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Find Me a White Knight Cloaked in Black

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- He who possesses the heart of a knight but wears the guise of a heartless fool - is he still the knight or does he become the fool?

 

                It started with a little five-year-old girl who had been running around with her older brother playing tag when she had tripped, scraping her knee in the process.  The brother, no older than six himself, had started panicking and his sister’s tears hadn't helped.  They had wandered a bit far from their home and had ended up in a grassy area with only a simple one-story house nearby.  The other houses could be seen but they were quite a ways away.  The brother hadn't wanted to leave his sister, and walking up and knocking on a stranger’s door hadn't been particularly appealing either.

 

                And then a man had appeared, so suddenly that neither child had been able to see where he had come from.  But the man had had kind green eyes even though he hadn't smile and he had offered to look at the boy’s sister’s injury.  The brother had cautiously agreed, clutching at his sister’s hand as the man crouched down beside them.

 

                Both kids had seen their fair share of ninjas, so even though he had worn normal clothes and had had no headband, they had decided that the golden light streaming from the man’s hands had to be a jutsu.  They had certainly been awestruck enough not to ask questions as they watched the cut on the girl’s knee close up and disappear as if it had never been there.

 

                The man had sent them home soon after, waving them off without a single smile, but the two siblings had both agreed that the man was very nice and they had been quite enthusiastic when telling their parents about him.

 

                The children’s mother had made the journey to the house the very next day to thank the man.  She had been taken aback to find a foreigner living there but he had the greenest eyes she had ever seen and her kids had mentioned it quite a few times.  She had welcomed him to Konoha with a batch of homemade cookies as well since the house used to belong to a couple who had moved to Suna recently and had remained empty up until then.

 

                The man, who had introduced himself as Potter Harry but was alright going by Hiei – a relief to her because she had been sure she would have butchered the other name, had invited her in to share the cookies and some tea.

 

                He hadn't been the friendliest and had been somewhat distant even but she had remembered her children’s words and had been determined to ignore his aloofness.

 

                Near the end of their conversation, she had complimented the beautiful bookshelf in the corner, something that had caught her eye since she had stepped into the house, and had mentioned how one of her own shelves had been broken and had yet to be fixed.

 

                To her surprise, Hiei had offered to fix it for her (his own bookshelf had been self-made), and when she had asked what he had wanted in return, he had motioned to the cookies and suggested another batch.

 

                She had readily agreed, pleased that he had liked her treats so much.

 

                The shelf had been fixed the very next day with a mere wave of Hiei’s hands, except it had been polished and elegantly decorated as well.  Hiei had told her it was magic and she assumed he meant jutsus.  She had invited her friends over to look at it, and they wasted no time in making their own trips to the foreigner’s home with their own bargains in mind.

 

It didn't have to be money; so long as you had something to trade, he was willing to help.  He didn't always agree either, but if you honestly needed help and there was no one else who could, he would do it.

 

Soon, word of a shinobi – because what else could bake a cake in half an hour or fix a limb in even less time besides jutsus? – who lived as a civilian spread along the Konoha grapevine.

 

Even to the ears of the ninjas themselves, who usually didn't take much interest in the everyday goings-on of Konoha civilians.

 

{1}

 

                “Hiei-san!”  Takao banged on the door of the house, shifting impatiently from foot to foot.  “Hiei-san, a fight’s broken out in Fumio-san’s bar!  He sent me ta come get you!  Two bottles of sake on the house in exchange!”

 

                The door opened just as he was about to knock again and the man he was looking for stepped out, pulling on a coat and stepping into his shoes as he did so.

 

                “Takao-kun, there’s no need to be so loud,” Hiei said sternly, but Takao just grinned sheepishly before grabbing the man’s hand and began dragging him in the direction of the bar he worked part-time in.  All the kids knew Hiei had a soft spot for kids and wasn't nearly as bad as he portrayed himself to be.

 

                (Not to mention he sometimes swore in front of them, which was always the coolest, but it was a well-kept secret amongst them.  No need for their parents to know.)

 

                “Why can’t Hayakawa break it up?”  Hiei enquired.  “That man usually handles fights himself.”

 

                “Fumio-san breaks up fights between civilians,” Takao corrected.  “There are two shinobi inside tryin’ ta kill each other.”

 

                To Takao’s delight, Hiei snorted and muttered something that sounded like “What kind of bloody idiots who stick pointy things in people for a living would get themselves drunk?  Irresponsible wankers,” under his breath.

 

                By the time they reached the bar, most of the people inside were either gone or cowering behind overturned tables.  Takao’s boss was simultaneously trying to placate the two shinobi fighting inside and saving as many wine glasses as he could from the occasionally thrown kunai.

 

                The two ninjas – Takao was pretty sure they were Chuunin – were shouting slurred insults at each other, red-faced and staggering as they threw punches and weapons.

 

                Takao moved aside and gleefully watched Hiei stride forward, a dark glower on his face.

 

                With barely a raised hand, Hiei sent both shinobi crashing to the ground face-first with only a flash of red light to show for his efforts.  Both Chuunin were out like a light, sprawled gracelessly on the floor with their kunai scattered around them.

 

                “What do you want me to do with them, Hayakawa?”  Hiei asked placidly in the ensuing silence.

 

                Fumio rose from behind the counter, looking disgruntled.  “I’d say dump ’em out with the trash but that might not go over so well.”

 

                Hiei hummed thoughtfully and then shrugged.  Another wave of his hand and both shinobi floated outside and hung themselves upside-down at the top of a lamp post.  A smattering of appreciative laughter greeted this gesture, Takao one of the loudest.  Nobody liked it when ninjas lost control.  There was always collateral damage that mostly ended up being paid for by the civilians themselves.

 

                “I’ll throw in a third bottle if you fix the place up, Hiei,” Fumio proposed gruffly.

 

                Hiei shrugged and made another gesture and the tables and chairs were soon mending themselves in a soft blue glow.

 

                “See you later then, old man,” Hiei said as he gathered up the three sake bottles.  Takao snickered when Fumio threw a dirty washcloth at Hiei’s head, only for Hiei to dodge easily and disappear out the door.

 

                “What are you laughing at, brat?”  Fumio grumbled at Takao.  “Get back here and start washing the glasses.”

 

                “Yes, sir,” Takao chirped, bounding around the counter and into the kitchen.  All in all, it had been a rather nice evening.

 

{1}

 

                Harry Potter – or Hiei now, and to be honest, it was a bit of a relief to be able to leave behind that other name and everything it entailed – sighed irritably when his wards chimed and he heard a rustle from the living room window.  “Naruto, how many times have I told you not to sneak in here?”

 

                A huff answered him as Hiei reset the wards without a sound.  He didn't look up from his newspaper when a familiar orange eyesore trotted into the kitchen.

 

                “But you never let me in through the front door!”  Naruto whined, seating himself in one of the two other chairs at the dining table.

 

                Hiei inwardly grimaced before finally looking up.  “I only allow people who need my help in here.  You don’t.  All you come here to do is bug me until I feed you ramen.”

 

                Naruto crossed his arms.  “I like ramen!”

 

                “Then go eat it at Ichiraku’s,” Hiei countered blandly.  “Merlin knows you've got the owners wrapped around your finger.”

 

                Naruto grinned back brightly at him as if that was something to be proud of.  Hiei only scoffed and returned to his paper.

 

                “Hiei-nii-”

 

                “How many times have I told you not to call me that?”  Hiei automatically snapped.  The damn brat just wouldn't quit.

 

                Naruto forged on stubbornly.  “Hiei-nii, guess why I’m here!”

 

                “To clean out my kitchen, continue your attempts to talk me to death, ignore everything I have to say, and generally be the bane of my existence,” Hiei deadpanned without glancing at the boy.

 

                Naruto would usually rant up a storm and pout outrageously at this point but he was oddly quiet this time.  Instead, a few seconds later, Hiei found a metal headband depicting the Konoha insignia thrust between his face and his newspaper.

 

                For a long moment, Hiei just stared at it.  He could almost feel the nervous anticipation Naruto was radiating as the boy waited for his verdict.  Why the blond was so damn eager for his approval, Hiei would never know.

 

                Uzumaki Naruto had, quite literally, barrelled into his life headfirst about nine months ago, a little over three months after Hiei’s arrival in Konoha.  The boy had been running away from several older children who had been throwing rocks at him when he had crashed into Hiei.

 

                For all his aversion to people after the Mundane-Magic war back in his old world, Hiei wasn't one to stand by while children were being harmed.  He had banished the rocks with a snap of his fingers and pinned the teens with a cold glare that sent them packing, all but falling over themselves to get away.

 

                After that, he had healed the boy and treated him to a meal in a rare act of benevolence – or perhaps it had just been because he had heard about Konoha’s ‘demon child’ and had wanted to piss off as many of those sneering, fearful faces as he could – and Naruto hadn't stopped coming back since.  No matter how cold or acerbic Hiei acted, the blond simply brushed it aside with nonstop chatter and adoring blue eyes.

 

                Admittedly, Hiei could’ve locked the brat out with his wards but that was more work than he cared to do and he still had to allow other people to come to his door.  Also admittedly, Hiei didn't have to accompany the kid to the supermarket to buy his groceries and make sure the vendors didn't sell him expired merchandise but he was tired of even watching the boy eat ramen day in and day out.  The fact that he had also helped Naruto study and improve his aim with kunai was of no significance; he had simply been thoroughly disgusted with some of the scrolls Naruto was given that were practically falling apart and the absolutely abysmal way the boy held his weapons.

 

                ...Okay, so maybe Hiei had all the stalking and puppy-adoration coming, not that he’d ever admit it.

 

                “So the bastards finally got their heads out of their asses and allowed you to graduate?”  Hiei said at last, swatting the headband out of the way.  “Thank god; now you’ll be someone else’s problem.”

 

                Naruto just laughed and before Hiei could put down his paper or ward him off, the teen had leapt forward and tackled him in a hug.  “Thanks, Hiei-nii!”

 

                “Tch, what the hell for, you damn brat?  Get off!”  Hiei scowled before grabbing the fox-like idiot by the back of his jumpsuit and tearing him away so that he was now dangling in the air.  Naruto didn't seem to mind.

 

                “You helped me with my studies of course!”  Naruto said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.  “Not even those bastards can fail me if I actually know the stuff.”

 

                Harry rolled his eyes and dropped the boy back onto the ground not quite as roughly as he had been planning to.  “Language, Naruto.  You start spewing bad words in front of that teacher you're always going on about and I’ll have someone else climbing through my window, except he’ll be here to try and kill me.”

                Naruto laughed again, clambering back onto his chair.  “Nah, Iruka-sensei wouldn’t do that.  Besides, you swear all the time.”

 

                “It’s a bad habit,” Hiei countered.  “Don’t pick it up from me.”

 

                Naruto just grinned mischievously and Hiei knew the boy was probably storing away all the expletives he had heard for a rainy day.

 

                “Well?”  Hiei prompted.  Best to steer the conversation away from swear words.  “Who’s your new sensei and team then?”

 

                Naruto perked up a bit.  “I’m with Sakura-chan!  That Sasuke-teme is also on my team though, and we have Hatake Kakashi as our sensei.”  He made a face.  “He was three hours late to pick us up today and when we introduced ourselves, he didn't say a single thing about himself!”

                “He’s a ninja; he wouldn't,” Hiei muttered, leaning back and tossing his paper aside.  He doubted he’d get much reading done while Naruto was here.  “And I've heard that Hatake is notoriously late all the time so you better get used to it.  What did you say?”

                Naruto puffed out his chest.  “I said I like ramen, Iruka-sensei, Sakura-chan, and Hiei-nii.”

 

                Hiei arched an eyebrow.  “Disregarding the fact that you put me of all people on your list of likes, you ranked Fangirl above me?”

 

                Naruto spluttered.  “It wasn't in any specific order!  I would’ve put you and Iruka-sensei first otherwise.”

 

                Hiei hid a smirk and waved a hand instead.  “I’m honoured.  Continue.”

 

                Naruto scowled suspiciously at him but did as he was told.  “Um, then I said I dislike vegetables, Sasuke-teme, and people who are stupid and glare at me for no good reason.”

 

                He paused and peered up at Hiei who nodded.  It was one of the first things he had lectured out of the boy.  Naruto wasn't the one who had done anything wrong.  The civilians who couldn't tell the fox from the vessel were the idiots, even more so because all of them dropped not-so-very-subtle hints when they shouted “demon!” at the top of their lungs, and they weren’t even supposed to do that much.

 

When he had heard about that particular law, the first thing Hiei had done was break it.  It was absolutely ridiculous for a child to be shunned, and downright despicable for him to be shunned and not know why, even if the reason was utterly absurd.  Of course, Hiei had impressed upon Naruto the importance of keeping it a secret but, from what he had observed, Naruto was one hell of a secret-keeper when he wanted to be, especially for someone who was normally so loud.

 

                “And,” Naruto was concluding now.  “My dreams for the future are to become Hokage and protect Iruka-sensei, Sakura-chan, and Hiei-nii.”

                Hiei snorted.  “It’ll be a cold day in hell when I’ll need you to protect me.”

 

                “Hey!”  Naruto looked indignant.  “It could happen!  I’m gonna train and train until I'm the strongest ninja around!  And you've been training me too!”  He stopped and then pressed on anxiously, “You're not gonna stop, are you?  Just ’cause I have a team and everything now?”

 

                Hiei shrugged carelessly.  “I don’t see why I shouldn't.  You've got a proper sensei now.”

 

                “Yeah, but I like learning with you!”  Naruto objected.  “I mean, I've learned more this year than I have all the years before combined.  You'd make a great ninja if you actually took the exams.”

 

                Hiei rewarded this with an amused look.  “No I wouldn't, but we’re not arguing about that now.  ...I’ll think about it.  If you still want training from me once Hatake actually starts training the three of you, ask again.”

 

                Naruto nodded enthusiastically.  “I will, I definitely will!  Thanks, Hiei-nii!”

 

                Hiei just shook his head.  “You’ll meet up with your team for training tomorrow then?”

 

                Naruto went from happy to upset in a heartbeat.  “Yeah, but we have a test first thing.  If we fail it, we have to go back to the Academy.”

 

                “Sounds fair,” Hiei said nonchalantly and was instantly pinned by a rather baleful glare.

 

                “Says you,” Naruto complained sullenly.  “You don’t have to take the test.”

 

                “You’re right,” Hiei nodded dryly.  “I’d probably end up killing Fangirl and Emo-boy before the test ended.”

                “Sakura-chan is not a fangirl!”  Naruto yelled defiantly.  And rather automatically as if it was just an ingrained instinct by now.

 

                “She goes gaga over Emo-boy,” Hiei pointed out as he had every time Naruto talked about her, which was quite a lot.  The blond had also complained about the Uchiha numerous times – in which they had both agreed that Sasuke was disturbingly moody – and mentioned his other classmates now and then.

 

Naruto deflated.  “Yeah, yeah, I know,” He mumbled, kicking his feet.  “But I still like her.  A bit.”

 

Hiei smothered a smirk.  Every time Naruto waxed poetic about this... Sakura, he had made sure to cut him off by listing all the fangirl characteristics she had, from screaming at the sight of Emo-boy to getting into catfights with other girls to repeated attempts at hugging her object of affection.  It helped that Naruto always told him about his day at school in full detail, and after nine months, Hiei had finally worn the boy down so that his somewhat unhealthy obsession with said fangirl had faded to a passing crush.

 

Personally, Hiei had nothing against Haruno Sakura – except the fangirl bit; he hated fangirls – but he had started contemplating suicide after the sixth time Naruto had talked about her.  He had had to do something to put a stop to it.

 

“Oh yeah!”  Naruto brightened again, his mind jumping to another topic.  “Iruka-sensei’s treating me to ramen tonight to celebrate!”

 

“And I should care about this because?”  Hiei had a niggling misgiving that he knew where this was going.

 

“’Cause Iruka-sensei says he wants to meet you!”  Naruto replied with upbeat obliviousness.

 

“No,” Hiei shut the boy down bluntly, reaching for his paper again.  “I have zero interest in going out for a social dinner and even less than that in meeting Umino.”

 

“You’re so mean!”  Naruto pouted.

 

“You just realized that?”  Hiei scoffed.

 

“I’m kidding,” Naruto protested.  “I know you’re not mean and you shouldn't keep saying that about yourself.”

 

“I say it because it’s true,” Hiei corrected.

 

“Well you’re wrong,” Naruto insisted with the sort of adamant I’m-right-everyone-else-is-irrefutably-wrong certainty only a child could muster.  “If you really were mean, you wouldn't have saved me last year and then helped me graduate.”

 

“The only reason you graduated was because the school couldn't stand another year of you and your pranks,” Hiei retorted.  “You’d probably end up blowing up the building.”

Naruto couldn't seem to help snickering at that mental image.  “That’d be kinda cool.  Of course, I supposed I’d have to tell Iruka-sensei first so he wouldn’t be inside and then he’d try to stop me.”

 

He paused and then turned accusing eyes on Hiei.  “Don’t distract me!  Come meet Iruka-sensei with me!  Please!”

 

Hiei heaved a sigh.  “No.  Give me one good reason why I should.”

 

“Because it would make me happy?”  Naruto gave him a winning smile.

 

Hiei eyed him skeptically.  “That’s a crap reason.  Since when have I cared about your happiness?”

 

The response was instant and honest.  “Since you met me,” A sly grin.  “After all, I’m the only person you won’t kick out even when I wanna stay the night.”

 

Hiei twitched and then extended a foot and upended the chair Naruto was sitting in, depositing the boy on the ground with a yelp.  “The answer’s still no.  Now you've wasted enough of my time.  Get out.”

 

“Hiei-nii!”  Naruto wailed.  Hiei wasn't particularly impressed with the puppy-dog eyes.  He had seen enough of it from his godsons and goddaughters and all the kids in-between for it to have any effect.  “Pleeeaaase?  For me?”

 

“No.  Out.”

 

“Fine!”  Naruto jumped to his feet.  “Then I’ll just have to bring Iruka-sensei here.”

 

Hiei didn't bother stopping the blond from scampering out of the kitchen and back through the window in what the boy probably thought was a very fast scuttle.  After all, he had already set the wards against actual ninjas, or rather, people with a solid core of chakra.

 

{1}

 

                “Oi, Naruto, are you sure this is okay?  I wouldn't want to intrude,” Iruka protested half-heartedly as he was dragged along through the civilian sector of the village.

 

                “I’m sure.  Hiei-nii won’t mind.”

 

                From what Iruka had picked up from all of Naruto’s ramblings, the man probably would mind.  Hiei – apparently, he didn't go by any surname – seemed to be someone who valued his privacy, and from what he had heard through the rumour mill, the only people whom Hiei interacted with were those who needed his assistance.

 

                Besides Naruto, but then Naruto had always been a special case.  Iruka had even noticed the decreased level of hostility over the last nine months towards the village’s Jinchuuriki, which was what had really convinced him that Naruto was in safe hands with this particular civilian.

 

                “That’s his house, sensei!”

 

                Iruka had just enough time to take note of a simple but comfortable-looking house up ahead before his hand was torn from Naruto’s grip and he was tossed back without ceremony, landing on his back with a whoosh of air.

 

                “Iruka-sensei!  Are you alright?”  Naruto’s blue eyes shone down at him with stunned concern.

 

                “I’m fine,” Iruka wheezed as he sat up, the breath knocked out of him but unharmed overall.  It was only the lack of unfriendly chakra signatures that didn't have him up and ready for battle.  “What was that?”

 

                Naruto scratched his head and peered back over at the house before laughing apprehensively.  “Eh-heh, I think that was one of Hiei-nii’s jutsus.”

 

                Iruka frowned.  What?  “Jutsus?  Wait, Hiei-san is a ninja?”

 

                Naruto shrugged as he squatted beside him.  “I just know he knows how to fight.  He’s the one who improved my aim with kunai.  But he can fix things like teacups and plates with a wave of his hand and turn people who annoy him blue.  Those must be jutsus, right?”

 

                Iruka had never heard of jutsus that could do that but it didn't change the fact that he had been thrown back onto his ass because he had hit some invisible barrier.

 

                “Just wait here, Iruka-sensei,” Naruto said earnestly, getting to his feet.  “I’m sure I can talk Hiei-nii around.  He’ll like you once he meets you.”

                And before Iruka could stop him, the boy was gone, sprinting for the house.  Nothing stopped him; there was no sign of an active jutsu anywhere.

 

                Cautiously, Iruka rose and wandered forward again, stopping just before he hit the spot where he had been prevented entry.  There was nothing there, not even a seal to anchor a barrier in place.

 

                Steeling himself, he raised a hand and poked the air in front of him.  Half a second and an almost-heart-attack later, he was hanging upside-down in the air, sputtering in shock.  Not bodily injured this time either, though he couldn't say the same for his pride.

 

                “Are you stupid?”  A voice enquired from below.  “Why would you try to get past my wards a second time when it didn't work the first time?”

 

                Iruka’s gaze snapped downwards to meet a pair of green eyes staring back up at him from several feet away.  Their owner was a slim, pale-skinned man with tousled black hair who looked to be around his age.  Naruto was standing next to him, muffling his giggles behind his hands.

 

                Ah, this must be Hiei.

 

                “I’d appreciate it if you let me down,” Iruka said, torn between sheepish exasperation and righteous indignation.

 

                Hiei blinked once and then Iruka found himself falling.  It was only his fast reflexes that stopped him from face-planting into the ground.

 

                As he righted himself, he noted the fact that Hiei hadn't used any hand seals.

 

                “Thanks, I think,” He said warily, dusting himself off.  The look on Hiei’s face wasn't exactly what he would call welcoming.

 

                Hiei didn't say anything in return, nodding curtly before turning and starting off back towards his house.  Or he would have if Naruto hadn't latched on to his arm and dug in his heels.

 

                “Hiei-nii!”  Naruto pleaded.  “Just give him a chance!  You’ll like him; I promise, and I never break my promises!  Even you told me how important that was and you know I’d never say anything I don’t mean!”

 

                Iruka wavered uncertainly on the side.  “Ah, Naruto, if he doesn’t want to-”

 

                He was cut off by a man – a dark-haired civilian who had been drinking if his staggered gait was anything to go by – coming down the street, catching sight of Naruto and, apparently, little else.

 

                “Demon trash!”  The man spat out the moment his gaze alighted on Naruto.

 

                Iruka’s protective instincts immediately flared along with his temper and he stepped into the man’s line of sight.

 

                “I beg your pardon?”  Iruka snarled icily and was vindictively glad when the man stiffened uneasily.  “That’s grounds for an arrest, drunk or no.  I’d move along if I were you.”

                It was damn unfortunate that he couldn't move to subdue the man unless he threw the first punch.  He was only a Chuunin after all, and most ninjas weren’t allowed to interfere with civilians anyway.

 

                The man didn't take the hint, snapping back scornfully, “You’d protect that monster?  The thing should be drowned!”

 

                Iruka saw red but before he could lash out, verbally or physically, Hiei stepped up beside him, a cold, condescending sneer on his face.

 

                “Piss off, Takeuchi,” Hiei said silkily, his voice equally sharp and smooth like the blade of a fine katana and just as dangerous.  “Shut your mouth and stay away from Naruto or your wife will get an anonymous tip about the affair you're having on the side with that pretty brunette working in the teashop one block over.  Clear?”

 

                Takeuchi paled dramatically, eyes widening with fear, and the man was quick to nod before scurrying off as fast as he could.

 

                “Asshole,” Hiei muttered.

 

                “Language,” Iruka reminded absently, rubbing the back of neck when Hiei raised an eyebrow in his direction.  “In front of Naruto, I mean.”

 

                Hiei grunted and turned to Naruto who looked downcast.  Iruka blinked in surprise when the other man bopped the blond rather gently on the head, making Naruto wince and glance up with a pout.

 

                “Kid, make up your mind,” Hiei scolded.  “Either listen to them or don’t listen to them; you can’t do both.  There are always going to be people out there who won’t see you in a good light; you can’t make everyone love you, especially those who refuse to see anything except what they want to see.  The only thing you have to decide is whether or not you’re going let those people drag you down.”

 

                Iruka stared, a little wide-eyed, as Naruto swallowed and straightened up, chin jutting out almost proudly as he nodded.

 

                It seemed Hiei already knew about the Kyuubi.  It also seemed that Iruka had finally discovered why Naruto hadn't been all that surprised when Mizuki had spilled the beans a few days ago.  At the moment, Iruka couldn't bring himself to care about the law-breaking.

 

                He remembered what Naruto had told him about Hiei – a private person and not openly nice but very kind nonetheless – and Iruka thought he might have just seen a part of what Naruto saw on a daily basis.

 

                “You coming?”

 

                Iruka started slightly in surprise.  Hiei still didn't look any friendlier than before but the man now seemed more bored than outright unapproachable.

 

                He hesitated for a second longer, glancing down at Naruto who was grinning happily, before nodding carefully and stepping forward once again.  He half-expected to be electrocuted this time around but nothing happened and he safely crossed whatever barrier had stopped him before.

 

                Fifteen minutes later, they were seated in Hiei’s kitchen and eating ramen.  Naruto was on his eighth bowl while Iruka and Hiei were starting their second (and last).  Iruka couldn't help smiling at the somewhat resigned expression on Hiei’s face.

 

                “So how did you know that guy was having an affair?”  Iruka enquired tentatively as they both tried to ignore the mind-boggling number of empty bowls piling up at Naruto’s elbow.

 

                Hiei glanced over at him with blank eyes but he answered readily enough.  “I was fixing the sign above the teashop and saw them kissing in the alleyway beside it.  Takeuchi’s wife, Miyako-san, is the one who comes from money.  He’s a heavy gambler and he’ll have a hefty debt to his name if Miyako-san files for divorce.”

 

                “I’d tip her off anyway,” Iruka grimaced.  “Creep.”

 

                Hiei smirked at him.  The expression would’ve been playful if it hadn't been for the pitiless gleam in the man’s eyes.  Surprisingly, Iruka didn't mind.

 

                “Who said I wasn't going to?”  Hiei asked rhetorically.  “Rumours and scandals travel faster than light around here.  All I have to do is drop a word to some old lady down at the market and Miyako-san will be suing her husband blue by tomorrow night.”

 

                Iruka snorted into his sake but refrained from commenting.  The bastard had it coming.

 

                They both turned back to Naruto and found him smiling contentedly at them, head propped in his hands.

 

                “What?”  Hiei grounded out.

 

                Naruto just smiled even wider.  “See?  I knew you guys would get along once you met properly.”

 

                Hiei rolled his eyes and reached for the empty bowls.  “I don’t ‘get along’ with anyone, nor do I have any desire to do so.  Are you done stuffing your face?”

 

                “Yup!”  Naruto confirmed, mood not at all dampened as he leaned back with a satisfied sigh.  “That was good.”

 

                “I should hope so,” Hiei shot back caustically.  “You've cleaned out my kitchen.  Again.”

 

                Naruto just grinned unrepentantly as Hiei tossed the bowls into the trash.  Iruka was beginning to see a pattern here.  Ignoring the prickly remarks, Hiei actually wasn't that bad.

 

                “Umino, more sake?”  Hiei directed the question at him, candid but patient as he tilted a bottle at Iruka.

 

                “I’m good, thanks,” Iruka declined.  Hiei made a vague sound in his throat and stored the bottle away before pouring himself something amber in colour.

 

                “So is it the Hokage who decides the Genin teams?”  Hiei queried once they had moved into the sitting room, Hiei lounging in an armchair while Iruka and Naruto took the couch.

 

                Iruka was surprised yet again.  The question had been positively civilized.  “Mostly, but it also depends on the students’ grades.  Naruto’s marks went up quite a bit this year but the team formations were already pretty much finalized by the time his grades were significantly improved.”

 

                He glanced apologetically at Naruto who shrugged, not too concerned, before looking at Hiei again.  “I hear you helped him out quite a bit; thanks for that.”

 

                Hiei scoffed and Iruka would swear he caught a trace of embarrassment in the man’s features before it disappeared.  “It wasn't for you, or him for that matter.  I just couldn't stand watching Naruto recite the village laws and get every other sentence wrong or throw kunai at a target and miss by a mile.  It was torture.”

 

                “I wasn't that bad!”  Naruto instantly griped, and the two started bickering once again.  Or rather, Naruto shouted and groused while Hiei... poked fun at him.

 

                Iruka just watched them, fascinated.  Behind the foreigner’s barbed comments, Hiei really was just plain teasing Naruto.  There wasn't any real animosity that Iruka could sense.

 

                He thought back to whatever jutsu had thrown him back and then yanked him up into the air.  Was Hiei really a shinobi?  From which country?  There was only a smattering of people who had such foreign looks throughout the entire continent and none in Konoha thus far.  Naruto himself had told him that Hiei had arrived only about a year ago and if the man was here to spy on the village, well, he wasn't doing a very good job of it by staying in the civilian sector.

 

Hiei didn't seem to be trying to coerce Naruto away from Konoha by befriending him but one could never be too careful.  Iruka really should report the man’s presence back to the Hokage, if only because Hiei certainly walked with the lethal grace of an active ninja.  Even in Hiei’s own home, each footstep had been silent against the floorboards.

 

“Oi, Umino, what’s Hatake like?”

 

Iruka blinked, tuning into the conversation again to find both Naruto and Hiei staring at him.  “Kakashi?  Er, well, he’s... different.”

 

Hiei gave him a ‘no shit’ expression for that.  “I gathered that much once I heard about his chronic tardiness.”

 

Iruka huffed a laugh.  “Yes, that, and he usually carries around...” He glanced at Naruto who was hanging on to his every word.  “A... book with... questionable material.”

 

There was a long pause before Hiei concluded brusquely, “Porn?”

 

Iruka shot him a scandalized look.  “Hiei-san!  Don’t say that in front of a child!”

Hiei scoffed as Naruto waved a hand.  “Don’t worry, Iruka-sensei.  I see those orange books in store windows and posters all the time.”

 

Iruka sighed.  “Naruto...”

 

“Give it up, he’s a shinobi now,” Hiei swirled the contents of his glass.  “He’s bound to pick up more things.”

“He’s a Genin!”  Iruka protested feebly.

 

Hiei shrugged.  “Still a shinobi.”

 

A few beats of slightly awkward silence before Iruka sighed again and turned his attention onto something else.  “So, Hiei-san-”

 

“Drop the suffix; I don’t care for it,” Hiei told him frankly.  “Just Hiei is fine.”

 

Iruka faltered before acquiescing with a nod.  “Hiei then.  So what kind of jutsu did you set up outside?”

 

Hiei eyed him with a sharp, knowing look.  They both knew this was a subtle interrogation.  “They’re called wards.  It’s not a jutsu; it’s magic.”

 

“...Magic.”  Iruka repeated dubiously.  Amusement flashed in the other man’s eyes.  Iruka got the feeling that he was being laughed at.

 

“Yes, magic,” Hiei confirmed.  “I don’t have a drop of chakra in me, none that would help anyway.”

Iruka had actually already checked earlier – just a cursory scan – and he hadn't been able to pick up any chakra signature.  He had assumed that Hiei was keeping it hidden, but now that he focused, he realized that the developed chakra coils any shinobi would need to set up invisible barriers around their home wasn't there.  Hiei felt just like any other civilian in that sense, possessing only the faint, untrained coils every person had if they didn't enter a ninja career.

 

 

“But- How-” He gaped a little.

 

For the first time that evening, Hiei smiled, but it was sardonic and patronizing and it darkened his eyes more than anything else.  “It’s getting late; you two should be heading home.  Umino, when you report me to the Hokage-”

 

                Iruka mentally winced.

 

                “-make sure to tell him that I’m a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t appreciate having his ninjas spying on me, something he will no doubt order after you tell him about tonight.”

 

                Iruka shifted, feeling a little guilty at the frown on Naruto’s face, but Hiei was obviously strong.  A person like that couldn't just go unchecked without anyone the wiser, could they?  And if the barriers outside weren’t jutsus, he had to wonder if a simple ‘Kai’ would get rid of them.  They could be useful for defending the village.

 

                Not to mention, “Law-abiding?  Really?”  He shot a pointed look in Naruto’s direction.

 

                Hiei didn't even have the decency to pretend to look contrite.  “That law’s about him.  It’s beyond unfair that people can shun him and hurt him and Naruto doesn’t even get to know why.  It’s one of the most idiotic laws I have ever heard, and I’ve heard more than my fair share.”

 

                Iruka couldn't argue against this, especially with Naruto in the room, not to mention he didn't entirely disagree with Hiei’s assessment anyway, but his mind took note of the last bit.  Unfair laws?  Kirigakure or Iwagakure then?

 

                “Hiei-nii,” Naruto piped up when Iruka remained silent.  “Can I stay here tonight?”

 

                “No,” Hiei said, but apparently, no meant yes because Naruto jumped up and dragged Iruka out of the sitting room, babbling about ‘his’ bedroom.

 

                Naruto had his own bedroom here?

 

                Iruka’s eyebrows shot up as Naruto opened one of the doors in the hall.  Inside was a colourful spacious room, clean but clearly lived in judging by the weapons, books, clothes, and various trinkets scattered around.  And it was...

 

                “How does this room fit?”  Iruka demanded in bewilderment as he studied the door right next to Naruto’s.  With how close they were to each other, it really shouldn't be possible.

 

                “Invisible Extension Charm,” Hiei said from behind him.  “Like I said, magic.  Consider it a jutsu that makes the inside bigger than the outside.  One of those genjutsus or something.”

 

                “Oh,” Iruka was still somewhat confused but had no time to think about it as Naruto showed him everything in his room.

 

                Naruto followed them to the front door later but Hiei waved him away (if you’re staying, go take a shower; I want you in bed by ten) and Iruka walked the rest of the way back to the street with only Hiei for company.

 

                “I didn’t know Naruto had a room here,” Iruka remarked lightly.

 

                Hiei rolled his eyes.  “Obviously.”

 

                Iruka probably should be offended but after nine months of Naruto singing praises of this man and an evening separating the cynicism from him as well, he’s gotten used to Hiei in general.

 

                “You take care of him then?”  Iruka pressed.  This was important.  He needed to ask and see the truth for himself.

 

                Hiei’s lip curled into what would have been a sneer but Iruka guessed he was holding back.  Sneers were apparently reserved for idiots like Takeuchi so the expression just fell short of demeaning and instead looked borderline disdainful.

 

                “He won’t stop coming around so it’s not like I have a choice,” Hiei grumbled.  “I couldn't let him sleep on my couch all the time; he was drooling all over it.  He’d whine if I told him to sleep on the floor so I had to give him a room.”

 

                The lofty justifications startled a laugh out of Iruka and the thoroughly annoyed look on Hiei’s face only made him laugh harder.

 

                “I’m sorry,” He gasped when he recovered.  “But those are weak excuses at best.”

 

                Hiei released a short sigh and made a shooing motion.  “Go away, Umino; you've overstayed your welcome.  Remember to pass on what I said to the Hokage.”

 

                “Got it,” Iruka agreed.  They both knew it would only be a matter of time before someone discovered Hiei’s... abilities, and Iruka guessed that that was why Hiei didn't seem too concerned about Iruka reporting him.  If anything, it would probably be better because Iruka had met him.

 

He turned to leave now, but added over his shoulder, “You can call me Iruka.  If you don’t give me a surname, it’s only fair that you use my first name as well.”

                Hiei didn't look at all impressed with his logic but he only shrugged in reply.  Iruka nodded a goodnight and turned in the direction of his house, preparing to Shunshin away when Hiei called him back.

 

                “You can come back anytime,” Hiei said grudgingly.  “I’ve added you to the wards so they won’t stop you from entering.  But there better be a good reason if you do show up.”

 

                Iruka relaxed fully for the first time since meeting Hiei in person and he nodded at the offer.  “Thanks.  I’ll stop by again for dinner sometime.”

                Hiei nodded curtly and turned away without another word, meandering back towards his house.

 

                Iruka watched him go before Shunshining away himself.  He would have to tell the Hokage about Hiei – any potential asset or threat had to be reported, and Sarutobi always made a note to check on the people interacting with Naruto.  It was a miracle Hiei hadn't been reported before but the ANBU guard on Naruto had been lifted ever since the blond had turned ten and none of them could tail him effectively anymore (Iruka had heard that that had been a sad day for the ANBU corps; Sarutobi himself had been torn between laughing at them and demoting the lot of them).

 

                Still, he’d drop his own opinion of Hiei to the Hokage.  Iruka was still cautious of the man but he seemed alright, and Naruto had always been a good judge of character.

 

{1}

 

                Throwing up a Silencing Charm, Hiei slumped into the single armchair in his bedroom.

 

                Alone at last.

 

                Idly, he squinted at the bottle of firewhiskey in his hand.  Thank Merlin he knew how to make the stuff.  The alcohol in Konoha could barely get him buzzed after an entire night of drinking.  He could never get completely drunk – damn magic – but at least firewhiskey could make his memories hazy.

 

                He gulped down a quarter of the bottle and ignored the echoes of curses and screams and gunshots that resounded in his mind even now, one and a half years after he had left that war-torn world behind.  Sometimes, he thought he might be going crazy, hearing things from events long past.

 

                Most of the time, he knew he was crazy and just accepted that those particular images – blood and bodies and death – would never leave him.

 

                Staring dully out his window, Hiei settled down for another sleepless night.  He supposed it was fortunate that all those battles and being on the run for half his life so far had driven the need for sleep out of his system.  He never got any peace when he dozed anyway.  Being an insomniac was probably for the best.

 

{1}

 

                “Magic?”  Hiruzen eyed the Chuunin instructor skeptically.  “That’s what he said?”

 

                “Yes, Hokage-sama,” Iruka nodded.  “His chakra coils aren’t developed enough to even pull off jutsus.”

 

                Hiruzen frowned gravely, recalling the foreign name he had only taken a fleeting interest in a year ago when the man had applied for temporary citizenship in Konoha.  Besides the fact that he was, well, a foreigner, Hiruzen hadn't thought there was anything too special about him.  A wanderer who travelled from country to country, nothing more.

 

                Or so he had thought.

 

                “And he hasn’t done anything to Naruto?”  Hiruzen pursued.

 

                Iruka shook his head.  “Nothing harmful.  Hiei’s given him a room to stay in at his house though and he’s helped Naruto with his schoolwork and aim.  Naruto said Hiei takes him out shopping every week as well, just to make sure nobody cheats him out of his money.”

 

                “Hmm,” Hiruzen took a puff from his pipe.  “And he told you to tell me that he doesn’t want ‘spies’ watching him?”

 

                Iruka nodded again.

 

                Hiruzen pursed his lips before nodding decisively.  “I’m afraid leaving him alone is out of the question.  He could be dangerous.  But I’ll position a few ANBU to watch him secretly.”

 

                Iruka hesitated before revealing, “Those barriers – er, wards I mean; they’ll probably stop them before they can get too close.  And there isn’t actually a law against putting up... wards, or anything else for that matter so long as it isn’t harmful, and the barriers aren’t.  They’re just slightly embarrassing.”

 

                Hiruzen nodded.  “I’ll keep that in mind, but I’m sure the ANBU will be able to handle it.  They can watch from afar, perhaps try breaking the barriers first.”

 

                Iruka looked mildly doubtful but nodded dutifully and bowed before slipping out the door.

 

                Hiruzen leaned back in his chair.  It seemed things were about to get interesting.             

 

{1}

 

                “Magic?”  A single eye narrowed in thought as the shinobi in front of him waited patiently for further orders.  “Take a few others with you and watch from afar.  Make sure you are not seen by anyone.”

 

                The Root-nin in front of him bowed sharply before Shunshining away.

 

                Danzo frowned.  Depending on what this man was like, he just might be able to secure a powerful ally.

 

                Potter Harry.  Preferred to go by something as uncommon as Hiei.  Flying Shadow.  An intriguing name, all things considered.

Chapter Text

-It's only fun and games until the immortal calls it quits.

 

                Hiei was jerked out of a half-doze the next morning by loud crashing and cheering.  The now-empty bottle in his hand tumbled to the ground with a muffled thud as he leapt to his feet and it took him another heartbeat to realize that no enemy sent to kill him would ever make that much noise in the process.

 

                “Bloody hell,” Hiei muttered, running a hand over his face before raking his fingers through his hair.  He glanced at the clock.  It read 4:53 AM.  Merlin, who had he pissed off in a past life?

 

The Silencing Charm hadn't fallen but he had long since learned to set it so that it was one-way.  No one would be able to listen in on him but he would be able to listen to anything outside.  “This is why I hate having the brat over.”

                Banging suddenly started up at his door and Hiei thanked all the gods he had no wish to believe in that he could no longer get hangovers.

 

                “HIEI-NII!  IT’S MY FIRST DAY AS A GENIN!  WAKE UP!  YIPEE!”

 

                Hiei ignored the shouts and stalked to his bathroom to take a shower.  It was way too fucking early to deal with Naruto.

 

                Ten minutes later, he shuffled into the kitchen to find the blond sitting on the counter, legs dangling off the edge as he stared wistfully at an unopened cup of ramen.

 

                Hiei squinted between the two.  “Are you going to eat that?”

 

                Naruto shook his head mournfully.  “I can’t.  Kakashi-sensei said we- hey!”

 

                Hiei had reached for the ramen the moment Naruto had said he couldn't.  He waved a dismissive hand at the boy.  “If you're not eating it, I will.”

 

                Naruto crossed his arms, looking irked.  “The only reason I’m not is ’cause Kakashi-sensei said we couldn't.  He said we’d throw up in the test today if we ate.”

 

                Hiei snorted.  “He fed you a load of crap, kid.”

 

                Naruto blinked, far too used to his crude words to think much of it.  “What do you mean?”

 

                Hiei sighed and pulled down a few more cups of ramen.  “In simple terms, food equals energy.  You need energy to train.  Too much or too little is a bad thing.  Understand?”

 

                Naruto gaped and then scowled.  “Stupid Kakashi-sensei.  He probably lied about meeting at six too.  I mean he was late yesterday.”

                Hiei grunted.  “Probably.  You woke me for nothing.”

 

                Naruto stewed morosely and Hiei heaved another sigh.  “Get over here and make breakfast.  Don’t burn yourself.”

 

                The blond perked up at that.  Ramen was always useful for taking Naruto’s mind off of other things.

 

                As they started on their simple (and rather unhealthy) breakfast, Naruto paused mid-bite, a heavy frown making its way onto his face.  Hiei studiously pretended not to notice but the boy never could stay quiet for long.

 

                “Hiei-nii,” Naruto lowered his chopsticks, looking slightly guilty.  “What about Sakura-chan and Sasuke?”

 

                “What about them?”  Hiei asked disinterestedly.

 

                “They don’t have anything to eat!  They’re probably halfway to the bridge already!”

 

                Hiei swallowed a mouthful of noodles.  “And this is my problem because?”

 

                Naruto pouted.  “They’re my teammates!”

 

                Hiei scoffed, unimpressed.  “Well they’re certainly not my teammates.  Fangirl and Emo-boy won’t keel over just because they missed breakfast.”

 

                Naruto’s pout became more pronounced.  Hiei idly wondered if the brat practiced it in front of a mirror.

 

                “Hiei-nii, can’t I bring a cup ramen for each of them?  Please?”

                Hiei tuned the boy out as he continued to whine.  Honestly, sometimes he had no idea why he put up with Naruto.

 

                “Finish your breakfast, Naruto,” Hiei sighed, cutting off the blond’s pleas.  “You can’t bring anything to them if you don’t hurry up.  I know Cyclops will probably be late but you don’t want to chance it, do you?”

 

                Naruto’s eyes widened and he was instantly all smiles again.  “Right!”

 

                Stifling the urge to roll his eyes, Hiei finished off the last of his ramen, tossing it in the trash before vacating the kitchen.  He slipped back into his room and headed for his closet.  Absently cancelling the Notice-Me-Not Charms (because while Naruto should know better than to snoop around Hiei’s bedroom, Hiei wouldn't put it past the boy to let his curiosity win over common sense – something Naruto had always lacked a crucial chunk of, in Hiei’s opinion), he pulled open one of the drawers and drew out a brand-new shinobi uniform.

 

                Despite having to wear the atrocious jumpsuits because it was the only thing most clothing stores were willing to sell Naruto, Hiei knew that the blond actually liked orange, which was one of the reasons he hadn't gone around said stores to convince them that continuing to do so was a Bad Idea.

 

                The other reason was because he had been waiting for a reason to give the brat a present.  Uncharacteristically sentimental of him but he had known Naruto for almost a year now and the boy had worked hard and without too much complaint when Hiei ordered him to redo his homework or study more or practice more.

 

                There was also a small part of Hiei that would be very glad to see the jumpsuit go.  The orange was eye-watering on bad days and gave him migraines on worse days.

 

The clothes he had gotten Naruto – with a few similar backup sets when the boy needed to do laundry – was not a jumpsuit.  The shirt was long-sleeved with a high collar to protect the neck and was a darker orange, more like fire than the headache-inducing colour the blond wore now. It had a black flame-like motif at the hem and the Uzumaki swirl on the back.  The shirt itself was just long enough not to hike up when Naruto stretched but short enough for easy movement.  Soft light grey made up the pants and Hiei had even picked out a mesh undershirt and new black calf-length sandals to go with the attire.

 

After the store had handed the uniform over, Hiei himself had gone over the clothes with magic, placing Protection Charms and spells that adjusted the temperature of the clothes according to the weather on them.  The Protection Charms weren’t extremely powerful – bit of an overkill otherwise – but they would do their job if Naruto was in mortal danger.

 

“Hiei-nii, I’m finished making Sakura-chan and Sasuke’s ramen!  Can you do that warming jutsu on them?”

 

Hiei gathered up the clothes and returned to the kitchen, feeling just a bit awkward.  He cleared his throat and kept his features blank when Naruto whirled to face him.

 

“Here,” He said gruffly, thrusting the clothes into a stunned Naruto’s arms.  “I didn't say it yesterday so... congratulations on graduating from the Academy; I’m sure you’ll make a brilliant shinobi.”

 

Dead silence descended on the kitchen and when it was clear that Naruto wasn't going to say anything anytime soon, Hiei busied himself with waving a hand over the ramen to keep them warm.

 

He stilled when arms wrapped around his stomach and a face was pressed into his back.  Something wet seeped through his shirt and Hiei tried not to shift in discomfort.

 

“Come on, brat; is this really something worth crying about?”  Hiei sighed wearily, pushing the ramen away before turning around, still ensconced in the boy’s hug.

 

“N- No one’s ever given me a present before,” Naruto finally hiccupped, pulling away just enough to peer up at Hiei with tearful blue eyes.  “Even Iruka-sensei just takes me out for dinner on my birthday.”

 

Hiei couldn't think of anything to say so he stayed silent.  Naruto’s birthday was the same day most of the village had lost somebody; he supposed it wasn't all that surprising that Iruka, for all his kindness, wouldn't feel like celebrating then either.

 

“Well there’s a first for everything,” Hiei said at last, dropping a hand on the mop of sunshine hair in front of him.  “You only make Genin once in your life so this present is for that as well.  You better not screw that up today.”

Naruto finally pulled away, scrubbing a sleeve over his eyes.  “I won’t, I promise!  I- Can I put it on now?”

“I should bloody hope so,” Hiei was quick to recover, equilibrium swiftly returning now that Naruto was no longer crying on him.  He had more than enough experience with children after all the babysitting he had done with his godsons and goddaughters but they had grown up quite a few years ago.  Before they died anyway.  “I didn't buy that for you just so you could admire it in your closet.”

 

Naruto grinned, bright and open, before scampering off to his room with his new clothes.  Hiei watched him go and wondered how long it would take for the boy to lose that smile.

 

{2}

 

                “You’re late, Naruto!”

 

                Naruto shrugged, carefully balancing the two cups of ramen in his hands.  “Yeah, but Kakashi-sensei is probably gonna be super late again so I thought I’d have a good breakfast first before I came.”

 

                Sakura glared, crossing her arms, and Sasuke slanted a moody stare at him.  Naruto glowered back at him just for the heck of it.

 

                “You’re not supposed to eat, idiot!  Sasuke-kun followed the rules.”  Sakura turned her nose up, and while Naruto would’ve been somewhat hurt before, he brushed it off easily now.  He’d still protect her of course, but Hiei-nii was right; she was a fangirl and he shouldn't keep trying to please her when all she did was insult him.

 

                “Food equals energy and I need energy for the test,” Naruto recited stubbornly before holding out the ramen.  “I even got some for you.”

                Sakura looked scornfully at him.  “We’re not going to eat it, right, Sasuke-kun?”

 

                Naruto wasn't sure if Sasuke really believed what he had said about needing energy or he simply didn't want to agree with Sakura but, either way, he didn't outright dismiss Naruto.

 

                “Come on, Kakashi-sensei probably isn’t going to show for another three hours,” Naruto coaxed, pushing his advantage.  “And we’d do better if we weren’t fighting on an empty stomach.  Unless,” He smiled slyly.  “You’re afraid you can’t handle it and you’ll puke during the test if you eat now?”

 

                Sasuke hnn’ed, shooting him a look of annoyance before extending a hand.  Naruto smirked and handed him his portion.

 

                “Sasuke-kun!”  Sakura frowned, biting her lip.

 

                Naruto generously held out the ramen again.  “C’mon Sakura-chan, breakfast is important.”

 

                Sakura shot him another glare but accepted the ramen this time with a mumble of thanks, if only because Sasuke had accepted his.

 

                “What are you wearing anyway?”  Sakura asked after a moment of swallowing noodles.

 

                Naruto brightened, glancing down at his clothes with unhidden glee.  “My new ninja uniform.  My brother gave it to me!”

                God, it felt good to say that.

 

                Sakura frowned suspiciously at him while Sasuke narrowed his eyes.  “You mentioned that yesterday.  I didn't know you had a brother.”

 

                Naruto rubbed the back of his head.  “Well, we’re not blood-related, but I consider him my brother anyway.  I even have my own room at his place and everything!”

 

                Sakura scoffed flippantly, dumping her finished meal in a nearby trashcan.  “Just because of that?  Why would he want you for a brother anyway?”

 

                Naruto stiffened, an ache growing in his chest.  But even as he fumbled for something to say, Sasuke cut in monotonously, “Sakura, shut up.”

 

                Sakura recoiled.  “But Sasuke-kun-”

 

                Naruto thought the look in Sasuke’s eyes was even colder than usual.

 

                “You don’t talk about family like that,” Sasuke sneered before turning away and ignoring them both.

 

                Sakura’s well-groomed face fell and her cheeks flushed red.  Naruto relaxed again, the hurt easing away.  Sasuke still brooded with the best of them but he couldn't deny that he was grateful for the other boy’s intervention.

 

                Another three hours passed in silence that ranged from uncomfortable to restless to frustrated before, with a poof, Kakashi appeared in front of them, eye-smiling at them as if he hadn't made them wait all morning.

 

                “Yo!”

 

                “YOU'RE LATE!”

 

{2}

 

                Hiei was just setting out to the market to buy some groceries when his magic and wards picked up several shinobi spread out around his property.  He gave no sign that he knew they were there but hid a vindictive smile by turning to lock his door.

 

                Ninjas were nosy and they would no doubt try to sneak into his house once he was gone.

 

                Hmm.

 

                He headed down the path between his home and the main street.  It helped that his house had been built on a small hill.  Waving a hand, he set up three signs beside the path.  He could almost hear his soon-to-be-disposed-of keepers shifting to get a better look.

 

                Stepping onto the street, Hiei turned back and examined his handiwork.  The sign nearest to him read:

 

                INTRUDERS WILL NOT BE RECIEVED KINDLY.

 

                The second read:

 

                STOP HERE AND TURN AROUND.  TRESPASSERS WILL BE HUNG OUT TO DRY.  CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN PERIL.

 

                And, just to make sure the message got across:

 

                SERIOUSLY.  GET THE FUCK OFF MY PROPERTY.

 

                Never let it be said that he hadn't warned them.

 

{2}

 

                Sometime a little past lunch, Hiei returned and was met with a satisfyingly humiliating sight.  A small crowd had gathered, all of them snickering behind their hands, and Naruto was back, rolling on the ground with laughter.  Most of the village were smart enough to realize that the blond was under Hiei’s protection now and messing with him was just plain stupid so most of them resorted to ignoring the boy while a few handfuls had cautiously started exchanging polite words with Naruto.  It was slow-going but Hiei had patience in spades, and he knew better than anyone what sheeple were like.

 

                Presently though, the reason for the laughter was because of the half-dozen shinobi decked in standard ANBU gear currently hanging in various spots in the air.  Perhaps it was lucky they all wore masks; most of them would be red-faced, and not just because of all the blood rushing to their heads.

 

                “Well, well, what have we here?”  Hiei murmured quietly as the crowd automatically parted before him when they recognized him.

 

                “Hiei-nii, this is great!  You have to teach me how to do this!”  Naruto gasped out, pointing up at the nearest ANBU.

 

                Hiei smiled, razor-sharp.  He had adjusted the wards after Naruto had left this morning, knowing that the Hokage just wouldn't be able to stay away.

 

                “ANBU-san,” Hiei started mildly as he looked up at the slightly twitching shinobi above him.  “I have always been under the impression that being able to read is a requirement of becoming a ninja.  I see I am sadly mistaken.”

                The twitching got worse.  “This is assault,” The ANBU shot back, not quite managing the monotone he was probably trying for as his arms kept his cloak pinned against the pull of gravity.

 

                “No, this is trespassing,” Hiei corrected.  “The only way any of you could’ve set off the wards is if you tried to break in to my house.  And as far as I can see, nothing save your pride has been injured, which, in my opinion, always needs a good bashing.”

                The ANBU growled this time and struggled harder but not as much as one would when captured and hung in the air.  Hiei guessed that they had all been hanging around for quite a while.

 

                “Now then, I’ll be glad to let you down, but I must insist you leave, and take your comrades with you,” Hiei’s gaze drilled through the eye holes of the mask, picking up all the infuriated embarrassment and a reluctant thread of curiosity beneath that.

 

                “Fine,” The ANBU grounded out in unwilling agreement.

 

                Hiei nodded once and stepped aside.  A heartbeat later, all the ANBU were dropped to the ground, but they recovered in the blink of an eye and were Shunshining away from the house and over to Hiei before they had finished straightening their clothes.

 

                A silent face-off ensued.

 

                “Well?”  The raccoon-masked ANBU he had been talking to prompted in an almost agitated tone.

 

                Hiei raised an eyebrow.  “Well what?  I’m waiting for you to leave.”

 

                Another ANBU in a sparrow mask spluttered.  “Aren’t you going to fix this?”

 

                Hiei’s eyes flickered around and finally allowed himself a small smile of amusement as the laughter behind him swelled and Naruto doubled over again.

 

                The hilarity wasn’t because several ANBU had been suspended in the air by one ankle, though that had certainly contributed to the cause.  No, the mirth amongst the crowd was mainly because Hiei had set the wards to perform a simple bit of transfiguration on trespassers.

 

                Each ANBU now sported a few characteristics of their masks.  One had rabbit ears while the one who had just spoken had feathers sprouting from his head instead of hair.  Yet another had a cat’s whiskers extending from behind their mask and Hiei knew that the one wearing the raccoon mask had sprouted a coon tail.  Coupled with their uniforms and animal masks, they looked more like a mismatched bunch of overgrown trick-or-treaters instead of big bad ANBU.

 

                “Personally, I think you all look adorable,” Hiei said with a straight face as he brushed past them, hauling Naruto along by his collar since the blond was too indisposed to walk on his own.  “I’m sure the extra... assets will disappear sooner or later though.

 

                “And I wouldn't suggest following me,” Hiei added when a few took a step after him, no doubt fuming with indignation.  “You don’t want something worse happening to you, right?”

 

                “But- But this will disappear, right?”  The raccoon-masked ANBU sounded on the verge of a breakdown.

 

                “Oh yes,” Hiei assured as he unlocked his front door and stepped aside.  “...Probably.”

 

                It was really too bad they were wearing the masks.  Hiei was sure he would have enjoyed their expressions.

 

{2}

 

                Hiruzen could feel a migraine coming on as he looked from one ANBU to the next.  No matter how he tried to ignore it, his eyes always wandered back to the rabbit ears or bird feathers.  One ANBU had even sprouted wings.

 

                “You're telling me that this happened when you tried to break in to his house,” Hiruzen repeated for the fourth time for lack of anything better to say.  “And you didn't see any seal activate or jutsu being done-”

 

                “Nothing, Hokage-sama,” Raccoon interrupted, which wasn't normally done but the man looked the most normal out of all of them so Hiruzen forgave him just because at least he hadn't gotten caught.

 

                “Hokage-sama, I would like to request leave,” Raccoon continued.  Hiruzen frowned.  “At least until this... genjutsu disappears.”

                Hiruzen studied him cautiously.  “You were hit too?”

 

                A thick silence resulted.  “...I have a tail.”

 

                A cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh came from the left and Hiruzen turned a steely gaze on Crow, the ANBU who was wearing wings.  The man remained dutifully somber.

 

                A tail.  A raccoon’s tail.

 

                Hiruzen honestly didn't know whether to collapse into gales of laughter or groan at the apparent incompetency of his ANBU, all of them beaten by a civilian.

 

                “Go,” He dismissed at last with a long-suffering sigh.  “I don’t want to see any of you back at work until you look normal again.”

 

                As the ANBU bowed and poofed away one by one, Hiruzen pretended not to hear Crow – one Shiranui Genma – remark his interest in finding out whether or not he could really fly, and if so, how much it would cost to get their failed target to teach him the jutsu.

 

                Hiei hadn't physically hurt anyone though so at least there was no immediate danger.  Maybe if he specifically told the next group of ANBU not to go anywhere near that house, none of them would come back looking like a cross between a zoo and an experiment gone wrong.

 

                With another sigh, his mind cast back to the bunny ears poking out of Rabbit’s head and promptly snorted at the ridiculous mental image.

 

{2}

 

                The next three batches of ANBU were swiftly taken care of as well.  The first team, after Hiei had caught them spying from afar, was sent back baaing like sheep every time they tried to talk.  The second team was chased away when they found their legs locked together and their hands trapped in Chinese finger traps, so they had ended up having to hop all the way back across the village to report to the Hokage.  The third and final team – at least for a while – had admitted defeat as well after Hiei himself had stormed outside and somehow conjured dozens upon dozens of tiny, fluffy, live, pink and purple furballs that swarmed the shinobi in droves.

 

                This took place over the span of two weeks and Hiei was long past his limit.

 

                “Eh?  You’re going out this early, Hiei-nii?”

 

                Hiei replied with an affirmative sound as he pulled on a pair of sandals.

 

                Naruto bounded up, tying on his headband and putting on his own sandals at the same time.  “You can come meet my team then!”

 

                “I’m busy,” Hiei said shortly, rising to his feet again.

 

                Naruto batted puppy-dog eyes at him.  “Please, Hiei-nii?  I’ve told them about you!  You can just drop me off before going wherever you need to go.  Even Kakashi-sensei will be there today; I’ve already given him three hours.”

 

                Hiei heaved a sigh.  He had to pass by the training grounds to get to the Hokage Tower anyway and it was easier to agree.  “Fine, but I’m only dropping you off.”

                Naruto grinned and grabbed his hand.  “Great, let’s go!  I can’t wait to introduce you!”

 

{2}

 

                Sasuke was trying to look relaxed and unconcerned but it was surprisingly difficult with the pink banshee nagging at him all the while.  Where the hell was the dobe?  Naruto was annoying but he had admittedly improved in the past year, not to mention his company was a million times better than a fangirl’s.  It also helped that he was no longer wearing that awful jumpsuit.

 

                He glanced around and only just refrained from sighing in irritation.  The three of them had taken to arriving late because Kakashi and late were pretty much synonymous, but this was cutting it close, even for the dobe.

 

In fact-

 

“Yo!”  Sasuke twitched when Kakashi appeared, telltale book in hand as he strode up to them.

 

“YOU'RE LATE!”  Sakura shrieked.  Sasuke mentally grimaced.

 

Kakashi eye-smiled.  “I was on my way here when I bumped into an old lady who needed help with her groceries.”

 

“Liar!”  Sakura accused.

 

Kakashi shrugged and lazily scanned their surroundings before focusing on Sasuke.  “Is Naruto not here yet?”

 

Sasuke scoffed.  “Hn.  You know he’s not.”

 

As if on cue, a shout reached their ears and they all turned to find their last team member heading their way, dragging a black-haired man behind him.

 

For one heart-wrenching second, Sasuke thought he was watching one of his many cousins approach.

 

And then he blinked and the illusion was gone, leaving behind a young man with foreign pale-skinned features, piercing green eyes, and Uchiha-black hair that framed his face in a feathery mess.

 

Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat, Sasuke pulled himself together and plastered on a look of indifference.

 

“Hey, Sasuke, Sakura-chan, Kakashi-sensei!”  Naruto greeted, coming to a stop in front of them before half-turning to the man beside him.  “This is my brother, Hiei.  Hiei-nii, this is my team.”

 

The man – Hiei; did he have no surname? – surveyed them with a cool cursory glance that Sasuke really wanted to learn, nodding tersely at them all before gazing at Naruto again, clearly wanting to be on his way.

 

Naruto pouted though.  “You haven’t even said anything to them!  You have to be nice!”

 

Sasuke thought the man wanted to roll his eyes but settled for inclining his head at him and Kakashi before offering his hand to Sakura, who extended her own with mild confusion.  Sasuke’s eyes widened when Hiei bowed elegantly over her hand, pressing his lips to her knuckles before letting go and stepping back.

 

Sakura’s face turned brick red.  She squeaked.

 

“Pleasure to meet you all,” Hiei said pleasantly, and Sasuke would’ve believed it if the same man hadn't been looking like he wanted to leave not five seconds ago.  “Thank you for taking care of Naruto.  I would love to stay and chat but I'm afraid I have urgent business with the Hokage.  If you’ll excuse me.”

 

He inclined his head once more, clapped a hand on Naruto’s shoulder, before turning on his heel and heading off in the direction of the Hokage Tower.

 

“...That’s your brother?”  Sakura was still blushing.  “Why aren’t you anything like him?”

 

Naruto, who had been looking a bit gobsmacked up until this point, shook himself a little and crossed his arms indignantly.  “What do you mean by that?  He taught me how to throw kunai properly and my writing’s more like his now.  Besides, he’s not always like that.”

 

“What do you mean?”  Kakashi interjected, much to Sasuke’s surprise.  Their sensei never seemed to be interested in anything besides his porn.

 

Naruto scratched his head.  “He’s only like that-” He waved a hand in Hiei’s direction.  “-all proper and polite and formal when he doesn’t particularly care about you.”

 

Sakura looked highly offended now.  “What?  He’s nice to people he doesn’t care about?  Don’t be stupid, Naruto!”

“It’s true,” Naruto insisted, holding up three fingers.  “He acts the way he acted with you when he doesn’t care.  Then there’s the face he puts on when he downright dislikes you; he’s either scary but still nice or just plain scary.  And then there’s his real face which he shows around the people he likes and cares about, like me.”

The dobe beamed, looking more than a little pleased with himself.

 

“And how does he act around you then?”  Sakura scowled.

 

“Oh, he swears a lot and he’s blunt,” Naruto listed off.  “He likes pretending he doesn’t care but he’s really kind once you get to know him.”

 

Sakura huffed.  “Well I think he likes me just fine.”  Her cheeks pinked again.  “He was so gallant and he’s such a gentleman.

 

“Though, of course, no one’s better than you, Sasuke-kun,” She hurriedly tacked on, and Sasuke had to hide a derisive snort at this.

 

He arched an eyebrow when Naruto just smiled almost sympathetically at their female teammate.  “It’s just a good act, Sakura-chan.  Why do you think I told you?  No one would believe it after seeing Hiei-nii like that.”

 

Sakura bristled and hmphed, clearly not in any mood to believe Naruto.

 

Sasuke watched the blond carefully.  Not many people would believe it after seeing that display.  Maybe that was why Naruto went out of his way to explain it to them.

 

“Well I’ve heard my mother talk about him,” Sakura persisted.  “Hiei, the jack-of-all-trades who helps out around the village.  She says he’s really nice about it and he does things for you if you give him something in return.  It doesn’t even have to be money; he’d be happy with baked goods or whatever.”

 

Sasuke frowned.  Come to think of it, he had heard something about that lately but it was civilian talk so he hadn't minded it much.

 

“So your mother just thinks he’s your average Good Samaritan?”  Kakashi enquired unexpectedly.

 

Oblivious, Sakura nodded.  “Yeah, though he’s supposed to be able to do really weird jutsus and everything.  Fix things with a wave of his hand.”

 

“Hmm,” Kakashi mused, and Sasuke frowned even more.

 

“Is he someone important?”  Sasuke asked nonchalantly.

 

Kakashi glanced at him with that knowing glint in his eye that always managed to annoy him.  “Not particularly.  Why, do you want him for a big brother too?”

 

Sasuke sharpened his gaze to a glare and turned sharply away.  Like he wanted one.  Brothers were nothing to be happy about.

 

“Alright then, let’s get on with your training.  You’ll all be pulling weeds for Endou-san today!”

Sakura and Naruto both groaned.  Sasuke would have too if groaning wasn't beneath him.  Instead, he glanced fleetingly at his blond teammate now chattering away to Kakashi about his usual favourite topic – Hiei.

 

As loathe as he was to admit it, Naruto’s aim had improved drastically since even six months ago, and from what he had heard from Iruka when they had still been in the Academy, Naruto’s school marks had also shot up near the end of the year.  Sasuke had thought the dobe was practically a lost case.

 

And apparently, it all had to do with this Hiei.

 

Was the man really that great?

 

{2}

 

                “If the Hokage has time to send people out to stalk me, then he damn well has time to speak to me!  Tell him to stop dicking around and face me like the supposed man he is!”

 

                The secretary looked immensely scandalized but Hiei was in no mood to take any shit.  It had been entertaining the first week or so but when the ninja bastards started trying to bypass his wards – and thereby setting them off every time he turned around – with those weird and stupidly loud ‘Kai!’s in the middle of the goddamn night when he was already having trouble getting any real rest, the nuisances had stopped being entertaining and plunged right into aggravating.

 

                “You can’t talk about the Hokage like that!”  The secretary protested shrilly, and more than one pair of eyes was focused on them.

 

                “Then tell him to get his wrinkly old ass out here!”  Hiei barked back.

 

                The secretary looked torn between gearing up to defend her Hokage again, gaping at him, and fainting from shock.  As it was, she tried to pull off all three at the same time and ended up looking extremely constipated.

 

                Hiei gritted his teeth and told himself that attacking anybody outright would probably just get him a one-way ticket to the Interrogation Department.  Not that he couldn't escape anyway but he had grown rather used to Konoha and didn't particularly feel like going on the run.

 

                Again.  Damn, it felt like he had spent most of his life on the run.

 

                “What’s going on here?”  A lazy drawl cut in.

 

                Hiei turned and glanced sharply at the man who had appeared mere seconds ago and had probably caught the tail-end of their impromptu argument.  Evidently a shinobi if the flak jacket was anything to go by, the man had dark brown hair gathered up in a spiky ponytail.  Two scars and a goatee adorned his face, and while his body posture was languid, the man met Hiei’s gaze evenly with clear, intelligent eyes.

 

                Hiei hadn't spoken a word to him and he already felt a stirring of respect for this man.  There weren’t many people nowadays who could look him in the eye without flinching when he was this irritated.  No one wanted to be in his vicinity when he was downright incensed.

 

                “Nara-sama!”  The secretary leapt up and bowed before shooting Hiei a dirty look.  “This is the Jounin commander; bow, you disrespectful fool!”

 

                Hiei snorted outright.  He bowed to no one.

 

Instead, he turned back to the man in front of him.  A Nara, huh?  He had heard of the Nara Clan of course.  They were renowned for their intelligence, and their prowess in battle with shadows as their aid was nothing to scoff at.

 

                “Jounin Commander?”  Hiei eyed him carefully before inclining his head in the faintest show of respect.  The Nara’s mouth twitched but he only continued watching Hiei with assessing eyes.

 

“That’s pretty high up, isn’t it?”  Hiei continued.  “You have the authority to go tell the Hokage I’m out here?”

Another twitch of his lips and Hiei didn't need Legilimency to see the glint of amusement in the man’s eyes, most likely at Hiei’s sheer gall.

 

                Civilians were different when it came to showing respect.  They bowed for the Hokage but, technically, one of the Konoha-nins’ jobs was to protect the civilians, which meant average citizens were at least on equal footing with the shinobi, if not above them altogether.  Unless they were Clan Heads.

 

                Wait, was the Jounin Commander also the Nara Clan Head?

 

...Maybe.  Oh well, Hiei had never had much respect for authority in the first place.

 

“I do,” The Nara was saying, his voice turning wry.  “I also have the authority to arrest people who try to harass the Hokage.”

 

The secretary shot him a smug look that Hiei completely ignored.

 

“So it’s alright for the Hokage to harass me then?”  Hiei challenged in return.  “It was funny the first few days but if he doesn’t lift the ANBU guard he keeps trying to set on me, next time, it’ll be the hospital they’ll go through instead of the Walk of Shame across the village.”

 

The Nara nodded as if Hiei had confirmed his suspicions.  “Ah, so you are the infamous Hiei.”

 

Hiei stared skeptically at him.  “My looks didn't give that away?”

 

The man just shrugged easily, and to Hiei’s incredulity, the miniscule edge of tension that had been lining the Jounin’s shoulders disappeared.

 

“This is a good thing?”  Hiei enquired, and then wondered if he had made a mistake because the Nara’s eyes sharpened with even more interest, no doubt aware of the fact that Hiei had effortlessly read his body language.  Then he dismissed the thought.  It didn't really matter one way or the other.

 

“The Chuunin and Jounin have to have something to keep them occupied,” The man told him with a wave of his hand.  “Not to mention you have all our scientists running around trying to figure out what jutsus you performed on them.  They’ve gotten quite frustrated because the effects always wear off after a few hours.”

 

“They’re supposed to,” Hiei said curtly.  “I’m glad it was the highlight of the day for your underlings but I don’t think anyone will be laughing when the next lot come back with broken bones.”

“‘Underlings’?”  The Nara repeated, visibly amused now.  “I wouldn't exactly call them that.  And threatening ANBU with lethal jutsus isn’t a good idea.”

 

Hiei just stopped short of sneering at the Jounin.  “Whoever said anything about jutsus?  I wield a mean frying pan.”

 

The Nara actually huffed a laugh this time but he could probably see that Hiei wasn't in the mood for anymore banter because the man turned to the gawking secretary and nodded at her.  “Tell the Hokage that the civilian Hiei is here to see him.”

 

The secretary stared dumbly at the commander.  “B- But Nara-sama-”

 

The Nara’s eyes narrowed and the secretary hastily bowed again.  “Right away, Nara-sama.”

 

She hurried away and the commander turned to the rest of the room at large.  “Get back to work; there’s nothing to see here.”

 

The shinobi milling about the place all sketched half-bows before Shunshining or walking away, though more than one threw curious looks in Hiei’s direction as they left.

 

The secretary soon shuffled back out, looking both confused and displeased.  “The Hokage will see you now, Hiei-san.”

 

“Much thanks,” Hiei replied sarcastically, smiling coldly at the red flush rising in her face.  He glanced back at the Nara, only to blink when he saw the hand held in front of him.

 

“Nara Shikaku,” The man introduced himself casually.  “Nice to meet you.”

 

Hiei arched an eyebrow but clasped the hand in return.  “Hiei.  No family name, no suffix.  Nice to meet you too.”

 

He watched in bemusement as Shikaku nodded once and walked away with a languorous wave over his shoulder before turning and heading for the Hokage’s office himself.

 

Nara Shikaku.  Was that the Clan Head or not?  Perhaps he should polish up on his knowledge of the Konoha hierarchy.

 

{2}

 

                “I have done nothing wrong,” Hiei insisted flatly.

 

                Sarutobi inclined his head.  “I realize that, though the pranks are a touch...”

 

                “I wouldn't be pranking them if they fucked off,” Hiei snapped.

 

                Sarutobi frowned at him in disapproval.

 

                “I wouldn't be pranking them if they respectfully fucked off,” Hiei amended.

 

                Sarutobi drew a deep fortifying breath in through his nose.  “Hiei-kun, you must understand; people with anything close to your abilities are all shinobi.  For a civilian to possess such techniques is worrying, if only for the safety of Konoha.”

 

                “I've been living here for a year, give or take,” Hiei said coolly.  “The worst I’ve done is blackmail a few workers into selling Naruto fresh groceries.  They were all having affairs anyway and that’s a crime against most people’s wedding vows.  They deserved getting blackmailed.”

                Sarutobi levelled a stern eye on him.  “Be that as it may, your... magic as you call it will eventually attract trouble.  Have you never considered entering a career as a ninja?”

 

                “I work under no one,” Hiei said frankly.  “I don’t take orders well and I don’t like killing people if I don’t have to.”

 

                Sarutobi leaned forward, eyeing him with calculating eyes.  “So you have killed people.”

 

                Hiei smiled without humour.  “Of course.”

 

                He could see that the Hokage was itching to ask who he had killed but they both knew he would refrain.  The tension in the room was heightened enough as it was.

 

                “I have no guarantee that you will not turn against Konoha in the future,” Sarutobi said instead, steepling his fingers.

 

                “You don’t,” Hiei agreed, but his chest burned with an icy fire and he was sure it showed in his eyes.  “But loyalty is one of the few things I prize above all else.  If nothing else, I will not attack Konoha because doing so will hurt Naruto.”

 

                Sarutobi’s eyes narrowed but a half-deaf imbecile could’ve heard the truth in Hiei’s voice.  “You care about Naruto very much.”

 

                Hiei scoffed.  “That brat gets on my nerves almost twenty-four/seven, and before I bought him his new clothes, just looking at him gave me headaches.  But he’s a good kid with a lot of potential.  He has a big dream and an even bigger heart; he’ll go far... if he doesn’t kick the bucket first.”

 

                Sarutobi offered the faintest of smiles.  “I liked most of that but the last bit ruined it.”

 

                Hiei grunted unrepentantly and a surprisingly comfortable silence settled over them for a long minute.

 

                “I will withdraw the ANBU,” Sarutobi said at last, adding ruefully, “It is unbelievably embarrassing when they report in.  Most of the people working in this building stay after hours now just to watch them come back.”

 

                Hiei cracked a smirk but said nothing.

 

                “But know this,” Sarutobi’s eyes hardened and Hiei abruptly understood why this man was Hokage.  “If you do anything to harm Konohagakure, I will have every last man hunt you down for it, no matter how long it takes.”

 

                Hiei swept a bow that was only half-mocking.  “Understood, Hokage-sama.”

 

{2}

 

                Three days later, Hiei strode out of his house and Apparated directly behind a dark-haired shinobi wearing a plain white mask.  Before the nin could even turn, Hiei had placed the Full Body-Bind Curse on him.

 

                “Now then, the old man wasn't lying to me the other day; he really did remove his ANBU,” Hiei tilted his head and allowed some of his killing intent to seep out, his magic thickening the air around them until he could sense a flutter of fear in the ninja’s surface thoughts without even having to look into his eyes.

 

                “So,” Hiei reached out and removed the mask, idly taking in the pale face and blank features.  “Who are you and who do you work for?”

Chapter Text

-Half and half doesn’t always make a whole, especially when one pushes and the other pushes back.  If neither gives, who will come out the victor?

 

                “I’m home!”

 

                Hiei didn't open his eyes.  He wished Naruto wouldn't say that.  This technically wasn't the kid’s home.  It wasn't even his home.

 

                “Hey, what’s this creepy Sasuke-clone doing here?”

 

                With a sigh, Hiei blinked and rose to his feet this time.  “Just leave him alone, Naruto.  Emo-boy Number Two can’t hear you anyway.”

 

                He entered the living room to find Naruto crouched in front of the frozen Root member, poking the boy’s cheek with one finger.  The black-haired shinobi could only move his eyes but they didn't show any emotion either.

 

                “What’s wrong with him?”  Naruto queried, frowning.

 

                “I put a few charms on him,” Hiei explained shortly.  “He can’t hear anything we say and he can’t move.  It doesn’t hurt him.”

                “But he’s so...” The blond waved a hand in front of the boy’s face.  “Blank.”

 

                “It’s what he’s been trained to be,” Hiei said tightly.  The boy – he had no name; even Hiei had had a name (freak) all those decades ago when he had still been six and human and hadn't understood what he had done to make his relatives hate him so much – was watching him now, black eyes like lifeless marble as they focused on him.

 

                “Someone trained him to be like this?”  Naruto looked horrified, and Hiei supposed that for someone so open and emotional, being forced to become like this would be downright painful.

 

                Hiei sighed again and motioned for Naruto to follow him back into the kitchen.  “The boy can read lips.  We’ll talk about it in here.”

 

                “So... what is he doing here?”  Naruto hopped up onto his usual spot on the counter, his legs swinging restlessly.

 

                “Spying,” Hiei said simply.  “On me.  For a man named Shimura Danzou.”

 

                Naruto’s eyes blazed.  “What?!  But he has one of those ANBU masks!  He should be working for Jiji, not some... other guy, and Jiji pulled the ANBU three days ago!”

 

                Hiei shrugged.  “The boy’s under a different faction of ANBU, a supposedly disbanded one called Root.  It obviously hasn’t been though and it is currently headed by Shimura.”

 

                Naruto bristled indignantly.  “We have to tell Jiji!”

                “No,” Hiei said firmly.  “That’s more trouble than it’s worth.  We’ve got no proof.”

 

                Naruto pointed in the direction of the living room.  “There’s proof right there!”

 

                “He won’t talk,” Hiei said flatly.  “There’s a seal on his tongue that prevents him from revealing anything and betraying Shimura, even if he wants to, which he doesn’t.”

 

                “But-!  But-!”  Naruto spluttered, grasping for words.  “That Danzou guy is working against Jiji!  He has to be stopped!”

 

                “Neither of us has the full picture,” Hiei countered.  “All I know is that Root is still very much active and Shimura’s an ambitious, paranoid bastard.”

 

                “But he told you this much!”  Naruto protested.

 

                Hiei barked out a sardonic laugh.  “You think he told me?  Did you already forget about the seal?  He told me nothing; I read his mind.”

 

                Naruto stared dumbly at him.  “Oh.  ...You can do that?”

 

                Hiei inclined his head.  “Yes, though honestly, I don’t even know why I’ve told you this much.”

 

                Naruto straightened.  “I won’t say anything, Hiei-nii, not even to Jiji.  You know I can keep secrets.”

 

                Hiei nodded.  He did know.  But he couldn't have the Root boy here for any length of time without letting Naruto in on why.  The brat’s curiosity knew no bounds.

 

                What he didn't know was why the blond was so damn willing to go along with everything he said.  “You won’t tell Monkey Boss just because I don’t want you to?”

 

                Naruto snickered at the nickname but sobered quickly.  He was quiet for a long moment.  “...I know that Jiji cares about me, he always has, but... he doesn’t care about me like you do.”

 

                Hiei’s eyebrows had risen steadily with every word Naruto uttered but the boy wasn't finished.

 

                “I’ve known you for less than a year,” The blond continued in a mumble, his gaze locked somewhere between Hiei and the far wall on the right.  “And I know I’m not the easiest to be around, but you always let me into your house-”

 

                “That’s debatable,” Hiei muttered under his breath.

 

                “-and you come shopping with me,” Naruto persisted.  “And you help me train and study and you cook for me and you bought me new clothes and weapons and you gave me a room and you met Iruka-sensei and you came and met my team even though you didn't want to-!”

 

                The blond finally ran out of breath and Hiei took this opportunity to cut in.  “I insulted you a lot too.  And I swear a lot.  I’m not the best influence on anyone.”

 

                “That doesn’t matter!”  Naruto insisted stubbornly.  “We both know that’s just a cover!”

 

                “Oh really?”  Hiei snorted.  “Trust me; the swearing is second nature to me.  I used to have a lot to swear about.”

 

                “Not that,” Naruto waved a dismissive hand.  “I mean that you’re really kind but you try to hide it.”

 

                Hiei frowned but said nothing.  Personally, he didn't think he was kind.  A kind person wouldn't try to kick a kid out of their house five times a week, would they?

 

                “And you’re honest with me,” Naruto finished, and Hiei glanced up to see Naruto staring at him square in the eye, a determined glint amongst the cerulean.  “No one’s ever been one-hundred percent honest with me, not Iruka-sensei, and definitely not Jiji.  You told me about- about the stupid fox inside me and you’re telling me about Root now.  You- You trust me with those secrets.”

 

                Hiei shifted uncomfortably at the borderline wonder in the boy’s eyes.  “I only told you because the first secret is technically your secret, and the second because a knucklehead like you would never leave it alone if I didn't tell you why Emo-boy Two is sitting on the couch.”

 

                Naruto crossed his arms and jutted out his chin.  “Yeah, but you trust me not to tell.  And you don’t lie to me.  If you don’t wanna tell me something, you say so.  You don’t make something else up instead.”

 

                Hiei shrugged.  “I just don’t like lying if I can help it.  And... orphans tend to be very good at keeping their mouth shut.”

 

                A contemplative silence ensued.

 

                “Were you an orphan?”  Naruto asked tentatively.

 

                Hiei nodded, eyes distant as he recalled that fateful Halloween night.  “Yes, my parents were killed when I was one.”

 

                Naruto didn't say he was sorry; they both knew sorry couldn't always fix things, this especially.  But the blond slid off the counter and reached out to take Hiei’s hand.

 

                Hiei stared at the joined limbs and released a resigned sigh.  “It was a very long time ago, Naruto.  It hardly matters now.”

 

                “It’ll always matter,” Naruto said stoutly.  “’Cause they were your parents and you loved them but they were taken from you.  So it’ll always matter.”

 

                Hiei eyed the twelve-year-old carefully.  Occasionally, the brat could be surprisingly deep.

 

                “Alright, that’s enough sappy heart-to-heart bonding,” Hiei grumbled, taking his hand back but ruffling Naruto’s hair in silent thanks.  The boy beamed at him before obligingly moving the subject back to the main topic.

 

                “What are we gonna do with Sasuke-teme Two then?  What’s his name anyway?”  Naruto peeked around the corner to get another glimpse of the Root ANBU.

 

                “He doesn’t have a name, and he doesn’t know I’ve been into his mind; I didn't go deep enough for him to notice,” Hiei absentmindedly ran a hand through his hair.  “There’s not much we can do with him, all things considered.  I guess I’ll send him back to the old war hawk.”

 

                “We’re just gonna let him go?”  Naruto exclaimed.

 

                Hiei nodded.  “It’s not like I can keep him here forever.  Might as well send him back before Shimura pulls a few strings and tries to get me arrested for abduction or something.”

 

                Naruto drooped.  “I suppose.  So we just keep quiet for now and let that guy go back and report everything that’s happened to Danzou?”

 

                Hiei nodded again, and then smirked slyly when an idea struck him.  “Of course, I should probably pay my respects to Shimura Danzou while I’m at it.”

 

                Naruto blinked at him in bewilderment but Hiei was already heading back out to the living room.  With a wave of his hand, he cancelled both spells.  The Root agent was instantly on his feet, smoothly snatching up his mask and weapons pouch.  His empty gaze never left Hiei.

 

                Hiei gestured at the door.  “You’re free to leave but I’d appreciate it if you passed on a letter to whoever you’re working for.”

 

                The shinobi’s eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly but there was still no emotion in his features.

 

                Hiei smiled back but he couldn't quite muster up any animosity or even annoyance.

 

A boy with not even a name to call his own.

 

A boy with a chest of suppressed but precious memories Hiei didn't dare try to break into.

 

A boy who liked to draw but didn't understand enough about like to do so besides using his skills as a ninja.

 

A boy whom Hiei couldn't bring himself to Obliviate because it was simply too cruel to wipe even a part of the memories of an already brainwashed child.

 

A boy whom Hiei actually wouldn't mind seeing again.

 

“Give me a minute,” He said, moving to a drawer.  “You can take it with you when you leave.”

 

He paused for a second, glancing back at the blank-faced child who hadn't stopped watching him.

 

“And when I see you again,” Hiei told him.  “Maybe you’ll be able to tell me your name.”

 

{3}

 

                “Danzou-sama.”

 

                Danzou frowned sternly at the Root shinobi in front of him.  “You’re late.  Was there any difficulties during your shift?”  He paused.  “And why is your hand smoking?”

 

                The boy straightened and extended his hand.  It took a moment for Danzou to realize that it was a red-coloured envelope.  It took another moment before he realized that said envelope was literally smoking.

 

                “I was captured during my shift,” The teen reported in a monotone.  “The target executed a something similar to a teleportation jutsu and caught me off guard before placing something similar to a binding jutsu on me.  I was then moved into his household and something similar to a privacy seal was activated so that I could not hear anything.”

 

                A heartbeat’s silence passed.  The envelope sent up more smoke.

 

                “Uzumaki Naruto arrived twenty minutes later.  They had a conversation that I was not privy to but the target soon returned and released me.  I was then asked to pass this on to you and was assured that it would not hurt anyone if you opened it post-haste.”

 

                The Root ANBU fell silent, letter still extended, and, eyeing the item suspiciously, Danzou leaned forward and grasped it gingerly.  He didn't bother trying to cancel whatever was placed on the letter.  He knew it wouldn't work.

 

                Weighing his options and considering all the reports he had received from his spies, Danzou only stalled for another few seconds before opening the thing.  It looked like it was going to explode soon anyway.

 

                A smooth, silky tenor filled the room, the commanding tone even more powerful as it echoed off the walls.  It wasn't a shout but it rang in his ears nevertheless.

 

                “MY GREETINGS TO WHOMEVER THIS MAY CONCERN.  I HOPE THIS LETTER FINDS YOU IN THE WORST HEALTH POSSIBLE.  I SHALL GET STRAIGHT TO THE BLOODY POINT.  THE SPIES YOU HAVE SET UP AROUND MY HOUSE ARE FAST BECOMING A NUISANCE.  I HIGHLY DOUBT YOU WISH FOR THEM TO PARADE NAKED THROUGH THE STREETS OF KONOHA SO KINDLY CEASE AND DESIST AT ONCE.  AS THIS MAY BE UNCLEAR FOR THOSE WITH DOUBTFUL MENTAL CAPABILITIES, I SHALL TAKE THE TIME TO REPEAT MYSELF: KINDLY FUCK OFF AT ONCE.  ACCEPT THIS AS YOUR FIRST AND FINAL WARNING.  SHOULD I FIND ANYMORE STALKERS NEAR MYSELF OR MY PROPERTY IN THE DISTANT AND NOT-SO-DISTANT FUTURE, I WILL TAKE MY COMPLAINT DIRECTLY TO THE HOKAGE.  HAVE A PLEASANT DAY.

 

                The letter ended abruptly and silence fell with startling swiftness.

 

                Danzou could only stare for a moment as the missive burst into flames and dissolved into a pile of ashes.  He couldn't quite decide whether he should grind his teeth or snarl in outrage at the sheer gall of a mere civilian.  No one talked to him like that, through a letter or otherwise.  Then again, if this was a mere civilian, Danzou wouldn't be wasting time on this foul-mouthed youngster.

 

                The last bit was no doubt a threat.  It didn't seem as if this Hiei knew who he was.  None of his Root could give him away.  But the man was quick to grasp the fact that the Hokage would be less than pleased at hearing about the presence of Root surrounding his home.

 

                It also meant that this man wasn't very knowledgeable about the inner-workings of Konoha.  Root wasn't supposed to exist; while Hiruzen no doubt had his suspicions and he also knew that Danzou personally trained a handful of kids, no one on that passive monkey’s side had actually seen a live Root agent before, at least not since Root had been officially disbanded.  If Hiei had brought one in as hard proof, Hiruzen would have gotten a Yamanaka to look into the boy’s mind at once, even if he would have had to rip the Root agent’s mind apart in the process.

 

                So either Hiei was ignorant or just plain soft.  Possibly both if his interactions with the Jinchuuriki were anything to go by.  Hiei had also talked to the Kyuubi vessel, but for the man to let his agent go, nothing of great importance should have been relayed.

 

                “The other Root agents will be withdrawn,” Danzou said at last, gaze flickering back to the shinobi in front of him.  “Except you.  The target did nothing to harm you?”

 

                The Root agent shook his head.  “I was not physically or mentally harmed in any way.”

 

                Danzou nodded in satisfaction as a plan came together in his mind.  It seemed this Hiei had a soft spot for children, shinobi or no.

 

                “Your new assignment will be to standby and observe,” He ordered, mulling over what he knew.  “Get into the target’s good graces.  Study his abilities, his habits.  I will have you transferred properly into the Hokage’s Genin ranks under the pretense that you need battle experience with a team.  Get close to the Jinchuuriki first.  Keep an eye on the Uchiha as well.”

 

                The Root agent nodded obediently.  “I will be placed on a team?”

 

                Danzou allowed a cold smile.  As young as the boy was, he was sure he would be able to convince Hiruzen to accept.  The old fool would either think that he could pull the Root agent away from Danzou’s influence or hope that accepting might better their relationship in the long run by showing a measure of trust.

 

                Danzou sneered at the mere thought.

 

                “You’ll take on the name ‘Sai’,” Danzou decided.  “Be ready to start your new tenure as a Konoha Genin in a week’s time.”

                The newly-dubbed Sai bowed once more before leaving, and Danzou set to work on weaving a believable lie for the esteemed Hokage.  He also made a mental note to tell Sai to ask about the red letters sometime.  It might be good therapy to send one to Hiruzen now and then.

 

{3}

 

                “Eeehhh?!  We’re getting a new teammate?  How does that work?  We’re supposed to be a four-man team!”

                Kakashi eye-smiled at his blond student and hummed in confirmation.  “That’s right.  The Hokage decided to place another shinobi onto the team.  It’s a temporary transfer though, at least for now.  He was technically under someone else’s jurisdiction and is in fact already a Chuunin, but, apparently, he needs to learn how to play nice with others on the field so the Hokage agreed to send him over to us.  He should be here soon.”

 

                Kakashi flipped a page of his Icha Icha, casually taking in the disinterested glower on Sasuke’s face and the rambling assurances that Sasuke would still be the best of their team from Sakura.  Come to think of it, Sasuke’s expression could be because of the pink-haired Genin.

 

                Naruto on the other hand had struck a classic thinking pose and an odd frown had made its way onto his face.

 

                “Something wrong, Naruto?”  Kakashi asked mildly from over his book.

 

                Naruto scratched his head and shrugged.  “No, not really.  What do you mean ‘under someone else’s jurisdiction’?”

 

                Kakashi had thought Sasuke would be the one to question that but it looked like Naruto was faster on the ball today.  Then again, Naruto had been surprisingly more adept recently; not like what Kakashi had been expecting before taking on this team.  Not too much anyway; there were still bouts of idiocy at times.

 

                “The Hokage has an agreement with one of the elders to allow him to train some shinobi himself,” Kakashi explained.  “Not too many but most of them grow up to become part of the elders’ security detail, as well as handle some under-the-table assassination jobs.”

 

                Sasuke grunted, per usual, and Sakura started a rant on how there was no way even a specially-selected kid could be better than Sasuke, also per usual.  Kakashi was more interested in the uncharacteristically pensive expression on Naruto’s face.

 

                An unfamiliar chakra signature approaching from his left alerted Kakashi of their new member but he gave no indication that he knew of the pending arrival.  Naruto on the other hand probably attracted the attention of everyone within a mile radius.

 

                “YOU!”  Naruto pointed wildly at the black-haired Chuunin who bore a startling resemblance to the last Uchiha.  “What- I thought-”

 

                “Naruto, do you know this guy?”  Sakura demanded, crossing her arms.  Sasuke stayed silent but glanced between the two, his eyes narrowed with dislike already.  Kakashi had a feeling that the boy didn't particularly like the physical similarities he shared with the newcomer.

 

                Naruto visibly deflated and mumbled something unintelligible before grimacing at the new boy.  “Sasuke-clone, introduce yourself.”

                Sasuke looked mortally offended and Kakashi had to hide a snort.  Sakura puffed up in indignation but their newest teammate spoke before she could get another word in.

 

                “I’m Sai,” Kakashi didn't think he had ever seen a faker smile.  “I look forward to working with all of you.”

 

                There was an awkward silence after that before Naruto stuck out a hand, face still scrunched in a mistrustful scowl.  “I’m Uzumaki Naruto.  Nice ta meet you,” He grumbled, sounding anything but.

 

                Sai accepted the proffered hand with another phony smile before turning to the rest of them.

 

                Kakashi waved a hand.  “I’m your new sensei, Hatake Kakashi.  Your clone over there is Uchiha Sasuke and pinky is Haruno Sakura.”

 

                Sasuke shot him a blistering glare that Kakashi ignored and Sakura scowled at him before eyeing Sai haughtily.

 

                “You're gonna have to work for your place here,” She told him.  “Don’t think you're as good as Sasuke-kun just because you look like him.  You’re probably on Naruto’s level if anything.”

                Sai smiled again.  “I shall endeavour to get along with both Dickless and Sas-gay, Ugly.”

 

                Kakashi facepalmed as Sakura shrieked at the insult and spots of red appeared on Sasuke’s cheeks.  Naruto’s jaw had dropped but it didn't take a genius to realize that the blond was gearing up for a shouting match.

 

It was going to be a long day.

 

{3}

 

                Five hours of childish bickering, abysmal teamwork, and all the insults a bunch of brats could possibly think of under the blazing afternoon sun and Kakashi was ready to march to the Hokage and demand a different team.  Or better yet, no team at all.

 

                Pinching the bridge of his nose as Sakura screamed and tripped backwards when Sai held up a frog in her face, he glanced over at Naruto who had, shockingly, remained the most well-behaved of the lot all day.  Even Sasuke had started a fight with Sai after the Chuunin had made one too many mentions of the Uchiha’s sexual orientation.

 

                And the worst thing was that Sai honestly seemed to be under the impression that the nicknames he had given his three new teammates should be perfectly acceptable.

 

                With a sigh, he focused on Naruto again.  The boy had responded to some of Sai’s Dickless comments but he had also kept the Chuunin in his sights at all time, much like one would when interacting with an enemy.

 

                There was no doubt in his mind that Naruto knew Sai, had met him before, but Kakashi wasn't sure how much the blond knew.  Did the boy know about Sai being under Danzou?  Why would Naruto have met Sai in the first place?

 

                He had enquired about it a few times at the beginning of practice but Naruto had denied really knowing Sai, claiming that he had thought he had seen someone like Sai somewhere around the village.

 

                If that wasn't a bullshit answer, Kakashi didn't know what was.

 

                He heaved another sigh and then stilled when the object of many of the ninja ranks’ attention rounded the corner.  His team was currently repainting the fence of their client’s house – while flicking paint at each other and pretending they weren’t – and Hiei was heading their way.

 

                As if feeling his gaze, the man glanced up to the roof where Kakashi was sitting and stared straight at him before looking away again.  Kakashi felt like he had just been dismissed.  It was a more irritating feeling than he would’ve expected.

 

                “Hiei-nii!”

 

                A yellow and orange blur shot away from the fence, but to Kakashi’s surprise, Hiei sidestepped the hug that Naruto would have tackled him with.  Naruto seemed to expect this because he immediately wheeled around and leapt onto the foreigner’s back instead.

 

                The man glared at the grinning blond but Kakashi had seen the way Hiei had glanced back at Naruto.  He had had plenty of time to move out of the way if he had really wanted to.

 

                “Oh!  Hiei-san!  Punctual as usual.”

 

                Kakashi looked down at the porch where their client had stepped out.  Takahashi Chie was an elderly woman who had greeted them earlier when they had first arrived.  Kakashi had been surprised that she knew Naruto well enough to greet the blond with a hug that his student had returned enthusiastically.  Apparently, Takahashi also knew Hiei, which would actually explain how she knew Naruto and treated him without prejudice to boot.

 

                Hiei nodded politely up at her even as he reached back with one hand and plucked the koala-like Naruto from his back.  “Afternoon, Chie-san.  I hope this brat here hasn’t been giving you too much trouble.”  He looked pointedly at the stray dots of paint splattered all over the front lawn.

 

                Kakashi sweatdropped as Naruto dangled limply in the air with a pout on his face.  Takahashi only waved a hand and favoured the two of them with a warm smile.

 

                “Oh, boys will be boys, and he did look like he was having fun with his teammates,” The woman said.  “And it’s just a bit of paint.”

                “Nevertheless, the lawn will look like it should before the day is out, yes?”  This last bit was directed at Naruto who hastily nodded, scratching one cheek sheepishly.

 

                “And I’m sure your teammates will help clean up the mess,” Hiei added, and Kakashi leaned forward intently, studying the second Hiei laid eyes on Sai.

 

                Nothing.  Not a flicker of recognition from either of them.  Did that mean they truly didn't know each other and it was just Naruto, or were they both just really good actors?

 

                Disappointed without really knowing why, he settled back again, watching Sakura flush red with embarrassment and Sasuke scowl off to the side.  Sai kept his smile and nodded agreeably.

 

                “Oh, Hiei-nii...” Naruto trailed off, hesitating as he glanced at Sai before peering up at Hiei.

 

                Kakashi couldn't tell what was being conveyed between them but whatever it was prompted Naruto into bounding back over to the fence and resuming work once more.

 

                Hiei continued forward as Takahashi waved him inside the house.  Kakashi managed to overhear enough to realize that the foreigner was here to fix the woman’s coffee table.

 

                Kakashi sighed a third time and turned back to his book.  He had probably heard every compliment under the sun about Hiei from Naruto and he too had seen the Return of the ANBU each time one of Hiei’s pranks had struck again but the man was still very much an enigma.  He didn't even seem all that interested in socializing with his surrogate younger brother’s team so it wasn't as if Kakashi could get around to pumping Hiei for personal information without being subjected to cruel and humiliating torture himself.  From what Naruto had said though, Iruka had managed to score an invite into the man’s home, if only because Naruto had dragged him there.

 

                Kakashi usually wasn't one to concern himself with anything outside of missions, the safety of Konoha, his Icha Icha, and his trips to the Memorial Stone, but Naruto – his sensei’s son – talked about Hiei as if he was the best thing since sliced bread.  The blond certainly considered the foreigner to be his older brother in all but blood, and while Kakashi had given up his right to have any say in who Naruto could or couldn't associate with twelve years ago when he had turned down the Hokage’s request for him to care for the boy – he had been so damn young at fourteen and his sensei had just died; taking on a child, Minato’s child at that, had terrified him beyond words – at the very least, he wanted to know what kind of person had taken Naruto under his wing.

 

                Maybe he should pay Iruka a visit sometime in the near future.

 

{3}

 

                “Hey, you bastard, you’re coming with me!”  Naruto wasn't really one for subtlety and he was pretty sure his first two teammates and sensei already suspected something so what the heck.

 

                He bared his teeth in a mockery of a smile as he grabbed Sai’s wrist and began hauling him back towards Hiei’s house.

 

                “Naruto, what are you doing?  Being all friendly with another loser isn’t going to make you any better, you know.”

 

                For once, Naruto wished Sakura would just shut up and go harass Sasuke without wasting his time but he strived for a cheerful tone of voice as he called back, “I’m gonna make our new teammate feel welcome and all by taking him to eat ramen with me.  Wanna come?”

 

                He didn't need to look to know that Sakura had a disgusted look on her face.  “Of course not!  Sasuke-kun and I will eat something healthier, ne Sasuke-kun?”

 

                Naruto snorted under his breath.  “In your dreams, Sakura-chan.”

 

                He waved a goodbye in the general direction of his team before half-dragging, half-leading Sai down another street.  “Come on, bastard, you've got a lot of explaining to do.”

 

                He growled at the fake smile Sai sent back at him but faltered when his new teammate told him, “Dickless, I would suggest losing your sensei first.  After all, I don’t think you want him to know where you're bringing me.”

                Naruto concentrated and then swore when he managed to sense Kakashi somewhere behind him.  “Fine,” He muttered.  “Guess we really will go to Ichiraku’s first.”

 

{3}

 

                “You have a place to stay then, Emo-boy Two?”  Hiei enquired as he stared down at the black-haired Root agent standing beside Naruto.  “I don’t want you coming and going from my place like Naruto.  It’s hard enough putting up with one brat.”

 

                Sai smiled and nodded cordially.  Hiei’s eyebrow ticked up.  He knew that smile.  He had seen it on his own face sometimes over the course of his life.

 

                “I don’t care how you act out there,” Hiei waved a hand in the general vicinity of the door.  “But when you’re in this house, drop the fucking smile.  It’s irritating.”

 

                Said smile faded a little but not fully.  “I read in a book that one smiles when they are happy.”

                Hiei crossed his arms.  “And are you happy right now?”

 

                The smile widened again.  “I should feel happy when I am in the presence of my teammate.”

 

                Hiei snorted as Naruto openly goggled at the boy.  “I don’t care about what you should or shouldn't feel.  I only care about what you do feel.”

 

                He sighed and shook his head at the empty eyes.  The coffee maker beeped and he turned to collect his drink.  By the time he turned back, the smile had dropped and the blank expression from the first time Hiei had manhandled Sai into his house was back.

 

                “I do not know what I feel,” Sai said placidly.

 

                Naruto frowned and opened his mouth but Hiei reached over and bopped the blond on the head to stop him from saying something without tact.

 

                It was strange, really, but the moment Hiei had realized just how fucked up this boy was, he had felt a sense of protectiveness for Sai that had seemed almost obligatory at the time.  It was aggravating and bothersome but not worth the trouble of booting the boy out of his house.  He knew perfectly well that Sai was here to spy on him, that Shimura had placed him on Naruto’s team to keep an eye on the Uchiha, the Jinchuuriki and himself.  Sai would only prove even more troublesome if Hiei tried to chase him away at every turn.

 

                “Then find out,” Hiei all but ordered.  “In the meantime...”

 

                He narrowed his eyes at Naruto who suddenly looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a car.  “You can help Naruto here do his damn laundry.  His clothes are piling up in the basket.”

 

                Naruto grinned sheepishly before grabbing Sai’s arm and dragging him off.  “You got it, Hiei-nii.  C’mon bastard, you won’t be able to come around all the time if you don’t pull your own weight.”

                Hiei watched them go as he took a sip of coffee.  Naruto would be good for Sai.  And so long as Sai was only here to observe and not do anything stupidly drastic or drastically stupid, he supposed he would allow the newest Team Seven member free entry, at least for now.

 

{3}

 

                “You met Hiei-kun a few weeks back, Shikaku.  What did you think of him?”

 

                Shikaku blinked before replying cautiously, “Hokage-sama, I only exchanged a few words with him shortly before you called him into your office.”

 

                Sarutobi waved a dismissive hand.  “And what was your impression of him?  Honest?  Secretive?  Someone with a hidden agenda?”

 

                Shikaku sighed inwardly but recalled the impromptu meeting as he had several dozen times already in the past few weeks.

 

                “He’s strong,” Shikaku offered, remembering the unflinching glint of steel in the foreigner’s eyes.  “I don’t even need to see him fight to tell that much.  He’d be a difficult opponent and a devastating enemy, physically and mentally.  But he doesn’t seem the type to kill needlessly either.”

                Sarutobi nodded thoughtfully.  “Yes, I thought the same.  He told me he prized loyalty quite highly.”

 

                Shikaku nodded.  That trait seemed to fit with the general air Hiei had about him.

 

                “I think he has his fair share of secrets,” He continued.  “No one with his abilities wouldn't.  But most of all, he feels...”

 

                Shikaku hesitated, trailing off.

 

                Sarutobi arched an eyebrow.  “He feels?”

 

                Shikaku frowned.  “He feels tired,” He admitted almost reluctantly.  “It’s just a vibe I get from him.  He doesn’t show it at all in his mannerisms or the way he talks but there’s just something about him...”

 

                He released another sigh as he surmised, “When I look at him, I feel like I'm looking at a war veteran.”

 

                A heavy silence ensued.  Shikaku waited patiently as the Hokage mulled over his words.

 

                “I want you to find out more,” Sarutobi said at last.  “Keep an eye on him.”

 

                Shikaku mentally grimaced.  How troublesome.  “With all due respect, Hokage-sama,” He said out loud.  “I’ve seen the state of every single ANBU you sent to spy on Hiei.  If you ordered it of me, of course, I’ll do what I can, but I’d like to make it clear that I have no desire to walk back through the village dyed pink and sporting animal ears.  I would probably be laughed out of my compound.”

 

                Sarutobi’s mouth twitched and his eyes gleamed with amusement.  Shikaku was very careful to keep his scowl off his face.  Fortunately, the Hokage was kind enough not to comment.

 

                “Hiei-kun offers help in return for money or a trade of some sort,” The man reminded instead.  “Surely you can think of something for him to do.”

 

                Shikaku staved off a third sigh.  “He won’t fall for it.”

 

                “No,” Sarutobi agreed.  “But I’d still like someone interacting with him more regularly and he would probably be more open to the idea of doing something for you instead of me.”

 

                Shikaku frowned.  “Why not Kakashi?  Hiei takes care of Naruto-kun.  It would be more natural for him to find an excuse to at least hold a conversation with Hiei.  Or even that Chuunin sensei, Umino Iruka.  I heard he’s been invited to Hiei’s house already, hasn’t he?”

 

                Sarutobi nodded.  “Yes, but Iruka already approves of Hiei-kun and I would rather have a Jounin keep an eye on him.  And can you imagine what would happen if Kakashi tries to talk his way into Hiei-kun’s good graces?”

 

                They both winced.  Shikaku had visions of porn being waved in Hiei’s face and Kakashi coming out of the encounter with no hair, a dog’s tail, and woofing on every syllable.

 

                “Alright,” Shikaku acquiesced grudgingly.  “I’ll see if anyone in my clan can come up with a job for him to do.  Money will work as payment, right?”

 

                “Yes, I believe so,” Sarutobi said briskly.  “He usually trades with the civilians but he’ll accept money as well.   I expect a report by the end of the week on your progress.”

 

                Recognizing the dismissal, Shikaku bowed curtly and Shunshined away out the window.

 

                What kind of jobs could his clan come up with?  Would Hiei even be interested?

 

                As he headed back to his compound, he fervently hoped he wouldn't be coming out of this with an embarrassing experience under his belt.  It would just be far too troublesome.

 

{3}

 

                After an hour and a half, Hiei wondered just how long Nara Shikaku was going to linger outside his wards.  The man hadn't strayed onto his property once; simply taking a seat on a bench he had brought with him and was currently taking a nap.

 

                With a sigh, he rose to his feet and headed for the door.  The man was obviously not a spy but he had no doubt that the Hokage had had a hand in the Nara’s presence.

 

                And he still hadn't found out whether or not said Nara was the Nara Clan Head.  In all honesty, he hadn't expected to bump into the man anymore.

 

                Shikaku must have sensed him coming since his footsteps were silent and the Nara was already sitting up by the time Hiei reached him.

 

                “You could’ve come up to the door,” Hiei started without fanfare as he stopped a few feet in front of Shikaku.

 

                “And turn myself into a walking embarrassment?”  Shikaku got to his feet and stretched languidly.  “No thanks.”

 

                Hiei’s mouth quirked up.  Ah, he’d forgotten that this one was one of the few ninjas who didn't immediately get on his nerves.

 

                “What do you want then, Nara?”  Hiei didn't waste any time getting to the point.  Shikaku looked oddly at him as if Hiei had said something strange but the man didn't stall.

 

                “Mm, how should I put this?”  Shikaku scratched his head and offered a half-smile.  “My son accidentally broke one of our bookcases this morning.  I heard you fix that sort of thing.  Mind coming to take a look?”

 

                Hiei stared hard at the Nara.  Out of respect for privacy, he always refrained from even skimming surface thoughts and emotions unless he was facing a potential enemy or he needed to read someone but he didn't need Legilimency to know what Shikaku was getting at here.

 

                “Are you sure it wasn't you who broke it?”  Hiei enquired rhetorically.

 

                Shikaku nodded, straight-faced.  “Quite sure.  Shikamaru was leaning on it and the whole thing just collapsed.”

 

                Hiei favoured him with the skeptical disgust this deserved but dropped the issue.  “The Hokage’s this desperate, huh?  And here I just wanted to live a peaceful life.”

 

                “Oh?”  Shikaku peered at him, posture relaxed, eyes calculating – an amalgam of contradictions.  “Is that why you came to Konoha?  We are technically the most peaceful out of all the villages.”

 

                “Also the craziest,” Hiei informed him flatly.  “And you people aren’t nearly as peaceful as you think you are.”

                Shikaku’s gaze sharpened but Hiei was already turning away.  “I suppose you aren’t going to go away until I agree.  Be glad I’m not doing anything at the moment.  Let me lock up first.”

 

                Two minutes later, they were heading back across town.

 

                “Did you say your son is Shikamaru?”  Hiei enquired after several polite nods towards various citizens waving at him.

 

                Shikaku, who had been observing all this with an air of amusement, now peered curiously at him.  “Yes.  You know him?”

 

                “Naruto knows him,” Hiei corrected curtly.  “He talks about the friends he hung out with at the Academy sometimes.  Shikamaru, Chouji, and... Kiba, I believe.”

 

                Shikaku nodded wryly.  “Yes, those four usually skipped together.”

 

                Hiei grunted noncommittally as they rounded another corner and the Nara Compound came into sight.  There were two guards at the gates, and both bowed to Shikaku as they approached, movements lethargic but respectful.

 

                “So you are the Clan Head,” Hiei remarked.  The guards shot him startled looks but Shikaku glanced over at him with a grin.

 

                “I thought you might not know,” The Clan Head chuckled as they stepped into the compound.  “I don’t think anyone besides my enemies have ever called me Nara without even a suffix tacked on.”

 

                Hiei shrugged, unconcerned.  “I haven’t looked up the clans in Konoha yet.  ...My apologies.”

 

                Shikaku waved a hand.  “It’s refreshing actually.  Just call me Shikaku from now on though.  You say ‘Nara’ in here and everyone within earshot will ask you what you want.”

                HIei snorted.  “What?  Not ‘Nara-sama’?”

 

                Shikaku half-turned, eyebrows raised.  “Would you call me that if I asked you to?”

 

                “No,” Hiei denied bluntly.

 

                Shikaku nodded.  “Thought as much.  It doesn’t matter.  Fighting with you over something so trivial is too troublesome.”

                Hiei arched an eyebrow but said nothing more.  He toed off his shoes as they entered what looked like the main house and followed his host into the sitting room.  In the far corner sat a bookshelf, or what remained of a bookshelf since the entire thing looked like someone had pulled its support out and it had ended up collapsing in on itself.

 

                “You could’ve at least done a better job at making the break look natural,” Hiei said sardonically as he crouched down in front of the pile of wood.

 

                “I figured you could tell either way so I didn’t bother,” Shikaku admitted easily, sitting down on the couch.

 

                Hiei scoffed but focused on the task at hand instead.  A wave of his hand and the pieces of wood started mending themselves, the cracks disappearing as they joined together again.

 

                Tilting his head, he recalled the Nara insignia on the front gates and thoughtfully added that design to the side of the shelf.  Lastly, he threw in a simple depiction of a deer in mid-leap, its shadow soaring below it as a moon shone overhead.

 

                “There, that should do it,” Hiei said, rising to his feet again.  He paused when he found Shikaku standing behind him, staring at the cracks that quickly disappeared and the bookcase that stood firmly in place once again.

 

                “Magic, huh?”  Shikaku studied him with something that wasn't quite amazement.  “Well, at the very least, it isn’t a jutsu.”

 

                Hiei snorted.  “Jutsus.  Wouldn't know how to kick-start one of those if my life depended on it.”

 

                Shikaku shrugged, motioning for him to follow as he led the way to what looked like the kitchen.  “You could learn.”

 

                “At my age?”  Hiei countered doubtfully.  “I thought there was a reason ninjas start young.”

 

                Shikaku inclined his head as he retrieved two cups and a bottle of sake.  “True.  You’ll probably never develop your chakra coils enough to execute a high-level jutsu but some of the basic ones aren’t out of your reach.”

 

                Hiei accepted the drink with a nod of thanks.  “I’ll stick with what I know.  I don’t want to give the esteemed Hokage a heart attack by learning jutsus as well.”

 

                Shikaku’s mouth twitched but he said nothing as they shared the sake in companionable silence.

 

                It didn't last long.  A muffled crying soon reached their ears, and when the front door opened, the wailing doubled in volume.

 

                Hiei tried to hide his grimace.  “You've got another kid around here?”

                Shikaku sighed and got to his feet even as he shook his head.  “I’ve only got the one.  That must be Shizuka-chan again.  My wife’s been babysitting her for one of the other clan members who’s been sick a lot lately.”

 

                “‘Shizuka’,” Hiei deadpanned.  “Quiet summer?  Seriously?”

 

                Shikaku pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Don’t ask me.  I didn't name the girl.”

 

                “Shikaku?”  A female voice called out over the wordless cries.

 

                “In here, Yoshino,” The Clan Head called back, and a woman with long black hair and a flustered air about her appeared in the kitchen doorway, a baby wrapped in a warm-looking dark green blanket in her arms.

 

                Hiei slowly rose to his feet, nodding politely at the woman when she looked over at him.

 

                “This is Hiei,” Shikaku quickly introduced.  “He fixed our shelf a moment ago.  Hiei, this is my wife, Yoshino.”

                “Pleasure, I'm sure,” Hiei greeted smoothly, managing a stiff smile in the face of the loud wails piercing his ears.

 

                Yoshino smiled back kindly even as she rocked the baby.  “Welcome.  I’m so sorry for this.  Shizuka-chan is usually very quiet but when she starts crying, she just goes on for ages.”

 

                Sounds like Rose, Hiei thought with a trace of nostalgia shrouded in sorrow.  The brat had quite a pair of lungs when she got going.

 

                “Oh, maybe she’s hungry?”  Yoshino shared an anxious look with her husband.  “Shikamaru was never like this.”

                “That’s because he takes after his old man,” Shikaku grumbled even as he started hunting for a bottle.  “This one’s just troublesome.”

                “Shikaku, don’t be rude,” Yoshino admonished.

 

                “It’s not like she can understand me,” The man muttered.  “Now where’s the baby formula stuff you keep around here?”

 

                “You are hopeless,” Yoshino sighed, still struggling to calm the baby down.  “It’s in the left shelf- no, not that one, the other one!”

 

                “Which other one?  There’re half a dozen other ones!”

 

                Hiei heaved a sigh and wondered if he could see himself out without being rude.  Then again, he was never all that concerned about manners nowadays so he could probably walk out right now and not look back, but...

 

                Damn, the kid was loud.  She was crying too.

 

                “D’you want me to hold her while you fix her a bottle?”  Hiei finally cut in gruffly.

 

                Both Shikaku and Yoshino stopped arguing and only the baby continued making sound as they glanced at him in surprise.

 

                Yoshino looked hesitant, not that Hiei could blame her.  “Do you have experience with children?”

 

                Hiei had to swallow a bitter smile.  Dozens of godsons, goddaughters, surrogate nieces and nephews, and their children to boot – he was fairly certain he had more than enough experience.

 

                “Yes,” Hiei thought of the first child he had ever called his own.  “I had a hand in raising my godson a while back.”

                Something relaxed in Yoshino’s features and after Shizuka started crying even louder, she held the child out to Hiei.  “Thank you.  Maybe take him to the sitting room?  I’ll whip up a bottle in no time.”

 

                Carefully cradling the child, Hiei nodded once and headed back to the sitting room, gently rocking the girl as she continued bawling.

 

                “Shizuka, was it?”  He murmured as he stopped by one of the windows, the warm sunlight washing over both of them.  He studied the baby for a moment.  She had a Nara’s dark brown hair, though the strands were soft and new, and he caught a glimpse of silvery-grey eyes.  “You’re not very quiet at the moment.  Mind telling me what’s wrong?”

 

                A baby’s mind was never as fixed and ordered as an adult’s or even a child’s.  They tended to show flutters of images instead and they mostly conveyed their thoughts in bursts of emotions.  It didn't even require looking into their eyes to get a sense of what they were feeling.

 

                “Worried about your mother then?  Can’t say I can relate, but no one wants to be separated from their mum.”  He mused, absently conjuring blue and green sparks around the baby to distract her.  Shizuka’s cries diminished as she caught sight of the lights, hiccupping now and then as she sniffled.

 

                “Pretty, aren’t they?”  Hiei couldn't help a soft smile from surfacing as a wave of wonder emanating from the girl washed over him.  Tears still gathered at the corner of her eyes, one of her hands reached out and grasped at the sparks, which exploded in a shower of rainbow colours in her fist.

 

                Conjuring a handkerchief, Hiei tenderly wiped away the tears.  Stubbornly, Shizuka grabbed the handkerchief and wouldn't let go when Hiei made to withdraw the cloth.

 

                With a huff of amusement, Hiei let her have it.  “Rather used to getting your way, aren’t you?  You're going to be a right princess when you grow up.”

 

                Shizuka gurgled at him and grasped at a lock of his hair with her free hand.  When Hiei held her out of reach, her grey eyes flashed and a pout formed on her face.  She almost looked to be ready to burst into tears again.

 

                Hiei sighed and dismissed the sparkles hanging in the air around them.  “No more crying, princess.  My hair is not for playing.”

 

                The pout became more pronounced as if she understood him and didn't agree at all, so Hiei began rocking her again, thinking back to all the times Rose or Victoire or even Teddy had pitched a tantrum all night long and they had been handed over to Hiei to babysit because their parents – or grandmother in Teddy’s case – needed some sleep.

 

                “How about a song?”  Hiei suggested.  “I’m not the best singer in the world but I can hold a tune at least.”

 

                He dredged up a memory of the first lullaby he could think of and sang, keeping his voice soft.

 

“Golden slumbers fill your eyes,
Smiles await you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty baby,
Do not cry,
And I will sing you a lullaby.

“Cares you know not,
Therefore sleep,
While over you a watch I'll keep.
Sleep, pretty darling,
Do not cry,
And I will sing you a lullaby.”

 

Shizuka had fallen silent now, grey eyes drowsy even as she released the handkerchief and clutched at his shirt instead.  She immediately began to stir again when Hiei stopped though so he quickly launched into another song, not quite a lullaby this time but a song that had been sung by numerous children when their parents or older siblings left for battle during the Mundane-Magic war.  A prayer of sorts.  A song to wish them Godspeed and safety and that they were expected to come home.

 

“With you gone, I brush the desk,

As the shadow drops, I’m alone again today.

 

“Looking up at the sky, I pray,

Knowing you're under this same sky.

 

“At times when you’re shaking with tears,

And times when you seem to be engulfed by the darkness.

Don’t forget...

You always have...

You always have a place to return to,

And people that are waiting for you.”

 

                The last note of the song didn't quite make it all the way out of his mouth as his throat closed and the pale shattered features of Romulus Lupin, Teddy’s son, as he cried over his father’s lifeless body flashed in his mind.

 

Hiei had forgotten.  That was the last time he had ever heard that song being sung.  Romy had choked out the words over his father when Teddy had been brought in while Hiei had stood nearby, heart cold as stone, eyes dry as the desert, and wishing in vain that there was some way to bring Teddy back.

 

“You have a nice voice,” A male voice commented mildly from behind him and Hiei almost jumped and lashed out.

 

Instead, he ignored the sting in his eyes and cleared his throat before turning to face the couple in the doorway.

 

“Sorry, I got carried away,” Hiei couldn't quite meet Shikaku’s eyes as he felt the man assess him intently.  “Here, she’s asleep, so maybe give her the bottle later?”

 

He carefully handed Shizuka back to Yoshino who smiled at him warmly.  “Thank you, Hiei-kun.  You seem to be very good with children.  Your godson must be very lucky.”

 

Hiei froze for a fraction of a second, feeling like he had been slapped, but he recovered without a hitch and smiled back at the woman.  Yoshino had missed the falter but Shikaku hadn't.  The Nara’s gaze was all but burning into Hiei’s head.

 

“I should be going then,” Hiei managed another brittle smile – why the fuck was he trying to smile so much today? – before turning on his heel and heading for the door.  He’d been polite enough for one day.

 

He took off at a brisk pace in the direction of the front gates but before he could speed past the guards, Shikaku Shunshined to his side, tossing him a small pouch.

 

“Your pay,” Shikaku said by way of explanation.  “For the shelf.”

 

Hiei nodded stoically, tucking it away.  He had to leave, now.  Coming here was a mistake.  He could handle snotty teenagers any day but babies were-

 

Another memory flashed through his mind, piles of tiny broken limbs and crushed skulls, infants who would never grow up, children who would never get the chance to see a world without war-

 

Hiei.”

 

Hiei blinked and he suddenly found Shikaku standing in front of him again, the man’s hand cupping his elbow as he swayed unsteadily on the spot.

 

Shikaku shook him a little, narrowed grey eyes staring back at Hiei, concern darkening the colour even further.  “Are you alright?”

 

Hiei nodded, taking a deep breath and pulling himself together, not-so-stealthily moving his elbow away from Shikaku’s firm grip.

 

Fuck, he hadn't had a mental breakdown for over a year now, not since he had come to Konoha.

 

Alcohol.  He needed alcohol.

 

“I should go,” Hiei said abruptly and turned for the gates again.  He didn't think he could describe the gratitude he felt when Shikaku let him go without pressing him for answers.

 

{3}

 

                “Fuck off, Naruto,” While Hiei didn't mind his crude language around kids, he did at least try to curb some of it.  Not anymore.  Not right now.

 

                Naruto gaped at him and Hiei almost felt bad.  “Hiei-nii-”

 

                “I’m bloody serious,” Hiei snapped roughly, rummaging in the one cupboard Hiei had charmed so that Naruto wouldn't be able to open it.  “Go home.  Go train.  Whatever.  Just get the hell outta my sight.  I don’t want you here right now.”

                But Naruto was nothing if not determined.  “Hiei-nii, did something happen?  What’s wrong?”

 

                Hiei opened his mouth to snarl something back at the boy and then forcefully closed it again as he pressed the heel of one palm to his forehead.

 

                Stupid human, a snide voice in his head sneered.  And not even that now.  A dirty half-breed who dares to lock away a demon.  How dare that lowly scum even speak to us?  I am Death and you are my Master.  Such a pathetic existence should be eradicated.

 

                Shut up, Hiei snapped back at the voice he thought he had shut out long ago.  Half the time, he wasn't even sure if it was real or not.  Nobody asked you.  Go back to where you usually skulk.  Get out of my head.

 

                A cruel laugh echoed in his mind.  Ah, my Master – always so naive.  I belong to you; where else would I go?  You are a god, a higher being.   Why deny it?  Succumb to your calling.  Why do you waste your time with these filthy beings when you could rise higher than they could ever dream of?  Power over Death and you squander-

 

                “Hiei-nii?”

 

                A warm hand wrapped around his wrist and Hiei started, looking down into worried blue eyes.

 

                “Hiei-nii, are you alright?  Should I get you some water?  Maybe a doctor?  I can make that chicken noodle soup you made me when I had the flu.”

 

                Hiei closed his eyes and swallowed hard, shoving that voice away and throwing his Occlumency shields up to maximum.  He drew in a breath through his nose before releasing it, and then opened his eyes again.

 

                “Yeah,” Hiei said hoarsely.  “Yeah, I’m fine.  Fucking hell, Naruto, when I tell you to leave, you’re supposed to fucking leave.”

                Naruto shrugged unrepentantly, still holding on to Hiei.  “I was worried.  You were acting weird.”

 

                Hiei rolled his eyes and ran his free hand through his hair.  “Alright, whatever.  Let go; I’m fine now.  And you stink, by the way.  Did you just finish training?”

 

                “Yeah,” Naruto nodded.  “I managed to ditch Sai today.  He was being extra-bastard-like.  Are you really okay?”

 

                Hiei glanced at the alcohol cabinet before closing it.  “Yeah, I’m fine.  Go take a bath, and then you can tell me about your day.”

                Naruto peered shrewdly at him for a long moment before nodding and stepping back.  “Okay.  I’ll be back soon.”

 

                Hiei watched him go before heaving another sigh.  He’d been sighing a lot recently.  And it didn't look like getting semi-drunk would be an option tonight.

 

{3}

 

                “Inoichi?”

 

                The blond in question glanced up, surprised.  “Shikaku, isn’t today your off-day?  I thought wild horses wouldn't be able to drag you into work when you get a day off.”

 

                Shikaku scowled half-heartedly at his long-time friend.  “It’s troublesome, but I wanted to know if you were free this weekend.”

 

                Inoichi blinked, puzzled now.  “There’s not much going on at the moment.  I have Sunday off.  Why?”

 

                Shikaku nodded distractedly.  “Good.  There’s someone I want you to meet.  And then I want you to give me your opinion of him afterwards.”

 

                Inoichi raised his eyebrows.  This looked serious.  “Who?”

 

                “A friend I made recently.  His name is Hiei.”