Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Wraiths and Strays

Act II

by miriya 0 reviews

Category: Naruto - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Itachi,Naruto - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2007-09-04 - Updated: 2007-09-04 - 1100 words

Wraiths and Strays, Act II
(maybe you're better off this way)

Itachi crouches in front of the sunken fireplace and contemplates the snowmelt boiling in a kettle suspended above the flames. This is an old house, nestled against the mountainous border of Earth Country, and the tatami is worn and fraying from years of disuse. It is warm house, however, separated from the rest of the world by a distance that seems that much greater under heavy layers of snowfall.

It is also eerily similar to his childhood home, and while does not dwell much upon the connection, he cannot deny the slim amount of comfort it offers him.

His gaze tracks across the room, taking note of the withered flowers bowed over a cracked vase, the light carpet of fallen petals slowly turning to dust at its foot. They have been there since he first entered this house over a decade ago, and no matter how often he cleans the rest of the building, he leaves them to decay in peace. All things considered, perhaps it is a fitting tribute: dead flowers, once lovely, to commemorate a house in ruins.

Halfway between the flowers and the fire, Naruto is beginning to stir beneath heavy futon blankets.

Itachi activates the sharingan out of habit and studies the unconscious vessel with a mixture of idle curiosity and annoyance. He had not intended to encounter Naruto for some time, yet -- there were still two vessels left to deal with, and to catch him early would be to allow far too much opportunity for Konoha to stage a rescue. Circumstance, however, seemed to have different ideas, and he had instead encountered the boy hunting him.

Naruto had gotten stronger since their last meeting, but not yet strong enough. A simple mistake had given Itachi victory, but in exchange forced him to abandon his current mission until he could dispose of Naruto. Thus, Itachi had set off towards the Akatsuki headquarters for safekeeping until the ritual, and this time, nature intervened -- winter had come early this year, with unnatural violence. With dangerous weather and no other options available to him, the most pragmatic option had therefore been to bring Naruto to this once-abandoned house that he had turned into his home.

Itachi measures the space between Naruto's shallow breaths, and prepares himself for the vessel's awakening. He stirs the embers with fresh wood and wonders if Naruto will try to fight or run. Itachi believes that Naruto will fight -- it seems to be his natural response to any threat, and it has always been his response to Itachi's presence.

It may be an interesting spectacle, Itachi thinks. A week is a long time to neglect one's body, especially if one is a shinobi.

Naruto groans softly and turns his face towards the fire. He is not yet awake, but he will be within minutes -- Itachi intently watches the way his eyes flutter, searching for consciousness beneath heavy lids. Naruto's hands fist slowly against the thick cotton of the blankets, the movement jerky and uncoordinated, like old machinery creaking slowly to life. Itachi is unsurprised by this -- after all, he had subdued Naruto with one of his stronger forms of mid-level genjutsu, and then suppressed him further with an incapacitating seal. It would do no lasting damage, but it guaranteed a handful of days in which the nine tails' vessel would not wake.

Suddenly Naruto tenses completely, his peaceful expression melting away into a mask of nothing. Itachi leans forward, one hand sliding across the dusty tatami towards his weapons. He doubts he will need them, but Naruto's unpredictability is legendary, and Itachi has never been fond of surprises.

"Who--" Naruto's voice cracks with disuse, and he swallows a few times in an attempt to coax his vocal cords to life. "Who's there?"

"Good evening, Naruto-kun," Itachi says softly.

Naruto's expressionless face holds for a moment, and then the mask cracks, thin lips pulling down at the corners in the beginning of a scowl. A shiver runs down his shoulders and arms and disappears beneath the futon blankets, and Itachi can sense the beginning of fear slipping through the vessel's chakra. Naruto, Itachi thinks, is not nearly as afraid of him as he used to be, and he wonders if it is just foolishness, or if Naruto has simply learned to hide his fear. Across the room, sky-blue eyes blink against the firelight, trying to shake the filmy haze of sleep.

Itachi's immaculately groomed fingers rest against the cool steel of a kunai, waiting for what will happen next.

After a few moments, Naruto sighs and turns towards Itachi, squinting at the older shinobi. "Good evening, Itachi-san." If he is afraid, he manages not to show it. He wears the expression of the condemned.

Itachi cocks his head to one side, studying the younger shinobi. He is still hesitant, waiting for the attack, but it's beginning to look like Naruto isn't interested in a fight. "How are you feeling?" He asks, out of a sense of politeness more than true concern.

Naruto's scowl deepens, and he attempts to brace himself on one arm, a maneuver he hardly manages. There is a moment of awkward silence between them: Naruto grumpy and sleep-tousled, Itachi perfectly composed, both gauging the other for a sign of danger.

It is Naruto who gives in at last, grumbling as he flops back onto the warm futon. "Seriously? I feel like shit. My head hurts, my body hurts, my eyes hurt--"

Itachi bites back the urge to smile, instead cutting off Naruto's laundry list of woes. "Would you like some tea?"

"Yes." Naruto's voice is surly, and his expression shows that he knows this. "Please."

Calmly, Itachi ladles boiling water into a chipped sake cup that bears a faded, elaborate version of the Uchiha crest, then adds a generous pinch of sweet-smelling herbs to the water. He stands and walks to Naruto like a hunted animal, moving just barely within arm's reach to offer the cup.

Naruto sits up and watches Itachi for a moment before accepting, as if he's enjoying Itachi's discomfort. He cradles the cup in both hands, warming his face over the steam, and he keeps his eyes on Itachi for the entirety of his retreat back to the fire.

They sit in silence, at a stand-off, watching each other over cups of cooling tea for the first hint of action.

After several minutes, Naruto tears his gaze away, scowling. "Well, this is stupid," he grumbles. "What now?"

Itachi just snorts, and keeps watching.
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