There is a man trying to fit a glass shoe three sizes too small on Naruto. Sakura gets intimate with her masculine side, and Sasuke reads porn with his snakes. All in all: another mission for Team 7.
"Who is Madame d'Aulnoy?"
Sakura tactfully stops Sasuke's hand from reaching towards the hilt of his sword. The man shuffles, unaware. "Really, now," Sakura steps in between the two, placing a pouch full of illusionary money into the sailor's hands, "I'm sure you can remember."
The man opens the bag, peers in, and brings out a coin. He sniffs it, licks it (Sakura hopes sincerely that the man does not recognize the taste of wood chips), before finally saying, "Tastes strange, but looks sound enough."
Sakura tilts her head pleasantly, and out of the corner of her eye, she watches Sasuke's sharingan swirl into activity before quickly fading out again. The man does not notice.
"We don't traffic in counterfeits," Sakura chimes in. Her voice is pitched low for this meeting and blends seamlessly into the clatter of the bar.
"Madame d'Aulnoy," the man begins, "Does not exist."
For all intents and purposes, Naruto was on a mission to the Hidden Village of Waterfall. It was a long-term mission, he told Sakura and Sasuke, one that would last a few months.
Sasuke managed to wait patiently for the first two months, but by the third, he was already pestering (subtly) Iruka for information about Naruto's return. Iruka smiled, patted Sasuke on the shoulder sympathetically, and congratulated him, yet again, on killing Itachi. And a compliment like that, for Sasuke, was enough of a distraction to last a few weeks.
And while Sasuke plunged headfirst into throes of longing, Naruto was carefully scouting a forest in a strange land looking for a scroll.
He didn't find the scroll (would, in fact, never find it; the mission was a failure), but he did find a house that had gingerbread for walls, sugar for windows, pancakes for roofing tiles, and ramen for grass.
And, really, who could blame him at this point for going in?
"She doesn't exist," Kakashi repeats. There is a frown on his face, one that makes his silver eye harden.
"That's not good enough," Kakashi says, a little dismissively. He reaches into his pocket, and brings out a pouch.
Sakura reaches over the tree branch, and Kakashi drops the pouch into her hand. She feels the coins sliding together against her palm, hears the clinking of money against Kakashi's voice. "Don't use counterfeits anymore. It's hard to cover your tracks if you're going to get reckless about this. If you need money, ask."
"What do we do?" Sasuke asks, and it's the first time Sakura has heard that tone. It doesn't suit Sasuke very well, but he, too, is human, and Sakura can forgive him for this moment's weakness.
"I told you," Kakashi says, turning a little. He braces himself against the trunk of the tree, and waits as a breeze passes by. The smell of fish and seawater comes with the breeze. "That's not good enough."
Sakura watches as Kakashi disappears and pockets the money. Sasuke grunts, says "Fuck you, Hatake," and disappears as well.
Naruto finished eating a window, a four by four section of grass, and was resting by the fountain of red lemonade when the witch came. She was doubled over--arthritis, Naruto guessed with a pitying sniff--and offered him, rather endearingly, an apple.
Being the shinobi he was, Naruto at first refused, and sensing his reluctance, the witch cut the apple in half. She ate a part of her half, smiled, and offered Naruto his half, which, really, looked fairly appealing.
So Naruto, bless his soul, took the apple and ate it.
And after a month of vainly searching for a scroll, Naruto figured that taking a quick nap wouldn't hurt anyone.
Sakura molds well into her disguise as a man, and Sasuke finds himself more at ease with her as a man than as a woman. He talks to her more, even shares a few jokes with her (at the expense of Lee's eyebrows, but Sakura is forgiving). This disturbs him slightly, but he lets the fact go, and concentrates instead, on the color of Naruto's eyes that he has painted in his mind.
Every day, Sasuke settles next to her and offers his bread. They have to get by with very little food these days, and without fail Sakura always asks, "You're not eating?" Sasuke always shakes his head, and remains silent.
One day, however, Sasuke adds, "I've learned to survive with very little food under Orochimaru."
She doesn't wince at his name anymore; Tsunade has taught her that. "He starved you, you mean."
Sasuke's eyes go hard and his lips twitch. "I've learned to survive with very little food," he repeats, "Because Kabuto can't cook for shit."
When Naruto wakes up, he half expects himself to have combusted with all the food he ate. He hasn't.
But there is a monstrously ugly, well, monster staring at him intently. "Good morning?"
The monster looks at him, unblinking, looking rather puzzled. Naruto suspects that the monster doesn't have any eyelids. "So, no love at first sight or anything?"
Naruto looks around. There are only two people in the room--not the house of food, he realizes with a growing feeling of dread--so the monster is most certainly talking to him. "Sorry?"
"Just now. You didn't feel any pangs of never-ending, profound love, did you?" The monster repeats. Naruto shakes his head. "The kind that allows you to overcome capitalism-induced standards for beauty and happy endings?" Naruto shakes his head again.
The monster gurgles, and shuffles around a gigantic pouch on his equally large vest. He brings out a dogeared book and flips through the pages. "Well, let's see here...Ah, my bad. I was looking at the wrong manual." He pockets the book. "Says here that you're to feel repulsion at first."
Naruto stares at him, ready to throw up the food he has eaten. The monster rolls its eyes. "First repulsion. Then the undying love."
Naruto reaches for the nearest weapon--a spindle, it turns out--but he pricks himself, and he can't help but swear ("Aw, crap") as he feels the familiar tug of an extended nap.
"Madame d'Aulnoy?" The sailor laughs before gulping down another shot of beer. He wipes it against the back of his hand. "She lives down in the forest," he juts his thumb over his shoulder. "Deep in the forest."
Sasuke shifts in his seat. "Doing what?"
"Doing what?" The man asks. Sakura finds herself getting annoyed at the man's repetition of each and every question. "You know--" He leans in closer, conspiratorially. Sakura feels Sasuke's chakra quicken at this.
Sasuke and Sakura oblige and lean in as well, to catch the man's words. "You know," the man says again, "She doesn't exist."
When Naruto wakes up again, his hair has extended to the point of being ridiculously impractical, and there is a man calling from outside. He keeps saying, "Let down your hair," and since Naruto is not inclined to do that, he begins to throw books out instead. He hears a satisfying, "Ow."
Naruto is about to turn around and get out of the place when he comes face to face with a rather angry looking man.
"If you're after my hair," Naruto snarls, pointing at the tresses spilling around him, "You can go screw yourself."
The man throws a miniature stack of hay at him. By the time Naruto manages to clear his face of hay, the scenery has changed and the man grinds out, "Gold. Now."
"We're in the forest," Kakashi grunts out. "I'm in the forest."
Three months into the mission, and already, they're starting to wear thin. Sakura knows, instinctively, that Naruto's absence is causing all this. The world, without Naruto, is a monochromatic landscape of gray, and slowly, Sakura feels Sasuke bleeding into the background. She hopes--desperately hopes--that they will find Naruto in time.
"Well, apparently, she's in the forest, too," Sasuke snaps.
"She isn't," Kakashi affirms.
"Well," Sasuke snarls. "That's not good enough."
Kakashi's eye narrows, and Sakura tenses a second before Kakashi materializes a few centimeters away from Sasuke, a kunai drawn and pressed against Sasuke's neck. Sasuke, to his credit, has the tip of his sword pressing into Kakashi's abdomen at an angle--any pressure would drive it straight through Kakashi's heart.
"You're not the only one who cares about Naruto," Kakashi says, lazy as usual.
Sasuke relaxes a little, and the tip shifts an inch.
Before Kakashi vanishes he presses into Sasuke's hand a copy of Icha Icha Paradise. Sasuke stares at it for a really long time before flipping it open and settling down on the tree branch.
Sakura waits, determined to stand by her word that they would always operate as a pair, but when Sasuke flips the first page, she flees.
"Right. Your firstborn." The small creature pulls out a familiar looking manual and looks through. "Word for word. I want your firstborn."
Naruto thinks that there is something strange about this situation, that he should do something about it, but the first words that come out of his mouth are, "What are you going to do with my firstborn? If it's anything dangerous, this deal is out the windo--"
The creature shakes its hairy head, and picks at a mole on its bald head. "All I'm saying is that to make the exchange for gold out of straw, and three beans, I'll need your firstborn."
Naruto is about to protest that he doesn't need three beans, but it's too late, because a swan swoops in and lands neatly on the creatures heads.
Naruto stares. The swan stares boldly back. "Please," Naruto says, getting up, "Don't tell me. I need to fall in love with you now."
The swan nods, and Naruto feels a sudden itch to eat swan broth.
"Nothing," Sakura mutters, dropping down onto the ground. A slug follows her an instant later, and not minding the slime, she lets it crawl onto her hand.
"You?" Sakura prompts.
Sasuke snaps out of his thoughts and turns to the snake that is coiled around the trunk of the tree. The snake stares at him with clear, slitted eyes. Not today, kid. Another day, perhaps.
The snake tightens its coils. Well, obviously not today. Sasuke rolls his eyes.
"Nothing," Sasuke echoes, sinking his fingers into the sides of the snake and fighting the strange feeling crawling up his throat.
When they find Naruto, he's going to hand cuff him to something. His mind does a double-take, and he flushes at the thought that passed through his mind without him even noticing it. He isn't just going to handcuff Naruto. He's going to handcuff Naruto to a bed.
Naruto is picking breadcrumbs through a field full of ravens. He thinks that maybe this experience should be soul cleansing or even mystical, but mostly, it is a pain in the rear end.
He squats down among the ravens and stares forlornly at the castle in the distance. There is a burst of sparkles around him and he finds himself face to face with a toad.
The toad puckers its lips, and then a long, pink tongue darts out.
Naruto stares. "I am so not kissing you."
By the fourth day, Sasuke is fighting off a headache. He's been using the sharingan nonstop now, and although it isn't for a fight, it's taking a toll on him. The snakes slide over his eyes whenever they can, hissing their disapproval at his actions, but he tugs them off his face and keeps looking.
Fudo senses something. Sasuke tilts his head so he is facing Kanaye. The snake has its head a few inches above the water and Sasuke catches the small ripples that its tail made as it stays afloat.
Kanaye is a feisty snake, Sasuke has learned, so he isn't surprised when it snaps its head in one quick motion and bites Sasuke. If he were any other man--Sasuke thinks, examining the two drops of blood on his forearm a little distractedly--he would be dead with its poison by now.
You brat. I won't be a messenger boy, if that's what you're after. Kanaye disappears under the water, leaving Sasuke alone in the murky pond. He licks at his wound, tastes copper, and lets his hand drop into the pond again.
A split second later, Kanaye reappears, a furtive, conical head above the waters. His tongue darts out once, twice, and then thrice. There is a house. A hidden house in the northeast section.
Sasuke smirks, and nods at Kanaye. The snake cranes its head, in exasperation, Sasuke thinks, before biting Sasuke again and disappearing.
This time, though, when Sasuke inspects the wound, there is no blood.
Northeast, Fudo says three hours later in the makeshift tree-house that Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke have built. His head is on Sasuke's shoulder, and he's content there, letting Sasuke pick off scales now and then. I wanted to shed in peace, boy, I hope you're aware.
Sasuke plucks off another scale. Eat it, Fudo encourages. It's good for you. Builds up your immune system.
Sasuke eats the scale. It tastes sour, but mostly metallic. When he hears a sound, he looks up to see that Kakashi and Sakura are looking at him oddly.
By my tail, boy, Fudo interrupts, lazily flicking his tail. Sasuke obliges and eats the scales he picks, ignoring the stares of his team mates. You didn't tell me what you found.
I told you, Fudo says, stretching to give more access to Sasuke. A house.
A house. Sasuke scoffs. We've missed a house all these days?
It was hidden, Fudo defends. He lifts his head and nudges against the side of Sasuke's face. Leave it to us. We'll look into this.
And what should I do in the meantime? Sit on my ass and twiddle my thumbs? Sasuke asks, and watches as Kanaye and Fudo consider each other.
Lounge, they say together. Fudo adds, And learn our tongue, before they both disappear.
Kakashi and Sakura are expectant when Sasuke looks up. "A house in the northeast section. Fudo will collect more details. In the meantime, he said we should lounge."
"Your snakes have names?" Sakura sounds surprised.
Sasuke shrugs. "Naturally."
"Why exactly," Kakashi begins, gesturing vaguely and sounding mildly embarrassed at asking the question, "Are you eating that?"
Sasuke shrugs again. "They taste good."
There is a man trying to fit a glass shoe three sizes too small on Naruto.
"Your syntax needs to improve," Kanaye hisses. Sasuke rolls onto his stomach and stares at Kanaye.
Sasuke hisses back what he thinks is "Is this all right?" but it comes out as "All this right is?"
He sounds ridiculous even to himself, so he rests his head on his hand and says, "Get never it will I."
"Oh, well, at least we can understand you," Kanaye croons, feigning sympathy. Sasuke swats at him, his eyes closed. All he gets is a quick thwap of Kanaye's head against his hand, and the sound of the snake's laughter--a long, comforting ssss-sound.
Naruto supposes that having a genie could greatly help him in the future. He stares at the blue vapor. There are a pair of eyes, a nose, and a beard haphazardly floating around in the mist.
"Please, get me out," Naruto moans.
The vapor shifts, and then there's a puff of air on Naruto's face. "No can do," the vapor says.
Naruto viciously pokes at the eyes of the vapor and burbles with glee when he hears a squelching sound.
"d'Aunloy Madame who is?" Sasuke asks.
Fudo looks quizzically at him, but answers. "A lady of stories. A story-teller."
"Kind what stories?" Sasuke hates to hiss. He sounds like he is a large balloon, deflating. Sakura and Kakashi think that it is sexually appealing.
Sasuke scoffs, and then adds, "Serious you are?"
"Very. She has the boy trapped in a curse. A story, actually," Fudo mutters.
Kanaye laughs so hard, he starts to hack up a fish he ate earlier in the day. Sasuke glares at him, until the hacking trails away into whispered giggles.
"Story of kind what?"
Sasuke thinks long and hard. He manages: "What story of kind?"
"I don't know. Ask the other humans," Fudo snaps. He inspects his tail. "I need to shed."
"Sucks this lot a."
Sasuke spends the rest of the afternoon thwarting Kanaye's efforts to make him hiss obscenities and eating Fudo's scales. Disregarding Kakashi's and Sakura's open stares and Naruto's absence, Sasuke writes it off as a pleasant evening.
"Wolf," Naruto half-yells, half-mutters. There is general commotion around him.
He turns to the tree he is leaning against and makes a mark. For decency's sake, he waits a good two hours.
"You know," Sakura says, edging around Kanaye's curled form. "Why are--why are the snakes around you so often?" Sasuke shrugs and continues to sharpen his kunai. "I mean, they're all over you and everything."
"Snakes communicate a lot by touch."
Sakura sits down next to Sasuke, watching Kanaye wearily. "They do?"
"How is it that--" Sakura falters when Kanaye stirs. "Why can't Kakashi and I understand them? We can understand Kakashi's dogs, and my slugs, and Naruto's toads, so why not--"
"Snakes are secretive animals," Sasuke says, pocketing his kunai. "Their trust is hard to gain."
Sakura seems relieved. "So you're not, like, having crazy snake sex or anything."
The question seems like something that Sasuke should take offense against. "No."
Sasuke is silent for a moment and considers Kanaye who stares right back at him. "How...how would one have snake sex?"
Naruto bites down. Hard. His teeth hurt, but otherwise, the egg is still perfectly oval.
"So this isn't meant for eating?" He stares at the goose that he is squatting next to.
The goose stares at him for a good ten minutes before pointedly turning her gaze to the egg that Naruto is holding.
Naruto looks at the egg in his hand. "I mean, I know it's gold and everything--"
"Who is Madame d'Aulnoy?" Kanaye asks.
"Teller stories of. Naruto keeps she." Sasuke's hands curl around the hilt of his sword. It has been sharpened in the past few days so that even the slightest touch will cut.
Fudo looks sleek in his new skin, and slithers around the tree house to let the skin settle in. "She likes fairy tales. She wants to keep the kid's mate for a fairy tale."
"Mate not he my is," Sasuke growls. Neither of the snakes pay any attention.
"So the mate is there for sure?"
"Mate not he--"
"For sure. I saw him."
"So we go in there, kill the witch, and rescue the mate," Kanaye offers. There is silence. "It was just a thought."
"Like idea I."
Fudo looks amused. "Is it mating season? You seem very much in a rush."
Sasuke stands up, not knowing what to do with his frustration and embarrassment. Kakashi and Sakura look at him, surprised, and watch, eyes wide as he hisses forcefully, "He is not mate my."
Fudo looks impressed. "That was close, boy. You're getting the hang of this."
Sasuke swallows his pride and sits back down again. "So go we," he says.
"It's hidden," Kanaye says. "Very hidden. It took us a long time to get there--"
"Nothing is too hidden," Fudo mutters. "Call Ishi."
Sasuke performs a few seals and Ishi appears, yawning widely. He is a cobra, regal, as he draws up and considers his surroundings. "What's this?"
Kanaye is the first to answer. "We're looking for the kid's mate."
Ishi lowers himself and goes to where Fudo is now lounging. "Mate? He has a mate now?"
"He isn't my--"
"Right, right," Ishi says, dismissively, and settles down.
"My," Naruto says, feeling slightly repulsed at the sight he beholds. "What great big nose--noseö--you h--"
The woman-like thing looks irked. "Yeah, yeah, shut it kid. I get enough of that. Let's just get this over with."
"So the snakes," Sakura says, slowly choosing her words, "Will do all the work, basically."
Sasuke squats on the tree, Kanaye wrapped comfortably around his bicep. Fudo is with Ishi, infiltrating Madame d'Aulnoy's lair.
Kakashi is reading his book. The jounin hasn't admitted it yet, but he's slightly impressed. Sasuke has yet to figure out exactly what Kakashi is impressed by--the snakes or him. "Not all of it."
"So all we do," Sakura says, getting angrier by the second, "Is wait? We trust Naruto's life in the hands--with a bunch of snakes?"
Kanaye shifts around his arm. "You know, Sakura," Sasuke mutters, "They can understand you."
This silences Sakura, and after a while, she, too, settles down. Sasuke follows, and ten minutes later, Kakashi draws out another book from his pouch and throws it to Sasuke.
Sasuke flips through it idly, Kanaye looking over his shoulder and hissing his laughter.
Naruto looks angry when he comes into view. He is limping, has hair that looks worse than usual, ripped clothing, and smells like pancakes.
Sasuke pockets his book, and waits for Ishi's signal before softly falling to the ground to face Naruto.
"What. The. Fuck." Naruto bites out. Ishi is wrapped around his arm, and Fudo is following close behind.
We got your mate back. Now go mate with him. Fudo sounds bored.
"They have interesting mating rituals," Kanaye hisses. "When you mate with him, I would like to observe." Sasuke ignores him, so Kanaye bites Sasuke lightly on the hand and then stretches. "Well, I'm off."
He vanishes. Ishi follows. Fudo is the last to go. He regards Sasuke calmly before glancing up at Naruto, who is still glaring. "Practice your tongue. Next time I see you, I want you to be fluent."
"Get out before the witch realizes," Fudo hisses.
Sasuke nods, watches Fudo disappear, and then with Naruto, Kakashi, and Sakura in tow, flees the forest.
"Who is Madame d'Aulnoy?" Naruto asks around a mouthful of food. He's pressed comfortably against Sasuke's side, his skim warm and tingly. Sasuke does not move away, and he notices with a small sense of triumph, that neither does Naruto.
"No clue," Sasuke mutters and looks away when Naruto turns to stare at him.
"You were hissing," Naruto says, putting down his bowl.
"Not hissing, dead last. I was talking to the snakes."
"Do it again," Naruto prods, and Sasuke feels Naruto's chest against his arm. It would take very little movement for him to reach around and place his hand on Naruto's waist.
"I'm not going to--"
"You bastard, just hiss for me already. I had a crappy few months."
"And I didn't?"
"Well, you didn't have to try on glass shoes," Naruto mutters, and is about to draw away, so Sasuke rolls his eyes and hisses, "You are not my mate."
It is proper syntax and everything, but even if it weren't, Sasuke's sure that Naruto would've been just as impressed. "What does that mean?"
Sasuke smirks. "None of your business."
Naruto doesn't argue. Instead, he smiles slowly, indulgently, like he and Sasuke are privy to an inside joke. "Say something else."
Sasuke thinks, and then, deciding that there isn't much to lose, says: "I would like you to be my mate."
Naruto stares at him, blue eyes as crystal clear as they are in Sasuke's dreams. Naruto leans in close. "How do you make those sounds?"
Sasuke feels the sun against his back, Naruto against his side, and can't decide which is warmer. He smirks. "You want me to teach you?"
Naruto nods, enthusiastic, and licks his lips.
Two months later, when Sasuke calls Kanaye, the snake looks irked. What?
Naruto wants to say hello and introduce himself. And also comment on the weather, Sasuke tells him. Kanaye considers Naruto and settles down on the tree branch.
Make it quick.
Sasuke prods Naruto, who takes a deep breath. His eyebrows furrow in thought, and he slowly hisses out: "I am Sasuke's mate."
Kanaye stares at Naruto for a good ten minutes before he starts to chuckle. The chuckles turn into laughter, and he starts to hack up food again. Sasuke feels his lips twitch.
Kanaye, between drawing breaths, manages, "You cheap bastard, Sasuke."