Comment: I don't know how. I don't. Somewhere after the fourth page, this chapter just took off on its own.

Warning: Very deep issues in this chapter. Some things may be offensive, but please see it as objective and not subjective.

Secondary Comment:

I made a playlist of the songs that the ensemble will perform. Put in the normal youtubeDOTcom/watch?v=oHTUB8fDZ4o&list=PLhOopT1DBIppKhHJ3WgZEEt_Uj8LdQr9t&index=1

The list of performances will be provided at the end of the chapter.


.

.o.

Shizuka no Sonata

Silentium Obscurum

.o.

.

Naruto's guardian pointed his eyes at him, and he found that he could do nothing more than stare at Jiraiya in a stupor. The words were lapping in his brain in circles, and the prospect of being able to hear again clouded any other thoughts, rational or irrational.

Hearing again. His mind became fuzzy, and for a moment he couldn't think. Breath bated in his chest, he closed his eyes and was thrown back in time to hear is parents speaking to him, his father playing music, the sound of the piano, a whisper in his ear telling him of love stronger than what a snowflake felt for the earth. His mother, oh, his mother singing in his ear as she encircled her arms around him tight, tighter, and his father teaching him, telling him the wonderful things about the genius Bach, who combined mathematics and sound into a fluid art.

Subtle sounds, intense sounds…

He'd been in darkness for nearly five years…

Kiba lowered his brows and kept his eyes rapt on Jiraiya. He nearly felt a physical blow to his being when Jiraiya asked that question. As thoughts began to flow at an unprecedented and erratic rate, he pressed his fingers to his eyes in an attempt to process the words that he'd just heard.

Sasuke, on the other hand, glanced suspiciously at Gaara and wondered why he was particularly present for this situation. From what he could understand, Naruto hadn't seen him for years, and Jiraiya was seemingly plotting to use him in to navigate to maneuver and influence Naruto. However, for what purpose and to what end, he could not anticipate.

The table was quiet for a while, but then Gaara spoke up, his voice a soft, calm, and a deep whirr. He also lifted his hands as he spoke, and said, "'Naruto, he asked you a question. Surely you can answer it. Do you want to hear or not?'"

Naruto tilted his head almost viciously at Gaara, and the look on his face couldn't merit words. 'How are you involved in this?' his expression asked. Just a small twitch here, and a glower there, Sasuke noted, and Naruto could convey so much with so little. Nonetheless, Naruto used his voice to ask, "How d'you posshib'y bomba'd me wiff dat kin'of quesh'ion and e'spec' a simp'e anshwer?" he asked, his voice an octave lower than usual, his tone softer, his words more properly enunciated, slow, and firm.

Even Sasuke could tell that Naruto was somewhat angry, though only a barely detectible, high-pitched voice in the back of his head could determine why. He articulated his words more the slower he talked, and like liquid crystals that changed color when responding to slight changes in temperature, Naruto's mood could easily alter the clarity of his speech. After all, this Jiraiya, this guardian of his, was offering him something that had been ripped away from him.

Jiraiya took a bite of his food and then sat straight, placing his elbows on the table.

Naruto then turned to Gaara and said, "Di'Jiraiya put y'up t'dis?"

"'I'm a free-thinking person, Naruto," Gaara responded smartly. "'I was not 'put up' to anything. Jiraiya contacted me about this a while ago, and I was more than willing to explain things to him him.'" He pointed to his cochlear implant.

"'Naruto,'" Jiraiya interjected, feeling some tension rising. "'My original intention was never to sell Shizuka na Sonata. In fact, I never intended for those entries to be compiled into a book. It was my form of coping with what happened to you—'"

It was my form of coping… were the only words Naruto heard, and he was instantly wrapping his mind around them, unable to pay attention to whatever else Jiraiya had to say. Why had he never thought about how Jiraiya coped with such a large change in his life…? He, for a reason or another, never considered how deeply this effected the man. Had he ever gone to some type of counseling…?

He could see his younger self wheeling past his guardian's office many times, stopping and seeing the man leaning over his desk, shoulders shaking. It meant nothing to him then, but it said more than necessary now.

He could see his younger self throwing tantrums. He was so blindingly angry then, devastated, lost, confused, pained. He had no other way to convey these emotions than by acting out. But what about Jiraiya?

He'd remembered a particular tantrum vividly, and he shook as he was pulled into the memory. He'd been trying to reach for something in the kitchen cupboard (he couldn't even remember now what it was) and he'd leaned to his right too far, and he and his wheelchair went crashing to the floor. In his frustration, he began screaming and flailing his arms, his legs sprawled at what would have been a painful angle if he could feel it. Why is this happening to me, he'd thought. Why god, why; just let me die; I don't want to live. It'd driven him absolutely made. He'd screeched and caterwauled like a rabid, angry thing, and in retrospect he even suspected that spittle was flying out his mouth from the uncontrollable rage and pain. And even when Jiraiya came rushing into the kitchen, bending to calm him, pick him up, he went out of his way to make the task difficult for the man, twisting his body, going limp, grabbing onto drawer handles to pull away, scratching, striking his hands—

Oh god, he'd hit and scratched at Jiraiya. Oh, he was such a terrible, irate child. Was he really that selfish? Could he really have been so self-absorbed that he never took care to consider Jiraiya's mental, physical, emotional health?

He came back to the current situation with a particularly painful kick to his shin. Blinking his burning eyes rapidly, he looked over at Sasuke, and then turned his direction back to Jiraiya when the raven gave him a scathing look.

Jiraiya sighed. "'It would really help me if you would listen to me, Naruto…'" the man said exasperatedly. He'd stopped talking a while ago, actually. The whole table had gone quiet as Naruto stared affixed at the tabletop with a lost expression; they watched as his eyes dilated and glazed and knew that he was torturing himself with a memory.

Clearing his throat, Jiraiya continued. "'I said that I felt that with the proceeds from this book, we would be able to finish paying all of those bills—hospital, rehab.'"

"Bu'…bu' my paren's lif'insurance…" Naruto murmured questioningly.

"'I told you, Naruto, that you need that money to start your new life. I won't be around forever, Naruto. I won't.'" He looked pointedly at his ward, able to say those words with confidence. He didn't want to linger on this, however, so he continued. "'You have a life ahead of you, so let me worry about what's behind you, burdening you,'" Jiraiya slowly. He then continued. "'You remember where the two of you attended JSL?'" he then asked, looking at Naruto and then Gaara.

Naruto puckered his eyebrows and nodded. Of course he did, but why bring this up?

"'Remember the incident that you read about last year, where one of the students, whose parents own a large corporate company, committed suicide?'" the man continued.

Even Sasuke did remember reading about that.

"'That girl's parents have done everything in their power to sabotage that school and blame them for the girl's death. Because of this, a few endorsers have pulled out so as to not have critical eyes on them for being connected to such a case. The school is losing funds and is floundering, Naruto,'" the older man continued.

Naruto felt involuntary tears pool at the corners of his eyes. That place had a large role in saving him, and now it was under siege? He hadn't realized it. He couldn't think of anything to say, and merely shook his head in disbelief.

"'I'm only gonna be pocketing about ten percent of the revenue from this book. Fifty percent will go to all JSL schools in the country, and twenty-five will go to research, technology, and foundations. The last bit, Naruto, is for you. Fifteen percent.'"

Naruto canted his head. "Me?" he asked, pointing to himself. "…Why?"

"'The hospital bills, the surgeries and rehabilitation that you went through…all of those things are going to be paid off completely,'" Jiraiya answered. He then said tentatively, "'And it still stands for you to be able to hear. I want to set some of that money aside for you to have surgery.'"

Naruto sat back in his chair and looked down, covering his mouth. He glanced over at Gaara, who's slightly shaggy hair barely concealed the cochlear implant. It was quite visible. When had Gaara gotten the surgery for it?

Admittedly, Naruto did some research two or so years ago about cochlear implants, but what he knew of it wasn't thorough. He was also sure that technology had changed since then. He knew some of the pros and cons of the device, though. Of course, when he'd first gone deaf from the trauma and began loosing almost all of his residual hearing in his 'good' ear over the course of the next two and a half years, he wanted to hear again. He wanted to hear more than anything.

Despite just thinking to himself merely weeks ago how much he wanted to hear the sounds of music and laughter and those subtle sounds of water trickling, or someone breathing, this prospect was so sudden, and it terrified him. The audio darkness was not welcomed, but he'd become comfortable with it.

Deafness had become a companion to him.

He didn't know if he'd be ready to take such another large step in his life right now, when so many things were starting to change for him.

Jiraiya waved his hand at Naruto. He could tell that Naruto was mulling over this so deeply right now, and he didn't want to make his ward feel burdened. When the blond finally looked over at him, he reasoned, "'Naruto, don't think about this too deeply right now. You're not in the right frame of mind with all the things that have occurred in the past day. I've just dropped a pretty big bomb on you. But I want to make sure that you and Gaara communicate about this. He's had the surgery done for a while now. I know that he's someone you trust and respect, especially because he knows more about this than Kiba or I will ever know.'"

Naruto pursed his lips and looked over at Gaara, who nodded once in agreement with Jiraiya.

"'After we eat, I expect that the two of you should talk to each other privately about this,'" Jiraiya said. "'For now, let's just enjoy the company and eat.'"

Kiba murmured unintelligibly and poked at his food a little before plopping some of it into his mouth. He certainly hadn't foreseen this. He was awed by Jiraiya's shrewdness in how he organized all of this, but he could hardly think that now was the appropriate time to bring up this subject. In the first place, Naruto had just gone through a very jarring trauma; one that could very well dictate his decision on getting the implant or not.

For another thing, Sasuke, who was currently sitting at the table and all but looking like crow amongst doves, didn't know Naruto as intimately as the other three people in this room. For a matter as important as this to brought up in front him, Kiba slightly called to question Jiraiya's judgment. It seemed like he was rushing something, like he was on some sort of timetable and couldn't stop the momentum because that would interrupt some invisible deadline.

But for Naruto to be able to hear again…

He didn't know how he felt about it, honestly. The fact that Naruto couldn't hear was not an issue for him. Yes, the way in which he lost his hearing was in itself terrible. But what was worse, in Kiba's opinion, was when Naruto stopped talking. Now, Naruto was working himself up to regaining the confidence to speak.

So in truth, Kiba didn't care whether Naruto was deaf or not. It didn't wear down on any ties that he had with his close friend; in fact it strengthened their bond and love for each other. In the end, whatever Naruto wanted, Kiba would support. Besides, as much as Kiba became annoyed with his parents, he was sure that he'd rather do with than without their presence. Naruto was missing that presence for five years now. He was sure that what Naruto wanted most was that ability to see them; hearing was second-place.

His thoughts derailed for a moment and his eyes suddenly fell on Gaara, who was staring at Naruto with such an intensity that he though the blond flesh would disintegrate.

Jiraiya sure did go out of his way to make sure that Naruto would—.

"I'm Subakuno Gaara," the lighter haired one said, turning to Sasuke. And then quite abruptly, he asked, "Who are you to Naruto?"

Kiba held his breath.

"Mm," Sasuke answered, furrowing his brows in slight amazement and barely contained horror. "We, ah—" he paused and his eyes flashed toward Naruto, not necessarily seeking permission, but letting him know that We are going to start getting this right, now. No pretenses. Just truth. So he was preparing Naruto.

"We go't' shool togefer," Naruto answered suddenly, pulling his eyes away from Sasuke, turning his head, and finally landing his gaze on his estranged friend. "My shenior." He added.

For an inglorious moment, Sasuke (and Kiba) thought, No, Naruto, no. Are you still running, lying? Do you still deny it? And then Sasuke nearly said aloud, 'He's your friend, damn it! He won't care, Naruto, he won't care. Tell him.'

But then Naruto unhinged his jaws to continue, "An'he—"

While at the same time, Gaara, who was no moron, who was partially deaf, but certainly not blind, said, "'But that's not all.'"

Naruto shook his head to agree and continued. "No. No i'sh no'. Shomehow," he said weightily, and looked over again at Sasuke, hand resting atop the table. He looked empty and yet consumed with terror at the same time to Sasuke. But then he did something wholly unexpected. The left corner of his lips quirked upward and he reached forward and connected his index and middle finger to Sasuke, giving the slightly rolled up sleeve a little tug, reassuring him. "Shomehow," he started again, connecting his blue orbs to dark gray, "He filled a foid, shafed me, n' I nee'him."

He filled a void, saved me, and I need him.

Sasuke thought he might be sick all over the table, and for once was too frozen to say anything, because he certainly hadn't expected that type of weighty admission. I saved you? He thought. No, rubbish. Naruto saved him. He never wielded the power to save anyone. That was...impossible. He became awash with a paradox of pain and what he could only call glory, the feeling swimming right behind his sternum, making the bone jump forward, backward, that he didn't realize that, for once, he flushed deeply in front of these people, but sudden tunnel vision told him that all that existed in this room was Naruto.

How could it be possible to be so engulfed with someone? Sasuke shivered, cold and lost and yet hot and claustrophobic, and his skin was covered in goosebumps, every little follicle on his body standing on end, and his eyes became heavy like a man intoxicated. So this was happiness, was it? He didn't know what else to call it, but so simple and bland and childish a word could not have meant so much in all his life.

"Mm," Jiraiya murmured. "Mm," he said again because, really, he couldn't think of anything else to say.

"I see," Gaara finally said, eyes boring into Sasuke. And then, unexpectedly, "Thank you, Sasuke."

The people that surrounded Naruto were beautiful.

To Kiba's horror, his stomach had the audacity interrupt with a rumble.

Gaara turned to him subtly and said. "'Maybe we should finish eating before the food turns cold.'" Without waiting for anyone's permission, he picked up his chopsticks and pinched some food between them, bringing it to his lips.

Everyone at the table conceded silently.

.o.

Sasuke didn't want to leave; he felt it would be a betrayal to Naruto. However, in light of what occurred the previous day, Iruka had to make changes to the program, and Sasuke would need modify his playing in order to help the professor. He was expecting a call from Iruka so that they could work out those changes, and he received it while eating (at which point he excused himself politely from the table and went to the bathroom to speak to him).

When Sasuke returned, he announced, "'I'm sorry to have to do this, but I have very important matters to attend to at the moment.'"

Naruto looked up at him. He made a simple motion—«Iruka?»—to which Sasuke nodded.

Jiraiya then asked, "Would you like take your food with you?" He stood. "I'll give you some more to take home with you, in fact."

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," Sasuke answered. The food was delicious. That splendid taste of home was a specific spice difficult to emulate, rare to find. He then looked down at Naruto again. No words were necessary. The blond stood up to walk him to the door. "It was nice meeting you, Gaara," he said sincerely.

"Likewise," the light-haired brunette responded, dipping his tilted head elegantly, subtly.

Jiraiya returned quickly and handed Sasuke a nicely wrapped, two-tiered bento box. He clapped his hand lightly on Sasuke's shoulder, and said, "Thank you, Uchiha Sasuke." Simple words, but so faceted, rich in colour.

Sasuke merely gave a slight tilt of his chin to the older man. He then turned to Kiba and simply said his name as a way to say goodbye, and then he turned about to get to the front door, where Naruto was waiting for him. He slipped on his shoes and Naruto walked out in front of him, and he closed the door behind himself. The two walked toward the stairs.

"Tang'you," Naruto said. "F'stayin," he elaborated.

Sasuke shook his head; no imposition. They descended the flights quietly. He pulled out his keys when they reached the lobby. He then turned to Naruto. "Will you still come tomorrow?" he asked.

Naruto averted his gaze. Going to the tour would be torture. But he would. He nodded. "Ish I'uga gonna p'ay f'me?" he asked, words slurring again into each other seamlessly. The less he cared, the more lax his tongue. Sasuke really marveled at this. He marveled even more at the fact that ever since Naruto started speaking, he grasped onto every fluctuation, every nuance, every word that came out of Naruto like it was gospel.

"Yes," Sasuke answered before opening the door. His phone gave a ping to alert him of a new text message. He pulled it out of his pocket with a little difficulty, hands already occupied. Unrecognized number. But the message said:

I'd like to meet with you.
Privately. Sooner rather than
later would be preferable. I'm
sure you know who this is. Do
let me know when you're
available. I don't sleep well,
so an indiscreet hour isn't an
imposition.

He elected not respond immediately to the text and slipped his phone back into his pocket. They crossed the busy street to get to his car. He turned to Naruto as they reached the edge of the sidewalk, suspecting that the blond had something to say to him. He could see it in his body language.

"Sass'ge."

(More. More. He wanted to hear his name more from those lips. Why were Naruto's Ss clear when he said his name, but other times they would come out as a lisp? Did he really place that much importance on his name? Did he concentrate that hard every time he said Sasuke's name? It was glorious, painfully glorious. Every time he heard his name coming from Naruto, he felt like someone was gutting him with a meat hook. Why was Naruto so perfectly imperfect?)

"Sass'ge? Y'not lishn'n… " Naruto said impatiently, eyebrows furrowing and lip quirking to the side in a strange pout.

«Sorry,» Sasuke signed, grinning slightly.

"Hrm," the blond groused. But then he said to Sasuke, "Te...uh...Le' I'uga know 'm shorry."

Sasuke let a puff of hair come out of his nose. "'Iruka already knows you're sorry, Naruto,'" he said. "'And either way, you have nothing to apologize for. This isn't your fault.'"

Naruto shuffled slightly and then nodded, lowering his reddening eyes.

I've never seen someone with more tender and sensitive a heart. And the quality certainly didn't emasculate Naruto.

Sasuke unlocked his car and gracefully bent at the hips to put the bento box on the passenger seat. Naruto kept his eyes rapt on his raven-haired companion, stomach clenching at how fluidly he could move. He stood straight and looked down at Naruto. He placed the heal of his hand on Naruto's shoulder and his thumb brushed against a small bruise on the blond's cheek.

"Mm."

He curled the same hand to the back of Naruto's neck and pulled the blond toward him, chin perching atop the nest of blond hair. He didn't know why. He just wanted to. Needed to.

Naruto didn't move. Finally, the fingers of his lightly wrapped hand grasped firmly on the back of Sasuke's chemise.

Sasuke was coming to accept that he was the more physically affectionate of the two. He was the first to pull away, and said to Naruto, «I really need to get going. Text me. Bye.»

Naruto stepped back and Sasuke got in his car, turning on the engine. He pulled away from the sidewalk and drove off. Naruto crossed the street and walked back into the apartment.

Gaara watched from the window.

- Silent Sonata -

Kiba and Jiraiya had gone out about an hour ago, just when dusk fell, to walk Akamaru together. Naruto had become rather lethargic after they had supper from a combination of medication, energy-sapping digestion, and exhaustion of varying degrees: mental, physical, emotional. He'd fallen asleep on the couch and it was nearly two hours later. At some point, Gaara, who'd stared at him as he slept, sat down on the couch, his legs pillowing Naruto's head.

Gaara was never a good sleeper himself. He was a textbook insomniac. He found when he was a child that he liked to watch people sleep, shifting slightly, breathing heavily, eyes twitching to-and-fro under their eyelids. He was entranced when people experienced ecstasy or fright, how their dreamscape was being manifested physically. He loved watching it.

He didn't like this at all, what he was seeing from Naruto, because his friend was showing pain, terror, was writhing slightly, and humming a pained tune, fingers twitching violently. He placed his hand on Naruto's forehead and brushed it toward his hairline gently, willing him to coax him from that nightmare and perhaps place him somewhere more pleasant.

Instead, Naruto awoke suddenly, the sound coming from his mouth barely registering as human, eyes contracted to tiny pin holes.

As his eyes dilated and his vision cleared, he realized that he was staring up at Gaara, that the sensation running like rivers trickling through his hair was Gaara's fingers, and all at once he remembered how much he missed his friend.

He and Gaara had been very intimate friends when they were younger, physically attached to each other because they said very little. Both he and Gaara were nearly completely deaf, but they were both learning sign language. They had no other way to communicate with each other as they weren't fluent in this new 'tongue'. Writing bored them, so they'd learned how to speak to each other with their eyes and bodies.

"Gaara..." Naruto mumbled, reaching his fingers up and butting his knuckles against the brunet's chin, and Gaara drummed his fingers pleasantly against Naruto's scalp. Naruto's fingers then laced around his jaw and touched the tip of Gaara's left ear, grazing the sound processor curling around it. Gaara turned his head slightly so Naruto had better access.

"How doesh'it feel?" he asked Gaara.

"Honestly?" Gaara started, looking straight at Naruto so the blond could read his lips. "A little invasive." His eyebrow quirked in a rare display of emotion: irritation.

Naruto sat up finally and inspected the device closely. "Wha'doesh'it shound lige...?" he asked eyes glancing over the different parts.

«Actually very clear,» Gaara answered.

"D'you reg'et it?" Naruto asked. He always respected Gaara as a person never to lie to him. He needed to know if Gaara regretted this decision.

«Very rarely,» Gaara answered. «I can turn it off whenever I want to, so it's not like I'm forced to hear everything. Sometimes I prefer to turn it off, actually. Especially when I'm studying. Or if Temari or Kankuro are annoying me. I still hear a light buzz because my right ear isn't completely deaf, but it's like inflected white noise, so it's fine.»

Naruto nodded. Something in him pinched in longing.

«Jiraiya wanted me to convince you to get a cochlear implant. He reached out to me,» Gaara said after a while. He snorted. «That man obviously doesn't know me well.» Gaara wasn't the type of person to force his opinions on others. Not anymore, at least. «I don't particularly care what he wants me to do or what he wants me to tell you because it's your choice.»

"Mm."

«But he does care for you, Naruto. More deeply than you may know, actually. Whatever you choose, he needs to be reassured that you still value him.»

Gaara was talking about Jiraiya, but Naruto could detect that the words were being spoken to the brunet's dead uncle, who had adopted Gaara and his siblings when his father had died and the age of fourteen. Unlike Naruto, Gaara still had his siblings to cling onto; Naruto had no one.

«So you and Sasuke?» Gaara asked.

Naruto nodded.

«And how did this come about?» Gaara asked.

Naruto told Gaara everything. About how much they two of them hated each other initially; about how that changed, and he realized he didn't even know when that change had actually occurred. He was sure, actually that at times they still hated each other because they loved each other so much.

«Have you two had sex?» Gaara bluntly asked Naruto.

"No," Naruto answered. "You know...I'm no'...mm..."

«Yes,» Gaara answered, «I know.» Gaara knew this about Naruto. The blond desired affection, yes, loved the stimulation of touch, most certainly, but he'd expressed to Gaara when they were young teenagers that he didn't ever care to engage in any sexual activity.

("Am I that broken, Gaara? I know it's not normal."

"Don't ever say that, Naruto. You're not broken.")

Gaara was similar, but not completely the same, as he felt the need to relieve himself for practical purposes. However, he was not overly active in the act. Perhaps three or four times a year he would engage in sexual intercourse. He found that he slept so well afterwards for a couple of weeks, was less irritable (he was especially prone to terrible bouts of violence when he was younger, which Naruto was accustomed to) and his depressive moods were more infrequent.

«Apparently even people with your mentality will engage in sex for varying reasons. I was just curious. A lot can change in five years, as you know.»

Naruto shrugged. "Doesh'it bothe'you that he's a guy...?" Naruto asked.

«Well that depends,» Gaara answered. «These days some people label themselves homosexuals because they're following a trend, not because they are actually inclined toward someone of the same sex. Are you just trending?»

"Mos' def'ni'ly not," Naruto answered.

«Then no, it doesn't bother me.» Gaara said. «And obviously, as you two aren't in a sexual relationship with each other, it's to my understanding that your connection isn't based on the carnal desires but rather on something much more profound.»

Gaara was always so psychologically knowledgeable.

«Especially because I'm sure that Sasuke is a sexually active person,» Gaara added.

Yes, it's true, Sasuke is. But how did Gaara know...?

«It's in his eyes,» Gaara said, answering Naruto's silent question. «I can see it. He wants you.»

Naruto didn't know how to feel about this.

«But he's suppressing himself. So it's obvious that you two have something else going for you.»

There was a weight that settled in Naruto's stomach.

Gaara's phone vibrated. He was receiving a text. It read:

I'll be available at 10:30. We
can meet at my place or
somewhere else, but a good,
private location at this time
of night is sparse.

Gaara began responding, leaving Naruto to his thoughts. The blond was staring off at the couch, and Gaara wouldn't dare interrupt the soliloquy that was most likely going through that brain.

Your place will suffice.

The next text he received from Sasuke was his address. Either way, it was already past nine. He glanced at the piano, and then at Naruto. He waved his hand in his own way, the movement barely there.

Naruto looked over at him.

«I heard that you were supposed to have an ensemble tour. With Temari and Kankurou.»

Naruto nodded. "Obfioush'y unab' to p'ay, but d'you haff time to come? We gonna go to—" these letters he spelled out with his better hand— «JSL school.»

«I'm indisposed tomorrow,» Gaara said. «With exams. Besides, if you're not playing, I'm not really interested. I'd rather wait to hear you play when your hands are healed.»

Naruto quirked his lip. His eyes had felt heavy again as they were talking. «Tired,» he said in an easy, swift movement.

«Go back to sleep, then. When or if you wake up later, I won't be here, though,» Gaara said.

«Okay.»

Naruto shuffled on the couch again and rested his head on his friend's lap, and Gaara's hand returned to his hair.

He slept better.

- Silent Sonata -

Gaara rapped his fingers on Sasuke's door. He looked around quietly at the cityscape surrounding him. This was a beautiful view. This was an expensive place, a place that required riches.

The door opened and Sasuke let Gaara in silently. The brunet's eyes connected to his solidly for a moment before he slid them into the hallway ahead of him. He stopped at the end of the hallway, to the entrance of what was a very large room lined with brick walls and wooden floors. Further ahead to his left was a piano, and in two different stands was a violin and viola. Shelves full of books on the right and back wall. A couch near the middle of the room, but closer to the bookshelves, as well as a modern, damask armchair. A coffee table completed the set. Beyond the couch and beyond the back wall was a hall that more than likely led to the bedrooms and bathroom, and beyond the right wall was most likely the kitchen.

A place that definitely required riches.

"Would you like to sit in the kitchen or in here?" Sasuke asked.

"Here is fine," Gaara answered.

Sasuke nodded. "Anything to drink? Water? Tea? Are you old enough to drink beer?" Let it never be said that Sasuke was an enabler.

"I'm 20," Gaara answered. "But I'll have tea."

Sasuke went to the kitchen to put the kettle to boil.

He came back few minutes later with a tray of tea and other paraphernalia to have with it. Gaara watched him closely. Very well mannered.

When Sasuke sat on the armchair with a bottle of water, Gaara reached forward and took his tea, then turned to the male and said with a hint of malevolence, "Well you're obviously properly trained."

"I suppose," Sasuke answered. The two of them kept their eyes connected.

"What does someone with your pomp and circumstance want to have to do with someone like Naruto?" the brunet asked brusquely.

"I don't think my stature has anything to do with Naruto," Sasuke answered.

"Hnh." Another sip. The tea was good. "What are your intentions with him?"

"Meaning?"

"You graduate in another year and half, no? And then...?"

"And then?" Sasuke asked.

"Is that it? Will have had your fun?" Gaara supplied.

Sasuke prepared for this. "I don't call what Naruto and I have as fun. I don't know about his end, but on mine, this isn't fun. It's torture." He couldn't finish the thought, because Gaara interrupted.

"Because you don't have sex?"

That he hadn't been prepared for. "No," he answered. "No."

"Then why torture?"

At this, Sasuke's eyes finally lost the battle, and he looked down. It was never his intention to show sentiment in front of anyone. "Every time I'm with him," he said, tone softer, "I'm in pain. Because of what he is. What type of person he is. I'll never be like that. And I don't know how I ever got hold of something like that."

He looked up at Gaara, and Gaara said nothing.

"I don't deserve him. That's why it's torture."

"Hnh." Gaara put the tea down and looked over at Sasuke. "You're right," he said finally. "You don't deserve him, and he is too good for the likes of you. Especially you, in fact."

Something made Sasuke want to fall apart like a used toy.

"But I suppose that that's relative because no one deserves Naruto. He's too beyond all of us," he said, more to himself than to Sasuke, eyes rolling upward. "But I know what's happened to him since I last saw him five years ago. I know everything—Jiraiya told me of what happened to him at school when he was off the wheelchair, and how it affected his speech. And Kiba told me that you're the one who's gotten him back to speaking again."

He paused, and Sasuke just sat there quietly.

"Thank you, Uchiha Sasuke. You may not deserve him, but you're above the filth in this world."

A tier above filth, was he? He'd accept that. Because sometimes he felt worse than filth when he was around Naruto.

"Naruto cherishes you. So I warn you now: be prepared for him because what you have gotten from him is not all you will get from him. But what you get from him may be all that he can give to you. And with all he can give to you, don't ask more of him."

And there, Sasuke was falling apart again, because Gaara was cleaving him in two. The strength at which their bond was tied, Gaara's and Naruto's, was enough to choke him.

He could do nothing more than accept the words with amazement. What else could Naruto possibly give to him that he already hadn't given? I don't think I could possibly take anymore, he thought. He'd be smothered, suffocated.

There were no words exchanged between the two of them for a few minutes.

Sasuke stared at Gaara and then at his left ear. He wanted to look closer. Gaara caught his glance. He shifted on the couch so Sasuke had room to sit next to him. "Look at it," he said, and Sasuke didn't hesitate before he sat next to him, leaning close, looking. And then he touched it.

Naruto's words were suddenly in his mind: There's something about Sasuke that reminds me of a little kid. He's insistent on sating his curiosity at any means. It was something I resisted at first, but now I don't mind it so much. He's invasive, but I don't think in a bad way.

"What does it feel like?" Sasuke asked, pushing Gaara's hair a little around the device connected to his cranium.

"Like an earring on my skull," he answered. And Sasuke suddenly looked at his earlobe and saw a pierced hole, but no earring. Perhaps wayward in his past, but trying to be more professional.

"What does it sound like?" he asked, the tips of his fingers whisping on the sound processor.

"Normal," Gaara answered. "Clear."

"Do you regret it?" Sasuke asked.

These were the exact questions that Naruto had asked him a just earlier. Gaara placed no significance on this, though. He gave the exact answer. "Very rarely."

"Mm. I'll have to do some more research on it later," Sasuke said. He pulled away, then sat back in the armchair. "How did you go deaf?" he asked.

"To be fair, I never went completely deaf. When I was twelve I acquired meningitis and suffered complete loss in my left ear and was down to about thirty decibels in my right ear, which is mild. I had to have corrective surgery, but it was too invasive and rudimentary at that time, and it traumatized my right ear and I went down about thirty more decibels."

"When did you get the cochlear implant?" Sasuke asked.

"When I was sixteen," Gaara answered. "About a year after I last saw Naruto."

"You met Naruto at a hospital."

"Yes. I was fifteen at that time. He was thirteen. He was about to kill himself. Wheeled himself into the middle of the street."

The words bit at Sasuke. He already knew about this, but it didn't sting any less. "The idiot," he said under his breath.

"Yes. An idiot. But I convinced him to go to JSL with me, which I'd started attending about two months before."

"So for about three years you didn't know sign language."

"Yes."

"Why?"

Gaara's eyes bored into his. "The reasons are complicated. Not something that I wish to get into."

Sasuke acceded and didn't ask any further questions in that area.

It was Sasuke's turn. When he initially learned about Gaara from Naruto, he vowed that he would thank him, and that was his exact intention to do so now. "Thank you, Gaara." The words were foreign on his tongue, but didn't feel wrong. They were genuine.

Without Gaara, Sasuke wouldn't have Naruto.

"Mm," was the response. He looked at his phone. "You have somewhere important to be tomorrow. I suspect you need your rest, with all that has happened the past two days. Don't sacrifice your performance tomorrow for the sake of a late night."

Sasuke nodded, standing. Gaara walked to the front door, Sasuke behind him, and then turned to the raven when he reached it.

"Uchiha Sasuke, trust that this conversation stays here. I have no desire to meddle in your affairs with Naruto at this point. I see your sincerity toward him. Besides, he is his own person and I cannot stop him from whatever he wants to do. Have a good night."

"Good night," Sasuke said in response as he opened the door. What else could he possibly say? The brunet stepped out and he closed the door behind him, walking back into the apartment, hands in his hair, elbows spread.

The people that surrounded Naruto were so intense.

Naruto was something else entirely, of a different world.

- Silent Sonata -

"Oh Naruto," Sakura said, her eyes red at the rims. She didn't want to touch him, feared that she would break him. Neither she nor the others saw Naruto at the hospital. By the time she'd received the text from Sasuke, visiting hours were over. When they'd planned to visit him the next day (yesterday), he was already home, and they would let him rest.

He had a bruise on his cheek and scratches on the side of his forehead, both from where he'd fallen. He also had scratches all over his arms from the grit of the bricks and the pebbles on the ground.

Sakura made a tinny noise in the back of her throat when she looked at his hands, and her tears fell. What kind of monster would do this to Naruto? Who would ever want to do this to Naruto?

"Naruto," she said again, her voice shaking, drawling out the last letter.

"Shag'a," Naruto said, tilting his head.

Her tears fell again. It was the first time she heard him say her name.

Naruto rolled his eyes heavenward and reached forward, fingers grazing her arm. "I' be fine, Shag'a. 'm no' anyone t'c'y o'er."

Sakura snapped her eyes at him, and she signed viciously, «Don't you ever say that, Naruto! You're worth all the tears to fill the oceans, okay?!»

Naruto flushed at her words. He turned slightly and saw Hinata, Neji, Kankurou, Temari, Ino, Lee, Iruka and Kurenai walking toward them. He braced himself.

The exchange was awkward at best, pathos being passed around like food over a table of estranged relatives. He was increasingly getting uncomfortable. Thankfully Iruka saved him, pulling him aside so they could speak privately.

No matter how much Naruto knew that none of this was his fault, he kept apologizing, and Iruka had to keep reminding him, "No, no, Naruto. You have nothing to be sorry for. It will be okay. Just concentrate on your recovery."

He and Naruto went back to the group, talking about preparations. Lee, Ino, and Sakura had volunteered to drive together so that they could use Lee's car to transport some of the instruments. Sakura was going to be the translator at the last school. Naruto looked at his phone to check the time. 7:45. They had about half an hour before they had to leave to make it to the first school by 8:40 so they could start their first performance by 9. They had a strict schedule to follow, and Sasuke wasn't here yet.

Ten minutes later, Sasuke did arrive and they began arranging their affairs. Naruto elected to drive with Sasuke alone. The ride to the first school was silent between the two of them. They got to the empty gymnasium and began to set up while Kurenai and Iruka spoke to the school director and vice principal off to the side.

About fifteen minutes later, the students had piled in and were sitting on the bleachers, quietly listening as the principal introduced them to the students and professors of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

Naruto sat with Lee, Ino, and Sakura. He was fine when the introduction, Hinata playing her harp. He watched her closely. He watched Neji and Sasuke perform together closely, and Temari and Kankuro. But it was when he saw Iruka sitting at the piano playing with Sasuke instead of himself that he felt the pain hitting him.

He cried silently for the next fifty minutes and excused himself for the half hour that they answered some questions from the students. Ino, Lee, and Sakura, in the mean time, put the instruments away for them so that time wasn't lost. They had three more schools to go to.

They left right after and continued to the next school, which was about twenty minutes on the highway and another few minutes through the streets (in all, the time it took for them to go from one school to the next, set up, perform, answer questions, and leave, and get to the next school, was about two and a half hours).

Naruto and Sasuke didn't speak.

At the last school that they arrived, Naruto stomach pinched. It was his old JSL school. Kiba said he would try to make it there, but it was an hour away from Tokyo (the ensemble had made their way southwest from Tokyo) and he had exams.

He stood in front of the building, Osaka City School for the Deaf. This was where Naruto went for nearly two years. While everyone else was setting up, Naruto decided to walk through the school halls, Sasuke silently a few steps behind, watching him soak in the memories. He ended up at the dormitories. He wondered if some of the younger kids he knew still attended this school, or if they'd elected, like him, to go to a public school. There were three in particular that he remembered, the youngest of them a girl of mixed heritage, like him, who had attached herself to him since the first day she met him because You are like me. I'm really not alone. We're all the same here, and I still felt different. But you're just like me.

He wondered if they were still here.

Someone tapped his shoulder, and he turned. He thought it would be Sasuke.

«Naruto?»

Tears sprang to his eyes.

"Gonohama'u," he said softly.

The younger teenager latched on to him tightly, and he couldn't help but gasp because his torso still hurt. But he wrapped his hands as best he could around the fifteen year old. Konohamaru pulled away from him.

«What happened to you? How've you been? Where've you been?! Who's that guy?» He then gasped vociferously. «Are you with the school that's playing the music for us soon?!»

Sasuke smiled at the exchange, unable to help himself.

Konohamaru looked over at the raven. «Are you deaf too?»

"'No,'" Sasuke answered. "'But I know sign. For the most part, at least.'"

"Waaah," Konohamaru said aloud in amazement.

Naruto canted his head at Sasuke and twitched it in their direction, inviting him to come closer. Strange, it was, that as a deaf person, he would need someone who could hear to translate his words into sign for him due to the circumstances.

"'m sho'y. I wash'n'n agshiden' th'oth'day, sho I can' pe'fo'm," the blond explained. "I wa'sh'posh' t'p'ay piano."

Sasuke listened closely to Naruto, and then signed for him. Strange, it was, that as a person who could hear, he would need to translate his words to a deaf person from another deaf person. «I'm sorry. I was in an accident the other day, so I can't perform. I was supposed to play piano.»

«Shit happens,» Konohamaru replied, to which Naruto grinned.

Two girls were passing by the three of them, and they both shyly turned to each other and giggled madly, hands flying up in a flurry of signs, the words 'so cute' and 'gorgeous!' and 'so excited' at the tips of their fingers. They were such normal teenagers.

Sasuke was amazed. His phone pinged. A text message from Sakura.

You two need to get over here

now! Iruka wants you back!

Sasuke turned to Naruto, holding up his phone.

«We should go!» Konohamaru said. Naruto learned, on the way to the gymnasium, that Udon had moved to Hokkaido, and Moegi moved to England, but that the three of them still stayed connected.

.o.

The difference between these children and the students from the other three school was that these ones weren't quiet when they entered. The large gymnasium was buzzing with sound, some unintelligible, some words slurred out in excitement, like birds chirping on a forest. It was packed with about 250 children as young as four to others as old as 18 sitting on specially made seats that only this school had. Each seat had a device under it that transmitted sounds to vibrations.

Some of them said aloud or by sign how gorgeous the girl one with short black hair was. Others, No, the one with the long blonde hair! Yet others, Handsome! Cute! Oh my goodness, this is the best day ever! Hot!

They were taking pictures and giggling and blushing and pointing and shyly putting their hair behind their ears, and the boys were trying to act cool and mature to impress some of the college girls.

They were all so normal. Typical youths. They just couldn't hear.

The school principal was introducing the students to the ensemble, and then to Naruto.

«He was a student here for two years!» the principal said, and the kids cheered, their hands waving in the air to clap silently. «He is a pianist at his school! Mr. Uzumaki has something he would like to say to us.»

Naruto had prepared a speech days ago, and had asked Sakura earlier to translate it for him.

"'Unfortunately,'" Sakura started speaking aloud for the benefit of those who could hear, "'Circumstances don't allow me to speak to you directly. I was in an accident two days ago so I can't sign. What I have to say isn't much, and it isn't long. It's simple.'" Sakura had to brace herself. "'We won't always be here, together, in this sanctuary that can chase away the darkness. When you're out there, don't let anyone tell you you can't, because you can. Don't think that you won't, because you will. If you fall, get up. We can do whatever we want. Look at me. I'm still learning this every day. Even as I'm talking to you, I'm still learning this. We can do whatever we want. Don't just dream; do. Make the unreality a reality.'"

They cheered and their hands waved in the air again.

After thanking Naruto and Sakura for the words, the principal gave Iruka and Sakura the floor. This particular gymnasium had specially built flooring and walls so that the acoustics were well felt, but Naruto was more excited about the chairs, which they didn't have when he was attending the school. There were microphones for all of them to play in front of, which would transmit into sound systems situated under the seats.

Hinata started with her piece for the harp, and the children went silent. Sasuke watched, and again found himself amazed and how they wriggled on the seats in excitement, some looking at each other, some closing their eyes, some throwing their hands up in signs, some making noises.

Hinata cried when she was finished and went back, and Iruka, choked up as he introduced the next song, continued the program. Each piece a more wonderful experience than the last.

When they were done with all of the performances, the children had so many questions, but mostly they wanted to touch the instruments, to feel them physically. Naruto took one of the little ones and placed her hands on the sound board of the harp as Hinata plucked a few beautiful notes. That little girl was so happy, letting out little sounds, thanking Hinata over and over.

Some laid their hands on the piano like it was holy relic, and Naruto, with his better hand, played some notes, some chords, never minding the pain in his wrist.

Kankuro had a few at a time clasping their hands on his cello and he drawled out a few notes. Sasuke and Neji showed a few of them how to play the viola and violin, positioning it under their chins correctly, guiding the students as they stroked the bow across the strings and pressed their left fingers down to make notes.

Some of them wanted to take pictures alongside the college students, two boys flanking Temari and throwing up their index and middle fingers in the classic 'peace' pose.

They stayed for about an hour and a half before the children had to retire to their dormitories to study or to eat, and some of the students cried as they had to leave.

"I don't th-think I'll ever h-have a better experi-experience in my life. I am complete," Hinata said as she closed her case.

"I'd have to agree," Temari said. "Gaara never talked much about this school. Mostly about Naruto," she finished.

Sakura and Ino talked to the principal to learn about ways that they could become art teachers, what steps they had to take, and he gave them his business card so that they could contact him in a year or so for summer activities. Lee jokingly mentioned teaching martial arts and to his surprise was told by the gym teacher that they were trying to incorporate more of those things as extracurricular activities. They had an interview set up for a month from now, and he had the prospect of teaching twice a week at the school if all went well.

- Silent Sonata -

Sasuke was stopped at a light, fingers drumming on his steering wheel. He turned to Naruto and said quite abruptly, «So how do you feel about hearing again? After today?»

Naruto hummed. "I hafto a'mit...Up un'il reshen'ly, I fough' abou'i again n' again."

«Oh?» Sasuke signed as he released the brake.

"Mmhmm. Shometime I wanna hea'. Bu' I fink I'm gomfor'ble now."

«Good.» Sasuke said.

"Sass'ge. Whadd'you fink I should'do?"

Sasuke pulled the car over and looked over at Naruto. "'I can't tell you that, Naruto. That wouldn't be fair.'"

"I fee'lig... I'be bechraying what'I'begome," Naruto said, fingers twisting around a lose string on the button of his shirt. "Righ'now...I'm in luff wiff de worl' I shee when I c'ose my eye and lishen wiff my body. I fink dat if I hea'gain, I won'be ab' to 'pprecia' i'the way I do now."

"'Okay then. You don't have to decide now. Maybe in five or ten years, you'll want to hear. Whatever you decide, just don't regret it.'"

"Mm," Naruto agreed. He then chuckled, and Sasuke silently asked him what he found so funny. "I wanna hea' you'foi', Sass'ge."

Naruto placed his hand against Sasuke, fingers wrapping around his neck. "Say sumfin."

"I don't know what you want me to say," Sasuke said. "I enjoyed myself today." Naruto's eyes closed. He was now talking to himself. "Those kids in Osaka were the best audience I've ever played in front of. Naruto, you've given me so many things and I don't know what I can possibly give back to you. I don't think I can take it anymore. It's stifling, but I can't get enough of it. I never want—"

Naruto opened his eyes and smiled, pulling his hand away. "You' foice loo's deep. I c'n see't, but shometime I wanna ashully hea' it. Bu' I know I'. You dun' haff mush inf'e'shun. I's s'agnan."

It was stunningly accurate. Yes, Sasuke had a deep voice, and it was rather flat, devoid of much modulation. Stagnant, just like Naruto described.

"I lig'it," Naruto said. "I's lig...a shtep abofe th'shilensh. Lig... if I c'ose my eye, you'foice's lig an ene'ge'c frien' of the dar'ness."

Sasuke felt sick.

It's like a step above the silence. Like...if I close my eyes, your voice is like an energetic friend of the darkness.

It was words like these that tortured him.

"Sass'ge?"

He wanted to be connected to him forever.

"Sass'ge?"

He pulled Naruto toward him again and pressed his face into his hair. He didn't want Naruto to change. Naruto was the embodiment of perfection.

.

.o.

.


Comment: Just a little more.

Performances:

Hinata Godefroid - Etude de concert op. 193
Sasuke & Neji Handel-Halvorsen - Passacaglia
Temari & Kankuro
Astor Piazzolla - Oblivion
Sasuke & Naruto
Ralph Vaughan-Williams - Romance for Viola and Piano
Hinata
Jacques Ibert - Harp Fantaisie from "Six Pieces"
Naruto
Philip Glass - Opening
Neji & Kankuro
Apocalyptica - Nothing Else Matters [unable to find a good cover with just one cello and one violin, so use your imagination]
Sasuke Bach - Ciaccona
Temari & Hinata HarpSong - The King of Fairies
Kankuro & Naruto Arvo Paart - Spiegel im Spiegel

Yes, I realize that in the previous chapter, Naruto was going to play five piano pieces, however, Iruka had to, once again, modify the programme.