brumal: Hey everyone, welcome to Nadra's and my super epic awesome crazy collaboration! This will be the first time we post anything we've written together, so I hope everyone is fine and dandy with it! It was quite a lot of fun doing this, so please enjoy! This is our birthday gift to Naruto! Happy birthday, Naruto! (See if you can decipher our writing styles. XD)

Nadramon: I sure hope the administrators are "fine and dandy" with the both of us posting the same thing… Well, we'll see how it goes. Happy birthday to you, Naruto! (I hope you don't mind the fact that it's the first time I'm giving you anything even though I've spent four years or so on this fandom… cough) First time I'm posting anything in English as well. To my French readers: I'm not letting Liés par le sang down, but I'm drowning in homework so it's going to take a while. (That means months.) I have no clue how I even managed to (partly) write this… Let's say brumal is an exception. Well, I hope you guys enjoy it!

He breathed out heavily and watched as his breath skittered white across the glass as if in a race with itself. Fat drops of cold water clung onto the window, shining liquid diamonds, before slipping away to join its brothers in anonymity. Naruto found it nearly impossible to see outside, due to the hard rain. Only isolated circles of murky yellow could be seen, illuminated by lonely streetlamps. But even those occasionally flickered, making the streets outside appear like the broken film of a movie.

He closed his eyes and pressed his cheek against the pane. It felt so, so cold against his skin and now there was a huge ring of fog around his mouth, nose, and fingers. Slowly, he drew away from his embrace with the lucid glass, leaving marks of his existence on its surface. They lingered uncertainly there, edges fading off slowly as if reluctant to leave, but soon they disappeared, leaving nothing in their wake. It was almost as if naught had been there only moments before. The memories faded like footprints being washed away by the infinitely flowing waves of sea foam.

Naruto trailed around his apartment aimlessly, listening to the steady pattering of the rain outside. It hadn't rained in months, and the week had been oddly warm. To get rain today was bizarre and unexpected. No one had suspected the heavens to open up tonight. He assumed that that was why the apartment's electricity had sparked off during the storm. Now it was completely dark, except for the small sliver of the moon shining through the thick clouds. He could do nothing but wait until someone fixed the units.

His eyes swept over the small area of his living space almost disdainfully.

The azure gaze landed hesitantly on the clock by his bedside, its face illuminated by the lamps outside. A harsh, artificial glare mocked him smugly. It was only eight at night, too early to go to bed, but too dark to do anything else. Perhaps it would be best to take out those ancient candles he had hidden away somewhere.

Naruto lifted his cold hands up to his face and pushed his bangs out of his eyes. Not that it helped much. It was still decidedly hard to see anything in full clarity, even after almost half an hour's time to adjust his eyes to the inkiness. The entire room looked like it was invaded by solid shadows glowing silver under the moonlight, daring him to come any closer. Frowning, he resolved to ignore them and sensed his way to his small kitchen, growling every time his bare feet met unexpected obstacles.

Something went rolling around the floor. Probably a scroll. Then a chopstick. He was positive he had thrown that one in the trash. They just kept coming back.

There was a sharp bang and a startling jolt of pain went up his knee. Ouch. That would have been an open drawer… Naruto made a mental note to make sure he closed them after he got what he needed, though he was sure he would forget it.

By the time he got to the frozen floor of the kitchen, his toes felt like they had grown twice bigger. Unforgiving pangs of cold numbed his feet. He grumbled absent-mindedly as he reached for the stove, sensing its cold surface. Which reminded him that dinner time was coming and that, surprisingly enough, he wasn't feeling hungry. It shocked even himself, but sometimes even ramen couldn't coax him into a proper state of hunger. It seemed to happen a lot as of late…

The feeling of the wooden box of matches against his little finger stopped his thoughts there. Just as well.

He made a grab for it, shaking it slightly to make sure it wasn't empty. The box chattered, just like teeth on a cold day. Satisfied, he eyed his obscure surroundings critically. The candles would be harder to spot.


Naruto paused suddenly. Where were the candles? He couldn't quite remember the last time he used them, and now they had certainly slipped his memory completely. He clenched his jaw testily, abruptly annoyed with himself.

This new twist in inconvenience would surely give him several more bruises to last the night. Never mind the fact that they would heal quickly. Just earning them like badges was a painful business. Hastily, he slipped the box of matches into his pockets and stretched an arm out in front of him carefully. Like a blind man without his cane, the blond began to grasp emptily at the air, minutely surprised when his sensitive fingertips hit something. There was always that small involuntary jolt that drew his arm back whenever that happened. Soon, though, he became accustomed to the sensation and was able to maneuver around more easily.

As for the floor, he felt his way around with his tender, sockless toes and nudged anything that he didn't particularly feel like stepping on. Once or twice, he accidentally trod onto something particularly sharp and nasty. He cursed out to himself and continued his way. Finally, he stumbled his way back to the main room of his apartment. Naruto blinked owlishly a few times before giving the room an once-over.

Perhaps, he thought, they would be inside of the drawers?

A strong bolt of lightning illuminated the room abruptly, followed by the awesome crash of thunder. Dark pupils dilated at the unexpected outburst of light. The blonde paused again in his journey to the drawers and closed his momentarily blinded eyes to listen to the overwhelmingly satisfying rumble of the thunder. He loved the sound of it.

Sometimes, he wondered why people were so afraid of lightning and thunder. He himself loved both to death. The louder and flashier, the better. It simply sounded so powerful and disastrous. But sadly for him, the thunder finally grumbled away and he was left in the dark again.

The drawers, he remembered, and recommenced his journey. With the feeble light offered by the lamps outside now that the lightning had flashed away, he could barely make out the death traps waiting for him on the ground. His best attempt not to slip on something and die in an embarrassing manner was successful as he finally reached the drawers. A soft, annoyed sigh whispered from his lips.

Kneeling down, he closed his fingers around the handle of the lowest drawer, feeling its smooth surface. The brass had long ago turned dark and rusty-looking, though it wasn't immediately noticeable in such a dark environment. Mindlessly, he ran his finger across the smooth, tarnished metal before his train of thought returned. The less frequently opened would be the one hiding the candles, he reasoned. So he pulled. A terrific complaint drawled itself from the wood, sending goosebumps crawling up his arms and down his back.

His own shadow, he found, was blocking the contents of the drawer, so he shifted slightly to allow the sickly light of the streets and heavens to light it. Even the ill-suited glow failed its job and he was forced to delve into the entrails of his drawer. Twice he stabbed himself with sharp objects, and thrice he stubbed his finger onto something dull. At long last the painful business ended and he smirked in victory as his calloused hand felt a splintered lid. He opened it and revealed a line of long sticks, bright in the darkness of their hiding place. Maybe luck was on his side tonight after all.

His exposed white teeth disappeared altogether as he lifted one of the candles and noticed its aspect. He hesitantly felt it up and down with his thumb. His rough skin slid easily across the slick waxen surface and accumulated a rather thick sheen of dust.

No wick. The candle had no wick.

Who in their right mind would make wickless candles?

Naruto cursed. Lady Luck never liked him in the first place.

He felt slightly comforted by the loud complain of thunder echoing his own. At least someone up there was standing up for him. With renewed vigor, he clenched tightly on the dusty stick, his free hand reaching for his kunai. He would not let a stupid candle win that one.

A vein pulsed on Naruto's forehead as he glared at his inanimate opponent. This was definitely a battle he wasn't losing.

The clasp on his kunai holder flipped open with a soft 'click.' His hand drew out a wickedly sharp kunai and he tilted it in the scarce light to let it shine ominously off the side of its blade. It reflected off his eyes, hinted with something of a malicious kind. Once again, his teeth showed for a grin, this time more feral and angry.

With a deft movement, Naruto had the candle pressed against the floor and the deadly weapon nicking against the pale wax. The slippery surface of the candle gave way to the blade and Naruto suddenly found himself with the kunai jammed into the floor. He let out a string of unmentionables. Curse this candle!

He had not expected for the kunai to just slide off the surface like that. Due to the pressure he applied to it, instead of hacking off a chunk of the stick as he had planned, he merely ended up with a small sliver of the white wax stuck lamely against the kunai blade. Angrily, he yanked it out again, frowning at the scar his floor now donned.

Wrong angle? he asked himself. He repositioned the kunai against the defenseless candle, this time deeper in, and pushed down with quivering muscles. The ninja got about halfway through the thick body of the candle before he had to stop and rest his arm.

Another string of curses flew from his mouth unbidden. What kind of candle was this? A stick of wax was not supposed to be this hard to cut! The thunder highlighted the undertones of his curses outside.

A few deep breaths later, he pushed down against the white wax again. This time, he nearly carved out his floor.

With the kunai tip firmly lodged into the splintered wood, Naruto's only consolation was the huge, dilapidated roll of defeated white wax that rolled feebly away from its main body. Naruto grinned in childish triumph. Pleased with himself so far, he held up the decapitated stick to the window so he could see it better. Time for the coup de grace.

Chewing on his tongue in concentration, he screwed up his eyes as the point of the kunai scratched the remains of wax in search of the still covered wick. Finally a white string was pulled out. With his thumb and index finger, he rubbed it a few times to rid it of its waxen cover. Some of the whiteness got stuck under his fingernails but he scraped them out without another care.

By then the ninja was smiling like a maniac. Who was boss now?

Humming to himself in satisfaction, he bit down on the defeated candle, holding it with his teeth, careful not to touch it with his tongue. His now free hands were freeing a match from its box and expertly lighting it in the dark. He winked at the warm little flame that came to life between his fingers right when lightning struck outside, looking like it just illuminated the whole room all on its own, before he held it against the wick and waited for it to catch on fire.

Residual wax rolled off the wick fluidly as the flame licked at it. It took a few moments for the string to catch on fire, just when the match was about to burn his fingers. Naruto allowed his smirk to grow even bigger as he shook the match off and held the now lit candle before him, watching the dancing flame with victory.

His smile froze. Before his eyes, twin flames came to life.

They remained there as he stood still: blinking rapidly, glowing red in an unmistakable glare that seemed to bite down into the darkness to his very skin. Oh so familiar…

He shuddered. The red twins danced maliciously in answer. It wasn't possible. There was no way…

That's when lightning struck again. Eerie blue light filled the room, and just for a second, right where the eyes had been, Naruto could make out a frame on top of the drawers. Then the darkness was back, along with the twin flames, born again with thunder.

The daze didn't leave him at once. He kept staring at the blinking flames, almost with plea this time, all fear drained by hope against hope. Nothing changed.

He shook himself awake weakly, urged himself to move. Slowly, he stood up, and blinked his eyes blearily. It was then that his hopes were completely dashed. It wasn't what he thought it was at all…. Only a simple, mocking reminder.

With a shaky hand, he wedged the candle between two boxes on top of the drawer and gazed at the reflection that had caused him to imagine something else. His heart had started to pound so wildly at the, now that he realized what it was, stupid illusion.

Something within his chest lurched, making him feel an inexplicable pain tremble through him. There was the want to clutch at his chest, but he quelled it instantly. He lifted his hand to trace the cold border of the frame, shivering at the hostility it seemed to emanate tonight. The weak flame of the candle flickered, casting strange highlights and shadows on the picture. His thumb drifted down to touch the left side of the picture and subconsciously, he began to stroke at the glass, as if he could caress the cheek he was looking at.

Thickly, he swallowed and tried to tear his gaze away from the photograph. Though not the only picture in his apartment, this one was his most treasured. It was the only picture he had of Sasuke. There was something akin to regret as he looked at the frozen snapshot. If only the two of them didn't look so murderous….

He closed his eyes slowly. Oh, how much he wished it were true. That idiot reflection had caused him to think something else. Something he shouldn't be still thinking of.

All of a sudden he found it hard to breathe and swallowed again.

A desolate smile twitched onto his lips and he shook his head slowly. As if. A snort of breath came from his nose and he reached out to pick up his candle, which was slowly dripping drops of fat wax onto the drawer. It would be hell to scrape those off, he thought to himself, a distraction from his previous worries. Think of something else, he chastised himself, anything else. But much to his chagrin, he couldn't. Bit by bit, his mind was drifting right back.

He found himself inexplicably embarrassed, though he was the only one in his apartment. An angry sort of hurt swelled inside of his chest. A defiant ire burned him, tenfold stronger than the lick of fire alit on top of the candle he held. What a fool he was, believing that the candle was actually….

No, he stopped himself. It was stupid to think of someone like that anymore... What kind of maniac mistook reflected flames for their best friend's eyes anyway…?

He shook his head violently. Sasuke wouldn't come back on his own, that much was clear. It was up to him to bring him back and drowning in regret was certainly not an option. He was a ninja for crying out loud!

Becoming stronger would eventually allow him to bring his friend back. His misery wouldn't. And he wouldn't allow himself to feel so depressed over something he'd sworn to accomplish.

His hand shook as the wind blew some leaves to his window and moonlight sent spiky black shadows flowing on his wall. A particularly wet leaf stuck onto the pane before scraping itself off.

His face disappeared in his hand. What was with him? It wasn't unusual of his memory to randomly haunt him but this…. This was too much….

Hunger is wearing on you, he told himself. It's going to be better once you've eaten.

He didn't feel hungry. If anything, he felt like vomiting. Something decidedly unpleasant was broiling in the pits of his stomach.

He headed back to the kitchen anyway, forcing himself not to look back at the frame, whose surreal eyes seemed to dig a hole in his back. So very much like him….

Don't think that!

Like an insomniac lying awake in bed and trying hard not to think of anything, his mind had unconsciously flowed right back to where he started.

But no matter how hard he tried, he just knew there was no way to forget someone that he—

The lights flickered on at that moment.

The candle was blown out without another thought.