Author's Note: I'm terribly sorry for the wait! I'm so ashamed of myself; I haven't touched this since February! I have excuses, but I'm sure you don't want to hear them, so I won't take up valuable space here to write them. Again, I apologize, but I swear it won't take me this long to update again, okay? Oh, and reviews pretty please?
Warnings: Some violence, language and hints at yaoi – don't like, don't read.
Disclaimer: Don't own…obviously…
-- Recap --
Sasuke narrowed his eyes. Damn straight he wasn't going down without a fight. "I don't think you really want to fight me," he replied, careful not to reveal any insecurity by keeping his voice confident and level.
"Is that so? In that case, I think I'm going to enjoy myself here, Sasuke. My name's Kyuubi, nice to meet ya," he said, lunging for Sasuke's throat.
-- End Recap –
A high-pitched scream to their side alerted both boys to a third party watching from their doorway. "Tsunade-sama! We need you in room thirteen, it's an emergency! Tsunade-sama!"
"What is it, Shizune?" the busty woman asked, heavy footfalls making their way down the hall.
At the sound of Tsunade's voice, Kyuubi angrily curled his hands into tight fists, one nail barely grazing Sasuke's cheek, and his eyes narrowed in fury. "Bitch…" Turning back to Sasuke, he growled. "I'm not done with you, Uchiha. Don't you fucking forget that!"
Rushing into the room, Tsunade made it just in time to see an infuriated blond flipping her off, before relinquishing control of the body he was in. Coming back to his senses, Naruto looked around the room, confused, before letting his eyes fall to his hand, mere inches away from a pale, slender neck. Seemingly unaffected, Sasuke stared back at him blankly, watching as the boy's eyes widened in horror at the blood dribbling down Sasuke's arm and face.
"Oh, god…no, not again…" All three people in the room watched as the blond sprinted to the bathroom and slammed the door shut. The quiet, tense atmosphere was more than silent enough to hear the muted 'click' of the shaken boy locking himself in.
As though the sound of the locking door was a cue, both women turned towards Sasuke, looking for some sort of a reaction. However, Sasuke's face was still blank, and only one thing was running through his head, 'Uchiha… how did he know?'
Clearing her throat to break the awkward silence, Tsunade turned to Sasuke. "Shizune came in to take you to your first session of group therapy. Why don't you follow her out? I'm going to see what I can do about getting that gaki out of the bathroom."
Sasuke nodded, still unable to form words, and followed Shizune down the hall, watching her stop in front of a uniform white door and opening it. Stepping to the side, she motioned for Sasuke to go in before walking in behind him.
"Ano, Orochimaru-sama?" Shizune gulped nervously. "Sorry to be late, we had a mishap in room thirteen. I brought in Sasuke now, and Naruto should be coming in shortly," she said quietly before turning around and walking out the door, closing it silently behind her. Sasuke glared angrily at the older man, folding his arms protectively across his chest. Orochimaru's long, dark hair fell across his shoulders, shorter strands framing his sickly pale face and emphasizing the purple marks around his snake-like golden eyes.
"Ah, Sasuke-kun, come in. We've heard so much about you," Orochimaru hissed, his eyes glued in perverse fascination to the blood slowly making its way down Sasuke's cheek. At the sound of his name, Sasuke shuddered. The way the man in front of him said it made it sound so dirty. Just hearing his name spoken from those lips made Sasuke shiver in revulsion; he felt so unclean, so violated. It was times like these that he hated having a name that rolled off the tongue so easily. Sasuke was such an easy name to hiss out, and he found himself instantly jealous of the blond dobe. The name Naruto couldn't be corrupted as easily as his own. Noticing that Orochimaru was still fixated on the blood dripping from his new wound, Sasuke wiped it away with disgust, effectively breaking the older man's trance. Stepping aside, he turned to introduce a sliver-haired man with circular glasses and a smirk plastered on his face. "This is Kabuto. I don't believe you've met, ne, Sasuke-kun? He's one of the newer additions here." Sasuke regarded the medic coldly, not moving from his spot in the doorway. Waiting for the two men to sit down before taking his own seat, he scanned the room and was devastated to find Suigetsu amongst the others looking curiously his way. His face lit up in recognition and he prodded the boy next to him, whom Sasuke had come to know as Kimimaru.
Due to much prompting, Sasuke reluctantly sat in the empty chair next to Suigetsu and refolded his arms, hoping that the boy would get the message and stay silent for once. Much to his relief, Suigetsu continued talking to the quiet boy next to him.
"While we wait for our last participant, I'm going to give a brief description of what group therapy is," Kabuto stated matter-of-factly.
To this, Suigetsu snorted obnoxiously. "We already know what it is. Group therapy is a fancy name for what you shrinks do when you're too lazy to deal with us alone. You stick us with a bunch of other nut jobs and hope that by talking to each other we'll magically become 'fixed'! Isn't that right, Kimimaru?" Fearfully looking up from his clasped hands, the boy's eyes darted from Orochimaru to Suigetsu and back again. Catching sight to the boy's glance, Orochimaru's lips stretched into a knowing smirk. Realizing that he had been caught staring, Kimimaru hastily looked back down at his hands, a bright red blush making itself evident on the boy's pale face.
"Tsk tsk, Suigetsu…insolence isn't a trait to be proud of. And to drag your poor, innocent roommate into it as well," Orochimaru crooned, stroking Kimimaru's feathery white hair. "That's a bit inconsiderate, don't you think, Kimimaru-kun?" Blushing profusely, the boy could only nod silently as Orochimaru gracefully slipped back into his seat. Murmurs of 'pervert' and 'sick' could be heard amongst the boys in the room, though no one could pinpoint exactly where they came from or to which of the two males they were referring.
"Of course, Orochimaru-sama, how rude of me," Suigetsu snarled, narrowed eyes flashing with barely concealed contempt.
"Insolence and insubordination wouldn't have anything to do with why you're here, would they, Suigetsu?" Kabuto smirked and adjusted his glasses, the light reflecting off of them making it impossible to see his eyes.
"Can it, four-eyes. I know perfectly fucking well why I'm here, as well as a thousand reasons for why I shouldn't be," Suigetsu replied, stubbornly folding his arms across his chest.
"Excuse me for interrupting this lovely conversation" a voice called from across the room, not sounding at all sorry, "but could we let Kabuto please speak so we can continue with what we're supposed to be doing?"
"I agree with Neji-san," Haku interjected from his seat between Sai and Lee. "Could we please stop arguing and continue?"
Haku's quiet interruption was met by an overly enthusiastic response from the boy next to him, no doubt involving some sort of exclamation about the 'springtime of youth.' However, by that time, Sasuke had stopped listening and was staring impassively at the door. It was probably because of this that he was the first to notice it as it flew open.
-- Scene Change --
Locking the bathroom door, Naruto sank down to the floor, still shaking. In his head, he could still hear Kyuubi laughing, laughing at his weakness. Pulling his knees up to his chest, Naruto wrapped his arms around himself in a protective shield. However, the invisible barrier he was trying to create did nothing to protect him from the malicious laughter in his head. He couldn't stand it; the demon was going to drive him off the brink of insanity. Doing the only thing he could think of, he clapped his hands over his ears and screamed. He screamed until he could drown out the laughter and his throat burned in agonized protest.
Taking his hands off his ears, he wrapped them around his shoulders as he leaned back against the door and closed his eyes, trying to calm himself down and stop the uncontrollable shaking. However, instead of seeing the black void that usually awaited him, he found himself greeted by Sasuke's blank and emotionless face. The scratch was still on his cheek and Naruto inwardly convulsed at the image of blood sliding down his face. He had seen others bleed before, but none had ever disturbed him as much as what he had just witnessed. Seeing Sasuke bleed must have been one of the most unnatural things Naruto had ever been forced to watch. The boy's porcelain skin wasn't suited to blood, and that confusion had been reflected in the boy's onyx orbs. Tightly squeezing his eyes together, Naruto tried to dispel the image from his head. However, his efforts were in vain as he could still see Sasuke's eyes, clouded with panic, uncertainty and a myriad of other emotions that Naruto couldn't distinguish. However, Naruto was certain that disgust must have been amongst them, after all, he had gotten used to seeing it in the eyes of the villagers back home. Standing up abruptly, Naruto found himself face-to-face with his own bloodshot eyes and tear streaked cheeks. He scowled at his reflection as he angrily wiped away the drying tears and shoved his hands into his pockets.
'Monster…you see that boy in the mirror, Naruto? He's a monster…and that's all you'll ever be.'
Naruto's hands clenched reflexively as he heard the demon's voice echoing in his head. The accusatory tone hurt, but not as much as knowing that what he heard was true. He was a monster. He could feel all his pent up rage threatening to break free as he glared at his reflection with an untamed ferocity. Seeing his own face staring back at him with the same animalistic expression only fueled his anger. The face in the mirror, his face, looked too much like a beast.
He would not be a monster, he thought, projecting all his impure thoughts onto his reflection. Clutching the cold, metal object that he had unknowingly grabbed as he shoved his hands into his pockets, he yanked it out and, with a sound like a strangled battle cry, let it fly at the animal in the mirror, watching with a sort of jaded satisfaction as it shattered and the pieces crashed down to the tiled floor. Making a subconscious effort to avoid the scattered pieces of splintered glass (after all, it wouldn't do to bleed again) Naruto slumped to the floor and shuddered as his toe made contact with the object that had come out of his pocket. Looking down, he was shocked to find… he blinked slowly, were those… nail-clippers?
For anyone else, such an ordinary object wouldn't have instilled in them any sort of powerful emotion, but at the sight of the nail-clippers, Naruto's heart leapt. The effect of the bathroom's bright white fluorescent lighting glinting off the small metal object as if it were something rare and precious only helped to solidify the growing feeling in the pit of his stomach. Without a second thought, Naruto snatched them up, the sound of his long nails clacking together strengthening his resolve. Only when the nail-clippers slipped through his fingers and clattered back down to the floor did Naruto realize he was still shaking.
Undeterred, Naruto reached out for them again, the thoughts running through his head going much too fast for him to follow. There was only one thought that he was able to grasp as they all when whizzing by. Eliminating the nails meant eliminating the demon. Grasping the nail-clippers, Naruto wondered how such a simple solution had evaded him for so long. Ignoring the warning bells and flashing lights in his head begging him to stop, he began to hack off the deadly weapons decorating his fingers with a newfound determination. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could still hear his name being called persistently and desperately but his mind was only focused on the task at hand.
Angrily snapping off the last remnants of the demon inside, Naruto slumped down against the bathroom door, spent.
Why could he still hear it? The demon was gone; why was its voice still echoing in his head?
"Naruto!…Naruto, I don't care what you're doing in there! If you don't answer me this instant I swear to god this door will be coming down!"
Quickly realizing that the voice he was hearing wasn't Kyuubi at all, he jumped to his feet and hastily opened the door before the woman on the other side could made good on her threat.
Upon seeing him, Tsunade's irritated glare dissipated into a relieved expression as she briefly hugged the stunned teen. However, such an expression lasted for only an instant before she caught sight of the boy's hands. Stunned, she loosened her grip on the teen and managed to grab a claw-less hand in her own.
"Naruto, your nails…What have you done?" At the woman's question, a strange feeling washed over him, almost like deja vous, but not quite.
"Naruto, your nails…What have you done?"
"Ha-ha, don't worry about it Iruka," Naruto laughed, nervously scratching at the back of his head with is newly blunted nails. "I just thought of the perfect way to keep Kyuubi in check; brilliant isn't it?"
Grinning slightly, Iruka went to ruffle the blonde's hair as his other hand automatically went to the bandage decorating the bridge of his nose. Not knowing what to say to the young teen, his smile faltered slightly.
"Brilliant, huh? That's new for you, isn't it, Naruto?" Naruto playfully slapped away the hand on top of his head and crossed his arms, pouting.
"Aw, you're so mean Iruka," Naruto whined, moving to take a step towards his guardian before tripping over the leg of the chair next to him. The last thing he remembered seeing was Iruka's alarmed expression before he hit the floor, realizing he had skinned his knee as the kitchen tiles underneath him were stained a slight red. Then, he blacked out.
When he had regained consciousness, the only thing he could do was scream. His stomach felt like it was on fire and, though his eyes were closed, he could sense that it was too bright, and the light stung. His screams echoed through the room, though he still couldn't identify where he was, and he ached to end the searing pain in his stomach, but his limbs remained immobile. At the second scream, he could hear a door opening and the rustling of clothing as people came rushing in. A flood of unfamiliar voices filled his ears and he struggled to open his eyes against the harsh light.
"Naruto! Naruto, are you okay?" Finally, his eyes managed to flutter open and he caught a glimpse of Iruka's agitated expression before his eyesight went fuzzy and the sounds around him blurred together. 'Funny,' he thought, looking blearily around the room. 'I never thought I'd ever end up in a hospital like this.' Then, his eyes closing drearily shut, he lost consciousness for the second time that day.
Only now realizing just what he had done, he gasped at the sight of his hands before looking up at Tsunade, plastering a fake smile on his face, as he had done so many times in the past.
"Eh? Oh, this is nothing! I'd be more worried about the bathroom than me," he grinned cheekily. "I'd hate to know how much a new mirror is going to cost." Before the woman had a chance to explode at him for the second time that day, he spoke again, looking around the room. "Hey, baa-chan, where'd teme go?"
"Group therapy, gaki. Room 001, where you should be now. And WHAT did I say about calling me that?" Barely evading the woman's grasp, he ran to the door.
"Got it! Room 001, later baa-chan!" Sticking his head back through the door, he winked mischievously before running down the hall, laughing as he heard the ill-tempered hospital owner yelling after him. Scanning the numbers on the doors as he ran past, he nearly ran right by 001 and skidded to a stop in front of the nondescript white door, panting as he pushed it and it flew open.
Inside, the voices died down as the occupants of the whitewashed room turned to look at him, their eyes joining Sasuke's in staring blankly at the blonde's grand entrance. Raising his hand to scratch nervously at the back of his head, a gesture that had long ago become a habit, he smiled sheepishly.
"Hehe, sorry, complications in room thirteen." Looking around and noticing none of the stares waver, he quickly sat down next to his roommate in the room's last empty seat. "What did I miss, Sasuke-teme? And why is everyone staring at me?"
Giving him a glare, Sasuke pointedly ignored the insult tacked onto the end of his name, not even dignifying the boy's idiotic question with a response.
"Ah, Naruto-kun, how nice of you to join us," Orochimaru hissed, and Naruto whipped around, not even noticing the older man standing behind him. "Now that we finally have our last participant, I believe we can begin, Kabuto?"
"Of course, Orochimaru-sama," he nodded dutifully, standing up as the other man went to sit back down. "As many of you already know," he began, shooting Naruto a stern glance, "this is group therapy. Today, we will be starting out trust unit." At the word trust, several backs stiffened, making it all too clear the nature of the participants' disorders. The only one seemingly unaffected by the statement was Lee, who was, for once, quiet, as he listened attentively to the medic's speech. "You will be paired off with your roommates and in the next several minutes, you will have to tell them something you have never told anyone before." Kabuto's statement had caused a small uproar, with Suigetsu immediately jumping out of his seat to argue loudly with the man whilst the others darted suspicious glares at each other from across the room. Standing up, Orochimaru brought a hand down over his assistant's shoulder, towering over the boys with a lecherous smile.
"Kabuto," he hissed, eyeing the med student with an unidentifiable emotion in his eyes, causing all but his assistant to shudder, "that was a bit sudden for them, no? The poor boys must be in shock," he murmured, shooting Sasuke an almost lustful glance as he brought his other hand up to Kabuto's other shoulder, leaning in closely so his mouth was right by the other's ear. "Give them a little while to get used to the idea, Kabuto," he whispered in the man's ear. "We shouldn't have any problems, right boys?" The menacing aura radiating off the man was more than enough to render the boys silent. "Good, in that case, I'll be in my office, Kabuto. I believe we have something to…discuss." With that, he left, his long hair swishing behind him as he slipped through the door to his office.
"You heard him, boys. You may begin," Kabuto smirked, picking up the notepad from his chair and following Orochimaru out of the room.
Naruto turned to Sasuke, only to find the boy already staring at him, a blank expression on his face. Already, the hate that he had been harboring for his roommate had dissipated. After all, no mater how much of a bastard he was, no one deserved to have Kyuubi's fury unleashed upon him. Scanning his stoic roommate's face, Naruto's eyes passed over the scratch on Sasuke's cheek and immediately shot downward as he occupied himself with looking distractedly at the cut-down nails on his hands. Realizing that the other roommates had already begun talking, he became aware of the awkward silence that filled the air.
"You know, this is only the second time I've ever cut my nails," Naruto confessed, not knowing where to begin. He felt like he owed his roommate something, but the boy's cold exterior was making him nervous. Normally, he avoided people like Sasuke, gravitating more towards people like Kiba, who were outgoing and friendly, as opposed to introverted and emotionless.
"I forgot how it happened, but Kyuubi had come out when I was home with my guardian, Iruka." At the word guardian, Sasuke looked up, surprised, but Naruto didn't notice. He was still looking down at his hands. "When I finally came to, Iruka was passed out on the couch, blood pouring from a deep gash across the bridge of his nose. I…I realized then, that it," here the blonde's voice cracked, trying to suppress his tears; "…it was me who had done it. H-he had to be rushed to the hospital, but they wouldn't allow me to come with them. I was locked up in our apartment; quarantined, they said," he laughed bitterly, "like it was contagious or something. All I could do was sit, not knowing what was going on, not knowing if…if he would be alright." Naruto sniffed, a hand coming up to wipe the stray tears that stained his cheeks. "I sat in that place, alone, for…for almost a week, with nothing to do but worry and think. Iruka was, well, he was the only one I knew who didn't…who didn't hate me." He paused, fiddling with his thumbs, not used to the look of them without Kyuubi's mark.
"So, I cut them. If Kyuubi didn't have them, he shouldn't be able to hurt anyone, right? Without those nails, Iruka would be safe, wouldn't he?" Cerulean blue eyes bore holes into Sasuke's own as Naruto finally looked up at him, begging, pleading. His voice was strained and desperate, as if trying to convince not Sasuke, but himself. "Iruka was shocked, but to me, it didn't matter. For once, I felt…I felt in control of myself. I felt that I could finally protect someone. B-but, that day, the day Iruka came back, I…I fell, skinned my knee. Kyuubi came out."
Naruto was again looking down at his hands, repositioning them constantly. The familiar feeling of breaking down, the same fear of shattering that he felt then was threatening to overcome him now. But, he refused to show weakness in front of Sasuke, he refused. Not even fully conscious of what he was doing, his hands automatically reached out for the closest solid thing he could find, which happened to be Sasuke's own, sitting lifelessly in his lap. The raven flinched at the action, unaccustomed to physical contact, but didn't pull back.
"When…when I regained conciseness, I was in the hospital, suffering from third degree burns and blood loss. My stomach, it hurt, it really hurt." Drawing in a shuddering breath, he continued. "It was Kyuubi. He…he said the scar was supposed to be a warning. 'You should know better, kit. Don't do it again.' That's what he told me, you know?"
The long silence that followed allowed Naruto's thoughts to catch up with his mouth, and his eyes widened, realizing just what he had told his roommate. Blushing profusely, he pulled his hands back, quickly drying his face as he wondered what had possessed him to hold Sasuke's hand to begin with. Blinking the remaining tears out of his eyes, he smiled awkwardly, resting his traitorous hands behind his head.
Looking at the boy in front of him with wide eyes, Sasuke tried to comprehend what the blonde was trying to tell him. The concept in itself was simple enough to understand, but there was one thing that kept interrupting his thoughts. 'That dobe…he did something so stupid…because of me?'
"Heh, I never was good at following directions anyway," Naruto laughed, trying to smooth the tension that had descended over the conversation. Feeling increasingly embarrassed, Naruto's smile eventually faded and his hands fell back in his lap as a heavy silence washed over the two of them. The noise being made by the other in the room had dissipated into a dull roar as the silence became increasingly deafening.
"My brother's birthday."
"Eh?" Naruto asked dumbly, not entirely sure why Sasuke had changed the topic so suddenly.
"You asked me what happened on June 9th. It's my brother's birthday." Unable to look Naruto in the eyes, Sasuke's gaze fell to his own hands as he unconsciously rubbed them together, wondering just when they had become so cold, as his mind instantly thought of the lost warmth when Naruto had let go. Scowling mentally at the thought, Sasuke continued.
"My brother was released from this place on June 8th, just in time for his birthday. Then, on the 9th, he murdered both our parents, and fled" Gritting his teeth, Sasuke clenched his fists tightly in an attempt to keep his anger in check, only releasing them when his palms started to sting and you could see the small half-moon marks made by his nails on his palms.
Perhaps for the first time in his life, Naruto found himself rendered utterly speechless. To be honest, he hadn't quite known what kind of an answer to expect when he asked the question, but with the way Sasuke had handled the photo, he certainly hadn't been anticipating something like that. In all his life, he had learned how to deal with awkward and precarious situations with ease, seeing as how the situations were almost always brought about because of him. However, this time, no jokes or witty comments came to mind that could help make everything alright. Instead, the two just sat in silence, neither willing to break it.
The opening of Orochimaru's office door revealed a slightly flustered Kabuto, his hair falling out of its ponytail, his clothing wrinkled, and his cheeks flushed a dark pink. Behind him, looking much more composed, Orochimaru towered over his assistant, the only sign something was amiss, the stray locks of hair sticking slightly to his forehead and neck.
"Dismissed, boys. See you tomorrow," he hissed, smirking lecherously. "Don't be late," he added, eyeing Naruto distastefully. Watching the other boys quickly exiting the whitewashed room, Naruto turned back to his roommate, realizing that something still had to be said. Not trusting Sasuke to break the silence on his own, Naruto spoke.
"Wow, that really sucks," he blurted out, not thinking about what he was saying. However, instead of the angered response he had expected, Sasuke smiled slightly. It was brief, but it cut right into Naruto's heart as it wasn't a smirk, but a real smile.
"Yeah, it really does," he answered, walking out the door, Naruto following closely behind, his own lips parted in an infectious grin.
Author's Note: Reviews? Also, I was thinking about focusing this story on not just the two of them, but also (to a lesser extent) the other boy's in their group therapy, or perhaps others as well. But, I need to know what you think, okay?
P.S. The more reviews I get, the more likely I am to update faster! Thanks lots, love you guys!