Disclaimer: I am not Japanese. I am not a man. I did not make these characters. I do not make money off these characters. Thank you.
Pairing(s): one-sided SasuKaka, mild NaruSasu
Warning: No beta (Beware!) Angst, teenage hormones. Potential OOC. Goes AU after issue #176-177. Sound-nin? What Sound-nin?
Notes: Sasuke is really hard to write ::makes face:: disturbed-angst!Sasuke was tough enough before Itachi showed up and flung him over the deep end. Now we have psycho-angst!Sasuke, who is so charming. So yeah, I apologize profusely for any and all OOC.

In case you missed it the first time: Fic contains Shounen-ai (boy/boy love)


The night was cold and Sasuke's eyes were mad.

Kakashi could see the way his bitten nails curled claw-like against the bark of the tree and had no doubts that the boy would go for throat were he free to do so. Hatred was not a pretty thing, even less so on a child. (And since when was thirteen a child? When did that seem so impossibly young? Kakashi himself had not been a child at that age. This was no child in front of him.)

"Both you and I have found precious companions."

The words had an impact; Sasuke flinched as they struck. Realization and guilt and doubt and an odd sort of regret all replaced the seething madness in his shadowy gaze. Kakashi felt relief at the sight. There was hope for this one yet.

If he were the sort to hold a grudge, Kakashi would hunt down the person who had mentioned Itachi's name in front of Sasuke and, if not kill them, at least leave them limping for a while. Uchiha Sasuke *had* been improving. He was leaps and bounds more impressive than the withdrawn, sullen child that had sat hunched on stone steps and spoken so grimly of murder and a life without dreams. To see him regress so far as to lethally attack his own teammate, even when provoked...

Well, two steps forward, one step back was *still* one step in the right direction.

Kakashi tugged on the rope and it spun free, leaving a startled Sasuke sitting against the coarse trunk.

"I've got a mission in the morning," Kakashi said casually, coiling the cord and stowing it in the back of his flak vest, "Come stay the night at my place."

Sasuke turned his head to the side, fingers clenching restlessly against his thigh. "I'd rather be alone."

Kakashi nodded in complete understanding. "You can be alone in my guest room."

He wasn't sure what made him offer; bringing any one of his students into his private residence had been the last thing he ever intended to do. But there was a smell on the air that the jounin didn't like, one that made his nerves jangle in a way he knew better than to ignore, and in the end it was just easier to have Sasuke safely under his supervision.

Sasuke clicked his tongue in exasperation, but stood up anyway, the slight lassitude in his movements betraying a lingering weakness. Not, Kakashi reflected, that he was any better off. Oh yeah, this mission was going to be a fun one.

Kakashi looked thoughtfully at Sasuke's bare feet as they dropped down from the tree to the paved street below. They should probably go by his house to pick up clothing and other necessities. Or...not. Considering that Sasuke still lived in the house where his family was brutally murdered---and if that wasn't consciously rubbing salt in an open wound, Kakashi didn't know what was---now might not be the best time for him to be around such bitter ghosts. Besides, it wasn't like he was running around naked.

Kakashi's apartment, when they reached it, was dark and a little chill. He stepped over the travel packs he had left by the door earlier and went into the main living space, flicking on the nearest switch that came to hand. He didn't need light to find his way around---Sasuke didn't need it either, for that matter---but it was generally considered polite to give your guests means to see where they're going.

"Hungry?" he asked, glancing over his orderly kitchen and trying to remember if he actually had food. Other than the sort you tossed in the microwave and ate because it was better than starving.

"No," Sasuke muttered, still standing in the entranceway and swaying slightly as he stared at Kakashi's bags. His hair was greasy from lack of washing; his clothing stained with sweat and creased from being slept in.

"Well, the bathroom is there," Kakashi said, nodding to the door across from the kitchen, "I'll get you something else to wear."

Sasuke's expression was a study in controlled blankness as he wiped the bottom of his feet off on his calves and stepped up onto the wooden floor. Kakashi watched him go before heading into his own bedroom.

Having little need for any clothing beyond his jounin uniform, Kakashi kept his few 'civilian' outfits folded up in a squat chest against the wall. He moved some spare blankets from the top and lifted the lid. Shirts, sweaters, and pants were tucked neatly inside, all of them well made and barely worn. A bit of shifting unearthed a plain black t-shirt. On Kakashi it would just touch his thighs, so Sasuke would be engulfed down to the knees. Perfect.

A moment of thought and Kakashi delved into a more frequently visited chest, pulling free a pair of garishly red and gold stripe boxers. Hopefully the elastic would hold them up otherwise Sasuke would have endure going commando. Though who knew; maybe he appreciated being able to air out the essentials.

Kakashi grimaced. He really needed to stop thinking about that.

Draping the clothes and an extra blanket over his arm, Kakashi headed to the washroom. The door was partially open, showing Sasuke topless and soaping up his arms in front of a sink full of water. The boy's back tensed as Kakashi came up behind him and he hunched in on himself protectively.

Kakashi paused just inside the doorway, intrigued by this show of body shyness. He had noticed it before, during their training for the third round of the chuunin exams. A week into it and Sasuke had taken to hiding himself whenever they bathed or undressed for the night. A fairly new habit, Kakashi thought, because Sasuke certainly hadn't had any compulsions against stripping to the skin when they were living with Tazuna in Wave Country.

"Here," Kakashi said, continuing into the room and setting his armload on the edge of the counter, "The room is the next door over. I'll be leaving at daybreak, so be ready to get kicked out of bed when I leave. Sleep well."

Sasuke nodded slightly, his head ducked down so that long hair shielded his face. Kakashi saw the blush that bloomed on overly pale skin and rolled his eyes. Teenagers. His teacher/parental duties done for the night, Kakashi left Sasuke to his own devices, unzipping his vest as he went.

"Sensei. . .?"

Kakashi stopped at the strained query, glancing back over his shoulder. "Ah?"

Sasuke hunched further over the sink, water splashing the sides as his hands moved restlessly. "Nevermind."

Kakashi sighed through the mask, letting his stance sag in way that was purely for show. "Ah," he said again and let it be.


Slivery wisps of clouds twisted between the stars, cold and stark, but lit with red near the horizon where the lights of the village reached up to touch them. Only another hour or so before the sky would brighten with the encroaching dawn.

Sasuke sat on the windowsill, watching without seeing, bare knees tucked up against his chest. He really didn't want to be there. Right then, he didn't want to be anywhere, least of all inside of his own skin.

The futon he'd found in the closet was unfolded in the middle of the room, the blankets on it rumbled up from his brief attempt at sleeping. Night had always been a bad time for him; those quiet moments when lack of movement made your thoughts and memories all the louder.

Naruto was strong.

Impossibly, horribly, unforgivably strong.

That was the loudest thought, the one that had been plaguing him since that bizarre fight with Gaara of the Sand. Sasuke knew Naruto (thought he had), knew there were very definite limits to his teammate's abilities (god, there had to be a limit), knew that in the realms of skill he, Sasuke, would always be the greater (because what was life if he wasn't?) To have that knowledge challenged had been hard enough then, when the possibility of his own advancement was still strong.

But to encounter Itachi...to have it proven that he was still the same weak, useless child as before, was unbearable

Sasuke's teeth clenched so hard his jaw began to ache. His wrist was still sore from the break, but that pain was nothing to the phantom images of death and loss that still danced behind his closed eyes. Wasn't it bad enough that he had to face them always in his dreams? That the memory revived itself with every passage through the empty corridors of his clan home?

Not enough hatefulness, Itachi had said.

Give up on revenge, Kakashi-sensei had said.

Sasuke pressed his forehead into his knees and rocked himself, trying to soothe the knotted pain in his middle.

Give up. Forsake his purpose. The one reason he had ever gotten out of bed that day when he was seven and his hands still smelled like blood even though he had washed them and washed them, and he just wanted to lie there until his body rotted away. The one reason he that *kept* on getting out of bed, that he kept eating and sleeping and doing laundry and watching TV when he was bored and sweeping his parent's graves when the time came. That he trained until his muscles burned and his knuckles bled and his feet blistered.

Take it away and what did he have left?


Sasuke made a sound almost like a laugh, but a lot more like a sob. Better to die. Better to lay waste to all who stood in his path to Itachi than to face that...that bleakness. He tightened his arms around his legs until tired muscles protested the strain.

'Both you and I have found precious companions.'

Sasuke went still, then exhaled heavily as he uncoiled himself. Kakashi-sensei did say that too, didn't he? Precious companions. Those people you give your heart to---or who take it from you when you aren't looking.

He reached up his hand to trace patterns on the chill glass. Sakura, who cared for him to the point of obsession, ignoring Naruto and her training as a shinobi to give him the affection he didn't really want. Who faced her fear and possible death to protect him, and did try hard to not be a burden on the rest of them.

Kakashi-sensei, who was always late and sounded bored when he had to lecture, yet risked his life for Sasuke's safety and taught him skills to make him stronger. Who was tall, and strong, and smelled nice, and brought him into his home. Sauke fisted his hand in the dark material of the oversized shirt, bringing it up to his nose and shivering at the sharp scent of pine it carried. Had Kakashi worn this recently? Had brushed against his skin the way it now brushed against Sasuke's?

Kakashi could have touched him then, when they were in the bathroom. Just his large hand on Sasuke's back, but it would have felt different without anything in the way. Touched him, and, and held him, and kissed him, and put his hand right between...

Sasuke stood up sharply from the sill and walked the circuit of the room once to restrain the urge to punch something. Now wouldn't be the best time to wake Kakashi-sensei up or to go making holes in the wall. He went back to the window and leaned his forehead against the pane, staring at the translucent black and white shape of his reflection.

'Both you and I have found...'

"Naruto," he breathed, pale fog spreading out across the glass before rapidly retreating into nothing.

Naruto, who was strong. Who was loud and stupid and unskilled and always got in the way. Who struggled through everything and was brave to the point of idiocy.

Naruto who he...didn't hate, but couldn't stand to deal with most of the time. Naruto, who would never forsake *his* dream at someone else bequest.

...of course, Naruto's dream didn't involve abandoning friends and village.

Because that was what Sasuke would have to do, to chase Orochimaru and the power he offered. Were Naruto and Sakura that important to him, really? Did they matter so much that he would renounce the family he had sworn to spend his life avenging?

Frustration clogged up his throat like thick mud, making his hands jerk and tighten. He didn't know.

Suddenly decisive, Sasuke turned the latch on the window and pushed it open, hissing at the breeze that swirled in and started goosebumps trailing up his arms. He paused, listening to the faint sounds of a dog barking down the street, but hearing nothing major from Kakashi's direction, before sliding over the sill and stepping onto the patch of damp soil outside.

"Good night, sensei," Sasuke said softly, closing the window and taking off down the street.


Small stones skidded across the pavement, disturbed by a hesitant---and possibly deliberate---foot.

Sasuke sighed noiselessly and came to a stop, not bothering to look behind him. "It's late, Sakura, you should be in bed."

"I could say the same for you, Sasuke-kun," she said with forced levity, picking up her pace until she stood right behind him, "What are you running almost half-naked for? Sasuke-kun is usually more decent than that!"

"I'm on my way home," he lied flatly, turning his head to take in the sorrow and fear showing through her uncertain smile. Her eyes drifted unerringly to his shoulder, were the wide collar of the borrowed top had fallen down to expose a great deal of skin and the black mark at his neck. He jerked the shirt back up into place.

"Your house is in the other direction," Sakura said, hands folding together against her stomach. She looked pale, hair and clothing bleached of color in the thin illumination of the streetlamp.

"Sakura," he said, voice going sharp with irritation, "I'm not going to leave Konoha like this. Please, go home."

She made a faint sound of---relief? Worry? Anger? He couldn't tell---and bowed her head. "Sasuke-kun is strong, but he makes me afraid sometimes. I want to keep him safe, but I know I'm not strong enough."

"I don't need to be protected," Sasuke said quietly, not liking the twisting, guilty feeling her concern gave him. He looked away from her, watching the tree leaves dance in the light wind. "Go. There's no reason for you to be here."

He heard her swallow and imagined her nod. She left slowly, as if wanting to stay near him as long as possible, then broke into a run once she a block or so away. Sasuke glanced after her, seeing the quick flicker of a shadow-within-shadow before she vanished completely. He snorted and continued on his intended path.

It wasn't that much further. All the government sponsored buildings were piled up in this part of town; a little trashy, but solid enough. Some on the west end still showed marks of the attack from a few weeks ago. And considering the area, they would probably never be fully repaired.

Sasuke walked up creaking metal stairs with feet gone numb and halted at the top, having to seriously think to remember the right number. He'd never actually been there, knowing only because his compulsive nature demanded he memorize the addresses Kakashi-sensei had had them share with each other.

The memory clicked and Sasuke was soon beating hard on the correct door, not particularly caring if the noise woke the neighbors. There was a thud from inside and a spat of muffled yelling that was decidedly profane in nature. Sasuke kept up abusing the door, knowing if he stopped the other would probably go right back to bed.

"All right, all right!" The door was yanked open. Naruto failed to be pleased at the sight of his teammate on his doorstep after midnight. "What are you doing here?" he yawned, eyeing Sasuke warily.

I want to fight you, Sasuke thought. "That attack, what was it?" he said instead.

Naruto blinked, fist pausing in the act of scrubbing out his eye. An almost manic grin spread across his mouth. "That was rasengan! Awesome, isn't it? I would have *so* kicked your ass if Kakashi-sensei hadn't got in the way!" He leaned cockily against the doorframe.

"Ha," Sasuke snorted, barely aware of the trembling that had started in his hands. Naruto's eyes reflected the glow of the porch light, flashing from the darkness of his apartment like the gaze of a wild thing.

"Hey, hey, we'll have a *real* fight later, when no one's around to stop us," he promised, grin turning into a sulky pout at Sasuke's expression, "What's with the outfit? Your feet look ready to freeze off." He shoved the door open the rest of the way and stepped aside. "Get inside before the neighbors start bitching at me about having asshole guests in the middle of the night."

Sasuke hesitated, seriously questioning his own reasons for coming here. What had he been intending to do? Go for Naruto's throat as soon as the door opened? Beg Naruto to teach him the secret of his power? Grab him by the shoulders and demand that he go back to being a weak, bumbling idiot so that Sasuke didn't have to feel this way about him anymore?

Really pathetic, Uchiha.

"Hey, Sasuke-bastard, either come in or go away!" Naruto called, loud enough to wake up anyone who'd slept through the earlier racket.

"Dumbass," Sasuke muttered reflexively, following him inside.

He cased the place in a few quick, practiced sweeps. Messy, but not overly cluttered. Bed under the window, trash on the table, posters on the walls, and a few surprisingly healthy looking plants placed here and there. Weapons were kept off the floor, but everything else had the same sense of disarray as its owner.

Naruto was yawning and idly tossing a few empty ramen cups into the trash can sitting next to the fridge. "Kakashi-sensei was looking for you."

"He found me," Sasuke said, wiping the dirt off his feet and wincing as he encountered a cut in the heel of his right foot. He hadn't even felt that one. "Where did you learn something like rasengan? You couldn't have come up with it on your own."

"Oh, that pervert sennin taught it to me," Naruto said, sitting on the counter and frowning in remembered annoyance, "He was a real bastard about it, too. Hey! What do you mean I couldn't have come up with it on my own? I so could!"

"That rasengan is too different for someone like you," Sasuke said, mouth curling into a sneer, "All of your 'original moves' require kage bunshin no justu and mimic other people's skills"

Naruto titled his head confusion. "But I did use kage bunshin...wait!" He leapt to his feet and pointed a furious finger Sasuke. "Bastard, I don't copy! I *improve*! Besides, you aren't one to talk about copying."

"Sharigan is different," Sasuke snapped, treading carelessly over the clothes that happened to be lying in his path to the table. "But it's not only that..." he stopped and scowled hard at Naruto.

There was nothing outwardly different about the boy, nothing to explain his sudden massive increase in power. He had the same stupid face, the same overly-confident stance, the same energy that seemed vibrate through him even when standing still. What changed and how did Sasuke miss it?

Naruto held back the giant snake with the force of his body alone, panting from the effort of it. "You all right," he said, lifting his head to pin Sasuke with blood-red eyes that were anything but human, "Scaredy-cat?"

"There's that look again," Naruto said loudly, distracting Sasuke from his memory, "I know you're still mad about that incident, but that's no reason for you to be so harsh. Oh, and if you make Sakura-chan cry again, I'll make sure you're feeling it for weeks."

He folded his arms across his chest and leveled a glare at Sasuke that was far more amusing than threatening. Naruto didn't look very impressive at the best of times and the yellow pajamas with the ridiculous nightcap weren't improving the situation any.

"Sakura makes herself cry," Sasuke scoffed, unconsciously rubbing at the lingering ache just above his left shoulder. His gaze shifted from Naruto to the scrawled 'Become Hokage!' note pinned above the kitchen sink.

"It's not her fault she cares about a cold jerk like you," Naruto said with a warning growl, "You're lucky Sakura-chan has feelings for you, so don't complain about it where I have to listen."

Sasuke frowned, fingers pressing deeper into his flesh. He didn't want to talk about Sakura, least of all with Naruto. The other boy let out an irritated grunt and shifted his stance, causing Sasuke to look at him again.

He froze. Naruto was staring at his hand---no, at the side of his neck that his hand was on. There was far too much knowledge in those normally clueless eyes. Sasuke's teeth clicked together. "She told you."

There was nothing guilty or self-conscious in Naruto's shrug. "Yeah, she was worried about you running away to join that Orochimaru-bastard. Ha! Not a chance, right?" In one of his usual lightening-quick changes of mood, Naruto's seriousness gave way to a cheeky grin.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, not sure how to translate the sudden cheerful certainty. Did Naruto think Sasuke wouldn't be interested in gaining that power? Or did he believe Sasuke was too weak to control the curse seal?

"Why do you say that?" he asked cautiously.

"Is that a trick question? You're too strong to give in to those kinds of losers," Naruto said it like it was obvious, stretching his arms over his head. He squinted menacingly, adding, "I can still beat you though."


So that's what faith is, Sasuke thought.

I'd forgotten.

The tension that had filled him since waking up to a sterile hospital room and Sakura's teary face drained away suddenly, leaving behind a shaky weariness. Sasuke let his eyes close.

"Should I let it go, Naruto? Should I give up being an avenger and content myself with the rebuilding of my clan?" he asked softly. To move on, to live like an ordinary ninja. No more despair, no more struggle. No more hate.

"What!" Naruto charged forward to grab Sasuke shoulders. "Itachi is still a danger to the village, isn't he? We can't let someone like that threaten our home!"


"And don't forget what he did to you and Kakashi-sensei! And killing your family---unforgivable!" Naruto yelled and began shaking Sasuke with such force that his head snapped back and forth, which didn't do much to help the pounding in his temples. "We can't let him get away with it!"

"Naruto! Bastard, stop it!" Sasuke shouted in protest, prying Naruto's hands off his shoulders, "What do you mean, 'we'? Who said you were in on this?"

"Well, I'm the one he's after, right?" Naruto pointed out, "Not to mention I can't forgive someone for hurting my teammate."

Sasuke's stomach tightened in that strange way it did when he thought about Kakashi touching him. "That doesn't matter, killing Itachi is my duty," he insisted, forgetting that he'd been considering giving up earlier.

"Fine, if you're going to be *selfish* about it," Naruto said, wrinkling up his nose, "I'll hold Itachi down and you can shove chidori down his throat. Perfectly fair."

"That's the most ridiculous---" Sasuke broke himself off with a frustrated growl, "Look, remember that other person with Itachi? You can keep *him* out of my way while *I* go after aniki."

Naruto's eyes blazed and his grin exposed a great deal of teeth. "I can work with that."

Oh shit, Sasuke thought belatedly, did I just agree to let Naruto help me?

"But only if you're there with me," Sasuke clarified needlessly, feeling as if he'd been tricked somewhere along the way. Naruto's smile just broadened.

Silence fell over them, disturbed only by the steady ticking of the clock on the nightstand. Naruto's shit-eating expression fell in degrees, replaced by an open, baffled look that made him appear vulnerable. The strange faces that Naruto was making all the time usually made him look like some odd monkey-child, but right then he looked so...soft. Not delicate or breakable like Sakura did sometimes, but solid and welcoming, like something you wanted to wrap your arms around and hold onto forever.

"What?" Naruto said finally, eyebrows coming together over the bridge of his nose. Sasuke turned away, shoulders hunching in his discomfort.

"I need to get home," he said, hiking up the borrowed boxers that had been steadily falling off of his hips since he put them on.

"Oh, yeah," Naruto said, blinking and glancing out the window, "Jeez, it's almost morning. There's goes my sleeping in today. Thank a lot."

"I try," Sasuke said mildly. He took a step and grimaced when his feet reminded him of the abuse he'd been subjecting them to tonight. He'd have to take care of that when he got back, or run the risk of getting an infection in that cut. Another grimace as he remembered that his house keys were probably back at the hospital. Looked like he wouldn't get to bed as soon as he hoped.

Sleep was for the weak anyways.

"Hey, hey, Sasuke," Naruto said suddenly, as Sasuke reached the door. The dark haired boy paused obligingly, resting one hand against the frame.

"I didn't get to say it before, but...I'm glad you're better." Naruto smirked at Sasuke's stare and put one hand on his hip, pointing dramatically with the other. "But don't forget, I'm still planning to kick your ass!"

Sasuke let his head fall forward, so that Naruto couldn't see the almost-smile that wanted to come out.

"Yeah, right," he said and walked out into the gradually brightening day.