I watch the thin crimson streams of blood flow down my wrist. The warm life fluid burns like lava as it leaves me, but does it really matter? Would I be doing this if he had lived? Would I still be this way or would I be dead? Self-mutilation is at best a salve for my soul as I cannot bring myself to do what I really want to do.

The questions I ask myself sear into my brain. I feel nothing but pain and sadness and grief when I think of him. The wounds, the neat even cuts that I have placed on my arm are the only neat and tidy things that I have in my life at the moment. If those neat straight cuts would take the pain away, would make my soul whole again, and would take the memories that tear at me every minute of every day since he died, I would line my arms and legs with similar slices of relief.

I press my knife to an almost healed cut, and pick at the scab that covers the raw healing flesh beneath. The small inroad toward pulling it free sends little fiery pricks of pain shooting up my arm. Funny that this small intrusion into my flesh hurts worse than the cuts I just made.

I hate that I have to pretend, that I have to paste a smile on my face when they're around me. All they see is the goofy blond that they've always known. But as I hide the pain, I also hide myself from their eyes. I don't want them to see me in the state that I'm in, torn in so many different directions that I don't even know which direction to go in first.

Sasuke was my lover. He was my friend. He was my partner. The thought of his perfect face, his beautiful dark eyes that made my heart and my body shake with desire and the sure, deft touch in which he stroked me rips me apart each time his memory enters my mind. If I could… If I could only….

His memory haunts me. It is like a wound that never heals. There is no scab to pick off; there is nothing but pain and emptiness, and misery all around me. Yet, this is all I have left of him. A memory… and nothing more.

I pick up the knife with a shaky hand. Its blade, stained with my blood, is just another reminder of how much pain I carry. One more cut… just one more…

I close my eyes and feel the misery flow down my arm.

XXXXXX

I blink… and blink again. Another morning, another day of facing the world… another day of living a lie. I lift my arm and study the rust colored lines that run the length of my forearm. Tiny flakes loosen themselves as I move my arm, flexing the muscle. They float down like dirty snow and I know I have to hide these cuts. Iruka would shit a brick if he knew what I did when the pain gets too intense. But, I will never let him know. Ever.

I get up and drag my ass to the bathroom. A piss, and a cigarette later, I begin to clean the blood and gore from my arm. The hot water steams up the mirror and I take a moment to swab a clean spot with a towel. I push my arm under the stream of hot water and wince as the blood turn the water pink as it washes it away.

The scabs have already started to form, so with great care, I dab at the skin around them and the scabs so that the bandages will stick. It wouldn't do to have them begin to bleed when I meet with Kakashi for training this afternoon. I reach for the gauze and adhesive tape and begin the meticulous task of hiding what I have done to myself. Finally, when I'm satisfied with my work, I pull on a long-sleeved tee shirt and my practice pants.

I make my way to the kitchen and at the fridge, I pull out a bottle of orange juice. I give it a quick shake, uncap it, and then tilt the bottle to my mouth. The cold liquid slides down my parched throat.

I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand and decide what I want to eat. I take a take another huge swig of juice, then put the bottle down on the counter. In the cabinet, where I always keep it hidden, is my vodka. The bottle is nearly full, but that's about to change.

I fill the orange juice bottle to the top with liquid courage, screw the top on and shake. I sit down at the table with my breakfast, pluck a cigarette from my pack and flick open my lighter. I suck the smoke into my lungs. I have plenty of time to have a nice, nutritious breakfast, orange juice and vodka.

And just as fast as that thought clears my mind, the memory of Sasuke enters. "Here, Naruto," he would say as he would hand me a plate of eggs with that concerned look on his face. "You have to eat."

It's as if he wasn't gone; I can see him that clearly. He sits down across from me, flipping the chair around to straddle it. He pushes a lock of dark shiny hair behind his ear before he lifts his mug to his lips. He always forgets to blow on the steaming liquid, and I can't help the smirk I give him at his stunned expression.

"It's not funny," he says, a reluctant smile gracing his face. Yet, he laughs at himself knowing that I only laugh with him and not at him.

I take a swig of my Fuzzy Navel and reach across the table for his hand. It feels strong, and sure, and I give it a quick squeeze. He is so adorably scruffy in the mornings. His jet black hair sticks out from the back of his head, and a little tuft over his ear never lays the way it should.

His little answering grin of perfect white teeth makes me want to kiss him. He sips his tea and his obsidian eyes smile at me over his mug. I want him so bad that it hurts. I swig my drink and rise from my chair and round the table to wrap my arms around him. The feel of him in my arms, the way his fresh scent fills my nose, the taste of his skin upon my tongue makes me want to pull him from his chair and fuck him on the table. But, the moment that my arms reach to pull him into my grasp, he disappears like smoke in the wind.

I sit back in my chair, trembling, and lift the bottle to my lips. Another day, another eternity without him.

XXXXXX

I pull my sweatshirt over my head. I'm to meet Kakashi in half an hour. Hand to Hand combat and battle sticks are the order of the day. I put more tape over the gauze just in case my cuts start to bleed. I can't have them bleeding through my shirt should I take a blow badly or split them when I pretend to defend myself.

I already know that I will not fight back and I will take my beating as I should… as a man should. But, Kakashi won't know that. He will assume rightly that I am distracted and that the blows that he delivers are what are needed to teach me the lessons I need to learn.

I walk along the path outside the village grounds. Fellow students greet me, and I lift my hand in silent greeting. I don't stop, I don't talk, and I don't wait to hear their expressions of sympathy. I have no need for it because what I need, they cannot give. They cannot give forgiveness for my stupidity and my rash actions.

I trudge along silently, my liquid courage fueling me until my next moment of release.

XXXXXX

"Dammit Naruto! What the hell do you think you're doing? You're not even trying," Kakashi screams at me in frustration. He slams the bamboo pole down on the ground. He trembles because his anger is so rarely uncontrolled.

Groaning, I arise, my legs quivering beneath me. "I'm sorry Sensei," I breathe. I disgrace him with my uselessness. I would feel ashamed if there were any emotions left in me.

"Naruto," Kakashi says slowly, patiently. "Go home. I should have known it would have been too soon to show you these moves." His eye rakes over me and I cringe inwardly because I think he knows. He knows that I mutilate myself, that I drink far more than I should, and that I was Sasuke's lover.

"Yes Sensei, I say obediently, bowing as I have been taught, to signify that he is correct and that the lesson is over.

"It was not your fault that Sasuke died," Kakashi says, stooping to pick up the bamboo rod. He moves to face me and my eyes immediately stare at his feet. It is much safer this way, not to see the look in his eye and perhaps more importantly so that he cannot read how much his words affect me. He places a meaty hand on my shoulder. "Do not blame yourself," Kakashi says with compassion. "Go home. Rest," he orders.

"Yes Sensei," I breathe, the words barely more than a faint whisper. He doesn't know, my mind rejoices… he doesn't know! I wait for him to walk away and when I hear the door click shut behind him I finally look up and realize that I can leave now.

Another day… another task completed… another lie.

I feel the blood seeping through my bandages so I hurry for my sweatshirt and yank it roughly over my head. No one must see the marks of my failure.

XXXXXX

I let myself into my apartment and lock the door behind me. I'm safe inside these four walls, away from their prying eyes and endless questions. "Naruto, are you okay? You look pale." "How are you holding up? It's a shame about Sasuke, but he wouldn't want you to feel badly." "Naruto, would you like to come over for dinner tonight? It's not healthy to be alone so much." Naruto… Naruto… Naruto.

I yank my sweatshirt over my head and slam it to the floor. I'm sick of their words, their false compassion, and the fucking endless questions I hear over and over and over again.

My breath rattles in my chest and suddenly I feel chilled and cold, as if my heart has been dropped into a well of icy cold water. The blood lust returns.

I run into the bathroom and open the drawer and find my knife, the one I always carry, the one that I should only use on missions. I cut through the bandages covering my wounds, and dig the knife in deep, feeling the heat and fire and lifeblood run down my arm in thick, hot rivulets. The hot liquid runs down my wrist, down my palm and down my fingers to drip to the floor in quiet drops. I rub my fingers together, feeling what keeps me alive; the liquid that Sasuke lost when he died.

I long for him so badly that it hurts. I want to taste his lips upon mine, to feel his gentle fingers roaming my chest, touching me, stroking me, touching me in places that no man but he has ever touched. I raise my fingers to my lips and taste. Salty, hot, coppery and bitter… this is what I taste when I taste my own lifeblood.

The world begins to spin and I fall to the floor with a heavy thud. I feel numb… nothing…other than my physical self in this here and now. I only know that I'm still here and Sasuke isn't. I close my eyes and pray for the roaring in my ears to stop. I blink…White….blink… Black… blink…Black and then I feel nothing at all.

To float in the black of nothingness would be terrifying to a mortal man. A mortal man that fears for his own soul, but I fear nothing, because I have nothing. The shades of black and gray and white and red swirl around me, sometimes blocks of color floating past… sometimes shapes or forms of what I know in the real world…swirls of color grow mouths that snap at me as they fly past, long fingers reach for me, their fingernails scrabbling to latch onto me. Yet, nothing touches me, and I have no fear. In this place there is no one that can harm me. What can hurt me more than the secret I carry?

Somehow I stop in a place of whiteness, where shades of blue and green seep in, little tentacles of color forming and coalescing into a shape I know all too well; the one that haunts me in my sleep and in my waking hours and every second of every minute of every hour of every fucking day. Sasuke.

"Naruto, why are you here? You do not belong here. It is for the dead, the ones who have achieved grace and peace," his soft voice questions me. I cannot answer for there is no answer. I only want to see him, to hold him, to have him in my arms once more. Even this smoke spirit cannot know what pain I carry.

I shake my head dumbly, yet in this wondrous place, where past and present meet, I only want to touch him. I hold out my arms.

The greens and blues fade and reappear in between my arms and I wrap them around his lithe young body. His lips are on my neck, kissing, placing soft butterfly kisses along my throat and my jaw line. His scent fills my nose and I bury my face in his hair, wanting nothing more than to hold him.

I lift my head to find him staring at me; his quizzical eyes crinkling into amusement. "Dobe, I've missed you. I've missed you."

A sob begins in my throat, but his lips are crushed against mine and I fall into the familiar way we kiss. He nibbles my lip before kissing me again. I dare not let go, though I long to push him away and then rip his clothing from his body. His fingers are on me, sliding up under my shirt, into my pants, reaching, touching, feeling. There is nothing here but the two of us. Clothing seems to fade away, and he is against me, hot and hard and his hands are merciless; one supporting the nape of my neck so there is no fatigue as I watch him coax my cock into hardness. I arch into his firm and knowing ministrations. I slide my hands over his chest, memorizing the way his nipples feel under my fingers, the way his muscles flex under his skin, the dark shadow of hair that leads to his perfect dick. I pull him closer to me. I want to grind against him, feel him shiver as I touch him. I want him to moan and cry and whimper as I make love to him. He resists for the briefest second and then his body is next to mine, his erection lying against my stomach as he moves above me. He holds me and slides down upon my dick; his face a vision of sensuous awe. I've seen this look before, but I didn't pay attention, but I do now. He is as he always was, hot, clenched around me, and the sounds he makes are the same as I've dreamed about every night since his...

I dare not think it. I dare not speak it. This is what is real, what is right, what is what should be. He whimpers as I thrust into him, filling him entirely. His face is beautiful, the soft expression of coming undone, his eyelashes fluttering over his cheeks, his mouth slightly parted, and the curious expression of pain and pleasure as I fuck him into orgasm.

"Naruto," Sasuke gasps. "Naruto."

I feel myself coming and falling and the world is no longer hazy and black and warm and there is no Sasuke, no contentment, no peace, no…

The tile floor beneath my face is cold and hard and the smell of copper and come and vomit and ammonia fill my nostrils.

"He's coming around and when he's stable, we'll transport him for treatment," a matter of fact voice says somewhere above me.

"Naruto, Naruto, you're going to be all right," I hear Iruka say near my ear.

"I told you something was wrong," Kakashi said his deep voice almost a rumble as he speaks. "He's not been himself since Sasuke died."

I peer out from under my eyelashes and see Kakashi standing off to the side of me with his arms crossed across his chest as if my madness would infect him and his arms held in that manner would fend it off.

I blink and Iruka comes into view. "I'm going to stay with you until they admit you, son," Iruka says, his face a line of worry and grief. I feel my throat start to clench up. His face has been a map of pain these last few months; Sasuke's death, and now… me. I shake my head, willing him not to see me like this.

"I have to secure his arms," the strange voice says somewhere behind me. I know that I'm being transported to a hospital. This is what they do to crazy people, right?

XXXXXX

I awake in a white room, beeps and buzzes and harsh smells assault my senses. I try to sit up, but my arms are captured in wrist restraints and I cannot move freely. I attempt to lift my leg so that I can get comfortable on this hard hospital bed, but I can't do that either. I rattle the bed in my frustration.

If you keep that up, they're going to sedate you."

I glance to the left and there is a nurse staring at me. Her eyes accuse me of being a layabout. I see in her face that she thinks that I'm only here because I wanted attention. Her harsh gaze cuts into me almost as cruelly as my knife does.

My knife! Where is it?

"Erm… where am I," I hear myself ask with forced politeness. I must gain whatever information I can so that I can gain the upper hand and weasel my way out of here. At least my ninja training hasn't been totally wasted.

"University General," she replies curtly, her attention focused on the printout she's pulling from the machine beeping at the foot of my bed. Nodding, she reaches for a syringe and injects the IV that is attached to my left hand. I watch as the liquid fills the tubing and mixes with the solution. I watch silently as she makes a note on her clipboard, then lifts her head and gazes at me owlishly.

"Your friends asked that I notify them when you woke up, unless you prefer that I don't," she states. Her stare bores into me and I'm forced to answer.

"Yeah… that's fine. Call them," I answer. I turn away from her stare. Restraints keep me tied to the bed, but my mind sets me free. I close my eyes and let the drugs take me away from this sterile place. No restraints, no beds, no IV's, no machines… I feel a little hazy, as if the world is drifting away from me and a fuzzy warm feeling surrounds me. I start to drift and let this white, sterile place vanish from my sight.

Perhaps being here isn't so bad, the drugs allow me to escape the real world, the world that I have come to despise.

XXXXX

"Naruto," Iruka begins, reaching for my hand. "Before you're released into my care, the doctors require that you undergo therapy for…"

"My self-mutilation?" I fill in the blank for him. I'm not ashamed of what I do to myself. I can't see why these nosey bastards care?

"Your depression," Iruka says. "I should have been more observant. I knew that you and Sasuke were good friends. It's my fault," he says miserably.

I smile wanly and squeeze his fingers. "No, it's not," I say quietly. My eyes begin to prickle with the tears that I desperately want to hide. "It's mine. I'm the one who killed Sasuke," my voice breaks on his name. I choke and wipe my eyes. His steady gaze unnerves me.

"You can't keep blaming yourself for his death. He knew the risks as well as everyone else who went on the mission. If you had gotten there earlier, the Oto village warriors might have killed you too."

The tears stream freely down my face and I turn away from my teacher. I despise myself for this weakness and that I've allowed him to see this display of my emotions. A ninja is strong, and sure, and deadly. He is not a blubbering fool imprisoned in a hospital because he cannot hide his imperfections.

"Naruto," Iruka says softly. "I don't…" his voice breaks and I hear him clear his throat. "I think it would have killed me if you had died too. I loved Sasuke because he was special. He was a good student and always willing to do what was required of him without fuss. But, I cared about him most because he was your friend and special to you."

Do his words mean that he knows that Sasuke was my lover? Could it have been that obvious to him? What should I say to him? How can I explain that I'm a homosexual and that I fucked my best friend and loved him with my heart and soul?

I turn to face him, my mouth dry and my heart thudding loudly in my chest. Has my secret been discovered?

"You were very lucky to have such a good friend, Naruto. Friends like Sasuke are rare as padparsha and sweeter than the ripest strawberry. "

"Iruka, I killed him," I say again, the pain of his words opening the wound in my heart again; the wound that never heals, but only scabs over from time to time.

"You mustn't say that!" my teacher exclaims. His voice is forceful and when my eyes meet his I know that no matter what I say he will not accept my words. "The Oto fuckers killed him. You didn't."

"But, Iruka-sensei…"

"No, Naruto. I will not listen to your words any longer. You must grow strong and conquer the voice that tells you that you killed Sasuke. He died at the hands of the enemy," Iruka says sternly. Unexpectedly, he leans over and hugs me. His warmth astounds me because I have been cold for so very long.

I nod and rest my head on his shoulder and lean into him embrace. There is nothing sexual in his actions, no action that speaks of an ulterior motive and I know that he only seeks to comfort me.

He hugs me once more and then straightens. He pats me on the shoulder, and then gazes at me one more time.

"Remember Sasuke for his spirit, not his death, Naruto. That is the only way to survive this temporary madness."

He turns to leave, but I have to ask him the one thing that I have been fretting about. I have to know…

"Sensei," I say.

"Yes, Naruto," Iruka replies wearily.

"My knife, the one Sasuke gave me? Do you know where it is?" I ask.

"If it is the one that you had in the bathroom with you, it is safe. I recognized it as the one that he gave you for your birthday." Iruka replies, his hand on the doorknob.

"Do you think you could bring it to me?" I ask hopefully. He will think that I want it to cut myself, and to be honest, perhaps I do. But having a little memory of something that he touched will bring me comfort in this cold, white world of doctors and drugs.

He shakes his head at me and I see the disgusted grimace cross his face. It is as I thought. "There are rules against bringing weapons into the hospital," Iruka explains. "But, I will make sure that its there for you when you are able to return home."

Iruka turns away and heads out the door. I don't know if he hears my whispered "thank you."

XXXXX

For two weeks the Frog has been croaking at me. He looks like a frog with his black bug eyes and fat rubbery lips. His dull black hair is plastered to the sides of his head and his suit is something from the past. His real name is Akimoto Haruo but I call him Frog in my mind. Sometimes I amuse myself imagining that his tongue will flick out and catch a passing fly. I sit, slumped, in my orange plastic chair and listen to him yammer on and on and on about how one must be aware of depression, that self-mutilation is foolish and for the weak and that I must release my emotions in a constructive, not destructive way.

I'm somewhat surprised that he hasn't mentioned drinking. Apparently, to my great fortune, the alcohol content of my blood wasn't high enough for the physicians to know that I drank my breakfast the morning I was admitted. Not to mention that I use it to sedate my kyuubi so that I can feel when I cut, that I know it is real and that I will carry the marks of my self-torture.

As he blathers on, I respond with assorted "uh-huhs," mmms," and "I sees" to assure him that I'm listening. His words mean nothing to me; they cannot free me from my pain nor can they release the secrets that I keep. But, I have learned what this new enemy wants from me and the ways that I can free myself from this prison. The way of the ninja is stealthy and sure and it is the one lesson I have learned well.

The Frog straightens in his chair and closes his notebook. He places his pen in the slot on the side and stares at me in his frog-like way. "Naruto, if your progress continues as it has over the past two weeks, I can't see a reason to keep you as an in-patient any longer. I'm sure that you're ready to begin your re-entry into the outside world, eh?"

Momentarily startled, I jerk upright in my chair and his eyes widen at my sudden movement. "Yes, Haruo-sensei, I would like that very much," I reply quickly. "I have learned much from our time together." Heh… I lie like an Oto dark ninja. Words are the keys to free me from this asylum and I rattle the key ring harder.

The Frog Haruo nods and a smile dances faintly on his lips. "I think that after this week, I will be able to release you to Iruka's care," he says firmly.

My heart leaps with joy. I will convince Iruka to let me stay at my own place; surely after a few days of me being underfoot at his apartment will convince him of that. I am not a very good house guest, nor will I make the effort to be one.

"But, you must continue to take your meds or all this therapy will be for naught," he warns. "Your depression must be kept under control or I'm afraid it will end badly for you."

"Yes Haruo-sensei," I say, agreeing. It will end badly for me whether I take the drugs they give me or not. I must reach the state where I can see Sasuke again and beg his forgiveness. No matter what Iruka, Haruo, or Kakashi say, it is my fault that Sasuke is dead. He lies buried in a plain wooden box rotting away because of me. I killed him because I was over eager, too anxious to show my Sensei that I was the worthy one.

The Frog stands and walks over to me. "Good work, Naruto. Keep it up," he says and then he is off to his next patient.

I can wait ten more days before I see Sasuke again. A ninja is patient.

XXXXXX

"Well, here we are," Iruka says to me, following me into my apartment. "I'll be over first thing in the morning to check on you though it would be easier if I stayed in your spare bedroom."

I know the puzzlement on my face shows before I realize he's talking about Sasuke's bedroom. I recover quickly and put on my composed, calm, nothing-is-wrong face. "Haruo-sensei said that I must face my fears," I state dispassionately. I gaze about my apartment, letting my eyes roam the familiar furniture and accessories. It's a reassuring place, knowing that Sasuke touched everything here at least once and that I can feel his presence wherever I place my hands. I meet Iruka's gaze and say, "If I get upset, or if it becomes too much, I'll either come to you or I'll call you, okay?"

He lets out a relieved sigh and I know my words have reassured him. I know he will worry about me, seeing as he is Iruka and that is what he does. The three days that I spent at his place was a disaster. But, that's what I planned it to be and now, I'm back home again. I'm fairly sure that allowing me to spend the night at my apartment is not what he prefers, but for me to stay with him will turn us both into tigers clawing for each other's throats.

"I'm glad you're thinking like that Naruto. I'm not happy with you being by yourself so soon, but I think that once you get back into your normal routine of study and physical training that your mental state will improve."

"I agree, Iruka-sensei," I reply easily. I long to get back to my normal routine of alcohol and pain release. I have held back for so long since that day. The blackness that threatens to consume me swirls in my gut and I want to push him out the door, but the ninja in me holds back and lets the scene play out by itself. I push my hair back off my forehead and reach for Iruka's hand.

"Thank you for allowing me to stay with you and worrying about me, but, really, I'm fine now," I say with easy grace.

Iruka smiles at me and clasps my hand with both of his. His eyes shine and I know he's thankful that I've been saved from myself. But, little does he know that my salvation begins the moment the door closes behind him.

I watch him make his way down the stairs and then I shut the door and lock it. I have only a short time before he will return to check on me. I have planned this well because what else have I had to think about while I was in therapy.

First, I have to find my knife. Iruka said that it would be here, and rather than alert him to my intentions, I would rather search for it. The last place I had it in my hand was in the bathroom, so I start there. I search the towel closet and rummage through the medicine cabinet, but no luck. I decide to try the kitchen next because logically Iruka would have cleaned it and left it there. The kitchen is thankfully small and I'm able to check every drawer and every cabinet in a matter of minutes. I curse my fearfulness and debate whether I should call Iruka and ask him where he put it. I know that I could convince him that I only want to hold it because Sasuke gave it to me and that I value it above all my other belongings.

But, I decide that asking him that tonight would ruin everything. I head toward Sasuke's bedroom and begin to search again. Everything is as he left it. Despite his outward actions, his room is neat and tidy, his clothing folded and precisely placed in every drawer. Of course, his room is neat, he rarely slept there. His nights were spent in my bed.

If I had to, I could make do with a regular steak knife, but I ineed/i the blade his hands touched. My heart is racing now, and my frustration grows exponentially the longer I search. Iruka wouldn't have put it in my room, would he?

I dart into my room and yank the top drawer of my dresser and dump my clothing on the floor. The drawer lands with a loud crash as I sling it across the room. I want my knife and I need it now. I have waited patiently, but my patience is spent.

Another drawer follows the first and I hear the wood crack as it hits the first one. I'm panting from anger and my exertions, but I force myself to stop and think. My thoughts race around my mind, images of Sasuke, my knife, Iruka, my knife… where did he put it?

Then, I know. I wade through the shirts, underwear, and socks that I've strewn about the floor and make my way to the closet. I pull aside the beads that separate it from my room and grab my jumpsuit. I pull the pockets inside out and still I can't find it. I throw it to the floor and fight the scream that is building in my throat. I rest my hand on the shelf above and look about my destroyed room. My fingers brush something and I pull a wrapped bundle down from the shelf. I slowly unwrap it and I find my knife. My eyes begin to prickle with tears of joy and I take my knife from the shelf and cradle it in my arms. Iruka has left it as it was. My blood is a dark smear across the blade, and I give thanks for that.

I carry it carefully and step over my mess and make my way to the kitchen. I'm pretty sure the vodka is still there because I hid it back in the cabinet, but whether there is anything to mix it with is debatable. I hold the knife Sasuke gave me as one would hold a baby, but I still manage to get the bottle down and uncap it. The clear liquid burns its way down my throat and I drink until the bottle is empty. I prefer alcohol to drugs, but I will use whatever is necessary to talk to Sasuke again.

The bottle is tossed into the sink and I decide then that I want Sasuke's pillow. Actually it is my pillow, but he would always use it when he slept with me. I want to smell his scent upon it, to know that he wasn't a dream and that our love was true. I won't let him be just a dream. I stagger back to my room and flop on the bed. I snag his pillow and pull it over my face. I smell the spicy scent of his shampoo and breathe it in deeply.

The slightly hazy feeling is starting and I must act now before I pass out. The bed creaks when I roll over. I slide the pillow under my head and hold my knife out at arm's length and study it.

The scars on my arm are pale stripes against my normal skin colour. I trace them one by one and then press the tip against the one closest to my wrist. I press it down firmly and see the skin split. A thin stream of blood seeps out. It stains the sheet under my wrist. I dig the blade in and twist, watching my flesh come apart before my eyes.

The blood is flowing faster now and I close my eyes and hold Sasuke's blade against my chest, feeling the dampness worm its way through my shirt.

It's funny how things, action, time slows down and expands when you alter your life. The drops of blood falling my arm sound like boulders crashing down a mountain as they drip onto the sheet beneath me. The pungent smell of spice surrounds me and wraps its fragrant arms around me. I await my lover's appearance.

Darkness creeps in around the edges of my awareness; its soft fingers reach and pull my willing awareness into its center. I await the drift into color and into Sasuke's arms.

It's different this time. The colors are absent, but I feel cold, icily cold. Have I gone too far? Is my reward to be death and not to be with my lover just one more time?

A boiling passionate anger churns in the area of my disembodied stomach and I snarl to the darkness that it's not fair. If I have to die, at least let me tell Sasuke the one secret that drives me to do what I do; the secret that rots me from the inside out. The damage I do to myself is nothing but small childish scratches compared to the destruction caused from what I reveal and which people refuse to hear.

I try to pull myself from the cold darkness that is creeping into me, but I fear that I have gone past the limit of my body's endurance. I sense dampness spreading beneath me.

"Naruto…."

It's his voice! I raise my ghostly arms through the wisps of black smoke that is my world now and reach for the man I've lost.

"Teme," I whisper weakly. It's harder to think, to move, to be, but I have to tell him… it is my only chance at redemption and forgiveness. Not forgiveness from him, for it is too late for that, but forgiveness from myself.

"I waited for you," Sasuke says softly, his words becoming flashes of gold before my nearly sightless eyes. "I changed my chakra so that the Oto would not find me."

"I know you waited," I breathe out. "I came for you, but found the enemy instead."

"I waited," Sasuke's voice says, sadly. "I'm sorry Naruto… so sorry…I wasn't alert… I was lost in my thoughts."

"No…no…," I say, my lips barely moving now. I feel his hands upon my face, touching me so gently that it feels as if a feather is brushing over my skin, my lips, and my eyelids.

"I knew the moment the blade slide between my ribs that I was as good as dead," Sasuke says and then his lips brush feather light across mine.

"Teme," I whisper and feel him melt into me, his spirit whispering through me, leaving me alone in this black cold place. "I'm sorry, I didn't know it was you."