Days 4-9: (Ramen) save your soul

Disclaimer: Not mine and I make no money.

The Great Vampire Technique, as Naruto had nicknamed the new kinjutsu Hibari-sensei had taught him much to her irritation, was based on the fact that blood plasma, which comprised fifty five percent of blood fluid, was ninety percent water. It was ideally suited for water types, but that wasn't a requirement. Once the wielder of the jutsu had managed to wound their opponent, even f it was a minor, barely bleeding scratch, they could draw blood through the wound, making every wound immediately life threatening.

It hadn't been classified as kinjutsu because of ethics, as they were ninja, not samurai. The forbidden label had been given because it was very easy to accidentally to affect your own blood as well and rarely anyone came out of a fight without a scratch. In the heat of a fight where concentrating was difficult the technique tended to be lethal for its wielder as well, especially if they weren't water type.

"I'm so going to hit Orochimaru's ass with this the next time I see the bastard. Let's see if mister I-can-reattach-bodyparts-with-snakes can make blood of them too!" Naruto shouted, jumping up and down after his first big success. It was still odd, to feel the hard, unyielding concrete under his feet instead of ground. He missed the scent of grass and leaved and dirt.

His chakra was coiling in his belly, all heat and strong like tide, but he was already used to it.

Sai had been his most recent guinea pig, something Naruto had profoundly thanked him for, and his right arm was red from elbow to fingertips from a tiny scratch barely half an inch long. There were brownish-red stains all over the floor, bloody footsteps leading away from then, signs of Naruto's previous attempts with his fellow Root ninja, the metallic scent of it making Kyūbi restless, exited, more aware than usual even though it still couldn't talk to him. The puddle under his own feet was so large it hadn't even begun to congeal yet.

Naruto's body was splashed red from head to toe, blood had matted his hair and coated his jumpsuit, getting into his Kyūbi-red eyes and caking under his fingernails. But the furball had paid its rent in full and attempt number seven had been successful at last.

"You sure are energetic, considering the amount of blood you have lost. I wonder if you show such stamina in other activities as well," Sai said calmly as Hibari-sensei performed a healing jutsu on his hand, without removing the damned gloves. He was even paler now in the stark artificial light. Blood loss pale.

"Hibari-sensei, Sai-kun's weirding me out again!" Naruto complained, but it was mostly in jest. At first, when Sai had begun to make those kind of comments, he had thought his roommate was a pervert; just his luck. But he had later figured that it was actually Sai's attempt at humour. Pretty bad attempt, but he was making the effort. Hibari-sensei generally didn't dignify those arguments with an answer and she didn't do so now.

It had been long six days since Monday. Naruto had met his other instructor, an odd man called Otter who was wearing his mask all the time and refused to tell his name. Naruto had toyed with the idea that maybe he didn't have one, but even he recognized that as ridiculous. Everybody had a name, even if only one.

At first he had thought it was weird Sai didn't have family name, but gradually he had realized that it was him and Hibari-sensei who were the odd ones out there. Everyone else he had come to know by name lacked surname: huge, hulking Kiba-san whose icy cool temperament made him the complete opposite of his namesake, Fū-san and Torune-san who were high-ups and mousy-looking, kick-ass Tomiko-chan.

He had learned that strategy definitely wasn't his strongest point. He was actually pretty good with tactics much to his surprise as long as it involved making up a new one in a situation that had gone pear-shaped. he had always thought best on his feet, but strategy was boring, boring, boring.

He had also received his own mask. It was pristine porcelain white with markings around the eyes that were supposed to represent insect eyes. He was still torqued because Firefly was a stupid name for an ANBU. Glowing beetles didn't generally strike fear in the enemy ninja's hearts the same way tigers and boars did, unless they had some weird phobia. But the mask was to stay and to add insult to injury he still hadn't found what Sai's codename was. That tight-lipped bastard. Naruto really hoped it was Bunny so he could laugh at him.

"Return to your room to clean up and rest," Hibari-sensei commanded after briefly laying her hand on him, ensuring Kyūbi had properly healed him. "You are to meet me at entrance A2 at nine. In civilian clothes."

A huge grin split Naruto's face. He had a plan in mind. A plot to Make Sai Loose Up and his decidedly not-evil, righteous plan was proceeding well.

Sasuke and Sakura weren't the only friends of Naruto who had noticed right away that he was missing. There was one another, a kind-hearted, soft-spoken and polite girl who harbored a crush the size of the Hokage monument for him, one of the few people who knew how painful Naruto's childhood had been, but lacked the self-confidence to even talk to him. There was no way Hyūga Hinata wouldn't have noticed. She had been following Naruto around in secret for a long time.

She most definitely wasn't stalking him! She followed him around, but she was only hiding because she was so painfully, hopelessly weak, and besides, it didn't count as stalking when her intentions were pure. And she could see through walls (and clothing) if she wanted, but she would never do that! Except that one time, but it had been an accident.

She had finally gotten up the courage to go speak to Naruto and had got to his apartment before losing her nerve. Shifting her weight uneasily from one leg to another, trying to muster her courage to knock the door. She had activated her bloodline to see if Naruto was inside, a handy excuse to stall, and gotten an eyeful of Naruto in a bathroom. Luckily he'd had a white and blue towel around his waist, but Hinata had seen his tanned, muscular chest, still glistening with small drops of water, his strong arms and almost foxy gait… and promptly fainted. But that still wasn't stalking!

It was day four when Hinata found out that Naruto had gone missing. Because she was an intelligent, sensible girl she decided to ask from his teammates, since they should be in the know. She was also a girl with a cousin who regarded Naruto very highly and was prone to going to ridiculous length once he decided on something and Naruto was the one person who had talked him out of that resolve, ever.

Double oops. But that's what evil megalomaniacs get for being evil megalomaniacs.

The bar was smoky and kind of smelly and full of loud people. Naruto loved it fiercely after the sterile Root headquarters. He was sitting on the bar stool like Hibari-sensei had taught him to and sipped from his glass with small, feminine sips. Performing the jutsu and sauntering had always been enough for him; he had never known it took so much thought to fool ninja long term. The drink was pink because he thought it looked feminine. It tasted stupid, but you couldn't have everything.

"What is a woman like you doing in a place like this?" A man in his sixties was wiggling his eyebrows at Naruto. Black, cropped hair and lack of tattoos aside, the man reminded him of ero-sennin.

"Having a free night while my dear husband is taking care of our ten months old baby," he said. It was really had to keep straight face.

"Kami, what's a woman like you doing with a husband and a baby?" The pervy man's gaze raked down his body. Naruto sat straighter and pushed her shoulders back, making her ample breast stand out and the man swallowed hard. Sai had theorized that his borderline obsession to disguise himself as a scantily-clad girl was actually Kyuubi's influence, and yes, he had come to know Naruto that well in only a week, since in the folk stories foxes were known to often take a woman's form to toy with men. Naruto thought it was hilarious how breasts impaired people's brains.

"The sex was too good to say no."

There was a good explanation for this. Really.

Naruto had decided to take Sai to Ichiraku's because of the tragic, tragic fact that he had only ever eaten instant ramen. There was ramen and there was instant ramen and the latter was a crime against ramen as far as Naruto was concerned. He had been making friends with Sai, who had done his best to ignore his antics, but that was nothing new. They all cracked sooner or later so Naruto hadn't worried. And because Naruto was Naruto the conversation had unavoidably turned to ramen. Sai had not-smiled a little and shaken his head.

"Isn't all ramen essentially the same? I know they pretend to make different flavours, but it all tastes the same to me." They had been on their way to the training room. Sai had glanced over to see that Naruto was no longer walking beside him but had stopped in the middle of the corridor. He didn't know it, but that moment had convinced Naruto for good that there was something rotten in the Root. Only total monsters would prevent growing ninja from ingesting the bliss-come-tangible that was real ramen.

He still said Sai-kun, but just as with the drama queen ninja also known as Uchiha Sasuke, he had already come to think of him as only Sai. Sai was a friend. Any friend of his would be deprived like that only over his cold, dead body.

So he had decided to sneak Sai into Ichiraku's. But he couldn't literally sneak him through the river entrance because Sai was rule-happy enough to tell on him and then Naruto would be deprived of his ramen, so he had needed a cover story. In order to achieve this he had attacked Hibari-sensei with vengeance, complaining that how was Sai ever supposed to infiltrate anything if he had the social skills of a gnat, and he needed some real-life practice about subtlety too because he was as subtle as a rasengan to a face.

Naruto was man enough to admit his own faults. Hibari-sensei had acquiesced, because it was all true, and arranged for a Root nin only known as Hyō to act as a fake informant Sai was supposed to deal with while Naruto would arrange a distraction. He was being distracting with all his might and the whole bar knew it. When this was over he would pressgang both Sai and Hibari-sensei into eating at Ichiraku's. It was the Perfect Plan.

He was obviously mastering the art of subtle already.

"I bet I could give you better," the man drawled with a husky voice and put his hand on Naruto's thigh. He swatted it away.

"Sorry, wrong equipment for that," he said with a clear voice that he knew every man, all ninja, could hear over the general conversation. "At times I do bring a lady friend to home, though, when we have left Taiki-kun to my parents for the night. My husband so loves to watch it, all that naughty touching, you see?" The man's eyes bulged and for a second Naruto thought he might have a heart attack.

Every man in the bar was staring at him now, some more openly than the others, and most women were glaring at him like he was a crime against their gender. From the corner of his eyes he could see Sai getting closer to Hyō and then step away again. Mission completed. He rose as gracefully as he could.

"Talking of him, I guess a night out wasn't such a good idea after all. I miss him so!" Having said that, Naruto turned around and sashayed out of the bar. He had never known there were so many ways for women to walk before Hibari-sensei had shown him all the suggestive ones.

He met Hibari-sensei and Sai in a shady alley. Sun was setting and the darkness of the alley gave him thrill, he could almost imagine this was really an illicit rendezvous in Iwa.

"Well, that was distracting. Not exactly subtle, but then again, this particular practice mission wasn't really tailored to teach you much. It was more for Sai-kohai's benefit. And Sai-kohai," Hibari-sensei turned around, "Your body language was good, but other than that you are in sore need of training. Your choice of conversation was insulting and your facial expressions not convincing. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Naruto-san. Both of you, expect a lot of this kind of training in the future."

"Great! Now to Ichiraku's!" Naruto was fairly bouncing on his feet.

"Pardon?" Hibari-sensei raised a single eyebrow, coolly like a block of ice. Belatedly Naruto realized that she had probably expected him to be more chastised about his non-subtlety, but whatever, he would do better the next time.

"I'm hungry and we have time and ramen's good," Naruto explained like it was obvious.

"We are returning to the HQ immediately." Hibari-sensei's voice was stern and she turned around, signaling the conversation was over. Naruto grabbed her hand and she couldn't quite hide her flinch. What is the thing with her hands, Naruto wondered, has she some kind of painful skin disease?

He didn't think so. Hibari-sensei never flinched when they were sparring and they got pretty rough. He wanted to know, the need to make it all better was so strong it almost hurt, but this wasn't the right moment in front of Sai, in a dark alley where who knows who might overhear them. Besides, he had to get Sai to Ichiraku's so asking personal questions from the woman with the authority was out, for now.

"Pretty please, Hibari-sensei! Sai has never eaten any real ramen, it has been so long since I have and I bet you could use some ramen too. Ramen makes you happy! Ramen can save your soul! Please, please, please…" He gave his best puppy dog eyes.

"This is beginning to sound like some kind of cult…"

Sai never asked to be taken in. Okubo Hibari probably never asked for a student, let alone two. Danzō-sama never asked, period.

Naruto-kun hadn't asked to join either, but he was taking it all rather well. All the things that Sai intellectually understood should have made one used to the freedom of the official side of the village feel constrained, abused and miserable seemed to just slide off of his new roommate. And Naruto-kun had this strange kind of innocence about him. Emotional innocence, stubborn in the face of harsh treatment. It reminded him of someone, but he couldn't quite put his finger on whom. Or maybe part of him didn't want to, but there was someone he should remember.

"You can be the Second High Priestess," He heard Naruto-kun promise Okubo-sempai. "Ayame-chan is the First Priestess." He winked at the girl in white appron and she winked back at him. They looked like a brother and a sister. Sai noted that civilians rarely had that good relationship with ninja of any rank. They tended to be too intimidating. Then again, Naruto wouldn't have intimidated a newborn kitten.

It isn't always the big, life-threatening, the fate of world as we know it kind of situations that bring life-altering epiphanies.

"Do you like the miso ramen, Sai-kun?" Naruto-kun asked enthusiastically and looked at him expectantly. Saying no would have been like kicking a puppy.

"It is good, Naruto-kun. It does taste different than the instant kind," he admitted. It was true. It was also true that he would never make High Priest of Ramen, but he didn't need to say that. In the yellow, homely candlelight Naruto-kun's face lit up like a bonfire and Sai briefly hoped he would learn to copy that smile. Surely a smile like that would make anyone trust him.

Trust him so he could betray them later. That was what he was born to do. He looked at Naruto-kun's smile that was beginning to wilt under his silent stare. Did betrayal thrive behind it also? That thought made him feel uneasy and so he concentrated in the taste of his ramen, the fresh bite of ginger and softer taste of miso and soya.

"I have heard of your battle with Gaara-san and how you brought back Uchiha-san. How is it that you can beat someone in battle, go against their belief system, with Gaara-san when your village is in war with theirs, and have them come around?" He remembered a kind smile and hair so much like Naruto-kun's. He didn't want to remember any more.

"Uh, it's a gift? All he needed was a good kick and someone who understood." It was an uphill battle and it wasn't going well.

Okubo-sempai made them leave after her bowl was finished, which meant Naruto-kun had had enough time to practically inhale three bowls. They checked back in to the headquarters as usual, Okubo-sempai sent them on their way, informing them that there would be a formal debriefing the next morning to familiarize Naruto-san with the procedure. She gave him a slight glare and Naruto-kun grinned sheepishly, rubbing his head and Sai wondered just how much he didn't know of how things were done properly. Then they returned to their room, Naruto-kun dragging Sai along like it was a place worth hurry, babbling about nothing and everything. He had been like this the whole time they had known each other, whether Naruto-kun was tickling him or bleeding on the training room and still grinning like a madman, screaming at them to believe him, he would master it.

Naruto-kun had lived the room up a lot, though. Sai had no idea when he had gotten his hands on the posters, eyesore-bright pillows everywhere, books and a lamp shaped like a toad, and how. He was strangely reluctant to find out and get Naruto-kun into trouble. despite the Icha Icha book that the Bunny ANBU starred, which Naruto-kun had given him, grinning madly. Of all things he could choose to insinuate.

They washed their teeth, changed into their pajamas and Sai turned the light off. They were both half asleep already when something clicked in Sai's mind and he sat up abruptly, making Naruto-kun turn around in his bed and give him a strange look.

"You proposed that exercise solely so you could take me to that ramen bar, didn't you?" he demanded. The room had naturally no windows and he had hard time seeing Naruto-kun's face in the minimal blue flicker of nightlight. He desperately needed to see his new, uninvited friend's face, but he wouldn't move, wouldn't give in to the impulse.

"Yeah, of course," Naruto-kun answered like it was the most natural thing in the world.

"Why did you do so? There was nothing in it for you and it was a small thing." His voice was cracking, He didn't like his voice cracking, but he liked not understanding people's motives even less. No one had ever done anything just to make him happy… except… not! No one.

"It wasn't small to you," Naruto-kun said with more perceptiveness than Sai would have liked. It wasn't small, but how could Naruto-kun know when he hadn't known it himself? "Besides, you are one of my precious friends, like Sasuke-baka and Sakura-chan and Neji-kun and Gaara-kun and all my senseis and old man Hokage. One day I'm gonna be the Hokage so I can better protect you all, if you ever try to run away I'll drag you back like that idiot Sasuke and I'm feeding you cause you know nothing of having fun."

Sai had killed the first time when he had been ten years old and it hadn't felt like anything worth mentioning. His second kill had been a member of the Fire daimyo's court, one that had spoken for reducing the support the village received. That the man had also been a pederast interested in boys younger than fifteen had been just an unrelated detail to Danzō-sama, something that had helped them smuggle Sai into the man's quarters. Nothing had happened, but the looks the man had given him had made Sai feel great satisfaction at killing him. The mission had made him feel queasy later, but it hadn't eroded his loyalty to Danzō-sama a bit.

On his seventh assassination mission Sai had been captured. He had known that Danzō-sama wouldn't order a rescue, merely change his plans so that it wouldn't compromise them if Sai broke and had still enough wits left to ask for a paper and pen. He had escaped himself after two days and returned to the Root like the good tool he was and been punished for failing the mission. He hadn't broken then, hadn't betrayed Danzō-sama, though there had been a moment when he had considered it.

All anyone needs to know of Naruto's character is that after all that he was the one to break Sai, it was completely accidental, he did it with a bowl of ramen and three sentences and Sai was left a lot saner, happier and angrier all at once for it. And, at first, mostly happy.

"…His name was Shin." Thus Sai broke and he smiled genuinely the first time since Shin had died. Good thing Naruto's eyes were keen enough to see it in the dark.

Day 9, suborn count 1.

Recorded by the surveillance seal: Okubo Hibari, Crane, teaching Uzumaki Naruto kinjutsu.

AN: Does anyone know what Sai's mask is? I have no idea and I would like to know whether there is something canonical or if I should make one up.

About Sai's narutofying: I'm aware this might seem a bit anticlimactic, but they didn't fight in canon either and I wanted it to be something that wouldn't bring their Root superiors asking difficult questions until its their turn.

AN2: I reposted this, because it just kept disappearing. At least this time I got to keep the reviews...