AN: Just something really quick. Written because after my computer troubles are finally over with, I was catching up on all the manga I missed, and I came across the flashback chapters. (BTW, I am still not caught up, so if I screwed anything up, consider this AU). And I thought, if Sasuke and Naruto are best friends, then some things cannot happen. The unwritten rules of friendship. Thou shalt not go out with thy best friend's love, or something like that. I do not own Naruto

Friendship

By: Poison Ivy

Two Years Later

"Hey. Sasuke."

He glanced over at him, silhouetted behind the setting sun, head bobbing slightly as they walked. They were both huffing slightly from the practice that day, and he decided almost immediately that it was altogether too much effort to continue to gazed at someone he saw everyday, and then looked down at the ground again. "What do you want Naruto?"

There was no real malice in his tone, the exhaustion took some of that away, and in the end, both of them knew where they stood in the other's eyes. Not the most complicated relationship (family issues—and lack thereof—and fulfillment issues aside) but it was a comfortable one.

"If I told you something…a secret, I mean…you…wouldn't tell, would you?"

This was different. A Naruto with secrets was different indeed. Almost worth looking up, ignoring the pain in all his muscles. He had not realized that his teammate was deep enough for secrets. Especially for the don't-tell-anyone-else kind.

"Depends on what it is." His stride did not falter, and he did not look up.

Naruto glanced at his friend, suddenly concerned. He had not meant to distress his companion, and would not have noticed that he had, normally, but past events surrounded them both quite closely, and he was reminded how dangerous secrets could be.

"Nothing bad," he assured him quickly, peering sidelong into Sasuke's turned away face. "At least, I don't think so." He amended quickly. Then, hearing the small grain of insecurity in his tone, quickly stretched and grinned, the very picture of innocent Naruto, in case Sasuke should catch it too.

He turned his head and glanced up, and saw the uncertainty in the way the arms were held, too loose and too tense at the same time, and the slight forced-ness of the grin. "What is it dobe?" he asked, risking the small amount of effort that it took to sound normal—not too clipped—and to turn his thoughts away from a hot bath and food. In large quantities. Soon. (It was times like these that he realized how much he was turning into his friend, though he often wished he had gotten the never-tiring qualities, as opposed to the always-hungry ones)

Naruto shrugged slightly. Now that he had begun it, he was reluctant to finish it, knowing full well how stupid he might potentially sound.

"I think…I think I might love Sakura-chan."

Sasuke snorted slightly. It was just that? He had thought it might have been death or disease, he way he had sounded. "So?"

Naruto frowned slightly, no longer grinning. "What do you mean, 'so'?" he demanded, slightly cross.

Sasuke shrugged, the lifting and rising of only one shoulder. "It's not like you were exactly subtle about it." he reminded him playfully, since it would be exactly like Naruto to think he had been fooling everybody.

His frown deepened. "But that was a crush." He reminded. He swung out his arms from their position. "I was just a kid." (Sasuke tactfully refrained from mentioning certain 'kid-like' qualities that remained to this day) "It's different now."

The Uchiha sighed, anticipating a long lecture about the birds and the bees. "How is it different?" he grumbled.

His friend shrugged. "Every time I look at her, my heart starts to beat really fast, and then I turn red. And every time she smiles at me…it's like we're the only people that exist in the world, and it makes me want to be with her always, make her smile always."

Sasuke made a face at the cheesiness. "And how is this different from before?" he asked sardonically.

Naruto turned red with anger. "It just is, ok? It just is."

"OK. OK. I believe you."

This time, the redness was out of embarrassment.

"What does this have to do with me?"

His blush deepened. "It's just that…I think she likes you, but…" he trailed off, not knowing how to continue.

Sasuke looked over at him, frowning slightly. "But…" he prodded, visions of a pink haired girl calling "Sasuke-kun!" dancing in his mind

He threw his hands in the air, suddenly angry at how lame he sounded. "But nothing!" he said, looking down.

He nodded silently, waiting for the rest of it.

"It's just that…I think this is it. Love, you know?"

He sighed. "Not really." He reminded him.

Naruto glanced at him sidelong. "Yeah. Look…it's just that you can get any girl, you know? You're Uchiha Sasuke for Christ sakes! But me? This is…"

He looked past Naruto and at the setting sun.

"…damn." He looked down at his hands.

"Yeah." He said quietly, still not looking straight at him. "Yeah. I know."

He reddened. This was not a talk he liked having. "Look…just pretend I didn't say that, ok?" he pointed to the left, in the direction he had to go. "I'll see you tomorrow, ok, Sasuke-bastard?" and jogged off toward his apartment.

He stood in the same spot for several minutes, watching the retreating form.

They had known each other since they were kids, and yet…they had been friends for so little of that time.

I think I'm in love with Sakura-chan.

Yeah. I understand.

One Week Later

He staggered out of his house and onto the street, leaning against a nearby wall gratefully, sinking almost to the ground. He could hear his own labored breathing echoing down the empty street.

Empty, because not many people ventured into the Uchiha side of town anymore.

He reached a hand up and touched his forehead, wiping the sweat that beaded there. His hand, he noticed, when he pulled it away, was trembling.

He closed his eyes, and saw figures with red eyes glaring at him accusingly. Opened them, and saw the empty street.

Closed, and saw the ghosts that still lived in there. His mother. His father. Everyone.

Opened, and everything was normal.

"Damn." He whispered, bowing his head, "why the fuck am I still doing this?"

Every week, he forced himself to do this, like a rite of passage. Going into the Uchiha Manor and facing the demons.

And every week, he could barely make it out.

"Fuck…" he muttered, grounding the heel of his hand against his head. "This isn't getting any easier."

"Well, little brother," a voice in his head taunted, "Do you have the courage?"

He paid it no mind, now almost used to it being there. Always.

"Sasuke…kun?"

The voice pierced his thoughts, and he glanced up absently, reorienting himself with the bright day. A dark night and a large full moon danced beneath his eyelids.

She was standing there, clutching her shopping in both hands, held in front of her. As if she wanted them to protect her.

She blushed slightly as his eyes met hers, and he reflected wryly that even after all these years, she was still self-conscious.

"Sakura…" he said, trying to sound normal, and wincing at the sound his voice made, raspy and dry.

She smiled slightly—if a bit uncertainly—as if his words broke a spell, and leaned forward. "Are you…alright? I was passing by and I saw…" she trailed off, as if not sure what she was seeing.

He lurched slowly onto his feet, not wanting her to worry.

"I'm…fine." He gazed unhappily at the open door, glimpsing the front courtyard and the first buildings inside. Glimpsing the black of a ninja uniform, the tan of a vest, the red and blue of—

He yanked his eyes away.

She followed his gaze, and was not reassured.

"Are you sure? You were…uhm…" she bit the inside of her cheek slightly, looking away.

He gestured roughly away from himself. "I'm sure. You can go. No need to…worry." 'About me' hung heavily in the air.

She smiled then, in the familiar Sakura way, bright and sunny. "What are you saying, Sasuke-kun? Even if I go, I'll be worried, so now that I'm here, I might as well stay and help."

He looked down and studied his feet, feeling a blush slightly tinge his cheeks. She admitted it so easily, admitted that she cared…

"It's ok, Sakura. Really."

She ignored him, instead kneeling on the ground and digging through her shopping, muttering, "I didn't really buy anything useful this time, but I'm sure there's something…Ah! Here it is!"

She help out an apple to him, and when he did not immediately take it, blushed and looked down. "I know how much you like apples, and…I know it's not much, but…"

He remembered her, sitting opposite from his hospital bed and cutting apples for him, time after time. For him.

He reached out and took it. "Thank you." He said slowly.

She looked up and grinned at him, and he reeled from it, the sheer brightness of it.

He knew that he was staring, and he grabbed quickly for a thread, any thread.

"You were passing by?" he asked, confused, looking down and studying the apple, "But no one passes by here anymore." Only me.

She blushed, standing up and collecting her things. "I guess, for awhile now, I've been finding excuses to pass by.

"Since I don't know where Sasuke-kun lives!" she quickly added, not wanting to sound…sound like a little girl in front of him.

He smiled slightly at her, feeling the blush that was hot on his cheeks.

She walked over and shut the front door, saying, "We don't want anyone to vandalize it, right?" and he thought rather goofily:

I think I know what Naruto was going on about now.

The thought hit him like a ton of bricks, and he stopped smiling abruptly at the memory.

"I think I'm in love with Sakura-chan."

Damn.

"Sasuke-kun?" she stood in front of him again, confused.

He snapped out of his reverie, and focused his gaze back on her.

"Sakura…" his voice was a hoarse whisper, and he had to force himself to say it.

"Hmm?" she leaned in to hear better, concerned again.

"You…you don't have to call me Sasuke-kun anymore. We're not kids."

He pushed past her roughly, walking away fast, not wanting to see the look on her face. Not wanting to face the pain he had caused.

He clutched the apple tightly in his hand, digging his nails into its skin.

I think this is it. Love, you know?

Yeah. I know.

One Month Later

"Why did you do it?" he had cried, "why?"

A sneer. "Because. This clan is too weak. Will always be too week. And only the strong survive."

"Why kill everyone? Why did you kill everyone that mattered?"

A grin. Bittersweet. With mother and father and cousin and family hidden inside. "Because I realized that they didn't matter.

"Hey. Sasuke-bastard."

He snapped out of it, coming to to the steam of his ramen and Naruto's face.

"What?" he grumbled, poking at it with his chopsticks. He swore that it was Naruto's influence that made him this way. Able to live of this stuff. He made a face slightly at it. Slightly, because if his friend caught him at it, he'd get a lecture for sure.

"I think Sakura-chan might like me back."

He concentrated on not showing any response, and in the poking of the noodles. "Why do you say that?"

"Well…" he leaned back and grinned his trademark grin. "She talks to me more now…and not just to point out when I messed up, you know? And she said that I could walk her home."

He said this as if it were the proverbial icing on the proverbial cake, and Sasuke stabbed his ramen angrily. He had noticed all right. He had also noticed her watching him with a sad expression on her face, and he hated it.

"You told me to live in hatred." He said, dripping blood, only some of which was his own. The curse seal covered his face, but it was fading, since the one who cast it was no more. The Fifth had predicted that in a few weeks, it would disappear altogether, but while it remained, he was making the most out of its power.

"You told me to kill my best friend." He clenched his fists around his kunai, slippery from all the blood.

A smirk. "Yes, little brother. I did."

"Well I couldn't do it." he spat out.

A hint of a smile. "Wouldn't? Or…couldn't?"

Red eyes blazed at red eyes. "What do you mean?"

"What do you think, Sasuke?"

A shrug, impatient and dismissing. "But no matter. He is not here now. It is only you and me. As you wished."

"As I wished?" he was slow and confused, staggering.

The smile surfaced. "Yes. After all, you came to me, did you not?"

"Are you alright?" Naruto slurped his ramen noisily, peering into Sasuke's face.

He shook off the memory roughly, then grabbed his chopsticks and began to stir. "Yeah. Fine."

Naruto watched a second longer before returning to his meal. "Well, are you going to eat that or not?"

"Of course." He retorted, getting the inevitable Naruto's-going-to-mooch vibe, "why wouldn't I?"

"It's getting cold." He said pointedly, gesturing with his chopsticks to cement his point.

Sasuke started to eat quickly in answer, grimacing slightly at the taste of the cooling noodles, and for a few minutes, there was nothing but the sounds of chewing.

Naruto broke the silence first. "I know what you're thinking." He said, finishing off.

He froze for a split second, before reminding his mouth to chew, chew and swallow. "Do you?" he asked calmly, "then enlighten me. What am I thinking, Naruto?"

His friend grinned hugely. "You're thinking, 'when Naruto and Sakura-chan get together and eventually get married, will he still have time, and more importantly, room in his heart, for his miserable, stupid, cold-hearted bastard of a best friend?"

He nodded gamely, though his mind was still stuck on get together and eventually get married, and said "Wow, Naruto, got it in one." With enough sarcasm to pass for normal.

The blonde pointed his chopsticks at him. "Does it kill you how well I know you?"

Sasuke made a face through his mouthful, and Naruto grinned, calling for another bowl.

"I have to have my revenge." He told him, shivering though it was day.

"Why? You've already won against the snake. We both know that. Now is the time to go back home and bask in the glow of victory. So why do you come chasing me? Why do you come here, only to be reminded of who you are not, and what you can never be?"

"I have a score to settle."

A triumphant grin. "You will make up for the deaths of your family by killing the only other member of it?"

Narrowed eyes. "You are a monster."

"And you are not?"

"You said it yourself. I can never be you. I am different. I chose to be different."

"Will that justify murder, little brother?"

"…"

A dry laugh. "You will not win."

"I won't know until I try."

"You can never win."

"There's a first time for everything."

"How many is that?" he asked, pointing to the fast emptying bowl.

Naruto somehow managed to grin through his mouthful. "I don't know." He admitted sheepishly, sounding slightly muffled.

He sighed, putting aside his bowl. "Just don't expect me to pay." He said tiredly.

Naruto swallowed. "What do you take me for?" he said, sounding offended, "Like I would really take money from a Uchiha."

"You didn't say that last time." He reminded.

Naruto stuck his tongue out at him rather childishly. "You know what you're problem is?"

Tired. So very tired. Pain radiating from every pore.

"Give up yet?" came the taunt.

He wheezed. "Perhaps…it is a little harder than I thought it would be."

A smile.

He prepared for the attack, for the mental barrage that would weaken him, that would kill him. He did not expect—

Softly, wondering, "Why are you doing this?"

"I told you."

"Why are you giving up who you are?"

He gazed up at him dumbly, too tired to care about strategy right now. "What are you talking about?"

"You spent your life going against my words, and we are so different now."

"That is why…" he wheezed, "I will win."

A laugh, because he could afford to laugh. "You will not win. You will not kill like this, even though you have prepared yourself for this. We are different that way, you see. You care, while I do not."

Frozen. Shocked. Then,

"Does it kill you how well I know you little brother?"

Gasping for breath.

"So, why are you still doing this? Are your morals really worth your death, here, in the middle of nowhere? Are you really willing to give up your soul to kill me here?"

"What's my problem?"

"You need a girl."

He snorted. "Like you would know."

Naruto shrugged. "Yeah, well, sometimes you just know these things."

"Dobe."

Feigned offence. "See? See? That is what I'm talking about. You're too uptight."

"You get one little crush, and you're suddenly the authority on this sort of thing?"

"Hey! It's not a 'little crush'! It's love!"

He snorted again. "Right. Like there's a difference."

Naruto reached for his wallet.

It's not a 'little crush'. It's love.

You need a girl.

Yeah.

Two Months Later

"Why are you lecturing me?" he asked, tired and confused.

A smile. "I'm prolonging your life. Do you not want that?"

"Let's just get this over with."

A shrug. "As you wish."

"Sasuke-kun?" he heard the worry in her voice, and he returned back to the present.

"What?"

She peered closer into his face. "You spaced out a second there."

"I'm fine." He replied automatically, and to stop her questions, held her closer to him.

She gave up, and smiled, snuggling into him.

He looked away from her, and at the scenery as they continued to walk.

Looking up, into Sharingan eyes. Unforgiving eyes.

"Get up."

"I can't," he whispered, kneeling on the ground, bleeding from a dozen spots. God, he was so tired

"Get up."

He rested his head against the kunai that rested against his throat, not caring anymore. He just wanted it to be over. To not have to look into those eyes anymore.

"Sasuke…get up."

"Just kill me." He whispered to the cool metal. "Just kill me now. Why are you doing this? We both know I cannot win."

Something moved beneath his cheek, and he felt the metal withdraw. He looked up into the red eyes of his brother.

Something moved, fast, faster than anything he could ever have hoped to see, and his Sharingan had long before flickered out.

Two fingers poked his forehead, hard enough to hurt, and right after, he sensed the presence that was his brother gone.

"Forgive me Sasuke."

He didn't really know why he was doing this, except that she was warm and easy to hold, and when he was around her, he didn't have to think. When he was around her, it was easy to forget, to bury himself in her and forget.

"Sasuke-bastard."

He looked over and saw Naruto looking back at him. "Naruto." He greeted, though he was not watching the blonde. He was watching the person at his side.

Sakura stared at him, eyes wide and hurt. Her fingers were lying slightly on Naruto's arm, and seeing them, he felt a jab of pain pierce his heart, though he managed to ignore it.

Ino, for her part, kept silent, though her hold on his arm tightened slightly.

"I never pictured you the type to go for public affection." Naruto grinned, not noticing the tension.

He shrugged, a little stiffly, with his arm still entangled in Ino's. "Yeah, well." He said nonchalantly, watching Sakura through narrowed eyes.

"We're going for dinner" Ino announced proudly.

"So are we!" Naruto beamed, flashing an I-told-you and an aren't-I-smooth look in his friend's direction.

"At Ichiraku?" he observed dryly.

Naruto glared, and Sakura blushed hotly, though there wasn't really a reason to.

"We have to go now." Ino announced, dragging him away slightly.

He complied, not wanting to see that look on her face anymore.

"See you tomorrow!" Naruto called, and he lifted his free hand slightly in acknowledgement, his mind still preoccupied with a pink-haired girl, who, as they had turned around, had looked away, and laced her hands through Naruto's.

Damn. He thought, walking away.

I tried too hard to give this all away.

Friendship.

I have that now.

Nothing else matters.

And he continued to walk away.

AN: Yes, just a quick little one-shot. And I know I promised an update about a month ago, but "Careful" is written (I'm just too lazy to type it up) and I am struggling with Optimism. So I will have them soon, I promise.