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Soulless and Soulbound

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It’s a proud day when a wizard earns his familiar. Much like the wand, the familiar chooses the witch or wizard.

Sasuke has been waiting for this day. Itachi graduated at twelve and the rarest familiar in the menagerie, a siren, had chosen him. The pride of the clan, Itachi and Konan had become famous curse breakers before Sasuke even had his first wand.

He loved his brother, truly. He didn’t resent living in his shadow, the whispers of Sasuke’s inadequacy in comparison lingering years after Itachi had moved out.

He didn’t.

(He did).

Despite his excellent grades, his father had refused to even consider early graduation; he had to wait until he was seventeen, just like the rest of his year. They bustle about him outside the menagerie, excitement palpable in the air. Sasuke’s eyes roam the crowd for his parents, his gaze passing over dozens of dark eyes without a hint of red in them.

“Mine aren’t here either,” Hinata says softly.

Sasuke very carefully doesn’t give away his surprise- how long had she been standing this close? He grunts in acknowledgement, eyes still searching before he gives up. Hinata’s eyes are pale in the sunlight, sad yet resigned in a way he’d only otherwise seen in the mirror. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”

Hinata’s mouth twists into a wry smile. “The noble clans are expected to be chosen by the best. Father nearly disowned Neji-niisan for coming home with a fire crab.”

He has to cover a snort with a cough at that. “I heard. I also heard the fire crab melted his expensive dining room table.”

Hinata’s eyes glitter with amusement. “You saw the video? Hanabi was suspended for six months but still says it was worth it.”

“It was very appreciated,” Sasuke says, glancing up at a flash of black hair but sighs softly when he realises it was just Sai. “Is your cousin coming?”

Shaking her head before the words finish leaving his mouth, she takes a step closer to neatly avoid Kiba tripping over something. “He said Mei would be too… distracting.” Her voice lowers to a murmur, “She likes to take human form and seduce those high in the hierarchy, just to piss father off.”

Sasuke nods slowly, watching as the spectators of their graduating classes file closer to inspect them. He’s sure at least one of them must be betting on who would leave with the most exotic familiar. “If that’s who he got, you’re gonna end up with something even more outrageous.”

Hinata’s mouth resists a grin, but she doesn’t deny it. “Is there anything you’re hoping for?”

Sasuke nearly gives her the token reply he’s been giving for the past month: something powerful, something noble, something rare. Something that will stop making his clan seeing him as second best, the disappointment – but Hinata would be one of the few to see through it, dojutsu aside. “Something that wants me,” he says, the words slipping through his lips before he can think to reword it. Hinata’s looking at him with melancholic understanding again so he coughs and looks away.

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” she says with certainty. A pause, and then she adds, “Even better if they get you out of your shell.”

The sheer hypocrisy of that statement has Sasuke speechless.

Shino joins them, nodding politely to Sasuke before turning to Hinata. “I believe we are about to be called in. Please speak with Kiba. Why? He asked me if the members from other schools are ‘hot’. I disapprove of the conversation.”

“Of course, Shino,” Hinata says, grasping both Shino and Sasuke’s elbows with a gentle squeeze before walking towards Kiba’s group.

Shino nods at Sasuke again. Sasuke nods in return and glances at their audience again, content with the comfortable silence they tend to share.

“Do not be concerned,” Shino says suddenly. Sasuke raises his eyebrows and waits for him to elaborate. Shino’s eyes are entirely obscured by his sunglasses but his gaze is still heavy. “You will have a close bond with your familiar. That is what is important. Do not forget that.”

Sasuke has seen more people insult Shino for his awkward descriptions of his visions than not, so he claps a hand on his shoulder in thanks. “I hope the same for you.”

Shino ducks his head into his high collared jacket, but Sasuke can still see the pleased pink tint to his cheekbones. “I suppress visions of my future. Why? It is nice to be surprised. I cannot yet do the same for others. Your brother is here.” Sasuke’s heart misses a beat then thuds hard against his ribcage.

“I didn’t see him,” he says, swallowing past the sudden lump in his throat. “Any hints?”

“He is disguised,” Shino says. He takes a moment and then shakes his head. “I see only his reveal. My apologies.”

“That’s fine. Thank you, Shino,” Sasuke says. Now that he’s looking for it, he catches a pair of eyes fixed upon him. The woman smiles faintly and brushes black hair out of her face. Suspicious, Sasuke activates his Sharingan for an instant then looks away to process- blue eyes, different without the eyeshadow she always wears, but unmistakably Konan. When he looks back she smirks and nods approvingly.

Warmth builds in his chest, relieved and pleased they managed to make it. He’d sent a messenger bird to Itachi weeks ago, but when he’s deep into a mission he can be out of reach for months.

“Okay! Students please come here, visitors please stay where you are.” Asuma eyes them with bored eyes, unlit cigarette pinched between his lips. “We’ll have you enter the foyer now, but then send you in one by one by last name.

Sasuke resists the urge to sigh. “Looks like you’ll have first pick,” he says to Shino.

Shino leans down, his sunglasses slipping down his nose enough to reveal his sharp gaze. “They will have selected who they want as partner before any of us enter. Do not think for a moment it is down to chance.”

With the oversized clothing and penchant for disappearing into the background, it is easy to forget Shino’s intellect is his most dangerous trait. “Whoever choses you has chosen well,” he says quietly, politely looking away and pretending not to notice Shino’s blush.

“Dude, there you are,” Kiba says, appearing between them and promptly pushing them towards the entrance with the rest of their crowd. “Hey Sass-ke, have you seen the guys from Sand? They have some seriously hot students. Look at their redhead!”

Sasuke considers hitting Kiba for the nickname but decides it wouldn’t be worth losing face in front of their audience. He can wait. Kiba is patting his shoulder and looking very pointedly in one direction, so Sasuke indulges him and looks up to see a group of three walking closely together. The redhead in question is shorter, but his eyes are lined with dark rings and even from here Sasuke can sense a darkness in his magic. The students must sense it too because the three have a clear two metre radius that remains even as they approach the menagerie’s wide doors. “He looks like he could kill you in your sleep.”

“I know, right? Totally hot,” Kiba grins broadly.

Sasuke exchanges a look with Shino. “I can see why you went for Sakura.”

Kiba mistakes this for approval. “Thank you! I’ve got great taste, right?”

“Of course you do, Kiba,” Hinata says, and Sasuke needs to put a bell on her or something.

“Okay,” Asuma says once they’re all inside. “We’re starting with Aburame Shino.”

Shino nods at them and leaves, following an employee away.

Excited murmurs fill the air, steadily becoming louder until it begins to grate on Sasuke’s nerves. He settles himself into a corner for the long wait, relieved that everyone is too distracted to notice him. He catches Hinata’s eyes and shakes his head at her concerned expression; she seems to understand and leaves him be. He pulls a book out and tries to focus on the words, his gaze tracing paragraphs of spells without really absorbing it.

The room slowly empties and nobody returns. Sasuke muses they must be taken to a separate room and sends Hinata a smile as she leaves.

His serene quiet spot is ruined when Ino plonks down gracelessly beside him. “Of course,” he murmurs. “Yamanaka.”

“Yup, Sakura’s gone so I thought I’d be a loner with you,” she grins.

“Joy,” Sasuke says dully. His lips twitch at the habitual swat Ino gives his shoulder. “I hope you get someone as aggressive as you are.”

Ino snorts and tosses her long, flaxen hair over her shoulder. It hits him in the face. He’s ninety percent sure it was on purpose. “I don’t know what I saw in you,” she says lightly.

It was definitely on purpose. “Honestly, me neither,” he says. He doesn’t realise his fingers are drumming nervously on the bench until she stills them with a gentle touch.

“We were gonna get lunch tomorrow,” Ino says, watching Kiba jump up at his name and race to follow the menagerie employee. Sasuke slowly relaxes when he notices she isn’t going to pressure him on his unusual show of anxiety. “You’re welcome to come, if you like.”

He hums in thought and stares down at his book. “Isn’t that a little soon?”

Ino frowns for a second before the confusion smooths over. “Well, we all know each other, and the familiars must at least know of each other since they’re all here today. What’s the harm? It’s not like you have to be locked away to bond.”

His stomach knots into another nervous twist. Shikamaru takes so long to get up that Asuma actually drags him to the hallway. The menagerie worker – a wizard? His slitted yellow eyes are obvious to Sasuke even from a distance – is talking softly to something he can’t see. “True.”

Rolling her eyes as Shikamaru disappears, she pats Sasuke’s hand. “Don’t worry. No matter who choses you, we’ll celebrate with you. I’ll make a curry.”

Sasuke blinks slowly and shifts his gaze to their hands. “You’ve been reading my mind this whole time.”

Ino openly laughs at him, but doesn’t move her hand. “Empath, Sasuke, empath. I’d have to cast a spell to read your mind. I could feel your anxiety from across the room. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself.”

His mother’s face flashes through his mind at that. He instinctively squashes the thought but a soft squeeze to his hand prevents him from banishing it entirely. Ino doesn’t say anything, just starts to talk about the date she had with Sakura yesterday.

He’s really, really glad she’s not the boy-obsessed stalker she used to be. “You’re a good friend.”

Ino is so shocked she actually stops talking. Her wide eyes narrow with contemplation before she smirks. “So you’re coming to dinner then.”

Sasuke grunts, watching one of the students from another school leave. “If my father lets me.”

“Fuck your father,” Ino says flippantly. “This makes you an adult. You can just leave. Heck, stay with your brother.” Sasuke’s head whips around and she rolls her eyes again. “You Uchiha may think you’re stoic but let me tell you, you project your emotions everywhere. Yes, I know he’s here. No, I haven’t told anyone.”

Sasuke considers this as the next student leaves. The redhead Kiba had been on about must’ve been chosen quickly. “You should become a private investigator,” he muses. “Put the police out of business.”

Ino laughs, a pleased flush tinting her cheeks slightly. “You don’t want to join your dad?”

Sasuke scoffs. “I’d like actual job satisfaction, thanks.” He doesn’t say he wants to find his mother.

He doesn’t need to. “If you need help, I’m here,” Ino says seriously. “Me and whoever my familiar is.”

The crowd is thinning even more now. He must’ve missed seeing a couple of the students have their turn. “Can you sense them?”

Ino tilts her head and shuts her eyes, focusing for a long moment. “There are… a lot of beings,” she finally says, her voice quiet and distant. “Like bright lights. Some of them are like supernovas. I feel a pull, but can’t tell any more than that. I’ll have to wait like the rest of you.” Her eyes snap open with a grin. “No spoilers. I can tell the others are in another room. Sakura’s with a supernova! That’s my girl.”

“She’d need one,” Sasuke admits. He’d snapped at her in class a couple of years ago, totally missing her change from preteen after his hand in marriage to a woman who could deadlift him with minimal effort. If he thinks about it for too long he can still feel the throb of his jaw from her punch. “Anything less wouldn’t survive.”

Ino beams like he’d just complimented her. Sasuke does a headcount and realises he’s next.

“I think the waiting is the worst,” he says. “Too much suspense.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ino says, giving his hand another squeeze as his name is called. She lets go and only then does Sasuke realise she’s been calming him the entire time. He stands and narrows his eyes at her. “Oh shush,” Ino says, handing him his book. “It’ll wear off by the time you get there, I’m sure. You’ll be fine.”

Sasuke hopes so. He nods at Asuma, who’s chewing on his unlit cigarette like he’s dying for this to be over, and follows the menagerie worker. Those yellow eyes assess him as they walk, beautiful yet unnerving.

“I remember your brother,” the man says, his long black hair shifting without a wind. Sasuke swears he could see a crack of electricity dancing between the strands.

“Do you,” Sasuke replies dully, keeping his face impassive even as his heart rate begins to pick up.

“He was strong, certainly,” the man continues as if Sasuke hadn’t spoken. “My Sakumo was most interested in him. In you, too.”

The air tenses and ozone fills Sasuke’s nose. A definite snap of lightning cracks around the man’s robes. “Is that supposed to mean something,” Sasuke says, agitation rising despite his efforts to contain it.

The man eyes him knowingly. “Familiars give us strength, yes,” he says smoothly. “They also protect us from other familiars. You would not be so easily riled if you were bonded.”

Sasuke has to make an effort to unclench his teeth. “Good to know,” he manages.

The man covers his face delicately with his sleeve, but Sasuke just knows he’s laughing at him. They stop at an ornate door that stretches over two metres above them. The man gives him a nod and Sasuke reaches out to open it, but a crack of blue electricity writhes around his hand. The hair on his arm stands up but Sasuke stands still, glaring at what must be the man’s familiar.

There’s a wolf’s snarl in the air. A blink, and it’s gone.

“My apologies,” the man says lightly, as if this happens every day. “A message. My Sakumo was friends with your mother’s familiar.” His lips stretch into a smirk as Sasuke’s stomach plummets to his knees. “We will watch you with interest.”

With that said, the door opens on its own and Sasuke is sucked into darkness. The heavy doors slam behind him and Sasuke automatically activates his Sharingan at the dozens of eyes upon him.

His familiar is here. Somewhere.