Disclaimer: Owning Naruto would mean I actually had to work at this stuff. Lethargy and effort? Nah, they don't mix at all. XD
chapter 04: bonds, reforged
Voices. So many of them. Disbelieving. Accusatory. Vengeful.
"How could you?"
"You betrayed the Leaf, just like your brother!"
"Traitor! We'll never forgive you!"
They're threatened him, oh yes, plenty of times. But in the end, everyone who tried to kill him had been so weak.
His destruction of Konoha had been quick and thorough. By that time, few ninja were on par with his skills. Orochimaru was dead, Pain was gone, Kabuto too indifferent to interfere with his plans…and with Itachi's eyes implanted into him, he could use the Mangekyo Sharingan without penalty—or mercy.
''Do you see this, brother?' Sasuke thought, standing on the defaced remains of the Hokage Monument. 'Konoha is burning. The Will of Fire is dead.'
He'd finally succeeded in his revenge on the village, but all it did was leave a taste of bitter ashes in his mouth.
With difficulty, Sasuke felt himself pulling out of his dream. He'd slept heavily—too deep for comfort. And who was that voice? He didn't recognize it.
'Enemy.' his mind decided.
There was the sound of wood sliding on wood before the person spoke again, louder this time.
Only half-conscious, Sasuke grabbed the kunai stashed beneath his pillow and flung it at the sound.
Something shattered as the weapon made contact, sending shards of porcelain and bright, sparkling liquid exploding in different directions—but Sasuke was already on his feet, using chakra to reach the opposite end of the room as he checked his supplies—where the h*ll were his weapons? Why was he wearing pajamas? And how did he end up sleeping indoors, not camped in the outskirts of Konoha...
Sasuke mentally cursed as the familiar surroundings of his old room in the Uchiha Compound dawned on his senses. He'd forgotten. Again. Years of ambushes had ingrained his instincts to attack first, ask questions later.
And he had thrown to kill.
He glanced at the ground, seeing a bamboo tray, the remains of a bowl, and splatters of miso soup. The sliding door to his room was halfway open, and beyond it, in the hallway, was the muffled, pulsing chakra signature of that woman. He probed further, confirming she was alive and breathing, before exhaling a breath of his own.
'Note to Self: set a perimeter next time. Maybe use trip-wires and a chakra-sensing seal. Or I could switch rooms every night. The Compound is big enough for that trick.'
It was both a blessing and a curse that he was still getting used to this body. He tired more easily, true—the self-sparring session in the dojo, combined with nights reading clan scrolls and tutoring Naruto, had taken a toll on his eight-year-old frame. Last night he'd gone to bed and promptly knocked out. But luckily, his throw had been too slow and weak to kill his ninja-nanny-in-disguise.
"That was quite a greeting, Sasuke-kun." Nemoto-san's monotone had a cautious veneer as she entered. True to ninja form, her entire body was poised to anticipate attack.
"I don't like being woken up." Sasuke deadpanned.
"I see. Well, school's starting soon," Nemoto-san said. "Did you have a bad dream? Maybe you'd like to stay home today?"
Sasuke shook his head. "It's fine."
For someone who'd just dodged a flying kunai, she was way too calm and collected. This was ridiculous. Were they trying to have him notice that Nemoto-san was abnormal? All right, maybe a real eight-year-old wouldn't have picked up half the details he did about her behavior, but if this was some ploy of the Hokage, he wasn't taking the bait. After a lifetime of being twisted and used by lies and liars, he was an expert at the game.
If she was going to act nonchalant, then so could he.
He glanced at the clock by the bed (he'd deactivated the alarm the first night, knowing that he'd smash it if it rang in his sleep), noting that there was less than twenty minutes before class.
"I'll buy some food on the way to the Academy," Sasuke muttered, turning to grab a towel.
"There's more soup in the kitchen," Nemoto-san replied, gathering pieces of porcelain and placing them on the tray. "And I made rice balls, too."
The memory of yesterday's lumpy breakfast rose in Sasuke's mind and he grimaced as he wiped up the spilled soup. "I'll pass."
"You don't have to be so polite, Sasuke-kun," Nemoto-san sing-songed. "If there's something wrong with my cooking, you can just say it outright."
'Yeah, like if you're trying to poison me with salt.' Sasuke thought darkly, but kept his mouth shut.
"Since the Sandaime told me to look after you, we'll be seeing each other for a while," Nemoto-san continued. "It'll be nice if we knew each other better, hmm?"
Sasuke frowned. "How long will you be here?"
"As long as it seems necessary."
Which, of course, could range anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. And he did not want this woman—this stranger—lurking around like a second shadow. Sasuke straightened up, noting Nemoto-san's smile. It was a little too friendly, and said something to the effect of: 'Cross the line and I'll mark you as an imposter. Act like the child you're supposed to be and life will be easier for everyone. Assuming we don't think you're lying.'
In that case, then...
"Your cooking. Use less salt." Sasuke said. "And more tomatoes. For everything."
"Very well." Nemoto-san's face eased into a more natural expression. "There now, that wasn't so hard, was it? Sasuke-kun."
There really wasn't much time left after Sasuke washed up and got dressed. He brushed off more offers of breakfast and hurried out before Nemoto-san could stop him.
Already, he had mapped out the quickest route to school that would also pass through the marketplace, where morning vendors sold their wares. He ordered two steamed buns at a random stall, paid in cash—and got delayed when the vendor tried to make small talk and ruffle his hair.
("Aww, buying breakfast before school? That's so grown-up! I'll make sure to find you some extra-big ones!")
Sasuke reminded himself that no, he couldn't attempt murder with an ANBU spying on him, and managed to snatch his order before the lady pinched his cheeks.
Of course, by then he only had five minutes left, and normal walking wasn't going to cut it. Neither was running, unless he gave himself a chakra boost.
Well, why not?
It was a ninja village—there was nothing strange in hyperspeed travel. The Uchiha were naturally fast ninja, and Sasuke could reach the Academy in less than 30 seconds with his current skills. Ah, but the ANBU was sticking to him like a particularly hungry mosquito, and he was only a weak and helpless academy student.
Fine, he'd slow down. Getting there under a minute was pushing it—but under two should be fine. He needed to practice enhancing his reserves and chakra control, anyways. And if ANBU-san didn't react fast enough to catch up—well, his loss.
It was turning out to be a trying morning for Daikoku's nerves. First, he'd woken up sometime before dawn with a massive headache and a vague idea of his surroundings. Then the urge to vomit had come upon him, and he'd rolled off the couch—the one in his own living room, he realized absently—before stumbling off in what he hoped was the way to the restroom.
He would have made it too, if he hadn't tripped over a pile of discarded junk on the ground in the dark. Dang it.
He made it to the restroom afterwards to clean up, and that's where he found Iruka's oh-so-cheerful note stuck on the mirror—
'Sorry we had to cut our conversation short, hope to talk with you again sometime, blah blah blah, by the way, I had to pick your lock to get you inside, so you might want to look into replacing it'
—which, naturally, brought back fuzzy memories of drinking too much and spilling whatever was on his mind about his former student.
He'd lost control of his emotions again. There was a reason why a man like him never made it past Chuunin. His Jounin sensei had called him out on it, years and years ago, but Daikoku had brushed him off with all the hotheaded rashness of boyhood. Then that same sensei had died on a mission during the war protecting his sorry arse because he was an idiot.
The same thing happened eight years ago, when the Kyuubi attacked. Instead of rushing to the front lines, he'd ran home first, to make sure his wife and daughter were all right. And then got caught up in last-minute farewells that lasted too long, so when he finally left them, they were too slow to avoid the poisonous red chakra that flooded the residential districts and burned every living thing in its wake. Even now, Daikoku couldn't look at the boy he knew to be the demon's container without some measure of anger. Not towards the boy—but himself—and his own faults for his family's death.
And last night? What exactly had he said? Knowing his pride in his former student, probably nothing but praise and support for Itachi—support for an officially classified S-rank missing-nin. Borderline traitorous thoughts. Daikoku figured the only reason he wasn't back in the interrogation room was that Iruka knew when to have selective hearing.
His whole life had been cursed by flaws that had led to failures—so it'd been a relief when he'd been offered a transfer to the Academy. Teaching students, helping them to grow into better ninja—that had meaning. It was something he felt he owed to Konoha, to his family...and himself.
Though Itachi's defection was raising his doubts about teaching too.
And so, lost in his thoughts and recovering from a hangover, it was only natural that Daikoku, standing before the Academy doors, never noticed the dust and debris accompanying the dark blue blur careening towards him at breakneck pace.
'Crap—' was Sasuke's first thought when he realized that the Academy instructor wasn't moving out of the way like all good ninja were trained to do.
So much for speeding all the way to the classroom. Mentally calculating the distance before impact, Sasuke reached for his chakra and tugged—cutting the boost to his legs, and channeling excess through the soles of his feet to form a sort of chakra anchor that dragged him backwards to slow him down.
Then he stopped running altogether, and twisted his body sideways, gliding with chakra beneath his feet to skid to a stop just a foot away from the man, showering him with a minor dust cloud.
Sasuke wobbled a bit as he found his footing, and made a mental note to fine-tune that little trick. Losing balance was deadly in a fight. He glanced at the instructor, who was staring at him with unusual intensity.
"You…" the man sputtered. "It..."
It felt wise to a make a quick exit. Sasuke bowed his head in a non-verbal 'excuse me, sensei' and quickly slipped past the man into the school building.
When Daikoku finally realized someone was tearing straight at him, it was too late to react. Luckily, the blur stopped before anyone got hurt. But when the dust settled enough for Daikoku to berate the rascal, words stuck in his throat.
Black hair, black eyes, porcelain skin and a high-collared shirt...instantly, Daikoku's mind flashed back to a certain student with the exact same characteristics.
The boy paused to give him a once-over, face stiffening ever so slightly when he noticed Daikoku staring at him.
Oh, how he remembered Itachi's minute expressions. You wouldn't believe the Uchiha had any feelings at all unless you trained yourself to look. There was a certain way he tilted his eyebrow—scarcely more than a centimeter, but enough to convey every emotion between pleased surprise and deep disgust.
"You..." Daikoku finally sputtered. "It..." 'You're him. Itachi's little brother.'
The sentence never came, and Daikoku could only stare as Sasuke gave him a brief nod and went on his way.
Itachi used to do that, too—clan pride had trained all its members to show stiff necks to the rest of the world. But Daikoku had known it for what it was—standard Uchiha methods of speech towards non-clan members.
It hurt, to remember again. D*mn but did it hurt. Where had he gone wrong? And what could he do to make sure it didn't happen again? He felt useless—no, worse than that, because Sasuke wasn't even in his class and he'd done nothing when news of the massacre came out and shook Konoha to its foundations.
Useless. So useless...
A new voice shook Daikoku out of his stupor. Actually, it wasn't the voice, but a small hand tugging at his dusty vest.
"Are you okay?"
He looked down at its owner, a small boy in a white mandarin jacket, staring at him with impossibly round, worried eyes. Daikoku cracked a smile as he ruffled the boy's hair. "Heh. Everything's fine, Lee-kun."
Nine-year-old Rock Lee looked skeptical. "He didn't hurt you, then?"
"It's going to take more than an Academy student to defeat me."
Lee broke into a small smile. "I knew it! Dai-sensei is sensei, after all!"
"That's right, kiddo," Daikoku nodded as he dusted himself off. "Did your homework?"
"Yosh, Dai-sensei!" Rock Lee nodded vigorously, his long braid bouncing up and down. "I had to erase my mistakes many times, but I did not give up until I finished! Even though it was past dinnertime!"
"Great job. Now run to class before you're late."
Nodding furiously, Rock Lee sped off, while Daikoku looked after him thoughtfully.
The poor kid couldn't even mold chakra but worked harder than anyone else in his class. What right did he have, as an instructor, to give up when a nine-year-old could keep on trying?
He'd gotten whispers from the other teachers, telling him that Rock Lee should be taken out, transferred to the civilian academy perhaps—lazy, self-righteous crap from people who refused to acknowledge the kid's sheer determination to be a ninja.
Well, Daikoku wasn't sending him anywhere. Someone out there had to have something that would help the kid out. There was still time before graduation. Chuunin, Jounin, or Special Jounin—he'd just have to look harder, that's all. And as for Uchiha Sasuke...
"One problem at a time." Daikoku muttered, and tried to believe that he wasn't just making excuses.
There was some sort of commotion going on in the classroom when Sasuke entered. Crowded by the teacher's desk were a group of students—mostly civilians, Sasuke noted, with the exception of Kiba on one side and Hinata hanging in the background, looking like she dearly wanted to help. In the center stood Naruto, face scrunched up in a furious expression.
"Yeah, right!" a brown-hair boy was sneering, "Like we'd believe that! You never wear anything but orange!"
"He probably stole it!" another boy piped up. A titter of horrified "ooooohs!" rippled through the crowd, and Sasuke suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.
"M'not lying!" Naruto was close to yelling. "I got it from—someone gave it to me!"
"Yeah, the idiot's too dumb to steal anything!" Kiba piped in less-than-helpfully.
"Who gave it to you?" Brown Hair demanded, tugging on Naruto's shirt.
It was then that Sasuke noticed that Naruto was wearing the blue shirt from yesterday—Nemoto-san had taken Naruto's things to wash, and they were still drying when the blond went home last night.
"A friend!" Naruto shouted.
"Ha! Who'd wanna be your friend?" Brown Hair sneered, jerking harder on the shirt. In the background, Hinata drew in a sharp breath and flicked a quietly furious glance at Brown Hair. Sasuke mentally snorted.
'Way to antagonize a clan heiress.'
Naruto growled and pushed him away. "I've got lotsa 'em!"
"My dad says you're just a good-for-nothin' nobody. He doesn't want me to be your friend, and neither would anyone else!" Brown Hair folded his arms, shooting a smug glance at his peers.
"Che, who cares about your dad!" Kiba shot back. "Naruto's plenty good as my friend, even if he's stupid!"
"M'not stupid, dog breath!" Naruto shot back, though there was a palpable relief in his eyes. He'd turned around while speaking, revealing a strip of white bandage on one cheek. Another relic from last night.
It was like a mini diplomacy lesson. On the one side were the civilians, whose inherent prejudice towards the Nine-tails vessel had trickled down to their children. On the other side were the ninja clans, whose members held mute respect for the Fourth's sacrifice. Sasuke's eyes swept the classroom. While the civilian children were all chatting in minute whispers, the future Rookie Nine were more subdued. Chouji was casting worried glances at the crowd while trying to poke awake a snoring Shikamaru. Ino was making indignant faces at Brown Hair, Sakura looking nervous and confused at her side. Shino was sitting straight up, silent as usual. His expression was unreadable behind his glasses.
"All right, I'll believe you," Brown Hair suddenly spoke up. "If you can prove you didn't steal that shirt."
"I said, someone gave it to me!" Naruto insisted.
"Who?" Brown Hair demanded. In response, the blond grit his teeth and stayed stubbornly silent. Sasuke wondered why Naruto just didn't tell them. He hadn't swore the blond to secrecy over something as trifling as borrowing a shirt. Meanwhile, Brown Hair's eyes glinted in triumph.
"Ha! I knew it! You were lying 'bout—"
The next second, Brown Hair was rolling on the ground, clutching his knee and howling, and Sasuke had taken his place in the half-circle surrounding Naruto. General confusion rose until Sasuke spoke.
"When did he—"
"What happened to—"
Sasuke ignored the confusion rising through the crowd.
"Eh? Sasuke?" Naruto blinked. "Where'dya come from?"
"I was here the whole time," Sasuke said. 'More or less, anyways.'
"Y-you kicked me!" Brown Hair snarled, pointing at Sasuke.
"I didn't." Sasuke said.
As a matter of fact, he'd just used lightning chakra to shock some tendons while increasing the sensitivity of certain nerves, like the pain receptors. It was another test of chakra control—and again, he found it lacking. Sasuke had meant to paralyze the entire leg. Oh well.
"Yes you did!" Brown Hair shouted, clutching his knee. "Gah…it hurts…"
"Prove it, then," Sasuke said calmly. "That I kicked you. Did anyone see me do it?" He looked at the crowd. No one spoke.
"It was you!"
Sasuke just shrugged. "Words are worthless if you can't back them up."
"Oh, and Uzumaki," Sasuke continued, ignoring the other boy as he pulled out a parcel from his bag. "I brought your clothes. They dried overnight."
Naruto accepted the package with a grateful look as more whispers went through the crowd.
"Hey! Don't ignore me!" Brown Hair clutched at the arms of his classmates to stand up. "What do you mean, you—"
The next second, he was rolling on the ground, clutching his stomach and laughing uncontrollably. The crowd gingerly edged away.
"...I think Mochida-kun's gone nutty!" a girl whispered to her friend, staring at the boy.
"I always thought he was a weirdo," the friend sniffed, crossing her arms.
Huh. Sasuke didn't know hitting that nerve caused hysterics.
The bell rang then, and everyone started for the seats. A couple of students stayed behind to help up Mochida, who was trying to curse, laugh, and gasp for breath at the same time. Kiba hooted at their attempts.
Sasuke climbed the steps under the silent scrutiny of his classmates. Well, not completely silent—Ino and Sakura both seem about to explode with something to say—and oh Kami, were those sparkles floating around their heads? Wasn't eight too young an age to start fangirling?
Ino opened her mouth first, confirming his sense of impending doom. "Sas—"
"WHOA! THAT WAS WAY COOL, SASUKE!"
Something bright and oranged bounced towards him. Sasuke stepped to the side before Naruto could knock him over and watched as the blonde stumbled over the steps and nearly crashed headfirst into a desk. ('Note to Self #2: Teach the dead-last coordination skills. Soon.')
Ino was less than pleased at being interrupted. "Um, Sas—"
Naruto recovered, though, and was before Sasuke in a heartbeat. "Hey, hey! You did kick him, didn'ya? With, like, super speed an' stuff, right? Oh man! You gotta teach me!" He meant for it to be a conspiratorial whisper, and it would have worked if the blonde wasn't so darned loud.
Sasuke frowned. "Uzumaki. What did I tell you yesterday?"
Naruto was still bouncing. "Um. I dunno. Stuff?"
"What about this?" Sasuke pointed at the bandage on Naruto's cheek.
"My face?" Naruto looked down. "Uh, no. Wait, wait, the bandage? Uh…oh yeah!" the blonde hit one palm with a fist. "Pre…pretendin' an' stuff! To…to trick bad guys and…beat 'em up?"
"Yes." Sasuke gave Naruto a level stare, hoping he would understand. Taking advantage of distractions, then attacking the enemy…it was a basic maneuver, and Sasuke had just given him a brilliant example thirty seconds ago.
Naruto's face crumpled in intense thought for a few moments, before he burst forth triumphantly. "I GOT IT!"
That…was surprising. He understood quicker than Sasuke expected.
"YOU TRICKED HIM INTO THINKIN' YOU BEAT HIM UP!"
There was still a long, long, long way to go.
"Sasuke-kun!" An impatient Ino started up from her seat. She reached for his arm. "You—"
Sasuke smoothly swapped with his classmate, so that Ino ended up grabbing Naruto's arm instead. The two blondes stared at each other for a few seconds.
"Geh—" Ino choked, turning red.
"Huh?" Naruto blinked owlishly. "Whatcha grabbin' me for, Ino?"
"NARUTO YOU IDIOT!" Ino shrieked as she let go of his arm.
"What did I—HEY! M'NOT AN IDIOT!"
Sasuke sank into his seat and slowly massaged his temples. Why were children always so loud?
Everyone jumped as the door shut, revealing an irate Iruka.
"Hey now, what's all the commotion?" Iruka demanded. "You're disturbing the whole school! Naruto, I could heard you clear down the hall!"
"Never mind that now," Iruka put up a hand. "You two, back in your seats. Class is now in session."
"But she was—"
"I said, CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION."
"Yes, Iruka-sensei," the two chorused, before shooting each other black looks.
Iruka was in top form that morning, and drilled them relentlessly. Naruto was a mess about his subjects, as usual, and got called out badly for it. Kiba was only slightly better. The two of them tried to get revenge by launching spitballs with Naruto's slingshot, but Iruka was sharp enough to send their projectiles straight back at them.
When it was time for taijutsu lessons again, the blonde was in a fine temper and literally stormed out of the room. Iruka just shook his head.
Sasuke, having make-up work to turn in, was one of the last students out. He placed his pile of papers on Iruka's desk just as Shikamaru shuffled out, slow as always.
"Homework, Sasuke?" Iruka gave him a friendly smile as he glanced at the pile before doing a double take. "You finished this much already?"
Sasuke just shrugged. Actually, he'd finished all of his make-up work last night after Naruto left, just to get it out of the way, but Iruka didn't need to know that. Ah, perhaps he overdid it a bit by turning in one-third instead of one-fourth of the work at one time?
Iruka was already flipping through the assignments, mumbling to himself. "But this is…I mean…we just covered this last week! Still, you've already…and these answers…they're very thorough…"
Maybe he should have turned it in chronologically too. Ah, but everything had been so mind-numbingly simple that he'd forgotten which topics were supposed to be the advanced levels for a first-year academy student. He'd made sure to put in some mistakes, though. No sense calling attention to his true mental age.
Eventually, Iruka shuffled the papers and gave Sasuke a very piercing look. "Sasuke, you've done exceptionally well. I was afraid you'd have trouble keeping up in class, but you've obviously studied these subjects before, am I right?"
Sasuke lowered his chin in a nod.
"Ah, that's good. That's very good," Iruka seemed distracted. "Then…I shouldn't keep you, go on to your taijutsu lesson. But no fighting 'til the hospital lifts its limit in two days, understand? We want you to be in perfect health first. Mizuki-sensei will make sure."
Sasuke nodded and left.
Iruka rescanned Sasuke's papers. The work was all done in neat, legible handwriting—though he could tell a few answers were wrong right off the bat. The boy was strong with logical thinking, and his wording was impeccable—truly signs of genius intellect. Still, the words from Nemoto-san last night stuck in his head, mixing with snippets of Daikoku's drunken ravings.
'It doesn't matter why the Hokage sent someone to watch him. He's just a boy,' Iruka decided.
'And Kami help me if I ever suspect him of anything more than that.'
The first year academy students had taijutsu lessons directly on the small, compact training grounds within the Academy. They weren't expected to do much or even fight—their bodies were too young and underdeveloped to benefit from concentrated physical training. Instead, there were simple exercise drills, stretches to improve flexibility, running, cartwheels, and (like yesterday) the occasional one-on-one 'spar' using standard Academy moves, strictly supervised by the teacher. Clan techniques like the Gentle Fist were still considered village secrets, and rarely seen in the Ninja Academy, which admitted any and all able-bodied, willing Konoha residents, civilian or otherwise.
As Sasuke entered the training grounds, the class was in the middle of warm-up stretches. The mild-mannered, blue-haired teacher directed him to sit on the side with Chouji, whose arm was in a cast from yesterday's spar-and-crash-into-a-tree-fiasco. Sasuke didn't mind—he wanted to observe and assess Naruto's abilities, anyways.
The Akimichi boy gave Sasuke a timid, but steady glance as he plopped onto the grass. He swallowed a few times, before saying quietly: "Hi."
"Hn." Sasuke kept his eyes on the class.
"Uh," Chouji swallowed again. "You…you did a good thing today."
Sasuke's eyes flickered over.
"Stopping Mochida, I mean," Chouji said quickly. "He…picks on people a lot."
Sasuke didn't reply, which made Chouji more uncomfortable. The chubby boy half-wondered if his classmate didn't think he was worth his time. Everyone knew he was big-boned, and plenty more teased him for it, too.
Still, he'd started this chat, so he might as well finish it. Chouji had his pride, too.
"Anyways, IwannathankyouforNaruto," Chouji babbled in a rush. "He…people should stick up for him more."
"For Naruto?" Sasuke asked.
"Naruto's my friend. A good one. So, uh, yeah." Chouji nodded to reassure himself. "He's yours too, right?"
Friendship. First Umino, then the dead-last, and now the Akimichi too. Why was everyone wrapped up in such an artificial ideal? Friends were worth nothing. They might be entertaining, but they could also betray you at the most convenient opportunity—Sasuke should know, he was a living example.
'But Naruto never betrayed you. Neither did Sakura—she tried to kill you, but couldn't do it in the end. And everyone was willing to take you back…until you threw the offer in their faces and screwed them over.'
Stupid inner monologue.
'Friendship breeds strength.' Iruka's story from yesterday whispered into his consciousness.
No. No, it didn't. Being friends with each other didn't make the Konoha ninja live any longer before he killed them all. He stifled a bitter laugh. How ironic, to be sitting here in the very village he helped destroy, and getting offers to be friends. There was something seriously messed up about that.
'It's the bonds you form with the people you know.'
Bull. Sasuke wasn't taking any of that crap. His goal was to fix things so those who had to die could do it quickly. Meanwhile, Tsukiyomi his brother to find out why he played mind-games with Sasuke all those years. And maybe destroy Orochimaru's annoying village while dismantling some criminal organizations along the way.
Leading Naruto to Hokage-hood was the first step in consolidating strength for Sasuke's goals. And as for everyone else—he didn't care. Once everything was over, he was going to sic the Uchiha legacy on Itachi as revenge and retire as a recluse in the wilderness.
True peace, indeed.
"Uh…wanna eat lunch with us?" Chouji offered in the silence. "Shika knows a good place. Naruto'll prolly come, too."
Sasuke stayed mute, thoughts still swirling. He was using people for his own benefit. He never claimed to be anyone's friend—he didn't want or need any, except when it was convenient. The fastest way to success was to avoid emotions and reach for logic. Reason. Plans laid down with cold, rational, common sense.
Common sense told him that one more ally couldn't hurt the fight against his enemies.
So he nodded. And then took out his steamed buns, eating as he watched his classmates do relay runs around the grounds. No sense plotting on an empty stomach.
A few minutes later, the class began their practice drills and someone else joined them.
"Yo," Shikamaru said, and plopped on the grass next to Chouji, who was munching on a bag of chips.
"Aren't you supposed to be drillin', Shika?" Chouji asked between mouthfuls.
"Can't." Shikamaru grinned. "Got hurt."
The lazy genius pointed at the sky with his finger. "Like this."
Chouji looked up, then at his friend. "What are you talking about?"
Shikamaru yawned. "No clouds today, right?"
"So we're running. The sun's so bright I can't see and trip—bam." He slammed his palm against the ground. "I hit the dirt, right in front of your tree from yesterday, and get a face full of splinters."
Chouji's eyes whip to Shikamaru's face. "You—! The tree I knocked down?! But...but I don't see any splinters, Shika..."
"I took 'em out. They hurt, you know."
"I don't see any dirt or scars, either..."
"I washed 'em clean with my tears."
"You cried, Shikamaru?"
"Eh, Mizuki-sensei hates sissies. Easiest way to get outta his class."
Chouji heaved a sigh. "You're skipping again."
"Drills are a drag." Shikamaru drawled. "My mom's making me train after school anyways, so I need to save my strength."
He then turned to face Sasuke, one eye closed and a lazy grin on his face. "What's your excuse?"
"Hospital orders," Sasuke replied, still watching Naruto.
Sasuke said nothing, so Chouji spoke up next.
"I asked Sasuke to eat lunch with us, Shika."
"Oh? That's nice. I wanted to ask about Mochida." Shikamaru said. "Neat trick, but I couldn't catch it."
"What trick?" Chouji asked. "I thought Sasuke kicked him."
"He didn't." Shikamaru said, closing both eyes. "The shadows would have moved, and I'd have noticed."
As a matter of fact, he'd been trying to figure out the best angle to subtly 'trip' Mochida and friends with his Shadow Manipulation before Sasuke stepped in.
"I thought you were sleeping the whole time…" Chouji muttered. "So what did he do?"
Shikamaru shrugged. "Could've been anything." He glanced at Sasuke again, but the boy stayed mute. No explanations, then.
The Nara boy debated satisfying his curiosity by asking point-blank for an answer or trying to figure it out, decided that both took too much effort, and focused his attention skywards instead.
'Still no clouds, huh?' he mused. 'What a drag.'
"An' then, Mizuki-sensei looked at me funny and told me to run four more laps!" Naruto growled, brandishing his chopsticks furiously. "All 'cause snot-nose pushed me into him!"
"By 'snot-nose', I'm guessing you mean Mochida," Shikamaru translated, munching thoughtfully on an onigiri.
"I always thought Mizuki-sensei was nice…" Chouji muttered between bites of his own deluxe-sized bento. "Telling you to run longer 'cause of a push sounds unfair."
"He wasn't mean 'bout it," Naruto admitted. "Just…weird." He couldn't place his finger on it, but the calm, quiet academy taijutsu instructor always had a way of looking at Naruto that bothered him.
Years of experience later, he'd remember the looks and redefine them as 'calculating'.
Meanwhile, the final member of their lunch group was eating in silence. Sasuke had joined their group without a fuss, but after everyone unpacked their lunches, he had fell into a brown study.
In the lull following Naruto's comment, Chouji and Shikamaru traded glances, the latter shrugging before the Akimichi found himself speaking up again.
"So…what's up, Naruto?" Chouji asked.
"Whatdya mean?" Naruto asked between bites of food.
"I thought you only wore orange," Chouji glanced pointedly at Naruto's blue shirt. "And how come there's a band-aid on your face?"
"Oh, that's 'cause Sasuke lent me a shirt," Naruto replied. "After I got dumped in paint—anyways, I went to his house yesterday, and we fought and stuff, and he almost killed me!"
"He tried to kill you?" Chouji choked, glancing at the mute Uchiha, who paid no attention.
"Yea, it was a stupid test or somethin'," Naruto scowled. Remembering how he was so chicken yesterday stung, now that the fear of Sasuke's killing intent had faded away. "'Neways, s'no big deal now, 'cause he's gonna make me Hokage and—"
"Hahahahaha! Hokage? What a joke! You can't be Hokage, not in a million years!"
Naruto broke off to growl at the newcomer. "What do you know, dog-breath?"
Kiba sauntered up to the group and squatted on the ground, holding a chicken drumstick in one hand. "I know that you suck, loser."
"I do not!"
"Yo, Uchiha," Kiba said, finally breaking off. "You really helpin' the dead last?"
Sasuke merely raised an eyebrow as if to say, 'And what if I am?'
"Huh." Kiba snorted. "Guess he does need it…"
Naruto bristled. "Hey! Whatdya mean—"
"Uchiha Sasuke! Fight me now!"
All heads look up as Mochida came stomping into the scene, faithful lackeys in tow.
"Ah, right," Kiba scratched his head. "Forgot to tell you guys that the gigglin' pansy boy was coming."
"Shut up!" Mochida spat, before pointing a finger at Sasuke. "I don't know what you did this morning, but I'm gonna beat you up! So fight me!"
"No." Sasuke replied flatly.
Mochida's eyes widened in anger, before he smirked. "Oh yeah? You scared of me or somethin'?"
Sasuke gave him a passing glance. "…you wouldn't last five seconds. So, no."
A snarl was all Sasuke heard before a fist came barreling his way. But long before it connected, Naruto was standing up and blocking it with his hand.
"Leave Sasuke alone." the blond growled under his breath.
"Stay out of this, demon," Mochida hissed. "I'm gonna beat you up right after I get your friend."
In response, Naruto lunged at the brunette, and was promptly buried by three lackeys jumping in to fend him off.
"Hey, don't hog all the fun!" Kiba said, tossing his finished drumstick to the side before joining the fray.
Sasuke rolled his eyes. 'For the love of—"
"Shadow Binding Technique, complete."
It was instantaneous. One second, Naruto was pulling Mochida's hair and two other boys were punching his undefended sides, while Kiba was biting the shoulder of the third lackey with almost maniacal glee.
The next second, all five boys were frozen in place by Shikamaru's shadow manipulation, collapsing in a heap on the ground.
"Look, it's lunchtime," Shikamaru said, hands in a seal. "Can't we all just get along?"
"Aw, come on, it was just gettin' fun!" Kiba whined.
"Lemme go, pineapple head!" Naruto yelled. "I'm not done with 'em yet!"
'I'm having enough trouble holding you as is, Naruto,' Shikamaru moaned internally. In fact, his control was already slipping with the blond's attempts to break his jutsu. 'What, does he have massive chakra reserves or something? I'm barely keeping him still!'
The next second his hold did break, and Naruto tackled Mochida with an angry scream, throwing off his attackers into Kiba, who balked as he was buried under the combined weight of three people.
"What the heck, Naruto!" the Inuzuka groaned, pushing the trio out of his way. "Why d'ya do that for—"
He was cut off abruptly by a punch in the face, and growled as he kicked his attacker in the stomach.
Shikamaru was sprawling against the tree, breathless after using his meager chakra supply.
'Ugh…that took more out of me than I thought it would,' the boy thought, before paling. 'Aw, dang it! Mom's special training after school! I'm gonna die!'
And he knocked out quite willingly after that.
Meanwhile, the remaining two boys were making their way to Chouji and Sasuke, anger evident on their faces.
"You're gonna pay for that dirty trick ya did!" one cried, cracking his knuckles.
Chouji swallowed. His arm was still in a cast, which was already a disadvantage. Shikarmaru was, to all purposes, dead to the world, and Kiba and Naruto were busy with their own battles, which left just him and Sasuke to deal with their enemies.
'But Sasuke's just come out of the hospital,' Chouji realized. 'He's not supposed to fight yet!'
Chouji turned an almost desperate glance at the black-haired boy. "Sasuke-kun, get the teacher! I'll…I'll try to hold them off!"
The Uchiha gave him an unreadable look as he processed those words.
"You gonna defend him with that arm of yours?" one of the boys mocked him. "Haha, what a loser!"
Chouji ignored them as best he could. "Go! Run!" he waved furiously at Sasuke with his good arm.
But instead of moving, Sasuke took steps towards Chouji and the two boys. One hand gripped Chouji's shoulder before firmly pushing the Akimichi behind him.
"You go." Sasuke said.
Chouji darted a glance between Sasuke and the two other, obviously bigger boys—it looked like Mochida had lackeys in the higher grades too. "I don't think that's a good idea, Sasuke."
The Uchiha paused, looking at him. And then, he did something utterly incomprehensible to Chouji.
"I…what…Sasuke?" Chouji blinked. Three pairs of dumbfounded eyes stared as the Uchiha snickered under his breath.
The next moment, something blurred before his vision, and when Chouji blinked again, Sasuke was standing three feet away, the bodies of the two bullies knocked out cold at his feet.
He gaped at the sight. Sasuke nudged one of the bodies with his feet before glancing at Chouji.
"Now you can go." He said quietly.
"Uh…right!" Chouji nodded, before running in the direction of the academy building. His mind was in a jumble. Had Sasuke really defeated the bullies just like that? He was so fast!
'If he's this strong after coming out of the hospital, then what's his usual strength?!'
There were advantages to being older than your years, even if you were stuck in a child's body. The benefits of experience, honed through years of warfare, had given Sasuke the knowledge to incapacitate his enemies in a variety of useful and creative ways.
So performing a knockout jab behind the skulls of two irritating brats was literally child's play to him.
As the Akimichi ran off to get help, Sasuke focused his attention back on the battlefield, where Kiba and Naruto were still fighting their opponents. Of the two, Kiba was doing marginally better, having been trained at a young age in Clan fighting techniques. Naruto, on the other hand…
He had the brute strength behind his attacks, but his movements were sloppy, and beyond that, anger was clouding his usual ability to strategize on the fly. Mochida was definitely taking advantage of this to score serious hits on the blond, who was fighting on through sheer adrenaline and stamina.
'But,' Sasuke mused, 'Stamina doesn't necessarily guarantee a victory in taijutsu. All it takes is one hit in the right place and Naruto'll be out for the count.'
As if to confirm his theory, Mochida delivered a vicious uppercut that sent the blond flying, where he crash-landed into a rock and slumped down to the ground, not moving. At the same time, Kiba headbutted his opponent a little too hard and the pair fell to the ground in a knocked-out heap. Sasuke was confident that they'd be fine—ninja bodies were built to take hits, after all—and walked towards the bloody, bruised Mochida instead. The latter gave him a glare before falling onto one knee, panting for breath. Sasuke stopped a few steps from him and considered his options before he spoke, voice laced with ice.
"And just what were you planning with that awful excuse of an ambush?"
Mochida scowled, until Sasuke grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up.
"I really hate interfering idiots," Sasuke continued in a harsh whisper. "So I'd appreciate it if you back off."
Mochida squirmed, but held Sasuke's gaze. "You don't belong with 'em," he said in a petulant tone. "You're strong and they're all just weaklings. The dead-lasts!"
Sasuke gave a sardonic smile. "You're right."
In more ways than one. Kiba, Chouji, Shikamaru and Naruto had regularly scored at the bottom of their academic classes. The triumphant light in Mochida's eyes, however, died out with Sasuke's next words.
"But you're wrong, too. Want to know why?"
Because none of that had mattered when they were out in the battlefield, fighting in the real world. Fighting to kill with every last breath.
"They're dead-lasts, but at least they're not dead like you."
Mochida's eyes widened as Sasuke's hands tightened against his throat and it suddenly became harder to breathe.
"What are you—urrgk!"
"Iruka-sensei!" Chouji gasped as he pounded on the door to the teachers' office. "Iruka-sensei, come quickly!"
Slurping down a mouthful of noodles, Iruka hurried to the panting Akimichi boy. "What's wrong, Chouji? Why are you in such a rush?"
He'd never seen the boy so strung up before.
"Mochida…fighting…took us on…Sasuke…"
Iruka's eyes narrowed. He looked back at his fellow teachers, all equally bewildered, until he found the man he was looking for.
"Funeno-san, could you accompany me for a second? Something happened, and I'd like your help."
To his relief, the man didn't refuse, and stood up to follow Iruka in one smooth motion. Iruka gave him a grateful look before turning back to Chouji.
Chouji's group had chosen a secluded hillside to eat their lunch. It was one of Shikamaru's favorite cloud-watching spots when the weather permitted, and far enough from the academy to offer a semblance of privacy during lunch period. As Iruka and Daikoku followed the boy, they were momentarily bowed over by a sudden spike in killing intent in the air. Chouji wasn't so lucky—he fell to his knees immediately.
'What was that?' the two academy teachers traded worried glances, before Iruka hurried to his student's side.
"You all right, Chouji?" Iruka placed a steadying hand on the boy's shoulder and noticed that his entire frame was trembling.
"I…don't feel too well," Chouji admitted. Cold sweat had broken out on his brow.
"Leave him here, Umino," Daikoku said. "We can find the way ourselves."
"Try and go to the nurse, all right?" Iruka patted the boy one last time before running for dear life up the hill.
After mentally preparing themselves to expect the worse, the scene that greeted the two academy teachers was…anticlimactic.
They found Shikamaru first, lying against the tree in a dead faint but otherwise unharmed. Nearby were two students Iruka recognized from the older classes, knocked out cold. Further down the other side of the hill was Inuzuka Kiba and his opponent, unconscious on the grass. Beyond that was an ashen-faced Mochida—Daikoku was quick to check his pulse, but the boy was holding steady and aside from a few cuts and bruises, perfectly healthy. It was Iruka who personally made his way over to the rock at the bottom of the hill, where a newly woken Naruto was blinking dazedly at his surroundings.
"How are you feeling, Naruto-kun?" Iruka asked softly even as he looked over the boy's injuries—strange to say, there weren't many that he could see, but the dirt and grime on Naruto all pointed to signs of a serious scuffle.
"Iruka-sensei?" Naruto frowned, before brightening. "You're finally here! That jerk Mochida and his goons tried to beat up Sasuke! But!"
The blond puffed up his chest proudly. "I got to 'im before he could even start!"
"That's good," Iruka murmured, only paying half-attention. It looked like Naruto wasn't bleeding, either. That was a relief, but…
"Naruto, where's Sasuke?"
"Huh?" Naruto frowned. "I dunno. Mochida knocked me out before I could kick his butt." He peered past Iruka, seeing Daikoku carrying an unconscious Mochida in his arms and walking their way.
"Oh, Sasuke must've beat up Mochida!" he crowed. "Awesome!"
"Naruto, you know fighting outside of taijutsu class is forbidden at school," Iruka frowned. "At the very least, you're all going to get detention for this."
"But they started it!"
"I don't care who started it!" Iruka growled. "You should have tried to find one of the teachers before fighting! You're lucky none of you were seriously hurt!"
"Your teacher's right, brat," Daikoku said stiffly as he stopped before them. He shifted the load in his arms. "I'm taking this kid to the infirmary. I'll send some others to pick up the rest."
With a nod, Iruka watched Daikoku leave before turning to Naruto. "Do you understand now?"
Naruto just scowled and crossed his arms. "No."
"I don't!" the blond cried. "Why should I be nice to people who hate me anyways?"
"That does not give you the right—"
"He was gonna hurt my friend!"
"You should have let the teachers handle—"
"An' he called me a demon!"
"Why can't I fight 'em to make 'em stop?" Naruto demanded. "S'not fair! I can't beat up the grown-ups, 'cause they're all bigger than me, but how come I'm not allowed to pick on someone my own size, huh?"
"Naruto…" Iruka sighed. This was going to take some delicate explanation.
And where the heck was Sasuke?
You could nearly see all of Konoha from atop the Hokage Monument, Sasuke mused, sitting on a rock next the scorched remains of a young tree.
The same tree, in fact, that future Naruto had slammed Sasuke into at their final confrontation nine years later—or six days ago, depending on how you looked at it(1). It had given him particular satisfaction to eliminate that unpleasant reminder with a Grand Fireball Technique. Of course, said technique just happened to drain most of his chakra reserves after he sped up the side of the monument following his faceoff with Mochida, so now he was stuck at the top of the cliff, hundreds of feet from the Academy, waiting to recover his reserves. But it was a small price to pay for some peace and quiet, stalker-ANBU-hiding-in-the-shadows aside.
He'd gotten so close to just ending the brown-haired brat's life right then and there. A little bit of chakra to enhance the strength of his fingers, and then just a slight squeeze…and that would have ended not only Mochida's life, but his own plans as well. So it was that he stopped at the last moment, venting his frustration in a spike of killer intent before leaving the scene as quickly as possible, just as Naruto was starting to wake up.
It was laughable, really, that he could get so worked up now over the smallest details.
He expelled a breath as he looked into the distance, continuing the train of thoughts that had started since that morning's taijutsu lesson.
First things first, he had to get Naruto to graduate the Academy. That meant making the blond brush up on his practical academics as well as his awful chakra control. Naruto had failed the first time around because of a stupid bunshin jutsu he overloaded—and somehow, miraculously, passed and learned the Shadow Clone technique in its place within 24 hours. Sasuke's details of the specifics were fuzzy, but he didn't want to leave that bit to chance.
So Naruto had to pass the test the first time, properly, and he was going to make sure of that. Somehow.
Next and equally as important, he had to retrain himself. Taijutsu, for sure—he could spar with Naruto for that, and maybe bring in a few of the blond's friends to help. The Akimichi and Nara looked to be possible candidates, and the Inuzuka, while brash and vulgar, could also serve his purposes.
Genjutsu-wise, it would be ideal to master his Sharingan soon. Mentally speaking, he had everything he needed. Illusion-weaving skills? Check. Mangekyou Sharingan-worthy-inducing-trauma? Check. Experience from battling other Sharingan-users? Check.
Physically speaking, however…
Flawless chakra control? Not quite there yet. Large chakra reserves? Ha! Give him a break. Though they were larger than they used to be (and Sasuke suspected this had something to do with the future-self-merges-with-past-body, thus increasing his spiritual energy and by extension his chakra), they were still just 'above average' for an Uchiha, and nothing next to Naruto or his future self. Spare eyeballs in case Mangekyou Sharingan made him blind again? Unfortunately, Itachi had to be halfway to Akatsuki by now.
He also wanted to look into getting a summoning contract. Not snakes, of course, but his old hawk companions had been loyal allies to him during the war. They shared an affinity with him much like Itachi and his crows. Perhaps, if he had the chance one day, he could try the summoning technique and see if it could take him to their realm. But that would have to wait for a time when he wasn't being watched so closely…
His thoughts stilled after that at the sound of footsteps approaching. Had the teachers found him already?
An unfamiliar voice greeted his ears.
"Hey kiddo, shouldn't you be in class?"
Sasuke surveyed the newcomer—a Jounin by the looks of it, with shaggy brown hair half-covered by a skullcap and a katana hanging from his hip. He, like all the other Konoha nin he'd set eyes on, was vaguely familiar.
"Who are you?" Sasuke asked.
The man strolled over to Sasuke's side. "Just a ninja visiting his favorite training spot."
"You train on top of the Hokage Monument." Sasuke deadpanned.
"The view is magnificent. Especially when there's a full moon." The man gave him a gentle smile. "You're that Sasuke kid, huh."
"Not in the mood for class, I take it?"
Sasuke frowned slightly and looked closer at the man. He'd definitely seen him before in the past. The question, was, how long ago?
Shrugging off his silence, the man decided to unsheathe his sword instead, clearing his throat with a cough as he settled into a practice stance.
That did it.
Hearing the cough, and seeing the bags under the man's eyes, Sasuke connected the dots. This was the same Jounin that had been proctoring the Chunnin Exam preliminaries. Years later, when Orochimaru had taught him kenjutsu(2), he'd mentioned his name as a rare Konoha example—
"Gekko Hayate." The words flew from his lips before Sasuke stopped himself.
The Jounin paused and straightened up. "Not bad, kid. Where'd you hear that from?"
He looked a lot more relaxed and healthier than the Hayate in his memories. More importantly, Sasuke was talking to one of Konoha's last remaining kenjutsu experts. Now this…was interesting. Sasuke got to his feet, picking up a charred branch from the ground. He broke off a piece until it matched the length of Kusanagi, testing its weight in his hands before adopting a stance.
"Will you fight me?"
"I usually pick on people my own size."
In response, Sasuke blurred out of sight before appearing right before the man. He wasn't surprised when the Jounin easily blocked his stick and pushed him back with the flat end of his blade. Jumping back a few steps, Sasuke paused—only to reappear seconds later, behind Hayate. The Jounin spun around effortlessly to parry Sasuke's strike—again with the flat of his blade.
"I'm not here to play games with you, kid."
"Then stop calling me kid."
"I'll do that when you stop acting like one."
Dodge and strike. Hit and block. The next time they met, Hayate easily snapped off a piece of Sasuke's branch and tossed it to the side.
"At least pick a better weapon if you're going to attack me."
Shrugging, Sasuke discarded the broken remains of his makeshift sword and lunged at Hayate again. The man sidestepped to the left, avoiding Sasuke—only to stop abruptly and clutch at his waist. His eyes widened fractionally when he saw the boy holding his scabbard while standing a few feet away. Looking down, he saw that the strings attaching it to his belt had been sliced clean through.
"I think this'll do for a replacement." Sasuke said.
Sighing, Hayate lowered his blade, ignoring the boy's frown as he did so. Despite his sword skills, he was by nature a gentle person, more suited to infiltration and spywork. Fighting for the sheer heck of it didn't suit his style.
"I'm forfeiting. What do you really want?"
"Why?" Hayate asked. The boy should be only in his first year at the academy. Trying to take on a Jounin at his age with nothing but physical strength was suicide.
"Strength. Power. Skills." The boy listed them off without missing a beat.
"And how does trying to fight a Jounin at your age help with any of that?"
"Teach me." Sasuke said simply. Truthfully, his skills were probably beyond the man before him, but his body hadn't caught up yet and—Sasuke realized, if he wanted to be proficient in kenjutsu, he needed a good cover to explain any improved skills in the future.
The sudden request caused Hayate to stiffen. "Sorry, but I don't take students." Besides Yuugao, but being his girlfriend, she didn't count.
Unperturbed, Sasuke merely shifted into an exact copy of the practice stance that Hayate was in before. He positioned the scabbard in his hands so that it angled towards his right shoulder.
"Leaf Style Stance, first movement, Silent Breeze Stirs the Still Pond."
Hayate's eyebrows raised a millimeter.
In response, Sasuke launched himself into a series of fluid strikes that demonstrated the sword technique. Thanks to his new body, it was rather stiffly executed, but he knew that Hayate's expert eyes would pick out his intended line of movement. The Leaf Style was the standard sword technique in Konoha, consisting of 18 separate movements and forming the basis of swordplay for its kenjutsu users and ANBU(3). It was one of the earliest things Orochimaru taught him.
"Second movement. Howling Wind Strikes the Falling Leaves."
His movements quickened into fast, darting strikes at his invisible opponent, mimicking the action of a fierce gale shaking the boughs of a tree in autumn. By the time he finished the third, Hayate had raised his hand.
"Stop." The Jounin's voice was quiet, carrying with it a note of interested curiosity. "Who taught you?"
"I taught myself," Sasuke lied smoothly. "And I've watched my brother practice plenty of times."
That part, at least, was true—though the old Sasuke had never been able to pick up Itachi's moves.
"How many movements do you know?"
'All of them. I've even created my own variations,' Sasuke thought. Out loud, he adopted the persona of a hesitant student.
"Not many…just the ones you've seen, plus a bit of the fourth and fifth…"
Hayate gave him an appraising glance. Then he sighed.
"Your movements are still stiff and awkward, but I'll admit it's impressive that you've gotten this far at all." The sword master frowned a bit before continuing. "You have a bad habit of overreaching yourself, but your movements indicate that you're better used to a shorter sword—a chokuto, perhaps, not a katana."
The contrast between movement and action was a little odd, but Hayate blamed it on the boy's inexperience and age. And then he got to the point.
"But despite everything, I still can't teach you."
Sasuke remained impassive as Hayate continued.
"For one thing, you're an academy student. You should be focusing on studying. For another, ninjas aren't authorized to teach non-graduates. And I have a job to do—missions that will take me out of the village. I won't be around all the time."
"I can teach myself," Sasuke cut in, seeing an opening. "I have all the sword scrolls, I just need someone to check on me once in a while." 'And be the scapegoat for a convenient alibi, if it comes to that.'
"You shouldn't be having access to those scrolls," Hayate frowned.
"I am the current head of the Uchiha Clan," Sasuke said, "So it is perfectly acceptable for me to read them."
"Even so, teaching yourself is dangerous—"
"—which is why I'm asking for your guidance." Sasuke finished smoothly.
Hayate stared at him. Then he shook his head. "Kid, why the rush? We're not at war. You'll have years to master this stuff."
"My entire clan was murdered by my brother a couple of weeks ago," Sasuke muttered dryly. "I need to get stronger."
The man closed his eyes. "A sword wielded in the name of revenge will only lead to regrets, Uchiha Sasuke."
Sasuke shook his head. He knew that—had it forcefully pounded into him, in fact—by death and Naruto. "It's not for revenge."
"Then what? Anger? Pride? Your sense of justice?"
Sasuke paused, looking off into the distance where Konoha laid sprawled before him.
"It's a guarantee."
'That I'll be stronger than before, so that this time, I won't defeat my brother.'
'I'll save him and change the future for both of us.'
A perplexed Hayate had fallen silent afterwards, but didn't reject Sasuke outright. Instead, he carried the boy back to the Academy after Sasuke revealed he'd depleted his chakra reserves climbing the Hokage Monument. Iruka, of course, naturally blew his top when he heard exactly where Sasuke was, and ordered Hayate to take him to the infirmary in a rare disregard of rank. And there, Sasuke conveniently slipped amongst his fellow classmates from lunchtime to escape Iruka's inevitable lecture. Hayate quickly left the academy before he could meet a similar fate. Walking through the streets of Konoha, his scabbard tied to a makeshift knot, he played over their meeting on the Hokage Monument before coming to a sudden, startled stop.
'How did he cut my strings without a weapon?'
(1)'nine years…six days…' – Sasuke woke up in the hospital in the past six days ago, and died facing Naruto nine years later from his current time. The tree in question is the one Naruto slammed Sasuke against in the prologue. I hope it's not too confusing.
(2)kenjutsu – Sword techniques. As in, ways to kill people with long, sharp, pointy objects.
(3)'Leaf Style Stance' – Oh yeah. I am so making all this up. Consider them stand-ins for the basic Leaf Style Sword Techniques, since the only canon mention I've read is listing the style name.
A/N: (Yeah, this chapter nearly hit 10k words. Sorry about that. Wanted to set up all the background stuff before jumping into the action.)
Meanwhile…the latest Naruto chapters have me banging my head at the Face-Heel Turn turned Heel-Face Turn. I mean, really, Sasuke? You want to be Hokage now?
But luckily for us, this Sasuke made the time-jump before any of those events in canon ever happened! (*cough* around 200 chapters later, *cough*) So, as far as he's concerned, Madara is still alive and the one pulling the strings here. Which the guy technically still was, even in death…
And look! He even got some frien...er, minions, in this chapter!
So, if you may be wondering just what the heck's up with Sasuke, here's the rundown:
1)he made the jarring leap out of a warzone,
2)he's in a stupid, weak body that severely limits his strengths,
3)all the people he's known/killed before are now magically back to life,
4)Itachi somehow managed to troll him again by sending him back in time, and
5)annoyances like Mochida, ANBU spies, and Nemoto-san keep on sticking their noses into his business while he's trying to plot shenanigans.
And he has to train a hyperactive, eight-year-old Naruto. Patience can only go so far without stress relief, eh?
Don't worry, he didn't murder Mochida—just scared him half-to-death with his killing intent.
On another note, esama retired from the Internet. Go figure. I'll miss her fics. (Luckily I saved End of one world onto my flash drive…)
See you all next year or something, yeah?