This is the sequel to "The Way of the Apartment Manager," which can be found in clean draft here on ff.net, or in rough draft with comments here on my livejournal. It also has fanart, which can be found here.
The Guardian in Spite of Herself: Chapter 1
The Uchiha clan didn't impinge much on Ayakawa Yukiko's life.
She was aware that Naruto had an Uchiha in his academy class -- the kid liked to complain about jerks who thought they were the greatest thing ever -- but beyond reminding Naruto that even geniuses with powerful bloodline limits could be defeated, she didn't pay much attention. Her friend Naga dropped by now and then to gripe about Uchiha Tsukime, the chuunin who had become her default mission partner, but the two girls were slowly learning to get along and Naga didn't care about Tsukime's family anyway. Yukiko herself only called on the Uchiha if there was a problem in her neighborhood or building that she couldn't sort out herself. They came, asked a few questions, wrote up a bill, and quietly removed the disturbance.
Then Uchiha Itachi removed his clan.
In one night, a boy not yet fifteen years old murdered over a hundred people, including his own parents. A few scattered clan members were away from Konoha on missions, but when Intelligence sent messenger birds to notify them, no replies came back. Itachi had been an Anbu captain. He had access to classified assignments. Nobody knew how he had done it, but clearly he had taken care of everyone.
Oddly enough, though, Itachi left one survivor -- his own brother, Sasuke.
Sasuke, who'd seen his parents murdered in front of him. Sasuke, who had nowhere to live but the very house in which his family had died. Sasuke, who just happened to be Naruto's age and in the same class at the academy...
Sarutobi Hokage-sama paused in his explanation of events. "You seem upset with me."
"I'm upset about what you're leading up to," Yukiko said, folding her arms. "Just because Naruto and I get along doesn't mean I'm going to start taking in orphans right and left. I do run a business, you know, and I'm away on missions at least every other month."
Sarutobi-sama steepled his fingers and frowned across his desk at Yukiko. "Yukiko-san, I think you misunderstand me. Many families would be happy to take Sasuke into their homes; however, I doubt he wishes to be reminded of his own family. It would be much easier to talk him into renting an apartment, which he won't have to share with others.
"But -- and this is very important, Yukiko-san -- he should not be left completely on his own, no matter how much he might like to be. Even if you don't take an active role in his life, I'm sure Naruto will."
Yukiko pictured that: a traumatized, unstable, prickly boy... and Naruto. Who had a good heart and usually meant well, but who, despite her best efforts, still hadn't learned more than the most rudimentary social skills. Who had no sympathy for people who moped or brooded, since he dealt just fine with his own problems. And who, assuming Sasuke was the boy in his academy class, already disliked his potential neighbor.
She winced. "I really don't think this is a good idea, Sarutobi-sama."
"Nonsense," he said, looking away and lighting his pipe. "They're good children and you won't even need to be directly involved once you turn over his keys. What could possibly go wrong?"
Yukiko bit her tongue, counted to twenty, and carefully didn't accuse the Third Hokage of insanity. "Right. Send him around tomorrow morning and I'll let him choose an apartment."
Sasuke glared at the off-white walls as the woman talked about the apartment. It was the third one she'd shown him, each one higher in the building than the last one, and he could tell she didn't want to be here either. He almost liked that. It was a lot better than crying over him, hugging him, and calling him 'you poor dear' the way the fake mother did. But he still didn't like her.
He didn't need an apartment. He already had a house.
The medic-nin said it would remind him too much of his parents and Itachi.
Of course it would remind him. Why else did they think he wanted to stay there?
The woman sighed and thumped her hand against the doorframe, calling his attention back to the room. "Okay, so you don't like this one either. I have one apartment left -- you either take it or I tell Sarutobi Hokage-sama that you'd rather stay with your temporary foster family."
"I don't need an apartment and I don't need a foster family," Sasuke told her. "I already have a home."
"Actually," the woman said, "you don't. Hokage's orders -- you're not allowed to live completely on your own. Either you live here and I check up on you once a week, or you go to the foster home."
Sasuke glared at her.
The woman sighed again and ran her hands through her blue-green hair. "Why do I get all the problem kids?"
Sasuke scowled. He wasn't a problem. If people left him alone, he'd be fine. He'd get strong and kill Itachi -- he'd rip that man to pieces, just like he deserved. All this fussing was just getting in his way.
But... if he had to have someone watch him, better this woman than the foster family. He couldn't stand the way the fake mother cooed at him or the way the little kids followed him around all the time. They didn't understand about being shinobi. They tried to stop him from training and getting strong. If he said yes now and pretended he was happy, maybe he could go home in a few months. Until then, at least he'd have his own room so he could study and train.
"Fine," Sasuke said. "I'll take the last apartment."
"Without even looking at it?"
The woman looked like she wanted to say something important, but then she shook her head, the way Father used to do when he thought Sasuke needed to learn something. Sasuke dug his nails into his palms and scratched the scabs open again. "The apartment's on the top floor in the back, number 7-K," the woman said. "Let's go to my office -- I'll give you the keys and we'll talk payment. Who's handling your accounts?"
Sasuke shrugged. He hadn't asked. It wouldn't matter if he could stay home -- he could charge food, clothes, and weapons to the clan account -- but he didn't know if that worked for apartments. No Uchiha had lived outside the clan district for ages.
The woman raked her hands through her hair again and muttered something Sasuke couldn't quite hear. "Okay then. Do you know what bank your family used?"
That he knew; he'd followed Itachi once to see what his brother did with his paychecks. "Falling Leaf Savings and Loan."
"Good. We'll head there now and figure out the status of your clan accounts and who has signatory access. Don't scowl at me," she added, rolling her eyes at Sasuke. "The sooner we get this straightened out, the sooner I'll leave you alone."
Sasuke shrugged again and followed her downstairs.
The Uchiha clan wasn't as wealthy as Yukiko had expected -- they seemed to have invested most of their earnings back into the police organization and into expanding their real estate until they'd owned almost the entire district in which they'd lived. Since Sasuke had no claim to the police -- it was a government agency of sorts and there had been a few non-Uchiha members to inherit that mess -- and since nobody would want to move into a district so recently defiled, he was left with a clan account, dozens of minor individual accounts, some oddly assorted investments, and land that would be nothing but a massive tax drain. Furthermore, all the Uchiha had named other clan members as executors of their wills. There was literally nobody who had any legal responsibility for the money... except Sasuke, who obviously had no idea how to manage any of it.
Setting that mess into some kind of order required someone to claim cosignatory authority until he turned sixteen or became a genin, whichever came first. "Do you have anyone in mind?" Yukiko asked the boy.
He shrugged minimally and went back to glaring out the bank's window at the busy midday streets. He was trying for an intimidating expression, Yukiko thought, but his inherent cuteness got in the way and made him look lost and upset instead. He was a lot skinnier than Naruto; his loose shorts and his wide-sleeved, high-collared clan shirt made his arms and legs look like pale twigs. His black hair was a ragged mess, sticking up in the back and pulled into his eyes by its own weight in front. It was oddly endearing, and made Yukiko want to whip out a pair of scissors and a comb and straighten him up.
She sighed. She'd spent a lot of time wishing Naruto talked less, but right now she'd give anything to be dealing with the kid instead of this boy. Getting answers out of Sasuke was like pulling kunai out of stone jutsu traps.
"Fine. Give me cosignatory authority and I'll organize this so you're earning money instead of losing it. We can set it up so you draw a monthly allowance, and if you ever need more cash, just bring me the forms."
The boy jerked his head around and scowled. "It's my money."
"Yes, I know," Yukiko said, drawing on her rapidly diminishing store of patience. "This will be a legal fiction -- I don't care what you spend or what you buy, once I straighten up the accounts and teach you how to handle them -- but we'll pretend so the bank will be happy."
She signed in the spaces the bank representative had marked, slid the papers to Sasuke for his confirmatory signature, and carried the papers across the room to a clerk. Once she had the complete reports on all the current Uchiha holdings and accounts, as well as a booklet explaining the bank's hours and regulations, she left as quickly as possible. The sullen boy trailed behind her, trying to look like he wasn't following -- oh no, he just happened to be walking in the same direction she was.
Yukiko wondered if arrogance was bred into the Uchiha the same way the Sharingan was. It might explain a lot.
On the other hand, she decided half an hour later, the foster family's attitude might well put anyone into a bad mood. The woman -- the same Tani Midori who'd driven Naruto out of her home nearly two years ago -- fawned over Sasuke as if he were a combination of a long-lost prince come to grace her home, and a delicate, injured bird. Yukiko had taken less than two minutes to figure out that the boy hated being touched; Midori constantly hugged him and rested her hand on his shoulder.
Yukiko revised her opinion of Sasuke upward when he didn't snap and scream at the woman. She collected his small suitcase of clothes and necessities, handed it to him -- she was fairly sure he'd accuse her of insulting him if she carried it herself -- and hustled him away from the tooth-rotting woman and her collection of hero-worshiping children.
"Was Midori like that the whole time?" Yukiko asked.
"Yes." Sasuke switched his grip on the suitcase so he held it with both hands; he leaned to the left to compensate for its weight. His scowl shifted into a more neutral expression of determination.
Yukiko patted herself on the back for letting him carry the luggage himself. This boy was nothing like Naruto -- well, okay, the kid was touchy and proud in his own way -- but she thought she was learning the pattern for dealing with him. This might actually work out without any bloodshed.
Then she remembered that Naruto still didn't know that Sasuke now lived across the hall from him.
The border between Fire Country and Grass Country wasn't the world's most comfortable place in midsummer -- way too much sun, too many bugs trying to suck your blood, and you could hardly see past your hands in the swaying, six-foot-high tassel grass -- but Tonoike Naga liked it anyway. She flopped down on her back beside the muddy stream, spread her arms wide, and looked at the evening sky. If she lay perfectly still and focused just so, she could trick herself into feeling like she was falling upward into that infinite twilight blue...
"Stop doing that and pay attention, snake-slut," Tsukime hissed. "You're supposed to be on watch."
"Bite me, airhead." Naga gave up on her meditation and flicked her fingers in Tsukime's general direction. "We're in the middle of nowhere, we didn't tell anyone where we were going, nobody's going to find us, and it's a beautiful day. Get over yourself and relax."
"If you hadn't read my message--"
"But I did," Naga said, "and here I am. I don't care what top-secret Uchiha clan business is going on -- we're partners. Can't get rid of me that easily." She grinned at Tsukime.
Tsukime heaved a long-suffering sigh and pushed through the tawny tassel grass to the narrow strip of lush green that hugged the stream bank. She sat delicately beside Naga, arranging her ridiculous pleated skirt to cover her thighs. Then she unzipped the red legwarmers she always tied onto her sandals, kicked off the shoes, and wriggled her toes in the dirt. "You're right. It's a beautiful day. And it's less boring to wait with you than by myself."
"Exactly," Naga said. They would have left Hidden Grass within a day or two anyway, she reminded herself, so she couldn't say that Tsukime's mysterious clan message had stolen that much of her visit with Kafunnokaze. It wasn't fair to take out her irritation on her partner. She just hated waiting. She especially hated waiting when she didn't know what she was waiting for. "It's been five days -- when will your freaky-eye people come and explain things?"
Tsukime sighed again and shook her head in mock sorrow; her long, golden hair swayed back and forth like the grass. "They'll come when they come. The code was serious trouble, so I doubt we're the only ones waiting for contact, and unless you screwed up big time, our camp shouldn't be obvious."
"Unless I screwed up?" Naga propped herself up on her elbows and twisted her neck to stare at Tsukime. "You're the one holding the fuck-off genjutsu."
"Fuck-off? That's an interesting description," a strange voice said.
The girls scrambled to their feet and stared. A short, wiry boy -- Naga pegged him as maybe eleven, and then revised that upward when she met his eyes -- stood calmly across the shallow stream. Uchiha, no question about that, not with his dull, raven-black eyes, his sharp-boned face, and that weird sense of "I'm better than you and we both know it" that all people in that clan seemed to give off. He was wearing black, and had no clan crest or forehead protector visible.
"Itachi-san!" Tsukime smiled and sat down again, hurrying to put her sandals and legwarmers back on. "So, what's up in Konoha? It must be pretty serious for you to get sent after me!" Naga agreed -- Uchiha Itachi was the clan heir, as well as an Anbu captain (well, she thought he was a captain -- it was hard to pry Anbu details out of her father), so for him to be sent after a relative as minor as Tsukime... Naga fought to keep her face blank and her body still. Something about this was fishy.
"The message was for clan eyes only," Itachi said. "Why is your partner here?"
"I read the message, and I don't let teammates do stupid things alone," Naga said before Tsukime could answer. Tsukime kicked her ankle. Naga ignored her; she was watching Itachi. It wasn't obvious, but his mouth was tight and his posture deliberately loose, the kind of stance that said he was expecting a fight. And he hadn't answered Tsukime's question. She glanced at his eyes again, trying to read his intentions.
"Wasteful," Itachi said, and his eyes changed.
Naga had half a second to wonder what the fuck he was doing with blades in his eyes instead of the typical Sharingan commas, before her world crashed into darkness.
End of Chapter One
Continue to chapter 2
Read the clean version here on ff.net
Note: I actually began writing "The Guardian in Spite of Herself" long before I finished "The Way of the Apartment Manager," mostly because askerian dumped a plotbunny into my lap and I was bored out of my mind during training sessions at a temp job. During breaks, I wrote three snippets which eventually wound up as the first 2/3 of chapter 1... with significant alterations, of course. Those interested can find those snippets here: snippet 1, snippet 2, and snippet 3.
It's my first cliffhanger. Did it work?