Title: Dancing in the Dusk

Rating: M

Summary: Regrets are an unfortunate reminder that we are not perfect...

Disclaimer: I don't own a damn thing besides the teddy bear beside me.

CHAPTER 6: MIRROR AFTERIMAGE

He watched her through the window, marveling at her beauty. The way she smiled at those kids, the way her eyes sparkled whenever she cooked something right, the way she breathed softly in her sleep...okay so maybe he was bordering on stalker-ish tendencies, but at least Naruto hadn't caught him looking through their purchases that one time. He remembered that time when Naruto caught Gaara asking her if he could have a pair of her panties...

He wondered now if Temari was still feeding him steaks through a straw.

It was unfortunate that Naruto had grown up so impressively over the years; it made him a more than adequate protector for the violet goddess. At seven-foot-six and two hundred pounds, he was easily the largest ninja in Konohagakure, and though he was still the most hated and feared person in the village, he was the most frequently asked for person in any mission. Strong, smart, silent, and fiercely devoted to anyone he considered a friend, it was no wonder why Raven stayed closed to him.

Neji shook himself out of his musing, and pushed a strand of hair behind his ear. He peered through the window, smirking as Raven walked away and presented him with a wonderful view of her shapely thighs and ass. He imagined those legs wrapped around his waist, his hands kneading those delicious mounds as her head was thrown back in pure ecstasy at his touch.

"She's something special, isn't she?" someone whispered into his ear. Neji found himself agreeing, until he recognized the name that went with the voice. He turned around slowly, and was met by Naruto's dangerously bright eyes.

"A five minute head start, please?" he pleaded. Naruto just shook his head firmly.

"You're not only trespassing on our property," he purred, "but you've invaded Raven's privacy. What I did to Gaara will look like a day in he park when I'm done with you."

Screams of pain echoed through the village for hours.

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Raven smiled as Takao tromped in the kitchen door with Umi in tow, the twins bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked from the recent cold snap. It was the end of November, and it had been about two weeks since they had found out Neji wouldn't be able to walk...or use his arms...or talk...or eat solids...or breathe without a respiration machine...or do anything for another six to eight months.

"Something smells good, Mama," Umi said. "What are you making?" Raven stepped away from the stove to hug them.

"Hot chocolate," she replied, "and some brownies. I was going to watch The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with the kids, and you can watch with us, since you're here." Takao started to say something, but Raven interrupted. "Kai's already up there, Takao. I promise that it'll be dark enough for you to make out in."

Umi laughed as her brother blushed. Kai was his boyfriend, and another of Naruto's foundlings. Kai had naturally dual-toned grey hair, and russet red eyes. Umi had been scared when they first met, because he seemed so cold, but Takao had grown to love him. She was still laughing when she felt something cold on the back of her neck. She shrieked and whirled on the cackling figure behind her.

"YUSUKE!" she screamed. Yusuke smiled devilishly and hugged her before she could start hitting him. "Ohh, Yusuke, I'm gonna mangle you!" Umi banged her fists fruitlessly against his chest.

"Hey now, chill," he sniggered. "Too much stress is bad for those babies of yours. You don't want to mess up their brains do you?" He planted a kiss on her cheek and released her. Raven and Takao doubled over laughing at the affronted look on Umi's face.

"Mama," she whined, "it's not funny! His hands are freezing." Umi glared petulantly at her brother and mother until they regained their composure. Yusuke stood there, smirking at the cute little pout on his girlfriend's face.

That is, he was, until some cold slush found its way into his briefs. He shrieked, much like one of the younger girls when they saw a creepy-crawly, and made it known to his family that he was quite proficient in interpretive dancing. He jumped around, swearing violence, pain, and torture, to whoever did this.

"Now, now," Naruto said wickedly, "you should know better than to go around picking on pregnant women. They have friends to get revenge for them." He grinned broadly as both Raven and Umi came over to hug him.

"Thanks Naruto-nii-sama!" Umi said cheerfully. The huge blond planted a wet kiss on her forehead; Umi made a face of disgust and pushed away from her paternal figure. As much as she loved him, sometimes Naruto-nii-sama was just too gross!

"Alright you," Raven stabbed a finger directly into Nauto's chest, "get out of those wet clothes, then you can go upstairs and have brownies with the little ones. They're all upstairs watching a DVD, which reminds me, Yusuke, you're grounded."

"WHAT! But Ma, why?" the former street thug whined. Raven arched an eyebrow and held up a DVD case, watching with scornful amusement as he blanched.

"Rika and Mika brought this to me wanting to know what the girls in it were playing," Raven explained. "No TV for two weeks, computer for three, and no missions for two weeks. You have ALL dish duty during that time, should anyone offer to help you, which I'm sure they won't, you will reply, 'No, for I brought this upon myself'. If you do not care for this, well then, be ready to suffer. Am I clear?" Those eyes brooked no refusal, and Yusuke was not stupid enough to try, despite what people thought. He nodded reluctantly trudging upstairs when she told him to go to his room. All eyes followed, not quite understanding what was happening.

"Umi, Takao, why don't you go find Kai? Mama and I need to talk." It wasn't a question, it was an order, one that they were only too happy to comply with. As soon as they were safely out of sight and hearing range, Raven showed Naruto the DVD she had been hiding. He felt his brow scrunch in confusion.

"Girls Gone Wild? I thought—" Raven held a hand up to silence him.

"I don't mind porn. I understand that they are hormonal teenage boys. What I do mind is when they leave it out around the young ones. I don't want them to learn this type of stuff, not at that age."

She smiled softly and held her hand out to him. It was such a small gesture, simple gesture, but, to the both of them, it meant everything in the world. Naruto took her hand and pulled her into the warmth of his arms. They stood like that for a moment, as they did every single day, enjoying the companionship of their love.

"Come on," Naruto said, "let's go be with our family."

And if that wasn't the best thought in the world, neither of them wanted to know what was.

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"Friend Robin, we have not had any word from friend Raven in the span of an Earth year." A teenage girl with bright green eyes and long red hair spoke to a masked young man with spiky hair and a cape. "You will do her no favors by starving yourself of light and friendship. She would not want it."

Robin sighed, rubbing at his face morosely. "It's my fault that she's missing, Starfire. I need to find her. I never even got to tell her how I felt."

An entire godforsaken year had passed since the incident had passed. Since Slade had done...whatever the hell he had done to make Raven disappear. Just...gone. Left no trace behind, no piece of fabric, not even a hint that she was still alive.

She had disappeared three days before his nineteenth birthday.

Three days before he was going to tell her that he loved her.

It was damned frustrating, not knowing whether she was somewhere in the good ole US of A, or on this planet, or in a different dimension, or if she was even ali— no. He wouldn't give up hope on her. She never gave up on him, despite every stupid and potentially dangerous plan he'd ever had. He could do that much for her.

He owed her that much, at the least.

Robin was jolted out of his brooding session when a cybernetic hand clapped down on his shoulder. "Hey man, I got something you might wanna check out," Cyborg said with barely repressed excitement. When his spiky-haired leader made to dismiss him he added, "I just might have found her, man. I might have found Raven." Robin's eyes went round behind his mask, and Starfire gasped.

"That is most glorious news!" Star cried. "I shall prepare the pudding of happiness, so that it may ferment until her return." That said, the alien princess floated off, oblivious to the disgusted winces of the men behind her. Shaking his head, Cyborg turned to address Robin.

"Do you remember the time when I was transported to the past?" Robin nodded cautiously during the pause. "Well, for a moment I thought that might have happened with Slade, you know, he takes her back in time so that the whole raising Trigon deal actually worked, only that can't have happened, because we're still here. So I checked through every history book and database in existence, came up short on all references and photos. It's as if she doesn't exist.

"Then I remembered something that Raven had mentioned. She said that as far as she knew, there were multiple Earths, all existing side by side, and that sometimes they overlapped. I figured, 'What if that's what happened?' and realized that it's like when mikes of the same frequency touch, they harmonize, and you get that buzzing sound. So I started scoping Earth out with some low and high frequency sound waves set to locate Raven's signal, and I found it!"

Robin's head was spinning by the end of the explanation, but the one important fact managed to break through: they had found Raven. They had searched for a year, and things had finally started looking up. They would bring her home, and everything would be fine, because they were Titans; they'd gotten through the Brotherhood together, and they'd make it through this to.

In a brief moment of panic, Robin let that niggling worm of doubt slip into his mind. What if Raven was happy, wherever she was, without them? What if she didn't even remember them? Worse yet, what if this was all a fluke? What if she was truly dead, with nothing they could do?

No, it wasn't possible. Raven had been the strongest of all the Titans, was still the strongest Titan. She'd faced so much, had tried harder than all of them to keep the world safe from bad guys. She had to be alive, just had to be. "How do we get her back here?" Robin asked grimly. Cyborg shook his head.

"Doesn't work like that. If we tried to pull her out, we might end up pulling out someone in her vicinity instead. That would mess things up for everybody, especially if we have no clue as to what the social and political environment is over there. Nah, man, we're gonna have to go to her." He stood by patiently, allowing his team leader some time to mull this new information over.

"All right then. Star, Beast Boy, and Aqualad will stay here and hold down the fort. You and I will leave first thing tomorrow morning."

I'm coming to bring you home.

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Raven woke instantly, aware of everything around her. The twins, Mika and Rika, were asleep next to her in Naruto's lap. Umi was giggling softly with Takao and Kai in the room across the hall. Her little ones were all either asleep in bed, or asleep on the floor around Raven. Even Naruto was snoring gently. Nobody was hurt or in danger. Everything was alright in their little home.

Except for the fact that a pair of burning red eyes were staring at her hatefully.

Raven knew who it was; how could she not? It was the same person that Naruto had called out to each night in his sleep. She had only met the Uchiha child once, back when Naruto had first brought her to meet the Godaime, and had not seen him since, though she had wanted to. She desperately wanted to tell the arrogant bastard exactly what she thought of him.

With a quick jerk of her head, Raven stood and motioned for Sasuke to follow her downstairs. The silence on the way down was saturated with unspoken ill-will towards each other. Each knew their respective reasons for disliking the other person, but couldn't understand what they had done to earn the animosity that they both radiated. Raven sat Sasuke down and put water for tea on to boil.

"You broke his heart," she finally said. Sasuke stilled, the animosity draining off as he stared at the pale foreigner. "All he ever wanted from you was acceptance, friendship more than anything. He'd initially seen a kindred soul in you, as someone else who'd lost their family, then a teammate and a friend. You never saw any of that in him, did you? After all, you were willing to kill him to gain power. Who does that to a friend?"

"Why do you care?" Sasuke shot back rudely. He kept his eyes averted so that the woman wouldn't see his guilt and pain. It wasn't true, it wasn't! He'd wanted to protect Naruto, but the feelings he'd held were confusing as a preteen. And this woman would dare to try making him feel guilty for being confused?

"Because I'm the one offering him a shoulder to cry on after a nightmare." Her voice didn't rise in the slightest, but the anger intensified the meaning. "I'm the one person around him who understands what it means to need to prove that he's not evil. I'm the one person who knows that words do hurt, no matter what anybody says. I know what it's like to grow up hated for something that isn't your fault.

"You, Sasuke? You are the cause of some of his nightmares, his dream terrors. You've never had to prove anything to anybody; you were always accepted into everything you wanted. You were one of the ones who taunted him with cruel words, grated at his self-esteem. You were always loved, though you didn't want it. Naruto grew up hated by two generations: those who survived the Kyuubi attack, and by the children that they spawned. You may have survived the Uchiha massacre, but Naruto has survived in this poisonous village. You are nothing."

Sasuke couldn't stand it any longer. "Don't you think I know all this?" He was pretty sure that his voice had just cracked, and that his eyes were becoming glassy but he didn't care. "Don't you think I tell myself daily that it's all my fault? That I'm the reason why he stopped talking and laughing and smiling? I know that I don't deserve him, but I can't live without him! It's too much, knowing that he's here, with you and that I have no place in his life! I love him and it hurts!" Raven was suddenly rubbing his back, soothing him and crooning nonsense words of comfort, and Sasuke knew that he was crying.

But that wasn't possible. Raven was directly in front of him holding a mug of tea, smiling with placid satisfaction. Her voice also wasn't as low as the one in his ear, and not nearly as masculine. Sasuke twisted around, his lips trembling and eyes wide. Onyx met amethyst for one brief moment, and then the slighter man launched himself into Naruto's arms. The half-demon rocked him, nuzzling his face into the black hair.

"Come live here," Naruto ordered gently. "We've all been alone in some way long enough, you especially. You need to be here, with me, in my bed." Even if he had wanted to argue, which he really didn't, Sasuke wouldn't have been able to refuse after that.

And as Raven walked through Naruto's section of the master bedroom on the way to her half, she cast a silencing charm so that no sound would be able to escape at all, thinking the entire time that there wasn't a soul in the world more deserving of it than her best friend.

Shinigami's Sister/Notes- Blame my muses. They didn't want me to get around a gigantic monolith that was blocking my path. :blinks shiftily and runs away:

Kali- But now that we have finally done something, we're going to try something a bit strange.

Athena- See, our new obsession is Ouran Host Club, and Shini is working on a huge story for that to proclaim the beauty of MorixHaruhi and KyoyaxTamaki!

SS- So I, and I'm sorry to all of my loyal followers of Broken, will be putting my GW story on hiatus until I finish the first three chapters of Portrait of Takashi and conclude this story.

All- Read and review! Bai-bai-buu!