Sasuke's back in the village. Sasuke finally gave up Orochimaru and power all that twisted crap- Naruto got Sasuke back. Sasuke's being an ass about it, but Naruto doesn't mind. He got Sasuke back- he's already won.


Right. Naruto knows that Sasuke always gets up ass-early, so Naruto hops out of bed before dawn. He almost falls on his face, because Sakura-chan has grabbed his sleeve. She tries to pull him back into bed, do that and cram a pillow over her head at once. But his beautiful Sakura-chan is the grouchiest and drowsiest person in the world in the morning, and Naruto's up with the sun, quick and nimble, always. He evades her. He darts back a few minutes later to peel back the covers and kiss her goodbye.

"You're letting cold air in!" she grumbles against the pillow, her eyes squeezed shut.

"I'm going to go see him." Naruto tells her, and kisses her again, kisses the words into her. Sa, Su, Ke, the syllables, one kiss for each. Three of them, a team, forever. Besides, Naruto has a plan. There's a stand in the morning markets that sells these weird foreign antipasto tomato pastries. Naruto has, of course, totally gotten Sasuke addicted to them. Naruto is going to show up with a bag of those suckers and Sasuke will bitch and scowl, but he'll damn sure let Naruto in. Sasuke never says no to tomatoes.

"See you later." he whispers to the warm blanket-tangle of his wife, her pink hair spilled all over the pillow. He high-tails it out of the apartment before she can get up and stop him.

Sasuke's digging in his heels. Naruto thinks it would fix everything if there was less tension, if he could just break it like taking a pin to a water balloon. Maybe if they just beat the crap out of one another, get it out of their systems. It's dangerous, there's history there and way too many bad memories. But it's worth it, and it may be the only way. Sasuke needs to have people kick his butt occasionally, it's good for him. The only problem is that it might violate his probation or something, but Naruto will pull strings. He can get Sakura to handle Granny Tsunade. She's a hardass, but Sasuke is just different, and Sakura is always different... and there's history there too. There's the sannin's dirty laundry. Tsunade will yell, but she'll push the paperwork through. Naruto will get away with it. It's necessary. It's such a kick that people trust his judgment now, he'll never stop loving it.

So Sasuke being Sasuke or not, there's a lot to smile about. It's going to be a bright, hard beat-down sunny autumn day. The air is already moving and whispering to him in his elemental language.. even the Kyuubi is just a distant ache, a smeared bloody fingerprint of chakra. Sleeping, maybe. Naruto always pictures the fox curled into a springy furry spiral of his own, all his tails coiled up snuggly to sleep. It kinda makes him laugh.. and there, in the fourth training yard, is Neji and Tenten, training, training, training as usual. The morning mist shimmers in the sunlight all around them.

And Neji is always a hoot to tease, so Naruto hangs on the fence and yells stuff at him, just for fun. Hey Neji, is that your girlfriend? This your idea of a date, you cheap bastard! Tenten turns her warm cinnamon-brown eyes to him and smirks, pinking a bit with exertion- and amusement. Neji just frowns, because Neji is a very serious person. Naruto can never have too many straight men to bounce off of. He just loves this whole village, the crisp leaves underfoot and the mixed smells of earth and electrical ozone from the power lines, the close heated air of downtown, all of it so much. The village isn't all happy memories all the way through, but it's in him, in his blood. He belongs here. He's part of it, and his blood remembers. It responds.

The Kyuubi may be a big scary demon, but what he is at heart is just a big furry lazy cat. Like all cats, he wants to sleep most of the time, lick himself for much of the rest and occasionally he'll jump around a bit. But not often. Sometimes he wakes up and is really cranky. But Sakura-chan in the morning is still a million times scarier than the Kyuubi in his worst snit, so Naruto doesn't really sweat the fox much. He's got.. whatchamacalit... perspective. Yeah, perspective on these things. Sakura-chan does that. She teaches him responsibility and keeps him in line, and he gets to make her laugh and convince her to have fun and just lose herself and all her worries to sheer pleasure. That's his role. It works. They work. He loves her to bits, and he loves this village.. and with so much love in the air, Naruto can't understand how anyone could be a big grump this morning. So he gets to Sasuke's door and knocks. Room service! Haha! Sasuke puts him in a sillier mood than usual.

Well, actually, it's more like Sasuke's such a grumpy bastard, and he has such a dark cloud over his head that Naruto feels it and has to turn everything up a notch, just to drown that gloomy stuff out.

Sasuke yanks open the door, all messy hair and the same drab blue-grey pajamas. All what the hell is wrong with you?!

And Naruto's like good morning, sweetiepie! And Sasuke flashes into one of his angry bitch fits, then spots the warm bag of pastries tucked under Naruto's arm- and yanks him inside by his collar.

"What's the magic word?" Naruto says to him, standing in Sasuke's dreary apartment, which totally looks like it belongs to an accountant, or one of those guys under Granny who just files papers all day, and lines all the paperclips and pencils in their desk up just so. Sasuke grunts irritably, then snatches the bag. Naruto shimmies off his sandals and makes himself at home in Sasuke's kitchen while Sasuke opens the bag and makes sure that the pastries are tomato pastries and not something else, something that might be interesting to people who like to actually live a little. People who don't like to eat the same thing over and over and over again? Sasuke moves around his kitchen in what might be a pretty cute and domestic way, if you squinted a bit and imagined him with an apron. He slams a cup of coffee down in front of Naruto, a plate of pastries between them, and then sits down gracefully. A spotless white porcelain mug spills a little streamer of steam, balanced perfectly in his hand.

And now they can talk, right?

Well, Sasuke's there. So yeah. You'd figure.

So Naruto drapes his arm over the backrest of his chair. "How's probation?" he says, conversationally.

Sasuke swallows carefully, takes a long sip of coffee and then replies, crisply "Fuck you."

"Sakura-chan's worried about you." Light and easy. Just a nice chat.

Actually, Sakura-chan's mad as fucking hell at Sasuke, but whatever. She's worried too.

A sneer, Sasuke's hair hanging into his face. Man, he looks like hell.

"No she isn't."

"Yeah she is." Naruto parries back at him. Like a tennis match.




"I know you are but what am I?" Naruto snickers, and almost chokes on a bit of tomato. He has to grab for the coffee, which is still a bit too hot. When he gets himself sorted out again, Sasuke is fixing him with one of his long-suffering hangdog why me? looks.

It's kinda funny.

"You look like shit warmed over." Naruto adds cheerfully, because this is how big tough guys like them show affection. Right?

Sasuke snarls silently. "Use a napkin, moron."

"The back of my hand works fine."


"La di da." he says, smirking. Because this is just how it should be. Exactly this kind of conversation. Everything's okay. This is how Sasuke is normally.

And Naruto can handle that.

And he's got more problems, Sakura-chan is worried and angry... but Naruto can handle that too, he can hold his team together. Sakura doesn't come with him to see Sasuke, and Sasuke notices. Sasuke tries to make nasty comments about it, but Naruto has it covered.

Sakura hasn't given up, she's just angry. Naruto knows that, and he knows that they are a team- and that will never change. They still have to knock that fact into Sasuke's thick skull, but they'll get through to him eventually. Naruto figures that Sasuke will fuck around for a while, he'll scowl and pull his usual cranky crap. But that's just Sasuke. It's just the way he is. And really, Naruto was surprised when Sakura finally ran out of patience. To her it was a breaking point, but to him it was just what he'd expect. Sasuke pulled his shit- he spat on them and told them he didn't care about them. He even pulled his sword and tried to act like he was serious. But that was just the way Sasuke was.

And anyway, Naruto can't just give up on him. Sasuke is his friend, and that means more than any of Sasuke's usual act and Sasuke's bullshit. That's just Sasuke. And Naruto is going to save him.

"Save me." Sasuke says, on one of those morning meetings, since morning is when Naruto feels like visiting him. Naruto knows that if he waits, then he'll get involved with missions or training or whatever- the day will get away from him. So he shows up, and he bangs on the door until Sasuke lets him in- you'll wake the whole building, get in here- and Sasuke sighs hotly. And it's all just fuckin' theatrics. Maybe Naruto was fooled when he was 12 and he didn't have this sense of how people are just yet. But now he does, and Sasuke is toast. None of this whiny bullcrap is going to work on Naruto anymore, and he's pretty sure that Sasuke knows it.

"Save me?" Sasuke says again, this time all withering, his voice dripping contempt.

"Yeah." Naruto says back, and pulls a face, mirrors Sasuke's haughty little grimace right back at him. "That's right."

And Sasuke sneers and pulls his act, but Naruto just smirks right back.

"You lose." he says, cheerfully. You can't stop me anymore.

Sasuke really should be happy about that, that he won't be left alone to tear himself up anymore. And he's never really been alone, anyway. What Naruto has wanted to say to him for more than six years now is just that- you're never alone. They were alone once, both of them. But now, now they'll never be alone again.

"Because I won't leave you alone." he says to Sasuke, slurping the last of Sasuke's coffee- which he doesn't make nearly strong enough. He puts the cup back down on Sasuke's too-clean kitchen table, like Sasuke plans to carry out major surgery in there or something. "You ever get tired of cleaning this place up?"

And Sasuke scowls. And it's ok. It's really ok, finally.

"I already have saved you," Naruto says to him on the way out. After Sasuke's thrown one of his sandals at his head, which is kinda the signal that it's time for Naruto to leave. He ducks the other one and then snatches it out of midair. "You just haven't realized it yet."

"Out." growls Sasuke, standing beside his front door and holding it open. But Naruto doesn't really sweat it. This is just the way Sasuke is.

And things are going to be okay.

Like there was ever any doubt! Things will always be okay. Because Naruto just won't stop or quit or let up until things are okay, and he'll die trying if he has to. And he's never had to die yet, has he?

"Idiot." mutters Sasuke.

"Crybaby." Naruto says back, because this is the way they are, and when he catches Sasuke with red eyes, that's the thing to do. Make fun. He sure as fuck can't hug Sasuke, or comfort him. That's just not on. And he has to show affection somehow.

"Dead last loser," Sasuke snaps, and slams the door shut, having just let Naruto in. Naruto has to whip his shoulder and back foot out of the way to avoid getting clipped by the edge of the door. "You just never learn." He stomps off to the kitchen, and Naruto follows. They trade insults, and Naruto feels happier, because this is normal. This is Sasuke-normal...

..and actually, he's kinda starting to worry.

Sasuke with red eyes, Sasuke caught freshly crying. Over whatever, his family.. demons and past hellish things that are his alone, Naruto isn't going to touch that. Out of respect, he gives his friend space.

But still, it's not right. Sasuke should turn up his nose, cross his arms, inform Naruto coldly that no, he's fine and why would anything be wrong, stupid? And you're too stupid to help anyway, and you have more problems than me. That is, Sasuke's tough act. So where the hell is Sasuke's tough act now?

Sasuke just rubs the tears away and leans on the doorframe, the door's edge in one bandaged hand. He looks at Naruto with red eyes that are like black voids of despair. It's too much fucking feeling, it's almost too much for Naruto, and he can't face that much pain. Even if Sasuke would let him- which Sasuke never would. Why is Sasuke letting him see at all?

Naruto worries like hell, under his smiling face. Because this isn't supposed to happen. Sasuke's not supposed to get worse, start to fall apart. No. Sasuke is supposed to get better. He's supposed to wake the hell up, realize that there are people who love him and will put up with all his stupid snobby crap. He's supposed to fucking snap out of it.

Instead, Sasuke seems to be.. well.. drowning. In the bottle, or whatever. Naruto doesn't know the details. Sakura can't tell him, it's patient confidentiality stuff. All Naruto knows is that Sasuke is cracking.

And that's not supposed to happen.

It won't happen. Naruto isn't going to let it happen.

"There's no point in anything." Sasuke says.

"Yeah there is." Naruto argues, but he's still trying to keep it jokey, keep it from turning into a real argument. There's bitchy little fights, with Sasuke crabbing about stuff, then there's a real fight, with real weapons, intended to draw blood. No. Naruto won't let it happen.

And he waits for Sasuke to sigh, roll his eyes, or put on his act of suffering fools. That would be normal. That would be better than this.

But Sasuke just shakes his head, and stays slumped in his seat, in his too-clean apartment, which is starting to look like a vision of break hell to Naruto. Emptiness. Total nothingness.

"It's all meaningless." Sasuke says, and the hollowness in his voice is new and fucking scary, scary as hell in a way that Orochimaru's grasping claws and all the Akatsuki with their whacky-ass jutsu just never could be.

Naruto can't deal with this.

So he steps up that 'start a fight with Sasuke' plan real fucking quick.

He bangs on the door.

"Sasuke-chan!" he says, right in Sasuke's face.

"You can't beat me!" he crows at Sasuke, flexing his wind chakra. Strutting his stuff all over Sasuke's living room. "You won't fight me 'cause you're chicken!" And stuff like that, stuff that's always worked before. He waits and glances over his shoulder to see if Sasuke's getting all pissed off yet, Sasuke's getting ready to just growl 'fine!' Or better yet just snarl Naruto's name. Haul him out to the roof by the scruff of his neck. Call him a loser. Stuff like that. Anything.

But that morning, and the morning before it.. and the morning after it. In fact, a whole lot of mornings, and for a while, Sasuke doesn't even look up. He looks drained of energy, and Naruto almost wonders if the ANBU have strapped chakra leeches on him. He sees the empty bottles in the kitchen and he sees the dullness in Sasuke's eyes. He sees and he just can't stop it, nothing he says can seem to make a dent in whatever has Sasuke now. This bottomless depression. Sasuke looks right through him.

"It's all for nothing." he whispers.

"What the hell?" Naruto spits back at him, because he's worried and being worried makes him feel helpless, and that makes him angry. "What do you mean, nothing? You've got everything anyone could want!"

And Sasuke looks up dully, dark glassy-eyed, and all red from crying or drinking or both, probably. He starts his spiel about how nothing matters and everything is just nothingness, and how his parents died for nothing. There's no point to anything, to getting up in the morning, to trying, to living, to anything- and Naruto can't stand it. He gets up and grabs Sasuke by his wide collar and shakes him-

Waits and holds his breath and doesn't even know he's doing it. But he's waiting for Sasuke to get that irritated harried look, and frown deeply, and say something like idiot! Let go. Something. Anything. Anything but this. Naruto didn't fucking chase and take crap and go through all of that just to bring Sasuke back to the village- and have Sasuke slit his wrists or drink himself to death- or whatever. No. Naruto isn't going to fucking let that happen.

"I'm not telling Sakura-chan about this." he growls into Sasuke's ear.

Sasuke just hangs there passively in Naruto's grip. Naruto can't stand it, he shakes Sasuke hard. He jams his face right against Sasuke's ear and can feel Sasuke's body heat, his heartbeat, all of that. And he knows that Sasuke can feel him breathing down his neck, so close and inescapable.

"This is between you and me." Naruto says to him.

"You don't understand anything." Sasuke says, flatly. Angrily.

But it's okay. Because Sasuke being pissy and telling Naruto he doesn't know anything is normal.

It doesn't last, but it's a start, right? Naruto can chip this amour of despair down. He did it once, he can do it again.

So Sasuke keeps up his new act for a while. It really does go on for a while. And Naruto keeps on his case, since he's still a bit worried. He eyes Sasuke in his peripheral vision. Sasuke will let himself be dragged outside to spar, though. Naruto's master plan of picking a big cathartic fistfight with him isn't going so well, but it's going. Stuff is happening. Naruto will take that. He's used to taking the longview with Sasuke. But he will get Sasuke saved and happy and all of that- in the end. Sasuke starts up his crap- no point to anything, total nothingness of existence, blah blah- and Naruto just whacks him on the back of his head, where his hair is all messy and spiked. Sasuke glares at him.

"I'm trying to tell you to give up." he says, annoyed and frowny. Naruto laughs, a bit out of breath in the cool morning air. They're sparring. They're sparring and Sasuke's just acting annoyed and normal. He started his shit and Naruto shut him down.

"Why would I give up when I'm winning?" Naruto tells him, breathless and happy. He ducks the sharp left hook Sasuke whips at his chin. He's not just talking about the sparring match- though he is winning. "You need to cut back on the booze, it's making you slow!" he crows, dancing out of Sasuke's strike-range. Ha ha! He really does feel it's going to be okay.

"You idiot! All of these bad thing that happen, it's all just a big cosmic joke, you know that?" Sasuke shouts at him, after Naruto finally really wins, really gets them into that good hard fight, and all of the bad feelings are coming out and being purged clean.

"Yeah?" Naruto says back, just to keep Sasuke shouting, so they can get this crap out, and get past it.

"You're too stupid to realize it! You think you can actually change things!"

But all this existential crap, all of it, it's just steam that Sasuke has to blow off. Naruto knows that. Only one thing is going to matter when the smoke clears.

"I'm gonna save you," he says to Sasuke gleefully, later, as they climb off the roof all bloodied and bruised and perfectly fine and right, like they haven't been for so long. Both of them. "If all this crap is a joke- that's the punchline."

"You're such an unbelievable moron." Sasuke mutters, squeezing his eyes shut in sheer exasperation.

But he's lost, he's lost the battle to just fucking kill himself, rip himself to shreds, drown in his own agony- and he knows it.

Naruto just claps him on the back and laughs, relieved. He laughs mostly to cover the sheer relief. Dodged that bullet. Sasuke scowls- too slowly- to cover a faint smile.

Sasuke is still Sasuke, he pulls out the stops and starts digging at Naruto with words. Naruto half-expected it, it's pretty much Sasuke's speed. He shrugs most of it off. "So does your wife call my name instead?" Sasuke says to him, but Naruto just laughs in his face. Yeah, nice try.

"Sakura-chan says that you'd be more handsome without that dumb look on your face." he says back, and flicks pastry-crumbs at Sasuke's scowling dark-ass stormy frown.

"You don't mean anything to me, you aren't my friend," Sasuke tries, but Sasuke already admitted that Naruto was his friend-

"Valley of the End, fucker." Naruto reminds him, smirking.

-so Sasuke can just forget that, too.

But Naruto does get angry at some of it. They are a team, and Sasuke is his friend, and being friends means that Sasuke still can pull his chain. Sasuke still can hurt him.. and it does hurt, some of what Sasuke says. Hell, it hurts just to see Sasuke trying to hurt him. Naruto would rather just beat the crap out of him, or have Sasuke try to beat him half to death, that's easier to rationalize. Naruto prefers physical pain, thanks. And anyway, caring about Sasuke, caring for him, means that Sasuke can hurt him. But that's fine, he's not made of stone, after all. Being able to feel anything for Sasuke is good. He worried sometimes that he might give in. He might just run out of steam. Maybe Sasuke would... well, never mind, because nothing Sasuke could ever do could make Naruto give up.

That's right! he thinks to himself, walking away from Sasuke after Sasuke's said some really mean shit, and Naruto needs to cool off a bit before he can deal with him again. I never give up, I'm an idiot, right?

That's right.

And Naruto's been around Jiraiya enough to see what happens when you just hurt too much and let it harden your heart. Sasuke can hurt him all he wants, Sasuke can sink his poison fangs into Naruto's hand all he wants, Naruto is not letting go.

Sasuke escalates the nasty stuff he says, but whatever. Sasuke breaks Naruto's nose one day, sucker-punching him out of nowhere- but whatever. Changes nothing. Naruto gets his way, he gets Sasuke angry and ready to fight, and gets them both out on the roof, ready to go.

Naruto loses the physical fight, he gets beaten up. Sasuke's faster than lightning when he's not hungover. And his hard, whip-snap punches still sting like hell, Naruto's so relieved he could kiss Sasuke, but he can't do that, so he just kicks Sasuke's balance foot out from under him. They yell insults and stuff at one another. Naruto limps home, bleeding, having lost the fight- but he's won, and he knows it.

And it works. The stars align, and Sakura's pissed as hell to see him all beat up. She snaps out of her own slow burn of anger and stomps off to tell Sasuke off. Naruto snickers to himself, having just been tucked into to bed and bandaged up and kissed all better by her. He fucking loves his wife, and now he knows that she'll make this better too. They're a team. Sasuke isn't getting away from them.

She hauls Sasuke's sorry ass all the way back home. It's their home, Naruto and Sakura are the ones who signed the lease, but it's home for all three of them. Sasuke pouts and crosses his arms. But he's lost. He can't mope and drink and fade away, not with Naruto and Sakura around.

"See? I can totally change things." Naruto says to Sasuke the next morning, at their own comfortably messy kitchen nook, with Sakura's medical textbooks all over one end of it, and one of Naruto's dirty socks hanging from one of the chairs.

"Idiot." Sasuke is busy wrinkling his nose and wiping down the counters, because Naruto and Sakura's apartment just isn't up to his standards, or whatever. Naruto snickers at him.

"Don't start." Sasuke grumbles.

"You don't want to fuck with Sakura-chan," Naruto tells him sagely.

"Shut up."

"I bet I'll come home tonight and you'll be vacuuming the curtains."

"Shut up."

But Sasuke's here and he looks better than he has in weeks. Like he's finally been able to sleep, tucked in between Naruto and Sakura, in their too-big bed, the one that just seemed too empty with the two of them. Something was missing.

Maybe for Sasuke too. A missing piece that finally fell into place for him, the moment he allowed them to finally just bring him home.

"So why don't you tell me the joke again," Naruto says, since he doesn't have to tease Sasuke about snoring yet, he's got all morning.

"What joke? Idiot, shut up, I've got a headache." Sasuke frowns into his miso and tries to act above this whole conversation. Which is so normal that Naruto really could kiss him. Again.

"The one about the universe and shit and how nothing matters."

Sasuke sighs, put-upon. "What did I just tell you?"

But Sasuke's home- that's the punchline- and Naruto laughs in relief most of all.