Quick A/N for the FFn crowd: I am so sorry for posting this update so ridiculously late. Life really got away from me on this one. Double sorry if you've already read the AO3 ver. of this chapter and are only just now getting a notification for the same chapter for a second time. I'll try not to let it happen again.

If you haven't gotten the chance to read this yet, I hope you enjoy. I have a real (or rather more technically recent) update coming soon, I promise.

"I just think it's so cute!" Sakura, as always, never knew when to leave anything alone. "He loves surprising you, Sasuke, it's just adorable. I'd love to have a brother like that."

"He loves tricking me," Sasuke grumbled, not wanting to reward Sakura's incessant cries for attention. "It's not cute at all. I wouldn't put it past him to be home early with some weird surprise like he was last year. He's so unpredictable."

"But that's kinda exciting, isn't it?" Of course Naruto could never resist chiming in either—Sasuke wasn't sure if he was saying it more to curry favor with Sakura or to irritate Sasuke. Maybe he was just talking to himself. "I mean," he continued, "if you never know what you're gonna get, every day's a little bit of an adventure, isn't it?"

Sasuke tried not to roll his eyes. "I wouldn't call it that. Just try living with him for a week," he brushed his bangs out of his face, "or even a day, and you'll see what I mean. It's not pretty. He's just weird."

"I think you're looking at it the wrong way," Sakura looked up at the ceiling and smiled to herself. "I mean, if you didn't say anything, I'd think living with him would be pretty boring. He always looks the same when I see him out and about. You'd never think he'd be the type of guy to get up to anything! I'd love to see what he's like when he's all by himself."

"You're living in a fantasy world, then," Sasuke muttered. "Even I don't really know what he gets up to when he's alone, and he's always working. You wouldn't see much." Sasuke cracked his knuckles idly, keeping his expression as austere as possible to mask the irritation rising up through him—it always worked on these two, if not Itachi, a small victory in a game he was barely invested in. "I promise he's not that interesting."

Naruto hummed loudly, making a big show of how deep in thought he was. "Somethin' smells," he declared. "We really should try trading places someday, just for fun. I wanna know what he's like!"

"Yeah, Sasuke, he never lets us come over. I don't even know what your room looks like!"

"Well, there you go," Sasuke's answer was plain, curt. "He never lets anyone come over because he doesn't do guests. You both know that already." And even if he did, that wouldn't mean I'd want either of you sniffing around my bed. "Either way, you can't hack it," Sasuke repeated, eyes narrowing. "It's not like he's some kind of movie villain or whatever you're imagining. Trust me. I'm doing you both a favor."

"Can't hack it?!" They both turned to stare at him at the same time, and he thought he might pull his hair out. "No way," Naruto shook his head, the vehemence of his denial consuming his whole body. " No way! Then he totally does get up to something weird when he's on his own! You gotta tell us, Sasuke, come on!"

"Could we stop talking about my brother already?" He glared at Naruto, turning up his nose. "It's my birthday! Remember? I'm not here to talk about Itachi." He stared at Naruto. "He's an even bigger loser than you, y'know. Are you happy knowing that?"

It was easy for Sasuke to tune out the indignant rant that followed—he'd done it all a million times before—but it was much harder to shut down his own thoughts. His overactive mind was far worse of a prison than any room he might share with Naruto, and even harder to walk out of. It's not like I don't appreciate what they're trying to do for me here, he thought, drumming his fingers against his arms, but…

I miss him.

He didn't let the words take so vivid a shape in his mind, but the feeling made itself known through a sour tingling in his extremities, a sad taste in his mouth. It hadn't been even close to this bad a year ago; the last time he'd spent his birthday with Sakura and Naruto, he'd been able to let go of Itachi for long enough to enjoy himself, but this time he just couldn't shake his brother off, no matter how many miles were between them. I probably really hurt his feelings leaving like that, Sasuke squeezed himself, one hand on each forearm, trying to stave off the discomfort of sitting with his thoughts—no easy task in the middle of Sakura and Naruto's incessant chattering, which quickly devolved into petty bickering. Even if he doesn't show his feelings much, he still has them. Sasuke couldn't hold back a sigh, so wrapped up in his thoughts that he was only barely relieved that neither of his friends heard. Why did I do that? Why do I always feel like I have to act that way around him?

He didn't realize he was standing up to leave until he was already halfway out the door.

"I'm home!"

Sasuke knew there was no real point in returning and even less of a point to announcing it; Itachi's car had long since rolled out of the driveway and off into some distant horizon, so it wasn't home , not really, but Sasuke didn't care. He couldn't write off the idea that Itachi might be ready to pull a fast one on him again. Maybe he'd parked the car around the corner and slipped back inside to catch Sasuke unaware. It could happen, he told himself. Stranger things had happened between them.

Of course, there were no signs of life left inside the house. Itachi had a way of doing this, Sasuke thought, of making any room feel deserted and distended with emptiness without his presence, even if it wasn't his space to fill in the first place. Sasuke's shoulders sagged—Itachi wouldn't have wanted him to mope, but he felt like a dry, useless husk without his brother nearby, incapable of most anything, save for waiting for Itachi's return.

Sasuke needed Itachi to come home. He needed his brother to make him feel full again, to make him feel alive.

Itachi had snapped some silly plastic cover back over the top of the cake before he left, probably to keep it fresh, but he hadn't put it back in the fridge. He must have guessed exactly how long I'd be out, Sasuke sighed, chest and spirit both deflating at a spectacular rate, but still, he's already gone.

He wasn't equipped to deal with these kinds of chess moves from his brother—how well Itachi knew Sasuke—not at this level and not when he was already so emotional. Not when he was home all by himself.

Sasuke reached out to stroke the flimsy plastic shell, searching for whatever small energetic impression Itachi's hands might have left behind. It warbled a little bit under his fingers, babbling the same way every grocery cake container did. It was such a nostalgic sound—today would mark the eighth time Itachi had bought him this kind of cake, he realized—and he jerked his hand back like he'd suffered a burn, unsure how to handle the feelings swelling up inside him. Desperate to look away, Sasuke's eyes landed instead on the corner of the table, where they stopped on Itachi's favorite lighter and half a sheet of salmon-colored paper. He yanked it out from under the lighter, squinting to read through the clattering—God, Itachi's handwriting was so fucking small—and groaned.

Have a beautiful day, Sasuke. I wish I was here to do this with you, but next year will be different. Light your candles when you're ready. The soup I made you this morning is in the fridge.

"…Idiot." Sap. Sasuke crushed the note into a ball and stuffed it into his pocket, growling to himself under his breath. "What part of "I'll see you when you get back" don't you understand…?"

It was too much for Sasuke to bear now. It's not fair. He stomped over to the air conditioner and jammed his thumb into the down button, dragging the temperature as low as it would go. It suited his mood, he thought bitterly, skulking over to the couch, but he had a more solid motive behind him; Itachi had a bathrobe he always wore, and when he was gone, he kept it folded over the back of the couch, meaning it was fair game for Sasuke to steal. The sun had risen without mercy in the early hours of the morning, so vengeful that sweat had risen over Sasuke's brow even as he darted from Naruto's house back to his, but Sasuke wanted that stupid robe. He slipped an arm into each sleeve—first left, then right—and sighed as he fastened the sash over his midriff. So soft.

It smelled like the dryer sheets Itachi always bought for them. It smelled like him.

Sasuke slumped back into the couch, completely lost on what to do with himself. Itachi always said Sasuke's birthday was his day, and he let him get away with almost anything, but right now, all alone in a space they were supposed to share, it all felt more than a little bit pointless. Of course I want to enjoy myself today. He shifted his body so he could lie down, looking past the gifts Itachi had wrapped for him on the coffee table to focus on the mantle above their fireplace. Who wouldn't? He clenched his fists. But still…

Sasuke almost wished he had something to do, somewhere to be that demanded enough attention or responsibility out of him that he'd be forced to forget that Itachi wasn't there. It wouldn't have mattered nearly as much—or so he told himself—if he'd been born in March or September because he'd always be busy. He remembered Naruto complaining once that he could never enjoy his birthday, that it fell deep in the busy parts of school and far too close to Christmas. Sasuke had, of course, had some smug, holier-than-thou response to that, but now…

Now he was just starting to feel stupid.

Sasuke pressed his face into the robe's oversized sleeves, but the longer he breathed, the deeper, the less it smelled like his brother and the more it smelled like his brother's empty house.

Well, he sat up with a disappointed sigh, staring at the floor, I guess I can only sit here feeling sorry for myself for so long.

Whenever things started to feel like too much for Sasuke—when he couldn't stand to be around anyone from school or the neighborhood—he cleaned. It satisfied something deep inside him, distracted him, but it also made him feel like he was paying his way, making Itachi's life easier. Of all the tasks he had to choose from, though, dusting the mantle was Sasuke's favorite chore, one of the few Itachi never had to ask him to do. In fact, Itachi never mentioned it or brought it up to Sasuke at all, so Sasuke almost wasn't sure if he noticed—but Itachi knew everything about what was going on in the house, always acutely aware of what needed to be done, so maybe…

In a sense, Sasuke was grateful that Itachi never mentioned it; Sasuke only ever did it when his brother was out working because he loved to take his time with it, to be shameless in it, migrating each trinket and family photo with careful, diligent hands from the mantle to the coffee table. Even though he would never admit it, Sasuke loved in particular to pay special, private attention to some of his favorites, showing them a reserved, gentle love with terry-cloth fingers, doing his best to make the pictures shine behind their glass safehouses.

Sasuke's bleak gaze returned to the mantle, alighting on his favorite framed photo of the two of them together. It looked a little blurry from the couch, a little grainy, but Sasuke could see it in perfect high definition inside his mind; his little face pressed halfway into Itachi's puffy jacket, both arms wrapped like a vise around Itachi's bigger arm.

A month or so after Sasuke's seventh birthday, once they were settled in the house—"the new place", at the time—Itachi took Sasuke to the primary school's auditorium to have some new family photos done, a service offered in preparation for the academic year. Neither of the boys had taken much from their parents' house, least of all pictures of the four of them; Itachi had only wanted photos with Sasuke in them, and he made sure he got them, but his interest in anything else was less than none, and Sasuke was too young to think to ask for pictures of his brother. As he reflected, wandering through the memory, Sasuke couldn't help but crave the feeling of that frame in his hands, the heft of the metal, the way the detailed edging ribbed into his fingers, the freedom to stare at it for as long as he possibly could.

He had to hold it again.

Sasuke rose from his seat and strode out of the living room and into the hall by the linen closet, determined to sow a little bit of arrogance and pride in each step, two things he felt no amount of but desperately wanted back. He rifled through it for the right type of rag; it couldn't be one with too much of a tooth to it, but it had to be the right size for the job, and they only had two or three rags like that in the house. Sasuke told himself that it would be fine if he couldn't find it, that it didn't matter—he could always just run a load of laundry, it'd make Itachi happier if he did that anyway—but he couldn't convince himself.

I need to touch it. He rooted around deeper, fingers catching against something soft at long last. I need to see it.

Though years had passed them by, Sasuke could remember everything about that September morning.

Even back then, Sasuke knew that Itachi hated being on camera, and he knew that Itachi had no obligation to be—he almost felt bad about going with him to get the pictures done, never mind his own shyness—but Itachi had made it clear that it was too important to him that he share this moment with Sasuke, this consummation of their new life; he wanted to be able to shape it into something they could hold in their hands, telling Sasuke just as much when they were somewhere no one else could hear.

Such an intimate idea was more than enough to get Sasuke to drop the issue, to let Itachi wash and comb his hair until it was just so and buckle him into the car.

As Itachi drove, white morning sun panning through the still-cold windshield, Sasuke tried to pick his brother apart. He never understood why Itachi always acted like his life had only started once Sasuke was born, and any burning questions Sasuke had beyond a superficial level were left to burn—Itachi wouldn't pour water over that fire no matter how hard his little brother nagged and begged, and Sasuke had grown to accept that; Itachi's self-sacrificing nature and love for his brother made it easy for Sasuke to step back and keep his mouth shut when he needed to. But still…

Sasuke had bowed his head and wished he could sit in the passenger seat for once—wished he could be in Itachi's world, if only for the few minutes it took them to turn the corner to the Academy.

He remembered the auditorium, fluorescent lights reflecting and ringing upward off the polished tile in a way that almost hurt his sensitive eyes. There were a number of different stations set up with all kinds of different canvas backdrops, each a different hue and patterned in washed oils. Itachi had asked him offhand which color he wanted to take the picture in front of, and Sasuke had felt like crying for a moment; he remembered huddling close to Itachi, cleaving to his older, much taller brother's legs, hiding his face against them.

All at once, for no discernible reason at all, Sasuke had felt totally exposed. Not wanting to keep anyone waiting, Itachi gently cleared his throat and tapped Sasuke on the shoulder—firm, but understanding. Sasuke withdrew from him, but he wouldn't let go of his brother's hand.

Itachi let him hold on.

Sasuke had always liked blues. Itachi had gestured toward the rear of the auditorium past royal purples and burned oranges with a gentle "What about this one?", kneeling down to meet Sasuke's gaze, still holding Sasuke's hand.

He still remembered how Itachi had smelled; even fresh out of the shower, he had such a distinct smell, somewhere between a wood stove and old leather, wearing the cold breath of early autumn all over his jacket. Immediately, in that moment, Sasuke was overwhelmed by how different they both were—how much bigger and stronger Itachi was, how much more mature—mystified that Itachi would treat him as an equal, would dare to look him in the eyes or ask him his opinion at all. All he could offer Itachi in return was a sheepish nod—a quick duck of the head accompanied by an even tighter grip on his brother's hand.

The photographer working the dark blue canvas looked bored—no surprise, since Itachi had said most of the people working were volunteers—and close to Itachi's age, perhaps only a few years his senior. Sasuke could tell they knew each other. He thought he recognized the older man from some other events around town, but he couldn't place a name in his mind, just the mop of white on his head. Is that his hair, or is he wearing a hat…? Sasuke almost wanted to ask Itachi what he thought, but he remembered his brother telling him it was rude to talk about strangers where they could hear you. He blushed and looked at the floor, letting Itachi steer him where he needed to go, and waited.

"Did you pay in advance?"

Itachi squeezed Sasuke's mittened hand, a quick apology, and let go for a moment to fish something out of his coat pocket. "Here," he'd said, always plain and straight to the point. "My receipt."

Something changed hands between them, and Sasuke couldn't help but wish Itachi would take his hand again. And then—to his delight—Itachi touched him again, nudging him by the shoulders toward the bench in front of the canvas.

"I'll be there in just a minute," he'd said, thumbing at Sasuke's cheek. Sasuke had wanted Itachi to put his hand on his head instead, but he knew he wouldn't, not when he'd been so careful grooming Sasuke to be pretty for the camera. He nodded and did as he was told.

Itachi followed through on his promise, only apart from Sasuke for a moment before joining him on the bench. He positioned himself carefully next to Sasuke, back strangely rigid.

Is that what you're supposed to do…? Sasuke tried it for a moment, giving up quickly after realizing how uncomfortable it was. …Do I smile? He looked up at Itachi, whose face was the same as always, and worried at his lip. What… What should I do?

At the last moment, struggling with the nerves in the bottom of his stomach, Sasuke turned his body just a bit too far from the camera, clung to Itachi's arm just a bit too tight, and hid part of his face in Itachi's clothes—just in time for the camera to flash.

The photographer didn't say anything at first, peering down at Sasuke for a moment before looking back up at Itachi. "...You want me to take that one again?"

A gross sense of embarrassment rose up in Sasuke, but all Itachi did was shake his head. "Let me see it."

Itachi straightened up, leaving Sasuke to sit and wait. The volunteer gestured for him to have a look, and Itachi peered where he was meant to, expression impossible to read.

"...So," the man raised his eyebrows and asked again, "you want me to take that again?"

Itachi shook his head, taking Sasuke by the hand before he could protest and starting off for the door. "This one is perfect. Thank you."

Weeks later, after the photos were developed, Itachi set that frame on the mantle and went about his day, leaving Sasuke to stare up in wonder at the image of their new family—his bashful face against Itachi's dark, shiny coat, and Itachi's tiny, relieved smile.

Sasuke sighed, a little bit of tension leaving his body with every tight circle of his fingers against the frame. It didn't need to be polished for so long, but he had to let himself be a little selfish. He needed the freedom to enjoy that sweet, quiet space, that small feeling from long ago.

It was still his birthday, after all.

Sasuke had succeeded in calming his nerves, if only for a little while, and he decided the next step was cleaning the bathroom. He'd used the last of their cleaning spray in the kitchen the other night, but Itachi had told him to wait on going to the store, and he knew they had lots of bottles of various chemicals tucked away under the kitchen sink. The house they shared was nice, but not so spacious that tidying would take up his whole day. Even if it would have, Sasuke thought to himself, the choice would have been easy. He wanted to make Itachi happy, make his life easier.

He wanted to make Itachi feel good.

Sasuke caught himself using that language again inside his head, all charged and heavy with the way Itachi made him feel, and he cursed himself. As he hunted for a fresh bottle of cleaning spray, still struggling to remember how long it had been since they'd bought any, Sasuke's thoughts wandered back to breakfast, and his ears burned red. I don't have to hide my feelings from him? He doesn't have a clue what he's talking about!

Even though no one was home, Sasuke suppressed the urge to howl, not wanting to let go— letting go couldn't become something he indulged, not ever, not for something like this. He couldn't let his guard slip, not even for a moment—Itachi had told him just as much not even two hours ago.

Sasuke's mind wandered further. Wonder if he's there yet, he almost mumbled out loud on his way to the kitchen, not even sure where Itachi was supposed to be going this time. Probably not. He must be headed back over the bridge again if it's supposed to take him that long. Why do they have to run him so ragged all the time? Sasuke scowled as he knelt to root through the cupboard. It's not like he's a dog. Aren't there, like, he fished through to the back, hand scrambling around a bend in the drain pipe, like… laws against making him work this much? Or something?

No, you idiot. Sasuke rolled his eyes, growing more and more frustrated with the neediness wriggling around his head. He doesn't let people push him around like that. He sighed. And there's no law saying he has to be around to babysit you. You're old enough to fend for yourself. If he has to be away this often, there must be some kind of— "Ah—!"

Sasuke jerked his hand back and sprang up on the balls of his feet, hard . His head smacked into something solid and oddly shaped—for just a moment, he was certain he'd just brushed his hand up against a cobweb or something else revolting enough to flinch back from, but he hit his head hard enough to see stars, falling flat on his ass and back into the kitchen. Sasuke shook his hand out with violent fervor, smearing it all over his jeans in patent disgust. Maybe they really were out of disinfectant—he couldn't see anything under the sink, and he wasn't about to search again, not without a flashlight.

"Gross," he grumbled, stuffing his feelings again, trying to play it cool and act like he hadn't just shrieked. It didn't matter that no one was home, he told himself. This is training for when he comes back. I need to just let him have it, he decided. That's what he gets for leaving me alone like this. We'll just have to do my birthday over again tomorrow.

But—hang on—what was it that he'd bumped into?

Sasuke frowned, thinking a little too hard as his head cleared. That's… strange. No, really strange. He remembered now—something remarkably similar to this had happened several months ago. It must have been the last time they'd bought cleaning supplies; he'd been helping Itachi put everything away and stuck his head a little bit too far under the sink, whacking himself by mistake when his brother called out to him from the other side of the house. But, Sasuke furrowed his brow, rubbing the back of his head—he could feel a bruise forming— this feels totally different.

Just to confirm his suspicions, Sasuke tipped his head to the side and stuck it under the top lip of the cupboard, and sure enough, he was right. Even in the very, very limited light, Sasuke could tell something was missing; last time, there was a flat board up at the top of the cupboard, and this time there was nothing. He could see it. There was nothing there to separate the metal underbelly of the kitchen sink from the rest of the cabinet.

"Must've been something wrong with it…" He tried to tell himself that, but he knew he was lying to himself. Every time something went wrong in the house, Itachi always fixed it, but he also always made sure to tell Sasuke; Sasuke always thought it was Itachi's way of telling him he'd be a problem solver for the two of them, especially with how much emphasis he'd placed on it when Sasuke was younger, but this…

It's the kitchen sink, he thought. We use it every day. He carefully extracted himself from the dark cabinet again, halfheartedly swatting at his hair in case anything was caught in it, but he barely noticed his own movements, too hung up on the cupboard. Why wouldn't he tell me?

Itachi had leered at him when he found him there that time, too, and Sasuke had never been able to figure out why. At the time, his brother hadn't seemed angry, just… Wary. Uncharacteristically wary, and—stranger still—wearing it on his face. He'd made some barely-noteworthy comment Sasuke couldn't quite remember, something about being more careful with his head, before waving Sasuke away, dismissing him to do some other job. He'd forgotten all about it.

He knew, though. Sasuke knew something was off. Something else was missing, something other than that board.

Sasuke sprang up, seized by a sudden, near-violent fervor. The flashlight. I need our flashlight. He steadied himself against the counter, breathing through his nose—he'd stood up just a little too fast—before jerking open the utility drawer next to the sink. He found his prize easily; its metal body was deep black and hefty enough to crack through just about anything, but it was bright , and that's what Sasuke cared about most. When he'd hit his head, he'd run up against something lumpy, something textured , but the sink was smooth as anything. He'd seen it with his own two eyes. There had to have been something else there, something that wasn't there anymore when he looked up after the fact.

Sasuke knew. He'd knocked something loose, something important.

Something secret.

His thumb fumbled to find the rubber button for the flashlight, easy enough to feel against the metal chassis. He couldn't bear to sink his eyes into the flashlight itself, not even for a second; he only had eyes for this mission as he squatted down and tore into the cupboard, pawing his way through various plastic bottles and long-empty jars, until he found—


No, Sasuke dropped the flashlight, fingers splaying out over the bottom of the now-empty cabinet, roaming and snaking up the drain pipe. He crushed his palms against the wide bowels of the sink again, patting it down, listening to the dull tonk that the force of his hands left in hopes the sound might change and give him the smallest clue. It was here. Something was here.

Sasuke flushed hot—with what, he wasn't sure. Anger, fear… Excitement. Everything ran together, pumped into the center of him through his racing heart's merciless, squeezing hands. It almost made him dizzy. He fumbled with clumsy, trembling arms, fighting to wrestle himself out of Itachi's robe as the heat bled and pooled together, filling him all the way to the edges…

And that was it. He heard something smack to the floor just behind him—the force with which it did almost made it sound wet. Right as the adrenaline peaked, it was over.

Sasuke realized his chest was heaving. He paused for a moment, trying to remind himself how to breathe.

At that moment, it clicked for him that whatever it was must have fallen into the hood of Itachi's bathrobe when he first hit his head—fussing with it and trying to take it off had jostled it out and onto the floor. Whatever it was that he was searching for had been right up against him the entire time.

I don't want to see it, Sasuke decided. Not before I touch it. Something about the thought of turning his head to look at whatever clandestine thing of Itachi's he'd knocked free made him feel almost sick—he couldn't take the writhing, needling feeling in his stomach that rose up when he thought about what his eyes might connect with, what one of his brother's secrets might look like in the shadow of the endless summer sun. After a moment of thought, Sasuke sighed and leaned back, slowly lowering his back to the floor, eyes sweeping up to bore wordlessly into the kitchen ceiling. The house was nearly silent, the only sounds in range a thin rustling of leaves in the summer wind and the lumbering, waffling chatter of a heavy truck far off in the distance.

Naïvely, Sasuke had assumed Itachi kept little to nothing from him. He was silent often and almost always vague when Sasuke probed Itachi for his genuine feelings or opinions, but it had seemed a transparent silence. Sasuke didn't see what Itachi could be hiding; his brother woke up, ate, slept, went to work, and tended to his family like any other man in his position would. He had hobbies—just not enough time to really enjoy them, Sasuke thought—and enough money to support Sasuke's taste in clothes, in his own hobbies. They were comfortable. Within the first year of their life together, Itachi had made it abundantly clear to Sasuke that he had the money to take care of everything, far above the bare minimum required to pay for the two of them to go out and do things together or to cover fees for Sasuke's various extracurriculars. Itachi had seen to it that they both had more than enough money to elevate Sasuke to an appropriate point in the village hierarchy, to leave him in a position that would force his peers to respect him, but not so much money that Sasuke ever had to wonder where it came from.

Itachi worked hard—harder than any other man they both knew, in Sasuke's eyes. Everyone in town knew that. They always had a lot to say about Itachi's work ethic and prior achievements, even when Sasuke was right in front of them. He didn't have any reason to think their way of life was out of the ordinary; after all, they were far from the wealthiest family in the area, and in Konoha, the poor were beyond poor. Sasuke always just thought they were in the middle of the road financially, maybe the upper middle. Not everyone was as lucky as he was to have a brother like Itachi. Not everyone had the self-control to maintain a few extra zeros in their bank account.

Then again, Sasuke didn't know much about handling money. He'd always left that to his brother.

He could really feel it now. Something small and hard had been driving its way into his shoulder since he'd laid down, but it pushed harder with every little thought of Itachi, with every small question that bloomed in the darkness growing inside Sasuke's mind.


Sasuke leaned up and off the pressure, slipping a hand down to fill the new void between his back and the floor.

What are you doing now?

Sasuke longed for his brother to come home now more than ever, to catch him in the act and shoo him off to his room, to give Sasuke some kind of out, some way to turn back from all this.

Where are you right now?

His fingers closed around something warm, and he gasped, squeezing it tight all at once, not meaning to do either. It crinkled gently in his fist, almost without sound, and it felt strange, close to soft but more smooth than anything with a hard, pebbly center. He could tell now that it was a very small plastic bag, only warm from how he'd lain on top of it, dimpled and pliable from some time—maybe years—in someone's pocket, and it was ever-so-slightly tacky against his palm on two of the edges. Tape , he realized, old tape, and he rolled over onto his side, knees curling into his chest.

He couldn't bring himself to open his fist.

What... is this?