0. STORM CHASERS
sinful serenity

1.
Sasuke remembers. Sometimes.

Sasuke watches rain beat against the worn training stumps, splintered with harsh blows and every manner of jutsu, cracked and cratered with something constant. Sasuke's knuckles slide off wet wood and come away, adding a trickle of blood to the sodden mess. Sasuke runs a calloused thumb over abused fists, tipping his chin up to the sky; Sasuke watches the fuming gray clouds with bruised purple undersides, and decides it's not ehough, and with another crack! the battle continues with his solemn wooden partner.

Sasuke remembers and his memory paints the wood bright sunlight-gold and azure-sky, just barely tinted with lurid orange highlights, colors he should have banished from his memory. Crack, and he remembers the sounds, too: the slight whine of being ignored, the groan of annoyance, the grinding of teeth in determination; the silent whimper of being alone…

Rain is the sound of an angel's sigh, his mother told him once. Crack.

2.
"Why does it always end in rain?" Sasuke asked.

"It's the tears of the spirits," Itachi said. "When something sad happens."

"…that's stupid," Sasuke announced after a long pause, and crossed his short arms peevishly. "Shouldn't they be trying to cheer things up?"

"Maybe they need someone to cheer them up," Itachi said.

Sasuke nodded, even though he will never understand. Itachi smiles, and it was okay.

b u t – I t ' s – n o t…

3.
"Wait 'til everyone hears I beat 'holier-then-thou' Uchiha!" Naruto crowed, grinning like an idiot. The blonde locked his arms behind his head and stretched, letting out a satisfied grunt as the kinks worked out and he loosened up. Sasuke snorted and rolled his eyes, shoving his hands in his now-filthy shorts. Personal training and sparring with Naruto was spectacularly dirty, as neither boy could resist attempting to grind the other's head into the ground when Kakashi wasn't around to stop them.

"As if. Dobe."

"Asshole! Don't call me that!" Naruto flared up for a second, and as if by miracle, decided not to pursue the argument. "Whatever. I'm gonna go get some ramen with Iruka-sensei! (Or, more accurately, force Iruka to pay for him.) Later, bastard!" Wave. Hop, skip, and Naruto was gone, a orange blur of pure energy shooting off across the bridge. Sasuke watched his figure retreat with distant eyes.

Evaluate options since training partner had fled:

A) Go home. Eat. Study. Sleep.

B) Train some more.

C) A and B.

Sasuke felt a tell-tale drop splatter on his face and scowled distractedly, turning to head home. It can wait, he thinks, it can wait. Whatever it was that he was going to say, that he felt like yelling in that fleeting moment. What? Come back? It was absolutely ridiculous, right down to the idea Sasuke remotely wanted to interact with the loudmouthed blonde beyond necessity. Even if, even if…

It's the little things that really matter, his mother's voice said quietly, and laid a hand on his shoulder.

It's the little things that make you think you-are-a-live.

Sasuke turns around. And Sasuke goes home to no one.

4.
Tap… Tap. Tap…

Orochimaru's curved nails find a steady rhythm as they drum on the wood of the long chair he lounges on. Silken ebony tresses flow over calculating eyes and a crooked grin, pointed fangs bared in anticipation and the semblance of pride. Under Orochimaru's steady gaze, Sasuke's pace of training increases twofold, right along with those white-knuckled finger's soft melody. Tap… Tap. Tap….

Sasuke lets a dozen shruiken fly, escorted by wires as he ducks under Sakon's retaliating attack and sweep kicks him off his feet. The man rolls away from his line of fire as the metallic stars rain into the floor with heavy thunks, only barely managing to dodge the enclosing web after.

Tap… Tap. Tap. Tap.

Sakon's eyes widen at the same time Orochimaru and Sasuke's narrow, and the hits come faster, the attacks swifter, stronger, savage: Sasuke's eyes are washed in a different red then Sharingan, the color of blood lust and wrath.

TapTapTapTap

Sakon breathes heavily and can't pull himself off the floor, so Sasuke helps him. So Sasuke grabs him by the collar, hauls him to his feet, pale fingers curling around his neck. Delicate, Orochimaru—Sasuke—someone thinks, feeling the pulse of Sakon's life under the pads of his hands, a steady tap-tap-tap-tap in his grasp. Sharingan spins angrily—I—will—not—be—controlled—but you are, Itachi whispers. Don't give up, little brother, Itachi says. Itachi's face floats in his grasp, his blood in his hands, mocking eyes he so dearly wanted to gouge out sneering at him—fearful eyes—No. That's not Itachi, Sasuke murmurs, Itachi isn't afraid. But he will be, another Sasuke adds, viciously, and Sakon lets out a gurgle and is beginning to grow limp in his hands. I will make him, Sasuke swears, and because he's promising to himself he cannot hear Orochimaru call to him, cannot hear Sakon's dying pleads. Sasuke sees and hears only the thin tap-tap-tap-taphears I will not be controlled, a small Sasuke says now, and feels Itachi whither in his palms.

Orochimaru looks vaguely irritated as Sakon's wheezing corpse is lowered to the ground. Only vaguely. "Well done," he says, simply.

All Sasuke hears, though, is faint and ever present

tap-tap-tap

5.
"Sasuke." Kakashi seemingly materialized by the boy's side, clutching his ever-faithful Icha Icha, single eye curved up in a smile.

"Yes, Kaka-sensei?"

"Wouldn't mind going out and finding Naruto for me, would you?" The silver-haired man asked mildly. Sasuke opened his mouth to protest, though Kakashi merely wagged a finger in his face as he cut in. "Now, think of it as training!" He added all-too-cheerfully.

Damnit

The last thing I need is to see his face, Sasuke thinks, but he shoves his hands in his pockets and goes, trying to ignore the sudden unsettled feeling, be it Kakashi's leering face or something unsteady in his chest.

6.
"Naruto?" For the first time he could remember, his voice sounded incredulous, bordering on hints of confused and still carrying a tinge of annoyance. He'd spent forty-five minutes searching for his blonde teammate, first at his apartment and then at his usual haunts, only to wander back to the central square and discover him loitering around the fountain. Naruto grinned cheekily at him from standing atop the shallow walls of the fountain, arms again locked behind his head. The fine drizzle had grown heavier and his light hair had grown dark gold and sodden and clung to his skull, and yet bright blue eyes shone brilliantly from his flattened bangs.

"Usuratonkachi…What're you doing out here?"

"Nothing, bastard."

"You're missing training."

r a i n…

"Won't matter," Naruto said flippantly, as Sasuke hopped up on the wall besides him. "Kaka-sensei said training was canceled today yesterday, 'member?"

Scheming bastard, Sasuke thought dully. "…Whatever."

The two boys stood there, weighed down by dead air, until Naruto's eyes glinted with something evil and he grinned, suddenly running along the wall and knocking Sasuke into the fountain. The black-haired boy fell in with a loud splash, and sat up and spit out a mouthful of water. "'the hell?" He muttered angrily, throwing a dirty look at the blonde.

"Tag," Naruto said matter-of-factly and cheerfully, in a almost sadistic fashion—Kakashi's rubbing off on him—"I mean, I know you suck, Uchiha, but even you have got to know how to play!" And Naruto was off, darting into the deserted streets.

Sasuke stared after him for a half a second before instinct to beat him kicked in and he launched after Naruto. And for those moments Sasuke's world narrowed to an orange jacket fluttering in the wind, tracing his steps as Naruto bounded over roof tops and plunged to the streets below, laughing like an idiot, scaling street lamps and swinging across power lines—a fleeting vision in the rain, an angel caught by thunder and endowed by lightning—and Itachi became a distant memory in light of a game he had only begun to learn. Two pairs of navy sandals sent up sprays of water through the puddles, and Naruto's taunts and jeers and laughter was infectious, and even Sasuke—Sasuke­—could not possibly rein in a chuckle, a response, and two boys flew through Konoha carried by wind and word. Naruto's crooked path led them back to the fountain, and Sasuke, who was gaining by the second, caught up. Naruto jumped atop the short wall and wheeled around, about to yell his victory to Sasuke—or would have, if the raven-haired boy hadn't flown at him and tackled him into the fountain.

is…the s o u n d of…

They were trapped, gravitated between rain from earth and sky, caught by the river forcing itself up through gravity as they plunged. Naruto squeaked, both startled and annoyed that he caught up, making sure to flip mid-air so Sasuke slammed into the water back-first. Bubbles exploded in their vision, jets of white froth and water and something beautiful, something—

"Asshole! Leggo!"

"You asked for it, dobe—"

Naruto didn't know what the hell it was that made him stop in the middle of their wrestling match—maybe the sight of a flustered and not-caring Sasuke, sodden and dripping icy spring water, or the fierce…something in his eyes that begged to be freed. Once and now and ever, and ever, and ever, he'd heard once in a fairy tale or a story or something, once and now and ever, though it didn't matter anymore, because he was pinned underwater and Sasuke caught his lips, and for a long time Naruto couldn't think of anything except kissing back and that he'd woken up to a dull gray morning,

but then, it wasn't really so bad after all.

7.
Why does it always end in rain, Sasuke asked.

Naruto's pale eyelids stare back up at him and he refuses to acknowledge that one of the Sasukes wanted Naruto to take him back and prove someone was there, someone besides bursting thunderheads and traces of blinding light that barely lasted and never waited. Sasuke cannot form the words, but they're there, and Naruto cannot answer. Naruto's face is a mockery of that day, of real happiness, of something that had been so far and a complex answer one thousands words could not have said, summed into one lingering touch…

At least you're with Him, Lonely Sasuke whispers forlornly. Isn't that enough? When did you start expecting more?

It's all your fault, Guilty Sasuke accuses, You hurt everyone you love.

You had to, Desperate Sasuke murmurs, and He was in the way. You had to.

Sasuke summons all his strength to trace the edges of the hole bored through his best friend's chest, and aches to know the one answer he will never have:

Why does it always end in rain? Forgotten Sasuke asks…

8.
Side by side. Shoulder to shoulder, and eye to eye; the shinobi must stand, side-by-side…

Sasuke has never forgotten that, because Obito taught it to Kakashi and Kakashi taught it to him: because it was more then an annoying rhyme burned in compressed memory, a lesson he had never learned and the only one he had ever failed in.

"Sasuke."

"Orochimaru-sama," he responds mechanically, and onyx-cored depths scanned the ravaged battlefield to Orochimaru's glittering golden eyes.

"We're done here. Take the next regiment and press on the south boundary. Konoha will be ours by dawn."

"Yes, Orochimaru-sama." The snake sennin smiles eerily and moves away, and Sasuke turns back to the battlefield, sharingan employed: and through the heavy fog-of-war, the mist and smoke and angel's tears, be can make out pink hair reaching for herbs, can see pupil-less white eyes searching the crowds, can see countless people he knew once trying to recover and keep the fires from spreading and bringing early cremation. It's the tears of the spirits, he remembers, and the storm brewing is so thick and heavy he begins to go—

"Sasuke!"

Sasuke won't stop as he goes, will not fall prey to the memory of sun-kissed skin and blue skies and golden hair, even as someone screams and insists Come Back, god damn you, you fucking asshole, COME BACK, and silently breaks through ranks, weaving his own path—SASUKE! JERK! GET YOUR SORRY ASS BACK—because it means nothing or he won't believe it does; because for all his mangekyo sharingan, he could have sworn…

he'd seen pale summer inside the storm