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sne_mod ([personal profile] sne_mod) wrote in [community profile] sn_exchange2010-08-27 03:46 pm

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For: [community profile] sn_exchange
Title: Sky Turn Red
Rating: PG-15+
Summary:The prompt: Sasuke and Naruto in a world where Danzo Shimura fails to convince Itachi that murdering the Uchiha clan will prevent another war.
Warnings: Violence, swearing, ridiculous length gah
A/N: …I really, really hope you like this and I’m sorry I couldn’t do justice to your amazing prompt. ;-; /is very, very nervous. Thank you SO MUCH to [personal profile] sam_shell and [personal profile] orin for both concrit and support! ♥ ♥ Honestly, if it hadn’t been for [personal profile] sam_shell, I could not have finished this – SHE IS AMAZING. That said, I reallyREALLY enjoyed writing this, difficult as it was, so PLEASE ENJOY? <33
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.



--

Naruto moves into his apartment when he’s five. It’s not that hard; he carries only a single box, and besides Oji-san is with him in a big hat and robes, strolling thoughtfully alongside as Naruto puffs up the stairs energetically.

Here you’ll be with kids like you, Oji-san had said, and then there had been a slight catch in his voice as he added that he would come around to check on him and that there was a matron living in the apartment block but that he should try to adapt as soon as possible.

Hiruzen doesn’t tell him that he’s had to give the matron a pay rise to get Naruto an apartment here. There are some truths that he can’t tell.

And Naruto is so happy, eyes wide and round. Hiruzen watches as he runs around his new apartment, jumps on the bed a few times to test for spring and make allowances to ensure maximum bounce, secure in his innocence and secure in his ignorance. He doesn’t know that most five year old children don’t live alone, because by careful design he has seen no evidence to the contrary. Children are resilient things, and Konoha simply doesn’t have the resources to deal with the number of orphaned children that are casualties of their lifestyle, let alone the influx during and after wartime.

Most children that live here haven’t known any other home. Naruto has been lucky in this respect, and Hiruzen turns instinctively away from the unbidden thought that it is to repent for the future, when life will not be kind.

Allowing children to raise themselves makes for better ninja, too. They’re less sheltered, more world-weary, more self-sufficient. They’re wild in some respects, and everyone knows that wild animals can survive at times when tame ones cannot.

There are whispers that these apartments are recruiting grounds for Danzou’s Root organisation.

“Thank you, Oji-san!” Naruto shouts, flinging his arms around Sarutobi Hiruzen’s legs, who chuckles and messes up the bright blond hair.

And then suddenly the small weight pulls away and looks up at him with uncharacteristically serious eyes, saying solemnly, “I will miss you a bit. But you do snore really loudly, you know, so –”

And he knows that Naruto will survive.

--

It begins when Sasuke is five, and his father’s mouth thins and his mother becomes silent with worry.

He knows something is happening, even if he doesn’t know what. He shows his parents his fledgling shuriken technique; Mikoto responds distractedly with a “Good, Sasuke,” and Fugaku does not respond at all.

Sasuke stops practising, for awhile.

It begins sometime after he hears them behind the screen one night, Mikoto and Fugaku and Itachi, quiet and heated:

“- what did they ask you to do –“

We aren’t blind, Itachi. We know Danzou’s been approaching you – we know what’s going on in Root –“

Itachi, you know what’s at stake. You know better than any what’s happening to the Uchiha, to us –“

Do you think I don’t know?” Itachi says tensely, and as he strides out of the room and the screen door slams behind him he sees Sasuke in the corner, and his smile is inexpressibly sad.

Go to sleep, Sasuke,” he says softly, and he pads down the hallway to bed with Sasuke’s eyes on his back.

He remembers most of all that it begins sometime after Itachi is found drowned in the Nakano River.

After the news reaches Sasuke, before his suicide note is found in his neat, beautiful writing on his pillow. Sometime after the suspicion all dies down, after cousin Shisui comes around dry-eyed and frighteningly calm. “You look like him when we were children,” he says, and he hugs Sasuke so tight it hurts and then never comes back.

Sasuke doesn’t quite remember when, but he does remember all the times he heard ‘hush, Sasuke’s sleeping, don’t wake him’ after dark, just as he remembers hearing ‘it wasn’t suicide, you see how far they’re willing to go?’ oh, so many times, and the barely audible, frenetic, uncontrolled torrents of crying, though those he tries to forget. He remembers the word suicide especially, because he hadn’t known it and he’d had to go borrow a dictionary to find out.

He can’t quite understand why Itachi had done it.

Sasuke doesn’t quite remember when the strange man in the orange mask with black flames first appears in his dreams, at the edges of his consciousness, around corners and in fleeting glimpses in windows. But he does.

Your brother would have done anything for the Uchiha,” the mirage whispers before flickering into darkness, “would you, Sasuke?”

You look just like your brother, Sasuke,” the voice adds, “especially around the eyes.”

It begins sometime after Fugaku starts asking after his practice with interest so well-feigned Sasuke can almost believe it. After Mikoto, with a hard cheeriness on her lips stops hurting and erects a small shrine for Itachi in their living room, soft and quiet with the dim flutter of incense and candlelight, laying the love of a mother’s whispers at bended knee as an offering. Sasuke doesn’t quite remember when.

Sasuke doesn’t quite remember when he is first taken aside by the strange man in the white robes with the typical shuffle of the old as he heads home. But he remembers that, too.

Your brother would have done anything for the village,” the man says thoughtfully, gazing intently into Sasuke’s eyes, “would you, Sasuke?”

You look just like your brother, Sasuke,” he adds, “especially around the eyes.”

He misses Itachi, though even in his death he is always present; Sasuke knows that sometimes his parents look at him and see the shadow of someone else. He doesn’t blame them, but still –

He wishes he could miss him without the lingering echoes, the empty ghosts.

--

Naruto enrols in the Academy when he’s seven. There’s nothing much to do in his apartment after the initial novelty wears off, everyone else in his building is enrolled there already, and there’s nothing cooler than being a ninja so what the hell, right?

It’s on the first day that it starts.

“Naruto-kun,” the teacher calls as the children rush out of the classroom to go home, “I’d like you to stay behind please –”, but Naruto has already charged outside, excited and high-spirited, until –

There’s a small crowd of adults outside. One of his new friends, Kaemon, bounds towards the waiting parents, dragging him along in his wake, shouting, “This is Naruto!”

Naruto resists the urge to ask him why he still lives with his guardian, because, well, Naruto had moved out two years ago, when the woman seizes Kaemon by the wrist and pulls him away, hissing, “What are you doing with him?”

“He’s nice, okaa-san,” Kaemon says as he tries to wave goodbye, and Naruto wonders what okaa means. He’s never heard it before.

“It’s the Kyuubi kid,” another voice whispers, and before Naruto can even begin to wonder at what a kyuubi kid is he is alone in front of the school.

Kaemon never speaks to him again, and he learns for the first time what a ‘mother’ is. He wants desperately to know whether he has one, but the Sandaime is super busy and can’t see him at all, and the next time he does see him Naruto is so taken by his present – a brand new orange and blue training jumpsuit – that he forgets about it until he’s left.

--

It’s Mikoto’s decision to send Sasuke to the Academy later than Itachi, and so he starts at seven. Itachi had been their child of war, begot in a frenzied bed of blood and hushed fears, raised on equal parts milk and desperation; pushed early and fast and he had flown high, so high, too high. He had been too noticeable, their quiet genius child, chosen and sacrificed for the village. Sasuke, born in peace, will be their silent retribution, gone unnoticed by those watching, striking like sudden lightning – out of nowhere.

If he’s honest with himself, Sasuke doesn’t like it as much as he’d thought he would. At first it’s because there’s less training and more playing that he’d expected; playing of a dizzying and loud kind that he hasn’t been accustomed to for so long he barely remembers it. There are so many people everywhere, all the time, relentless in their determination to chat and confide and mess around, and so Sasuke supplies the silence and let his louder classmates fill it with their exuberance and pranks, and it’s often stilted and almost always awkward but it works. There’s Shino, who’s quiet like he is, reserved and self-possessed, Kiba, who isn’t any of the above. Shikamaru, who does nothing and then gets full marks on the quiz the teacher sets in exasperation; Chouji, who is kind and offers Sasuke part of his lunch. Naruto, who was cheerful on the first day and turned downright obnoxious thereafter. Sakura, from a civilian family, who’s timid and follows bossy Ino around like a lost puppy. Hinata, who stutters sometimes and yet works hard.

Still, he can’t shake the voice that whispers within him. Itachi graduated when he was your age, it says unrelentingly, and when finally in the third week they start real training, with shuriken with sharp, lethal edges and no more pulled punches he pushes himself harder but he still doesn’t have his Sharingan and to the Uchiha he knows it is everything.

“All in good time, Sasuke,” Fugaku says when Sasuke airs his disappointments after school, “the Uchiha are good at waiting,” and Sasuke can see him looking over at Itachi’s picture distantly and he wonders what they’re waiting for.

“He’s not going to come back, otou-san,” Sasuke says in a small voice, and Fugaku laughs tiredly.

“We know, Sasuke,” and a tinge of anger has crept into his voice, “it’s justice we’re waiting for.”

Then he shakes off the odd mood and takes Sasuke out to train and on the way back home they secretly get omusubi at a small civilian restaurant because Hitomi-san makes them better than Mikoto does, but Sasuke never forgets his words. There is a bigger picture here, one that began years ago, and he’s going to rebuild it until it becomes clear. Somehow everything is related – Itachi’s death, the midnight whisperings, the strange materialisation of the old man in the white robes and the cloaked one in the orange mask, and most of all justice.

--

After Kaemon stops speaking to him lines are drawn. It’s insidious but Naruto can sense it, even if there’s a sliding scale of diplomacy involved (or as much diplomacy as seven year olds can summon, anyway). There’s those who suddenly pretend he doesn’t exist, others who snicker and make badly-hidden asides, like Kiba. There are others still who go out of their way to taunt. A rare few have a non-reaction – Shikamaru shrugs vaguely and says, “My parents really hate you,” but continues in his indifference, and Chouji follows suit. Sasuke and Shino never really said much at all, and so Naruto can’t really tell, and Hinata manages to get even quieter. Ino and Sakura found him annoying to start with.

It doesn’t help that he’s discovered he’s not good at the whole school thing; the primers on the theory behind ninjutsu and genjutsu seem to drone on forever and he liked the ninja games they played in the first couple of weeks, with the stealth and teams and tag capture. He was good at those.

Naruto fights it. At first he thinks it’s maybe because he’s too loud, and so he tries being as quiet as he can, but that doesn’t work very well, lasts about half an hour, and well, he is loud, deal with it. After a while he works out that even if they don’t talk to him he can still get them to laugh – even the ones that are snide about his D+ in the last test – when he scribbles obscenities on the chalkboard after the teacher leaves the room. He can even get them to cheer when he escapes out the window silently while the teacher’s lecturing about genjutsu, and sometimes Kiba even comes with him.

Naruto can cope with whatever they throw at him, and he swears to himself that he’ll do it smiling.

It’s still hard though, and kind of lonely.

--

Four weeks into the school term, Sasuke sees the man in the orange mask again. He’s leaning against the wall behind the Uchiha compound, long robes almost sweeping the ground, and although he can’t see the man’s eyes Sasuke can feel the burning gaze.

This man knows something about him, about Itachi, about their clan, about justice. He is young and innocent, even if he doesn’t know it himself, and –

“Sasuke-kun,” the man says, raising his head, and his voice is exactly like he remembers it, soft and compelling and Sasuke can feel something inside him quiet like a satisfied lull, “what would you do for our clan? For Itachi?”

The man’s eyes are red, hypnotic, he’s falling into them, submerged into their depths, and Sasuke almost knew it all along.

They’re his family, his clan – their family, their clan, and he would do anything. Sasuke’s mouth is forming the word already, anything, but –

“Befriend Uzumaki Naruto,” says Uchiha Madara, and then he disappears into the lazy summer dust.

--

They have another test about genjutsu.

Naruto can’t remember the definition, even though he’d read it last night. He scratches his head idly and kicks at the seat in front of him, willing himself into the gorgeous heat outside or maybe into an alternate universe where he knows the answers, or even just into another ninja world where there are no stupid things like tests –

and then suddenly there’s another piece of paper being slid on top of his.

Genjutsu techniques manipulate the flow of chakra in the victim’s brain, and can cause a disruption of their senses. Alternately the user may use such techniques to control an illusion to trap the victim.

He’s torn. For a second he contemplates not failing, but then he sees Sasuke look over to him casually and he doesn’t need anyone’s pity and he stands up, kicking his chair over in the process, and points accusingly into the somewhat satisfied face.

“You! What makes you think I need help?!”

The class watches the two avidly. As far as Naruto can remember Sasuke has not yet been embroiled in anything requiring anything louder than an inside voice; he’s quiet, works hard, ignores the rest of the class, gets excellent grades. In fact now that he thinks about it he’s the complete antithesis to himself.

“This really isn’t a good idea,” Sasuke says slowly, chancing a glance at Nanaki-sensei, who is already making his way over. “I didn’t think you’d make such a big deal out of it –”

“So obviously you don’t know me! What makes you think I need to cheat?” Naruto shoves his face into Sasuke’s, spitting out every word. “The great Uzumaki Naruto doesn’t – ”

Something closes in Sasuke’s face. “The great Uzumaki Naruto has a blank test paper. If you don’t want to accept help, you don’t need to scream about it either.”

Then Nanaki-sensei seizes them both by the scruffs of their necks and drags them out in front of his desk, hissing that he’ll deal with them once the test is over. He barks, “Eyes on your own paper!” to the rest of the class and makes Naruto and Sasuke stand facing opposite corners of the wall for another twenty minutes, and every time Naruto mutters, “I didn’t do anything, you should be rewarding me,” Nanaki-sensei casts him another sharp glare.

Finally everyone's left, taking their curious gazes with them. Naruto's mutters turn to fulll-blown complaint - "If you're punishing anyone it should be him!", and Sasuke continues to stand silently, sedate and unafraid.

"If you're going to cheat don't let me catch you," Nanaki-sensei snaps at Naruto. It's horribly unfair and Naruto can feel himself reddening in righteous rage before -

"It was me," Sasuke says abruptly, and Naruto starts in shock as Sasuke looks directly into the man's stunned eyes and then walks out. The door shuts quietly behind him and Naruto's still too floored to move.

He hears the words, "You still fail,", and they're nasty and sting a bit, but something warm has exploded in Naruto and he realises it's an odd sense of gratitude.

--

Once he takes friendship as a kind of mission it becomes easier tenfold. Naruto isn’t anything like Itachi in the slightest, but what they have is oddly similar sometimes, if strangely balanced. After they both end up failing the genjutsu test Naruto makes them cup ramen at his place and when Mikoto finds out she invites Naruto over for dinner. Sasuke is silently more shocked than Naruto is at her reaction, but she simply smiles secretively and asks what Naruto-kun’s favourite food is.

“Really?” Naruto says, mouth agape, and he’s half doubtful half hopeful and all dumbfounded. “Are you sure she doesn’t want to poison me?”

Sasuke’s mouth thins.

“– it’s just that adults don’t like me for some reason,” Naruto adds hastily. “Well, Oji-san does, but no one else. But I’ll come for sure!” A brilliant smile lights up his face.

Mikoto makes fresh ramen noodles and miso broth with tobanjan. For dessert she makes oshiruko with mochi, which Sasuke hates but Naruto devours, managing to get out the words, “This is amazing, oba-san!” whilst slurping enthusiastically. Sasuke watches on in faint disgust but Mikoto smiles indulgently, saying, “I’m glad you like it, Naruto-kun,” and when Naruto goes home it’s with a thermos of the oshiruko tucked in his backpack and another invitation.

“I’m sorry about the genjutsu test,” Sasuke finally mumbles after the house is empty.

“I can’t pretend I’m happy about your score, Sasuke,” she says, her eyes indecipherable, “but I’m very happy it brought us Naruto,” and she drops a kiss onto his forehead and tells him to go to sleep.

Later that night she presses up close to Fugaku’s back and whispers, “Do you remember Kushina’s son?”

--

Naruto doesn’t fail the next genjutsu test.

He remembers Sasuke’s exasperated sigh and the “It really isn’t that hard, Naruto, don’t tell me memorising less than fifty words is beyond you because that’s even worse than I’d expected, and my expectations of you were pretty damn low to begin with,” and he grins to himself and starts writing.

Genjutsu techniques manipulate the flow of chakra in the victim’s brain, and can cause…

Naruto doesn’t fail another written test again.

His teachers are suspicious at first, and even stand over him watching with hawk-like eyes, looking for the faintest sign of cheating, of deceit. After his initial outrage Naruto calms down and delights instead in acting worried, playing the fool while Nanaki-sensei watches tapping his foot with a victorious smirk set on his lips, then suddenly writing down all the answers in the last five minutes as though possessed, finishing with a huge fake self-satisfied yawn.

Iruka-sensei congratulates him after their first tactics test, saying, “I’m very pleased with your improvement, Naruto, keep it up,” and Naruto grins and hugs the man impulsively, and that night he is introduced for the first time to the wonders of Ichiraku Ramen and its vastly superior-to-the-kind-that-come-in-a-packet noodles.

--

The week after, when Sasuke is training alone, mastering the shuriken technique he’d seen Itachi do what feels like an eternity ago, the old man in white robes watches.

“You’re very talented,” the man says, and after a thoughtful pause, “but you don’t have Sharingan yet, do you?”

Sasuke lands on his feet and doesn’t respond, watching the man warily. He remembers him, of course he does, but he doesn’t know him and so he says nothing.

“Wise child,” he says, and now he sounds pleased. “My name is Shimura Danzou. I taught your brother.”

“I’ve never heard of you before,” says Sasuke baldly, and now the man is definitely amused.

“I can teach you, too,” Danzou says, “if you’ll trust me.”

“Why?”

Sasuke knows even now that nothing comes without a price attached, and yet he is intrigued despite himself.

“I awakened your brother’s Sharingan,” says Danzou, “and I can awaken yours too, should you let me. As for why… you could say I have a certain vested interest in the protection of the village. You want to protect the village, don’t you, Sasuke-kun? Itachi did.”

“Of course I do,” Sasuke says defensively. “Love the village and hope to help preserve peace and prosperity. We learned that first day at the Academy.”

“Good,” Danzou says, satisfied. “Then you’re a worthwhile interest, and you may call me Danzou-sensei.”

That night Fugaku notices Sasuke’s flickering red eyes, but Sasuke, pale and queasy, refuses to tell him what he’d seen to gain them, and Fugaku doesn’t ask again. “I’m proud of you, Sasuke,” he says gruffly, and after that he trains with him, and Sasuke looks at the world through new and clearer eyes.

--

“Turn off the eyes, Sasuke,” Naruto calls delightedly, “and come here.”

They’re in their third year at the Academy, now, and can’t wait to become real ninja.

Sasuke drops gracefully out of the tree above, book still in hand. Stops. A smirk spreads across his face as he takes in the sight of what appears to be a copy of himself and Naruto standing in front of him.

“Impressed?” Naruto boasts, thrusting his orange-clad chest out. “Betcha you can’t tell which one’s me, can you? Not without those eyes.”

Sasuke’s smirk widens further.

“I don’t need ‘those eyes’,” he says, “I bet you can’t hold it for ten minutes,” and settles down with his book again.

“Ha! You’re gonna lose, idiot, ten minutes is eaaaasy, barely any chakra at all –”

Seven and a half minutes later Naruto can’t take it anymore. He shifts one foot to another and realises a second too late –

“You’re the one who’s moving,” Sasuke says without looking up from the manual, “you couldn’t hold still for ten minutes if you tried.”

“Dammit! Close your eyes! I’ll hold it for fifteen this time!”

He nearly does. Sasuke can still tell them apart, illusion or not.

--

The day they graduate, Sasuke’s parents throw a mini-party. Mikoto hugs Naruto as they pour out of the Academy doors and tells him his presence is expected, and warmth floods through him.

Still, it doesn’t escape Naruto’s notice that Sasuke’s parents wait away from everyone else – the muttering and stares he is usually subject to wherever he goes is directed too at the Uchiha. It’s different, though; reverent yet with a backdrop of fear, and Naruto wonders what they’ve done to merit it. Maybe like him, they don’t know.

It doesn’t matter.

He’s put on a team with Sasuke and Sakura-chan, pretty, smart Sakura-chan with long pink hair and green eyes. When all three of them are together everything devolves into a mess of petty arguments and bickering, but they’ve made it past the Academy, they’re a team of real ninja, and so it’s with deep consternation that they greet the cheerful proclamation by Kakashi-sensei that they may not in fact graduate if they don’t pass his test.

“Whaaaaat!” Naruto screeches, “I didn’t graduate for nothing! I’m a ninja! We’re ninja!”

“You will be if you pass,” Kakashi-sensei says pleasantly, “so be here at noon tomorrow. Don’t eat breakfast!” He vanishes in a puff of smoke, leaving them uneasy and not a little afraid.

“Do you think he meant it?” asks Sakura uncertainly, and even though they all respond with, “Nah, he was just messing with us,” none of them eat breakfast the next day.

They fail the bell test the first time round, of course. Kakashi-sensei twirls the bells around his finger carelessly as he ties Naruto up on to the stump, humming merrily about idiots who tried to cheat and steal lunch, before he gives Sasuke and Sakura their bento boxes and orders not to feed Naruto.

“After I come back you can try to get the bells again,” he says, before strolling away, hands in pockets.

“D-don’t worry about me,” Naruto says, attempting bravery but mostly sounding mournful, “I’m not hungry!”

The ridiculous growling sound his stomach makes refutes this, of course. Sasuke and Sakura exchange an uncomfortable glance before they both turn and offer Naruto part of their lunch.

They pass. They become Team Seven.

--

“Do you know who founded Konoha, Sasuke?”

Sasuke knows Senju Hashirama’s name, of course; everyone in the village does. It’s a heavy name, and he repeats it with reverence and pride, as he’s heard it said, and he has no way of anticipating what comes after.

“The name you are repeating now could be mine,” and the voice is changed. It’s colder, harder. “It could have been ours. It could have been Uchiha.”

--

It’s their first overnight mission – a delivery mission of a message to a temple five villages away by the next morning, and it really, really sucks. It sucks so much that even Naruto’s been rendered mysteriously quieter by the utter misery of trudging through wet forest with soaked packs and dirty hair and mud and mosquitoes attacking every inch of bare skin.

“They never said anything about all the dirt,” Naruto mumbles to himself. The words are almost swallowed in the wind and the pouring rain but not quite, and Sakura says tiredly, “Shut up, I have longer hair than you,” and it’s a valid point because although Naruto thinks she’s very, very pretty he has to admit that right now she looks not only like a drowned rat but also a somewhat filthy one. Sasuke slaps irritably at an errant mosquito and says nothing but squelches resolutely onwards. They take to the trees for a little while until Naruto nearly gets clocked by a falling branch and Kakashi-sensei determines that it’s safer on the ground, and so they squash slowly on until daylight.

By the time the sun crests over the tops of the trees they’re all ready to drop dead, with the exception of Kakashi-sensei, who says, “Good morning!” in an impossibly cheery tone.

It’s only when they stop for breakfast that that they’re finally awake enough to open their eyes properly, and Sakura bursts out laughing when she sees Sasuke.

“S-Sasuke-kun,” she gasps, and Naruto swivels around sleepily and nearly falls over.

“You look like you’ve been attacked,” he goggles, and Sasuke glares at them both before choosing to continue opening his pack with as much dignity as he can muster.

“We’d better have a look,” interjects Kakashi-sensei kindly, stifling a small smile, and the day they all discover Sasuke’s extreme allergy to mosquitoes is the day Sasuke first wishes them all dead.

(Still, they make the delivery to the temple on time.)

--

“What do you remember about Itachi?” Danzou says one day.

Sasuke stiffens.

“What I remember about Itachi doesn’t concern you,” Sasuke says coldly.

“Would it concern me if I told you that I know why he died?” Danzou says blandly, and something flickers in his old, lone eye.

“Why did he die,” Sasuke says, voice flat, but his eyes betray him, and Danzou knows he’s found a crack in the fortress.

“He died because he had to choose between duty and love,” Danzou says.

--

The day Sasuke admits to himself he hasn’t been Naruto’s friend out of a sense of duty to a mission for a long time is the day he realises he knows when his birthday is, and even more tellingly, the day he buys him a present.

The day after Naruto’s birthday, Sasuke is bowled over by a flying orange blur tackling him to the ground.

“Two months’ worth of free Ichiraku ramen,” the blur babbles excitedly, “two months’ worth –”

And then the voice turns thoughtful and wicked.

“You’re gonna be so broke.”

It’s worth it, even when a month later Sasuke gets lectured on frugality by both his parents for forty-seven minutes.

--

“The Sharingan grants you incredible clarity,” Madara says, “and if you learn to wield it you will see through all deception. You will never fall for another genjutsu again.”

A pause.

“There has only been one person who has ever caught me in an illusion,” he says, reflective, and Sasuke thinks he can hear a note of regret in his voice.

“Who?” Sasuke asks, but he thinks he already knows the answer.

“Your brother,” Madara says, “your brother could make you believe anything.”

--

Naruto is there the first time Sasuke kills.

Sakura is there too, and Kakashi-sensei as well, but it’s Naruto who reaches him first, who drops to his knees in front of him and moves to hold Sasuke’s hair out of his face as he threatens to retch, Naruto who gets his hand slapped away and Naruto who gets told to shove off.

Sasuke doesn’t retch.

“I’m fine,” he says stonily, “I just slipped,” and as he gets up slowly they can see that his knees are covered in blood. It’s not his.

It had been a C-ranked mission, where the largest possible threat had been that of bandits, perhaps, or highwaymen. A C-ranked mission gone wrong.

They were lucky. The enemy ninja had been rookie chuunin, barely older than they were. Chuunin, who hadn’t been so lucky; deemed old enough to run missions without a jounin-sensei but not old enough to stay alive.

At the next stream Sasuke cleans his shoes in obdurate silence, and Kakashi-sensei says, “Good job, Sasuke,” quietly. Sasuke nods jerkily and keeps scrubbing until they’re cleaner than they had been before the mission had even started.

--

“Assassination,” says Danzou, “is one of the oldest and most efficient, most useful, most practical, ninja arts. Wars have been won and lost due to silent, planned deaths. Ninja hold the power in the shadows, deadly and unseen.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Sasuke says, an edge of annoyance creeping into his tone. “I already know this. All ninja know this.”

“Ah,” says Danzou softly, “but have you the aptitude for it?” Then, almost as a challenge, “Assassins are the ninja elite.”

“I don’t know,” Sasuke says, voice hard. “I don’t see how it’s relevant either.”

“Your brother was one,” Danzou says, “one of the best I have ever seen.”

A beat.

“Do you know where he failed?”

‘No,” says Sasuke, voice ragged. He doesn’t know why he’s quite so hooked every time Danzou speaks about Itachi, but he feels as though he’s compelled to, as though there’s some unseen force drawing him in to the poisonous words. “No, I don’t, but undoubtedly you’re going to tell me.”

“Correct as usual, Sasuke-kun,” says Danzou, unsmiling, “I am, or rather, you are going to tell me. Sasuke-kun – if you had discovered a terrorist plot, for example, where a group of rogues had planned to blow Konoha sky high, what would you do?”

“Attempt negotiation and inform the appropriate authorities,” Sasuke says, but he knows the answer Danzou is waiting for.

The silence stretches between them, expectant and ready.

“And if negotiation fails?” Danzou intimates, a tone of soft triumph behind the words.

Sasuke knows what the expected answer is. Assassination, Danzou says with his eyes, and although the words pass unspoken between them Sasuke is still loath to the idea.

“Await further orders,” Sasuke says, and Danzou says after a pause, “Perhaps I had misjudged you,” and Sasuke feels like he’s failed somehow.

--

On missions Naruto refuses to clean dirty tarps to Sasuke’s exacting standards, Sasuke becomes passive-aggressive and Sakura refuses to talk to either of them until they stop being such idiots.

“They’re going to get dirty again tomorrow anyway!” Naruto says, “what’s the point of spending half an hour cleaning them just to do it all over again –”

“Of course you would say that,” Sasuke says, words dripping in sarcasm, and Naruto bristles and says, “What are you trying to say?!” while rolling up his sleeves, and somehow, after they’re both bruised and bloodied everything’s okay again.

“You realise this isn’t healthy,” Sakura says disapprovingly, “both literally and figuratively speaking –”

“Nah,” Naruto says, and now he’s grinning as he scrubs the plastic, “but it’s great for training,” and Sakura finds out later when she’s woken in the dead of night by the dulled sound of fighting that they’d struck a deal.

One fight, one clean tarp.

Sakura doesn’t quite understand how it works either.

--

Sasuke learns that treason is punishable by poison. He watches as the needle jabs fiercely, uncaring, into the crook of the spy’s arm, ivory white and clenched tight, tendons rising from the skin. He watches as the woman kicks soundlessly against the padded legs of the chair within her cell.

“I hope you remember what I said to you,” Danzou says, “about what happens when negotiation fails.”

“That you’d misjudged me,” Sasuke says.

“And have I misjudged you?” Danzou asks delicately.

“It’s – circumstantial,” Sasuke says, and Danzou sighs.

“Further persuasive techniques are required after all,” he says with something akin to regret, “although I had dared to hope otherwise,” and Sasuke doesn’t fully understand what Danzou means until it’s much too late.

When Sasuke finally goes home late that night he’s absolutely exhausted. He can’t think; his mind slides foggily from thought to thought as though through viscous, murky liquid, and he falls asleep almost instantly.

--

“Why’d you choose to become a ninja, Sakura-chan?” Naruto asks as they head home from training one day.

“Why do you want to know?” Sakura says, not breaking her stride, and Naruto has to jog a little to catch up.

“Well, I was thinking – Sasuke and me didn’t really have a choice, but you – you’re from a civilian family, yeah –”

“Yes,” Sakura says, and Naruto interrupts her straightaway, blurting out, “Doesn’t your mum worry?”

And this time Sakura stops, and in a controlled voice, she says, “Yes, she does.” By now she knows Naruto well enough to recognise signs of coming emotion, of approaching sentimentality, and she’s still not quite sure how to deal with it. Boys aren’t meant to be sentimental, after all.

Naruto’s face is wistful.

“Must be nice to have someone worrying about you all the time,” he says pensively, and then he looks at Sasuke quickly before adding hurriedly, “although sometimes I think your mum worries about me too, huh, Sasuke?”

--

“Sasuke,” Itachi says.

Itachi isn’t in ninja regalia. It’s strange to see him barefoot and looking so young, so painfully young, and Sasuke realises with a jolt that he’s older than Itachi now. Somewhere in the last few years he’s grown taller, leaner, stronger, and Itachi – Itachi hasn’t changed. Will never change.

“Have you forgotten me, otouto?” Itachi says, dark eyes unreadable. “…replaced me, even?”, and involuntarily Sasuke thinks of bright blue eyes and blond hair and a grin.

Sasuke shuts his eyes and tells himself, he’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead

And when he opens them again Itachi is gone, and in his place is Madara.

“Well done, Sasuke,” Madara says, and then he leans in a centimetre too close and continues confidentially, “it’s easier to believe in, to see – to love the living, isn’t it?”

--

In the weeks that follow, news filters down to Konoha that the Hidden Grass Village has fallen from within, toppled by the sudden deaths of certain key leaders.

Konoha seems to empty of jounin. Kakashi-sensei is deployed, and Team Seven and the rest of the genin are told they’re on leave until further notice. After another fortnight news comes back that Earth Country has invaded and captured Hidden Grass amidst the chaos of slain leading factions, and seventeen days later when the jounin return exhausted, with wagons filled with Grass villagers that had escaped, all chuunin and genin are pressed into hospital duty and the building of temporary housing.

It is menial work – tedious, even – work that ordinarily Naruto and Sasuke would find below them but it is too sobering a task to think of in such a light. For nearly two weeks they stand patiently by, changing sheets between operations and cleaning after blood and piss and vomit; they hold patients still, gloves slick with blood as doctors work around them. They are told that the small countries along the borders are always subject to shifting conflicts between the larger countries, even in times of peace such as these, but it’s still hard to watch.

Peace is relative in the ninja world. Transient, too; and when Sakura goes to visit Kakashi-sensei on one of her shifts in the hospital he tells her that had it not been for a Leaf ninja they’d had stationed within Grass, that Konoha probably wouldn’t have learned of the takeover at all, that Earth would simply have declared it a prettily worded ‘assimilation of forces’, that such things happened all the time. That in order for someone to gain, someone else has to lose.

Life is meant to go on.

--

Danzou disapproves of Konoha’s support. “What use have we for weak, disbanded allies?” he says, and from a practical viewpoint Sasuke can understand his stance, but from what he does every day he can’t. The Grass refugees are mostly civilians, ignored in the initial power struggle of the ninja community and then driven out by force or fear by the ninjas from Earth Country who have no use for them.

They are all subject to interrogation, from the elderly man who’d spent a month recovering from septicaemia from untreated wounds to the youngest child. Even the babies are examined for residual chakra traces.

“This could have been prevented,” Danzou says with contempt, “All this could have been prevented, all this waste.”

--

Everyone in Team Seven is relieved to return to regular duty. Fighting is easier than fixing.

They still see the aftershocks everywhere, though. After a while, though, the first Grass Village carpenter opens up shop, and a small semblance of normality returns.

It’s still impossible to forget.

--

Then Ibiki-san discovers that one of the women from Grass is a ninja, and all hell breaks loose. Interrogations are announced for every Leaf ninja – the kunoichi refuses to talk, and it’s feared that she has some ulterior purpose in Konoha, some secret mission. It’s feared that she has had help from within to remain hidden for so long. In the ninja world, any form of deception is suspicious.

Underneath the underneath.

The Uchiha speak out against the interrogations, but there’s no avoiding the questioning. In the days before their inquiries Mikoto becomes tight-lipped and white-faced at home again, and Fugaku reverts to his imperious, foreboding manner. They both return cleared, if palpably relieved; Sasuke and the rest of the genin are questioned too, but they too are released.

In the end, the kunoichi is simply imprisoned and monitored. Danzou is manifestly dissatisfied with the results of the interrogations.

“Why did your clan object?” Danzou asks, and the suspicion in his voice is clear and accusatory.

“The council seemed to have other motives,” Sasuke says, and he forces himself to remain unmoved, inextensible.

“Only the disloyal have anything to fear,” Danzou says challengingly.

“My clan is loyal,” Sasuke says. An image of the convulsing woman, the traitor, runs unbidden through his mind.

“Ask them,” Danzou says. “Ask them where your loyalties lie.”

--

Sasuke does.

Mikoto exchanges a quick glance with Fugaku, one loaded with secret meaning, and Sasuke realises that maybe this, this is what he’s wanted to know for so long, even before Danzou and Madara and Itachi.

We’re waiting for justice.

“We had hoped you would realise it yourself,” Fugaku says, and pride colours his voice. Sasuke hasn’t heard that kind of pride for a long time.

A terrible dread seizes him.

“I’ve realised,” Sasuke says, slowly, carefully.

“It will not be like the last time,” Mikoto says, and Sasuke knows that they are not talking about what he’d thought they were anymore.

“This time we aim for the roots, and leave the trees standing, and only those who have poisoned the village with their failed leadership and prejudice will be held accountable. This time, it will be very nearly bloodless, and – I will not lose a son.”

Sasuke’s heart is filling with a cold, dire warning, and the words your brother would have done anything for the Uchiha your brother would have done anything for the village swim through his mind and he can’t think of anything else but Danzou’s face and Itachi and the gasping breaths of betrayal.

“A coup d’état,” says Sasuke blankly.

“Yes and no,” Fugaku says. “We have no need for declarations of victory and usurpation. When leaders of a nation fall, Sasuke, the people turn naturally to the powerful, and the Uchiha are the most powerful clan in Fire Country. Konoha will need strength against her enemies, and quickly.”

“Who will it be?” Sasuke asks. He masks his voice to prevent the shock from showing but he’s afraid of the answer and afraid that it shows; these are his parents, his clan, and they’ve been planning this for years

“Shisui,” Mikoto says, and –

You look like him when we were children.

“The targets?” Sasuke says, barely audible, and Mikoto answers.

He knows the Sandaime, of course, and when Mikoto lists his name Sasuke can see the old man’s smiling face in his mind. He brought me up, Naruto had said once, and once the Hokage had visited the Academy to tell them all how precious they were to the future of the village. Other names he doesn’t know – Mitokado Homura, Utatane Koharu – before one that he does.

“Shimura Danzou,” Mikoto finishes.

--

“You knew,” says Sasuke, angry.

“The Uchiha have been bitter for the last eight years,” Danzou says, “everyone knows. It is only that few know how far they are willing to go.”

“How far have you been willing to go in the past?” Sasuke snarls.

“Think of Konoha under siege,” Danzou says. “No village can do without its leaders, for however short a time, no matter what your family thinks. Think of Hidden Grass. You have seen it firsthand.”

His eye glitters in the light.

“Shisui is just one man, Sasuke,” he continues. “Just one man.”

“What are you trying to suggest?” Sasuke yells, his composure cracking, and Danzou’s face is suddenly hard and uncompromising.

“You’re insulting both of us with your mock ignorance,” Danzou says harshly, “you’ve known the answer ever since I asked you all those years ago.”

“Do it,” and there’s something within Danzou’s voice, and Sasuke is so tired, so impossibly tired with everything.

--

The day after – there’s something wrong with Sasuke. They can all feel it; he doesn’t block Naruto’s attack swiftly enough, Sakura slashes him across the arm when he fails to shield, he falls for a feint he’d learned from Kakashi-sensei only last week.

--

Everything unravels.

--

Sasuke stands above the gates to the Uchiha compound an hour after midnight, moon at his back. He forces himself not to shake, clenches the hilt of his sword so tight the raised patterns welt his skin, running cold with sweat, and finally he drops to the ground in a crouch.

He doesn’t need the light of the moon to see by. He knows his home so well he could navigate it in the dark. But the moon’s there, fierce and bright, and there’s a flash of movement to his right and –

“Yo!” Naruto says cheerfully, leaning against the metal post.

Sasuke barely manages not to take Naruto’s head off, so taut are his nerves, and grits out, “What are you doing here?”

“Couldn’t sleep for some reason, came to annoy you,” Naruto says briefly, but now his eyes have narrowed and he’s examining Sasuke closely, taking in the all black, the sword, the weapons pouches. “Why’re you dressed so… weird?”

“You need to get out of here,” Sasuke orders tersely, mind spinning, “you need to get out of here now before he comes –”

“Whaaaaaat?”

But it’s already too late. Sasuke senses it the second Danzou wavers into existence. It’s too late and all he can do is shove a weapons pouch and his second short sword into Naruto’s hand and mentally curse him for wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts to bed, an orange t-shirt and white shorts at that. Naruto is utterly obvious in the darkness.

Because Danzou leaves no witnesses, and Sasuke – doesn’t want Naruto involved in all this. He barely wants to be involved himself.

Despite Naruto’s initial bewilderment Sasuke feels him tense at his side, shifting into a battle-ready position, but Sasuke has no idea what to do, no idea what Danzou is going to do –

But it doesn’t matter, in the end.

“Sasuke-kun,” Danzou says, alarmingly coolly, as though they’re both just taking a midnight stroll. “You have – company.”

“He’s not company,” Sasuke says, and it sounds so stupid coming out of his numb mouth. “He’s got nothing to do with this –”

“Have I taught you nothing, Sasuke?” Danzou says quietly. “Assassins leave no witnesses.”

And in that moment the spell collapses. It’s as though he’s waking from a trance. Out of reflex his fingers curl rigid against the hilt of his sword, and in that instant he knows that Danzou’s seen it; the first kindling signs of rebellion.

“You couldn’t be trusted after all, Sasuke-kun,” says Danzou, and he somehow sounds triumphant and despairing at the same time, “you couldn’t be trusted, just like your brother. You both couldn’t see that sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice one for many, for the greater good.”

Through the confusion the words ‘just like your brother’ hit him, and –

everything – everything falls into place.

“You,” Sasuke says, reeling in abject shock, “you killed Itachi.”

“He was not loyal, and I have no use for those who cannot follow orders,” Danzou says, unwinding the bandages around his head and Sasuke sees a familiar red eye looking back and he snaps and Sharingan unfurls red and black in his own.

We aren’t blind, Itachi. We know Danzou’s been approaching you – we know what’s going on in Root –“

He was loyal to his clan,” Sasuke snarls, swinging his sword in a fast smooth motion towards Danzouu’s neck. A white hot rage has seized him, and Sasuke whips the sword back again double-handed as Danzou ducks easily and slips by Naruto. Even with the Sharingan’s hyper-clear sight he is almost blind with anger and he misses, stumbling forward slightly as he cuts through thin air.

Itachi, you know what’s at stake. You know better than any what’s happening to the Uchiha, to us –“

“What did you make him do,” Sasuke grits out, circling.

“He was ready to protect the village,” Danzou says, and it’s disappointment in his voice. It’s sorrow, almost, and he continues, “Ready to end the Uchiha clan.”

“You would have too, you know,” and Danzou’s voice turns thoughtful, “after you’d killed Shisui. I only needed another little push to make it work – the difference between you and Itachi, you see, is that you are so much weaker than he ever was, so much weaker, so much more prone to suggestion – he believed it. He really did believe it, even if it wasn’t for long enough. He wasn’t under Sharingan. He acted of his own will.”

“Hey, shut up,” Naruto says angrily, glancing across at Sasuke who’s rooted to the spot with shock and revulsion. Sasuke wants to say, “It doesn’t matter,” but he surges forward, eyes set firmly on Danzou’s face. He has only one goal in mind, now, only one thing matters, and it’s staring him in the face, unnatural and grotesque.

You used his Sharingan against me. You fucking used Itachi’s Sharingan against me –

Your brother could make you believe anything.

Hate sinks its final claws into him, pushes him beyond reason and he reaches out with one hand towards Danzou’s face –

“This doesn’t belong to you,” Sasuke says viciously, and suddenly, slippery and bloody in his fingers is all that remains of Itachi. There isn’t even room in him for disgust, anymore; there’s nothing left but a floating haze of vague victory and a terrible angry sadness.

Distantly he hears Danzou scream involuntarily, a piercing moan that cuts the night. In the corner of his eye he can see Naruto, stopping frozen and flinching with sympathetic pain and he thinks you don’t understand, you could never understand, you would never understand. A delirious second later he feels something clamp shut around his throat; he looks down and it’s a branch, a branch curling out from beneath Danzou’s sleeve, and a faint hiss of disgust escapes his lips.

“You sick bastard,” Sasuke breathes out. He struggles for air but the faraway light of the stars is blurring across his vision and he tries belatedly to focus on his opponent, but he’s dizzy and he needs air, he needs air, he needs air.

--

Danzou staggers. He’s breathing heavily, and Naruto’s watching horrified, still too stunned to move.

“This can still be salvaged,” Danzou says quietly. He’s unwrapping white bandages from his arm except that no, it’s not an arm, it’s metal and impossibly there’s the other red eye set in it, an eye with the same pattern as the one that had been hidden by bandages around Danzou’s face for so long until tonight.

Sharingan.

“You,” Danzou says, turning his gaze towards Naruto. Only instinct saves him; Naruto rolls as a wooden beam shoots out from Danzou’s sleeve again, ripping his t-shirt and grazing his back.

“Who the fuck are you?” snarls Naruto, backing towards Sasuke’s fallen body, sword gripped tightly in hand. Wake up, Sasuke, he thinks hopelessly, because this man – this man is dangerous, and he doesn’t want to have to fight him and defend Sasuke at the same time, wake up, you bastard

“There’s no need for that,” Danzou says, darkly amused. “I won’t be bothering with him again.”

“What do you mean,” Naruto says, and a chill makes its way down his spine.

“He’s already dead,” Danzou says, raising the arm, “and soon the rest of the Uchiha will be too –”

and something within Naruto breaks.

It’s like burning, indescribably painful yet exhilarating and Naruto half drops to his knees in anguish and rage and when his hands find purchase in the ground he realises his fingers are tipped with claws and fuck he’s so angry he doesn’t care that he doesn’t know what’s happening –

You killed Sasuke,” he tries to say, but all he hears are words wrung through an animal’s furious roar and there’s power thrilling through him like he’s never felt it before, hot and bloody and strong. He tries the words again, you-killed-Sasuke, as an explanation, to tell him why he’s going to make him pay, but his throat is raw and there’s only a wild enraged roar where there should be words.

It doesn’t hurt anymore, though. Naruto can’t feel the skin stripping off his bones, the bubbling orange chakra ripping its way to the surface. He can’t feel his eyes turning red, or his flesh tearing to make way for another skeleton –

Because all he can think of is Sasuke, Sasuke, his friend, his best friend, Sasuke, his teammate, Sasuke, his family, Sasuke, his –

The world goes red.

--

The first thing Sasuke sees when he wakes up seven minutes later is the orange mask.

“What happened?” Sasuke asks. He’s instantly awake, still with bloodlust running through his veins despite the remnant dizziness and the throbbing of his throat, still filled with vivid recollection of Danzou’s deception.

Everything is moving too quickly.

“Sasuke,” Madara says, and there is a dangerously gloating timbre to his voice, his voice which verges disturbingly close to paternal, “you’ve played your role already. Watch. It’s your turn to sit back and watch it unfold –”

And Madara grips Sasuke’s arm and pulls him upright amidst the confusion.

They’re inside the Uchiha compound. There’s an eerie red cast to everything, the people running out of the houses – his family, he realises with dread, the walls, the sky –

“What’s happening,” Sasuke says automatically, white with shock, but even as the words leave his mouth his eyes move mechanically to follow the direction of movement, and as beyond the gate Naruto’s body erupts into fire and chakra and madness, as he watches Naruto’s body overcome by the Nine-Tails, Sasuke realises that betrayal does indeed run deep.

“This is what you wanted,” he says, and now he’s horrified. “This is what you wanted all along.”

Befriend Uzumaki Naruto.

And unspoken in the red eyes were the words exploit him, exploit him, exploit him.

“He’s the Nine-Tails’ host,” says Sasuke uselessly, and everything makes sense. Hadn’t his parents told him the stories of the demon who had menaced the village so many years ago? It all makes sense; the villagers’ hate for Naruto –

Incredible, that such a secret had remained a secret for so long.

“Why destroy the village when it can destroy itself with its own misdeeds, its own creation?” says Madara, soft and satisfied, eyes fixed on the nine burning tails, the red stretched mouth with huge white fangs. “The village did this to itself. Eighty years of lies and deceit and war orphans and neglect, eighty years of suspicion and oppression and brainwashed children. Eighty years of pushing the greatest, most dangerous clan into a corner out of fear. They sealed a demon into your friend. They asked Itachi to kill his own flesh and blood, and killed him when he couldn’t. They asked you to kill your own flesh and blood. What happens when the foundations of a house rot, Sasuke? The house falls down.” Madara’s eyes glint in the red light. “Konoha has been rotting for a very long time, Sasuke. It had to fall. All you’ve done is expose the decay.”

Sasuke knows there’s something wrong with what Madara’s just said, something twisted and false and wrong. He thinks of thirteen year old Itachi and a pale face in the Nakano River, and it seems only fair, but –

“I – we – have the chance to remake Konoha in our image,” Madara says, “the world in our image. A chance I lost eighty years ago, when I and the Sharingan first wielded the Nine-Tails. A chance I have again.”

“Naruto,” he starts, “Naruto –”

“You hardly need to be concerned for Naruto,” Madara says, amused. “He will, I daresay, be one of the survivors.”

“He won’t survive this,” says Sasuke, and he knows this with certainty, “he will never be able to live with himself after this.”

“You are not his conscience,” Madara says, regarding him coldly, “and his conscience is a stupid, foolish thing to be thinking of now.”

“No,” Sasuke’s voice rings oddly in his ears, and he can hear his heart beating, blood rushing through his veins in revelation, “but I’m his friend, and I won’t let you use him.”

He won’t let anyone be used the way he was. The way Itachi was.

Sasuke’s Sharingan flashes, and the Nine-Tails howls.

--

Naruto wakes up a week later swathed in bandages and staring up at a white, sterile ceiling.

The last thing he remembers is red eyes amid the flames of destruction and the horrible, all-consuming rage of the Nine-Tails.

I know those eyes, he’d thought, they’re Sasuke’s eyes

And then the fox had roared in terrible, terrible anger and there’d been a huge final clang, as though a vast steel gate had swung shut in Naruto’s mind. And then – then there had been nothing at all but peace and blackness and relief.

“You’re awake,” says a nonchalant voice, and Naruto tilts his head over to see Kakashi-sensei casually inspecting the IV drip.

“What happened?” says Naruto in a hollow voice. Pictures are coming back to him now, vague images of death and an insane pervading need to destroy everything in his path, and he wants desperately never to know the answer except that he has to.

“What matters is that you saved lives,” says Kakashi-sensei gently, “the life of your friend, and the lives of his family.”

“Where’s Sasuke?” Naruto asks, and Kakashi-sensei smiles.

“I just sent him and Sakura to get lunch,” he says.

What he doesn’t say is, I just forced them to get lunch, and they’ve barely left this room for the entire week.

--

The second Sakura enters the room and sees that he’s awake she shoves everything into Sasuke’s hands and flings her arms around Naruto, blind to his wincing and grimaces of pain.

“Ah – Sakura-chan –” he says, and Sakura pulls off him immediately.

“You’re okay,” she says, “you’re really okay,” and then she launches into an impassioned speech that encompasses everything from “you idiot” to “I’m researching a more efficient seal” to “never do that again”.

Sasuke’s standing beyond her, awkward and silent.

“Hey,” he says stiltedly, and Naruto is incredulous.

“You could try being a bit more cheerful,” Naruto offers, “you did kind of… you know. Save me.”

“You wouldn’t have needed saving if it hadn’t been for me, you idiot,” Sasuke says roughly, tightly, meeting his eyes for a fleeting second. Long enough for Naruto to see the guilt. Long enough for Naruto to know how hard some things are to say.

“If it hadn’t been for your cracked ancestor or that crazy old man, you mean,” says Naruto, trying for lightness, for levity, but Sasuke’s face closes further. Naruto swivels across to eye Kakashi-sensei. “What happened to them, by the way?”

“Danzou-san is currently in custody,” Kakashi-sensei says, regarding the ceiling carefully, “and the status of Uchiha Madara is, ah, unknown.”’

Naruto glances towards Sasuke, whose face is pale and emotionless again.

--

Most of the Uchiha are in custody too.

When Sasuke goes to see his parents, he’s surprised to find they’re not alone. The Hokage is sitting there with them, hat off and on the table, and they’re conversing in low voices.

“ – making amends…” Sasuke hears, hushed and faint, but it’s enough for him to hope that it will one day be okay, and he leaves them to talk.

--

The day after, Naruto wakes without the sun in his eyes. There’s a giant man with a long, long mane of white hair crouching in his window, obscuring the morning light, and with the sun at his back Naruto can’t see his face. He doubts he’d recognise him even if he could.

“So you’re Minato’s kid, huh.” the man says pensively. “You look a lot like him.”

“Who’reyouu,” Naruto says groggily. “’n who’s Minato?”

The man’s mouth thins.

Jiraiya has never approved of some of the village’s policies towards silence. Silence, like all weapons, can go two ways, and the silence in the village has teetered at knifepoint for far too long, so long it had exploded.

It ends now.

--

Uchiha Madara appears to Sasuke again.

“You have proven talented,” he says, “and you remind me of someone I once knew.”

“Aren’t you afraid of showing yourself in Konoha again?” Sasuke asks emotionlessly, but they both know that Madara is still frighteningly powerful, and therefore fearless.

“I can teach you still,” Madara says. “It has been a long time since I have trained with one of my own, and I would find it… somewhat irreplaceable.”

--

“I’m going away,” Naruto says, oddly quiet. “To train. Jiraiya-san’s agreed to teach me to control the Nine-Tails.”

The blue eyes contract slightly, haunted. “I can’t ever let something like that happen to the village again.”

A strange levity comes over Sasuke. Naruto’s voice seems to come from far, far away, and he realises that this sensation – this sensation is loss.

“Hey,” Naruto says, watching Sasuke carefully, “are you all right?” Then a huge smile unfolds across his face and he crows with dawning comprehension, “You’re going to miss me! Ha!”

“Hardly,” he says, “it’ll finally be quiet around here,” but his voice rings false and he knows it.

“When I come back,” Naruto says, brilliant grin in place, “I’m gonna kick your ass.”

--

The next day Naruto is gone.

When I come back, I’m gonna kick your ass.

Sasuke goes to train. He can’t lose, after all.


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