Disclaimer: To be honest, I was so awed by Kishimoto's brilliance with chapter 279 that for once, I will more than happily admit that not only does he own Naruto (and Sasuke, and all that other good stuff), but he totally deserves to. :P I love that man.
We fight all the time
You and I
That's all right
We're the same soul
--U2, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"
As usual, Sasuke thought, the dunce had absolutely no style or subtlety at all.
He'd found Naruto standing out by the river near the edge of the village, hurling rocks into the water furiously (and making rather loud, obnoxious splashes). The lack of dexterity wasn't at all out of the ordinary, and it didn't trouble Sasuke in the slightest. What did tug at his mind a little, loathe as he was to admit it, was the clearly perceptible anger that fueled each of Naruto's clumsy throws. Sasuke hadn't gone looking for Naruto because he'd known he was upset; he'd just been annoyed and more than a little impatient when the blond had failed to show up for their usual training. He'd expected to find Naruto slacking off or conning free ramen off of someone. He certainly hadn't expected to find him brooding on a riverbank.
He did know that Naruto had been summoned to the Hokage Tower earlier that day, for reasons Sasuke had neither been privileged enough to be let in on, nor much cared about either way at the time. Now, though, he wondered just exactly what the Hokage and that other Sannin had discussed with him there that could have possibly pissed Naruto off this much. Because Naruto was clearly pissed. And he was clearly upset as well; almost bitter, if that word could possibly fit the other boy. It wasn't like Sasuke had never seen Naruto angry before; hell, of all the people in the world, he was probably the one who had been acquainted with Naruto's animosity the most. But it was just that fact that made him all the more aware of when something was off with his would-be rival and almost-friend. Naruto wasn't just having a showy fit of temper; he was genuinely troubled by something. And Sasuke did not know how he could tell; it was just somehow apparent.
There was something inherently annoying in watching Naruto sulk, he decided after standing quietly for a few moments. He really wasn't any good at it. The rocks continued to hurtle through the air, achieving reasonable distance and little else of note, aside from loud kerplunks. Naruto threw rocks like he did everything else—with too much force and too little finesse. It was painful to look at. That was what prompted him to walk over, he decided later afterward. It wasn't so much that he cared if Naruto wasted the rest of the day alone out here, but if he was going to blow off their training, so he could instead stew over whatever the Hokage and that old man had said, he might as well do it properly.
With smooth, silent ease, Sasuke picked up a rock of his own and flicked it casually out onto the water. Immediately, Naruto whirled around to face him, blinking in surprise. He opened his mouth, and then turned right back around before anything could come out, startled upon hearing the plunk of Sasuke's stone as it hit the water's surface again… and again… and again. Finally, after about eight hops, it reluctantly sank below the surface.
Naruto watched with his jaw still hanging slightly open, then turned back to look at Sasuke, his brow furrowed in what seemed to be a mix of awe and indignation. Finally, he seemed to realize that he was all but gaping, and closed his mouth with a small huff. "Show off," he muttered under his breath.
Sasuke hn'ed, allowing himself a small smirk. "That's not showing off. Anyone can skip a stupid rock." He paused, then added, "Well, except for you, apparently."
"Shut up!" Naruto snapped. "I can too skip a rock!"
"Oh?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "Must have missed that before… from what I could see, all you were doing was hurling them like kunai. …Well. Actually, it was a bit clumsier than that—"
"I said shut up! I just didn't feel like it before, okay?"
Sasuke shrugged lightly. "Whatever."
Glaring, Naruto turned away and picked up another rock. With an obvious effort to rein himself in and better focus his aim, he flung it out into the river. It hit the surface with a somewhat gentler impact than its predecessors, but sunk to the bottom just as fast. Naruto grit his teeth and shot Sasuke another glare. Sasuke just smirked again.
"You know what, I'm not talking to you anymore!" Naruto declared, looking even more annoyed.
Sasuke shrugged once more. "Suit yourself. Go back to your 'being depressed' stuff, then."
"I'm not fucking depressed, you asshole!" Naruto scowled. He turned back and chucked another rock, watched it plunk loudly into the water, and seemed to visibly restrain himself from throwing a tantrum. Sasuke sighed inwardly, and moved forward as the other boy angrily picked up another one. He was about to throw it when Sasuke took hold of his wrist and he suddenly went rigid, eyes widening in total surprise.
Ignoring Naruto's sudden tension, Sasuke gave him a look and clarified, "If you're just going to stand around and throw rocks all day, you might as well do it right."
"W—what—?" Naruto stammered intelligently.
Still gripping Naruto's hand, Sasuke plucked the stone from it. "First of all, you need a proper rock, and this one won't cut it." He bent down to discard it, and after a moment selected another that was suitably flat and smooth. He placed it in Naruto's hand. "This one should be good."
Carefully, he arranged Naruto's grip on the stone to his satisfaction, Naruto apparently still too mind-numbed to do or say anything about it. "You have to hold it a certain way. Balance it like this on your middle finger, here; put your index finger on the edge… now hold the top with your thumb. And when you throw it you can't just hurl it; you have to more fling it out, so it spins. Here…"
Sasuke puppeteered Naruto's arm in the proper way to demonstrate, then crouched again to find another rock. Rising back to full height, he skipped it out into the river, then looked back at his still-uncharacteristically-speechless teammate. "You try it."
Naruto stood there blankly for a moment longer, then finally snapped out of it. Frowning in concentration, he mimed the arm movement Sasuke had shown him one more time, then threw the rock. It plopped along three or four times, then sank. A grin lit Naruto's face as he turned back to Sasuke in smug satisfaction.
"There! See, I can too skip a stupid rock! No one ever showed me how to do it properly, that's all!"
Sasuke said nothing. There was an uncomfortable pause as Naruto's last statement sunk in. Naruto looked away awkwardly, and Sasuke turned as well, feeling strangely embarrassed and all of a sudden wanting very much to forget what had just taken place. The whole thing was too comradely for his liking; too nice, too amiable. He wasn't quite sure what the hell had come over him.
"…Thanks," said Naruto quietly. Sasuke looked back to see Naruto avoiding his eyes. At a loss for anything else to do, Sasuke just shrugged again and skipped a third rock. He watched it bounce away, and then to his surprise, a memory he hadn't thought about in years suddenly flickered across his mind. He frowned, almost reflectively.
"My brother taught me…" he said out loud, for a moment nearly forgetting that Naruto was even there. The blond turned to look at him in surprise. Sasuke continued, mostly to himself.
"My record was twelve skips…" he murmured. A few more memories surfaced, and he felt a sudden flash of bitterness. "He could match that without even trying."
"Now he sounds like a show-off."
Sasuke shot Naruto a fierce look, and the other boy immediately went silent. For a moment, a dozen different things ran through Sasuke's head, all of which he almost said. Then it passed and he willed his mind to just shut up and drop it. It occurred to him that he was clenching his fist extremely tightly, and he forced himself to relax, not without some effort.
With a short sigh, he abruptly dropped to sit on the ground, vaguely wondering how Itachi somehow managed to worm his way into everything he did.
Naruto crouched down on his haunches beside him. "Wasn't I the depressed one a minute ago?" he mused.
Sasuke looked up with a raised eyebrow. "So you were depressed?"
Naruto gave an exasperated sigh. "You know what?" He repositioned himself, crossing his legs. "Why don't we just sit here, then, and we'll both be depressed."
Sasuke snorted and rested his elbows on his knees. "Why not, we compete over everything else…"
Naruto answered with a snort of his own. After that, they sat in silence. It lasted for almost five whole minutes; when Naruto finally spoke again, Sasuke was sure it was a new record for the idiot.
"I do have more problems than you, you know," the blond muttered out of the blue.
Another snort from Sasuke at the sheer ridiculousness of the idea. "Oh, you think so?" he inquired sarcastically.
"Yeah, I do."
"Your whole family was murdered?" Sasuke said with more sarcasm than ever.
"Hello?" Naruto exclaimed in a do-I-have-to-spell-it-out-for-you? tone. He spread his arms wide and then pointed at his chest to indicate obviousness. "Orphan! Never even had one! Bastard."
"Okay, fine—you've got an evil genius madman hell-bent on catching you and taking your abilities?"
"Hello!" Naruto repeated. "I've got like, a whole troupe of them!"
"And one of them is my brother!" Sasuke retorted immediately, feeling a surge of bitter anger.
"My brother!" Sasuke growled before Naruto could say more. "The man who killed my family, the man I'm supposed to kill, is after you! The only one he even fucking cares about is you!"
Naruto sputtered for a second in indignation before finally replying, "It's not my fault! You think I want him after me? You think that makes me happy?"
Unable to come up with an immediate response to that, Sasuke turned away in frustration and resentment.
"Look, so I don't have some homicidal freak that I'm duty-bound to kill, okay?" Naruto continued, plainly frustrated himself. "That doesn't mean my life is any damn better!"
This was ridiculous. Sasuke wasn't about to sit here all day and listen to Naruto attempt to prove that his life was actually worse than his. It annoyed him, and it angered him; what had Naruto experienced that could even compare? "Do you have an evil seal that corrupts and takes over your own body and will?" he demanded heatedly, whirling back around on the other boy.
"I—!" Naruto started to protest before cutting off sharply, his eyes suddenly wide.
"Thought so," Sasuke muttered.
Naruto shot him a sudden, vicious glare, and abruptly turned away. Rolling his eyes, Sasuke did the same.
When Naruto spoke again, his voice was unusually quiet.
"Maybe some of us have problems that people don't know about."
Sasuke gave him another look at the indirect statement. "'Maybe some of us'?" he repeated.
"Maybe I have problems that you don't know anything about!" Naruto all but spat back.
Sasuke blinked, startled by the vehemence in Naruto's voice. Naruto met his gaze fiercely for a long moment, then finally backed off, looking away and wrapping his arms around his knees.
Sasuke watched him for a moment, not sure where the unsettling feeling in his gut had suddenly come from, and not liking it at all. Finally he sighed. "Well, it's not like it's my problem if you want to whine to me about something and then won't even say what it is."
"It's personal," Naruto mumbled, still finding the direction exactly opposite of Sasuke apparently fascinating.
"Because nothing else we just said before was remotely personal," Sasuke retorted.
Naruto shot another annoyed glance in his direction. "Can you just drop it? Forget I even said anything."
Sasuke answered with another slight of his shoulders, very annoyed himself. After a prolonged silence, Naruto grabbed another rock without warning and pitched it into the river. It sunk with another tumultuous splash, not skipping at all.
"You really suck," Sasuke told him.
Naruto dug his chin into his knees to sulk a bit more. Feeling even more aggravated by this, Sasuke wondered, not for the first time, just what the hell he was doing. He had better things to do than watch Naruto sit and pout uselessly, especially if the idiot didn't even have the decency to explain what was causing his abnormal behavior. Sasuke should have left a long time ago. He should have been out training, or doing something other than just sitting here, he thought irascibly.
He sat anyway. And wondered at it. And waited to see if Naruto would say anything else.
Eventually, Naruto did. Turning to him suddenly, he asked, "Do you hate me?"
"…The hell kind of question is—?"
Sasuke sighed, and answered truthfully, "No."
Naruto cast his gaze down pensively, and Sasuke eyed him in confusion, wondering what the hell was going on. Finally Naruto looked away at the water, and spoke quietly. "There are some things about me… if you knew them, you would probably hate me."
Naruto looked at him almost apprehensively, and Sasuke's frowned deepened. Despite everything in him that screamed to just ignore this whole situation and leave, things were reaching a point where he was starting to get concerned. On a Naruto in-character-ness scale of one to ten, ten being the highest and one being the lowest, the blond was currently rating a negative twenty-five. And Sasuke… okay, yes. He was concerned. This was just too disquieting. A part of him was wondering what the hell could be so horrible that Naruto would be afraid of telling even him. If it was something that bad, that serious… yeah. That was a definite worry knot growing in his stomach.
Naruto swallowed hard… and then suddenly seemed to plunge ahead, almost as if he was afraid of stopping once he'd finally begun. "The day Kyuubi attacked the village… you know that, right?"
Sasuke nodded, observing him warily.
"…The Fourth Hokage sealed him away, right?" Naruto pressed on. "He sacrificed his life to end the fox's destruction."
Sasuke nodded again, not seeing Naruto's point. "What does this—"
Naruto shot him a look that was so desperate, and almost afraid, that Sasuke immediately shut up. A bit more shakily, Naruto continued on.
"That day… Yondaime didn't seal Kyuubi up just anywhere. He chose a live host."
Sasuke's eyes grew wider. "A—person?..."
And then it all came together, so fast it nearly blew Sasuke away.
His eyes widened still more, and he stared at Naruto in absolute shock as the meaning and impact of what he was saying hit him on full. Naruto's birthday was October 10th, the same day Kyuubi had been sealed. In the same year Naruto had been born. And—of course, how could he not have seen it—not only just that, there was also—
"That… th-that chakra… that power…"
Naruto's head dipped in acknowledgement ever so slightly.
His voice just a whisper, Sasuke stammered, "…That was… the Kyuubi was… in you?"
Naruto swallowed, his expression defeated, and just nodded again.
Sasuke's mind continued its storm of disbelief as he raced over the other parts of the puzzle, piecing them all together. Itachi… that was why he wanted Naruto. And Gaara, that's why Gaara had kept saying that he and Naruto were alike… and that was why Naruto could beat Gaara. And that fox his frog transformed into… and that fox chakra that he himself had seen when he fought against him in the valley. All of that… Why hadn't he seen it before?
He looked back at Naruto incredulously, opened his mouth, and then blinked as it finally hit him how vulnerable the other boy suddenly looked. For a split second, he blankly wondered why, and then it dawned on him; of course. Of course he would be afraid. This was Naruto's big secret, and he had just let it all out. He had just now risked it all.
Do you hate me?
He suddenly realized that was exactly what Naruto was afraid of—that Sasuke would hate him for what he was. Or rather… for what was inside of him. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place—the villagers. The reason they had always seemed to hate him… it was because of the Kyuubi. That was why they'd always…
Feeling a sudden strange empathy, Sasuke regarded Naruto as understanding dawned at last.
Naruto looked away defensively and began to trace a distracted pattern with his fingertip in the damp earth. "Still think you're the only one with problems? …Still want to be here sitting next to me, for that matter?" he added, his tone sounding as if it was meant to be casual, but failing to completely hide the slight edge of desperation.
There was a lengthy pause as Sasuke, who had never been good with words, struggled awkwardly with his next sentence. It was uncomfortable, but it was the truth. And it was something that needed to be said. So, finally, he just said it.
"I… don't hate you."
Naruto glanced up with a sort of half-resigned, almost disbelievingly hopeful look, then quickly turned away again.
Yes, Sasuke thought.
"You're still Naruto. Right?"
Naruto slowly met his eyes.
"You've got some demon sealed in you," Sasuke assented. "So, yeah." He shrugged, conceding. "Then maybe you were right. Maybe our problems are more similar than I thought."
He looked away then, feeling that that was about as affable as he was going to get. Naruto, for his part, just continued to stare. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times, but no sounds came out. It seemed, Sasuke thought ironically, that for the first time in his whole damned life, Uzumaki Naruto was at a complete loss for words.
Well, that was fine, he decided. Just so long as he didn't do anything nauseating, like hug him or get emotional. Or cry. Yeah, definitely just so long as he didn't cry. …On second thought, the silence was kind of uncomfortable.
In the end he ended up wrenching the two of them out of the awkward moment himself, as a thought occurred that made him honestly annoyed once more. "You could have told me earlier, though," he scowled irritably. "Could have saved a lot of people a lot of grief."
Naruto instantly caught what he was referring to, and to Sasuke's unexpected relief, immediately protested. "Hey, it's not my fault that you left."
"Well, if you'd told me about this, then maybe it wouldn't have been so… so frustrating when you…"
"It's not my fault that you couldn't handle me being on the same level as you!"
"That was never the problem!" Sasuke objected. "It was that it came out of nowhere and I never knew why!"
"Well, now you do know! So fucking get over it!"
Sasuke exhaled a long breath.
"Yeah… now I do know."
Somewhat predictably, they fell into another silence.
"…Sasuke?" Naruto eventually spoke up again.
Sasuke looked at him inquiringly, and had just enough time to observe a slight flush on Naruto's cheeks before the other quickly turned away.
"…Thanks for teaching me to skip rocks," he said. And Sasuke understood the meaning.
Thank you for not hating me.
Thank you for not leaving me. For accepting me.
They sat there for a long while before Sasuke replied.
"I'm only gonna say it once." He met Naruto's eyes, and spoke his next words firmly. "You have absolutely nothing to be depressed about."
The blond grinned, and Sasuke knew that Naruto understood his meaning, as well.
"Yeah… you know, I think maybe you're right."
So I was sitting around and the idea of Naruto and Sasuke skipping rocks just came to me, and I thought it was cute so I started writing it. But about halfway through the fic I suddenly drew a blank, so I asked my muses for help, and they told me, 'oh, let's do this.' And I was all like, 'no, you fools! That's the biggest Narufic cliché in existence!' but they were all like, 'oh, who cares? Live a little!' and I resisted but then finally I was like, 'oh, the hell with it' and so I wrote it. And here it is. And that's my life story.
Actually, this fic, along with its twin "Grown Up Orphans", is set in a larger AU universe where the events of chapter 233/episode 134 played out somewhat differently, and Sasuke ultimately returned to Konoha. So, because this is part of a larger story (which I've still got planned out but honestly don't know if I'll ever get round to writing), there are certain things that affect this fic but aren't fully explained in it. Not the least of which being the actual reason why Naruto is so upset (and OOC…). To make a long story short, the reason Tsunade summoned Naruto was to warn him to watch his back, because of a recent attack on a jinchuuriki in another country. A jinchuuriki whom no one actually bothered to help when the Akatsuki came calling… which should hopefully explain why Naruto left that tower feeling rather bitter.
Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope this didn't come out too badly, all things considered. :P