A/N: ugh. UGH.

I know.

All right folks, here's the deal with this fic. Pretty much, from here on out, I'm forcing myself to write it, just to finish the story. To be honest, I'd rather wait until my love for it is rekindled, but with the planning having been erased (TWICE T_T), and just the general loss of inspiration, I don't see that happening any time soon, if ever. I AM going to finish it because 1) this story, itself... it holds a lot of personal importance to me 2) ...i feel awful, leaving all the people who love it hangin 8( 3) AshiEiketsu will strangle me if I don't.

But you have to understand that my writing style has changed, my characterizations have changed, and I have to write this thing now by the vague outline that's constructed in my head since the concrete one has been obliterated twice already. It's tough, and I don't like it, but I'm gonna do it *puts big girl panties on*

I apologize in advance for the writing, it's going to seem lacking and less.. in depth as the previous chapters *wallows* Like I said, I'm kinda forcin' it now, nothing spectacular ever comes out of that =~= Until (if) the love for this story comes back to me, I'm just doin it to DO it *cryyy*

AND OH GOD, AN INFINITY OF THANK YOU'S TO ENCOURAGING REVIEWERS TuT besides Ashi, reviews telling me how much this story touches people, how many are still enjoying it, they're the only things that make me drag my ass over here and even attempt opening up this document.

Thanks C,:

Chapter 14: Broken Love

Naruto slowly turned his glass of water round and round as he leaned against the kitchen counter, the gradual movements a striking contrast to the way his heel tapped repeatedly against the tile floor. His free hand was pressed against his forehead, which was pounding with the strength of hammers on his skull.

Naruto couldn't shake the image from the last night, the feeling of Sasuke's arm wrapped so tightly and securely around him. The gesture had made his stomach twist with shame, and yet it also had his words caught in stutter and reluctantly, had calmed him enough to stop crying.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Naruto muttered under his breath, his hand pausing in its turns. He sighed shakily, a visible shudder running through him as he recalled the feel of Sasuke's mouth pressed into his hair, whispering words of comfort to him.

Naruto's eyes dimmed slightly, his grip tightening around the mouth of the glass. "Who the hell are you trying to be?"

A soft gasp sliced through his thoughts, tugging his gaze to the kitchen entrance where he saw Sasuke standing with Sakura, her arm looped through his as his hands rested inside the pockets of black slacks.

An awkward silence filled the room as Naruto's eyes remained locked on the pair, his hand slowly sliding away from the glass as he gradually stood up to his full height. He swallowed thickly before tipping his head. "Good morning," he murmured.

Sasuke stiffened when Sakura suddenly pulled away from him, taking a few steps forward. "Good morning, Naruto, I didn't know you were down here yet."

Both men in the room utterly froze.

Sakura crossed her hands in front of her and smiled pleasantly at Naruto, waiting for a response to her greeting.

But for a longer span of time than anyone could feel comfortable with, nothing happened. Naruto remained with that shell-shocked expression on his face, while Sasuke stood behind Sakura with his lips parted in astonishment.

Naruto, still at a loss for words at the warm greeting – from a sober Sakura no less – chanced a glance at Sasuke and found him with his attention on the floor and his lips closed and pressed in a straight line, jaw in a tight clench. He quirked a brow at the Uchiha and looked back to Sakura, quickly disregarding the other boy as he put up an unsure smile. "Uh," he mumbled and cleared his throat. "Thank you, Haruno-sa-"

"Sakura-chan," Sakura interjected, making Naruto start. She pushed a bang out of her eye and looked to her side with a small smile. "Sakura-chan is fine, Naruto," she murmured, looking back at him.

Naruto's face flushed. He nodded his head slowly and tried to ignore the skipping beat of his heart.

Sasuke grit his teeth, his gaze flitting to Sakura's back. Tch, I suppose you were serious when you spoke of being kind to him.

Sakura sighed and laced her fingers behind her. "Ino and I are going to shop for my wedding dress; Belarmina and Kira are coming along as well." She looked back to her fiancé. "And Sasuke-kun is off to buy his tux, right?"

Sasuke agreed quietly and Sakura nodded. "So, you'll have the house to yourself for a little while, and we'll see you later."

Naruto opened and closed his mouth repeatedly, not saying a word until he finally sputtered out a small and confused "okay."

Sakura closed her eyes with a bright smile and grabbed Sasuke's hand before tugging him back out the door.

When the door to the front opened and closed, Naruto dropped to the floor, breathing heavily. "What the hell just happened?" he rasped, sliding fingers through his hair.

Why had Sakura been so nice to him? He racked his mind for an answer to this question, but the only imagery it provided was a flash of Uchiha.

It had to be Sasuke's doing. Nothing else had changed; there was no reason for Sakura to be behaving any differently than she usually did. Sasuke had said he wanted Naruto to forgive him, to like him, perhaps he had somehow persuaded Sakura to change her attitude in order to appease Naruto.

Naruto's head snapped up when the kitchen door opened once more and Sasuke stepped inside, black eyes flicking warily before spotting and settling on Naruto on the floor.

Naruto's gaze narrowed at him. "What did you say to her?" he breathed in an accusing manner.

Sasuke's brow crumpled. "Why are you on the floor?"

"Tell me what you said to her," Naruto demanded, disregarding Sasuke's question entirely.

Sasuke sighed and walked up to him. "Do you honestly believe I'm the one who made her act that way?"

"There is no other reason she would," Naruto pressed.

Sasuke sniffed and closed his eyes. "I didn't say anything to her. She's very upset about your plans to leave, and believes that being kind to you will make you stay."

Naruto flinched, his eyes dropped to the floor and he caught his bottom lip between his teeth in guilt. That much? He thought in disbelief. Sakura wanted him to stay so badly that she was willing to just let everything go?

The pounding in his head suddenly returned with such force that, had he been standing, Naruto had no doubt that it would have made him stagger. So that's what it is, his mind whispered. Like the gunshot that starts a horserace, or the piercing whistle that signals the departure of a train, Sakura was desperately trying to place her bets, catch her car before she was left in the dust.

Unfortunately, Naruto was already far, far ahead of her. Aiming for his goals. And although he loved her, he would not allow her to make him lose sight of them. He could not let Sakura clap a hand over his eyes and have him pretend that everything was all right, because it wasn't. It never would be, not while he was here, a fact he came to terms with last night under the rain of arrows that took their disguise in Akio's words.

He knew he had to leave, but he couldn't seem to get himself to feel any less guilty for doing so.

Sasuke opened his eyes and frowned at Naruto's deep contemplative expression. He held one of his hands out to help the servant up from the floor.

Naruto felt fingers brush along his temple, which jerked him from his thoughts, and he quickly smacked Sasuke's hand away. "I thought you were leaving," he said sharply while pushing up to his feet.

Sasuke watched him stand up and smiled slightly. "I wanted to speak to you, and I had to wait until Sakura left to do that."

Naruto sent him a look, to which Sasuke simply chuckled at and stuck his hands back into his pockets. "I won't bother you for long."

"You lied to her."

"I didn't, I am leaving soon, like I said I would. But what I wanted to discuss with you would not be appropriate to do in front of her, especially since Akio still wants us separated."

Naruto's fingers curled into his palms at the mention of Akio. He exhaled quietly and looked off to his side. "Speak to me about what?" he whispered.

Sasuke moved closer to him, pressed his side against the counter while leaning on one elbow. "Last night-"

"What about it?" Naruto snapped, refusing to look the other boy in the eye as a flush rose to his cheeks.

Sasuke continued, softly, "I wanted to ask if you'd like to tell me what had you so…distressed."

Naruto tucked his chin into his chest, glowering. "Like everything else that has to do with me, it's none of your business."

"Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?"

Naruto grit his teeth. "Go away, Sasuke."

Sasuke tilted his head. "Really in such a hurry to send me off to buy my wedding garments?"

"Go to hell!" Naruto hollered, spinning to Sasuke with a balled fist. "You know exactly how I feel about your marriage," he growled.

"And yet by sending me off to make the wedding hasten, you contradict those feelings, ne?"

Naruto's eyes darkened, his fist lowering as he settled for glaring at the other man. "Stop it."

Sasuke sighed and pushed off the counter, turning fully to Naruto. "Look, I'm not trying to upset you. I just want to know what happened."

Naruto snorted, crossing his arms. "Why are you pressing this?"

"Because," Sasuke answered. "I worry for…" He reddened slightly and closed his eyes. "I worry for the people I care about."

Naruto stared at him, blue eyes lightened by the hushed confession. He remained silent for a few moments, contemplating both his own sanity and Sasuke's honesty. His arms tightened against his chest as he turned away from Sasuke. "Fine," he said, "If you simply have to know, Uchiha, I…"

Sasuke listened intently, leaning a bit closer when Naruto spoke again.

"I stood up to Haruno-sama, last night." He turned his head to peer at Sasuke over his shoulder, though his gaze fell down to the floor when he caught the look on the other boy's face; a look of complete attention and concern for himself. "I told him the way he treats me, the way he's always treated me… wasn't fair. I told him what's," he paused to find a fitting word that could sum up his situation with Ruka. "Occurred, couldn't be blamed entirely on me."

Naruto uncrossed his arms and rubbed one hand awkwardly against his thigh. "I told him everything that's been eating at me for years. I told him," he scoffed softly. "And he brushed me off, claiming no knowledge of what I was saying." He turned back to Sasuke, having collected the strength to look him in the eye. "That's what happened," he said.

Sasuke felt a pinch in his chest, like a thorn had wedged itself between the walls of his heart. He couldn't help the flow of fury that gradually began to snake through is veins. "He ignored you?" Sasuke asked, his words tight with anger.

Naruto clicked his tongue and chuckled. "He's been doing it for years, why would he stop now?"

Sasuke took one step closer, stopping because Naruto stiffened and took one step back. He frowned and moved his hand so it slid up the counter until it rested beside Naruto. "Was it for nothing then?" he asked.

Naruto held Sasuke's stare for a moment, then breathed in and shook his head. "No, no it wasn't." He took another breath and glanced at Sasuke's hand. "They were feelings I had denied for a very long time, and you-" he stopped abruptly, lips pursed mid-sentence. Azure eyes flitted to Sasuke, finding him hanging onto his words with bated breath.

Naruto closed his mouth and swallowed nervously, pushing the slip up to the back of his mind. "It felt good, to accept them," he said. "It felt right."

Sasuke blinked. He'd caught Naruto's slip, but if Naruto wouldn't acknowledge it, Sasuke was not going to force an explanation out of him. Nevertheless, the news made his anger fade, replaced with a kind of warmth that he remembered feeling once when he'd won his father's praise for a good mark on one of his exams.

He had to admit, Naruto was a very strong person to overcome his learned place in this household in order to stand up to Akio. Sasuke was somewhat surprised to find himself actually feeling…happy for the servant. "You know," he murmured, lips upturning just the slightest bit, "I want to say something." He laughed softly and threaded fingers through his dark hair. "But I feel it would make me look incredibly stupid."

Naruto raised a brow, forehead crumpling as curiosity got the better of him. "What? Say what?" He froze when Sasuke's fingers, tangled in his own inky strands, suddenly moved away and fell down to grasp lightly at Naruto's blond spikes.

Sasuke gently pulled the servant close and pressed a kiss to his forehead, then let him go and stared down at him with that small smile. "I'm proud of you," he proclaimed.

For what seemed quite a stretch of time, Naruto said nothing with a dumbstruck look on his face. His gaze held on Sasuke, a foreign heat whirling in his stomach, which was becoming less and less foreign the more time he spent around him.

And that was entirely unacceptable.

Naruto wrenched his eyes away from Sasuke and shoved him back lightly. "You're right, it did sound stupid," he said dryly. Though inside, his heart was pounding, his mind on the verge of a breakdown at the striking realization that, Sasuke may very well be the first person to ever say that to him; at the realization that that whirling feeling may very well be his pride, strengthened by Sasuke's words to points he'd forgotten existed.

Oblivious to the inner turmoil of Naruto's thoughts, Sasuke chuckled once more and shrugged. "Most of the things I say and do around you usually are," he confessed.

Naruto began breathing harshly; he was too comfortable with this moment. He was uncomfortable from the pleasing level of comfort he was feeling with Sasuke right now. With this atmosphere. With this conversation. "And what about you?" he suddenly asked, the inquiry sounding startled and rushed.

Sasuke quirked a brow. "What do you mean?" he countered, slowly.

Naruto snorted and stepped closer to him, close enough so that, to Sasuke's surprise, only a few inches of space remained between them. The servant locked sight with Sasuke, their faces mere breaths apart. Sasuke wasn't entirely sure if he felt thrilled by Naruto's advancement or threatened by it. "I seem to recall you 'feeling down yourself.' Care to share?"

Threatened. It was definitely threatened. Sasuke leaned back and suddenly reached into his pocket, pulling out his keys and jingling them so they caught Naruto's attention. "I have a suit to buy," Sasuke said, smirking.

Naruto made and indignant sound and slammed a fist on the counter. "Don't change the subject!"

Sasuke swung the key ring around his forefinger and quickly clapped it in his palm, smirk remaining as he pinned Naruto with an amused look. "Would you like to come with me?"

"Answer the question!" Naruto hollered, his hand striking out in an attempt to smack the keys out of Sasuke's.

Sasuke hopped back a step, keeping his keys from Naruto's reach. "C'mon," he pressed, "I'll even let you drive."

Abruptly, Naruto's expression fell, his body slouching as the fire in his eyes died down.

Sasuke frowned and moved closer, causing Naruto to flinch and quickly put his guard back up. "What's the matter?" Sasuke asked.

"Nothing," Naruto murmured, cheeks reddening.

Sasuke stared at him, his calculating mind already piecing the situation together the same way he'd plugged numbers into formulas for school. He looked at his keys, looked at Naruto, looked to the keys once more. "Naruto," he called, coal eyes slightly widened as they flicked over to him. "You can't drive."

Naruto cringed, embarrassed.

A startled laugh tumbled from Sasuke's mouth, causing a seething glare to be thrown his way. He shook his head and began walking backwards until he pressed his free hand against the door behind him. "Come with me," he ordered softly.

"For what?" Naruto spat.

Sasuke pushed the door open and tilted his head back, mouth quirked though he said nothing.

Naruto snarled and lurched toward him. "Wipe that stupid smirk off your face! Don't patronize me you bastard!"

Sasuke ignored his order as he slipped out the door, allowing it to slowly swing back into place.

Naruto stared at the door, his muscles taut as the creak creak creak of the wood seemed to tease and call him to follow Sasuke. He stepped forward, paused, grit his teeth and stepped back. His eyes burned through the door, his curiosity growing and picking around the edges of his thoughts.

After a few frustrated, unsure grunts and an exasperated roll of his eyes, Naruto caved in and burst through the kitchen door. He ran through the dining room and foyer before tearing through the front door, which had been left open partially by Sasuke.

When Naruto got outside, his run came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Sasuke, with that same arrogant smirk, leaning against his convertible. He fought down the urge to smack his palm against his face. He knew I'd follow. "Asshole," he breathed.

Sasuke chuckled as Naruto slowly came down to the driveway, until he was a few feet away from Sasuke.

Naruto snorted and crossed his arms. "All right, you got me out here. This better be good."

Sasuke pushed off his car and stepped closer to Naruto, raised his hand and jingled his keys in front of the servant's face. "You're driving."

Naruto blinked at the clinking metal, his features shifting until his crinkled brow was smooth with awe and his lips were rounded into a small 'o.' He glanced at the ridiculously expensive foreign vehicle as his hand gradually came up to clasp around the keys.

But before he did so, the situation clicked in Naruto's mind, and he pushed Sasuke's arm away angrily. "I'm not going with you to buy something for a wedding that I obviously want no part of," he stated, about to turn away but paused mid-motion when Sasuke called to him.

"You don't have to go with me," Sasuke said, holding the keys out once more. "We'll just go up and down the street, once."

Naruto's eyes narrowed suspiciously. His focus settled on the keys, fingers twitching at his side.

He wanted to try it, badly.

"Once?" Naruto asked, hardly believing the word came out of his mouth after he'd said it.

Sasuke smiled down at him and pushed the keys into Naruto's hand. "Once," he assured.

Naruto's brow furrowed as he titled his head up to look Sasuke in the eye, his own a steely blue. But there was something faint and nearly undetectable in them, hardened but bright and alive, and it made Sasuke chuckle quietly.

This would make Naruto, if only for a moment, happy, and Sasuke felt his chest swell at that fact.

"You won't try and kidnap me again," Naruto stated, more in warning to Sasuke rather than a question.

Sasuke pushed Naruto's chin up with the tip of his finger. "In your case, I believe I'd consider it more…persuasive emancipation." He said this jokingly, but Naruto wouldn't let up on his glare. Sasuke lowered his hand and moved to the passenger side. "No," he promised.

As if that one word were a trigger, Naruto all but sprinted to the driver's side, yanking the door open and flopping down inside before stabbing the key into the ignition.

"Whoa whoa!" Sasuke hollered, thrown off by the blur of Naruto's movements. He quickly got inside and clapped his hand over Naruto's.

"What!" Naruto snapped, turning a wild gaze on Sasuke. "You said I could!"

"Dobe! This car is expensive, you have to be careful!" Sasuke closed his door and kept his hand over Naruto's, a very pleased feeling unfurling within him when Naruto didn't bat his hand away.

"I know what I'm doing, bastard!" Naruto shouted.

"Do you?" Sasuke drawled, eyeing Naruto's seatbelt.

Naruto flushed a bit. "I knew that," he muttered, using his free hand to pull the safety belt across his chest and click it into place. He tried to turn the ignition but Sasuke held firm.

"Your mirrors?" he cooed.

"I was getting to it!" Naruto quickly glanced at and adjusted his mirrors with his free hand. Once again, he tried to turn the key, and once again Sasuke held him back. "Gah! What now?!"

Sasuke chuckled. "It's not a race," he squeezed Naruto's fingers, ripping out a surprised little gasp from him. Sasuke moved in just a bit, so his breath danced over Naruto's cheek. "Driving is like…making love. It's your first time, isn't it? Take it slow and savor it, don't just rush in."

There was a thick silence, and Naruto slowly turned to glare at him. He opened his mouth and scoffed, "Like you did?"

Sasuke jerked, Naruto's words hitting him like a slap to the face.

How could he say such a thing? What did he know about making love?

Sasuke's hand fell away from Naruto's, a dejected look on his face. "Go ahead," he murmured.

Naruto's gaze held on him before he let out a long sigh and rolled his eyes. "Look… I didn't mean…" His fingers uncurled from the wheel, pointing up in explanation as Sasuke's eyes flickered to him curiously. "I mean, I know you're… trying, but you can't," Naruto stopped suddenly, his eyes narrowing at Sasuke as his hand quickly tightened around the wheel once more. "Hey wait a minute, damn it! I'm not the one who needs to apologize for anything here!" He tore his eyes away from Sasuke and violently wrenched the key forward in the ignition so the engine roared to life. "Fuck you," he muttered.

Sasuke sniggered and made a gesture between them when Naruto tried to push down on the accelerator. "It's in park, baka, put it in–"

"Shut up, bastard! I told you I know what I'm doing!" Naruto grabbed the gear and tugged it into drive.

"No reverse, Naruto! Reverse!" Sasuke hollered desperately as Naruto pushed the accelerator and the car lurched forward, nearly crashing into the wall before Naruto quickly slammed his foot on the brake and both he and Sasuke jerked back into their seats.

Sasuke's heart was thumping erratically, his hand coming up over it as he swept his tongue over his suddenly dry lips. "If you're aiming to kill me then I suggest you try a method where my car and you won't both be involved in the death count!" His eyes jolted to Naruto, widening to find the servant bent over the wheel in laughter.

"Shit!" Naruto shouted, his fists clenching as he tossed his head back and his body shook with chortles. "Shit, that was so fucking close!"

Sasuke stared at Naruto, astonished at the sound of him truly, genuinely laughing. Before Sasuke was even aware of the chuckles bubbling in his throat, he had broken into a smile and placed his head in his hands as their laughter filled the car.

"Ah, fuck," Naruto breathed through his grin, wiping a finger under his nose as he calmed down and shifted the gear into reverse. "I got it this time," he assured.

Sasuke looked up at him and placed a hand over his mouth to quell his laughter.

Naruto tilted his head slightly towards the other boy, his grin growing wider as he closed his eyes and shrugged. "You've got a nice laugh," he commented.

Sasuke's stomach roped in a million knots, not missing the soft flush that spread across Naruto's face and filled the cheeks of his own. He had a flash of that night, specifically when he'd feathered his lips over Naruto's thigh, just to hear him snort in surprise.

And Sasuke wondered if he truly didn't know what it was to make love.


Haruno Estate – 5 years ago…

Sakura quietly closed the front door to her home before slamming back-first against it, snagging her lower lip between her teeth as she slowly slid down to the cold, marble floor.

She twisted her fingers into her costume, a white gown that pooled around her feet and had frills falling off her round, bare shoulders. They hunched every few moments in time with her hushed sobs; smooth skin that had been dusted with glitter make-up shimmered under the three-tiered chandelier light. Her hair was pulled back, a ponytail of thick, flawless pink strands spilling from a jeweled hair-tie.

Sakura had been all over the house for weeks boasting about her lead role in the play; reciting her lines and making certain time and time again that her parents would come and watch her perform. Before she left this night, they had promised her, promised her they would be there as they watched her leave with Ino.

Sakura's jade eyes blurred with tears as her head filled with the image of herself walking out on stage with a breathtaking smile on her lips, one that gradually dimmed down as her gaze roved over the crowd of parents and faculty, dying completely when she realized that her own were not a part of it.

Even at the end, Ino had had to bring Sakura home, as her parents had just never shown up.

Sakura sniffed and wiped her arm under her nose, kicking off her heels in frustration.

It wasn't just the play though; there was something wrong going on this house. There were women showing up for interviews with both her mother and her father, answering questions about cleaning and cooking and things Sakura and her family had never needed help with before. These interviews were never held with her parents in the same room at the same time, because they had begun constantly arguing about anything they could get a word on, and their daughter had become a lesser priority.

As for their son, Sakura had noticed that not only had she not been speaking to him, but it seemed like no one even acknowledged his existence anymore.

The sound of muffled voices pressed dully upon Sakura's conscious and she lifted her head, eyes red-rimmed and teeth still sunk into her lip as she stared blankly at the empty air outlined by her parents' arguing.

With a tired sigh, Sakura wiped at her tears and pushed herself off the floor. She walked – mechanically almost – through the dining room, the laundry room, her feet tapping gently on the marble ground until they sank into the plush carpet of the hallway.

Her eyes fixed on the shaft of golden light spearing out from her parents' bedroom. Sakura leaned against the wall with one hand and peered inside, watched her mother on the bed sob angrily between her fingers as Akio paced in front of her in a manner that made Sakura think of a tiger restrained inside its cage, desperately circling for a way out.

"Enough, Ruka!" Akio demanded, his hand winding around one of the wooden bedposts and gripping it so tightly that it creaked under his fingers in protest."You know you have no right, being the one spilling tears here."

Sakura's eyes flickered over the wrinkles in her father's work shirt before flitting to her mother, who held the heels of her palms against her eyelids as she whispered to her husband, "What else am I supposed to do, Akio?" She sniffed pathetically and lowered her hands, looking up at him. "You won't let it go-"

"How can I?!" Akio hollered, twisting back to her. His arms flew out, the lines of his face hard and defined as he spoke tightly through clenched teeth. "How can you expect me to share the same bed with you knowing that?" His fingers curled in slowly until they had lowered to fists at his sides. "You've given me no explanations, Ruka-"

Ruka shot from the bed. "It's your fault!" She crossed her arms over her chest and sobbed once, the dark fall of her hair bleeding over her shoulders. "Everyday I've come home," she turned away from him, began to pace, " I've cooked your dinner, I've supported your work, I've made sure the children are being cared for – I've been the perfect wife!" Ruka stopped pacing and let her arms fall away from each other as she spoke to the floor. "But it's been years since you've told me so, Akio. Years since we've made love, since… anything!" She spun around, tears flooding the blue eyes under her furrowed brow, creased in anger. "It's always about your work, about your money."

Sakura felt the press of tears in her eyes. Her fingers clutched at the dress over her heart, trying in vain to keep it from breaking as she continued to watch her parents argue.

"Don't be so hypocritical!" Akio stepped in front of his wife. He lifted her chin sharply, glaring into her eyes. "Who goes out and spends that money, Ruka?" He raised his free hand, pointing at her face. "Who comes home with bags and bags of clothes and jewels and God only knows what else?"

Sakura flinched when her father threw the woman's head aside, making Ruka stumble before she caught her balance on the bed.

"Your affair with it is just as guilty as mine, but instead of coming to me like the supposed 'perfect wife' you claim to be, you run to him? To HIM, Ruka?"

Sakura bit her lip, her stomach pinched and twisted anxiously. "Who?" She whispered earnestly, as though they could really hear her.

Ruka's eyes narrowed, her arms wrapping around herself. "He's the only man who treats me with the love-"

"MAN?!" Akio hollered." Ruka he's thirteen!"

Sakura's breath hitched.

Ruka's gaze held defiantly on her husband, her jaw set in steel. "I'm sure Naruto is more of a man –"

"Don't you dare finish that sentence," Akio breathed.

"Why?" Ruka's lips twitched as her nails dug into the pale flesh of her arms." Does the truth sting that much?"

Sakura only saw the hasty cut of her father's hand into the air before she stumbled away from the door, slamming into the wall of the hallway. Her fingers tangled together nervously as her chest heaved, breath ragged and waiting and fearing and just... not believing what she had just seen.

The slap never reached her ears. There was no proof in the air or in her sight that any harsh connection of flesh had occurred. For all she knew, her father could have very well lowered his hand, her mother bleeding silent tears as she threw herself into his arms and they whispered word after word of apology. But it was silent in that hallway, and it was heavy and thick and unraveled her layer by layer until she felt she just might crumble to the floor. All Sakura knew, was that her father had just raised his hand to her mother, an image that had never once fathomed in her mind.

There was something wrong, with everything. Sakura caught her lip between her teeth as her fingernails slowly, harshly, curled into the delicate skin of her palms. The shaft of light from the bedroom made the tears glimmer on her cheeks when she turned in one sharp movement and ran back down the hallway.

There was one name they had said, and there was only one thing in this house that had not always been a part of it, not always kept it in balance.

Sakura opened door after door, her feet slapping against marble and thudding dully upon carpet; she should have called out to him but his name was caught in her throat and her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth.

Eventually, she reached his room and threw the door open, and the second her eyes caught his from his cross-legged position on the floor, the words burst with the ache in her chest. "What did you do?!" Sakura hollered.

Naruto was looking up at her with those clear, blue eyes. It had always astounded her how they could be so bright in the shadows with all the lights doused. He held the fox plush she had given him so many years ago, the pad of his thumb rubbing the small, black nose in even circles.

Sakura's eyes were flooded with tears but still narrowed in a glare, her hands clenched at her sides. "What… did you do?" she repeated slowly.

Naruto flicked the animal's nose with his nail and bit the inside of his cheek. Ruka flashed in his mind, her fingertips on his skin, petal lips atop his. The smell of her perfume wafting around him as her hair spilled over them like a curtain, hiding them from the world.

His stomach gave a nauseating flip.

"I'm speaking to you, Naruto!" Her words were strained, voice full of anguish and desperation, cracking at its edges. "Answer me!"

Naruto's hands gripped the fox as his lips fell open, but no sound came out. He could feel her patience ebbing as he searched for what to say, but there was something lodged in his throat that kept the words down. It didn't matter much anyway, they were so jumbled and unsure, and probably would have wound up as vomit all over his lap. He closed his mouth.

Sakura let out a frustrated yell and pointed outside the door, smacking one palm over her heart. "You've seen the way they've been acting, I know you have!"

Naruto's eyes shifted from hers, falling to his hands.

"But he just tried to hit her! He tried to hit her, Naruto! He tried to hit her and all they said was your name!" She was sobbing now, her gown crushed in her fingers, clawing through her chest. Naruto drew his knees up and refused to look at her.

"You don't even care!" She hollered. "What kind of brother are you?! Talk to me, damn it!" Sakura dropped to her knees and yanked Naruto with both hands by his shirt. "Why is everything so messed up?! Why are they saying your name?! What did you do?!"

Naruto didn't cry but a sound akin to a sob ripped out of him as he pressed the fox against his eyes. Sakura smacked it away and stared at him. "If you love me, you'll tell me," she whispered.

Something red hot speared through the block in Naruto's throat. He grabbed her shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. "I do!"

"Then tell me!"

Naruto's mouth went slack, his fingers slowly loosening before falling away from her. There was a moment that time simply froze, where the world shrunk down to her thin fingers curled into his shirt, and her jade eyes were held on nothing but him. Naruto savored it, memorized the curve of her cheek and the sound of her soft breaths before he let out a choked murmur, "I can't."

Sakura's gaze widened momentarily before narrowing to slits. Her hands shook and her blood went cold as she pushed Naruto away and got on her feet. Her upper lip curled in something vaguely resembling disgust as something else cracked inside of her, zigzagged and torn right down the middle. "…You can't," she said harshly. "You can't, you can't, you can't. Can't kiss me. Can't tell me why they're fighting because of you! What good are you for then?!"

Perhaps, at the time, her words were simply fueled by her frustrations, sloshing and spilling over with anguish. Perhaps if Naruto had grabbed her arm before she ran out of the room, perhaps if he had forced something, anything, out of the ache in his chest to hand to her within the offered cup of his hands, then perhaps things would have turned out differently.

But once again Naruto found himself doing nothing, and as time passed on, Sakura's words would solidify in their fury and in their blame.

Naruto swore he could feel the rumble of his world, so precariously balanced, as it tipped off its axis and simply plummeted. He couldn't shake the cold feeling that crawled along his skin, that there was no one left to catch it with open arms.


Sasuke could hear them, the faint thump of steps enter his bedroom. He kept his eyes closed and his breathing even; feigning sleep as he was certain his visitor was none other than Sakura, sneaking into her fiancé's bedroom with urges Sasuke had no inclination to satisfy.

But there was no way Sasuke could have anticipated the cold poke against his nose, which made him start and open his eyes. At first he only made out the darkened outline of the person standing by his bed, but as he blinked repeatedly, gathering the moonlight pouring in from the window, he recognized the fury of blond spikes, the bronzed arm outstretched towards him with a Popsicle offered between large fingers at its end. "What are you doing?" Sasuke rasped, his voice sleep-clogged before he cleared it. Really, not that he wasn't thrilled with Naruto's visit, but it was what, two? Three in the morning?

Naruto lifted one shoulder in a nonchalant shrug. "Giving you the time you wanted." He pursed his mouth, touching the end of the Popsicle to the tip of Sasuke's nose once more. "You like ice-cream?"

Sasuke raised a brow. His muddled, three-am mind vaguely complained that this was not ice-cream, it was a Popsicle. But he was awake enough to know better than to correct Naruto on such a stupid matter; Naruto, who had come here, to Sasuke's bedroom. That was really all that mattered, at the moment. "I don't hate it," he replied, taking the offered sweet.

Naruto clicked his tongue. "Sounds familiar," he muttered, slipping his own strawberry treat between his lips as he sat down the floor at the foot of Sasuke's bed. Sasuke cautiously slid off the mattress, lowering himself beside Naruto and crossing his legs.

Neither boy knew how long they sat in there in a surprisingly comfortable silence, simply lapping away at their Popsicles like there wasn't a care in the world, wasn't anything important enough to disrupt this quiet. And for a moment, there really wasn't. It's a strange phenomenon those broken hours in the dark morning, where it feels like these minutes are cut and set aside from the fabric of reality and time and all the anguish that comes with it.

But that was only for a moment, until Naruto gave a wary look at his companion and popped the Popsicle right out of his mouth with an annoyed, "What, what? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Sasuke continued to stare at him, and slowly pulled the Popsicle out from between his lips. "I did ask for this," he said. "I want it." Sasuke tapped a finger against his knee, his brow knit in a troubled crease across the smooth skin of his brow. "But you've been through a lot of shit because of this family, because of me." Sasuke finally looked away from him, glancing at his red Popsicle instead as Naruto watched him with a mildly interested gaze.

"If I were you," Sasuke continued, letting his mouth hang open for a moment. "I would never forgive people for treating me the way you've been treated." He said it with the utmost certainty, and looked back to Naruto, not missing the softening of his mouth, the slight open of his eyes. "It's really just… astounding." Sasuke chuckled, deep and disbelieving. "Like you're some goddamn angel."

Naruto snorted loudly, his mouth quirking into a grin as he looked at Sasuke. "You fuck a lot of people, right?"

Sasuke flinched, caught off guard by the blunt question. "I used to," he mumbled, biting off the tip of his Popsicle. "You kinda ruined it for me."

"Because a fiancé wasn't enough of a reason," Naruto drawled, feeling a flicker of annoyance in his gut when Sasuke just rolled his eyes. "Angel," he repeated dully, then sniggered. "Using cheesy fucking lines like that?"

"Tch," Sasuke closed his eyes and muttered, "No, shit like that only seems to come out around you."

Naruto chuckled before frowning slightly. He thought of what he was doing, sitting here, enjoying this, while Sakura was asleep in her bed. "M'no angel," he grumbled. "Angels don't sit around with bastards eating ice-cream."



Sasuke waved his around in the air. "These are Popsicles, not ice cream… technically."

Naruto stared at him. "…Fuck you."

They both laughed, so hard and so carefree it astonished them when they realized they could only remember laughing this way with each other. It was a discovery neither of them really wanted. It made the guilt twist in Naruto's stomach, the apprehension stir in Sasuke's, but it was there, real, so easily broken through the surface, and could not be denied.

"And you know," Sasuke said, "I think you're wrong." He held Naruto's eyes with his own, speaking with the clearest sincerity Naruto had ever heard. "I think an angel is the only kind of person, who would sit around eating ice-cream with me."

"Pft…" Naruto looked away and chuckled. "Popsicle," he corrected.

"Hn, yeah," Sasuke murmured.

Naruto laughed softly and looked back at him. The laughter died on his tongue as he observed Sasuke, who had this ridiculously pleased smile on his face. Naruto chewed the inside of his cheek and without much thought, reached up. He traced his fingertips over Sasuke's lips, painted strawberry red from the Popsicle and stretched out in a manner that should have looked far too strenuous on a stoic face like Sasuke's.

His hand fell lower, yet his eyes remained on Sasuke's, inky black in a moonlit room. He flattened his palm over Sasuke's heart, and felt his own give an unsteady beat at how erratic Sasuke's was, despite how calm he seemed on the outside. Naruto licked his lips, and swore the muscle pulsed against the pads of his fingers. "Why're you smilin' like that," he whispered, nearly in accusation.

"Heh, I'll tell you," Sasuke murmured, smearing his arm across his lips in a vain attempt to wipe it off, "if you tell me why I can't stop."

Naruto made a noncommittal sound. He knew he had barely touched his Popsicle, that it was dripping red as it hung over his knee. Naruto knew it would stain, but somehow, Naruto wanted this moment to be solidified, even if it was as a crimson stain on the carpet. Because he knew in a few moments he'd have to break it, as he drew his hand away and said good night.