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Sanguine: of gods and children

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Sanguine: (1) marked by eager hopefulness, confidently optimistic, (2) bloodred, (3) consisting of or relating to blood: bloodthirsty (4) accompanied by, involving, or relating to bloodshed, (5) healthy, red, complexion

 

Prequel

A Cursed seal. As the legend goes there was a demon of chaos that took the form of a large basilisk. This demon killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Konoha Kingdom. Madara Uchiha led an army of five hundred people against the demon determined to rid the world of the serpent for once and for all, and send the demon back to the underworld. He was successful and using a sword that had been blessed by the high priest with powers annotated from the sun god he was able to pierce the heart of the serpent. When the serpent lay dying it used the last bit of its power to curse the Uchiha clan. It was his revenge. The cursed seal.

The first child born with the curse seal was Madara’s own son. The seal started out small in the base where the neck met the shoulder. The older the child grew caused the seal to grow and consume. Black ink swirls covered the skin, the neck, the face, the arms, the stomach. It was a curse of madness. Madara’s son went crazy and developed an unquenchable bloodthirst. The temple's high priestess tried riding the curse but was unable. Hundreds of people were slaughtered by the cursed seal. The only one able to stop it came from the Senju clan who were blessed with holy power gifted, again, from the sun god.

The Senju clan earned their place of power. The holy temple was filled with members of the Senju clan that aided the emperor's conquests. Throughout the generations whenever a baby was born within the Uchiha Clan with a cursed seal on its body the baby was immediately murdered for fear the past would repeat.

It had become a legend and five hundred years later Fugaku Uchiha was reigning emperor of Konoha. The second crown prince, Sasuke, was born with the cursed seal. The high temple priest urged the emperor to kill the baby immediately. The memory of what happened had become so distant the urgency wasn't headed. Emperor Fugaku immediately refused. There was no need to murder him as his elder brother, Itachi, was to succeed the throne. Instead, Emperor Fugaku banished his son to a large manor in the countryside.

As Sasuke grew the cursed seal grew as well. There was something sinister about him that was sensed by the locals and those who served him. There was a bloodlust from an early age emitted from him that was only quenched at night. The maids and servants hired at the manor were found slaughtered one by one, and crown prince Sasuke was to blame. His eyes were bloody, ruby, red with the cursed seal insignia burned into his corneas. It frightened everyone. The high priest pleaded with Emperor Fugaku to execute his son or more innocent people will die. Emperor Fugaku still refused and made declarations that as long as he was alive and reigning he will not execute his son. It was said to help the fearful villagers crown prince Sasuke was chained to his room and the high priest utilized a powerful spell to blind Sasuke and he spent his days with a blindfold on.

As the years passed Emperor Fugaku fell ill, and each year the sickness grew and grew until he was barely able to get out of bed. Behind Emperor Fugaku’s back the high priest and the temple were plotting to execute Sasuke as soon as Fugaku died and crown prince Itachi succeeded the throne. There had been many assassination attempts on crown prince Sasuke’s life and every attempt was thwarted with crown prince Sasuke slaughtering them. There was no question of the power growing within crown prince Sasuke from the cursed seal. The temple devised a sinister plan and instead of an adult they used another child to gain crown prince Sasuke’s trust so that he could drop his guard, and when the time comes, he was at his weakest he can finally be executed and the world will finally be rid of the cursed seal.

 

Present Time

There was a prophecy. The sun god had provided visions to all the members of the holy temple on the successor to the temple. The child of Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki. There was internal turmoil. It was the first time a member outside the Senju clan was to take over as high priest. It was blasphemy. It was an insult, and the Senju clan wouldn't roll over like dogs and let this happen. The Senju members conspired against both Minato and Kushina and ruined them from the outside in.

Naruto was indoctrinated from birth. When the midwife cut the umbilical cord he was handed over to the temple. He had never met his father and his father never held him. He was told his father was a traitor and went against the high priest and betrayed the emperor. His father sinned and to pay for the sin with his life. His father was beheaded inside the temple and his blood covered the floors of the shrine while Naruto was still in utero. Minato’s head was placed on a stake on the walls of the palace for everyone inside and outside the palace walls to see the fate of a traitor.

The sin was still too great to be absolved with just his life.

The temple required a new life and when Kushina gave birth they had expected a baby girl. When they looked between Naruto’s legs and saw something else they were immediately displeased. They had wanted a baby girl they could eventually impregnate and sacrifice to the sun god. This would have to do. He was raised as a sacrificial lamb nonetheless. They took Naruto and raised him as a baby girl. Due to Minato’s sins that transferred to Naruto he was no longer in line to succeed as high priest. The members of the temple agreed. They will need to sacrifice Naruto when his virginity was taken at the cusp of adulthood and seek another prophecy. There was still a duty of the temple to keep Naruto within their control, keep him virginal, pure.

They kept him separated from Kushina as often as they could. His blonde hair grew longer and they dressed him in white dresses. He was dressed head to toe in white and when he got even a speck of dirt on him he was beaten and flogged.

Naruto was told he was not worthy enough. To pay for the sins of his father he had given the title of a girl. He had to be raised as a girl. A slave to the temple. If he finished repenting for the sins of his father he would be forgiven in death and will have salvation. He was born sick. He was born sinful and he needed to repent. Part of his indoctrination was what he heard and was taught about crown prince, Sasuke Uchiha. A cursed seal was imprinted on his life and if crown prince Sasuke continued living it was detrimental to the holy temple and the high priest and threatened the kingdom.

They wanted to ruin Naruto in every way imaginable. The high priest summoned him into the inner sanctuary. He was still a child. They found a loophole when it came to virginity. The mouth had no connection to virginity. The first rule he learned was nothing belonged to him. His clothes didn’t belong to him. His shoes didn’t belong to him. He didn’t have any possessions. His hair didn’t belong to him. His eyes didn’t belong to him...and his body didn’t even belong to him.

“You have a body that tempts men, Naruto.” The high priest whispered in Naruto’s ear.

The high priest wrapped his arms around Naruto’s body and pressed up against him from behind. He brought his lips to Naruto’s neck and began to lick the skin. The high priest brought his mouth down and bit Naruto’s neck, embedding his teeth into his flesh, and started to suck. Naruto knew better than to make a sound. Even if it hurt. Even if it left a mark. He wasn't the first child and he wouldn't be the last to receive the mark from the high priest. He became perfectly immobilized. He knew how to play the game. All the children of the temple knew how to play. The high priest's hands began to explore Naruto’s body under the white dress he wore. Naruto held his breath. Hands rubbed against his stomach, across his chest, played with his nipples to the point they hardened and became erect before fingers walked their way between his legs.

Naruto gasped as the expertise of the high priest touched him intimately. He tried to control his panting. Tried to ignore the pleasure that started to build. Nothing penetrated him below. His hands remained on the outside. The high priest couldn't chance Naruto losing his virginity before the right time.

Naruto detached from his body. He focused on the stained glass in front of him. It was a full moon tonight and light spilled through the stained glass and the colors of the glass covered him in the enriched sanguine color. The stained glass depicted the high priestess who rid the world of the first cursed child. The longer he looked he saw the high priestess transforming into his mother. He imagined her arms around him and hugging him. His mother's soft and beautiful face. Her long red locks. He felt safe and protected in her arms. He was too afraid to close his eyes afraid if he did the illusion he created would vanish, afraid the illusion of his mother he conjured up would burst.

“Get on your knees. Your body needs my seed to cure you.” The high priest commanded. Automatically Naruto kneeled down as if he was to pray. This happened as long as he could remember. He knew when it happened to the other children because they would whistle in the dark. It was what they called crying in the dark. “Open your mouth. Remember not to use your teeth. If you do I'll flog you.” Naruto tipped his head back and opened his mouth like an obedient child who listens to their elders. The high priest inserted his finger and pressed down on Naruto's tongue. Naruto started sucking his finger using his tongue. "That's a good girl. Do it just like that. Open wide."

The serpent slid into his open mouth excitedly. It was suffocating. It tasted like salty coins in warm milk. It tasted like the high priest hadn’t bathed in a few days. The mustiness was overpowering. The smell filled his nostrils and consumed him. He hated this smell. They all did. The taste he could ignore. It was the smell that was hard to forget. The smell wrapped around his brain and flipped and flopped his stomach. He fought back the urge to vomit. Vomiting only made things worse, and he didn’t want to be flogged again.

“You’re such a little whore.” The high priest said cruelly. He was moaning as Naruto sucked. “This is the only way to purify you filthy fucking whore. I bet you're loving every second of this you little bitch.” The priest wasn’t just satisfied with Naruto’s sucking and using his tongue. He grabbed hold of Naruto’s blonde hair and jerked his head back and began thrusting violently into Naruto’s mouth. It caused Naruto to immediately gag. He couldn’t breathe. He could feel the serpent being shoved deeper and deeper into his throat. His whole body was being rocked with each thrust. He could feel snot rolling down his nose as he tried to breathe. Tears streamed down. The high priest was blocking the stained glass window and Naruto couldn’t concentrate on anything else except what was happening to him at this moment.

“Why are you crying you fucking whore! If I don’t give you my seed who will purify you?” The high priest screamed and smacked Naruto across the face. "How can I give you my seed if you don't stop fucking crying! You're acting like I'm forcing you! Just wait until it's finally your tiny, tight, cunt that gets my seed. Then you'll really be crying."

Naruto could feel his stomach acid burning his esophagus as his body fought for oxygen. He hated when the high priest screamed at him during the whole ordeal. He wanted him to shut up. He always used words he didn't understand. What was supposed to make Naruto feel pure and clean only left him feeling even dirtier. He felt lightheaded. He was gagging and attempted to escape as every particle of his body pleaded for oxygen. The priest held the back of Naruto's head and pushed his head forwarded preventing him from escaping. The high priest finally ejaculated and filled Naruto’s mouth and throat with his seed. When he pulled himself out Naruto started vomiting and gagging. He was met with another blow from the high priest. He could feel the high priest continuing to pump the thick warm substance across his face. It hit his forehead, his cheeks, and rolled down his face.

“You’re supposed to swallow! How am I supposed to purify you if you don't swallow?” The high priest threatened. “Do you want to stay a filthy whore? You don’t want to repent! You want me to keep doing this to you because you enjoy it so much!” The high priest wrapped both his hands around Naruto’s neck and within seconds Naruto was pinned against the floor with the high priest straddling him. The weight pushed against his diaphragm knocked all the air from his lungs. His oxygen supply was cut off again. He was choking and gagging and crying. He couldn’t even plead or beg for forgiveness. He was running on empty.

“I should just kill you now! Fuck your tight cunt now and kill you!” The high priest screamed as he continued to choke Naruto. Both of Naruto’s hands went up and tried to remove the priest’s hands. His legs kicked out as he tried to buck the high priest off. It was impossible. His vision became blurrier and blurrier until he couldn’t see anything. He became weaker and weaker. Naruto’s eyes rolled in the back of his head and passed out. It was always so sudden.

Naruto didn't even know he passed out. A bucket of water was splashed over his head and Naruto woke up. He was laying on his back. He was still in the shrine and the high priest was standing above him with a bucket. The high priest was back to normal. His face was calm. He had reverted back.

“I have a mission for you: a way to help repent for your father’s sins.” The high priest started talking softly. “If you succeed you will have purity restored and I wouldn’t have to keep giving you my seed like this.”

Naruto was coughing and took sharp breaths. He pushed himself up into a sitting position and whipped the water from his face. He was listening.

“I am sending you to the manor. I want you to gain the crown prince’s trust. I want you to befriend him. I want you to play with him, eat with him, and sleep with him. I want you to become the crown prince’s world.” The high priest explained.

“The...crown prince? The cursed child?” Naruto’s voice was filled with fear. He heard all the horror stories about the cursed child’s bloodlust. The innocent people he had slaughtered within the walls of the manor. How it was a death sentence for anyone assigned to him. The temple had lost numerous members that were sent there to kill him.

“I’ll die!” Naruto cried out. He could barely survive the high priest and knew he wouldn’t survive the cursed child.

“So what? Your life is worthless! If you die serving the temple it’s a fitting death for you!” The high priest screamed. The vein in his forehead began to throb and his face turned scarlet. Naruto didn’t say anything else. It was true. Everything the high priest said was true. His purpose was to repent for his father's sins.

“It will work with you.” The high priest calmed down. He could flip a switch so easily. “Your existence and body tempt people. It will tempt the cursed child. The cursed child will cherish you. After you gained his trust. I want you to slowly start adding poison to his food. It won’t be enough to kill him. It will bind to his blood and organs and weaken him. Make him sicker and sicker and sicker. When crown prince Itachi succeeds the throne...we’ll kill the cursed child, and rid the world of evil.”

Naruto’s heart thumped painfully in his chest. The slaying of the cursed child was what the temple called for to save the kingdom. It was the type of assignment Naruto dreamed of to serve the temple and save the people. It was what he had to do. He wanted salvation. He wanted to become pure and clean.

“Do you understand your assignment?” The high priest demanded.

“Yes, High Priest.” Naruto nodded his head enthusiastically. He was given a new purpose. One of redemption.

“You’ll leave tomorrow. Now get out of my sight before you tempt me again!”

*****

Naruto was sent to the manor for the purpose of serving the crown prince. In the carriage ride, Naruto’s imagination took over. He expected the cursed child to be a monstrosity. A hunchback with a large brow bone that jutted out. An underbite where rotten teeth were exposed. A half-human, half-animal running around in a cage screeching like an ape. It was a long journey to the manor and the closer he got the more horrific his thoughts of the cursed child became.

The walls of the manor were even taller than the walls of the palace. The stone wall extended high into the air. It was almost impenetrable except the purpose wasn’t to keep enemies out it was served to keep the cursed child in. There was a powerful iron gate that was wheeled open and the carriage entered. The inside manor was beautiful. It was lush with trees, flowers, and interwoven paths that led into various flower and rock gardens. There were statues and water fountains. He saw a large pond filled with lily pads and water lilies where a stork was resting. The main house was artistically built and no expense spared. The house had tatami flooring, sliding doors, and wooden verandas circling the house. Smaller houses and structures were speckled around the main house like a small village. These housed the workers.

There was a serenity around the manor. A sense of peace within the walls. A stillness as if the manor was holding its breath and waiting. Yes. The manor was holding its breath. But Naruto didn't know why. Didn't know what the manor was waiting for. Naruto stepped out of the carriage to see an older girl who appeared to be in her late teens greet him. She looked skittish. Her hair was pulled up into two buns.

“You must be Naruto. My name is Tenten.” She bowed. She was wearing the light blue traditional maidservant dress. She looked Naruto up and down. “You’re from the temple?” Her face looked disappointed. She looked over her shoulder. A look of apprehension washed over her. She lowered her voice until she was barely audible. “You need to change if you want to survive.” He was dumped into the manor and when he looked back the carriage was already gone and the gate already closed.

Naruto was wearing the white dress as required of all the girls within the temple. It was decorated with intricate beading and lace. Naruto’s blonde hair reached the small of his back. It hung limply at his sides. It was humid out and the humidity took all the volume from his hair. Although he was a boy he had been raised with the same mannerisms as the girls within the temple. He was raised as a girl. Tenten grabbed Naruto’s hand and quickly led him to the furthest house from the main house. He was able to fool everyone around him. They all believed he was a girl.

“The crown prince does not like the temple. If he knows you’re from the temple he’ll kill you.” Tenten explained. She began shuffling through different trunks until she found a light blue maidservants outfit that would fit Naruto. “Change into this.”

Naruto’s eyes widened. “Now?” He asked.

“What? We’re both girls.” She shooed him. “Go on.” Her round chocolate eyes didn’t leave him.

“Please...turn around.” Naruto asked nervously. His face bloomed pink. “We’re not allowed to change in front of others.”

Tenten stared at him as if he had two heads. “You’re really as modest as they say!” She turned around and Naruto started changing. As he changed, Tenten started explaining the rules of the manor and what Naruto needed to do to stay alive.

“There are not many of us still left within the manor. Nobody wants to work here. If the money wasn’t so good I wouldn’t be working here but my mother is sick and the medicine is expensive. You shouldn’t be in the main house after dark. Actually, you shouldn't be anywhere after dark. Remain in your quarters. You’re going to be in charge of watching the crown prince during the day and delivering him his meals. He eats three meals a day. It’s best to stay at least six feet from the crown prince at all times. He can’t reach you if you stay at least six feet away.”

“Isn’t...isn’t the crown prince blind?” Naruto asked. He tried to hide the quiver in his voice.

“He sees in other ways. It’s best not to look directly into his eyes. He keeps his eyes covered most of the time...but if he takes his blindfold off...don’t look in his eyes or you’ll die.” Tenten warned. It was the curse of the basilisk. One look in the serpent's eyes and it can kill. He bit his lip and nodded his head.

Tenten spun around and looked at Naruto. She appeared satisfied with how he looked. She nodded her head. “You look like us.” She stepped closer and smelled him. She wrinkled her nose. “You smell different. You don't smell like us.”

“I smell?” Naruto asked. He tried sniffing himself and couldn’t smell anything.

“You’re too clean. You're not in the temple anymore so you won't be able to do your cleaning rituals here.” Tenten commented. “A maidservant shouldn’t smell so clean. You need to know your place. Come here.” Tenten motioned for Naruto to follow. She walked him down a path where cherry blossom trees were planted. They weren’t in bloom. She pointed to the ground where there was a section of dirt. “Roll around here.”

“Ey?!?” Naruto exasperated.

“You smell too much like the temple. He'll know right away. He hates the temple.”

Naruto walked to the dirt section and rolled to his back. He looked up at Tenten. She nodded her head. “Roll around.” Naruto did just that. He rolled around and as he did Tenten burst out into a fit of giggles. He felt foolish. It wasn’t cruel laughter like some of the other kids in the temple whenever someone was being humiliated. It was a burst of melodic laughter. Tenten kneeled down. She rubbed both hands against the earth and began rubbing Naruto’s face and neck with her hands. Naruto froze. She then put dirt in Naruto's hair.

“There.” Tenten surmised. “You’re starting to look and smell like a maidservant. You'll smell and look like us in no time.”

Tenten began to give Naruto a tour of the manor. Showing him where everything was located. As she gave the tour she didn’t stop talking. She had a roughness about her he hadn’t witnessed in another girl before. He barely left the temple. She spoke in a dialect that was hard to understand at times. She lectured him for being too proper with his words. He needed to loosen up. He didn’t hate Tenten and the more time he spent with her the more he started to like her. She was honest. The first time he saw a change in her was when they got to the main house. She tensed up. The carefree nature vanished. The brightness of her face darkened and paled. She shivered.

“Why don’t you go introduce yourself to the crown prince while I go finish up the laundry.” Tenten spoke quickly. She didn’t allow Naruto to answer before she spun on her heels and ran away. Naruto swallowed and walked up the stairs to the wooden veranda. It was the reason why he was here. His hands opened up the screen door. He was shocked to see how dark everything was inside.

“Who's there?” A voice coming from the darkness asked. Naruto’s heart thumped. This was his assignment. His mission. He slid his shoes off.

“My name is Naruto. I’m your new maidservant.” Naruto greeted. Naruto pushed open the sliding doors and entered the room. “It’s dark in here.” Light flooded the room from the open door. Naruto stood at the edge of where the last ray of sun greeted the darkness of the room. His eyes started to adjust. Naruto kneeled on his knees and bowed.

“It is an honor to meet you, crown prince.” Naruto greeted warmly.

“Come here.” The crown prince called out. Naruto pushed himself up and ventured across the threshold and walked into the darkness towards his voice. His eyes began to adjust. He saw an outline of a boy. The blade of a sword emerged from the darkness. Naruto saw a ray of sun reflecting off the blade and immediately tried to dodge the blade. Then he was struck. The blade caught Naruto across his right bicep just as he tripped and fell. The sword sliced across his skin and he could feel blood pouring from the wound. It was a five inch wound that sliced him horizontally. The blade was sharp. So sharp it could have cut his arm off.

“Were you sent to kill me?” The crown prince screamed. "You reek of the temple!"

“No! I'm not!” Naruto cried out as his body struck the tatami mats. His left hand went immediately to his wound.

“You’re a child.” The crown prince commented as if finally getting a good look at Naruto.

“Yes…” Naruto answered weakly.

“How old are you?”

“I was born in the year of the snake.”

There was a pause. Naruto squirmed and tried to keep his focus on breathing through the pain. “You’re the same age as me.” The crown prince calculated.

“Mhm.” Naruto murmured. He squeezed the wound on his arm trying to stop the blood. It poured between his fingers. He continued to hold pressure against it.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?” The crown prince asked. "Why aren't you running away? Are you too afraid to leave?" He laughed cruelly.

“Why...why would I be afraid?”

“I just sliced you with my sword. I can smell you bleeding everywhere.”

“Are you...going to kill me?” Naruto asked. Naruto noticed the crown prince’s feet. They were both barefoot. His left foot had a shackle fastened around his ankle, and it was connected to a chain. Naruto could see the shackle had rubbed the flesh clean off, and underneath was a festering wound. Parts were infected. Parts were scabbed. Parts were bleeding. The crown prince was wearing an informal black kimono. The crown prince went from standing to kneeling. He went down so they were on the same eye level.

“No.” The crown prince answered. He sounded as if he was still debating if he was going to kill Naruto or not.

“Then why should I be afraid?” Naruto asked and raised his eyes. He saw the crown prince was wearing a black blindfold that covered half his face. His skin was white. Like the snow on top of a mountain. That beautiful, virginal, snow that was untouched, and the only purpose was to be beautiful. Naruto’s eyes adjusted more. He could see the cursed seal. It was painted over his neck, and the left side of his face. On his cheek. He wondered how far the curse spread on his body.

“You’re not lying.” The crown prince commented. His head tilted. Naruto remembered Tenten saying that the crown prince can see in other ways. Just what other ways was the crown prince looking at him?

“Why...why would I lie?” Naruto asked.

The longer he looked at the crown prince the more of his features he began to see. The more he saw of the crown prince the less afraid he became. He noticed how thin the crown prince truly was. He was smaller than Naruto was. Thin. So thin that Naruto could see the clavicle bones in his neck jutting out. He was malnourished. Underweight. He was swimming in the kimono. Was the crown prince refusing food? He was still holding onto the sword and Naruto noticed how thin his wrists were. Naruto looked at the blade. It was covered in Naruto’s blood and it dripped onto the tatami mat.

Naruto had a higher tolerance for pain. The discipline he was subjected to within the temple made getting sliced by a sword no different than getting a papercut. He was more concerned about losing blood. The pain, like a papercut, subdued quickly. He could feel endorphins flooding his bloodstream. It was his favorite part of pain. When endorphins filled him and he felt nothing but pleasure.

“What did you say your name was?” The crown prince asked as he sheathed his sword.

“Naruto.”

“Get out of my sight, Naruto. Leave before I strike you again!” The crown prince yelled. Naruto didn’t say anything else. He scrambled up and ran from the room. Naruto made sure to close the sliding doors, slid his shoes back on before running away.

*****

Tenten had finished bandaging Naruto’s arm up. She put a salve on the wound to prevent infection.

“Are you okay?” Tenten asked.

“Mhm.” Naruto answered.

He needed to befriend the crown prince. He needed to be okay. He couldn’t be making a fuss over one wound. The scars on his back was enough to prove his high tolerance of pain. Prove he didn't care how scared and bruised his body was. His first impression of the crown prince was...pity. Naruto remembered leaving the temple once and saw how hungry the children outside the palace were. So skinny he could count all the bones.

“Why is the crown prince so skinny?” Naruto asked.

“He refuses to eat.” Tenten answered plainly. “We can’t force him to eat. We just...I mean you’ll just need to deliver his food. What he does afterwards is up to him. You did your job.”

It made Naruto uneasy. The children of the temple weren’t starved. They ate just the right amount of calories to appear healthy. Just enough to keep their faces full and their hair glossy. They needed to have beautiful faces while serving the sun god. They didn’t indulge in food like the royal family. He wondered how the crown prince would react if he asked him to eat. When dinnertime came Naruto collected the tray from the chef. He looked at the food and frowned.

“What’s this?” Naruto asked the chef. He thought it was a mistake. "Is this for the crown prince?"

“It’s his food.” The chef snapped. Naruto gripped the tray tightly.

It was a meager bowl of rice, miso soup, and a small fried fish. It was the meal of a prisoner. The children of the temple ate more than this for one meal. Naruto didn’t know why he was feeling anger inside him. It bubbled in his stomach. Was it pity? He saw the bones jutting out. So defining it was almost nauseating to look at. Naruto didn’t budge. He turned his attention to the chef who appeared to be in his thirties. An adult who knew better. Someone who hated the crown prince and didn't care if he lived or died.

“No.” Naruto commented. “This isn’t his food. This is a meal for a prisoner not a meal for the crown prince.” Naruto placed the tray back down.

“What did you say to me you little bitch?” The chef yelled. Naruto wasn’t afraid of the chef. He wasn’t afraid of the crown prince. The only person he was truly afraid of was the high priest. He stood his ground. He knew how to carry himself. He was taught so within the temple. Members of the temple stood on even ground as the royal family. Naruto even though he was filled with sin and sickness was above the chef. The social hierarchy was engraved in all the children of the temple. They served the gods and advised the royal family. He pretended to be a maidservant but he was in higher status than all of them.

“When I report back to the palace that this is what you’re feeding the crown prince...who do you think will be punished? Me or you?” Naruto threatened. He didn’t break eye contact with the chef. He knew the royal family. Emperor Fugaku. Emperess Mikoto. Crown Prince Itachi. The children of the temple were invited to many social events hosted by the Uchiha's. He knew how to act in high society. They wore their white uniforms and performed. The children of the sun god were special.

“Who are you?” The chef asked. There was hesitancy in his voice. He wasn't asking 'who do you think you are', he was really asking 'what is your true identity?'

“Why else would the palace send me? To report back on the crown prince’s condition. The emperor wants to make sure his son is being taken care of.” Naruto gave just the right amount of information to make his point crystal clear.

Naruto could see the chef digested these words carefully. It was true that the emperor spared his son’s life. There must have been a reason. The chef didn’t say anything else. He turned around and went back to cooking, deciding to alter the menu. Naruto didn’t leave. He supervised the chef. He watched the chef prepare a thick curry. He knew what higher society dined on. It was a delicious aroma filling the kitchen when the chef was done which caused Naruto to believe it was a meal befitting the crown prince. The chef prepared the new tray of curry, a bowl of steamed vegetables, rice, a bowl of permissions, and a kettle of green tea. Naruto surveyed the tray, and nodded his head in approval. When he left he heard the chef mumble on his breath.

“You fucking bitch.”

Naruto pretended not to hear and carried the tray back to the main house. He set the tray down and kneeled in front of the door.

“Crown prince. It’s me, Naruto, I am here to deliver your dinner.” Naruto announced outside the sliding doors. He slid his shoes off.

“You can leave it there and leave.” The crown prince called. Naruto pretended he didn’t hear. He opened the sliding doors, picked up the tray and entered the room.

“What are you doing? I said to leave the tray outside!”

“How will you eat it if it’s outside?” Naruto asked. He carried the tray and set it on the floor. “It’s too dark in here to eat.” Naruto moved and began pulling down the blankets that covered up the windows. Every blanket he removed caused light to pour through.

“Stop it!” The crown prince yelled. Naruto didn’t listen. The room was illuminated in light.

“I stopped.” Naruto answered.

“That’s not what I meant!”

Naruto shrugged and kneeled down in front of the tray. “On the tray is curry, vegetables, rice, permissions, and green tea. Shall I pour you some tea, crown prince?” He smiled sweetly.

“No. I’m not hungry.”

“I don’t accept that.” Naruto answered and began pouring the tea. “You need to gain weight. You’re nothing but skin and bones.” Naruto’s eyes glanced at the sword in the crown prince’s hand. He was mindful of where the sword was at all times. It was currently in its sheath.

“Try some of the curry.” Naruto asked softly, sweetly, encouragingly. “It’s so yummy.”

“I don’t eat curry.”

“Now you do. Now either eat it or I’ll force feed you.” Naruto threatened.

The crown prince laughed. “You’re going to what? I’m still the crown prince and you’re nothing but a maidservant!”

Naruto didn’t know what he was doing. He stood up and shoved the crown prince back with both hands. The crown prince fell backwards. He was caught unawares. The sword fell from his hand and Naruto crawled on top of him. He sat on the crown prince’s stomach and pressed his hands against his shoulders. Pinning him to the ground. Naruto grabbed a spoonful of curry. When the crown prince opened his mouth to yell at Naruto he jammed the spoon into his mouth. Naruto kicked the sword away and watched as the sword slid across the room. He had eliminated the threat of getting sliced again.

The crown prince struggled but swallowed the spoonful of curry. He gasped. “What are you doing? Get off me you animal!”

Naruto jammed another spoonful into his mouth. “I don’t know why you’re refusing food, but you’re not going to refuse food on my watch! Look at you. You’re not even strong enough to push me off. Try and push me off if you can.” Naruto laughed as he continued pinning the crown prince to the floor. He watched as the crown prince attempted to push Naruto off. “Maybe if you eat you can push me off. Open up your mouth.” Naruto teased.

“GET OFF ME!”

Naruto jammed another spoonful into his mouth.

“I’m stronger than you.” Naruto commented slyly.

The crown prince was breathing heavily. He knew he needed to knock the crown prince down to the same level as him. He didn’t want the crown prince to think he had any power over him. The same rules applied with the other children of the temple. They were all even. They all experienced the same discipline. The same punishment. The same treatment from the high priest. None of them were better than anyone else. The same rules were going to apply to the crown prince.

“I’m the crown prince!” He screamed as if it made any difference. It didn’t. There was nothing he could do at this moment. The sword was across the room and he couldn’t remove him. Naruto was stronger. He was a child who ate three square meals a day. A healthy, robust, child.

“What does it matter you’re not stronger than me, and we’re both the year of the snake.” Naruto taunted.

“I’ll kill you.” The crown prince spoke with gritted teeth.

“No you won’t.” Naruto didn’t feel afraid. The crown prince didn’t answer. He remained still for a moment. Naruto didn’t move.

“I’ll eat.” The crown prince said after a moment of silence. “Get off me and I’ll eat.” Naruto waited a few seconds. He looked down at the crown prince trying to assess if he was lying or not. He decided to trust the prince and climbed off. He watched as the crown prince pushed himself into a sitting position. His cheeks were flushed with reds. It was the first time that Naruto noticed how young the crown prince was. They were the same age but the crown prince looked...younger. His heart thumped. He didn’t know why a maternal feeling was washing over him when he looked at him.

“How are you a girl if you act like that?” The crown prince bickered. “Nobody is going to marry you. I bet you’re ugly too. Maybe a pig will marry you. You’re basically a pig anyways.” The crown prince continued to mumble as he took the spoon and began feeding himself. Naruto was curious to know how the crown prince maneuvered and fed himself when he was blindfolded. Was he able to sense the outline of things?

“I’m not a pig!” Naruto argued.

“Yes you are. Oink oink.You have no manners. You don’t know your place. You don’t listen. Stupid pig. Stupid animal.” The crown prince continued to grumble.

“Call me a pig again and I’ll pin you again!” Naruto threatened. The crown prince opened his mouth as if he was going to call him a pig but decided not and just continued to eat. Naruto didn’t say anything else. His eyes moved to the shackle around his ankle. When the sun started to set the crown prince shoved the empty tray back.

“The sun is setting!” The crown prince announced. “Leave now! Go back to your room and stay there until morning, or you'll really die.” His voice changed. It wasn’t the sound of a whiny child. It was serious, threatening. There was something sinister about it. It caught Naruto off guard. The personality change was hard to describe. It wasn't as frightening as the high priest but it was still alarming. Was it the cursed seal? His eyes moved over the cursed seal painted on his skin. The curse was one day going to consume him in madness and he was going to turn into a demon and go on a murdering rampage across the kingdom like Madara's son.

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Goodnight.” Naruto answered. He didn’t argue. He took the empty tray and left.

*****

The crown prince was different than he was described. He wasn’t a monster. He was a child. He wasn’t deformed. He wasn’t hideous. He was just malnourished and short. The only thing noticeable was the cursed seals on his skin. They were the color of ink and were a contrast to his white skin. He didn’t know what his face looked like. Half of it was covered in the blindfold. His teeth were straight and white. They weren’t rotten, and he didn’t have an underbite. He didn’t feel...threatening. Not yet. He probably became bloodthirsty at night when the sun god was no longer able to suppress the chaos inside him and the moon freed him. It was probably why he was told to remain in his room. It was the same warning Tenten gave him.

He had to take in new information and sort through it. The crown prince wasn’t hateable. He was just...a child. He acted like a child. Carried himself like a child. Was that why Naruto felt...maternal? Naruto didn’t hate him and he tried not to like him. He kept looking for a reason to...hate him. He had been at the manor for a little over a month and nothing out of the ordinary happened. Things were uneventful. It was why when Naruto woke up in the middle of the night with the urgency to urinate he left his quarters and walked to the outhouses.

It was a full moon. Everything was bathed in a blue hue. The wind was warm. It was the fourth month of the year and the cherry blossoms were blooming. The pink petals filled the trees. The wind swayed softly through the branches and pink petals floated down. Naruto walked down the cherry blossom path back towards his quarters when he stopped. The shadows of the branches spread thick and skinny across the ground. It resembled a spiderweb across the ground entrapping Naruto in its web. He saw someone. It looked like one of the maids. She was hunched over a tree and was crying. Her shoulders rocked up and down. Her crying reached him. Naruto approached her.

“Are you alright?” Naruto called out. The servant didn’t move, she just kept crying. Naruto left the path and walked towards her. She was dressed in all white and her long black hair was swaying in the wind. “What’s wrong?” Naruto asked and reached out and touched her shoulder.

The woman jerked as if she had no control over her limbs. She spun around. It was the first time Naruto was seeing her. It wasn’t a woman. It was a spirit of a mother looking desperately for her dead child. Her eyes were pure white. Her mouth twisted into an ear-piercing scream. She crouched down and her arms moved as if separate from her body. Her jerky movements weren't human. Naruto was shocked and fell backward. Blood covered her hands and dripped down.

“Where’s my baby?” The woman chortled. Her voice was high-pitched and stung Naruto’s ears. It sent shivers down his spine. “You took my baby from me! Give him back! GIVE ME BACK MY BABY!” The woman pounced on Naruto and her arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders, pinning him to the shadow web. He couldn’t even scream. Her mouth contorted and her jaw become unhinged. Large jagged teeth emerged from her gums, sending blood and saliva dripping down onto Naruto's face.

Naruto’s eyes widened as the woman bent down to rip apart his jugular. Instead, something flashed across Naruto’s vision. It was a sword. It sliced through the air breaking the sound barrier. The blade struck the woman in the neck and the blade cut through her chest cavity. Blood gushed out of the wound like a sprawling waterfall. It covered Naruto as the woman’s body dropped backwards from the force.

“Do you have a death wish? Weren’t you told not to leave your quarters after dark?” The crown prince asked from behind. Naruto was panting. His heart beat so rapidly, so painfully. Punishing him for being so bold as to leave his room during the night. The fear that overwhelmed him paralyzed him. He was trying to regain control of his body. He couldn't speak.

“Oh. Are you actually scared?” The crown prince taunted. He crouched down next to Naruto.

Naruto brought his eyes up to look at the crown prince. He was breathless. The prince wasn’t wearing the blindfold anymore. Don’t look directly into his eyes! The warning escaped him. It was too late. He looked directly into his eyes. They were illuminated. They were mesmerizing. Glowing orbs of ruby red. It was a beautiful shade of red. It really did resemble a bloody red ruby. There were jewels and treasure within the temple. It paled in comparison to the crown prince’s eyes. He became light-headed. The crown prince’s face was beyond beautiful. He had thick black eyelashes that curled. His nose was straight and narrow. His black hair fell across his face as the wind picked up again. He was smirking.

“Cat got your tongue?” The crown prince mocked.

“You saved me!” Naruto confessed. His heart thumped wildly it felt like his coronary artery was going to explode at any minute. His cheeks became inflamed. He was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

“Who's stronger now?” The crown prince mocked and tilted his head. Naruto didn’t know what he was doing. He just reacted. He wrapped his arms around the crown prince and hugged him. It was surprising to the crown prince as it was surprising to Naruto himself.

"Thank you for saving me!"

“Hey-hey-hey...what are you doing?” The crown prince panicked.

“Shut up! I’m thanking you!” Naruto argued. Naruto could feel the prince’s body tensed up against him. The prince didn’t say anything and didn’t push him away. He continued hugging the prince until his heart calmed down and he was able to think appropriately. His mind cleared and he was able to breathe normally. When he was done he let go and pulled back. He stood up and moved away from the rotting corpse.

“I...know her.” Naruto exclaimed as he looked at the face of the woman. “She works in the kitchens!”

“Mhm.” The crown prince answered and stood up. “She was possessed. She would have killed you if I didn't kill her first.”

A thought occurred. Was the crown prince really slaughtering so haphazardly...or was he...slaughtering the demons that had possessed humans? It was something he hadn't thought about before. They will find her body in the morning and the rumors will spread. He knew how the world will view it. They weren't here. They didn't witness what really happened. They will say the crown prince slaughtered another innocent servant. Naruto turned to look at the crown prince. He wasn’t wearing the blindfold and he wasn’t shackled. His eyebrows furrowed.

“Why aren’t you...wearing the blindfold?” Naruto asked. Did he even need to have his eyes covered?

“My eyes frighten people. I was told to cover them up.” The crown prince answered. Naruto didn’t die when he looked into the prince’s eyes. There was a cursed seal in each iris. They were symmetrical. But Naruto didn't die.

“Can you...see me?” Naruto asked and waved his hand in front of his face.

“Not really. You’re blurry. I can see your outline, but that’s it.”

“Are you saying you could have gotten out of your shackles at any moment?”

“Mhm.”

“Why have them on in the first place?”

“People feel better, and safer when I’m shackled up.”

“They hurt your foot and ankle. Why experience that pain? Just leave them off.” Naruto commented. “The same with your blindfold. Keep it off. You’re not a prisoner. You’re the crown prince.”

The crown prince smirked again. In the month that Naruto had been living here, he had forced the prince to eat three square meals a day and he had already doubled in weight. The prince’s body took hold of every calorie he ate and filled out. He was no longer skin and bones. He had filled out and began looking like he was supposed to look. Naruto was still taller by a few inches but the prince had grown too. The crown prince stared at Naruto.

“You’re really not scared?”

“No.”

“Okay. I’ll keep them off.” The crown prince spoke as he sheathed his sword. The wind picked up again. “I’ll take you to the bathhouse so you can clean up then I’ll escort you back to your quarters. It’s dangerous out here at dark.”

“Mhm.” Naruto agreed. He walked alongside the crown prince. “Is it not dangerous for you?”

The crown prince laughed. “No.” Naruto believed him. He wasn’t a typical human child. He had survived every assassination attempt. He had been slaughtering demonically possessed humans. Even walking by his side Naruto could feel how powerful he really was. No wonder the temple couldn't kill him. When they reached the bathhouse Naruto turned to the prince.

“Don’t peek!”

“I can’t see you, and why would I want to peep on a pig girl like you?” The crown prince gawked.

“Good.” Naruto shot back and entered the bathhouse. He stripped off his blood-soaked clothes and walked into one of the cypress bathtubs. The water was room temperature. He wasn't allowed to clean as often as he cleaned at the temple. He really was looking and smelling like a maidservant.

“How did you know I was in trouble?” Naruto asked as he began washing the blood from his skin and hair. He wanted to hurry.

“I was patrolling the manor. I came across you. I thought about letting you die, but then I couldn’t tease you about who was really stronger.” The crown prince answered. He mumbled under his breath. "Which after tonight proves I'm stronger. Boys are supposed to be stronger than girls."

“Do you patrol every night?”

“No. Only during the full moon and new moon.”

“I’ve never...seen something like that before.” Naruto confessed.

“I think I draw them to me. They’ve been around for as long as I can remember.”

The only information the temple had to go on about the cursed seal was everything that was documented with Madara Uchiha’s son. Nowhere was it documented about demons and spirits being attracted by the curse. It made sense the more Naruto thought about it. Wicked things attracted wicked things like a moth to a flame. Naruto brought a palm to his chest. He could still feel his heart beating. The one undeniable fact he couldn’t forget was the crown prince saved him. If he hadn’t he knew the demon would have ripped apart his throat and he would have bled out. He didn’t want to die. He had strong preservation for life.

Naruto finished scrubbing himself clean and he stepped out of the bath. He reached for a towel and began drying his body off. He didn’t want to waste time drying up so he did the bare minimum. He changed into a yukata that was hanging up. It was a little big on him but it did its job and covered him up. Naruto came out of the bathhouse.

“I’m ready.”

“Aren’t you going to dry your hair properly?” The crown prince asked. He wondered if he would ever get used to how the crown prince....sees the world.

“Ey? I’m fine I don’t want to keep you waiting.”

“You’re going to catch a cold if you don’t dry your hair off.”

This time it was the crown prince making demands. The crown prince entered the bathhouse, grabbed a towel, and emerged. He threw the towel over Naruto’s head.

“Let’s go back to the main house so I can make sure you dry off properly.” The crown prince demanded. Naruto’s heart thumped. He didn’t argue and followed the crown prince back. He didn’t understand why the crown prince was being so...nice. His niceness began to sting. It cut through him like the winter air freezing him to the bone. He kneeled on the tatami mat as the crown prince began drying off his hair. He closed his eyes. He was surprised at how gentle the crown prince was.

The last time someone dried his hair off was his mother. He closed his eyes and remembered her soft hands gently bringing the towel over his head. Her soothing voice. It was one of the rare times he was permitted to see her. His hair went to his shoulders at that time. He wished it was longer because if it was longer he would be able to stay with her longer. After drying his hair his mother took a comb and began combing all the knots and snarls from his hair. She brushed it until it was silky smooth. He had wished his hair was full of knots and snarls so he could stay there a little longer.

He could hear the high priest’s voice. Telling him if he did exactly as he was told not only wouldn’t he have to take the high priest’s seed anymore he would be allowed to visit his mother. Maybe it was because he was still reeling from his near-death experience. Maybe it was because he didn’t expect the crown prince to be so human, so kind, so gentle. Maybe it was because he was hundreds of miles away from the high priest and for the first time in his life he was able to breathe without fear of repercussions. He didn't have to take the high priest's seed and he didn't feel dirty anymore. He felt cleaner here in the dirt than he did in the temple.

It hit him. He started crying. It wasn’t the whistling in the night that the other children in the temple called when they cried softly into their pillows at bedtime. It was full-on ugly crying that derailed into wailing. He was overcome with such conflicting emotions he didn’t know how to handle them.

“What’s wrong?” The crown prince asked and dropped the comb he was using to brush his hair. “Did I hurt you?”

Naruto didn’t answer. He couldn’t. All his energy went into crying and it was the only emotion he was capable of expressing.

“It’s...okay! You’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll protect you. I really am stronger than you, ya know!” The crown prince was panicking. It only caused Naruto to cry more. “I’m becoming stronger every day even if you pinned me down now I can probably overtake you!”

His words didn’t penetrate the overwhelming sadness that had encased Naruto. The crown prince wrapped his arms around Naruto and hugged him. Naruto remembered hugging his mother. Naruto wrapped his arms tightly around the crown prince and buried his head in the prince’s chest. He could smell the prince. He smelled of jasmine. He tried to remember how his mother smelled and he couldn't. Naruto hugged him back so forcefully it caused the prince to lose his balance. He fell backwards with Naruto on top of him. Naruto's body became dead weight.

“Hey...hey...this is cheating!” The crown prince protested as Naruto’s body pinned him down. “Aish! Fine.” He appeared to give up his resolve of pinning Naruto. He continued hugging Naruto. Naruto could feel the warmth exuding from the prince’s body. It was so warm and inviting that Naruto didn’t want to let go. It was comforting. It took almost thirty minutes before all the energy left Naruto. His eyes were so swollen he couldn’t keep them open. His body so exhausted it couldn’t move, and in the arms of the crown prince Naruto drifted off into a deep slumber.

The crown prince must have fallen asleep too because when Naruto woke up he could feel sun rays streaming through an open window and hitting him in the face. He was still curled up next to the crown prince, his arms still wrapped around his body, his face pressed against his chest. He let go of the prince and pushed himself up. The crown prince started stirring and he opened his eyes. Naruto looked at his bloody red ruby eyes. They were piercing. They were beautiful. He looked directly at the cursed seals within his eyes. The prince pushed himself up. It was hard to turn his eyes away. It was only natural for humans to want to stare at beautiful things.

“G’morning….how are you feeling? Are you feeling better?” The prince asked. He yawned and stretched like a cat.

“Mhm. Thank you for last night. It helped calm me down. I'm sorry for...crying so much.”

“You can sleep here whenever you’re afraid. Not on me...but over there.” The crown prince dictated and pointed to a spot across the room. Naruto nodded his head.

“Okay.” He stared at the crown prince for a few more minutes. The crown prince's stomach growled and broke the silence. Naruto stood up. “I’ll go fetch your breakfast. I’ll be right back!” Naruto turned and left.

*****

As Naruto predicted they found the deceased corpse of the maidservant. Bleeding out under the cherry blossom tree. They had also found the bloody uniform in the bathhouse. Naruto changed into another fitting maidservant’s outfit and emerged from his quarters to see Tenten standing there.

“I was so worried about you...I thought the crown prince hurt you too! I saw your uniform in the bathhouse. You’re okay!” She hugged him.

Naruto didn’t know how to explain what really happened last night. They all assumed the crown prince went on another bloody rampage. Everyone refused to enter the main house. They were all afraid they were going to be next. Naruto wasn’t afraid and soon all duties that involved the main house were shifted upon him. He didn’t mind. Naruto remained in the kitchen supervising the chef as he prepared breakfast. A servant walked into the kitchen.

“Naruto?” The servant called out. “You have a parcel.” A small square parcel with a wax seal was in her hands. He immediately recognized the seal. It was the seal of the high priest. He took the parcel. He excused himself and returned to his quarters. He closed the door and pressed his back against the door ensuring nobody randomly opened it while he opened up the parcel.

His hands were trembling so fiercely he barely got the package open. The parcel contained a vial with a screw top and a letter. Naruto’s heart ached as he read the letter.

'You know what to do. Be a good girl. I’m watching you.'

Naruto swallowed. The vial was filled with the poison he needed to use to sprinkle in the crown prince’s food. Naruto stood up, opened up his suitcase, and stuffed the vial underneath his clothes before slamming it shut. He took the letter and ran from the quarters. He ran in the opposite direction to where the rock garden met the flower garden. He crouched behind a large rock that hid him from sight and began to eat the letter. He tore the letter up into tiny pieces and chewed them until saliva made the parchment easier to swallow. He swallowed it all. He didn’t stop until the letter was gone. The evidence in his stomach.

He hadn’t earned the crown prince’s trust yet...did he? It was too early...wasn’t it?

He recited the last words: I’m watching you. Did the high priest plant a spy? Was there a spy among the staff? Yes. Of course, there was. The high priest didn’t trust him. How could he trust someone who was as full of sickness and sin as him? Someone who was so corrupt and dirty? Trusting Naruto was like trusting a starving dog not to eat a steak placed in front of him. He began to hyperventilate. He needed to find out if the crown prince trusted him. How?!

How would he know? What did he need to do that proved the crown prince trusted him? Should he put the poison in his food and see if he eats it? Yes. How else would he tell? Okay. Okay. Just once. To try it out. He’ll mix some poison up in his food, and if the crown prince eats it then he trusts him. That makes sense right? It was too late for breakfast. When should he do it...lunch...or dinner? His heart quickened and his breathing became raspy.

Dinner. So Naruto could make the excuse of going back when it got dark. No. Naruto’s mind raced. The crown prince said that Naruto could sleep with him anytime he was afraid. Wouldn’t that make the prince trust him even more? If after he fed him poison he stayed the night? Naruto smiled. Yes. The prince wouldn’t suspect him. If anything they’ll suspect the chef that already openly hated the crown prince and fed him prison food before Naruto’s arrival.

Naruto’s smile grew and grew as his plan shifted together. He was excited. Of course, the prince liked him. He liked him enough to save him last night. They had been spending every single day together over the last month. Of course, the prince liked him. Did the prince miss him? He became more and more excited. The prince liked Naruto enough to allow him to cling to him all night long. Naruto covered his mouth with both hands and tried to stifle the laughs that threatened to escape him. Does that mean the crown prince liked him?

Oh yes. The prince did like him and did care for him. He’ll cement the words today. Tell the crown prince that he is a precious friend, a cherished friend. Yes. He’ll tell the prince he’s a precious, cherished friend, and that he wants to remain by the prince’s side. Naruto stood up and walked down the path that led back to the kitchens. He stared at the tray that was full.

“Serve the crown prince another tray. A fresh tray. This one has been sitting out for too long.” Naruto demanded.

“It’s not my fault. You left!” The chef argued.

Naruto didn’t say anything and kept staring at the chef. The chef’s face twisted up into an ugly scowl and turned his back mumbling obscenities about Naruto under his breath. Naruto smiled coly at the chef’s back. Was this how the high priest felt when he took control? This incredible feeling that warmed him up? Gave incredible life and energy to?

Naruto really was a wolf in sheepskin. When the new tray was prepared Naruto took it and headed towards the main house. His next thoughts shifted from poisoning the crown prince to who the spy was that the high priest planted and how to eliminate them.

Chapter Text

“I told you not to bother. I don’t feel pain the same way as everyone else.” The crown prince mumbled. “I barely noticed I was bleeding.”

The crown prince was seated with both legs up. He was leaning back with his head tilted back. His hands were out behind him holding his weight up. Naruto was on his knees. He had finished coating the wound on the crown prince’s ankle with an antiseptic salve. He began wrapping bandages around the wound. Just like he saw Tenten wrapping the wound on his arm. They were both out on the wooden veranda and both drenched in the sun’s rays. Naruto had coaxed the crown prince out on the veranda again.

“It’s gross to look at. I lost my appetite looking at it.” Naruto countered. He finished tying the bandages. Loose enough so that his wound will heal, but tight enough so it would keep the wound dry and concealed from getting infected. “There. I’m finished.”

Naruto stretched and fell back to his back. He continued stretching, feeling his bones shifting and cracking. He still had the body of a child. A genderless, ambiguity once covered in clothes. He hadn’t hit puberty yet. His legs were still smooth and slender. His hands were small and slender. His hands were different from Tenten’s. Hers were covered in calluses. Her feet were covered in calluses. They were hardened and solidified her position as a maidservant. Even as a maidservant his duties weren’t anything strenuous so he was doubtful anything would drastically harden. He touched his fingertips. They were still soft.

The only noticeable difference was his skin darkening and his hair lightening. His hair had turned even more sun-bleached. He really was looking like a maidservant from the first glance. He examined the flesh on his arms. They were at least three shades darker. A month spending a great amount of time on the wooden veranda, basking in the sun, and his skin was already sun-kissed. If he went back to the temple now he knew the other children would turn their noses up at his darkened skin. For worshipping the sun god he wondered why they did so inside and not outside.

It was a warm, bright day. Spring was here. There was a smell of newness, cherry blossoms, and subtle nectar hanging thick in the air. The smell was different within the palace walls. Everything was different in the countryside. From the stillness. The quietness. The slowness. Time seemed to move more slowly in the country than it did within the palace walls.

“Who taught you how to wield a sword?” Naruto asked curiously. One of his legs dangled over the side of the veranda and he kicked his foot back and forth.

“Nobody. I learned on my own.”

“Can you teach me?”

“Teach you what?”

“How to use a sword.”

“No. You’ll hurt yourself.” The crown prince answered briskly.

“Are you scared I’ll be better than you?” Naruto snickered. The crown prince didn’t answer. His eyes were closed and an arm covered his eyes shielding them from the sun. Naruto rolled to his stomach and reached out and touched the crown prince’s leg and squeezed. “Please! Please! Please!” He started begging. “Just once? Please!” How easy it was to switch back into a role of a child. To allow himself to cry and beg for something trivial. He often reverted back to a child when he visited his mother. He’d crawl into her lap and cuddle her begging for candied sweets.

The crown prince still didn’t answer. He continued to give him the silent treatment. Naruto pushed himself to all fours and crawled towards the crown prince. His hands began shaking his shoulder.

“Hey. I know you’re not sleeping! I’m not going to stop!” His voice was childish. Mischievous. He was no longer in the role of a maternal caretaker. His bottom lip started pouting. He was in the role of a child younger than the crown prince. His hands reached out and grabbed both of the crown prince’s wrists. In one fluid movement, he straddled the prince and slammed his wrists down against the wooden floorboards.

“Sasuke! Please!” Naruto begged. At the sound of his name, the crown prince opened his eyes. He looked up. His eyes appeared matte red in the daylight. They didn’t illuminate. They just appeared...red.

“What did you call me?” The crown prince asked. He was in shock.

Naruto was entrapped in those ruby red eyes again. It took him a second to know why he was so encaptured even though they appeared matte red. It was because he still had the memory of what they looked like at nighttime. He kept staring hoping they’d look like how they look at night.

He still wasn’t used to the crown prince’s face. It almost felt like gazing at him was forbidden. There were certain holy texts that were locked up in the precious things room in the temple. Only the high priest had access to them. The crown prince’s face felt like that. Something that should be locked up in the precious things room.

He noticed a tint of pink blooming on the prince’s cheeks. It contrasted the whiteness of his skin and the inkiness of the cursed seals. Naruto tilted his head. Was the crown prince embarrassed that he used his birth name?

“Sasuke. Please teach me once!” Naruto continued and started shaking the crown prince’s wrists. He used his name again. No titles. Just his name. “Sasuke, please!”

“You’re noisy. Get off me. You’re too heavy. You’re fat and going to crush me, stupid pig girl.” The crown prince growled. He wasn’t angry, or harsh with his words; it was more a mixture of flustered embarrassment.

Naruto didn’t move. He kept staring down. He wasn’t going to move until he got the answer he wanted. “Are you going to teach me?”

“Fine! One lesson. Now get off me!”

Naruto smiled, released his wrists, and stood up. He started stretching as he jumped up and down. Clapping his hands and twirling around on his tiptoes. He could feel his long blonde hair whipping around him as he celebrated. He celebrated the same way he did with his mother when she revealed a handkerchief of wrapped sweets.

“You're happy over something so trivial?” The crown prince commented sarcastically.

“You were really heroic-looking last night! I want to be like that...I want to be heroic!”

The crown prince didn’t answer. He shifted his head away so Naruto couldn’t see his expression and jumped down from the veranda. He entered a brisk walk teetering on the verge of running; leaving without a word. Naruto leaped down and chased after him so he didn’t lose him. They stopped at a clearing next to the pond with the lily pads and water lilies. The crown prince held his sheath out.

“Take it.”

Naruto grabbed it with both hands. “Oh. It’s actually heavy.” He didn’t know why he thought it was going to be light. Maybe because the crown prince wielded it so easily it didn’t look like it weighed much. It was the first time he was holding a sword. The only people who carried swords were the military. Soldiers that patrolled the palace. The royal family’s personal guards that followed them everywhere. They all carried them and wielded them as if it was an extension of their body.

“It’s not a toy. It’s a weapon. It can kill you just like it killed that demon last night.” The crown prince’s voice was serious. Naruto nodded his head. The crown prince walked up behind Naruto. He grabbed Naruto’s right hand and moved it so it was fastened around the handle and his fist was pressed up against the guard of the sword. He wrapped his hand around Naruto’s and firmly held it.

“When you pull it out of the sheath you want to aim it away from your body. The blade side should be up and away from your body. Pointed towards the opponent.” The crown prince instructed. He guided Naruto’s arm. Naruto’s left hand was holding the sheath and his right hand held the sword. It pulled easily from the sheath with the guidance of the crown prince. “Spread your feet.” The crown prince kicked his feet on the inside heel of Naruto’s shoes. He quickly did as instructed. “Bend your knees.” Naruto did. “You need to distribute your weight evenly or you’ll trip and fall.”

“Bring your left hand up, and wrap it around the bottom. Keep your right hand pressed up against the guard.” The crown prince brought Naruto’s left hand around and wrapped it around the base of the hilt. While his right hand remained planted up against the guard. It was more comfortable with two hands. Naruto could feel the heat from the crown prince’s body against his back. The warmness of the prince’s hands on him.

“You can hold it like this.” The crown prince instructed and began maneuvering Naruto’s arms. The crown prince kicked at Naruto’s shoes again. Forcing him to turn to the side. His right foot forward and his left foot back. The tip of the sword was pointed down towards his left side. “When you want to move forward you step with your left foot, and bring the sword up. It gives you momentum.”

The crown prince was self-taught. Not only was he self-taught his instructions were clear and understandable. The Uchiha clan really were prodigies. They were a powerful clan that deserved to be in power. The temple did follow some commands from the royal family and the emperor, but those of the temple's true following was the sun god. It was why when Emperor Fugaku demanded the cursed seal prince live the temple conspired against this verdict.

Naruto didn’t say anything during the instructions. He was concentrating on the crown prince’s clear voice. Paying close attention to how the prince was guiding his body. He switched from playfulness to seriousness matching the energy of the crown prince. He didn’t know what he expected when he asked the crown prince to show him how to wield a sword but thirty minutes in and he already exceeded expectations.

“You can also hold the sword like this.”

Naruto’s right leg was extended to the side, and his left leg was bent slightly. The sword was held horizontal across his chest with the blade pointed towards his right side. “Here you can swing your sword like this to the side.” The crown prince wrapped his arms around his body. His hands cupped over Naruto’s and he extended Naruto’s arms out as he swung across. He stopped with the hilt of the sword in front of the small of his stomach and the sword vertical. The tip pointed towards the sun.

“You can block like this.”

The crown prince let go of Naruto and walked approximately ten feet in front of him. He appeared to survey Naruto’s form from top to bottom. He nodded his head approvingly.

“Okay. Show me exactly what I showed you.”

Naruto nodded his head. He didn’t know why he was so nervous. He felt his cheeks becoming hot. He licked his lips and swallowed. He didn’t know why his palms started to sweat. He started mimicking the poses that he was taught. He didn’t know why he wanted to be perfect. He didn’t know why he wanted the crown prince to praise him. He made sure he moved his body exactly the way the crown prince instructed. If he could commit the holy texts to memory he could commit a few sword fighting poses to memory.

“Good. Maybe you’re not so stupid afterall.” The crown prince praised.

Naruto’s face erupted into smiles and his whole face lit up. “Really?” He felt happiness filling him. He dropped the sword and straightened up. Feeling giddy.

“Don’t drop your guard!” The crown prince lectured. “Stupid. A little praise and you forget everything I taught you? Do it again!”

Naruto dropped his smile and moved back into position. Could the crown prince read his mind, or was it just a coincidence? He didn’t think about it too much. They spent the better half of the afternoon with the crown prince teaching Naruto the basics. The sun crawled lazily across the sky. It was the time of year when the sun stayed out later and later. It was the time of the sun god. Naruto could feel its presence everywhere. It was in the air he breathed. The food he ate. The water he drank. He had always felt most alive in the sun. It was a crying shame the children of the temple rarely went outside.

In the end Naruto was covered in sweat. He couldn’t remember the last time he perspired as much as he did at that moment. The temple was always cold no matter the time of year. The stained glass windows were strategically placed. It kept the cool air in and the sultry heat of outside out. He had memories of shivering but rarely had memories of being covered head to toe in sticky, itchy sweat. Being out in the country in the warm weather he was beginning to sweat a lot. Sweating was unbecoming in the eyes of the temple and palace.

“Ugh...I feel gross.” Naruto commented as he handed the crown prince back the sheathed sword. His skin felt slimy. He could feel dirt and sweat mixing together. Locks of his blonde hair were plastered to the sides of his face. He didn’t even know his head and skull could sweat so much. Underneath his armpits, in the crook of his arms, and the back of his knees were wet, wet, wet.

“You smell gross too.” The crown prince smirked and began walking back to the main house. “Stay downwind from me I don’t want to smell you.” The prince teased.

“I really want to bathe.” Naruto whined and trudged behind the crown prince.

Naruto stopped as if hitting a forcefield.

He noticed how long the crown prince’s shadow had grown on the ground. It was so long it engulfed Naruto completely. His heart quickened. His eyes widened. A memory came to his consciousness. He remembered one of the elders telling him when he was younger about the meaning of long shadows. If someone casts a long shadow over someone they have a great, long-lasting, influence over them. Usually. A bad influence.

Naruto’s breath hitched. He stopped walking and started trembling. The air shifted. It meant hardships. What was this feeling? He blinked and when he opened his eyes. The whole world around him changed. It went from an idyllic spring day to scorched lands. The trees were burnt, the ground was covered in ash and soot, the pond was dried up, the buildings destroyed leaving only the skeleton of the homes. The world went from lush greenery to scorched ash and orange. He looked at the ground and saw slaughtered bodies. Heads, beheaded. Limbs, amputated. Large gashes across the chests.

His hand went to his chest. It was difficult to breathe. He suddenly felt light-headed as if he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Wait. Was he breathing? No. He was holding his breath. No. Something was preventing him from breathing. What was happening to him? He could hear screaming and wailing coming from all around him. He could hear the drums of war. The sound of swords clashing against each other. Why was he seeing this?

Was it the crown prince’s shadow? Yes. Everything he was witnessing was happening within the crown prince's shadow. Was this the vision of the future if the crown prince survived? No! He can't let that happen!

He felt hands on his shoulders shaking him. Naruto closed his eyes and when he opened them back that idyllic spring day shifted back into focus.

“NARUTO!” The crown prince yelled. It broke the spell that overcame him. He blinked and was able to inhale. He saw the crown prince’s face clearly in front of him. His eyebrows furrowed in concern. “You weren’t responding. Are you okay?”

Naruto nodded his head. He turned his head in all directions to make sure everything was back to normal. “Yeah...I’m just...sore and tired.” He moved his shoulders up and down as if to show him how stiff he was. He had utilized muscles he hadn’t normally accessed before. He tried calming his beating heart. Trying to shake the feeling of dread.

The crown prince smiled, relieved. It was one of the first times he saw him smiling. Naruto’s eyes fluttered as he was taken aback. He was dumbstruck again. Left speechless. If the crown prince was a basilisk Naruto would have frozen and become easy prey long ago.

“You should take a bath.” The crown prince suggested.

“It’s not my turn yet.” Naruto exclaimed and sighed. That uneasy feeling that overcame him was gone. That vision he saw was filed in the back of his mind. Life at the temple taught him to compartmentalize. He remembered Tenten’s explanation. They had to retrieve the water from the mountain. It was hard to retrieve so much water so frequently. They needed to spread the times out they bathed.

“You can bathe whenever you want. That’s my command.” The crown prince stated firmly. “Wasn’t it you who told me I should start acting like the crown prince? Why don’t you bathe now before dinner?” The crown prince stopped at the bathhouse. Naruto looked up and saw smoke coming from a chimney. The water was heated. “I’ll meet you for dinner.” The crown prince left Naruto and walked the rest of the way back.

Naruto smiled and entered the bathhouse. He looked around. He didn’t see anyone. He looked at one of the cypress baths. Steam was coming off the waters. He noticed the bathwater was filled with jasmine, sage, rosemary, and thyme. He knew the bathwater was for the crown prince. He inhaled the jasmine smell. It smelled like the prince. Naruto stripped and wrapped a white towel around him. Hiding his chest and privates before sinking into the warm water. Instantly he could feel his muscles relaxing. He plugged his nose and went underwater allowing the warm water to engulf him. He remained underwater until his lungs forced him to emerge. When Naruto emerged and opened his eyes he saw Tenten standing there and staring down at him.

“Oh.” Tenten gasped. “It was just you.” She looked around. “Why are you here?” Her voice was accusatory.

“The crown prince said I could take a bath. Do you want to join me?” Naruto asked.

“No. I still have work to do.” A look of resentment washed over Tenten’s face. She was sweaty. She was dirty.

“Okay-.” Naruto barely finished his sentence before Tenten left the bathhouse.

He didn’t know why he was feeling guilty. It filled his stomach and made him uneasy. Was it because of the crown prince’s long shadow? He tried to shake the premonition. No. He didn’t have time to think about that now. He needed to think about how he was going to poison the crown prince. How much should he put into his food? He was never taught any specifics. The high priest said it wouldn’t kill him, it would just make him sick.

Naruto washed and when he felt relaxed and clear-minded he climbed out of the bath. He dried himself off and changed into a clean yukata that was hanging up. He went back to his quarters. He needed to do laundry tomorrow. He was still clumsy with it. He never had to do laundry in the temple. He didn’t know who was responsible for the laundry, but it wasn’t him, he took new appreciation as doing laundry was his least favorite chore. In the temple, he just knew when he needed a new set of clothes they were hanging in the wardrobe.

He sat cross-legged on the floor and began to braid his hair. It was an excuse to not think about the poison. When he finished he decided he would use a small satchel. Naruto crawled to his suitcase. He pulled the vial of the green powdery substance out and dumped some in a small satchel. He hid the satchel in the obi of the yukata. He buried the vial back beneath his clothes and closed the suitcase. He slid his sandals on and made his way to the kitchens.

The chef gave Naruto a look of disgust when he saw him. Naruto smiled and waved. He noticed the chef was quick to change the menu and has been acting accordingly to how a crown prince chef should act. He prepared the tray. There was a full roasted chicken, seasoned potatoes, a bowl of rice, and vegetable soup. The chef turned his back to Naruto. As soon as he did Naruto took the satchel out, dumped the substance into the soup, and used the spoon to stir it in. He watched as the green powdery substance dissolved. He hid the satchel back in his obi. He looked up and he was glad the chef kept his back towards Naruto every time he was in the kitchen.

“What’s for dessert?” Naruto asked as he surveyed the tray. He heard the chef imploding and mumbling obscenities. The chef turned around and placed a golden pear on the tray. “Where’s the paring knife?” The chef slammed the knife down. It rattled the tray. The way the chef looked at him was clear what his expression said. He wanted to jam the paring knife into his stomach and gut him. He didn’t need to be so obvious with his hateful expressions.

“Thank you.” Naruto gushed. He picked the tray up and left. He didn’t know why the chef had such an awful, despicable, attitude. His angry scowl was only increasing his wrinkles. Stupid, ignorant, orge. Naruto through as he walked the path to the main house. He slid his sandals off, opened the sliding doors, and entered with the tray of food.

“Tada!” Naruto greeted as she placed the tray down in front of the crown prince. “A feast befitting the crown prince!”

“I’m back to being the crown prince, ey?” He almost sounded disappointed.

“Mhm!” Naruto shook his head up and down. “Ah~ that bath was so refreshing. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.” His voice was carefree. He watched as the crown prince began to cut meat from the roasted chicken. Naruto noticed he was dividing the chicken between two plates.

“Oh. I don’t want any chicken. I’m just going to eat the vegetable soup. My stomach has been feeling off. I think it's the change of the seasons.” Naruto picked up the bowl of soup and began to eat. The crown prince stared at him.

“Are you coming down with an illness?”

Naruto shrugged and didn’t answer. He knew he was eating poison. It wasn’t like he didn’t want to poison the crown prince. Because he did. He was sent here to poison the crown prince. It was his mission and when he succeeded he would be rewarded. The thing was. He didn’t know how much he should put in. After tonight he’ll figure out if he needs to add more, or less, depending on how he feels. It was the only way. To test the poison out. He was smart. He wasn’t stupid. All the children in the temple were box-clever, quick-witted, educated. They could read, write, and do arithmetic. They could recite poetry, passages of the holy text, and sing.

They could calculate how much poison to add, figure out the sweet goldilocks amount.

He thought back to the high priest. The high priest was smart. He knew that withholding how much poison to give meant Naruto had to use himself to experiment. Was this part of his repentance? He hoped. He wanted the sun god to see how faithful he was. He wanted to be recognized that he would willingly poison himself to calculate the amount. The cursed child was the personification of the sun god’s natural enemy and Naruto was going to help rid the world of evil.

He didn’t taste the poison. It was tasteless. Odorless. My-oh-my what a dangerous substance. If it killed someone it would have been used more readily. It could topple whole kingdoms to the ground. Eliminate whole bloodlines.

He finished the soup and exhaled. He placed the empty bowl on the tray and collapsed backwards. “Ah~ that hit the spot.” He scratched at his stomach and stretched.

“Why are you acting like an old man?” The crown prince asked. Naruto laughed. Rolled to his side and did a full-on belly laugh.

“I think the heat has gotten to your head.” The crown prince rolled his eyes. Naruto rolled to his stomach and looked up as the crown prince continued to eat. It made him happy that he ate without complaint. He prompted his head up with hands and continued watching the crown prince.

“Ne...Sasuke?” Naruto cooed.

It startled the crown prince and he dropped his fork. It made a sound as it bounced off his plate and fell on the tray. His face flushed. He closed his eyes. “Don’t say my name like that!” He yelled. He was flustered again. Naruto tilted his head to the side. He smiled at how easily the crown prince became embarrassed. Does this mean that he likes him?

“Ne...crown prince?”

He watched as the crown prince picked up the fork. He was ignoring him.

“Do you like me?” Naruto carefully studied the crown prince’s face. He didn’t know what flustered him more. Naruto calling him by his birth name, or Naruto asking him if he liked him. The crown prince rubbed his face with a cloth napkin as if rubbing away invisible food residue when in reality he was hiding his face.

“Why are you asking me weird questions. Let me finish eating before you ruin my appetite.”

“Mhm.” Naruto agreed and rolled to his back. He spread his arms out and stared up at the ceiling. His eyes peered out one of the windows. The sun was setting. He always felt a sense of melancholy when the sunset. At the top of the sky, the dark blue was fading away into a darkened royal blue which faded away into black. The light blue scattered into a hazy yellow-orange that blended into a pinkish-orange across the horizon. The sky looked like someone cut open a peach.

Naruto was feeling antsy again. He pushed himself back up and sat in front of the crown prince.

“What do you want? I thought you were done eating.”

Naruto picked up a golden pear. “I’ll cut this for you.” The crown prince didn’t say anything and kept eating his bowl of rice.

The golden pear is finally in season. He took the pear in his left hand and the paring knife in the other. He began cutting the pear lengthwise. He noticed real quick how dull the knife was. The chef did this on purpose. He purposefully gave him a dull, useless, blade. He sliced one piece of pear and put it in an empty bowl. It forced him to press harder on the blade. He cut a second piece and put it into the bowl.

The juice of the pear started to come out. It coated the blade of the paring knife. When he pressed the blade against the waxy skin he realized he had to press even harder now that the pear was smaller and there was less surface area to hold. He pressed as hard as he could. The blade did the opposite of its intended purpose. It slid across the waxy skin and the blade sliced Naruto’s palm. Pitiful. The knife was too dull for the waxy pear but slid easily across the softness of his palm.

The pear juice stung as it hit the open wound. Naruto yelped in surprise and dropped both the pear and knife.

“Did you cut yourself?” The crown prince asked.

“I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m not a baby!” Naruto huffed and stood up. The crown prince stood up and grabbed Naruto’s wrist. He pulled his arm towards him and looked at his palm.

“You’re bleeding!”

“I said I’m fine!” Naruto argued and tried to pry his wrist from the crown prince’s grasp. He was stronger. “I don’t want you to call me stupid. I can cut a pear. The blade is just dull! It was a mistake, don't yell at me.” Naruto didn’t know why he was defensive. Why his eyes watered up. Why he was pouting.

“I...I’m not going to yell at you.” The crown prince spoke softly. Although the tinge of guilt in his voice said otherwise. He pulled Naruto to the veranda where Naruto left the medical supplies. They sat down and Naruto watched as it was the crown prince’s turn to bandage Naruto up.

“If the blade is dull don’t use it next time.” The crown prince said. He tried hard not to lecture and to keep his voice even-tempered. Naruto’s eyes watched the crown prince’s hands. They moved so carefully.

“How...can you see?” Naruto asked.

“I can see your outline, and I can see the blood. Actually. Red is the only color I can clearly see.” The crown prince confessed. He can see the outline of things, but can’t see details, and the only color he can see is the color of blood? He wondered if the high priest was aware. The crown prince’s hands were always warm. It was a sharp contrast to the long spindly, spider-like hands and fingers of the high priest that were always freezing, and chilled Naruto to his bone marrow. When he was finished he let Naruto’s hand go.

“Thank you.” Naruto replied softly and pulled his hand back. He glanced to the sky. “The sun is setting!” He noticed how dark the sky had gotten. He could already see the moon in the sky. The peachy color had shrunk in the sky and was being swallowed by the horizon. The fluffy clouds spread across the horizon and stars began twinkling. He started seeing the different constellations.

Naruto stood up.

“You can stay the night here. The moon is still full.” The crown prince pointed towards the moon. Naruto was shocked at how quickly the crown prince blurted out his request.

“Do you think...something like what happened last night could happen tonight?” Naruto asked. He didn’t know how he would react if he saw another demonic possession. Would he be able to run away? Was it even possible to run away?

“Yeah. There’s always a possibility. It can happen whenever there is a new moon or a full moon.”

“Okay. I’ll stay here.”

*****

Naruto lay in his own decorative futon. The quality was better than what he had in his quarters. The mattress was softer and more comfortable. The pillow firmer and supported his neck. He was surprised everyone slept in futons in the countryside. Everyone slept in beds in the palace, and in the temple. In the children’s ward, they were lined up in two lines across the room. They were always lined up in twos.

In the country he had to get used to sleeping on the floor. His first week he struggled to find a comfortable sleeping position. He felt like the princess pea who even after sleeping on layers and layers of blankets and mattresses was still uncomfortable because he could still feel the pea.

Laying in the futon in the crown prince’s room was a different experience. It was more comfortable. The pillow was thicker, the blanket smoother. It wasn’t suffocating. It was a lighter material for the springtime. The sliding doors were closed but one of the windows remained open. A light breeze filtered into the room bringing in the smells of a springtime night.

He hadn’t felt anything out of the ordinary. He wondered if the amount of the poison was too little. He could feel his body still digesting his vegetable soup, and pear slices he shared with the crown prince. The pear had a velvety texture and was juicy. It perfectly cleansed his palette and left him feeling refreshed. Naruto rolled to his side and looked across the room in the direction where the crown prince’s futon was set up.

“Are you awake?” Naruto asked. He could see the prince’s outline. He was laying on his back.

“Mhm.” The crown prince answered.

“Do you hate me?” Naruto asked.

“No.”

“Does that mean you like me?”

The crown prince paused. He didn’t answer right away. Naruto allowed the impregnable pause to fill the room. He didn’t say anything else. He let the question linger between them. He was putting pressure on the crown prince to give an honest answer.

“You’re...okay.” The crown prince finally answered.

Naruto smiled. “Good! Because I really like you, and it’s not because you saved my life last night.”

The crown prince burst out laughing. He rolled to his side and Naruto could see the outline of him facing him. He could see the crown prince’s ruby red eyes illuminating in the dark. He was otherworldly. Something ethereal. He wasn’t of this earth. He loved his eyes at night time. This was what he wanted to see. The crown prince's eyes at night time.

“What’s that supposed to mean? You make it sound like you only started liking me because I saved your life!” The crown prince accused as he laughed.

“No! I specifically said it wasn’t because you saved me. I liked you before you saved me, and after you saved me I started to cherish you.”

The crown prince stopped laughing. A silence blanketed them again. “What does that mean...you cherish me?” The crown prince was serious, contemplating.

“Mhm.” Naruto answered softly. “It means I care about you deeply. I want to protect you, and I care for you, and I hold you deeply in my mind.” He knew his vocabulary. He knew the words the temple expected the children to use. He knew how powerful words were. The magic certain words held. Naruto watched as the crown prince closed his eyes. He could see his face buried in his hands and he rolled over so that his back faced Naruto. It only caused Naruto to smile.

“Stop saying weird things. Next, you’re going to tell me you’re in love with me or something sappy and gross like that.” The crown prince muttered.

“Do you want me to tell you I’m in love with you?”

“NO!” The embarrassment in his voice practically pushed Naruto back. “Why are girls so sappy?”

“Why can’t boys express their feelings?” Naruto countered.

Naruto was glad he was shrouded in darkness. He was glad the crown prince had his back turned. The thing was...Naruto and the other temple children had to suppress certain emotions. They were educated on the different emotions. They knew the names and definitions. They knew how to display each human emotion. But more importantly, they were taught to suppress their emotions. Naruto was able to act out the different emotions and he mimicked these emotions and sometimes, sometimes, he truly felt the emotions. The truth was. The majority of the time. He was just pretending. He was just acting like he and the other temple kids were taught. Performing.

“Boys and men don’t need emotions! Those are girly and stupid.” The crown prince whined.

Deep inside there was an emptiness. A hole in his chest. There was something missing. He knew that was where the sickness and sin were located in his body. It was located under his ribcage. Next to his heart. A hole. Once he repented. Once he reached salvation he hoped that hole was filled.

“No.” Naruto answered seriously. “Emotions are for everyone.” He rolled to his back and stared up at the ceiling. A ray of the moon’s light streamed through the window and shot across the ceiling. Naruto followed it with his eyes. “Goodnight!” Naruto spoke with finality. Shutting down any continuance of the conversation. It was quick and to the point. He became closed off. He didn’t know why he was back to being in a bad mood. He noticed how tired he was. How sore his joints and muscles were. How heavy his eyelids became.

He closed his eyes.

*****

Naruto woke up in a violent manner. An indescribable pain wretched him from a deep sleep. His stomach and intestines cramped destructively. It felt as if the chef really did stab him in the stomach with a dull paring knife and twisted the dull knife deep into his intestines, and twisted up his organs. He was crying. Tears spilled from his eyes. He wasn’t wailing and he wasn’t whistling in the dark. It was a different kind of crying, screaming. He rolled to his knees and placed his head face-first into the pillow. He wrapped his arms around his stomach. There was another violent cramp that sent shock waves reverberating across his stomach.

It didn’t just feel like a knife. It felt like a serpent was eating him from the inside out. Naruto cried out in pain. It was involuntary. He pushed himself up. He was gasping for breath. He could feel droplets of sweat stinging his eyes as he cried out again as another wave of cramps overpowered him. He cried out again. He could hear the crown prince waking up.

“Naruto?” The crown prince asked. His voice sounded muffled like he was far away.

Naruto cried out in pain again. This time he felt the urge to vomit. His body trying to expel the poison he so willingly ingested. It felt like his whole body was burning up. He felt both feverish and freezing at the same time as if his body was so broken it couldn’t regulate temperature anymore and kept going from one extreme to the other. He started coughing.

“Naruto...what’s wrong. What’s happening?” The crown prince was immediately by his side.

“Don’t...touch me!” Naruto gasped. He pulled away from the crown prince’s arms. He needed air. He needed fresh air. He stood up and ran to the sliding doors.

“Where are you going?” The crown prince chased after him. Naruto didn’t get far. He slammed down to his hands and knees on the veranda, gasping for air as his body was rocked with another fit of coughing. His stomach began expelling its contents. Bile and saliva spilled from his mouth but it wasn’t enough. Naruto screamed out in pain. His vision blurred. His vision pulsated as if he were going blind.

“Naruto...what’s wrong? How can I help you?” There was pure panic in his voice. Naruto couldn’t answer as he went into another coughing fit as his stomach twisted and squeezed everything out. It was too late the poison was already in his intestines and being absorbed into his body.

“I’m going to get the physician.” The crown prince announced. “I’ll be right back!”

Naruto barely heard him. He covered his mouth with his hands and coughed again. He looked down and saw blood covering his palms. He screamed out in pain. Every nerve was throbbing in pain. I felt as if his intestines were dissolving and maybe they were. Maybe the high priest lied to him. Made him believe he wasn’t just poisoning the crown prince he was really going to kill him. Was that what was happening to Naruto right now? Was he dying? He screamed out in pain again, his forehead slamming against the wooden floorboards. He was losing strength. He slammed his head against the wooden floorboards again hoping to knock himself unconscious.

If he was dying he wanted to hurry up and get it over with. All the pain he experienced in the temple paled in comparison to how he felt right now. He would rather take the high priest’s seed over and over again than live through another second of this excruciating pain. His mind went mad. He thought of ways he could end his pain. How he could kill himself. Maybe throw his body into the pond where the lily pads and water lilies were. He wailed. Maybe impale himself on the crown prince’s sword. His body went into another violent coughing fit. Blood was expelled from his mouth every time he coughed. He could feel lesions forming on the inside of his mouth. He could feel blood filling his mouth. Was the poison in his bloodstream?

He couldn’t breathe. The pain went to another plateau. His vision turned white as he screamed out. It felt like he was being reborn and dying all at the same time. The pain suspended time and space. Every second felt like a millennium. Was this what the high priest meant by salvation? How long would he have to suffer before he could repent? He wasn’t strong enough to withstand this pain.

He could feel the light of a lantern lighting up his face. The crown prince had returned with the physician.

“Help me bring her inside.” The physician commanded. Naruto could feel his body being lifted up and brought back in.

“NO! PLEASE!” Naruto begged. He didn’t know what he wanted to say. He felt better outside. He cried out in pain again.

“She’s bleeding from her mouth and nose.” The physician examined. “Turn away. I’m going to remove some of her clothes. Naruto rolled to his back and he could feel the physician untie his obi and pull the fabric of the yukata off revealing his chest.

“Don’t look at me!” Naruto screamed and tried to cover up. Modest had been ingrained so deeply within him. It was one of his earliest memories. His chest and arms were exposed but the rest was covered up.

“It looks like she might have ingested some poison.” The physician spoke out loud. “Her skin is fine.” He didn’t notice any lesions, boils, or discoloration.

“Is there an antidote?” The crown prince asked frantically.

“Let me finish examining her.” The physician continued. The physician began running tests on Naruto. Checking her pupils. Checking her pulse. Listening to her breathing. He looked at the lesions in her mouth and determined they weren’t so much lesions as Naruto’s teeth inadvertently slamming down against the inside of her cheeks in pain. She was lucky she didn’t bite her tongue. The physician examined her fingertips. He leaned over and smelled her breath. All the usual poisons were ruled out.

“I haven’t seen this type of poison.”

“Is she going to die?”

“I don’t think so. I think we should just knock her out. Let her body deal with it in her sleep. It would probably be better if she was asleep.” The physician determined. He took from his bag a bottle of ether and a rag. He drenched the rag with the liquid and without hesitation placed it over Naruto’s mouth. It took a moment for Naruto to inhale as she continued to struggle with breathing. After thirty seconds Naruto was knocked out and went limp. Her head lopped to the side as if losing all control in her neck.

The physician covered Naruto back up and tied the obi back around.

“How is it that she was poisoned?” The crown prince demanded. “She was with me all day!”

The physician hesitated. “Did she eat...plants or flowers?” The physician knew there wasn’t anything poisonous within the manor walls and no plants that would cause such a visceral reaction. He was trying everything not to say someone poisoned the food. He wasn’t confident to make such a bold and damning accusation.

“Someone poisoned the food.” The crown prince demanded.

“How are you feeling?” The physician asked.

“I’m fine.” The crown prince paused. He went through his mind and went over breakfast, and lunch. They both ate the same thing. For dinner. “It was the vegetable soup. She was the only one who ate the soup.”

“Are you sure?” The physician asked. Poisoning food was a death sentence.

“She...she said her stomach was bothering her before she ate.” The crown prince confessed. If she wasn’t poisoned by the soup, was she poisoned before, and if so when? The only time she was out of his sight was when she went to the bathhouse.

“She took a bath in the bathhouse. Could something poison her there?”

“I can check the water...it could be possible that the water was stagnant and bacteria formed.” The physician agreed. “When was the last time the bath water was changed?”

The crown prince shook his head. He didn’t know. Tomorrow he was going to order the bathwater to be changed immediately.

“She...uh…” The crown prince lifted Naruto’s left hand that was bandaged. “She cut herself with a dull paring knife.” He went through all the things that might have caused it. The physician unwrapped the bandage on Naruto’s palm. The wound was in the early stages of healing. It didn’t look infected. He wrapped the bandage back up.

“Bacteria from the knife could have entered her bloodstream.” The physician agreed. He was too afraid to say anything against the crown prince.

“She’s going to survive.” The physician repeated. “It’s better this way that she’s knocked out so her body can process whatever it is that’s making her ill. I can check on her tomorr-”

“No.” The crown prince commanded. “You will stay by her side. If anything happens to her...if she dies. I’ll kill you.” The crown prince focused his eyes on the physician. It caused him to shrink back in fear. It wasn't an empty threat. There was a sinister aura filling the room. It was coming from the crown prince, coming from the cursed seal. A murderous intent. It paralyzed the physician.

*****

The crown prince saw the world differently. He saw the world in black with white outlines. He saw the outlines of objects, people, things, trees, flowers, the pond. His other senses filled in the blanks. Touch. Smell. Taste. If he focused his eyes long enough he could pick out more details. He could see more detail at night. The only color he could clearly see was red. The color of blood. He usually smelled blood before he saw it. Last night when he slaughtered the demon and blood splashed against Naruto he could see her features more clearly.

The first time he looked into her eyes he focused all his strength and energy desperately wanting to see the color of her eyes. He saw them. They were blue. As soon as he understood the color he was no longer able to see it again. His memory of the color blue faded and soon he couldn’t describe what was blue in the world. In that moment he became furious...furious that he was unable to see color. Unable to see her color...furious that the only color he could see he wouldn’t be able to see on her, unless she was wearing red, or she was bleeding.

The other things he could see were the spirits. They filled the manor. They were mostly benevolent and kept to themselves. There were some spirits that encircled him and warned him. Some that taunted him. There was the spirit of a serpent who called himself Apophis. The spirit of the serpent had been by his side since birth. It was where the cursed seal originated. Apophis was where he derived his power from. He was given an ethereal sight. Apophis was the reason why every assassination attempt failed. He did and moved exactly as Apophis commanded.

He could see other spirits and communicate with them. There were those he could command. There were spirits and demons that were sinister and he needed to rid the manor of them. They preyed on weak-willed humans. He never knew how easy people were to possess until it started happening within the manor. He knew he was the reason why the manor was flooded with them. They gravitated towards his cursed seal. They acted like he was the center of the universe.

He wasn’t stupid. He heard the stories of what happened to Madara Uchiha’s son. The cursed seal consumed him into madness and he became demonized and went on a bloody ramage that only ended when a member of the holy Senju clan killed him. He had accepted his fate. He wondered at what age the madness and chaos started. The only thing he noticed was the cursed seal slowly spread the older he got.

He knew he changed when he met Naruto. He was going to kill her the moment she stepped into the room. He could smell the temple all over her. It reeked. The smell caused him to gag. Not only that but Apophis was screaming for him to cut her down. Screaming that she was a member of the temple and to cut her down. It wasn’t until he realized she was just a child that he didn’t slice her head off. Not only was she a child they were the same age. Both born in the year of the snake.

He never asked her who sent her. He was too afraid to find out the answer. He didn’t ask her anything about her life, just like she didn’t ask him anything about his life. It was an unspeakable rule between them. Maybe it was for the best. It kept an invisible barrier between them.

He didn’t expect her to stick to him so closely. Everyone else did the bare minimum. Maybe she stuck to him because he was the only other child in the manor. He didn’t sense anything sinister within her. The longer she spent at the manor the less she smelled like the temple and the more bearable she became. He began to think how long she was going to stay here. He wondered if they purposely sent her because of how young she was with the hopes she’d survive longer. He knew the world didn’t see him as slaughtering demons but slaughtering innocent servants.

There was an aura around her that was different from everyone else and it had everything to do with who she was, and where she came from. He knew she came from the temple, from the palace. He knew she was of higher society and she pretended to be a maidservant. It was laughable. A role she was awful at and if she pretended with anyone else they would have beaten her black and blue over how awful she was. Still. He was curious to see her trying so hard.

He liked her voice. The more she talked the more he liked her voice. He liked the variety of her emotions she showed. How animated she was. How she moved around as if floating. Having her around and he was beginning to...enjoy life. He was beginning to smile more, laugh more. He ate more and went outside more. It’s only been a little over a month since she’s been here, and he couldn’t picture her leaving his life. He was afraid to admit it. Afraid to admit anything out loud for fear he would jinx himself. He was already cursed. He didn’t need to add any more to his cursed life.

It was why he struggled to answer her question, and afraid the longer he didn’t say anything he was going to hurt her. Did he like her?

He didn’t want to depend so heavily on her one day and the next day her vanishing from his life. She was tucked back into her futon. Although she was knocked out, her face still scrunched up in pain, and she still whimpered. The blood was cleaned from her face, He made the physician sit on her other side. The physician put a damp washcloth over her forehead to help bring her fever down.

He scrunched his face up. He commanded the spirits to find out all the information they had on how she became to be so ill.

He thought back to earlier tonight when he impulsively asked if she wanted to stay the night. He didn’t know why he wanted her to be close to him at all times. When she was around he felt better. He felt more relaxed. He felt happy. Was it because she radiated as a maternal figure? Maybe. The first time she hugged him he was breathless. He thought his knees were going to give away and he was going to collapse to the ground. Then she clung and held him close to her all night. It was the most comforting sleep he had in his life.

Did he...cherish her? Maybe. He tilted his head. Going over the definition that she told him. He reached out and held her hand with his. Her hand was small. She was a friend he deeply cared for. He squeezed her hand. He wanted her to feel that she wasn’t alone...alone...alone. If she had gone back to her quarters how long would she have been in pain? His heart sank. Would she have been in that state all by herself? There were barely a dozen servants in the manor and they were spread out all over. Would anyone hear her screaming? Would he have heard her screaming?

He didn’t want her to spend another night away from him. He was afraid of what would happen. He didn’t sleep that night. He and the physician stayed up all night. When dawn broke she started to relax. Her face relaxed and it looked like she had fallen asleep. The physician gave her another examination.

“Her vitals are good. Her breathing is normal. Her fever has gone down. She’s resting now. Whatever it was finally worked its way through her system.”

“I’ll make sure you're fully compensated.” He commented as the physician left. “Please make sure maidservant Tenten comes to the main house when she wakes up.”

“Yes, crown prince. I’ll give her another examination when she wakes up.” The physician spoke. He bowed his head and left. He hadn’t let go of her hand. He stayed by her side all day as she slept.

*****

When Naruto came to, he had realized he had made a grave miscalculation when it came to the poison. Not only did he over compensate but he almost gave the amount to the crown prince. The crown prince was right...he was stupid. Maybe that was why he was so upset and defensive when he accidentally cut himself with the paring knife. He didn’t want the prince to call him stupid, maybe he knew at that moment, the enormous miscalculation he had made. He was thinking about how he should go about it next time. First, he needed to recover. His stomach wasn’t in excruciating pain anymore. There were small cramps that rumbled through but they were bearable.

He opened his eyes and looked to see the crown prince laying down next to him. He brought his eyes and saw the crown prince was holding his hand. He was sleeping. He let go and pushed himself up. He looked out the window and saw that it was nighttime. How long was he asleep for? He had lost time. It felt like he was in pain for days. He felt weak. His head felt woozy. His mouth felt dry. His mouth tasted of pennies and rust. He exhaled. He needed a drink of water.

He walked across the room. He noticed the sliding doors were open. He looked outside and didn’t see anything suspicious. He walked to where the pitcher of water was and he poured himself a glass of water. He walked through the sliding doors and stood on the veranda. His knees felt weak. It felt good to breathe the outside air. He inhaled deeply. Filling his lungs with the fresh air and trying to rid his body of the rest of the toxins. He swished the water around his mouth and spat it out over the ledge. He did it again. The second time his mouth felt clean. He rinsed the dried blood from his mouth. His mouth felt sore. He finished drinking the rest of the water.

It was no longer a full moon. Darkness was creeping back through the moon. It was slowly being swallowed by the night sky. He smiled. He had survived. The high priest was right. It wouldn’t kill him. He just needed to make sure the calculations were correct. Just the right amount so that it weakens the crown prince slowly over a long period of time and when crown prince Itachi succeeds the throne. Crown prince Sasuke, and the cursed seal will be eliminated from the world. He smirked.

He could still do it. He thought he would backtrack and refuse when he woke up. His eyes scanned the manor. Who was the spy? He wanted to expose the spy and have the spy return to the temple with a message for the high priest. He wanted to tell the high priest he didn’t need a spy to ensure he finished his assignment. He’d do it all on his own. Look at him now. He ingested poison and now he had information. He needed less. He couldn’t ingest anymore right now. He could still feel it in his body. He needed to know how long it stays in the system. Once he figured that out he’ll try again.

Next time. He won’t use food to ingest it. He’ll put it directly on his tongue. He’ll use ¼ the size of the satchel and go from there.

“Naruto?” The crown prince was calling out his name from behind. Naruto spun around and smiled.

“I’m here.”

“How...how are you feeling?”

“Exceptional compared to where I was!” He boasted.

“What...happened?”

“I don’t know my stomach started hurting earlier in the day. Whatever it was...maybe it was a stomach bug or something...I feel it running its course.” He nodded his head as he spoke.

The crown prince mirrored him and nodded his head. There was concern and fear etched on his features. His mouth was twisted down. A look of pensiveness. He didn’t say anything else and kept staring at him. Naruto was caught up in his eyes. They were magnanimous at nighttime. It was true he came alive during the night. His eyes swirled in liquid rubies. They illuminated. He couldn’t understand how people could be afraid of such beautiful eyes. He found himself trapped in those eyes and he looked away.

“Did I worry you?” Naruto asked nervously.

The crown prince didn’t say anything. He turned and walked back inside. Naruto dropped his hand that was holding the cup to his side and chased after him. “I’m okay. See!” He spun around as if to prove how well he was. He didn’t feel one hundred percent, and his spinning left him woozy again. His vision blurred and he found himself dropping to a kneeling position.

“Naruto?” The crown prince gasped and rushed to his side.

Naruto flashed a peace sign and lied. “Teased ya!” He was catching on to the dialect they used in the countryside. The crown prince shoved Naruto back. Hard. He wasn’t strong enough to withstand the force. He lost his balance and fell to his back. The cup slipped from his hand, struck the floor, and began rolling away. Naruto blinked. It happened so fast.

“Stop!” The crown prince shouted. “It’s not funny. Read the room, idiot.” He stood up and went to his futon. He didn’t say anything and covered himself with his comforter. Naruto bit his bottom lip and pushed himself up.

“I’m sorry.” Naruto whispered. He wanted to allow himself to feel vulnerable because the truth was...that’s how he felt. His insides felt as if they were scrapped with a cheese grater. He felt raw, shredded, and bloody on the inside. Scraped and bruised. He could still feel the poison still inside. Naruto crawled to the side of the crown prince’s futon.

“I’m sorry. I was...I was really afraid. My insides hurt and feel bruised.” Naruto confessed. His voice was saturated in sadness. His eyes filled with water. He was so dehydrated he couldn’t form tears. “I was really-really-really afraid...thank you for staying by my side.” Naruto cried. He brought his knees to his chest and buried his head in his knees.

“Don’t cry.” The crown prince said. Naruto lifted his head and saw the ruby red eyes of the crown prince inches from his face.

“I was really afraid.” Naruto confessed. “Can I sleep with you tonight? I don’t want to be alone.” It was raw. He knew what he was doing was morally wrong. His whole purpose being here was to poison the crown prince. At the same time. Being with the crown prince allowed him to feel comfort he wouldn’t have felt otherwise.

“Mhm.” The crown prince murmured. He moved over and held the comforter open. Naruto slipped under the blankets and shared the same pillow. He curled on his side facing the crown prince.

“I’m sorry I worried you.” Naruto continued. "I'm really sorry!"

“Be...more careful. You’re not in the city anymore, you’re in the country. Start acting like it!” The crown prince lectured. “Stupid girl.” Naruto nodded his head. He deserved to be called stupid. He didn’t argue back. Next time. Next time he wasn’t going to be stupid about it. Next time he was going to be smart. Next time he wouldn’t let the crown prince call him stupid. He already knew what measurements to use.

It felt comforting being so close to the crown prince. The smell of jasmine engulfed him. He closed his eyes. A second thought occurred. A memory came to consciousness. A memory of the physician staying he was going to strip him of his clothes. The reason he screamed in protest was he didn’t want anyone to find out what was between his legs. Hearing the crown prince call him a ‘stupid girl’ made him happy. He didn’t find out. He still knew him as a girl.

Naruto rolled to his side so his back faced the crown prince. He slipped his hand between his legs through his yukata. He felt the thing between his legs. This. The thing that made him different from a true girl. The crown prince didn’t see this. Naruto was ambivalent about the thing between his legs. It was where he urinated from and it was where the high priest stroked him and touched him and licked him while he called him a filthy whore begging for it. He wrapped his hands around it and squeezed his legs together. The pressure felt good. He held his breath as he stroked himself. Squeezing his legs harder together. He pulled his hand out.

The children of the temple talked and whispered. The high priest called all of them filthy whores, touched all of them, licked all of them, made them all feel good sometimes. That was the confusing part. Sometimes it felt good. The times when the high priest placed him on an altar and crawled between his legs, under his dress, and wrapped his warm mouth around him and sucked. The times it felt so good Naruto moaned out as he was covered in sanguine as light spilled through the stained glass. The times it felt good made all of them think they were filthy whores who really did enjoy it. He straightened out his yukata to ensure he was all covered. It was what they had to endure to become pure and clean, worthy of the sun god. He wondered if the crown prince touched him if he would feel even more pleasure. He shook his head and buried his head in his hands. What impure thoughts. It was the wickedness inside him. The sickness. The sin speaking. The crown prince wouldn't touch him when he found out the truth. It was an undeniable fact. He was just sick.

Naruto didn’t see what happened to him as a loss. He knew while he was in the thick of it he was screaming and pleading with the sun god to end his suffering. Now that he had clarity he realized just how strong his resolve was for salvation. He prayed to the sun god and thanked him for giving him the strength to survive that pain without truly going mad. He prayed and thanked the sun god for him surviving and promised he would try again and next time...next time he wasn't going to be so stupid about things.

Chapter Text

Naruto had to live with the fallout of his grave miscalculations.

It took longer than he envisioned to recover from the self-poisoning. It took approximately two weeks before he felt normalcy. The recurring side effect was a lingering cough. He pondered if he had permanently damaged his lungs. He felt a fullness, a wetness, in his lungs and it was attributed to his coughing spells in the days following the poisoning. Sometimes when he coughed flecks of blood came up and stained the handkerchief he had been using.

It didn’t really concern Naruto but had concerned the crown prince which prompted the crown prince to summon another physician to the manor.

The physician hypothesized that due to Naruto’s cough he had cuts on the inside of his throat that caused the blood to come out. Naruto was given an herbal supplement to help ameliorate his coughing. It was bitter and he often refused to take it. It left a bad aftertaste in his mouth and stung his esophagus. He only took the herbal supplements when the crown prince forced the mixed tea down his throat. He’d rather just deal with the lingering cough.

The other side effect was he didn’t have much of an appetite. His stomach felt raw and bruised for days and every time he ate something his stomach cramped up again as if forgetting how to digest food. It was as if food cemented in his stomach and it took days to digest. Again the crown prince tried to force-feed Naruto the only difference from Naruto force-feeding the crown prince was...Naruto would throw up because his stomach rejected the food. Too much too fast. It was almost as if he had to re-teach himself how to eat. He lived on a diet of broth and bread.

In the two weeks, he had lost weight whereas the crown prince gained weight.

The only time Naruto remembered being sick was when he was really little. He was still in the nursery. He had a red rash all over his body and a spiked fever that refused to go down. It was one of the rare times his mother was permitted to visit him, and she held him close in her arms and cuddled him. He was brought to the high priest who used magic gifted from the sun god to help cure him. Since that moment he wasn’t sick again. The temple children rarely were sick. The ones who were sick were outliers.

The other side effect that had nothing to do with Naruto’s was the crown prince demanded that Naruto move his quarters permanently in with the crown prince. He remembered panicking when he was moving. He had to hide the vial of the powdery green substance in another trunk in the room. A trunk that held extra blankets for the winter months. He wrapped it in the last blanket at the bottom and made sure he refolded the blankets on top so nothing looked out of sorts if someone were to open the trunk.

After three weeks. Naruto stopped coughing. His appetite returned and he ate ravishingly.

“Slow down before you choke!” The crown prince demanded. He wrinkled his nose.

“Che. You’re not my mom.” Naruto grumbled. He started being mindful of his eating. He went from another extreme. He went from barely eating to engorging himself on food because he didn’t feel that fullness in his belly that signaled to his brain he was done eating. It was a lingering consequence of his miscalculation. He only blamed himself.

“You’re not my mom either.” The crown prince clarified and went back to eating his curry. He peeked at the crown prince and noticed him sulking. They had finished dinner.

“Do you wanna pretend I’m your mom?”

“What? No!”

“Come on...it’ll be fun!” Naruto coaxed. He grabbed hold of the crown prince’s arm and pulled him up. “I wanna try something.” He could feel resistance from the crown prince. His weight gain helped attribute him to being stronger. Naruto used both hands and pulled. “It won’t hurt!”

The crown prince stood up. Naruto held the crown prince’s hand and walked him to the wooden veranda. Instead of going out front like they always did Naruto walked along the veranda that wrapped around the main house stopping at the side of the main house that faced a sand and rock garden. It was serene. Naruto let go of the crown prince and sat at the edge of the veranda with his legs dangling over. He looked up at the crown prince.

“Sit down and rest your head on my lap!” Naruto instructed and patted his lap.

“Ey?!” The crown prince gasped and stepped backwards. His face bloomed in a myriad of pinks and reds and peaches. He held his hands up in front of him in protest. The crown prince’s hair grew longer. His face filled out. He had grown taller again.

“Come on, join me, please.” Naruto cooed and smiled. He used his gentle voice and extended a hand up. “Lay your head on my lap. I know you want to. You don’t have to hide it. We’re all alone back here.”

Naruto had done this deliberately. Taken the crown prince to the side of the main house away from everywhere else. He was beginning to think he could do anything he wanted with the crown prince and the crown prince would allow it.

The crown prince sighed and kneeled down. He looked down at Naruto’s lap. He paused a second. He laid on his right side and rested his head in Naruto’s lap. It caused Naruto to smile and he began to comb his fingers through the crown prince’s hair. His nails scraping softly against his skull in the same matter his mother used to do to him.

“There...see? Doesn’t this feel good?” Naruto spoke softly.

He started humming and swayed his body back and forth. He didn’t want to hum or sing any of the songs the temple taught him. Instead, he hummed a tune of a musical performance he saw at the palace from exotic performers from a faraway land. The musicians played their different instruments and the dancers, dressed in bright colors with golden symbols painted on their skin, danced beautifully across the ballroom. When he watched the performance he was moved to tears.

The song was so beautiful. It filled him with nostalgia, a forlornness about the past he was still too young to grasp and didn’t understand. It was melancholic. He didn’t want the performance to end and when it did he wasn’t the same for the next few days. He was out of sorts. It was an ethereal tune, and he hummed it. He remembered seated with the other children of the temple around the royal family. They were special guests invited to the celebration. Emperor Fugaku. Empress Mikoto. Crown Prince Itachi.

Crown prince Sasuke had been banished to the manor and the manor was where he lived, and the manor was where he would die. The countryside was beautiful in its own right. The landscape within the manor was kept up. The gardeners tended the flowers. It was a beautiful place to die.

Naruto looked down to see the crown prince’s eyes were closed and his breathing had dropped. Slowed down. He was sleeping. Naruto stared at the cursed marks on his skin. He brought his fingertips to the marks on his cheeks and touched them. They didn’t feel any different than flesh. He continued tracing the cursed marks. He didn’t understand why people were so frightened of them. His fingertips brushed to the cursed marks on the side of his neck. Nothing remarkable happened, and the crown prince remained sleeping. He moved his hand and started rubbing the crown prince’s back. They stayed like that for a while and it was tender.

*****

“Are you a maidservant or a concubine?” Tenten asked. She had cornered Naruto when he gathered the breakfast tray. Tenten had avoided him up until now. He wanted to tell her he was neither but she knew who he was. He was from the temple. She looked distraught. Naruto held his tongue. He didn’t want to make enemies with Tenten.

“I’m a maidservant.” He answered coolly.

“Why have you stopped doing chores?” Tenten asked. “You act more like a concubine than a maidservant.”

“Do you know what a concubine is?” Naruto asked and his eyes widened. “It is a woman who is not the legal wife who engages in sexual activities to provide pleasure to the man.”

Tenten’s face burned in jealousy and rage. “I know!”

“I don’t do that.” Naruto clarified. “So why are you saying I am acting like a concubine?”

“How about I take the tray to the crown prince and you do laundry!” Tenten demanded. Naruto smiled. It was an excuse to slip away and go back to the poison.

“Alright.” Naruto agreed and handed the tray over. He smiled up at her. He hoped this was his olive branch and they didn’t have to be on such bad terms anymore.

“You’ll take over my duties for the day and I’ll take over yours!” She continued in a rough voice.

She was surprised it worked so easily. She looked at Naruto up and down waiting for Naruto to say ‘gotcha’ and take the tray back. Naruto nodded his head in agreement. When he didn’t say anything. She turned on her heels and walked in the direction of the main house. Naruto sighed and stretched. He needed a break. It was getting suffocating being around the crown prince so much. He welcomed this freedom. He popped his head in the kitchens. It was empty. The chef must have stepped out. He walked in and grabbed a pear and walked out.

He walked towards his old quarters. He checked over his shoulder and slipped in. He wanted to hurry. He didn’t want to waste any time. He opened the trunk and pulled out the winter blankets one by one until he reached the last one. He pulled the vial out. This time he licked his finger and pressed it against the green powder. He brought his fingertip to his eyes and inspected the powder. It was the color of seaweed. He popped his finger in his mouth and slid his tongue over his finger making sure he had sucked every speck of powder from his finger when he pulled his finger out. It had the texture of sand. There was a faint taste to it. It tasted earthy. He wrapped the vial back into the blanket and placed it at the bottom of the trunk before stacking blankets on top. He grabbed the pear and closed the trunk.

He bit into the pear as he walked to where the laundry was done. It wasn’t as juicy as he thought. He sat down and continued eating the pear. He needed something in his stomach if he was going to expel energy on laundry. He wrinkled his nose at the pile of laundry and sighed loudly. How annoying. What he needed to do in order to poison himself again. He really was mad.

Naruto set to work doing the laundry. He was washing in the wash bucket, scrubbing the clothes against the scrubber. There were soap bubbles floating up from the wash bucket he was scrubbing so hard. He laughed when one popped close to his eye. When Naruto finished hanging the last piece of clothing on the clothesline to dry he sighed in relief. He collapsed to the ground and rolled to his back stretching his limbs as far out as they would go. He examined his fingers and noted how white and pruned his fingertips were. He smiled.

“Naruto. I heard you’re taking over Tenten’s responsibilities today.” The chef called. Naruto wrinkled his nose. He pushed himself up and stared at the chef who appeared. It was the first time the chef was using his name. He was immediately put into suspicion as he stared back.

“Mhm.”

“You’re coming with me into town. I need to do a grocery run and pick up some supplies.”

“Now?” Naruto asked and scrambled to his feet. He was wearing sandals and a light blue maidservant’s outfit. His hair was in two braids hanging on either side of him. His eyes looked across the manor. He found what he was looking for. A carriage had been brought in.

“Yes. Now let’s go.” The chef barked.

Naruto was curious. He didn’t rebuke this request. It piqued his interest. He had never left the manor. It had been three months and it was already summertime. This was the first time venturing into town. He remembered passing through the town on the carriage ride here. It was small but it had the essentials. He didn’t expect anything remarkable like the shops inside or outside the palace walls. He was feeling excited. He joined the chef and entered the carriage with him.

The stagecoach led the horses in the direction of town. The chef didn’t say anything to Naruto and kept his eyes focused out the window. It was fine by him; he didn’t want to talk to him anyway. The carriage dropped them off in front of a church. Naruto furrowed his eyebrows.

“Why are we here?” Naruto asked and looked up.

“Go inside. Someone is there to talk to you.” The chef said. He turned in his heels. “I’ll pick you up in an hour.”

No. No. No. No!

Naruto spun around. His heart plummeted. The spy the high priest planted was the chef? His heart pounded. He started sweating. His heart race increased. His mind went through the whole day with a fine-tooth comb. Everything. Everything was methodically planned. From Tenten approaching him. To the chef collecting him when the laundry was finished and dropping him off in front of the church. His cheeks felt hot and his skin felt itchy. He looked at the church. It was painted a bright daffodil yellow. The town was poor. They couldn’t afford stained glass. All they had was yellow paint.

Was the high priest here? No. He wouldn’t make the trip to the countryside just to talk to him. He sighed in relief. He felt better and walked through the doors of the church. A man stood up and turned to Naruto. It was the cardinal, the right-handed man to the high priest.

“I barely recognized you.” The cardinal spoke and laughed cruelly. “You really do look like a maidservant.”

Naruto didn’t say anything. The power dynamic shifted. He had to be subservient to the cardinal. He kept his eyes cast down. He could feel the cardinal’s eyes lingering on him.

“Let’s go in the back and talk.”

The cardinal commanded and turned and walked away. Naruto hesitated. He held his breath and followed the cardinal in one of the rooms in the back. The cardinal closed the door behind Naruto and locked the door. Naruto swallowed painfully. He kept his eyes down. He tried to steady his breathing. He didn’t know why he felt...fear. Maybe because he knew what was about to happen. He looked around the room. The walls were bare. There wasn’t anything in the room to focus his attention on and lose himself in. He hated this room. He fought back the urge to cry.

The cardinal walked to the desk on the opposite side of the room and leaned against it. He rested his hands on the edge of the desk. The high priest dressed in vibrant golden robes and the cardinal dressed in royal red robes. The rest of them dressed in white.

“Crown prince Itachi has been sworn in as Emperor Elect.” The cardinal broke the silence and began talking. “Emperor Fugaku’s health worsened, but the bastard is still clinging to life. The high priest wants to know how things are going here. How long have you been poisoning him for?”

“I haven’t.” Naruto confessed.

There was a pause. Naruto could hear the cardinal’s grip tightening around the edge of the desk.

“I must have misheard you. Repeat what you just said.”

“I haven’t poisoned the crown prince yet.”

“You must think you’re cute...adding the yet part. Do you expect me to praise you?”

“No, sir.” Naruto shook his head no. He locked his hands behind him. He kept his eyes down. He knew how to be obedient.

“Explain! What have you been doing for the past three months? We didn’t send you to the manor to play house, we sent you to poison the crown prince!” The cardinal screamed. He picked up a book from the desk and threw it at Naruto. His aim was impeccable. The corner of the book caught Naruto in the temple. His head jerked from the impact. He kept his balance and his feet remained rooted to the stone floor, and his arms remained locked behind him.

“Nobody told me how much poison to use. I was afraid I was going to get caught. So I took the poison instead. The first time I used too much, and I ingested a smaller amount today.”

There was a pause. The cardinal digested Naruto’s words. “What a fucking fool you are. We sent you to poison the crown prince and instead you’re poisoning yourself? Haven’t we provided you with an education?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We taught you to read.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You can do arithmetic.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So explain why you are so stupid that you think poisoning yourself was the only option? Why not just poison someone else at the manor. Their lives are meaningless. Who will investigate? They’ll blame the crown prince. Actually. You should have done that from the beginning!”

Naruto thought himself to be box-clever, quick-witted, educated. Hearing the cardinal’s words stung because they...made sense. His stomach cramped. He squeezed his eyes shut. He bit his lip. Why was he so foolish to believe he was a faithful servant to the sun god that he would put his own life on the line to ensure the calculations were correct.

“I didn’t want to hurt anyone else.” Naruto confessed.

“You didn’t want to hurt anyone else?” The cardinal barked mockingly.

It only caused the cardinal to tilt his head back and erupt into cruel laughter. The kind of laughter that could strip paint and curdle milk. It sent waves of nausea over Naruto. He felt like he was being rocked back and forth in a tiny rowboat out at sea. His laughter bounced all over the room trapping his laughter within this dingy, dirty room. The cardinal straightened up.

“I think I understand your problem. It’s been three months and the high priest hasn’t given you his seed. Your sickness and sin are clouding your judgment. That’s why you can’t think clearly. Come here. I’ll give you my seed.”

Naruto didn’t budge. His eyebrows furrowed and he frowned. Was this a test? Naruto lifted his head and looked at the cardinal. Naruto not moving seemed to anger the cardinal.

“What are you doing? I told you to come here!”

“The high priest said I wouldn’t have to do it anymore!” Naruto argued. His hands flew out to his sides. He wanted to run away. The door behind him was locked. He wouldn’t make it out in time.

“You’re lying.” The cardinal spoke in a low, baritone voice. “The high priest instructed me to give you my seed if I found out you disappointed us. You disappointed us Naruto. You want to keep being sinful, and sick. You don’t want to be pure for the sun god. Admit it. You want to remain living in sin! You don’t want salvation!”

“No!” Naruto argued. “That’s not true! I do! I do want to repent! I don’t want to be sick and sinful anymore!” He balled his hands into fists.

“Then come here. Come here right now and I’ll be gentle. If I have to ask you again I will hurt you.” The cardinal spoke again in that low, baritone voice.

There was no other way. Naruto licked his lips and walked to the cardinal. He was immediately shoved up against the desk. The cardinal pushed Naruto across the desk causing books, papers, pens, ink to spill all over the floor. Naruto’s sandals fell off. He tried closing his legs. He felt the cardinal fingers pulling open his maidservant’s outfit and within seconds he was naked. The room was cold. He shivered. It reminded him of the temple. It was always cool and cold in the temple.

The cardinal’s hands began exploring his body. He kept Naruto’s back against the desk. His hands circled his stomach, went up the sides of his abdomen and fingers traced the small pink circles of his nipples. Naruto closed his eyes. He could feel the cardinal’s mouth around his right nipple. His tongue circled the pink and he could feel goosebumps forming. He could feel a shudder running down his body as the cardinal bit down on his nipple. The cardinal pulled his nipple, hard, with his teeth and Naruto cried out. It felt like he was going to rip his nipples right off. The cardinal sucked harder. Continuing to play with his left nipple with his hand.

Naruto started breathing irregularly. The cardinal moved to Naruto’s left nipple while his hand went to rub, tug, and massage Naruto’s right nipple. He could feel the hot tongue of the cardinal circling his left nipple. Again. He bit down and pulled Naruto’s nipple with his teeth. It caused another cry to escape Naruto’s mouth.

“You’re enjoying it. Let yourself enjoy it.” The cardinal purred. “No need to hold back. This is what the high priest commanded. I told you I would make you feel good.” He continued biting and sucking his nipples until they were swollen, and red, with his bite mark imprints around both nipples. He licked and kissed the skin of Naruto’s stomach leaving a trail of saliva as he reached the small of Naruto’s belly.

“Has anyone found out about this part of you?” The cardinal asked as he grabbed hold of Naruto’s penis.

“No.” Naruto mewled. He covered his face with his hands.

“Well, at least you’re not completely stupid.” The cardinal commented. He spit on Naruto’s penis and began jerking him off. He brought his mouth to Naruto’s neck and began sucking, biting, and licking his skin. Naruto cried out. He could feel his penis becoming bigger and bigger. It swelled up and stood on end. He could feel his stiff nipples shaking as his body was rocked.

“I told you I would make you feel good.”

The cardinal brought his mouth around Naruto’s penis. It easily fit into the cardinal’s mouth. It was hot and tight and his tongue started swirling around the slit. The cardinal pressed the tip of his tongue forcefully into the slit. Naruto didn’t know what happened. A burst of white light engulfed him. He felt something welling up in his stomach and rib cage. His whole body shuddered and he could feel something ejaculating from his penis. Pleasure. He felt pleasure as if his skin was being licked by flames. Not enough to burn and scorch him but enough to tease him.

Naruto gasped. It had felt good. It had felt really, really, good.

“Do you want to come again?” The cardinal whispered in Naruto’s ear. Naruto shook his head no.

“N-n-no!” Naruto begged.

“I bet I can make you come again.” The cardinal disregarded Naruto’s protest. He spread Naruto’s legs more. He could feel a finger massaging the outside of his anus. “I’m only going to insert my tongue. You’ll still be a virgin.”

Naruto didn’t understand. He didn’t have to guess what was about to be done to him. He could feel the searing, hot, tongue of the cardinal leaving a circle of saliva around his anus before he could feel the wiggling, pulsating tongue being pushed into the hole of his anus. He could feel the tongue wriggling inside him. He never experienced this before and he cried out. He didn’t know how to react. His body was still being rocked from his first orgasm. He could feel the cardinal spreading his asscheeks and pushing his legs to spread further and further apart until he looked like a frog. His tongue sank deeper inside his anus. Deeper inside him. Naruto could feel tears streaming down his face. The cardinal started to force his tongue in and out of his anus. Just when he pulled his tongue out he jammed it back in and every time he jammed it back in it went deeper, and deeper.

The cardinal’s hands went back to playing with his penis. Within seconds he could feel his penis swelling again. This time it took a while for him to come. Again his body was rocked with another force. His vision blurred and he saw white lights exploding. His body wouldn’t stop trembling.

“Now it’s my turn. Open your mouth.”

Naruto was forced to sit upwards. His ass felt wet he could feel the cardinal’s saliva pouring from his anus and onto his maidservant dress. His penis went back to being limp. His nipples hurt and throbbed. He took the cardinal in his mouth. He used his hands to hold the base of his penis as his tongue licked and sucked the tip of his penis. The cardinal pushed his penis deeper into his mouth and Naruto continued to use his tongue. It didn’t take long for the cardinal to ejaculate. It filled Naruto’s mouth. It was too much. He tried swallowing but he couldn’t swallow all of it. When he opened his mouth he could feel the white substance rolling down his chin. And semen dripped onto his dress.

Naruto was panting. He was covered in his own sweat, in the cardinal’s saliva, and now the cardinal’s seed.

“You’re such a good girl, Naruto. You’re such a beautiful girl.” The cardinal cooed. He wrapped his arms around Naruto and pulled Naruto’s naked body up against him. His hands continued to feel him up, this time squeezing his asscheeks before spanking him. “You're so soft and supple. You’re so good, Naruto.” He spanked him again and he felt his ass cheek vibrate.

He released Naruto and started using a handkerchief to clean Naruto’s body off before he started to dress Naruto back in the maidservant’s outfit. Before closing the dress he licked Naruto’s penis a few more times. He was afraid the cardinal was going to make him do more things and he squirmed. The cardinal kneeled down and lifted Naruto’s right foot, guided Naruto’s foot into his sandal, then picked up his left foot and guided Naruto’s foot into the other sandal. Naruto could feel the cardinal patting him on the head and praising him. Naruto didn’t say anything.

“Start poisoning the prince. When emperor elect Itachi takes the throne officially we’ll give the order to have the cursed crown prince assassinated.” The cardinal repeated the plan as if Naruto didn’t know.

*****

Crown prince Itachi had become emperor elect Itachi. Emperor Fugaku’s health was declining rapidly. If Naruto had only been poisoning the crown prince since he received the vial they would have been able to get rid of him sooner and Naruto wouldn’t have to do what he did with the cardinal ever again. He was so distraught. When he got back to the manor all he wanted to do was take a bath and scrub every inch of his skin clean. It was the first thing he did. He entered the bathhouse.

He covered his body with a towel and entered one of the cypress bathtubs. He used a washcloth and began to furiously scrub his skin. He didn’t stop. He completed the cleansing ritual he did at the temple. He scrubbed his skin so fiercely, so methodically, it started ripping layers and layers off. He turned his skin into a blotchy, swollen, mess as he kept scrubbing. He scrubbed so furiously at the thing between his legs. He scrubbed so forcefully against his anus he could feel tears forming and blood dripped down. No, it still wasn’t enough. He didn’t stop scrubbing and cleaning. He didn’t stop until he started bleeding on parts of his body. He redressed and didn’t leave the bathhouse for over an hour. He was surprised nobody came to fetch him.

He didn’t want to see anyone. He didn’t return to his old quarters. He picked a building that nobody entered. He walked into a room that had the shutters closed causing the room to be darkened. He slid the doors closed. He couldn’t even tell what function the room once served. He threw himself to the tatami mat and rolled to his stomach. He buried his face into his hands. There he was finally able to cry. He didn’t cry loudly. He didn’t wail. He didn’t sob. He didn’t scream in pain. He whistled in the dark. Just like he did back in the children’s dormitory in the temple.

He wished he was back there because he wasn’t alone. There he had other children who understood what they needed to do for them to become pure. He so foolishly believed he would never have to do that again. He continued to cry. He didn’t want to leave the room. He wanted to rot in that dark room. His thoughts turned to the crown prince. He hadn’t even looked for him. He didn’t care that he was missing. He didn’t care what happened to him. After he had calmed down he would go back outside, and he would do what he was sent to do. He will poison the crown prince. He hated the crown prince. He blamed him for not looking for him this morning. If he had looked for him and found him none of this would have happened. The crown prince didn’t care for him at all! It was all a lie!

He hated him. He hated him. He hated him and he wanted him dead. He knew with the crown prince dead he would feel better. He will become pure! He will! He will! HE WILL!

*****

The crown prince was shocked to see Tenten delivering his breakfast. Fear gripped him. There was sudden trepidation that tightened like a noose around his neck making it difficult to breathe. He didn’t accept it. He stood up and yelled at Tenten.

“Stop. Don’t come any closer. Where is Naruto?”

His hand moved to the sheath of his sword. His fingers brushed against the hilt. His right hand gripping the sheath. The spirits around him swirled feeding off the energy that he was emitting. The spirits spoke amongst each other inquiring where Naruto was. Some joked that she was dead. Some joked that she ran away. Some joked that she didn’t like him anymore. It didn’t help his uneasy feeling.

Tenten did as she was told and continued holding the tray.

“Naruto said she wanted a break from you.” Tenten lied. “She said she was exhausted and wanted a day off. She’ll come back tomorrow.”

He frowned. It was the first time he was hearing of these things. Yesterday Naruto wanted him to lay his head on her lap. He did because he wanted to do it too. He was so relaxed he fell fast asleep. Now she wanted a break? She was exhausted? His mood turned sour. She was so happy yesterday. He couldn’t find any red flags or any red herrings. Was there a pink elephant in the room? His heart thumped.

“I can eat with you in her place!” Tenten spoke chippery. He narrowed his eyes into slits. He didn’t trust her. She had never offered before. Her whole appearance put him on edge.

“No.” He spoke briskly. “I’ll eat alone.” He’d rather eat alone.

He didn’t want to eat with anyone else but Naruto. Was it because they had spent every single day together that she needed a break? Did he do something to upset her? He watched as Tenten left the tray on the veranda and left. He was no longer hungry. He lost his appetite. He wanted to go find her and ask what he did that made her upset. They had never gotten into a real argument. They quarreled but it was never serious. He thought if he went preemptively it might worsen things and make her even more upset.

He remained in the main house for the rest of the day. When lunch came. Tenten appeared with his tray for lunch. She looked at his untouched breakfast.

“Were you not hungry?” Tenten asked and placed the lunch tray down.

“Where is Naruto?” He repeated.

“She went with the chef into town.” Tenten answered.

His heart quickened. Did she leave the manor? Was she going to come back? A new intrusive thought filtered through his mind. That Naruto had become sick of him. So sick of him that she went back home. She didn’t really go into town. She left back to the temple, back to the palace. His heart started to ache. Breathing became difficult. He watched as Tenten left. The spirits continued swirling around. They were having a grand ole time on his misery. The spirits told him that Naruto hated him. That Naruto ran away because she wanted to get away with him.

“SHUT UP!” He screamed. The spirits silenced and floated off mumbling under their breath.

Apophis appeared before him. He slithered across the tatami mat and sniffed the futon that Naruto slept in with his tongue. He had gotten her scent. “Do you want me to look for her?” He offered. He shook his head. He needed to calm down. He needed to think things through. He couldn’t always act on impulse.

“I don’t want to know yet. She might just be in town with the chef.” He tried to reason with himself. “She’ll come back.” He clung to that thought. That she’ll come back.

When dinner time came. He couldn’t take it anymore. He left for the kitchens himself. Apophis slithered behind him. He stopped and saw the chef was back in the kitchen and he had finished plating the tray.

“Oh, crown prince!” The chef greeted nervously. He was purposefully avoiding his eyes and appeared to shrink in his presence.

“Where is Naruto?” He demanded.

“She’s around here somewhere. She went to town with me and we came back together.”

He exhaled. She’s back in the manor. Maybe she just needed a break. He heard Apophis ‘tut tut tuting’. He looked at him, and Apophis kept his focus on the chef.

“He's hiding something.” Apophis hissed. “He’s keeping a secret about Naruto. Something happened to Naruto when she went to town.”

It was all he needed to hear. Sasuke grabbed the hilt of his sheath and pulled his sword out. He leaped over a table and brought the sword across the chef’s right arm. He used all his weight and the blade sliced through his skin vertically from his shoulder to his elbow.

“What did you do to her when you went to town?” He screamed. He could feel his cursed seals pulsating. He could feel his eyes swirling as they hyper-focused on the chef. He was screaming out in pain as blood splattered everywhere from the wound.

“I-didn’t-I-didn’t do anything to her!”

“What did Naruto do in town?” Sasuke interrogated.

“She...met...she met the cardinal and spoke to the cardinal!” The chef confessed. “I was just doing as I was told!” Sasuke couldn’t control himself. Apophis was tut-tut-tutting again and hissed that the chef was a wicked man and even if he didn’t do it...he delivered Naruto.

“Kill the delivery boy.” Apophis hissed. “He’s the reason Naruto hasn’t returned to you.” He could tell Apophis knew more than he was revealing. The truth was. Sasuke didn’t need to know anymore. He already knew what needed to be done.

Apophis' eyes went from liquid gold to illuminated ruby red. The cursed seal that was within Sasuke’s eyes appeared in Apophis’ and they were momentarily connected. He could see everything Apophis could see just as Apophis could see everything Sasuke can. He had loaned Sasuke the power and the will to kill. He didn’t need to have any morality when it came to vengeance. Sasuke swung the blade with such accuracy the blade sliced through the chef’s neck, his jugular, sliced through his spinal cord and out the other side.

The chef’s head decapitated and struck the adjoining wall of the kitchen with a ‘splat’. It left blood splatter as it hit the wall and fell to the floor. The chef’s body collapsed at the knees and fell forwards. A pool of ruby liquid red began spilling out from the hole in his neck and another from the wound on his arm. He watched as the two pools merged into one and spread slowly across the surface area of the kitchen. Sasuke looked up.

“Where is Naruto, Apophis?” Sasuke demanded. He still gripped his sword. If anyone walked upon him at that point he would have killed them too.

“She’s in one of the buildings. What one...I cannot say. Her smell lingers everywhere.”

Sasuke sheathed his sword and set out looking for Naruto going through every single building, and every single room. He finally checked the bathhouse. She was here recently. Her clothes were left on the floor. Apophis slithered up and began smelling the clothes. He started tut-tut-tutting again. He found another clue. Another piece to the puzzle.

“What did you find?” Sasuke asked.

“She was assaulted.” Apophis answered. “There is semen all over her dress. I smell saliva that isn’t hers too on the dress. Both belong to the same person.” Apophis slithered over to one of the cypress bathwaters. It was dirty, far dirtier, and murkier than the other two. He sniffed the water. “This water is filled with her blood.”

Sasuke collapsed to one knee. He used his sheath to keep him balanced. He started panting. He could feel blood gushing between his ears. His chest tightened up as tight as a corkscrew. He could feel bile being dumped into his stomach. Above all else, he was feeling the bloodlust returning. It pumped through his veins as if he was injected with a stimulant. His eyes focused. He was able to pick up more detail in the world. After a moment of catching his composure, he set out looking for Naruto.

She was in the last building, and the last room he searched. Even in the dark, he saw the outline of her form curled up in the fetus position. She was asleep.

“Is she hurt?” Sasuke whispered. He didn’t move. He watched as Apophis slithered up to her and poked his tongue at her assessing her.

“Not too bad. She is just sleeping.”

Sasuke picked Naruto up. He was still borrowing Apophis’ strength. They were still merged. She weighed no more than a feather pillow. He carried her bridal style back to the main house and tucked her back into her futon. It was nighttime. He lit some lanterns. If he looked at the fire he could see sparks of red illuminate. He looked at Naruto’s skin. He could see small beads of dried-up blood on her skin.

“What happened, why is she covered in dried-up blood?”

“It looks like she tried to scrub her skin off.” Apophis postulated. “She was assaulted.”

“I know!” Sasuke yelled. He covered his mouth. He looked down but she didn’t awaken.

“The cardinal of the temple did that to her?” Sasuke whispered.

“If that was the man she went to meet. I would put a hundred pure gold coins on the person who did this was the cardinal. I told you the temple was corrupt. They want you dead. Just think what they’re capable of. Look what they did to one of their own. They’re going to try and kill you again. I can sense it in the air.”

“Pft. They can’t kill me.” Sasuke muttered.

It was true. They didn’t know what he was capable of. He understood why babies born with the curse were immediately slaughtered. They were still weak and the curse hadn’t fully developed. There was an impenetrable barrier around Sasuke’s skin making it impossible for his skin to be pierced with anything. Swords. Axes. Spears. Arrows. Daggers. Even if someone put a noose around his neck and kicked the barrel out from his feet he wouldn’t suffocate. He did notice that when he was shackled up over time the shackle did tear his skin but he didn’t feel any pain, and his body healed whatever infection he caught was cured almost instantly. Even if he was fed poison the cursed seal would attach itself to the poison and eat it.

Did the temple really think they could kill him just because he was a child? If they wanted him dead they should have killed him after his first breath in the world. Madara’s son couldn’t be killed so easily. It was why a powerful member of the Senju tribe, using magic gifted from the sun god, was finally able to stop the madman. Their only choice now was to use that very power from the sun god and try and kill him. Maybe that was what they were planning to do. If that was the case he was just excited to see how things will turn out.

“I’m going to slaughter the cardinal.” He vowed. “How is he allowed to be a holy man serving the sun god when he does....that to children.” He spat. Even saying the words out loud nauseated him.

“The temple does not take orders from the Emperor. Even though your father refuses to sign an execution warrant on you, it is only a matter of time before someone else succeeds the throne.” Apophis spoke. “I know you are attached to that human girl. But you can’t deny it anymore. She was planted here by the temple.”

Sasuke gritted his teeth. He already knew that. He knew from the moment he smelled the temple on her. He only spared her life because she was a child. She hadn’t done anything. She was innocent. How was it her fault if she was being maneuvered as powerless as a pawn across a chessboard?

“You know she’s from the temple...yet you still care so deeply for her. Do you...cherish her?” Apophis asked. He specifically used the same word Naruto used and defined. “She’s going to betray you.”

“No. She isn’t!” He argued.

“How much longer are you going to sit in denial? Do you know why they use the word infantry? The real reason behind the word?”

Sasuke didn’t answer.

“The ancient warriors used to send children out in the first wave on the battlefield. The enemy was so shocked and appalled they let their guard down. Then they were flanked and overridden because they let their guard down. She may be a child...but she’s a temple child. You’re letting your guard down and that’s exactly what the enemy wants. You’re playing right into their hands.”

“Get out.” Sasuke spoke between gritted teeth. His hands were balled into fists. “I don’t need you anymore.” Apophis started slithering away.

“Wait.” Sasuke called out. “Where’s Tenten?”

Apophis stopped. “Oh? Have you noticed a missing link? Tenten had a part to play. She lied to you about Naruto saying she needed a break. She yelled at Naruto and made her feel guilty for not doing enough chores and bullied her into doing her duties for the day.”

Sasuke spun around. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“When are you going to learn to make the connection yourself?” Apophis hissed.

“I’m going to kill Tenten.” He answered. “Let’s go.” He stormed out of the main house and Apophis slithered at his heels. He knew where Tenten slept. The summer night’s air picked up as he reached Tenten’s quarters.

“Tenten!” He called out her name. He wondered if she was asleep. He was about to call out her name again when he heard the doors sliding open.

“Crown prince!” She greeted. Her voice was full of surprise. “What’s wrong?” She dropped the surprise and tried to hide the tinges of guilt that escaped.

“Come here.” He smiled. “I want to give you a gift for allowing Naruto to have a break today.”

Tenten walked up to him. Her eyes widened and she was smiling. She held her hand out and Sasuke gave her the gift. He pulled the sword from his sheath lightning fast. He swung the sword up. The blade sliced through her the skin at her left hip bone. It pierced the inside of her abdomen. The blade sliced through her intestines, her liver, her stomach, her diaphragm as he continued pulling the sword up. The blade continued underneath her rib case cutting through both sets of lungs before he ripped the blade out through her neck. Blood sprayed him as he watched Tenten’s body fall backwards.

A scream emitted from her mouth but the night immediately swallowed it up. By the time her body hit the ground, she had completely bled out. He stood above her body. The grass and earth began soaked in her blood. He could see intestines slipping out of the gaping wound across her chest cavity. Her face had paled. Her mouth twisted into a scream. Her eyes remained wide and open. Her pupils constricted into pinpricks.

His eyes continued to have a murderous gleam. He ensured she was dead and sheathed his sword as he walked away.

“All this for one temple girl?” Apophis taunted. “She’s already ruined. Why do you want sloppy seconds?”

Sasuke swung the blade at Apophis. The blade went right through him. It caused the basilisk to laugh uncontrollably. “You can’t kill me, fool! I’m part of you!”

*****

Sasuke changed out of his bloodsoaked kimono and cleaned himself off in the adjoining cypress bathtub that Naruto used. He dried off. Dressed in a new, clean, kimono he kneeled beside Naruto. She was still sleeping. He stretched his hand out and touched her cheek. She felt warmer than usual. His finger brushed up her face. He could feel how swollen her eyes were. She had cried all alone in the dark. Was she too ashamed to come to him? He balled his hands into fists. Of course, she was. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t do anything wrong.

He rolled to his side. He stopped touching her. He pulled back and just laid curled up next to her futon. He stayed like that watching her for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

 

Naruto felt his insides dissolving. The cramping returned to his stomach and intestines. His bones ached and he felt weak. When he went to the outhouse and urinated a stream of blood came out. When he saw the blood pouring out he gasped. He was sweating profusely. He had a low-grade fever. His organs ached. A pulsating pain emitted from his kidneys. He tried catching his breath and collapsed to his knees on the outhouse floor. His head rested up against the toilet’s base. He covered his mouth with his hand to try and stifle his erratic breathing.

How was he supposed to poison the prince when he had only ingested a tiny amount of the poison and was already falling apart? The prince would know. There was a fleeting thought that told Naruto to consume the whole vial of poison. Ingest the poison and end it. As soon as the thought appeared in his mind it had vanished.

When he woke up he spun into an immediate panic. He had woken up in the crown prince’s chambers, tucked into his futon, with the crown prince curled up next to him fast asleep. He didn’t have any memory of how he got here. He had fallen asleep in that dark room in the abandoned building. He immediately hated waking up inches from the crown prince’s face. He would have rather woken up in that dark room sprouting mushrooms on his body. He had ran away as soon as he had woken up and in the outhouse, he had remained.

The crown prince was too late!

Naruto rolled into a seated position with his back up against the outhouse door as he breathed erratically through his mouth. It wasn’t as excruciating as the first time he had ingested the poison, but it was still unbearable, and now he was pissing blood. He was afraid of what would happen to him if he kept ingesting the poison. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to calm himself down. Every inch of his body ached. His nipples were still swollen and his penis was throbbing. He could still feel the cardinal’s fingers, tongue, and teeth all over him.

He violently thrashed his head from side to side and covered his face with his hands as if he could force himself to forget. He squeezed his legs closed and tried to rid his mind of what he was made to do.

He heard commotion coming from outside. He heard people screaming, people yelling, people running by the outhouse. Something happened. He stumbled into a standing position and left the outhouse. He limped towards the epicenter of where servants were fleeing from unable to turn away. He stopped at a radius when he saw what everyone was fleeing from. At first, he couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing. He was seeing what everyone was running away from but his brain wasn’t processing what he was seeing. There was a disconnect.

His eyes moved slowly down. He saw the physician crouching down and examining the body. The physician who treated him when he ingested poison the first time around. His eyes moved further down to where there was a bed of white chrysanthemums planted. Their petals were no longer pure white. They were splashed with blood. A drop of blood rolled off a petal. He moved his eyes even further down. Blood had soaked the earth. It was unfathomable to see just how much blood the human body was storing until it spilled all over.

He stepped closer and closer and closer until he was standing alongside the physician, who remained crouched down. He brought his eyes back down and looked at the face of Tenten. He crouched down and touched her palm. Her palm was cold and she was stiff as if she had turned into porcelain.

“Naruto! What are you doing here? This isn’t something you should be looking at!” The physician chastised. He grabbed Naruto’s shoulders and tried to turn him away.

“What...happened to her?” Naruto asked.

“Go back to the main house!” The physician demanded. The physician had stood up and attempted to drag Naruto into a standing position. A memory of the cardinal forcing him across the desk flitted across his mind as fast as a hummingbird's wings.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” Naruto screamed and kicked the physician in the leg and threw his own body backwards. The physician immediately let go and Naruto fell to his bottom. Naruto gave him an accusatory glare. The physician’s face paled and he stepped away. Naruto breathed erratically as he watched the physician moving back. The physician had only wanted to prevent him from seeing such a gruesome sight, so why was he acting this way?

“It was the crown prince wasn’t it?” Naruto asked. His eyes went back down to Tenten and he stood up. He had finally caught his breath.

“I do not know. I have called for the mortician. It appears Tenten and the chef both met similar fates last night.” The physician explained sorrowfully.

The chef too? The trail of bodies had extended beyond Tenten. Naruto turned in the direction of the kitchens. The crown prince slaughtered both Tenten and the chef. Why? It wasn’t a full moon, and it wasn’t a new moon last night. It was a Cheshire cat moon, a crooked smile moon. Tenten was strong. She was stronger than he was and she wouldn’t allow herself to be possessed so easily. Tenten was hardened. Callused. He had wanted to go back to being on good terms with Tenten. He had extended an olive branch to her. Why was she dead? What did she do?

Naruto started coughing violently. He covered his mouth with his hand. It was the same wet cough from before. When he looked down he saw flecks of blood against this palm.

“Your cough returned?” The physician asked. “I can give you more herbal supplements. Let me give you an examination-”

“I’m fine!” Naruto answered stubbornly and wiped his hand on his dress. “If the chef is dead who's going to make the crown prince’s meals?”

He brought his eyes up to stare at the physician. He didn’t break contact and entered a staring contest with the older man. He remained unblinking and petulant. The physician looked at him as if he couldn’t believe what he was saying. Acting more concerned that the crown prince wasn’t going to be fed instead of a trail of bodies. Naruto knew exactly what he was asking. How else was he supposed to poison the prince if there wasn’t food to poison? Shove the vial in his mouth?

“I-” Physician began speaking.

“Find a replacement. Now.” Naruto threatened. “Hurry! Go!” He pointed towards the manor’s main gates. Naruto never took his eyes off the physician as he backed away and headed towards the main gates.

Naruto walked in the direction of the kitchens. Naruto was primed and already braced himself for the murder scene. The chef’s body was in two places. Flies had already gathered around the gaping hole in the chef’s neck where it was once attached to his head. The buzzing was loud. It was the summer’s heat. The sweet scent of blood attracted insects. The chef’s head was three feet away. The chef’s eyes were open. Just like Tenten’s eyes were open. Naruto crouched down and stared apathetically at the chef’s detached head. A pool of blood had encircled his skull.

“Bastard.” Naruto murmured. He smirked.

He was conflicted over Tenten’s death but seeing the chef cut up into two pieces filled with him with pleasure. He licked his lips and crouched down rocking back and forth on the heels of his sandals. The crown prince was too gentle with him. He should have cut him up into more pieces. It was the chef that willingly delivered him to the cardinal. The chef was the spy the high priest planted. The chef had disliked him since day one and he was all too thrilled to deliver Naruto to the church yesterday. The crown prince did Naruto a favor. Killed two birds with one stone. Punished the chef for daring to deliver him to the cardinal, and killed the high priest’s spy.

The temple could have just sent him a letter. He could still feel the cardinal’s tongue on his body. A wave of nausea washed over him. He gagged. He turned around wanting to leave the kitchens and halted. The crown prince was standing there.

“You were gone when I woke up!” The crown prince spoke his voice dripping in apprehension. His face was twisted up in a frenzied state of desperation. The crown prince had grown taller. He had gained more weight. They were the same height. His eyes were back to being matte red.

Naruto focused on the cursed seal in his eyes. He didn’t say anything to the crown prince and walked past him. He inhaled the outside air.

“Naruto?” The crown prince called after as he followed him back to the main house.

Naruto didn’t say anything until he was standing on the wooden veranda. He turned and the crown prince stopped. Naruto looked down at him.

“Why did you do it?” Naruto asked.

The crown prince opened his mouth to speak but Naruto interrupted him. “No.” Naruto’s heart thumped. Naruto’s voice dropped. He was whispering. He could see the answer written all over the crown prince’s face. The way the crown prince was staring at him. “You know. You know what happened to me yesterday.”

“Ah.” The crown prince agreed. He didn’t elaborate.

“Why didn’t you stop it from happening?” Naruto wailed. He slammed his foot down. He picked up one of his sandals and threw it at the crown prince. “You didn’t or you couldn’t, right?” The crown prince allowed the sandal to hit him in the chest. Naruto felt weaker than before. He took his other sandal and threw it at the crown prince this time it struck him in the head. His breathing came out raspy. Whatever strength he had was diminishing.

“I’m...sorry...I should have found you when you didn’t deliver breakfast. I believed Tenten’s lies!”

“What lies?” Naruto hiccuped. He had swallowed too much air.

“She told me you wanted a break from me. She said you were exhausted and wanted a day off.”

Naruto dropped down to his knees and it caused the crown prince to run to him. His heart quickened again. Tenten was in on it? She was working with the chef and the cardinal? His mind was full. What was even worse...the crown prince knew. It was even more of a reason to poison the crown prince. Poison him. Kill him so he can never tell anyone! He hated the crown prince. He wanted to ruin him. Wanted to shove the vial in his mouth.

“Please. Tell me what to do. I’ll do anything!” The crown prince pleaded. “I’ll do anything for you!”

“Hold me.” Naruto said and spread his arms wide. The crown prince stared at him for a moment before wrapping his arms around his waist and embracing him. Naruto wrapped his arms around the crown prince’s neck. Naruto crawled into the crown prince’s lap and wrapped his legs around the crown prince’s waist. He didn’t know why he was so comforting.

“Hold me tighter!” Naruto demanded. The crown prince squeezed. “Please...hold me tighter...tighter!” Naruto begged. It wasn’t enough. He wanted more pressure around his body. He wanted the crown prince to crush him, break him, make him go crazy. “Tighter!”

“No! I’m not going to hurt you!” The crown prince yelled in refusal.

“I’m already hurting!” Naruto started crying. “I hurt everywhere!” Naruto buried his face in the crown prince’s neck and cried against him. He could feel the crown prince’s hands rubbing his back. The crown prince hugged Naruto’s back and squeezed his shoulders. He held Naruto for a long time. He held Naruto and didn’t say anything else as Naruto cried into his shoulder and trembled uncontrollably. He continued to hold him tight and didn’t let go.

After a while. Naruto pulled back and stared at the crown prince. His eyes lingered to the crown prince’s lips. His lips were plump and soft-looking. His lips were a soft, delicate, pink color, like pink peonies sprouting through the fresh winter snow.

“Do you think I’m dirty?” Naruto whispered against the crown prince’s lips. “Do you think I’m a filthy whore?”

“No.” The crown prince breathed.

Naruto brought a hand up and his fingers brushed against the crown prince’s cheeks. They were warm. He brushed a thumb against the crown prince’s bottom lip.

“Will you kiss me then?” Naruto breathed and leaned closer, his eyes never leaving his lips.

Naruto didn’t have to wait for an answer. The crown prince bridged the gap and kissed Naruto. He could feel the crown prince’s lips pressed up against his. Naruto knew his own lips were chapped. He was dehydrated; he had expelled what little water he had through crying and now he was feeling manic. He could feel the poison in his bloodstream damaging his organs from the inside out. He had never been kissed before. He opened his mouth and without anyone telling them what to do Naruto could feel the crown prince’s tongue enter his mouth.

The crown prince’s tongue was sweet like the nectar of a peach and as soft as the inside of his own cheek. The volume of the world turned down and lacrimosa played inside his head. He could feel himself, lose himself, within the crown prince.

It happened again. Another premonition. Naruto found himself right outside the palace walls.

When Naruto opened his eyes he was looking at a battlefield. He could see the Konoha banners of red and gold blowing in the wind. He could see foot soldiers and soldiers on top horses lining up. He watched as archers drew their bows and pointed their arrows towards the sky. He could hear and feel the vibrations of drums playing. Naruto turned to see who was going up against Konoha. There was an insignia of a basilisk on emerald cloth. There was an equally massive military opposing Konoha. Standing in the front leading the opposing army was the crown prince. No longer a child. He was an adult. He was tall and muscular. He wore a loosened black kimono that exposed his chest. He was resting his sword on his left shoulder. The cursed seal had taken over more of his skin and the inkblots turned into symbols of an ancient language. The language used by the gods. The symbols on his skin were glowing. Even though it was daytime his ruby red eyes were illuminated and gleaming maliciously.

The crown prince was smirking. The ground began to rumble. Slithering to the front lines was a massive twenty-foot serpent as if chaos itself was reincarnated. The serpent encircled the crown prince and hissed at the Konoha military. The snake's eyes were glowing red. They matched the crown prince’s eyes down to the same cursed seals in each iris.

The crown prince had come for the throne. He had reached the palace walls and he wasn’t going to back down. The crown prince led the charge and the battle ensued.

Naruto blinked again and when he opened his eyes he was in the middle of a war-torn battlefield. Standing in a sea of corpses. He was the only survivor. The walls to the Konoha palace had fallen. It was evident who was victorious. The crown prince. They had breached the palace walls and stormed the palace.

“Naruto.”

He heard a voice calling his name. The voice circled him like a soft lullaby. It was a voice he never heard before yet at the same time it was as if he had always known this voice. Naruto looked and saw the personification of the sun god. She took the form of a woman. Long sun-colored hair that appeared to still burn reached the ground and encircled her in a ring. Her skin was the color of enriched mocha. Her eyes were blank white space. Silks covered her. She approached Naruto and he quickly collapsed and touched the ground with his forehead and palms.

“Naruto. I have shown you a vision of the future.” The sun god spoke. Her voice was heavenly. It was euphonious. She had kneeled down and placed her hand on Naruto’s cheek. It caused Naruto to lift his head and he slowly rose up until he was on the same eye level as her. He felt drunk. He hadn’t a drop of alcohol but it felt as if he was drunk and he didn’t want this feeling to end. This intoxication.

“You have been foretold in the prophecies to be the next high priest, and when you ascend I will give you power to defeat the god of chaos once again.”

“Me...the next high priest?” Naruto asked. He didn’t understand. The sun god pressed both her hands to Naruto’s cheeks and held his head tenderly.

“You are a worthy child. A pure child. A holy good child. You have been pure, and worthy, and holy good since conception. You have been destined to stop the cursed seal from your first breath in this world. You do not have the power to stop the cursed seal as you are now. There is nobody in the world who has the power to stop the cursed seal.”

Naruto’s eyes widened and his pupils dilated. The blacks of his pupils expanded until they resemble blackholes ready to suck everything all around him up and into his soul. He had been lied to. The high priest and the cardinal had lied to him. He had always been worthy. He had always been pure. He had always been holy good. He could feel hands on his body. Tongues all over his body. Every time he was forced to take the high priest’s seed. Being forced to take the cardinal’s seed. It was all a lie. They made his body feel weird and dirty for years and for what? He could feel tears streaming down his cheeks. He hadn’t blinked yet. He was unable to blink. The light that radiated from the sun god was so beautiful he couldn’t look away. Didn’t want to look away.

“What do I do? I am powerless, sun god!” Naruto pleaded.

“Emperor elect Itachi is going to fetch you and bring you back to the palace. He will protect you.”

“Emperor elect Itachi is coming to fetch me?” Naruto quivered. He didn’t understand. Why?

“I have appeared before him and shown him the same future I have shown you. This future is set in stone. When you become high priest and complete the ritual I will bestow upon you power needed to defeat the cursed seal.”

Naruto had listened with all five senses. Etched and engrained every single last detail into his memory. Let everything that was happening at this moment into him and he went into the moment.

“What about the crown prince?” Naruto asked.

“The cursed seal is from the god of chaos. He is your enemy. You need to be separated from him, or he will corrupt you-- as the high priest and cardinal have corrupted you. Do not fret precious. I will cleanse you and protect you just this once. I will make you new again. The rest is up to you to finish.”

Naruto could feel the sun god’s arms wrapping around him. She had gathered Naruto up in her lap and Naruto could himself grow smaller and smaller until he was nothing but a swaddled newborn baby with the umbilical cord just cut being cuddled to her breast. As a newborn baby, he suckled from her breast. The milk tasted like sugar water and he couldn’t stop. He didn’t stop until he was fast asleep.

When Naruto opened his eyes he could feel the crown prince wrapped around him. They had fallen asleep on the veranda in a patch of warm sun. They were both clinging to each other. The first few things he noticed were the aches and the cramps from his body had vanished. The pain in his kidneys subsided. He felt energized. He could feel the poison in his body was expunged. He felt something else within him. He could feel it warming his stomach. It was the size of a pearl. A glowing pearl inside him. The protection of the sun god. The corruption that was inside him was gone.

It was impossible to kill the crown prince as he was right now. There was nobody in the world who was capable of killing the crown prince. The high priest had lied. The high priest did not have powers from the sun god to help, nobody did. Everything had been for naught. Everything the high priest had ever told him was a lie. It wasn’t Naruto who was filthy, and impure, and sinful. It was the high priest. It was Naruto who was supposed to ascend and take over. They had lied to him. They had lied to him over everything. His father did not commit any sins. It was a lie too, a lie meant to keep Naruto obedient. It was a domino effect and the more he relived every moment of his life in the temple the more lies were uncovered.

They made him a dog. He was turned into the high priest’s bitch.

The sun god was right. He needed to separate from the crown prince. Whenever he was around him his mind went foggy. He knew he didn’t hate the prince like he wanted to hate him. He knew he liked the prince and cherished the prince. It had to stop. Any longer and he knew he would fall in love with the prince. The kind of puppy love children experienced. Philia love. He wasn’t mature enough to know what eros love was. The crown prince was a wolf in sheepskin.

The crown prince had done things that confused Naruto.

The crown prince had slaughtered the chef, slaughtered Tenten, and if the cardinal was within distance he knew the crown prince would have slaughtered him too. Because. The crown prince knew what the cardinal did to him. When Naruto asked the crown prince if he thought he was dirty. He told him he didn’t and he believed the crown prince...and then the crown prince kissed him.

Even now he still clung to the prince. They were clinging to each other, pressed up against each other, so much that their heart beat synced up and it beat as one. Curled up in a sunspot on the veranda.

Naruto slowly wiggled away from the crown prince. He needed to stop. He needed to cut the cord. He pushed himself into a standing position and walked away as the crown prince remained sleeping.

Naruto didn’t serve the emperor. He didn’t serve the high priest. He served the sun god. He was a faithful servant to the sun. It was time to say goodbye to the crown prince. It was time to leave the crown prince. Emperor elect Itachi was on his way to fetch him and bring him back to the palace. Naruto had a role, he was to fulfill a prophecy that was set in place from his first breath in this world. He had known, and accepted, that the crown prince was going to be executed. He now needed to accept that the person who would be the one to do it...was him.

*****

“Naruto...wake up!” It was the soft voice of the crown prince. Naruto could feel someone gently shaking his shoulder. He groaned and rolled over to his back. Sleep continued to cling to him like sandbags pulling him down.

“I want to show you something. Come on...wake up.” The crown prince was persistent. Naruto stretched and brought his hands up to his eyes and rubbed them. He fluttered his eyelids open and pushed himself up.

“It’s in the middle of the night. What is it?” Naruto yawned and stretched both hands high in the air. The crown prince grabbed Naruto’s hand and held it softly with him.

“I want to show you something. It’s a surprise.” The crown prince repeated. Naruto was entrapped in his eyes again. They shined as brightly as they’ve ever shined before liquid rubies that became incandescent at nighttime. His eyes were filled with warmth and the longer he looked at him the more breathless he became.

“Mhm.” Naruto agreed and nodded his head.

The crown prince didn’t let go of his hand. Naruto followed the prince off the veranda and down one of the paths. The moon was dim in the sky. A Cheshire smile that had grown menacingly as the night deepened. The moon that was once pale white was now gleaming a haunted yellow. Naruto hated that moon and kept his eyes focused on the path. He could feel the crown prince’s hand securely around his hand as if to say he didn’t have to be afraid because he was going to protect him.

The crown prince stopped. “Look up, Naruto.”
Naruto did as he was told and looked up. The sight was celestial. Hundreds if not thousands of fireflies were flying above the switchgrass of the gardens. Malignant yellows and oranges and reds. Their innumerable light glowed softly as if the universe plummeted down on earth. The fireflies looked to be dancing to tchaikovsky.

“Wow…” Naruto gasped. The sight filled with him with so much elation it bubbled over into an enchanting laugh. “I’ve never seen so many fireflies before!” Naruto let go of the crown prince’s hand and ran into the switchgrass. The blades licked his skin as he spun around and held his hands above him. He felt magical. He felt like he could control the fireflies.

“Do you like it?” The crown prince asked. He was beaming in delight.

“Yes!” Naruto shrieked in joy.

Naruto allowed himself to enjoy the fireflies with the crown prince. He allowed himself to run up to the crown prince and hold his hand. He spun the crown prince around as they played in the glow of the fireflies. It was their last night together, alone, at the manor. They had one last night to be enmeshed with each other. Naruto threw his arms around the crown prince’s neck and hugged him tightly.

“Thank you for waking me up to see this!” Naruto whispered in the crown prince’s ear. “I’ll never forget this.”

Naruto forgot about everything. What the cardinal did yesterday. The dismembered body of the chef in the kitchen and Tenten’s body outside. He forgot about what the sun god said. He forgot about the prophecy. He forgot about one day being the one to kill the cursed child, and he forgot about emperor elect Itachi fetching him. He forgot all of that and just embraced this moment with the crown prince.

*****

Sasuke heard the palace trumpets announcing members of the palace were coming. He turned and saw Naruto running at breakneck speeds towards the main gates as if he had been expecting them. He saw red and gold bannermen on top arabian horses. It was a large entourage moving with guardsmen and military filing through the main gates. It had piqued his interest and he followed after Naruto.

He was aware he had a brother. He was aware he had a mother, and he was aware his father was the emperor. He had lived his whole life at the manor. He had no memories of what any of them looked like. He had been brought here as a newborn and taken care of by a wet nurse. Despite all of this when a late teen on the cusp of adulthood emerged from one of the decorated, plush, carriages he knew immediately it was his brother.

He stopped alongside Naruto and watched from the corner of his eyes as Naruto bowed.

“Good afternoon little brother.” His brother greeted curtly. He was wearing a frozen smile. He didn’t know why his brother was putting on a show. It was as if he was trying to pass off fake pieces of art as genuine. The corners of his mouth twitched and Sasuke knew his brother couldn’t fake it for much longer. “I have come to summon you back to the palace. Emperor Fugaku has died and we are making arrangements for his funeral.”

Sasuke didn’t understand what that had to do with him. The only scenario that made plausible sense for returning to the palace was for the temple to carry out their assassination of him. He knew that his father refused to sign the execution warrant, with him gone there was really nothing in the temple’s way. He gritted his teeth. Although his father spared his life he was not a father. His mother who agreed to have him raised at the manor was not his mother. His brother who hadn’t visited him once in these past twelve years was not his brother.

He gritted his teeth so forcefully his molars nicked the side of his cheeks and he could feel blood filling his mouth from the wounds. His fists balled so fiercely into fists his nails cut open the flesh of his palms. He could taste the blood swishing across his tongue. The taste of metallic pennies. He was about to refuse when he felt Naruto’s hand taking his hand. She thread her fingers with his and held him. He turned to see Naruto next to him and she was squeezing his hand reassuringly.

“Let’s go back to the palace together.” Naruto spoke softly.

“No...I...want to stay here with you!” He argued and encased her hand with both of his.

“I have to attend the funeral. Please say you’ll come with me?” Naruto leaned closer and with her free hand cupped his ear and whispered. “I don’t want to have to face the cardinal alone, please Sasuke.” It was as if she knew the words to say to make him agree.

Her voice tickled the hairs inside his ear canal. Her words reverberated through him. The meaning wretched his heart and he could feel the cursed seals reacting. He could feel his blood boiling. He was going to kill the cardinal. Nothing was going to stop him. He didn’t want to leave Naruto alone. He nodded his head.

“Naruto?” Itachi asked and turned to look at her. Sasuke shot a reproachful look at his brother. Itachi laughed coldly. “I didn’t recognize you. You look like a feral cat, and you smell putrid. Before you enter any of my carriages I want you to take a bath.”

“What did you say?” Sasuke yelled. His brother’s words were too cruel.

“Yes, emperor elect.” Naruto agreed. Sasuke whipped his head back to Naruto when she said his brother’s title. She was trying to remove her hand from his. “Let go, please, crown prince!” She begged. She went back to using titles. He refused. He didn’t want to let her hand go.

“You don’t smell!” He told Naruto.

“I’ve brought you a dress so you can stop wearing those slave garments.” Itachi continued. He snapped his fingers and pointed towards Naruto.

One of his guardsmen came out with a long white dress decorated with pearls and lace frills. At the sight of the dress and the potent smell of the temple on the dress, Sasuke let go of Naruto’s hand. He had a visceral reaction to the smell and he covered his mouth and nose with his hand. His eyes watered and he fought back the urge to gag. He watched as Naruto took the dress, bowed, and ran in the direction of the bathhouse. He scowled at his brother.

“You don’t have to scowl at me, little brother. I will not sign an execution warrant on you. I am welcoming you back into the palace. Father was a coward for banishing you.” Itachi declared with a curt smile. Sasuke’s eyebrows furrowed. The hardening pit in his stomach told him it was a trap. Still. He didn’t want to leave Naruto. He knew returning to the palace was a bad omen, and yet he went anyway.

*****

“Naruto.” Sasuke spoke struggling to keep an even voice.

He was breathing through his mouth. The smell that was coming from Naruto was unbearable. He didn’t want to be separated from Naruto as the entourage made its journey back to the capital and yet halfway through their journey he could barely keep himself from vomiting. He was having a visceral reaction to the temple smell and the temple smell had sealed around Naruto. The cursed seal was burning against his skin.

“Mhm?” Naruto murmured. She sat across from him and had been looking out the window. She hadn’t looked at him unless he spoke to her and when she did respond it was a minimal response that wasn’t even words. ‘Ah’. ‘Mhm’. ‘Ngh’. He could feel her pulling away from him and he could feel an invisible barrier around her and it wasn’t just the putrid smell of the temple. He didn’t understand.

“I’m scared.” Sasuke confessed. It was these words that caused Naruto to turn and look at him. These words caused Naruto to use real words.

“Scared of what? There’s nothing to be scared of.” The way Naruto spoke disregarded everything he was feeling and made him feel like he shouldn’t be feeling the way he was feeling. She spoke curtly and dismissively.

“The temple has tried killing me before…” Sasuke spoke.

He didn’t know why he thought now was the good time to have a serious conversation. The last three months he spent with Naruto neither divulged any personal information. Even though Sasuke knew Naruto knew about him, the only thing Sasuke knew about Naruto was she was a child of the temple.

“Why are you worried? The temple isn’t strong enough to kill you.” Naruto spoke in a matter-of-fact voice. There was no empathy in her voice. She was stating a fact. Sasuke stared hard at her. He caught her eyes and held her gaze. She didn’t turn away; she kept staring back. There was a coldness shrouding her. He didn’t understand this personality change. The warmth he felt back at the manor was gone.

“How do you know?” He asked desperately.

“I’m a child of the temple.” Naruto answered in her matter-of-fact, succinct voice. “You’re stronger than the temple..actually...”

Naruto dropped her voice. He didn’t know why. They were the only ones in the carriage and the carriage driver couldn’t hear them with the commotion and noise of the horses galloping and wheels hitting the ground. Naruto stood up and rested her hands on either side of Sasuke’s head up against the leather seat he was sitting on. She stepped closer and Sasuke immediately covered his nose and mouth with his hand. The smell was so revolting tears filled his eyes and started streaming down his cheeks. He held his breath.

She leaned down and whispered in his ear. “There is nobody in this world that can kill you right now. You are stronger than everyone, Sasuke.” His eyes widened at her words. She was using a serious tone, one he hadn’t heard her use before. She sounded older than she was, wiser beyond her years. His heart thumped. It made him think when she told him he was the crown prince and should start acting like it. Her words erased the fears instantaneously. The confidence she had in the response was calming.

He believed her.

She pulled back and stared into his eyes this time she was holding his gaze. He wanted so desperately to see the blueness of her eyes. He couldn’t. The world was still black and white.

“So there is nothing to be afraid about. Ne?” She tilted her head and smiled. She sat back down on the opposite leather seat and moved her head to stare back outside the window. She had put up the barrier again.

*****

They had reached the capital at midnight. Even though it was the middle of the night there were so many lanterns lit up it illuminated the horizon and made seeing the stars difficult. He didn’t see many people walking around, and those he did see were dressed in black. Some were wearing black veils, and they all wore sorrowful expressions. They were in mourning.

The palace and temple were both located behind the palace walls. The temple was carved from marble and human bones. The palace was carved from marble and gold. The temple had a gothic exterior with twenty-foot stained glass windows.

The carriage door opened and Naruto was the first to get out. The further away Naruto walked away the easier Sasuke was able to breathe. He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs a few times before exiting.

There were rows of maidservants waiting for them. He watched guardsmen escorting his brother towards the palace. His eyes went immediately to Naruto. She was standing with her head bowed and her hands clasped behind her back. She was speaking to a man dressed in heavy robes and wearing a large extravagant hat. He walked up to her. He was hearing parts of the conversation. His brother had intervened.

“This is a mistake. She is a child of the temple and the temple is where she belongs!” The high priest spoke directly to Itachi.

“Did you, or did you not, assign her to be the maidservant to crown prince Sasuke?” Itachi asked brashly. “For the time being she is still the maidservant and she needs to complete her duties.”

Sasuke stood by Naruto’s side. The smell coming from the high priest was the same smell that filled the carriage. It was the festering smell of the temple. It smelled like brimstone and sulfur. The high priest curled his lip as he looked down at him. This wasn’t the man who hurt Naruto. This wasn’t the cardinal.

“Naruto. Speak up. Tell the emperor elect you want to return to the temple.” The high priest demanded.

Naruto shook his head no. “I want to remain serving crown prince Sasuke.” Hearing those words caused Sasuke’s heart to skip a beat and he felt his cheeks burning. She didn’t want to be separated either!

“You little fucking bitch!” The high priest screamed at Naruto.

“High priest. Please conduct yourself in a manner fitting the temple. You are acting like a drunkard fool using such language against a child. It is no wonder people are turning their noses up at the temple.” Itachi spoke sardonically. “The funeral is tomorrow. I expect you to be professional. Now I bid you a goodnight.” Itachi rested his hand against Naruto’s back and led him in the direction of the palace. There were five guardsmen that followed.

Sasuke looked at the ugly expression the high priest wore and smirked. He followed behind Naruto and Itachi. Once inside the palace, the doors closed and guardsmen continued to be posted outside and inside the doors. The palace was beautiful. It was made from marble, the ceiling was high, there were large decorative columns. The palace was decorated with gold trim, tapestries, and paintings. Everything was clean and pristine. Itachi stopped walking and turned to Naruto.

“Naruto. Continue your duties as a maidservant to crown prince Sasuke.” Itachi commanded, without another word he left. Naruto bowed his head and walked up to Sasuke. There were maidservants carrying their luggage behind them.

“Follow me. I’ll show you to your room.” Naruto spoke softly.

*****

Naruto’s heart wouldn’t calm down. He felt jittery. The moment the high priest called him a little bitch an uncontrollable fear gripped him. He thought the priest was going to drag him by his hair into the temple and throw him on the altar and strip him naked. The sun god was right. Itachi had fetched him and was protecting him from the high priest. He didn’t know how long the protection was going to last.

Naruto belonged in the temple. If not. How else was he going to ascend as high priest?

He continued the act as a maidservant. He showed the crown prince to a luxurious guest bedroom. It was lavished in modern furniture with a four-post bed that had curtains to allow for added privacy. There were dressers and wardrobes, a table and chairs, a large mirror, and a fireplace. There were expensive rugs on the floor and beautifully sewn curtains covering the arched windows.

“This is your room, crown prince. Is it to your liking?” Naruto asked. He gestured around the room. It was far superior in every way than his room at the main house back at the manor.

“My room? Where is your room?”

“I will be next door. We cannot share a room here in the palace. It is unbecoming.”

“I want to sleep next to you though…I don’t mind sleeping on the floor.”

“Please, crown prince. We need to follow the rules here.” Naruto spoke sternly. He went back to implementing boundaries. His mistake was becoming so enmeshed with the crown prince at the manor it made conversations like this impossible to have without emotions getting in the way. Naruto knew he had to be stern and not be swayed by the crown prince’s words, tone, or expressions.

“I will see you for breakfast tomorrow. Goodnight.” Naruto bowed at the waist and left.

Maidservants came in and placed the crown prince’s luggage around the room. He needed to put physical distance between him and the crown prince. They had become so enmeshed at the manor. Being back at the palace felt like he had left neverland and went back to the real world. He felt whiplashed and out of sorts. He had to quickly relearn how to function back within the palace walls.

Naruto knew the palace. When he was younger Emperor Fugaku would invite the temple children to play and they had free roam over the palace playing hide and seek and tag. He had come here for many functions and events. He had come here during different holidays and festivals. The palace was his second home. He felt comfortable within the palace walls.

He felt safe.

In his room he got on his knees and prayed to the sun god. Thanking the sun god for protecting him from the wrath of the high priest. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how he was going to ascend when the members within the temple blindly followed every order the high priest dictates. He used the words the sun god told him like a mantra.

He was worthy. He was pure. He was holy good.

Naruto opened up his suitcase and pulled the vial. He had taken the vial on his way to the bathhouse. He had hidden it in his maidservant's outfit and packed it into his suitcase. He held the vial in his hand. The vial of poison. Should he poison the high priest? No. He couldn’t use this. It wouldn’t kill him. If he wanted to kill the high priest he needed a more potent poison. He twirled the vial in his hands hoping by touching and holding it he would get an idea.

What if he poisoned the children in the temple? Put the poison in their food. Have them all become sick. Would they blame the high priest...or...Naruto looked at the right wall. Would they blame the crown prince? The high priest was charismatic and was able to spin straw into gold when it came to words. As long as the crown prince was within the palace walls. Any misfortune that was to befall the palace or the temple would be blamed on him regardless.

He knew the high priest was going to use this chance to slander the crown prince. He shook his head. How was he supposed to win in a game when he was playing checkers and the adults were playing chess? He placed the vial back into his suitcase. No. He could play. He could play the same games. He had the potential it was within him. He had the sun god on his side. He had the sun god and everything was going to work out. It had to.

*****

It was the first time a funeral took place at the palace that Naruto was not with the children of the temple. It was the first time he was dressed in black. He wore a black dress, black stockings, black shoes, and a black veil. If he hadn’t lived his life in a flimsy maidservant’s outfit every day for the last three days he would have felt incredibly uncomfortable. Instead, he welcomed the change. The material was high grade and the seams were perfectly sewed as if the seamstress already knew Naruto’s measurements, and the dress was tailored to him. He was standing next to the crown prince who was wearing black robes. The crown prince looked groggy and lost as if he wasn’t able to sleep all last night.

Emperor Fugaku’s body was on display on top of the altar at the sun god temple. All palace funerals were held at the temple. There were beautiful colorful flowers encircling the altar. It reminded Naruto of the gardens at the manor. The stained glass depicted the sun god descending to earth and gifting power to the high priest. There were other panels of the high priest giving sermons to his congregation, playing with the children of the temple, and silently kneeling and praying in solitude.

The crown prince had been detached and expressionless throughout the services. He hadn’t said a single word as if he had become mute. Naruto was standing between the crown prince and emperor elect. Neither the crown prince’s brother nor mother acknowledged or engaged the crown prince in conversation. Neither seemed to look his way and both pretended he did not exist. Naruto had become the bridge between the crown prince and his estranged family as if he moved from the role of maidservant to the role of translator.

Naruto looked to see where the children of the temple were all gathered. They were all dressed in their white uniforms. They were all clean and radiate. They were all pale and beautiful. He had caught a few eyes of the children and tried to communicate to them why he wasn’t standing over there with them, and standing with the royal family. It was impossible through glances and expressions.

The funeral services started from sunup and ended at sundown when Emperor Fugaku’s body was burned on a pyre in the courtyard. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. At nine o’clock they sat down for a fest in one of the great dining halls of the palace. There were long tables where the entire Uchiha Clan congregated. There were noticeable important figures. There was the high priest, the cardinal, the children, and other prominent members of the temple at another table. There was another table filled with important military members, another table filled with envoys, delegates, architects, mathematicians, poets, and artists. There was a band playing music.

The tables had a large spread of any food that could be imagined as well as endless cups of wine. Servants dressed in black and white maid outfits changed out empty platters with fresh platters and filled empty cups.

Naruto sat at the head table with the royal family emperor elect Itachi, the widower Mikoto, crown prince Sasuke. There were other special members of the Uchiha clan seated at the table. Izumi and Shisui, and Emperor Fugaku’s right handyman, Obito. Naruto looked to see that the crown prince hadn’t eaten a single bite. He nudged the crown prince, and when the crown prince didn’t look at him he kicked him. It caused a reaction and the crown prince turned and looked at him.

“Do you want me to force-feed you again?” He asked and smiled. He held a spoonful of curry up. The crown prince furrowed his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. He moved back to staring at his plate. Naruto’s eyes dropped and he started listening to the conversation the rest of the table was having.

“Have you decided on your bride?” Mikoto asked Itachi. She was still wearing the black veil. She wasn’t eating as much as moving food around her plate.

Itachi looked at Izumi and smiled. “I have. Shall I make the announcement now?”

“Mhm. Preparations need to be made for the marriage for when you are sworn in as emperor.” Mikoto answered.

“Shisui...will you be my right-hand man?” Itachi asked Shisui and he smiled and nodded his head.

Itachi stood up and cleared his throat. When he started speaking the room became so quiet a pin drop could be heard. He erupted into a charismatic smile as he delivered his speech.

“As we celebrate the legacy of Emperor Fugaku we celebrate twenty-five years of prosperity. Our people have been blessed with fruitful crops, trade commerce with neighboring countries has increased, and we have made a peace agreement with Suna. My father was a kind ruler who cared for the people. His legacy will continue when I become emperor. He had harrowing plans for Konoha before he became ill and was taken from us too soon. I do want to share my father’s deathbed wish he had for me. He had chosen who I was going to marry, and take in as my bride. My father said he had a vision from the sun god about a prophecy. A prophecy that has been shown to the temple and has been ignored and disgraced. Naruto Namikaze is destined to be the next high priestess. My father knew about the corruption within the temple and how disgraced the sun god has become over the crimes that have taken place within the temple. My father’s wish was for me to marry and form a new alliance to form between the Emperor and the temple.”

Itachi gestured towards Naruto. “It is why I plan on taking Naruto Namikaze as my bride. She will be the empress and will ascend as high priestess. Naruto, will you marry me?”

Chapter Text

 

Up to that point Naruto’s interactions with crown prince Itachi were strained. Naruto saw them as attempted power imbalances bordering cruelty. In Naruto’s eyes, they were a common child-child interaction with Naruto being younger and the crown prince being older. Naruto didn't know how crown prince Itachi saw their interactions. Every interaction since their first interaction was nothing but friction. A force resisting.

The only thing that changed drastically between their interactions was crown prince Itachi’s hair length. Itachi had very short hair at their first interaction, and now his hair was even longer than Naruto’s.

The first time he was at the palace it was during the summer solstice. He had drunk too much and had a full bladder. He was afraid he was going to wet himself. He wandered around the palace looking for a bathroom. He thought about just leaving and going back to the temple. He started crying. He didn't think he would make it. He crossed his legs and was about to give up thinking he couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“What are you doing here?” Crown prince Itachi asked. Itachi was a child hitting his first double digits. He had an air of superiority. He appeared in the corridor, turned his nose up at Naruto, and looked down at him. “What an ugly face.” He sneered.

“I...have to go to the bathroom.” Naruto cried. He wasn’t even processing that he was called ugly all he could think about was how painfully he needed to use the bathroom. He had a hand between his legs holding himself thinking it would give him a few more minutes of being dry before his small body was unable to hold it any longer.

Crown prince Itachi sighed. “Follow me. If you piss on the floors I’ll make you clean it up!”

Naruto followed the prince down another corridor and showed him a closet-sized room with a toilet. There was plumbing that had been recently installed within the palace. It was rumored the temple would be the next to get indoor plumbing. Naruto ran into the closet-sized room and closed the door behind him. He pulled his dress up, sat over the hole of the toilet, and peed. He could feel his urine exploding from his body and the instant release caused him to shudder in delight. He could feel the pain of holding his bladder subside and a wave of endorphins and relief washed over him. When he was finished. He stood up and pulled the cord that was connected to the toilet. It flushed. He sighed deeply.

He hadn’t wet himself. He was proud of himself.

He opened the door and saw crown prince Itachi waiting there. Naruto’s face turned the color of an heirloom tomato. “You-you-you were listening!” He accused. He felt embarrassment choking him out. His stomach tightened. He didn’t want anyone to hear him using the toilet. He wanted to crawl into a dark hole and hide.

“Don’t get the wrong idea. I wanted to make sure you don’t go sneaking through rooms and stealing!” The crown prince harassed.

“Why would I steal? I’m a child of the temple!” Naruto argued back. If he had stolen anything he would have been flogged.

“You’re just a crybaby who almost pissed themselves.” The crown prince spoke sarcastically. “Some child of the temple you are. Let’s go back to the festival.” He folded his arms and smirked.

Naruto reddened even more. He could feel his neck reddening and his ears reddening. He didn’t like the crown prince’s personality. He couldn’t argue because it was true. If the crown prince hadn’t found him when he did within a minute he would have been crying standing in a puddle of his own urine.

When they walked back to the solstice festival Naruto touched Itachi’s hand, smiled at him, and said, “Thank you for helping me go to the bathroom.” Before joining the other temple children who were lighting floating lanterns.

The second time he had exchanged words was during a game of hide and seek. Naruto opened the door to the drawing room and saw crown prince Itachi painting. It was too late to find another room and he froze. Crown prince Itachi peered over the easel. He held a paintbrush and palette in his hands. His obsidian eyes locked on to his.

“You can hide in here.” Crown prince Itachi granted him permission.

Naruto sighed in relief. Naruto immediately crouched down and crawled into the room. He thought if he made himself small and crawled he wouldn’t disturb the crown prince. He peeked and saw that crown prince Itachi was giving him an incredulous look as he watched him crawling around. He crawled to where the thick heavy curtains were and crouched down concealing himself with the burgundy cloth. His knees were drawn up and he wrapped his arms around his legs.

“I can see your feet.” Crown prince Itachi said loudly. Naruto stood up and balanced himself on the ledge of the window. He was small enough that he could balance on it and have his feet dangle.

“What about now?” Naruto asked.

“No, but I can see your outline against the curtains.”

Naruto groaned. He started maneuvering the curtains so that they bunched up more.

“How about now?” Naruto asked again. He had bunched up the curtains, and balanced on the window ledge.

“No.”

A few minutes later Naruto heard a door opening within seconds of someone entering the room the crown prince declared loudly. “He’s hiding behind the curtains.”

The betrayal caused Naruto to push the curtains open and gave the crown prince a mortified expression. Konohamaru who was it ran up to Naruto and tagged him beaming. “Found you, Naruto!”

“Why did you do that?” Naruto balked and he gave the crown prince an unbreakable stare. Konohamaru who tagged Naruto ran laughing from the room.

“I wondered if you’d make a funny expression and you did.” The crown prince smirked. “You should be more cautious of who you trust.” Itachi spoke as if wanting to make a lesson out of it to hide the fact he did it on purpose.

“Why even help me hide then?” Naruto continued to argue. He didn’t understand anything that crown prince Itachi ever did. He was hot and cold. He was a cat playing with a mouse.

“I was bored.” The crown prince flashed a mischievous smile revealing rows of straight, white teeth. Naruto rolled his eyes and left the drawing room slamming the door behind him.

The third time was in the library. It was a gigantic two story library with bookcases from floor to ceiling filled with books from all over the world. Some books were in different languages. Some books were pocket sized, some were gigantic and resting on tables. Some were made from animal skin. Some were made from thin sheets of wood. The previous emperor had spent much of his time ruling gathering books and knowledge from all over the world. He had contributed to the continued prosperity of Konoha. He had invited scholars, poets, artists, philosophers, astronomers into the palace for feasts and to engage in intellectual talk. Any special, precious book was given to the temple to store in the precious items room.

Naruto was nestled in a chair reading a folktale. He had taken solace in the library.

Crown prince Itachi appeared and stopped walking when he saw Naruto. He had a book in his hand. Naruto looked up and accidentally locked eyes with him. He didn’t say anything and returned back to his book, ignoring him.

“Why are you here?” Crown prince Itachi asked. There was irritation in his voice. “Shouldn’t you be with the other kids in the courtyard enjoying the winter solstice event?”

“Emperor Fugaku told me I could read in the library anytime I wanted.” Naruto answered in a matter-of-fact voice. He didn’t bother looking up.

“Leave. I want to be alone!” Crown prince Itachi spoke angrily.

Naruto didn’t lookup. He was still reading. “I was here first.”

“I’m the crown prince! You have to listen to me! This is my palace!”

“I’m a child of the temple, I do not have to take orders from you. I serve the sun god.” Naruto countered. He still kept his eyes locked on the pages of the book. He wanted to finish reading the page. It was about a man who kept killing his wives and hiding their bodies in a room. His newest, youngest, bride had just unlocked the door and found the bodies. He wanted to know how she was going to react.

“You’re the only temple brat that doesn’t listen to me! All the other temple brats listen and love me and you’re the only one acting like this! Maybe if you keep sweet with me and beg me I’ll let you read in my library.”

It was true. When crown prince Itachi interacted with the other temple children he was kind, he was gentle, and he smiled warmly. The children loved and listened to crown prince Itachi. Some of the girls commented on how handsome he was and pondered who he was going to marry, speculating he was going to marry the most beautiful girl in Konoha. Maybe it was because all the interactions with him that Naruto had were...spiteful. It was probably because Naruto saw his true personality. A spoiled, self-absorbed first born son who spent his days indulging in his impulses. None of it was praiseworthy. Itachi acted sweet to the temple children and in turn, they acted sweet back.

“Is that how you’re going to act when you’re emperor?” Naruto asked. He brought his eyes up and looked at crown prince Itachi. He wasn’t going to beg Itachi, or be sweet. It was a trick, a setup, and he wasn’t going to fall for it. His obsidian eyes were smoldering. He was a teenager and he was throwing a fit just because Naruto was reading quietly in the library? Just because he wasn’t sweet with him? He was throwing a fit because Naruto didn’t have to take orders from him?

“Throwing fits when things don’t go your way?” Naruto spat. It was something about Itachi that brought the worst out of him. It was that friction. They acted volatile to one another. Opposing forces that clashed everytime they were alone.

“People have to listen to the emperor. The emperor has absolute power. You have to listen to me, and you will listen and obey me.”

“I don’t.” Naruto spoke sharply. “The rest of Konoha may listen to you. Doesn’t mean I will. I told you before I don’t take orders from you.”

“Yes you will!” His screams filled the library.

“Whatever you say, crown prince.” Naruto answered sarcastically. He closed the book. He knew if he remained in the library he wouldn’t be able to finish reading. It was a lose-lose situation. He stood up and placed the book back on the shelf. He walked past the crown prince and left the library.

When Naruto returned a few days later to the library he went to the shelf where the book belonged. He searched and searched and he couldn’t find it. He started looking on the other shelves thinking maybe he misplaced it. Then thinking maybe someone else read it and put it back on another shelf. After fifteen minutes of searching the shelves he heard crown prince Itachi’s voice from behind him.

“Looking for this?”

Naruto turned around and saw crown prince Itachi pointing towards a bucket of water on a table. Inside the bucket of water was a waterlogged book. Naruto frowned and his eyebrows furrowed together as he walked up to the bucket. He reached in and pulled the book out. It was the book he was reading about the man who kept killing his wives. The ink had dissolved. The pages clung together and when he tried opening the book pages tore. A feeling of sadness filled him. He had only wanted to finish reading the book. He couldn’t stop himself from crying. He hadn’t done anything mean-spirited to crown prince Itachi. It wasn’t fair.

“Why...why did you do this?” Naruto cried and looked at the crown prince. “I left the library just like you asked...I just wanted to finish reading it.” He dropped the book on the floor. It hit with a waterlogged splat. He couldn’t stop crying. Now he was never going to find out what happened in the book.

“You really are an ugly crybaby. I wanted to see that ugly crybaby face you make!” Crown prince Itachi sneered. “Maybe you should start listening to me. I’m going to be emperor one day. If you just listened to me I wouldn’t have to make you cry.”

“It doesn’t mean I’ll listen to you.” Naruto argued. It had the opposite effect.

“Yes you will! I will make you listen to me!” Crown prince Itachi yelled and grabbed his wrist and jerked him. His grip on his wrist was rough and strong. It caused his skin around Itachi’s fingers to turn red.

“Let me go! I hate you!” Naruto cried. “You’re ugly and cruel and I hope you get warts all over your face!” He knew Itachi took vanity in his face. He had caught Itachi admiring his reflection a few times. Right now he didn’t want to be touched or jerked around by anyone. He already endured being touched and jerked around by the high priest. He wasn’t about to be touched and jerked around by a rotten to the core crown prince.

Naruto rammed his shoulder into Itachi’s ribcage and knocked the older boy up against a shelf of books. He used his whole weight and knocked the breath from Itachi’s lungs. It caused books to fall off the shelf and hit Itachi in the head. Itachi let go of Naruto and Naruto leaped backwards like a cat. His heart thumped. Seeing Itachi fall backwards and books hitting him snapped him back to reality. The reality was he had just attacked the crown prince. Fear of discipline paralyzed him. Once he regained control of his body he fled the library as tears continued to stream down his face.

Naruto had braced himself for the fallout. He spent the next few weeks flinching whenever the high priest called him, expecting to be disciplined for attacking the crown prince. It never happened. Did crown prince Itachi not tell? It might have looked bad on him. A little girl getting the best of the crown prince? No. It wouldn’t look good on his image. Maybe this was calling it even.

 

Afterwards, he had mostly avoided crown prince Itachi. He stopped venturing off alone in the palace and stopped going to the library. He didn’t want to go anywhere that the prince might corner and torment him. During large events, he stuck close to the other temple children and whenever he used the bathroom he buddied up with two other children. Whenever crown prince Itachi appeared he did not engage in any conversation unless he was asked a direct question. Only then did he give simple, short, responses, responses which shut out any continuance of a conversation. He continued the silent treatment and continued to ignore him. He could see that this bothered the crown prince more and more every time Naruto did it. He didn’t understand why the crown prince kept singling him out, but he was going to do everything in his power to prevent it and to show the crown prince he had no power over him.

Their last interaction was the night before Naruto was to go to the manor.

Emperor Fugaku had agreed it was a good idea to send Naruto out to the manor to accompany crown prince Sasuke. Although emperor Fugaku was ill and couldn’t leave his bed he had invited the children of the temple to a goodbye feast in Naruto’s honor. There was a rumor going around the palace on the real reason emperor Fugaku was so gentle to the temple children. He had wanted more children but after the birth of his second son who bore the curse he had refused to engage in any more sexual activity with either empress Mikoto or the concubines. There was no need for royal concubines and they were removed from the palace. That hole inside him that wanted more children were filled with the children of the temple.

Empress Mikoto, and crown prince Itachi were at the feast. There were other members of the Uchiha clan including crown prince Itachi’s best friend, Shisui, and a girl Naruto had been seeing hovering around crown prince Itachi more frequently, Izumi. Naruto had thought Izumi was one of the most beautiful girls he has ever witnessed. She was the same age as the crown prince and had the kind of beauty that poets wrote about and painters painted.

Naruto excused himself to use the toilet. He had grown accustomed to the entire layout of the palace. When he finished he started walking back to the dining hall. He turned the corner and his foot hit something and he lost his balance and fell forward. He braced himself with his hands and knees. The shock temporarily caused him to lose his breath. He stared at the marble floors realizing he was okay he had just tripped.

“So they’re shipping you off to take care of my freak of a brother?” Crown prince Itachi sneered. Naruto didn’t answer. He pushed himself up and tried walking away when he felt an arm string along his shoulder and he was pulled to the crown prince.

“It would be a shame if my brother killed you. I hear he has a bloodthirst and they can’t keep people employed because he keeps killing them.” Crown prince Itachi whispered in his ear. His voice was husky.

“I don’t have to see you...so I consider it a bonus.” Naruto murmured. “You’re almost an adult, aren't you embarrassed still picking on a child?” With these words, he was released.

“You took the words right out of my mouth.” The crown prince spoke and started walking back towards the dining hall. Naruto exhaled. He had thought the crown prince was going to say something more, but he had dropped it. Naruto’s heart continued to beat erratically again not knowing the reason behind any of Itachi’s behaviors. He remained on edge the rest of the farewell dinner.

Even at their reunion yesterday crown-no-emperor elect Itachi told he looked like a feral cat and smelled. It was the response he had expected. They were never on friendly terms. Not even a little in the beginning. The only time Naruto thanked him was their first encounter when Itachi led him to a toilet so he didn’t piss himself.

He remembered the sun god saying that Itachi was going to protect him from the temple. It was why he was so startled. He didn’t understand why. He didn’t understand if they saw the same vision. What made Itachi a willing participant? He wanted to know what Emperor Fugaku spoke to Itachi about besides just wanting to merge the palace and the temple, and why Itachi was so willing to go along with it.

*****

“Naruto, will you marry me?”

When emperor elect Itachi asked him to marry him his mind went completely blank. Every single interaction he had with Itachi danced across his memory. Itachi was now eighteen. He was an adult. His birthday had passed. Naruto was still a child. He was turning thirteen in four months. He replayed the sun god’s words to him. That Itachi was going to protect him from the temple...was this the only way? Through marriage? If he married Itachi he would remain living in the palace.

The high priest couldn’t touch him...couldn’t touch him anymore.

Naruto was petrified of returning to the temple knowing what he knew now. He was afraid if the high priest took him to the shrine again and forced him to take his seed he would have spilled his guts and told the high priest all the lies he had brainwashed him with. There were several instances when the high priest choked him into unconsciousness and he was afraid the high priest wouldn’t stop this time, and he would be choked to death, or beaten to death, or he would throw his head in the tub of holy water and drown him.

“Emperor elect Itachi.” The high priest cleared his throat and stood up. The room was still recovering from the revelation and remained funeral quiet. The high priest started walking towards the royal table. His boots clicked against the marble. A chill went down Naruto’s spine.

“That prophecy of what you speak of tells of a male heir who will one day take over as high priest. That prophecy is related to the Senju bloodline. Naruto is neither Senju bloodline nor a male. If you want to marry a temple child...might I recommend Hinata who is much more suited for you. Or. You do not have to marry any of the temple children and we can work on mending the relationship between the temple and the palace ourselves. Outside of marriage.”

Naruto hadn’t said anything. It felt like he was having an allergic reaction and his throat was swelling up. No. Every word the high priest spoke felt like he was strangling him. He could feel the high priest straddling him and choking him out on the floor of the temple as the sanguine light from the stained glass windows shined down on him. He could feel the phantom fingernails of the priest embedding themselves in the back of his neck.

“If you are concerned about Naruto being a child. I am not barbaric. I will not consummate the marriage until Naruto turns eighteen.”

“But that’s-” The high priest started to speak and was interrupted by emperor elect Itachi.

“The age the temple children undergo the ritualistic virginity loss to the sun god? What difference does it make? She will be my wife and she will lose her virginity just as it was planned for her. It doesn’t matter if it’s in my bed chambers or on the altar tell me where and we’ll consummate the marriage.”

“Naruto isn’t fitted to be the empress. She has spent the last three months slumming it with your younger brother doing god knows what! She needs to be repurified and that needs to occur back at the temple! I need to repurify her.”

“I can accompany her back to the temple so she can be repurified. There are no rules that say she cannot live in the palace as my bride and return to the temple to continue her temple duties.”

“Naruto.” The high priest spoke directly to him. His voice made him nauseated. He could feel the food from the feast festering in his stomach. He hated him saying his name. He made his name sound dirty. “I have taught you better than this if you keep turning your back on the sun god-”

“How will she turn her back on the sun god? She will be married to the emperor. Her virginity will be intact and she will continue her temple duties. What is the problem, high priest?”

“If she’s only going to have the tile and none of the responsibilities as your wife...why take her as a bride?” The high priest asked indignantly.

“It was Emperor Fugaku’s last dying wish to take Naruto Namikaze as my bride.”

Naruto felt a hand on him. He instinctively flinched thinking it was the high priest grabbing him and forcing him back to the temple. It was a warm hand. He looked and saw crown prince Sasuke resting his hand on top of his. He didn’t know why butterflies of guilt fluttered around his stomach. He had forgotten crown prince Sasuke was sitting by him this whole time. Why was this harder than it had to be? It wasn’t like he had a future with crown prince Sasuke. The last three months were a mistake. He had to forget about it.

He didn’t have a future. He still needed to come to terms that he was going to be the one to end crown prince Sasuke’s life. Once he ascended as high priest the sun god will bestow powers unto him...in order for Naruto to be considered he would need to have lost his virginity on his eighteenth birthday in a ritualistic ceremony. He squeezed his eyes closed he didn’t want to think about that part right now.

“Don’t.” Crown prince Sasuke spoke. Naruto opened his eyes.

That singular word struck him like a dagger to the heart. He would have rather relived the first time he ingested poison all over again only this time prevented the physician from knocking him out than what he was about to do next. Naruto made the mistake of looking at Sasuke’s eyes. They were filling up with tears. He was going to cry. He had never seen the crown prince cry before and it frightened him.

“Please.” The crown prince begged. It felt as if the crown prince wrapped his hands around Naruto’s heart and ripped it from his rib cage. It was better this way. Naruto didn’t need a heart anymore anyways.

Naruto stood up. The chair skidded across the marble. The sound hurt his ears. He took his hand from crown prince Sasuke’s and folded them in front of him. He bowed to emperor elect Itachi.

“I accept your proposal to become your wife, emperor elect Itachi.”

Yes. He would have rather gone back to the night he was screaming out his lungs as the poison riddled his body than have to spend another second in this moment. He could feel the crown prince’s eyes on him. It made the hairs on his neck stand on end. Naruto tried telling himself not to cry...to not be the crybaby he knew he was. Told himself to whistle in the dark later.

The high priest didn’t say more on the matter. Naruto heard the clicking of his boots as he walked in the opposite direction. He barked at the temple children to get up and return to the temple at once.

Naruto collapsed in his chair and focused his eyes back on his dinner plate. It was the safest thing to focus his attention on. He had lost his appetite and he was using his whole strength not to throw up the food he had already eaten. He was using his strength not to cry. He was using his strength not to go running and screaming away.

It was temporary. Naruto kept telling himself it was all temporary. To buy him enough time so he could think of a plan. What worried him most was the high priest's unwillingness to disclose Naruto’s true birth sex. Was he so afraid of Naruto becoming high priest that he would stand back and let him marry Itachi? He wouldn’t have to perform any wife duties in the bedroom. He would keep his virginity until he turned eighteen. He could keep hiding the fact that he was a boy a little longer. He knew he was going to have to cross that bridge when he turned eighteen.

Maybe the high priest was banking on the emperor murdering him when he found out. Naruto squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to have intrusive thoughts of the future. He couldn’t stop trembling.

“Let’s celebrate my engagement!” Emperor elect Itachi declared and called for more wine to be served. He looked at Naruto. “Pour Naruto a class of wine. She should be allowed one drink to celebrate her engagement. Isn’t it every little girl’s dream to become an empress?”

Naruto gritted his teeth. Itachi was still just as cruel. His personality is just as rotten. Naruto watched as a maid dressed in a black and white uniform poured him a glass of red wine. He thought about not drinking it. He waited a second before thinking it might be the best thing for him to help him sleep later. He picked up the class of wine.

“You’re too young to drink.” Crown prince Sasuke interjected.

“Leave me alone.” Naruto snapped and brought the glass to his lips and drank. It was sour. It didn’t taste like juice. It was fermented and bitter. He didn’t like the taste and when he made a face he could hear Itachi hollering in bitter laughter. He finished off the glass of wine in the next gulp and slammed the glass on the table.

Thirty minutes later Naruto stood up. He hadn’t eaten anything else and he could feel the wine swishing in his belly.

“I am retiring for the night to my quarters.” Naruto spoke politely and directly to emperor elect Itachi. He had kept using a submissive voice with him since yesterday. He was able to swallow his pride and play nice and submissive. He wasn’t going to be sweet. He had been doing it his entire life with the high priest. Why shouldn’t it be different with Itachi?

“I am a little sad you won’t be celebrating my engagement with me...then again you are still a child. I am sure we can make up more than enough when you turn eighteen.” Emperor elect Itachi spoke slyly and winked. He had glanced at Izumi and Shisui and they snickered.

Naruto knew they both knew what Itachi was planning on doing. He held his tongue and left.

*****

He had always envisioned Itachi marrying Izumi. The title of empress was only relevant in relation to birthing male heirs. Otherwise, there was no real power. Naruto wouldn’t have any real power. It was just a title. The emperor can bring back concubines and if that was the case then Izumi would probably become his concubine, and biologically, she can bear the throne’s heirs. It wouldn’t be the first time a concubine bore a male heir that became emperor. All of that was taken care of and the only problem was…

“Naruto!” Crown prince Sasuke was calling his name. He winced as if he had been slapped. He would have rather been slapped. “What...what was that about?”

“I am engaged to emperor elect Itachi.” Naruto answered, avoiding his eyes. He spoke in the same matter-of-fact voice he used in the carriage.

“I don’t...understand.”

“Well, an engagement is a formal agreement to get married.”

“I know what an engagement is!” The crown prince snapped and grabbed Naruto’s arm. “Why is it you! Why does it have to be you? Like the high priest said...why can’t it be Hinata?”

“I...I have always liked him!” Naruto lied.

“You’re lying!”

Was it that obvious? Naruto didn’t answer and continued his journey back to his room. When he opened the door crown prince Sasuke followed him inside the room. It was dark in his room. The only light was coming from the fireplace. A maidservant must have lit earlier. The yellow light danced around the room.

“You can’t be in here!” Naruto protested. It was unbecoming.

“I don’t want you to marry my brother!”

“What do you want me to do? Marry you?” Naruto asked spinning around so he could see the crown prince. It was night time and Sasuke’s eyes were glowing. Even within the palace walls, they were magnificent. It was his mistake for looking into his eyes. He felt weak.

“Yes! I want you to marry me!” Crown prince Sasuke sounded genuine and honest, and it broke Naruto. He had no impulse. It wasn’t what Naruto wanted to hear because the final threads to his sanity were cut. Naruto flew at Sasuke and shoved him.

“I don’t want to marry you!” Naruto screamed.

The crown prince kept his balance and held his arms out. “Why not?” His voice was even-toned. His voice was too gentle and it only made Naruto more furious.

Naruto went to hit the crown prince but the crown prince wrapped his arms around Naruto’s wrists and pushed him up against the door. The motion was swift and fluid; it left Naruto in a daze. He wasn’t hurt, he was just left reeling. Breathing through his mouth.

“Because you’re the cursed child!” Naruto screamed in Sasuke’s face. It caused Sasuke to let Naruto go, and Naruto’s hands fell to his side.

“I don’t accept that.” Sasuke answered softly. His eyes shifted back and forth. “No. Tell me something I can change!”

“Sasuke…” Naruto spoke. “I have liked Itachi for a long time. You are my friend, are you going to stop being my friend if I marry Itachi?”

“My brother doesn’t like you! He doesn’t love you...I love you! Why are you going to marry someone who doesn’t like you?”

“Are you going to stop being my friend if I marry Itachi?” Naruto repeated. He used the same voice he used when he asked the crown prince if he was going to kill him during their first time meeting.

He didn’t want to think about love and marriage. Love and marriage were meaningless to Naruto. He needed to ascend as high priest one way or another, and if he needed to have a loveless marriage to Itachi, so be it. He needed to serve the sun god. A cursed child who had the god of chaos in those seals wouldn’t know anything. A cursed child speaking about love as if he was capable of love. The cursed child was going to devolve into a madman just like Madara’s son.

“N-no! I still...love you!”

“Shut up we’re kids we don’t know what love is. Stop saying you love me because I don’t love you. I’m going to marry Itachi. I’m going to ascend as a high priestess. I belong in the temple...I don’t belong with the cursed child. I belong standing next to Emperor Itachi...not alongside the cursed child.” Naruto had been direct. He needed to be direct. He didn’t know what he was doing with the crown prince the last three months but it needed to end.

Silence befell the room. The only sound that could be heard was the faint crackling of the fire in the fireplace. Naruto kept staring into his eyes. They were filled with hurt. A different kind of hurt that Naruto hadn’t witnessed before. He knew the crown prince liked him but the way he looked at him said he had...loved him. Naruto reached his hand out towards Sasuke’s hand. He didn’t know why he was compelled to comfort him.

“Don’t.” Sasuke spoke and stepped back. “You’re right. I shouldn’t be in your room.” Sasuke reached for the doorknob. Naruto backed away from the door and watched as Sasuke opened the door and closed it after him.

*****

“You’re still a child.” Apophis hissed. “I told you things would turn out this way and you went and fell in love with her anyway.” It was a lecture he didn’t want to hear.

Sasuke had been pacing back and forth in his room. He wasn’t sleepy. He was more energized at night. He could feel the adrenaline coursing through his blood overloading his system. Sasuke left the room and walked down the corridor. Apophis followed curiously to see where he was going. He could feel the cursed seal throbbing in Sasuke.

“Where are you going?” Apophis asked.

“To kill the cardinal.” Sasuke answered. “Lend me your power.”

Apophis laughed. His eyes melted from golden yellow to the same color of blood as Sasuke’s. The cursed seal became imprinted in his irises. They had merged. Everything Apophis could see was seeable by Sasuke and everything Sasuke saw was seeable by Apophis. Sasuke was able to mask his footsteps. He held his breath and was able to slip from shadow to shadow as if slipping into air. He slipped out through a window on the second floor. He fell the two stories and landed on all fours. It didn’t hurt. He continued using the covering of night as he made his way to the temple. Clouds had covered the sky. As if chaos himself was protecting him for Naruto's sake.

“Let’s slaughter everyone.” Apophis spoke in a hopeful voice. “Rid the world of the wickedness of evil that masks itself as rightful.”

Sasuke ripped a piece of his shirt and used it to cover his nose and mouth. The smell was unbearable. It watered his eyes. The putrid smell of brimstone and sulfur.

“No. Only the cardinal.” Sasuke thought. Speaking would give up his position. His mind was linked with Apophis.

“Give yourself to me.” Apophis thought. “I can make it so you don’t feel guilt. I can kill for you.”

“No.”

Sasuke moved his way through the temple. He breathed through his mouth. The smell clung to his throat and burned his lungs as if he were inhaling a corrosive liquid. He heard a sound coming from the shrine in the back of the temple. Sasuke moved as if he had become the darkness and shadows that filled the temple at night. He could hear a muffled sound. He looked to see a man. He had a naked child on their knees with their forehead pressed to the altar. The child’s naked ass in the air and the cardinal had his hands on both butt cheeks spreading them as far as he could and his mouth up against the anus.

The child was whimpering and crying. This time their whimpering didn’t go on deaf ears.

Was this what Naruto experienced? Was this happening to every child of the temple? Any sexual relations with a child were forbidden and punishable by chopping off whatever body part abused the child. Tongue. Hands. Castration. Death. It should have been punishable by death. The law was too soft on criminals. Monsters who hide themselves away in the temple and have free reign over the children in their care. Sasuke wanted to take his time torturing and killing the cardinal. He wanted to lavish in the moment. He didn’t want to be seen by any witnesses and he didn’t want the child to suffer anymore.

He moved like a soft breeze. He swung his sword. He moved as fast and quietly as he was able with Apophis’ power. He swung his sword like an executioner ready to behead the criminal. The cardinal didn’t even remove his tongue from the child’s anus. His blade sliced through his neck as easily as a heated knife through butter and he beheaded the cardinal. The head detached from the cardinal’s body and blood squirted all over the naked child. The cardinal’s tongue was permanently out and his eyes remained closed as the head hit the marble floor. Blood continued to splurt violently up as the heart continued to pump. Within seconds without a signal from the brain to pump the heart stopped. The cardinal’s body flopped over.

The child turned around to see they were covered in blood and screamed. By the time the child screams alerted anyone of importance Sasuke had slipped back into his room. He closed and locked his door. He pressed his back against the door. Relishing in the moment he could feel his blade passing through the cardinal’s neck. It had gotten easier. He didn’t feel regret. He had killed everyone who had a hand in Naruto’s assault.

“You should give up on Naruto. There is nothing left attaching you to her. You killed off the last assailant. Return to the manor. It is not safe here.”

“What if someone else hurts her?”

“Itachi is protecting her.” Apophis hissed. “Or is that something you don’t want to acknowledge? Itachi is aware of the horrors that are happening within the temple. I bet the whole Uchiha clan is aware.”

“How is he protecting her?” Sasuke spat.

Apophis was right. He wanted to remain in denial. The blood on Sasuke’s body began to disintegrate. It was another one of his powers. The blood was either absorbed into his body or it simply disintegrated leaving no trail. He had no need to absorb the blood of a child predator. The blood on his sword was already gone. The sword was forged from one of the basilisk teeth five hundred years ago. The blade never dulled. It remained as sharp as the moment it was first forged.

“The high priest wanted Naruto to remain in the temple and Itachi refused. The high priest is against the marriage, and Itachi was insistent.”

“Why...he doesn’t love her!”

“We don’t need to know the answer. This doesn’t concern us. Let us return to the manor. Request another companion so you don’t get bored. That is the thing about humans. They are so replaceable.”

“I will never replace Naruto!”

“Fine. Don’t replace her. You can get a new companion. Another pretty little girl. Collect them like cockleshells.”

“I don’t want anyone else but her!”

“She is never returning to the manor. She is marrying your brother. She will become the empress.”

“I know. I still want to protect her!”

“Itachi is protecting her, she does not need you anymore. What is going to make you come to your senses? Do you need to be in the room on Naruto’s eighteenth birthday to watch them consummate the marriage for you to understand she will never be yours?”

“SHUT UP!” Sasuke yelled and covered his ears with his hands as if it had any effect on severing the connection with Apophis. He waited a few minutes before saying anything enough to soothe himself and clear his mind. Apophis’ eyes returned to a golden yellow glowering feverishly in the dark. The connection was broken but Apophis remained.

“I know...I know...I’ll leave on the day of her wedding.”

“Perfect.”

*****

Naruto was seated in one of the smaller dining rooms eating breakfast. He was expecting crown prince Sasuke to join him. He didn’t know why he was still wanting to see and talk to the crown prince. Why he still cared about the crown prince when he tried telling himself he shouldn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t anymore. It was harder to trick his emotions after all. The high priest never told them what to do when strong emotional connectedness formed. He had never felt this way about anyone.

It was better eating his breakfast alone. It was something he needed to get used to.

“Mhm. Why are you here by yourself? Did you finally break up with my little brother?” Itachi’s voice filtered through the dining room. Naruto’s head snapped up. He didn’t say anything. He held Itachi’s gaze. He had grown taller. His hair was still longer than his. He had the same colored skin as Sasuke. The color of virginal snow on top of a mountain.

“Did you hear what they found over at the temple last night?” Itachi asked and slid into the chair directly in front of him. Naruto shook his head.

“Someone beheaded the cardinal.”

Naruto’s eyes widened. He clutched his fork and knife in his hands. Held them as if he was holding on to them for dear life.

“It was my brother wasn’t it?” Itachi asked.

“No.” Naruto answered automatically. He broke eye contact and went back to eating his breakfast.

“How do you know?”

“I couldn’t sleep last night so we stayed up talking. He’s sleeping now.”

“So you haven’t broken up with him yet. Things will end when you become my wife.”

“By law things have to end. The empress cannot engage in sexual activity with anyone but the emperor. The emperor has no such restrictions, right?” Naruto asked coldly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Naruto cut a piece of steak, jabbed it with his fork, popped it into his mouth, and chewed. He didn’t answer Itachi. He had an excuse he was chewing. He could feel Itachi’s eyes drilling holes into him. He swallowed and picked up and drank from his glass of water. He still refused to look at Itachi.

“I am a temple child. I follow the rules.” Naruto answered coldly and placed the glass back on the table. That answer seemed to satisfy Itachi and he smiled.

“I know you want the crown prince dead just as much as I do.” Itachi whispered. “But why do I feel like you are protecting him?”

“Again. I am a temple child. You know my word is good.” Naruto answered briskly.

He raised his eyes and this time he held Itachi’s gaze. His expression was serious and emboldened. Naruto had lied. He did lie. He had always intended to lie. He wasn’t going to tell anyone that he wanted the cardinal dead. Dead and gone. He wanted the cardinal and the high priest dead the moment the sun god revealed everything to him. He didn’t have the power to do it himself.

Itachi stared back. His eyes moved as if he was trying to figure out if Naruto was lying or not.
“Do you want the crown prince dead?” Itachi asked.

“Yes.” Naruto answered.

“If you want him dead. Say he killed the cardinal.”

“No. I am not going to lie.”

“You’re still a child. When are you going to grow up?”

“You talk as if I have any control over when I grow up.”

“We’ll have the wedding ceremony in two weeks.” Itachi spoke.

He didn’t say anything more and left. Naruto dropped his utensils and sunk back into his chair. He was trembling. His heart started racing like a racehorse turning the last bend and heading towards the finish line. He could feel his cheeks burning. Sasuke had killed the cardinal for him. Naruto waited a little while longer and went back to Sasuke’s room. He knocked on the door. He waited a few minutes and knocked on the door again. When he didn’t get a response he opened the door. He walked inside and looked around the room. He didn’t see Sasuke. He turned around and jumped. Sasuke had appeared in the doorway.

“What are you doing?” Sasuke asked. “Get out of my room.”

“I-”

“We don’t have to talk about anything. I’m leaving for the manor on your wedding day.”

“Where were you?”

“Why does it concern you?” Sasuke asked with a smirk.

“I...just wanted to make sure you’re okay.” Naruto answered.

He felt flustered. Embarrassed. He didn’t know how to talk to him anymore and now Sasuke was leaving after the wedding? Why did it feel like his heart was breaking all over again? He didn’t want Sasuke to leave. He wanted Sasuke to stay.

“As you can see. I am okay. I am alive. Now please leave my room so I can take a nap.”
Naruto nodded his head and left.

*****

Naruto shuffled uncomfortably standing next to Itachi. The high priest was in front of them as well as other council members of the temple. He was accusing the crown prince of slaughtering the cardinal.

“I told you. I was with him the whole night.” Naruto answered.

“Lying is a sin Naruto! You swear before the sun god you were with him the whole night?” The high priest yelled.

“Stop interrogating my fiance.” Itachi spoke curtly. “Not only did Naruto have an eye account witness. My guardsmen that patrol inside and outside the palace testified that crown prince Sasuke remained in his room. What are you going to accomplish with this witch hunt?”

“The cardinal wasn’t alone. He was praying in the shrine with Konohamaru!” The high priest spoke. Naruto’s stomach flopped down. His eyes widened. He knew what the high priest was saying. The cardinal was making Konohamaru take his seed. He probably did to Konohamaru what the cardinal did to him. It made his skin crawl. He could feel stomach acid licking his esophagus.

“Then Konohamaru must have been a witness.” Itachi spoke. He would have made a good lawman.

“He didn’t see anything, he said it happened like magic!”

“Maybe it was your sun god at work striking down the monsters hiding in the congregation.” Itachi answered with a smirk. “You have no case against the crown prince. I have agreed to see you, thinking we could end this matter, but I see you are as stubborn as ever. We're ending this meeting now. I will have my guardsmen escort you out!”

“Agree to disagree, emperor elect Itachi. I will see you at your wedding ceremony.” The high priest hissed. He spun on his heels and left with the temple council. Guardsmen escorted the members of the temple out of the room.

“I see you. You only have a backbone when it comes to me.” Itachi turned his attention towards Naruto. “With everyone else you’re spineless. You’re pathetic. Seeing how you put your tail between your legs and whimper makes me nauseated. Get out of my sight.”

Naruto didn’t say anything. He left in a daze. He hadn’t seen the crown prince in over a week. He stood outside the crown prince’s room and raised his fist to knock. He knocked a few times. He waited. The prince was avoiding him on purpose. He lowered his hand and walked into his room.

They were even now. Just like Naruto and Itachi were even when Naruto slammed his body into Itachi in the library. Naruto protected Sasuke. It was even. Things were settled.

*****

In Naruto’s mind the world was moving too fast. Everyone around him was affected. Everyone moved at the speed of light rushing past him. He remained at the epicenter unable to move. Faces came up to him. People spoke to him. He was left alone to dress in the wedding dress that was picked out for him. They had to get a dress tailored. Children brides were outlawed but an exception was made for the emperor elect with the consummation being postponed to Naruto’s eighteen birthday.

Naruto hadn’t seen Sasuke since the morning he found out about the cardinal. Sasuke told him he was leaving for the manor after the wedding. He didn’t want this day to come. These last few weeks flew by with him still stuck in that last conversation he had with Sasuke. A small voice inside of him kept telling him this was for the best. The quicker the bandage was pulled off the quicker the relief. It was like plunging into freezing water. It was better to do it all at once than inch by inch.

He didn’t know how to slow down the world. Not only was he unable to move. His hearing had become muffled like he really was submerged in those freezing waters. Maybe that’s where he was. His soul plunged and stuck in a bathtub of freezing waters. No. He wasn’t in a bathtub. He was in the pond back at the manor. It was winter and he was beneath the ice. He was pounding on the ice trying to break it. He could see a black figure walking across the ice. He was in the middle of the pond. The water lilies were frozen. The lily pads were frozen. The stork he saw when he first walked through the manor was frozen. His eyes were open underwater and he was holding his breath. He tried screaming for help at the person walking over the ice. Air bubbles exploded from his mouth as he screamed. The person looked down and he noticed it was the crown prince. His blood-red eyes glowed fiercely. He smirked as he caught Naruto’s eyes. He didn’t do anything. He didn’t break the ice. He didn’t even attempt to get help. Instead, the crown prince smiled and waved. As if to say goodbye. He spun around and walked away.

“You may now kiss the bride.” The high priest spoke.

He was officiating the wedding as all previous high priests had done before. His words brought Naruto back. He wanted to drown in that pond water. He turned and before he could react he could feel Itachi’s lips against his. He froze. There was still ice in his blood. He had frozen like the waterlilies. He had frozen like the lily pads. He had frozen like the stork. Itachi’s lips felt like a cold dead fish was pressed up against him.

He didn’t do anything until Itachi pulled away. He jerked his head back towards the high priest. There was something malicious in the high priest's eyes. There was a darkness that threatened to consume Naruto. It crept from the high priest’s eyes and wrapped around him.

“You are now bound by the law as man and wife.”

There was thunderous applause coming from the crowd. Naruto’s eyes looked up at the stained glass windows. It was afternoon and the sun streamed through. It cast everything in the glow of sanguine. The color of the sun god. He would never have to sleep in the temple so long as the high priest was still in power. He could feel as if a weight was being lifted off his chest. He inhaled.

Itachi grabbed Naruto’s hand and led him down the aisle as flower petals were being tossed at them. Naruto looked to see they were white chrysanthemum petals. He began to search frantically for crown prince Sasuke in the crowd. He was looking desperately for those matte red eyes. He could feel his hand being squeezed. Hard. So hard it felt like if any more pressure was applied his hand would have been crushed. He turned to see Itachi leaning down and whispering into his ear.

“Don’t bother looking for the crown prince. He left for the manor this morning.”

Itachi pressed his lips against his cheek. He acted as if he whispered sweet nothings into his ear. Naruto tried to pretend he was doing okay. Naruto’s vision blurred. His hearing became muffled. It was difficult to breathe. No. He kept telling himself not to cry. No. He had wanted to talk to Sasuke one last time. Didn’t Sasuke tell him he was going to leave after his wedding? He closed his eyes trying to recall the conversation. No. He opened his eyes. Itachi was still squeezing his hand and it was the pain that filled his eyes with tears. Sasuke never said he was leaving after the wedding. He said he was leaving on the day of the wedding. He couldn’t stop crying.

“Why are you crying?” Itachi hissed. “Can’t you not be a crybaby for one day of your life? You’re embarrassing me!”

“These are happy tears!” Naruto yelled. He smiled. “These are happy tears!”

Itachi pulled him into the palace. He jerked Naruto so forcefully into a room it felt like his shoulder was going to pull out of his socket. Itachi then let go and Naruto stumbled into the room. He didn't trip and kept his balance.

"Compose yourself here and when you're done crying come join the reception. I don't want to see your ugly crying face for the rest of the night." Itachi snapped. He spun on his heels and slammed the door behind him.

"Naruto?"

Naruto looked up at the woman who was saying his name. He looked up and saw his mother. Her long reddish-orange hair. Her bright cerulean eyes. She was smiling warmly at him. Her arms were spread wide. Naruto burst into uncontrollable crying and ran into his mother's arms.

"MAMA!"

Chapter Text

 

“I want my sight restored.”

Sasuke had spent years trying to find someone who could break the spell laid upon his eyes by the sun temple. He wanted to see color. He read about color in books. He read about the color blue. He wanted to be able to describe the color blue because there had to be more things that were colored blue in this world that weren’t just her eyes. He wanted to believe that the color blue was only reserved for her and he would have died with that thought: that blue was reserved for her. Now he wanted to see all shades of blue to tell himself that her eyes weren’t special. He wanted to be able to see the world in fine detail.

He sought out a rumor of an orphan girl who survived by answering men's wishes. It was said she was gifted by the god of magic, Heka. There was another seedier rumor about the same girl. Not only was she bestowed the gift of magic from Heka in order to maintain her power she indulged in cannibalism. He had thought it rubbish rumors. The same rumors they spread about him. Still. He sought her out.

He stopped living a lowly existence. The outcome of his brief childish affair with Naruto left him hungry for life. He was once happy to waste away into nothingness and perish. He had been deathly close to starving to death if not for Naruto appearing in his life. Even if it didn’t work. Even if the cursed seal pumped its own life force through his body. He would have been a bag of bones unable to lift a sword unless Apophis took complete control over...and maybe that was what Apophis was banking on. He had consumed and taken over Madara’s son. He was biding his time and watching Sasuke like a predator until he could take over and consume him.

Sasuke wasn’t going to let Apophis take over.

With his new refound hunger for life he wanted to see. He started living like a crown prince. He filled his manor with staff and servants. He called upon guardsmen to serve him. He promised people protection and food. The manor came to life. He added more furniture to the main house. He invested money in pieces of art, tapestries, and statues.

He had wondered why the temple went quiet. After Naruto married Itachi and Itachi was sworn in as emperor the temple went radio silent. He hadn’t experienced an assassination attempt in years.

When he turned eighteen his guardsmen brought to him the girl whose macabre rumors filled ghost stories around the campfire. They brought her in shackles. Her wrists were bound. Her ankles were bound. She had a chain connected from her shackles around her wrists to the shackles around her ankles. She wore a blindfold. He remembered when the servants whispered in fear when he was little. They told each other not to look in his eyes afraid if they looked they would be instantly killed. Looking at her now she was skinny. Had he been this skinny once? She wasn’t eating a good diet. There was a pungent, unwashed, smell around her.

Sasuke sat in the royal room. He had set up a chair where he sat in conducting business. He had taken an active approach to rule as crown prince at the manor in the south of Konoha.

“Isn’t this being a bit excessive?” Sasuke asked as he looked to his guardsmen. “She’s just a skinny girl.”

“She killed one of us, crown prince.” The guard standing on her left spoke. Sasuke smirked. She wasn’t to be underestimated.

“You can leave us.”

“Crown prince...she’s dangerous. Let us stay.” The guard on her right spoke.

“I don’t want either of you to die. Leave us. I will speak to her alone.”

The guards looked at each other. They knew how powerful he was. They bowed and left the room. He brought his attention back to the girl. He couldn’t see any details. He couldn’t see any colors. Her hair was straggly, unkempt, with snarls. Underneath the repugnant smell, she smelled of scorched sand and metallic blood.

“What is your name?” Sasuke asked.

“Sakura.”

“Sakura?” Sasuke repeated. He remembered when he came across Naruto being attacked by a possessed servant. Her jugular was about to be ripped by the fangs of the demon before he sliced the demon in half. There were sakura blossoms floating softly down from the trees. “What a beautiful name.” He smiled.

“What do you want from me?” Sakura asked. She remained standing.

“I want my sight restored.” Sasuke answered. It was the only request he wanted these last four years. “There is a spell on my eyes. I want it broken.”

“What makes you think I can break it?”

“I heard the rumors. I called you here to see for myself if the rumors were true.”

Sakura began twisting her hands. She pressed the shackles against each other. Her fingers brushed against the chain. She was smiling. She licked her lower lip in contemplation.

“Are you really the crown prince?” Sakura asked. “The cursed child?”

“Ah.” Sasuke answered.

He continued watching her. He remembered Naruto asking him if he could always get out of the shackles if he wanted, and the answer was yes. He watched Sakura. The same thing went for her. She could get out of those shackles. The only question was why hadn’t she yet.

“Have you heard all the rumors?” Sakura asked. Her voice was raspy. It was a sultry voice that sounded like it belonged in a brothel. “If you heard the rumors. Then you must know what is required for me to do anything.” She smelled like jade incense. The longer she stayed in the room the more her smell filled him and he picked apart each smell. Her smell went beyond jade. It was ineffable. There was something intoxicating about her...was it because a piece of Heka was inside her just like chaos was inside him?

“You need to feast on human remains.” Sasuke stated. He watched her closely. It was the only part of the rumor he didn’t pay any mind to. It was something so obtuse it was laughable.

“Mhm. Any man who comes to me with a wish. They must be desperate to pay the price.” Sakura answered with a smirk. She snapped her hands to her side and the shackles broke. She broke the chain that connected the two ankle shackles. She made it look effortless as if it was made from wet paper.

“What part of the body would you like me to fetch you?” Sasuke asked. Sakura removed her blindfold and tossed it to the ground. Her clothes were filthy. She was covered in dirt and mud. She needed a bath.

“A heart.” Sakura answered. “If the spell was placed using the powers of another god. I will need the heart. Preferably within seconds of dying. It’s the most effective within seconds of dying.” She explained.

“It will take me a bit. I will get you the heart. Until then. I invite you to stay here in the manor. I will have a maidservant assigned to you. You can enter the bathhouse. You can eat and drink to your heart's content. Nobody will harm you.”

“What if I run?” Sakura asked.

“Whatever you want if it’s money, or possessions, or a place to live. I will give that to you. The only thing I want is for my sight to be restored.” Sasuke answered. “Please. Do not run.” Sasuke stood up and walked towards her. He was taller than her by a foot. She was even smaller and skinnier up close. He took her hand with his and held it. “I have been waiting my whole life for you.” He fell to his knees and bowed his head. “Please help me.”

Sakura pulled her hand back. “You don’t...have to lay it on me so thick. I’ll help you. I will think about my payment and get back to you.”

Sasuke nodded his head. “I’ll tell the chefs to prepare a meal for you.”

*****

“What are you doing?” Apophis asked sarcastically. “Just kill someone and get it over with. I’m tired of your noble act.”

“No.” Sasuke answered. “I will not kill someone innocent. I need someone whose crime is worthy of death.”

“Morality and ethics are relative. That’s what is wrong with you feeble-minded humans. You just make things up as you go.”

“Ah.” Sasuke agreed. “As long as we play within the rules we’ve created then we can rest easy at night.”

“Just join the war your brother is waging against Kuni.” Apophis suggested lazily. “War crimes are always fascinating.”

“What my brother does in the north doesn’t concern me.” Sasuke snapped.

It was true. He had heard that Konoha declared war with Kuni over trade routes and access for resources, specifically, Konoha wanted to control all of the Naka River. The other half of the Naka River was controlled by Kuni. There was a reason why Emperor Fugaku always folded when it came to alliances with Kuni...Kuni was nicknamed the bloody mist. They were merciless with their own citizens. There were no rules in war when Kuni waged war they were outright barbaric. Kuni was to the north of Konoha. The palace was in the north of Konoha.

The manor was to the south of Konoha.

“Maybe you’re hoping Itachi dies in battle...what would become of his widower, Naruto?” Apophis teased.

“She has nothing to do with me anymore.” Sasuke snapped. “It’s you who keeps bringing her up!”

“It’s good that you forget about her. I like the smell of Sakura. I can sense Heka inside her. The god of chaos and Heka once had a brief love affair in the beginning.” Apophis explained. “My blood grew excited when I smelled Heka...Heka is cut from the same glass as chaos. It’s time we stay with our own kind.”

“Heka. The cannibal god who consumed other gods and absorbed their power.” Sasuke murmured. He heard the legends. He had been sitting on top of the church’s rooftop in town. He had been watching the clergyman for a while now. For two weeks to be exact. Stalking his prey. He could smell something sinister in the air. It clung to the church like black mold. He needed solid evidence before he struck. Just a little while and he knew he would get the evidence he needed.

“Heka was young and ruthless. Just like the god of chaos. I thought Heka was stripped of all powers. There must have been a reason why Heka was reborn in that girl.” Apophis postulated.

“Maybe she was supposed to break this spell.” Sasuke postulated.

“Mhm.” Apophis hissed in agreement. “I just remembered who stripped Heka’s powers away.”

“Who?”

“The sun god.” Apophis spoke bitterly. The wind picked up. It would appear the sun god had their hands in everything and if something didn’t please them they destroyed it.

There was a full moon out. He could feel the power of the moon filling him. His eyes illuminated. The symbols of the curse seal had expanded. It went down the entirety of his back, and across his neck. The seals remained contained on the left side of his face. It was still in an ancient dead language that even Apophis couldn’t read. He wanted to break the code of the seals and have a translator.

First. He wanted his eyesight restored.

“Look what we have here. Your intuition is correct.” Apophis spoke. His eyes illuminated violent red. The cursed seals filled both irises. They had merged instantaneously. The image that Apophis saw flashed across Sasuke’s mind.

Apophis was peering through a window cut into one of the small towers of the yellow canary church. The clergyman had a child and in the process of fully raping her. There really was no saving the church. The little girl was screaming. It was a flash. Sasuke appeared behind the clergyman and pressed his sheath against his jugular. Apophis was laughing hysterically. Sasuke jerked the clergyman out. He bashed the clergyman’s head into the wall. It caused his skull to crack. Blood gushed through the wound and he fell in a heap on the floor. Knocked out cold.

“They say I’m the monster?” Apophis shrieked into the night. “Look at them. We should kill them one by one. Tie them together by their intestines and hang them up for everyone to see! Let the sun god see what her following has become!” Apophis shrieks continued to echo in the night.

The clergyman was still alive. He didn’t have time to babysit the child he left behind. It wasn’t his prerogative. He dragged the clergyman back to the manor. He went to where Sakura was housed. He called out her name. He knew she was still awake. She was waiting. Had she sensed it too? Did the full moon call to her as it called to him? She opened the sliding doors.

“You’ve brought it.” Sakura gushed. Her eyes were glowing softly. She stepped aside as Sasuke dragged the clergyman into the room. She closed the doors behind him.

“He’s alive.” Sasuke explained. “Good.” She gushed again and her voice filled with pleasure.

“Tell me when to cut his heart out.” He pulled out a dagger that was sheathed to his left ankle. He cut the robes of the clergyman and exposed his chest. The man was breathing weakly. He pressed the tip of the dagger against the skin directly below his left rib cage. Directly below the lung. This was what he wanted to do to the cardinal when he was robbed of enacting out his full vengeance.

Sakura was clean. She was bathed. Her hair was brushed. She still smelled of jade. She lit more lanterns in her room. The room was bathed in the orange glow of the flames. The light danced across the room and their shadows grew larger against the wall. It looked like Plato's cave. Their backs were to the lanterns and their eyes were looking at their shadows on the wall. This was their life.

“Now.” Sakura instructured.

Sasuke, still borrowing Apophis’ strength, plunged the dagger underneath the clergyman’s rib cage. He sliced a large gaping hole. He didn’t hesitate. He pushed his hand into the hole he created. He could feel the lungs inhaling and exhaling. The blood started gushing out of the wound. He wrapped his fingers around the beating coronary heart. He grabbed his heart and in one quick pull, he jerked the heart out of the chest cavity. The organ was bigger than he thought. He had always thought the heart was small. No bigger than his palm. In reality, it was the size of his fist. His heart was saturated in blood. It covered his left hand entirely. Dripped down his arm. Stained his clothes.

He handed the heart over to Sakura. She took the organ with both hands. He didn’t know what he was expecting. He could see the color of blood. It was all over. It had poured over the tatami mats. It covered his left hand. It was warm and thick. He watched as Sakura’s hands drenched in blood. He watched as Sakura brought the heart to her mouth and she took a large chunk from the organ. Her teeth were sharper than expected. Her canines were sharper. They sank easily through the organ. She chewed the piece of heart as if she was eating steak. He watched as blood dribbled down her mouth, covering her chin, and dripped down her neck and rolled down her chest. She didn’t stop eating. He thought she was only going to take one bite. She didn’t.

Sasuke became breathless. He was hypnotized by her. She continued to eat the heart. She was moaning. Her legs rubbed together as she continued to eat. She moaned sexually as if she was deriving pleasure from the very act of consuming another human’s heart. This was the personification of the cannibal god Heka. He hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath, eyes wide and brazen, until Sakura dropped her hands. She had consumed the whole heart. Her mouth and neck were bloodied.

Her eyes started glowing a pale emerald as if the lunar moon reflected in her irises. A diamond symbol went across her forehead. She stood up and walked over to him. He was paralyzed in a kneeling position. She pressed her thumbs against his eyes. He could feel the blood dripping from her thumbs down his cheeks. She continued to press against his corneas. She pushed so hard he could see the whole universe against his eyelids. Planets and stars exploded in the darkness. He watched the forming of the universe and the birth of gods from blackness against his eyelids.

He could feel her lips pressed up against him. She was kissing him. Her thumbs didn’t leave his eyes yet. He welcomed the kiss. The human touch. She smelled delicious. The sickly sweet scent of blood was on her, on him, on them. It was on him and it was driving him wild. She had climbed into his lap. She pulled her fingers from his face.

“Open your eyes, crown prince.” Sakura whispered. “Tell me what you see.” She had pulled away from his mouth and his lips felt cold.

Sasuke was afraid, afraid he was going to open his eyes and nothing would have changed. He was afraid he was never going to see the color blue. He longed to ascribe the color blue to anything else in this world but her eyes. Even though it's been five years her blue eyes still haunted his dreams. He decided they could always try again if it didn’t work. He opened his eyes nonetheless.

He had memories of color. He had memories of what color looked like. He opened his eyes and he was overwhelmed with colors. That mental block in his brain that prevented him from seeing was opened. The floodgates were opened and he was able to see everything and remember what color used to be. Sakura had emerald eyes. It was the color of greenery and lush gardens awakening to life during that first warm spring day. Her hair was a pastel pink that was both exotic as it was rare.

Her lips were plump and pink like cabbage roses. It wasn’t just color. He could see detail. The texture of the tatami mats. The texture of her hair. The texture of the wood trim in the room. It was the middle of the night so he couldn’t see the fullness of the world. It was good it was the middle of the night so he wasn’t overwhelmed.

“Thank you…” Sasuke breathed. “I have my sight back!” It felt as if he was thanking Heka directly.

Sakura leaned over and kissed him. He was taken up in the moment. His hormones responded to Sakura’s hormones. He could feel her hands disrobing him. Her hands, small and cold, against his hot skin. It was a relief. Her tongue was intoxicating. He could still taste the blood on her tongue, in his mouth. It drove him crazy. She was experienced. She knew what she was doing. This wasn’t her first time like it was his.

He knew about the birds and the bees. He read books about anatomy. Where the parts connected and fit. He could feel the cursed seal responding. Sakura took control. She lowered herself and wrapped her mouth around his penis. He had masturbated a few times. It felt different in her mouth than it did in his hand. His flaccid penis came to life. Her tongue expertly went up and down his length as if they had done this before and maybe they have. His eyes watered from the pleasure that was building. She maneuvered her tongue under his foreskin and circled her tongue up and underneath around the tip.

Apophis said the god of chaos and Heka had a brief love affair. Maybe that was why her body felt so familiar. She brought her mouth back to his. He reached out and grabbed her breasts. They were small but swollen. They fit perfectly into his hands. They were soft. He could feel her breasts stiffen. He started exploring her body. He brought his lips to her neck, to her chest, he brought a tongue to her right nipple and licked. It caused her to shudder. Her nipples were the same color as her lips. Cabbage rose. He continued to massage her nipples and watched as they both became erect and popped out.

“Touch me here.” Sakura pleaded. She brought his hand between her legs. He had never touched a woman here before. She was already wet between her legs. He could feel discharge dripping out. She laid on her back and arched her back as he lowered his face between her legs. She had soft hair between her legs. He used his tongue to explore her labia. She was a flower and he was exploring the petals using his tongue. She continued moaning. He found her hole.

“Stick a finger in.” Sakura instructed.

He did just that. He stuck his index finger in. It went all the way in. He could feel the vaginal walls sucking around his finger. It was warm and wet. He started moving his finger in and out stimulating the vaginal walls. Sakura’s fingers went between her legs. She spread herself and revealed a pearl shape at the top of the entrance. She started playing with this pearl. He watched as the pearl became swollen and red.

Sasuke brought his tongue out and began to lick and suck on the pearl. It caused Sakura’s moans to become louder. He continued to lick and suck the pearl and placed two fingers inside her. He loved the smell that was being emitted from her. The smell of musk clung to the hairs of his nose. He stuck three fingers inside her. He was amazed at how the vagina adapted.

He wondered if this was what Naruto smelled like. He didn’t know why his mind kept wandering to Naruto. Maybe he was still sick. He kept switching between Naruto and Sakura in his mind. It didn’t make sense. He didn’t know the details of Naruto’s face. He only saw the blues of her eyes once. He didn’t even know what color her hair was. He inserted his penis outside the entrance of her vagina and began thrusting in. Naruto was older now. Did she have the body of a woman now? He had entered her and he could hear Sakura’s moans increasing.

Did Naruto feel this good? Did she feel better?

Sakura’s body sucked him deeper and deeper until his testicles slammed against her ass. The sound of the slapping filled the room. Sakura pushed Sasuke to his back and she began riding him. His hands moved to her hip bones that jutted out. He wondered if she would feel better if she gained weight. She moved her hips in a rhythmic motion. She was listening to a song he couldn’t hear. It felt good, but he felt out of sync with her. As if they were on different frequencies and trying to communicate.

Would he be in sync with Naruto? He remembered cuddling her close. She was pressed against him, and their heartbeats synced up.

He could feel something wet against his naked back. He looked to see the blood of the clergyman had seeped across the tatami mats. It excited him nonetheless.

He turned his attention back to Sakura. He picked her up and slammed her against the wall. Holding her weight with his hands as he continued to thrust. She was so light. Her legs wrapped around his waist, and her arms wrapped around his neck. She knew what made her scream in ecstasy. His thoughts turned back to Naruto. She was still seventeen. She was still a virgin. Not for long. It wasn’t him that was going to take her virginity. It was his brother. She’d lose it to someone who didn’t care for her at all. He felt pity for her in that moment. It was fleeting.

He refocused on Sakura. He needed to focus on Sakura and stop thinking about Naruto.

The first time was with the cannibal god personified. His first time was with the girl who restored his vision. He came inside her. He could feel himself ejaculate. Bright lights flashed across his eyes momentarily blinding him. He could feel himself filling her tight hole up so much he could feel it seeping out when he pulled himself from her. He was covered in sweat and panting. He felt disoriented.

He breathed for a few seconds then he heard Sakura whispering into his ear.

“Again.”

 

*****

Naruto had to tell Itachi.

He wanted to run away from the palace. He didn’t want to consummate the marriage. He didn’t want to ritualistically lose his virginity in the temple. Everything about sex frightened him. The closer it came to his eighteenth birthday the more anxious he became. He started having nightmares. It caused him to wake up screaming in the middle of the night.

He thought it was going to be harder and harder to hide.

He remained feminine. His face remained soft and oval. His hands remained soft and slender. His legs remained small. If anything he had become more androgynous. His hair remained full and long. The only thing that changed was his penis grew bigger. He didn’t develop breasts. He thought it was going to become more masculine and evident he was a boy. But everyone assumed he was just small chested. A few maidservants in an effort to cheer him up told him after he became pregnant his breasts would get bigger as they filled with milk.

He had begun to believe that Itachi would let him run away. Itachi had become emperor and within two years he had declared war. Troops were sent to the enemy line. Itachi wanted to control the Naka river. Naruto didn’t know why they couldn’t just draw up a treaty on fair trade practices for the Naka river. It was part of Itachi’s personality. Just like Itachi wanted him to bow down and submit, he wanted countries to bow down and submit, and if they didn’t he was going to slice their Achilles heels and make them kneel.

Itachi had kept the boundaries with him. He spent much of his free time with Izumi. Izumi was appointed concubine and when Izumi wasn’t enough he appointed Kara as well. Both members of the Uchiha clan. It was a relief.

Itachi allowed Naruto to visit with his mother as often and as long as he wanted. It was something he desperately needed in the absence of the crown prince. He had wanted to ask Itachi if he had done this deliberately so that he didn’t completely go mad with everything he went through, or if it was just a wedding present. It was a stark contrast compared to the high priest.

The temple had become unbearable. The rumors about him had twisted and contorted throughout the congregation. They were secretly blaming him for the reason Konoha was in war as if they didn’t know Itachi’s prideful personality. His vanity. It was easier to blame Naruto.

It was a few days before his eighteenth birthday when he decided to tell Itachi the truth. He requested to have dinner with Itachi. It was the first time he requested dinner with him. It must have excited Itachi because he brought it up right away.

“You must want something extravagant if you’ve asked me to dinner.” Itachi commented. He didn’t push for Naruto to quickly come out with it. He just started eating.

Naruto nodded his head. He didn’t say anything else. He focused on the roast beef in front of him. The meat was so tender it melted on his tongue. Silence hung between them. Naruto reached for the glass of wine. He had been allowing himself one glass of wine for dinner.

“How are things with Izumi?” Naruto asked.

Itachi looked up. “Why are you bringing her up?”

“I just want to know if you’re happy with her.”

“Why?”

Naruto didn’t say anything. He ate another piece of roast beef. He took another sip of wine. The rumors were rampant among the staff. Itachi had favored Izumi and had spent the majority of his time in her chambers compared to Kara.

“Are you happy, emperor?” Naruto asked and looked up. He was shocked to see Itachi was staring back at him. Itachi was taller. He had filled out. His jawline was sharp. His eyes were sharp. His skin was clear. He still had his hair long and held back into braids and a ponytail. He could see his adam's apple bob when he swallowed.

Itachi didn’t answer him. Naruto watched as Itachi turned his attention back to his plate.

“Call me Itachi. Your eighteenth birthday is in a few days. Don’t you think you should be more informal with me?”

Naruto’s heart thumped. No. Why was he still planning on going through with it? He had to tell him tonight. He couldn’t postpone it any longer!

“I have to tell you something.” Naruto said.

“Tell me.”

“Not here. Come to my bed chambers with me.”

Itachi stopped eating and looked back at him. His eyebrows furrowed. “What are you planning?” He was suspicious.

“I...just need to tell you something, and after I tell you the truth I want to ask you something.”

“What do you mean tell me the truth?”

Naruto placed his utensils down and finished off his wine. “I’m full. I am going to my room.”

*****

Naruto’s heart felt like it was going to implode and take out his lungs in the blast. He found himself sweating. He was beyond nervous. He started having regrets. He wished he drank another glass of wine for courage. He should have just run away in the dead of night. How many times he thought about storing in a chest that was hauled in the back of a cart and pulled out of the city by horse. He thought about hiding himself in supplies meant for the frontlines of the war. Anywhere but here. The last five years passed in a blink of an eye as if he had regained consciousness after years of being in a coma.

He heard a knock on the door. Itachi opened the door. Naruto stood up and greeted him. He gestured towards the chair at the small table. He didn’t want to serve tea. He didn’t want any boiling water thrown at him. He watched as Itachi sat down, and he sat back down.

“Why did you ask me to marry you?” Naruto asked.

“Wait. Why are you asking me questions? You said you had something to tell me and then you have something to ask me.” Itachi held up a hand. He gave Naruto a sharp expression. “Something tells me that isn’t your question.”

“It’s clear you don’t love me.”

“Love...why are you talking about love?” Itachi asked.

“It’s a marriage of convenience. Except. I know why I agreed to the marriage. It was to protect me from the temple. I don’t know why you agreed.”

“You don’t believe me that it was Emperor Fugaku’s dying wish?” Itachi asked slyly.

“No.” Naruto answered sharply. Itachi smiled. His smile told Naruto everything. He wasn’t going to tell him the truth even if he asked every day for the rest of eternity.

“I have to tell you something and after I tell you. I want you to grant me permission to run away.”

Itachi’s smile dropped. His face darkened. Hardened. “No.”

“You haven’t even heard what I’m going to say!”

“The answer is no. You’re not running away.”

“I have to. If I want to ascend as high priest I can’t do it here. I need to gain my own following. I need to do it outside the palace walls.”

“You’re not leaving me.” Itachi spoke possessively.

“You don’t even like me!” Naruto cried out. “Why are you acting like you care about me. Just let me go. You have Izumi. You have Kara. You’re happy with Izumi!”

“No. You’re not leaving me. You are talking about running away? As if I would ever agree to that! I’m not going to let you out of my sight. I’ll assign guards to you at all times!” Itachi yelled. He was furious.

“You married me. You saved me. Let me go! You think I’m ugly. You hate my personality. I’m doing you a favor!” Naruto continued to argue.

“I’m not having this conversation with you. I told you my answer.” Itachi yelled. He stood up and walked towards the door. No. No. No. He needed to tell him. He couldn’t have him leave without knowing.

“I’m not a girl!” Naruto yelled.

It caused Itachi to stop walking as if he hit a forcefield. Naruto’s words caught Itachi in a beartrap. Naruto was trembling. His stomach acid bubbled with the wine and it burned. Itachi turned slowly around. His eyes were wide. He looked at Naruto up and down.

“What did you say?”

“I’m not a girl…” Naruto whispered. “My body is not the body of a girl. It’s the body of a boy.” It was the first time he said the words out loud and his voice quivered. His body trembled. His vision blurred. His throat closed up.

“You’re lying. You’re just saying that because you want to leave me!” Itachi yelled.

“I’m not lying!” Naruto cried.

“Strip.”

Naruto blinked. His eyes filled with tears. His hands went to the fabric of his dress.

“Go on. Strip. Let me see if you’re lying or not.”

Naruto exhaled. He licked his lips nervously. He hadn’t been naked in front of someone since the cardinal. His heart raced. He could feel his face becoming as hot as an out-of-control fire. He told himself he was committed to telling Itachi the truth. Tell him the truth, show him the truth, and he will see for himself that his body isn’t fit for him. He’ll see that they can’t consummate the wedding. He’ll have no choice but to let Naruto leave...because if he didn’t...the embarrassment he’d experience marrying a boy on the guise of a girl would be too much.

‘He could have you beheaded.’ A voice spoke to him from inside.

It was true. Itachi could just kill Naruto...but if he did...then there wouldn’t be anyone in the world who would be able to stop crown prince Sasuke. It was the only thing he wore as armor. That it was Naruto, and only Naruto, who was capable of executing the cursed child. That thought emboldened him, protected him, and filled him with unwavering confidence.

He stood up and stripped. His fingers shook violently. He became ungraceful and sloppy as he undressed. He dropped his dress and stood before Itachi naked. He was holding his breath. He watched as Itachi’s eyes slowly widened with the realization of what was between his legs. He didn’t, he wouldn’t, look like Izumi or Kara.

“You…” Itachi spat. “I should cut off your head where you stand!” Itachi’s face flushed.

“If you kill me then there is nobody who will be able to stop Sasuke!” Naruto rebutted.

“Sasuke?” Itachi mimicked. “You still have no problem saying his name...but won’t call me by my name?” Itachi’s voice was filled with jealousy.

“That…” Naruto didn’t understand where this conversation derailed too.

“You really are a boy.” Itachi repeated. His voice was low. He spoke as if he was only saying the revelation out loud for his own sanity. To tell himself what his eyes were seeing was real. Itachi brought his eyes back up and looked him in the eyes. “How are you going to ascend the throne if you don’t do the virginity loss ritual or whatever it’s called?”

“How can I?” Naruto asked. “Look at me!” He spoke as if Itachi hadn’t already seen him.

“So? Men can do it too with each other.”

“Ey?” Naruto gasped. The blood drained from his face. The blood from his extremities drained and pooled into his chest cavity. He kept staring at Itachi. “You still...even after knowing I’m a boy...you still want to consummate the marriage with me?” His heart continued to beat painfully against his chest. Every breath he took was sharp.

“That’s...impossible...how?”

Itachi smiled. “I’m sure you can think about how if you really think about it. There are some books in the library if you’re really curious.”

“Do you...do you like me?” Naruto asked.

“Why else do you think I married you?” Itachi asked slyly. “I’ve liked you for a long time. I don’t care if you’re a woman or man. You belong to me regardless. You’re mine. You’re not running away from me. It’s not my fault you didn’t know this whole time. It’s your fault for being so stupid.”

Naruto was breathless. He didn’t know how to respond. It felt like he was whiplashed. His mind spun dangerously round and round. It made forming coherent thoughts impossible. Itachi’s words swirled in his head. Itachi had...liked him? Was that the reason he married him? He had never been kind to him. He didn’t understand. Was he lying? He kept looking at Itachi. His face was unreadable. Itachi went to Naruto’s bed and pulled a blanket off. He wrapped the blanket around Naruto’s body.

“Cover up. I don’t want anyone else to find out.” Itachi demanded.

Naruto held the blanket closed with his hands. Hiding his body from view. He was still trembling. He watched as Itachi didn’t say anything else and left him alone in his room. Naruto collapsed on the floor and breathed heavily through his mouth.

*****

Naruto was in the library. He didn’t know what kind of books he was looking for. Itachi said there were books in the library. He began browsing the many shelves. Books...what books? Where? He was picking up random books whose title sparked his interest. The last book was a picture book about plants. He frowned and placed the book back on the shelf. It was a more daunting task than he anticipated.

“You did come.” Itachi spoke. He walked out from a shelf holding a book. Naruto’s heart plummeted. He avoided Itachi’s eyes. He didn’t know why he felt so embarrassed.

“You said there were books in the library about...how.” Naruto admitted sheepishly. He still didn’t know how it worked. How could two men lay together as man and woman?

“This one.” Itachi spoke and handed Naruto what looked like a sketchbook. He held the book delicately, afraid if he was too rough it would burst into flames in his hands.

Naruto took it and opened it up. It was a sketchbook. There was a mixture of drawings and paintings. It was all of two naked men together. They fit together in different poses. The different poses shocked Naruto. There were sketches of the male sex organ. From flaccid to erect. Sketches of the anus. There were notes about arousal specifically highlighted was the prostate gland that was inside the anus. Naruto’s face reddened. It was the first time he was looking at pornography. Sex between men included inserting an erect penis into the anus. It included oral sex. It included masturbation. When he made that realization he gasped.

“How...can this feel good?” Naruto asked and covered his mouth. He felt his face flushing. That was where he defecated from. His hole was small. How could a finger fit let alone an erect penis? “How did you know about such a book?” He asked Itachi.

“I stumbled upon it…” Itachi murmured. “The day I ran into you in the library reading Bluebeard.”

Naruto blinked. He thought back to meeting Itachi in the library. How angry and frustrated he was with Naruto for reading. Itachi was holding a book at that time. A book he hid from Naruto. Was this the book he was holding? Naruto looked at Itachi more directly. Was he embarrassed thinking Naruto saw the book in his hands? Even if he did he wouldn’t have known what the book was about.

“This was the book you had that made you destroy Bluebeard?” Naruto asked. He remembered finding the waterlogged book in the bucket crying when he noticed it was ruined beyond repair. “I forgot the title of that book...I wanted to finish it.” He wanted to know how the wife was going to react to finding out her husband's sickening secret.

“I will get you another copy of Bluebeard.” Itachi spoke and looked over Naruto’s shoulder at the sketchbook. He remembered the title of the book he was reading. He destroyed it. Now he was saying he was going to get him another copy?

“Have you...have you tried any of these poses with another man?” Naruto asked. It caused Itachi to cough. He wanted to know if it...felt good, and if so what poses felt better than others.

“No!”

“So you also don’t know how it works.” Naruto murmured. “That makes me feel better.” He felt relief.

“We can just learn together! I told you men can do it with men!” Itachi defended.

“I’m scared.” Naruto admitted. He turned the page and came to another explicit scene. “I’m afraid it’s going to hurt, or I’ll rip and bleed.” Naruto clenched his butt cheeks together.

“I won’t hurt you.” Itachi spoke softly. It was the first time he was using that sweet voice. It made his heart flutter. “I promise you I will never hurt you.” Itachi grabbed Naruto’s hand and brought the back of his hand to his mouth and kissed him.

It caused goosebumps to form on Naruto’s arm and he shivered. Naruto’s cheeks flushed and he turned back to the book. He was unable to look away. There was an excitement building inside him when he looked at the drawings and paintings. Someone was meticulous when they made this book. What was even more exhilarating was Itachi knew about the truth and wanted to consummate the marriage anyways.

“Should we keep this book for reference?” Naruto asked. He shared a secret with Itachi and that kept causing them to become closer.

“Mhm.” Itachi agreed. “Let’s have dinner together again tonight.”

Naruto nodded his head in agreement. He had felt like a boulder had been pushed off his chest. Itachi pushed that boulder off. The boulder rolled down the proverbial hill and Sisyphus caught it. Itachi had also softened. If Itachi had such a book all those years ago. Did that mean he was also curious about it?

*****

It was after dinner and Naruto was drunk off wine and laying in Itachi’s bed. He had felt a warmness and a freeness inside him. As if he poked a balloon and all his worries and anxieties and fears escaped into the universe. He had shared dinner with Itachi and Itachi suggested they sleep next to each other. Tomorrow was his eighteen birthday, and tomorrow night they were going to consummate their marriage and complete the virginity loss ritual.

“Kiss me.” Itachi commanded in a firm voice.

Naruto pushed himself up. The privacy curtains were pulled closed so even if someone entered the room they wouldn’t see them. The silk blankets of Itachi’s bed were a rich, royal, red with gold trim. The blankets were so smooth it felt like Naruto would slip and fall into the bed if he moved too much.

The only person he had kissed was the crown prince. He could feel the crown prince’s lips against his. Could feel his phantom tongue slipping inside his mouth. He felt just as inexperienced then as he did now. Naruto looked at Itachi’s face and studied his lips. No. The crown prince wasn’t the last person he kissed. He had kissed Itachi the day of their wedding. Did it count? He remembered at that time it felt like he kissed a cold, dead, fish. Maybe that was because he was stuck under the ice of the pond.

Naruto leaned forward and pressed his lips against Itachi’s. He was surprised at how warm his lips were. He didn’t know why he thought that cold, dead, fish feeling was going to come back. He could feel Itachi leaning into the kiss. He opened his mouth and felt Itachi’s tongue against him. He was unsure of what to do. It had come so naturally when he kissed the crown prince. Now he was second-guessing himself. He could feel Itachi taking the lead.

He realized he had stopped breathing and pulled away from Itachi and gasped. He inhaled deeply.

“You have to breathe.” Itachi spoke and kissed Naruto’s cheek. “Don’t forget to breathe.” Naruto nodded his head. “Kiss me again.” Itachi said and Naruto complied. He leaned over and kissed Itachi. This time he felt more comfortable. He was used to Itachi’s lips. He opened his mouth and greeted Itachi’s tongue with his own, inviting his tongue back into his mouth.

Maybe it was the wine that dulled his taste buds. All he could taste in Itachi’s mouth was that expensive bottle of red wine they split. The taste of wine had grown on him. Was this what growing up encompassed. Kissing and drinking wine. He felt a warmness in the small of his belly. It gradually grew as the kiss deepened and lengthened. He didn’t think he would enjoy kissing like this. He reacted. He wrapped his arms around Itachi’s neck and pulled him closer to him. Itachi complied and pushed Naruto back on the bed.

“Have you kissed anyone before?” Itachi asked. It was that same possessive voice.

“No.” Naruto lied. It was self-preservation. Something told him to lie. If he told the truth he knew Itachi would fly off into a rage. If he said the crown prince's name he knew Itachi would destroy everything in his room. “I haven’t done...anything.”

“You haven’t done anything...anything?”

“No.”

“Have you ever touched yourself?”

“No.”

Naruto’s mind flashed with the temple and how they touched him. Made him come repeatedly. Made him feel dirty. He swallowed painfully and shook his head no. He had never touched himself. He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to touch that thing between his legs. He hated that part of him. The part that the high priest and cardinal wouldn’t stop touching and licking. He remembered thinking if it would feel different if the crown prince touched him there...but now he wondered how it would feel if Itachi touched him there.

“Here.” Itachi spoke. He grabbed Naruto’s hand. He pulled Naruto’s nightgown up and placed his own hand on top of that member. It remained flaccid. He shivered when the air hit it.

“I...hate that part of me.” Naruto whispered and removed his hand.

“Do you want me to touch it?” Itachi asked.

Naruto nodded his head yes. Itachi’s hands were searing against him. Itachi pressed his mouth back against Naruto in another kiss and Naruto lost himself in the kiss as Itachi touched him. He could feel something different. He didn’t feel guilty. He didn’t feel dirty. He didn’t feel like crying and screaming into a pillow. He let out a moan as Itachi’s deft fingers slid up and down his length. He was surprised to feel how soft Itachi’s fingers were. They both had soft fingers. High society fingers that held wine glasses. He could feel pleasure building and he wanted to remember this feeling. He could feel pre-cum dripping out of the tip. He felt Itachi’s hands rubbing over the substance gliding it down his shaft.

“Naruto…” Itachi broke away and whispered into his ear. His breath was hot against his earlobe. “Say my name.”

“Itachi…” Naruto whispered. It appeared to drive Itachi crazy. He moved himself between Naruto’s legs and kissed him again. He grabbed Naruto’s hand and wrapped it around his own penis. Naruto felt weird holding himself. He could feel his erect penis twitching against his hand.

“I like this part of you. I want you to like this part of you.” Itachi spoke. “What do we have to do for you to like this part of you?” Naruto closed his eyes. He didn’t know the answer.

“All you need to do is move your hand just like that.” Itachi gilded Naruto’s hand up and down the length of his penis. It was intense. “You’re beautiful. Your body is intoxicating. I don’t want anyone to look at you. You drive me crazy. I want you all to myself. You are a beautiful boy. My beautiful boy. All mine.”

Naruto didn’t understand the words that Itachi was saying. He was beautiful? A beautiful boy? It was the first time he heard those words together directed towards him. He didn’t know how to react. He didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t think. He could feel that climax feeling brimming to the top. It exploded and he could feel himself ejaculate. He immediately covered up his face in embarrassment.

“I’m sorry!” Naruto gasped. “I dirtied your sheets!”

“No. No. No. Don’t hide. You’re not dirty. Let me see your expression.” Itachi spoke softly. He grabbed Naruto’s hands and pulled them back from his face. “Open your eyes and look at me.” Naruto did. He opened his eyes and looked at Itachi. “See? You’re okay. You’re safe. Was it painful?”

“No.” Naruto admitted. He could feel himself riding the climax out. His brain felt full and dumb. His skin tingled. He was sensitive.

“I told you it wouldn’t hurt.” Itachi whispered. He left the bed. Naruto panicked and pushed himself up. He stopped when he saw Itachi push back the privacy curtain and appeared with a towel. He began cleaning Naruto’s semen up with the towel. Naruto blushed again. He tossed the towel on the floor and crawled back into bed.

“Now cuddle me under the covers.” Itachi stated.

Naruto complied. He curled up alongside Itachi. His body was warm. It was the tenth month of the year. The days were growing shorter. The sun didn’t stay out as long as it used to. The days were getting cooler and cooler. The colors of the leaves were changing. They filled the trees with oranges, reds, and yellows. The foliage was almost at peak season. He could feel Itachi wrapping his arms around him and Naruto laid his head against Itachi’s chest. He felt safe. He felt secure. He felt exhausted.

He was surprised at how comfortable he was going from kissing Itachi to sleeping next to him in the same bed. It was all they did that night. Naruto closed his eyes and drifted off into sleep. The book he and Itachi looked at. The book that was on the table in Itachi’s room went across his mind. It soothed him and made him not fear sex. Tomorrow they were finally able to consummate the marriage.

Tomorrow he was going to be an adult.

*****

He was eighteen. His nerves were acting up again. He was surprised when he woke up to see Itachi was already gone. He opened up the privacy curtains and saw Itachi sitting at the table in his room. There was a tray of breakfast on the table. Naruto didn’t understand this gentleness of Itachi.

“Good morning.” Itachi greeted with a smile. He was in a good mood. Naruto walked to the table and sat down.

“Is this for me?” Naruto asked. He didn’t know why he expected Itachi to laugh coldly and say it wasn’t. He didn’t. Instead, Itachi smiled warmly and nodded his head.

“Does it not satisfy you? Do you want something else?”

“No. This is good. It looks good. Thank you.” Naruto smiled at Itachi. He and Itachi ate breakfast together. His nerves continued to affect his breathing and stomach. He stopped eating halfway through his plate.

“What’s wrong?” Itachi asked.

“I’m...nervous. My stomach hurts.”

“I will have the physician get you something to settle your stomach.” Itachi stood up and before Naruto could tell him it was okay Itachi was already gone leaving him alone in the room. He didn’t like the bitter taste of medicine.

Naruto looked around the room. It was heavily decorated. There was a statue of eros and cupid intertwined with one another. Beautiful scenic tapestries on the walls. He took the cup of tea and took a sip. He told himself he needed to eat. He ate a few more bites of food. It was all delicious. The tastes, the textures, the aromas. They played and interwove with each other. The chefs of the palace were world renown. He ate another bite before his stomach protested and cried out no more. He leaned back in his chair.

Itachi had come back carrying a small bowl. He placed the bowl on the table and pulled the top off. Beneath were small cut candies.

“What is it?” Naruto asked. He had thought Itachi went to get medicine.

“The physician had made these previously. They’re candied ginger root. It should be sweet and not bitter. Try one.”

Naruto hesitated. They did look like candied sweets. He picked up a cube and inserted it into his mouth and chewed. It was sweet. It tasted of molasses. He chewed and swallowed. It wasn’t bitter at all. He didn’t know how many to each so he had one more and stopped.

“I...have to get ready.” Naruto spoke. “Are we still doing everything here?” He asked anxiously and glanced around the room. He was anxious because he would have preferred to do it in Itachi’s bed chambers than all of the temple watching him in the shrine.

“Mhm. The archbishop will be here to complete the ritual.”

The archbishop. He was promoted from bishop. Naruto never had any negative interactions with the bishop and neither has any of the other children of the temple. It was another relief. He wondered if Itachi had anything to do with the archbishop officiating the ritual and not the high priest. He thought about the children of the temple. His heart ached. He wasn’t able to help them yet. Not until he received a position within the temple. He was still too powerless.

“I’ll see you later tonight.” Naruto spoke nervously and stood up. Before he reached the door he could feel Itachi’s arms wrapping around his waist from behind. It caught him off guard and he froze. He didn’t know why Itachi was affectionate.

“Goodbye.” Itachi spoke and leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.

*****

Naruto had completed the cleansing ritual. It was a long strenuous cleaning ritual that cleaned and blessed every inch of his flesh. He bathed in the purified holy waters of the sun god. The archbishop had filled the porcelain tub with the waters in one of the bathrooms at the palace. The room had tiled floors and tiled walls. The archbishop remained outside the bathroom doors. The porcelain tub was large with golden clawed feet. When he finished the cleansing ritual he applied the sacred oils to his skin.

He wore the white decorative robes custom for the ritual. It covered his body and the cloth fell to the floor. It was heavier than he thought. The bathroom door opened and Hinata had entered. It was customized for a child of the temple to brush the hair with the comb from the god of beauty. The comb was made from the rib of the god of beauty. It was instilled with desire, sexuality, and love. It was said Eris the god of strife and discord was jealous of the god of beauty and delivered to her a golden apple of discord. The god of beauty mistakenly ate the apple. It was poisoned resulting in her falling into ruin. The sun god stole her comb off her body while she had succumbed to ruin, and gave it to the sun temple for the purpose of making the children alluring as they transitioned into adulthood.

“You’re...beautiful.” Hinata murmured. She took the comb and started combing Naruto’s long hair. It reached past his back, and below his buttocks. It had grown longer. Hinata carefully combed.

“How are things in the temple.” Naruto asked.

“Nothing has changed.” Hinata confessed.

“Things will change when I become the high priest. No. Things will change when I am assigned a ranking within the congregation. They may deny my right for high priest but I will not be denied a ranking.” Naruto promised.

“We...all believe you to be the next high priest.” Hinata whispered. Naruto straightened up. There was still steam in the bathroom. It was slowly evaporating. The smell of the essential oils still permeated through the air. It was the first time he heard such a thing. He had thought the high priest was successful in conspiring against him.

“The sun god showed all us children the visions of you ascending as high priest.” Hinata confirmed. “We serve the sun god.” It was the affirmation they used since they could first talk. They didn’t serve the emperor. They served the sun god and the high priest was the sun god’s mouthpiece. “We all believe you will ascend. We’ll help you.”

Hinata was his partner. They had been partners since the beginning. Their beds were across from each other. They whistled in the dark together. They walked next to each other. They ate next to each other. They studied next to each other. They prayed next to each other. His heart ached because he had been removed from the temple these last five years. This was the first time in five years he was alone with her. He felt like crying. He remained protected by emperor Itachi and Hinata remained at the mercy of the high priest. He was powerless to do anything.

Hinata would undergo the same ritual in two months. He wondered who would comb her hair.

“Naruto.” Hinata whispered in his ear. Her voice was serious. He straightened up. “The high priest is prepping Konohamaru to take over as high priest. When Konohamaru turns eighteen he’s going to make an official announcement.”

There was speculation on Konohamaru’s parentage. It was rumored that the high priest was in fact Konohamaru’s father. If he claimed Konohamaru as his son it meant Konohamaru was of Senju bloodline. If that was the case then it would make sense if the high priest is grooming Konohamaru to take over as high priest. He had made it clear from the beginning that Senju were the only ones pure enough and special enough to become high priest. His heart skipped a beat.

Konohamaru was the one who the cardinal was assaulting when crown prince Sasuke beheaded the cardinal.

The crown prince. He barely heard any news about him. He had remained at the manor. The rumors from agents targeted with keeping tasks on him report he was collecting a cult-like following. There was no other remarkable news.

“He’s going to go so far as to deny me that he’s going to admit Konohamaru is really his bastard of a son?” Naruto murmured. The high priest had become more and more despicable.

“Mhm.” Hinata agreed. She continued brushing his hair. He had allies within the temple. Hinata was proof of it. The high priest was ruining the congregation. Naruto closed his eyes and vowed that he would restore greatness back to the sun temple.

*****

Naruto was ambiguous when he thought about Itachi.

He had neither strong emotions of hate or love. Not even mediocre feelings of dislike or like. If he had to lose his virginity he would have chosen Itachi over the high priest. He had met the archbishop in Itachi’s bed chambers. Itachi remained standing next to him. The ritual had begun.

Naruto kneeled in front of the archbishop as he held the thurible. Smoke and incense came out of the thurible and purified the air. He was praying. The archbishop gave Naruto a golden goblet of red liquid. He took it with both hands and looked into the goblet. The liquid resembled blood. It was thick like the consistency of tomato juice. He started drinking from the goblet. It signified the blood of the sun god. It was an aphrodisiac. A strong one that hijacked his senses. The drink was bitter at first but the more he drank the more a subtle sweetness overflowed. It turned into the most delicious drink he had ever consumed. When he finished the drink, he wanted more.

He gave the archbishop the goblet. “I want more.”

He didn’t know what the substance was but it filled him with ecstasy. His eyes dilated. He felt a tingling all over his flesh. His fingertips vibrated. His senses sharpened. Everything felt amplified. Maybe it was a combination of the incense burning, the room filled with hundreds of burning tea candles made from the fat of a slaughtered lamb, the aphrodisiac. He wanted more.

“Please. Just one more.” Naruto begged he held the goblet up earnestly pleading with him to refill.

The archbishop grabbed the bottle of the substance and poured him another. Naruto brought the goblet back to his lips. He drank hungrily. He drank so fast it dribbled down the sides of his mouth, staining his chin. He finished the goblet and the archbishop took it and placed it back on the table. Itachi helped Naruto into a standing position. They crawled onto the bed and Itachi closed the privacy curtains.

It was the aphrodisiac. He had never been under such a spell. Every time Itachi kissed him he could feel waves of warmness exploding through his body. He wanted Itachi to touch him more. He was naked within seconds. The cool air of the room sent shivers down his spine. Itachi’s fingers and lips explored his body. His mouth was warm, his tongue was wet. It glided across his body leaving a trail of goosebumps. Every feeling was amplified. He was instantly erect. He had never been as hard and swollen as he was in that moment.

Itachi brought his mouth to Naruto’s penis. It was different from the cardinal and high priest. Naruto arched his head back and moaned. He melted against Itachi’s tongue sliding up his length, pulling his foreskin back, and licking the slit of his head. He moved his tongue to his testicles and licked and massaged him. It caused him to moan out again. Then he felt it. Itachi slipped a finger into his anus. It was uncomfortable at first and Naruto cried out in pain.

“Shhh…” Itachi whispered and pressed his lips to Naruto’s. “Relax you’re too tense.”

It was hard to relax. He could feel Itachi’s finger sliding in and out slowly. He had been gentle. The more he felt Itachi’s finger inside him moving the more he started to relax. Itachi inserted two fingers into him and he cried out again. It hurt. Itachi brought his mouth to his neck and started sucking at a sensitive spot. Naruto curled into the touch. Itachi curved his fingers and it struck something inside him. Itachi’s mouth moved to Naruto’s nipples. It caused Naruto to shudder. A shockwave of pleasure ran up and down his body as if he had been struck by lightning.

“There?” Itachi asked and pressed up against a swollen organ deep inside him. It caused Naruto’s eyes to water. It was intense whatever it was. Naruto tried to pull away. He didn’t think he could last. “Ah...it is there.” Itachi teased and pushed up against Naruto rubbing his fingers against the organ. He continued licking Naruto’s nipple until it hardened. The friction of Itachi’s fingers caused the organ to swell.

“Touch me.” Itachi whispered in Naruto’s ear. It was hard to follow simple instructions. Naruto was sitting in Itachi’s lap. His hands wrapped around Itachi’s swollen penis as Itachi’s fingers continued to work their way in and out of his anus. He could feel his anus expanding. Itachi inserted three fingers and Naruto gasped.

“It...hurts…” Naruto cried out. His eyes filled with tears.

“Relax.” Itachi repeated. “Relax and kiss me.”

Naruto could feel his anus screaming in protest as three fingers began working inside him. It was painful but the more Itachi’s fingers kept hitting that swollen organ the pain mixed in with pleasure. It was hard to describe. It was painful but Naruto didn’t want Itachi to stop. It was painful and burned but Naruto wanted...more. He wanted something bigger to fill him. His swollen gland wasn’t satisfied anymore with just being massaged by fingers. Naruto continued to touch Itachi and he leaned over and kissed him.

Every time he kissed Itachi it felt like he was drinking the aphrodisiac all over again.

Naruto could still smell the incense burning. The archbishop remained in the room. He continued praying to the sun god continuing a low chant.

“I want to put it in.” Itachi spoke in a husky voice. Naruto nodded his head. Itachi pushed Naruto so he was balancing on all fours. He positioned himself behind and positioned his penis outside his puckering hole. He started thrusting.

“Ngh~” Naruto cried out. It was painful. It felt like his anus was ripping. Those fears he had yesterday resurfaced and he started crying. Itachi was too big and he was going to rip and bleed. “It...hurts…” He could still feel Itachi thrusting behind him. His hands gripped Naruto’s hips and kept him straight, keeping him in place. That burning feeling rocked him. His anus burned.

“Relax. You’re too tense.” Itachi spoke. He wasn’t even all the way in. It was just the tip of his penis. It took a few more thrusts before Itachi’s penis went halfway in. He swiveled his hips opening up Naruto’s anus more. He waited a few more seconds for Naruto’s body to adjust before he started thrusting again. A few more thrusts and Itachi was fully inside Naruto.

“Ngn...ah…” Naruto moaned. “Slow...down…” Naruto begged as he tried to recover.

He fell forward, his arms unable to support his weight. Itachi didn’t stop thrusting, but he did slow down. He kept thrusting in and out slowly. It felt like his insides were on fire. The friction caused his anus to become inflamed. Every time Itachi thrust he saw a burst of white light across his vision. His body was rocked and it felt like his body was plummeting through iced waters and then falling into a hot spring over and over again.

He was brought back to when he first ingested the poison. When his body couldn’t regulate body temperature. He could feel Itachi moving him to his back. He didn’t have to hold his weight up anymore. One of his legs was resting on Itachi’s shoulder as he continued thrusting into him.

“Mng...ah...ah.” Naruto continued moaning. He could feel Itachi’s fingers threading through his and he squeezed his hand.

“Say my name…” Itachi purred.

“Ita~” Naruto trailed off as Itachi started thrusting harder. He was going fast. Too fast. Too hard. It was hard to form words when it felt like his insides were being scrambled. He took Naruto from the side. He rolled him to his right side and took him from this angle. He started thrusting harder and harder. Holding his leg above so he could get the right angle. It directly hit his already swollen gland.

“Say my name!” Itachi demanded and went even rougher as he plunged back into him.

“Itachi~” Naruto cried out. He had ejaculated. He could feel his semen hitting him in the stomach. It bubbled over as Itachi continued thrusting. “ITACHI!” Naruto cried out. He could feel Itachi ejaculating. He could feel his insides burning and filling up with Itachi’s semen. When he pulled his penis from him he could feel the itchy substance sliding out. Itachi collapsed on top of him.

Naruto was panting. He noticed they were both covered in sweat. Neither said anything. They were both coming down from the debilitating flood of endorphins that riddled their bodies and stupefied them into ecstasy. His ass ached. He could feel his deflated anus crying out for more. His penis was still erect.

“Did you ejaculate inside Naruto, emperor Itachi?” The archbishop asked breaking the silence that washed over them.

“Mhm.” Itachi confirmed. His head remained up against Naruto’s chest above his beating heart.

“The ritual is complete. I will leave you two alone.”

The archbishop spoke from the other side of the privacy curtains. Naruto could hear the archbishop walking across the marble floor, opened the door, and then closed the door behind. Itachi moved the privacy curtain back and looked around the room. They were alone. He climbed off the bed, went to his door, and locked it before returning.

“I want to do it again.” Itachi stated.

Naruto looked down and saw that Itachi was already erect. Naruto smiled weakly. The truth was he wanted to do it again too. He didn’t think his body could feel like this. He was still riding off that first high and he didn’t want this feeling to last. He wanted Itachi to fill him completely once more.

“Mhm.” Naruto agreed.

*****

Sasuke held the scroll in his hands and reread the written message. It was a scroll from the palace. It was a request from his brother for Sasuke to return to the palace to discuss the matter of war with Kuni. He tossed the scroll to the floor and started laughing. Had his brother planned for him to receive the message on the date of Naruto’s eighteenth birthday? Did he really think he cared about Naruto like that anymore? Naruto had been someone from his past. A pivotal figure in igniting life into him. Now. was able to stand on his two legs by himself.

“Does my brother consider me a fool?” Sasuke asked the guardsman that delivered the message. “Tell him I will not return to the palace. He started the war in the north. It has nothing to do with me.”

“He wanted to relay the message he will give you whatever you wanted. Money. Land. Possessions. He said he will officially make you the King of the south if you help him with the war effort in the north.” The guardsman spoke the second part of the message. The one that wasn’t written in formally. The one that should be revealed if at first, the crown prince refused.

“Your brother wishes you to aid him in the war effort?” Sakura asked.

She had been wearing a revealing silk dress. She had gained weight since living in the manor. He was able to see her clearly. She had a large forehead, skin the color of peach fuzz, and if she stayed out in the sun for too long she would burn. It was so severe she would hold a black umbrella over herself whenever she walked outside and it was sunny. Her pink hair was cut short to her shoulders and she had styled it into thick ringlets. She wore heavy red lipstick and rouge on her cheeks. He adored the color of her hair. He hadn’t been able to pinpoint that exact color yet in the world.

“This could be beneficial for you, crown prince.” Sakura commented.

She had been raised by the gypsies. There was brazen confidence about her. There was something mystical about her. She was a nymph of the forest being chased by Pan. He was surprised she didn’t leave after his sight was restored. She told him it was because she wanted his continued protection. She stated the hearts of men were often dark and they wanted more and more and more from her. She had been beaten, tied up, raped in her short life as men tried to use her power for wickedness, selfishness, desires. She said if she ran into any of them who have hurt her she was going to kill them.

Using the protection of the crown prince she was able to receive the appropriate payment for the men’s wishes she granted.

“How?” Sasuke asked. He was intrigued. Sakura saw things from a different perspective and he welcomed this perspective.

“If you go to war and save as many lives as you can. You will be considered a war hero. People will be forced to see you beyond the cursed seal. How can they hate and fear someone who brought their son home safely for a pointless war the emperor started because he didn’t want to sit down and have peace talks.”

Apophis was growing excited thinking about the prospect of entering a war and being able to kill mercilessly as he pleased. The chaos that he could unleash on the world was unparalleled. Sasuke leaned back in his chair and considered this perspective. He tapped his index finger against the arm of his chair as he thought it through.

Sasuke nodded his head. “Tell my brother I will pay him a visit on the winter solstice.” He turned to look at Sakura. “Want to visit the palace with me?”

“Mhm...it should be fun.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Izumi was sprawled out on the futon on the floor. There were decorative pillows and fur blankets strewn about. There was a charcuterie platter on a decorative tray. There was cabernet sauvignon wine breathing inside a decanter. She had a filled glass she was holding in her hand. She was laying in front of a roaring fire. Outside was the first day of snow. It was a tease really. The ground was still warm and when the snowflakes made their long, labored, journey from the atmosphere down they melted upon resting on the ground. It was depressing. The purpose of the first snow isn’t to stick and blanket everything in a celestial white. It was sacrificial. It’s purpose is to chill and freeze the ground so the next time it snowed it was able to collect and be pristine and white.

Life as a concubine entailed long gaps of boredom. She had been left inside her room for too long. She was left untouched and she was beginning to grow mad with desire. She squeezed her legs together when she thought of Itachi touching her. There was a warmness blooming between her legs and the more she thought about Itachi and his body pressed against hers, his mouth against her breasts, his throbbing penis thrusting deep inside her she could feel herself becoming wetter and wetter. She was about to place her hand between her legs and pleasure herself when there was a knock at the door.

She was reinvigorated. She pushed herself up her eyes sparkling in hope that it was Itachi paying her a visit. She placed the wine glass back down on the table. When the door opened she instantly frowned and her mood worsened as quickly as blowing out the flame of a candle. It left remnants of her disappointment as smoke billowing out.

“What’s with that sourpus face?” Kara purred. “Who else were you expecting?” She looked around the room and started laughing. It was a mocking laugh. “Don’t tell me you were actually expecting emperor Itachi?” Izumi had never really gotten along with Kara. Their personalities clashed. They had only formed an alliance in their hatred of Naruto Namikaze.

“I don’t know why you feel like you’re in the position to mock me. Hasn’t it been even longer for you since emperor Itachi visited you?” Izumi fired back. She folded her arms under her well endowed chest propping up her bosom. Hoping her standoffish demeanor would make Kara quickly leave. She wasn’t in the mood to engage in any conversation.

“Emperor Itachi is spending all his time with his wife. Looks like you were pushed back to the second spot.” Kara fired back.

“I don’t understand his fascination with her. She isn’t even that pretty. She’s flat chested and has a bad personality.” Izumi whined. She grabbed a decorative pillow in her arms and squeezed it.

“That kitten of another color has claws.” Kara commented. Every woman outside the Uchiha Clan was referred to as a kitten of another color. “It’s probably the thrill of the conquest with the emperor. To break her.”

“Break her? How long are we supposed to wait until he breaks her? I want to break her!” Izumi cried out.

She was thinking if she had a plan to break her she would have already done it. She would have been fine sharing emperor Itachi with her if Itachi didn’t have Naruto stay in his bed chambers every single night since she turned eighteen. If Itachi at least paid her a visit twice a month. Especially when emperor Itachi never invited her or Kara to his bed chambers. He made it a strick rule that he visited his concubines in their bed chambers. It only caused her to brim with jealousy and rage.

“I don’t think he will ever break her.” Kara continued.

Kara was more sophisticated and clever compared to Izumi. She blended in the background. She was a wallflower. It was how she managed to gather information. She was a silent observer and knew the talk of the town. Kara was friendly with the palace staff and so indulged herself in gossip. It was the only entertainment they had since the war with Kuni started.

“He wants her to love him, and he thinks fucking her every night will somehow convince her that she loves him.” Kara spoke with a small smirk. Her eyes stared into the heart of the fire caged inside the fireplace. “He doesn’t know you can’t equate orgasms to love.”

Izumi was more superficial. She was more surface level. She wore her emotions on her sleeve. She often reacted before thinking things through which often got her into trouble. She focused her attention on Kara.

“She doesn’t love him?” Izumi asked. That was enough to fill her with hope. She brought a hand to her mouth stifling a giggle.

“No.” Kara answered. The fire reflected in her honey brown irises. “Isn’t it perfect? She’s making a fool out of emperor Itachi. I didn’t think I could find someone as more wily as you.”

“I hate her even more for making a fool out of emperor Itachi!” Izumi cried out. She kicked herself backwards and kicked her feet up in the air. “She doesn’t deserve him!” Her bottom lip pouted.

“If she doesn’t love emperor Itachi. It must be because she loves someone else.” Kara speculated. “I’ve been watching her closely these past few weeks. Then today I overheard a conversation.”

“Oh?” Izumi pushed herself back into a sitting position. The way Kara spoke led Izumi to believe she knew a lot more about the situation. It was typical of Kara. She’d remain quiet until she fully grasped the situation at hand before engaging in conversation.

“I heard Naruto having a conversation with the captain of the guard, Shisui. She was interested in crown prince Sasuke’s visit to the palace. She was asking a lot of questions. When was he going to arrive, how long he was staying, and where in the palace would he be staying.”

“So?” Izumi pouted. She was already disappointed in this information. Everyone knew crown prince Sasuke was set to arrive during the winter solstice. “Didn’t she spend a summer or something being the crown prince’s slave?”

“Stupid. That’s who she likes!” Kara answered angrily. Izumi looked at her and burst into laughter.

“I think you’re reading too much into things.”

“Still.” Kara kept her pride. “She’s making a fool out of emperor Itachi. He’s on his knees begging her everyday. She doesn’t do anything of her own free will. She won’t kiss him. She won’t touch him. She won’t cuddle him. He has to demand all of it from her.”

“How do you know?”

“The captain of the guard, Shisui, told me.” Kara smirked. “Apparently Naruto wants a break.”

“That little bitch! She wants a break already?” Izumi cried. “If it was me...I wouldn’t need a break!”

“It’s why I’m angry!” Kara yelled. “Neither you or me would be tired of emperor Itachi!”

“She’s a temple bitch. Did she bewitch him using some sun god magic?” Izumi asked. She wasn’t being contrived. She was serious. She knew there was magic that was within the sun temple. Magic that was used to extend emperor Fugaku’s life. Magic that was used to protect the palace from attacks. The sun god’s magic was protection and life.

“We should teach her a lesson.” Kara dropped her voice. The air around Kara shifted. It became colder, thinner. She leaned her body close to Izumi. So close she could feel the heat radiating off her skin. “We won’t kill her. We’ll just slip her something that will cause boils to break out over her skin. It’ll stay on her skin for two weeks. Then they’ll go away. So what do you say? Are you in?”

Izumi’s eyes lit up. It was perfect. They wouldn’t poison her to death just to give her boils. Just to play a prank on her and set her in her place. Emperor Itachi wouldn’t dare go near her for two weeks. It was perfect. Izumi nodded her head enthusiastically. They leaned close and began to devise a foul proof plan.

*****

“I’m tired.” Naruto protested.

He wasn’t just tired. It went beyond tiredness. It was exhaustion. It was a debilitation that reached the cellular level. It saturated his very existence. It was sheer fatigue on an emotional level. It had been nonstop for two months and Naruto couldn’t do it anymore. He could barely raise his fork to his mouth. His right hand wouldn’t stop trembling. Every little thing he did expelled energy he didn’t have. It made it near impossible to carry out his temple duties as a bishop. Something told Naruto that was what Itachi wanted. To prevent him from going to the temple and keeping him locked up in the bed chambers unable to walk.

“Tired of what?” Itachi asked as he stuffed chicken into his mouth. “Do you not want chicken?”

They were seated for dinner. Naruto wasn’t hungry. He didn’t have an appetite lately. He hadn’t been eating and Itachi didn’t even notice. It felt that since he turned eighteen Itachi didn’t like to take no for an answer. He wanted him every night sometimes multiple times every night. Sometimes during the day. He wasn’t able to sleep. His body felt sore. His body had black and blue bruised marks on it from Itachi’s mouth. From his tongue and teethmarks. He was getting rougher with him. He didn’t like it. It felt like he was going to go crazy.

“I don’t want to sleep with you tonight.” Naruto clarified.

“Do you hate me?” Itachi asked.

“No.” Naruto muttered. “I don’t feel good. I want to sleep in my room.”

“I won’t touch you. Just sleep next to me tonight.”

“You’re lying. That’s what you said last night and then you fucked me twice!” Naruto screamed. He was tired of having the same conversation with Itachi only for them to repeat the cycle. His body wouldn’t stop trembling. He was exhausted and his adrenaline coursed through his veins.

“If I remembered correctly you came three times last night. Why are you acting like you suddenly hate it?” Itachi argued. “Who are you to use such foul language?”

“I can’t do this anymore!” Naruto continued to shout. He was becoming hysterical. “I need a break! Don’t you have concubines? Go to them!” Maybe he had already reached his limit and now he was unraveling, and once he started to unravel, he wasn’t able to pull himself back together.

“You...don’t care if I have concubines?” Itachi asked. There was a desperation in Itachi’s voice. It strained and contorted his words. Being around Itachi was exhaustive. He was intense every second of every day. He couldn’t just sit still. He needed constant validation and Naruto didn’t want to give him validation. When Naruto wouldn’t give him validation he needed validation through Naruto’s body by making him come. Naruto wanted him to leave him alone.

“No? Why would I?” Naruto laughed as if it was the most ridiculous thing Itachi said all night. “Wasn’t the original purpose of the concubines to give the empress a break?”

He could feel himself losing his mind. The lack of sleep. His sore, aching, body. His loss of appetite. His lower back throbbed. He had a bruise on his arm from where Itachi pulled his arm back as he thrust into him bent across the foot of the bed. It hurt to sit. He found himself unhinged. He wasn’t even bathing properly. Hinata commented on his hygiene today. She asked if he was okay. He hated having to lie to her. He hated that Itachi made him lie to people when they asked him what was wrong. What’s wrong? It was Itachi...Itachi was what was wrong with him! He had snapped at a temple child yesterday for dropping a vial of holy water causing it to shatter against the floor. It wasn’t even the act of the vial breaking it was the noise that penetrated his ear and made his skin crawl. He had become too sensitive to light and sound.

“My father didn’t have concubines.” Itachi answered with clenched teeth.

“Emperor Fugaku didn’t want any more children! It was why he dismissed the concubines.” Naruto argued back. “He wasn’t even sleeping with your mother anymore. I’m not stupid!” He rebuked every argument Itachi hurled at him. “Maybe take a page out of his book.” He knew he was being cruel. He hated that Itachi was driving him to cruelty. That friction he felt when he was a child had come back.

“You don’t even have an heir to the throne yet, and you’re not getting an heir out of me!” Naruto spoke bitterly. “You have to produce an heir with the concubines! Hurry up and produce an heir!”

“Why are you acting this way? I thought things were going good between us? Now you’re saying you don’t want me anymore? You tell me first to fuck other people and then tell me to abstain from sex? Now you’re telling me to make a kid with the concubines? You’re the confusing one, Naruto!”

“I just told you! I need a break. I’m not going back to your bed chambers!” Naruto had picked up his plate and thrown it in Itachi’s direction. He hadn’t aimed towards him. He aimed a few feet to his left. The plate dumped his dinner across the dining table and the plate struck the wall and shattered. The action caused Itachi to jump.

“Are you fucking crazy?” Itachi yelled.

“Yes! I am crazy! Don’t you see...I need a break! Being around you is driving me crazy!” Naruto screamed his lungs out. He was panting. It strained his throat. Itachi finally stopped talking and was looking at him, really looking at him.

“Okay.” Itachi spoke. He lowered his voice. Naruto was finally able to get through to him. “Fine. We’ll take a break.”

“I’m going to bed.” Naruto remarked. He stood up and left.

*****

Naruto didn’t return to his bed chambers. He didn’t trust Itachi not to seek him out in the middle of the night. There was only one place he could find solace. He left for the temple. It was snowing more heavily outside. The snow was finally sticking today. He donned his coat and didn’t get two feet from the entrance of the palace when a guardsman stopped him.

“Where are you going?” The guardsman asked.

“I’m going to the temple. If you must keep tabs on me. Follow me.” Naruto snapped.

“It’s nighttime. You don’t have temple duties.” The guardsman spoke and attempted to stop Naruto.

“I already spoke to the emperor, and captain of the guard Shisui. They are both aware.” Naruto was short tempered. “Move out of my way. I’m going to the temple.”

The guardsman allowed Naruto to pass. It was a bold statement to use both the emperor’s and Shisui’s names. He took the caution route and followed Naruto instead. It was another suffocating thing that Itachi did. He assigned a guardsman on him. He couldn’t even go to the library without a guardsman following him, couldn’t even piss without a guardsman outside the door.

“Naruto!” Hinata greeted when Naruto entered the dormitory. “What brings you here?” Her eyes moved to the guardsman that had stuck to Naruto like a shadow and frowned.

“I’m staying here for a few days.” Naruto confessed. “I guess he’s staying with me too.” He jabbed a thumb in the guard’s direction.

Hinata handed him a set of pajamas, a towel, and led him to the bathroom. Naruto entered the bathroom with Hinata and the guard remained on the outside.

“Naruto...are you...okay?” Hinata asked. Naruto’s face flushed. He hated this question.

The temple had modern plumbing installed. Now they were able to turn a faucet and have water fill the tubs. They still needed to use a fire to heat the waters. Hinata turned a faucet and water began filling one of the tubs. The loud noise of the water hitting the porcelain drowned out their voices.

“If I stayed in that palace one more night I was going to lose my fucking mind.” Naruto spoke deadpan. He had run on empty and his filter was nonexistent.

“Do you want me to give you some revitalization medicine?”

Hinata turned her back as Naruto began to strip. She focused her eyes on the bathroom door. Naruto wrapped a large, thick, towel around him and stepped into the square, porcelain bathtub. The water continued to fill the bathtub. He was covered. Hinata turned around.

“I don’t...know.” Naruto confessed. “My brain is all fuzzy. It feels like I drank too much...but I haven’t drank alcohol in days.”

“You’re...one of the few that are married. Your body isn’t used to the wife's duties. No wonder you’re so exhausted. We were made to pray and serve the sun god in the temple. Not do...what you do in the bed chambers.” Hinata’s face turned a vibrate red. She was staring at the bruises and bite marks all over his flesh. Naruto was intrigued by her blushing. It took the color of poppies. Naruto liked that shade on her. She would be stunning in a red dress.

What Hinata said made sense. The members in the temple’s upper hierarchy rarely married. The members in the lower hierarchy were able to marry and produce offspring. It was a broken system all around. He knew that what Itachi demanded of him every night wasn’t the norm. He heard the maidservants gossiping. They had all felt sorry for him. It was too much for his body. They started to place bets. On how long it was before Naruto snapped. He wondered who guessed two months. If he had known earlier he would have placed his own bet into the pot.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” Naruto spoke. The water covered him up and Hinata turned the faucet off. He closed his eyes and just allowed himself to be in the waters. He could feel the fire beneath warming the waters. It was therapeutic. He inhaled the steam that wafted up from the tub. It cleaned out his nasal passage and lungs.

“I’ve noticed something.” Hinata whispered. She sat outside the porcelain tub. Her arms rested on the edge of the tub and she placed her head in her arms. She looked directly at Naruto. “Whenever you’re here. The high priest doesn’t dare take a child to the shrine.”

Naruto straightened up and jerked his head towards Hinata. “So he only does it when I’m not here?” Naruto’s blood started to boil and he could feel anger welting up.

“Mhm.”

“Has he...taken you?”

“Mhm.” Hinata nodded her head.

Her eyes glossed over with tears. Naruto clenched his hands into fists. He felt his whole body tightening. Every muscle flexed. It was more ammunition to get away from Itachi. He needed energy for his duties in the temple. He decided he wasn’t going to return to the palace unless Itachi fetched for him himself and dragged him back. It was beyond ridiculous. The high priest was more conniving and dirtier by the day.

That rat bastard. He glanced at the bathroom door and tried to picture where the guardsman was standing.

He held his breath and submerged underwater. He felt his back up against the bottom of the tub. He floated there for a second before screaming into the water. It was his only outlet. Air erupted out of his mouth and bubbled to the surface. His scream was muffled. He continued to remain under water until his life preservation system kicked in and his lungs screamed, cried, and clawed for oxygen. He pushed himself up, breaking through the surface, in inhaling deeply.

*****

“How have things been, emperor?” Kara spoke seductively. “It’s been a while since you’ve visited.”

There was a display of fruits, chocolates, cheeses, crackers, jams, mustards, pecans, almonds, and bread on a wooden tray. It was left untouched. Instead Itachi drank the cabernet sauvignon wine. Kara had dumped a strong aphrodisiac into the wine earlier in the night, and she waited for it to take effect.

Itachi was sitting up on the futon. There was a four-post bed in Kara’s room on the opposite end of the room. They remained seated in front of the fireplace. The snow had continued to fall. The farmers were warning it was going to be a brutal winter. One that was going to last longer than usual. One that was going to break records. Nights like these were Kara’s favorite. She longed to press her naked body up against Itachi’s while the snow raged on outside. She wanted to hibernate with him in her bed. She wanted him to forget all about Naruto and focus on her.

“It’s been two weeks and she hasn’t left the temple.” Itachi sulked. “Shisui told me to leave her alone, and give her some space. I’m done waiting. I want her to come back, now.”

“Shisui is very wise.” Kara commented. She hid her irritation that Itachi was immediately bringing Naruto up. “It’s why he is your right-hand man and the captain of the guard.”

“I don’t understand her...she acts like she’s repulsed by me.” Itachi continued to dump his worries out. “Are you repulsed by me?” He turned and looked at Kara.

She was wearing a decorative pink and white kimono and her sleeve was hanging off her shoulder. It was loosely tied around the waist and her bosoms were half exposed. She had put blush on her bosom and shoulders. Kara had a full face of makeup on. Her hair was styled intricately and she was wearing perfume. She had put effort into her appearance. She looked like a painting.

Itachi wondered why Naruto never made an effort. Recently he had refused to bathe. He refused to brush his hair, and if Itachi didn’t tell him to change his clothes he would wear the same thing every day. Still. Even though he didn’t put any effort into his appearance he was still sexually attracted to him. His body was addicting and he wanted to take him over and over. He didn’t lie when he said the only person he wanted to sleep with was Naruto. He thought if he had brought Naruto to climax enough times he would spontaneously say he loved him. It had been two months and Naruto still hadn’t told him he loved him. Even when Itachi demanded it out of him in the bedroom. He refused.

“I adore you emperor. You know I cherish you in my heart.” Kara spoke softly. “I love everything about you. From your smile, to your eyes, to your muscles.” She reached out and touched his abdomen. Itachi pulled from her touch. “You’re intelligent, and funny, and you are a strong leader and I know you’ll surprise your father with your accomplishments. You’re fucking unbeliable in bed. Nobody has been able to make me come like you. When you’re not near me it feels like I’m going insane.”

These were the words he wanted Naruto to say. His heart ached. They didn’t mean the same thing coming from Kara’s mouth. Naruto had said the opposite. Naruto told Itachi they have been spending too much time together and he was going crazy being around him. He wanted Naruto to come back, wrap his arms around him, kiss him and tell him he missed him and couldn’t stand being one more day apart.

“I told her I would get her another copy of Bluebeard...maybe if I got her that she would come around.” Itachi postulated. He had remembered in a fit of rage he had destroyed the book Naruto was reading all those years ago. When he destroyed the book he was finally able to get Naruto to look at him. He finally was able to get a reaction out of him. Even if that reaction was Naruto crying.

“Why would she care about a book?” Kara asked. “She doesn’t care about a book, emperor. She doesn’t care for you because she can’t care for you. She doesn’t have any more room left in her heart for you.”

Itachi jerked his entire body in Kara’s direction. He fought back the urge to slap her. He didn’t want to hear those words. “Watch your mouth!”

“I’m not lying, emperor. She already loves someone else.”

“WHO?” Itachi screamed.

“The crown prince, perhaps?”

Itachi tilted his head back and laughed. He laughed in the same manner that Izumi laughed. They laughed as if she was a fool. Izumi never fully explained why she laughed and judging by Itachi’s reaction they both knew the same thing and whatever it was, Kara wasn’t privy to it.

“Naruto hates the crown prince.” Itachi confirmed. “When she went to the manor she was instructed to poison him.”

Kara’s eyes widened. It was the first time she was hearing of it. No wonder Izumi laughed as if Kara was the stupid one. She heard the same thing from Itachi’s mouth. Was this why she was so blase? She could feel a subtle rage igniting in the pit of her stomach. She hated when she didn’t have all her cards in place when she showed up to the card table.

“She was talking an awful lot to captain of the guard, Shisui, about the crown prince’s arrival.” Kara continued. She wanted to know his response.

“Maybe she wants to poison him again. She’s part of the sun temple. The god of chaos is the sun god’s enemy. I’d be more apt to believe Naruto is in love with Shisui compared to the cursed child!” When he said the words out loud he didn’t want Naruto to be in love with anyone else, but him. His mouth pressed into a thin line.

“Well...if she doesn’t love anyone else. Why doesn’t she love you? The maidservants gossip, emperor. They’re saying she’s making a fool out of you. They’re gossiping about the argument you two had in the dining room. Apparently, Naruto is tired of sleeping with you and wanted a break because she’s tired of you. She also threw a plate at you. The maidservants were gossiping and wondering why you didn’t discipline her.”

“Why would I discipline her? The plate didn’t hit me.”

“Maybe that’s your problem, emperor. You’re too lenient. Isn’t she a former temple child? Discipline. Flogging. Timeouts in the dark room. Aren’t they all how the temple forces children of the temple to behave? If that is what she’s used to...maybe you should discipline her. She’s acting this way because you let her act this way. Meaning. She has all the power and you’re left being the fool.”

Itachi didn’t say anything. There was truth to what Kara was saying. He was thinking that Naruto was exhausted because he was splitting his time between him and the temple. If he cut the temple out. Naruto would be able to spend all of his time on him. He would propose that to Naruto. Request that Naruto take a break from his temple duties and devote his time with him. It was only fair. They were supposed to be newlyweds. Actual newlyweds. This was supposed to be the honeymoon phase.

Itachi stood up and started leaving.

“Wait...emperor where are you going?” Kara asked.

“I had no intention of sleeping with you tonight. I believe Naruto told me to come to you because it was a test. I am going to tell her I didn’t sleep with you and I have no intention of sleeping with the concubines. The only person I want to sleep with is Naruto.”

Kara gritted her teeth and as soon as Itachi left the room she kicked the tray of food and wine over in a fit of rage spilling everything all over her futon. She watched as the red wine began to be soaked up by the fabric. She envisioned it as Naruto’s blood being absorbed.

*****

“How long do you intend on being here?” Shisui asked Naruto. “Time is up.”

“I don’t want to go back.” Naruto answered briskly.

He had remained in the temple. He was slowly taking over some of the high priest’s duties and he was showing the congregation how capable and dependable he was. He didn’t know when things switched. He remembered that palace used to be his solace from the temple and now the temple was his solace away from the palace.

“No. No. I do not think you understand.” Shisui clarified. “I gave you two weeks. Got that two. When you came to me in tears begging me to help you get a break. I agreed.” Shisui held two fingers up in Naruto’s face. Naruto brushed it away with his hand as if he was shooing a fly. “I gave you a two week break, and now Itachi wants you back. So when are you coming back so I can tell him.”

“I told him to sleep with the concubines!” Naruto huffed.

“He doesn’t want the concubines. He wants you!”

“I don’t want him.”

“I advise you to never say those words out loud unless you’re prepared to suffer the consequences.”

“Tell him to sleep with the concubines, please, Shisui!” Naruto pleaded.

“No.” Shisui spoke and covered Naruto’s eyes with his hand. “You’re not going to give me those eyes again. I won’t fall for it. Whether you like it or not. You are married to the emperor. You are obligated to be the empress, and being the empress requires certain duties of you. If I remember correctly...wasn’t it Itachi who protected you over the last five years?”

It was Naruto’s turn. He slapped his hand over Shisui’s mouth. His eyes darted to his bedroom door. He was using a guest bedroom in the temple. It was the size of a closet with very little space. They were both sitting on his twin sized cot. Shisui glanced towards the door. He didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary.

“If you don’t go back now. Things are going to escalate, and things might escalate to where Itachi won’t let you leave the palace.”

“Itachi knows...Itachi knows I’m going to ascend as high priest. He knows I’m going to be bestowed the magic of the sun god and I can execute the crown prince! Why will he willingly stand in my way?” Naruto’s voice was strained. He choked back tears.

“Frankly dear. He doesn’t give a damn. He wants crown prince Sasuke to help him win this war. It’s been dragging on for too long and he’s losing approval ratings. A lot of people have died on our side and the people of Konoha aren’t happy. It doesn’t help that we’re on the cusp of a world record brutal winter and more lives are going to be lost because of the snow.”

“If I leave...if I leave the temple. The high priest is going to go back to assaulting the temple children!”

“The choice is simple, Naruto. Return now and satisfy Itachi, and you can come back to the temple in a few days. If you don’t. You won’t be able to come back for a long time. I already told him I would talk to you. It’s going to be easier on everyone if you just come back.”

“Today is the winter solstice.” Naruto murmured.

“The temple will survive one winter solstice without you.”

“No. I mean. It’s the crown prince set to arrive today?”

“Him? The winter storm has caused a delay. He should be arriving tomorrow.”

“What do I need to do to satisfy Itachi? He hasn’t been satisfied in the last two months.”

“Tell him what he wants to hear.”

“I’m not going to lie to him.”

“Naruto. We’re going in circles right now.”

Naruto nodded his head. He exhaled loudly and rubbed his eyes with his hands. He felt relief knowing that crown prince Sasuke wouldn’t be arriving today. He was dreading seeing him again. It left him a bundle of nerves all over again only for a completely different reason. What Shisui was saying made sense and really with Itachi’s personality if he did stay here any longer he knew he was going to suffer the consequences. He had felt rejuvenated over the last two weeks. He had taken the medicine Hinata offered him every day. He got his appetite back. He was able to sleep throughout the night, every night.

He felt...recovered.

“Okay. Okay. Okay. Tell him I will return for dinner. Let me finish tying things up here.”

“Perfect. See how much time we could have saved if you had just told me that from the beginning? I’ll pick you up in a few hours.”

“I don’t need a babysitter.” Naruto grumbled. He watched as Shisui left.

*****

“Here.” Hinata spoke softly and handed him a teacup. “I mixed the medicine for you. I gave you an extra dose…” She trailed off. She didn’t have to finish the sentence. Naruto knew why she had done it. He took the teacup to his mouth and drank.

“Bleh...why is it bitter?” Naruto asked. A shudder went down his spine and vibrated through his ribs and jolted through his pelvis bone, down his legs, to his toes. He hated bitter medicine. If Hinata didn’t look at him with her pleading eyes he wouldn’t take any medicine. He thought about asking the chef to make the medicine into candied sweets like he did the ginger root.

“Maybe I put in...a little too much.” Hinata spoke sheepishly. Her face filled with guilt and hesitation. She was already blaming herself.

“It’s...okay.” Naruto insisted. He decided to take the rest of the medicine in one large gulp. It was a rush and he pulled back and breathed through his mouth. The bitterness burned his tongue. He could feel his taste buds dying off and pulsating.

“Just. Not so much next time.” Naruto laughed and flashed a smile.

“Naruto. Time’s up.” Shisui called him. His smile vanished and he turned to see Shisui right on time. Honestly he couldn’t even give him one more minute.

“I’ll...see you soon.” Naruto spoke softly.

He didn’t want to say goodbye. He never said goodbye. There was a finality with goodbye. When he said it felt like he wasn’t going to return, and he was, he was going to return. It was just temporary. Saying he was going to see her soon meant he was coming back. There was going to be a reunion in the near future.

*****

Naruto took his dinner inside Itachi’s bed chambers, alone, as requested from Itachi. He had gotten tied up in important matters in the meeting room. Naruto was praying the whole time to the sun god to prevent Itachi from coming tonight. He wanted something to happen that took all of Itachi’s attention away. The door knocked and it opened to reveal a young maidservant.

“Excuse me.” She spoke with a slight song in her voice. “Emperor Itachi told me to bring you this to drink.”

She looked to be twelve years old. That was how old he was when he was assigned to be the maidservant to the crown prince. She was carrying a small pitcher. Naruto took the pitcher from her hands. He looked at the liquid. It didn’t look like wine. He smelled it. It didn’t pull on any memory of a liquid he drank before. He turned back to the maidservant.

“What is it?”

“He just instructed me to make sure you drank it.” She smiled. She was innocent. She didn’t know what she was delivering. She didn’t know the madness that lurked inside the emperor.

Itachi was making him drink an aphrodisiac. He was changing tactics. He probably thought it would be easier if Naruto was under the influence, and maybe it was. It was easier for him to drink it. If he complied with Itachi he could go back to the temple. He took the pitcher and brought it to his lips and drank. It had the consistency of watery syrup. His taste buds were already destroyed from the medicine he took. He couldn’t describe how it tasted. He finished the drink and showed the maidservant.

“See. I drank it.” Naruto said and showed her the empty pitcher. The maidservant continued to smile. She took the empty pitcher. “Hey.” Naruto whispered and pointed towards the door. “How many guards are posted outside?”

“Two!” She answered. Naruto nodded his head. She bowed and left the room.

There was no point in sitting here and waiting. Naruto disrobed and placed a nightgown on before crawling onto Itachi’s four-post bed. He closed the privacy curtains and rolled to his back. The room was cold. The fire was only lit when Naruto arrived. It was still cold in the room. So cold when he exhaled he could see his breath. The nightgown was flimsy and long. He would need something warmer for bed during the winter. He rolled to his side. Like Itachi would let him wear clothes anyways during the night.

He closed his eyes when he opened his eyes he could feel Itachi kissing him on the cheek, on his neck, and on his lips.

“What a beautiful sight to see when I came back to my room.” Itachi whispered in Naruto’s ear.

It was enough to make his skin crawl. He rolled to his back. It was then when he felt it. Something was off in his body. He felt a disconnect. Itachi pressed his lips to Naruto’s and Naruto remained passive. There was a haze over his eyes as if the whole room filled up with steam. Itachi continued kissing him and his hands went and pulled Naruto’s nightgown up.

“I missed you.” Itachi spoke. He pulled away and looked down at Naruto. “Tell me you missed me too.” There he was going again. Making demands from him. Making him tell him things he didn’t believe. Naruto didn’t say anything. He was trying to figure out what was wrong with his body. His mind was moving rather slow.

“Naruto.” Itachi called his name. Naruto looked at him. He hadn’t moved. “Tell me you miss me.”

“Itachi...I don’t feel good. Something feels wrong inside me...please call the physician.”

“Tell me you miss me.” Itachi ignored Naruto’s words. Still. Naruto didn’t say anything.

“Kiss me.” Itachi spoke against Naruto’s mouth.

Naruto was starting to feel the aphrodisiac taking effect. It was delayed. He could feel his skin becoming hotter, gradually, than all at once. He could feel a warmness in his stomach and it spread slowly across his skin. He could feel himself becoming more sensitive. Naruto complied and kissed Itachi and Itachi kissed him back. His tongue pressed desperately against his.

There was always so much emotion coming from Itachi it was blinding. He poured all those emotions into Naruto’s mouth. Itachi positioned himself between Naruto’s legs. He pressed his tongue to Naruto’s penis. It was electric. He could feel his body responding automatically to Itachi. He lost count on how many times they had done it. His body remembered every single time. His body wanted to feel that pleasure again but something was internally blocking it. Something inside his body had consumed and destroyed the aphrodisiac.

Itachi pressed his tongue up against Naruto’s anus wetting it before he stuck his index and middle finger all the way into his mouth coating his fingers in saliva. He attempted to insert his fingers into Naruto’s anus but the angle wasn’t working. He turned to see Naruto was being passive again. It angered him.

“Stand up!” Itachi yelled.

Naruto blinked. He was dazed. He didn’t move. “Itachi...I don’t feel right. I think something is wrong. Please...get a physician.”

It only angered Itachi more. “Why are you lying? Why do you keep acting this way!” He stood up and grabbed hold of Naruto’s wrist. He jerked him up. “Get out of bed and stand up!” Itachi was stronger than Naruto. He could feel his shoulder jerking in pain as Itachi pulled Naruto’s whole weight off the bed using his arm. Naruto caught himself before he fell face first to the floor.

“That...hurt…” Naruto gasped. His wrist was throbbing. He landed on it wrong.

“Stand up and bend over the bed.” Itachi demanded. He didn’t even give Naruto time to move. Itachi grabbed the same arm he had used to pull him off the bed to pull him up like a rag doll. It hurt.

“I said it hurts!” Naruto argued and tried to pull himself free. Itachi wouldn’t let go of his arm.

He felt Itachi bending him over the base of the bed while still holding onto his left arm. His free hand caught the wooden bedframe and he tried to keep himself balanced. In an instant he could feel Itachi inserting two fingers into his anus. It caused Naruto to cry out in surprise. It had been two weeks and he felt his anus had shrunk exponentially. He needed time to prep. He could feel Itachi maneuvering his fingers inside him until he found the gland. He pressed up against it with his middle finger. He rubbed it up and down feeling it swell.

“Ngn..” Naruto gasped. His body wanted to feel pleasure and for a moment he was allowed to feel this pleasure. As soon as he felt it, it became blocked again. He felt Itachi pulling his hand out and he could feel Itachi’s erect penis pushing against his anus. “Wait...Itachi please ah~”

Naruto cried out as he felt Itachi thrusting. The pain was excruciating. It really did feel like he was being ripped apart. He didn’t understand what was happening to his body. He felt both a weakness and a sense of giddiness. He felt both nauseated and a sense of pleasure. He felt both elation and a sense of dread. He felt feverish and sick. None of these emotions matched up. Pain drowned out everything else.

“Itachi...please...slow...down...it...hurts.” Naruto cried out. It felt wrong. It didn’t feel right. He needed a physician. His intestines cramped around Itachi’s erect penis deep inside him. Itachi jerked back his arm and it caused so much pressure against his shoulder he could feel a burning pain as shoulder threatened to pop out. The pain was blinding.

“Itachi...ngn...ah.” It was hard for Naruto to form sentences. “Please...my arm. You’re hurting~”

Itachi continued thrusting into him. He was too rough. He wasn’t prepared. Naruto cried out again as Itachi’s penis started rubbing against his swollen gland. Naruto found himself losing balance and he fell to the side. His knee gave out and he collapsed. He felt Itachi slipping out of him as he fell to his knees. Itachi continued holding his left arm back.

“Itachi...please...wait!” Naruto begged. He was crying. He could feel tears blurring his already cloudy vision.

Itachi didn’t. He continued holding his left arm and dropped to his knees. He pulled Naruto’s other arm back and forced him to be perpendicular to the floor. He positioned himself behind Naruto and inserted himself back in. He took Naruto from behind once more. Naruto tried to balance himself on only his knees as he could feel Itachi rearranging his guts. His muscles were giving out again. His stomach hurt. He could feel something scraping the insides of his stomach. He could feel something scraping against his intestines. It caused intensive, blinding, cramps.

“Ngn...an...mgn...I want to stop!” Naruto cried out. “AH~”

He could feel snot rolling down his nose. It was the first time he struggled. He thrust his body forwards and kicked Itachi in the abdomen. Itachi finally let go of his arms and Naruto collapsed to the floor face first. His head rested against the marble floor. He didn’t realize how hot his body had become until the coolness of the marble pressed against his cheek.

“Tell me you missed me!” Itachi demanded. He moved Naruto so that he was on his back. He picked up Naruto’s hips and held them in place. He dragged Naruto’s lower half over his lap. He inserted himself back into Naruto. This time it was easier. He started thrusting.

“Itachi please you’re hurting me!” Naruto begged. Nothing he was saying was getting across to Itachi. “Please...I need a physician…”

“Just tell me you missed me!” Itachi yelled.

“NO!” Naruto screamed. “I DIDN’T! I DIDN’T MISS YOU!” Naruto pulled himself up and shoved Itachi in the chest.

No sooner had the words left his mouth did he feel a blow. It struck him across the face. He could feel his lip splitting open. The impact caused his head and body to jerk to the right. Pain had emerged across the right side of his face. All around his left shoulder, and pulstated in and around his anus was pain, pain pain. The blow to his face silenced him. He had to reconstruct what had happened. He fell to his side. He could feel blood filling up his mouth. He had to tell himself that Itachi had gone mad.

He could still feel Itachi thrusting inside him. Itachi didn’t care. Itachi didn’t care what he wanted. Itachi didn’t care if he didn’t miss him. Itachi didn’t care that he was crying in protest beneath him. Itachi didn’t care that he was poisoned and the poison was slowly making its way throughout his whole body. The only person Itachi really cared about was himself and what he wanted and what he desired. Naruto was nothing but a slab of meat. Naruto could feel Itachi’s arms under both his knees and in one movement he was being picked up.

“Hold on to me or you’re going to fall.” Itachi warned. Naruto didn't. He refused. He wanted to fall. Maybe he’d fall and crack his head open. Itachi dumped Naruto back onto the bed as if reading what Naruto really wanted to do. It was a relief to Naruto, because Itachi slipped back out of him.

“Stop…” Naruto begged. He flew into a wild rage. “You’re not even turning me on! Look how flaccid I am!” Naruto berated. It was true. Naruto’s penis remained flaccid. “Are you seriously getting any pleasure from this? If you are, you're sick!”

Itachi grabbed both of Naruto’s hands and jerked him into a sitting position. Itachi remained standing at the base of the bed. He bent over and looked at Naruto. His obsidian eyes bore into his.

“What do I need to do for you to love me?” Itachi asked. “What do I need to do for you to kiss me willingly. For you to hold me willingly. For you to enjoy me willingly!”

“Let go of me!” Naruto cried out and tried to free himself. “I don’t feel good!”

Itachi let go. “She didn’t give you the drink did she?” He sounded mad.

Naruto recoiled and his eyes remained locked on Itachi. He didn’t understand what he was saying. Itachi stormed out of the room and slammed the door shut. Naruto’s heart quickened. This was his chance. He could feel his stomach cramping more frequently. He could feel his intestines cramping. It was that familiar feeling. It was all coming together. It felt as if it was the first time he had ingested poison. It was different. He covered his mouth but he couldn’t stop panting. He was breathing but his lungs weren’t getting enough oxygen.

He rolled off the bed. He wanted to cover himself up. He grabbed a floor length robe and put it on and quickly tied it around the middle. He needed a physician. The cramping intensified. He fell to one knee and cried out. Stabs of pain ricocheted throughout his abdomen.

“HELP! PLEASE, I NEED A PHYSICIAN!”

He knew there were guards outside the bed chambers. He knew there were two. He also knew that Itachi stormed out of the room completely naked. He wanted the guards to fetch a physician before Itachi came back. Naruto started sweating. He could feel sweat perspiring everywhere on his body. He was both freezing and sweating. His teeth chattered from the cold. His mouth produced too much saliva and it drooled out of his mouth. Another wave of cramps hit him. It hurt to form words. His vision blurred in and out. He went from seeing to total blindness back to being able to see again. He could feel his fever spiking.

He balanced on one knee and one foot. His arms wrapped around his waist as if he was gutted and desperately tried to keep his inrels in. The inrels that Itachi scrambled up. He was trying to work up the strength to call for help again but his tongue felt useless in his mouth. He opened his mouth and he could feel more drool rolling down. It was this position that offered him some relief. He was getting worse.

The door burst back and Itachi appeared. This time dragging the twelve year old maidservant behind him. The two guards that were posted outside his door came in. It was pointless calling for help. These were Itachi’s men.

“Itachi… please help me!” Naruto begged. His voice was weak and fell on deaf ears.

He wanted to tell Itachi that he was poisoned but when his eyes looked up he noticed that...Itachi wasn’t there. Itachi was gone and a stark raving mad man had taken up residency. Naruto rested a hand against the marble floor trying to steady himself. His eyes moved to the little girl. She was crying. Her brown eyes were so large and frightened Naruto could see himself reflected in those orbs. She was so frightened he could taste her fear.

“I gave you explicit instructions. Why didn't you deliver the drink?” Itachi screamed in her face.

“I did...I did, emperor, honest! I watched her drink it and everything!”

“Do you think I would have dragged you here if it worked?” Itachi screamed and kicked her in the stomach. The little girl fell to the floor. She continued sobbing and pleading with him.

“Itachi...stop!” Naruto croaked. His voice didn’t reach Itachi. He was paralyzed. He couldn’t move anymore. It was harder and harder to breathe. It felt as if his lungs were filling up with liquid. It felt as if he was dry drowning.

“This is your fault Naruto.” Itachi spoke. He crouched down until he was on the same eye level as Naruto. He raised his hand and cupped Naruto’s cheek. Naruto flinched as he was looking at the madness within Itachi. “I’m sorry I hit you. I told you I would never hurt you, and I’ll repent. I should have done this first.” Itachi stood back up and walked up to one of the guards. He grabbed a sword from one and held it up to examine the blade.

Naruto couldn’t move. He was trapped. He could feel the poison infiltrate every organ. He could feel his stomach filling up with blood.

“You’re a martyr. Aren’t you, Naruto? You don’t care what happens to you. That’s why I didn’t think disciplining you would have made a difference. Hitting you was pointless. I will make it up to you I promise. I told you I would never hurt you. What I need to do is punish those around you for your wrongdoings.”

Naruto couldn’t blink. The sword reflected in his blue eyes. His pupils became pinpricks. The corneas of his eyes became bloodshot and dry. He was trying to unravel the meaning in Itachi’s words. His mind was slowly turning into gunk. It was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. He could feel the blood drain from his face. He could feel himself bleeding internally. He could feel the blood drain from his extremities. They weren’t needed for survival. His blood pulled back so that his heart could still plump oxygenated blood to his lungs. His diaphragm was disrupted. It was getting harder and harder to suck in oxygen.

His fingertips turned as white as snow and then started turning blue. His lips were the same shade of blue. His face turned the color of death.

“Ita~” Naruto attempted to form another word and he failed. “~chi”

“Are you paying attention, Naruto? This is all for you. All you had to do was say you missed me. All you had to do was be sweet with me like you were in the beginning. You’re ugly and wretched now. I gave you chance after chance tonight. You left me no choice.” Itachi held the sword in both hands. He used his strength and brought the sword down the blade cut through the little girl. “This seems to be the only way to get you to love me.”

He heard Shisui’s words in the back of his mind. ‘I advise you to never say those words out loud unless you’re prepared to suffer the consequences.’

Her screams echoed. Her screams pierced his soul. She was still alive. Blood spurted from the gash in her neck. Her hand went to the wound on her neck and she tried stopping the bleeding by adding pressure. She wanted to live. She was being wrongfully punished. Itachi raised the sword again and forced it back down across the little girl. She raised her hand in attempts to defend herself.

She didn’t look at Itachi. She turned her attention to Naruto. She was pleading with her eyes for him to save her. It didn’t work. She reflected in his eyes and he reflected in hers. The sword sliced through the air again this time cutting deeper into her neck. This time it severed the carotid artery. Within ten seconds she had bled out on the floor. Naruto’s eyes remained locked to her’s. They were wide and unblinking. The longer he stared at them the more they threatened to pull him to hell.

The blood moved easily across the smooth marble floor.

“Now you see what I am capable of if you continue your wrongdoings.” Itachi spoke. He handed the sword back to the guardsman.

Naruto’s stomach couldn’t be filled anymore with blood. He started coughing, and every time he coughed blood spewed from his mouth. He had been bleeding internally this whole time and now he couldn’t stop vomiting blood. He was vomiting gallons and gallons of blood.

“Hey!” One of the guardsmen called out. “What’s happening with Naruto?” The concern in his voice caused Itachi to snap his head in Naruto’s direction and it was the first time he was really looking at Naruto.

“She’s been poisoned!” The other guardsman voiced. Naruto’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell forward in an epileptic seizure. His body jerked for fifteen seconds before becoming motionless.

“N-naruto?” Itachi cried out. He rushed to Naruto’s side. He gathered Naruto’s limp body in his arms and turned him around. He was unconscious and he wasn’t moving. Itachi noticed that Naruto’s lips were blue. He noticed his fingertips were blue. His eyelids were blue. He noticed how deathly pale he had become.

“SHE’S NOT BREATHING!” Itachi screamed.

“What’s going on?” Shisui asked. He walked into a minefield. He felt if he misstepped he was going to trigger a mine. His eyes looked all over. He needed to tread carefully. Finally locking on Naruto.

“What happened?” Shisui asked and rushed to Itachi’s side. He picked up one of Naruto’s wrists and tried feeling for a pulse. It was so faint he could feel her heart pump slower and slower.

“She’s been poisoned!” The guard confirmed.

“SHE’S DYING!” Itachi screamed.

“Get the physician! If you’re not back in five minutes I’ll kill you myself!” Shisui yelled. He immediately took control. “Itachi...let go of Naruto. I need to do compressions.” Itachi at first refused to let Naruto go. He clung to his body afraid if he let go he was going to die.

“Let me save Naruto!” Shisui yelled. Itachi let go.

Shisui placed Naruto on her back and started doing chest compressions. He had only done what he had witnessed the palace physicians doing previously. In the meantime, he started praying to the sun god to help him resuscitate Naruto. Never had he prayed so genuinely and desperately in his life. He had noticed something. Naruto wasn’t just flat chested. He didn’t have breasts. He didn’t have breasts because he wasn’t a girl at all. His eyes glanced to Itachi. It was the first time Itachi kept something from him. He opened Naruto’s mouth and pressed his mouth to his and breathed in. He could taste Naruto’s blood. It transferred to his lips and mouth. He could see his chest expanding with air. He moved back to doing compressions.

He was on his third round when Naruto coughed and inhaled for the first time on his own. Two of the palace physicians came running into the room. They came with their medical bags. Shisui stood up and grabbed Itachi’s arm.

“Move. You’re in the way.” Shisui spoke. He wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. “Let them save Naruto!” He said more forcefully. This was the correct termination to use. Itachi stood up and backed away. His eyes widened.

“It’s my fault.” Itachi confessed. He was trembling. “Naruto kept telling me he was sick and needed the physicians. I didn’t believe him!” Shisui heard Itachi switch up the pronouns. “He’s dying...he’s dying and it’s my fault!”

“Her. You didn’t believe her.” Shisui corrected.

He glanced at the two guards in the room. Both guards looked away. Itachi nodded his head. He was in shock. Shisui instructed the two guardsmen back out into the hallway and closed the door behind them. He handed Itachi a robe and told him to cover up. He waited in the room with Itachi as the two physician's stripped Naruto and began working on him.

“How was he poisoned?” Itachi asked. “Where was he poisoned? Who poisoned him and why?”

Shisui shook his head. “It could be the palace or the temple. How? Through food or beverage. Why...to get rid of him?”

“It’s the temple.” Itachi confirmed. It was the only logical explanation. The high priest hated Naruto. He wouldn’t put it past him to finally make an assassination attempt. After what felt like hours they moved Naruto into Itachi’s bed.

“She’s going to survive. For long term side effects I do not know.” One physician said. “Rest assured we will be monitoring and treating her very closely, emperor. We put her into a medically induced coma.”

“There were two poisons. In her body.”

“Two?” Itachi and Shisui balked at the same time.

“She was given an aphrodisiac wasn’t she?” The second physician asked. Itachi nodded his head. His eyes glanced to the deceased maid on his floor.

“She was lucky she drank it...the properties in the aphrodisiac are the same properties that help make the antidote.” The second physician explained. “It wouldn’t have worked as an aphrodisiac in this case because it was used as an antidote. Meaning the poison was already in her body when she drank the aphrodisiac.”

Itachi’s heart was still racing. Naruto was poisoned before he drank the aphrodisiac. He only lived because he drank the aphrodisiac. He willingly drank the aphrodisiac...which meant he wanted to be with him. He was only acting this way tonight because he was poisoned. His stomach clenched and hardened. He felt nauseous. He covered his mouth realizing what he had put Naruto through. Naruto had begged him from the beginning to get a physician.

“You protected her.” Shisui confirmed it to Itachi. “Your obsession worked to your benefit tonight.”

Shisui pointed at the deceased maidservant on the floor. “Explain this.”

“I was punishing Naruto for not…” Itachi trailed off. He didn’t want to admit it.

“You were punishing Naruto for not willfully fucking you while she was actively fighting off two types of poison?” Shisui spoke sarcastically. He used sarcasm to try and lessen the heavy dose of reality. He needed Itachi to have some clarity and reflect on his actions.

“Yes.” Itachi admitted it.

“You’re going to make her hate you, Itachi. I told you this isn’t the way to go if you want her to love you.” Shisui explained. “You can’t throw everything at her including the kitchen sink every second of the day and expect her to juggle everything. You need to take things slow. She’s only eighteen!”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Itachi confessed. “I don’t know why my heart breaks when I’m not near her. I feel crazy if I don’t touch her. I get filled with jealousy and rage if she looks at or speaks to someone else. I just want her to tell me once she loves me, or at least likes me back just once!”

“Naruto needed a break from you...and maybe it’s your turn to get a break from her. I know you don’t want to hear this, but right now. Naruto can’t match your sexdrive. Why don’t you go back to Izumi and Kara for a bit.” Shisui advised.

“I don’t want to sleep with anyone but her!”

“Well look at the results of tonight. Is this what you want? You went two weeks without ejaculating and look what you did the second you had Naruto in your bed. You went mad. Do you want this night to keep repeating?”

“No.”

“You need to go back to Izumi and Kara for the time being. They can match your sexdrive. They’ll willfully match your sexdrive. Naruto needs to recover. She can’t endure another night of tonight.”

“Mhm.”

“Go take a walk.” Shisui instructed. “Take a walk around the palace, and sleep in Naruto’s room for tonight. You need to clear your mind. I’ll stay to watch over Naruto.”

“Mhm.” Itachi agreed. He turned and left.

Shisui called the two guards from the corridor. He pointed to the corpse of the maidservant. “Clean this up. Do not tell anyone of what happened. Give her body to the butcher in the morning. He’ll know what to do. I’ll deal with the fallout.”

Shisui collapsed in one of the decorative chairs in the room and refocused his eyes to the physicians.

“I’m only going to say this once. If anything gets out about Naruto’s identity. I will not only kill you, but I will kill each and every one of your family members and give your corpses to the butcher. He’ll know what to do. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!”

“This goes without saying. If Naruto dies-”

“Naruto will not die, sir!”

“Good.”

 

*****

Sasuke’s caravan arrived in the late afternoon the day after the winter solstice.

He traveled with his own guardsmen. Sakura traveled alongside him. They had traveled light. Their caravan rolled into the courtyard of the palace and Sasuke stepped out. It had been five years since he was last here. Everything was blanketed in a foot of snow and judging by the sky it didn’t want to let up anytime soon. Thick white snowflakes continued to fall gracefully from the sky. There was somberness in the air. He inhaled deeply. The palace felt like it was recovering from something.

He could smell freshly spilled blood. The sweet aroma clung to the still, cold, air. His eyes first moved to the temple. No. It wasn’t coming from the temple. His eyes shifted to the palace. It was coming from inside the palace. What happened yesterday?

“Oh?” Sakura commented as she stepped out of the carriage. “What’s this I sense?” She closed her eyes. She sensed the same thing Sasuke sensed. “Blood.” She opened her eyes. “A virgin’s blood.” She clarified. “Are they back to doing virgin sacrifices?” She postulated the question. She didn’t need an answer. Sasuke stared at her from the corner of his eyes. He wondered if it was because of her...extracurricular...activities why she was able to pick up more detail when it came to blood compared to him.

Sakura closed her eyes again. “Wait...there is…a repugnant smell.” She covered her nose. “Is this the temple?” She turned towards the temple made of human bone. It smelled like the sun god. She could feel Heka’s blood brewing inside her. It was the sun god who stripped Heka of her powers.

The wind picked up as he inhaled again. He wasn’t mistaken. Last night on the solstice blood was spilled. The quietness he experienced outside permeated inside as he was escorted through the palace. He was able to pick up the colors and details he missed previously. They had given him and his traveling companions the rooms in the east wing. The palace was deathly still as if in hiding. Something happened last night. He had never seen the palace this...dead.

“Is everything okay?” Sasuke asked the maidservant who led them to their rooms.

“Everyone is just recovering from the winter solstice!” She lied with a squeak. Her eyes avoided his and she kept them locked to the floor.

“Where is my brother?” Sasuke asked. “I’m surprised he isn’t here to greet me.” He wasn’t actually surprised; he just wanted an excuse to know where he was and when they would be able to discuss all matters of war.

“Emperor Itachi...is...he’ll send word when he is ready to speak with you. He’s a little busy right now.” The maidservant was struggling to form an answer that would satisfy him. He smirked at her attempt. Itachi was purposefully keeping him waiting.

“How is the empress doing?” Sasuke asked in passing. It wasn’t the reaction he expected.

“The empress? She’s currently traveling. You probably won’t be able to visit with her during your trip!” Her voice was high-pitched. She sounded like a bat screeching. “I will fetch you when dinner is ready!” She practically fled from the east wing. Sasuke raised an eyebrow. He didn’t understand this reaction. Maybe the maidservant was frightened of him.

Sasuke straightened up and watched her leave. His eyes turned around to Sakura who also witnessed the strange reaction. She smiled.

“I’m going to take a nap.” Sakura said as she stifled a yawn. “I’ll see you at dinner.” She entered the room next to his closed the door.

Sasuke moved into the guest room. It looked similar to the room he was in five years ago. It was modestly decorated with modern furniture, and a four-post bed. Something he wouldn’t be using. He opened up the wardrobe and found a futon inside. He pulled the futon, blanket, and pillows out and placed them on the floor. He was exhausted. The trip was long, tedious, and cold. They had to take several detours because of the weather and judging by how it kept snowing they were probably going to be trapped here longer than planned.

There was a fire already in the fireplace. He could feel his room slowly warming up. Yet a chill went down his spine. Sasuke laid down in the futon and covered up with the blankets. He didn’t know why his heart was racing. He looked around the room. The silence of the palace was deafening. His mind shifted back to Naruto. He should be relieved he wouldn’t run into her. He grabbed a fist full of blanket. He should be relieved she was gone. But he was mad. His eyes looked out the window. It was still snowing and she was traveling? It was dangerous. Is she stupid? Does she have a death wish? She could get trapped and freeze to death if she wasn’t already frozen to death. And she was traveling? Where? Did she want to avoid him that badly?

“You look like you’re about to cry.” Apophis sneered. He appeared in the room. He had grown even larger in the last five years. Even though Sasuke was the only one who was able to see him it still impressed Sasuke how large he had grown.

“I’m just exhausted.” Sasuke muttered and rolled to his side. He didn’t have time for Apophis cryptic messages.

“Are you going to cry because Naruto isn’t in the palace and is traveling in this storm?” Apophis asked and looked out the arched windows in his room. It was still in the afternoon and outside was all grey and white as if the clouds had fallen back down to earth. There was a malicious glee in his voice. “It’s best you just lay down and believe everything you hear in the palace, I suppose. Things will be better off.”

Sasuke pushed himself up and turned to stare at the serpent. He looked into the serpents glowing yellow-green eyes. Apophis garnered more power at night and even more power during the autumn and winter months. When the days were shorter and colder. He could feel that power emitting from the serpent, like a magnetic vibration.

“Where did you go?” Sasuke asked.

“I looked around.” Apophis smoke smugly. He was purposefully using the fact nobody could see or sense him to slither around the palace. “I found it odd it was so quiet. Turns out it’s not quiet, they're just rats scurrying around.”

“You’re not going to tell me are you?”

“No.”

“Why bring it up?”

“I don’t know.” Apophis spoke in that same smug voice.

Sasuke flopped back down to laying on his side. “I’m taking a nap.” He spoke angrily and closed his eyes.

*****

It had been a week since his arrival.

Sasuke was becoming restless and annoyed. His brother still hadn’t called for him. If there wasn’t a winter storm raging outside he would have left this morning and traveled back to the manor. The palace still hadn’t recovered from whatever happened the night of the winter solstice. Sasuke decided to take a walk around the palace to let off some energy. He noticed a heavy presence in the west wing with guardsmen posted blocking the entrance to the west wing and guards patrolling down the corridor.

The west wing was where the royal family stayed. Where the emperor and empress stayed. He continued walking past the west wing. He heard speaking coming from a drawing room. It was his brother’s voice and the voice of the high priest.

“This is a big accusation, emperor.” The high priest spoke. His voice was as oily as ever. He didn’t hide the disdain in his voice. “I told you Naruto isn’t very smart, and I warned you she wasn’t suited for you.”

“The physicians said there were two poisons in her body. One was wild yam….and isn’t wild yam used in your rituals with lambs?” Itachi spoke.

Sasuke reacted. He pushed the door open and the door slammed against the wall.

“You haven’t called for me in a week.” Sasuke spoke to his brother. His blood was boiling. Naruto wasn’t traveling. She was poisoned. Again.

“Ah. There is your answer.” The high priest spoke. He stared at Sasuke as if the answer was clear from the beginning.

“He hadn’t even arrived yet.” Itachi spoke through clenched teeth. “How could he poison Naruto?”

“Naruto probably ingested the poison herself. She has a history of ingesting poison.” The high priest revealed. His lips curled back as he smiled. It was the type of smile that could peel paint. The high priest had gotten older and his skin became more leathery. His gums were white and his teeth were yellow and there was an unknown white substance on his tongue.

“You don’t expect me to believe you.” Itachi answered dryly.

The high priest pointed at Sasuke. “The time Naruto was assigned to be the maidservant for the crown prince. She attempted to poison the crown prince. Only she was a stupid, stupid, girl and tested the poison out on herself first. She confessed her sins to the cardinal when he visited her.”

Sasuke’s eyes widened. He remembered waking up in the middle of the night hearing Naruto’s excruciating screaming. How blase she was when discussions of somebody poisoning her were brought up. She didn’t entertain the idea and it caused Sasuke to think maybe it was accidental. Now the high priest was giving a different version of events.

Itachi tapped his index finger against the armrest. It was loud. He was in deep thought. His eyes flickered to Sasuke and they were smoldering over this information. “Naruto did tell me she tried poisoning the crown prince. She told me she was unsuccessful.”

“Because the stupid girl ingested the poison on her own!” The high priest shrieked. “I told you she was stupid. She confessed her sins to the cardinal who told me!”

Sasuke brought his eyes back to Itachi. So it was true? Everything the high priest was saying was true? She had meant to poison him. She was planning on poisoning him. He could hear Apophis’ voice telling him not to trust Naruto. She reeked of the temple. She was brainwashed by the ideology of the temple. The high priest had attempted another assassination on his life and it took the form of a twelve year old girl.

“She committed a sin, but I can’t say I blamed her for trying to rid the world of the cursed child. She probably got her hands on poison maybe thinking she could give it another shot with the crown prince’s arrival back to the palace.” The high priest postulated. “Yes the temple carries wild yam. It is locked up, but Naruto has access to the key, and access to it.”

“One of the temple bishops overheard Naruto speaking to...the captain of the guard, Shisui? She was asking when the crown prince was going to arrive. When Shisui told her he was arriving the day after the winter solstice she decided to return to the palace the day of the winter solstice.” The high priest continued. “If you don’t believe me, ask the captain of the guard.” He continued to wear that oily, conniving, twisted smile.

“No.” Itachi commented and stood up. “I do not accept that Naruto ingested poison. My men will continue their investigations and when the culprits are found they will be sentenced to death. Whether it's someone from the temple or someone from the palace.”

Itachi left and the three guards who were with him escorted him out. Itachi looked at Sasuke.

“As you can see my hands are tied. I will speak to you soon.”

*****

“You knew.” Sasuke spoke to Apophis when he went back to his room. “You knew Naruto was here and you knew she was poisoned.”

“Mhm. I was hoping she would perish.” Apophis laughed. “She didn’t look too good.” Apophis started tut-tut-tutting again. “I took a peek at her while you were talking to the emperor and high priest. She had woken up. She was a little wily thing. She managed to slip past the palace guards.”

“Where did she go?”

“To the library-”

Sasuke didn’t stay and listen to Apophis finishing his sentence. He left the room. He ran down the corridor in the direction of the library. He could feel his blood boiling. If he was going to confront Naruto, alone, he needed to do it now. He entered the library. At first it was silent. The library was two stories. It was vaste and even though it was so big he could smell Naruto’s sweat. It was the same smell from when the poison perspired from her skin as she lay moaning in her futon back at the manor. He followed the smell to the back corner of the second story. He stopped when he saw a book falling from the top of a bookshelf.

He looked up and saw Naruto was wearing a thick, velvet, nightgown that reached her ankles. She was barefooted and she was standing on top of the sliding ladder so she was able to reach the top shelf. One hand held one of the rungs of the ladder while the other was pulling books from the shelf. She looked at the title of each book and tossed it to the floor not bothering with putting the book back on the shelf.

Blonde. Naruto’s hair was blonde. It was straggly and fell down her back. It was the color of sunflowers towards the end of the season. He could see beads of sweat forming on her temple.

“What are you doing?” Sasuke asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m looking for a book.” Naruto snapped. She didn’t even look in his direction.

“What kind of book?” Sasuke asked.

“A history book. Stop talking to me and leave me alone.” Naruto snapped again.

“Mhm. I don’t think you should be balancing up so high on a ladder. Aren’t you recovering from ingesting poison again?” Sasuke asked with a smile.

“Ey?” Naruto cried out. It was the sentence that caused Naruto to finally turn his way. Her eyes were brought down until they locked on to his. Blue. Her eyes were an iridescent blue. He remembered reading a book about dyes. Blue was once the hardest dye to make because indigo was so rare to find and cultivate. Blue was ascribed to royalty because of its rarity. Her eyes were a rarity.

Sasuke watched as Naruto’s eyes widened in recognition of who was there and talking with her.

“Sasuke?” Naruto asked in shock.

“Long time no see, Naruto.” Sasuke spoke and smiled up at her.

Chapter Text

 

“What are you doing here?” Naruto asked the crown prince nervously. He could feel his face redden, and became hot and itchy. His stomach cramped.

Naruto was entrapped in the crown prince’s eyes. The color of his eyes seemed darker like the desolate sands of mars. He lowered his eyes and saw that he was smirking. He moved his eyes back up and looked in his eyes. His eyes were incandescent, glowing. Was it because it was winter and the sun was blocked out of the sky? The way he was staring looked different. The way he was looking at him was different than the way he looked at him when they were younger.

The way he was looking led Naruto to believe that he could...see. He was looking at him and not through him. Naruto’s eyebrows raised. Could the crown prince...see?

“I was looking for you.” Sasuke answered truthfully. The smile never left his lips like he had a secret but was unsure if he wanted to diverge that secret with him, and Naruto was unsure he wanted to hear the secret.

Sasuke was no longer a child. He was an adult. He was taller, taller than him, taller than Itachi. His jaw was more defined, his nose sharp. His eyelashes seemed to become more lush and curled up. His eyelashes would make any girl green with envy. Naruto could feel his face flushing all over again like he was some blushing maid in waiting. He could feel his heart fluttering and a warmness erupted in the small of his abdomen. His stomach felt tight and it wasn’t because he was detoxing. He was feeling excited. Giddy.

Why was he feeling this way?

“You were looking for me?” Naruto asked. He moved his eyes away. “Why?” He didn’t really want to know the answer.

“I wanted to see how you were doing. It’s been...what...six years since the last time we’ve spoken?” Sasuke was speaking casually as if no time had passed since the last time they saw each other.

Naruto turned back to the bookshelf. He didn’t say anything at first. He had to think first on how he was doing. He grabbed the ladder with both hands to steady his nerves.

“Has it been six years already?” Naruto tried to steady his voice. Stall for time. He didn’t know why his throat closed up when he spoke. His eyes raked over the spines of the books. The book he was trying to get was just out of reach. He stretched his hand out again just in case he was mistaken and he could reach it. He couldn’t.

“Mhm. So.” Sasuke continued. He had been watching Naruto. He saw that she was struggling with reaching a particular book, a history book, and he grabbed the rolling ladder with both hands and moved it in the direction she was reaching. “How have you been, Naruto?” His heart quickened. It was a genuine question and he genuinely wanted to know. “I would like to say you look well, but, you don’t...you don’t look well.”

“Ay!” Naruto cried out, not anticipating the ladder moving. His heart beat faster. He held onto the ladder. “I’ve been f-f-fine, really!” Naruto lied. He went back to the nice pleasantries of smalltalk. Keeping sweet and performing. Was that what his relationship with the crown prince was now...smalltalk? No. He didn’t understand what his relationship was with the crown prince was supposed to entail.

Acquaintance? Friend? Brother-in-law?

“‘Fine’, she says. Interesting. Speaking of interesting things. I had an interesting conversation with Itachi and the high priest.”

“Y-ou did?” Naruto’s voice trembled. His stomach dropped to the floor. His throat kept closing at inappropriate times. He could feel a cold shiver traveling down his spine. He already had an idea of what the conversation was about and he suddenly wanted to change topics. It was too late.

“What’s the consensus, Naruto? Did you poison yourself, or did someone poison you?” Sasuke asked bluntly.

“Why would I poison myself?” Naruto laughed nervously. He was still weak and his body was still detoxing the poisons he had ingested. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep this facade up. Especially when he knew the crown prince knew the truth. What was the point in denying it any longer. It was true.

Naruto had intended on poisoning the crown prince six years ago, and he intended on executing the crown prince in the future.

Naruto picked up the history book he was looking for. When he touched the book he felt a warming sensation filling his body and a wave of relief followed. The same book he saw in his vision. The same leatherback. The same golden lettering. Even if he couldn’t read the title. He had found it. His visions were true. This book existed.

When he was stuck in a feverish sleep he kept having the same vision on repeat. Looking through a library in search of a history book of Konoha written after the fall of Madara’s son. He kept finding this same book. Over and over and over again. He was overcome with an indescribable feeling to find and retrieve the book when he woke up. It was why he ran to the library. He didn’t know how he knew. It was innate. He had to retrieve this book. He was disappointed and as soon as that warmness filled him it evaporated into disappointment.

The book was written in another language. A dead language. He couldn’t read it. He would need to find a translator. Someone in this world had to know how to read it, translate it. Yes. Something told him there was a translator that was alive, someone who could translate this book for him, he just needed to find them.

“Why did you poison yourself six years ago?” Sasuke answered Naruto’s question with a question. The question jolted Naruto as if he was struck by lightning. Breathing had become difficult again.

Naruto held the book in one hand, and the other hand held onto the ladder. He started climbing down the ladder. The crown prince remained at the base of the ladder holding it with both hands and blocking him from leaving. Sasuke wasn’t going to let him pass without an answer.

“You already know the answer.” Naruto spoke quietly, confirming what the crown prince already knew. “It’s true.”

If it was a conversation with both emperor Itachi and the high priest then the crown prince already knows the answer. He stopped on the bottom step of the ladder. He could feel crown prince Sasuke behind him holding the ladder with both hands. He wasn’t moving. He could feel the heat from crown prince Sasuke warming him from behind. He swallowed. He could feel his neck turning red, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.

“So it’s true. You wanted to poison me.” Crown prince Sasuke confirmed.

Sasuke’s hold tightened on the ladder. This was the closest he’s been to Naruto in six years. The longer Naruto didn’t say anything the more it confirmed what Itachi and the high priest said to be true. He wanted Naruto to tell him that wasn’t the case, even if it was, he wanted Naruto to lie to him so he could keep living in that fantasy. He wanted to be angry. Still. Even still. His heart still pounded in his chest. He missed Naruto, and that feeling outweighed his will to be angry. It was why he needed to see Naruto now when he had the chance. He needed to see if he was capable of being angry at and hating Naruto and the truth was...he wasn’t and the truth was...he couldn’t hate Naruto.

Naruto wanted to say something but he couldn’t. The world around him was spinning. He felt lightheaded and if he wasn’t holding onto the ladder with one hand, and if his weight wasn’t pressed up against the steps of the ladder, he would have fallen. He squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to have this conversation. He wanted to disappear.

“Even if I wanted to I don’t think I could hate you.” Crown prince Sasuke confessed. He couldn’t even stay angry for longer than a minute. He let go of the ladder and stepped back allowing Naruto to climb off the ladder. “I’ll forgive you this one time. Just don’t do it again, because next time, I don’t know if I can forgive you.” His eyes continued to focus on Naruto’s back.

Naruto spun around too fast. His body just reacted to the crown prince’s words. He stumbled. He forgot he was still on the ladder and hadn’t stepped off. He tripped and started falling towards the ground and instinctively closed his eyes. The humiliation of tripping and falling off a ladder was fitting. He could feel strong arms wrapping around him before striking the ground. The book he was holding fell to the ground. He opened his eyes and was inches away from the crown prince’s face. He was so close he could feel the crown prince’s breath against his cheek.

“Careful. You almost got hurt.” The crown prince spoke softly.

Naruto wrapped his arms around the crown prince’s arms to steady himself. His bare feet fell flat against the library floor. He had regained his balance.

“Thank you.” Naruto spoke breathlessly. He sounded like he had just completed a marathon. The crown prince smiled and let go of Naruto before bending down and picking up the book that was dropped. The crown prince looked at the title. It was written in a language he didn’t know. The characters looked familiar. He wasn’t able to dwell on the book for long.

Naruto grabbed it from his hands and held it protectively to his chest.

“Did you willingly ingest poison?” The crown prince rephrased the previous question.

“No.” Naruto confessed.

“Do you know who poisoned you?”

Naruto stared at the floor. It was the same question Itachi kept bothering him with. The same question the physicians kept asking. There were two poisons. One was confirmed to be wild yam which was accessible in the temple. The room it was located in was rarely locked and so anybody within the temple had access. He knew when he was poisoned. He knew when he consumed the wild yam. It was when Hinata gave him the revitalization medicine mixed tea.

When he thought back it wasn’t that she had put too much of the revitalization medicine in it was that it was switched with wild yam. The tea burned his tongue and burned his taste buds. He couldn’t taste anything for the rest of the night. If he had been smarter he might have made the connection sooner. He didn’t think Hinata poisoned him. The medicine was switched or the mugs were switched. He didn’t even want to say Hinata’s name at all because the murderous intent in Itachi’s eyes told Naruto that Itachi would behead her without doing a proper investigation.

A sense of dread refilled Naruto’s existence. His body started to become statuess as if he was turning into the very marble this palace was carved from. He started to become cold as if he was standing outside in the winter storm wearing nothing but a flimsy nightgown. The nightgown he wore the night of the winter solstice. The night that Itachi went mad. That night...he could see the little girl’s eyes, the maidservant’s eyes, pleading with him to save her, and he couldn’t, he couldn’t save her.

Naruto collapsed to his knees. He couldn’t breathe. He was suffocating.

“Naruto!” The crown prince yelled and rushed to his side. His voice became muffled.

Naruto had wanted to save her. He had wanted to jump between Itachi and her and protect her, but he couldn’t. He was paralyzed. She didn’t do anything wrong. He had drunk the aphrodisiac just as Itachi wanted. He could feel his eyes watering. Itachi had killed her to punish him. He couldn’t protect her just like he couldn’t protect the children at the sun temple. He was absolutely powerless. Once he became the high priest. Once he obtained the sun god’s power...would he finally be able to protect them?

“Naruto!” The crown prince called out again and Naruto could feel arms wrapping around him. He blinked. He saw and felt the crown prince hugging him. “You’re safe!”

Naruto’s breath hitched. He could smell jasmine all over the crown prince. He missed this smell. He held his breath for a second as he could feel the warmness of the crown prince’s body up against his. The truth was he did feel safe. That safety and security he felt back at the manor came rushing back. From the time he cried in the crown prince’s arms and fell asleep to when he and the crown prince shared a kiss on the veranda. He had felt...safe.

“I missed you, Sasuke.” Naruto whispered and hugged him back. His eyes watered and he fought back the urge to cry. He wrapped his arms around the crown prince’s neck and squeezed. He didn’t want to let go. Naruto touched his own lips with his index finger. He closed his eyes and remembered how soft the crown prince’s lips were against his. He wanted to kiss the crown prince just to see if his lips were still as soft as he remembered.

“I’m so glad to see you well.” Naruto spoke truthfully. The crown prince was healthy and robust. He had grown tall, his arms were strong, and there was an air of confidence. He could feel the crown prince squeezing his arms around his waist in response to his words. Neither being the first to let go.

“I missed you too, Naruto.” The crown prince murmured and it was the words that Naruto longed for. Since his wedding day when he cried hysterically missing him.

Naruto reached his hand up and ruffled the crown prince’s hair. “Look at you eating your vegetables and growing up big and strong!” His hair was soft. He was filled with a giddiness. He pulled away from the crown prince and picked up the book that had fallen to the ground once again.

“I’ve been wanting to ask.” Naruto asked as he looked into Sasuke’s eyes once more. “Can you see me-see me?”

“Mhm.” The crown prince nodded his head. “Sakura broke the spell. I can see you. You have blond hair.” The crown prince held a strand of Naruto's long blonde hair in his hand and twirled it around his fingers. The crown prince looked back at Naruto. “You have blue eyes.”

“Whose Sakura?” Naruto asked quickly, almost too quickly.

“She’s my companion. I brought her with me. You can meet her~”

“That’s nice.” Naruto cut off and pulled back. The blonde lock of hair slipped from the crown prince’s hand. Who was this female companion that was able to break the spell of the high priest? He could feel jealousy bubbling in his gut. She was able to break the spell? She was powerful. She was powerful and Naruto was weak, weak, weak. She could break spells and Naruto couldn’t even save a twelve year old girl. He could feel darkness gripping his heart.

“You’ve lost weight.” The crown prince commented. “Are you not eating...do I have to force-feed you curry?” He asked with a smile. It was contagious and Naruto found himself smiling back. He got lost in his eyes all over again. All thoughts about Sakura vanished from his mind.

“I’ll gain the weight back. Don’t worry.” Naruto commented and waved his hand at him as he picked the book up and stood up, stretching. “The medicine I have to take is made into little wrapped candies.”

“You never liked taking the bitter medicine.”

“If you didn’t force me to take it I wouldn’t have.”

“Well. I’m glad you’re taking it now.”

Naruto didn’t understand this ease that was between them. It felt as if they were back at the manor and sitting out on the veranda after lunch. If he closed his eyes he could feel the warm breeze of the spring day against his face. He smiled and opened his mouth to respond when he was interrupted.

“Naruto.” Shisui had appeared in the library. His voice was stern and cautionary. He was dressed in the captain of the guard’s uniform of red and gold. His mouth was in a straight line and he stared disapprovingly from the crown prince to Naruto. Hearing his voice and the smile instantly faded from Naruto’s lips.

“Why are you walking around the palace when the physician gave you explicit instructions to rest in bed?” Shisui lectured.

“What am I supposed to do all day, Shisui? Stare at the walls? I came to pick up some books.” Naruto snapped. He walked past Shisui and continued browsing the shelves.

“You’re holding a book in your hand.” Shisui continued and followed Naruto. He placed himself between Naruto and the crown prince. He could tell by Shisui’s voice that he didn’t believe him and was trying to find an ulterior motive.

“I can’t read this book. It’s in another language.” Naruto continued and held the book close to his chest. He didn’t want anyone to see the book. He wanted to keep it a secret.

“The emperor is worried about you.” Shisui clarified. His eyes glanced at the crown prince. Naruto read between the lines. Emperor Itachi was probably turning the palace upside down looking for him. There was no avoiding him.

“It should be fine if you’re here, right, Shisui?” Naruto spoke as he continued browsing the shelves. Naruto answered Shisui in the same roundabout way that Shisui was talking to him. It should be okay because Shisui can vouch that Naruto was in the library looking for books. At random he pulled two more books and held them in his arms. “I’m done. See? Let’s go.” Naruto didn’t say another word to crown prince Sasuke and left the library with Shisui.

*****

“What was that about?” Shisui asked as he escorted Naruto back to the west wing.

They were alone. Naruto could see guardsmen running around in the corridors and when they saw Shisui and Naruto together; they stopped and sighed in relief. So it was true. Emperor Itachi really was turning the palace upside down looking for him. It made him angry all over again.

“He wanted to know why I tried poisoning him six years ago.” Naruto answered bluntly. He knew he had to be careful with his words. He needed to be mindful of what he was saying and how he was saying it. He knew Shisui was going to tell emperor Itachi everything later.

“Did he try and hurt you?”

“No. He almost cried. The stupid crown prince thought we were really friends.” Naruto spoke his voice rigid and cold. It would have been easier if the crown prince had hated him.

“It’s not going to end well for you if you keep talking to the crown prince. I advise you not to speak to him again.” Shisui threatened. Naruto didn’t understand the real meaning. Was Shisui saying something was going to happen to another innocent person? Naruto’s heart skipped a beat. His face paled. Like what happened to the twelve year old maidservant. Or did it mean something was going to happen to the crown prince?

“Stop lecturing me like I’m a child. Doesn’t the emperor need the crown prince’s help? What’s the emperor going to do to the crown prince? It’s not like he can kill him.” Naruto was playing it safe.

“Where are you going?” Shisui asked as Naruto opened up the door to his room.

“I’m staying in my room! I’m not going back to the emperor’s room!” Naruto shouted and attempted to slam the door shut behind him. Shisui held his hands out and attempted to stop the door from slamming shut. Naruto continued pushing up against the door.

“Naruto.” Emperor Itachi’s voice filled the room.

Naruto let go of the door and spun around to see Itachi standing in the middle of his room. He was too busy trying to shut his bedroom door that he didn’t notice anyone else in his room. Naruto’s face turned red with anger and he could feel his blood start to boil. Emperor Itachi was smart; he knew he wouldn’t have returned to his room and decided to corner him when he went back to his own room. No. Maybe he was just that predictable that anyone could read him. He gritted his teeth, walked to the small table in the room, and placed down the three books. He rubbed his face and glared at Shisui who entered the room.

“Go away Shisui!” Naruto demanded. “I want to talk to the emperor alone.”

Shisui looked at Itachi, who nodded his head in agreement, and Shisui left the room closing the door behind him.

“Where were you?” Emperor Itachi demanded. His tone immediately put Naruto on the defense. Naruto felt his body tense up and he maintained his distance.

“What are you going to do if I don’t tell you? Kill another innocent person?” Naruto screamed. Itachi didn’t say anything; he remained rooted in the same place holding Naruto’s gaze. Naruto didn’t see the stark raving mad man he met the night of the winter solstice. “I was in the library getting books.” Naruto gestured towards the books.

The emperor nodded his head accepting the answer. He didn’t say anything. There was a moment of silence.

“I want to go back to the temple.” Naruto changed the topic. “What do you want me to do...so I can return to the temple?” Naruto shifted his eyes away bracing himself for the response.

“Nothing. You can return to the temple.” Emperor Itachi answered.

“Huh?” Naruto asked and looked back at emperor Itachi. “Really?” He was cautious.

“Yes.”

“How long can I be there for?” Naruto asked. Now he wanted specifics.

“How ever long you want. I’m sorry for what happened the night of the winter solstice. I...never wanted to hurt you. It was never my intention. I’m going to start using the concubines so that there won’t be another repeat. I won’t touch you again unless you tell me to. So, tell me what you want me to do so you can forgive me.”

Naruto stared at the emperor’s face trying to read what he was thinking and feeling. He looked remorseful. Was he remorseful? It caused Naruto to hesitate. He wanted to proceed with caution. He wanted to forgive Itachi. There was a gnawing need to forgive Itachi for protecting him these last six years. He owed him. Shisui was right. Emperor Itachi had shielded him from the high priest. There was a small voice in the back of Naruto’s mind that blamed himself for what happened that night. A voice that whispered he was too cruel, too cold, too callous towards the emperor, and if he had just given the emperor a little attention, a little affection, that things would have gone differently.

He heard these voices and then the twelve year old girl’s brown eyes flashed across his memory. The utter hopelessness swirling in her eyes as she placed her life in Naruto’s hands expecting him to save her. The blood rolling across the floor from the wounds across her neck. It was sloppy, erratic. It wasn’t clean-cut and in control like the crown prince’s swordsmanship.

“Don’t make amends to me...make amends to her family! She didn’t do anything wrong. I drank the aphrodisiac!” Naruto’s eyes filled with tears.

“I know!” Emperor Itachi confessed. “I will. I will make amends to her family.”

Naruto didn’t say anything. He wanted to see it come true before he said anything about forgiveness. Emperor Itachi didn’t say anything else, not yet, and silence blanketed them. It had stretched until Emperor Itachi was the first to break it.

“I am having dinner tomorrow night with the crown prince. You are invited but I won’t make you attend. I understand your commitment to the temple.”

“Do you want me there?” Naruto asked.

“Yes.”

Naruto felt uncomfortable. He didn’t know why he needed an excuse to see the crown prince again. His heart hurt all over again. Was it because they were interrupted by Shisui? He never had a proper conversation with him. Or was it because the crown prince said he forgave him for attempting to poison him? He told himself to refuse the dinner it was only going to complicate things.

Why should he refuse to go to the dinner?

Emperor Itachi wanted him at the dinner. No. He could feel it happening again. His brain started making up reasons and excuses to see the crown prince again. Grasping at any chance to see him as if he was a lovesick puppy dog. He knew emperor Itachi was going to say yes because emperor Itachi wants to see him every second of every day. He was using that as an excuse to accept. He could feel guilt start to slowly creep in like fog rolling over the Naka River.

“I’ll be there.” Naruto confirmed. “I’ll be at the dinner with you.” He made sure to emphasize the ‘you’ part as in he would be at dinner with emperor Itachi, and not the ‘you’ as in the crown prince. He watched as emperor Itachi’s face lit up into a smile like a child who had just been allowed to eat sweets before dinner.

“I will have Shisui escort you.” Emperor Itachi spoke with a content smile.

“Okay.” Naruto answered and his eyes looked down and he began moving his hands nervously around.

He needed to apologize to Shisui for being so short with him. He knew Shisui was the one who spoke to emperor Itachi following the events of the winter solstice. Just like it was Shisui who helped him get a two week reprieve where he was able to stay at the temple and complete his duties. He knew Shisui was the reason that emperor Itachi was backing off now and allowing Naruto to breathe. Shisui was the reason that emperor Itachi agreed to use the concubines for their intended purpose of giving the empress a break. He didn’t know why he was quick to lash out at Shisui whenever he was around.

“I will see you tomorrow night.” Emperor Itachi spoke happily and left. Naruto watched as the door closed behind him and he was left alone, and untouched, in his room. He exhaled in relief.

He was granted the freedom to return to the temple.

*****

“Did you poison me?” Naruto asked the high priest.

They were alone in the shrine. It was past midnight. The temple was silent. The only noise that could be heard was the hollowing wind outside. The high priest was dressed in decorative white robes and a decorative hat. He was standing in front of the great book of sun temple scripture. The high priest snickered at Naruto’s question.

“Now why would I go and do a thing like that? I love all the children of the temple.” The high priest asked slyly. His dark beady eyes turned to focus on Naruto. The way he looked at him made him feel dirty as if he was back to being that naked kid kneeling on the floor. “Oh. You weren’t a child anymore...were you?” The high priest lingered his perverse eyes on him.

“Wild yam.” Naruto continued. He wasn’t going to let the high priest derail the conversation. He didn’t need to say anymore. They kept wild yam in stock. It was meant to give to the animals during sacrifices. “I know Hinata wouldn’t have done such a thing. It was you.”

“You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you who did it.” The high priest sneered.

He had approached Hinata first and she burst out into uncontrollable crying; he knew she had nothing to do with it. She stated she was called to attend to one of the children who had fallen and scraped their knee, when she got back she delivered the tea to Naruto. She wasn’t just riddled with guilt over that, something else twisted her and split her open. He had missed her virginity loss ceremony on December 27. It wasn’t just that Hinata was emotionally unstable when he asked her about what happened the day he was poisoned. She had recoiled into a ball and cried hysterically on her cot. He barely could get any information out of her on what happened when he was gone these last fifteen days. All he could do was give her some sleep medicine crushed up into tea and curl up next to her on the cot holding her hand as she drifted off into sleep.

“I know it was you!”

“Maybe you should talk with Konohamaru.” The high priest suggested. “He probably wanted to eliminate you so he can have a clear path to ascend as high priest.”

“You made Konohamaru do it.” Naruto accused.

Konohamaru was easily manipulated by adults. They all were but Konohamaru was more primed. He strived to please the adults in the congregation in any way he could. Starved for attention and affection he would do anything for praise. He was the high priest’s bastard child and incurred bitterness from the congregation as a blight in their sun temple. His mother had died from scarlet fever when he was still in the toddler room. He never had a chance. Naruto still had his mother and was able to visit her from time to time. Naruto was able to leave the temple for three months having been shipped off to the manor. When Naruto came back he was under the protection of emperor Itachi.

Konohamaru remained in the temple from birth. There was no escape.

The shrine was colder than he remembered. There wasn’t a fire burning in the fireplace. Naruto shivered. The coldness chilled him to the bone. He had forgotten how cold the temple became in the winter. How stringent the temple was on lighting fires. A silent rule that they should suffer as the sun god suffers in the winter. It was nighttime and the shrine was only lit by candles. Outside the snow continued to fall and the clouds covered up the sky. There was no light streaming through the stained-glass windows. It left the shrine darkened in numerous shadows. It left an ominous feeling in the air.

“My-my-my what is with all these baseless accusations, Naruto? I gave you the name of the person who did it...shouldn’t you be thanking me? Now you know who you can’t trust.”

“Konohamaru was still a child.” Naruto continued to press. Konohamaru became an adult on December 30 and completed the virginity loss ceremony. He gave himself up to the sun god and transitioned into adulthood in this very shrine. Naruto gave himself to the sun god in the bed chambers of the emperor. Konohamaru poisoned him when he was still a child. How could Naruto blame him for following the orders of the high priest?

“The innocence of children. How can you blame a child, Naruto? Then again. At least he didn’t ingest the poison like you, and at least he can follow instructions unlike you. If you want I can give him some private lessons on manners.” The high priest sneered.

Naruto tensed up. He broke out in a cold sweat. He didn’t know why even though he was an adult, and the high priest wouldn’t touch him now, he was still...scared. Fear gripped his lungs and heart and stomach with invisible frigid hands.

“I’m going to be high priest!” Naruto clarified. “The sun god came to me in a vision and told me so!”

“The sun god did. It is true we all saw the vision of you becoming high priest.” The high priest agreed. Naruto gasped. Why was the high priest so willing to admit it now?

The high priest nodded his head up and down. He turned slowly to Naruto and started walking towards him. It caused Naruto to become rooted in his spot. He stopped breathing. His eyes grew larger. The high priest's face was covered in shadows, and all he could see was the oily smirk spreading his thin, cracked, lips. Yellow, slimy, teeth.

“The sun god has doubts of your ability to use the powers and execute the crown prince when the time comes. I have to agree. Have you fallen in love with the crown prince, Naruto? I can see it written all over your face. Don’t bother lying.” The high priest rested both hands on Naruto’s shoulders. His heart thumped madly.

Naruto couldn’t talk as if a sea witch stole his voice and kept it in a locket around her throat. There was a rush of blood cycling between his ears. He didn’t know. The happiness he felt when he saw the crown prince today frightened him. Feeling the crown prince hugging him even thinking about it now caused his face to flush and redden. He felt warmness in the pit of his stomach when he heard the crown prince saying he missed him. Was that...love?

He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t sleep and it was why he sought out the high priest. To finally confront him on the poisoning and to find out why he did it.

“You do love him. I know it and so does the sun god. We had to punish you, Naruto. It was a good thing that the emperor loves you because you would have died the night of the winter solstice. You consumed twice the amount needed to kill someone. The sun god didn’t save you. The emperor did.” The high priest spoke. There was disgust in his voice when he revealed this. He brought a hand to Naruto’s cheek and cupped it. He trailed his thumb over Naruto’s bottom lip.

“You must be a good little whore in bed for the emperor to save a wretch like you. Then again. You do have the body that tempts men.” The high priest sneered. Naruto felt gross. His skin was crawling. “It doesn't change the fact that the sun god wanted you dead.”

“Y-you’re lying!” Naruto’s voice cracked as he spoke. He was shown visions. He was shown visions of the book he had taken from the palace library. The history book documented what happened in Konoha after the fall of Madara’s son. If the sun god didn’t show him this vision...then who did?

“You were supposed to die.” The high priest spat and his hand moved down to Naruto’s throat as they wrapped around his small neck.

“I lived! Someone saved me!”

“Mhm. It’s why the sun god is conflicted. You had a fighting spirit to live. Konohamaru will have no trouble carrying out the sun god’s wishes...you on the other hand will choke.”

“I...can!” Naruto yelled. He didn’t even push the high priest as his hands moved lower on his body. “I can! I will do anything! Please!” He was begging and pleading. He felt like a child again.

“That’s what you said six years ago.” The high priest spoke as his hands cupped Naruto’s ass. He could feel the high priest squeezing his ass cheeks over the fabric of his dress.

“Even if I poisoned the crown prince he would have lived. The sun god told me so! What was the point? ” Naruto argued. No. Naruto knew the point. He knew why he was sent there. “You didn’t send me there to poison the crown prince, you sent me there to die!”

“So? I didn’t send you there to fall in love!” The high priest shoved Naruto in the chest and he fell backwards.

“You should have just known your place and died. You’re worthless and stupid and unworthy to worship the sun god. You’ve fallen in love with the crown prince and have sullied your hands and spat in the face of the sun god. You continuously put other responsibilities first and the temple second! You have lost your way!” The high priest continued screaming at Naruto. He circled him and berated him. “How are you worthy to become high priest? Oh please tell me your reasoning?”

“No. I am faithful to the sun god!” Naruto pleaded. He started kneeling on the shrine floor. His hands clasped together in prayer. “I am worthy!”

“Then you’ll be participating in the orgia ritual to show your dedication by having every member of the congregation fuck you.” The high priest commented. His mood shifted. This was the black and white high priest he remembered. “If you want to take in the sun god’s power you need to take in every member of the congregation into your body.”

The blood in Naruto’s face drained. His heart raced. His palms were sweaty. It was a maddening ecstatic ritual for the temple to show its utmost faithfulness and dedication to the sun god. They worshipped by shedding their humanity and proving to the sun god how far they would go. How far they would degrade themselves in blind faith. It included an orgy and animal sacrifice where they bathed in the blood of the lambs. For three days they drank and smoked opium until they were all delirious. The high priest was now telling him he needed to have every member of the congregation fuck him?

Everyone knew what degrading things happened...but Naruto did not hear this as a requirement to become high priest.

“Are you saying...this is what you had to do to become high priest?”

“Mhm.” The high priest spoke cruelly. “Don’t think we’re picking favorites. We’re making Konohamaru do the same thing. Who do you think will last the longest? Can you both take everyone into your bodies?”

“I’m...married.” Naruto whispered as if that offered any protection. Even now he was still clinging to the emperor for protection. He didn’t...he didn’t want anyone in the congregation touching his body, entering his body, he barely tolerated it when emperor Itachi did.

“An excuse. Your heart and soul and life belong to the sun god and only the sun god. Have I taught you nothing these last eighteen years? Nothing belongs to you, it belongs to the sun god! You insolent, brat! Next time ingest the wild yam yourself maybe in death the sun god will be merciful.”

“Shut up! Yes. I’ll be a part of the ritual. I said I would do anything to show how faithful I am, and I meant it!” Naruto yelled. He didn’t want to lose favor with the sun god. He wanted to get back on good graces. He wanted to be the chosen one...the favored one.

“We’ll see how faithful you really are.” The high priest snapped and stormed out of the shrine.

Naruto clasped his hand over his mouth to stop himself from screaming. No. He didn’t want to hold it in anymore. He balled his hands up into fists and slammed them on the floor of the shrined and allowed himself to scream out in anguish.

*****

“Naruto?” The emperor called his name. Naruto looked up. He was having dinner. He blinked. He forgot where he was for a moment. His mind had been occupied about the orgia.

“How is the food?” Emperor Itachi asked.

“Oh. It’s good.” Naruto answered even though he hadn’t taken a bite.

“How are you doing, Naruto. Since the poisoning? Do you know who's responsible for poisoning you?” Sakura asked. It was her. The crown prince’s companion who was able to break the spell the high priest put on the crown prince’s eyes.

Partially. He knew Konohamaru was responsible for the wild yam. The other poison he did not know. He did not care. Naruto glanced at emperor Itachi who was staring hard at him as if expecting Naruto to confess what he knew. He didn’t want Konohamaru to die, and that’s what exactly would happen if he opened his mouth. He was going to deal with Konohamaru when he returned to the temple. It was matters concerning the sun temple and he didn’t need any outsiders meddling.

“No.” Naruto answered and looked back down to his plate. He wasn’t hungry. He hadn’t gotten his appetite back.

“I heard it was someone at the temple.” Sakura continued. “Maybe you’re protecting someone?”

Naruto looked up and stared at her. He didn’t like her. She was too noisy. She was sitting too close to the crown prince. She was too powerful. Could she wield magic? Her dress was too revealing. It was winter and he could see her cleavage. The dress neckline plunged to her belly button. It was unbecoming. She was asking too many questions for an outsider. Even if she was the crown prince’s companion. Even if she broke the spell and allowed the crown prince to see. He hated her. He hated her fucking guts.

Naruto forced a smile. He had tried to be as genuine and polite as he could. He went back to performing. Like he was a temple child and being sweet and proper all over again.

“I wouldn’t protect someone who wants me dead.” Naruto answered. “Thank you for your concern for me. I appreciate it.” He smiled at her.

“The crown prince wants to continue ruling in the south.” Sakura commented and turned back to the emperor. It was probably what they were talking about before Naruto blacked out. He tried to focus on the conversation. He wasn’t strong enough to go back into his mind and think about the orgia.

“Mhm. I agree.” The emperor responded. “You can do whatever you see fit in the south so long as you win me this war. I’ll officially make you king in the south.”

Naruto hadn’t looked at the crown prince once. He had temporarily blocked the chair the crown prince was sitting in out of his mind. He looked everywhere else. Sakura. Emperor Itachi. Captain of the guard Shisui. His breath caught in his throat when he noticed Shisui’s eyes never left him. He was watching him. Was he making sure he didn’t look at the crown prince? He was suspicious. Naruto knew that Shisui heard more of his conversation with the crown prince than he was revealing. Naruto looked back down at his plate. It was times like this that he hated Shisui.

“We’ll leave as soon as this storm clears.” Crown prince Sasuke declared. “I’ll bring an end to this war quickly.”

“Mhm.” Sakura agreed. She continued to eat. Naruto stared at her.

“Isn’t it dangerous for you to be going?” Naruto asked Sakura. He hated having to think that she was going to remain by his side.

“Why would I be afraid when I have the crown prince protecting me?” Sakura replied.
There was a glint in her emerald eyes. Her voice was sultry.

She reminded Naruto of the concubines, Izumi and Kara, who exudes sexuality and confidence. He wanted to drop the polite smile on his lips. She wasn’t cute, she was...sexy. The word he had heard about but never had someone to attribute the adjective to until now. Naruto had been avoiding mirrors and his reflection. He saw how thin, pale, and weak he was. The first time he woke up from the poison he had a skin rash that covered his face, neck, and chest. His hair was dull and his eyes colorless. He didn’t want to compare himself to Sakura but it was hard not to. She was the epitome of womanhood. She had femininity. She had sexuality. She had the body of a woman.

The only person Naruto attracted was the emperor.

“Plus.” Sakura continued in her sultry voice. Her emerald eyes shifted to the crown prince. Someone Naruto still refused to acknowledge, still refused to look at. “I can be useful. I am able to grant wishes. Emperor Itachi if you want me to grant you a wish all you need to do is bring me~”

“Sakura.” The crown prince interrupted. Ah. It clicked within Naruto’s head. She was able to wield magic. It was how she was able to break the spell on the crown prince’s eyes. Who had bestowed power into her? The crown prince knew the extent of Sakura’s abilities and was trying to hide it.

Naruto’s eyes went immediately to the emperor. There was a look of curiosity on his face as he took his attention to Sakura. There was a satisfied grin on Sakura’s face. She laughed flirtatiously.

“You know there is no such thing as granting wishes.” The crown prince continued dismissively. The crown prince was lying. He was coveting Sakura’s powers to himself. It enraged Naruto. Naruto knew this voice. The crown prince was hiding something. Naruto stole a glance at Sakura. Did that mean Sakura was capable of granting anyone wishes? And if so was there a limit on what wishes she could grant?

“Everyone has a wish. Naruto what is your wish?” Sakura asked. She held her wine glass in one hand and took a sip. The emperor had demanded several expensive bottles of red wine from the wine cellar for their dinner. Naruto was still on his first glass. There were already three empty bottles on the table. The wine hurt Naruto’s stomach. He abstained from drinking. He felt even more like a child sitting at the adult’s table.

“To become the high priestess.” Naruto answered automatically. Sakura’s satisfied grin didn’t leave her lips. She was wearing lipstick. The color suited the undertones of her skin. The members of the congregation didn’t wear makeup. He wondered what he would look like if he had worn makeup. Could he become as attractive as Sakura, as the concubines?

“Emperor Itachi what is your wish?”

“That’s private. Isn’t there a superstition that you shouldn’t say your wish out loud because if you do it won’t be granted?” Emperor Itachi asked. It caused Naruto to bring his eyes back to the emperor. He had a feeling whatever his wish was, involved him. He felt sick again. If he could make a wish he would wish for the emperor to fall out of love with him and leave him alone for the rest of his life.

“I should rephrase.” Naruto clarified. “It isn’t a wish. It will happen. I just misunderstood.”

“I am not saying your wish will not come true, Naruto.” The emperor clarified and smiled warmly. “It is just that I don’t want to jinx mine. I know you will become high priestess, and you’ll restore greatness back to the sun temple.” The emperor leaned over and put his hand over Naruto’s and squeezed reassuringly.

Naruto didn’t know why his cheeks flushed and he felt his heart race. Maybe the high priest was right in calling him stupid. He went weak over someone reassuring him. This was how Itachi acted just before his eighteenth birthday. His kind words, and gentle smile. He was afraid he was going to fall for it again. He was afraid he was going to be bit by a venomous snake if he got too close and they would repeat what happened the night of the winter solstice. Still. It was reaffirming to hear those words. It wasn’t a wish. A wish didn’t mean it was going to happen.

Naruto was going to make sure it happened. He was going to be high priest.

“What’s your wish?” The emperor asked Sakura. He pulled his hand back from Naruto’s.

“I’m taking a page out of your book.” She held her index finger to her mouth. “It’s a secret.” She took another drink of wine as she looked at the crown prince. Naruto watched her. Her wish involved the crown prince. Naruto looked back at his plate. What did the crown prince wish for? He wanted to steal a glance at the crown prince but when he looked up he could see Shisui was still staring him down.

“I wish you and the crown prince protection. Hopefully, that does not become jinxed.” Naruto spoke turning his attention back to Sakura. He hadn’t met for his voice to be so cold. Sakura turned and looked at Naruto her eyebrows rising as she read between the lines. The smile left her lips. She caught on quickly.

“I have to return to the temple. Goodnight.” Naruto answered shortly. He stopped pretending. He wouldn’t be able to last another minute in the dining room without making a scene.

“Shisui will escort you back.” Emperor Itachi spoke and he snapped his fingers.

Shisui moved from his post as guardsman and followed Naruto from the dining hall. He could feel emperor Itachi remained on edge. He still didn’t want to leave Naruto alone and continued to assign Shisui as his babysitter.

*****

Naruto knocked on Konohamaru’s door.

They were all given private, closet-sized, rooms that fit a cot and a shelf. He knew Konohamaru was inside. He knocked louder. He wasn’t going to leave. Adrenaline pumped him up. It energized him. He was still feeling the residual emotions from tonight’s dinner with the emperor, Sakura, and the crown prince. The door opened a crack enough for Konohamaru to see who it was and he attempted to slam the door shut upon seeing Naruto, but Naruto shoved his hands, and foot in the door preventing it from shutting.

“This is very rude of you, Konohamaru. All I want to do is have a nice conversation with you and catch up!” Naruto spoke angrily.

“I don’t want to talk right now I’m going to bed.” Konohamaru cried out. Naruto shoved his weight against the door and it pushed Konohamaru back into the door. Naruto opened the door and shoved Konohamaru further into the room and kicked the door shut behind him.

“So why’d you do it?” Naruto asked. “Why’d you poison me? We were temple kids together! We both went through the same things! All of us were supposed to have an alliance!”

“I didn’t….I didn’t poison you!” Konohamaru argued. He held his hands out in front of him as if Naruto was going to hit him.

“Don’t lie to me. The high priest told me everything!” Naruto argued back and he grabbed both of Konohamaru’s wrists and slammed him up against the wall. He slammed his wrists up against the wall and squeezed. He could feel his nails breaking through the skin on the back of Konohamaru’s wrist.

Naruto was only older by two months. He used this influence and didn’t break eye contact with Konohamaru. The truth was Konohamaru was stronger than Naruto. He was a few inches taller. He was bigger. The only power Naruto had was his age. They were all educated to respect elders even if the elder was only two months older. If Konohamaru really wanted to he could overpower Naruto. It was something they both knew. Konohamaru was just playing the game by the rules of the temple. It led Naruto to believe Konohamaru was still innocent...if not a terrific actor. It led him to believe Konohamaru was still pure at heart, and he wasn’t completely corrupted by the high priest.

“I didn’t!” Konohamaru defended.

There was something in Konohamaru’s voice that Naruto wanted to believe. He remembered after one brutal attack in the shrine Naruto was the one to go and collect Konohamaru. He held Konohamaru’s hands and took him to the bathroom to wash the blood from his back. He couldn’t hate Konohamaru. There was an unbreakable bond between temple children.

“Out of everyone in this world there are only two people that scare me. Emperor Itachi and the high priest.” Naruto gritted between clenched teeth. “You don’t scare me!”

Naruto kicked Konohamaru’s knees and shoved Konohamaru forward on the cot. Konohamaru fell to his stomach and Naruto climbed on top of his back and straddled him. He still squeezed Konohamaru’s wrists and kept them pinned to the cot. It was that two months that kept Konohamaru in some compliance and subservience.

“Get off me!” Konohamaru cried out.

“No.” Naruto answered. “Not until you and I have a talk about who's going to be high priest. It was foretold that I was going to ascend. The other temple children all agreed they saw visions of me...you did too. You saw me ascend, Konohamaru!”

“NO!” Konohamaru yelled. “The high priest said I was the one who will ascend! I am of Senju blood...besides everyone knows you fell in love with the cursed parasite!”

“A temporary setback.” Naruto spat. He could feel Konohamaru squirming beneath him. Konohamaru used his full strength and ripped his hands from Naruto’s and rolled to his back, facing Naruto. It caused Naruto’s body to shift but he was still straddling Konohamaru.

“So it’s true! You really are a dirty whore who spits in the face of the sun god!” Konohamaru spoke with such vindictiveness it caused Naruto to snap. He slapped Konohamaru across the face.

“I’m only telling you the truth because we were both temple kids!” Naruto spoke and held Konohamaru’s face with his hands. “Do you know what the high priest wants us to do during the orgia?”

Konohamaru fell silent. It was the answer Naruto knew. That Konohamaru didn’t know what the high priest was going to make them do.

“Who did you lose your virginity to?” Naruto asked. He could feel Konohamaru’s body tensing up.

“What does it matter to you? You weren’t there!” Konohamaru sounded hurt. He reached his hands up and grabbed Naruto’s wrists and pulled them from his face.

“I was poisoned!” Naruto defended. “By you.”

“Get off me.” Konohamaru hissed. It was a warning.

“The high priest wants the whole congregation to fuck us.” Naruto explained, ignoring Konohamaru’s warning. “It’s to prove ourselves worthy of getting the sun god’s magic.”

Konohamaru’s eyes widened and Naruto could see himself reflecting in his dilated pupils. Konohamaru had such dark blue eyes. They appeared black most of the time as if they were afraid to be blue.

“You’re...lying.” Konohamaru whispered weakly.

“I have never lied to you. I even told you I love the crown prince. What would I gain lying to you now? If you really want to be high priest...it’s going to be a fair fight.” Naruto lowered his voice. He could feel Konohamaru tightening his grip on him.

“I didn’t poison you. When you find out the truth. I expect an apology.” Konohamaru gritted his teeth.

Naruto pulled away. He was exhausted. He was done talking to Konohamaru. He wasn’t getting anywhere with him. He was tired of running around in the same circular argument. Konohamaru let go of him. Naruto didn’t say anything else. He crawled off Konohamaru and left the room. He did what he came to do. He confronted him and told him what the high priest wanted them to do.

*****

Naruto wanted to confront the crown prince. He wanted to have one last conversation with him and get closure. He entered the palace and walked to the east wing where the crown prince and his entourage were being housed. He was greeted by silence. He saw a maidservant cleaning one of the rooms and approached her.

“Where is the crown prince?” Naruto asked.

The maidservant was older than he was by at least a decade. She turned and looked at him and noticing who she was she quickly bowed and changed her expression.

“The crown prince and company departed this morning.”

“He’s gone?”

“Mhm.” The maidservant answered keeping her face parallel to the floor.

Naruto didn’t say anything. He stumbled from the room and once he reached the corridor he pressed his palm up against the wall to steady himself. The crown prince had already left. Did he leave earlier? The snow had just stopped. Shouldn’t he have waited another day? His chest hurt. He wanted to leave the palace quickly. He didn’t want to be spotted by either Shisui or the emperor. He didn’t want to have to lie and say why he was in the east wing when he had no business in the east wing. There was nothing in the east wing except guest rooms.

He stumbled through the palace as if he was a fawn learning to walk. His breathing becoming increasingly erratic. His face flushing. His chest aching. He stopped when he came face to face with one of the concubines.

“Empress!” Kara greeted. “What are you doing in the east wing?”

“Why do I have to answer myself to you?” Naruto snapped.

“Your face...are you sad that the crown prince left without saying goodbye to you?” Kara cooed. There was viciousness in her voice. Her face twisted up into disgust. She didn’t hide her feelings. She radiated the same energy as the chef back at the manor. Naruto snapped.

“No.” Naruto answered briskly. “I don’t understand this attitude you have towards me. Shouldn’t you be happy that the emperor is paying attention to you again? I was the one who told him to go back to you. If it wasn’t me telling him...he wouldn’t even give you another glance. Next time. Watch your tone when you’re talking to me.”

Naruto smirked. He watched Kara slowly unwind. Her composure cracked and her face went from malicious to horror. It instilled Naruto with power. He fed off it and consumed it.

“I don’t care if the emperor never touches me again. So make sure to satisfy him real good for me.” Naruto continued with a cold smile.

He could reveal this side to Kara. He wanted her to tell Izumi that he didn’t like the emperor. He wanted them to know it wasn’t his fault that the emperor stopped visiting them. He wanted them to keep the emperor and keep him entertained so he could keep his freedom. He hoped the emperor could divulge his sick sexual desires with them so he can get it out of his system. He didn’t want to be subjected to it anymore. The longer he went without the emperor touching him the better he felt.

*****

For the second time the crown prince left without a proper goodbye.

It wasn’t that Naruto wanted a proper goodbye. He had just felt empty inside. That emptiness feeling he felt the day of his wedding when he was frantically searching for the crown prince in the crowd. That emptiness feeling that left him crying in his mother’s arms. He didn’t know why he was filled with such aggro and sorrow over his departure. The high priest words kept dancing in his head like the dance of the sugar plum fairy.

He just wanted a proper conversation with him so it could be water under the bridge and get over him.

“Naruto, what’s wrong?” His mother asked. There was something about her tone that sent him on edge. He was too upset to think deeply about it.

He couldn’t admit it out loud. He needed to bury these feelings. These one-sided feelings of love. It was too painful. He didn’t understand. This was why he didn’t want to run into the crown prince. This was why he didn’t want to have dinner with them. He should have remained in the emperor’s room and never had gone to the library. He should have remained in the temple and never gone to dinner. Because now. Now he was regretting not looking at the crown prince once during dinner.

It was a broken heart and he didn’t know how to cope. He ran to his mother. He cried like he cried on his wedding day and clung to his mother. He wanted his mother to react in the same way she reacted on his wedding day. Before. He heard her soothing voice. She let him cry. She rubbed his back and held him. He felt safe in her arms. Her voice was soothing and it calmed him down. He wanted to be strong. He wanted to please the sun god. He wanted to ascend to high priest. He wanted the sun god to bestow upon him her magic. He just needed to get over these feelings he has for the crown prince.

Now. His mother’s response this time around was different. She didn’t hug him back. Her body remained aloof and tense. Naruto clung to her and her arms remained at her side.

“The last time you cried like this was when the crown prince left.” His mother commented coldly. Her personality shifted even more. “You need to snap out of it, Naruto. You’re under the spell of the god of chaos. You are enchanted. Predators don’t take the form of monsters. They take the form of a charismatic, handsome, man from the Uchiha clan. Remember the cursed child is nothing but a host for the parasite of the god of chaos.”

“I…” Naruto choked. He couldn’t even finish his sentence. “I don’t love the crown prince!” He was lying. He was lying and it was obvious. He should have just kept his mouth shut.

“You’re the child of me and Minato. You were destined to become the high priest. Do not let your father die in vain. Do not disappoint me, Naruto. I’m tired of you being so weak-minded and weak-willed. How do you expect to beat Konohamaru if you’re acting like this?” Her words were harsh. It felt like she slapped him across the face.

She pulled away from Naruto and rested her hands on his shoulder and squeezed. He could feel her nails against his skin. Her eyes were a lighter blue like the color of a robin’s egg. He remembered finding a bird's nest in the courtyard in the spring with three robin eggs. When he came back the next day to check on them all three eyes were at the base of the tree, broken. The mother had pushed the eggs out of the nest because Naruto made the grave mistake of picking up each egg and holding it. He remembered crying when he realized it was his fault the mother robin pushed her eggs from the nest. The eggs no longer had her scent; they had Naruto’s.

His mother’s eyes swirled with rage and abhorrence. The crown prince's scent was all over Naruto and she was the mother robin ready to push him out the nest. Her grip was strong as if she was afraid he was going to run away. Strong as if she was going to push him out the tree and watch as he cracked his head open on the courtyard below. “You need to grow up, Naruto. You’re not a child anymore. Stop acting like one, and stop this frivolous obsession with that parasite! I won’t have it anymore!”

“I’m trying!” Naruto protested. Tears still streamed down his face. Did everyone within the sun temple know he loved the crown prince?

“No, you’re not!” His mother argued with him. “I was hoping after you survived the wild yam you would refocus on your mission, on the prophecy, and praise the sun god in the way she deserves to be praised. But here you are crying over some cursed child parasite! And coming to me for comfort!”

“What...are you saying?” Naruto asked.

“If I knew you were going to be even more weak-minded, and weak-willed I should have just added more wild yam to your tea!” His mother yelled.

Naruto’s eyes widened. The world went absolutely silent. The world’s time stopped. The world stopped spinning. It paused. The universe paused and held its breath. A deafening silence that encaptured the world, the universe, it encaptured him. Konohamaru denied poisoning him. Naruto thought he was lying. There was something in the way Konohamaru denied it so passionately that Naruto wanted to believe him.

He felt like he was back to being underwater. Trapped beneath ice. Hearing the sounds of himself drowning as his body floated away from the iced surface and down towards the murky blackness of the bottom. His body slowly filled up with water. His eyes open and glassy. His body, motionless and heavy like an anchor sinking fast.

Konohamaru didn’t poison him.

“You...poisoned me?” Naruto choked out.

“Konohamaru didn’t have the strength. Even if he didn’t have the strength I know when the time comes he’ll be able to execute the crown prince! You would just...choke.”

It was the same words the high priest used. Naruto would choke? He was choking now.

Konohamaru...didn’t poison him. His...mother did? He didn’t know how to respond. The world was moving in slow motion. The words his mother said floated around him. It took a moment for his brain to absorb the words and process them so they made sense.

“If I see you stumbling again about your feelings for the cursed parasite I’ll kill you myself! I’d rather burn you on the pyre myself than watch you continue to be under the cursed parasite’s control!” He felt his mother wrapping her arms around him. He tensed up. He was afraid. He couldn’t stop trembling. He expected his mother to hurt him, instead, she was hugging him.

“I have been welcomed back by the congregation.” His mother continued. He could feel her hand rubbing the back of his head. Her hand felt distant. She felt distant. “I have proved to the sun god my faithfulness by giving you the wild yam. I am back in the congregation. We serve the sun god. We will do anything that is asked of us. That’s what it means to serve the sun god, Naruto. I would gladly kill you if that is what the sun god pleases. I would rather kill you than see you with the cursed parasite.”

Naruto snapped and split in half. His image shattered like a busted mirror. The mirrors he had avoided for days and days. They were all smashed, shattered, the fragments on the ground. He had no desire to pick the pieces back up and put them back together again.

"Remember, Naruto. The cursed parasite is going to go mad and bring unto the earth death and destruction. Just like Madara's son."

Just like Madara's son. His mind briefly thought about the history book he still had in his possession. The one he couldn't read.

He was beginning to think about things differently. He didn’t hate his mother. He was in awe. He did serve the sun god. He didn’t serve the emperor. He loved the sun god. He didn’t love the crown prince. His mother didn’t hate him. His mother loved him enough to save him. She’d sooner kill him herself than let him get corrupted by the crown prince. Her faith and willingness to serve the sun god was ineffable. His mother was right. It was only a manner of time before the crown prince succumbed to madness and went on a killing rampage. He had turned his back on the sun god by loving the crown prince and...now...no more. He needed to fully give himself over.

“Okay, mother. I will ascend as high priest, and I’ll do whatever is necessary to serve the sun god, and when the time comes I will not hesitate to execute the crown prince”

*****

It was nearing the spring equinox. It was nearing the orgia.

Naruto had become an adrenaline junkie. He chased that rush of endorphins. So much he was flirting with death. He could feel the sun god’s energy deep inside him. It filled him to completion more than Itachi ever could. He had been a faithful servant. He had done everything that was asked of him. He was going to surpass Konohamaru and win the favor of the congregation and the sun god. He was on his way to becoming high priest. He had spent all his energy devoted to the sun temple these last two months.

“Divorce Emperor Itachi.” The high priest commanded.

“This is another one of your attempts at getting me killed.” Naruto retorted. “I’m not falling for it. If you want me dead so bad stop being a coward and kill me yourself!”

“No. It’s one of your last tasks to complete. A high priest cannot be married. Cut ties with the royal family and get a legal divorce.”

“Isn’t it just a title?” Naruto asked. He wanted to divorce emperor Itachi the moment he turned eighteen. He no longer needed him for protection. Divorcing the emperor when he remained obsessed with him was a death sentence. He started calling for Naruto to spend the night inside his bed chambers and Naruto was running out of excuses.

“I’m not going to bear any children. What does it matter if I’m still married to him or not? Being high priest didn’t stop you from fathering that bastard Konohamaru~”

The high priest smacked Naruto across the face. Naruto’s head jerked with the open-handed slap. He could feel the welt marks of his fingers forming on his cheek. He laughed. The high priest would always have a height, weight, and strength advantage over him. He never understood why even though he was anatomically male. He remained small and slender. Had he meant to be born a female and something happened? They had expected a baby girl. Maybe his life would have been easier if he was born a baby girl. He didn’t need that useless part between his legs.

“Don’t speak back to me!” The high priest screamed. “I am still the high priest and you will listen and obey me!”

“Oh. I get it. I am winning over Konohamaru and that has you scared shitless.” Naruto answered. Naruto was still laughing he couldn’t stop. He turned and looked at the high priest. It was the reason why the high priest was signing his death certificate right now. He was winning over Konohamaru and it was driving the high priest into the corner. If he admitted that Konohamaru was his bastard son only to lose to Naruto he was becoming utterly desperate. How embarrassing. The high priest was falling from grace.

“This is your test. Sever ties with the royal family once and for all. If you can’t do that how are we to trust you executing the crown prince?” The high priest spat.

“He really will kill me!” Naruto yelled. “How am I supposed to get him to divorce me?”

“I am sure you can think of a way that doesn’t involve ingesting poison.” The high priest continued. “Maybe reveal your gender.”

“Reveal my gender?” Naruto asked. He licked his lips. “You really are scared. I really am surpassing Konohamaru.” There was glee filling his eyes. He could feel it spilling over and his mouth twisted into an even bigger smile. His cheek still throbbed in an outline of the high priest handprint. He watched the high priest give him a look of utter disgust.

“What’s preventing you from killing me?” Naruto asked. He didn’t know why he slipped into these dangerous moments of self-annihilation. The smile wiped from his mouth. The glee left his eyes and expression. His expression turned apathetic. He continued staring at the high priest. He didn’t break eye contact.

“You tried to have Konohamaru poison me and when he was too chicken shit my mother had to do it, and in exchange you welcomed my mother back into the congregation with open arms.” Naruto spoke seriously and started walking towards the high priest. Naruto reached out and grabbed the high priest’s hand with his and thread his fingers with his. His fingers were just as he remembered. Spindly, bony, cold. Naruto squeezed the high priest’s hand.

“Just kill me yourself. Sacrifice me to the sun god. Right now.” Naruto pressed his body up against the sun god and wrapped an arm around his neck. He placed a leg between the high priest’s legs and rubbed against him. “I would rather that happen than have Emperor Itachi kill me with his filthy hands.”

The high priest shoved Naruto with both hands and when he fell backwards he kicked him in the face. He could feel the shoe connecting against his jaw in full force. He bit into the side of his mouth and he could feel blood filling his mouth. He saw bright stars shooting across his vision and for a moment he wanted to stretch his arm out and catch a shooting star.

“Don’t touch me!” The high priest screamed.

“Is it because I’m not a little child anymore? We used to have so much fun in this shrine together with your tongue all over my body. Your mouth engulfing my penis and testicles.” Naruto spoke seductively. He remained sitting on the shrine floor. He could feel blood dripping out of his mouth. He watched the high priest back away. Naruto didn’t let him out of his sight. He noticed it for the first time. The high priest was shaken up. Naruto had shaken him up.

“When I become high priest. I’m going to boil you alive. What you did to me...what you did to us. Had nothing to do with making us pure. Did it? You just used us for your own perverse desires.” Naruto smirked. He had confronted him. He had meant every word he spoke. He could taste the immediate change within the high priest. He had wanted to provoke the high priest and he did. He just didn’t expect such a fallout.

The high priest was straddling him. He wrapped his spindly, bony, cold fingers around his throat and squeezed. He would rather die by the high priest within the shrine than return to the palace. He didn’t even fight it. He welcomed it. He could feel his vision vibrating. The immediate oxygen cutoff sent his brain into a panic. He could feel himself gagging as his lungs tried to inhale oxygen. He could feel the edges of his vision darkening. He could feel saliva rolling down his mouth. He could feel his eyes becoming bloodshot from the pressure. The high priest remained sitting on him and he could feel his face becoming inflamed.

Yes. He was fully prepared to die. In the shrine. His eyes focused on the stained-glass windows. Sunlight was spilling through and he was bathed in sanguine light.

He could feel himself teetering on the edge of unconsciousness when he felt water dumping over him. He felt the high priest release his grip. The water dumped on both Naruto and the high priest and it was enough of a shock that the high priest stood up.

“It is not customary for a palace guardsman to interfere with what happens within the temple, however, considering you almost choked the empress into unconsciousness. I felt it necessary to interfere.” Shisui spoke indignantly. Naruto knew by Shisui’s appearance that the emperor was no longer willing to wait.

Naruto couldn’t stop coughing as he forced oxygen back into his lungs. The water had woken him up and he stopped dreaming of self-sacrifice. He pushed himself up and gasped painfully. Panting as he tried to catch his breath. He had wanted to live.

“Empress. I am here to escort you back to the palace, now.” Shisui demanded. He grabbed hold of Naruto’s wrist and pulled him up. It hurt his shoulder as he stumbled into a standing position. His mind was whirling.

“Remember what I said, Naruto. Do not come back unless you do as I have said!” The high priest yelled after Naruto. Shisui tightened his hold on Naruto’s wrist and continued jerking him away. He didn’t stop until they had reached the courtyard. The snow had melted and the sun beamed brightly in the cloudless sky.

“What the hell was that about, Naruto?” Shisui yelled. He let go of his wrist. “Look at you! How do you think the emperor is going to respond when he sees you?”

“Like he cares what I look like.” Naruto spat.

“Do you think he wants another man to put bruises all over your body?” Shisui yelled.

“Do you think if I break my arm he’ll believe I took a tumble?” Naruto laughed. “Will you break my arm for me, Shisui?”

“What’s going on with you?” Shisui asked. He lowered his voice. There was concern in his voice. “You’re acting crazy.”

“I’m just tired. I haven’t been sleeping at the temple.” Naruto snapped and spun on his heels walking towards the palace. “Send the physician to my room and have him bring sleep medication. I am not in the right state of mind to have the emperor fucking me right now. If he tries. I’ll jump off the balcony. Just tell the emperor I’m feeling under the weather and I’ll visit him when I wake up tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? It’s the afternoon right now. How long do you plan on sleeping?” Shisui asked as he followed Naruto into the palace. “The emperor wants to see you, tonight.”

“Well. I suppose I have to wake up eventually.” Naruto spoke with a smile on his face. He was teetering between wanting to live and die all over again. “I’d like to sleep for the rest of my life but I don’t think that’s an option. If you won’t break my arm...and you don’t want me jumping off the balcony. I’m sure you’ll think of something to tell the emperor.”

“I’m not leaving you alone.” Shisui spat. He grabbed hold of Naruto’s arm afraid he was going to take off running and really jump off the balcony. Shisui instructed one of the guardsmen in the palace to fetch the physician and bring them to Naruto’s bedroom. He emphasized requesting a sleeping aid. He was going to comply and tell the emperor that Naruto had returned and was running a fever.

“All you Uchiha’s are all the same, you're obsessed with me!” Naruto spoke bitterly. “Do you want to fuck me too Shisui?” He wrapped his arms around Shisui’s neck and hugged him.

“I don’t know what’s causing this personality change but it’s getting really fucking exhaustive.” Shisui answered as he pushed Naruto into his room and slammed the door behind him. Naruto stumbled and fell to the floor. “Are you going to tell me why the high priest was choking you out? Is that why you’re acting like this? You’re acting as manic as the emperor!”

“I’m finally matching the emperor’s energy levels!” Naruto cried out and stood up. He began stripping his temple clothes. He didn’t care if Shisui was in the room. He walked to his wardrobe and began pulling out a nightgown. He really was tired. He hadn’t slept in three full days and he was becoming delirious and besides himself with fatigue. He and Konohamaru were fervently praying alongside each other in a revival for the spring equinox, the orgia.

He crawled into his bed and rolled under the blankets. Even if he closed his eyes he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He was too wired. He could feel every neuron in his body vibrating.

“I’m hoping you’ll go back to normal after you sleep.” Shisui commented. “For yours and my sake. How do you think the emperor is going to respond with how you’ve been acting?”

“What would I need to do for the emperor to kill me?” Naruto asked and pushed himself into a sitting position. He went back to being serious.

“Nothing.” Shisui answered deadpan. “So whatever you’re scheming. Stop. You’re not the one he would punish, it will be everyone around you, Naruto, and you know it.”

There was a knock on the door and the physician came in. “I was told the empress needs a sleep aid.”

“YES!” Shisui yelled. “Please knock her the fuck out!” He gestured towards Naruto. “I don’t want her waking up until at least tomorrow!” He yelled and walked over to the physician and monitored everything he was doing. The physician handed Naruto a cup of tea with the medication dissolved in it. Naruto took it and for the first time without making a fuss downed the concoction in one gulp.

“He would really hurt everyone around me?” Naruto asked. “Would he really do that...again?” Naruto questioned. He laid back down.

The emperor hadn’t exhibited any maddening actions since the winter solstice but he had wanted him back today. Was there going to be another repeat of that night tomorrow when he woke up? The high priest’s commands of divorce filled his mind. Naruto would have to be smart. He needed to be smart about things. He couldn’t just do things all haphazardly. He needed to prove his willingness to do whatever it takes for the sun god.

“Go to sleep.” Shisui commanded. He remained standing on the side of the bed with his arms folded over his chest.

Naruto closed his eyes and within seconds he went into a dead sleep. During his sleep with the aid of the heavy sleeping medication, he dreamt about the history book. It was the first time in two months he had visions of the book.

Chapter Text

The world was divided up into three realms. The earth realm where the mortals were birthed, lived, and died. The heavens where immortal gods and goddesses resided. Then there was the underworld, nine circles of hell, where ghosts and demons prevailed.

Gods and goddesses were not confined to one sex or gender. They were fluid often taking the shape of men and women or both at the same time. They would appear as children, as the frail elderly, or even taking the shape of an animal. How strong they were depended on the worship and praise they received from humans on earth. It was something that was not so easily divulged to the mortals of earth for many reasons the primary reason was human greed. The gods and goddesses did not want to be held ransom by human greed.

The strongest and most powerful of the gods and goddesses and the ruler of them all was the sun god whose temples and churches and shrines stretched across the Konoha Kingdom. The sun god often took the form of a demure child, sexless. Innocence personified. Some like the god of War saw through the intentions as a means of humiliating them all. The sun god's form mocked them. Humiliated them. The sun god was anything but innocent. They were ruled over by a tyrannical child-god, regardless of what form the sun god took, they were powerless to raise up.

None have spoken up against the sun god. Those who did have all met wicked, violent, ends.

The god of chaos succumbed to a cursed mark trapped in a mortal’s bloodline. The god of beauty had become a wasted hollowed-out shell and long ago buried herself in a hole and hadn’t emerged in over a century. The god of Heka became fragments that resembled a parasite clinging to newborn babies and living inside its host until the human died and then clinging to another newborn baby. The recent god who spoke out was the god of love, Eros, who had become stricken with a plague that left him bedridden and addled. The sun god refused to tell any of them the antidote and they were all powerless to watch as Eros slowly became devoured by the plague. It was different with Eros because the effects within the earth realm were immediate. Love had often turned into unbridled madness. The sun god reveled in the chaos the plague-dog Eros had on the human realm.

The two gods who were able to rival the sun god were the sun god’s own siblings. The goddess of the moon and night, Luna, and the god of the oceans and rivers, Poseidon. All three were among the original gods birthed. Poseidon had long ago cut ties with the gods and goddesses and had lived in the sunken city of Atlantis for a millennia.

It left Luna who had made the mistake of falling in love with a mortal astronomer, Endymion, whose untimely demise happened during the crossfires of the War Against the Sun. A period of time where the god of chaos took the form of a basilisk and began wreaking havoc in the mortal realm, toppling whole cities to the ground with the purpose of eradicating the sun god’s worshippers, and eliminating the sun god’s power.

Luna had sunk into a deep depression and had almost reached self annihilation. She hardly had any strength left to stop the insidious actions of the sun god. That was what the other gods and goddesses whispered. If not for the pagans worshipping her in the mortal realm she would have wasted away into moondust. That was the conclusion the gods and goddesses came to and thus pleading with her to help was futile.

The truth was Luna did offer some of her spiritual power and helped oppose the sun god during these tribulations. The only ones who knew what she had done were the god of chaos himself who had vanished from the heavens and Pan. There were no other witnesses and thus there wasn’t a trail that got back to the sun god.

Instead of the sun god completely eliminating the god of chaos into oblivion like intended, Luna suggested that the god of chaos seal himself up within a mortal’s bloodline. Luna assisted with her own spiritual power for the god of chaos to succeed. The purpose was for the god of chaos to regain strength to ascend back as a god in the heavens. If it wasn’t for the sun god instructing the sun temple to execute any newborn who was born with the god of chaos’ seals the god of chaos might have already ascended. Everyone within the immortal realm waited with bated breath.

After Endymion’s death and the god of chaos sealing himself up Luna didn’t interfere anymore for five hundred years.

Luna went from being heartbroken to complete apathy, laying in the mausoleum she had built in a part of a celestial forest where she mourned her first love. Luna resembled a porcelain doll as if a doll maker carved her likeness into the porcelain, sewed human hair into the skull, painted her lips a swollen pink, and her eyes carved from glass. She had been wasting away and her face cracked. There were fault lines that crept across her face, down her neck, across her chest, around her arms, and across her hands. Lines that looked like it would crack and crumble and her whole body would disintegrate.

The only news she heard, in the beginning, was from the gods and goddesses who trekked the long, tedious, journey to find her. Once they saw she wasn’t able to help they stopped, and submitted to the sun god’s tyrannical ruling.

It only left Pan. The faun who held a flute in his hands and divulged in love affairs with the forest nymphs as her only companion. Pan was the only witness to the god of chaos sealing himself away into a bloodline. Pan appeared before Luna once more bringing her news.

“There was a prophecy of who will ascend as the next high priest of the sun temple. Do you want to know who it is?” Pan poked his head through the opening of the mausoleum.

Luna had been sprawled on her side laying on the marble white coffin. It rested on a slab of smooth white marble in the middle of the mausoleum. Luna didn’t even look in Pan’s direction or give any indication she had heard his words. The cracks across Luna's body deepened and darkened. She looked so fragile. If someone touched her pieces would crumble and fall inside her.

“I thought you would be interested to know as he is a descendant of Endymion.” Pan spoke with a mischievous grin. It was these words that roused Luna from the dead and she pushed herself up snapping her neck so fiercely in his direction that if she were mortal she would have snapped her neck.

“His birth name is Naruto. He was born the tenth day of the tenth month. That isn't all. The emperor has decided to spare the crown prince with the cursed seal. He was banished to the countryside.” Pan continued to speak. The smile didn’t leave his lips. His eyes lit up as he saw the expression of Luna’s face turn from an expressionless doll to an expressive deity.

“Endymion.” Luna whispered. Her eyes illuminated the color of a pale full moon. Her lips the color of a ripe peach trembled. She looked down at her palm that was pressed against the marble coffin. She noticed the cracks across the back of her hands. She felt a jolt of electricity. The coffin was smooth and cool to the touch. The flesh and blood of Endymion was prophesied to be the next high priest of the sun temple? She wanted to meet Endymion again even if it was for just sixty seconds.

“Who knows. Maybe the god of chaos can get enough spiritual power this time to ascend.” Pan spoke loudly. His personality was described as derisive, mischievous, and often speaking in limericks and riddles. However, he showed none of this when he was around Luna albeit with a mischievous grin and a twinkle in his eyes.

As soon as Luna took this information in she slumped back down to the coffin and closed her eyes. She did nothing with this information except mull it over like wine.

Several years later Pan appeared before her again. Luna often picked mushrooms, herbs, and flowers in the celestial forest and brought them as offerings to the mausoleum. Today was no different. The cracks on her skin had all but faded away leaving her skin translucent like paper mache. Her eyes flicked up when she saw Pan’s head poking out from behind the heavenly maple tree where she was gathering mushrooms.

“It appears the sun god is plotting against the god of chaos. The sun god figured out the god of chaos’ plan. If he cultivates enough spiritual power he can ascend back to the heavens. The sun god is going to bestow powers upon Endymion’s descendant to smite the crown prince and eliminate the god of chaos.” Pan exclaimed loudly. He spoke as if he were on stage in a comedy drama. He was theatrical and had complete control over his voice and actions.

Luna’s gaze was locked with Pan. She froze holding the mushrooms in her hands. She took this information. She didn’t have a reaction.

“What’s even more curious is that the high priest has sent Endymion’s descendant to poison the crown prince, who remains banished in the countryside. Sadly, your efforts to help the god of chaos was futile. Do you want to come and watch Endymion poison the crown prince with me?” Pan’s eyes lit up. He specifically chose his words to provoke Luna.

“Endymion wouldn’t do such a thing!” Luna aggrieved. She bit her lip and her eyes turned a violent shade of red.

Nevertheless it had roused her curiosity. It was the first time she reacted. The first shockwave of emotion she felt in centuries. She dropped the mushrooms and left with Pan observing from the heavens. Luna was feeling powerful. It was a full moon the color of a cherry blossom petal. She watched as Endymion’s descendant walked down a path with cherry blossom trees. The pink petals floated through the spring night as softly as snow. She could smell the fragrance of the petals. The wind picked up and she sensed it...she sensed the danger with all of her senses.

Luna’s eyes flashed a startling blue as she saw the possessed maidservant attacking the young child. She was about to interfere and save Endymion’s descendant when she was greeted with the crown prince, adorned with the god of chaos’ seals, slicing through the maidservant with a sword. Blood and cherry blossom petals filled the air just as a breeze blew through. The spilt blood and the sound of the sword brought back memories of the War against the Sun.

The War Against the Sun was originally started by humans backed by the god of chaos who attacked and slaughtered the people of the sun temple. The reasons Luna had forgotten. She only became involved when during the onslaught the sun temple, guided with borrowed power from the sun temple, slaughtered an entire village of innocent civilians. There were no soldiers nor military in the village. Only the young, the disabled, the frail, and the elderly.

Eris, the god of strife and discord, was gossiping about it loudly for all to hear. Eris wanted to know how Luna would react if her beloved mortal had perished. By the time Luna found out what happened she descended to the mortal realm. The attack was purposefully done to bring the morale of the humans who dared go against the sun temple down and crush their spirit because if their families were dead and gone what was the point of fighting?

It was in this village that Endymion, who had been taking care of his sick mother, was slaughtered. They were all slaughtered. There were no survivors. It didn’t matter because the only one that mattered was Endymion. By the time Luna found his mangled corpse it was too late he was dead and his soul already collected. Luna was immediately consumed in grief and it was the god of chaos who came to her taking the form of a basilisk and pleading with Luna to help him revolt against the sun god. She couldn’t. The grief of losing Endymion was too much and she was unable to see, hear, or talk for a whole fortnite. It shattered her.

In the end she had convinced the god of chaos the only way to ensure his survival was to seal himself up. It was the only thing she was able to do to repay the god of chaos back in kind. The only thing she could do before becoming completely catatonic.

Imagine Luna’s surprise when she peered down into the mortal realm the first time in five hundred years she was looking at Endymion’s descendant, blood soaked, hugging the god of chaos and thanking him for saving his life. She had resolved herself to watch over both of them learning their names were Naruto and Sasuke. It was the sun god’s actions that caused Endymion to be slaughtered and Luna was not going to allow Endymion’s descendant to experience such a wicked, violent, end.

Luna started taking an interest in the mortal realm. It had been five hundred years and there wasn’t any serious development or changes. It was as if no time had passed. There were still the seven sins running rampant and the seven virtues were nowhere to be seen.

The first time Luna interfered was during the winter solstice. It was during a full moon and she was at her most powerful. She had peered upon a lascivious scene between the depraved emperor and Endymion’s descendant. It was enough to make her skin crawl and she fought back the urge to retch.

Luna knew right away that Naruto had been poisoned with a combination of wild yam from the sun temple and sumac, a plant that wouldn’t cause death by itself only a rash to the skin, from the emperor’s concubines. What wicked luck Naruto had to get two separate doses of poison on the same day. She suspected Eris’ involvement. She heard Naruto’s pleas as if he was screaming it up to the heaven’s at her despite him whispering those pleas to the emperor. The moment his heartbeat stopped she knew there was only a small window of time for her to revive him or he would have really died. The first time she was too late with Endymion. She wasn’t going to let him die again.

She descended into Naruto and possessed him, filling him with her spiritual power. Her life energy. She stole the scissors and refused to let his life be cut in two.

The sun god no longer had a use for Naruto and thus he was disposable. How weak and fragile humans really were.

Luna had sent Pan out to gather intel and through the grapevine, he ventured to gather bits and pieces of information like taking scraps in a junkyard to build an empire. Naruto had fallen in love with the crown prince and thus he was no longer needed. The sun god wanted Naruto dead and disposed of in as inhumane a manner as possible. His insides were slowly dissolved by the poison as he was being brutally raped. It was enough to make Luna go mad with lunacy as she thought of Endymion being disemboweled protecting his sick mother.

She wasn’t going to allow the sun god to succeed. She succeeded in reviving him. It caused her to go catatonic for three full calendar months.

*****

Luna woke up and it was the third month of the year on the ides of March. She knew that she needed to get Naruto away from the capital city. He wasn’t safe within the sun temple and he wasn’t safe within the palace. There were wolves in sheepskin everywhere. It was why she had shown him visions of a history book written after the fall of the god of chaos when she possessed him and revived him during the winter solstice. She needed Naruto to find out the truth. To understand just who the sun god really was.

When she ventured back into the mortal realm she was pleased to see the history textbook in his possession. But, she had completely forgotten it wasn’t written in the common language. It was completely pointless and was no better than a paperweight than a means of recorded history.

Luna sought out Clio, the muse of history. She held in her hands the heavenly copy of the history textbook that was in Naruto’s possession. Clio resided in the ancient library. Every book that filled the library she had collected from the mortal realm or written herself. She rarely left and the only times she did leave was to collect more books.

Clio was transcribing the recent war between Konoha and Kuni in a golden scroll when Luna found her.

“Clio!” Luna cried out. “I need your help!”

Clio was very astute. She wore a solemn expression as if she were perpetually in mourning. Her face was as smooth as if she were cut from an oyster pearl. She wore robes of orchid and thistle. Hair pulled back into an intricate braid that reached the floor.

“I cannot help you, Luna.” Clio raised a hand to silence Luna. She brought her attention back to the scroll. Luna’s eyes looked down. The crown prince had been battling at the borders with Kuni. The god of chaos was getting stronger. Clio continued documenting.

“I only have one question. This textbook...it isn’t written in the common language.” Luna dismissed Clio’s icy words and pretended she didn’t hear her protests. “Is there someone in the mortal realm who can translate?” Luna slammed the textbook over the scroll that Clio was writing on.

“The sun god approached me.” Clio closed her eyes and pushed herself back. She was refusing to look at the textbook. She placed the peacock quill in its holder and crossed her arms. Luna swallowed and hesitated. The sun god was one step ahead.

“What did the sun god say?” Luna asked.

“They know what you’re scheming. You’re working with the god of chaos to have him ascend back to the heavens.” Clio explained. She kept her eyes closed as she spoke. Her voice was still icy as a winter storm. There was disapproval in her voice yet underneath there was a subtleness something Luna couldn’t put her finger on.

“The sun god is trying to murder Endymion’s descendant! I won’t allow it, Clio! The sun god wants Naruto dead so why can’t I just help him run away from the capital?” Luna exclaimed. It was evident that Clio knew what was happening in the mortal realm; she was the muse of history. She was a walking mortal realm encyclopedia.

“You don’t understand. The sun god can’t allow Naruto to live because he’ll ascend as high priest and will receive the sun god’s powers. He needs to die. If I were the sun god I would want him dead too. It’s self-preservation.”

“What...what do you mean?” Luna asked, her tone sharp. She narrowed her eyes. Had Clio already aligned herself with the sun god?

“He was prophesied to ascend as high priest. If he’s alive he’ll inherit the sun god’s powers.” Clio retorted. Her eyes remained closed. It frustrated Luna and she fought back the urge to slap Clio across the face.

“I’ve been watching the mortal realm! The high priest wants a member of the Senju clan to ascend as high priest...why can’t the sun god leave Naruto alone?”

“You don’t understand.” Clio spoke slowly and enunciated her words. She opened her eyes and stared at Luna. It sent chills down Luna’s spine. Clio’s eyes were the color of amethyst. They were almond-shaped and hooded. It wasn’t just her eyes that caught her off guard; it was the layers and layers in the way she was communicating.

“The sun god has no choice but to bestow powers to Endymion’s descendant. There are some laws that not even the sun god can oppose. When the prophecy was foretold and written that became the lay of the land. The sun god has no choice but to eliminate Endymion’s descendant before he inherits their power. Therefore. The sun god has no choice but to kill him. It’s self-preservation.”

“Oh.” Luna spoke.

She had understood everything that Clio wasn’t saying. The sun god was not expecting Naruto to fall in love with the god of chaos. She couldn’t imagine a world where she could murder Endymion. She’d sooner kill herself than harm a single hair on Endymion’s head. The sun god’s power will befall unto Naruto. He will not harm the god of chaos allowing the god of chaos to continue to cultivate his spiritual energy. The god of chaos will have a path to ascend back into heaven. Surely once the god of chaos accumulates his spiritual powers and ascends he will seek revenge on the sun god, and maybe this time he will succeed in shooting the sun down from the sky.

“This textbook...who…can translate. The sun god will want him dead too.” Luna asked and pushed the textbook closer to Clio. She glanced at it so quickly Luna wasn’t even sure she read the title.

“Jiraiya.” Clio spoke the name of the human who could translate the textbook. Clio waved a hand over the textbook and it vanished. It remerged back on the shelf within the library where it belonged. “He may already be dead though. The sun god already came to me asking about him. Of course, I assisted the sun god. As I told the sun god...I do not know where Jiraiya resides. I lost contact with him over twenty years ago.”

Luna nodded her head and spun around just as she was about to leave the ancient library Clio’s voice rang out from behind her.

“Luna. If you continue to plot against the sun god your fate will be no different than Aphrodite, Eros, Heka. I advise you to stop plotting.”

Luna stopped. Her back was kept to Clio. She clenched her hands into fists. “I don’t care what happens to me. Ever since I lost Endymion what’s the point of being immortal if I can’t be with the one I love?”

“What about me? What will happen to me if the sun god finds out what I shared with you?” Clio asked. “The sun god threatened to burn the library to the ground if I stood in their way.” Luna knew the underlying meaning of her words. It was the same thoughts the other gods and goddesses had. “Without these books. There is no point in me being immortal.”

“Maybe you can ask Poseidon to help you put the fire out.” Luna spat. Her features softened. She turned around and looked at Clio. She lowered her voice. “Bring the books to the lost city of Atlantis. Tell Poseidon I sent you.”

“Mn.” Clio murmured and nodded her head. Her voice lowered even more. “Eris has aligned themselves with the sun god.” Luna’s fists tightened. She knew the poisoning of Naruto wasn’t coincidental; there was a man behind the curtain orchestrating everything.

“I know.” Luna murmured. “Eris was the one who infected Eros with the plague and poisoned Aphrodite.”

Eris the god of strife and discord was also a savant when it came to poison and pestilence. The difference was during the War Against the Sun the only god who openly opposed the sun god was the god of chaos. All others refused to get involved. If there was another war Eris already aligned themselves with the sun god and a powerful adversary Eris was, even more sinister than the god of war.

“I will bring the books to Poseidon.” Clio announced.

“At least the important ones.” Luna spoke quickly. Clio nodded her head and Luna finally left.

*****

Luna went back to the celestial forest. She began meditating. She had spent the last five hundred years as a sloth. Any amount of energy she expelled left her spent with prostration. She felt like an infant all over again just learning everything all over again. She started replenishing her spiritual energy. Her skin had become completely smooth and full of life once more. There were no signs of cracks or faults as she began illuminating in a pale bubble. The bubble was so fragile it looked as if any moment it would pop. Except Luna had complete control over the bubble and although it looked fragile it was as strong as concrete.

She wanted to slip into Naruto’s dream and communicate with him. He was knocked out with sleeping medication. She wanted him to run away before the spring equinox. She meditated for five straight hours before she thought she had enough power to slip into his dreams. She descended back to the mortal realm. There was a rushing sound and she appeared in his bedroom in the palace. Her skin prickled and felt hot. She was not used to such spiritual energy coursing through her veins and burning her up in excess.

She noticed Shisui, captain of the guard, had remained keeping watch and ensuring his safety. The high priest instructed Naruto to obtain a legal divorce from the emperor. She had agreed with Naruto’s thought process. The emperor was mad with love he would sooner kill Naruto then himself in a murder-suicide than let Naruto go. Luna wondered if the emperor’s obsessive madness with Naruto was the sun god using Eros. She pinned a mental note to visit Eros and investigate herself.

She thought about killing the emperor but knew she didn’t have the power to murder a human. Five hundred years ago she could but it was different now. She needed to visit some of the moon goddess temples in the mortal realm and harness more power.

She closed her eyes and fell on top of Naruto’s sleeping form and entered into his mind.

The sleep medication made it so Naruto had entered a near-deathlike slumber without dreams. It made it easier for her to conjure up her own platform so she could communicate with him. She manifested the manor from the south. The manor that Naruto had spent three months looking after and falling in love with the crown prince. She figured it was the perfect setting that would ease Naruto’s manic, panic, mind.

“Naruto.” Luna spoke softly.

She looked at Naruto who was laying on the wooden veranda of the main house. He was alone. It was nighttime. The moon was full. She watched as Naruto opened his eyes. Luna took the form of Hinata. It was the only relationship connected with Naruto that wasn’t tainted or fragmented. A fierce ally since infancy.

“Hinata?” Naruto asked sleepily. He rubbed his eye. “Why...why are we at the manor?” Naruto bolted upwards and looked around. Fear began circling in his eyes.

“Don’t fret. I’m here.” Luna spoke and kneeled in front of Naruto. She knew because it was a dream Naruto’s mind will quickly accept everything using dream logic. “I want to talk to you about this textbook.” Luna held the history textbook in her hands. The leather bound book with the gold foil lettering. The book written in a dead language. “I know the name of the person who can translate it.”

“You do?” Naruto asked and took the book from Luna and began examining it. “I forgot...all about this book. That’s great, Hinata!” He smiled. Luna paused. That smile reminded her of Endymion. A soft pink bloomed across her cheeks. She refocused.

“His name is Jiraiya.” Luna explained. “He’s very sick. You need to find him before he passes away. He can translate. He can tell you what happened after the fall of Madara’s son. This is the key to ascending as high priest.” She tapped the book and Naruto looked down.

“Will this help me restore favor with the sun god?” Naruto asked. He flipped through the five hundred-year-old textbook as if he could glean the meaning of the dead text. Naruto looked as young as a child. The manic expression he wore earlier was gone. His mind was sound. The bags under his eyes vanished. There was a soft, childlike expression and curiosity swirling in his endless blue eyes. A peacefulness. She was right to choose the setting of the manor.

“Mhm. This will help you uncover the truth and help you ascend. The sun god’s powers will be bestowed upon you.”

“I know I can do it...I know I can slaughter the crown prince and rid this world of evil!” Naruto exclaimed and slammed the book closed. “Jiraiya.” Naruto spoke the man’s name. Tested it on his tongue. Luna hesitated.

“Don’t you...love the crown prince?” Luna asked carefully. Tilting her head she looked deep into Naruto’s eyes.

“How could I possibly love a cursed parasite?” Naruto asked. That crazed expression had twisted his features. Shadows deepened and aged his appearance. The corners of his mouth twisted sickeningly upwards as if gashed with a paring knife. “I was tricked. The sooner he’s dead. The better.”

Luna’s heart thumped.

“You need to leave and search for Jiraiya before the spring equinox.” Luna spoke fervently she needed to make sure that this becomes ingrained so deeply within Naruto that as soon as he wakes up he can do nothing else. Similarly to how he was driven to search the library within the palace for the history textbook. An indescribable drive that overpowers him and consumes him. She wasn’t going to stop until that was the outcome. Her own brainwashing to counteract the brainwashing of the sun temple.

“Naruto.” Luna spoke and reached over and touched Naruto’s hand. He looked up at her. From Naruto’s point of view, all he saw was Hinata before him. His smiling friend from the sun temple. “The high priest is going to poison you during the orgia. This time...he’s going to make sure you die. If you don’t escape before then to find Jiraiya~”

“He should have just killed me with his own hands!” Naruto spat. His face turned a ghastly white before turning red with rage. “He’s not going to get away with this...I just need to find Jiraiya?” Naruto looked at Luna. “When I ascend he’s the first to die! I’ll make him pay for everything he did to us, to me!” Naruto squeezed Luna’s hand.

“Mhm.” Luna nodded reassuringly. She squeezed Naruto’s hand back. “This will help you ascend and then you can save us. Save the temple children and restore the sun temple.”

“How...how do I escape?” Naruto asked desperately. He gripped Luna’s hand with all his strength. He resembled a frightened child.

“You’ve ingested poison so much in your short life. Why don’t you put everyone to sleep with poison of your own?” Luna suggested. “It’ll be just like how the temple children sleep through the orgia.”

“The orgia is in five days...how do I get the emperor to divorce me?” Naruto asked even more desperately than how to escape. He spoke as if he were pleading for his life.

“Once you escape. Go to a lawman and explain your situation. The lawman can legalize the divorce and send notice back to the palace and the sun temple.” Luna lied. She didn’t know how divorces worked in the mortal realm. It wasn’t something she thought about.

“He’ll go mad. He’ll kill everyone!” Naruto cried out. His eyes filled with tears. Luna could see Endymion etched all over him. It left her breathless. She fought back the urge to hug him. The empathy that swirled inside Naruto as he wanted so desperately to protect innocent people was the same empathy that swirled in Endymion. Her heart ached and she fought back tears.

“The emperor is a madman. What’s important is your ascension, Naruto. If you want to ascend you need to take the textbook and find Jiraiya...find Jiraiya before his sickness claims his life!”

“A mission.” Naruto spoke.

“Mhm.”

“Find Jiraiya...ascend as high priest.”

“Mhm.”

“Okay. I’ll do it.”

*****

Luna had spent twelve consecutive hours going over the plan with Naruto. She poured all her spiritual energy to engrave everything into the neurons within Naruto’s brain. Overriding everything else. She continued to rehearse, and drill until she had used up everything she had and she was expelled violently from Naruto. Sweating and panting she climbed into a standing position to see the emperor had slipped into Naruto’s bed chambers and crawled into his bed. She had no strength left to interfere. She couldn’t watch the sight anymore. She ascended back to the heavens and collapsed in the celestial forest.

“Eat this.” Pan spoke encouragingly. He had been waiting for her. He held in his hand half a pomegranate. Luna was too exhausted to lift her head. She remained laying on the forest floor trying to catch her breath. Pan kneeled beside her and held the pomegranate to her mouth. She took a bite. The red juice rolled down her chin as she chewed the pomegranate seeds. She swallowed and she could feel her strength slowly coming back.

“Rest here. Let me go play with the mad emperor and place this spoiled brat in timeout.” Pan gleamed as he shoved the rest of the pomegranate fruit into his mouth and chewed violently. Luna stared at him from the corner of her eyes. She was in shock. It was the first time in more than five hundred years that Pan was going to interfere with the mortal realm. It filled her with happiness that he was helping her.

As Pan chewed juice dripped down the corners of his mouth dying his chin and neck red. He looked at Luna one last time. She was curled up into the fetal position and closed her eyes. He saw a small smile on her lips and he smiled softly. Without another word there was a popping sound and Pan vanished.

Pan rarely visited the mortal realm. He was the god of sexuality, music, and panic. He lived up to his name. All three of those things happened on earth without his involvement. It was an easy job. It left a lot of free time for him to play.

He spent his time with the nymphs of the celestial forest, or playing his pan flute, finding out gossip and news, and looking after Luna. The faun appeared in Naruto’s bed chamber and crawled into bed with both Naruto and the emperor. He laid between them and turned to face the emperor. Naruto was still asleep but he knew he was on the cusp of waking up. By the looks of the emperor he wasn’t going to wait until Naruto woke up. What a naughty boy. The madness of lust and desire swirled in the emperor’s eyes and it was near impossible to stop his insatiable appetite.

Pan could rewrite the kama sutra, Hindu erotology, the joy of sex from memory with his eyes closed. If it wasn’t consensual he couldn’t garner any pleasure.

Just as he was the god of sexuality he was able to provide erections and make men impotent. He giveth and taketh away. It was what he did to the mad emperor. Pan reached his hand between the emperor’s legs and grabbed his erect penis. He used his spiritual energy and made him impotent as limp and lifeless as a dead fish as if he physically castrated him. It went completely soft and shrunk in his hand. He pulled his hand back.

He smiled wickedly as he watched the realization wash over the emperor. Not only was the emperor limp and useless his sexual desire was stripped reducing him to a eunuch. Pan took great pleasure in watching the horror wash over the emperor. Pan licked his lips in excitement as he made himself comfortable on the four-post bed watching the unraveling of the emperor. What was the emperor going to do now that he couldn’t fulfill his sexual appetite?

He fed off it.

The emperor pushed the blankets off and examined his body. His obsidian eyes bulged in their sockets. Small red veins spidered across his white corneas. His hands began moving over his body as if to examine any disfigurement or rash that could cause his sudden erectile dysfunction. Pan laughed. Even if the emperor overdosed on aphrodisiacs he still wouldn’t be able to get it up. The veins in his hands and forearms bulged as panic set in. His mouth opened and closed as if to silently scream for help. His jaw trembled as he ran from the room screaming for the physician.

Pan took in the pleasure of withholding sexual activity as much as he did arousing people. It filled him up and spilled over into cathartic laughter. Maybe the emperor would result to blood shed. Pan did enjoy a good drama.

As if Naruto sensed this chaotic laughter echoing in his bed chambers his eyes shot open and he pushed himself upwards. His eyes looking anxiously around the room as if he could spot the source of the laughter. He didn’t see anyone but it felt as if he sensed something otherworldly. He was alone in his room. He sighed in relief savoring these few moments he had to himself. His hand went to rub the last remnants of sleep from his eyes as he whispered.

“So your name is...Jiraiya.”

Naruto’s mind went immediately to planning his escape with the textbook so he can find Jiraiya and translate the book. He knew the textbook was of importance and it will help him ascend. His mind was racing once more with hundreds and thousands of different thoughts. The high priest was really going to murder him during the origa. His heart thumped painfully. He didn’t want to die. He wasn’t going to let the high priest keep getting away with things. From all the thoughts that bloomed and exploded within Naruto’s mind there was one that slowly emerged and grew louder and deafened out all other thoughts. He had resolved himself to running away and escaping the capital but a new thought took hold.

Naruto wasn’t just going to escape by himself. He was going to bring Konohamaru with him. It was the perfect revenge. Escape with the textbook and the high priest’s precious Senju bloodline.

Chapter Text

 

Escape. To break free from confinement or control. Synonyms. Run away. To leave from a place, person, or situation. Abscond. To leave hurriedly and secretly to avoid detection. Disappear. To become lost or missing and becoming impossible to find. Evanesce. To pass out of sight, memory, or existence.

All these words and definitions filtered through Naruto’s skull as he tried to pick the perfect word to describe what he was about to do. Words had special meaning to Naruto. Like the word, cherish. He needed to be careful with what word he used and how he used it. He couldn’t just pick one; they all fit into his desire to run away from both the palace and the holy temple. To escape these walls that held him in, and enter back into the world.

He had grown so accustomed to his life within the holy temple, within the palace, within the four walls. He had bouts of fear. He had grown roots so thick and immense that an unbridled fear took over and whispered into his ear. As softly and ominous as storm clouds rumbling across the horizon telling him if he cut those roots that held him so firmly in place he would die. If he left the palace he would die.

Die. Would he die? No. The sun god told him to look for a man named Jirayia who would be able to translate the history textbook. He wanted to ascend. He was starving faithful. He’d prove himself to the sun god. He had a purpose. A goal. There were answers within this book and if it meant biting into the apple and being cast away from the garden so be it. He didn’t serve the kingdom, he didn’t serve the emperor, he served the sun god.

He had the desire and courage to disappear. The only thing he needed was a plan. A plan that included when and how. The ‘when’ was surprisingly easy. He wanted to do it before the spring equinox. He remembered when the sun god came to him when he was at the manor and told him the truth about the high priest and the priest’s seed. How sick and vile the high priest had become. The orgia was no different. He began to question it. Did it serve any real function? Doubt had taken hold.

He had been hypervigilant since the moment he woke up following the sleep potion, and his senses only sharpened.

Naruto’s color had returned. The bags under his eyes vanished. He looked human again. His face was full and lively. His hair washed, brushed, and shined. He curled a lock of sunflower yellow hair around his index finger as he entered the concubine quarters. A tucked-away section of the palace that was as protected as a secret. He remembered this section was empty when Emperor Fugaku reigned. It’s purpose was resurrected with emperor Itachi. When Naruto was a child bride, emperor Itachi needed a sexual release so he appointed concubines.

As Naruto walked through the corridor the itch in the back of his mind came to fruition.

After he was poisoned the night of the winter solstice. His mother had confessed to giving him the wild yam. There was another poison that was slipped to him that night. One that caused his skin to break out into a red, itchy, rash that lasted for days. He had suspected it came from within the palace and the only ones with the motive of doing such a thing were the concubines: Izumi and Kara.

He knocked on Izumi’s door.

“You may enter.” Izumi’s sultry voice called out, expecting him.

Her voice was deep and commanding and Naruto swallowed. He did not know why Izumi had written him a note to visit her. He wondered if it had to do with emperor Itachi falling ill. There were so many rumors surrounding why emperor Itachi fell ill going around the palace. It was impossible to keep up. Rumors ranged from a springtime cold to being poisoned to even impotency. When Naruto woke up following the sleeping potion, Shisui was there to tell him that the emperor had fallen ill, and he was in seclusion. It was the best thing Naruto heard and couldn’t help but burst out laughing in pure delight. A few days following the news he received a handwritten letter from concubine Izumi, delivered by a twelve year old maidservant, requesting he visit post haste.

It appeared all the little girl maidservants were under Izumi’s control, which led Naruto to believe that it was concubine Izumi who instructed the twelve year old maidservant to deliver the poisoned aphrodisiac drink the night of the winter solstice. In doing so Izumi had signed her death warrant. Her blood seeping across the floorboards, her pleading eyes begging him to save her, and her screams still haunted him.

It was the perfect crime. Get a defenseless, innocent, and becoming little girl to deliver a poisoned drink from the emperor. The emperor slew her, not because Naruto was poisoned, but because the emperor didn’t believe Naruto drank the aphrodisiac. With her death, she couldn’t tell anybody what really happened. That when she was walking to the emperor’s bedchamber where the empress was waiting, she was intercepted by concubine Izumi. All the children maidservants looked up to concubine Izumi as she treated them well and gave them sweets and small presents. She had trusted Izumi and when Izumi switched the drinks telling her the drink she had was even better and the emperor would be so pleased with her that he would reward her handsomely. She had no reason to doubt Izumi.

It was impressive.

Naruto entered the room. It was the first time he had entered either concubine’s room. He immediately noticed how heavily decorated everything was; it made his room look like a guest room in comparison. It was so luxurious an outsider may speculate it was Izumi who was the empress and Naruto a concubine.

Concubine Izumi was kneeling on a futon in front of a roaring fire. There were decorative, bright, pillows all around her. In front of her was a small decorative table that had ten different side dishes, a tea kettle, and matching tea cups.

“Thank you, empress, for joining me for a late afternoon snack.” Concubine Izumi spoke as Naruto hesitantly sat down at the small table. He watched as she poured him a cup of tea and placed it in front of him. “I wanted to meet with you, and tell you the good news myself, before you heard the rumors.”

Her eyes outlined in black were alluring. They were the color of buckwheat honey. Her eyes were protruding and wide as they bore deep into Naruto. Her face was made up and she looked beautiful. She looked ageless as if she were permanently frozen in time. He could smell her sweet floral perfume. She watched him unblinking as if not wanting to miss anything.

Naruto glanced down at the tea cup in front of him. His stomach dropped. His mouth twisted downwards and he wanted to ask: are you kidding? He wasn’t going to drink or eat anything she offered him. Fool him once shame on her...fool him twice shame on him. He had a look of disgust as he brought his eyes up to meet hers. She looked unperturbed.

“Unless...you already did hear the rumors about me?” Izumi continued with a tease.

Naruto shook his head. “I do not pay attention to the happenings of the concubines.” As long as the concubines did their job and satisfied the neverending sexual appetite of the emperor. He left them alone.

“Well.” Concubine Izumi extended the letters of the word as if she were playing a flute. She held a tea cup with her soft fingers and took a sip as if to prove it wasn’t poisoned. Her skin was as fair, and white, like a spring onion. “I’m pregnant.”

Naruto had come back to life. He straightened up. “You are?!” He didn’t hide his excitement. His eyes lit up. His mouth dropped then quickly formed into a smile.

“Yes! If you haven’t birthed an heir by the time I give birth your marriage will be nullified!” Concubine Izumi declared haughty. She had mistook his genuine happiness for mockery. She placed a hand on the small of her belly. “My child will be heir to the throne!”

He remembered the high priest’s request. Demanding Naruto divorce the emperor in exchange for him remaining a contender for being the next high priest alongside Konohamaru. He knew the high priest wanted the emperor to lock him up in prison or kill him. As long as Naruto was no longer in the picture the high priest didn’t care what happened to him. He didn’t have to think about it any longer.

“Congratulations!” Naruto reached over and grabbed concubine Izumi’s hand and sandwiched it between both of his. He shook her hand. “I’m so happy!”

“Let...go of me!” Concubine Izumi cried out and jerked her hand back. “Are you mocking me? Are you pregnant?” She eyed his stomach. There was fear in her voice. Naruto was as flat as a board.

“No.” Naruto answered with a closed mouth smile.

“See! It’s impossible for you to birth a child before me. I win! Do you hear that...I win!”

“You are mistaken. I was never in the race.”

“What do you mean?” Her smile vanished and her eyes darkened.

“It is impossible for me to become pregnant.” Naruto rolled his neck and moved his shoulders up and down. He exhaled loudly. “You are mistaken. I have never loved the emperor. You becoming pregnant saves me from having to divorce him myself.”

“I knew it...you are a monster, power-hungry, bitch! You never cared about emperor Itachi.” Concubine Izumi cried out. Her face turned pink and rage slowly overtook her doll-like features. Her bottom lip that shined like lacquer trembled as she pointed a finger at him. “When I give birth I’ll throw you out of the palace myself! No. I’ll burn you at the stake myself! How dare you use your temple magic to bewitch the emperor!” Izumi made attempts at slapping Naruto across the face.

“You dare to threaten me?” Naruto’s eyes flashed as he grabbed hold of Izumi’s wrist and stopped her. His grip tightened on her wrist. The rage and darkness that had overtaken Izumi’s face began to creep onto Naruto’s. “You dare to raise your filthy hands at me, and strike me?”

He had been drilled with the social hierarchy from the time he could remember and comprehend. It was why when he first met the crown prince he treated him like an equal. There were those within the holy temple that outranked him, and he had to follow their orders. But a concubine whose social status was lower than him? A concubine who had poisoned him? Tried to threaten him? Tried to strike him? He nearly lost it. That darkness he felt when he thought of self-annihilation teetered on homicidal rage. He could hear the twelve year old maidservant screaming for help.

“If I remember correctly it was you who poisoned me. Do you think I didn’t know?” Naruto’s voice was icy. His voice was low. Deep. Commanding. “With the way the emperor is infatuated with me, do you really think if I told him it was you and concubine Kara that you would be alive right now? No. You’d be dead. Your flesh would have been picked clean off the bone by starving pigs.”

“You-you-you don’t scare me! I’m pregnant...this child secures my spot next to emperor Itachi! You can’t touch me!” Concubine Izumi’s voice shook despite her words. Her face webbed with fear. She tried pulling her hand back from Naruto’s iron tight grip but ended up floundering like a fish on deck as Naruto firmly held her.

“It doesn’t matter. When our marriage is annulled and you are appointed as empress do you really think you will outrank me? It doesn’t matter if you’re dressed in the finest fabrics, wearing all the gold and jewels in the kingdom. With the crown on your head. You’ll always be that concubine who poisoned me. Your life is insignificant. The only life precious and meaningful is that child you’re carrying. Who would really care if an accident befalls you upon giving birth?”

“Are you...are you threatening me?” All the blood in her head rushed out.

“Maybe.” Naruto’s face was as cold and rigid as a block of marble. His eyes the color of the mariana trench. “You know the saying. An eye for an eye.” The corners of his lips jerked upwards. Naruto let go of her wrist and she recoiled it close to her chest. She looked as if she had just been slapped.

“B-b-but you said you don’t want to be married to the emperor. How. How can your marriage be annulled if I’m dead?” Concubine Izumi was smarter than he anticipated. Even if she was a concubine now. She was still an Uchiha. She received an education. She was able to read and write. Scheme and connive. With a beautiful face. How unfair.

“Why don’t you make the emperor fall in love with you? I’ve always thought you suited the emperor more than concubine Kara. Now if you would excuse me. I have more important matters to attend to. I wish you happiness and health throughout your pregnancy. Farwell, concubine Izumi.”

*****

With the emperor in seclusion it meant that Naruto had free range of the palace without fear of having to explain himself if he ran into the emperor, or having the emperor drag him off into a bedroom, or empty room to have his way. Naruto was still working on the ‘how’ part of his run away plan. He wanted to know when the next shipment of goods would be delivered to the palace. The war in the north had interfered with the constant flux of goods being delivered, and now they were lucky if they received two shipments a month.

Naruto decided to find Shisui.

The captain of the guard who oversaw security and trades. He would know when the next shipment would be arriving. They were long overdue for a shipment; it was only a matter of days before the next shipment, and hopefully it occurred before the spring equinox. His best chance of escaping was during the pandemonium of the arrival of the shipment. The palace gates were opened and a hundred caravans carrying goods and supplies alongside a traveling market would come streaming in. It was a time when security was heightened but attention was diverted elsewhere. Everyone would be busy overseeing security, and checking and processing items.

It was the perfect time to slip out. The perfect time to disappear.

He found Shisui slumped over his desk looking at ink-blotted letters. Shisui’s eyes immediately shifted up when Naruto entered the room. From his expression Naruto guessed the letters were reports from the warfront. He glanced at the letter trying to see who it was from.

“What do you want?” Shisui barked and covered the letter he was reading.

“You’re allowed to harass me when I’m at the temple whenever you want. But I can’t harass you when you’re working?” Naruto mocked. He rolled his eyes and folded his arms shifting his weight to one foot.

“Again. What do you want, empress?”

“When is the next shipment coming?” Naruto asked as he rolled his eyes.

“Why?” Shisui’s eyes slitted with suspicion.

“There is a merchant who carries foriegn confectionary. I wanted to purchase bonbons as a gift for the emperor.”

“You’re lying.” Shisui snapped. He straightened up and gave his undivided attention to Naruto. It sent a chill down his back. Naruto always knew that Shisui was smarter than the emperor. He was the man behind the curtain. He should have come up with a better reason for wanting to know.

“I’m not allowed to feel some sort of way with concubine Izumi pregnancy? I can’t lose myself walking around the night market?” Naruto challenged with disdain. It appeared that Naruto was the first person to know.

Shisui’s eyes widened and constricted, the corners of his mouth twitched, and his color paled. His eyebrows slowly furrowed. A look of utter shock. He really hadn’t known.

“Izumi is pregnant?” Shisui clarified. Naruto nodded his head.

“You know the laws. It’s not like I’m going to produce an heir. Emperor Itachi will have no choice but to take her as a wife and our marriage will be annulled.” Naruto spoke with a smile. He felt giddy. The more he said these words the more excited he felt as if he were becoming weightless and would float up to the sky.

“If the emperor doesn’t kill her before she gives birth.” Shisui’s voice sliced through Naruto. His words slapped the smile from his mouth and he became distraught. It felt like his ticket was shredded before him and he was shackled back to the emperor.

“He...wouldn’t!” Naruto cried out.

“What are you scheming? You asked me what the emperor would do if you asked for a divorce. I gave you the answer. Do you really think he cares about concubine Izumi and the pregnancy? If anyone gets in between you and him he’ll kill them.” Shisui forced the castor oil down Naruto’s throat. Another dose of harsh medicine. He found his throat closing up. His breathing became difficult as his lungs stopped cooperating. The room felt like it was shrinking. His vision darkened and blurred. His knees became weak.

“No! No! No! Nooo!” Naruto cried out. He felt like he was on the cusp of crying. He stumbled and was forced to slam his hands down on Shisui’s desk to support his weight.

“Yes.” Shisui corrected.

Naruto shoved whatever his hands touched, books, letters, quills, ink bottles, maps to the floor. He screamed loudly. He slammed his hands back down on Shisui’s desk. Naruto looked down at his feet. His fingers gripped the edges of Shisui’s desk. He tried to compose himself. He pushed back those emotions that threatened to tear him to shreds. He exhaled and looked up.

A look of annoyance was etched on Shisui’s face as he looked at the spilled contents of his desk littering the floor. He didn’t say anything and shifted his eyes to focus on Naruto.

“When is the next shipment?” Naruto asked in an even voice.

“You still want to go to that merchant with the foreign confectionery?” Shisui asked again. He didn’t believe Naruto. His mind was clouded with doubt. Naruto nodded his head. He played along.

“If you’re asking if I still want to go to the night market.” Naruto answered. He continued locking eyes with Shisui. “Then the answer is yes. When is it?”

“In two days.” Shisui answered. “Who's the merchant?”

“Huh?”

“Why is this merchant so important to you?”

“He’s not. I just want to…” Naruto trailed off. He challenged Shisui. “Are you going to kill him?”

“Anyone who gets between you and the emperor will all meet the same end. Just remember that, Naruto.” Shisui warned him again, and Naruto didn’t listen.

Naruto didn’t entertain Shisui any further. He turned on his heels and left. He felt his cheeks burning. His blood boiled and ached as it rushed throughout his body. His stomach twisted. He felt sweaty. Dizzy. His mind was full of thoughts but he couldn’t discern one thought from another. They were incoherent and muddled together like spilled tea across a tablecloth. He stumbled down the corridor forcing himself to breathe. He tried calming himself down. He was going to run away. He didn’t have time to think about anything else.

*****

“Why are you back?” The high priest asked upon seeing Naruto in the shrine.

The high priest’s skin was leathery. He had grown older. There were wrinkles on his forehead. Crow’s feet on each eye. Thick lines around his mouth. His eyes were two black beads floating in puddles. The last time he saw the priest he was choking him, only stopping when Shisui dumped a bucket of water on him. The high priest before him was calm.

Naruto remained wordless. It wasn’t time for him to speak yet.

“I told you not to return unless you’ve divorced the emperor. So tell me, Naruto. Have you divorced the emperor?”

“Concubine Izumi is pregnant. My marriage will be annulled when she gives birth.” Naruto answered. “It’s better than a divorce. It’ll be like it never happened. You cannot expect me to wait nine months before returning to the sun temple. I serve the sun god.”

The high priest pursed his lips together. They cracked and formed a thin line. The chilliness of the shrine had penetrated Naruto. He shivered. Winter still clung to the insides of the shrine despite the snow having already melted outside. There were hundreds of candles lit up around the room. It cast the room in a mixture of light and shadows. The high priest was dressed in his robes, his beady black eyes began to take Naruto in from top to bottom. Slowly as if carefully inspecting every inch of his body.

“Then you’ll be participating in the orgia?” The high priest asked with a crude smile. He licked his lips in anticipation.

“Yes. If you will allow me to return to the temple.” Naruto lied. He wasn’t. He was going to run away in two days. The orgia was in three days. The high priest nodded his head.

“Excellent.” The high priest’s voice was oil. It made Naruto’s skin crawl. “I can’t wait to hold you like I’ve always wanted to hold you. You may go.”

*****

Naruto was allowed back in the temple. He left wordlessly. Only breathing when he walked through the dormitory. He began doing his rounds. He was counting every child. He was making sure every temple child was accounted for and none were missing.

“Naruto!” Hinata’s voice filtered through the air. He turned to see her rushing towards him. “You’re...you’re here. The high priest told us you weren’t allowed back unless you were divorced from the emperor.”

“I have just come from speaking with the high priest. Concubine Izumi is pregnant. My marriage will be annulled when she gives birth. I am permitted back in the temple.” Naruto was going to cling to this for as long as he was able to. He didn’t have time, or energy, to waste on what the emperor would or wouldn’t do when it came to Izumi and the baby. It didn’t matter Naruto would be gone before anything became of it.

“I’m so happy for you!” Hinata hugged Naruto. He allowed this form of affection. Hinata’s hair was brushed and tied back with a white ribbon. Her face looked paler than usual. Her face was thinner.

“Are all the children accounted for?” Naruto asked. Hinata understood the real meaning behind his words.

“Mhm. They’re all safe.” Hinata nodded her head and pulled away. Her eyes darted around the dormitory’s common room. The children present were engrossed in conversation. Her eyes traveled to each child to make sure nobody was secretly listening. Whatever she was about to tell him she decided this wasn’t a safe spot to divulge the information.

Hinata grabbed Naruto’s hand and pulled him down a narrow hallway. Whatever she wanted to tell him was urgent. Naruto followed without hesitation or question. They came to the end of the empty hallway. There was a small octagon window that overlooked the courtyard below.

“It’s about Konohamaru.” Hinata’s voice was barely audible. Her voice was serious as if she were about to deliver bad news.

“What about him?” Naruto spoke impatiently. He could feel anxiety welling up inside like a bucket about to overflow.

“The high priest is trying to make Konohamaru give his seed to one of the temple children.”

Naruto latched onto Hinata’s arm. His grip was tight and he jerked Hinata towards him. All the blood in his body rushed to his face. He struggled to talk as emotion choked him.

“Has he done it?” Naruto asked, his voice cracked. His eyes became bloodshot and protruded from their sockets. All the blueness of his eyes drained out, and dark endless holes took its place.

It was the cycle.

The lie that was being transmitted from one generation to the other. Konohamaru was of Senju blood. His bloodright was to ascend as holy priest but that wasn’t the prophecy. Naruto was prophesied to ascend. Naruto, not Senju blood. The high priest hasn’t stopped hurting children, and he was going to force Konohamaru to continue the tradition.

“No! He hasn't yet...but…” Hinata’s voice trailed off and Naruto filled in the blanks. It was only a matter of time. Naruto immediately let go of Hinata’s arm and pulled away until his back hit the wall of the narrow corridor. His heart raced painfully in his chest. That phrase ‘only a matter of time’ circled in his head to the beat of ring-around-the-rosie and it was only a matter of time before they all fell down.

He had a strange through disturb him. He thought about killing Konohamaru. It would be for the greater good. Kill him, before a temple child is hurt. Hurt like they were all hurt when they were temple children. He couldn’t do anything to the high priest...but Konohamaru...he could kill him. He could do it. It wouldn’t be hard.

“Naruto? Is something wrong?” Hinata reached out and touched Naruto’s cheek.

“Don’t.” Naruto hissed. He reeled his head to the side and away from her touch. He didn’t want to be touched right now. By anyone. He was sensitive.

His breath caught in the back of his throat. He felt sick. His skin felt dirty like he was covered in raw sewage. His hair felt greasy and unwashed. He had a bad taste in his mouth. He was an adult, eighteen, but he still felt that hurt child inside him. He sucked in a deep breath that filled the tips of his lungs. He closed his eyes. He needed to suppress everything. More. He was taught to suppress his emotions and perform with a smile. Deeper, shove all those bad memories and emotions down. Now wasn’t the time. He will kill Konohamaru later.

He opened his eyes and smiled warmly at Hinata.

“I’m okay. I’m here. Let’s pray to the sun god together in the room of devotion.” Naruto suggested his smile didn’t leave his lips. Hinata nodded in agreement. They left together.

*****

It was the witching hour and nearing the darkest time of the night. Naruto moved through the holy temple as quietly and swiftly as darkness itself. He turned the handle of one of the doors. He was slow and methodical. He pushed the door open and slipped in. He closed the door behind him. Once inside he turned the oil lantern on. A faint orange light grew and flickered across the walls, ceiling, and floor.

Naruto knelt beside the cot and brushed his fingers against Konohamaru’s face. He was in a deep sleep and he didn’t feel Naruto. His fingers trailed across his neck. His fingers pressed against his carotid pulse. He could feel Konohamaru’s beating pulse against his fingertips.

He was going to kill Konohamaru.

He wrapped his fingers around his throat. He could feel the bumps of the esophagus against his thumbs. He thought back to the crown prince and when he found out what the cardinal did to him. The crown prince slaughtered everyone involved. Tenten because she tricked and lured him away from the crown prince. The chief because he delivered him to the church, and the cardinal for violating him.

When the crown prince sliced through the cardinal he was with Konohamaru in the shrine. Konohamaru’s eyes were squeezed shut. The only noise he heard was something slicing through the air and breaking the sound barrier. One minute the cardinal’s hands and tongue were on his body and the next. He felt a liquid warmness covering him and when he opened his eyes he saw the cardinal’s decapitated head falling through the air. He saw blood spilling out of the neck as the cardinal’s body fell backwards. Naked, and petrified, Konohamaru screamed bloody murder as he ran through the holy temple.

Naruto lied when he was questioned. He said he was with the crown prince all night.

Naruto pushed down harder and squeezed his fingers around Konohamaru’s neck. His nails digging into the flesh. His fingers on the pressure points on either side of the esophagus. He choked Konohamaru with all his might. He wondered how long he needed to squeeze before he killed him. He started counting the seconds inside his head.

Ten...eleven...twelve...thirteen...

He watched as Konohamaru’s bloodshot eyes opened. He had such dark eyes it was nearly impossible to tell they were actually blue. They shroud in darkness until enough light illuminated the blue. His hands went immediately to Naruto’s. He was coughing and sputtering and Naruto refused to let go. He climbed on top of Konohamaru, straddled him, and continued to choke him. This time using his body weight to crush his neck, and sitting against his diaphragm.

“N-naruto?” Konohamaru choked out as his bloodshot eyes locked to Naruto’s. He tried bucking and pushing Naruto off. His face turned the color of a tomato and looked like it was about to pop. “Ple...ase...” Konohamaru’s nails dug into Naruto’s flesh. Without warning Naruto let go. He withdrew his hands. He continued to sit on Konohamaru’s stomach, his legs straddling his chest.

“What...are...you...doing?” Konohamaru coughed and gasped between each word as he tried catching his breath. His breathing came out haggard and raw. His voice hoarse and rough.

“Choking you.” Naruto answered and climbed off. He crouched on the floor alongside Konohamaru’s cot.

Konohamaru’s back slammed against the wall and he looked down at him. Konohamaru’s hair was unruly. He needed a haircut. It was overgrown and messy and locks of hair fell across his face.

“Why?” Konohamaru asked. His fingers wrapped protectively around his neck. Naruto stared at him. Why? He wanted to kill him. For a fraction of a second he thought about it...about actually choking him to death. It was a fleeting moment. Why? So he didn’t hurt a temple child.

“I wanted to talk to you. So I had to wake you up.” Naruto answered casually.

“By...choking me?!”

“Yea.” Naruto nodded his head with a smile. “I had a vision. The sun god came to me.”

“...” Konohamaru remained quiet. He listened to Naruto. Unconsciously leaning closer to Naruto as Naruto continued to explain.

“The first time I was shown a history textbook. I found the book in the library. The book was written in a dead language. I can’t read it. The second time I was told to look for a man named Jiraiya who would be able to translate.”

“Why did the sun god show you this?”

“I don’t know. The answer resides in the textbook. I’m going to run away tomorrow. I need to find Jiraiya. I cannot refuse the sun god. If this is what I’m meant to do...I’m doing it.”

“What...why...why were you the only one that was shown this?” Konohamaru asked desperately. “I’m...I’m Senju!” Konohamaru sounded like he swallowed nails.

“Mhm. I was prophesied to ascend as high priest. It’s only natural that I receive these visions.” Naruto nodded his head. He spoke clearly, and confidently. “I’ve come here to ask you if you want to come with me, to run away with me, while I search for Jiraiya.”

“Ey?” Konohamaru shook his head and touched his own face as if to discern if he was sleeping or if this was reality.

“This is real. I told you I was going to keep it fair from the beginning. I’m going to leave tomorrow. Are you coming with me?”

“You’re leaving so soon? Why?”

“It’s the only time I can escape from the palace.” Naruto answered. His voice was sharp. “And...I want to leave before the orgia.”

Konohamaru paled at these words. He became silent. The words Naruto spoke began to sink in as he began to take everything into consideration. He knew Konohamaru didn’t want to do it either.

The truth was it had nothing to do with keeping it a fair competition. He didn’t trust Konohamaru. He was weak-willed. He would give in to the high priest’s demands if Naruto left him here. There were large gaping pieces missing within Konohamaru, and those parts were temporarily filled by the high priest. He had spent years being neglected by his own father and only recently was he able to openly acknowledge his father in public.

Naruto wanted to hate Konohamaru. He wanted to kill him. When it came down to it.

Naruto didn’t know if he could execute someone...yet. He continued to stare, unblinking, at Konohamaru. He was swallowed up in shadows and Naruto was afraid if he blinked Konohamaru was going to be completely digested by the darkness. The reason he didn’t continue to choke Konohamaru was because of the bond of being temple children. It held him back. Allowed him to give Konohamaru another chance. He pitied him. Because. Konohamaru didn’t poison Naruto. He was given the orders and couldn’t follow through. The high priest gave Konohamaru the orders of giving a temple child his seed and he couldn’t follow through.

The way he saw it he and Konohamaru were even.

There was hope and if he wanted to save Konohamaru he needed to kidnap him and run away with him. If he needed to lie to do it...so be it.

“I’ll go...I’ll go with you!” Konohamaru agreed hoarsely. “I’ll go!” His voice hinged on desperation.

Naruto smiled. He expected to coax and coddle Konohamaru a little more for him to agree. Naruto could see those gaping holes within Konohamaru. If he reached out he could put his whole hand through one of those holes. Then again Konohamaru didn’t just need attention to fill those holes. He had a new purpose in life. To ascend as high priest, and if Naruto was going to play fair, tit-for-tat, Konohamaru was going to play fair.

“I’m so happy to hear that…” Naruto stood up. He lifted up a knee, rested it on the cot, and leaned over. The cot was small and lumpy; barely enough room for one person. He reached out and rested his hands on Konohamaru’s shoulders and balanced himself as he whispered the escape plan into his ear.

*****

Naruto was sitting at the table within his bedchambers of the palace. The textbook was left on the mantle above the fireplace along with six other books from the library. He was dumping loose leaf tea into a strainer and seeping the strainer in a kettle of warm water. Just as he was putting the lid back on the teapot there was an urgent knock at the door. By the sheer force it rattled the door on its hinges. He turned to see his door being flung open and Shisui standing there. He was sweaty and distraught.

“Leave me alone.” Naruto barked as he placed the lid back on.

“Emperor Itachi is summoning you.” Shisui announced.

“...” Naruto swallowed painfully. He turned his head to look at Shisui. His stomach dropped. “Why? He’s still in seclusion!”

“He found out about concubine Izumi’s pregnancy.” Shisui walked over and grabbed Naruto’s wrist. “Either you come willingly, or I’ll drag you.”

No. This was going to ruin his whole plan. Shisui jerked Naruto up as if he were a rag doll, and pulled him after. His shoulder stung as Naruto attempted to resist but gave up rather quickly. It was no use. An order from the emperor was absolute. Shisui’s hand remained so tight on Naruto’s wrist it began leaving a red mark in the shape of his finger. Naruto gritted his teeth and followed Shisui into the throne room which doubled as a meeting room for the emperor.

The throne was made from the tusk of an extinct elephant. The breed of elephant was so fierce and enormous they were often used in war. A whole herd could topple walls and destroy whole cities within minutes. They went extinct around five hundred years ago during the fall of Madara’s son from accumulation of war and poachers. Ivory from the ancient elephant was more valuable than gold.

The sheer size of the throne was only a fraction of the actual size of the tusk, and emperor Itachi sat upon it. He didn’t look any different than the last time Naruto laid eyes on him. He expected the emperor to be sickly, thin, and pallid. He remained regal, poised, and cold. However. It wasn’t where Naruto’s eyes were drawn to...it was concubine Izumi and concubine Kara kneeling on the floor, both wailing uncontrollably. Their makeup smearing and falling off their face with the tears and their snot.

“Empress Naruto...welcome.” Emperor Itachi’s voice boomed over their wails. Naruto felt utterly frightened. “I have been speaking to concubine Izumi and Kara and they have been filling my head with something and I wanted to ask you myself if it’s true.”

On either side of the concubines were members of the royal guard. They were wearing armor and had their swords in their hands. Each one had a serious, hardened, expression on their face ready for bloodshed. Their eyes remained focused on the two women.

“It’s true, your highness!” Concubine Izumi blatted like a baby goat. “Everything I told you is true!”

Naruto felt a cold sweat covering him. He held his breath and focused his eyes on the emperor. He wanted to remain planted where he was but Shisui shoved him forward.

“Is it true you want to divorce me?” The emperor asked Naruto coldly.

Naruto saw it happen as if in slow motion. The sanity leaving the emperor as if his spirit was called back to the heavens. His eyes were void of any light. His long inky black hair was pulled back into a ponytail strands of hair spilled down his back. His sharp eyes focused on Naruto.

“It is the law, emperor. If a concubine gives birth before the empress...the marriage will be nullified.” Naruto spoke as if he were hypnotized. He remembered during his lessons when he was a child being called on to answer a question and if he got the question wrong he was whipped with a cord. He was that child again standing before the cardinal.

Emperor Itachi started laughing. It was void of any humanity. It was empty. Like an endless hole that fell through the center of the earth and dumped into the river styx. A laugh that caused Naruto to cramp. He watched as the emperor stood up.

“Is that why you wanted me to sleep with the concubines?” The emperor asked as he walked closer towards Naruto. “You wanted one of them to become pregnant so you can leave me?”

“No.” The blood in Naruto’s face drained. It was the truth. Naruto wasn’t thinking about babies, children, heirs to the thrones. He couldn’t produce a baby. It was the furthest thing from his mind. He had only wanted to divert the emperor’s attention.

“It was my mistake to listen to you. I thought if I did as you wanted. If I backed off a little that you would love me. But look at you. You’ve been scheming to leave me this whole time!” The emperor grabbed both of Naruto’s shoulders and shook him violently. He felt his head snapping back and forth. “Tell me you love me!”

“I...love you!” Naruto cried out. The emperor shoved him back. The force caused Naruto to lose his footing and he fell down landing on his tailbone.

“LIAR!” The emperor screamed. “I know. You feel threatened by the concubines. I’ll get rid of them right now!” The emperor turned his back to Naruto and approached the concubines. Naruto watched as two royal guard members grabbed concubine Izumi by the arms, and two royal guard members grabbed concubine Kara by the arms.

“No!” Naruto cried. “You need an heir to the throne!”

“An heir you say?” The emperor mocked. He stopped walking.

“Yes...think about it...I can’t….I can’t give that to you!” Naruto’s eyes filled with tears. “You need an heir!”

“Please emperor...let me give birth first! I want to give birth to your child! I’ve loved you since we were children! I want to hold you everyday. I want to sleep with you everyday! I would do anything for you! I love you! Please!” Concubine Izumi was hysterical. She was hyperventilating and squirming like a worm trying to break free.

“You’ll do anything for me? Then hurry up and die.” The emperor spoke coldly. He raised his hand and within seconds the two royal guards that held her firmly in place raised their swords. One slid through her neck. The sharpened blade was clean as it entered and became slick with blood as it punctured through her esophagus and sliced her carotid artery. The other sword went through her stomach; it aimed upwards through her ribcage and pierced her heart.

“I’ve...always...loved…” Izumi coughed up blood. Her eyes darkened. The swords were pulled from her body and she slumped forwards. Her body thumped against the floor face first. Her forehead striking the tiles. Blood began running from her body.

“An heir you say?” Emperor Itachi continued to speak loudly. He kicked Izumi over so that she rolled to her back. He pointed to Izumi’s belly and shouted. “Slice her open. Pull the heir from her body!”

The two guards then did as they were commanded. Their swords sliced open the kimono that Izumi was wearing. Her white stomach soaked in blood was revealed. They crudely performed an autopsy. The blades that could slice through bones easily sliced open her stomach. One of the guards pulled out a blood red organ sack. There was an incision through the sack and a mass of clumped blood cells were revealed.

“Her womb, emperor.” The guard held the bloody sack up and the emperor walked over and picked it up. He turned to Naruto and walked towards him. Each step felt like the weight of an elephant walking. Naruto thought the whole room was shaking with the weight of each step, but it wasn’t, the one shaking was Naruto.

The emperor dumped the sack on the floor in front of Naruto. “Look. My heir.” Naruto’s eyes refused to look down.

Concubine Kara’s scream penetrated the throne room. She sounded like a wounded elephant being stuck with hundreds of thousands of spears. Two swords pierced her body and she fell quiet by the time her body hit the floor. The emperor started laughing.

The emperor had gone mad again. Naruto couldn’t stop trembling. He couldn’t tear his eyes from the sight of the two dead women bleeding out in the throne room. How petrified he felt. His pupils were so constricted they were almost nonexistent. His breath was so shallow he was on the cusp of fainting.

“You are forbidden to leave this palace again.” The emperor began speaking. “You belong to me forever.”

The emperor crouched in front of Naruto. The emperor’s bloody hands grabbed either side of Naruto’s face. His fingers caressed Naruto on the cheek. He could feel the warm blood being smeared across. His fingers were cold, yet the blood was so warm, it sent shivers through his body.

“Yes.” Naruto spoke. He covered the emperor’s hand that rested on his cheek with his own. He held his hand in place and broke out into a smile. He nodded his head in agreement. “I do. I do belong to you. Thank you...I was jealous of them. I was jealous of them and I thought you didn’t love me anymore...I wanted to divorce you because I didn’t want to share you with anyone!”

The emperor’s eyes lit up and humanity began to come back into his body. Naruto could feel the blood on his hands. This time it wasn’t figuratively. It was reality.

“I have just made tea in my bedchambers just as Shisui fetched me. Would you like to join me, emperor? I missed you.” Naruto’s face broke out into a genuine smile.

The words took the emperor by surprise. He blinked as if he misheard. He grabbed Naruto’s wrist, pulling him close, he asked. “What did you say?”

“I said...I missed you.” Naruto said these words deliberately. These were the words emperor Itachi wanted to hear on the night of the winter solstice.

The emperor leaned over and kissed Naruto. His mouth was hungry. It felt like Itachi was eating him alive. Naruto allowed Itachi to deepen the kiss and he answered accordingly. He hated this man and wanted nothing more than to destroy him. He felt absolutely nothing but disgust from the kiss. The emperor’s tongue slinked across his tongue. Naruto leaned into the kiss. He felt the emperor’s teeth biting him on the lip. His canine tooth ripped through his bottom lip and he could taste blood. Naruto pulled back in shock and his fingers went to his lip.

“Emperor. Do you want to join me for some tea?” Naruto asked as he lowered his fingers. He ran his tongue along his bottom lip and licked the blood from the small wound.

“I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” The emperor answered. “Let’s first wash the blood from your face.”

Naruto realized it too late. If he had played along with Itachi from the beginning. Told him the things he wanted to hear. Said the things Izumi said to him from the beginning. He could control Itachi and do whatever he wanted. How utterly stupid he had been all along.

*****

The emperor was sitting in one of the chairs at the table. The temperature outside was colder than usual. There was a hint of frost that nipped at the nose outside. The fire had been maintained, and a maidservant added a new log on while he was gone. His room was warm and still. The only sounds were the crackling of the fire and their steady breathing. Naruto surveyed his room and noticed the history textbook remained undisturbed on the mantle. He poured the tea into two teacups and served the emperor.

He watched as the emperor wrapped his fingers around the tea cup and brought it to his lips.

“How are you feeling, emperor?” Naruto asked sympathetically.

“I am cured.” The emperor answered and took another sip. “There is no need to worry.”

Naruto nodded his head. “I am glad it was nothing serious.”

Naruto’s room faced the stables. If he turned the corner he would come to the courtyard. He could still hear the commotion coming from the courtyard. The shipment had finally arrived and Naruto felt pleased that Shisui had indeed told him the truth. The neighing of horses, the sounds of wheels on carts, people talking and laughing. He glanced at his closed door. There were guards placed outside his bedchambers. He knew there were at least four.

Shisui went outside with the checklist to oversee the shipment merchandise.

“I want us to be together forever. I want you to remain in the palace for a while. I want you by my side.” The emperor spoke and took another sip of tea.

“Mhm. I will do whatever you ask of me.” Naruto nodded his head. “How do you like the tea, emperor?”

“It is very tasty. This is the first time you served me tea.” There was happiness and delight in the emperor’s voice. It sounded youthful. As if he didn’t just murder the mother of his heir, and rip the heir from the stomach in cold blood only moments before.

“It’s an herbal remedy.” Naruto explained. He poured the emperor another cup. “It will replenish your health, rich in nutrients.”

“Are you sick?” The emperor asked. He sounded concerned.

“No. I was just tired. The days are getting longer again and I am relieved we will be entering the seasons of the sun once~”

“I want to sleep with you.” The emperor interrupted. “You’re turning me on.”

“Let’s finish our tea first.” Naruto murmured. He watched as the emperor brought the tea cup to his lips and downed the second glass. He slammed the empty tea cup on the table and stared at Naruto. “Well. If you’re going to be like that...come on.”

Naruto went along with the emperor. He allowed the emperor to strip him, and explore his body with his mouth. He was pushed back onto his bed. He went along until the emperor stopped. The emperor’s eyes rolled in the back of his head and he collapsed. Naruto rolled the emperor off of him. The emperor’s lifeless body rolled to his back on the bed.

Naruto smirked.

The plan was only momentarily derailed. Naruto had to improvise. He intended from the beginning to poison the emperor. He knew the emperor would be after him the moment he escaped.

Before leaving the temple he went to the room where they held the plants and poisons for their rituals. The room of apothecary. He stood before the cabinets and brushed his finger against the glass as he observed each jar. His eyes stopped momentarily on the jar labeled ‘wild yam’. It had been replenished. His eyes pulled away until he landed on a jar that read ‘ancient bloodroot’. He had taken two flowers of the ancient bloodroot. He left the room thinking they really needed to put a lock on the door. It really was too easy, or maybe everyone just inherently trusted Naruto, they’d never suspect he’d do such a thing.

He had planned on making tea from the ancient bloodroot and delivering it to the emperor under the guise of wishing him a speedy recovery. In the end there were just more steps. The emperor remained crippled in silent pain on the bed.

Naruto went to his wardrobe and pulled out a maidservant dress. He pulled it on. He pulled a scarf out and wrapped his head and hair with the white scarf. Then donned a dark, hooded, cloak. He grabbed a small leather sack that was already packed with supplies, and pulled the history textbook from the mantle. He examined the book. His fingers traced the golden lettering. This was his new mission. To find Jiraiya and translate this book. There were answers within this book the sun god wanted him to find out.

He placed the book within the sack when he felt a hand on him.

He was about to scream out when something in his brain overrode that command. Silence! If he screamed, the guards outside his door would rush in. He looked and saw that emperor Itachi had crawled over and grabbed his leg. The emperor wasn’t able to make a noise. In his mouth white foam poured out as if he consumed an entire bar of soap. The side effects of the bloodroot caused temporary muteness, weakness, bone and muscle aches, vomiting, severe tiredness/fatigue/coma, muscle spasms, drooling, and organ failure.

The foam gave way to a thick line of drool as he opened his mouth to scream. No sound came out. His voice box was coated in the bloodroot’s excretion and became dysfunctional. The emperor’s face turned the color of a bruised fruit. He clung to Naruto’s leg and his arms pulled at Naruto’s cloak.

Naruto grabbed hold of his shoulders and leaned over. His voice was low and husky. He whispered into the emperor’s ear two words. “Let go.”

Before kicking the emperor in the face. He kicked and shoved the emperor away. The emperor fell backwards. There was no time to hesitate. He ran to the double doors that lead to his balcony. He was going to jump. The whole time he recalled threatening Shisui that he was going to jump off his balcony if he wasn’t allowed to sleep. He had been thinking of self-annihilation then. He wasn’t in his right mind. He really thought he would die.

Now that he was in his right mind. He knew the height wasn’t enough to kill him, and if he landed right he would be able to walk away with only mild scratches and bruises. The fear Naruto had was of the high priest and exile from the sun god holy temple. Everything else fell by the wayside. Naruto swung a leg over the side of the railing. He felt hands on him, again! It was the emperor. He was pulling him back into the room. He was tenacious. No. He was mad. But in that moment. Naruto was madder.

Naruto pulled the emperor’s hands off from him and kicked the emperor beneath the jaw, sending him flying backwards. He had lost his balance. His body slipped off the railing and he fell back first towards the stone ground below. At the last second before impact Naruto managed to twist his body around. He caught himself with his left hand. He could hear a loud snapping noise upon impact. His forehead slammed into the stone ground and bounced up. His knees smacked the ground. He rolled to his side. He didn’t feel anything. Then rolled back to his knees and stabilized himself with his right hand.

Adrenaline kept him going. He could feel something thick and warm rolling down his face and stinging his eye. He pulled the hood of his cloak up and like a cat who was running from a rabid dog fled.

The night market was nearing completion.

“Naruto!” Konohamaru called. He was wearing a dark cloak and carried a knapsack around his back. His eyes widened as Naruto appeared in the palace stables. “You’re bleeding!”

“Shut up! There’s no time. We have to leave now!” Naruto used the sleeve of his cloak and smeared the blood off his forehead, eye, and cheek. It didn’t stop the blood from flowing from the wound. He grabbed the reins of a chestnut andravida horse. The horse was already saddled. Naruto grabbed the reins and began pulling the horse. The horse was obedient and willfully followed after them.

“Don’t make a scene. Keep your hood up and be quiet.” Naruto commanded as they reached the night market. The night market was nearing completion and the people living within the palace walls and living outside the palace walls began to fill the courtyard to capacity.

“Shouldn’t we hurry?” Konohamaru whispered.

“No. If we run out of here it’s putting a big target on our backs.”

Naruto pulled the scarf across his mouth. His eyes peered through his hood. His blood went cold. He watched as two guardsmen with swords at their hips walked by them. They were chatting loudly about a particular bet with one another with one of them losing and needing to pay up. They weren’t even paying attention and didn’t even notice the horse was one of the palace’s special breds. It was only a matter of seconds before the emperor was going to be found out. The two guardsmen were engrossed in conversation and they walked right by Naruto and Konohamaru.

They left the palace walls and began walking through the main road that led through the city of people that lived outside. The streets were lively with people closing up their own shops and heading towards the palace to look at the goods and treats of the traveling market. The sun was setting. The sky was clear and cloudless. Lanterns were being lit all around. The air was still cold and was only going to get colder. Naruto was hypervigilant. There were less and less guards the further from the palace they walked. The horse remained obedient and followed them.

They reached the outskirts of town when Naruto heard it. The sound of a bell was heard. Loud and clanging. It sent a murder of crows scattering and cawing away. The setting sun caused shadows of the houses to reach out and they resembled tombstones across the grassless ground. Naruto blinked and the shadows remsebled a gravesite threatening to consume both him and Konohamaru.

“Get on the horse.” Naruto commanded.

“What’s going on?” Konohamaru asked. His voice was shaking. Nevertheless. He clumsily began climbing on top of the horse. His movements were shaky and it disturbed the horse who was used to deft, nimble, and seasoned riders.

“I poisoned the emperor.” Naruto answered as he put his left foot into the stirrup. He never rode a horse before. He swung his leg over the saddle and his right foot connected with the right stirrup as if magnetized. His movements were fluid and awed Konohamaru.

“You...you poisoned the emperor?” Konohamaru gasped, coming back to reality. The bell kept ringing ominously. There was a loud noise of commotion coming from behind them towards the palace. Naruto was in front of the saddle and Konohamaru was behind him.

“Hold on to me.” Naruto barked.

He felt Konohamaru wrapping his arms around his waist. Naruto held the reins with both hands. He calculated he could get at least a thirty minute head start. The emperor wouldn’t be able to talk for a while. The physician would be called. The same physician that tended to Naruto when he was poisoned the night of the winter solstice will be tending to the emperor who was poisoned on the eve of the spring equinox. They’d first look for him at the holy temple and night market before coming to the conclusion he was gone.

Naruto used the heels of his shoes and pushed them into the sides of the horse’s ribcage urging the horse to run.

It worked. The horse took off running down the main road that left the city and palace behind. Riding was anything but smooth. It took all of Naruto’s attention to focus on steering the horse, holding the reins of the horse, and not falling off the saddle. Konohamaru was clinging desperately to Naruto.

“Is anyone following us?” Naruto asked. The sound of the horses hooves against the ground and the wind whipping past them drowned out his voice forcing him to repeat the question only louder. They began running on the road. There was a vast space of nothingness, of small hills, that led towards a forest.

“No...I don’t see anyone!” Konohamaru yelled in response.

In Naruto’s mind was a stew of erratic thoughts that clashed together like foods that shouldn’t be mixed. He thought of the repercussions of poisoning the emperor. Death. Once he returned, death awaited him. He would be publicly executed by hanging, burning, or beheading. He thought about the high priest and once he realized that the last of the Senju bloodline, Konohamaru, was missing would become enraged. He would send out his own men to search for Konohamaru and bring him back. He thought about the concubines whose blood ran across the floors of the throne room. How happy he was when he found out concubine Izumi was pregnant and with her giving birth he would finally be free from the emperor, and how quickly that happiness melted into horror.

The two-word phrase that overpowered every single thought in his head was: I’m free.

How none of it mattered because he was on a mission from the sun god. He could feel a warmness in his belly the more he thought about the greater good. The sun god would protect him above anything else.

*****

A day had passed since the escape.

The horse was tied up to a tree and was grazing on the high grass that had grown abundantly around. They went off the mainroad because they heard running water. They filled their canteens and both were laying on their backs catching their breaths. All energy had been sapped from them. Neither could lift a finger.

“Why...is horseback riding...this draining?” Konohamaru asked, breaking up the silence.

Naruto stared at his left wrist. He didn’t know if he broke it, or sprained it, but it had swollen three times its normal size and had turned the color of a bruised peach. He began wrapping his scarf around his wrist. The adrenaline had worn off and he could feel the throbbing pain shooting up and down his hand, wrist, and arm. He could move his fingers but when he did more pain erupted and his eyes watered. He used his teeth to tie a tightened knot. Adding pressure and hiding the grotesque sight helped in alleviating some of the pain. The cut on his forehead stopped bleeding but it stung and pain pulsated in small circles around it.

“Naruto?” Konohamaru asked after Naruto didn’t respond.

“Out of all the things we were taught...why couldn’t we learn horseback riding?” Naruto asked. He closed his eyes. He was sweating. Even though the temperatures were cool he was soaked in a cold sweat. He breathed through his mouth.

“We serve the sun god. We belong in the holy sun temple. We don’t belong on horses. We weren’t built for horseback riding.” Konohamaru exhaled. Naruto could feel the fatigue saturating his speech. “Naruto...about the emperor.” Naruto could hear the frown in his voice.

“I don’t want to talk about it. What’s done is done.” Naruto spoke fiercely and silenced Konohamaru.

“Do you...think we should keep going, and put more distance between us?” Konohamaru anxiously asked.

“I...can’t move…” Naruto admitted.

He wanted to put more distance between him and the palace. He didn’t know if he actually assassinated the emperor or not. He had only ever seen the ancient bloodroot’s effects one time during a hallowed eve festival. He also didn’t know if he was aiming at murdering him or just temporarily hindering and incapacitating the emperor so he could escape.

“Me either.”

“Let’s just rest here for a little bit, get our strength back, then we’ll continue.”

“Mhm.”

Naruto had never slept on the ground before. The ground was uncomfortable. It was uneven and the grass poked through his clothes and scratched him. The ground was just as cold as the air. He wore layers of clothes. A thick maidservant’s uniform. Thick undergarments. Thick socks. A pair of thick, winter shoes. A cloak. He used his knapsack as a pillow. He was so exhausted that upon closing his eyes he was already dreaming.

*****

It was the sound of a whistle. The sound of horses galloping and neighing that woke Naruto up. He opened his eyes and pushed himself upwards. The sound was at a distance, but it was growing nearer. Naruto turned to see Konohamaru had woken up. If Naruto didn’t do anything now they would be captured. Konohamaru stared frighteningly black seemingly at a loss for words, or what to do.

“I’m going to lead them away. I’ll distract them and circle back.” Naruto declared. He threw his knapsack with the history textbook at Konohamaru. “They might not know you’re with me.”

“Naruto…” Konohamaru gasped. “Please, don’t leave me!”

“This is a mission from the sun god! Nothing will happen to me! I’ll be right back!” Naruto whispered. “Just stay down, stay quiet, and stay hidden! I’ll come back!”

Naruto untied the horse and led the horse away by the reins. After several feet Naruto mounted the horse, tightened his hold on the reins and kicked the horse in the ribcage. They began traveling in the opposite direction of Konohamaru and away from the sounds of running water.

“OVER HERE! I SEE THE EMPRESS!” A guardsman hollered.

It worked. Naruto could hear the sounds of horses galloping after him and away from Konohamaru. He moved on pure instinct. The horse Naruto chose was a cavalry horse. A horse meant for fierce battles. The horse Naruto chose at random just so happened to be a very valuable, expensive, thoroughbred. The fastest in their fleet. After a while it appeared the horse leading Naruto and Naruto just allowed it. The horse ran in different directions like a gazelle escaping the grasps of a lioness. Easily manuerving out of the way and zig-zagging through the trees.

Honestly, it was making Naruto dizzy and an unsettling thought occurred to him. How exactly was he going to get back to Konohamaru?

“Naruto!” It was Shisui. He appeared on top of a black horse alongside him. “Please, stop! You can’t escape!”

“Let me go, Shisui!” Naruto cried out. He could feel tears running down his face and blurring his vision.

“You know I can’t do that!” Shisui yelled.

Naruto looked around. He had managed to maneuver and lose everyone else, except Shisui. He should have given Shisui the same ancient bloodroot tea as the emperor. He could hear the high priest’s voice shaming him for failing to follow through with poisoning the crown prince.

The horse broke through a clearing and rushed towards what looked like a cliff. The horse abruptly stopped and jumped back on its hind legs standing vertical to the ground and neighing loudly. The sudden jerk in movement, and Naruto’s injured wrist, caused Naruto to fall backwards. Gravity slammed him to the ground and he rolled out of the way as the horse slammed it’s hooves back on the ground. The horse backed up as Naruto jumped to his feet. The horse then took off running away in the direction they came.

Naruto was left alone with Shisui on the cliff’s edge.

The impact knocked the breath out of him. He watched as Shisui jumped off his horse and cornered him. Naruto began slowly backing up. He felt a throbbing pain in his right shoulder. He never expected to become the personified princess and the pea. How useless his body was. How exhausted he felt.

“Naruto. The emperor is in a coma. He wrote his instructions before passing out. He wants you back alive at all costs.” Shisui explained.

“I’ll be executed either way!” Naruto shrieked.

Naruto looked over his shoulder. The loud rushing sound was a waterfall. It was a gorgeous waterfall that plummeted down into a rapid river. From this angle Naruto was instantly wet from the mist and the water from the waterfall. The horse led them away from the water only to circle back and head towards the running water as if possessed. He wondered if he was near Konohamaru.

“The emperor won’t kill you. He loves you.”

“He’s mad. The emperor is mad! I should have killed him!” Naruto argued. “If I go back. Next time. Next time. I’ll make sure I won’t mess up. I’ll finish the job. I’ll show the sun god I can kill. I’ll kill every single Uchiha myself!” Naruto was growing mad. He started laughing. His body rocked with terrible fits of laughter filled with insanity. A laugh that bellowed out from the back of his throat and sent a shiver down Shisui’s spine.

“Naruto! Please...stop moving!” Shisui stopped moving. His face paled. His pupils become constricted.

Naruto reached the precipice of the cliff. His heels brushed over the edge and hovered above nothingness. “That’s assuming...that’s assuming I’ll go back alive.” Naruto looked over his shoulder down the side of the cliff. It looked to be over one hundred feet until it reached the river. “I’ll really die if I fall from this height...won’t I Shisui?”

“Naruto...I won’t chase you anymore. I’ll lead my men away from you. I’ll take them in the opposite direction. Nobody knows we’re here. It’s just us.” Shisui’s voice was desperate. He was changing up tactics.

“No.” Naruto shook his head. “I’m not going to play this game of cat and mouse with the emperor any longer. You’ll let me go this time...but you’ll keep tracking me. You won’t stop.”

“Naruto, listen! You know me! I’ve helped you before...I helped convince the emperor to use the concubines~”

“They’re dead.” Naruto interrupted. Remembering.

“I helped you leave the palace and fulfill your duties at the holy temple! I never once lied to you. If I say I’ll lead my men in the opposite direction I mean it! Please, just come back. Just come back a few feet and I’ll leave! Please, Naruto!”

“...” Naruto stopped cynically laughing.

His eyes were glossed over. He was transfixed on Shisui. He read into every word he spoke. The way he looked when he spoke, and how he spoke. Shisui had never lied to him. He was always honest. He helped him leave the palace and return to the holy temple. He helped convince the emperor to use the concubines. He had even fetched the physician who gave him a sleeping potion. Shisui never once gave him a reason to doubt him. If he stepped back would Shisui keep his word and leave?

He hesitated.

“The crown prince is coming back.” Shisui continued his negiogation. “The other day when you came into my office I was reading letters from the warfront. The crown prince struck a peace treaty with Kirigakure. The war of the north is officially over. The troops are coming home.”

“You weren’t smiling. You wore a grim expression!” Naruto challenged. He remembered Shisui covering the letter he was reading.

“The letter was from the crown prince. I didn’t want you to see. I knew the emperor wasn’t going to be happy with the terms of the peace treaty, but I knew it was the only way for the war to end!” Shisui spoke with his hands. He was animated. He had the brains and the brawn. “The crown prince will be returning to the palace. Things can go one of two ways.”

“...” Naruto remained quiet.

“You can step away. I’ll get on my horse and lead my men in the opposite direction. I’ll send word that I spotted you, but you managed to evade me. I’ll write back that I am still pursuing you. Or. I’ll return to the palace and notify them that you’re dead. Do you want the crown prince to know you’re dead?”

“Why are you bringing up the crown prince?” Naruto snapped out of his wishful thinking, delusional, puppy dog love thoughts.

“It’s just you and me, Naruto. I know you still care very deeply for the crown prince. Your heart is filled with the crown prince, and there isn’t any room within your heart for the emperor.”

He knew the crown prince was in his heart. There was a piece embedded within him and he wanted nothing more than to rip his own heart out and give it back to the crown prince. He regretted not being able to talk to the crown prince longer. How he wailed and cried when he found out the crown prince had already departed to the north.

“You’re wrong.” Naruto clenched his hands into fists. It caused searing hot pain to pulsate through his left hand and wrist. “I’m...tired. I’m just so tired, Shisui.”

“Naruto…”

“Goodbye.” Naruto smiled. He unclenched his hands. He shifted his weight to his heels. There was nothing below his heels except air. He fell over the precipice. His back sailing through nothingness.

He watched Shisui’s facial expressions. It turned from stupefaction to distubed, terror. Shisui was screaming. He started running with his hand stretched out towards Naruto. He knew that nothing could be done. Shisui would never reach him in time. It was futile. His body plummeted over the cliff and gravity’s hands pulled him down, down, down. The fall was both longer than he anticipated and yet shorter than he imagined. He had little time to comprehend the consequences of his actions yet he had an eternity to look back at his life.

The last thing he thought about before his body hit the surface of the river was Konohamaru. He heard Konohamaru’s voice pleading with him. For a moment he thought he saw Konohamaru at the river’s edge, eyes wide, and screaming.

‘Please, don’t leave me!’ Konohamaru’s voice filtered through the deafening silence.

‘Ah.’ Naruto thought as his body hit the river as if he was hitting, falling through, and shattering glass. Then everything turned dark. ‘I’m sorry.’

Chapter Text

 

The spoils of war. What did it cost?

The smell of blood. The smell of gangrene and necrotizing flesh. The smell of raunch mud mixed with urine. The wasteland smell of rotting eggs. The smell of heaps of piles of burning, bloated, corpses. The black, billowing, smoke blotting out the sun in the sky. The sounds of excruciating moaning of the dying, the wails of the living, the sound of carriages carrying away the wounded. The smell of disease ripping through the camps of soldiers. Dysentery ran rampant and men died with their pants around their ankles.

Destructive fires destroyed acres of farmlands, destroyed whole towns, farm animals dying of sickness, innocent villagers left displaced and fleeing. The water supply was poisoned. The food rations had run out. The rats scurried around and nibbled at the dead and the living alike. The maggots that made homes in festering wounds.

Kirigakure, the crown prince learned first hand why they were nicknamed the bloody mist. Kirigakure did not believe in prisoners of war. The lucky ones were captured and skewered up on spikes in the blistering elements where their flesh was peeled off by birds. Others were tortured in boiling water. Drawn and quartered. Kirigakure soldiers would fire the dismembered body parts right back at them.

If Apophis wasn’t there the crown prince would have gone crazy from what he was witnessing. He was thrust into a leadership position and suddenly became responsible for thousands of men. On the battlefield, the chaotic blood of the god of chaos was unleashed. Although the crown prince was leading the troops, the one dictating and directing and barking out orders was Apophis.

Apophis left into the mountains and resurrected the ancient body of Manda. The snake was over three hundred feet tall and could be controlled by both Apophis and Sasuke. The ancient snake's resurrection, although it wasn't the god of chaos’s basilisk form, was still a remnant of the past. Both Sasuke’s side and Kirigakure were frightened once Manda took the battlefield. Sasuke had no choice but to control the snake to save his men. With the summoning and control of Manda turned the war in Sasuke’s favor.

The cursed seals within Sasuke’s eyes changed, morphed, and more characters were added. Essentially the seals were evolving and with it Sasuke could feel more power surging through his blood. Every time he overexerted his power he would cry blood which became a frightening sight on the battlefield. There were going to be ballads written describing the bloody tears of the cursed prince riding on top of Manda's head who turned the tides of the war and saved his men.

Not only could Sasuke control Manda, but he also had complete control over every snake within a half mile radius. He could close his eyes and feel the snake's life energy and it was as simple as channeling his wants and desires into the snakes and willing the snakes to attack. Once they crossed the Naka river Kirigakure which was situated on wetlands where hundreds of thousands of snakes lived. It was no longer a home field advantage once Sasuke figured this out. It was a surprise attack and Kirigakure was quickly brought to their knees.

It was called the battle of the hundred thousand snakes. They took out seventy-five percent of the Kirigakure army and Sasuke had threatened to unleash his snakes on the civilians of Kirigakure if a treaty wasn’t agreed upon. The devastation of losing seventy-five percent of the army in one night prompted the emperor of Kirigakure to accept the treaty. With the signing of the treaty the crown prince wrote back to emperor Itachi that the war was over, the treaty was signed, and everyone was returning home.

*****

“Why did you banish Manda back to the mountains?” Apophis hissed. He had been sullen and incorrigible since Sasuke made the decision to keep Manda in the mountains and away from civilization.

“I have no choice. I only agreed to summon Manda because we were at war. We are no longer at war and so a war snake like Manda is not needed. He will be happier in the mountains.” Sasuke explained.

“We can use Manda as protection for the south!” Apophis continued his tyrant.

“You can always visit Manda. It isn’t as though he is dead.” Sasuke smiled and patted Apophis on the head. It caused Apophis to reel back and the rattle of his tail shook violently.

“I am not a pet!”

“I know you like it when I scratch you behind the eyes.” Sasuke smiled and leaned over and scratched the scales that were immediately behind his right eye. Apophis closed his eyes and made a shuddering noise as his long tongue shot in and out of his mouth. Thoroughly enjoying himself. At that moment appearing more like a dog than a reptile.

The carriage crew continued down the long road that would lead to the palace and unconsciously Sasuke looked out the window. It was nighttime but he could see the amber glow of the city in the distance. The lights gave off a comforting glow like a lighthouse in the middle of a storm.

“You’re not thinking about that temple brat are you?” Apophis asked as soon as Sasuke stopped scratching him. He followed where Sasuke’s eyes were lingering. “Not only is she married, she’s married to your brother, and belongs to the temple. Do not think the temple will change their mind about you just because you won the war? They are still plotting your demise! The god of chaos is the sun god’s immortal enemy!”

“Not to mention the temple brat admitted she was sent to kill you!” Apophis was growing wilder as he remembered. “By now she’s probably fat with child!” Apophis snickered and an all-knowing glint flickered in his eyes that was overlooked by the crown prince. He started laughing mockingly.

“Naruto is my cherished friend.” Sasuke answered solemnly. “As long as she is happy. Then I will also be happy.”

“I do not want to stay at the palace for long. Just because you might want to talk to that temple brat and smell the putrid stench of the temple doesn’t mean I want to. I want to quickly return home!” Apophis lectured. “Sakura is waiting for us.”

“You only like Sakura for her magical ability of granting wishes.” Sasuke rolled his eyes.

The power needed for Sakura to grant wishes involves consuming the organ of a human. In order for the spell to be broken with his eyes, Sakura needed to consume a heart. She had explained, depending on how complicated the wish determined what organ needed to be consumed. The organs with the most power include the heart, the liver, and the brain.

In the beginning once he realized how dangerous things were for Sakura he had immediately sent her back to the manor in the south, telling her to look after everyone, and requesting she not grant any wishes until he returned. He was frightened for her safety as she had been a slave before he found her and freed her. There were still men on the black market seeking her out.

“I want to be able to have a proper conversation with Naruto. It was good that we made up before I left so that this time we can speak without awkwardness.” Sasuke explained. He had been smiling foolishly the whole time thinking of their reunion. He dared not tell Apophis that over these last three months he had been dreaming of Naruto’s eyes every time he slept and how he found solace in those eyes. How happy he was to actually be able to see her again and reunite with her even if it was brief.

“Just make sure you get the declaration of you being King in the South and please make this~” Apophis trailed off as his head shot out the window of the carriage.

The caravan of carriages had entered the city and with it, a stench of blood could be smelled. There was a large amount of blood needed to make the smell this strong, and Apophis surveyed the grounds. The city was eerily silent as if in mourning. Even though it was nighttime not a soul could be seen or heard. The smell of blood permeated through everything, and as the carriage got closer and closer to the palace walls the smell became more pungent as if leading them to the source.

“What happened?” Sasuke asked. He could feel the electricity of danger in the air. It felt like static and it shocked him the closer they came to the source. Something bad happened within the palace walls.

“It is best to stay vigilant. A lot of blood had been split over the last few days. It leads me to believe a battle took place. Was the palace attacked?” Apophis questioned.

Sasuke immediately narrowed his eyes and grabbed his sword.

*****

They arrived in the square between the palace and the sun temple. The blood could be smelled in all directions but there weren’t any bodies visible. Instead of Shisui greeting them, Guardsman Obito Uchiha greeted Sasuke and his men. Sasuke frowned.

“Crown prince. I welcome your return and I congratulate you on being victorious. You are a decorated leader and will be hailed as such.” Guardsman Obito bowed at the waist.

“Where is Shisui?” Sasuke asked impatiently. Guardsman Obito frowned at this question. He paused as if wondering how to answer and then shook his head.

“The emperor is waiting for your arrival in the throne room. Please follow me.” Guardsman Obito led Sasuke and his men through the palace.

Sasuke’s eyes darted out. The smell of blood was all over the palace except there wasn’t a trace of blood nor bodies and it caused Sasuke to remain on high alert. His adrenaline quickened his blood and his eyes were clear and focused, his hearing picked up even the tiniest of noises, and his nose began to distinguish the smells covered up by the smell of blood.

Bread. Blood. Cheese. Blood. Wine. Blood. Incense. Blood. Soap. Blood.

Guardsman Obito pushed open the double doors that lead into the throne room and Sasuke knew upon taking one step into the room there was a massacre that took place here. Even though there was no evidence. The blood was wiped clean and the bodies were immediately disposed of. It was his sixth sense and Apophis was ringing the alarm as their thoughts connected and merged. If anything happened Sasuke was poised to attack, feeling the god of chaos’ power coursing through his veins. Sasuke kept a hand protectively on the hilt of his sword.

The emperor looked sick seated upon the elephant throne. His skin was a gray-pasty color. There were deep, black, bags under both eyes that seemed to age him twenty years. He had lost weight and there were bald patches of hair missing on his scalp. There was a distorted force in the room and the distortion was emitting from the emperor.

“What happened here?” Sasuke asked immediately, skipping the formalities.

“The empress is gone.” The emperor remarked bitterly. His voice sounded as if he swallowed gravel and screws and they became stuck in his throat. It caught Sasuke off guard; he didn’t comprehend what his brother said.

“Gone?” Sasuke asked as the words fit together into meaningful sense. “Naruto is gone? Gone how? What do you mean Naruto is gone?” Sasuke asked angrily. He drew his sword.

“She was kidnapped by Konohamaru Senju. I have sent Captain of the Guard Shisui to retrieve her but I haven’t heard anything.”

“Why?!” Sasuke yelled.

“I need you to help me.” The emperor straightened up. He looked weak and frail. He coughed and brought a white handkerchief to his mouth. “Please. Help me find the empress and bring her back. I need her back at my side. Even if she is dead I want her body returned to me!” His gravely roars echoed around the room. “I can only imagine how frightened she is being so far away from me!”

“Was she kidnapped for ransom?” Sasuke asked. He was trying to figure out a motive for kidnapping the empress.

“I’ve heard nothing. Not even my right hand man has contacted me. She can be literally anywhere in this world. Frightened, scared, lost! Please bring her back!”

“I will find her, and bring her back!” Sasuke agreed and sheathed his sword.

*****

“You didn’t even ask about the declaration of king of the south.” Apophis tut-tutted as soon as they got back into the carriage after filling up with food and supplies. Sasuke did not want to stay the night and although his men were tired his desire to find the empress overridden his desire to bathe, eat, and rest.

“You know the emperor is lying to get you to help him. It was a murder house inside the throne room. I could smell at least one hundred and fifty different types of blood in that room and that was just how many I counted before we left.” Apophis continued. “You know who Senju’s are don’t you? They are the ones who brought the God of Chaos down and sealed him away in the Uchiha bloodline!”

Sasuke knew the moment he heard ‘Konohamaru Senju’ this crossed his mind as well as formulating his own reasons for why the empress was kidnapped. Chances were it had to do with the sun temple. Naruto was prophesied as ascending as high priest and inheriting the sun god’s power. Once this power was bestowed unto Naruto she would be able to obliterate him. Even though he knew this to be true, something in his heart told him that Naruto’s heart was pure and she wouldn’t follow through.

Sasuke had closed his eyes and began concentrating. He sat in the lotus position with his thumb and index fingers making circles and his palms pointing upwards. He began focusing on his power.

“What are you doing?” Apophis asked skeptically.

“I’m going to find the empress.” Sasuke murmured.

“You’re going to use the snakes?”

Sasuke’s eyes illuminated red at nighttime. A constant red, fiery, glow. It was told to him that when he was controlling the snakes his eyes illuminated the color of green cymbidium orchids. His eyes remained closed as he continued to concentrate on the half mile radius. An invisible radius was emitted with him in the epicenter. He could feel the cold, humming, life force of the snakes slithering and looking for food. He hijacked their brains.

“Wait...no...I don’t want to merge with you! Find the temple brat on your own!” Apophis protested it was too late. Sasuke had grown even more powerful, and he was able to overpower Apophis. The two merged and with this not only could he control the snakes but he could use Apophis and see what the snakes were seeing.

“The quicker we find her. The quicker we can rescue her. The quicker we can bring her back to the palace, and the quicker we can return home.” Sasuke spoke softly and opened his eyes. The inside carriage gleamed with the effervescent green of his eyes.

“So, just cooperate.”

*****

The god of chaos was entrapped in the Uchiha bloodline. If his host was killed his soul was whisked away and there it stayed in oblivion until a baby within the Uchiha bloodline was born which he could latch himself onto like a parasite. That wasn’t the same for Heka who was able to seal herself up in any newborn baby. The same could be said for Asclepius the god of healing and rejuvenation. He was able to restore life to the dead and thus he had become a powerful opponent to the sun god and was obliterated.

Asclepius had the freedom to pick and choose his host within the mortal realm except he had a strong moral compass. The few hosts had corrupted hearts and dabbled in necromancy and were slaughtered as soon as they raised a small army of the dead. It left Asclepius rather depressed with a heavy heart of despondency. It had been over seventy-five years before he chose another host. He had been reborn as Haku Yuki in a long lineage of family doctors, apothecaries, and witch doctors. He had been pleased with this new host until a massacre left Haku Yuki an orphan and sole survivor of the Yuki clan.

Asclepius was feeling even more discouraged as he feared his host would die of starvation and exposure before he had awoken to his healing powers. Haku lived within the kingdom of Kirigakure, a warring kingdom, and a war orphan would hardly survive by themselves. Haku, the war orphan, was taken in when he was ten years old by the Momochi clan and he was raised alongside their son Zabuza. They had adopted Haku to raise as a mercenary, but Haku was too tender-hearted and did not possess the bloodthirst the Momochi clan was known for.

When Haku was sixteen years old the head of the Momochi clan, seeing that they would not be able to mold Haku into a mercenary, sent out members of the family to kill Haku while he was picking medicinal plants. Hearing this, Zabuza, who had grown very close to Haku had escaped with Haku and the two became refugees within the Konoha Kingdom. For three years Haku and Zabuza roamed the Konoha Kingdom doing odd jobs to survive and in these three years, Haku had awakened his healing abilities.

His healing abilities put him in the bingo book next to Sakura Haruna for her wish granting ability. He was going for a high price on the black market. Zabuza, who had the bloodlust and was trained as a mercenary, became Haku’s bodyguard. Haku’s tender heart, gentleness, and softness filled Asclepius' heart, and every year he had bestowed a new ability unto Haku.

A centaur by the name of Beau descended from the heavens and taught Haku how to unlock and wield these new abilities. It was frightening and near maddening in the beginning when a mythical being from the heavens entered the mortal realm with the sole purpose of teaching Haku appeared in front of them. Soon Haku and Zabuza were used to it, which was why they did not panic when Beau appeared before them and told them about empress Naruto Uchiha.

The centaur stood ten feet tall with the body of a black shire horse. He opened up the flap of the tent.

“Haku.” Beau the centaur announced loudly. “I was sent here from the heavens with a request from the moon goddess.” The noise awakened Haku instantly. “A mission from the gods!”

Haku stumbled out of his tent. He had silky long hair that fell to the small of his back and parted down the middle. He had cupid-bow lips, rounded shaped eyes, and eyebrows that shaped his face into a heart. Upon first glance he was so soft and delicate he looked like a girl.

Beau had appeared before him several times and he never warned them when he would arrive. He appeared at all times throughout the day so the middle of the night was no longer surprising. He and Zabuza had set up camp in a clearing in the woods. The stars twinkled in the sky and the moon was full and bathed everything in a soft blue light. The forest which was normally loud with insect and animal mating calls had fallen deadly silent as if holding its breath.

“Hold on, let me get some proper light!” Haku explained.

The embers in the fireplace were dying and Haku quickly fed a new log on the fire and stoked the fire with a long skinny stick. Fire immediately took hold of the log and when Haku fed the fire another log the glow of the fire lit up their camp.

“Hello, Beau, I am so happy to see you!” Haku spoke politely and endearingly. “I have a crabapple here for you!”

Haku went to where several crabapples were piled up in a sack and tossed Beau one. Beau immediately caught it and threw the whole thing into his mouth and chewed. In the many times, Beau had ventured into the mortal realm he had grown particularly fond of crabapples as they do not appear in the heavens. Finding out that not only did Beau fancy crabapples, he liked them very much, even though he did not say this, as a result, Haku made sure he traveled with fresh crabapples wherever he went in case Beau appeared.

“Haku!” Zabuza called out as he rushed out of the tent. He was carrying a long fur lined coat that he used to drape over Haku’s shoulder. Haku had forgotten he was only wearing his nightgown and the night air nipped at his nose. “You’re going to catch a cold!”

“Thank you.” Haku spoke warmly and smiled up at Zabuza. He put the coat on and fastened it around his waist.

Zabuza stared at Beau and looked at the chiseled muscles on his chest. He frowned. He had worked hard to have the same number of muscles on his own chest but every time he saw Beau he was even more muscular and powerful than the last.

“I told you to cover up the next time you appear before us!” Zabuza lectured Beau. “You’re always coming here shirtless. It’s immodest.” Zabuza crossed his arms. The modesty rule only impacted Zabuza who shied away at the slightest reveal of skin that should be covered by clothes.

Beau spoke with a smirk. “If envy were a fever, all the world would be ill.” He liked to speak in riddles and limericks when trying to describe human emotion. In this case, he was calling Zabuza out for being jealous.

Zabuza scowled. He stood at six feet and one-hundred and fifty-eight pounds. He had short black hair. He trained nearly every day to keep up his physique. He was proud of how his body looked. He only wanted to show himself to one person and one person only, but he followed such strict self-imposed modesty that he couldn’t imagine ever bringing himself to do such a thing. Whenever Beau appeared he paled in comparison. It was safe to say that due to Beau being half shire horse and half adonis human even in one on one combat with him Zabuza would lose miserably.

“It is alright I am used to Beau.” Haku spoke, keeping the peace. Zabuza frowned. “What about the moon goddess and the empress? What are the heavens saying, Beau?”

“The empress is in danger. She had fallen off the cliffs and became swept away by the current. She has broken bones and is suffering blood loss. If she is not taken care of soon she will die. The moon goddess is requesting you go and save the empress!”

Haku looked up at the full moon. “Why is the empress outside of the palace?” He asked.

“The empress will explain when she regains consciousness!” Beau reported. “I will bring you please get on top of me.” Beau lowered himself so Haku could jump on.

“Haku...we have Aloe, you don’t have to ride him!” Zabuza protested, referring to their own horse named Aloe. His face became splotched red. He was already rushing over to their horse.

“We need to move quickly. There is no time to waste!” Haku announced passionately and climbed onto the back of Beau. Zabuka watched as Haku wrapped his arms around Beau’s waist and before Zabuza could say another word Beau galloped off.

“Shit.” Zabuza mumbled under his breath as he hopped on the horse and followed after.

*****

“AHHHHHHH!” Konohamaru screamed as emerging from the darkness of the woods was a half-man and half-horse creature. His eyes that were bloodshot and swollen from crying nearly popped out of his head. He had never seen a centaur before as they rarely appeared in the mortal world. It was such a frightening and imposing sight he nearly fainted. He covered his head with his hands and continued to cry out.

“It is alright no harm will befall you!” Haku’s sweet voice shot through the air and reassured Konohamaru. He lowered his hands and watched Haku.

At the river’s edge there were two motionless bodies both drenched. Haku immediately frowned and leapt off Beau. There was one body with long, blonde hair, dressed in a heavy black cloak, alongside a handsome man with short black hair. Both were covered in scratches and bruises and blood.

“Please save Naruto!” Konohamaru cried out. Even though he was paralyzed in fear he didn’t sense any ominous feelings from either Haku or the centaur. “Please! Please! Please!” He begged and continued crying. His face a mess of sweat, snot, and tears.

Haku immediately started working. He began undressing the empress. Removing the coat to reveal a maidservant uniform. Haku immediately thought why is the empress in servant garments? He pressed his index and middle finger to the collar of the maid uniform.

“I apologize. I do not mean to undress you without your permission. I have pure intentions and I am only doing this to save your life. Please forgive me.” Haku spoke out righteously. He bowed and began working.

Zabuza emerged from the forest on top of his horse. He leapt down and tied the horse to the nearest tree before running towards Haku. A stream of light blue light shot out of Haku’s fingertips and it severed through all layers of clothes the empress was wearing.

“Nobody look at the empress I am undressing her. Zabuza please assess the man and report on any injuries!” Haku announced and positioned his body so that he was shielding her. Konohamaru turned around and covered his eyes with his hands.

He used the light and cut down the sleeves. He began pulling off the sleeves and pulling about the clothes. He stopped. He looked at the chest. It was completely flat. So flat it resembled his own chest. Was this not the empress? He continued shredding the clothes and pulling the soaking wet garments off and throwing everything to the side. He saw a bulge between the legs. This wasn’t a woman. This was a male. He stopped.

“This isn’t the empress.” Haku spoke. “Where is the empress?”

“What do you mean?” Konohamaru asked. Haku hadn’t stopped. He pressed his palms over the chest where the lungs and heart were located and the warm, soft, blue light covered both palms and shot into the chest. “That’s Naruto. That’s empress Naruto!”

“Empress?” Haku verified and stared back down at the clearly naked young man.

“Yes!” Konohamaru confirmed.

Within seconds Naruto’s eyes started to open and he began coughing up buckets of water and blood. He regained consciousness. His vision was blurry and began to shift back into place. He felt a hand supporting his back. It was warm and gentle. He felt someone rubbing his back but it only made him cough more. He turned over and continued staining the rocks at the river base with blood.

“There, there. You’re going to be okay.” Haku spoke gently. He pressed his hands to the gaping head wound on Naruto’s head and covered it up with the light of his palms. “You’re safe.”

“What...happened?” Naruto asked faintly. He felt drunk. His words slurred and his head lopped from side to side. Haku caught him and held him securely in his arms. “Where am I?”

“What happened?” Konohamaru screamed. He felt instant relief that Naruto was not dead and had regained consciousness. Forgetting Naruto was naked he turned around and began yelling at him. “What happened was you jumped off the cliff and tried killing yourself is what happened!” He was now going to proverbially kill Naruto for the way he acted.

Haku held Naruto against his chest and was shielding his body from view. The only thing Konohamaru saw was Haku’s back. He continued to heal the wounds on Naruto’s body with his hands.

“Am I...naked?” Naruto asked and looked down. He saw his exposed chest, his exposed legs and was wearing almost translucent white underwear that outlined what was between his legs. He was hiding absolutely nothing. “Ah.” He closed his legs and brought his knees to his chest. He dropped his head back into whoever was holding him.

“Are you surprised by what you found out?” Naruto asked as he looked into the warm brown eyes of whoever was holding him.

“I am.” Haku murmured. “But I am sure you have your reasons. There. I have taken care of your head wounds.” When Haku pulled his palm away from the gash on his head it had completely sealed up leaving a small red line in its place. “Let me look at your arm.”

“Why don’t I feel any pain?” Naruto asked. He surveyed his body. He felt lightheaded, breathless, cold, hungry, wet, exposed. He also felt anxious, exhausted, dehydrated, and weak. He felt a myriad of things but the thing he didn’t feel was pain.

“I blocked your pain receptors, empress.” Haku answered. “I emptied your lungs and stomach of water, and I cleared up the blood clots and mended any ruptured organs in your body.”

“Who are you?” Naruto asked, mystified.

“My name is Haku Yuki. I am from a long lineage of physicians. It is wonderful meeting you, empress.”

“No. I am not the empress. Just Naruto.” Naruto spoke. He felt sleepy.

Haku gathered up his coat and placed it on the ground. He lowered Naruto down so he was laying on his back with his head resting comfortably on the coat. He examined his arm and wrist. It was broken in multiple places. He placed both hands over the arm and began to work. Mending bones took longer than expelling water and blood, and closing and healing wounds.

“Zabuza, how are the man’s injuries?” Haku asked.

“Do you have to save him?” Konohamaru asked as he stared down at Shisui.

“Who?” Naruto asked. He tried moving his eyes to see but Haku’s body blocked out the man’s face.

“Shisui. He jumped in after you.” Konohamaru answered. “It was a frightening sight.”

Naruto had seen Konohamaru at the base of the river. The screams did belong to Konohamaru. He closed his eyes recalling the conversation he had with Shisui before he willingly tumbled off the precipice of the cliff. He never thought Shisui would jump in after him. What a madman. Shisui had become even more dangerous. He swallowed in anticipation.

“Mhm. Can we leave him to die? If we keep him alive he won’t stop pursuing me.” Naruto murmured. That drunk feeling clung to him and he felt giddy and silly even though he was trying to talk seriously. “I’m on a mission and he’ll only get in my way.”

“I will save him.” Haku answered. “If he is after you we will tie him up.”

“Head wound. Blood and water in his lungs and stomach. He’s bleeding internally, blood is pooling in his lower back.” Zabuza reported. “He has been dead for approximately three minutes. He is still fresh so no long term effects. Well within the seven minute cutoff.”

“He’s already dead? Wonderful.” Naruto smiled.

“I will revive him.” Haku explained. “He will live. It’s within seven minutes.”

Naruto didn’t understand the seven minutes. He didn’t understand how glowing blue light was being emitted from Haku’s palms and healing and rejuvenating him instantly. He still felt loopy and lightheaded.

If a corpse is dead after a certain amount of time they cannot be saved and instead would become necromancy if forced back alive. It is referred to as the seven minute rule. If a corpse has been dead for seven or fewer minutes they can be saved, any more and their soul was already claimed by the underworld. If they were attempted to be revived after seven minutes they became frightening zombie-like humans with no thoughts, desires, hopes, and moving on instincts of feasting and fighting.

Haku finished healing Naruto’s arm. He laid his arm down. He took off the jacket he was wearing and covered Naruto’s naked form with it.

“Rest here for a bit. If you stand up too soon you’ll lose consciousness.” Haku spoke gently before moving over to Shisui.

Shisui was already disrobed and naked as Zabuza already did the examination. Even though it was nighttime Haku could see that Zabuza’s face was scarlet red with embarrassment. As soon as Haku took over Zabuza immediately stood up and averted his eyes. It caused Haku to smile to himself as he thought just how precious Zabuza was to him.

Haku first sent jolts through the chest that jump-started the heart and electric currents that jump-started the lungs. Within seconds Shisui had life startled back into him. Haku moved his hand over his forehead and jump-started his brain. He ran a hand across his chest. The warm, blue, light shot out.

Shisui opened his eyes and began to expel the water and blood from his body. He violently shook. There was more displaced blood within Shisui’s body and he took longer to expel it all. Haku placed both hands on Shisui’s back and aided in strength to expel all the blood out. Haku gave Shisui the same treatment he bestowed upon Naruto. Shisui closed his eyes and did not regain the consciousness that Naruto regained. Haku did not appear worried and he began working on healing the head wound.

Naruto opened his eyes and regained some of his strength. He pushed himself up and quickly pulled on the coat that Haku lay on him. He found himself shivering and he thought how happy he was to be alive.

“Konohamaru.” Naruto called out.

“What?” Konohamaru snapped. He was still angry with Naruto and didn’t see him forgiving him anytime soon and so he was going to be as curtly as possible. He fought the urge to hug Naruto.

“Do you have any extra clothes? Mine appear to be in shreds.” Naruto asked as he picked up the scraps that were once clothes.

“No. You said we needed to travel lightly.”

“Konohamaru.” Naruto voiced again and stood up to face him.

“What?”

“I’m a boy. I figured I should tell you now.”

Konohamaru stared at him in disbelief and rolled his eyes as if Naruto were teasing him. He was about to protest and lecture Naruto on lying when Naruto unfastened the coat and dropped it to the ground. Modesty had been ingrained into them. They were to keep their bodies covered and hidden from one another. Even in the bathhouse, they were to be covered up. It was the perfect environment to hide someone’s gender.

“What are you doing?” Konohamaru cried out. He buried his face in his hands. Konohamaru was going through all the stages of mortification as he never experienced a fellow temple child, though they’re adults now, strip in front of him.

“Look at me. I am a boy. I was told to hide my gender by the high priest.” Naruto explained. It was cold. It was very cold and Naruto couldn’t help but shiver. His lips turned blue.

“Oy...oy...why are you stripping?” Zabuza asked roughly. “Come on, cover up! You’re going to catch a cold!” Zabuza waved his hand at Naruto while simultaneously closing his eyes.

Naruto laughed. The way Naruto was laughing so freely caused Haku to stare at him. It was during the witching hour and the moon was full and beads of water dripped off Naruto’s hair like pearls being reflected in the moon’s glow. His skin a shimmery glow that sparkled and illuminated. Haku felt a powerful aura within Naruto as if a piece of the moon had broken off and sealed itself up within him. Haku was completely captivated; he couldn’t remove his eyes. He looked so much like an ethereal creature of the night sky. All the bad blood, all the poison that clung to his internal organs, all the sickness and rot that clung to Naruto’s inside he had expelled, and now he looked as if were reborn.

“Haku!” Zabuza lectured and covered Haku’s eyes. “You’ll become corrupt if you stare at his naked body any longer!”

Haku flushed with embarrassment. He only wanted to confirm something. Was there a god or goddess residing inside of Naruto? What was his connection to the moon goddess? Why did Beau come into the mortal realm and lead them to him? This wasn’t a coincidence or happenstance. This was something stronger, something spellbinding...this was fate.

As if remembering Beau, Haku did a precursor look around the riverbed, and into the forest as quickly as Beau appeared he had evaporated like morning dew on a hot day.

“Konohamaru are you going to look, or do you want me to freeze to death and have Haku revive me?” Naruto spoke.

Konohamaru, who momentarily stopped shaking, looked over his shoulder and peaked between his fingers. His eyes fell over Naruto’s smooth chest. The small of his pink nipples were against rigid pectorals. The subtle v shape in his abdomen disappeared into cloth. He lowered his eyes and saw the outline of his penis through the translucent wet underwear.

“Okay! I saw you. Now hurry and cover yourself up!” Konohamaru hit the panic button and turned back around.

“Good. It took you long enough I thought I was going to freeze to death!” Naruto was lighthearted. As he spoke his breath came out in willowing white puffs as the night grew darker and colder. He donned the warm, dry, fur-lined coat back on and fastened it around his waist.

“The high priest told me the prophecy said I would be a baby girl and would ascend as the next high priest. Therefore, I was raised as a baby girl.” Naruto explained.

“You married the emperor.” Konohamaru gasped. “Did he know? Why did you marry the emperor?”

“Yes, the emperor knew. I had the same coming of age ceremony as you.” Naruto murmured. The light in his eyes dimmed and darkened. His blue eyes appeared grey. Haku immediately looked down remembering his own adulthood ceremony of sexual intimacy.

“I married him because I wanted to escape the high priest. I saw it as a means of protecting myself. The high priest had attempted to kill me off a few times and with the emperor it afforded me security. If I had known what a monster the emperor would turn out to be I never would have agreed to the marriage.”

“You were intimate with the emperor?” Konohamaru asked in shock. “Knowing you are both men?” Konohamaru’s face flushed.

Same-sex relations were forbidden outside ceremonies and festivals. It was hard to make sense as during ceremonies like the orgia men could have sexual relations with other men and women could have sexual relations with other women. The temple viewed sex and romance as two separate entities. Sex was accepted only during set times. Romance and marriage were viewed separately, and marriage needed to be approved by the high priest and accepted by the sun god. One could not be in a same-sex relationship and marriage and have it be pure and accepted by the temple.

Why were things different for Naruto? Konohamar thought.

During Konohamaru’s coming of age ceremony within the shrine he had lost his virginity to a woman of the church. There were at least twenty observers during the ceremony; he did not experience pleasure or enjoyment and wanted it quickly over. During all coming of age ceremonies, all virginity was given to the opposite sex. Konohamaru stared at Naruto. With Naruto he had completed the ceremony with the emperor, the same sex, and yet it was ordained by the sun temple? The marriage was approved by the high priest? What was his father thinking? It left Konohamaru feeling lost and confused and feelings of insecurity and anxiety filled his stomach.

“Mhm. Shisui knows too.” Naruto said and nudged the ribcage of Shisui with his bare toes. His face twisted up into disgust. “I never loved the emperor and I would rather not become intimate or have sexual relations with anyone else for the rest of my life if possible.” Naruto tried forgetting the horrific violations he experienced both at the sun temple and with the emperor.

“Why are you telling me this now?!” Konohamaru asked.

“Empress Naruto Uchiha is dead. She is no longer a part of this world. I am Naruto Namikaze, son to Minato and Kushina Namikaze. I want to be honest with you while we are on this mission together.” Naruto reached out and squeezed Konohamaru’s shoulder and smiled at him. “Besides we were temple children together you’re closer to me than a brother.”

Konohamaru grabbed both of Naruto’s shoulders and squeezed with all his strength and proceeded to push Naruto backwards. “If you pull that stunt again in any way I swear I will not leave you alone. I will terrorize and haunt you even in death! Do you hear me, Naruto Namikaze?”

Naruto nodded his head vigorously. He reached up and grabbed Konohamaru’s arms. “I have come back to my senses. It will not happen again. I promise.”

Konohamaru's eyes softened and for a moment it looked like he wanted to hug Naruto instead he pulled away.

Konohamaru nodded his head slowly up and down. He stared harder at Naruto. He expected to see something different. He wondered if it was because they were raised so modestly and because he always saw Naruto as older and reliable. He never really treated Naruto as “a girl” and never treated him as “a boy”. Over the last year, Naruto had always been rough and aggressive with him. It wasn’t that he saw Naruto as “a girl” or “a boy” but just “Naruto”. Maybe that was why the initial shock washed over rather quickly and he accepted this without incident.

“Naruto. I was asked by the moon goddess to save you.” Haku spoke and straightened up. “Why have you escaped the palace and why are you fleeing the emperor?”

“Konohamaru do you still have my bag?” Naruto asked.

Konohamaru nodded his head. He ran to the chestnut andravida horse that was tied up. The horse looked fiercely at Konohamaru and he jumped back for a second. Seeing that it was Naruto who gave the command the horse moved its head and allowed Konohamaru to grab Naruto’s bag that was fastened to the saddle. Naruto took the bag and pulled out a leather-bound textbook with gold foil lettering written in a dead language. He showed the textbook to both Haku and Zabuza.

“We’ve been sent on a mission by the sun god. We need to find a man named Jiraiya who can help translate this book.”

“Jiraiya?” Haku and Zabuza asked. The way they spoke and their different expressions when saying his name gave clues that they either know him or know about him. Haku’s cheeks turned pink when he said it and Zabuza had a mixed look of embarrassment and disgust.

“Do you know him?” Naruto asked hopefully.

“We know a little bit. He’s a novelist who travels the world.” Haku spoke with a small smile. Zabuza looked like he was about to add more but Haku reached out and rested his hand on Zabuza’s shoulder. “If you’re looking for Jiraiya we’ll help you.”

“Haku!” Zabuza protested. “Should we really get ourselves involved in matters that don’t concern us?”

“This is a mission from the heavens. It does concern us when Beau himself delivered the message. I was sent here to save the empress...I mean to save Naruto. If Naruto’s mission is to get the textbook translated then I see it we need to help him on this endeavor.”

The power that resided within Naruto was not of the mortal realm and was bestowed by the heavens. If Naruto was like Haku he would become very valuable on the black market and Haku could not in good conscience let him wander the world unprotected. He had an unknown desire to protect Naruto. He brought his hand to his chest and felt his beating heart. He pondered if this desire to protect was coming from Asclepius and he was guiding him in this direction. Nevertheless, he will assist Naruto until the very end.

Haku approached Naruto.

“Wait.” Naruto held a hand out. “Stop! I don’t~”

“Naruto. They want to help us and we need all the help we can get. You’re naked and shoeless! We’re not in a position to say no!” Konohamaru whispered hoarsely. Naruto stared down at his bare feet. He would have been naked if it wasn’t for Haku’s coat.

“I need to tell you something.” Naruto’s voice grew serious. His eyes hardened. He had sobered up. “The reason I am being sought out by the emperor is because I poisoned him when I ran away. I’ve committed high treason. The emperor is seeking me out. I am afraid if you are traveling with me your lives will be in danger.”

“Hey! Why are you telling complete strangers? If word gets out more people will be after you!” Konohamaru warned and went to cover Naruto’s mouth with his hand, afraid he was going to spill more secrets. Naruto reached up and pulled Konohamaru’s hand away from him.

“I believe you are trustworthy as you received a message from the heavens. Not only did you find me but you cured me. I do not sense any evil intentions with either of you. I am telling you this for your own safety. I do not want any more innocent blood to be shed in my name.” Naruto spoke softly. A wave of melancholy washed over him as he remembered all the bloodshed within the palace walls.

“We do not pledge allegiance to the emperor of Konoha. We are refugees from Kirigakure. If it is known that we are from Kirigakure our lives are already in danger.” Zabuza explained. If Haku resolved himself to help them then Zabuza resolved himself as well. He paused and gave Haku a tender expression. He exhaled. “There are people who are after Haku for his healing abilities.”

“What people?” Naruto asked. “I know very little of the world outside the palace walls.”

“There’s a bingo book that lists people of high value. Mostly people like Haku who have a special ability. The bingo book is on the black market. These people have ill intentions, immoral intentions, and so Haku’s life is in constant danger. It is why we do not stay in one place for very long.”

“We will still help you.” Haku spoke with a gentle smile. He placed both hands over his beating heart. “Asclepius, god of healing and rejuvenation, is inside me. My duty on this earth is to help people. Asclepius has been sending a centaur named Beau to train me over the last three years. It would appear helping you is part of that training.” Haku knelt on one knee and bowed. “It would be my honor to escort you to find Jiraiya. I will follow you until the end.”

Naruto raised his hands in embarrassment. “It’s okay-it’s okay! You don’t have to be so formal and you don’t have to bow.” Naruto rushed to Haku and pulled on his arm in an attempt to get him to stand up. “Please stand up!”

“This is a quest from the heavens.” Haku clarified. “I will take this quest seriously.” Haku remained bowing and seemed to have grown fifty pounds heavier the more Naruto tugged on him.

“Okay...okay…” Naruto nodded his head. “Stand up and I’ll leave you alone!”

“What should we do about him?” Zabuza asked and nodded his head towards Shisui who had yet to regain consciousness. “Leave him?”

“No. His name is Shisui. He is captain of the royal guard and emperor Itachi’s right hand man. He was sent to retrieve me and he will not stop until I am back in the palace.” Naruto interrupted. “He’ll notify the others if we leave him. We should bring him with us. Is there a gag and rope anywhere? He’ll surely bring me back to the palace if he gets a chance. We’ll take him as our prisoner.”

“Understood.” Zabuza smiled and nodded his head.

“Let’s go back to the campsite and warm ourselves up.” Haku suggested. “We can talk more then.”

*****

Haku changed into robes of emerald and white. He chose to wear traditional garments unlike Zabuza who wore a pair of brown slacks and a long-sleeved white shirt that had a v-neckline and strings that tied up the shirt and down the sleeves. Shisui had his arms tied behind his back and the rope was tied to a tree. He remained unconscious on his side next to the campfire with a blanket over him. Konohamaru was fast asleep inside the tent nestled in a pile of blankets and bedding. He resembled a bird that made a nest inside a birdhouse.

It was the next morning and Naruto was dressed in Haku’s nightgown. It was a long-sleeved, long gown that reached his calves. He was wearing his black cloak that had finally dryed after a few hours in front of the fire. The only article of clothing Haku hadn’t hacked apart.

“I apologize for not being careful with your clothes. My only priority was saving your life.” Haku spoke apologetically. “I will buy you clothes and shoes as repayment for being so careless!”

Konohamaru had given Naruto a pair of thick wool socks to wear and protect his feet. Naruto had finished eating a piece of bread and some crabapples. He was sitting cross legged in front of the fire. He watched as his garments burned in the fire and became nothing but ash. He picked up one of his strands of blonde hair and twirled it around his finger.

“Haku. You know how to cut up clothes, but do you know how to cut hair?” Naruto asked with a teasing smile.

Haku laughed. “Yes, I can cut hair. Would you like me to cut yours?”

“Yes. This hair reminds me of my past self and they are dead. I want short hair like Konohamaru and Zabuza.”

Haku reached into his bag and pulled out a pair of scissors. He kneeled behind Naruto and began cutting. As Haku cut he began humming a tune. Naruto watched as his long, beautiful hair was snipped off one strand at a time. The locks fell all around him. He remembered reading a fairytale in the library of the palace when he was a child. It was about a princess who was kept away in a high tower. Her hair had grown so long and golden and beautiful. That was what it felt like. He was a kept princess locked away. He forgot how it ended but knew it ended terribly. Cutting his hair was the last piece that connected him to his old self and he would write his own fairytale ending.

At the end when all of his hair was chopped off Naruto’s head felt so very light and so very cold. He became frightened that he might have made a mistake. He ran his fingers through his hair. There was no mirror to see what he looked like and that frightened him even more. He couldn't get used to how short his hair had become. It felt odd and disconnected. He sighed. He would grow used to this. He began picking up his locks of hair that scattered on the ground and threw it into the fire. He wanted to leave no evidence of himself behind.

Hair burned faster than cloth, within seconds his hair had been eaten up by the flames.

“Naruto, are you okay?” Haku asked and touched his hand gently.

“Of course? Why are you asking?”

“You’re crying.” Haku spoke and reached out and touched his cheek. A tear had rolled on his finger. Naruto immediately touched his cheeks and tears really had fallen from his eyes. He was crying. How foolish. How embarrassed he felt. He wiped his eyes and sighed once more. He needed to stop being a crybaby and grow up. There was no time for tears.

“I’m just tired.” Naruto iterated as he dabbed his eyes and cheeks with the back of his fingers. Roughly rubbing away any tear that fell. “It’s nothing.”

Naruto turned his attention to Zabuza who had been working on dismantling the camp. He felt happiness warming his heart and hope was being restored. He looked up at the sun that was creeping its way across the sky and smiled deeply. The sun god was still looking after him. He closed his eyes and felt the warm rays of sun caressing his face. Even though the crisp morning air was cold and everything had a layer of dew, the sun warmed him to the bone and he could feel an immense power growing inside him.

The sun god had sent him two companions to accompany him. He was utterly happy.

*****

“Untie me! I am Shisui Uchiha, Captain of the Royal Guard! Master of Arms! Advisor to Emperor Itachi Uchiha.” Shisui’s loud and intrusive voice cut through the forest. His loud voice caused birds to fly away cawing and every animal within a radius fleeing in the opposite direction.

“I told you to gag him.” Naruto spoke in a matter-of-fact manner. He covered his face as Shisui continued to shout all his titles as if that was going to make them untie him.

The five of them had been traveling all day and it was nearing night time. Shisui was swung over the saddle like a sack of potatoes and had finally risen to consciousness. Zabuza attempted to grab hold of Shisui but he had wiggled himself off the saddle and fell facedown to the ground. Within seconds Shisui had leapt to his feet and dashed away.

“NO!” Naruto screamed. He had been riding their andravida horse due to not having any proper footwear for the rough terrain of the forest. The horse was completely docile with Naruto on top and riding him. Konohamaru and Haku were leading their horses by the reins when the chaos ensued. Naruto leapt off the horse as agile as a cat and landed on all four limbs and he dashed after Shisui attempting to grab the long tailed rope that tied his hands but it slipped away.

“STOP!”

Shisui was deft and nimble and even with his hands tied still maneuvered around the forest with precision. It caused Naruto to sprint as fast as he could to keep up with him. Naruto reached out and grabbed the rope successfully the second time.

“Ah~oomph.”

The momentum of Naruto holding the rope with both hands, coupled with Shisui’s arms bound behind his back, caused Shisui to trip over the uneven ground and face planted into the ground. The rope burns cut into Naruto’s palms and a searing pain was emitted causing him to shudder.

“You’re not escaping!” Naruto yelled at Shisui. He wrapped the rope a couple of times over his hand and held it securely. Shisui rolled to his back. There was dirt across his forehead and cheek and a small cut formed above his right eyebrow from striking a rock. A trickle of blood fell from the cut.

“Who are you?” Shisui yelled. “Unhand me you swine! I’ll cut you where you stand!”

It caught Naruto off guard. Did Shisui not recognize him? Shisui saw this as his opportunity. He kicked Naruto in his diaphragm lightning-fast and it caused Naruto to crumple over into a coughing fit. His breath had been kicked from him and he started panting and coughing trying to catch his breath. Trying to recover from his organs being shifted around his abdominal cavity. Shisui attempted to escape again but hadn’t realized the rope was fastened tightly around Naruto’s arm. The moment he started running Naruto fell to his knees and Shisui was yoked back.

“You idiot! I told you to stop!” Naruto yelled between his coughing fits.

Zabuza appeared and grabbed the rope from Naruto’s burning hands and took control.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Zabuza asked Shisui as he stepped on Shisui’s chest and pushed him deeper into the ground. “Can’t you read the situation, you are our prisoner.”

“Who are you? I have already identified myself. Kidnapping a high ranking military official will result in death. I demand you let me go and I will think about sparring your life.”

“You’re not comprehending the position that you’re in. You’re our prisoner.” Zabuza spoke with a mock smile. His features lit up in delight as he yanked the rope tighter around his wrist. The muscles underneath his shirt flexing and pulling the fabric taut around his biceps.

“Zabuza, don’t hurt him.” Haku’s gentle voice came from behind.

Haku and Konohamaru came walking in their direction holding their spooked horses. Konohamaru seemingly struggled to command the andravida horse. Konohamaru had a pained expression of frustration and fear as he tried to control the massive horse. Upon seeing Naruto the horse straightened up and obeyed, appearing calm now that the horse could see Naruto. Konohamaru exhaled with relief.

Without warning Naruto ran up to Konohamaru and pulled the hood of his coat over his head and concealed his identity. Konohamaru didn’t protest and stared in confusion.

“I will ensure all of you are hanged for~” Shisui threatened.

“Shut up or I’ll gag you!” Naruto threatened. He had pulled off one of his socks and rolled it into a ball. He kneeled beside Shisui and thrust the ball threateningly at Shisui’s face.

“You’re a lunatic! Get away from me!” Shisui cranked his head away from the sock that was now covered in dirt, grass stains, and sticks.

“You really don’t know who I am?” Naruto asked and pulled the sock back. He stared in bewilderment.

“No! You look like some deranged lunatic!” Shisui yelled.

Naruto looked down at his appearance and chuckled. He was still wearing the nightgown. He was still barefoot with only the socks as protection. He was covered in sweat. If Naruto ran into himself he would think he was a lunatic too.

“Are you going to cooperate or do I need to gag you?” Naruto asked.

“Go eat shit and die!” Shisui raged. Without a second of hesitation, Naruto stuffed his balled-up sock into Shisui’s mouth. It caused Shisui to rage, kick, and scream but he was unable to expel the sock and it muffled his voice.

“I think I liked you better when you were unconscious.” Naruto spoke slyly. “Since he doesn’t know who any of us are. Let’s blindfold him.” He announced loudly for Konohamaru to understand that Shisui did not recognize him. He would surely be able to recognize Konohamaru and he understood to stay hidden.

Haku cut off a piece of fabric from his emerald robe and handed it to Naruto who proceeded to tie it around Shisui’s eyes and fastened it behind his head.

“He won’t escape from me.” Zabuza sneered and jerked the rope. With one arm Zabuza scooped Shisui up and swung him over his shoulder and carried him as if he were a rolled-up carpet with one hand securely around his waist. Shisui didn’t stop making a fuss despite being gagged, blindfolded, and tied up. But was completely powerless to defend himself.

“How far away from the town are we?” Naruto asked.

“About ten minutes.” Haku answered.

“Here!” Konohamaru thrust the reins at Naruto. “You take charge of this beast. He doesn’t listen to me and constantly nips at me.” Naruto laughed and took the reins in his hand.

“Let’s go.”

*****

“Ne, Konohamaru.” Naruto whispered as he pressed his shoulder against Konohamaru’s. “Do I really look different? Shisui doesn’t recognize me. He’ll surely recognize you so make sure you keep your identity hidden a little longer.”

“Mhm. I was startled when I woke up and saw your hair was cut off.” Konohamaru answered. He reached out and touched a strand of Naruto’s hair. “You look like a wild boy.”

“That really makes me happy.” Naruto smiled warmly and his face flushed. If he looked completely different it meant that he could evade capture a little longer.

Despite Naruto only having one sock on his foot he walked the rest of the way to town. Riding the horse all day caused both thighs to burn unimaginably and it caused him to walk with a limp. His lower back ached and his shoulders ached. Everything was beginning to ache and all he wanted to do was sleep in a bed, a real bed. He had not grown up riding horses and his body was not used to having a thousand pound animal between his legs or roughing it sleeping on the ground.

He really was the princess and the pea.

The town they had entered did not resemble the bustling city that lay outside the palace walls. It appeared desolate. It looked as if it were mere moments away from collapse. The buildings sagged. The road was dusty and as they walked plumes of dust scattered up. There appeared to be a layer of dirt everywhere. The sun was setting and there were few villagers out. The ones who were out looked haggard, with dry, cracked faces, chapped lips. A look of perpetual hunger flashed in their eyes and twisted their mouths. Their clothes and shoes were worn. An overwhelming feeling of lifelessness held the town.

“What happened?” Naruto asked Haku.

“What do you mean?” Haku asked and looked around the town. He forgot that Naruto and Konohamaru had come from the palace in the capital city. “This is what Konoha looked like before the war, and it’s only gotten worse.”

“Ey?!” Naruto gasped. His eyes darted around the dilapidated buildings.

“It was not a good crop season, followed by a brutal winter.” Haku explained. “All resources were depleted for the war effort or sent to the capital city. The majority of the people in Konoha are poor and hungry.”

“Oh.” Naruto frowned. He remembered the supply shipment had dwindled during the months they were in war and how they were happy if the supply shipment and traveling market came twice a month. His stomach started to hurt with guilt.

They arrived at a two story inn with chipped paint and a roof needing repair. Naruto and Haku lead the horses in the back where a wooden post was hammered into the ground in front of a trough of water. Naruto pulled from the saddle pack a few crabapples and fed them to the horse. He petted the horse’s long snot and the horse gave a pleasurable neigh.

“You’re not so scary. I don’t know why Konohamaru is so frightened of you.” Naruto murmured. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Be good.” He warned and left with Haku.

“The horse appears to have chosen you as its owner. What is their name?” Haku asked.

“Name?”

“Mhm. My horse is named Aloe. Every horse needs a name.”

“I’m not sure.” Naruto looked over his shoulder at the horse that began drinking water from the trough. “I stole the horse from the palace stable.”

“You should think about giving it a name.”

“Mhm.” Naruto nodded his head in agreement.

*****

The next day it was decided to avoid unwanted attention and because Naruto needed appropriate clothes and shoes that Haku and Naruto should explore the town together. Haku decided to gather up some needed supplies for their journey. Zabuza stayed back in their room with Shisui and Konohamaru. Naruto was walking barefoot down the dusty road. His feet hurt but it wasn’t unbearable.

They arrived at a shop that was selling clothes. Naruto looked at the bland, dull, and flimsy clothing that was available. He looked at Haku and smiled. “What clothes should I get?”

Haku had a sense of style. He could tell by how he dressed and carried himself. Haku looked at Naruto and smiled. “Are you looking to wear traditional robes or pants?”

“Pants.” Naruto answered. He had never worn anything else but dresses his whole life. He needed a change.

Naruto exited the store wearing a pair of brown pants that were a little too long that Haku had to fold them up at the ankles, and a long sleeved white shirt that had ruffled long sleeves, and a ruffled collar. After he was dressed they went to a shoemaker and he tried on several shoes before settling on a pair of black leather shoes that laced up. There was a well in the middle of town.

“Why don’t you clean your feet off and put your shoes on?” Haku suggested. “I’m going to step into the apothecary for a moment.”

Naruto began cranking the handle and a bucket of water began slowly to reel up from the depths of the dark well. He looked at his shirt and his pants and smiled as if he were a little kid eating sweets. He began pouring the cold water over his dirty feet and washing the dirt, grime, and blood from his feet. After he dried his feet with the ruffled sleeves before tying the shoes on.

“STOP! Theft!” A man screamed down the road. Naruto dropped the bucket back into the well just as he saw a young boy barely nine years old running down the road chasing after appeared to be a shopkeeper.

“STOP! THEFT!” The shopkeeper screamed louder. Appearing behind Naruto were two guards dressed in black each with a sword on one side of their waist, and a long leather whip on the other.

The young boy grabbed Naruto around the waist and started crying. “Please help me!”

“He stole a loaf of bread, apprehend him, guards!” The shopkeeper stopped and pointed at the little boy.

His instincts kicked in and Naruto shielded the boy behind him and backed away from the two guards and shopkeeper.

“Sir, whatever this boy may have stolen, let me pay for it!” His politeness from the palace and the way he carried himself had not diminished. He believed although he was no longer a part of the palace and had broken away from the royal family he was still a member of the sun temple. There was still a social hierarchy within society.

“Are you this boy's guardian?” One guard barked. “If not, hand this boy over and leave!”
The guard pulled out a whip and held it fiercely in his hand. The young boy began whimpering. Naruto’s eyes widened but he didn’t budge. The boy remained behind him and his small hands continued to cling to Naruto.

“I said I would pay!” Naruto answered.

“Pay? The punishment for stealing is ten lashings.” The guard sneered. “Are you saying you will give up your body to pay for the boy?” The guard’s beady eyes began to slowly take Naruto’s body from top to bottom. There was a perverse smile peeling his lips back and Naruto felt his skin crawling with bugs.

“Maybe I’ll just whip you until your shirt falls off?” The guard continued and ran his tongue over his bottom lip.

It was the same look the archbishop had and Naruto narrowed his eyes. He tightened his hold on the boy.

The guard flicked his wrist back and the whip went behind the man and then he swung the whip in Naruto’s direction. It caused Naruto to spin around and he felt the whip connecting with his back. The pain was immense and he cried out as he felt the whip ripping the thin material of his shirt and licking his back. He could feel the smooth skin of his back becoming ripped open. It had been years since he had been whipped and flogged; he had forgotten what it felt like. He was transported back in time. He froze. He was no longer in the present shielding the child. He had become a small child screaming in the shrine as he was being whipped again.

The whip struck Naruto’s back three more times. Naruto could feel something inside him exploding. A shockwave was emitted from Naruto’s body and it sent the two guards and shopkeeper flying backwards. From an observer’s look, it appeared all three stumbled backwards and lost their balance as if they were all drunk. All three landed on their bottoms with an ‘oof’.

“YOU! What did you do?” The guards quickly stood up and raised their whips. The lashing did not come down.

“What’s going on?” A voice roared from behind Naruto.

Naruto could hear the quickened exasperated breaths as the two guards and shopkeeper realized who had intervened.

“The boy had stolen a loaf of bread from me! I need to feed my own family, your excellency.” The shopkeeper started blubbering.

“The punishment for stealing is ten lashes!” The guard defended. Naruto heard fear in the guard’s voice. “This young man wouldn’t give us the boy so the punishment went to him!” The guard’s voice cracked.

Naruto opened his eyes. He was on his knees and he was hugging the boy protectively to his chest. He could feel the loaf of bread securely stuffed in the boy’s shirt up against his stomach. He didn’t realize he was sweating and panting through his mouth. The boy was unharmed and curled up protectively against Naruto’s chest. Naruto looked over his shoulder. From this angle, he saw a man wearing a decorative military uniform. The man was tall with broad shoulders and jet black hair.

“The war is over and I have returned. Whatever crimes of theft that have been committed put it on my tab and I will pay triple the difference.” The man spoke. Naruto didn’t know why this voice sounded so familiar as if he knew this voice. It sent chills down his back and he wanted to sneak a peek at the man. The two guards and the shopkeeper exchanged a few more words before the guards bowed their heads, apologized, and left back on patrol.

“Thank you, your excellency. I will take my leave.” The shopkeeper bowed and left.

“Gaston! Gaston!” A woman’s voice cried out. The little boy looked up with tears in his eyes and started crying. “Mommy!” The woman was skinny and had a haggard but kind face. The boy leapt to his feet, his hands remained protectively over his stomach where the loaf of bread was and ran into the arms of his mother. Without another word, the mother quickly picked the boy up and whisked him away in the opposite direction before they were spotted by any guards.

“Are you okay?”

Naruto turned back around and stopped breathing. His heart had become stuck in his throat and no matter how hard he tried to swallow none of his bodily functions were under his control anymore. All the noise in the entire world became quiet except for his beating heart. The rest of the world ceased to exist. Naruto remained on his knees and looked up at him. The man’s head blocked out the sun and Naruto was cast in shadows.

Ba-bump
Ba-bump
Ba-bump

Naruto was staring up at the crown prince’s matte red eyes and into the cursed seals. When Naruto didn’t say anything the crown prince crouched down until they were at the same eye level. Naruto’s eyes followed the crown prince’s until they were a foot apart. Neither breaking eye contact. Naruto hadn’t blinked once. His eyes became dry and scratchy and started to water up in response. He was afraid if he blinked the crown prince was going to burst into a hundred thousand bubbles. He was captivated by the beautiful bloody, ruby, red of his eyes; he never wanted to break eye contact ever again.

Crown prince Sasuke. The smell of jasmine filled his nostrils and every memory he had of the crown prince came flooding back.

As soon as he realized the predicament he was in Naruto began to panic. He felt his body temperature rising and adrenaline quickened his blood. Paralyzing fear took over.

“You have beautiful blue eyes.” The crown prince murmured. He reached out and cupped Naruto’s chin and lifted his head back. His thumb brushed against his cheek. “They remind me of someone’s.”

Naruto blinked and with that one blink, his eyes immediately watered. Did the crown prince not recognize him?

“What is your name?” The crown prince leaned closer until they were six inches apart close enough that Naruto could feel his breath on him. His breath smelled sweet like honeysuckle. The alarms began sounding off inside him.

“Naru~” Haku’s voice called out from the apothecary shop. Naruto’s face immediately jerked in the direction of Haku and the crown prince immediately retracted his hand. Haku ran down the road towards them. Upon seeing the situation and realizing where they were, Haku cut off his words.

“What happened to your back?” Haku cried out as he looked at the ripped cloth and blood dripping down his back.

“Your name is Naru?” The crown prince asked with a smile.

“Mhm.” Naruto weakly nodded his head. He kept staring at the crown prince. Asking himself did the crown prince really not recognize him?

“Let me help you up.” The crown prince reached his hand out and Naruto unconsciously took it. The crown prince enveloped his hand with his. He could feel the warmth of his hand and it sent electric shocks up and down his spine. The last time he shared a conversation with the crown prince was in the library of the palace when he was frantically looking for the history textbook.

“I have been watching you since earlier.” The crown prince revealed. “You caught my eye because you walked around barefooted and in a nightgown. After getting new clothes, what rotten luck that your shirt became destroyed.” The crown prince touched Naruto’s back with his hand, careful to avoid the lash marks. His eyes looked at Naruto’s back slick with blood. His eyebrows furrowed and his mouth twisted up into a frown.

“The material appears too cheap for someone as beautiful as you.” The crown prince murmured and grabbed a piece of the fabric.

Ba-bump
Ba-bump
Ba-bump

“It’s okay! This material is fine for now! It’s only temporary!” Haku intervened. He placed a hand between Naruto and the crown prince and within seconds he had placed his whole body between them, shielding Naruto from view. “I will take care of him! He’s my responsibility!” There was desperation in Haku’s voice. “You can leave! I’ll take it from here.” Haku’s voice remained stern.

“Nonsense. It is my fault for not interfering sooner. I had been observing him~”

“Please forgive me for being so forward but why have you been watching my friend? Have you been looking at him with immoral thoughts?” Haku challenged. It was the first time that Haku’s eyes grew cold and narrowed. “I would request that you please stop. He is not for sale.”

“N-no! That wasn’t my intention!” The crown prince defended. “My name is Sasuke Uchiha. I am the crown prince. I would never have immoral thoughts. He just reminds me of someone I used to know, and I cannot leave the situation alone as a result. My conscience would not let me sleep if I walked away now. Please.”

‘Who do I remind you of?’ Naruto asked himself. He couldn’t stop staring at the crown prince. Naruto smiled. Just like Shisui hadn’t recognized him, neither did the crown prince. Things were better this way. It made things bearable and Naruto could really lose himself in his new identity. It felt as if a weight was lifted off his shoulder and he could finally breathe normally.

“It is okay, Haku. Let the crown prince help.” Naruto spoke reassuringly. He patted Haku’s shoulder and stepped out from behind him. “If he had been looking at my body this whole time he should repay me with a new shirt and the cost of a doctor.”

“Are you...are you a prostitute?” The crown prince asked with surprise. Naruto watched as his face became flushed with pink and the tips of his ears turned red. Naruto couldn’t help but tease him.

“Of course. Why else would I require payment for looking at my body this whole time?” Naruto answered with a playful smile. “As my friend said. I am currently not for sale now. So please take responsibility.”

Haku’s jaw dropped. He quickly composed himself and played along.

*****

Inside the physician’s office Naruto’s shirt was removed and the physician began cleaning up his blood slicked back. Cleaning and disinfecting the four, deep, lash wounds, applying a medicated salve, and applying bandages. Haku had taken the money provided by the crown prince and went to buy Naruto a new shirt. The crown prince requested a higher quality shirt, however, they were in a small town, and not a bustling city so Naruto was not optimistic.

The crown prince looked at the blood-soaked shirt Naruto was wearing and picked it up. He examined the shirt, his fingers poking through the holes in the back. When Naruto wasn’t looking, the crown prince stuffed the shirt inside his coat pocket.

“Do you live here?” The crown prince asked.

“No. We are passing through.” Naruto answered.

“Where are you going?”

“I am running away.”

“What happened?”

“I…” Naruto trailed off and looked away. He couldn’t come up with an answer that resembled the truth. So he decided to not offer up any information for fear he would be discovered.

“You don’t have to explain.” The crown prince reassured. His eyes kept flickering to Naruto’s exposed chest as Naruto remained sitting sideways in a chair. Naruto caught his eyes and smiled.

“Crown prince. Are you going to open up a tab?” Naruto teased. It caused the physician to snort as he held in laughter. “If so I request a down payment.” The crown prince’s face burned red once more.

“I’m sorry!” The crown prince looked away. “You just remind me of someone!”

“Who?” Naruto asked curiously. “You said that earlier as well.”

“A cherished friend.”

Naruto immediately turned away and found himself blushing. His heart increased. He bit his lower lip. A memory of them as children danced across his mind of Naruto telling the crown prince he was a cherished friend.

“You said the war is over. Are you returning home?” Naruto asked.

“I was. But now I am looking for someone.”

“Your cherished friend?” Naruto blurted out without thinking.

“Yes.”

Naruto swallowed. The crown prince must have returned to the palace and the emperor instructed the crown prince to bring Naruto back. He started sweating again. The physician put the back of his hand up against Naruto’s forehead and asked. “Are you running a fever? You’re all hot and sweaty.”

“Is he running a fever?” The crown prince asked anxiously.

“Just a low-grade fever. It’s probably caused by the lash marks all over his back.” The physician answered. “I will prepare a tea to bring the fever down.”

The crown prince took off his outer coat and swung it around Naruto’s shoulder. Naruto clasped the coat closed over himself. The coat smelled so much like the crown prince Naruto couldn’t help but inhale the sweet scent. The physician handed him the tea-infused medicine. He took it with one hand and brought it to his lips. The crown prince watched Naruto’s every move. Naruto felt anxious under his intense gaze and could feel goosebumps forming on his skin. He finished the tea in record time just as Haku came back with a new shirt.

The crown prince averted his eyes as Naruto donned the new shirt. It looked identical to the shirt that Zabuza was wearing. Long-sleeved, white, light-fitting, v-neckline. The shirt was a little too big and it slid off his shoulder a little. Naruto looked like he was about to jump on a vessel and travel out to sea.

“Thank you.” Naruto spoke warmly outside the physician’s house. “I wish you safe travels, crown prince!”

“I wish you safe travels as well.” The crown prince bowed.

“I hope you find your cherished friend.” Naruto bowed in return.

Naruto and Haku turned around and began walking away. Haku was the one to glance back first and when he saw that the crown prince was still looking in their direction immediately turned back around. The crown prince smiled before turning and leaving.

*****

Sasuke reached the magistrate’s home on the outskirts of town. He and his men were put up by the magistrate as a means of thanking him for bringing his son home, alive, from the war. He hadn’t slept in what felt like seven days. He fell onto the bed in the guestroom and closed his eyes.

In the middle of the night he heard Apophis crying out obscenities about a pungent odor and demanded the windows be opened or he would become sick all over the room.

“Why are you making a racket in the middle of the night?” Sasuke asked irritably. “Why are you back from hunting so early?”

“Open up the window! I’m gagging!” Apophis coughed and gagged between each word.

“I don’t smell anything!” Sasuke responded.

“It’s the smell of the temple all over! You’ve run yourself dry controlling all those snakes. You wouldn’t be able to smell a pile of shit if it were placed in front of you!”

Sasuke frowned. He yawned, stretched, and stumbled to the window where he opened it. It was true he hadn’t been able to smell the last day. He was nearing the bottom of the barrel with his power and it was numbing his senses as a result.

“Where is she?” Apophis asked. “Is she in another room? If so, I'll sleep outside for the night. I still have my sense of smell.”

“Who? Where is who?”

“The empress!” Apophis hissed. His tail immediately began to rattle in annoyance.

“Why would the empress be here?” Sasuke yawned. He was so exhausted he knew if he laid back on the bed he would fall asleep.

“It’s her blood that is all over this room! I will never forget the sick smell of the temple! Ever since she cut herself peeling a pear I have been unable to forget that wretched smell!” Apophis continued his tyrant. Sasuke remembered Naruto peeling the pear and the knife slipped and cut her palm. At that time he didn’t know what Naruto looked like but could clearly see the blood that poured from the knife wound. He remembered leading Naruto outside and bandaging her hand up.

“Her blood?” Sasuke asked. He remembered the blood-soaked shirt. He hadn’t even removed his coat when he fell onto his bed so he was still wearing it. He pulled the shirt out and held it up to Apophis. “This blood?”

“Yes! Get it away!” Apophis hissed before retching all over his room.

“Impossible. This blood belonged to a young man I met today!”

“So?” Apophis slithered to the windowsill. He stuck his head out the open window. “You said you wanted to quickly find the empress. Well, that blood belongs to the empress. You, humans, are so concerned with sex and gender when everyone is the same when they’re dead!”

“What are you saying?” Sasuke asked in confusion.

“That blood belongs to Naruto.”

“How is that possible?”

“Naruto is biologically male. The person you met whose blood that belongs to, is Naruto’s!”

Sasuke’s heart stopped beating. He stopped breathing. His blood ran cold. Every bodily sensation ceased to operate and he became as cold and still as a corpse sealed in a coffin. The first thing he noticed about the strange young man was that he was walking through town wearing a nightgown. He sensed something familiar about him and so he kept following him. He watched as he and his traveling companion walked into a clothing store where the young man changed into regular clothes. From the clothing store, they walked to the shoemakers. He hadn’t realized he had been stalking him until he watched a small child dash out and hug the young man as two guards accused the small child of stealing.

He expected the young man to hand the small child over and when that didn’t happen, when instead, the young man shielded the boy it tugged at his heartstrings.

“Crown prince please save my son!” A mother appeared and wrapped her hands around his arm, pleading with round soft eyes. “He didn’t mean to steal, we are just very-very-very hungry!” The moment Sasuke looked away he missed the explosion that was emitted from the young man’s body that knocked the two guards, and shopkeeper down.

“Ah.” Sasuke agreed. He was about to intervene regardless. After intervening and clearing out the two guards and shopkeeper the mother called her son over. The son ran away from the young man and into the arms of his mother.

Never did he expect to be captivated by his eyes. They looked identical to Naruto’s. He found himself being lost in those eyes and for a brief moment he thought maybe Naruto had a male twin sibling that may have been lost at birth, and he was meeting this twin face to face. He found himself being captivated by this young man and he didn’t want to leave.

Naru. The traveling companion called him, Naru, and how coincidental everything was.

The whole time he was wondering if there was such a thing in this world where two complete strangers had the same eye shape and same colored eyes. A darker thought emerged from the back of his mind. That even if this young man wasn’t Naruto could he become a replacement? He could easily snatch this man up and bring him to the manor in the south. Dress him in fancy clothes, bathe him, and give him anything he wants in the world. He would keep him locked up like a caged songbird.

No. No. No. No.

He immediately extinguished those dark thoughts. Even if this young man and his traveling companion were prostitutes, as Naru indicated he was, they were still humans and they deserved freedom. He couldn’t lock up everyone he sees just because they resembled his cherished friend. Otherwise, he would become a monster, and losing himself to the god of chaos was not an option. He came to terms with this at the end of their meeting and he departed with a weight lifted off his shoulder.

“Naruto is a boy?” Sasuke asked. The person he met wasn’t a male twin. The person he met was Naruto himself!

“Yes! Now please fetch him so we can quickly give him back to the emperor!” Apophis hissed from outside on the roof.

Chapter Text

 

“Bear with it for a few more days.” Haku’s soft voice broke the silence of their departure. He held a lantern and led the way. His eyes looked at Naruto’s back and the peculiar way he was walking in order to cause the least amount of pain.

It was too dangerous to stay another night at the inn with the crown prince so close, especially since the crown prince openly admitted to be searching for Naruto. Naruto knew the crown prince would bring him back to the emperor if revealed. It was why he was so insistent that they leave as soon as Naruto and Haku returned.

Zabuza had been sitting on Aloe with Shisui riding in front of him. Shisui remained blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back with a permanent scowl on his face. His scowl paled in comparison to the disgusted expression Zabuza wore as he held one hand firmly around Shisui’s waist, keeping him in place, while the other hand held the reins of the horse.

Konohamaru refused to ride their horse unless he absolutely had to. He walked to the left of Naruto far away from the horse but close enough to Naruto he felt comfortable. He started coughing. A wet cough came from his lungs. The constant motion of the horse only added to the pain Naruto was feeling and so he climbed down and walked alongside Haku. Gravitating toward Haku who held a kind expression and calming aura. Being around Haku was a soothing effect that quelled Naruto’s agitated heart.

“I used up my ability.” Haku continued as Naruto gave him a puzzled look. “I have to wait for it to replenish itself. It’s like a barrel that has become empty and needs to be filled up by the rain again.”

“Don’t push yourself.” Zabuza warned. “The last time you pushed yourself your nose wouldn’t stop bleeding and you passed out!” His voice turned to deep concern. The way Zabuza fretted over Haku was embarrassing at times and Naruto looked away. The relationship between Zabuza and Haku was confusing.

“There’s a limit to your ability?” Naruto asked. He held the reins of the horse in his hand and the horse remained docile and obedient to his commands. Not only was there a limit there appeared to be consequences to the body if overused.

“Mhm, compared to where I was three years ago, I have improved tremendously. I used up everything I had, saving you two. It’s not like I pass out all the time. I only passed out once and that was during training.” Haku clarified.

“I told you to just let Shisui die.” Naruto spoke and he glanced at Shisui. Hoping the other heard. “I wouldn’t have to feel such pain if you just let him die.” He shrugged. Shisui stirred and straightened up alert. Hearing his name in that voice pierced his heart with recognition.

“Naruto?” Shisui asked. Naruto made a face. “That is you!”

“You finally recognized me, you stupid dog. They call you captain of the guard? You’ve looked after me the last six years and couldn’t recognize me after I cut my hair?” Naruto spat. “Pathetic. I hope you know I wanted you dead from the moment you washed up on the riverbed!” His voice was venomous. His abhorrence for Shisui was growing by the minute.

“I told you I wasn’t going to chase you anymore.” Shisui spoke in a calmer voice, relaxing as he better understood the situation he was in. Since the time he awoke, he had a cloud over his senses and his head felt full. A dull throb in the back of his skull pulsated nonstop and it was finally subsiding allowing him to think clearly. With his eyes having been covered for two days his hearing had greatly improved allowing him to hear and recognize Naruto’s petulant voice. “You didn’t have to jump.”

Naruto clenched and unclenched his jaw. Tightened and untightened his hand around the reins.

“I did! And I told you I would have rather died than return to the emperor.” Naruto argued loudly. “I just wanted to show you how serious I was. I’ve done it once. I’ll do it again!” Naruto threatened. His voice on the cusp of hysteria.

“Naruto!” Konohamaru protested, his eyes watering. Haku reached out and touched Naruto’s shoulder. Instant relief washed over Naruto as Konohamaru continued speaking. “You didn’t think about anyone but yourself! What were you thinking bringing me with you only to kill yourself? I would have been severely punished for leaving the temple!” Konohamaru went into another coughing fit. His voice sounded hoarse. “Take responsibility for me!”

“...” Naruto frowned, tightened the reins, and looked away.

“I’m not going to run away. Untie me.” Shisui demanded.

“No! I don’t trust you.” Naruto turned his head around and kept walking.

“Can you at least remove your hand from my waist and back up? I can feel your cock against my hands!” Shisui quipped with disdain over his shoulder at Zabuza.

“Stop rubbing against it!” Zabuza yelled his tan face became flushed and drained of all blood. A small laugh almost escaped Haku. He quickly forced it back down and covered his mouth with his hand. This reaction only mortified Zabuza more. Zabuza pushed Shisui’s body up on the saddle and instead of holding his waist squeezed his shoulder. He was using all of his strength and Shisui winced. He didn’t comment anymore about the seating arrangements.

“The crown prince is after you.” Shisui summarized and offered feedback. “We should be careful about snakes in the area.”

“Snakes?” Konohamaru asked, his voice filled with a new fear, eyes darted around the ground.

“So, the rumors are true?” Haku asked. He raised the lantern and moved it around. The ballads of the crown prince have reached all of Konoha. His eyes darted around the forest floor searching for any evidence of snakes. The yellow-orange light of the lantern lit up grassless ground, rocks, and sparse, dead, weeds.

“Yes. The crown prince is able to control snakes. He can use them to track and attack.” Shisui confirmed. “It is how we won the war. Otherwise, Konoha may have fallen.” Naruto’s face unconsciously turned to Shisui. He remembered the letters on Shisui’s desk and knew from his expression they were from the war front. He had been getting updates not only on the war but on the crown prince’s growing abilities. “The crown prince went to war the most hated person in the kingdom and returned as the most beloved war hero.”

“The sun god’s power will eliminate the cursed child. He can do a thousand good deeds; he is still evil incarnate.” Konohamaru remarked haughtily. He held his head high although his eyes never left the ground.

“Killing the kingdom’s most beloved person will make you the most hated man in history.” Shisui commented matter-of-factly. “Are you ready for that?”

“Of course! I will be venerated in the eyes of the sun god. The cursed child will lose control. There will be a time he will lose himself and end up slaughtering millions just like before.” Konohamaru prophesied. “History will repeat itself. Emperor Fugaku doomed us all by letting this foul beast live. Right, Naruto?”

“Mhm.” Naruto nodded his head. His eyes locked to his feet. His throat closed and he had difficulty swallowing.

“Have you been swayed again by the monster?” Konohamaru asked. His eyes flashed and he grabbed Naruto’s arm stopping him from going away farther and shook him. It took Naruto by surprise. The sudden jerk caused pain to vibrate across his spine and he could feel the skin of the lash marks ripping open. He cried out and the horse neighed in protest.

“Let go of me that hurts!” Naruto yelled and attempted to push Konohamaru away. His eyes flashed and the air shifted around him.

Konohamaru refused to let go, only tightening his hold. “No. Answer me, Naruto. Will you or will you not kill the crown prince if you obtain the sun god’s power?”

“Yes! I will!” Naruto yelled back. He felt anger in his stomach. Unbridled rage festered and licked at his insides. He felt it shooting to his limbs. It was the same feeling when he was protecting the little boy from the policeman. Except it fizzled out before expelling from his body.

“Good.” Konohamaru answered and let go of Naruto, satisfied with his answer. “Just remember we are temple children and we serve the sun god. We must vanquish evil and save humanity.”

“We are refugees and have only been inside Konoha for three years.” Haku broke the tension that settled over them. “Zabuza and I have spent a lot of time in the southern portion where the crown prince lives. We have only heard of the good things he has done for the people such as providing protection, food, and improving infrastructure to the people living in the south.”

“So?” Konohamaru snarled. “He’s a wolf in sheepskin. A pretender. A predator! He’ll show his true colors. Just wait.” Konohamaru coughed a few more times. He took the canteen out of his knapsack that was slung over his shoulders and took a big gulp.

“Prior to the war, southern Konoha was flourishing and northern Konoha was more desolate. That town we were just in is what the northern parts of Konoha look like.”

“Blame the emperor.” Naruto answered.

“When it comes to rulers. The crown prince is superior in the sense he has cared for the people living in the south.” Haku continued his explanation. “He is a war hero, is he actually a monster?”

“Yes!” Konohamaru yelled, wiping his mouth off with the back of his hand. “You’re not from Konoha! You didn’t know what happened 500 years ago with the god of chaos and how he almost brought about the destruction of humanity!”

“You don’t either.” Zabuza interpreted as Haku shrank away from the impending conflict. “You weren’t here 500 years ago. We come from Kirigakure, a warring nation. The thing I’ve come to understand is that history is written by the victors.”

“What do you mean?” Konohamaru asked and fastened the cap back on his water canteen.

“The victors will twist truths and lie so that their actions are good and just regardless of the truth.”

“I trust the sun god.” Naruto finally spoke. He glanced at his knapsack that had been securely tied to the saddle of their horse. Inside the bag was the history textbook. “It is why we are searching for Jiraiya to translate the textbook that was written after the fall of Madara’s son. It’ll tell us the truth.” He nodded his head.

“Mhm!” Konohamaru agreed.

“You’re wrong. The crown prince is not a better ruler.” Shisui said in a steely voice.

“Anyone would be a better emperor than him!” Naruto yelled. “You’re blinded by loyalty if you think otherwise you stupid dog!” He seethed between clenched teeth.

“Let’s just reserve our energy for walking. If we walk throughout the night we can make it to Voluptas City by morning.” Haku shifted back to being the peacekeeper. “We’ll have more luck finding out information for Jiraiya there.”

“Voluptas City?” Naruto asked.

“It’s dangerous.” Shisui answered. “It is no place for the empress. You shouldn’t go.”

“I am not the empress!” Naruto yelled. “Say it again and I’ll gag you!”

“I~” Shisui was interrupted.

Zabuza stuffed the rolled up sock back into Shisui’s mouth seemingly wanting to prevent another argument. He crammed it so far that the fibers tickled the back of Shisui’s throat. He gagged, his eyes filling up with tears, as he tried to expel the sock out of his mouth with his tongue.

Naruto smirked and turned back around walking with a small bounce in his step.

“It is dangerous.” Haku warned his voice lowered. “It is known as the pleasure city. It is a place filled with gambling, brothels, and a breeding ground for society’s underbelly dwellers and black market peddlers.”

“If the emperor has ordered your capture and return there should be a bounty on your head. Voluptas City will be filled with bounty hunters.” Zabuza continued where Haku left off.

“If it’s so dangerous, why must we go there?” Naruto asked. “Aren’t people looking for Haku?”

“Well, uh, Jiraiya is known for frequenting uh brothels.” Haku broke out into a cold sweat and spoke as nicely as possible. “Voluptas City is our best starting ground as they have the most notorious brothels.”

“Oh.” Naruto nodded his head, his eyebrows furrowing together.

*****

Voluptas City was deemed the pleasure and debauchery city. It was considered a border city where the northern and southern parts overlapped. It was densely packed and had a dizzying city layout with alleyways that twisted and turned, narrowed and widened, with some leading nowhere and others leading to a dead end. There was the sickly smell of sweat that clung to the morning air and even though it was early morning there was the city bustle of people opening up shop and peddling their wares.

“I’m not feeling well.” Konohamaru croaked. He was drenched in sweat. His movements staggered. His cough was phlegmy, his face was pallid but his cheeks were pink with fever.

“You’re sick?” Naruto asked. He brought his hand to touch Konohamaru’s forehead. It was hot and Naruto retracted his hand.

Haku stepped next to Naruto. He touched Konohamaru’s forehead, cheeks, and then reached for his wrist. He pressed two fingers over his pulse, closed his eyes and counted. He opened his eyes and frowned. “Your heart rate is low and you’re running a fever. We should look for an inn.”

Naruto put an arm around Konohamaru’s shoulder and pulled him close. Even though Konohamaru was taller he still leaned up against Naruto welcoming the rare affection the other was showing. The added weight caused Naruto to fumble but he gritted his teeth and remained upright holding his wait and Konohamaru’s weight. He slowly realized just how weak and pathetic his body was outside the palace walls.

“You should have said something sooner.” Naruto murmured to Konohamaru.

“I didn’t want to slow anyone down.” Konohamaru confessed. He sounded breathless as if each word took all his strength to say. Naruto frowned. “I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad.” Konohamaru’s breath was hot against Naruto’s ear. The apology sounded genuine and it made Naruto squirm.

“If anyone is slowing us down it’s Shisui. It’s dangerous if anyone recognizes him we’ll be in trouble. This stupid city is filled with the Konoha army.” Naruto shot a look over his shoulder and Zabuza had already sensed it. He pulled a hood over Shisui’s face, hiding his face from view. Shisui was still gagged and he continued to struggle against the bindings that held his hands together.

Haku led the way as they went from one Inn to the next looking for open rooms. It appeared that the Konohamaru army had returned from the war front and a large majority were spending a few days in the city to celebrate.

“There’s a room available here!” Haku beamed as he ran from one of the Inns. There was a bar and restaurant on the first floor and rooms on the second floor. They tied their horses at the post on the side where a watering trough was located. Haku helped Naruto bring Konohamaru up the stairs and into the room.

There was one twin size bed and that was where Konohamaru was laid down. Zabuza quickly tied Shisui to a chair and pushed him up at the table in the room. The window was small and barely opened. The room was hot and suffocating. Within seconds everyone was sweating and uncomfortable.

“I’m going to take your clothes off so you’re more comfortable.” Haku spoke gently as he stroked Konohamaru’s cheek.

Konohamaru leaned into the touch and nodded his head in agreement. He resembled a small child. Naruto stopped moving and watched the innocence blooming across Konohamaru’s face. He remembered the crying child whom Naruto had to wipe tears and snot from his face so that he would be presentable to the clergy members. When Konohamaru was little he stayed in the nursery room a year longer because everyone said he had an illness. How pathetic and pitiful he was without a mother. Nobody was there to comfort him when he was sick except the other temple children.

Naruto thought of his own mother and although they rarely allowed them to meet she was allowed to coddle him whenever he was sick.

Haku poured a pitcher of water into a bowl and took out a washcloth from his bag. He soaked the washcloth in the water, rung it out, and began dabbing the skin of Konohamaru’s face, neck, and chest, wiping the sweat that perspired.

“I want to look around. I want to look for information on Jiraiya.” Naruto announced.

“We should wait…” Haku spoke meticulously as he cared for Konohamaru. “Until Konohamaru breaks his fever.”

“I want to go now!” Naruto demanded. He felt cooped up in this room and the longer he stood there the more hot and itchy he became. He was feeling suffocated and he was using all his strength not to run away.

“It’s dangerous right now for~” Haku was interrupted.

“I’ll go with Naruto.” Zabuza answered.

“Zabuza?” Haku looked at him in shock he was offering to help. “If you’re accompanying him it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll stay here and look after them.”

“I’ll bring back some tasty food for you.” Zabuza smiled. He tightened the sheath at his waist.

“Be safe!”

*****

“Have you ever killed anyone, Zabuza?” Naruto asked as the two began walking the winding streets of the city.

Based on appearances alone Zabuza was a frightening and imposing individual. His facial features were sharp. His eyes slanted. There was a coldness that seemed to encase him in shadows. He was a refugee fleeing his homeland. He had calloused hands, broad shoulders, and muscles that rippled on every part of his body from the neck down. He looked like someone who could easily kill without feeling remorse and there was a smell of blood that lingered around him. If Naruto hadn’t witnessed Zabuza’s tenderness and gentleness with Haku he would have been afraid of him.

“Yes.” Zabuza answered bluntly. He did not go into detail.

“Did you feel remorse?”

“If Haku was not by my side I would have lost my humanity a long time ago.” Zabuza answered calmly.

“You’re saying Haku is your moral compass?”

“Mhm.”

“Do you love Haku?” Naruto asked and turned to look at him. He watched as the iron cold facial expression that was Zabuza’s baseline cracked and he appeared flustered and embarrassed. His cheeks flushed and the tips of his ears reddened.

“My feelings and relationship with Haku are private!” Zabuza stumbled over his words.

“What does the world think of same sex relationships? It is forbidden within the temple and I never saw it either in the palace or in the city outside the palace.”

“I would love Haku regardless of what was between his legs.” Zabuza answered confidently.

“So you do love him.” Naruto smirked playfully. He had the urge to tease him. “Does Haku feel the same way about you?”

“We’re friends and the only family we have left!”

“I think we should kill Shisui.” Naruto changed the topic abruptly upon seeing two men in army uniforms walking in the opposite direction. Both men appeared drunk and in deep conversation about which brothel to visit. “He’s slowing us down. He draws attention, and if he escapes he’ll tell the emperor I am alive. Allowing Shisui to live will only put Haku in more danger.”

“Have you ever killed anyone?” Zabuza asked and looked down at him.

“I tried, but it failed, and he’s still alive.” Naruto’s eyes narrowed into icy slits of blue fire. His voice lowered and became as cold as a snowy mountain. He was referring to the emperor. “I don’t feel guilty and if he died I would be celebrating. I’ll have no problem stabbing Shisui in the gut.”

“Your highness it would appear your face is plastered everywhere.” Zabuza stopped at a large bulletin board in one of the city squares.

Sketched and painted was an image of him as empress. The likeness was uncanny and vivid as if the painter had a photographic memory. It wasn’t just one poster there were dozens of posters with a reward of fifty thousand gold coins for the safe return of the empress and twenty five thousand gold coins for the return of his body. A chill went down his spine and his stomach twisted. His features darkened. An ugly expression made its home on his face as Naruto became very aware of his own body in relation to the pedestrians filling the streets. Was this poster pasted in every town and city in Konoha?

“Haku cares about you and is willing to help out in your quest. I will protect you.” Zabuza whispered. “Some words of advice.” They turned and continued walking. Naruto’s nervousness became bluntly apparent. He walked stiffly and began sweating with his palms becoming itchy. Zabuza slammed his hand on the back of Naruto’s back, pushing him forward. “You walk too dignified. The way you carry yourself screams of etiquette and high class. Try slouching.”

Zabuza led Naruto down an alley that narrowed and narrowed until they reached a deadend. It was empty and eerily quiet.

“Your face is too recognizable even if the captain of the guard and the crown prince didn’t immediately recognize you. We can’t chance that everyone will be so idiotic.” Zabuza spoke and without warning, he raised his hand and slapped Naruto across the face. He didn’t hold back, he used his strength and the slap sent Naruto stumbling and falling to the ground. His head hit the dirt and his face immediately pulsated. He cried out in pain and surprise. He felt dizzy and he swore the world was spinning. His lip split and he felt blood trickling down.

“What the...why the fuck did you do that?” Naruto swore as he brought his hand protectively to his cheek that became inflamed and swollen. It felt like it was the first time he swore and maybe it was. The word felt foreign on his tongue. Zabuza smiled approvingly at his response. Naruto could feel his cheek and lip pulsating with each heartbeat and a tight knot formed in his chest. It would surely leave a nasty bruise. His eyes brimmed with tears and a few escaped. The tear rolling down his swollen cheek only stung more.

“The way you speak gives you away. You speak from a place of authority that says you are from within the palace walls. Speak just like that. Speak like a gutter rat.” Zabuza continued without skipping a beat. Naruto stumbled into a standing position and wobbled as if he were drunk until he regained his balance.

Zabuza reached down and grabbed one of Naruto’s hands. “I was going to lecture you on the smoothness of your hands but carrying the horse’s reins has caused rope burns and cuts. Your hands are beginning to look like a common person’s. Good.” He let go of Naruto’s hand and leaned over and inhaled deeply. “You smell. I no longer smell the scent of the temple and palace on you. Keep that smell.”

“Good.” Naruto spoke with a sly smile. He knew everything was a learning experience. There was no malice or evil intent from Zabuza. He was teaching Naruto how to survive and the things he needed to do to survive. He was eating it all up. Not only was he taking notes, but he was also applying it. “What else?” He couldn’t hide his excitement. “What else do I need to do?”

“You need to walk a fine line so that you do not lose yourself and your purpose. Sometimes it is inevitable that humans kill other humans and there will be a day when it is inevitable that you take the life of another human. Every action you take will have consequences.”

“What are you saying?” Naruto asked and wrinkled his face up into confusion. He lowered his hands to his sides as Zabuza led them back out to the streets of the city.

“Be careful you do not blacken.”

“Blacken?” He licked his lip feeling the cut with the tip of his tongue and tasting rust.

“To turn mad and lose your humanity. I took my first life at twelve. It was what my family raised me to become. A mercenary who could kill indiscriminately. It was what they tried to mold Haku into and failed. He is too pure and couldn’t hunt a rabbit let alone kill another human. I almost blackened if not for Haku. He saved me.”

“Impossible. Me? Blacken.” Naruto turned his nose upright. “I have the sun god and the temple on my side. My actions are righteous.”

“What would you gain in killing Shisui?”

“Peace of mind that I will not be stopped. Shisui has the power and ability to stop me.”

“How so?”

“The stupid dog jumped off the cliff after me. That kind of blind loyalty he has for the mad emperor is ineffable, dangerous, and blind loyal dogs like him should be gutted and left for dead. I already warned you that traveling with me is dangerous. With Shisui alive it only puts Haku in more danger every day.”

“As long as you have a good enough reason to kill someone. I will not stop you.”

“Will you tell Haku?”

“No. If it means keeping him safe. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Perfect.” Naruto spoke slyly. “Tell me. Where should we go first?”

“Have you ever gambled before?” Zabuza asked as they entered a section of the city that was decorated in red and black lanterns. There was a large wooden sign that had a pair of dice expertly carved out and painted over.

“No.”

“Let’s start here.”

*****

Time was distorted inside the gambling den. The windows had black paint covering the panels and red curtains hanging up. The insides were lit by oil lanterns that left a greasy residue on everything. There was a high-pitched stench of sweat, beer, and a smog of tobacco plumes that permeated throughout the air. It caused Naruto’s eyes to become bloodshot and watery until he eventually became noseblind to the raunch smell.

It appeared that Zabuza had a weakness when it came to gambling it was nearly impossible to get him to stop once he began.

“Jiraiya?” A man joined them at the table. He had a youthful face that seemed timeless as if he could be a young man in his early twenties or in his late thirties. His face was smooth as if carved out of stone. He had menacing eyes that seemed to pierce the soul with long flowing black hair. Naruto had a brief flashback of the emperor’s long inky black hair cascading all around him as he was pinned to the bed.

“I heard you are looking for information on the whereabouts of Jiraiya.” The man continued. He smiled and Naruto saw that his canine teeth were sharper and longer than his other teeth. He resembled the personification of a snake poised to attack at any moment. The men and women in the gambling den were all bottom-of-the-barrel petty criminals. This man was something nefarious as if the leader of the black market himself joined them at the roulette table.

“Do you know who he is?” Naruto asked hopefully.

“He’s a novelist.” The man enunciated every word and Naruto saw his pointed tongue clicking against his teeth. “A historian.”

“Place your bets.” The dealer announced as he grabbed the roulette wheel. Zabuza hastily put his tokens on a column bet.

“You know him.” Naruto answered and lifted his head. “Tell me where can I find him?”

“Oh, my poor baby. What happened to you?” The man feigned concern. He completed a split bet with his tokens before reaching over and touching the bruise that had formed on Naruto’s cheek. They had spent approximately six hours inside the gambling den but if anyone asked Naruto or Zabuza they would have said only an hour passed.

“Don’t touch me!” Naruto yelled and jerked back causing his hood to fall off.

“Why does such a pretty boy have such an ugly bruise? Did your lover hit you?” The man asked slyly and took his attention to Zabuza. The dealer had spun the roulette wheel and dropped the ball in. Zabuza’s eyes were focused on watching the ball spin round and round; he barely paid any attention to Naruto.

“A client gave me this.” Naruto answered with a tilt of his head as if he wasn’t embarrassed. Zabuza told him to act like a gutter rat and he was trying his best to maintain it. The crown prince thought he was a prostitute and maybe he should keep up the rogue.

“We have a winner!” The dealer announced and handed the winnings to the man who had joined them. Zabuza frowned and glared at the newcomer.

“What’s your name?” The man asked.

“Place your bets.” The dealer spoke and there was a mad rush of people placing bets down.

“Isn’t it rude to ask someone their name without giving them yours?” Naruto challenged.

“My name is Orochimaru.”

“Orochimaru? Isn’t that a mouthful?” Naruto smirked. He could feel a scab over the cut on his lip. His face still stung but it was becoming bearable again. The dealer closed betting and spun the roulette wheel. Naruto barely paid attention. Did this man really know Jiraiya or was he just baiting him?

“Will you accompany me to dinner?” Orochimaru asked.

“Ey?” Naruto gawked in disbelief. “Why me?”

“You’re a very pretty boy and I want to whine and dine you.” Orochimaru answered and he brushed his thumb against the cut on Naruto’s lip. The touch made Naruto’s skin crawl and he tried not to show disgust. “How much?” Naruto was caught off guard and blinked repeatedly. “How much does a night with you cost?”

“I’m not working today.” Naruto answered harshly.

“Winner! Two spins in a row winnings are doubled.” The dealer announced and slid the winning tokens over to Orochimaru.

“Place your bets!” The dealer spoke in a booming voice.

“If I win this round you have to accompany me to dinner.” Orochimaru smiled. “We’ll talk business over meat and wine.”

“What will you give me if I win?” Naruto asked and leaned over suggestively. There was an ulterior motive from Orochimaru and Naruto couldn’t figure it out. Did he want to sleep with him? Kill him? Sell him? His mind raced with possibilities. He knew dinner was a cover for ulterior motives; it caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. Talk business? What business? The whereabouts of Jiraiya? Orochimaru hadn’t said anything new about Jiraiya that Naruto didn’t already know.

“This bag of money.” Orochimaru held up a hefty emerald green pouch that had a silk drawstring. Naruto watched as Orochimaru placed a bet on four corners. The black tokens gleamed red in the lantern’s light.

“Alright. I am hungry.” Naruto purred and grabbed a stack of tokens and placed it all on red thirty-two. “Deal.”

“NARU! THAT’S ALL WE HAVE!” Zabuza screamed and slammed his hands on the table. “ARE YOU STUPID?!” He reached his hand out as if to take back the stack of tokens. The dealer slapped Zabuza’s hand away.

“All bets are final.” The dealer chastised.

“Did I make a mistake?” Naruto asked nervously. He found himself shrinking. He only had to peek at Zabuza’s expression to see his eyes were popping out of his head and his jaw clenched. Zabuza had been on a losing streak the last hour.

The dealer closed bets immediately and spun the wheel. He dropped the ball in and everyone focused on the ball as it went round and around. The ball stopped. There were groans of protest and a few people swore and yelled they had lost.

“Red Thirty-two!” The dealer shouted. Naruto smirked and Zabuza smirked.
Orochimaru’s eyes flashed. There was an air of sophistication shrouding him and it seemed to thin and separate as he realized that he was hustled. His eyes flashed with rage and malice.

“Who are you?” Orochimaru lashed out and grabbed Naruto’s wrist, tightening his hold, and refusing to let go.

“I’m a prostitute but I’m not working today.” Naruto answered coldly. He held his other hand out towards Orochimaru. “I won. Hand it over.”

“How long have you known I’ve been watching you?” Orochimaru asked as he dropped the emerald pouch in Naruto’s open hand. Within a second Naruto stuffed the pouch into his inside coat pocket. He let go of Naruto’s wrist and leaned back in his chair. His hand swirling a glass of whiskey around.

“Since the moment you walked in.” Naruto answered and stood up. “Thank you for the money, kind sir. You know what they say, it's better to quit when you’re ahead.” It was what Zabuza said when they finished playing at the blackjack table and moved to the roulette table.

Zabuza and Naruto stood up as if synced up and functioning as one. They noticed how sore their legs were and only started to have a fraction of an idea of just how long they had spent inside. They wanted to get information on Jiraiya but nobody inside knew. It was Zabuza who sensed Orochimaru’s presence and accidentally bumped into Naruto getting his attention. Zabuza had already made a secret deal with the dealer to split their winnings with him if he rigged it. So whatever Naruto bet would be where the ball landed. All Naruto had to do was play along as Orochimaru’s attention was solely on him; it meant Zabuza could plan and scheme without being noticed.

Zabuza explained the purpose of the gambling den isn’t to gamble fairly, it's to cheat and hustle and not get caught. If you get caught cheating it’s game over and not only will the winnings be lost they would be stripped and whipped.

No sooner did Zabuza and Naruto walk through the doors and back onto the street did Orochimaru’s voice call them back into the dark hazy gambling den.

“If I were you. I would still accompany me to dinner, empress. You wouldn’t want me to make a scene would you?”

Naruto became breathless. His heart pounded relentlessly.

“Run.” Zabuza spoke loud enough for Naruto to hear.

Naruto was the first to move. His body jutted forward as if he were a cannonball being fired out. He tried to think of a time in his life where he was fleeing for his life and he couldn’t. It was the first time. His body was underweight from the stress of living in the palace. His muscles weren’t used to their full potential and when he thought deeply about it were barely used at all. He spent most of his time at the temple on bruised knees praying and seeking salvation. His body was meek and meager.

He still ran, finally able to utilize the adrenaline that flooded his bloodstream. He inhaled through his mouth in large gasps. The muscles in his legs were rusty and loosened up as he ran through the streets. They quickly became painful as he was reaching the limits of his body.

“Do you know the way back?” Zabuza asked.

“No!” Naruto admitted. “I wasn’t paying attention, I was just following you!”

“How do you expect to survive if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings?” Zabuza barked.

“You said you would protect me!”

“That doesn’t give you the excuse to be naive! You’re not a palace brat anymore, you're a gutter rat and you better start acting like one!”

Naruto gritted his teeth. His lungs felt like they were on fire every sharp inhale caused an explosion of pain to erupt across his chest. His eyes watered and his stomach churned as he swallowed air in a panic. Sweat formed at the brow and temple and dripped down his neck and collarbone.

Naruto tripped over his feet and fell with such momentum he slammed his hand and face first into the dirt ground. He heard the sound of something slicing through the air and striking the ground a few inches from his ear. He looked up and saw an arrowhead had embedded itself into the ground. If he hadn’t tripped the arrow would have struck him. He started panicking.

“Shit!” Zabuza cursed. The sun was setting behind whoever was on the roof. Naruto looked and saw the outline of a human holding a large bow with an arrow knotted. The person released the arrow aiming directly at Naruto and on pure instinct, Naruto closed his eyes.

“Open your damn eyes! Do you want to die?” Zabuza yelled. He pulled out his sword and sliced the arrow in two. He stepped in front of Naruto, shielding him. “I told you to be a rat, not a sitting duck!”

Naruto scrambled to his feet and continued running down a narrow alleyway. Another arrow was released and Zabuza sliced through it with ease like a hot knife through butter. Whoever was on the roof jumped down and Zabuza ran in the direction Naruto took off running in.

“Don’t you think it’s strange?” Naruto asked as he continued running. They weaved through the crowd running in no particular direction except away. Whoever was chasing them was using rooftops and every now and then an arrow came out of the sky and they narrowly escaped.

“What? This seems perfectly reasonable to me! Everyone wants your reward money. It's what bounty hunters do!”

“No. He could have captured me at any point, right? Why was he trying to ask me out to dinner?”

“Were you flattered?”

“NO!” Naruto spun around a pedestrian and slammed up against the dead end of the narrowing alley they had taken. A wave of helplessness washed over them. Panting and wheezing. “It’s~”

It was the sound of another arrow slicing through the air. The words ‘a dead end’ was swallowed. There was no use in stating the obvious. The arrow struck the sleeve of Naruto’s coat just below the armpit with such precision the arrowhead cut through the skin of his underarm. The speed and strength caused the arrow to barrel into the wall of the alleyway keeping Naruto pinned in place. He could feel blood dripping down his armpit.

Naruto attempted to pull the arrow out when another arrow was released. It struck the fabric of his other sleeve and pinned his arm to the alleyway wall. It happened within a blink of an eye.

“Looks like you can’t run anymore. Stop trying to escape.” A man jumped down from the rooftops and landed a few feet in front of them. The man was tall and slender like a beanpole with wired glasses. Despite having a young face his greyish white hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. “Or I’ll shoot you in the leg.”

Zabuza pulled his sword out and stood in front of Naruto.

“We won’t turn you in. We aren’t looking for you. We’re looking for property that was stolen from us and we want it back.” The man in the wired glasses spoke viciously.

“Property?” Naruto asked as he managed to pull one of the arrows out of the wall. “I haven’t stolen any property!”

“No, but the crown prince has.”

“What does the crown prince have to do with me?”

“Word on the street is that the crown prince is looking for you.”

‘Isn’t everyone looking for me?’ Naruto scowled.

Naruto struggled with the last arrow. He pressed his foot up against the wall and pulled his body back finally forcing the arrow from the wall. He stumbled back. Zabuza hadn’t moved his position. His sword was still pointed towards the stranger.

“What did the crown prince steal?” Naruto snarled and held the last arrow securely in his hand. “Let me guess. You want me to retrieve it?”

“You catch on pretty fast.” Orochimaru’s voice filled the alleyway. Naruto glanced at him from the corner of his eyes. It was a hellish sight. It wasn’t just Orochimaru but five turquoise colored snakes slithered and hissed alongside him.

“You can control snakes too?” Naruto asked slyly. “Are you mimicking the crown prince?”

“These are not regular snakes. These snakes are from the underworld.” Orochimaru lectured. Zabuza raised his sword and sliced through the closest snake to him. His blade sliced through the snake cutting it in two. As if by magic the turquoise snake didn’t die, instead it split off. One half of the snake formed a tail, and the other part formed a head and so there were six snakes in total. “Mortal instruments can’t slay these snakes. Only an act of god can destroy these snakes. They’ll keep multiplying the more you cut them. If you want the alleyway to keep filling up with snakes, cut them more.”

The snakes slithered past Zabuza towards Naruto and it frightened him. His back was already against the wall. He already couldn’t escape. He was already trapped. Panic started to set in.

“What do you want?” Naruto asked. Before he was answered two snakes began wrapping themselves around both legs. Naruto yelped as two more snakes slithered up his legs, one snake wrapped around his waist and another wrapped around his right arm. “Stop! What are you doing?” Naruto yelled.

“Making sure you don’t run away.” Orochimaru answered. He turned his attention to Zabuza who continued to stand in front of Naruto. “Step aside.” Seeing as they were at a disadvantage, Zabuza had no choice but to step aside. Orochimaru walked closer to Naruto. He reached out and stroked his cheek with his hand. “Is this what they call fate? I wasn’t even looking for you but there you were strolling through the city gates and crawling onto my dinner plate ready for me to eat you.”

Naruto scowled. He could feel the snakes wrapping tighter around him. Their bodies were cold and strong as steel. Two snakes remained at Orochimaru’s sides.

“What do you want from me?” Naruto asked.

“I wanted to have dinner with you and discuss things like civilized humans but you ran from me. So now we must do things the hard way.” Orochimaru's oily voice made Naruto nauseous. “I’m willing to make a deal with you, empress. In exchange for information on the whereabouts of Jiraiya. I want you to bring back my property that the crown prince stole.”

“The crown prince has been at war these past few months whatever he stole, why didn’t you retrieve it yourself?” Naruto spoke with indignation.

“Because he hid and protected this little girl within his manor and the magic he possesses I cannot beat.” Orochimaru hissed. His eyes became slits of pure black and he leaned over bearing those fierce black eyes into Naruto’s.

Naruto couldn’t look away and he couldn’t blink. It felt like he was being hypnotized by his black eyes. Staring into those eyes Naruto began to hear screams of the underworld. Resentful souls screaming in agony and these screams clawed at the inside of Naruto’s skull. He heard maniacal laughter and saw blue flames licking the edges of his vision.

“Little girl?” Naruto exhaled. His body had been perfectly frozen.

“Sakura. She was mine before the crown prince stole her. I am only looking for my property back. He doesn’t even know how to use her properly.”

“Sakura?” Zabuza asked and smirked. “She’s in the bingo book. She can grant wishes.”

Oh. It wasn’t a little girl.

“Sakura?” Naruto asked. Wishes? Was that how the crown prince restored his vision? His heart started thumping.

Ba-bump
Ba-bump
Ba-bump

He blinked and the memory of a sultry woman in a tight, revealing dress, and soft pastel pink hair came into consciousness. A woman who accompanied the crown prince to the palace and whom Naruto shared dinner with. A woman who complimented the crown prince so well they made a beautiful couple. The woman who looked Naruto dead in the eyes and challenged him if he really knew who poisoned him and if he did, was he protecting them. The woman who had remained by the crown prince’s side and restored his sight, and whom the crown prince was still protecting.

What a beautiful love story. Jealousy and rage filled him. She who had replaced him. Maybe Naruto should turn this love story into a tragedy.

“The crown prince is hiding her away at the manor?” Naruto continued and looked up at Orochimaru. Protecting her. He snorted. Using magic that can’t be broken by an insidious man who wielded snakes from the underworld.

“I want her back. I want her to step foot outside the manor and I want her to be removed from the crown prince’s side and protection.” Orochimaru continued in a low menacing voice. “In exchange, I’ll tell you where Jiraiya is and as a bonus, I’ll leave Haku alone.”

“Haku?!” Zabuza roared. He had come to life and he swung his sword at Orochimaru’s neck.

Naruto flinched as the snakes instantly tightened around him. It caused Naruto to fall to his knees and cry out. Everything became a blur. Orochimaru revealed his own sword in such lightning-fast reflexes all Naruto heard was the clashing of two swords against each other. Steel clashing against steel. The snake that wrapped around Naruto’s waist slinked its body so that its body wrapped around his neck.

“Sto~” Naruto choked out as the snake wrapped its body tightly around his neck gagging him. He could feel his eyes shifting upwards as his hands went to the scaly body, his nails attempting to rip the serpent from him but it was useless. The snakes around his legs tightened and it felt like their body was going to grind his bones into dust.

“I’ll kill you if you touch him!” Zabuza screamed.

Naruto could barely see with the naked eye the movements of the two men. All he saw was the blur of two bodies and the sounds of swords clashing. One of the snakes slithered up Zabuza’s leg and within a blink of an eye wrapped itself tightly around Zabuza’s neck. Within a minute Zabuza’s lips turned blue and his face turned red. He dropped to his knees and began choking and wheezing. His eyes protruded so far out it looked as if they were on the verge of popping out of his eye sockets. The veins in his neck and forehead swelled and throbbed. His eyes turned bloodshot, watered, and snot began dripping down his nose. The snake only tightened its hold on Zabuza.

Naruto grabbed the snake’s head that had wrapped itself around his own neck. All he was thinking was wanting to burn the snake to a crisp. He saw images of fires burning whole cities to the ground. He internalized the blue flames he saw from the underworld. He could feel something within him expel through his hand and into the skull of the snake. A popping sound was heard and the snake hissed and screamed in agony, uncoiled itself, and flew off Naruto. The snake began writhing on the ground, hissing and crying as if being burned from the inside out. Naruto choked and gagged, catching his breath. He saw the changing colors of Zabuza’s face and panic ensued once more.

“Stop it! You’re going to kill him!” Naruto pleaded. Orochimaru raised his eyebrows and his black eyes looked at the snake that seemed to shrink exceptionally until it was the size of a meager garden snake. His eyes widened and pierced Naruto as if he had just witnessed something phenomenal. They narrowed back into slits of blackness as cold as the universe.

“STOP!” Naruto screamed. He kept seeing people dying in front of him. If he didn’t stop Orochimaru, Zabuza was going to suffocate to death. “PLEASE!”

“Haku is also in the bingo book. I am aware he is currently inside the Inn with Konohamaru from the sun temple, and Shisui, captain of the guard.” Orochimaru explained calmly. Naruto’s bloodshot eyes turned to him. “Luckily for you. The only one I want is Sakura. If I wanted, I could have already kidnapped Haku and taken my leave before you two returned to the Inn. Are you finally understanding what I am saying?”

Zabuza’s tongue flew out of his mouth and a trail of saliva rolled off it and formed a puddle on the ground. His gagging grew louder and his eyes rolled into the back of his head revealing just the whites of his corneas. No!

“You’ll tell us where Jiraiya is and you’ll leave Haku alone as long as we bring you Sakura?” Naruto asked, clarifying the terms and conditions.

“Of course. You catch on fast.”

“Fine. Alright? I’ll do it! Happy?” Naruto voiced hysterically. “Now let him go!”

Orochimaru waved his hand and the snake that had wrapped itself around Zabuza’s neck loosened up and slithered away. It left Zabuza in a coughing fit as he dropped to his side and forced air back into his body. Naruto felt the snake that wrapped around his arm loosen. It raised its head, its yellow eyes catching Naruto’s gaze before it sank its fangs into the crook of his neck. Naruto screamed out in pain. He could feel something being injected into his body as the snake clamped down harder.

“This is your punishment for running away and making me play a game of cat and mouse. Consider this a safeguard on my end so that you’ll fulfill your end of the bargain.” Orochimaru’s cold laughter filled the alleyway.

Naruto started gasping. His skin began to feel hot and prickly. He felt a wave of nausea wash over him. His vision blurred. His eyes clouded over as if filling with fog from the mourns.

“These snakes are from the underworld and they carry a very specific venom. The only mortal that can expel this venom is the cursed child. If the poison is not expelled from your body you’ll die in three days.” Orochimaru explained.

Naruto had dropped to his knees, he bent over and began wheezing. The snakes slithered from his body and returned to circling their master, Orochimaru, faithfully. He could feel the venom running through his bloodstream. His hand covered the puncture wounds of the snake and he could feel blood dripping from the two holes. He could feel the heat of his body escaping those two puncture holes and a coldness settling inside his bones.

Orochimaru kneeled down until he was on the same level as Naruto. His smile was cold and cruel. A powerful aura that brought with it pestilence, death, and decay swirled around him and threatened to suffocate Naruto. Orochimaru grabbed Naruto’s face with both hands and forced him to look up and into his eyes. His hands were icy cold as if Orochimaru wasn’t human but a walking corpse carrying the rotting flesh smell of a corpse flower.

“You better hurry if you want to live. I’ll be watching you.”

Chapter Text

 

I’ll be watching you.

Why were those words so familiar?

Naruto felt a chilliness that numbed his bones and stiffened his body. He remembered opening up the package when he was twelve years old to the vial of poison and the words written by the high priest. He remembered ripping up the parchment into small pieces and chewing them. The taste of paper and ink mixed with saliva as he swallowed the evidence. Six years later and he could still taste the ink on his tongue. He glared at the snake-like man named Orochimaru.

He was filled with unquenchable bloodlust. He wanted nothing more than to disembowel this monster in front of him and devour him. This monster who wielded snakes from the underworld. The ballads of the crown prince and the hundred thousand snakes echoed in his skull. They were both monsters and he wanted to send them both to hell. Orochimaru and the crown prince.

Naruto wanted to protest but whatever venom plunged into his veins was beginning to take hold. He cried out in pain. It left him sweating and gasping for breath. It felt as if he were dry drowning. He fell to all fours. Coughing and choking. His eyes locked to the stone ground. His vision blurred. He wanted to protest but they had threatened Haku. Once again eyes were watching him from the shadows. Eyes. All. Around. Watching. Him. He only figured out the chef was the impostor when he was delivered to the cardinal.

Who was the next impostor? What was going to happen to him before he found out who the impostor was?

“Naruto?” Zabuza’s shadow engulfed Naruto. He didn’t know how much time had passed. When he lifted his head, Orochimaru, his male companion, and the turquoise snakes were gone, leaving them alone in the dead-end alleyway. The sun had set and the coldness of night greeted them. The lanterns were turned on one by one. The faint glow of the light basked the alley in partial darkness.

“I’m not doing it.” Naruto barked and inhaled sharply. His voice cracked. He suddenly became aware of his tongue and it felt dry and swollen. An unquenchable thirst came next. A thirst he couldn’t put his finger on what he desired. What would quench it? It was on the tip of his tongue. He pushed himself into a staggered standing position.

“What?” Zabuza asked. His hands were massaging his own neck. “We have to! He threatened Haku!”

“If I see him again. I’ll kill him.” Naruto muttered. “We need to leave this city. We never should have come here. It’s not safe for Haku.”

Zabuza opened his mouth to protest and argue but the expression Naruto wore was unsettling. It didn’t look humane. It looked deranged like a man suffering from rabies. His lips dried and cracked, peeling back to reveal two rows of small white teeth. His blue eyes were bloodshot. It was enough warning for Zabuza to drop the matter for now.

“How did he recognize you?” Zabuza asked as the two made their way through the streets looking for the Inn neither of them remembered. Although neither of them remembered they didn’t have to openly speak about not knowing the way back, and so both of them kept looking at Inn after Inn for their horses tied up in the back. Neither wanting to admit they were lost.

Naruto stopped at one of the bulletin boards and grabbed one of the posters with his face painted. He held the poster up to his face and looked at Zabuza. “Does it look like me?”

The bruising on Naruto’s face had already turned blue and purple. His face was swollen and tender. Zabuza nodded his head. “I see the resemblance now but I wouldn’t wager money on it.”

“Oh. You hit me for nothing.” Naruto crumpled the poster up and began shredding it. “I’m thirsty.” He released the rest of the parchment paper and walked towards a pub that had a centaur sign hanging above the shop’s door. The wind picked up and the torn parchment blew away. He recalled Haku describing a centaur who had come down from the heavens to teach him healing. It was a good omen. Maybe he could quench his thirst here. Yes. The closer he walked to the pub the more relaxed he was feeling. The looser his muscles became. He could quench his thirst here at the centaur pub.

“Let’s go back!” Zabuza commanded. “I want to make sure Haku is safe. We've been gone for too long~”

“Then go back! Nobody is forcing you to stay with me!” Naruto shouted. “I can find my own way back. I know what my horse looks like. I can take care of myself!” He sounded like a child throwing a tantrum. Something was pulling him into the pub and he wanted to relax a little bit longer.

Zabuza knew if he did not return to the Inn without Naruto, Haku would be upset and would probably leave and patrol the streets looking for Naruto himself. He frowned at this idea and followed Naruto inside the pub. It was better to stick and protect Naruto than face an argument with Haku later.

Naruto ordered a draft beer and took a large swig from the mug. The beer was warm. It bubbled in the back of his throat and settled miserably in his empty stomach. He could feel his stomach clenching with the abhorrent liquid. It burned his throat, nose, and watered his eyes. There was a heavy taste as if he were drinking liquid lead. It caused him to shudder at the taste and he covered his mouth with his hand. His body wanted nothing more than to expel the liquid back up. Utterly disgusting.

It didn’t quench his thirst. The more he drank the worse he felt. The more thirsty he became.

“If anything happens to Haku~” Zabuza began when he was cut off.

“You’ll what? I’d rather die than have the crown prince save me.” Naruto spat. “It’s bad enough Shisui is still alive.” Naruto finished the last drop of the horrid, warm, draft beer. "I haven't died yet. Maybe this will be the thing to finally kill me." Naruto smirked.

“Do you want to die so badly?” Zabuza asked.

“Maybe.” Naruto asked. He brought his fingers to the puncture wounds on the side of his neck. It stung and he quickly pulled his fingers back. It sent a shockwave of pain throughout his body and his eyes watered. His thoughts turned dark and twisted once more. “I can barely take care of myself. How am I supposed to protect Haku? I dragged Konohamaru with me and look at him now, he’s sick. I want nothing more than to flee to the opposite end of the earth as the crown prince. And now. If I don’t go to him I’ll die? Isn’t the universe a little too cruel?”

The crown prince's face flashed across his mind. The intricate inky seals on his snow-white skin. The brilliance of his effervescent sanguine eyes. The curvature of his lips. This man was a predator and he needed to stay far away from him lest he corrupt and bewitch his mind once again.

Oh. How thirsty he was. It was maddening. His insides ached for something he couldn’t even describe. He felt like a man lost in the desert and happening upon a mirage of an oasis.

His vision blurred and became cloudy as if a thick fog slowly filled the pub. The smoke from cigars and pipe tobacco paled in comparison to the cloudy haze that settled inside Naruto’s irises. He could feel his heartbeat lowering as if he were about to drift off into a deep sleep. The thirst was about to consume him.

“You have a mission from the sun god. If you are as devout as you claim you will do absolutely everything within your power to fulfill it.” Zabuza answered passionately. Naruto glanced at him. He forgot he was still with Zabuza inside the centaur pub. Zabuza wouldn't stop talking. “Just like I will do whatever is necessary, at all costs, to protect Haku!”

“It’s another reason why I dragged Konohamaru with me. It was too much of a risk to leave him at the temple. The options at the time were killing Konohamaru at the temple or bringing him with me. If something happened to me. If I were to die. Then Konohamaru will fulfill the sun god’s mission and ascend as high priest.” Naruto explained he raised his cloudy blue eyes and set them on Zabuza. His vision looked as if pieces of the world were blocked by bits of fog as if someone took scissors and began cutting holes into his vision. Pieces of Zabuza were missing and he squinted his eyes. He began rubbing his eyes.

“Aren’t you making excuses?” Zabuza challenged. “You’re looking for an excuse to die.” Zabuza was angry. His voice raised. "Aren't you just masking the fact that you'd rather quit before things got too difficult, and take the easy way out?"

“Huh?” Naruto asked and blinked rapidly. His vision blurred and he could barely make out Zabuza.

“You’re actually suicidal aren’t you? You jumped off the cliff with the intention of dying. But you claim it’s because you were running away from the emperor. Your refusal to find the crown prince is just another attempt of you taking your own life by letting the venom kill you. How could someone as weak as you ascend as high priest? Would the sun god even pick you after knowing how weak-spirited you are? If you are so devout, why are you looking for an excuse to end your own life instead of looking for the crown prince right now?”

Naruto wasn’t able to process Zabuza’s words. His vision had gone completely black. Something was overpowering him. The thirst was about to destroy him. He could feel something immense building inside him like a dying star ready to implode and form a blackhole. Like the moon had fallen from the sky and was going to crash into the earth. He felt someone grabbing his wrist.

Zabuza immediately stood up and looked at the strange man with a thick black beard, and thick bushy eyebrows that covered black beady eyes grabbing Naruto’s wrist. There was a maniacal smile on the man as if he had discovered a treasure trove.

"The crown prince has been looking for you." The man spoke gleefully.

“Let go of him!” Zabuza screamed simultaneously.

“It is you!” The man shouted. “You’re the runaway empress! I found you!”

“No!” Naruto protested.

“IT IS LOOK!” The stranger slammed a poster down at the rickety table Naruto and Zabuza were sitting at. Zabuza’s eyes looked at the poster and his hand immediately went to the sword around his waist. “IT’S THE EMPRESS! HELP ME BRING HER TO THE POLICE AND CROWN PRINCE. WE’LL SPLIT THE REWARD MONE~”

Zabuza blinked and the inside of the pub turned into bloodshed. The last time he saw such bloodshed he had infiltrated a rival clan’s manor and together with members of the Momochi clan slaughtered every man, woman, and child inside the four walls. It was the last mission he took before abandoning his clan and running away with Haku. Something that took an hour to slaughter everyone within the manor seemingly took a second inside the pub.

It was hard to describe. An explosion happened as if a bomb manifested inside Naruto and detonated. The moon had truly fallen. The impact caused Zabuza to fly backwards, falling across the floor, the explosion pushed his body across the room until he struck the opposite wall. He saw limbs being cut from bodies. Arms, legs, heads, flinging in opposite directions. He saw bodies turning into nothing but pink mist as blood rained down from the ceilings. Everything happened in slow motion as if time itself was being bent and twisted and controlled. The sound of wind slicing across the room. The sound of bodies hitting the floor. The sound of blood splattering across the walls, ceiling, and floor.

Then absolute silence.

Zabuza wasn’t breathing. He stopped breathing. He stopped blinking. The hand that originally grabbed Naruto’s wrist was still holding him, but the body that the arm was once attached to was obliterated. Naruto was bathed in the gleaming color of blood. The only sound that could be heard was Naruto’s own rapid breathing. In and out through his parted lips. He straightened up. The opposite hand grabbed the arm that was severed at the elbow and pulled the hand from his wrist.

“No.” Naruto spoke calmly. He held his arm out in front of him and dropped the severed arm. “I do not think you will.” The arm hit the floor with a thud.

“N-naruto?” Zabuza’s voice quivered. He had never witnessed such a gruesome sight. Although he was trained as a mercenary and had been taught all manor of torture to extract information, he had never witnessed the complete dismemberment and obliteration of approximately twenty humans all at once. “Are...are you okay?”

“Mhm? I lost my vision for a moment.” Naruto answered. He rubbed his eyes with his hands but only managed to get more blood in his eyes. “I’m not hurt, it just seems that there is blood in my eyes and it’s stinging me.”

“Naruto...what-what happened?” Zabuza gasped.

“Ah.” Naruto exhaled. The thirst was quenched. “I can see again. What a relief.”

Zabuza was paralyzed. He wasn’t able to move a muscle. His breathing was labored. He realized he was trembling. The familiar smell of rusty blood filled his nostrils. He remembered the screams inside the manor. He remembered the screams of children crying out for their mothers. He remembered slaughtering the children one by one. Ending a bloodline. He heard the sound of swords slicing apart their young bodies in the most merciful manner. The screams echoed inside his skull.

Inside the pub no screams were heard. It happened too fast for a single scream to be uttered.

Naruto lowered his hands. He had smeared blood around both his eyes. He witnessed it. Naruto’s eyes were illuminated in the color of red chalk, in the color of sanguine, in the color of blood. His eyes were glowing and highlighted the blood on his face.

There was blood in Naruto’s hair that dripped off strands of blonde hair. His mouth had twisted into a lascivious smile. His face flushed in pleasure. He rolled his tongue across his lips that were stained in blood, licking the substance. The moment the blood touched his tongue he started laughing. It was a lustful laughter as if he were on the precipice of climaxing. His body bumped across the rickety table and he caught himself with his hand to steady himself.

The sound of Naruto’s laughter filled the pub. Bent over he pounded a fist on the table.

“Ay...Zabuza. Zabuza. ZABUZA. I think I just inherited the sun god’s powers. Do you still think I am too weak to ascend?” He spoke between fits of laughter and madness. He felt a warmness filling his body to the brim and he had felt waves of happiness mixed with power and lust. He was no longer thirsty the thirst had been replaced with hunger.

“What good is ascending if you’re going to die in three days?” Zabuza blurted out. “Do you understand? You're as good as dead in three days!” He had no choice but to match the madness and utter absurdity that Naruto was in, in order to cope with the mascre before his eyes.

Naruto pouted. The illuminated redness of his eyes ceased and his blue eyes returned. He felt a release of endorphins flooding his veins. Again Zabuza’s words settled like cement inside him. Rooted itself and dragged Naruto back to reality. A sluggish, tiredness shrouded him. He wasn’t able to think any further. His eyes rolled into the back of his skull and he fainted. Darkness greeted him like an old friend.

“Naruto?! Shit.”

*****

“What happened?” Sasuke asked the moment he appeared in the doorway of the centaur pub. Inside was a massacre. There was so much bloodshed it splashed across the walls, ceiling, and the floor was covered in the thick crimson liquid he couldn’t find a single section of floorboard that wasn’t covered in it.

“It is why we called for you, crown prince.” The police chief spoke rapidly. “We have never encountered such a thing!”

Apophis’ snide laughter echoed over the police chief’s words; drowning him out. The peculiar thing about Apophis was that Sasuke was the only one who was able to see him. He was an ethereal spirit that latched onto Sasuke the moment he was born. He watched as Apophis slithered across blood-drenched floorboards across dismembered arms, legs, and torsos and under tables. Sasuke tried ignoring him but he purposely raised his voice and made a spectacle behind the police chief.

“Ah~” Apophis hissed in mock pleasure. “I remember this. I remember this well. Tsk-tsk. Such a gruesome sight. Such evil unleashed. Such wickedness. Interesting. At such a level already? I remember. I remember this all too well. History has a way of repeating itself.”

Sasuke frowned at Apophis. He was using the voice he used when speaking in rhymes and riddles and limericks. Taunting Sasuke and withholding information. He tried ignoring Apophis and turned back to the police chief.

“The reports of witnesses said they didn’t hear anything. No screams. No protests. The man who reported it opened the door to the pub and found it like this. How is it possible that nobody heard anything? Is this black magic?”

There was fear in the police chief’s voice. It quivered at the mentioning of black magic. Sasuke himself had been feared when he was younger for fear of what wickedness he would unleash unto the world. His stomach twisted.

“How possible, indeed.” Sasuke repeated. His eyes did a quick inspection of the body parts. It did not appear a blade of steel cut up these people, but rather a force that ripped everyone apart in an explosion. Seemingly all at once since nobody heard any screams.

“What could the motive be?” The police chief asked.

“Start to collect the body pieces. Put them together and see if we can ID any of the victims. Once IDing them, notify the next of kin and begin interviews to try and piece together a motive.”

“The bingo book.” A police deputy commented. He was young, a new recruit still green. “This could be a new person that isn’t in the bingo book.”

“Does such a book actually exist?” Sasuke inquired. “I thought it was just rumors.”

“It exists.” The deputy voiced. He pulled from his pocket a small black book. He handed it over to Sasuke who took it. “It holds the names, images, and prices of each person and the magic they wield. The names that are X’d out are dead.”

Sasuke frowned. It was a rumor he heard that involved Sakura. Her name was in a bingo book and there was a handsome reward for her. Considering her ability to grant wishes he didn’t doubt the existence of such a book, but it was still unbelievable. There were more people like he and Sakura in this world that had abilities gifted upon them from the gods. He had been protecting Sakura and it was impossible for her to fall into harm's way. Therefore, there was no reason to seek out the bingo book. Seeing such a heartless massacre filled him with dread. He feared that he would be framed and the true culprit would escape. It was something cunning and malicious he wouldn’t put it past the sun temple to be behind it.

He began flipping through the book. He saw hand-drawn realistic portraits, names, and the bounty on them. There were others with abilities, powers, magic. He saw portraits that were X’d out in red. Dead.

He stopped when he saw Sakura Haruno’s name and portrait. It looked exactly how she looked when he rescued her from slavery. A gaunt face with dead eyes and cracked lips. A ghost of a girl she used to resemble. The shackles he removed from her. He looked at her reward. The first number listed was five-thousand gold pieces, it was crossed out, and a new reward was written: ten-thousand gold pieces. He tightened his hold on the book. He continued flipping through the pages and stopped on a familiar face. It was an attractive young man with glistening eyes and a warm smile.

Haku Yuki. It was the man he saw with Naruto. The one who rushed to Naruto’s side. The one Sasuke had to convince to buy Naruto a new shirt just for the excuse of being alone with him--because he resembled Naruto so much he wanted to be near him a little longer.

How stupid he was to have Naruto within arms reach and not even recognize him. His gut churned. How did Naruto become acquainted with someone from the bingo book? He looked at Haku’s description. He had healing abilities with notes of necromancy. Necromancy? His eyebrows furrowed. Necromancy was a capital crime punishable by death. Everyone who had summoned a small army of the dead was immediately put to death. He looked at the reward money. Five-thousand gold pieces.

“Word on the street is...the missing empress has been added to the bingo book.” The police deputy continued as Sasuke handed him back the book.

“Has there been any reports of the missing empress?” Sasuke asked. It was a question he had asked the police nearly a dozen times since he came to Voluptas City and began looking for Naruto himself.

“No. Anyone who wants to collect the reward money would bring her to the police.” The police chief assured with a nod. "Bounty hunters would work overtime for someone wanted dead or alive."

Sasuke flinched at him mentioning Naruto dead. He didn’t smell Naruto’s blood. He sighed in relief. Whatever horror occurred Naruto was not caught up in the crossfire. It was all that mattered.

“Over here!” A police officer yelled from down the street. “I think I found dried up blood!”

Sasuke walked over to the squatting officer and joined him. His eyes looked down at the blood. It was drops of blood in the faint shape of a heel. Whoever this deputy was had a trained eye. It could have easily been overlooked. He could see the faint glow of the blood and his eyes looked down the alleyway. His eyes could see the glow of more dried blood droplets forming a staggered path away. He smirked. He was only curious to see the bloody massacre of the pub because he was afraid Naruto was involved. He did not smell Naruto’s presence, blood, or sweat inside the pub.

Now he was curious to see who was meticulous enough to conceal their bloody footprints but not meticulous enough to hide every drop of blood?

“I’ll investigate this lead.” Sasuke smiled and stood up. His hand resting on the hilt of his sword. “Continue investigating for more clues. You found this, follow me.” Sasuke spoke to the deputy who pointed out the blood and clapped him on the back in praise. The police nodded their heads and yelled ‘yes, crown prince’ as Sasuke and the deputy followed the drops of blood like bread crumbs left by Hansel and Gretel.

*****

Naruto cried out when his body was dropped into warm water. The sensation knocked the sense back into him. He gasped for air and consciousness streamed back in with every breath.

“What happened?” Shisui yelled. It appeared during their absence Haku’s weak heart overpowered him and he not only took the balled-up sock from his mouth, but pulled the blindfold off, and unbound his hands. Shisui had free reign over their rented bedroom. “Is he hurt?”

“Naruto, are you alright? Are you hurt? Whose blood is this?” Shisui had rushed to Naruto’s side and began rapid-firing questions at him. Haku, Zabuza, and Shisui had crowded into the bathroom where the tub had been filled with water that came through pipes and plumbing. The shock was enough to wake Naruto up.

Haku’s hands were already on Naruto’s face. His eyes searched his body for any trace of injury or wound as he began pulling off Naruto’s blood soaked clothes.

“What happened? Why are you two covered in blood?” Haku cried out, mortified at the sight of them. Haku looked up at Zabuza who remained quiet from the moment he entered their room. "What happened Zabuza?"

“Hurry and get the blood off him!” Zabuza yelled. “We need to remove all evidence!”

Evidence? Haku’s mind raced. He frowned and let it go. He continued gathering water into a bowl and dumping it over Naruto’s head. It caused Naruto to start coughing.

“Naruto! Say something!” Shisui yelled and began shaking Naruto’s shoulders.

“Let go of me you filthy dog!” Naruto screamed as he locked eyes on Shisui. “Who untied you?” He had a look of pure hatred.

“I did!” Haku spoke as he pulled Naruto’s pants off. “Shisui is on our side! He won’t betray you.” Haku tried to explain. Seeing Shisui untied in front of him sent waves of fear and panic throughout Naruto.

“What are you doing?” Naruto yelled as he realized he was nearly naked. “Get out Shisui! Haven’t you looked at me naked enough in your lifetime?” He screamed. Spit flew from his mouth and his face turned red. It immediately sent Shisui on his heels and he left the bathroom.

“I’m removing the blood.” Haku answered calmly. His gentle voice managed to soothe the madness and anger that swirled within Naruto. “This blood. The evidence. Where did it come from?” He shot a look of reproach at Zabuza. The last time he heard blood being referred to as 'evidence' was back at the Momochi manor. His eyes flashed as he noticed something of alarm on Naruto’s body. He turned back to Naruto.

“What happened here?” Haku asked and his fingers brushed across the puncture wounds on Naruto’s neck. The moment he touched it Naruto flinched, and jerked away from his touch stifling back a cry of pain. Waves of throbbing pain went through him and his eyes teared up.

“He was bit. He’s fine.” Zabuza spoke hastily. It caused Haku to narrow his eyes and his mouth became hardened.

“By what?” He asked. He knew by the way Zabuza was acting that he was lying.

“Oh yes. The blood.” Naruto spoke smugly. He stopped protesting as Haku poured another bowl of water over his chest. “You asked about the blood. Do you want to know what happen~”

“Naruto’s identity was found out. They were going to take him to the police so I killed them.” Zabuza answered before Naruto could say anything else. Naruto had a look of puzzlement, and he stared up at Zabuza. He decided to play along. “I had no choice.” Zabuza lowered his eyes. Haku’s eyes widened. “You wanted to escort him on his mission. How can you do that if he’s captured and taken away?”

Haku paused. A feeling of uneasiness rooted inside him as the morality of life and death was placed in front of him.

“That wasn't all. Haku.” Naruto reached out and grabbed Haku’s wrist. The waves of pain had stopped the moment the puncture wounds were no longer being touched. “You’ve been found out. There are bounty hunters looking for you. If we stay here any longer you’ll be in danger!”

“We can’t leave yet. Konohamaru is gravely ill. If we move now he may die.” Haku answered with a shake of his head. “I won’t leave him behind.” His mind had been made up and it angered Zabuza.

“Haku! You owe these two nothing! Your life is more important!” Zabuza argued. Haku ignored Zabuza. He knew Zabuza was lying but wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt that he had a good reason for lying.

Naruto let go of Haku’s hand. The last of the blood was cleaned off his body. He stood up and Haku wrapped a towel around him. Konohamaru was gravely ill? Why wasn’t Haku able to cure him? His heart started to beat painfully. If he died and Konohamaru died then who was going to fulfill the sun god’s mission? Fear clutched his lungs and breathing became difficult. He needed Konohamaru alive. He felt on the verge of crying.

“I’ll leave you to clean up.” Haku spoke to Zabuza. He led Naruto from the bathroom and shut the door, leaving Zabuza behind.

“You can’t cure Konohamaru?” Naruto asked Haku the moment the bathroom door clicked shut. "Why not? What's wrong with him?

“He has the winter fever. All the symptoms match.” Haku explained. There was a medical book laid out on a specific page on the small table in the room. The book was handwritten in ink that seemed to glow in the fire’s light. “I thought it was eradicated. He isn’t responding to any of my medicinal herbs, and I haven’t been taught how to cure illnesses. The herbs that may help in an antidote are nowhere near here. They’re to the south, but we can’t chance him leaving by horse.”

Naruto looked over at Konohamaru. His eyes were shut but his face was twisted into pain. He was sweating, his skin the color of a white sheet, his lips were tinted blue. He was simultaneously freezing and sweating at the same time. Every five to ten minutes he went into a coughing spurt that sounded wet and deep. He groaned and whimpered in his sleep as if entrapped in a nightmare.

“The winter fever?” Naruto repeated. He was in a daze. He was barely listening to Haku’s medical explanation. “Why does that sound familiar?” He remembered when the temple children were all infected with scarlet fever. The whimpering and groaning in the sick room. A few of them died and their bodies were burned in the courtyard on a pyre. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

“It was a disease that occurred five hundred years ago.” Shisui explained. “During emperor Madara’s reign.”

“I didn’t ask you!” Naruto snarled. He gave Shisui a venomous look. “I asked Haku!”

“It is true. The last time the winter fever was documented was five hundred years ago, however, it was documented in the medical book Beau gave me. It became eradicated with the fall of the god of chaos. I wouldn’t have even known about it if it wasn’t in the book.” Haku seemed to be making connections that Naruto continued to stumble over.

“This is the god of chaos’ doing?” Naruto asked. “The winter fever is back...but it’s spring. I don’t understand. How can Konohamaru be infected with it?” He took the name of the disease too literally. The scarlet fever was named after the scarlet rash that covered the body. The winter fever was named after an illness that happened during winter...right?

“There may be a few isolated cases. Illnesses often transmit following war. If the god of chaos was exerting his powers more it may have accidentally released the illness back into the world.” Haku offered an explanation. “It can be coincidental. Konohamaru was strong and healthy. He just needs to stay in one spot and rest until the fever breaks. If we move him too early. He will die. I have been clearing his lungs of liquid but my powers aren't fully back.”

“We’ll stay here until he’s well enough to leave.” Naruto decided. "We'll stay hidden."

“Here.” Haku spoke and handed Naruto robes of green that were provided by the Inn. “Wear this until you buy new clothes. Your clothes will need to be burned.”

Naruto took the robes of green. He shot Shisui with a threatening look, and Shisui turned around. He dressed quickly and took the towel to dry his hair.

“Why is he untied?” Naruto demanded as he peeked through the towel at Haku. “A loyal dog of the emperor can’t be trusted."

“I trust him.” Haku answered honestly.

“I’m not going to hand you over.” Shisui replied. “I promised you.”

“And I told you I’ll only trust you when you’re dead!”

“Lower your voices.” Zabuza lectured as the bathroom door opened. “Unless you want us to be found out.” Zabuza was wearing a towel wrapped around his waist. Naruto glanced at the muscles and scars rippled across his olive skin wet with droplets of water. He averted his eyes. Zabuza carried their clothes over to the roaring fire. One by one he put the wet, bloody clothes on the fire and began to stoke the fire with a metal poker.

There was a loud commotion coming from outside. Shisui ran to the partially opened window and from the corner of the Inn he saw at least twenty police deputies lining up at the front. The light reflected off the silver sash around their chests, and the silver armband around their left biceps.

“You were followed.” Shisui chastised giving Zabuza a disapproving look. "Apparently you didn't get rid of all the evidence. Now what?"

“Fuck!” Zabuza swore. He immediately stood up. “I’ll clean up the bathroom!”

“If they find me they’ll know!” Naruto panicked. “I won’t go back! I won’t! I won’t! I won’t.” Naruto had entered panic mode. His brain was on repeat. He felt trapped. He felt hot and sticky and fear paralyed him.

“Naruto! I told you I’ll protect you!” Shisui spoke but Naruto couldn’t hear him.

“Naruto...you need to get out of here and hide!” Haku spoke as he grabbed his own cloak and threw it at Naruto. He picked up Naruto’s shoes and tossed them at him. “Put your shoes on...you need to leave through the window!” Naruto still hadn’t moved. “Naruto.” Haku spoke and pressed a hand to his cheek. He blinked and looked into the soft brown eyes that looked like liquid caramel in the light of the fire.

“Shisui will protect you. Go. Go. Go. If the police see him or you it’s all over!”

Chapter Text

 

It was anything but covert. The police assigned to Voluptas City were easily corruptible with fat money pouches and slow, bumbling, reactions. They were so loud and noisy Sasuke immediately knew if the culprit was still in the Inn they had already escaped. He was tempted to call the whole operation off. It didn’t matter, he decided. It would afford them to find more clues. The trail of blood drops led to the Inn. It was all the same.

The police raided the Inn with the sound of a whistle. They were instructed to enter each room and hold the occupants' hostage until Sasuke got there. He followed the blood droplets up the stairs to the third floor where they disappeared on the last step. There were rows of rooms on either side of the corridor.

The blood droplets ceased and Sasuke went door to door and questioned the occupants. He walked around the rooms and the bathrooms. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, he grew more and more impatient, until he reached the last room on the right.

He stopped at the door and his eyes locked to a pair of warm brown eyes.

“You.” The crown prince’s eyes flashed with recognition. His eyes darted around the room. “We met a few days ago. Isn’t it a coincidence we are running into each other again? Some would say that’s fate. Would you agree?”

He could smell Naruto all over the room. His eyes darted to see a sick young man in bed. There was the smell of sickness lingering in the air. It reminded him of the war and he wrinkled his nose in disgust. Apophis had remained quiet as if in a deep slumber. The further away from the bloodshed centaur pub the quieter he became until he couldn’t hear or feel him near.

“It could be fate, crown prince.” Haku answered with a polite bow.

“Where is he?” The crown prince asked. He walked to the bathroom door and turned the handle. It was locked. “Who's inside?” His heart raced. Was it Naruto? He could smell his scent everywhere and it was driving him crazy. He focused on Naruto’s scent and ignored the smell of sick. He wanted to know if he was okay.

“Where is who?” Haku asked innocently. “My companion is bath~”

“Open up.” Sasuke commanded loudly. He pounded on the bathroom door. The door handle turned and swung open to reveal Zabuza, dressed, with wet hair, and a towel draped across his neck.

“What is this?” Zabuza asked. “We’re paying customers. What gives you the right to barge into our room and harass us?” Zabuza’s body filled the bathroom door frame. Sasuke narrowed his eyes. He could smell blood on this man. He could smell blood coming from the bathroom. He knew he was too late and any trace was washed down the drain.

“Watch your tone when you’re speaking to the crown prince!” A police deputy yelled.

“How am I supposed to know who the crown prince is? It ain’t like I met him before.” Zabuza scoffed and sauntered into the room with his arms crossing across his chest.

Sasuke looked into the empty bathroom. It was wet and damp. He looked at the drain in the bathtub. He exhaled in frustration. His eyes looked across the bedroom. A police deputy had kneeled down and checked under the bed, and another opened a closet to reveal it was empty. Sasuke’s heart sank. Naruto had escaped again.

“I’ll ask again. Where is he?” Sasuke asked calmly. His fingers wrapped around the hilt of his sword. The police deputies furrowed their eyebrows in confusion. Not understanding who the crown prince was searching for.

“The room is filled with nothing but the police, crown prince. There is nobody else except me and my two traveling companions here in this room.” Haku answered by gesturing towards Konohamaru on the bed and Zabuza who took a seat at the table. “We aren’t traveling with fugitives.”

Ah. Sasuke thought. They’re protecting Naruto. They won’t give up his whereabouts with the police milling about. Sasuke glanced at the police deputies. He needed to play along and continue this sham of an investigation.

“Haku Yuki. Your name is in the bingo book. It is said you have the power of necromancy. Tonight all the patrons within the centaur pub were slaughtered by an unknown force. A force that wasn’t made by any man made weapon. Rather something gifted from the gods.” Sasuke explained. He set his cold eyes on Haku. “A trail of blood led to this Inn. Do you have an explanation?”

“I was here all night, crown prince. As you can see my companion is gravely ill. I have been tending to him all day and all night.” Haku gestured towards Konohamaru. Haku kept his eyes down and remained polite and maintained proper etiquette.

“Leave us. I will carry out the interrogation from here. Return to the pub.” Sasuke commanded the police force. A murmur of agreement, nods and bows, followed by the police leaving the room. The door clicked shut. Sasuke waited approximately two minutes before clearing his throat.

“Is Naruto alright?” Sasuke asked. “Is he hurt?”

“I don’t know.” Haku spoke honestly. Thinking about the puncture wounds on Naruto’s neck he paled. He glanced at Zabuza who refused to look at him, hiding his guilt.

“Enough. I know he was here. I smell him everywhere in this room! If you do not tell me I will have no choice but to arrest you Haku Yuki under suspicion of necromancy and kidnapping the empress!” He was not above arresting and torturing Haku for information.

“Wait!” Zabuza interrupted. His blood boiled the moment Haku was threatened. “Let’s not act hastily. If we wanted to harm the empress we would have already done so. I know you crossed paths with him a few days ago and didn’t even recognize him. Whose fault is that? You saw with your own eyes. He was fleeing from the emperor. He was fleeing from you. How dare you accuse Haku of kidnapping him.”

Sasuke’s pulse raced. It was nighttime and his eyes illuminated a crimson glow. Zabuza recognized this as the same color that Naruto’s eyes illuminated inside the centaur pub. It was the first time he was seeing the cursed child, the crown prince, the reincarnation of the god of chaos. He saw the cursed seals within each iris as well as the cursed seals painted in what looked like calligraphy across his face and neck. The seals looked like they were written in a dead language. He could tell by the energy and power emitting from him that he wasn’t an opponent he could go toe to toe with and expect to win.

Sasuke remained quiet.

“Naruto poisoned the emperor. If he is captured and returned. He will be put to death.” Zabuza lowered his voice. “If you want him dead I’ll tell you where he is.” It was a bluff. He needed to know the crown prince’s intentions. “In exchange, leave Haku alone.”

“Naruto…?” Sasuke’s eyes widened. He was only able to say his name before his thoughts raced and an unpleasant taste filled his mouth. “That’s not…” His mind turned blank. His face paled.

“Knowing all this, do you still plan on bringing him back to the emperor?” Haku interrupted. “If you are. Then arrest me. I will not give up the whereabouts of the empress.” Haku stepped in front of Zabuza and held his wrists out.

“Haku!” Zabuza argued and pulled Haku back.

“No!” Sasuke answered without another thought. “Of course not! I...I never wanted Naruto to marry him from the beginning!” He felt choked up. He felt like he was on the cusp of crying. He was thirteen years old again and pleading with Naruto not to follow through with the engagement. Something clenched his heart and he felt a gut wrenching ache. “Where is he? I’ll protect him!”

“He escaped through the window. I told him to hide until the police were gone.” Haku answered. He sensed that the crown prince was being truthful. There was a deeper relationship between Naruto and the crown prince that Naruto never mentioned. It left Haku curious to know why Naruto wanted the crown prince dead whereas why the crown prince wanted to protect Naruto.

“Alone?!” Sasuke gasped in annoyance. “How are you protecting him if he’s alone?”

“No. He isn’t alone.” Haku hesitated. “He’s with the captain of the guard~”

“Shisui? He’s with Shisui?” Sasuke exhaled in one breath that seemed to take all the energy out of him. His mind was racing. Why did Naruto poison the emperor? Why was Shisui escorting him? There was a look of mortification on his features. Where was Naruto? He wanted to see him. His heart was ripping apart the longer he was apart from Naruto.

“Yes. So he is in capable hands.” Haku tried to reassure him. It wasn’t working. “If you just wait...he’ll come back.”

Sasuke nodded his head. “I’ll wait.”

“I’ll make some tea.”

*****

“Let go of me!” Naruto snarled and shoved Shisui away with both hands.

“Keep your voice down!” Shisui argued back.

“I’ll keep my voice down if you stop touching me! You can’t tell me what to do out here!” Naruto shivered. His hair was still wet. He could feel droplets dripping down his spine and goosebumps forming.

The two walked down a narrowed alleyway that seemed to never end. Finally they came to a section of the city that smelled heavily of perfumes. There was the sound of string instruments playing. It was a whimsical, lustful sound. There were rainbow lanterns strung up that glowed vibrantly, and paper hearts fluttering around. They walked through a wooden arch that had a carved cupid with candles lit in a circle paying homage to the god of love.

“This is perfect. We’ll hide out here.” Shisui spoke as he recognized where they were.

“Here? What is this place?”

“They’re brothels.” Shisui answered and led the way.

“You want to buy whores? You pervert!” Naruto barked. “You are a dog!”

“You know nothing of the world. This will be the last place anyone looks for you. We’ll hide out here for a while and then we’ll go back. Come on.”

The only reason he left out the window with Shisui was that Haku told Naruto that he trusted Shisui. Because Naruto trusted Haku he believed him. Now he was regretting his decision more and more with every step. Shisui led him through the dizzying streets of the city to the pleasure center where the square was lined with brothels. There were beautiful women of all ages clad in neon colored robes. Their faces were made up in white makeup and their hair styled in intricate updos. It wasn’t just women. There were young men, of all body builds, with some boyish faces, some handsome faces, dressed in flowy, ruffled shirts, and tight pants. All were dancing to try and entice customers into their brothel.

“They're men and boys too!” Naruto pointed out as he unconsciously walked closer to Shisui.

“This city caterers to the desires of men. Some men prefer the company of women. Some men prefer the company of other men.” Shisui answered.

“I...I know!” Naruto’s face flushed red with embarrassment. He knew there was such a thing as male prostitutes. He had never met a male prostitute. He knew from the preachings of the sun temple they were hardly fitting to be called men, but rather bitches in heat. “I just...didn’t expect there to be so many!”

He remembered when he let the crown prince believe he and Haku were prostitutes. He caught glances of the men who paraded out on the balconies of the brothels.

“Let’s go here and rent a room.” Shisui suggested. They stood in front of a vibrant three story building with handsome architecture and wood that gleamed as if recently polished.

“Rent a room?” Naruto gawked. He felt his neck and the tips of his ears beat red.

“Relax. You don’t have to sleep with anyone. The part of the price is being entertained. They dance, sing, and play instruments.” Shisui explained. “It’s not only about sex. Where is your mind going?”

“Where...where do you think it’s going? Aren’t they selling sex?” Naruto argued bluntly. He felt embarrassed and wanted to save face.

“This man, Jiraiya, you are searching for is a man who frequents brothels. What is the best place to gather information but a brothel?” Shisui explained casually and led them to the patron owner.

A woman who appeared in her fifties greeted them. There was a large mole on her chin with one long hair growing out of it. She wore white fox fur across her shoulder and elegant robes of purple. Naruto kept his eyes locked down and was too ashamed to look anyone in the face. The woman laughed at him.

“His first time?” The woman asked Shisui as money was exchanged. Shisui filled his request for a room with women entertainers. Naruto unconsciously inched closer to Shisui.

“Mhm. It’s his first time.”

“First-timers are entitled to a massage at half the cost.” The woman bartered.

Naruto made a squeaking noise as if he swallowed his tongue and coughed it back up. Shisui laughed and nodded his head.

“Yes. Include a massage.”

As they were led to their room Naruto spoke up. His voice high-pitched and shrill. “What do you mean by a massage?” He remembered the massages with the emperor inside his bedchamber and his skin began to crawl. He held himself. He remembered the oils and he covered his mouth as he reflectively gagged. “I don’t want one!”

“Relax. You can keep your clothes on.” Shisui explained. “Didn’t you want to start living as a man? What’s more manly than going to a brothel and being pampered by beautiful women?”

“I...I am a man!” Naruto defended. He lowered his voice. “But I am a temple child! We don’t succumb to the desires of the flesh.” The images of the emperor using him as a sex puppet flashed across his memory. It caused him to feel nauseous.

“Child? I see no child. Aren’t you an adult?”

“Y-yes!” Naruto stammered. His face had grown completely scarlet.

He was out of his comfort zone and he was going out of his mind besides himself with shame and embarrassment. His mind was spinning; he could barely comprehend anything that was going on. Everything was happening too fast. He felt dizzy and exhausted but the adrenaline that coursed through his veins from the moment he escaped out the window was enough to keep him up the rest of the night. He was vibrating as if he drank too much coffee before bedtime.

The room they had entered was a large room that reminded Naruto of concubine Izumi’s room and his heart sank. It was decorated with floor cushions, and a large table that sat low to the floor with dishes of food and decanters of wine. There was incense and candles burning filling the room with the smell of patchouli and bergamot. The perfumes and incense caused him to be dizzy and a little delirious.

Naruto felt stunned and he was still too ashamed to look up at the beautiful women dressed in matching outfits. There was cloth across their breasts. There were symbols painted across their stomachs outlining their belly-buttons. They wore long flowing pants with slits up the side to reveal the skin of their legs and thighs. There were bracelets on their arms, and chains with bells around their waist that made soft ringing noises when they moved. They were all rather attractive.

“Why not look up?” Shisui asked Naruto. “They won’t bite.”

“I hate you.” Naruto snapped. His face paled. “I hate you. I hate you!” He covered his eyes with his hands. “You know very well how modesty is one of our values! You’re mocking me. If I had a sword I’d plunge it through your chest.”

Naruto thought back to the centaur pub. The power that built up within him and erupted in an explosion. He felt swollen and empty now. He remembered Haku saying how he had used up his power and needed to wait for the bucket to refill. Every muscle in his body ached and throbbed. He felt unbelievably tired and he just wanted to close his eyes. He sank to the floor and shut his eyes just for a moment.

“You hate it this much, young master?” A woman’s voice filtered next to him. He opened his eyes and looked at a pair of sparkling seafoam green eyes. It was a young woman who appeared around his age. She had vibrant blonde hair in an intricate up-do of braids and ringlets. “Is it because you have someone you already love, young master?”

“Ey?” Naruto asked. He didn’t know why the crown prince’s face flashed across his mind. “No!”

“That means you do.” The young woman teased. She had a small chest compared to the other women in the room. There was a small line of cleavage that peeked through seafoam green cloth. Upon closer examination, she was very beautiful with the face of a water nymph. She carried with her confidence that wasn’t arrogance and beauty that wasn’t overpowering. “So, what’s their name?”

“Whose name?”

“The person whose name and face flashed across your mind.” She reached out and touched Naruto’s forehead. “I saw it.” The spot where she touched him felt cool and it filled him with relief. For a moment he wasn’t in pain. The moment she pulled away he felt every ache and pain in his body. “I saw an image of chaos.”

“There was nobody so how could you see?” Naruto protested. The young woman sighed. Why did she bring up...chaos? His mind turned to the crown prince once more.

“Playing the denial game? Alright. I won’t force you. If you’d like, I can give you a tarot card reading. It’ll help pass the time until you can go back.”

Naruto’s eyes flashed to see that Shisui had left his spot next to him and had joined the girls dancing. Two girls continued to play stringed instruments off to the side. He narrowed his eyes at the insidious man and looked back at the young woman who had revealed a deck of cards. He had no idea where she was hiding the deck of cards and decided not to think about it too much.

“What are tarot cards?” He asked.

“If you’re looking for a question in the past, present, or future. Ask it and I will read the answer in the cards for you.”

“I am looking for a novelist, a man named Jiraiya. Do you know where I can find him?” Naruto asked anxiously. “He’s going to translate a textbook for me.”

“A man rooted in the present?” The woman asked. Naruto nodded his head. She folded the deck of cards facedown in a smooth line as if she had done this a hundred thousand times before. The cards were worn. “Pick three cards.”

“Do I pick them up?” Naruto asked. The woman nodded her head. Naruto noticed her ears were pierced and decorated in precious stones. Naruto looked at the back of the faded cards. He was confused. He pointed to a card randomly. His fingers hesitated. He picked it up and held it to the young woman.

“The five of swords.” The young woman spoke. Her eyelids lowered. Her eyes trailed slowly from the card in Naruto’s hand to his eyes. “You are looking for a man rooted in the present. This card indicates unbridled ambition. Win at all costs.”

“Does that mean I will find him?” Naruto asked eagerly.

“Mhm. You will. This card also means sneakiness. You will achieve your goal at all costs. You will undoubtedly find him.”

At all costs? The words echoed in Naruto’s head. He heard Zabuza’s voice inside the centaur pub. A ringing sound was heard softly in the background. He thought back to Orochimaru and his forced bargain. In exchange for Sakura, he would give him information on the whereabouts of Jiraiya. Was this the road he was meant to take? The crooked path of deception? He remembered when he was sent to the manor to poison the crown prince. How he failed miserably.

Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. He felt a hunger that hurt in the pit of his stomach. That unquenchable thirst he felt at the centaur pub. The smoke from the incense filled the room and blurred Naruto’s eyes.

“Pick another card, young master.”

Naruto was filled with apprehension. He hesitated. His eyes searched over the backs of the cards and each card blurred into the next. He picked up one at the very end and looked at it. He showed the young woman.

“The eight of cups.” The young woman spoke softly. Her fingertips tapped each of the eight cups. “It means disillusionment. The answers you are searching for within this man may not be the answers you are hoping for. In fact. You might be disappointed in the truth.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you heard of the cave allegory?”

“No.”

“There were these humans who were born and raised inside a cave. They were chained together and positioned so they were unable to turn their heads to look behind them. All they could do was look at each other and look at the cave wall in front of them. There they saw shadows on the walls and they created names and purposes for the shadows. They didn’t understand what was making the shadows and believed the shadows were their whole world.”

“One day a philosopher goes into the cave and releases the people. The philosopher led them out of the cave and tried to tell them about the world. The real world outside the cave. The philosopher tried telling the people that there were puppets that were making the shapes on the cave wall but none of the people believed it.”

“It was such a shock. When they were faced with the truth they became frightened. They killed the philosopher, calling him mad. All the people willingly went back into the cave and chained themselves back up. They preferred to look at the shadows on the cave wall instead of learning about the world outside the cave.”

The young woman finished her explanation. Her voice was mystical. It wrapped around Naruto and formed a small barrier around the two of them. The rest of the world vanished. The room with the beautiful women in pastel clothing, and dancing, and singing, and string instruments vanished. It was just Naruto and the young woman sitting on a piece of floor floating in space.

The story was frightening. It left Naruto with a sense of foreboding as if he was given a glimpse into the future.

When Naruto didn’t respond, the young woman posed a question. “So what do you think, young master, about the philosopher? Was he right or wrong?”

“The philosopher should have left the people alone in the cave. The people were perfectly content watching the shadows on the wall.” Naruto answered matter-of-factly. “He disturbed their world and he deserved to die.”

A darkened, grim, expression graced her nymph-like features. It flashed for an instant, and when Naruto blinked, the expression reverted back to a charming smile.

“Pick your last card, young master.” The woman spoke in a soft coaxing voice.

This time Naruto was cautious. He had decided he had picked too randomly with the first two cards. The last time he was deliberate. He hovered his fingers above the cards and slowly moved his hand until he felt warmth radiating from one card directly in the middle. He picked it up and without looking at it held it out to the young woman. His eyes locked on her eyes that resembled a stormy ocean.

“It’s the Judgment card.” The young woman answered. Her voice was low. “It means reckoning. I pity everyone entrapped within the mortal realm. It’s a fate worse than the underworld. Mortal lives are so vulnerable and feeble. It doesn’t compare to how short the mortal life is. Life of a mortal is like the flickering flame of a candle. A gust of wind can snuff the life out of so many candles.”

“A reckoning?” Naruto repeated. “Judgment begets judgment?” It was a saying they preached at the sun temple. Naruto was familiar with judgement.

“Ah, yes, young master. A reckoning awaits you.” The young woman nodded her head. “There are three worlds. The heavens, the mortal planes, and the underworld. A reckoning of two worlds will collide. The world of the heavens and the mortal plane.”

“Is it because the god of chaos is rising to power?”

“There is going to be another war, another reckoning, young master. The last reckoning occured five hundred years ago. You are pivotal in how the reckoning will tip. Are you going to believe the world exists outside from the shadows on the cave walls...or are you going to be the destruction and kill the philosopher?”

Naruto sat stunned, soaking up her words. His mind was moving slowly as if processing everything in slow motion. He had inhaled too much incense smoke and he felt dizzy and fatigued. He couldn’t answer her properly. His mind simply stopped processing her words.

The young woman gathered up the cards in one smooth motion sliding the deck back into its case. She licked her lips and straightened up.

“Since you allowed me to do a tarot card reading. I will bestow upon you some knowledge, young master. The original four gods. The sun god whose element is fire. The god of rivers, seas, and oceans whose element is water. The god of the underworld whose element is earth, and finally the goddess of the moon whose element is air.”

The young woman reached out and placed her hand over Naruto’s beating heart. The moment she touched him a coolness erupted all over his body and the aches and pains within him vanished. “The power that was bestowed into you does not belong to the sun god, but of the moon goddess. The power of wind. It was a way to protect you, young master.”

“The moon goddess?” Naruto asked and pulled back. “That’s impossible! I am to ascend as high priest...I will have the sun god’s powers bestowed upon me and I will rid the world of the god of chaos! I’ll be the one to kill the god!”

“You’ll be the one to kill a god?” The young woman asked. She wrapped her arms around Naruto’s neck, crawled into his lap, and straddled him. She felt light as if she weighed no more than a feather pillow. Her body pressed into his lap. Her body was cool and he felt waves of pleasure filling him.

“...yes.” Naruto whispered. He remained rigid, afraid of what she would do next. “It’s why I need the sun god’s power. I don’t want the moon goddess’ wind power. Take it back.” The young woman brought her fingers to Naruto’s lips. Her fingertips brushing against them and preventing him from talking. She smelled delicious. It caused Naruto to salivate. He suddenly felt the urge to kiss her.

“Who says you can only have one elemental power? You are foolish to believe otherwise. It is possible for a human to be bestowed multiple elemental powers from the gods and goddesses. It is true you have been prophesied to ascend as high priest of the sun temple, however, you already ascended as high priest of the moon temple. This has never happened before, young master.” She brought her lips to Naruto’s ear as she spoke.

“The moon goddess? I’ve ascended as the high priest of the moon temple? How is that possible? It is an inferior goddess to the sun god...I only want to serve the sun god. This is a cruel trick! I don’t want this power!”

“You want to believe the shadows on the cave walls.” The young woman’s face hardened. Her eyes darkened and her mouth turned into a thin line of contempt. A chilliness filled the air and made breathing difficult. An ugliness crept on her face.

“You want to kill the philosopher when he wasn’t the one who imprisoned the people in the cave in the first place. The philosopher had only wanted to free the people and bestow truth and knowledge onto them. When the ones responsible for putting the people in the cave in the first place was a cruel god known as Helios!”

“Get away from me!” Naruto yelled. He pushed her off him. Her back hit the ground. He was filled with fear. He wanted to run away but fear kept him frozen. He tried standing up but his knees locked and he fell back down. He was trembling. The pain returned threefolds.

“If you continue to believe in the shadows on the walls you’ll be the downfall to mankind. It’s not going to be the god of chaos versus the world. It will be you versus the world.”

“I said get away....GET AWAY!”

Naruto woke up. He was covered in sweat and chilled to the bone. He couldn’t stop shivering. His teeth chattering. He was sleeping on a futon. He felt the sun’s rays against his face and he squinted his eyes, his vision coming into focus. He saw a blurry figure kneeling next to him.

“Naruto? Did you have a nightmare?” Shisui asked.

“Yes.” Naruto exhaled and pushed himself into a comfortable position. He looked around. They were still in the room they had rented at the brothel. It was empty except for the futon he was sleeping in. “What...what happened?”

“You fell asleep. I paid extra for us to stay here for the night. I was surprised you slept so long. I was getting worried and would have woken you up if you slept any longer. Let’s eat some and return to the Inn.”

“Mhm.” Naruto felt shook up. He wasn’t in the mood for talking.

*****

The Inn remained undisturbed. There were patrons in the restaurant on the first floor. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There was no surveillance and no signs of any police officers. Naruto stood behind Shisui. The hood of Haku’s cloak was covering his head and his eyes were focused on the ground. Shisui knocked on the door.

“It’s us.” Shisui spoke clearly and loudly for the occupants to hear them.

“You’re back!” Haku greeted and opened the door. “Is everything alright? Was there any trouble?”

“No. I really will kill Shisui if you force me to go with him again.” Naruto spoke loudly. He pushed past Shisui and entered the room. He lifted his hands to his hood and flung it backwards as Shisui entered the room behind him. The door closed. “He dragged me to a brothel and spent all night being a bitch in heat...”

Naruto trailed off. He instinctively stepped back and in doing so ran into Shisui’s chest as Shisui took a step forward. “Oopf.” Shisui exhaled as Naruto hit him and stepped on his foot.

Coming out of the bathroom was the crown prince. Naruto’s eyes widened. He looked at Zabuza who was seated at the small table in the room. Zabuza immediately avoided eye contact before he took his frenzied expression to Haku demanding an explanation with the horrified expression.

“What’s he doing here?” Naruto cried out. He thought this was a setup. The worst flashed across his mind. “Why is he here?” Naruto turned his attention back to the crown prince. The horrified expression deepened.

“Naruto…why are you looking at me like that?” The crown prince’s voice sounded hurt, detached, concerned. “I’m so sorry!” Shisui moved from behind Naruto just as the crown prince wrapped his arms around Naruto into a hug. “Please, forgive me. I didn’t know!”

“Know...know what?” Naruto asked. His body stiffened. He was in shock. He was confused about why the crown prince was apologizing. He could feel the warmness of the crown prince’s body up against his. Was his body always this warm? How cold the emperor’s body was in comparison.

Naruto could still smell the perfumes and incense of the brothel. Still. Through all that stink he could smell jasmine. The smell of the crown prince. The smell of the manor. Naruto found his body relaxing as the crown prince continued to hold him.

“I should have kidnapped you the last time I saw you. I knew you were poisoned and I didn’t do anything about it.” The crown prince confessed in Naruto’s ear. It sent chills down his body. Naruto’s knees were feeling weak and prickling pain went up and down his legs as if he were being stuck with needles. “I told you I will protect you. I will never hand you over to him. I’ll kill him. I promise you. He will never hurt you again.”

An image flashed across Naruto’s mind. Tenten’s body split open on the grass outside her room at the manor. The chef’s decapitated head inside the kitchen. The crown prince killed everyone that had hurt him. His eyes watered up. He wanted to push the crown prince away but he couldn’t. He started trembling. The crown prince feeling him tremble held him harder. Naruto relaxed more and leaned into the embrace, resting his head against the crown prince’s chest, and inhaled the smell of jasmine.

“So please don’t look at me like you’re afraid of me.” The crown prince continued.

“Ah.” Naruto answered with assent. He had no choice but to pretend. The two remained locked in that pose for a few more moments. Naruto allowed the crown prince to hold him. Shisui’s eyes darkened. Zabuza and Haku looked away as if they were intruding on something.

Naruto could feel and hear the crown prince inhaling. The crown prince pulled away and looked down at Naruto. “Why can’t I smell you?”

“Ey?” Naruto asked, his face flushing. “Wh-what do you mean? Why are you smelling me?”

“You don’t have a scent. What happened?” The crown prince asked. He grabbed one of Naruto’s hands and pulled it towards him. He turned his wrist over and brought it to his mouth as if he were going to kiss the vital point on his wrist. It caused Naruto to turn pink. The crown prince smelled him. “You don’t smell like anything.”

The crown prince pulled Naruto back into an embrace this time bringing his nose to the crook of Naruto’s neck. Naruto felt riptides of shivers crashing through his body as he felt the warmth explode across the skin of his neck. “Is this why I couldn’t find you?”

“He smells.” Zabuza retorted. Zabuza opened up the windows to air out the room that had filled with the stench of a brothel. “They both wreak. What do you mean he doesn’t smell?”

The warmness of the crown prince heated the crook of his neck, across his shoulders, through his chest, into his groin, and filled his legs and arms. It sent goosebumps rippling across his skin. He felt hot and sweaty. He leaned back up against the crown prince putting more and more of his weight onto him. The smell of jasmine continued to fill him and he felt intoxicated as if he were drunk on the aroma of the crown prince. It caused Naruto to panic.

The crown prince inhaled. “What’s wrong? Your blood smells different. What happened to you?”

The crown prince pulled away and looked directly into Naruto’s clear blue eyes. Naruto was bewitched. His mind emptied of every thought. The crown prince’s eyes appeared matte red in the daytime. They were still beautiful. The cursed seals within his irises seemed to pulsate. Naruto reached out and was about to wrap his arms around the crown prince’s neck.

“Konohamaru!” Haku cried out. There was an interruption.

Naruto saw movement on the bed and his arms dropped. Konohamaru was seizing. Foam filled his mouth. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and all he saw was bloodshot white corneas. His body thrashed uncontrollably. Naruto was able to escape the prying eyes of the crown prince and ran to the bedside.

The first thing Naruto noticed was that all of Konohamaru’s fingertips and nails were blue. The second thing he noticed was the veins on Konohamaru's chest. They formed a spiderweb of the same color blue as if someone tattoo’d Konohamaru’s skin with the design.

“What’s wrong?” Naruto asked. He wanted to ask about the blue spider veins and his blue fingertips. Konohamaru continued to thrash around violently as if being electrocuted. “What’s happening?”

“He’s having a seizure. The fever must have spiked.” Haku explained. He had crawled up alongside the bed and kneeled beside Konohamaru. He took a few breaths and raised his hands to Konohamaru’s forehead. A blue light was emitted from Haku’s palms and this light was transferred into Konohamaru’s forehead.

“Will he be okay?” Naruto asked anxiously. Konohamaru’s body stopped thrashing. Foam ran out of his mouth and down the side of his face. Haku moved one of his palms to Konohamaru’s mouth. The foam and saliva vanished and his airway was cleared.

Naruto sensed something. He looked up at Haku’s face. “HAKU!”

In the middle of the commotion the crown prince turned to see Shisui slipping out of the room. He narrowed his eyes. The door closed quietly behind him. The crown prince wanted to go after him but he wasn’t about to have Naruto leave his sight again. He turned his attention back to Naruto.

Zabuza turned his head in Haku’s direction. Haku’s nose was bleeding. Two lines of blood rolled down his mouth and dripped off his chin as he continued to lower Konohamaru’s body temperature. Naruto remembered Zabuza explaining the effects on the body once the power was overused. How Haku bled from every orifice on his face when he overexerted his power.

“Haku that’s enough!” Zabuza demanded. He stood up so fast the chair he was sitting in fell backwards.

“I’m fine.” Haku murmured. “Let me concentrate. I’m almost done.”

“HAKU!” Zabuza yelled and approached Haku. He was on the verge of grabbing Haku and dragging him away.

“Let him finish!” Naruto yelled at Zabuza and stepped between them.

The crown prince watched Zabuza closely and seeing that he wasn’t going to get physical with Naruto he observed Haku. He hadn’t sensed a mean bone in Haku’s body. Zabuza smelled of blood. The lingering smell of blood from countless murders. Haku smelled of medicinal herbs. The smell of a doctor on the battlefield.

“There.” Haku exhaled and fell backwards. His back pressed against the wall. He inhaled and exhaled sharply through his mouth. He pulled out a handkerchief from an inside pocket and began to dab the blood from his nosebleed away. “His body temperature has lowered.”

“What is he sick with?” The crown prince asked curiously. His eyes trailed the blue spider webbing on his chest to the blue fingertips.

“The winter fever.” Haku answered. His warm brown eyes lifted up. His voice was muffled by the handkerchief against his mouth. Zabuza helped Haku from the bed, he led him to the table and sat him down. Haku took the medical textbook and flipped to the page that outlined the winter fever. He held it up to the crown prince.

“It’s explained in this book?” The crown prince asked. “I cannot read. I am in the process of learning but I am not confident in my skills to read and comprehend.”

“You can’t read?” Naruto interrupted. The thought never occurred to him. The crown prince spent eighteen years of his life in a blinding spell. The moment he asked he immediately regretted it.

“Sakura was teaching me how to read before~”

“Okay.” Naruto interrupted. “I forgot. You were blind.” His voice cold and detached. “Haku read it so the crown prince understands.”

The crown prince frowned at Naruto’s reaction. Haku nodded his head and began reading the passage. It documented the winter fever of five hundred years ago. It was an illness that plagued the mortal realm traced back to the god of chaos and the goddess of discord.

“Goddess of discord?” The crown prince interrupted. “You are alluding that it is my fault this temple child is infected, are you not?” The smell of the temple wafted off Konohamaru. It caused the crown prince to keep his distance.

“Yes.” Naruto answered firmly. “This is a book bestowed to Haku by the heavens from the god Asclepius! A heavenly text!”

“I am not disputing the author of the text nor its authenticity. I am merely pointing out the goddess of discord had her hand in this illness too. How is shouldering the blame to the god of chaos going to help?” The crown prince spoke directly to Naruto. He watched as Naruto refused to answer and turned away from him.

Naruto didn’t have an explanation because he knew nothing about the goddess of discord.

Haku continued to explain the symptomology of the winter fever. It started off as shortness of breath, a fever, liquid in the lungs, blue fingertips and toes, and an icicle effect described as the spidering of blue veins from the lungs out across the body. The illness was named after the blue tipped fingers that resembled frostbite and the blue spiderweb veins that erupted across the flesh. The body goes into a fevered coma as the body tries to heal itself. There are several plants that can help alleviate and cure the illness. They are found in the south of Konohagakure within the Forest of Death.

“The Forest of Death? That is near the manor.” The crown prince nodded his head. “We should make haste.”

“What?” Naruto gasped. “We can’t move Konohamaru, he'll die!”

“Konohamaru can’t be moved by horseback.” Haku corrected. His voice was gentle and clear. He retained the role of mediator. Color started returning to Haku’s face.

“I have a fleet of carriages. I even have a stagecoach with a bed.” The crown prince explained. “I am traveling with a physician. He can travel with Konohamaru and you, Haku, to monitor his vital signs.”

“The manor? Is that where you live or something?” Zabuza asked.

“Yes. Everyone will be more comfortable there than in these dingy, overcrowded, stuffy, suffocating, Inns.” The crown princed used every unappealing descriptive word in his repertoire. “The manor is clean, spacious, and airy.”

The crown prince hadn’t understood what Zabuza was really saying. His question wasn’t for the crown prince, it was poised at Naruto. Orochimaru had described that Sakura had been protected by the crown prince at the manor. An invisible barrier that kept her hidden and protected. Orochimaru needed Naruto to lead Sakura away from the manor, from the barrier, and away from the crown prince.

Naruto glanced at Haku. The threat of Orochimaru taking Haku away loomed at the edge of his vision. Naruto locked eyes with Zabuza.

Naruto found his body shivering. He remembered. He remembered the young woman with the tarot cards who invaded his dreams. Recalling the tarot card reading and her explanation of his fate written in the cards. He stole a peek back at the crown prince. His breathing turned shallow. How seamlessly the crown prince was stitched back into his life as if there was an invisible thread that connected them.

“Okay.” Naruto nodded his head. “I want to save Konohamaru. The medical plants are to the south. Let’s make plans to go to the manor.” He looked at Haku for confirmation. “Right, Haku?”

“Yes. They described the medicinal plants and sketched them beautifully. As well as how to prepare the medicine. The sooner we leave the sooner we can get the cure for Konohamaru.”

As if forgetting someone, Naruto spun around. His eyes scanned everyone in the room. He ran to the bathroom to find the door open and the room empty. “Where is he? Where’s the damn dog?”

“Shisui? He left a while ago.” The crown prince answered.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Naruto yelled. He directed his anger at the crown prince. “He’s going to tell the emperor about me! Stupid! Why’d you let him go?” His voice was filled with vile hatred and he looked at the crown prince with pure disgust.

The crown prince was at a loss for words. He had never witnessed Naruto with such hatred and rage. It oozed out of him like a noxious smog and he was momentarily taken aback.

“Don’t fret.” The crown prince spoke genuinely. “I’ll protect you.” Naruto’s bloodshot, and red-rimmed eyes widened.

“Shisui won’t betray you, Naruto.” Haku spoke steadfast and confidently. “I trust him.”

“Whatever.” Naruto sniffled and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “Why are you standing there?” Naruto barked at the crown prince. “Hurry up and get the carriages ready!” Naruto spoke to the crown prince as if he were a lowly servant. “GO!”

“I’m not leaving you.” The crown prince found his voice. His feet remained planted.

“It’s okay, crown prince.” Haku’s voice was like honey. It soothed the atmosphere as if his voice had healing properties. “Naruto will not leave my side. It will be better if Naruto stays here so he does not risk being seen.”

“There are wanted posters of him all over the city.” Zabuza voiced backing up Haku. He had been watching Haku with scrutinizing eyes afraid he was going to pass out from overexertion. Haku must have been getting better at wielding his power because he acted normally, if not a little exhausted from lack of sleep. “It’s best you hurry, crown prince.”

The crown prince looked at Naruto. He hesitated. “You won’t go anywhere? You’ll stay right here?” He needed confirmation from Naruto before he budged.

“I don’t have to answer to you. You don’t control me.” Naruto spat and folded his arms, looking away. The crown prince wanted to know where the flustered Naruto who let him hug him a little while ago went. Naruto swallowed and muttered under his breath. “No, Uchiha will control me again.”

The crown prince’s eyes widened.

“He will.” Haku answered on behalf of Naruto.

“I won’t be long, wait for me.” The crown prince took one last look at Naruto and left to fetch the carriages.

*****

The sun was setting and everything was bathed in liquid golden orange. The shadows stretched out like fingers scratching across the ground. The temperature dropped. March was a bitter month that yielded warm days and freezing nights. March was the month that Naruto came to the manor and five years later he was returning. A perfect circle.

The sound of a caravan of carriages could be heard from all around as they hurried down the long, winding, road that led to the manor.

“The blood is bad.” Apophis hissed. He had been curled up on the opposite seat across from Sasuke in the extravagant carriage. Sasuke had an arm around Naruto, holding his head against him so it didn’t flop over and hurt his neck. Apophis had been glaring at Naruto.

Naruto had reminded Sasuke of an alley cat hissing and clawing at him from the moment he got into the carriage with him. He was bitter and venomous every time he opened his mouth. After nearly an hour of traveling, Naruto fell asleep. Sasuke moved across the carriage and sat next to him, catching him before his body tipped over. He wanted Naruto to be as comfortable as he could be while sleeping. His fingers brushed against the strands of Naruto’s shortened hair.

“Is that why I can’t smell him?” Sasuke asked.

His fingertips brushed alongside the cartilage of Naruto’s ear. He felt Naruto nestle deeper into him and a content sigh escaped his lips. It caused Sasuke’s face to flush and he turned away in embarrassment. He continued to stroke the soft cartilage of Naruto’s ear. Having Naruto close to him filled him with a sense of calmness he hadn’t experienced since before the war.

“I haven’t smelled this blood in eons.” Apophis smiled, his tongue jutting in and out mischievously. “He’s been marked. He smells better this way. Leave him. It’s a thousand times better than the rot of the temple.” He knew to believe the opposite of what Apophis was preaching.

“Marked by who?” Sasuke’s eyes narrowed into slits of matte red. They had been traveling by carriage all day and the sun had just set. The last rays of golden orange were swallowed up by the horizon and Sasuke’s eyes illuminated in sanguine. They glowed as if a fire was lit behind his eyes and was going to rage all night.

“Not who. What. He’s been marked by what.” Apophis corrected.

“Marked by what?” Sasuke frowned. His body tensing up as he was growing bored from these word games.

“Why would I tell you?” Apophis broke out into cruel, mock, laughter. “He’s a temple brat who is trying to kill you. Why do you care what happens to him?”

“Because he’s the reason I’m alive.” Sasuke spoke and as he did he took his other hand and grabbed Naruto’s hand.

Naruto’s fingers were cold and his palm was cold as if all the blood rushed to his chest cavity. Sasuke began rubbing his fingers over Naruto’s to warm them up. He noticed the dirt under Naruto’s fingernails. Upon closer examination. He noticed how dirty, and rough, his appearance looked. He remembered the cleaning rituals he did back at the manor. He remembered complaining about being dirty and how happy he was when Sasuke told him he could bathe anytime he wanted.

Sasuke tightened his hold on Naruto’s hand.

“So! I’m going to warn you.” Apophis hissed. His tail rattled menacingly and he eyed Naruto as if he were going to bite him. “Stay away from this temple brat. This time. You really will die.”

Sasuke watched Apophis’ body language and narrowed his eyes. He tightened his hold around Naruto. He was surprised to see just how much weight he lost since the time he hugged him in the palace library. He was already going to make plans to talk to the chef to fatten Naruto up to return the favor from when Naruto force fed him. He was excited to show Naruto the new bathhouses. He was excited to show Naruto the upgraded accommodations he had made around the manor. All the amenities Naruto would've had at the palace were now fitted to the manor.

“Find a new reason to live, or better yet, hand your body over to me if you don’t want to live anymore!” Apophis balked. Before Sasuke answered Apophis slithered out of the carriage. Sasuke ignored Apophis.

“Did you swallow poison again, Naruto, or did someone poison you?” Sasuke whispered into Naruto’s ear. “Tell me so I can help you get rid of this bad blood.” Sasuke laced his fingers with Naruto’s and held his hand. He brought Naruto’s hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles on his fingers. “Tell me so I can make it better.”

When they arrived at the manor the gates were open and the caravan broke through the invisible barrier. The carriage came to an abrupt stop and as if on cue Naruto woke up violently. He pushed himself up. His eyes were crazed as he looked into the illuminated orbs of the crown prince. The liquid red swirled and glowed and for a moment Naruto was spellbound. His rage over feeling the crown prince’s arms wrapped protectively around him, along with his body pressed up against his, sent him into hysterics.

“Don’t touch me!” Naruto yelled and pushed the crown prince away. “Don’t ever touch me again!” Naruto kicked at the crown prince as he leapt to the other side of the carriage. He was breathing erratically and started to sweat. “Do you hear me? Touch me again like that and I’ll kill you!” His face splotched in red and white. Naruto flew like a bat out of hell from the carriage landing lithely on his feet and sprinting to the stagecoach in a blur.

Sasuke remained utterly dumbfounded as Naruto returned to being a hissing, cornered, alley cat. He covered his mouth and hid his smile and swallowed back laughter. He sensed no real malice in Naruto’s words. They were flustered, clumsy, and embarrassed. What Sasuke sensed was Naruto fighting an inner battle with himself on how he was going to treat and react to Sasuke.

“Adorable.” Sasuke murmured. His cheeks flushed. “He’s adorable.” He shook his head and exited the carriage. He inhaled deeply the cherry blossom smell of the manor.

He stopped when he saw Sakura standing there. She continued to wear tight and revealing clothes. The v-neck of her dress plunged to the tip of her belly button. Swatched in crimson. He had never seen another woman wear red so lavishly as the way Sakura wore red. The color suited her. The dress flowed to the ground with a slit that went to her hip bone. She was barefooted. A golden anklet on her foot glistened against the lantern's glow. Her hair hung low and free making her appear whimsical like a sprite.

“Hello, Sakura.” Sasuke greeted with a smile.

“When you wrote to me telling me you wouldn’t return until you found the empress. I honestly believed it was you telling me you would never come back.” Sakura answered and flipped her hair across her shoulder. She shifted her weight to one leg. The opposite hip jutting out. “I never expected you would bring the empress here.”

Sasuke’s eyes widened and her words jolted him. His eyes turned and immediately picked Naruto out of the crowd. He turned back to Sakura. “How did you know he was the empress?”

“I never forget a face. I like to think of myself as an observant person who can see through illusions. I’ll admit. I never expected the empress to be a man.” Sakura spoke with a teasing smile. She rested her elbow on her jutted out hipbone. “This suits him more...than being an empress.”

Her words caused Sasuke’s stomach to twist. He was angry with himself for not recognizing Naruto right away when Sakura recognized Naruto immediately. How pathetic he was. He heard Zabuza’s words mocking him for not recognizing him when he rescued him from being whipped.

“Aren’t you going to hug me? I’ve missed you.” Sakura retorted and held her arms out. Sasuke snorted with laughter and hugged Sakura. “I’m tired of looking over the manor and being responsible. It’s rubbing off on me. I don’t like it. People will think I’ve gone soft.”

A ways away Naruto’s head turned in the crown prince’s direction. He caught sight of Sakura. He recognized her instantly with hair the color of cherry blossom petals. Her arms were spread and he watched as the crown prince walked into her arms and hugged her.

The embrace lasted longer than five seconds and the longer it continued the sourer Naruto’s face became. Naruto took his gaze and caught sight of Zabuza. They communicated through their expressions. Naruto looked at Sakura and looked back at Zabuza, communicating that the woman hugging the crown prince was Sakura. Zabuza nodded his head in affirmation.

“Bring Konohamaru to a room!” Naruto commanded. “I want all physicians within the manor to examine him!” He was comfortable barking orders. Haku walked alongside him with Zabuza trailing protectively behind Haku. “I want horses saddled up early for tomorrow morning.” Naruto had planned on gathering the medicinal plants in the Forest of Death tomorrow. “And bedrooms prepared for all of us as well as meals brought to our rooms.”

“Naruto, calm down.” Haku tried to soothe. He reached out and touched Naruto’s arm.

“No.” Naruto answered bluntly and pulled his arm away. “Not when Konohamaru’s life is at risk! We’ll need our strength and we need to rest, otherwise we can’t help Konohamaru.”

Naruto followed the trail of workers and members of the prince’s personal guard as Konohamaru was taken away in a stretcher. Naruto gripped the straps of his knapsack. He felt lightheaded. Each step he took he felt more and more exhausted.

“Naruto.” Haku pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it against Naruto’s nose. “You have a nosebleed.”

Naruto glanced at Zabuza and the two stopped walking. There was a worrisome expression in Naruto’s eyes and a look of recognition in Zabuza’s. It was the look of them sharing a secret. Haku noticed this immediately.

“Maybe you should get a medical exam.” Zabuza suggested to Naruto.

“No.” Naruto answered with gritted teeth. “Drop it.”

“What’s wrong?” The crown prince appeared.

“Naruto has a nosebleed.” Haku explained. “Zabuza suggested that Naruto should get a medical examination, and I agree.”

“I’m fine. It’s just stress related.” Naruto defended. He grabbed the handkerchief from Haku’s hands and held it to his nose. His eyes glanced at the crown prince. “It’s your fault. Leave me alone and I won’t be so stressed.” Naruto spun back around and continued following the caravan of people. Zabuza bowed his head and followed Naruto wordlessly.

Haku remained behind with the crown prince. Sensing that Haku wanted to tell him something, the crown prince remained next to him as the caravan of people got further and further away.

“It’s about Naruto.” Haku spoke in a low, quiet, voice. “The night the police raided the Inn. Before the raid, Naruto had come back with puncture wounds on his neck. It looked like a snake bit him. Naruto wouldn’t tell me what happened. Whatever happened, Naruto and Zabuza are keeping it a secret. I wonder if it’s connected to Naruto not having a scent.”

Haku paused. He looked up at the crown prince and continued. “I am worried about Naruto. His nosebleed...the blood wasn’t red. It was black.” The crown prince’s eyes flashed and he immediately chased after Naruto.

Chapter Text

 

“I am sorry, crown prince. This humble one does not know what ailment plagues him.” The head physician bowed three times as he spoke. “If this humble one were to make a hypothesis.” The head physician’s white beard hung low to his chest, his white mustache curled inwards on the sides. His thick white unruly eyebrows were so low it nearly covered his small watery eyes. “In the highlight of the winter fever outbreak. He may have been afflicted with a curse...a blood curse from a god.”

The two were standing on the polished, wood veranda outside the jasmine pavilion. The sliding doors were closed giving them privacy to talk about Naruto’s prognosis. The golden letters, jasmine pavilion, above the sliding doors gleamed under the swinging slush lantern’s light. At nighttime, those golden letters looked ablaze. The jasmine pavilion was named half a year ago when Sasuke started learning to read and write. It was his main living quarters. The reconstruction that occurred six months ago and into the new year completely transformed the rundown building into prestigious imperial living quarters.

“This humble one has never seen such blood sickness before. His pulse is weakening. This curse may claim his life soon if it is not broken.” The head physician’s voice croaked. He winced and covered his neck with his arms afraid the crown prince would behead him the moment he finished the prognosis.

The old physician had been serving at the manor since the crown prince was castaway at birth. He was the same physician that helped create an antidote and treatment for the mysterious poison that overtook Naruto when he was a child. At that time the crown prince threatened his life if Naruto died then he was going to follow him into the afterlife. It was the same expression the crown prince wore today.

“A curse?” Sasuke repeated bitterly as if chewing on a citrus peel. “From a god? Which god?” His sharp eyes focused on the head physician.

“There are so many gods, crown prince. This humble one doesn’t know. This humble one praises Asclepius.”

“He was bitten...by what?” Sasuke asked. There were two blackened puncture wounds on Naruto’s neck. The wounds appeared to be infected with a black mass that started to slowly spread across his shoulder and chest. Sasuke gasped when the head physician removed Naruto’s clothes to reveal darkened flesh as if it were necrotizing his skin.

“This humble one believes he was bitten by an otherworldly snake.” The head physician bowed three more times and continued keeping his eyes locked to the wooden planks on the veranda. His hands clasped together in front of him.

“Besides the god of chaos. Which other gods use snakes?”

“ Asclepius...but crown prince you know Asclepius is the god of healing and health and wouldn’t~”

“What other god?” Sasuke’s voice was murderous. His sanguine eyes illuminated dangerously in the night. The cursed seals in each iris seemed to feed off his bloodlust. The black seals pulsated with every breath he took. If anyone looked directly into his eyes they would become hypnotized by their spellbinding beauty.

“The goddess of discord and the god of the underworld.”

“The goddess of discord.” Sasuke repeated. The goddess of discord had their hand in the winter fever. Things stopped being coincidental and started being intentional. He was beginning to garnish the impression they were merely chess pieces being played by an unknown force. “The god of the underworld.” Sasuke rubbed his forehead with his hand. A tension headache was forming. “Send an errand boy to fetch every book we have in the library on both gods. If we do not have any, send him to the library in town. GO!”

“Yes...yes, crown prince!” The head physician bowed rigorously six times before scurrying away.

“WAIT!” The crown prince barked. The head physician froze in place his entire body trembling as if he had refaced death incarnate.

“Tell Sakura I request her presence for a serious inquiry. Make haste!”

*****

These snakes are from the underworld and they carry a very specific venom.

“How is this possible?” Zabuza repeated the question. He was stunned and unable to turn his eyes away from Naruto. The scene before him felt like he was trapped in a dreamscape.

Zabuza and Haku were kneeling in front of Naruto who was sitting on the crown prince’s master room four-post bed. They were inside the jasmine pavilion. Naruto was disrobed from the waist up. There was a roaring fire that kept the room warm so he was not shivering. Naruto’s fingers brushed across the darkened flesh of his shoulder and chest. When Naruto and Zabuza returned to the Inn covered in blood it was Naruto who was first stripped of his clothes. The only thing noticeable then was the two puncture wounds caused by the fangs of a turquoise snake.

The only mortal that can expel this venom is the cursed child.

Now darkened skin covered his shoulder and like an ink stain slowly seeped down his arm and across his shoulder blade. The head physician had marked the edges of the blackened skin but even though a half hour had passed the blackened skin surpassed the ink the head physician marked showing just how aggressively fast the cursed venom was moving.

“Tell me what happened, please.” Haku demanded. As Haku spoke the sliding doors opened to reveal the crown prince. “Naruto...please tell me!” Haku begged. He grabbed Naruto’s hand and held it with both of his. Naruto’s hand was limp and unresponsive.

Naruto jerked his head upwards and watched as the crown prince closed the sliding doors behind him and walked towards him. There was a crestfallen expression on the crown prince’s handsome features. The whole room smelled of jasmine and sage. The aromatherapy of the crown prince’s living quarters had a placating effect. A calmness filled Naruto and he felt a sense of serenity.

If the poison is not expelled from your body you’ll die in three days.

“Naruto.” The crown prince spoke his name. It was tender and affectionate.

“How many days has it been, Zabuza?” Naruto asked, ignoring the crown prince. He pulled his hand from Haku’s. He knew he was going to lie and didn’t want to feel any more guilt.

“Two. You’ll die in three.” Zabuza answered. Haku shot him a look of admonishment.

“WHAT?!” The crown prince screamed.

“Zabuza and I were attacked by a man named Orochimaru. He was looking for individuals in the bingo book. He wanted us to turn over...Haku.” Naruto evaded both Haku’s and the crown prince’s eyes. He folded his hands in his lap and traced his fingertips with his eyes. “Orochimaru had turquoise snakes. He said they were birthed from the underworld. They were under his complete control. He said as punishment for refusing to turn Haku over. He’d infect me with the venom of these snakes. I had three days to live. If I wanted to live. I needed to find the crown prince.”

“Me?” The crown prince asked. “He told you to find me?”

“He said you were the only other mortal who could save me.” Naruto spoke softly. He lifted his cerulean blue eyes to meet the shimmering irises of an illuminated blood moon. The crown prince’s eyes were tantalizing and Naruto felt himself both vulnerable and raw the longer he was entrapped. The crown prince’s eyes were rimmed red as if he were on the verge of crying.

“Orochimaru?” Sakura’s voice came from behind the crown prince. She sounded out of breath and her cheeks were flushed as if she ran at breakneck speed at the crown prince’s beck and call. She had opened the sliding doors and froze in the doorway. Both hands held each door and she started trembling. “That bastard cursed you?”

Her eyes fell to the blackened venom that slowly covered Naruto’s flesh. A look of recognition and fear swirled in Sakura’s emerald eyes. She stopped breathing and her face turned green with nausea.

“Orochimaru...he was the one who enslaved you, correct?” The crown prince asked. He spun around to greet Sakura immediately breaking off eye contact with Naruto. The sudden disruption caused Naruto’s blood to run cold and a feeling of vindictiveness slowly began to fill him as if he were drinking pure vinegar.

Naruto’s eyes narrowed until they appeared a blackened-blue abyss as he focused his attention on Sakura. He slowly put his arms back into the sleeves of the robes he was wearing and clasped the fabric closed across his chest, tying the sash tightly across his waist. He stood up abruptly as if to leave. It prompted Haku and Zabuza to stand up as well.

“Perfect. You know about Orochimaru. How do I rid this curse?” Naruto asked coldly. He folded his arms.

“You can break curses, Sakura.” The crown prince praised. “You gave me back my vision. Can you break this curse on Naruto? You can...right?” He walked over to her and grabbed both her hands with his. He helped straighten her up and squeezed her hands reassuringly to show her he was there to protect her. Sakura’s body had been trembling in fear over hearing Orochimaru’s name and seeing the black venom once again. Her brain had become muddled and she choked back tears. The moment the crown prince touched her she felt a sense of relief. She held the crown prince’s hands.

“You would allow me to use my power?” Sakura asked. “Do you know what it might cost you?”

“Power...what power?” Naruto snapped. “Can you break this curse or not?” His voice was demeaning and cold.

“YES! I’LL DO ANYTHING TO SAVE HIM!” Sasuke answered whole-heartedly.

It caused Sakura’s eyes to widen with grim realization. She had always known that Naruto was someone special within Sasuke’s heart. She had heard Sasuke say over a dozen times if Naruto was happy in this world then he allowed himself to be happy.

Naruto had spent three months at the manor as Sasuke’s companion before returning to the palace. He was betrothed to crown prince Itachi, eventually marrying and becoming the empress. Naruto had spent three months and in those three months instilled the will to live within Sasuke. Sakura had spent six months with Sasuke before he left for the war front. She had returned his vision and helped teach him to read and write.

She had never felt jealousy towards Naruto because Naruto was never seen as a threat. Empress Naruto was married to Emperor Itachi. The relationship between Naruto and Sasuke was nothing but a childhood friendship. Sakura had promised Sasuke never to use her power without his explicit permission. The price of her ability was to consume the fresh organ of a human. Her mouth became parched and her tongue felt swollen and rough like sandpaper.

She was frightened that not only had Naruto returned but he was going to steal all of the crown prince's attention and affection. She was afraid of losing the crown prince’s favor and being cast aside. Her entire body started trembling again as she debated internally if she should help save Naruto’s life or not. How easy it was to withhold the lifesaving antidote and let Naruto die. It was so easy as if she was reaching down to pluck a chrysanthemum.

She remembered being a little girl. She was an orphan and one of the gutter orphans in the village that hadn’t collapsed yet. She had fallen in love with a noble boy. He was a few years older and dressed in pristine, royal purple garments, and walked the streets with an entourage of attendants. He saw Sakura and gave her a meatbun. She was starving and ate it ravishingly. She had fallen in love instantly. The other gutter children of the village teased Sakura relentlessly.

One little girl told Sakura a way she can see if the noble boy would return her affection. So Sakura picked a chrysanthemum petal one by one and said out loud. “He loves me.” She plucked another petal and repeated. “He loves me not.” She continued plucking and saying this chant until there was only one petal left. She burst into tears as she plucked the last petal crying out. “HE LOVES ME NOT.”

No. She was different from that little girl plucking the endless petals of the chrysanthemum. She had done nothing to deserve the noble boy's love whereas she had done everything to deserve the love of the crown prince. Her body went rigid and taut.

“Sakura Haruno.” Haku’s even-tempered voice broke through the chaos. “You have been bestowed with the power from Heka, the goddess of magic. You are able to grant wishes through cannibalizing.” Haku turned his attention to the crown prince. “Crown prince. You mean for Sakura to cannibalize someone in order to break the curse Naruto was afflicted with?” His voice was aghast.

“Yes!”

“I can’t.” Sakura voiced.

No. No. No. No. No. Even if she counted every petal on the chrysanthemum flower before she said the enhancement it wouldn’t matter. He loves me. He loves me not. If her inaction caused the death of the crown prince’s most beloved person it did not guarantee that his affection would change towards her. Worse. If the crown prince found out her betrayal she could not handle that abhorrent hatred that would surely be birthed within the crown prince towards her.

“I’ve...tried...I’ve tried numerous times when I was enslaved by Orochimaru to break the curse with my power and I failed every time. I do not know what organ I needed to consume.” Sakura spoke honestly. She had always been tightlipped about the horrific things she was subjected to when she was enslaved.

“You...can’t? Tell me what organs you’ve consumed. I'm sure we can try the rest!” The crown prince spoke manically.

Zabuza exchanged glances with Naruto and they both stared at Sakura. The two shared a private conversation. If Naruto lived. He would need to think of a way to hand Sakura over to Orochimaru. Zabuza was willing to do whatever was necessary to save Haku. Naruto was going to do anything necessary to find Jiraiya.

Naruto’s stomach churned at the mentioning and explanation of Sakura’s ability. It sent waves of nausea through Naruto. How wicked. How disgusting. The sun god destroyed Heka for her wicked, cruel ways, and banished her from the heavens only to have Heka leech on like a parasite to a human host. Naruto’s eyes flickered to the crown prince. The god of chaos festered inside. A parasite feeding off him. The two suited each other perfectly. Both parasites that Naruto should exterminate.

“The only way to cure the curse.” Sakura inhaled. She would save the crown prince’s most beloved person. She pulled her hands from the crown prince. She walked over to the dining table where a decanter of wine was sitting. “Was through ejaculation.” She poured herself a glass of wine and took a sip.

She spoke this as calmly as explaining wine notes. Prior to the crown prince going to the war front, she had taken her dinner inside the jasmine pavilion every night. Even when the crown prince was away she continued to take her dinner inside the jasmine pavilion. Tonight was the first night the crown prince requested Sakura retire to her own pavilion and take her dinner there. It was why she ran over when the head physician told her the crown prince was requesting her presence.

“What do you mean by ejaculation?” Haku asked. His eyebrows furrowed. The crown prince was left speechless.

“Orochimaru conducted numerous experiments on me and the other slaves. He never infected me but infected the other slaves with the turquoise snake venom. The slaves Orochimaru wanted to keep around would be cured by having intercourse with Orochimaru and Orochimaru ejaculating inside.”

Haku’s face was drained of all blood. He became deathly pale as if any second Charon would usher his soul across the river styx. His knees wobbled and his hearing went in and out. Zabuza sensing the weakness overcoming Haku quickly put an arm around his waist and held him from falling over.

“Anally and vaginally worked the best. Being ejaculated inside anally and/or vaginally two to three times cured them. It depended on how far the venom spread across the body. Naturally the more the venom spread the more ejaculation needed to happen.” Sakura continued to speak. She took another sip of wine holding the liquid on her tongue for a moment before swallowing. Her calm demeanor was off-putting. “Orally only offered time. It never cured them. Just extended the time.”

Sakura turned her attention to Naruto. Sensing this Naruto turned and held Sakura’s gaze. His body was rigid and his breathing came out erratically.

“How far has it spread?” Sakura asked Naruto directly. Naruto narrowed his eyes and refused to answer.

“To his shoulder, chest, and shoulder blade.” Haku answered on behalf of Naruto.

“Ah. Not bad. One ejaculation would be enough to cure you.” Sakura answered with a smile. Her smile offered no warmth or gentleness. It was a crude smile that tore at Naruto’s existence. “Maybe twice to be sure.” Her smile was as cold as frost on a windowpane.

“How are we supposed to find Orochimaru?” Haku asked.

“Haven’t you figured it out?” Sakura balked and turned her attention to Haku. Her voice was riddled with ridicule. “Orochimaru gave Naruto the answer. Orochimaru never meant to ejaculate into Naruto. Orochimaru meant for the crown prince to ejaculate into Naruto.”

“Why...that’s so….” Haku gasped. His lungs felt as if someone was squeezing out every drop of oxygen. Blood rushed between his ears. Haku looked at the crown prince.

“Demeaning.” Naruto finished Haku’s sentence. “Orochimaru meant to humiliate me because I refused to hand Haku over.”

“Are you sure he was after Haku and not me?” Sakura challenged Naruto. Her eyes narrowed. She knew Orochimaru looked for her the moment the crown prince emancipated her.

“Haku has healing powers and can bring people back from the brink of death. Compared to you, who needs corpses to feed off, Haku is both convenient and more powerful.” Naruto’s features darkened. His voice was unforgiving. His eyes appeared as cold and desolate as a blizzard on top of a mountain. His gaze was so cold and ruthless they’d trap a whole caravan into a donner party.

Seeing such a cold, vicious, detachment of humanity in Naruto’s expression caused Sakura to seize up. Her grasp tightened on the stem of her wine glass. It frightened her. Her bottom lip trembled. Her eyes constricted until they were as small as pinpricks drowning in a sea of green algae. The horrors she experienced while being enslaved by Orochimaru overwhelmed her. Her grip tightened and the sound of glass shattering was heard. The glass shattered in her grasp and she felt shards of glass cutting open her palm and fingers. The wine glass fell from her hand as a small yelp escaped her throat. Velvety red wine spilled all over the wooden floorboards.

The unknown power within Naruto froze Sakura to her core and accosted her. She was no match. She screamed out and collapsed to the floor. Naruto let out a demeaning smile.

“Sakura, are you okay?” The crown prince asked and dashed to her side. Naruto’s lip curled as he watched the two parasites on the floor.

“Naruto…” Haku’s gentle voice broke through the layers of ice that surrounded Naruto. His hand touched Naruto’s shoulder and his other hand touched the side of Naruto’s face. “I’m here. You’re okay.” Naruto focused his attention on Haku and that indescribable boiling power he had felt filling him up started to simmer down until it dissipated into smoke. “You’re safe.”

“The crown prince has to ejaculate into me once and I’ll be cured?” Naruto spoke as if he were doing a simple business transaction of selling fat pigs on the market. “Alright.” Naruto turned to see the crown prince had wrapped a handkerchief around Sakura’s palm to staunch the bleeding. “Crown prince. Will you ejaculate inside me?”

“Wh-wh-what?” The crown prince stuttered. His face turned vermillion. It spilled across his neck and ears. He looked at Sakura. “Will this cure him?”

“Of course, crown prince. I wouldn’t lie to you!”

“Then yes! I’ll do anything! I told you I would protect you, Naruto!” The crown prince turned his fierce gaze back to Naruto.

“Alright. Then let’s do this now.” Naruto smiled coldly and began to disrobe.

“Naruto!” Haku barked and grabbed the fabric of his robe. “Wait...let’s...discuss this~”

“I’m going to bring Sakura to the physician. I’ll be right back.” The crown prince spoke and within a heartbeat, he and Sakura were gone.

*****

Haku had felt whiplashed. He felt an irreversible change within Naruto as if the cursed venom wasn’t just blackening and necrotizing his skin but necrotizing his humanity. He was sitting at the dining table inside the jasmine pavilion with the crown prince and Naruto eating dinner. Naruto banished everyone else. Zabuza returned to the sickbay where Konohamaru was being carried for by a fleet of physicians, leaving Haku behind to be the mediator between Naruto and the crown prince.

Haku lost his appetite but continued to eat nonetheless. The entire situation was uncanny as if a cruel god was maneuvering everyone with invisible puppet strings.

“I want to do it tonight. We still need to travel to the Forest of Death tomorrow to gather the medicinal herbs for Konohamaru.” Naruto spoke matter-of-factly. He stuffed his face with the dishes of food before him. “I don’t know why you want us to eat first. It doesn’t matter to me.” He spoke bitterly. Despite his words, he was famished. He couldn’t remember the last time he ate such luxuriously prepared foods. The more he ate the hungrier he realized he was.

The crown prince smiled as he watched Naruto eating. He thought he would have had to pin Naruto to the floor and force-feed him. He never expected Naruto to eat so willingly. An inexplicable warmness filled him. The same feeling he felt in the carriage was back. The last time they shared a meal was back at the palace and the entire time Naruto neither looked at him or spoke to him. A smile bloomed from ear to ear.

“How is the food?” Sasuke asked with a smile.

“It’s fine.” Naruto answered abruptly. He noticed how fast he was chewing and slowed down.

“After. I’ll show you to my own private bathhouse.”

“Why? Are you saying I’m too dirty to get into bed with you?” Naruto asked frigidly. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the crown prince. “Am I dirty?”

“No-no-no! You’re not dirty!” Sasuke answered honestly. “You could never be dirty to me. I just remembered how you liked to do your cleaning rituals.”

Naruto swallowed and stopped eating. He lowered his hand and stared at his plate. He remembered following the incident with the cardinal he had asked the crown prince if he thought he was dirty. The crown prince answered no. Naruto then asked the crown prince to kiss him to prove it and he did. He could feel that phantom kiss from the past against his lips. He had been straddling the crown prince and begging the crown prince to crush his body in an embrace. The crown prince refused but the crown prince didn’t refuse to kiss him. The sweet taste of peach nectar touched his tongue.

“Naruto, are you feeling well?” Haku asked. Naruto snapped his head up and looked at Haku. He had forgotten that Haku was there.

“You will stay in the room with us, Haku.” Naruto snapped himself from reminiscing. “Sakura said you just need to ejaculate inside me once. I’ll do all the work. Just listen to me. I want you to be blindfolded. I don’t want you looking at me. This is nothing more than a business transaction, understand?”

Sasuke froze. The food in his stomach threatened to come back up. His face turned vermillion, as red and deep as the wine Sakura spilled earlier. He remembered the ludacris antidote of the turquoise snake venom. Ejaculation. If Orochimaru controlled the snakes that were birthed from the underworld it was safe to assume that like Sasuke, like Haku, and like Sakura there was a power within Orochimaru bestowed upon a god.

The goddess of discord or the god of the underworld?

“Mhm. I’ll do everything you tell me to.” Sasuke nodded his head. He felt nervous. The only sexual experience he had was with Sakura the night his vision was restored. It had only happened once and it was a direct result of an aphrodisiac effect from her ability. He apologized profusely afterward and told Sakura it would never happen again, and it hadn’t.

“Good. If you do exactly as I say. It’ll be no different than a business transaction and with Haku in the same room. I will feel safe.”

“You won’t feel safe with just me?” Sasuke asked. He remembered the petrified expression Naruto wore when they met inside the Inn. How fearful and twisted his expression was that shattered his heart. He never wanted to do anything that would garnish that reaction out of Naruto.

“Of course not. You’re an Uchiha and you’re the god of chaos.” Naruto spoke callously and deliberately. Each word felt like a blade being inserted into Sasuke’s heart. “I said this before and I’ll say it again. If I had the power I would eradicate the whole Uchiha clan.” Naruto stood up. He wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin. “I’m ready for my bath. Show me to the bathhouse.”

*****

The crown prince’s bathhouse was newly constructed. It was a large cypress building sectioned off into two great rooms. The crown prince entered one side of the bathhouse and Naruto entered the other. The water was warm and filled with a jasmine and sage fragrance bar. There was a medicinal smell that Naruto couldn’t place but he wondered if it was to assist in eliminating bacteria from forming between changing of the bathwater. The tiles on the floor were hand-painted lapras blue between smooth marble. The same lapras blue tiles filled the arched walls.

None of it felt familiar and everything felt foreign. This wasn’t the manor he remembered. When he walked by the gardens earlier tonight he noticed different flowers and plants were blooming. He only saw a skeleton of what the manor used to be from his memory. A heavy feeling washed over him. He couldn’t put his finger on it. He felt an overwhelming despondency lay on top of him like heavy stones.

Naruto traced the blackened flesh on his body with his fingertips. If he did not see the black venom for himself he wouldn’t have suspected anything out of the ordinary. He felt tired and his heart rate was slower making him feel woozy from time to time as if he were low on sugar. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was a frightening sight though. The darkened flesh grew even more spreading across his flesh like a pestilence.

He was still alert and conscious whereas Konohamaru who was infected with the winter fever was in a fevered coma.

There was a cruel god whose entire purpose was to smear and shame Naruto. How lowly he had sunk in order to save himself he’d have to sleep with the god of chaos. His entire body shook as he cried dry tears. His eyes remained dry and bloodshot. No tears fell but his entire body rocked as if he were sobbing. He soaked in the waters for a long time until his body was pruned. Was this the tarot card prophecy he had seen inside his dream? He had drawn the five of swords. Unbridled ambition. He’d do anything to accomplish his goal. Wasn’t that what the card said? He’d sacrifice the parasite Sakura to the god of the underworld in order to find the whereabouts of Jiraiya and keep Haku safe. Just like he’d allow the crown prince to ejaculate inside him to break the curse of the turquoise snake venom.

The more he thought of the tarot card reading the more he was able to calm himself down and quell his quivering heart.

He dried himself off and donned a white, pristine, bathrobe. It had felt as if he had completed the cleaning ritual for the coming of age ceremony. The only thing missing was the comb from the god of beauty. His hair was short now and the comb seemed pointless. His hair was too short to snarl and too silky to knot.

Naruto slipped on his sandals and walked out of the bathhouse to see the crown prince wearing an ankle-length matching bathrobe and waiting for him.

“How was your bath?” The crown prince asked with a smile.

“Fine.” Naruto answered briskly.

“The cherry blossoms are in bloom. Do you want to see them first?” The crown prince asked. The night air hovered on the cusp of chilliness. Inside the manor had more lanterns and light than when he was last here. It chased the darkness away. The moon was round and bright in the sky. It looked so full and pregnant as if at any moment the moon would open up and stars would tumble down from inside the moon.

“It’s a full moon.” Naruto gasped as he made the connection. “Isn’t it dangerous to be out?”

“Not anymore. The whole manor is protected by my talismans. I have erected a barrier. Nobody can enter without proper authorization. Living or the undead.” The crown prince smiled. Naruto thought back to Orochimaru’s words. So it was true. The crown prince had become immeasurably powerful. He was able to write talismans and erect barriers. It made Sakura untouchable.

“Let’s go.”

The crown prince made the decision for Naruto and led him down one of the cobblestone paths away from the jasmine pavilion. The steam from the bathhouse still clung to Naruto and his blood ran hot. The crisp night air felt refreshing against Naruto’s reddened face. Naruto didn’t know why he was following the crown prince. There was nobody else outside. It felt as if they were children again. Naruto trailing behind the crown prince.

He recalled the night the crown prince woke him up to see the fireflies.

“The trees have grown bigger and stronger since the last time you were here.” The crown prince spoke, making light conversation. “I’ve instructed the groundsmen to plant more flowers and plants. It’s truly beautiful in the spring and summer.”

Naruto watched the crown prince’s broad shoulders. He stood tall and formidable from behind. He kept his black hair short in sharp contrast to the emperor’s long hair. Even though he sensed a powerful aura the crown prince before him had a childlike giddiness about him. Even when they were children he never sensed a childlike aura from the crown prince; he felt more like an ancient soul trapped within a child's body. Now. He sensed a childlike soul inside the body of an adult.

“See...isn’t it breathtaking?” The crown prince spoke as they came to the path where cherry blossom trees lined both sides of the cobblestone path.

Pink petals fell softly from tree branches that swayed gently in the spring night breeze. It was a lavish spectacle with the moon’s light sweeping through the branches and illuminating each petal. The light of the lanterns enhanced the color and the way the petals ebbed and flowed in the air looked like pink snow falling from the heavens. It was said the cherry blossom tree was a gift from the heavens. The transience of life bloomed. How fleeting it was like the vulnerability of a cherry blossom petal. The tiniest of force could break the petal and destroy it.

“It is beautiful.” Naruto murmured. He stopped moving alongside the crown prince, his shoulder a few inches away from the crown prince’s arm. Cherry blossoms snowed down on them. He smiled at the beautiful sight. There was none of this within the palace walls. There were barely any flowers. Just stone, marble, brick, and bone.

“I have a pastry chef that makes delicious cherry blossom candies.” The crown prince spoke. The crown prince pulled from the pocket of his bathrobe an embroidered pouch. He opened the pouch and held it out to Naruto. Inside the pouch were cherry blossom shaped candies. “Here. Try one.” The crown prince’s voice was soft and encouraging. How many times did the crown prince indulge Naruto when they were children?

Naruto had always liked candied sweets. Ever since he was a child. He reached out and took the six petaled candy and popped it into his mouth. The subtle taste of the flowery flavor filled his mouth as he bit into the chewy candy. It exploded in goodness and he reached into the pouch for another. He remembered how he would crawl onto his mother’s lap as she held out a handkerchief of candied sweets and fed them to him secretly as she rocked him back and forth. He continued chewing both candies until they dissolved on his tongue and he swallowed.

He remembered the second time the crown prince left the palace to head for the war front. How he sobbed uncontrollably in his mother’s arms only to have his mother admonish him. It was revealed the one within the temple to poison him was his own mother. How she’d do it again. How’d she vowed to kill him if she ever saw him smitten with the crown prince again.

Under the canopy of pink cherry blossoms, swaddled in the pristine bathrobe, with hair dripping wet from the fragrant waters of the bathhouse, Naruto started crying. Tears clouded his vision and he started sobbing. His shoulders shaking violently. His body trembling. His soft cries reached the crown prince and he spun around to see Naruto’s head lowered and crying.

“Naruto? What’s wrong?” The crown prince asked. He stuffed the pouch of candies back into his pocket.

Naruto couldn’t answer because he didn’t know why he was crying. He felt the crown prince hugging him. The warm body of the crown prince pulled him into an embrace. One arm wrapped around Naruto’s waist and the other wrapped around his back, his hand pressing the back of Naruto’s head into his chest. He felt the soft fibers of the bathrobe against his cheeks as he continued sobbing. His cries grew louder as the crown prince tightened his hold on him. He inhaled the jasmine and sage smell. His arms wrapped around the crown prince’s waist and he grabbed fistfuls of the crown prince’s bathrobe.

“It’s...okay! You’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll protect you.” The crown prince spoke soothingly. The words from the past when Naruto cried in his arms overlapped with the words of the present. Without warning, Naruto felt his body growing lighter as the crown prince picked him up and held him bridal style securely in his arms.

“What...what are you doing?” Naruto gasped and choked. His feet squeezed his sandals so they did not fall from his feet.

“I’m carrying you…” The crown prince’s words trailed off and were swallowed by the night. “Naruto.” The crown prince touched Naruto’s cheek with his fingertips. “You’re bleeding black.” Naruto’s face was streaked with black tears. The front of the crown prince’s bathrobe was stained black. The black blood from Naruto’s nosebleed earlier was now dripping from Naruto’s eyes. “Please stop crying. I don’t want your condition to worsen.”

“That’s...not good.” Naruto lamented. He had stopped crying when he found out he was crying black, blood, tears. He was struck again by the crown prince’s eyes. “These eyes.” He raised a hand and touched the crown prince’s cheek. His thumb brushed the soft skin below his eye. His thumb caressing the bone of his eye socket. He was caught between wanting to smash his eye socket or kiss him. It caused the crown prince to freeze. “I don’t want these eyes watching me. I want them covered up. These eyes scare me.”

They did because he felt like he could lose himself within these eyes. He’d lose himself and never be able to come back. The words ‘scare me’ seemed to be an unknown spell that bewitched the crown prince.

The crown prince’s cheek was warm to the touch as if he were running a fever. His body had always run a few degrees warmer than the average human and it was why he was often sleepy during the day of the warmer months. Like a cat, he could sleep all day and play all night.

“Mhm.” The crown prince nodded his head. He turned his head away and without another word carried Naruto back to the jasmine pavilion.

*****

“Have you ever slept with another man before?” Naruto asked the crown prince.

Haku had been sitting in an elaborately designed, cushioned, armchair. He sat uncomfortably as if sitting on a chair of pins and needles. Naruto and the crown prince were both on the crown prince’s bed. There were emerald sheer, chiffon, curtains with white jasmine flowers embroidered throughout. The curtains were closed giving them some privacy while Haku remained as quiet as a cemetery outside.

“No.” The crown prince answered. He had placed the blindfold over his eyes.

“You’ve slept with Sakura though...correct?” Naruto asked. He didn’t know the answer.

“Yes.” The crown prince answered truthfully. Naruto stopped moving. His hand trembled. His eyes darted to the crown prince and looked at him. It was something he knew to be true but hearing the crown prince confirm it was harrowing.

“Well.” Naruto’s voice grew colder. He was back to being prickly as a thorny rosebush. “Maybe you can tell me what it’s like to fuck a woman and I’ll tell you what it’s like to fuck a man.”

Naruto’s crude words caused Haku to straighten up. Haku had never slept with a man nor a woman. He knew about the birds and the bees. He had helped deliver a few babies while he was living in the Momochi clan. He heard of the brothels that were filled with both men and women and he knew the medical mechanisms. From a medical standpoint, he knew the organs inside and out of a man and woman but everything else was foreign. He never even kissed anyone. He tried to think of the medical textbook that Beau gifted him and he tried reciting the different pages. The more he recited the more his mind became clouded with images of Zabuza. His heart quickened like ice melting and overflowing the rivers in the valley.

“What’s wrong?” The crown prince’s voice was gentle. “Why are you acting this way?”

“Shut up!” Naruto yelled. His mood had soured.

“I only slept with Sakura once. It was a mistake and I apologized to her afterwards. I never slept with anyone else.” The crown prince explained fervently. The crown prince had always been open and honest with him. Naruto never caught him in a lie and it was why he believed his words. Those words softened Naruto.

In his hands was a vial of lubricant. Naruto didn’t know where it came from but the crown prince instructed an errand boy to fetch it prior to them going to the bathhouse.

“You...only slept with her once?” Naruto asked for clarification.

“Yes.”

“Do you...love her?”

“I cherish her as a dear friend. I am not in love with her.”

“Why haven’t you done it with anyone else? There are brothels. You are the crown prince, you can have your own harem of concubines.”

“I am not in love with anyone else. I will not sleep with anyone I am not in love with ever again.”

The crown prince’s words made Naruto’s heart weaken. How pure and honest the crown prince was with him. If the crown prince told him he was in love with him he would have believed him. He felt warmness spilling across his belly and an aching need in his ribcage. His face flushed as pink as the cherry blossoms that were blooming under the full moon. The full moon made the crown prince the strongest. He could feel the heat radiate off the crown prince’s body it was inviting. He only had to look at the cursed seals on his skin to remind himself who the crown prince was.

It was good that the crown prince’s eyes were covered so Naruto could continue to hide the minute flashes of desire in his eyes. He continued to stare unabashedly at the crown prince and savored every piece of him from a distance. How confident and bold he had become with the crown prince being blindfolded. He had pretended that everyone in the heavens, mortal realm, and underworld were blindfolded and couldn’t see what they were about to do.

Someone he could never have. They belonged in separate worlds. He has been sewn together with the crown prince since he was born. Two months after the crown prince’s birth. The moment the cursed child was born and allowed to live a prophecy was handed down from the heavens to the sun temple. The child of Kushina and Minato birthed would be the next high priest. A little girl worthy of inheriting the sun god’s power and who would rid the world of the cursed child.

“Naruto?” The crown prince called out his name. It caused Naruto to blink back into consciousness.

“Mhm. I’m here.” Naruto answered softly. He peeled off the white, pristine, bathrobe. He looked at the blackened skin across his chest. “I have to stretch myself. If you put it in without stretching it’ll rip and I’ll bleed.” Naruto’s fingers were covered with a coating of the lubricant. “Start masturbating. I want to hurry and get this over with.” He balanced on his knees. He spread his legs and inserted his fingers into his own anus.

“Do you want me to help you?” The crown prince asked. His muscles tightened. He was not going to go through with this as if it were a business transaction. He refused.

“No.” Naruto turned away embarrassed. He bit his lower lip as he continued sliding his fingers in and out of his hole. It hurt. He was tight and it hurt. He needed to go slowly so as not to cry out in pain.

The crown prince undid his own bathrobe. Naruto glanced and saw the white robe reveal smooth jade skin. His chest was chiseled as if from tremolite jade. The crown prince had an eight-pack of tightened muscles that resembled a washboard. The curvature of smooth abdomen muscles, the crevice of well-defined bumps caused Naruto’s eyes to dilate. The cursed seals were painted across his chest and down his stomach.

Naruto suddenly felt thirsty and wanted a drink. He wanted to pour water down the crown prince’s chest and lap up the water that spilled over those muscles.

The crown prince’s penis was an engorged, redden, organ. It was bigger than the emperors and seeing the sheer size caused Naruto to shrink. How was such a beastly organ going to fit inside him? It sent chills down his spine and he unconsciously clenched his anus around his fingers. He cried out softly as he pulled his fingers from his body. The mere thought sent shivers up and down his spine.

“What’s wrong?” The crown prince asked. He stopped pleasuring himself and leaned towards Naruto.

“You’re big.” Naruto spoke his voice barely above a whisper. “You’ll...hurt me. I’m afraid.” It was the truth.

“No.” The crown prince purred. “Let me help you. Let’s do this together. I won’t let you die. I won’t allow it to hurt you.” Even though the crown prince was blindfolded it didn’t impede his ability to see. The moment his eyes were covered he saw the world as he did when he was under the blinding spell. He saw the outline of things. He saw the white outline of Naruto. He reached out and easily grabbed Naruto’s prominent wrist.

“Naruto.” The crown prince balanced on his knees and leaned over Naruto. He thread his fingers with Naruto’s. “Can I kiss you? We don’t have to be so formal. Isn’t foreplay important? We can’t skip that entirely.”

“Mhm.” Naruto voiced in assent.

The moment the crown prince heard the permission he leaned down and pressed his lips to Naruto. His hand lifted Naruto’s chin up. He licked Naruto’s lips. He wanted to enter Naruto’s mouth. He licked his lips again as if asking permission with his tongue and Naruto spread his lips. The crown prince remained patient and continued asking permission. The crown prince’s tongue licked Naruto’s teeth. He could feel Naruto’s teeth opening and his tongue licked Naruto’s tongue. The crown prince never knew how hungry he was until he tasted Naruto’s mouth. The kiss became a mixture of teeth, tongue, and lips.

The taste of the cherry blossom candies clung to Naruto’s mouth and the crown prince savored in the sweet fragrance. Naruto’s hand tightened around Sasuke’s hand before letting go.

The crown prince’s hands went to Naruto’s body. His hands explored the curvature of Naruto’s side. Down his ribcage, across his stomach to the organ between his legs. He never cared about what was between Naruto’s legs. He could have been born a girl or he could have been born a boy and he would have loved him regardless.

“Ah~” Naruto moaned in Sasuke’s mouth as his hands began rubbing Naruto’s organ. He continued rubbing until the organ became engorged in blood. Sasuke moved his mouth to the corner of Naruto’s mouth. He brought his mouth to Naruto’s neck. His tongue licked the puncture wounds on Naruto’s neck.

Naruto cried out. “It hurts.”

“Tell me what you want me to do.” Sasuke brought his mouth to Naruto’s earlobe. “Please. Tell me.” He brought his mouth to suck on the soft cartilage. It caused Naruto’s breath to come out erratically. He curled his head towards Sasuke’s body.

“Stretch me. I can’t do it.”

Sasuke moved his mouth to the other side of Naruto’s neck, away from the puncture wounds, and began kissing him. He could taste the salt on Naruto’s skin. It tasted as sweet as if he were licking sugar. He poured lubricant on his fingers. The lubricant was cold and thick. He brought his fingers to the opening of Naruto’s hole and slowly began to insert his fingers inside Naruto. The experience was hard to comprehend. He felt the softness of the tissue as soft as the inside of his cheek. He then felt the heat as if he were sticking his fingers inside an oven. Then the tightness as Naruto’s body clamped down.

“Relax.” Sasuke spoke against Naruto’s mouth. “Relax. I won’t hurt you.” Sasuke could feel Naruto’s body relaxing. He stopped clenching around his fingers and after a moment Sasuke began moving his fingers in and out. Slowly at first and then gradually he increased his speed. He felt Naruto widen his legs apart. Naruto remained balancing on his knees, upright. He felt Naruto’s arms wrapping around his neck.

The lubricant cold at first warmed up as if the friction activated its properties. Sasuke stuck a third finger inside Naruto and it caused Naruto to cry out and he tightened his arms around his neck. Sasuke kissed Naruto’s closed eyelids. He could feel the fluttering eyes underneath the purple eyelids. His other hand went to Naruto’s penis and he began to rub up and down in a circular motion as he thrust his fingers harder into Naruto’s hole, stretching him more with every minute.

“Ngh~ah.” Naruto’s voice was as soft as the mewls of a cat. His voice caused the hairs on the inside of Sasuke’s ears to stand on end. He felt ticklish and he couldn’t stop. He pushed Naruto back on the bed. He felt Naruto ejaculating on his hand as he brought his mouth to cover Naruto’s swollen lips.

“I missed you.” Sasuke voiced as Naruto deepened the kiss. Naruto’s wet tongue slid anxiously against Sasuke’s tongue. He pulled his fingers from Naruto. He used a mixture of Naruto’s semen and the lubricant to coat his own erect penis. “I never wanted you to marry my brother.” Sasuke confessed. "I wanted to marry you."

“I had no choice.” Naruto answered. “What the cardinal did to me. The high priest would keep doing to me. Being betrothed and marrying the emperor was a way of protecting myself. The high priest stopped touching me. It wasn’t like you were able to protect me.”

Sasuke stopped moving. It was the first he was hearing of it. He heard Apophis mocking words when it came to the sun temple and the inhumane treatment the congregation inflicted onto its members. He took everything with a grain of salt. He never expected what the cardinal did to Naruto to be what the high priest had been doing all along. Although he should. When he beheaded the cardinal in the sun temple he was sexually abusing a temple child. It caused Sasuke’s bloodlust to come back at full force. He wanted nothing more than to slaughter every single member of the sun temple.

“If you told me. I would have slaughtered everyone. Not just the cardinal.” Sasuke buried his head in the crook of Naruto’s neck.

“Stop talking about it. I’ve grown limp with this conversation. Can’t you keep me turned on? Your brother was better.” Naruto hissed. Sasuke felt the sudden shift in the air and the coldness that came off Naruto’s naked body.

The insult and being compared to his brother caused Sasuke to push himself up. It left a bad taste in his mouth. He wanted to be better than his brother in every way imaginable. Sasuke grabbed Naruto’s penis and it was flaccid. He lowered himself until he was between Naruto’s legs. He grabbed Naruto’s penis and brought it to his mouth. He used his tongue.

“Wait~” Naruto gasped. His fingers went to Sasuke’s head. His nails scratched against Sasuke’s skull and he grabbed a fistful of Sasuke’s hair as Sasuke put all of Naruto inside his mouth.

“Aah.”

He used his tongue to play and caress Naruto and like a lollipop, he licked and licked until Naruto hardened and responded to his body. He put his fingers back inside Naruto’s hole until he hit a swollen organ inside. This was a new organ he hadn’t felt before. He was curious to know what it was when he felt Naruto’s body shudder and he cried out in pleasure. Hearing Naruto’s cries of pleasure caused Sasuke to focus on this swollen organ. He pressed against it as if he were itching it and he felt Naruto’s body squirming and his hips began to thrust down on top of Sasuke’s fingers.

“Oh?” Sasuke’s voice box vibrated against Naruto’s penis and he pulled Naruto from his mouth. He licked the slit of Naruto’s penis tasting the salty semen beads that formed. He pulled his fingers from Naruto’s hole and pressed the tip of his penis against the hole. “Would it feel better if I hit that spot with this?” Sasuke asked. Naruto’s body shuddered in anticipation.

“Wait…w-w-wait...n-not s-so f-fast.” Naruto gasped as Sasuke began to thrust inside. “AH~NNG~AH.”

Sasuke held the back of Naruto’s knees to Naruto’s chest, folding him like a pretzel. He spread his legs and continued thrusting. The soles of Naruto’s feet soared high in the air to the canopy of the bed. Sasuke went in slow. Every time he sank deeper inside Naruto he swiveled his hips to open him up even more. Naruto cried out with every movement. It was pain mixed with pleasure and Sasuke didn’t know how to react. The mattress squeaked as Naruto’s body was pushed back into the mattress with each thrust. Until the majority of Sasuke was inside Naruto. He angled himself as if he were itching the top of Naruto’s cavity.

He rolled Naruto to his side and began thrusting. Naruto’s feet hit the mattress and he continued panting.

By the increasing pleasuring mewls from Naruto the tip of his penis reached that swollen organ. He began itching the organ and within seconds, without warning, he had ejaculated inside Naruto. It was such a shock that Sasuke froze.

“That...was quick…” Naruto panted. Sasuke pulled himself from Naruto. His own erratic breathing matched Naruto’s. Sasuke didn’t say anything. Naruto remained laying on his side, his head turned away from Sasuke.

There was a long pause. Haku straightened up in the cushioned armchair. He knew from Naruto’s statement that the crown prince must have ejaculated. The crown prince hadn’t responded. Haku opened his mouth to break the tension when he heard Naruto’s voice.

“Do it again. The dark spots on my skin grew smaller.” Naruto observed his skin. The blackened skin had grown smaller with each thrust. The moment the crown prince ejaculated the blackened skin grew even smaller until it was just a splotch around the puncture wounds.

They changed positions. Naruto went on all fours and Sasuke took him from behind. At this angle, Sasuke found that he could sink deeper into Naruto. He also found that his penis was able to hit that swollen gland inside Naruto’s cavity more easily. He went deeper than he had before. It was easier the second time. He could hear Naruto’s mewls and panting as Naruto clutched handfuls of the blanket. Naruto’s small, slender, form rocked with each thrust.

Sauske leaned over and kissed Naruto’s shoulder blades. Leaving a trail of wet kisses. One hand pressed against Naruto’s stomach and the other hand continued to massage Naruto’s front. The feeling of Naruto’s own throbbing penis in his hand was enough to make him grow even more erect inside Naruto. The bigger he grew inside the more intense Naruto’s moans became.

Naruto’s body clenched down around Sasuke’s penis and it threatened to rip him apart and eat him.

“Naruto. I do not care who you end up with. I just want you to be happy. I’ll do anything you ask of me. I’ll kill anybody you want. If you tell me to eradicate the Uchiha clan I will.” Sasuke was speaking as if he were drunk and spilling his guts to anyone who would listen. He bit Naruto’s shoulder and Naruto cried out. He licked the teeth marks that formed on Naruto’s peachy flesh. “If you tell me to destroy the world I will.” Sasuke spoke in Naruto’s ear. He rested his chin on Naruto’s shoulder and curled his head up against Naruto’s. “If you tell me to kill a god I will.” He kissed Naruto’s cheek.

“Ah...ah...ah...ah.” Naruto continued to pant and moan. His skin was dabbled in beads of sweat. He looked like pink peony glistening with morning dew. His face had become so flushed with desire he was almost unrecognizable. His breaths were short and in quick succession. The oxygen deprivation placed him on a plateau high above the mortal realm and if he reached his hand out he could scratch his nails against the gates of heaven.

“I just want you to call out my name.” Sasuke requested. He was unsure if Naruto was even capable of comprehending anything he was telling him which was why he was completely caught off guard when Naruto obliged his selfish request.

“Sasuke.” Naruto mewled. Sasuke ejaculated a second time into him.

Sasuke ripped the blindfold off. He wrapped both arms around Naruto and held him so that Naruto’s back was leaning against his chest and Naruto was curled comfortably in his lap. His eyes looked over Naruto’s naked body. His penis remained inside Naruto as he searched for any blackened skin. Naruto leaned against Sasuke placing his entire weight into his arms. Naruto’s body temperature mimicked Sasuke’s body temperature. The puncture wounds that were blackened on his neck were gone leaving smooth skin in its place. The blackened venom was nowhere to be seen.

“S’ske?” Naruto’s voice was weak and his head bobbed. He could barely keep his eyes open. Exhaustion filled him and he was on the verge of passing out. He was so weak he couldn’t lift a single finger. He was on a plateau of pleasure and that pleasure had soared him to the moon. Right before he reached the moon he had fallen back towards earth. He thought he was going to crash land into the earth but he had landed securely in Sasuke’s arms.

“You’re cured. The blackened venom and the puncture wounds are gone.” Sasuke explained softly. He pulled himself from Naruto and white semen leaked from Naruto’s swollen hole and stained the blankets. None of it seemed to bother Sasuke. He grabbed the comforter and wrapped it around him and Naruto. He rocked Naruto back and forth for a moment savoring this moment.

He pulled Naruto away from the wet spot that had been made and pulled him back down to the bed. He refused to let Naruto go and continued holding him in his arms.

“Haku. Fetch me a watered washcloth.” Sasuke turned in the direction where Haku had been perched like a trained eagle ready to take flight as soon as he was given permission. Haku, who had been stuck in his own head of passionate throes, came back to reality and ran to the pitcher of water, a bowl, and a washcloth that was set up on a console table.

“You’re safe. You’re cured. You’re going to be alright. I told you I’d protect you.” Sasuke lulled as he held Naruto’s head against his chest. “Let me clean you up.”

“I’m cured?” Naruto asked. His voice was as soft as a child’s coo. His eyes were closed. He snuggled up to Sasuke’s chest. Naruto became plait and docile in his arms. Sasuke felt Naruto’s arms wrapping around him as his body pressed against his. Naruto had gone back to being cuddly and warm, fitting perfectly up against him.

“Here, crown prince.” Haku stuck his hand through the chiffon, embroidered curtains of the master bed with a rung-out washcloth.

“Leave us.” Sasuke dismissed as soon as he grabbed the washcloth. Haku lowered his head and left the jasmine pavilion without a word.

“Mhm. You’re cured, and safe.” Sasuke turned his attention back to Naruto. He brought the washcloth to his face and began to pat away the beads of sweat that had formed. There was a smile on Naruto’s reddened, swollen, lips and calm serenity in his expression. “I love you, Naruto. I’ll do everything I can to protect you.”

“You love me?” Naruto had been balancing on the cusp of unconsciousness. His fingertips brushed down the smoothness of Sasuke’s back. It caused goosebumps to form in its wake as Sasuke held Naruto tightly. He never wanted to let go.

“Mhm. You’re the only one I love. The only one I am in love with. And will be the only one I will ever love in this life.”

“I lov…” The words Naruto was going to say were never completed. He drifted off into a deep slumber snuggled up to the crown prince.

Sasuke continued cleaning Naruto up as he slept, bringing the washcloth between his legs and sopping up the excess semen that dripped out of his swollen, tender, hole. Before cleaning off the semen that had spilled across his lower belly and abdomen. He cleaned him up and settled back into bed with him and fell asleep with Naruto securely in his arms.

*****

The sound of a wood thrush chirped pleasantly outside the jasmine pavilion. The rays of morning sun crept through the parted windows spilling into the master bedroom. Rays of light cut through the chiffon curtains like a hot knife stinging Naruto’s purple eyelids. He awoke instantly as if the sun god wretched him from sleep. He had slept so soundlessly and deeply he lost all concept of space and time. He awoke to find that he was curled up, naked, in bed with the crown prince. His face resting on the rock-solid chest. He felt his head moving up and down to the deep rhythmic breathing of the crown prince.

“AHHHHHH.” Naruto’s panic scream filled the jasmine pavilion. He pulled the comforter over his head and shrank into the depths of his hiding spot. His scream scared the wood thrush away and silenced all other insects and birds in the vicinity. The crown prince opened his eyes and pushed himself up in his own panic state.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” The crown prince asked as he looked around for potential danger.

“Get out!” Naruto cried. “Get out I don’t want to see you! I don’t want you near me! Please!”

They were alone in the jasmine pavilion. Sasuke looked to see Naruto had formed a ball with the comforter wrapped tightly around him. He tried everything he could not to burst out laughing. He covered his mouth with his hand and choked back the tendrils of laughter that threatened to expose him.

“I’ll go. I’ll go.” Sasuke spoke calmly. He grabbed a white bathrobe that had fallen on the floor and donned it. “I’ve turned around. Please just tell me the blackened venom is gone, and then I’ll leave.”

It was quiet for a moment before Sasuke heard the rustling of the comforter being pushed back. He heard Naruto’s ginger movements as he examined his own naked body. Naruto brushed the spot where the puncture wounds were and they were gone. The pain was gone. The blackened venom was nowhere to be seen on his smooth peachy skin.

“It’s gone.” Naruto replied quietly. “Now leave.” Sasuke heard the rustling of blankets as Naruto pulled the comforter back over his body.

“I will tell the maidservants to bring you your breakfast.”

“Hurry! We need to go to the Forest of Death today!” Naruto reminded Sasuke. His voice was muffled under the comforter. It caused Sasuke’s smile to grow.

“Mhm. So make sure you eat everything that is served to you and you don’t waste anything.” Sasuke couldn’t help but tease him. He was curious to see the flustered expression Naruto was making. He didn’t want to tempt fate too long and he quickly fled through the sliding doors before Naruto had time to react.

*****

Sasuke slipped his sandals on and made his way down the cobblestone path that led to the reconstructed kitchens. There was a youthful smile that brightened his face and he had a renewed sense of vigor and vitality. An unknown energy that made him feel godlike radiated off him and standing in the morning rays he felt renewed.

“Good morning crown prince!” A maidservant wearing a blue dress bowed. “I was just coming to see if you want your breakfast served at the jasmine pavilion or in the hyacinth gardens. I just came and the hyacinths have all bloom~” The maidservant's chipper voice faded away. The sudden cutoff caused Sasuke to turn and peer down at her bemused. Her eyes widened as she stared into the crown prince’s face. She was a young girl in her early teens. An orphan the crown prince employed the moment he found out she was going to be sold to a brothel house to pay off her parent’s debts.

“What’s with your expression? Is there something on my face?” Sasuke teased. He had grown used to girls and women bewitched by his appearance and sometimes he couldn’t help but tease them. He touched his cheek with his hand. “Is it here?” His smile widened. He was indeed in a good and playful mood. He moved his hand to the other side. “Or here?”

“The opposite, crown prince, there is nothing on your face!” The young girl voiced.

There was a heavy feeling in her stomach as her brain short-circuited as it comprehended exactly what she was looking at. Her childlike eyes searched him up and down. She was still young enough that her words were brutally honest and she lacked shame. Since she began working in the manor she had never teased or played with the crown prince so her words and actions were always honest. Hearing her words caused a sinking feeling to overcome him.

Sasuke’s eyebrows furrowed. His puzzled expression prompted the young girl to explain.

“Crown prince...the cursed seals on your face and neck are gone!”

“What?” Sasuke asked, astonished. His hand lowered from his face. The question hung in the air like a bloated beached whale. His eyes widened. The palms of his hands felt cold to the touch and his fingertips twitched.

“That’s not all, crown prince, your eyes...they’re no longer red...they’re black!”

Chapter Text

 

Naruto counted the seconds on his fingers the moment he heard the sliding doors closing. He popped his head out from under the comforter and inhaled roughly. The cool air helped calm his quivering heart. His face was flushed red. Shamefaced and guilt ridden. He covered his face with his trembling hands as the memory of what he and the crown prince did on this very bed pirouetted across his mind. It wasn’t that he hated what he had done with the crown prince.

He had liked it. He liked it and he wanted to do it again. To be naked and entwined with the crown prince. To share in his smell of jasmine and sage. To have his body temperature rise and match the crown princes searing hot flesh. To have the crown prince plunder deeper inside him and fill him up completely. To feel the crown prince's lips on him to feel his fingers exploring the curves of his body. Blood rushed to his face and he felt dizzy.

How beautiful and delicious he would be if the crown prince’s teeth sank around his throat and ripped him to shreds and ate him piece by piece.

He began looking for the bathrobe he was wearing and couldn’t find it anywhere on the bed. He peeked through the chiffon curtains and saw that it was folded on a decorative cushioned armchair across the room. He sighed. He grabbed the comforter and wrapped it around his naked body and climbed from the four post bed.

He walked carefully across the room gripping the comforter that draped off him as if he were wearing a luxurious floor length cape. The only thing visible were his slender legs. They peeked out of the satin brocade comforter like a nymph who had just woken up from a slumber. Legs that had little hair and the hair that was on his legs were as soft as peach fuzz.

A dark spherical shadow appeared blocking the armchair with the bathrobe. Naruto stopped moving and tightened his hold on the comforter. He was staring at a grossly enlarged snake that was the size of a fully grown human man. He heard the sound of a rattle. It sounded like a maraca shaking ominously from behind the snake. The eyes gleamed a sickly yellow-green as if suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.

“Apophis?” Naruto asked. He did not know how he knew this creature's name. He was suddenly inundated with a wealth of knowledge.

“YOU~” Apophis hissed. “HARLOT!” The expression twisted and contorted and venomous saliva dripped off the two fangs. “WHAT DID YOU DO?” Apophis lunged at Naruto but he hit an invisible forcefield.

“Oh?” Naruto smiled coldly. The smile was sick and depraved. “Did I absorb some of the god of chaos’ powers last night?” Naruto looked at Apophis’s horrified expression. He could read Apophis’ mind and the snake was reeling these very thoughts.

“Bow.” Naruto commanded with his chin raised. Completely unable to control his own body, Apophis, who was taller and stronger than Naruto, crashed his head to the floorboards as if a large rock was dropped on his head. The force of a boulder was placed on Apophis’ head and he wasn’t able to get up and his body remained frozen in prostration.

“BITCH! TEMPLE WHORE! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU! I’LL FUCK YOUR MOTHER UNTIL I KILL HER!” Apophis screamed. “THEN I’LL MAKE YOU FUCK HER CORPSE AND EAT YOU!”

“Has nobody taught you manners? Is that how you treat your master? Hurry up and die.” Naruto spoke caustically. His eyes illuminated sanguine red. Appearing in his irises were the blackened cursed seals. As he spoke Apophis emitted a blood curdling scream that stripped the paint on the inside of the jasmine pavilion. The animalistic sounds of a donkey being burned and eaten alive. His entire body fell to the floor and twisted and turned his mouth emitting a nauseating scream.

“NARUTO!” The crown prince cried out his name as he opened up the sliding doors and appeared. “STOP!” Pallid and sweating.

A sudden rush overwhelmed Naruto. His eyes rolled into the back of his head. It felt as if all the oxygen inside was sucked out. His knees weakened and gave in under his weight. His hands loosened around the comforter and it fell to the floor revealing his naked body. Across his chest and back were blurred symbols as if painted in ink. He was falling face forward.

Sasuke's arms wrapped themselves around Naruto before he hit the ground.

The spell that was burning Apophis up from the inside out was broken. He shot across the pavilion and began cursing. “What have you done you bastard?! You’ll kill us both!”

“What happened?” Sasuke asked. He was panting, gasping for breath. Sweat rolled into his black eyes and he winced.

He was sweating profusely and his skin became clammy and bloodless. There was a blueness to his complexion and his lips paled. The moment Apophis was under the spell Sasuke too was under that same excruciating pain. It burned him up from the inside out. As if his organs were slowly corroding and an unbearable pain overpowered every bodily function. The spell was broken and the pain rescinded it still left him reeling and agitated like a caged tiger being poked through the steel bars. He was steadily calming himself down.

His hold tightened around Naruto. He noticed that Naruto who was normally cold to the touch was warmer than usual as if his body temperature hadn’t returned to normal...as if his body was burning off the cursed seals.

“I told you! This time the temple bitch really will kill you if you get too close!” Apophis continued his rampage. “And what did you do? You got too close!”

“How...how are the seals on his body?” Sasuke asked. His fingers brushed across the blurry markings on Naruto’s bare chest. Naruto’s head leaned towards Sasuke’s chest and he remained unconscious. Sasuke continued holding him in his arms.

“Absorption!” Apophis' shrill voice peeled more of the paint from the inside pavilion. “You and the god of chaos are the same! You don’t know when to leave well enough alone! Repeating the same mistakes!” Apophis continued moving around the pavilion as if he were an untethered ball in outer space.

“Crown prince!” Sakura appeared in the doorway. She was dressed in a revealing dress with rouge on her cheeks and lacquered lipstick. “It’s true!” Her hands went to her face in shock. “The seals are gone!”

“En.” Sasuke murmured. He grabbed the comforter and covered Naruto’s naked body up.

“How is this possible?” Sakura asked. She walked into the pavilion and her eyes settled on the unconscious Naruto in Sasuke’s arms. “It happened through intercourse?” She asked. Her eyebrows rose. Her bottom lip trembled. Her fingertips itched.

“These experiments with Orochimaru.” Sasuke exhaled. His heart still raced and he could feel the phantom pains in his joints. He picked Naruto up and carried him back to the bed, gently laying him down and placing his head comfortably on the pillow. “When Orochimaru ejaculated into them...was any of his power absorbed into them?”

“I...I don’t remember.” Sakura admitted. “He only told me that they were cured of the black venom. He never told me about any side effects!” Sakura rushed to Sasuke’s side and peered down at Naruto. The comforter moved and she saw the blurry seals on his chest. She pulled the comforter down, revealing all of his chest, and gasped. “He absorbed the seals?”

“Mhm.”

“How do you feel?” Sakura asked anxiously and turned to Sasuke. He resembled a regular man from the Uchiha clan. His bone structure was still superb. With the seals from his face gone he was even more handsome. His eyes were so lacquered Sakura could see her own image. It gave off an infinite feeling in the pit of her stomach as if she was watching the entire galaxy inside his eyes. They were even more beautiful than the ruby red eyes with the cursed seals in each iris.

Saske didn’t answer. His head was still spinning, aching, and he wanted to crack his head open to relieve the pressure that was building. He glanced at Naruto. Apophis' words sank in. It didn’t just sink, it left deep welts. Internally and externally. He was pulling pieces together of what happened and took the very most important pieces. Naruto had absorbed the cursed seals into his body and with that absorption, he had absorbed some of the god of chaos’ power. That power he wielded in attempts to kill Apophis.

Sasuke shared the same mind as Apophis since he was born and Apophis could enter Sasuke’s mind. It was a two way connection. Sasuke was inside Apophis’ mind and saw and heard Naruto’s intentions of killing Apophis. Not only was he trying to kill Apophis, the connection he had with Apophis...Naruto was inadvertently trying to kill him as well.

He started trembling. No. That was always the case. Naruto was always trying to kill him.

‘Master’. Sasuke heard Naruto’s words. ‘Is that how you treat your master’. What did he mean by those words? It was as if Naruto was being possessed.

“Crown prince.” Sakura’s soft voice pierced through Sasuke’s erratic thoughts. She wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “I do not think it will last long. Look.” Sakura pointed to the markings on Naruto’s chest. “They’re already fading. It’s just temporary.”

“Then what about me?” Sasuke asked. “Will they come back?” There was fear in his eyes, and hesitation in his voice. He did not want them to come back. He had grasped onto the hope that he would be rid of those seals. He’d finally be free of the curse and live a normal existence. If he was rid of the god of chaos he would be able to live happily ever after with Naruto.

“I...don’t know.” Sakura answered honestly.

She gazed at the crown prince’s face. He was handsome. Staring at him now he looked like a regal prince. The true king of the south. His almond eyes carried a depth of sophistication and kindness with a touch of justice. The blackness of his eyes emphasized his lush eyelashes. Eyelashes that curled and fluttered under furrowed eyebrows. His eyes were rimmed red. The tip of his nose rimmed red.

Sakura instantly felt how Sasuke was feeling and she hugged him. “It’ll be okay, crown prince! We all like you regardless of the cursed seals! It doesn’t matter to us what you look like! You’re our savior! You’re my savior! You know how much I lo~”

A small childlike voice rang from the outside. The maidservant who was rescued from being sold to the brothel house had no idiota about the heavy atmosphere inside the jasmine pavilion or the turmoil that was happening inside the crown prince’s heart. It was the innocence that shattered the crown prince’s self-deprecation.

“Crown prince Sasuke, I have brought your breakfast!”

*****

Naruto had no memory of what happened this morning. He had no memory of waking up in the crown prince’s arms. No memory of chasing the crown prince out of the jasmine pavilion. No memory of having absorbed some of the god of chaos’ power. He had no memory of meeting Apophis and trying to kill him that morning.

When he woke up the second time that day his eyes were the same clear cerulean blue that sparkled in the daytime sun as if laced with gold. The blurry seals on his body had completely faded away, his body absorbed and burned away any trace. By the time noon rolled around, he had woken up to see Haku and Zabuza sitting at the dining table inside the jasmine pavilion.

Haku had the medical textbook open and the two were reviewing the medicinal herbs with a man named Suigetsu. A man whose teeth seemed to be purposefully sharpened to look like shark's teeth. Every single tooth was filed into sharp points. The man had translucent skin and silvery-white hair. He had a saber at his hip. From behind he resembled an elderly man but from the front, he had a round face and youthful appearance. He was dressed in the bodyguard regalia of the crown prince’s personal entourage.

“What time is it?” Naruto asked as he pushed himself up. “Why didn’t anyone wake me up?” He was annoyed.

“You’re finally awake!” Suigetsu snapped impatiently.

“It’s noon.” Haku answered politely. “This is Suigetsu, he will be leading us into the Forest of Death to look for the medicinal herbs.”

“Where’s the crown prince?” Naruto asked. He looked down to see he was dressed in the white bathrobe. The curtains around the bed were pulled back. The crown prince wasn’t in the jasmine pavilion.

“He got tied up with some important matters and won’t be able to escort us to the forest.” Haku answered with a faint smile. It was a forced smile that tried to pretend everything was okay.

Naruto’s expression soured. “What can be more important than finding the cure for the winter fever? He doesn’t want to take responsibility? Coward.”

He glanced around the room to be sure the crown prince wasn’t there. He really wasn’t. His heart sank. He felt as if a hole was perforated in his gut. He had no memory of this morning and his last memory was falling asleep in the crown prince’s arms. Waking up alone in the bed left a bad taste on his tongue. Was the crown prince avoiding him? He suddenly felt very cold. He grabbed a fistful of the comforter and squeezed. Why wasn’t he here when he woke up? A surge of anger rippled from his head to the tips of his toes.

“Listen here you brat! I won’t allow you to badmouth the crown prince!” Suigetsu lectured and Naruto’s eyes widened. He opened his mouth to argue when he was interrupted.

“Naruto.” Zabuza spoke very diplomatically. “We are all ready to go. Why don’t you hurry up and eat, get dressed, and meet us in the courtyard. Haku, let's go check on Konohamaru. Suigetsu, we'll meet you in the courtyard.”

“Mhm.” Naruto stubbornly agreed. His thoughts turned back to Konohamaru. He didn’t have time to think about the crown prince.

*****

While Naruto was changing the sliding doors opened. Naruto turned to see Zabuza quickly coming in and closing the door.

“Wh~” Naruto asked but was silenced by Zabuza’s hand.

“Something is going on with the crown prince.” Zabuza explained. His voice was low and hoarse. “I overheard a maidservant saying that when she ran into him this morning the cursed seals and his red eyes were gone. He looked like a regular human.”

“...?” Naruto’s eyes widened and he had a look of utter shock.

“The reason the crown prince isn’t going is that he can’t protect you. He lost his power.”

“...!” Naruto exhaled.

“You’re not going with us. You’re staying here.” Zabuza continued. “If the crown prince can’t protect you...it means he doesn’t have any of his abilities...meaning it’ll be easier to hand Sakura over and get the whereabouts of Jiraiya.”

“How am I supposed to contact Orochimaru?” Naruto asked. Panic and anxiety started to fill him up like a hot air balloon.

“Figure it out.” Zabuza answered.

“What are you going to tell Haku?”

“You’re not feeling well.”

“If the crown prince is staying back...what will I tell him?” Naruto panicked.

“You’re not feeling well.” Zabuza spoke with a sly smile. “The way he frets over you...tell him anything and he’ll believe it. Go wait in the sick bay with Konohamaru until you figure something out.”

“I...don’t think I can…” Naruto’s voice cracked. His face was drained of blood. His hands trembled.

“You’re not willing to do anything for your sun god? You’re just cheap words and actions?”

“No!”

“I’m willing to do anything to protect Haku. Stay behind and figure it out! Got it?”

“Fine!”

*****

“You’re really not going?” Sakura asked the crown prince. Sasuke arrived too late and wasn’t able to see Naruto departing. All he saw were indiscernible blobs traveling down the road.

The two were in a newly constructed watchtower. It was so tall it could see both the manor and the nearest town clearly. The land in the south was mostly flat with newly built roads that connected all the towns and cities to make trading easier. Inside the watchtower, one could see for miles in all directions.

Sasuke leaned out the window watching the caravan making its way in the direction of the Forest of Death. Although his face was neutral his hands gripped the ledge of the window until his knuckles were white. His eyes remained black orbs beneath thick eyelashes and his skin remained jadelike and free from the cursed seals.

One side effect was how weak he had become. Sakura wanted to test if he was still under the protection of the cursed seals. Prior nothing was able to cut his body. He had survived countless assassination attempts when he was a child. Arrows and blades were never able to pierce his skin and poison didn’t work. However, since the cursed seals left his body he was subjected to experiencing life as any mortal. Sakura cut his hand with a letter opener and the blade pierced through flesh and red blood oozed out. It was the first time he experienced a cut.

It hurt. It stung. It itched. A new realization dawned on him. With the cursed seals gone he was able to be impaled with a sword and die. That thought frightened him. This fear caused him to lose confidence in his swordsmanship. In his ability to protect. To act. To think.

Apophis’ words continued to lash at him like a whip. This time. He really would die at the hands of the temple brat. Naruto’s words echoed in his head. If Naruto had the power he would eradicate the whole Uchiha clan.

It...frightened him. He didn’t want to die. He loved Naruto but his will to live shadowed his feelings for Naruto. It was the first time he felt cowardly. It seaped like a black stain across his existence. He lived his life as a demigod walking among mortals. Now he was faced with his own mortality and he was frightened silly.

How could he protect Naruto in this weakened state of his? How could he protect anyone with this useless body?

“Mhm.” Sasuke nodded his head. “I never thought I would want the cursed seals back.”

“Naruto will be safe.” Sakura sensed what the crown prince was thinking. “Suigetsu is the second strongest to you. He has a temper and is quick to argue but he will protect Naruto.”

“Mn.” Sasuke’s body tensed.

*****

The sun was setting.

Sakura made her way up the stairs of the watchtower and frowned when she pushed open the door. The crown prince was in the same spot. He was standing at the window looking in the direction of the Forest of Death. The direction of the Forest of Death was to the west where the large fiery orb in the sky kissed the horizon. The sunset was a spectacular sight of a renaissance dream. The sun was being cradled by the heavens and the mortal realm and for a moment looked like it was stuck and the world stopped spinning.

The skyline was on fire. The fire stretched across the sky and across the scorched earth. The fiery blaze illuminated Sasuke and he looked like a phoenix being born. The sun then dipped under the horizon as if slowly sinking in quicksand.

“How long are you going to wait here?” Sakura asked. She folded her arms aggrieved.

“Until he comes back.” Sasuke answered and turned to greet her.

“Your eyes.” Sakura gasped. Her eyes widened. The sun slipped under the horizon swallowed up by the darkness of night. Sasuke’s sanguine eyes returned. They illuminated an effervescent glow. The cursed seals appeared in each iris. The cursed seals returned to his skin. “They’re red.”

“They’re back?” Sasuke asked and looked down pulling the fabric of his shirt apart to see the cursed seals written in the dead language had returned. He pulled his sword from his sheath. He felt his power returning.

“What are you doing?” Sakura yelled as Sasuke brought the blade across his right palm. “Are you crazy?” The blade struck his skin but the blade that had been cleaned daily and sharpened weekly was unable to break skin. The invisible barrier was back.

Sasuke sheathed his sword and ran past Sakura taking the stairs three and four at a time as he descended.

“Where are you going?” Sakura cried out and gave chase.

“I’m going after him!”

“Why?” Sakura called after him. Her legs weren’t as long as the crown prince’s and she was wearing a dress. She couldn’t keep up. “Wait!”

Sasuke had reached the stables and was pulling out his horse. A thoroughbred Arabian horse. He named the horse Taka. He easily maneuvered on the saddle and took the reins in his hands. The horse jumped back on its hind legs and neighed.

“Wait!” Sakura cried out and blocked his path. She threw her hands out and made herself a human shield. The horse landed on all fours and backed up.

“What is it?”

“I’m worried...I’m worried that Orochimaru is going to find me! I’m worried that the real reason Naruto appeared before you was because of Orochimaru! Please don’t leave me!”

“I’m here. He won’t touch you.” Sasuke assured confidently. “You’re safe here!”

“You don’t understand. Naruto is looking for a man named Jiraiya.” Sakura continued explaining. “Orochimaru knows Jiraiya.”

Sasuke loosened his grip on the leather reins. Naruto was on a mission to find a man named Jiraiya to help translate a book.

“It wasn’t a coincidence that Orochimaru infected Naruto with the black venom. I think it’s a trap...I don’t think you should get close to Naruto anymore. He’s dangerous.”

“We...we don’t know that to be the case.” Sasuke defended.

“How long are you going to keep living in a delusion?” Sakura asked. “I know you love him but he’s not the same person you used to know!”

“Stay here. I’m going after Naruto. I’ll ask him myself.” Sasuke answered curtly and ran off in the direction of the forest.

*****

Naruto remained in the sick bay in the room that Konohamaru was provided.

Konohamaru was lying on a futon. There was a wet washcloth on his forehead. He was in a white gown and in a never ending sleep. Like sleeping beauty, he slept and slept and slept. Naruto remained inside the room all afternoon as the physicians did their rounds to monitor Konohamaru’s fever. Periodically giving him medication every few hours.

Naruto watched as a handkerchief was dipped into the liquid medication and brought to Konohamaru’s mouth. It was slowly absorbed by Konohamaru’s tongue and instinctively the swallowing mechanism took over. The physicians never stayed long all were afraid they would catch the winter fever. Every time they left they quickly scrubbed themselves clean.

The only one in the room was Naruto. His mind had been a cacophony of chaotic thoughts.

“Ahh...how are you feeling, young master Naruto?” The head physician who had examined Naruto last night appeared.

“Young master?” Naruto asked curiously and looked up at him. The head physician was old when Naruto was younger and now appeared even older, as if he already had one foot in the grave and getting ready to lower the second.

“You are the most beloved person of the crown prince and so should be addressed as young master.” The head physician smiled warmly. His face was pushed back with wrinkles as if he were part mastiff dog.

“I haven’t seen you all day.” Naruto commented. It was true. He had seen every other physician but the head physician was nowhere in sight.

“The crown prince instructed me to have an errand boy look for some books. It occurred to me that the current errand boys are still in the process of learning to read and write and the books he wanted looked up were too hard for them to search. Instead, I searched the library myself.”

“What books is the crown prince looking up?”

“Books on Eris goddess of strife and discord, and Hades god of the underworld. The library at the manor although has many books...it is also severely lacking in different topics. The only books we have in the library on the heavens are on the sun god.”

“Oh.” Naruto nodded his head. “All other gods are inferior.”

The head physician looked like he wanted to comment but refrained. “I decided to check on the patients here before heading into town to check the library there. The library is affiliated with the southern university so it should offer more of a selection.”

“You’re heading into town? Can I come?” Naruto asked enthusiastically. “I want to buy a gift for Konohamaru!” He lied through his teeth.

“I wouldn’t mind having company. These old legs and eyes aren’t like what they used to be. We can take a carriage. Let’s go.”

While Sasuke remained in the watchtower facing west towards the Forest of Death. Naruto climbed into the carriage alongside the head physician and the two went into town. By the time Sasuke descended the watchtower and onto his horse Naruto was already at the library in town.

*****

The town seemed to triple in size and population since the last time Naruto ventured through. The town was to the south of the manor. A fifteen-minute carriage ride and they reached the outskirts of town. The town was renewed and rebuilt. It looked as if the town was entering a revival. It was true the towns and cities in the south were alive and bustling with trade whereas the towns and cities in the north were collapsing. The streets were lined with carts of shop owners hawking and selling their wares. The townspeople were round-faced, clean, as they haggled for a fair price. There were carts selling street food and the air was filled with a savory smell of skewered meat, roasted nuts, and fried dough.

It was late afternoon when they reached the library. It was a building made out of brick and mortar and headed by an intern scholar dressed in tweed with thick spectacles.

“I apologize I am an intern sent from the university to draw up an official transcript of all the books in the library.” The intern scholar admitted. “The librarian had a death in the family and has been home completing the burial rites. I, myself, do not know what books are here.”

“It’s okay. We’ll just browse.” The head physician spoke with a smile.

“I’ll be here all night so if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask! Stay as late as you want!” The intern scholar, still green behind the ears, beamed before going back to writing down the volumes on the desk.

Naruto followed close behind the head physician. The library was two stories and deceptively large. From the outside, the building was squished between a hardware store and a flower shop. Although the building wasn’t very wide it was deep and bookcases were crammed in making it a maze-like experience. The smell of old books, dust mites, and ink-filled the air.

It was the better half of an hour before Naruto came across a thick, leather-bound book that was twice the size of an average book. Naruto grunted as he struggled to comfortably hold and carry the book. It took both of Naruto’s hands and all his strength to pull it off the shelf and carry it to a table with a lantern on it. The moment the book hit the table a plume of dust came off the book. He read the title more clearly: ‘Apple of Discord’. He sat down and began reading.

The book was filled with vignettes about the goddess of discord, Eris, and her relationship with the other gods of the heavens and her relationship with humans on the mortal plane. The book was written in the old language. If Naruto wasn’t raised in the temple and taught both the old language and the new language he might not be able to read and understand it. The sun god’s theology books were all written in the old language, and the old language was said to be the true language of the gods.

Naruto understood why the head physician could not merely send an errand boy to search for these books, and why the crown prince who was just learning to read and write in the new language would have believed an errand boy could complete this feat. An errand boy with just a basic grasp of the new language would simply pass on books written in the old language thus to the errand boy there would be no books written on the gods. The head physician was loyal to the crown prince and put in the extra effort to search for the books himself.

Naruto felt a strange emotion that he swallowed back and continued reading.

*****

Eris was born from the dark night. There was not just one strife but two in which mankind praised her when they’ve come to understand her and simultaneously blamed her by nature. In the beginning of time, the gods and goddesses of the heavens indulged themselves in great feasts and festivals.

During one feast Eris produced a golden apple. “The golden apple tree produced one golden apple this millennia.” Eris announced. “I have come to bestow this golden apple as a gift.”

It was the most delicious fruit in both the heavens and mortal worlds. The great golden apple tree only produced one every thousand years so it was deeply sought out and desired by everyone. She placed it in the middle of the table during the feast and said.

“This apple goes to the most beautiful and worthy.”

As Eris did not give the golden apple to a particular god and instead said it belonged to the most beautiful everyone looked at each other.

What came after was pure chaos. The once harmonious atmosphere of the heavens turned into near bloodshed as gods and goddesses ripped into each other all vying for the title of most beautiful and worthy.

“Ah!” Heka, the goddess of magic, spoke up. Heka had sunbaked skin and spent most of her time in the desert cultivating her magic. Her skin shimmered as if rays of the desert sun were trapped just beneath her skin and radiated. There were golden symbols tattooed all over her skin. She had heterochromia eyes. One eye the color of a green cactus and the other eye the color of the blue desert sky. With hair as wavy and ubiquitous as a sand dune. “It appears that dear Eris has tricked us! Eris said the golden apple belongs to the most beautiful and worthy, but none of us are named the goddess of beauty.”

“Are you saying none of us are worthy of the golden apple?” The sun god argued.

“No.” The god of chaos voiced. He wrapped his arms around the sun god’s waist from behind and purred in his ear. “This isn’t a matter for the heavens. Let’s drop the apple of discord down to the mortal realm and let the humans decide.” The god of chaos licked and sucked on the cartilage of the sun god’s ear. “Wouldn’t it be fun?”

“Humans?” The sun god’s interest piqued and his face flushed from the sensual contact of the god of chaos.

They had just begun building temples in the desert worshipping the sun god. There were already numerous temples worshipping Heka and the sun god had just come from the mortal realm having counted all the temples and realizing there were more temples worshipping Heka than himself.

“Yes. Let the humans decide and whoever they give the golden apple to will ascend as the goddess of beauty.” The sun god decided.

It was something that was schemed up between Eris and the god of chaos. Eris’ only expected there to be a bloodbath in the heavens. She grew increasingly more aroused when the god of chaos suggested sending the golden apple to the mortal world. With the sun god, the god of chaos, and Eris agreeing it was settled all other gods agreed to this new rule.

The sun god grabbed the golden apple away from Heka, turned, and kissed the god of chaos. “I’ll give the apple to the emperor of the sun temple.” The sun god was a youthful beauty with rounded features still young and not as powerful as Heka. There was a recklessness about the sun god that teetered on madness. His hair was a golden fire that radiated and glistened like hundreds of rubies. There were golden laurels in his hair.

The opposite in appearance was the god of chaos. Whereas the sun god ran hot and bright the god of chaos was as smooth, and cool as the full moon at night. The god of chaos’ features was sharp and chiseled. He had a dragon insignia on his robes. His hair was long, black, and reached below his buttocks.

“No.” Eris smirked and took the apple from the sun god. “It is my apple to give. I’ll give the apple to the emperor and tell him it belongs to the most beautiful woman in the world.”

The sun god’s expression soured and he opened his mouth to argue, but what greeted his mouth was the god of chaos’s own tongue. The god of chaos covered the sun god’s mouth with his own and silenced him with his powerful wet tongue. The sun god allowed the god of chaos to silence him, wrapped his arms around him, legs wrapped around his waist, and enjoyed the attention and affection that was lavished on him.

Eris, who had already been aroused by the discord of the heavens, was even more delighted to see the golden apple being dropped to the mortal realm. The golden apple was given to the emperor by Eris to bestow it to the most beautiful woman in the world. What ensued was a bloody battle over the most beautiful woman, Aphrodite. The war dubbed “the Aphrodite war” lasted for many years and thousands of humans were slaughtered.

The gods and goddess treated everything like a gambling den. Each making their own bets on the kingdoms and kings of the mortal world. When Aphrodite died in the ensuing battle she ascended as the goddess of beauty and humans built temples and offerings to her.

Thus the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, was born. She brought with her a golden comb that was made from the core of the golden apple and thus became an enchanted comb that would bring out the person’s beauty once used.

*****

There was such a thing where a romance blossomed between the sun god and the god of chaos?

“I found a book on Eris.” Naruto spoke as he dropped the book on the table the head physician was seated at.

“Ahh! Good, good!” The head physician beamed with gratitude.

“I’m going to walk around the town and look for a suitable get well gift for Konohamaru. I’ll be back soon.”

“I’ll be here. Take your time!”

*****

If there was once a romance between the sun god and the god of chaos written in a textbook about Eris, was there more accounts written in the textbooks of the other gods? If such a thing was true then what happened? It was difficult to swallow and Naruto’s mind was muddled; he was barely paying attention to where he was walking. He bumped into someone and tripped over.

It was a man moving a cart of face masks. He had been walking backwards and bumped into Naruto who was moving forwards.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you there!” The man turned around and apologized. He reached his arm out to help Naruto up.

Naruto took it without a second of hesitation. When he stood up the man refused to let go. Naruto tried pulling his arm back and he got a good look at the man holding him and stopped resisting. It was the man, Kabuto.

“Good. I found you.” Naruto answered coldly.

“Let’s talk somewhere more privately.” Kabuto smiled wickedly.

“Tell me where I can find Jiraiya.”

*****

The Forest of Death was an hour away to the west of the manor by horseback. On the Arabian thoroughbred Sasuke reached the forest in forty-five minutes just as he reached the edge of the forest he saw movement and the caravan of people slowly trickled out in a single file.

“Crown prince!” Suigetsu, who was leading the caravan, called out. It was nighttime and they were all holding lanterns in their arms. “What brings you here?”

“I was…” Sasuke looked at the people in the caravan. There were four other guards. His eyes quickly fell to Haku and Zabuza. Haku was carrying a sack that appeared to be filled with medical plants. “Where’s Naruto?” Sasuke blurted out as he did a headcount and Naruto was nowhere in sight.

“Naruto?” Haku asked. He shot a look of admonishment at Zabuza. “He wasn’t feeling well so he stayed behind.”

“Oh.” Sasuke murmured. His grip tightened. He had spent the majority of the time in the watchtower and when the cursed seals came back he left for the forest. Naruto was at the manor the whole time. He glared at Suigetsu. “Why didn’t you tell me he stayed behind?”

It caused Suigetsu to look at Zabuza. “Zabuza said Naruto would tell you himself!”

“I did.” Zabuza answered coolly. His features were smooth. “Did you not see Naruto at the manor, crown prince?”

No. Sasuke thought. He was in the watchtower all day looking in the direction of the forest. His anger with no outlet turned and directed it at himself. His cheeks burned and his stomach tightened. Was Naruto looking for him all day?

“We shouldn’t idle here, crown prince, the spirits aren’t happy. They gave us a hassle.” Suigetsu reported. He glanced at the darkened forest.

“I understand why they call it the forest of death.” Zabuza forced a laugh.

“Did you not see Naruto, crown prince?” Haku asked, his eyebrows furrowed in worry. “If Naruto wasn’t feeling well...could he have caught the winter fever?”

“Don’t be dramatic.” Zabuza answered stiffly. “He was just tired from what happened…” Zabuza glanced at the crown prince. “What happened last night.”

“I...was in the watchtower all day before leaving for the forest.” Sasuke explained his face reddened as he thought about last night. “I assumed he was with you and so I didn’t bother looking for him.” He avoided eye contact with both Zabuza and Haku.

“He’s with Konohamaru.” Zabuza answered hastily. “He said he wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay behind with Konohamaru. He should be at the sick bay. I wouldn’t be too worried.”

“Ah.” Sasuke answered. His mood and expression deflated. “I have this feeling that something...is wrong.” He admitted. “I thought that feeling would go away...and it hasn’t.”

Haku blew out the lantern he was holding. He tied it to the saddle so it was secure. “Let’s hurry back.” The others followed suit. Everyone blew out their lanterns. They didn’t need light as there was still a full moon outside. The air was warm but the longer the night grew the chillier everything became.

*****

“What’s that?” A guardsman asked.

“Is that a fire?” Suigetsu asked. Sasuke’s horse was riding alongside Suigetsu’s.

There was a reddish-orange glow coming from the direction of the town. They suddenly heard the sounds of a bell tolling. It was an alarming, panicked sound that filled the night with a neverending sense of urgency and dread. It caused the caravan to be drenched in a cold sweat and the hairs on their arms and neck stood up. Adrenaline filled their veins as they galloped faster in the direction of the blaze.

The closer they galloped to the town the closer they began hearing screams of help.

“FIRE!” “PLEASE HELP!” “I’M HURT!” “AHHHH!”

When they arrived on the scene they saw billowing black clouds rolling to the sky and blocking out the full moon. A vicious fire had started burning through a portion of the town where a tavern was. During the last five years, there was a boom in construction and population. The buildings were built with oiled roofs and wooden frames one on top of another. Making perfect kindling.

“WATER! WE NEED TO MAKE A LINE FOR WATER!” Sasuke shouted out commands. “SUIGETSU HEAD THE EVACUATION!”

The bells from the town already alerted the guards stationed in the manor. They already arrived in the town and had been haphazardly dumping water on the fire and evacuating people from the buildings. Haku jumped off his horse and closely followed by Zabuza began attending to those who were injured and burned. People were screaming and fleeing in the opposite direction. Suigetsu was helping people move their street carts away from the fire that slowly started to eat away at the buildings one by one.

“Crown prince!” The head physician ran towards him waving his hands madly to get his attention. “Have you seen Naruto?”

“Head physician!” Sasuke responded at the same time he asked about Naruto. He grabbed onto the shoulders of the head physician and squeezed. “What about Naruto?”

“He was with me at the library! He went shopping for a get well soon present for Konohamaru! I can’t find him anywhere!”

“He’s...gone?” Sasuke’s eyes widened. The fire that was blazing in front of him and filling the air with soot and ash was reflected in his sanguine eyes. “What do you mean he’s gone?”

An explosion happened.

The first thing was the force was as if the heavens themselves opened up and dropped a large sky bomb. It detonated inside the fire. It was the sound of buildings collapsing. The sound of wood splintering. Brick crumbling. Glass shattering. The buildings that were on fire instantly collapsed and flattened.

The invisible force sent everyone outside toppling over. A rush of air pushed everyone as if everyone was struck by a tidal wave. Sasuke fell on top of the head physician. Screams of panic were swallowed up by the waves of forced air. The fire that had been roaring a second ago was snuffed out as if the gods pushed away from the plumes of smoke and blew the fire out like a birthday candle. The entire ground vibrated and every building in the town shook.

The rubble from the collapsed buildings sent smoke and debris out. It mixed with the black smoke of the extinguished fire and blocked everyone’s vision. Smoke and debris stung eyes, choked people, and coated the inside of their nose and lungs as they tried to breathe.

What followed was absolute silence as if the fear of the calamity struck everyone in the town at once. They held their breaths and waited as if expecting an even bigger calamity.

Sasuke was the first to hear the sound of footsteps followed by Naruto’s clear voice.

“I’ll give you one more chance to tell me where Jiraiya is.”

Sasuke pushed himself into a standing position. On the other side of the collapsed building, he saw a figure standing. With his eyes, he saw the outline of Naruto standing with his back to him. The smoke and debris began to dissipate and he saw the outline more clearly.

“You fool! You think you’ll get the information out of me?” Orochimaru’s shrill voice filled the air.

“Give me your sword, Shisui!” Naruto demanded and turned around to hold his hand out. Shisui, dressed in the captain of the guard uniform, placed his sword in Naruto’s hand. Naruto’s eyes were glowing emerald green. Sasuke’s eyes widened as he saw this.

“You dare betray the emperor, Shisui?” Orochimaru questioned. “So it’s true. Hungry dogs really do bite their owners if they’re starved long enough.”

“I’ve always wanted to torture someone.” Naruto murmured with a sickly smile. He pierced the blade into Orochimaru’s chest, impaling him. Orochimaru howled in pain.

“NARUTO!” Sasuke yelled as he climbed over the burnt rubble of the building and ran towards him.

Naruto pulled the blade out of Orochimaru’s chest, sending the man falling into a pool of his own blood as he began writhing in pain. Blood poured out of his mouth and nose.

Shisui jumped in front of Sasuke. “Stop! Don’t get any closer!”

“Shisui? What are you doing here?” Sasuke balked.

Shisui smirked. “Protecting Naruto. What were you doing letting him almost be kidnapped and handed off back to the emperor?”

Naruto paid no attention to what was happening behind him. He held the sword with both hands and plunged the blade into Orochimaru’s thigh. Blood squirted everywhere and splattered on Naruto’s face. He twisted the blade severing tendons and blood vessels and muscles.

“AHHHOOOHHHH!” Orochimaru wailed. Orochimaru’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fainted from the pain. Naruto pulled the blade out.

Naruto pulled the blade out of Orochimaru’s thigh and turned around. The emerald green eyes returned to his dark-blue color.

“Tie him up, Shisui. He’s my prisoner.” Naruto commanded and held the blade back to Shisui. Naruto hadn’t seen or heard Sasuke.

“Naruto...what happened?” Sasuke asked and slowly approached him. Naruto blinked and looked at him. The smoke and debris had dissipated enough that he could see features and colors.

“Crown prince?” Naruto was shocked. His eyes glanced at Shisui who was already tying Orochimaru’s hands up. “Have you finished your very important tasks?” Naruto’s voice dripped in sarcasm.

“Tasks?”

“Isn’t that why you couldn’t escort us to the Forest of Death?” Naruto spoke as if he hadn’t just skewered a man a moment ago. Blood dripped down Naruto’s face. “You have very important, urgent, tasks?” He folded his arms and leaned on one foot tilting his chin up to get a better look at the crown prince.

“Yeah. I’ve finished. You didn’t go to the Forest of Death. I went to find you, but you didn’t go.” Sasuke spoke hesitantly. The detachment and cold demeanor had returned to Naruto. He could feel the barrier that Naruto put up between them as clearly as if a physical brick wall was between them.

“I wasn’t feeling well.” Naruto answered. “I stayed back and looked after Konohamaru. I then accompanied the head physician to town to look for some library books for you. I ran into Orochimaru. He kidnapped me and threatened to turn me over to the emperor for the reward money.”

“Are you hurt?” Sasuke asked and took a step closer to Naruto.

“Don’t come near me.” Naruto spoke steely and took a step back. He revealed two rows of small white teeth in a confident smile. “Of course I’m not hurt. This blood isn’t mine.”

Sasuke took four large steps closer in quick succession and hugged him. “I’m sorry I left you this morning. It won’t happen again. I’m sorry I avoided you.” His arms wrapped around Naruto’s neck and he pulled him into his chest. His chin rested on the top of Naruto’s head.

Naruto neither hugged him back nor pushed him away. He remained standing as if he wasn’t bothered either way. Sasuke was acknowledging the real reason Naruto was mad. Still. Naruto straightened. It was always easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

“What happened?” Sasuke asked, lowering his voice.

“Orochimaru set fire to the tavern when he found out Shisui wasn’t going to hand me over to the emperor. Orochimaru’s men attacked Shisui. The fire grew. I wanted to ask him where the whereabouts of Jiraiya was...but he wouldn’t tell me.” Naruto answered steely. He wasn’t warming up to Sasuke’s affection, but he wasn’t pushing him away either.

Shisui kept watching Naruto from the corner of his eye.

“Where’s Sakura?” Sasuke asked. At the mention of her name Naruto shoved him. He used his whole strength and pushed Sasuke away. His anger fueled him once again.

“Like I keep tabs on her?” Naruto barked. “Look for her, yourself!”

“You didn’t...you didn’t turn her over to Orochimaru?” Sasuke clarified. It was something he needed to hear from Naruto’s mouth. “Did you?” Shisui looked at Sasuke.

“Is that what you think?” Naruto laughed coldly. To be fair. It was partially true. Naruto just wasn’t prepared to hear these words coming out of Sasuke’s mouth. Sasuke didn’t answer. He kept staring at Naruto. Shisui looked at Naruto.

“We’re even.” Naruto spoke solemnly. His back stiffened. “She saved my life and I saved hers. We’re even.” Naruto’s eyes were cast down. The only thing Sasuke could see was his purple eyelids and the tips of his lashes. Naruto’s face reflected the moon’s glow. He was covered in soot, debris, and smoke. Blood dripped off his face and stained his clothes. He wanted nothing more than to pick him up and carry him to the bathhouse.

Sasuke felt instant relief washing over him. He took a step closer wanting to hug Naruto again but it seemed Naruto had enough. He held his arms out to stop him. “Stop. You’re too clingy. Leave me be. I told you I was alright!” He took two steps back the second Sasuke took two steps forward.

This time Sasuke kept still and didn’t move any closer. If he did he knew he would have pushed Naruto too far and it would have the opposite effect.

“Shouldn’t you be commanding the rescue effort or something?” Naruto continued and waved his hands. “It isn’t like I’m going anywhere. Go!”

“Crown prince!” Suigetsu called from behind as if right on cue. Sasuke raised his hand towards Suigetsu, silencing him.

“I’ll see you later. I’m glad you’re safe.” Sasuke bowed his head and left.

Naruto turned back to see Shisui kneeling beside Orochimaru. Shisui looked up at Naruto. “Do you trust me now?”

“Mhm.” Naruto nodded his head. He glanced over his shoulder in the direction the crown prince ran off and kneeled down. “I always thought you’d make a better emperor. As soon as we find Jiraiya. I’ll help you become emperor. With me as high priest...it would be the perfect partnership!”

Shisui looked over Naruto’s shoulder in the direction of the crown prince. His smile faltered and the expression grew serious. “He knows.” He didn’t need to explain anymore. He was referring to Sasuke seeing the emerald glow of Naruto’s eyes. “I’ll help you kill him.”

“Good.” Naruto smiled. His eyes flashed a complicated expression and he grimaced. “It’s not like I’m purposefully hiding it. How can he get mad at me for stopping the fire?” Naruto tilted his head. “If you look at things that way. I’m a hero.”

Shisui picked up Orochimaru and swung him over his shoulder. Naruto walked alongside him.

“We should bring him to a physician. Otherwise, he’ll really die.”

“I didn’t hit any major artery or organ. We’ll find Haku.”

Everything felt like a dream sequence. Naruto’s head was muddled when he ran into Kabuto...

He was led into a tavern where he sat at a table with Orochimaru. That unquenchable thirst and unfillable hunger consumed him. He was beginning to have an aversion to taverns and pubs. Orochimaru asked about Sakura and Naruto was unable to cooperate. It was the same feeling when he read the letter from the high priest instructing him to poison the crown prince. How was he supposed to follow through? Sakura saved his life by revealing the antidote for the black venom just like the crown prince saved him from that possessed servant.

His bloodlust was activated the moment Orochimaru grabbed him and threatened to turn him over to the royal guards to collect the reward money. Everything that came after was blurry. Orochimaru was not under the impression that the captain of the guard had been traveling with Naruto when he ran into him at Voluptas City. Therefore when he saw the captain of the guard, Shisui, he informed him he knew where the empress was and wanted to collect the reward money. When Orochimaru tried turning Naruto over to Shisui...he was shocked to see Shisui on Naruto’s side and an ensuing battle happened.

A revolting smell of rotten flesh mixed with the smell of sulfuric gas-filled Shisui’s nostrils. It smelled like a corpse that had been sitting in the hot, summer, sun for three days. Bloated and puffy. He squeezed the waist of Orochimaru and his waist was met with something bloated and squishy. The organs exploded inside the chest cavity and a puncture sound was heard followed by the rotten egg smell of decay. Shisui started gagging as if he had inhaled a noxious poisonous gas and a colloid substance covered his hand.

“Naruto. Somethings wrong!” Shisui spoke between fits of coughing and dropped Orochimaru’s body. He looked at his hand. It was a mixture of rotting flesh, dissolved organs, and brown blood. What rolled on the ground was a dead body. It was a human husk of a body. A body that had been dead for at least a week. The body that Shisui was holding under the guise of Orochimaru wasn’t Orochimaru. It was a dead corpse.

“What…” Naruto gawked as he looked at the dead corpse. It was a woman’s corpse no less. “Necromancy?” The “face” that was Orochimaru slid off into a puddle of sludge. Shisui quickly began wiping his hand off.

Naruto looked up. The crowd of displaced townspeople were being rounded up into carriages and moved towards the manor. It was decided since the fire was out and everyone was evacuated those displaced would go to the manor for refuge. The crown prince’s guards were leading the efforts. Naruto wiped his forehead and frowned. The lines on his forehead deepened and the shadows under his eyes darkened.

“This man is a monster.” Naruto commented. “I knew it was too easy. I didn’t see a single turquoise snake. I assume Kabuto...is alive as well. Fuck. Bastards!” He swore and kicked at the woman’s corpse.

Shisui slit Kabuto’s throat in the tavern. They never checked his body because Orochimaru set the whole place ablaze. The building was now ground zero under rubble.

“Naruto!” Haku ran up to Naruto. Zabuza trailing behind. “How are you feeling? Why are you here?”

“Long story.” Naruto mumbled and glanced at Shisui. Naruto pointed to the woman’s dead corpse on the ground. “More importantly. What do you know about necromancy? Orochimaru tried kidnapping me for the reward money. We were able to capture him, but this isn’t Orochimaru. It’s a corpse. The real Orochimaru is still out there.”

“Necromancy? It’s forbidden!” Haku retorted and bent down to examine the woman’s corpse. His knowledge of necromancy was rudimentary. He knew some of the previous humans who were bestowed Asclepius’ powers had the power of necromancy. They were all put to death immediately and thus the knowledge of necromancy fell into obscurity. It was forbidden and if Beau found out Haku was dabbling in necromancy he would kill Haku himself.

“Orochimaru is still out there?” Zabuza asked under a veiled question. His eyes were smoldering as they glared daggers at Naruto.

“This time he wants both Haku and Sakura. He isn’t to be trusted. If we see him again. We really need to kill him. He will not tell us where Jiraiya is and he’s practicing necromancy. This type of monster should not exist in our world!”

Zabuza narrowed his eyes and Naruto looked away.

Haku continued his examination. As if remembering, Naruto looked from Zabuza to Haku. “What about the medicinal plants? Did you find them?”

“About...that…” Haku’s face paled. “We came directly here from the forest. It appeared...I misplaced the knapsack.”

“YOU LOST THE BAG?” Naruto yelled. “WHAT ABOUT KONOHAMARU?”

“Stop yelling at Haku! You were sick and stayed behind!” Zabuza yelled and defended Haku. He raised his hand as if to strike Naruto. Shisui pulled Naruto back preemptively.

“Oh? I was sick, was I?” Naruto narrowed his eyes at Zabuza and struggled away from Shisui’s hand. “Please tell Haku what I was sick with?” The coldness and detachment returned to his features. His blood boiling. He wanted to strike Zabuza. Box his ears and gouge his eyes, and rip apart his throat.

“A sore ass?” Zabuza sneered. Shisui narrowed his eyes and glared at Zabuza.

Zabuza was angry with Naruto for failing to hand Sakura over and putting Haku further in danger. He viewed Naruto as the person directly responsible for placing Haku in the direct line of fire and couldn’t hold back his disgust. He wanted to verbally assault Naruto because he could not physically touch him.

“YOU!” Naruto lunged at Zabuza. “ASSHOLE!”

“ZABUZA!” Haku yelled. He stood up between Naruto and Zabuza and slapped Zabuza across the face. The slap was enough to cause Naruto to stop in his tracks. “Naruto is right! It is my fault we lost the medicinal plants! He has a right to be angry!” Haku did not hold back and a large red handshape print began to swell on the side of Zabuza’s face.

Zabuza held his cheek. His eyes widened in shock. Haku had never struck anyone before. He never thought Haku to hit anyone let alone hit him. He was utterly lost and drowning with emotion.

“I’m sorry Naruto.” Haku turned to face Naruto and bowed three times. “I’m sorry. There are still more medicinal plants in the forest. I know where they are. If we go tomorrow. The trip will be quicker!” Haku continued bowing and apologizing. “I’m sorry!”

Naruto cried out in anguish before collapsing to his knees. He was exhausted physically and mentally. Having used the power he inherited from the moon goddess he was sapped of energy and the emotions he bottled up inside came flooding out in waves.

“Naruto!” Shisui kneeled besides him.

“We’ll...go tomorrow.” Naruto rubbed his face with both hands. “There’s no point in shifting blame. We’ll go back to the forest tomorrow.”

*****

“Naruto. Do you want to take a bath?” The crown prince appeared through the crowd of people. They were back at the manor and Suigetsu had taken over assigning the displaced townspeople their temporary living quarters.

“Yes.” Naruto agreed. He knew the crown prince meant going to his own private bathhouse instead of the public bathhouse.

“Naruto-” Shisui interjected.

“It’s fine, Shisui. We’ll talk later. Get your room assignment and go rest.” Naruto raised his hand and dismissed Shisui. He followed the crown prince down a path away from the courtyard.

When they were a ways from the noise and chaos Naruto looked down at the path. He looked back up at the crown prince’s back. “I have something to tell you. It’s about~”

“Haku told me.” The crown prince answered calmly. “He told me it was necromancy. If found he will be executed. I have already informed Suigetsu to tell the rest of the guards...and I informed Sakura.”

“It means Sakura and Haku are still at risk.” Naruto continued guilty.

“I will protect both. What’s going on with you and Shisui?” The crown prince asked and peeked over his shoulder at Naruto. He saw that Naruto was watching him intently and looked away his face flushing.

“He didn’t betray me. He helped me. I didn’t expect Shisui to be the one Orochimaru was willing to hand me over to, and I didn’t expect Shisui to help me when I saw him.”

“Isn’t he the emperor’s right-hand man?” The crown prince asked.

“The emperor has gone mad. It’s more humane to kill him and end his suffering. Shisui is better suited as emperor than that madman.” Naruto commented icily.

They reached the bathhouse and Sasuke stopped. It nearly caused Naruto to run into him but he had been watching his shoulder blades and stopped just as abruptly as Sasuke stopped. Sasuke turned around and met Naruto’s gaze. They were less than a foot apart.

“Are you saying that Shisui is better suited as emperor, over me?”

Naruto didn’t blink.

The sanguine red of Sasuke’s eyes seemed to be filled with complicated emotion. Naruto’s eyes traced the cursed seals on Sasuke’s cheek. He didn’t understand. Zabuza said that the crown prince was a regular human mortal. It was temporary, Naruto concluded. The crown prince temporarily became a mortal. If that was the case. If they engaged in intercourse again and the crown prince ejaculated into him again. Would he turn back into a mortal, temporarily? If he turned back into a mortal...would Naruto be able to kill him?

“Naruto?” Sasuke asked and tilted his head. Naruto blinked. He forgot the question that the crown prince asked him. “Will you take a bath with me?”

Naruto’s eyes widened and he felt bashful. Those perverted thoughts popped like soap bubbles and it left him feeling raw and exposed. He broke eye contact and his face flushed. “If that’s what you want.”

Sasuke grabbed Naruto’s hand and led him into the bathhouse. Last night Naruto bathed in the room on the right and the crown prince bathed in the room on the left. Tonight they both bathed in the room on the right. Naruto stripped from his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist before entering the room on the right. He saw that Sasuke was already sitting in one of the large tiled bathtubs. The water was warm and steam hung thick in the air. It cleaned out the soot and debris from his nose and throat filling his lungs with heavy, humid air that caused him to start coughing.

“Are you okay?” Sasuke asked, his face soft and filled with concern.

“Yea.” Naruto calmed down, collected himself, and entered the same large tiled bathtub that Sasuke was sitting in. Settling into the bathtub he sat on a tiled chair. The water went to his chest. “Tomorrow we have to go back to the forest.”

“Mhm. Haku told me.”

Naruto turned his head and stared at Sasuke. “Well, aren’t you close with Haku?”

Sasuke turned and smiled. “Haku apologized and said he lost the medicinal plants. He said you were angry at him.”

“I’m...not angry at him.” Naruto exhaled. He didn’t know why he had a sudden urge of jealousy towards Haku or why he was having feelings of possessiveness. “Why were you avoiding me all day?” Naruto asked with a huff. “I woke up and you were gone.”

Sasuke tensed up. Naruto had forgotten everything that happened this morning? He was hesitant to tell Naruto the truth. He didn’t want to ruin the moment. He wanted to selfishly cling onto this moment a little longer. Stretch it a little more.

“I’m sorry.” Sasuke shifted closer to Naruto. “Let me wash your hair to make it up to you.”

Naruto didn’t protest. This was the first time he had taken a bath with someone else.

Sasuke sat at the edge of the bathtub, and Naruto sat between Sasuke’s legs. Sasuke held a shampoo bar and began massaging it into Naruto’s skull. His fingers worked their way through his locks of hair, against his skull, lathering up soap. He had a rhythm, the perfect goldilocks technique. Not too hard and not too soft. Just right. Naruto closed his eyes and leaned back in Sasuke’s lap. Allowing his body to be slightly rocked by Sasuke’s hands. It sent shivers down his body.

When Sasuke was done he grabbed a bowl and began rinsing the soapy shampoo from his hair. One hand holding the bowl and gently pouring water and the other making sure the water didn’t hit Naruto in the face and he rinsed all the soap and bubbles from his hair.

“Do you want me to wash your back?” Sasuke asked softly.

“Mhm.” Naruto nodded his head.

Sasuke slid back into the tiled bathtub and grabbed a loofah. The loofah was already lathered up. He moved close to Naruto, so close he could feel the heat off his skin, and began scrubbing his back. Naruto’s neck was long and slender. It was beautiful and Sasuke wanted to kiss it. The bite mark from last night on his shoulder was gone. Not even a bruise was left. He frowned as his eyes moved down Naruto’s back. He reached his fingers out and traced a few scars on Naruto’s back. It was something he noticed last night but pushed the thought from his head and concentrated on Naruto’s neck, ears, and shoulders.

“What happened? How did you get these scars?” Sasuke asked. He leaned over and kissed Naruto’s back. The sudden touch caused Naruto to shiver, but he didn’t move away.

“Discipline.” Naruto answered. “All temple children are flogged if we did something wrong.” Naruto paused and remembered. “The newer ones are when I was whipped saving the kid that stole a loaf of bread. Don’t you remember? You were so stupid you didn’t even recognize me. Maybe you don’t remember.”

Sasuke kissed Naruto’s back again. At a scar that was recently healed. It was the time he met Naruto without realizing it was Naruto. He was so encapsulated with the fact that he resembled Naruto’s doppelganger and wondering if Naruto had a fraternal twin brother in the world. He stopped the police officer from whipping Naruto and took him to a physician. If only he hadn’t overused his power and could properly smell Naruto.

“I was stupid. Call me every name in the book. I deserve it.” Sasuke answered self-deprecatingly. Sasuke kissed Naruto’s nape and inhaled. “I smell you perfectly now. The bad blood is gone. I have you now. That’s all that matters.”

Sasuke picked up one of Naruto’s arms and began cleaning it for him.

“You said you weren’t feeling good. Does anyplace hurt?” Sasuke asked when Naruto stopped talking. His mouth against Naruto’s ear. It caused Naruto to shiver again and come back to life. He pushed his back against Sasuke’s chest.

“Not anymore.” Naruto answered.

Sasuke took Naruto’s other arm and began scrubbing him with the lathered-up loofah. All the grime had slowly come off Naruto and he was beginning to be clean and fresh once more.

“There is a room sectioned off at the jasmine pavilion you can sleep in tonight.” Sasuke explained. “You’ll have your own room and you’ll still be close to me.” Sasuke kissed the other side of Naruto’s neck as he brought the loofah to clean Naruto’s chest. The loofah rubbing slowly in clockwork circles across his chest, stimulating both of his nipples.

“I’m not allowed to sleep in your room?” Naruto questioned with great difficulty. “I only spent the first month sleeping by myself when we were kids. The rest of the time I slept with you.”

“Mhm.” Sasuke agreed. “You put yourself in danger. Almost got eaten. Swallowed poison. Cut yourself cutting up a pear. You were a mess. If you didn’t sleep in my room I was afraid you’d end up killing yourself.” He was teasing Naruto. The truth was he wanted Naruto to share his room but he didn’t want to make Naruto uncomfortable. Sasuke broke the loofah to Naruto’s belly in smaller circles.

“I don’t want to sleep by myself. I’ll just sleep with Shisui then~” Naruto trailed off.

Sasuke dipped the loofah across the small of his belly. The towel had come undone around Naruto’s waist and Sasuke’s fingers brushed up against Naruto’s erection. Hearing Naruto’s words caused Sasuke’s body to become as taut as a pulled-back bowstring. A sensual smile overpowered Sasuke’s lips.

“You’re sleeping in my room.” Sasuke growled. “Please don’t say another person’s name when you’re like this.” Sasuke dropped the loofah and grabbed Naruto’s sex organ. “How long have you been like this?” His voice husky and deep.

“You...made me this way...take responsibility.” Naruto gasped just as Sasuke began massaging him with both hands. Naruto started panting and a few stubborn moans escaped his parted lips.

“You didn’t answer me. How long has it been like this?” Sasuke repeated and squeezed his organ. “At what point did you start getting hard?” Sasuke pressed his thumb down on Naruto’s slit.

“Since you started kissing me.” Naruto confessed and squirmed. He pressed his body against Sasuke and started whimpering louder, harder. Driving Sasuke wild.

“Were you going to tell me? Or were you going to secretly take care of it yourself?” Sasuke pressed his lips to the side of Naruto’s throat and began sucking. It caused Naruto to squirm.

“I...don’t know. I was just...ignoring it.” Naruto gasped. He was breathless. His face turned the color of cherry blossoms. Sasuke could feel Naruto’s voice vibrating through his lips. Sweat formed along Naruto’s temples and dripped down. “Please…” Naruto begged, his voice was seductive it drove Sasuke crazy.

“Since it’s my fault. Let me take responsibility.” Sasuke spoke with a smile.

He turned Naruto’s head and began kissing him. He missed this mouth. It wasn’t until he was kissing him that he realized how much he missed and needed this mouth. It wasn’t a comfortable position for Naruto. He turned around so that he was face to face with Sasuke. He wrapped his arms around Sasuke’s neck and deepened the kiss. His legs straddled Sasuke’s waist.

Naruto wondered if this was how the sun god and the god of chaos kissed while arguing over the golden apple.

Sasuke quickened his movements becoming very acquainted with Naruto’s sex organ. Naruto felt himself ejaculating into Sasuke's hands and he moaned into Sasuke’s mouth. Sasuke wrapped his hands around Naruto’s hips and moved his hands up his back, pressing Naruto’s body right up against his so they could share in each other’s warmth.

Naruto could feel the emotion of the kiss. It was more passionate than last night. There was desire and affection. Naruto wanted to melt into Sasuke.

Sasuke’s tongue was merciful. It wasn’t controlling or domineering. He was becoming addicted to Sasuke’s mouth and maybe he was always addicted. The first time he tasted him they were both children. At that time Naruto had felt so dirty in his wretched skin but after kissing Sasuke he felt cleansed and reborn. He liked himself because Sasuke liked him. He liked his mouth because he could taste it.

Last night was the second time they kissed and Sasuke was blindfolded. This was their third time kissing. In the heat of the bathhouse with sweat slicking their bodies and steam licking the salt off. Sasuke’s illuminated ruby red eyes. The cursed seals on his chest that Naruto felt with his fingertips.

Naruto pulled away panting for breath. He inhaled in and out of his mouth. His vision was blurry and fuzzy. The warm air made him feel dizzy. He rested his head on Sasuke’s shoulder trying not to pass out from the hot air and warm waters. Naruto continued wrapping his legs around Sasuke’s waist, neither saying anything until they both caught their breaths and came back to their senses. They unlocked themselves and sat on opposite sides of the tiled tub.

They hadn’t done any more than heavy petting and kissing.

“Let’s go back and have dinner.” Sasuke breathed. “I’m getting dizzy.”

“Mhm.” Naruto agreed and stood up.

*****

“I want to sleep on a futon.” Naruto commented.

They had finished their late dinner. The dishes were collected by a maidservant and now they were discussing sleeping arrangements. They were both standing in matchy blue robes that reached their ankles. The material was lighter than what they wore last night. The days and nights were growing warmer.

“I have a bed now...we don’t have to sleep on the floor.” Sasuke explained. “I got the bed for this purpose.”

“I want to sleep on the floor in a futon like we did when we were kids.” Naruto argued.

There was a section of tatami mats. It was big enough for two futons to fit. Sasuke nodded his head and exhaled in agreement. He went to the sliding doors of the closest and began taking out futons and bedding and setting both up on the floor side by side. Naruto’s face lit up in delight and when Sasuke glanced at his smiling face it warmed his heart.

“Any more requests?” Sasuke asked when he was all finished setting up everything.

“This is perfect!” Naruto beamed in excitement and slipped under the comforter of one of the futons. His head resting on the pillow. Sasuke laughed and extinguished the lanterns. He slipped into the futon next to Naruto.

“Crown prince?” Naruto broke the silence. “These futons smell stale.” He wrinkled his nose.

“I haven’t used them in quite a long time. We can always move to the bed.”

“No. No. This is fine.” Naruto answered stubbornly. Even if the futon’s comforter was made from steel wool he was so thin-skinned he would still refuse to sleep on the bed. Sasuke stifled a chuckle.

“Are you going to the forest with us tomorrow?” Naruto asked through the darkness. His eyes adjusted slowly.

“Mhm. Are you going too?” Sasuke asked.

“Mhm.” He rolled on his side and faced Sasuke. His eyes still adjusted to the darkness. “Sasuke?”

Hearing his name being called caused Sasuke to seize up. He felt his face flushing and he quickly replied. “Why...why are you saying my name all of a sudden?” He felt the urge to grab Naruto and kiss him on the mouth again. “Are you teasing me?”

“Today in the library. I was reading a textbook on Eris the goddess of strife and discord. It told the story of the apple of discord.” Naruto explained. He didn’t know why he was telling him. The story had been on the back of his mind since he read it. It was probably another reason why he refused to cooperate with Orochimaru. “The story recalled a romantic relationship between the sun god and the god of chaos.” The story mentioned Heka as well but he left that part out because he didn’t want to bring up Sakura.

Naruto paused and waited for Sasuke to digest this information and respond. His eyes adjusted and he could see the faint outline of Sasuke. He was still laying on his back and his head appeared to be looking up at the ceiling where moonlight shined through the window.

“What do you mean they were in a romantic relationship?” Sasuke asked after a while of thinking. Naruto then retold the entire story of the apple of discord, or the golden apple, from beginning to end. Emphasizing the kissing between the god of chaos and the sun god.

“What do you think…?” Naruto asked when he finished.

“Were they...in a romantic relationship?” Sasuke repeated the question. He paused and thought back to the textbook that Naruto wanted translated. “Maybe when we find Jiraiya and get the textbook translated it’ll tell us more.” Naruto nodded his head.

Sasuke thought back to this morning. To Apophis’ words about how Sasuke was repeating the same mistakes that the god of chaos did. It sounded as if...the god of chaos might have fallen victim to the sun god which caused his downfall. If Sasuke was following in the god of chaos’ footsteps...was Naruto going to be his downfall? The thought festered on his tongue.

“Will you hold my hand?” Naruto asked and extended his hand. “You held my hand when I slept when we were younger.”

Sasuke reached out and grabbed Naruto’s hand. Instead of holding it he grabbed Naruto’s arm with both hands and pulled him closer. “I want to hold you.” Sasuke slinked a hand around Naruto’s waist and pulled him under the comforter so that they were both sharing the same futon.

“Ehhh.” Naruto’s shocked voice rang out as he found himself pressed next to Sasuke under the comforter and sharing the same pillow.

“Shh. Be good.” Sasuke whispered with a smile. Naruto squirmed and Sasuke squeezed his waist gently. “Stop fussing. Let’s sleep.” Naruto didn’t protest or push away. He settled down into a comfortable position against the crown prince and closed his eyes. “When you wake up. I’ll be right next to you.” Sasuke exhaled and closed his eyes.

“Mhm.”

Chapter Text

 

It was the overwhelming repugnant smell of sickness that assaulted Shisui the moment the door to emperor Fugaku’s bed chamber opened. Mixed with the smell of regurgitated medicine in bedpans. The salty smell of perspiration. The room was dark and lit up by lanterns. Emperor Fugaku resembled a living skeleton covered in a sheen of sweat with cracked dried lips. His skin became so translucent Shisui could see tiny blue veins and could count all two-hundred and six bones in his body. His hands were gnarled and swollen but he lifted one of his hands and painfully motioned for Shisui to step closer.

“Nephew...come closer. Let us chat.”

“Uncle.” Shisui’s voice quivered. He dropped all honorifics and titles as he saw the deathly state his uncle was in. He rushed to the bedside of the dying emperor and wrapped both hands around his uncle’s gnarled hand. Both his parents had died so young that Shisui had no recollection of them. He was raised by his grandmother before sickness claimed her too. It left his Uncle, the emperor, to finish raising him, and now...sickness was going to claim his life too.

The coldness of his hand rippled through Shisui’s body and when he looked closer he saw his uncle’s lips were a pale dusty blue as if slowly drowning in the liquid that filled his lungs.

“Shisui my dear boy. My beloved nephew.” Emperor Fugaku exhaled. “I have made many mistakes and many regrets in my life. Adopting you was not one of them.” He clumsily patted Shisui’s hand.

“Uncle...you are the greatest emperor we’ve had in generations!” Shisui choked back tears. “What mistakes have you made?”

As if sensing his own death creeping further and further into the room, emperor Fugaku quickly started talking.

“Itachi will ascend as emperor...he is not ready. I need you to remain by his side and~” Emperor Fugaku couldn’t finish the sentence as he went into a coughing fit. He pressed a wet handkerchief to his mouth catching the blood drops that expelled from his mouth. “I spoiled and indulged him too much.” Emperor Fugaku paused as if trying to sort out his own muddled thoughts as the disease slowly consumed his mind. “I never should have banished Sasuke.” He erupted into another fit of coughing. “I heard Minato’s daughter was sent to accompany Sasuke and has been at the manor these last few months.”

Shisui froze. It was no secret. The temple had made multiple attempts to assassinate the cursed child. Everyone in the palace knew about it and everyone secretly hoped the temple would succeed. This last attempt took the form of a temple brat who was sent to the manor under the guise of accompanying the second crown prince.

“Everyone who was sent to kill my son failed and paid with their life.” Emperor Fugaku continued. There was a smile in his voice although his gaunt face remained lifeless. “Minato saved Sasuke’s life when he was born, going against the orders of the temple. He brought Sasuke to the manor in the south. The temple was hoping that Sasuke would kill Minato’s daughter to rid themselves of her completely. Sasuke hasn’t killed her. Now. It is my turn to save his daughter’s life.”

“Minato...saved...Sasuke?” Shisui asked. “Minato was executed for crimes against the~”

“He was my best friend. His value of true morality, of right and wrong, and of our friendship outweighed his position in the sun temple. He went against his own god.” Emperor Fugaku exclaimed. His eyes watered but he was so dehydrated no tears ran. They became trapped by his eyelids and swallowed back into his tear ducts.

“The day Sasuke was born it was evident he had inherited the curse. That night the prophecy was given to the sun temple that Kushina and Minato’s daughter would become the next high priest. The high priest instructed Minato to kill my son and burn his body. However, Minato took Sasuke and brought him to the manor in the south. I read in a textbook that once a cursed child is born there is only a period of ninety days after birth that the baby can be killed. Afterward, it is nearly impossible. Minato stayed with Sasuke for ninety days. He missed the day his daughter, Naruto, was born. After ninety days he returned to the sun temple and was executed. He was never able to hold his own daughter despite holding my son for ninety days.”

The emperor and the sun temple were once enmeshed with one another ruling in perfect harmony. The high priest was once the advisor to the emperor with the common goal of eradicating any cursed children that were born as soon as the umbilical cord was cut. It stopped when emperor Fugaku commanded that nobody would touch his son. Mikoto had hemorrhaged and entered a week-long coma. The two people standing in front of the bassinet were Fugaku and Minato.

The friendship between Minato and Fugaku traced back to when they were both children and that friendship that seemed to blur the lines between romantic and platonic continued until adulthood.

A friendship that was forged so deeply that when Minato was instructed to murder Fugaku’s second son he refused without hesitation. He swaddled Sasuke, picked him up from the bassinet, and took him to the manor in the south. Where he protected him for ninety days.

“Minato was deemed a traitor to the sun temple.” Shisui remembered. “They beheaded him and stuck his head out on a stake. They excommunicated Kushina as well and she continues to live like a slave to the temple.”

Shisui remembered like all the children witnessed and remembered, his head being pierced with a stake and hanging up like a gargoyle to ward off evil. The vultures that flew down and pecked his eyeballs out, and tongue, and peeked his sun-cooked flesh clean off the bone. Birds that pecked his cartilage and hair out to make their nests. Until the only thing left was a bleached skull that turned to dust under the elements. Minato was named a traitor to the sect and committed the greatest crime of all time by allowing the cursed child to live.

“His daughter is in danger. She failed to assassinate the ‘cursed child’, my son, and the high priest is conspiring to bring her up on the same charges they brought Minato up on. She will be executed in the same manner that Minato was executed.”

“But she...she’s to be the next high priest!” Shisui raised his voice. He had his moral compass. “She’s...just a kid!” Shisui remembered Naruto as the pretty little waif that seemed to catch Itachi’s attention whenever she was in the palace. Naruto didn’t pay Itachi any attention and it angered the first crown prince. “They would execute…one of the temple children?” The older he had grown the more corrupt he found the sun temple to be.

Emperor Fugaku was the first emperor to stand up to the sun temple and look where it got him. On death’s door knocking.

“Mhm. I must protect her. I have spoken to Itachi and he has agreed. He will be betrothed to Naruto. With this engagement, Naruto can move into the palace and be under the protection of the palace.”

“Marriage?” Shisui balked. “Itachi agreed to marry Kushina and Minato’s daughter?” He heard rumors about Itachi marrying Izumi. “Kushina and Minato’s daughter will become the empress?” He worried over how Izumi would react. More importantly. He was shocked that Itachi agreed so willingly when he had refused numerous other engagements in the past.

Emperor Fugaku closed his purple-lidded eyes and nodded. His breathing came out wet and wheezy.

“Although he struggles with his emotions it appears he does care about her. He was always asking about her and ensuring the temple children were invited to the palace with every event and festival we had. I told him he can have as many concubines as he wants. I just want to ensure that Naruto will be protected inside the palace.”

“Uncle…” Shisui breathed. “Why...why are you telling me this?”

“Because I want you to remain by Itachi’s side and help him rule, and I want you to ensure Naruto’s protection. That is my dying wish.”

*****

There was something unsettling with the way madness encroached upon emperor Itachi as his desire and lust for Naruto grew. It was as if he were under a strong curse. It was a thought that grew more plausible as Itachi’s actions became more twisted. And unhinged until Shisui realized it wasn’t just Itachi that was inflicted with a curse but the Uchiha bloodline that was inflicted with a curse that made them weak and susceptible to Naruto.

Shisui was inflicted the moment he saw Naruto teetering on the precipice of a cliff. Screaming at him to let him be or he was going to jump. His will to protect Naruto outweighed his duty to serve and be loyal to the emperor. When he jumped off the cliff after Naruto his only thought was to save and protect Naruto. The thought of possession took hold. He wanted to possess Naruto. He grabbed hold of Naruto’s body in the river and held onto him as the rapids lashed their body’s against rocks as they were carried down the river. Only in possession could he keep Naruto safe.

Shisui departed from Naruto in Voluptas City and went to an outpost where he reported in. The emperor had gone mad and had written an edict to utilize the military to track down and return Naruto to him.

“He’s dead.” Shisui dictated. “Naruto drowned. As customary. His body was burned within seven days. I will send back his ashes.” He revealed the burned ashes of a vagabond enclosed in an urn. “Tell the emperor these are Naruto’s ashes.” He handed over the urn to the royal guards at the outpost. “The next time the emperor will be able to meet Naruto again is in death or reincarnation.”

“The emperor will really kill us...if we give him this urn!” One of the royal guards remarked. “This is a death sentence, sir Shisui! Can’t we...can’t we just find a look-a-like?”

“The emperor has been bedding and killing all the pretty maidens that have been shipped to the palace! He’s being called Bluebeard!” Another royal guard remarked.

“Sir Shisui...please return to the palace and talk some sense into the emperor!” The first royal guard pleaded. “He’ll listen to you!”

“If I return empty-handed I will be executed. I am retiring from the royal guard. I can no longer be loyal.”

“Sir Shisui...if you...if you retire I will retire! None of us can stand the mad emperor! We’ve all been talking...it should be you, sir Shisui, you who should be emperor!”

“Me?” Shisui was surprised.

“The mad emperor has no allies...there have been talks of a coup. Sir Shisui, if you agree...we can assassinate the emperor and you can succeed!”

“Yes-yes-yes, sir Shisui, it is you who should be the real emperor! We’ll support you...we’ll stage the coup and kill the mad emperor!”

*****

“You should stay away from Naruto.” Shisui warned. He urged the horse he was riding to purposely slow down, putting distance between him and Sakura.

They had been traveling in a single file down the dusty road towards the Forest of Death. The crown prince had remained in the back of the caravan with Suigetsu leading everyone. Following closely behind Suigetsu was Naruto riding the chestnut andravida horse. At the stables as soon as the andravida horse saw Naruto he refused to allow Shisui to ride him and only seemed to calm down when Naruto jumped on the saddle. Following behind Naruto was Haku who was describing in detail the different medicinal plants. Zabuza followed closely behind Haku. He had remained sullen and downtrodden.

The caravan had grown in more numbers than the excursion yesterday.

The crown prince joined the caravan specifically to accompany and protect Naruto. Sakura, the crown prince’s right-hand woman, had been frightened silly by the fact that Orochimaru was not captured and remained free. There was evidence he was practicing necromancy and his power and ability had exceeded her expectations. She refused to be apart from the crown prince. Even in the caravan, she had been anxiously looking over her shoulder to scold Shisui and glance at the crown prince who was riding behind Shisui.

Shisui had joined for the purpose of helping Naruto gather the medicinal plants. Their goal was simple. He was going to accompany Naruto to find Jiraiya, to have the textbook translated, and then they would do a coup on the emperor. Shisui was going to ascend as emperor and Naruto was going to ascend as high priest. This plan didn’t have any place for the second crown prince. If anything Shisui was afraid the crown prince being around Naruto would become detrimental. A hindrance and Shisui wanted to quickly depart. He was already scheming a way to put a wrench between them.

He couldn’t handle what happened to the mad emperor to happen to the second crown prince.

“If you favor your sanity and life.” Shisui’s voice dropped. It was low. The temperature as frosty as a winter’s bite. “I recommend you put distance between yourself and Naruto, or you’ll end up just like your brother.” He threatened and stopped the horse. He maneuvered the horse around so that he was facing the crown prince.

Sakura was riding in front of Shisui. She looked over her shoulder and saw the darkening expression on Sasuke’s face. She noticed his grip tightening on the leather reins and his jaw clenching. She pulled on the reins of her horse, stopping her horse in its tracks. The first half of the caravan carried on without noticing what was happening at the rear.

“Naruto caused the emperor to go mad...and if you don’t leave him alone...you’ll go mad.” Shisui spelled it out perfectly for both Sasuke and Sakura to understand. “Besides. You’re only deluding yourself. Naruto will kill you. You’re only making it easier for him to succeed.”

“You think I am obsessed with him like my mad brother?” Sasuke answered. “If I am obsessed, what does that make you? Naruto is my most beloved and cherished person in this world!”

“Sasuke!” Sakura urged. “He’s saying the same things I am saying. Please listen to him!”

“You didn’t answer my question.” Sasuke repeated. “What are you doing with Naruto if you’re not obsessed with him?”

“Me? I didn’t sleep with him. I’m going to be emperor and I am helping Naruto ascend as high priest of the sun temple.” Shisui answered confidently. “I can smell Naruto all over your body just like I can smell you on his. It’s the same as when he was with the emperor.”

“You...slept with him again?” Sakura asked, her eyes widening as she gave Sasuke a look of mortification.

“No.” Sasuke answered. The truth was. He was afraid to sleep with Naruto. He was afraid Naruto would absorb the cursed seals and he would be left vulnerable again. Holding him in his arms all night was enough.

“Good. Don’t sleep with him again. It’ll only be your downfall.” Shisui pulled the reins of his horse, moving back on the path, and galloped after Zabuza.

“Crown prince!” Sakura scolded. “Please be careful around Naruto. Maybe...maybe you shouldn’t be sleeping in the same room as him.”

“He doesn’t want to sleep by himself.”

“Then have him sleep in the same room as Haku!” Sakura’s voice became louder than she expected. The rest of the caravan was out of earshot. “I’m worried about you. We still don’t know what happened with the cursed seals. What if...what if every time you sleep with Naruto he’ll absorb the cursed seals?”

Sakura said the very thing he was frightened of. Hearing her say it made it more real.

“Is it...is it just with him?” Sasuke asked. He looked at Sakura. “When you and I...I mean...you didn’t absorb the seals.”

“What if...what if you sleep with someone else and the same thing happens?” Sakura asked. “Maybe it isn’t just Naruto...maybe...it’s anyone you sleep with.”

“I don’t want to find out.” Sasuke answered. “I don’t want anyone...but~”

“Naruto, who will surely stab you through the heart?” Sakura challenged. She bit her lower lip. She exhaled and decided to tell him what she overheard the townspeople saying last night. “I..don’t trust Naruto. I don’t think it was Orochimaru who started that fire. The people...the people who were in the tavern said it was Naruto who started the fire. Just like it was him that extinguished it.”

“What?” Sasuke asked. “Naruto started the fire?” He remembered the emerald glow of Naruto’s eyes. The indescribable power that was emitted from his body. He tried to pretend he didn’t notice but he knew the way Shisui was looking at him...that Shisui knows, he knows.

“Last night. Your bodyguards. They said when you were in Voluptas City something slaughtered everyone inside a pub and you were assisting the police to investigate. That investigation led you to Naruto. That isn’t a coincidence.” Sakura continued to put the pieces together. The pieces of a puzzle that Sasuke refused to think about and preferred for the pieces to be scattered forever. “What if...what if Naruto slaughtered those people? No. I don’t think this is a ‘what if’ I think...Naruto did slaughter those people. He slaughtered those people, just like he started that fire, and Shisui is protecting him.”

“Let’s go. We should all stay together.” Sasuke interrupted. He kicked the horse’s ribs with his heels and galloped after the caravan.

“Wait!” Sakura frowned. She knew he wouldn’t listen to her any further. Her stomach tightened. She pulled back on the reins and followed after.

 

*****

The origins of the Forest of Death had long been forgotten. The name itself was an omen to stay away and few people, if any, venture into the woods. The spirits that filled the forest were malicious, resentful spirits that clung to their life and refused Charon to ferry them across the river styx. They were humans that were so deeply wronged in their life they became vengeful spirits that haunted the forest and claimed hundreds of lives of those unfortunate humans that ventured into the forest.

Misery loves company.

They played tricks on humans and could hijack human perception creating fake imagery, fake scents, fake sounds. When Sasuke was younger he attracted these same spirits. They flocked to him and tormented him and everyone around him during the new moon and full moon. One of these spirits possessed a maidservant and attacked Naruto all those years ago. He remembered how afraid he was if he was a second too late that Naruto would have had his throat bitten open and would have bled out.

These spirits fed off the god of chaos’ energy within him. They would possess those around him with weaker constitutions and he was too young to exercise them and there was no choice but to kill them and free their spirit. It wasn’t until he was older and learned in a roundabout way by Apophis he could write talismans to ward off the spirits and create a protective barrier around the manor.

Still. There was something within the Forest of Death that attracted these spirits. Like a moth to a flame. It was like a mysterious humming sound. A constant, hum.

Considering the Forest of Death was explicitly written in the medical textbook within Haku’s possession. It may have been tied in with the gods themselves. A conduit between the mortal world and the underworld.

“It...it’s not here.” Haku replied as they reached the area within the forest where the medicinal plants were from yesterday. Instead, it was a completely different area. A small briar patch instead of a cliff where some of the medicinal plants were growing out of.

“The forest likes to rearrange itself.” Suigetsu explained.

“Rearrange itself?” Naruto spat and folded his arms. “What, like it has a conscience?”

“Yes. The forest is alive.” Suigetsu answered.

“I’m sorry~” Haku began to apologize.

“Stop apologizing. It’s not your fault.” Naruto interrupted Haku. His voice was gentle. “Let’s just keep looking.” He offered Haku a smile. If it wasn’t for Haku he wouldn’t know how to cure Konohamaru. He’d probably watch as Konohamaru slowly died. He had no right to be angry with Haku for misplacing the medicinal plants.

“Should we split up?” Suigetsu asked Sasuke. They had been searching for close to two hours and they hadn’t made any progress.

“Would it be faster?” Sasuke asked out loud. He glanced around at the caravan. His eyes falling to Naruto catching his gaze. This whole day Naruto had been soft and gentle with everyone.

“I don’t want to be separated from you.” Naruto spoke directly to Sasuke. It caused his heart to skip a beat. Sakura, who remained next to Sasuke the entire time, fidgeted. Her eyes looked around the dense forest and a shiver went down her spine.

“I think it will be best for now if we separate into two teams.” Haku answered. “We should hurry before dark.”

The two teams consisted of Haku and Zabuza following Suigetsu. Naruto, Sakura, and Shisui followed the crown prince. There were a total of two guardsmen that accompanied Haku’s team.

*****

“I’ve heard stories of the forest.” Sakura spoke as they began searching for the medicinal plants. “If the forest wants you to find something it’ll lead you there but if it wants something hidden it’ll never be revealed.”

“How vicious.” Naruto commented. They all held the reins of their horses and maneuvered through the densely populated forest by foot.

“If we can’t find the medicinal plants...it could be a reason.” Sakura continued. Her eyes shot over to Naruto. “Maybe there is someone within the caravan that the forest doesn’t like.”

“Haku found the plants just fine yesterday.” Naruto commented. His eyes had been focused on the forest ground. He hadn’t picked up on what she was insinuating.

“I’m talking about you!” Sakura stopped in front of Naruto. “Just what are your intentions with the crown prince?”

“Sakura...stop.” Sasuke spoke a few yards away. Shisui who was walking in front of Naruto stopped moving and turned around to stare at Naruto’s back.

“I have no intentions.” Naruto answered plainly. The softness and gentleness in his voice were gone as if he stopped putting on a show. “I merely want to find the medicinal plants to save Konohamaru. When he recovers I’ll be off to find Jiraiya.”

“Where does the crown prince fit into all of that?” Sakura asked.

“Nowhere. There is no room for him. He can remain in the manor where he belongs.” Naruto answered with a deadpan face. As the two were talking a fog began to roll in on all sides of them. Hearing these words felt like a sword was being impaled in Sasuke’s heart. He stiffened up.

Was this it...once Konohamaru was treated Naruto would leave his side again?

“What did you talk about with Orochimaru last night?” Sakura asked. She hadn’t given up her interrogation.

“I admit. We originally had a deal to turn you over in exchange for the whereabouts of Jiraiya. I changed my mind after you saved me from the black venom curse.” Naruto answered as if he were in a daze. His eyes were unblinking, periwinkle. “I refused to turn you over.” He let go of the reins of his horse and flew his hands up.

“Then what happened?” Sakura asked, narrowing her eyes.

“I started the fire.” Naruto answered. There was no light in his eyes. “I wanted to kill Orochimaru.”

“Just like you killed those people in Centaur pub?”

“Ye~”

“Naruto!” Shisui interrupted. “Shut up!” Shisui grabbed Naruto’s shoulder.

“Did you kill those people in the centaur pub, Naruto?” Sakura screamed.

“Yes.” Naruto answered. Sasuke’s eyes widened at the sudden confession. “Of course it was me.”

“Snap out of it, Naruto!” Shisui yelled at the same time Naruto answered. Naruto turned around to look up at Shisui. He was greeted with Shisui’s hand slapping him across the face.

“SHISUI!” Sasuke shouted and ran over. The slap sent Naruto falling over.

“He’s possessed!” Shisui shouted. “Are you blind, deaf, or just stupid?” He shouted at Sasuke.

Naruto was on all fours. He didn’t seem affected. He remained silent. Wide-eyed like a doll. After a moment he straightened up as if he wasn’t hit at all. Sasuke frowned as he saw the glassy expression of Naruto’s eyes. He was possessed by something.

“He killed those people!” Sakura yelled and grabbed Sasuke’s hand. “He’s dangerous!”

“Those people deserved to die.” Naruto smiled. His fingers brushed against the swollen skin of his cheek. His head curled up against the coolness of his palm. “They were going to sell me back to the emperor. Shisui knows I’d rather die than go back. Actually...Shisui followed me over the cliff when I jumped didn’t you?”

The fog continued to fill up. Shisui grabbed Naruto’s arm. “Stop talking! You’re not in your right mind! Don’t you even know it when you’re being possessed?” He tightened his hold on Naruto.

“What are you talking about? What cliff?” Sasuke asked Naruto. Before he could finish he couldn’t see anything. Everything became white. He reached his hand out to where Naruto was standing and it passed right through thick, wet fog. His hand became saturated with beads of water.

“Naruto? Shisui?” Sasuke called out. He was greeted in silence.

“Sasuke!” Sakura tightened her hold on Sasuke’s hand. “What’s happening?”

“Relax.” Sasuke tried keeping his voice calm. This was just a trick of the spirits. “Sit down with me. It’s better if we don’t move.” Sasuke pulled Sakura down into a seated position on the cold, dirt, ground. “We became separated.”

The moment the fog covered their eyes they were spirited away. The sound of giggling and laughter echoed around in the thick fog. It sounded like children and teenagers. The laughter rippled and exploded in high-pitched screams of delight. There was once a story about a witch who lived in the woods and would eat children that wandered too close to her house.

“If Naruto is possessed...he only revealed the truth! He’s dangerous. What are you going to do? He killed innocent people! People that have nothing to do with the emperor or the sun temple!”

“He’s not possessed. He’s just under the truth serum of the fog.” Sasuke answered calmly. He had time to think clearly about what was happening. He pulled Sakura closer so that her shoulder was pressed against his. “Themis. The goddess of law, order, and justice. The Forest of Death is the connection between both the mortal world and the underworld.”

Apophis told him a while ago. Told him the story of Hades and Persephone. The original love story. How the god of death and the underworld fell in love with Persephone while she was picking flowers. As a promise of his undying love he allowed Persephone to wander the mortal realm and heavens for six months out of the year and the other six months she remained with him in the underworld. For easy passage, the Forest of Death was created with Themis’ help of law and order. To keep things balanced.

“If Naruto fell victim to the truth serum of Themis he has a weak constitution.” Sasuke murmured more to himself than to Sakura. “Meaning he’s easily influenced by others.”

“Influenced by who? Nobody held a knife to his throat and made him do anything. He started the fire last night. He caused dozens of injuries and if the guards of the manor hadn’t arrived when they did...there would have been casualties! You’re not the villain of the story...Naruto is!” Sakura’s voice was filled with emotion and conviction.

“What am I supposed to do...arrest him?” Sasuke scoffed. He was half-joking. The thought immediately caused his abdomen to cramp.

“Yes! He broke the law!”

“Apophis?” Sasuke interrupted. He straightened up. He hadn’t sensed or heard from Apophis since yesterday morning. He felt the connection. It was faint. Apophis was slithering through the forest. He closed his eyes and channeled his way so that he was able to merge with Apophis and see what he was seeing. Apophis was slithering down a gnarled tree root.

*****

“Naruto...Naruto...NARUTO!” Shisui yelled and continuously shook Naruto violently.

They were transported to a part of the forest that he didn’t recognize. There was a clearing in the forest where a pond lay, untouched, and the pond merged into a cave. This section of the forest was very ancient with massive trees, large and thick, the roots were meters tall and stuck out of the ground like the gnarled fingers of giants.

“What are you doing?” Pan stepped out from behind a tree. His hooves tapped gracefully against the dirt ground that was speckled with purple hyacinth flowers that seemed to emit a pale glow. “You naughty succubus.”

Ino was seated beside the unconscious Naruto. She had put Naruto into a deep sleep. Shisui was not able to see Ino or Pan. To him, he was alone in the clearing by the pond that had abnormally large human-sized lily pads.

“He tastes yummy. I don’t want to leave him yet.” Ino spoke lavishly. She was dressed in the outfit from the brothel in Voluptas City. She pulled from her pocket the worn-out deck of tarot cards. “Not even that dumb snake recognized me! Ha-ha!” She started laughing. “How incorrigible. I’ll tattle to my master when I return.”

“You’ve been hiding inside him this whole time?” Pan asked and folded his arms. The horns that sprouted from his forehead gleamed in the sunlight that passed through the clearing. He was rather handsome despite his beastly appearance. The mortal realm gave him a sort of permanence. He wasn’t ethereal. He was solid and fierce. As tall as Beau the centaur. His naked chest was covered in thick, black hair, and chiseled muscles.

“We haven’t heard anything from Hades...but it turns out...he sent you, in his place.” Pan mumbled irritably and rubbed his temples as if he could feel an impending headache.

“Harlot!” Apophis appeared. He slithered underneath a gnarled tree root. Hissing and spitting at the appearance of Ino. He recognized her instantly. There was a time hundreds if not thousands of years ago when he had intercourse with her demon form in the underworld. To think he was seduced by such a wretched demon.

“Is that how you treat your master?” Ino spoke with an impish smirk. Her emerald eyes gleamed devilishly. Hearing her say this again caused his skin to crawl and he reeled back. He charged at her, snapping his fangs at her. She easily dodged. Her laughter filled the clearing. “You finally figured out who I was?”

“You’re not my master you harlot, slut!” Apophis