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sne_mod ([personal profile] sne_mod) wrote in [community profile] sn_exchange2010-03-14 01:42 pm

(no subject)

For: [personal profile] sammywhatammy
Title: Vertigo
Rating: NC-17
Summary: See A/N
Warnings: Sasuke
A/N: Hey, Reader, This is a long story so it’s hard to summarize. At its most basic: ‘Sasuke comes back after everything and Naruto, Sakura, Sai have to live with him, take care of him, make him better and fuck it all up along the way.’
Mod note: Reminder for the author/artist of this submission, please do not reply to comments signed in, if you want to reply anon commenting is enabled.


Part 1

Vertigo 2/2


Four Months, Three Weeks, Six Days





Naruto felt like eating his rasengan instead of fighting Kakashi. Aimless, poorly-calculated punches and the only reason he could dodge half of what he did was due to knowing his teacher’s fighting style and sheer instincts. When Kakashi bowled him over coughing with an easy jab to the gut, Naruto wasn’t sure if Kakashi had just been lucky or if he had let that one through so he could stop and feel a different, physical kind of pain for once instead of the pain caused by the white-noise clouds in his head.

“I think we should stop now.” Looking at the sky when Naruto feebly disagreed: typical Naruto to want to train until he died. “Your game’s off today. Let’s continue tomorrow.”

“It’s okay. I still want to fight—I have to keep fighting. I just… I don’t know! Didn’t get a very good night’s sleep or something.”

Kakashi stood back with his hands deep in his pockets and decided that Naruto knew very well he didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Naruto, who as a genin only woke up as their training was supposed to start and who could camp out under the stars on the hard earth and still wake up fresh in the morning, knew very well when he didn’t get a good night’s sleep. So was he lying or telling the truth? Because whatever it was seemed to be plaguing him enough that he couldn’t fight.

Kakashi had three ideas about what it could be and each corresponded with a separate person from the original Team 7.

“Anything you want to talk about?”

That was all he could give. If Naruto shook his head, he didn’t care. It wasn’t about being an unsympathetic and helpless teacher. It was about the issue being too great for Naruto to tell him because he already knew there was nothing Kakashi could do about it.

Kakashi turned his gaze upwards again. Teenage angst was going to have a death toll but god it was interesting to watch.





Five Months





“Sakura-chan, why? We never go out together anymore. Can’t we just ditch Sai here and just go somewhere, just once?”

Every time I reach out, I’m rejected. I thought this was what I was supposed to do.

Sakura was blushing and Naruto could see it in her, she so much wanted to say yes but her mouth wasn’t moving quick enough and if she didn’t agree to go with him—it only had to be once, just once when he desperately needed her and had the courage to approach her despite all the distance she had put between them—after that, if she never came out with him again—wasn’t he convincing enough? Was his face not distressed enough? He was already jumping cognitive hurdles for stupid reasons and—just please don’t make me tell the truth in this house—the walls heard everything and retained the riddles in the gaps.

“Sakura-cha~n”

She was so close to giving in, she had no words to excuse herself this time and Naruto didn’t need to feel the crush of speech when her eyes died alongside her real conviction.

“I can’t go out with you.”

“But why?

“Listen, Naruto. I can’t go out with you.”

That was it? Surely not, but—she knew he knew it wasn’t a date so why—and it had never been an issue before and she was still lying to him and Naruto might’ve felt slightly less frustrated by it had she just said the real reason, if she just told him the real reason she was doing this to him, to them. She wouldn’t open her mouth and Naruto felt his expression crumble when he had to speak the words he hated to say.

“Sakura-chan, just look at me,” and in her eyes as well painful secrets were held hostage, “I want to tell you something. But not here. It’s not fair; you always go out with Sai—!”

“It’s not all about you. Stay here for Sasuke-kun.”

“What—?”

You don’t even realize your solution is the problem!

“—but I’m here like all the time! I want to go out and I want to go out with you—”

“Sasuke-kun,” she twisted her fingers around some button on her shirt, a distraction and a comfort, “needs to know you’re here.”

The argument was over in Sakura’s mind because she didn’t know—if she had just given Naruto a chance to make her know—he didn’t care what Sasuke thought he needed because he was more than intimately aware of what was going through that sick head. But Sakura had already decided not to listen to his insistences and Naruto knew she wouldn’t relent unless she knew the very truth he wanted to tell her.

You’re killing me. Do you know that? I’m killing me.

Because he feared the only way they’d get some semblance of the old Sasuke back was if he continued to sleep with him—it’s wasn’t even sleeping since it was always over so, so fast—and he feared he would just have to suck it up and get used to it if he ever wanted to see the smile on Sakura’s face when Sasuke was back to normal, her one wish and plea and everything was slipping too far out of his control—

I need to know there’s another way.

“Why does that bastard have so much influence over you!”

“That’s not what it’s about—”

“That’s all this is about—him and you and it’s not my fault—you don’t even try to fight it and I hate that you’re letting him do this to you—”

He had to stop when Sakura almost started—almost—thank god, just in time, softening his face when he couldn’t say sorry, he didn’t mean what he said, not really, he just got carried away in his anger and said stupid shit like he always did.

I’m burning out.

And so are you.





Five Months, Three Days





Naruto considered dashing his dreams of becoming Hokage in favor of becoming the best goddamn farmer the history books had ever recorded. He’d grow the shit out of corn and pears and cabbages and live in sweet bliss from all the world’s problems with a nice wife and two and a half children.

“Do you know these people?” and Naruto shook his head at Sai’s question. “Then how come we’re walking around their rice paddies?”

Naruto ignored the second question and focused on his feet, heading towards a small resting pagoda at the far end of the field. He might not have known these people but they would have known the demon fox boy and he wasn’t in the mood to tell Sai the whole sob story of a childhood spent being blanked by the world.

“Just shut up and follow.”

Both their shoes were caked in mud and the hems of their trousers were dirty and the rain was just starting to drizzle by the time they made it to the structure. Naruto sat against a beam, watching the strikes of lightning and listening to the thunder boom. Sai sat with him in delightful silence and Naruto found no reason to start a conversation. Where Naruto and Sasuke had functioned better in argument, Naruto and Sai seemed better in silence.

I really wish you hadn’t pointed out how I compare you with him.

Sai unfolded a scroll and started painting the scenery. He was good at it and Naruto was content to alternate between watching him and closing his eyes against the deafening rain all around, blanking his mind like he had traipsed all the way out there and waited for it to do. He might have napped and it was the most peace he’d felt in a long time.

“You know, we used to get caught in storms a lot like this when we were genin, before we learned how to properly predict the weather.” stretching a hand out past the roof’s protection and collecting water in his palm, light laughter on his tongue. “Our clothes were soaked and we were cold but no one wanted to get undressed so we just sat and got sick.”

“I never saw rain until I left ROOT. We were kept inside.”

“Oh.”

Conversation? Fuck that idea.

Naruto carefully pulled his foot out of his mouth.





Five Months, One Week





The stolen shirt at the back of his cupboard was starting to smell more like Naruto and less like Sasuke so when his turn to do Sasuke’s washing came around again, he was quick to find a suitable replacement.

After everything that’s happened, I can’t believe I’m still doing this.

Naruto didn’t think too hard about it. He thought only enough that he admitted he wanted a new one but any deeper and he knew he’d find things he wanted to remain untouched. Nibbles like fish at bait, he could feel the questions sending out smoky wisps, luring him down, asking him why he was still doing this if he thought he hated Sasuke so much and it was just obvious enough that he didn’t, never had, and whatever mess of a friendship he and Sasuke had was just different and unhateable and if he had to direct his hatred at something it was that he brutally couldn’t hate him.

Naruto could point a few blaming, psychological fingers at particular aspects of his life: that most of it had been composed of so few meaningful relationships and even fewer friends. It meant he pursued the friends he did make to the extreme, held onto them beyond normal expectations, defined himself by them, raised them up and made them something ethereal that they shouldn’t have been—but sometimes people just connect that intensely with another person, right?—and he could make excuses for anything in existence but—his mind screamed at him, asking him just what he was supposed to do if that was just how he was—thinking about the future and worrying he’d either drown in his obsessions or never recover from the severance if Sasuke wouldn’t recognise him, if not accepted him.

So all things considered, a stolen shirt was manageable.





Five Months, One Week, Five Days





Three days since the ANBU made another note in their report.

“You’re a loser! What the fuck is wrong with you? God, if I knew it’d be this hard—”

It wasn’t Naruto’s fault if he thought it appropriate to yell all those things at Sai and more. He hadn’t thought it would be so hard to convince someone that skimming rocks was a suitable pastime between friends and no, it didn’t accomplish anything and no, it wouldn’t come in handy for their survival on the road and—just shut up, I’m only out here with you because I’m running from things at home—and all Sai had to redeem himself was his company and his silence and luckily Naruto was desperate enough to want it.

“How about this rock?”

“I said a small rock. Like a pebble. Do you know what a pebble is?”

“Yes, I do—”

“Good. Go fucking find one.”

Forty-seven days since we started fucking everything up.

“How about this one?”

“That’s still too big! Is there something wrong with your eyes? Fine, I can’t be bothered, just take this one.”

Naruto was so close to chugging the rocks down Sai’s neck—if he showed up without a flat pebble one more time, Naruto would start a fight. A big one. He’d make sure to punch Sai in the nose just to watch the blood pour out, to make it seem like he had done more damage than he actually had. Sai threw the rock in all the wrong way; Naruto grimaced when it fell into the water with a plop and Sai still turned to him with an over-abused smile stretched over his face.

“This is kind of fun.”

“This is the biggest fucking waste of time—well don’t just stand there, go find another pebble.”

One hundred and sixty-two days since you came back and we still don’t know why.

“You stay there and practice. I’m going to sit down before I kill something. Don’t talk to me because if I hear your voice, it’ll be you.”

Naruto fell against the trunk of a tree and slumped down to the ground. He watched Sai toss pebble after pebble into the water, his technique never improving and Naruto wasn’t going to chalk it up to his unsuccessful tutoring. There was nothing wrong with the way he had explained it. Sai was just a dumbass. Naruto rested his head back into the bark, closed his eyes and sought the peace in daydreams.

Seventy-eight days remaining until Sakura-chan said you’d be better.

“Let’s just go home. I’ve never seen someone suck so hard. Besides, I’m hungry.”

“I’m getting hungry too. What were you going to eat?”

“What the fuck do you think I’m going to eat? Ramen of course.”

“I think I’ll have some of the leftover sweet and sour chicken—”

“Listen, just stop talking. Your voice annoys me.”

“Okay.”

Even Naruto knew it was a bad day. The grief from his failures at home weren’t usually so hard to manage and he wasn’t going to apologise to Sai for not being able to contain it all himself. If Sai wanted to ignore the snapped words, the irritated tone, the unfriendly profanity and go out with him for the sake of friendship, that was his own fucking fault—

Sai was oblivious.

“I don’t want to talk to you for the rest of the day.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll fucking rip out your tongue and cook it up and make you eat it.”

“That sounds painful.”

Sai was ignorant. After all that time he still couldn’t understand the subtleties of social interactions. Naruto couldn’t believe how stupid he was—how manageable his company was—how liberating it could be to scream and curse and threaten someone who would still be his friend when they walked home in the afternoon.

But who’s counting?

“Sai?”

“Yeah?”

“Let’s practice some more tomorrow.”





Five Months, Two Weeks, Four Days





Naruto didn’t mind Sakura’s attempt to improve the morale of the flat with a game in principle. The difficulty began when that game required teams, meaning competition, meaning pointed glares between Naruto and Sasuke which she smiled at behind her hand, meaning choosing teams and knowing that Naruto and Sasuke would severely and callously maul anyone who even made a passing comment that they should do anything agreeably together, meaning Naruto and Sai were paired together and Sasuke’s haughty exterior was left to her to deal with and suffer through. Such was the morale of the flat.

“All you’ve got to do is describe a word to your teammate.”

If only it were that simple.

“When the timer runs out, count up how many cards you got right and move your piece forward that many spaces. First team to the end wins”—and the part that pricked the ears of the two most aggressive, both overt and covert, players—“If you land on these squares here, that team has to describe the word to everyone, meaning you can steal turns.”

Bring it on, bitch—with a calm smile at Naruto’s mouth.

“Who wants to st—”

“Me! I do! Or, we do, right, Sai? Sai wants to start first too.” Without the need for consultation because spending every day somewhere alone together had made them just that tight.

Sakura tried not to grin through her pursed lips and handed the deck of cards to Naruto. For that night she would feel nothing but gratitude for having been able to bring everyone together in this peaceful congregation. Thankful thankful thankful and not annoyed when they inevitably squabbled like children. She had trained her patience for this night.

Sakura flipped the timer over and Naruto drew the first card.

“Ohohohit’sthatthingoutsidewhereyousleepinitandit’slikemadeoutofclothorsomethingyouhangitfromtwotreesandlieinityouknowwhatimeanwhyaren’tyousayinganythingyet?”

“Slow down, Naruto-kun!”

“What do you mean slow down? Can’t you see the timer right there? Hurry up and answer!”

“But I couldn’t understand what you said. Could you repeat it?”

Naruto groaned loudly and passed on the card.

“It was a hammock, right?”

“Shut the fuck up, Sasuke—”

“Naruto, take another card! Your time’s running out!”

Naruto pulled out a handful of cards in his hasten to continue and Sakura reordered them with a sigh.

“Okay, super easy one. You put it on a horse when you ride them.”

“I’ve never ridden a horse.”

“Doesn’t matter; what do you put on them?”

“I don’t put anything on them.”

“Well what do people who ride horses put on them?”

“Your face is so scary.” Sakura giggled. “Poor Sai.”

“Yeah well that’s because he’s completely useless—”

“Time’s up.”

“Are you retarded or something? It’s a saddle!

“How about that.”

Sakura was biting her lip now trying to block out Naruto’s supreme frustration and Sai’s indifference. It felt like old times, including the part where Naruto always came dead last.

Sakura was nervous when offering guesses to Sasuke’s descriptions and the worry that it was coming through in her meek voice only served to compound her nerves. Sasuke’s voice was level and clear and devoid of emotion. She had no idea whether he was enjoying the game or if something so frivolous was beneath him after everything he’d experienced: all the battles he had fought and the death he had seen and the pain he had suffered and it all amounted to a silly board game.

When it was Sai’s turn as describer he passed on so many cards that Sakura wanted to accuse him of lying and cheating to find an easy one—yet she dared not mention it in case Naruto thought Sai were searching for an easy card for him, a purply-black bruise on his pride. But after having seen Sai’s struggle to answer the common knowledge words of the first round, she wasn’t so sure Naruto’s intelligence had anything to do with Sai’s apparent strategy.

“One space compared to their five.” Naruto mused. “Well there are two people on this team and it’s not my fucking fault.”

“Naruto, calm down; it’s just a game, remember—and it’s only just started!”

If any of the three boys weren’t shitty or ignorant or smug or vengeful or determined all at once—and as difficult as they may have been, if none of them were leaving or backing out then Sakura called that time well spent.


--


“I hate this game. Let’s play again.”

Sakura glanced at Sasuke and Sai to gauge their willingness to participate in a second round and there was nothing about their appearance that made them look open to the suggestion. She tried to explain to Naruto that his roundabout, ambiguous, idiosyncratic way of describing most of his words was what had contributed most to their loss—

“—I’ll be on that usuratonkachi’s team this time.”

Sakura tried not to show her surprise but whatever was on her face couldn’t compare with Naruto’s blatant expression, twisting his head around too fast and too stunned—

“Okay!” before Naruto could get over his shock in time to disrupt the brief and tranquil transition. “Me and Sai against you two. Sounds good. You still want to start?”

“I’ll read.” Sasuke announced, picking up the first card. “Don’t suck.”

“’Sif I’d—”

“Messenger bird.”

“Hawk.”

“Thing you eat when it isn’t ramen.”

“Riceballs.”

“Other one.”

“Dumplings?”

“A big rock.”

“Fuck, I don’t know… mountain?”

“Smaller.”

“Uh… hill?”

“Smaller. Okay, here’s part of the word. If you’re courageous, you’re…?”

“Bold? Boulder!”

Sasuke picked up the next card and with smile pure and serene—

“Sai interrupted us here.”

“What?”

“Thing you sit on when you watch TV.”

“Couch—hey wait—why would—!”

“Different word for couch.”

“What—lounge?”

“You just got that one in, Naruto. Time’s up.” Sakura announced.

What kind of a clue

And Sasuke was holding back the extent of his smile with all the willpower he could muster in a matter of seconds, just breathing and devious—“That’s how you play the game, Naruto. You’re supposed to give clues that only the other person would get. Only you wouldn’t have realised that by now.”

Sakura turned to Sai and asked him if he knew what instance they were talking about—Naruto could have murdered killed assassinated committed a brutal and bloody homicide—precious child, he shook his head and claimed he had no recollection of such a time.

“Fu~ck me, I hate this game!”

“Well, you’re pretty into it for someone who hates it so much, you know!” Sakura countered.

When Sakura took her turn with Sai, she proved to Naruto that it wasn’t always Sai’s fault—they had travelled around with Sai for long enough to relate their experiences with things he understood. While their duo still lagged behind Naruto and Sasuke, she showed that they could still be a formidable force with the right, strategic phrasing of descriptions.

But Naruto didn’t care as long as he was winning.


--


Naruto was aware that he had to be extremely and delicately tactical while describing the card in his hand. The danger in it being an easy word was that Sakura and Sai could steal the turn; he had to find a way to illustrate it without giving too much away. He stared at Sasuke and maybe it was the first time in a long time neither of them were looking like they wanted to whip each other’s faces through a grinder.

“Sakura-chan might get this so I’ll have to be a little vague… A long time ago when we were genin, we…” Naruto frowned at the card and sighed. “I think she’ll get it no matter what I say.”

“Then you’re not trying hard enough.”

Rage exploded all over his face but Sakura had reminded him of his temper enough times that he didn’t take the bite. “You got dango.”

“I did?”

“Don’t you remember? And you said you didn’t like sweet things and I didn’t have any money to buy anything so I… kind of like… you know!”

“No, I don’t.”

“Neither do I.” Sakura admitted. Sai watched a moth buzz around the light.

Naruto poured his efforts into his gaze, willing the word through telepathy. “Think about what would be a good excuse to have dango given to you. No one’s just going to… ah, you got it, right?” seeing an awareness clear up the confusion. “Don’t say it yet! I haven’t finished.”

“I’m totally lost.” Sakura laughed but still hung on in case it came to her in the end.

“This only happened to you once while we were a team so it shouldn’t be hard to guess. One person,” motioning with his eyes alone towards Sakura who wouldn’t have seen the gesture, “gave you dango. What did I give you?”

“A sunrise.”

“Fuck yeah, I’m good!”

“Huh—oh, I remember now! You made such a big fuss…” Sakura’s voice babbled in the background and Naruto danced a victory jive in his chair and Sasuke couldn’t—believe—it was so long ago and just the once, on the only birthday he had celebrated with Team 7, like Naruto had said, and—“Wow, I can’t believe you still know each other so well. You make a pretty good team after all, huh.”

In slow motion, Sasuke saw Naruto glance at him with a smile every bit as free and devastating as the feeling in his soul.





Five Months, Three Weeks





Naruto found it so ironic when Sakura asked him where he went out with Sai every day he had almost laughed in her face. Now she was the one being left at home, left behind and Naruto was calm and confident that Sasuke wasn’t going to hurt her in the same way when he came home to her smile every afternoon—so I’m the only one worth hurting, am I?—and as long as he kept finding convenient excuses like egg basket weaving to fill his time with Sai, Sasuke couldn’t get to him.

“Ever had a girlfriend?”

“I would consider Sakura-chan a girl friend.”

“No, I mean like a romantic girlfriend. Like, kissing and stuff.”

It secretly pleased Naruto when Sai shook his head and it was lucky Sai thought Naruto’s satisfied smile was a polite part of their conversation. Sai returned the question and Naruto suddenly found it hard not to be pissy and broody realising his own deficiency.

“How about a boyfriend, then?”

And laughed until: “You’re my boy friend, Naruto-kun—”

Romantic boyfriend, you loser! And do not go spreading that shit around either.” and when nothing intelligent was coming out of Sai’s mouth, Naruto plucked and folded and wove together long leaves of grass in stubborn silence.

“I like this. This is stuff that friends do together, right?” Sai didn’t need a response and Naruto pressed his lips together, still frustrated by the seriousness with which Sai had staked his claim on Sakura and himself. “I read it in a book. It described situations similar to this: just sitting around talking with one another. It’s nice to be one of the one another.”

“Good for you.”

“It is good for me, isn’t it.”

Sai was a loser and it made Naruto smile to be entertained so warmly and innocently.

“I was just curious about something. You know when I was with you and Sakura-chan searching for Sasuke-kun all those years—”

God Sasuke, I just can’t get away from you at all—

“—you made it seem like he was a really special friend, yet I never see you talking with him like this even though you put in a lot of effort to get him back. I thought you were happy when we moved in with him. Was I mistaken?”

Really don’t want to be having this conversation right now. Trust you, Sai, only you could step in shit and not smell it.

“He’s a different kind of special friend.”

“Oh? I haven’t read about those yet.”

Naruto flicked his eyes at Sai and hated seeing the predictable inquisitiveness, not for the gossip but for the knowledge—oh you do not want to hear how fucked up friendships can be—tried to find the most diplomatic way to express the sad state of their inability to coexist.

“He’s sick in the head. He wasn’t always like this—” and cutting it off when his heart tied itself up too tight. “We’ve just got to wait.”

“Okay.” Sai smiled and held up his completed egg basket. “I’d like to see Sasuke-kun when he’s not a dick.”

Looking up in honest shock and—holy shit—Sai—?

Didn’t know whether to laugh or give him a friendly slap on the back or punch him in the face—Sai wasn’t close enough to either of them go around saying stuff like that but—for the next five minutes he owned Naruto’s respect without realizing it or actively seeking it.

“Your basket looks like shit by the way.”





Five Months, Three Weeks, Six Days





Naruto was in the middle of singing and showering when he thought he heard a strange sound, almost like the sound of the lock being picked—the fuck—?

Sasuke relocked the door and Naruto couldn’t believe his arrogance—but—how are you here—we can’t—but everyone’s home—wanted to cover himself with the curtain from the dark and dangerous look on Sasuke’s face when he reefed it back, zipper down and he obviously wasn’t in the mood for deliberation or compromise—

Sasuke pushed him back against the wall and—“if you do anything that doesn’t contribute to a good fuck, I’m leaving this place and never coming back”—and Naruto thought that was a pretty harsh threat for something he would have done mostly willingly anyway, one leg already wrapped around Sasuke’s rough and clothed waist—are you out of your fucking mind—?

Learning that water was a god-awful lubricant and still having to smother and suffocate any little noise that crawled up his throat, pain and pleasure unbalanced and one harder to ignore and overpower than the other—how can you when everyone’s home?—closing his eyes on the pain and knowing there must have been blood running down his leg because he could smell it through the mist—you think I’m proud of this—do you want them to find out—why did you even come back—!

Sasuke stayed around only long enough to find his own satisfaction, tearing up Naruto’s skin and muffling his release into the wet and naked shoulder. He didn’t bother to lock the door on his way out and Naruto thanked the presence of the shower to disguise the liquid swimming in streams down his cheeks—water or tears, he was grateful he didn’t know—

You don’t want me hanging out with Sai anymore, huh? Jealous much, huh? And what was wrong with just shouting that in my face, huh? Why did—you have to—

Your negotiation skills really fucking suck, you know.


--


Should’ve hidden out in there a bit longer—when Sakura asked him why Sasuke had come out flushed and angry and soaking wet—at least you’re not saying I’ve got red eyes. Guess it was just water then—

“Water fight.” All crystallised lies to go with the smile he froze on his face. “But the bastard took off as soon as I whipped out the soap. What a coward, eh?”

Sakura flashed him something that didn’t look convinced as much as she wanted to believe him. Naruto breezed past her and her questions before he could dig a deeper grave for his big, fat, formless excuses.





Six Months





The memories were hard. Of fighting and losing when he most needed to win. Of roaring waterfalls and blood-red chakra and the snap of his neck when Sasuke rammed him face-first into the ground—open—staring down a shrieking ball of electricity and wondering if the rasengan would be enough and it wasn’t because it hadn’t been long enough, wasn’t fully developed—your eyes—Sasuke had more practice using chidori or he was just better and faster and stronger and wondering what it was that turned Sasuke against him—open your eyes—he wanted to believe it was just because he got in the way—open—tried to stop Sasuke and it could’ve been anyone—that it wasn’t because Sasuke couldn’t stand the sight of him and wanted him dead. Of eyes that were no longer those of a child and consumed by revenge and blinded by hate—your eyes—avoiding and blanking the only friend that went after him all the way; that was why—he had to make her cry when he couldn’t—open your eyes—in the water, in the mist, in the valley where it ended—Of all the things that couldn’t be undone or taken back and—you wanted to kill me—you did and you smiled

Naruto opened his eyes and kicked back the blankets. It was hot. His windows were closed and his hands were sweaty and numb around the only hitai-ate with a scar through the leaf.

I didn’t—I couldn’t—just—a dream—

—a dream—


But it wasn’t.

None of it was.





Six Months, Three Days





Sai was a brilliant artist. Naruto had no moral conflictions when it came to using Sai’s talent for his own profit, made the boy paint and trade pieces of art for a bowl of sake which he had downed in one sitting and made him go get more. Sai was just happy to be wanted, to be in the company of another person. Even when Naruto tried to reassure him that Hokage could still be brilliant and competent leaders while getting shit-faced on cheap alcohol—

“Just look at Tsunade-baachan. She’s my idol. Fuck, this stuff tastes bad.”

Naruto burped, or hiccupped, or was about to throw up and Sai was sitting beside him on the pagoda still drinking. He stared at Sai, in love with the fuzzy-buzzy feeling trembling just under the surface of his skin and the existence of sheer, blissful fuck all in his head.

“Can you go get me some more?”

But Sai had lost the ability to manipulate a paintbrush with any real talent. Naruto stole a drink out of his pot.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been drunk before.”

“I know. You were gone after the third mouthful. More for me.” Naruto hiccupped again and spilt some of the alcohol on the wooden boards. He thought about licking it and it made him wonder which one of them was really more inebriated. “Sakura-chan isn’t going to like us coming home drunk. She especially isn’t going to like us coming home drunk so early in the afternoon… but who cares?”

Naruto stared out at the rice paddies. There was a man up the far end using a sickle to pull something out of the ground. He’d probably chase them away when he found them and Naruto wasn’t sure he could step out of the pagoda without falling straight down into the ground.

“Can you keep a secret?”

“From who?”

“Everyone, you loser.” Naruto watched the man work his crops. “Do you think you could fix Sasuke?” and when Sai’s answer was negative, Naruto asked, “do you think Sakura-chan could? No, right. I’m the only one, aren’t I,” sighing, “so I can’t run away, can I?”

Sai was supposed to ask are you going to run away? or something to that effect but Naruto liked it more when he answered with a simple and straight no.





Six Months, Four Days





When Sakura came to see him instead of the other way around, Naruto thought his heart should have jumped backflips but his hangover had rendered him far too incapacitated to feel anything more than the unpredictability of the contents of his stomach.

“Telling me I shouldn’t’ve drunk so much isn’t going to make me better so how about we just save it for another time?”

“Are you sure you’re okay, though?” She sat beside him on the bed and dragged his wastepaper basket closer in case he threw up all over the carpet instead. “And aren’t you underage too? Where’d you manage to get so much alcohol from—and why?

Please can you interrogate me later? I feel like I’m still half-drunk and not in a good way.”

With his eyes closed, he missed her smile turn sad and then disappear altogether. She rubbed his shoulder and told him to call out to her if he needed anything. Sai was apparently fine, having consumed significantly less than his body weight in liquid units and was watching Naruto’s pallid face from the doorway.

Naruto stayed in bed all day with minimal interruptions, the way he liked it.





Six Months, One Week





Break.

He hated the noise, the voices, the three of them in the kitchen. Even in his bedroom with the door closed he could still hear them, talking, the grating sound of words being spoken, their laughter. Sasuke rolled over and faced the wall and grit his teeth into a snarl when the amusement in Sai’s voice echoed through the walls again, chasing Naruto’s frustration.

Fucking break.

They sounded like they were cooking, or trying to, or Naruto was trying to teach Sai who didn’t seem to know anything about using a kitchen. The smell of the broth was already seeping through the gap under his door. It was in his nose, in his lungs. It was everything he wasn’t—their fun and freedom and ability to live—hands to the cool wall and scratching into a fist.

Hurt you until you hate me.

Naruto’s fault. It was all that shithead’s fault, Naruto’s fault. Sasuke had no reason to blame himself when Naruto had started it, all those years ago—

It’s all your fault. I’m all your fault so take some fucking responsibility.

He was stronger than Sasuke had expected, if strength was what it was, if that was something to be proud of. All the pain and hurt and damage and after everything he’d done, Naruto was still standing, still talking—still laughing with that fucking fake replacement and that pink-haired—

Sasuke breathed, just tossed and turned and thought about waiting until he didn’t hate the whole goddamn world for turning his life to shit.

“You’re not very good at this.”

“I guess that’s to be expected. I never started cooking properly until I started living with you guys.”

Naruto frowned when he told Sai to beat the eggs he’d cracked into a cup and Sai picked up a spoon and stirred it too gently. Either Sai was an ignorant loser and Naruto already thought he was or he was trying to make friends with the yolk and eggwhite mixture by stroking it with the outerside of the spoon. Naruto let it slide, content just to watch and say nothing for once. There were worse things.

“Okay, that should be good. Pour it slowly into the pot. Slowly, remember. And stir it just to make sure it doesn’t all clump altogether.”

“You’re a pretty good teacher, Naruto.” Sakura complimented, sitting in a tight ball with her arms wrapped around her legs, sitting and waiting at the table. “Ever thought about taking on a team, maybe in a few years when you actually decided to become a Chuunin?”

Sakura laughed. Naruto didn’t feel it.

And fuck shit up with them? I don’t think so.

“Nah, I’m pretty good just—being here,” covering up the lie by snapping at Sai when emptied the last of the contents of the cup into the boiling liquid. Sai made no error but Naruto needed a diversion and anger never settled for very long where Sai was concerned anyway.

“I think it’s done?”

“I’ll say when it’s done and it’s not done. You’ve got to taste test it first. If it tastes like shit, you’ve got to at least warn the guests—”

“Naruto, what kind of advice is that?” with mirth in her reprimand. “If you know it tastes bad, you can’t serve it at all!”

“Don’t listen to her. Guests’ll say it’s good not matter how bad it is.”

Naruto snatched the spoon out of Sai’s fingers, dipping it into the broth and raising it to his lips to blow on it first, then slurped it into his mouth. He let it slide over and around his tongue, assessing the aftertaste, then nodding his head and passing the spoon to Sai.

“Tastes good. You try.”

Sai filled the spoon and Naruto had his attention too occupied barking out warnings and reproaches to notice—until a hand into his back—“Move.”

Naruto didn’t apologize to Sai when he unbalanced into him; he turned around to face Sasuke—“don’t tell me to fucking move”—words coming out quick and hot to justify the shove he gave right back. “What the fuck is your problem—”

“Naruto—”

“I want a knife. Get out of my way.”

You what—? You want—

Sasuke was staring at him. He looked relaxed, like he already knew every movement of the fight. Naruto could feel the pinch in his face, knew he was glaring back too harshly to ever let it go. Sasuke wanted something like he always did, a fight this time or—

Why the fuck would you want—what are you going to do with—

Looking up at Sasuke. There was anger and hate and ice in his eyes like there always was and had been for a long time. All the things Naruto had tried to remove had simply solidified in the end and for a second—for as long as it took for Sasuke to—

Move. Don’t make me say it again.”

—be as he had always been, to push as he had always pushed—for a second Naruto thought he felt sad. None of those things were supposed to be in his eyes. It wasn’t Sasuke’s fault they were there. It wasn’t Naruto’s fault either. And it was a shame when none of the wrong things went away despite his efforts.

“Naruto, I’ll fucking—”

“What?” with a sneer at his lips. “What do you think you’re going to do? Hit me? Fight me?”

—fuck me?—

The real shame was that the anger was just a cover. Anger was easy. When they were angry neither of them didn’t have to think too hard about their actions. They just had to do them, just had to be angry. It was when they might have had to think, might have had to realize, maybe they weren’t angry that the world was wrong but that they knew how to make it right and they were just too proud and too stubborn to ever give it a chance.

“Get some new threats. Your old ones are full of shit—”

“Naruto—!”

Sighing when Sakura had to keep getting herself involved—what do you want now?

Naruto wouldn’t take his stare away from Sasuke even when she kept yapping in his ear. They were all chastising words she had no right to say anyway, not when she didn’t know shit about what was really going on, about the rift too wide between them now for him to care to listen when she tried to solve the problems.

Just stay of this. I don’t know what I’m doing—

Sakura’s voice was still chafing the silence and with force and effort and patience he didn’t know he still had he turned and faced her. Whatever was on his face couldn’t have been—or the look she gave back quickly washed over with pain and apprehension when he couldn’t smooth into calm fast enough—

I know I’m hurting you so just stay the fuck out of this—

The pleas in her eyes were ignored without remorse. She didn’t understand what was going on, that this was more that a typical fight or maybe she did realize when the atmosphere blackened the moment Sasuke appeared—the worry in her face still painfully there when she didn’t know either—how to fix something long ago broken and swallowed up by rust—

I don’t know anything and I never did—

Until he couldn’t bear to see the hurt he caused and turned back to that sick, twisted excuse of a best friend—still staring and waiting and knowing all the ways to make him fall—

“Get the fuck out of my way, Naruto.”

“You still haven’t told me what you’ll do!” if that was excitement in his voice, if he were daring Sasuke to say the secrets—oh wouldn’t that be fun—to expose everything they never said, even to each other in only a few precious seconds—“You’re full of shit. You’re so full of shit—”

“I think the ramen’s done now—”

“Fucking shut up, Sai—”

“Naruto! What’s gotten into you—”

“Why won’t everyone just mind their own fucking business—!”

Sasuke used that fraction of time while his attention was unfocused, while his eyes were closed in frustration to push him again, harder than before. It made him take a step—two steps back—his shoulder bumping into Sai again and erasing any self-control he might have still harboured.

We fucked up somewhere along the line, didn’t we. We weren’t supposed to be like this.

What a shame.


“Don’t fucking push me. Don’t even touch me.”

What a shame.

I bet we could’ve been great.


The angry feeling inside wasn’t going to go away. Not just then. It would be there in an hour, in a day, after a week, however long it took for one of them to—break. Naruto laughed under his breath, dark and bitter and completely beyond care. It didn’t matter anymore. It just didn’t matter when Sasuke’s face was right there—when he could see it—when his fist could—

“Naruto—!”

Sakura was in his space, catching him just in time. Or far too late.

“Sakura-chan, just—”

“Stop it, Naruto.”

“Get out of the way, Sakura-chan.” exasperation staining his voice. He tried to shrug her off, wouldn’t look at anything else but Sasuke’s face and that taunting, hating mouth on the verge of cracking into the smile, just bubbling at the surface—“I said let go—”

“No, come on, Naruto, don’t start this—”

What—? Why’re you telling me not to start shit when that fucker right there—”

“Naruto—”

Let go of me—Why am I always the one who gets the blame? I didn’t do anything—”

struggling—

I didn’t do anything—

I didn’t do anything and that’s why we couldn’t—


The smile was there. Naruto could see it now. All it needed was a twist at the corners and it was all over his face. Sakura was still staring at him, between them, pleading with her eyes that he wasn’t going to let distract him, wouldn’t let hold him—

sinking—

while whispered in the gap: “I knew I’d get you—”

Finally pushing Sakura out of the way and surging into Sasuke—

“Naruto!”

pulling—

I don’t care—
I don’t care


punching—

“Sai—help me! Naruto, just please stop—”

It’s always Sasuke—that’s all you see—why aren’t we equal—why am I always always always second

biting—

I hate this—
I hate—
I hate you—
I still don’t hate you


bending to the crack—

One wrong jerk of his elbow back had Sakura covering her face.

Naruto faltered; it was all Sasuke needed.





Six Months, One Week, Two Days





Sakura forgave him, somehow. She said she knew it was an accident and Naruto promised he’d have more control of himself next time. She was standing at his door speaking awkward words at him and Naruto had no patience, no energy to listen. In his heart, just—dull, just nothing. He had her forgiveness without even trying and nothing was stirring inside, no feelings, no emotions written in the ceiling or the walls he kept staring at.

“Are you just going to lie around in bed again today?”

“Hmm. Dunno.”

He threw his bedsheet over his face, sighing into it when he felt the air float and sink around his legs.

“I thought you wore those clothes yesterday.”

“And the day before that.” still staring at the cotton ceiling.





Six Months, One Week, Six Days





Naruto couldn’t throw on fresh and uncreased clothes fast enough for Sakura’s patience. How many weeks it had been since she had asked him to go anywhere with him, he didn’t know, couldn’t even estimate. There was a tiny, scared feeling somewhere inside that he wasn’t needing or even wanting to be with her anymore but—thank god for whatever had changed her mind because he had been starved of her warmth and grace for far too long and maybe it was just what his empty insides needed.

“I don’t get why girls like these trinkets so much,” picking up a pink-beaded necklace. “Wouldn’t it get caught on stuff in fights?”

“Then you don’t wear it during a fight, silly.” Sakura took it from his hands and held it up to her neck. “Yes? No?”

“Everything looks good on you, Sakura-chan.”

Naruto enjoyed the markets. People still frowned at him, the older generations who were too stuck in their ways to change were content to limit their disapproval to a scowl. He knew Sakura’s physical presence at his side forced the contrast between what he normally endured. The younger generations who couldn’t remember the wars passed him by like any other civilian.

Naruto enjoyed the markets but it wasn’t a solid feeling. He knew past experience was telling him what he should be feeling, this sense of enjoyment. Self-talk and familiarity with the situation dictated his emotions until Sakura had said he looked tired enough times that he stopped kidding himself. He wasn’t having a good time.

“Seems like I just got too used to lying around at home or something.” He mused, stretching his mouth into a Sai-like smile. “There’s a tea shop over there. Wanna stop for a drink? I think I need something refreshing.”

Once inside, Sakura sipped some fruity concoction through a straw and Naruto ordered the most masculine-sounding herbal tea on the menu.

“Want a taste?” Sakura held out her beverage and Naruto warned her that sucking on her used straw would be just like a scandalous, indirect kiss. “Nothing wrong with your sense of humor after all.”

“I guess not. I guess I did just need to get out because you’re right, it does get stuffy in there. I mean, Sai’s okay but god he’s frustrating. That kid knows nothing.” Sakura smiled and said nothing to defend him. Naruto kind of liked that. “So what’s put you in such a good mood that you decided to embarrass yourself by being seen with me?” and laughed all too casually, too fatally.

“I handed in the report this morning, you know…”

“—huh?”

Naruto had laughed but Sakura had not. She hadn’t answered the question. She hadn’t even smiled and Naruto brought his glass up to his mouth for another distracting, apprehensive drink and believed in everything that was impossible.

Oh fuck.

“I’ve been worried about you lately, you know. I asked Shishou about you.”

Oh fuck

Please don’t don’t don’t—


She was looking at him. He was looking at her. They both knew and Naruto couldn’t run from it. The sickness and blood washed from his face to his feet and then nothing.

Oh fuck.

Sakura knew.

“She said…” looking down to avoid Naruto’s eyes when they weren’t confused, “something really strange, I don’t even know…”

I couldn’t fix it.

“Do you know what I’m talking about?”

She was taking the cowardly, fearful, hopeless route and shifting the responsibility to him. Naruto swallowed. She was asking him and it wasn’t too late. He had time to lie. Lies were easy—no Sakura-chan, ‘sif I’d ever do that!—so easy. Just one lie, one easy lie and he’d never have to hurt her.

But his time was up. His cheeks were sore and hot and prickling. He’d said nothing and saying nothing was enough.

Is this why you’re with me?

“It’s true, isn’t it.”

I couldn’t fix it.

She didn’t say anything for a long time, hand over her mouth in shock and thinking. It was real now. Naruto didn’t know what he should have said or felt but he wasn’t angry with Tsunade for exposing him. It was everything he deserved for causing even the smallest amount of pain. Sakura, his best friend and teammate from the old genin days—Sakura, who he had grown up with, fought with, run with, lost friends with and cried with was just sitting there and he couldn’t even say one lie.

I can’t do anything.

She was just sitting there opposite him and not speaking. There was nothing he could do. She knew everything and yet she had still given him the chance to deny it. She had tried to save him and therefore herself and he hadn’t done anything. His punishment for being too incompetent, for being too defective, was to watch the world break into smaller and smaller pieces and sit there and kill his two best friends.

Her hands were trembling now.

“I asked Shishou if it would be a good idea if you moved out and she said no.”

He understood at once: the safety of the whole village was her unfortunate priority and afterwards the individual people in it. But that wasn’t his fault—Sakura wasn’t blaming him but—it never even had to be Tsunade’s choice if Naruto had just—

I got it wrong.

“So I guess… I’m just so confused. When did it start?”

Naruto swallowed again. She wanted answers. Of course. She had told him at the beginning, that it was better to know and hurt than not know and hurt more. She wanted something concrete to hold onto when everything else seemed crazy and wrong.

“I guess… about two months ago, maybe more.”

She breathed out and played with the condensation on her glass. “And… how did it even start?”

But Naruto didn’t know either. One day Sasuke was sick in bed and the next he was pushing him up against the wardrobe in his room. All he could do was tell it the way he knew it, the way it had been: “I don’t know.”

She nodded to show her understanding, nodded her already bowed head. “And… do you think it’s good for him?”

I got it wrong and now I’m hurting you.

“I don’t know.”

“Then… how many times?”

I can’t—

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know a lot.” and there it was—the start of the fall—“You don’t know because you don’t want to tell me or you don’t know because you’ve lost count?

Naruto didn’t realise he’d made her cry—already, not again—because her hair had been covering her eyes. He only noticed when she wiped her angry face and—

I can’t do anything.

“I just don’t get it. I thought—because I’ve been patient and kind and understanding—and I’ve put up with everything and anything Sasuke-kun asked for and his mood swings and silences and—god, I thought we were trying to make him better—I thought we were making him better and then… I find out about this… so I’m trying to be calm and ask you about it but you’re not telling me anything.”

She was breathing unevenly and blinking away tears and willing herself to speak normally so that no one turned around to look at their little corner of the universe as it collapsed around them.

“I thought I knew you. I thought you wanted to live with him and make him better. I’ve seen you suffer and cry for him with my own eyes so a part of me wants to believe you honestly think this is good for him”—betrayed by a disgusted scoff—“I thought I really knew you and now you’re telling me you don’t know? You still aren’t saying anything—why aren’t you saying anything! Do you even know what you’ve done?

She didn’t want answers, excuses, reasons, explanations, because none of that mattered. What she wanted—

“You’re not even sorry, are you.”

I couldn’t fix it.

I can’t do anything.

I fucked up.

Completely.

And I couldn’t even say I’m sorry.


--

























five










Six Months, Two Weeks





Sakura’s room was cleaned out and emptied. She’d said she was moving back to her parent’s place for a while. When Sai had asked why, it wasn’t hard for Naruto to explain. Sakura just needed a break. She was tired. She needed to go away and come back refreshed and energized. Naruto told Sai he was sorry they wouldn’t be able to go out and get drunk together again because he’d kind of liked it, drinking and getting drunk, without purpose, outside, in the middle of the day, with a friend. But it’d be okay, and Sakura would be okay, and they just had to wait.

Naruto turned from Sai’s room and crept back into his own, hiding under the covers. He stared. The clock moved faster than he expected, slower than he wanted.

I’m still not fixing it. I just lied to Sai.

I’m making it worse.


He had all the right thoughts and yet he didn’t feel bad about it. Naruto was seventeen and raw and numb. He was numb. He felt nothing. He stared at the ceiling lying on his bed and wondered why he wasn’t feeling happy or sad and all he had in its place was a gaping emptiness. He couldn’t feel angry for what he had caused to happen, or at Sasuke for always wanting it, or at Sakura for not trying to understand him better and go out with him when he’d tried to open up to her. He couldn’t feel. He wandered, he floated, he existed. He passed the time just staring, just waiting for the feelings to come back.

I don’t know what to do.

Naruto spoke the bare minimum to be polite to Sai. Sai didn’t realise there was a problem: in ROOT, Naruto’s condition was the norm.

I couldn’t fix it. I can’t do anything.

Naruto stopped wanting to talk. Naruto didn’t talk. He shut up and shut down. Inside him, there was a—silence. Big and wide and ugly and empty. He didn’t talk about his feelings anyway but he had always known someone was





Six Months, Two Weeks, One Day





there if he wanted to. And then. There wasn’t. There was Naruto, staring, sitting and waiting and watching from where he had crawled and cried into himself, saying nothing. He couldn’t hurt or be hurt in there. He could pour himself into his obsessions in a secret, private place where he didn’t have to hurt.

Naruto cried a lot, quietly, so neither Sai nor Sasuke interrupted him. He cried at lot, at night before he fell asleep, closing his eyes on the exhaustion. He cried a lot, when he woke up in the morning and realized he had to live through the same day again. He cried in the shower to pretend he wasn’t. He cried before eating, while cooking, while watching television which was supposed to be distracting, while walking past Sasuke’s door. He dared not touch the shirt when just the thought of it—

You hurt me all the time and I can’t let go.

Sasuke was a good person who had made a lot of bad choices.

I can’t let go—I have to save you.

Naruto didn’t hate Sasuke for running away. There was no resentment. If there had been, it was just a cover. There were no bad feelings at all. Maybe there would have been if Sasuke had done something truly abhorrent, but not running away. Running away didn’t deserve hate. Running away when Naruto knew why didn’t deserve hate.

When Sasuke had walked away into the darkness, Naruto had started to chase. He ran with no other goal in mind than getting Sasuke back. He trained and fought and hid everything for three





Six Months, Two Weeks, Two Days





years and it didn’t matter—even if it hurt more. It didn’t matter even if it was worse when he couldn’t stop liking Sasuke who couldn’t stand the sight of him. Naruto just wanted to be near him even if he couldn’t be next to him. He just wanted to know Sasuke was safe and happy and there.

I believe in you.

Naruto genuinely believed the first time he saw Sasuke after his defection would be the day he brought him back. He didn’t think to doubt it. On that day all his promises and dreams would be fulfilled and the world would once again become natural amidst the chaos. He truly, arrogantly, selfishly believed his will was all that was needed.

It wasn’t. In the end he got nothing. Sasuke was there and nothing was fixed and everything between them was still the same—and Naruto had known. There. There was that special friend who didn’t want come home, who was just as hard to see as not to see. It wasn’t enough. There was that special friend he had looked for all over and then just seeing him wasn’t enough. Seeing him wasn’t enough and just knowing he was okay wasn’t enough and knowing that he was still worth fighting for and that every moment was still worth fighting for wasn’t enough. Sasuke was there and it wasn’t enough in a very different way.

I was wrong.

When Sasuke had stood at Orochimaru’s side and evaporated in a blaze of fire, Naruto realised the depth to which his hope had been ignited. He crumbled when he failed, when he couldn’t save





Six Months, Two Weeks, Three Days





Sasuke as he had thought he would. Head to the dirt, arms around his soul and Naruto had thought it so strange, this feeling. How powerful it must have been to crush him just by seeing. This one person could do that. Sasuke did that to him.

When all Naruto had thought was I want to see you, what was that feeling that brought him to his knees?

It’s not a choice.

They told him to stop. She told him lies to make him stop.

Naruto knew he didn’t need Sasuke to survive. He could breathe on his own, pump blood on his own, use his own hands to eat and wash and move and function. He could survive with the fading memories of Sasuke knowing they’d never completely disappear, that he’d never completely forget him. He could but he didn’t want to.

Naruto didn’t ask for a lot. If he wanted something, no one else was going to give it to him. He had to go after it himself and what he wanted—

I want you.

He didn’t need to see Sasuke again to confirm what he’d known all along. He’d known it when they were a team and he’d known it when he’d seen him at Sound and he’d known it when he finally came back. There were things Naruto wanted that he didn’t need in order to survive and Sasuke was one of them and—it didn’t bother him. That was just how he was. Naruto was just Naruto and maybe it didn’t bother him that he liked Sasuke more than he probably should have. Then Sasuke came back and they were further apart the closer they were.

Now I’m in darkness and you’re not chasing me.

I hate that I—

tell myself I hate.


Naruto knew he would do anything for Sasuke and it was okay if Sasuke didn’t do anything for him. He was okay with that. So it was unreciprocated. Big deal. Naruto knew what he wanted and it wasn’t so bad. If he lived his life and didn’t expect great things, he was okay with that. If he lived his





Six Months, Two Weeks, Four Days





life and expected nothing, he was okay with that. As long as Sasuke was there. When Sasuke had been put on his team and they kissed and screamed and fought and argued and paired up and tolerated and begrudged and didn’t always look at each other with a scowl, with a smile sometimes—

But that’s not enough for you. We’re not the same.

Sasuke had history in ways that Naruto did not and maybe if Naruto had had a brother who massacred his family then maybe he’d want to run away too and obtain strength by any means too and plough his hand through his best friend’s chest too. But Naruto was too different. He had the beast that killed his family inside him and that made him too different.

So tell me what to do. Tell me what you want, whatever you want.

What mattered to Sasuke mattered to Naruto and if Sasuke wanted revenge, if he wanted justice, if he wanted power, pride, retribution. If he wanted help. If killing Itachi was what he wanted then Naruto would have helped. He would have given up his dreams even if it meant dying. Even if it meant Sasuke had to kill him completely.

You didn’t have to run away.

You could have told me.

Even though I’d never have listened. Even though I’d never have understood.


Naruto didn’t understand why Sasuke would want to sleep with him but if Sasuke thought he needed it, Naruto would give it to him. There was nothing else to it. It was





Six Months, Two Weeks, Five Days





that simple. He didn’t have a choice, not when it was Sasuke. But sleeping with him had not made him better. It didn’t work because it wasn’t right, it wasn’t the same. Sasuke used sex to manipulate and Naruto did not.

You try denying you anything when you’re me.

You try fighting this feeling.


It wasn’t making him better. It hadn’t made him better. Naruto should have stopped it long ago. Naruto shouldn’t have started it and found another way. Sasuke was in an older body but he was still young inside. Sasuke hadn’t worked out that maybe just maybe talking about his problems with Naruto might have worked. But in time, he’d learn, because after talking, time always worked. Especially with Sasuke because he’d needed five years of time to work out he was back where he started, in the village he had deserted, with the best friend he still hated.

I’ll follow you.

I’ll do whatever you want me to do.


He saw Sasuke once, while he wasn’t crying. Sasuke thought he was still upset about Sakura leaving, teased him about it, got in his face about it and filled his head with insults that were





Six Months, Two Weeks, Six Days





already there. Naruto wouldn’t beg to be left alone. He couldn’t run away from Sasuke like Sasuke had been able to run away from him. All he could do was cry and be angry and ashamed and secretive about it.

I miss you. I miss us—me, you, Sakura-chan—the way we used to be.

It was the first time he kissed Sasuke on purpose. It was the first time Naruto really knew what he had to do when Sasuke rammed his fist into his face and threatened him with all kinds of rehashed things. It was the end. Sasuke still hated him.

Think logically this time.

Sasuke had killed him at the Valley of the End more than once. Sakura had her faith destroyed. He couldn’t keep his promises. Everyone was sick and as long as he blamed someone else he wouldn’t have to see: that at the heart of it there was always Naruto.

Logical hurt. Logical cut.

I still want to be with you.

Naruto thought he couldn’t let go. He thought he wanted to be with Sasuke even if it meant so much pain and imperfection because the alternative—of being without Sasuke—was more than he thought he could bear. He feared the separation, he feared the loss, and most of all he feared

the failure.

His first true friendship and he couldn’t hold it together.





Six Months, Three Weeks





It’s all my fault.
I couldn’t be anything you needed.

I couldn’t fix it
and this time I really fucked up.

You don’t want me.
I’m not enough and it’s okay
because I know what to do to make you better.

I know what to do.
I’ve known what to do all along.
I was just—
too scared to see.

I don’t have to give up on you,
or give up to you.
I just have to





give up.





Six Months, Three Weeks, Two Days





Sasuke was bored and irritable and frustrated with himself for having stayed awake so long waiting for Naruto to come back. He didn’t wait for anyone. He never waited for Naruto. Naruto was supposed to always be there for him because that was what he did.

Sasuke looked out the window from Naruto’s bedroom. He liked the view better from that side. He could see the front of the apartment, the road, the stalls of the street vendors packed away and waiting until morning to be reopened. The stars looked brighter through his screen. He would have liked the view better if Naruto had been in it, walking his sorry ass home.

Did I break you? Can we fight yet? Is it time for this to end?





Six Months, Three Weeks, Five Days





Sakura realised something wasn’t right as soon as she entered the apartment, when the quietness of the space settled uncomfortably in her stomach. The television wasn’t on, the kitchen was tidy, the lounge room was in order, the carpets were clean and Sai spoke chilling words that confirmed the imbalance.

“Naruto-kun? I don’t know. He’s been gone a while. Was he supposed to meet you here?”

“No, nothing like that—just—” with the guilt of her reprimands stirring eerie circles in her head. “How long has he been gone for?”

“A few days, I guess.”

“A few days, huh.”

“Yup.”

She tried to see through Sai’s unnerving smile, tried to discern whether it was there to empathize with her or to mock her. “Maybe he’ll come back in the next couple of days. He could be camping or something.”

“I guess.”

“Yeah. I guess.” and still unsure what was really going on. “I’ll come back later or something.”

“Okay.”





Seven Months, Three Days





Sai was too quiet. He was too studious. He didn’t make enough noise or commotion or interest. He just sat and painted or read or watched television. Sasuke wasn’t keeping tabs on him but he was bored and Sai was the only other thing in the house that moved.

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know anything about you except that you’re my replacement.

You don’t threaten me. You can’t take them away from me.


Sai didn’t cook for him like Sakura and Naruto had. Sasuke had to make his own meals from whatever he found in the fridge. He knew whose food he was stealing when he took it and there was no one around to yell at him for using chidori. He cooked ramen on the stovetop, salty and nostalgic.

Naruto’s room had nothing of interest to him in it. He had checked. Kunai and simple scrolls were on his desk next to the dirty dishes that still hadn’t been cleaned. Sasuke got fed up with the alarm clock and reset the time. There were pornographic magazines under his bed and more clothes on the ground than in his wardrobe.

What’s—so that’s where it got to. What’s it doing in here?

Sasuke pulled out a shirt he had noticed was missing—probably got mixed up in the wash—unravelled it and from somewhere in the folds a hitai-ate fell to the ground. The metal plate glinted up at him and he stood there, staring at it. In all his life, he had never picked up an object with such wonder and sorrow and regret.





Seven Months, One Week, Two Days





“I guess Naruto-kun really has run away.”

Sakura felt the disjointed breath through her mouth, wished that Sai wasn’t smiling so broadly so she could panic with him. “What do you mean he’s run away? How can he—he can’t just leave.”

“I’m not sure where he’s gone but he did mention to me that he wanted to ‘run away’. I do believe those were his exact words.”

“Oh my god—”

I couldn’t stop Sasuke-kun.

Naruto still wasn’t back after two weeks. Sakura stared at the floor, sitting on Sai’s bed staring, sick and petrified that—that maybe she had been too harsh and she couldn’t quite remember what she had said in her anger and simply not knowing and not remembering was torture in itself. She had said something to Naruto that made him stop believing or—said something that crushed his spirit or—said the thing that made him shatter completely and driven him to desertion.

And I couldn’t stop you.

Sai was smiling like he always smiled. Sakura couldn’t look at it. He didn’t realise the gravity of the situation—Naruto would never—Sai thought Naruto was going to walk through the door at any moment and Sakura knew better. The last time he had left, he hadn’t returned for almost three years while training with Jiraiya. Now he was gone and she didn’t know where to or who with and she had no way to find him and she couldn’t bear it if another of her best friends just—left.

I couldn’t stop Sasuke-kun and I couldn’t stop you.

I’m just this powerless.


“Sai—” stomach tight with fear and heart pounding to a sickening beat. “If you hear anything about Naruto, let me know straight away, okay?”

“Okay.”

I’m just this powerless.

Sakura stood and found her way out the door in a daze. This time was infinitely worse: Naruto had slipped away without saying a word and there was still Sasuke to look after and Sai couldn’t do it alone. She couldn’t do it alone. She needed Naruto and he wasn’t there for her—

But—I was never there for you either.

Is this how you felt, Naruto?


Naruto woke up feeling alone every morning and it was worse when he knew it wasn’t normal. Once upon a time he hadn’t cared: he used to wake up alone every morning and it didn’t bother him because he didn’t know any other way to live. But when he found friends and lived with them and she purposefully broke the emotional proximity—she got it wrong. Over and over. And realized all too late.

I can’t—we’re breaking.

All they had needed was talk. If they had only talked to each other once in a while.

Now it was too little, too late.

And all they had needed was talk. So simple. Without talk—by cutting Naruto off from talk—she had created the silence that broke them apart. Ignorance never worked. Waiting never worked. Pretending never worked. But talking worked. From the very beginning the only thing the four of them had needed to do was sit down together and speak of their expectations, their wants, their fears and dreams and promises and feelings. It would have been rough: for two boys who never said shit about the things inside—especially, stubbornly, painfully in front of each other—they would have fought it and she would have found a way to weaken their prides, to crumble their inhibitions. It would have worked for no other reason than they needed it to work because they needed each other.

It’s because we’re all too young to see what’s truly necessary.

Is there still time?


She couldn’t say she wasn’t angry with him—she was and she still disapproved of his choices and he was human too and he made mistakes. Maybe talking now wasn’t going to fix things but—it was better than the silence and the distance. Separated as they were, nothing could mend. It was her turn to save Naruto who had lost the will to fight.

I’ll think of something, I promise!

Just please, please don’t you leave me too.





Seven Months, Two Weeks





Sai was in the kitchen washing dishes when Naruto walked in through the door. It was a strange sight to see that annoying, smiling boy with anything in his hands but a scroll and a brush. He had pink rubber gloves on.

“Naruto-kun.”

“Yo~”

Sai didn’t register that Naruto wasn’t wearing the casual clothes he’d taken to wearing in the flat, that he had dressed himself in clothes more suitable for walking, hiking. Travelling far away.

“Oh, I was just reading about this the other day. What do they call it? Fate? I wanted to know what I should say to you when you came back. It’s been a long time!”

“Not that long, only a couple of days or… three weeks.” Naruto laughed and then urked. “Been bored? Has Sakura-chan come back?”

“A few times but she didn’t stay. I think she wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh.” Naruto tried to smile around it. “But she hasn’t moved back, huh. That’s a shame, since it means you can’t go out. Want me to ask Tsunade-baachan to get you out of here for a little while?”

Sai was quiet for a moment while he calculated. “Does that mean you won’t be staying?”

“Nah, I won’t. I just came back to grab some stuff and then I’ll be leaving again. I met these people who are heading west. No idea where in the west but I was going to go with them for a little while, maybe go see his Lordship the Kazekage.” Laughing again. It all sounded the same to Sai; he couldn’t tell that it had once been forced and now it was real. “I’ll make sure say goodbye this time when I leave.”

The hallway was dark. All except Sai’s door was closed and Naruto quickly walked the distance to his room, stuffy inside like it hadn’t been opened or aired out in a while. There were a lot of memories trapped in the small space, of fights and arguments and a whole lot of things that should not have been. He tried to organize a backpack as quickly as he could locate the items he needed. Now he knew why he never liked owning so much stuff; it all turned to clutter and it all took far too long.

“Naruto-kun,” and looking up at Sai in the doorway, “Sakura-chan is here to see you.”

That shocked him as much as it terrified him. Her words were still clear in his mind. Not enough time had past for him to forget the guilt and he didn’t want to see her, he hadn’t thought of what to say to her. The whole atmosphere of the apartment was strangling him faster than he had expected, the bad feelings—

“Hey Naruto!”

Whoa.

“Oh, Sakura-chan, hey…”

She giggled and Naruto felt off-balance. She was supposed to be angry with him—“What’s that face for?”

“You’re not wearing very much.” Tactless, but he was male and she was frolicking around in a sarong and a bikini. “What’s going on?”

“I just wondered… I thought you might like to come with me to one of the valleys near the village. I haven’t been there in ages!”

“Yeah, me neither…”

This is so weird.

Travelling with randoms or seeing Sakura-chan in few enough clothes that I can picture her naked…


“Okay. Just let me put on some swimmers.”

Naruto closed the door and held the knob. Something had just happened and he didn’t know what to do. Sakura had smiled and giggled and she wasn’t angry and as much as Naruto wanted to, he couldn’t mistake it for forgiveness. This time he didn’t want to pretend nothing had happened—but Sakura had been so happy

He knew he could either stand there in wonder or tag along with her. Maybe it was Sakura’s way of cleverly breaking the ice. Maybe she didn’t like the apartment either and maybe he couldn’t say no to her when she smiled like that.


--


Naruto couldn’t think of words to say. He was nervous watching Sakura as she walked a few paces ahead of him, staring at the sky and all the colourful, living scenery around them. She seemed okay. Not spiteful or begrudged. It was a nice day and warm enough for swimming. Maybe it was lucky Sakura had caught him when she did.

“Hey Naruto,” she turned and Naruto smiled at her smile. “I just want you to know, I’m still angry. But I’ve been thinking a lot since I’ve been away, about you and Sasuke-kun and me. I kind of just want to have some fun first and then have a better talk. Is that okay? Sorry if I’m being confusing. I just… didn’t know how to say it, and with Sai there…”

Sakura-chan, you know me too well.

Thank you.


Naruto understood. He finally felt free to grin the way his heart exploded.


--


“Wow! It’s bigger than I remember it.”

“That’s what she said.” Naruto bore her pouty face and the slap to his shoulder. Sakura was so free and happy and beautiful at that moment and it was too easy to forget there had ever been any heartache between them. He missed her. He could feel that he missed her.

She sat on a rock and dipped her toes in, marvelling at the cool water. Naruto watched her from the corner of his eye when she took off the sarong and it was like watching a step-sister undress: too familiar to get away with gawking but not related by blood.

God I feel dirty. Time to get laid.

Wait—


“Hey Naruto, did you want to play around in the water first?”

I’m sure you wouldn’t sound this suggestive if you had more clothes on.

Naruto averted his eyes before she finished turning towards him, removing his shirt to give the deeper part of his embarrassment time to wear off. She looked at him curiously all the way up until he threw her into the water. Then bomb-dived right beside her as she surfaced.

“Naruto! You’re so immature! Aren’t you ever going to grow up?”

“If you want to play around first, make it worthwhile!” he laughed and pushed a wave of water at her.

I missed this.

Even if the world still wasn’t right, even if Sakura had only been away for a few weeks and Naruto fewer still, he felt good. If he blocked it out, didn’t think too hard about the past months, if he went back further and further and further until they were a young Team 7 in one of a handful of instances when they’d had time off, when they weren’t fighting, when they could be children instead of warriors, maybe it had been something peaceful like this.

Sakura was still his best friend.

You’re stronger than me.

She wasn’t saying that he was wrong, that she was right. There was nothing to gain if he were, if she were. She was with him because she knew when a friendship was real enough, worth enough that she had to put aside her anger and confront the problems. Naruto had run from them. For that, she was stronger.

Thanks for making us a team, Iruka-sensei.

Sakura wanted to explore. Naruto followed her and the light she emitted.

Perhaps it was due to a childhood of few rules, of nonexistence curfews, of being free to run and jump and prank when he felt like it. Naruto knew a lot of things. He showed her, like Sai, how to skim rocks. He laughed at her when the rocks sunk into the water with a plop, taught her his special technique for choosing the best, flattest stones and the way he held them to throw. When she got the hang of it, which took far less time and effort and huffing than it had with Sai, they made a competition out of it: who could skim it the most times. Sometimes Naruto won, sometimes he pretended to let her win when she started getting too good.

Two-thirds of us are here.

Next time—even if I have to wait until I’m Hokage—


She wanted to climb to the top of a rocky hill. Naruto had a pleasant view of her backside all the way up and he was sure she couldn’t have been oblivious. She reached the top and spread her arms out as far as she could and smiled as wide and bright as the sun. Naruto watched her. Like she were the stars and the hopes and the dreams. She glowed, from the inside.

“Next time, let’s bring Sasuke.”

She turned and looked at him, withdrawing her arms.

“I don’t mean like—I don’t know what I don’t mean but just…”

She giggled and tried to hide it behind a hand, coy and cute. “It’s okay. You can say it. I don’t mind.”

“I want both of my best friends here,” staring at the water below and feeling sheepish, “so that we can all be happy again. We haven’t even been out here long enough to get sunburnt and I already know—this is a place to come back to. With all of us together.”

Sakura understood but she didn’t smile like Naruto did. They didn’t know when Sasuke would be allowed outside, if there would ever be such a time. If he wasn’t in the apartment, he would be in jail. Or dead. They could dream and Naruto dreamt the grandest of all.

“Hey look! Those clouds look like Rock Lee!”

Naruto looked up. Some of the clouds were overlapping each other. Two such clouds next to each other reminded him off his fuzzy eyebrows and he laughed. Sakura wasn’t so pure and sweet after all.

They climbed back down and walked all around, thoughts to themselves or pointing out places that reminded them of the olden days with Kakashi as Team 7. It was at once enjoyable and heartbreaking; those times were stuck in the past. While every other team from the Rookie 9 had held together through the years, theirs was the only one to break apart. They couldn’t reminisce about their genin years freely with anyone but themselves. Everyone else was too afraid, considered Sasuke a topic of taboo. Like they thought if they mentioned him, either or both of them would break down and realize their failures when in reality talking about him kept him alive.

When Sakura sat down on a warm rock and gazed at the glistening mirror of water in contemplative silence, Naruto knew he should start.

“I’ve been thinking since we’ve been walking. You and Sasuke are my best friends so ask me anything and I’ll tell you. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll lose you too. I can’t lose you.”

She sighed softly and in a voice just as quiet, “I shouldn’t have left you. I promise I’ll stay this time.”

Naruto smiled sadly, looking down. “That’s… not what I mean. What I’m saying is, if you leave, I can’t go after you.” and didn’t look at her to see how the admission had hurt. “In fact, I didn’t go after you, after you left. I know you want to know why I started sleeping with Sasuke and I want to try to tell you why so you don’t walk away not knowing this time but—”

Sakura looked up. Naruto was wiping his face with the back of his hand—“Naruto, what’s wrong?”

He made a little laugh when she passed him her sarong to dry his eyes. He looked like he was controlling it for a moment, and then some painful thought must have taken over his consciousness to have made the tears fall so far.

“It’s okay. I was pretty sure this was going to happen,” noticing the dark blots on the rock. “How unmanly this is.”

“Is it that bad? Does Sasuke-kun hurt you?”

Sakura knew just the right questions to spear his heart. He looked towards the sky but even that was a wasted venture; teeth held together and more tears washing down his face, down his neck.

“I hurt myself.”

Naruto tried to explain. He said he would. He said he wanted her to have answers and he’d been fighting for a chance for weeks, months to be alone with her to tell her exactly that. He was going to get it out and if this would be the only chance, he’d fight through anything.

“Of all people, why did it have to be him? I just don’t get it sometimes. Him, that stupid, stupid—I wish I knew what it was or when it started or what he did. I can’t go after you, Sakura-chan, because he’s in the way.”

“You sound like—do you hate Sasuke-kun?”

“Hate? Fuck, I wish—”

“Then…”

“I should hate him. I really should. He hates me.”

“You don’t know that.”

Naruto scoffed. “Nah, it’s okay, Sakura-chan. I’m pretty sure he does. I mean, why would anyone kill another person more than once if they didn’t hate them? And yet I’m still here, still living with that loser, still hurting myself. But I was always an idiot, right? I did say I’d rather live as a fool…”

When she didn’t speak, he glanced at her and the sadness was unmistakeable. Naruto choked up again, felt his throat close in. He was still doing more harm than good. He was saying too much and there was nothing she could do to heal the hurt, selfishly telling her of fears she was unable to cure.

“I’m sorry, Sakura-chan. I’m sorry for everything.”

Sakura breathed.

“Don’t be sorry.”

She had something important to say. She’d already decided she had to say it to him. That was why she had insisted that they enjoyed their time together first because Naruto didn’t know if either of them would be able to afterwards.

“While I was back at my parent’s place, I had a lot of time to think. You know, I’ve always watched you and Sasuke-kun from a distance. There are things I can see that you can’t. Maybe you’re blinded by the rivalry, I don’t know…”

Her explanation was simple in theory. Like so many others, they were too different, too alike, and their lives too bound to each other.

Sasuke grew up differently. Where Naruto was free, Sasuke was trapped by his clan. Sasuke wouldn’t have known it; what a child grows up with is what they consider normal. To Sasuke, it had been normal to seek the recognition of his brother and his father. It had been normal for the elders to expect great things of the children when they grew up. There were expectations and pressures and that was normal. That was aristocracy. That was lineage. That was privilege and heritage and social class. All of that was Sasuke’s birthright. That was the world one born into the Uchiha clan lived and breathed and it was normal and Sasuke had everything Naruto never did.

Naruto never had a family. Sakura conceded and included Iruka, but Iruka didn’t go home with Naruto every night. Naruto never knew Iruka was only a few rooms down the hall if he ever a scary dream. Iruka wasn’t in the kitchen where the bandaids were kept when Naruto grazed his knee. Naruto might have run crying to Iruka when the villagers said mean things but he never ran to Iruka with a report card to boast about. And most of all, Naruto never had a brother to admire, to aspire to, to look up to, to adore, to envy, to love.

Sasuke loved his brother. Naruto already knew this.

Naruto knew this but he couldn’t understand it. It was just knowledge in his head, just a fact, like one and one was two, Sasuke and Itachi was love. There was no thought, no meaning beyond it and Sakura shook her head. Maybe this was something Naruto wouldn’t ever be able to understand.

Sasuke’s childhood was full of bliss. It was effortless. He woke up to it every morning. He knew no other way to live. There was nothing black in his heart beyond the furious desire to prove himself to his brother, to impress his father and the clan. That was minimal compared with the dark and poisoned revulsion the village forced upon Naruto as a child. Sakura acknowledged this.

Naruto couldn’t understand what it felt like to lose everything overnight. Naruto had no memories of a time when he’d had anything more than nothing at all.

But Sasuke did.

“What do you think Sasuke-kun did when he woke up the next morning and it wasn’t a bad dream?”

When there was no mother to run to, no father to impress, no brother to adore? When the streets smelled of blood and death and he heard the screams with his eyes open? When breakfast wasn’t on the table, when he still had to put his clothes on and pack his bag and walk past corpses on his way to school?

He was just seven years of age.

He lost his life overnight. He lost the life he was meant to have, at the hands of the brother he couldn’t hate, who he still loved.

Life as Sasuke understood it was obliterated. At seven years of age.

What was a seven-year-old kid to do when they couldn’t put the shattered pieces back together—when they couldn’t even find all the pieces? Sasuke forever after had a botched-up, patchwork existence. He had nothing when he should have had everything.

Somehow, and Sakura had no idea how, Sasuke survived until he became a part of Team 7.

Sasuke knew he was dark. He knew he was holding onto the past. There wasn’t enough jet-black paint in the world to smother all that he had seen. But what reason did Sasuke have to move on? There wasn’t any. He had no reason to move on: the Uchiha massacre defined him. He was after all the Last Remaining Uchiha. Everyone knew about it; everyone talked about it in whispers behind his back. Sasuke could never hide all his secrets inside because everyone knew. It was too close for comfort and too close for peace and too close to let the memories fade so they weren’t so sharp and stark and vivid and absolute.

“Then there was me and you. Especially you.”

Naruto was the only other child who had nothing. They got there at different times but they shared something. Sasuke was from a noble family, Naruto was an Uzu-whatever, and they had that kind of unique, implicit connection. Even if they never spoke of it to each other, Sasuke knew, and maybe he was jealous and outraged that Naruto had the gall to smile afterwards.

Of course Naruto and Sasuke never hit it off very well. The accidental kiss had nothing to do with it.

“Do you remember Sasuke-kun in the beginning? I do. He never smiled.”

Sasuke had rat-bag Naruto on one shoulder and infatuated Sakura on the other. There was no room for the bad feelings with those mischievous, distracting comrades. Sasuke didn’t have time to think about the memories while trying not to fuck up every mission. There was a certain kind of comfort in that, a certain kind of blindness he appreciated. For once in his life he didn’t think about the past, when his present consumed him enough that he could forget, for a little while. For a little while, Sasuke was a child and Sasuke lived.

Team 7 was family.

In the moments where the memories rushed back, however, Sasuke felt the depth of the scars. He had loved his family completely and limitlessly and then they were gone. Even if Sasuke wanted to, he couldn’t allow himself to become attached to anyone again. He was too afraid. For all the misery and despair he suffered, he got out of it the fear of having his happiness contingent on another human being.

“Don’t you think it’s strange how he totally rejected all the girls? Guys would kill for that stuff, right?”

But when Sasuke spent every waking and non-waking moment with the same three people, something was bound to form. Even if he didn’t want it, even if he rejected it, denied it, fought it, hated it. He couldn’t stop it. Because Kakashi was always watching and Sakura was sweet and Naruto was too rambunctious and intimate and passionate to be avoided.

Naruto had a roaring inferno inside him. This poor, cursed orphan, with no clan or name to boast of, thought he could be Hokage.

Sasuke probably looked to Naruto for direction. Sasuke had grown up knowing he was going to be brilliant but Naruto was the opposite: Naruto was expected to fail and when didn’t, that was when people took notice. When Sasuke took notice.

Naruto claimed that Sasuke had always hated him but that made no sense. From the moment Team 7 departed the village on their first mission, Sasuke was drawn into Naruto. Sakura could never forget the night in the Land of Waves when they had walked into Tazuna’s house together, holding each other up. They were not enemies.

Sasuke didn’t hate Naruto. Sasuke hated that Naruto could ever be a worthy opponent for an Uchiha. Sasuke especially hated it when Naruto got stronger, hated it more when Naruto got stronger and he didn’t notice until he had already been surpassed because Naruto was supposed to be a nothing child.

“Sasuke-kun was always the top of his class. You were just a drop-out—”

“Hey!”

“But it’s true, Naruto. So when you started winning and beating the enemies that Sasuke-kun couldn’t—when Sasuke-kun was depending on being the strongest because he had to be if he ever wanted to kill his brother—how do you think Sasuke-kun felt?”

Sasuke’s goal in life at that time was to revenge. If Naruto were stronger, Sasuke’s life and what little of anything he had left was worthless.

Naruto was the person Sasuke turned to when he wanted a decent opponent. He could have tried to hate him but Naruto was twelve and silly and interpreted death glares as challenges. To Naruto, Sasuke did everything mean and unnecessary to wind him up, like a toy, like a game. Not to make enemies, not to tear bonds. And if Naruto were that close every day and treating him like both a physical and verbal sparring partner, Sasuke wasn’t getting angry at Naruto—he was angry at himself.

He needed time to focus, time without frivolous distractions. Kakashi took Sasuke away and Naruto went with Jiraiya. Sasuke thought it was his chance to soar, to shine, to outstrip his peers and live up to everything he was destined to be. Silly children like Naruto didn’t get anywhere in the end. Sasuke trained and trained and trained and—

Never was too soon. Itachi came back.

“I think that was it.” Sakura sighed, saying little else. “I think Sasuke-kun broke that day.”

Sitting in the hospital at Sasuke’s bedside, pealing apples and nattering away: she knew there was something wrong long before Sasuke smacked the tray out of her hands. Everything collapsed after that. Everything went wrong.

Naruto wasn’t old enough to see the real danger. Sakura reminded him that it wasn’t his fault, that no one blamed him. She knew Sasuke had manipulated Naruto into a fight with just the right words, made him think he had an opportunity to receive Sasuke’s longed-for recognition if only he fought against him. Naruto had laughed and teased and accepted the challenge like any other.

“But Naruto, it wasn’t a game to Sasuke-kun.”

Sasuke thought he had it—

Sasuke didn’t imagine anything but victory—

And when he wasn’t victorious—when he failed after everything he’d seen and suffered and sacrificed and existed for—when the hole behind Naruto’s water tank was the final, fatal crack—

Sasuke needed power. The village wasn’t giving it to him fast enough. It wasn’t a choice: he couldn’t stay. He had all the knowledge about how to get more power and how to get it quickly. Orochimaru had shown him only fragments of what he could give and Sasuke was blind and greedy and obsessed and nobody was going to stop him. Not even Naruto, his best friend, his best friend Itachi had told him to kill—

“—Stop.”

Naruto had his face in his hands.

“I know. I know the rest.”

Sasuke had to choose between me and his brother and I wasn’t enough.

“I know it all.”

Sakura watched him cry. She didn’t know what to do. Naruto was breaking down all over again when the memories hadn’t softened over time, when he still saw the fight he couldn’t win in agonizing clarity years after the fact. Naruto and Sasuke were the same. They couldn’t forget. They wouldn’t allow themselves to forget.

“I think Sasuke-kun is lucky you’re alive. You’re alive, Naruto.”

Maybe it was a perverse thing to say, that Sasuke was lucky Naruto didn’t die each time he killed him.

“I’m sure Sasuke-kun knows he’s done absolutely nothing to deserve such luck. I’m sure he knows there’s no one else in the world as lucky as he is, to have a best friend like you who, in spite of everything he’s done, never stops believing in him.”

Wasn’t it so curious that Naruto was the only person who Sasuke couldn’t severe ties with, the only person who would not die when Sasuke killed him, the only person who would need Sasuke to help him control the nine-tailed demon fox with his sharingan—

It was so curious.

Of all the people, out of everyone in the world

“Can you even imagine what must have been done to bring you two together time after time, no matter what you did? No one else makes sense like you and Sasuke-kun do.”

Sasuke must have realised it too. He must have. He was thrown into Naruto’s path too many times for it to keep being an accident, a coincidence, to be sheer and hard luck. Even without Naruto there, Sasuke was always reminded of what he had left behind.

“What if he just didn’t know how to come back?”

Sasuke would never allow Naruto to drag him back. His pride was just that stupid and inflated.

“What if he was afraid you would tease him about it?”

Tease? Tease? Out of everything, after all the destruction and torture and murder he had committed, that was his fear?

Sasuke knew his deepest fear. He knew himself and he knew his fear and he couldn’t stop it. What if the one person left who still believed in him teased him? How could he fight a feeling so powerful, so restrictive, so controlling? This very fear had stopped Sasuke from developing any sort of competent social skills—something so trivial, so natural. If Sasuke couldn’t even smile to show appreciation, how was he supposed to return to the village?

Sasuke had been so young when he left. He didn’t want to defect—if there had been any other way

How could he just go back? When he realised there was nothing left for him to do, how could he just go back to the one person who still gave a damn whether he lived or died?

He was an S-rank criminal. He thought he would have died, walking into Konoha’s borders with emptiness in his eyes. Maybe he thought he wasn’t worthy. Maybe he thought he didn’t deserve to live after everything he’d done in life and maybe he was so ashamed he didn’t have the guts to kill himself. Maybe he needed someone to do it for him and maybe, like his brother, if he caused the one person he couldn’t kill to hate him enough—

Maybe he wanted just one more chance. Maybe he realized killing and running and drowning in power was no life at all and maybe he wondered what really mattered in life when he still wasn’t happy or whole at the end of it all. Maybe he realised that to achieve the happiness and wholeness and peace that had been stolen from him at seven years of age meant he had to go back to the beginning because he knew the only thing for him in life was—

“You.”

in a voice so soft the emotion behind the words was the loudest of all.

“That’s not true.”

“What else would he be staying for?”

And he didn’t have an answer.

“But he treats me like—out of everyone, I can’t think of a person he would hate more.”

What—! Have you even been listening to me?” Sakura’s voice jumped and screeched. “I just told you what I think of Sasuke-kun’s life and you still—!”

“I know. I’m sorry, Sakura-chan. I know. But you don’t know what he does.” Naruto glanced at her and sighed when her anger blurred and faded. “I don’t know what you think it is we do—sometimes I’m not even sure. We never kiss and then I just wanted to try it once and he told me he’d kill me. It’s not… romantic, if that’s what you think it is. He’s completely selfish.”

“So why would you keep sleeping with him? That’s what I just don’t get—if you knew—”

“Why?” He laughed and took a breath. “Why do I do anything for that bastard? I mean, look at what I’ve done: I’ve just spent the last five years hauling my ass around the country chasing him and now I’m living and sleeping with him. Why do you think I do anything for him, like what do you really, really think? Because I’m pretty sure that’s all there is to it, and because of it, if I have to sleep with him just to make him stay with me then fuck me, that’s just what I’ve got to do.”

“I don’t… understand.”

But Naruto could tell she most certainly and unwillingly did understand.

“It’s okay. You can believe it even if it doesn’t seem like you can. God knows I’m trying to.”

“I still don’t understand. What are you saying?”

“Sakura-chan,” with a crooked smile and a scoff. “I am not saying that shit out loud. What, you think it makes it more real or something if I do? I can’t explain all the ways Sasuke devastates me.”

Naruto knew even that was saying too much. The look on Sakura’s face—

“I think I might go away for a little while.”

Her breath rushed out—

“I can’t stay here. It hurts too much. I don’t care if he hates me but sometimes I think he feels nothing and that more than anything—I just can’t take it anymore. I’ll go away for a while and be alone and train and when I’m stronger, I’ll come back and make everything right. I won’t fuck up again.”

“But you can’t leave him—”

“I can, actually.” Naruto seemed calm about it, like he had already thought it through and it scared her to the core. “He’ll be alright. He has you and Sai and everyone else—”

“But he needs you most of all—!”

“No.”

Naruto, please—please

“He doesn’t need me.”

“You didn’t listen to a thing I just said—!”

“I listened. I know what you said.” He was still calm. “But I just can’t take it anymore. It’s too much. I don’t want to be his entertainment—I want to be his equal. I’ve made up my mind—”

“No!”




“No—Naruto, no—”




“No—no, you can’t leave. Just listen to me—I know what you must feel. I’ve seen the way Sasuke-kun treats you and it’s disgusting but—”




Sakura wasn’t trying to make excuses for Sasuke.
Sasuke was dark and broody and vengeful and manipulative and emotionally detached from everyone.
But she thought Naruto must have lacked some fundamental spark of empathy—

if he had even a basic grasp of human psychology,
or even one iota of compassion

then he could have at least understood and sympathised with what caused Sasuke’s behavior,
even if he didn’t condone it.




Naruto was far away.
And Sakura cried.


--

















































































































































































































































































































































































































At home, Sasuke felt disappointed. He had expected Naruto to be a better ninja than to be distracted by boobs while he had henge’d as Sakura.


--

























six










--


Naruto pulled the apartment door closed and kicked off his shoes. It was dark and quiet; he turned a light on and wandered through the kitchen, into the hall, stopped at Sai’s door and tapped out a knock with a grin.

“Yo, Sai.”

Naruto wasn’t so adverse to Sai’s over-exercised expressions anymore. He had grown used to them since spending so much time with him; they were a part of his face, a part of Sai who he thought of as a friend.

“I’m going to be staying here tonight so if you wanted to go out, I’m just letting you know you can. So… go find some girls and have a good time.”

“I thought you said you were leaving.”

“Yeah, about that…” Naruto started awkwardly, poked at a mark on Sai’s door. “I forgot to tell Tsunade-baachan. I should probably do that so I’m not marked as a missing-nin,” laughing. “Could turn out bad if I were—look what happened to the last one.”

It wasn’t that funny anymore when he was the only one who got the joke. Naruto felt like shit and it was all Sai’s fault.

“So… I’m going to go see her tomorrow morning.”

Sai nodded but said nothing more, smiled at Naruto who smiled back. He wasn’t sure whose was more pretend.


--


Naruto didn’t undress. He walked into his room and lay down on his bed, pulled the covers over his legs.

Fuck. That’s all I’ve got. Just… fuck.

Naruto couldn’t think. He had no thoughts but it wasn’t like the last time he had no thoughts, no feelings. He had feelings this time. The strongest of those was guilt. Regretting that he had said too much. Sakura had always been easy to confide in but this time he was sure he had said too much. It was a relief at the time but Sakura couldn’t do anything with the knowledge and she had begged him to stay.

Sakura was smart. She saw things in Sasuke he didn’t think to look for. She was too smart, to have been the kind of person he could open up to.

I don’t know.

But I get it.


If Sakura were right then the more Sasuke hurt someone, the more they meant to him. Naruto could not have been anything less than his best and closest friend by such a measure and he didn’t know if that was a good thing.

If Sakura were right and Sasuke was so scared he might have felt for someone something that wasn’t hate or indifference or tolerance—so scared he intentionally hurt the very people he cared about—but for Naruto, whose feelings and attachments came naturally and immediately and unconditionally, it was almost too hard to understand such a fear—

A fear so strong it made Sasuke cruel.

If Sakura were right and such a fear did exist in Sasuke’s mind, it should have been impossible. Sasuke should not have formed any bonds at all. How—despite how much Naruto wanted to accept the conclusion—how could Sasuke have allowed anyone to mean so much to him when he was just—soscared—they could be taken away again?

If Sakura were right, then that was why Sasuke treated him so brutally. If the bond Sasuke felt for him was too strong for him to break himself then he would inflict upon Naruto the worst pain he would ever know until Naruto had to break it.

But what if Sakura was wrong? What if Sasuke really was just that heartless?

I can’t think. I don’t know what to do.





Seven Months, Two Weeks, One Day





Naruto still didn’t know what was going to come out of his mouth even as he was granted access to Tsunade’s office. The ANBU were still standing to the side, Tsunade was still covered in reports and the sake bottle was still an appropriate paperweight. With each step towards the desk, Naruto knew less and less.

“Something you want to tell me?”

Naruto could bet every letter of his confusion and torment was printed on his face. He took a breath and on the exhale, he decided:

“I think… I want to leave for a little while?”

So that’s what I’m going to do, is it.

Tsunade sat back and stared at him. Naruto couldn’t decide if there was some expression he should have affected that would have made him seem more resolute, more convinced, more aware of his choice.

“That’s a shame.” Tsunade turned away in thought. “Because I was going to grant Uchiha access outside but if you’re not going to be here then I can’t trust him to stay either. He’s just as likely to run off after you.”

That sounded almost too informed for Naruto’s ears.

“Well he’s survived this many months so far, another couple indoors won’t hurt him. I’m sure you two had enough fun gallivanting around the valleys yesterday to last him until you get back anyhow. Was there somewhere in particular you were planning to go?”

Tsunade embodied her cleverness in her smile when Naruto’s face showed an uncertainty that didn’t stem from his own tentative decision to leave. Why would she—say something strange—something that wasn’t supposed to be confusing but—it must have been because—if it meant what it sounded like—

“Oh Naruto, you didn’t really think a simple henge technique would throw the ANBU off, did you?”

It wasn’t funny anymore. She shouldn’t have looked so satisfied. If she were joking, it was poorly timed and horribly coincidental. His thoughts were starting to choke off and wipe clear, broken down by the roaring and heart-pounding in his head too loud and over it Naruto couldn’t quite—hear her amusement coming out in short, cunning puffs of laughter—

“The ANBU are elite ninja, Naruto. I think I speak on behalf of them when I say I’m offended you would underestimate their skills so much.”

Then an expanse of silence, because Naruto wasn’t saying anything when he most definitely should have been and how could he when—the sheer oblivion—was not—something he could articulate—

“What’s wrong? Of course I would have preferred you had told me but since Uchiha didn’t cause a scene or run away, I guess I can let you off the hook. Just don’t do it again without my permission.”

“Yesterday?” Naruto could feel a hand shaking along his face, over his mouth and the staggered breath that came out. “That was Sakura-chan.”

Tsunade frowned. Something wasn’t right. Naruto had no reason to bluff his way out of trouble after she had just told him he wasn’t in any. Naruto had no reason for his reaction to be so pure in its execution she almost couldn’t quite believe it was an act—

“Are you saying you didn’t know it was Sasuke?—Naruto—!”

Where his legs folded, his mouth gaped. Naruto squat on the floor with his head in his hands and sickness in his stomach and eyes unfocused to the wood and there was no strength in his muscles and everything was hot and weak and stinging and shrill and blurred and shivering and unbelievable

“I don’t believe you—”

“One of my biggest fears is that I’ll lose you too. I can’t lose you.”

“I shouldn’t have left you. I promise I’ll stay this time.”


Naruto, who had skin kissed by the sun, was pale-sick and whiter than—

“Naruto, what’s wrong? Tell me!”

“I should hate him. I really should. He hates me.”

“You don’t know that.”


Tsunade was at his side with her hand on his back and Naruto was going to faint—he had to faint—he wanted nothing else but to faint and then wake up and maturely and sequentially deal with the shit he had just—

“I think I just—”

“He knew the only thing for him in life was you. What else would he be staying for?”

“Are you sure it was Sasuke? It couldn’t have been. I would’ve noticed. I know Sasuke—I would have noticed!” Looking at Tsunade and pleading that she changed her mind, that she succumbed to her contained hysterics and told him she was just playing a silly joke on him—that she was just bored and he couldn’t believe her—“You’re wrong! It’s got to be a mistake—it’s got to be—!”

“No one else makes sense like you and Sasuke-kun do.”

“The ANBU weren’t mistaken. It was definitely Sasuke even if he suppressed his chakra signal until it was non-existent—”

“Then how do you know it was Sasuke!”

“When Sasuke’s chakra signal disappeared and Sakura, who’s own chakra signal was at her parent’s house, suddenly appeared from the apartment, we put two and two together. The ANBU even checked the flat. Sasuke wasn’t there.”

“But you can’t leave him—he needs you most of all—!”

“Naruto, what could possibly have happened at the valley to have made you so scared?”

“I—I told Sakura—Sasuke—I told him everything—all of it, I mean—oh god, I told him—oh god—oh shit oh fuck—”

“I can’t explain all the ways Sasuke devastates me.”


--


The stairs to the apartment seemed longer and taller and harder to climb than normal with his feet full of lead. Naruto made it to the top and smacked his forehead against the wall beside the door and he was content to align his body with the bricks while he panicked.

It explained why Sakura had seemed to understand so much about his life—

Because I was talking to fucking Sasuke.

Naruto felt sick. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t go inside. Sasuke could have been watching television or eating or walking down the hallway or playing some card game with Sai at the table or anything that meant Naruto would have to see him.

I told you—

Everything.

Naruto’s head swam. His muscles felt weak and sick and shivery. He thought about running away. He wondered why his feet had even brought him back to the apartment and he knew he definitely shouldn’t have said so much. Sasuke knew everything now. Sasuke knew Naruto had no sense of the disguise—Sasuke knew he wouldn’t lie to Sakura. Sasuke knew everything and Naruto still had to walk inside and see him and eat with him and live with him and he knew everything.

But you told me first. You told me your whole life first.

Either Sasuke was devising the cruellest of cruel schemes or—

You’re going to kill me.

You’re going to kill me and you won’t even need to touch me.


Naruto didn’t trust Sasuke not to use the knowledge against him. Not after everything they’d done to each other, not after all the punching and the kicking and the biting and the blood and bruises and especially the sex. But none of that bothered him. Naruto was okay with all of that. He knew how to cope with all of that, how to hide from all of that. It was just physical, just on the outside. It wasn’t anywhere near as intimate and destructive as everything on the inside and if Sasuke were so determined to kill him—then Naruto had just given him all the ammunition he would ever need.

I basically told you I—

“—fuck—!

“What are you doing out here?”

Sasuke was there. He was there in the doorway staring at Naruto and Naruto didn’t know, snapped against the stairwell railing behind him and feeling no pain over the violent pounding of his heart strangling his throat, if Sasuke staring at him like that was better than—

“Hey you’re not allowed outside!—I mean—you are?

“What the fuck are you squealing about?”

“Tsunade-baachan said you can go outside.”

—if Sasuke staring at him like that was better than him smiling. He—wasn’t smiling.

Why aren’t you smiling? You know you’ve got me. You’ve got me and I’m yours.

“That doesn’t explain what you were doing out here for so long.”

“Just—getting some fresh air!” and hoped his lie was bad enough Sasuke dropped it, didn’t pursue it and passed it off as typical stupidity. Naruto fixed his gaze on some dirty smudge on the door and drew it across the space and up Sasuke’s trousers, up his shirt to the frown at his mouth. Sasuke still wasn’t smiling and Naruto didn’t know why. He had every reason to smile. That was what Sasuke had done every other time he’d caught him, hurt him, pushed him so far and so hard, pushed him just shy of actually breaking him completely. If Sasuke wasn’t smiling, what did it—

You know everything about me and I know everything about you and I know what it means if you’re not—

“How did you know I was here anyway?”

“I could feel your chakra signal. You’re too stupid to hide it.”

Naruto flinched and searched for Sasuke’s own chakra signal and as soon as he felt it he realised—he first had to actively seek it. That was how Sasuke had been able to get away with henge’ing as Sakura in front of him. Sasuke had already known he wouldn’t think to—

“And don’t blame me if you’ve gone and broken your back. It’s your own fault if you never sense for chakra signals outside of a fight.”

You’re telling me all your tricks! Do you want me to confront you—is that what this is—?

Fuck, you’re going to kill me right now if I—if I don’t—


Naruto didn’t know whether to ask him about it or to tell him he knew what he had done. If Sasuke were going to break him for the last time, Naruto knew his only defense would be to expose him first, to make the initial hit or to surprise him at least. While he wouldn’t be able to deny the truth in the things he had said and while it wouldn’t take away any of the power Sasuke had to destroy him, he could at least make sure Sasuke knew he was wary. He could at least fake control and start erecting a shield around his very soul until Sasuke realised his weakness and dropped those final, fatal words.

But—but if I know everything about you then I know why you’re not—

You’re not—what if you’re not—


If Sasuke wasn’t lying. If he too had spoken the truth. If he had only been alluding to chakra signals to discern if the Hokage had said anything else. If he was still burning his stare into Naruto’s face to gauge if he had realized the pretense or not, to determine if—




I have the same power to destroy you as you have to destroy me.




“Are you going to come inside or not?”

“Well if you’d get your ass out of the door, I might.”

Sasuke shifted, walked through the kitchen and passed by the dining room and into the lounge room with Naruto following behind, sitting down next to him on the couch and staring at the screen. Some old movie was playing that Naruto didn’t recognize, that wasn’t interesting in the slightest, that didn’t take his mind far enough away from reality to stop him from realising—that more than Sasuke trying to kill him, Naruto was afraid that—that maybe he wasn’t

Why would you ever—fuck, you played around and giggled and flirted with me—the ANBU could have exposed you as soon as—

Why would you ever


The fear. That intense, debilitating fear and Naruto knew he had it right. Under no other circumstances would Sasuke ever hint that he might not completely dislike anyone—that he might not completely dislike Naruto. Sasuke would never, to his very face, tell him he might just mean more than a rival or a comrade or a friend or a best friend, to ask him to understand all the flaws and the faults that made him human, to beg Naruto to stay with him.

Sasuke had needed to hide behind the mask of Sakura and the worst thing Naruto could do was let him know he knew.

You’re fucked up. You’re fucked up—god, I can’t believe you had to hurt me so much just to—how did you even know I was—

Sasuke would definitely have heard his conversation with Sai through their paper-thin walls but—there was so little time between him coming home to tell Sai he was leaving and Sasuke appearing in Sakura’s body at his doorway. Naruto just could not believe—how Sasuke would ever have decided in those fleeting moments that reliving the pain of his life—that being so open and emotional in front of him—Sasuke had cried in front of him—

It wasn’t Sakura. It couldn’t have been. There was no way Sakura would have known all that Sasuke had told him. Sakura was still furious—she would never have told him they ’made sense’. The only person it could have been—the only person Tsunade was telling him it was—was the cold, proud, manipulative thing beside him who knew everything about him.

But I just can’t believe you’d feel the same—

you feel the same.


Naruto didn’t have to think anymore. He knew. He knew everything about Sasuke and Sasuke knew everything about him and before they fucked up what had taken so long to get right, he had to—

“Hey.”

Sasuke managed a grunt.

“I just want you to know,” with his eyes still on the television. “I don’t hate you.”

Sasuke said nothing.





Seven Months, Three Weeks





Ironically, Sasuke was the one to teach him how to fix a friendship. Naruto found himself a few days later knocking on the front door, dressed in swimmers with a towel in hand. Sakura opened the door to his smiling face and he had to catch her when she jumped at him, held her arms around him so tight while babbling out all sorts of nonsense into his chest—

“Oh my god, Naruto! Naruto—oh my god, oh my god—”

“I wish more girls jumped at me like this,” laughing, “How’s it been?”

“Oh my god, I thought you left! What are you doing here? I mean—stay—don’t go! Please don’t go—”

“I won’t go.”

She felt into him in a different kind of way this time. Holding him and breathing and believing he was there. He was there for her because he always was.

“Hey,” quieter than before, “I know you’re still angry at me but I’ve been thinking a lot since you moved out, about you and Sasuke and me. How about we go have some fun somewhere first and then talk about real stuff?”

She pulled away and smiled, clearly impressed by his thoughtfulness and maturity.

“That sounds like a great idea.”

Of course it’s a great idea. Anything that dickhead thinks of is a good idea.

But without all four member of Team 7, including Sai, he still felt incomplete. Naruto looked into the water at his hazy reflection, up at Sakura who was sitting in a shallow part of the river, letting the water flow through her fingers. They could be happy together. He could bring them all together again, after things were fixed properly. Sakura turned towards him and laughed at the ticklish feeling of the rocks under her feet and shone and smiled so much that he could almost believe she forgave him even before the harder talk had started.

“Hey,” catching her attention when she walked beside him along the bank. “I don’t know how to say it right but—I just want you to know, you and Sasuke are my best friends and—I’m sorry I went and made stuff worse.”

Sakura dragged a small smile to her mouth and played with the rocks in her hands.

“I know. I’m sorry too.”

She said she was still angry. There were a lot of things that maybe shouldn’t have happened the way they did and Naruto acknowledged them. He told her all the things he hadn’t been able to tell her before: how it started; why he thought it would help; how often. She asked him why he didn’t stop when his mood had started sinking so deep, how he felt about sleeping with Sasuke and he inarticulately tried to answer that too. He answered all her questions in as much details as she wanted and he could see she was making an effort to appreciate his honesty.

“Are you still sleeping with him?”

“No.”

Not yet.

Naruto did the stupid thing and allowed the devious smile to show too much on his face. Sakura saw it, her frown deepening all the more worriedly when he tried to get out of it and avoid her.

“Are you? Please tell me if you are—”

“Honestly, we’re not but what I mean is like—if we do in the future, don’t be mad or jealous or anything. It’s not that I like him any more than I like you. You’ll always be my best friend.”

“But you should, you know. Like him more than me.”

Naruto looked up in surprise and Sakura kicked the water.

“That’s part of the reason I was so angry and upset the first time. Apart from you not telling me, it was obvious you were both just doing it to hurt each other.” Her smile didn’t reach her eyes. “You guys are my whole world. I want our Team 7 family to get along. I can’t stand it when you two fight. So if you do sleep with Sasuke-kun,” turning to point an accusing finger at his nose, playful glare on her face, “you have to promise you like him more than me. Do you?”

I really hate déjà vu. I bet Tsunade-baachan will be calling me to her office tomorrow telling me it was just Sasuke henge’ing again.

“I could just tell you what you want to hear, you know.”

“You can say whatever you want but I’ll know the truth anyway if you start being mopey at home again.”

Sakura stood up and when Naruto looked at her, her smile was real and free. In his ears he heard her ask if it would be okay for her to move back in—if it were really as okay as he were making it seem and despite the screaming and the fighting and the constant need to be at each other’s throats, she still missed them so much. Naruto had never been able to deny either of his best friends anything that would make them as happy as she was.

“Of course you can. Come home where we are.”





Seven Months, Three Weeks, Six Days





Naruto shifted his feet, tentative, testing the soil underneath his shoes. Sasuke stood opposite him some distance away, calm and steady, boredly watching the guards around the perimeter who were watching him. There were guards everywhere, ANBU, Jounin, even Chuunin guards surrounding the training field in the middle of which they stood. Tsunade had ordered them there, knowing the rest of the village would be left wide open for an attack and Naruto knowing that nothing less than a fight would make Sasuke go out anywhere together with him.

He could feel his heart beating quick with anticipation. There were tingles in his fingertips and excitement in his breath. They were on his turf now and Naruto was pumped.

You only know how to fight in small spaces and oh, you are going down now, bitch.

Tsunade hadn’t wasted her breath telling them anything more than necessary, that they weren’t allowed to breach the boundaries of the field or use anything other than taijutsu or kill each other—and being strict about the last. Naruto smiled, flexing his hands and promising himself not to screw up in front of everyone. Sakura, Sai, Kakashi, Yamato, his classmates from the genin days—everyone had assembled to see the two most temperamental ninja in the village beat the shit out of each other.

Sasuke was stretching his arms, still calm. It didn’t fool Naruto, didn’t make him drop his guard. He knew the power in those muscles, the intensity behind the affected boredom. He knew Sasuke and his strength and every movement that tried to wrap him in a transparent blanket of assurance. Sasuke was still strong; he had to remember that before he found his face smashed into the ground alongside his dignity.

I’ll get you. I’ve already got you. I know everything about you.

Naruto grinned and crouched into position in time with Sasuke and then—

—launched at him with a force that sung in his ears—fist to his face, blow to his stomach—

When the dust finally cleared, Naruto could see the ground chewed up all the way to where Sasuke had crashed—

Wow. That was kind of—quick.

“What the fuck was that for?” Sasuke was dragging himself to his feet, wiping his lip and examining the blood on his hand. “I haven’t trained in over seven months, you moron! You want to go a little easy on me, huh?”

Huh—?” Naruto was still standing in the fighting pose he had finished in, his fist still tight. The dust and dirt fell out of Sasuke’s clothes when he brushed them and turned on him with a critical glare in his eyes. “Hey, what the fuck is wrong with you? We’re supposed to be fighting—”

Sasuke was in his face so fast Naruto couldn’t breathe—smacked to the ground and with Sasuke’s hand ramming his head into the dirt, mouth to his ear before Naruto could think to block—

“You think I’m going to fight for real with everyone here? You’re so stupid—this is a kind of probation and if they realize how brilliant I am and how useless you are—” Sasuke sat back with a knowing smile and punched Naruto in the chest with a smidgen less than all his strength—

Fuck—get off!—that hurt, you bastard—”

It was too easy to roll and kick him away. Sasuke skid on his back in the dirt and jumped up.

So what—you’re not going to fight back, is that what you’re saying?

Naruto didn’t know. And then all the evil in the world smiled with him.

As long as I don’t kill you—

Sasuke put up a weak block when Naruto’s fists barrelled down on him, grinning to match just how good it felt when all of his hits were breaking through and Sasuke just had to take it—Naruto didn’t care if it was one great big sham because—fucking deserve all of this and more for what you—there was a lot of pent-up tension pulsing through his hands and if this were his only chance in life to freely and effortlessly beat the shit out of him—

“Fuck you, Naruto—” growled out while pinning Naruto to the ground again. His face was close enough that Naruto could see the split at his hairline where the blood was oozing out. “Didn’t you understand what I said? Fucking stop hitting me so hard—”

“No way,” Naruto gleefully watched Sasuke’s face contort when he didn’t guard his side again. “I’m having way too much fun to care about you and your stupid pride—” Naruto went to do it again and this time Sasuke caught it, stapled his wrist to the ground and in nothing more than a whisper—

“I’m warning you. You can keep doing this but I’ll get you back later.”

Sasuke’s smile was pure and unadulterated sex

Naruto thought about that for a second. He knew everything about Sasuke and he knew Sasuke wasn’t going to do anything to him he hadn’t already done, that he couldn’t already take, that he didn’t already want. Sasuke was going to need a better threat than that if he wanted Naruto to give up this beautiful opportunity for revenge. Naruto threw all of his unbalanced strength into his other fist and hoped he got him back later.

“You stupid—” but Naruto cut him off with a slap to his nose, laughing stupidly and knowing he had all the power in the world over Sasuke at that moment. Sasuke worked his face around the hand, ducked his head and dived at Naruto’s neck.

Naruto gasped out some obscenity when Sasuke didn’t pull back, when his tongue burned and teeth pinched—hey wait what the fuck are you—all along one side of his neck. Naruto forgot he wasn’t supposed to—jumped straight to embarrassed instincts that made him wriggle and struggle and Sasuke, not wanting him not to move like that, made Naruto gasp in a different way when he drove his hips into the ground—

“What are you—what the fuck—”

“Shut up and stop moving—” breathed into his ear. “You brought this on yourself.”

“But you’re—” and tried to stop moving, tried to work out who was moving more when Sasuke rocked down onto him again—“Fucking stop it—”

Naruto could hear the light laughter in his ear. “Stop what? You’re the one who keeps squirming—”

“You fucking liar—your hand under my shirt—”

Naruto wrenched Sasuke’s head around by his hair, dragged him back far enough that he caught a glimpse of that smugly defiant grin on Sasuke’s lips. Naruto knew Sasuke couldn’t defend himself properly but if he didn’t get Sasuke off him soon, he was going to win without needing to hit him at all—and as soon as he found the leverage to roll them over—

Naruto punched him in the face but it wasn’t nearly as effective as he would have liked with Sasuke still holding onto his wrists, still—pinning Naruto to his hips with his legs—“Just stop it and fight like you mean it—”

“But I do mean it.”

From the sidelines Kakashi lazily watched his former students with folded, thoughtful arms, and maybe it was just the influence of reading too much Icha Icha Paradise but that had to be the most sexual scuffle he’d ever witnessed.

He glanced to his side, wondering how enjoyable he could possibly make Sakura and Sai’s discomfort if he said, “you didn’t tell me Naruto and Sasuke were sleeping with each other.”

Sakura flinched to complement the betrayal of her eyes and Kakashi was thankful for his mask covering his amusement.

Sai looked over, smiling.

“Are Naruto-kun and Sasuke-kun sleeping with each other?”

And with all eyes on Sakura, her face exploded with enough flustered color that the timid, “umm… they might be…” wasn’t ever necessary.

“You might want to wait a while before you go back to the apartment afterwards. Sai, take Sakura out somewhere nice for lunch.”

Oh, the embarrassment; Kakashi could have died again.


--


Sasuke was following behind him up the stairs and Naruto wasn’t sure if that was a good place to be.

It could have been a good place, maybe, if they knew anything about what they were supposed to do. Maybe if their childhoods had been different, if even one person in the village had thought far enough ahead to see the consequences of a life without proper relationships then maybe a lot of things would have been different. Maybe they would have sorted out their problems civilly and never wondered and worried that wrong was the only way they could do anything together.

We don’t have to hurt each other but—

I don’t think either of us know how to get this right.


Naruto realized he had just forced Sasuke into a fight he couldn’t win or even honourably lose. He knew as soon as he opened the door, Sasuke was going to crack his face through a cupboard or a wall and it always had to start with bruises anyway. They couldn’t just, like normal people—

Naruto opened the door, stepped inside and ducked to avoid a swing at his head. He got it wrong; Sasuke kicked his feet out from under him and after that he was all over him on the floor with a hand pushed to Naruto’s mouth and a feral smile on his own.

“Oh, you are going to fucking get it—”

That wasn’t right. Naruto didn’t want to have to fight Sasuke, to hit him back just so he could have him. He didn’t know much about this but he knew normal people never had to keep getting it wrong before they got it—

“—you were wrong, Sasuke.” when he broke free of the hold. “You fucked up—”

“Oh, get over it already—”

“You said you’d show me how to get it ‘right’ and you didn’t.”

Sasuke stopped and frowned at Naruto. He wasn’t insulting him for what he had expected; he—wasn’t insulting him at all, calm and staring up at him. Sasuke glared, raised his fist like he always did when things got too emotional and Naruto turned his face away with a sigh. Sasuke didn’t hit him, though he didn’t relax.

We’re both so messed up. We know everything about each other and yet we’re still doing this.

The kitchen. They were in the kitchen, covered in dirt and blood and there was the uncomfortable stickiness of dried sweat on their skin. Sasuke had nicks and cuts and bruises appearing under his shirt as well when he let Naruto take it off—

Naruto kept his surprise withheld. He could see the grass in Sasuke’s hair and the steel in his eyes and he knew Sasuke had to keep glaring, teeth clenched, because that was the only way they knew how to do anything together but—but maybe if—when Naruto raised his leg and pressed his hand at Sasuke’s shoulder, he rolled without resistance. Naruto stared down at him, down at Sasuke’s sneer.

“What? You think you can do it?”

“I think I can fuck it up less than you do, that’s for sure.”

Naruto knew that wasn’t the right way, that wasn’t how normal people asked for and gave consent. It wasn’t the right way and normal people never had to fight about everything but—it was a start. At least they were talking in roundabout circles and maybe that was how it had to be until they knew better. Naruto breathed but not too hopefully.

After what we’ve done to each other, I’m not even sure we can do this the right way.

This was something they hadn’t even been taught to handle or trained to deal with. All their lives they had been too distracted fighting their respective battles, fighting evil and each other and the feelings inside. Naruto knew the kitchen wasn’t a good place to get it right and being dirty and bloody and sticky wasn’t a good way to start fixing things either. It wasn’t right—but it was safe. They were used to things not being right.

“Well? Aren’t you going to do something? I knew you couldn’t—”

Sasuke’s hands were tighter around the sleeves of his shirt when Naruto breached the seam of his trousers and pushed his hand inside. For a fleeting second Sasuke’s guard vanished completely and Naruto saw all the fear underneath.

I’m not even sure we can do this the right way.

At least not the first time.


It was the first time either of them had had the consideration to touch the other, to make the other feel before they sought their own pleasure. Naruto was watching for Sasuke’s reaction when he moved his hand, when the guard didn’t come back, when Sasuke couldn’t keep his face blank or angry or anything that wasn’t showing what Naruto was doing might actually have felt slightly better than not bad. He saw everything.

It must mean something if you’re letting me do this.

He hoped Sasuke couldn’t feel his fingers trembling when he pulled his trousers off completely, when made his hand wet enough that he could use it.

Naruto didn’t know if he could believe just how much control Sasuke was giving up to him. He was fully dressed and Sasuke was naked underneath him and with his other hand he felt the rise and fall of Sasuke’s chest under his fingers, a heart beating erratically in the distance. He’d never before touched Sasuke like that, touching for the sake of touching, and Naruto still didn’t know, with Sasuke’s eyes so dark and intense and full of fear, if Sasuke was ready, if he would allow Naruto to touch him in all the ways, in all the places he really wanted to.

It’s okay. We’d probably both freak out if we did something like that.

We’ll just have to wait. I know we can’t do this the right way just yet.


It still wasn’t right but it was safe. Naruto kept his clothes mostly on and made himself believe it meant something when he lay over Sasuke, when Sasuke braced his arms around his shoulders and held his legs over Naruto’s hips. Naruto breathed in at his neck and dared to press his mouth to Sasuke’s jaw and held him down and moved into him, knowing everything about him.

He tried to make it right. He tried to make it slow when Sasuke didn’t know how to keep that kind of pain from showing on his face, distress and shock and heat and all the things Naruto understood, had felt before. He could feel Sasuke’s fingers straining in his shirt and his legs tighter around his waist where they belonged and—Naruto had to wonder—because Sasuke almost looked like—

“Why the fuck does it—you’re doing it wrong!”—hot and angry and confused—“I thought you said you knew what to do!”

“What? This is how you did it.”

“Fuck, if I’d known how much it hurts—”

Naruto stared down at Sasuke and maybe Sasuke knew, with his face slowly dawning with the realization that—maybe that was the wrong thing to say, or the right thing to say, or the thing that showed he was too mindless to remember he was supposed to be cold and frigid and experienced. But Sasuke had no idea what was happening.

“What the hell are you looking at? Hurry up and do something!”

Naruto hid his disbelief in Sasuke’s neck and smiled in wonder and breathed just a little bit lighter.

I know we can’t do this the right way just yet but—

At least we can learn together.


At least he could touch Sasuke, when he could set the pace and feel the slide and flinch and flex of Sasuke’s muscles under his hands.

At least he could watch Sasuke, when Sasuke turned away and grit his teeth and closed his eyes and opened his mouth when he forgot his inhibitions.

At least he knew he was doing something right, when Sasuke wasn’t so bitchy and icy and let his voice and breath echo as the only sound in Naruto’s mind.

At least—

At least Sasuke kissed him back this time.

At least it was more than personal, more than being alive this time.

At least he knew everything about Sasuke and Sasuke knew everything about him this time.

At least Sasuke wanted to do it again this time.

And again.

And again.


--


They had the decency at least to find a bedroom. It might have taken a while and it might not have been a completely fluid transition but by the time Sai and Sakura returned to the apartment, no one needed to have known of anything that had transpired. Except for—

“Sai, let’s leave—”

“What’s that sound?”

“It’s nothing—come on, let’s go—”

“There are clothes on the ground—”

“I know—”

“And how come the table’s broken—?”

What—?





it’s the last day on earth





“Sasuke.”

Sasuke woke with a gasp and a snap, hands strangling the sheets and unable to stop a sound Naruto had never heard him make before—the telltale trickle of sweat down his back when Naruto’s arms around him tightened, suffocated him more than he already was and Sasuke couldn’t—

“What the fuck do you want? Let go of me—”

“I didn’t know you still had nightmares.”

Sasuke swallowed dry and brought his breathing back to normal, kicked the sheets off when it was far too hot in the room and tried to sit up, roll away from Naruto’s frighteningly intimate hold and when he wouldn’t let him escape—

“I said let go—why are you still here anyway?”

“This is my room.”

Sasuke’s glare turned rigid at the feeling of Naruto’s nose on his shoulder, the touch of his mouth that rested on his back. Sasuke would never tell Naruto how much it calmed him, comforted him when one of Naruto’s hands covered his eyes and shielded him from the moonlight and the poison in his head.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” But he didn’t fight it, hoped instead that the sweat blended together everything else coming from his eyes. “Just fuck off and leave me alone—”

“No.”

grit his teeth against the falling of his heart—

“I won’t let you go.”

and pressed his own hands over Naruto’s when everything broke down and crumbled—

“You’ll never be alone.”

and reassembled the way it should have been.





Eight Months, Five Days





Naruto wondered where the ANBU guards were. He had nothing to stare at, nothing to be distracted by, standing in the Hokage’s office with Sasuke at his side and Tsunade’s irritated frown on her lips to entertain him when she wanted to make them sweat out the wait. Naruto didn’t seem too affected but Sasuke was alert enough to be a little more anxious—there was only one thing that he and Naruto did together without Sakura after all—

“Uchiha.” Tsunade had her chin resting in her hand and a sour look on her face. “You’re lucky you have idiot friends who value your life so much. I hope you realize they’re only reason you’re not dead right now.”

Sasuke had his head bowed in respect. She couldn’t see his face or what he was thinking when she told them both that in light of Sasuke’s recovery, she would be removing most of the ANBU guards. Then with a sigh that made them both take notice:

“Listen Sasuke, I remember what you said to me at the beginning, but—you are worthy and you do deserve to live and you are so very, very lucky. You have a third chance at life so how about you make something with it this time and protect your future Hokage next to you—”

“—Huh?

“Don’t you want to be Hokage, Naruto?”

“Yeah, but—”

“As for the second thing—”

“Wait—”

As for the second thing,” and Naruto found the strength to keep his mouth closed. “I’ll be moving you out of that apartment. You two will be going into a place of your own far, far away.”

Sasuke shot a glare at Naruto when he started whining about losing Sakura and Sai as flatmates—shut up, you stupid usuratonkachi, she’s telling you to live with me and only me

“Usually I don’t care what you lot do—this is exactly why I tried to leave you to your own devices while taking care of Uchiha because it works—and god only knows how it works but it does—the problem with your method of making it work is that I get ANBU reports like this,” and Tsunade picked up and unfolded a document. “Day two hundred and thirty-nine. 12:11pm to 12:14pm. Kitchen. Moaning noises. 12:15pm to 12:20pm. Dining room. Moaning noises. 12:26pm to 12:30pm. Hallway. Moaning noises. 12:33pm to 12:53pm. Naruto Uzumaki’s room. Moaning noises. 11:18pm to 12:30am. Naruto Uzumaki’s room again. Moaning noises. Wow that last one was quite impressive, wouldn’t you agree?”

Naruto had endured it before but for Sasuke it was all he could do not to punch Naruto in the face and then die in a little, embarrassed puddle of his own fault and consequences.

“I guess I have to conclude from this report that everything’s okay between you pair—and luckily for all of us the ANBU won’t be watching you that closely anymore. Unfortunately it’s not okay with your other flatmates and your neighbours who, for some unknown reason, do not seem to appreciate how loud and indiscreet you are. Just don’t destroy too much of your new house because I won’t be paying for it. Got it?”

Tsunade was still concerned about Sasuke’s intentions even as he left the room; her anxieties peaked as soon as the door closed and the arguments started outside, with Naruto apparently having predicted and dodged a hit from Sasuke and was stupid enough to tease him about it. Naruto’s chakra signal suddenly shot down the hall and she cringed with the crash at the end—seriously thought about going after that stupid Uchiha spawn when Sasuke’s chakra signal started in the opposite direction but—everything was going to be okay, she realised, because he was moving slow enough for Naruto to catch up.

I thought you were supposed to train him to be a ninja, Jiraiya.





and in my dreams





Naruto was still apprehensive about openly admitting how much he might have wanted to just be near Sasuke. When he had to pack up his room, it involved three boxes and a lot of mess but as long as he turned it into a contest like everything else, he had a legitimate excuse to hang around Sasuke and gloat when he won. He watched, glared, made snide comments at Sasuke from the doorway, who was organising what little he owned tetris-like into boxes. He ignored all of Naruto’s observations but when he opened the last drawer and metal happened to reflect light into Naruto’s eyes—

“Hey, what’s that? How’d you get that?” Naruto walked to Sasuke when he ignored him and took the hitai-ate back out of the box—only to have Sasuke snatch it from him. “What?”

“What?” Sasuke retorted and put it back with his things. “It’s mine, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s mine—”

“Naruto,” in that condescending tone, “yours doesn’t have a big gash on it. This is mine.”

“No it’s not! You threw it away after the fight—!” But Sasuke still wouldn’t let him have it when he tried to grab it, holding it his hand this time and pushing Naruto back.

“I didn’t throw it away—it fell off. It’s still mine. Aren’t I Uchiha Sasuke of the Leaf Village?”

Naruto stared at him. And then he grinned.

Yeah. You are.

Welcome home.





Eight Months, One Week, Two Days





Sakura watched Sasuke out of the corner of her eye, glaring at Naruto as he taught Sai the joys of blowing bubbles through his nose in the water. She looked down at her feet and wriggled her toes and smiled at how his fingers scratched along the rock into a fist. Maybe everything was okay even if Sasuke and Naruto stubbornly never spoke or ever acted the way she really wanted to see them act. If Sasuke didn’t realise what he looked like, it just meant his head was too full of his thoughts about one person to notice or control his reactions.

“Sakura.”

Sasuke lowered his voice when he realized it had made her jump.

“You shouldn’t have listened to me when I told you to stay away from Naruto.”

She watched her hands, tightening on her knees. Naruto was still blowing bubbles, pretending to be a shark and Sai his prey. Sai, who had only ever seen sharks in books, thought Naruto just looked stupid and he told him so. Sasuke exhaled his annoyance, watching the commotion Naruto stirred up that he for once wasn’t a part of and wanted to be.

“I know it hurt you. I don’t know why I did it. It wasn’t a nice thing to do.”

I get it. I know this is your way of saying sorry.

“I’m going to stay here—to make sure he doesn’t screw everything up.”

But I still can’t believe you were so afraid you might lose him to me. You’ve always been—

Sakura smiled, relaxed, and told him there was nothing for her to forgive, that it was okay, and there was nothing better than when he looked over at her and—

“Thank you.”

—quietly, sincerely, and this time they was in a better place, at the valley, in the sun, with those they cared about and blissfully warm all over.

“Gah—hey!” Naruto was waving his hands around to get their attention and Sakura turned to him with a smile that didn’t show anywhere near the gratitude she owed him. “We’re going to take a group photo! Come down here!”

When Naruto balanced the camera on a rock just carefully enough that it didn’t fall into the water, when Sasuke still didn’t smile for the photo and Naruto hassled him about it, when Sai stood next to her and told her he finally understood what they had fought for all those years, when she had a new photo to put on her desk right beside the old one and no one was left out and Naruto had done everything he had promised he’d do five years before—she hugged her family to her heart and never let them go.





it’s the end of the world





Naruto shook his hair of water droplets, walking out of the bathroom. Their solitude together had given them freedom he hadn’t thought to imagine. He was able to relax, to breathe, to wander the apartment and never worry about his nakedness but Sasuke couldn’t seem to unravel: he still spat insults in Naruto’s face and beat him down when he didn’t measure up to his meticulous standards and most of the time Naruto didn’t care because those kinds of fights ended very well.

But Naruto had no idea how Sasuke actually felt behind the anger, if he was happy or peaceful or anything light and in the moments before he passed Sasuke in the hallway, reading a scroll and using it as a convenient excuse not to acknowledge him as usual, he decided that pushing Sasuke into the wall and leaning into him would be the best way to find out his feelings.

Naruto watched his flinch of surprise, his eyes as they started to close and Sasuke’s pursuit of his mouth when he pulled away before they could touch. Sasuke looked confused for as long as it took him to realize Naruto’s knowing smile and the tricks he played.

“What the hell was that?”

“I just wanted to see something.”

Sasuke was guarded enough that he knew not to ask what he was looking for. Naruto’s horribly smug smile told him he’d found it and Sasuke wasn’t going to like what it was.

“Don’t play these games with me. You’re nowhere near smart enough to outwit me.”

But when Naruto leaned into him and teased out the same reaction again—

What!” Sasuke grabbed his face in frustrated embarrassment and forced his mouth on Naruto’s, threw him away just as quickly. “Is that what you wanted me to do? You’ve got it now so go away and do something useful—”

Sasuke still wasn’t moving though, still had his back to the wall facing Naruto and still stared at him angrily when Naruto leaned in a third time and Sasuke was just far too greedy for abuse—

Naruto heard the snap of plaster in the opposite wall when Sasuke kicked him, kept his foot pressed into Naruto’s stomach harder than necessary. “What, Naruto, what are you looking for?”

“I don’t know. You never act like you care so I just wanted to see—”

“You wanted to see if I care?

“And what’s wrong with that? No one’s even here—I mean would it really kill you to relax a little?” Naruto held his leg and held his gaze, prepared himself for—“Because sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between you now and you hating me—”

“You think I hate you?”

“I don’t know. Do you hate me?”

The look on Sasuke’s face when Naruto had asked—if he didn’t hate him before, he could have hated him then. Naruto was staring at him, waiting for an answer and Sasuke hated to see—that while Naruto had started out stupid and mischievous and annoying he was now looking at him, looking for a very real answer to a very real question.

You think—after everything I’ve told you, you think I—you still think I—

Sasuke tossed the scroll towards their room, watched it until it stopped and then turned back to Naruto. He knew what he looked like, head dipped just enough that his hair fell on his face, staring at Naruto through dark eyelashes and—oh Naruto, you’re so easy to manipulate—knowing what Naruto saw when he parted his mouth and withdrew his leg and stepped towards him and climbed onto him—

Sasuke breathed deep and kept his laughter inside, controlled—so easy, so predictable—when Naruto grappled at Sasuke’s legs already tight around his waist and after the shock and confusion when Sasuke had climbed onto him and after the lust and the hopeso, so easy—Naruto caught his balance and manoeuvred him, pressed him, pinned him against the wall and Sasuke stared down at the face between his fingers, the whiskers on Naruto’s cheeks and those eyes and that mouth and only after making sure Naruto’s hands were properly disabled, holding him up—

“I hate,” with a force to match the fist that struck Naruto’s face, “that you’re so stupid and useless and blind and you have no sense of decency and I hate that you never listen or clean your shit up and you’re so fucking lucky you’re not completely incompetent in bed because it’s your only redeeming quality—”

Sasuke kept his fingers twisted in Naruto’s hair, bubbling with excitement and passion and victoryyou’re just too easy, Naruto, just too fucking predictable—waiting for Naruto to pull his head away from where he had buried it in Sasuke’s chest, the only place he was able to go to avoid the hits he couldn’t block, to look up at him and glare and snap and laugh—

“Does that answer your question?”

Sasuke breathed and waited, relaxed his jaw and softened the sneer at his mouth and calmed the wild from his eyes. Naruto was taking it rougher than usual or maybe he was just hiding in the folds of his shirt until he thought of something stupid and witty—as if you’d ever say anything clever—time passing long and tight and maybe a little too quiet—

“You’re supposed to laugh.”

Sasuke clenched his jaw again, feeling the twinge, the squeeze, the tension again when Naruto wouldn’t move, when he felt only the warmth of his breath and the thumping, troubling beat of his own heart.

What the fuck is your problem? Why aren’t you laughing? You always laugh—

Naruto wasn’t laughing. He—wasn’t doing anything.

“Laugh, you stupid usuratonkachi, you’re supposed to laugh.”

Sasuke’s fingers bit and held onto his hair when Naruto moved, to look up enough that he could press his face into Sasuke’s neck and ask again—

“Do you hate me?”

—far too calmly for the impact it had through Sasuke’s chest.

“You’re so stupid! I can’t believe how stupid you are! You’re even stupider than me—!” and caught himself before he choked. Naruto shifted his arms, more holding him together than holding him up and Sasuke grit his teeth for control. Naruto was up to something—he’d been up to something from the start and Sasuke wasn’t going to fall for it anything that—

Stupid dobe—you’re so stupid stupid stupid—why do you need to ask all these stupid questions—

Tricks, all tricks. As long as he reminded himself it was all a trick, just Naruto testing him, just Naruto looking for something stupid he should already have been able to see. Sasuke breathed until he calmed, until he realised—I bet this is all a part of your trick—you’re so predictable, I know you and you’re so fucking predictable—and with a tranquil intensity dropped low in his voice—

“This isn’t funny.”

—Sasuke worried he might just break in Naruto’s arms.

“Put me down.”

“No.”

“I said put me down—”

“And I said no.”

Naruto didn’t know if Sasuke would start hitting him again. He felt too tense to move, his voice dark and strained and scared and Naruto didn’t know what was better: to give him what he wanted or to hold him forever until he calmed, to hold him tight and whole and no longer let him run from the things he didn’t want to deal with.

I’m not letting you run away again. I won’t let you go.

“Put me down or I’ll fucking kill you.”

He could hear Sasuke’s heart thundering through his ear, the pain in his head where Sasuke’s fingers were bunched too tight in his hair and the anxious breathing Sasuke wouldn’t have known he was doing. Naruto wondered what would happen if he let go, where Sasuke would go if he put him down and Naruto knew Sasuke would never again allow himself to be so vulnerable, so—so human with all his faults and flaws. Naruto knew Sasuke and he knew what he needed and he hoped, by saying those fatal words Sasuke would not let him hear—

“I don’t hate you, Sasuke—”

—they would still be worthy of peace after the fall.

“Because you’re the dumbest piece of shit I’ve ever met! God, what the fuck is wrong with you? Tell me—what the fuck do I even have to do to make you hate me! Don’t you know what I’ve done? I’ve ruined everything—!”

Naruto held him, pressed him harder into the wall when Sasuke struggled. He didn’t know if it were anger or shame or madness or something else causing Sasuke to shake and when Sasuke realized he couldn’t escape, when he stopped fighting and when his hands pulled at Naruto’s jaw and turned his face up and Sasuke pressed his mouth to his too forcefully and when it was wasn’t real, Naruto wouldn’t reciprocate, wouldn’t kiss back.

“What! What do you want from me? I kissed you! Wasn’t that what you wanted? Do you want more? Just fuck me if that’s what you want—!”

“Sasuke—”

Sasuke—

I can’t believe—
before anything else—
you’re telling me to fuck you.

I can’t believe—
you’re so scared of what you feel—
that you can’t even say you don’t hate me.


“I don’t have anything left to give you—”

“Sasuke—”

“And all I ever do is hurt you—”

“Sasuke! Shut up—”

I’m sorry—





and you’ve come back to me





Sasuke wasn’t trapped anymore. He was allowed outside whenever he wanted and he never travelled too far from home, which was Naruto.

He was free.

Naruto was already waiting at the door, dressed in clothes that hadn’t been ironed and scratching at hair that hadn’t been brushed. Sasuke stared at him while Naruto’s attention was elsewhere and avoided him when he turned to look at him.

“Hey—Naruto,” staring fixedly at the ground and, with arrogance shed and all the stagnated innocence and vulnerability of a seven-year-old: “you make me not hate myself.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Sasuke waited and then glanced at Naruto.

He’d heard him.

“Okay.”

Naruto knew he had to keep his smile calm, knew he had to say very little in response. He turned from the house to leave and stopped, looked down at his hand and the other hand in it.





---





The End








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