of Love: Ai no Koto
The light from the movie theater
behind them and the cars that passed even now had lit the scene to a slight degree. It played across Sasuke’s features
eerily and reminded Naruto of the stories his foster families had told him when he was a child. For a moment, the strange
lighting detailed a design that began just above the shoulder to mask half his face. And like oil, it spread down his arm,
beneath the clothes, and finally seemed to float on the pale skin, only to drift out of sight just as the next car passed.
growled, and glanced furiously from Shikamaru to his least favorite classmate. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Shikamaru turned around to face his friend, and shrugged. His expression was empty of anything more than the usual quiet exasperation.
Meanwhile, Sasuke didn’t move. He offered little by way of response. Naruto lifted his face to the sky in irritation,
and clenched his teeth as his eyes closed involuntarily. “No. Don’t tell me, Shikamaru. . .you had nothing
to do with this, right?”
Shikamaru looked back to Sasuke.
“We’re all here to see the same movie, and we’re classmates, so I figured we should say hello.”
It was almost as if Shikamaru invited a response from the dark eyed boy. But if he noticed, Sasuke didn’t say
anything. “Nothing more than that, so don’t get worked up over it—”
“Can’t you be polite
for once?! What’s with you—always acting cool like you’re better than everyone else? No, you just stand
there—” Naruto interrupted. In a burst of rage he moved closer. One moment, there was a good meter or two between
them—and in the next instant the distance had shrunk to centimeters. Naruto’s wide, expressive eyes bored into
the faintly tilted, voiceless depths of Sasuke’s. They silently battled on. Shikamaru pulled on the blond kid’s
sleeve, but as Naruto stared up at Sasuke, he noticed a shadow. Indistinct, but there nevertheless. It flit across
the taller boy’s face like it had before, but somehow it darkened on porcelain skin. Thanks to the neon signs behind
us, Naruto assured himself—the swirls of color glowed with a fiery light. And in that instant, black eyes seemed
as red. . . one pupil divided into many. “What are you doing here?” he demanded, but the anger had faded from
“. . .so let’s
just have an enjoyable evening, and not curse each other ‘till dawn,” Shikamaru continued evenly.
Unfortunately for him, Naruto
wouldn’t hear any of it. “And why are you taking his side?” his earlier statement was forgotten in
an instant, Naruto shifted his attention to Shikamaru. Just as he’d breached the gap between him and Sasuke, Naruto
was right under Shikamaru’s nose in an instant. “I thought you were my friend!!”
“How. . .bothersome.
“Being my friend’s
a chore?!” eyes white in annoyance, Naruto was ready to seriously injure his companion. His hair became even more
untamed as if it had transformed into a spiky, golden bush of some sort. Shikamaru rolled his eyes and snorted. He offered
no comment. “Why me. . .?” Naruto whined.
Instead of a reply, Shikamaru
only smirked a little. “You gotta buy your tickets now, or we’ll miss the movie.” he noted and walked in
the direction of the door without another glance at Naruto.
Naruto sputtered as he watched
helplessly. “Oi!! Don’t you even care—”
Likewise, Sasuke turned towards
the theater. Sasuke spared a glance to the person Naruto had glimpsed earlier and then walked on. Without someone to listen
to his complaints, Naruto shut up and started to follow, but something in the chill air gave him pause. As he began to take
notice of their surroundings, a tall figure emerged from the shadows. He was then visible even to Naruto’s untrained
eyes. Before, the dark clothes had kept the stranger hidden, and Naruto hadn’t noticed the pale face. His black hair
was pulled back loosely, almost as an afterthought. Or like a temple girl from forever ago. . .An impassive expression
graced his face. It was unbroken even by Naruto’s blatant stare.
He’d seen those eyes,
or hallucinations of them, barely a minute before. Bloodstained and empty of emotion. As he continued to stare at the taller,
older version of Sasuke, he wondered how two men could look so similar, when years obviously separated them. The thoughts
passed quickly, however, and Naruto made his way to the ticket stand before his tired mind even realized what had happened.
Finally, it dawned on Naruto
that he had no idea what movie they intended to see, or even what time it was. “Hey, Shikamaru—” he began,
but the other youth had passed behind the glass doors. He headed towards an area Naruto couldn’t even begin to make
out. The taller man paused a moment. Naruto flinched unconsciously as those red—not red, black, he thought—eyes
met his own.
low voice surprised him; with such a light frame, and his long, sleek hair, Naruto would have expected a higher, more feminine
tone. That attribute would have lent him a soft, gentler feel. But there were no weaknesses about this man. The phrasing,
coldly polite and somehow distant, cut into his mind. The utter lack of emotion made Naruto cringe. From one spoken word this
man had put Naruto off his guard and into a state of confusion that he couldn’t blame on lack of sleep. Something, some
intimately essential way-of-being his classmate never exhibited, about the man chilled Naruto to the bone. When
I look at him . . .Naruto thought, I wonder. . . what could there be worth striving for?
Those eyes. . .
“Uh. . .what movie. .
For a moment, Naruto thought
he glimpsed a smile on that cold face. A slight upturn of lips that had nothing to do with mirth. Their gazes locked for what
felt like an age, and then a question half formed-- so he smiles. . .did he. . .really? “Spiderman.” he
murmured with quiet enunciation on the syllables. Like they were a song from days past. Had it been anyone else, that act
would have spurned relentless teasing. However, alone and without light, Naruto felt it wise to let his instincts lead the
He didn’t mention it.
“Thanks. . .” his eyes shifted nervously from the man to the doors. Under that emotionless stare he scurried inside.
This man, part of the Uchiha family or not, got beneath his skin and made him feel worthless with barely even a word.
Naruto forced his thoughts to other subjects and let his eyes drift towards Shikamaru and Sasuke. They climbed a narrow staircase
towards the theater without another thought for him. Why does my time off get wasted with the one guy I hate most.
. .? He wondered, and tried to ignore the silent presence behind him.
As he told the sleepy,
all-too-cheerful saleslady what movie he intended to see, Naruto fidgeted and pulled his well-worn wallet out of a back pocket.
The bright-colored frog held what little money Kakashi deemed necessary for a teenager. The rest of Naruto’s wages were
left in a bank account he couldn’t touch for fear of. . .well, I don’t know what, I just don’t want it
to happen. Whatever it is. One ticket later, Naruto shoved the significantly lighter frog back where it
had come from. And sighed. “Movies are way too expensive. . .” he grumbled and glanced up the stairs. Shikamaru
and Sasuke were out of sight, and the other man had similarly disappeared. Naruto relaxed a little and exhaled with relief.
He eyed the now-closed concession stand hungrily. As if to echo his thoughts, his stomach growled rebelliously. Naruto cursed
his luck. Why didn’t Uchiha get punished?! Nooooooo, I’m the only one stuck with bathroom duty for who
knows how long. . .
He turned up the next
bend in the stairway and tried to remember what he knew about the second Spiderman movie. Not much, he decided. Then
he tried to figure out why the thought of the new supper villain made him hungry. Lost in thought, he almost fell forward
where the stairs ended. Instead of a higher step the floor evened out and Naruto nearly made a fool of himself again. Eyes
narrowed and mouth pinched tight, he looked suspiciously around to gauge how many had seen his shameful behavior. Something
in the back of his mind prickled. Naruto felt laughing eyes upon him. There’s no one in front of me, and no way for
someone to be next to me, so there’s only . . .behind . . .
He whirled about with his mouth
open—ready to blame his weary feet—but the words died in his throat. Half-squinted eyes widened comically in surprise,
and his pupils shrunk to pinpricks. A startled yelp escaped his lips, but the other’s expression remained unchanged.
The taller, dark haired young man stared up at Naruto without even the trace of a smile.
“I just. . .it’s.
. .uh. . .”
There was no verbal response,
and as Naruto fumbled through what to say, the other simply walked forward and past the smaller boy as though he didn’t
exist. As if Naruto were impartial to anything he could say or do. . .
Once again, Naruto found himself
caught in a mess of thoughts. He stared vacantly at the empty space before him and watched as the door opened. Uchiha’s
companion disappeared behind it. Unwilling to be left behind and resolved not to be ignored, Naruto bit his lip against the
unease in his heart. He raced after.
The theater wasn’t heavily
crowded. In fact, if there were any people there beside their party Naruto would have been shocked. He managed to find Shikamaru
and the others by sheer luck and a little knowledge about his classmates—and their love of solitude. There was
a seat or two between his friend and the two Uchiha. To spite the Uchiha and knowing his unwillingness to be humiliated by
anyone, Naruto sat between the two groups. He didn’t particularly feel the urge to talk to either, but he had no desire
to be left alone.
Eyes adjusted to the dim light,
Naruto felt his gaze pull toward the silent pair. There had been no hurry to leave the sidewalk; the movie had a good ten
minutes before it began, and no one seemed to want even the shortest conversation. Faces awash in the glow of the screen,
the two to his left lost the contrast human beings lay claim to. They took on a simple, eerily doll-like appearance that only
accented the similarities between the two. And their unusual beauty.
Tales from his childhood,
told mostly from the boy to his right floated through his head; a blind doll that existed for the sole purpose of murder.
And taking people’s eyeballs. . .Naruto fidgeted, and tried to push the thought out of his mind. Way, way
too creepy for a deserted theater. . .
Why are those two
idiots here, anyways? With the ghost-stories repressed for an instant, he found it much easier to concentrate on other
things. That asshole doesn’t know Spiderman from Morning Musume, does he? Narrowed eyes focused on the two once
again as he mulled over a few possibilities. It doesn’t seem life threatening to be here, no, but it goes against
every good student’s habits to be anywhere after eleven. And a movie was certainly not the place to study.
Studying was the only option ever to a good kid concerned about graduation. A part-time job with long hours
was definitely unexcused, and consequently very few kids their age had jobs. In Naruto’s class, only Yamanaka
had a job besides him, and that was just to help out her mother’s flower shop when hands were short. He didn’t
count the two paperboys. With a morning route it was easy to work around homework, and the ride itself took an hour at most.
Uchiha, the perfect student in our flawless school, wouldn’t have time to watch television to keep up with his
grades, much less commit himself to work.
So, why am I stuck
in the same theater as one Uchiha Sasuke? With this weird, way too dark, so walked-out-of-a-horror-movie, mass-murder
guy, nonetheless? Maybe this is the only time he has free.
By now, both young men had
noticed Naruto’s stares, but he didn’t bother to shift his eyes. The older of the two looked briefly at the blond,
but his interest was minimal and soon strayed back to the screen in front. In comparison, Sasuke spared neither classmate
so much as a glance. As if they meant less to him than the silence of the theater.
Sasuke’s companion refrained
from speech, but there was something in his body language that demanded Sasuke’s attention. The student would offer
no visual explanation, as he didn’t stiffen in his seat, and he said nothing to hint at his thoughts. At times, Sasuke’s
eyes bespoke pain too deep for an onlooker to comprehend. Agony buried beneath a wall of rage. It transformed his composed
demeanor to one just short of insanity.
“Waiting. . .”
Shikamaru muttered, and looked pointedly away from the front to try and get Naruto’s attention. Unconcerned with his
friend, Naruto paid him no mind, which earned a scowl from the already irritated boy. “. . .what a waste of my time.
Naruto snorted, but didn’t
bother to look at Shikamaru. “It’s your fault we’re here, y’know, so you’ve got no room
to gripe,” he returned, but his voice was subdued.
the blond felt his friend turn away, and he knew his remark had a little more effect on Shikamaru than it had in times past.
The two boys were close enough so that snide remarks wouldn’t bother them. And so they both could shrug off most comments
from the outside world. However, being ignored wasn’t something anyone relished, and that was how Shikamaru viewed Naruto’s
jibes. His lack of attention more than the reply hurt, if only a little. However, in his current state of mind,
Naruto couldn’t find it in him to care. His fault. he reminded himself with blue eyes half closed as he contemplated
the strange company.
Screw it all, he
grumbled, safe inside his head. I never asked him to do anything for me, but the statement was little more than something
to say. It lacked the conviction he needed to guard himself from injury. While some might accuse him of being ‘a heartless
prankster with only his own welfare in mind,’ this wasn’t so. For one thing, none of my jokes hurt anybody,
and all of them are funny. Sure, I ain’t perfect or anything, and sometimes I make others look bad, but
only when no one else sees what I’m tryin’ to say. I leave the ones who can’t fight back alone, and I never
tormented anyone who was obviously hurt. Naruto justified himself. So Shikamaru’s reaction didn’t sit well
with him, and made him uncomfortable to the extreme.
The whole movie business didn’t
seem nearly as interesting as he’d thought.
Time passed in silence and
the small group watched the previews and other short commercials flash across the screen. Naruto made no comments, and gave
up his observation of the Uchiha pair. As he let his thoughts wander.
He was so far gone that when
the movie finally began, he nearly missed the beginning. It wasn’t the text that flashed from one side to the other,
or the vaguely familiar opening music that snagged his attention, but the sparkle in the brilliant blue eyes of a woman. With
a jolt, Naruto focused his tired eyes on the lead, Peter Parker. Some hero, he thought with a smile, and let his mind
wrap itself around the story, completely lost in the plot after his initial wake up. He thoroughly enjoyed the tale, and found
himself amused at the distinctive American humor.
Despite his attempts to forget
life and have fun, Naruto’s attention wandered halfway through, as he started to fidget. While Shikamaru was perfectly
able to stare off into space for hours on end and think about various off-the-wall subjects, Naruto wasn’t. He was apt
to fall asleep in class. Not because he was bored of the subject, but because he just couldn’t concentrate on
something too long. Classes were too lengthy and focused too much on the broad, general facts. They only touched the surface
of every subject matter. When he needed things explained again—a frequent occurrence in English—the class had
moved on. But when he understood how things were going, they spent a month on the same stupid thing.
case, Naruto had guessed the ending, and the complications that would undoubtedly result from the characters’ actions.
And now, he was bored. He glanced experimentally at Sasuke, and wondered whether the story was as obvious to his classmates
as it had been to him. The black haired boy continued to watch the movie, either oblivious to Naruto’s scrutiny or immune
to it. His expression conveyed no hint of emotion, and said nothing of the inner workings of the Uchiha’s mind. As always,
he sat with a slight frown to compliment delicate features. His eyes were cold and distant as he impassively took in the scene.
The elder of the pair watched with a similar disposition; he was indifferent to the emotional distress before them. His red—not
red, black, Naruto thought—eyes seemed to miss no detail. He took in everything as effortlessly as others breathe.
In the film, screams broke
the quiet scene and drew Naruto’s eyes back. In a desperate struggle, men and women fought for their lives against something
unimaginable in the real world. But it was horrifically possible in the viewer’s entranced minds. Even as he knew it
was all as likely as any of Kakshi’s ridiculous excuses, Naruto cringed as someone was dropped. He wished his stomach
would quiet. He looked away, and waited for the sounds to recede.
Shikamaru scowled slightly,
and his eyes twitched once as another scream broke the air. Naruto turned again, and scanned the left wall of the theater
for shadows and shuddered. Beside him, Uchiha and his companion continued to watch impassively. Unblinking and as callous
now as they’d been five minutes earlier.
Neither one reacted to the
reality of the film. They remained detached. Oblivious to human cries.
Naruto moved his feet around
a little and shivered. He was well aware of how the temperature, and how he wouldn’t normally want a jacket in early
summer. Those two are as cold towards me as a zombie might be, to Naruto’s way of thinking. A little amazed,
and a tad rueful, Naruto thought, do they always act like that? His lips twitched in attempt at mockery at the
disturbing thought. He convinced that yes, they do. Naturally, there were some people who masked their emotions well
in regard to horror movies, but there were other things that not even the most skilled performers could hide. Hm, I wonder
if they’d stare like that if it were two people having hot and sweaty sex instead of dying? he wondered. His smile
was fast on its way to a smirk.
The thought didn’t
really register to his sleepy mind until a few seconds after the fact, when an image he’d seen in Kakashi’s Icha-Icha
Paradise flashed unbidden over the music. In his mind, proud and aloof Sasuke watched indifferently as Naruto and some unknown
person ‘got it on.’ Thus completing a new nightmare Naruto would be lucky to forget. Arg, I must be going crazy.
. .did I just think of Sasuke and sex at the same time. . .?! Naruto felt heat rise in his cheeks and choked a
little as he stared fixedly at the ground. Nope. I didn’t. . .he thought quickly. Most definitely did not
think of my rival being in on an intimate moment between me and. . .somebody. . .
Unfortunately, it’s a
little more difficult to convince one’s subconscious to forget daydreams than to forget homework.
“Oi, Naruto,” Shikamaru
raised an eyebrow at his friend, amused and concerned as Naruto nearly fell out of his seat. “What is it?”
his voice remained as neutral as ever, but even the blond could tell Shikamaru noticed something odd about his behavior.
As he choked on his tongue,
Naruto vehemently waved his hands in front of his face. As if to ward off suspicious thoughts. “Nu. . .nothing!! I swear.
. .” he laughed nervously, and rubbed the back of his head. Shikamaru raised an eyebrow and rolled his eyes. He seemed
to come to the conclusion that Naruto was just Naruto, after all, and went back to the movie. As soon as he was sure
his friend was engaged in the film again Naruto shot a glance at Sasuke to see if the other boy had noticed the impossible.
And then he continued to stare at movie screen. He didn’t really see the images as they played.
Time fled Naruto’s notice
as his attention was caught once more. He was easily drawn into the plot with its memorable characters. He laughed alone at
the jokes and found himself growling in frustration as he nearly throttled Mary Jane—for being such a. . .a girl. What the hell’s she doing?! Or he would have strangled her, in
any case, if I she was a real person and if I’da been around her. He made a face at the thought. Even if you
love someone. . .as he sank into the seat Naruto felt his eyes narrow. Nevertheless, as the plot thickened and the damsel
was caught by another villain— all he could think about was food. Particularly takoyaki drizzled in sauce. A
still warm dumpling stuffed with a small chunk of the tender, well-textured tentacle of an octopus. His mouth watered.
“Aa!!” he sat up
quickly, and leaned forward. Eyes half closed in concentration, he tapped his forehead a few times, as if to awake his still
dozing brain. “Heh. . .that’s why I kept thinking of takoyaki. . .tako in English is Octopus.
. .Doctor Octavious. . .Doc Oc!!” his slow grin widened with mirth. It nearly overtook his face. “Hehe. . .I get
it. . .”
“. . .” Shikamaru
stared at Naruto in amazement. His mouth was slightly open at the sudden epiphany. It took him. . .half the movie. . .to
figure that out? Then, “. . .takoyaki. . .?”
Naruto just laughed. “It’s
nothing’. . .”
- - - - - - -
“I thought it
was really cool when he bounced off the building—” Naruto bounced in the air experimentally and neatly touched
base with reality before plunging down the stairs. He didn’t appear to notice his near brush with adventure and attempted
to walk up a wall. “—and swung this way an’ that way. . .wasn’t that train thing cool?!”
he grinned just as he fell itno a crumpled heap of orange at the top of the stairs. “. . .ow. . .”
The others had already continued
onward with the two Uchiha in the lead. Unaffected by Naruto’s antics, Sasuke walked with his hands in his pockets and
his gaze downcast. After two in the morning, he seemed more beleaguered than in the morning. Though by his posture one would
hardly notice. The tiny scowl on his face seemed to speak volumes to Shikamaru—of his irritation towards Naruto’s
aimless chatter as well as something else altogether. Something too deep for Shikamaru to notice immediately. Curiosity roused
by the promising topic, he made a point to watch the boy.
Shikamaru let his gaze
wander from Sasuke to the oldest Uchiha present. He contemplated the situation. Naruto was bothered by this one for a reason
the young man could hardly place, which put Shikamaru on edge faster than expected. The normally hyperactive kid acted
the same around everyone; loud, obnoxious, and oh-so-full-of-himself. If determination was enough, Naruto would have no problems
achieving his dreams. But alongside that admirable quality, he lacked common sense and, more importantly, he lacked caution.
Shikamaru clenched his teeth. His heartbeat was erratic, but looked at the Uchiha. His eyes are not normal, he thought,
and glanced at Naruto. But that can’t be enough for Naruto to be. . .
“Oi!! Are you even listening
to me?!” Naruto’s voice rose to a screech and his eyes flashed dangerously. His earlier mood seemed to have melted
into irritation, which left no response but the same for the rest of them. Shikamaru sighed and braced himself for one of
Naruto’s infamous—long-winded—speeches. “I didn’t have to come here ya know, Shikamaru!!
I only came ‘cause you asked me to, damn it!!” Shikamaru winced. Naruto did have a point.
. .“It’s just that. . .I’m tired and. . .you’re not. . .” Naruto stuttered, apparently at a
loss for words. “You’re just. . .”
Shikamaru blinked and spun
to face the smaller boy. “. . .?”
But Naruto had already changed
directions. “What’d you think of the movie, Sasuke?” he grinned like a Cheshire.
His eyes were hardly more than slits on his round, open face. “So, um, it was good, wasn’t it?” he laughed
unexpectedly. Which only confused the others. Shikamaru nodded dumbly, unwilling to set off another attack. “Well?”
Naruto demanded, and raised one eyebrow comically at the two Uchiha.
scoffed and his eyes remained downcast. The two slender hands were in his pockets. A look of cool, arrogant disdain allowed
him to appear emotionless with his mouth pressed to a small line, the black haired young man turned away. He had no intentions
to speak with Naruto, that much is clear.
Shikamaru glanced from
one boy to the other and thought. Nothing came to mind. . .why do they hate each other? They’re not
so different that they have to be this intense.
Naruto bristled as he stomped
in place; the childish part of him seemed to want to continue yelling. . .and yet I hear no screaming. . .Shikamaru
refocused on Naruto as he tried to gauge the reason. The blond haired boy’s gaze had wandered from his classmate to
the only adult. As if mesmerized, his stare caught on those black eyes. Sasuke was forgotten.
Naruto tried to grin
as the Uchiha smiled slowly. The faint quirk of the lips lasted no longer than an instant. Then his eerie expression returned
to the previous apathetic mask. Cold, cold eyes. . .Naruto thought and shivered. His cheek felt as if it burned scarlet,
a color to match those indolent eyes. His hand moved on its own accord, and it gently brushed against the tree parallel birthmarks
on his left cheek. Scarred. . .no. Marked.
A mark. . .
. . .of birth?
“Good night, Naruto-kun,”
the low voice broke the illusion in an instant, and Naruto remembered himself as the Uchiha moved. The oldest took Sasuke’s
hand. It was an action Sasuke made no effort to stop. As Naruto stared moodily at the floor, they walked off. Soon after,
their dark clothing masked their existence and only the red uchiwa could be seen. When did he learn my name. . .? Naruto
thought dumbly, but his mouth didn’t move. Sasuke. . .?
Naruto’s shoulders sagged,
and his fists clenched. “Those guys fucking irritate me. . .” he grumbled and looked at Shikamaru for an
instant. “You too, ya know. What the hell ya think you’re doing?! Talking to them. . .” he continued to
rant for a minute or two, but his concentration wasn’t there.
Shikamaru sighed again, and
looked in the direction of the two Uchiha. They were long gone. “They probably are going home by train,” he noted,
and watched Naruto’s reaction. The blond winced and his eyes closed partially.
“I. . .” Naruto
started. He fumbled over the words, and let his gaze fall to the ground, unwilling to meet Shikamaru’s eyes. “I’m
Black eyes focused, and mind
spinning all possibilities, Shikamaru nodded. “Sleep well, Naruto.” With that, he turned to the left, and raised
one hand in farewell. He looked no longer at Naruto and left the younger boy to ponder how things connected.
As he shouldered his
backpack, Naruto glanced briefly at the movie complex behind him. His stomach growled to remind him of his dinnerless state,
and the deadweight in his hand seemed to drop further. What is it. . .? Naruto blinked, and stared for a movement at
the bag he carried. Oh yeah. . .homework. . .which ones was it, again. . .? The memory of Iruka surfaced in the young
delinquent’s mind. A furious, screaming Iruka telling me something. . .
Aaa. . .something
about doing homework, wasn’t it? Hm. Well. I’ve obviously not got time to do it, so I’m fine. . .right.
. .? Naruto flinched nervously, and looked around for his homeroom teacher. Iruka was nowhere in sight on the empty road
so late at night. Uh. . .early. . .rather. . .
The morning’s fast pace
was unbelievable now. How the hell is it possible to get that far in. . .fifteen?. . .minutes? His feet dragged
as he walked and the backpack pulled his shoulders down. Tired. . .The day was more or less over, so his mind was locked
into the dull haze associated with fatigue. Gravity seemed to pull especially hard on his feet. At the very base of his head.
But he managed to walk on. Really, really shouldn’t do anything after work. He groaned inwardly, and tried
to hurry home.
Without his realizing, time
and distance were taken up. He soon found himself outside their one-story house. The traditional garden wasn’t as neatly
trimmed as it should have been, but one of their two-man-family chores was to make sure it stayed clear of weeds. That was
easier said than done, but the only sprouts showing were insignificant little fellows. Naruto smiled with satisfaction, and
made a note to check the wellbeing of the indoor plants. They could probably use some love about now. . .he
thought, and easily navigated the path to the door.
The sliding door opened at
the slightest push. Naruto smiled at the bicycle he’d left standing by the door, and wiped his feet habitually on the
green rug. The second door opened with similar ease, and Naruto soon realized Kakashi had also returned. The company
man’s shoes were set neatly against the step, though they faced the wrong direction. With a slight smile, Naruto shrugged
off his shoulder bag, and toed off his shoes while he stepped up. He reached down and righted both pairs of shoes, so the
toes would the direction the wearer wanted to go. This done, he proceeded to open the next door. “Tadaima—”
I’m home, he murmured, afraid to wake a sleeping guardian.
Kneeled before him, Kakashi
waited calmly in the living room. No smile adorned his face, and no traditional Okaeri—welcome back—met
Naruto’s ears. Quite the contrary, his mouth was pressed into a firm line. The first word from him was, “Naruto.”
His name alone. With it came the sense that he’d done something terrible.
“Kakashi. . .”
Naruto’s eyes widened slightly, all thoughts of homework long gone. “I—”
he looked up and held Naruto’s gaze. With no emotion betrayed, Kakashi simply glanced from Naruto’s rumpled work
clothes to his obviously neglected school bag. Where have you been? The wordless question caught Naruto by surprise.
“I just got back from
work, an—” Kakashi’s eyes twitched. It occurred to Naruto that his guardian knew 7-11’s phone number,
and that the next shift probably wouldn’t cover for him. Damn. . .“So I went with Shikamaru to his
house—” now Kakashi’s expression showed no change. Bad sign. . .He knew Shikamaru’s phone number
as well. “It’s not like you’re never late—” Naruto snapped, and his eyes flashed. Kakashi's
gaze moved away from Naruto. It centered on the small flower arrangement before the shrine that was just visible from his
“That may be so,”
he allowed. Naruto swallowed. This conversation was nowhere near the fun, teasing remarks Kakashi normally tormented Naruto
with. Then Kakashi glanced at the phone. Beside it was a small scrap of last month’s calendar. On the back of that,
written in Naruto’s hasty scrawl, there was a reminder. Kakashi. . .he always tells me when he’s running late.
. . at least he tells me not too long after he’s supposed to be home. He calls. Or writes a note the day before. Naruto
never had to sit alone in the darkened house. Never have to wonder what happened to Kakashi. . .
Naruto’s eyes shifted
to the floor. His eyes were masked in shadow. “I’m sorry. . .I was wrong.” Kakashi made no reply. “I
went to see a movie with. . .a friend. . .” he mumbled, unwilling to give Shikamaru away so easily. “I should
Kakashi stood up in one fluid
movement and turned away. He said nothing. He made his way to the kitchen and mundane noise filled the house’s eerie
stillness. Boiling water, Naruto realized. The hot liquid was shifted from kettle to pot, and the smell of green tea
wafted over. As his eyes twitched against emotion, Naruto attempted to recall happier times. Minutes passed, and Naruto was
handed a small cup. It was adorned with three leaves and a small red fox. Its eyes seemed to bore into him even as Kakashi
barely recognized his presence. The silence continued.
And then, “Naruto.”
The blond looked up, and his hands clutched the handleless cup. “I told you this morning,” Kakashi held his cup
close. His was adorned a white swirl that spiraled into a leaf. “. . .‘we’ll discuss your punishment after
work’. . .”Naruto breathed in the smell of green tea. “Don’t you remember?”
Naruto bit his lip, and nodded
hesitantly. He vaguely recalled the rushed conversation.
Kakashi’s eyes practically
glowed with fury. “Don’t you have anything to say?” his voice was dangerously low and heavy with unmentioned
feeling. “You always have an excuse, Naruto. What is it this time?” Kakashi demanded, and threw done his cup.
It jostled a little, but no tea spilled.
“. . .I forgot, all right?!”
Naruto snarled and his irritation reached its limit. “Acting like you’re so much better—”
voice stopped Naruto’s within a moment. “You have completely ignored every rule I’ve set for you. Go. Now.
Take a bath, and we’ll talk when you’re done.”
“. . .my punishment.
Kakashi didn’t turn away.
“Two weeks. You’re not to go anywhere but school and work.”
protested, but a look from Kakashi stilled him.
“Go take a bath. Think.
And then we’ll talk.” Kakashi promised. As Naruto headed to the bath, Kakashi sighed and began to tidy their small
house. Within twenty minutes, Naruto was out of the bath. He’d also started a loud of laundry while Kakashi made the
morning’s breakfast and lunch of onigiri.
Warm, clean, and wearing his
preferred pajamas, Naruto sat down reluctantly in front of Kakashi. He happily accepted another cup of tea. “You always
blame something other than yourself, don’t you, Naruto?” Kakashi sighed. “As if the responsibility of your
actions belongs to someone else. . .by saying you forgot, your memory is at fault. Not you.” Kakashi drank a
little tea and motioned for Naruto to do the same. “You’re not a child anymore, Naruto. You’re seventeen
years old. Not seven. Your duties are to me, to school, and to work, right? Once these responsibilities have been satisfied,
your own desires can be met. Not before.”
The young man glared sullenly
at his tea and mumbled something indistinct before saying, “I’m sorry, okay? I ignored my homework and went out
with a friend. Happy? I’ll do everything tomorrow!”
Kakashi glanced at Naruto momentarily
before he set his drink down again. “Is that all you did?” he queried.
“Yes!” Naruto yelled.
He was frustrated that Kakashi would even assume he’d done more.
“No. It’s not.”
Kakashi met Naruto’s gaze once more. “You were out past midnight, and brought Shikamaru with you—knowing
that you’re only to ride your bike at night. You walked. You endangered not only yourself, but Shikamaru as well.”
His voice did not rise in volume, but the intensity was enough to cut at Naruto’s heart. “What would you have
done if someone had approached you?”
Naruto smirked to try
and lighten the mood. “I’d kick their ass! Why else did you teach me martial arts?” He laughed with
his eyes closed in amusement. When he opened them, Kakashi was not laughing. “Uh. . .seriously, I’d run. Probably.”
He grinned, and knew the lie when he said it. Fat chance Uzumaki Naruto would run. . .
Kakashi smiled and relief covered
all other emotions on his tense face. “That right?” he chuckled, and ruffled Naruto’s hair. “Good.
No sense showing off your pathetic skills, anyway.” He grinned. Naruto laughed, and privately made note to hassle Kakashi
for the slight. “Now. . .go to bed.”
Naruto’s grin widened.
He was only too happy to oblige. He quickly rushed into his room and rolled out the futon easily. He threw the makura
and comforter into place as Kakashi approached him from behind.
“Naruto,” his tone
softened, and a smile overtook his face. Kakashi lifted a small tube in the air. Naruto looked at it and back to Kakashi as
the older man tossed the container over. “Use that to feed your fish.” He laughed quietly at the baffled look
from Naruto. “There are many different types of responsibility in the world, you know. Of those many, the duty towards
living things comes first. . .especially those things that depend on you.” He nodded at the nook in the wall where Naruto’s
matsuri fish swam contentedly in a colorful bowl. “Whether you intend to eat it later or not, you’re not
to let it die.”
Another chore. . .his
tired feet would not like the additional movement, but. . .Responsibility, hm? He smiled at the tiny fish, and
pulled himself to a standing position.
“Ano. . .Naruto. . .?”
Kakashi smiled again as if to apologize for his rudeness. “. . .no matter what you do. . .family. . .will always love
you. Take care of you.” He watched in silence as Naruto fed his fish. And then, “I will never abandon you, Naruto.”
He sighed, and rubbed the back of his head.
Naruto smiled then, and continued
to watch his fish. “I know, Kakashi. . .” he turned to look at his guardian. “I know.”
The silence grew between
them, and without another word, Kakashi left, and Naruto moved around clumsily to turn out the light. He laughed quietly with
relief. Kakashi won’t disown me. And I’ve only got two weeks punishment.
The fish splashed once, as
Naruto settled into bed.
Responsibility. . .
. . .
Two lives. Dependent