A/N: How sad is it that I chose to be alone this year for Christmas? It feels strange that's for sure.
Anyhow, YULETIDE GREETINGS! *waves chapter*
Naruto had been watching Harry carefully since they had visited the gamekeeper the night before and discovered exactly what Katie's friend had said about the mysterious necklace. It hadn't been particularly useful knowing where she had collected the parcel from and that just made the matter even more frustrating. Despite what some people thought about him, Naruto could actually be quite perceptive sometimes. He supposed hanging around Sasuke for so long had forced him to learn how to read people better. Something was on Harry's mind.
So when evening came, he hung back with Harry in the common room as first Hermione and then Ron left for the dormitories. The boy barely noticed his presence, entranced, as he was, by the flames dancing in the fireplace. Naruto touched his shoulder and Harry started in surprise.
"Something's bothering you," the ninja stated.
Harry stared at him for a moment. "Of course it is; one of my teammates is lying in the hospital wing."
"It's not just that."
If he doubted his own words the look on Harry's face as he turned back to the fire soon changed that. Worry and frustration battled across his features.
"No..." Harry said slowly, glancing around to make sure they weren't in danger of being overheard.
His caution only ignited Naruto's curiosity further. Harry seemed to be weighting up whether he could trust Naruto with his thoughts.
"You have suspicions about the necklace?" He prompted gently.
Harry's gaze shot straight back to him. "How did you...?"
Naruto shrugged. "It is a suspicious incident."
In reality his guess had more to do with the fact that he had spoken to Sasuke this morning. The other shinobi had been anxious to discuss what Naruto had found out the night before. Naruto was unsurprised to learn that Sasuke had tracked his chakra signature to the gamekeeper's hut. But Sasuke had been as frustrated as Naruto with the lack of information.
"You mustn't repeat this to anyone, got it?"
"I might need to," Naruto replied honestly settling himself on the floor in front of Harry.
"Who, Sasuke?" Naruto nodded, slightly surprised; apparently Harry was rather more observant than he had given him credit for. "I don't see why you trust him so much, but I trust you... so okay."
Naruto smiled, pleased that he had earned Harry's trust. "Thank you," he said, and meant it.
"Whatever. Anyway I reckon Malfoy might have something to do with it. And I'm not just saying that because we don't get along; you know he's been up to something all year."
"You think he's trying to kill you."
"No!" Harry snapped, quickly defensive. Naruto raised an eyebrow and Harry coughed, composing himself. "Voldemort wouldn't give him a mission like that, since I'm pretty certain he wants to do the deed himself and I don't think Malfoy would kill me just for kicks."
"You don't know that," grumbled Naruto, who still didn't like the fact that Sasuke seemed be kindling a strange friendship with the boy. "Or maybe Voldie's gotten bored trying to do it himself."
Harry quirked him a small smile. "Maybe, but unlikely. Draco isn't a murderer."
Naruto noted the use of the Slytherin's first name with a frown.
"You don't really hate him do you?"
"Of course I do, he's a total git!" Harry's voice held conviction but he couldn't quite look Naruto in the eye.
"You're a terrible liar, you know that." Harry looked annoyed so Naruto added, "That's not an insult. Anyway I wasn't asking whether Malfoy is a git or not since I don't really think that's up for debate. Just look at Sasuke; he's an absolute bastard but that doesn't stop me loving him."
Harry looked down at him in shock. "Love?"
Naruto nodded, unsure of why he was sharing this with the boy, except he felt it might help in some small way. "Sometimes that line between love and hate is ridiculously fine.
"When we were younger I think everyone believed we really did hate each other. Even later on I think Sasuke mostly just hated me because he ran off to go play at being evil and I refused to let him. It wasn't just play fighting back then, he put a hole clean through my chest, right here."
Naruto placed his hand to the right of his heart.
"H-how... How are you still alive?" Harry looked stunned at this sudden honesty; the ninja had all been very cagey about their pasts since they had arrived.
"I have some rather... unique qualities," said Naruto, abruptly worried that he had said too much. "You can't tell anyone about this, Harry. I'm telling you because I reckon you can keep your mouth shut, okay?" Harry nodded. "Good... and you mustn't think badly of Sasuke either, life messed him up in its own crazy ways."
From the sceptical look on Harry's face Naruto knew he'd find this last request the hardest.
"Trust me, I got my revenge." Naruto smiled brightly but his eyes were sad.
"How can you... love him?" Harry seemed to stumble over the words and Naruto saw that it was difficult for him to talk about this topic.
Naruto took a moment to think the question through.
"Love doesn't need reasons does it? But I guess... he needed me to love him. I'd always known he needed a friend and was determined to be that for him and then love just sort of... happened."
"I don't think Malfoy needs any more loving. He's surrounded by people ready to do his bidding," said Harry bitterly.
"That's got nothing to do with love. Sasuke reckons Malfoy could do with a real friend rather than those thugs he's got hanging around."
Harry was quiet for a long moment, staring into the fire again.
"You trust him, don't you?"
"With my life."
"Trust doesn't 'just happen'," said Harry sadly.
"No," Naruto agreed, his face sober. "He had to earn my trust once he came home. If there's one thing Sasuke is, it's patient. He never pushed me to accept him and I'm glad. Despite the fact that I had confessed my feelings for him, I was not really ready to have them returned. We rebuilt our relationship very slowly and over time I began to trust him, as did most of the other ninja."
"'Most' of them?" Harry queried tentatively.
"There were some who doubted the decision to promote Sasuke through our ranks. Some thought it was unwise to give him any sort of freedom fearing he would run off again. But most saw that keeping him caged would be more likely to encourage that, than prevent it. I think they trusted that I would keep him in check."
Naruto stood up with a yawn.
"We should get some sleep. I'll relay your suspicions to Sasuke but, you should know, we are keeping pretty tight tabs on him. Malfoy himself had detention yesterday so he couldn't have done anything, in person at least."
Harry nodded and stood to follow. As they headed up the spiralling stairs Harry paused, his hand on Naruto's arm.
"Thank you, Naruto, you're a good friend."
Naruto beamed at him and then, without warning, he jumped at Harry giving him a strong hug. Harry shifted awkwardly as Naruto's forearm protector dug into his shoulder.
Sasuke looked up in surprise as a student tapped him on the shoulder. He frowned for a moment while the gawky looking boy shifted uncomfortably, looking around at the green and silver hangings. Then he recognised the chakra signature.
"Naruto? What's with the henge?" he said quietly.
"Needed to talk to you, can we get out of here? I don't much like the idea of being underneath all that water..."
He glanced up at the ceiling again and Sasuke nodded and followed him out of the Slytherin common room. Naruto made for a nearby classroom but Sasuke didn't really feel like spending any more time in the dungeons than was strictly necessary. The only reason he hung around the common room in the evenings was to wait for Draco. Instead they took a path out of the dungeons, up the marble staircase and, with the help of a couple of Harry's shortcuts, into one of the more deserted areas of the castle.
Naruto recognised the corridor as the one that he had travelled along with Harry the other night. He stood by the window where Draco had sat, alone, and released the henge.
Sasuke stepped up behind him running a hand up his lover's back to his shoulder. He let his fingers twine in the soft hair at Naruto's nape and heard the young man sigh.
"Harry is bothered by where this mysterious necklace came from."
"He is not the only one."
"He believes Malfoy had something to do with it."
Naruto turned and sat on the windowsill. Sasuke pondered this for a moment.
"Does he have proof? Or is this simply because he does not like Draco?"
Naruto scowled. "'Draco' is he?"
Sasuke placed a cool hand to Naruto's cheek and tilted his face upwards. He stared long and hard into those deep blue eyes. For once they were difficult to read but Sasuke saw from the set of his shoulders that he was tense and guarded.
"I thought I had your trust by now, my love."
Naruto nodded, his eyes slipping shut. "You do."
"Draco has become a friend of sorts. I told you, those mindless buffoons Crabbe and Goyle are useless. Pansy is only after his money and even Blaise would sell his own mother if it was worth his while. He is in need of friends."
Naruto smiled at him and placed a hand on his partner's chest. "Why Sasuke I do believe you've grown a heart."
"Hn... I think you're rubbing off on me."
"About time too."
Sasuke relaxed as Naruto pulled him into his arms. Naruto was tired, they all were; stranded in a foreign country, waiting around for threats to reveal themselves. Sasuke felt impatience flare through him and he knew the others must feel the same. And Harry thought Draco knew something did he?
"Why does Harry suspect Draco?"
Naruto sighed into Sasuke's robes. "You're right, he has no proof, but the boy's instincts are good. We all know Draco is up to something and it's unlikely to be anything good." He paused, unsure of how much he should reveal of what he had gleaned from Harry. "Harry is worried about him. They may be rivals but he doesn't want to see Draco in real trouble."
Sasuke nodded slowly and Naruto knew his choice of words had not gone unnoticed. He and Sasuke were 'rivals' after all.
Naruto pulled himself up, taking Sasuke's hands in his own. Beautiful, dark eyes watched him steadily, long lashes fluttering as Sasuke blinked slowly. Naruto wondered when exactly he had earned such trust from the proud Uchiha. It already seemed to have existed when Sasuke had consented to come back to the village. Maybe it wasn't so strange, after all he, Naruto, had never done anything to betray Sasuke. Still, Sasuke had been betrayed by Itachi and since then he wasn't the sort to trust easily.
"Why do you trust me?"
"You are a trustworthy person," Sasuke answered evenly.
Satisfied with his answer Naruto leaned forward and brushed his lips against Sasuke's sharp cheekbone. First one side and then the other, lingering to savour the subtle warmth of his skin. He continued to place delicate kisses along his jaw and down his neck pausing at Sasuke's collarbone to take in his partner's scent. That unique scent the only Sasuke possessed.
He thought he felt the Kyuubi stir and knew, it too was enjoying seeing the Uchiha so docile. Ever since Sasuke had entered his mind the Uchiha's smell in particular had had a peculiar effect on the beast.
Naruto nuzzled his lover's neck and Sasuke tilted his head allowing him better access. His hands had moved to grip broad shoulders as Naruto's settled at the small of his back. Sasuke shivered when Naruto's mouth moved upwards and his tongue darted out, caressing the shell of his ear. When the Gryffindor boy took the lobe between his lips Sasuke tightened his grip, afraid his knees might buckle.
"I love seeing you like this," Naruto breathed. "It gets me every time."
They leant against the window pane and exchanged long kisses and unhurried touches. Whatever Sasuke said about Naruto being a trustworthy person, it had taken a long time for them to be together like this and these moments were still rare. Right now they were together completely, open and honest.
Out on the frozen lawn an intruder watched the duo with interest, through vivid Sharingan eyes. An unusual pairing he thought. He pondered for a moment the effect it might have on his plans. He frowned; it shouldn't change anything but still... it would prove to be troublesome if Sasuke were too devoted to this boy. He wished, not for the first time that Konoha had not allowed the Uchiha to join their ANBU ranks, the secrecy surrounding the sect had made it difficult to keep an eye on him, but perhaps that had been their plan all along. Turning away, the dark figure disappeared from the castle grounds in a flurry of snow.
Sasuke strode through the school, on his way back to the common room, full of purpose. It was late by now and the corridors were deserted. He had stayed with Naruto for a long time; Draco should be heading back soon. Sasuke stationed himself in an alcove near the entrance to the Slytherin common room, hidden in the shadows.
After what felt like an age of waiting he began to worry that Draco had turned in early. Just as he began to formulate a backup plan that involved kidnapping the boy from their dormitory he heard uneven footsteps. The shuffling gait made him think of the school caretaker but Filch rarely ventured into the dungeon levels.
Sure enough, as the footsteps neared, Sasuke spotted his housemate. Draco looked exhausted and Sasuke had to push away pity as he dragged the boy forcefully into the alcove. Draco struggled briefly but his efforts were weak and he gave in quickly, giving Sasuke a tired glare. He was dishevelled and bore little resemblance to the immaculately turned out young man that Sasuke had observed at the start of the year.
"Where have you been?"
Draco scoffed and muttered something that sounded like "Nosy bastard!"
Sasuke tightened his grip on Draco's wand arm and leant in closer, crowding the boy.
"If you won't tell me willingly I can always resort to less savoury methods to extract the information from you, " Sasuke hissed, letting his eyes bleed red.
A flicker of fear crossed Draco's features before his eyes went abruptly blank and he jutted his chin proudly. "Try it! I dare you," he spat.
Never one to back down from a challenge Sasuke summoned the Mangekyou Sharingan into his eyes, feeling them burn as his irises changed. Draco met his gaze stubbornly and... nothing happened. Sasuke felt a shock as his doujutsu hit the impenetrable block on Draco's mind.
Relief crossed Draco's features when he realised his mind was safe. He sneered at Sasuke. "Ha! I knew that would stump you. Never come across an Occlumens before, have you?"
Sasuke let the Sharingan retreat from his eyes and made a note to look up the strange term. For now though...
"I have other methods of making you talk."
Sasuke felt the boy's pulse in his wrist speed up as he pressed a kunai to Draco's neck. He was staring at Sasuke as though he were, only now, seeing him for the first time and Sasuke supposed he was. They were crossing a line here, with Sasuke revealing his intentions. Draco would not mistake him for a Japanese ambassador again. Sasuke was already considering the measures he would need to take if he did not discover Draco's secret tonight. Could he make the boy forget this encounter if his Sharingan was being guarded against?
"Y-you're insane!" spluttered Draco, attempting to shrink away from the kunai into solid wall.
Sasuke shifted his grip from the boy's wrist to his hand. "I will break your fingers one by one until you tell me exactly how and why you are planning to murder Harry Potter."
Draco looked shocked at this. Sasuke considered whether he looked, perhaps, a little too shocked. He took one of Draco's fingers in his hold, jolting him into speech.
"Murder Harry? Merlin's beard! That's not... what the..?" Draco gaped at him for a moment before Sasuke's dangerous grip on his finger forced him to attempt composure. "I am by no means intending to murder Harry Potter, you absolute lunatic!"
"Then what is you've been up to all year that keeps you so busy?"
"That is none of your business!" Draco's voice cracked as Sasuke pressed the kunai closer.
"You can hardly expect me to believe that you don't mean Potter harm then, can you?"
Draco's face was anguished now. "I would never hurt him! You must trust me!"
"I didn't think trust was in the Slytherin vocabulary," Sasuke replied scathingly.
"Well neither is love!"
The pair of them stood frozen, pressed against the cold stone. Sasuke's mind processed Draco's words, furiously turning them over in his mind while the angry flush drained from Draco's face to be replaced with a ghostly pallor as he realised what he had just let slip.
"I... I mean..." he tried in vain but Sasuke interrupted him.
"You love him," he said simply.
Draco was panicking by now. "No! Of course... I mean... no... Oh I don't know!" he cried in frustration. "It's complicated... difficult to know. But I don't want him dead, that's for damn sure, so will you please unhand me!"
Sasuke cautiously stepped back, placing his kunai back in a concealed holster. Draco gave the blade a last curious look.
"Who are you?"
"I can't tell you that, especially as I still regard you as a suspicious person."
"Speak for yourself," said Draco giving him a contemptuous once over. "Does Dumbledore know he has an armed madman running around Hogwarts?"
"Yes," Sasuke answered shortly.
"Typical, that old codger." Draco looked thoughtful for a moment and Sasuke felt the regret over his actions rising. "So you're here to protect precious Harry Potter then? I'm guessing your Japanese friends are in on it and... bloody hell, that new teacher too?"
Sasuke didn't answer, he knew nothing he could say would prevent Draco from knowing the truth now. He had said too much.
"Were you ever actually my friend?"
Sasuke looked up in surprise; he hadn't been expecting that.
"Yes. I still consider you my friend, although I expect you no longer feel the same."
Draco scowled at him. "What sort of friend spies on and threatens the other?"
"It was necessary. I'm afraid I am not allowed to tell you any more than that."
"No I don't suppose you are. Then you should know I am also not allowed to share details with you, all I can say is that I have no intention of harming a hair on Harry Potter's scarred head."
"Then we are in agreement?"
Draco nodded slowly. "I'll keep your secrets, if you'll keep mine."
A/N: Okay, wanna take a guess at who's standing out in the snow? I'm planning the reveal for next chapter but it might take a little longer than this one. Not two years I hope... ^^; Thank you, by the way, everyone who still reads and reviews this story, I really appreciate it!