really. It's like...I don't know. You've got an old soul, Naruto, when most people's are brand new. Maybe, the weight of that is finally catching up and something amazing is going to happen."
"Or something terrible."
The shutter clicked as he accidentally pressed too hard on the button, the flash lighting up the room.
"But why the name Hotel Vanishing?" Kiba looked at him over the sake glass and grinned.
"It's because stuff goes missing during midnight. The fox statues you saw when you entered? They always end up in the piano room, facing the piano. It's locked, Naruto, each night. A ghost hunter team was out here once and they laid down like flour and stuff to catch the ghost or whatever when the statues moved. When they checked it, all they saw were fox prints, like the statues moved on their own."
He sighed, grabbing the bottle and pouring himself another glass.
"That's not the whole bit either. It's said that the blonds that sleep here always find a snail shell on their pillow in the morning."
"That's really stupid. Couldn't they record the hauntings? Why would a ghost leave a snail shell? This is sounding really fake, Kiba."
"Whatever man. Just look in the morning. You'll see."
He took pictures that evening of the hot springs and the fox statues. The owner caught him at it and offered to give him a personal tour. He took pictures of everything the man pointed out, feeling more and more bored as each second passed.
"I'd imagine you've heard of our little haunting?"
"My friend's been talking about it, yeah."
"You'd imagine with a story like that, that we'd get no business. But it's a romantic story that draws people here. The one that's behind the haunting. You see, the original owners of this hot spring were two young gentlemen. They were brothers who had abandoned their family. The younger brother tended the lighthouse that you see over those cliffs." He pointed out the window at the spire jutting from the rocky bluffs. "His older brother tended this place. They were very superstitious and very devout gentlemen. So, when the time to honor Inari-sama came, they laid all they had at his feet.
One evening, the younger brother was at the lighthouse and he spotted something in the sea. It seemed a fox had was washed out to sea by the storm. Without hesitation, the younger brother threw himself into the sea and saved the little fox. He had it healed and brought to the shrine, so it could serve it's master god, Inari. The god was so touched by this act of kindness that he sent his most prized vassal to the younger brother. The little hanyou fell in love with the younger brother and it was soon reciprocated. The younger brother was soon left with the hot spring to care for when his older brother contracted an illness and died. Every night music could be heard from the West Hall as the younger brother played the hanyou to sleep. One evening, as he was playing, the hot spring was attacked. The hanyou and the brother were trapped in the West Hall by the bandits. The evil men lit the place on fire, nearly burning the place to the ground. As the fire burned, they could hear the piano music play as the younger brother spared the hanyou the cruel fate of dying in the fire. The hanyou was protected by Inari while sleeping and only slept when the younger brother played. The story goes on to say that they were reunited by the god Inari and lived happily but it's untrue."
The old man stopped and pointed at the end of the hall. A large wood carving of an enraged fox loomed over them.
"The hanyou was angry for having his lover stolen by the evil bandits. He sacrificed his service to Inari to get revenge on the humans. He destroyed their camp but, in the morning, was sealed away by a powerful priest sent by the gods to protect the humans from the demon, as they treasured all life. The demon was never seen again."
He focused his camera on the carving and the shuttered snapped.
"I don't see how that's a romantic story. It sounds depressing."
"Oh, but it is. Each night, the younger brother plays to lull the angry demon to sleep, and the demon regains more and more of th god's blessing. The foxes move into the room to help call their brother to them, to reunite the little hanyou and the younger brother."
"Then, what's up with the clocks and the snail shells?"
The man smiled sadly. "That's where the story gets very desperate. The hanyou was a small blond and had a spiral etched in all the kimono in the hot spring. The clocks...Well...I suppose the younger brother wishes the night wouldn't end until he's reunited with his hanyou."
"Like I said," He muttered. "I don't see how it's very romantic."
The old man just nodded and patted him on the shoulder. "The lighthouse is usually locked. If you want, the key is just under the fox statue there. The flooring was recently renovated so it should be safe. Be careful though."
He watched the ocean break against the cliffs. Very little had actually been moved in the lighthouse. The upper floor was hardly renovated at all. Everything inside had an old feel, one he was familiar with. He was careful as he approached the new glass around the upper deck. The light behind him flashed and so did his camera.
He felt a cold breeze as he left, then shouts. He ran to the edge, knowing he'd heard a voice but...it was nothing. He heard another cry but it was only a raven as it fought with a gull over some scrap. He followed the other trail to the famous Inari shrine, the foxes here more menacing than any other fox statue he'd seen. They seemed to glare at him as he passed. He took pictures of them, and then of the main shrine. He gave what he had as an offering before leaving.
He paused when he noticed the statues looking far less intimidating as before. They seemed almost alive...Movement caught his eye and he turned, jumping when he saw a raven on the ground before him. It fluttered off, and he turned, watching it. His eyes were once more drawn to the foxes as he noticed their mouths. They were curled into mischievous smiles and their heads were angled differently...He took a shot at this angle. The shutter snapped again, the raven imitating the sound.
"Goodnight, Naruto." Hinata waved as she left his room after looking at the few pictures he'd taken. She was thoroughly impressed by the shrine and hinted that she would take Kiba along with her there tomorrow. He knew that was her cue to let him know that he'd be free from anyone bothering him tomorrow. He really appreciated it.
//Hey! Play that one! The one with the moon in the name. I like hearing it, cause when you play it, I feel really safe!//
//Do you mean this one?// He could hear a few strains of music but it was muffled. //What would you have to worry about anyway? You're strong enough as is.//
//Yeah but I still like to hear it. Please play?!//
He could hear the music right in his ear now, and it was more than soothing. He felt like he'd just fallen asleep after a long bath. It was refreshing. But...He could taste something horrible in his mouth. It burned his eyes, ears, throat. But he couldn't move. The music played louder. Louder! He couldn't get his body to move! The sound began to become broken and the smell more intense. The last note, among heavy breath, faltered and the smell vanished.
"Damn it." He sighed as he noticed a pink-grey snail shell on the pillow beside him. Kiba was probably pulling one over on him. He reached back into his mind, trying to recall the dream he just had, but it was a blank. He couldn't remember and it made his heart hurt.
"We'll see you later, Naruto!" Kiba waved as he went after the group. Sakura's laughter drifted back to him as he went back inside.
"Excuse me, can I take some pictures of the piano room?"
The manager looked up at him and nodded as he turned his attention back to the men moving the fox statues. He leaned around the door frame and looked around the room. Nothing inside but a piano, a bench and a couch. He approached the piano, and ghosted his hand over the gleaming black wood. He stepped back and took a quick picture of the piano. He took a few more at other angles. He frowned, something familiar tugging at his mind. He set the camera down and sat on the piano bench. He hoped it wasn't locked and to his surprise, the lid came up. He closed his eyes and placed his fingers on the ebony and ivory keys. They sounded perfect as he ran his fingers up the various keys, trying to pick out a melody.
"Actually, press here and here." He felt warm hands on his own as they directed his hands over the specific keys. They guided his fingers over a few more cords before they left his hands. "You've been practicing. You might eventually catch up to me, dobe."
His head snapped up as he felt the warmth drift away. He turned on the bench but there was no one there. He watched his hands as he tried to play the cords but the sound was off-key and decrepit.
"Did you have fun while we were gone, fox-boy?" Kiba poured him another glass of sake as he finished telling him about their little jaunt to the shrine.
"Yeah. The manager let me into the piano room and I got some pictures." He set the glass back down untouched.
"Hey. I forgot to ask this morning, but did you get a shell on your pillow?"
"Oh, ha ha. You know I did, you mutt."
"What? You put one there, didn't you?"
"No! Why the hell would I?!"
"Because every time I turn around you're making up more and more stupid stories to scare me with. Are you trying to make me believe this stuff so you don't think it was wasted effort to drag me out here when I didn't want to come in the first place?!"
"...You know what, Naruto? Fuck you. I'm not going to listen to you bitch and be so damn anti-social when I'm only trying to cheer you up. So just fuck you, Naruto."
"Damn it, Kiba. Wait. I'm sor-" The door slammed.
He angled the camera up at his ceiling and watched the dust in the viewing lens. He was acting like such an ass but he couldn't seem to help himself. He could only feel this unbearable pressure in his chest, swirling like a vortex. He couldn't make it vanish and it only made him testy. He kept hurting his friends and it only made the feeling worse because he couldn't stop.
"Hey, Naruto?" Hinata was knocking at the door but he ignored her. He didn't want to socialize now. It was probably a big mistake to come on this trip. "We're going to the village later. There's a festival going on. I really hope you make it there."
He found himself sitting with his camera in front of the fox carving. His first thought when he saw it yesterday was that it looked angry and terrifying. It was supposed to, considering that it was a captured moment of rampage, but there was an underlying sadness. There was desperation, loneliness, fear. The body of the fox was reared back, claws exposed and face contorted into a snarl. Nine tails whipped around its body, each end sharpened to a point. It towered over him, even when he stood. His camera dangled from his loose fingers as he stretched up and touched the snout of the carving.
"Careful. You'll get a splinter."
His body jerked. He whirled, camera swinging dangerously. But there was no one behind him, let alone down the hall. It was really starting to frighten him.
"Damn it, Kiba. Your stupid stories are really starting to get to me."
//Play it for me! Please! I never ask you for anything!//
//Liar. You ask for all kinds of things.//
//Name one other thing I've ever asked you for!//
//Let's see. Just this morning you asked for ramen for breakfast, an orange top, a kite, a bonfire party, a goldfish, paint...//
//Shut up! Just...play the song please?//
//Since you asked so nice.//
His eyes opened half-way. He could hear strains of music drift from the door behind him. It was soothing in a haunting way. His lips fell into a smile and he curled on the floor before the door, occasionally hearing a soft sigh and snort. He chalked it up to imagination.
"Excuse me, sir? Sir?"
"Huh?" He blearily made out the manager shaking him, smiling faintly.
"Sorry, but you fell asleep out here."
"Oh! Sorry! I just lost track of the time....." He rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment and grinned up at the man.
"It's fine. An odd choice, but everything is alright." The old man gave him a hand up, laughing as Naruto stumbled back into the door when he let go.
"So we've established that I'm foolish. What are you doing out here?"
"Just passing by." The old man just crossed his arms behind his back and puffed on the pipe hovering between his lips. Smoke trailed behind him as he vanished around the corner.
"Right." Naruto opened the door behind him, noticing nothing out of the ordinary. The wind fluttered the curtains for a minute, drawing his attention outside. Twilight was just starting, which meant that the festival was beginning to light torches. He'd go down, take some pictures, and apologize to Kiba if he got the chance.
Everything was still open and going strong when he finally made it to the village. He'd already stopped a few native villagers and took their pictures while they were in full costume. They seemed to be celebrating the sealing of the fox demon by their beloved priest. He watched children run by with fox masks on, being pursued by a few other children in make-shift warrior costumes.
He'd stopped and bought some hot chocolate, his hands starting to get chilly from the cool sea wind. It didn't seem to bother the natives but the tourists were bundled up. He watched a parade of torches go by, two men supporting a large fox puppet on thick sticks, making it dance and snarl at the assembled crowd.
He snapped a photo as they scared the laughing teens in the group next to him. He watched the procession as they kept going down the main road. Lanterns lit the entire village as far as he could tell. He couldn't find his friends, though. But he did stumble into the village square and was stopped by the odd lack of people. Instead, there was the traditional well and a small plaque, lit by a few small sconce candles.
He read the inscription, finding noting interesting in the little message. He slid a hand into his pocket, pulling out a small coin and fingered it, contemplating.
"Dobe. Just drop it in. What are you waiting for?"
Startled, it slipped from his fingers and fell into the well. He heard the plunk and groaned.
"Don't sneak up on me! I didn't wish for anything!"
"You should pay more attention, idiot."
"Like you can talk..." He turned to glare, but again, no one was there. He backed up, eyes wide until he hit the well. This was starting to really scare him.
"Would you mind taking our picture?"
"What? Oh! Yeah, here." He took the small camera and gave the couple a countdown before pressing the button.
"Thanks." They took back the camera and the woman's eyes drifted to the side, looking behind him. Her eyes turned slightly dazzled and she grinned flirtatiously before getting pulled away by her boyfriend. Confused slightly, he glanced over his shoulder to see a man at the well he had just abandoned, dressed in costume.
He looked breathtaking, standing in the soft fire light and moon beams. A black kimono with a silver fox pattern on the side made his pale face stand out. The man pulled something from the folds of his clothing and held it to his chest like he was afraid of letting go, but then he kissed it and dropped it, leaning over to watch its descent. Naruto's camera flashed as he took a picture of the man, startling when the face turned towards him.
"You always knew how to ruin my mood." The man sighed, smirking as he approached. Naruto could faintly make out perfect features, the camera poised in his hand still. "Maybe my wish will come true tonight." The man lowered the camera, Naruto's hands nearly numb. His heart was pounding as the pale face lowered to his, thin lips barely brushing his ear as the man spoke again. "Try not to get distracted on your way home tonight, dobe. I'll be waiting."
"Wha-What?" He breathed. This felt familiar. Way too familiar. His heart wouldn't stop. It was starting to hurt.
"I'm waiting for you, dobe." The man sighed, Naruto felt the warm breath hit his neck, and walked past. Naruto whirled, eyes wide and his stomach dropped when he couldn't see the man.
"Excuse me? Did you see who I was talking to?"
The person he stopped shook his head. "No. No one was here but you." he pulled his arm out of Naruto's lax grip and turned back to his girlfriend. He could hear her laughing as they approached the well, but he ignored them.
The spot on his neck was ice cold now.
He looked away from the water he was swirling in his cup, meeting Hinata's surprised eyes.
"What are you doing?" She looked around him at the various empty bowls and glasses. "Have you been eating here this entire time?"
"I took pictures earlier but I got hungry." He shrugged.
"Oh. I heard the fireworks are about to start. Would you like to come sit with us, please?" She looked up hopefully.
"I'll find somewhere. Sorry, Hinata." He hoped she understood but it still cut him to cruelly destroy her hope.
"It's okay, Naruto. We'll see you when we get back." She promised, smiling after he nodded. She waved as she vanished into the crowd.
He watched the fireworks objectively, unable to enjoy them. They were beautiful, but it seemed as though that every display he saw, they lost more and more of their originality. He held the camera preciously in his hands as he stared up at the star bursts in the sky. The demon was vanquished now, and the children were being ushered off and into bed. The celebration party for adults would begin soon. He didn't want to hang around and catch pictures of drunk people getting up to more and more debauched things.
A crow screamed behind him, making him jump. He glared at the bird and watched it fly off, mixing into a suddenly empty sky. When had the fireworks ended?
"Look at me." The voice was deep, rough and seeped into his bones. There was hatred, rage, insanity, wrath, all mixed into a horrible voice. He felt his entire body both quake and feel with a sudden heat. He knew that voice. "Look at me."
He turned, finding before him what could only be a hallucination or nightmare. He dropped to his knees, dropping his camera to the ground beside him. The angel's head tilted back, laughing with the same voice he had heard before.
"Do you recognize me, kit?" It asked, meeting his blue eyes with brilliant red ones. Blond hair was hung loosely around its shoulders, dripping blood and gore. Canine teeth peeked from blood-stained lips, glittering dangerously. Three whiskers were etched into the skin along its cheeks. A blood-stained kimono hung in tatters from its body, held aloft by nine twitching tails. Red flames danced around the ground at its feet. The truly terrifying thing about the creature wasn't any of this.
His own face was leering at him in this image of beauty, carnage and terror.
"It has been many years since we parted, has it not, child?" It asked, approaching him slowly. "I remember it clearly. You were crouched over the burned corpse of your lover, in unimaginable pain, pleading for his soul to be returned. So much hatred rushed through us when you discovered his murderers. So much blood. An ocean of carnage entirely our own creation."
"I...I..." He couldn't speak, couldn't breath. There was so much pain assaulting him. So much anger and fear. It hurt so much!
"And then our beloved Inari-sama ordered us to stop. That the blood spilled was retribution enough. The culprits were caught. We were so happy to carry out our vengeance. But our little lover was still a burned, blackened corpse at the ground of our home. Inari turned his back on our pleas. Ignored our begging, humiliating groveling, every single prayer. He threw us to the cold, his most beloved servant, his most honored vassal. Refused to return our lover. So much hatred and rage."
The creature sunk to his knees, mimicking his position. It reached out, snarling as its hands passed straight through him. Red eyes bore into his, slits gleaming in unholy light.
"So we denied him, cast him from us and I was born!" The creature roared at him, dropping its angelic human appearance, rising to four ungainly legs. A vulpine face split into a jagged, fang-bared grin, red eyes large and bright. A single paw was about his height, and the entire body rose far above the treetops. Nine tails lashed through the air, and red flames followed their wake.
"You became a distant memory, locked in a cage of my hatred and wallowed in the grief of your lover. I destroyed all in my path, spilled oceans of blood and crunched miles of bone. Death followed me and pain was my love. And then you decided to repent when that damn priest came, looking so alike to your love. So similar and yet so apathetic. And you fell for it. Reversing our position. And here you are again, summoning his spirit."
He winced as the flames came closer, encircling him. He screamed as they raced up his arm and patted it down. Red eyes lit maniacally as he tried to find a way out of the flames, advancing on him.
"And every night he plays, calling you here. Keeping me away. Soothing the rage. And every day I grow weaker and weaker. I am pushed farther and farther back. I am left to suffer your insanity!"
The fox lunged at him, catching his arm in his mouth. He screamed again, trapped as he felt hot blood pour from his body. So much pain it was blinding. A purr reverberated from its body to his.
"Die and leave me your body. Die and set me free. Die! You brought him back! This is your fault I'm in pain! I hate you! Die!" He could hear bone crunch and snap, feel blood pour. His vision blurred, blackened. "I want to forget him! I hate you! I hate you!"
"But." He coughed and drug breath in even as he screamed. "You loved him too, didn't you? You're hurting because you're. Apart. From. Hi-" He couldn't speak. It was too much work. Too hard to manage. His body felt heavy and light at the same time. He gasped faintly as he felt the fangs and that foul maw move from him, letting him crumple in his own blood on the ground.
Something wet and heavy fell on him and he stared as thick tears poured down the red vulpine face.
"I hate him because he loved you. He loved the kindness and goodness. I hate him because he died! I hate him because he was a blackened corpse at our feet and would never play music again. I hate him because he died and left us here. He left us here! I hate him so much." The body fell in on itself, becoming the beautifully terrifying angel again. It was sobbing on the ground beside him.
Naruto reached out, feeling beyond sick as he saw the white bone and mangled flesh of his arm as he dropped it on the quaking body. He couldn't feel anything as he moved closer, pressing his cooling body by the other.
"He never wanted to leave. He wanted us to live. Be happy. Move on. He never wanted to leave us. I know that. You know it too. He loved us more than himself." He felt tears and words pour from himself, not knowing where either came from. "He loved us so much."
"I know. That's what makes it so hard." It dug its fingers into his useless arm, and he felt each digit as if it were a brand. "Why won't death make it easier? Why can't we let him go? I don't want to feel like this anymore! I can't stand it! Emptiness inside me! Nothing makes it better! I just want to be whole again! It hurts so much!"
The angel curled into him, sobbing and whimpering amid incoherent pleas. He held the creature to him, feeling his body slowly chill and become numb. As he pressed the creature into his body, he felt all the heat and flames, and every ounce of hatred poured into him from the monstrous creature.
"It hurts me too." He whispered, even as he felt something inside fill. There was still an aching cavern inside him, bleak and empty. But this creature filled some part of himself he wasn't aware was missing. He laid there with the creature in his arms until he felt the numbness completely take him over, his sight finally going black.
A raven screamed. He rolled onto his side, flinging an arm over his eyes as faint light tried to seep through his closed eyes.
He sat up with a start, panting heavily. Dawn was just cresting over the ocean. He nearly cried with relief when he realized that had just been an awful dream. He must have passed out or something. That had been a nightmare. He pushed himself off the ground, and took off briskly down the path back to the hot spring. He'd been out the entire night! Hinata and everyone would be frantic when he wasn't there and they'd be tearing apart the countryside looking for him!
Shit! Already?! He began to run, stumbling through the uneven path. He must have hit his head hard when he passes out! He didn't have this much trouble with his balance!
It was closer now. He panted, but couldn't get his mouth to work.
"Here!" He forced out, the word falling awkward and heavy from his lips.
"Naruto!" He accurately heard stumbling through the underbrush and then the other person's breathing. He looked up as Kiba burst through the trees and fell back in shock. "Naruto! Where have you been?! You were gone the entire night, and your friend was tearing the bathhouse apart! You're lucky we decided to look for you instead!"
"Kiba! What- What happened to you?!" He demanded, staring at the tufts of fur sticking up from his head and the brush of tail behind him.
"What? Did you hit your head, idiot?" The boy sighed, grabbing his arm and hauling him up. "Let me see." He was still taller so it wasn't hard for him to shove Naruto's head down and run his hands, paws!, all over it. "You have blood on your ear. You hit your head!"
Naruto winced as he felt sharp nails pinch his soft ear and nearly fainted when he hands shot up to feel it. Ears! Like a cat! Or dog! He realized his own hands were clawed, though not paws. Something brushed his leg and his head whipped down to see several tails drooping behind him! What was going on?!
"Shit, calm down, Naruto. It's not so bad. We'll get you taken care of. Just relax, buddy." Kiba led him through the woods and toward the spring. He stared at Kiba's tail, unable to slow his breathing. "We'll get Hinata to have a look at you, okay?"
He nodded. Hinata. Hinata was never a bad thing. Kiba didn't lead him inside the bathhouse though. Instead, they traveled past back into the forest.
"Kiba?" That was definitely Hinata's voice, though that wasn't what she looked like. She too had ears, paws and a tail. But her's were all milky white and she looked very anxious.
"Naruto hit his head. He's bleeding. Can you fix it?"
Naruto had lapsed into silence. This was a dream. It was the dream within a dream within a dream. It had to be. None of this was real. It couldn't be. Hinata quickly took care of him and the next thing he knew, he was being shoved into the bathhouse. He looked back, but he only saw a charcoal-colored dog streaking off into the forest.
"Dobe? Is that you?" He twisted his head around and met black eyes.
"You!" He pointed, feeling his face darken when the other raised a single brow.
"Idiot." The man sighed and grabbed his collar, pulling him into the room. "You got lost and passed out again, didn't you?"
He was drug into what he recognized was the main dining room. He was shoved into a chair, looking around the room with wide eyes as the other man muttered and ransacked the other room. Everything was changed. The entire room looked like it had been pulled from the past.
"I don't know why I bother with you, if you keep wondering off." The man sighed as he pushed his head down and ran his fingers around Naruto's tender head. His mouth suddenly felt like it had been filled with syrup. He couldn't speak as hard as he tried too. Horrified, he heard his voice spill out with words he wasn't saying.
"I don't wonder off, teme! I was visiting Inari-sama!"
"Really? Inari-sama moved his shrine to the village?"
"...I like to play with the kids!"
"...I wish you would be more careful, idiot. Not everyone likes demons and hanyou. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you..." He heard whispered into his ear. He felt his eyes prickle. He knew somehow, that he rarely heard words like that. He must have been scared, he realized, even if he didn't show it.
"I promise to never stay out late again, Sasuke. I'll always come home to you." He turned to wrap his arms around the dark man. He felt faintly shaking arms wrap around him, pressing him to that familiar hard chest and warmth.
Memories rushed through him. Sasuke. Younger brother to Uchiha Itachi. Owner of the bathhouse. The boy who'd jumped into the ocean to save him! When he had been cast into the ocean in his fox-shape and couldn't swim, couldn't breath, there had suddenly been strong arms around him and air! He'd pleaded with Inari-sama to be with the human who had saved him, and Inari-sama let him go. He loved the human boy as soon as he had been on that shore, staring into warm black eyes.
"Dobe, I need to check your head."
"Hinata took care of me." He protested, not wanting to leave Sasuke's arms.
"You know I don't trust animal-medicine. Let me see it."
"Don't make me let go, Sasuke." He whined, pitching his voice in that way he did when he wanted to get whatever he wanted out of the dark man.
"Dobe." He shivered when he felt a hot mouth on his neck, suddenly questioning the logic in staying where he was. "You'll regret it later."
"I will not!" He protested, carefully raking his claw-tipped fingers into Sasuke's hair. "I will be very satisfied later."
"Oh? And you think that after keeping me up the entire night, you'll get that reward?" He knew the dark man was just teasing. Sasuke was as hard up as he was.
"You don't want to make me feel better? I was gone all night, Sasuke. Are you sure you're the boss of me?" He purred, watching Sasuke's eyes darken with lust. He drug his fingertips gently over Sasuke's birthmark between his shoulder and neck, feeling him shiver and shake.
"I think I'm more than the boss of you." He pulled back, watching Naruto's mouth fall open with a cruel, sensual smirk. He stepped back and put some space between them. "Maybe, if you don't get lost between here and the bedroom, I'll think about it." He vanished out of the room, leaving Naruto to stare at the empty space in horror. Sasuke left...He left...He left! That bastard! When he got his hands on him- He let out a snarl and sprang from the chair, running out of the same door Sasuke had just vanished down. He was going to tackle that bastard and force him to have sex if that's what it took! He gasped as he was suddenly picked up, hauled through the air and thrown over a shoulder.
"Really, dobe, you're too predictable." He was laughing at him! The bastard! He balled his hands into fists, thumping them into Sasuke's back. He could feel his tails thrashing in the air behind him, and wasn't that the weirdest feeling ever! A growl was all the warning he got before he felt his tails snagged and pinned to his body.
"Behave, dobe." He felt a hand slap his butt sharply and gasped in outrage. He squirmed even harder, but was quelled when Sasuke slapped him again, just a little harder. That jerk! "Very good, Na-ru-to."
It was unfair that the bastard could say his name like that and get away with everything. He shivered and then felt excitement spike in his heart as he heard a door slammed open and he was tossed onto the futon. The door slid shut behind the dark man and Naruto felt a smile curve his lips in anticipation.
"You owe me a whole night, Naruto."
"Anything, Sasuke." He promised as he felt lips cover his. He wrapped his arms around Sasuke's neck, and spread his legs for Sasuke to settle between them. He shivered as he felt Sasuke's hands divest him of his clothing, throwing it to the side. He whimpered as those teasing hands manipulated him into jelly. He felt his eyes slipping closed, but it was a losing battle, as Sasuke was using those long fingers he saw dancing across a piano to drive him to the point of madness. He didn't care that he could easily force Sasuke down, overpower him, shove him, use him. This felt amazing and it was all he ever wanted in his life!
"Naruto." He heard panted into his neck, knowing his dark lover was close to the edge and already driving him up to the very brink. "Mine!"
"Always! Forever!" He promised back, careful to keep from puncturing Sasuke's back with his claws, but wanting to give Sasuke as much pleasure as possible. He worked his mouth over the birthmark as Sasuke sent him over the edge, following him with the barest second between them. "Sasuke!"
He came awake later, blearily making out in the darkness that Sasuke wasn't in the room with him. He heard music drifting over him from the adjoining room, wrapping him in a blanket of sound as he felt his power slip his control. Inari-sama protected him in his sleep, exchanging his power and hanyou form for the god's favor. He only slept weekly, wanting to be awake as much as possible to protect Sasuke.
It was too early for Sasuke to be playing. He always came down from a high with Sasuke awake and holding him. Always. Why was he in the other room? Why was he playing so he couldn't wake up? Screams echoed back to him and he felt pure terror. Someone was hurting people! Something was wrong! And still the music played, trapping him. What was going on?! He felt tears slide down his face, but couldn't move. He was stuck as a fox while something horrible was happening!
He began to smell smoke and heard heavy crashes. They were getting closer! What was Sasuke doing?! Why wasn't he letting him help?! He could easily hurt these people, drive them away! Why wouldn't Sasuke let him help?! He heard angry shouts and recognized his lover's voice. He stared hard at the door, unable to move or breathe. He couldn't help! He could hear the crackling and roar of fire as it rampaged the bathhouse. The thick smoke had begun to creep under the door, and he could see the red glow. Still, through it all Sasuke played and played.
The sound began to falter just as the roof crashed in on him. Fire clung to everything and began to destroy his and Sasuke's room, but Inari-sama's protection kept the fire away. He was sobbing inside as the music played and he never hated it as much as he did at that moment. The faint sounds grew even lighter, until the last note rang through the air with a finality that made him cold inside.
As soon as the sound died, Inari-sama withdrew, returning to him his hanyou form and his power. Naruto was uncaring that he was nude and fire blazed about him. He was only concerned about Sasuke and broke through the burning door into the piano room.
"Sasuke!" He screamed, horrified. Sasuke was slumped over the piano, a huge pool of blackened blood under him, and his clothes and hair were burning. "Sasuke!"
He ran forward, using his powers to expel the fire, embracing his lover. Sasuke's hands slipped from the red-stained ivory keys, and he fell back stiffly into Naruto's arms. His beautiful raven's hair was charred, revealing blackened skin beneath. His clothes were soot and ash covered. Someone had shoved something through his stomach.
"Sasuke." He felt the tears pour down his face. He wasn't breathing. Sasuke was...He was...Sasuke was...! He let go, sobbing into his chest as he realized he was gone. "You bastard! I could have sent them away! I could have protected you! Why didn't you let me? Sasuke, Sasuke, Sasuke." He carefully laid him out, cradling his burned face in his palms. Sasuke still had tear tracks on his face. He had been crying...He took heaving breaths.
The smell was sickening. Burned flesh and hair stung his nose and rolled his stomach. He felt like he would be nauseous. He couldn't see anything past Sasuke's face. He tried to slow down his breathing but every time he was successful he would see some other patch of burned skin. He howled in rage, spreading his palms over Sasuke's chest, focusing on his power and his gift from Inari-sama.
He might be able to save him, bring him back. Inari-sama only wanted his followers happy and Naruto was his most devout. Surely, Inari-sama would bring him back. He watch with a smile through his tears as Sasuke's body began to glow and heal. Black locks shone like a raven's wing in sunlight and his skin became as the untouched snow. He waited breathless, pushing more and more power into Sasuke. He healed him completely and watched his face sharply for any signs of movement.
"Sasuke! Wake up! Wake up!" He pressed a kiss to cold lips, knowing if he was faking that this would convince him to quit. Sasuke was unresponsive. He stared at Sasuke's unmoving chest and felt his cold body. "Inari-sama!"
The god entered the burning building like a fresh breeze and spring rain. The fire gutted out as the god looked down upon his most devout follower. He pulled the pipe from his lips and handed it off to a demure zenko fox on his side.
"Kyuubi." He acknowledged. He glanced around, taking in the room and knew all that had transpired. "Your lover is gone from this world."
"Yes! Someone came and set the bathhouse on fire! Sasuke-He- He was playing and I couldn't move and I was trying so hard and then he stopped and I knew something happened! He was protecting me! I couldn't do anything! And now he's-now he's!" He felt the sobs overcome him yet again, and he fell to a kneeling position before his lord. "Can't you bring him back?! I need him! Please, Inari-sama, please!"
He sighed, eyes sad as he heard his most devout's cries and heart-breaking sobs. It was the sound of Ultimate Suffering. He descended to the floor, placing a hand on the blond fox's hair.
"Kyuubi." He waited until those eyes were upon him and he truly felt helpless. Humans were so fragile. "I cannot raise the dead. His soul is gone, Naruto, and it can never be called back. I cannot break the law by trying."
"No, Kyuubi. He is gone now. Come home with me." He began to kneel to gather his most devout to his chest to take him home, when the fox backed away.
"No! I want to stay here! Sasuke's here, Inari-sama! I want to stay!" He gathered the dead human to his lap, holding him tightly and crying heavily.
"Very well, Kyuubi. I will give you time to grieve, but when the week dies, you will return home to my temple." Inari-sama and his escort vanished from the room, and it once again smelled as death.
"Sasuke." He whispered, "Oh, Sasuke."
Days blurred together. Other humans came and went. He couldn't bring himself to look at them. He sat, still as a statue, and stared where he buried Sasuke. Humans came and placed flowers and one girl, a tiny little thing, planted a tiny little cherry tree. He knew that Inari-sama would call him tonight to return. He didn't care. Sasuke was gone. What did anything matter now?
"I heard they attacked the village after they struck here. I heard someone who heard from the wife of a patrolman that they are camped in the forest. I think they're trying to call the daimyo."
He couldn't say when or where he heard that. Something filled him though at the thought of the people who killed his Sasuke running free to kill and terrorize. He began to run, past Sasuke's grave, past the bathhouse, past the forest. Anger that had been boiling within him spilled over. His vision bled red and he felt a power fill him that he had never felt before. He felt as though he could destroy the world.
Events became hazy after that. He could hear screams, feel pain and smell death, but a red haze had settled over him. He didn't know how long he terrorized. He could feel Inari-sama's pull, his pleas to stop. He ignored it, lashing out, trying to hurt the world as he had been hurt.
It all drew to a head when he saw those eyes again. Black, black eyes. He stared at them, seeing nothing else. This man, he had Sasuke's eyes. Tears pooled in his eyes and blurred his vision. The red was washed away. Sound came back. The man was chanting. Naruto looked around in horror. Did he do this? Bodies were scattered on the ground, and fires burned as bright as the sun in all directions.
"Return to your rest, yako." The man, the man he had thought had Sasuke's eyes, was glaring at him. He was wearing priest's robes and stamped a gold-tipped staff on the ground. From his hand, he flung charms. Naruto screamed as his powers were sealed, his essence diminished, until he lay as a fox on the ground. "Begone."
And he was. Inari-sama summoned him back. Never before had he seen his god so angry and disappointed. But, instead of pleading or explaining, he asked his great lord god to slay him.
"I can't live without Sasuke." He whispered. "Please, Inari-sama, kill me."
"Kyuubi." He felt the god's arms settle around him, embracing him. "My child, I am so sorry. I love you. Your request will be granted. Go in peace."
It was painless. One minute everything hurt and then...it was gone. Everything was gone. He closed his eyes and embraced the empty blackness. Peace.
"Inari-sama? What are you doing?" He glanced at his attendant, and then back at the ball of light he was cradling in his palms. That human...he had claimed Kyuubi completely.
"Their souls are never to part. Always where there is one shall there be the other." He intoned, holding Kyuubi's spirit in one hand. Two gods suddenly appeared at his side, and linked hands with him.
"Inari, you have called us to your side. What is it you wish?"
"Benten-sama, Hotei-sama, I ask for you to tie the soul of my most devout to the soul of a mortal."
"A mortal, Inari?"
"They were in love." He looked upon the beautiful Goddess of Love and smiled with sadness.
"He no longer belongs to me, but to his mortal lover who has passed. Surely, you could honor my request?"
"For true love, I will grant anything." Benten-sama sent her power out, summoning the mortal's soul. It was a ball of silver in comparison to the hanyou's golden spirit.
"I am feeling generous today." Hotei-sama sent out his powers with his ever-present smile and forged a link between them. As soon as it formed, the souls vanished along with the two gods. Inari-sama smiled into the empty space and closed his eyes. It would be centuries before they were reborn and he would be mostly forgotten by then.
Naruto came awake in his bedroom at the inn. His face felt stiff with tears and his head hurt, but he remembered everything. He knew now why that picture affected him so much. He understood finally what he was missing.
"Sasuke." He whispered the name, staring at the ceiling.
"Naruto?" He waited a breathless moment, but it was Hinata. "Naruto, are you awake?"
"Hinata." He croaked out, and the girl was at his side instantly. "I had the best and worst dream ever."
"Naruto? Are you feeling okay?" She placed her hand over his forehead and smiled. "Your fever's down. That's good. We were worried when we found you passed out in the woods. You were burning up and kept crying. We were so worried about you."
"You found me in the woods?" He whispered.
"When you didn't come back from the festival, we went looking for you. Kiba found you down a path. You must have been on your way back. But you were passed out and sick. We were so worried, Naruto. The inn's doctor and the village doctor both checked on you, but you wouldn't wake up. You were out for three days, Naruto. We were about to take you back home to the Konoha Hospital if you weren't awake by this morning. I'm so glad you're okay."
He listened to her and heard her tears, but couldn't do anything. He knew what this ache was in his chest. It was where Sasuke should have been.
"Hinata." He interrupted. She wiped away her tears and gave him a sad look.
"Do you remember when you told me I had an old soul? I think I remembered something from a past life."
"That's amazing, Naruto! It's nearly impossible to do on your own because it's so hard. What did you see?"
"Black eyes. White skin. Long artistic fingers. Sasuke." He felt tears well up in his eyes. "I remembered his face. Sasuke. My Sasuke."
"Your soul mate." She whispered. "That's wonderful, Naruto."
"No, it's not! Because he's gone! I don't even know where to look to find him! It's horrible, knowing his face and being unable to find him! He's not with me Hinata! It hurts!" He felt her hand slip into his, and he held it tightly. She just sat there silently as he cried, offering wordless comfort.
"Sorry you didn't have a better time, Naruto."
"It's okay, Kiba. I got some awesome pictures. I'll probably be able to sell all of them." He smiled a little forcefully. It hurt to leave, but he was glad to be home again. Kiba dropped his bag at his door and looked him over.
"Are you going to be okay alone?"
"Yeah. It'll be fine, Kiba." He reached out and gave him a hard hug. "Thanks for inviting me out."
"Of course, Naruto." He smiled, hugging his friend back hard. He was worried for the blond idiot, but there wasn't much he could do. It was up to Naruto to get over this. "I'll see you around, okay?"
"Alright. Later, Kiba." he opened his door, shuffled his bags inside and closed the door behind him. Kiba stared at it for a minute and left.
"Naruto, no one's seen you for days. You aren't answering your phone. Jiraiya won't even give us the spare key. What's going on? Call me. I'll be here."
"Naruto. Kid, you need to get out and see your friends. I just turned them away from my door. This isn't healthy kid."
"Mr. Uzumaki, your rent is late! You have until the end of the week to get last month's rent and this month's!"
"Naruto. Please. Call me."
"Mr. Uzumaki, I am Momochi Haku and I am calling on the behalf of Kiri Enterprises. We would like to hire your services. We are willing to match any price you name. If you are interested, please call the following number before the Tenth, XOX-XOX-XXOX. Thank you and I hope to hear back from you soon."
Naruto looked up at the huge building as he got out of the cab. He had no idea that the Konoha Grand Plaza was this large.
He looked over at the girl in the suit calling him and hurriedly picked up his case from the ground.
"Yeah, that's me! Sorry!" He hurried over. "I'm supposed to meet a Momochi Haku, I don't suppose you know him."
"I am Momochi Haku." The boy smiled as Naruto colored from his mistake. "It's okay. It happens more than you think."
"Sorry. It's just been a stressful week."
"Don't worry about it. If you'll follow me inside, I'll show you where we'd like to have the pictures."
"Yes, of course." He followed the other man into the building. He knew he was gaping at the sheer size of the place as it opened up into the main atrium. A single staircase as wide as a road was in front of him and curled around beyond his sight. Haku led him to the left, down a long hallway.
"Kiri Enterprises booked the Grey Room if you get lost on your way." Haku said as they passed a variety of rooms. He stopped and opened up the doors, letting Naruto view the room. There was a large stage at the back with sound equipment and a piano shoved at the end. Tables were aligned on the walls and in an oval shape around the dance floor. "We would like pictures of the entire event. Of course, you are also welcome to eat and drink with us."
"That won't be necessary. The pictures won't look as good if I stop to stuff my face." He placed his case down and opened it. "Would you mind if I get some of the empty room? It'll help me find the best places to stand to get shots."
"It's yours." Haku said, standing back. Naruto brought the camera up and the shutter snapped. He heard Haku follow him as he walked between tables.
"Do you always use such old cameras?" He heard quietly. He turned back at Haku and quickly took a picture. The boy blushed and rolled his eyes.
"I like the old cameras for test shots. I'll bring the digital for the main event. These just make me look less like an irritating nosy prick and more like a professional. They give people a...inquisitive nature. It makes them less nervous when they see this old thing. It like...makes them remember old family pictures and the cheap cameras that snapped and flashed if they wanted to."
He leveled the camera at the stage, getting the piano in frame and snapping another picture.
"I'm just going to tell management that we're leaving, if you can wait." He nodded, packing up his equipment. He snapped the case shut and strode to the door, shutting them quietly as he left. Doors opened down the hall and he heard music. He heard...that song...Leaving his case where it was, he ran toward the sound, heart racing. He saw a man leave out of the corner of his eyes, but his attention was fixed on the black-haired man at the piano. His sonata poured from the fingers that danced over ebony and ivory keys. The man's back was to him, but he didn't care. That was his sonata! He walked forward until he was at the edge of the stage and listened until it ended.
"That was wonderful." He said softly and the man turned. His heart raced and his breathing stopped as he met black eyes. It was-
"Why thank you. It's not every day I hear such praise from such a...bright person." This wasn't him! He backed up blushing and paling.
"No, I'm sorry...I-I wasn't-" He backed up as the other man smiled lecherously.
"I'm Sai, and you are?"
"Nobody!" He squeaked as he ran for the door and back to his case in the hallway. He smiled gratefully as Haku appeared not too far off and he hurried over to the other.
It was truly something beautiful, he thought as he focused on the dance floor. All those swirling dresses of all colors and the stark black suits of the men. Of course, not all were black, he noted as a dark green and even a white suit flashed by. He captured a couple in motion, her red hair swinging out with her emerald green dress and the man's dark ponytail perfectly still against his warm grey suit.
He turned back to the tables, focusing on a pair of women tapping the lips of their wine glasses together. He had never seen anything so beautiful.
He saw Haku go by toward the stage and straight to what Naruto knew to be a bodyguard. The man looked over the edge of the sunglasses he was wearing and listened to whatever the boy had to say before smirking dangerously. He shivered and turned away as he saw those pointed, shark teeth.
The music began to die and he looked up at the stage, angling his camera for the best shot. The man he knew was Haku's boss began to speak about something or other and he tuned it out as the assembly began to clap. He took picture after picture, the man's speech, the assembly's applause, the unveiling of the new company logo.
"And to the men who made this entire evening worthwhile, I would like for them to stand." He quickly made his way to the wall, so he could see the seats Haku had indicated belonging to the Konoha Unlimited President and his VP. He brought the camera up, got the faces in frame and felt his finger abut slip over the button.
It was...him. Sasuke. He quickly snapped picture after picture, going through the rest of the night in a daze. He kept seeing that face in the frame of his camera, and try as he might, he couldn't see him the rest of the evening. He felt like crying right there in the middle of the ballroom, amidst the upper crust of Konoha's society.
He continued as though he were a robot, going through a pre-programmed duty. He heard the guests leaving, exiting the ball in a wave of color and sound. He sat in one of the many scattered chairs, waiting until Haku approached him with a check.
"Mr. Uzumaki?" He turned and looked up at Haku.
"Your check. Thank you. Please, get in touch with me again when you have the pictures ready." He smiled as he handed the slip of paper to the blond and slipped out of the room just after the bodyguard. He sat there, waiting for the maintenance crew to stop by to clean now that that guests were gone and the waiters were collecting their carts and pushing them out the service doors.
He started to back his case, careful of the various pieces he'd used that night. Faint taps on the piano grew louder, picking up a rhythm and sound that wasn't his song...but it was...
"Did you know that I used to have horrible dreams of being trapped in a burning room?" He turned slowly toward the piano, case lid slamming on his fingertips. "I woke up screaming each night and it was always the same word."
The music picked up and echoed through him. He took a step forward, bumping into a table. He took his eyes off long enough to get to the dance floor as quickly as possible. The man slowly looked up at him and he nearly tripped over his feet.
"I used to drive my family crazy. Itachi tried to help, but all I had was that single name. He searched everywhere. Do you have any idea how many people share your name? He gave up, I stopped having nightmares and we stopped talking about it." His hands raced across the keys becoming frantic in their pace. "I touched a piano when I was twelve and was able to imitate the Moonlight Sonata without a single lesson. I was a prodigy. And I knew things about history. I aced my college class about the Tokugawa Period."
Naruto reached the edge of the stage and made his was to the stairs. He finally got a good look at the man's face but his eyes were closed. His black suit was still immaculate but his red and black tie was loosened and flung over one shoulder. The cuff-links flashed as his fingers ran over the keys.
"My dreams had changed by then. I had nightmares sure, but I had...other dreams." His face rose and Naruto was losing himself in black eyes. He stumbled forward, reaching the edge of the piano and catching the lip. "Eyes as blue as the summer sky. Skin tanned such a rich golden. Lips...as red as the setting sun." Pure sensuality was in that black gaze and Naruto could only meet it. "The tails and ears threw me. I thought I was demented and crazy. But it never changed. The name I would still wake up with on the tip of my tongue would be..."
He reached the bench and pitched forward. The fingers were so slow now, the melody beginning to end. The dark man pressed one last, lingering note. As it died he whispered a single word.
He felt the tears slip down his cheeks. This was...
"Yes." He lunged forward, wrapping his arms around Sasuke's waist. He felt arms embrace him tightly, pressing him into that familiar warmth. "Naruto."
He reached up blindly, tangling his hand in Sasuke's tie.
"Please, please, Sasuke. Please."
"Don't beg now, Naruto. Later." He felt those ivory hands hold his face, drawing him up and, finally, those lips. He'd waited for this for too long. He wrapped his arms around Sasuke's neck, not wanting anything to break them apart.
Sasuke's arms dropped to his waist and hauled him up onto the bench. He pulled back long enough to breathe in and immediately pushed Naruto's mouth open with his tongue. Naruto's jacket was thrown across the floor, and he felt cool fingers pull his shirt out of his pants. He ripped Sasuke's tie away, yanking on the jacket.
"Sasuke." He knew the tears had started again but couldn't quit. "Why didn't you let me help you? I could have protected you!"
"Naruto." Sasuke sounded so broken-hearted that it was all he could do to not cry harder. "They weren't bandits. They were demon-hunters. One of the few last true hunters. They were looking for you. Someone...Someone told them where you were, they were trying to get me to stop playing because it suppressed your powers and they couldn't find you. I couldn't let them have you."
"Bastard. You stupid bastard." He hissed back, angry that he would have been useless, that Sasuke had to be the stronger one where he shouldn't have had to be. "I couldn't forgive myself for your death. Do you have any idea what it's like to listen to your lover killed in the next room? I never even saw you one last time."
"Too bad." Sasuke said, voice thick. "We could have had a repeat of that morning later." He was near to tears too, but Naruto was already crying for the both of them. "I'm so sorry I had to leave without good-bye."
"I don't care. You're here now." He pressed his mouth to Sasuke's again, virtually climbing into his lap. "I don't ever want to leave this spot again."
"Never have to." Sasuke promised, kissing away the tears. His Naruto was finally where he belonged, finally in his arms again. "I'll never let you go."
"Yours, always." Naruto pushed aside the shirt, smiling as he saw the familiar birthmark. He ran rough nails over it, feeling Sasuke arch into the touch. Hands wrapped around his waist and shoulders, and he was being forced back against the piano. The keys were sour as his elbows slammed them and his head hit the lacquered black wood. He didn't care. Sasuke was over him, ravaging his mouth mercilessly.
"When you said you were staying behind to play the piano, I'm not quite sure this is what you meant."
They froze as the soft, cool voice interrupted them. Sasuke pulled back long enough to smirk and look between Naruto and the interruption.
"Aniki, I would like to present to you, Uzumaki Naruto." His brother sucked in a gasp and Sasuke smirked, looking as happily as a ten year old at Christmas. "Dobe, I would like to present to you, Uchiha Itachi."
"Nii-san!" He smiled, just as drunkenly as Sasuke. "Did you miss me?!"
"Dobe, he doesn't remember you." Sasuke didn't stop smirking though.
"This is...Naruto? The Naruto? The one you dreamt about...He's the photographer?!" Itachi was clearly stunned, something Sasuke treasured as it didn't happen that often.
"Hey! There's nothing wrong with being a photographer!" Naruto shouted, but shut up as soon as Sasuke's lips closed over his.
"Shut up, dobe. I don't want your voice hoarse before we get reacquainted." He promised into Naruto's ear.
"Sasuke." Naruto whispered back. "I never got to tell you...Before everything happened..." He faltered, but drew strength from Sasuke's warm black eyes. "I love you."
Sasuke's eyes shone like a star in a black hole, and Naruto brought a finger up to push away the barely formed tear. They had both forgotten about Itachi now. Sasuke caught Naruto's hand, eyes locked on Naruto's blue as he drew Naruto's hand to hips lips.
"The only reason you don't have a ring on this finger is because we were interrupted before I could give it to you." Sasuke whispered as his other hand came up, unbuttoning his shirt. Naruto's eyes latched on the ivory cream skin that was revealed and fell on a chain hanging from Sasuke's neck. "I found it one day, sitting in the grass. As soon as I picked it up, it started to rain. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. I knew that it belonged to you."
He unclasped the necklace and drew the little ring off. His eyes widened as he saw the white band with little foxes racing around it. A little diamond glittered in the center, shaped like a grain of rice. Naruto took it with a shaking hand, catching sight of the inscription. It was twisted like the eternity symbol.
'Never to part. Forever tied together.'
Sasuke took it from him and slid it down his finger, stopping when it fit perfectly against his knuckle.
"I love you, Naruto."
Finally, something lifted from Naruto's chest. It rose with quivering wings, shooting from him the moment Sasuke's lips touched his. He laced his fingers into Sasuke's raven black hair. What was missing was now returned. The gap was filled completely, overflowing. His eyes slipped closed and he embraced the completeness he finally felt. He didn't know what they were going to do now. He didn't have any idea how life was going to be now. But he had Sasuke. He had Sasuke finally, after being so long without him. And he wasn't giving him up. Never.
Forever tied together.