A/N: This is Greyrocks's Kiriban prize. She, along with one other, won the 22,222 kiriban on my Deviantart page. Greyrocks, if you're reading (I hope you are) the fic originally slated to go to you suffered some kind of freak accident and died. I tried to save it. Tried to re-write it, but the injuries it suffered from my research were too great. It died in my head and I had to let it go. It's a long, harrowing tale, but I'm very sorry. There really was nothing I could do.
I've never lost a fic before.
Enter my Muse. Yes, I have one and he is...beyond words. He mentioned an idea to me, at my request. Saved me, because I was in full panic mode. This is what grew from his idea. It's not actually anything like his idea, and it's not fluff, as your fic was supposed to be, but it is SasuNaru. And in deference to the fact that I promised this ages ago, and failed to deliver what was agreed upon, it will be a few chapters. Not many. I hope you're all right with this not being fluff.
Regarding this fic, I've taken liberties with how social institutions work and twisted them to suit my needs and the setting of the story.
The principal's office was a tiny cubicle. It was further cramped by an assortment of knickknacks Itachi associated with scholars and old people. Dusty books. Piles of files and papers. Framed newspaper clippings that were yellow with age and dated from before he'd been born. And pipes. Dozens of different kinds of tobacco pipes, many of which looked custom made. The one narrow window set in the far wall was filthy. The sunlight that managed to penetrate it was muted to a grayishness that put him in mind of graveyards. The man droning on and on behind the cluttered desk was certainly ancient enough to begin thinking of funeral plots.
Working a silver coin over and over the knuckles of one hand, Itachi fought the urge to yawn. A discreet glance at his watch showed that he'd been sitting there for close to an hour. He tried to focus on what was being said.
"As you know, the rules of this country are rather strict," Principal Sarutobi said. "Failure to graduate means immediate and mandatory recruitment into the Academy, where your brother will serve for ten years. He has been held back twice, once in middle school and now this year. He is failing every subject most spectacularly. His attendance is a joke, and when he does show up at school, I can be assured of at least three students being bloodied, and significant property damage. By all rights, your brother should have been put in juvenile detention a long time ago."
"Juvie's for retards," Itachi said. He could not be more bored if he tried. "Sasuke's no retard."
Sarutobi harrumphed in displeasure. "Juvenile detention is indeed where most mentally impaired children are sent, but your brother qualifies; he's troubled."
"If he qualified, he'd be there. He was shrinked at your orders five years ago. Passed with flying colors."
"He is troubled," Sarutobi pressed relentlessly, "And juvenile detention is where people as troubled as your brother belong. He is a menace. I have taken the liberty of contacting the director there. Your brother will be assessed by him the following week, whereupon I have every expectation that he will be admitted."
That got Itachi's attention. "They can't take him against my will."
"He's a minor. Rest assured, your authority is not as absolute as you think."
"He'll be eighteen next month, they can't keep him past then, so he'd be stuck in there a few weeks at most, after which he'll come back home."
"Ah, but you see those who are admitted to the detention center are then their responsibility. If it is deemed that your brother is unfit to be released to society, he will be handed over to Greenbud. And you and I both know that the likelihood of him being released from there is very slim."
Itachi did know. Greenbud was prison in all but name. Ostensibly, it was a mental institution for the criminally insane, but all sorts of shit was purported to take place there that was never proven. Medical experiments, torture… "He's not going to Greenbud."
"He will if he gets admitted to juvie."
Their eyes met and held for several moments. And understanding passed between them. "What does he have to do? Pass this year?" Itachi asked.
"This year is all but done. There are ten days of school left, your brother won't be passing. He can repeat the year in the fall…provided we accept him."
"How are you going to do that if, as you're so happy to point out, he'll be taken off to juvie next week?"
"Yes, well. If your brother consents to community service, and begins immediately, he will be accepted for the fall term. I can have his assessment for juvie canceled if he performs well."
"Let me get this straight. If Sasuke does community service he won't be taken to juvie? That's it?"
"Provided he performs without missing a day or cutting his hours, yes. But this is his last chance. After this, even if he doesn't go to juvie, he will still face the Academy if he fails high school."
The Academy was only marginally better than Greenbud. It was a military institution. There, the recruits had their violent impulses re-directed so that they became killing machines. Itachi clenched his jaw, thinking of Sasuke's persistent aversion to any kind of authority. The Academy would kill him, plain and simple. They did not brook disobedience. "Fine. How long's the community shit?"
"Five hundred hours. Twelve hours a day."
"And you'll take him in the fall if he does that?"
Sarutobi pushed a sheet of paper across his desk and laid an old-fashioned quill on top. "You'd have to sign this consent form. It states that Sasuke will do the community service, and that any failure on his part will result in immediate assessment by the Juvenile Detention Center of Konoha."
Itachi took the form and scanned it. "And if I don't sign this, you won't take him next year, and either the Academy or juvie gets him, right?"
"If we won't take him, and juvie doesn't get him, the Academy will snatch him up, correct."
"Where's the service?"
"Happy Time Home."
"I'm sure Sasuke will love that." Itachi signed his name with a grimace. "There. Cancel that assessment with the director. He'll do his service and be back next fall."
Sasuke glanced at his door when the knob jiggled, then went back to staring at the ceiling. He sat bolt upright when the door was suddenly kicked open. The lock shattered completely, and the door itself rebounded off the wall. "What the fuck-!"
Itachi strolled inside, went directly to the CD player, picked it up, and threw it out the open window. The music that had been blaring dwindled as the device dropped ten stories. There was a distant crash.
Sasuke slowly got off the bed. Went to the window. Looked out. There was a small crowd around what was left of his player. He turned and stared at Itachi.
The fight was brief; Sasuke threw a single punch that Itachi caught. His other hand came around with a switchblade in it, but Itachi caught that too, and mercilessly kicked him in the groin. Sasuke wilted to the floor on a string of breathless curses, holding himself.
Itachi flicked the blade closed and dropped it into his back pocket. "Now that I've got your attention-"
"Go to hell," Sasuke wheezed.
"-suppose I tell you how I had to spend my afternoon, when I could have spent it studying. Your principal had quite a bit to say."
Sasuke crawled to the foot of his bed and climbed on as Itachi outlined the situation. "Fuck that. And fuck you, I'm not doing shit."
"It's the Academy or juvie, take your pick. Academy, you won't see home for ten years. Juvie, and you'll be Greenbud's newest bitch in a month. You'll see home never."
"Right, like home is such a great place," Sasuke muttered.
Itachi studied the glowering features a moment. "I try, all right? I'm working my ass off trying to make ends meet, studying, putting food in your mouth and clothes on your back…I can't make you go to school, or choose the right thing to do here on top of that."
"Yeah, yeah, you're a saint. I get it."
"Christ, what the hell do you want from me?"
"Nothing." Sasuke got up and yanked a duffel from the back of his closet.
It wasn't the first time his brother had left home for awhile. Sometimes he'd be gone a night or two, a week at most. He always came crawling back when he'd run out of funds or was tired of fending for himself. Itachi watched the angry packing until Sasuke swung for the door. "Don't come back."
Sasuke was halfway down the hall, but he heard just the same. He turned and marched back to his room, stomach knotted hard. "I knew it. I knew you hated me as much as I hate you!"
Itachi shook his head wearily, before walking to the window and leaning his forearms on it. "Hate's got nothing to do with it. I don't hate you. I hate what you do, how you act, but I don't hate you, much as you'd like that. But I'm at my wits end. I don't know how to help you. I don't want you to go to the Academy or end up in Greenbud, but you don't seem to care. So if you're leaving just stay gone this time. You'll be legal soon, so you can do whatever in hell you want. Maybe if you're not here you'll be happier. I'll be worried sick, but if you're happy, finally happy, then I guess I can live with it. Least Sarutobi won't be able to send anyone to collect you. And who knows, maybe you'll be able to stay ahead of the authorities and out of juvie and the Academy. I'm done fighting you." He straightened up and left a silent Sasuke standing in the doorway.
Sasuke stood where he was for a long time. Finally, his eyes fell on the form his brother had left on his desk. Dropping the duffel from his shoulder, he went to it, picked it up, and tore it to shreds.
Of the three group homes in Konoha, Happy Time Home was the largest. Supposedly it had the best funding and facilities, but even so it was a ramshackle one-story building with a dead tree in the yard and yellow grass bordering the broken walk. Litter dotted the grass here and there, and an old, beat-up tire swing hung from one of the tree's dead branches. It twisted slowly in the hot breeze, on its gray and fraying rope, as if trying to get away from the place.
A lopsided sign, obviously handmade, hung above the faded red door with the facility's name in dripping blue paint. Faces had been drawn on this sign. Judging by the name Happy Time, one could assume that the stretched grins and round eyes on the faces were meant to express wild happiness. To Sasuke, those faces looked terrified in the extreme. That pleased him. If this was a place like Greenbud, where pain was served with the morning applesauce, then he'd do his time gladly.
There was no bell. The cracked lintel had several hand-crafted birds dangling from it by colorful yarn, and the door frame had sun-bleached flowers running along it, but there was no bell. Sasuke pounded the door with his fist.
A girl answered. He judged her to be around his age. She was slender, with black hair and pale eyes that were kind and smiling as she asked if she could help him. Sasuke hated her on sight.
Behind her, he saw several children of indeterminate ages running around, and a youngish man coming from a back room to investigate their visitor. The man put a hand on the girl's shoulder, and she stepped aside. "Yes?" the man asked. He didn't seem aggressive or authoritative in anyway, but his eyes were steady on Sasuke's face.
Sasuke wordlessly held up his form.
The man took it with a frown, and squinted through the many strips of Scotch tape holding it together. He read, raised eyes that were cool and flat to Sasuke, and said, "Come with me."
The interior of the home was as shabby as the exterior. Though colorful, the walls were faded with age, and peeling. There were roaches scurrying just as hard as the children were, and an overall sense of closeness to the atmosphere that spoke of too many bodies crammed inside too little space. As he passed from one small room to another, Sasuke noticed the children all stopping to look at him. One little girl whispered to another that he looked too young to adopt anyone.
He was led to an office so small that he didn't bother entering. The man introduced himself as Iruka and squeezed between the edge of his desk and one wall in order to sit. "There are forms you'll need to sign," he said. "You'll need to define the nature of your service, choose a program, your hours…"
Slouched against the doorway, Sasuke had been picking his nails. He looked up at hearing all this. "What?"
Iruka tapped three different forms he'd laid side by side on his desk. "This is a list of services that can be performed here. This one," his hand moved to the middle form, "lists the programs we need volunteers for. And this form here shows available time brackets." He arched a brow at Sasuke. "Tell me if I'm going to fast, buddy. Do I need to repeat myself?"
The look he gave was one Sasuke recognized. Apparently Iruka had read his form, looked Sasuke over, and decided he was trouble. That was fine with him; he was trouble. What he didn't like was being spoken to as if he were an idiot. "Maybe just one more time," he drawled.
Iruka sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
The forms, once he'd snatched them off the desk, were just as they'd been explained. The services were straight-forward enough: construction, cooking, repairs, gardening, or social. The programs were likewise self-explanatory. He could choose from one-on-one, tutoring, nurturing, or medical. He assumed the medical was for med students interning over at the hospital. As he understood it, there were community rotations there involving time at group homes, homes for the elderly, and shelters.
He waved the papers toward Iruka. "Programs and Services are redundant. I don't see how choosing something from one form will allow me time to do anything from the other form."
A tight smirk tugged the corners of Iruka's mouth. "Astute of you. However, if you'd bothered to look at the Hours form, you'd see that volunteers here can divide their time. Seeing as your sentence states twelve hours a day, I thought I'd give you the courtesy of choosing how to divide your time."
Sasuke studied the forms again. He hated physical exertion of any kind, so that left out the majority of the services. He didn't cook either. "What's social?"
"Taking the kids on field trips, mostly. Doing arts and crafts, or playing games sometimes."
Fuck that. "Do I have to choose something from each form?"
"It's advisable. Long shifts like yours can get monotonous when spent on a single task."
I'm sure you care. Maybe he could decide which places the kids went. If that was the case, he'd have leave to take them to the arcade. That had possibilities. He checked the box next to social, and moved to the next form.
Tutoring was definitely out. One-on-one sounded like an express ticket to hell, and he wouldn't qualify for medical. "The hell's nurturing about?"
Iruka's jaw flexed. "Nothing you'd be interested in." When Sasuke held his stare, he went on. "Basically, we set you up with some of our special needs residents. You're responsible for all their care. Teaching, food, physical, and most importantly, counseling. If you choose the night shift, you'll also be sleeping with them. We limit the number of children to three per volunteer. You can pick the ages. I should also mention that you're allowed to choose more than one thing from each form."
Sasuke considered that carefully. If he was going to be stuck here for half the bleeding day, he wanted it to suck as little as possible, if that were possible. He reconsidered repairs and gardening, but he couldn't fix shit, and he might last an hour with the plants before he decided death was preferable. Hating his brother intensely for signing him up for this shit, he checked the box next to one-on-one. The fewer snotty noses he had to wipe, the better. He looked over the hours briefly, and selected a time bracket.
Iruka took the forms and glanced at them. "Ten a.m. to ten p.m.?" He looked at Sasuke's mangled form again. "That'll give you 41 days of 12 hours, and a single day of six. You can serve those six hours now, actually," he said after he'd consulted his watch. He turned to his dusty computer and tapped some keys. A few moments later the printer in the corner shuddered and kicked to life. A single sheet of paper inched out of it. This was handed to Sasuke.
It was a calendar for the next month, with the field trips marked every week. "Three times a week?" Sasuke squawked.
Iruka nodded. "You'll be required to sign into this ledger every time you come, and sign out again before you leave." He turned a huge ledger toward Sasuke and slapped a pen on it.
Sasuke signed, noted the time, and added that too.
"Right. Since you've chosen social, whoever your one-on-one is will be tagging along. Nice overlap there. Time to pick your child." Iruka maneuvered around his desk again and led the way out to the main room.
It seemed the residents knew the drill. The children were already lined up in three long rows, in size order. Some toddlers sat in the very front row, their hands held by slightly older children. Sasuke counted close to a hundred residents. He was surprised to see that the back row held quite a few who had to be close to their teens. The oldest one looked to be thirteen or so. His eyes skipped along this back row; an older child would likely be able to feed itself and use the bathroom.
He didn't know what made him look past the assembled kids, but there, in a back corner of the room, a tall kid lounged against the wall. He was half-hidden in the shadows cast by the dim lighting in the room, and clad in dark clothes, but Sasuke judged him to be his age or thereabouts. He'd seen the girl who'd answered the door standing to one side of the kids, and correctly pegged her as another volunteer. Perhaps this kid was one as well…he was certainly older than any of the children, and he wasn't in line.
The dark-haired volunteer saw where Sasuke was looking though, and smiled at the kid in the corner. "Naruto? Come. Get in line so we can see you."
It could not have been more obvious by the grudging and sullen movement the kid was goaded into that he did not want to be seen. He shuffled into the light with his arms tightly crossed and his brows lowered into a stern V of resentment. The blue eyes were daggers to Sasuke's face.
Sasuke felt a smile quirk up one corner of his mouth; his insides lurched in response to the fuming animosity on that face. It was like seeing the embodiment of his own feelings, his hate and rage personified, and it gladdened him as nothing else about this place had.
Hells yeah, now that's what I'm talking about. He lifted a hand to point at the blue-eyed kid. "Him."