By Insomniac Owl

Beginning Notes: Just two things, both small. First, if you see anything I did wrong, any inaccuracies or mistakes, please point them out, I'd appreciate it very much. And, second, I hope you enjoy this. Please review.

Chapter One: Rotten

It was cold that autumn, just above snow-cold, but where Sasuke lay on his bed (apartment complex B-6, second story, first room to the left) amid a nest of blankets, it was quite warm. A while back the heater had broken, but when the weather began to cool off, his brother, Itachi, had paid to have it fixed. It was running again, which was all Sasuke asked, and he was happy enough to lay on his bed, headphones up and loud, and watch the rain fall. The noise of it was lost under his music, though he could see the fat drops striking his windowpane.

The rest of the house, as it had been for so long, was simply quiet. His brother had been gone all day, so Sasuke was the only one home - not that it bothered him, he liked the solitude, but it had been happening too often lately. Days went by where Sasuke didn't see his brother at all, since Itachi often stayed out until two, three in the morning, and when he did come home, Sasuke could see drugs in his eyes. Sometimes alcohol. Glazed, distant, numb, and if it was alcohol, Sasuke could smell it.

He sighed, reaching down to pause his music. The player rested on his stomach, and when he rolled onto his side it slipped to the sheets. Without it he could hear the rain, a quick splitter-splatter. It was cold outside - his bed was just beside the window, so he should know - and the snow the weatherman was always talking about should be along soon. To be quite honest, Sasuke was surprised they hadn't had some already. He liked the snow and was looking forward to it, though occasionally the soft drifts were preceded by fierce snowstorms; harsh winds and a snapping, stinging cold….

Glancing outside, he saw pedestrians rushing by under the cover of umbrellas, hats, newspapers, and nothing at all. There weren't so many as there had been a few hours ago (it was wet, and it was getting late as well, the sun slipping behind layers of smog like a pull-out in a children's story book), but there were enough.

(And they lived happily ever after….)

Sasuke turned from the glass, heading downstairs. He thought he would go to the McDonald's down the street and buy a milkshake and french-fries (he hated the hamburgers, they were so greasy and disgusting, so American).

Passing Itachi's room just a few feet from his, he saw the white of countless papers strewn across the floor - pages of the diary he kept. Sasuke rarely saw him writing in it, but he must, by the look of all those papers. He could just make out Itachi's handwriting - precise, though sometimes messy, rushed, as if he couldn't get what was in his head out fast enough - on the paper. Sasuke only glanced, however, a flash of guilt turning his eyes away. Those were Itachi's private things, after all; hardly any of his business.

He swept the coins Itachi had left him into his pocket, then, lifting a house key from the counter, headed for the door. The chill was a sharp contrast after the warm apartment, and he pulled his jacket a little tighter.

As he was coming onto the sidewalk a car turned the corner, blue and green in the same moment, and he paused to watch it race by. It slowed, however, and a flicker of recognition (barely there, he'd only seen this car once before) passed through his mind. Kisame. And, judging by the shadowy figure in the passenger seat, Itachi as well. The car pulled up against the curb, and Sasuke's brother stepped out, glancing over the roof to meet his eyes. His lips moved briefly, bidding Kisame goodbye, perhaps, and with the door shut the car moved off again, leaving only a gust of exhaust.

"Where you going to get something to eat?" he asked, coming to the front door.

Sasuke tossed him the keys. "Yeah. Let me in when I get back."

His brother's willowy neck bent once, dark hair falling into his eyes and out again, and then the door closed, leaving no movement at all.

The entire street seemed a little darker than it should have been that evening, as if night had come ahead of schedule. The clouds had come so suddenly, hovered for half a week, growing darker, and now they were releasing what water they had stored up, steady drops that fell hard. It didn't pour, though. It was more of a drizzle, a light rain with a way of blocking light. When the sun emerged, however, always greatly anticipated, it brought along a sense of hope, a feeling of newness, as if the rain had washed away some sin to make the world clean. (But it always came back, and it always had to be washed away again. It was simply the way things worked).

Itachi, Sasuke thought, kicking an empty soda can, could use some rain if it truly worked that way. Itachi had quite a lot of sin on his shoulders. Not that Sasuke, of course, was in any place to criticize. Strapped under his bed, after all, and thinly packed into CD cases….

He ended up, not in McDonald's, but in a small coffee shop just opposite. Unlike the fast-food restaurant, it was slower, a little more relaxed.

Sasuke ordered his drink, digging out a few of Itachi's coins to pay for it, and took a seat at one of the tables near the window. He could see the people passing by just a few feet away, the glare transforming their features into something almost holy, too brilliant too look directly at. If he leaned to either side it vanished, and they were ordinary human beings again. A trick of the light.

"I thought you were going to get something to eat. Isn't that what you said?"

Sasuke looked up, startled, to find Itachi standing just beside him, one hand resting on the back of Sasuke's chair. The younger didn't say it, but it was a little unnerving how Itachi had shown up, so suddenly and unexpected, like the clouds that were pouring themselves onto the city.

"I thought you were at home," he answered.

The corners of Itachi's mouth twitched. He took a seat, pressing one hand briefly to the window, lips parting just a little. "It's so cold outside… don't you think?"

"Yeah. Did you order anything?" Sasuke asked, leaning back in his chair. The bars pressed into his back a little, but he ignored it, watching Itachi draw his fingers across the glass. Five streaks appeared at his fingertips, clear and a better window than the one they were made on, and Itachi dropped his hand, setting both on the table in front of him.

"No," he answered, shaking his head. "I just thought I'd come down here with you. I didn't have anything better to do, after all." He smiled a little, another twitch of his lips, and Sasuke returned it, though he could feel the fakeness of the gesture. It felt forced, and it was. The distance between them was almost painful then, a silence stretching on and on….

"Sasuke Uchiha?"

Sasuke's head shot up, and the boy at the counter held his coffee up a little before setting it down, just to make sure he saw it. He rose from his seat, unable to suppress the relief spreading through him (not that he wanted to). He couldn't help it; it felt so awkward sitting there with Itachi, not saying anything - almost as if they weren't brothers at all, but strangers. It had been that way for a while, though, Sasuke thought, taking his drink back to the table. Not a long while, but a while. For a few years he had watched himself and Itachi become a little less like brothers, and for some reason he was never able to bring himself to step in, to do something. He couldn't explain it very well, other than labeling it 'fear', or 'inadequacy', and he didn't like the sounds those words made rolling off his tongue.

Taking his seat again, he sat in the same sort of silence as Itachi, only a little different (stiff, awkward, uncomfortable), and stared into his coffee. It was light brown, made still lighter by cream and sugar.

He and Itachi seemed so much like strangers just then, as if this table had been the only one available, and they sat together out of simple necessity. It was almost worse when they spoke, however, because the words come out sounding forced, which in some ways was worse than the silences. Sasuke sipped at his coffee, and broke it anyway.

"Why were you back so early?"

Itachi looked up, a little startled, perhaps, at Sasuke's boldness (or maybe it was boredness), but he smiled a little. "They wanted Kisame at work. Apparently there was some matter that needed his attention."

"Just him? That seems a little weird, doesn't it?"

"Not if you know how our boss is," Itachi said, giving another smile, as if at some inside joke.

"You didn't go drink or anything?"

Itachi's head came up sharply, and Sasuke knew he had said the wrong thing. (Was he not supposed to know? It wasn't as if Itachi made much effort to hide it….) He couldn't name the emotion that flitted across his brother's face just then, but Itachi seemed to gather himself, and then he shook his head, gaze going back to the window.

"No. We didn't."

After that, Sasuke kept silent.


They could only be expected to keep at it for so long, he reflected, allowing his body to give way beneath him, falling onto his bed with a squeak of springs. They could only pretend for so long, because they really were strangers, no matter how much he tried to deny it. A blood test would have said otherwise, but there were things, feelings, ties, that a blood test would never reveal. The silences, for one. The glances snuck and the awkward meeting of their eyes that said they really don't know each other very well at all. Never did.

No, Sasuke thought, reaching under his bed. His fingers groped for a moment in the darkness, in the space he couldn't see, and then he pulled a plastic bag free. It hadn't always been that way, actually. There had been a time, years ago now (though it seemed a lifetime, seemed a thousand lifetimes) when they had been brothers, really been brothers.

Their family had gone to Kyoto when he was little, and there had been a pond, and a bridge, and glittering koi in the water behind them. Itachi put his arm around Sasuke (though he didn't know why, even now) and they had stood watching the fish together.

Brothers, see?

("They're beautiful, aren't they Sasuke?")

Their father had taken a picture, Sasuke recalled, and their mother had been there too, on Itachi's other side. On the bridge in Kyoto with kio in the background, shimmering, sparkling - it was pretty. He couldn't remember where the picture had gone, but it sat on their mantel for the longest time….

"Things'll work out," he murmured. "We'll have that back, eventually."

He just had to wait, that was all.

Sasuke pulled the bag open, taking a pinch of the white powder it was full of. A little guilt was the price he paid for hiding drugs - whenever Itachi came home stoned, he felt a twinge of it, because he did that too sometimes, and sometimes Itachi saw. But as if there were some secret covenant between them, some code of silence, he said nothing. And neither did Sasuke.

A short knock came at the door, and he shoved the bag under his pillow, heart suddenly racing.

"I'm going out with Kisame," Itachi said from the other side, and Sasuke swallowed, clearing his throat a little before he answered. He didn't quite trust his voice just then, but it sounded normal enough.

"When are you coming back?"

There was a slight pause, and Sasuke imagined his brother lifting his shoulders, half-shrugging in that way he had. "Twelve," he said. "Maybe later." Quick footsteps on the stairs, a door slamming, and then silence, save the hum of the heater through the walls. Sasuke pulled the bag from beneath his pillow, but ended up shoving it back under his bed. He didn't feel like he needed it (wanted it, desired it,actually) anymore.

A car hummed to life outside, Kisame's, and though he couldn't see it - it was too dark out, nearly eight, he estimated - he could hear the silence when it left. It had stopped raining.