This was originally a fic I wrote awhile ago…but I really liked the concept, so I've held on to it. I haven't finished it yet, as I was planning to before posting, but I realize I haven't posted a decent fic in absolutely forever, so….yeah. That and I'm brain-dead and inspiration-less anyway. It's only going to be two-part, so…meh. You're not missing much, anyway. xD; If I had anything else to say, I've forgotten…so…enjoy. I hope. X

Disclaim: I don't own Naruto. Blah.


S y m b i o s i s

n : the relation between two different species of organisms that
are interdependent; each gains benefits from the other


Naruto whines a lot, but he's usually not very picky. Offer him the choice of dogs or cats, picture books or lengthy novels, beef ramen or miso, and he'll usually grin and say either one's okay. Well, except the ramen. Then he'd probably go with miso.

But for the first time in his life, there was one choice he was firmly, obstinately against; and that was leaving his guardian, Umino Iruka, who always smiled and scolded and rolled his chocolate eyes but took him out for dinner later, and moving into a hospital. Or rehabilitation center. Whatever the hell they called it, one thing was certain: Naruto was sure as hell not going to let them take him away from the only man who'd ever looked at him as something other then a problem, like an annoying bug that just won't die, no matter how many times you swat it.

"Naruto, it's not a big deal!"

"Not a big deal?" The blonde shrieked, glaring at the older man. "Shipping me off to a nut house isn't a big fucking deal!"

Thwap Naruto pouted, squinting up at Iruka and his rolled-up newspaper through water blue eyes. "Watch your language," Iruka growled. Stress was wearing him down, and his usually kind disposition was taking a long stroll off a short cliff. "And it's not a nut house, it's sort of…a… group home."

"Where they send all the screw ups," Naruto supplied. Thwap

"That's not it! It's just for people who need—"

"—mental help—ow! Stop hitting me with that thing!"

"Stop being so loud!" Naruto shifted his gaze from his father figure-turned-epitome-of-evil-ness to the bringer of said evil-ness. Whacked with a newspaper. Like a dog, he thought dryly.

"It wasn't my decision," Iruka muttered, plopping down on the crouch—still bearing die-hard magic marker stains of 'Uzumaki Naruto' scrawled over the arms—and rubbed his forehead wearily. "Believe me, if I had a choice, I wouldn't let them take you there," he finished in a much softer tone.

Naruto stared at his name in faded black, mind suddenly blank, not having some rash thing to say for once. "…I don't wanna go," he mumbled.

"It won't be that bad. There's gonna be other kids your age there. You'll only have to deal with counselors probably two or three times a week. And at least they might succeed in forcing something other then cup noodles down your throat," he added, poking the blonde in the side with his newspaper. Naruto batted it away, still scowling.

"I still don't wanna go."

"I'll visit you every chance I get."

"There's no ramen."

Exasperated sigh. "Naruto, you can't live on ramen."

"Says you."

"Says me, yes."

Iruka's eyes usually aren't hard—

Only when he's dealing with the stubborn seventh graders that he's trying to forcing a bit of English into their skulls. Only when he's really mad at Naruto. Only when Naruto's been a bad boy and done something stupid or failed his test because he refused to study, or when he stole something and he has to go and apologize and insist, Naruto's not really bad, he's just…just… except he is, and there's now way Iruka can make up enough explanations to cover. The brunette sighed yet again, rubbing a finger over the scar on the bridge of his nose. "Just make this easy, Naruto," he nearly pleads.

Uzumaki Naruto. Uzumaki Naruto. Uzumaki Naruto. Over and over and over, deep, dark stains that just won't come out.

"You can make me, but I won't like it," Naruto muttered sullenly.

Iruka smiled weakly, thanking the gods that Naruto wouldn't put up too much of a fight. "Tell you what. I'll treat us to Ichiraku tonight."

"YEAH! You're the coolest, sensei!"

"Ack! Naruto—can't—breathe—!"

"Oops…"



T
his is sort of a story of how Uzumaki Naruto wound up laying sprawled over a messy bed in the Konoha Hospital, on the fifth floor, where all the doctors and therapists and nurses and interns try to crack your head open and read your brain.

Naruto hates hospitals. They're too clean, too white, too dead, even if they're supposed to make people get better. There's no color in anything except the pale green uniform shirt he wears with his name on the front and a spiral leaf symbol on the back. It's because he's sure they're watching your every move, like a hunter who's caught a caged bird who slowly draws the bars together until there's no more room for it to breathe. They've got cameras all over the place. Wire, machinery, all that other junk, filling up the dead air. He's sure they've got a file on him too.

Uzumaki Naruto, It'd say. Seventeen years old, but he acts like he's five. He's a short blonde kid with big blue eyes. He's a problem child, because he has no real father and because his mother has no real name, only Kyuubi, because she's a street whore involved with all the wrong people. Because Naruto doesn't know how he's supposed to act, so he goes out and does what his imagination, what Kyuubi's lingering whispers tells him too. Because he pulls too many pranks and won't say sorry, because he fails at everything he does and no one tells him to do better. Because he got caught stealing and shoplifting because he never had any money and all the other kids made fun of his ragged clothes. Because he sat alone at night and watched the city spark to life through cracked windows in their filthy apartment and wondered, Where's mom? I'm scared. Because no one's there for him, except his middle school teacher, who found out he lived practically alone when he was 12 and took him in. He's stupid, loud, and complains too much, because Iruka's job always makes him too tired and he's only one man who just can't handle a big problem like him.

Uzumaki Naruto. He reads, he writes, he draws. He's crazy. Everywhere he goes he leaves his name there, and when he has nothing else to do he rights it over and over and over until you're sick of it and can't look at it anymore. He writes his name over and over and over again, paints it in public places and scribbles it all over the walls, because he has nothing else to do, and he wants to make sure someone will notice.

Because if he didn't, no one will ever know there was a blonde-haired kid with big blue eyes watching them through dirty windows.



"W
hat's he here for?"

"Ask him yourself."

"Oi, Shorty. What'd you do?"

"Who're you calling short!" Naruto glared at the boy sitting across from him in the ring of plastic chairs their group leader had them pull up.

"You, punk. What'd you do to get landed in here?" Kiba crossed his arms over his chest, slouching in his chair. He smirked, a feral glint lighting up in his sharp eyes that told Naruto he was the type of guy that chose one victim and picked on them for as long as he could; bit and clawed at them like a wild animal until they collapsed into a raving senseless pile of goop, and then he'd laugh and find himself new prey.

"Kiba," the counselor said in a warning tone, her crimson eyes narrowing slightly, though she maintained her semi-pleasant expression.

Kiba rolled his eyes. "Please."

"Stuff." Naruto muttered evasively. Wish Iruka was here…

"'Stuff' doesn't answer the question, moron."

"Kiba!"

"Takes one to know one!" Naruto shot back.

Kiba leapt to his feet, his hands balling into fists, knuckles clenched ivory white. "Sonuva—"

"Kiba! Language!"

"Fuck language," the wild boy snarled, diverting his attention from the blonde to the leader, who let her cheerful "we're all friends here" smile slip for a moment, and looked as if she would dearly love to beat him over the head with her clipboard.

"Sit down, Inuzuka," Ponytail boy—Nara Shikamaru, the jacket said—drawled, lounging in his chair. His pale face always looked perpetually drawn, though right now he just looked damned exasperated.

"Shut up, Nara, isn't this too troublesome for you?"

"Yeah, you're making it troublesome."

"K-Kiba-kun, please…"

Kiba growled lowly in his throat, flopping down in his chair.

"Kiba-kun doesn't mean it the way he makes it sound, Naruto-k-kun," the girl who'd managed to put the boy down murmured softly, refusing to meet the blonde's bright blue eyes. She fidgeted in her chair next to the leader, raking her fingers through violet hair nervously.

"Yeah, sure," Kiba muttered, glaring at Naruto.

"An-y-way," the leader broke in, gritting her teeth, "Naruto-kun. You're new, aren't you? I'm Yuuhi Kurenai; I'll be your group discussion leader for as long as you're here. This—" The ruby-eyed woman jerked her thumb at said girl sitting besides her, "—is Hyuuga Hinata, who's my temporary assistant. Haruno Sakura would be here, but she called in sick. Everyone else, you'll have to find out on your own. The point's to get you guys to talk. Now…Why don't you introduce yourself?"

"Eh, okay. My name is Uzumaki Naruto! I'm seventeen ("Short," "Shut up!") and my favorite food is ramen! I like playing basketball and—"

"So what the hell did you do?"

"Don't interrupt him, Kiba."

"I'm just asking a question, Yuuhi-sensei," Kiba drawled mockingly. "What if I want to get to know him better?" Kurenai's eyebrow twitched, though the way she remained calm was a rather obvious sign she was used to Kiba's behavior. She nodded and let it pass (though not without making several vicious slashes on her clipboard, which he assumed would be her going through the motions of determining what kind of punishment would make him suffer most).

"Stuff," the blonde answered again, but as Kiba opened his mouth to make a rude comment he added, just to make him shut up, "Tagged all over the hokage monument."

The dog boy clamped his jaws shut, looking just faintly impressed. So he not's such a poser, after all, he mused bitterly, a thin smirk stretching his tattooed cheeks. "So you're the one that wrote the shit all over it?"

"Yup!" Naruto answered, cheerfully, grinning to himself. He'd gotten into a crap load of trouble for it afterwards, and it was the main reason he'd landed up in here (probably because he had done it not once, but twice, too), but it had felt so good. Hanging from a rope off a almost vertical cliff, save the hokage's faces, the only things in his hands cans of spray paint and the thin cord. No support. No safety. It made the blood in his veins sing and back then, and he had remembered the look in Kyuubi's eyes as they dragged him away from the monument after pulling him up; the semblance of pride as she flipped back her fiery orange-red hair from the shadows and whispered gruffly, "You've got balls, kid," and ruffled his hair.

There were other reasons he'd done it. Because then people would look at him, Kyuubi would look at him, whether they liked it or not. Because the faces carved into the rock—the heroes of the village, founders and saviors and all that crap—didn't look quite so imposing and so You're inferior to him when they had shit scrawled all over their cheeks and foreheads. And then it was just so high—the air was clean, crisp, so close he felt he could touch the sky, and it was safe up there, cool and clear and nothing was hidden behind dirty looks or black lies or—

"…tonkachi…"

"Ehh? What'd you say?" Naruto blinked and peered around the ring of chairs and their occupants, who had suddenly fallen silent. His eyes landed on the one farthest from him, who met his gaze with glacial black orbs.

"Usuratonkachi," he repeated dully. His black eyes blended and hid behind raven bangs, only threads of his face peering through the ebony strands.

Naruto bristled, jumping to his feet in more or less the same fashion as Kiba. "What'd I do to piss you off?" He shouted, cerulean eyes snapping angrily.

"Be you, apparently." Uchiha Sasuke, his shirt read. Clean, pressed, as if he'd only just put it on and hadn't been sitting, silent, in the corner for the last two hours, watching everything go on through frozen eyes. The hint of a smirk beginning to edge its way on his face made Naruto grind his teeth together in frustration, already knowing I don't like this asshole, as he pointed at the teen in question.

"Yeah! Well, you…you…"

"Hey! Don't you dare talk to Sasuke-kun like that!" One of the girls glared at Naruto, flipping her platinum blonde hair away from her face.

"Points, Ino," Kurenai said sharply. Ino sat back down huffily, though not without sparing Naruto one last 'touch-Sasuke-and-I'll-make-sure-you-won't-have-children' glance. Points would get Ino "good behavior" tickets, and tickets led to freedom. Or at least the ability to visit her precious Sasuke-kun. The older woman's eyes narrowed as she started writing down the apparently one-sided conversation Naruto was having with Sasuke in the meantime she'd snapped at the girl.

He's not acting like himself. For the first time in awhile, the usually dull and most often silent group sparked her interest. He usually won't take or give bait, when Kiba acts more or less the same…. Ne, Sasuke?

Why is he different?

"Hnn. You're not worth the effort." Sasuke closed the conversation on his end with that comment, one that would've done Shikamaru proud.

"'Not worth the effort'? I'll show you 'not worth the effort'!"

Uzumaki Naruto, the file would say. He's crazy. He's desperate. He's loud and rude and brash and annoying. And no matter how long you turn your back on him, he won't let you ignore him.

"NARUTO—!"

With an infuriated battle cry, Naruto launched himself across the circle at Sasuke, swinging his fist at the cold bastard's face with all his force. The room exploded into action, the others sitting relatively close to the Uchiha diving away as Naruto flew into the raven-haired teen, who blocked his punch as his chair tipped over. Kurenai yelled, Ino screamed in rage, barely held back by two other kids, Shikamaru scooted his chair away and resumed dozing, and Kiba cheered loudly.

Naruto glared at the boy under him, who still had his wrist in his hand. "What's wrong, bastard?" He hissed, grinning crookedly as the black eyes narrowed. "Not worth your freakin' time? Can't fight?"

If Sasuke had felt anything, he sure as hell didn't show it, opting to instead extend both legs at the same time and kick Naruto off over his head. That wouldn't have fazed Naruto in the least if he hadn't bothered to relinquish his hold on his arms. The two somersaulted together, Naruto's back slamming into the ground as Sasuke pinned his legs with one his own.

"You're alone in the world," Kyuubi breathes, stroking his hair, raking crimson nails through the soft blonde spikes. "You're alone. There is nobody you can depend on except yourself. No one you can trust, not even me. You fight for yourself, you survive on your own, you grow strong alone. Find your strongest enemy. Kill him. And find your next. Do you understand, Naruto? Do you?"

"—the fuck? Let-me-go—asshole!"

"What's wrong, Naruto? Can't fight?"

It occurred to Naruto then that Sasuke was far too close to be comfortable; starless midnight eyes were bare inches from his own, that infuriating smirk slowly spreading across the boy's features. Naruto's attempts to struggles were instantly crushed as Sasuke drew somehow closer, his cool breath ghosting over the smaller boy's neck.

"Don't get in my way…dobe."

Then his weight was gone, the hot air on his neck evaporating and the soft click of the door closing in a silent room behind a certain Uchiha.

"—did you see that!" Ino screamed furiously, busily working herself into a rage. Kurenai stood up quickly, muttered something to Hinata and proceeded to lead Ino away, who apparently had issues when her emotions spiked. The shy girl quietly relayed Kurenai's order of dismissal to the rest of the group, then knelt next to Naruto as they moved out (with an exception of Shikamaru, who was asleep), who hadn't moved except to prop himself up on one elbow.

"A-are you alr-right, Naruto-kun?"

"Huh? Oh yeah, fine!" Naruto laughed sheepishly, sitting up and rubbing the back of his neck.

The way it felt…

'Don't get in my way…dobe.'

…dobe?

"GOD DAMNIT! UCHIHA, YOU BASTARD!"



P
eople at Konoha wonder why Naruto's up there with the lot that's worst off. He doesn't seem that bad. His mind isn't governed by the classic 'I hate the world, nobody understands me' sort of mentality. He's not exactly stupid, he just doesn't like studying and thus never tries. He doesn't loudly protect at everything last thing then take his anger out on some unfortunate victim, like Kiba, and he doesn't have dangerous mood swings, like Ino. From the outside, he's more or less average. He's cheerful, he smiles a lot (like a little kid, too), and he's willing to help out. They heard about him desecrating the Hokage monument. Twice, in fact, and wondered how the hell he managed to pull that off. They heard he's stolen and he's vandalized and stuff like that, but that's nothing compared to some of the shit people have pulled in here.

Naruto's not good at hiding his emotions. He wears his heart on his sleeve, after all.

One day you look at crystal blue eyes, and he's obstinately concentrating over a chess board, even though Shikamaru's got him beat and any move he'll make will fail. Shikamaru sighs, and says, "Naruto, it's your turn."

Another day, and they're obsessively happy over bothering Kiba, pushing the dog boy to his limits, especially poking fun at Kiba's low complaints on how he wants Akamaru back. Kiba growls, and says, "Naruto, I'm gonna wipe the floor with your face."

If Ino's involved, they're dull, deep blue, dilated and filled with nervous fear, trying to silently inch away from the girl as she rants, breaks really solid objects with her bare hands, and glares. Ino grins, and says, "Naruto, where are you going?"

They're cloudy, confused, when Hinata stammers and can't meet his eyes, flinching when he comes close and finding the oddest excuses to leave the room. Hinata turns, and says, "Naruto-kun, g-gomen, I h-have to go!"

His eyes turn into a fierce summer sky when Sasuke's around, bantering with the silent boy with every chance he gets, picking a fight and trying to prove he's better, no matter what, because he can't stand the stupid prick looking all superior. Sasuke smirks, and says, "Dobe."

But Naruto's happy with his weird companions. Not really weird, they're just different. Like him. Except Uchiha. He's a special case.

But then there's his eyes when he wakes up sweating in the middle of the night, padding from his bed, across the rows of cots of sleeping people who share this big room, across chilly tiles to draw aside the curtains. Shikamaru mutters in his sleep and covers his face with his pillow from the moonlight, until Naruto steps in the way and his shadow covers his bed. He stands and stares out to the city for a long time, silent for once, and if he noticed someone with dark eyes watching him from the corner by the doorway he's never said a word. The wind rustles through the metal grating on the window, just to remind him why he's there, and he wonders Where's mom?

I'm here, Kyuubi whispers, and her clawed fingers stroke his cheek, but it's really just the scratchy curtain material, but she bends down and kisses the top of his head, and whispers, remember, Naruto? You can't trust anyone. Not even me. You ruined my life, she reminds him tauntingly, her long arms encircling his body and holding him tight. I might come visit you some time…kill you someday.

Will you be ready?

This is the time his eyes shine deepest, with a color that isn't sky blue.



"S
o. It's nice to meet the kid who screwed up Mt. Hokage in person." Kakashi's visible eye curved up, and you could almost tell he was smiling happily behind his thick mask. Naruto was used to strange people, but Kakashi never failed to weird you out, and the combination of the single eye patch and mask working pretty well on Naruto. He was the only counselor most of the rehab kids in Konoha can tolerate without going insane and getting shipped off to their rooms for a few hours of "cool down", probably because he seemed just as fucked up as they are. After all, he wore said stupid mask all the time and headband folded over one eye with Konoha's leaf emblazoned on it, with a big useless flop of gravity defying silver-gray hair, and while all the other counselors leaned forward and clung desperately on every last word they could worm out of their 'patients', he tilted his chair back and whipped out the porn.

"Art," he called it cheerfully, brandishing the latest edition of Icha Icha Tactics.

"Oi, Kaka-sensei!"

"What?"

"Why'dya wear that mask?" Naruto looked up from where he'd been poking around Kakashi's office, which was more or less completely plain except for the bookshelf in the corner. He noticed, wryly, the top three shelves were filled with identical little neon orange books, Icha Icha Paradise emblazoned in bright red along the sides.

"That's for me to know and for you to not know." Naruto pouted as the older man supposedly grinned under said object, flicking a page in his 'art'. "So," he drawled out in the forever lazy tone of his, "How's life?"

"Huh? Oh…okay…except that they don't serve ramen here…Oh, oh, and Kiba pissed off Kurenai so she locked us in for a coupla hours without anything to do…so boring!…oh yeah! And Sasuke was being a bastard again, and did I mention there's no freakin' ramen?"

"Yup," Kakashi nodded appreciatively at the…lively…illustrations and turned another page, sparing a second to glance at the clock in the corner. "Well, session starts now. So…how do you feel about that?"

Naruto blinked. "Ehh?"

"About the 'Sasuke was being a bastard again' part. That seems to agitate you the most."

Naruto ran his hand through his messy hair, eyes squinting as his face pinched into his apparent "look of concentration". " He's being a bastard?" he answered hopefully, and sighed as Kakashi didn't answer, attention still completely riveted to the little orange book. "I dunno, I don't get it. He only bothers fighting with me," growl, "and then he goes off and acts like he's all tough! I think he forgot how to talk too. It pisses me off how he ignores everyone even though the girls like Ino worship the friggin' ground he walks on, and—"

"And that pisses you off."

"Duh! I said that!"

"…the way he doesn't acknowledge you."

"Ehh?"

Hatake Kakashi had always been pretty lax about his job. Spew out a string of the dirtiest curses you can think of in his face, and he'll tip his book in the direction of your "chill out" room and nod happily. People like him because he isn't too overbearing, and people dislike him because he seems too disinterested. Some wonder why he hasn't lost his job yet. Kakashi doesn't pay attention, but he's not stupid. It doesn't take a lot for him to piece together some cracked up kid's mind, because he's good at multitasking his Icha Icha sessions and watching everyone from the corner of his single eye. And when you have someone like Naruto, who's easier to read then a picture book, and Sasuke, who's deviating from his normal behavior a bit too much to be natural, it makes things one hell of a lot easier to figure out.

The silver-haired man didn't say anything. Agitated, Naruto sat on his desk ("Watch the files." "Screw the files, tell me!") "Whaaat?" He whined, poking the man in his headband repeatedly.

Kakashi offhandedly swatted the teen's hand away. "What what?" He replied vaguely, still not looking up.

"What'dya mean?" Naruto poked again, drawing back faster then Kakashi could be assed to shoo him away again.

"I don't know." Kakashi smiled under his mask, watching Naruto grind his teeth together. Oh, how teen drama did amuse him so. "What do I mean?"

"ARRGH! You're useless for a counselor, has anyone told you that?"

"Yup."

Naruto stared at him blankly, then fell backwards off his desk onto his feet to go poke around the office some more. "Can't you just tell me?"

"Not really. I'm supposed to ask what you think."

"I don't like thinking." Naruto pouted, flopping down in the fluffy red armchair set before Kakashi's dance, tossing a tennis ball he'd found from hand to hand. "And what if I think I wanna know what you're thinking?" He added, hopefully, then squawked as his lapse in concentration caused the ball to smack him in the head.

"You don't like it when people ignore you." Kakashi flipped another page calmly as Naruto looked up, startled that he'd finally given him a straight answer. "Especially Sasuke. Though I wonder why it's him in particular."

Naruto blinked.

Especially Sasuke.

"I just don't like him," he huffed, now bouncing the tennis ball against the wall repeatedly. "He's a stupid prick, that's it."

"Really? I wonder."

Naruto bounces his tennis ball silently, thinking about icy bastards and perverted teachers, watching the yellow-green blur of energy swing through the same motions until it's worn a dent into the wall, and Kakashi watches from the corner of his eye, wondering about a lot of things.



W
ow, she's pretty.

One wouldn't believe Naruto is a bit more observant then the average person. But he does, after all, have so little to call his own he remembers every last living detail of anyone who gives him so much as a little more then a sideways glance. It wasn't particularly hard for him to notice that Kurenai's second aide was indeed, very pretty, with soft cherry-blossom pink hair tied back neatly with a Konoha headband like Kakashi's, wide mint-green eyes and a kind smile. It also didn't take much to notice that she and Ino apparently knew each other, and Ino was on less then speaking terms with her as she glowered at the girl from her chair.

"Ohayo," Kurenai mumbles, rubbing her eyes. Morning groups are not her thing; she'd rather be sharing a drag with Asuma or doing something else then dealing with a bunch of juvenile delinquents. "Naruto-kun. This is Haruno Sakura; she and Hinata are visiting from the local high school for awhile as part of the GIFTT program."

"Ehh? GIFTT?"

"Good Influence For Troubled Teens," Hinata murmurs softly, fidgeting in her chair.

Kiba snorts, slinging an arm over the shoulder of Hinata's chair as he leans back and crosses his legs, either not noticing or ignoring it as Hinata flinches, blushes, and looks down. "'Good influence' my ass. They're just here to get extra credit. Goody two shoes," he aims at Sakura, who doesn't stop smiling, though Inner Sakura is busy imagining throttling the boy with all her fearsome strength.

"Kiba, behave."

Naruto tunes out the rest of the rest of the conversation. ("I don't think that's possible," "Shut up, Nara!") He has better things to think about, after all. Like how he's noticed Sakura making eyes at Sasuke, who's joined Shikamaru in staring out the window. Naruto sees the infatuation in the pink-haired girl's eyes, and the only parts of the conversations he hears is Sakura trying to get each kid to talk about their dreams in turn; then focusing almost obsessively on Sasuke, grudgingly moving onto the brunette next to him when he only gives her his familiar "Don't-talk-to-me" look.

Asshole. Naruto glares at him from two seats down, his fists gripping the underside of his chair, the old flame of jealously burning in his heart. She's not good enough for you either, huh? Stupid ice bastard, I bet he's

Then Sasuke turns his head a fraction of an inch and he's suddenly falling into black ice, falling forever, and he can't break away, and he's drowning, drowning, drowning, and then he's suddenly as free as if he was on Mt. Hokage again, because Sasuke looks away a second later, and for the rest of the session he won't look at him again.

…the hell was that…?

"SAKURA, YOU BITCH! STOP FLIRTING WITH MY SASUKE-KUN!"

"Wha—GET OFF ME!"

Kurenai looks almost desperately forlorn as she rises and pries Ino off Sakura, pulling the fiery blonde away from the other girl, who's clawing at her viciously, screaming death threats at the top of her voice. Shikamaru sighs and stands up, grabbing Ino by the forearm and helps Kurenai take her to the "chill out" room.

Kiba whoops loudly, chucking to himself. "Nothing like watching a bitch fight…So what's up with you two?" The emerald-eyed girl sighs, hauling herself to her feet and dusting off her skirt primly.

"We used to be best friends," Sakura smiles ruefully, Inner Sakura emphasizing the used to part. "I don't think I'm allowed to tell you anything else, though. Are you okay, Sasuke-kun?" She adds hopefully, touching her hair subconsciously.

"Hnn."

"Can't you at least pretend you care, asshole?" Naruto mutters under his breath.

Inner Sakura glares, thinking, Pretend? He does care, bitch!

"Why would I?"

Sakura, both Inner and Outer parts, falls silent. Naruto opens his mouth to piece together whatever comeback he can think of, but then Sasuke's looking at him like that, staring, really, and again he can't say anything to those onyx-cored depths, freezing up even as his mind is raging, trying to force the words out of his throat. Then it shifts to Sakura for longer then he's bothered to look at him, and then Sasuke stands up and walks off.

It strikes him then, suddenly, that he so wasn't sure who he was angry at anymore.



"I
ruka-sensei! You came! AND YOU BROUGHT RAMEN!"

"Hello, Naruto." Iruka smiled knowingly as Naruto dropped the hand he was about to play, rolling over and away from the poker game he'd been playing with Kiba, Hinata, and Shikamaru in the rec room, to bounce over to his father figure, sniffing the miso scent eagerly. It figures, the brunette thought dryly, relinquishing the bag of noodles lest Naruto run him over to get at them. Ramen, ramen, ramen… Ramen first, all else later.

" 'm missed you," Naruto said around a mouthful, already having ripped into the take-out bowls.

Iruka smiled, snagging one of the bowls for himself ("'ey!" Thwap.) and sitting at the table. "Glad to see you, Naruto. So, it's not so bad here, eh?"

The blonde shrugged. "I've been to worse."

Iruka munched on his noodles silently, eyes scanning the room. What was I expecting? It IS a hospital… he'd visited Konoha many times before, but it'd never failed to sadden him the sheer amounts of unbelievably young kids and teens hanging in the corners, eyes clouded, silently tormenting themselves and snapping at anyone who tried to offer them a consoling touch—like an animal caught in a trap. Like how you found Naruto, ne? "Erm…so… how's it been here?"

"Pretty cool. The food's actually not that bad and Shikamaru and Kiba are pretty cool once you get past the laziness and bastard-ness (At this, Kiba chucked the deck of cards at Naruto's head and missed, though half of it landed in his soup) and Kurenai doesn't really force you to talk…except the "chill out" room thingy, that sucks."

"Huh?"

"I get sent there a lot," Naruto stated almost thoughtfully, not noticing as Iruka choked and began hacking, attempting to clear his throat.

"What! Naruto, I thought we discussed th—" The older man slammed his chopsticks down.

"It's not my faaaaault!" The blonde whined, pausing to fish the soggy cards out of his bowl and fling them back at Kiba. "The worse I did was mess around with Kurenai's pen and made the spring blow all the ink up in her face…"

Iruka gave a long-suffering sigh. "Then what'd you do the other times?"

"Oi, it was Kiba and Sasuke that picked those fights, not me!" Naruto muttered defensively. Iruka looked up, suddenly interested.

"Sasuke?"

"Yeah! Why?"

"Oh, I don't know…Kakashi told me about him…"

"You know Kaka-sensei, too!"

"Not so loud! Sit down, Naruto!"

The blonde settled down, still raving about black-haired bastards and porn addicts under his breath. "So? So? Tell meeee!" He demanded, waving his arms impatiently.

"I know Kakashi from…er…work (Naruto noted the faint tinge of pink on his former guardian's cheeks, filing it away to bother Kakashi with later)a long time ago. Sasuke…" Iruka tapped his chopsticks against the side of his bowl thoughtfully. "Apparently, Uchiha's been here longer then anyone else," He said, stabbing a fish cake. "Since he was eight or so. Don't ask me why—I don't know—but that's what I heard."

Naruto blinked. "That…that's…THAT WAS USELESS! I already know he's crazy!"

"So why do you want to know, anyway?"

"…Dunno." Naruto shrugged, snagging his third bowl and ripping off the cover, inhaling the delicious scent that wafted into the stale rec room air and attacked the noodles voraciously. "He's weird. When you first sent me here, he ignores everybody, and now suddenly it feels like something's watching me all the time. Hey, if you aren't gonna finish that…"

Iruka sighed and pushed his bowl at Naruto, he dumped the remaining contents into his own. "Really? Uchiha doesn't seem to be the type to do that," he remarked, digging into his memory reserves of the few times he'd seen the raven-haired boy.

"You wouldn't believe what a bastard he is," Naruto said in—what he thought of—a helpful fashion. Thwap "Ow! See, you still haven't dropped your abusive habits!"

"Shut up and eat your noodles." Iruka rolled his eyes but let himself chuckle as Naruto made a face and resumed wolfing down the food. "I guess he really doesn't like you."

"Guess? He friggin'—" Thwap "Okay! Okay! Jesus…"

"Remember, Naruto," Iruka sighed, "Be good and they'll let you out sooner. My break time's almost over, I need to get back to the school…behave, okay? I'll visit next chance I get."

"Aww…Okay. And bring more ramen!" Naruto hugged Iruka, then whirled around and bounced back across the room at Kiba's victory yell, protesting that they should've stopped the game and mock-punched Kiba when the other boy razzed him.

The chocolate-haired teacher sighed, gathering the mess Naruto left in his wake and dumping it back in the plastic bag as he watched the blonde engage in a wrestling match with the dog boy. It didn't escape him, either, that the Uchiha sitting in the corner of the rec room was solidly ignoring Sakura, who sat besides him, eyes instead trained intently on Naruto.

"…on the other hand," Iruka voiced to himself, "Maybe he really likes you."



S
asuke isn't supposed to be sitting on the roof of the Konoha Hospital and Rehabilitation center. Sasuke isn't supposed to be hiding from the all-too-loving gropey nurses and that crazy Ino chick. Sasuke isn't supposed to be ditching group discussion (Kurenai would, again, wonder why the hell this was her job when she dealt with his groupies) and skiving off somewhere.

Then again, Sasuke isn't supposed to be a lot of things.

Sasuke, for one, wasn't supposed to be dark, sullen, and the definition of angsty. He isn't supposed to be lurking in the shadows because the sun bothers his eyes for a reason that has nothing to do with sensitive nerves and he isn't supposed to be wallowing in hate when all around him is unconditional, if a tad shallow, love.

Sasuke isn't supposed to be alive, either.

Sasuke used to be a happy little kid. Kinda like Naruto, though he'll kill you before he ever admits that. Bright, outgoing, everybody's favorite little boy to pat on the mussy-raven-haired head and hand him a lollipop. Try and do that now, and he'll bite your hand off. Sasuke used to be very friendly, in fact. When he came home from grade school he'd yell "I'm home!" loudly in his small voice and run to hug his mother and Itachi.

Itachi

Sasuke used to be a lot of things before Itachi.

Have you ever smelled blood? It's thick, almost tangible. It clogs the air and breeds clouds of heavy, metallic perfume, just a tint of salty coagulated taste floating in the scent. It's noxious and bold and once it stings your senses it poisons it forever, and you can never stop thinking about it, and never stop seeing it, never stop tasting it…

"Okaeri, otouto."

"…a-aniki? What…wha…"

Itachi smiles eerily, lifting his gaze from his mother's severed head. His eyes are spinning into a blend of rusted crimson, too similar in color to the liquid staining his hands and clothes. "Okaeri," he repeats, dragging the blade he hold along his sleeve, reviving the thin slash of gray into shining silver.

Little Sasuke stumbles forward, his small fingers reaching out to his mother's gauzy hair in some sick sense of morbid fascination, ebony eyes darting from the headless corpse, to Itachi, to the head, to the blood, to the walls stained with all that blood, and his head spins and he trips and this time Itachi isn't going to help him up and tell him it's okay, because it's not and when the hell did everything go wrong? " 'chi…wh…why!"

And he doesn't say anything, but his eyes are enough. When he looks at Itachi's eyes they hypnotize him, telling him it's all your fault that mother and father are dead, because you weren't here to stop him, because you couldn't stop him even if you were here. The mirror wheels in his eyes are excited, because he's wanted that blood for so long, because he's god damn sick of you and mother and father and he wants O-U-T, away from this stupid family that expects a lot and away from the little brother that loved him too much.

"Ja ne, 'suke," He whispers simply, and his blade finds a new target.

Sasuke closes his eyes against the sun and stops trying to feel, because all that's left is the heavy scent of blood.



"Eurgh
. They call this crap food?"

"Stop complaining. I'll eat it if you don't want it."

"That's not i—God damnit, Kiba, stop stealing my friggin' potatoes!" Naruto fended off Kiba's latest attempt to pilfer his cafeteria tray with his fork. The dog boy rolled his eyes and turned to the pile of goop on his own plate, poking it gingerly, then shrugging and stuffing it in his mouth.

Shikamaru sighed resignedly, deciding that it really wasn't worth the effort, and pushed his tray at the two boys. "So troublesome…"

"Cool, thanks—Kiba! I called the 'pot roast' crap—"

"Like hell you did!" The forks clashed again, followed by the extremely blunt knives that were incapable of cutting just about anything. Shikamaru sighed and moved over a seat, nodding to Hinata as she approached.

"HAHA, I WIN! Hi, Hinata," Naruto added, scraping off the apparent pot roast from Shikamaru's plate and shoving the rest at Kiba.

"H-hello, Naruto-k-kun, Kiba-kun." Hinata blushed furiously, stumbling over Naruto's name, and then some more at the predatory look Kiba shot her momentarily.

"Man, they feed us crap, and then they can't even feed us enough," Naruto complained loudly, crumpling his paper plate (no dishes, seeing as how Ino previously used one to crack over a girl's head who dared speak to her Sasuke-kun) in his fist. Kiba snorted in agreement, stretching in his seat to dump out the few crumbs left on his tray.

"Y-you can have my l-lunch, if you like," Hinata voiced quietly, holding out the bento she'd been carrying when she arrived. The boy's eye's gleamed simultaneously, and Shikamaru sighed, rising to amble off to the corner, predicting a fight.

"Thanks, Hinata," Naruto muttered through onigiri, clearing his throat to finish, "for some edible food. I bet the cafeteria chicks are secretly trying to kill us wi—HEY!"

Kiba snickered, having wolfed down his half of Hinata's would-be lunch at the speed of light, then took a bite out of the onigiri he stole from Naruto. "Unattended food is communal property."

"Unattended my ass! You bastard, gimme that—"

"Hey, get the fuck off! PUNK!"

"LIKE HELL I WILL! EAT SHIT, DOG BOY!" And Naruto, having been a very literal child all his life, grabbed a handful of potatoes off a girl's—forgot her name already—tray and mashed it into Kiba's face. The Inuzuka choked and then snarled viciously, shoving Naruto aside to grab the girl's entire tray and slop it in the blonde's face.

"HAHA—FOOD FIIIIGHT!"

Hospital food, after all, has to have some real use.

The next thing Naruto knew, the air was thick with flying bits of fish, potatoes, and rice, and the smaller half of the cafeteria with the few normal patients shrieked and ran for cover. The section of rehab kids and teens seized the chance, standing up almost in unison and chucking whatever they could grab a hold of. Naruto ducked as something brown whizzed by his head, letting out a victorious "HA, YOU MISSED ME!" at Kiba, then threw a carton of chocolate milk at him.

Kiba eeped, grabbed a tray and used it as a shield, smirking over it at Naruto as the contents of the carton dripped off the ends. "You throw like a girl!" He shouted challengingly, then wheeled around and picked up a cup of carrots as a return shot.

Naruto seethed, picking up his own tray as a barrier device, and grabbed a forgotten plate (the soggy paper crumbled in his hand, and judging by the greenish slop on it he could instantly see why it was abandoned) and chucked at Kiba. The other boy ducked, howling with laughter as it hit some unfortunate soul behind him in the back of the head, then kicked up another tray and sling shot a load of potatoes at the blonde.

Splat.

"HELL YEAH, BULLSE—oh…umm…well. Shit."

Sasuke didn't let his grimace show as he slowly lifted his hand and wiped the pale white mush off his face. Even Ino, for once, was silent, and bemusedly interested in what her hero would do. His eyes slowly scanned the room, coming to rest on Kiba's only slightly guilty face (he got rather jealous of Sasuke's groupies, whome he just couldn't attract) and then darting to Naruto's.

"What?" The blonde blurted out, shifting uncomfortably under the boy's black gaze, though not looking away. "It wasn't me this time! I swear!"

"Hnn." The Uchiha's footsteps rang loudly against the tiles as he sidestepped a gravy puddle, slowly coming to a stop besides Naruto. Kiba arched an eyebrow and Naruto began inching away…until Sasuke's arm came sliding around his waist, stole the food the blonde held and passed it to his right, ending with a ridiculously graceful throw at Kiba (which hit him in the face); all of which happened in about three seconds. Maybe less.

Kiba spluttered, the unidentifiable mess stinging in his eyes, and Naruto would've broken out damned howling if Sasuke's arm wasn't still ghosting his waist.

"'You throw like a girl'," The raven-haired boy smirked, his comment apparently applying to both Naruto and Kiba as he moved away. Naruto almost winced as cool air took place of the Uchiha's warm arm, then realized what he said a moment later.

"H-hey! Bastard!"

By now, people started moving again, though the fight came to a crashing stop as some guy in spandex and a bowl cut charged in, cheering loudly about the joy of youth. Said man started rounding up the kids into clean up crews. Naruto blinked and edged toward the doorway.

"HEY! YOU!"

"Eh!"

"GARBAGE DETAIL!" Gai cheered, shoving a black plastic trash bag in the blonde's hands enthusiastically. "COME! If we join forces, the task shall be completed far more quickly! Ah, the zest of youth…" Spandex-man trailed off, skipping off in his orange legwarmers to hand out more cleaning materials, then yell dramatically as Kakashi appeared, arched a lazy eyebrow, and immediately left.

"This is you guy's fault," Shikamaru grumbled, plopping down on a bench as soon as Gai turned around, slinging his bag to the floor. "How troublesome."

"Get up," Naruto grumbled back, "And it's Kiba's fault."

"Like hell it is! Auugh…that bitch Uchiha…"

Naruto gave up trying to pull the lazy genius into a upright position, dully surprised how one who never did anything (including eat, seeing as how lifting a fork was too much trouble) could be so heavy. "Shut up Kiba, it's not that bad. At least everyone's helping."

"Not really," Shikamaru drawled, watching Gai dance around from the corner of his eyes. "Sasuke got away."

"WHAT!"

"THAT BITCH!"



I
t shouldn't have taken Naruto half an hour to find the raven-haired boy when he was limited to only one floor, but when he did, he could grudgingly admit Sasuke had good taste in hiding places. It'd been hard enough for him to escape Gai's watchful eye, especially as Rock Lee, some kid from Hinata and Sakura's school, turned up and joined in at inadvertently razzing the clean up crews. The pair of green-and-orange-clad men (Naruto noted with distaste that even his poor fashion sense was recoiling in horror) made it even more difficult to manage to get up to the roof of the Konoha hospital.

"Oi, bastard! Up here?"

"Shut up. You're too loud…dobe." Naruto growled, whirling around to face Sasuke, who was leaning against the stairwell in the shade. The raven-haired boy didn't bother shifting his eyes from the very tallest of the rustling emerald tree tops around them. Naruto took a deep breath, his fury slowly settling to a dull throb as the wind rushed through his hair.

"What makes you so special that you think you get to skip off clean-up?" The blonde grumbled anyway, scratching a whiskered cheek as he watched a pair of leaves dance by, carried by the warm breeze.

Sasuke shrugged minimally. "I wasn't the idiot that started it."

"Yeah, well, you had the last shot! Suck the fun out of everything," Naruto added under his breath.

"Hnn."

Naruto walked out to the edge of the roof, resting his elbows on the railing. Woah, it's high.

"Buildings usually are, dobe."

"Ehh?" He blinked, realizing he spoke aloud, then scowled darkly at the raven-haired boy (who smirked at him) and decided to let it pass. I should come up here, too, he mused. It's boring but there's no stupid Ino trying to beat me up…or…or Kiba being stupid…or…damn, I need something to do. "How'd you get up here, anyway? I thought the roof was restricted."

"You got through, didn't you?"

"Yeah, but I had hella hard time…"

"Shut up."

And, as were all talks with the Uchiha, that was that. Naruto rolled his eyes, though he suspected the nurse's constant fawning over the boy to be the primary reason he always got away. The blonde's gaze drifted back out to the roof tops, sliding over the city.

It's the top of Mount Hokage. You fought to get up here. Clawed up a almost vertical cliff, searching for every foothold you could find. Got to the top, where it was high and cool and clear, and air was clean and crisp and it felt like you were the king of the world. It's clean and nobody else has the guts to come up here. It's safe, it's safe, and nobody can hurt you, and it's safe.

People flowed along the sidewalks like lines of rushing ants. The muted beeps of car horns drifted up in the afternoon sun, muted by sheer height, though none of it reached his ears.

It's high and you can see everything around you for miles. There's nothing hidden. Laying out in neat rows, ordered by streets and avenues. Nothing hidden with lies and the games of pretend that weren't really games at all and soft words and empty praise that nobody really means.

Sasuke frowned slightly to himself, watching Naruto rock back and forth on his heels, arms rested on the railing. Summer-blue eyes were glazed over, shielding the person within from the outside—like a child cradling his scraped knees to himself, lost somewhere in his mind, telling himself It's okay, It's okay, it's. Not. So Bad. It's okay.

It's high and clean and clear. You're free, finally free. It feels like you could stand on your toes and reach out and touch the sky, fluffy bits of clouds. Feels like you could break off the chains weighing you down and stand up tall and proud, reach up and grab a fistful of the sun. And you're full of real warmth with that piece of the sun, bright and clear and shining bright in the palm of your hand, the same color as the streaks in Kyuubi's hair, except when it tells you You're safe, you are safe, it isn't lying, and it means it. It means it. For real.

High and clear. No one else can climb this high. You're alone, you're okay, you're safe

"Naruto?"

Then why the hell is there a pale hand on your shoulder, cool wind in your ears? Raven feathers falling from the sky, shielding black moons from your tiny piece of the sun?

You're alone, Kyuubi whispers, but even when she's telling you the twisted reality, her ugly truth, she's lying, she's lying, because Kyuubi is your mother and you're an unwanted, and you're not safe after all, and the chains are back, tied down by midnight-winged angels with dark hair and flaming black eyes, angels who are yelling your name and trying to wake you up and drag you down, away from the sky, away from the top of the mountain, take you down and—

"—NARU—"

The angels are falling with you, and the top of Mount Hokage is spinning away from you in dizzy spirals, and you're falling, falling forever. You're looking up and sun is looking down and you realize you're losing the only thing you've ever had, and if you look hard it becomes Kyuubi's golden-red eyes, hollow and empty, like shooting stars that never had any wishes.



"—to?"

"…Hi…nata?"

"Ah. Y-you're awake," Hinata mumbled, almost to herself, nervously. Naruto blinked, sitting up swiftly, dizzy and confused as the room spun for a moment before settling into sweet normalcy.

"What happened?" the blonde blinked again, rapidly, kicking the white sheets—he was magically in his bed, he noticed—that tangled around his legs away. His head had stopped its momentary throbbing in protest to how fast he'd moved, though he couldn't quite remember how the hell he had gotten here. But his wrist hurt like a royal bitch.

"You f-fell, Naruto-kun," the purple haired girl answered softly, gesturing meekly out the window.

"…Huh?"

"Uchiha-san came in h-holding you," she stammered; had she been a Sakura-type with a 'inner spirit', Inner Hinata would've been rather sore at not having the chance to hold Naruto herself. "Apparently, you fell over the railing on the rooftop."

"I fell!" The blonde groaned, flopping back. "Oh shit, Iruka-sensei's gonna frikkin' kill m—"

"N-nobody else knows."

"What?"

"Nobody else knows," Hinata repeated, "Except Uchiha-san, you, and me. He just…appeared, with you in his a-arms, and asked m-me to look after you."

"Woah. Never would've figured Uchiha-bastard would do that." Naruto rubbed his temples, lapsing into thought. He remembered now; he'd fallen again—high and clear and cool—and Sasuke had come up behind him, resting a hand on his shoulder.

Just like Kyuubi.

He had freaked and smacked the other boy's hand away, turning and tripping, flipping backwards over the black iron railing. Then he remembered falling, like the world was up close and gone for a moment and knowing, then, the tiny people would slowly grow big, if there hadn't been a loud yell and jerk on his wrist, if there hadn't been Uchiha's lean body bent over, nearly slipping off himself, yelling something he couldn't hear, fingers clenched in a vice group around his wrist, and then all he could remember was black.

Never thought you could…

…fall …

…Up…

"Aw shit!" The blonde groaned as the prospect finally smacked him upside the head. Asshole saved my life, he thought dully. I owe him one…

He could remember; looking down into the dizzying heights—and looking up into even more darkness, but they were twin voids staring down, twisted into a pale face that looked so wrong—

Wrong? Che, like hell. Uchiha's a perfect sonofabitch.

Then why did he look so…panicked? For the first time you've ever seen him? And why did it suddenly feel like you were flying high again when he looked at you like that, even though you were falling?

"God damn Naruto, don't you ever shut up?" Kiba slammed the door to the sleeping ward as he strolled in, completely oblivious to the nervously-twitching Hinata and the apparently thinking Naruto, something that rarely happened.

"Shut up, Kiba," Naruto retorted mechanically, half-heartedly chucking his pillow at the Inuzuka, who caught it and threw it, except he hit the blonde in the face. Hinata shook her head and scooted her chair away as Kiba plopped in the other one, eyebrows arching quizzically.

"So what the hell'd you get into? Looked like one those hospitals scenes in those shitty chick flicks they show us when I walked in." Not that he was particularly happy about that, mind you. His sharp gaze flickered to Hinata with a tint of jealousy before focusing on Naruto's blue eyes again.

"Nothing to do with you." Naruto rolled over and off the bed, dusting off his crumpled uniform. "Oi, Hinata-chan (insert furiously blushing Hyuuga girl), where's Sasuke-bastard? I bet he's hiding, huh?" A sudden grin lit on his face. "Nobody should know perfect Sasuke had to strain himself to save Naruto! I bet he's off somewhere cause he thought I was gonna come back and razz him in front of everyone." Kiba groaned, got up, and left as the blonde muttered to himself. Naruto plowed on, his eyes suddenly twinkling. "In fact, he was right. I am gonna razz him."

"I t-think he's in the r-rec room," Hinata offered timidly. Naruto grinned victoriously, striding to the doorway, new mission objective fresh in his mind. "But, N-naruto-kun…"

"Eh? What?"

"I don't t-think I've ever seen Uchiha-san l-like that," She said softly, lifting her pearl gaze to his face.

Naruto resisted quirking an eyebrow, attempting to shake off the coming feeling of trepidation before it started. "'Course not, cause he's an icy bastard—"

"T-that's not what I mean!" Hinata looked embarrassed, as if speaking in a normal volume was beyond shouting in her standards, and quieted down. "I m-meant," she finished, trying to fight down the heat in her cheeks as Naruto blinked and scratched his head cutely, "He still l-looked emotionless," she mumbled, "…but I s-saw his eyes, and I t-think…"

"Ne? Whaaaat?"

"…he was w-worried. For you, N-naruto-kun."



S
asuke doesn't like Naruto. Naruto doesn't like Sasuke. The feelings are mutual, even if the reasons are different.

Naruto hates him because he acts like he's all that, like he's too good for the people who throw themselves at his feet. More so because he act's like he's better then everybody, even though he's in on the rehab floor, too, and acts like he owns the place. Because he seems so perfectly sane, ice cool, calm and collected and all that bullshit but he's taking up space that other people need more, because maybe Naruto's just a bit jealous of him, because he doesn't he have imaginary mothers—monsters—demons—crowding his mind up and leaving no room for real thoughts.

Sasuke hates Naruto because he's too loud, too bright, too bold. He stirs up things, and with him and Kiba combined Lady Chaos grins and makes things too lively. Because Naruto reminds him too much of something like what he used to be, because Naruto makes him feel, and for God's fucking sake, he doesn't want that.

If he feels, he feels, and all his senses come raging to life when he's so close to that stupid blonde idiot, and he all he can taste and hear and see is summer sunshine and bright blue eyes long after he's gone, but as soon as he is all he tastes is that fucking blood again, strong and thick and metallic, taunting him with Itachi's cool gaze and his mother's murky eyes from the corners of his mind.

If he feels, he wakes up, and all he wants is to be numb. He won't pretend to be one of those angsty suicidal brats—he knows the price of death, and deep down he admits selfishly—I don't want to die! But his mother still comes to him at night and scolds him for coming home late, and his father looks down his nose at him and complains that he'll never be as good as Itachi is, and then Itachi's eyes are that fucking color and you know he's won for the last god damned time, because now you can't even avenge the ones you lost, because the one you loved the most killed you dead in some other sense.

That's how they found him, anyway. Starving, dehydrated; small, eight-year-old frame wracking in the frozen wind, cradling his mother's rotting head in his lap, the taste of stainless steel and Itachi's fucking blood fresh on his lips.



H
e was sitting in his normal corner in the rec room, just like Hinata predicted. Naruto's initial rapid pace had slowed considerably as the words turned over in his mind—he looked worried. For you, Naruto-kun—and really, Hinata just about ruined his devious plot. But he'd have to thank the bastard, as much as he didn't want to, because if he didn't then he'd have to owe him one. Bastard.

"Oi, Sasuke-teme."

"Naruto, don't call Sasuke-kun names," Sakura looked up at him reproachfully while Inner Sakura visualized punching the smaller boy. Rather graphically, we might add.

"Nyeh. It's true!" Naruto stuck out his tongue childishly, turning back to the impassive teen, missing the slight look of anger flitting over the pink-haired girl's face. "Oi! Sasuuuuuke!"

"What, usuratonkachi?" He answered automatically, not bothering to look up from the magazine he was paging through. Not like he was looking through that either, though. Was his face not frozen into a expressionless mask he might've arched an eyebrow at the psychological bullshit written in it.

"You could at least pay attention when I'm trying to fucking say thanks, ass," Naruto scowled, face instantly in Sasuke's. The other boy didn't allow himself to flinch, though by instinct (and lucid thought, too) he would've smacked the blonde in the face with his magazine. Maybe he could papercut him a new set of whiskers.

"That's a first. Since when did you have manners, dobe?" Sasuke drawled, not focusing on Naruto. If I feel…

"God damnit, you have to make this hard, don't you!" Naruto snarled, one hand crunching into Sasuke's magazine and ripping off shreds of it in his grasp.

"Make what?" He hissed back before he could restrain himself. Stupid, he berated himself. Don't take the idiot's bait—

"H-hey…"

"Fuck you, Uchiha," Naruto growled shallowly. "I came here to say thanks for saving my fucking life and you have to act like someone stuck a fucking ten foot pole up your ass—"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

…I feel. I don't…

"Like hell! What the shit is wrong with you, Uchiha!" Naruto exploded. Besides Sakura, the room was nearly deserted by now, so only the pink-haired girl's head jerked up, fire burning in her emerald eyes. "Too good to admit you actually bent over and saved the lower life form's head from cracking open? Is that fucking it?"

…want to. I don't want to! I don't need this, I don't need this, I don't…

"Delusional, Uzumaki," Sasuke said coolly, attempting to focus on the Naruto-covered magazine, as if he weren't there.

"You're calling me effin' crazy?" Naruto almost laughed in disbelief.

"Yeah. I think I am." His eyes rose up to meet Naruto's for the first real time, black ice blazing with unchecked fire. "No wonder you're stuck in here. You're fucked up, dobe."

…a stupid blonde idiot who's too bright too loud too smiley reminding me I have feelings too I don't need this, I don't need a stupid blonde idiot who makes these fucking feelings

Crunch.

"Sa-sasuke-kun!"

Naruto rubbed his bruised knuckles from where he punched the Uchiha across the face, grinning almost insanely, knowing he'd leave a mark physically, if not mentally. "I hate you," he breathed. "I really fucking hate you, you asshole."

"Naruto, get the hell away from—"

Sasuke slowly turned back to the blonde, tossing his magazine aside and cracking his own knuckles. "Can't shut up, can you?" He muttered dangerously, an almost identical smile stretching across his face eerily.

Not the kind Inner Sakura dreamed of, she thought.

"Is that a challenge?"

"So you know basic English after all." And Sasuke lunged.

Fire, singing in his veins. Blood rushing to his head, making him alive, without all that shitty fucked-up blood clogging his senses. Just pure adrenaline, just him and a stupid blonde idiot that makes him feel without the stupid blood, just them moving together in a deadly dance, just his world spinning around a stupid blonde…

Just him. Without Sakura screaming in the background, without Hinata and Kiba rushing in and looking shocked, with Kurenai and Kakashi rushing in and pulling them apart…Just him, just him.

Without the blood.



N
aruto hates the "Cool-down room". He hates it because it's soft and padded all over, because there's no chairs or windows or anything, just one light bulb in the center of the ceiling casting a soft yellow glow.

It's like a cage. He doesn't mind that part. It's like his apartment all over again, and that wasn't so bad.

It's Kyuubi that makes it horrible. It's his mother who comes melting out of the shadows with a dark smile on her face, comforting him because he's not alone even though she promised he would be, because she whispers dark threats that are supposed to make him feel good, feeding the chaotic mess of his mind, trying to force the sanity away and let something evil grow strong and alone and always alone but you aren't

Kyuubi and her long flaming hair and sharp claws, the same ones that carved the whiskers in his cheeks, comes crawling from the dark, and no soft walls and windowless rooms can stop her.



N
aruto was proud—well, not really, but it's a joke he shared once or twice with Kakashi—to say he slept like a log. Place a marching band and a tornado next to his bed and he'll still be snoring even as he's blowing away with a pair of cymbals clapping canon in D minor at his ears. Maybe it's because it's the tiny bit of shelter he can get, away from Kyuubi, who stays away in the corners of his dream, away from the hospital and trying to make Iruka proud even when he's ashamed of himself, away from pretty pink-haired girls and loud dog boys who sleep in the bed besides him.

So he couldn't quite figure out why some sound woke him up in the middle of the night.

Sure, he woke up a lot—on the days Kyuubi was frustrated and took her anger out on him by pestering him in his sleep, he woke up. But it was never a sound, unless it was Iruka wielding his mighty newspaper and a pitcher of icy water.

"Muur…'lo?" Naruto yawned, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and trying to focus his vision. Repetitive, he noted, as he quietly called out again. It had a steady rhythm—kinda metallic, now that his ears were beginning to work—mutters. Someone mumbling…there was a faster rustle of sheets then normal over the quiet snoring of his roommates, coming from the corner of the ward by the doorway.

The blonde crept over, edging out from under the covers on his small bed, across the wide aisle towards the sound.

There was a figure thrashing at random in their bed—white sheets tangled around arms and legs, restraining the person as they fought to get free. The blue-eyed boy knew the feeling. And frankly, it sucked. And, well, since he was awake…

Naruto reached over and struggled with the sheets for a second, attempting to pull them away and failing miserably. Letting out a grunt of frustration, the blonde unconsciously shifted one knee onto the bed to pry the sheets away, maybe wake up the person from whatever nightmare tormented their sleep—

And got smacked across the face with enough force to send him flying, had gravity allowed that.

"OW—fuck!" He hissed under his breath, biting his bottom lip to muffle his sound. "Hey, you!—calm down! It's okay, I swear, I'm not gonna friggin' att—Oh for christ's sake—" His eyes grew slightly wider as the headboard banged loudly into the wall. Naruto grumbled, wondering vaguely, How the hell do I get myself into these things?—and tried to pin the person down.

And then Uchiha Sasuke finally decided to wake up.

"Let—me—go—he's still alive—he's still fucking alive!"

"The hell?" Naruto's grip lessened the lightest bit—"Sasuke! Calm the freak—ack!"

Sasuke slammed Naruto into the corner his bed was backed against, half awake, though his instincts supplied the actions his brain was too hazy to think about. He snarled deep in his throat, his eyes tinged a dark crimson far too reminiscent of a certain other pair for Naruto's comfort.

"Sasuke, snap out of it, you asshole—" The black-haired boy's hold on his collar relaxed slightly, though he still held him against the wall, blood-colored eyes fading back into onyx.

"…Naruto." Flustered as he was, Sasuke still appeared calm, one hand moving away from Naruto's neck to run through mussed hair. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Excuse me if I don't wake up your sorry ass next time you have a nightmare," Naruto scoffed, attempting to wriggle away. And, again, failing miserably, he noted angrily. Bad karma, he thought grimly, glaring up at Sasuke. "Never would've thought the great Uchiha had nightmares. What was that all about?"

"Nothing," Sasuke answered in a clipped tone that said there was clearly something.

Naruto glared half-heartedly; it was getting light, he was getting tired, and getting held against a wall by an evil bastard—as pretty as he looks and as questionable as the position is—was beginning to wear on his nerves. "This is why I don't like you," he grumbled. "You act like you can't trust anything. It's not like we're gonna stab you in the back."

Sasuke laughed hollowly. "Yeah. Sure."

"Seriously!" Naruto's third attempt to struggle was squished, so he resorted to verbal assault. "I wake up and come over here to try and help you out and you act like I'm trying to fucking kill you! Jesus, bastard, what the hell is wrong with you—"

"You," Sasuke snarled, his eyes flaming again, "You are. Stop acting like you know me, Uzumaki," he hissed lowly.

"I don't!" Naruto nearly yelled, frustration evident in his voice. "I just wanted to find out, you stupid sonofabitch. I thought maybe I could help, but no, it's not good enough for perfect Uchiha!"

"You want to know why? You're the fucking problem," His eyes were dimming down again, his face cold and still and flat again. Why the hell was he so high-wired? He hadn't been like this in years. He'd carefully trained himself against this—because acting up made him think and feel, and he didn't like thinking or feeling, he didn't—maybe it was the new meds they nurses forced on them—something for anger management, because of the fight they had earlier—why did his chest suddenly feel so tight, so—so—

"How the hell—?"

"Do you know what you do to me?" Sasuke asked tonelessly, fighting to keep those god damned feelings out of his voice. Naruto's grip on his arm and shoulder when he had tried to escape clenched and tightened again.

—too god damn close—like sunshine in a summer storm—like miso ramen, like—

"How would I?" He answered tightly. "'Stop acting like you know me'—"

Sasuke's lips were cool against his, smooth, and he gasped as Sasuke took advantage of that and stroked his tongue slowly. Like silk on steel, smooth and hot and God—

The raven-haired boy traced the roof of his mouth sensually and pulled away before Naruto could even think, could even process what the hell is going on, leaving the blonde gasping for air that wasn't there, and suddenly his tongue was flickering against his jaw line, slick and warm and crap, he's good, nipping at his tanned neck while his other hand traced his cheek, the lingering touch whispering against his skin. Naruto's hands uncurled from his sleeves, sliding down against his chest as Sasuke pressed closer, trapping him against the wall with his body, one that Naruto wanted so very badly to touch right now—

Fuck.

His tongue flitted through Naruto's slightly parted lips after abandoning his neck, now sporting tell-tale red patches, the other hand dropping to smooth down his creased nightshirt and slide back up underneath, reveling in the feeling as Naruto finally god damn woke up and his arms wrapped around Sasuke's chest, pressing the other boy flush up against him and kissing back as hard as he god damn could, because he couldn't fucking lose, because it was too damn hot and felt so fucking right, his body melding into his until they couldn't tell where Naruto stopped and Sasuke began, because really, they weren't that different after all—

The blonde shifted against him and Sasuke nipped his bottom lip fiercely, silently saying I'm not letting you go, and Naruto bit back with equal fervor, I know, asshole, and somehow he was sprawled all over the other boy, clinging like a lifeline, Sasuke's unbearable heat pressing all around him, his hips grinding into his, the breathless moan he couldn't hold back when the raven-haired boy's breath ghosted over his neck in a thin promise.

The two finally tore away in a tangle of limbs, whispered curses and hot breath, panting heavily. Naruto wiped his mouth off on his sleeve as he sat up on the raven-haired teen's lap. "I said I really hate you," he muttered, "So what the hell was that?"

Sasuke didn't answer, slightly out of breath for once himself. "Get off," he finally said after a long pause, his face instantly frozen into place again, because Pride told him to and he was a fucking Uchiha and not supposed to be feeling this fucking excited over a freaking stupid blonde idiot that made him fucking feel like this…

Naruto opened his mouth for a sharp retort before Sasuke kicked him out quite literally. Glaring, the blonde stumbled to his feet, gripping the edge of the steel frame with his shaking hands. "This is what I mean, you ass," He muttered, and for once, Sasuke glared back at him from where his back rested against the headboard. Like falling, falling forever, like thin ice on the frozen lake, like midnight full of burned-out shooting stars, like—"After everything's over, it doesn't mean jack shit to you—"

"Don't talk about what you don't understand," Sasuke snapped, but his insides were raging at him and inner Sasuke finally fucking won, and he reached out grabbed Naruto by the wrist and sent him tumbling into his lap, almost nuzzling the blonde, his breath floating in hot wisps over his ear. "Just shut up, will you?"

Because there should be something wrong with this and you can't make up any excuses and neither can he, because for once he isn't thinking of blood and to him he takes up too much space so Kyuubi has to find somewhere else to go, because it feels perfect even though you fight too much and the words you say are far from loving, because of so many other things you can't say…

Naruto almost laughed, albeit dryly, and slung one arm around the Uchiha's pale neck, nudging into midnight locks and breathing deeply. "You say I'm screwed up," he muttered humorlessly, tilting his head as Sasuke rested his chin on his thin shoulders, "But y'know, you're just as fucked up as I am."


+end part one+