Part 11: Suspicious
Although their clones did not get into trouble, they did take their sweet time before dispelling. Sasuke was relieved to learn that none of Naruto's clones had
bothered his own. Instead, they had made a game of hiding from him. He now had a much better understanding of Naruto's tactics, and an appreciation for his
creativity. Without the sharingan his clone had only been able to locate half of Naruto's. He employed the standard mix of transformation, chakra dampening,
and camouflage, but he did so in ways Sasuke wouldn't have expected. For someone who claimed to prefer up-front fights, he certainly had a lot of tricks.
Sasuke had to wonder who Naruto was used to hiding from. By the time his clone ran out of chakra he was convinced he had a lot to learn about secreting
oneself in a forest, and that Naruto was a much better teacher than he had given himself credit for. The fact that Naruto viewed it as a game, and enjoyed it,
meant he was enthusiastic and playful rather than condescending, which made it much easier to learn from him.
The next morning found Sasuke once again at the lake, this time accompanied by a bunshin. Naruto did have a routine, Sasuke realized, it was just different
from what he had expected. Mornings were spent with his father, as much to ensure he didn't sleep in as because that was the quietest part of the day for the
Hokage. Unless there were specific assignments for him, the rest of the day was his own. Naruto preferred training after lunch and into the evening so he
could sleep it off afterward.
"My friends are more likely to be available then, too," Naruto's clone explained. "Sakura is the only one I can count on to be around first thing in the morning
since she doesn't take many missions. Sometimes I can meet up with Lee at the crack of dawn, but only if he didn't have a mission the night before. That's the
trade-off of having Tenten live with him. She makes him rest whether he likes it or not. He's obsessed with training, so he wears himself into the ground a lot
more than I do. I'm only bad when I start out too hard and lose track of the time. Usually I get bored before that happens."
"What sort of training do you usually do?" asked Sasuke. He was crouched at the edge of the water, using chakra to scoop out the splinters of wood collecting
along the bank. The rest had sunk to the bottom and would rot away on its own.
Naruto held out a bag for Sasuke to shake his hands off into. "It just depends. When someone harps on me for wasting chakra I try to work on that. Every once
in a while my dad will ask how many bunshin I'm using to make the rasengan and I'll practice that for a while. He can do it by himself. But he had years to get
used to doing it. I picked it up a lot faster even if I do have to use bunshin to help me stabilize it. The only time I can do it by myself is when I'm tapping into
Kyuubi's chakra." He followed Sasuke a few feet along the bank and held the bag out again. "You'd think it would be even harder to control with that much
chakra, but for some reason it isn't. That's typical with me," and he gave an embarrassed smile. "The more chakra I use the easier it is."
"It's just the opposite for me," Sasuke admitted. "My attempts to create chakra weapons haven't gone anywhere. The less chakra I use, the easier it is to keep
it stable, but the moment I try to transform the chakra it blows up in my face. That's just with the sort of chakra skewers my instructor used. I can't imagine
trying to rotate the chakra." He would probably take his fingers off if he even attempted such a thing.
"He was teaching you that?" Naruto frowned at him, looking surprised and disturbed. "Shinobi don't learn that until they're trying to make jounin here.
Transforming chakra is dangerous. The only reason I started doing it early is because my dad wanted me to take the rasengan further than he had. Even then
he had Jiraiya supervising me so I didn't hurt myself. If yours is blowing up on you, you shouldn't be doing it. Why did he even want you adding fire to chakra
skewers? Starting from scratch is a total waste of time when you can already do advanced fire jutsus. He should have been teaching you even more advanced
"He didn't want me adding fire, he wanted me using wind and earth like he did. That was a waste of time," Sasuke muttered. "I have better luck making a water
clone than I do a sand one. Wind I can't do anything with at all. The only thing I picked up from that training was the way he manipulated his chakra to form the
skewers in the first place. I've been trying to add lightning to those, but so far it isn't working the way it does with real weapons." Naruto was giving him a blank
stare, as if he weren't even listening. Sasuke had to prod him to open the bag he was holding. "If you had a mind to teach me some of your wind techniques,
you can forget it."
"I don't use wind techniques," Naruto informed him, as if the term were offensive somehow. "My rasengan-shuriken is more rasengan than wind, so I don't
count that as a wind technique. It's just a little wind added to an already kick-ass jutsu. I don't see why anyone would want to add wind to chakra skewers when
you can just use real weapons instead." He dropped the bag so he could fold his arms over his chest. "I think you're right. Your instructor really was wasting
your time if he was trying to teach you that. As skilled as you are with real weapons you could go a lot further adding fire to them than you would trying to
create your own. Even if you were good with wind, you could do a lot more damage adding it to your chakra wire and senbon, and then you wouldn't have to
waste your chakra manifesting weapons. I know that for a fact," he insisted, when Sasuke raised an eyebrow at him. "I've worked with two people who use wind
and the closest either of them gets to using 'wind techniques' is Temari. She's Gaara's sister, and she can take down an entire forest if she sets her mind to it.
But it's no more destructive than a fire jutsu when you get right down to it. I have it on good authority that the real benefit of wind is being able to add it to
weapons. If your instructor told you otherwise he was lying through his teeth."
He very well might have been. That didn't stop Sasuke from wanting to replicate what he'd seen him do. If it had no practical use as it was, he could improve
upon it until it did. "You're my instructor now," he pointed out. "What would you suggest I work on?" He wasn't surprised that Naruto had no immediate answer
to that. By his own admission Naruto hadn't experimented much. His bias against 'wind techniques' might easily stem from the fact that he hadn't learned any
himself. "What my Sand instructor did might not have been as useful as he claimed, but it is convenient to be able to form weapons when none are available. It
has other applications as well. Take this for example." He dipped his chakra coated hands into the bag so the shavings covered them. Then he formed the
chakra skewers, leaving them to draw in the bits of wood. "If I added fire to these they would burn longer and hotter than simply coating metal weapons. With
sand I could use lightening to fuse it into glass. I may not have anything concrete to show from experimenting with this, but I can certainly use it to my
advantage in a pinch."
"You think of the weirdest things," Naruto said with a laugh. "If that's what comes from not having trees to climb it's a wonder we don't have more competition
from Sand. Gaara is the only one I know who uses his chakra that way."
"What do you mean?"
"That," Naruto said, as Sasuke dumped the bits of wood back into the bag. "Switch with me." He gave him the bag and started grabbing up the bits of wood
lying on the bank. His chakra clung to the grass and ground at first, but he caught the hang of it before long. "This is what you meant by 'catching sand', isn't
it? I bet it made camouflaging yourself in the desert a lot easier. I'll have to try it on the leaves the next time I'm concealing myself in the forest. Then you'll
really have trouble spotting me without the sharingan."
As if Naruto wasn't already good at concealing himself. Sasuke didn't like giving him ideas without receiving any in return. "You're supposed to be giving me
advice," he reminded him. He didn't care for the knowing grin Naruto shot him.
"Patience, Sasuke. You'll be getting more advice than you can stomach before long. I have things in mind for you, don't worry. You like a challenge and I like
you when you're challenged." His expression was sly and very amused. "Even if I hadn't been forbidden from using rasengan, I'm still just a clone. There's only
so much I can do with you right now." His tone made it obvious that he wasn't just referring to training. "Just let me brainstorm while we clean this stuff up.
These splinters are nearly as good as sawdust. You're going to love what I have in mind for them."
Sasuke had assumed they would either burn them or use them to fertilize whatever grass they had to replant to make up for the burned patches along the
shore. He decided not to ruin whatever surprise had Naruto's clone looking so excited. He followed him along the bank, scooping up the bits Naruto missed.
"How are we going to rebuild the dock?" he asked. It would probably be easier to do that before trying to raise the water level. "I've never built anything."
"Neither have I," Naruto admitted cheerfully. "It will probably be better to just hire someone experienced to rebuild it for us. Safer and quicker, too. I've never
touched a hammer and I don't know the first thing about what size boards to get or how to make sure it's sturdy enough to not fall apart the first time someone
steps on it. This is going to be the most expensive prank I've pulled in years."
Sasuke winced at that. "Are there any missions we could take within the village to offset the cost of this? I'd rather it not come out of your savings."
Naruto shot him a glance and then snorted, quickly dissolving into laughter. "Are you-" It took a moment before he could control himself enough to speak.
Sasuke's annoyed expression simply seemed to spur him on. "That's rich," Naruto sputtered. "You taking D-rank missions for the first time in your life because
you burned up a lake. And after you wouldn't even 'waste' yourself on C-rank missions for Sand. I can just see you chasing down cats and weeding gardens.
Like I'd really do that to you."
"Iruka said there were all sorts of average-wage C-rank missions that can be performed within the village," Sasuke said coolly. Such missions might have been
a waste in the past, but right now they were the best he could manage. He would rather do menial tasks than have Naruto cover the bill for what was, after all,
his fault. "There must be something I can do here."
Once Naruto realized he was serious, he faltered and scowled. "I'm not having you do genin missions just to make some money. You'd be humiliated. Trust
me. Even the C-rank missions would be demeaning. I'd sooner hire you out to Ibiki. At least then you'd be putting your talents to good use. You could probably
get B-rank pay just milking snakes for him. Between T&I and the med corps, antivenom is always in short supply."
Given Konoha's bias against snakes that wasn't surprising. "Let's speak to him when we finish up here."
"I was being sarcastic," Naruto blurted. "You thought I was really suggesting you spend more time with snakes than you already do? Just to make money? I'm
not poor, Sasuke. I have more than enough saved up to cover this mess and keep us until we can leave the village on real missions. Honest."
"I don't want to rely on you for everything. That's more demeaning than D-rank missions would be. Besides, antivenom saves lives. If your medics have a
shortage that means your shinobi are suffering needlessly. As a future Hokage, surely you'd like to remedy that."
"Now you're the one who sounds like my dad," Naruto muttered, rolling his eyes. "For someone who didn't grow up here, you sure know how to play the 'for the
sake of the village' card. It's not working this time, though, so you can just forget it. It's too soon to expect our medics to trust you, and I sure as hell don't trust
Ibiki with you. One hint that you're available to do missions for him and he'd have you on assassinations. You're done with that sort of work."
That casual decree caught Sasuke up short. He stared blankly at Naruto's back, watching him crouch down to scoop more scraps of wood into the bag. What
the hell kind of 'work' did Naruto expect him to be doing if assassinations were out of the question? And exactly when had Naruto decided he would no longer
be doing the one thing he'd been trained to do best? He was torn between protesting and demanding an explanation, knowing very well that he would do
neither. Protesting would be a waste of time, and he suspected he wouldn't want to hear Naruto's explanation. He turned away, unwilling to look at him for
another moment. And so he caught a glimpse of the shuriken a split second before they embedded themselves in the clone's back.
He leapt back, letting himself be driven out over the water. Instinct overrode his surprise, the sharingan whirling to life so he pinpointed his attacker despite the
way he'd masked his chakra in order to sneak up on them. The man was wearing a mask similar enough to an Anbu's that Sasuke might have hesitated had
Naruto's clone not been struck by the first attack. Konoha shinobi or not, this was an enemy with whom he had no reason to hold back. He skirted the edge of
the lake, creating four water clones that remained submerged as he lured his attacker down from the crest of the hill. He recognized the handsigns the man
was using, an earth trap that simply didn't compare to the ones he'd seen in Wind country. Clearly his enemy expected him to have a proficiency with fire and
a weakness with water, which would force him onto the bank in order to escape or counterattack. Sasuke played into that expectation.
His feet skidded in the shallow water, breaking through the surface in a heavy splash before leaping clear and directly toward the trap that had been lain for
him. The masked man concentrated his chakra on the ground before flashing through another series of handsigns that Sasuke didn't recognize. Not that it
mattered. It was a water clone that ended up caught and skewered. The man reacted fast, impressively so, but he was still not trying hard enough in Sasuke's
opinion. Had he wanted him dead this was not the way to go about it. As the other three clones broke from the water and converged on him, the man used
shuriken rather than ninjutsu to attack them. They evaded and were nearly on him before he finally brought his hands together for another jutsu. Sasuke
emerged from the water and darted toward them. He'd attached chakra wire to two of the man's own shuriken and used them to take out the clones himself.
The water doused him, catching him off guard long enough for the chakra wire to wrap around him. Soaking wet the lightning chakra brought him to his knees,
his entire body twitching as his muscles spasmed from the currents.
Sasuke knew exactly how debilitating that attack was because he had been on the receiving end of a similar one during his first introduction to lightning. He
still didn't hesitate to get behind the man while he was incapacitated. Like an Anbu, the man had a long sword strapped to his back. Sasuke drew it and
stabbed downward behind his left clavicle, stopping with the tip just shy of piercing his heart. He caught the man's hair and yanked his head back so he could
catch his dark eyes behind the mask. "Give me a reason not to kill you."
Still trembling, the man spoke through a gurgle of liquid in his lungs. "It would change nothing. Leave here or die..."
As if the man had made a serious effort to kill him. Had that been his intention he might have succeeded had his first attack been on him rather than Naruto's
clone. Sasuke didn't believe anyone who could mask his chakra so well could be such a clumsy assassin. This struck him more as a warning, one that could
only be delivered with Naruto out of the way. The man closed his eyes and lurched upwards, trying to force himself deeper onto the blade. Sasuke moved
along with him, his curiosity peaked despite his better judgment. That he had enemies here was no surprise to him. That one of them would sooner die than
reveal the others was. Was it the Hokage they were afraid of? Or Naruto? They would do better to fear him. It would be a relief to have opponents he needn't
The soft whisp of metal being drawn from a sheath caught his ear and he looked back to see another masked man bearing down on him from the crest of the
hill. He withdrew the blade just in time to meet this new attacker. It took him less than a minute to realize that whatever the first man was, this new one was
definitely Anbu. He was also quite intent on killing him with his sword alone, as revenge for his fallen comrade. Between that self-imposed limitation and the
sharingan, Sasuke was able to hold his own well enough to at least attempt reasoning with him.
"You're making a mistake. He attacked me. If he really is Anbu, then he's a traitor."
"Is that what you plan to tell the Hokage? Fool! Redbird is one of the most loyal shinobi we have. You should never have been allowed into this village. I'll
correct that mistake myself!"
Chakra billowed around the man and Sasuke bit back a curse when the blade nearly sliced through his own. It was just his luck the man used wind chakra. If
the man began using ninjutsu he would have no choice but to flee. He could just imagine what would be reported to the Hokage then. He had been neatly set
up. Running would all but prove his guilt, but killing this man sure as hell wouldn't support his innocence. He refused to do either. He was going to stay right
here until Naruto came to find out what had happened to his clone. He let himself be driven toward the torn earth marking the trap the first man had left.
Coating his blade with lightning chakra, he sliced through the layer of loose dirt. The Anbu's own wind blew the bits of glass into his face, causing minimal
damage but giving Sasuke time to make a long cut to his right arm. The man immediately switched the blade to his left hand, proving himself ambidextrous.
Naturally. He reminded himself that Anbu weren't the elite for nothing.
Sasuke darted back, edging away from the lake. He was halfway up the hill when he realized his mistake in waiting for Naruto. He had expected him to appear
on the crest of the hill, but it was the forehead protector he teleported to. He appeared right in front of him, oblivious to the sword aiming for his back. Sasuke
shoved him aside, took the hit, and sliced through the man's hand. Or he would have sliced through it if the man hadn't let go and lurched back a step. He
barely managed to stop his downward swipe before his blade hit the hilt of the sword currently impaling him. The Anbu remained frozen, staring at him with
wide eyes. Sasuke let the full measure of his contempt show on his face. "I told you it was a mistake."
He turned to Naruto, only to have his attention drawn past him to where another shinobi was crouched over the prone man who had attacked him. The shinobi
stood, looked at them, and shook his head.
"He killed Redbird," the Anbu whispered, his tone strangely emotionless.
Sasuke scowled at him. He couldn't have. The injury he'd given him couldn't have caused him to bleed out that quickly. Unless... A quick look from the blood
soaking his pants to the lightly bleeding cut on the Anbu's arm told him all he needed to know. The man he had killed was definitely not Anbu. If he had been,
he would have known the blade was poisoned. Foolish that, using an enemy's weapon without first assuring he was immune to whatever poison coated it.
Sasuke had learned that lesson years ago. It figured a few days in Konoha would be enough for him to forget the basics.
He dropped the borrowed sword and smoothly withdrew the blade from his stomach. He was deaf to Naruto, who was now between him and the Anbu and
talking furiously. He was rather surprised that Naruto hadn't lost control and started tapping his demon's chakra. Or maybe he was and Sasuke just wasn't
paying enough attention to feel it. He pressed his hand to his wound and then dragged two bloody fingers along his neck. A burst of chakra summoned Terra,
who wasted no time twining around him and sinking his fangs into his vein. It burned, but at least he wouldn't be in danger of bleeding out like that foolish
impostor lying dead in the grass.
"Naruto," Sasuke said, and immediately had his full attention. "If that man is this Redbird he's talking about, then I'm Sakura. Take his mask off and see for
"You do it," Naruto growled at the Anbu. He grabbed Sasuke's shoulder and then the surroundings changed into a distant blur.
Sasuke assumed they were taken to a medical ward. There were multiple people and he was coaxed into lying on his uninjured side, Naruto's voice alternating
between soothing, panicking, and furious. At one point a woman's voice broke through the din with a strident, "Get that out of my operating room!" And he felt
something tiny slither its way deep into his hair. His mouth must have twitched because he clearly heard Naruto say something in a laughing voice before the
drone took over again, heavier, until it also faded away.
He later recalled surfacing a few times as his body fought off whatever drugs or jutsu they were using to keep him under. There was a lot of angry and
frustrated arguing, but Naruto's voice was always in the middle of it so he didn't struggle very hard to regain consciousness. When he did wake up, it was to
find himself in a small white room that reeked of antiseptic, with an Anbu standing guard just inside the closed door. For a moment he wondered if the
attempted trap had worked after all and he was now a prisoner. Then he recognized the mask as Kakashi's and decided against it.
"How long was I out?" he asked. His voice was dry and scratchy but functional.
"Longer than you should have been," Kakashi said, not moving from his place by the door. "Your body doesn't distinguish between drugs meant to help and
drugs meant to kill. Whoever trained you to that did you a disservice."
"I was trained to get away uninjured."
"Not well enough, apparently."
"Apparently," Sasuke repeated. He should have known Naruto would show up like that. If he had kept more distance between him and his opponent this never
would have happened.
"Well?" Kakashi prompted. "Aren't you going to ask about the man who attacked you?"
Sasuke slipped a hand beneath the blanket to test the bandage wrapped around his waist. The blade had likely cut into his intestines. Messy work even for a
skilled medic. He glanced over to find Kakashi waiting expectantly. "Which one?" he scoffed. He was more interested in hearing about the Anbu. The dead
man hadn't left a mark on him.
"The dead one, of course. How did you know he wasn't Anbu? Until the mask came off even his partner was fooled."
"He wasn't good enough to be Anbu and he had no immunity to the poison coating the sword he carried. What about the real Redbird?"
"Away on a mission. It was a report of him being sighted back in the village early that had his partner seeking him out. We haven't determined how he gained
access to the uniform and weapons, but the mask itself was a fake. Did he say anything to you?"
Sasuke gave him a cool stare. "Leave or die. That's all I got from him before your Anbu showed up. Next time I won't stick around to explain myself. That sort of
trap is too easily set."
"There won't be a next time. I'll let Naruto know you're awake."
Sasuke watched him leave the room, so he had a good view of the masked guard stationed across the hall. It was the very Anbu who had put him in this bed.
He let out a surprised breath and was shaking with silent laughter by the time the door closed. For a moment there he had thought Kakashi was trying to
reassure him. He should have known better. His movements brought a tight ache from his midsection and a tickling rustle from his hair. He raised an eyebrow
when Terra slithered free and rose to full size on his chest.
"You have a strange sense of humor, laughing at the people who nearly killed you."
"Why are you still here?" asked Sasuke.
"I was curious," Terra admitted. "It isn't often you invite me to bite you. I gave you a full dose, you know. You could have died instantly."
"Not likely. Their poison was too potent for that. Did you recognize it?"
"I didn't get a good enough taste..."
Sasuke let out a painful laugh. "I've lost too much blood to sacrifice more for the sake of your curiosity. Maybe next time."
"Which there will be," Terra hissed, proving he had heard Kakashi and dismissed his claim as quickly as Sasuke had. "Next time come to me. You'd be safer in
Manda's territory than in Konoha."
"Manda has his own alliance," Sasuke pointed out. "To Sound."
"You're preferable to Orochimaru. Even Manda would see that."
"I appreciate the invitation," Sasuke drawled, "but you're summon enough for me."
"I suppose that's true. You are surprisingly low-maintenance for an Uchiha." Terra flicked his tongue out, then he shrunk and darted back into his hair just as
the doorknob turned.
Kakashi poked his head into the room. "Brace yourself." Then he stepped back and Naruto stormed in, shutting the door behind him.
"You took ten years off my life!" Naruto growled, stalking to the bed. "Don't you ever take a blade for me again!"
"You're welcome," Sasuke said blandly. If anything, Naruto's face grew redder.
"I'm serious! You're the worst patient there ever was. Do you know I ended up dragging those cuffs back out so they could use a jutsu on you to keep you
under? You even threw up the antibiotic! They had to inject you with it. You jerked so much the medic kept missing the vein, so if your left elbow hurts that's
Now that he mentioned it, the inside of his left elbow was rather sore. Sasuke's lips twitched. "Better not to take antibiotics than to wind up reliant on them,
"You can explain that to Baachan. I'll watch."
Sasuke snorted at that. "How long was I out?"
"Longer than you-"
"Specifically," Sasuke snapped.
Naruto scowled back at him. "Specifically, one day of attempted surgery. Another day trying to fix everything you tore up while you were fighting the surgery.
Two days bound to a bed with your chakra sealed to keep you immobile and unconscious. And today is half gone, so that makes five days. Specifically."
Sasuke immediately reached into his hair and pulled out a squirming Terra.
Naruto gasped, and then leaned forward to eyeball the little snake. "He's still here? I thought for sure Baachan had run him off."
"He said he was curious about the poison."
"Yeah?" Naruto snorted. "Baachan said she was curious about his venom. But she's more liable to dissect him than to ask."
Clearly unconcerned by that threat, the snake twisted free of Sasuke's grasp and rose up on his chest. Sasuke stared him down. "You haven't eaten in five
days?" His tone was thick with skepticism and suspicion. Terra quickly broke eye contact in favor of flicking his tongue at Naruto, who grimaced right on cue.
"Go home," Sasuke sighed. "I can't feed you right now."
"I'll feed him." Naruto shifted awkwardly when Sasuke raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm not offering to cut up snakes for him, but I can get some meat. Chicken,
fish, beef, whatever he wants."
"Toad?" Terra inquired.
Red in the face, Naruto leaned down to glare at him. "My toads eat insects bigger than you. Just because I'm offering to do you a favor for Sasuke's sake
doesn't mean I'm going to take any lip from you."
Sasuke slapped a palm against Naruto's forehead, pushing his face back out of biting range. "Terra is leaving," he said, eyeing the summon. This time when
he caught the snake's gaze he held it. "Go home and eat, Terra."
"Remember my invitation," Terra hissed quietly. "The next time Konoha tries to kill you, take it."
"Konoha wasn't responsible for this!" Naruto blurted. His mouth snapped shut when the snake shot him a cold look before vanishing. His eyes flashed back to
Sasuke, and then his mouth opened back up with a vengeance. "This wasn't us! It was a huge misunderstanding. I swear-"
"I know," Sasuke interrupted him. "I realized that immediately. Unfortunately your Anbu would gladly have killed me rather than take my word for anything. Next
"There won't be a next time!"
Sasuke closed his eyes with a long sigh. "Kakashi said the same thing. I had hoped that you might be more...honest about it. I don't need to be privy to your
investigation to know that man was not acting on his own. Of course there will be a next time." He looked over and found Naruto's expression every bit as
conflicted as he had expected it to be. "If you can't discuss it with me, I would rather you say nothing than have you lie to me."
"It's not a lie." He bristled under the disappointed stare Sasuke gave him. "I swear it. We might not know who the guy was working with yet, but we've seen
through the trap. Our Anbu aren't stupid enough to fall for that again. It was a misunderstanding and a mistake and we'll learn from it. Me, especially. If I had
come to you the second my bunshin was expelled this never would have happened."
"Either that man wasn't trying to kill me, or he wasn't capable of it. Despite that, had you shown up right in front of me from the start, he might have proven
deadly. It's just as well that you hesitated." He looked at him curiously. "Why did you?"
"Oh," Naruto winced, dropping his eyes. "I thought, at first, that, well, maybe you had taken my bunshin out - because of what I said."
"When you casually informed me that I would no longer be doing the only sort of work I'm trained to do?" Sasuke snorted at the uneasy look Naruto shot him.
"That assumption of yours played quite nicely into the trap that was set for me."
"I know," Naruto bit out. "I also know that I shouldn't have said that without talking to you about it first. And I realize now that teleporting directly to your
forehead protector is a fatality waiting to happen. Like I said, it was a mistake and I've learned from it. There isn't going to be a next time, Sasuke. I'll make
sure of that."
"How?" Naruto's stubborn stony silence to that reasonable question brought a faint smile to his face. Clearly Naruto hadn't quite figured that out yet. "Are you
always so optimistic?"
"Confident," Naruto said quickly. "It's confidence, not optimism. The confidence leads to the optimism and that's how I know I'm right. Because I'm confident I
can make sure I'm right I have every reason to be optimistic. You see?"
"No," Sasuke said flatly. No one but Naruto could see the logic in that mess.
"Yes, you do," Naruto scowled. "You're just being difficult. I'll prove it to you. Then you'll believe me. In the meantime..." He stalked forward and bent over to
press his face against Sasuke's neck. "I'd kiss that stupid snake of yours if he wasn't such a smartass...and a snake. Baachan said his venom probably saved
Sasuke curved his arm so he could thread his fingers in Naruto's hair. He fully intended to wrench his head back if he tried marking him up while he was, he
assumed, going to be stuck in this hospital room for a while. "Since I'm the one who summoned him, I'm the one who used his venom to save my life." He raised
an eyebrow when Naruto lifted his head of his own accord.
"So I should kiss you instead?" Naruto asked, eager and hopeful.
"No," Sasuke said sharply. "Not here." He wasn't the least bit swayed by Naruto's drooping shoulders and woebegone expression. "I am not doing anything
intimate with you in a hospital room."
"It was just going to be a little kiss," Naruto grumbled.
As if he believed that. "In that case," he tapped his forehead with his thumb, "feel free to kiss my head like you would have with Terra. I, at least, won't be
tempted to bite you for it." Naruto's beaming smile startled him, and he blinked when a warm kiss was quickly pressed to his head. He hadn't expected the idiot
to actually do it. He didn't know what to say when Naruto leaned back and turned the full measure of his smile on him.
"You're going to be just fine, Sasuke. They want to keep you for one more night, but you'll get the best treatment. I promise. Sakura-chan is going to make
sure you get some real food, just light stuff but none of that nasty hospital crap. And she won't be cooking it herself, so don't worry about that, either. I have
something to take care of right now. I'll be back to check on you later. First thing tomorrow, you'll be out of here."
Sasuke frowned at how easily Naruto turned to leave him. As critical as Naruto had made his condition sound, he had expected him to hover at least a little.
"The Anbu I fought with is standing guard outside that door," he called out.
"He volunteered," Naruto said, flashing a cheerful smile over his shoulder at him. "I'll see you in a few hours, Sasuke."
He caught another glimpse of the Anbu stationed across the hall as Naruto left the room. Then he had nothing to look at but the closed door. He swiftly found
himself scowling at it. As far as he was concerned, he was once again in a cell. The only difference was that Naruto had left him in it this time. That was the
thanks he got for having likely saved Naruto's life? He folded his arms over his chest and directed his scowl at the ceiling. He shouldn't have sent Terra away.
A little more blood loss would probably have been worth the company.
By the time Naruto returned, Sasuke was well fed on what he had to admit was the best broth-based soup he had ever eaten and was sitting at a slight incline
with Sakura perched on a chair next to his bed. Sasuke clearly saw Naruto wince and hesitate before pasting a smile on his face. Sakura flashed him a quick
smile over her shoulder, but didn't let his entrance phase her.
"I can repair them myself, and quite neatly too, but I'm not nearly as quick as those who've been doing it for years."
"Docks?" Naruto asked her, in a playful voice. "You should have told me sooner!"
"Chakra paths," she corrected him, as if it were actually necessary. "I was telling Sasuke-kun about his surgery. Unlike some people he's actually interested in
Naruto's expression sobered and he shot them both a quelling look that was surprisingly effective - on Sakura, at least. "He had a hole through his gut. That's
a detailed enough description."
"For you," Sasuke muttered. He, on the other hand, preferred knowing exactly what had been done to him. Although Sakura hadn't been on hand, she had
talked to the medics who had worked on him, and she had seen his sort of injury before. She had been quick to inform him that he should have left the blade
right where it was until the medics could tend to it. Removing it might have limited the amount of additional poison he absorbed, but it had also left room for
everything cut inside to leak freely. He probably should have considered that instead of focusing exclusively on the poison. Since he had just seen proof of
how quickly that poison could kill a man, he didn't berate himself too much for not considering the location of the injury and the complications he would be
causing to it. He had never been stabbed clean through the waist before, but he had definitely been poisoned enough times to take a threat like that seriously.
Despite Sakura's reasonable argument, his first instinct was always going to be to let a wound gush freely rather than keep it plugged up with poisoned metal.
That instinct was too deeply ingrained for him to be talked out of it.
"I'm surprised they let you stay while they were operating," Sakura said to Naruto. "You're bound to have gotten in the way."
"I did not! I'll have you know I kept my cool right up until they used that spreader thing." He shot a wincing and slightly queasy look at Sasuke. "I had to step
outside for that part. I know it was necessary, and it obviously worked, but...yeah, I really didn't need to see that."
"At least you didn't throw up," Sakura said helpfully. "Remember the time you walked in on me while I was using that cadaver to practice my-"
"No!" Naruto yelped. "I don't ever want to remember that so don't you dare remind me!"
Sakura grinned at Sasuke. "He spewed all over the corpse's-"
"That's it," Naruto announced loudly, "your visiting time is up. Say goodnight to Sasuke. We have a lot to do tomorrow and he'll need his rest."
There was definitely something malicious in the girl's smirk when she stood and bid him goodnight. Naruto's eagerness to get rid of her was a little overdone
and frantic. Sasuke supposed he would have to hear the rest of that story now, if only to know why Naruto didn't want him hearing it. He watched them leave
the room, not surprised that their voices were cut off the moment the door closed. Aside from the food delivery and Sakura's visit, he'd been left in complete
silence. That gave him more time than he actually needed to think about what had happened. He watched impatiently as Naruto finally entered the room and
made his way to the chair.
"Do I have to stay here for the night?" To his own ears he sounded a little testy. Restless was what he actually felt.
"I was just asking Sakura that," Naruto admitted.
"Then she wasn't just paying me a visit." She had looked him over rather closely.
Naruto smiled at that. "Sakura-chan rarely stops by just for a visit. She was checking up on you, but more than anything she was giving you a chance to
complain about me. Did you?"
"No. We didn't discuss you at all."
"That's something, then. I don't want her filling your head with stories about me when I'm not around to defend myself."
By silencing her and running her out of the room? Sasuke scoffed. "You still haven't answered my question."
"That's because I haven't made up my mind yet." He leaned forward over his knees, giving him a serious look. "You tell me, Sasuke. If you stay here tonight,
are you actually going to sleep? Or will you be climbing the walls by the time I come to pick you up in the morning?"
"There is no point climbing the walls in a room sealed as completely as this one." The weakest point was the door and that Anbu was still standing right outside
Naruto jumped from his chair with a laugh. "That answers that question. If you've already been scoping the seals with the sharingan then you definitely won't
be sleeping easily in here. I'll get a medic to discharge you. It would be quicker to just steal you, but you're supposed to be taking it easy and sneaking out of a
secure wing here is asking for trouble. Last time I did that I had to sit through lectures from Baachan, her chief medic, the Anbu captain, and my dad. Even
paperwork is better than that."
It took nearly two hours to escape the hospital. Sasuke didn't get to see whatever paperwork Naruto had to fill out. He sat quietly while a medic examined his
injury and gave him directions he had no intention of following. Four and a half days of bedrest were more than enough already. He had no trouble making the
long walk through the hospital, though Naruto's continued attempts to assist him quickly became annoying. That hovering kept him from protesting when
Naruto teleported them to his apartment the moment they were outside. The night air was cool and refreshing, but Naruto's manner would have ruined the walk
home. The moment they reached the apartment he made for the door.
"What are you doing?" Naruto demanded.
"I'm going to sit on the roof." He raised an eyebrow when Naruto stopped just shy of grabbing him.
"You can't be jumping around on rooftops! Didn't you hear the medic? No strenuous activity. You might be healed up inside, but you could still hurt something.
Any complications and you'll be right back in the hospital. Is that what you want?"
Sasuke turned to lean against the door. Naruto's worry appeared genuine, if a bit excessive. "Are you afraid someone will attack me if I go out in the open?"
He refused to be holed up in Naruto's apartment for the foreseeable future.
"Of course not," Naruto grimaced. "No one would attack you right in front of me."
Which meant Naruto would be joining him on the roof. "Then there's nothing to worry about." He led the way, not minding that Naruto was fuming by the time
he plopped down beside him. "I know my limits. I'm not going to make my injury any worse."
"Maybe not on purpose. But you haven't seen yourself over the last few days. You've just started to get some color back. Now you're risking that - and for
what? Just to be stubborn!"
"I wanted some fresh air," Sasuke admitted. "I don't like being cooped up." Naruto's bedroom was sealed as tightly as that hospital room, and he suspected
that was where Naruto had been leading him. He would go there later, but for now he wanted air. "You have a quiet village," he remarked. That distracted
"Yeah," Naruto sighed, relaxing a little. "Even when there's trouble, people pull together and recover quickly. Some of the shinobi might seem unusually tense
for a while, but the civilians won't even catch a whiff of it."
"Can you talk about your findings? Kakashi told me you hadn't identified the man I killed."
"And you figured he was lying?" Naruto's smile didn't falter a bit. "There's nothing for us to keep a secret from you in this case. You know more than we do
because you actually talked to him and saw how he fought. For all we know, he sought you out to get an update on how well your nefarious scheme to infiltrate
Konoha has gone, and you only took him out because our Anbu showed up and risked your cover."
"The facts don't support that theory," Sasuke said drolly. There were less far-fetched theories they could put forth to incriminate him. With no other witnesses,
Konoha had only his word on what had happened before that Anbu member had arrived. They should at least wonder if he had known the man. Maybe that
was why Kakashi had commented on his lack of questions concerning his attacker. He sent a sidelong glance at Naruto, who was gazing at the moonlit
rooftops and looking more relaxed now. Sasuke eased onto his back and folded his arms behind his head. When Naruto looked down at him, he asked, "Do
they think I knew the man who attacked me?"
Naruto didn't even hesitate. "Not that you recognized him at the time, but that you might have if he hadn't worn the mask. They'll have pictures for you to look
at later. He's not one of ours and he's not anyone our intelligence division can find a listing for. They have photos of all the officially recognized shinobi. That
means he was Sound, a pre-Genin, or someone his own village doesn't want tied back to them. You can guess which way we're leaning."
If it was Sound then he would have to question Terra about his sudden invitation. This wasn't the first time his summon had invited him to take shelter in his
own territory during an emergency. This was, however, the first time he had mentioned Manda. Sasuke closed his eyes as he considered that theory. If Sound
wanted him out of Konoha, they could have aimed to use Konoha's own Anbu to drive him away. If he had been facing multiple Anbu at the lake his chances of
escaping would have been slim. He might well have considered using a reverse summon as a last resort. He didn't believe Terra had been compromised, but
in his own territory Manda ruled. And Manda was bound to Orochimaru. "Yes," he murmured, "I can see that."
"Do you think Sound wants you dead?" asked Naruto. He must have lain down himself because his voice was much closer.
"Not if they sent that man to do the job. They know too much about my abilities to have expected him to kill me. Unless they were setting Konoha up to kill me.
That's a possibility. If that man can't be linked to them, Konoha would have been held responsible for my death. According to your father, that would have
been the end of the truce. But that assumes Sound has something to gain by ending it." Without him or Itachi, Sound shouldn't have much need for the Uchiha
clan. For now. "I suppose they could be worried about an alliance forming in the future."
"They wouldn't be the only ones worried about that," Naruto said with heavy satisfaction.
Sasuke looked over to find Naruto on his back beside him. "What do you think the odds are of that happening?"
"Good. My dad says pushing your elders would just make them more rigid than ever, so we'll give them plenty of time to get used to the truce. Eventually they'll
see the benefits of an alliance. Sure, it might take a few years. Sand is used to having a monopoly on Uchiha, so they won't be eager to give that up. Gaara is
on our side, though. Once he's Kazekage any alliance between us and the clan will have Sand's full support. By then the clan should be used to having us as
allies, even if it's not official yet."
Sasuke stared at him for so long that Naruto began to fidget. Since Naruto resisted the urge to ask what he was thinking, he decided to share it. "Has it
occurred to you that Sand, or the clan itself, might have sent that man?"
Shock and confusion swamped Naruto's face. He even looked offended for a moment. Then anger took over and he shoved himself up to stare down at him.
"Why would you think that? Did that man say something to make you think that?"
"All he said to me was that killing him would change nothing, and to leave here or die."
"Then why would you even think that Sand - or your own clan - had something to do with this?"
Sasuke looked away. "It's just something to consider. Sand knows less about my abilities than any other village, mostly thanks to my jounin instructor. And the
clan," thanks to his father, "has every reason to believe I would allow myself to be killed in order to get around the Hokage's prohibition against suicide. If they
could arrange my death at the hands of Konoha, all the better."
"But...they're your clan - your family!"
"Yes," Sasuke stated. "And as such I'm obligated to do what is in their best interest."
"Forcing us to break the treaty isn't in their best interest. It won't benefit them at all," Naruto growled. "Your death sure as hell won't! The one thing the Uchiha
clan has going for them is you. If they don't realize that by now, they're fools!"
"You're biased because you have a personal interest in keeping me alive," Sasuke pointed out. "Not that it matters since I didn't let myself be killed and am
unlikely to do so." Even if he had direct orders from the clan to stand down, he wasn't sure he'd be able to. "Besides, it's just one possibility among many. For
all I know that man may have been hired by someone in Konoha and that Anbu's arrival was just a coincidence. That would certainly explain how he got a real
uniform and based his mask off a shinobi currently away from the village."
"That's one possibility we're going to rule out," Naruto said firmly. "We know who our...subversive elements are. If they had anything to do with this, we'll find
the proof and act accordingly. Count on it."
Sasuke grunted rather than agreeing outright. He had noticed that Naruto refused to even consider that Sand might have been involved. Of course he
wouldn't seriously believe his own village could have been responsible. He supposed that spoke to Naruto's loyalty. For all the good that did anyone.
"Are you ready to go in?" Naruto asked after a while.
Naruto sighed, but instead of arguing he scooted closer and dropped back down beside him. "At least the stars are pretty."
"Yes, they are," Sasuke agreed. The company wasn't bad, either.