The intruders had not made a sound. Just the faintest of sighs as a spirit was cut free from its mortal body to start its eternal drift towards the darkened sky.
Uchiha Itachi was instantly awake, a prickling at the back of his nape that made his ten- year- old body shiver in unknown foreboding. In seconds, he had his younger brother in his arms. The five- year old toddler stirred as Itachi hurried through the anteroom attached to their bedroom and locked the door. With precision, the boy pressed his palm to the left side of a naked wall facing the door. There was no dust as the wall pivoted on a hidden axis, for the family had kept the room ruthlessly clean to prevent evidence of its clandestine acts. A crevice of space opened up slowly. Itachi squeezed through it, careful not to bump Sasuke in any way. Then, he pushed the wall back to its original position and locked it from his side. Now, they were safe.
He took a moment to calm himself before turning around to examine his surroundings. Father had only recently informed Itachi of this room, shown him how to access it. Itachi looked around him, raven- black eyes already adjusting to the dark as he took stock of the rectangular chamber. It was clearly meant to be an emergency shelter, complete with dried and canned food, bottles of mineral water, futons and blankets, and lastly, some electric lamps with a large supply of spare batteries. There was even a satellite mobile placed carefully beside the batteries. Itachi took these details in, his young mind already deducing that his parents had meant to use this room in the near future. The question was, why?
Dragging out a futon, Itachi tucked Sasuke in and ruffled his tousled hair. The little boy crinkled his nose but was too deep in the sleep of the innocent to stir. Itachi sat beside his brother for some moments, acknowledging the deep ache in his heart that had settled in the moment he had awakened. Something had gone terribly wrong. His father and mother… Willing himself not to think of unspeakable thoughts, Itachi let his eyes fall to studying the room again. Father would not have designed this chamber only to lock themselves in indefinitely; there was bound to be another step in his safe- plan.
Itachi latched onto the satellite phone, his wiry legs already bringing him to the device. It was already switched on. Itachi clicked on the contact book. There was only one name listed.
Five years later.
“Hey, you! Come back with my bento! Thief!”
An outraged bellow and a portly man lurched out of an izakaya, his fists shaking as a small figure darted away from him.
“Get full on your beer, Ji-ji! Baaa-ka!” Uzumaki Naruto pulled a monkey face at the drunk businessman before he vanished into a maze of alleys, his bare feet treading a well- memorized route. Minutes later, Naruto had reached his home. It was the deadest of dead- ends, a tiny nook tucked into the deepest part of Shinjuku where even other hobos had not deigned to enter. A gray, natty cloth strung up with rope hid his sleeping chamber. His bed was a pile of newspapers covered by a blanket that had been thrown out by one of the host clubs; his wardrobe, a cardboard box. A large crate served as both a table and chair on the lucky occasion that he got visitors. That had never happened, though, but Naruto could hope.
Slowing down, Naruto glanced behind once more to ensure that he had not been followed, though nobody in their right mind would have followed a dirty street urchin into these dark alleys. That would have been asking to be robbed. God knew such things happened on a daily basis in the underbelly of Japan’s largest metropolis. Plopping down on the crate, Naruto greedily tore open the takeaway box and tucked into his dinner. It was unagi and rice tonight, a rare loot. Normally, Naruto would not have snatched food right under the customer’s nose but the restaurant that he usually helped to wash dishes at in exchange for meals had suddenly closed without notice and he had had no food for the rest of the day. Then, the gangster boys that patrolled the streets of Shinjuku had also been in a bad mood that day, which had resulted in them picking on Naruto and making him be their errand boy.
Naruto snorted at the thought. Right. As though he had not been their gopher almost every day since they had discovered him sleeping in the alley, in their ‘territory’. The errands were pretty menial, though, considering that Naruto was only ten years old. Just helping to deliver packages and stuff. Occasionally, the yakuza would be almost humane and treat Naruto to a hot meal, though the boy suspected that their reason was just to laugh at him wolf down the food like a vacuum cleaner rather than an attack of conscience. Whatever the reason, Naruto did not really mind. A full stomach was all that mattered when one lived on the streets.
His snort nearly made him drop a precious piece of unagi. Luckily, Naruto managed to grab it before it fell onto the ground and tossed it back into his mouth. The hot meal was finished in seconds. Naruto picked up every grain of rice and then stared glumly at the empty box. Chucking it aside, he glanced up at the sky. Nighttime. Maybe he should go and grab a bath at one of the public bathhouses. He would have to wait until the wee hours, though. The cashier tended to fall asleep and would not notice if a small boy were to sneak in and clean himself.
Plan settled for the night, Naruto lay back on the crate and stared up at the sliver of sky high above him, his view blocked by the tall walls of the two buildings siding the alley. This far away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets, only the sounds of crickets and the far more disturbing sounds of rats accompanied him. Naruto absently reminded himself to throw the takeaway box properly; he did not want some furry creature to crawl up and sleep with him later. Naruto’s thoughts drifted to the scenes and people that he had seen that day. Mostly burly, leathered- jacketed uncles like those whom he had helped deliver the packages for but Naruto also remembered seeing some schoolchildren on the other side of the road from Shinjuku. They had worn blue and gray uniforms with ties. Daddy had worn a tie to work as well. Before, before…
Naruto found himself blinking back tears. After three years of failed foster homes and two years on the streets, the warmest memories of his life had still remained with his birth parents. More than anything, Naruto longed to see their bright smiles, hear their gentle words and feel their warm touch. All of that had been obliterated by a fatal car accident. Or so he had heard when he had eavesdropped on the social worker’s conversation. From the age of five, Naruto had been bounced from one foster home to another. At so young an age, Naruto had barely begun to understand the smell of alcohol in his first home and the scattering of drug syringes in his second. By the time he was eight, though, he had understood the bitter blows at his third home. He had not known how to call that nice social worker, had not known who to ask for help. The night that he had escaped, his foster father had tried to take a knife to his neck. He had been lucky that the man had tripped in his drunkenness and fallen down, hitting his head and becoming unconscious. Naruto had stumbled downstairs and hidden in these very alleys, keeping very quiet and clutching his knees close together so that they would not shake.
His father had been arrested a few days later. Naruto had hidden in the alleys the whole time, only creeping out at night to steal food for fear that he would be caught by the man. He had seen the police arrest him, a knife, still dripping with blood, clutched in his hands and a man bleeding on the floor. Naruto had never forgotten that sight. He could have been the one on the ground.
Naruto had stayed on the streets since. His blonde hair, which used to shine like woven gold in the sunlight, was now long and shaggy. His favourite orange T- shirt had been worn thin, with holes at the armpits. His shoes had become gray and dirty, like the puddles of rainwater that were everywhere on the potholed floor. Eventually, the shoes had worn out and Naruto had kept them in his cardboard box, a relic from his parents. Only his blue eyes remained as bright as the Shinjuku lights, clear and unclouded by the trials that he had already had to go through by the age of ten.
It was four in the morning by the time he ventured out of his home and took to the streets. At this time, even the most hardcore of drinkers and clubbers were beginning to straggle home. The hostesses and gigolos that had lined the streets in front of their respective clubs had either been picked up or caught their targets. The neon lights were garish without the sounds of merry- making to justify them. Naruto blinked as he stepped out of the shadows and then began to make his leisurely way towards the bathhouse.
“Pervert! Don't you dare come here again!”
Naruto had just reached his intended bathhouse when a figure was kicked out from its wooden doors. The man rolled to a stop at Naruto’s feet and made a sound, half- groan and half- chuckle. His long, spiky ponytail was streaked with white- gray, indicating that the man was not young. However, the lines of his body were still hard and toned. Clearly not an oji-san going soft around the tummy. The oji-san was still rolling on the floor and groaning, though. Naruto hid a chuckle and helped him up. “Oji- san, you suck! That’s the first time I’ve seen someone kicked out of an onsen!”
The mountain of a man tottered on his clogs and squinted at Naruto. The sky- blue of the boy’s eyes was the first thing he noticed. Then he took in the tangled blonde hair, the tattered clothes. It was strange seeing a young’un running around in Shinjuku, stranger to see one that had obviously been living on the streets for a while. Letting out a belch, Jiraiya Sennin stretched and popped his joints before he glanced back down at the whip of a boy. “Brat, I was not kicked out. The ladies in there are simply too…jumpy.”
Naruto snorted and rolled his eyes. “Yea, right, ero- jiji. I’m sure you were just doing your own thing in there.” Blowing at his bangs, Naruto stepped into the onsen and waved. “Seeya around!”
Jiraiya took in the dirty footprints that the boy’s feet left on the damp floor of the onsen, then at how Naruto eyed the establishment for lurking staff before sneaking down the hallway towards the taps. Making a split decision, he grabbed the boy by the scruff of his shirt and pulled him out.
“Hey, hey! What the heck are you doing! Let go of me, ero- jiji!” Naruto struggled violently, bright eyes shooting blue electricity at Jiraiya. The man simply burst out laughing and began to clobber down the street towards one of the stalls that were still open. The words ‘Ichiraku Ramen’ flapped gently as a breeze shook the canvas. Stopping at the entrance, Jiraiya let go of Naruto and lifted the flaps. Immediately, the rich smell of pork and collagen wafted out, causing Naruto’s mouth to water and his stomach to rumble.
“Up for some ramen, brat? My treat.”
Uchiha Sasuke glared morosely at the ground, his Aikido hakama dangling in a neat package from its belt. Nii- san was late, again. After starting university at Todai a month ago, Itachi, who had always turned up for his parent- teacher meetings, watched Sasuke’s Aikido competitions and fetched him home, had become increasingly busy and distant. Sasuke knew that his brother was busy—people normally did not attend university until they were nineteen, after all, and Nii- san was only fifteen—but it was annoying as hell when the guy had been the one who explicitly instructed Sasuke never to go home on his own. Now look who was late and causing him to be alone in this asinine private school, with its idiotic uniform and sappy girls and principals who only knew how to kiss his ass since he was Uchiha and came from old money.
Sasuke rolled his eyes heavenward and sent mental hate waves to his perfect older brother. However, the thought that Itachi would be disappointed if he disobeyed his instruction stopped Sasuke from running out of the school gates right there and then. Nii- san would only look at him quietly and then ask for the reason, just the same as he did every time Sasuke acted up and misbehaved. Sasuke had learnt early on that he hated it when Itachi became all still and silent, for it always felt that Sasuke’s misdemeanors had hurt his brother, not angered him. Nii- san had always been way too serious, even more so after their parents had died.
Pouting slightly because he realized that he was going to obey, after all, Sasuke sat down on the steps and took out his arithmetic homework. Forty- five minutes and no Itachi later, though, Sasuke had had enough. He was ten years old and he could jolly well handle going home on his own. Plus, he knew Aikido. Nobody would dare to pick on him. Uchiha pride straightening his back, Sasuke stuffed his homework into his bag and stepped out of Shinjuku Private Academy.
As he was walking down the pavement, a video game store from across the street caught his eye. Sasuke paused, a little unsure. It was not that Itachi had prohibited him to play games per se but the younger Uchiha had always striven to match up to his brother, whose genius had shone through in every aspect from studies to sports to the financial affairs of the Uchiha estate. To be as outstanding as Itachi, Sasuke’s full attention had been on his studies and Aikido since he started school, so he had never entertained much thought about frivolous pastimes like games. Still, he was just a ten- year- old boy and like any ten- year- olds out there, he was aware of the latest video game craze that had swept through his school like a tidal wave. I’ll just take a look before going home, he thought. Crossing the road, Sasuke peered into the shop window, espying the action figures from the latest Dragon Quest Heroes II series.
“Oh, look, if it’s not the little Uchiha master,” a voice sneered, placing extra emphasis on his surname.
Sasuke noted the three figures that had appeared behind him on the glass reflection and turned calmly around. The three boys were wearing the same uniform as him, though they had discarded the ties and unbuttoned their collars. Their shirts were un- tucked. Coupled with their ear piercings and slouchy postures, the three looked every bit the uncouth good-for-nothings that they were. Sasuke stood his ground calmly, unafraid even if those idiots looked about two years older and twice as big as him. “Glad to see that you are well- acquainted with my name, though I’m surprised that you know how to pronounce it,” he drawled.
“Why, you—” the porkiest of the lot lurched forward, fist already raised. Sasuke slowly shifted such that his feet were shoulder- width apart, a fight stance. His coal- black eyes blazed with unspoken challenge. The tallest of the group, a gangly boy with half- dead eyes, grabbed hold of the other’s fist. Thin as he was, Sasuke noticed the lean muscles in the boy’s arms. This was someone who fought. Vaguely, he seemed to recall seeing this person in the Aikido club. “Sasuke- kun, am I right? You seem lonely today—where’s your big brother? Or has he finally allowed his precious little baby-goo to go home alone?” Dead- eye sniggered and he began howling as Sasuke’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Ooh, baby- goo here is angry! Do you want a candy? Hmm?”
Without warning, Sasuke aimed for the boy’s solar plexus. Unfortunately, Dead- eye had anticipated his move and caught his wrist before his fist could connect. There was an unholy light of glee in the boy’s eyes now and he easily pinned Sasuke’s arm to his back, pressing downwards until it was all Sasuke could do not to yell in pain. “I’m a black- belter, Sasuke- kun. It’s not so easy to hit me. But you can try!” Almost doubled over in laughter but still managing to incapacitate Sasuke, the boy hollered to his mates. “Come on, let’s bring him around for some fun! We could even call baby- goo’s guardian angel! Hell if we could milk him for some money!”
The three idiots began to pull Sasuke along, heading towards a pachinko parlour. Gritting his teeth, Sasuke timed his movement. Dead- eye had grabbed both his wrists at the back in a death grip, folding his arms tightly so that Sasuke would not suddenly overthrow him. Unfortunately for him, Sasuke had trained this stance countless times with Itachi, who was way swifter and stronger than this long- bean. Sasuke suddenly took one step forward and widened the gap between him and Dead- eye. With that space, he twisted his body towards Dead- eye, at the same time using his other hand to grab hold of the boy’s extended elbow. Using his body weight, Sasuke swung Dead- eye to the front and threw him, hard, on the ground.
The other two boys were caught off- guard. Before they could react, Sasuke had jerked them over his hips and threw them onto Dead- eye, making sure to twist their wrists until their joints almost popped. Darn his master for warning him about using Aikido as defence, not offense. Regretting that he could not kill at least Dead- eye, Sasuke aimed three kicks to their stomachs. As the three lay on the ground groaning in pain, Sasuke picked up his hakama and smirked down at the three pre- teens. “This is Uchiha, idiots.”
Turning to go, Sasuke was suddenly pinned down by a giant weight. Porky boy had taken a running leap towards him and landed on his back. Fleshy fists rained down on his head, causing him to wince and try to shy away. He tried to throw Porky off but two additional pairs of hands restrained his arms. Dead- eye and his other comrade had gotten to their feet, their eyes promising murder as they twisted his arms mercilessly. Sasuke made to glare at them but his face was soon beaten down onto the asphalt by heavy blows.
“Fuck you, Uchiha! Let’s see how you howl!”
Naruto was on his way to his dish- washing shift after running errands for the yakuza when he heard yells and lots of thumping sounds that could only mean one thing—a fight.
It seemed to be coming from one of the side- streets ahead, which led to the pachinko parlours. Cautiously, he headed towards the sound. Jiraiya had told him to keep his nose out of trouble on their last visit to Ichiraku’s (the perverted uncle had turned out to be a surprisingly generous old man, treating him no less than five times in the last month) and Naruto had known how sound that piece of advice was, especially when the value of a person’s life seemed only to be measured in terms of the services they could provide.
Naruto promised himself to just take a look. If it was only a senseless fight then he would ignore it and— “Three-against-one is playing cheat!” The moment he had seen the boy trapped beneath three larger figures, Naruto’s sense of self- preservation had flown out the window. Yelling, he jumped right into the fray, punching and kicking the fat boy, trying to get him to stop squashing the boy beneath. His nails dug into the boy’s chubby arms, managing to stop him from punching the pale, slim figure lying still on the ground.
The unfairness of it all was just too much. Spitting with righteous anger, Naruto levered his shoulder against the stout boy. With a huge heave, he managed to throw him towards the wall, where there was a satisfying thump.
“Fuck you, little busybody. You'd had better move along, if you know what’s good for you.”
Naruto spun around. This second boy was lanky and looked like a druggie, judging from his sallow skin and unfocused eyes. Unfortunately, said junkie was also an armed one. He had flicked out a penknife, the edge sharp and flinty. Images rose into his mind—a bleeding man, his foster father’s dripping knife, Naruto himself bleeding out instead of the stranger— For a moment, anger seemed to turn his vision red. Hands snatching out, Naruto grabbed the knife by its blade and wrenched it out of the preteen’s grip. The knife fell against the floor with a clink but Naruto was past caring. He head- butted the guy into the wall, feeling the air gasp out of him. Gripping the boy by his collar, he jerked his face up close. The mad anger flared out of his eyes, making the pale junkie flinch. “Don't. You. Dare. Touch. Me!”
“Sasuke.” A lithe figure had materialized in front of them. Uchiha Itachi went swiftly to his brother lying motionless on the ground. He turned Sasuke around, noticing the shallow breathing, the bruises already beginning to bloom on his face. There was blood dripping out from his injured nose. The man became utterly still. When Itachi straightened, icy rage was imprinted into the grooves beneath his eyes. Power roiled off him in waves and at that moment, he was Uchiha, a lineage that had boasted an emperor, countless feudal lords and mayors through the centuries.
Uchiha Itachi strode towards where Naruto was still holding Dead- eye at bay. The homeless boy was still raging, his chest heaving as he held the assailant in a chokehold. Quietly, Itachi held onto Naruto’s fist, noting the blood that flowed freely, the knife that had been flung away. “You can release him, now.”
“He—they fought him unfairly! That fat boy was gonna kill him, and this junkie here had a knife!” At Itachi’s calming touch, Naruto finally snapped out of his anger. He released Dead- eye but not before he choked him one more time. He hated cowards like this, cowards who could only use violence, like his foster father. “I’m going to call the police.”
“I will do it, — ” Itachi paused, looking at Naruto. As they spoke, the other two boys save for Dead- eye had begun to edge away, then run off. However, Itachi was unperturbed. He already knew who they were.
“Naruto. Uzumaki Naruto.”
“Thank you for saving my brother, Uzumaki- kun.” Almost conversationally, Itachi turned to Dead- eye after thanking Naruto. However, his ebony gaze was blazing, the dark promise it held almost seeming to turn his irises blood- red. Dead- eye froze against the wall, held captive by the invisible silken threats that swirled around and then cinched him tight. “Yamato- kun, goodbye.”
Once Itachi turned away to go back to Sasuke, Yamato hightailed it out of the side street, never once turning back. Naruto was left with the two Uchiha brothers, only just realizing that his palm was hurting like a thousand needles had poked through it. His attention, however, was on the other two figures. Itachi had not moved Sasuke, fearing any hidden fractures or injuries. He simply knelt by the smaller figure, expressionless save for the fingers clenched white around Sasuke’s hakama. Not knowing what to do, Naruto hovered nearby. He really had to get going to wash the dishes but somehow, his feet refused to move. He wanted to know if the boy was going to be okay, and his older brother, too, come to think of it.
A forth figure suddenly appeared at the mouth of the side street, nodding when Itachi turned and looked at him. Already, ambulance sirens were rippling through the air. When the paramedics tumbled out of the ambulance and headed towards them, Naruto jumped out of their way and made to go off. However, a cool grip wrapped around his uninjured wrist and stopped him. “I think you should have the wound looked at.”
Naruto glanced at his bleeding palm and then into the eyes of the stranger. He swallowed nervously and nodded. There was something about those fathomless eyes that commanded respect and subservience. As the man, really, a teenager, stepped into the ambulance with the stretcher, he motioned for Naruto to follow with a tilt of his head. Naruto did so after slight hesitation. The ambulance doors were slammed shut and then they were off to the hospital.
“—And I’m saying that I’m already fine, Nii- san!”
“Tell me that again when your arm recovers, foolish little brother.”
“Oww! My forehead already hurts! You didn't have to poke me there again!”
Naruto heard the voices from the hallway where he had gotten his hand disinfected and then bandaged. Luckily, the wound had not been deep and did not require stitches. That was fortunate. The unfortunate issue was the clinic fee. Naruto had taken out his ragged froggie wallet and looked inside but already knew what he would see. Thirty dollars. His entire fortune.
Reaching the Uchiha ward, Naruto bit his lip. He would have to ask for a loan and then return the money to them as soon as he could. Jiraiya had been right. Why the heck had he jumped into somebody else’s fight? Naruto groaned inwardly. Swallowing his pride, he knocked on the door.
“Ah, Uzumaki- kun. Come in,” Itachi’s eyes were warm as the young urchin entered the A- class ward hesitantly. He glanced nervously at the opulent surroundings and stopped by the doorway.
“Why the heck are you so dirty?” Sasuke, who had not seen Naruto’s attempt to save him and whose mouth had always been a little too direct, immediately noticed Naruto’s less than glorious state of dress and his straggly hair. “You should really get a bath and a haircut.”
“Why, you—I’m your savior! At least you could sound more grateful!” Naruto’s earlier nerves had disappeared, to be replaced by insulted anger. “If you couldn't fight them then you shouldn't have started it in the first place!”
“Like hell I’d have been so stupid, dobe! And I wouldn't need help from someone as puny- looking as you!” Sasuke bristled, his eyes narrowing as he tried to glare down the imprudent boy standing in front of him. Something about him just set him off. Those round, bright eyes, eyes as young as Sasuke himself, set in that thin, dirty face that looked too old and carved by the experiences of life just seemed… incongruent.
“Yea? Then tell me who’s lying in hospital now, all bandaged up and unable to move?” Naruto folded his arms and stuck out his tongue when the Uchiha bastard tried and failed to refute the point.
“Hn. At least I smell clean, bastard.” That was the best shot that Sasuke could think of. The glare that the blonde blasted towards him could have killed, save for the fleeting look of hurt accompanying it. Sasuke pointedly ignored the boy. Heck, why would anyone allow himself to be so unkempt? It defied logic.
“Sasuke.” Itachi had patiently let the two boys bicker but at his brother’s last words, he sat forward and motioned for Naruto to approach. “Uzumaki- kun needn’t have stepped in to interfere, much less get injured himself. The least you could do is to thank him.”
“Tch. Why should I. I could have handled them just fine,” Sasuke muttered. The fact that his left arm was badly twisted and his entire face seemed to have been rearranged by Porky Boy was ignored. At Naruto’s outraged bellow, Sasuke smirked but the smile dropped when Itachi simply gazed at him. Aw, darn it. He could never win with his brother. Scowling, Sasuke turned to the blonde, scratch that, dirty blonde and quickly, without looking directly into his face, muttered, “Thanks.”
“You are so not welcome, bas—,” Naruto bit out, swallowing the vulgarity before it came out. God, if only Itachi were not right here! If those boys had not beat Sasuke up so spectacularly, Naruto would have been tempted to land some blows of his own. This little bastard here with his blue- black hair and pale skin and coal eyes was so not worth his effort used to break up the fight. Naruto sighed dramatically, stifling a laugh when the Uchiha’s eyes narrowed further.
“Now that you are done receiving your thanks, why don't you just go away and get out of my sight?” Sasuke groused. His whole face was hurting and it did not help that the idiotic blonde was rolling his eyes at him. Petulantly, Sasuke turned his back towards Naruto.
“Now that you are done saying thank you, why don't you be less of an asshole?” Naruto shot back. He instantly regretted it when he glanced at Itachi and saw that the older Uchiha was simply sitting there quietly, looking at him in the same way as he had Sasuke. Naruto began to squirm. Ah, darn. He really shouldn't have let his mouth run away. There was just something about Uchiha Sasuke that rubbed him the wrong way. Perhaps it was his perfect looks and perfect background and perfect little family where he was clearly cared for and loved. Being beaten up for being an asshole was the most of his concerns. He did not need to think of survival, or worry about his next meal, or have to sneak into bathhouses at four am in the morning just so he could bathe. Naruto glanced at Sasuke, then back to Itachi. He also had a brother who loved him dearly. That was something that Naruto would never have.
Deciding that he would ask for a loan and then leave before he said something else that he would regret, Naruto opened his mouth but Itachi spoke first. “Uzumaki- kun, thank you for everything today. Everything has been settled. If you have other business elsewhere, do feel free to leave,” Itachi said.
Naruto blinked. “But the bills for my hand—”
“Everything has been settled. There is nothing for you to worry about.”
“I can’t do that! I mean, this is my hand and we don't know each other!” Naruto flailed and he did not even notice when Sasuke snorted. He had not expected his worries to be removed with the wave of a wand, in this case, Itachi’s.
“We do, now. You saved my brother. I’m in your debt,” Itachi replied, placing a little more emphasis on his last few words.
The blonde boy sensed that the topic was closed and he shifted his feet uncomfortably. From the time that he had started living on his own, he had tried not to owe anyone anything. Sure, he occasionally had to resort to stealing food, and bathing was a necessary evil, but otherwise, he had tried to use his hard work and effort to exchange for a hot meal and a little change. He had seen people getting beaten up or brought into secret back rooms after having owed money to one of the host clubs or pachinko parlours. The outcome had never been pretty. Naruto had told himself never to fall into that trap. “…Thank you, Uchiha- san. However, I have my own code of life. Could you tell me how much it costs for my treatment? I want to be able to pay for it myself. It’s only fair.”
Itachi studied the young boy’s determined posture and his strong sense of fairness. The boy was clearly homeless and had been living rough for a while but it did not seem to have tainted the core part of him. Itachi had always been able to read people accurately. Uzumaki Naruto. Interesting. “It cost a hundred dollars,” he answered finally.
“I—I see…” Naruto baulked at the astronomical price. Now, he really wanted to bang his head against the wall. Squaring his shoulders, Naruto looked straight at Itachi and said, “I’m only able to pay you part of the bill now but once I’ve saved up the sum, I’ll definitely return it to you! May I know how to pass the money to you when the time comes?”
Itachi held the honest gaze straight- on and decided that he liked very much what he saw in it. This boy had backbone and guts. Itachi glanced at his brother and worry dimmed his gaze. For what he would have to do ahead, he had to take in all considerations with regards to his brother. He would not leave him to be alone. Itachi would still be there in the shadows but what he was planning to do would be too dangerous to involve his brother. No, his brother required someone who was light and brightness, someone who could walk on the same path as him and support him where Itachi could not.
The genius Uchiha, wise beyond his years, gazed once more at Uzumaki Naruto and made his decision. Without hesitation, Itachi tore out a piece of paper from the notepad on the table and jotted down his cell number. Passing it to Naruto, he said, “You may contact me here.”
Sasuke stared with wide eyes as his normally reticent brother just casually gave his contact number to the little blonde dobe. Nii- san had not even given his private cell number to the Uchiha lawyers! A little spurt of sibling jealousy made Sasuke glare anew at Naruto. Naruto carefully folded the piece of paper and tucked it into his frog wallet and then took out two tens from it. Flushing a little at how crumpled and old the notes were, he nevertheless handed them to Itachi, who accepted the money with gracious thanks.
“Uh, okay. Then, I’ll get going. Bye!” Rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment, Naruto grinned at Itachi, scowled back at Sasuke, before leaving the ward. He had thought that that would be the last that he would see of the Uchihas but he was dead wrong.